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Published: Wed, 22 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2017 14:15:00 -0500


Legislators Who Supported Criminal Justice Reform Now Sponsoring Tougher Heroin Bills

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 10:00:00 -0500

This year, legislation has been introduced in at least 29 states that would increase penalties for heroin and fentanyl-related offenses, or allow for individuals to be held criminally liable or charged with murder/manslaughter when a person they supplied with heroin overdoses and dies. The most disheartening aspect of this new sweep of proposed legislation is some of the state legislators who filed these bills have, in previous years, been sponsors of major sentencing reform legislation that has been enacted in their states, while others have voted for it. Many of the criminal justice reforms that have been passed at the state level over the past few years have shortened sentences for those convicted of nonviolent offenses, or have diverted low-level offenders from prison and into rehabilitative treatment or other alternatives to incarceration. The new bills show how easy it is for legislators who appeared to have accepted the notion that relaxed sentences result in smarter crime policy to fall into old punitive, tough-on-crime habits. In Kentucky, a bill was filed that would significantly increase penalties for individuals who sell any amount of heroin/fentanyl, an offense that would now be considered trafficking. This week, the bill passed the Senate unanimously. The legislation will undo some of the reforms that were passed in 2011 as a part of a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that received support from a partnership between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Federal Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Senate bill sponsor, Sen. John Schickel (R-Boone) voted for that comprehensive sentencing reform legislation, as did Kentucky's Senate President, Robert Stivers (R-Manchester). Speaking on the proposed legislation, Stivers said that this new bill would probably cost "in the tens of millions of dollars" but that "it is worthwhile to send a message—it's time for this to stop at whatever level for whatever drug it may be." In 2015, Alabama enacted legislation aimed at reducing prison overcrowding, requiring low-level, nonviolent drug and property offenders be diverted from prison into alternative programs. This "Justice Reinvestment" legislation was put forward as a result of a partnership between the legislature and The Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice. This year, however, the same Alabama legislators that sponsored the comprehensive reform bill are in full freak-out mode when it comes to heroin. A bill filed this year by Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) would create mandatory minimum sentences for "trafficking in fentanyl," which includes possession of a small amount of this drug or any mixture (which could include heroin). Astoundingly, the bill creates a mandatory minimum sentence of life without the possibility of parole for trafficking in just 28 grams. "Even if it did increase the numbers on incarceration, that's okay, because this is something we need to crack down on," Ward told the Alabama Media Group. In Idaho, Rep. John Gannon, a Democrat who voted for a criminal justice reform bill that was passed in 2011 as a part of a Justice Reinvestment initiative, sponsored a bill that would charge individuals who sell heroin to someone who dies from overdose with second degree murder—a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence in the state. Other states are introducing similar bills to allow for murder or manslaughter charges for those who sell or give heroin to someone who later dies from an overdose, while others have steadily increased the number of prosecutions for these individuals, as noted in a post last year. In Connecticut, a state that has seen its prison population at its lowest point in decades and that has enacted many positive reforms in recent years, three bills have been introduced that would increase penalties for individuals who sell heroin to someone who fatally overdoses. Two of those bills would "hold dealers criminally liable," while the other would allow dealers to be charged with homicide. In Maryland, the governor put forward a bill that creates a new felony off[...]

Marijuana Gets Its Own Congressional Caucus

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 16:45:00 -0500

(image) As more and more Americans grow comfortable with exempting marijuana from the drug war, we've seen massive shifts in state regulations toward decriminalization and legal use (medicinal and recreational).

Federal laws and regulations still lag terribly behind, leaving Americans in an area of uncertainty in enforcement, particularly as we change administrations. President Donald Trump has stated that he thinks marijuana regulation is a state issue, but he has also been acting like a pretty major drug warrior as part of his border control push. His Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a lengthy history as a supporter of tough drug laws as well.

Now four members of the House of Representatives, two from each party, have come together to form a Congressional Cannabis Caucus. From the left, we've got Reps. Jared Polis (Colo.) and Earl Blumenauer (Ore.). From the right, we've got Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.) and Don Young (Alaska). Note that all four come from states where voters have legalized recreational marijuana use.

The four had a short press conference on Thursday to preview their agenda. Fundamentally, they want federal regulation to catch up with what the states are doing. They explained they want to do everything from making sure medical marijuana research is permitted and that veterans get access to allowing marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state laws to use the banking system and not have to operate cash-only. And of course, there's the ultimate goal of getting marijuana removed from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act, an absurd federal classification that the drug has no medical use.

The four representatives all have a history of attempting to legislatively loosen cannabis laws. As more and more Americans agree, maybe some more of those 431 other members of Congress will join the caucus as well.

Watch their press conference below:

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Neil Gorsuch Sympathizes With Drug Dealers

Mon, 06 Feb 2017 07:30:00 -0500

In his 2006 book about assisted suicide, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch takes issue with the "libertarian principle" that requires legalization of the practice. The same principle, Gorsuch argues, would also require the government to allow "any act of consensual homicide," including "sadomasochist killings, mass suicide pacts...duels, and the sale of one's life (not to mention the use of now illicit drugs, prostitution, or the sale of one's organs)." That's right: If the government lets people kill themselves, it might also have to let them smoke pot. Despite the horror of taboo intoxicants suggested by that passage, Gorsuch does not seem to be blinded by pharmacological phobia when he hears drug cases. Two opinions he wrote in 2015—one involving mens rea, the other the Fifth Amendment's ban on compelled self-incrimination—demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of drug policy issues and suggest Gorsuch is less eager than some judges to facilitate enforcement of prohibition by compromising civil liberties. In U.S. v. Makkar, a 2015 case involving Oklahoma convenience store owners arrested for selling "incense" containing a synthetic cannabinoid, Gorsuch noted that the merchants, Iqbal Makkar and Gaurav Sehgal, seemed to be concerned about complying with the law: When questions surfaced about the incense they carried on their shelves, the men spoke with state law enforcement officers, offered to have the officers test the incense to determine its legality, and offered as well to stop selling the product until the results came in. But this cooperation with state authorities apparently won the men little admiration from federal investigators: soon enough they found themselves under indictment and convicted for violating the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act (Analogue Act), conspiracy, and money laundering. Writing for a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, Gorsuch agreed with Makkar and Sehgal that they had been improperly convicted under the Analogue Act, "a curious animal" that is meant to criminalize production and distribution of psychoactive substances that are not explicitly prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). To be covered by the Analogue Act, according to the Supreme Court's interpretation, a substance must be substantially similar in chemical structure and effect to a drug listed in Schedule I or II of the CSA. To convict a supplier of violating the Analogue Act, the government must prove he knew the drug had these features or knew the drug was banned by that law or by the CSA. Gorsuch noted in passing that the Supreme Court's construction of the Analogue Act may not adequately address "vagueness concerns," since "it's an open question...what exactly it means for chemicals to have a 'substantially similar' chemical structure—or effect." In any case, he said, prosecutors failed to prove that Makkar and Sehgal met the law's men rea requirements. "The government didn't attempt to show that Mr. Makkar or Mr. Sehgal knew the incense they sold was unlawful under the CSA or Analogue Act," he writes. No did it try to show the defendants knew the incense contained a substance with a chemical structure similar to that of a Schedule I or II drug. "As far as we can tell," Gorsuch said, "at trial the government introduced no evidence suggesting that the defendants knew anything about the chemical structure of the incense they sold." Instead prosecutors convinced the trial judge to approve "an instruction permitting the jury to infer that the defendants knew the incense they sold had a substantially similar chemical structure to JWH–18 [a synthetic cannabinoid] from the fact they knew the incense had a substantially similar effect to marijuana." That inference is "scientifically unsound," Gorsuch noted, because two substances can have similar effects despite having very different chemical structures. In effect, "the government asked for and won the right to collapse its two separate elemental mens rea[...]

Texas Sought Banned Death Penalty Drugs From Overseas Party Dealers

Fri, 27 Jan 2017 12:06:00 -0500

The state of Texas—hell bent on procuring banned drugs to be used in lethal injection executions—nearly completed a deal with five party drug dealers in India before the men were arrested. According to an absolutely bonkers report in Buzzfeed, Indian court documents reveal Provizer Pharma—the company equally owned by five Indian men in their twentires—was selling "psychotropic drugs and opioids illegally to people in the US and Europe," but also had a deal in principle with Texas' Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to sell the agency sodium thiopental, a drug used in lethal injections. The TDCJ wrote in a statement, "The agency has not engaged in any transaction with this company," which would technically be true, because the five men from Provinzer Pharma were arrested by India's Narcotics Control Bureau while picking up returned packages loaded with illegal drugs at a FedEx store in Surat before Provinzer's sale of sodium thiopental to the state of Texas could be completed. But per a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) report obtained by Buzzfeed, the TDCJ tipped off the DEA of the planned purchase, and even named Provinzer Pharma as the vendor. Buzzfeed adds, "It's unclear how the Texas Department of Criminal Justice found this small company in India that made the rounds on Internet message boards for teens and 20-somethings looking to buy drugs without a prescription," but an American named Chris Harris ended up replacing Provinzer Pharma as Texas' drug supplier. Harris has made sales of death penalty drugs to four states—earning over $100,000—but each time the drugs have been detained by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As we've reported at Reason, death penalty states have had a hell of a time in recent years trying to get their hands on drugs used in executions, partially due to a European Union (EU) ban on the sale of such drugs to state governments that allow capital punishment, but also due to public backlash over the many executions which were botched because of drugs of questionable provenance and quality. The final status of the FDA-impounded shipments of sodium thiopental from India is still unsettled. The U.S.'s lone manufacturer of the drug stopped producing it because of its use in executions, and for a time, the Obama administration's FDA allowed states to import the drug, but the agency was eventually ordered by a federal court that it had "a mandatory obligation" to keep the "the misbranded and unapproved drug, thiopental" out of the U.S. That ruling came down in 2012, and has served as the FDA's go-to reasoning for refusing to release the detained shipments of drugs paid for by certain states' dollars. Earlier this month, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice filed suit against the FDA, demanding the release of the drugs. Ars Technica reports Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton accused the FDA of "gross incompetence or willful obstruction" in refusing to make a final decision on the fate of the impounded drugs. Paxton's main argument is that the state has a "responsibility to carry out its law enforcement duties"—which includes executions—and thus should be granted a "law enforcement exemption" and be permitted to import sodium thiopental. President Donald Trump might be the most enthusiastic proponent of capital punishment ever to inhabit the White House. It's one of the few policy positions on which he has never wavered, having taken a full-page ad in four major New York newspapers back in 1989 demanding "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY", as well as writing in his 1997 book Trump: The Art of the Comeback, "I believe in an eye for an eye." In 2010, Trump said the punishment for WikiLeaks' publishing of classified documents provided by Chelsea Manning should be "the death penalty or something." When Trump gets around to appointing a new FDA commissioner, he could direct the agency to stand down on its opposition to importing the drugs, which could theoretically help states like Texas make the case that[...]

Israel Moves Toward Decriminalizing Marijuana Use

Fri, 27 Jan 2017 06:30:00 -0500

Yestersday Israel's public security minister, Gilad Erdan, announced a plan to decriminalize possession of marijuana, making public use a civil offense punishable by fines and eliminating penalties for private use. "We want to educate our youth that using drugs is damaging," Erdan said. "On the other hand, the police do not have the right tools to deal with the damage caused by using drugs. For example, police do not know how to deal with people who drive under the influence of drugs. This is why we must have a broad and conclusive policy change." Under the plan, which needs cabinet approval, adults caught smoking pot in public would be subject to a fine of 1,000 shekels ($263), which would be doubled for a second offense. A third offense would result in sanctions such as drug treatment and suspension of driving privileges, while a fourth offense would bring criminal charges. For cannabis users younger than 18, a first offense would result in a referral to treatment, a second in admission to a rehabilitation center, and a third in prosecution. But for adults, "home use and possession of marijuana would carry no punishment," The Times of Israel reports. Possession of up to 15 grams (half an ounce) is currently punishable by up to three years in prison, although the consequences are usually much less severe. Under attorney general's directives issued in 1985 and 2003, people caught with small amounts of marijuana are not supposed to be arrested for a first offense. Police have discretion as to whether charges should be brought for subsequent offenses. Police data released this week show that arrests for marijuana possession fell 30 percent between 2010 and 2015, from 4,967 to 3,425. Erdan's plan, which is based on recommendations from an advisory panel he appointed to study the issue, moves in the direction that Yohanan Danino, then Israel's police chief, suggested in 2015. "More and more citizens are demanding marijuana use be permitted," Danino said. "I think the time has come for the Israel police, together with the state, to re-examine their stance on cannabis. I think we must sit and study what's happening around the world." Last year Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said her ministry was studying decriminalization of drug possession. A bill that would have decriminalized possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana failed last summer, largely because of opposition from Erdan and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. At the time Erdan warned that punishing second offenses with fines was "a form of legalization" that would lead to more stoned driving. But it sounds like his proposal actually goes further than the bill he opposed. According to The Times of Israel, that bill applied only to cannabis consumers 21 or older (as opposed to 18 or older under Erdan's plan) and prescribed fines for private possession (which would be subject to no penalty under Erdan's plan) as well as a higher fine for public possession (1,500 shekels vs. 1,000 under Erdan's plan). While recreational marijuana use remains illegal in Israel, medical use is allowed for patients with prescriptions. The government recently announced $2.1 million in funding for a medical marijuana research program overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health.[...]

In-State Medical Marijuana Cultivation May Be on Georgia's Horizon

Wed, 25 Jan 2017 15:20:00 -0500

(image) A new Georgia bill calls for a statewide vote on legalizing the production and sale of medicinal marijuana, according to the Associated Press. The bill, H.R. 36, would set up a referendum for the November 2018 midterm election and give voters the opportunity to allow cultivation in the state. The proposal was introduced by Rep. Allen Peake (R–Macon) on January 12.

Peake also authored the 2015 bill that allowed limited access to low-THC cannabidiol (CBD) oil to treat severe cases of eight medical conditions, including seizure disorders and cancer. However, that bill only provides protection from prosecution for authorized possession. It does not legalize the cultivation or sale of marijuana, even for medicinal purposes.

"There are still logistical and financial hardships even for the folks that are properly registered with the state," Peake informed The Atlanta Journal-Constitution back in 2016.

Currently, the only way for Georgians to legally obtain CBD oil is to purchase it from out of state or order it from a reputable producer online, but individuals risk breaking federal law by crossing state borders with the stuff. Peake has even put himself at risk to ensure his constituents have access to medical marijuana, according to McClatchyDC. "He won't say exactly how he broke the law to help them," Rob Hotakainen reported, "only that he has been in possession of cannabis oil and given it to registered families. And he won't say where he got the oil, either."

Twenty-seven states plus the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana in some form, and eight states currently allow for cultivation with varying degrees of regulation. H.R. 36 could add Georgia to that list—if lawmakers approve putting the measure on the ballot.

"It's clear we're going to have a hard time passing a cultivation bill (in the state Legislature) for the next two years," Peake said, according to the Macon Telegraph. "So why not put it in front of the voters, where every poll shows there's clear evidence that voters support this?"

An Atlanta-Journal Constitution poll found that 71 percent of Georgians support establishing an in-state cultivation program, while a 2016 Gallup poll found that 60 percent of Americans now favor legalizing marijuana use. Florida was the first Southern state to legalize medical pot. Thanks to Peake, Georgia may be next.

What We Don't Know About Marijuana's Risks and Benefits

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 10:00:00 -0500

The last time the National Academy of Sciences issued a report on marijuana, three states allowed medical use of the drug. Eighteen years later, there are 28 states that recognize marijuana as a medicine, and eight of them also allow recreational use. But as a new NAS report published yesterday shows, there are still big gaps in our knowledge of marijuana's risks and benefits. The 1999 report, commissioned by a drug czar who insisted there was no evidence that marijuana is medically useful, refuted that claim but highlighted the paucity of relevant research. "The accumulated data indicate a potential therapeutic value for cannabinoid drugs, particularly for symptoms such as pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation," it concluded. The new report, which takes into account studies conducted during the last two decades, is less tentative but still finds the evidence for most medical applications inconclusive. "We found conclusive or substantial evidence...for benefit from cannabis or cannabinoids for chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and patient-reported symptoms of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis," the authors say. "For these conditions the effects of cannabinoids are modest; for all other conditions evaluated there is inadequate information to assess their effects." The report notes that investigation of marijuana's medical utility has been constrained by legal and bureaucratic barriers, including continued federal prohibition and the Drug Enforcement Administration's refusal to license more than one producer of cannabis for research. "There are specific regulatory barriers, including the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance, that impede the advancement of cannabis and cannabinoid research," the authors say. "It is often difficult for researchers to gain access to the quantity, quality, and type of cannabis product necessary to address specific research questions." Last August the DEA once again refused to reclassify marijuana but agreed to start accepting applications from additional marijuana producers. As state-legal marijuana products proliferate across the country, federal prohibition prevents scientists from investigating their properties: Cannabis concentrate sales doubled in Colorado from 2015 to 2016, reaching $60.5 million in the first quarter of 2016, and yet current federal law prevents chemists from examining the composition of those products as it may relate to safety, neuroscientists from testing the effects of those products on the brain or physiology in animal models, and clinical scientists from conducting research on how these products may help or harm patients. And while between 498,170 and 721,599 units of medical and recreational cannabis edibles were sold per month in Colorado in 2015, federal law also prohibits scientists from testing those products for contaminants, understanding the effects of these products in animal models, or investigating the effects in patient populations. Regarding the potential dangers of these products, the report is mostly reassuring, finding little or no evidence that marijuana impairs the immune system or increases the risk of heart attacks, lung cancer, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (contrary to the claims of anti-pot activists). Regular pot smoking seems to worsen bronchitis symptoms, and marijuana consumption by pregnant women is associated with lower birth weight, although there is little evidence of a link to pregnancy complications or postnatal health problems. Marijuana use is associated with schizophrenia, suicide, poor academic performance, and abuse of other drugs, but the causal relationships remain murky. The report says "there is limited evidence of a statistical association between sustained abstinence from cannabis use and impairments in the cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention"—i.e.,[...]

Sessions Offers Unclear, Useless Answers on Marijuana During Confirmation Hearing

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 17:52:00 -0500

Senators on both sides of the aisle pressed their colleague Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) on Tuesday to flesh out his views on state-level marijuana laws, but president-elect Donald Trump's pick to be the next attorney general downplayed his history of being a hardline drug warrior. Instead, we got vague and unconvincing answers about how Sessions views the relationship between the states and the federal government. "I think one obvious concern is that the United States Congress made the possession of marijuana in every state and the distribution of it an illegal act," Sessions said when questioned by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). "If that's something that's not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is not much the attorney general's job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able." As a matter of basic civics, yes, Sessions is right about all that. Congress should be the ones to decide when marijuana is legal or illegal at the federal level and the Justice Department is supposed to enforce the laws, not make them. That's hardly a controversial or revealing statement. Practically, though, Sessions would have tremendous power as attorney general to decide exactly what "enforce laws effectively as we are able" means. Without needing approval from Congress, Sessions could send federal agents to arrest growers, shut down dispensaries, and freeze the bank accounts of marijuana businesses. In the past, Sessions has encouraged the federal government to take a more activist approach to enforcing marijuana prohibition. In an April hearing about recreational marijuana laws in the states, Sessions observed that "good people don't smoke marijuana" and longed for the days when the federal government was more aggressive in going after drug dealers and users. If Sessions brings that approach to the executive branch, his decisions on marijuana policy could have huge implications for individuals and businesses in states where forms of marijuana have been legalized and could change the landscape for further state-level marijuana policy changes in coming years. As Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) pointed out during Tuesday's confirmation hearing, even Sessions' home state of Alabama has legalized a marijuana derivative known as cannabidiol oil, or CBD oil, for the treatment of some medical conditions. Leahy asked whether Sessions, as attorney general, would allow such laws to stand. "I won't commit to never enforcing federal law," Session said. "But absolutely it's a problem of resources for the federal government." Again, this is not an informative answer. "We are no closer to clarity in regards to Sessions' plans for how to treat state marijuana laws than we were yesterday," said Erik Altieri, executive director for NORML, which lobbies for marijuana reform at the state and federal level. "If Sessions wants to be attorney general for all Americans, he must bring his views in line with the majority of the population and support allowing states to set their own marijuana policies without fear of federal intervention." Sean Spicer, Trump's spokesman, was asked about Sessions' views on marijuana legalization during a Tuesday appearence on Fox News, but offered more vaguries. Some have pointed to this exchange as an indication Sessions won't go after state-legal cannabis. That's not what it says. It's a nonanswer. — Ben Adlin (@badlin) January 10, 2017 During the Obama administration, eight states legalized recreational marijuana and dozens of state-level medical marijuana laws were passed. Marijuana remains completely illegal at the federal level. It is included on the federal Schedule I list, a set of drugs considered by the Drug Enforcement Administration to have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," including heroi[...]

Butch Otter Still Opposes Legalizing CBD Oil; Uses Hyperbole to Explain Why

Sat, 07 Jan 2017 09:02:00 -0500

In November, my first feature story for Reason profiled a young man from Idaho who suffers from intractable seizures and asked why Butch Otter, the state's governor, did not help him when he had the chance. That young man is Josh Phillips, and he has been suffering from uncontrollable seizures since he was 10 years old. He's tried dozens of different drugs, but none have helped him. Out of other options, Josh and his family believe a marijuana-derived substance called Cannabidiol oil, or CBD oil, might offer some relief. It's worked for some people suffering from similar ailments in states where CBD is legal, including 17 states that don't have medical marijuana laws but have passed narrower CBD oil bills. Otter had a chance to sign a CBD oil bill for Idaho in April 2015, but he vetoed it. He is still the only governor in the country to veto such a bill. It's possible that the state legislature will give Otter another chance to sign a CBD oil bill this year, but the governor on Friday reiterated his opposition. During a press conference in Boise, Otter told reporters that there had been no change in his view on the subject. src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> The real change is between Otter's view today and the view he held for most of his political career. As my story noted, Otter had been a proponent of marijuana legalization for decades—from way back when he first broke into politics in the 1970s, through his successful run for governor in 2006. There's a few different reasons why Otter seems to have changed his mind—lobbyists for law enforcement groups and pharmaceutical companies seem to have played a significant role, Reason's investigation found—but the most important consequence of his decision is that people in Idaho suffering from intractable seizures are left with fewer choices when it comes to treatment. Otter had, after vetoing the CBD oil bill, issued an executive order creating a clinical trial for a drug called Epidiolex, which is produced by a British pharmaceutical company trying to gain FDA approval to sell the drug in the United States. The drug is basically a synthetic version of CBD, but Otter's team preferred the clinical trial because it was more standardized and controlled than CBD oil. On Friday, Otter said the clinical trial is showing that there is "sufficient relief in many cases." That's good news for the children who got into the Epidiolex trials—the program was capped at 25 kids (the Otter administration later lifted the cap to 38 children)—but does nothing to help anyone who unable to get into the trial or anyone who was over 18, like Josh Phillips, who will turn 20 next month. It also doesn't help Katie Donahue, an Idaho resident who says she literally has prayed for death because she can't find a way to treat her seizures. "I am deeply saddened at the freedom Butch Otter continues to deny extremely ill Idahoans," Donahue said in a statement provided to Reason on Friday. "I am devastated for the children who will continue forced suffering from diseases as well as stigma. I am sickened to think of families from other states having success with cannabinoid therapy not being able to experience the beauty of Idaho because freedom has been replaced with fascism." While we're picking apart Otter's comments, there's one more thing he said Friday that deserves some scrutiny, because it speaks to his administration's overall approach to medical marijuana. Without being asked, Otter launched into an explanation of why he opposes medical marijuana (around the 1:30 mark of the audio file above). Like his spokesman did in responding to questions from Reason two months ago, Otter re[...]

Drug War Is Over (If You Want It!): Hollyweed Edition

Tue, 03 Jan 2017 09:08:00 -0500


Over the New Year's weekend, pranksters found their way to the Hollywood sign and mocked it up to pay tribute to Calfornia's November vote to legalize recreational marijuana.

Here's a map via Governing magazine that lays out where pot is legal and under what circumstances. It's interactive, so click through for full effect.


Especially after California's move, it's legitimate to say that the war on pot is decisively going against the prohibitionists. Having said that, there's still a ton of territory to be won and there remain massive actions that still need to happen: Laws in the 21 states that still ban all forms of pot need to change, legal banking practices need to be established in states that allow recreational and medical marijuana, the disposition of prisoners serving sentences for marijuana-related crime needs to be addressed, and more.

In 2017, activists will be especially busy in states such as Texas, Kentucky, and Missouri, which currently don't allow legal consumption, but also will be working to further liberalize laws in places such as New Jersey and Rhode Island. The question for all of us who believe that adults should be allowed to use marijuana legally is, to paraphrase John Kerry, Who will we let be the last person to die for this mistake? A more-pressing question for all Americans is, What will the federal response to state-level legalization be under a Trump administration. There are good reasons to be very worried. Watch now:

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2 Books To Help You Thrive in Trump's America!

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 12:05:00 -0500

I didn't vote for Donald Trump (I proudly voted for Gary Johnson, thank you very much) and I do worry about some (most?) of his policy ideas. Yet unlike many progressives, liberals, Democrats, libertarians, conservatives, and #NeverTrump, I'm not trembling in fear or quaking in anger over the transfer of power that happens on January 20. Part of the reason for my lack of pants-wetting is because of two books I've read in the past year. Neither is specifically about Trump—or even contemporary politics—but each holds some great lessons about how to deal broadly with the billionaire developer and the bigger question of out-of-control government power. Penn Jillette's Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales is a lean, mean diet memoir by the well-known magician that is leavened with tales of his two tours on the Trump-hosted Celebrity Apprentice. You'll not only learn how to go cold turkey from what Jillette calls the "Standard American Diet" (or SAD!) but get a strong sense of what makes the Donald tick. The other is a sobering book about the long-range hangover from the "noble experiment" in banning booze during the 1920s. Harvard historian Lisa McGirr's The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State is a tour de force of deep, serious research and analysis that's also a real page-turner. Most important to the current moment, she documents how federal powers don't ever really disappear. Instead, like parasites they find a new host to do their bidding after their original purpose is served. Presto! begins a couple of years ago, with Jillette weighing in somewhere north of 330 pounds (folks that fat, he notes, stop weighing themselves). After years of high-blood pressure, self-delusion about what a "fat fuck" he had been for years, and a serious cardiac event, he's given an ultimatum by his doctor to lose lots of weight in six months or submit to stomach stapling. Jillette follows the diet advice of his friend Ray Cronise, a former NASA engineer turned nutrition guru. He eats nothing but plain potatoes for a couple of weeks and then slowly adds back other vegetables, fruits, and whole plants, all while losing almost a pound a day. Once he hits his target weight of around 230 pounds, he settles into a version of the "nutritarian" approach elaborated by Joel Fuhrman, the medical doctor behind Eat To Live and an ever-expanding web empire. It's a rollicking and profane story of self-control and literal and figurative reinvention. "The kind of guy I am," writes Jillette, "if I couldn't eat nothing, I was going to eat everything….There is nothing fun and sexy about moderation. To be thin, I needed to find a way to make my diet as extreme as my other lifestyle choices." But what about Trump? As a very public libertarian who supported Gary Johnson throughout the presidential race, Jillette had little love for the Democratic nominee. "Eating pizza is voting for Hillary Clinton," he writes, meaning that casting a ballot for her would be the equivalent of one of his old comfort-food binges during which he would slather a hunk of cheese with peanut butter while driving to The Cheesecake Factory and eating two entrees and a dessert or three before heading to the movies and downing a bucket of buttered popcorn in which he's tossed a boxful of Milk Duds. And yet, he has warmer feelings for her than his TV boss on Celebrity Apprentice (indeed, in a complicated vote-swapping gambit, he actually voted for her in tightly-contested Nevada in exchange for a dozen other people voting for Johnson). "I really thought there could be no one worse than Hillary Clinton, and there is no one worse than Hillary Clinton except Donald Trump." Jillette likens Trump's hair to "cotton candy made from piss" and that's the closest he comes[...]

Teenagers Dismay Prohibitionists by Consuming Less Cannabis

Wed, 14 Dec 2016 07:00:00 -0500

At a Senate hearing last April, Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's choice for attorney general, worried about the message that marijuana legalization sends to the youth of America. "I can't tell you how concerning it is for me, emotionally and personally, to see the possibility that we will reverse the progress that we've made," he said. "Colorado was one of the leading states that started the movement to suggest that marijuana is not dangerous. And we're going to find it, in my opinion, ripple through the entire American citizenry, and we're going to see more marijuana use." We have been hearing similar warnings from drug warriors for two decades. When teenagers see that states have legalized medical or recreational marijuana for adults, prohibitionists predicted, they will be more inclined to smoke pot. But as survey data released yesterday confirmed once again, there is no evidence that is happening.

According to the Monitoring the Future Study, marijuana use by eighth- and 10th-graders fell this year. It rose slightly among 12th-graders but was still less common than in 2012, the year Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and about the same as in 2014, when two more states and the District of Columbia joined them. The 2016 legalization campaigns, four of which were successful, likewise did not seem to spur much new interest in pot among teenagers. Nor did the legalization of medical marijuana in 28 states, starting with California in 1996. This is not the pattern you would expect to see if loosening state marijuana laws encouraged underage consumption by improving the drug's reputation among teenagers:

(image) "I don't have an explanation," said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which sponsors the survey. "This is somewhat surprising. We had predicted based on the changes in legalization [and] culture in the U.S. as well as decreasing perceptions among teenagers that marijuana was harmful that [use] would go up. But it hasn't gone up."

Heroin-Related Deaths Rise As Heroin Use Falls

Mon, 12 Dec 2016 08:00:00 -0500

CDC numbers released last week indicate that the number of heroin-related deaths in the United States rose from 10,574 in 2014 to 12,990 in 2015. That 23 percent increase occurred even though heroin use, as measured by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), declined last year. This development underlines a phenomenon I've noted before: Heroin use is more dangerous than it used to be. Since 2002, according to NSDUH, the number of heroin users has more than doubled, but the number of drug poisoning deaths involving heroin has more than sextupled. To put it another way, heroin users are about three times as likely to die from drug poisoning as they were in 2002. Several factors may help explain this striking development. As the government cracked down on nonmedical use of prescription painkillers, a lot of opioid users switched to heroin, and these new heroin users were not accustomed to the black market's inconsistent potency. One reason heroin can be stronger than expected is the addition of the synthetic narcotic fentanyl, which has become more common in recent years. "Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone rose from 5,544 in 2014 to 9,580 in 2015, an increase of 73 percent," the CDC notes. "This category of opioids is dominated by fentanyl-related overdoses, and recent research indicates the fentanyl involved in these deaths is illicitly manufactured, not from medications containing fentanyl." Fentanyl aside, most heroin-related deaths involve drug mixtures, and it's possible the new heroin users are more inclined to combine it with other depressants. The shift to the black market can't be the whole story, because there was a similar divergence between consumption of legal opioids and deaths involving them. Nonmedical use of these drugs fell slightly between 2002 and 2014, when the number of deaths involving them rose by 150 percent. It seems clear that fatalities are not a simple function of use rates, which means policies aimed at driving down consumption may not be the most effective way to reduce deaths. Such efforts may even have the opposite effect, as the crackdown on painkillers apparently did by driving opioid users to heroin. Taking these points into account, a new set of recommendations from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) suggests several ways to make opioid use less dangerous, including wider distribution of the overdose-reversing opioid antagonist naloxone, legal reforms to protect bystanders who report overdoses, "drug checking services" that would alert users to the presence of adulterants such as fentanyl, and supervised injection facilities, where people can consume drugs in a safe and sanitary setting monitored by medical professionals. DPA says "SIFs have been rigorously studied and found to reduce the spread of infectious disease, overdose deaths, and improperly discarded injection equipment, and to increase public order, access to drug treatment and other services, and to save taxpayer money." DPA also suggests "heroin-assisted treatment," which gives addicts access to pharmaceutical-quality heroin. It says "research has shown that HAT can reduce drug use, overdose deaths, infectious disease, and crime, while saving money and promoting social integration." These harm reduction measures go beyond "just say no" to grapple with the factors that make opioid use more dangerous than it has to be. It's doubtful that the Trump administration, which so far leans strongly toward old-fashioned prohibitionism, will be open to such ideas. But any response to the rise in opioid-related deaths that does not address the divergence between consumption and fatality trends will be missing an important part of the picture.[...]

Ask Jacob Sullum All Your Questions About Drugs, Policy, and Drug Policy

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 09:00:00 -0500

We need to talk about Jacob Sullum. This Reason senior editor plays it low key, but he's pretty amazing. Our beardy drug guru is the author of two critically acclaimed books: Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use (Tarcher/Penguin) and For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health (Free Press). He knows everything there is to know about pretty much any illicit substance you can imagine. And everybody likes him: Saying Yes has been praised by both sides of the political spectrum. National Review called it "a highly effective debunking," and Mother Jones described it as "a healthy dose of sober talk in a debate dominated by yelping dopes."

Just in the last couple of weeks he's delivered killer reporting and analysis on ecstasy, marijuana, kratom, cannabis candy, booze, and even soda. Plus flag burning and criminal justice reform.

So ask him anything over at his Twitter account using the #askalibertarian hashtag. And then donate!

Read the whole Q and A below.

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The Cannabis Exception to the Second Amendment

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 00:01:00 -0500

If you want to buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer, you have to fill out Form 4473, which is aimed at determining whether you are legally allowed to own a firearm. A recent revision to the form by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) underlines how blithely the federal government strips Americans of their Second Amendment rights. "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?" asks Question 11(e). In the latest version of Form 4473, which dealers are required to start using on January 16, that question is followed by a warning in bold type: "The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside." If you are one of the 68 million Americans who live in a state that has decided to allow recreational use of marijuana, or one of the 186 million who live in a state that recognizes marijuana as a medicine, you may have been under the impression that legalization makes cannabis consumption lawful. The ATF wants to disabuse you of that notion; hence the warning. "We were concerned that some buyers who use marijuana may read the 2012 language asking if they were an 'unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana' and erroneously say no because in that particular state, marijuana has been legalized," an ATF spokeswoman told The Denver Post last week. "Most dealers recognize that marijuana use prohibits people from purchasing firearms under federal law, but many members of the general public may not be as familiar with the Gun Control Act." Under that law, a cannabis consumer who possesses a gun (no matter where he got it) is guilty of a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Likewise anyone who sells him a gun if has reason to know the buyer is a cannabis consumer. Falsely denying marijuana use on Form 4473 can get you up to five years. The rationale for this rule is risible. Last August the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that banning gun sales to people who have medical marijuana cards is consistent with the Second Amendment because "empirical data and legislative determinations support a strong link between drug use and violence." The court did not actually cite any such evidence, but it did observe that "illegal drug users, including marijuana users, are likely as a consequence of that use to experience altered or impaired mental states that affect their judgment and that can lead to irrational or unpredictable behavior." The same could be said of drinkers, but it seems unlikely that the 9th Circuit would uphold a law that restricted the Second Amendment to teetotalers. The appeals court also argued that cannabis consumers are "more likely to have negative interactions with law enforcement officers because they engage in criminal activity." It added that "they frequently make their purchases through black market sources who themselves frequently resort to violence." Both of those risks are byproducts of prohibition, and they do not apply to people who grow, buy, or consume marijuana in accordance with state law. The fact that those activities are still prohibited by the federal government does not mean the average cannabis consumer is apt to get into a shootout with DEA agents, let alone with the state-licensed retailer who sells him marijuana. The idea that marijuana makes people violent is a relic of the 1930s that has no relevance in determining who deserves to exercise the fundamental right of armed self-defense—a point the president-elect should recognize. Dona[...]