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Cannabis Prohibition

  • by Sabrina Fendrick, Director of Women's Outreach January 28, 2014

    sheet-of-money-hemp

    Our nation’s marijuana laws are being held hostage by a prohibition industrial complex.  

    The latest Wall St. Journal/NBC poll shows, yet again, that the majority of Americans support legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults age 21 and over.  But despite this surge in support (several other national polls have seen similar results), there are a few well financed, politically powerful groups that remain staunchly against reform – and will likely serve as the biggest hinderance to widespread change.  These folks have made a lot of money off of marijuana’s current legal status, and those individuals (as well as their businesses/shareholders) are deeply invested in making sure things stay the way they are.  The wide range of direct and auxiliary enforcement mechanisms, as well as the increase in drug testing laws are driven by companies and businesses who provide the services necessary to support this disastrous and wasteful policy.

    One such industry that has a financial interest in maintaining the status quo is law enforcement, especially drug officers and private prisons.  Drug officers benefit from forfeiture and federal grants.  Private prisons keep their jails full and multi-million dollar state contracts in place.  The Office of National Drug Control Policy requested $9.4 billion in funding for 2013, the majority of which went to enforcement and incarceration.   More specifically, California police – one of the most vocal opponents to legalization in the state made $181.4 million by seizing and selling the homes and cars of Californians involved in marijuana cases from 2002 to 2012.  Police in Washington are already taking budget hits as a result of the passage of I-502, the state’s marijuana legalization initiative that passed in 2012. It was reported that some police drug task forces lost 15 percent of funding due to decreased revenue from marijuana forfeiture cases.  On a national level, marijuana cases netted $1 billion in assets forfeited between 2002 and 2012.  Assets can be seized under federal or state law, depending on the situation.  The Wall St. Journal recently reported that marijuana law reform would cut into a significant percentage of drug task forces’ revenue.   Most cash generated from drug-related property forfeitures goes to the law enforcement agency that made the bust.  The Journal reports that “Nationally, assets forfeited in marijuana cases from 2002 through 2012 accounted for $1 billion of the $6.5 billion from all drug busts.”  Task forces also rely heavily on federal grants.

    One example of a federal grant relied heavily upon by drug task forces is Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program.  The amount of money distributed is based on the number of drug arrests made for that year, among other components.  The more drug arrests made, the more grant money provided, and 50% of all drug arrests are marijuana related.   No drug will be able to fill the void of marijuana arrests.  Marijuana is easier to spot and smell, and is consumed by more people than any other illegal drug, making marijuana arrest rates a significant percentage of overall revenue.  Then you have state contracts with private prisons, which mandate that facilities be filled at 90% capacity at all times.  If 50% inmates are there as a result of drug-related crimes, and half of that is for marijuana – legalization would be a serious threat to new contracts and increased profits.

    Another industry tied into the prohibition industrial complex is the drug testing market. It’s a multi-billion dollar a year industry with its own, built in legislative advocacy machine.   Take DATIA , the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association for example.  This industry organization represents more than 1,200 companies and employs a DC-based lobbying firm, Washington Policy Associates.   Their mission statement includes, among other things, creating “new opportunities for the drug testing industry.”

    In 2002, a representative from the influential drug-testing management firm Besinger, DuPont & Associates (Robert DuPont, Nixon’s first drug czar is a high profile opponent to legalization) heralded schools as “potentially a much bigger market than the workplace.”  Workplace drug testing is a declining market due to the fact that employees see minimal return on investment.  In fact, a DATIA newsletter dubbed school children “the next frontier.”  Unsurprisingly, this industry advocates testing in all grades and for all extracurricular activities.  It should be noted that several reports have concluded that drug testing minors is not only ineffective but can be emotionally and psychologically damaging.  Lucky, many schools have been reluctant to embrace testing.

    Year after year, the drug testing industry gears up for another legislative push, ghostwriting bills for local and national lawmakers demanding testing for people who receive public assistance.  Many of these elected officials are either financially investment in these companies, or received significant financial contributions from industry organizations.  For example, in February 2012, Congress amended federal rules to allow states to drug-test select unemployment applicants.  Among the lawmakers advocating for the change was Congressman Dave Camp, who owns at least $81,000 in assets in companies that are major players in the drug-testing industry, such as LabCorp and Abbott Laboratories. He has also received $5,000 in federal campaign contributions from LabCorp over the past three years.  Abbott Laboratories spent $133,500 on campaign donations to Ohio and Texas state politician promoting drug testing to welfare recipients, in the lead-up to the 2010 and 2012 elections, in addition to more than $500,000 spent by the company on state lobbying contracts since 2010.

    The industry is once again flexing its political arm pushing for policies that mandate drug testing for welfare recipients.  Legislation has already been introduced in Virginia, New York, Arizona, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois and Mississippi, for the 2014 legislative session.

    Two of the most outspoken opponents of marijuana legalization are David Evans and Robert DuPont.  DuPont, Founder of Besinger, DuPont & Associates served as the nation’s first drug policy director under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.  During that time he had advocated decriminalizing marijuana and its use a “minor problem.”  Once he left public office however, he became a “drug-testing management” consultant.  David Evans worked for Hoffmann-La Roche, a multi-billion dollar drug testing group encouraging workplace drug testing policies.  He now runs his own lobby firm and has ghostwritten several state laws to expand drug testing.   Drug testing overall detects marijuana more than any other drug, which stays in the body for up to a month — as opposed to other harder drugs like cocaine and heroin, which are metabolized within one to three days. That is why they have such significant stake in keeping the plant illegal.

    The total income for all of these industries combined adds up to hundreds of billions of dollars annually, a significant amount derived from taxpayer dollars.  An industrial complex is when there is a policy and monetary relationship between legislators, the public sector and an industrial base that supports them.  Just like the military industrial complex, the prohibition industrial complex, and its cycle of laws, enforcement and contracts will pose a major challenge to reform efforts.  This will be especially true in states that don’t have ballot initiatives, which is why it is so important for everyone to get active on a local level, and hold lawmakers accountable.  Though difficult, this will not be an impossible challenge to overcome, as long as we remain diligent and active in the political process.

    Please take a minute of your time today to utilize NORML’s Take Action Center to contact your representatives and urge them to support or sponsor marijuana law reform legislation.  Click here to see if there is a bill pending in your state, and here to find contact information for your elected officials. 

     

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director August 2, 2012

    Infamously, America’s federally created Cannabis Prohibition marks its seventy-fifth anniversary this August 2, 2012. The so-called ‘great failed social experiment’ of Alcohol Prohibition of the 1920s barely lasted a dozen years in effect. Rightly, it took a constitutional amendment to both ban and restore alcohol products to the free market. Is there a similar constitutional amendment for cannabis products in 1937?

    No, of course not.

    And that is where the sophistry, hypocrisy and duplicity begin regarding America’s modern cannabis policy of vilifying, arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating cannabis consumers, cultivators and marketers.

    Even though virtually every other country’s farmers have the choice whether or not to cultivate industrial hemp, even in countries where cannabis policy is decidedly worse than America’s, can American farmers prosper from cultivating this environmentally-friendly and productive crop?

    No, of course not.

    Do Americans support this failed, expensive and unconstitutional public policy of criminalizing cannabis?

    No, of course not.

    It can be readily stated, based on public opinion surveys and focus groups, that three quarters of Americans strongly support cannabis’ soft reforms: medical access and decriminalization of small amounts for personal use. And now, according to Gallup polling, fifty percent of Americans now want cannabis legally controlled in a manner similar to far more dangerous, problematic, addictive and readily available commercial products such as alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals.

    Most every governmental commission convened has recommended that at minimum cannabis be decriminalized for adult possession; the federal government can proffer no data or statistics indicating that their war against cannabis consumers has had any success whatsoever; America’s national security and borders are made less—not more—secure because of Cannabis Prohibition.

    In response to the federal failure, currently seventeen states and the District of Columbia have chosen to abandon the federal government’s scientifically absurd and inhumane prohibition on sick, dying and sense-threatened patients who’ve permission from their physician to have cannabis in their therapeutic arsenal for relief, safety, affordability and efficacy.

    Additionally, fourteen states and numerous large municipalities have rejected the federal government’s blanket prohibition on cannabis and decriminalized possession.

    This election cycle, the voting public will once again have the opportunity to put serious political and economic upward pressure on a totally recalcitrant U.S. Congress and Executive Branch to end the national prohibition on cannabis when no less than five states have either binding legalization or medicalization voter ballot initiatives.

    Regrettably, regardless of the political party in control or whomever president, will Congress even hold lowly sub-committee hearings to finally start the process of reforming the federal government’s out-of-touch cannabis policies?

    No, of course not.

    Can Cannabis Prohibition continue to prevail in a free market oriented democracy like America, where approximately one out of eight citizens are considered ‘criminals’ by their own government?

    This supposed ‘criminal’ activity is nothing more than consumers making the completely logical and rational consumer decision to use an ancient herb that the DEA’s own chief law judge ruled is “In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume…Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.”

    No, of course not.

    Can this terribly wasteful, destructive, distracting, unsuccessful, constitution-warping status quo regarding Cannabis Prohibition fester much longer in America?

    No, of course not.

    This is made all the more difficult for American politicians to continuously embrace ‘Reefer Madness’ as more and more countries around the world—notably in Europe, Central and South America—are expressing severe frustration with America’s failed Cannabis Prohibition policies and law enforcement priorities. Currently, as many as eight countries in the Americas have pending legislation or litigation seeking to legalize cannabis in defiance of the United States.

    Lastly, after all these decades of government oppression, bogus science, racist law enforcement and some industries making fortunes off of Cannabis Prohibition (think: private prisons, drug testing companies, contraband detection companies, etc…), can the cannabis plant legalize itself?

    No, of course not.

    Please help end Cannabis Prohibition in America (and therein around most of the world too). Please help legalize the remarkable, utilitarian, affordable and safe cannabis plant. Please do not vote for any politicians who want to continue with another seventy-five years of Cannabis Prohibition. Please join and donate to any cannabis law reform organization.  Please get involved in your own liberation.

    Can we succeed if we all work together in concert to end Cannabis Prohibition in our lifetimes?

    Yes, of course.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director February 27, 2012

    You can’t make this stuff up!

    I often say to staff, supporters and the media that: We’re blessed by our opponents to cannabis law reform!”

    A few weeks ago the New York Times featured a straight forward story during these recessionary times about local and state governments with legal protections for medical cannabis patients struggling to cobble together taxation and other revenue streams derived from medical cannabis in the face of federal recalcitrance and outright law enforcement opposition.

    The national affairs story is almost a no-brainer that wrote itself regarding this clear conflict between state and federal governments over the country’s festering 74-year old and increasingly unpopular Cannabis Prohibition.

    While not clear if whether or not an indication of the dearth of letters received by the NYT on the subject matter (i.e., meaning the subject matter was not controversial), or, the letters’ editors casting needed public light on the kind of remaining, almost teetering and naked public opposition that solidly supports another eight decades of the failed and expensive public policy of Cannabis Prohibition, the publishing of only these two letters, from such clearly bias sources, is potentially revealing.

    The first letter is from a drug rehabilitation center CEO in NYC (back in the late 1980s and throughout most of the 1990s, one of the most frequently published commentators and letter writers in the New York Times against virtually any pro-cannabis law reforms was Mitchell Rosenthal of Phoenix House, another drug rehabilitation provider like competitor Odyssey House. Not too surprisingly the current CEO of Odyssey House used to be employed at Phoenix House….).

    The second letter is from a decidedly unsurprising duo of longtime anti-cannabis propagandists and prohibition profiteers, former National Institute of Drug Abuse head Robert DuPont, M.D. (who, as director of NIDA, at one time publicly supported major cannabis law reforms, including decriminalization) and former Drug Enforcement Administration honcho Peter Bensinger.

    Both the former G-men and current pee testers, like rehabbers Rosenthal and Odyssey House CEO Peter Provet, are now some of the very few and clearly committed individuals remaining in a country with an estimated population in excess of 300 million to consistently write and publish letters to the editors of major newspapers and magazines condemning all things cannabis and favor not only the status quo, but a doubling-down by government passing even more stringent and invasive anti-cannabis laws and enforcement.

    While the NYT correctly identifies these two prohibitionists’ former executive roles in federal government anti-drug bureaucracies going back 30 years ago, what the NYT failed to inform readers is that DuPont and Bensinger are the longtime and current principles of a lucrative drug testing (their company has been chosen by members of Congress to perform individual drug tests) and anti-drug counseling business to Fortune 1000 companies and small businesses.

    As previously stated, currently in America, almost all of the public opposition against cannabis law reform historically comes from government agencies, industries and companies who most financially benefit from the current and failed status quo of Cannabis Prohibition:

    –>Law Enforcement Agencies: Employees from local police to the Drug Enforcement Administration, to sheriffs, prosecutors, probation officers and prison guards, in modern times are usually the first in line, loudest and most strident against ending Cannabis Prohibition in America.

    –>Government Bureaucracies Born of Cannabis Prohibition: DEA, ONDCP, FBI, NIDA, SAMHSA, DARE, PDFA, etc…

    –>Industries and Companies That Will Compete With Legal Cannabis: Tobacco, Alcohol, Pharmaceutical, Wood and Fuel

    –>Industries and Companies That Currently Benefit From Cannabis Prohibition Laws: Private Prisons, Drug Testing, Drug Rehab, Drug Detection Device Makers, Mercenary Private Military Companies That Perform Duties and Actions Once Reserved for the Civilian Military

    The below letters published by the NYT demonstrate how limited, parochial and self-interested today’s anti-cannabis activists are becoming in a country where 50% of the public no longer supports Cannabis Prohibition.

     Letters

    Taxing Medical Marijuana

    Published: February 23, 2012

    To the Editor:

    Struggling Cities Turn to a Crop for Cash” (news article, Feb. 12) doesn’t mention a major issue of concern that has to be considered before claims of attractive financial benefits from taxing medical marijuana can be made.

    In the states mentioned — California, Colorado, Maine and Oregon — 3.2 million people are not receiving the treatment services they need for drug abuse and dependence. California alone accounts for 2.3 million people with untreated substance abuse disorders.

    Before hard-pressed municipalities, in these and other states around the country, look at medical marijuana as a new source of tax revenue to finance essential services, taxpayers should be given the opportunity to consider allocating some of this money to under-supported treatment and prevention programs.

    This will not mitigate the effects of untreated substance abuse, but it will help send a clear message to young people that marijuana, prescribed or not, has addictive potential that too often requires intensive treatment.

    PETER PROVET
    President and Chief Executive
    Odyssey House
    New York, Feb. 13, 2012

     

    ______________________________

     

    To the Editor:

    California cities’ meager tax payments are a tiny fraction of the costs of their misguided “medical marijuana” initiatives.

    The taxes imposed on medical marijuana place it in a category with alcohol and tobacco, two legal drugs that demonstrate the same appalling disparity between tax revenues and societal costs. The state and federal alcohol revenue of $14 billion and the $25 billion collected in tobacco taxes in the United States are overshadowed by the $235 billion and $200 billion in social costs they produce, respectively.

    Among all Americans 12 and older who abuse or are dependent on an illegal drug, 60 percent abuse or are dependent on marijuana. Nationally, admissions for primary marijuana use to state-financed treatment have increased by 31 percent from 1998 to 2008 (the most recent year for which data are available).

    California and other states that have legalized medical marijuana face the disturbing reality of the drug’s true costs in long-term health care, increased treatment admissions, loss of productivity at work and at school, and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes.

    In addition to the disproportion of small tax revenue compared with large societal costs, medical marijuana sharply increases marijuana use and dependency. With 60 percent more cancer-causing chemicals than cigarettes and four times more tar, making marijuana more available is bad economic policy and bad health care policy.

    PETER B. BENSINGER
    ROBERT L. DuPONT
    Chicago, Feb. 14, 2012

    The writers are, respectively, former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, 1976-81; and a psychiatrist and founding director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1973-78.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director February 15, 2012

    APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY BY BOARD

    At the recently concluded Annual Meeting and in conjunction with ‘National Medical Marijuana Week‘, the NORML Board of Directors condemned recent and unjustifiable federal law enforcement efforts against medical cannabis providers in America.

    The Board continues to endorse the reform of cannabis laws nationally, as well as the progressive medical initiatives inaugurated and carried out in California and other states.

    We remain thoroughly supportive of cannabis freedom fighters and the medical cannabis community and its citizens, whose cause is just.

    Since its founding in 1970, NORML has continued to support, and has never abandoned, the righteous efforts of freedom fighters, responsible consumers, and the medical cannabis community.

    We have supported decriminalization measures, medicinal users, patients’ rights, student alliances, and a wealth of progressive reformers who all share the ultimate common goal of an end to Cannabis Prohibition.

    We will never back down in these efforts.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director December 21, 2011

    George Washington University law professor and longtime jury nullification proponent Paul Butler pens a noteworthy op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times.

    Notable not only because of the important subject matter vis-à-vis the first example proffered by Professor Butler, but also too because of the defendant in the case at bar cited.

    Professor Julian Heicklen has been protesting Cannabis Prohibition laws since the mid 1990s, mainly around the Penn State campus where he was a longtime Chemistry professor, principally by causing a ruckus around jury nullification and protesting without permits.

    Here is a related story NORML featured about Prof. Heicklen in 1998.

    Well, to his ever-loving credit, in his retirement, this 79-year-old freedom loving activist is still–through his own pain and suffering–working hard to inform the public and potential jurors that they (better said, we) all have the right to vote our conscience when in judgment of our fellow citizens in a criminal court of law.

    I too join Professors Heicklen and Butler in what some prosecutors deem a ‘crime’ and that is to educate as many citizens as possible that they don’t have to keep upholding bad laws like Cannabis Prohibition by voting to punish citizens for non-violent cannabis-related criminal offenses.

    American citizens when acting as jurors have the right and responsibility to “Just Say No” to enforcing the country’s failed and expensive Cannabis Prohibition laws.

    Many thanks to John Peter Zenger, Julian Heicklen, Paul Butler and all citizens who fully exercise their rights to nullify bad laws.

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