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Information About The Non-Medical Use Of Marijuana
Organizations working on marijuana issues include:
Although this year's Hempfest didn't boast quite as many attendees as the nearly 20-year-old, Seattle-based festival's last annual gathering (approximately 300,000 people attended in 2008, while over 100,000 people attended in 2009), the "world's largest annual gathering in support of decriminalizing marijuana" went off without a hitch and, according to an August 16 Examiner report, attracted many attendees who "were far from your average stoner" ("Marijuana 101: Is Seattle Hempfest the World's Largest Marajuana [sic] Decriminalization Gathering?"). Among those in attendance were "travel guru" Rick Steeves, actor Woody Harrelson, former Seattle police major (and current LEAP member) Norm Stamper, and Common Sense for Drug Policy's own Doug McVay.
The festival has come a long way since its origination in 1991. As the Examiner article states, Hempfest began "as the Washington [state] Hemp Expo" and was "attended by about 500 self-described 'stoners.'" As previously mentioned, the festival now ranks as the biggest gathering of its kind. Hempfest "includes many music stages and vendors," but "arrests for smoking marijuana do not happen in this peaceful crowd setting where many celebrities" and other drug policy reform advocates "come to voice their opinions." Aside from its brief write-up of the festival, the Examiner posting contains a powerful proclamation regarding both marijuana decriminalization in general and Hempfest's message. As its author L. Steven Sieden writes, "Hempfest proves that 'we the people' need to take control of our government and decriminalize this natural substance. Smoking marijuana on a daily basis [may] not [be] something a young person should aspire to, but marijuana can be used as a responsible medical treatment. Recreationally, it is also far less harmful than alcohol, and the potential for tax revenue are huge." Indeed.
The article also provides readres with two embedded videos from the festival. If you're in the Seattle area next year, this event certainly merits your participation.
Another Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed in California
Californians can now decide between three different legalization measures proposed for the 2010 ballot. J. Craig Canada, the Examiner's Santa Cruz County Drug Policy Examiner, provides a useful summary of the first two, filed respectively on July 15 and July 28, 2009, here. However, as Canada reported on August 10, 2009 ("California Has Three Initiatives Filed to Legalize Marijuana"), Californians now have a third ballot measure, the "Common Sense Act of 2010" (filed by Common Sense California - no relation - on August 4, 2009), from which to choose.
The "Common Sense Act of 2010," like its predecessors seeks to legalize (and thus enable regulation and control of) marijuana sales and consumption in the state of California. However, the newest of California's legalization initiatives differs with some magnitude from earlier counterparts. While the initiative would repeal "marijuana prohibition in California," it would also "give the legislature a year to pass laws to regulate and tax marijuana." Additionally, the initiative "calls for California members of Congress to work to remove cannabis from the Federal Schedule of Controlled Substances." Thus, Common Sense California's ballot measure offers something not only to California's cannabis consumers but for their counterparts nationwide.
Cook County Board, President Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Ordinance
President of the Cook County Board - a governing body for the greater Chicago area - Todd Stroger "says he won't veto a new ordinance that allows $200 tickets to be issued to those found in possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana," the Chicago Tribune reported on July 24, 2009 ("Stroger Won't Veto Tickets for Marijuana"). Although he was initially, as reported in a next-day Tribune article ("Kind of Dopey"), "surprised [...] when [the] ordinance [...] landed on his desk" the previous week, he now at least supports the ordinance enough to keep his veto stamp off its pages.
To find out more about the ordinance, take a look at either of the above linked articles or Phillip Smith's post for the Drug War Chronicle's blog.
Colorado Initiative Sets Sights on Legalizing Possession of Marijuana
Activist organization Sensible Breckenridge, an arm of Sensible Colorado, succeeded in getting on November's ballot a "measure that would remove all penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in the [...] ski resort town of Breckenridge," Phillip Smith writes in a post for the Drug War Chronicle's "Speakeasy" blog on July 25, 2009. The measure, as Smith reports, "would remove local penalties for the private possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and older, effectively legalizing small amounts of marijuana for adults under the town code."
Organizers told Smith that they "encountered overwhelming support" for the measure while gathering 1,400 signatures - nearly three times the 500 needed "to make the ballot." As local attorney Sean McAllister said, "Now it is up to the Breckenridge voters to decide if responsible adults should be criminalized for using a substance less harmful than alcohol." However, the measure could be implemented even earlier. According to Smith's post, "The Breckenridge Town Council will have the opportunity to enact the law at their meeting on August 11. If they do not, it will automatically be placed on the November 3rd ballot."
Drug Czar Reasserts White House Opposition to Cannabis Legalization, Misinformation Abounds
In a July 22, 2009 article ("Drug Czar Says U.S. Won't Back Pot Legalization"), Marc Benjamin of California's Fresno Bee reports that U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske "said the federal government will not support legalizing marijuana." Restating an oft-quoted phrase, Kerlikowske told reporters that "Legalization is not in the president's vocabulary, and it's not in mine." The drug czar claims he "understand[s] why legislators" - particularly those of the California persuasion - are pushing taxes on "marijuana cultivation to help cash-strapped government agencies." However, he contends that "the federal government views marijuana as a harmful and addictive drug" with "no medical benefit," despite scientific and anecdotal evidence to the contrary.
Because he was speaking to a "downtown Fresno" audience about "Operation SOS - Save Our Sierra - a multiagency effort to eradicate marijuana in eastern Fresno County," Kerlikowske also cited environmental concerns, telling reporters that America's "federal government is not going to pull back on its efforts to curtail marijuana farming operations" in national parks and other out-of-the-way places. The Bee provides readers with a thorough explanation of the SOS plan. As Benjamin writes, "Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims" stated that "Planning for the operation began in February and focused on marijuana crops being backed by Mexican drug cartels." She told Benjamin that "many cartels are involved, but she would not name any because the investigation" - which has already eradicated "more than 314,000 plants [...] in 70 gardens" - is ongoing.
Kerlikowske's characterization of marijuana regulation and taxation proposals as misguided and socially dangerous solutions to the economic woes currently haunting California and its various municipalities looks particularly ridiculous when viewed in conjunction with the Save Our Sierra effort on which his visit focused. According to the Bee, "Officials say the marijuana-eradication operation will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars," though "the exact amount won't be known until agencies can add up staffing, vehicle and other costs." Already, SOS forces have confiscated "plants valued at more than $1.26 billion" in the operation, which began in the week preceding the drug czar's visit and has already netted - plants excluded - 82 arrests over the course of its 10 day existence.
While no one lauds the "trash, dead animals, and pesticide[ pollution]" that woodland marijuana gardens typically produce, legalizing, regulating and taxing the drug - as California lawmakers and drug policy reform advocates have proposed - could eradicate the problems associated with illegal forest growing operations and give state and federal economies a needed boost. In other words, were marijuana cultivation and distribution brought out from under the cloud of prohibition, the demand for illegally grown and environmentally hazardous marijuana would surely decline, and communities could reap not just the tax benefits but also the proceeds generated from cannabis retail sales themselves and shops peddling currently restricted commodities associated with the drug. Moreover, the federal government and its state counterparts could quit crowding jails with drug offenders and throwing valuable and increasingly scarce dollars at a problem that, under current drug control strategies, may never be solved.
Barney Frank Proposes Federal Marijuana Decriminalization
As a July 15 article posted on the web site Politics Daily states ("Barney Frank and Ron Paul Team Up to Decriminalize Marijuana"), "A new bill has been introduced into the House of Representatives that would 'eliminate most Federal penalties for possession of marijuana for personal use, and for other purposes." The legislation, co-sponsored by "Texas Republican Ron Paul, among others," bears the name "Act to Remove Federal Penalties for Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults" and follows a long tradition of Frank-sponsored measures aimed at, as Esquire author John H. Richardson puts it, " bring[ing] sanity to the federal marijuana laws" ("Barney Frank on Legal Marijuana"). While the bill would not overturn state laws, it would allow for states to ease up on their more draconian marijuana policies if they so please.
Most analysts see the bill's chances of passing into law - or even coming up for a vote - as slim. However, Frank and his colleagues are pushing a vital issue into the public and political consciousness, and their legislative actions have cultural consequences. As Frank told Esquire when asked what exactly is "holding up Congress" on marijuana issues, "This is a case where there's a cultural lag on the part of my colleagues. If you ask them privately, they don't think it's a terrible thing. But they're afraid of being portrayed as soft on drugs." Perhaps if there were more legislators willing to push boundaries and shirk convention, the lag of which Frank speaks would decrease and politicians would see that Americans are ready to engage in a debate that can only lead to more rational, responsible, and ethical drug policies.
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Congressman Mark Kirk Targets High Potency "Super-Marijuana"
Just as his colleagues in both state and federal legislative bodies are beginning to question the United States' historically punitive approach to marijuana policy, Illinois Republican Mark Kirk takes a turn in the other direction, introducting legislation that would establish stiffer penalties for people accused of trafficking "a highly potent form of weed," the Chicago Tribune reported on June 15, 2009 ("U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk to Push for Tougher Sentences for More-Potent Marijuana"). The proposed bill, according to the Tribune, "would target offenders who sell or distribute marijuana that has a THC content exceeding 15 percent." The article cites "[d]rug dealers [who] are increasingly cross-breeding plants to produce high-potency variants of marijuana, which are called 'kush' in street slang," as Kirk's motivation for pushing the legislation.
Kirk's "High-Potency Marijuana Sentencing Enhancement Act," according to the Drug War Chronicle ("US Congressman Mark Kirk Introduces Bill Targeting 'Kush Super-Marijuana'"), not only "call[s] for prison sentences of up to 25 years for trafficking even small quantities of the kind bud," but would also increase "the maximum fines for high-potency pot to $1 million for an individual and $5 million for a group." Additionally, Kirk wants to increase "the maximum prison sentence five-fold." As the Chronicle feature states, "A second offense would double the fines and increase the maximum sentence to 35 years."
Kirk has made his bizarre June 15 press release, which compares this "new" form marijuana to crack and powder cocaine, cites "law enforcement reports that Kush users are 'zombie-like' because of extreme THC levels," and bears the name "Kirk and Law Enforcement: Super-Marijuana 'Kush' Hits Suburbs," available for public viewing on his web page. Take a look at it for more information on the Congressman's misguided bill.
House Representative Suggests Marijuana Regulation Pilot Program
U.S Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) proposed a surprising program on an equally surprising platform in March of 2009. As the March 13, 2009 edition of the Drug War Chronicle reports, Sanchez was conducting an interview with CNN when she "suggested [...] that the time might be right for a 'pilot program' of marijuana regulation" ("US Rep. Loretta Sanchez Ponders 'Pilot Program' for Pot Regulation"). The congresswoman "[c]it[ed] a recent Zogby poll commissioned by NORML that found majority support for taxed and regulated marijuana use on the West Coast," and "compared marijuana prohibition to the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s" while responding to a question regarding drug legalization. She stated that "California's receptiveness toward less restrictive marijuana laws would make it a good place to experiment." There has yet been no word of the program moving forward.
San Franciso Rep. Tom Ammiano Proposes Bill to Regulate, Tax, and Legalize Marijuana
California Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-SF) "introduced a bill Monday[, February 23, 2009] that if approved by the California Legislature would put pot on the same legal footing as alcohol," the San Francisco Chronicle reported in a same-day article ("Calif. Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Legalize Pot"). The Sacramento Bee elaborates, stating that, under Ammiano's proposal (AB 390), "Marijuana would be grown and sold openly to adults 21 and older" ("Bill Would Legalize, Tax Marijuana"). Aside from its age restrictions, the bill also prohibits "driving under the influence of marijuana," the Bee explains, stating further that "AB 390 calls for numerous other restrictions, such as banning use near schools or growing cannabis in public view."
Ammiano, according to the Bee, "predicted that the public would support loosening marijuana laws that require substantial public funds." Indeed, among the many reasons the lawmaker cites for introducing the legislation, economic issues take center stage. As the Bee writes, the Assemblyman "said the cash-starved state could generate more than a billion dollars by taxing pot growers and sellers." Additionally, California "would gain by charging sellers a fee of $50 per ounce. Pot growers would also be charged under the measure." Perhaps most importantly, "Besides generating new tax revenue, Ammiano said his bill would save money by easing pressure on law enforcement and prisons."
Although Ammiano has said that "People in general are supportive" of the measure, the proposed legislation has a long way to go before it can be enacted into law. Press accounts report opposition from other politicians and note that the state "might have to persuade the federal government to alter its prohibition on cannabis," and anyone who follows politics knows just how long legislative processes can take. However, Ammiano deserves substantial credit not only for introducing the controversial bill but also for stimulating public debate around the issue. As he told the Bee, "I think there's a mentality throughout the state and the country that [marijuana issues are not] the highest priority [...]. And [...] maybe we should start to reassess."
At Current Pace, Over 1 Million U.S. Cannabis Arrests Per Year by 2010
The most recent numbers are staggering. The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported last year that 12.7 percent of state inmates and 12.4 percent of federal inmates are serving time for marijuana offenses. The latest data reveals that 89 percent of drug arrests are for cannabis possession and that cannabis arrests comprise 47.5 percent of all U.S. drug arrests. According to the AlterNet September 16, 2008 article, ("The Drug War's Latest Tally: 872,721 Pot Arrests, An All Time High") "According to data released yesterday in the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, police in 2007 arrested over 872,000 US citizens - that's nearly one out of every two Americans busted for illicit drugs---for weed. That figure is a five percent increase over the total number of Americans busted in 2006. It's more than three times the number of citizens charged with pot violations sixteen years ago."
The article states, "Of those arrested in 2007, 89 percent-some 775,000 Americans-- were charged with simple pot possession, not trafficking, cultivation, or sale. (By comparison, 27 percent of those arrested for heroin and cocaine offenses were charged with sales.) Three out of four were under age 30; one in four were 18-years-old or younger.The FBI's tally is the highest marijuana arrest total ever-reported in law enforcement history. If this pace continues, annual arrests for pot will surpass one million per year by 2010."
The article adds, "Combining these percentages with separate U.S. Department of Justice statistics on the total number of state and federal drug prisoners suggests that, at a minimum, there are now about 33,655 state inmates and 10,785 federal inmates behind bars for marijuana offenses. (The report failed to include estimates on the percentage of inmates incarcerated in county or local jails for pot-related offenses, nor did it take into account the number of inmates serving time for violating the terms of their marijuana-related probation, such as those who submitted a 'dirty' urine to their parole officer.)"
A lowest law enforcement priority of adult personal use of cannabis will be placed on the Hawaii ballot. The proposal defines personal use as an individual who has less than 24 plants or 24 ounces of cannabis. According to The Honolulu Advertiser August 19, 2008 article,("Big Isle Vote Could Lessen Marijuana Enforcement") "The off-and-on political struggle over eradication and enforcement of anti-marijuana laws on the Big Island is moving to the fall election, when voters will be asked whether law enforcement officials should make busts of small-time marijuana users the county's lowest policing priority. The proposed ordinance advanced by a group called 'Project Peaceful Sky'--and ordered onto the ballot by a split vote of the County Council--would also prohibit the county from accepting any further state or federal money for marijuana eradication operations."
The article states, "However, County Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida said the proposed ordinance to be placed on the ballot may be unenforceable even if the voters do approve it because it apparently violates the pre-emption doctrine arising from the U.S. and Hawai'i state constitutions. That doctrine says legislative bodies such as the County Council cannot dictate to executive branch agencies such as the police and prosecutors how to run their day-to-day operations. The initiative to de-emphasize marijuana enforcement appears to do just that, Ashida said, and he will ask the state attorney general's office to rule on whether the ordinance is legal if the voters approve it."
The article adds, "Councilman Bob Jacobson, who introduced the council resolution to put the proposal on the ballot, said he wants to see the issue put to a public vote. Jacobson said a variety of people told him privately they wanted to sign the petition, but were embarrassed or were afraid to sign for fear they would suffer repercussions at work. Adam Lehmann, board director of the Peaceful Sky effort, said his group collected the nearly 5,000 signatures in about two months, proving there is significant support for the idea. 'People are really tired of seeing money misappropriated away from education and healthcare to fund a military-style war on a plant,' said Lehmann, 30. 'It's clearly going to give law enforcement more time and resources to focus on serious crimes. It's going to provide lots of space in our prisons, it's going to help courts run smoother, and it's going to essentially save this county's taxpayers millions of dollars every year,' because they will avoid the costs of strict marijuana enforcement, he said."
Voters in Fayetteville, AR, will decide on how law enforcement should prioritize cannabis.
Television news station KFSM reported on September 5, 2008 ("Marijuana initiative makes the ballot in Fayetteville") that "Fayetteville voters will have the choice come November to vote on making adult marijuana possession the lowest police priority. Sensible Fayetteville pulled out more than enough signatures to make the november ballot with their initiative. Now, it's up to voters to decide whether or not the measure will pass. Ryan Denham with Sensible Fayetteville said, 'We needed 301 signatures to make the ballot.' Sensible Fayetteville turned in just over a thousand signatures august 29th. Reportedly, the petition has qualified with more than the necessary 3686 signatures to make it on the November ballot."
According to KFSM, "Denham describes how the initiative will read on the ballot, 'It's going to say lowest law enforcement priority and it's going to talk about establishing adult marijuana policy for misdemeanor amounts for adults.' The group claims these arrests are clogging the court and jail systems-using up a lot of taxpayer dollars. Denham said, 'We're spending 30 million dollars a year in the state of Arkansas just arresting and prosecuting marijuana offenders for small time-small amounts.'
The report noted that "Right now, Police say anything under an ounce is a Class A misdemeanor, which means mandatory arrest with a one year max jail time and possible thousand dollar fine. The same procedure applies to shoplifters-and other Class A misdemeanor offenses-they have to be brought to jail for fingerprinting. Police say they see many more shoplifter arrests than ounce or less marijuana arrests. If arrested for a second offense of misdemeanor possession with a conviction on the first offense then it becomes a felony."
Congressman Barney Frank introduced legislation to federally decriminalize marijuana. The bill, HR5843, is co-sponsored by Rep. Ron Paul.
According to Congressman Frank's office ("FRANK INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO REMOVE FEDERAL PENALTIES ON PERSONAL MARIJUANA USE," April 17, 2008), "Congressman Barney Frank today introduced bi-partisan legislation aimed at removing federal restrictions on the individual use of marijuana (HR 5843). One bill would remove federal penalties for the personal use of marijuana, and the other (HR 5842) – versions of which Frank has filed in several preceding sessions of Congress – would allow the medical use of marijuana in states that have chosen to make its use for medical purposes legal with a doctor’s recommendation. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) joined Frank as a cosponsor of the federal penalties bill. The cosponsors of the medical marijuana bill are Rep. Paul, along with Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Sam Farr (D-CA)."
The Congressman is quoted as saying: "To those who say that the government should not be encouraging the smoking of marijuana, my response is that I completely agree. But it is a great mistake to divide all human activity into two categories: those that are criminally prohibited, and those that are encouraged. In a free society, there must be a very considerable zone of activity between those two poles in which people are allowed to make their own choices as long as they are not impinging on the rights, freedom, or property of others. I believe it is important with regard to tobacco, marijuana and alcohol, among other things, that we strictly regulate the age at which people may use these substances. And, enforcement of age restrictions should be firm. But, criminalizing choices that adults make because we think they are unwise ones, when the choices involved have no negative effect on the rights of others, is not appropriate in a free society. If the laws I am proposing pass, states will still be free to treat marijuana as they wish. But I do not believe that the federal government should treat adults who choose to smoke marijuana as criminals."
US Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) is to introduce legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession. Rep. Frank made the announcement on national TV late Friday March 21.
According to an AP report in the Times Argus on March 23, 2008 ("Rep. Franks to File Bill to Legalize Marijuana"), "Frank made the announcement late Friday on the HBO show "Real Time," hosted by Bill Maher. He told Maher his bill would remove all federal penalties for the possession or use of small amounts of marijuana, but he didn't define "small amounts.""
AP noted that "Frank said it's time for politicians to catch up with the public. He said locking people up for smoking marijuana is "pretty silly.""
The New Hampshire legislature is considering a measure which would "decriminalize" possession of small amounts of marijuana by creating a civil penalty instead.
The Boston Globe reported on Feb. 24, 2008 ("NH Bill Would Decriminalize Marijuana") that "Two first-term state representatives from Nashua have filed legislation to decriminalize the possession of up to 0.25 ounce of marijuana, hoping that New Hampshire might join 12 other states that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of pot. The bill, which is expected to be voted on by the House next month, would make the possession of such quantities a civil violation that would carry a $200 fine instead of a criminal misdemeanor that could result in up to a year in jail and fines of up to $2,500. 'I think the penalty should be reduced. Young people are experimenting, and if they make a bad choice, their conviction shouldn't come back to haunt them later in life,' said Representative Andrew Edwards, a 21-year-old Nashua Democrat who cosponsored the bill. 'The culture is changing, and I think the law should reflect those changes.'"
According to the Globe, "Representative Jeffrey Fontas, another 21-year-old Democrat from Nashua, who cosponsored the legislation, said he was not surprised the full House committee did not approve the bill. 'But we did have an open discussion of the issue. Mistakes early in life, like a possession charge, can be devastating to the futures of our young people,' said Fontas, adding that a single drug arrest can lead to the loss of a college scholarship, the ability to serve in the military, subsidized housing, and federal welfare like food stamps. Conley said it is rare for first-time offenders to get jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana. 'As far as someone getting arrested and their lives being ruined, I don't think that that's the case,' he said. 'Employers are more forgiving in this day and age, and police prosecutors frequently reduce marijuana cases down to violations. The threat of criminal prosecution gives them leverage to encourage youths to attend a drug rehabilitation program.' Hudson Police Chief Richard E. Gendron said he is also opposed to the bill. 'It's a slippery slope that won't lead us anywhere.'"
The Globe noted that "On Feb. 14, when a working group of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted, 4 to 1, in favor of the lighter penalty, it was the first time in more than 20 years that a group of Granite State legislators had recommended the decriminalization of marijuana. On Feb. 19, however, the full committee voted, 13 to 5, to recommend that the House not pass the law. The bill is scheduled to go before the full House March 5."
Research from New Zealand underscores the need for vaporizers and development of alternative consumption methods which minimize the harms from smoking.
The Edmonton Journal carried a story from Reuters on Jan. 31, 2008 (Cancer Risk Greater With Cannabis: Study") which reported that "In an article published in the European Respiratory Journal, the scientists said cannabis could be expected to harm the airways more than tobacco as its smoke contained twice the level of carcinogens, such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons, compared with tobacco cigarettes. The method of smoking also increases the risk, since joints are typically smoked without a proper filter and almost to the very tip, which increases the amount of smoke inhaled. The cannabis smoker inhales more deeply and for longer, facilitating the deposition of carcinogens in the airways."
The article, "Cannabis use and risk of lung cancer: a case-control study," was published in the European Respiratory Journal Vol. 31, No. 2. According to the abstract, "In total, 79 cases of lung cancer and 324 controls were included in the study. The risk of lung cancer increased 8% (95% confidence interval (CI) 2–15) for each joint-yr of cannabis smoking, after adjustment for confounding variables including cigarette smoking, and 7% (95% CI 5–9) for each pack-yr of cigarette smoking, after adjustment for confounding variables including cannabis smoking. The highest tertile of cannabis use was associated with an increased risk of lung cancer (relative risk 5.7 (95% CI 1.5–21.6)), after adjustment for confounding variables including cigarette smoking. In conclusion, the results of the present study indicate that long-term cannabis use increases the risk of lung cancer in young adults."
Research shows that in the last decade the city of New York has experienced a massive increase in the number of minor marijuana possession arrests. New York Newsday columnist Sheryl McCarthy wrote on July 16, 2007 ("Arrests For Pot Are Excessive") that "'I call it an epidemic of marijuana arrests. New York City has been on a binge of marijuana arrests for the last 10 years.' 'I would call it a dragnet.' These are the conclusions of Harry Levine, a professor of sociology at Queens College, and Deborah Small, director of Break the Chains, a nonprofit drug policy reform group and a longtime advocate of changing the city's drug policies. The two, who are studying the city's marijuana arrest policy, want to see the police give summonses to people who are caught smoking marijuana in public or with small amounts of marijuana on them, instead of the current practice of arresting them and jailing them overnight. According to arrest data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the number of arrests for marijuana possession skyrocketed from about 10,000 in 1996 to more than 50,000 in 2000. The arrests have tapered off somewhat since then, but remain high: 33,000 arrests for marijuana possession last year. Meanwhile, federal government figures show that between 1997 and 2006 marijuana use among high school students and 19- to 28-year-olds rose only slightly."
According to McCarthy, "Studies of marijuana arrests in New York City by Levine, researchers at the University of Chicago Law School, and the National Development and Research Institutes found that the overwhelming number of those arrested for marijuana possession were black and Latino males, even though national studies show that black and Latino high school students use marijuana at a lower rate than white students. However, the state criminal justice services officials say they have concerns about the reliability of the city's statistics on the race of those arrested because of how racial data are reported. Marijuana arrests in the city surged in the late 1990s as part of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's quality-of-life policing strategy, and have continued under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But although early law enforcement efforts concentrated on heavily trafficked public areas like Central Park and midtown Manhattan, the efforts shifted to lower-income black and Latino communities, the studies say."
The columnist noted that "Legal Aid attorneys I talked to confirmed that they're handling far more marijuana possession cases than in years past. One experienced Legal Aid attorney told me the police used to issue desk appearance tickets, but now they're putting them through the arrest wringer. 'It's disturbing,' says Seymour James, the attorney in charge of crime practice for the Legal Aid Society, 'incarcerating them overnight when they could be given a summons. There is no reason for this ... for merely having a marijuana cigarette.' The police have considerable discretion in how they treat marijuana offenses. They can confiscate the pot, give the person a warning and tell them to go home. They can write a summons, which is similar to a traffic ticket and requires the offender to appear before a judge on a certain date. A summons can result in a fine or a dismissal. Or they can choose to arrest and handcuff the offenders, put them in a police car, take them to the station house, fingerprint and photograph them, and hold them in jail until they can be arraigned, which can sometimes take days. Many possession charges are dismissed if the person doesn't get into any more trouble in the next year. But it's ridiculously punitive to put people through a humiliating process for a minor offense. 'We're socializing black and Latino youths to the criminal justice system,' Levine says. 'We're teaching them how to be in the system.' It's like telling them this is a rehearsal for a future of getting arrested and spending time in jail, Small says."
The 2007 Global Marijuana March was held Saturday, May 5. Pro-legalization protesters in Moscow, Russia, bravely gathered in the face of extreme repression. According to Kommersant Daily ("Moscow Police Crack Down On Marijuana Legalization Advocates"), "Moscow police on Saturday suppressed a rally for the legalization of marijuana, detaining 30 people and beating many more. Participants of the Marijuana March were fined and sentenced to 15 days in jail. The Marijuana Legalization League attempted to stage a rally in downtown Moscow on Saturday to demand the legalization of marijuana in Russia. Police detained the demonstrators, beating several people with truncheons. The rally was to become part of the Global Marijuana March which brings protestors to the streets in cities all over the world. This was the fifth attempt to stage the Marijuana Rally in Moscow."
The Daily reported that "City authorities have turned down an application to organize the rally as 'propagandizing drug abuse'. The Federal Drug Control Federation earlier urged Moscow to crack down on the possible gathering 'as tough as possible'. The detainees were charged with violation of rally regulations, and propagandizing drug abuse. One of the demonstrators was sentenced to 15 days in jail. Six other people got ten-day jail terms and 3,500-ruble fines."
In contrast, great support for legalization was seen in Canada. The London Free Press reported on May 6 ("Emery, Pot Paraders Demand Legalization") that "About 20,000 people took part in a pro-marijuana rally and parade yesterday in Toronto -- many of them openly smoking the drug. It was part of the 2007 Global Marijuana March and in total 232 cities held similar events. The pot paraders said they want Canada to legalize marijuana."
According to the Free Press, "Canada's so-called "Prince of Pot" was among those in attendance -- former Londoner Marc Emery heads the B.C. Marijuana party and publishes Cannabis Culture magazine. He has been arrested more than 20 times in Canada and later this month will be in B.C. Supreme Court for a hearing to determine whether he will be extradited to the U.S. to face charges of selling marijuana seeds to Americans through the mail."
Somewhat smaller crowds gathered in New York City, home of the original May Day Marijuana Parade. According to the New York Post ("Pot Rally Mellows Out"), "Chanting, "We smoke pot because we like it a lot," about 500 people gathered in Manhattan yesterday to demand marijuana be legalized - but were a bit slow getting out of bed. The New York leg of the Global Marijuana March, held in more than 200 cities, kicked off in Washington Square Park more than an hour after the scheduled 11 a.m. start time. Several high-profile drug campaigners spoke, including Bronx-born Ed Rosenthal, who is fighting ongoing court battles in California over the medical use of the drug. A strong police presence was on hand, but no arrests were reported."
Research into the chemical constituents of cannabis and their possible relationship to development of symptoms of psychosis has gone on for some time. Now, scientists are discovering that different cannabinoids have radically different effects. The Guardian reported on May 1, 2007 ("Cannabis Chemical Curbs Psychotic Symptoms, Study Finds") that "One of the active chemicals in cannabis inhibits psychotic symptoms in people with schizophrenia, according to a study which compared it with a leading anti-psychotic drug. Although the finding could lead to new treatments for schizophrenia, scientists think it may also explain why cases of cannabis-induced psychosis are apparently on the rise. Most cannabis research focuses on tetrahydrocannabinol ( THC ), the active ingredient that produces the high. Recent studies have shown THC makes symptoms of schizophrenia worse and triggers the condition in a small proportion of users. But the new research shows that another chemical, cannabidiol ( CBD ), has the opposite effect. 'One possibility is that there are good guys and bad guys within cannabis,' said Markus Leweke, of the University of Cologne. He and his team compared the effects of CBD and a leading anti-psychotic drug, Amisulpride, on 42 patients with schizophrenia. After four weeks the symptoms of both groups had improved, but those treated with CBD suffered fewer side-effects. 'Maybe the cannabidiol ameliorates some of the effects of the THC and maybe it actually might be good for you if you are psychotic,' said Robin Murray, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London. They reported their research at the second International Cannabis and Mental Health Conference in London."
According to the Guardian, "In a second set of experiments, researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry have shown how THC acts on the brain to induce paranoia. 'By using brain scanning you can look in real time at the effect of the different components of the cannabis on healthy people and see how it's affecting the healthy brain,' said Philip McGuire, a brain imaging expert at King's College London. The team gave subjects a dose of THC or a placebo and then observed which areas of the brain were active while they performed a computer task that involved stopping certain movements. All volunteers were healthy men between 20 and 40 who had used the drug fewer than 15 times. By looking at the difference in brain activity between placebo and THC groups, the researchers identified a region that is involved in controlling inappropriate behaviour. Those with the biggest reduction in the activity of that brain region also experienced more paranoid symptoms. 'One possible interpretation of that is the paranoia is being driven by interfering with this area of the brain,' said Professor McGuire."
A researcher at the University of Massachusetts has won a ruling in his effort to obtain medical-grade cannabis for research purposes. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Feb. 13, 2007 ("Judge Sides With Botanist On Pot Supply") that "Because of the monopoly arrangement, in effect since 1968, "there is currently an inadequate supply of marijuana available for research purposes," said Mary Ellen Bittner, a Drug Enforcement Administration administrative law judge. She said the application by Lyle Craker, a University of Massachusetts professor of plant biology, 'would be in the public interest.' The ruling is actually only a recommendation to the DEA, which supports the current policy. Agency spokesman Garrison Courtney said a deputy administrator would make the final decision after reviewing arguments from lawyers for the DEA staff and for Craker. The agency's decision could be appealed to a federal court in Washington, D.C. 'It's going to be a hard case to win,' said Anjuli Verna of the American Civil Liberties Union's drug law reform project, which represents Craker. She said the court could overturn a DEA veto of Bittner's ruling only if it was found that the agency was acting arbitrarily."
According to the Chronicle, "The government and the university project overseer say they supply high-quality marijuana, with varying potencies, to all researchers with a legitimate need, and currently provide the drug to nearly 500 patients in clinical trials. An exclusive contract is necessary, the DEA contends, to prevent diversion of the 'most heavily abused' of drugs in the government's list of dangerous substances. But the ACLU's Verna said many researchers have complained that the Mississippi marijuana is "very low-grade, low-potency," requiring increased usage -- with potential health problems -- to get the desired effect. 'Research is simply stymied,' Verna said. She said government-approved researchers in other drugs, such as LSD and cocaine, can get their supplies from a number of laboratories."
The Chronicle noted that "Bittner said in her ruling that the quality of the government-supplied marijuana was 'generally adequate,' despite some problems. But she said some researchers with approved projects have been unable to obtain marijuana because of the federal policy. She also found little risk that marijuana grown by Craker would be diverted to illegal uses. Craker's application, first filed in 2001, was sponsored by an organization called the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which proposed to fund his indoor cultivation and provide the marijuana to federally approved researchers. Both of Massachusetts' senators, Democrats Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, have written to the DEA in support of Craker. The agency turned Craker down in 2003, saying there was no need for additional research supplies."
A report shows that marijuana is the biggest cash crop in the United States. The Los Angeles Times reported on Dec. 18, 2006 ("Pot Is Called Biggest Cash Crop") that "A report released today by a marijuana public policy analyst contends that the market value of pot produced in the U.S. exceeds $35 billion - -- far more than the crop value of such heartland staples as corn, soybeans and hay, which are the top three legal cash crops. California is responsible for more than a third of the cannabis harvest, with an estimated production of $13.8 billion that exceeds the value of the state's grapes, vegetables and hay combined -- and marijuana is the top cash crop in a dozen states, the report states. The report estimates that marijuana production has increased tenfold in the past quarter century despite an exhaustive anti-drug effort by law enforcement."
According to the Times, "Jon Gettman, the report's author, is a public policy consultant and leading proponent of the push to drop marijuana from the federal list of hard-core Schedule 1 drugs -- which are deemed to have no medicinal value and a high likelihood of abuse -- such as heroin and LSD. He argues that the data support his push to begin treating cannabis like tobacco and alcohol by legalizing and reaping a tax windfall from it, while controlling production and distribution to better restrict use by teenagers. 'Despite years of effort by law enforcement, they're not getting rid of it,' Gettman said. 'Not only is the problem worse in terms of magnitude of cultivation, but production has spread all around the country. To say the genie is out of the bottle is a profound understatement.'"
The Times noted that "Gettman's report cites figures in a 2005 State Department report estimating U.S. cannabis cultivation at 10,000 metric tons, or more than 22 million pounds -- 10 times the 1981 production. Using data on the number of pounds eradicated by police around the U.S., Gettman produced estimates of the likely size and value of the cannabis crop in each state. His methodology used what he described as a conservative value of about $1,600 a pound compared to the $2,000- to $4,000-a-pound street value often cited by law enforcement agencies after busts. In California, the state's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting seized nearly 1.7 million plants this year -- triple the haul in 2005 -- with an estimated street value of more than $6.7 billion. Based on the seizure rate over the last three years, the study estimates that California grew more than 21 million marijuana plants in 2006 -- with a production value nearly triple the next closest state, Tennessee, which had an estimated $4.7-billion cannabis harvest."
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is moving to make the marijuana laws the lowest enforcement priority for local police. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Nov. 14, 2006 ("Supes To Vote On Easing Of Marijuana Laws") that "San Francisco's Board of Supervisors will vote today on legislation that would set nearly all crimes involving marijuana as the lowest law enforcement priority for city police. The legislation, sponsored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, was approved Monday by a board committee with the blessing of police officials and over the complaints of some residents."
According to the Chronicle, "Ammiano introduced the legislation in August at the behest of groups pushing for the national decriminalization of marijuana. He defended the policy move, saying it is consistent with Proposition W, a measure passed in 1976 by city voters calling for an end to marijuana arrests and prosecutions, and state Prop. 215, which provides for medical use of cannabis. 'There are many better ways that we can be using our tax dollars and empowering our law enforcement than wasting money and police resources on marijuana offenses,' Ammiano said. 'This ordinance would allow San Francisco to join other forward-thinking cities. It will not result in San Francisco becoming Amsterdam West.' Under the proposed legislation, police would be directed to essentially ignore most marijuana crimes unless they involve minors or acts of violence, driving under the influence or the sale or distribution of pot on public property or within view from public property. San Francisco Police Capt. Tim Hedrick, head of the department's narcotics squad, said Ammiano's legislation is consistent with police policy on marijuana crimes. 'It does not tie our hands enforcing the law,' he told the committee. But a number of residents protested the legislation, saying it will encourage crime and the use of harder drugs such as cocaine or heroin. 'It will undermine the efforts of people who live in marginal neighborhoods to make their neighborhoods safe, clean and peaceful,' said Arthur Evans, a Haight-Ashbury resident. 'This measure is an attack on the well-being of our neighborhoods. You should not throw obstacles in our way. You should help us to make San Francisco more safe and livable.' Supervisor Fiona Ma, a member of the committee hearing Ammiano's legislation, also spoke out against it, saying she believed it 'establishes a new policy that has not been presented to the voters.' Ma broke with Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, the committee's chairman, and Ammiano in voting against the legislation Monday."
The Chronicle reported later on Nov. 14, 2006 ("SF Supes Outlaw Foam Food Containers, Decriminalize Adult Pot Use") that "The Board of Supervisors voted today to outlaw the use of Styrofoam and other polystyrene products by city restaurants and to effectively decriminalize the use, sale and cultivation of marijuana by adults."
The Chronicle noted that "The marijuana legislation, which passed on an initial vote 8-3, would set nearly all crimes involving marijuana as the lowest law enforcement priority for city police and urges the district attorney to adopt the same policy when prosecuting criminal defendants. It passed with the blessing of the police officials, but over the complaints of some residents who say the marijuana trade attracts or occurs along with other criminal activity that undermines the quality of life in their neighborhoods."
Several initiatives were voted on in the general election of 2006. Some were successful.
According to the Gazette, "Mason Tvert, campaign manager for Amendment 44, said he 'wasn't disappointed by the results' and conceded defeat early in the evening. 'We had a yearlong conversation about marijuana,' he said. 'We still believe there are a larger number of people in favor of changing the laws.' 'We think the writing is on the wall,' he added. If the initiative passed, it would have made Colorado the first state to legalize marijuana use for recreational purposes. Previously, several states - including Colorado - passed medical marijuana initiatives that allowed for the distribution of the drug for those battling illness."
The Gazette also noted that opposition to the initiative was led by out-of-state forces and the White House: "The campaign had been opposed largely by Save Our Society from Drugs - - a Florida-based group that made several sojourns to the state to drum up opposition against the measure. Through (Robert) McGuire, they successfully brought the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to campaign against it as well as employing the help of Colorado Attorney General John Suthers."
According to the Argus Leader, "Those in favor argued in part that marijuana can relieve seriously ill patients' discomfort and even save lives. But under South Dakota law, patients who use it face a year in prison and a $2,000 fine. Support came from a group called South Dakotans for Medical Marijuana. A spokesman, Tony Ryan of Sioux Falls, was a police officer in Denver for 36 years. He has family members who suffer from cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. 'It would be an option,' Ryan said. 'They don't need it now, but there might be a day when they need it.' Valerie Hannah of Deerfield supported passage. She uses marijuana in a vaporized form to ease chronic pain of nerve damage she suffered from nerve gas in the Gulf War. Hannah said legal drugs such as morphine make her feel 'like a zombie' and put her in a stupor. 'If it fails, of course it's a disappointment, and very terrifying,' she said. 'I think we need to provide voters with a better education.'"
Missoula County, Montana
According to the Missoulian, "Proponents of the initiative, sponsored by Citizens for Responsible Crime Policy, say Initiative 2 strives to place increased emphasis on crimes that threaten people's lives and property and on other, more pressing drug issues. The proposal calls for a Community Oversight Committee that would consist of community members, criminal defense attorneys and a drug rehabilitation counselor who would investigate marijuana arrests and produce a report on the initiative's effects seven months after its passage. 'We are very pleased that Missoula voters approved a clearer, safer and smarter crime policy,' Goodhope said. Police Chief Rusty Wickman and Sheriff Mike McMeekin have publicly voiced their concern about the initiative, saying they worry federal dollars could be yanked from Missoula's drug enforcement programs in retaliation to the measure. Goodhope said all evidence suggested the contrary, pointing to Seattle's passage of a similar measure several years ago as evidence. In Missoula, like Seattle, the measure strives to place increased emphasis on crimes that threaten people's lives and property and on other, more pressing drug issues."
Santa Cruz, CA
According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Nov. 8, 2006 ("SC Minimum Wage Measure Fails; Sales Tax Hike, Pot Initiative and USCS Growth Measures Pass"), "Voters also showed sympathy for marijuana causes with approval of Measure K, a plan that forces police officers to make adult marijuana crimes their lowest priority. 'This proves the community's desire that tax dollars and police resources should be focused on something besides nonviolent marijuana use,' Measure K campaign coordinator Kate Horner said. 'We look forward to working with the police on this.'"
Coloradans are objecting to attempts by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to campaign against the marijuana initiative on the state's 2006 general election ballot.
The Boulder Daily Camera reported on Aug. 27, 2006 ("Denver DEA Rep: Don't Legalize It") that "In an e-mail to political campaign professionals, an agent named Michael Moore asks for help finding a campaign manager to defeat the measure, which voters will consider in November. If passed, it would allow people 21 and older to have up to 1 ounce of marijuana. In the e-mail, which was sent from a U.S. Department of Justice account, Moore also writes that the group has $10,000 to launch the campaign. He asks those interested in helping to call him at his DEA office."
According to the Daily Camera, "That has members of Safer Colorado, the group supporting the marijuana legalization measure, crying foul. The government has no business spending the public's money on politics, they said. Steve Fox, the group's executive director, said members of the executive branch, including the DEA, should leave law-making to legislators. 'Taxpayer money should not be going toward the executive branch advocating one side or another,' Fox said. 'It's a wholly inappropriate use of taxpayer money.'"
The Daily Camera noted that "Jeff Sweetin, the special agent in charge of the Denver office of the DEA, said voters have every right to change the laws. And the law allows his agency to get involved in that process to tell voters why they shouldn't decriminalize pot." According to the Daily Camera, "Sweetin said the $10,000 the committee has to spend came from private donations, including some from agents' own accounts. He said the DEA isn't trying to "protect Coloradans from themselves" but that the agency is the expert when it comes to drugs."
The Aurora, CO Daily Sun editorialized on August 29, 2006
("Tax Dollars Used For Ill-Conceived DEA
Colorado voters in 2006 will have the opportunity to decide whether the state should legalize possession of marijuana by adults over age 21. The CO Secretary of State's office announced on August 16, 2006 ( "Proposed Initiative Concerning Marijuana Possession Is Found To Be Sufficient") that "Secretary of State Gigi Dennis announced the proposed ballot measure concerning 'Marijuana Possession' was found to be sufficient as required by statute. Petitions were submitted to the Secretary of State’s office on August 7. Secretary of State staff immediately began checking the 5% random sample signatures selected by computer."
According to Secretary Dennis, initiative supporters submitted 130,815 total signatures. Of these, 79,758 were estimated to be valid signatures based on verification of a random sample. Only 67,829 valid signatures were necessary for placement, so "Pursuant to C.R.S. 1-5-407 (5.3), this initiative will be numbered 'Amendment 44' on the November 7, 2006 General Election ballot."
The initiative was developed by SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation), the Denver-based national organization which proposed and passed a similar city-wide measure in the previous election cycle. Specifically, the initiative asks: "Shall there be an amendment to section 18-18-406 (1) of the Colorado revised statutes making legal the possession of one ounce or less of marihuana for any person twenty-one years of age or older?"
For more information about the measure and the campaign, contact SAFER.
The City Council for West Hollywood, CA, has adopted a resolution making marijuana laws the lowest priority for law enforcement. According to the Los Angeles Times on June 20, 2006 ("West Hollywood Wants To Legalize Pot Use"), "The City Council approved a resolution that urges the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to make marijuana-related offenses a 'low priority' that deputies should largely ignore. In doing so, it became the first city in Southern California to request that its law enforcement agency look the other way at recreational pot use and target only the sale of marijuana. The vote was taken despite concerns from some residents and top aides of Sheriff Lee Baca, who had urged the council to delay the vote. Councilman John Duran proposed the resolution, saying that deputies have more important things to worry about than arresting people with small amounts of pot. Instead, he said, deputies could focus on more destructive drugs like crystal methamphetamine. 'We've seen that marijuana use is certainly no more dangerous and destructive than alcohol use,' Duran said. 'The whole 'reefer madness' hysteria has worn thin.'"
The Times reported that "San Francisco and Oakland have passed similar rules. But unlike those cities, West Hollywood lacks its own police force. Instead it contracts with the county sheriff for police services. Sheriff's Department officials said they were worried about the message being sent if law enforcement was asked to selectively enforce state law. 'As sworn personnel they have certain obligations to uphold,' said Jeff Prang, a West Hollywood councilman who also is a special aide to Baca. Prang abstained on Monday's vote. The resolution passed 4 to 0."
The Times noted that "it is possible that voters in West Hollywood might end up deciding the issue. A group called the West Hollywood Civil Liberties Alliance had launched a campaign to put legalization on the ballot. Duran said the city compromised and agreed to sponsor its own resolution instead. 'Any time you run a special election, it could cost a small city like West Hollywood around $80,000,' Duran said. What's more, if put on the spot, the Sheriff's Department probably would oppose the initiative, Duran said. 'It would have been divisive and it would have been costly,' he said. Veteran West Hollywood attorney Bruce Margolin, who has represented hundreds of clients facing marijuana and other criminal charges, including Timothy Leary, hopes that the council's action is just the beginning. 'This is just another expression of the public saying, 'Stop putting people in jail for such benign conduct as the use of marijuana … because it doesn't really affect society in a way that is of great concern,'' he said."
Marijuana possession has been recriminalized in Alaska. The Associated Press reported June 2, 2006 ("Meth-Marijuana Bill Becomes Law") that "Possessing small amounts of marijuana, even in the privacy of the home, is illegal in Alaska - at least for now. Gov. Frank Murkowski on Friday signed a bill recriminalizing pot possession. The law will be challenged in court, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, leading to a likely judicial review of Alaska's marijuana laws. Another provision of the bill, which is not in dispute, would make it tougher to buy ingredients used in making methamphetamine."
According to AP, "The governor is seeking to overturn the 30-year-old landmark Alaska Supreme Court decision that legalized the use of small amounts of marijuana. While the court then ruled that the right to privacy was far more important than any harm that could result from use of the drug, Murkowski argues marijuana is a far more potent and dangerous drug than it was in the 1970s. The ACLU of Alaska said it would file for immediate injunctive relief in Superior Court in Juneau on Monday. Executive director Michael MacLeod-Ball said the lawsuit also would seek a permanent injunction against the marijuana provisions of the law which he said run afoul of Alaskans' constitutional rights to \ privacy."
The AP noted that "Under the new law, pot possession of 4 ounces or more is a felony. Possession of less than 4 ounces but more than an ounce is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. Less than one ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail. The measure was controversial in the Legislature among privacy advocates. It also became bound up in a procedural dispute between the House and Senate until it passed in the final days of the regular legislative session. The methamphetamine provisions of the law restrict the sale of many over-the-counter medicines that are used in making the drug. The law requires a customer to sign a logbook before buying a medicine with an ephedrine base, such as Sudafed, and makes it illegal to sell those ephedrine-based drugs to anyone under the age of 16."
A large-scale study by UCLA researchers found no link between regular marijuana use and lung cancer. Scientific American reported on May 24, 2006 ( "Large Study Finds No Link Between Marijuana And Lung Cancer") that "The researchers interviewed 611 lung cancer patients and 1,040 healthy controls as well as 601 patients with cancer in the head or neck region under the age of 60 to create the statistical analysis. They found that 80 percent of those with lung cancer and 70 percent of those with other cancers had smoked tobacco while only roughly half of both groups had smoked marijuana. The more tobacco a person smoked, the greater the risk of developing cancer, as other studies have shown. But after controlling for tobacco, alcohol and other drug use as well as matching patients and controls by age, gender and neighborhood, marijuana did not seem to have an effect, despite its unhealthy aspects. 'Marijuana is packed more loosely than tobacco, so there's less filtration through the rod of the cigarette, so more particles will be inhaled,' Tashkin says. 'And marijuana smokers typically smoke differently than tobacco smokers; they hold their breath about four times longer allowing more time for extra fine particles to deposit in the lungs.'According to Scientific American, "The study does not reveal how marijuana avoids causing cancer. Tashkin speculates that perhaps the THC chemical in marijuana smoke prompts aging cells to die before becoming cancerous. Tashkin and his colleagues presented the findings yesterday at a meeting of the American Thoracic Society in San Diego."
Scientific American noted that "The smoke from burning marijuana leaves contains several known carcinogens and the tar it creates contains 50 percent more of some of the chemicals linked to lung cancer than tobacco smoke. A marijuana cigarette also deposits four times as much of that tar as an equivalent tobacco one. Scientists were therefore surprised to learn that a study of more than 2,000 people found no increase in the risk of developing lung cancer for marijuana smokers. 'We expected that we would find that a history of heavy marijuana use--more than 500 to 1,000 uses--would increase the risk of cancer from several years to decades after exposure to marijuana,' explains physician Donald Tashkin of the University of California, Los Angeles and lead researcher on the project. But looking at residents of Los Angeles County, the scientists found that even those who smoked more than 20,000 joints in their life did not have an increased risk of lung cancer."
The CBS News program 60 Minutes will air a piece Sunday, March 5, 2006, on Marc Emery. According to CBS News ("The Prince Of Pot"), "A Canadian who calls himself the 'Prince of Pot' could wind up in a U.S. jail for life for selling marijuana seeds, but says he would be 'blessed' because such a plight could help legalize the drug. 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon talks to Marc Emery, who had a mail-order pot seed business that Canada ignored and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency wants to prosecute him for, this Sunday, March 5 at 7 p.m."
CBS News reports that "The last place he wants to be is in jail, but Emery says if the Canadian courts allow the U.S. government to extradite him and a U.S. jury puts him away, he still sees a silver lining. 'I am blessed by what the DEA has done,' he tells Simon. 'I would rather see marijuana legalized than me being saved from a U.S. jail. I hope that if I am incarcerated, I can influence tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of young people to take up my cause.' The 48-year-old Vancouver, B.C., resident is a fervent activist for the legalization of marijuana and a hero to the movement. He has made several million dollars and claims to have sold more seeds than anyone in the world on his Web site and through a magazine he publishes, 'Cannabis Culture.'"
CBS News noted that "'We have a huge regional, national and international issue here in the growing of marijuana in lower British Columbia,' says John McKay, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington. '(Emery’s) activities are kind of a leading edge of that marijuana problem.' McKay says the fact that Canadian officials don't regard him as a threat has no bearing in the United States, where marijuana seeds are just as illegal as the plant. 'He's dealing drugs into the United States and violating laws of the United States and we expect to extradite and try him in the United States,' vows McKay. Asked what he thinks of U.S. officials' stance that Emery is a major drug dealer, Canadian Senator Larry Campbell, a former drug officer, says: 'If they consider that, then they have bigger problems than I can even imagine. There's simply no way he's a major anything.' There would also be a backlash from Canadians if the U.S. can extradite someone like Emery. 'I think there would be outrage,' Campbell says."
Legislation to help unclog local courts and give police more time to pursue property and other more serious criminals is making its way through the Massachusetts legislature. On Feb. 15, 2006, the Milford Daily News reported ( "Pot Bill Lights Up Debate") that "A legislative committee advanced a bill on Monday that would make possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a civil offense with a $250 fine for a first offense, instead of a criminal infraction that could land a first-time offender in jail for six months with a $500 fine. Supporters said the bill that has languished in the Legislature in past sessions may have fared better this time because it was weighed by the Legislature's new joint Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee. 'I think as a committee we really do have a perspective of focusing on education, prevention and treatment, and that's different than the criminal justice tough-on-crime approach,' said the committee's House chairwoman, state Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton. Supporters said decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana would prevent offenders from having difficulty securing federal student loans, jobs and housing because of criminal records. A 2002 report by a Boston University economist estimates marijuana possession arrests and bookings cost the state $24.3 million a year. Balser said some of that money could be better spent on substance abuse treatment. 'There's way too many people with substance abuse problems in jail and in the criminal justice system,' said James Cuddy, executive director of Framingham social service agency SMOC, who applauded the legislation. The bill still would have to clear several hurdles to become law -- approval first by the Senate, then the House and Gov. Mitt Romney, and Romney's office has signaled he may oppose it."
The Daily News noted that "State Rep. Karyn Polito, R-Shrewsbury, a member of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee, said the bill 'sends the wrong message.' 'I think it's a very narrow group of people that want the passage of this law,' said Polito, who was not present for the committee's 6-1 vote. Fellow committee member Richard Ross, R-Wrentham, said he dropped his initial opposition to the bill. 'The more I heard about how even a small infraction follows someone for the rest of their lives, and ( marijuana ) has become such a prevalent use in society, it seemed like an unfair tag to stick on somebody,' Ross said. Eleven other states have decriminalized possession of marijuana to some extent, according to Whitney Taylor, the executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts."
The British Home Office Ministry announced in mid-January that cannabis will remain classified as a Class C drug. According to a Jan. 19, 2006 news release from the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke ( "Statement on the classification of cannabis and harm reduction measures"), "I have decided to accept the Advisory Council's [Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs] recommendation, which is supported by the police and by most drugs and mental health charities to keep the current classification of cannabis."
In the release, the Home Secretary noted that "On cannabis, I have considered very carefully the advice which I have received from many sources. I am influenced by data on levels of use of the drug and evidence that cannabis use has fallen among 16-24 year olds from 28% in 1998 to less than 24% last year. The preliminary assessment is that, contrary to my personal expectation, reclassification has not led to an increase in use. Moreover I accept the view of the Advisory Council that further research on the mental health implications is needed before any decision to reclassify is made."
Following are excerpts from the ACMD report,
"Further Consideration of the Classification of Cannabis Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971":
The organization known as SAFER, which sponsored the successful marijuana legalization measure in Denver, CO in 2005, has called for a boycott of Coors products at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The Rocky Mountain News reported Dec. 7, 2005 ( "Local Pot Group Pushing Coors Boycott At CU") that "SAFER ( Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation ) will ask CU students today to boycott Coors products until the Board of Regents agrees to reduce penalties for students caught on campus with pot, executive director Mason Tvert said. The Coors family and Molson Coors Brewing Co. have been longtime supporters of CU. This year, for example, Molson Coors is paying $392,000 to sponsor CU football and basketball. The agreement allows the company to advertise in CU stadiums and on TV and radio broadcasts. SAFER argues that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana and that if CU wants to reduce alcohol-related problems on campus, it should lessen pot penalties and cut ties with Coors. 'Given the cozy relationship between CU and Coors, we see this boycott as the best way to attack the university's pro-alcohol policies,' Tvert said."
The News noted that " SAFER led this fall's successful campaign to legalize possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana in Denver for people 21 and older, although the local law does not trump the tougher state law. Last spring, the group was involved in successful pro-pot referendums at CU-Boulder and Colorado State University. CU-Boulder students voted 3,926 to 1,866 to ask CU officials to make penalties for students caught with marijuana equal to those for students caught with alcohol. They also wanted CU to study whether such a change would lead to fewer alcohol-related problems. Students who are 21 and older may legally drink on campus, while all students are prohibited from using marijuana. A 'two-strike' policy approved last year leads to suspension for any student with two convictions for abuse of alcohol, marijuana or any other drug."
The city of Denver, CO, voted 54-46 in November 2005 to legalize possession of marijuana locally. As reported by the News Tribune on Nov. 3, 2005 ( "Denver Legalizes Marijuana Possession"), "Officials in Denver were looking to two West Coast cities for guidance after voters on Tuesday legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Voters in Oakland, Calif., and Seattle earlier had approved similar initiatives that told police to make possession of small amounts of marijuana their lowest priority. Each city has responded differently. In Seattle, the number of people prosecuted for pot possession has plummeted since that city's September 2003 initiative. In 2003, Seattle prosecuted 178 people for possession of marijuana; in 2004, the prosecutions plunged to 59. 'I think someone, somewhere, someone along the chain of command got the message' in Seattle, said Andy Ko, director of the drug policy referendum project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. One outspoken opponent of the pro-marijuana initiative in Seattle, City Attorney Tom Carr, said his fears that marijuana usage would spike dramatically haven't materialized. 'We've had some silliness,' he said. 'One man was arrested for trying to sell brownies to a police officer, and someone wanted to host a smoke-in in a park, but for the most part, I haven't seen a drastic increase.'"
According to the News Tribune, "Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, meanwhile, said Tuesday's vote to legalize marijuana possession was a sign of the priorities of an increasingly young, educated population. 'It is indicative of the changing attitudes,' he said, noting that because of its population, Denver might increasingly be on the 'vanguard' of such issues. The group Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, or SAFER, which pushed the Denver vote, says city officials will thwart the will of about 56,000 voters if they continue prosecutions. 'It's not whether they can do it, it's whether they will do it,' said Mason Tvert, executive director of SAFER. 'Right now, there are city officials denying the will of voters who put them in office, and I think that's disturbing,' he said."
The initiative text is available on the SAFER website.
According to a report by the Justice Policy Institute released Aug. 25, 2005, marijuana arrests in the US have had little or no impact on the actual overall level of marijuana use even though the number of marijuana arrests has skyrocketed since the early 1990s.
According to JPI ( "Arrest Rates Having Little Impact On Marijuana Use"), "[D]ata shows little relationship between growing arrest rates for marijuana offenses and the drug’s use rate, despite it surpassing heroin and cocaine as leading category of drug arrest since the mid-1990s. In 'Efficacy and Impact: The Criminal Justice Response to Marijuana Policy in the United States,' the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) measured the effectiveness and consequences of national drug control policies that have resulted in the U.S. spending 300 times what it did 35 years ago on drug control. Criminal justice responses to marijuana - including law enforcement, judicial and corrections-accounted for $5.1 billion in 2000, according to Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron. Despite this increase in spending on drug control from $65 million to currently $19 billion, and the imprisonment of 30,000 people for a marijuana offense, marijuana usage has remained relatively unchanged regardless of arrest rates going up or down."
JPI in its release notes that "'Despite billions in new spending and hundreds of thousands of new arrests, marijuana use seems to be unaffected by the huge criminal justice response to this drug,' said Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of JPI, and co-author of the report. According to Ziedenberg, as law enforcement focuses marijuana, a significant number of people are suffering from the impact of policies that do not seem to be deterring drug use. The report shows that throughout the past 20 years, marijuana usage has remained relatively stable, except for a dramatic drop of 61 percent during the eighties, when arrest rates declined 24 percent. When arrest rates increased 127 percent during the 1990’s, the rate of usage remained stable climbing only 22 percent."
Objections are mounting to a proposal by the UK's Labour government to examine the possibility of upgrading the penalties for cannabis. According to London's The Mirror on May 23, 2005 ( "Don't Upgrade Cannabis Says Top Policeman"), "The law on cannabis should not be reversed to crack down on dope smokers, Scotland Yard chief Sir Ian Blair declared yesterday. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said: 'In my view, we should stay where we are.'"
According to the Mirror, "If there was a turnaround on the downgrading of the drug the Met would push 'very hard' for fixed penalty notices rather than court appearances for those possessing a small amount. Current UKP 80 fixed penalty offences include being drunk and disorderly and shoplifting. Being drunk in a public place and dropping litter are among UKP 50 fines. The downgrading of cannabis to Class C, introduced by Mr Clarke's predecessor David Blunkett, came into effect last year and means possession of small amounts of the drug is no longer normally an arrestable offence. Police are instructed to deal with cannabis users with a formal warning and confiscation of the drug, except in certain aggravated circumstances such as smoking it outside a school."
The Labour move was reportedly prompted by the Blair government's discovery of high-potency marijuana, referred to as 'skunk'. The Mirror noted that " Just before the General Election, Prime Minister Tony Blair said the decision to downgrade cannabis to Class C - the same as steroids and some prescription anti-depressants - was being looked at again amid evidence cannabis 'isn't quite as harmless as people make out'. Home Secretary Charles Clarke has asked for advice on varieties of cannabis containing high levels of THC, its active ingredient. One option would be to split the drug classification into stronger and weaker varieties. But Sir Ian opposes this, saying: 'We would be arguing strongly not for a double classification in terms of strengths. That's impractical.'"
David Blunkett, previously Minister of the Home Office under Blair, is also arguing against the move. The Yorkshire Evening Post reported on June 16, 2005 ( "War Over U-Turn On Cannabis") that "Former Home Secretary David Blunkett is on a collision course with Charles Clarke over the decriminalistion of cannabis. Mr Blunkett today told the YEP that he was right to downgrade cannabis despite the fact that the Government looks poised to perform a U-turn. In 2002 Mr Blunkett, now Work and Pensions Secretary changed the classification from B to C effectively decriminalising it."
According to the YEP, "new Home Secretary Clarke looks set to restore the B grade after concerns about the effects of a strong form of cannabis known as skunk. A report in the Netherlands linked it with psychosis and the advisory council on the misuse of drugs is due to report back to him late this year. A Home Office spokeswoman said that the report was not due for some months and would not speculate. However Tony Blair has already indicated that reclassification is on the cards if experts recommend it."
The YEP reported that "[W]hen asked whether he was wrong to downgrade the drug Mr Blunkett told the YEP: 'No, I don't believe I was. I took the advice of the advisory council on misuse of drugs and their recommendation was very clear, but since reclassification there has been an issue about skunk . The advisory council was asked to examine whether that made a difference to their original recommendation and as far I know the Home Secretary is still waiting for them to come back to him. We took their advice on scientific grounds, saying that a differentiation was made between different types of drugs such as crack and heroin which can kill and less dangerous ones. What we were able to do was free up the police to be able to concentrate resources on those killer drugs. Whatever the solution, I know the Home Secretary will want to bear in mind that the police are dealing with this on a day to day basis,' he said adding that if the drug is reclassified 'the public will have to know that will be at a price'."
The City of Vancouver, BC, issued "Preventing Harm from Psychoactive Substance Use" in June 2005. As the Vancouver Sun reported on June 8, 2005 ( "Vancouver To Press Ottawa To Legalize And Tax Marijuana"), "A City of Vancouver report backed by the mayor recommends Canada legalize and regulate marijuana as part of a comprehensive drug-abuse prevention strategy for everything from methamphetamine production to alcoholism among seniors. The marijuana recommendation, one of two dozen in the report being released today, would allow people trying to prevent drug abuse to talk to teenagers about it realistically, the way they do with alcohol and cigarettes, and also limit dangerous use. It's a strategy that Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell endorses wholeheartedly, saying it's preferable to decriminalization, which imposes a fine instead of a criminal charge for use, but doesn't address the issue of supply. 'I think the decriminalization doesn't do anybody any good. It sends the message that it's okay, but that it's a crime to obtain it.' He says if marijuana were legalized, the community could benefit by being able to tax production."
The plan has met with approval from a number of quarters. As the Sun reported, "Others say that putting marijuana on the same level as alcohol and tobacco legally would allow teachers and prevention counsellors to talk about it strategically, rather than just avoiding the topic. 'All that teachers can do now is say it's illegal,' says the city's drug policy coordinator Don MacPherson, who wrote the 67-page report. If marijuana was treated like alcohol, he said, teachers could provide the same kind of advice they do when trying to prevent teenagers from risky drinking behaviour. However, he also emphasized that Canada should learn from the mistakes it made with alcohol and tobacco, which have been turned into commercial products, heavily advertised and promoted, which has led to problems stemming from the abuse of those two substances that far exceeds those of illegal drugs."
The Sun noted that "The report is the latest offensive in Vancouver's attempt to tackle the city's drug problems, which have contributed to an epidemic of HIV and hepatitis infections unequalled in North America, the deterioration of the city's inner-city Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, and a property-crime rate among the highest in Canada. It's part of the city's Four Pillars strategy, which emphasizes an approach that is an equal mix of law enforcement, prevention, treatment and harm reduction for drug users. That policy was adopted four years ago, amid some controversy because of the harm-reduction aspects, which included a recommendation to create a health facility where users could go to inject drugs under the supervision of health-care workers. Campbell was elected as mayor in 2002, in part because he and his party said they would work to aggressively implement the policy. The supervised injection site was opened in the fall of 2003."
Jeffrey Miron, a visiting professor of economics at Harvard University, released his report "Costs of Marijuana Prohibition: Economic Analysis" in June 2005. As reported on Forbes.com on June 2, 2005 ( "Milton Friedman: Legalize It!"), "Milton Friedman leads a list of more than 500 economists from around the U.S. who today will publicly endorse a Harvard University economist's report on the costs of marijuana prohibition and the potential revenue gains from the U.S. government instead legalizing it and taxing its sale. Ending prohibition enforcement would save $7.7 billion in combined state and federal spending, the report says, while taxation would yield up to $6.2 billion a year. The report, 'The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition,' ( available at www.prohibitioncosts.org ) was written by Jeffrey A. Miron, a professor at Harvard , and largely paid for by the Marijuana Policy Project ( MPP ), a Washington, D.C., group advocating the review and liberalization of marijuana laws."
"* Government prohibition of marijuana is the subject of ongoing debate.
"* One issue in this debate is the effect of marijuana prohibition on government budgets. Prohibition entails direct enforcement costs and prevents taxation of marijuana production and sale.
"* This report examines the budgetary implications of legalizing marijuana—taxing and regulating it like other goods—in all fifty states and at the federal level.
"* The report estimates that legalizing marijuana would save $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. $5.3 billion of this savings would accrue to state and local governments, while $2.4 billion would accrue to the federal government.
"* The report also estimates that marijuana legalization would yield tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like all other goods and $6.2 billion annually if marijuana were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.
"* Whether marijuana legalization is a desirable policy depends on many factors other than the budgetary impacts discussed here. But these impacts should be included in a rational debate about marijuana policy."
The US war on drugs has shifted to a war on marijuana, according to a report by the Sentencing Project released in May 2005. The Washington Post reported on May 4, 2005 ( "Marijuana Becomes Focus Of Drug War") that "The focus of the drug war in the United States has shifted significantly over the past decade from hard drugs to marijuana, which now accounts for nearly half of all drug arrests nationwide, according to an analysis of federal crime statistics released yesterday. The study of FBI data by a Washington-based think tank, the Sentencing Project, found that the proportion of heroin and cocaine cases plummeted from 55 percent of all drug arrests in 1992 to less than 30 percent 10 years later. During the same period, marijuana arrests rose from 28 percent of the total to 45 percent."
According to the Post, "Coming in the wake of the focus on crack cocaine in the late 1980s, the increasing emphasis on marijuana enforcement was accompanied by a dramatic rise in overall drug arrests, from fewer than 1.1 million in 1990 to more than 1.5 million a decade later. Eighty percent of that increase came from marijuana arrests, the study found. The rapid increase has not had a significant impact on prisons, however, because just 6 percent of the arrests resulted in felony convictions, the study found. The most widely quoted household survey on the topic has shown relatively little change in the overall rate of marijuana use over the same time period, experts said. 'In reality, the war on drugs as pursued in the 1990s was to a large degree a war on marijuana,' said Ryan S. King, the study's co-author and a research associate at the Sentencing Project. 'Marijuana is the most widely used illegal substance, but that doesn't explain this level of growth over time . . . The question is, is this really where we want to be spending all our money?'"
Key findings from the report, "The War On Marijuana: The Transformation of the War on Drugs in the 1990s," include:
The UK's Labour Government is moving to re-examine its classification of cannabis as a Class C drug. Cannabis had been officially downgraded in January 2004. As noted by The Guardian on March 22, 2004 ( "No Retreat On Cannabis"), " Charles Clarke, the home secretary, asked the advisory council to say whether it would change their mind as a result of 'emerging evidence' of a link between cannabis consumption and deteriorating mental health. It is unlikely that they will. The advisory council - along with the Royal College of Psychiatrists' working party and a Police Foundation's independent committee of inquiry - were all aware of the risks that cannabis posed to people vulnerable to mental illness when they made their recommendations to reclassify."
The Guardian reported that "Much fuss has been aired in the red-top papers about these two studies, but with few quotes from the researchers. Yet the professor who led the New Zealand project told the New Zealand Herald: 'These are not huge increases in risk and nor should they be, because cannabis is by no means the only thing that will determine if you suffer these symptoms.' Professor Jim van Os, one of the authors of the Dutch study, was even more robust. He told the Guardian that the fact that cannabis could trigger psychosis in a small minority of people was a good reason to legalise it, not ban it. This would allow governments to promote advice and information and control more dangerous forms like skunk. Packets could carry how much THC, the most dangerous compound, the drug contained, along with how much CBD, the compound believed to provide beneficial effects."
The Guardian commented that "If ever a government had an early warning of one front it needs to defend in this election campaign, it is Labour's downgrading of cannabis. On the eve of ministers reclassifying cannabis from category B to the less harmful category C about 14 months ago, the ever-opportunistic Michael Howard declared a Conservative government would reverse it. He condemned the government's drugs strategy as 'absurd', which serious policy-makers thought 'shameless'. Now, 14 months on, ministers are behaving 'absurdly', not by referring new evidence about the drug to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, but with their failure to set out the robust reasons behind their decision last year."
According to the Guardian, "What was missing from the minister's response was a public reminder of why the drug was reclassified. It followed expert advice from professionals - medics, pharmacologists, police officers - not red-top papers. It freed a wide swathe of police officers to pursue serious drug barons, rather than trivial offenders. No wonder polls show 60% believe the drug should be decriminalised. If ministers needed to add a political message, they could have asked Mr Howard why he wanted to wage war on 50% of young people, ensure tens of thousands of them be given criminal records and some prison sentences, for an activity that more than 2 million of them engage in quite safely during the year."
Some have derided the Government's move as election-year politics. The columnist Simon Jenkins wrote in The Times of London on March 21, 2005 ("Now Drugs Are An Election Issue"), "Pre-election nerves are getting out of hand. Consider the weekend madness from the Home Office on drugs. The new Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, once confessed to The Times that he was eager not to appear a liberal. He has duly ordered a review of the classification of cannabis on the Government's list of banned drugs. This follows 'news' that marijuana, particularly the strong strain of mostly home-grown skunk, might be more harmful than previously thought. The drug was reduced from class B to class C by Mr Clarke's predecessor, David Blunkett, just a year ago. The effect was ostensibly to save police time because possession of class C drugs was not an arrestable offence. However, Mr Blunkett immediately negated the impact of the change by making class C possession arrestable. The change was almost entirely cosmetic, but had the effect of making the drug seem more safe - or seem so to those who had never tried it and might take any notice of Home Office classifications."
As Mr. Jenkins writes, "The criminalisation of drugs has been the biggest social catastrophe of the past quarter century, wrecking tens of thousands of lives, families, communities and businesses. A new framework of control, taxation and licensed distribution must be established. Mr Clarke has no intention of doing this. He has an election on his hands. So he suddenly discovers skunk, suddenly reads medical literature, suddenly forgets he was in the Government which reclassified cannabis a year ago and suddenly orders his Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to "review" its classification. Election time is here again."
Mr. Jenkins notes, "I served for over a year on a publicly-funded research committee on the future of the 1971 Act. It left me with a number of emphatic conclusions. One was that all drugs alter minds, which is why ( mostly ) weak people take them. For some they are beneficial. For many they are harmless. For a few they can be dangerous. I would strongly discourage young people from touching drugs, as I would discourage them from many ill-advised activities. I would certainly like public policy to limit their prevalence. The 1971 Act does the opposite. It makes drugs cheap, plentiful and easy to sell to young people. It is not an act but a social crime. Making drug use illegal, and thus plunging young people into a world of high-pressure criminal salesmanship, is madness. The 1971 Act is lethal and should be abolished. Cannabis should go where nicotine, alcohol, retail drugs, off-course betting, gambling and prostitution have gone before, into the realm of regulation and control. If criminalisation could rid society of this evil, it would have done so long ago. Clearly the reverse has happened."
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley surprised many with his announcement that he feels marijuana should be decriminalized. As reported by the Associated Press in Oct. 2004 ( "Fine, Not Confine, Marijuana Users," Charlotte Observer, Oct. 4, 2004), "What Daley did was to say late last month that a police sergeant was on to something when he suggested that it might be better to impose fines between $250 and $1,000 for possession of small amounts of marijuana rather than prosecute the cases. Sgt. Thomas Donegan determined that nearly 7,000 cases involving 2.5 grams of pot or less were filed last year in Chicago. About 94 percent were dismissed. Daley wondered if ticketing offenders might be smarter. "If 99 percent of the cases are thrown out and we have police officers going ( to court to testify in the cases ), why?" the mayor said. "It costs a lot of money for police officers to go to court."
As AP noted, "Chicago wouldn't be the first city to reduce the penalty for possessing a small amount of marijuana. In Seattle, voters passed an initiative requiring law-enforcement officials to make personal-use marijuana cases their lowest priority. In California and Oregon, possession of a small amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by a $100 to $500 fine. In Colorado, it doesn't even rise to the level of misdemeanor; it's a petty offense with a fine of no more than $100. Some observers say Daley's statements have added weight because of the mayor's background. "As a former prosecutor, nobody is going to say he's soft on crime," said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former city alderman."
AP reported that "Chicago officials are a long way from making permanent changes. Still, Daley's comments alone could have a wide impact. "This will make it easier for other officials to say the same thing," Simpson said. "I can imagine mayors in other cities coming out agreeing that this shouldn't be treated as a high crime."
An excellent resource on the social use of marijuana is
Lester Grinspoon's Marijuana Uses website.
As Dr. Grinspoon explains in
an introductory essay:
"These kinds of marijuana experiences, which I like to call "enhancement", are often misunderstood and under-appreciated -- not only by non-users, but even by some users, especially young people who are interested mainly in promoting sociability and fun. Most of marijuana's powers of enhancement are not as immediately available as its capacity to lift mood or improve appetite and the taste of food. Some learning may be required, and one way to learn is through other people's experience. Some colleagues and I hope to promote this kind of learning by assembling an anthology of accounts of cannabis enhancement experiences. It is our hope that these stories will ultimately provide the basis for a book. Toward that end, we seek to identify contributors who are willing to share their knowledge of the uses of cannabis."
As with alcohol, marijuana should not be used irresponsibly. Noted addiction specialist Stanton Peele put forward these "Guidelines for Sensible Cannabis Use" in Oct. 2000, prepared for and with the assistance of the Cannabis Action Network based in Berkeley, CA. In their introduction, Peele and co-author Archie Brodsky note "Personal use of cannabis is illegal in the United States. Despite this fact, it is widely used, both here and throughout the world, and has a written history of more than 3000 years. Most often, cannabis use is viewed as pleasurable and, unlike alcohol, it is not associated with violence. In many places and times, its use has been socially accepted and regarded as normal. Its analgesic and other medical benefits are well recognized, and the therapeutic use of cannabis has been legalized in many states and localities."
They warn that "However, like any other psychoactive substance, cannabis can be misused. Excessive recreational use can contribute to problems including sleepiness, overeating, and time management issues. Due to the political climate surrounding cannabis research, clinical studies have produced widely conflicting conclusions about the true benefits and potential side effects of cannabis use. Some research reports potential dangers to the throat and lungs from smoking cannabis. Moreover, people may overuse cannabis in place of a normal range of life experiences."
The guidelines do not promote marijuana use; rather,
they are in a way harm reduction information directed at those
who in spite of the laws choose to use marijuana.
The 10 guidelines are:
Marijuana is used by some as a medicine for pain control. According to a Nov. 2002 review by the General Accounting Office (GAO) of medical cannabis programs in four states ( "Marijuana: Early Experiences with Four States' Laws That Allow Use for Medical Purposes"), "Most medical marijuana recommendations in states where data are collected have been made for applicants with severe pain or muscle spasticity as their medical condition. Conditions allowed by the states' medical marijuana laws ranged from illnesses such as cancer and AIDS, to symptoms, such as severe pain. Information is not collected on the conditions for which marijuana has been recommended in Alaska or California. However, data from Hawaii's registry showed that the majority of recommendations have been made for the condition of severe pain or the condition of muscle spasticity. Likewise, data from Oregon’s registry showed that, 84 percent of recommendations were for the condition of severe pain or for muscle spasticity."
The need to self-medicate is not surprising, even in the case of those with serious need. Researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the prevalence of chronic pain among chemically dependent patients ( "Prevalence and Characteristics of Chronic Pain Among Chemically Dependent Patients in Methadone Maintenance and Residential Treatment Facilities"). They found that "Inpatients with chronic pain visited physicians and received legitimate pain medications no more frequently than those without pain, raising the possibility that undertreatment or inability to access appropriate medical care may be a factor in the decision to use illicit drugs for pain."
Marijuana is not as powerful as many painkilling drugs now made available for pain management, which may be one of its attractions. As noted in an article in the British Medical Journal on July 7, 2001 ( "Are Cannabinoids An Effective and Safe Treatment Option in the Management of Pain? A Qualitative Systematic Review"), "The best that can be achieved with single dose cannabis in nociceptive pain is analgesia equivalent to single dose codeine 60 mg, which rates poorly on relative efficacy compared with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or simple analgesics. Increasing the cannabinoid dose to increase the analgesia will increase adverse effects. More intriguing perhaps than these relatively negative analgesic results in nociceptive pain are the suggestions of efficacy in spasticity and in neuropathic pain, where the therapeutic need is greater than in postoperative pain."
A report by the European Union's drugs monitoring agency, the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, in June 2004 released a report on cannabis potency. As reported by The Guardian newspaper of London, England ( "Extra-High Cannabis Theory Goes Up In Smoke"), "The effective strength of cannabis consumed in Britain has remained stable for the past 30 years, according to a European Union study published today. The research says there is no evidence for claims that most cannabis consumed in Britain and the rest of Europe is now 10 times or more stronger than it was in the 70s. The US drugs "tsar" John Walters and toxicologist John Henry of St Mary's hospital in Paddington, west London, are among those who have warned that the cannabis available now bears little resemblance to that on the market 30 years ago, with serious health dangers for regular users. The EU study says that the strength of the active ingredient - THC - has remained unchanged at about 6% for most of the cannabis smoked in Britain. It says the amount of cannabis put in the typical British joint has also remained constant for 20 years at about 200mg for marijuana and 150mg for resin."
The report, "EMCDDA Insights 6: An Overview Of Cannabis Potency In Europe," is available in PDF from the CSDP website or through the EMCDDA website. Following are a couple of interesting passages from the report.
"Statements in the popular media that the potency of cannabis has increased by ten times or more in recent decades are not supported by the limited data that are available from either the USA or Europe. The greatest long-term changes in potency appear to have occurred in the USA. It should be noted here that before 1980 herbal cannabis potency in the USA was very low by European standards." (p. 14)
"The natural variation in the THC content between and within samples of herbal cannabis or cannabis resin at any one time and place far exceeds any long-term changes that may have occurred either in Europe or the USA. This natural variation is even greater when material from different geographical locations is examined." (p. 15)
"The conclusion of this report is that there have been modest changes in THC levels that are largely confined to the relatively recent appearance on the market of intensively cultivated domestically produced cannabis. Cannabis of this type is typically more potent, although it is also clear that the THC content of cannabis products in general is extremely variable and that there have always been some samples that have had a high potency." (p. 16)
The Office of National Drug Control Policy and National Institute on Drug Abuse announced that they are beginning a push for law enforcement and researchers to focus more on marijuana and less on hard drugs. Reuters News Service reported on July 19, 2004 ( "Stronger Pot May Lead To Reefer Madness") that "Alarmed by reports that marijuana is becoming more potent than ever and that children are trying it at younger and younger ages, U.S. officials are changing their drug policies. Pot is no longer the gentle weed of the 1960s and may pose a greater threat than cocaine or even heroin because so many more people use it. So officials at the National Institutes of Health and at the White House are hoping to shift some of the focus in research and enforcement from "hard" drugs such as cocaine and heroin to marijuana."
According to Reuters, "'Most people have been led to believe that marijuana is a soft drug, not a drug that causes serious problems,' John Walters, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in an interview. '(But) marijuana today is a much more serious problem than the vast majority of Americans understand. If you told people that one in five of 12- to 17-year-olds who ever used marijuana in their lives need treatment, I don't think people would remotely understand it.'
To the extent that the Drug Czar is misinterpreting and misrepresenting the data, his last sentence, about people not remotely understanding it, does seem to be true, at least in his own case. In fact, a majority of those referrals to treatment for marijuana are ordered by courts as a way of keeping the young person from going to jail -- not quite how treatment vs. incarceration laws have been envisioned by many, yet one practical application of the idea. For a detailed discussion of the issue of marijuana and drug treatment, check out Drug War Distortions: Cannabis and Drug Treatment.
In spite of evidence to the contrary, federal officials have also hauled out the hyper-increased potency myth to justify this renewed focus on marijuana as opposed to hard drugs. According to the Reuters article, "For National Institute on Drug Abuse director Dr. Nora Volkow the final straw was a report her institute published in May in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing the steady growth in the potency of cannabis seized in raids. According to the University of Mississippi's Marijuana Potency Project, average levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, rose steadily from 3.5 percent in 1988 to more than 7 percent in 2003."
This estimate of potency is at least closer to reality than statements
by Drug Czar Walters, such as this from a May 1, 2002 op-ed published
in the Washington Post,
"The Myth of 'Harmless' Marijuana":
Research published in the respected medical journal The Annals of Internal Medicine, shows that marijuana use does not impair the immune systems of individuals with HIV, and may even lead to improvements. The Reuters news service reported on Aug. 18, 2003 ( "Marijuana Use Does Not Accelerate HIV Infection"), that "Dr. Donald I. Abrams, from the University of California at San Francisco, and colleagues assessed the outcomes of 67 HIV-infected patients who were randomly assigned to use marijuana cigarettes, cannabinoid capsules, or sugar pills ( placebo ) three times daily for 21 days. All of the patients had been receiving the same antiretroviral regimen, which included indinavir or nelfinavir, for at least 8 weeks before the study began. More than half of the subjects in each group had undetectable viral loads throughout the study, the researchers note. Although not statistically significant, marijuana and cannabinoid use were actually associated with a slight drop in viral load compared with placebo use. Marijuana and cannabinoid use did not produce a drop in CD4+ or CD8+ cell counts. In fact, compared with placebo use, treatment with these agents was actually associated with a slight increase in cell counts. The results suggest that short-term cannabinoid use is not unsafe for patients with HIV infection, the authors note. "Further studies investigating the therapeutic potential of marijuana and other cannabinoids in patients with HIV infection and other populations are ongoing and should provide additional safety information over longer exposure periods," they write."
A copy of the study, "Short Term Effects of Cannabinoids in Patients with HIV-1 Infection," is available online.
Additional information on marijuana is available from Drug War Facts: Marijuana.
Additional Information & State-Wide Efforts