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Slim Majority Favors Marijuana Legalization in California Poll

A Field poll of California voters released Wednesday had support for marijuana legalization at 54%, the highest number ever for a Field poll. Only 43% opposed legalization. The same poll reported that two-thirds of Californians want the federal government to end its crackdown on medical marijuana providers.

While the 54% in favor of legalization is the highest ever for Field, it is not high enough to make potential initiative organizers or contributors feel sanguine. The conventional wisdom about initiative experts is that they should be polling at 60% or above at the beginning of the campaign. However, it will be a few years before Californians are likely to vote on legalization again, and support for legalization has only continued to increase in recent years.

Proposition 19 in 2010 typically polled in the 50s in the run-up to the election last year before losing on election day with 47% of the vote. That year, the final Field poll to ask about marijuana legalization, four months ahead of the election, had support at 50%, but as is typical in initiative campaigns, support wavered at the end.

This week's Field poll found support for legalization at 60% or above for San Francisco Bay Area residents (66%), single people (64%), men (62%), voters under 40 (60%), and African- and Asian-Americans (60%).

Support was lowest among Latinos (41%), Republicans (42%), voters 65 and older (43%), and women (46%).

Californians strongly support their medical marijuana system, the poll found. In addition to the 67% calling on the federal government to end its crackdown, 72% said they favor the state's medical marijuana law. That figure, however, was down two points from 2004 and 2010 Field polls.

Some 58% of respondents would allow dispensaries in their communities. Support for dispensaries was highest in the Bay Area (65%) and lowest in "other Southern California" (San Diego, the Inland Empire and Central Valley).

CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

From the village board to the halls of Congress, medical marijuana is popping up all over. And there's action at various state houses, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last weekend, Americans for Safe Access hosted the National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference in Washington, DC. The conference featured numerous panelists, as well as lobbying on Capitol Hill.

On Monday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the States' Medical Marijuana Patients Protection Act (House Resolution 689) at a press conference surrounded by attendees at the National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference. The bill would get the federal government out of states where medical marijuana is legal.

Arizona

Last Thursday, an unapproved dispensary was shut down in Kingman and its proprietors arrested on a variety of marijuana-related and weapons charges. Police seized several pounds of marijuana, $7,000 in cash, and a shotgun.

California

Earlier this month, Shasta County moved a lawsuit filed against it by a medical marijuana collective from state to federal court, and the attorney representing county supervisors has already filed a motion there to dismiss it. The Medicine Man Collective Spiritual Center Corporation sued in state Superior Court in January, naming the supervisors, the county sheriff, and three deputies as defendants. The suit charges that the county conspired to deprive the collective of its contractual, constitutional and state rights by enacting a ban on dispensaries. The collective closed its Main Street doors in May 2011 after being evicted following implementation of the ban in 2010 and its finalization the following year.

Last Thursday, the LA city council voted to approve a third dispensary measure for the May ballot. This third measure is the council's own and would allow about 100 dispensaries to stay open, restrict them from locating near schools and churches, and increase taxes on them. One of the other measures would allow a similar number of dispensaries to stay open, while the other would allow most of the hundreds of currently existing dispensaries to stay open. The initiatives come after the council tried to impose a total ban last year.

On Tuesday, Butte County supervisors adopted a cultivation ordinance. The measure prohibits outdoor marijuana gardens on lots smaller than 0.5 acre. It allows up to 12 plants (six mature and six immature) on parcels larger than 0.5 acre but smaller than 1.5 acre. On parcels smaller than 3 acres, 36 plants (18 mature and 18 immature) are allowed. The total allowable number of plants tops out at 99 on property larger than 40 acres. The gardens have set-back requirements that increase as the lots grow, and the plants have to be screened from view with fencing. Grows are prohibited within 1,000 feet of schools and parks. The growers have to be able to prove they have been county residents for a year, and there has to be written proof the landowner is aware of the garden and approves of its existence. The ordinance allows  indoor gardens in free-standing buildings of 120 square feet on lots anywhere in county jurisdiction.

Florida

On Tuesday, a statewide poll had support for medical marijuana at 69%. The poll showed strong support among Democrats and independents and even among Republicans, 56% of whom said they supported marijuana. The poll comes as its sponsor, People United for Medical Marijuana, pushes for medical marijuana to come to the Sunshine State.

On Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. The bill is Senate Bill 1250.

Iowa

On Sunday, a statewide poll found that 58% support legalizing medical marijuana. That's down six points from a similar poll in 2010. The poll comes as the Iowa legislature considers medical marijuana bills.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Westborough Board of Health supported zoning for dispensaries. The board did not reach agreement on whether Westborough should ban dispensaries or whether to zone or ban home grows for medical use. The town planning board has already proposed a zoning bylaw that would ban both dispensaries and home grows. It goes before voters at the annual town meeting on March 16.

Montana

Last Thursday, two more medical marijuana providers were sentenced to federal prison terms. Ross Pattison and Brandon Strecker were partners in Eastern Montana Cannabis. Pattison got 20 months and Strecker got a year and a day. They are only the latest Montana medical marijuana providers to be sent to federal prison after a spring 2011 crackdown by the DEA and the Justice Department.

Nevada

Last Friday, legislators held a hearing on problems with access to medical marijuana. During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, members acknowledged that it is almost impossible for the state's 3,600 card holders to acquire their medicine. Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) said after the hearing that he soon will introduce a bill to set up a regulated system where marijuana is grown at farms and then distributed and taxed through licensed dispensaries.

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, a House committee held a hearing on a pending medical marijuana bill. The bill, House Bill 573, would allow patients to grow up to four plants or obtain their medicine through one of five state-licensed dispensaries. Similar bills have twice passed the legislature since 2007, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch (D). New Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) supported the bills as a legislator, but has expressed concerns that the system be tightly regulated.

Oklahoma

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill died in the legislature. The bill, Senate Bill 710, would have allowed patients to possess up to eight ounces and grow up to 12 plants. It would also have allowed state-sanctioned collectives. It was killed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee after members heard testimony. The bill was defeated 6-2 in a party line vote.

Washington

On Monday, the Spokane city council approved a six-month moratorium on new dispensaries. The council feared a proliferation of marijuana businesses before the state finishes writing its rules for legal non-medical marijuana commerce. Spokane currently has about a dozen dispensaries.

Brits Want Marijuana Reforms, Drug Policy Review

According to a new Ipsos Mori poll, a majority of Britons favor either decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana and two-thirds support a comprehensive review of all the options for controlling drugs, from legalization to tougher enforcement.

The poll found that 53% of those surveyed supported either decriminalization or one form or another of legalization. Legalization, whether under "strict," "moderate," or "minimal" control, was supported by 41%, and decriminalization by 12%.

Only 35% favored the status quo (21%) or harsher treatment of marijuana (14%). Eight percent had no opinion and 4% said "I have never heard of this drug."

Britain down-scheduled marijuana from a Class B to a Class C drug in 2004, but reversed course in 2008, placing it back on the more serious Class B amid rising fears of the dangers of "skunk" marijuana, Britain's generic term for high-potency, domestically-produced weed. 

When it comes to other drugs, a majority (60%) favored the status quo, while only slightly more than one-third (36%) favored either decriminalization (14%) or a pilot decriminalization program (21%).

But more than two-thirds of respondents (67%) wanted a comprehensive independent review of Britain's drug policies. Support cut across party lines, with 69% of Labor supporters and 70% of Conservative supporters calling for a review of drug policy.

Britain's Conservative-led government has shown distinct disinterest in revisiting the country's drug policies, although that has led to some friction with its Liberal Democrat junior partners.

"These results just show how far ahead of politicians the public are," said the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which commissioned the poll. "Whilst Labor and Conservative politicians shy away from the debate on drugs, around half of their supporters want to see legal regulation of cannabis production and supply or decriminalization of cannabis possession, and a significant majority want a comprehensive review of our approach to drugs -- including consideration of legal regulation," the group said.

"Politicians have repeated their 'tough on drugs' propaganda for so long that they assume the public are more fearful of change than they really are," Transform said. "In fact the world has changed, and the public are far more progressive than was thought, right across the political spectrum. At the very least the government should heed long standing and growing calls for a review of all policy options, including legal regulation. And as a matter of urgency the coalition should engage in experiments in the Portuguese style decriminalization of possession of drugs for personal use. Now is the time for the heads of all parties to show the leadership citizens surely deserve."

United Kingdom

Medical Marijuana Update

What? Nothing happened in California? It's a rare week, but the quiet in the Golden State is being made up for by action in state legislatures around the land. And more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

On Monday, a Senate panel voted to let police destroy seized medical marijuana. The Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 1414 on a 5-3 party-line vote. Under the law as interpreted by the Court of Appeals, police are required to give it back, but Sen. Kimberly Yee (R-Phoenix) said she believes that puts police in the position of violating the federal Controlled Substances Act, which continues to make marijuana illegal. Her legislation would let officers destroy the drugs once any investigation was completed, even if the person was entitled to have them in the first place. The vote came after the American Civil Liberties Union warned lawmakers they were courting legal action. The 2010 initiative specifically says that marijuana held by those who are entitled either to sell it as dispensary operators or possess it as patients "is not subject to seizure or forfeiture.'' The bill now goes to the full Senate.

Colorado

On Tuesday, the House passed House Bill 1061, the "Responsible Medical Marijuana Vendors" bill, which would create a training program of sorts for medical-marijuana workers. Companies that want to run training schools for employees would apply to the state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division for certification. If all of a dispensary’s employees complete a training course with a certified school, the state would then grant that dispensary a "responsible vendor designation." The bill now goes to the Senate, which passed a nearly identical measure last year before it died in the House.

Maine

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana patient sued a staffing firm she said refused to hire her because she is a medical marijuana patient. Brittany Thomas filed the suit against Adecco Group North America, where she had been employed before being laid off. When more work became available, she told Adecco she would fail the drug test because she was a medical marijuana patient. She tested positive and was told she could no longer work for the company. She is seeking reinstatement and payment of back wages. She is being represented by the ACLU of Maine and a local law firm.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Lowell city council delayed a vote on a zoning ordinance aimed at restricting where dispensaries can operate. Instead, the council Tuesday night sent the proposed ordinance back to the zoning subcommittee for further discussion. One reason mentioned for the delay was because the state's Department of Public Health is yet to promulgate regulations for the operation of the dispensaries. The proposed ordinance would allow dispensaries only in light industrial and high-rise commercial zoned districts and would mandate that they be at least 1,000 feet from a school or public library.

On Wednesday, the Department of Public Health held a "listening session" in Worcester about regulations for the state's new medical marijuana law. The sessions are designed to provide public input into the regulatory process. We have no information at press time on how the hearing went. Another is set for Thursday in Roxbury.

Montana

On Wednesday, the Human Services Committee heard testimony on four bills aimed at restoring the state's gutted medical marijuana program. The bills, House Bills 340 through 343, would eliminate board of examiners' review requirements, allow caregivers to be compensated, remove limits on the number of patients caregivers can serve, and eliminate some record-keeping and unannounced inspections. No word yet on how the hearing went.

New Hampshire

On Tuesday, a poll found that 80% of adults in the state support medical marijuana. The Granite State Poll was conducted at the end of January and the first days of February, and comes as the legislature prepares to deliberate on House Bill 573, a medical marijuana bill. The bill will have a hearing in the House Committee on Health, Human Services, and Elderly Appairs on Thursday, February 21.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, a bill to ensure that medical marijuana patients get access to organ transplants was introduced. The bill, AB 576, is sponsored by Majority Whip Peter Barnes, who said he introduced it after a medical marijuana patient was denied a liver transplant and died the following year.

North Carolina

On Tuesday, more than 200 people rallied in Raleigh in support of medical marijuana bills. Addressing the group in support of the Enact Medical Cannabis Act was Democratic Party chair Randy Voller. Past bills have been killed by Republican committee chairs, but GOP House speaker Thom Tillis said he wouldn't rule out a well-crafted bill that allowed cancer patients and others with serious illnesses from having access to marijuana as long as strong safeguards were in place to prevent widespread use.

Oregon

Last Thursday, a bill to make PTSD a syndrome treatable by medical marijuana had a hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The bill, Senate Bill 281, would add PTSD, to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use in Oregon. The committee heard doctors testify that marijuana has been shown to soothe anxiety, help with sleep, and calm suicidal urges. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Poll: Feds Should Leave Legal Marijuana States Alone

Strong majorities of Americans believe people should be able to use, grow, and sell marijuana in states where it is legal, according to a new Reason Foundation-Rupe poll. Nearly three out of four (72%) said pot smokers should not be arrested in those states, more than two-thirds (68%) said the federal government should not arrest growers in those states, and nearly two-thirds (64%) said it should not arrest sellers.

The poll comes in the wake of last November's marijuana legalization victories in Colorado and Washington and as the Obama administration contemplates its response. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The poll consisted of a representative sample of 1,000 American adults interviewed by telephone, half by landline and half by cell phone. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.8%.It was conducted between January 17 and 21.

Although it is Republicans who typically make states' rights or federalist arguments, Republicans had the highest level of support for federal interference in states that have legalized marijuana. In all three cases -- using, growing, or selling marijuana -- independents and Democrats were more likely to say the federal government should not interfere.

The poll also asked two questions about marijuana legalization, one about whether it should be treated like alcohol and one about whether it should be legalized for recreational use. While the two questions are essentially identical, they generated slightly different responses, showing yet again that marijuana legalization is on the cusp of majority acceptance (and that the phrasing of polling questions matters).

Some 53% agreed that marijuana should be treated like alcohol, but only 47% agreed that recreational use should be legalized. Majorities of Democrats (57%) and independents (58%), but not Republicans (35%), agreed with "like alcohol," while only a majority of independents (59%) supported legalization for recreational use, with support at only 46% for Democrats and 25% among Republicans.

Gender and age differences also remained. Support for legalization was higher among men (52%) than women (42%), and there was majority support for legalization among all age groups except people over 65, two-thirds of whom opposed it.

Hawaii Poll Shows Majority Supports Marijuana Legalization

A poll released last Thursday shows 57% of Hawaiians favor the idea of taxing and regulating marijuana. That's a startling 20% increase in support in just seven years -- a 2005 poll by the same group asking the same question had only 37% support.

The QMark Research poll was conducted for the Drug Policy Action Group and consisted of telephone interviews with 603 respondents. It has a margin of error of +/- 4.07%.

The poll showed 45% strongly supporting tax and regulate, with another 12% saying they had "somewhat strong support." Only 40% opposed legalization, a figure that has declined by 20 points since the 2005 poll.

The poll also found strong support for decriminalization (58%), for medical marijuana dispensaries (78%), and for the medical marijuana law passed by the legislature in 2000 (81%). The law allows patients to use marijuana, but makes no provision for them to obtain it except by growing it.

The poll numbers were released at a press conference conducted by the Drug Policy Action Group, a sister organization to the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, and the ACLU of Hawaii. Also introduced at the press conference was a study (available at the poll link above) by University of Hawaii economist David Nixon on the economic impact of marijuana law enforcement in the state.

Nixon found that Hawaii spends $9 million a year on marijuana law enforcement and foregoes $11 million a year in potential revenues under legalization. He also found that marijuana arrests are increasing in the state, with possession arrests up nearly 50% since 2004 and distribution arrests almost doubling.

"From the survey findings, it's clear that Hawaii voters are open to reconsidering local marijuana laws," said the Action Group's Pam Lichty. "The data in both of these reports will help our communities craft more effective, less costly approaches for the future. The Drug Policy Action Group, the ACLU of Hawaii, and our allies will advocate for the policy reforms that people in Hawaii want."

"In Hawaii as across the nation, arrests for marijuana possession are one of the most common ways that individuals get caught up in the criminal justice system, at great social and economic cost," said Vanessa Chong, executive director of the ACLU of Hawaii. "These studies provide important, updated facts for the Hawaii community as we consider new directions."

Honolulu, HI
United States

The Top Ten Drug Policy Stories of 2012 [FEATURE]

In some ways, 2012 has been a year of dramatic, exciting change in drug policy, as the edifice of global drug prohibition appears to crumble before our eyes. In other ways it is still business as usual in the drug war. Marijuana prohibition is now mortally wounded, but there were still three-quarters of a million pot arrests last year. The American incarceration mania appears to be running its course, but drug arrests continue to outnumber any other category of criminal offense. There is a rising international clamor for a new drug paradigm, but up until now, it's just talk.

The drug prohibition paradigm is trembling, but it hasn't collapsed yet -- we are on the cusp of even more interesting times. Below, we look at the biggest drug policy stories of 2012 and peer a bit into the future:

1. Colorado and Washington Legalize Marijuana!

Voters in Colorado and Washington punched an enormous and historic hole in the wall of marijuana prohibition in November. While Alaska has for some years allowed limited legal possession in the privacy of one's home, thanks to the privacy provisions of the state constitution, the November elections marked the first time voters in any state have chosen to legalize marijuana. This is an event that has made headlines around the world, and for good reason -- it marks the repudiation of pot prohibition in the very belly of the beast.

And it isn't going away. The federal government may or may not be able to snarl efforts by the two states to tax and regulate legal marijuana commerce, but few observers think it can force them to recriminalize marijuana possession. It's now legal to possess up to an ounce in both states and to grow up to six plants in Colorado and -- barring a sudden reversal of political will in Washington or another constitutional amendment in Colorado -- it's going to stay that way. The votes in Colorado and Washington mark the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition.

2. Nationally, Support for Marijuana Legalization Hits the Tipping Point

If Colorado and Washington are the harbingers of change, the country taken as a whole is not far behind, at least when it comes to public opinion. All year, public opinion polls have showed support for marijuana legalization hovering right around 50%, in line with last fall's Gallup poll that showed steadily climbing support for legalization and support at 50% for the first time. A Gallup poll this month showed a 2% drop in support, down to 48%, but that's within the margin of error for the poll, and it's now a downside outlier.

Four other polls released this month
demonstrate a post-election bump for legalization sentiment. Support for legalization came in at 47%, 51%, 54%, and 57%, including solid majority support in the West and Northeast. The polls also consistently find opposition to legalization strongest among older voters, while younger voters are more inclined to free the weed.

As Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown put it after his survey came up with 51% support for legalization, "This is the first time Quinnipiac University asked this question in its national poll so there is no comparison from earlier years. It seems likely, however, that given the better than 2-1 majority among younger voters, legalization is just a matter of time."

Caravan for Peace vigil, Brownsville, Texas, August 2012
3. Global Rejection of the Drug War

International calls for alternatives to drug prohibition continued to grow ever louder this year. Building on the work of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy and the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the voices for reform took to the stage at global venues such as the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, in April, the International AIDS Conference in Washington in July, and at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

While calls for a new paradigm came from across the globe, including commissions in Australia and the United Kingdom, this was the year of the Latin American dissidents. With first-hand experience with the high costs of enforcing drug prohibition, regional leaders including Colombian President Santos, Guatemalan President Perez Molina, Costa Rican President Chinchilla, and even then-Mexican President Calderon all called this spring for serious discussion of alternatives to the drug war, if not outright legalization. No longer was the critique limited to former presidents.

That forced US President Obama to address the topic at the Summit of the Americas and at least acknowledge that "it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are doing more harm than good in certain places" before dismissing legalization as a policy option. But the clamor hasn't gone away -- instead, it has only grown louder -- both at the UN in the fall and especially since two US states legalized marijuana in November.

While not involved in the regional calls for an alternative paradigm, Uruguayan President Mujica made waves with his announcement of plans to legalize the marijuana commerce there (possession was never criminalized). That effort appears at this writing to have hit a bump in the road, but the proposal and the reaction to it only added to the clamor for change.

4. Mexico's Drug War: The Poster Child for Drug Legalization

Mexico's orgy of prohibition-related violence continues unabated with its monstrous death toll somewhere north of 50,000 and perhaps as high as 100,000 during the Calderon sexenio, which ended this month. Despite all the killings, despite Calderon's strategy of targeting cartel capos, despite the massive deployment of the military, and despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid for the military campaign, the flow of drugs north and guns and money south continues largely unimpeded and Mexico -- and now parts of Central America, as well -- remain in the grip of armed criminals who vie for power with the state itself.

With casualty figures now in the range of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars and public safety and security in tatters, Calderon's misbegotten drug war has become a lightning rod for critics of drug prohibition, both at home and around the world. In the international discussion of alternatives to the status quo -- and why we need them -- Mexico is exhibit #1.

And there's no sign things are going to get better any time soon. While Calderon's drug war may well have cost him and his party the presidency (and stunningly returned it to the old ruling party, the PRI, only two elections after it was driven out of office in disgrace), neither incoming Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto nor the Obama administration are showing many signs they are willing to take the bold, decisive actions -- like ending drug prohibition -- that many serious observers on all sides of the spectrum say will be necessary to tame the cartels.

The Mexican drug wars have also sparked a vibrant and dynamic civil society movement, the Caravan for Peace and Justice, led by poet and grieving father Javier Sicilia. After crisscrossing Mexico last year, Sicilia and his fellow Mexican activists crossed the border this summer for a three-week trek across the US, where their presence drew even more attention to the terrible goings on south of the border.

5. Medical Marijuana Continues to Spread, Though the Feds Fight Back

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have now legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and while there was only one new one this year, this has been a year of back-filling. Medical marijuana dispensaries have either opened or are about to open in a number of states where it has been legal for years but delayed by slow or obstinate elected officials (Arizona, New Jersey, Washington, DC) or in states that more recently legalized it (Massachusetts).

None of the newer medical marijuana states are as wide open as California, Colorado, or Montana (until virtual repeal last year), as with each new state, the restrictions seem to grow tighter and the regulation and oversight more onerous and constricting. Perhaps that will protect them from the tender mercies of the Justice Department, which, after two years of benign neglect, changed course last year, undertaking concerted attacks on dispensaries and growers in all three states. That offensive was ongoing throughout 2012, marked by federal prosecutions and medical marijuana providers heading to federal prison in Montana. While federal prosecutions have been less resorted to in California and Colorado, federal raids and asset forfeiture threat campaigns have continued, resulting in the shuttering of dozens of dispensaries in Colorado and hundreds in California. There is no sign of a change of heart at the Justice Department, either.

6. The Number of Drug War Prisoners is Decreasing

The Bureau of Justice Statistics announced recently that the number of people in America's state and federal prisons had declined for the second year in a row at year's end 2011. The number and percentage of drug war prisoners is declining, too. A decade ago, the US had nearly half a million people behind bars on drug charges; now that number has declined to a still horrific 330,000 (not including people doing local jail time). And while a decade ago, the percentage of people imprisoned for drug charges was somewhere between 20% and 25% of all prisoners, that percentage has now dropped to 17%.

That decline is mostly attributable to sentencing reforms in the states, which, unlike the federal government, actually have to balance their budgets. Especially as economic hard times kicked in in 2008, spending scarce taxpayer resources on imprisoning nonviolent drug offenders became fiscally and politically less tenable. The passage of the Proposition 36 "three strikes" sentencing reform in California in November, which will keep people from being sentenced to up to life in prison for trivial third offenses, including drug possession, is but the latest example of the trend away from mass incarceration for drug offenses.

The federal government is the exception. While state prison populations declined last year (again), the federal prison population actually increased by 3.1%. With nearly 95,000 drug offenders doing federal time, the feds alone account for almost one-third of all drug war prisoners.

President Obama could exercise his pardon power by granting clemency to drug war prisoners, but it is so far a power he has been loathe to exercise. An excellent first candidate for presidential clemency would be Clarence Aaron, the now middle-aged black man who has spent the past two decades behind bars for his peripheral role in a cocaine deal, but activists in California and elsewhere are also calling for Obama to free some of the medical marijuana providers now languishing in federal prisons. The next few days would be the time for him to act, if he is going to act this year.

7. But the Drug War Juggernaut Keeps On Rolling, Even if Slightly Out of Breath

NYC "stop and frisk" protest of mass marijuana arrests
According to annual arrest data released this summer by the FBI, more than 1.53 million people were arrested on drug charges last year, nearly nine out of ten of them for simple possession, and nearly half of them on marijuana charges. The good news is that is a decline in drug arrests from 2010. That year, 1.64 million people were arrested on drug charges, meaning the number of overall drug arrests declined by about 110,000 last year. The number of marijuana arrests is also down, from about 850,000 in 2010 to about 750,000 last year.

But that still comes out to a drug arrest every 21 seconds and a marijuana arrest every 42 seconds, and no other single crime category generated as many arrests as drug law violations. The closest challengers were larceny (1.24 million arrests), non-aggravated assaults (1.21 million), and DWIs (1.21 million). All violent crime arrests combined totaled 535,000, or slightly more than one-third the number of drug arrests.

The war on drugs remains big business for law enforcement and prosecutors.

8. And So Does the Call to Drug Test Public Benefits Recipients

Oblivious to constitutional considerations or cost-benefit analyses, legislators (almost always Republican) in as many as 30 states introduced bills that would have mandated drug testing for welfare recipients, people receiving unemployment benefits, or, in a few cases, anyone receiving any public benefit, including Medicaid recipients. Most would have called for suspicionless drug testing, which runs into problems with that pesky Fourth Amendment requirement for a search warrant or probable cause to undertake a search, while some attempted to get around that obstacle by only requiring drug testing upon suspicion. But that suspicion could be as little as a prior drug record or admitting to drug use during intake screening.

Still, when all the dust had settled, only three states -- Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee -- actually passed drug testing bills, and only Georgia's called for mandatory suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients. Bill sponsors may have been oblivious, but other legislators and stakeholders were not. And the Georgia bill is on hold, while the state waits to see whether the federal courts will strike down the Florida welfare drug testing bill on which it is modeled. That law is currently blocked by a federal judge's temporary injunction.

It wasn't just Republicans. In West Virginia, Democratic Gov. Roy Tomblin used an executive order to impose drug testing on applicants to the state's worker training program. (This week came reports that only five of more than 500 worker tests came back positive.) And the Democratic leadership in the Congress bowed before Republican pressures and okayed giving states the right to impose drug testing requirements on some unemployment recipients in return for getting an extension of unemployment benefits.

This issue isn't going away. Legislators in several states, including Indiana, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia have already signaled they will introduce similar bills next year, and that number is likely to increase as solons around the country return to work.

9. The US Bans New Synthetic Drugs

In July, President Obama signed a bill banning the synthetic drugs known popularly as "bath salts" and "fake weed." The bill targeted 31 specific synthetic stimulant, cannabinoid, and hallucinogenic compounds. Marketed under brand names like K2 and Spice for synthetic cannabinoids and under names like Ivory Wave, among others, for synthetic stimulants, the drugs have become increasingly popular in recent years. The drugs had previously been banned under emergency action by the DEA.

The federal ban came after more than half the states moved against the new synthetics, which have been linked to a number of side effects ranging from the inconvenient (panic attacks) to the life-threatening. States and localities continue to move against the new drugs, too.

While the federal ban demonstrates that the prohibitionist reflex is still strong, what is significant is the difficulty sponsors had in getting the bill passed. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) put a personal hold on the bill until mandatory minimum sentencing requirements were removed and also argued that such efforts were the proper purview of the states, not Washington. And for the first time, there were a substantial number of Congress members voting "no" on a bill to create a new drug ban.

10. Harm Reduction Advances by Fits and Starts, At Home and Abroad

Harm reduction practices -- needle exchanges, safer injection sites, and the like -- continued to expand, albeit fitfully, in both the US and around the globe. Faced with a rising number of prescription pain pill overdoses in the US -- they now outnumber auto accident fatalities -- lawmakers in a number of states have embraced "911 Good Samaritan" laws granting immunity from prosecution. Since New Mexico passed the first such law in 2007, nine others have followed. Sadly, Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the New Jersey bill this year.

Similarly, the use of the opioid antagonist naloxone, which can reverse overdoses and restore normal breathing in minutes, also expanded this year. A CDC report this year that estimated it had saved 10,000 lives will only help spread the word.

There has been movement internationally as well this year, including in some unlikely places. Kenya announced in June that it was handing out 50,000 syringes to injection drug users in a bid to reduce the spread of AIDS, and Colombia announced in the fall plans to open safe consumption rooms for cocaine users in Bogota. That's still a work in progress.

Meanwhile, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs unanimously supported a resolution calling on the World Health Organization and other international bodies to promote measures to reduce overdose deaths, including the expanded use of naloxone; Greece announced it was embracing harm reduction measures, including handing out needles and condoms, to fight AIDS; long-awaited Canadian research called for an expansion of safe injection sites to Toronto and Ottawa; and Denmark first okayed safe injection sites in June, then announced it is proposing that heroin in pill form be made available to addicts. Denmark is one of a handful of European countries that provide maintenance doses of heroin to addicts, but to this point, the drug was only available for injection. France, too, announced it was going ahead with safe injection sites, which could be open by the time you read this.  

This has been another year of slogging through the mire, with some inspiring victories and some oh-so-hard-fought battles, not all of which we won. But after a century of global drug prohibition, the tide appears to be turning, not least here in the US, prohibition's most powerful proponent. There is a long way to go, but activists and advocates can be forgiven if they feel like they've turned a corner. Now, we can put 2012 to bed and turn our eyes to the year ahead.

Slim Majority of New Yorkers Say Legalize Marijuana

A Quinnipiac poll released last Friday has New Yorkers supporting marijuana legalization by a narrow majority. The poll found 51% supported marijuana legalization, with 44% opposed.

That puts New York in line with the rest of the country, where most post-election polls are showing support for legalization at over 50%. Those polls come in the wake of victories for the Amendment 64 and Initiative 502 marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, respectively.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been pushing marijuana decriminalization, but the Quinnipiac poll suggests New Yorkers are ahead of their political leaders on the issue of marijuana reform.

New York City has achieved notoriety as the marijuana arrest capital of the world, with the NYPD arresting tens of thousands of mainly young black and brown men each year. Despite recent reforms, those numbers have yet to significantly decrease.

In a report released last month, Human Rights Watch found that between 1996 and 2011, the NYPD arrested more than 563,000 people for possession of marijuana in public (typically after police intimidate them into emptying their pockets and revealing their baggies), including nearly 100,000 in 2010 and 2011 alone. Neither Mayor Michael Bloomberg nor the NYPD "has ever provided a detailed justification for the high number of marijuana arrests, suggesting only that the arrests improve public safety," the report noted.

But the report also examined the subsequent criminal histories of the 2003 and 2004 cohorts of New York City pot possession arrestees. It found that more than 90% of them had not subsequently been arrested on a felony charge.

The Quinnipiac poll found majority support for legalization in New York City (54%) and its suburbs (50%), and a plurality (49%) for legalization upstate. Majorities supported freeing the weed in every age group except seniors, while majorities of Democrats (56%) and independents (57%) also favored legalization. Only 33% of Republicans did.

Men were more likely to support legalization (56%) than women (47%), while people with college degrees were more likely to support it (58%) than those without (47%). People who identified themselves as belonging to a religious denomination had levels of support ranging from 46% to 48%, while 70% of those who said they had no religion supported legalization.

Gov. Cuomo has been talking decriminalization. Given last month's election results and this month's polling, perhaps he should raise his sights.

The poll contacted 1,302 New York state voters between December 5 and 10 and asked"Do you think that the use of marijuana should be made legal in New York State, or not?" The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percentage points.

NY
United States

Americans Want Feds Out of State Marijuana Laws

In the wake of last month's votes to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington, yet another poll has found strong opposition to the federal government taking steps to enforce federal marijuana laws in those states. A Gallup poll released Monday found that only 34% wanted the feds to step in, while almost two-thirds (64%) were opposed.

Two other post-election polls released earlier also showed majority support for the feds butting out. One had support for letting the states experiment with legalization at 51%, the other at 59%. Combined, the polls suggest that public opinion is moving against Washington when it comes to deciding who should determine marijuana policy in the states.

The Gallup poll also asked about views on marijuana legalization and found that 48% said it should be legal, while 50% were opposed. Since the poll's margin of error is +/- 4%, the results indicate a country evenly divided on the issue. Three other post-election polls on the question had majorities in favor of legalization, while one more had a 47%-47% tie.

When it comes to whether the federal government should intervene, not only did an overwhelming majority (87%) of legalization supporters said it should not, but even 43% of those who opposed legalization said it should not.

"The significant majority of Americans would advise the federal government to focus on other issues, even though public pot smoking in states where it is legal flouts national laws currently on the books," Gallup said. "By contrast, there is no clear-cut direction from the American public on the underlying issue of legalizing use of marijuana. Although support for legalization has risen substantially over the past 43 years, the public remains divided, with Democrats and young people most in favor, while Republicans and older Americans are most likely to be opposed."

More grist for the mill as the Obama administration ponders its response to marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington.

Majority Says Feds Should Stay Out of Marijuana Legalization States

A slight majority of adults say the federal government should not attempt to enforce federal marijuana laws in states which have voted to legalize it, according to a new YouGov poll. Some 51% of respondents said the federal government should "exempt adults who follow state law from enforcement."

The poll was conducted December 5 and 6 among 1,000 adults. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.4%.

The poll comes as the Obama administration ponders how to respond to last month's passage of marijuana legalization measures Amendment 64 in Colorado and I-502 in Washington. While possession of up to an ounce by adults became legal last week in Washington and will become legal within weeks in Colorado, both states have a matter of months to come up with regulatory structures for commercial marijuana cultivation and distribution.

There has been speculation that the administration may attempt to block the regulatory and tax components on the initiatives, but this poll suggest little support for that among the public.

Fewer than one-third (30%) of respondents said the federal government should "enforce the drugs laws the same way it does in other states," while an unusually high 20% of respondents were not sure.

This is the second poll this month to find a majority saying the question of legalization should be left to the states. A CBS News poll last week  had 59% of respondents saying it should be up to the states. Like the YouGuv poll, this poll had only about one-third (34%) saying it should be up to the federal government.

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