Pubdate: Thu, 20 Jun 2002
Source: Rolling Stone (US)
Section: National Affairs
Pages: 55-57
Copyright: 2002 Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P.
Authors: Gregory Katz, Rob Story, Jason Cohn
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)


 From England To Italy, Politicians And Cops Are Getting More Tolerant Of 
Marijuana Users

At the end of May, the Senior Judge of England's highest court, Lord 
Bingham, publicly declared his country's marijuana prohibition "stupid" and 
said he "absolutely" supported legalization. This sent a shock wave through 
the nation's political establishment. While many leaders have recently 
called for relaxing England's pot laws, including the chief prison 
inspector and several prominent police chiefs, Bingham, known as a 
modernizer of England's tradition-bound judiciary, is one of the country's 
most influential judges. With so many officials calling for reform, 
England's politicians are scrambling to respond. Prime Minister Tony Blair 
has refused to take a stand, except to say that the War on Drugs is not 
working. But Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced plans to 
reclassify marijuana so that casual users will not face prison.

Bucking the American pot-prohibition orthodoxy has become a trend in 
advanced, industrialized nations (see "New Pot World Order," below). 
Portugal has moved closest to outright decriminalization, with Switzerland 
close behind. In Portugal, criminal penalties have been removed for the use 
of small amounts of all formerly illicit drugs, including heroin, cocaine, 
Ecstasy and marijuana. Only three European nations -- Sweden, Finland and 
Norway -- still strictly hew to the U.S., model of strong police action 
against small-time drug users. "There has been a revolution in the laws 
throughout Europe because there is a widespread recognition that drug 
prohibition is not working," says British Parliament member Paul Flynn. 
"The most dangerous way to treat marijuana is to prohibit it and leave its 
marketing to a dangerous criminal. There has been a stream of misinformaton 
from America about this."

In England, the move toward decriminalizing marijuana has been led by 
several crusading police chiefs and commanders, such as Brian Paddick. For 
a trial period, Paddick instructed his officers in the London neighborhood 
of Brixton to warn, rather than arrest, those caught with small amounts of 
pot. Scotland Yard then issued a report that determined that the project 
had saved 2,500 police hours over six months. Scotland Yard Deputy 
Assistant Commissioner Mike Fuller concludes, "Initial findings have shown 
that officers' time saved in completeing arrest formalities and preparing 
court papers can be put to more crime-fighting use."

One of the first officials to call for decriminalization was north Wales 
Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom, who says, "Recent research shows that 
cannabis is much less harmful than nicotine, so it's impossible to defend 
banning cannabis and allowing tobacco -- the law becomes, in British 
parlance, an ass."

The movement has received support form politicians of all stripes, 
including Conservative Party lawmakers. Marijuana-law reformers would like 
to go even further and legalize cannabis, which would then be regulated and 
taxed much as alcohol is. "Obviously we feel with reclassification people 
will get less punishment, whch is a good thing," says Alun Buffry, national 
coordinator of Britain's Legalize Cannabis Alliance, "but it's a long way 
from satisfactory. There will be more people selling bad-quality stuff, 
some of it not cannabis at all." A series of United Nations treaties that 
require member nations to ban the drug block drastic change; nonetheless 
the Swiss government -- which has not signed these treaties -- is at least 
studying the idea of legalizing marijuana.

In the United States, advocates of marijuana-law reform are extremely 
pleased by the developments in Europe, but pessimistic about a potential 
domino effect. "The pivotal thing to understand," says Ethan Nadelmann, 
executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New York, "is that in the 
United States there is a radical anti-drug element for whom marijuana is a 
complete bugaboo. There are fanatical anti-drug organizations that are 
trying to reinforce the demonization of marijuana."

Indeed, George W. Bush's White House equates marijuana with hard drugs. Tom 
Riley, a spokesman for Bush's Office of National Drug Control Policy says 
pointedly that the European trend does not mesh with the U.S. approach. 
"There's a widespread misunderstanding that marijuana is the harmless 
drug," says Riley, "but the number of people with clinically defined 
dependence on marijuana is going up in the U.S. -- you're talking hundreds 
of thousands, if not millions, of people." According to Riley, up to 2 
million Americans are effectively addicted to marijuana. (An estimated 50 
million are addicted to cigarettes.)

The hard-line American approach is viewed as ridiculous by many European 
health officials, who say it is not backed up by any scientific evidence. 
"If you look at the figures, you will see that cannabis consumption in 
Holland is lower than in the U.S.A., even after the U.S.A. has had this 
famous War on Drugs for twenty-five years, and we've had a liberal policy 
for twenty-five years," says Bob Keizer, senior drug-policy adviser to the 
Dutch minister of health. "And if you look at hard-drug addicts, our rate 
is stable, considerably lower than other countries. And so, all of the 
countries surrounding us are gradually following our example."


New Pot World Order

While the U.S. continues to arrest more than 700,000 pot users per year, 
many of our allies in the Western coalition have sharply reduced penalties 
for marijuana use. Here's a country-by-country survey:

CANADA -- Pot possession remains illegal, but there's substantial regional 
variation in prosecutors' zest for punishing those found with small 
amounts. British Columbia, and Vancouver in particular, is perceived by 
many to be more tolerant.

AUSTRALIA -- Possession remains illegal, but in some states and 
territories, possession of small quantities may be treated as a civil, not 
criminal, offense.

GREAT BRITAIN -- The government has announced plans to downgrade marijuana 
so that it's not classified with drugs such as Ecstacy. Possession for 
small quantities will no longer be grounds for arrest.

PORTUGAL -- Possession of small amounts of marijuana, defined as ten daily 
doses or less, has been decriminalized. People found with the drug may face 
fines, but not criminal prosecution.

THE NETHERLANDS -- Marijuana can be purchased in government-licensed 
"coffee shops" and smoked on the premises.

SPAIN, ITALY -- Penalties for marijuana use have been sharply lowered.

SWITZERLAND -- Cannabis cafes and stores operate openly, without government 
interference, and the government is studying proposals to legalize marijuana.

FRANCE -- Pot remains illegal and arrests are common, but some prosecutors 
and judges have declined to go forward with cases against individuals using 
small amounts.

GERMANY -- Pot is still illegal, but police and prosecutors in many regions 
have become more tolerant of small-quantity users.


The High Peaks of Europe

On The Ground In The New Stoned Switzerland

At Growland, a two-story marijuana emporium in the up-scale shopping 
arcades of Bern, Switzerland, the product is remarkably inexpensive. 
Growland is one of fifteen stores here in the nation's capital that openly 
sell marijuana, and one of 250 nationwide. While it is technically not 
legal to deal pot in Switzerland, it is also not illegal. Store manager 
Peter Zysset has been in business for nine years and has only been visited 
by the cops once.

Whatever the Deadhead on your gift list wants, Growland sells, including 
ten sticky strains of marijuana -- all grown in Switzerland, according to 
Zysett. "The product is 100 percent Swiss, mostly grown outdoors," he says. 
"Already some former vineyards here have turned to growing pot."

The pragmatic Swiss clearly recognize the senselessness of banning a 
naturally occurring plant that has never killed anyone. In 1999, the Swiss 
Federal Commission for Drug Issues put out a report proposing a formal 
policy of cannabis decriminalization. And Department of Health Director 
Thomas Zeltner has said that "the consumption of cannabis can't be avoided 
through prohibition" and admitted that "cannabis does relatively little 
damage to health."

In 2001, the States Council (Switzerland's version of the U.S. Senate) 
unanimously passed a revision of the Narcotics Law, calling for cannabis 
possession to be decriminalized. The lower house of Switzerland's congress 
still must ratify the revision; in the meantime, many of the country's 
twenty-six states (called cantons) have effectively decriminalized weed for 
anyone over eighteen. Buyers are legally required to supply Swiss ID, but 
vendors only sporadically ask for it, and sometimes accept long-range train 
passes as proof of residency.

Switzerland's leniency has turned legendary ski towns like Verbier -- 
located about 100 miles south of Bern -- into magnets for the international 
burnout set. Verbier reports that in the last two years, the number of 
young North Americans streaming to its slopes has picked up by about five 
percent. Perhaps Steve Klassen, a Mammoth Lake, California, snowboarder who 
traveled to Verbier in April for a competition, says it best: "Verbier is 
the best venue in the world for extreme snowboarding. I go right from 
kind-bud Cali to Sativa Switzerland -- do not go to jail, do not pay $200."


The LAPD Guts D.A.R.E.

In Los Angeles, the city where the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program 
began in 1983, the civilian Police Commission and the Los Angeles Police 
Department have agreed to slash the budgeted number of D.A.R.E. officers 
from 119 to 44 for the 722,000-student L.A. school district. Says Police 
Commission President Rick Caruso, "I don't think anybody can point to any 
studies and say that D.A.R.E. is preventing young kids from either violence 
or drugs."

The LAPD fought to keep the program intact in part for its value as a 
recruitment tool. "What we want to do is recruit good people for the 
community and help cultivate them, and we do that through the D.A.R.E. 
program," says Commanding Officer Mark R. Perez, who heads LAPD's D.A.R.E. 
division. But Perez concedes that police departments are closely monitoring 
what happens there, noting, "They know that if we fold it up, then a lot of 
other folks will, too."
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