Marijuana Possession Arrests Exceed Violent Crime Arrests
Americans are shifting on marijuana. More than half of them think it should be regulated like alcohol and cigarettes, 18 states have passed legislation approving it for medical use and Washington State and Colorado have legalized it for recreational use, but it remains illegal under federal law. And the arrests continue — one every 42 seconds, and 86 percent of those are simply for possession, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
In 2011, marijuana possession arrests totaled 663,032 — more than arrests for all violent crimes combined. Possession arrests have nearly doubled since 1980, according to an FBI report, while teen marijuana use recently reached a 30-year high.
President Obama said last month that going after recreational pot users in states where it is legal is not "a top priority" for his administration, which echoes a promise he made in 2008 not to interfere with states' medical marijuana laws. Since then, his administration has aggressively targeted dispensaries that are in compliance with state law.
Taxpayers have shouldered the cost of arresting and incarcerating hundreds of thousands of people for the possession of marijuana, often in small quantities for personal use. Some national estimates put the annual cost of marijuana arrests above $10 billion, and low-level arrests for marijuana possession cost New York City alone $75 million in 2010. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed decriminalizing possession of 15 grams or less — even when flashed in public view — last week in his State of the State address.
"Every year, this process needlessly scars thousands of lives and wastes millions of dollars in law enforcement resources, while detracting from the prosecution of serious crime," Cuomo said. "It’s not fair, it’s not right. It must end, and it must end now."
Aaron Sandusky Sentenced: Marijuana Dispensary Operator Gets 10 Years In Federal Prison
A Southern California man was sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison for operating medical marijuana dispensaries, even though they are legal in the state.
Rancho Cucamonga resident Aaron Sandusky, 42, ran three Inland Empire dispensaries known as G3 Holistics. “I want to apologize to those with me and their families who have been victimized by the federal government who has not recognized the voters of this state," Sandusky said in court Monday. His G3 dispensaries served 17,000 medical marijuana patients, according to marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.
"It's really sad that Justice Department is able to find the resources to repeatedly undermine President Obama's campaign pledges not to interfere with state medical marijuana laws," Tom Angell, chairman of marijuana advocacy group Marijuana Majority, told The Huffington Post.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said Sandusky was abusing the state system on a large scale -- with at least 1,000 marijuana plants -- and making a large profit. In a memo, prosecutors said Sandusky is an "unrepentant manipulator who used the perceived ambiguity surrounding 'medical' marijuana to exploit a business opportunity for himself."
Sandusky "used G3 as a means to replace the vast income he lost from the collapse of his real estate business," the prosecution memo continued. "Defendant built a veneer of legitimacy around his criminal enterprise using his customers' good-faith search for pain relief. There is absolutely no altruistic component to defendant's continued and sustained criminality."
Kevin A. Sabet, former senior White House official in charge of drug policy, told HuffPost that the sentencing was appropriate because Sandusky was "exploitative." "People aren't supposed to parade around with a green cross slapped onto their storefront when they're really just about distributing marijuana to anyone who can pay $100 to get a card," Sabet said. "Even advocates admit that it's a ruse."
But Sandusky "still feels really strongly … that what he was doing was right," said his girlfriend, Darlene Buenrostro. "He's very passionate and very caring and generous, and everybody that is here to support him has been witness to that," she said in the video above, referring to about a dozen supporters who came to the courthouse Monday.
The U.S. Attorney's office had sent Sandusky letters in October 2011 warning that the stores violated federal law, and, in response, Sandusky closed two of them. The next month, federal agents raided the remaining store, in Upland, twice. They seized marijuana plants and $11,500 in cash, effectively wiping out Sandusky's business.
With medical marijuana legal in California since 1996, but illegal under federal law, Sandusky's case came down to the ruling of U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson. Because of the amount of marijuana involved, Sandusky received the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Anderson said in court Monday that Sandusky had "kind of lost his way about what's right and what's wrong -- his moral compass."
Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, told HuffPost that a federal judge must consider federal law, not state law. "Under federal law, marijuana is illegal. When there is a conflict with state law, federal law takes precedent," he said.
California's four U.S. attorneys launched a crackdown on the state's marijuana dispensaries in 2011, and hundreds of retail stores have shut down. In September 2012, the feds began to focus on shutting down pot shops in LA, where more than 700 dispensaries operate.
"We have had more than 90 percent compliance with owners shutting down when warned, and we'll continue to shut down more," Mrozek told HuffPost. "Sandusky refused to come into compliance with the law."
Mrozek said that the retail stores are also in violation of California law because they are operating as for-profit enterprises and because they are not operating as the primary caregiver to patients, as the state law requires.
Judge Anderson did not allow Sandusky to claim entrapment based on the public statements of President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder about medical marijuana.
Throughout his first campaign, Obama had said he wouldn't use federal resources to circumvent state laws about medical marijuana. During a 2009 press conference, Holder followed up on that promise, saying that federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries would end unless the shops violated both state and federal law.
Sabet defended Obama to HuffPost, saying the administration is "not going after the 2 percent with cancer or the so-called 90 percent with back pain. They're going after the large distributors only."
But Angell said that is still inconsistent with Obama's promise to stay away from states where pot is legal.
"President Obama is not only sitting by and letting this happen, but is able to keep generating great headlines by saying things like how his administration has 'bigger fish to fry' than marijuana users in states where it's legal," Angell said. "All we need is for the president to match his administration's actions with his great rhetoric. Is that too much to ask?"
Sandusky has started a petition at whitehouse.gov to request a presidential pardon. His petition has 5,878 signatures and needs 19,122 more by Jan. 16 to reach the goal of 25,000. Sandusky's lawyer said he will take the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Obama Standing by the people of Colorado and Washington
President Barack Obama says the federal government won't go after recreational marijuana use in Washington state and Colorado, where voters have legalized it.
Obama was asked whether he supports making pot legal, in a Barbara Walters interview that aired Friday on ABC.
"I wouldn't go that far," Obama replied. "But what I think is that, at this point, Washington and Colorado, you've seen the voters speak on this issue."
But the president said he won't pursue the issue in the two states where voters legalized the use of marijuana in the November elections. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
"... as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions," Obama said. "It does not make sense, from a prioritization point of view, for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law, that's legal."
Marijuana officially became legal in Washington state and Colorado this month.
The Justice Department hasn't targeted recreational marijuana users for decades. With limited resources, its focus has been to go after major drug traffickers instead.
Nonetheless, the Justice Department has said repeatedly in recent weeks that it is reviewing the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington state. The states have expressed concern that the federal government might sue over the issue. Department officials have said they are waiting to see what regulations the two states adopt to implement the initiatives.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday the president believes there are "bigger fish to fry" in prioritizing law enforcement goals. Carney noted Obama's comments were similar to his remarks about the use of medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
"But the law is the law, and that is why he has directed the Department of Justice to review these ballot initiatives and make some assessments about how to proceed," Carney said.
In the department's most recent statement on the issue, the U.S. attorney for Colorado said Monday that the department's responsibility to enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act "remains unchanged."
"Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress," U.S. Attorney John Walsh said. "Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on Dec. 10 in Colorado, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law."
Walsh added: "Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses."
Doctor says marijuana reduced infant's brain tumor, should be used for children
According to the Huffington Post on Dec. 1, a formerly skeptical doctor says medical marijuana should be a part of a pediatrician's arsenal to help children after he witnessed a remarkable reduction in a baby's brain tumor.
Dr. William Courtney, a former skeptic, has drastically changed his tune after he witnessed the effects of marijuana treatment on an 8-month-old patient. Dr. Courtney said that the baby had a "very massive centrally located inoperable brain tumor." The child's father wanted non-traditional treatment.
"They were putting cannabinoid oil on the baby's pacifier twice a day, increasing the dose... And within two months there was a dramatic reduction, enough that the pediatric oncologist allowed them to go ahead with not pursuing traditional therapy."
After eight months of treatment, the tumor was greatly reduced in size. Dr. Courtney says that because of the cannabis treatment and the excellent results, "This child is not going to have the long-term side effects that would come from a very high dose of chemotherapy or radiation."
The child is being called a miracle baby. Dr. Courtney further stated, "I would have to agree that this is the perfect response that we should be insisting is front line therapy for all children before they launch off on all medications that have horrific long term side effects."
Nineteen states now have medical marijuana rules on the books. Each state has its own specific rules of use, amounts, reciprocity, et cetera. Those laws, however, are for adults.
So what do you think? Obviously, for this child it worked. Still, treating a child with marijuana is more than a little controversial. Should there be studies done? Should it be allowed as a treatment of last resort? If you had a young child with inoperable cancer, would you consent to trying this route?
Admittedly, it's a hard question to answer when you're not in the situation. But if medical marijuana works this well with cancers, do we have the right to withhold it, especially from children with their entire life in front of them? Please leave a comment and wade into this somewhat sticky issue.
Mexico lawmaker introduces bill to legalize marijuana
(Reuters) - A leftist Mexican lawmaker on Thursday presented a bill to legalize the production, sale and use of marijuana, adding to a growing chorus of Latin American politicians who are rejecting the prohibitionist policies of the United States.
The bill is unlikely to win much support in Congress since a strong majority of Mexicans are firmly against legalizing drugs, but may spur a broader debate in Mexico after two U.S. states voted to allow recreational use of marijuana last week. U.S. officials have said it remains illegal and that they are reviewing the state actions.
The split between local and federal governments in the United States is feeding a growing challenge in Latin America to the four-decade-old policies that Washington promoted, and often bankrolled, to disrupt illegal drug cultivation and smuggling.
"The prohibitionist paradigm is a complete failure," said Fernando Belaunzaran, the author of the bill from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), who presented the proposal in Mexico's lower house of Congress.
"All this has done is spur more violence, the business continues. The country that has paid the highest costs is Mexico," he said in a telephone interview.
A conflict between drug gangs and security forces has killed more than 60,000 people during the six-year rule of outgoing President Felipe Calderon, who has repeatedly demanded the United States to do more to curb demand for illegal drugs.
Frustration with U.S. policy deepened after voters in Washington state and Colorado approved the recreational use of marijuana.
Still, there is little popular support for marijuana legalization in Mexico. Recent polls show two-thirds or more of Mexicans are opposed to making it legal. Several other bills to legalize the drug have been rejected in recent years.
Mexican leftists form the second biggest bloc in the lower house, behind the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that won the presidency in an election in July. The leftist coalition has more seats than Calderon's conservatives.
"It is important to open the debate, but I do not think this will advance," said political analyst Fernando Dworak. "In reality, it is just not part of the legislative agenda."
Across Latin America, there is a growing view that Washington's "war on drugs" is not working.
Uruguay's government submitted a legalization bill to Congress this week that would put the state in charge of marijuana cultivation and distribution, while also allowing for individuals to grow plants at home.
In September, Calderon and the leaders of Colombia and Guatemala - historically three of the most reliable U.S. partners on drug interdiction - called on world governments to explore new alternatives to the problem.
The chief advisor of incoming President Enrique Pena Nieto, Luis Videgaray, said last week that the votes in Washington and Colorado mean Mexico must rethink its approach to the trade, though he said Pena Nieto was opposed to legalization of drugs.
Last week, the governor of Chihuahua, one of the Mexican states worst hit by drugs violence, told Reuters Mexico should legalize export of marijuana. The governor, Cesar Duarte, is an ally of Pena Nieto, who takes office on December 1.
Rachel Maddow Draws Parallels Between Marijuana Legalization In Colorado, Washington And End Of Alcohol Prohibition
The Huffington Post | By Matt Ferner
Leave it to Rachel Maddow to provide one of the most well-thought-out segments on the historic passage of ballot measures in Colorado and Washington that made marijuana for recreational use legal last week. She's not the first to do so, but unlike so many other media reactions there was no snickering or giggling or talk of Cheetos and Goldfish from Maddow on the subject. Instead, she took a careful look at booze laws in various states and the end of alcohol prohibition -- which she draws several parallels to regarding Colorado and Washington's ending of marijuana prohibition in their states and the unknown drug policy world the United States has just entered into.
There has been much discussion about the federal response to marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington: How do the feds intend to enforce marijuana laws? Will the federal government allow state marijuana markets to bloom? Will marijuana businesses be able to have bank accounts? And much, much more. But Maddow deftly points out that the same kind of questioning and general lack of sure-footing was also present when alcohol prohibition ended in 1933.
"When prohibition ended in 1933, Americans could legally buy and sell and drink booze for the first time in thirteen years," Maddow says. "And people were obviously psyched when prohibition ended, but there was a lot of policy to figure out in terms of how the country would sell and regulate alcohol. Would cities do it? Would states do it? The federal government? Should you have to apply for a license to sell alcohol? How old should you have to be in order to drink alcohol?"
Sound familiar? It's much of the same, if not entirely the same, questions that come up with marijuana legalization. Well, Maddow says that even the solution back in 1933 is similar to the solution that Colorado and Washington state voters approved last Tuesday.
"States came up with their own answers to those questions and the laws between the states -- even all these decades later -- are still really diverse."
Maddow goes on to describe the various ways that states continue to regulate alcohol sales differently from one another and how the ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington compare in their relation to regulating marijuana sales.
After a thoughtful history lesson, Maddow then speaks with Neill Franklin, executive director of marijuana reform group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, who offers even further detail on the states' roles in ending alcohol prohibition in 1933 and how similarities between then and now with marijuana.
And Maddow is right, the federal government's enforcement intent on marijuana law remains unclear, now a week since Amendment 64 passed in Colorado and Initiative 502 passed in Washington. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was a vocal opponent of California's legalization initiative in 2010 saying he would "vigorously enforce" federal marijuana prohibition, remained silent on the issue during the election cycle and has continued to remain silent now that Colorado and Washington have passed their measures.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who has been a vocal opponent of Amendment 64 but has said that he intends to respect the wishes of the voters, did have a phone call with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week to discuss Colorado's legalizing of marijuana and how the feds might respond, but the results of that call gave no clue as to whether or not the Department of Justice will sue to block the marijuana measures in Colorado and Washington, according to The Associated Press.
If the Obama administration does decide to crackdown on legalized marijuana in Colorado -- where more people voted for marijuana legalization than for the president's reelection -- the administration could face some serious political fallout with much of the same population of the Centennial State that handed him Colorado on election night, namely: the left-leaning and youth voters who support pot's legalization.
However many proponents of legalization say they don't foresee federal agents interfering in states that have legalized cannabis, NBC News reported, citing the federal government's silence on the issue this election cycle.
There is also the July report from GQ which stated that President Obama wants to "pivot" on the war on drugs during his second term. Marc Ambinder writes:
Don't expect miracles. There is very little the president can do by himself. And pot-smokers shouldn't expect the president to come out in favor of legalizing marijuana. But from his days as a state senator in Illinois, Obama has considered the Drug War to be a failure, a conflict that has exacerbated the problem of drug abuse, devastated entire communities, changed policing practices for the worse, and has led to a generation of young children, disproportionately black and minority, to grow up in dislocated homes, or in none at all.
Optimism about a second-term Obama administration that turns around its stance on marijuana might be difficult for some marijuana business owners who have seen the Department of Justice aggressively crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries in states like California and Colorado where hundreds of pot shops have been shuttered just since the beginning of 2012.
How to invest in legalized marijuana
Mark Twain is said to have remarked that a gold rush is a good time to be in the pick and shovel business. Investors may be able to apply that same bit of wisdom to the growing number of U.S. states that have legalized pot.
Although federal law prohibits the sale or possession of marijuana, Massachusetts last week joined the ranks of states — 18 plus Washington, D.C. — that allow its use for people suffering from chronic illnesses like cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. In Washington and Colorado, meanwhile, voters passed an initiative to allow pot for recreational use. Those changes have kickstarted a small but fast-growing medical-marijuana industry, estimated to be worth about $1.7 billion as of 2011, according to See Change Strategy, an independent financial-analysis firm that specializes in new markets. In Colorado alone, sales topped $181 million in 2010, and the business employed 4,200 state-licensed workers, says Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association , a nonprofit trade group that campaigns for marijuana’s federal legalization.
In addition to profiting itself from growing and selling marijuana, the industry benefits a slew of other businesses, such as insurers, lawyers and agricultural-equipment firms, experts say. “Call it the ‘green rush,’” says Derek Peterson, CEO of GrowOp Technology , an online retailer of hydroponics — products used in the cultivation of indoor plants — and a subsidiary of OTC stock Terra Tech TRTC +16.00% . “The industry is expanding, and there are all kinds of investment opportunities.”
For regular investors looking to get in on the action — and without having to actually grow or sell drugs — there are several small-cap stocks that stand to gain from marijuana’s growing acceptance. Medbox MDBX +41.18% , an OTC stock with a $45 million market cap, for example, sells its patented dispensing machines to licensed medical-marijuana dispensaries. The machines, which dispense set doses of the drug, after verifying patients’ identities via fingerprint, could potentially be used in ordinary drugstores too, says Medbox founder Vincent Mehdizadeh. Based in Hollywood, Calif., the company already has 130 machines in the field, and it expects to install an additional 40 in the next quarter. “The smart money is trying to help with compliance and transparency,” Mehdizadeh says.
Of course, investing in drugs the federal government still outlaws poses enormous risks to investors, says Sam Kamin, a law professor and the director of the Constitutional Rights & Remedies Program at the University of Denver. In fact, nearly 500 of the estimated 3,000 dispensaries nationwide have either been closed by the federal government or shut down in the past year, says a spokesman for StickyGuide.com , an online directory and review site for medical marijuana dispensaries — and yet another ancillary business that’s currently seeking investors.
That said, there are many companies that appear to be betting on a change in federal law. Steep Hill is a quality-control laboratory that tests medical marijuana to see if there’s any contamination from mold, bacteria or harmful pesticides. The company, based in Oakland, Calif., is also actively seeking funding of up to $3 million. David Lampach, co-founder and president of Steep Hill, expects a federal law legalizing medical marijuana within the next decade. Cannabis Science in Colorado Springs, Colo. CBIS -29.61% , an OTC stock with a market cap of $41 million, is developing marijuana-based medicines to help cancer and HIV/AIDS patients. “We’re at the beginning of the revolution in medicine,” says CEO Robert Melamede.
Other companies are creating a range of quirky products that allow people to use marijuana without smoking it. Medical Marijuana MJNA -16.81% , an OTC stock with a $69 million market cap, based in San Diego, Calif., offers more than 50 ways to ingest marijuana , from Dixie Elixir soda to Dixie Chill ice-cream and a range of Dixie Edibles, like chocolate truffles and crispy rice treats.
While experts say competition in the medical-marijuana business is growing fast, they add that there are also still plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs. For example, Troy Dayton, president and CEO of ArcView Group , an angel investor network for the industry, says demand has been growing for handheld tobacco vaporizers like those made by Ploom (which charges $250 for its “premium loose-leaf vaporizer”). “There’s a rush now to make the ideal vaporizer,” Dayton says. “There’s still room for a kingmaker in this space.”
In the meantime, at least one drug company is directly selling medical marijuana to patients around the world. GW Pharmaceuticals (GBP), based in London, markets Sativex, billed as the world’s first marijuana-based medicine. With a market cap of around $137 million, it’s listed on the Alternative Investment Market, a submarket of the London Stock Exchange. Sativex is currently sold as a mouth spray to help alleviate symptoms of multiple sclerosis in several countries, including the U.K., New Zealand, Germany, Spain, Denmark and Canada, a spokesman says, and it is currently seeking FDA approval in the U.S. for use as a pain reliever in late-stage cancer patients
Seattle Times staff reporter
It was all for a good purpose. There was little convincing science showing how — or how much — marijuana impaired driving ability. So they did a field test.
The editors found that they could physically operate a car even while very high, and fared well on driving tests. But their attention spans got so fragmented that they agreed getting behind the wheel was a lousy idea.
That was 1980. Thirty-two years later, scientific consensus about marijuana's effect on driving remains as foggy as the editors' brains.
But it is now a big political issue as voters consider whether to make Washington one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana sales. For the first time in our state, Initiative 502 would set a legal impairment level for THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
Based on some studies, that level — 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of whole blood — may be equivalent to about 0.05 percent blood-alcohol level, less than the state limit for booze. But even the experts emphasize that establishing the cutoff point when crash risk rises is "preliminary" and could change, in part because marijuana research in the U.S. is hindered by the federal ban on the substance.
The proposal is complicated, legally and politically.
Initiative 502 sets a "per se" standard making it inherently illegal to drive with more than 5 nanograms of THC. But there are no handy charts showing the number of tokes it takes to reach that level, because marijuana varies in strength and affects novice and seasoned users differently. I-502 supporters describe the DUI provision as a political and law-enforcement necessity. "This is simple: Don't drive when you think you might be impaired," said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, an I-502 sponsor.
But uncertainties about the DUI provision fuel strong opposition among some marijuana-legalization advocates. They predict a rash of DUI cases based on unsettled science, and object to a zero-tolerance level for drivers younger than 21, which is also prescribed in the new law.
That provision helped turn prominent DUI lawyer Jon Scott Fox of Seattle from a likely supporter into an opponent. "I think innocent people could be, and probably will be, prosecuted based on the per se aspect of the law," he said.
Setting a limit
About 10.5 million people — 4.2 percent of the country's drivers — reported in a 2009 federal survey that they drove under the influence of an illegal drug in the past year, with marijuana by far the most common drug. Among high-school seniors, one in 10 said they'd recently driven under the influence of marijuana, according to a University of Michigan survey.
Currently, there are plenty of DUI prosecutions for marijuana, and I-502 does not change legal standards for stopping or arresting drivers.
If something other than alcohol is suspected during a traffic stop, one of 217 "Drug Recognition Experts" — specially trained police officers throughout the state — are usually called in to do a 40-minute evaluation, said Washington State Patrol Sgt. Mark Crandall, who coordinates the program.
Based on that evaluation, the driver would be asked for a blood draw at a medical facility; a search warrant also can be obtained, and drivers with four previous DUIs must give blood. About a third of the blood tests in the past three years — 1,536 out of 4,581 — found marijuana, according to Washington State Patrol data.
Because there is no current cutoff for THC, even a positive blood test for any amount, alone, is not grounds for a DUI conviction. One Seattle driver was recently acquitted for DUI despite a positive blood test because of questions about the science.
Francisco Duarte, a defense lawyer specializing in DUI cases, said that makes prosecutors prone to plea-bargain marijuana DUI cases.
But I-502 would make DUI prosecutors' jobs easier. A driver with a blood test above 5 nanograms would be presumed impaired, just as drivers with 0.08 percent blood-alcohol levels are now.
"This definitely takes away a defendant's ability to argue what impairment really means," said Duarte.
The 5-nanogram level is based on tests for active THC, which usually dissipates within hours of use. Another marijuana compound, carboxy-THC — stored in fat cells for 30 days or more, often tripping up users in workplace drug tests — is not counted under I-502 as a basis for impairment.
State Rep. Roger Goodman, a Kirkland Democrat who champions stiffer DUI laws, believes the time required for a police officer to conduct a blood test — two hours or more — will deter unwarranted stops.
"We have no reason to expect police will start pulling people over with no evidence of impairment to have blood drawn," he said.
Crandall said I-502 would not change his officers' basic duty. "We deal with impairment. You have to go all the way back to the traffic stop: What happened for the guy to have his blood drawn?"
Thirteen other states have "per se" laws for THC, dating back to Arizona's 1990 zero-tolerance law. The Office of National Drug Control Policy has made "drugged-driving" an enforcement priority, expecting that it will lead to safer roadways. Paul Armentano, a DUI expert with the marijuana-advocacy group NORML, said there is no data supporting that premise. Nor is there a proven need to make prosecutor's jobs' easier, he said.
"When cases are brought now, it's highly likely that the state gets a guilty verdict," said Armentano, citing figures in Colorado and California, where about 90 percent and 79 percent of DUI cases, respectively, led to convictions.
The laws are based on evolving science. A 2011 analysis by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that studies on driving under the influence of cannabis "vary considerably," and more research is needed.
In setting a new level for impairment, I-502 cites data from nearly 3,400 fatally injured drivers in Australia, which found the risk of crash began to rise between 3.5 and 5 nanograms. But other studies undercut a clear correlation between car crashes and marijuana use.
When would an occasional user hit that level? One federal study found recreational users' THC levels fell below 5 nanograms within hours of smoking a one-gram joint. But that study used government-grown pot; the typical cannabis sold at Seattle medical-marijuana dispensaries is quadruple that strength.
Roger Roffman, a respected marijuana researcher and I-502 supporter, acknowledges that the research is preliminary. But a legalized marijuana market should also come with a warning, he said.
"We need to be mindful of what the public is told," said Roffman, a professor emeritus at the University of Washington "The initiative needs to say this is risky, because we are at a sea-change moment."
Effect on chronic users
At a recent I-502 debate at the University of Washington, medical-marijuana entrepreneur Steve Sarich warned students they could be arrested for a DUI a week after smoking a joint. "There goes your Pell Grant, there goes your college," said Sarich, who is organizing opposition to I-502.
His prediction distorts a majority of research, which finds active THC dissipates in casual users within hours.
But it can linger in frequent users, such as medical-marijuana patients. One study of such users — smoking up to 10 big joints a day — found active THC in their blood even after six days of abstinence.
I-502 makes no exemption for heavy users, including chronic pain patients.
Alison Holcomb, campaign manager for the initiative, is sympathetic to them, but said a DUI law should not be dictated by relatively rare cases. "We don't establish public policy based on outliers," she said.
The Car and Driver magazine editors, back in 1980, knew impairment when they felt it. One editor, a former race-car driver named Patrick Bedard, found his driving times improved slightly — when he "could muster the concentration."
But the higher he got, he felt less inclined to do so. "I'm a vegetable, inert, wordless, focused inward, contemplating the rapture," he wrote at the end of the experiment. "Every once in a while, I snap to and can't figure out where we are. But who cares?"
College Student Opts To Let Jury Decide Marijuana Case
'Zac is willing to go down if he must, but it is going to be after a fight.'
~ Attorney David Sloan
A Texas college student has elected to take his chances with a jury following his arrest for possession of marijuana. Possession of under two ounces of marijuana in Texas is a Class B-misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and up to a $2,000 fine.
On July 13, Zachariah Walker, 25, of Denton, was stopped for an alleged traffic violation by the University of North Texas Police Department. During a subsequent search of his vehicle, officers claimed they found about two grams of marijuana. Walker was immediately arrested and booked into the Denton County Jail. He was later released after posting a $1,000.00 bond.
Walker elected to reject the state's October 10 plea bargain offer of 180 days in jail probated for 18 months, and a $600.00 fine; or 70 days in jail without a probationary term or fine.
Walker is a member of The University of North Texas student chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (UNT-NORML.) He has rejected any offers of probation and says "if anybody is going to send him to jail for possession of two grams of marijuana, it is going to be a jury of his peers."
According to his attorney, Fort Worth lawyer David Sloane, this is an ideal case to place in front of a Texas jury and call attention to the absurdity of Texas' marijuana statutes.
"The state's plea bargain offer was harsher in Zac's case than you would normally see because he has a prior 2007 conviction for possession of marijuana," Sloane, a member of NORML's National Legislative Committee and on the local DFW-NORML Board of Directors, told Toke of the Town. "In that case he was initially placed on deferred adjudication community supervision and failed a court ordered drug test four months into it, testing positive for THC.
"The court adjudicated his guilt in that instance and sentenced him to 60 days in jail," Sloane told us. "He was forced then to drop out of his classes. Walker will be facing the same judge in this case."
Speaking publicly about this case with Walker's permission, Sloane said "This guy has had enough. He has a 'been-there-done-that' attitude about probation. And even though a jury could send him to jail for up to 180 days, which Zac is prepared to do if it comes down to it, we don't believe a reasonable and prudent jury would even remotely consider anything close to the 70 days the state has offered as his punishment for possessing two grams of marijuana.
"And they might even find him not guilty," Sloane said. "Other than his occasional cannabis use this guy has never been accused of doing anything wrong or arguably illegal. He works, goes to school, and plays in a band on the weekends.
"He's never hurt anyone," Sloane said. "He's a genuinely nice guy who's had chaos heaped upon his life by a government that takes exception to his exercising his liberty to consume cannabis."Zac is willing to go down if he must, but it is going to be after a fight," Sloane said. "He feels his back is against the wall on this and the State of Texas is leaving him with no choice but to fight."
Sloane says he has staffed this case with other NORML attorneys in Texas and they have agreed to assist in Zac's trial pro bono. Attorney Jamie Spencer of Austin, Texas and Jamie Balagia of San Antonio, Texas have agreed to travel to Denton and help try this case.
While there is injustice concerning marijuana laws statewide, Sloane says these attorneys took a special interest in Zac's case because he is completely free of instances of extraneous bad conduct. This will truly be an opportunity to tests the attitudes of Texas jury where it comes only to possession of small quantities of marijuana.
"If the outcome is what we hope for and expect, we hope it will send a message to prosecutors everywhere to rethink their positions about jail terms for those accused of simple possession," Sloane said. "To my knowledge, having someone charged with possession of two grams of marijuana come into a jury trial with three of the state's top marijuana lawyers will be unprecedented."
With NORML involved, the state is going to have their work cut out for them. The case is expected to go to trial in early 2013 in Denton County Criminal Court Number 2.