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Judge Rules Canada's Pot Possession Laws Unconstitutional

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
CBC News
URL: 
http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2007/07/13/pot-toronto.html

Rudy Hates Pot Smokers (Especially Black and Brown Ones) More Than He Likes Effective Policing

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has gotten a lot of criticism this week for his comments rejecting medical marijuana and suggesting that its advocates are actually stalking horses for marijuana legalization. But his antipathy for marijuana goes far beyond simply rejecting its therapeutic applications and opens a window into what a Giuliani marijuana policy might look like. During Giuliani's years in office in the 1990s and into this decade, the number of marijuana arrests shot through the roof, rising from a few hundred before Giulani took office to more than 51,000 in 2000. At that point, thanks to Giulani's "zero tolerance" or "broken windows" approach to policing, New York City accounted for nearly 10% of all marijuana arrests in the country. But it wasn't that Giulani just hated pot smokers; the results of his marijuana policy show starkly that his ire was aimed at pot smokers of a certain color--and it wasn't white. As an analysis of city pot arrests between the early 1980s and the early 2000s showed, as marijuana busts shot upward during Rudy's reign, the arrests shifted from the wealthy, central areas of the city to the cities poor, black and Hispanic neighborhoods. As the authors of that study noted, "these arrests, which increased throughout the 1990's to reach a peak of 51,000 in 2000, do not seem to be primarily serving the goals of 'quality-of-life' policing - which aims to penalize even minor criminal offenses in highly public locations - anymore." Not only did the mass marijuana arrests not appear to be related to claimed decreases in violent crime, they appeared to be related to increases in violent crime, according to another researcher, Bernard Harcourt, commenting on the report:
New York City’s psychedelic experiment with misdemeanor MPV [marijuana possession violation] arrests—along with all the associated detentions, convictions, and additional incarcerations—represents a tremendously expensive policing intervention. As Golub et al. [authors of the original research] document well, the focus on MPV has had a significant disparate impact on African-American and Hispanic residents. Our study further shows that there is no good evidence that it contributed to combating serious crime in the city. If anything, it has had the reverse effect. As a result, the NYPD policy of misdemeanor MPV arrests represents an extremely poor trade-off of scarce law enforcement resources, imposing significant opportunity costs on society in light of the growing body of empirical research that highlights policing approaches that do appear to be successful in reducing serious crime. Our findings, building on those of Golub et al., make clear that these are not trade-offs in which we should be engaging.
So, not only did Giulani's mass marijuana arrest policy target racial minorities, it also hampered effective crime-fighting in the city. Can you imagine a President Giulani sitting in the White House and ordering something similar on a nationwide basis? It would certainly be a boon for the jail, drug testing, drug treatment, and other drug war-dependent industries, but I hope we are not at a point as a nation where we say "what's good for the prison-industrial complex is good for America." I'll be writing more about Giulani, his crime-fighting career, and what a Giulani presidency might mean for America's criminal justice system next week. But I have to wonder if what America needs now is a Prosecutor in Chief. (This blog post 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.)
Location: 
United States

Marijuana: California Superior Court Upholds Santa Barbara's "Lowest Enforcement Priority" Law

A California Superior Court judge Tuesday rebuffed an effort by the city of Santa Barbara to undo the city's voter-mandated policy of making the enforcement of the laws against marijuana use the city's lowest law enforcement priority. Voters approved the law, known as Measure P, last November with more than 65% of the vote, but recalcitrant city officials sued local activist Heather Poet, the initiative's proponent of record, in a bid to get the measure overturned.

The city argued that the law should be overturned because it interfered with state and federal marijuana law enforcement, but Judge Thomas Anderle disagreed, dismissing the case. "Nothing in [Measure P] prohibits enforcement of state law... Police officers can still arrest those who violate drug possession laws in their presence. The voters have simply instructed them that they have higher priority work to do," he said in his ruling. "Santa Barbara is free to decline to enforce federal criminal statutes," he added. "Indeed, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government from impressing 'into its service - and at no cost to itself - the police officers of the 50 states.'"

Judge Anderle also cited California's ban on SLAPP suits, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, which bars officials from suing individuals for their political activities. Although the city claimed in court filings that it sued Poet only because it needed someone to sue to challenge the law, Anderle found that the lawsuit arose from "her constitutional right to participate in the process of formulating laws" and thus violated the SLAPP suit law.

"Today's ruling is a major victory for the democratic process and a resounding affirmation of voters' right to de-prioritize marijuana enforcement," said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, which represented Poet in the proceedings and which filed the successful motion to dismiss. "The people of Santa Barbara would rather local law enforcement focus on combating serious crime than policing marijuana use. Today's ruling confirms that the voters can make this fundamentally local decision about their community's safety."

"It was terrifying to be sued by my own government, and for a fleeting moment it made me feel maybe I shouldn't have gotten involved in the democratic process," said Poet. "But this decision proves we do have a voice and we should never be afraid to use it. It also affirms that people in Santa Barbara, and throughout America, can protect their communities by having police focus on serious crime, rather than marijuana offenses."

Measure P makes "investigations, citations, arrests, property seizures, and prosecutions for adult marijuana offenses, where the marijuana was intended for adult personal use, the city of Santa Barbara's lowest law enforcement priority." At least six other California jurisdictions have enacted lowest law enforcement priority initiatives as part of a broader effort to end marijuana prohibition in the state.

Home State Blues, or What's an Itinerant Activist To Do?

Your itinerant Drug War Chronicle has been bouncing around North America for the last few years, spending significant amounts of time in Washington state, British Columbia, Mexico, Northern California, and my home state, South Dakota. The traveling is nice, but I’ve felt politically homeless, as if my presence anywhere were too fleeting for me to be able to do local or state-level politics, and that’s a frustration. So, as much as I would rather be elsewhere, I’m thinking I need to hunker down here in Dakotaland and try to get something done. It is not friendly territory. South Dakota is the only state where voters rejected an initiative to allow the medicinal use of marijuana. Although it was a close vote, 52% to 48%, it was still a loss. Medical marijuana bills (introduced by an acquaintance of mine) early in the decade went nowhere. The state has one of the fastest growing prison populations right now, thanks largely to its approach to methamphetamine use. Marijuana possession is routinely punished by $500 fines, and there is a good chance of jail time, too. (In fact, you may be better off being convicted of drunk driving, if my local court records are any indication.) And, most hideously of all, South Dakota is the only state I know of that has an “internal possession” law. That means when the police arrest you with a joint, they make you submit to a urine test, then charge you with an additional offense if you test positive. South Dakota judges also routinely sign drug search warrants that include forced drug tests. I know one gentleman currently serving a five-year prison sentence for “internal possession” of methamphetamine metabolites, and no, it wasn’t a plea bargain. That was the only charge they had. South Dakota’s drug reform community (which can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand) seems beaten down, but I think I’m going to reach out and see if I can’t get anyone interested in a four-pronged drug reform legislative package: Hemp. Our neighbors in North Dakota have passed a bill allowing farmers to grow hemp and are currently suing the DEA to force it out of the way. South Dakota farmers would like to make profits, too. Medical marijuana. Yeah, we lost a close one last year, and it’s never been able to get any traction in the legislature. But I think we should make them deal with it again. Our neighbors in Montana seem to be surviving medical marijuana. Marijuana decriminalization. Does South Dakota really think pot possession is more serious than drunk driving? Does the legislature understand the lifelong impact of pot conviction on its constituents? Our neighbors in Nebraska decriminalized pot back in the 1970s, and the cornfields are still standing. Repeal of the internal possession laws. Criminalizing someone for the content of his blood or urine is just wrong. Winning any of these will be an uphill battle, and perhaps even linking hemp to broader drug reform issues would spell its doom here. But I think it’s every good activist’s responsibility to do what he can to slow down the drug war juggernaut, so I’m going to give it a shot. What are you doing in your state?
Location: 
United States

Al Gore's son arrested on drug charges

Location: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Australian (Australia)
URL: 
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,22020989-1702,00.html

Feature: Supreme Court Uses "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" Case to Limit Students' Speech Rights

The US Supreme Court moved Monday to tighten limits on free speech for high school students, ruling that an Alaska high school could constitutionally punish a student who held up a 14-foot-long banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" during a school-related event. In a 5-4 decision, the high court held that schools may prohibit students from expressing views that could be interpreted as advocating drug use.

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March demonstration outside Supreme Court during Morris v. Frederick hearing
While the courts have held that students in school do not have the same First Amendment rights as other citizens, in a 1969 decision regarding the expression of anti-Vietnam War viewpoints by students, the court famously held that they did not shed the constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door. Since then, the court has trimmed back students' free speech rights in a couple of cases, and on Monday, it did so again.

The ruling came in Morse v. Frederick, a case that began in 2002 when Joseph Frederick led a group of students holding the banner aloft as an Olympic parade passed by. Students had been excused from school to attend the event. Principal Deborah Morse interpreted the nonsensical banner as a "pro-drug message," tore down the banner, and punished Frederick with a 10-day-suspension from school. Frederick filed suit in federal court charging that Morse and the school district had violated his First Amendment free speech rights, and after a series of rulings taking the case back and forth, it eventually ended up at the Supreme Court.

"The message on Frederick's banner is cryptic," Chief Justice John Roberts said in the majority opinion. "But Principal Morse thought the banner would be interpreted by those viewing it as promoting illegal drug use, and that interpretation is plainly a reasonable one."

A number of drug reform and civil liberties organizations, including the Drug Policy Alliance and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, as well as a broad spectrum of groups including the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, Christian Legal Society and Rutherford Institute to the Student Press Law Center, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Coalition Against Censorship filed or joined briefs supporting Frederick. The ACLU argued Frederick's case before the court.

While the narrowly drawn decision limits student speech regarding illegal activities, it does not give school administrators the right to suppress speech advocating political positions, such as the legalization of drugs. As Chief Justice John Roberts noted in the majority opinion, "This is plainly not a case about political debate over the criminalization of drug use or possession."

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/bong-hits-4-jesus-demonstrators-2.jpg
In a concurring opinion, Justices Alito and Kennedy joined with the majority, with the understanding that the ruling "provides no support for any restriction of speech that can plausibly be interpreted as commenting on any political or social issue, including speech on issues such as 'the wisdom of the war on drugs or of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.'"

"The decision indeed cuts back on speech rights for high school students," said UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, author of the Volokh Conspiracy law blog. "It claims on the one hand that 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' is an endorsement of illegal drug use, but at the same time, it denies that those words carry any kind of political or social message, and of course they do. Either it was nonsense, in which case it wasn't advocating anything, or, if it was advocacy for illegal drug use, it carried a social and political message."

The ruling could lead to move attempts to restrict student speech, Volokh said. "As a result of this confusion, lower courts may find more student speech to be unprotected because of unsound judgments that it is not really political advocacy."

There is also the sticky question of what happens when students combine advocacy of illegal drug use and advocacy of a political position, Volokh said. "What if someone says 'Repeal the marijuana laws because it's fun and safe'? That's a tougher question."

Reaction to the verdict from Frederick supporters was a mixture of disappointment, concern, and relief. "We take mild comfort that the decision clearly protects speech challenging the war on drugs. Never before has the Supreme Court stated so clearly that speech attacking the wisdom of the war on drugs is protected wherever it may occur," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"But who is going to decide what is appropriate speech?" Abrahamson continued. "Students are on the front lines of the war on drugs, and we are deeply concerned that free speech will now be administered by those who may wish to suppress open discussion on a range of topics such as the effectiveness of the DARE program, school drug testing policies, or random locker searches. Our constitutionally protected rights to free speech shouldn't have an arbitrary drug war exception."

"Thankfully the Supreme Court agreed with the arguments SSDP set forth in our brief, limiting punishable speech to that which expressly promotes drug use," said SSDP executive director Kris Krane. "But we are concerned that the Supreme Court's decision could cause confusion among school administrators, who may overreach and punish students for speech about drug policy despite the court's ruling today."

"We are disappointed by the Supreme Court's ruling, which allows the censorship of student speech without any evidence that school activities were disrupted," said Douglas K. Mertz, an ACLU cooperating attorney who argued the case before the Supreme Court.

"The Court's ruling imposes new restrictions on student speech rights and creates a drug exception to the First Amendment," said Steven R. Shapiro, ACLU National Legal Director. "The decision purports to be narrow, and the Court rejected the most sweeping arguments for school censorship. But because the decision is based on the Court's view about the value of speech concerning drugs, it is difficult to know what its impact will be in other cases involving unpopular speech.

"The Court cannot have it both ways," Shapiro added. "Either this speech had nothing to do with drugs, which is what Joe Frederick claimed all along, or it was suppressed because school officials disagreed with the viewpoint it expressed on an issue that is very much the subject of debate in Alaska and around the country."

If the ruling is a disappointment and a concern for free speech advocates, it is also notable for one of the most striking critiques of marijuana prohibition ever heard from the high court. In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justices David Souder and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, compared the current prohibition of marijuana to alcohol Prohibition. "But just as prohibition in the 1920's and early 1930's was secretly questioned by thousands of otherwise law-abiding patrons of bootleggers and speakeasies," wrote Stevens, "today the actions of literally millions of otherwise law-abiding users of marijuana, and of the majority of voters in each of the several States that tolerate medicinal uses of the product, lead me to wonder whether the fear of disapproval by those in the majority is silencing opponents of the war on drugs. Surely our national experience with alcohol should make us wary of dampening speech suggesting -- however inarticulately -- that it would be better to tax and regulate marijuana than to persevere in a futile effort to ban its use entirely."

"Even in high school," Stevens continued, "a rule that permits only one point of view to be expressed is less likely to produce correct answers than the open discussion of countervailing views… In the national debate about a serious issue, it is the expression of the minority's viewpoint that most demands the protection of the First Amendment. Whatever the better policy may be, a full and frank discussion of the costs and benefits of the attempt to prohibit the use of marijuana is far wiser than suppression of speech because it is unpopular."

That's the minority viewpoint, of course. But when talk like that starts coming from a Supreme Court justice, it makes one wonder just how hollow the drug prohibition edifice is. Steven's dissent suggests there is serious rot in the drug war consensus.

Marijuana: No More Automatic Arrest for Possession in Texas

As of September 1, people caught with up to a quarter-pound of marijuana in Texas will no longer automatically be arrested. Under HB 2391, a bill passed by the legislature and signed into law June 15 by Gov. Rick Perry (R), police will have the option of issuing a summons to appear for misdemeanor pot possession, as well as a number of other small-time offenses.

The measure was pushed by conservative legislators as a cost-cutting measure. "We want to get tough on crime, but we also want to get smart on crime," said state Rep. Jerry Madden (R), the bill's author. "Let's not spend a lot of taxpayers' money putting people in jail who don't need to be there," Madden told Fort Worth Star-Telegraph columnist Bud Kennedy last Saturday. "Let's give local police more discretion."

Possession of marijuana remains a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. But now, instead of using up valuable police time and jail space with marijuana and other misdemeanor offenders, police will have the discretion of just ordering them to show up before a magistrate within 48 hours. If they don't show, the magistrate can issue an arrest warrant.

Other offenses for which police can now issue summonses include petty theft, graffiti, and driving without a license.

"The idea was to free up more county jail space and law officers' time for violent offenders and sex offenders," said Marc Levin of the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative organization that lobbied for House Bill 2391. "We looked at how to save counties money. We always came back to the same answer: Take the low-level offenders out of the county jail," he told Kennedy.

Leave it to Texas to wise up about criminal justices priorities, even if just a bit. And it wasn't bleeding hearts, but bleating wallets that did it.

NORML's open letter to Sen. Norm Coleman

[The letter, complete with pictures, can be found at http://www.celebstoner.com/content/view/243/34/] Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman acknowledges on his website that he was a "campus organzizer in the '60s" when he attended Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. His Wikipedia entry states: "He ran for student senate and opined in the school newspaper that his fellow students should vote for him because he knew that 'these conservative kids don't fuck or get high like we do... Everyone watch out, the 1950s' bobby-sox generation is about to take over.'" Several photos (reproduced here) show the then longhaired Coleman speaking through a bullhorn and unfurling an anti-war banner with other students. Since that time, the Brooklyn, NY-born politician graduated from the University of Iowa Law School and stayed in the Midwest, where he worked as a prosecutor in Minnesota for 17 years before his two terms as mayor of St. Paul. In 1996, he switched parties - from Democrat to Republican - and in 1998 he lost the Minnesota governor's race to Jesse Ventura. In 2002, Coleman was elected senator by a 2% margin. He benefitted from the sudden death of the state's incumbant Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash 11 days before the election. NORML board member Norm Kent, who is a lawyer as well, went to Hofstra with Coleman. Kent recently received a form letter from Coleman regarding his current anti-marijuana positiion. It reads, in part: "I oppose the legalization of marijuana because, as noted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, marijuana can have serious adverse health affects on individuals. The health problems that may occur from this highly addictive drug include short-term memory loss, anxiety, respiratory illness and a risk of lung cancer that far exceeds that of tobacco products. It would also make our transportation, schools and workplaces, just as examples, more dangerous." Offended by Coleman's comments, Kent fired of a letter to his former smoking buddy. NORM KENT'S LETTER TO SEN. NORM COLEMAN Dear Mr. Coleman, My friend Norman. Years ago, in a lifetime far away, you did not oppose the legalization of marijuana. Years ago, in our dorm rooms at Hofstra University, you, me, Billy, your future brother-in-law, Ivan, Jonathan, Peter, Janet, Nancy and a wealth of other students smoked dope. Sure, we had to tape the doors shut, burn incense and open the windows, but we got high, and yet we grew up okay, without the help of the Office of National Drug Control Policy's advice. We grew up to become lawyers. Our other friends, as you go down the list, are doctors, professors, parents, political consultants and professionals. No one ever got cancer from smoking pot or diabetes from using a joint. And the days of our youth we look back fondly upon as years where we stood up, were counted and made a difference, from Earth Day in 1970 to helping bring down a president and end a war in Southeast Asia a few years later. We smoked pot when we took over Weller Hall to protest administrative abuses of students' rights. You smoked pot as you stood on the roof of the University Senate protesting faculty exclusivity. As the President of the Student Senate in 1969, you condemned the raid by Nassau County police on our dormitories, busting scores of students for pot possession. You never said then that pot was dangerous. What was scary then, and is as frightening now, is when national leaders become voices of hypocrisy, harbingers of the status quo, and protect their own position instead of the public good. Welcome to the crowd of those who have become a likeness of which they despised. Welcome to the mindless myriad of legislators who gather in cocktail lounges to manhandle their martinis while passing laws against drunk driving. We have seen more people die last year from spinach then pot. We have endured generations of drug addicts overdosing on a multitude of drugs, from heroin to crystal methamphetamine. In your public life, as an attorney general, mayor and United States senator, you have been in the forefront of speaking out against abuses which are harmful. You have been a noble and honorable public servant. How about not being such a dope on dope? How about admitting that if the Rockefeller drug laws were applied to Norman Bruce Coleman on Long Island in 1968, or to me, or to our friends, and fellow students, you, I and others we knew and loved might just be getting out of jail now? How about recognizing that for too long too many have been wrongly arrested, unjustly prosecuted and illegally incarcerated for unconscionable periods of time? How about recognizing that you have peers who have smoked pot for 25 years or more and they are successful record producers, businessmen and parents? How about standing up and saying you have heard and witnessed countless stories of persons who have used pot medicinally, as I have, to endure the effects of chemotherapy? You who have travelled to Africa and seen the face of AIDS so up close and personal would deny medicinal marijuana relief to those souls wasting away from malnutrition, nausea and no access to fundamental medicines? How about not adopting the sad and sorry archaic path of our office of drug control, which this week suggested pot smokers are more likely to become gang members than others? How about standing up and saying: "I, Norm Coleman, smoked pot in 1969." That "I am not a gang member, a drug addict or a criminal." How about saying: "I was able to responsibly integrate my prior pot use into my life, and still succeed on my own merits." How about standing up not only for who you are, but who you were? How about it, Norm? I will always love, admire and cherish what you have achieved and accomplished and the goals you have met. I will always fondly look at the remarkable success of your present. How about you looking back at your past and saying: "What I did was not so wrong and not so bad and not so hurtful that generations of Americans should still, decades later, be going to jail for smoking pot - nearly one million arrests for possession last year." Can't Norm Coleman come out of the closet in 2007 and say "These arrests are wrong - that there is a better way, and we need to find it." You might find more integrity and honor in that then adopting the sad and sorry policy of our Office of National Drug Control Policy. You might find the person you were. Norm Kent
Location: 
United States

Middle East: Dubai Sentences Two More Westerners To Prison Over Infinitesimal Amounts of Drugs

The Dubai Court of First Instance has sentenced two more Westerners to four-year prison terms for possessing tiny amounts of illicit drugs as they transited the Dubai airport. Four years is the minimum sentence for drug possession in the United Arab Emirates.

In the first case, a 25-year-old Britain, identified only as W.H., was sent to prison last week for possessing 0.07 grams of marijuana and two tiny slivers of hashish. The unfortunate Briton told the court he did not intend to bring drugs to Dubai, but merely forget the drug remnants were in his pockets. He will be deported after serving his sentence.

This week, a Canadian citizen employed as a consultant for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and an advisor to the Afghan Poppy Elimination Program was sent to prison for possessing 0.06 grams of hashish. The Dubai courts do not identify defendants, but Canadian press reports named him as Herbert William Tatham of Vancouver.

Tatham's attorney, Saeed Al Gailani, said during an earlier hearing that Tatham was returning from taking part in a drug eradication campaign and that he must have picked up the drug traces in the course of his work. "His trousers must have mistakenly picked up the tiny quantity of hashish," the lawyer had said.

But Dubai's Court of First Instance did not care.

Feature: ONDCP Kicks Off Annual Summer Marijuana Scare Campaign With Report Linking Drugs to Gangs, Violence

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ONDCP TV ad ''flat''
Drug czar John Walters and his minions at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) have kicked off the summer season with a report on teens, drugs, gangs, and violence. The report, part of ONDCP's widely criticized National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, links marijuana use to gang membership and links teen drug use to higher rates of violence and other anti-social activities. But the ONDCP report is raising a storm of disapproval from critics who charge it is misleading and intentionally obfuscatory.

"Teens who use drugs are more likely to engage in violent and delinquent behavior and join gangs," the report declared. "Research shows that early use of marijuana -- the most commonly used drug among teens -- is a warning sign for later gang involvement." After next warning that summer is a risky time and that "teens who use drugs are twice as likely to commit violent acts," the report got to a series of bullet points including the following:

  • Teens who use drugs, particularly marijuana, are more likely to steal and experiment with other drugs and alcohol, compared to teens who don't;
  • One in four teens (27%) who used illicit drugs in the past year report attacking others with the intent to harm;
  • Nearly one in six teens (17%) who got into serious fights at school or work in the past year report using drugs;
  • Teens who use marijuana regularly are nine times more likely than teens who don't to experiment with other illicit drugs or alcohol, and five times more likely to steal.

"This is such transparent nonsense that I'm almost speechless," said Bruce Mirken, the usually loquacious communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Marijuana doesn't cause violence and it doesn't cause criminality. Prohibition, however, does. That's the connection and that's exactly what they don't want to talk about. In that sense, this report is even more egregiously dishonest than most of what ONDCP puts out."

"It is incredibly ironic to see ONDCP simultaneously advancing the idea that marijuana causes laziness, which it has been doing for years, and then turn around and try to tell us that marijuana causes violence," said Scott Morgan, blogger for DRCNet. "It is also pretty shoddy to suggest a link between marijuana and gang membership. To whatever extent marijuana users are likely to join gangs, these relationships are facilitated by drug prohibition, which creates the black market in which these gangs thrive."

"That some kids join gangs has nothing to do with marijuana at all," agreed Mirken. "Our drug laws have handed the marijuana market to the gangs, and the association is a direct result of stupid laws. If we regulated marijuana like alcohol, those associations would disappear overnight."

In fact, the data linking marijuana use to gang membership is quite limited. ONDCP relied on one 2001 study of Seattle students to arrive at the conclusion that the two are linked.

"Walters and Murray seem to have their usual array of components at work here: an ad hominem attack against the 1960s, a bunch of supposedly pro-family pablum, an attack against those who take a different approach, and their typical twisting of data for the uninformed," groaned Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

"What ONDCP is in effect telling us is that its billions of dollars worth of propaganda does not stop young people from using marijuana, and secondly, that a very small percentage of them go on to experiment with other drugs," said St. Pierre.

Pete Guither at the Drug WarRant blog took issue with the claim that drug users were involved in 17% of fights. "It all sounds scary, unless you actually look at it," he wrote. "If you look at the 2007 Monitoring the Future report, you see that the percentages of any teens who used drugs in the past year are: 8th grade (14.8%), 10th grade (28.7%), and 12th grade (36.5%). So to say that 17% of teens who got into serious fights report using drugs is not a particularly alarming thing. In fact, it appears by these numbers that teens who use drugs are actually less likely to get into serious fights."

ONDCP also seems to have trouble with the notion of cause and effect, said MPP's Mirken. "If you look at the studies of kids, the ones who are smoking marijuana or using drugs or alcohol at a young age are the ones that are already having problems, already not doing well in school," said Mirken. "It is not surprising that this troubled group of young people is doing all sorts of bad behaviors, but trying to pin that on marijuana is just absolute nonsense."

The report's release may have more to do with ONDCP worries about budget cuts for programs proven not to be effective, like the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, than with actual cause and effect relationships between youth drug use and anti-social behavior, suggested Tom Angell, government relations director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).

"It would appear that ONDCP has nervously pushed this out because they are terrified that congressional leaders are moving to cut the funding for many of their so-called anti-drug programs," said Angell. "They're grasping at straws, trying to get as much ammo as possible to defend their much-loved big budget items."

"This is just another shock report that ONDCP feels it needs to put out to get any press at all," said St. Pierre. "Everything ONDCP has done for the last five years is about whipping up fear, anxiety, and emotional contagion among parents to try to maintain the status quo and keep some part of the media reporting on this ridiculous report."

Even there, ONDCP had limited success. Aside from reports in several Philadelphia media outlets, where drug czar Walters held a press conference to announce the report, a lone Associated Press story was picked up by 65 media outlets, most of them TV news stations in small to medium markets. Only a handful of print media ran the story, and that includes one outlet in marijuana-phobic Australia and one in Great Britain.

But that won't stop ONDCP from producing more sensational but misleading reports, said NORML's St. Pierre. "We can set our calendars and know that about a week before school starts in the fall, we'll get the next big scare effort from ONDCP," he predicted.

Drug War Issues

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