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Drug Policy

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Published: Fri, 28 Jul 2017 00:00:00 -0400

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13 Reasons Jeff Sessions is a @$#/!

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 14:50:00 -0400

Jeff Sessions is on the ropes with Donald Trump. Good.

The president is pissed because Sessions recused himself from the investigation of Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election. But here are a baker's dozen of reasons to hate the attorney general, including his obsession with restarting the war on pot, his call to jack up mandatory minimums, and his support for civil asset forfeiture. Then there's his lack of interest in due process, willingness to subvert state's rights when they conflict with his desired outcome, and desire to lengthen prison terms for non-violent criminals. Also, he might be some kind of statist elf.

During Sessions' confirmation hearings, Democrats claimed the former Alabama senator was unfit for office because he was a racist, charges that were never really substantiated. But Sessions' voting record and policy agenda are more than enough to disqualify him from being the nation's top law enforcement officer.

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Rejecting Sessions' Plea, Senate Panel Votes to Protect Medical Marijuana

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 13:20:00 -0400

(image) Jeff Sessions' former Senate colleagues, dismayed at Donald Trump's humilating tweets and comments about him, are rallying to his defense, urging the president to stop castigating an attorney general he describes as a "beleaguered" and "very weak" disappointment. But their solidarity with Sessions goes only so far, as demonstrated by today's vote on a spending rider that blocks Justice Department interference with medical marijuana laws.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the rider, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, by a voice vote, indicating that it was not controversial among the panel's members, who include 16 Republicans. The committee thereby rejected a personal plea by Sessions to let the amendment lapse.

"I write to renew the Department of Justice's opposition to the inclusion of language in any appropriations legislation that would prohibit the use of Department of Justice funds or in any way inhibit its authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act," Sessions said in a May 1 letter to Senate and House leaders. "I believe it would be unwise to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime."

Evidently Sessions' former colleagues found that logic, tying medical marijuana to violence and heroin use, unpersuasive. The committee's approval of the rider Sessions opposes, which was first enacted in 2014 and has been renewed each year since then, sets the stage for its inclusion in the final bill providing funding for the Justice Department.

"This vote is not only a blow against an outdated Reefer Madness mindset," says Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell, who first reported Sessions' letter. "It is a personal rebuke to Jeff Sessions. The attorney general, in contravention of President Trump's campaign pledges and of public opinion, specifically asked Congress to give him the power to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers who are following state laws. A bipartisan group of his former Senate colleagues just said no. A majority of states now allow medical cannabis, and we will not allow drug warriors in the Justice Department to roll back the clock. The war on marijuana is ending, even if Jeff Sessions doesn't realize it yet."

Two weeks ago, the same Senate committee, by a vote of 24 to 7, approved an amendment that would have permitted Veterans Health Administration doctors to recommend marijuana as a treatment in states that allow medical use. Last year that amendment passed the Senate and House by wide margins but did not end up in the final appropriations bill. Yesterday the House Rules Committee voted to keep the rider from proceeding to a floor vote.

Once a Killer Drug, Qat Is Now a Dropout Drug, If You Believe The New York Times

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 13:20:00 -0400

People have been chewing qat, a stimulating shrub that grows in the Horn of Africa and on the Arabian peninsula, for thousands of years. Its effects are commonly compared to those of strong coffee, and it serves similar functions in social and vocational contexts. But unlike coffee, qat seems exotic to Westerners, which is why we periodically see articles like the one The New York Times ran on Saturday, reporting the "alarming" fact that "underemployed youth" in Ethiopia are chewing qat, a development that "authorities" consider "an epidemic in all but name." Times correspondent Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura quotes Shidigaf Haile, a public prosecutor in Gonder, who says qat chewing by young men is "a huge problem" that is "bad for Ethiopia's economic development because they become lazy, unproductive, and their health will be affected." Yet by Haile's own account (and de Freytas-Tamura's), it's not so much that qat renders young men indolent and unemployable but that "a lack of work" encourages them to while away their time chewing the leaves. De Freytas-Tamura also casts doubt on the notion that qat makes you lazy by describing a young woman who "has made chewing the drug a ritual, repeated several times a day," and who "even chews on the job, on the khat farm where she picks the delicate, shiny leaves off the shrubs." The habit does not seem to impair her productivity, and a similar story could be told about American office workers who drink coffee several times a day. Keen to substantiate Haile's claim that qat use is unhealthy, de Freytas-Tamura consults the Drug Enforcement Administration, always a reliable source for information about psychoactive substances banned by the U.S. government, and reports that "chronic abuse...can lead to exhaustion, 'manic behavior with grandiose delusions, violence, suicidal depression or schizophreniform psychosis.'" She gives no indication of how common such outcomes are, leaving the impression that any given qat chewer could be just one leaf away from a mental hospital. "Khat is legal and remains so mainly because it is a big source of revenue for the government," de Freytas-Tamura avers, as if it is puzzling and requires explanation whenever a government decides to tolerate a psychoactive substance. "But there are mounting concerns about its widespread use." De Freytas-Tamura does consult an Ethiopian psychiatrist who notes that qat chewing "is quite a complex cultural phenomenon" and explains that "simply banning it would be difficult, given its role in cultural rites among certain religious groups." But the reporter's prohibitionist preferences are clear. This tut-tutting over young men who like to hang out and chew qat is mild compared to what the Times was saying about the plant in the early 1990s, during the U.S. intervention in Somalia. "It is considered generally unwise to move around Mogadishu at night," the Times reported in December 1992, "because by then the narcotic effect of the [teenage nomads'] two-bunch-a-day habit has taken hold. Since the mixture of khat and guns has proved such a lethal combination (the addiction often generates the looting), some desperate Somali elders have facetiously suggested a 'khat for guns' swap to empty the town of weapons." Qat seems to be a very versatile plant. When a country is in the midst of a civil war, qat drives young men to murder and mayhem. When a country is at peace but unemployment is high, by contrast, qat makes young men do nothing. Marijuana underwent a similar transformation in the United States. Known for decades as a "killer drug" that inspired appalling crimes, it was later condemned as a "dropout drug" that made its users lethargic and apathetic. But that was all a lot of nonsense, as the Times eventually admitted. Maybe someday it will come around on qat too.[...]

Countdown To (Legalized) Ecstasy! Rick Doblin, MAPS, & the Psychedelic Renaissance [Podcast]

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 11:00:00 -0400

"The experiences I've had with psychedelic drugs, namely psilocybin, MDMA, and LSD, but particularly MDMA, have been personally transformative for me," says Mike Riggs, a reporter for Reason and the author of a blockbuster new story about how medical and psychiatric researchers are using psychedelics to help their patients. "Not frequent use, but kind of taking these drugs and then having really intense, in-depth, long conversations with intelligent people about how to get better, just how to get better as a person, as a human being, how to be a better neighbor, how to be a better friend." It was that experience that led Riggs to study groups such as The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and its founder, Rick Doblin. "Doblin is a totally fascinating guy," Riggs tells me in the newest Reason Podcast. "He started MAPS in 1986. His journey of studying and advocating for the use of psychedelic drugs in therapeutic settings began in the late 1960s or early '70s. He was kind of a guy who, for a long time starting when he was in college all the way to the mid-'80s, he was a guy who's like, 'We can get this to where it needs to be in terms of legitimacy simply by talking about it and simply by doing it.' And so in the 1960s and 1970s, there's some underground psychedelic therapy work in which psychiatrists who either participated in the research in the 1950s with LSD continued secretly. And then going into the 1970s when MDMA was kind of rediscovered by this chemist named Sasha Shulgin. MDMA wasn't illegal. It hadn't been banned. So psychiatrists were able to use it as kind of a research chemical." The tale Riggs tells isn't one of wanton hedonism or Dr. Strange-level trips. Rather, it's one in which doctors and patients are working together against the backdrop of a decades-long war on drugs to figure out new and effective ways to treat PTSD, depression, and other maladies with currently illegal substances. And more amazing, how Doblin and crew are on the verge of changing the way that the government regulates drugs. Produced by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Hi. I'm Nick Gillespie and this is the Reason podcast. Please subscribe to us at iTunes, and rate and review us while you're there. Today, we are talking with Mike Riggs. He's a reporter for Reason. He writes for the magazine, the print magazine. He writes for the website. And he occasionally appears in videos at Reason TV. Mike, thanks so much for talking to us. Mike Riggs: Yeah. It's my pleasure. Gillespie: All right. So, you've got a kind of blockbuster story coming out, or out at, which is about how after 30, 40 years, 50 years, almost 60 years, psychedelic drugs are being taken seriously by all kinds of medical researchers, psychological researchers, et cetera. Explain, briefly, what the thesis of your story is. Riggs: The thesis of the story, I would say, is basically that while most people who follow drug policy reform kind of broadly or generally think of it as using ballot initiatives for drugs like marijuana to basically kind of legalize through mobilizing the citizenry that there's an entire alternative path that's being pursued by psychedelic researchers. People who are studying the medical applications for LSD, psilocybine, MDMA, and some other drugs like that. Their path, they have never tried the referendum approach. They've never tried getting legislatures to pass laws to decriminalize or legal[...]

City Councilman's Proposal to Deal With Opioid Overdoses: Let Them Die

Mon, 10 Jul 2017 13:45:00 -0400

While more Americans are coming around to the idea that drug addiction should be treated as a public-health issue rather than a crime, the recent rise in opioid overdoses threatens this shift in public opinion, especially in the areas most ravaged by this new epidemic. In Cincinnati—my hometown—174 overdoses took place in less than one week last year. Many counties in Ohio no longer have enough room to store all of the bodies of overdose victims, forcing the state to lend out mobile morgues that are normally reserved for large-scale disasters. The lieutenant governor of the state has even opened up about her family's struggle with opioid addiction. The desperation to end this epidemic has not brought out the best in everyone. Recently, Middletown, Ohio, city councilman Dan Picard proposed that paramedics not respond to addicts upon a third overdose. Critics decried the proposal as unbelievably cruel. Picard countered that many didn't understand just how bad the situation had gotten in his city, where "out-of-the-box thinking" was now required. By Picard's estimation, each overdose response costs the city $1,104. At this rate, he says, emergency services eventually won't be able to respond to other calls and "the city's going to run out of money." The city, meanwhile, is not even sure Picard's proposal is legal. However if lawyers determine that it is, it will come up for a city council vote. Should the proposal pass, supporters may be surprised at how little it does to stop the onslaught of overdose calls. Middletown Fire Chief Paul Lotti, a critic of the proposal, noted that 85 percent of the department's overdose runs involve first-time callers, who would not be subject to the three-strikes rule. Effective or not, the policy still raises ethical concerns. Paramedics should not become, at the direction of ill-informed politicians, arbiters of who deserves to live and who deserves to die based on one's lifestyle choices. Even the sorts of serial overdosers who grab headlines—such as a Dayton, Ohio, man who has been revived by paramedics twenty times—do not deserve to just be left for dead in the streets. Addicts need access to treatment, not ultimatums. But seldom is treatment readily available. An arcane federal law has inhibited the growth of drug-treatment centers in places where they are needed the most. Centers that accept Medicaid patients are prohibited from having more than sixteen beds. With a population of less than 50,000, Middletown has already seen 577 overdoses in 2017 alone. Permitting drug-treatment centers to expand at the local level would be a step in the right direction, giving addicts more opportunities to get the help they need and relieving pressure on emergency services and overcrowded jails. More treatment centers are only one part of the equation, of course. Currently, these centers are limited in what they can provide for addicts by America's outdated drug laws. When Switzerland experienced a heroin epidemic in the early 1990s, it started treating addicts with substitution therapy, using opiates like methadone to taper off addiction to other opiates and even giving prescription heroin to some heavy users. It worked. Methadone treatment is becoming more common in the U.S., despite being hampered by Medicaid rules regarding its use, but the nation is still a long way off from taking on major reforms like the Swiss did. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is still sticking to its old ways of prohibiting any drug they set their eyes on, including Kratom, another substitute drug addicts can use in place of more dangerous opioids. Despite the rhetoric of the DEA and other government regulators, drug prohibition has made many drugs like heroin far more dangerous than they would be otherwise. Large spikes in overdose deaths often involve influxes of heroin laced with synthetic opioids like fentanyl or carfentanil, which are far more potent than heroin itself. Because th[...]

This Massachusetts Lawmaker Wants to Throw Folks in Prison for Having Secret Car Compartments

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 13:10:00 -0400

A hidden compartment in your car (or plane, or boat) could land you at least two years in prison in Massachusetts if a lawmaker gets his way. Blame it on the war on drugs and pressure from law enforcement lobbying. Stephan Hay, a Democrat state representative for Fitchburg, has introduced a bill that would criminalize operating a vehicle with a hidden compartment designed for the purpose of secretly transporting drugs and related contraband, equipment, currency, or weapons. The bill, H.1266, separately criminalizes the process of altering a vehicle with the intent of creating such hidden compartments. In each case the bill calls for a two-year mandatory minimum sentence, five years for subsequent offenses. The bill also allows police to seize the modified vehicle. The bill does not require that there actually be contraband in the hidden compartment, only that a person's "intent" is to use it to transport illicit goods. Then there's this clarification in the section authorizing forfeiture: Proof that a conveyance contains a hidden compartment as defined in this section shall be prima facie evidence that the conveyance was used intended for use in and for the business of unlawfully manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances. The bill defines a "hidden compartment" as any concealable storage space added to a vehicle after its purchase. The quoted section means that a defendant accused of violating this law is put in the position of having to prove a negative—that the compartment isn't intended to transport drugs. Ohio has a similar law on the books already, and we saw the dangerous consequences in 2013. Norman Gurley was stopped by state troopers, who noticed some wires in the vehicle he was driving and discovered the car had a secret compartment. They found absolutely no drugs but arrested him anyway and charged him with violating Ohio's law against secret compartments. Gurley's story quickly became national news, then faded as quickly as is it arrived. (Gurley's attorney, Myron Watson, did not return a call from Reason to find out what ultimately happened with the case. UPDATE: A reader directed me to the online case file and Gurley is set for a jury trial in December of this year, so it hasn't been resolved yet.) Now that his story is long forgotten, Massachusetts lawmakers are pushing their own version of a law that was criticized for violating due process, not to mention property rights. According to the State House News Service, Massachusetts state police officials are very much on board and are openly supporting the legislation. Their support should come as no surprise, given that the law will allow police to keep any vehicle they seize. According to the property-rights-defending experts at the Institute for Justice, Massachusetts has the worst civil asset forfeiture laws in the country. Law enforcement officials need only reach the threshold of probable cause (the same threshold used to justify a search warrant) that somebody's property or money is connected to a crime in order to seize it. The state doesn't have to prove a citizen's guilt to keep the property; the citizen must prove his innocence to get it back. And under Massachusetts law, police get to keep 100 percent of what they seize, a huge financial incentive to claim that anyone they pull over and search is connected to the drug trade—at least if he has any possessions of value. Police in Massachusetts already rake in millions of dollars a year from forfeitures. This bill would compound the problem. And it could send people to prison for drug crimes even if no one finds so much as a single joint or fentanyl tablet in their possession.[...]

LSD Microdosing: The New Silicon Valley Productivity Hack

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 14:21:00 -0400

Tech entrepreneur George Burke consumes a tiny amount of LSD (about a tenth of a typical dose) every morning before he goes to work.

He says "microdosing" subtly improves his cognitive functioning.

"I notice that my brain seems to be able to solve problems a little bit better than...before," says Burke, who runs a startup called Fuel that helps its clients custom tailor their diets to their unique genetic makeups.

The use of psychedelics as productivity and creativity hacks is deeply rooted in Silicon Valley culture. Burke was partly inspired to go public about his drug use by the late Steve Jobs, who told his biographer Walter Isaacson, "[t]aking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life."

"People have to actually have to step up and state what they've been doing," says Burke.

Reason spoke with Burke and with James Fadiman, a scientist researching the effects of microdosing.

Watch the full video above.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera Alex Manning. Additional graphics by Meredith Bragg. Music by Kai Engel and Broke for Free.

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The Silk Road Is Dead, But the Internet's Illicit Drug Economy Is Alive and Well

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 16:42:00 -0400

Dark-web drug transactions increased 50 percent between 2013--the year the FBI shut down the Silk Road--and January 2016, according to a new report from the United Nations. The Silk Road may be dead, but the dark web drug economy is very much alive. "While drug trafficking over the darknet remains small, there has been an increase in drug transactions of some 50 per cent annually between September 2013 and January 2016 according to one study," the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime notes in its annual report on global illicit-drug trends. "Typical buyers are recreational users of cannabis, 'ecstasy,' cocaine, hallucinogens and [novel psychoactive substances]." The increase in dark web transactions post-Silk Road has been documented before. "After Silk Road was taken down by the FBI in October 2013," the RAND Corporation reported last year, "it was only a matter of weeks before copycats filled the void." As of 2016, the research group had counted 50 "so-called cryptomarkets and vendor shops" where anonymous buyers and sellers could conduct transactions using Bitcoin and PGP encryption. (Several sites are now also accepting the cryptocurrency Ethereum.) Boston College sociologist Isak Ladegaard, meanwhile, noted a massive increase in sales directly following the arrest of Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht in late 2013. In a recent interview with Wired, Ladegaard theorized that media coverage of the case essentially served as earned marketing for the dark web. More observations from the UN's report: While Global drug trafficking cases increased only slightly from 2013 to 2015, the Global Drug Survey of 2017 found the amount of product moving through the dark web has increased dramatically. Roughly 8 percent of global drug users acquired an illicit substance through the dark web in 2017, up from 4.7 percent in 2014. Perhaps due to the passage of the Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016, the UK has seen the biggest increase in crypto sales: In 2016, 18.3 percent of British users acquired drugs on the dark web, while 25.3 percent of users have in 2017. These numbers are probably off, but the trend is likely real. (Crypto buying is down slightly in the U.S.) "Vendors in countries in Asia seemed to be more involved in the wholesale business, while retail sales were dominated by vendors in North America and Europe." As I noted in my piece on steroids, Asia is a dominant supplier of raw chemicals used in making America's illicit drugs. (Americans tend to think of Mexico as our biggest supplier, but it's really just an intermediary.) Silk Road was, in hindsight, a relatively small operation. "Overall, the value of transactions in the eight markets that dominated the darknet in January 2016 was 2.6 times greater than that of transactions on the Silk Road market in September 2013, which dominated the darknet at that time." This is also not surprising. If Silk Road taught the drug community anything, it's not to put all of your Bitcoin supply in one dark wallet. Heroin is not a popular dark web drug: "When compared with the overall distribution of drugs in the United States and European Union markets, methamphetamine and heroin appear to be underrepresented on the darknet, while 'ecstasy' and 'psychedelics' (hallucinogens) are overrepresented in sales over the darknet." Cross-marketing between the open web and the dark web isn't mentioned in the U.N. report, but that may have been noted elsewhere. Several open web steroid forums, for instance, feature user handles shared by dark web vendors. Users will post in the open forums about new products--but not actually sell them there--because it's easier to market to a wide audience on the open web. I haven't seen anything quite so brazen in forums for other drugs, but posters in other places suggest to neophytes that setting up a cryptomarket account, buying bitcoin through conventional channels,[...]

Philando Castile's 'Audacity To Smoke Marijuana' in Front of Child Doomed Him, Says Cop Who Killed Him

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 13:45:00 -0400

The shooting death last summer of Philando Castile, a licensed-and-law-abiding gun owner and cafeteria manager, by a Minnesota policeman provoked outrage over police brutality, especially since Castile's girlfriend was able to livestream the horrific event. Castile was shot seven times as he reached for his license and even though his girlfriend's young daughter was sitting in the backseat of his car. The acquittal of St. Anthony Officer Jeronimo Yanez has led to a similar outpouring of anger, especially in light of dashcam footage that "shows a cop who panicked and killed an innocent man," in the words of Reason's Jacob Sullum. A transcript of Yanez's explanation of his state of mind should only fuel more public discussion and calls to action. From the Daily News: "I thought if he's, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me," Yanez told the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Full transcript here. The mind boggles: Secondhand smoke as a license to kill? Yanez even acknowledges that the girl "was in my line of fire" but that he "directed his firearm best I could" to avoid her. Yanez may face federal charges in the case and Castile's family plans to file a civil suit against him and the St. Anthony police force. Regardless of any of that, Yanez's mind-set is incredibly telling not simply of his personal psychology but of a national mental disorder induced and exacerbated by the decades-old drug war. The drug war is not simply a set of laws and criminal procedures. It's much more like the Cold War, what I call a "structuring event" in American life that touches every aspect of our culture, politics, and commerce. From a 2006 talk I gave at a Students for a Sensible Drug Policy conference, on the topic of "What Would a Sensible Drug Policy Look Like?": The drug war screws with everything that it touches, and it touches everything...What I want to do is try to create a post-prohibitionist mind-set, where we are no longer merely reacting to prohibition and trying to get rid of it, because in a way we become twinned with it.... When we talk about the Tour de France, we talk about drugs. When we talk about Major League Baseball, we talk about who's using them. Plan Colombia and a good chunk of our foreign policy is all about drugs. Hundreds of thousands of people are in jail because of drug policy. All of you [students] probably went through some form of bogus drug education program, all for no good reason. The real dead-end of this is...[found] in men's rooms in America. When you go and take a piss, there is a pretty good chance that the urinal cake holder, the thing that deodorizes it...says 'Say No To Drugs' on it.... The quick version of my sensible drug policy, of a post-prohibitionist policy, is that it would be smarter to regulate all drugs, including prescription drugs, somewhat like we do with alcohol.... Like drug warriors...we will need to stop imbuing inanimate objects with supernatural powers. The drug war is over, if we want it—to paraphrase a famous anti-Vietnam war slogan. The end of the war starts up here, in our heads, and then proceeds out to the actual America. The starting point for a sensible drug policy, a true post-prohibitionist mind-set that does not participate in any way with prohibitionist thinking, would be take seriously the credo of the Whole Earth Catalog..."We are as gods, and we might as well get good at it." Ironically, the first step to becoming gods may be to recognize that drugs are only one means among many for changing who we are, how we live, and what we will become. From the minute we're born, we are bombarded with messages and lessons about how d[...]

Juries Can Acquit the Guilty, 9th Circuit Says, but 'There Is No Right to Nullification'

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:15:00 -0400

Advocates of jury nullification argue that jurors have both the power and the right to acquit a guilty defendant if they believe the law or its application is unjust. According to a recent ruling by a federal appeals court, they are half right. USA v. Kleinman involves an operator of medical marijuana dispensaries in California who was convicted of federal drug charges and sentenced to nearly 18 years in prison. Among other things, the defendant, Noah Kleinman, argued that the judge had improperly instructed the jury regarding nullification. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed but said the error was harmless because "there is no right to nullification." Here is what the judge told the jury: You cannot substitute your sense of justice, whatever that means, for your duty to follow the law, whether you agree with it or not. It is not for you to determine whether the law is just or whether the law is unjust. That cannot be your task. There is no such thing as valid jury nullification. You would violate your oath and the law if you willfully brought a verdict contrary to the law given to you in this case. The 9th Circuit had no problem with the first three sentences, which (not surprisingly) reflect the view of most judges and prosecutors: The jury's job is to determine the facts, not to judge the law. If a juror concludes beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant's actions meet the statutory definition of the crime with which is charged, the juror's duty is to vote for conviction, even if he thinks the statute is unjust or that applying it to the defendant would be grossly unfair. "If Kleinman's jury had exercised its power to nullify, it presumably would have disregarded the court's instructions on federal drug law and the court's antinullification instructions," the appeals court said. "The court had no duty to make the jury aware of its power to nullify, and properly instructed the jury that it could not (1) substitute its sense of justice for its duty to follow the law, or (2) decide whether a law is just or unjust." But the 9th Circuit said the last two sentences of the jury instruction went too far by implying that a not-guilty verdict in such a case would be legally invalid and that jurors might be punished for it. "The court's statement that the jury 'would violate [its] oath and the law if [it] willfully brought a verdict contrary to the law given to [it] in this case,' may imply punishment for nullification, because 'violate your oath and the law,' coming from the court in a criminal trial, could be understood as warning of a possible violation with associated sanctions. Additionally, the statement that '[t]here is no such thing as valid jury nullification' could reasonably be understood as telling jurors that they do not have the power to nullify, and so it would be a useless exercise. While jurors undoubtedly should be told to follow the law, the statement that there is no valid jury nullification misstates the role of nullification because an acquittal is valid, even if it resulted from nullification." The appeals court nevertheless rejected Kleinman's argument that the erroneous jury instruction required reversal of his conviction. "It is not fundamentally unfair for a defendant to be tried by a jury that is not fully informed of the power to nullify," the court said, "or even that is stripped of the power to nullify, because there is no right to nullification. Although a jury should not be led to believe that jury nullification will result in punishment or an invalid acquittal, the court's misstatement by implication does not rise to the level of denial of Kleinman's due process rights." The decision, which was issued last Friday, also dealt with the proper application of the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment, a spending rider that bars the Justice Departm[...]

This Bill Would Protect Medical Marijuana Suppliers From Jeff Sessions' Whims

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 08:30:00 -0400

Today a bipartisan group of senators plans to introduce a new version of the CARERS Act, which aims to protect medical use of marijuana in the 29 states that allow it. Among other things, the bill would provide a more permanent shield from prosecution and forfeiture than the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment, the spending rider that bars the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. As Mike Riggs noted on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent congressional leaders a letter urging them not to include the rider, which has to be reapproved each fiscal year, in the DOJ appropriations bill enacted last month. After Congress rejected Sessions' request, President Trump signed the bill but issued a statement implying that he might ignore the rider if that was necessary to meet his "constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Such a scenario is hard to imagine, since those laws include the restrictions imposed by the Rohrbacher/Farr amendment. It's not clear how significant the letter and the signing statement are as indicators of Sessions' intentions because the Obama administration also opposed the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment and urged courts to read it narrowly. Under Eric Holder, the DOJ argued that the rider covered only direct legal challenges to medical marijuana programs. Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected that interpretation, ruling that the rider also prohibits the prosecution of people who supply or possess marijuana for medical use in compliance with state laws. Despite opposing the rider, the Obama administration eventually settled on a policy of prosecutorial restraint, generally tolerating state-licensed marijuana businesses, including those serving recreational consumers, unless they violated state law or impinged on "federal law enforcement priorities." Sessions has said he agrees with much of that policy but thinks it was not applied vigorously enough—an attitude that, along with his well-known anti-pot prejudices, could signal a crackdown. But so far Sessions has not tried to shut down state-legal cannabusinesses, which federal prosecutors could easily do simply by writing some threatening letters. Nor has he challenged state marijuana laws in federal court, even as lawsuits by other parties (neighboring states, local law enforcement officials, and anti-drug activists) have fizzled out. Sessions' restraint may have something to do with positions taken by his boss before and after the presidential election. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly said states should be free to legalize marijuana, and he has consistently said medical use should be permitted. A crackdown on medical marijuana would break Trump's promises, and it would stir up a lot of political trouble with no obvious upside, other than gratification of Sessions' prohibitionist impulses. Still, it would be nice to have some lasting protection from the attorney general's whims. In addition to prohibiting federal prosecution of patients and their suppliers, the CARERS Act would eliminate some obstacles to marijuana research, allow doctors employed by the Veterans Health Administration to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal, and remove cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive but therapeutically promising component of marijuana, from Schedule I, the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act. The bill, which was originally introduced in 2015, no longer includes provisions that would have removed marijuana from Schedule I and protected banks that serve the cannabis industry. Those provisions were cut in the hope of attracting broader support for the bill. The initial sponsors this year include Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Al[...]

In Private Letter, Jeff Sessions Asks Congress for Permission to Go After Medical Marijuana

Tue, 13 Jun 2017 12:05:00 -0400

In a previously undisclosed letter sent last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked lawmakers not to renew a rider that blocks the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state-level medical marijuana laws. "I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions," Sessions wrote, "particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives." The letter—dated May 1, 2017, and addressed to Sens. Mitch McConnell and Charles Schumer and Reps. Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi—was obtained by's Tom Angell. It specifically asks that Congress not renew the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, passed in 2014. Barack Obama's Justice Department challenged the amendment last year, and it lost in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. That means if Sessions wants to go after medical marijuana, he'll need Congress to remove Rohrabacher-Farr from the next appropriations bill. Congress should tell him to get lost. As the Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham writes, emerging evidence suggest that state-legal medical marijuana reduces the use of opioids. Meanwhile, the one example Sessions cites of traffickers taking advantage of state law actually undermines the idea that his department needs more power. The case Sessions mentions in his letter involves a group of Colorado residents who allegedly grew pot off the books in order to sell it in states where marijuana is not yet legal. Several members of the alleged conspiracy were able to obtain licenses from the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division. Yet they're accused of violating Colorado law, which prohibits the transportation of cannabis products across state lines. This is why Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division is working with the Drug Enforcement Administration to investigate the group: Neither agency condones interstate marijuana trafficking. Sessions seems to think that because several of the alleged conspirators were able to get pot licenses before they allegedly broke state law, the Justice Department needs a blank check to wreak havoc in medical marijuana states. That's one clumsy bait-and-switch. It's also in keeping with Sessions' ratcheting-up of the federal war on everything. He's instructed federal prosecutors to seek the maximum penalty against non-violent, low level drug offenders; attempted to enlist local police for federal immigration enforcement, and is seeking to erode online privacy protections in the name of freeing modern slaves.[...]

City of Fontana Tries to Restrict Californians' Pot Growing Rights, Gets Sued with Help of ACLU

Tue, 06 Jun 2017 19:20:00 -0400

California's Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) passed into law last year with 57 percent support. The city of Fontana in California reacted in February to the law, known on the ballot as Proposition 64, by passing Ordinance 1758, which restricts the rights to grow marijuana for personal use granted in that state law. This week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California and the Drug Police Alliance (DPA) filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court in San Bernardino County challenging the Fontana ordinance. In Harris v. Fontana, plaintiff Mike Harris, a 61-year-old Fontana resident (and a former union iron worker and registered nurse), claims marijuana helps him with pain resulting from his prosthetic hip and shoulder reconstruction. Harris wishes to grow his medicine for himself in his Fontana home as is his right under AUMA, but says Fontana's ordinance is preventing him. (The lawsuit notes that local support for the state law was also high, with 53.5 percent of the city of Fontana and 52.5 percent of San Bernardino County voting for it.) The AUMA does allow cities to reasonably regulate marijuana growing, but also insists that "no city … may completely prohibit persons" from cultivating marijuana "inside a private residence … that is fully enclosed and secure." The suit argues that Fontana's policies in Ordinance 1758 amount to an illegitimate interference in the rights protected by AUMA. Specifically, the suit claims that elements of the ordinance such as demanding a local permit that costs more than $400, forcing applicants to make "statements that admit to a violation of federal law and that federal authorities could easily obtain," and forcing Fontanans to "submit to (and pay for) a warrantless search of their homes by government agents" are "transparently designed to deny residents the benefits and rights conferred by the AUMA." The ordinance also forces citizens to "submit to (and pay for) an illegal, costly, and wholly unnecessary criminal database search" in order to illegitimately prevent "some citizens with criminal records from growing under any circumstances." The suit notes, with many specific examples, that Fontana politicians very clearly stated that the purpose of the ordinance was to be "as restrictive as possible" toward pot cultivation in their city. Under AUMA, the lawsuit says: "it shall be lawful under state and local law, and shall not be a violation of state or local law, for persons 21 years of age or older to … (3) Possess, plant, cultivate, harvest, dry, or process not more than six living marijuana plants and possess the marijuana produced by the plants." Other than limiting the lawful activity to adults aged 21 and over, the AUMA places no further restrictions on who may engage in activities such as possession and cultivation of nonmedical marijuana, and makes such behavior affirmatively lawful under state and local law. The various requirements to get a permit to grow pot in Fontana, which the suit lays out in detail: are plainly intended to make it unreasonably difficult and expensive for persons desiring to cultivate marijuana to do so. Many residents of Fontana will be unable to afford to dedicate a separate room in their home entirely to the cultivation of six or fewer marijuana plants, or to undertake the construction necessary to create a separate, locked room accessible by a single door. Occupants of single rooms, in-law units, studios, one bedroom apartments, and other smaller homes may be denied a license based solely on the design of their homes. Residents who have unpaid municipal fines or fees are also denied permission to cultivate, even though this has no reasonable relation to public health or safety, let alone to the cul[...]

This is Your Brain on Acid (Seriously)

Thu, 01 Jun 2017 16:45:00 -0400

The study of psychedelics is "bringing psychotherapy and medicine together," says David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London and a co-author of the first imaging study looking at the effects of LSD on the human brain. "Drug-assisted psychotherapy is going to be the great advance in the [field in the] next 20 years." In 2009, Nutt was fired from his job as a drug adviser to the British government after he made comments about ecstasy and other illegal drugs being less dangerous than alcohol and even horseback riding. Reason's Zach Weissmueller sat down with Nutt at the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in Oakland to talk about the results of his groundbreaking imaging study, what he learned about drug policy while working as a science adviser for the English government, and what he sees for the future of psychedelics and mental health treatment. Produced by Zach Weissmueller Camera by Alex Manning. Additional graphics by Meredith Bragg. Music by Sergey Cheremisinov. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Zach: Hi I'm Zach Weissmueller for Reason. We're here at the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in Oakland. I'm here with David Nutt. He is the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at the Imperial College of London. Thank you very much for joining us Dr. Nutt. Dr. Nutt: Good to be here. Zach: You were the chief drug advisor in England. Something happened, could you just tell us that story? Dr. Nutt: For nine years I was the head of the group that assessed drug harms for the government and over that time we did an enormous amount of research into the comparative harms of drugs. As a result of that I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that alcohol was actually the most harmful drug in the UK. The drugs that politicians like to get hysterical about like cannabis and MDMA, Ecstasy, are comparably much less harmful. So then I started explaining that to the government saying, "Well, our drug laws are wrong. Actually putting people in prison for cannabis possession is not fair because alcohol is more dangerous." They did not want to hear that. They said, "Stop saying that." Zach: They sacked you for looking at the data and giving your analysis. Isn't that your job as the Drug Advisor of the government? Dr. Nutt: Well, I thought it was my job, yeah. I thought my job was to evaluate evidence and make recommendations, but they said, "Oh no, no, he's doing more than that. He's trying to change government policy." I said, "I thought that's what all scientists did." If the evidence suggests the policy's wrong then we want to change the policy, once you been sacked you've got no comeback. Although, of course, what did happen was that it brought the whole issue of drug harms and comparative harms in the public domain. There was an enormous outcry and a lot of scientists wrote petitions saying they should reinstate me. I became famous and the whole drug debate went viral. So for the first time we actually had a proper debate. The government shot itself in the head really because it went from drugs being something you didn't talk about to drugs being something everyone wanted to talk about. Zach: Why was that such a taboo thing to say? Dr. Nutt: There are some things which you can't have what you might call a balanced debate because everyone has a strong view. Drugs are bad, drugs are bad, War on Drugs, we've got to get rid of drugs. That was our policy the same way it's been American policy. Anyone challenging that was actually really cutting to the heart of the prejudices which underpin the Briti[...]

California Senate Passes Bill Easing Up on Some Drug Sentencing

Tue, 16 May 2017 16:45:00 -0400

(image) With the news last week that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is telling federal prosecutors to ramp the war on drugs right back up, expect to see some resistant states publicizing efforts to do the opposite.

That's happening in California, where the state's Senate this week approved SB 180, 22-13. Nicknamed the Repeal Ineffective Sentencing (RISE) Act, the bill eliminates a particular drug-related sentencing enhancement under California law.

When a person is arrested for drug sale or possession for drug sale, the state requires their sentence be enhanced by three years for each previous felony conviction for violating similar laws, even if those previous convictions didn't result in jail time.

SB 180, sponsored by Sens. Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara, both Democrats, would eliminate the mandated sentence enhancements, except for one that applies when the felon gets minors involved in the trade.

Even though the legislation was obviously in the works for some time, supporters of the bill cited Sessions' recent call for tougher drug sentencing on the federal level as a concern, according to the Los Angeles Times.

And yes, apparently Republicans attempted crime fearmongering to try to stop it, pointing to the case of a cop in Whittier killed by a parolee with a lengthy history of crime. But that gentleman had a history of violent criminal behavior and parole violations. He was not a guy solely in jail over drug dealing. The assumption that the mandatory minimums and sentence enhancements are necessary to go after the violent criminals ignores the lengthy history and data showing these laws often swoop up non-violent, low-level criminals for long prison sentences.

The bill has many activist group co-sponsors, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy Alliance. Read the bill here. It is on its way to the Assembly now.