All posts tagged: Legalization

Obama: The Great Commuter?

speedy trial PAThere has been much talk on the internet this week about President Obama commuting the sentences of 46 individuals convicted of federal drug crimes.

The recipients are all considered non-violent drug offenders who are low risk in terms of releasing them back into the community, and include the mother of an NFL player convicted of drug dealing.

In that case, she had already served the bulk of her sentence, and had only one year left to serve, but it makes for good headlines.

It is also important to point out she had been offered a plea deal which would have been a four year sentence. Instead, she chose to go against the advice of her attorney to take the plea, and then went before a jury who convicted her, where she received a much longer sentence as a result. Moral of story: It is probably a good idea to listen to your counsel, as that is why you pay them.

In a larger sense, although I applaud the President for his actions, in reality, those 46 names constitute a small fraction of the over 35,000 cases president Obama’s legal team reviewed when considering who the lucky winners would be in this amnesty lottery.

The President was quoted as saying, “In these cases, the punishment did not fit the crime.”

Mr. President, with all due respect, one could easily say that about the majority of drug related crime convictions, especially in convictions involving marijuana.

Too often, whether due to circumstances such as the presence of weapons, or mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, or the “three strikes” rules currently in place, a judge and jury have their hands tied when meting out justice.

Take a marijuana grow operation, for example. The mere presence of weapons, whether or not they are legally obtained or even used in the commission of a crime, become the catalyst for much harsher sentencing guidelines. In other words, a gun that is perfectly legal to own for home defense becomes a weight around the neck of the defendant, even when it has no actual bearing on the charges themselves.

For the person who grows some pot in their barn, or their basement, that otherwise legally registered weapon makes it appear they are a hardened criminal bent on murder, when the actual facts of the case are nothing of the sort. In fact, marijuana users and growers rarely act violently at all, but because of strict federal guidelines, the weapon cannot be ignored and is actually treated as criminal, even though it was never used to commit a crime. Even something as innocuous as a hunting rifle– one actually used for just hunting– suddenly makes the defendant look like a modern day Al Capone, at least on paper.

Maybe the unlucky fellow has a couple of minor convictions from their past. Since these occurred before the current climate of decriminalization and legalization, on paper they appear to indicate a hardened criminal past on par with Scarface. To the average jury, this can often be subtlety inferred in such a way that it almost becomes prejudicial in the perception of the jurors. No one wants a gun toting three time loser drug dealer cruising the streets of their neighborhood.

Forty six commutations, although certainly a step in the right direction, are not even a drop in the bucket when compared with over 35,000 people currently languishing in federal prisons. It’s not even the tip of the iceberg.

Couple this with the fact that marijuana is actually legal now in 5 states, and you can see we have a real problem in terms of “punishment fitting the crime”. A state border should not be an automatic indictment, especially in a federal case. It is hardly equal treatment under the law and strikes me as being terribly inconsistent with regard to constitutional protections that should apply equally to all citizens of these United States.

Because I have been at the forefront of the marijuana legalization movement, I am particularly aware of the blatantly unfair implications of marijuana remaining on the Federal Schedule 1 Narcotics list. President Obama has repeatedly indicated he agrees with this assessment. He has publicly toyed with the notion that it’s time to remove Marijuana from Schedule 1, yet seems reluctant to follow through.

If he really feels ‘the punishment should fit the crime’, it is time for him to act. President Nixon was largely responsible for the Schedule 1 designation. President Obama can reverse the perversion of an otherwise benign plant as being on par with heroin and cocaine. He can truly make a difference in countless lives, and go down in history as the rarest of presidents by putting aside politics in the name of justice for all.

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Patrick NightingaleObama: The Great Commuter?
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Teens and Pot: The Glamour of Crime

MarijuanaWe see it in our popular films and TV shows every day. There are websites that can make you famous for recording crimes you commit such as brutal assaults.

Shows like The Sopranos, Shameless and Breaking Bad portray crime (or just plain bad behavior) in a glamorous light.

Movies like Fast and Furious portray reckless driving as an adventure. To impressionable young minds, that’s exciting stuff; being bad and breaking the law.

What teenager doesn’t push the boundaries of the system? Some, more than others, to be sure, but testing boundaries and limits is a part of growing up. It is for many, a rite of passage in the literal sense that they are following in the footsteps of the older kids they once looked up to. The cool big sister or the tough big brother, whose exploits are legendary in the local arcade or city park.

Legalizing Marijuana removes that element from the equation of teens trying pot.

And the numbers bear this out. The fact is, in states where marijuana has been either decriminalized or legalized, teen use rates drop. For starters, in places where it’s legal, one can simply walk into a shop, provide age verification and make a purchase. The profit motive for street dealers no longer exists. The criminal aspect, the excitement of “the score”, no longer applies.

Addict after addict involved in hard drugs like Heroin or Meth, will confess that just the process of scoring illegal drugs is a high in itself. The danger of getting caught, the subterfuge of the transactions, the clever code words and cool phrases, can be a siren song of glory and street cred to the teenager looking to show they, too, are a grown up.

I see it all the time in court, often with tragic results. A young kid, often no more than a child themselves, getting caught up in the world of the illicit drug trade. The consequences to that person can be life long, and even worse, life ending.

But legal marijuana becomes… passe’ to the teenager simply looking for thrills. The teenager who sadly may be “preconditioned” to believe that crime is the way to prove themselves to their peers, will not get much props for a ‘drug’ that can be bought at a store down the street, openly and without shame.

Study after study shows that legalization, coupled with education and honest dialogue between parents, teachers and their kids, can work near miracles in reducing the incidences of teen crime. And not just marijuana related arrests. Crime rates overall tend to drop, because the violence and other criminal activity associated with drug dealing is eliminated from the equation when talking about marijuana, itself the most non-violent of all recreational substances.

Suddenly the dealer who also sells hard drugs, is no longer selling marijuana, and anyone buying marijuana will have a far lesser risk of being exposed to those harder drugs as a result. In that sense, all drugs are gateway drugs, but marijuana simply does not have to be one of them. It’s illegal status is the only real, provable causation for access to harder drugs, and the curiosity to try them.

If a teen tries pot, and finds out they were lied to about it being the devils weed from hell itself, they will no longer believe what you tell them about truly dangerous drugs like Heroin. “Hey pot wasn’t near as bad as they said it was, heroin must be okay, too.”

The vast majority of marijuana smokers have never even felt the desire to experiment with drugs like heroin. Anti-marijuana folks want to claim that smoking marijuana in itself leads to other drug use, but the statistics simply do not bear that out at all. In fact, in the case of alcohol use, marijuana legalization seems to have the opposite effect, as studies now show in legal states like Colorado, alcohol use actually drops and is instead replaced by marijuana, as opposed to combining the two.

There are burdens of proof in any legal case, and by those standards, the anti-marijuana folks do not have a leg to stand on. Research overwhelmingly shows the effects of marijuana use to be minimal in the extreme. As for being “dangerous” and a potential cause of death, as tired as you might be of hearing it, I’m just as tired of having to say it: Alcohol and tobacco, both legal, killed more people in the past six months than marijuana has in the past 200 years.

But what about the children?

Yes, the children are very important. I know because I have 3 of them living in my home, and rest assured, none of them will be trying pot before they are 21– whether or not it’s legalized. You see, I talk to my kids. I want them to have as much information as possible, because I imagine one day they will be old enough to drink alcohol, so like it or not, when they turn 21, I can only hope the lessons my wife and I teach them will keep them from abusing alcohol.

I also imagine that they will have moments when they have to make a decision to try alcohol (or pot) for the first time, whether or not they are legally old enough to do so.

By removing the glamour, the decision becomes a heck of a lot easier for them. They will not feel the level of peer pressure than can come with, “What’s the matter, are you chicken?”

They will feel confident saying, “No thank you”, because they are aware of the facts, and can make a sound decision without being the uncool kid. And let’s face it, there are grandmothers smoking marijuana these days. It’s kind of hard to make a case for pot smoking being, over the top cool, when Nana can pick up some Purple Haze at the local pot store.

Now of course the case of edibles has been brought up. “It’s candy! Kids love candy!”

*sigh*

That problem is as easy to solve as regulated packaging. They do it now with advertising cigarettes.

Remember Joe Camel?

If you really want to save the teenagers, maybe we should stop disrupting their lives by arresting their parents and older siblings for smoking a little weed? And just like Colorado, put that tax revenue to work educating them, instead of setting them up for incarceration.

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Patrick NightingaleTeens and Pot: The Glamour of Crime
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Go Slow Approach Only Cares About Lawsuits, Not Medicine

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

For the Pennsylvania Medical Society to pretend that there are not literally hundreds of peer reviewed clinical studies on the medical efficacy of cannabis for a wide variety of conditions is shameful and disgusting. Their testimony proffered at the hearing last week in Harrisburg just ignored the fact that 23 other states have legalized medicinal cannabis. The PA Medical Society couldn’t even be bothered to check with, for example, the Colorado Medical Society to see what their professional colleagues in a medicinal state had to say. But, Dr. Karen Rizzo I think summed it up perfectly when she told NBC out of Philadelphia that even if it were legal doctors wouldn’t recommend it because of fear of being sued. Surprisingly she didn’t bother to check with malpractice carriers in Colorado or Washington or even bother to see if a physician in a medicinal state had, in fact, ever been accused of professional negligence. Their opposition is ignorant and based solely on controlling medical malpractice insurance premiums and not in treating patients with a non-toxic treatment alternative. Their opinion should be disregarded in its entirety.

Here is an article in the Pittsburgh Business Times, regarding the “Go Slow” approach that flies in the face of evidence and reason.

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Patrick NightingaleGo Slow Approach Only Cares About Lawsuits, Not Medicine
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Pennsylvania State Nurses Association backs legalizing medical marijuana

The US Stance on Medical Marijuana is Confusing at Best
The support for medicinal cannabis continues to grow. The American Nurses Association endorsed cannabis as a treatment option in 2008. Its 2008 position further clarified its decade long support for the medical efficacy of marijuana. It said “(t)he evidence demonstrates a connection between therapeutic use of marijuana and symptom relief. The American Nurses Association actively supports patients’ rights to legally and safely utilize marijuana for symptom management and health care practitioners’ efforts to promote quality of life for patients needing such therapy.” The Pennsylvania State Nurses Association endorsed medical marijuana in advance of the January 28, 2014, hearing on Senate Bill 1182, Pennsylvania’s medicinal marijuana bill. In its statement it said “‘We believe prescribers — including licensed nurse practitioners — should have all of the drugs that deliver any kind of clinically effective results available to use,’ said Betsy Snook, an RN and CEO of the association.”

Read the full report Here.

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Patrick NightingalePennsylvania State Nurses Association backs legalizing medical marijuana
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