The Drug Enforcement Administration has been impeding and ignoring the science on marijuana and other drugs for more than four decades, according to a report released this week by the Drug Policy Alliance, a drug policy reform group, and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a marijuana research organization.
“The DEA is a police and propaganda agency," Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said Wednesday. “It makes no sense for it to be in charge of federal decisions involving scientific research and medical practice."
The report alleges that the DEA has repeatedly failed to act in a timely fashion when faced with petitions to reschedule marijuana. The drug is currently classified as Schedule I, which the DEA reserves for the "most dangerous" drugs with "no currently accepted medical use." Schedule I drugs, which include substances like heroin and LSD, cannot receive federal funding for research. On three separate occasions -- in 1973, 1995 and again in 2002 -- the DEA took years to make a final decision about a rescheduling petition, and in two of the cases the DEA was sued multiple times to force a decision.
The report criticizes the DEA for overruling its own officials charged with determining how illicit substances should be scheduled. It also criticizes the agency for creating a "regulatory Catch-22" by arguing there is not enough scientific evidence to support rescheduling marijuana while simultaneously impeding the research that would produce such evidence.
A spokesperson at the DEA declined to comment on the report.
The feds have long been accused of only funding marijuana research that focuses on the potential negative effects of the substance, but that trend appears to be changing.
According to The Hill, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has conducted about 30 studies to date on the potential benefits of marijuana. NIDA oversees the cultivation, production and distribution of marijuana grown for research purposes at the University of Mississippi in the only federally legal marijuana garden in the U.S. -- a process through which the only federally sanctioned marijuana studies are approved.
The joint report comes less than two weeks after the House approved three amendments taking aim at the DEA and its ability to enforce federal marijuana and hemp laws in states which have legal marijuana operations and industrial hemp programs. The medical marijuana amendment was sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).
"Nobody should be afraid of the truth," Rohrabacher said Wednesday. "There's a lot of other drugs that have harmful side effects. Is the downside of marijuana a harmful side effect? Or is there a positive side that actually does help? That needs to be proven."
The federal government's interest in marijuana certainly appears to be growing. Since 2003, it has approved more than 500 grants for marijuana-related studies, with a marked upswing in recent years, according to McClatchy. In 2003, 22 grants totaling $6 million were approved for cannabis research. In 2012, that number had risen to 69 approved grants totaling more than $30 million.
"The DEA has obstructed research into the medical use of marijuana for over 40 years and in the process has caused immeasurably suffering that would otherwise have been treated by low-cost, low-risk generic marijuana," Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, said in a statement. "The DEA’s obstruction of the FDA approval process for marijuana has -- to the DEA’s dismay -- unintentionally catalyzed state-level medical marijuana reforms.”
Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. Eight other states -- Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin -- have legalized CBD oils, made from a non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana frequently used to treat epilepsy, for limited medical use or for research purposes.
A number of recent studies have shown the medical potential of cannabis. Purified forms may attack some forms of aggressive cancer. Marijuana use also has been tied to better blood sugar control and may help slow the spread of HIV. One study found that legalization of the plant for medical purposes may even lead to lower suicide rates.
Nadelmann said the DEA has "demonstrated a regular pattern of abusing its discretionary powers."
"We believe this authority would be better handled by another government agency in the health realm, or even better still, by an organization that is truly independent, perhaps something that involves the National Academy of Sciences," he said. "We will be working to encourage greater congressional oversight and also to call for reforms of federal law."
Via Huff Post
By Kay Lazar and Shelley Murphy
US Drug Enforcement Administration investigators have visited the homes and offices of Massachusetts physicians involved with medical marijuana dispensaries and delivered an ultimatum: sever all ties to marijuana companies, or relinquish federal licenses to prescribe certain medications, according to several physicians and their attorneys.
The stark choice is necessary, the doctors said they were told, because of friction between federal law, which bans any use of marijuana, and state law, which voters changed in 2012 to allow medical use of the drug.
The DEA’s action has left some doctors, whose livelihoods depend on being able to offer patients pain medications and other drugs, with little option but to resign from the marijuana companies,where some held prominent positions.
The Globe this week identified at least three doctors contacted by DEA investigators, although there may be more.
“Here are your options,” Dr. Samuel Mazza said he was told by Gregory Kelly, a DEA investigator from the agency’s New England Division office. “You either give up your [DEA] license or give up your position on the board . . . or you challenge it in court.”
Mazza, chief executive of Debilitating Medical Conditions Treatment Centers, which won preliminary state approval to open a dispensary in Holyoke, said the DEA investigator’s visit came shortly after state regulators announced the first 20 applicants approved for provisional licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries.
Mazza said he returned from vacation in February to find a DEA business card on the door to his home and several messages on his answering machine urging him to contact the agency immediately.
The quiet DEA crackdown comes even as the US House of Representatives approved a measure last week that would restrict the DEA from raiding medical marijuana operations in states where it is legal. Senate action is pending.
Tensions between federal and state officials have flared as 22 states, including Massachusetts, have legalized medical marijuana, many since 2010.
A spokesman for the DEA in Boston on Wednesday referred calls to agency headquarters in Washington.
A DEA spokeswoman in Washington declined to answer questions Thursday about the doctors’ assertions that they are being asked to choose between their drug prescribing licenses and their ties to dispensaries. The spokeswoman would not say whether the action in Massachusetts is part of a national policy or limited to the state.
Physicians, dentists, and other health care providers who prescribe or administer narcotics and other controlled substances are required to register with the DEA, which tracks use of the drugs and strips federal licenses of those who fraudulently prescribe the medications.
At least two physicians resigned their medical officer positions with planned medical marijuana dispensaries in the past two weeks after visits from the DEA, including Dr. Carl Fulwiler.
The psychiatrist was part of the executive management team of the William Noyes Webster Foundation, which was granted preliminary approval for a dispensary in Dennis, and resigned his position last week, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation. Fulwiler did not return calls seeking comment.
Another physician who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisal said two DEA investigators arrived unannounced at his office last month.
“DEA agents can be quite direct when they want to make an impression on you,” the doctor said.
“My terrified secretary asked what to do with them, and I said I’d see them in five minutes after I finished what I was engaged in,” the physician said.
During a polite, 15-minute conversation, one of the officials asked “probing” questions about the dispensary’s proposed operations, while the other furiously took notes, the doctor said.
“The gist was to get me to either relinquish the DEA license, if I insisted on continuing with the dispensary, or give the license up ‘temporarily’ while involved with the dispensary,” he said.
The investigator told the physician that if he gave up his DEA license, he could later apply to have the license reinstated if he no longer was involved with the dispensary. But, the doctor recalled, the investigator said there was no guarantee the license would be restored.
Otherwise, the investigator explained, the doctor could divorce himself from any association with the dispensary.
“I had no choice but to choose the last option,” said the physician, who resigned his position at the dispensary.
Valerio Romano, a Boston attorney who represents several dispensaries, said the DEA’s action may further delay dispensaries from opening.
When state regulators selected companies in January for provisional licenses, they said they expected most would open by this summer. But since then, problems have surfaced, including misrepresentations and conflicts of interest involving several of the companies. State officials have acknowledged they did not check the veracity of the companies’ statements in their applications.
State regulators say they are now conducting extensive background checks of dispensary applicants, and Romano said those checks may be prolonged now that some dispensary companies will be searching for new medical officers to fill positions vacated by physicians who recently resigned.
“In the end, what all of this means is more delay for patients,” Romano said.
Dave Kibbe, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Health, which issues dispensary licenses, said in a statement Thursday that the companies are not required to have medical personnel on their management teams, and that the doctors’ resignations would not cause delays in the state program. But Kibbe said the departures may cause delays for individual dispensaries.
“When registered marijuana dispensaries experience changes in leadership, they are required to notify [the health department],” he said. “Any new [dispensary] personnel must go through a comprehensive background check as part of the department’s standard process.”
Dr. Walter Panis, chief medical officer for Alternative Therapies Group, which was granted preliminary approval by state health officials to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Salem, said he has not been contacted by the DEA, but expressed concern after learning other doctors had been given an ultimatum.
“The dispensaries need good medical information and how else are they going to get it except through physicians that are able to give that information?” said Panis, whose role in the dispensary will be to educate staff about medical marijuana and patient treatment.
Panis, a neurologist, said he needs his DEA license to prescribe certain medications. He said he would consult a lawyer if given an ultimatum by the DEA, but would probably withdraw from the dispensary if forced to make a choice.
“I’d probably resign, but I don’t want to do that,” Panis said. “I wouldn’t want to jeopardize my ability to practice medicine. Practicing medicine is the soul of my life.”
Mazza, the physician associated with the Holyoke dispensary, said that when he returned the DEA’s urgent messages in February, he was put on a speaker phone with three DEA officials.
“You are chairman of an organization that is going to distribute a product that is against federal law,” Mazza said the DEA officials told him.
The DEA investigators were “quite congenial” but adamant, according to Mazza, that he couldn’t keep his DEA license to prescribe controlled substances if he maintained his position at the dispensary.
Even though Mazza has held his DEA license for 40 years, he said it was easier to surrender it than to engage in a legal battle. Mazza, who works part-time for the federal government, performing surgeries at the VA Medical Center in Northampton, said he doesn’t need the DEA license for that job.
“It was easy for me because I really didn’t need the license anymore,” Mazza said. “If I did need the license and was still in private practice as a general surgeon, I’m not sure what I would have done. I probably would have relinquished my position as CEO [of the dispensary].”
Via The Boston Globe
Wednesday: Councilmembers to Vote on Decriminalization Bill that Would Reduce Racial Disparities and Re-Prioritize Law Enforcement Resources
With Support of Mayor and Supermajority of Councilmembers, Marijuana Decriminalization Appears Imminent
D.C. lawmakers will vote Wednesday on legislation that would eliminate criminal penalties under District law for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use during a meeting of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. The panel of five Councilmembers is expected to approve the measure. The bill would next go before all thirteen Councilmembers for final consideration.
The “Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013 (Council Bill 20-409)” would eliminate criminal penalties and instead subject a person in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana to a civil fine. The legislation was introduced in July 2013 by Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) with the support of ten out of thirteen Councilmembers.
WHAT: Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety to Mark-up Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana
WHEN: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 11:30AM
WHERE: John A. Wilson Building; Room 412; 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released groundbreaking reports documenting enormous racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession in D.C. These reports found that the majority of all drug arrests in the District are for simple possession of marijuana and the vast majority of those arrested are African American. Every year, thousands of people are arrested in the District of Columbia for the possession of marijuana. African Americans in D.C. are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people – even though government surveys show that both groups use marijuana at similar rates.
“Marijuana possession arrests have disproportionately criminalized African American residents and wasted millions of taxpayer dollars,” said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “This legislation represents a critical first step toward bringing D.C. law into step with public opinion and common sense.”
A poll conducted in April 2013 by Public Policy Polling, and commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, found three out of four D.C. voters support changing District law to replace criminal penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket. Furthermore, more than 60 percent of D.C. voters in the survey would support a ballot measure similar to those approved by voters in Colorado and Washington in November, which made marijuana legal for adults and directed state officials to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. National surveys conducted last year by Gallup and the Pew Research Center found that, for the first time in 40 years of polling on the issue, a majority of Americans support making marijuana legal. The Gallup poll in October found 58 percent support and the Pew Research Center poll in April found 52 percent support. Last week, a CNN/ORC poll found 55 percent support nationwide for making marijuana legal.
During public hearings chaired last October by Councilmember Wells, witnesses criticized the disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws on African Americans in the District and supported eliminating criminal penalties for possession. However, the Drug Policy Alliance and other witnesses urged Councilmembers to eliminate or significantly reduce the proposed $100 civil fine. The Drug Policy Alliance urged that a $100 fine would be too burdensome for poor residents and that African Americans would continue to be disproportionately punished for marijuana possession. Councilmember Wells is expected to lower the fine for possession to $25 when Councilmembers consider the legislation tomorrow.
In a letter delivered to Councilmember Wells in September, the Drug Policy Alliance and other community groups urged the elimination of the fines for possession and the decriminalization of home cultivation of a small quantity of marijuana. The letter also urged the Council to destroy all marijuana arrest and conviction records maintained by the D.C. government in order to prevent such a record from serving as a barrier to employment and other opportunities for thousands of D.C. residents who currently have a criminal history for marijuana law violations. In December, Councilmember Wells held a public hearing on legislation introduced by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) that would remove from the public domain many marijuana arrest and conviction records maintained by the D.C. government. Advocates have praised Councilmember Wells’ leadership on addressing the harms of failed D.C. marijuana laws.
“All it takes is a single arrest for a small amount of marijuana to set in motion years of denied jobs, housing applications and other basic components to leading a self-sufficient life,” said Smith. “This legislation would help end harmful marijuana arrests and reverse decades of lives derailed by enforcement of marijuana prohibition.”
DENVER, CO — With sales in the first week of retail marijuana sales in Colorado expected to exceed $5 million, marijuana advocates say that is $5 million out of the hands of black market drug dealers and into the hands of licensed businesses.
Since the first pot shops opened on January 1, the number of stores statewide has grown to about 50. Industry insiders estimate about 100,000 people purchased marijuana legally in the first week of sales.
“That’s $5 million that would have been in the hands of illegal drug dealers and black marketeers, which instead is going to small business owners, who will reinvest it in the community, creating jobs and tax revenue,” says Aaron Smith, co-founder of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
The brisk sales also raised an estimated $1 million in tax revenue to be used for improving Colorado schools, roads and other public projects.
And the revenue being generated for the state isn’t coming solely from the sales of marijuana, either. Colorado’s tourism industry has seen a boost, as cannabis consumers from coast to coast visit the state for the novelty of being able to purchase marijuana legally.
Other businesses are being quick to capitalize on the new legal marijuana industry as well. The most beneficial, it would seem, would be the food service industry, with many restaurateurs jumping on the munchie bandwagon.
One Denver based sushi chain, Hapa Sushi, has even gone so far as to create a marijuana “pairing menu” as a marketing campaign targeting tokers.
I was in Mexico on ‘Green Wednesday’ last week when those pot shops opened in Colorado, making it the first jurisdiction in the world to allow the legal sale of recreational marijuana. The reaction there was partly one of puzzlement. The war on drugs was born of American pressure. What the heck is going on?
The cost of that policy has been horrible for Mexico, where 70,000 have died since former president Felipe Calderon made crushing the cartels his top priority in 2006. While his successor, Enrique Pena Nieto, is focusing less on the cartels and more on restoring public security, blood is still being spilled every day.
Yet America is suddenly projecting muddle. The Justice Department says it still considers marijuana an illegal psychotropic substance but in the same breath promises not stand in the way of states moving to legalise it. Such is the miracle of federalism. But if marijuana is now deemed OK in Colorado – and dispensaries will open soon in Washington as well, the other state that approved legal marijuana at the end of 2012 – what message does that send to Mexico and others fighting the war on drugs largely on America’s behalf?
“It looks hypocritical that we are allowing this experiment to go forward while Mexico is waging a life-and-death war to prevent people from consuming these drugs in the United States,” remarks David Shirk, a fellow with the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center who also teaches at San Diego University.
“Imagine you’re a Mexican soldier about to raid a major marijuana plantation. He has to be asking himself, ‘Why am I risking my life for a bunch of gringos who are going to smoke this stuff freely in Colorado?’”
Yet there are those in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America who see hope in the Colorado ganja rush. These are the voices that contend that only by legalising can governments weaken the cartels that have so direly poisoned society with violence and by corrupting civic institutions.
Vicente Fox, Mexico’s president before Mr Calderon, has been preaching the legalisation gospel – and blasting the American-led anti-drugs campaign – to anyone who’ll listen. The war on drugs, he told High Times magazine last summer, has “been a total disaster”.
He added: “My highest priority is to stop violence in Mexico. And this is one clear way that we will accomplish that in the process of time.”
Last month Uruguay decided to move towards the complete legalisation of cannabis, and some important voices in Argentina and Peru are now starting to urge public debate on the issue also. But here in the United States, any such discussion has until now been routinely smothered.
In the religion of interdiction, all mention of legalisation is heresy. But as Americans now ponder the weed haze over the Rocky Mountain skyline, the possibly benign impact on criminal trafficking of legalisation can no longer be dismissed.
The general premise here is that if cannabis is being produced and sold legally and more cheaply in big states like Colorado and Washington – and with polls showing a majority of Americans now supporting legalisation it’s a fair bet others, including California, will soon follow – Mexican product will no longer be competitive or even of equal quality. The impact becomes all the greater if weed legally grown in those states begins to migrate to others across the US, even as far away as New York, as it surely will.
The cartels will move to compensate for the shortfall, stepping up the trafficking of cocaine and meth and growing their other businesses like kidnapping, ransoms and extortion.
Nor do we know precisely how important marijuana sales are to them; drug lords don’t generally open their books to outside scrutiny. A 2012 research paper by the Mexican Competitiveness Institute in Mexico called ‘If Our Neighbours Legalise’, said that the legalisation of marijuana in Colorado, Washington and California would depress cartel profits by as much as 30 per cent.
A 2010 Rand Corp study of what would happen if just California legalised suggests a more modest fall-out. Using consumption in the US as the most useful measure, its authors posit that marijuana accounts for perhaps 25 per cent of the cartels’ revenues. The cartels would survive losing that, but still.
“That’s enough to hurt, enough to cause massive unemployment in the illicit drugs sector,” says Mr Shirk. Less money for cartels means weaker cartels and less capacity to corrupt the judiciary and the police in Mexico with crumpled bills in brown envelopes. Crimes like extortion and kidnappings are also more easily tackled.
There is an awful lot to weigh in what Colorado has done. As a father I am not thrilled to see marijuana consumption encouraged. What I surely do welcome, however, is the opportunity for the first time to test in practice the argument that legalisation will do more to diminish violence in America’s immediate neighbour and points south than any amount of militarised prohibition.
Mr Shirk puts it this way. If you ask enforcement folk how large a dent their interdiction efforts – seizures, arrests, helicopter raids and so on – actually have on cartel earnings, they will say between 5 and 10 per cent. But just few states embracing legal cannabis may end up robbing them of two to five times that amount.
Yes, we will soon hear of some tragedy due to legalisation – a Denver kid high behind the wheel will kill someone or crash into a ravine. But put that beside the tens of thousands who have perished in Mexico thanks to a war on drugs that traces back to Richard Nixon and I can live with that.
And that is why I say open all the pot shops that you can, as fast as you can, even if I won’t be visiting them.
By Ray Downs
|Jeff Mizanskey at the Jefferson City Correctional Center|
When Eric Sykes, a mass communications senior at SIUE, read the October Daily RFT story about Jeff Mizanskey, the Missouri man doing a life without parole sentence for marijuana, he thought he might have a good subject for his video documentary class. But as he delved into the project, it became more important than just a grade.
"When I first contacted Chris Mizanskey, Jeff Mizanskey's son, I realized just how real this situation was," Sykes tells Daily RFT.
In November, Sykes made the trip from Edwardsville to the Jefferson City Correctional Center where Mizanskey has been held for nearly 20 years for an on-camera interview. He was able to speak to Mizanskey and hear his story in person. The next day, Sykes met some of Mizanskey's family. And although Sykes had never been a proponent of marijuana legalization, this experience convinced him that prohibition laws are a lost cause.
"I have never been one to support the legalization of marijuana until I heard about this case," Sykes says. "I can truthfully confess that I have never been in the same room with marijuana. Never smoked it and never will, but after meeting these people, however, I feel that we need to decriminalize marijuana. Who are we to sentence someone to die in prison because they were in possession or marijuana? This entire story is just painstakingly wrong."
Sykes' 24-minute documentary, "Here I Am," features in-person interviews with Mizanskey, his son Chris, and a town hall meeting in Sedalia, Missouri - where Mizanskey was arrested - where legalization of marijuana is discussed. The story is told solely through these interviews and viewers get to see and hear the people directly affected by Missouri's Prior and Persistent Drug Offender statute, the nation's only drug specific three-strike law that makes it possible to get a life without parole sentence for marijuana.
The title comes from a comment Mizanskey made during the interview.
"He was speaking about Governor Jay Nixon and said, '...if he really wants to help somebody, here I am,'" Sykes explains.
In November, Sykes traveled to the Jefferson City Correctional Center in November to conduct an on-camera interview with Mizanskey.
"From the moment he walked in to the moment he sat down he was well mannered, never spoke out of turn, and to me, seemed like someone who should not be in prison," Sykes says. "At one point, and I think you hear this in the documentary, he talks about how he loves to work and when he gets out he is going to get a job no matter what it is, even if it is flipping burgers. This simple statement, in my opinion, is just another reason this guy should be out among us."
Sykes adds: "I threw questions out to Jeff about Governor jay Nixon, specifically if he knew about Nixon's son getting caught with marijuana and then having the charges dropped... Jeff never spoke badly of Governor Nixon. This shows the type of character that Jeff has."
After that interview, Sykes drove to Sedalia to interview Mizanskey's son, Chris. Meeting the son of a man who had been in prison for 20 years for a nonviolent crime, Sykes thought about his own three-year-old son.
"Chris was just a teenager at the time his dad was put away in prison," Sykes says. "I started to think about my own life and how I would feel if my dad were ripped away from me or if I were ripped away from my son and wife for the rest of my life. That sort of devastation is not supposed to happen to someone who was caught with marijuana."
Sykes was never a proponent of making pot legal. It just hasn't been something that he gave much thought to. But during the process of making the documentary, including meeting Mizanskey and his son Chris in person, Sykes says that seeing what happens to families affected by drug laws made him a reluctant activist of sorts.
"This project actually has become an ongoing effort to get Governor Jay Nixon's attention to grant Jeff Mizanskey clemency. Jeff has served his time," Sykes says.
Even though this is Sykes' first documentary, it has already been shared widely by people and groups advocating for Mizanskey's release. Sykes hopes that it continues to be shared and bring attention to the story.
"We cannot fall into the trap of letting the media run its course with this story," Sykes says. "This guy is in his sixties and has already served 20 years. It is time for him to live the rest of his life in peace."
By Art Way
One year ago, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed an executive order ratifying the overwhelming victory Amendment 64, the nation's first statewide vote to end marijuana prohibition. At that moment the personal use, possession and home-cultivation of small amounts of marijuana became legal in the Centennial State for adults 21 years of age and older.
The headlines over the last year have understandably focused on the implementation of Amendment 64's unprecedented framework to regulate and tax sales of marijuana to adults. After all, Amendment 64 doesn't simply remove criminal penalties; it creates the world's first legal market for marijuana, licensing cultivation, processing and retail outlets. Reducing criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana does not alone address the inherent harms of prohibition -- the enormous unregulated market, the unequal application of the laws, especially for people of color, and unregulated products of unknown potency and quality. Moreover, creating a state-based market for legal marijuana sales raised the prospect of a direct conflict with federal prohibition. That issue however was basically settled when the Department of Justice issued guidelines in August that gave Colorado a cautious green light to proceed without imminent threat of interference by the feds.
In the midst of all the attention-grabbing focus on regulation and new tax revenue, we shouldn't forget that Amendment 64 removed criminal penalties and increased personal freedom for Coloradans. A year ago the regime of marijuana prohibition in Colorado was forever changed. Law enforcement and judicial culture and policies adapted to the will of the people.
According to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, by removing criminal penalties the state has saved anywhere from $12 million to $40 million dollars over the last year. (Others have estimated the state spends over $60 million enforcing marijuana prohibition at the levels now legal, so the CCLP estimate is probably on the conservative side.) Over the last decade, the state has averaged over 10,000 arrests and citations per year for minor marijuana possession at the levels now legal in the state.
Because of Amendment 64 and the simple decriminalization of marijuana in the state over the last year, 10,000 primarily young adults will likely not be hindered by the collateral consequences of a drug charge. Noxious racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement will also likely decrease dramatically. In places like Arapahoe County, whose population is 10 percent black, African Americans comprised 35 percent of minor marijuana arrests. In Denver, blacks were almost four times as likely to be arrested for low-level marijuana possession, even though they are no more likely to use marijuana than whites. In the metro area, Latinos were twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana despite rates of consumption actually lower than both whites and blacks.
Nationally we average over 750,000 marijuana arrests each year -- something like one every 37 seconds -- nearly half of all drug arrests in the country. Almost 90 percent of these arrests are for simple possession for personal use, not sale or manufacture. Police make far more arrests for marijuana possession each year than for all violent crimes combined. Colorado has removed itself from this immense waste of resources, and life altering criminal justice consequences, that persistently defines marijuana prohibition.
The voters of Colorado did the right thing last year. They helped lead the nation to a new way to control marijuana, focus scarce law enforcement resources and increase fairness in the criminal justice system. We don't have to wait to celebrate this New Year's Day when legal sales of marijuana begin. We mark this one-year anniversary of hard-won freedoms and declare that Colorado has already won.
By: Daniel B. Wood
A worker in Colorado who undergoes a random drug test is found to test positive for marijuana use, but in less than a month pot-smoking will be legal there. Can a company with a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drug use still fire that worker, or should it instead adjust its policy on employee drug use?
That's just one of many questions that employers in both Colorado and the state ofWashington are wrestling with as they adjust to new marijuana laws, which as of Jan. 1 will permit individuals to buy and possess up to an ounce of pot.
The issues to consider are legion: How much discretion do firms have over how to handle workers who smoke pot in their nonwork hours? Can some kinds of workers (officers of the law, public transit drivers, school teachers) be held to a stricter standard than others? And perhaps most germane, when does federal law, which still outlaws marijuana possession and use, trump state law?
That last point is beginning to be resolved in the courts, and so far it's coming down on the side of the preeminence of federal law. As Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper famously quipped last November, even as the vote tallies showed the measure to legalize recreational marijuana would be approved: "Federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly."
"Employers big and small across the state are really struggling with these questions," says Danielle Durban, a Denver-based employment attorney at Fisher & Phillips LLP. "They have to come up with testing protocols that don't alienate their own employees but cover themselves from liability, as well," she says. "Most are wishing legislators had given them more direction."
(Read more: Slideshow: A gallery of medical marijuana)
Ms. Durban and many others say answers to many of these questions are likely to be clarified in court cases in coming years.
Two big court cases have already started paving the way, although some experts disagree about their exact implications. Both concern employee use of medical marijuana, which is already legal in Colorado and Washington (as well as 18 other states).
In April, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the firing of a man who is a quadriplegic for his off-the-job use of medical marijuana use. In the case, Coats v. Dish Network, the state appeals court concluded that because marijuana is illegal under federal law, employees have no protection to use it at any time. (The state Supreme Court has not yet said if it will hear the appeal.)
(Read more: New investors lighting up legal marijuana industry)
Then, in August came a ruling from a federal district court in the case of Curry v. MillerCoors. An employee who had tested positive for marijuana was fired under MillerCoors' written drug policy, though he said he had never used marijuana on company premises and had never been under the influence of marijuana at work. "Despite concern for Mr. Curry's medical condition, anti-discrimination law does not extend so far as to shield a disabled employee from the implementation of his employer's standard policies against employee misconduct," wrote Judge John Kane.
"There is a huge tension between states and the federal government on this issue, and employers are caught in the middle," says Mark Spognardi, a Chicago-based attorney who specializes in drug and alcohol testing. "The Colorado Coats case is having an effect far and wide."
The court rulings fly in the face of what the American public apparently expects to be the case concerning worker rights and pot use. Almost two-thirds of Americans say it would be unacceptable for a company to fire an employee for off-the-clock marijuana use in states where using marijuana is legal, compared with 22 percent who say it is acceptable, according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll released Nov. 13. The same percentage said it would be unacceptable to fire an employee for off-hours alcohol consumption.
Most employers fall into one of three camps as they consider the new marijuana laws and their own personnel policies, says Kimberly Ryan, a Colorado-based civil rights and employment law specialist.
Adaptable. Some companies are considering policy changes after weighing their hiring reputations against their legal obligations.
Zero tolerance. These employers feel that no worker usage whatsoever is the safest policy, and they rest their case on the rulings in the Coats and Curry lawsuits.
Complicating the debate are employers' needs to comply with federal laws such as the Americans With Disabilities Act, which mandates that they make reasonable efforts to accommodate workers' medical issues, and the Family Medical Leave Act, which some analysts say may force companies to grant time off for employees whose medical treatment requires them to take a drug that would cause them to fail a mandatory drug test.
Some employers are looking for guidance from a new Colorado law, which took effect May 28, that defines what constitutes a pot-impaired motorist. It says a driver is considered to be impaired if a blood test shows a level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the primary mind-altering ingredient in marijuana – that is five or more nanograms per milliliter. The state of Washington has established the same THC limit as Colorado for drivers.
But as far the workplace is concerned, analysts say, employers will be establishing their own rules concerning off-hours marijuana use.
"The bottom line is that employers can say, 'These are our rules, and if you violate them, you're fired,' " says Durban.
One problem with establishing legal limits for marijuana is that pot behaves differently in the human body than alcohol, say advocates of legal marijuana.
"We have this notion that since we have a magic number for alcohol, that we are going to have a similar number for marijuana," says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law, which advocates legalization. "The problem is that marijuana is not metabolized and absorbed by the body in the same way alcohol is." Some amounts are retained much longer, and the effect can be hard to gauge, he says.
Daria Serna, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Revenue's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, the state agency charged with regulating the production, sales, and distribution of the drug, says many employers are taking their cue from state law enforcement, which is treating marijuana use in the same way it treats alcohol use.
"If you're not allowed to drink on the job, you're not allowed to smoke [pot] on the job," she says.
But others say a zero-tolerance policy is best, given a degree of uncertainty over how the federal government will respond to the states' new legal-marijuana laws.
"The state passed legalization very easily, but as much as we might disagree, the courts are still telling us we are bound to the federal law," says Sam Kamin, director of constitutional rights and remedies program and professor of law at the University of Denver's Sturm Law School.
Durban and others say employers are unlikely to devise policies that are more lenient toward pot-smoking workers than federal law, because if an employee is impaired and ends up injuring someone, they could be legally liable.
"Businesses here are recognizing that this is a learning process in a whole new direction for the state," says Loren Furman, senior vice president of state and federal relations for the Colorado Association of Commerce & Industry. "Certainly we are going to have to deal with the legal cases as they arise.… For now we're just basing our actions on what we can glean from the current court cases and statutory guidance as we understand it."
POT TV - Tune in LIVE TODAY for the Free Marc Emery Parliament Hill Takeover - starting at 9:30AM ET in Ottawa - where Jodie Emery and opposition MPs will ask the Conservative government of Canada to allow Marc to transfer home.
NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies, Liberal Public Safety Critic Wayne Easter and Green MP Elizabeth May will join with Jodie Emery TODAY (Tuesday, October 29 at 10:30AM) at 130 S Centre Block - Charles Lynch Room - to publicly ask the government for Marc Emery's return to Canada.
WATCH LIVE starting at 9:30 AM ET
PHONE BLITZ: Help imprisoned marijuana activist Marc Emery by calling the Canadian Public Safety Minister's office all day Tuesday, October 29, and politely asking the government to approve Marc's prison transfer back home to Canada.
PHONE NUMBERS TO CALL:
613-944-4875 or 1-800-830-3118 (Public Safety Ministry office)
613-992-7434 (Parliament Hill office)
418-830-0500 (Constituency Office #1)
418-625-2626 (Constituency Office #2)
More than 1000 drug policy reformers came to Denver, Colorado to discuss an exit strategy from the war on drugs. The filming crew of the Drugreporter (http://drugreporter.net) produced a short video to feature the best moments of the conference.