Tag: Marijuana

Gov. Andrew Cuomo Proposes Decriminalization of Marijuana in Public

Yesterday’s New York Times reports that Governor Cuomo will be asking the state legislature to change state law in a way that will sharply reduce the number of people who are arrested in that state each year for marijuana offenses.

Some background–Thousands and thousands of young males in New York City are stopped and frisked by the police each year.  A remarkable number of those stops are illegal at the outset because there was no real reason for the person to be briefly detained.  But once the involuntary encounter begins, an officer might direct the person to “empty your pockets!”  If the stopped person brings out a plastic bag of marijuana, he gets busted for “possession of marijuana in public.”  So the government that does a lousy job with the school system has been making matters worse by giving thousands and thousands of minority males a criminal record, making it even harder for them to establish themselves in the mainstream economy.

Drug warriors like to say “we’re not locking up marijuana users–that’s a myth.”  Some truth in that because there is no longer any room in the prison system.  Most of the marijuana prisoners are involved with the black market trade in some capacity.  Still, tens of thousands of  users do get busted and go thru the system.

 Officials in the Cuomo administration said the marijuana-possession arrests were problematic in part because they subjected New Yorkers, many of them young, to the process of being booked, retaining a lawyer and carrying the stigma of having been arrested. And they argued that the arrests were harming the relationship between the police and young people.

According to Harry Levine of Queens College, there were 400,000 low-level marijuana arrests in New York City between 2002 and 2011.  Prof. Levine presented some of his research findings at a Cato drug policy conference last year.

Mayor Bloomberg’s aggressive stop and frisk policy in New York City is an on-going scandal.  Governor Cuomo deserves credit for this move to scale it back.

Reefer Madness Here and Abroad

In the New York Times, Ethan Nadelmann takes aim at the “reefer madness” of the Obama administration, which despite promises and expectations has stepped up the war on marijuana:

But over the past year, federal authorities appear to have done everything in their power to undermine state and local regulation of medical marijuana and to create uncertainty, fear and confusion among those in the industry. The president needs to reassert himself to ensure that his original policy is implemented.

The Treasury Department has forced banks to close accounts of medical marijuana businesses operating legally under state law. The Internal Revenue Service has required dispensary owners to pay punitive taxes required of no other businesses. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recently ruled that state-sanctioned medical marijuana patients can not purchase firearms.

United States attorneys have also sent letters to local officials, coinciding with the adoption or implementation of state medical marijuana regulatory legislation, stressing their authority to prosecute all marijuana offenses. Prosecutors have threatened to seize the property of landlords and put them behind bars for renting to marijuana dispensaries. The United States attorney in San Diego, Laura E. Duffy, has promised to start targeting media outlets that run dispensaries’ ads.

President Obama has not publicly announced a shift in his views on medical marijuana, but his administration seems to be declaring one by fiat.

As bad as the drug war is in the United States, it’s wreaking far more havoc in Mexico and Latin America. That’s why the Cato Institute is holding an all-day conference next week, “Ending the War on Drugs,” featuring:

  • the former president of Brazil
  • the former drug czar of India
  • the former foreign minister of Mexico
  • the author of Cato’s study on decriminalization in Portugal
  • the Speaker of the House in Uruguay
  • plus video presentations by former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Check it out. And be there November 15.

When the State Takes the Children

The New York Times has an article today about how city officials take children away from parents because of marijuana use.  Here is an excerpt:

Hundreds of New Yorkers who have been caught with small amounts of marijuana, or who have simply admitted to using it, have become ensnared in civil child neglect cases in recent years, though they did not face even the least of criminal charges, according to city records and defense lawyers. A small number of parents in these cases have even lost custody of their children.

The article explains that even if a child is not immediately removed a “neglect finding” can kill prospects for certain jobs involving kids, such as a daycare assistant, and will make it easier for judges to order a removal down the road.  Even though marijuana use is very common among whites, the neglect and removal cases are mostly brought against minorities.

When drug warriors are challenged about criminalizing marijuana use, they typically deflect the question by saying, “we’re not locking up nonviolent marijuana users.”  Well that’s only because our prisons are overflowing already and they can’t convince enough lawmakers to build enough prison space to escalate the war further.  Second, below the prison numbers a low scale war continues apace–tens of thousands of arrests and court appointments and, as this article shows, child removal proceedings.

New York should follow California’s approach to this issue–if the state can demonstrate actual harm to children from marijuana use, then a neglect case can be brought.  Reporters should ask Mayor Michael Bloomberg whether his past drug use makes him unfit to be a parent or grandparent or to be in an occupation affecting the well-being of kids.

Obama Backtracks on Marijuana Policy

President Obama is backing away from his campaign pledge to not interfere with the states that choose to adopt medical marijuana reforms.  Here’s an excerpt from the NORML blog on the new policy memorandum issued by the Department of Justice:

[T]he memorandum states that the recent flurry of intimidating US Attorney letters to state lawmakers are “entirely consistent” with the Obama administration’s position. In other words, the administration is now on record in support of claims made by US Attorneys in Rhode Island, Washington, and other states alleging that state employees could be targeted and federally prosecuted for simply registering and licensing medical cannabis patients or providers — a position that is even more extreme than that of the previous administration. (Notably to date, however, no state employee — or for that matter, no state sanctioned dispensary operator — has ever been prosecuted by the federal government.)

The memo goes on to state that the federal government distinguishes between individual medical cannabis patients and third party providers, indicating that it is a poor use of federal resources (rather than a poor use of judgment) to target the former, while indicating that the latter are fair game for federal prosecution.

Read the whole thing.  Well, at least Obama has ended the wars and got the United States back on a sound financial footing.

For a recent drug policy debate at Cato that went far beyond medical marijuana reform and reduced sentences for crack offenders, go here.

Report: ‘The Global War on Drugs Has Failed’

“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.” That is the opening sentence of a report released today by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a nineteen-member panel that includes, among others, world figures such as former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. The report is also signed by the current Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou, making him the only sitting head of government to openly denounce global drug prohibition.

The 20-page report says all the right things: prohibition has failed in tackling global consumption of drugs, and has instead led to the creation of black markets and criminal networks that resort to violence and corruption in order to carry out their business. This drug-related violence now threatens the institutional stability of entire nations, particularly in the developing world. Also, prohibition has caused the stigmatization and marginalization of people who use illegal drugs, making it more difficult to help people who are addicted to drugs. The report also denounces what it properly calls “drug control imperialism,” that is, how the United States has “worked strenuously over the last 50 years to ensure that all countries adopt the same rigid approach to drug policy.”

In the recommendations section, the report praises the experience of Portugal with drug decriminalization, mentioning Cato’s study on the subject. But perhaps more importantly, it states that drug legalization “is a policy option that should be explored with the same rigor as any other.” Until now, similar reports have denounced the war on drugs and perhaps called for the decriminalization of marijuana and other soft drugs, but they also have stopped short of mentioning drug legalization as a policy alternative.

This report is certainly going to receive a lot of media coverage in the upcoming days. It is, until now, the highest profile endorsement of drug policy reform that we have seen at a global level. And, by having Prime Minister Papandreou as one of the signatories, it offers the hope that other top office holders will also call for an end to the failed war on drugs.

Kentucky v. King

Awful ruling handed down by the Supreme Court this morning in a case called Kentucky v. King [pdf].  The case concerns the power to break into a person’s home without the occupant’s consent and without a warrant.  Our homes are supposed to be our castles–so the general rule is that the police must get an independent judge to approve a warrant application before the door can be forced open.  There are a few common sense exceptions to the general rule.  For example, if someone is screaming for help, the police can enter.  Also if the police are in hot pursuit, they can follow the suspect on to private property and into a home under such circumstances.  Today’s ruling expands the exceptions to situations where the police suspect that the occupants of a house may be destroying contraband such as marijuana, cocaine, or other narcotics.

In this case, the police were after a drug dealer after he fled from a controlled-buy transaction.  The dealer entered some apartment but the police were unsure of the unit number.  As the police got closer, they could smell marijuana coming from a nearby apartment.  Instead of posting an officer nearby and applying for a warrant, they decided to bang on the door, shouting “Police!”  Hearing some rustling inside, the police broke down the door so evidence could not be destroyed.  The occupants were arrested on drug charges and they later challenged the legality of the police entry and search.  (As it happens, the dealer the police were trying to capture was found in another apartment.)

The lower courts have generally frowned on what they describe as exigencies manufactured by police conduct, but the Supreme Court has now overturned those lower court precedents by a 8-1 vote.  In dissent, Justice Ginsburg asked the right question: “How ‘secure’ do our homes remain if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and, on hearing sounds indicative of things moving, forcibly enter and search for evidence of unlawful activity?”  And the unfortunate answer to the question is, a lot less secure.   

For more on the power to search, go here and here.

Book ‘Em, Danno

I hope you’ve got your NCAA bracket in by now. The NCAA estimates that 35 million Americans will do so. But keep in mind: As the Washington Post notes, you’re breaking the law:

Office pools, despite the warnings of law enforcement officials, are among the country’s most popular illegal activities. The FBI estimates that roughly $2.5 billion is gambled on the NCAA tournament, and only $80 million is bet legally through Nevada sports books. A good portion of the rest takes the form of $5 or $10 entry fees to participate in a bracket-pick NCAA tournament pool.

Is this the most popular illegal activity in America? Well, the Office of National Drug Control Policy says that 104 million Americans have used marijuana, 28.5 million in the past year.

Does it make sense to criminalize peaceful activity that tens of millions of Americans enjoy? Discuss.