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May 2016
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Odds and Ends

The Failed Promise of Legal Pot

Other than the click-bait headline, this feature article has a lot of useful stuff, including the inescapable conclusion that we’ve talked about all along. In order to pull the legs out of the black market, legalization needs to make is easier to be legal. But, of course, with the advice of entities like BOTEC, the approach has instead been to make is as difficult as possible to be legal.

“If it’s ridiculously expensive and they can get it from their homie cheaper, that’s what they’re going to do.”

Yep. If only we had people as smart as Admiral Gregory:

When repeal finally came, Washington’s then-Governor Clarence Martin asked Admiral Gregory to head the state’s new Liquor Control Board. Critically, Martin gave Gregory carte blanche to mold the new policies as he saw fit. Gregory took up the challenge—and surprised everyone.

First, instead of cracking down on bootleggers and speakeasy operators, Gregory gave them amnesty and issued licenses to anyone willing to play by the state’s rules. Second, backed by the governor and his influence in the Senate, Gregory arranged for alcohol taxes to be set as low as any in the nation, which allowed those willing to follow the law to keep a significant amount of their profits, and it made room for legal operators to compete with bootleggers’ prices. Third, Gregory punished anyone who broke the rules—even once—with an iron fist, blacklisting them from ever making or selling alcohol in the state again.

Predictably, this caused some turmoil in a legislature anxiously awaiting an infusion of cash from liquor sales, but the governor backed Gregory. Faced with a low cost of entry and legal profits, bootleggers and speakeasies around the state mostly turned legitimate. Meanwhile, the few remaining stragglers were quickly put out of business, and drinkers flocked to a competitive legal market.

That might have been the end of it, but there was one more piece to Gregory’s plan. After holding down taxes—and thus prices—for three years, Gregory abruptly raised taxes so much that they were among the highest in the nation. The price of booze went up, of course, but people kept buying legal liquor and beer. There was no alternative left. Gregory had broken the back of the black market.

Bipartisan Pack of Lawmakers Fights Legal Theft by Police with New House Bill

  • Provides legal representation for those who cannot afford it in administrative and judicial proceedings;
  • Raises the burden of proof necessary to forfeit property from a mere “preponderance of evidence”—informally understood as being “more likely than not” connected to a crime—to “clear and convincing”—the highest standard used in civil proceedings;
  • Restores the presumption of innocence by requiring the government to prove that owners knew about or consented to the criminal use of their property;
  • Establishes new timelines that better protect property owners’ due process rights;
  • Provides a hearing for defendants to contest the pretrial restraint of property needed to pay for counsel;
  • Allows the recovery of attorney’s fees if a case is settled;
  • Increases oversight and transparency by requiring an annual audit of federal civil forfeitures and creating two publically available databases; and
  • Limits forfeiture for structuring only when funds are derived from an illegal source or used to conceal illegal activity.

Despite the praise, the Institute for Justice is calling for the bill to be amended to completely eliminate the DOJ’s Equitable Sharing Program.

US House Votes to Give Medical Marijuana to Veterans

By a vote of 233-189, representatives approved an amendment preventing the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) from spending money to enforce a current policy that prohibits its government doctors from filling out medical marijuana recommendation forms in states where the drug is legal.

It’s often depressing living in Illinois when it comes to the political climate, the state of the budget, and its marijuana laws, but there was a bright note this week.

Illinois House Passes Decriminalization Bill

On May 18, the Illinois House voted to move Illinois to ticket-based penalties for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana. If the governor signs Senate Bill 2228, instead of making arrests, police will start issuing tickets ranging from $100 to $200 per offense. Previously, anyone caught with 10 grams or less of marijuana could have been charged with a misdemeanor, resulting in a fine of up to $1,500 and possible jail time of up to six months.

Police and Prison Guard Groups Fight Marijuana Legalization in California

Of course they do.

ROUGHLY HALF OF the money raised to oppose a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana in California is coming from police and prison guard groups, terrified that they might lose the revenue streams to which they have become so deeply addicted.

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Silly prohibitionists

Map of Colorado marijuana being smuggled to other states, based on info provided by the DEA’s El Paso “Intelligence” Center


Um, yeah… That’s not Colorado.

[Thanks, Allan!]

Note: USA Today has since fixed the map in their story.

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Ashley Halsey III’s sources improve slightly

Some may remember my run-ins in the past with Ashley Halsey III, a lazy stenographer who writes things down for the Washington Post.


Well, Ashley is writing down information that’s been fed to him about marijuana and driving, still without reporting, but now his sources are slightly better.

Unlike alcohol, it’s tough to set DUI limits for marijuana

There is a legal limit for drunk driving, but when it comes to marijuana, new research shows it may be impossible to say just how high is too high to drive.

There’s no breathalyzer for pot, and researchers say blood tests are useless when it comes to telling whether someone who has been smoking is fit to drive. […]

A report by researchers at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said there is no threshold that indicates when a marijuana smoker may be too impaired to drive.

“There is no reliable number that has any meaningful value in terms of predicting impairment,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety and advocacy.

So far, so good. This is actual factual data about a subject that we’ve known for some time – that simply measuring nanograms says very little about impairment – that it’s more a matter of individuals and tolerance.

The only quibble with this section the discussion about the fact that with specific limits there’s the danger that someone who is under the limit but still impaired would get off, but no balancing statement about someone being over the limit and not impaired being persecuted. Naturally, Halsey never thought to consider that side of the question.

Then he continues…

The second report released by the AAA Foundation this week examines the effect of marijuana use in Washington state, where recreational use has been legal for more than three years.


Still, the report found that in 2013, 8 percent of drivers in fatal crashes tested positive for marijuana use. In 2014, the number more than doubled to 17 percent.


“Of all the fatal crashes in the state, the proportion that involved a driver that had recently consumed marijuana more than doubled in one year,” Nelson said. “That doesn’t say that people who had smoked marijuana and got behind the wheel were responsible for an increase in fatal crashes. It means that recent marijuana use is a growing contributing factor in traffic crashes that kill people.”

No. It simply means that more people are testing positive for marijuana – it says nothing about contributing factors.

The good news is that the reports coming out from government officials, while still bad, are less blatantly manipulative, so that media stenographers have fewer opportunities to screw up the facts.

[Thanks, Tom]

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Swords into plowshares


Vacant California prison could be turned into cannabis production site

As thousands of people have served unfair sentences for marijuana possession, one California prison might actually be used to grow pot.[…]

The city council voted 4-1 in April to prepare an ordinance to allow commercial cannabis cultivation at the former prison. The decision was made after officials fielded a proposal from a California-based cannabis oil company called Ocean Grown Extracts, who hope to turn the empty 77,000 square-foot prison into a massive growing operation.

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DEA is wrong? How can that be?

Tom Angell reporting: State Department Says DEA Is Wrong on Marijuana Monopoly

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has long held the position that international drug control treaties to which the U.S. is a party prevent the federal government from granting more licenses to grow marijuana for scientific research.

The U.S. State Department just said the DEA is wrong. […]

But in written response sent to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) released Thursday, the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, said that DEA’s interpretation of the treaties is wrong.

A country issuing more than one cultivation license “would not be a sufficient basis to conclude that the party was acting in contravention” of the treaties, the bureau said. […]

“Nothing in the text of the Single Convention, nor in the Commentary, suggests that there is a limitation on the number of licenses that can be issued,” the State Department writes. […]

“For years, the DEA has cited this international treaty as the reason for limiting medical research,” Gillibrand said in a press release announcing the new State Department position. “Now that the State Department has confirmed this treaty should not be a barrier to expanding research, the DEA should issue new licenses to supply medical researchers and stop letting antiquated ideology stand in the way of modern medical science.”

I love it when one government agency calls out another one. And, of course, when it comes to interpreting international treaties, it seems the State Department may trump the DEA.

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Open Thread

Been busy with a number of projects, including a show in Normal, Illinois and another one in Chicago opening the same week. Who knew retirement would be so busy?

Michigan Seeks Science of ‘Drugged Driving’

I always take note when I see someone talking about ‘drugged driving’ because so much of it has been about demonizing marijuana with false comparisons to alcohol, and using essentially a back-door way to punish marijuana users.

At least I appreciated where this lawmaker was coming from (and his sense of humor).

Speaking in an exclusive interview after his bill passed the Michigan House by a landslide vote of 107-1 on Tuesday, Rep. Peter Lucido said “this is the first time a scientific study has been conducted to find the exact limit.”

Lucido, of Shelby Township, says he has no stock in the limit Colorado chose after the state legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.

Colorado’s limit for drivers is 5 nanograms of THC per unit of blood, but Lucido said lawmakers “basically pulled it out of their ass.”

Assuming it actually is a scientific study, I think that Lucido will find that the “exact limit” is impossible to find – it all depends on the individual. Still, a scientifically determined average is at least better than pulling it out of your ass.

Personally, I believe in policing by observing impairment, not by measuring nanograms.

New Report Details Devastating Effects Of Mass Incarceration On The U.S.

No surprises to anyone on the couch – we’ve been talking about this for years. But good to see the White House disseminating this basic information about some of the failures of our criminal justice system.

Feds Agree to Tolerate the Country’s Largest Medical Marijuana Dispensary

The Justice Department, which has been trying to shut down Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the country, since 2012, is backing down. Yesterday Oakland officials, who have supported the dispensary all along, announced that the feds had agreed to let it stay open. […]

Harborside had argued that U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s campaign against the dispensary likewise violated the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment, which was first enacted at the end of 2014. Haag, who had made a point of targeting dispensaries despite the DOJ’s policy of tolerating marijuana suppliers who comply with state law, left office last September. […]

Although the details of the deal between Harborside and the DOJ are unclear at this point, it looks like the Obama administration is finally trying to reconcile the actions of federal prosecutors with the DOJ’s policy of forbearance. Steve DeAngelo, the dispensary’s executive director, said the agreement “signals the beginning of the end of federal prohibition.”

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David Bratzer may speak again

Throughout the history of prohibition, lacking science and facts on their side, prohibitionists have tried to control the message, and suppress any attempts to talk about reform. There were even Congressional hearings discussing whether drug policy reformers could be prosecuted! For decades, many people legitimately thought that even talking about legalization could get them in trouble.

And in some places that really was true. One of the greatest voices for reform has been Law Enforcement Against Prohibition made up of (mostly retired) law enforcement officials, judges, etc. But it’s been hard for active LEOs to participate, even in their own time, simply because they’re often not allowed to by their job. That’s right – their employment doesn’t allow them to express their opinion about science and law in their own time.

David Bratzer is a friend to Drug WarRant, and was an active police officer who was an active member of LEAP, until the Victoria Police Department told him that he could no longer speak publicly or personally as a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Fortunately, Canadian courts have ruled on his behalf.

Victoria police officer can advocate for drug legalization, tribunal rules

A Victoria police officer who won a human-rights complaint against the force says “on the ground” experience led him to support drug legalization – and he says he doesn’t think he’s alone on the force.

Constable David Bratzer was awarded $20,000 last week after the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled the Victoria Police Department violated his rights by preventing him from advocating for legalization. A civil-liberties group describes the ruling as precedent-setting.

An editorial in the Times Colonist was blunt: Editorial: Rights case wasted money

It can be difficult for some to accept that police officers might not agree with all of the laws they are being asked to enforce.

It is more difficult to accept the notion that a police department could discriminate against one of its officers because of his political beliefs that were not far removed from mainstream thinking.

What is most difficult of all is the realization that this case was allowed to go on for as long as it did, taking time and money that could have been spent on more important priorities.

The tribunal found that former police chief Jamie Graham was not in favour of drug legalization or decriminalization, and that played a partial role in the treatment of Bratzer on at least one occasion.

Let’s restate that: If Graham tried to gag Bratzer’s off-duty comments because he disagreed with Bratzer’s views, then Graham overstepped his position. That kind of management action is wrong.

It’s good to have David’s voice back!

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U.N. not a place to find good policy

UN backs prohibitionist drug policies despite call for more ‘humane solution’

The first United Nations general assembly special session on drugs in almost two decades has approved an agreement that leaves in place the prohibitionist policies banning narcotics use, despite growing international discontent with the “war on drugs” – and the concerns of the nations that called the meeting. […]

The agreement adopted on the first day of the three-day summit included no criticism of the death penalty for drug crimes, and instead called for greater cooperation between nations, while maintaining the prohibitionist framework which criminalizes all drug use that is not for medical or scientific purposes.

The agreement – called an “outcome document” – was not a surprise for anyone in the room and was publicised in advance of the meeting and adopted almost immediately. […]

However, some advocacy groups have pointed to progress in the outcome document, especially in its call for promotion of opioid treatment programs and overdose medications, Naloxone being the best known.

And although the document avoided the words “harm reduction”, a common umbrella term in public health circles, the document called on nations to consider programs such as needle exchanges, which provide clean syringes to injection drug users. Such programs have been shown to reduce new cases of blood borne diseases, such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

Of course, you might think that the U.N. had a more enlightened approach if you read the LA Times.

Tom Angell caught them: LA Times Gets Fooled by Fake Drug War Press Release

But at least one newspaper got tricked into reporting fake news from the event.

According the Los Angeles Times:

As the summit opened Tuesday, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime announced new international recommendations, including the decriminalization of marijuana, universal access to controlled medicines, criminal justice system reforms including elimination of mandatory minimum jail sentences and abolition of the death penalty and acknowledging marijuana’s medical use.

“The science increasingly supports decriminalization and harm reduction over proscriptive, fear-based approaches,” UNODC Executive Director Yuri Fedotov said in a statement Tuesday. “It’s time to reverse the cycles of violence that occur wherever ‘drug wars’ are undertaken, and to abandon policies that exacerbate suffering.”

The UNODC also said it would reform its decision-making process to include a more diverse range of voices.

“We can begin to dismantle ‘just say no’ policies that result in millions needlessly killed and incarcerated — and that defy logic and science — and instead bring to the forefront humane solutions that are known to work,” said Kevin Campo, a spokesman for the drugs agency.

To advocates of ending the war on drugs, that sounds like great news. There’s only one problem: It’s all based on a fake press release claiming that UNODC was using cannabis holiday 4/20 to announce a big shift

That fake press release is titled “UNODC Unveils Historic “4/20″ Policy Redirect at UNGASS 2016.” Huh, yeah. Funny.

Of course, those of us who have followed Yuri Fedetov at all, would immediately recognize that quote couldn’t be from him.

Successful prank. Nice catch, Tom! (Note: The LA Times story is still up at this time.)

No, the U.N. leadership is not that open to reform (as the Guardian article so clearly notes). In fact, the Drug Policy Alliance reported that the U.N. was confiscating copies of the letter calling for the end of the drug war that were being handed out in front of the U.N.

UN Security was apparently ordered to confiscate the letter, and attendees were ordered to hand over their copies upon entering the building. According to a number of participants in the UN Special Session, they were told that the document was not allowed in the building. “As we were walking into the metal detectors right at the entrance, the security were confiscating it from people,” said Natalie Lyla Ginsberg, Policy and Advocacy Manager for Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Ms. Ginsberg continued, “I went back to ask the security guard why, and he said he got orders from the UN to specifically take the newspapers. He said he was just following orders.”

Of course, the truth is that the U.N. is not going to be a leader on reform (just as we knew the U.S. government was never going to be a leader on reform. The UNGASS, though disappointingly predictable, did provide the impetus for publicity from a growing international group of reform-minded organizations and leaders. And that’s good.

Just as marijuana reform has been happening in the U.S. simply because the people began to realize that the U.S. government was outdated and irrelevant in its views, international drug policy reform will happen because individual countries start to think the same about the U.N.

Update: Steve Rolles at Transform said what I was thinking, only better: The drug warriors who derailed the UN drug policy summit have made a terrible miscalculation. Just go ahead and read it.

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Happy 420

I sometimes forget that Drug WarRant has a CafePress store.

One of the items – a wall clock that I made years ago – continues to be one of my favorites. Simple, understated, and yet makes the point. I have it in my place and whenever people come to visit, I get comments.


Enjoy your day.

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Preparing for the U.N. Special Session

Humankind cannot afford a 21 st century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century’s. A new global response to drugs is needed, grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

That’s from this new letter: Over 1,000 Leaders Worldwide Call for End to “Disastrous” Drug War, Ahead of UN Special Session

The list of signatories is significant — of course including a lot of former world leaders, but also current leaders (and a couple of Presidential candidates). Apparently the list also was gathered in a very short time. Impressive.

There will be a pop-up museum in New York for 3 days: Museum of Drug Policy at UNGASS (245 Park Avenue (corner of Park & E 47th St., April 19-21, 2016; open 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM), which will include work by young artists about the drug war – This Is How Young Artists See the War on Drugs: The Winners of Our Poster Contest

There will also be a UNGASS Youth Demonstration conducted by Students for Sensible Drug Policy from 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on those three days in the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.

The activists will stage performance art pieces, including slam poetry readings. Visual art depicting the harms of drug prohibition, from as far away as Afghanistan and Eastern Europe, will be displayed, and students will give short soapbox speeches to make their voices heard.

"Breaking Down the Double Standards: Aren't We All Drug Users After All?", by Nuno Pinto, Anca Dima and Clara Abdullah, Portugal

“Breaking Down the Double Standards: Aren’t We All Drug Users After All?”, by Nuno Pinto, Anca Dima and Clara Abdullah, Portugal

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