Prohibition

Barney Frank: “We should press our advantage.”

December 28th, 2012 4 Comments » Kate Zawidzki

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I attended a progressive event with MPP’s Morgan Fox in D.C. last Tuesday, where Congressmen John Conyers (D-MI) and Barney Frank (D-MA) both spoke.

Unsolicited — in front of the 60 or 70 activists and opinion leaders in attendance — Rep. Conyers made an off-handed criticism of the drug war, which was nice to hear.

And Rep. Frank spent most of his time at the microphone talking about the marriage-equality victories on November 6 in four states, saying a few times that the gay-rights community “must press our advantage.”

In other words, if the political momentum is on your side, you should use that momentum.

After their remarks, I chatted with Rep. Frank one-on-one.  (This would surely be the last time I speak to him before he retires from the U.S. House in January.)  After congratulating me on our wins in Colorado and Washington on November 6, he said to me, “We must press our advantage.”

In fact, that’s what we’re going to do with a new slate of ballot initiatives for November 2016, as well as congressional legislation to allow states to determine their own marijuana policies without federal interference.

I want to thank Congressmen Barney Frank and Ron Paul (R-TX) for their service in the U.S. House; both men are retiring on the same day, as it turns out.  They’ve made a wonderful contribution to the marijuana-policy-reform movement through their legislative leadership over the last three decades.

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Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Reform Comes to the Mountain State

December 14th, 2012 7 Comments » Kate Zawidzki

I’ve been organizing and advocating for marijuana policy reform in New Hampshire since 2007, and some of the successes have been very gratifying. After two near-victories on the medical marijuana issue (the governor vetoed bills in both 2009 and 2012), it now appears very likely that New Hampshire will pass an effective medical marijuana law in 2013.

However, I have often wished I could do something to help seriously ill patients in my home state of West Virginia. Sadly, medical marijuana legislation hasn’t been seriously considered in the Mountain State, despite the best efforts of Delegate Mike Manypenny (D-Taylor), who introduced bills in both 2011 and 2012.

The situation in West Virginia changed dramatically for the better this week, as Delegate Manypenny hosted a successful public forum Tuesday in the House of Delegates chamber. The forum was called “Should West Virginia Reform its Marijuana Laws?” and generated positive media coverage, including this article in the Charleston Gazette.

Featured speakers included an emergency room physician, the president-elect of the West Virginia Nurses’ Association, and a retired police lieutenant and FBI unit chief. This impressive line-up laid to rest once and for all the notion that marijuana policy reform supporters are merely self-interested marijuana users rather than conscientious, civic-minded advocates interested in improving public policy.

I was truly honored to be included in this forum and given the opportunity to speak about marijuana policy in the House chamber — a chamber I had last visited in the 1980’s as a student in the Wood County school system.

With strong, credible advocates like these supporting medical marijuana in West Virginia, patients in the Mountain State finally have reason to be optimistic about the future.

In New Hampshire, I’ve often argued that decision-makers should consider the state’s motto — Live Free or Die — when considering whether patients should be free to follow their doctors’ advice without fear of arrest. West Virginia’s state motto — Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers Are Always Free) — seems equally relevant to this issue.

May both states live up to their mottos by passing effective medical marijuana laws, and may they do so soon!

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Prohibition

Obama Says Individual Marijuana Consumers in Colorado and Washington Are Not Priorities

December 14th, 2012 5 Comments » Morgan Fox

In an interview released today, President Obama said that going after marijuana consumers will not be a priority of the federal government in states such as Colorado and Washington, where voters approved ballot measures this November making marijuana legal for adults. He also highlighted the need for a conversation about how to reconcile state and federal marijuana laws.

Marijuana officially became legal in Colorado on Monday after Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the voter-approved initiative into law. The measure adopted by voters in Washington went into effect last week. The initiatives also direct the legislatures of both states to create regulations in order to establish a legal market for businesses to cultivate and sell marijuana to adults.

While it is heartening to see Obama reiterating his position on not spending federal resources going after individuals, this does not represent a significant change in policy. Federal policy has not focused on them for some time, as most possession cases are dealt with at the state and local level.

The question is how the implementation of market regulations will be treated. It is time for the Obama administration and the governments of Colorado and Washington to determine how to work together to advance those state-based systems without frustrating legitimate federal interests. We look forward to having this conversation with White House and Department of Justice officials.

It seems like such a conversation is more possible than ever before, and supporters of reform should be cautiously optimistic. As Dominic Holden at The Stranger put it:

Obama is, if nothing else, encouraging more conversation about marijuana legalization instead of promising to shut it down. And the more people talk about this issue, the more it wins.

 

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Research

Study Shows Marijuana Often Substituted for Alcohol and Other Drugs

December 14th, 2012 24 Comments » Kate Zawidzki

I remember one of the clients I had on internship. He’d been drinking a fifth of bourbon a day for years. As you’d guess, his liver was a mess, and his thinking was clearly impaired. I couldn’t help but wonder how much better his health would have been (and how much money he could have saved) if he’d used cannabis instead. Of course, if I’d suggested that he switch to a safer drug, my supervisor would have berated me so loudly that everyone in the clinic would have had to cover his ears. There was little evidence to support this practice, no matter how much I thought it might help.

Although the idea remains controversial, substituting cannabis for drugs that cause more harm has a ton of advantages. It can certainly be cheaper, easier on the body, and less impairing. Harvard professor Lester Grinspoon mentioned this idea decades ago. I must get two e-mails a week from people who swear by the practice, but individual cases hardly count as compelling evidence. Fortunately, real people with real problems do everything that they can to tackle their troubles, no matter what the published research might say.

Years after I left internship, Dr. Amanda Reiman showed that many patrons of the Berkeley Patients’ Group used the plant to decrease or stop their consumption of other substances. The obvious next step would be a randomized clinical trial. Folks with drug problems would be randomly assigned to receive treatment as usual or to use cannabis exclusively instead. We’d follow up with them later and see how they were doing. Then we’d know if the treatment was helpful. It would take some money to give them the treatment they needed, but no matter how the experiment turned out, we’d know something very valuable.

If I’d called the National Institute of Health to pitch this idea, they’d probably have laughed their heads off. They’d have said that everybody knows that you can’t treat alcoholism with cannabis. I’d have mentioned Dr. Reiman’s study. They would have said that it was just one sample, and they were all from the same place, so no dice.

For this reason, we wanted to know if more medical cannabis patients made comparable claims. My esteemed colleagues contacted over 400 medical cannabis patients who were patrons of four different dispensaries in British Columbia. (I was just the data monkey on this project. Once New York state becomes more enlightened about medical cannabis, I’ll be more help.) Over 75% of these folks said that they used cannabis in place of some other drug. Replacing prescription drugs was the most common practice (68%), but many used the plant instead of alcohol (41%) and illicit drugs (36%). (Participants could report more than one drug for substitution, so the totals don’t equal 100%.)

We now have literally hundreds of people reporting that they can use cannabis instead of drugs that cause more harm. People who use alcohol or other drugs problematically often balk at treatments that demand complete abstinence. Who might show up for treatment if patients knew that they could use cannabis as part of the program? Maybe they’d run into trouble with the plant. But maybe they’d have healthy, productive, fun lives. They’d certainly have fewer problems if they laid off stimulants, alcohol, or opiates. So, how about it? What will it take to get a harm reduction program going where folks can use cannabis instead of hard drugs? I hate to think that the world might never know.

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Medical Marijuana

Judge upholds Arizona’s law; first dispensary begins serving patients!

December 10th, 2012 3 Comments » Kate Zawidzki

A lawsuit challenging Arizona’s medical marijuana law was rejected last week, when Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon rejected arguments by Attorney General Tom Horne and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and refused to declare the law invalid.

This is great news for patients, but wait, there’s more! Last week, the Phoenix FOX affiliate reported that a dispensary in Tucson became the first to open its doors in Arizona. However, that dispensary does not yet have medical marijuana available for patients, so the honor of being the first state-licensed dispensary actually goes to Arizona Organix in Glendale, which began supplying patients Thursday, December 6.

Prop. 203 has overcome several obstacles since it was approved by voters in 2010, and the law now appears to be well on its way to being fully implemented. However, advocates must remain vigilant, as we know the program’s opponents will continue trying to challenge the rights of patients in court and in the legislature. Montgomery has already announced he will appeal Judge Gordon’s ruling, so it’s clear the effort to preserve and protect Arizona’s medical marijuana law must continue.

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Prohibition

Washington Marijuana Law Takes Effect Tomorrow

December 5th, 2012 6 Comments » Morgan Fox

On this day in 1933, Congress responded to the growing number of states and citizens who decried the failed war on alcohol by ratifying the 21st Amendment. By effectively repealing federal alcohol prohibition, this historic event allowed states to determine the best way to deal with alcohol without interference from the federal government.

Tomorrow, history will begin to repeat itself as the ballot measure approved by voters in Washington officially goes into effect, making it the first state to remove all penalties for marijuana possession by adults. The federal government would be wise to learn from history and do what it did 79 years ago: get out of the way.

When it comes down to it, marijuana prohibition and alcohol prohibition are nearly identical, both in their intentions and in their failings. Both products are popular, and both prohibitions cause great harm to society. The laws that put non-violent alcohol users in prison and enriched violent gangsters like Al Capone are eerily similar to those that have destroyed the lives of millions of otherwise law-abiding marijuana consumers and propped up the cartels responsible for the daily violence south of the border.

Despite the glaring similarities with alcohol prohibition, there are still many government officials who simply do not see the parallels and insist that we cannot let responsible adults purchase marijuana – a far safer product than alcohol – from legitimate businesses instead of in the underground market.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the position of the U.S. Department of Justice, but we have yet to learn how, or if, they will push this position in states that choose a different, more rational path.

Washington’s new law will allow individuals 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana without penalty, fine, or arrest. Therefore, as of tomorrow, adults will no longer be persecuted simply for choosing to consume marijuana. It is now up to the state to create a system to tax and regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana so that this lucrative market can be properly managed, instead of being left in the hands of criminals without quality control or oversight.

The federal government should not interfere. It made that mistake when it tried to enforce federal law in states that had removed alcohol penalties, and the result was unnecessary suffering at the expense of states’ rights, vast amounts of money, and individual liberties.

The Obama Administration should not make the same mistake.

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Prohibition, Research

New Poll: Record High Support for Marijuana in U.S.

December 4th, 2012 14 Comments » Morgan Fox

According to a national poll conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, a record high 58% of American voters said they think marijuana should be made legal, compared to only 39% who do not. In addition, 50% of respondents said they think marijuana will become legal under federal law within the next 10 years.

A strong plurality (47%) of respondents said they think President Obama should allow Colorado and Washington to implement the ballot measures approved by voters last month to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol. Just 33% said they approve of President Obama using federal resources to prevent them from going into effect. Interestingly, support for the rights of states could be higher, but 46% of Republicans surveyed support the federal government asserting its power over the states.

Download the full poll results here.

Marijuana possession by adults is scheduled to become legal in Washington on Thursday when Initiative 502 officially goes into effect. A similar measure adopted by Colorado voters, Amendment 64, will go into effect no later than January 6. The new laws in Colorado and Washington make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use. They also direct the legislatures of both states to create regulations in order to establish a legal market for businesses to cultivate and sell marijuana to adults. So far, the federal government has not stated whether it intends to use any resources to interfere with the implementation of the new state laws.

The poll of 1,325 voters asked the same question that has been used by Gallup since 1970 to measure support for marijuana legalization in the country. In October 2011 Gallup found, for the first time, a majority (50%) of Americans supported making marijuana legal. Election results and pre-election polls in Colorado suggest PPP’s automated telephone survey might be a more accurate gauge of support for marijuana legalization, perhaps due to a hesitancy of voters to express their pro-marijuana sentiments to live operators, such as those utilized by Gallup.

 

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