#1 Colorado and Washington Vote To Legalize Marijuana
Voters in Colorado and Washington made history by approving ballot measures allowing for the personal possession and consumption of cannabis by adults. Washington’s law, which removes criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use (as well as the possession of up to 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form, and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form), took effect on December 6. Colorado’s law, which allows for the legal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and/or the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants in private by those persons age 21 and over, took effect on December 10. Regulators in both states are now in the process of drafting rules to allow for state-licensed proprietors to commercially produce and sell cannabis.
#2 Most Americans Favor Legalization, Want The Feds To Butt Out
A majority of Americans support legalizing the use of cannabis by adults, according to national polls by Public Policy Polling, Angus Reid, Quinnipiac University, and others. A record high 83 percent of US citizens favor allowing doctors to authorize specified amounts of marijuana for patients suffering from serious illnesses. And nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose federal interference in state laws that allow for legal marijuana use by adults.
#3 Connecticut, Massachusetts Legalize Cannabis Therapy
Connecticut and Massachusetts became the 17th and 18th states to allow for the use of cannabis when recommended by a physician. Connecticut lawmakers in May approved Public Act 12-55, An Act Concerning the Palliative Use of Marijuana. The new law took effect on October 1. On Election Day, 63 percent of Massachusetts voters approved Question 3, eliminating statewide criminal and civil penalties related to the possession and use of up to a 60-day supply of cannabis by qualified patients. The law takes effect on January 1, 2013.
#4 Schedule I Prohibitive Status For Pot “Untenable,” Scientists Say
The classification of cannabis and its organic compounds as Schedule I prohibited substances under federal law is scientifically indefensible, according to a review published online in May in The Open Neurology Journal. Investigators at the University of California at San Diego and the University of California, Davis reviewed the results of several recent clinical trials assessing the safety and efficacy of inhaled or vaporized cannabis. They 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.”
#5 Marijuana Arrests Decline, But Still Total Half Of All Illicit Drug Violations
Police made 757,969 arrests in 2011 for marijuana-related offenses, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Report. The total marked a decline from previous years. Of those charged in 2011 with marijuana law violations, 663,032 (86 percent) were arrested for marijuana offenses involving possession only. According to the report, approximately 43 percent of all drug violations in 2011 were for cannabis possession.
#6 Long-Term Cannabis Exposure Not Associated With Adverse Lung Function
Exposure to moderate levels of cannabis smoke, even over the long-term, is not associated with adverse effects on pulmonary function, according to clinical trial data published in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Investigators at the University of California, San Francisco analyzed the association between marijuana exposure and pulmonary function over a 20-year period in a cohort of 5,115 men and women in four US cities. They concluded: “With up to 7 joint-years of lifetime exposure (e.g., 1 joint/d for 7 years or 1 joint/wk for 49 years), we found no evidence that increasing exposure to marijuana adversely affects pulmonary function. … Our findings suggest that occasional use of marijuana … may not be associated with adverse consequences on pulmonary function.”
#7 Cannabis Use Associated With Decreased Prevalence Of Diabetes
Adults with a history of marijuana use have a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and possess a lower risk of contracting the disease than do those with no history of cannabis consumption, according to clinical trial data published in the British Medical Journal. Investigators at the University of California, Los Angeles assessed the association between diabetes mellitus (DM) and marijuana use among adults aged 20 to 59 in a nationally representative sample of the US population of 10,896 adults. Investigators concluded, “Our analysis of adults aged 20-59 years … Showed that participants who used marijuana had a lower prevalence of DM and lower odds of DM relative to non-marijuana users.”
#8 Medical Cannabis Dispensaries Not Associated With Neighborhood Crime
The establishment of medical cannabis dispensaries does not adversely impact local crime rates, according to a federally funded study published in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Researchers reported: “There were no observed cross-sectional associations between the density of medical marijuana dispensaries and either violent or property crime rates in this study.”
#9 Rhode Island Becomes The 15th State To Decriminalize Pot Possession Penalties
Governor Lincoln Chafee signed legislation into law in June amending marijuana possession penalties for those age 18 or older from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by one year in jail and a $500 maximum fine) to a non-arrestable civil offense — punishable by a $150 fine, no jail time, and no criminal record. The decriminalization law takes effect on April 1, 2013.
#10 Cannabis Reduces Symptoms In Patients With Treatment-Resistant MS
Cannabis inhalation mitigates spasticity and pain in patients with treatment-resistant multiple sclerosis (MS), according to clinical trial data published online in May in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association. Investigators at the University of California, San Diego assessed the use of inhaled cannabis versus placebo in 30 patients with MS who were unresponsive to conventional treatments. “Smoked cannabis was superior to placebo in symptom and pain reduction in patients with treatment-resistant spasticity,” authors concluded.
Our anti-prohibitionist friends at the prestigious Washington, DC think-tank The Cato Institute will feature a live debate today at 4PM (eastern) entitled The Law and Politics of Marijuana Prohibition. The main focus of the debate, in the wake of Colorado and Washington voters recently approving binding ballot initiatives legalizing and taxing cannabis, is the very important–and unknown–federal response to this next generation of state-based cannabis law reforms that run afoul of the current–and unpopular–federal prohibition on cannabis that is now seventy-five years old.
According to Gallup and PPP polling–to say nothing of the vote totals in Colorado and Washington–more than fifty percent of the population supports legalizing cannabis. Even more recent Gallup polling strongly indicates Americans want the federal government to respect states’ efforts to reform cannabis laws.
Representing the argument that the states can indeed expand personal civil liberties via reform of cannabis laws is Vanderbilt law professor Robert Mikos, and representing, well, the status quo, is former congressman and Drug Enforcement Administration head Asa Hutchinson (who argues that states can’t legalize cannabis, because that will violate federal laws…cannabis is an evil drug…blah-blah-blah).
Also of great note, in advance of today’s live debate, The Cato Institute released a new (and compelling) academic paper by Professor Mikos entitled ‘On the Limits of Federal Supremacy: When States Relax (or Abandon) Marijuana Bans’
You can watch this debate @ 4PM eastern live here.
Sixty-four percent of Americans oppose federal interference in state laws that allow for the legal use of the substance by adults, according to a random sampling of 1,015 adults by Gallup.
According to Gallup, 64 percent of respondents do not believe that the federal government “should take steps to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in those states.” Only 34 percent of respondents agree that the federal government should take actions to interfere with the implementation of these laws.
Gallup also reported that more than four out of ten respondents who oppose legalizing cannabis believe that the Administration should nonetheless respect state laws allowing for its legal possession, use, and sale.
The poll further reported that Americans are evenly divided on whether or not cannabis ought to be legal. Forty-eight percent of respondents endorse marijuana legalization while 50 percent of respondents oppose it — an increase in opposition of four percent since 2011.
Support for legalization was highest among those age 18 to 29 (60 percent) and weakest among those over age 65 (36 percent). Half of self-identified Independent voters back legalization, as do 61 percent of Democrats. By contrast, only 33 percent of Republican voters support legalization.
The Gallup findings regarding legalization are lower than those reported by other polls, including surveys by Public Policy Polling (58 percent support for legalizing cannabis), Angus Reid (54 percent), and Quinnipiac University (51 percent).
Ending Cannabis Prohibition in America
The now forty-year-old organized effort to reform cannabis laws in America is on the precipice of major socio-political reforms with approximately fifty percent of the population no longer supporting the nation’s seventy four-year-old Cannabis Prohibition. While reformers have made tremendous gains, notably at the state level, which have placed them at this crossroads, obstacles to full cannabis legalization are abundant and deep-seated in Congress and the federal government.
This paper seeks to identify important areas of concern for cannabis law reform, highlight the factors that have created a positive environment for reform, recognize who are the last and largely self-interested factions in society who fervently defend and/or prosper from Cannabis Prohibition’s status quo, and what are some of the strategic decisions that reformers can implement that will hasten an end to Alcohol Prohibition’s illegitimate, long-suffering cousin.
Important Areas Of Concern For Cannabis Law Reformers
There are several areas of concern for reformers, notably the federal vs. state disconnect in Washington, D.C.; citizens’ illogical fear of cannabis more than alcohol; and the political box canyon potentially created by medical cannabis.
Federal vs. State Government Disconnect –
On a recent video essay broadcast October 20, CNBC host and former senate staffer Lawrence O’Donnell lamenting about Cannabis Prohibition said ‘that only in the U.S. Senate can there be zero discussion about a policy change fifty percent of the country supports’. In a nutshell, despite 14 states having decriminalized cannabis possession, and 16 states and the District of Columbia ‘medicalizing’ cannabis, the U.S. Congress and the executive branch (along with a federal judiciary that is totally deferential to Congress’ intent and will regarding anti-cannabis laws) have a near total disconnect between what the governed want vis-à-vis reforming cannabis laws and elected policymakers on Capitol Hill who strongly support the status quo.
The numbers that frame this political quandary: 75% of the public support medical access to cannabis; 73% support decriminalizing cannabis possession for adults and now 50% of the population support outright legalization (California, where one out of eight U.S. citizens live, nearly passed a legalization voter initiative last fall, only losing by three percentage points). So it can be asserted with confidence that ‘soft’ cannabis law reforms of medical access and decriminalization enjoy overwhelming public support and that the ‘hard’ reform of legalization has now moved into the majority (The recent Gallup poll showed only 46% of citizens continue to support Cannabis Prohibition).
However, even with clear polling data to help guide them away from restrictive policies no longer supported by the public, the Obama Administration’s fifth attempt this October since he took office to introduce ‘digital democracy’ into policymaking decisions by creating a public website where citizens and organizations can post online petitions seeking changes in the ways government works, the president was once again confronted by the publics’ number one question: Why do we have Cannabis Prohibition in 2011? Shouldn’t it be ended as an ineffective public policy?
Unfortunately, like the previous four opportunities to confront public unrest about Cannabis Prohibition, despite the NORML petition being number one with 72,000 signatures, the Obama Administration once again totally rejected any public calls for cannabis law reforms and re-asserted the federal government’s primacy over the states in enforcing national Cannabis Prohibition laws (see discussion below).
Cannabis’ Fear Factor –
Recent polls and focus group data gathered by cannabis law reform advocates post last year’s near-victory in California for Prop. 19 (the initiative that would have legalized cannabis) revealed an important and troubling public perception that reformers need to largely overcome to be successful: Almost fifty percent of the general public in California—where the issue of reforming cannabis laws have been vetted like no other place on earth since the late 1960s— illogically fears cannabis more so than alcohol products.
Forgive the pun, but reformers have to do a better job ‘normalizing’ cannabis use such that its responsible use causes no greater concern in the public’s eye than the responsible use of alcohol. Otherwise, it is hard to imagine cannabis becoming legal anytime soon if fifty percent of the public fears the product and the consumers who enjoy it.
Medical Cannabis’ Political Limitations –
While NORML is the sui generis of medical cannabis in the United States (first suing the Drug Enforcement Administration to reschedule cannabis as a medicine in 1972, NORML vs. DEA), the organization recognizes that absent substantive changes in the federal government’s Controlled Substances Act (and controlling International treaties envisaged and championed by America at the United Nations), qualified medical patients accessing lawful cannabis with a physician’s recommendation in states that authorize such is an untenable conflict with the existing federal laws that do not, under any circumstance, allow for the therapeutic possession, use or manufacture of cannabis.
This state and federal conflict regarding Cannabis Prohibition laws came into full view this year despite previous attempts otherwise by the Obama Administration to slightly modify the federal government’s historic recalcitrance in allowing states greater autonomy to create cannabis controls, and in some cases such as Colorado, to establish tax and regulate bureaucracies specifically for medical cannabis.
Federal actions against medical cannabis in 2011:
*US Attorneys in California deny the city of Oakland the ability to set up a city-sanctioned arrangement with medical cannabis industry to cultivate and sell medical cannabis;
*The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that medical cannabis dispensaries are not legitimate businesses under federal law and therefore can’t take standard business tax deductions;
*The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) sent a memo to all gun dealers in the U.S. warning them not to make any sales of guns or ammunition to medical cannabis patients, even those who possess a state-issued ‘medical cannabis patient’ card. In effect, this federal action has rendered medical cannabis patients with no Second Amendment rights;
*Federal banking regulators regularly harass and threaten local and state banks not to do business with commercial medical cannabis businesses, even if the businesses have state and city-issued licenses to sell medical cannabis;
*US Attorneys in California and the DEA sent warning letters to otherwise state-compliant medical cannabis businesses that are properly zoned under local laws to shut down or move away from federally-funded schools, day care or recreation centers within 1,000 feet of the dispensary;
*These same US Attorneys are now threatening to legally pursue newspapers and magazines that advertise what are otherwise legal, state and city-authorized businesses and their lawful commerce.
Also, under numerous state Supreme Court decisions, lawful medical patients can be denied employment; along with driving privileges (which was recently overturned in California), child custody, Section Eight housing, university residences, and even be denied a life-saving organ transplant.
With so many onerous institutional discriminatory practices and restrictions—and the price of medical cannabis remaining inordinately high because of the existence of Cannabis Prohibition—patients who genuinely need access to this low toxicity, naturally occurring herbal medicine would be far better served by ending Cannabis Prohibition in total than trying to carve out special legal exemptions to existing prohibition laws.
Why Cannabis Reform Is More Popular Now Than Ever Before
The rapid increase in public support for cannabis law reform is made possible by five factors:
1) Baby Boomers are now largely in control of most of the country’s major institutions (media, government, entertainment, education and business) and they have a decidedly different perception and/or relationship with cannabis than the World War II generation (AKA, the Reefer Madness generation), who, were largely abstinent of consuming cannabis.
2) These crushing recessionary times have forced many elected policymakers to drop their support for rigorous enforcement of Cannabis Prohibition laws. Numerous states and municipalities have adopted half measures towards legalization, notably decriminalizing possession or adopting a lowest law enforcement priority strategy.
3) Medical cannabis first becoming legal in 1996 by popular vote in California. After the nation’s largest and most politically important state adopted medical marijuana guidelines, sixteen states and the District of Columbia have followed suit setting up a terrific state vs. federal government conflict that has already visited the U.S. Supreme Court twice (2002 and again in 2005).
4) The advent of the Internet in the mid 1990s allowed citizens to communicate directly with each other at very low costs, create large social networks of like-minded community members, avoid mainstream media (which readily serves as a lapdog, rather than government watchdog in the war on some drugs) and educate themselves with verifiable and credible information about cannabis (rejecting government anti-cannabis propaganda programs like the controversial DARE program in the public schools and the Partnership for Drug-Free America’s ineffective ad campaigns in the mainstream media).
5) Americans are apparently (and finally!) becoming increasingly Cannabis Prohibition weary after seventy-four years. In comparison, America’s great failed ‘social experiment’ of Alcohol Prohibition lasted about a dozen years.
Who Actually Wants Cannabis Prohibition To Continue?
One of the principle lessons in the Art of War is to ‘know thy enemy’. Therefore, it behooves cannabis law reformers to understand what small, but powerful factions in American society actively work to maintain the status quo of Cannabis Prohibition:
1) Law enforcement – There is no greater strident voice against ending Cannabis Prohibition than from the law enforcement community—from local sheriff departments to the Fraternal Order of Police to State Police departments to federal law enforcement agencies.
2) Federal and state bureaucracies born from Cannabis Prohibition itself – Washington, D.C. and most state capitals have created dozens of anti-cannabis government agencies to both maintain and enforce existing Cannabis Prohibition laws. Examples: Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of National Drug Control Policy (AKA, drug czar’s office), DARE, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, National Drug Control Information Center, etc…
Many of these bureaucracies in turn provide most of the funding to so-called ‘community anti-drug organizations’ to create the false appearance of local grassroots opposition to any cannabis law reforms.
3) Alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies –
Historically, alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals companies play both ends of the middle when opposing cannabis law reforms for the simple reason that all of these industries will lose a portion of their market share to legal cannabis.
4) Private corporations that prosper from Cannabis Prohibition –
Numerous private companies donate significant funding annually to anti-cannabis politicians and organizations to maintain the status quo. Examples of such are private prisons, drug testing companies, rehabilitation services, communication companies, contraband detection devices, interdiction services and high-tech companies.
Reformers can hasten the end of Cannabis Prohibition
-Bipartisan support to end Cannabis Prohibition is a political given. However, since the 1990s every single major cannabis law reform initiative that has been successful has been funded by one of two liberal, politically divisive billionaires (George Soros and Peter Lewis). Reformers need to achieve greater political and funding diversity to significantly advance cannabis law reforms in today’s highly divided national political landscape.
-Recognize that most all of the major policy reforms are first achieved at the local and state level, in time putting due political pressure on the federal government to follow suit.
-Cannabis law reformers need to better work in concert with other like-minded political and social organizations that also oppose failed government programs or seek redress for grievances against the government.
-Reformers need to create a far more simpler reform narrative that juxtaposes ‘pot tolerant’ citizens against ‘intolerant’ citizens in the same manner that Alcohol Prohibition pit ‘wets’ against ‘drys’.
-Reformers need to continue demonstrating the tremendous cost to taxpayers of maintaining Cannabis Prohibition; the loss of needed tax revenue and the genuine lack of social controls that enhance public safety.
-Reformers need to keep directing public and media attention to the serious de-stabilization of the country’s borders created by the tremendous illegal succor of Cannabis Prohibition in countries like Mexico.
-Continuing what cannabis law reformers have been successfully achieving for forty years, which is to say winning a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign in the population, and recognizing that elected policymakers in Washington are not going to be able to lead the country out of it’s long-suffering Cannabis Prohibition without public advocacy that is derived from effective, politically diverse and bottoms up grassroots stakeholdership.
#1 NORML Sues to Halt Government’s Prosecution of Medical Cannabis Providers
In October, the United States Deputy Attorney General, along with the four US Attorneys from California, announced their intentions to escalate federal efforts targeting the state’s medical cannabis dispensaries and providers. In response, members of the NORML Legal Committee filed suit in November against the federal government arguing that its actions were in violation of the Ninth, Tenth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution. Plaintiffs further argued, using the theory of judicial estoppel, that the Justice Department had previously affirmed in federal court that it would no longer use federal resources to prosecute cannabis patients or providers who are compliant with state law. NORML’s lawsuit remains pending. Read the full story here.
#2 Members of Congress Introduce First Bill Since 1937 to Legalize Cannabis
House lawmakers introduced legislation in Congress in June to end the federal criminalization of the personal use of marijuana. The bipartisan measure – HR 2306, the ‘Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011′ – prohibits the federal government from prosecuting adults who use or possess cannabis by removing the plant and its primary psychoactive constituent, THC, from the five schedules of the United States Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The bill awaits Congressional action. Read the full story here.
#3 Gallup: Majority of Americans Support Legalizing Cannabis
A record 50 percent of Americans now believe that marijuana ought to be legalized for adult use, according to a nationwide Gallup poll of 1,005 adults published in October. The 2011 survey results mark the first time ever that Gallup has reported that more Americans support legalizing cannabis (50 percent) than oppose it (46 percent). Read the full story here.
#4 Over One Million Americans Now Use Cannabis Legally Under State Law
Between one million to one-and-a-half million US citizens are legally authorized by the laws of their state to use marijuana, according to data compiled in May by NORML from state medical marijuana registries and patient estimates. Read the full story here.
#5 Marijuana Prosecutions For 2010 Near Record High
Police made 853,838 arrests in 2010 for marijuana-related offenses according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Report, released in September. The annual arrest total is among the highest ever reported by the agency. Marijuana arrests now comprise more than one-half (52 percent) of all drug arrests in the United States. Read the full story here.
#6 Largest State Doctors Association Calls For Legalizing Cannabis
The California Medical Association in October called for the “legalization and regulation” of cannabis for adults. The association, which represents some 35,000 physicians, recommends that cannabis be taxed and regulated “in a manner similar to alcohol.” Read the full story here.
#7 Connecticut Decriminalizes Cannabis Possession Offenses
Statewide legislation took effect in July reducing the penalties for the adult possession of up to one-half ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (formerly punishable by one year in jail and a $1,000 fine) to a non-criminal infraction, punishable by a $150 fine, no arrest or jail time, and no criminal record. Read the full story here.
#8 Vaporized Cannabis Augments Analgesic Effect of Opiates in Humans
Vaporized cannabis significantly augments the analgesic effects of opiates in patients with chronic pain, according to clinical trial data published online in the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics in November. Investigators surmised that cannabis-specific interventions “may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer [patient] side effects.” Read the full story here.
#9 State Governors Call on Obama Administration to Reclassify Cannabis
In December, governors from Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington formally requested the Obama administration to reclassify cannabis under federal law in a manner that would allow states to regulate its therapeutic use without federal interference. The administration in July had previously rejected a nine-year-old petition calling on the agency to initiate hearings to reassess the present classification of marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance without any ‘accepted medical use in treatment.’ Read the full story here.
#10 Delaware Becomes 16th State to Legalize Limited Medical Use of Marijuana
State lawmakers in May approved legislation to allow patients with a qualifying illness may legally possess up to six ounces of cannabis, provided the cannabis is obtained from a state-licensed, not-for-profit ‘compassion center.’ The law is anticipated to be implemented in 2012. Read the full story here.