Tag: Medical cannabis

Wretched Hives Of … People Smoking

One of the claims made by the anti-pot crusaders — particularly government USA’s and DEA agents prosecuting legal medical marijuana clinics — is that pot shops are a magnet for crime. These claims have just been thrown out there with little evidence to back them up. But they’ve used to justify raiding pot shops, shutting them down, threatening landlords with asset forfeiture and other fun games our federal government likes to play.

Well, someone took a look at the, you know, facts:

A study published by the online journal PLOS One yesterday finds that adoption of medical marijuana laws is not associated with an increase in crime and may even result in fewer assaults and homicides. Robert G. Morris and three other University of Texas at Dallas criminologists looked at trends in homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft in the 11 states that legalized marijuana for medical use between 1990 and 2006. While crime fell nationwide during this period, it fell more sharply in the medical marijuana states, even after the researchers adjusted for various other differences between states. Morris and his colleagues suggest that the substitution of marijuana for alcohol could explain this result, although they caution that the extra reduction in crime might be due to a confounding variable they did not consider.

This is what legalization advocates have been arguing for years — that prohibition creates crime and criminals and that a legalized drug trade would drive down crime rates. In fact, this comports so closely to their claims that I’m actually reluctant to read too much into it. I want to see what other studies show — including studies of Colorado and Washington — before I draw any firm conclusions.

Despite my caution, I will say this is an encouraging finding. I don’t expect the Drug Warriors to acknowledge it (they would, of course, trumpet a study that claimed the opposite). We also have to see what the effects of legal pot shops are on use, addiction and other health outcomes. But it is both satisfying and enraging to see more evidence piling up that our decades-long experiment in prohibition was as big a disaster as we feared.

Shut Up, Citizen

Radley Balko has been running a series of “Raid of the Day” articles over at HuffPo as preparation for the publication of his “Rise of the Warrior Cop” book (which I’ve pre-ordered). Today‘s should turn your stomach:

On Monday, the Miami Herald posted an article about rising support for legalized medical marijuana in the state of Florida. The article mentioned an pro-pot activist named Cathy Jordan, who uses the drug to mitigate the symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s disease. The article mentioned Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake worth), who is sponsoring a bill to legalize the drug. That bill is named after Jordan.

The Bradeton Herald now reports that just hours after that article ran, a team of ski-mask-clad deputies from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department staged a guns-drawn raid on Robert and Cathy Jordan’s home. According to Robert Jordan, the cops seized 23 marijuana plants, including the two mature plants his wife uses to treat her illness. They made no arrests.

The raid is a stark example of the troubling trend of using paramilitary police tactics to send a political message. Set aside for a moment the sheer cruelty of sending government agents to separate a suffering, terminally ill woman from the medication that gives her some relief. (And yes, that’s a major thing to set aside.) Why ski masks? Why come in with guns drawn? Did the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department really think that wheelchair-bound Cathy Jordan and her 64-year-old husband were a threat?

No, of course they didn’t. This was about making an example of someone. Cathy Jordan’s name is on a bill to legalize medical pot in Florida. So it was up to Florida law enforcement to bring the boot down upon Cathy Jordan’s neck.

Medical marijuana is not legal in Florida and Jordan was breaking the law. I’m not going to disagree with that. But as Balko points out, you have to question the priorities here. Even if we say that busting a terminally ill senior citizen was a wise use of limited police resources, why in the blue fuck would you have a violent raid? These raids are usually justified — often flimsily — by the potential for violent resistance. Ignoring, for the moment, that the threat can be mitigated by grabbing people at work or at their cars during the day, were they expecting this sufferer of Lou Gehrig’s disease to whip out a bazooka?

The cops claim they were tipped off by a real estate agent who saw marijuana plants through the window. I would not be surprised at all if it turns out these plants could not be seen through a window (a common three of the “raids of the day” is bad and bogus tips). I find it difficult to believe that a raid was launched by pure coincidence on the person Florida’s medical marijuana proposal is named after. And given that the cops didn’t arrest anyone and it’s still not clear that they’ll bring charges, I have to think the point was to send a message.

We need to remember something in the debate over legalizing medical and/or recreational marijuana. There are legions of people whose livelihoods and careers depend on the War on Drugs. Prosecutors who can get convictions; prison unions and private prisons who can jail the convicted; politicians who get to grandstand. And police and their unions, who see a reason for more hires and often directly benefit from asset forfeiture. Check out this article about the fierce police union opposition to even token reform of Georgia’s asset forfeiture laws.

But returning to the political point — Balko again:

Here is the point: If we’ve reached the point where we’re okay with — or at best complacent about — the government using violence to make an example of someone because of their political activism, then we’ve lost our grip on the principles that make free societies free. That these excessive, militarized raids on medical marijuana grows, clinics, and activists have been going on since the 1990s is a strong — and sad — indication that we let go of those values a long time ago.

Exactly. I keep thinking of Siobhan Reynolds, who advocated for people who need large opiate prescriptions to deal with chronic pain. She was relentlessly harassed and intimidated by federal agents and prosecutors. They even used grand jury privacy laws against her to keep their investigations secret (grand jury proceeding are supposed to be confidential to protect the accused. Using them to conceal government actions is an abuse of the process. And federal prosecutors have shown little interest in grand jury confidentiality in high-profile cases like Barry Bonds).

The Drug Warriors are losing. They are losing the War on Drugs and they are losing the political fight over it. The American people are slowly growing sick of this absurdity and slowly realizing that harm mitigation and treatment are a far better cure for our nation’s drug problem than guns and prisons. But they Drug Warriors will not go down without a fight. And, in this case, the fight is quite literal.

The Keystone Cops of Cannabis

Pivoting from Alex’s post on the need for new legal frameworks in the post-legalization era, I wanted to talk about the Obama Administration floating some trial balloons on how they are going to respond to Washington and Colorado legalizing pot.

It’s not promising.

One option is for federal prosecutors to bring some cases against low-level marijuana users of the sort they until now have rarely bothered with, waiting for a defendant to make a motion to dismiss the case because the drug is now legal in that state. The department could then obtain a court ruling that federal law trumps the state one.

A more aggressive option is for the Justice Department to file lawsuits against the states to prevent them from setting up systems to regulate and tax marijuana, as the initiatives contemplated. If a court agrees that such regulations are pre-empted by federal ones, it will open the door to a broader ruling about whether the regulatory provisions can be “severed” from those eliminating state prohibitions — or whether the entire initiatives must be struck down.

Another potential avenue would be to cut off federal grants to the states unless their legislatures restored antimarijuana laws, said Gregory Katsas, who led the civil division of the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration.

Busting low level users? Suing the states? Once again, we see the legacy of Raich: a federal government empowered to use any and and all means to override state law.

There were a lot of people who speculated that re-election would empower Obama to “pivot” on the drug issue. I was skeptical, to say the least, because cracking down on medical marijuana wasn’t exactly a political winner for him in the first place. No one outside of a few libertarians decided their vote on Obama’s marijuana policy. Ardent drug warriors weren’t voting for Obama anyway and his supporters ignored his crackdowns. But the new rhetoric emerging from the Hypocrite Smoker in Chief shows that the Obama defenders were definitely smoking something if they thought things would change.

Notice what words and phrases do not appear in the New York Times article: pivot, possibly ending the war on drugs, whether our drug laws are doing more harm than good, the drug war a failure, crime and misery [the drug war] creates.

You’d think that if Obama were going to “pivot,” simply leaving alone two states that overwhelmingly legalized pot and gave him their electoral votes would be the best place to start.

Marijuana actually outpolled Obama in Colorado, Washington and Arkansas.

The Administration’s response is so disheartening that it has even caused Andrew Sullivan to deviate from his usual “we just have to trust that Obama has a long-term plan in mind” programming:

Well, since they’re asking: if they decide to treat the law-abiding citizens of Colorado and Washington as dangerous felons; if they decide to allocate their precious law enforcement powers to persecuting and arresting people for following a state law that they have themselves just passed by clear majorities; if they decide that opposing a near majority of Americans in continuing to prosecute the drug war on marijuana, even when the core of their own supporters want an end to Prohibition, and even when that Prohibition makes no sense … then we will give them hell.

Will we? Will we really, now? Obama has spent four years cracking down on legal medical marijuana in a way that George W. Bush never did and almost the entirety of the liberal media and the so-called “Obamacons” acted like toilets with the lids up while he did it. Have you seen a massive outrage from left wing blogs over the NYT article I quote above? Have you seen any of them even acknowledge it? Rachel Maddow did a whole show on how marijuana policy is changing. I scanned through it to see if she gave Obama hell for his policies. If she did, I missed it.

For four years, liberals have steadfastly ignored Obama’s repulsive marijuana policies. They did this, they said, because it was so important for Obama to win re-election and he needed liberal support on more important issues. But there are always more elections and the issues are just as important now as they were three months ago. Are the liberals really going to turn on Obama during a fiscal cliff showdown because of pot? Are they really going to let the GOP win 2014 and 2016 because of medical cannabis? I don’t think so.

The fact is that if Obama is going to be pushed on his marijuana policy, that push is going to have to come form the Right; from politicians who actually believe in state’s rights or have libertarian social views. The only other alternatives are the Supreme Court reversing Raich or a bunch of states uniting to openly and aggressively defy federal drug laws (e.g., by forbidding any state cooperation with drug raids or prosecuting federal agents for violating state law).

But the idea that Obama is going to reverse course on this is ridiculous. And the idea that his supporters will turn on him is even more so. There are too many people who have a vested interest in the Drug War. And the next time Obama defies special interests — on healthcare, banking, defense or law enforcement — will also be the first.

Another Pot Casualty

Woo-hoo! Another great victory in the War on Drugs:

Richard Flor died in a Las Vegas Bureau of Prisons medical facility on Wednesday.

Flor, 68, was just a few months into a five-year prison sentence for running a Billings, Montana marijuana dispensary with his wife and son. Flor also co-owned Montana Cannabis, one of the largest medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, and which was the subject of a March, 2011 federal raid. Montana legalized medical cannabis in 2004, but that doesn’t matter under federal law.

Flor’s wife got two years in prison for bookkeeping, and his son got five years for running the Billings dispensary. These were pleas entered and settled before the Department of Justice (DOJ) could make sure that medical marijuana went unmentioned in the court room.

Flor got to die in a cage with his wife and son in another cage and unable to say goodbye. But at least he wasn’t high! And at least we kept some pot out of the hands of … sick people who had gotten approval to use the drug!

There’s one particular aspect about this, though, that continues to burn me up and that is the effort (usually successful) to keep defendants from telling juries they were legally licensed by the state to grow and sell marijuana. The argument, given by the Assistant USA, is this:

“The intertwined subjects of medical marijuana, Montana law, and medical necessity have no relevance to determining whether the government has proven the crimes charged in the indictment,” Thaggard wrote in a legal brief. “Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law . and can’t be dispensed under a prescription.”

I’m sure to a lot of lawyers, this sounds reasonable. To me, it sounds like lawyer bullshit. It especially sounds like lawyer bullshit because, as some of the defense attorneys in the case note, the federal government issued a public memo saying they would not prosecute people who were compliant with state law. They’ve done a flip-flop and prosecuted these people anyway. And it’s especially bullshit because it allows the federal prosecutors to portray people running legal licensed dispensaries as gangsters and thugs.

No, I don’t really think this is about whether state law is relevant to a federal case. I think is because federal prosecutors are filled with pants-shitting terror at the possibility of a nullification. They know that if a jury hears that the pot was being dispensed legally, they may refuse to enforce the federal law (as is a jury’s right. Jury nullification is legal and a proud American tradition.) They know this because juries who have convicted legal drug dispensers in federal court have been devastated when they found out the truth after the fact and have indicated that they would have nullified the federal law. This is about ambitious federal prosecutors making sure that no on can infringe on their ambitions. It’s about maintaining the fiction that we the citizen jurors have no option but to enforce the law, no matter how stupid, idiotic or unconstitutional it is.

There have been some attempts, from Ron Paul and Barney Frank to change this. However, they have gone nowhere because Congress is too chickenshit to show any mercy in the War on Drugs.

And so we can look forward to more men like Richard Flor dying in prison after being branded as felons. All for the horrible crime of trying to legally sell medicine to sick people.