11:39 AM ET
Marijuana could be the next gay marriage -- a contentious social issue that suddenly picks up broad, bipartisan support for change. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came out in favor of legalizing hemp, joining Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and fellow Kentucky Republican Rand Paul to cosponsor a bill that would allow Americans to grow it, NBC News' Kasie Hunt
reports. Of course, hemp is not the same as regular marijuana. Industrial hemp has much less THC, the chemical that gets people high. But right now, hemp is classified in the same category as drugs like heroin and LSD. On Thursday, the Kentucky state senate voted to legalize hemp if
the federal government legalizes it too. Oregon has legalized hemp cultivation, but farmers risk federal prosecution.
Again, hemp is not the same thing as marijuana, "but some law enforcement groups say it is a step that could lead to the legalization of marijuana," Hunt writes. Other lawmakers -- yes, even conservative Republicans! -- have addressed legalizing the drug itself. The most fascinating example was last week, when Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said twice he was "evolving" on the issue of marijuana legalization when political science students at the University of Virginia asked him about voters legalizing weed in Colorado and Washington last fall. "I’m not sure about Virginia’s future [in terms of marijuana legalization]," Cuccinelli said
. "But I and a lot of people are watching Colorado and Washington to see how it plays out." He explained it as a federalism thing
: "I don't have a problem with states experimenting with this sort of thing. I think that's the role of states."
Cuccinelli is expected to be the next Republican nominee for Virginia governor. He's a very conservative dude. He led the states' rebellion against Obamacare. He's said conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia isn't conservative enough
. In the same UVA appearance, he said he didn't support public pools because they distort the free market.
More remarkable is that Cuccinelli later clarified his comments -- but not in the traditional political definition of the word, which is "retract all previous statements." Instead, he questioned the war on drugs
"What I expressed to [the students] was an openness to observe how things work there, both in terms of the drug side and the economics. One issue that is often discussed is how the war on drugs itself has played out. Have we done this the right way? It's been phenomenally expensive...
[If the government] going to put people in jail and spend $25,000 [to] $30,000 a year for a prison bed, do we want it to be for someone who's pushing marijuana or pushing meth? I'll tell you what, that $30,000 for the meth pusher is well worth the deal."
Rand Paul has gone further in talking about marijuana legalization than his pro-him pal McConnell. In November, like Cuccinelli, Paul said, "States should be allowed to make a lot of these decisions... I think, for example, we should tell young people, 'I'm not in favor of you smoking pot, but if you get caught smoking pot, I don't want to put you in jail for 20 years...'"
It's important to explain what's radical and what isn't in this position. Few people who get caught with marijuana go to jail for 20 years, so opposing that isn't a big deal. It's the boring part of Paul's comment -- let states make the call on weed -- that actually is radical. As Reason's Jacob Sullum
explained, a Republican senator supporting "devolving drug policy decisions to the states is pretty bold in the current political context." He writes:
It is the policy embodied in the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011
, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Paul's father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). How many of their fellow congressmen joined them? Nineteen
, all but one (Dana Rohrabacher of California) a Democrat.
So, how are the states doing? On Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced people arrested on minor pot possession charges won't be booked and held for arraignment anymore, The Wall Street Journal
reports. Instead, they'll be released with appearance tickets, which means the person is free until his or her court date. But the issue is being addressed outside liberalism's East Coast capital. In state legislatures like Rhode Island
, and Pennsylvania
, the push for legalization in 2013 has, so far, been dominated by Democrats. But there are signs Republicans might ease their opposition, too. This week, Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach toldRaw Story
that if her marijuana legalization bill was voted on by "secret ballot," it would pass. Privately, Leach said, some of the "most conservative" lawmakers agree on legalization, because it's "just another government program" that doesn't work.
In New Hampshire, some Republican lawmakers are willing to go on the record. "Marijuana can let them die in peace, and if this helps them, so be it," Republican state Rep. Will Infantine said after hearing testimony from people with debilitating illnesses, The Dartmouth
reports Friday. A bill to legalize medical marijuana is expected to pass by mid-March and make New Hampshire the last New England state to allow it. Last year, the Democratic governor vetoed two medical marijuana bills, but current Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she won't veto the current bill.
One of the most fascinating marijuana moments this year was when conservative former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo announced he would smoke pot to make good on his bet with Adam Hartle, a stand-up comic, over whether Colorado would legalize weed. "Look, I made a bet with the producer of the film that if Amendment 64 passed ( I did not think it would) that I would smoke pot," Tancredo said
. "I will therefore smoke pot under circumstances we both agree are legal under Colorado law." His family eventually peer pressured
him out of it.
- Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.
JAN 14 2013, 7:00 AM ETA single prosecution can easily run more than $1 million -- all to send an empty message about federal drug laws and hand the market share over to a less savory purveyor.
When Matthew R. Davies was growing and selling medical marijuana in California, the 34-year-old father of two "hired accountants, compliance lawyers, managers, a staff of 75 and a payroll firm. He paid California sales tax and filed for state and local business permits," the New York Times reports
. Unfortunately for him, federal agents raided his business, and "the United States attorney for the Eastern District of California, Benjamin B. Wagner, a 2009 Obama appointee, wants Mr. Davies to agree to a plea that includes a mandatory minimum of five years in prison." Let's set the legal questions aside and think through the costs of this course:
- The opportunity cost of focusing on other crimes
- $235,000 in incarceration costs
- Two young girls with an absent father
- Substantial lost tax revenue from his operation
- Other marijuana sellers going underground
- Less savory drug dealers, including violent cartels, getting more business
- More of a hassle for sick medical marijuana patients to get their prescription filled
Doesn't that seem awfully "expensive" when the only real benefit is sending the message that you can't get away with openly flouting federal drug laws? If that's the biggest benefit you can plausibly claim, isn't that a sign that the law should change? After all, it isn't as if anyone believes that sending Davies to jail is going to make victory in the drug war any more plausible. Or appreciably decrease the number of people smoking marijuana. Or even significantly diminish the supply, since there's always another person growing on the black market.
All casualties are purposeless when you're fighting an unwinnable war.
Later in the article, we learn that "two of Mr. Davies's co-defendants are pleading guilty, agreeing to five-year minimum terms, to avoid stiffer sentences." Wow. So the federal government thinks it's worth investing more than a million dollars to shut down this particular operation. Maybe you're sympathetic to marijuana legalization, or maybe you're against it. Regardless, could you spend that $1 million-plus better? Could you spend it in a way that saved more lives or created more happiness or resulted in more justice meted out than jailing these three?
One of Davies's employees, who met him after seeking marijuana to help her through ovarian and cervical cancer, gave this quote to the reporter: "I totally trusted them. We're not criminals. I've never been arrested my whole life. I need that medication, and so do a whole lot of people."
How many people, on hearing a story like hers, are going to react in a way that weakens rather than strengthens regard for the rule of law? The Times
also quotes a former federal drug prosecutor who says, "It's mind-boggling that there were hundreds of attorneys advising their clients that it was O.K. to do this, only to be bushwhacked by a federal system that most people in California are not even paying attention to." But ignorance of the law or getting bad attorney's advice only keeps you out of jail in America if you're apolice officer
or elected official
I saw this idea of anti marijuana addiction re education at work about a year ago when I was attending court ordered Deferred Entry of Judgement classes in Redondo Beach. Every Wednesday night for 18 weeks I met with a health department leader and other unfortunate drug war casualties. I could see that they were setting up a whole new industry, probably backed by big insurance companies. The class would start off with roll call and paying your weekly fee. Then we would watch a video or the teacher would read some course work to us. Then he would give us some questions that we were required to answer. Most of them were things like "how does your addiction affect your daily life".... At first I quietly just didn't answer most of them or I just wrote in, "I'm not addicted. I use cannabis as a medicine. It helps me control my migraines." Then the teacher started calling me out thinking that I would buckle from public shame. You have to realize that the folks there were given a free pass from the court and they are afraid to blow it. A DEJ means that after you complete the program, you can say that you were never arrested. It's a way to run a LOT of drug related cases quickly through the judicial system. But I didn't buckle. I stood up for myself. And soon I had a lot of people in the class talk to me after and admit that it was a BS program but you do what you have to do. In the end, the instructor graduated me early to get rid of me and didn't even pee test me because he knew it would come up dirty and I had court documents stating that I could not only smoke cannabis but grow it. What they were doing was working on creating statistics that would support a HUGE money grab and create a story of crisis that doesn't really exist!~ss
*****************************************************************************************Meet SAM, the New Group Hell-Bent on Halting Marijuana Legalization
(SAM) has among its "leadership team" admitted addict Patrick Kennedy and conservative commentator David Frum.January 10, 2013
The passage of marijuana legalization measures by voters in Colorado and Washington in November has sparked interest in marijuana policy like never before, and now it has sparked the formation of a new group dedicated to fighting a rearguard action to stop legalization from spreading further.
The group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana
(SAM or Project SAM) has among its " leadership team
" liberal former Rhode Island Democratic congressman and self-admitted oxycodone and alcohol addict Patrick Kennedy
and conservative commentator David Frum. It also includes professional neo-prohibitionist Dr. Kevin Sabet and a handful of medical researchers. It describes itself as a project of the Policy Solutions Lab, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, a drug policy consulting firm headed by Sabet.
SAM emphasizes a public health approach to marijuana, but when it comes to marijuana and the law
, its prescriptions are a mix of the near-reasonable and the around-the-bend. Rational marijuana policy, SAM says, precludes relying "only on the criminal justice system to address people whose only crime is smoking or possessing a small amount of marijuana" and the group calls for small-time possession to be decriminalized, but "subject to a mandatory health screening an marijuana-education program." The SAM version of decrim also includes referrals to treatment "if needed" and probation for up to a year "to prevent further drug use."
But it also calls for an end to NYPD-style "stop and frisk" busts and the expungement of arrest records for marijuana possession. SAM calls for an end to mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana cultivation or distribution, but wants those offenses to remain "misdemeanors or felonies based on the amount possessed."For now, SAM advocates a zero-tolerance approach to marijuana and driving, saying "driving with any amount of marijuana in one's system should be at least a misdemeanor" and should result in a "mandatory health assessment, marijuana education program, and referral to treatment or social services." If a scientifically-based impairment level is established, SAM calls for driving at or above that level to be at least a misdemeanor.
Less controversially, SAM advocates for increased emphasis on education and prevention. It also calls for early screening for marijuana use and limited intervention "for those who not progressed to full marijuana addiction." ~Where is the proof that marijuana is addicting?? What about alcohol addiction or oxycodone addiction? ss
For a taste of SAM's kinder, gentler, neo-prohibitionist rhetoric, David Frum's Monday CNN column
is instructive. "We don't want to lock people up for casual marijuana use -- or even stigmatize them with an arrest record," he writes. "But what we do want to do is send a clear message: Marijuana use is a bad choice."
Marijuana use may be okay for some "less vulnerable" people, Frum writes, but we're not all as good at handling modern life as he is.
"But we need to recognize that modern life is becoming steadily more dangerous for people prone to make bad choices," he argues. "At a time when they need more help than ever to climb the ladder, marijuana legalization kicks them back down the ladder. The goal of public policy should not be to punish vulnerable kids for making life-wrecking mistakes. The goal of public policy should be to protect (to the extent we can) the vulnerable from making life-wrecking mistakes in the first place."
Marijuana legalization advocates are having none of it. And they level the charge of hypocrisy in particular at Kennedy, whose family made its fortune selling alcohol. The Marijuana Policy Project
(MPP) has called on Kennedy to explain why he wants to keep "an objectively less harmful alternative to alcohol illegal" and has created an online petition
calling on him to offer an explanation or resign as chairman of SAM."Former Congressman Kennedy's proposal is the definition of hypocrisy," said MPP communications director Mason Tvert. "He is living in part off of the fortune his family made by selling alcohol while leading a campaign that makes it seem like marijuana -- an objectively less harmful product -- is the greatest threat to public health. He personally should know better."
Nor did Tvert think much of SAM's insistence that marijuana users need treatment.
"The proposal is on par with forcing every alcohol user into treatment at their own cost or at a cost to the state. In fact, it would be less logical because the science is clear that marijuana is far less toxic, less addictive, and less likely to be associated with acts of violence," Tvert said."If this group truly cares about public health, it should be providing the public with facts regarding the relative harms of marijuana and discouraging the use of the more harmful product," Tvert said. "Why on earth would they want keep a less harmful alternative to alcohol illegal? Former Congressman Kennedy and his organization should answer this question before calling on our government to start forcing people into treatment programs and throwing them into marijuana re-education camps."
Aaron Sandusky sentenced to 10 years in federal prisonBy Wes Woods II, Staff Writer
Posted: 01/07/2013 10:23:43 AM PST
Updated: 01/07/2013 11:19:59 AM PST
Aaron Sandusky has been sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.The former G3 Holistic Inc. medical marijuana dispensary president was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles for operating medical marijuana dispensaries in Upland, Colton and Moreno Valley.
"In this case, as the defendant was warned, the court's hands are tied," U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson said.
"Whether you agree with the defendant's position or not."
Sandusky was found guilty in October of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana plants, to possess with intent to distribute marijuana plants, and to maintain a drug-involved premises; and one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana plants, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.Anderson recommended that Sandusky serve his time in Victorville federal prison.
Sandusky's hands and feet were shackled in Roybal Federal Building and Courthouse. He was clad in a white prison suit and green jacket.
"I want to apologize to those with me and their families who have been victimized by the federal government who has not recognized the voters of this state," Sandusky said in court.
State voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, allowing medical marijuana in the state, while state Senate Bill 420, which details the amount of marijuana a person can possess for medical purposes, prevents cities and counties from banning marijuana dispensaries. But federal law says marijuana - medical or otherwise - is illegal."I want to apologize to the families who are suffering and who have to go through this," Sandusky said.
"There are no winners here. Not the state, not the federal government, not the patients who need medical marijuana."
Government lawyers said four additional charges that Sandusky was facing will be dismissed.
Government attorneys had no comment at the courthouse.
During the court appearance, someone yelled "We love you, Aaron."
The sentencing was also greeted with sobs from attendees.
Despite being shackled, Sandusky was able to give two thumbs up as he left the courtroom. He showed no emotion throughout the appearance.
Sandusky turns 43 on Tuesday.
"It's not going to be a real happy birthday," G3 Holistic patient Christopher Kenner said. "I hate to think this is the last time I'll see him."
Federal authorities in June arrested Sandusky and additional operators of the Inland Empire chain of marijuana stores and others associated with a warehouse, where marijuana was cultivated for the stores, on federal drug trafficking charges.
A six-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury charged three owners and operators of G3 Holistic stores. The indictment also charged three people who allegedly worked at a large grow operation in an Ontario warehouse that supplied marijuana to the three G3 stores.More details to come.Please sign the petition to pardon him now!!!
After more than four decades of a failed experiment, the human cost has become too high. It is time to consider the decriminalization of drug use and the drug market.
By GARY S. BECKER
and KEVIN M. MURPHY
President Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs" in 1971. The expectation then was that drug trafficking in the United States could be greatly reduced in a short time through federal policing—and yet the war on drugs continues to this day. The cost has been large in terms of lives, money and the well-being of many Americans, especially the poor and less educated. By most accounts, the gains from the war have been modest at best.
The direct monetary cost to American taxpayers of the war on drugs includes spending on police, the court personnel used to try drug users and traffickers, and the guards and other resources spent on imprisoning and punishing those convicted of drug offenses. Total current spending is estimated at over $40 billion a year.
These costs don't include many other harmful effects of the war on drugs that are difficult to quantify. For example, over the past 40 years the fraction of students who have dropped out of American high schools has remained large, at about 25%. Dropout rates are not high for middle-class white children, but they are very high for black and Hispanic children living in poor neighborhoods. Many factors explain the high dropout rates, especially bad schools and weak family support. But another important factor in inner-city neighborhoods is the temptation to drop out of school in order to profit from the drug trade.
The total number of persons incarcerated in state and federal prisons in the U.S. has grown from 330,000 in 1980 to about 1.6 million today. Much of the increase in this population is directly due to the war on drugs and the severe punishment for persons convicted of drug trafficking. About 50% of the inmates in federal prisons and 20% of those in state prisons have been convicted of either selling or using drugs. The many minor drug traffickers and drug users who spend time in jail find fewer opportunities for legal employment after they get out of prison, and they develop better skills at criminal activities.
Prices of illegal drugs are pushed up whenever many drug traffickers are caught and punished harshly. The higher prices they get for drugs help compensate traffickers for the risks of being apprehended. Higher prices can discourage the demand for drugs, but they also enable some traffickers to make a lot of money if they avoid being caught, if they operate on a large enough scale, and if they can reduce competition from other traffickers. This explains why large-scale drug gangs and cartels are so profitable in the U.S., Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and other countries.
The paradox of the war on drugs is that the harder governments push the fight, the higher drug prices become to compensate for the greater risks. That leads to larger profits for traffickers who avoid being punished. This is why larger drug gangs often benefit from a tougher war on drugs, especially if the war mainly targets small-fry dealers and not the major drug gangs. Moreover, to the extent that a more aggressive war on drugs leads dealers to respond with higher levels of violence and corruption, an increase in enforcement can exacerbate the costs imposed on society.
The large profits for drug dealers who avoid being caught and punished encourage them to try to bribe and intimidate police, politicians, the military and anyone else involved in the war against drugs. If police and officials resist bribes and try to enforce antidrug laws, they are threatened with violence and often begin to fear for their lives and those of their families.
Mexico offers a well-documented example of some of the costs involved in drug wars. Probably more than 50,000 people have died since Mexico's antidrug campaign started in 2006. For perspective, about 150,000 deaths would result if the same fraction of Americans were killed. This number of deaths is many magnitudes greater than American losses in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined, and is about three times the number of American deaths in the Vietnam War. Many of those killed were innocent civilians and the army personnel, police officers and local government officials involved in the antidrug effort.
There is also considerable bitterness in Mexico over the war because the great majority of the drugs go to the U.S. drug cartels in Mexico and several other Latin American countries would be far weaker if they were only selling drugs to domestic consumers (Brazilian and Mexican drug gangs also export a lot to Europe).
The main gain from the war on drugs claimed by advocates of continuing the war is a lower incidence of drug use and drug addiction. Basic economics does imply that, under given conditions, higher prices for a good leads to reduced demand for that good. The magnitude of the response depends on the availability of substitutes for the higher priced good. For example, many drug users might find alcohol a good substitute for drugs as drugs become more expensive.
The conclusion that higher prices reduce demand only "under given conditions" is especially important in considering the effects of higher drug prices due to the war on drugs. Making the selling and consumption of drugs illegal not only raises drug prices but also has other important effects. For example, while some consumers are reluctant to buy illegal goods, drugs may be an exception because drug use usually starts while people are teenagers or young adults. A rebellious streak may lead them to use and sell drugs precisely because those activities are illegal.
The U.S. spends about $15 billion a year fighting illegal drugs, often on foreign soil. But America's deadliest drug epidemic begins and ends at home
More important, some drugs, such as crack or heroin, are highly addictive. Many people addicted to smoking and to drinking alcohol manage to break their addictions when they get married or find good jobs, or as a result of other life-cycle events. They also often get help from groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, or by using patches and "fake" cigarettes that gradually wean them from their addiction to nicotine.
It is generally harder to break an addiction to illegal goods, like drugs. Drug addicts may be leery of going to clinics or to nonprofit "drugs anonymous" groups for help. They fear they will be reported for consuming illegal substances. Since the consumption of illegal drugs must be hidden to avoid arrest and conviction, many drug consumers must alter their lives in order to avoid detection.
Usually overlooked in discussions of the effects of the war on drugs is that the illegality of drugs stunts the development of ways to help drug addicts, such as the drug equivalent of nicotine patches. Thus, though the war on drugs may well have induced lower drug use through higher prices, it has likely also increased the rate of addiction. The illegality of drugs makes it harder for addicts to get help in breaking their addictions. It leads them to associate more with other addicts and less with people who might help them quit.
Most parents who support the war on drugs are mainly concerned about their children becoming addicted to drugs rather than simply becoming occasional or modest drug users. Yet the war on drugs may increase addiction rates, and it may even increase the total number of addicts.
One moderate alternative to the war on drugs is to follow Portugal's lead and decriminalize all drug use while maintaining the illegality of drug trafficking. Decriminalizing drugs implies that persons cannot be criminally punished when they are found to be in possession of small quantities of drugs that could be used for their own consumption. Decriminalization would reduce the bloated U.S. prison population since drug users could no longer be sent to jail. Decriminalization would make it easier for drug addicts to openly seek help from clinics and self-help groups, and it would make companies more likely to develop products and methods that address addiction.
Some evidence is available on the effects of Portugal's decriminalization of drugs, which began in 2001. A study published in 2010 in the British Journal of Criminology found that in Portugal since decriminalization, imprisonment on drug-related charges has gone down; drug use among young persons appears to have increased only modestly, if at all; visits to clinics that help with drug addictions and diseases from drug use have increased; and opiate-related deaths have fallen.
Decriminalization of all drugs by the U.S. would be a major positive step away from the war on drugs. In recent years, states have begun to decriminalize marijuana, one of the least addictive and less damaging drugs. Marijuana is now decriminalized in some form in about 20 states, and it is de facto decriminalized in some others as well. If decriminalization of marijuana proves successful, the next step would be to decriminalize other drugs, perhaps starting with amphetamines. Gradually, this might lead to the full decriminalization of all drugs.
Though the decriminalization of drug use would have many benefits, it would not, by itself, reduce many of the costs of the war on drugs, since those involve actions against traffickers. These costs would not be greatly reduced unless selling drugs was also decriminalized. Full decriminalization on both sides of the drug market would lower drug prices, reduce the role of criminals in producing and selling drugs, improve many inner-city neighborhoods, encourage more minority students in the U.S. to finish high school, substantially lessen the drug problems of Mexico and other countries involved in supplying drugs, greatly reduce the number of state and federal prisoners and the harmful effects on drug offenders of spending years in prison, and save the financial resources of government.
The lower drug prices that would result from full decriminalization may well encourage greater consumption of drugs, but it would also lead to lower addiction rates and perhaps even to fewer drug addicts, since heavy drug users would find it easier to quit. Excise taxes on the sale of drugs, similar to those on cigarettes and alcohol, could be used to moderate some, if not most, of any increased drug use caused by the lower prices.
Taxing legal production would eliminate the advantage that violent criminals have in the current marketplace. Just as gangsters were largely driven out of the alcohol market after the end of prohibition, violent drug gangs would be driven out of a decriminalized drug market. Since the major costs of the drug war are the costs of the crime associated with drug trafficking, the costs to society would be greatly reduced even if overall drug consumption increased somewhat.
The decriminalization of both drug use and the drug market won't be attained easily, as there is powerful opposition to each of them. The disastrous effects of the American war on drugs are becoming more apparent, however, not only in the U.S. but beyond its borders. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon has suggested "market solutions" as one alternative to the problem. Perhaps the combined efforts of leaders in different countries can succeed in making a big enough push toward finally ending this long, enormously destructive policy experiment.
—Mr. Becker is a professor of economics and sociology at the University of Chicago. He won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1992. Mr. Murphy is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Both are senior fellows of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.