As Obama embarks on the third year of his second term, here are some of the ways in which Obama has begun to deliver on his promises of a more rational, less punitive approach to psychoactive substances. Obama's most significant drug policy accomplishment may be letting states go their own way on marijuana legalization. Even if our next president is a Republican drug warrior, he will have a hard time reversing that decision, especially given the GOP’s lip service to federalism.
The 43-year-old war on drugs had never seen such a barrage of opposition as it did in 2014, with successful marijuana legalization initiatives in several U.S. states, California’s historic approval of sentencing reform for low level drug offenders and world leaders calling for the legal regulation of all drugs — all of which cement the mainstream appeal of drug policy alternatives and offer unprecedented momentum going into 2015.
Under pressure from the Lib Dems, the Home Office commissioned a report looking at the international evidence on the impact of legislation on drug use. Theresa May, the home secretary, made no secret of the fact that she had no enthusiasm for the project, and when it was published in October, with Baker taking the lead in publicising it, Conservative ministers signalled that they would ignore it. Baker revealed that the original draft had contained policy recommendations that, on May’s orders, had been removed prior to publication.
A bill to legalise medical marijuana could be put to Victoria's parliament before the end of next year, with the Labor government determined to reform the state's drug laws. Premier Daniel Andrews said that the Victorian Law Reform Commission had been asked to submit a report in August next year to determine not if, but when and how the laws should change to allow terminally and chronically ill people access to medicinal marijuana. (See also: National marijuana legalisation inches closer with new bill)
Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb called for the legalization of cannabis farming in Lebanon to allow the state to benefit from the revenue of its export. “We are conducting studies on [how to] organize this type of agriculture so that it becomes monitored by the state, and thus the state can buy the harvest and export it to the countries that need it,” Chehayeb said. He added that the state should end its war on cannabis farmers and find workable alternatives.
The vaping trend seemingly knows no bounds as the first “cannabis” e-cigarette goes on sale in the UK. The KanaVape, which contains hemp, has been legalised for use in France by people with cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS) and other conditions requiring pain relief. It will go on sale around the world tomorrow but the Home Office has cast doubt on whether that would be legal, saying the product must be tested for controlled substances. KanaVape cannot be compared to a joint because it does not contain THC, the chemical causing cannabis highs.
Smoking, growing, buying, selling or merely possessing cannabis is a criminal offence, according to America's federal government. Ask the states, however, and you will get almost 50 different answers. In 13 of them possession of the drug has been decriminalised, meaning that tokers face only minor penalties if caught. In 23 it has been legalised for medical use. And in four—including, following ballot initiatives earlier this month, Alaska and Oregon—cannabis has been legalised outright. In all only 22 states, fewer than half the total, continue to treat the drug as criminal contraband under all circumstances.
A political agreement between all of the political parties in parliament for funding research into the medicinal effects of cannabis is seen as a sign that the nation may be prepared to adjust its cannabis policy. Despite numerous pushes by Copenhagen to legalise cannabis in the capital and the booming business in Christiania, Denmark has taken a hardline stance on cannabis. Following a World Health Organization report that called for the decriminalisation of all drugs, parties ranging from the ruling Social Democrats to the libertarian Liberal Alliance and the left-wing Socialist People’s Party said that it is time to reconsider Denmark’s position.
A report from Greenwave Advisors, a "comprehensive research and financial analysis for the emerging legalized marijuana industry," projects that legal cannabis could be an industry with revenues of $35 billion by 2020 if marijuana is legalized at the federal level. To put that figure in perspective, $35 billion represents more annual revenue than the NFL (currently $10 billion), and is roughly on par with current revenues for the newspaper publishing industry ($38 billion) and the confectionary industry ($34 billion).
Italy wants its army to grow cheap marijuana from next year in a bid to discourage medicinal users from funding illegal street dealers. A high-security military compound lab is earmarked for growing cannabis for the national healthcare system despite criticism from leading political and religious figures. Since the medical use of marijuana was legalised last year, the government have been on the hunt to keep costs down as few people could afford to sign up for the pharmacy scheme. (See also: To grow cheap marijuana, Italy calls in the army)
Morocco’s marijuana farmers live in a strange limbo in which the brilliant green fields are left alone, while the growers themselves face constant police harassment. A new draft law may bring some reprieve: It aims to legalize marijuana growing for medical and industrial uses, a radical idea for a Muslim nation. It could alleviate poverty and social unrest, but the proposal faces stiff opposition in this conservative country, as well as the suspicions of farmers themselves, who think politicians can do nothing help them.
The Government of Jamaica has drafted legislation to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act as it moves to establish medical ganja and industrial hemp industries, where the cultivation and other activities involved in the production and supply of the plants will be legal under a controlled regime. Minister of Justice Senator Mark Golding emphasized that the objective is to lay the foundations for the establishment of regulatory regimes to govern the cultivation and use of ganja for medical and scientific purposes, as well as non-medical industrial hemp.
It may be an off-year election, but it's a big one for drug policy reform... voters across the country will have a chance to accelerate the unprecedented momentum to legalize marijuana and end the wider drug war. In fact, there are more drug policy reform questions on the ballot this November than ever in American history. Here is an overview, starting with the highest-profile measures.
Catalonia is drawing up rules to allow the use of marijuana for the treatment of patients suffering from conditions with symptoms such as pain and loss of appetite, the region's health minister Boi Ruiz has said. The move would open the way for the drug to be prescribed to cancer and AIDS patients, among others. The plan was partly designed to stop Barcelona's increasingly popular cannabis clubs from controlling the supply of medical marijuana, Ruiz said.
As Americans continue to embrace pot—as medicine and for recreational use—opponents are turning to a set of academic researchers to claim that policymakers should avoid relaxing restrictions around marijuana. It's too dangerous, risky, and untested, they say. Just as drug company-funded research has become incredibly controversial in recent years, forcing major medical schools and journals to institute strict disclosure requirements, could there be a conflict of interest issue in the pot debate? (See also: The real reason pot is still illegal)
Even though, in 1998, the Home Office granted GW Pharmaceuticals a license to grow cannabis in order to develop cannabinoid-based medicines, Britain is not following suit. Norman Baker, Lib Dem minister of state for crime prevention, called for more liberalised drug laws, and specifically the legalisation of cannabis grown for medicinal use. A coalition spokesman rejected his suggestion outright. And so those seeking cannabis for medicinal purposes must continue to chase it in the same way as recreational users, through the black market.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said he supports the legalisation of marijuana for medical use. He said the measure - which is due to be voted on by Colombian lawmakers - would be a "compassionate response" to pain experienced by people with terminal illnesses. "We look favourably on the initiative on the medical and therapeutic use of marijuana," Santos told a drugs forum in the Colombian capital, Bogota. "It's a way to stop criminals from acting as intermediaries between the patient and a substance that is going to ease their suffering."
Liberalised drug laws should be introduced to legalise the widespread use of cannabis to relieve symptoms of certain medical conditions, including the side effects of chemotherapy, the drugs minister Norman Baker will say. Amid concerns that "credible people" are having to break the law to secure the only substance that can help to relieve their condition, Baker is writing to the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to call for a review of the medicinal properties of cannabis.