by the Prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the
government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be
enforced." — Albert Einstein
2014 Is Looking Like a Good Year for Marijuana Law Reform
Cannabis advocates view 2014 as an important year. Colorado and Washington’s adult-use laws, which were voted on last year, take effect January 1, and it’s the first year that those states can generate tax revenue from the legalized drug. Research by the ArcView Group, an advisory firm that connects cannabis-industry entrepreneurs, found that legalized marijuana is one of the fastest growing markets in the U.S., with profits expected to soar by 64 percent to $2.34 billion next year. Legalization supporters hope that once states and legislatures see how much state income is to be had, more lawmakers will be swayed to follow suit. And with 2014 bringing midterm elections, marijuana lobbyists are hoping that more state ballot initiatives for legalization—like the one poised for Alaska—will pass.
Currently campaigners are pushing bills to legalize in state legislatures in Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. In Oregon, there is both a legislative push and an attempt to put legalization on the ballot—despite a similar bill failing by nearly 7 points in 2012.
Meanwhile, there’s been a pronounced push just this year to introduce reforms on Capitol Hill that would change the way the national government regulates businesses that deal with marijuana and states where use is legal.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle introduced three major pieces of legislation in 2013, aiming to eliminate legal roadblocks for marijuana. The Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act fights a current federal-banking regulation that makes it illegal for banks to give out loans or open up credit-card accounts for marijuana-affiliated businesses. As a result, all cannabis retailers, including medical dispensaries, have to operate on a purely cash basis. The bill currently has 24 cosponsors including Republican Representatives Mike Coffman of Colorado and Dana Rohrabacher of California.
Another bill, with 12 cosponsors, fights an Internal Revenue Service code that limits marijuana businesses from deducting work expenses, including rent and supplies, from their tax returns. The language was included in the code following a case in the 1980s where a drug dealer attempted to write off a yacht as a business expense. The new bill aims to level the playing field for companies who deal with marijuana, since studies show that the IRS code gives marijuana-based businesses an 87.5 percent tax rate while others businesses function at 35 percent.
A third bill takes the role of a state marijuana rights catch-all. The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act aims to codify the recent DOJ announcement that the federal government will not interfere at this time with states that have legalized marijuana. The legislation would bar the federal government from prosecuting people who use and purchase marijuana in legalized states. It now has 20 cosponsors, including four Republicans.
“The goal is simple. It’s really to alleviate the voices of cannabis business-people and then push federal laws so these businesses are treated just like any other businesses in the country,” says Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “They pay taxes, they have insurance and a payroll. These aren’t drug dealers. They are business people and ought to be treated so under federal law.”
Thanks to The Atlantic
Remembering Peter Lewis: Billionaire Marijuana Law Reformer
Peter Lewis passed away on Saturday just weeks after celebrating his 80th birthday. He was the chairman of Progressive Insurance and a philanthropist, most notably for marijuana policy reform, to which he has donated well over $40 million since the 1980s.
In 2011, Lewis wrote a Forbes piece explaining why he’ll keep battling drug laws. Here it is:
Billionaire Peter Lewis: My War on Drug Laws
Our marijuana laws are outdated, ineffective and stupid. I’m not alone in thinking this: Half of Americans believe we should stop punishing people for using marijuana. And not coincidentally, more than half of Americans have used marijuana themselves. I am one of those Americans, and I know firsthand that marijuana can be helpful and that it certainly isn’t cause for locking anyone up.
My story is fairly simple. I grew up after college in a world where social drinking was the norm but marijuana was hidden. When I was 39 I tried marijuana for the first time. I found it to be better than scotch. But it wasn’t until I had serious medical problems that I realized how important marijuana could be.
When I was 64 my left leg was amputated below the knee because there was an infection that couldn’t be cured. I spent a year after the amputation in excruciating pain and a year in a wheelchair. So during that period I was very glad I had marijuana. It didn’t exactly eliminate the pain, but it made the pain tolerable—and it let me avoid those heavy-duty narcotic pain relievers that leave you incapacitated.
I am a progressive by birth, by nature, by philosophy—that’s the name of the insurance company I ran as well, which is coincidental—but I am a small ‘p’ progressive. I don’t believe that laws against things that people do regularly, like safe and responsible use of marijuana, make any sense. Everything that has been done to enforce these laws has had a negative effect, with no results.
It’s become sort of a central philanthropic interest of mine—by no means my only interest. But I’m pretty clear. I’ve thought it through, and I’m trying to accomplish something. My mission is to reduce the penalties for growing, using and selling marijuana. It’s that simple.
I’ve been conducting a great deal of research on public opinion on marijuana. Change in this area is inevitable, much like the movement toward equal rights for gays and lesbians. An ever shrinking fraction of the country resists changing marijuana laws, largely for moral reasons. But change is coming. It’s just a question of when and how we get there.
When you think about all the people who have used marijuana—from political leaders to sports stars to corporate executives to people from every walk of life—one way to win this battle is for people to just be honest. If everyone who used marijuana stood up and said, “I use this; it’s pretty good,” the argument would be over.
I’m amazed that anyone could oppose marijuana for medical use. It’s compassionate. Doctors recommend it. But the federal government is so hung up on its war on drugs that it refuses to even allow medical research on marijuana. So I’ve supported changing the laws state by state, and I’ll continue to do so.
On legalization beyond medical use, we may be some years away, or we may find that we suddenly reach a tipping point, much like the end of alcohol prohibition in the last century. I’m supporting innovative ideas to move toward a system that would regulate, control and tax marijuana.
I’m retired; I have time to work on this, to treat it with the same seriousness that I treated my former work running a large corporation. I care deeply about it. I deeply believe that we’ll have a better country and a better world if marijuana is treated more or less like alcohol.
Thanks to Forbes
Peter Lewis (Nov. 11, 1933 – Nov. 23, 2013)
On Saturday, Peter Lewis (chairman of Progressive Insurance) passed away just weeks after celebrating his 80th birthday. Perhaps the country’s most high-profile billionaire backer of drug law reform, NORML estimates he had spent well over $40 million funding the cause since the 1980s.
How Nonviolent People Are Sentenced to Die in Prison Because of the War on Drugs
In the United States, one can be sentenced to life in prison for the following crimes:
- Possessing a crack pipe
- Possessing a bottle cap containing a trace amount of heroin (too minute to be weighed)
- Having traces of cocaine in clothes pockets that were invisible to the naked eye but detected in lab tests
- Having a single crack rock at home
- Possessing 32 grams of marijuana (worth about $380 in California) with intent to distribute
- Passing out several grams of LSD at a Grateful Dead show
- Acting as a go-between in the sale of $10 worth of marijuana to an undercover cop
- Selling a single crack rock
- Having a stash of over-the-counter decongestant pills
These are not hypothetical. Every single one of these petty, nonviolent drug crimes have landed Americans in prison for life without parole.
Life in prison without a chance of parole is, short of execution, the harshest imaginable punishment. Life without parole (LWOP) is permanent removal from society with no chance of reentry, no hope of freedom. One would expect the American criminal justice system to condemn someone to die in prison only for the most serious offenses.
Yet across the country, thousands of people are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for nonviolent crimes such as those listed above.
As of last year, 3,278 people were serving life in prison without parole for nonviolent crimes, according to a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last week.
And to no one’s surprise, about 79 percent of the 3,278 prisoners serving LWOP were sentenced to die in prison for nonviolent drug crimes in the federal system.
How is this possible?
Mandatory sentencing laws that stem from America’s fervent, decades-long crusade against drugs.
The vast majority (83 percent) of life sentences examined by the ACLU were mandatory, meaning that the presiding judge had no choice but to sentence the defendant to a life behind bars. Mandatory sentences often result from repeat offender laws and draconian sentencing rules. Such federal standards for drug convictions are what land nonviolent criminals in prison for LWOP.
The prevalence of LWOP sentences for nonviolent offenses is a symptom of the relentless onslaught of more than four decades of the War on Drugs and “tough-on crime” policies, which drove the passage of unnecessarily harsh sentencing laws, including three-strikes provisions (which mandate certain sentences for a third felony conviction) and mandatory minimum sentences (which require judges to punish people convicted of certain crimes by at least a mandatory minimum number of years in prison).
These inflexible, often extremely lengthy, “one-size-fits-all” sentencing laws prevent judges from tailoring punishment to the individual and the seriousness of the offense, barring them from considering factors such as the individual’s role in the offense or the likelihood that he or she will commit a subsequent crime.
Federal judges have long been outspoken in their opposition to mandatory sentencing laws. Judge Andre M. Davis of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote: "I say with certainty that mandatory minimums are unfair and unjust. These laws, created by an overzealous Congress decades ago … hinder judges from handing out fair and individualized sentences, while prosecutors are given unwarranted power to dictate sentences through charging decisions."
How do petty drug crimes add up to life without parole?
Three federal drug offenses can result in LWOP, even if the offenses are relatively minor. For example, a federal conviction for possessing 50 grams of methamphetamine carries a mandatory life-without-parole sentence if the defendant has previously been convicted of two other felony drug offenses, which can be as minor as selling personal amounts of marijuana.
A handful of states have instituted mandatory LWOP sentences for certain drug offenses. In Alabama, a conviction for selling more than 56 grams of heroin results in a mandatory LWOP sentence. Similarly, a person convicted of selling two ounces of cocaine in Mississippi must receive LWOP. To put these sentences in perspective, the average time served for murder in the U.S. is 14 years.
While laws such as these were enacted in part out of concern about drug abuse and drug-related crime, the penalties they prescribe have not succeeded in curbing drug use or addiction rates, which have essentially remained flat for 40 years. Instead, the laws have contributed to mass incarceration in the U.S.
The ACLU report contains the in-depth stories of 110 individual prisoners waiting to die behind bars for nonviolent offenses, along with more detailed information about mandatory sentencing.
Uruguay Is Likely to Legalize Cannabis and Set the Tone for Latin American Drug Policy
This week, Uruguay’s senate is expected to pass the world’s most far-reaching drug legalization. The marijuana regulation bill, which has been passed by the lower house of the Uruguayan parliament, will allow registered users to buy up to 40 grams a month from a chemist, registered growers to keep up to six plants, and cannabis clubs to have up to 45 members and cultivate as many as 99 plants.
The government is designing a new set of legal, commercial, and bureaucratic tools to supplant a violent illegal market in narcotics, improve public health, protect individual rights, raise tax revenues, and research the medical potential of the world’s most widely used contraband drug.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that there are 162 million cannabis users — 4% of the world’s adult population. An estimated 10% of adult Uruguayans — 115,000 people — smoke cannabis. Existing law permits consumption of “reasonable” amounts of marijuana, but forbids sales.
Uruguay is trying to bring the cannabis market under state control by undercutting and outlawing traffickers. If the bill is passed, the government will arrange for a high-quality, legal product to be sold in a safe environment at competitive prices. “If one gram costs $1 in the black market, then we’ll sell the legal product for $1. If they drop the price to 75 cents, then we’ll put it at that level,” says Julio Calzada, a presidential adviser and the head of the National Committee on Drugs.
The market in Uruguay is estimated to be worth $30 million a year, according to Martin Fernández, a lawyer with the Association of Cannabis Studies. The pharmaceutical industry will have more freedom to develop and test marijuana painkillers and other treatments than any other country. The hemp, biotech, and marijuana farming industries are other examples of marijuana-related business opportunities that Uruguay can anticipate to yield big money if marijuana is legalized, as is expected.
President José Mujica, a reluctant advocate of marijuana regulation, says that legalization in Uruguay is “not about being free and open,” but is rather “a logical step” in taking users away from the black market. “We don’t defend marijuana or any other addiction. But worse than any drug is trafficking.”
Thanks to The Guardian
Drug Conviction Can Lead to Lifetime Ban From Food Stamps and Welfare
Thanks to mid-90s drug paranoia, a felony drug charge could earn you a lifetime ban from federal assistance programs like food stamps and welfare. Back in 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, but few people were aware of an obscure provision that permanently bars anyone with a felony drug charge from receiving aid from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). While most states that chose to enforce the bans allow exemptions to people with minor drug charges or those who undertake a drug treatment program, 12 states still enforce a permanent zero-tolerance ban that has had a disproportionate effect on single moms and minorities.
Some might say the bans are fair because they apply only to the individual with the drug charge, and not the entire household. But the truth is that even if just one person in a household is banned, the rest of a family relying on federal assistance must share the burden of making up for this loss. And thanks to realities like single moms making up the majority of single-parent households and minorities disproportionately being arrested for drug crimes, they’re the groups taking the brunt of assistance bans as well.
August 30, 2013—Despite 75 years of federal marijuana prohibition, the Justice Department said Thursday that states can let people use the drug, license people to grow it and even allow adults to stroll into stores and buy it — as long as the weed is kept away from kids, the black market and federal property.
In a sweeping new policy statement prompted by pot legalization votes in Washington and Colorado last fall, the department gave the green light to states to adopt tight regulatory schemes to oversee the medical and recreational marijuana industries burgeoning across the country.
The action, welcomed by supporters of legalization, could set the stage for more states to legalize marijuana. Alaska could vote on the question next year, and a few other states plan similar votes in 2016.
[…] “If state enforcement efforts are not sufficiently robust … the federal government may seek to challenge the regulatory structure itself,” the memo stated. States must ensure “that they do not undermine federal enforcement priorities,” it added.
November 5, 2013—Portland, Maine, voters on Tuesday approved legalizing recreational marijuana for residents 21 and older. The measure, Question 1, passed with about 70 percent of the vote, making Portland the first East Coast city to legalize recreational pot.
Adult residents of Portland — Maine’s largest city — may possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana under the referendum. The new measure does not permit the recreational purchase or sale of marijuana, nor does it permit its use in public spaces like parks.
[…] Medical marijuana is already legal in Maine, and the Portland referendum is seen as largely symbolic, as it does not override state or federal laws.
For at least six years, law enforcement officials working on a counternarcotics program have had routine access, using subpoenas, to an enormous AT&T database that contains the records of decades of Americans’ phone calls — parallel to but covering a far longer time than the National Security Agency’s hotly disputed collection of phone call logs.
The Hemisphere Project, a partnership between federal and local drug officials and AT&T that has not previously been reported, involves an extremely close association between the government and the telecommunications giant.
The government pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country. Those employees sit alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local detectives and supply them with the phone data from as far back as 1987.
[…] The scale and longevity of the data storage appears to be unmatched by other government programs, including the N.S.A.’s gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act. The N.S.A. stores the data for nearly all calls in the United States, including phone numbers and time and duration of calls, for five years.
[…] Brian Fallon, a Justice Department spokesman, said in a statement that “subpoenaing drug dealers’ phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations.”
[…] Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the 27-slide PowerPoint presentation, evidently updated this year to train AT&T employees for the program, “certainly raises profound privacy concerns.”
“I’d speculate that one reason for the secrecy of the program is that it would be very hard to justify it to the public or the courts,” he said.
Mr. Jaffer said that while the database remained in AT&T’s possession, “the integration of government agents into the process means there are serious Fourth Amendment concerns.”
[…] The PowerPoint slides outline several “success stories” highlighting the program’s achievements and showing that it is used in investigating a range of crimes, not just drug violations. The slides emphasize the program’s value in tracing suspects who use replacement phones, sometimes called “burner” phones, who switch phone numbers or who are otherwise difficult to locate or identify.
Organizations that include sheriffs, narcotics officers and big-city police chiefs slammed Attorney General Eric Holder in a joint letter Friday, expressing “extreme disappointment” at his announcement that the Department of Justice would allow Colorado and Washington to implement state laws that legalized recreational marijuana for adults.
[…] The missive was signed by the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Narcotic Officers Associations’ Coalition, the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association and the Police Executive Research Forum.
[…] Local law enforcement agencies rely heavily on the drug war for funding. Police departments are often able to keep a large portion of the assets they seize during drug raids, even if charges are never brought. And federal grants for drug war operations make up a sizable portion of local law enforcement funding.
The letter warns that marijuana can cause suicidal thoughts, impairs driving and is a “gateway drug.” The missive does not, however, address the failure of law enforcement generally to reduce drug use, even while tripling the number of people behind bars. Instead, the police warn that liberalizing pot laws will lead to an increase in crime.
with marijuana now legal in washington and colorado, will the federal government respect the voters’ decision to live with legal weed? this issue will be addressed in a senate hearing next month.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next month to examine clashing state and federal marijuana laws, Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced yesterday.
"It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal." Leahy wrote in a press release.
The Vermont Democrat, who has been seeking clarification on this issue since December, supports the states’ right to proceed with their new policies. "I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government,” he continued in his statement.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana last November.
These state marijuana laws conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act, which places marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance—in the same category as heroin and LSD—defined as having no medical use and high potential for abuse. Federal authorities have continued to raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they are legal, but have remained silent on Washington and Colorado.
"There is such a gray area in the law," NORML director Allen St. Pierre told U.S. News. “It’s time somebody had a hearing. The Obama Administration has failed to address this issue at all.”
Leahy called on Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to testify at the hearing.
Last December, Leahy wrote to the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, asking how the administration would proceed in light of differences between federal and state laws. “Legislative options exist to resolve the differences between federal and state law in this area and end the uncertainty that residents of Colorado and Washington now face,” he wrote. “In order to give these options full consideration, the committee needs to understand how the administration intends to respond to the decision of the voters in Colorado and Washington.”
The hearing is scheduled for September 10.
Uruguay is poised to become the first nation to legalize and regulate the production, sale and consumption of weed. This would place Uruguay at the vanguard of liberal drug policies, surpassing even The Netherlands, where recreational drugs are illegal but a policy of tolerance is in place.
The bill, which was passed by Uruguay’s Chamber of Deputies and will be taken up by the Senate, attempts to answer the questions that inevitably arise when debating drug policy: How will marijuana be regulated? Who will grow it? How can the country avoid cannabis tourism?
[…] The same debates about marijuana that exist in the United States — about medicinal properties, recreational use, the impact on the justice system — have been happening in Uruguay for a long time, according to Julio Calzada, secretary-general of the country’s National Committee on Drugs. The decision to push legislation to overhaul its drug policies did not come overnight.
"We have reflected on our problems," Calzada said, and the government felt that Uruguay’s tradition of tolerance and equality merited action on the marijuana issue.
Interestingly, it’s the government that’s pushing to legalize marijuana, not the people. Only 26% approve of the bill, while 63% oppose it, according to a recent poll of more than 1,000 Uruguayans. Calzada says the government “does not overlook public opinion” but believes it’s in the country’s best interest to go forward with the bill.
5. NYC Comptroller Proposes Marijuana Legalization
New York City Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu released a report on Wednesday proposing the legalization and taxation of marijuana. The report commissioned by Liu revealed that the city’s pot users make up a $1.65 billion marijuana market. Liu says legalization would bring in $400 million in tax revenue, saving $31 million annually in the cost of enforcing marijuana policy. He proposed that marijuana tax revenue be used toward cutting CUNY tuition in half for native New Yorkers. “We’d be investing in young people instead of ruining their lives,” he said.
"We have to recognize that the prohibition of marijuana failed and its enforcement has damaged too many lives, especially in minority communities," said the mayoral candidate, chastising the Bloomberg administration for the disproportionate impact of rising marijuana arrests on black and Hispanic New Yorkers over the past decade. "It is economically and socially just to tax it," Liu told AP. "We can eliminate some of the criminal nature that surrounds the drug and obtain revenue from it."
Liu’s proposal calls for allowing adults to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational use. The state would oversee private pot-selling businesses, and using marijuana in public or while driving would be prohibited. A law would have to be passed in the state legislature and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo for marijuana to be legalized in New York, so there is some way to go.
3. DEA’s Shady Business Revealed
The Internet and Capitol Hill have been abuzz about the recent revelation earlier this month about the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s special intelligence project that has riled privacy advocates. According to a series of Reuters investigative reports, the DEA has been sending information gathered via “intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records” to local law enforcement authorities across the US to help launch criminal investigations of Americans.
The unit responsible for this practice is the DEA’s Special Operations Division, (SOD). Documents reviewed by Reuters detail the SOD’s practices, much of which is classified. Based on their intelligence, the SOD sends a tip to local law enforcement to, for example, look for a certain vehicle at a certain time and location, and to find an excuse to stop the vehicle. After an arrest is made, authorities are instructed to pretend that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not the SOD tip. This process is referred to as “parallel construction,” according to the DEA documents. These law enforcement agents are directed to conceal the SOD’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony—withholding this information from not just defense lawyers, but prosecutors and judges as well.
These cases rarely involve national security issues, but rather common criminals, primarily drug dealers. Critics say this tactic violates a defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial and that the SOD has gone too far. “It is one thing to create special rules for national security,” Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011, told Reuters. “It sounds like they are phonying up investigations.” Former federal prosecutor Henry Hockeimer Jr. told Reuters, “These are drug crimes, not national security cases. If you don’t draw the line here, where do you draw it?”