Black people are six times more likely to be arrested than white people for drug offences and 11 times more likely to be imprisoned, according to new research claiming to show the racial bias of the criminal justice system.
What was Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos smoking? Colombia has long been an obedient lieutenant in the U.S.-led war on drugs, yet there was Santos musing out loud — at a presidential summit, of all places — about the possibility of exporting bales of marijuana to California dopers. "I would like to know," he said on Oct. 26, "if the eighth-largest economy in the world and a state that's famous for high technology, movies and fine wine, will permit marijuana imports?"
Of all the arguments that have been used to demonize marijuana, few have been more powerful than that of the "gateway effect": the notion that while marijuana itself may not be especially dangerous, it ineluctably leads to harder drugs like heroin and cocaine. Scientists abandoned the idea: as far back as 1999, in a report commissioned by Congress to look at the possible dangers of medical marijuana, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences wrote: "There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs."
Just say no, the slogan says. But on November 2, California has the chance to say yes, at least to marijuana. Proposition 19 would legalise the production, sale and use of cannabis, abolishing an ineffective and socially damaging prohibition on a substance with fewer health risks than alcohol and tobacco. The Golden State should vote to legalise dope.
Our marijuana laws are clearly doing more harm than good. The criminalization of marijuana did not prevent marijuana from becoming the most widely used illegal substance in the United States and many other countries. But it did result in extensive costs and negative consequences.
The leaders of several Latin American nations on the front lines of the battle against drugs said Tuesday that a California ballot measure to legalize marijuana would send a contradictory message from the United States.The Nov. 2 election in California was a key topic as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos hosted the presidents of Mexico and three other countries at a one-day summit.
With all the hand-wringing over a Democratic "enthusiasm gap," one effort to turn out young people at the polls this November is showing real energy and promise. What's the secret? In a word, as 78-year-old John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party, put it, "Pot."
Over a dozen US states have already decriminalised possession or personal use of cannabis, and Denver, Colorado and Oakland, California are already home to thriving (and profitable) medical marijuana industries. Meanwhile, in liberal New York City, we've seen a sweeping expansion of marijuana-related arrests in the last few years, and in LA and other major cities of California, black people are arrested at twice, thrice and up to seven times the rate of white people, despite federal studies that show that marijuana is used more commonly by white Americans.
Vote yes on Proposition 19, the measure to legalize marijuana, and the unofficial state weed and largest cash crop will be controlled like alcohol, police will focus on serious crimes and California will get billions of dollars in new taxes. That's the pitch proponents make. "It's a jumbled legal nightmare," opponents retort, disputing those claims and insisting that the measure would lead to stoned nurses in hospitals, drugged motorists on the road and more high teenagers.
Assume for a moment that California voters approve Proposition 19 on Nov. 2. The state will have just enacted a process for legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana use that no one else in the world has ever attempted. But Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama’s top law-enforcement officer, has said the administration will “vigorously enforce” federal drug laws in the country’s most populous state regardless of the vote. For all the trails that approving Prop 19 would blaze, much of its impact would depend on the extent to which Holder follows through on that threat.
Prop 19, the CA initiative legalizing marijuana, benefits not just those who enjoy the herb, but the entire state of California and ultimately, the nation and the world. This measure would make lawful the possession and sharing of one ounce of marijuana outside the home and allow for personal cultivation of a small marijuana garden and possession of its harvest in the home. California cities and counties would be able to opt-in to commercial sales, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. Existing prohibitions against driving under the influence and working under the influence would be maintained and prohibitions against furnishing marijuana to minors would be strengthened.
Californians may very well vote in November to legalize recreational marijuana, though the Obama administration, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and others in the political establishment are trying to scare them off by warning that legalization violates federal law.
Stepping up the Obama administration's opposition to Proposition 19, the nation's top law enforcement official promised to "vigorously enforce" federal drug laws against Californians who grow or sell marijuana for recreational use even if voters pass the legalization measure.
People on both sides of the marijuana legalization debate have strong feelings about Proposition 19, the California ballot initiative that promises to regulate, control and tax cannabis. But science and empirical research have been given short shrift in the discussion. That's unfortunate, because the U.S. government has actually funded excellent research on the subject, and it suggests that several widely held assumptions about cannabis legalization actually may be inaccurate. When the total body of knowledge is considered, it's hard to conclude that we should stick with the current system.
If California votes in favour of legalisation, Mexico would be wise to follow suit (the bottom would anyway fall out of its marijuana business). The drug gangs would still be left with more lucrative cocaine and methamphetamines. But it would become easier to defeat them. The idea of going back to a tacit bargain that tolerates organised crime, favoured by some in Mexico, is inimical to the rule of law, and thus to democracy and a free society. The sooner Mexico turns its new-found sense of urgency into a more effective national policing and law-enforcement strategy the better.
Proposition 19 has a chance of winning mainly because Californians have become rather relaxed about weed. Back in 1972 a proposition to legalise the drug was defeated almost two-to-one. These days, fully half of Californians tell pollsters they favour legalisation, and almost as many admit to having smoked marijuana themselves, which probably means that a big majority have actually done so.
I spent a week over the summer lecturing in New Zealand where I had the chance to speak with a number of politicians, lawyers and health professionals who were engaging in a review of their drug and alcohol laws under the leadership of their Law Commission. This independent body has made sensible recommendations that would reduce drug and alcohol related harms by providing more just laws but is experiencing a similar stonewall response from their government as we have from ours in the UK.
(See also: Drug Law Reform: Lessons from the New Zealand Experience, Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 8, August 2010)
Proposition 19, which would partially legalize marijuana in California, would do little to curtail the violent Mexican organizations that smuggle it across the border, according to a new study by drug policy researchers that takes aim at one of the main arguments proponents have made for the initiative. The report released by Rand Corp. estimates that legalized marijuana could displace the Mexican marijuana sold in California, but concludes that would erase no more than 2% to 4% of the revenues the gangs receive from drug exports.
Legalizing marijuana in California will not dramatically reduce the drug revenues collected by Mexican drug trafficking organizations from sales to the United States, according to a new RAND Corporation study. The study calculates that Mexican drug trafficking organizations generate only $1 billion to $2 billion annually from exporting marijuana to the United States and selling it to wholesalers, far below existing estimates by the government and other groups.
In July 2001, the Portuguese government introduced Law 30, setting in train a radical new approach to illicit drug use. In practice, it decriminalised the possession of certain quantities of drugs for personal use, instead referring users to one of the country’s 20 ‘dissuasion commissions’. Allied with decree 183 – which significantly expanded the network of harm reduction programmes – this meant that heroin users could seek help rather than face the wrath of the police.