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
If Brooklyn’s new district attorney has his way, marijuana will effectively be decriminalized in the borough. In his inaugural address on Sunday, Ken Thompson vowed to end the prosecution of low-level marijuana arrests.
“I not only want to keep Brooklyn safe, I want to protect the future of our youth,” Thompson, who is the borough’s first black district attorney, said. “That means we must change the policy regarding those who are arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana.”
“In 2012, over 12,000 people in Brooklyn were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana, mostly young, black men,” he said, referring to a 2013 report that found that in Brooklyn, black people are nine times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Possession of small amounts of marijuana in New York is only a crime if it’s in public view. New York City averaged fewer than 2,000 marijuana arrests a year up until 1993. But under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, police would stop and frisk people on the street, bringing marijuana into “public view” and arresting them. By 2011, there were over 50,000 such arrests citywide, more than all the marijuana arrests from 1978 to 1996 combined.
“Every year, thousands of these cases are clogging our criminal justice system and require that we devote substantial resources in time and in money that we could use to put toward other initiatives to keep us safe,” Thompson said. “And so if these defendants are given criminal records instead of violations, it would make it harder for them in the future to live productive lives. We in Brooklyn can, and must, do better.”
During his run for district attorney, Thompson pledged not to prosecute people arrested for under 15 grams of pot, issuing a $100 fine instead. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is on board with Thompson’s plan.
“He can’t pass legislation to legalize marijuana but he can decide who will be prosecuted for it, and I think it’s an excellent way to use his office,” Adams said.
Hemp is making a comeback in the United States, and it’s about time. Last Friday (Feb. 7, 2014) President Obama signed the new farm bill into law, in which there is a provision that would allow hemp to be cultivated for research in states where it is legal.
Ten states have passed laws enabling hemp cultivation — Colorado, Washington, California, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia. But federal policy, which sees no difference between hemp and marijuana, has stifled cultivation in these states.
The U.S. is the only remaining developed nation where the production of industrial hemp is prohibited. Instead, American manufacturers import hemp at a higher cost from countries like Canada, China, or France to produce everything from clothes to cooking oil. In 2011, the U.S. imported $11.5 million worth of legal hemp products — mostly in the form of hemp seed and hemp oil that end up in food products like granola bars.
But there’s yet another reason to love hemp — it’s also used for decontaminating toxic soil. In Ukraine — where hemp has been grown for centuries to produce clothes and food — hemp was planted around site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to decontaminate the soil. The 1986 nuclear disaster spread severe radioactive contamination and toxic metals in soil, plants, and animals as far as 100 km (62 miles) from the site.
Industrial hemp has the ability to “hyperaccumulate” metals, extracting such toxins through their root systems and accumulating them in their tissues without being damaged. In this way, pollutants are either removed from the soil and groundwater or rendered harmless. This process is called phytoremediation, a term that was coined by Dr. Ilya Raskin of Rutgers University’s Biotechnology Center for Agriculture and the Environment. Hemp, mushrooms, and leafy green plants like spinach, chard and the sunflower plant are also effective in phytoremediation, acting as filters or traps to break down organic pollutants and stabilize metal toxins.
In 1998, Phytotech — which specializes in phytoremediation to clean up metals, pesticides, solvents, explosives, and other toxic substances from landfills — planted industrial hemp near the Chernobyl site in cooperation with Consolidated Growers and Processors (CGP) and Ukraine’s Institute of Bast Crops.
“Hemp’s ability to hyper accumulate metals may prove useful for decontaminating toxic waste sites. In Silesia, Cannabis is deliberately cultivated on wasteland contaminated with cadmium and copper. The crop efficiently extracts the toxic metals from soil and accumulates the metals in seeds. The crop is harvested, and the metals are recovered by leaching seeds with hydrochloric acid. In 1999 a hemp crop will be cultivated near Chernobyl, to extract radioactive caesium-137 and strontium-90 from the soil.” — Hemp Diseases and Pests: Management and Biological Control
Phytoremediation is considered a better, less costly alternative to conventional soil restoration techniques. One example involves relocating the contaminated soil and replacing it with good soil. Not only is phytoremediation less costly, it’s applicable to a broad range of metals and leaves minimal environmental disturbance. Given that there are over 30,000 sites that require hazardous waste treatment in the U.S. alone according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — in addition to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown — hemp’s gradual return to legitimacy with the passage of the farm bill is long overdue. Phytoremediation is being applied near the site of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, where sunflower fields have been planted to decontaminate the poisoned land.
According to the U.S. government, marijuana has a “high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical abuse.” This is the definition of the category (Schedule I) it’s been placed in under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA) — along with heroin, LSD and ecstasy. According to the category’s definition, marijuana is one of the “most dangerous drugs” with “potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”
While marijuana surely can be abused (what can’t?), this is highly debatable, to say the least, that marijuana meets any of those criteria. Its potential for abuse seems lower than that of many pharmaceuticals, not to mention alcohol and tobacco, which the CSA specifically excludes from its schedules.
In an interview that aired last week, President Obama was asked if he was open to reconsidering marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug, in light of his recent observation that marijuana is safer than alcohol. Obama incorrectly claimed that moving marijuana to a less restrictive legal category would require an act of Congress.
In terms of abuse potential, marijuana could be placed in a lower schedule. “When you look at the Schedule IV drugs, you’ve got the opiate Tramadol, the stimulant Modafinil, lethal sedatives like phenobarbital and chloral hydrate, and the ‘date rape’ drug rohypnol. Surely cannabis is safer than these,” argues SUNY at Albany psychologist Mitch Earleywine, author of Understanding Marijuana.
But Harvard psychiatrist and cannabis expert Lester Grinspoon believes “none of the schedules is truly appropriate for marijuana.” But if he had to choose, he’d place marijuana in Schedule V, a category that includes codeine and opium preparations and is for prescription drugs with the lowest abuse potential.
In 1988, Administrative Law Judge Francis Young urged the DEA to reschedule marijuana, calling it “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.”
Though the advantages of reclassifying marijuana wouldn’t be as substantial as one might think, given the complicated nature of this issue, it would facilitate a more honest discussion of marijuana’s hazards and benefits.
President José Mujica has been nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
In late December, Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize the production and sale of marijuana. Mujica’s supporters cite marijuana legalization as a “tool for peace and understanding,” arguably the president’s most notable accomplishment of the past year. Under the new law, which comes into effect in April, the market price for marijuana will be set at one dollar per gram, in an attempt to undercut the illegal market price of $1.40. Residents over age 18 must register in a special state database that will track their marijuana purchases, and can buy up to 40 grams a month. Foreigners are prohibited from purchasing legal marijuana.
“I’m very thankful to these people for honoring me,” Mujica said. “We are only proposing the right to try another path because the path of repression doesn’t work. We don’t know if we’ll succeed. We ask for support, scientific spirit and to understand that no addiction is a good thing. But our efforts go beyond marijuana — we’re taking aim at the drug traffic.”
The intent behind the new policy is to take away business from drug traffickers. Uruguay’s drugs chief Julio Calzada explained it best: “For 50 years, we have tried to tackle the drug problem with only one tool — penalization — and that has failed. As a result, we now have more consumers, bigger criminal organizations, money laundering, arms trafficking and collateral damage. As a control model, we’re convinced that it is more harmful than the drugs themselves.”
By passing marijuana legalization in Uruguay, Mujica has violated international treaties that prohibit the production and supply of narcotic drugs. For this, he’s come under criticism from some in the international community; UN International Narcotics Control Board chief Raymond Yans said Uruguay “knowingly decided to break the universally agreed and internationally endorsed treaty.”
Mujica was a top 10 finalist for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, but it went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons instead.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) tore into deputy drug czar Michael Botticelli on Tuesday, highlighting federal drug policy’s failure to address the substances “ravaging our country” while still considering marijuana to be as dangerous as heroin.
Speaking during a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform focused on the Obama administration’s marijuana policy, Cohen urged drug policy officials to rethink marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 substance, which the Drug Enforcement Administration considers “the most dangerous class of drugs.” Other Schedule 1 substances include heroin, LSD and ecstasy, while methamphetamine and cocaine fall under the Schedule II definition.
"It is ludicrous, absurd, crazy to have marijuana in the same level as heroin," Cohen said. "Ask the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, if you could. Nobody dies from marijuana. People die from heroin."
Hoffman, the Academy Award-winning actor, died Sunday after an apparent heroin overdose. Police officials said he was found with a syringe still in his arm.
"Every second that we spend in this country trying to enforce marijuana laws is a second that we’re not enforcing heroin laws. And heroin and meth are the two drugs that are ravaging our country," Cohen continued. "And every death, including Mr. Hoffman’s, is partly the responsibility of the federal government’s drug priorities for not putting total emphasis on the drugs that kill, that cause people to be addicted and have to steal to support their habit."
Cohen warned that by not acknowledging that marijuana is less dangerous than heroin and other substances, as DEA Chief Michele Leonhart has refused to do, the administration is undermining its own efforts to prevent drug abuse.
here’s everything the president said about drug policy in yesterday’s new yorker interview
President Obama’s comments on marijuana prohibition in a new interview with The New Yorker have made waves since it was published on Sunday. In it, the president likened marijuana to cigarettes and alcohol, going a step further to admit marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol:
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol … [Marijuana is less dangerous] in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.
This statement contradicts the federal government’s position on marijuana, which classifies weed as a Schedule I drug, the “most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence” having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” According to the federal government, marijuana is just as harmful as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy — also Schedule I drugs.
The president also discussed the unjust racial impact of our marijuana policies:
“Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do. And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties … We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
To remedy this inequality, he endorsed the pot legalization experiments in Colorado and Washington.
"It’s important for [the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington] to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”
But he adds that we should be wary of slippery-slope arguments that could arise about legalizing harder drugs like meth and cocaine — which, by the way, is in Schedule II.
“Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge … I also think that, when it comes to harder drugs, the harm done to the user is profound and the social costs are profound. And you do start getting into some difficult line-drawing issues. If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka, are we open to that? If somebody says, We’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we O.K. with that?”
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Colombian soldiers disembark during an operation to eradicate coca fields and cocaine processing labs run by FARC rebels in southwestern Colombia [AFP/Mauricio Dueñas]
Colombia’s largest left-wing rebel group, FARC, has presented a plan to regulate drug production amid peace talks with the government. Along with Peru and Bolivia, Colombia has become one of the world’s top producers of coca, the raw material for making cocaine. FARC, which finances itself in part through drug trafficking, proposed a program to “regulate the production of coca, poppies, and marijuana,” adding that the “medicinal, therapeutic and cultural" uses of the substances should be considered.
The Colombian government has spent millions of dollars trying to eradicate crops, but FARC believes prohibition and eradication are not the way forward. “Instead of fighting the production [of illicit substances] it’s about regulating it and finding alternatives,” said FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo.
"The fundamental basis of this plan lies in its voluntary and collaborative nature, and in the political will on the part of the growers to take alternative paths to achieve humane living and working conditions."
FARC is Latin America’s oldest, largest and best-equipped guerrilla movement in the world. Over 9,000 strong, the Marxist group is organized by a military structure and finances itself through kidnapping, extortion, and drug trafficking. In the past year, FARC has agreed to give up the use of violence to reach their political ends in exchange for full participation in democratic politics after 50 years of conflict with the government.
Thanks to BBC
With marijuana legalized for those at least 21 years old in Colorado as of Jan. 1 and Washington later this year, law enforcement in those states expect to lose millions in revenue gained from assets seized from growers and dealers.
Nationally, assets forfeited in marijuana cases from 2002 to 2012 accounted for $1 billion of the $6.5 billion from all drug busts, according to Justice Department data. State law enforcement agencies have historically been funded in part by cash, cars, houses and other assets seized in marijuana busts. But with recreational pot now legal in Colorado and Washington, this funding is going up in smoke.
Supporters of legalization say steering law enforcement away from marijuana will allow police to focus on more serious crimes, while opponents of legalization and law enforcement officers counter that pursuing marijuana cases is an important tool for busting drug kingpins.
It’s “a great day in Colorado, not just because marijuana is legal, but because now it is not illegal.”
This morning, Colorado made history as its new marijuana law went into full effect. Recreational marijuana retailers opened their doors to customers — including an Iraq war veteran — for the first time in U.S history.
Colorado residents who are at least 21 can buy up to an ounce of marijuana in one transaction, while people from out of state can buy a quarter ounce. The state projects $578.1 million in annual revenue from combined wholesale and retail marijuana sales to yield $67 million in tax revenue.
In Washington, where voters passed a similar measure, retailers will begin selling marijuana around June. The state has received 867 retail license applications as of late December.
Bill Clinton: “I never denied that I used marijuana.”
In an interview earlier this month, former President Bill Clinton retracted his memorable “I didn’t inhale" defense from 1992.
“I never denied that I used marijuana. I told the truth, I thought it was funny,” he told Jorge Ramos at his home in Chappaqua, New York.
When asked about marijuana legalization, Clinton made it clear that he didn’t think marijuana legalization would end gang violence completely, or that cocaine should receive the same treatment as pot.
“It’s too complicated to say that if you legalize it, you wouldn’t have any of these armed gangs trying to exercise a stranglehold over whole communities and lives. Or that we could actually get away with legalizing cocaine and then the criminals would go away.”
The former president acknowledged the changing tide of drug policy and the importance of states’ rights.
“The drug issue should be decided by people in each country, based on what they think is right,” Clinton said. “We have a process in America for doing it that’s being revisited state-by-state. And Latin America is free to do the same thing….It’s obvious that attitudes are changing and opening up.”
Thanks to Fusion
Obama Reduces Sentences of Eight Crack Cocaine Offenders
President Barack Obama reduced the sentences of eight people convicted of crack cocaine offenses on Thursday, using his power of clemency to make a statement about what the administration believes is an overly punitive criminal justice system.
The eight men and women to whom he offered clemency had each already served more than 15 years in prison for drug offenses that did not involve violence. Most will now be released in April, and one, Ezell Gilbert of Florida, who was convicted in 1997 for possession with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana, will be released immediately.
“If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” Obama said in a statement, in reference to the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, a law which significantly narrowed the enormous disparity in sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses but did not apply retroactively. “Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.”
To date, Obama has used his clemency powers far less than other presidents. Thursday’s announcement marks the first time a president has commuted sentences of a group of inmates who would have received much shorter sentences had they received their punishments under current laws and sentencing policies.
Thanks to The Guardian
That’s right. On Tuesday, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize and regulate marijuana. By mid-2014, citizens (but not tourists) will be able to buy a maximum of 40 grams (1.4 ounces) from the government each month at $1 a gram and grow up to six plants in their homes each year. Marijuana smoking clubs can grow up to 99 a year. By keeping the price fixed at a low level, the government hopes to push traffickers out of the market and reduce drug-related violence. Take that, cartels!
The weirdest part is that a majority of Uruguayans are against legalization. But public opinion seems to be coming around. According to the most recent poll conducted by Equipos Consultores, 58% of Uruguayans oppose legalization, down from 68% in June.
Though Uruguay has violated United Nations drug policies, which prohibit the production and supply of all drugs not used for medical or scientific purposes, advocates of drug policy reform welcome the government’s progressive approach to tackling the drug war. Drug policy expert Sanho Tree put it best: “For the first time, a country has said we’ll take the profits out of the drug trade and give criminals no reason to traffic the stuff—it’s a counterintuitive solution to the problem.”
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