Guarded Hope for Dope Reform

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Guarded Hope for Dope Reform

Postby palmspringsbum » Wed Nov 15, 2006 11:24 am

Wired News wrote:Guarded Hope for Dope Reform


<table class=posttable width=260 align=right><tr><td class=postcap><ul class=postlist><b>See Also</b>

<li>Will Nevada Take Lid Off Pot?</li>

<li>High Holy Day for Potheads</li>

<li>Legal Pot's No Pipe Dream</li>

<li>Another Cannabis Drug Sans Buzz</li>

<li>DOJ's Dot-Narc Rave Strategy</li></ul></td></tr></table>By Randy Dotinga
02:00 AM Nov, 15, 2006
Wired

Democrats control Congress, a socialist is in the Senate and the president's approval ratings are in the tank. So it's no surprise that advocates of drug reform are looking forward to a new day -- sort of.

Consider this: A bill that would allow sick people to use marijuana might actually pass the House. Of course, it's probably dead on arrival in the Senate, and President Bush would almost certainly stamp it with an override-proof veto.

But "at the very least, we'll see some hearings on the issue," predicted Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance.

Hearings? Big whoop. Things are looking up in the wake of Election Day, but anyone who expects a major shift in American drug laws is definitely smoking something illegal.

"For all the worries about 'San Francisco values' coming into the Congress, (drug reform) isn't one that's going to come to the forefront," said Patrick Murphy, a drug-policy expert at the University of San Francisco who worked for the first Bush Administration.

Still, proponents of medical marijuana, needle exchange and sentencing reform have learned to be patient. And there's a chance that the election may end up being a good thing for a bunch of people, from pot smokers to crack dealers.

Here's a look at what regime change could mean for several types of drug reform.

<span class=postbold>Medical marijuana</span>

Eleven states now allow the use of medical marijuana. (South Dakota narrowly defeated a medical-marijuana initiative last week, the first time such a statewide ballot measure has failed.)

But under federal law, medical marijuana is illegal, creating an eternal conflict between Washington D.C. and the states.

Last year, a bill that would allow the use of medical marijuana failed by a vote of 264 to 161 in the House. With at least 28 new Democrats on board, "there's a good chance that we can get it out of the House," Piper said. "The Senate we're less confident about," although drug reformers now have a new ally in Vermont's senator-elect and self-described socialist Bernie Sanders.

The best scenario, according to Piper, is that the bill would pass in a spending bill, and Bush wouldn't want to veto the whole thing.

Meanwhile, there's trouble on the state front: counties in California are suing to invalidate the state's medical-marijuana ballot measure, which passed in 1996.

<span class=postbold>Pot for everyone </span>

Voters in Nevada and Colorado rejected measures that would have made it legal to possess small amounts of marijuana. "They tried to go too far too quickly," Piper said. "That's probably a lesson for the drug-policy movement."

One bright spot for reformers is that 56 percent of Nevada voters opposed the initiative, compared to 61 percent who voted no on a similar ballot measure in 2004.

For now, the states have a crazy quilt of laws about possession of marijuana: an ounce -- typically enough for at least 30 joints -- could get you six months in jail and a $2,000 fine in Texas or a $100 fine and no jail time in California.

Meanwhile, voters in a number of cities and towns -- now including three in California; Missoula, Montana; and the Arkansas liberal haven of Eureka Springs -- have told local police to make pot busts a low priority.

"Public opinion polls suggest there's more acceptance (of marijuana) than there was 20 years, even 10 years ago," Murphy said. "The public sees this issue differently, but our connection between elected officials and public opinion is imperfect."

<span class=postbold>The war on drugs </span>

Piper predicted that the new makeup of Congress means "we're not going to have to worry about draconian penalties and bills that infringe on civil liberties."

Murphy, the University of San Francisco drug policy guru, suggested Congress could be trying to tie the Bush administration's hands by not allowing an increase in funding for the Drug Enforcement Agency.

According to Murphy, it's possible that the DEA won't get a "blank check," and Congress will be "less enthusiastic about new gadgets and providing more money for enforcement initiatives."

<span class=postbold>Sentencing reform </span>

It's possible that Congress will tackle the "100-to-1" disparity that haunts federal law about cocaine possession.

Currently, according to a recent Los Angeles Times commentary, a person caught with a briefcase full of 5,000 grams of powder cocaine will get a mandatory 10-year sentence -- just like a person caught with 50 grams of rock cocaine, about the weight of a candy bar.

The disparity was to be discussed at a hearing of the U.S. Sentencing Commission on Tuesday.

But the fact is that the federal criminal justice system accounts for less than 20 percent of all people imprisoned for violating drug laws, said Jonathan P. Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studies drug policy.

And he's skeptical that politicians will make much of a difference in how many people visit the Ironbar Hotel.

"Most of what drives incarceration is trends in use and trafficking, not so much who is in power in Washington, so I don't necessarily see a big change because of the election," said Caulkins.

Last edited by palmspringsbum on Tue Dec 12, 2006 4:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Drug Reform and the Democratic Congress

Postby palmspringsbum » Tue Dec 12, 2006 4:10 pm

The Drug Policy Alliance wrote:
<span class=postbold>Drug War Chronicle</span> - world’s leading drug policy newsletter

Drug Reform and the Democratic Congress: What's Going to Happen?

from Drug War Chronicle, Issue #464, 12/8/06

To hear the buzz in drug reform circles, Christmas came early this year. To be precise, it arrived on Election Day, when the Democrats took back control of the Congress. There is a whole long list of drug reform-related issues that the Democratically-controlled Congress can address, and hopes are high that after a dozen years of Republican rule on Capitol Hill, progress will come on at least some of them. But will the Democratic Congress really turn out to be Santa Claus, bestowing gifts on a movement long out in the cold, or will it turn out more like the Grinch, offering up tantalizing glimpses of the goodies only to snatch them away?

US Capitol, Senate sideDrug War Chronicle is trying to find out what's likely to happen, so we talked to a number of drug reform organizations, especially those with a strong federal lobbying presence and agenda, as well as with the offices of some of the representatives who will be playing key roles on Capitol Hill in the next Congress.

The list of drug war issues where Congress could act next year is indeed lengthy:
<ul class=postlist>
<li>Sentencing reform -- whether addressing the crack-powder cocaine disparity or mandatory minimums or both, and other reforms;</li>

<li>Medical marijuana, either through the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment barring federal funds to raid patients and providers in states where it is legal or Barney Frank's states' rights to medical marijuana bill; </li>

<li>The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is up for reauthorization;</li>

<li>The Higher Education Act (HEA) and its drug provision are up for reauthorization;</li>

<li>Removing drug offender restrictions from food stamp, public housing, and other social services;</li>

<li>The Washington, DC, appropriations bill, where Congress has barred the District from enacting needle exchange programs and a voter-approved medical marijuana law;</li>

<li>Plan Colombia;</li>

<li>The war in Afghanistan and US anti-opium policy;</li>

<li>The pain crisis and the war on pain doctors;</li>

<li>Prisoner reentry legislation, particularly the Second Chance Act; </li>

<li>Police raids.</li>
</ul>
While there is optimism in drug reform circles, it is tempered by a healthy dose of realism. The Congress is a place where it is notoriously difficult to make (or unmake) a law, and while some of the new Democratic leadership has been sympathetic on certain issues, drug reform is not exactly a high-profile issue. Whether congressional Democratic decision-makers will decide to use their political resources advancing an agenda that could be attacked as "soft on drugs" or "soft on crime" remains to be seen. But according to one of the movement's most astute Hill-watchers, some "low-hanging fruit" might be within reach next year.

"Some of the easiest things to achieve in the new Congress will be the HEA ban on aid to students with drug violations, because the Democrats will have to deal with HEA reauthorization, and the ban on access to the TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) to public housing, because they will have to deal with welfare reform," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "There is also a chance of repealing provisions in the DC appropriations bill that bar needle exchanges and medical marijuana. These are the low-hanging fruit."

For Piper, there is also a chance to see movement on a second tier of issues, including medical marijuana, sentencing reform and Latin America policy. "Can we get the votes to pass Hinchey-Rohrabacher in the House and get it to the Senate?" he asked. "There is also a good chance of completely changing how we deal with Latin America. We could see a shift in funding from military to civil society-type programs and from eradication to crop substitution," he said. "Also, there is a good chance on sentencing reform. Can the Democrats strike a deal with Sen. Sessions (R-AL) and other Republicans on the crack-powder disparity, or will they try to play politics and paint the Democrats as soft on crime? Would Bush veto it if it passed?"

Clearly, at this point, there are more questions than answers, and time will tell. But the political ground has shifted, Piper noted. "We are no longer playing defense," he argued. "Now we don't have to deal with folks like Souder and Sensenbrenner and all their stupid bills. This puts us in a really good position. For the first time in 12 years, we get to go on offense. And unlike a dozen years ago, the Democrats who will control the key committees are really, really good. This is probably the first time since the 1980s that drug policy reform has been in a position to go on the offensive."

Representatives sympathetic to drug law reform will fill key positions in the next Congress, led by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who will be the incoming chair of the crucial House Judiciary Committee. Replacing HEA drug provision author and leading congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) as chair of the important Government Reform Committee Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources will be either Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) or Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) -- the assignment isn't yet set -- while Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) will chair the Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, the key subcommittee when it comes to sentencing reform.

While it is too early to get firm commitments from committee heads on hearings next year, a spokesman for Rep. Conyers told Drug War Chronicle sentencing reform is definitely on the table. "Congressman Conyers is certainly interested in these issues, he's been quite outspoken on this, and it is something he will address, but we haven't come out with our agenda and we don't have a timeline yet," said House Judiciary Committee press officer Jonathan Godfrey. "But this will definitely be an issue for the committee," he added.

Conyers and the new Democratic Congress may not yet have established their agendas, but the drug reform movement certainly has, and sentencing reform, whether through addressing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity or through a broader assault on the federal mandatory minimum sentencing scheme, is front and center. Perhaps not surprisingly, many leading reformers said addressing the crack-powder disparity was not enough.

"There's been a lot of discussion about eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, or even removing the definition of crack from the guidelines entirely," said DRCNet executive director Dave Borden. "We of course support that, but we also hope the issue of mandatory minimums themselves, and the sentencing guidelines, are also taken up. Those are far bigger problems, affecting far more people than that one controversial but small piece of them. It may be that only small changes are possible at this time, even with our best Congressional friends in important positions. Nevertheless, the opportunity should be taken to raise the larger sentencing issues, to organize around them, build support, attract cosponsors for mandatory minimum repeal bills, all the things that go with any legislative campaign -- what better time than now?"

"While we of course favor reforming the crack-powder cocaine disparity, we need to stop thinking small," said Julie Stewart, executive director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "We need to be looking at sentencing reform as a whole. We will be asking for legislation to address the crack-powder disparity, but we will also be asking for hearings on the repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing," she said. "Whether we can get that is another question, but it's time to ask for the sky."

Stewart's sentiments were echoed and amplified by Nora Callahan, executive director of The November Coalition, a drug reform group that concentrates on winning freedom for federal drug war prisoners. "What we need is an omnibus crime bill," Callahan said. "Otherwise we'll be picking this thing apart for the next five decades. An omnibus bill would open the door to broad hearings where we could address the myriad negative effects of the drug war, from imprisoning huge numbers of people to depriving students of loans and poor people of housing and other federal benefits, and from police corruption to police violence. If we try to deal with all these problems one by one, the prison population will have doubled again by the time we get it done."

Of course, sentencing reform isn't the only drug policy issue activists will be pushing next year. Medical marijuana remains on the agenda, with the biggest push likely to be around the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would bar the use of federal funds to raid patients and providers in states where it is legal. "We will be looking for meaningful protections for medical marijuana patients," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations at the Marijuana Policy Project. "We will judge progress by the extent to which patients can use the medicine that works best for them without fear of federal arrest or prosecution. We need meaningful reforms, not ones that sound meaningful but are not, like rescheduling," he added.

"Our legislative priorities in the past have been Hinchey-Rohrabacher, the states' rights to medical marijuana bill, and the Truth in Trials Act, which would allow for an affirmative defense in federal court," said Houston. "Of these, we expect that we should be able to pass Hinchey. Last year, we had 167 votes, and we picked up 19 new members in November who we think are supportive. And when Speaker-elect Pelosi assumes the gavel in January, it will be the first time we have a strong medical marijuana supporter at the helm of the House of Representatives."

Those numbers are encouraging, but not quite enough to win yet. It takes 218 votes to win a majority in the House if everyone votes.

And as DPA's Piper noted above, the HEA reauthorization bill next year should be a good opportunity to finally kill Souder's drug provision once and for all. "We have a tremendous opportunity here with the Democrats taking control and deciding which legislation moves forward," said Tom Angell, communications director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). "Rep. George Miller (D-CA) will chair the House Education Work Force Committee, and he's a cosponsor of the RISE Act. Also, one of our biggest supporters, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), is in line to chair the subcommittee that handles higher education, which is where the RISE Act sits right now."

But Andrews may not end up with the chairmanship, Angell warned. "He's a supporter of for-profit colleges, and the Democratic leadership doesn't like that, so he might not get it," he said.

"We'd like to see the HEA drug provision repealed, and we think it's possible in the new Congress," said DRCNet's Borden. "There just isn't a lot of passion from very many members of Congress for keeping the provision, even among those who have voted to do so. We'd like to see legislation to repeal similar provisions in welfare and public housing law -- we have a coalition of over 250 organizations that have signed on to repealing the HEA drug provision, and activating that network and building it to take on more issues is definitely on our agenda."

The RISE (Removing Impediments to Students' Education) Act would repeal the Higher Education Act's (HEA) drug provision, SSDP's key congressional goal. While Angell was optimistic about prospects in the next Congress, he was also looking for early indicators. "The introduction of the bill, the number of cosponsors, and the top names behind it will be a good indication of how likely we are to repeal the penalty," he said. "I'm looking for that to happen early in the session. We had 84 lobbying meetings on Capitol Hill during our annual conference last month, and we will be following up on those and working closely with the staff of the education committee."

But repealing the HEA drug provision isn't SSDP's only goal on Capitol Hill, said Angell. "We are hoping to be working with DPA and MPP to reduce or eliminate funding for the ONDCP media campaign and we will be working to reduce or eliminate funding for student drug testing grants," he explained. "Besides HEA, those are our big issues."

One issue that has emerged as a hot topic in recent weeks is the issue of police violence. With the killing of Atlanta senior citizen Kathryn Johnson in a "no-knock" drug raid and the killing of New York City resident Sean Bell a few days later in a volley of more than 50 shots fired by NYPD officers, policing in America is under the spotlight. Civil rights activist and former presidential candidate the Rev. Al Sharpton called this week for congressional hearings on the issue. Sharpton said he had already been in contact with Rep. Conyers about the possibility.

That's something DRCNet's Borden would like to see, too. "We'd like to see action taken to rein in these paramilitary police forces and not have SWAT teams breaking down people's doors in the middle of the night when there is not an emergency situation. I think there should be hearings in Congress, as well as state legislatures, with victims of bad drug raids playing a prominent role, as well as police experts, civil rights experts, and the like. We are considering launching a petition calling for all of this," he said.

And then there is the US drug war abroad. With Plan Colombia about to enter its seventh year, and the flow of cocaine unabated despite massive aerial spraying of herbicides, congressional Democrats will seek to cut back or redirect US spending to emphasize development instead of drug war. And although Congress has not yet come to grips with the serious contradictions inherent in waging war on poppies at the same time it seeks to wage a war on terror in Afghanistan, facts on the ground suggest it will be unable to continue to ignore them.

This should be a year of change in our drug policy abroad, said DRCNet's Borden. "We'd like to see the coca and opium eradication programs stopped. They are useless; all they do is move the cultivation from place to place," he noted. "In Afghanistan, it's driving people into the arms of the Taliban for protection, and that's disastrous for our national interests and potentially for global security. There are credible plans put forward, by the UN and other international bodies, and by experts in the nonprofit sector, that don't rely on eradication; let's look at those."

Borden also urged Congress to act to address the crisis in pain care in the context of the administration's war on prescription drug abuse and prosecutions of pain doctors. "Last but not least, something must be done about the pain doctor prosecutions," he said. "I believe the law in this area has been fundamentally warped. Conyers has supported important work being done in this area. Now he's in a position to kick it up a notch."

Drug reformers have a mighty busy agenda for Congress in the next two years. Congressional Democrats have said they are interested in reforms; now that they will be in power, we will see if they are as good as their word and we will have the chance to prod them to act.

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First female House speaker basks in historic day

Postby palmspringsbum » Tue Jan 16, 2007 7:28 pm

The San Francisco Examiner wrote:First female House speaker basks in historic day

By ERICA WERNER, The Associated Press
Jan 4, 2007 7:27 AM (12 days ago)
The San Francisco Examiner

WASHINGTON - It's a glass ceiling no one else has even cracked, and Nancy Pelosi was crashing through it Thursday, preparing to be sworn in as the nation's first-ever female House speaker.

The 66-year-old San Francisco Democrat began her history-making day running into pro-life demonstrators as she went to a prayer service with her husband, Paul, and a daughter at St. Peter's Catholic Church near the Capitol.

"You can't be Catholic and pro-abortion," read one placard. Pelosi and her entourage walked past the small group of protesters without saying anything.

Attending the service with her were Republican leaders that her party put into the minority in the November election: new Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Also there were new House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, a one-time Pelosi rival elected by House Democrats to be her No. 2 over her protests, and Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean.

From St. Peter's, Pelosi was heading to brunch with supporters before the House was convening at midday with Democrats rejoicing over taking control of Congress after 12 years in the minority.

But the spotlight belonged to Pelosi, and she was making the most of it with a whirlwind of festivities from the lavish to the sentimental. The week was her coming-out to the nation, and she was aiming to introduce herself not just as the San Francisco liberal decried by Republicans, but also as an Italian-American Catholic, mother of five and native of gritty Baltimore, where her father was mayor.

Throughout, the symbolism of her triumph for women was center stage.

Outside the brunch Thursday at the Library of Congress, leaders from the National Organization for Women planned to greet her with a giant congratulation card. The message: Way to Go!

"This is a historic moment for women everywhere," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "Nancy Pelosi has broken through the marble ceiling."

Pelosi always has said she wants to be judged by her abilities, not her gender, but she happily acknowledged the importance of her achievement.

"Becoming the first woman speaker will send a message to young girls and women across the country that anything is possible for them," she said Wednesday.

Thursday evening, Pelosi was being feted at a $1,000-a-head concert hosted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the National Building Museum with performances expected from Carole King and others.

Pelosi attended Mass Wednesday at Trinity University, where she's an alumnus, and dined that night at the Italian embassy.

Friday begins with an open house event across from the Capitol. Then she heads to Baltimore, where the street where she grew up in Little Italy is being dedicated in her honor: Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi Via.

Pelosi was raised there, the daughter of New Deal Maryland congressman Thomas D'Alesandro, who later became the city's mayor. She didn't run for the House herself until 1987 after marrying wealthy businessman Paul Pelosi, moving to San Francisco and raising her children. She now has six grandchildren.

In Congress Pelosi displayed the tough politicking of her childhood environment. She wrung loyalties, counted votes and muscled aside Hoyer to become Democrats' second-in-command, and then Democratic leader in 2002.

Personal loyalty is key to Pelosi. She tried to block Hoyer's bid in November to become Democratic majority leader, suffering an embarrassing defeat when her preferred candidate, Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, lost badly.

Pelosi wins re-election by huge margins and stays true to her San Francisco constituency, voting against the Iraq war resolution and co-sponsoring legislation to end federal prohibitions against medical marijuana. Her liberalism makes some moderate Democrats leery, and she's avoided campaigning in some conservative districts.

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Making Pot Legal: We Can Do It -- Here's How

Postby palmspringsbum » Tue Feb 12, 2008 10:56 pm

AlterNet wrote:
Making Pot Legal: We Can Do It -- Here's How

By Paul Armentano, AlterNet
Posted on February 12, 2008, Printed on February 12, 2008


This month marks my 13th year working for marijuana law reform. During this time I've witnessed many successes and many more signs of progress. Nevertheless, it remains frustratingly clear that despite sincere efforts and millions poured into campaigns, very little headway has been made toward attaining the larger, essential goals of the movement -- specifically, abolishing the criminal laws that result in the arrest and prosecution of more than half a million Americans every year for possessing even small amounts of herb and establishing a framework for regulating legal access to marijuana to adults.

Is either one of these goals achievable? Certainly. Is either goal realistic? Not until we as a movement instigate significant shifts in both public attitude and political opinion.

<span class=postbigbold>Identifying the problems</span>

For several decades, various organizations have pushed for the establishment of a legal and regulated market for adult cannabis use in the United States. Yet, despite extensive educational efforts and millions poured into various legislative campaigns, it's consistently been shown in opinion polls and at the voting booth that only between a third to 46 percent of Americans endorse legalizing the personal use of cannabis for adults.

As a result, the marijuana law reforms that have been enacted over the past several decades have been limited in scope. Specifically, these legal reforms fall into two distinct categories: "decriminalization" (exempting adult cannabis users from incarceration, but not necessarily arrest, under specified circumstances) and "medicalization" (exempting certain state-authorized medical marijuana patients from state-specific criminal sanctions). To date, 12 states -- almost one-third of the U.S. population -- have enacted limited versions of "decriminalization." Twelve states have also adopted various versions of "medicalization."

Both of these concepts -- unlike legalization -- enjoy majority support from the public, with national polls consistently finding that roughly 60 percent of Americans back "decriminalization" and nearly eight out of ten support the medical use of pot under a physician's supervision. But political support for these reforms has been historically weak, limiting the extent of their implementation.

In order to effectively move the debate forward, there has to be a clear sense of why -- despite years of public outreach -- we have failed to persuade a majority of the public that broader pot law reforms are needed. In addition, we must also identify why -- despite years of lobbying -- we have failed to persuade a majority of politicians that even incremental reforms are needed.

<span class=postbigbold>Changing the political landscape</span>

All hot-button political issues -- most notably the struggle for "gay rights," immigration reform, and reproductive autonomy -- have faced significant political opposition, particularly from "conservative" or "right-wing" legislators. Similar political antipathy (e.g., opposition from religious or so-called "pro-family" organizations) has obstructed sensible federal marijuana law reforms. Why are political leaders typically unwilling to embrace marijuana law reform as a core, civil rights issue, and what must be done to change this? Below are four suggestions.

<span class=postbigbold>Media complacency</span>

Mainstream media coverage of the cannabis issue is often inaccurate and rarely criticizes government policy. Alarmist stories about the alleged dangers of pot often get widespread coverage while evidence that refutes these claims is minimized or ignored. Finally, news reporters typically give greater credence and coverage to government officials espousing the need to maintain the "status quo" while granting far less weight to experts who disagree.

To combat this media bias, pot reformers must do a better job providing consistent and resonant messages to reporters, as well as establishing long-lasting, personal relationships with key journalists and opinion makers. Advocates could consider dedicating resources for print and media advertising campaigns to offset the federal government's anti-drug advertising budget, which annually spends some hundred million dollars in taxpayers' dollars and matching funds to buy television and radio commercials warning about the alleged dangers of pot.

<span class=postbigbold>Law enforcement opposition</span>

The law enforcement community is a multifaceted and persuasive lobby group that holds tremendous sway with politicians. More than any single interest group, cops are the most vocal opponents -- in the media and as witnesses at government hearings -- of all aspects of marijuana law reform. In addition, law enforcement typically continues to oppose pot liberalization policies even after such policies have become law -- thus making their implementation that much more difficult (and, often times, less effective). For example, legislation passed last year in Texas allowing police to ticket, rather than arrest, minor marijuana offenders has thus far been implemented in only one county -- despite having been passed nearly unanimously by state politicians.

The drug law reform movement must engage in greater and more active outreach within the law enforcement community. While some groups are already engaging in such efforts, these actions too often rely on the recruitment of retired members of law enforcement and the criminal justice community. Only by recruiting active members of law enforcement can we begin to build necessary credibility and support among politicians, and provide a persuasive counter to the lobbying activities of various state and federal criminal justice associations.

<span class=postbigbold>Victims of pot prohibition lack a public face</span>

While there are countless victims of marijuana prohibition -- over 10 million Americans have been arrested for violating U.S. pot laws since 1990 and an estimated 45,000 of them now sit in state or federal prison -- there are few if any publicly recognized "poster children" that embody the excesses of the government's war on weed. Without parading the images and stories of sympathetic victims of various ages, races, and economic strata before the public, most Americans are unlikely to be convinced that the country should amend its pot laws.

Marijuana law reform is often presented by the activist community as a broad political concept (e.g., "Hemp can save the planet!"). It is not. At its core level, it is an effort to bring civil justice to millions of Americans who have been targeted, persecuted, and in many cases, have had their lives ruined for no other reason than the fact that they chose cannabis rather than alcohol to relax.

The harsh penalties associated with a minor marijuana arrest are rarely attacked as extreme or counterproductive. These sanctions include probation and mandatory drug testing, loss of employment, loss of child custody, removal from subsidized housing, asset forfeiture, loss of student aid, loss of voting privileges, loss of adoption rights and the loss of certain federal welfare benefits such as food stamps.

Thousands of Americans suffer such sanctions every day -- at a rate of one person every 38 seconds. Our movement must do a better job of humanizing this issue to the public by emphasizing the personal stories and tragedies endured by the millions of individual Americans who have suffered unduly and egregiously under criminal prohibition. We must also do a better job of recruiting high-profile celebrities and human rights advocates to publicly speak out on these victims' behalf.

<span class=postbigbold>Victims of pot prohibition lack sufficient political or financial resources</span>

Criminal marijuana enforcement disproportionately impacts citizens by age. According to a 2005 study commissioned by the NORML Foundation, 74 percent of all Americans busted for pot are under age 30, and one out of four are age 18 or younger. Though these young people suffer the most under our current laws, they lack the financial means and political capital to effectively influence politicians to challenge them. Young people also lack the money to adequately fund the drug law reform movement at a level necessary to adequately represent and protect their interests.

Marijuana enforcement also disproportionately impacts citizens by race. According to NORML's 2005 report, adult African-Americans account for only 12 percent of annual marijuana users, but comprise 23 percent of all marijuana possession arrests in the United States. In some jurisdictions, such as New York City, minorities comprise more than 80 percent of all individuals arrested for pot offenses. However, despite the law's disproportionate impact on minorities, marijuana law reform is seldom portrayed as a racial equality issue.

The marijuana law reform movement must do a better job of engaging with organizations working toward racial equality to properly convey to politicians and the public that this issue is about racial justice and fundamental fairness. Additionally, reformers must do a better job allying with organizations that speak on behalf of youth, particularly urban youth -- who are most at risk of suffering from the lifetime hardships associated with a marijuana conviction. Finally, reformers must reach out to the parents of young people and urge them to become active members of the cannabis law reform movement, which needs the majority of parents to join its ranks as both financial contributors and as political advocates in order to gain the political support necessary to bring about a change in the country's pot laws.

<span class=postbigbold>Changing the public's mindset</span>

A strong majority of Americans -- nearly 75 percent -- say that they oppose jailing pot offenders, yet fewer than 50 percent support regulating cannabis so that adults no longer face arrest or incarceration for engaging in the drug's use. Why this apparent paradox? In large part, this ambivalence may be a result of the shortcomings of the drug law reform movement.

Though historically reformers have been effective at presenting persuasive arguments critical of prohibition's failings, we as a movement have devoted far less time and resources educating the public to the numerous societal benefits offered by the alternative: allowing states the option to restrict, tax and regulate the use and sale of marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. The focus must change. It is time for the drug law reform movement to move beyond offering criticism and begin providing solutions. If our solution is a model of legalization -- with state-mandated age controls and pot sales restricted to state-licensed stores -- then we must begin to consistently and repeatedly articulate the details and advantages of this alternative to the public.

Finally, in order to move public support for such a regulated system above 50 percent, the marijuana law reform movement must adequately identify those demographic groups -- such as parents of teenage children and/or women -- that tend to voice lower support for legalization as compared to other populations, such as "twenty-somethings" or college educated males. (Notably, a 2006 poll by NORML found that, among all age groups polled, the least amount of support for regulating pot was among those aged 30 to 49!) Once these groups are properly identified, reformers must create distinctly tailored messages and talking points to effectively target their unique concerns. I've listed three of these concerns, as well as suggestions for how best to respond to them, below.

<span class=postbigbold>Legalizing cannabis like alcohol will increase teens' access and use of pot</span>

One of the great ironies of prohibition is that criminalization's proponents allege that the existing policy is one of drug "control." In fact, prohibition is just the opposite.

Cannabis prohibition is responsible for driving the production, sale and use of marijuana underground. Under the current system, clandestine marijuana suppliers produce pot of unknown quantity and sell it in an unrestricted market to customers of any age. By contrast, a regulated and restricted system would limit the supply of cannabis to young people, while bringing the production and sale of pot for adults within the framework of an above ground, readily accountable marketplace. As reformers, we need to stress to parents that it is only through the implementation of marijuana legalization that they can begin to regain the sense of control that they have lost under the existing anarchic regime.

<span class=postbigbold>Legalizing cannabis like alcohol will send a public a message that pot is "OK"</span>

Of all the concerns commonly expressed by the public, fears that marijuana regulation will imply that pot is "OK" may be the easiest to respond to. Why? Because compared to the use and abuse of other legal intoxicants -- most notably alcohol and tobacco -- the responsible use of marijuana is, by typical societal standards, "OK." Pot lacks the dependence liability of tobacco or booze and, unlike alcohol -- or even aspirin -- marijuana consumption is incapable of causing a fatal overdose. According to government survey data, the majority of Americans who use pot do so intermittently -- not daily -- and most voluntarily cease their habit by time they reach their early 30s. (Compare this use pattern to most people's use of cigarettes, a habit that often continues unabated throughout one's lifetime.) Of course, inhaling marijuana smoke over time may be associated with certain pulmonary risks, such as wheezing and chest tightness. However, most of these adverse effects can be mitigated by vaporizing cannabis -- a practice that heats marijuana to a temperature where active cannabis vapors form, but below the point of combustion.

It is time for marijuana law reformers to embrace rather than dispute the notion that the responsible use of cannabis by adults falls well within the ambit of choice we permit individuals in a free society. Reformers shouldn't be afraid to educate the public as to the relative safety of cannabis, particularly when compared to the use of other common intoxicants. Recently, a regional education campaign comparing and contrasting pot use with alcohol launched by the group SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation) resulted in a majority of Denver voters electing to do away with minor marijuana law enforcement within the city's limits. The enactment of a similar marijuana "image enhancement" campaign by reformers on a national level would arguably result in a significant increase in public support for broader legalization.

<span class=postbigbold>Legalizing cannabis like alcohol will lead to an increase in incidences of drugged driving</span>

According to a 2007 Zogby poll of over 1,000 registered voters, only 36 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, "Should marijuana be legally taxed and regulated like liquor, tobacco or gambling?" By contrast, 44 percent of these same respondents voiced support for legalization "if police had a roadside impairment test for marijuana like they have for alcohol." In other words, the public's concern about traffic safety significantly impedes their support for broader cannabis legalization. Reformers need to address this public concern by offering potential solutions to mitigate incidences of driving while impaired by cannabis.

For example, the marijuana law reform movement should encourage the development of educational or public service campaigns targeting drugged driving behavior. Such campaigns should particularly be aimed toward the younger driving population age 16 to 25 -- as this group is most likely use cannabis and report having operated a motor vehicle shortly after consuming pot. Reformers should also encourage additional funding and training for DREs (drug recognition experts) to better identify drivers who may be operating a vehicle while impaired by marijuana. Finally, the development of cannabis-sensitive technology to rapidly identify the presence of THC in drivers, such as a roadside saliva test, would provide utility to law enforcement in their efforts to better identify potentially intoxicated drivers. Reformers' endorsement of these and other traffic-safety specific campaigns will increase support among the public (and arguably law enforcement) in favor of regulating cannabis by assuaging their concerns that such a policy would potentially lead to an increase in drugged driving activity.

The long-expressed goals of the marijuana law reform movement to end the arrests of responsible adult pot smokers and enact a regulated system of cannabis access and sales are achievable. However, these goals will continue to remain unattainable unless this movement begins to better address the political and public hurdles that have plagued it for more than 30 years.

Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for the NORML Foundation in Washington, D.C. Armentano is an expert in the field of marijuana policy, health and pharmacokinetics. He has spoken at numerous national conferences and legal seminars, testified before several state legislatures and federal bodies, and assisted dozens of criminal defense attorneys in cases pertaining to the use of medicinal cannabis and drugged driving.

<hr class=postrule><center><small>© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/76698/</small></center>

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The Financial Crisis Just Might Lead to Legal Pot

Postby palmspringsbum » Fri Mar 20, 2009 1:51 pm

AlterNet wrote:The Financial Crisis Just Might Lead to Legal Pot

By Marcelo Ballve, New America Media
Posted on March 13, 2009, Printed on March 20, 2009
AlterNet

NEW YORK -- In 1977, President Jimmy Carter asked Congress to decriminalize marijuana possession (it never did). The next year, the Ladies Home Journal described a summer jazz festival on the White House's South Lawn where "a haze of marijuana smoke hung heavy under the low-bending branches of a magnolia tree."

The late 1970's may have been the high-water mark for permissiveness regarding marijuana. But advocates of decriminalized pot believe a confluence of factors, especially the country's economic malaise, are leading to another countrywide reappraisal of the drug.

"There is momentum of the sort I haven't seen since I've been involved in this," says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which supports easing marijuana laws.

He says incidents like then-candidate Barack Obama's early admission of pot use or the flap over Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps's bong-smoking may lead to initial public hand-wringing, but in the end they tend to legitimize pot use. So does the growing recognition of medical marijuana.

But, he adds, "the economic crisis is the single most important factor" in this new shift in perceptions.

That's because the ailing economy is triggering a scramble for new government savings or sources of revenue. Nadelmann compares today's marijuana laws to alcohol prohibition, approved during prosperous times in 1920 only to become unpopular during the Great Depression. Prohibition was finally repealed in 1933, in part due to the cost of reining in illegal booze and the need to recoup lost tax revenue in tough economic times.

As he signed a law easing prohibition, President Franklin Roosevelt reportedly quipped, "I think this would be a good time for a beer."

Is our recession-plagued present a good time for a joint? Legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana, would pull the rug out from under pot dealers in urban America, and create a crisis for them, but it would likely prove a boon for state budgets. In an oft-cited 2006 report on U.S. marijuana production, expert Jon Gettman used "conservative price estimates" to peg the value of the annual crop at $36 billion--more valuable than corn and wheat combined.

Three national polls this year showed a surprising number of Americans think marijuana should be legal. Zogby, CBS News and Rasmussen all recorded support for legalization hovering at around 40 percent. Nadelmann of the DPA believes support would have been higher if the question was whether or not marijuana should be taxed and regulated.

California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has proposed a bill to tax and regulate legal marijuana, which he says would generate $1 billion in revenue for the Golden State's anemic budget. Ammiano, who represents areas of San Francisco, says his proposal, unveiled last month, is "simply common sense," considering the unprecedented economic emergency. The measure would also save California an estimated $150 million in enforcement costs.

Rising support for decriminalization has also come from drug war-ravaged Latin America. Former presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil headed the 17-person Latin American Commission on Drugs, which included intellectuals and statesmen. It issued a report last month calling the drug war failed. It called, among other changes, for the personal use of marijuana to be decriminalized.

Currently, marijuana is already decriminalized in some form in 13 U.S. states, including California and New York, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Typically in these states, marijuana possession in small amounts is reduced to a minor offense punishable by a low fine. Alaska has a particularly liberal law, allowing possession of up to an ounce of pot at home without penalty.

Some eight additional state legislatures are currently considering decriminalization, or the expansion of already existing allowances, according to NORML.

No other state has gone as far as the sweeping "tax and regulate" plan Ammiano proposed for California, but all this talk of legalizing pot has Eric Voth, M.D., deeply worried. Voth, chairman of the Institute on Global Drug Policy, believes advocates of legal marijuana are exploiting the country's economic insecurities to advance their agenda, despite evident risks.

Pointing to alcohol and tobacco, which are taxed, he argues the resulting revenue hardly compensates for the social and public health damage wreaked by both substances, including spillover use among youth. In the 1970s, when marijuana use was at its peak, some 11 percent of high school seniors used marijuana daily, whereas today only between two and three percent do so. If marijuana were legal, more kids would smoke it and face health, addiction and learning problems, says Voth, who advised the White House under Republican and Democratic administrations. "I'm not a prohibitionist, I'm a physician and I've seen those problems face-to-face in the trenches."

But, as Voth himself admits, the lobby to decriminalize marijuana is increasingly organized, with a strong presence in state capitols and Washington, D.C. When Ammiano announced his California plan, he enlisted the DPA and the Marijuana Policy Project to back him up. "High Times," the popular pot enthusiasts' magazine, has spearheaded its own "420 campaign" for marijuana legalization. Libertarian organizations, like the Cato Institute, tend to be skeptical of pot prohibition, too.

But there are legal questions over states' efforts to decriminalize. Lenient state laws (not to mention Ammiano's legalization plan) clash with separate federal laws on marijuana, which are strict, calling for up to a year imprisonment and a $1,000 fine for possession of any amount, even if it's a first offense.

Last year, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), sponsored legislation to decriminalize marijuana federally, earning a handful of co-sponsors, but the bill quickly stalled in committee.

Ammiano says his plan isn't radical, since pot would simply be taxed just as tobacco and alcohol are now. But for his opponents that comparison sets off alarm bells.

Both industries have a bad record of facing up to the adverse health effects of their products and its availability to underage users. A legally sanctioned marijuana industry, opponents say, would open the door to another powerful, cynical, corporate dispenser of legal drugs.


<small>© 2009 New America Media All rights reserved.</small>
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