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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 2016
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Open Thread

Heading out early tomorrow morning for New York – this annual community trip I’m hosting 95 travelers for a week of Broadway shows and walking tours. Should be fun. And busy.

I’ll stop in when I can. Keep checking the comments for the best news and discussion on drug policy.

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How about we actually use science and facts to deal with addiction?

Good article in New York Magazine by Jesse Singal: The Tragic, Pseudoscientific Practice of Forcing Addicts to ‘Hit Rock Bottom’

He’s talking about Maia Szalavitz’s new book: Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction

Or, as Szalavitz put it to the Daily Beast: “If you don’t learn that a drug helps you cope or make you feel good, you wouldn’t know what to crave. People fall in love with a substance or an activity, like gambling. Falling in love doesn’t harm your brain, but it does produce a unique type of learning that causes craving, alters choices and is really hard to forget.”

This can help explain many little-known facts about drug addiction: for example, that the vast majority of people who try even drugs like heroin will not become addicted to them; or that early-life trauma hugely increases the odds of becoming addicted to a substance. To take an oversimplified hypothetical: If someone first offers you alcohol at a time when you’re dealing with serious family issues, unresolved trauma, and other addiction risk factors, you’re more likely to develop an unhealthy relationship with the substance than if your first sip comes at a time when stuff is going okay for you. Many, many factors intermingle in complicated ways to determine whether a given individual will develop an addiction. […]

But throughout her book, Szalavitz argues, and argues compellingly, that when it comes to “hitting bottom” and so many of the other pseudoscientific approaches to fighting addiction, the actual goal — or part of it, at least — has always been to marginalize the addict, to set them apart and humiliate them. There’s a deep impulse to draw a clear, bold line between us, the healthy people, and them, the addicts. What clearer way to emphasize that divide than to cast them down into a rock-bottom pit, away from the rest of us?

[Thanks dc]

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Going after the city councils (updated)

Tom Angell reports that Kevin Sabet’s “SAM” group is targeting city councils with anti-legalization efforts.

A group dedicated to keeping marijuana illegal has launched an effort to convince city councils across the country to actively oppose measures to end cannabis prohibition that are expected to appear on at least five state ballots this November. […]

It is unclear if SAM has already begun outreach to city councils about the resolution. […]

The group is expected to announce further details about its efforts to defeat state marijuana legalization measures this week.

The city council approach almost seems a little bit like desperation to me, but I can understand why they’re doing it – city councils, particularly in states where legalization has not yet happened, are less likely to be fully informed about issues like marijuana legalization, and might be swayed by SAM’s misinformation tactics. Then they pass a resolution, it gets reported in the paper, and the misinformation gets passed on to the local voting citizens.

I guess it goes to show the importance of all of us getting involved in local politics (although personally, the idea of going to my local city council meetings falls pretty low on my list of fun things to do).


More from Tom Angell: Anti-Marijuana Group Raises $300K to Oppose Legalization Measures

A group fighting to maintain marijuana prohibition announced on Wednesday that it is hiring field organizers to campaign against legalization ballot initiatives in key states, and has so far raised more than $300,000 to support its efforts.

SAM Action, the political arm of the organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana, will focus its efforts mostly in California and Nevada, it said in a press release.

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The never-ending triumph of politics over issues

I’m sure that some of you have also gotten weary of the constant political posturing and sniping (particularly if you spend any time on Facebook) involved in the Presidential election politics. This process seems to go on forever. And we still have over 5 months until the election.

And I find myself wondering “When do we get to talk about criminal justice reform?”

I mean, really. When do we get to have national conversations about actual issues instead of haggling over personalities?

And I get told “Well, we have to prevent X from becoming President or the world will end.” Once we accomplish that, then we can deal with actual issues.” But, of course that’s not true – then we’ll be talking about the midterms.

Meanwhile, I suppose we talk about the Presidential election…

On the stump, Bernie Sanders makes pitch for legal pot in California

“It makes sense to legalize marijuana at this particular point,” Sanders told supporters this week on a dusty softball field at a park in East Los Angeles where, like at many of his outdoor events in California, a slightly pungent pot aroma wafted through the air. “So if I were here in your state, I would vote yes on that issue.”

Also, the Libertarian Party convention is happening this weekend. And they have real potential to, well, not actually win, but have a bit of a showing.

Libertarian Party set to pick nominee at convention

The likely Democratic and Republican nominees each have historically high unfavorable numbers. Media attention for the party, both the national committee chairman and the party’s political director say, is at unprecedented levels.

So it is with an air of opportunity to break out of obscurity that Libertarians, members of the country’s most prominent third party, have gathered for their national convention in Orlando, Florida, this weekend to officially pick a candidate to pitch to angry voters.

Of course, the reason they won’t have a chance is that the Democratic and Republican parties control the process (including the debates), and additionally there will be all sorts of browbeating of people to say that if they throw their vote away on the Libertarians, then the evil R or evil D will win and it’ll be that voter’s fault. The ghost of Ralph Nader will be repeatedly invoked.

I really do wish we had the preferential voting system that they have in Australia. Then, there’s no chance of throwing away your vote.

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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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