May 24, 2018

Dragan Vojnovic, Author at MARIJUANA POLITICS - Page 2 of 3

Bernie Sanders Commits to Criminal Justice Reform Before His Largest Crowd Ever

As he made clear on Sunday, Bernie Sanders is serious about criminal justice reform. Speaking to an estimated 28,000 people at a campaign rally in Portland, Oregon, the Democratic candidate emphasized the need for change in terms of how crime is dealt with in the United States, making clear that he intends on implementing bold reforms should he become president.

While Sen. Sanders addressed many political issues at the event, his focus on criminal justice reform was clear from the start. Returning to the topic several times throughout the speech, Sanders paid homage to Michael Brown and highlighted several aspects of criminal justice he believes do more harm than good. Bernie Sanders lamented the fact that the United States leads the world in incarceration rates and called for the abolishment of private prisons and mandatory minimum sentences.

Sanders discussed the hypocrisy of the Drug War, particularly in how it contrasts with the rampant impunity of white-collar crimes:

“We see kids getting criminal records for having marijuana, but the CEOs of these large institutions get away with theft.”

(via Willamette Week)

Following the record-breaking Portland rally, the Sanders presidential campaign stated in a press release:

The big and boisterous crowds, Sanders said, are sending a message that it’s time to reverse the four-decade decline of the American middle class and launch a grassroots “political revolution” to take on the billionaire class. “Bringing people together,” Sanders added, is at the core of his campaign.

Sanders also called for criminal justice reform. “There is no candidate who will fight harder to end institutional racism in this country and to reform our broken criminal justice system,” he said.

In the nearly hour-long speech, Sanders touched on economic and jobs proposals, criminal justice reform and civil rights issues.

This isn’t the first time Bernie Sanders has spoken out against our overly punitive drug laws. Speaking at the University of Washington on Saturday, Sanders called the beast by name: “Too many lives have been destroyed by the War on Drugs.” The candidate has also suggested he would be open to the idea of legalizing marijuana were he to win the presidency. His Sunday appearance in Portland suggests he isn’t done talking about the issue of criminal justice reform.

Sunday was an opportune time for Sen. Sanders to further discuss his criminal justice agenda. On Saturday, As he began a speech at an event in Seattle, Sanders was shut down by protesters identifying as Black Lives Matter activists, who urged him to take a stand for racial justice in his presidential campaign. On the following day, the Sanders campaign released his official platform on racial justice, which touches on the many ways in which criminal justice policies disproportionately affect people of color in the United States:

Millions of lives have been destroyed because people are in jail for nonviolent crimes. For decades, we have been engaged in a failed “War on Drugs” with racially-biased mandatory minimums that punish people of color unfairly.

If current trends continue, one in four black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during their lifetime. Blacks are imprisoned at six times the rate of whites and a report by the Department of Justice found that blacks were three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop, compared to white motorists. African-Americans are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. This is an unspeakable tragedy.

We must reform our criminal justice system to ensure fairness and justice for people of color.

(via BernieSanders.com)

As he reiterated his commitment to criminal justice reform, Bernie Sanders drew loud cheers from his crowd of 28,000 supporters — his biggest one yet. As the Washington Post reports, he “has drawn larger crowds than any candidate from either party to this point in the 2016 cycle,” his previous record being a rally held the day before at the University of Washington. The Portland crowd almost doubled his record, which Bernie certainly took note of: “Portland, you have done it better than anyone else.”

 

First GOP Debate: A Great Opportunity to Discuss Marijuana Policy

Later today, Republican presidential candidates will participate in a two-hour debate on live television, where there’s a good chance they will be asked to address issues of marijuana policy. The primetime debate, organized by Fox News in Ohio, will begin at 8:50 pm Eastern time and will feature the top ten highest-polling candidates, led by business magnate Donald Trump. Many of us watching are hoping the candidates are asked about their views on marijuana legalization, as this would give them an opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion on this important issue.

Federal vs. State Laws

Marijuana could be a subject of debate in several ways. One of the questions that is likely to come up pertains to the relationship between federal and state laws; more specifically, do the candidates support the rights of U.S. states to legalize marijuana and enforce their own laws? Or, rather, should the federal government intervene to impose its blanket prohibition in states that have chosen to opt-out?

As he has made clear over the past few weeks, Chris Christie’s ambitions are to “crack down” on legal marijuana and restore the federal prohibition in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Meanwhile, other candidates — such as Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, and Ted Cruz — argue that these states have the right to enact and enforce their own marijuana laws free of federal interference. Should the question be posed at the debate, it should be interesting to witness a dialogue between the candidates on this issue.

Falling within the federal-state conflict, the more specific question of marijuana banking may also be on tonight’s agenda. While recreational marijuana is legal in four states, federal laws make it impossible for marijuana businesses to use the services of banks or credit unions. This leaves the industry with no other choice but to make transactions in cash, which is not only inefficient but also dangerous. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has thus far been the only Republican candidate to address the issue, co-sponsoring a bill earlier this year that would allow legal marijuana businesses to use banking services.

Marijuana Legalization

Candidates may also be asked to clarify their position on the legalization of marijuana. Most Republican contenders have made a point to publicly denounce the idea, including those that have fought against federal interference in states with legal marijuana.

Among the candidates appearing at the prime-time debate, only Donald Trump has a history of openly supporting legalization. In 1990, Trump advocated for the legalization of all drugs, declaring it the “only answer” to winning the War on Drugs. As it turns out, Trump has since backed away from this position, saying that he only supports medical marijuana and that legalization has caused “problems” in Colorado.

In the event that the debate invites a conversation on marijuana legalization, it’s possible that some candidates paint an unfavorable picture of marijuana legalization. When Chris Christie visited Colorado in 2014, he criticized voters for legalizing marijuana in their state, claiming the policy “diminishes the quality of life.” Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has also expressed his opposition to legalization, suggesting it would increase teenage use and make roads more dangerous.

These claims couldn’t be further from the truth, however, as marijuana legalization has been a resounding success in states that have implemented the policy. Research into the effects of legalization have found that teenage marijuana use is decreasing in Colorado, contradicting the worrisome claims made by drug warriors for generations. According to recent studies, Colorado’s roads are now safer than ever before, and the marijuana industry has raised tens of millions of dollars to fund the state’s schools, which could likely improve Coloradans’ quality of life rather than “diminish” it.

If tonight’s debate opens a discussion about legalization, it is crucial for the candidates to get their facts straight on the impact that the policy has had on public safety and public health in states that have chosen to implement it — and should the GOP debaters engage in fear-mongering on the issue, perhaps they ought to be reminded of how positive that impact has been.

The War on Drugs

Another avenue through which the candidates may be asked to debate on drug policy is a broader discussion on the War on Drugs, which only ten percent of Americans believe has been a success.

Compared to his Republican rivals, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has a strong record of talking about the failure of the War on Drugs. Paul has supported several pieces of federal legislation to scale back the damage of the drug war — from medical marijuana to sentencing reform — and has called out his fellow candidates for the hypocrisy of their views on marijuana policy. After spending weeks parading his opposition to marijuana legalization, Chris Christie seems to have had a last-minute change of heart on the issue this week, when he declared the War on Drugs to be “a well-intentioned failure” and framed himself as supporting “compassionate policies.”

As the disastrous effects of the drug war are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore, a broader discussion on drug policy might be a good opportunity for the GOP to catch up to public opinion on the issue. Hopefully, the candidates will approach these questions not with punitive zeal, but with concrete policy recommendations on how the United States can put an end to its ever-so-failing War on Drugs.

I will be watching tonight’s debate with great interest, so keep an eye out for Marijuana Politics as we’ll be reporting on the candidates’ statements and positions as promptly as possible.

 

 

Flip-Flopping Chris Christie Tones Down His Anti-Drug Message Ahead of TV Debate

After spending two weeks threatening “diseased” marijuana users with a federal law enforcement crack-down, even in states that have legalized cannabis, a flip-flopping Chris Christie tones down his anti-drug message ahead of  TV debate in Ohio, declaring the War on Drugs to be a “well-intentioned failure.” This change in rhetoric has surprised many drug reform advocates and causes us to wonder how Christie will respond to questions regarding federal marijuana policy and the larger Drug War in the future.

Speaking on Monday at the Voters First Forum in New Hampshire, Gov. Christie shared his thoughts on American drug policies, this time supporting reform rather than his usual tough-on-crime message. Suggesting he would prioritize treatment over incarceration for people caught using illegal drugs, Christie went on to say “that his compassionate policies as governor proved successful” in New Jersey, which currently has a limited medical marijuana program.

These statements come as a contradiction to Christie’s previous remarks on the issue, as he has spent the past few weeks speaking out against voters’ decision to legalize marijuana in their states. Last month, the Republican candidate called marijuana users “diseased” and pledged to “have all of those diseased people in places like Colorado treated by armed federal agents” should he become president. He doubled-down a week later, threatening states with legalized marijuana to have their laws nullified through federal law enforcement.

In fact, Christie has a long history of opposing reforms that would curtail the disastrous effects of the War on Drugs:

Christie, who is one of more than a dozen Republicans vying for the party’s presidential nomination, has made no secret of his opposition to cannabis. Although he said this week that he has “no problem” with medical marijuana when prescribed by a doctor, he has opposed even his own state’s limited medical marijuana program and has called similar laws in 22 other states a “front” for full recreational legalization. He has characterized taxes generated from the sale of marijuana as “blood money.” He threatened to veto a decriminalization measure in his home state. And earlier this year, in no uncertain terms, he said that if elected president, he would “crack down and not permit” recreational cannabis in states that have legalized it.

(via Huffington Post)

Chris Christie’s change of heart on the issue is certainly welcome, but his record as governor casts doubts on his willingness to pursue meaningful reform as president.

While he congratulated himself on Monday for implementing “compassionate policies” in his state, Christie was strongly opposed to medical marijuana, “only [allowing] tightly restricted use of medical marijuana in New Jersey after a very public lobbying campaign that pitted him against the father of a little girl.” According to Reason, “As governor, he has made it all but impossible for sick Garden State residents to obtain marijuana, even though it was legalized for medical use before he took office.” Additionally, Christie used his power as governor to veto Good Samaritan legislation passed by lawmakers to reduce drug-related harm and overdose deaths in the state.

Christie’s departure from his anti-drug message is a no-brainer from an electoral perspective. According to nationwide polls, most Americans not only support allowing states to implement their own marijuana laws free of federal interference, but also legalizing marijuana outright. Additionally, even larger majorities agree that medical marijuana should be legal and that the War on Drugs is a failure. As these numbers suggest, Christie’s decision to tone down the Reefer Madness makes his platform less prone to controversy.

Softening his message on drug policy might help Christie in the first Republican debate happening later this week in New Hampshire. As Fox News announced Tuesday, Christie has made the cut to be included on the long-awaited televised event, which will include nine other presidential hopefuls. Marijuana policy is likely to be a subject of discussion, as there is strong support for legalization in New Hampshire, and several of Christie’s GOP rivals disagree with him on the issue. Should that be the case, Christie may get the opportunity to clarify his drug policy agenda on live television later this week.

Donald Trump Doesn’t Want to End the Mexican Drug War

As he made clear in his announcement speech, Donald Trump has taken an interest in crimes happening along the U.S.-Mexico border. Making the case for the construction of a “great wall” between the two countries, he complained that Mexican immigrants are “bringing drugs” and “crime” to the United States as a part of the ongoing Mexican Drug War, a conflict which is largely the result of the War on Drugs waged in the United States. Despite this, Donald Trump continues to support drug war policies at home and oppose reforms that could attenuate the conflict in the area.

Donald Trump knows the War on Drugs doesn’t work. In 1990, he spoke boldly about what needed to be done to put an end to drug-related crime:

Billionaire New York developer Donald Trump says that legalizing drugs is the only way to win the war against what he considers one of America’s most serious problems.

Trump blamed the country’s drug problems on politicians who “don’t have any guts” and enforcement efforts that are “a joke.” “We’re losing badly the war on drugs,” Trump told 700 people at a luncheon Friday. “You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”

“What I’d like to do maybe by bringing it up is cause enough controversy that you get into a dialogue on the issue of drugs so people will start to realize that this is the only answer; there is no other answer,” Trump said.

(via Herald Journal)

Since the 1990s, our prohibitionist policies have remained in place and violence related to the illegal drug trade has skyrocketed. The Mexican Drug War alone has claimed the lives of over 100,000 people in eight years and displaced over a million people as a result of the cartel violence. As Donald Trump surely knows, many of those displaced from their homes in Mexico migrate north to the United States. Meanwhile, drug cartels reap huge profits from the illegal drug trade, which fuels the lawlessness that Trump is calling attention to.

As Anthony Johnson points out, Donald Trump was right when he said legalization is the answer to these problems. On top of raising tax revenue and saving millions on law enforcement, marijuana legalization has shown to be an effective policy to reduce the profits of drug cartels:

“Is it hurting the cartels? Yes. The cartels are criminal organizations that were making as much as 35-40 percent of their income from marijuana,” [retired federal agent] Nelson said, “They aren’t able to move as much cannabis inside the US now.”

In 2012, a study by the Mexican Competitiveness Institute found that US state legalization would cut into cartel business and take over about 30 percent of their market.

(via Vice News)

Despite knowing that legalization is, in his own words, “the only way to win” the War on Drugs, Trump no longer favors this position, arguing instead that marijuana legalization is causing problems in states like Colorado. “I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about that,” he said this year. While he suggests he would allow states to enforce their own marijuana laws should they choose to legalize, Donald Trump stated multiple times that he does not support ending marijuana prohibition “unless it’s medical marijuana.

According to Donald Trump, the United States needs a president “who thinks like a winner;” but while he knows that the War on Drugs can only be won with legalization, he opposes this position and provides no viable alternative. In this way, Trump has come to resemble the gutless politicians he denounced earlier in his career. Rather than leading the way towards peace in the Mexican Drug War, Trump seems satisfied merely complaining about it, and that’s about as far as one can get from thinking like a “winner.”

 

Rand Paul Needs to Make Up His Mind on Marijuana Legalization

As marijuana policy becomes a major issue in the 2016 presidential race, Rand Paul has made a name for himself as a champion of reform within the Republican party — but while he reaps the political benefits of appearing sensible on marijuana laws, it’s still unclear where the Senator stands on ending marijuana prohibition.

As a Senator, Rand Paul made some moves to scale back current marijuana laws. Working with colleagues across the aisle, he supported ending the federal ban on medical marijuana, which is legal in 23 states, along with Guam and the District of Columbia. Earlier this year, Paul co-sponsored legislation that would have lifted banking restrictions for legal marijuana businesses. The Kentucky Senator also spoke on multiple occasions about the excessive impact of American drug laws, particularly on people of color.

This record has helped him stand out from the crowded field of Republican candidates and has earned him some political support from advocates of marijuana reform. In June, the Marijuana Policy Project ranked Paul as the best presidential candidate on the issue, and went on to donate $14,500 to his campaign. That same month, Rand Paul campaigned in Colorado, where he courted the marijuana industry by organizing the “first ever marijuana presidential fundraiser,” an event that earned him over $100,000 in donations. As those numbers show, Rand Paul’s efforts to woo the marijuana industry are certainly bearing fruit.

While many voters may see Rand Paul as the one Republican candidate with a strong opposition to the failed War on Drugs, his rhetoric on the issue takes a very different turn when he’s facing crowds of social conservatives:

At a lunch Friday with about a dozen evangelical pastors in a Cedar Rapids hotel, [Rand] Paul assured the group that he disagrees with libertarians who support legalizing drugs.

“He made it very clear that he does not support legalization of drugs like marijuana and that he supports traditional marriage,” [said Brad Sherman of the Solid Rock Christian Church in Coralville, Iowa].

(via Reason)

Rand Paul likes to portray himself as a libertarian-leaning candidate who appeals to young Republicans, but recent polls show that “nearly two-thirds of Millennials who identify as Republican support legalizing marijuana.” On one hand, Paul is trying to increase his public support from marijuana reformers by echoing their talking points; but on the other, he quickly reverts back to an all-too-familiar anti-legalization position when seeking the vote of drug war advocates.

On several occasions, Rand Paul has criticized his rivals’ positions on marijuana as “hypocritical,” deploring that candidates who have used marijuana in their youth “admit their mistakes but now still want to put people in jail for that.” But Rand Paul shares the guilt for this hypocrisy: he directly benefits from the profits of the marijuana industry, and yet remains unwilling to take a stand to end marijuana prohibition. Instead, Rand Paul tells both sides what they want to hear, making his positions on the issue unclear, if not outright dishonest.

 

 

Fifteen Years After Law’s Passage, Medical Marijuana Sales Begin in Nevada

medical marijuana cannabis

Last week marked the opening of Nevada’s first medical marijuana dispensary, Silver State Relief, where qualified patients can purchase marijuana-based remedies to treat conditions like cancer, pain, and PTSD.

Silver State Relief opened up Friday morning in Sparks, Nevada, a few miles away from the city of Reno. The dispensary is the first of its kind in the state of Nevada, which legalized medical marijuana almost fifteen years ago. In 2000, 65 percent of voters approved the Nevada Medical Marijuana Act, a constitutional amendment allowing for the possession and use of marijuana by patients with a doctor’s recommendation.

Despite the early adoption of medical marijuana in the state, the law did not provide formal access to the plant, leaving patients in Nevada with no other recourse but to grow their own or purchase black market marijuana:

Possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes has been legal in the state for more than 10 years. Dispensaries, however, only became legal as a result of a bill in 2013 Nevada Legislature, and the law allowing dispensaries to operate didn’t go into effect until April 2014.

(via Reno Gazette Journal)

The opening of Nevada’s first dispensary came with little controversy. The Sparks City Council voted to allow such establishments last year, but city officials still anticipated some opposition to the news:

“We expected a lot of pushback (from residents), but we didn’t get any,” said city planner Karen Melby. “The people who showed up to meetings were in support of the dispensary being built.”

(via Reno Gazette Journal)

This lack of opposition is understandable considering the popularity and benefits of providing access to medical marijuana. According to nationwide polls, four-in-five Americans support medical marijuana, and recent studies suggest that allowing for its sale can save lives by reducing drug-related harm, including overdoses.

City officials are now tasked with regulating the sales of medical marijuana, a tricky endeavor seeing as Silver State Relief is the first dispensary in the state:

The Sparks City Council also debated how late dispensaries should be allowed to remain open, originally saying 6 p.m. but eventually extending it to 7 p.m. The city has found the accommodation of the medical marijuana industry somewhat of a challenge. There are many procedures and processes that have to be in place to ensure a legitimate operation.

“The hardest part for all of us is that it’s all new,” Melby said.

(via Reno Gazette Journal)

More dispensaries should open in the months to come. The regulations in place in Nevada, which include seed-to-sale tracking, make opening a dispensary both a costly and time-consuming process. Silver State Relief, for example, had to postpone its opening date several times, partly due to additional regulations passed by the state legislature. According to the Associated Press, “Nevada already has distributed many of its 66 marijuana dispensary licenses, but it’s unclear how soon Las Vegas or other parts of the state will see shops open.”

Nevada may also legalize marijuana for recreational use, as reformers work on getting a citizen initiative on the 2016 ballot. A successful legalization initiative would make Nevada “the fifth state to fully legalize the drug, after Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.”

Chris Christie Calls Marijuana Users “Diseased,” Pledges to Cure Them With Law Enforcement

UPDATE: Chris Christie has doubled-down on his Reefer Madness rhetoric and has become a caricature of a serious presidential candidate. 

UPDATE 2.0: Christie flip-flops and says that the Drug War is a “failure”?!?

While delivering a speech on Thursday, New Jersey Governor and presidential hopeful Chris Christie doubled-down on his anti-marijuana agenda. Referring to marijuana users as “diseased,” Gov. Christie reiterated his ambitions to “crack down and not permit” marijuana use, even in states where the practice is legal. As NJ.com reports, Christie “has pledged that if elected he would have all of those diseased people in places like Colorado treated by armed federal agents.”

Chris Christie has a long track record of promoting marijuana prohibition, so these remarks are not exactly surprising. In 2014, Christie traveled to Colorado, where he criticized voters’ decision to legalize marijuana two years prior, claiming the new policy “diminishes the quality of life” in the state. If elected president, Christie plans to “crack down” on legal marijuana on the basis that federal law supersedes state law:

We need to send very clear leadership from the White House on down through the federal law enforcement. Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law. And the states should not be permitted to sell it and profit from it.

(via CNN)

Christie is also a staunch opponent of medical marijuana, which he considers “a front for legalization,” and “only allowed tightly restricted use of medical marijuana in New Jersey after a very public lobbying campaign that pitted him against the father of a little girl,” according to CNN.

When it comes to marijuana policy, Chris Christie is on the wrong side of history. His positions on the issue appeal to a rapidly shrinking minority of voters. According to nationwide polls, most Americans support legalizing marijuana, and 81% think it should be legal for medical purposes. Perhaps more importantly for Christie, “sixty-four percent of Americans are against the federal government’s taking steps to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states where marijuana is legal,” according to a Gallup poll conducted in 2012.

By persistently promoting his anti-marijuana positions, Chris Christie is shooting himself in the foot. As other GOP candidates have come to realize, these changes in public opinion are too significant to ignore:

The approach of Bush, senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and others involves expressing an antipathy for marijuana use but supporting the right of states to make their own policies about it, even if their laws contradict federal statutes.

(via Denver Westword)

Christie is running as the second coming of Nixon, which may explain his poor performance in the polls. Most of the other GOP contenders have migrated back to the traditional Republican belief in the states as “laboratories of democracy.”

(via NJ.com)

 

Chris Christie Crusades Against States’ Right To Regulate Marijuana

Chris Christie is making a habit of attacking states’ decisions to legalize marijuana, which he threatened to revoke this week should he become president. With the Republican debates only a week away, the New Jersey Governor is trying to stand out from other presidential candidates, and he has little time to make it happen — time he has chosen to spend lashing out at marijuana users:

In town hall meetings in New Hampshire and an appearance on Fox News this week, Christie said that if elected, he intends to overturn state marijuana legalization laws, which have been passed in Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Alaska.

“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it until Jan. 17 of 2017,” Christie told an audience in Newport, N.H., on Tuesday, “because I will enforce the federal laws against marijuana as president of the United States.”

(via OregonLive)

Gov. Christie has been making waves recently by trying to distinguish himself as an outspoken opponent of marijuana reform. Last week, Chris Christie suggested marijuana use was a disease, which he volunteered to cure with “armed federal agents,” preventing states from enforcing their own marijuana laws. Christie then doubled-down this week, declaring that “Marijuana is against the law in the states and it should be enforced in all 50 states. That’s the law and the Christie administration will support it.”

Most Americans disagree with Christie’s position on this issue, so this move seems risky at best. According to a nationwide poll, “54% of self-identified Republicans oppose the federal enforcement in states like Colorado.” Additionally, 63 percent of young Republicans want to see an end to marijuana prohibition altogether. As popular support for legalization continues to grow, Christie’s views on marijuana policy seem stuck in the times of Reefer Madness.

In a sense, Chris Christie’s crusade against marijuana has been successful, as it sets him apart from his Republican rivals, many of which are inclined to support states’ right to regulate marijuana free of federal interference. Other Republican contenders have expressed no desire to meddle with state marijuana laws. The libertarian-leaning Rand Paul openly supports the cause of marijuana reform, and candidates like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have argued that while they do not support legalization, “states should have the right to legalize cannabis.”

While Christie definitely stands out on this issue, it’s still unclear whether or not this will actually increase his chances in the GOP primary. Today’s Republicans are notoriously in favor of states’ rights, so Christie’s ambitions to crack down on legal marijuana put him at odds with a core component of his party’s rhetoric. In New Hampshire, the first state to vote in primary elections, most adults support legalization. Chris Christie has also shared his anti-marijuana message in Colorado, a key swing state, where he moralized voters for legalizing marijuana in 2012 (a decision they don’t regret).

If elected, Christie would work to nullify the decision of voters in states like Colorado, forcing marijuana back into the black market. His crusade against marijuana is not only unpopular, as legalization has been a resounding success for these states, but also in direct opposition to Republicans’ preference for states’ rights. According to Bloomberg, Christie’s poll numbers seem on track to allow him to participate in the first televised debate, so unless this strategy backfires, there are high chances that we’ll get another glimpse of Republicans’ views on the issue.

 

Australian Lawmakers From All Major Parties Push for Medical Marijuana Bill

Medical marijuana may soon be legal in Australia, as soon as next month. A group of senators are pushing for parliament to adopt legislation, the Regulator of Medicinal Cannabis Bill, that would create a federal agency tasked with regulating medical marijuana.

This legislative effort has been endorsed by lawmakers of diverse political backgrounds. The Senate committee working on the bill features lawmakers from all major parties, including “the Coalition (the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Northern Territory Country Liberal Party, and Queensland Liberal branch the Liberal National Party), the Labor Party and crossbench senators.” On August 10, these senators will present a report in which they articulate their strong recommendation for the bill’s passage.

While some members of the committee have recognized that the bill is not perfect, the cross-party leadership exercised by the committee is a sign of hope for Australians, whose federal government currently enforces a blanket prohibition on marijuana, including for medical purposes. According to RT, recent polls show that “over two-thirds of Australians support the idea of medical marijuana use and only 9 percent oppose it.” By pushing for federal medical marijuana legislation, the senators in the committee are making it clear that the Australian people have been heard on the issue and that reform is on the way.

Despite its strict marijuana policies, Australia has one of the highest rates of marijuana use in the world. According to government statistics, over one third of Australians aged 22 and older have tried marijuana, and the prevalence of marijuana use is even higher among younger demographics:

Around 750,000 Australians use cannabis every week and approximately 300,000 smoke every day. A steady decline in cannabis use has been reported since the peak in 1998, where 45 per cent of all adult Australians, and approaching 70 per cent of 20-29 years, had ever tried cannabis.

(via ABC)

If successful, these reforms would help Australia get started on nationwide marijuana reform. The bill would make it possible for a national medical marijuana industry to emerge in Australia, which would not only provide substantial tax revenue, but also give additional treatment options to sick people in the country. Regulating medical marijuana in Australia would also enable researchers to study the plant’s medical benefits, as well as the effect of different regulations on marijuana markets.

The legislative effort surrounding the bill also has global implications: should parliament follow the Senate committee’s recommendation, Australia would join a growing number of jurisdictions around the world that allow for people to treat their illness using marijuana without fear of arrest, such as Canada, Germany, Israel, and almost half of U.S. states. Considering Australia’s geographical location and its influence on the region, such an outcome would likely encourage neighboring countries to consider reforming their marijuana laws as well.

Oregon TV Anchor Fired for Marijuana Speaks Out Against Unfair Drug Policies

Cyd Maurer

UPDATE: Marijuana Politics scooped the first blog interview with Cyd Maurer and she will be speaking at the upcoming Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference.

Last week, a television news anchor in Eugene, Oregon revealed she lost her job after testing positive for marijuana, despite the fact that the plant’s use is legal under state law. Now fully out of the marijuana closet, she is sharing her story and putting her media experience towards the cause of reforming the United States’ failed drug policies.

For over two years, Cyd Maurer worked as a morning weekend anchor on KEZI, a local ABC affiliate in Eugene. On May 22, while driving to work in heavy traffic, she accidentally collided with the car in front of her, an incident which The Oregonian describes as nothing more than a “minor fender-bender.” As per company policy, she was asked to go through a drug test:

Like any other workday, I was completely sober. I was under a lot of stress, on my way to my live shot in a work vehicle during rush hour traffic, and I tapped the bumper of a car in front of me. I was immediately forced to take a drug test, to pee in a cup, and that was that.

Maurer was honest with her supervisor about her marijuana use, but having “consumed cannabis within one week of the accident,” her drug test came back positive and she was fired based on corporate policy. “I wasn’t fired because I couldn’t do my job,” she claims, “I was fired for enjoying a plant, on my own time, in the privacy of my own home. A plant that the majority of voters in Oregon believe should be legal.”

She has since begun to speak out about unfair marijuana policies, becoming an activist for the cause of sensible drug policies through her website, AskMeAboutMarijuana.com:

When you consider the facts, it’s hard to believe that marijuana has been classified as a dangerous substance, but I think it’s at least partly due to a lack of exposure. We need more realistic examples of normal and responsible marijuana users, so here I am!

Last year, Oregon voters approved Measure 91, which legalized marijuana in the state and regulates it like alcohol. However, as Maurer’s story shows, there is still a lot of work to be done to guarantee that responsible, hardworking Oregonians are not discriminated against merely for consuming a substance that is safer than beer or wine. Employers in Oregon are still free to impose strict drug-free policies, meaning that employees can still be subject to punishment or termination for their marijuana use, even if it is off-hours and in compliance with the law.

Maurer’s story also highlights the need for more reliable measures of marijuana-induced impairment, particularly in how it relates to driving and on-the-job performance. Most drug tests identify the presence of cannabinoid metabolites, which can remain detectable in the body weeks after marijuana’s effects have worn off. While there has been some recent progress in the development of a marijuana breathalyzer, the relationship between metabolite levels and impairment is still not fully understood: any positive drug test can be interpreted as evidence of being high on the job or behind the wheel.

Deterring impaired driving is unquestionably a crucial aspect of promoting public safety, but when authorities rely on imprecise technology, people like Cyd Maurer become collateral damage and pay for a crime they did not commit. For these injustices to be avoided, it is imperative that additional research on this question be conducted and applied to both American workplaces and law enforcement agencies.

Her story raises several issues with current marijuana policies, and while it is still unclear which reforms she would advocate for as an activist, Maurer is bold in denouncing the double standard that led to her firing as hypocritical and unjust:

I truly believe once people learn the facts about marijuana, they’ll be just as shocked as I am that this is even a debate.

Alcohol use outside of work can easily affects a person’s job performance, yet it is acceptable for employees to not only drink during their free time, but also to frequently talk about their drinking antics around the office.

Marijuana use, also outside of work, never negatively impacted my job performance. Marijuana doesn’t come with a hangover. Marijuana doesn’t damage my brain. Marijuana doesn’t make me hit my husband, or encourage me to make rash decisions. Yet my marijuana use alone was seen as reason enough for me to lose my job.

It’s time to stop the hypocrisy. If you’re okay with alcohol, there’s absolutely no reason you should have a problem with my marijuana use.

Study: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Save Lives, Reduce Opioid-Related Harm

As a growing number of U.S. states reform their marijuana laws, new data emerges about the consequences of those reforms. According to a recent study, not only has the sky not fallen in states with legal marijuana, but these states have actually seen their drug problem decrease significantly.

The study, organized by researchers from the RAND Corporation and the University of California-Irvine, found that “in the years following legalization, states that legalized marijuana had experienced reductions in fatal overdoses and addiction treatment center admissions relating to opioid abuse,” but only in states which allow for legal dispensing of marijuana for medical purposes.

Opioids, such as morphine, are opium-derived drugs commonly prescribed as painkillers, and their use is a growing health concern in the United States, as the drugs are known for their addictive potential and can be deadly if overdosed. For the past 15 years, Americans have been using more of these drugs, causing the number of overdose deaths to skyrocket:

Prescription painkillers are highly addictive and deadly — they killed more than 16,000 people in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest numbers. In the U.S., drug overdoses kill more people than suicide, guns or car crashes. The CDC now calls prescription painkiller abuse an “epidemic.”

(via Washington Post)

According to the new study, states with legal medical marijuana had overall lower rates of opioid-related harm. Compared to states without medical marijuana, these states tended to have lower rates of substance abuse admissions as well as fewer deaths caused by opioid-induced overdose. The study also found that while drug-related harm was noticeably lower in states which allow for marijuana dispensaries, there was no significant difference in states that did not:

They found that the presence of marijuana dispensaries was associated with a 15 to 35 percent decrease in substance abuse admissions. Opiate overdose deaths decreased by a similar amount. “Our findings suggest that providing broader access to medical marijuana may have the potential benefit of reducing abuse of highly addictive painkillers,” the researchers conclude.

(via Washington Post)

This research suggests that policymakers and activists can reduce the drug problem in their community by providing access to medical marijuana. The study’s findings highlight that for these improvements to take place, the law must not only legalize the use of cannabis-based medicines, but also make these remedies accessible to patients who need them, including people suffering from chronic pain.

Colorado Schools Receive Millions as Marijuana Tax Revenue Exceeds Expectations

It’s no wonder most Coloradans still support marijuana legalization: the new policy keeps bearing fruit, and particularly so for the state’s schools.

Numbers released this week by the Colorado Department of Revenue reveal that tax revenue from legal marijuana sales has been exceeding expectations, totaling $13.7 million in just the first five months of 2015 — that’s more than the tax revenue collected in all of 2014. This is good news for the state’s education system, which receives the first $40 million of tax revenue generated from marijuana sales each year.

Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012 when voters approved Amendment 64, which taxes marijuana sales and earmarks the revenue for the construction of public schools in the state. As education funding has been scarce in the past few years, this was a much-discussed aspect of the amendment:

In Colorado, the public-education benefit of legalization served as a major selling point for the proposal during election season. Pro-legalization advocates even aired ads with slogans like, “Jobs for our people. Money for our schools. Who could ask for more?” and “Strict Regulation. Fund Education.”

(via The Atlantic)

According to the Denver Post, marijuana sales in Colorado have “plateaued in spring 2015,” but the marijuana industry has been generating record-breaking amounts of tax revenue:

Retail sales hardly fluctuated between March and May, staying between $42.4 and $42.7 million — totaling $42.5 million in May. May’s medical marijuana sales in Colorado were at their highest since last October, totaling $32.4 million.

(via Denver Post)

There was some initial skepticism of legalization advocates’ claims that reforming marijuana laws could raise an annual $40 million for education, but the Denver Post now estimates that the amendment will deliver on its promise: “Even if modest growth continues through the end of the year, Colorado schools will get the promised infusion of $40 million.”

While the tax revenue seems to be its most popular consequence, legalizing marijuana in Colorado has been a resounding success in many other ways: the state’s crime rate has dropped significantly, fewer teenagers are using marijuana, and the state’s roads are safer than ever.

President Obama Makes Himself Clear on Criminal Justice

On Tuesday, President Obama made a powerful call for criminal justice reform while speaking at the NAACP’s annual convention in Philadelphia. In what the Washington Post called the “formal launch of one of the president’s last major legislative campaigns,” Obama made the case that such reforms are long overdue and touched on several criminal justice issues, including mass incarceration, solitary confinement, and felon disenfranchisement.

“In far too many cases, the punishment simply doesn’t fit the crime,” the president noted, speaking in front of an audience of over 3,000 people. “Any system that allows us to turn a blind eye to hopelessness and despair—that’s not a justice system. It’s an injustice system,” Obama said, “And that has to change.”

Barack Obama’s speech acknowledged many aspects of American criminal justice, such as mass incarceration and drug policy reform, while introducing his plan for legislative reforms:

“For nonviolent drug crimes, we need to lower long mandatory minimum sentences — or get rid of them entirely,” he said.

He said he had ordered Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch to start a review of the use of solitary confinement, adding that the country had to do more to combat poor conditions in prisons and prepare those inside to re­enter society.

(via Washington Post)

This speech comes as a part of Obama’s latest push to reform the criminal justice system. On Monday, President Obama made headlines by commuting the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders, including fourteen prisoners who had been sentenced to life in prison. The White House also announced that Barack Obama is planning a visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma, which would make him the first president to do so while in office.

These latest developments in the president’s political agenda come as a great relief to advocates of ending mass incarceration in the United States. While he had openly supported some reforms, such as marijuana decriminalization, while he was still running for office, Barack Obama had not directly tackled the issue of criminal justice reform as president, the Washington Post noting that, up till now, “the president had not spelled out specifically what he expected to see in a bill, leaving the task to lawmakers.”

The speech also clearly addressed how the criminal justice in the United States can be “particularly skewed by race and by wealth.” In regards to non-violent drug offenses, Barack Obama, who admitted to using drugs like marijuana and cocaine in his youth, spoke of being granted second chances for his mistakes, a privilege that many Americans were not given:

I see those young men on street corners, and eventually, in prisons. And I think to myself, they could be me. That the main difference between me and them is that I had a more forgiving environment, so that when I slipped up, when I made a mistake, I had a second chance, and they’ve got no margin for error.

(via Slate)

Elizabeth Warren: Feds Should Research Marijuana’s Medical Benefits

Senator Elizabeth Warren says it is time for the federal government to study marijuana, and she doesn’t stand alone.

On Monday, a group of U.S. Senators led by Elizabeth Warren released an open letter to federal officials asking them to work together to facilitate research on marijuana’s effects. “Federal agencies have both an opportunity and responsibility” to conduct reliable research on marijuana, the letter says, adding that while medical marijuana is already legal in 23 states, there still remains a “data shortfall” in regards to the plant’s medical benefits.

Sen. Warren has been an open supporter of medical marijuana since 2012. Almost half of U.S. states allow marijuana use to treat certain medical conditions, but the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which means it does not recognize any of the plant’s medical benefits. This makes marijuana research quite difficult in the United States, as the federal agencies hold the monopoly on legal marijuana cultivation.

The letter was sent to three federal agencies which have authority over marijuana regulations: the Department of Health & Human Services, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, sometimes known as the office of the “drug czar.” It was signed by seven other Democratic U.S. Senators, “all of whom have introduced or cosponsored previous marijuana legislation.”

The Senators’ letter makes a point to support marijuana research, not just in terms of its health risks, but also in terms of its medical benefits:

While the federal government has emphasized research on the potential harms associated with the use of marijuana, there is still very limited research on the potential health benefits of marijuana — despite the fact that millions of Americans are now eligible by state law to use the drug for medical purposes. There is no substitute for rigorous preclinical and clinical research on the potential benefits of medical marijuana.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted against a bipartisan amendment which would have facilitated studies on marijuana by lifting some of the obstacles to research between federal agencies. As the defeat of this amendment was largely due to “national Republicans’ uncertainty” about medical marijuana, Warren’s open letter can be seen as a sign that the issue has a place on the Democrats’ political agenda.

The letter concludes by urging the federal government to take the lead on the issue of marijuana research:

Relevant federal agencies must play a leadership role in coordinating and facilitating that research if we are to ensure that public policy in this area is supported by our best science.

Louisiana Eases its Marijuana Laws, But Still Has a Long Way to Go

Louisiana made some progress towards marijuana reform last month, when Republican Governor Bobby Jindal signed two bills: one which provides access to medical marijuana to qualified patients, and another which reduces criminal penalties for certain marijuana offenses. According to The Times-Picayune, these new laws “represent more progress on reforming marijuana laws than the state has made in the 24 years since legalizing medical marijuana in 1991.”

This is good news for Louisianans, who — up till now — have been governed under strict prohibitionist policies. Prior to these reforms, the state of Louisiana had a reputation for having some of the most punitive laws in the country in regards to marijuana possession. In 2014, Rolling Stone described Louisiana as a “gulag” which “imprisons more of its residents, per capita, than any other state” and which hands out draconian mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes: “One joint can get you six months in the parish prison. Second offense: up to five years. Third: up to 20.”

The medical marijuana bill signed by Gov. Jindal (S.B. 143) allows for the state to regulate the cultivation and dispensing of marijuana for medical use. Although medical marijuana laws have been in place in Louisiana since the late 1970s, this will be the first time that access to the drug will be provided for patients in the state:

While the Legislature legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 1978, and then again in 1991, there’s no mechanism in current law that allows for the legal dispensing of the drug. The Department of Health and Hospitals was ordered to write rules for dispensing it nearly a quarter century ago, but the rules never adequately implemented the intent of the legislation.

(via Times-Picayune)

Louisiana’s newest medical marijuana law gives a year for state boards to regulate the growth and distribution of marijuana for the treatment of one of three approved conditions: glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, and chemotherapy-related illness in cancer patients. Medical marijuana advocates in the state argue that the legislation could have done more to provide access to people with other conditions, such as epilepsy or HIV/AIDS. Some, like Michele Hall, whose four-year-old daughter suffers from violent seizures, plan to move to other states with more inclusive medical marijuana laws, such as Colorado.

But according to Senator Fred Mills, the law’s sponsor, these strict limits were necessary to get the bill to survive the legislative process. Mills also points out that the law contains provisions allowing for the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners to make suggestions for additional qualifying conditions in upcoming legislative sessions. While this opens up the possibility of further reform in the state, the pace of the legislature remains a frustration for patients not yet eligible for medical marijuana in Louisiana:

For Hall, waiting a legislative session or two until people suffering from severe epilepsy can access medical marijuana is too long. She’s already talking to doctors in Colorado about bringing her little girl there, discussing possible treatment plans.

“She could fall apart today,” Hall said.

(via The Advocate)