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RainDog's Journal
RainDog's Journal
August 9, 2013

Leahy blocks 95 million dollar appropriation for Drug War group


Senator Patrick Leahy, chair of the Appropriations Committee, blocked release of $95 million dollars in funding for the Merida Initiative, citing the lack of a clear strategy on the part of the U.S. State Department and the Mexican government.

The decision is a long-overdue recognition that the drug war in Mexico has been a bloody fiasco. The Merida Initiative, a Bush-era plan to attack cartels in Mexico and reduce trafficking of prohibited drugs to the U.S. market, began in 2008. Congress has appropriated $1.9 billion dollars from the federal budget for the program over the past five years, most aimed at bolstering Mexican security forces. Since the drug war was launched and armed forces deployed to fight the cartels, the homicide rate in Mexico soared 150%, between 2006 and 2012.

Last August the State Department asked the committee to obligate some $229 million assigned to the Merida Initiative in the 2012 budget. At first, Leahy decided to hold up the entire amount, after receiving a two-and-a-half page explanation from the State Department that he felt failed toadequately describe spending and objectives.

In April, the committee released $134 million,but held up the rest pending more information from State and the Mexican government on how the money would be spent, what the goals were and how the programs and resources would help achieve those goals.
August 9, 2013

Democrats and Republicans agree: Reform Our Drug Laws


It's been over 40 years since President Nixon declared war on drugs and more than a quarter-century since Congress first enacted mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, leading to a ballooning U.S. prison population. We, the land of the free and the home of the brave, have become the world's biggest jailer. In the light of Uruguay and New Zealand's recent efforts toward relaxing their drug laws, the time seems right for the United States to do some reform of its own. Specifically, the United States should reform its mandatory minimum sentencing policies for non-violent drug offenders.

The policy arguments are well known and indisputable: these laws disproportionately impact minorities, overcrowd our prison system, hamstring our judges, don't deter crime, and are a waste of money. These arguments have been around for decades. What makes this time different — because in Washington, policy is often trumped by politics — is the surprising amount of bipartisan consensus around this issue. Republican and Democrats both agree: now is the time to reform our drug sentencing laws.

Right now there are two bills in the Congress that would go a long way toward reforming our drug sentencing laws. Last week, Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would allow judges more of the leeway that they have asked for to sentence criminals below the mandatory minimum sentence. The bill would also lower the mandatory minimum sentences for various drug crimes. The Justice Safety Valve Act, sponsored by Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and by Congressmen Robert Scott (D-Va.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), would go even further, eliminating mandatory sentences for some non-drug crimes. Either bill would be a positive step towards creating more-just sentencing laws by returning discretion to judges.

Support for reform has been building for some time. One precedent to look at is the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity in minimum sentences between powder cocaine and crack cocaine from 100-1 down to 18-1. That bill was supported by several influential House Republicans such as James Sensenbrenner (Wisc.), Paul Ryan (Wisc.), former Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), and even Todd Akin (formerly R-Mo.). That act proved that not only can drug reform be bipartisan, it can also attract strong conservative support.

Holder is on board with reforms, as Recursion posted here: http://www.democraticunderground.com/10023431740

Attorney General Eric Holder is rumored to be proposing major reforms to drug sentencing in the coming weeks, and if a Wednesday interview with NPR is any indication, the changes could signal a pivot from the aggressive policies embraced by the Justice Department.

"I think there are too many people in jail for too long, and for not necessarily good reasons," Holder said in the interview, turning from the department's highly criticized crackdown on drug law enforcement. As NPR noted, almost half of the people in federal prison are serving time for drug charges.

"The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old," he continued. "There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There's been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color."

Holder hinted in the interview that the changes could include better prioritization of federal law enforcement and shortened sentences for minor drug offenses. According to NPR, Holder could announce his proposal as early as next week in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco.

Even with federal-level sentencing changes, states may also set penalties. No doubt the federal sentencing changes will help, but if you're in Louisiana, for instance, you can still be sent to prison for 20 years for a third conviction for simple possession of marijuana. And that was after they modified existing law to make it more lenient.
August 8, 2013

CNN's Sanjay Gupta: We've been misled about cannabis

Gupta apologized on CNN for his former opposition to ending the prohibition of marijuana, stating the DEA has "no scientific basis" for the claim that marijuana has no medical value.

Thank you, Mr. Gupta, for using your position to bring sanity to this issue in the U.S.


August 5, 2013

Harborside and University of the City of London conduct groundbreaking research

Harborside, located in Oakland, has a client base of approx. 100,000 cannabis users (this is why they were targeted and the owner, Steve DeAngelo, faces trial.) The City of Oakland has sued the Justice Dept.'s Eric Holder to block the closure of Harborside. They have teamed with the University of the City of London to conduct the largest and most comprehensive patient survey of cannabinoid profiles.


The survey project is part of an HHC effort in alliance with the University of the City of London and the drug policy research group the Beckley Foundation, to compile a database based on the survey results that will let medical cannabis users look up which strains of cannabis are most commonly preferred to treat particular ailments.

HHC and its partners plan to key the questionnaire answers to the results of the extensive tests HHC has already done to categorize the various types of cannabis that come through their facility. The cannabis study project is still in its early data collection phase, but the hope is that the eventual result will be an easily accessible categorization of each strain of cannabis, and its customer preference status in treating each particular health problem.

...HHC’s survey takes into account not only the strain of cannabis each patient is using and evaluating, but also the particular batch of cannabis and the unique cannabinoid profile.

In theory, he says, over the course of two, three, four years of implementing questionnaire responses, the resulting database will allow the user to ask things like: “What did the largest number of multiple sclerosis patients prefer? Which strain did they prefer least? What’s the chemical difference—what’s the difference in cannabinoid profile between those two different strains of cannabis? So that we can start developing an actual, objective way of at least identifying cannabinoid profile with symptoms.”

This is great research.

It's also an example of activists and educators working together to create a knowledge base, in spite of some who would choose to censor such information.
August 3, 2013

1st medical marijuana dispensary in DC opened


The shop, located on N. Capitol Street, NW just north of New York Avenue, is only 2.5 miles from the White House and the rest of the city center. Patients with certain qualifying conditions including cancer, glaucoma, muscle spasms and HIV/AIDS will be able to purchase cannabis at the shop.

The shop represents a battle that has been long and drawn out in our nation's capitol. Voters approved medical cannabis in 1998, but the U.S. Congress (which has to approve changes to D.C. law) prevented that from happening for nearly 11 years. In 2009 the city began the process of registering and licensing patients but it's been a lengthy four years to get dispensaries off the ground as many lawmakers feared federal intervention (and federal jail time) for implementing the will of the voters.

Unfortunately, Washington D.C. does not allow for reciprocity with other state medical marijuana programs. So medical cannabis patients from any of the 50 state surrounding the city are still sadly considered criminals.

The opening is sure to get more publicity over the next few weeks, which might actually get politicians to pay attention to the fact that medical cannabis is almost literally at their doorsteps.

So, Congress - tell me how you can (finally) fund the District of Columbia's medical marijuana law yet refuse to address the error in national law and policy that continues to claim marijuana has no medical value and is, thus, a Schedule I substance.

It seems the Controlled Substances Act has been altered by Congress by this legislative action. At this point, Congress simply needs to remove cannabis from the CSA entirely and remove it from control of the DEA and put it under the control of the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Marijuana (the last bit is part of Democrat Jared Polis' legislation.)

Since 72% of American voters do not want to waste money on enforcing marijuana prohibition - across political divisions - I have to ask - who is Congress serving by its refusal to address this issue?

They certainly aren't serving their constituents.
August 3, 2013

Let's track some numbers

as far as spending, etc. over time. Here are a few links -

the largest db of marijuana arrests released to the public (from 2008) - http://www.drugscience.org/States/US/US_home.htm


From 2007 - "...according to a new study by researcher Jon Gettman, Ph.D. -- $10.7 billion in direct law enforcement costs, and $31.1 billion in lost tax revenues. And that may be an underestimate, at least on the law enforcement side, since Gettman made his calculations before the FBI released its latest arrest statistics in late September. The new FBI stats show an all-time record 829,627 marijuana arrests in 2006, 43,000 more than in 2005."

Specific findings include the following:


--Nationally, there is little apparent relationship between increasing marijuana arrests and rates of use.

Marijuana arrests have nearly doubled from 1991 to 2009, increasing by 150% during the 1990s and increasing steadily in recent years, producing an annualized change of 6.56% per year during this period.

Overall, levels of marijuana use in the United States have remained fundamentally unchanged during this period. Population estimates of annual marijuana use, for example, have remained relatively constant over the last five years at approximately 25 million individuals.

From 2003 to 2007, the number of annual marijuana arrests increased by 2.93% per year, while the number of annual marijuana users decreased by 0.21% per year.

The overall marijuana arrest rate of between 3% and 6% of users is not enough to represent a meaningful deterrent.

--Young people and African-Americans are disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests.

Males aged 15 to 24 account for 52% of all marijuana arrests. While the national rate of marijuana possession arrests is 248 per 100,000, the arrest rate for males aged 15 to 19 is 1,911 per 100,000.

While the marijuana-use rate for African-Americans is only about 25% greater than for whites, the marijuana possession arrest rate for blacks is three times greater. This is not a regional disparity, but is seen in every state and most counties.

---The costs of arresting marijuana users are substantial, and raise serious questions about the cost effectiveness of marijuana prohibition.

Using the same method of calculation used by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, marijuana arrests cost state and local governments $10.3 billion in 2006.

Marijuana arrests represent 6% of all arrests. In many states, they represent the fifth, sixth, or seventh largest category of arrests.

The clearance rate (i.e. the percentage of crimes solved by arrest) for murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft was 26% in 2007, meaning that no one is arrested for three quarters of these serious crimes. In this environment, time and resources spent on roughly 850,000 marijuana arrests per year represent a significant opportunity cost.

In California, decriminalization of marijuana possession saved taxpayers $857 million in 2006 (details in the California state report (PDF)) -- this pdf is linked at the link.

August 3, 2013

What Uruguay's Legal Marijuana Policy Means for the World


by Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

(The Drug Policy Alliance is a group started/combined by academics and others to provide accurate information about drugs, in response to U.S. attempts to use intelligence agencies and other political pressure on academics and others who were intimidated by our govt. when the science didn't agree with the drug propaganda.)

(Uruguay) provides, significantly, a model for how to engage in debate over marijuana policy in a mature and responsible way. When President Mujica first issued his proposal last June, he made clear that he welcomed vigorous debate over both its merits and the particulars. International experts were invited from abroad for intensive discussions with people from all walks of civil society and government. A range of specific proposals were considered, all with an eye toward transforming an illegal industry into a legal one to better protect public safety and health. Political rhetoric and grandstanding permeated the debate, as would be expected in any vibrant democratic process, but substantive issues dominated.

What I as an American find most striking about Uruguay’s historic move is the demonstration of political leadership by President Mujica. In the United States, marijuana policy reform is an issue on which the people lead and the politicians follow. Colorado and Washington changed their laws through the ballot initiative process, with roughly 55% of voters supporting the reform, while most elected officials sat on the sidelines. Even today, with a majority of Americans in favor of legalizing marijuana, not one U.S. governor or U.S. senator is prepared to publicly support the legalization of marijuana (apart from the governors of Washington and Colorado who now are obliged to implement the new laws in their states). By contrast, when President Mujica made his proposal, he reportedly did it without consulting any polls or political consultants; he simply listened to respected experts about what the optimal marijuana policy would be – and then said, let’s do it.

President Mujica is not the only Latin American leader to demonstrate courage in calling for alternatives to the drug war. Presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala have boldly demanded that legalization, decriminalization and other alternatives to ineffective, costly and destructive prohibitionist drug policies be considered. More recently, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza has catapulted regional discussion of drug policy to an intellectual level unprecedented among multilateral organizations. But President Mujica’s proposal is unique in changing not just public debate but also actual laws and policies.

All this serves as a wake-up call for Europe, which was at the forefront of global drug policy reform in the latter part of the 20th century but has now been leapfrogged by developments in the Americas. Serious proposals for legal regulation of marijuana are proliferating in countries like Switzerland, Spain, the Czech Republic, Denmark and the Netherlands. And in Morocco, long one of the world’s leading producers of marijuana, legalization proposals are now being taken seriously by the national government.

The OAS Drug Policy Report - http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/2013/05/oas-secretary-general-presents-historic-drug-policy-report-president-santos-colombia
August 1, 2013

Uruguay Congress Debates Marijuana Legalization


"Legislators in Uruguay hotly debated on Wednesday a measure backed by leftist President Jose Mujica that would create a government body to control the cultivation and sale of marijuana and allow people to grow it at home or as part of smoking clubs.

The use of marijuana is already legal in the South American nation, but sale and cultivation of it is not. A vote on the bill - expected to be very close - was due later on Wednesday in the lower chamber of Congress. If it passes, the measure would then go to the upper chamber for consideration.

Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla fighter, says the measure would control the marijuana trade under strict guidelines, help undermine drug-smuggling gangs and fight petty crime.

To avoid making the country a drug tourism destination, only Uruguayans would be allowed to use marijuana under the measure."

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