Articles Posted in Decriminalization of Marijuana

Fotolia_62904321_Subscription_Monthly_M-300x300In April 2016, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced it was reconsidering marijuana’s current list as a Schedule 1 Drug in the Controlled Substance Act. This announcement was met with skepticism and cautious optimism. The decision of the DEA to reclassify marijuana in the Controlled Substance List would allow national marijuana reform to circumvent the large hurdle of congressional action.

The State of Federal Marijuana Law

Currently, marijuana is illegal at the federal level under the Controlled Substance Act which defines marijuana as a Schedule 1 Drug. These schedules are characterized as:

iStock_000011009457_ExtraSmallIn 2015, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law SB 339 known as the Texas Compassionate Use Act. The bill authorizes DPS to implement a dispensary program to include a registry of physicians who are authorized to prescribe low levels of THC cannabis, and their patients who are receiving the medication. The online Compassionate Use Registry is expected to begin development in July 2016. DPS will also provide licenses to dispensaries for regulated cultivation, operation, and dispensation of cannabis. Acceptance of licensing applications begin in June 2017, and at least three dispensaries can receive a license by September 2017.  There is no limit to the number of distributors who can receive a license.

The program is strictly limited to qualified patients, regardless of age, diagnosed with intractable epilepsy. This means that a patient must be a permanent resident of Texas, and have tried at least two FDA-approved medications in the past that have not alleviated seizures. The law also requires that two physicians determine  that the medical use of prescribed, low-THC cannabis will benefit the patient. Low-THC is defined as marijuana that contains 10% or more cannabidiol (CBD, a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis) and no more than .5% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis). The availability of cannabis will be in the form of oils so smoking cannabis will remain illegal under state and federal law. Neither DPS nor another State agency will regulate the cost of cannabis which means prices will be based on a market-based system. For more FAQs, see DPS’s website.

Although this is a historical step for Texas, implementation of the program could delay if medical doctors shy away from prescribing medical marijuana or are slow to implement guidelines in their practice. More Texans will need access to medical marijuana if the legislature wants to help other citizens who want to use cannabis for health reasons. Research has shown that cannabidiol can alleviate the ailments of those suffering from arthritis, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Thumbnail image for Fotolia_62904321_Subscription_Monthly_M.jpgThe Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Attorneys have raided Cannabis dispensaries and sent people to prison, even though they complied with State laws. According to a report released by Americans for Safe Access, the DOJ has spent nearly $80 million each year — more than $200,000 per day — cracking down on medical Cannabis. The federal government continues to classify Cannabis, a plant, as presenting the greatest danger, alongside heroin and LSD, with no currently accepted medical use.

We are a union of sovereign states which delegated only certain, limited sovereignty to a central government. The U. S. Congress prohibits Cannabis through its misuse of the Commerce clause of the Constitution. The Commerce Clause, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution, declares: Congress shall have power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.”

Congress’ power “to regulate” commerce does not include the authority “to prohibit”. Congress does not possess the authority to ban goods merely because they cross state lines.

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iStock_000013348762_ExtraSmall.jpgA strong majority of Texans support marijuana legalization according to public policy polling, which revealed Texan support at 58%. With some grass roots indications that Texas is ready to legalize marijuana, many question how legalization could affect the overall public heath of Texas residents. With alcohol abuse and its devastating consequences remaining a major issue in Texas, some people worry marijuana could add to the problem. Researchers have long been trying to figure out whether marijuana legalization would lead to more alcohol consumption (if the drugs are complementary) or if legalization would actually reduce alcohol use (if marijuana is a substitute for alcohol). Finally, there seems to be an answer. It is thought that marijuana use usually replaces alcohol use, and since marijuana is far safer than alcohol, marijuana legalization would lead to a net gain in public health benefits due to less alcohol consumption.

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iStock_000009135835_ExtraSmall.jpgSurpassing all other countries in the world on modernization of marijuana laws, legislators in Uruguay passed a bill in December of 2013 to legalize and regulate marijuana nation-wide. Uruguay’s president voiced strong support for the bill, noting a legalized market would reduce illicit drug trade, and signed the bill into law. Uruguayans over the age of 18 may legally grow six marijuana plants, form smoking clubs of 15-45 members with a production limit of 99 plants a year, and buy up to 40 grams or 1.4 ounces each month from government-regulated retail shops. See Uruguay’s New Marijuana Laws here.

Other Latin American countries are not far behind in the movement to reform drug laws away from ineffective criminalization and toward sensible regulations. In Ecuador, lawmakers have debated a bill that would lessen the penalties associated with marijuana. The head of Argentina’s counter-narcotics agency, Juan Carlos Molina, supports debating whether Argentina should follow its neighbor Uruguay’s example.

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iStock_000011009457_ExtraSmall.jpgPresident Obama thinks marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and is less dangerous in terms of its impact on consumers. In a January 2014 interview with the New Yorker, the president compared marijuana to other vices such as alcohol and cigarettes, stating “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.”

While the president doesn’t find the use of marijuana alarming, he is very bothered by the fact that minorities, especially minority youth, have a radically disproportionate rate of arrest and imprisonment. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” Obama said. “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 individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.” A new study released this month supports the president’s concerns, finding that nearly half of all black males are arrested by the time they reach the age of 23.

What is even more surprising is that notoriously conservative Texas governor Rick Perry has also shown a recent liberalized attitude towards marijuana. Perry, speaking to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, defended Colorado and Washington state’s vote to legalize the drug, saying it is a matter of states’ rights. Although Perry sidestepped questions of whether he supported the decriminalization of marijuana, he promoted Texas’ drug courts, which offer treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent offenders, as an example to other states and nations.

iStock_000001725183XSmall.jpgA recent report by the Partnership at Drug Free, formerly known as the Partnership for a Drug Free America, found a solid majority of those polled by the organization itself, 52 percent, favor marijuana decriminalization and a vast majority, 70 percent, favor medical marijuana. The Partnership interviewed 1,603 adults. The majority of these adults (1,200) are parents of children who are between 10 and 19 years old. The report found 72 percent of mothers and 67 percent of fathers support medical marijuana.

One may be surprised that an organization focused on combating teenage drug use is publicizing report results showing favorable parental views on marijuana law reform. A deeper look into the results of marijuana law reform reveals that marijuana reform could help combat teenage marijuana use and thus align with the goals of the Partnership. For example, since Colorado passed marijuana laws, marijuana usage among Colorado teenagers has gone down. Colorado, probably the most marijuana friendly state in the nation, has a teenage marijuana use rate that is below the national average. Despite the beliefs of marijuana reform opponents that claim pro-marijuana laws will increase adolescent marijuana use, a recent report revealed there is no visible link between states legalizing medical marijuana and children increasing marijuana consumption.

The Partnership has had a noticeable history of focusing especially on the dangers of marijuana, even though the harms caused by alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals far outweigh the harms of marijuana use. Past funding sources of the Partnership may explain the lack of particular focus on drugs more destructive than marijuana. According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the Partnership has accepted funding from numerous tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceutical companies. These companies include the Budweiser, Michelob, Busch Beer Company: Anheuser Busch, the Marlboro and Virginia Slims company: Philip Morris, the Camel, Salem, Winston cigarettes company: R.J. Reynolds, as well as firms associated with pharmaceuticals like Bristol Meyers-Squibb, Merck & Company, and Proctor & Gamble. The Partnership reportedly ceased accepting alcohol and tobacco funding, but continues to receive support from major pharmaceutical firms, despite the fact that pharmaceutical drugs cause the most overdose deaths compared to all other drugs.

2014-01-12 15.06.54.jpgThere is no question that the major tobacco industries for a time were grossly irresponsible in their promotions and commercial sales of tobacco products. Tobacco industries misled the public on the harmful effects of tobacco use, marketed the product to adolescents, and even persuaded physicians into endorsing cigarettes as medicine. A concern of many individuals regarding the legalization of marijuana is that the marijuana industry will become another incarnation of the tobacco industry, bringing with it more corporate greed rather than public good. As major investors, such as a former Microsoft manager, plan to pour millions of dollars into the legal marijuana market, and as investor groups predict marijuana to become America’s next great industry, the concern of the possible emergence of “Big Marijuana” akin to “Big Tobacco” seems well warranted. “Big Marijuana” already exists in the form of drug cartels. Well-drafted regulations could prevent gross irresponsibility in the legal marijuana industry.

Mexico’s biggest agricultural import is marijuana, annually creating billions of dollars of revenue for drug cartels. Estimates from Mexico’s Attorney General’s office reveals that the profits from the marijuana exported in the US make up about half of drug cartels’ overall revenues. Not only are drug cartels producing illicit marijuana in Mexico, they are growing marijuana in national parks inside the U.S., through sophisticated networks designed to avoid the difficulty of smuggling drugs across the border. Notorious for their brutality and criminal infestations of all elements of Mexican society, as well as rampant encroachments into the U.S., the state of the marijuana market as it exits under marijuana prohibition only fuels organized crime to grow to powerful sizes. As a result of marijuana legalization victories in Colorado and Washington state, estimates reveal that drug cartel profits could be substantially reduced. Even if marijuana legalization nationwide somehow creates greedy profit-seeking corporations, such corporate-control will nonetheless be a much better alternative to our current system of cartel-run markets. Marijuana legalization could create a tobacco-type industry for cannabis conglomerates, however stringent regulations imposed on emerging marijuana markets may control this problem.

For instance, Washington State mandates that only 334 marijuana stores can operate across the state. An individual can only own up to three retail marijuana licenses. When an individual does hold multiple licenses, he cannot have more than 33% of the licenses in a county. Retail license holders cannot be licensed to produce marijuana. Regarding advertising and labeling, ads or product labels cannot be misleading, encourage over-consumption, claim that there are therapeutic benefits, or show children, toys, child-like cartoons, or any such imagery which is meant to encourage child marijuana use. Marijuana stores are not able to advertise within 1,000 feet of schools, on buses, or on public property, and all advertising shall have health and safety warnings. Such strong restrictions on the marijuana industry should prevent the dangerous concentration of corporate power of the kind once wielded by the tobacco industry.

iStock_000013348762_ExtraSmall.jpgNational Drug Control Policy Director and the U.S.’s top drug enforcer Gil Kerlikowske made headlines earlier this year when his office issued a memo admitting for the first time that the U.S. is “in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.” The short memo was released in response to three popular petitions submitted through the White House’s citizens’ petition website ‘We The People’. One of the petitions, whose 84,000 signatures make it among the most highly supported petitions on the website, poses this question to the Obama Administration: “Should the government remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substance Act and allow the states to decide how they want to regulate it?” Apart from stating that a “serious national conversation” is occurring over legalization of marijuana, Kerlikowske’s memo did not offer much else, instead he asked readers to reference President Obama’s interview with Barbara Walters about his administration’s stance on pot.

An excerpt of the interview included in the memo quoted Obama as stating, “[A]t this point, [in] Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. And as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions. It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that’s legal . . . And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal.”

Though Kerlikowske’s memo is far from confirming that the U.S. will pursue alternatives to it’s current war on marijuana, it is a stark shift from just a few years ago when Kerlikowske stated that “legalization is not in my vocabulary and it’s not in the President’s” Kerlikowske, who spent most of his career as a police chief, is not the only conservative personality who has recently changed his tune about marijuana legalization.

iStock_000006746569XSmall.jpgBy their very title, the role of law enforcement officials has traditionally been limited to enforcing the laws handed down by our popularly elected officials. However, a letter jointly written by several national law enforcement agencies makes it clear that the majority of law enforcement agents feel they should be able to determine what policies and laws to follow. The letter, written in response to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s August announcement that the federal government would not challenge laws passed by Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational marijuana, 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. “It is unacceptable that the Department of Justice did not consult our organizations — whose members will be directly impacted — for meaningful input ahead of this important decision,” the letter read. “Our organizations were given notice just thirty minutes before the official announcement was made public and were not given the adequate forum ahead of time to express our concerns with the Department’s conclusion on this matter. Simply ‘checking the box’ by alerting law enforcement officials right before a decision is announced is not enough and certainly does not show an understanding of the value the Federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partnerships bring to the Department of Justice and the public safety discussion.” Even though scientists have debunked the myth that marijuana is a gateway drug, the letter cited the gateway drug theory to oppose marijuana reform. Interestingly, the letter failed to address the fact that marijuana prohibition has not reduced marijuana usage among US residents, even while law enforcement has dramatically increased the number of jailed drug offenders.

One would think law enforcement officials would welcome eliminating a major revenue source for foreign and domestic organized criminals, however to the contrary, they have been staunch opponents of legalizing marijuana for personal or medicinal use because, while it remains contraband, marijuana is a major source of funding for law enforcement. 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. It is obvious that Law Enforcement has a financial incentive to maintain the “War on Drugs” and that they are willing to utilize unfounded data to support their anti-marijuana reform claims.

In addition, law enforcement officials seem to have entirely missed Holder’s emphasis on allowing Washington and Colorado a trial period during which the Justice Department will be very closely monitoring any negative effect to public safety, public health and other community interests. Coupled with Holder’s announcement was a memo issued to U.S. attorneys across the country by Deputy Attorney General James Cole. Cole’s letter stated that the administration’s decision rests on its expectation that the states would maintain strong and effective regulation and enforcement systems to address any threat to public safety and health.