Marijuana -- Personal Use

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Politics: New York Governor Admits Past Cocaine, Marijuana Use, Few Are Bothered
David Paterson
New York Gov. David Paterson unapologetically admitted to having used cocaine and marijuana in a television interview on NY1 News over the weekend, and for the most part, the revelation was greeted with a collective yawn. A handful of professional anti-drug advocates could be found to express their dismay, but otherwise, it appeared as if admissions of past drug use by politicians don't carry much negative weight anymore.

In his first TV interview since becoming governor in the wake of Eliot Spitzer's prostitution scandal and subsequent resignation, Paterson was asked by host Dominic Carter if he had ever used illicit drugs. Paterson responded that he had spoken publicly about the issue during the 2006 campaign:

Dominic Carter: You have?

David Paterson: Yes

Dominic Carter: Marijuana?

David Paterson: Yes

Dominic Carter: Cocaine?

David Paterson: Yes

Dominic Carter: You used cocaine, governor?

David Paterson: I'd say I was 22 or 23, I tried it a couple of times, yes.

Dominic Carter: When is the last time that -- is that the only time you've tried cocaine, governor?

David Paterson: Yeah, around that time, a couple of times and marijuana, probably, when I was about 20. I don't think I've touched marijuana since the late 70s.

Such admissions once marked a death knell for public office, as attorney Douglas Ginsburg found out early in the Reagan administration, when his admission of previous pot-smoking saw his nomination to the Supreme Court go up in smoke. But in recent years, politicians including former New York Gov. George Pataki, current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and, of course, former President Bill Clinton have all admitted to past marijuana use, with no apparent impact on their political viability. More recently, Sen. Barack Obama's admission of youthful cocaine and marijuana use does not seem to be dragging him down.

But that didn't stop Calvina Fay, director of the Drug Free America Foundation, from worrying that admissions like Paterson's "send the wrong message" to America's youth. Politicians need to accompany such admissions with anti-drug propaganda, she suggested in an interview with the New York Sun. "It's really their responsibility to take that extra step and to talk about how it's not something they are proud of. It's not something that is smart, that they were literally risking their life, and risking their future, so that our children don't get the idea that you can just do drugs and someday be governor," she said.

Joe Califano, head of the Center on Alcohol and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, echoed the thought. "I think they ought to be honest but I think they also have to say this is not something you should do," he said. "That other piece is very important."

But in an interview with Newsday columnist Ellis Hennican, Drug Police Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann said the number of drug users in America had reached critical mass and it was time for "a more realistic" discussion of drug use.

"With numbers like these, the notion that someone has to lie is ludicrous at this point," said Nadelmann. "Look at the cohort of people age 30 to 60," he said. "A pretty substantial minority has done cocaine. Despite all the drug-war rhetoric, the vast majority of people who used cocaine did not go on to develop a coke habit or end up in terrible states. Some did. But the addiction rate was probably similar to that of alcohol."

One more politician has come out of the closet. Not only is Gov. Paterson an example to other elected officials, he is also in a position to do something about New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws. Let's see if he can offer up something other than mere memories.

They Won't Give Up -- Alaska Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in State's Bid to Overturn Legal Marijuana At Home

For more than 30 years, Alaska's courts have held that the state constitution's privacy protections barred the state from criminalizing adults possessing and consuming small amounts of marijuana in the privacy of their homes. Although voters passed an initiative recriminalizing marijuana in 1991 and more than a decade passed before the courts found that measure unconstitutional, Alaska's courts have never wavered from the landmark 1975 decision in Ravin v. State that legalized home possession.
propaganda show by Gov. Murkowski and drug czar Walters
That has never set well with prohibitionists, as evidenced by the 1991 initiative. Two years ago, after the courts restated their adherence to Ravin, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) tried again to undo the status quo. Then, he managed to push through the legislature a bill that would once again recriminalize marijuana possession, and he stacked it with a series of "legislative findings" based on one-sided science designed to make the case that the nature of marijuana had changed so dramatically since the 1970s that Alaska's courts should rethink their position.

But when that law took effect in June 2006, the ACLU of Alaska sued the state, and Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins struck it down that summer, saying it conflicted with the state supreme court's decision in Ravin. The state appealed, and last Thursday, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.

Former Assistant Attorney General Dean Guaneli came out of retirement to reprise his old role as lead man in the Alaska law enforcement establishment's effort to undo the Ravin decision. It's not your father's marijuana, he argued, saying that it is far more potent than before, that pregnant women in Alaska are more prone to using marijuana than elsewhere in the country, and that 10% of users become dependent on the drug. All of this, he argued, is sufficient for the state high court to revisit and reverse its decision in Ravin.

The ACLU, representing itself and two anonymous plaintiffs, however, argued that the court should not bow to politically motivated findings that were tailor-made for the case. The court "needs to look with extreme skepticism at the legislature's findings" before overturning decades of decisions protecting Alaskan's rights to privacy, said ACLU attorney Jason Brandeis during the hearing.

The court will not issue a decision on the case for six months to a year, but it was being watched with interest by observers across the country. Marijuana law reform proponents in particular are hoping that Alaska will continue to be in the vanguard.

"Alaska currently has the best marijuana laws in the country -- it's perfectly legal to possess small amounts in your home -- and it would be a terrible setback if this court were to reverse a decision in place for more than 30 years," said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "But so far, the courts there have held it is unconstitutional to attach penalties to the private use of marijuana."

"This is a very important case that deals with some fundamental legal principles," said Jason Brandeis, who argued the case along with Adam Wolf of the national ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project. "First, there is the matter of stare decisis, respect for precedent. What we are asking the court to do is respect the precedent of Ravin and continue to rule that absent a really good reason, the state can't invade the sanctity of the home and preclude adults from engaging in certain types of conduct," he said.

"The state says it has new evidence that marijuana is dangerous, and that justifies the state piercing the sanctity of the home, but our position is simply that they don't have the scientific evidence to support that claim," said Brandeis. "The question is whether adults using marijuana at home rises to a level of social harm that justifies abrogating their privacy rights. We don't think so."

While the Alaska ruling will be important as an example to the rest of the country, said Stroup, it will also have a practical impact. "One reason this case is so important is that so long as it is legal to have small amounts at home, even if the police smell marijuana, that's not probable cause for arrest or a search warrant," he pointed out. "That's important."

For Ravin to be overturned, said Brandeis, the court would have to find a "close and substantial" relationship between preventing an adult from smoking marijuana at home and the state's interest in protecting the public health and safety. A ruling like that would be "a big step backwards," he said. "It would be a big blow to our privacy rights, and we take our privacy very seriously up here."

Brandeis refused to predict the outcome of the case, but sounded confident. "It's pretty clear the court knows what the issues are," he said. "There were a lot of questions about what level of deference the court should give the legislative findings, and I think we presented strong arguments that the court should not defer in this situation."

Stroup was not quite as cautious. Despite what he described as Gov. Murkowski's "reefer madness" and the legislative findings it inspired, Stroup pronounced himself confident that Ravin will be upheld. "I don't think we'll lose this," he said. "I have no reason to believe the Alaska Supreme Court will do anything differently than it did in Ravin."

Marijuana: Barney Frank to Introduce Federal Decriminalization Bill

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) used a Friday night appearance on the HBO program "Real Time," hosted by Bill Maher, to announce that he planned to file a federal bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana this week. Frank, who has long been a supporter of marijuana law reform, said that federal law unfairly targets medical marijuana patients in states where it is legal. He also argued that decisions about whether to make marijuana illegal should be left up to the states.
Barney Frank
Asked by Maher as to why he would push a pot decriminalization bill now, Frank said the American public has already decided that personal use of marijuana is not a problem. "I now think it's time for the politicians to catch up to the public," Frank said. "The notion that you lock people up for smoking marijuana is pretty silly. I'm going to call it the 'Make Room for Serious Criminals' bill."

Elaborating on his TV remarks in a Sunday interview with the Associated Press, the Massachusetts congressman said elected officials are lagging behind public opinion on the issue. "Do you really think people should be prosecuted for smoking marijuana? I don't think most people agree with that. It's one area where the public is ahead of the elected officials," Frank said. "It does not appear to me to be a law that society is serious about."

He seemed particularly irked by DEA raids and federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers in California. "I don't think smoking marijuana should be a federal case," he said. "There's no federal law against mugging."

A dozen states have already decriminalized marijuana possession, with the New Hampshire House voting to approve such a measure last week. But the Granite State bill is opposed by state Senate leaders and the governor.

Rep. Frank's bill had not appeared on the Congressional web site as of Thursday afternoon.

Netherlands Rated More Stable and Prosperous Than U.S.

A new global study ranks the Netherlands 9th in the world in stability and prosperity. The U.S. follows at a distant 22nd. I'll give you one guess where I'm going with this. Ok, times up. If you said, "Scott will argue that superior quality of life in the Netherlands proves that an enlightened marijuana policy won't destroy society," you win a cookie.

Indeed, superior quality of life in the Netherlands proves that an enlightened marijuana policy won’t destroy society, and there are no complications which ought to prevent anyone from understanding this. A bunch of white Europeans have been prancing around for decades allowing one another to sell and smoke marijuana openly, culminating in their designation as the 9th best nation in the world. Not to mention their progressive policies on psychedelic mushrooms, safe injection sites, drug sentencing, and criminal justice spending, none of which have produced outcomes resembling those we've been told to expect should we abandon our obscenely harsh approach to these matters here in the U.S. The numbers speak for themselves.

If you ask a drug warrior about this, they will change the subject, but it is just a fact that you can allow adults to manufacture, distribute, and consume marijuana and everything will be fine.
United States

1/3 of People Admitted to Marijuana Treatment Hadn't Been Smoking Marijuana!

Advocates for harsh marijuana laws can be counted on to infuse their rhetoric with incessant declarations that marijuana is highly addictive. Rarely, if ever, could one expose oneself to such discussion without being told something like this:
Decriminalizing marijuana – the drug which sends the most of America's youth into substance abuse treatment and recovery – is a dangerous first step towards complete drug legalization. In fact, marijuana sends the highest percentage of New Hampshire residents into drug treatment than any other illicit drug.

I strongly urge responsible leaders in New Hampshire to stop any effort to decriminalize or legalize the highly addictive drug marijuana."
These words belong to the Deputy Drug Czar and they are less than a week old, thus they represent what his office currently believes to be the strongest and most important argument for marijuana prohibition: that the drug is highly addictive.

As Paul Armentano at NORML points out, however, the government's own data on marijuana dependency shows that a plurality of people entering treatment for marijuana hadn't smoked it in a month or more. Isn't that just amazing? I mean, wow. 36% of people entering treatment for pot addiction had already kicked the habit on their own. Highly-addictive my ash.

But how could this be? The answer can be found on this page, which shows that 58% of people entering marijuana treatment were referred by the criminal justice system. They didn't ask for help, rather they were found in possession of marijuana, which led a judge to issue a diagnosis of "marijuana addiction" and order them to get help for that.

When more than half the sample consists of people who were forced into treatment, it should come as no surprise that so many of them haven't actually been smoking marijuana. Some may never have been marijuana users to begin with and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. More commonly, I suspect, a large number of marijuana arrestees simply quit after getting busted, either voluntarily or because their lawyers recommended it, pretrial drug screenings, etc. Since marijuana isn't actually very addictive to begin with, this is easy to do.

And yet we continue to waste limited government resources investigating, arresting, adjudicating, and treating these people for an addiction they never actually had. In sum, the Drug Czar's best evidence of marijuana addiction comes from the fact that the government categorizes people as marijuana addicts if they're found sitting near a bag of marijuana. The instant we stop calculating it that way, the evidence ceases to exist and the drug warriors' favorite and best argument against marijuana reform is, well…cashed.
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A False and Embarrassing Press Release from the Deputy Drug Czar

For your amusement, I've posted the full text of a press release the Drug Czar's office sent out last week in opposition to a marijuana decriminalization bill in New Hampshire. I disagree with it, of course, but that is not why I've posted it. I share this because it is so filled with factual and grammatical errors that I'm told NH legislators have been forwarding it around and laughing at it. (sorry, no link)

Press Release
Wednesday, March 19, 2008


(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Scott M. Burns, Deputy Director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), made the following statement regarding marijuana decriminalization legislation, which is currently being debated in New Hampshire.

"Decriminalizing the illegal and highly addictive drug – marijuana – sends the wrong message to New Hampshire's youth, students, parents, public health officials, and the law-enforcement community.

"The supporters of decriminalizing marijuana are fooling themselves if they believe the manufacturing, possession, and/or distribution of 1.25 ounces or – over 90 marijuana joints – is good public policy.

"Decriminalizing marijuana – the drug which sends the most of America's youth into substance abuse treatment and recovery – is a dangerous first step towards complete drug legalization. In fact, marijuana sends the highest percentage of New Hampshire residents into drug treatment than any other illicit drug.

"The last thing New Hampshire need is more drugs, drug users, and drug dealers on their streets and communities – further straining limited law enforcement manpower and resources.

I strongly urge responsible leaders in New Hampshire to stop any effort to decriminalize or legalize the highly addictive drug marijuana."

To learn more about the dangers of marijuana use, please visit:

Not a word of this is true, of course, but the highlight is the 3rd paragraph in which Burns reveals utter confusion about what the bill even says. The proposed law decriminalizes possession of up to 0.25 ounces of marijuana. It does not decriminalize up to 1.25 ounces and it applies only to possession, not manufacture or sales. Burns is either lying, or he is just dramatically and embarrassingly wrong.

Furthermore, 1.25 ounces isn't 90 joints anyway. An average joint is a gram, so 1.25 ounces is 35 joints, give or take. Since the bill in question decriminalizes only 0.25 ounces, however, we're really talking about just 7 joints. Nothing could be more typical of our friends at the Drug Czar's office than to claim that 7 joints = 90 joints.

Finally, we learn that marijuana must remain illegal because so many people in New Hampshire are in treatment for it. This isn't a lie necessarily, but it is pretty funny. How many of those people were forced into treatment following a marijuana arrest that wouldn’t have happened under the proposed law? We are arresting people for marijuana, forcing them into treatment, then citing those stats as evidence that marijuana is addictive and that we should be allowed to arrest people for having it. That is how stupid the modern marijuana debate has become.

Fact and fiction aside, the whole thing is just ugly to read. Its grammar and sentence structure are reminiscent of the incoherent anti-drug rants one might find on this blog after a big link draws hostile attention. Could they be written by the same person?

"In fact, marijuana sends the highest percentage of New Hampshire residents into drug treatment than any other illicit drug."

"The last thing New Hampshire need is more drugs, drug users, and drug dealers on their streets and communities – further straining limited law enforcement manpower and resources."

It's usually best not to get too caught up in correcting the grammar of one's opposition, and in most cases I'd consider that an indulgent and childish distraction from the real matters at hand. In this case, though, I think the high-schoolish tone in which the Deputy Drug Czar addresses politicians and the press is just lazy and disrespectful. Factual errors and bad writing are ubiquitous in any political debate, but when it arrives on White House letterhead, questions about basic competence merge with the broader ideological conflict.

United States

Marijuana: New Hampshire House Passes Decriminalization Bill

In a vote that caught most observers by surprise, the New Hampshire House of Representatives approved a scaled-back marijuana decriminalization bill by a margin of 193-141. To become law, the measure must still pass the state Senate, where it will receive a cool reception, and be signed by the governor, who has signaled his opposition to it.

Sponsored by Reps. Jeffrey Fontas (D-Nashua) and Andrew Edwards (D-Nashua), the bill, HB 1623, would make possession of up to a quarter ounce of marijuana a violation punishable by a maximum $200 fine. Currently, small-time possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The favorable vote came despite the bill's rejection by a House policy committee and the opposition of law enforcement officials. Among arguments raised by proponents was that young offenders would be unfairly punished by having a marijuana offense on their records.

"How can we expect young people to get back on the right path if we take away every opportunity to do so?" Rep. Fontas said during the debate.

That sentiment was echoed on the Republican side of the aisle, too. "The question today is not whether marijuana should be illegal, but whether a teenager making a stupid decision should face up to a year in prison and loss of all federal funding for college,'' said Rep. Jason Bedrick (R-Windham).

Rep. John Tholl (R-Whitefield), a part-time police chief in the village of Dalton, was typical of opponents. He warned darkly that anyone sharing small amounts of marijuana could be charged with a felony and that anyone transporting it could still face jail time. Still, the measure would send the wrong message, he said.

"If you send a message to the young people of our state that a quarter ounce of marijuana is no big deal, like a traffic ticket, what you are doing is you are telling them we are not going to be looking at this very hard,'' Tholl said.

According to the Nashua Telegraph, Gov. John Lynch also thinks the bill sends the wrong message. His press secretary, Colin Manning, said Lynch will urge the Senate to reject it.

"This sends absolutely the wrong message to New Hampshire's young people about the very real dangers of drug use. That is why the governor joins with the House Criminal Justice Committee and law enforcement in opposing this bill,'' Manning said. "If the bill were to reach the governor's desk, which seems very unlikely, the governor would veto it.''

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Foster (D-Nashua) told the newspaper the bill is going nowhere in his chamber. "I know of no interest in the Senate on either side of the aisle to entertain this,'' Foster told reporters. "The governor has expressed his view, but I don't think he will see it coming to him.''

The New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, which has led the lobbying charge for the bill, praised the House and urged the Senate to act. "Our representatives in the House did the right thing for New Hampshire -- and especially for New Hampshire's young people," said the coalition's Matt Simon. "It's time for the Senate to finish the work we've started here and bring some sanity to our marijuana sentencing policies."

Eleven states have decriminalized marijuana possession, mostly in the 1970s. Nevada was the most recent, decriminalizing in 2001.

Europe: Czechs to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession, Growing Up to Three Plants

The Czech Republic will decriminalize the possession of up to 20 joints, a gram of hashish, or up to three marijuana plants, according to a report from the Czech news site iDNES. Under Czech law, possession of "more than a small amount of drugs" is a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison.

But Czechs are among the most prolific of European pot-smokers, and pressure has been mounting for years for an adjustment in the law. Now, the vague "more than a small amount" has been codified. Also included in the decrim measure is possession of up to a half-gram of methamphetamine.

"Several European countries have similar rules. It is good to say somewhere that you will not face prosecution for a single hemp plant," Viktor Mravčík, head of the Czech National Focal Point for Drugs and Drug Addiction, told iDNES.

This change in the Czech penal code will bring the law into line with prevailing practice. According to Czech police, who had issued their own limits on minor drug possession (which were ignored by the courts), only about one-fifth of people caught growing marijuana plants were prosecuted in 2006. The rest only paid fines.

"We already have our own criteria on what we consider a crime," Břetislav Brejcha, an officer at the national anti-drug headquarters NPDC, told iDNES. The police limits "are quite similar to the new regulation, therefore we don't mind it at all," Brejcha added.

Europe: Dutch Government to Review Marijuana Laws, Moves to Ban Grow Shops

The Dutch government will undertake a review of its 30-year-old policy of pragmatic tolerance of marijuana use and possession and regulated -- although still illegal -- marijuana sales, Dutch News reported last week. Christian Democratic Health Minister Ab Klink agreed to undertake the review at the behest of parliamentarians concerned that the easy availability of the weed is leading to increases in youth drug abuse.
downstairs of a coffee shop, Maastricht (courtesy Wikimedia)
That same day, Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin also signaled that he wants to crack down on marijuana growing and criminalize the "grow shops" that provide seeds, lights, and other specialized growing equipment to marijuana cultivators. While the Dutch tolerate marijuana possession and sales, marijuana growing remains illegal and growers are subject to arrest.

Although the Netherlands has become famous for its tolerant approach to soft drugs and other vices, such as prostitution, the conservative Christian Democratic government has been trying to reverse the situation. It has reduced the number of coffee shops that sell marijuana, particularly near schools, and it is considering various measures to limit "drug tourism," including the fingerprinting of foreign coffee house customers.

This week, the city of Maastricht failed in a bid to relocate some of its coffee shops to areas on the edge of the city. Every day, around a thousand foreigners, mainly neighboring Germans and Belgians, visit the city to buy marijuana, and the city had hoped to reduce congestion in its center by moving some of the shops to "coffee corners" on the edge of town.

But a Dutch judge ruled Tuesday that the city had not provided sufficient grounds for granting building permits for the new coffee shops. The ruling came after neighboring local councils complained that Maastricht's move would simply shift the problems of congestion and associated crime in their direction.

Still, according to reports compiled by Expatica, an English-language Dutch news service, Maastricht remains undeterred. In response to the ruling, the mayor has already placed "portocabins" near the new locations.

If the Wrong People Find You With Pot, They'll Ruin Your Life

It's just that simple. If there is one universal truth in the marijuana debate, it is that the punishment for pot is always vastly more damaging than the effects of the drug itself:
NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - When a Westchester father found a marijuana cigarette in his son's pocket he went to North Salem High School for help. The 16-year-old boy told his dad he bought the joint in the school library for $20.

The school suspended the teen, Pablo Rodriguez, for nine weeks.

Many of his neighbors hearing the case believe the suspension is too long and they've begun a petition asking school officials to reconsider.

The teen's father, also named Pablo Rodriguez, says they would never have known about the marijuana in his son's pocket if he didn't tell them. The elder Rodriguez says he now believes parents should keep quiet if they learn their children are doing drugs. []
Yeah, don't bother asking the school for "help" when it comes to marijuana or other drugs. That's not a service most schools provide. Marijuana policies both large and small are typically structured around the theory that badly injuring those who are caught will deter others. In the process, parents become disillusioned, students who need help are afraid to ask, and students who were doing just fine are suspended for 9 weeks.

Let's just review once again the lesson learned by Mr. Rodriguez:
The elder Rodriguez says he now believes parents should keep quiet if they learn their children are doing drugs.
Nothing could more perfectly illustrate the failure of a drug policy than its ability to encourage secrecy among parents who want help. Anyone who is concerned about marijuana affecting academic performance can begin by not denying marijuana users the opportunity to perform academically.
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