New York State Senator Liz Krueger on Wednesday will join fellow elected officials and leading advocates on drug policy and criminal justice reform to announce her introduction of the New York State Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) at a press conference on the steps of New York City Hall.
Sen. Krueger, fellow elected officials, and experts in drug policy and criminal justice will be on hand at the press conference to explain the legislation and its purpose: moving New York past what has proven to be a costly, discriminatory, and ultimately failed policy of prohibition.
If passed, this legislation would make New York the most populous state in the country to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for general use. It would result in significant savings to city and state taxpayers in the form of reduced criminal justice and correctional costs, and it would create a major new source of revenue for the state and localities.
It would also redress significant racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Who: Senator Liz Krueger, with fellow elected officials, advocates, and experts, including:
State Elected Officials
Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn)
Assemblymember Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan)
Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx)
Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda (D-Bronx)
Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan)
Advocates and Experts
Jack Cole, Detective-Lieutenant (Ret.), New Jersey State Police; Co-Founder, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)
By Steve Elliott
California voters favor marijuana legalization, according to a new poll released December 10.
Field Poll results show that 55 percent of Californians now favor legalization, a first since the poll began asking about marijuana back in 1969. In that first poll in 44 years ago, 75 percent of state residents wanted cannabis laws strictly enforced, or even toughened, reports Richard K. De Atley at the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
Just 31 percent of voters now support strict enforcement of current laws or passing tougher ones, according to the new poll. Another 12 percent wants to keep pot illegal, but lessen the penalties, while 2 percent claimed they "had no opinion."
When respondents were read a summary of a proposed initiative to legalize cannabis in California for recreational use, 56 percent said they would support it, and 39 percent said they would be opposed. Five percent said they were undecided.
"You have just had a whole new reevaluation" of marijuana, according to Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo. "What is different is that in 1969, there was a much more prevalent view that marijuana would lead to harder drugs and addiction."
Respondents have since then stopped considering marijuana with harder drugs. "That is probably the biggest single shift in attitudes toward marijuana," DiCamillo said.
By Steve Elliott
The Denver City Council on Monday overwhelmingly approved allowing adults to smoke marijuana on their front porches and private property, even if it's in clear public view.
In a 10-3 final vote, the council approved a measure eliminating the controversial front-yard cannabis smoking ban introduced last month, which had previously appeared poised to pass with a 7-5 vote, reports Matt Ferner at The Huffington Post.
"Fortunately, common sense ultimately prevailed," said Mason Tvert, a key supporter of Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana in Colorado. "If adults are able to consume alcohol -- and even smoke cigarettes -- outside on their own property, there's no logical reason why they should be prohibited from using a less harmful substance," said Tvert, who is communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.
"City officials need to move on and focus their time and attention on getting the necessary regulations in place to ensure these businesses are able to open on January 1," Tvert said. "There is no need for further proposals designed to prevent adults from being able to use marijuana responsibly."
A widely reviled first draft of the law would have banned even the smell of marijuana, or the sight of someone smoking marijuana, if it could be smelled or seen by anyone else.
By Steve Elliott
Medical marijuana dispensaries -- declared illegal by the Michigan Supreme Court, despite a 2008 law approved by voters -- may be returning to the state under a proposal headed to the House floor.
The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved bills that would update Michigan's medical marijuana law to allow safe access through dispensaries, and to allow more parts of the cannabis plant to be used in edibles, reports Jonathan Oosting at Mlive.com.
In a separate vote, the panel also approved 8-1-2 (with two Democrats passing) a proposal to create a separate "pharmaceutical-grade cannabis" designation in case the federal government ever reclassifies marijuana as a Schedule II controlled substance allowed for medical use. That actually paves the way for a possible eventual Big Pharma takeover of the medical marijuana business, according to some observers of the scene.
Cannabis is currently classified as Schedule I under federal law, meaning, by definition, that it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical uses, despite the fact that the federal government holds a patent -- Patent No. 663057 -- on the medical uses of cannabis.
House Bill 4271, introduced by Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) would let towns decide whether they want to allow dispensaries. The safe access points had operated in Michigan until February, when the Michigan Supreme Court said they were illegal.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more than 2.3 million people behind bars. The United States represents less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet is home to almost 25 percent of those incarcerated in the world.
Drug law enforcement clearly has a disproportionate racial impact. African Americans represent nearly half of those who are incarcerated in the U.S., yet only represent 13 percent of the entire population. And while African Americans comprise only 13 percent of drug users, they make up 38 percent of those arrested for drug law violations and 59 percent of those convicted of drug law violations.
African Americans are more than 10 times more likely than white people to be sent to prison for drug offenses.
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has told the United States that the stark racial disparities in the administration and functioning of its criminal justice system “may be regarded as factual indicators of racial discrimination” (United Nations Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2008, paragraph 20). Human Rights Watch and other prominent organizations have repeatedly pointed out the disproportionate racial impact of the drug war and its conflict with the standards of international human rights law.
Uruguayan Senate to Vote on President Mujica’s Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana
The Uruguayan Senate on Tuesday will vote on a bill that would make their country the first in the world -- since the worldwide Single Convention Treaty on Narcotics in 1961 -- to legally regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana for adults. The bill was approved in the House of Representatives in July with 50 out of 96 votes. Once approved in Senate, Uruguay will have 120 days to write the regulations before implementing the law.
The marijuana legalization proposal was put forward by President José Mujica in June 2012 as part of a comprehensive package aimed at fighting crime and public insecurity. After a year and a half of studying the issue, engaging in political debate, redrafting the bill, and the emergence of a public campaign in favor of the proposal, Uruguay’s parliament is set to approve the measure this year.
“It’s about time that we see a country bravely break with the failed prohibitionist model and try an innovative, more compassionate, and smarter approach,” said Hannah Hetzer, who is based out of Montevideo, Uruguay, as the Policy Manager of the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "By approving this measure, Uruguay will represent a concrete advance in line with growing opposition to the drug war in Latin America and throughout the world."
Statewide Polls Show Strong Majority of New Yorkers, Including Republicans, Support Fixing Marijuana Possession Laws; NY Lags Behind Neighboring States in Marijuana Reform
Advocates Call on Mayor-Elect de Blasio and Incoming NYPD Commissioner Bratton to End Racist, Costly and Unpopular Marijuana Arrest Crusade in NYC
BuzzFeed on Sunday night released a gripping video about one New Yorker’s harrowing experience of being arrested for marijuana possession. A Marijuana Arrest tells the story of former Manhattan Public School art teacher Alberto Willmore, who recounts how his life was upended after NYPD officers aggressively seized and charged him with marijuana possession.
Willmore immediately lost his teaching job, spent nearly two years fighting the case in court, and -– even though the case was thrown out -– he was still penalized by his employer, the Department of Education.
New Yorkers are all too familiar with stories like Willmore’s. Since 2002, nearly 500,000 people have been arrested in New York for marijuana possession. The vast majority of those arrests, 440,000, took place in New York City.
In 2012 alone in the City, there were nearly 40,000 such arrests, far exceeding the total marijuana arrests in NYC from 1981-1995. The cost to taxpayers is at least $75 million a year, and more than $600 million in the last decade, a profound waste of money. A report released earlier this year found that the NYPD had spent one million hours making these arrests over the past decade.
Organization Challenges Drug Czar to Explain the Self-Contradiction He Included In An Invitation to TODAY’s First-Ever White House Drug Policy Reform Conference
The Marijuana Policy Project is challenging U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske to explain the self-contradicting statement he included in an invitation to the first-ever White House Drug Policy Reform Conference, which will be held Monday from 9 a.m.–2 p.m. It can be viewed online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/live.
The email invitation distributed Friday by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) included a graphic with the following quote from Kerlikowske: “Drug policy reform should be rooted in NEUROSCIENCE—NOT POLITICAL SCIENCE.”
“Every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it poses far less harm to the brain than alcohol,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and coauthor of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink? “The ONDCP has long championed laws that steer adults toward using alcohol and away from making the safer choice to use marijuana. If the drug czar is truly committed to prioritizing neuroscience over political science, he should support efforts to make marijuana a legal alternative to alcohol for adults.”
By Steve Elliott
A new ordinance removing all penalties for marijuana possession took effect on Friday in Portland, Maine, and nervous city officials are trying to head off the kind of celebration that took place on election night last month.
Several cannabis advocates celebrated the lopsided victory in November by smoking a foot-long joint outside a downtown bar, reports Randy Billings at the Portland Press Herald.
"The ordinance clearly says you can't do it in public," said City Councilor David Marshall, a member of the Portland Green Independent Committee, which led the legalization drive. "We certainly hope people respect the ordinance."
Two thirds of Portland voters -- an overwhelming 67 percent -- on November 5 voted to legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for adults 21 and older. Under the ordinance, adults are allowed to possess marijuana in public, but not use it openly.
It is still illegal to buy or sell cannabis in Portland, and landlords can still ban pot smoking in their apartments.
Medical marijuana is already allowed under Maine state law. Maine is also one of 16 states that have decriminalized possession, meaning anyone caught with under 2.5 ounces is subject only to a civil summons and a fine, not criminal charges.
Cannabis advocates on Friday morning turned in tens of thousands signatures for two marijuana initiatives in the state capitol of Salem. The initiatives are aiming for the November 2014 ballot in Oregon.
Oregon's 2014 Initiative 21 is a constitutional amendment to end marijuana prohibition, and Initiative 22 is a statute to regulate and tax marijuana, allowing farmers to grow hemp for fuel, fiber and food. Organizers behind I-21 and I-22 turned in the signatures to the Oregon Secretary of State's Elections Division offices on the 5th floor in the Public Service Building.
“Prohibition doesn't work," said chief petitioner Paul Stanford of the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp (CRRH). "Filling our jails with nonviolent marijuana prisoners is a waste. It is time to end marijuana prohibition.”
Recent polls show that more than 60 percent of likely Oregon voters support ending marijuana prohibition now. "Our initiatives, one constitutional, the other statutory, will poise Oregon to lead this new industry, which some say is the fastest growth industry in America today," Stanford said.
Who: Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp, an Oregon nonprofit PAC
What: Press Conference and Signature Turn-In for Two Marijuana Initiatives
When: 10 a.m. on Friday, December 6
Where: Lobby of the Public Service Building at 255 Capitol St. NE; Salem, Oregon
By Steve Elliott
Should Florida voters be allowed to decide the medical marijuana question for themselves? The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday began hearing arguments that could determine whether voters get to make the call at the ballot box next year.
For the past three years, medical marijuana bills in the Florida Legislature died without Republican leaders even scheduling a vote. Cannabis advocates say they are now acting because the Legislature failed to lead.
Opponents of a proposed constitutional amendment which would allow the medicinal use of cannabis with a doctor's authorization want the court to rule the proposal does not meet ballot requirements, reports Scott Powers at the Sun Sentinel. Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and other opponents claim the ballot language, limited by law to 90 words, is a misleading summary of the six-page amendment.
They also claim that the amendment changes more than one government function, while under Florida law, constitutional amendments must be limited to "single subjects." Opponents claim the proposed medical marijuana law affects the Department of Health, the Florida Legislature, law enforcement, open records and courts.
Federal prosecutors routinely threaten extraordinarily severe prison sentences to coerce drug defendants into waiving their right to trial and pleading guilty, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Thursday. In the rare cases in which defendants insist on going to trial, prosecutors make good on their threats.
Federal drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain, according to new statistics developed by Human Rights Watch.
The 126-page report, “An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty,” details how prosecutors throughout the United States extract guilty pleas from federal drug defendants by charging or threatening to charge them with offenses carrying harsh mandatory sentences and by seeking additional mandatory increases to those sentences. Prosecutors offer defendants a much lower sentence in exchange for pleading guilty.
Since drug defendants rarely prevail at trial, it is not surprising that 97 percent of them decide to plead guilty.
Thursday, December 5 marks the 80th anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment, which ended the prohibition of alcohol in 1933. The amendment repealed the 18th Amendment, passed in 1920, after more than a decade of increased crime, dangerously unregulated products, and a failure to reduce consumption convinced the American public prohibition was an ineffective and destructive way to attack the problems associated with substance use.
Alas, it was a lesson quickly forgotten. Decades later America repeated the mistake with the prohibition of drugs -- heir to all of the same problems as alcohol prohibition and then some.
As former prosecutor and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) board member James Gierach says, "Al Capone and other gangsters thrived when government outlawed what people wanted. When booze went legit with the 21st Amendment, mobsters had to wait only 40 years before government did it again with drugs. Same problem, same solution: legalize, license, regulate and tax."
Two comparisons with the current War On Drugs are particularly worthy of note.
First, the prohibition of alcohol was actually closer to what reformists today call “decriminalization” – the removal of criminal penalties for use and possession while sales, distribution and manufacture remain prosecutable offenses.
By Steve Elliott
The Denver City Council, busily making rules around marijuana use ever since Colorado voters decided to legalize cannabis with the Amendment 64 vote last year, will next week decide whether to limit the number of pot plants that can grown at home.
The ordinance would allow up to six marijuana plants per adult for recreational use to be grown in a home, but set a maximum of 12 plants per dwelling unit, reports Jeremy Mayer at The Denver Post.
Some cannabis advocates say the plan would disproportionately affect veterans and medical marijuana patients, but Councilwoman Jeanne Robb, who sponsors the ordinance, claimed it comes from "safety concerns."
"The police are very worried about the homegrows and the problems they could cause, fires, pesticide use, the mold, structural damage, children who might be living in these areas and THC on surface areas," Robb claimed. "They really want to be able to go in and have law enforcement ability to do our zoning."
Robb's supposed concerns, which echo the talking points of an anti-pot group called Smart Colorado, "seem pretty weak," according to Jacob Sullum at Forbes.
By Steve Elliott
Former President Bill Clinton in a TV interview on Tuesday said he "never denied" smoking marijuana.
"I didn't say I was holier than thou; I said I tried," Clinton told Fusion TV's Jorge Ramos. "I never denied that I used marijuana."
Ramos had asked if Clinton were running now if he would answer questions about his cannabis use differently, reports Eliana Dockterman at Time. The former President claimed his original answer, which he gave during his 1992 campaign, had been twisted by the media.
Clinton's infamous claim was that he "didn't inhale" when he tried pot during his Rhodes scholar years.
"When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and didn't like it," he said in 1992. "I didn't inhale, and I didn't try it again."
"I told the truth," Clinton says now. "I thought it was funny. And the only journalist who was there said I told the truth."
"The drug issue should be decided by people in each country, based on what they think is right," Clinton said when Ramos asked him about marijuana legalization. "We have a process in America for doing it that's being revisited state by state.
"And Latin America is free to do the same thing," Clinton said. "It's obvious that attitudes are changing and opening up."
(Photo of President Clinton and Jorge Ramos: Fusion TV)