Monday, March 3, 2014

Marijuana Laws Must be Implemented in DC--Decriminalization and Legalization (also National News)

The Washington, DC Council has been considering a law to decriminalize possession of 1 ounce or less of pot, with a $25 civil fine.  Today, (March 4) the DC Council voted 10 to 1 for a decriminalization bill.  Both the Washington Post and the Washington Times carry detailed stories.  Ward 7 Council member Yvette Alexander voted no saying she though it could compromise the city's medical marijuana program and creates disparities in punishment for use in public housing versus private homes.  Mayoral candidate Vincent Orange, Council At Large, abstained when his amendment to the bill preventing employers from testing for marijuana during the hiring process failed.  Mayor Gray has said he will approve the measure.  Let's hope he gets that done before the other shoe gets dropped on the "Shadow" Campaign investigation.  [ The Mayor has signed the bill as of the last week of March 2014.]

[11/9/16]  Here is some post election information on the vote results in various states and another site  with a map.   After the election there are now only six states with no form of legal marijuana.  A number of states have "limited medical marijuana."  Also some thoughts on the effects on Mexican drug cartels of the vote.  

[11/8/16]  There have been no significant changes in the legal situation in DC.  However, there is a lot happening in other states and communities regarding marijuana and hemp, with a number of measures up for vote today.  Here is a list of states, ballot measures, and candidates of special interest to green voters.  The next day, this updating site reports 3 states approved Recreational MJ, 1 state disapproved, and 1 is too close to call.  Four other states approved Medical MJ.  There is also an interactive map showing the situation in each state.  More details on all these various measures can be found at this site as well. 
    One other thing that has happened in recent days is the issue of marijuana being classified as a Schedule 1 Drug, even though it is far less dangerous or addictive than heroin, cocaine and others.  With the surge in deaths from Fentanyl and other opioids in a number of states, people are urging that marijuana be down classified as there are very few MJ related deaths.  There are many articles comparing medical use of marijuana versus opioids.
     In addition to liberalizing laws regarding marijuana, MDMA (Ecstacy) is also being considered for medical use by people with PTSD.  Reconsideration on medical studies of LSD is also being sought.

[Oct. 2016]  Here is an analysis of affect of legalization in US on drug situation in Mexico with particular emphasis on possible effect of California legalization.

[Late 2014] Now that the DC bill is signed, folks favoring legalization have moved that measure forward and the DC Board of Elections has approved Ballot Initiative #71 language for the Nov. 2014 election.  In fact Initiative #71 was on the Nov. 2014 DC ballot.   Although 70% of voters approved legalization, some Republicans in Congress still want to treat DC like their private fiefdom and withhold money to implement legalization details.  I thought I would look into the most recent results and attitudes in Colorado (a March 22, 2014 article) and Washington state.  Even some of the super-rich favor legalization as explained in this Forbes article.

Many here believed we should follow the example of Washington state and Colorado and legalize marijuana. In fact, this June, 2014, in Maryland, legalization of marijuana, taxing it and directing the more than $100 million projected revenue to improving education is a hot issue in the race for governor. Candidate Mizeur is basing part of her TV ad campaign on this issue.  Until Congress gets off our case, DC will not be able to spend any money for sensible laws like taxation and drug treatment.  Our new Mayor, Muriel Bowser has been threatened with jail for allowing legal use to go forward.

Currently, March 2015, Congress has declared that DC can spend NO money implementing the will of 70% of our voters to legalize limited pot use by adults.  At this point this means the city cannot tax or create laws regulating a number of aspects of marijuana use and distribution.  Our Council and Mayor are sticking to the interpretation that the provisions of Initiative #7 can be followed by our residents 21 and older.  They can grow up to 6 plants (12 for households with 2 or more people), 1/2 of which can be mature, carry up to 2 ounces on the street, and grow and smoke in private homes.  They cannot sell or buy pot, but can give it away.  Public housing using federal money will not allow pot growing  or use there.

In addition, the Council has ruled that private clubs cannot allow pot smoking.  On the Hill, 3 Senators, 2 Democrats and 1 Republican have proposed a bill to change the classification of Marijuana from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule 2 drug.  This would allow states were medical marijuana is legal to no longer fear federal anti crime action against them.  It would also make it more likely that additional states would approve medical marijuana, and move the country closer to full legalization.  See:  http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/03/senate_medical_marijuana_bill_rand_paul_cory_booker_and_kirsten_gillibrand.html

In DC almost one third of residents in Wards 5, 7, and 8 did not favor this, many to a strong degree. Here is where parents are most likely to see marijuana use and other problems in tandem.  It is important to understand that we political supporters of legalization generally favor modeling this after our alcohol laws. There should be underage rules, and others regarding safe driving and public behavior.  In addition we must be aware of potential harm to younger smokers, and have adequate education, counseling and treatment for those who end up using and in trouble from other problems.  This will be especially important if decriminalization means fewer court ordered referrals for drug counseling.

The drug war has been as big a mistake as was alcohol prohibition a century ago. It has created an army of criminals who are willing to to murder to protect the interests of their 'hoods or cartels. There are regions of Mexico where the crime lords are the rulers.  In far too many US neighborhoods gangs distributing drugs are a very real and dominate part of daily life.  As happened with alcohol, polls now document that much of the public does not support the laws against marijuana.  Medical marijuana seems to have overwhelming support even in somewhat conservative parts of the country.

DC residents are more liberal than the nation as a whole.  Thus, it should not be a surprise that 75 % of DC residents support making possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine with no jail time. Only 21% would oppose doing this.  In fact, 60% strongly support decriminalization. Support for complete legalization is only slightly lower. When DC residents are asked if they would support Colorado and Washington state type legalization 63% favor it versus 30% opposed. Most politicians in our nation would love to rate 2 to1 over their opposition. 

Popularity does not imply a policy will best serve the people. There is considerable evidence that marijuana use by children is not good. With legalization all sellers will be required to verify the age of people buying the product. Obviously illegal dealers do not check the age of their customers, nor do they care if it is spiked with other more dangerous drugs.  

People should also be aware that the marijuana plant is also called hemp. This was an extremely important product for many years as a source of fiber for rope and other textile purposes.  I have read that DuPont helped promote the war on marijuana to avoid competition with their new synthetic rope fibers like Nylon.  Hemp seeds are high in protein and essential fatty acids and are a component in many bird seed mixtures.  As someone once joked, "Now I know why the caged bird sings."  Trader Joe's now sells hulled raw hemp seeds to eat.  Three tablespoons contains 10 grams of protein.  I add some to my breakfast cereal.

There is considerable research on the effectiveness of advertising in reducing tobacco use.  Such advertising can be very effective if funds are used by people who really want less tobacco use. We have every reason to think realistic information could have similar effects with marijuana. Obviously it should be sound science that is felt to be credible by its target audience.

Colorado estimates $100 million in new revenue can come from taxing marijuana. DC has slightly more than one tenth the population of Colorado. Thus we could expect roughly $10 million in taxes if we used Colorado's 29%  tax rates on their sales of roughly $34.4million. A small fraction of this tax flow would be more than enough to pay for needed advertising, with money left over to fund drug and alcohol counseling and treatment.

Legalizing pot removes the business from criminal hands.  This would go a long way toward eliminating criminal violence associated with this criminal enterprise.  Instead we would have legitimate, taxpaying and regulated businesses.

On the other hand, decriminalization will reduce penalties for the end-users, but supplying the demand would still be in the hands of criminals.  This would include dealing and selling within DC as well as the illegal transport across Maryland and Virginia.  Hopefully this unfortunate situation would be corrected before it gave prohibitionists the argument that we "tried legalization and it didn't work."  Allowing growth of small numbers of mariguana plants would reduce this problem.

Legalization would also allow the regulation and monitoring of the product which is sold. PCP is very common in DC and is an example of an adulterant that can have bad consequences.  Roughly 12% of males arrested in DC tested positive for PCP in 2012.  In Utah's legislature, there has been testimony that medical marijuana should not be approved because it leads to pot eating stoned rabbits!!  This could be a danger to themselves or others. ;-)  There are many funny comments and some videos at that link.

People should understand the medical implications for cannabis users (cannabis is the scientific name for marijuana).  The brain and body have a complex system of cannabinoid receptors specifically designed to process cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the primary active components of marijuana. This enhances its effectiveness as a pain reliever.  There are many functions for these receptors. Their importance is highlighted by the fact that many cannabinoids in marijuana are found in mother's milk. The well known tendency of THC to enhance enjoyment of sensation includes delight in taste, colloquially called “having the munchies.”   The endocannabinoids of mother's milk specifically activate cannabinoid receptors to reinforce the critically important sucking response in infants.

For people addicted to other drugs (such as heroin, cocaine, tobacco or alcohol) marijuana can ease withdrawal symptoms and provide an alternative which, for most people, will cause less harm to the body and mind. Cannabis has many categories of potential harm, some of them very significant. However, even with these negative effects it is one of the most benign recreational drugs in common usage. It has on average less negative effects than any other recreational or illicit drug with the possible exception of ecstasy. This can be seen by comparing marijuana with commonly used drugs on addictiveness, lethal dosage, deaths caused, and association with crime.

Some people say with justification that Internet use can be addictive. Anything pleasurable can be addictive and create other problems in life.  The most commonly cited number on NIH web sites is that 9% of marijuana users will become addicted.  These agencies report much higher rates of addiction for alcohol-15%, nicotine-32%, and other hard drugs. About half of addicted marijuana users will report some explicit withdrawal symptoms.   The rest will be addicted because of pleasurable experiences.  A 1999 Institute of Medicine report says, “A distinctive marijuana withdrawal syndrome has been identified, but it is mild and short lived.”  Based on the relative ease of dealing with withdrawal symptoms a number of researchers have rated caffeine as more addictive than marijuana.  Other researchers believe the greater pleasure and intoxication effect from marijuana makes it more addictive than caffeine. This shows the subjective nature of addiction study.

In toxicology the lethal dose of a compound is usually designated with the term LD50 (deadly for 50% of organisms dosed).   The level of THC that would be fatal to half of dosed people is literally 40,000 times greater than the amount required to saturate all cannabinoid receptors and cause maximum intoxication.  For comparison, nicotine from 60 average cigarettes will reach the LD50 level for half of 60kg people (60kg=132 pounds). Caffeine from 80 to 100 cups of coffee reaches the LD50 level.  A small number of deaths from caffeine have been seen with the growing popularity of caffeine laden energy drinks. The LD50 level for alcohol is considered to be between 0.4% and 0.5% in the blood. Some fatalities occur with blood alcohol levels lower than this range. Eight ounces of pure alcohol absorbed in less than an hour will produce this level in most people weighing 160 pounds or less. Fifteen to 21 average drinks can easily provide this depending on what else is being consumed. Cocaine is also very toxic.  

Heroin is not directly toxic. However, as with all opioids it is a potent respiratory depressant and deaths can occur from a dose of 75mg to 400 mg in an inexperienced opiate user.  [A friend of my husband's stopped using heroin, finished law school, and decided to get high to celebrate.  His clean system could not handle his old higher dose and it killed him.]  The CDC reports the opioids Oxycontin and Vicodin were responsible for three fourths of the 38,329 US drug overdose deaths reported in 2010. Heroin deaths are about 3,500 per year.  The CDC estimates alcohol kills 80,000 each year and causes about 1.2 million hospital admissions.  The CDC estimates 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking tobacco or exposure to secondhand smoke.  Another 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking.  Marijuana has a minute level of risk.

People typically do not get violent on marijuana as they do with alcohol.    Three out of four reported cases of spousal abuse are associated with alcohol. One third of prisoners in local jails self report that they had used alcohol at the time of offense, and 37.7% of violent criminals say they had used alcohol.  Some years ago isolated Barrow, Alaska eliminated alcohol.  There was a 70% reduction in crime, especially domestic violence.  PCP, cocaine, and methamphetamine are other drugs known to engender violence.  Methamphetamine is one of the most addictive drugs known.  [Someone I knew, now dead from cocaine lung injury, said he would rather have used marijuana if it were easier to get than crack.]

There is ample documentation of the low to non-existent risks with cannabis for every relevant measure. Perhaps the most important issue with marijuana is the systemic use of prosecution to target African-Americans. In June of 2013 the ACLU release a report titled The War on Marijuana in Black and White. The subtitle is Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests. It is a staggering indictment of DC policy.  Our City spends at a higher rate to prosecute and incarcerate marijuana users than any American state. This “investment” resulted in a record 846 people arrested per 100,000 population during 2010. The highest state rate was New York with 535 per100,000.  It is also over three times the national rate of 256 per 100,000. Marijuana use rates are very similar across racial groups. The arrest rates of 1,489 blacks and 185 whites (per 100,000) in DC is a ratio greater than 8 to 1. This is higher than all other states with the exception of Iowa at 8.35. It is over double the 3.73 to 1 ratio for the nation as a whole.

In 2013 the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs reported a huge 91% of drug arrests were of Afro-Americans. Actually, it is even worse than this since a number of the “white” arrests were Latinos with mixed ancestry. Washington DC has the national record for arrest rate and spending on marijuana arrests and prosecution with almost a national record high rate for differentially targeting African-Americans. In 2011 DC graduated 2,868 people from high school and arrested 5,759 for marijuana possession. This means we are giving out twice as many arrests records than high school graduation diplomas. 

High unemployment rates among blacks in DC are a serious problem. The extremely high rates at which DC gives “criminal records” to DC blacks for a “crime” largely ignored among whites explains a big part of how and why we have this problem. The legal structure of this system was laid down by Congressional Dixiecrats with a deep racial bias in a period from 1940 to 1973. Obviously there is no valid white interest in maintaining a black underclass. Society as a whole will be much more pleasant for everyone if we have greater equality and economic inclusion.  The current marijuana policy is a major destructive engine creating our black underclass.  This massive racial differential in the treatment of blacks and whites will only be eliminated with a rational legalization policy and regulations that properly reflect the underlying science.


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