At NORML, our goal is the full legalization of marijuana for all adults, regardless of why one smokes. But even as we continue to move forward politically, there are still hundreds of thousands of Americans being arrested for marijuana-related offenses each year, and until we achieve that goal, the criminal defense bar will continue to play a crucial role defending those citizens. Until we finally legalize marijuana for all adults, we have a continuing obligation to try to assist the victims of prohibition.
The reality is that marijuana smokers remain the target of aggressive and misguided law enforcement efforts in most states today. Responsible smokers in most states read about the newly-won freedoms in a handful of states, and dream of the day when their state will become more tolerant; but they are still being busted in large numbers and have to worry that the next knock on the door may be the police with a search warrant, about to destroy their homes and wreck their lives, looking for a little pot.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report was recently released, confirming that marijuana arrests are finally on a downward trend in the US. The marijuana arrests for 2013 totaled 693,481, down from 749,825 arrests in 2012 and 757,969 in 2011. The progress we have been making with decriminalization and legalization at the state level are beginning to be reflected in these arrest numbers.
Six out of ten voters believe that states, not the federal government, should authorize and enforce marijuana policy, according to national polling data reported this week by the Washington, DC think-tank Third Way.
When presented with the option, 60 percent of respondents said that state officials ought to possess the authority to “control and decide whether to legalize marijuana.” Only 34 percent of those polled said that the federal government ought to enforce marijuana laws.
Similarly, a super-majority of voters (67 percent) agreed, “Congress should pass a bill giving states that have legalized marijuana a safe haven from federal marijuana laws, so long as they have a strong regulatory system.”
Overall, 50 percent of voters said that they support legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes while 47 percent opposed the notion. However, among those opposed to legalization, 21 percent endorsed the idea of Congress providing a “safe haven” from federal prohibition in those states that have chosen to legalize the plant’s use and sale.
“The fact that state legalization of marijuana violates federal law and creates an untenable policy situation was clear – and the voters we polled responded not with ideological proclamations but by supporting a middle-ground, pragmatic policy which would ease that conflict as the legal landscape continues to quickly shift,” representatives for the think-tank stated in a media release. “This means marijuana is not an issue of absolutes for many Americans – rather, it requires a nuanced balancing of values and interests.”
Nationwide, voter support for cannabis legalization was highest among Democrats (64 percent), Millennials (61 percent), and non-white/Hispanic voters (61 percent). A majority of women voters and self-identified Republicans opposed legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. By contrast, majority support (78 percent) for the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes extended throughout all demographics.
Among respondents, 54 percent expressed a favorable view of those who used cannabis therapeutically, while only 36 percent said that they possessed a favorable view of social consumers.
When it came to the issue of how to most effectively influence voters’ opinions on marijuana law reform, authors reported that neither negative nor positive messaging “moved voters substantially in either direction.” Specifically, authors’ reported that many respondents failed to sympathize with the idea that the drug war was overly punitive or that the federal government might once again begin cracking down on state-compliant cannabis consumers and providers.
Authors concluded, “As opponents lean heavily into values-based arguments regarding teenage marijuana use and highway safety, more research still needs to be done to identify a compelling value for legalizing recreational marijuana – the way that compassion underlies support for medical marijuana.”
Researchers collected opinion data over the course of several months in two separate waves – first with a late summer focus group and then with an October poll of 856 registered voters, conducted online.
Full text of the Third Way report is online at here.
I just returned from the High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, and thought I might share some thoughts about the state of the legalization efforts in the Netherlands, as contrasted to the US.
The Coffee Shops
Amsterdam is famous for its coffee shops, where those over 18 are permitted to purchase and enjoy marijuana. But in recent years the Dutch government has taken steps to close a few of the shops, and limit the amount which one can purchase to five grams from any one shop. Yet, despite these changes, coffee shops remain plentiful and high quality marijuana remains convenient to anyone in Amsterdam.
Importantly for us Americans, contrary to the public statements issued by government officials in recent months declaring the coffee shops are off-limits to foreigners, fear not; there are coffee shops in nearly every block in downtown Amsterdam and I visited at least eight of them during my five days in the country, and never once did anyone ask if I were a citizen of the Netherlands. And in many of the coffee shops I visited, there were several other American tourists also enjoying this unique experience, along with plenty of locals as well.
To read the balance of this column, please go to Marijuana.com.
State Public Health Department officials have recommended over $7 million dollars in grant funding to pay for a series of state-sponsored clinical trials to assess the safety and efficacy of cannabis and cannabinoids.
The proposed studies include a pair of clinical trials to evaluate the use of cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychotropic plant cannabinoid, for patients with pediatric epilepsy. Two additional trials will assess the use of cannabis for patients suffering from post-traumatic stress. Other studies will assess the efficacy of either cannabis or CBD in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors, ulcerative colitis, and pain management. (More specific summaries of all eight proposed studies are available online here.)
Grant funding for the proposed studies requires final approval by the state Board of Health in December.
Following funding approval, researchers will still be required to gain additional federal approval in order to obtain access to research-grade cannabis or CBD.
The state of California previously sponsored a similar series of clinical trials assessing the safety and efficacy of marijuana. Those studies evaluated the use of whole-plant cannabis in patients with neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune deficiencies. A summary of those trials, published in 2012, concluded, “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”
One of the policy areas in greatest need of reform involves the typical response of our child custody system in this country when they learn that a parent smokes marijuana; in all states today, including those that have legalized marijuana either for medical use or for all adults, the child custody agency stubbornly maintains an unfair bias against parents who smoke marijuana.
I suspect most of us have personally witnessed the disruption to someone’s life that results when, for any of a number of possible reasons, a parent’s marijuana smoking becomes known to the state’s child welfare agency. Sometimes it is because the couple are going through a hostile separation or divorce, and one parent attempts to use the other’s use of marijuana to gain advantage, either to limit that parent’s access to the children or to get a more favorable financial arrangement. Other times it begins with the complaint of a nosy neighbor who claims to have smelled marijuana (or to have seen someone smoking it), and who calls the authorities.
Regardless of the origin of the complaint or the motivation of the complaintant, once the state’s child welfare agency is called into the dispute, a legal process is begun that will all too often be disruptive to the health and welfare of the child, the very opposite of the stated intent of the inquiry. It is also an expensive and heartbreaking experience to a parent or parents who have to hire lawyers and focus their life for months on end jumping through any number of legal hoops to demonstrate that, despite their marijuana smoking, they remain loving parents who provide a safe and healthy environment for their minor children.
To understand this awkward legal squeeze all too many parents find themselves facing, it is important to realize we have parallel legal systems in effect in these states: one deals with what conduct is or is not criminal; the other focuses only on what is in the best interests of the child. And even as we continue to make progress removing the responsible use of marijuana from the criminal code, either for medical use or for all adults, the child custody courts in those same states continue to begin any inquiry with the presumption that marijuana smokers are not fit parents, and marijuana smoking by adults, even when it is protected conduct under that state’s laws, is dangerous to any children and evidence of an unhealthy environment in which to raise a child.