When the Majority Says Marijuana Should Not Be a Crime the Law Loses
It is hard to imagine that Eric Holder's letter threatening to
"vigorously enforce" federal law if California votes for legalization
of marijuana is serious. It seems timed to manipulate voters in
California, but in this year when political elites are hated it is
likely to backfire and lead Californians to vote to end the failed
During one of the greatest failed experiments in American history,
alcohol prohibition, a turning point was when New York told the
federal government it would no longer enforce laws against alcohol.
That left it to the federal government to enforce the law. Already
"the feds" as they were derogatorily known were hated in rural areas
where alcohol was often produced and the feds came in and disrupted
their commerce. Then, the biggest urban area refused to enforce the
law. The result, alcohol prohibition ended a few years later.
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WHEN Will Our Dumb Marijuana Prohibition Be Overturned?
Criminal Laws Are Not an Effective Way to Control Marijuana; Removing
Criminal Penalties Does Not Lead to Increased Use; Decriminalization
Creates Savings in Law Enforcement.
The great divide between politicians and the people is showing itself
in California where polls show the voters support Proposition 19 and
where the mainstream politicians mostly oppose it.
To many Americans, there are few policies more bankrupt than the
prohibition on marijuana use, a recognition that a blue-ribbon panel
reached four decades ago, urging an emphasis on drug education rather
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Since the founding of the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1973, 15
million Americans have been arrested for marijuana.
That is more people than live in California's 25 largest cities
millions more than live in Ohio, Pennsylvania or Illinois.
The DEA has led an aggressive national law enforcement effort that
results in a marijuana arrest every 38 seconds, propelling the U.S.
to become the biggest incarcerator on the planet, housing one out of
four of the world's prisoners.
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Since the recent death of economist Milton Friedman, I've been
thinking about the times that my life crossed paths with his. I've
got a photograph on my bookshelf of me with him at the conference of
the Drug Policy Foundation in 1991. In that year we gave him our most
prestigious award, a lifetime achievement award named in honor of
noted philanthropist and Chicago commodities trader, Richard Dennis.
When we gave Dr. Friedman the award it was controversial. Many in the
reform movement are liberal Democrats who are offended by Friedman's
view that "the government solution to a problem is usually as bad as
the problem." But, no doubt all in the drug policy reform movement
would agree with that statement when it is applied to the
government's never-ending war on drugs.
[continues 710 words]
Since the death last week of Milton Friedman I've been thinking about
the times that my life crossed paths with his. I've got a photograph
on my bookshelf of me with him at the conference of the Drug Policy
Foundation in 1991. In that year we gave him our most prestigious
award, a lifetime achievement award named in honor of noted
philanthropist and Chicago commodities trader, Richard Dennis.
When we gave Dr. Friedman the award it was controversial. Many in
the reform movement are liberal Democrats who are offended by
Friedman's view that "the government solution to a problem is usually
as bad as the problem." But, no doubt all in the drug policy reform
movement would agree with that statement when it is applied to the
government's never-ending war on drugs. As Friedman correctly said:
"Most of the harm that comes from drugs is because they are illegal."
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Bravo for the amazing accomplishment of creating a news archive of
100,000 articles. It is a great achievement that shows how much can be
done when people are organized for a common goal. While the leadership
of MAP/DrugSense deserves a lot of credit for developing this project,
I realize that this could not have been done without the volunteer
work of scores of activists.
As anyone who has heard me speak knows, I always highlight the work of
MAP/DrugSense. While the news archive achieving the 100,000 article
mark is the highlight of today -- and important not only to reform
activists but to reporters, producers and policy makers -- the reality
is the archive is only one of the important services you provide the
reform movement. The other projects of MAP/DrugSense that I appreciate
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The disappointing verdict in the Ed Rosenthal case may end up doing
more to ignite California voters than a hung jury would have done.
Now, the media is reporting that jurors were not told all the truth, a
majority of jurors are saying they felt used and that if they had
known the whole truth they would have voted acquittal. One juror has
described this as the greatest mistake of her life - one she will
Throughout US history unjust verdicts have led to dramatic change.
Indeed, the birth of the United States was sparked by a verdict in
favor of the crown in Paxton's case challenging the warrantless
searches by the King's soldiers of colonial homes and businesses. John
Adams, who later became a leader in the revolution and the second
president of the United States, was a young court reporter and at the
time of the verdict he wrote, "Then and there, the child Independence
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WASHINGTON--A friend recently remarked to me, "Alcohol is the original
date-rape drug." That's very sadly true. And it's why I found it
hypocritical that the national drug czar's new ad equating marijuana use
with teen pregnancy should debut during the Super Bowl, in which beer and
sex were the dominant advertising themes.
Teen drinking is the bigger problem, both in sheer numbers as well as health
risks, yet the federal agency overseeing drug-control policy ignores it. An
anti teen-drinking commercial would have been a powerful counterpoint during
that game; the antipot ad came off as a clumsy attempt to maintain beer's
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"If George W. Bush is good enough for the White House, my brother is
good enough for my house," proclaimed Nora Callahan of the November
Coalition at the Journey for Justice demonstration at the White House
on November 1, 2002. She was urging the release of her brother who is
serving a 27-year drug offense sentence of which he has served 14 years.
Approximately 50 demonstrators highlighted the racism and hypocrisy of
the drug war by placing 20 cardboard cutouts in front of the White
House. Four of the figurines were of Presidents Bush and Clinton, Vice
President Gore and Speaker Gingrich - highlighting their past drug
use. Six figurines described the stories of twelve children of
politicians who got caught and received gentle treatment by the
justice system. And, ten of the figurines were a life-sized bar graph
of the prison population - six black, two brown and two white with
facts and figures about the drug gulag. The dark colors of the real
prison population contrasted with the all-white make-up of the elites
who avoid the drug war treatment despite their drug use. Photos of the
DC demonstration and others stops along the Journey for Justice are
available at http://www.journeyforjustice.org/archive.html.
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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial of Aug. 8 "DEA Takes Over the War on
Drugs" correctly pointed out that despite massive rises in the federal drug
budget to nearly $20 billion annually, and aggressive enforcement, we have
not succeeded in preventing drug abuse. The facts show that cocaine and
heroin are cheaper and more pure today than they were in 1980 resulting in
record overdose deaths -- all that after spending a half a trillion dollars
on the drug war since 1980.
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A Flawed Drug Policy Marches On
There's one thing you can say for the war on drugs: It's consistent. The
effort is tinged with the same hypocrisy, dishonesty and propaganda that
characterized President Richard Nixon's launch of it during the early
Earlier this year the National Archives released tapes Nixon made in the
Oval Office during 1971 and 1972. Transcripts highlight the prejudice,
ignorance and self-deception that precipitated a national tragedy. While
the president appointed a commission that called for decriminalizing the
possession and small-scale sale of marijuana, Nixon pushed for an "all-out
war, on all fronts," against pot smokers. Within a year marijuana arrests
had jumped threefold, to 420,700 from 100,000. And since then, more than
15 million people have been arrested in the U.S. for marijuana.
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During the 1980s, in every election year, the U.S. government enacted new
anti-drug laws. But in the 1990s, as the costs from the election-year
drug-war pandering began to come due, we thankfully did not build on those
This year, the big drug fear is ecstasy (MDMA). The U.S. Senate seems to be
rushing toward enacting an election-year anti-ecstasy bill. The bill is
called the Reducing Americans Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act of 2002 (S2633)
(the RAVE Act).
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On June 6, reform activists organized demonstrations in 60 cities at
DEA offices across the United States to protest their continued
prosecution of community-based marijuana dispensaries, growers and
The DEA continues its prosecution even though research proves medical
marijuana is the most effective treatment available for many people
with chronic pain and other serious illness. They ignore seven
statewide referenda where the public voted overwhelmingly for medical
marijuana. They ignore court decisions that demonstrate that marijuana
should be available as a medicine. They've ignored efforts to
negotiate to resolve the matter and ensure safe access for the
seriously ill. Despite all the evidence and overwhelming public
support, our democratic will is still being pushed aside by the
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Thirty years ago the United States came to a critical juncture in the drug
war. A Nixon-appointed presidential commission had recommended that
marijuana use not be a criminal offense under state or federal law. But
Nixon himself, based on his zealous personal preferences, overruled the
commission's research and doomed marijuana to its current illegal status.
This newly revealed information comes from declassified tapes of Oval
Office conversations from 1971 and 1972, which show Nixon's aggressive
anti-drug stance putting him directly at odds against many of his close
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Can't Seek Out the Course of Justice
Marney Craig is a middle-class white woman with a good job, fine
family and clear sense of right and wrong. It was not surprising that
she wound up on a jury in February judging Ed Rosenthal, a marijuana
producer on trial in San Francisco federal court for growing over one
thousand plants. She and her fellow jurors noticed from the outset
that something was strange about this trial. Almost all of the defense
witnesses were barred from testifying. The judge himself took over
cross-examination of one of the two defense witnesses. And certain
words seemed taboo - AIDS, medicine, physician.
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John Walters must be desperate to be so deceptive. Only a desperate man
could keep a straight face while claiming that the prosecution and
incarceration of drug offenders is not a cost of the drug war.
Walters, the Bush administration's drug czar, recently announced that the
nation's new drug war budget is not going to count the cost of prosecuting,
sentencing or incarcerating drug offenders. It also will not count the cost
of military personnel working on drug enforcement. However, the cost of
alcohol treatment will be included in the budget -- even though the Office
of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Walter's agency, has no
jurisdiction over alcohol.
[continues 706 words]
In 1985, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration made a little-known drug,
3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA), illegal. Since then, sentences
have escalated to the point where it is treated more harshly than heroin.
Less than two decades later, the drug is described by law enforcement as a
youth epidemic and is widely available throughout the United States.
The drug, better known as ecstasy, was the first drug ever to be made
illegal by the DEA using the emergency scheduling authority granted to the
attorney general under the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, Pub. L.
No. 98-473, 98 Stat. 1976 (1984).
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To the Editor:
Re "U.S. Weighs Expanding Aid Plan to Colombia's Neighbors" (News
article, Dec. 4): Plan Colombia, the United States' large-scale
military escalation in Colombia, is already in trouble. Europe has not
provided the resources we had hoped, and Latin American countries
oppose the escalation of the drug war.
The plan's short history is consistent with efforts to interdict and
eradicate drugs by every president since Richard M. Nixon. The results
have not been promising. Since 1980, the price of cocaine and heroin
has dropped and their purity has increased. There is more death and
disease from drug use in the United States, and adolescent use of the
most dangerous drugs is increasing. Rather than building on failure,
it's time to face reality: more of the same will not work.
Kevin B. Zeese,
Common Sense for Drug Policy,