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Marijuana Reform in the Trump Era: Turning Back the Tide

25 Feb

We have a lot of work to do.

First, this has to be said: I agree with Tom Angell that at the time of this writing (24 February 2017) we don’t yet really know what the administration’s marijuana policy is going to be.

I also agree with Shaleen Title. She advocates reading and analyzing everything available, from a variety of reputable sources, in order to get a clear idea of administration policy as it’s developing, and I agree. That is the absolute best thing anyone can do.

Mind you, the only way that people are going to get anything, let alone everything, to read and analyze, is if those of us who work as journalists at some level or other report on what’s actually being done and said, by whom, to whom, and in what context.

For instance, here’s some important reading material. These are the executive orders on crime that were issued by the White House on February Ninth. Anyone who cares about criminal justice, civil rights, or democracy and the rule of law, should read this. They are disappointing, upsetting, and guaranteed to anger any decent, moral person.

The language, and the policies outlined in those executive orders, are throwbacks to the late 60s, the era of John Mitchell and J. Edgar Hoover. Those orders outline a harsh approach to criminal justice and law enforcement overall as well as a renewed war on drugs, and display a contemptuous disregard for basic American values and freedoms.

For example, the task force on crime reduction and public safety that’s set up by one of those orders is to be run by Attorney General J. Beauregard Sessions III. Sessions argued in the Judiciary Committee that some drug offenses should be considered violent crimes. He also believes that civil rights enforcement needlessly hampers the police and prevents them from doing their jobs. There’s a transcript that’s well worth a read, where Sessions is questioning – haranguing really – former DOJ official and ACLU hero Vanita Gupta at a Judiciary subcommittee hearing in Nov 2015. It’s at

The title of that hearing by the way was “The War on Police: How the Federal Government Undermines State and Local Law Enforcement.” The whole hearing is worth a listen, if you have a strong stomach. The video is on the Judiciary Committee website.

While we’re on the topic of cabinet officials, one thing needs to be made perfectly clear: the appointments of hardline drug warrior and racist reactionary Sessions as Attorney General, and that of anti-pot and anti-harm reduction Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services, are strong indicators of this administration’s future marijuana policies, and its drug policies overall.

It has been pointed out by some that the president can overrule his cabinet officials. That is true. Yet, people do not get chosen for cabinet positions because of their ability to reverse themselves politically. People get nominated for cabinet positions because of the policies they advocate.

It may be fun to mock Sessions or Price or DeVos and the rest. Some people do regard them as flakes spouting inane dreck just to hear themselves speak. However, because of the offices those people currently inhabit, they represent the administration in their designated areas of policy. They are absolutely seen as speaking for the government, not just themselves.

Ultimately though, we do need to look to the White House. We had nothing official from the new administration specifically about marijuana until recently. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about marijuana by a reporter during the regular White House news briefing on Thursday, Feb. 23. The official video of that brief exchange is at

and the transcript is at

Here’s what Spicer said:

“There’s two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. I think medical marijuana, I’ve said before that the President understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them. And that’s one that Congress, through a rider in 2011 — looking for a little help — I think put in an appropriations bill saying the Department of Justice wouldn’t be funded to go after those folks. There is a big difference between that and recreational marijuana. And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law that we need to abide by in terms of the medical — when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature. So I think there’s a big difference between medical marijuana, which states have a — the states where it’s allowed, in accordance with the appropriations rider, have set forth a process to administer and regulate that usage, versus recreational marijuana. That’s a very, very different subject.”

Spicer was asked a follow-up about whether the feds were going to “take some sort of action around this recreational marijuana in some of these states”. He said this:

MR. SPICER: Well, I think that’s a question for the Department of Justice. I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it. Because again, there’s a big difference between the medical use which Congress has, through an appropriations rider in 2014, made very clear what their intent was in terms of how the Department of Justice would handle that issue. That’s very different than the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice I think will be further looking into.

Understandably, most reformers reacted negatively to Spicer’s statement. It is true, as someone pointed out, those are only the words of Sean Spicer, you know, the guy Melissa McCarthy parodied so well on SNL. The thing is, Spicer is the White House Press Secretary and Communications Director for the current president, and he spoke those words during the regular daily press briefing at the White House on Feb 23.

So yes, those are only the words of Sean Spicer. For just a minute though, forget those SNL bits, forget about your opinion of Spicer and his boss, and think about who Spicer is and what he does for a living. He now serves as the official voice of the current president and the White House. Spicer’s job gives particular weight to what he says.

Admittedly, it is possible that one day, maybe someday soon, Spicer will go back to that podium, declare previous statements to no longer be operative, and then say something totally different. In the meantime, however, we have to go by what he’s told us.

I’m not going bother parsing the specific words and phrases he used because he’s not the details guy. He’s a blunt instrument, he pushes the message, communicates the big picture. Specific details are someone else’s problem. Besides, any problematic and possibly offensive details could distract the media and the public from the big picture that he’s painting, so in a sense Spicer’s job is to keep people away from the details.

The only other person in the administration to say much of anything about marijuana was the current president himself, but that was on the campaign trail. People say all kinds of things to get elected. It’s what they do once they’re in office that counts. But it is true that he did say something about weed while he was running.

Unfortunately there are some fake stories that are still making the rounds on Facebook that make outlandish claims about endorsing legalization. Those are lies. Those lies add to the confusion over what he actually said, which is a problem because what he said was neither clear nor coherent. Here’s a transcript of what our current president actually said during that campaign rally in Nevada in Oct. 2015, when he was asked about pot:

DONALD TRUMP: “The marijuana thing is such a big, such a big thing. I think medical should happen, right, don’t we agree? I mean, I think so. And then I really believe you should leave it up to the states, it should be a state situation. Because, you know, you have, like I just left Colorado, and I love Colorado, and the people are great, but there’s a question as to how it’s all working out there, you know, that’s not going exactly trouble free, so, I really think that we should study Colorado, see what’s happening, but, I believe that the legalization of marijuana other than for medical, ’cause I think medical, you know, I know people that are very very sick, and for whatever reason the marijuana really helps them. But, but, really helps them, but I think in terms of marijuana, I think, and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state by state.”

He’s a showman, and he’s good with a crowd. On this particular topic, which even he had to know would come up eventually, he blathered, obfuscated, avoided making any real commitment, and finally took the safest and limpest position he possibly could: “I think medical should happen, right, don’t we agree? I mean, I think so.”

He thinks so. Bless. He doesn’t know it for certain. People in his cabinet, like Sessions and Price, may help him to modify his thinking.

In August of 2016, candidate Trump was interviewed by Brandon Rittiman of KUSA-TV in Denver, Colorado, and the topic of marijuana came up. On the one hand, this time Trump didn’t ramble, used short declarative sentences. in some respects it was plain clear speaking. On the other hand, the then-candidate jumped in before any questions had actually been asked. Rittiman seemed to be setting up a question about Colorado’s marijuana law yet he was also setting up a second, much trickier, question about whether Chris Christie was in line to become Trump’s Attorney General. The transcript is at

Here’s the portion where weed is mentioned:

RITTIMAN: I want to drill down on a couple of Colorado issues.

Chris Christie was one of the first sort of establishment guys to really jump in with both feet for you. He gets talked about as a possible AG pick, but he was also the only presidential candidate who was campaigning saying he would use federal authority to shut down sales of recreational marijuana in states like Colorado.

TRUMP: Yeah, I wouldn’t do it, no.

RITTIMAN: You wouldn’t let him?


RITTIMAN: Even if you picked him as AG?

TRUMP: Well you’re asking me. I wouldn’t do that, no.

RITTIMAN: You think Colorado should be able to do what it’s doing.

TRUMP: I think it’s up to the states, yeah. I’m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.

We don’t yet know the specifics of the new administration’s policies in regard to marijuana, and possibly the president doesn’t either so at least we’re not alone. Yet, we do have a pretty good idea of the direction they want to go.

In terms of criminal justice and overall drug control policies, some very clear statements are being made. There are the executive orders issued February 9th, which I outlined at the top of this piece. And, there are the president’s own words. Unlike his comments about marijuana during the campaign, the current president has recently spoken very clearly and directly about those broader issues.

For example, in a speech given to a police group, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, in Feb 2017, he pushed for a return to the war on drugs. As Salon reported:

“We’re going to stop the drugs from pouring in,” Trump told law enforcement professionals of the Major Cities Chiefs Association on Wednesday. “We’re going to stop those drugs from poisoning our youth, from poisoning our people. We’re going to be ruthless in that fight. We have no choice. And we’re going to take that fight to the drug cartels and work to liberate our communities from their terrible grip of violence.”

That angry bit of bluster and demagoguery would have made Nixon proud. It’s not an embrace of harm reduction, or treatment, or efforts to address the root causes of societal problems. It’s literally a call to arms.

Also in February, the current president held a round table discussion with a delegation from the National Sheriffs Association. The president spoke to them – clearly and directly – about wanting to see tougher law enforcement, more action against drugs, particularly on the Mexican border, and more forfeiture.

It should also be noted that in the sheriffs roundtable, the current president also made a comment about expanding access to “abuse-deterring drugs,” which he described as very hard to get. At a guess, I’d say that is a reference to Naloxone, an opioid antagonist. Naloxone, or naltrexone, is sometimes added to prescription opioids to create what pharmas call an “abuse deterring formulation.”

Presumably he’s talking about continuing to support the expansion of naloxone availability, which the Obama administration had also done. I say presumably because I can’t be sure. I usually hear naloxone referred to as an overdose reversal drug or an overdose cure. I do hear it referred to as “abuse deterring” but only in the context of opiate manufacturing. That’s why I can’t be sure if he’s talking about access to the overdose reversal drug, or the production of abuse-deterring pain meds by pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The new administration’s overall drug, civil rights, and criminal justice policies are taking shape. They appear to be horrible, reactionary, counterproductive, shortsighted, wrongheaded, and just plain bad. So what do we do? There’s no question that criminal justice and drug policy reform advocates need to get to work and organize politically against the current administration on these issues.

When it comes to marijuana specifically, reformers have a couple of choices. One is to stand back and do nothing, engage in watchful waiting, keep repeating a mantra about how politically popular weed is and how it would be suicide to crack down in the industry, and wait for a clearly written memo or some other solid, irrefutable statement of policy, like a strategy report, or a series of raids, or a threat to withhold federal funds from any state that decides to legally regulate any Schedule One drug.

There are a couple of problems with that wait and see approach. First, there’s the calendar. The current president doesn’t face re-election until 2020. He can afford a possible short-term hit on his popularity. Actually given the current president’s poll numbers, and his repeated attempts to paint critics as illegitimate and fake, “political suicide” is less than a joke, it’s certainly not a viable threat.

Members of Congress on the other hand are usually sensitive to that sort of thing. News hit recently that the current administration’s plans for a massive spending increase to fund infrastructure building and improvements around the nation – roads, airports, the kinds of big money projects that states and voters like and need – is being put off until 2018.

Of course it’s merely a coincidence that 2018 is also the next general election for all 435 members of the House and one third of the Senate, and it would be impertinent to suggest otherwise. So call me impertinent, I’ve been called worse. The point is, that’s some bargaining power the administration is planning to have.

As to the billions being made by the industry, that may sound impressive, yet it’s really not relevant in the political debate. Policymakers aren’t automatically going to care about whether a handful of investors and businesspeople make a greasy buck. Tax revenue is where the rubber quite literally meets the road, not corporate profits. A few questions about obscene profit margins and price gouging, maybe a couple of well-placed articles about any of the less-than-charming penny stock hustlers, weed oil scammers, touts, shills, shady foreign investors, and just plain con artists who have been finding their way into the corporate weed industry in the past few years, and a lot of people will be watching with glee as pot shops got raided.

So, watchful waiting is out.

Arguably, reformers could go to the other extreme and call for immediate nationwide protests, strikes, blockades of courthouses, and demonstrations at federal buildings and the White House, having decided that the current president plans to order an immediate crackdown on all adult use and possibly even some medical programs. That’s technically an option but it’s not really on the table right now, partly because we still just don’t know the administration’s real marijuana policy yet also because the public isn’t there yet.

Getting arrested at the White House can be an effective tactic, if the White House is having the Justice Department arrest people at dispensaries, but not when officials are still hemming and hawing.

Really there’s just one other option, and coincidentally it’s the approach I favor: educate, organize, prepare for the resistance that may be needed, and at the same time continue outreach in a bipartisan way to build more support for good medical marijuana programs and for adult use programs.

The support we say that marijuana legalization has, which some people say would make it political suicide to go against weed, needs to be built up, strengthened, and expanded. We need to do more public education, more consciousness raising, and more community building. We can’t afford to wait until after J Beauregard Sessions III authorizes a new memo.

A moment ago I dismissed the idea that the size of the marijuana market could convince the new administration to keep its tiny hands off of the weed business. Tax revenue on the other hand, the money flowing into state coffers from legally regulated weed, that’s a bottom line that policymakers care about. The impact that legal marijuana has had on prescribing practices for other drugs, the impact that legal marijuana availability has had on alcohol use – those are important too. Those things are important in the debate because they’re data people really do care about: life, death, and taxes.

Obviously, we need to spread the word about these things far and wide. More generally, we need to broaden the public’s understanding of both why legalization is a good thing, and why marijuana is not a bad thing. Inside the drug policy bubble, we understand all that. The majority of people live outside of our bubble. It’s our responsibility to reach out to them, teach them, and bring them over to our side.

The bottom line: J. Beauregard Sessions III is our new attorney general. Tom Price is head of HHS. Sean Spicer may be easy to mock but as far as I can tell he spews out the official administration line on stuff. The current administration is definitely planning for a renewed war on drugs, complete with border madness and military involvement.

We may not yet have a clearly written, definitive statement of administration policy on marijuana, yet waiting until Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III signs off on a new memo before we start preparing for the worst would be a mistake. It’s better to be prepared only to be able to stand down instead, than to be caught flat-footed and then get knocked down before we even start getting ready.

Again, I’m not suggesting that people should start getting arrested in front of federal buildings or the White House again in protest, not yet. When I do think it’s that time I will be one of the first in line to take a bust. I’ve done it before. It’s just that the public, and the movement, aren’t there quite yet.

I believe that the marijuana industry is facing potentially its biggest crisis ever. I know that the marijuana movement – the political and cultural force of which I am part, which made the industry possible — is facing a serious challenge. Yet, it’s a challenge which is also a huge organizing opportunity.

We have a lot to do. It’s time to get to work.

[Note: On Feb 25th I added a paragraph about comments regarding marijuana policy made by candidate Trump in August 2016, in an interview with Brandon Rittiman of KUSA-TV in Denver, Colorado, also a short quote and a link to the interview transcript. I also added Spicer’s response to a follow-up on the marijuana question, just below the first bit. DM]

Why the Legal Challenge to Colorado’s Adult-Use Marijuana Law Will Fail

6 Mar

A suit has been filed in federal court, by a handful of Colorado sheriffs among others, asking for Colorado’s legal adult-use program to be ended. There is one argument of significance:

The sheriffs, and some other prohibitionists, are asserting that when the state is put into the position of licensing and regulating activities that violate the CSA, they can be argued to be in violation of federal law.

That argument is not original, we’ve actually been hearing it mentioned in other parts of the country. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The counter-argument to the CSA concern has always been that there is a 10th amendment to the US constitution, which is a guarantee of states’ rights. Also these are intra-state concerns and not inter-state concerns, so the interstate commerce clause of the US Constitution should prevent Congress from interfering with a state program. The two arguments together are quite powerful.

Unfortunately those arguments have been tried, and have failed, in the past. The Raich v Gonzalez case was decided by the Supremes back in 2005. A decade can be a long time in legal terms. We have a new court now, with new judges, and we have new attorneys who have the benefit of all the trial transcripts and motions and appeals histories. There are lawyers out there who have spent the past 10 years learning and studying and devising ways to win on those constitutional arguments.

And we’ve got a lot more than just that. When the Raich case first went to trial, we had very limited experience with regulated state medical marijuana programs. There were no state legal adult use programs. The justices and the attorneys on both sides had no data, no real world experience, on which to draw. They justified over-riding the commerce clause concerns because of the possibility that there might be public health or public safety concerns. And now, 10 years later, we have several states running regulated medical marijuana programs and the states of Washington and Colorado running legal adult-use marijuana programs. We have research and evidence showing that these programs have had a positive impact on public health, and a positive net impact on public safety.

This suit being brought against the state of Colorado by the sheriffs, it’s not an isolated thing. Prohibitionists around the world and around the nation are networked, they work together, they share information. I said before, I’ve heard some of these arguments recently. The state of Oregon is working to implement its own legal adult-use marijuana program. That state’s legislature is being lobbied by the Association of Oregon Counties and the League of Oregon Cities to give local governments more power and authority to ban marijuana businesses and to impose local taxes. Officials from those organizations have made some not-so-subtle threats that if they don’t get their way, some city or county might file suit in federal court, using the same arguments about the CSA that the Colorado suit mentions, to try and stop the Oregon legal adult-use program.

Significantly, those Oregon attorneys conceded that it’s only the regulation and licensing of sale and commercial production that could be challenged that way, and that personal use possession and cultivation could not be challenged with that argument. But I digress.

Doing a little more research, it appears that these arguments were developed in earlier cases, in Michigan and also in Oregon. They’ve been refining and expanding on these arguments over the years, and they’ve been learning from their losses. The prohibitionists think that they know what they’re doing. They don’t seem to understand that our side has also spent the past decade working and learning and sharing information, and learning from our losses as well as our victories. And we’ve been researching and assessing these programs, and their impacts on public health and public safety, and so have the states running these programs.

The prohibitionists want a replay of Raich v Gonzalez. But they must not realize what they’re asking for. The justice who wrote that decision, John Paul Stevens, retired in 2010. Federalism is making a resurgence. The evidence on marijuana legalization is finally in and it is clear that legalization is a good thing on several levels, having positive impacts on public safety and public health. The train has left the station, the tracks are clear, and this time around there are no stops until we have reached our final destination: the end of prohibition.

Drug Policy Facts Podcast #15 Is Online

19 Feb

The new Drug Policy Facts Podcast is online!

This week: Oregon moves closer to putting marijuana on the 2014 ballot; the monitoring the future survey looks at drug use among today’s high school students; and members of Congress leading the efforts to end prohibition and reform U S drug policies. Download/listen/subscribe!

Drug Policy Facts Podcast #13 Is Online!

5 Feb
Let nations rejoice, the new Drug Policy Facts Podcast is online!
This week features audio from a landmark hearing on Capitol Hill on federal marijuana policy, a report on the environmental impact of drug trafficking and transshipment, and a look at the lessons we can learn from the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Download, listen, and subscribe from:
#DrugWar #DrugFacts #DrugPolicy #DrugPolicyReform #mmot #HarmReduction

Drug War Facts Podcast #12 Is Online!

28 Jan

The new Drug War Facts Podcast is online! This week we speculate about tonight’s state of the union address, hear from US Attorney General Eric Holder about federal sentencing reform, learn how states are reducing their prison populations, and find out about sexual violence behind bars. Download, listen, and subscribe from:
The RSS feed to subscribe is
And the URL to listen to and download the new podcast, Ep #12, is

Drug War Facts Podcast #11 Is Online!

22 Jan

The new Drug Policy Facts Podcast is online! Listen, download and subscribe from

This week’s show: Washington and Colorado reach the Super Bowl; President Obama admits marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol; NIDA’s drug facts week is Jan 27-Feb 2; and more Nixon White House tapes, this week discussing heroin and the creation of the first drug czar’s office, the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention.

Knowledge is power. Get the facts.

Drug Policy Facts Podcast #9 Is Online!

8 Jan
The new Drug War/Drug Policy Facts podcast is dedicated to the 55,014 people now in state prison serving time for drug possession. This week: a new prisoner report; survey shows majority support for marijuana legalization; Playing Safe(ly) with Eddie Einbinder; harm reduction & drug user organizing with Ruth Kanatser; and talking weed with Mickey Martin. Download and subscribe from

Is The US Really The World’s Biggest Jailer? [AUDIO]

13 Apr

Following is the transcript of an audio news story written and produced by Drug War Facts Editor Doug McVay for the Drug Truth Network. It was broadcast on April 6, 2013, as a 420 Drug War News segment.

Everyone by now has heard that the US is the world’s biggest jailer, with more people behind bars than any other country.

We’ve all heard it. Is it true?

The International Centre for Prison Studies, a partner of the University of Essex in the UK, researches global incarceration and regularly publishes the results. Their website at prisonstudies dot org even has a handy tool to make international comparisons easy.

The ICPS reports that in 2011, the US had a prison population of 2,239,751 – enough prisoners to put our nation at the top of the list. Next comes China, with a reported 1,640,000 prisoners. Seems pretty straightforward – except it’s not as simple as that.

First, let’s unpack the US data. The ICPS is actually lumping prisoners – that is, inmates serving time in prisons – with jail inmates. In the US, we report those numbers separately. That’s how a prohibitionist can get away with claiming that few people are ever sent to prison for simple possession of marijuana. People serving time for that offense typically get put in jail, not prison. They’re still incarcerated, behind bars, just technically they’re not in prison.

Take away the 735,601 held in US jails in 2011, and the remaining US prison population is 1,504,150.

Now let’s take a closer look at China.

The ICPS figure of 1,640,000 only represents sentenced prisoners in Chinese Ministry of Justice prisons. It does not include pre-trial detainees, nor does it include people held in administrative detention. In 2009, ICPS reports, the Chinese government admitted to holding more than 650,000 people in detention centers. If that figure held steady through 2012, that would mean a total of 2,300,000 behind bars in China.

So technically, China may actually be number one in terms of sheer numbers.

As far as incarceration rates are concerned however, the US does seem to be way on top. The ICPS web tool also allows comparison of incarceration rates. The US, at 716 inmates per 100,000 population, is well ahead of the next country on the list – the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, with an incarceration rate of 649 per 100,000. China, because of its massive population, has an official incarceration rate of only 121 per 100,000. Adding in those held in administrative detention raises the figure significantly yet it’s still nowhere near the US rate.

So the answer is basically Yes. Yet really, it all depends on how you define terms and who you count.

At Drug War Facts dot org, we provide up to date data from the US and around the world, fully cited, with links to the original source material for most of the items. Knowledge is power, so get the facts.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay with Common Sense for Drug Policy and Drug War Facts.

This audio news story as well as many others are available through the Drug Truth Network’s website,

Policing By The Clock [AUDIO] | Common Sense for Drug Policy

27 Mar

Drug War Facts Editor Doug McVay reports for the Drug Truth Network and puts into context new research showing the amount of police time spent enforcing marijuana possession laws.

This 4:20 News report was first broadcast on March 24, 2013, as a segment on the syndicated weekly radio program Cultural Baggage produced in Houston, TX for KPFT-FM.

Research data used in this segment are available at
Drug War Facts, particularly the chapter on Crime. DWF fact items include full citations and where possible a link to the original source materials.

Following is the script. To listen to or download the full audio, please visit the Drug Truth Network.

It’s all in the timing.

According to new research, it takes an average of about two-and-a-half hours of police time to make one simple pot possession arrest in New York City. New York is a decriminalized state, so people in NY don’t necessarily go to jail just because they got caught in possession – especially if they’re a State Assemblyman, but that’s another story.

On average, people who get popped for pot in New York City do spend a great deal of time in custody: an average of at least 12 hours, according to this new research by Professor Harry Levine of Queens College, City University of New York. The report was recently released by the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project.

Professor Levine found that from 2002 through 2012, the NYPD made a total of 439,056 low-level marijuana possession arrests. They estimated that given an average of 2.5 hours for each arrest – a conservative, low-ball estimate – that comes to 1,097,640 hours of police time over that period, or as it’s put in the report, quote:
“That is the equivalent of having 31 police officers working eight hours a day, 365 days a year, for 11 years, making only marijuana possession arrests.” End quote.

That’s just New York City, of course. Marijuana is decriminalized in New York state. In many other states, marijuana possession is still considered a real crime.

It’s not only the police whose time is taken up by low-level marijuana arrests, there’s also the time and resources of the prosecutor, the court, and possibly the jail or probation system.

In 2011, there were 663,032 arrests for simple possession in the entire US. If the rest of the country were like New York City, at just 2.5 hours per arrest, that would work out to 1,657,580 hours of police time in 2011 alone. The report’s hypothetical 31 police officers would work the equivalent of eight hours per day, 365 days a year, for more than 18 years to make that many marijuana arrests.

Each year, the FBI reports that US law enforcement manages to clear just under 50% of reported violent crimes and less than 20% of reported property crimes. Those are just the ones that get reported, mind you, and clearance doesn’t mean that anyone has been found guilty, only that someone has been indicted.

As legalizers and policy reformers, we’re accustomed to being accused by opponents of being soft on crime. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Law enforcement resources are strained, so the question is being asked: Are we using those resources effectively, or is it time for major changes?

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay with Common Sense for Drug Policy and Drug War Facts.

Drug War Facts Newsletter – Vol. 3, No. 2, March 2013

8 Mar

The latest issue of the Drug War Facts Newsletter is now available at
and also below.
Subscribe to the DWF Newsletter and stay up to date on the latest drug control policy research, data, and statistics! It’s easy – here’s the link:


What’s New At Drug War Facts
Volume 3, Issue No. 2
March 2013

Current data. New research. Evolving policies.

The one constant in life is change. In the policy world, keeping up to date is important. Using outdated data can get you in trouble, certainly damage your credibility.

For example, on Feb. 16, 2013, a Rhode Island legislator was called out by PolitiFact Rhode Island, a partnership of (the Pulitzer Prize-winning Web site of the Tampa Bay Times) and the Providence Journal for making the claim that young people find marijuana easier to get than alcohol.
“Rhode Island State Rep. Edith Ajello says studies indicate minors find it easier to get marijuana than alcohol,”

As Politifact put it, “If she’d referred to how easily young people could purchase one or the other, and she’d said it in 2009, there would be more support. But all the most recent, credible, national studies we found showed that teenagers report it’s easier to get alcohol than marijuana.”

Why 2009? For years, researchers with the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) found that young people reported it was easier to buy marijuana than to buy beer, “buy” being the operative verb. In 2010, CASA changed the wording of its survey question. Rather than ask “Which is easier to buy?” as they had done for years, CASA began asking instead “Which is easier to get?”
CASA, “National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVII: Teens,” August 2012.

Click to access 20120822teensurvey.pdf

Figure 7.H on page 29 of that CASA report shows that in 2009, 14% of youth reported beer was easier to buy. This was similar to previous years: 2006, 14%; 2007, 17%, and 2008, 15%. In 2010, after the wording was changed, 26% reported beer was easier to “get.” That beer figure has remained fairly static since: 23% in 2011 and 24% in 2012.

The percentage responding that marijuana is easiest to get took a big dive in 2010 to 15% from 26% the year before (when CASA asked about buying), then went up to 22% in 2011, then down to 19% in 2012 – which are close to the figures for earlier years (21% in 2006, 19% in 2007, 23% in 2008, and 26% in 2009 reporting marijuana was easier to “buy”).

The number reporting that cigarettes are easiest to get or to buy has changed very little over the time period; no changes due to the change in the question are noticeable (28% in 2006, 26% in 2007, 25% in 2008, 26% in 2009, 27% in 2010, 26% in 2011, and 27% in 2012.

Here’s another example: In 2002, the Justice Policy Institute issued a report titled “Cellblocks or Classrooms.”

Click to access 02-09_REP_CellblocksClassrooms_BB-AC.pdf

The title of that report’s Finding Number 3 was: “Nearly a third More African American Men Are Incarcerated than in Higher Education.”

JPI has come under fire for that statement in recent years – most notably in the film Hoodwinked
Release: JPI Stands by Data in 2002 on Education and Incarceration, Oct. 3, 2012
but also by people such as Professor Ivory Toldson of Howard University. In his April 20, 2011 piece in Empower Magazine, “Cellblock vs. College: A Million Reasons There Are More Black Men In College Than In Prison And Why More Work Needs To Be Done,”
Professor Toldson writes:
“When reviewing Cellblocks or Classrooms, there’s no evidence that the authors intended to sensationalize problems facing black men in the United States. More meaningful and palatable lines like “choose classrooms over cellblocks” were written with more prominence. Today, the widespread and contentious notion that “there are more black men in jail than in college” is not the fault of the Justice Policy Institute. Rather, it is the fault of journalists looking for a sound bite, politicians trying to arouse a crowd, program managers and researchers who would rather assert the need to exist than to demonstrate the efficacy of their techniques, and the list goes on of people who feel the need to be intentionally provocative. Lost in the feedback are young black men who are trying to reconcile such an ominous conclusion with their reality.”

Here then are the numbers, which support what Professor Toldson wrote.

A search through the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Post‐Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) finds that in the 2009-2010 school year, there were 1,347,485 Black or African-American male students enrolled in Title IV 2- and 4-year colleges (including public as well as private for- and nonprofit schools).

The Drug War Facts section on Race and Prison
actually has newer data, so looking back at “Prisoners in 2010,” a report by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
we see that in 2010 there were a reported 561,400 non-Hispanic Blacks under state and federal jurisdiction. In addition, according to BJS’s publication “Jail Inmates at Midyear 2010 – Statistical Tables”

Click to access jim10st.pdf

there were 283,200 Black/African-American inmates of either gender in local jails. So there were a maximum of 844,600 Black/African-American men behind bars that year – many fewer than were in college.

Things change. If you’re an activist or engaged in policy debate, it’s important to keep up with these changes, and stay current. Up-to-date fact items are always to be found on the Drug War Facts website. Be sure to check back from time to time. You can also keep track of new fact items as they’re added by subscribing to our RSS feed at

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Favorite new items:

“In 2010, there were 38,329 drug overdose deaths in the United States; most (22 134; 57.7%) involved pharmaceuticals; 9429 (24.6%) involved only unspecified drugs. Of the pharmaceutical-related overdose deaths, 16,451 (74.3%) were unintentional, 3780 (17.1%) were suicides, and 1868 (8.4%) were of undetermined intent. Opioids (16,651; 75.2%), benzodiazepines (6497; 29.4%), antidepressants (3889; 17.6%), and antiepileptic and antiparkinsonism drugs (1717; 7.8%) were the pharmaceuticals (alone or in combination with other drugs) most commonly involved in pharmaceutical overdose deaths. Among overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics, the pharmaceuticals most often also involved in these deaths were benzodiazepines (5017; 30.1%), antidepressants (2239; 13.4%), antiepileptic and antiparkinsonism drugs (1125; 6.8%), and antipsychotics and neuroleptics (783; 4.7%).”
Source: Christopher M. Jones, PharmD, Karin A. Mack, PhD, and Leonard J. Paulozzi, MD, “Pharmaceutical Overdose Deaths, United States, 2010,” Journal of the American Medical Association, February 20, 2013, Vol 309, No. 7, p. 658.
This item and more in Annual Causes of Death

“We identified cohorts of individuals hospitalized in California from 1990 to 2005 with ICD-9 diagnoses of methamphetamine- (n = 74,170), alcohol- (n = 592,406), opioids- (n = 68,066), cannabis- (n = 47,048), cocaine- (n = 48,949), or polydrug-related disorders (n = 411,175), and these groups were followed for up to 16 years. Age-, sex-, and race-adjusted standardized mortality rates (SMRs) for deaths due to MVAs were generated in relation to the California general population. Standardized MVA mortality ratios were elevated across all drug cohorts: alcohol (4.5, 95% CI, 4.1–4.9), cocaine (3.8, 95% CI, 2.3–5.3), opioids (2.8, 95% CI, 2.1–3.5), methamphetamine (2.6, 95% CI, 2–3.1), cannabis (2.3, 95% CI, 1.5–3.2) and polydrug (2.6, 95% CI, 2.4–2.9). Males and females had similar MVA SMRs.”
Source: Russell C. Callaghan, Jodi M. Gatley, Scott Veldhuizen, Shaul Lev-Ran, Robert Mann, and Mark Asbridge, “Alcohol- or Drug-Use Disorders and Motor Vehicle Accident Mortality: A Retrospective Cohort Study,” Accident Analysis and Prevention, 53 (2013) 149–155,
This item and more in Drugged Driving

“In December 2009, the GOC [Government of Colombia] approved a law that prohibited the possession and consumption of small, “personal,” amounts of illegal drugs. However, in August 2011, the Colombian Supreme Court overturned this law, finding that Legislative Act No. 2, 2009, which banned the personal use of drugs, “implies the nullification of fundamental rights, and it represses and sanctions with the severest punishments (imprisonment) the personal decision to abandon one‘s personal health, a choice that corresponds to their own decision and does not infringe on the rights of other members of society.” The Supreme Court then set the “personal amount” of drugs at 20 grams of marijuana and 1 gram of cocaine.”
Source: United States Department of State Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, “International Narcotics Control Strategy Report: Volume I: Drug and Chemical Control (Washington, DC: March 2012), p. 174.

Click to access 187109.pdf

This item and more in Colombia

New Research Material:

Russell C. Callaghan, Jodi M. Gatley, Scott Veldhuizen, Shaul Lev-Ran, Robert Mann, and Mark Asbridge, “Alcohol- or Drug-Use Disorders and Motor Vehicle Accident Mortality: A Retrospective Cohort Study,” Accident Analysis and Prevention, 53 (2013) 149–155,

“Colombia: Evaluation of Progress in Drug Control 2007-2009.” Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM). Washington, DC: January 2011. OAS/Ser.L/XIV.2.48, CICAD/docx.1843/10, p. 34.

Click to access Colombia%20-%205th%20Rd%20-%20ENG.pdf

Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2013). Monitoring the Future national results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2012. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, p. 52, Table 2.

Click to access mtf-overview2012.pdf

Christopher M. Jones, PharmD, Karin A. Mack, PhD, and Leonard J. Paulozzi, MD, “Pharmaceutical Overdose Deaths, United States, 2010,” Journal of the American Medical Association, February 20, 2013, Vol 309, No. 7, p. 658.

Media Appearances:

Drug Truth Network Radio segments:
Feb. 16, 2013: New Monitoring The Future Survey Report
Feb. 22, 2013: Fact-checking the Drug Czar
Feb. 24, 2013: GAO report on efforts to control methamphetamine production
March 10, 2013: Fact-checking the fact-checkers

DWF Editor/CSDP Board Member Doug McVay also appears regularly on the weekly half-hour news shows Cultural Baggage
and Century of Lies

The Drug Truth Network has begun production of a video news show focused on the drug war, for which DWF Editor Doug McVay is creating content. The Unvarnished Truth is broadcast weekly via Houston’s HMSTV, and is available to view online at

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