All posts tagged: marijuana reform

A Conversation with a Frustrated Friend

MarijuanaA friend of mine, someone who has been a strong supporter of the legalization efforts of NORML, recently broached the topic with more than a little exasperation.

“How much more evidence do they need!?” he said in a most animated way. “The research is there! Study after study! The FDA approves prescription drugs that don’t have one tenth of the research time given marijuana!”

It’s hard to argue with him. The clinical studies. The medical benefits studies… But he wasn’t done, yet.

“Doctors! F***ing doctors are already prescribing marijuana to patients in how many states!?” Why would doctors risk prescribing it if it didn’t help their patients? I mean, it’s not like dealers give them kickbacks the way big pharma does!”

Again, he makes a good point. Doctors do, in fact receive incentives’ from pharmaceutical companies to prescribe their medications. Doctors are also increasingly embracing marijuana as a legitimate form of treatment for a wide variety of conditions.

“How can politicians even begin to think they know better than doctors about medicine?” he continued. “Even the police will admit it’s harmless and often a waste of their time. But they have quotas to meet and it’s an easy citation to write up. The odds of a shootout have to be virtually non-existent when busting someone on a simple possession charge.”

Marijuana is the most non violent of any substance consumed by man to get a buzz. Even caffeine, or the lack thereof, can cause someone to experience road rage in a traffic jam. Marijuana smokers are much more likely to just chill and wait it out.

My friend paused and then said, “You know I love you man. The work you’ve done with NORML… I would be hard pressed to name anyone who has worked harder to bring about reform, but all this damn legalese and procedural stuff is killing momentum. State Bill # one million, something something… It’s confusing for the average person. It’s incredibly frustrating for those of us who are informed, let alone for the patients and parents of children in need of medicine. I really think we need to refocus and streamline the effort. Just point out the common sense, provable reasons legalization makes sense. The waters keep getting muddied by biased asshats like Nancy Grace and Republican lawmakers interested in making deals– holding medical marijuana hostage so they can privatize liquor stores in Pennsylvania… It’s maddening!”

Yes, it does get pretty frustrating, and my buddy is right. Being an attorney, I bring all available evidence to light, but maybe we’re overloading the average person with too much terminology and procedural matters. Maybe we should just start focusing on the children in desperate need of medicine, the average people whose lives get disrupted by a simple possession charge.

Fortunately, in Governor Tom Wolf, we have an ally in Harrisburg. We need to strike while the iron is hot. We need to keep the ‘grass roots’ (pun intended) aspect of this campaign alive. We need to contact our state representatives and let them know we support legalization now. We need to let them know we’re watching how they vote, and their vote will likely influence OUR vote in the next election. And most important of all, we need YOUR voice.

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Patrick NightingaleA Conversation with a Frustrated Friend
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Q&A: Medicinal Marijuana. Still Illegal Under Federal Law

sentencing guidelinesThe current budget passed by Congress and signed by President Obama halts funding for the DEA to prosecute Medicinal Marijuana users and sellers in states where it is legal, but what does this mean in the overall landscape of legal reform?

There have been several headlines in major mainstream media outlets touting this as ‘virtually legalizing” medical marijuana, which is far from the truth.

The only thing the spending bill does is, not authorize funds that the DEA would use to investigate medical marijuana users and sellers in states that authorize it. It does not invalidate the Supremacy Clause, nor would it necessarily prohibit the DEA from investigating illegal drug activity under the guise of a legal MMJ business.

So there has been no significant change to the law itself?

None. It simply denies funds that the DEA would earmark, or specifically use, to target anyone otherwise operating in compliance with state MMJ law. It doesn’t change the law at all. All it does is tell the DEA that they will not receive any funding for actions to investigate anyone just because they are in violation with federal law.

Doesn’t this mean Congress is basically admitting it has medicinal value, thereby refuting the Schedule 1 Drug classification status?

It’s evidence of a shift, in terms of congressional support for legalization, but it’s not an explicit admission of medicinal value. This could change in nine months when Congress introduces the next spending bill. Remember the Obama administration has taken a very lax attitude towards marijuana law in general, but there’s no guarantee that trend will continue.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Federal government is not violating the Constitution in prosecuting MMJ cases—even in states where it’s legal.  Isn’t it still possible the DEA could act anyway– i.e.; the Commerce Clause?

Certainly the Commerce Clause in cases of MMJ sales—especially when crossing state lines, or even the Supremacy Clause, as long as federal law is what it is today. One must keep in mind, as far as the Federal government is concerned, everything CO, OR, WA, AL, DC and Guam, as well as the other medicinal states, is 100% illegal under federal law. Totally illegal.

In the Supreme Court ruling, the case involved someone growing a small number of plants for personal medicinal use. Is the reason it’s being sold relevant?

Absolutely – even if they allow the states to proceed with legalization experiments, they will quite likely act if it goes from state to state, in clear violation of not only the controlled substances act, but also federal jurisdiction pursuant to the Commerce Clause. Marijuana leaving the legal state and ending up in the illegal state is still a very big deal.

So although this signals a political shift, the war is far from over?

Far from over.

Marijuana remains federally regulated as a Schedule I prohibited substance. It remains Schedule I in PA as well. The efforts to defund the DEA are intended to protect citizens of medicinal marijuana from federal prosecution where they are otherwise in compliance with state law. Unfortunately we’ve seen numerous examples of the DEA acting aggressively in medicinal states.

Until Congress is ready to act on the matter of changing the classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no medicinal value, we’re likely to see further prosecutions, regardless of how they are funded.

Our concern at Pittsburgh NORML is this may cause members to relax their efforts here. Something we cannot afford to do if we want to see reform in the coming year. We have a new Governor who favors some form of decriminalization. We need to strike while the iron is hot.

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Patrick NightingaleQ&A: Medicinal Marijuana. Still Illegal Under Federal Law
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Colorado and Washington Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use

While President Barack Obama was busy winning another four years in the White House, another important vote was taking place in three states. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington were voting to legalize recreational marijuana use.

The outcome: Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana while Oregon voters rejected a similar measure.

For those of us who support the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use, this is an important step in the process. It shows that people are finally realizing that this could be a step in the right direction for the United States.

On the other hand, the federal government has yet to budge. At this time, they still consider marijuana an illicit drug – and this is not set to change anytime in the near future.

So, where does this leave us?

Although the people of these states have spoken (through their right to vote) there is a long road ahead. Getting the federal government on board is not going to be a simple task. In fact, many feel that it will be downright impossible.

Kevin Sabet, a former adviser to the Obama administration’s drug czar, had this to say:

“They are facing an uphill battle with implementing this, in the face of presidential opposition and in the face of federal enforcement opposition.”

On the other side of things, there is the argument that this was a necessary first step in winning the long-term battle.

Despite federal opposition, Colorado and Washington allowed residents to vote to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana for recreational use.

States still have Rights

Even though the federal government may be opposed to the legalization of marijuana in these areas, it is important to remember that each individual state still has the ability to make its own decisions.

For example, these states are free to eliminate their own penalties for marijuana possession and use – even if the federal government does not agree.

The problem that worries supporters is that U.S. Attorneys could send letters to state governors, warning that they should not implement any changes to regulate recreational use or tax the stores that would sell the drug.

In Colorado, it was well known that Governor John Hickenlooper was opposed to legalization in his state. However, now that the vote has been cast he said he will respect the outcome.

Back in Time to the Days of Alcohol Prohibition

It is safe to say that most of the people reading this were not around during the alcohol prohibition period of the late 1920s. However, there are some similarities.

For example, these victories in Colorado and Washington are similar to individual states repealing their own prohibition laws nearly 100 years ago. As each state made its own changes, the pressure to repeal federal prohibition continued to grow.

Will history repeat itself? Will the legalization of marijuana eventually win out, much in the same way as alcohol prohibition?

If nothing else, it is easy to see that this is a move in the right direction. I’m happy to read and respond to your comments and opinions on the topic of legalized recreational marijuana use if you’ll leave them for me in the comments section below…

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Patrick NightingaleColorado and Washington Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use
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