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When You are Fighting a “Drug War,” Your Police Get Armed for War

By: Thursday August 14, 2014 6:44 am

The events unfolding in Ferguson, MO don’t appears to be the direct result of a particular drug charge but the police behavior is partly a byproduct of our decades long “War on Drugs.” That term isn’t just a buzzword, but a concept that was taken very literally but policy makers and police at every level.

When you are at “war” you get equipped to fight a war. Our local police forces have become fully militarized as a result. Excess military equipment continues to flow to police forces big and small around the country. The number of SWAT Team and SWAT raids has exploded over the past few decades.

When you are fighting a “war” only the rules of war apply so the niceties of constitutional rights get swapped aside. After all rights can be suspended during a war even for a war without end. When you have a war mentality things like no knock raids, the use of SWAT teams to arrest non-violent offenders, bring tanks to a protest, detaining journalist for sitting in a McDonalds, and the stop-and-frisk of every single young African-American in selected neighborhoods without cause starts to make perverse sense. War is not about keeping the peace or protecting people from crime, it is about destroy your enemy at all cost.

Recently, the “War on Terror” as added to this war mentality justifying even violates or our rights but this domestic war thinking started with a “War on Drugs.” This idea we are fighting a domestic war has corrupted our civil society turning our law enforcement personal from peace officers into soldiers. Ending the drug war is about more than just drug policy, it is about starting to restore sanity to how our police behave.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Four Reasons the D.C. Marijuana Legalization Initiative will be the Most Interesting to Watch

By: Wednesday August 13, 2014 12:01 pm

Adam Eidinger (left) and Dr. Malik Burnett (right)

Marijuana legalization is going to be on the ballot in three big jurisdictions this November: Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C.. Of the three D.C.’s Initiative 71 should be the one most interesting to watch unfold.

Here are 4 reasons why:

1) Racial justice will be front and center – “The overarching theme of the campaign is Legalization Ends Discrimination,” Dr. Malik Burnett, the D.C. Policy Manager from the Drug Policy Alliance told me. “We are looking to have Washington D.C. be the first jurisdiction to legalize marijuana in a racial justice context.”

The huge racial disparity in marijuana arrests has helped galvanize support for reform across the country, but while the issue has played a role in the other legalization initiative campaigns so far it hasn’t been the top message other places for a simple reason. In Colorado (4.4%), Washington State (4.0%), Oregon (2.0%) and Alaska (3.9%) the African-American population is well below the national average of 13.2%. By comparison roughly half the people living in D.C. are black. In addition D.C. has a history of some of the worst racial disparity in marijuana arrests anywhere in the country. The ACLU found that nationally Blacks were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites, but in D.C. the disparity was an incredible 8 to 1.

It is telling that according to campaign spokesman Adam Eidinger,”The Anacostia metro station was our most productive signature gathering spot.” It is the main public transportation hub for a predominantly black section of the District.

2) Possibility of federal interferencePolling indicates Initiative 71 should easily be approved by the voters but that doesn’t guarantee it will become law, because the citizens living in our nation’s capital have been denied basic democratic rights. Despite the people of D.C. having no representation in Congress, the federal government has the ability to overturn any local D.C. law. While this power is rarely used, Congress did abuse it to stop the D.C. initiative legalizing medical marijuana in 1998 and currently Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is working on an effort to stop Initiative 71. The White House has said they view marijuana reform in D.C. as a states’ rights issue and oppose interference in local D.C. laws. This extra hurdle makes the initiative’s path more difficult and even means this local law could turn into a national fight in Congress.

3) The first place that marijuana regulations could be written entirely by a legislature – The laws governing election in D.C. mean initiative 71 can only do things legalizing possession of up to two ounces for adults and allow limited home growing. Unlike campaigns in Colorado, Washington State, Alaska and Oregon, the DC initiative was legally prevented from including provisions to legalize, tax and regulate the sale of marijuana. But if the initiative becomes law members of the D.C. Council plan to quickly move forward with their own tax and regulate measure, potentially the first of its kind anywhere in the country. Of course this will give Congress yet another chance to interfere.
It will be interesting to see how the laws governing the marijuana industry end up different when they are written by elected legislators instead of by activists who need to make sure their rules can’t be made to sound bad in a opposition ad. Since half the states don’t even allow initiatives this potentially could give us a better idea of how legalization is likely to take shape in much of the country.

4) D.C. is a major media center – Most major national news organization have big D.C. bureaus. As a result many of the top people in the news industry live in District, work there, shop there, have friends there or at least travel there frequently. This gives the media a D.C./East Coast bias when it comes to thinking what is important. Having legalization literally taking place in their own neighborhood could change how and how often the issue is talked about by national news programs in a way victories in western states won’t.

While the initiatives in Oregon and Alaska are will both probably more important because they are farther reaching and will directly impact more people, these initiatives have a fairly simple path forward. The unique demographics, politics, and legal situations surrounding D.C. will make its legalization measure a more complicated but also a more interesting fight.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Should One Obscure Bureaucrat Have Veto Power over Every Marijuana Label in the Country?

By: Tuesday August 12, 2014 8:44 am
marijuana store

We could potentially end up with one Treasury Department official functioning as the marijuana label czar

The question may sound absurd but I assure you it is very serious. After all this is currently how it works for beer labels in the United States.

Tim Mak at the Daily Beast has a fascinating article about the one guy in the federal government who approves or rejects almost every new beer label in the country and the weird rules he needs to apply. From Daily Beast:

Any brewery that wants to market its wares in this country needs to get it through Kent “Battle” Martin, giving the federal official extraordinary power. With only vague regulations outlining what is and isn’t permissible, he approves beer bottles and labels for the Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, a section of the Treasury Department. [...]

This year, Battle has singlehandedly approved over 29,500 beer labels, the only fact his press handler would provide. The TTB would not even provide basic biographical details about the famed regulator, much less make him available for an interview.

As marijuana moves from prohibition to legalization this is exactly the type of seemingly minor but important regulatory decisions we will need to make. What will the packaging restrictions be? How will they be implemented? Who will ultimately be the judge of what does and doesn’t fit the rules?

Given that one of the biggest slogan for the legalization movement is “regulate marijuana like alcohol,” we could potentially end up with one Treasury Department official functioning as the marijuana label czar approving the packaging design for every marijuana product on the market.

With the legal marijuana framework just starting to be built this is a critical time to learn from our history of alcohol regulation and possibly make improvements. It is often easier to build things right the first time than to change them later. Systems tend to develop an inertia of their own.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Colorado Launches Lab Rat Themed Campaign to Stop Teens from Using Marijuana

By: Monday August 11, 2014 11:31 am

While under Colorado law marijuana use is legal for adults, it is still illegal for people under the age of 21 to consume it and the state is launching a new campaign to try to prevent teens from using it. According to the Denver Post there is a $2 million campaign with a message of “Don’t be a Lab Rat.” From the Denver Post:

The campaign will feature a handful of human-size rat cages — complete with attached giant water bottles — scattered throughout the city and festooned with posters bearing the campaign’s messaging. One poster, for instance, will read: “Volunteers needed. Must have a developing brain. Must smoke weed. Must not be concerned about schizophrenia.”

The television and movie theater spots have a similar tone. In one, teens are shown lighting up in a smoke-filled car. Text on screen tells of a Duke University study that argued teenage marijuana use causes lasting drops in IQ.

“Some dispute that study,” the text continues. “But what if, years from now, you learn they were right?”

Only time will tell how effective this particular campaign strategy will be, but this is an important reminder that something can still be legal for adults and still strongly discouraged for children. Tobacco is a perfect example. It is still legal but successful messaging campaigns have helped youth cigarette consumption drop significantly over the past few decades.

Despite the scary tactics of prohibitionists, permitting adults to legally consume marijuana doesn’t mean use will skyrocket among teens. A recent study found states legalizing medical marijuana didn’t increase use among high school students. Similarly, The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment survey of teens in the state found teen marijuana use actually went down slightly since voters approve Amendment 64.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

People of D.C. to Vote on Marijuana Legalization This November

By: Wednesday August 6, 2014 9:11 am

The signatures turned in on July 7th

It’s official: marijuana legalization will be on the local ballot in Washington, D.C. this November. On Wednesday the D.C. Board of Elections ruled that Initiative 71 had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. In a very short time frame, the DCMJ campaign managed to gather well over the number of signatures necessary.

The people of D.C. now join Oregon and Alaska in being able to on vote marijuana legalization this year, but in D.C. the path to ultimate victory is a bit more complicated.

First, due to the extremely unfair rules governing the district, Congress has the ability to override any local law approved in the district despite the fact that the citizens of D.C. are denied any representation in Congress. Even if the voters approve the initiative, it is possible for Congress to overturn it, similar to what they did to the district’s medical marijuana initiative in 1998. Already there is one member of Congress, Andy Harris (R-MD), who is leading an effort to do just that.

Second, the initiative would only legalize possession of up to two ounces for adults over 21 and limited home growing. Due to the unusual rules governing the D.C. initiative process, the campaign was not able to include provisions for the regulated and taxed sale of marijuana. Allowing adult use sales will still take an act of the D.C. Council, but several members of the Council plan to move forward with a bill if the voters support this initiative.

Assuming our politicians don’t interfere, the district should soon legalize marijuana. A Washington Post poll found 63 percent of registered voters in D.C. support legalization.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

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