Posts Tagged ‘stop drug war’
A few months ago, Congressman Jared Polis told the Colorado Independent that he thought it would take a majority of states legalizing medical marijuana or otherwise liberalizing their laws before Congress would be likely to do anything at the federal level.
Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Now it looks like at least one more state is moving in that direction, with two different measures moving toward a vote in Ohio.
From The Columbus Dispatch: While Cleveland billionaire Peter Lewis already had sent up smoke signals about organizing and funding a medical marijuana ballot issue, another group quietly has been laying the groundwork for a constitutional amendment.
If approved by voters, the Ohio Medical Cannabis Act of 2012 would establish a regulatory system modeled after the Ohio State Liquor Control system. There would be an Ohio Commission of Cannabis Control, plus a state division and superintendent to run it. Marijuana purchases would require a doctor’s prescription and would be subject to state and local sales taxes.
Peter Lewis is the chairman of the board of Progressive Insurance Company, a company founded by his father. He has donated almost a quarter of a billion dollars to Princeton University, at least $15 million to the ACLU and $3 million to the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization that, among other things, tracks marijuana policy in the states.
Karen O’Keefe, of MPP, says she sees a scenario by which 27 states have legalized medical marijuana by 2014. In addition to Ohio, other states apparently on the cusp include Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Arkansas, Idaho, North Dakota and New Hampshire.
Once a majority of states have passed laws, she says it becomes much more likely that Congress will pass a bill like the one recently introduced by Rep. Barney Frank, D-MA, Rep. Jared Polis and others that would actually legalize marijuana federally, leaving it to each state to either keep it illegal at the state level or to legalize, regulate and tax it.
She said that even if a bill like that doesn’t pass, with each new state that legalizes medical marijuana it becomes more likely that congress will address the issue by at least instructing federal law enforcement agencies not to prosecute anyone who is in compliance with state laws that legalize and regulate medical marijuana.
The medical marijuana movement is reeling after the Obama Justice Department released a memo last week declaring that it might prosecute large-scale medical marijuana cultivation operations and dispensaries even in states where they are operating in compliance with state laws. Advocates reacted with dismay and disappointment, even as they plotted strategies about what to do next.
President Obama is losing friends in the medical marijuana community. (image from whitehouse.gov)
The memo, written by US Deputy Attorney General James Cole, “clarifies” the October 2009 memo from then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden that told federal prosecutors not to focus their resources on patients and providers in compliance with state laws. The earlier memo gave some substance to President Obama’s campaign promise not to persecute medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal.
But after the 2009 memo, federal officials watched aghast as a veritable medical marijuana cultivation and dispensary boom took off in places such as Colorado and Montana, where dispensaries went from near zero to hundreds of operations, and as localities in California began considering huge commercial grows. The Justice Department responded with increased federal raids — now at twice the rate of the Bush administration, according to Americans for Safe Access, the nation’s largest medical marijuana advocacy organization — and earlier this year, sent threatening letters from US Attorneys to governors and legislators in states considering or implementing medical marijuana distribution programs.
Those letters “are entirely consistent with the October 2009 memorandum,” Cole argued in last week’s memo. “The Department of Justice is committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in all states. Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime that provides a significant source of revenue to large scale criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels,” Cole continued.
Noting that “some of these jurisdictions have considered approving the cultivation of large quantities of marijuana, or broadening the regulation and taxation of the substance,” Cole reiterated the Ogden memo’s message that “it is likely not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or their caregivers.”
He then took care to narrowly define the term “caregiver,” which is commonly applied to people growing medical marijuana for authorized patients. “The term ‘caregiver’ as used in the memorandum meant just that: individuals providing care to individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses, not commercial operations cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana.”
Cole then went on to write that it is not the Obama administration’s position that has changed, but facts on the ground. “There has, however, been an increase in the scope of commercial cultivation, sale, distribution and use of marijuana for purported medical purposes. For example, within the past 12 months, several jurisdictions have considered or enacted legislation to authorize multiple large-scale, privately-operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers. Some of these planned facilities have revenue projections of millions of dollars based on the planned cultivation of tens of thousands of cannabis plants,” he wrote.
The 2009 memo “was never intended to shield such activities from federal enforcement action and prosecution, even where those activities purport to comply with state law,” Cole continued. “Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law… Those who engage in transactions involving the proceeds of such activity may also be in violation of federal money laundering statutes and other federal financial laws.”
It didn’t take long for the medical marijuana and drug reform movements to fire back. While some took small solace in the fact that patients are still protected from federal persecution, the dominant reaction was dismay and disgust.
Dispensaries operators might want to get rid of the neon signage and get on the down low. (image via wikimedia.org)
“It is disingenuous of the Obama Administration to say it is not attacking patients while obstructing the implementation of local and state medical marijuana laws,” said ASA executive director Steph Sherer. “The president is using intimidation tactics to stop elected officials from serving their constituents, thereby pushing patients into the illicit market.”
“Well, this is disappointing,” said Dale Gieringer, long-time head of California NORML. “It certainly conflicts with Obama’s original implication that he would let the states take care of medical marijuana. Now, it’s the same as Bush’s policy. Even before this memo came out, people have been saying for a long time that with a raid here and a raid there, it seemed like no real change in federal policy, and now — bingo — it’s confirmed.”
The Cole memo “raises more questions than it answers,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The department’s 2009 Ogden memorandum established guidance that federal resources should not be employed to target medical marijuana patients and providers who are in ‘clear and unambiguous compliance’ with state-based medical marijuana laws. Last week’s so-called clarification is in fact open to many interpretations and falls far short of the explanation of policy that state lawmakers, members of Congress and advocates sought.”
While the Cole memo clearly states that large-scale commercial grows are now targeted, even if they are in compliance with state laws, Piper noted, it “does not provide guidance on what the federal government considers to be the line between small and large-scale production.”
Piper pointed out that regardless of federal policy, states can still legalize marijuana for medicinal use. He also called out politicians who hide behind fears of the feds to stall or thwart medical marijuana programs and scoffed at the notion that state employees could be prosecuted for setting up registries or collecting medical marijuana taxes.
“State officials who await blanket federal endorsement of medical marijuana or blame the federal government for their own failure to act are compromising the health and well being of their citizens while failing to implement in good faith the laws of their state,” he said. “With regard to concerns about prosecution of state employees, which some state policymakers have expressed, the federal government has never sought to prosecute any state employee for licensing or otherwise regulating medical marijuana providers. In fact, we know of no instance in recent times in which state officials were personally prosecuted for implementing any state law. It is something that is just not done.”
For Gieringer and other medical marijuana advocates, the Obama administration’s behavior on the issue has dried up any reservoirs of good will generated by his campaign promise and the Ogden memo. Now, the administration is in the movement’s cross hairs.
“They want to put a stop to any large scale distribution of medical marijuana, but all they’re doing is prolonging the conflict between federal law and reality,” Gieringer said. “We have to put pressure on Obama. He’s up for reelection; he owes us an explanation of his waffling on this issue, and certainly his failure to address rescheduling. The reform movement needs to press him on this and inject it into the campaign. Why has he ignored all the studies, why has he ignored the rescheduling petition, why does he persist in sending people to prison for medical marijuana crimes? If we can put him on the defensive during the campaign, we might get a concession.”
“The Obama Administration missed a huge opportunity to ease the state/federal conflict over medical marijuana and pave the way for responsible regulation in 16 states and the District of Columbia, home to 90 million Americans,” agreed Piper. “By issuing vague guidance, the Obama Administration is sowing confusion and doing voters, state policymakers, and medical marijuana patients a disservice. The administration needs to be clear in its support of responsible state and local regulations designed to make marijuana legally available to patients while enhancing public safety and health. If the federal government is unable to provide leadership in this area, then the very least it can do is get out of the way and allow citizens to determine the policies that best serve local interests.”
But the administration has given no indication it is likely to do that. Relations between the medical marijuana movement and the Obama administration are starting to feel like the Cold War.
|Photo: Jimmy Carter Library & Museum|
|Former President Jimmy Carter:
“Maybe the increased tax burden on wealthy citizens necessary to pay for
the war on drugs will help bring about a reform of America’s drug policies”
In a new op-ed published in The New York Timesto coincide with Friday’s 40th anniversary of President Nixon declaring “War On Drugs,” former President Jimmy Carter supports recent recommendations for countries around the world to try “models of legal regulation of drugs … that are designed to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.”
In the New York Times op-ed, President Carter called the recommendations of the Global Commission on Drug Policy “courageous and profoundly important.”
“In a message to Congress in 1977, I said the country should decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, with a full program of treatment for addicts,” Carter wrote. “I also cautioned against filling our prisons with young people who were no threat to society, and summarized by saying: ‘Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.’ “
“Those ideas were widely accepted at the time,” Carter wrote. “But in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan and Congress began to shift from balanced drug policies, including the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts, toward futile efforts to control drug imports from foreign countries.”
“One result has been a terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights in a growing number of Latin American countries,” Carter wrote.
“Maybe the increased tax burden on wealthy citizens necessary to pay for the war on drugs will help bring about a reform of America’s drug policies,” Carter wrote. “At least the recommendations of the Global Commission will give some cover to political leaders who wish to do what is right.”
Since 1977, it’s been technically legal in the State of New York to carry around a concealed bag of marijuana weighing less than 7/8 of an ounce. But you could be forgiven for not knowing this, since getting popped for petty pot possession is easier in New York City than anywhere else on the planet.
It’s a monumental injustice that owes its costly continuation to one simple tactic: tricking people into committing the crime of displaying their marijuana in plain sight:
What’s happening is that disproportionate numbers of black and brown young men, ages 16 to 29, are being duped into publicly revealing their allowable marijuana and then being arrested, thereby gaining a criminal record, advocates say. Police officers will say, “Empty your pockets!” turning a routine stop into an arrest and a police record.
“In 2010 in New York State, there were 54,000 marijuana arrests … 50,000 of them came from New York City, and — surprise, surprise — from neighborhoods that primarily are black, Latino and low income,” says Kyung Ji Kate Rhee, executive director of the IJJRA. “It’s not like these individuals had a felony charge and marijuana happened to be an additional charge … You’re telling me that 50,000 had marijuana in plain view? Does that sound right to you? After that initial point of police contact, they trick you into turning out your pockets.”
The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment. (The Root)
Now this is where I get confused, because if arresting young black and Latino men for tiny little bags of marijuana were as important to me as it is to the New York Police Dept., I would be extremely pleased with these results and eager to take credit for them. It makes little sense to provide your officers with special training in how to make trivial arrests for petty crimes under legally-dubious circumstances if you aren’t going to be proud of the outcome.
Why not instead spend the $75 million that all of this costs on something that you’re at least willing to admit you’ve been doing? Surely they can think of something to do with those resources that will make sense to the public, something — anything! — other than a massive, utterly pointless exercise in transparent racism that plainly violates the spirit of the laws of the State of New York.
Please click here to send a message to Mayor Bloomberg that New York City’s senseless war on marijuana must be ended once and for all.