Latest Blogs

Santa Fe City Council Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana

By: Thursday August 28, 2014 9:25 am

Santa Fe City Council decided to directly adopt the ordinance instead of having it go on the ballot.

Thanks to a successful ballot initiative campaign by Drug Policy Action and ProgressNow NM the city of Santa Fe has decriminalized marijuana. It is the first city in New Mexico to do so.

The original plan was to collect enough signatures to get their decriminalization measure on the November ballot. Yet after enough valid signatures were verified the Santa Fe City Council decided to directly adopt the ordinance instead of having it go on the ballot where it was expected to easily win. From the Santa Fe Reporter:

In a surprise move, Santa Fe City Council voted to decriminalized marijuana Wednesday night.

The resolution, passed narrowly on a 5-4 vote, changes the city’s penalties for possessing one ounce of marijuana or less and marijuana-related paraphernalia from a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a $50-$100 fine and up to 15 days in prison to a civil infraction and a $25 fee. It also instructs the city’s police officers to treat possession of small amounts of marijuana as the lowest law enforcement priority.

The change will go into effect in a few days.

The victory is a bittersweet for the campaign which was hoping a big public vote in support for marijuana decriminalization could add momentum to similar changes throughout the state. Still, this is a big policy win for the people of New Mexico.

Hopefully more local legislators around the county will start realizing the people actual want marijuana reform and won’t need a ballot initiative hanging over their heads to get them to act. The initiative is a very valuable tool for the marijuana reform movement but expensive, time consuming and limited. In much of the country they aren’t allowed.

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

How Congressional Dysfunction Could Help Marijuana Reform in the Nation’s Capitol

By: Wednesday August 27, 2014 10:15 am

When Congress is just kicking the can they normally don’t have time to kick the people of D.C

The historically unproductive Congress has mostly been a burden on the country but one of the few unlikely benefactors of this dysfunction could be marijuana reform efforts in the District of Columbia.

The people living in D.C. live under an unfair and anti-democratic set of rules. Even though the American citizens living in the district have no representation in Congress, Congress has the power to change its local laws. Congress can directly change local D.C. law approving a stand-alone bill, but how Congress most often interferes by attaching a policy rider effecting the district to a much larger piece of legislation. These policy riders only go into effect, though, if the the larger bill they are attached to is signed into law –  and this Congress isn’t passing very many laws at the moment.

For example, last month the House approved the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill with a policy rider from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) which would prevent D.C. from using funds to implement marijuana reform. It was designed to stop Initiative 71, a local marijuana legalization ballot measure which is expected to win with strong support from D.C. voters this November.

Because of this historic level of dysfunction in Congress this particular appropriations bill is likely to die and all its policy riders will die with it. Instead Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) expects that when Congress briefly returns next month they will just pass a clean (meaning policy rider-free) continuing resolution to cover all funding issues until after the election. Professional budget watcher Stan Collender expects that continuing resolution to be followed by yet another one in November to maintain the status quo well into 2015.

These moves  basically kick the can down the road but when Congress is just kicking the can they normally don’t have time to kick the people of D.C. When Congress is doing nothing it is also not interfering.

At minimum, pushing any final fight about Congress interfering in D.C.’s marijuana laws until after the election should make it politically more difficult to do so. That would require Congress to abuse their power to directly contradict what was just revealed to be the will of the local electorate. In addition, it is likely voters in Oregon and Alaska will also approve legalizing marijuana and that should weaken the prohibitionists’ position.

Has Medical Marijuana Saved Lives By Reducing Prescription Opioid Overdoses?

By: Tuesday August 26, 2014 7:08 am

States with medical marijuana laws have a 24.8% lower  annual opioid overdose mortality rate

It is possible medical marijuana is saving lives but give people a less dangerous treatment for chronic pain.

Earlier this year I noted that overall opioid prescriptions rates were lower in medical marijuana states and now there is research showing that the relative number of prescription opioid overdoses dropped significantly after states adopted medical marijuana.

The new paper in the JAMA Internal Medicine looked at opioid overdoses from 1990-2010. It found that “states with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”

In addition, the research found that as states slowly implemented their medical medical marijuana laws the relative drop in mortality rate increased over time. Implying that as medical marijuana became more available to regular people in a state the effect increased.

Correlation doesn’t necessary mean causation. It theoretically is possible both trends are drive by a third factor, like more liberal states tend to be the first to adopt medical marijuana laws and may also be more willing to fund opioid treatment programs. The issue definitely deserves more research.

That said the size of the drop, the fact that it increases over time, and a clear possible mechanism of action implies medical marijuana laws may at least played some role in this decrease.

Other studies have shown that medical marijuana can be useful for pain management and allows patients with pain to consume few opiates. While it is fairly easy to die from an opioid overdose that is effectively impossible with marijuana, so patients substituting the latter for the former should reduce overdose deaths.

It is possible the federal government’s needless war on medical marijuana has indirectly result in thousands of additional deaths.

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

Photo by Goodiez under Creative Commons license

Marijuana Legalization Initiative Endorsed By Oregon’s Biggest Newspaper

By: Monday August 25, 2014 7:46 am

Initiative 91 also received the endorsement of the Portland City Club and the Democratic Party of Oregon

Marijuana legalization efforts in Oregon are benefiting from a string of important endorsements lately.

Only days after receiving the endorsement of the Portland City Club and the Democratic Party of Oregon, Initiative 91 has also managed to pick up the support of The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper. From their Editorial Board:

Measure 91, far from revolutionary, would simply allow Oregon adults to obtain something they may obtain now, but without having to stroll through a “medical” loophole or drive over a bridge to a neighboring state. The measure would be worth supporting for reasons of honesty and convenience alone, but it also would raise millions of dollars per year for schools and other purposes. For that reason, it deserves support even from those who aren’t normally high on taxes.

Just two years ago the Oregonian editorial board actually came out against Initiative 80 which narrowly lost in 2012, mainly because of legitimate concerns that the legalization measure would have done a poor job of regulating the new market.

The editorial board believes Initiative 91′s decision to place legal marijuana under the oversight of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission is a smart and logical way to handle its regulation., so they believe this better drafted measure deserves the voters’ support.

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

Photo by MelanieTata under Creative Commons license

See How Easy It Would Be for the Obama Administration to Reschedule Marijuana

By: Friday August 22, 2014 11:23 am

Dereliction of Duty

Marijuana is currently listed as a Schedule I drug, classifying it as a having no acceptable medical value, which creates a lot of legal issues for those needing medical marijuana. It was put in that schedule decades ago by Congress, but the Obama administration has the power to move it to a more appropriate classification at any time.

The recent executive decision to move Hydrocodone Combination from Schedule III to II shows how it works, this same basic process could be used to move marijuana from Schedule I to II, III or IV. From the DEA press release:

When Congress passed the CSA in 1970, it placed HCPs in Schedule III even though it had placed hydrocodone itself in Schedule II. The current analysis of HCPs by HHS and the DEA shows they have a high potential for abuse, and abuse may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Adding nonnarcotic substances like acetaminophen to hydrocodone does not diminish its abuse potential. The many findings by the DEA and HHS and the data that support these findings are presented in detail in the Final Rule on the website. Data and surveys from multiple federal and non-federal agencies show the extent of abuse of HCPs. For example, Monitoring the Future surveys of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders from 2002 to 2011 found that twice as many high school seniors used Vicodin®, an HCP, nonmedically as used OxyContin®, a Schedule II substance, which is more tightly controlled.

In general, substances placed under the control of the CSA since it was passed by Congress in 1970 are scheduled or rescheduled by the DEA, as required by the CSA and its implementing regulations, found in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Scheduling or rescheduling of a substance can be initiated by the DEA, by the HHS Assistant Secretary of Health, or on the petition of any interested party.

The executive branch doesn’t just theoretically have the power to reschedule any drug without Congress, it is actually expected to use this power as needed based on the latest research. As we see here, drugs get moved to a lower or higher schedule all the time by the executive branch.

Since there is plenty of research showing marijuana has potential medical uses, it is basically a dereliction of duty for Attorney General Eric Holder to not reschedule marijuana, but instead of doing his job when it comes to marijuana rescheduling the administration has mostly fought and dragged its heels at every turn. Holder’s refusal to do so is a decision, which he effectively admitted; it’s not about legal constraints or science but about politics.

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

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