Embassy Headlines, Issue 25

Drugs are cheaper and more available than ever before. Millions of people are in prison for drugs offences. The War on Drugs has failed. After 50 years of prohibition, illicit drugs are now the third most valuable industry in the world after food and oil, all in the control of criminals.

The Embassy Headlines are a selection of recent articles from news services and media sources primarily concerning Cannabis issues, the consequences of prohibition and the challenges for law reform.

Here are the selected headlines for this week.

Embassy Headlines

A Guide to Cannabis Law in Australia

Illicit drug use is not a topic that attracts moderate views. Weaned on the powerful moralising of media sensationalism, political cowardice, and harsh words from the police force, many Australians are raised to believe that drugs are bad; the province of losers and law-breakers.

Australia: Reforming our drug policies will save lives

DECENT, honest politicians do not play to populism, ignorance and fear, they argue cases on merit. Enlightened public policy is based on evidence and is judged by effectiveness, efficiency and fairness. On the crucial issue of drugs, Australia’s politicians and policies have failed the nation; the current policies of prohibition and the ”war on drugs” clearly do not work. It is hard to think of anything on the statute books more ineffective and counterproductive.

Australia: Rethinking our attitude to drugs

ILLICIT drugs are widely viewed with fear and loathing. Parents, in particular, are understandably terrified their children will become addicted to headline-grabbing horrors including heroin and methamphetamine and crack cocaine. Alcohol and other drugs are known to be extremely hazardous to the developing brains of young people. The apprehension is endlessly fuelled by stereotypical images of dishevelled, desperate drug users roaming the streets. While the fear of addiction is rational, the widespread demonisation of drug use is often hypocritical and borders on collective hysteria. The reality is that most people who use drugs – legal and illegal – do so recreationally and relatively safely.

NZ: Switched On verdicts revealed

The owner and general manager of Switched on Gardener have been found guilty of drugs charges but acquitted on more serious charge of belonging to an organised criminal group.

USA: Marijuana goes legal in Washington state amid mixed messages

Washington state made history on Thursday as the first in the nation to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, an occasion celebrated by dozens of users near Seattle’s famed Space Needle amid blaring reggae music and a haze of pot smoke.

USA: Marijuana Legalized In Colorado With Hickenlooper Proclamation

Marijuana for recreational use became legal in Colorado Monday, when the governor took a purposely low-key procedural step of declaring the voter-approved change part of the state constitution. Colorado became the second state after Washington to allow pot use without a doctor’s recommendation. Both states prohibit public use of the drug, and commercial sales in Colorado and Washington won’t be permitted until after regulations are written next year. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, opposed the measure but had no veto power over the voter-approved amendment to the state constitution.

USA: Obama’s Pot Problem

When voters in Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational marijuana in November, they thought they were declaring a cease-fire in the War on Drugs. Thanks to ballot initiatives that passed by wide margins on Election Day, adults 21 or older in both states can now legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana. The new laws also compel Colorado and Washington to license private businesses to cultivate and sell pot, and to levy taxes on the proceeds. Together, the two states expect to reap some $600 million annually in marijuana revenues for schools, roads and other projects. The only losers, in fact, will be the Mexican drug lords, who currently supply as much as two-thirds of America’s pot. Drug reformers can scarcely believe their landslide victories at the polls. “People expected this day would come, but most didn’t expect it to come this soon,” says Norm Stamper, a former Seattle police chief who campaigned for legalization. “This is the beginning of the end of prohibition.” But the war over pot may be far from over. Legalization has set Colorado and Washington on a collision course with the Obama administration, which has shown no sign of backing down on its full-scale assault on pot growers and distributors. Although the president pledged to go easy on medical marijuana – now legal in 18 states – he has actually launched more raids on state-sanctioned pot dispensaries than George W. Bush, and has threatened to prosecute state officials who oversee medical marijuana as if they were drug lords. And while the administration has yet to issue a definitive response to the two new laws, the Justice Department was quick to signal that it has no plans to heed the will of voters. “Enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act,” the department announced in November, “remains unchanged.”

USA: Prohibitionists are Overstating Feds vs. State Marijuana Legalization Case to Media

A mostly great piece in Rolling Stone this weekend, “Obama’s Pot Problem,” missed the mark on the federal preemption question — can the feds shut down Washington and Colorado’s legalized regulation systems? The reality is that no one knows how this will turn out if it goes to court. Raich established that federal police agencies can use their powers in medical marijuana states to continue to criminalize marijuana federally, justified by the Interstate Commerce Clause. But that is not the same as having the power to forbid states from granting exceptions to the states’ own anti-marijuana sales laws, which in legal terms is what the regulatory frameworks do, and plenty of smart lawyers are skeptical that they can do that. This is not a slam dunk either way.

USA: Obama Administration Puffs Out a Cannabis Trial Balloon

One of the most dismaying and destructive media tactics carried over from the Bush administration is the anonymous media leak and launching of a “trial balloon,” floating an issue in the media by hidden officials with a certain policy posture. The tactic is not to softly begin some policy stance, but rather to watch what happens to the balloon as it cruises up through the policy skies of America.  It’s not uncommon for a stupid or provocative balloon to bring forth a fusillade of flak from an outraged constituent group and the policy idea never mentioned again, man that baby got shot down fast, it’s said with satisfaction. Any time a public official (plainly not a whistleblower) anonymously talks to a journalist as a source something manipulative and dishonest is going on. Journalists who collude in the practice make a mockery of the press opposition principle, instead of helping the little people discern the truth they’re actively hiding it for various reasons.  It’s a disgusting practice many hoped would end in 2008, but the centrist Obama administration is positively addicted to it, despite howls of disgust from media watchdog sites and policy advocacy groups they just keep doing it, dickless journalism ombudsman queasily saying it shouldn’t happen as it keeps going on and on. It happened again just last Thursday, the 6th, when Charlie Savage of the New York Times blew huge clouds of cannabis smoke into a fairly subtle trial balloon, but unmistakable nonetheless.

USA: New polling ‘makes it clear’ Americans want feds to let states decide pot policy

The polling firm Gallup said Monday that for the first time ever, a super-majority of the American public wants the federal government to let individual states decide how to regulate marijuana, if they so choose. A whopping 64 percent told Gallup and USA Today that the federal government should not move to intervene in Colorado and Washington’s forthcoming marijuana regulations, which voters approved by wide margins on Election Day. Just 34 percent told pollsters they think the federal government should take action. 

Mr President, Don’t Even Think About It

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. And it will get personal. The president wasn’t just once a pot-smoker, he was a very serious pothead. His own life and career prove that this substance is no more potentially damaging to a human being than alcohol, which is not only legal but marketed to us with abandon.

Colonial staple, ‘Reefer Madness’ and now legal weed – Marijuana in American history

The grass is no greener. But, finally, it’s legal — at least somewhere in America. It’s been a long, strange trip for marijuana. Washington state and Colorado voted to legalize and regulate its recreational use last month. But before that, the plant, renowned since ancient times for its strong fibers, medical use and mind-altering properties, was a staple crop of the colonies, an “assassin of youth,” a counterculture emblem and a widely accepted — if often abused — medicine.

USA: Washington Dispensary Owners Against Marijuana Legalization

Though one might assume that legalization would be opposed primarily by law enforcement and social conservatives, nearly all of the money donated to fight the ballot measure in Washington came not from such groups but rather from the existing medical marijuana industry, according to state campaign contribution filings. The main group formed to oppose the legalization ballot measure, “No on I-502,” was directed by Steve Sarich, a patients’ rights advocate who runs a local dispensary or “access point,” as he calls it. He says neither he nor his campaign’s contributors opposed the measure for financial reasons. “There may be a few that are making some money,” he told HuffPost Monday, “but most of them are just paying the rent.”

USA: New Hampshire Jury Nullifies Major Felony Marijuana Case

Jury nullification is something everyone [in the USA] should know about. Even if the plaintiff obviously took part in the illegal activity, they can be found ‘not guilty’ if the any of the jurors believe the law broken is itself unjust, such as victimless crimes like drug use or prostitution.

UK: Consider drugs decriminalisation system, MPs say

The government is being urged by MPs to closely consider a system of drugs decriminalisation used in Portugal. The Home Affairs Committee said it was impressed with the approach to cutting drug use where people found with small amounts are not always prosecuted. It also asks ministers to monitor the effects of cannabis legalisation in other parts of the world.

UK: Why we are calling for an end to the war on drugs

The home affairs select committee wants a focus on treatment and an end to the policy of putting politics above evidence. Today [10 December 2012], the cross-party home affairs select committee publishes a report into drug policy. We have spent a year collecting and evaluating the evidence. Our findings are stark. In short, the government must focus on reducing the damage caused by drugs. That means far more emphasis on effective treatment than on criminal sanction. Turning drug policy into a joint Health and Home Office responsibility, as the committee recommends, would go a long way to achieving that. And we must look to models which actually work.

Richard Branson: War on drugs a trillion-dollar failure

Here we are, four decades after Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971 and $1 trillion spent since then. What do we have to show for it? The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, with about 2.3 million behind bars. More than half a million of those people are incarcerated for a drug law violation. What a waste of young lives. In business, if one of our companies is failing, we take steps to identify and solve the problem. What we don’t do is continue failing strategies that cost huge sums of money and exacerbate the problem. Rather than continuing on the disastrous path of the war on drugs, we need to look at what works and what doesn’t in terms of real evidence and data.

Medical cannabis and beyond

Among the claims regarding cannabis’s medicinal value that most evoke skepticism from doubters is the range of ailments for which it is efficacious—multiple sclerosis, ALS, rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, glaucoma, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, depression, PTSD, osteoporosis, diabetes, nausea, eczema, Crohn’s disease, and others. I understand why scoffers would see such claims as a litany of excuses for so called “patients” to legally get high. How could one plant possibly contain so many different compounds that are efficacious in treating so many different conditions? The answer is one of God’s, or evolution’s—or both, if you believe as I do—awe-inspiring mysteries. It is the endocannabinoid system, which for 600 million years has existed in all animals more advanced than mollusks.

A Big Business in Getting High

Rihanna, 24, is perhaps the most visible marijuana devotee among a number of young female pop stars, but she is not alone. Lady Gaga, 26, is becoming increasingly vocal in her praise of the green stuff to her Little Monsters, smoking it onstage in Amsterdam at a stop of her “Born This Way Ball” tour in September, and promising concertgoers that she would try to persuade Oprah and President Obama on the “medical wonders of marijuana.” On Halloween, she dressed up as Princess High, the Cannabis Queen. (Rihanna was the Bride of Mary Jane.) And while marijuana remains an illegal substance that can result in serious criminal charges in most states, there hasn’t been much public outcry. “During the Reagan era, this sort of stuff would get you banned from radio,” said Will Hermes, a senior critic for Rolling Stone. Now marijuana “is about as normalized as beer or cocktails, but still enough of an issue politically that it feels like uncharted territory for these women to explore,” he said. “Being a pop star, transgression is good for business. And at this particular moment in American culture, saying you smoke weed is a pretty safe way to transgress.” “If marijuana gets legalized to the point where it can actually be marketed,” Mr. Hermes said, “then these ladies are really in a good position be on the front line of endorsement deals.”

Film Review: An unwinnable war

Since 1971, when President Richard Nixon made illegal drugs public enemy number one, the USA has spent vast sums waging war on drugs. Over 45 million people have been arrested, and there are now more people in US prisons for non-violent drug offences than were imprisoned for all crimes in 1970. The USA incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world, with a current prison population of some 2·3 million, and more than half of those in federal prison are there because of drug offences. As shocking as such statistics are, they can only tell part of the story. In The House I Live In, film-maker Eugene Jarecki skilfully exposes the ways in which the war on drugs shatters lives, corrupts the supposedly incorruptible, and causes untold collateral damage.

Breaking the Taboo

The War on Drugs has failed. After 50 years of prohibition, illicit drugs are now the third most valuable industry in the world after food and oil, all in the control of criminals. Drugs are cheaper and more available than ever before. Millions of people are in prison for drugs offences. Corruption and violence, especially in producer and transit countries, endangers democracy. Tens of thousands of people die each year in drug wars. Featuring interviews with several current or former presidents from around the world, such as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, the film follows The Global Commission on Drug Policy on a mission to break the political taboo over the United States led War on Drugs and expose what it calls the biggest failure of global policy in the last 40 years. 



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