A turning tide in the drug war?
November 11, 2014 10:26 PM   Subscribe

California passed proposition 47 on election day, changing a number of crimes- including possession of hard drugs- from a felony to a misdemeanor. Meanwhile, Vermont has decided to offer treatment as an alternative to prosecution for those caught with heroin possession, and Rahm Emanuel has discussed changing Illinois law so that those caught with 1 gram or less of any controlled substance won't recieve a felony in an attempt to get support for tougher gun laws. In addition, Oregon, Alaska, and DC voted to legalize marijuana, and Florida's vote to legalize medical marijuana failed but with 58 percent in favor. Is this the beginning of the end for the War on Drugs?
posted by bookman117 (39 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
What can I say except that I certainly hope so?

I live in Texas.
posted by cmoj at 10:28 PM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


DeBlasio and Bratton have started taking steps towards decriminalization in NYC as well.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:32 PM on November 11, 2014


Is this the beginning of the end for the War on Drugs?

I was surprised at the extent to which forfeiture programs have expanded. It will be interesting to see how those programs are impacted by these changes.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:38 PM on November 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


I really hope we can legalize marijuana in California as well. Maybe on the 2016 ballot? Now there's (recent) precedent in other states for legalization. I really hope that people can point out that illegal growing ops are also increasing the severity of the drought, and causing environmental damage.
posted by halifix at 11:13 PM on November 11, 2014


I really hope so, too, and although of course it will be a delight to know that the human toll exacted by our racist, classist carcerality is being reduced, I will flat-out revel in the demise of asset forfeiture abuse.
posted by gingerest at 11:15 PM on November 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


If you want to end the war on drugs, you need to convince women - who are much less supportive of legalisation than men, despite usually trending more democratic and liberal.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 12:31 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Waste of time ends. Good.
posted by buzzman at 1:08 AM on November 12, 2014


I'm really curious how this will sort itself out.

Ever since two states legalized recreational marijuana, I added 'marijuana' to my google news alert. Specifically, I'm wondering how the tensions between the state and federal governments will sort themselves out.

While Obama promised that he wouldn't interfere in states trying to legalize, that hasn't been the case in California (and probably other places as well) - feds have been busting folks growing in accordance with state law.

People who are trying to get in the business are having a hard time deal with banks - banks don't want the liability of their business accounts.

And while the current (and past) administration have largely been letting states experiment, the next administration could take a hard-lined approach (potentially more likely if a Republican gets in office, but who knows).

It's particularly interesting to me because one can see this as a 'states rights' issue, which has traditionally been a talking point of the right. But mainstream national politicians on the left haven't been championing this issue much (it's the libertarians who have been consistently pro-marijuana). The civil liberties folks on both (far) sides of the isle have been the only folks on the national stage to make positive noises about the subject.
posted by el io at 1:10 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


halifix: "I really hope we can legalize marijuana in California as well. Maybe on the 2016 ballot?"

They're gearing up for it for 2016. Polls seem to indicate that it's likely it'll pass, especially since they're waiting for a presidential election year, when there'll be a bigger turnout, especially of younger people and minorities.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:14 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


...and the War on the Prison Industry begins.
posted by fairmettle at 2:56 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


War on poverty? Poverty seems to be winning.
War on Christmas? Christmas is thriving.
War on drugs? Drugs are winning.

Let's not declare war on the prison industry.
posted by fredludd at 4:08 AM on November 12, 2014 [16 favorites]


As a dude helping out with the Record Clearance Project for my internship alternative, I've gotta say that Prop 47 passing seems a real ace development.

Especially since if what I hear is right, dudes with past charges will be able to apply somehow to get past offenses reclassed retroactively. Anyone got the 411 on that?
posted by KChasm at 4:55 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was surprised at the extent to which forfeiture programs have expanded. It will be interesting to see how those programs are impacted by these changes.

They'll simply expand forfeiture to other crimes, its already happening in first offence DUIs around the country, and in New Jersey, even for something as petty as shoplifting. If you've got something the cops want, they'll take it, drugs are just the easiest excuse right now.

While Obama promised that he wouldn't interfere in states trying to legalize, that hasn't been the case in California (and probably other places as well) - feds have been busting folks growing in accordance with state law.
...
And while the current (and past) administration have largely been letting states experiment, the next administration could take a hard-lined approach (potentially more likely if a Republican gets in office, but who knows).

One suspects a President Huckabbe, Santorum, Christie or Walker would love nothing more than to unleash the full might of the DEA on potshops all down the left coast and Denver. A more perfect opportunity for literal hippie bashing could not be imagined. The drug war is far, far from over and has made zero progress at the level that matters, the federal one.
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:30 AM on November 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


unleash the full might of the DEA on potshops all down the left coast and Denver.

Call me naive, but in a nation where four states and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize recreational cannabis, where nearly half of states have legalized medical cannabis, and where a federal judge is sincerely hearing arguments that cannabis should be re-scheduled, this seems like a terrible way to burn political capital, goodwill, and money.

Which isn't to say that nobody would do it, of course, but unless the intervening two years are tremendously unkind to cannabis, it seems politically dangerous.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:12 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Don't forget that the people voting for this change in policy simultaneously voted for an ultra-conservative landslide, so yeah, pretty much dead.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:58 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Up here in Canada, even my extremely conservative (by Canadian standards) uncle-in-law wants marijuana decriminalized. Not because he likes people who smoke pot, or wants to smoke it himself, but because he considers busting potheads a waste of his precious tax dollars.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:04 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Not just the feds, but the UN also:
U.S. states' pot legalization not in line with international law: U.N. agency

posted by 445supermag at 7:21 AM on November 12, 2014


"Asked whether there was anything the UNODC could do about it, Fedotov said he would raise the problem next week with the U.S. State Department and other U.N. agencies no."
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:27 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure it'll become a presidential football, at least not if the Republicans are choosing, in large part because it's an issue that splits the conservative base between the libertarian-ish / states-rights part and the authoritarian / socially-conservative part. Successful national candidates have to walk something of a fine line between those two groups to be successful. (If the Republicans took a hard-line anti stance, it'd only require the Democrats to change their tune about gun control and they could probably siphon off a rather key voting bloc in a bunch of 'purple' states.)

I'd imagine the Republicans would very much like the whole cannabis issue to just disappear; if they can't do that, punting on it and leaving it to the states seems like the next-best.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:04 AM on November 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


I know, American Exceptionalism, but it's worth looking at Portugal, where legalization has dropped usage and crime in an enormous way.

CAMH--that is, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, one of the better psychiatric hospitals in the world--has come out recently unequivocally stating that pot should be legalized.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:51 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Not just the feds, but the UN also:
U.S. states' pot legalization not in line with international law: U.N. agency


Putting conservatives on the same side of an issue as the UN, which I'm sure is causing some... confusion.
posted by Huck500 at 8:54 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


The only remedy for a breach of the Single Narcotics Convention (and later conventions) is for another state party to bring a case against the USA before the ICJ. I have no idea who would be invested enough to attempt such a thing, but the USA's record of compliance with ICJ rulings when it comes to regulating the behavior of states is not good, even worse than the federal government's compliance on its own behalf. I get that America likes to say its states have "rights" but it's a rule of international law that you cannot plead defects in your country's legal or political system as an excuse to get out of international obligations.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:25 AM on November 12, 2014


Meanwhile in Massachusetts over two years have passed since the voters approved Medical Pot and not a single dispensary has been opened although 20 licenses have been approved. It seems that no one wants them in their town, not even the ones that already have methadone clinics.
posted by Gungho at 10:48 AM on November 12, 2014


Yes, Prop 47 is retroactive, and they are in the process of developing a new expungement form for people to use to change conviction records.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:48 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Not just the feds, but the UN also:
U.S. states' pot legalization not in line with international law: U.N. agency


Citing a convention based on a study from the time when this conversation still centered around "hepcats."
posted by Navelgazer at 10:55 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Not that I've been looking all that hard but I'd really like to see a discussion about what we're going to do with the money that was going towards prosecuting and housing people convicted of these crimes. Hopefully it will be redirected into mental health services, rehabilitation for homeless folks, and education.
posted by vignettist at 11:37 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Hopefully it will be redirected into mental health services, rehabilitation for homeless folks, and education.

By 'hopefully' do you by any chance mean 'never in a brillion years'?
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:23 PM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


It is the director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime that finds the new laws incompatible with international conventions. That drugs, which are something that a person does to themselves, are lumped with crime, which is what someone does to someone else, is not a result of sober social scientists trying to solve a problem; it is a result of grandstanding by politicians. This foundational error needs to be understood.


The marketing of the anti-drug industry consists of :
Drugs are bad, therefore the War is good.
However, people who look at the data, including the UN Commission on Global Drug Policy, understand that the War has been a failure. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Commission_on_Drug_Policy) Every dealer that has ever been arrested has been replaced. There are no urban areas where drugs are not available. While the drug warriors have been on watch, the distribution of drugs has increased, the variety of drugs has increased, and the quality of drugs has increased. Massive spending on the War has not resulted in any change in rates of drug use. (http://www.thewire.com/national/2012/10/chart-says-war-drugs-isnt-working/57913/)


The debate about the legalization of marijuana can devolve into : it isn't as bad as alcohol and we can tax the hippies. This misses the important fact that the War On People Who Use Drugs kills people, including law enforcement officers, imprisons people, and ruins people but has never ever accomplished anything. This isn't a war on drugs, it is a war on people, and it is a massive failure. Starting with understanding the need to end the war can lead to more progress on what policies should be developed.
posted by llc at 1:24 PM on November 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


Prop. 47 leaves future of California inmate fire crews uncertain

so basically, extremely low paid labor for fighting fires in California is going to be disappearing. Except much higher costs next fire season.
posted by blob at 1:49 PM on November 12, 2014


More information about Prop 47, including exactly where the savings will be spent.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:00 PM on November 12, 2014


Let's not declare war on the prison industry.

.
posted by fairmettle at 2:15 PM on November 12, 2014


The U.N.'s hardline antidrug stance has always rested on American power: it was one of the few things we could agree on with Russia and we happily went around the world threatening any country that tried to legalize anything.

That's part of why Holland didn't actually legalize, but just stopped enforcing marijuana laws— until we started breaking the U.N. conventions ourselves, we'd stomp in and tell any ally that wanted to try that they'd better not or we'd do trade sanctions or other unpleasant things. We even sent representatives to national meetings who would try to stamp out the use of the words "harm reduction" and get countries to oppose harm reduction policies like needle exchange, for fear that was the start of the slippery slope to recognizing that our drug policy is insane. Because harm reduction actually works, it was ;-)

Once Obama decided not to go after CO and WA, it was inevitable that the UN would mention this at some point— esp. since in 2016, there is a general assembly devoted to updating the drug laws.

Anyway, I've written about the reasons why this time, it really is different and the drug war may actually end here— after covering drug policy for nearly 3 decades.
posted by Maias at 2:43 PM on November 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


"The latest D.C. campaign was inspired in part by an insight made by Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, who said in a recent conversation with DPA's Asha Bandele that certain things about how legalization was happening elsewhere in the country didn't sit right with her. 'Here are white men poised to run big marijuana businesses, dreaming of cashing in big—big money, big businesses selling weed—after 40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for selling weed, and their families and futures destroyed. Now, white men are planning to get rich doing precisely the same thing?'

That observation, and others like it, spurred D.C. reformers like Councilmember David Grosso, who helped bolster Initiative 71 earlier this year, to emphasize that if and when a system for taxing and regulating marijuana is set up in the District, the proceeds should go to help communities hardest hit by the war on drugs."

The New Face of the Marijuana Movement
posted by naju at 4:55 PM on November 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


so basically, extremely low paid labor for fighting fires in California is going to be disappearing. Except much higher costs next fire season.

By 'extremely low paid' you mean 'basically slave labour taken from a captive population, i.e. prison inmates.'
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:49 PM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


For a broader view of the drug war, this Ted talk is a good summary.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:09 AM on November 13, 2014


The next session of the Virginia state legislature has this on the docket: SB 686 Marijuana; decriminalization of simple marijuana possession
Decriminalizes marijuana possession and changes the current $500 criminal fine for simple marijuana possession to a maximum $100 civil penalty payable to the Literary Fund and eliminates the 30-day jail sentence. The bill reduces the criminal penalties for distribution and possession with intent to distribute etc. of marijuana. The bill creates a rebuttable presumption that a person who grows no more than six marijuana plants grows marijuana for personal use and not for distribution and provides that the suspended sentence/substance abuse screening provisions apply only to criminal violations or to civil violations by a minor. Marijuana is removed from a statute making it a Class 1 misdemeanor to distribute or display advertisements, etc., for instruments used for marijuana and from the common nuisance statute. The distribution of paraphernalia statute will apply only to an adult who distributes to a minor at least three years his junior. The bill also limits forfeiture of property from sale or distribution of marijuana to quantities of more than one pound; currently there is no minimum amount. The penalty for possession of marijuana by a prisoner is reduced from a Class 5 felony to a Class 6 felony.
It's being brought up by Alexandria's state Senator Adam P. Ebbin. I have no knowledge of him or his prior efforts but I will be looking into this and reporting on it before the next session starts mid January.
posted by daHIFI at 9:58 PM on November 13, 2014


For anyone still wondering about the implementation of Prop 47, here's the FAQ on how to change your record.
posted by gingerbeer at 5:15 PM on November 14, 2014


Virginia state legislature has this on the docket: SB 686 Marijuana

I would really, really like to see this go through, as a first step towards making Virginia somewhat less embarrassingly retrograde in terms of its drug laws, but I am not sure how hopeful I am given that the two co-chairs of the Committee for Courts of Justice are Tommy Norment, who was the mastermind behind Virginia's extremely broad "synthetic marijuana" law and is on-record as stating that businesses selling synthetic cannabis should be subject to civil fines of up to $100k, and Mark Obenshain, whose own website talks about his goals to "provide law enforcement and judges with the tools they need to put criminals behind bars and to enhance penalties for gangs and drug felons". (We are, perforce, supposed to know who "drug felons" are.)

They are both the sort of people who I would not be at all surprised to find would forward all pro-legalization letters to the chief law enforcement officer of the county from which they originated, in case they want to pay a visit with a SWAT team and a no-knock, just out of pure spite.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:17 AM on November 17, 2014


This whole war on drugs thing would be easier for everyone if our parents were all governors.

(Story's a few days old but I just came across it today.)
posted by tonycpsu at 7:41 PM on November 18, 2014


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