Michigan Court Decision Restricts Access To Medical Marijuana

While Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has come under well-deserved national criticism for giving into the right wing recently, Michigan elected far more dangerous conservatives in 2010. This includes Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has been working to undermine the medical marijuana laws passed by Michigan voters. Schuette received a huge boost in his efforts from a Michigan Supreme Court decision:

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Friday the state’s medical marijuana law makes dispensaries illegal, throwing owners and patients into panicked uncertainty.

State officials said the justices’ 4-1 decision goes into “immediate effect” and could mean legal action against dispensaries that don’t close.

“It’s really up in the air at this point as to whether we’ll open tomorrow or not,” said Jamie Lowell, a co-founder of 3rd Coast Compassion Center in Ypsilanti, on Friday. “We’re still evaluating the decision with our attorneys. What it comes down to is whether we have any protections or defenses in the event we decide to continue helping people.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who joined the Isabella County prosecutor in a suit seeking the closure of another dispensary as a public nuisance, offered this interpretation of the ruling:

“Today, Michigan’s highest court clarified that this law is narrowly focused to help the seriously ill, not an open door to unrestricted marijuana sales,” he said in a statement Friday. “Dispensaries will have to close their doors. Sales or transfers between patients or between caregivers and patients other than their own are not permitted under the Medical Marihuana Act.”

This interpretation of the law provides very limited access to medical marijuana:

According to the ruling, the only legal sales of medical marijuana in Michigan are those specifically allowed in the state act. It states that as many as five state-approved users may register with a single state-approved caregiver, who then becomes a long-term provider of the drug — but only to those five users.

There is a bill in the Michigan legislature to legalize dispensaries, but for now it is doubtful the current dispensaries will be able to remain open without facing  prosecution. Schuette has been working to prevent the use of medical marijuana since taking office and I’m sure he will be able to find additional means to harass users regardless of whether dispensaries are legalized.

The best solution is to prevent any legal harassment of those who desire to use marijuana for medical purposes is to end attempts at prohibition and totally remove prosecutors from the issue by either legalizing or at least decriminalizing marijuana. The California Medical Association has previously called for legalization of marijuana with current laws creating an untenable situation.

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We Have Lost The War On Drugs

It has become extremely rare these days to find an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal to recommend, but there is an exception today. The drug war is an issue where there is division on both the right and left, with some on both sides agreeing that it has become a fiasco which we cannot benefit from continuing. Gary S. Becker and Kevin M. Murphey ask, Have We Lost The War on Drugs? They quickly answered their question:

By most accounts, the gains from the war have been modest at best.

The direct monetary cost to American taxpayers of the war on drugs includes spending on police, the court personnel used to try drug users and traffickers, and the guards and other resources spent on imprisoning and punishing those convicted of drug offenses. Total current spending is estimated at over $40 billion a year.

These costs don’t include many other harmful effects of the war on drugs that are difficult to quantify.

While exact quantification is difficult, they proceeded to explain many of these harmful effects.

They recommend decriminalization, using Portugal as an example:

One moderate alternative to the war on drugs is to follow Portugal’s lead and decriminalize all drug use while maintaining the illegality of drug trafficking. Decriminalizing drugs implies that persons cannot be criminally punished when they are found to be in possession of small quantities of drugs that could be used for their own consumption. Decriminalization would reduce the bloated U.S. prison population since drug users could no longer be sent to jail. Decriminalization would make it easier for drug addicts to openly seek help from clinics and self-help groups, and it would make companies more likely to develop products and methods that address addiction.

Some evidence is available on the effects of Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs, which began in 2001. A study published in 2010 in the British Journal of Criminology found that in Portugal since decriminalization, imprisonment on drug-related charges has gone down; drug use among young persons appears to have increased only modestly, if at all; visits to clinics that help with drug addictions and diseases from drug use have increased; and opiate-related deaths have fallen.

Decriminalization of all drugs by the U.S. would be a major positive step away from the war on drugs. In recent years, states have begun to decriminalize marijuana, one of the least addictive and less damaging drugs. Marijuana is now decriminalized in some form in about 20 states, and it is de facto decriminalized in some others as well. If decriminalization of marijuana proves successful, the next step would be to decriminalize other drugs, perhaps starting with amphetamines. Gradually, this might lead to the full decriminalization of all drugs.

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Posted in Drug Policy, Op-eds. Tags: . 4 Comments »

Person of the Year: Barack Obama

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This was a rather obvious choice in an election year. As Time points out, Obama is “the first Democrat in more than 75 years to get a majority of the popular vote twice. Only five other Presidents have done that in all of U.S. history.” Time‘s explanation:

There are many reasons for this, but the biggest by far are the nation’s changing demographics and Obama’s unique ability to capitalize on them. When his name is on the ballot, the next America — a younger, more diverse America — turns out at the polls. In 2008, blacks voted at the same rate as whites for the first time in history, and Latinos broke turnout records. The early numbers suggest that both groups did it again in 2012, even in nonbattleground states, where the Obama forces were far less organized. When minorities vote, that means young people do too, because the next America is far more diverse than the last. And when all that happens, Obama wins. He got 71% of Latinos, 93% of blacks, 73% of Asians and 60% of those under 30.

They left out the more important fact that Obama ran against a Republican Party which has moved to the extreme right and very well might never again be able to win a national election until the party changes. (Some Republican apologists might counter by claims that John McCain and Mitt Romney are moderates but in reality both ran on platforms which were bat-shit crazy, even if the Republicans do have even worse lunatics among their ranks.)
Time’s interview with Obama gives indications we are living in a world which the authoritarian right just cannot handle. Obama took time to announce his support for gay marriage, but we may have reached a tipping point where any candidate who does not support marriage equality would be seen in the same light as someone who didn’t support interracial marriage. Obama is more conservative than many of his supporters on drugs, and it is a disappointment that he is not ending the drug war, but at least does not intend to use government resources for prosecution of marijuana users:

I have a couple of policy questions growing out of that shift. Do you expect your administration will join the gay marriage cases at the Supreme Court?

We are looking at the cases right now. I’ve already been very clear about DOMA, so there is no doubt that we would continue the position we’re on, that DOMA is unconstitutional and should be struck down. And I think the Prop-8 case, because the briefs are still being written, I should probably be careful about making any specific comments on it.

One of the other big things that happened in the election was in Washington State and Colorado, marijuana for recreational use was legalized. And, again, the same base — the younger people, more progressive people are in favor of that. Is a recreational marijuana user who is following state law someone who should be a federal law enforcement priority?

No. And I think what the Justice Department has consistently asserted is that it’s got finite resources. Our focus has to be on threats to safety, threats to property. When it comes to drug enforcement, big-time drug dealers, folks who are preying on our kids, those who are engaging in violence — that has to be our focus.

Now, obviously, you’ve got a challenge, which is federal laws that are still on the books making marijuana a Class I drug that is subject to significant penalties, and you’ve got state laws now that say it’s legal. We’re going to have to have a conversation about how to reconcile that, because it puts the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorneys in a pretty tough position; they don’t want to look like they’re nullifying laws that are on the books; their job is to carry out the laws of the federal government. On the other hand, I think not only have these states indicated that they’ve got a different view, but what’s also true isthat the public as a whole — even those who don’t necessarily agree with decriminalization of marijuana — don’t think that this should be a top priority for law enforcement.

So this will be something that we navigate over the next several months and next several years. I think that the broader lesson to draw here is that substance abuse is a big problem in oursociety, and we should be doing everything we can to prevent our kids from being trapped by substance abuse. I think a law enforcement model alone, or an emphasis on a law enforcement strategy and not enough emphasis on the public health approach and treatment has not yielded the kind of results that I think we would like. And we’re going to have to have a serious discussion about that.

There are many pictures worth viewing accompanying the articles:
Obama Clinton
Obama Spiderman
Obama from Behind
Obama Chicago
obama white house
Obama Families 911 Victims
Obama Bo
Obama 3D Glasses
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Romney Fails To Buy Election; Conservative Extremism Defeated

Republicans spent four years obstructing economic recovery to promote their main goal of making Barack Obama a one-term president. Mitt Romney sold his soul to the radical right. Millions were donated by conservatives hoping to elect a candidate who would give them a slightly lower marginal tax rate, possibly costing some  more than paying the taxes would. Not only was Obama reelected, Tuesday was a victory for liberalism over the authoritarian right with voters objecting to Republican policies of increased government intrusion in the private lives of individuals.

Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock both lost, perhaps a gift from God for those who support the right of a woman to control her own body. Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and Grand Rapids, Michigan voted to decriminalize it.

In 2004 Republicans might have defeated John Kerry by boosting turnout among social conservatives by placing votes on gay marriage on the ballot in several states. Since then the nation’s attitude has changed, but until yesterday legalization of same-sex marriage only came from the legislatures or courts. Yesterday voters turned out to pass measures supporting same-sex marriage in Maryland and Maine.

Some Republicans believed that a proposal to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota would bring out more evangelical voters than expected by the pollsters, tipping the state and ultimately the nation to Mitt Romney. Republican pundits and blogs have had multiple theories to promote their predictions that Romney would win and the polls were wrong. Instead facts prevailed with the polls, and those predicting based upon the polls such as Nate Silver, turning out to be right. If this was simply a matter of partisans being overly optimistic about their chances this might be understandable. The problem is that the conservative media promotes an alternate reality which ignores facts on a daily basis, ignoring the facts which should be considered when deciding policies on matters such as the economy, health care, and the environment.

One argument from Republicans was that the polls were wrong because they over-sampled Democrats. (Some Democrats made the same mistake in denying Obama’s temporary fall in the polls following the Denver debate). I was confident of an Obama victory as soon as the exit polls showed that the electorate closely resembled what was shown in the polls. Party identification is fluid, with voters supporting Obama being more likely to identify themselves as Democrats. This also must be considered when hearing reports that the polls showed a lead for Romney among independents. Large numbers of the independents who voted for Obama in 2008 now call themselves Democrats. The Republican name as become so toxic that many former Republicans now call themselves independents, making it likely that a substantial number of such independents would vote Republican. In the past centrists and independents had much more overlap than now. While independents now lean Republican, centrists voted Democratic in substantial numbers.

Republican strategy did not work because they did not realize how out of tune they were with the voters, or did not care. Once again, the Tea Party helped the Democrats pick up Senate seats and maintain control. Speaking out against abortion rights and contraception was a losing strategy. With Florida’s final results not yet in but appearing to go to Obama, supporting policies which would seriously damage both Medicare and Social Security also does not look like a winning strategy. Romney’s strategy of enormous ad spending, non-stop lying on the campaign trail, and voter suppression also turned out to be failing political strategies.

The extremism of the Republican Party makes it difficult to see how the Republicans can have much success in the future unless they change. William F. Buckley, Jr. was right when he fought to keep the equivalent of the Tea Party in his day out of the conservative movement. Barry Goldwater was right when he called himself a liberal in  his later years in protest over the influence of the religious right on the GOP. If Republicans could not win this year, when it wasn’t difficult to place the blame for the Bush economic crash on the incumbent, how will they do in future years after the economy continues to recover? Republicans can no longer count on their Southern strategy for guaranteed electoral votes. Virginia and most-likely Florida went to Obama, and Obama looked like he might also win in North Carolina before the first debate. In future years the Republicans will have a tougher time holding on to North Carolina, Arizona, and possibly Georgia.

The Democrats retain control of the Senate, and appear likely to continue this despite the manner in which the Senate is tilted towards the smaller, often conservative states. They might hold onto the House for the next several years due to the advantages Republicans received from redistricting after the 2010 elections. We might need to wait until 2020 to reverse this.

The presidency is now far harder for Republicans to win. Changing demographics will make it even harder in the future for Republicans to win based upon their main base of voter support–poorly educated, low-information, white Christian males. Republicans need more support from minorities, but that also means abandoning their strategy of obtaining votes by promoting fear and hatred of minorities among their base.

If Romney had won, Republican economic ideas might have mistakenly received credit for the continued economic recovery which is likely to occur over the next four years. This was the last shot for Republicans to block Obamacare, which may soon become a permanent part of the country as Medicare and Social Security have become. Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney, may have a chance to appoint the next few justices to the Supreme Court, preventing the court from overturning Row v. Wade and possibly reversing Citizens United. Conservatives wanted this election badly as many realized this could have been their last chance prevent the United States from being part of the 21st century. They lost, and it is difficult to see where they go from here.

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Obama In Rolling Stone

Barack Obama is on the cover of Rolling Stone. The interview started out with Obama making a point which I think many Democrats have missed. Obama has been criticized for trying to attract Republicans when it is obvious that Republican politicians have no intention to  compromise. They prefer to block anything proposed by Obama for political gain, regardless of how much harm they do to the country. However, in trying to make his policies attractive to Republicans, it is Republican voters, not politicians, who Obama wants to attract. Many are brainwashed by Fox and the right wing noise machine, but Obama showed in 2008 that he can attract enough former Republican voters to win in states where Democrats had not won recently.

Let’s talk about the campaign. Given all we’ve heard about and learned during the GOP primaries, what’s your take on the state of the Republican Party, and what do you think they stand for?
First of all, I think it’s important to distinguish between Republican politicians and people around the country who consider themselves Republicans. I don’t think there’s been a huge change in the country. If you talk to a lot of Republicans, they’d like to see us balance the budget, but in a balanced way. A lot of them are concerned about jobs and economic growth and favor market-based solutions, but they don’t think we should be getting rid of every regulation on the books. There are a lot of Republican voters out there who are frustrated with Wall Street and think that they acted irresponsibly and should be held to account, so they don’t want to roll back regulations on Wall Street.

But what’s happened, I think, in the Republican caucus in Congress, and what clearly happened with respect to Republican candidates, was a shift to an agenda that is far out of the mainstream – and, in fact, is contrary to a lot of Republican precepts. I said recently that Ronald Reagan couldn’t get through a Republican primary today, and I genuinely think that’s true. You have every candidate onstage during one of the primary debates rejecting a deficit-reduction plan that involved $10 in cuts for every $1 of revenue increases. You have a Republican front-runner who rejects the Dream Act, which would help young people who, through no fault of their own, are undocumented, but who have, for all intents and purposes, been raised as Americans. You’ve got a Republican Congress whose centerpiece, when it comes to economic development, is getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency.

If you want to lower the deficit, reduce government intrusion in individual’s personal lives, have lower taxes on the middle class, and a stronger defense against al Qaeda, all things I would expect Republican voters to support, Obama has been the one to offer more sensible positions on these issues.

As for Mitt Romney:
Given all that, what do you think the general election is going to look like, and what do you think of Mitt Romney?
I think the general election will be as sharp a contrast between the two parties as we’ve seen in a generation. You have a Republican Party, and a presumptive Republican nominee, that believes in drastically rolling back environmental regulations, that believes in drastically rolling back collective-bargaining rights, that believes in an approach to deficit reduction in which taxes are cut further for the wealthiest Americans, and spending cuts are entirely borne by things like education or basic research or care for the vulnerable. All this will be presumably written into their platform and reflected in their convention. I don’t think that their nominee is going to be able to suddenly say, “Everything I’ve said for the last six months, I didn’t mean.” I’m assuming that he meant it. When you’re running for president, people are paying attention to what you’re saying.
Drug policy is an area where many of us who did vote for Obama were disappointed. He did address this issue:

Let me ask you about the War on Drugs. You vowed in 2008, when you were running for election, that you would not “use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.” Yet we just ran a story that shows your administration is launching more raids on medical pot than the Bush administration did. What’s up with that?

Here’s what’s up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.” What I can say is, “Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.” As a consequence, there haven’t been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.

The only tension that’s come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we’re telling them, “This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way.” That’s not something we’re going to do. I do think it’s important and useful to have a broader debate about our drug laws. One of the things we’ve done over the past three years was to make a sensible change when it came to the disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. We’ve had a discussion about how to focus on treatment, taking a public-health approach to drugs and lessening the overwhelming emphasis on criminal laws as a tool to deal with this issue. I think that’s an appropriate debate that we should have.

Changing the legislation is important, and I do wish Obama would propose some meaningful changes. There is no doubt that the medical marijuana laws are used for people to obtain marijuana for uses beyond medical uses. On the other hand, it is clear that prohibition does not work and there is no point in using government to try to prevent the use of marijuana. I back the position of the California Medical Association in having doubts about the system for medical marijuana but believe the answer is to legalized marijuana and get government out of this issue.
Obama showed his support for the free market, while contrasting his views of a market economy from those of the Republicans:

Occupy Wall Street seems to have influenced your rhetoric. Has it had a deeper impact on your thinking about America?

You know, I think that Occupy Wall Street was just one vivid expression of a broader anxiety that has been around in the United States for at least a decade or more. People have a sense the game is rigged, so just a few people can do well, and everybody else is left to scramble to get by.

The free market is the greatest generator of wealth in history. I’m a firm believer in the free market, and the capacity of Americans to start a business, pursue their dreams and strike it rich. But when you look at the history of how we became an economic superpower, that rugged individualism and private-sector dynamism was always coupled with government creating a platform so that everybody could succeed, so that consumers weren’t taken advantage of, so that the byproducts of capitalism, like pollution or worker injuries, were regulated. Creating that social safety net has not made us weaker – it’s made us stronger. It liberated people to say, “I can move to another state, but if I don’t find a job right away, my kids aren’t going to go hungry. I can start a business, but if it doesn’t work out, I’m going to be able to land on my feet.” Making those kinds of commitments to each other – to create safety nets, to invest in infrastructure and schools and basic research – is just like our collective investment in national security or fire departments or police. It has facilitated the kind of risk-taking that has made our economy so dynamic. This is what it means for us to live in a thriving, modern democracy.

One of the major arguments we’ll be having in this election season is a contrasting vision that says not just that government is part of the problem, but essentially that government is the entire problem. These guys, they don’t just want to roll back the New Deal – in some cases, they want to go back even further.

Obama also reads some of the blogs as well as op-ed writers:

Do you read Paul Krugman?I read all of the New York Times columnists. Krugman’s obviously one of the smartest economic reporters out there, but I also read some of the conservative columnists, just to get a sense of where those arguments are going. There are a handful of blogs, Andrew Sullivan’s on the Daily Beast being an example, that combine thoughtful analysis with a sampling of lots of essays that are out there. The New Yorker and The Atlantic still do terrific work. Every once in a while, I sneak in a novel or a nonfiction book.

There’s far more in the full text of the interview.
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Medical Marijuana Advocates in California Suing Federal Government Over Crackdowns

One of the biggest disappointments of the Obama administration has been the failure to stop action against those involved in the growing and distribution of medical marijuana. Following recent crackdowns in California, medical marijuana advocates have filed suit against the federal government. AP reports:

Medical marijuana advocates in California sued the federal government Thursday in an effort to quash a recent crackdown on the state’s storefront pot dispensaries, claiming government officials have overstepped their constitutional authority by not respecting how local officials have chosen to regulate pot stores and growers.

The lawsuit filed in San Francisco by the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access states that recent raids of licensed dispensaries and letters warning city officials they could be prosecuted for trying to regulate medical marijuana cultivation and sales constitute an illegal power grab under the 10th Amendment. The amendment awards to states legislative authority not explicitly reserved for the federal government.

“ASA does not challenge the congressional authority to enact laws criminalizing the possession and/or control of marijuana, as this issue has been resolved in the government’s favor,” Americans for Safe Access Chief Counsel Joe Elford wrote in the complaint. “It is, rather, the government’s tactics, and the unlawful assault on state sovereignty they represent, that form the gravamen of ASA’s claim.”

The suit names Attorney General Eric Holder and Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for Northern California, as defendants. Haag’s spokesman, Jack Gillund, declined to comment on the case.

While I disagree with Holder’s actions, to be fair there is no doubt that the systems to provide medical marijuana are also used to allow for more widespread use of marijuana. However, it is hard to find any reasonable justification for outlawing marijuana, and prohibition does not work. The most reasonable response would be to discontinue these efforts and to seek the legalization of marijuana. The California Medical Association has recently called for the legalization of marijuana despite having questions regarding the benefits of medical marijuana. A recent Gallup poll showed fifty percent support the legalization of marijuana, with Republicans and conservatives being most likely to oppose this.

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Conservatives Again Show That They Are The Supporters Of Big Government, Opposing Trend Towards Support For End Of Marijuana Prohibition

The medical marijuana laws are failing at ensuring that people can use marijuana if it helps with symptoms of various diseases. In some states individuals can obtain a card allowing for the legal possession of marijuana. This might be obtained from a physician who is familiar with their medical history, or it might have been purchased from doctors who will give approval for marijuana use for $100. The laws typically do a poor job of stipulating how marijuana can be obtained. There is no doubt that many people are taking advantage of the program to obtain legal access to marijuana without legitimate need, leading to government crack-downs which make it  more difficult  to obtain marijuana.

With all the problems caused by these laws there is one obvious solution–legalize marijuana and eliminate the need for the poorly-constructed medical marijuana programs. The California Medical Association agrees:

The state’s largest doctor group is calling for legalization of marijuana, even as it pronounces cannabis to be of questionable medical value.

Trustees of the California Medical Assn., which represents more than 35,000 physicians statewide, adopted the position at their annual meeting in Anaheim late Friday. It is the first major medical association in the nation to urge legalization of the drug, according to a group spokeswoman, who said the larger membership was notified Saturday.

Dr. Donald Lyman, the Sacramento physician who wrote the group’s new policy, attributed the shift to growing frustration over California’s medical marijuana law, which permits cannabis use with a doctor’s recommendation. That, he said, has created an untenable situation for physicians: deciding whether to give patients a substance that is illegal under federal law.

“It’s an uncomfortable position for doctors,” he said. “It is an open question whether cannabis is useful or not. That question can only be answered once it is legalized and more research is done. Then, and only then, can we know what it is useful for.”

While the medical benefits remain uncertain, it is best to keep the government out of this issue and let people decide for themselves whether it is helping them. Prohibition does not work, and creates many problems. A Gallup poll today showed that a record high of 50 percent now support legalization. Not unexpectedly, conservatives who falsely claim they support smaller government are less likely to support legalization:

Support for legalizing marijuana is directly and inversely proportional to age, ranging from 62% approval among those 18 to 29 down to 31% among those 65 and older. Liberals are twice as likely as conservatives to favor legalizing marijuana. And Democrats and independents are more likely to be in favor than are Republicans.

 

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Bill Introduced To End Prohibition Of Marijuana

A group of Democratic Congressmen, joined by Ron Paul, proposed legislation in the House to end prohibition of  marijuana. Politico reports:

Modeled on the 21st Amendment to the Constitution that repealed the prohibition of alcoholic beverages, the legislation is being cast by the Marijuana Policy Project as the “the first bill ever introduced in Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition.”

The bill would let states legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. It would also “reprioritize federal resources” away from the enforcement of anti-marijuana laws, limiting the federal government’s role in combating cross-border and interstate smuggling, as well as in fighting the growth, use and sale of the drug.

Sponsors of the bill include Barney Frank, John Conyers, Steve Cohen, and Barbara Lee. The addition of Ron Paul allows them to frame this as a bipartisan measure, but Ron Paul is hardly likely to obtain very much support from his GOP colleagues on such a measure. I doubt that this will pas now, but sometimes measures which are considered too radical when first proposed do ultimately gain support . Maybe Republicans will ultimately go along with this as a means to get out of the budget crisis they created, preferring taxation of marijuana to raise money over a slight increase in the marginal tax rate of the top two percent. Between saving money on the failed drug war and the increased revenue from taxation of marijuana, this must have some meaningful impact on the budget.

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Jimmy Carter Advises Calling Off The Global Drug War

Jimmy Carter suggested calling off the global drug war in an op-ed in The New York Times. He began with noting recommendations from the Global Commission on Drug Policy and summarizing the history of the war on drugs:

IN an extraordinary new initiative announced earlier this month, the Global Commission on Drug Policy has made some courageous and profoundly important recommendations in a report on how to bring more effective control over the illicit drug trade. The commission includes the former presidents or prime ministers of five countries, a former secretary general of the United Nations, human rights leaders, and business and government leaders, including Richard Branson, George P. Shultz and Paul A. Volcker.

The report describes the total failure of the present global antidrug effort, and in particular America’s “war on drugs,” which was declared 40 years ago today. It notes that the global consumption of opiates has increased 34.5 percent, cocaine 27 percent and cannabis 8.5 percent from 1998 to 2008. Its primary recommendations are to substitute treatment for imprisonment for people who use drugs but do no harm to others, and to concentrate more coordinated international effort on combating violent criminal organizations rather than nonviolent, low-level offenders.

These recommendations are compatible with United States drug policy from three decades ago. In a message to Congress in 1977, I said the country should decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, with a full program of treatment for addicts. I also cautioned against filling our prisons with young people who were no threat to society, and summarized by saying: “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.”

These ideas were widely accepted at the time. But in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan and Congress began to shift from balanced drug policies, including the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts, toward futile efforts to control drug imports from foreign countries.

This approach entailed an enormous expenditure of resources and the dependence on police and military forces to reduce the foreign cultivation of marijuana, coca and opium poppy and the production of cocaine and heroin. One result has been a terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights in a growing number of Latin American countries.

The commission’s facts and arguments are persuasive. It recommends that governments be encouraged to experiment “with models of legal regulation of drugs … that are designed to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.” For effective examples, they can look to policies that have shown promising results in Europe, Australia and other places.

If the facts that the war is not working and is harming many people are not reason enough to call off the war, Carter also suggests that “the increased tax burden on wealthy citizens necessary to pay for the war on drugs will help to bring about a reform of America’s drug policies.” That might be the best argument to get Republicans to go along.

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Bills Introduced in House To Protect Medical Marijuana Industry

House Democrats, with the support of Republicans such as Ron Paul, have introduced legislation to reverse the unfair treatment which  medical marijuana dispensaries are subjected to. AlterNet reports:

Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA), Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) and Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced legislation to the House on Wednesday aimed at ensuring the medical marijuana industry is treated like any other business.

The legislation was supported by Republican Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (CA) and Ron Paul (TX).

The Small Business Tax Equity Act, introduced by Stark, authorizes medical marijuana dispensaries to take the full range of business expense deductions on their federal tax returns, like other legal businesses are allowed to.

“Our tax code undercuts legal medical marijuana dispensaries by preventing them from taking all the deductions allowed for other small businesses,” Stark stated. “While unfair to these small business owners, the tax code also punishes the patients who rely on them for safe and reliable access to medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor.”

Fifteen states and the District of Colombia have passed laws permitting marijuana to be used as medicine.

Another bill, introduced by Frank, would make individuals and business immune to federal prosecution if they are acting in compliance with local marijuana laws. Additionally, the legislation would direct the White House to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act so that it is no longer considered a highly addictive substance with no medical value.

Marijuana is currently listed as a schedule I drug, the most restrictive schedule with the greatest criminal penalties.

“The time has come for the federal government to stop preempting states’ medical marijuana laws,” Frank said. “For the federal government to come in and supersede state law is a real mistake for those in pain for whom nothing else seems to work. This bill would block the federal prosecution of those patients who reside in those states that allow medical marijuana.”

Lastly, legislation introduced by Polis would ensure that medical marijuana businesses that are state-certified have full access to banking services.

While far more needs to be done to end the counterproductive war on drugs, these are stops in the right direction. Prohibition doesn’t work, and it is especially unfair to penalize those who use marijuana for medical reasons while  following state laws which allow for this.

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