~I love that William Lacy Clay signed a bill in 2008 "accidentally" but it ended up being a good thing for him politically! ss
By Chris Goo@c_goodFollow on Twitter
Feb 8, 2013 4:31pm
Image credit: Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images
A new effort is under way in Congress to legalize marijuana.
After Colorado and Washington became the first two states to approve the sale and use of pot, marijuana advocates are turning their eye toward the federal government – something they don’t often do.
Members of Congress will introduce between eight and 10 bills to roll back federal marijuana restrictions and levy new taxes.
The first two were introduced this week by two liberal members of Congress. Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., on Monday rolled out a pair of bills that would legalize and tax marijuana at the federal level, while still allowing states to ban it.
Polis’s bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, would remove marijuana from the list of banned substances under the Controlled Substances Act and regulate pot under a renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms. Marijuana growers would have to buy permits to offset the costs of federal oversight.
Blumenauer’s bill, the Marijuana Tax Equity Act, would levy a 50-percent excise tax on the first sale of marijuana, typically from growers to processors or sellers, plus annual “occupation taxes” of $1,000 and $500 on marijuana growers and anyone else engaged in the business.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., meanwhile, plans to introduce another marijuana bill sometime soon. He’s the only Republican to formally support either Polis or Blumenauer as a cosponsor.
Blumenauer’s office confirmed that a slew of bills are on the way.
“We are in the process of a dramatic shift in the marijuana policy landscape,” Blumenauer said in a prepared statement on Monday.
He may be right. Marijuana legalizers enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, hitting on their two major legalization initiatives at the state level in Colorado and Washington. Since then, bills have been introduced to roll back marijuana restrictions in Hawaii, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.
It’s unlikely Congress will legalize pot anytime soon, despite polls showing broader public acceptance of pot. In December, 64 percent of Gallup respondents
said they don’t want the federal government stepping in to prevent pot legalization in states that allow it. In November, another nationwide Gallup poll showed that 48 percent think marijuana should be legal, while 50 percent think it shouldn’t be.
But Polis’s bill only has 11 cosponsors and must make its way through the Republican-controlled House Agriculture Committee. Blumenauer’s has two and must make its way through the GOP-controlled House Ways and Means Committee.
What’s significant about the new push, however, is that it comes on the heels of actual state-level policy change. State and federal laws now thoroughly conflict on the topic of marijuana, and never before has Congress considered legalization in that context.
In fact, Congress rarely considers marijuana legalization at all. The Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project considers a 2011 effort by then-Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Ron Paul, R-Texas, to have been the first serious effort to end marijuana “prohibition” at the federal level. That bill went nowhere. Before that, Frank pushed a bill in 2008 that mostly decriminalized marijuana federally. In a Democratic Congress, that bill died in committee. One of its seven cosponsors signed on by accident
The present effort appears more coordinated. Along with their bills, Polis and Blumenauer released a 20-page white paper on the history of marijuana’s illegality. It’s the first time pot legislation has been introduced in such a multi-bill wave.
For decades, marijuana advocates have pushed medical-pot laws and decriminalization measures through state ballot initiatives and state legislatures. The federal push, unlikely as it may be, represents a new prong in their strategy.
MEDIA ADVISORY Americans for Safe Access For Immediate Release:
February 4, 2013 California Supreme Court to Hear Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ban Case Tuesday in San Francisco Court is expected to weigh in on whether municipalities can ban distribution, deny patients a legal medication San Francisco, CA
-- The California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow morning at University of San Francisco in a closely watched case that addresses whether local governments can lawfully ban medical marijuana dispensaries or should instead be compelled to adopt ordinances regulating them. The case, City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center
, is one of at least six appellate court cases coming down on different sides of the issue. Although multiple appellate rulings have overturned bans on local distribution, the Riverside
court upheld that city's ban, claiming that the wellness center violated municipal code and was a "nuisance per se." What:
California Supreme Court oral arguments on the legality of municipal bans against medical marijuana distribution When:
Tuesday, February 5th at 10:15am Where:
University of San Francisco, 2130 Fulton Street, McLaren Conference Center (Rooms 250–251)
"Local dispensary bans thwart the will of the electorate and the State Legislature, and are therefore preempted by state law," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "Hundreds of thousands of California patients who are too sick or otherwise can't cultivate medical marijuana themselves rely on dispensaries for safe and legal access, a right they should not be denied."
case, which is being argued by J. David Nick, is the lead case on this issue currently before the High Court. However, several other appellate decisions from southern California on the same issue were also granted review, including County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective
, 420 Caregivers v. City of Los Angeles
, City of Lake Forest v. Evergreen Holistic Collective
, City of Temecula v. Cooperative Patients Services, Inc.
, and People v. G3 Holistic
. In most of these decisions, the court has sided with municipal governments in their effort to prevent regulated distribution, but two appellate rulings notably hold that local officials may not ban distribution and must develop regulations instead.
Specifically, the County of Los Angeles decision from July 2012 overturned a local ban on dispensaries, reversing the lower court’s preliminary injunction from the previous year. The appellate court in County of Los Angeles held that “medical marijuana collectives…are permitted by state law to perform a dispensary function,” and that “[Los Angeles] County’s total, per se nuisance ban against medical marijuana dispensaries directly contradicts the Legislature’s intent.” The Court further concluded that, a “complete ban” on medical marijuana is “preempted” by state law and, therefore, void.
Last year, ASA filed an amicus 'friend of the court' brief in the Riverside
case, arguing that the city's ban ought to be overturned. “While municipalities may pass reasonable regulations over the location and operation of medical marijuana collectives, they cannot ban them absolutely,” read ASA’s amicus brief. “These bans thwart the Legislature’s stated objectives of ensuring access to marijuana for the seriously ill persons who need it in a uniform manner throughout the state.” While more than 50 localities in California have regulated the lawful operation of dispensaries, over 170 cities have questionably banned their operation outright.
Despite some misconceptions, the Riverside
case will likely not address the legality of medical marijuana sales and distribution, which has been fully litigated and established as a right under state law. The most recent decision in this regard came from People v. Jackson
, a criminal case in which the legal sale of medical marijuana by a storefront dispensary was affirmed and a defense established for Jackson and other future defendants. The California Supreme Court refused to review or depublish the Jackson
decision, which now stands as the law of the state.
According to the California Courts, Tuesday's oral arguments are part of a special session, "the latest in a series of student outreach programs to improve public understanding of the state court system, [which] also commemorates the University of San Francisco (USF) School of Law Centennial Celebration." The hearing will be broadcasted by livestream on The California Channel at http://www.calchannel.com
. Further information:
Appellate decision in the Riverside
ASA amicus brief in the Riverside case: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Amicus_Riverside.pdf
Links to other appellate decisions on this issue: http://bit.ly/XrfMBB
# # #
The Drug War is a Gateway to Police Perjury
Michelle Alexander in the New York Times: Why Police Officers Lie Under Oath
Mr. Keane, in his Chronicle article, offered two major reasons the police lie so much. First, because they can. Police officers “know that in a swearing match between a drug defendant and a police officer, the judge always rules in favor of the officer.” At worst, the case will be dismissed, but the officer is free to continue business as usual. Second, criminal defendants are typically poor and uneducated, often belong to a racial minority, and often have a criminal record. “Police know that no one cares about these people,” Mr. Keane explained.
All true, but there is more to the story than that.
Police departments have been rewarded in recent years for the sheer numbers of stops, searches and arrests. In the war on drugs, federal grant programs like the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program have encouraged state and local law enforcement agencies to boost drug arrests in order to compete for millions of dollars in funding. Agencies receive cash rewards for arresting high numbers of people for drug offenses, no matter how minor the offenses or how weak the evidence. Law enforcement has increasingly become a numbers game. And as it has, police officers’ tendency to regard procedural rules as optional and to lie and distort the facts has grown as well.
We give law enforcement an extraordinary amount of power over citizens. Because of that, it is even more essential that their integrity be beyond reproach.
If there was no other reason to end the drug war, this would be sufficient — to reduce the culture and incentives that lead to law enforcement corruption and that break down the sense of trust between police and community.
- 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."
DENVER – The nation's largest marijuana policy organization, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), slammed former Congressman Patrick Kennedy's plan to force marijuana consumers into treatment and marijuana "education" classes, which his new organization, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), is scheduled to unveil in Denver on Wednesday.
"The proposal is on par with forcing every alcohol user into treatment at their own cost or at a cost to the state," said MPP communications director Mason Tvert. "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."
MPP is calling on Kennedy, whose family made a fortune selling alcohol, to explain why he wants to keep an objectively less harmful alternative to alcohol illegal. Specifically, MPP is asking Kennedy to address the question on SAM's website and provide facts regarding the relative harms of marijuana and alcohol. MPP also launched an online petition this morning asking Kennedy to provide an explanation or resign as chairman of SAM, which received more than 1,500 signatures within the first hour of being posted – http://chn.ge/13e9Qjl
"Former Congressman Kennedy's proposal is the definition of hypocrisy," Tvert said. "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.”
"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 continued. "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 ‘education’ camps."
Also read http://blog.mpp.org/prohibition/mpp-slams-former-congressmans-plan-to-force-marijuana-consumers-into-treatment-and-marijuana-education-classes/01082013/
Filner halts prosecution of pot shops
By Craig Gustafson
JAN. 10, 2013PRINT⎙
Mayor Bob Filner is congratulated at the end of Monday's ceremony. Monday was the swearing in ceremony for San Diego's new mayor Bob Filner and several new and returning council-members. San Diego Mayor Bob Filner ordered a halt Thursday to the prosecution of marijuana dispensaries in the city by directing the end of targeted code enforcements against the shops.
The move comes two days after he promised medical marijuana advocates that he would take on City Attorney Jan Goldsmith over the issue to which Goldsmith responded that Filner need only assert his authority over the police and neighborhood code compliance departments to end the prosecutions.
Filner sent a Thursday letter titled “Stop the Crackdown on Marijuana Dispensaries” to Kelly Broughton, director of the Development Services Department, which oversees code compliance. He told him to stop code enforcement against marijuana dispensaries and to stop forwarding such cases to the City Attorney’s Office for prosecution.
Filner inferred in the letter that other violations unrelated to marijuana could still be pursued at the dispensaries.
“To be clear, if there are general code enforcement or health and safety issues arising from these businesses, you are expected to enforce those laws against these businesses in the same manner you would any other business,” Filner wrote.
The mayor’s decision likely won’t lead to a proliferation of dispensaries in the city because it only blunts one law enforcement tactic to shut them down. The District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office can still proceed with prosecutions of those businesses.
It is, however, a positive sign for medical marijuana advocates who view Filner’s election to mayor as a fresh opportunity to pass an ordinance that would allow dispensaries to open their doors again within city limits. Filner has promised to work with them to create an ordinance in the next few weeks and has offered to testify on behalf of shop owners in court.
Filner appeared before the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access on Tuesday night and criticized the city attorney for not being helpful on the issue and referred to him as a “a little guy” that could be intimidated.
Goldsmith responded Wednesday with a letter to Filner.
“Rather than pursue the drama last night and call for a demonstration, you could have achieved your goal in less than 30 seconds,” Goldsmith wrote. “Neighborhood Code Compliance and San Diego Police Department are under your authority. As you know, you can direct them to stop sending cases to us and, instead, direct us to cease and dismiss all enforcement actions against marijuana dispensaries. We will, of course, comply with that direction.”
More than 200 medical marijuana collectives have been closed down in San Diego and Imperial counties since U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy and her colleagues announced in 2011 sweeping enforcement actions aimed at distributors in California. Some closures were attributed to settlements with the City Attorney’s Office — before and after medical marijuana activists in the city failed to qualify a regulate-and-tax initiative for the November ballot.
The legal limbo for dispensaries dates to 1996 when state voters approved an initiative to allow people with recommendations from state-licensed physicians to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use. The drug remains illegal under federal law and any change in city policy would not have direct impact on the U.S. attorneys’ crackdown.
Good work San Diego American's for Safe Access
I was going to announce the DEA raids yesterday but you never know what the reason for the raid is until after it's over. How did Sheriff Baca not know about this? ~Susan
January 10, 2013 | 2:22 pm
The development director for the charity run by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has been caught up in an investigation by federal authorities over her connection to a marijuana dispensary, a spokesman said Thursday.
Dawn Zamudio’s employment at the nonprofit -- the Sheriff’s Youth Foundation -- ended Wednesday night, though a sheriff's spokesman would not say whether she was fired.
Spokesman Steve Whitmore called the discovery of the longtime employee's ties to the pot dispensary shocking given Baca's vocal criticism of such businesses.
"This is shocking to the sheriff and the entire department because she was such an outstanding employee.... This is something that was withheld from the department and the sheriff,” Whitmore said. “We are cooperating fully with this investigation.”
The Times began making inquiries about the Zamudios last month. Public records connect her husband to a marijuana dispensary in Marina del Rey. Court records also show that he had been arrested and charged with two felonies for transportation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale, but the case was dismissed in 2009.
Dawn Zamudio had been working for the nonprofit organization, which raises money for youth programs across the county, for the last decade.
Whitmore described Dawn Zamudio as an assistant at the organization. But a 2011 filing listed her as the development director, making $103,700 that year and working 60 hours a week.
“She basically assisted a sergeant,” Whitmore said.
Sarah Pullen, spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles, said search warrants were served in connection with the probe Wednesday, but that no arrests have been made.
She said agents would study what was seized at several locations to determine what charges, if any, should be filed. One of the dispensaries searched was Ironworks Collective, the Marina del Rey operation. Ramiro Zamudio’s name is listed on business records for that address. Federal records also describe him as running the operation.
Pullen said DEA agents seized guns at two other dispensaries, and ammunition and gun magazines at a San Gabriel residence. Federal authorities allege that the residence is connected to the Zamudios.
Pullen would not say whether the Zamudios are suspects in the probe. Federal documents name both but suggest Ramiro Zamudio is a main focus of the investigation.
The Times was not able to reach the Zamudios.
Baca has been a vocal critic of pot dispensaries, saying some have become hubs for crime and have been abused by customers who don’t have a medical need for the drug. Whitmore said Baca did not know until this week that Zamudio and her husband, Ramiro, were connected to the marijuana trade.
Baca said in 2010 that marijuana dispensaries had been hijacked by criminals who see them as an easy way to make money and get drugs.
-- Robert Faturechi and Martha Groves
By David L. Nathan
, Special to CNN
updated 9:41 AM EST, Wed January 9, 2013Editor's note: David L. Nathan, a clinical associate professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, was recently elected as a distinguished fellow in the American Psychiatric Association. He teaches and practices general adult psychiatry in Princeton, New Jersey.(CNN)
-- David Frum is one of today's best and most reasoned conservative political voices, so his recent CNN.com op-ed
on marijuana policy was just a little disappointing. Not because he advocates the drug's decriminalization -- he rightly thinks locking people up or arresting them for casual use is a bad idea -- but because he opposes its legalization for adults.
I agree with much of what he says about pot's potential harm, especially for the young and the psychiatrically ill. Like Frum, I am a father who worries about my kids getting sidetracked by cannabis before their brains have a chance to develop. But I am also a physician who understands that the negative legal consequences of marijuana use are far worse than the medical consequences.
Frum would reduce the punishment for marijuana use for adults but nominally maintain its illegality in order to send a message to young people that pot is a "bad choice," as if breaking the rules wasn't as much an incentive as a deterrent for adolescents. Kids are smart enough to recognize and dismiss a "because I said so" argument when they see one. By trying to hide marijuana from innately curious young people, we have elevated its status to that of a forbidden fruit. I believe a better approach is to bring pot into the open, make it legal for people over the age of 21, and educate children from a young age about the actual dangers of its recreational use.
Throughout my career as a clinical psychiatrist, I have seen lives ruined by drugs like cocaine, painkillers and alcohol. I have also borne witness to the devastation brought upon cannabis users -- almost never by abuse of the drug, but by a justice system that chooses a sledgehammer to kill a weed.
Alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, caffeine and refined sugar are among the most commonly used, potentially habit-forming recreational substances. All are best left out of our daily diets. Only marijuana is illegal, though alcohol and tobacco are clearly more harmful. In several respects, even sugar poses more of a threat
to our nation's health than pot.
I agree with Frum that chronic use of cannabis correlates with mood changes
and low motivation, especially when started in adolescence. In individuals with psychosis, it may trigger or worsen their symptoms
. But these dangers are far surpassed by the perils of alcohol
, which is associated with
pancreatitis, gastritis, cirrhosis, permanent dementia, physiological dependence and fatal withdrawal. In healthy but reckless teens and young adults, it is frighteningly easy to consume a lethal dose of alcohol, but it is essentially impossible to do so with marijuana. Further, alcohol causes severe impairment of judgment, which results in violence, risky sexual behavior and more use of hard drugs.
Those who believe cannabis to be a gateway to opioids and other highly dangerous drugs fail to appreciate that the illegal purchase of marijuana exposes consumers to dealers who push the hard stuff. Given marijuana's popularity in this country, the consumption of more dangerous drugs could actually decrease if pot were purchased at a liquor store rather than on the street corner where heroin and crack are sold.
There is another more pressing reason to legalize and regulate marijuana, even for the sake of our children: the potential for adulteration of black-market cannabis and the substitution of even more dangerous copycat compounds
. Much like Prohibition-era fatalities from bad moonshine, harmful synthetic marijuana substitutes are proliferating, with street names like K2 and Spice. The Drug Enforcement Administration struggles to combat these compounds by outlawing them, but I see no decrease in their popularity among my patients. Natural marijuana poses much less danger than synthetic cannabinoids -- legal or otherwise.
So who had the bright idea of banning cannabis in the first place? Was it physicians? Social service organizations? No. The credit goes to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which in 1937 pushed through laws ending the growth, trade and consumption of all forms of cannabis, including the inert but commercially useful hemp plant. America's ban on the so-called "Weed of Madness" was based on bad science and fabricated stories of violence perpetrated under the influence. The madness of cannabis can be ascribed not so much to its users, but to those who sought to criminalize the drug so soon after the monumental failure of alcohol Prohibition.
That's not to say our marijuana laws have failed to change drug use in America. Cannabis is more widely used today than at any time before its prohibition, even though it was domesticated in antiquity and has been cultivated ever since. Pot prohibition has also greatly increased illegal activity and violence. Otherwise law-abiding private users became criminals, and criminals became rich through the untaxed, bloody and highly lucrative illicit drug trade.
But America can fix this mess through marijuana legalization. Federal, state and local governments can regulate the cannabis trade as they do with alcohol and tobacco -- monitoring the production process for safety and purity, controlling where it is sold, taxing all aspects of marijuana production and consumption, and redirecting resources from punishment to prevention.
Forget the antiquated dogma and judge pot prohibition on its own merits. If you still believe that cannabis should be illegal, then you must logically support the criminalization of alcohol and tobacco, with vigorous prosecution and even imprisonment of producers and consumers. Does that sound ridiculous? Then you must conclude that the only rational approach to cannabis is to legalize, regulate and tax it.Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.
I recently reread the AMA's 2009 report and I think it's important for all medical marijuana activists to stay fresh with this information. Here are some of the highlighted selections that I found interesting. The whole report is very informative, so I encourage you to read the whole thing. I've added the highlighted document at the end of this blog entry.
*Results of short term controlled trials indicate that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis. However, the patchwork of state-based systems that have been established for “medical marijuana” is woefully inadequate in establishing even rudimentary safeguards that normally would be applied to the appropriate clinical use of psychoactive substances. The future of cannabinoid-based medicine lies in the rapidly evolving field of botanical drug substance development, as well as the design of molecules that target various aspects of the endocannabinoid system. To the extent that rescheduling marijuana out of Schedule I will benefit this effort, such a move can be supported.
* Several research/treatment studies were conducted by state departments of health during the late 1970s and early to mid-1980s under protocols approved by the FDA. These open label studies involved patients who had responded inadequately to other antiemetics. In such patients, smoked cannabis was reported to be comparable to or more effective than oral THC, and considerably more effective than prochlorperazine or other previous antiemetics in reducing nausea and emesis.
*In patients with HIV-associated neuropathic pain, cannabis cigarettes of varying concentration and number consumed over a 5-day period significantly reduced pain intensity. Approximately half of patients experienced more than a 30% reduction, which is a standard benchmark for efficacy.
*One independent health assessment of four of the remaining seven patients obtaining cannabis cigarettes through the federal government’s Compassionate Use Treatment IND (see Council report from 1997),1 showed no demonstrable adverse outcomes related to their chronic medicinal cannabis use. Some of cannabis’ adverse effects differ in experienced versus inexperienced users, and it is not clear to what extent the adverse effects reported in recreational users are applicable to those who use cannabis for the self-management of disease or symptoms. Most data on adverse effects has come from observational population-based cohort studies of recreational cannabis users, an unknown portion of whom may be using the substance for medicinal purposes. Adverse reactions observed in short-term randomized, placebo- controlled trials of smoked cannabis to date are mostly mild without substantial impairment. A systematic review of the safety studies on medical cannabinoids published over the last 40 years (not including studies on smoked cannabis) found that short term use was associated with a number of adverse events, but less than 4% were considered serious.
*Although some cannabis users develop dependence, they are considerably less likely to do so than users of alcohol and nicotine, and withdrawal symptoms are less severe.4,79,80 Like other drugs, dependence is more likely to occur in individuals with co-morbid psychiatric conditions. Whether or not cannabis is a “gateway” drug to other substance misuse is controversial and whether the medical availability of cannabis would increase drug abuse is not known. Analysis of trends in emergency room visits for marijuana do not support the view that state authorization for medical cannabis use leads to increased signals of substance misuse. The IOM concluded that marijuana use is not the cause or even the most serious predictor of serious substance use disorders.
*Like tobacco, chronic cannabis smoking is associated with markers of lung damage and increased symptoms of chronic bronchitis. However, results of a population-based case control study of cannabis smokers found no evidence of increased risk for lung cancer or other cancers affecting the oral cavity and airway. Another population-based case-control study of marijuana use and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) concluded that moderate marijuana use is associated with reduced risk of HNSCC. Furthermore, although smoking cannabis and tobacco may synergistically increase the risk of respiratory symptoms and COPD, smoking only cannabis is not associated with an increased risk of developing COPD.
*Results of these trials indicate smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.
*Marijuana is the most common illicit drug used by the nation’s youth and young adults. However, the fact that cannabis is prone to non-medical use does not obviate its potential for medical product development. Many legal pharmaceutical products that are used for pain relief, palliation, and sleep induction have more serious acute toxicities than marijuana, including death. Witness the evolving series of steps that the FDA has taken in recent months to address the inappropriate use and diversion of certain long-acting Schedule II opioid drugs. However, the patchwork of state- based systems that have been established for “medical marijuana” is woefully inadequate in establishing even rudimentary safeguards that normally would be applied to the appropriate clinical use of psychoactive substances.