It’s high time: If we can legalize marijuana, why can’t we end the misguided War on Drugs?

America’s wasted more than $1 trillion on demonizing drugs, many of which, like weed, have real medical benefits

Thor Benson

It's high time: If we can legalize marijuana, why can't we end the misguided War on Drugs?

On Election Day, my home state of California voted to legalize recreational cannabis, as did Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada. So the 2016 elections represented a substantial victory for the legalization movement, which has managed to pass referendums in seven states. With 57 percent of the country now supporting marijuana legalization, according to Pew, it seems likely there will be a nationwide victory sometime in the next few years. However, the War on Drugs is far from over.

Even if marijuana is legalized throughout the United States, there will still be numerous drugs in this country that remain very much illegal, and Americans will suffer because of this. Drugs like psilocybin mushrooms, LSD and MDMA have all demonstrated great potential when it comes to medical benefits, and shown little potential for harm. Still, the idea of legalizing those drugs any time soon seems as likely as Donald Trump hosting a quinceañera.

“LSD, psilocybin and MDMA, when combined with psychotherapy, have tremendous medical potential for treating psychiatric illnesses in people for whom other treatments have failed,” Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), told me in an email. “These psychedelic drugs need to be legalized, both through scientific drug development studies designed to obtain FDA approval for prescription use and through political means so that they are legalized for non-medical purposes like personal growth, spirituality, couples therapy, creativity, innovation, and celebratory experiences.”

Researchers in Switzerland found in 2014 that LSD can be helpful for patients dealing with end-of-life anxiety related to a terminal illness. The same sort of conclusion has been drawn for psilocybin. Psilocybin has also proven useful for treating severe depression. MDMA has shown great promise for treating PTSD, when used alongside psychotherapy. All of the drugs remain illegal in the United States, and there has been little effort to change that.

Let’s not stop there, though. The War on Drugs has cost America well over $1 trillion since it began under Richard Nixon. This war has been the main cause of our country’s mass incarceration problem. As it is often noted, we have 5 percent of the world’s population and roughly 25 percent of its prisoners. You cannot have a War on Drugs, you can only have a war on people. As Gore Vidal famously used to say of the War on Terror, you cannot have a war on a noun, as that is like saying you’re at war with dandruff. Too many can’t get jobs because of criminal records or lose decades of their lives over small offenses.

We must legalize all drugs. You cannot regulate a drug that is not legal, and you cannot stop addiction by throwing citizens in cages and putting in no effort to rehabilitate them. I am not arguing for the selling of meth and heroin at your local Target store, but I am arguing for a scenario where you are not put in cuffs for having one of those drugs in your pocket.

Portugal decriminalized all drugs nearly decades ago, and the country has not spiraled into hellfire and cannibalism. In fact, drug use decreased, drug-related deaths went down and the instances of HIV infections decreased severely. Of course, the country also initiated harm-reduction programs and invested in reducing addiction, but it appears decriminalizing the drugs didn’t turn every corner into a wanton cocaine party. Perhaps we could learn from this example.

Thanks to abuse of prescription painkillers, this country faces a widespread opioid crisis — and all those drugs are legal. While we divvied out legal pills that people didn’t really need to fill the pockets of greedheads, as Hunter S. Thompson called them, we locked up people using a different version of the same drugs. Many who got addicted to painkillers while on prescription turned to heroin when they couldn’t be prescribed them any more or couldn’t afford them. The whole system is toxic.

I’m calling for a true legalization movement. No longer should lives be ruined because of some minor drug experimentation or because a citizen who needed to make an extra buck sold some substances to a willing buyer. The legalization of marijuana will be a milestone, especially since it’s the most popular drug out there, but we cannot stop there. We should murder the War on Drugs and burn its cadaver. This “war” has been one of the biggest policy failures in American history, and we’ve known this for quite some time. Let’s grow up and move forward. We cannot call ourselves the land of the free when we represent the land of the detained.

More Thor Benson.

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Earl Blumenauer Wants Obama To Drop Marijuana From Dangerous Drug List

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Rep. Earl Blumenauer speaks on Capitol Hill about the tax treatment of state-legal marijuana businesses, as anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist listens. | Michael McAuliff

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WASHINGTON — With federal law enforcement officials moving to make it easier for marijuana businesses to operate in states where they are legal, one member of Congress is calling on President Barack Obama to take the next logical step and remove pot from the federal government’s list of tightly restricted drugs.

Marijuana is listed on Schedule I, along with heroin and LSD, under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The Drug Enforcement Administration says that such drugs have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse" and that they are "the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence."

But Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime advocate for loosening restrictions on marijuana, thinks that definition clearly doesn’t apply to weed, which can now be medically prescribed in many states. He’s begun circulating a letter to the president among other members of Congress, seeking signers who will ask that marijuana be stricken from the controlled substances categories or at least moved to a less restrictive schedule.

"Schedule I recognizes no medical use, disregarding both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana," the letter says.

According to Blumenauer’s spokesman, the congressman had been thinking about such a request for a while, but was sparked to pursue it after Obama told The New Yorker magazine that he thought pot was less destructive than booze.

"You said that you don’t believe marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol: a fully legalized substance, and believe it to be less dangerous ‘in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.’ This is true," says the letter. "Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, the strictest classification, along with heroin and LSD. This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs. This makes no sense."

Blumenauer will gain a better sense of how many of his colleagues want to sign on to the effort when Congress returns next week, but it will likely require more than a token level of support to sway Obama. In spite of the president’s comments, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters last week that Obama remains opposed to decriminalizing pot.

The administration has the authority to determine which substances are and are not on the controlled schedules. Congress can also pass laws to change those lists.

Here is Blumenauer’s full letter:

We were encouraged by your recent comments in your interview with David Remnick in the January 27, 2014 issue of the New Yorker, about the shifting public opinion on the legalization of marijuana. We request that you take action to help alleviate the harms to society caused by the federal Schedule I classification of marijuana.

Lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws. Nearly two-thirds of a million people every year are arrested for marijuana possession. We spend billions every year enforcing marijuana laws, which disproportionately impact minorities. According to the ACLU, black Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite comparable marijuana usage rates.

You said that you don’t believe marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol: a fully legalized substance, and believe it to be less dangerous "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer." This is true. Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, the strictest classification, along with heroin and LSD. This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs. This makes no sense.

Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system. Schedule I recognizes no medical use, disregarding both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana. A Schedule I or II classification also means that marijuana businesses in states where adult or medical use are legal cannot deduct business expenses from their taxes or take tax credits due to Section 280E of the federal tax code.

We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II. Furthermore, one would hope that your Administration officials publicly reflect your views on this matter. Statements such as the one from DEA chief of operations James L. Capra that the legalization of marijuana at the state level is "reckless and irresponsible" serve no purposes other than to inflame passions and misinform the public.

Thank you for your continued thoughtfulness about this important issue. We believe the current system wastes resources and destroys lives, in turn damaging families and communities. Taking action on this issue is long overdue.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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Ending Marijuana Prohibition in 2013

Rob Kampia

Executive director, Marijuana Policy Project

 

Unless people have been hiding under a rock this past couple months, they know that more than 55 percent of voters in Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana on November 6. As a result, many people have grand expectations of how we’re going to get closer to ending marijuana prohibition in the U.S. this year.

Here is what I think we can reasonably accomplish by the end of 2013:

1. Decriminalize Marijuana in Vermont: Gov. Pete Shumlin (D), a strong supporter of decriminalizing marijuana, partially campaigned on the issue and easily won re-election on November 6 with 58% of the vote. The Vermont Llegislature is poised to pass the bill he wants, so this legislation could become law by this summer.

2. Legalize Medical Marijuana in New Hampshire: Incoming Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) is a strong supporter of medical marijuana, so we expect her to sign a medical marijuana bill similar to those vetoed by former Gov. John Lynch (D) in 2009 and 2012.

3. Build Support for Legalization in the Rhode Island Legislature:
We successfully legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized marijuana possession in Rhode Island in 2009 and 2012, respectively. There is now considerable momentum to tax and regulate (T&R) marijuana like alcohol, so we need to ensure that Rhode Island’s state legislature becomes the first to do so.

4. Increase Support for Legalization in California, Maine, and Oregon: There will be a sincere effort to pass T&R bills through the legislatures in these three states. Should they fall short, MPP and its allies will pursue statewide ballot initiatives in November 2016, at which time all three will be expected to pass.

5. Build Our Base of Support Online: People have said that the Internet is marijuana legalization’s best friend, and this could not have been more evident than it was last year. Campaigns mobilized their supporters, organizations raised funds, and the public was able to follow the progress in real time. Prohibitionists, who have depended on the government for its largess for years, are now at a disadvantage. Private citizens simply do not want to donate to them, and most information about marijuana is now reaching the public without being run through their filter.

6. Continue the Steady Drumbeat in the Media:
National and local media outlets are covering the marijuana issue more than ever before. Communicating to voters through news coverage is the most cost-efficient way to increase public support for ending marijuana prohibition, so we need to keep the issue in the spotlight.

7. Build Support for Medical Marijuana in Congress: There are already approximately 185 members of the U.S. House who want to stop the U.S. Justice Department from spending taxpayer money on raiding medical marijuana businesses in the 18 states (and DC) where medical marijuana is legal. We want to reach 218 votes on this amendment, thereby ensuring the amendment’s transfer to the U.S. Senate for an up-or-down vote.

8. Build Support for Ending Marijuana Prohibition in Congress: Last year, the first-ever bill to end the federal government’s prohibition of marijuana attracted 21 sponsors. Our goal is to expand the number of sponsors to more than two-dozen during the 2013-2014 election season.

Looking outside our borders, we’re also seeing progress in Colombia, Uruguay, and Chile, which have all been steadily moving away from marijuana prohibition. Although this is good news, most members of the U.S. Congress do not care much about what South American countries think on marijuana policy, so we should temper the wonderful developments south of the U.S. border with limited expectations of what will happen in our nation’s capital.

Ultimately, the U.S. is the primary exporter of prohibition around the world. If we can solve the problem here, the rest of the world will have far more freedom to conduct their own experiments with regulating marijuana.

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Ending Marijuana Prohibition in 2013

Rob Kampia

Executive director, Marijuana Policy Project

 

Unless people have been hiding under a rock this past couple months, they know that more than 55 percent of voters in Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana on November 6. As a result, many people have grand expectations of how we’re going to get closer to ending marijuana prohibition in the U.S. this year.

Here is what I think we can reasonably accomplish by the end of 2013:

1. Decriminalize Marijuana in Vermont: Gov. Pete Shumlin (D), a strong supporter of decriminalizing marijuana, partially campaigned on the issue and easily won re-election on November 6 with 58% of the vote. The Vermont Llegislature is poised to pass the bill he wants, so this legislation could become law by this summer.

2. Legalize Medical Marijuana in New Hampshire: Incoming Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) is a strong supporter of medical marijuana, so we expect her to sign a medical marijuana bill similar to those vetoed by former Gov. John Lynch (D) in 2009 and 2012.

3. Build Support for Legalization in the Rhode Island Legislature:
We successfully legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized marijuana possession in Rhode Island in 2009 and 2012, respectively. There is now considerable momentum to tax and regulate (T&R) marijuana like alcohol, so we need to ensure that Rhode Island’s state legislature becomes the first to do so.

4. Increase Support for Legalization in California, Maine, and Oregon: There will be a sincere effort to pass T&R bills through the legislatures in these three states. Should they fall short, MPP and its allies will pursue statewide ballot initiatives in November 2016, at which time all three will be expected to pass.

5. Build Our Base of Support Online: People have said that the Internet is marijuana legalization’s best friend, and this could not have been more evident than it was last year. Campaigns mobilized their supporters, organizations raised funds, and the public was able to follow the progress in real time. Prohibitionists, who have depended on the government for its largess for years, are now at a disadvantage. Private citizens simply do not want to donate to them, and most information about marijuana is now reaching the public without being run through their filter.

6. Continue the Steady Drumbeat in the Media:
National and local media outlets are covering the marijuana issue more than ever before. Communicating to voters through news coverage is the most cost-efficient way to increase public support for ending marijuana prohibition, so we need to keep the issue in the spotlight.

7. Build Support for Medical Marijuana in Congress: There are already approximately 185 members of the U.S. House who want to stop the U.S. Justice Department from spending taxpayer money on raiding medical marijuana businesses in the 18 states (and DC) where medical marijuana is legal. We want to reach 218 votes on this amendment, thereby ensuring the amendment’s transfer to the U.S. Senate for an up-or-down vote.

8. Build Support for Ending Marijuana Prohibition in Congress: Last year, the first-ever bill to end the federal government’s prohibition of marijuana attracted 21 sponsors. Our goal is to expand the number of sponsors to more than two-dozen during the 2013-2014 election season.

Looking outside our borders, we’re also seeing progress in Colombia, Uruguay, and Chile, which have all been steadily moving away from marijuana prohibition. Although this is good news, most members of the U.S. Congress do not care much about what South American countries think on marijuana policy, so we should temper the wonderful developments south of the U.S. border with limited expectations of what will happen in our nation’s capital.

Ultimately, the U.S. is the primary exporter of prohibition around the world. If we can solve the problem here, the rest of the world will have far more freedom to conduct their own experiments with regulating marijuana.

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