The Speakeasy Blog

New Jersey Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances

A New Jersey marijuana decriminalization bill has passed its first hurdle, advancing out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Chronicle story here.

Harsh Cameron Douglas Sentence Sparks Appeal, Support

After Cameron Douglas got caught with heroin and Suboxone in federal prison, he got hammered with an additional 4 1/2 years. That harsh sentence has sparked an effort not only to overturn that sentence, but also to highlight the lack of drug treatment for addicted prisoners. Chronicle story here.

Did You Know? Historical Timeline of Marijuana and Medicine

ProCon.org is a set of in-depth web sites presenting information and views from on current issues, several with relevance to drug policy. The Chronicle is currently running a series of info items from ProCon.org -- this  one from medicalmarijuana.procon.org -- and we encourage you to check it out. In Drug War Chronicle, here.

Why Is Clarence Aaron Still in Federal Prison? [FEATURE]

Is the Office of the Pardon Attorney, which recommends to the president who should win pardons or commutations, doing its job? The case of Clarence Aaron suggests it is not, and advocates are crying foul. Chronicle story here.

Did You Know? Historical Timeline of Drugs and Sports

ProCon.org is a set of in-depth web sites presenting information and views from on current issues, several with relevance to drug policy. The Chronicle is currently running a series of info items from ProCon.org -- this one from sportsanddrugs.procon.org -- and we encourage you to check it out.

Oklahoma Governor Signs Prison Reform Bill

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) has signed a bill that requires welfare applicants to be screened for drug use and drug tested for "reasonable cause." If they test positive, they lose their benefits. Chronicle story here.

France's New President to Invest Heavily in Marijuana Arrests

France's new president, François Hollande, has vowed to continue France's expensive addiction to repressive drug policies. Tom Blickman reports for the Transnational Institute:

Hollande's choice as Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, is a declared opponent to any reform on cannabis. During the election campaign, Hollande already opposed the proposal to convert the criminal offence of cannabis use into misdemeanour, put forward by his security adviser and mayor of Dijon, François Rebsamen. Hollande did not want to "give any signal foregoing a deterrent against the use of cannabis."

 

Hollande's comment begs the question, "what deterrent?" The president has presumably heard of something called "data." What do available data suggest about France's current marijuana policy?

The data suggest it is a failure. According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), France's adults (age 15-64) in their most recent national survey had a 4.8% past-month cannabis use prevalence, compared with 3.3% under the Dutch "coffee shop" tolerance system and 2.4% under Portugal's far reaching decriminalization. Young adults in France (15-34) reported 9.8% past-month prevalence, compared with 5.6% and 4.5% in the Netherlands and Portugal. Among youth aged 15-24, France boasts a 12.7% past-month cannabis use rate, vs. 5.3% and 4.1% in the Netherlands and Portugal. These numbers go back to 2005 and 2007, but things are similar enough today to make the point. As the World Health Organization concluded in a 2008 global study, harsh drug laws do not correlate simply with drug use rates.

Hollande's opposition to drug policy reform comes at a time of deep economic crisis, with Hollande personally under significant pressure to scale back his opposition to the unpopular austerity measures he campaigned against, in order to be able to work with countries like Germany to save the Eurozone. But marijuana enforcement, while providing some jobs for French police officers, mostly forces more austerity on the rest of the country. According to Blickman, the unsuccessful candidate for Hollande's interior minister pick, François Rebsamen, pointed out, "There are 142,000 cannabis procedures per year, corresponding to hundreds of thousands of hours of work for the police producing only 24,000 prosecutions." Paris University economist Pierre Kopp has found that "The state could save about €300 million on spending arising out of [marijuana] arrests, or perhaps even more if you include the cost of custody, the running of courts and the enforcement of sentences. The state would also receive duty worth about €1 billion."

Hollande's sorry start on the issue provides a useful reminder that reformers need to exert pressure on politicians of all stripes to hold them to account. It's generally believed that left-leaning politicos are better on issues like drug policy than their opponents, and that's true more often than not. Factions within Hollande's Socialist Party have even done some work advocating liberalized approaches to marijuana and other drugs. Nevertheless, drugs and crime are often the "throwaway" issues of choice for leftist politicians looking for ways to woo some right-leaning voters their way, especially prominent politicians. It's important to note that Hollande has not just rejected a Netherlands-style coffee shop system, nor even just decriminalization for users. Hollande has even opposed changing marijuana possession to a misdemeanor. That is a fairly extremely position, in principle, current policies notwithstanding.

So instead of siding with science and data and common sense, nor even with needed budget relief for his countrymen, France's new president has instead picked the meanest and stupidest marijuana policy he realistically could have. He should be called out for it.

Would Romney be Worse for Medical Marijuana Than Obama? Ctd

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Andrew Sullivan responds to my statement that, regarding medical marijuana, "I honestly doubt Romney could be any worse than [Obama] if he tried."

I don't. The man doesn't even drink coffee. His impulse when seeing a man with muscular dystrophy in desperate need of medical marijuana was to listen, ignore and then walk away. Obama deserves criticism on medical marijuana - but the notion that there would be no difference between his DEA and Romney's strikes me as ... well I can't help remembering how, in 2000, I thought Gore would be no different than Bush.

I do agree that Obama is almost certainly a lot less hostile to the issue than Romney is on a personal level. I could have been clearer that my point wasn't so much to suggest that they would definitely be equally bad on the issue, but rather that it's incoherent to defend Obama's actions based on the premise that Romney would obviously be worse. I've been told more than once that I should mute my criticism of Obama and instead encourage the medical marijuana community to support him for fear of Romney, and I think that's rather ridiculous.

What worries me is that Obama seems to be getting a pass on some things that I suspect would invite more vigorous outrage if carried out by Romney. When the President claimed that the raids were focused on groups that violated their own state laws, even Andrew Sullivan, an outspoken critic of the raids, agreed it was a fair point. He later went on to say, "I also wish some states had exercized more discretion and care in allowing for medical marijuana."

I understand Andrew's concern, but let's not forget what happened when states did exercise discretion and care in attempting to regulate medical marijuana activity. Obama's DOJ threatened to arrest not only the providers, but also the state officials monitoring them to ensure compliance with state law. Federal posturing stalled efforts to regulate dispensaries in Washington and Rhode Island, and resulted in the elimination of a strict plant-tagging program in California that was becoming a model for effective regulation.

What we've got now is the functional equivalent of chasing off the code inspectors and then claiming that our restaurants are dirty. Sure, there's been some excessive profiteering and other abuses in the medical marijuana industry, but to a large extent, those problems are a result of federal interference and not an excuse for it.

Any discussion of Obama's approach to medical marijuana is incomplete if it doesn't address the far-reaching implications of these efforts to thwart regulation at the state level. This is true not only because these events show how this administration has posed an existential threat to medical marijuana in states that are trying to launch programs, but also because they vividly illustrate the inaccuracy of Obama's recent suggestion that his DOJ is merely upholding local laws.

The fact that he's comfortable misrepresenting events that have unfolded before our eyes means that not enough pressure is being applied from Obama's pro-medical marijuana base, and I'm worried that fear of Romney is part of the reason why.

Update: To be clear, none of this is to suggest that Andrew Sullivan hasn't done enough to criticize Obama on this issue. He's done an awesome job of that. 

Follow Scott Morgan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drugblogger

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

New York Police Stop Every Young Black Man in the City…For Safety

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The latest data on stop and frisks in New York City is nothing short of horrifying. Kristen Gwynne at AlterNet reports.

For the NYPD's stats to add up, they'd have to have stopped every young, black man living in the city once--and then some. Both marijuana arrests and street stops are soaring under Bloomberg’s administration, but the data shows that rise in aggressive policing is only apparent in certain communities. Demonstrators stressed that pot arrests and stop-and-frisk have come to epitomize a city-wide problem requiring urgent redress.  

In 2011 alone, more than 50,000 New Yorkers -- 87 percent of whom are black or Latino -- were arrested for petty marijuana possession. Though often considered a trivial arrest, a pot conviction can have serious consequences. 

No kidding. But Mayor Bloomberg defends the policy, and its horrible consequences, by claiming it's all about getting guns off the street:

The number of guns that we've been finding has continued to go down, which says the program at this scale is doing a great job....The whole idea here, John, is not to catch people with guns; it's to prevent people from carrying guns. It's like a stop we have for driving while intoxicated. It would be great if everybody said, "Oh my goodness, I might get stopped so I'm not gonna drink and drive." That's great. That's what we want. That would be wonderful. And the fact that we're getting fewer guns says the program is working. And the program will really have succeeded when we don't get any guns.

Yet, as Jacob Sullum points out, searching people without evidence for the sole purpose of deterring crime is completely and utterly unconstitutional. Think about the actual words Bloomberg uses here: "The whole idea here…is not to catch people with guns; it's to prevent people from carrying guns." If you're not actually even trying to catch people with guns, what on earth is the legal justification for stopping these guys in the first place? It's illegal to stop someone on suspicion of carrying a firearm unless you have a reason to believe that they're carrying a firearm, and just to clear up any confusion, being black doesn't count as evidence that somebody's got a gun.

Moreover, if this is really all about protecting the public from gun violence, I'd like to know why it's necessary to arrest people who were unarmed but happened to have a little bit of marijuana in their pocket when police stopped them to look for guns. Concealed possession of small amounts of marijuana isn't supposed to be a crime in New York anyway, but particularly in the context of a public safety policy solely aimed at taking weapons off the streets, why are marijuana users being arrested at all? It looks horrible in the press and badly exacerbates the appearance (heck, let's just call it the reality) of racial bias underlying this whole hideous process. 

The bottom line is that if this program isn't all about stopping, searching, and arresting young black men for marijuana on a massive scale, then the procedures should be changed to produce some outcome other than a bunch of blatantly racist drug arrests. If anyone in NYPD needs advice on how not to racially profile people and arrest them for petty offenses, I have a few ideas, most of which revolve around the following theme: stop doing it.

Mitt Romney's Crazy Comments on Medical Marijuana

The instant I write something suggesting that Romney wouldn't be any worse than Obama on medical marijuana, along comes Romney flipping out on a reporter for merely asking about it. The fun starts at 2:10:

So…Mitt Romney totally hates marijuana, but also doesn’t think it's important enough to be worth talking about. It's a horribly tone-deaf and idiotic thing to say in Colorado, where marijuana policy is a major issue and a legalization initiative is hitting the ballot the same day Romney is asking Coloradans for their votes. Language like that is also just perfect for alienating the Ron Paul crowd, whose support he desperately needs if he's going to get anywhere in the general election. 

But just when you thought Romney was completely clueless on this, watch the end of the interview (at about 4:50) and you'll see him saying marijuana is a state issue that's irrelevant to his presidential campaign. Seriously? You wait until the interview is over to say something interesting about this?

A lot of people in Colorado and elsewhere would be very excited to think that Mitt Romney would leave marijuana policy up to the states. To even suggest such a thing is a very clever hedge that might work to earn some sympathy from libertarian-leaning republicans.  But if you're gonna take that path, don't precede it by saying pot is a horrible gateway drug and insulting everyone by insisting the issue isn't even significant enough to discuss.

It really shouldn’t even be necessary to explain to a prominent politician that people ask questions because they care about the subject. It's just impossibly rude and stupid to mock anything any reasonable person asks you, especially when it has to do with a policy as deeply unpopular and controversial as the government's ongoing war on medical marijuana. If marijuana is important enough to arrest people for possessing, then it's important enough to discuss. And if it's important enough to discuss, then no politician who can't or won't discuss it intelligently is fit to hold public office.

It should soon become clear to Mitt Romney that he can't visit states like Colorado without taking questions about marijuana, and when that happens, he'd be very wise to tell us a lot less about how marijuana is a "gateway drug," and a lot more about how it's a state issue.

Follow Scott Morgan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drugblogger

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

What's the REAL Reason for Obama's Medical Marijuana Crackdown?

Posted in:

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There's an interesting article at The Week looking at some different theories regarding the reasons behind Obama's medical marijuana crackdown. You can choose from one of more of the following:

1. He's trying to look tough because he believes – rightly or wrongly – that he could be vulnerable to being labeled "soft on crime" during the election.

2. He doesn't think the "marijuana vote" is strong enough to have a meaningful impact on him politically.

3.  The medical marijuana industry got too big too fast, forcing the federal government to intervene.

Do we have our answer here somewhere? I wouldn't immediately dismiss any of this, although if the Obama Administration actually believes they're scoring political points with this madness, they are out of their minds. In any case, these ideas effectively sum up most of the speculation I've heard recently from serious observers.

But there's a larger point to made here: the reason we can only speculate as to the Obama Administration's motives is because they won't even admit that this crackdown is taking place, let alone explain the reasoning behind it. We shouldn't have to sit around guessing what this is about. The President, or the Attorney General, or someone with knowledge of the situation should tell us.

I'm serious. It sounds terribly naïve even to me as I write it, but there really is no logical reason why our government can’t simply tell us why they are doing these things that they've been doing. We can see them doing it. Just tell us what it's all about. Wouldn't it be easier that way?

Think about it. If state lawmakers, local law enforcement, medical marijuana providers, patients, advocates, and the media all understood what the Obama Administration's enforcement priorities and long-term goals regarding medical marijuana actually are, we could all make more informed decisions that make life a lot easier for everyone else. We've all become so accustomed to this being a big guessing game that nobody stops to point out how crazy that is.

The Obama Administration's continued insistence on discussing medical marijuana in the most brief and vague possible terms has created an enormous amount of confusion and wasted time on every side of this debate. Medical marijuana is a matter of public policy. Can we please just talk about it in public?

Follow Scott Morgan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drugblogger

Medical Marijuana Update

The national battle over medical marijuana is heating up, Connecticut is about to become the 17th medical marijuana state, and state and local battles continue. And so do the DEA raids. Busy, busy, busy. Chronicle story here. Chronicle story here.

House to Vote on Defunding Medical Marijuana Raids [FEATURE]

In a bid to snuff out the federal medical marijuana crackdown, four US congressman have introduced an amendment that would bar the Justice Department from spending money to do so. It awaits a vote any day now. Chronicle story here.

Charlottesville Says Decriminalize or Regulate Marijuana

The city council in the Virginia college town of Charlottesville had adopted a resolution calling on the state to consider decriminalizing or regulating marijuana, but balked at adding lowest law enforcement priority language. Chronicle story here.

Dutch "Weed Pass" Plan Hitting Bumps

The Dutch move to bar foreigners from cannabis cafes on the southern border has been met by coffee shop closures in protest, legal action, and police who seem to have better things to do. Meanwhile, the drug tourists are simply driving deeper into the country. Chronicle story here.

Would Romney be Worse for Medical Marijuana Than Obama?

My latest Huffington Post piece takes a look at the argument that medical marijuana advocates should support Obama, despite what he's done, because Romney would be so much worse. Check it out and let me know what you think.

What Happens AFTER You Refuse a Police Search?

Flex Your Rights has been working for many years now to educate everyone we can about the importance of refusing police searches and otherwise knowing and asserting your constitutional rights when confronted by police. Unfortunately, even if you handle a police encounter perfectly, things can still get pretty ugly. This video discusses how to handle some of the challenges you can run into after asserting your rights:

Connecticut Bill to Strengthen Racial Profiling Ban Passes

A bill that will revive and strengthen Connecticut's largely dormant racial profiling law has passed the legislature, and Gov. Malloy says he will sign it into law. Chronicle story here.

Did You Know? Legal Drinking Age 138 Countries, from ProCon.org

ProCon.org is a set of in-depth web sites presenting information and views from on current issues, several with relevance to drug policy. The Chronicle is currently running a series of info items from ProCon.org -- this  one from drinkingage.procon.org -- and we encourage you to check it out. Chronicle story here.

Connecticut to Become 17th Medical Marijuana State

Connecticut is about to join the ranks of the medical marijuana states, but in a bid to fend off the feds, its new law is one of the most tightly-drawn yet. Chronicle story here.

Colorado Per Se Drugged Driving Bill Moving

A bill that would label drivers impaired if they have more than five nanograms of THC per milliliter in their blood even if they are not actually impaired has passed the Colorado Senate and a House committee. Foes are still seeking to kill or amend it. Chronicle story here.

DEA Forgets Student in Cell, Pols Want Answers

DEA agents arrested a San Diego college student in a drug bust, then forgot about him, leaving him in a holding cell for five days. Now, the California congressional delegation wants answers, and his lawyer wants the DEA to pay big bucks. Chronicle story here.

Pelosi Condemns Medical Marijuana Crackdown

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has joined the chorus of critics condemning the Obama administration's crackdown on medical marijuana businesses. Will that catch the president's attention? Chronicle story here.

New Hampshire Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Killed

Faced with a veto threat from Gov. John Lynch (D), the New Hampshire Senate voted Wednesday to kill a marijuana decriminalization bill that had already passed the House. Chronicle story here.

MSNBC.com Article on DEA "Lost Prisoner"

I'm quoted, fairly extensively, in an article appearing on msnbc.com about Daniel Chong, the student who almost died handcuffed in a detention cell after DEA personnel forgot about him for five days. Check it out here.

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