Archive for January, 2009

Obama Busted for Marijuana Possession?

…George Obama, to be exact. Thanks to Adam for this tip.

President Barack Obama’s half-brother George, who lives in Kenya, was arrested yesterday for marijuana possession.

This is more a matter of amusement, as I doubt little will come of it. George Obama is not exactly close to President Obama, and the fact that he has been arrested in a foreign country for using a substance that our last three presidents have admittted to using is, well, trivial.

More trivial than Bristol Palin’s daughter’s grandmother’s arrest, anyway.

I would be very surprised if Obama’s critics decided to use this to smear our new president, and even more surprised if anybody took it seriously. This would be even easier to brush off than the Ayers ‘scandal’. Not to mention that Obama has already set a precedent for separation between a politician’s family and work life with his response to the news of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy this fall.

January 31, 2009 at 6:16 pm Leave a comment

Reefer Madness Hits the Stage!

For anybody who happens to live in Michigan:

Director Phil Simmons calls it “absurd, over-the-top, no question about it.”

Simmons is leading an Eastern Michigan stage production of “Reefer Madness,” a spoof of the 1936 film that became a camp classic for its dire warnings about the use of marijuana.

“The gentlemen who have written the show use the same situations as the movie, a lot of the same dialogue, same characters and turned it into camp, spoof and parody,” Simmons said. “It is, without a doubt, even after 20 years in New York, one of the funniest things I’ve seen.”

The show is yet another sign that cultural forces are moving the correct direction. Still, it’s rather sad to poke fun at Reefer Madness when some of the propaganda being touted today is no better.

(For the record: in my opinion – and I was in Massachusetts for the two weeks after Question 2 went into effect – I noticed no more people smoking pot than before. I did, however, notice far more police cars driving with their sirens blaring. Make of that what you will).

January 28, 2009 at 11:45 pm 2 comments

Just in Case You Forgot, Marijuana is Still Illegal!

Such is the entire subject of an article in the Salem News, which quotes Superintendent William Cameron reminding everyone in Massachusetts that ‘bring[ing] any controlled substance to school or a school-sponsored event… is an occasion for a student to be expelled.’ He continues, ‘Don’t mistake a civil penalty on the street as something of little consequence in school.’

One need not only imagine the level of fear regarding this issue – this article is only one of hundreds I have read in the last month which quote officials of all levels reminding students that yes, marijuana is still illegal, even venturing so far as to write new legislation to ‘make sure it stays illegal’.

I understand where that last initiative is coming from. It’s the same sentiment that drove voters in Florida this November to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage despite the fact that several laws banning gay marriage in the state already existed (for example, Florida Statute 741.212, which stipulates that ‘For purposes of interpreting any state statute or rule, the term “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the term “spouse” applies only to a member of such a union.’).

Except it’s not the same. In Florida, the measure was a desperate attempt by opponents of gay marriage to preserve what they already have. Here, it is an even more desperate attempt to keep what is being taken away – not by any proponent of drug policy reform, but by the evolution of society.

January 27, 2009 at 2:00 pm Leave a comment

When all else fails, turn to the economy

Two important Connecticut lawmakers – Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney and Senator Toni Harp, charwoman of the appropriations committee – are turning to an unsurprising arugument – the budget deficit – to pass legislative reform in their state.
The article in the Hartford Courant cites a Harvard study that estimated that Massachusetts police used to spend $30 million per year ‘arresting and investigating low-level marijuana users’.

Two paragraphs make this article stand out:

Such steps, though small in scale, represent a new focus in the drug war. Calls for tougher penalties have traditionally dominated the conversation while the case for less restrictive laws was rooted in libertarian philosophy or concerns about racial bias.

“In the past, it was more of a racial justice issue,” said LaResse Harvey, policy director for the Hartford-based A Better Way Foundation, which advocates treatment instead of incarceration for drug offenders. “This year, it’s a fiscal issue.”

And they’re right. The arguments that marijuana prohibition is racist and discriminatory are important and valid – and especially good at explaining to voters why the laws need to be changed. Still, on a realistic level, it is hard to pass legislation in this country if the money’s in the wrong place, and emphasizing the economic benefits to drug policy reform during times like these can only strengthen the argument.

So, the next time that you find yourself in a conversation with someone, listing the many, many reasons that we need to effect change on this issue, be sure to mention the vast savings. The $30 million is only an estimate for low-level possession for a single state (with only 2.1% of the country’s population). Imagine how much we could save if all other states – and the federal government – followed suit.

January 26, 2009 at 8:42 pm Leave a comment

Are You Cheating Yourself of 280 Joints?

According to Lt. Maguire of the Weston Police Department, ‘One ounce of marijuana is the equivalent of 200 to 300 joints’. (Wicked Local)

I’m no expert, but if a joint is 1-2 grams, and there are 28.3 grams in an ounce… then, well, it stands to reason that 28/2 = 300.

The state of Massachusetts urged towns to pass local ordinances banning public use of marijuana . Some towns are considering adding additional fines, whereas others, as urged by the state, want to make public use an arrestable, criminal offense.

The danger with the second possibility is that things could go the way of New York, where the first two counts of small possession are civil citations, but possession of any amount which is ‘burning or open to public view’ is charged as if it were possession of more than an ounce (a misdemeanor).

Advocates of the proposed laws argue that this is just a ‘tweak’ to make sure that smoking marijuana in public is illegal. They seem to have missed the fact that smoking marijuana anywhere is still illegal. Next, I expect them to pass laws banning smoking a joint with your left hand, or with your right, or while standing on one foot, or while wearing the color blue, or… you get the idea.

They also seem to have conveniently forgotten that smoking any substance in a public building is already illegal by state law as well:

“Smoking” or “smoke”, [is] the lighting of a cigar, cigarette, pipe or other tobacco product or possessing a lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe or other tobacco or non-tobacco product designed to be combusted and inhaled.

Call me crazy, but I think that smoking a joint would count as ‘posessing a lighted non-tobacco product designed to be combusted or inhaled’.

Several towns are following the requests of the state and are proposing laws to ban public use – or even ban possession (again).

(more…)

January 25, 2009 at 4:20 pm Leave a comment

A Recap of New Directions

Between last night’s plenary and today’s conference, a lot was presented in the New Directions for New York conference. The talks centered around the Four Pillars method currently used in Vancouver. The four pillars (and there was one talk about each pillar) are:

  • Prevention
  • Treatment
  • Harm Reduction
  • Enforcement

There were, of course, disagreements on how each pillar should be addressed, but most at the conference agree with the approach – or at least agree that the approach is better than the Draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws.

The speakers included a range of people with various backgrounds, from Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann to Russell Simmons, and two officials from Vancouver attended the event to discuss the success of the Four Pillars – and how the work is still not yet done.

The conference focused mostly on hard drugs, with very little discussion of marijuana, but many of the arguments presented (eg, arguments dealing with the inefficacy of and problems with encarceration) could be extended to cannabis with little or no adjustment. (more…)

January 24, 2009 at 2:53 am Leave a comment

New Directions for New York – Tonight!

Tonight is the evening plenary event for New Directions for New York. Registration is free for tonight’s event (the conference tomorrow is completely booked). If you live anywhere in the Tri-state area, try and make it to this event from 7-9, as it promises to be spectacular. More information is available in the registration link.

January 22, 2009 at 7:47 pm Leave a comment

Montanta Readies for a Step Forward… and a Step Back?

In Montana, two bills are being proposed to change the state medicinal marijuana policy – one for the better, and one for the worse.

House Bill 73 seeks to expand the use of medicinal marijuana by allowing physicians assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe marijuana. (For comparison, nurse practitioners can currently prescribe the same prescription drugs that a psychiatrist can).

Senate Bill 212 seeks to disqualify permanently from the medicinal marijuana program any person who is found operating a motor vehicle with any trace amount of THC in their bloodstream. This is a completely ridiculous proposal, as trace THC can be found in the bloodstream for days after use, and it does not by any stretch mean that the person is operating while under the influence.

Both bills are being discussed this week, so call your representative and senator and voice your support for House Bill 73 and your opposition to Senate Bill 212. As always, contact information can be fount at www.votesmart.org Here are two short sample scripts:

Dear ________ (name of state representative),

I am calling to voice my support for House Bill 73. Medicinal marijuana is currently available as a prescription medication, and I feel that all professionals licensed to prescribe such medication – including physicians assistants and nurse practitioners – should be allowed to do so. Cannabis has many documented medicinal properties, and as many people as possible should have the option of this form of treatment for their ailments if they need it.

Dear __________ (name of state senator),

I am calling to voice my strong opposition to Senate Bill 212. Operating under the influence is dangerous, but this bill targets any person who has smoked cannabis within the past two weeks, regardless of whether or not they are still under the influence. We do not charge a person with driving under the influence of alcohol or punish them otherwise simply for having consumed alcohol within the last two weeks, and, likewise, we should not punish someone for operating a motor vehicle when they are not under the influence.

Call soon to make sure that your voice is heard.

January 21, 2009 at 10:06 pm Leave a comment

Obama Citizens Briefing Book

Though Obama was able to dodge the question in his second round of Open for Questions, he may not be so lucky with the Citizens Briefing Book, which is more or less the same process under a different name – people like you and me voted on issues that they think Obama should be focusing on.

Guess what the most popular and the third most popular issues were. Surprised?

Neither are we.

But look at the wording of the top question, which received 92970 ‘points’ (1 vote = 10 points)

Ending Marijuana Prohibition

I suggest that we step back and take a non-biased “Science Based” approach to decide what should be done about the “Utter Failure” that we call the War on (some) Drugs.
The fact is that Marijuana is much less harmful to our bodies than other Legal Drugs such as Tobacco and Alcohol. And for the Government to recognize Marijuana as having Medicinal Properties AND as a Schedule I drug (Has NO medicinal Properties) is an obvious flaw in the system.
We must stop imprisoning responsible adult citizens choosing to use a drug that has been mis-labeled for over 70 years.

Ooh, this might be a trickier one to dodge. This isn’t asked as a question in the form of ‘will you’ (a question easily answered with one two-letter word). Not only that – it hits the nail quite squarely on the head, listing a few of the most salient points necessary, and invoking the magic word: ‘science’.

Like him or not, Obama is a politician, and politicians are nothing if not masters at dodging questions. I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama found a way to avoid opening Pandora’s box with this one as well (and I wouldn’t blame him for being afraid to do so). Still, we’re not making it any easier for him this time around, because Obama either has to ignore all scientific evidence (as John Walters is clearly not above of doing) or try and provide solid, logical reasons why we should… uphold illogical drug laws.

Don’t be shocked to find a less-than-satisfactory response to this question. In all reality, the purpose of this system (and the ‘Open For Questions’ exchanges as well) is not to extract meaningful, groundbreaking responses from the president-elect (in other words, if he hasn’t spoken up about an issue in front of the media yet, why should this be any different?) The real purpose is twofold:

1. See what people actually care about

2. Show people that Obama cares about #1.

And, given the results of all three surveys (for lack of a better word), I’d say that we’ve succeeded in our part. Like it or not, Obama is going to have to make some changes in the current system of dealing with drugs. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. That, or come up with some very compelling reasons not to – and between you and me, I’d say that the clock is ticking for pro-Prohibitionists to come forward with some actual scientific evidence to back their policies. I think seven decades is long enough, don’t you?

January 19, 2009 at 2:45 am 1 comment

Obama Responds Again to the Marijuana Question

Or, in this case, doesn’t respond again.

The second round of ‘Open for Questions’ at change.gov has closed, and the administration has already posted a video response to some of the top questions. Note the operative word here. As is written on the page:

Since there were so many popular questions in so many categories, we tried to pull out some of them that had been addressed previously by the President-elect or Vice President-elect in order to focus the video portion on questions that haven’t been as specifically addressed during the Transition.

To be entirely honest, I excepted this result. Obama cannot backtrack on the statement that he made in the first round of responses, so they chose to answer the question phrased as ‘will you’ rather than one worded as ‘why’ (as some were).

The point of voting was not to extract a response, but rather to demonstrate the widespread support for reform. As my last count, there were either three or four questions related to drug policy reform in the top ten ‘Additional Questions’ (one of which kept flip-flopping between first and second place), and three related to drug policy reform under ‘National Security’.

I’d consider that a success, if nothing else.

The first real test of this administration and its treatment of marijuana policy reform will be the appointment of the next drug czar. There have been rumors that Jim Ramstad is the pick, and I hope that they are unsubstantiated, because Ramstad would be a terrible choice. Ramstad opposes medicinal marijuana, which, as I have noted before, will probably be the first step in reform.

All is not lost yet, though. There are several ways to let Obama know that we expect better:

In our efforts to change local laws – efforts that have been almost universally successful in recent years – we should not forget the importance of reforming drug policy at the national level, which sets the tone for the country as a whole.

January 9, 2009 at 8:16 pm 2 comments

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