The election results this week from Washington, Colorado, Massachusetts and Arkansas demonstrate that public opinion about cannabis has moved much faster than the positions of elected officials. Despite what the voters in Washington and Colorado did, growing and selling marijuana will remain federal felonies. The federal reaction is crucial, and at the moment unpredictable. We probably won’t know until a new attorney general takes office.
According a recent CBS News poll conducted at the end of October, a slim majority of 51 percent continues to think that marijuana use should be illegal. But support for specifically allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana for serious medical conditions - or legalized "medical" marijuana - is far stronger: 77 percent Americans think it should be allowed.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has launched a counter-offensive against moves to liberalise drug laws around the world, warning that cannabis legalisation poses a grave danger to public health.
In an online town hall session yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama suggested that, while he is not in favor of drug legalization, he does believe drugs ought to be treated as “more of a public health problem.” Obama went on to add: “On drugs, I think a lot of times we’ve been so focused on arrests, incarceration, interdiction, that we don’t spend as much time thinking about how do we shrink demand.” (See the video clip below for the president’s full remarks.)
Today, despite a world-wide drug control treaty system and decades of massive investments to attack drug production and curtail supplies and consumption, illicit drug markets and criminal networks are flourishing, threatening public health and safety. The failure of the "war on drugs" is prompting renewed debate and policy innovation in countries across the Americas.
In 1995 the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) announced in a press release the publication of the results of the largest global study on cocaine use ever undertaken. A decision in the World Health Assembly banned the publication of the study. The US representative threatened that "if WHO activities relating to drugs failed to reinforce proven drug control approaches, funds for the relevant programmes should be curtailed". This led to the decision to discontinue publication.
It is a noble and worthy step to attempt to change the drug control treaties, but this is likely to take a long time and it may not be the essential starting place of reform. The amount of flexibility in the treaties is only partly a function of treaty language, for this language is always interpreted, and interpretations can vary depending upon how many states actively argue for more flexibility.
Drug courts have spread across the country, yet available research does not support their continued expansion. Most drug courts do not reduce imprisonment, do not save money or improve public safety, and fail to help those struggling with drug problems. The drug court model must be corrected to play a more effective role in improving the wellbeing of people involved in the criminal justice system who suffer substance misuse problems – while preserving scarce public safety resources.
Harsh laws for selling or possessing of drugs are a public-policy disaster. Ernest Drucker, an epidemiologist, uses the tools of his trade to examine the laws and their consequences. He writes that America is suffering “a plague of prisons”, and the Rockefeller laws in New York were the outbreak of that plague. None of Mr Drucker’s statistics is new, but they bear repeating because they are unjust, unintended and easily remedied. Treating drug addiction as a public-health problem (emphasising treatment and harm-reduction) rather than a crime would go a long way towards making America’s poor and minority communities stabler and better. It would also save taxpayers money. All that is lacking is political will.
When Obama first took office in 2009, he promised a drug policy more focused on public health. However, recent statements from the DEA and raids on medical marijuana providers have proved otherwise. External pressures are escalating as drug cartel-led violence across the border intensifies. Internal pressures are also becoming more widespread, as the public is seeing few changes affecting drug policy. Obama should seriously consider re-evaluating his approach to drug policy for his 2012 campaign.
King County authorities and the Washington State Public Stadium Authority have agreed to stop harassing people collecting signatures outside the Seahawks football stadium for an initiative that would legalize and tax recreational marijuana in the state. One of the collectors, Benjamin Schroeter, was arrested Nov. 13 after he refused an order to stop collecting signatures for Initiative 502 in a public area outside the stadium where fans were tailgating.
No sooner had the Times published its opening editorials advocating legalization of marijuana than the White House fired back with an unconvincing response on its website. It argued that marijuana should remain illegal because of public health problems “associated” (always a slippery word) with increased marijuana use. Careful readers will immediately see the White House statement for what it is: A pro forma response to a perceived public relations crisis, not a full-fledged review of all the scientific evidence.
Marijuana policy may not seem like the natural setting to model policies that pursue inclusive growth, but the innovative policy-making processes initiated in four US states are actually well worth considering.
Many Americans continue to believe that marijuana should be legalized, but are not supportive of making other drugs readily available, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found. In the online survey of a representative national sample of 1,003 American adults, 55 per cent of respondents support the legalization of marijuana, while 40 per cent oppose it.
The statement presents the main findings of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy. Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the desired results, concludes . We are further than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs. Breaking the taboo, acknowledging the failure of current policies and their consequences is the inescapable prerequisite for the discussion of a new paradigm leading to safer, more efficient and humane drug policies.
In 2012, voters in the US states of Washington, Colorado and Oregon were given the opportunity to vote in ballot initiatives for the creation of legally regulated cannabis markets. Washington’s Initiative 502 and Colorado’s Amendment 64 both passed with 55.7% and 55.3% of the vote respectively. Oregon’s Measure 80 failed with 53.4% of those voting rejecting the measure. As calls for and legal processes towards the initiation of cannabis policy reform become more common within US states, it is a timely and useful exercise to reflect upon the campaigns for reform in Washington (WA), Colorado (CO) and Oregon (OR) and examine why the public supported cannabis policy reform in some instances and not others.
Craig Reinarman, Peter Cohen, Sebastian Scholl , Hendrien L. Kaal
01 May 2004
Decriminalizing cannabis doesn't lead to more widespread use, according to a study comparing cannabis users in two similar cities with opposing cannabis policies — Amsterdam, the Netherlands (decriminalization), and San Francisco, California (criminalization). The study compared age at onset, regular and maximum use, frequency and quantity of use over time, intensity and duration of intoxication, career use patterns, and other drug use. No evidence was found to support claims that criminalization reduces use or that decriminalization increases use.
While drug courts have helped many Americans, they are not an appropriate response to drug law violations nor are they the most effective or cost-effective way to provide treatment to people whose only “crime” is their addiction.
Drug Courts are Not the Answer finds that drug courts are an ineffective and inappropriate response to drug law violations. Many, all the way up to the Obama administration, consider the continued proliferation of drug courts to be a viable solution to the problem of mass arrests and incarceration of people who use drugs. Yet this report finds that drug courts do not reduce incarceration, do not improve public safety, and do not save money when compared to the wholly punitive model they seek to replace. The report calls for reducing the role of the criminal justice system in responding to drug use by expanding demonstrated health approaches, including harm reduction and drug treatment, and by working toward the removal of criminal penalties for drug use.