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Join us on Pete's couch., the longest running single-issue blog devoted to drug policy, is published by the Prohibition Isn't Free Foundation
October 2015
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Drug policy and foreign policy. What a mess.

Ryan Grim and Nick Wing have a fascinating piece in Huffington Post: Operation Naked King: U.S. Secretly Targeted Bolivia’s Evo Morales In Drug Sting

Because of a confidential informant who is suing the federal government for $5 million in back pay, we’re learning a lot more about the DEA’s attempts to go after Morales and Bolivia. This article gives a good background on the animosity between the two countries and the use of the DEA and drug control policy as a weapon.

In 2009, Hillary Clinton warned of Morales and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s “fear mongering” in written testimony during her secretary of state confirmation hearings. Yet Morales’ fears, it turns out, weren’t rooted in mere paranoia. The DEA was, in fact, out to get him.

The revelation of Operation Naked King goes to show that Bolivian leaders’ paranoia was well justified, said Kathryn Ledebur, who runs the Andean Information Network based in Bolivia. “US authorities frequently dismiss Bolivian government denunciations about the DEA and US intervention as absurd speculation, but these revelations show what is common knowledge on the ground — there has long been an alarming lack of oversight of DEA operations in Latin America, including recurring mission creep and a violation of agreements with host countries,” she wrote in an email.

“Even before Morales’s election, high-ranking US officials warned his policies on coca and drug control and rejection of American policy dictates would plunge Bolivia into drug trafficking chaos. Yet, without the DEA or US funding, Bolivia has consistently improved its track record, with the lowest coca crop in the region and credible interdiction policies. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance for US drug warriors, and in this case, it appears some worked to make their predictions appear true.”

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Voters want Feds to Respect State Marijuana Laws

Marijuana Majority today released the results of its third survey of early primary states showing that South Carolina overwhelmingly support ending federal prosecutions of people acting in accordance with state marijuana laws.

Among respondents, 65% agree that “states should be able to carry out their own marijuana laws without federal interference.” Just 16% think that “the federal government should arrest and prosecute people who are following state marijuana laws.”

The survey, commissioned by Marijuana Majority, is a follow-up to other recent polls from the organization that showed supermajority support for respecting local marijuana laws in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are also key early presidential primary states.

“Regardless of whether they personally support legalization, voters in these early primary states strongly support scaling back the war on marijuana so that local laws can be enacted without federal harassment,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. “The Obama administration has made some helpful accommodations to let states start to move forward, but overarching federal prohibition laws still stand in the way of full and effective implementation. Presidential contenders in both parties would do well to make marijuana law reform a prominent issue in their campaigns, and they’d be better off doing it before other candidates realize just how much of a winning issue this is with voters.”

You can see more details of the polls at the Marijuana Majority polls page.

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Scientific bias

David Nutt has a good piece: Here’s Why We Hear So Many False Claims About Cannabis

On the whole, my many years of research on substance use has taught me a major overarching lesson: we are much more likely to demonize drugs for their negative effects than consider their neutral or potentially positive impacts. Or – in scientific terms – there is a built-in bias in the scientific literature, textbooks, and the popular press towards highlighting the negative aspects of drug use. And more ink has been spilled about cannabis than any other drug, perhaps because it’s the most widely used illegal drug and the subject of intense debate concerning its regulation.

He goes on to talk about the ways in which funding and confirmation bias (although he doesn’t use that term specifically) affect the scientific results we hear or notice.

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What’s more wrong than John P. Walters or William J. Bennett? Both of them together.

The two wax nostalgic in the Boston Globe…

Bring back the war on drugs

Ah, yes, remember the good old days of the drug war that these two managed to inflict on this country? Well, they want it back.

For 25 years before President Obama, US policy confronted drug addiction with effective public health measures, emphasizing education, prevention, and treatment and, crucially, programs to reduce production, interdict the drugs, and lead international partnerships to destroy drug cartels. It worked.

Yet President Obama refuses to attack supply. […]

Worse, Obama has tacitly allowed legalized marijuana to spread drug use on a widening scale, undermining prevention and treatment. Now drug gangs flourish in a legalized-drug environment, spreading addiction throughout America. […]

As death and addiction spread, who will speak truthfully about this epidemic? President Obama has not, but many Republicans have also downplayed the danger of drugs and the importance of law enforcement. Crime- and drug-ravaged communities are crying out for leadership. Who will answer them?

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Replacing the Black Market

Interesting survey at Marijuana Business Daily: Chart of the Week: Black Market Marijuana Taking Big Hit in States With Operating Dispensaries, Rec Shops


Of course, we always said that most consumers, when given a choice, would prefer to buy legally, as long it was available without going through too many hoops or being ridiculously expensive.

It’s certainly not a surprise, but it’s nice to see it happening visibly in data, even if it is from survey information (obviously, there’s no real way to accurately track levels of black market sales).

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Cannabis and Alcohol

This article has reopened the discussion about the degree to which alcohol and cannabis are complementary or substitutes.

Alcohol sales get higher after weed legalization contrary to industry fears

But a few years into Colorado legalization, alcohol sales are up in the state, and those in the alcohol business have embraced their fellow industry.

In the 18 months since recreational sales were legalized in Colorado, “we’ve just seen phenomenal growth”, said Justin Martz, 32, who runs Mr B’s Wine & Spirits in downtown Denver. He noted that there was some concern initially about legalization, “but it’s really turned out to be a non-issue”. In fact, he said, “if anything it’s kind of helped us. A high tide lifts all boats.”

Bryan Simpson, spokesman for the Fort Collins craft brewery New Belgium, agreed that doomsayers in the alcohol industry were wrong. He argued that rather than alcohol and pot directly competing against one another for consumers’ dollars, the two can be mutually beneficial in boosting overall sales. […]

Part of the reason for the alcohol and marijuana industries’ success may be a boost in Colorado tourism. Though some state officials insist marijuana is not attracting new visitors, Colorado tourism set record highs in 2014, the first year of legalization, with 71.3 million visitors who collectively spent $18.6bn.

Many in the alcohol industry credit marijuana with helping boost tourism.

Of course, while the alcohol and cannabis industries may be happy with this apparent trend, it’s a real concern to the government paternalists who have, in the past, clearly expressed their willingness to throw casual users under the bus in an attempt to prevent problem drinking.

Mark A.R. Kleiman: @mrclay_org Either way, not good news. If cannabis were a substitute for alcohol, legalization would have been a lay-down.
No such luck.


Mark A.R. Kleiman: If cannabis and alcohol aren’t substitutes, “pot is safer than booze” is only a weak argument for legalization.


Mark A.R. Kleiman: @CaliforniaNORML
Foolish alcohol policies expose users and others to grave risk.
So in fairness we should do the same with weed.

Of course, this article still doesn’t answer the question related to whether pot and alcohol are complementary or substitutes (and to what degree, or by what populations).

Ultimately, to me, it doesn’t matter.

I simply cannot and will not accept the notion of paternalistic government that punishes large segments of the population in a misguided attempt to prevent a small group of people from harming themselves. It’s arrogant. It’s bad policy. It’s ineffective. And, particularly in a country that prides itself on freedom, it’s wrong.

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Dear Potheads

For your entertainment.. this out-of-control video by Bryan Silva.

If you can’t view the embedded video, here’s the link to the Facebook video page.

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Drug offense sentencing requires major overhaul nationally

While we are making great strides in reforming drug policy, there are still horrific abuses happening in the drug war.

President Obama, Commute Sharanda Jones’ Sentence

Sharanda Jones is currently serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole at Carswell Federal Prison in Texas. Life without the possibility of parole is the second-harshest sentence our justice system can mete out, short only of the death penalty, and that not by much. What, you might ask yourself, did Sharanda Jones do to merit this sentence?

She was convicted of a single, non-violent drug offense involving crack cocaine. This conviction stemmed from her first ever arrest, and she was not even caught with crack in her possession.

If the above two paragraphs do not shock you, then you haven’t spent enough time in the criminal justice system to know how often violent crimes – including intentional homicides – are not punished with life sentences, much less life without parole. It is actually difficult, in many state court systems in particular, to get sentenced to LWP, even for repeat violent offender.

The fact that Sharanda Jones received this sentence for what amounts to being a drug mule is indicative of the unthinking and senseless drug sentencing policy that infected this country for far too long and which has resulted in a gradually worsening over-incarceration problem in the United States, which costs American taxpayers billions of dollars a year.

It’s not enough to legalize marijuana. We must end this drug war.

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Asset Forfeiture push-back

It feels like there’s a growing concern around the country regarding the travesty of use of civil asset forfeiture to steal from citizens. We’re starting to see more states push back in their laws, and this has to be because a lot of people (including us) have educated the public about just how unjust this practice has become.

Here’s an editorial from Casper, Wyoming:

“Guilty until proven innocent” isn’t how the United States is supposed to work, but that’s the basis of Wyoming’s asset forfeiture law.

Currently, members of law enforcement can seize any property even when the owner hasn’t been convicted of anything. Simple suspicion is enough. If police think money, vehicles or guns are related to the drug trade, for example, they can confiscate those items. Then, owners must go to court and mount a defense to regain possession.

That’s backward. Suspicion of illegal activity simply doesn’t set the bar high enough. Of course, we have no problem with the state seizing the assets of someone convicted of a serious crime. But the conviction must come first. We must ensure our residents are granted due process – a fair trial – before the government takes anything.

That’s why we’re glad to see Wyoming lawmakers weighing two draft proposals. One would require a felony conviction, and the other would require “clear and convincing evidence” of illegal activity. The current situation is so wrongheaded that either would be an improvement, but we – along with anyone else who respects the rights and values on which our country was founded – would like to see the threshold raised to require a conviction.

Personally, I would add that the seized assets must not be used to enrich the agency or agencies involved in the seizing.

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Open Thread

Sorry for the lack of posts recently – have been busy dealing with start of school and retirement planning (this is my last semester).

bullet image Here’s a ridiculous piece for your amusement. It’s a week old, but I couldn’t resist…

Marijuana harm ignored in push for legalization: Thomas Elias

All this ignores the sometimes fatal effects of pot use reported in a new study from the Arizona Department of Health Services. Examining all deaths of Arizona children under age 18, the department concluded 128 fatalities in 2014 resulted from substance abuse. Marijuana was the most prevalent substance associated with child deaths, linked to 62, far more than alcohol or methamphetamine. This, when just 7.5 percent of Arizonans use marijuana regularly, compared with 52 percent who use alcohol. So there’s little doubt pot is a more serious problem for youngsters who use it than beer or liquor.

Translate the Arizona numbers to California, six times as large but with no similar tracking of teenage deaths, and the likelihood is that more than 300 youthful fatalities here were tied to pot use last year.

Says Sheila Polk, county attorney for Yavapai County, Ariz., northwest of Phoenix, “Legalizing an addictive drug that is linked to … increased psychosis and suicidal ideas, lowered IQ, memory loss, impaired learning and academic failure means more damaged lives and lost opportunities for our youth. It’s unconscionable to experiment this way.”

Wrote Republican William Bennett, the nation’s first drug czar and a former secretary of education, “Overseeing or encouraging more marijuana use is just about the last thing a government trying to elevate (living conditions) would do. At stake is the safety of our youth.”

bullet image And here’s a bit of good news, that really shouldn’t be controversial…

Oregon Court rules Marijuana smoke not “offensive”

Jared William Lang, 34, was acquitted after the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that the odor of cannabis coming from his apartment was not “physically offensive” and a search warrant should never have been served at his home.

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