Opioid Commission To Trump: Declare Emergency, Ignore Science

Per The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s commission on the opioid crisis asked him Monday to declare a national emergency to deal with the epidemic.

The members of the bipartisan panel called the request their “first and most urgent recommendation.”

Mr. Trump created the commission in March, appointing Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey to lead it. The panel held its first public meeting last month and was supposed to issue an interim report shortly afterward but delayed doing so until now. A final report is due in October.

The initial recommendations are completely silent to the fact that medical marijuana access is associated with reduced rates of opioid use and abuse, opioid-related hospitalizations, opioid-related traffic fatalities, and opioid-related overdose deaths.

Chris Christie, sitting Governor of New Jersey until Jan. 17, 2018

Chris Christie, sitting Governor of New Jersey until Jan. 17, 2018

Over the last two months, over 8,000 voters contacted the Office of National Drug Control Policy commission, chaired by marijuana prohibitionist Chris Christie, with their personal stories and the relevant science to encourage the group to support medical marijuana as part of the approach to reduce the tragic effects of the opioid crisis. This effort was undertaken both by NORML and Marijuana Majority.

Governor Christie has zero percent credibility on drug policy, or any other policy, for that matter,” Erik Altieri, Executive Director of NORML said to Forbes of Christie at the time of his appointment to head the commission.

Nonetheless, this administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has continued to express skepticism with regard to the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana. Now, we now know that the President’s opioid commission is not interested in real solutions, but rather more empty rhetoric.

We have until October until the final report is to be issued.

Click here to send a message to the ONDCP commission to yet again tell them the facts and if you have one, please share your personal on how marijuana is a safer alternative to opioids. 

 

Trump Should Abolish the Drug Czar’s Office

Trump_signing_Executive_Order_13780
The Trump Administration is widely expected to pick Representative Tom Marino for Drug Czar.

Representative Marino is a longtime, rabid drug warrior who has a consistent record of voting against marijuana law reform legislation — a position that runs counter to that of the majority of voters and his own constituents. His appointment to this office highlights the fact that this administration remains committed to the failed 1980s ‘war on drugs’ playbook.

The Trump administration promised to eliminate bureaucratic waste. It should start by eliminating the office of the Drug Czar.

The White House Drug Czar is required, by statute, “to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance that is listed in Schedule I” and to “ensure that no Federal funds … shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in Schedule I.” This narrow-minded, Flat Earth mentality refuses to acknowledge the reality that the majority of the country is now authorized to engage in the use of medical cannabis and it mandates that US drug policy be dictated by rhetoric and ideology rather than by science and evidence.

NORML opposes Marino’s appointment to the position of Drug Czar and we further call for this anti-science agency to be abolished entirely.

Click here to send a message to President Trump – End the charade of the Drug Czar by abolishing the position.

The Drug Czar’s office is a remnant of a bygone era when US drug policy was framed as a ‘war’ fueled largely by rhetoric and ideology. In 2017 we can do better and we must. The majority of Americans view drug abuse as a public health issue, they favor regulating cannabis as opposed to criminalizing it, and they are demanding policy changes based on facts.

Tell President Trump: There is no place for ‘Czars’ in today’s American government, particularly those like Marino who still cling to outdated and failed drug war policies that embody misplaced ideologies of the past.

Government Accountability Office Says The Drug War Isn’t Working; Did Anybody Think It Was?

The federal government’s anti-drug efforts are inefficient and ineffective, according to a just released report issued by the Congressional watchdog agency, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).

As if we didn’t know.

The GAO report assessed whether the Obama administration’s anti-drug strategies, as articulated by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (the ONDCP aka the Drug Czar’s office) in its 2010 National Drug Control Strategy report, have yet to achieve its stated goals.

The answer? They haven’t.

States the GAO:

“The public health, social, and economic consequences of illicit drug use, coupled with the constrained fiscal environment of recent years, highlight the need to ensure that federal programs efficiently and effectively use their resources to address this problem. ONDCP has developed a 5-year Strategy to reduce illicit drug use and its consequences, but our analysis shows lack of progress toward achieving four of the Strategy’s five goals for which primary data are available.”

In particular, the GAO criticized the administration for failing to adequately address rising levels of youth marijuana consumption. The GAO also rebuffed the ONDCP’s allegation that increased rates adolescent marijuana use are a result of the passage of statewide laws decriminalizing the plant or allowing for its therapeutic use.

“Other factors, including state laws and changing attitudes and social norms regarding drugs, may also affect drug use. We examined studies on three of these other factors, which we refer to as societal factors, which may affect youth marijuana use. … The studies that assessed the effect of medical marijuana laws that met our review criteria found mixed results on effects of the laws on youth marijuana use. … [S]tudies that assessed the effect of marijuana decriminalization that met our review criteria found little to no effect of the laws on youth marijuana use.”

You can read the full GAO report here.

White House Drug Control Budget: Failed Drug War Tactics Prioritized Over Prevention and Treatment

The Obama Administration has released its National Drug Control Budget for the FY 2014 and despite their claims that “the war on drugs is over” and that they have “bigger fish to fry” the Office National Drug Control Policy is still prioritizing failed drug war tactics over prevention and treatment.

whbud2The new budget calls for 9.6 billion dollars to be spent on domestic law enforcement, 3.7 billion for interdiction, and 1.4 billion for international drug control efforts.

Prevention, in the form of education and outreach efforts, receives a paltry $1.4 billion dollars. While this is a 5% increase over the previous year’s budget, it is still a minuscule sum when you consider we are spending nine times more on arresting people than we are to educate them on risks of drug use and stop them from ending up in the criminal justice system in the first place. The budget calls for an additional 9.3 billion to be spent on treatment programs for those considered to have drug abuse issues (though $80 million of this funding goes to the drug court program, infamous for giving defendants the “choice” of serving time in rehab or spending time in a jail cell).

For all their rhetoric, this recent budget shows that little has changed in the federal government’s priorities when it comes to the War on Drugs. Funding is still disproportionately spent arresting people or diverting them into treatment programs after the fact, while only a small fraction (13%) of the overall drug budget is spent trying to fix the problem before it starts.

It is time for the Obama Administration’s policy to match its language on the issue of drug law reform. President Obama once promised that he would allow science and factual evidence to guide his administration on issues of public policy, but when it comes to marijuana laws, we are still waiting for him to deliver.

You can view the full text of the budget here.

White House: “We’re in the Midst of a Serious National Conversation on Marijuana”

We the PeopleIn October of 2011, the White House issued an official response to a petition NORML submitted via their We the People outreach program on the topic of marijuana legalization. Despite being one of the most popular petitions at the site’s launch, the answer we received was far from satisfactory. Penned by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, the response featured most of the typical government talking points. He stated that marijuana is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment and that its use is a concern to public health. “We also recognize,” Gil wrote, “that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.”

Well, just over a year later, the White House has responded again to a petition to deschedule marijuana and legalize it. The tone this time is markedly different, despite being penned by the same man.

Addressing the Legalization of Marijuana
By Gil Kerlikowske

Thank you for participating in We the People and speaking out on the legalization of marijuana. Coming out of the recent election, it is clear that we’re in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.

At President Obama’s request, the Justice Department is reviewing the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington, given differences between state and federal law. In the meantime, please see a recent interview with Barbara Walters in which President Obama addressed the legalization of marijuana.

Barbara Walters:

Do you think that marijuana should be legalized?

President Obama:

Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But what I think is that, at this point, Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. And as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions. It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that’s legal.

…this is a tough problem because Congress has not yet changed the law. I head up the executive branch; we’re supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal.

When you’re talking about drug kingpins, folks involved with violence, people are who are peddling hard drugs to our kids in our neighborhoods that are devastated, there is no doubt that we need to go after those folks hard… it makes sense for us to look at how we can make sure that our kids are discouraged from using drugs and engaging in substance abuse generally. There is more work we can do on the public health side and the treatment side.

Gil Kerlikowske is Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

No tirade about protecting our children. No alarmist claims about sky rocketing marijuana potency and devastating addiction potential. Just a few short paragraphs stating we are “in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana” and deferring to an interview with the President where he stated arresting marijuana users wasn’t a priority and that the laws were still being reviewed. While far from embracing an end to marijuana prohibition, the simple fact that America’s Drug Czar had the opportunity to spout more anti-marijuana rhetoric and instead declined (while giving credence to the issue by stating it is a serious national conversation) it’s at the very least incredibly refreshing, if not a bit aberrational. We can only hope that when the administration finishes “reviewing” the laws just approved by resounding margins in Washington and Colorado, they choose to stand with the American people and place themselves on the right side of history.

“We the People” are already there.

Listen To Voters President Obama, Not The Vice President!

According to Rolling Stone: “There are not many friends to legalization in this administration,” says Kevin Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida who served the White House as a top adviser on marijuana policy. In fact, the politician who coined the term “drug czar” – Joe Biden – continues to guide the administration’s hard-line drug policy. “The vice president has a special interest in this issue,” Sabet says. “As long as he is vice president, we’re very far off from legalization being a reality.”

Really?!

We’ve got a decidedly baby boom president and former leader of the Choom Gang as the so-called elected leader of the free world, but reform of cannabis prohibition is supposedly being held up by the World War II era-influenced, and current self-described “drug warrior” Joe Biden?

Let’s send a clear message to President Obama to sensibly pay attention to public polls and election vote totals regarding the tenor of America quickly moving away from the failed eight decade-old federal cannabis prohibition and embracing logical public policy alternatives–notably taxing and regulating cannabis products in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco products–and NOT to his stodgy, longtime prohibitionist and disconnected Vice President.**

Please sign this White House petition here.

**Joe Biden, when he was a Senator from Delaware, led the Democrats’ efforts in the 1980s to try to rebuff longtime and successful Republican efforts to paint Democrats as ‘being soft on crime and weak on drugs’ by helping to create the Office of National Drug Control Policy (AKA Drug Czar’s office) and inserting into its mission statement one of the most anti-democratic and anti-free market charters of all time in a government bureaucracy.

According to Title VII Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998: H11225:

Responsibilities. –The Director– [...]

(12) shall ensure that no Federal funds appropriated to the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) and take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance (in any form) that–

is listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812); and
has not been approved for use for medical purposes by the Food and Drug Administration;

 

 

NC NORML is LIVE at the Democratic Convention

STREAMING LIVE

9/4/2012 at 5:30pm

Watch Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson, former special agent Jamie Haase, and southern rock artist Greta Gaines as they speak live on behalf of North Carloina NORML to raise awareness and support for ending marijuana prohibition at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte.


Live video by Ustream

TIME quotes federal officials confirming the Box Canyon theory of medical marijuana

Step 1: pressure any state considering medical marijuana to limit it to dispensaries only. Step 2: fast-track Sativex and other cannabis pharmaceuticals through the FDA approval. Step 3: replace all dispensary marijuana with cannabis pharmaceuticals. Step 4: respond to patients' complaints with "well, you wanted 'medical' marijuana…"

Don’t say I didn’t warn you… From TIME Magazine’s What Is President Obama’s Problem With Medical Marijuana?

(TIME) Over the last few weeks, I have talked with nearly a dozen people in the medical marijuana business, three U.S. Attorneys, White House officials and local officials who oppose the federal crackdown for a story that will appear in this week’s newsstand issue of TIME. The answer on the ground is, predictably, far more complicated than either medical marijuana advocates or the Obama Administration is willing to describe. And it all comes down to this: Despite Obama’s promises during the 2008 campaign, federal prosecutors have lost faith in the ability of state and local officials to control a booming commercial industry for a drug that is still illegal to grow, possess or sell under federal law. As a result, a once broad exemption from prosecution for medical marijuana providers in state where it’s legal has been narrowed to a tiny one.

Furthermore, the fact that state laws clash with federal law in 16 states and the District of Columbia makes it all but impossible for state and federal law enforcement to work together cooperatively to develop a functional system for what Obama still claims to support: access to medicinal marijuana for the legitimately ill in states that approve of the practice. So the nation is left with an uneasy status quo: The federal government is not trying to eliminate medical marijuana altogether, but it has decided that it cannot stand for the commercialization or large scale production of marijuana for the stated purpose of helping the sick, even when that production is technically within the bounds of state law.

Obama has shown little interest in elevating the issue. Some in federal law enforcement–and at the Office of National Drug Control Policy–hope that the advent of new pharmaceutical replacements for grown medical marijuana, like the Canadian drug Sativex, will make the entire issue moot in the coming decade. 

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A Mother’s Day Declaration: “The Drug War Hurts Our Families”


Mother’s Day: How the Drug War Hurts Families

NORML Women’s Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and other Reform Organizations Team Up for: “Cops & Moms Week of Action

Washington DC – Mothers from around the country will join with law enforcement and students at the National Press Club on May 2nd in honor of Mother’s Day. The press conference will launch a new coalition of national organizations that will represent mothers, police and students that seek to finally end the disastrous drug war. The NORML Women’s Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Student for Sensible Drug Policy and others will share powerful stories of losing loved ones to the criminal justice system, and the social repercussions of prohibition.  The coalition will highlight a series of activities around the country timed to Mother’s Day.

Sabrina Fendrick, Coordinator for the NORML Women’s Alliance gave the following statement:

 “‘Mother’s Day’ was derived out of an intensely political effort to organize women on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line against the Civil War. The reason mothers were made the vehicle was because they were the ones whose children were dying in that war. Women were also largely responsible for ending alcohol prohibition.  This is more than just a ‘greeting-card holiday,’ this is the beginning of an institutional change in our society. The government’s war on drugs is unacceptable. For our children’s sake, the concerned mothers of the world are being called on to demand the implementation of a rational, responsible, reality-based drug and marijuana policy.”

Leaders of the campaign who will be speaking at the press conference include former Maryland narcotics cop and Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Neill Franklin; Vice-Chair of the NORML Women’s Alliance and proud mother, Diane Fornbacher; Aaron Houston, Executive Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), Kathie Kane-Willis a Chicago social worker whose son died from an overdose two years ago; Joy Strickland, CEO of Mothers Against Teen Violence, Nina Graves (Delaware), a mother and former assistant chief of police and others.  Moms United to End the Drug War will also be unveiling a “Moms Bill of Rights.”

Event Details:

What: Mother’s Day press conference announcing coalition between moms, cops and students against the war on drugs.  Followed by a nationwide “Cops & Moms Week of Action”.
When:  May 2, 2012 at 10 a.m.
Where: National Press Club – Washington, D.C.
Who:   NORML Women’s Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Moms United to End the Drug War, and the Drug Policy Alliance.

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This Week in Weed: April 22nd-28th

This Week in Weed

Click here to subscribe to NORMLtv and receive alerts whenever new content is added.

The latest installment of “This Week in Weed” is now streaming on NORMLtv.

A week of federal officials with their heads buried in the sand. President Obama clarifies his stance on medical marijuana and the drug czar reiterates the administration’s opposition to industrial hemp.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Be sure to tune in to NORMLtv every week to catch up on the latest marijuana news. Subscribe to NORMLtv or follow us on Twitter to be notified as soon as new content is added.

White House releases 2012 National Drug Control Strategy

The Obama Administration has released the 2012 National Drug Control Strategy today.  As usual, this Administration realizes the “War on Drugs is an utter failure” – as a propaganda meme, at least – and attempts to paint its prohibitionist policies as a public health strategy balanced between the extremes of prohibition and legalization.

See? We spend a lot more on treatment than law enforcement!…

President Obama and Drug Czar Kerlikowske refer to their prohibition strategies as a “balanced approach” that includes “prevention, early intervention, treatment, recovery support, criminal justice reform, law enforcement, and international cooperation.”  They even provide an infographic touting their “Record of Reform” that includes this handy graph of the “balance” in the Drug War budget.

…unless you count the other law enforcement things we spend money on that brings the "balance" to 3:2 in favor of law enforcement.

Well, they spend more on prevention and treatment than they do on law enforcement and incarceration! How balanced! The problem is those other two bars called “Interdiction” and “International Programs”.  Interdiction is when law enforcement chops down pot plants in the forest, eradicates coca crops in South America and poppy fields in Asia, and intercepts drug shipments.  International Programs is when we give money and arms and intelligence equipment to foreign governments to perform Drug War law enforcement and interdiction, which, as we just mentioned, is a law enforcement activity.  In other words, the “balance” in this budget is tilted 3:2 in favor of law enforcement and incarceration.

No matter how you slice it, more focus on law enforcement / supply reduction than prevention / demand reduction.

If you take a deep look into the approved 2012 Drug War budget, you’ll find that the administration’s tilt toward law enforcement has actually become slightly more pronounced.  Supply reduction (Domestic Law Enforcement + Interdiction + International) went from 59.2% of the 2011 budget to 59.7% of the 2012 budget.  For 2013, they’d like to get that down to 58.8%.

And to what end?  Why, “a 15 percent reduction in the rate of drug use and similar reductions in drug use consequences over the course of five years (2010-2015)” according to the Drug Czar.  That makes me wonder why the Obama Administration felt they had to emphasize treatment and prevention so much?  In just 2009, President Bush was issuing his final Drug Control Annual Report, crowing that “we have helped reduce teenage drug use by 25 percent since 2001.”  In 2002, Bush’s supply reduction budget comprised 54.4% of the budget and that rose to 65.2% of his 2009 budget.  As Bush decreased support for treatment and prevention, “current use of illicit drugs by youth has declined by 25 percent… and youth use of drugs such as MDMA/Ecstasy, LSD, and methamphetamine has dropped… by more than 50 percent.”

The truth is that when drug use patterns rise and fall, they have very little to do with law enforcement.  When confronted by escalating drug use numbers, prohibitionists will clamor for more money and enforcement to stop drug use.  When the drug use numbers decline, prohibitionists will clamor for more money and enforcement to keep stopping drug use.  Despite claiming to want a discussion of legalization, they cannot conceive of just not trying to stop people from using drugs in the first place and instead concentrate on mitigating the harms from the problem users.  Use of a drug, even marijuana, is malum in se, it is evil in and of itself and must be stopped!  Preferably while drinking a martini and smoking a cigar.

To be fair, the Obama Administration has made progress in reducing sentencing disparities, requiring health insurance to cover addictions treatment, and removing roadblocks for people in recovery to gain housing and employment.  But I can’t help but see two separate issues – War on Drugs and War on Marijuana – and while I can give Obama some credit for positive developments in the former, his raids on medical marijuana and intransigence on decriminalization and legalization in the latter give me no comfort.

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NORML’s Russ Belville vs. former ONDCP’s Dr. Kevin Sabet on Marijuana Legalization at James A. Baker Institute (VIDEO)

DFW NORML's "Truth Enforcement Vehicle" was parked out front of the Baker Institute flashing the green lights to lead people to the event.

My undying thanks go out to The James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy for the invitation to participate in this illustrious event. I learned so much from the incredible presentations of Rev. Edwin Sanders, Sen. Larry Campbell, Prof. Alex Stevens, Dr. Ethan Nadelmann, Prof. Michelle Alexander, and everyone who participated.

I also thank the crews from DFW NORML, Houston NORML, and NORML of Waco Inc. for showing up with the Truth Enforcement Vehicle, putting on a great fundraiser, and showing me a NORML (if a little traffic-laden) good time in H-town.  (Once again, like last year, wherever I go, Portland-like rain follows me, leading Professor Bluntston to exclaim, “Russ ‘Break It Down’ Belville done brought the rain!”)

Debating Kevin Sabet was fun.  Before we went up, he thanked me for devoting half of my show to him (it was only a quarter, but whatever) and suggested that maybe it isn’t a good idea for me to give up my whole debate strategy before the debate.  I told him that when you have truth, facts, logic, and reason on your side, you don’t have to have much of a strategy.

Please take the time to watch the other videos from presenters at the Baker Institute.  I’m flattered by all the hits my video is getting, but you’ll learn a whole lot more from the learned people on the other videos.

Cato Unbound: Ending Cannabis Prohibition in America

Originally published @ Cato Unbound, as part of a series of essays on ending the government’s failed war against cannabis

Ending Cannabis Prohibition in America

The now forty-year-old organized effort to reform cannabis laws in America is on the precipice of major socio-political reforms with approximately fifty percent of the population no longer supporting the nation’s seventy four-year-old Cannabis Prohibition. While reformers have made tremendous gains, notably at the state level, which have placed them at this crossroads, obstacles to full cannabis legalization are abundant and deep-seated in Congress and the federal government.

This paper seeks to identify important areas of concern for cannabis law reform, highlight the factors that have created a positive environment for reform, recognize who are the last and largely self-interested factions in society who fervently defend and/or prosper from Cannabis Prohibition’s status quo, and what are some of the strategic decisions that reformers can implement that will hasten an end to Alcohol Prohibition’s illegitimate, long-suffering cousin.

Important Areas Of Concern For Cannabis Law Reformers

There are several areas of concern for reformers, notably the federal vs. state disconnect in Washington, D.C.; citizens’ illogical fear of cannabis more than alcohol; and the political box canyon potentially created by medical cannabis.

Federal vs. State Government Disconnect –

On a recent video essay broadcast October 20, CNBC host and former senate staffer Lawrence O’Donnell lamenting about Cannabis Prohibition said ‘that only in the U.S. Senate can there be zero discussion about a policy change fifty percent of the country supports’. In a nutshell, despite 14 states having decriminalized cannabis possession, and 16 states and the District of Columbia ‘medicalizing’ cannabis, the U.S. Congress and the executive branch (along with a federal judiciary that is totally deferential to Congress’ intent and will regarding anti-cannabis laws) have a near total disconnect between what the governed want vis-à-vis reforming cannabis laws and elected policymakers on Capitol Hill who strongly support the status quo.

The numbers that frame this political quandary: 75% of the public support medical access to cannabis; 73% support decriminalizing cannabis possession for adults and now 50% of the population support outright legalization (California, where one out of eight U.S. citizens live, nearly passed a legalization voter initiative last fall, only losing by three percentage points). So it can be asserted with confidence that ‘soft’ cannabis law reforms of medical access and decriminalization enjoy overwhelming public support and that the ‘hard’ reform of legalization has now moved into the majority (The recent Gallup poll showed only 46% of citizens continue to support Cannabis Prohibition).

However, even with clear polling data to help guide them away from restrictive policies no longer supported by the public, the Obama Administration’s fifth attempt this October since he took office to introduce ‘digital democracy’ into policymaking decisions by creating a public website where citizens and organizations can post online petitions seeking changes in the ways government works, the president was once again confronted by the publics’ number one question: Why do we have Cannabis Prohibition in 2011? Shouldn’t it be ended as an ineffective public policy?

Unfortunately, like the previous four opportunities to confront public unrest about Cannabis Prohibition, despite the NORML petition being number one with 72,000 signatures, the Obama Administration once again totally rejected any public calls for cannabis law reforms and re-asserted the federal government’s primacy over the states in enforcing national Cannabis Prohibition laws (see discussion below).

Cannabis’ Fear Factor –

Recent polls and focus group data gathered by cannabis law reform advocates post last year’s near-victory in California for Prop. 19 (the initiative that would have legalized cannabis) revealed an important and troubling public perception that reformers need to largely overcome to be successful: Almost fifty percent of the general public in California—where the issue of reforming cannabis laws have been vetted like no other place on earth since the late 1960s— illogically fears cannabis more so than alcohol products.

Forgive the pun, but reformers have to do a better job ‘normalizing’ cannabis use such that its responsible use causes no greater concern in the public’s eye than the responsible use of alcohol. Otherwise, it is hard to imagine cannabis becoming legal anytime soon if fifty percent of the public fears the product and the consumers who enjoy it.

Medical Cannabis’ Political Limitations –

While NORML is the sui generis of medical cannabis in the United States (first suing the Drug Enforcement Administration to reschedule cannabis as a medicine in 1972, NORML vs. DEA), the organization recognizes that absent substantive changes in the federal government’s Controlled Substances Act (and controlling International treaties envisaged and championed by America at the United Nations), qualified medical patients accessing lawful cannabis with a physician’s recommendation in states that authorize such is an untenable conflict with the existing federal laws that do not, under any circumstance, allow for the therapeutic possession, use or manufacture of cannabis.

This state and federal conflict regarding Cannabis Prohibition laws came into full view this year despite previous attempts otherwise by the Obama Administration to slightly modify the federal government’s historic recalcitrance in allowing states greater autonomy to create cannabis controls, and in some cases such as Colorado, to establish tax and regulate bureaucracies specifically for medical cannabis.

Federal actions against medical cannabis in 2011:

*US Attorneys in California deny the city of Oakland the ability to set up a city-sanctioned arrangement with medical cannabis industry to cultivate and sell medical cannabis;

*The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that medical cannabis dispensaries are not legitimate businesses under federal law and therefore can’t take standard business tax deductions;

*The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) sent a memo to all gun dealers in the U.S. warning them not to make any sales of guns or ammunition to medical cannabis patients, even those who possess a state-issued ‘medical cannabis patient’ card. In effect, this federal action has rendered medical cannabis patients with no Second Amendment rights;

*Federal banking regulators regularly harass and threaten local and state banks not to do business with commercial medical cannabis businesses, even if the businesses have state and city-issued licenses to sell medical cannabis;

*US Attorneys in California and the DEA sent warning letters to otherwise state-compliant medical cannabis businesses that are properly zoned under local laws to shut down or move away from federally-funded schools, day care or recreation centers within 1,000 feet of the dispensary;

*These same US Attorneys are now threatening to legally pursue newspapers and magazines that advertise what are otherwise legal, state and city-authorized businesses and their lawful commerce.

Also, under numerous state Supreme Court decisions, lawful medical patients can be denied employment; along with driving privileges (which was recently overturned in California), child custody, Section Eight housing, university residences, and even be denied a life-saving organ transplant.

With so many onerous institutional discriminatory practices and restrictions—and the price of medical cannabis remaining inordinately high because of the existence of Cannabis Prohibition—patients who genuinely need access to this low toxicity, naturally occurring herbal medicine would be far better served by ending Cannabis Prohibition in total than trying to carve out special legal exemptions to existing prohibition laws.

Why Cannabis Reform Is More Popular Now Than Ever Before

The rapid increase in public support for cannabis law reform is made possible by five factors:

1) Baby Boomers are now largely in control of most of the country’s major institutions (media, government, entertainment, education and business) and they have a decidedly different perception and/or relationship with cannabis than the World War II generation (AKA, the Reefer Madness generation), who, were largely abstinent of consuming cannabis.

2) These crushing recessionary times have forced many elected policymakers to drop their support for rigorous enforcement of Cannabis Prohibition laws. Numerous states and municipalities have adopted half measures towards legalization, notably decriminalizing possession or adopting a lowest law enforcement priority strategy.

3) Medical cannabis first becoming legal in 1996 by popular vote in California. After the nation’s largest and most politically important state adopted medical marijuana guidelines, sixteen states and the District of Columbia have followed suit setting up a terrific state vs. federal government conflict that has already visited the U.S. Supreme Court twice (2002 and again in 2005).

4) The advent of the Internet in the mid 1990s allowed citizens to communicate directly with each other at very low costs, create large social networks of like-minded community members, avoid mainstream media (which readily serves as a lapdog, rather than government watchdog in the war on some drugs) and educate themselves with verifiable and credible information about cannabis (rejecting government anti-cannabis propaganda programs like the controversial DARE program in the public schools and the Partnership for Drug-Free America’s ineffective ad campaigns in the mainstream media).

5) Americans are apparently (and finally!) becoming increasingly Cannabis Prohibition weary after seventy-four years. In comparison, America’s great failed ‘social experiment’ of Alcohol Prohibition lasted about a dozen years.

Who Actually Wants Cannabis Prohibition To Continue?

One of the principle lessons in the Art of War is to ‘know thy enemy’. Therefore, it behooves cannabis law reformers to understand what small, but powerful factions in American society actively work to maintain the status quo of Cannabis Prohibition:

1) Law enforcement – There is no greater strident voice against ending Cannabis Prohibition than from the law enforcement community—from local sheriff departments to the Fraternal Order of Police to State Police departments to federal law enforcement agencies.

2) Federal and state bureaucracies born from Cannabis Prohibition itself – Washington, D.C. and most state capitals have created dozens of anti-cannabis government agencies to both maintain and enforce existing Cannabis Prohibition laws. Examples: Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of National Drug Control Policy (AKA, drug czar’s office), DARE, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, National Drug Control Information Center, etc…

Many of these bureaucracies in turn provide most of the funding to so-called ‘community anti-drug organizations’ to create the false appearance of local grassroots opposition to any cannabis law reforms.

3) Alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies –

Historically, alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals companies play both ends of the middle when opposing cannabis law reforms for the simple reason that all of these industries will lose a portion of their market share to legal cannabis.

4) Private corporations that prosper from Cannabis Prohibition

Numerous private companies donate significant funding annually to anti-cannabis politicians and organizations to maintain the status quo. Examples of such are private prisons, drug testing companies, rehabilitation services, communication companies, contraband detection devices, interdiction services and high-tech companies.

Reformers can hasten the end of Cannabis Prohibition

-Cannabis law reformers need to better politically organize via the Internet, resolve to no longer vote for pro-Prohibition candidates, and to fund and champion pro-reform candidates.

-Bipartisan support to end Cannabis Prohibition is a political given. However, since the 1990s every single major cannabis law reform initiative that has been successful has been funded by one of two liberal, politically divisive billionaires (George Soros and Peter Lewis). Reformers need to achieve greater political and funding diversity to significantly advance cannabis law reforms in today’s highly divided national political landscape.

-Recognize that most all of the major policy reforms are first achieved at the local and state level, in time putting due political pressure on the federal government to follow suit.

-Cannabis law reformers need to better work in concert with other like-minded political and social organizations that also oppose failed government programs or seek redress for grievances against the government.

-Reformers need to create a far more simpler reform narrative that juxtaposes ‘pot tolerant’ citizens against ‘intolerant’ citizens in the same manner that Alcohol Prohibition pit ‘wets’ against ‘drys’.

-Reformers need to continue demonstrating the tremendous cost to taxpayers of maintaining Cannabis Prohibition; the loss of needed tax revenue and the genuine lack of social controls that enhance public safety.

-Reformers need to keep directing public and media attention to the serious de-stabilization of the country’s borders created by the tremendous illegal succor of Cannabis Prohibition in countries like Mexico.

-Continuing what cannabis law reformers have been successfully achieving for forty years, which is to say winning a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign in the population, and recognizing that elected policymakers in Washington are not going to be able to lead the country out of it’s long-suffering Cannabis Prohibition without public advocacy that is derived from effective, politically diverse and bottoms up grassroots stakeholdership.

 

99% of “Billion Dollar Mexican Drug Ring Bust” seized is marijuana

These guys literally have gold-plated machine guns. Bought and paid for by American Marijuana Prohibition (and, perhaps, walked into Mexico while the ATF watched).

FOX News Latino is reporting news of a huge drug ring bust with the headline “Arizona Busts Billion Dollar Drug Ring Tied To Mexican Cartels“. Based on the report, over 99% of the drugs seized in what was called “Operation Pipeline Express” was marijuana.

The ring is believed be tied to the Sinaloa cartel — Mexico’s most powerful — and responsible for smuggling more than 3.3 million pounds of marijuana, 20,000 pounds of cocaine and 10,000 pounds of heroin into the U.S. through Arizona over the past five years, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Their efforts in that time generated an estimated $2 billion, according to ICE.

In the three busts combined, the agencies have arrested 76 suspected smugglers and seized more than 61,000 pounds of pot, about 160 pounds of heroin, about 210 pounds of cocaine, nearly $760,000 in cash, and 108 weapons, including assault rifles and shotguns. The other busts came in mid-September and mid-October.

Remember during Prop 19′s legalization campaign in California when everybody was arguing about just how much marijuana legalization would cripple the Mexican drug traffickers?  Arizona’s Attorney General was saying “The violence that we see in Mexico is fueled 65 to 70 percent by the trade in one drug: marijuana.”  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoting the Drug Czar’s 2006 National Drug Control Strategy that said, “61 percent of that revenue, or $8.5 billion, is directly tied to marijuana export sales” (page 36).  Then the RAND Corporation was studying how much Prop 19 would hurt the Mexican drug traffickers and said, ”This 60% figure is a truly mythical number, one that appeared out of nowhere and that has acquired great authority.  This figure should not be taken seriously.”  The Drug Czar also scoffed at the notion that legalization would hurt eat into Mexican drug traffickers’ profits, saying the marijuana revenue data “was based on 1997 information… we strongly believe we see significantly less than the numbers cited from 14 years ago.

So how does that jibe with the numbers from this “Operation Pipeline Express”?

Drug Seized Pounds Percent Estimated Pounds Percent
Marijuana 61,000 99.40% 3,300,000 99.10%
Cocaine 210 0.34% 20,000 0.60%
Heroin 160 0.26% 10,000 0.40%

By weight, then, over 99% of what was seized and what was estimated to have been trafficked overall was marijuana.  However, there is more profitability in cocaine and heroin than marijuana.  Let’s figure that out by throwing in the ONDCP’s own estimated street value of illegal drugs, as of 2007.  In that report, they place the price of a pound of marijuana between $250 – $6,000, a pound of cocaine at $6,500 – $10,000, and a pound of heroin at $24,000 – $56,000.  If we use the lowest figures for all three drugs, then we only get a total of about $1.2 billion – remember, they said this was a ring responsible for “an estimated $2 billion”.

So let’s give the prohibitionists the best possible scenario: cocaine and heroin that fetch the highest prices recorded in 2007 and the cheapest schwag Mexican brickweed priced at a level that will get us a $2 billion total ($375.76/lb… thanks Excel Goal Seek!)

Drug Seized Pounds x Price = Total Percent
Marijuana 3,300,000 $376 $1.24 billion 62%
Cocaine 20,000 $10,000 $0.20 billion 10%
Heroin 10,000 $56,000 $0.56 billion 28%

It’s entirely possible that the Mexican drug trafficking organizations like the Sinaloa cartel make significant profits through other criminal activities not listed here.  It’s also tough to make perfectly accurate claims about an unregulated market.  Based on this “Operation Pipeline Express” data, however, it appears that our prohibition on American grown and sold marijuana is an enormous financial benefit worth at least half or more of the Mexican criminal gangs’ profits.

White House response to NORML’s “We the People” marijuana legalization petition

The Obama White House has released its official response to the “We the People” online petition for marijuana legalization submitted by NORML.  The petition, which garnered 74,169 signatures, was by far the most popular petition submitted.  The government response (released late on a Friday to avoid news cycles, we’ll note) repeats the same tired lies and classic misdirections.  Most of all, it fails to answer NORML’s actual petition, which asked:

Legalize and Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol.

We the people want to know when we can have our “perfectly legitimate” discussion on marijuana legalization. Marijuana prohibition has resulted in the arrest of over 20 million Americans since 1965, countless lives ruined and hundreds of billions of tax dollars squandered and yet this policy has still failed to achieve its stated goals of lowering use rates, limiting the drug’s access, and creating safer communities.

Isn’t it time to legalize and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol? If not, please explain why you feel that the continued criminalization of cannabis will achieve the results in the future that it has never achieved in the past?

Following is the full official White House response, with NORML’s comments interspersed…

What We Have to Say About Legalizing Marijuana

By: Gil Kerlikowske

When the President took office, he directed all of his policymakers to develop policies based on science and research, not ideology or politics. So our concern about marijuana is based on what the science tells us about the drug’s effects.

Oh, good.  Then we’ll look forward to implementation the 1972 Shafer Commission Report or any of the other government and scientific studies that recommend the decriminalization of cannabis.

According to scientists at the National Institutes of Health- the world’s largest source of drug abuse research – marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment.

“Addiction” links to a NIDA page noting the lifetime dependence rate of cannabis to be 9% – that is, 9 in 100 people who try cannabis will develop a dependence.  Kerlikowske does not mention that caffeine has the same 9% rate, alcohol is a 15% rate, and tobacco is a 32% rate.  NIDA scientists also rated the addictive qualities of those substances and rated cannabis about equal to caffeine in risk.  The withdrawal from this rare dependence is characterized by the Institute of Medicine as “mild and short lived” and “includes restlessness, irritability, mild agitation, insomnia, sleep disturbance, nausea, and cramping.”  (Speaking of withdrawal, Mr. Drug Czar, you do know withdrawal from alcohol can kill a person and it’s legal, right?)

“Respiratory disease” links to a 2008 Science Daily article on a study entitled “Bullous Lung Disease due to Marijuana” which looked at the cases of ten people who came in already complaining of lung problems, who admitted they smoked pot over a year.  The subject was featured in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine as it found “insufficient evidence for a causative link“.  Matthew Naughton, author of the 2008 study, co-authored a 2011 study which noted “unfortunately, it is difficult to separate marijuana use from tobacco smoking which does confound these reports“.  (Speaking of tobacco, Mr. Drug Czar, you do know tobacco is much worse for the lungs and it’s legal, right?)

“Cognitive impairment” links to a 1996 NIDA fact sheet on studies of cognitive impairment involving card sorting.  Since then…

  1. A 2001 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found chronic users who quit for a week “showed no significant differences from control subjects”.
  2. A 2002 clinical trial published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal determined, “Marijuana does not have a long-term negative impact on global intelligence.”
  3. A 2003 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society also “failed to reveal a substantial, systematic effect of long-term, regular cannabis consumption on the neurocognitive functioning of users who were not acutely intoxicated.”
  4. A 2004 study of twins published in the journal Psychological Medicine reported “an absence of marked long-term residual effects of marijuana use on cognitive abilities.”
  5. A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Addictions used magnetic resonance imaging and found “no significant differences” between heavy cannabis smokers compared to controls.
  6. A 2006 study published in the German journal Psychopharmacology found no “long-term deficits in working memory and selective attention in frequent cannabis users after 1 week of abstinence”.
  7. A 2009 study published in Human Psychopharmacology found “little indication of differences in executive functioning” for mild to moderate cannabis users.
  8. And a 2010 study published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior found regular cannabis users’ performance accuracy on episodic memory and working memory tasks “was not significantly altered by marijuana.”

Forgive the overkill, but as an organization that is honored to have regular cannabis consumer Carl Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, as an Advisory Board Member, we’re particularly offended when the government claims science says that regular cannabis consumers are stupid.  (Speaking of cognitive impairment, Mr. Drug Czar, are you aware that frequent alcohol use is shown to have incredibly deleterious effects on cognition and it’s legal?)

But our petition wasn’t about whether or not cannabis is harmful, it was whether we should consider regulating cannabis like the far more harmful substances, alcohol and tobacco.

We know from an array of treatment admission information and Federal data that marijuana use is a significant source for voluntary drug treatment admissions and visits to emergency rooms.

“Voluntary drug treatment admissions” links to 2007 TEDS data tables showing that 37% of the people admitted to treatment for marijuana hadn’t used it in the past thirty days.  These tables are based on admissions data that show 57% of marijuana treatment admissions were coerced by law enforcement (drug courts) and only 15% of such admissions are actually “voluntary drug treatment admissions”.  (This is much easier to debunk when the Drug Czar links to the government tables that make our point.  Thanks, Gil!)

“Visits to emergency rooms” links to 2009 DAWN data which contains this interesting bit of fine print, “Within DAWN, the drug misuse or abuse category is a group of [emergency room] visits defined broadly to include all visits associated with illicit drugs.” That is, if you mention pot, have pot on you, or your urine or blood tests positive for pot, that’s a drug-related emergency room visit.  If you smoked a bowl last night, broke your leg skiing today, went to the ER, and they found metabolites of THC in your pee, that’s going into the DAWN stats as a pot-related ER visit.  Meanwhile, a 2011 study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found “marijuana dependence was associated with the lowest rates” of emergency room admittance compared to other drugs.

So we have illegal marijuana which lets government arrest people and make them choose jail or rehab, then those rising rehab numbers are an indication that we need to keep arresting people.  And we have emergency room data that tells us that some sick and injured people, like some Americans generally, smoke pot.  Can you tell us why we shouldn’t end those charades and consider regulating cannabis like alcohol and tobacco?

Studies also reveal that marijuana potency has almost tripled over the past 20 years, raising serious concerns about what this means for public health – especially among young people who use the drug because research shows their brains continue to develop well into their 20’s. Simply put, it is not a benign drug.

“Marijuana potency has tripled” links to a paper (“Potancy [sic] Paper 2010″) at Ole Miss’s US Pot Farm showing potency tables from 1993 to 2008 (15 years, 20 years, whatever).  These figures include hashish and hash oil (concentrated preparations of cannabis), which is like throwing three Rhodes scholars into an eighth grade social studies class and then grading on a curve.  Figures for all samples (including the hash) show a rise from 3.4% to 8.8% THC (2.5x, not even “almost triple”), but what they call “marijuana” goes from 3.4% to 5.8% THC (1.7x, not even double) and “sinsemilla” goes from 5.8% to 11.5% THC (2x, double).

So today’s average marijuana is as good as yesteryear’s sinsemilla and today’s average sinsemilla is twice as good as yesteryear’s sensimilla.  Anybody recall any deaths, riots, or serious social disorder due to the sensimilla of 1993?  As we’ve said before, potency is irrelevant as cannabis smoking is a self-titrating behavior.  You smoke to get high.  If you have ditchweed, you smoke a lot to get high.  If you have kind bud you smoke a little to get high.  Less smoke in your lungs is a good thing and by that measure, smoking more potent marijuana may be a harm reduction strategy.  Besides, it’s hard to take seriously any concerns about non-toxic 11.5% THC sinsemilla when the government approves of 100% synthetic THC Marinol and marijuana of any potency has never killed anybody.

But nobody here said cannabis was a benign drug, only that it is far safer than the two current choices of legal substances, alcohol and tobacco, and we’re wondering why we couldn’t just regulate cannabis like them?

Like many, we are interested in the potential marijuana may have in providing relief to individuals diagnosed with certain serious illnesses. That is why we ardently support ongoing research into determining what components of the marijuana plant can be used as medicine.  To date, however, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine have found smoked marijuana to meet the modern standard for safe or effective medicine for any condition.

That “ardent support” consists of six ongoing FDA-approved clinical trials (two of which have already been completed) worldwide involving subjects’ use of actual cannabis and fourteen researchers allowed to study inhaled cannabis on human subjects.  It does not include a recent FDA-approved study of medical marijuana use to treat post-traumatic stress in our returning combat veterans.  That study was ardently opposed by NIDA, which wouldn’t sell any Ole Miss US Pot Farm marijuana for the researchers to study.  Furthermore, a NIDA spokesperson admitted to the New York Times in 2010, “As the National Institute on Drug Abuse, our focus is primarily on the negative consequences of marijuana use.  We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana.”

The FDA and Institute of Medicine links take you to papers from 2006 and 1999, respectively.  The American Medical Association in 2009 issued a position paper stating, “smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.”

It’s too bad our petition wasn’t about carving exceptions in federal law to allow medical use of marijuana, as 70% of Americans support.  It was whether we should regulate marijuana like we do alcohol and tobacco, like 50% of Americans support.

As a former police chief, I recognize we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem.

If you recognize that, why were there virtually the same number of arrests this year for marijuana as last year, a number that still eclipses any arrest total under Presidents Bush and Clinton?  It seems you’re going to ignore our petition to end the strategy of arresting our way out of the problem by regulating marijuana like we do alcohol and tobacco.

We also recognize that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.

Right, legalizing marijuana won’t address drug use.  It will address marijuana use by regulating it like we do alcohol and tobacco. Legal marijuana would be an answer to many Americans’ health challenges.  Legal marijuana would raise tax revenues to benefit society and community.  Legal marijuana would help replace the “reefer madness”-style youth education proven not to work with honest, factual information.  Legal marijuana removes the cost of arresting, prosecution, and monitoring on parole and probation and, by definition, eliminates crime.

That is why the President’s National Drug Control Strategy is balanced and comprehensive, emphasizing prevention and treatment while at the same time supporting innovative law enforcement efforts that protect public safety and disrupt the supply of drugs entering our communities.

The president’s budget is only slightly different than the drug control budgets of his predecessor; still a two-to-one tilt toward “Supply Reduction” (interdiction and domestic and international law enforcement) versus “Demand Reduction” (treatment and prevention).  Which takes us to the second part of our petition asking how the continued criminalization of cannabis will achieve the results in the future that it has never achieved in the past?

Preventing drug use is the most cost-effective way to reduce drug use and its consequences in America. And, as we’ve seen in our work through community coalitions across the country, this approach works in making communities healthier and safer. We’re also focused on expanding access to drug treatment for addicts. Treatment works. In fact, millions of Americans are in successful recovery for drug and alcoholism today. And through our work with innovative drug courts across the Nation, we are improving our criminal justice system to divert non-violent offenders into treatment.

See our rebuttal above to TEDS treatment admission statistics and forcing cannabis consumers into rehab via drug courts.  Bless the millions of Americans in successful recovery for drug (?) and alcoholism who didn’t miss out on an open bed because it was taken up by a coerced cannabis consumer who hadn’t smoked weed in a month.  Those drug courts only work thanks to arrests of cannabis consumers and we were wondering how the continued criminalization of cannabis will achieve the results in the future that it has never achieved in the past?

Our commitment to a balanced approach to drug control is real. This last fiscal year alone, the Federal Government spent over $10 billion on drug education and treatment programs compared to just over $9 billion on drug related law enforcement in the U.S.

Which is fuzzy math and see our rebuttal to President’s National Drug Control Strategy, which, as we mentioned, differs little from President Bush’s before him.  So how is the continued criminalization of cannabis going to achieve the results in the future that it has never achieved in the past?

Thank you for making your voice heard. I encourage you to take a moment to read about the President’s approach to drug control to learn more.

Thank you for wasting America’s time ignoring her wishes.  I encourage you to take a moment to actually read and answer the questions on these petitions.  Every answer you gave to “whether we should consider regulating cannabis like the far more harmful substances, alcohol and tobacco” was an excuse to make alcohol and tobacco prohibited like marijuana.  Every answer you gave to “how will the continued criminalization of cannabis achieve the results in the future that it has never achieved in the past?” illustrated that you’re continuing the same failed strategies as your predecessors.  We the People were hoping for some change.

(Updated for minor grammar corrections and additional hyperlinks –RB)

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