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.
A year of legalized recreational marijuana hasn't changed many Coloradans' minds on the groundbreaking shift — though more than one-third say the state's reputation has taken a hit, according to a SurveyUSA poll done for The Denver Post. More than 90 percent of the respondents who voted in the 2012 election on Amendment 64 — the measure allowing adults to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana passed 54.8 percent to 45.1 percent — said they would vote the same way today.
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.
As marijuana legalization took hold in Colorado, the percentage of regular cannabis users in the state jumped to the second-highest level in the US. The results come from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and represent the average of estimates in 2012 and 2013. Researchers will get a better idea about marijuana use in Colorado once they are able to zoom in on data showing how many people use marijuana daily. A study commissioned by Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division this year found that people who use marijuana almost every day account for about 22 percent of cannabis users. (See also: A Year of Legal Pot)
The black market for marijuana in Colorado isn't what it used to be. Nine or 10 years ago, the narrative of illicit cannabis in the state focused on illegally grown product filtering in from Mexico, California and elsewhere. Now it seems officials and experts are more concerned about Colorado-grown marijuana infiltrating other states, a trend that is seeing a significant upward trajectory. "In a lot of ways, our legal industry has become the black market for other states," said Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. (See also: A Year of Legal Pot)
With the war in Syria stifling the economy and bringing in a flood of refugees in the Bekaa Valley, as well as the closure of smuggling roads and persistent state neglect, many of the farmers near Baalbek have turned to planting cannabis, a lucrative crop. But growing production and tighter border controls have also caused a glut of cannabis in Lebanon, driving down prices. Calls to legalize the drug are also gaining traction. (See also: Jumblatt renews calls to legalize marijuana)
In suing to stop marijuana legalization in Colorado, two neighboring states have embarked down an arcane legal pathway that could take years to reach a conclusion, legal scholars say. Nebraska and Oklahoma last week asked the U.S. Supreme Court to toss out portions of Colorado's pot legalization law. The states contend that Colorado's law — and especially Colorado's licensing and regulation of marijuana stores — violates the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which says the federal law reigns when state and federal laws are in irreconcilable conflict.
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.
Walid Jumblatt has renewed calls to legalize the cultivation and sale of marijuana. The head of the Progressive Socialist Party wrote that the time has come to sanction pot and end the state's prosecution of its sellers. "It is time to allow for the cultivation of marijuana, and to drop the right to issue arrest warrants against people who work in this field," the prominent Druze leader said.
The Department of Justice announced that it would let Native American tribes grow or sell marijuana on their reservations, even in states where the drug is still illegal. The decision opens the door to pockets of legal marijuana throughout the country, in addition to the growing number of states that have legalized pot or are considering doing so. There are more than 300 reservations in some 30 states. If a good portion of those tribal governments choose to grow and sell marijuana on their land, then large swaths of the country will have access to legal pot. (See also: Tribes wary of selling pot, even if feds allow it)
Opening the door for what could be a lucrative and controversial new industry on some Native American reservations, the Justice Department will tell U.S. attorneys to not prevent tribes from growing or selling marijuana on the sovereign lands, even in states that ban the practice. The new guidance, released in a memorandum, will be implemented on a case-by-case basis and tribes must still follow federal guidelines, said Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota and the chairman of the Attorney General's Subcommittee on Native American Issues.
A total of 52 percent of Spaniards are in favour of legalizing the sale and private consumption of cannabis for adults despite a general toughening on people's stance towards drugs, a new study by Spain’s Foundation for Help Against Drug Addiction (Fad) shows. Around 28 percent of Spaniards believe these clubs are a positive initiative which promotes the controlled use of cannabis, according to the Fad study. A further 22 percent said such clubs "don’t bother" them while 8 percent said they were a "legal joke".
The legal weed industry is trying to grow something else these days: political influence. The National Cannabis Industry Association has spent $60,000 lobbying Congress and federal regulators during the first nine months of this year — double its lobbying expenses for all of 2013. Its political action committee also shelled out campaign money to help politicians in tough midterm races, including Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, where voters in 2012 approved the recreational use of marijuana.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency has now walked back statements it made about the trafficking of marijuana grown in the US to buyers in Mexico, after being met with skepticism by other law enforcement agents and experts and being pressed to divulge more information on the allegedly burgeoning problem. The claim that Mexican drug cartel members were taking US-grown weed and selling it at a premium to Mexican customers first emerged in a broader NPR report on the effects of legalized marijuana on the illicit drug trade.
Uruguay's politicians who led the charge to legalize marijuana and same-sex marriage appeared to win another ringing endorsement from voters in the South American country. Exit polls placed Tabaré Vazquez of the left-wing Broad Front coalition in the lead in the country's presidential runoff. Candidate Luis Lacalle Pou of the conservative National Party told supporters that he had conceded to Vazquez and wished him well. A win for Vazquez would give Uruguay a third consecutive five-year term with a leftist leader at the helm.
Some state lawmakers say it’s high time Massachusetts hashes out a bill to legalize and tax marijuana, or, if left to voters, risk repeating the awkward ballot-to-reality rollout that’s plagued the fledgling medical marijuana industry. “It’s almost certain to be on the ballot in 2016, I think people are going to vote for it, and I think we have the responsibility to do it right,” said state Sen. Will Brownsberger, chairman of the Legislature’s judiciary committee. “I don’t think it’s wisest to leave it to whoever is writing the ballot question.”
Uruguay could start selling marijuana in pharmacies in March 2015, the head of the National Drugs Board said, although the government had initially been aiming for year-end. A variety of hurdles are preventing the government from making its deadlines in implementing the measures passed into law last December. Even the plan to start selling marijuana in March, when President Jose Mujica leaves office, looks ambitious as the government is still tendering cultivation licenses.
Last week, NBC’s Today Show giddily announced an exclusive: Privateer Holdings, the Seattle marijuana company long acclaimed locally for its straight, corporate image and Ivy-League-educated bosses, was launching “the first global pot brand” based on the legacy of Bob Marley. The company is likely to start selling pot overseas, says Privateer public-relations director Zack Hutson, previously a spokesperson for Starbucks. “We’re in discussions with a distributor in Israel” – a country with a federally legal medical-marijuana system. Hutson also cites Uruguay and the Netherlands as potential early markets.
Marijuana advocates want to take their legalization drive — so far the province of Western states — to the Northeast, and they say the first state to do it here might be Maine. The Pine Tree State has a long history with cannabis — Maine voters approved medical marijuana legalization 15 years ago, becoming the first New England state to do so. Now, national marijuana advocates say, the state represents a chance for pro-marijuana forces to get a toehold in the Northeastern states they have long coveted.