• April 26, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Despite the rhetoric to move beyond a perpetual “war on drugs” the Obama administration remains mired in the tough-on-drugs mindset and its Justice Department seems befuddled by the states that have legalized small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

    The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report revealing that the administration’s goals set out in 2010 have largely not been met. The report noted that the Office of National Drug Control Policy and other federal agencies established “seven Strategy goals related to reducing illicit drug use and its consequences by 2015.” GAO continued, “As of March 2013,” its “analysis showed that of the five goals for which primary data on results were available, one shows progress and four show no progress.”

    But, as The Huffington Post’s Matt Sledge reports drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy has just released another drug control plan that builds on the policies the GAO has said are not working. More troubling, Sledge notes that the drug office’s budget “still devotes less than half of it funds to treatment and prevention. The GAO found that prevention and treatment programs are ‘fragmented’ across 15 federal agencies.”

    In an April 24 post on its web site, the Office of National Drug Control Policy bemoans “illicit drug use,” claiming “drug-induced overdose deaths now surpass homicides and car crashes as the leading cause of injury or death in America.” It also declares “we cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the drug problem.”

    The language from the administration’s drug control office is softer than rhetoric about the “war on drugs,” which the Nixon administration launched with the enactment of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) several decades ago. But the administration’s drug control office is not embracing drug legalization or even any changes to the CSA, such as removing marijuana from the list of drugs deemed as dangerous as say heroin.

    The muddled message from the Obama administration -- not helped by its Justice Department’s silence on how it will respond to Colorado and Washington, where officials are crafting measures to implement and regulate the recreational use of marijuana -- is preserving tough-on-drugs policies.

  • December 7, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Obama administration may be on the verge of irking large swaths of its supporters by employing scarce Justice Department resources to go after users of small amounts of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, where voters, by comfortable margins, voted to legalize limited amounts of possession.

    The New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports that senior officials in the administration “are considering plans for legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine voter-approved initiatives to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in those states, according to several people familiar with the deliberations.” Savage goes on to describe some of the possibilities the administration could take – sue the states arguing that federal law trumps state action in this area. (The Controlled Substances Act prohibits sale and possession of marijuana.) The Justice Department wouldn’t talk to Savage about administration plans on the matter, but did highlight a statement issued recently by the U.S. Attorney in Seattle, stating that marijuana remained illegal pursuant to the CSA.

    Andrew Sullivan notes that Pete Guither views the Savage piece as a trial balloon “to see what kinds of reactions there are and what political fallout might come from action … or inaction."

    Sullivan obliges, writing that if administration officials decide “to treat the law-abiding citizens of Colorado and Washington as dangerous felons; if they decide to allocate their precious law enforcement powers to persecuting and arresting people for following a state law that they have themselves just passed by clear majorities; if they decide that opposing a near majority of Americans in continuing to prosecute the drug war on marijuana, even when the core of their own supporters want an end to Prohibition, and when that Prohibition makes no sense … then we will give them hell.”

  • November 3, 2010
    The California ballot measure aimed at legalizing the use of marijuana for adults 21 and older went down to defeat, but proponents are not giving up the fight, or showing overwhelming dejection.

    Stephen Gutwillig, director of the Drug Policy Alliance that spearheaded the Proposition 19 movement, told the Los Angeles Times, "This has been a watershed moment. Even in defeat, Proposition 19 has moved marijuana legalization into the mainstream of American politics." He continued that supporters of legalization would push ballot measures in 2012 in "Washington, Oregon, Colorado and very likely California."

    The newspaper also noted, "More than four decades after the war on drugs was declared, the country is almost evenly divided on whether to legalize marijuana. (Although Gil Kerlikowske, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has said that it is time for the nation to move beyond the so-called "War on Drugs," he did oppose Proposition 19.)

    Josh Harkinson, blogging for Mother Jones on yesterday's vote, wrote:

    As 4:20 faded into the late afternoon, it became clear that Prop 19 was headed for defeat. Even so, pot activists still had reason enough to party. Their campaign has taken legalization debate mainstream, and they'll all probably try again in 2012. They gathered in a parking lot outside Oaksterdam University, the cannabis cultivation school owned by Richard Lee, Prop 19's biggest financial backer. Pot smoke occasionally wafted through the air, and there wasn't a cop in sight who gave a damn.

    The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan has more reaction to the outcome over the ballot measure here.

  • April 30, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Alex Kreit, Assistant Professor of Law & Director of the Center for Law and Social Justice, Thomas Jefferson School of Law. Kreit is also Chair of the City of San Diego's Medical Marijuana Task Force & President of the San Diego Lawyer Chapter of ACS.

    Judging by the early election season news coverage a California ballot initiative to tax and control cannabis -- for recreational, not just medicinal, uses -- is poised to be one of the most closely watched races of the cycle. So, just what would this ballot initiative do and how likely is it to pass? This post will provide a primer on the law and politics of California's marijuana legalization initiative.

    The aspect of the ballot initiative that I've found catches most folks by surprise is what it won't do: make the sale of marijuana legal in the state of California. That's right, despite being billed in media reports as a vote on marijuana legalization, the proposal would not directly legalize the commercial sale, cultivation, or distribution of marijuana. Instead, it would allow local governments to enact ordinances to tax and regulate the commercial sale of marijuana.

    In other words, Amsterdam-style marijuana coffee shops would be legal only in cities or counties that wanted to permit them. And, in the cities and counties that did not take up the ballot measure's invitation, buying and selling marijuana would remain illegal. In the near term, it is likely only a relatively small percentage of localities would decide to opt-in and so marijuana would remain illegal to buy and sell in most of the state even if the initiative were to pass.

  • March 31, 2010

    A fragmented Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case of non-citizen Jose Padilla, who followed his attorney's advice to plead guilty for marijuana possession and was subsequently deported. Padilla, born in Honduras, has lived in the United States legally for over 40 years and served as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War.

    In Padilla v. Kentucky, the Court determined that trial attorneys have a constitutional obligation to inform their clients of the immigration-related consequences of a criminal conviction. The Court, however, did not throw out the petitioner's conviction based on ineffective assistance of counsel, setting aside the issue of whether Padilla was prejudiced by his counsel's shortcomings. Rather, the case was remanded to the Kentucky Supreme Court to resolve that question.

    "It is our responsibility under the Constitution to ensure that no criminal defendant -- whether a citizen or not -- is left to the 'mercies of incompetent counsel,''' Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the five-justice majority.

    ''To satisfy this responsibility, we now hold that counsel must inform her client whether his plea carries a risk of deportation,'' Stevens wrote. ''Our long-standing Sixth Amendment precedents, the seriousness of the deportation as a consequence of a criminal plea, and the concomitant impact of deportation on families living lawfully in this country demand no less."