Friday, December 14, 2012

Fast moving developments: Feds responding to Washington and Colorado: Obama, Leahy, Holder. Where's Biden?

The stasis in Washington on marijuana policy is breaking because of the Washington and Colorado votes to legalize marijuana.
President Obama will be on Barbara Walters on ABC TV on Dec. 14 answering questions. Ethan Nadelmann very astutely interprets the President's words on Huffington Post.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) has said he will hold hearings early next year on the federal response and on Dec. 6, 2012 wrote  this letter to Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy to inquire about federal policy. Leahy notes that there are legislative options for Congress to resolve the apparent conflict between Washington and Colorado law and current federal law, such as legalizing possession of one ounce.
Attorney General Eric Holder said on Dec. 11 that a policy pronouncement will be announced "relatively soon" in answer to a question.

Ethan Nadelmann notes that Obama is at last taking the issue seriously after previously joking about it, when asked.
Second, Obama's comment that users are not a "top priority" for federal enforcement is not news and says nothing.
Third, and significantly, Obama said that he does not support widespread marijuana legalization "at this point." That's the language he used responding to questions about same-sex marriage, until he supported it.
Fourth, and most importantly, Obama said we "need to have a conversation," about marijuana legalization to "reconcile" federal and state law. This is not a statement that conveys an insistence on an inflexible application of federal supremacy to obstruct state law.
Of course, as Nadelmann asked, who is going to be part of this conversation? Is it simply an internal Department of Justice conversation? Will Members of Congress such as Chairman Leahy or U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), who introduced H.R. 6606? Will officials from Colorado and Washington and the public be included in this conversation?

Is the policy that Eric Holder may be announcing going to pre-empt the conversation, or will it be stalled until there is a conversation?

And what is the role of Vice President Joe Biden? He has had oversight of the crime and drugs portfolio inside the White House. Former ONDCP staffer Kevin Sabet told Rolling Stone,

"The vice president has a special interest in this issue...As long as he is vice president, we're very far off from legalization being a reality."
Taking Dr. Sabet seriously, a petition campaign on the White House petition site targeting Vice President Biden has been launched. As of this writing it had over 8,600 signatures -- 25,000 are needed to trigger a reply.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New York Times: Life Sentences for federal drug offenses

The New York Times has a front page story on 12/12/12 about the tragedy of life sentences in federal prison for minor drug offenders. The stories of four other minor drug offenders are also capsulized.
You can call the White House at 202-456-1111 and ask President Obama to commute these sentences this holiday season.

The U.S. has 41,000 prisoners serving life sentences; the United Kingdom has 41.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Marijuana is legal in two states; Regulation writing commences

On Dec. 10, 2012, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed Amendment 64 which was passed by 55.34 percent of Colorado voters on November 6, 2012. This act puts Amendment 64 into effect. It is legal to possess and use marijuana in Colorado privately, and to grow three mature marijuana plants and keep the harvest. One may also give away for no consideration up to one ounce of marijuana. Today the Governor appointed a task force to develop regulations to carry out the Amendment's provisions creating a legal industry to cultivate, process and sell marijuana under state law.

Previously, on Dec. 6, 2012, Washington Initiative 502 took effect, pursuant to its terms, having been passed by 55.7 percent of Washington voters. It is legal to possess and use up to one ounce of marijuana (and larger quantities of marijuana infused products), but not to grow it, buy it or sell it. According to the Secretary of State's website, in contested statewide races, marijuana got more votes than every other candidate, other than U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell. Every statewide office holder who won in a contest, from the Governor-elect, Jay Inslee on down, got fewer votes than legal marijuana and Initiative 502. Marijuana even got more votes than President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Marijuana legalization in Washington is under the jurisdiction of the Liquor Control Board.
On Dec. 5, 2012, the Liquor Control Board published a notice that it is seeking public comment to begin to develop rules to license producers of marijuana. They want written suggestions and comments by Feb. 10, 2013, by email, fax or mail.

By the way, outgoing Governor Christine Gregoire, in 2011, filed a petition with the Drug Enforcement Administration to reschedule marijuana for medical purposes.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The House I Live In

"The House I Live In," the documentary by Eugene Jarecki, was screened at Georgetown University Law Center on Dec. 4, where I saw it and met the director.

It is the best documentary on the "war on drugs" that I have seen. It is a feature length motion picture that has been shown in theaters around the country. It is available on Netflix.  It is on the short list for an Oscar nomination.

Substantively, it has remarkable breadth and coherence and the cinematography is excellent. It won the Grand Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival this summer.

I strongly encourage you to see it!

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Scores of NGOs appeal to Obama for clemency for crack offenders

On Nov. 19, 2012, scores of non-governmental organizations and academics appealed to President Obama to establish a commission to review the sentences of crack cocaine cases to carry out the just purposes of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Thousands of persons who are serving long federal prison sentences for violating the Controlled Substances Act received no benefit from the 2010 legislation. Presidents Kennedy and Ford established similar commissions to review large numbers of federal convictions after a major change in law or policy.

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