Archive for the ‘Federal Government’ category

Feds Call Out CO in Releasing Study on Teen MJ Use

December 25th, 2013

Federal drug abuse officials called out Colorado by name Wednesday in releasing a new national survey of illicit drug use among teenagers, saying marijuana legalization efforts are clearly changing youth attitudes in a dangerous way.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy noted many teens report getting their marijuana from others with medical marijuana access. Past-month pot use by high schoolers jumped over five years, and perceived risk by teens is plummeting, said the annual report of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Colorado, Washington and other states heading toward legalization are conducting a “large social experiment (that) portends a very difficult time” for drug-abuse control, said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Legalization advocates, meanwhile, cited other statistics in the report showing the recent national trend in high school use of pot is flat.

The most recent three years of the survey show little change in self-reported use in the annual tally.

In 12th-graders, for example, use in the past month was 22.7 percent of respondents, little changed from 22.9 percent in 2012 or 22.6 percent in 2011. A similar flat trend held among 10th- and eighth-graders in those years.

The federal officials cited changes from 2008 to 2013 to make their point: Past-month use by 12th-graders nationally rose from 19.4 percent to 22.7 percent; among 10th-graders, use went from 13.8 percent to 18 percent.

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Complete Article: http://drugsense.org/url/S6C3cpEd

Source: Denver Post (CO)
Author: Michael Booth, The Denver Post
Published: December 18, 2013
Copyright: 2013 The Denver Post
Website: http://www.denverpost.com/
Contact: openforum@denverpost.com

US Policy Clouds Approvals of Medical Marijuana

October 10th, 2013

Doctors at Massachusetts community health centers have been advised not to authorize any of their more than 638,000 patients to obtain marijuana for medical purposes because the centers fear they would lose their federal funding.

The Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers has advised its 36 federally funded facilities to hold off on issuing patient marijuana certifications under the state’s new medical marijuana law, because use remains illegal under federal law.

Health center physicians who believe marijuana might be beneficial for certain patients and authorize its use could be committing a “potential violation of federal law and could result in legal and financial exposure for community health centers,” according to a statement from the League.

This disconnect between state and federal marijuana law is cropping up in other areas as well; some rules restrict tenants who use medical marijuana from living in federally subsidized housing, or prevent Veterans Administration hospitals and clinics from authorizing medical marijuana.

Voters approved a ballot initiative in November, making Massachusetts one of 20 states, and the District of Columbia, that allow medical marijuana use. Community health centers in other states also have advised doctors against authorizing patients to use marijuana.

It is not just federal funding at stake if the centers certify patients for marijuana use, but also loss of malpractice insurance, covered by a federal program known as the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Also, should a community health center physician be convicted under federal law for certifying a patient, the physician could be shut out of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the insurance that covers many who use health centers.

The National Association of Community Health Centers is unaware of any center or center physician that have faced federal sanctions for prescribing medical marijuana, but the threat of prosecution or funding loss looms large.

“Community health centers have been providing access to care for decades, but there is no assurance that they would not come under federal investigation or that their physicians would not face trouble for certifying medical conditions under state medical marijuana programs, given it is an unsettled area of the law,” said Kathryn Watson, an attorney at Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell, a Washington-based law firm that advises the national group.

With health insurance unlikely to cover medical marijuana treatments, state regulators tried to ensure that lower-income people would be able to afford medical marijuana. State-licensed cannabis dispensaries must offer discounted or free marijuana to patients with documented financial hardship, but the community health centers’ stance could undermine that goal.

Among these patients is Gary, a 61-year-old disabled former church outreach worker who received a certification for medical marijuana use this year from his primary care physician at the Joseph M. Smith Community Health Center in Allston. A few puffs before meals helps pique his appetite, which, along with his weight, has shriveled because of hepatitis C, a disease that attacks the liver.

Gary asked that his last name not be used for fear of losing his publicly subsidized apartment, where medical marijuana use is prohibited.

In July, Gary received notice from the health center that his marijuana certification was being rescinded because the center was worried about losing federal funding, which accounts for about 10 percent of the facility’s funding.

“I am in a Catch-22 position,” Gary said. “I have a [doctor’s certification] that may or may not be valid.”

He has been buying marijuana on the street, bargaining prices between $200 and $300 for an ounce, and eagerly awaiting the opening of dispensaries,where he could get reduced-cost or free marijuana, as well as edible or vapor options, which would be gentler on his scarred lungs.

Paola Ferrer, grants and development director at the Allston health center, said the organization cannot risk its federal funding and care for 12,000 patients by writing certifications for a small number.

“We are really tied to the federal government and the funding stream, and until the legal issues are adequately resolved, we are not at liberty to do this,” Ferrer said.

Regulations issued by the Massachusetts health department in May require people who want to legally buy medical marijuana to receive a physician’s written certification that they have a “debilitating medical condition” that would benefit from marijuana use.

Like patients treated at community health centers, those who receive care at Veterans Affairs facilities face challenges obtaining certification. In a 2011 memo, the Department of Veterans Affairs reminded its physicians that it prohibits them from “completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a veteran’s participation in a state marijuana program.”

The memo, however, said department policy does not prohibit veterans who legally participate in a state marijuana program from also receiving other treatment at VA centers.

More confusing is a 2011 memo from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to public housing authorities. It directs them to establish standards and leases that prohibit new tenants, and those with new subsidized housing vouchers, from using “state-legalized medical marijuana,” but gives authorities discretion to allow medical marijuana use by current residents and “to determine continued occupancy policies that are most appropriate for their local communities.”

An August memo from the US Department of Justice to federal prosecutors has also left many lawyers and health administrators unsettled.

The department attempted to clarify its policy by listing eight priorities, such as preventing marijuana sales to minors. The priorities do not specifically mention selling, growing, or authorizing patients to get marijuana for medical use.

The department is “committed to using its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats in the most effective, consistent, and rational way,” the memo states.

It concludes by noting the department still has authority to enforce federal laws “including federal laws relating to marijuana, regardless of state law.”

Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Author: Kay Lazar, Boston Globe Staff
Published: October 9, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Globe Newspaper Company
Contact: letter@globe.com
Website: http://www.boston.com/globe/

Can The United Nations Block US MJ Legalization?

September 25th, 2013

The United Nations International Narcotics Control Board’s latest annual report expressed dismay at the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado and urged “the Government of the United States to take necessary measures to ensure full compliance with the international drug control treaties in its entire territory”. This led many media outlets to report that the U.S. had violated the UN drug control treaties to which it is a signatory. U.S. obligations under the treaties, and indeed the broader international future of marijuana legalization, are complex matters. But the essential points can be summarized in a 4-part Q&A.

1. Is the U.S. currently in violation of the UN treaties it signed agreeing to make marijuana illegal? No. The U.S. federal government is a signatory to the treaty, but the States of Washington and Colorado are not. Countries with federated systems of government like the U.S. and Germany can only make international commitments regarding their national-level policies. Constitutionally, U.S. states are simply not required to make marijuana illegal as it is in federal law. Hence, the U.S. made no such commitment on behalf of the 50 states in signing the UN drug control treaties.

Some UN officials believe that the spirit of the international treaties requires the U.S. federal government to attempt to override state-level marijuana legalization. But in terms of the letter of the treaties, Attorney General Holder’s refusal to challenge Washington and Colorado’s marijuana policies is within bounds.

2. Can the UN punish countries that legalize marijuana? Only to a small degree. The UN International Narcotics Control Board is the keeper of the drug treaties and regularly chastises governments that violate their commitments. This can be embarrassing in international diplomatic circles, but no nation has ever collapsed due to embarrassment.

Because the International Narcotics Control Board has power over the production and transport of the legal medical supply of drugs it could in theory punish a country that legalized marijuana by imposing punitive controls on pain medications. But the international humanitarian outcry over such an action would be enormous. Further, the countries that produce the most opiate painkillers are not easy to push around (e.g., Australia, India, The United States). It is thus safe to assume that crimping the medical supply of drugs is a trigger that the Narcotics Control Board is not going to pull.

3. Does the entire UN drug treaty system need to be undone in order for countries to legalize recreational marijuana? No. Marijuana is just one of many psychoactive substances made illegal by the UN drug control treaties. Some drug legalization activists hope that if support for marijuana legalization grows internationally, it will require all UN drug treaties to be revised, thereby granting an opportunity to legalize cocaine, heroin and every other drug at the same time. This is a misreading both of international political sentiment and UN protocol.

Even among nations with some sympathy towards marijuana legalization, there is minimal enthusiasm for allowing, say, the Phillip Morris corporation to sell cocaine legally throughout the world as it does cigarettes. If the price of changing UN treaties regarding marijuana is legalizing all drugs, many otherwise sympathetic nations will vigorously oppose the action.

But as it happens, it’s a moot point because under U.N. protocol, new treaties supersede old treaties. Thus, if the nations of the world ever agree that they want to legalize recreational marijuana, they can write a new treaty focused just on that drug. This would nullify only the marijuana-related provisions of the overall UN drug control framework, leaving the status of other currently illegal drugs unaffected.

4. Wouldn’t a new UN marijuana drug treaty just be a vehicle for the U.S. to push its tough marijuana policies worldwide? Get ready for a surprise. If all nations adopted current U.S. marijuana policy, the result would be significant relaxation of international control over marijuana. Prior to the Obama Administration, a Rand Corporation study found that the level of marijuana enforcement in the U.S. was similar to that of Western Europe. Since Obama was elected, marijuana enforcement intensity has plummeted and the federal government has dropped its longstanding opposition to state-level marijuana decriminalization and legalization efforts.

Last but not least, remember that the only legal recreational marijuana markets in the world are not in the Netherlands or in Portugal but right here in the United States. Transplanting current U.S. marijuana policy worldwide via a new UN treaty would mean somewhat more liberal marijuana control policy in Europe, and dramatically more relaxed policy in most of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

In short, supporters of marijuana legalization don’t really need to worry about the UN drug control treaties. Whether marijuana legalization sweeps the world or not depends on something far more fundamental: What people around the world decide is the best approach to the drug.

Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Keith Humphreys, Professor of Psychiatry, Stanford University
Published: September 25, 2013
Copyright: 2013 HuffingtonPost.com, LLC
Contact: scoop@huffingtonpost.com
Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

Holder Expands Changes in Drug-Case Policy

September 22nd, 2013

The Justice Department is expanding a major change in federal drug sentencing policy to cover pending drug cases, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday.

Last month, Holder said certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders — those without ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels — no longer will be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory minimum sentences.

Holder said he now has broadened the new policy to cover defendants who have not yet been convicted in drug cases that could involve lengthy mandatory prison sentences. The policy also may be applied, at the discretion of prosecutors, to a defendant who has entered a guilty plea, but has not yet been sentenced.

Mandatory minimum prison sentences, a legacy of the government’s war on drugs, limit the discretion of judges to impose shorter prison terms.

Holder says the government should reserve the most severe prison terms for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers.

“Some federal drug statutes that mandate inflexible sentences — regardless of the individual conduct at issue in a particular case — do not serve public safety when they’re applied indiscriminately,” Holder told a criminal justice issues forum of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said that in one case, a first-time offender arrested with less than 2 ounces of cocaine was sentenced to 10 years in prison because of mandatory sentencing guidelines. Paul has drafted legislation along with committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that would give judges wider sentencing discretion as one way to relieve prison overcrowding and bring down the exploding costs of operating prisons.

Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Author: Pete Yost, The Associated Press
Published: September 19, 2013
Copyright: 2013 The Associated Press

Canada’s new Medical Marijuana rules cut Homegrowers, Pharmacists Out

September 18th, 2013

After two years of study and discussion, the federal government has finalized new rules for medical marijuana and granted a reprieve to pharmacists who opposed the rules in their draft form.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq rolled out the regulations today for formal publication in the Canada Gazette on Wednesday.

Under the new regime, the government will no longer produce or distribute medical pot and medical marijuana users will no longer be allowed to grow the product at home.

Health Canada said since the medical marijuana program was introduced in 2001, it has expanded to 30,000 people from the original 500 authorized to use the product.

“This rapid increase has had unintended consequences for public health, safety and security as a result of allowing individuals to produce marijuana in their homes,” the department said in a news release.

“Under the new regulations, production will no longer take place in homes and municipal zoning laws will need to be respected, which will further enhance public safety.”

Under the new regulations, the government will allow patients to buy prescribed amounts only from licensed growers who will be required to meet strict conditions.

In previous versions of the regulations, pharmacies were to distribute the product just like other medications, provoking concern from pharmacists, who expressed concerns about dispensing a product without sufficient research. They also cited security concerns.

The final version removes the pharmacists from the loop, leaving patients to rely on mail order for their medical marijuana.

“While the courts have said that there must be reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana for medical purposes, we believe that this must be done in a controlled fashion in order to protect public safety,” Aglukkaq said in a statement.

“These changes will strengthen the safety of Canadian communities while making sure patients can access what they need to treat serious illnesses.”

She used similar reasoning last week when she introduced new hurdles for the creation of supervised drug-injection sites in response to a court ruling.

Physicians and pharmacists alike questioned the regulatory changes, saying there is little evidence that medical marijuana is either effective or safe.

The umbrella group representing the country’s colleges of physicians and surgeons said the changes won’t protect people.

“We believe that the new federal medical marijuana regulations put patients and the general public at risk,” Dr. Rocco Gerace, president of the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada, said in a statement.

“Physicians should not be asked to prescribe or dispense substances or treatments for which there is little or no evidence of clinical efficacy or safety.”

In December, the president of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Anna Reid, described the proposed marijuana rules as “akin to asking doctors to write prescriptions while blindfolded.”

“Not only does prescribing drugs that haven’t been clinically tested fly in the face of medical training and ethics, but marijuana’s potential benefits and adverse effects have not been rigorously tested.”

The Canadian Pharmacists Association responded in February to a set of draft rules.

“There is little information available on safety, effectiveness, dosage, drug interactions or long-term health risks,” the association said in its letter to Health Canada.

“Pharmacists, physicians and nurse practitioners need evidence-based information to support safe and effective prescribing and dispensing of (medical marijuana).”

The association said it didn’t know how many pharmacies would be willing to participate a revamped system.

“While the distribution process would be regulated, there remains the concern with pharmacists dispensing a product that does not have adequate safety and effectiveness evidence. In addition, the potential security risks to pharmacies due to robberies would need to be considered.”

Feds in Talks With Banks Over Marijuana Business

September 11th, 2013

The government is in talks with bank regulators to see whether financial institutions in states that have approved recreational marijuana use can do business with drug dispensaries there, a top Justice Department official said Tuesday.

The announcement came nearly two weeks after the Justice Department decided it won’t take legal action against Colorado and Washington, which approved recreational marijuana use last year.

Banks, worried they could be violating federal laws, have been hesitant to provide services to state-authorized marijuana dispensaries, forcing the dispensaries to become mostly cash-only enterprises. And “that’s a prescription for problems,” potentially including armed robberies, according to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I don’t want to see a shootout somewhere and have innocent people or law enforcement endangered by that,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said during a committee hearing Tuesday.

The Justice Department’s number two agreed, saying it’s “an issue that we need to deal with.”

“Obviously there is a public safety concern when businesses have a lot of cash sitting around,” Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole told the committee. “There is a tendency that there are guns associated with that, so it’s important to deal with that issue.”

Cole said offices within the Treasury Department, namely the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, are “bringing in bank regulators to discuss ways that this can be dealt with in accordance with the laws that we have on the books today.” And subsequently, Cole said, the Justice Department is in talks with the Treasury Department about the efforts.

The banking industry’s reluctance to do business with marijuana dispensaries in Colorado and Washington, based primarily on federal money-laundering laws, was an issue governors from both states raised with Attorney General Eric Holder when he informed them Aug. 29 that the federal government would not be filing lawsuits against the states’ recent marijuana laws, according to Cole.

Marijuana use remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which describes marijuana as a dangerous drug. But, as Holder told Gov. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., and Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., federal prosecutors are now operating under new enforcement guidance, aggressively pursuing prosecutions only in eight “priority areas.”

Among other things outlined in a memorandum from Cole two weeks ago, the new Justice Department guidance tells federal prosecutors to focus on preventing marijuana from getting into the hands of children, preventing gangs or cartels from making money through marijuana, preventing marijuana from being exported to other states, and preventing “drugged driving.”

“We are going to aggressively enforce the Controlled Substances Act when it implicates any of the right priorities,” Cole said Tuesday, “and I think that’s a pretty fulsome list of priorities and important public safety issues that are present and associated with marijuana.”

Cole said his department “has not historically devoted our finite resources to prosecuting individuals whose conduct is limited to the possession of marijuana for personal use on private property.” And, he insisted, the department is not “giving immunity” to anyone or “abdicating our responsibilities.”

Leahy said he was “encouraged” by the Justice Department’s recent move.

“You can’t begin to prosecute all the laws that are on the books, you don’t have the resources,” he said. “The question is what resources should we use and where… I really don’t think [the Justice Department] should be devoting them to pursuing low-level users of marijuana who are complying with the laws of their states.”

But the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican rejected that thinking, arguing Colorado’s and Washington’s marijuana laws “flatly contradict our federal law.”

“And the response of the Department of Justice isn’t to sue to strike down the laws or to prosecute illegal drug traffickers, but just let these states do it,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said. “Prosecutorial discretion is one thing, but giving the green light to an entire industry predicated on breaking federal law is quite another.”

Grassley raised particular concern over whether Colorado, for example, can be trusted to regulate recreational marijuana use when it is “already struggling” to regulate medical marijuana use.

He noted that over the past several years in Colorado, after marijuana was legalized for medical use, there has been a “sharp increase” in marijuana exposure to young children, seizures of marijuana heading to states outside of Colorado, and fatal car accidents involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana — all areas cited by the Justice Department as among its “priority areas” for enforcement.

Grassley also cited a recent audit by Colorado’s internal watchdog that concluded the state’s system “does not sufficiently oversee physicians who make medical marijuana recommendations.”

Cole said Grassley raised “valid issues” and called the recent audit in Colorado “disappointing.”

He reiterated that the Justice Department reserves the right to bring a lawsuit against Colorado or Washington at a later time, and that it is up to the states to create systems and processes for enforcing the federal government’s “priority areas.” The department will keep tabs on the states under a “trust but verify” approach.

“Our hope is that with this [new guidance] and with the engagement of the states, telling them that they are ‘trust but verify,’ they will have an incentive to actually put in a robust scheme that will in fact address a lot of these issues,” he said.

Currently 21 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana use for medical purposes.

Source: ABCNews.com (U.S. Web)
Author: Mike Levine
Published: September 11, 2013
Copyright: 2013 ABC News Internet Ventures
Website: http://www.abcnews.go.com/

Fans of Legal Marijuana Cheer

September 10th, 2013

The pros and cons of marijuana will take center stage Tuesday in Washington, D.C., when the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a landmark hearing on legalization.

Requested by committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the hearing was triggered by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement last month that federal authorities no longer will interfere as states adopt laws to allow medical marijuana or to legalize the drug entirely.

The hearing is on conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws. In calling for it, Leahy questioned whether, at a time of severe budget cutting, federal prosecutions of marijuana users are the best use of taxpayer dollars.

Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the nonprofit lobby group Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said he hopes for a breakthrough in the hearing that would lead to changes in federal banking laws, allowing marijuana sellers to accept credit cards and checks, not just cash.

That would do a lot to legitimize the nation’s marijuana industry, safeguarding transactions from the risk of robberies and smoothing the route away from the black market and Mexico’s drug cartels, Riffle said.

But “the elephant in the room is that we have an administration that’s essentially working around federal law” to allow states to legalize marijuana, he said. “What we should do is just change federal law — just legalize marijuana.”

This fall, Michigan lawmakers could take up bills that would ease laws on marijuana and widen medical users’ access to it.

With public attitudes bending toward legalization in the last three years and reaching a majority in March, those who favor legal weed say they’ve reached a watershed year — one like 1930 might have felt to those who welcomed the nationwide legalization of alcohol in 1933.

“It is historic — you can feel it,” said Matt Abel, a Detroit lawyer who heads Michigan NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Fans of legal marijuana say their cause just hit the tipping point, and point to a series of events that they say prove that legalization is on the cusp of being more than a pipe dream. They include that:

* In March, for the first time, a majority of Americans — 52% — told pollsters they favored legalizing marijuana, according to the Pew Research Center.

* In anticipation of retail pot stores opening this January, recreational users are flocking to Colorado and Washington state.

* Two national opinion leaders signaled changes of heart about cannabis. CNN medical correspondent and Novi native Dr. Sanjay Gupta, in his documentary “Weed” last month, reversed the stance he expressed in his 2009 Time magazine article, “Why I Would Vote No on Pot.” And U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told an audience in Tucson last week, “Maybe we should legalize marijuana. … I respect the will of the people.”

Planning to be in a front-row seat at Tuesday’s hearing is Neill Franklin, who heads LEAP — for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition — a nationwide group of mostly retired police, judges and corrections officers who want to see all street drugs legalized.

“A nationwide policy of prohibition leads to organized crime, underground crime, mass incarceration, very costly law enforcement, and ironically, the drugs become widely available and more dangerous because there are no quality-control standards,” Franklin said last week.

“We saw that with alcohol,” he said.

But not all at the hearing will be in favor of all-out legalization.

Kevin Sabet, a former senior adviser on drug policy to President Barack Obama’s drug czar, is expected to testify that legalization is being rushed into the states without understanding its consequences.

His arguments are laid out in detail in his new book “Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths about Marijuana” (Beaufort Books, New York: $14.95), Sabet said.

“It’s an appeal for a science-based and a health-based marijuana policy, not based on legalization but also not based on incarceration for small amounts” — and instead advocates wider access for marijuana users to state-of-the-art drug treatment programs, said Sabet, the director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida.

Sabet will bring his message to Michigan next month as a presenter at a public conference on youths and the consequences of marijuana. It’s Oct. 10 at the Oakland County Intermediate School District offices.

“Yes, there are medical properties in marijuana,” Sabet said, “but we don’t need to deliver that by smoking a joint or eating a brownie.”

Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Author: Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
Published: September 10, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Detroit Free Press
Website: http://www.freep.com/
Contact: letters@freepress.com

Bowing To The Inevitable On Pot

September 3rd, 2013

Justice Dept.  Right Not to Challenge State Laws Legalizing Marijuana

Bowing to changing times and admittedly limited prosecutorial resources, the Justice Department announced last week that it would not seek to block state laws legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use.  The declaration represented a major reversal from the department’s previous position that marijuana is a dangerous drug that the government is obligated to go after under federal law regardless of what state legislatures do.  The policy shift unveiled Thursday inevitably will change the conversation about marijuana use in America, and it’s likely to have important legal and social consequences as well going forward, not all of them predictable.  But it was nevertheless the right decision.

Eighteen states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia now have laws decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot for medicinal purposes.

Two more, Colorado and Washington, recently legalized the drug for recreational use as well.  Despite the fact that federal law has not changed, the Justice Department clearly saw the handwriting on the wall.  Henceforth, marijuana policy increasingly will be made in state capitals rather than by lawmakers in Washington, with the federal government’s role largely reduced to oversight rather than enforcement.

Proponents of legalizing marijuana hailed the announcement as a major step toward ending all restrictions on the drug.  That’s unlikely to happen any time soon, however, given that President Barack Obama has said he opposes lifting the federal ban on pot, and Congress is unlikely to push the issue.

The more probable outcome of the department’s shift in policy is that the country will embark on something in the nature of a national experiment regarding marijuana use and its public health and safety consequences.  Eventually, that may lead to some kind of consensus about aspects of the drug’s use that should be regulated or controlled even if it is no longer banned.

Some outlines of such a possible consensus are already coming into view.  It’s inconceivable, for instance, that even states that decriminalize the drug for medical or recreational purposes ( or both ) wouldn’t impose strict limits to keep it out of the hands of children, similar to the restrictions that now apply to alcohol and tobacco sales.

Similarly, there would also have to be some kind of uniform regulatory system to protect consumers against tainted or counterfeit products, and rules prohibiting false or misleading advertising as well as guidelines for when and where such products can be marketed.  These are all problem states would have to work out for themselves, with the federal government keeping a close eye on whether they are effective in terms of public health and safety.

Obviously, the Justice Department also has a huge interest in seeing to it that any relaxation in state drug laws doesn’t open the door for criminal organizations to profit from illegal sales of smuggled contraband.  One of the arguments often given in favor of legalization is that it would allow states to increase revenues by taxing marijuana sales.

But that supposed boon would quickly evaporate if state and federal authorities allowed a flourishing black market in the drug to continue.

And while supporters of legalization claim that lifting the ban on marijuana would drive today’s bad actors out of business, the lessons gained from past experience of efforts aimed at clamping down on illegal sales of cigarettes and booze are hardly encouraging.

Still, there’s no doubt that Americans’ attitudes toward marijuana are changing rapidly.

Many experts, including Attorney General Eric Holder, now recognize that the so-called “war on drugs” the nation has waged over the last three decades has been in many ways counterproductive, filling state and local prisons with hundreds of thousands of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who then become a permanent drag on the economy when their criminal records prevent them from obtaining gainful employment on release.

The relentless focus on arresting and imprisoning people for possession of small amounts of marijuana has torn apart millions of minority and low-income families and shredded the social fabric of their communities.

America obviously can’t continue along that self-destructive path, but the drive for change will have to come from the states rather than from the federal government.  The Justice Department has now acknowledged that it needs to get out of the way so that can happen, and one can only hope the conversation about pot that ensues will produce a way out of the country’s current dilemma sooner rather than later.

Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2013 The Baltimore Sun Company
Contact: talkback@baltimoresun.com
Website: http://www.baltimoresun.com/

Feds Say They Will Go Easy on Banks

September 1st, 2013

During the groundbreaking phone call on Thursday, August 29 in which U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of Colorado and Washington the federal government would not attempt to intercept regulated legal marijuana in their states, he also said the Department of Justice (DOJ) is “actively considering” how to oversee the relationship between banks and marijuana shops.

According to the Huffington Post, Holder told the governors as long as marijuana shops “operate within state laws and don’t violate other federal law enforcement priorities” the DOJ is looking to regulate those interactions as legal.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, released a statement on Thursday calling for a hearing to discuss his proposed bill, Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act (HR 2652). In the statement, he raised concerns over “public safety, crime, and lost tax revenue associated when these legal and regulated businesses are operating in a cash-only system.”

He continued:

“We need to provide financial institutions certainty they can make their own business decisions related to legal, financial transactions without fear of regulatory penalties. Currently, under federal banking laws, many legal, regulated legitimate marijuana businesses operating legally according to state law are prevented from maintaining bank accounts and accessing financial products like any other business such as accepting credit cards, depositing revenues, or writing checks to meet payroll or pay taxes. They are forced to operate as cash-only enterprises, inviting crime such as robbery and tax evasion, only adding to the burden of setting up a legitimate small business.”

To that regard, a senior DOJ official speaking on a condition of anonymity told Huffington Post “the department recognized that forcing the establishments to operate on a cash basis put them at greater risk of robbery and violence.”

CNN warned in a report that since the new guidelines do not change federal money laundering laws, some large banks might “still be leery of doing business with marijuana producers and sellers.”

Along with Holder’s announcement on Thursday came a memo from Deputy Attorney General James Cole, addressed to U.S. attorneys nationwide. The memo outlines eight priorities intended to serve as strict guidelines the attorneys are required to follow as federal marijuana policy when prosecuting in the states where it is legal.

According to the Huffington Post , the anonymous DOJ official said, “For now, financial institutions and other enterprises that do business with marijuana shops that are in compliance with state laws are unlikely to be prosecuted for money laundering or other federal crimes that could be brought under existing federal drug laws, as long as those pot businesses don’t otherwise violate the priorities.”

In addition, the Huffington Post reported, the official said he “would not rule out prosecution in any case, but the new approach is a reversal of a DEA policy that had warned banks not to work with marijuana businesses.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the state’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson thanked Holder for his efforts to work with the states’ decision to legalize and regulate pot, and called Holder’s announcement “good news” in a statement on Thursday.

“Attorney General Holder also expressed a willingness to work with the states on a financial structure that would not run afoul of federal law,” they said, calling the news an “affirmation of good work” by the state Liquor Control Board, which the state put in charge of designing a system of regulation and implementation for the new marijuana laws.

They continued, “We can assure the Attorney General that Washington state will remain vigilant in enforcing laws against the illicit marijuana market.”

April M. Short is a Bay Area journalist focusing on social justice reporting.

Newshawk: The GCW
Source: AlterNet (US)
Author: April M. Short
Published: August 31, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Independent Media Institute
Contact: letters@alternet.org
Website: http://www.alternet.org/

Obama Administration Won’t Fight State MJ Laws

August 31st, 2013

In a historic pivot in the War on Drugs, the Obama Justice Department announced this week that the federal government will allow Washington and Colorado to implement their state laws for the taxation and regulation of legal marijuana.

The carefully worded Justice Department memo does nothing to alter federal law. Instead, it makes explicit the federal objectives of continued enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act preventing activities including the distribution of marijuana to minors, the diversion of marijuana profits to criminals and cartels, the growing of pot on federal land and the export of marijuana from states where it is legal to states that uphold prohibition.

To the extent that states themselves support those federal priorities by implementing “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana,” the memo suggests, they should be left alone for now. In a radical twist, the memo even suggests that “robust” state regulation of legal pot “may affirmatively address [federal] priorities by . . . replacing an illicit marketplace that funds criminal enterprises with a tightly regulated market in which revenues are tracked and accounted for.”

The administration’s move exceeded even the rosiest expectations of drug reform advocates. “Today’s announcement demonstrates the sort of political vision and foresight from the White House we’ve been seeking for a long time,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement. “I must admit, I was expecting a yellow light from the White House. But this light looks a lot more green-ish than I had hoped. The White House is basically saying to Washington and Colorado: Proceed with caution.”

In fact, the memo applies not only to states that have legalized recreational pot (or will), but gives new certainty to the nearly 20 states that have legalized medical marijuana. Most striking, the memo reverses the big-is-bad and profit-is-evil principles that have driven the recent crackdown on medical marijuana operations in California and beyond. “In exercising prosecutorial discretion,” the memo says, “prosecutors should not consider the size or commercial nature of a marijuana operation alone as a proxy for assessing whether marijuana trafficking implicates the Department’s enforcement priorities.”

“This is the most heartening news to come out of Washington in a long, long time,” said Neill Franklin, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “The federal government is not simply standing aside and allowing the will of the people to prevail in these two states. The attorney general and the Obama administration are exhibiting inspired leadership. The message to the people of the other 48 states, to all who value personal freedom and responsible regulation is clear: seize the day.”

Source: Rolling Stone (US)
Author: Tim Dickinson
Published: August 30, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P.
Contact: letters@rollingstone.com
Website: http://www.rollingstone.com/