Thursday, December 17, 2009

95 years ago...

On December 17, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Harrison Narcotics Act, P.L. 63-223, 38 Statutes at Large 785, commencing the modern "war on drugs." Will it last an entire century?

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New York City police perjury is widespread, Federal Judge declares

U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, one of the most famous Federal judges of the late 20th century, recently declared that there is "repeated widespread falsification" [i.e., perjury] by New York City police regarding the arrests that they make. In this case, the lies of NYPD detectives were contradicted by security videotapes, and the detectives have been indicted.

As reported in The New York Times in 1994
, a draft of the report issued by the Commission chaired by Judge Milton Mollen that investigated police misconduct found that perjury was "widespread" and that New York police officers referred to their routine perjury as "testilying." The Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau told The New York Times he thought the report exaggerated the scope of the perjury problem. Morgenthau is retiring this year.

An earlier story in November 2009 in the New York Daily News noted that the police department did not try to learn the outcome of cases in which the City of New York was sued for the misconduct of police officers, and is now, at the end of 2009, looking for patterns of police officer perjury.

Think of that: for at least 15 years the police department has been on notice that perjury is widespread and it did nothing to find out about perjury that was so egregious that it led to lawsuits against the city. In the criminal law we call this "willful blindness."

My hunch is that such commonplace police perjury is not limited to the New York police, but is prevalent, if not widespread and customary, in police departments throughout the country.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On Evil

David Brooks writes in The New York Times today about President Obama's Christian Realism in international affairs. It is a lovely column about balance in the exercise of power. Brooks suggests that liberals in the 1970s (the period of my young adulthood) abandoned the conversation about evil in international affairs, and the need for force to resist it.

In thinking about and writing about the need for criminal justice reform, about the misconduct of the police, about excessively long sentences, about the absurdities and futility of drug prohibition, about the death penalty, about racism in the justice system, and so forth, liberals may be accused of too often disregarding the evil of many of the nation's criminals who kill, maim, hurt or violate others.

In some instances, such criticism is justified, but it is also understandable, perhaps, in the recognition that such blindness balances -- in a cultural way -- the blindness of the rhetoric of retribution that has flowed in recent decades from leaders of the criminal justice establishment. The press releases of prosecutors, legislators and police chiefs have often focused exclusively (or at least excessively) on the "evil" of offenders, and been indifferent to the "evils" of the justice system. Even non-evil offenders, such as simple drug users, have been the target for retribution by the likes of Dr. William Bennett, first "drug czar," and his political allies.

In the spirit of David Brooks' commendation of President Obama for his balanced view of evil, and the need to fight it, criminal justice liberals must not fail to acknowledge the horror of being a crime victim and the terror that fear of such crime creates.

We must acknowledge that justice demands punishment, even amidst the deep flaws in our "system" of justice that both jails and convicts the innocent and lets offenders escape conviction.

Anti-prohibitionists must acknowledge the tragedy of addiction, and the need to prevent addicted offenders from using drugs if that expensive habit will lead to any more crimes.

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Sex trafficking in America -- A legal system's failures. And victims revictimized by untrained law enforcement officers.

Laura Bauer, writing for the Kansas City Star, has an excellent series of stories about sex trafficking in America. In the first, it is noted that untrained local police can't distinguish a sex trafficking victim from a prostitute.

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Elected Prosecutors -- How do they run their offices? Are they challenged at the polls?

Most prosecutors are never challenged for re-election, reports the Waco Tribune-Herald in a very thoughtful review by reporter Cindy V. Culp.

Culp also wrote a very detailed story about how look at the performance of a prosecutor's office.

The first article identifies questions that incumbent prosecutors ought to be asked:

Questions that should be asked include:

* Is the prosecutor being thoughtful about priorities for his office, or is he just going with the flow?

* To what extent does the prosecutor hold other attorneys in the office accountable for the choices they make? How does he do that — for example, does he sample their work periodically?

* Is there general waste? Are resources being thrown at crimes that don’t really deserve them?

* How accurate is the office in evaluating cases? Put another way, how often do the crimes defendants are convicted of match up with the crimes they were initially charged with?

[University of Arizona law professor Marc] Miller, who has extensively studied prosecutor decision making, said he would add these additional questions:

* What guidelines govern whether prosecutors pursue cases or decline them?

* What percent of the cases that prosecutors receive from law enforcement are pursued?

* For cases not pursued, what are the general reasons?

This is excellent journalism.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 High School Drug Use Study Released: Monitoring the Future

The Monitoring the Future study of drug use among 8th, 10th and 12th graders was released today. The government's press release was balanced, highlighting the successes in reduced cigarette smoking and use of methamphetamine, and noting that declines in marijuana use that had been steady for a decade seemed to have stalled.

Fortunately students perceive that it is harder for them to obtain drugs, especially cocaine, crack, ecstasy, sedatives, tranquilizers and steroids.

Lifetime use of various illicit drugs continues to go down. For 12th grade marijuana use it was down 42.0 percent, down from 49.7 percent in 1999, but still higher than the early and mid-1990s.

Current use of marijuana (last 30 days) is 6.5 percent for 8th grade, 15.9 percent for 10th grade and 20.6 percent for 12th grade -- all slight increases over the past five years.

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Philadelphia: Broken criminal justice system contributes to highest violent crime rate

The Philadelphia Inquirer begins a four-part series analyzing 31,000 cases that finds the courts overwhelmed with high caseloads that cram dockets. The courts are being gamed by defense attorneys, the prosecutors are poorly managed and disorganized, court and correctional administrators can't get subpoenaed inmates to court on time, witnesses are intimidated into silence, and tens of thousands of fugitives who skip bail are never sought or found.

Philadelphia has the highest violent crime rate for large urban counties. Is this the fault of due process and the Constitution? No, this is system-wide failure of the criminal justice system.

System-wide failure incurs a tremendous price. Fear diminishes the quality of life of hundreds of thousands. Thousands of crimes are committed by offenders who learn the system of punishment is toothless. Every city resident pays more for insurance. Most city real estate is worth less because of the incidence and fear of crime. The city's tax base is weakened. Hundreds of thousands of people flee the city over the years, leading to suburban sprawl, damaged watersheds, loss of farms and habitat, and the consumption of millions of barrels of imported oil increasing our dependence on corrupt foreign governments and contributing to long-term global climate change. The city's schools suffer.

System-wide failure also encourages demoralized law enforcers to take vigilante justice, to bend rules, to engage in perjury, to frame defendants they believe are guilty, and to tolerate perjury by defendant-informants who are offered freedom for their testimony. If a chronic offender keeps getting off, the temptation is great to plant evidence like drugs or a firearm to get a public menace off the street.

System-wide failure also enables the concealment of cases that are fixed or thrown to appear as simply the system not working, as usual.

System-wide failure can lead legislators to propose empty, ineffective "fixes" such as longer sentences, across the board limits on bail, or restrictions on civil liberties. The role of budget crises, the low tax on alcoholic beverages, the diversion of resources to pointless drug cases, and the failure to tax the production and use of drugs like marijuana, are rarely examined as features that can contribute to system reform and safer streets.

System-wide failure severely limits the ability of any reformer -- whether a mayor, a new district attorney or a new police chief -- from fixing the system. A mayor may pick the police chief, but she doesn't control the independently elected district attorney, the judges or judicial administrators.

Paraphrasing the wise observation of a criminal justice researcher after evaluating a successful experiment in probation management, "It is easier to change the behavior of hard core drug addicts than it is to change the behavior of criminal court judges!" Lawyers and judges are deeply committed to doing business the way it has always been done.

To achieve change is possible. But it will require sustained pressure from the business community, church leaders, and a broad range of civic leaders. Don't look to the usual actors in the criminal justice system to identify or execute the necessary change.

I used to live in Philadelphia more than 30 years ago when I was actively practicing law in Pennsylvania. My car was stolen from in front of my home in the Mount Airy neighborhood one night. The chop shop's accomplices worked in the police department. In order to dispose of my stripped car, its stolen status was deleted from the police department's computerized database.

Good luck, Philadelphia!

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

An officer's death 25 years ago fighting heroin dealers in Baltimore

Baltimore Sun columnist and blogger Peter Hermann reports on a commemoration of the murder of Officer Marty Ward. He notes how little has changed!

He also laments a cause of the failing strategy which is that police, prosecutors and judges have no common objective for what they are attempting to accomplish with the criminal justice system. Making arrests is a truly pointless activity when the arrests are detached from what the courts are going to do. Aside from the futility of the economics, the mismanagement of criminal justice resources is also a major part of the failure of our drug policy.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

The right kind of drug prosecution

It is heartening to see the Department of Justice making the right kinds of drug busts: major international traffickers. It won't end the drug supply, but these are genuine criminal organizations that use violence and bribery, etc. When our government gets smarter, it will use a smarter and more efficient strategy to put such organizations out of business -- regulation, licensing, taxation, and control.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kerlikowske on the DoJ Medical marijuana prosecution policy

ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske issued this press release regarding the DoJ medical Cannabis prosecution memorandum.

What strikes me is the profound distrust that underlies this statement. ONDCP can't seem to wrap their collective heads around the idea that anyone is using marijuana medically in good faith. They don't trust anyone who may want to make sure that patients who need it, pursuant to state law, have convenient and safe access to Cannabis for medical purposes.

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Baltimore Sun observes that Maryland's medical marijuana sentencing law needs fixing

The Baltimore Sun recognizes that Maryland's 6-year old medical marijuana law, that allows a $100 fine if you establish in court a medical necessity for marijuana, needs to be fixed.
Up in smoke --

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Pay off from new DoJ policy: WI Gov. Doyle says medical marijuana restrictions senseless

The news from Wisconsin, below, is a powerful demonstration of the political value of the new DoJ medical Cannabis prosecution memorandum. This news illustrates a mistake that drug policy reformers, such as myself, can easily make.

As soon as I heard about the DoJ memorandum, my reaction was, "What kind of b.s. is it going to be? What is the real story?"

As soon as I read the memorandum, my lawyerly reaction was, "Aha! Look at this stinking Swiss cheese of loopholes. How is this going to help the folks in California who fear raids or who are already on trial or in prison?"

My initial reading was wrong. I failed to see the memorandum in the proper historical, political and symbolic context. We are habituated to expect lies and persecution from the federal government regarding the medical use of Cannabis. And in its technicalities, the federal government did not disappoint.

But the much more important fact is that in symbolic, political and historical terms, this memorandum is a formal renunciation of the "medical Cannabis is a fraud" posture of the federal government, and political actors, such as Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, get it!

Doyle: Medical marijuana restrictions senseless --

The new political environment creates:
(1) Enormous opportunities for state law reforms.

(2) Enormous pressure on HHS and FDA to move ahead on the science of Cannabis medicine to support rescheduling. To accomplish this objective, however, requires continuing effort from our movement.

(3) Support for our allies in Congress for legislation like the Truth in Trials Act, the Hinchey-Rohrabacher Amendment, and medicalization legislation that reschedules Cannabis.

But don't take your eye off the compass and the charts. The wind is now at our back, not in our faces. But we are not yet in port. There is still a lot of water out there there that we have to sail over, before we are tied up safely at dock and ready to disembark.

I fear that there are still a lot of patients who are going to suffer without safe access to medicine, a lot of physicians who will be afraid to write a recommendation, and a lot of potential care givers who will prudently stand aside until the laws are clarified.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

U.S. Department of Justice Medical Marijuana Policy

Here is the three-page October 19, 2009 memorandum from the Deputy Attorney General entitled, "Investigations and Prosecutions in States Authorizing the Medical Use of Marijuana."

This action is many steps in the right direction.

Most importantly, this is a formal acknowledgment by the Federal government of the reality of medical use of Cannabis on a mass scale. This is in many respects more significant than the 30-year old compassionate use program that was closed to new patients in 1992. Whether this is grudging recognition of the extensive scientific support for using Cannabis medically, simply honoring a campaign pledge, or bowing to public opinion, it is very important politically and symbolically. At a minimum, this memorandum should encourage state legislators to change their minds if they have been reluctant to vote for a state medical marijuana law on the ground that such a state law might conflict with federal law. In addition, this change encourages scientific researchers to redouble their search for potential medical benefits from Cannabis. They can see that their research is likely to be rewarded with application in the patient community. And, the announcement of this memorandum must give hope to those who are now in prison, or who have been sentenced to prison, who were operating or planning bona fide medical marijuana dispensaries, and their loved ones, that their sentences might be commuted.

The memorandum reflects the political and organizational conflict within the Department of Justice. The Department reiterates that "marijuana is a dangerous drug" and that "the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime."

Unfortunately this memorandum offers less formal protection that any legitimate dispensary operator or care giver wants and really needs.

The memorandum says investigators and prosecutors "should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."

The unfortunate reality is that "clear and unambiguous compliance" is an extraordinarily high standard to achieve in general. When the conduct is entirely prohibited by federal law, the state laws were often deliberately written with ambiguity to avoid "positive conflict" with the Controlled Substances Act (sec. 708 of the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. 903). Until DEA reschedules Cannabis and Congress revises federal law, this will be an area of law that is inherently and inescapably filled with ambiguity.

The memorandum suggests seven circumstances that suggest an absence of "clear and unambiguous:"
* unlawful possession or unlawful use of firearms;
* violence;
* sales to minors;
* financial and marketing activities inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of state law, including evidence of money laundering and/or financial gains or excessive amounts of cash;
* amounts of marijuana inconsistent with purported compliance;
* illegal possession or sale of other controlled substances; or
* ties to other criminal enterprises.

But the memorandum itself is ambiguous. For example, every medical marijuana user, grower or care giver who possesses a firearm -- even if owned legally under every other circumstance -- arguably is per se an unlawful firearms possessor under federal law which prohibits possession of firearms by a person who is an unlawful user of a controlled substance (18 U.S.C. 922(g)). How does that prohibition square with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that possession of firearms is constitutionally protected as an aspect of the right to self defense in last year's case of District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. ___ (2008) -- especially considering the high value of Cannabis and the risk of armed robbery or burglary of the premises where it is grown, kept or dispensed?

And speaking of "ambiguity," the Department of Justice is certainly ambiguous when using terms such as "amounts of marijuana inconsistent with purported compliance" or "financial gains or excessive amounts of cash." That's clear, isn't it?

Well, perhaps the retrograde elements in the Department of Justice need to see how this operates and that "the world as we know it" does not collapse, before moving to the next logical step.

But all that aside, this is enormously important progress for the nation. Whole Cannabis has enormous potential as a medicine. This memorandum allows progress in making that potential real across a wide front of society, science and law.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Does Los Angeles D.A.'s threat to dispensaries make sense?

The Los Angles Daily News published a thoughtful op-ed by MPP's Bruce Mirken questioning the wisdom of the Los Angeles prosecutor's threat to close medical marijuana dispensaries.

Too many prosecutors are mentally stuck. With their hammer in hand, all problems are nails to be pounded. A brand new medical marijuana industry is sprouting up in Los Angeles. It arises in legal ambiguity founded on a citizen's initiative enacted after California governors repeatedly vetoed the legislature's Acts to create a controlled medical marijuana regime, the near implacable refusal by the law enforcement establishment to obey a law they opposed, and a guerrilla war against medical marijuana carried out by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the United States Attorneys offices, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House. Since March, the U.S. Attorney General and the White House have indicated that they are backing off, but DEA has continued to raid. There remains no articulated federal policy. So ambiguity prevails.

So the Los Angeles District Attorney, instead of approaching this problem with a goal of cooperating with patients and their providers, has declared he's going to prosecute. Brilliant, not.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Domestic marijuana vs Mexican cartels

There's a clever letter by SSDP's new Campaigns Director, Tyler Smith, in The Washington Post.

What Will Stop the Drug Wars
Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thanks for publishing an account of the economic impact of domestic marijuana production on Mexican cartels' profits Cartels Face an Economic Battle, front page, Oct. 7].

It's disingenuous for Ralph Reyes, the Drug Enforcement Administration's chief of operations for Mexico and Central America, to blame casual marijuana smokers in the United States for the violence in Mexico. Given the opportunity, marijuana smokers would gladly buy American pot. As The Post's story pointed out, that's increasingly what they are doing.

Obviously, our approach to marijuana control doesn't work. The responsibility for violence in Mexico that stems from drug prohibition lies with our lawmakers, who have utterly failed to embrace a more sensible marijuana policy.

If we regulated and taxed marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, maybe the next headline on this subject would read "Legal U.S. Marijuana Growers Cripple Mexican Cartels; Violence Diminishes."

Campaign Director
Students for Sensible Drug Policy

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009


He admitted that, older than 40 years, he drugged and raped a thirteen year old girl. He pleaded guilty to a lesser offense. He fled the country. He was ordered arrested.

Protests and outrage at his arrest are preposterous.

He should be brought back to the United States and be sentenced.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Speech of Colombia President Uribe at the UN General Assembly

Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe spoke at the UN General Assembly this week. He lauded the success of the Colombian state in creating more peace and security.

But his attack on the concept of legalization of drugs was understood to be the heart of his speech.

We believe that instead of advocating for the legalization of drugs, we must
reflect on the need to make consumption illegal. There is no coherence
between the severity facing production and trafficking and the permissiveness
of consumption. This has lead to murderous micro-trafficking in cities, to
encouraging consumption by adolescents and youth and to involving children
in the criminal enterprise. We are advancing in the constitutional process to
make consumption illegal, making sure not to confuse the sick addict with the
criminal distributor.

Colombia's Supreme Court recently affirmed an old decision of the Constitutional Court that the use of drugs was permitted under the Colombian Constitution.

President Uribe's government is trying to amend the Constitution to change this. Uribe successfully amended the Constitution to permit him to run for a second term, which will conclude soon. He is now trying to amend the Constitution to permit him to serve a third successive term. President Obama recently hinted to President Uribe that two terms were enough for George Washington.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

In El Paso, they will be thinking seriously about drug policy

Melissa del Bosque of The Texas Observer, blogging at La Linea, reports on the drug situation and the now infamous resolution of the El Paso City Council seeking “honest open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.” I called the ten words of the city council resolution "legislative scatology" last winter.

She notes the University of Texas at El Paso is holding a conference Sept. 21-22, 2009 on the drug situation. It also got a mention in The Guardian in the United Kingdom recently.

The extremely articulate Terry Nelson from LEAP will be on the first panel!

The UTEP SSDP chapter describes its activities here and here. Chapter president, Vanessa Romero, will introduce one of the best critics of the "war on drugs," California Superior Court Judge Jim Gray, the luncheon speaker!

Monday evening's keynote address, featuring Dr. Sergio Fajardo, former Mayor of Medellin, Colombia, will be in Ciudad Juarez.

On Tuesday:

Three of the most accomplished scholars of the drug phenomenon, Dr. David Courtwright, Dr. Craig Reinarman, and Dr. Michael Agar will speak.

Dr. Westley Clark, the Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment of SAMSHA.

The Federal government's "border czar" Alan Bersin, Dr. William Martin, and Dr. Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director, the Drug Policy Alliance will be on a concluding panel.
There are other numerous other speakers I regret that I am not familiar with, and who are not identified in the conference on-line program.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Hey, Sierra Club!!

In Cambodia, forests are being destroyed to obtain the ingredients to make MDMA (ecstasy). This is the result of drug prohibition.

Again, if you love Mother Earth, you need to add ending drug prohibition to your to do list.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009


There is a terrific new book about marijuana on the market, Marijuana is SAFER: So why are we driving people to drink?.

The book is wonderfully written in easy-to-read, breezy style, yet it is full of facts and very carefully documented. Steve Fox at MPP, Paul Armentano at NORML, and Mason Tvert at SAFER have done an outstanding job. It is a useful tool for families to have useful discussions about drug use.

If you are a marijuana smoker and getting hassled by someone for that fact, this book is a great tool to help put your marijuana use in context.

If you are a drug policy reform activist, this book should be read and regularly referred to. The only quibble I have with the authors is that in encouraging students to become active on their campus -- a key audience of the book -- they did not mention Students for Sensible Drug Policy. I hope that this oversight does not discourage SSDP chapters from adopting this book as a universally referred-to text.

The book has a strong foreword by Norm Stamper, the former Chief of Police in Seattle, Washington, now a prominent spokesperson for LEAP.

This is a book that I will be giving to family and friends!

Order it now on and save more than 1/3 off the cover price!

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Hey, Sierra Club!

America's national forests are increasingly being damaged because of illegal marijuana cultivation, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

The Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, and the many other groups devoted to protecting the wild need to make repeal of drug prohibition part of their conservation agenda!

Prohibition doesn't work, and it does not work to protect the forests! In the summer of 1986 I helped U.S. Representative Harley Staggers, Jr. write the "National Forest System Drug Control Act of 1986," Title XV of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, P.L. 99-570, sections 15001 to 15007. Those provisions directed the Secretary of Agriculture "to take actions necessary, in conjunction with the administration and use of the National Forest System, to prevent the manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of marijuana and other controlled substances." (P.L. 99-570, section 15002).

Obviously these laws and the additional resources and new crimes have done little to protect the forests as drug prohibition has raised the value of the cannabis crop and enforcement activities made the forest more attractive refuges for these crimes.

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Is heroin consumption like other kinds of consumption?

The critique of the drug war of LEAP speaker, Major Stanford O. ("Neill") Franklin of the Maryland Transit Administration, a career cop, was highlighted in Esquire magazine. Franklin recently co-authored a very cogent piece on the op-ed page of The Washington Post with former Baltimore cop, Peter Moskos, about the price of prohibition in the deaths of cops.

The Esquire writer uses Franklin's estimates about the fraction of drug-related or drug prohibition-related homicides, and the number of drug overdoses from heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, to estimate that 15,233 Americans were killed as a result of the drug war in an unspecified year. The precision is absurd. But as suggestion of the scale -- on the order of 10,000 deaths annually from drug violence and overdoses -- it is definitely "in the ballpark". Would those deaths "go away" if drugs were legalized? Maybe -- but doesn't it depend on what legalization means in practice?

My friend Mark Kleiman uses the Esquire story renew his attack upon drug legalizers for making up facts, and for having "stupid" proposals that do not pass his "giggle" test.

Having a degree in economics and being a professor, and the founder of the blog, The Reality-Based Community, he tells us about the real world of drug consumption:

In the real world, drug consumption responds to price, and the consumption of heavy users is more responsive than the consumption of casual users, because heavy users spend a bigger fraction of their income on drugs. In the real world, prohibition increases price. Therefore, an end to prohibition would decrease price, and therefore increase consumption, especially heavy consumption. In the real world, alcohol and cocaine (like any depressant-stimulant pair) are economic complements: using more of one leads to using more of the other, and therefore a price drop for one leads to a consumption increase for the other. The legalizer rant consists mostly of ignoring those simple realities.

Many of the arguments in favor of legalization are often incomplete. They are often catch-phrases picked up by a reporter, or squeezed out, soundbite-style, on a broadcast argument couched as a "debate." A key feature of the legalization argument is making the important point that the status quo is not working, and must be replaced. The details of a replacement are rarely analyzed for the purpose of improving the likely outcome of the replacement -- they are usually avoided.

Looking at such presentations for the meat of a regulatory scheme can leave an impatient analyst barking from hunger, and despising the empty calories of such offerings. Certainly Esquire's article is not making a detailed description of what necessarily must be complex regimes of control. Most speakers don't have that opportunity either.

In his defense, Major Franklin told Esquire that we need a system of regulation and, "You can't sell it [the drugs] to just anybody, and you still go to jail if you sell it to the wrong people." What else he said, by way of explanation, may have been omitted, or was deemed unnecessary for the point of the article.

In commenting about heroin sales and price, to simply assert that consumption responds to price, I think omits a key point regarding initiation of use. Currently most new users are initiated into heroin use by another user. Guys encourage their buddies to share the thrill. Boyfriends encourage their lovers to share the pleasure of the high. Without being encouraged to try heroin by a peer, few persons who have never used heroin ever go down the open air drug market and simply ask around for some heroin to buy to shoot up.

As we try to design a legal heroin distribution regime that cuts out most of the criminal market, can it be designed to discourage new users?

Once one is a habituated heroin user, finding a reliable source becomes very important. Such sources are frequently found in networks of users. Yes, the price of heroin has been a factor in an individual addict's consumption, recognizing the uncontrolled nature of the criminal heroin market and the barriers to obtaining treatment outside the criminal justice system. But price is a much smaller factor in initiation, I believe.

My current thinking about heroin legalization is that the government would make heroin available only to addicts. The price may not be so high in dollars, but would be high in potential loss of privacy, and high in the loss of deviant status and outlaw cred. (Such a price may be too high to attract addicts to a legal regime.) If heroin addicts enroll in the government distribution program, it would eliminate most of the illegal heroin market because addicts consume the overwhelming majority of all of the heroin that is sold. The heroin would be dispensed in pre-measured syringes, each with a serial number that is registered to the addict. Addicts will be assured of their supply. Can addicts be provided with varying supplies so that on some days they get enough to avoid getting sick and on other days they can get enough to "get off" on? What can be done to assure that the addicts sticks with the legal regime and does not stray to the criminal regime to get more heroin to "get off" on?

On August 20, 2009, The New England Journal of Medicine reported [try your university library] on the NAOMI project in Vancouver and Montreal which made heroin available for injection to 115 intractable addicts twice a day from 2005 to 2008 at a site where it had to be used. On the European Addiction Severity Index, the experimental population showed improvement, especially in comparison with the "control" population of addicts who received oral methadone. Notably, at some point, 16 of the 115 patients suffered a life-threatening overdose or seizure. Because the drug was used at a supervised site, prompt treatment was applied and all 16 recovered. The NAOMI study authors recommend against unsupervised use.

One key condition of my vision of a legal heroin regime is that the addicts must not be allowed to share their supply with anyone. Perhaps the least troubling approach would be the inconvenient requirement that the injection be done at the place of distribution. To what extent would such an inconvenience lead to a market opportunity for the criminal market to fill?

A more convenient regime would permit syringes to be taken home, but the health risks go up. The syringes would be required to be returned and would be periodically inspected. If there were DNA evidence of the blood of another, the addict would be punished in various ways, but not in a way that would drive him out of the legal system of supply.

Can we reduce the initiation of new users in such an approach? Perhaps. Can we dramatically shrink the size of the criminal market? Most likely? Will this system work perfectly? Of course not! Will there need to be some enforcement of the regulatory system? Sure. Is there a perfect system? Of course not!

Our challenge is to find a better system that meets and balances a variety of needs:
* defunding terrorists and organized crime,
* preventing street crime to get the money to buy drugs,
* keeping addicts out of the criminal justice system,
* getting more order into neighborhoods,
* helping to keep families together,
* reducing deaths and overdoses,
* reducing the initiation of new users,
* does not promote use.

Whatever approach is suggested is likely to have features that "reality-based" critics like Mark will find uproariously flawed.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Controlling Drunk Driving

Certainly one class of crime for which we want to reduce recidivism is drunk driving. At age 19, while bicycling across the United States on a sunny Sunday morning in May 1970, I was struck from behind by a driver who blew .40. Miraculously, I survived with a broken wrist and many bruises. The driver was so drunk he did not know that two bicycles pinned under his car and gouging into the pavement had stopped the vehicle's motion. As I recall this was his third or fourth offense. As I recall, my lawyer said that he paid about a $150 fine (in 1970 dollars, of course).

Philip J. Cook (and a graduate student at Duke, Maeve E. Gearing) have made a strong case in today's New York Times that ignition interlocks be installed in the cars of those convicted of driving under the influence to reduce recidivism by an estimated sixty-five percent.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Regarding Hemp rallies, the many ways in which I am wrong!

Many very thoughtful and passionate friends wrote directly to me (or posted on their blogs) to disagree with all or part of my concern that hemp rallies are not good politics for our movement. Others agreed with part of what I said, with important caveats. Since their reactions were not posted directly among the more than a dozen comments to the original blog post (with more being added), about a dozen posts are included below. Where I have made comments they are in brackets [like this], and I have added hyperlinks and identifications.
Several posts are powerful evidence that I was wrong. And when two distinguished public figures in the State of Washington use the Hempfest to publish an op-ed in The Seattle Times, it is clear that as far as Seattle and Hempfest go, in many respects I was wrong. (I can only hope that one-one hundredth of the time and effort that went into the Hempfest is directed into organizing the state to support the legislation referred to at the end of this post.)

Dear Eric,
Having just returned from Hempfest (which was more work than pleasure for me) I read your critique of hemp rallies with interest. You are certainly right that hemp rallies are useless as political events. However, I don't share the view that they are actually politically harmful. IMHO, they are simply irrelevant, like any other public party - Music in the Park, a World Series celebration, Oktoberfest, Halloween, the 4th of July, a NASCAR rally.

This year's Hempfest was probably the biggest such event in history. By most accounts, there were 100-150,000 attendees on the first day alone, filling up a space that had been extended 30% beyond previous events. The crowds on Saturday were overwhelming to the point of suffocation. It is a testimony to the pacifying effects of cannabis that there wasn't a riot - there would have been if alcohol had been present.

But that isn't the point. What's important is that this enormous event generated negligible adverse publicity (outside of the ARO list, of course!). The Seattle media treated it with their routine annual coverage. Myriads of local hemp devotees rallied in the park; locals who dislike MJ didn't attend; and that was that. The net impact on public opinion was zero. Along with many other attendees, I personally found the event useful in making connections with other activists, picking up new information, and surveying the medical marijuana scene in Washington - though, to repeat, the suffocating crowds were an ordeal. But I don't see how any damage was done to the cause of drug reform.

Nor do I think that railing against hemp rallies will do any good. People like to get together to party and smoke dope, and there's nothing you nor I nor all the anti-pot laws in the world can do to stop them. That's one powerful lesson that can certainly be drawn from Seattle Hempfest. And that in itself is an argument for changing the laws - when so many people so flagrantly disregard the laws with such minimal public harm, the laws need to be recast to reflect social reality.

So I think your phobia about hemp rallies is overblown. You have amply articulated your own good reasons for avoiding them. It is a tribute to your own serious dedication to drug reform that you don't want to waste your time with them. Certainly, they are useless for political organizing (it's too bad Hempfest doesn't even make enough money to donate to the movement). But, hey, it's Americans practicing their rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, and they have every right to do so.

One final note: I take it as a good omen that this year's Hempfest was so well attended. That means that more people than ever are actively interested in cannabis. And, as with alcohol prohibition, I think the prohibition of drugs will only be reversed when more people show interest in using them.
- Dale Gieringer [California NORML]

Eric specifically mentioned the 39th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival in his message, and Dale stated, "Certainly, they (hemp rallies) are useless for political organizing "

I have to disagree. Harvest Fest has been a beacon of organizing in WI. With our mmj [medical marijuana] bill, the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act expected to be rolled out right before HF39 [Harvest Fest 39], we intend to use it to rally for the bill and use it to get patient's voices into the media. Over the last decade, HF has become a very medical focused event, with media reports focusing on that angle.

For WI and the Midwest, Harvest Fest fills a lot of roles, both political and organizational as well as social, informational and a reunion of like-minded folks.

Gary Storck

Unfortunately, Chris [Conrad] and I didn't make it to the Seattle Hempfest this
year. We had to stay here to work on production of the Fall 2009 issue of West Coast Leaf newspaper, the latest expression of our activism (see the current online version at

That said, I think that while Eric makes some valid points in his post, I also disagree with his assessment of the harms. The press in Seattle tends to be very positive. Hempfest provides a great opportunity to disseminate information and network with activists and the masses, as Dale mentioned. They are good places to register voters (which they've done in the past). But, most importantly, they are a cultural phenomenon. Cannabis consumers need a place to express ourselves and our culture, those of us with Pot Pride, much like the Gay Pride parades (yeah, they may scare middle America with how they express themselves in those parades, and you know they aren't going to end them, because they serve a purpose).

We need to show that there are thousands of us, like-minded people, who deserve a public place to be together, to demonstrate our right to assemble, to not have to hide in shame in our closets, to assert our freedom and equal rights, to have fun, and this is good for our souls. There is strength in numbers, and the people who still go to these hempfests leave knowing that they are not alone, that the organizers are competent, serious people, and that there are many ways to get involved with the movement if they choose. The fact that they have been very peaceful, huge events, speaks well of our movement.

This is also a weekend of tolerance by the police, which also serves an important purpose for our society.

And, I agree with Emma Goldman, a respected political writer and activist, who said (although maybe not quite in these words, "If I can't dance, I want no part of your revolution."

Mikki Norris
Managing Editor, West Coast Leaf
Director, Cannabis Consumers Campaign

[Read this excellent account of Goldman's life. Goldman was a spell-binding lecturer and drew enormous crowds (like Hempfest?). The Wikipedia article notes, "Two years later Goldman began feeling frustrated with lecture audiences. She yearned to 'reach the few who really want to learn, rather than the many who come to be amused.'" The article adds,
In 1973 Shulman was asked by a printer friend for a quotation "by Goldman for use on a t-shirt. She sent him the selection from Living My Life about "the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things"; the printer created a paraphrase that has become one of Goldman's most famous quotations, even though she herself probably never said or wrote it: "If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution."[170] Variations of this saying have appeared on thousands of t-shirts, buttons, posters, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, hats, and other items.[171] Although the words are not explicitly Goldman's own, they capture the spirit of her belief in personal liberty and self-expression."]

I have spoken at a few hemp fests of various sorts. I don't think I converted any conservative Republicans with my speeches. However, I always run into people who are interested in marijuana but were only dimly aware of the reform movement. It is a chance to get them involved, and I have seen them become involved more than a few times.

I also think they are a demonstration of the size of the untapped business market. If you really want to make them effective, figure out how to capture all that potential business in a focused direction.

Cliff Schaffer
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Schaffer Library Hemp Pages
Marijuana Business News dot com

If hempfests are politically insignificant it's probably because people who want that to change do nothing to change it, other than to talk about it, or simply abandon them altogether. I'm not going to the 39th Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival in October to smoke pot. I can smoke pot here in NJ if that's what I want to do.

I am going to Madison for the same reason that I go every year. To do whatever I can to get people to help get a medical marijuana bill passed there. I remember two years ago when I implored the attendees, from the steps of the Capitol building (where no pot was being smoked) to fill out a postcard asking their Senator and Assembly representatives to support the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Bill. A couple of hundred did so, many sheepishly apologizing for not being involved until then. Two days later a small group of us "reformers" took the collated postcards to the state legislators' offices and used them to open a dialogue with staffers, and is some cases to talk with the legislator himself (herself). I greatly enjoyed walking into office after office and saying that I was there to talk to the appropriate staffer about Wisconsin's medical marijuana bill. When I was invariably asked "are you a constituent?" I would reply "I'm not even a Wisconsin
resident, but I have a postcard from a constituent(s) asking you to talk to me about Wisconsin's medical marijuana bill". That changed everything. We didn't share a joint then. We shared a conversation about the realities of medical marijuana. AND...the legislators and staffers couldn't see whether the constituent request came from a tie-dye shirted constituent or not. It was delivered by someone in a suit and tie (me), and not a tie-dye tie.

I understand Eric's logic and can see where image can be a problem. I chose to do something about that as best as I can. I will be doing that again in Madison this year rather than throwing in the towel and not attending any more festivals. I mean...what good would THAT do medical marijuana patients? Having just written all of this, I can say that writing about marijuana reform is certainly easier than physically doing something about it. If all I did was write about it I would undoubtedly have a much easier time staying in New Jersey rather than traveling to Wisconsin.

If I got paid for either life would be sweet. Thanks to Gary and Ben for paying for my way there. But then again...they know why I am coming, to be politically significant.

Jim Miller
[Jim at a memorial for his wife Cheryl Miller at the State Capital in Trenton, NJ. NORML's announcement of the passing of Cheryl Miller in 2003.

Ditto Cliff.
I firmly believe that about 20-25% of the population are so deeply into prohibition they will never be converted no matter how much logic/emotion/posturing or whatever combination we apply.
To some degree, they are a tail wagging the dog and most politicians do not want to piss off this fanatic minority. This is why something as simple as medical mj has most often had to be settled by ballot initiatives rather then appealing to elected officials. Hopefully this will change in our lifetime.
On an anecdotal level, I was born in 1951 and took my first toke of herb September 1970. I did not quit like other people, just quietly went into the closet until 1992. That is when when I decided to check out "Hash Bash" in Ann Arbor. I realized then I was not alone, and gradually got more aggressive in my reform advocacy over the years.

Best Wishes,
Tim Beck
[Tim has been one of the most important leaders of the reform movement in Michigan. EES]
[EES -- I spoke at the 1992 Hash Bash... Tim's post may be the most pointed rejection of one of my main theses.]

It is easy for well funded, self proclaimed leaders of the drug reform movement (one of whom wore a jester's hat at a rally in the early 90's on Boston Common) to chastise rallies with an elitist rant.

MassCann does not promote the civil disobedience, that would be a violation of the Court order that permits it to happen, as organizers are enjoined from inciting unlawful behavior.

Without the Boston Freedom Rally, which has introduced a whole generation of Boston area college students to the "movement" and alternative candidates for office I dare say the "movement" would not be where it is today nationally as these students get involved and move on to other areas of the country. There would have been no Question 2 in Massachusetts as there would have been no MassCann, an organization of volunteers, without a sugar daddy, to lay the foundation. In 2011 when we expect the same money that paid for Question 2 will be conducting a mmj initiative in Massachusetts our event will, as it was in 2007, be the unofficial, and if the people with the money want to share credit the official, kick-off of the signature gathering campaign. It is an event at which with enough petitioners, one-fifth to one-quarter of the signatures needed to put a question on the ballot can be obtained in six hours.

Instead of contributing to bringing us together rants like Eric's are divisive.

Attorney Steven S. Epstein
Clerk, Treasurer and Database Manager
Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition\NORML
A State Affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
Proud Sponsor of Freedom Rally XX, Sept. 19, 2009 on the Boston Common
P.O. Box 0266, Georgetown, MA 01833-0366
781-944-2266 -
"We shall by and by want a world of hemp more for our own consumption."
John Adams as Humphrey Ploughjogger, 1763

Radical Russ Belville who spoke and performed at Hempfest had this detailed and passionate rebuttal of my post on the NORML Daily Audio Stash! I am confident, that despite the context, that Russ's jokes about "Yo Mama" in the comments to his denunciation of my post were not directed at my mother.

While I understand and even agree with many of Eric's arguments, the fact remains that: (1) the organizers of events like Hempfest, Freedom Rally, Million Marijuana March, etc. are going to keep doing what they're doing and (2) people keep enthusiastically attending these events. Are movement leaders going to keep boycott these events? The attendees are a ripe target for education (both political and legal, since many of them are breaking the law by attempting to use controlled substances in public) and political mobilization.

Although many people are there just to party, I've met quite a few who were honestly curious and thankful that reform orgs were there to protect and educate. Let's not write these crowds off as source for new DPR activists.

Doug Greene

The only thing I disagree with is that ALL rallies encourage this behavior. I can understand why some partake at the rallies as they may feel it is one of the few times they will not be judged harshly---even by enforcement. I believe that even if folk did not partake the general media and paranoiacs would portray reform the same exact way, they just would not have photo ops.
Mary Barr

(11)And in a most embarrassing renunciation of the entire point of my argument, from the op-ed pages of The Seattle Times:

Time for Washington state to decriminalize marijuana

The Washington Legislature should enact Senate Bill 5615, which would reclassify adult possession of marijuana from a crime to a civil infraction, write guest columnists Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, and former state Rep. Toby Nixon, R-Kirkland.

By Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Toby Nixon
Special to The Times

ONCE again, the Seattle Hempfest drew tens of thousands to parks along the waterfront this weekend. In its mission statement, the all-volunteer organization that produces the event says, "The public is better served when citizens and public officials work cooperatively in order to successfully accomplish common goals."

We agree. That is why we, as a Democratic state senator and former Republican state representative, support state Senate Bill 5615. This bill would reclassify adult possession of marijuana from a crime carrying a mandatory day in jail to a civil infraction imposing a $100 penalty payable by mail. The bill was voted out of committee with a bipartisan "do pass" recommendation and will be considered by legislators in 2010.

The bill makes a lot of sense, especially in this time of severely strapped budgets. Our state Office of Financial Management reported annual savings of $16 million and $1 million in new revenue if SB 5615 passes. Of that $1 million, $590,000 would be earmarked for the Washington State Criminal Justice Treatment Account to increase support of our underfunded drug-treatment and drug-prevention services.

The idea of decriminalizing marijuana is far from new. In 1970, Congress created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. A bipartisan body with 13 members - nine appointed by President Nixon and four by Congress - the commission was tasked with conducting a yearlong, authoritative study of marijuana. When the commission issued its report, "Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding," in1972, it surprised many by recommending decriminalization:

Possession of marijuana in private for personal use would no longer be an offense; and distribution of small amounts of marijuana for no remuneration or insignificant remuneration not involving profit would no longer be an offense.

Twelve states took action and decriminalized marijuana in the 1970s. Nevada decriminalized in 2001, and Massachusetts did so in 2008. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, states where marijuana possession is decriminalized represent more than 35 percent of our nation's population.

These states have not seen a corresponding increase in use. Nor have the 14 states that have adopted legal protections for patients whose doctors recommend the medical use of marijuana. Nor the several cities and counties that have adopted "lowest law enforcement priority" ordinances like Seattle's Initiative 75, which made adult marijuana use the city's lowest law enforcement priority in 2003.

On the flip side of the coin, escalating law enforcement against marijuana users has not achieved its intended goals. From 1991 to 2007, marijuana arrests nationwide tripled from 287,900 to a record 872,720, comprising 47 percent of all drug arrests combined. Of those, 89 percent were for possession only. Nevertheless, according to a study released earlier this year by two University of Washington faculty members:

* The price of marijuana has dropped;
* Its average potency has increased;
* It has become more readily available; and
* Use rates have often increased during times of escalating enforcement.

We now have decades of proof that treating marijuana use as a crime is a failed strategy. It continues to damage the credibility of our public health officials and compromise our public safety. At a fundamental level, it has eroded our respect for the law and what it means to be charged with a criminal offense: 40 percent of Americans have tried marijuana at some point in their lives. It cannot be that 40 percent of Americans truly are criminals.

We hope that the citizens of this state will work with us to help pass SB 5615, the right step for Washington to take toward a more effective, less costly and fairer approach to marijuana use.

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Seattle, left, chairs the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee. Toby Nixon was state representative for the 45th legislative district, 2002-2006, and served as vice-chair of the House Republican Caucus and ranking member of the House Committee on State Government Operations and Accountability.

[The irony of this important op-ed as a rejection of my thesis did not escape who wrote "So much for Eric Sterling's rant and rave"].

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hempfest is huge, but is it good politics?

In the months leading up to the 2009 Hempfest in Seattle, Dominic Holden, one of the long-serving leaders and organizers of the famous Seattle Hempfest, criticized what he saw as Hempfest’s narrow cultural foundation. He argues that the movement for drug policy reform needs to be much broader, and that the Hempfest could be more valuable politically if it were not exclusively a “tie-die” affair. Some leaders of Hempfest, responding to his published critique, had his VIP pass revoked and was ejected.

Aside from the personality issues involved, I think his political critique is important. (Of course, that may be because I largely agree with him.)

More than a fifteen years ago I became very concerned about the role of hemp rallies in the politics of drug policy reform. This post was started and mostly written in the early 1990s after I stopped speaking at hemp rallies.

* * * * *

In many towns around the nation, the entirety of the drug policy “debate” is either on the letters to the editor page of the local newspaper or a hemp rally on a campus or in a park. But in larger cities, within the next six weeks, there will be various hemp rally–“harvest festivals,” such as the 20th Annual Boston Freedom Rally on September 19, 2009 and the 39th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival in Madison, Wisconsin, Oct. 1-4, 2009. The fall semester will probably see a resumption of campus marijuana policy protests packaged as hemp rallies.

Of course, these rallies are not a debate, at all. Even as a “political” rally or protest, the hemp rally is a hodge-podge of bands, speakers, and clouds of smoke. I am deeply troubled that for much of the public the most common face of the politics of drug policy reform is teenager smoking a pipe at a pot rally. Does it need to be said that this is profoundly counter-productive? Well-meaning and passionate, but immature strategies and tactics keep holding back our movement.

Around the nation – indeed around the world – serious analysts and commentators know that our drug policy is a counterproductive failure leading to more crime and little drug abuse prevention. The U.S. government and its political establishment are the linchpin for reform, but until a proper political campaign is executed, the status quo will remain firmly in charge. We are close to a global tipping point for reform, but our reform movement squanders the energy and political force of tens of thousands of our activists on ill-conceived events. Protests are necessary, and large, well-planned demonstrations would be a tremendous asset to the global reform movement. But the hemp rally paradigm is out of date.

Woodstock was a great cultural moment. But it is preposterous to think that two-bit re-enactments of the Woodstock vibe in parks and quads around the nation are a positive political tactic.

The drug policy reform movement has many organizational problems. In this paper I suggest that one of our reform movement’s most serious image and organizing problems are "hemp rallies." I am using this term to describe any marijuana legalization or hemp legalization rally or festival at which marijuana is smoked, encouraged, or justified and at which persons college age or younger predominate.

Have you ever been to a hemp rally? In the early 1990s, at a string of such events – the Texas Hemp Summit, the Boston Freedom Rally, the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, the Illinois Hash Wednesday, the New York Pot Parade, the Fourth of July Marijuana Smoke-in in front of the White House, Hempstalk in upstate NY, the Harvest Festival in Madison, WI, and various similar events in California, North Carolina, Kentucky and elsewhere, I basked in more than my share of cheers and applause, as I contributed my Washington, DC political perspective. But I haven’t spoken to any in fifteen years, having concluded that they are politically pointless. In the mid-1990s, when I heard the entire drug policy reform movement described as "pro-drug" and "pro-pot," I analyzed my hemp rally experiences and understood why those accusations could be seriously made.

But aside from any accusations, we must fully appreciate that in order to change the drug laws in Congress and the state legislatures, we need the cooperation and engagement of a broad-based coalition. We certainly need a much, much, MUCH larger coalition than we now have. And certainly, we need the support of people who feel most strongly about the drug problem and who are aware of the current approach's failures.

Why haven't the PTAs, the teachers unions or the Chambers of Commerce endorsed drug policy reform? Their reticence is based almost entirely on the plausible fear that teenage drug use will rise. Well, there remains a lot of teenage marijuana use – about one out of five high school seniors is a current user, which is less than it was at the start of this decade. This prevalence certainly and reasonably alarms parents and their teachers.


Let's face one fact. Marijuana use can be harmful. Undoubtedly the harms are grossly, frequently hysterically, exaggerated by anti-marijuana crusaders -- but the harms to some users are real -- often subtle, but significant, none the less.

Marijuana use can be habit forming. Perhaps six to ten percent of users can be considered addicted – the users have tried to quit but quickly resumed using marijuana, and their use is interfering with their lives – their relationships, their studies, their work. One of the great psychiatrists and researchers of drug abuse, Harvard’s acclaimed Norman Zinberg, M.D., the author of the Drug, Set and Setting, and a long time friend of NORML, recognized that marijuana addiction was one of the toughest addictions to treat because it was hard for the addict to recognize the urgency of addressing it. The addict knows it is harmful but not so obviously and deeply harmful and compulsive as addictions to heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine frequently are. I suspect that most of us in drug policy reform know some persons we could fairly call marijuana addicts.

Judgment often is impaired when one is stoned. This doesn't mean one does not deny that one can have useful, valuable insights when stoned. But people can be impulsive while stoned and engage in “risky behavior” that they might not take if sober. Marijuana does not cause the gross impairment that is common with overindulgence of alcoholic beverages. Certainly some athletes believe that cannabis improves their performance, but marijuana-caused impairment can increase the risk of accidents and injuries when bicycling, hiking, skiing, boating, swimming, etc. while stoned. Motor skills and cognitive skills are often impaired when stoned. There is no doubt that this has led to several hugely tragic accidents – usually in conjunction with alcohol use. These tragic examples of the misuse of marijuana, however, do not warrant prohibition of adult use because they are more than balanced by the pleasure millions of people obtain when they are stoned. But these tragedies must not be ignored.

The biological and developmental risks for kids from heavy marijuana use are probably greater than they are for adults, simply because kids’ bodies are still developing. Of course, most teenage users are not heavy users, but some are. In general, the risks for kids engaging in many adult behaviors such as driving cars, using firearms, and having sex – to name just a few – are also greater than the risks that adults run. But we would not think of banning adults from these behaviors to "send a message" to kids that they run risks in such activities. Prohibition is definitely not the approach to address these risks, harm reduction and education are the correct route.

It ought to be obvious that none of us are in the drug policy reform movement to increase the number of teens in trouble or the number of drug addicts. Most of us believe a system of regulation and control of drugs will lead to better control, and more credible prevention, than the out-of-control situation that exists in the prohibition structure of criminal markets, and the prohibition culture that results in a mix of secretive use and flamboyantly rebellious use.

Before we can mobilize the public to end prohibition, we need dramatic expansion of effective public health-based prevention programs to discourage people of all ages, but especially children, from using drugs in risky and inappropriate ways.

The drug policy reform movement wants to create conditions for safer, more responsible, less harmful drug use than is possible under prohibition. When we talk of harm reduction, of course, we are explicitly acknowledging the risks and dangers of drug use. But we must be more forthright in acknowledging those risks, especially about marijuana. Our political work demands that we be truthful and that we are truly working to reduce the harm from drugs. Our mission requires that we practice harm reduction in our politics.


Marijuana use by teenagers is not a sign of enlightenment. Yes, there are certainly bright, curious kids who smoke marijuana, but their adolescent marijuana use is not a cause for celebration! Some marijuana using kids are more likely to use other drugs than kids who have never used marijuana. That's what the data shows, and it makes sense, even though the overwhelming majority of teenage marijuana users never use another illegal drug. Statistically, marijuana is more frequently a “terminus” drug than a “gateway” drug.

The fact that marijuana experimenting teenagers are more likely to experiment with other illegal drugs than a kid who never tried marijuana is not the bogus pharmacological "stepping stone" theory that a "marijuana addict eventually needs a stronger drug to get high." Rather, it is both a psychological truth and a legal and cultural phenomenon. Psychologically, a willingness to take risks cuts across a variety of behaviors. A risk taker might try out for a role in the school play, the varsity football team, or the debate team. A risk taker might ask someone for a date. A risk taker might take a toke when a joint is passed to him or her. Appropriate risk taking is healthy.

What we call “risky” behavior is different. “Risky” behavior is not wearing a seat belt, not wearing a condom during sex, running a yellow traffic light, shooting the rapids without a life jacket, kayaking or climbing without a helmet, etc.

Risk is to be encouraged, risky is to be discouraged.

In addition to the personal behavior and psychology, there are the cultural features of the pot smoking world. The gestalt values new experiences and adventures. It includes a music scene which is embedded with drug use. It has an ethos that mixes almost boundless individual liberty with voluntary (never compulsory) social responsibility. One of the accepted values is getting high. Experimentation with drugs is commonplace and tolerated -- particularly with LSD, nitrous oxide, MDMA (Ecstasy), peyote (mescaline), psilocybin mushrooms, tobacco, and alcohol. Many pot smokers don't use other drugs or if they do, for most, their experimentation is short-lived. But many pot smokers do try other drugs, and pot, after underage and illegal alcohol and tobacco experimentation and use, was another illegal drug – the first culturally illegal drug – they tried.

Increasing rates of teenage pot use is not a good thing. It would be a political cynicism and stupidity of the most odious sort to see expanding the cohort of teenage pot smokers as an enlargement of a political base.

Certainly it cannot be heresy in the harm reduction movement to observe that it is statistically likely that more kids will be hurt by hard drugs if the number of teenage pot smokers continues to rise. Many of these new pot smoking kids are not college kids, they are not even senior high school kids -- they are usually junior high or middle school kids and sometimes younger.

It is important to ask why teenage pot use went up a decade ago. It would be simply glib to say that it is the fault of prohibition, or the flawed design and execution of D.A.R.E. programs. Like most social phenomena, it is almost certainly due to a number of factors. As public health oriented advocates, we must ask if hemp rallies have anything to do with that increase? If so, we must examine what happens at hemp rallies.


I'd like to describe the hemp rallies I attended from the perspectives of the rally organizers, the speakers, the participants, and the different groups in the viewing public.

Rally organizers
-- like most of us, much of the time -- often have mixed motives. On one hand they want to hold a political rally. They want a forum for making political statements about marijuana and hemp. For the old Cannabis Action Network, for example, that was the principal motive. Rally organizers want the press to cover the event, and they need to draw a crowd. They may also want to cover their costs and raise money.

For the organizers of the Fourth of July Hemp Coalition's Smoke-In at the White House, the motive was primarily politics. As a concert, the stage and sound system were practically non-existent -- indeed, there is a companion concert later that afternoon. But they almost never have political literature around the marijuana issues.

For organizers of other events the primary motive seems to be to have a big party, e.g., the "Hash Bash" in Ann Arbor, the "Windy City Weed Fest" in Chicago, and the "Great Atlanta Pot Festival." "Let's get some great bands together and kick back in the sunshine. If we all get together and get high, won't that be great."

For some hemp rallies, the motives are clearly mixed. For NORML's Fourth of July rock'n'roll party near the Lincoln Memorial, for example, politics is the motive, but fun and music is the lure. As a political event, this has repeatedly been an utter failure. No one takes it seriously as a protest. New York's "Fifth Avenue Pot Parade" has a serious political hue -- until it gets to Washington Square Park when the real business of the day begins -- the party!

For the Boston Freedom Rally, the organizers have an explicit political objective, but the bands are critically important, and the vendors and fund raising is important too.

For Hempfest in Seattle, it appears that the political objective is mixed and inseparable from hosting a cultural celebration.

At one level, the hemp rally is like the $500 per person gala benefit organized by "high society" socialites to benefit the opera guild, the Childrens' Hospital, or cancer research -- "The public may think we're wealthy, social parasites -- but we're actually doing good work for the community." Yes, we are raising money for an important charity. But at heart, we also like hobnobbing with the local wealthy elites. This is the hempy alternative: we're not stoners, we're political activists!

On campus, hemp rally organizers recognize the value of associating their "spring fling" with positive political and social messages -- individual freedom, equal justice for all, criminal justice reform, medicine for the sick, save the planet!

Rally organizers look for the best bands and the best speakers they can to get the biggest crowds. They target the rally publicity to the youth media. The organizers know that what really draws crowds is the promise of a good time.

The speakers come with a range of motives. Some of us look forward to getting our message out to an audience more appreciative than a right-wing talk radio show. A few of us think we present seriously developed analyses of various drug policy issues and that this is a forum for education about the issues. We bring copies of our reports, white papers and book chapters.

For other "speakers" at a hemp rally, this is a party -- this is like cheerleading at an athletic event. I've seen speakers dressed up in costume. One earnest speaker used to make a living selling bumper stickers, "Thank you for pot smoking" -- that imitated the American Cancer Society's slogan "Thank you for not smoking." At some rallies, there are "doobie tosses" -- the throwing of marijuana cigarettes into the crowd. Functionally, at most events the speakers are on the program to fill the time as the bands who have drawn the audience move their equipment off and on stage. This is down time, perfect for rolling a joint and filling a bowl before the next set begins.

Speakers generally express outrage that the crowd shares. The ever-present shadow of arrest genuinely interferes with the peace of mind of America's 15 or 20 million pot-smokers. Prohibition enforcement is an enormous psychic burden upon adult marijuana users -- a genuine denial of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." But this is a very narrow political message.

That the Federal government denies sick people legal access to marijuana which is a medicine that would help them, and interferes with state efforts to permit such legal access, is another legitimate source of outrage. But that outrage is not what draws most of the participants.

A hemp rally is rarely a call to specific political action. It is a festival of marijuana use. It is an entertainment with excitement -- being an outlaw and hoping to get away with it. The job of the speakers is to entertain the crowd. Inevitably, speakers extol the pleasure of pot smoking. We hear from the stage "Let's get high!" "Let's party!" We rarely hear calls to “Register to vote here. Join a political campaign here.” No one is here for a reasoned analysis or education. The repetition of cliches is always dependable.

The musicians sing about the subject matter -- the pleasures of getting high, the evil persecution of the drug law, the ugliness of police practices, and adoration of the hemp plant. To get a sense of this, listen to NORML's "Hempilation" album. And of course this can be an opportunity to get exposure, get fans to sign up on email lists for club invites, and sell CDs.

Who are the participants? At the Hash Bash in Ann Arbor, for example, many of the participants are committed, heavy consumption pot-smokers. The participants are there for the excitement, the crowd, the entertainment and the music. Many are there for the self-identification: I am a pot smoker. They are there for a good time and for camaraderie. The curious are there because this is "a happening." This is completely unlike the usual weekend of chores, homework, shopping, movies, TV, etc. This is "the place to be."

For some participants the rally is an opportunity to get their feelings of persecution off their chest and tell society, "I'm stoned -- Get over it." "I'm gonna get high and there's nothing anybody's going to do about it." At its core, the rally is essentially an affirmation of pot smoking.

But as politics, this is most definitely not about contemplating the serious work of lobbying or coalition building, or stuffing envelopes for a mailing. No one's attention is focused enough to comprehend a target of the protest.

Others are simply curious. They heard the ads on the radio or got the Facebook post. The teenage students are forming impressions. Is this what Woodstock was like? Is this what the 60s were like? Is this like the civil rights movement, or the anti-Vietnam War "peace" movement?

At the Fourth of July White House smoke-in, there is the thrill of smoking pot in defiance of the law, the frisson of deviance when “straight” people are crowding the mall for a patriotic concert and fireworks.

But while the bands play and the speakers speak, the participants are standing around, sitting around, or walking around, smoking pot and getting stoned.

Of greatest social and political significance, however, is that for the youngest participants this may be the first time they have been so publicly encouraged to smoke pot. It is one thing to be covertly offered a joint by another kid from school or the team down in the woods, or hear a pot joke on TV. But here, everybody seems to be doing it. Look, someone on the stage is saying how great it is to get high. Look, up on the stage, someone is smoking a pipe or a joint, and everybody is cheering. Hey, someone is offering me a 6-foot bong! If I smoke a joint, won’t I be worthy of being cheered right now? Gee, everyone seems to be having such a good time, isn't this a good place to try pot, if I haven’t before? In this sense, hemp rallies are a social menace and political disaster.

For conscientious reporters, there is significant challenge in reporting this event. In Madison, Wisconsin they actually reported the speeches. But that was atypical. Is the content the “news?” Do they report the gestalt, the “flavor” of the event, as the Seattle Post Intelligencer does with photographs and no news story? The sideshow character of the event is often much more interesting than what the speakers said (for no matter how loud they were, the messages were pretty lame). Some reporters wonder how to report the event without condoning drug use? If they actually quote a speaker, for balance, should they interview some of the stoned kids, and some critics of the event? Standing back and looking at the event overall, isn’t this event, first, about getting stoned, and second, celebrating getting stoned? It must be conceded that some reporters cover the politics but do not report on the event itself.

For many of the police the rally engenders anger and disgust. For officers who have seen car crashes resulting from irresponsible drug and alcohol use, this is outrageous. For those who teach in D.A.R.E. programs, to see stoned kids at this "pro-pot" rally is maddening. For those who bust drug dealers -- at some personal danger to themselves -- this is infuriating. "Not in a million years would we take the policy proposals of the organizers of this event seriously -- we don't even take their phone calls!"

True, the kids are not rioting like drunken college students after a championship ball game -- which has plagued Ann Arbor during March Madness. But the drunks at the ball game riot are celebrating the values of “winning,” of "sportsmanship," of "the competition that makes America great," etc. And drinking is legal, something that cops certainly do a lot of, and they understand drunks. At the hemp rally, so much that “ordinary” Americans ostensibly value -- family values, respect for the flag, patriotism, rule of law, cleanliness, modesty, chastity, heterosexuality etc. -- is being flouted wantonly and indiscriminately.

For teachers and parents who are concerned about drug abuse among their children, this rally is a sickening sight. No matter what caveats about the problems of drug use that might be uttered by a few “serious” speakers, and despite the political literature being distributed (too often crudely produced drivel), a legitimate overall impression is that this is a "do drugs" rally. They accurately hear speakers praising pot and getting high. They see an audience filled with young people using pot. They see kids who are more interested in finding drugs than in finding the literature. They see kids more interested in smoking a joint than in listening to the speakers.


About sixteen or seventeen years ago, I was a featured speaker at some hemp rallies. I even had my name silk-screened on a rally T-shirt. I've made my share of passionate hemp rally speeches, and – woo-hoo – a handful of people have later asked for my autograph. I found the "rock star" treatment of being a hemp rally headliner very seductive!

But I have been a serious advocate of drug policy reform for a much longer time. As part of a comprehensive policy reform, for example, I think marijuana ought to be legally sold to adults under the explicit condition that it be used carefully, with controls in place to minimize misuse, with restrictions on juvenile access, with appropriate taxation, and with appropriate penalties for dangerous conduct while under the influence.

Overall, the many hemp rallies I've attended have been political duds, and I'm ashamed that I didn't speak out against them sooner or more forcefully. I distributed an outline of a system for regulating marijuana for adults only, along the lines of a state hunting license, but the audience simply did not care. I regret that my exuberant participation at hemp rallies more than 15 years ago may have been seen as legitimizing teenage drug use by some in the audience.

I fear that overall, hemp rallies are bad for the kids who attend, bad for the country, and very bad for our movement. I gave too much weight to my hope that I was recruiting idealistic college students to a fulfilling political activism. I didn't pay close enough attention to the event as experienced by the audience.

As constructive political activity, these rallies are not simply a failure, they are a catastrophe. What is the number one obstacle to drug policy reform? The public's fear that kids will use drugs. Hemp rallies fully legitimize those fears.


Let's face it, hemp rallies are not only a fraud as serious political events go, they are worse -- they are advertisements of irresponsible drug use. Prohibitionists are on the mark when they describe hemp rallies as "pro-drug" events. We do not know that they contribute to the increase in juvenile drug use, but we do not know that they don't.. Do those of us in drug policy reform who are committed to public health perhaps have a responsibility to change the character of these events, or to boycott and help end them?

In America today, there are no other political protests like a hemp rally. Does any other political cause have such superficial preparation and indifference to the message and to organization? Hemp rallies are the antithesis of serious political protest. Would any serious political figure outside of the drug policy reform movement, who knows anything about a hemp rally, consider participating?


The drug policy reform movement claims that it has a better solution to the drug problem than prohibition. We say to those genuinely concerned about the tragedy of drug use, join us for we have a better solution. How do we demonstrate our sincerity in trying to curb drug abuse and its related social disorder?

We condemn the prohibitionists as obtuse who can't see the fallacy in their arguments. Have we been equally obtuse in not seeing that our movement's most common "political" events contradict our standards and our analysis? I argue that there is such a thing as responsible drug use -- but I regret that I have spoken at pot rallies where there has been uncontrolled drug use, drug use by kids, and the extolling of drug use. That was obtuse -- I certainly didn't model responsible political behavior. I apologize for having undermined the work of so many in this movement by having participated in these events.

I call upon serious drug policy reformers to reform hemp rallies or end them. To associate our movement with hemp rallies makes our movement repellent to the most important constituencies we claim we are trying to reach.

The drug policy reform movement must expand beyond those who are energized by concerts and festivals of pot smoking, and by their own sense of personal persecution. We must get beyond the abstract discussions of policy and into detailed proposals. We must reach those who are deeply concerned about the drug problem among our youth. We must be in a real coalition with parents and teachers to resist teen drug use. We can’t effectively be in such coalitions if we are participating in hemp rallies, hash bashes and doobie tosses.


We pay a terrible price for allowing our political face to be hemp rallies. Ultimately we teach our politically inspired students the wrong lesson, that public politics is a casual, almost trivial affair. We teach that a political action should be an occasion for feeling good, partying, talking to the converted, cheering, hanging out, uttering banalities, and then going home. This "politics" is as empty as the self-esteem voodoo that passes for preventing teenage drug use.

It doesn't matter how articulate or compelling the speakers have been about writing well-written letters to the legislators -- almost no one is sending those letters. It doesn't matter that participants are encouraged to sign petitions -- few sign, and fewer are delivered. It doesn't matter that we circulate sign-up lists -- few follow up to organize the signers. This is not politics, this is a party -- that is the medium, and that is the message.

We squander the energy of our activists by arranging pot rallies and encouraging them to drive hundreds of miles to engage in pointless events.

Compare our events to the newsreel footage of political rallies of the 1930s and 40s. When serious political organizations staged an event, the male participants came in neckties; women wore dresses. People came to listen and to make a point with their presence. Drinking was unthinkable. The events were organized. People trained to be political organizers -- not wannabe show business producers.

During the civil rights era, it was inconceivable that people would drink at a march or at a rally. The Civil Rights Marches were undertaken with sober reflection -- they were led by preachers and were undertaken prayerfully. Look at the photographs of the 1963 great civil rights march on Washington.

How do we expect the allies we must have to take our "movement" seriously when we don't take our own political events seriously? Do we take seriously as “supporters” and “members” upon whom we can rely, the majority of the youth who attend hemp rallies?

What kind of politics is it that takes the rock concert as its paradigm of political protest?

How can anyone take seriously a rally that purports to be for medical marijuana when 99.9% of the marijuana smoked is done so recreationally, and with indifference to use by children?

How can anyone take seriously a rally promoting hemp to protect the environment when 99% of the hemp present is there to be smoked or ingested to get someone high?

How can we make a serious claim to be advocates of harm reduction and of legitimate alternative forms of drug control if we participate in hemp rallies in which drug use, particularly by the young, is flagrantly uncontrolled?


Can we develop standards or best practices of what our movement considers an appropriate and effective marijuana reform rally or event? Can we set criteria regarding the kinds of events we will participate in? Or do we simply speak wherever there is a crowd? Should we denounce irresponsible drug use, especially when it is undertaken in the name of drug policy reform? Can we organize true protest rallies?

Isn’t it a reasonable rule of our politics that there be no pot smoking, no drug use and no drinking at public drug policy events, unless it is Gandhian nonviolent civil disobedience? If we want to build our movement, shouldn’t the days of pot rallies and casual smoke-ins be declared over?

If there is to be marijuana use at a political event, it can only be in the context of a carefully planned civil disobedience action with the intention of generating arrests as a moral witness against the evils of the drug war.

Those who organize fundraising concerts and parties to support drug policy reform (and those who attend) will need guidance about responsible drug use behavior. I commend MPP and DPA for leaving behind the rock concert model as the paradigm for drug policy reform fundraisers.

Don’t we have an obligation to show by example what responsible drug use in a post-prohibition world might look like. Don’t we have an obligation to reduce the number of future victims of the drug war by doing our political work well? Doesn’t this obligate our movement to "clean up our act."

The drug policy reform movement is not a "pro-drug" movement, it is a drug control movement. It is pro-control. Can it ever succeed as long as it can be fairly charged that it is a "pro-drug" movement? Isn’t it time that the leaders of the movement act in concert to end the association with a "politics" that is "pro-drug?"

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

NPR -- Pot dispensaries in CA are medical fraud

NPR's report this morning on the growth of medical marijuana dispensaries in California implies that medical marijuana is a fraud. Angel Raich, the courageously ill woman from Oakland who sued Attorney General Ashcroft to enjoin the Justice Department from threatening her with a prosecution for using marijuana that has halted the growth of her tumors and restored her to mobility and function from near total disability, was interviewed. In NPR's listeners' comments, Louise Vera, a commentator, says Angel is crazy.

Oh how judgmental we all are!

I have known about the genuine medical value of cannabis since 1976 when I was in law school and met Robert Randall, the young man who stopped his blinding glaucoma by using cannabis, and sued the Federal government to start the compassionate IND. I stuffed envelopes in Robert's apartment to send to prospects to join the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics in 1981 or so. The Congressman I worked for for 8 years cosponsored legislation to make marijuana legal for medical purposes back in 1981. I was reading the affidavits and briefs that were filed with DEA that were used by DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young to issue findings of fact and a proposed rule to reschedule cannabis for medical purposes in 1988.

I have accompanied a majority of the living legal Federal medical cannabis patients in meetings with Members of Congress -- Elvy Musikka, Irv Rosenfeld, George McMahon, and Barb Douglass.

There is no question that cannabis -- smoked and otherwise -- has medical value for some extraordinarily hard to treat conditions. It ought to be obvious that this does not mean that no other medicines have value. It ought to be obvious that this does not mean cannabis is useful for every medical condition. It ought to be obvious that this does not mean that smoking cannabis cannot irritate the throat and lungs, etc.

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It is tragic that marijuana, as a medicine, has a stigma that discourages some people who are in pain, who are suffering from multiple sclerosis, from cancer, from HIV and AIDS, from Parkinson's Disease, from experimenting with cannabis as a potential form of relief.

But the ease with which basically healthy persons are able to acquire marijuana in the guise of being ill is offensive. It is hard to avoid judging what appears to be a scam because the scam threatens to produce a backlash or reaction that may result in denying cannabis medicine to those who suffer and should be able to use it. The scam perception creates a another stigma for those who are seriously ill and use cannabis. Stigma one -- you are breaking the law. Stigma two -- you are a scam artist.

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For healthy persons to obtain cannabis by scam should be unnecessary!

Marijuana should be legal for healthy people to use socially, spiritually, or to alter their mood. About one-fifth of older teenagers are now using it. Their use of it is going to continue -- illegal or legal. Perhaps we can change the culture to reduce the attraction for cannabis, but this cultural change is not going to be led by law enforcement -- we have tried this with gusto since 1970 with some time out in the mid 1970s. Reagan, Bush I (and Drug Czar William Bennett), Bill Clinton (and Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey), and Bush II (with Drug Czar John Walters), have all made condemnation of marijuana use a centerpiece of their anti-drug messages and strategies. So sad...

Marijuana should be available for those who can benefit from it. All physicians should be trained in its effects, in the variation among the strains of cannabis, and in dosing. Marijuana should be produced in clean facilities, tested and properly labeled for medical use. In addition, it should be legal to grow it at one's home. Premises should be licensed to permit persons to smoke it or vaporize it or take it as a beverage. Live music venues should have marijuana smoking licenses and sections.

It seems to me that it considering the totality of circumstances it is close to being within the concept of a fundamental Constitutionally protected liberty to be able to use marijuana at a show like a Rolling Stones concert! Surely no adult ought to apologize for smoking pot there!

You can be elected President of the United States when you are 35 years old. Surely you are old enough to smoke marijuana if you are Constitutionally mature enough to serve as President. Maybe even if you are 30 and old enough to be a U.S. Senator or 25 years old and old enough to be a Member of Congress.

Just how old do you have to be? ...maybe old enough to serve in the Armed Forces of the Unites States at age 17, with parental consent. 10 United States Code section 505.

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So the reasonable desire of healthy adults to obtain cannabis for their non-medical use is using an ambiguously regulated system to meet the genuine medical needs of seriously ill persons. Hopefully the reaction is, let's make the production and distribution of cannabis to this larger market legal, regulated, controlled, and subject to reasonable taxation. It would be tragic, truly tragic, if the reasonable indignation that there is a scam going on results in shutting down the availability of medical cannabis to those few million of California's 37 million residents who need it.

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