With mid-term elections around the corner, politicians of all strides are feverishly hunting for catch phrases and catch themes, and a growing number of democrats, as well as a sizable part of Republicans, have come to realize that public opinion has turned massively in favor of drug policy reform. Acknowledgement of the utter failure of the War on Drugs is reaching now quasi consensus, one of the very few issues capable of such a feast in an otherwise deeply divided country.
Obama was elected on vague promises of more sensible drug policies, and grand announcements on drug policy reforms have marked his presidency with remarkable regularity. The only problem of course is that deeds have not quite followed words, and if the most alarming trends of the Bush era have somewhat softened, the old patterns of mass incarceration continue virtually unabated.
Drug policy reform, or more specifically, marijuana legalization has now a solid track record of pulling to the polls people who would not otherwise bother to vote, but it will take more than words to mobilize them this time around.
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After reaching a tipping point in 2012, the move towards global drug policy reform has intensified in 2013, with the consolidation on the breakthrough victories of 2012. More states have joined the expanding club of legal medical marijuana states. Legislation has been enacted for the establishment of legal adult marketplaces in Colorado and Washington State. Uruguay is in the final stage of becoming the first country in the world to formally legalize marijuana.
Now the line are being drawn for the next round of battles, in with the 2014 mid-term electoral cycle, and beyond, the 2016 US presidential elections.
The lines are being drawn globally as well, with a special UN cession on drug policy scheduled for 2016.
For a detailed review of the major trends and event, I invite you to check the following slideshow. Thank you for sharing and liking it!
Uruguay Parliament poised for historic vote on recreational marijuana legalization under government control.
Often dubbed the Switzerland of Latin America, Uruguay is a tiny country of 3.3 million inhabitants located on the Atlantic coast on the Southern border of Brazil and separated from Argentina by the estuary of the Río de la Plata.
Faced by an invasion of cocaine paste from neighboring Colombia, sleepy Uruguay was propelled to the global headlines on June 20, 2012 when Uruguayan President José Mujica and his government announced their intent to submit a proposal for marijuana legalization under governmental control. Possession and use of marijuana is already legal in Uruguay. Thus was launched a year-long nationwide debate that seems poised to conclude on July 31, when the marijuana legalization proposal will be submitted to a vote in the Uruguayan parliament.
The proposal was originally scheduled for a December 2012 vote, but President Mujica decided to postpone it for lack of popular support even though his government coalition enjoys a comfortable majority. With polls showing public support for legalization stuck in the low 30s, Mujica decided instead to launch an extensive national debate where opponents and supporters of the initiative could freely explain their arguments to the public. In a remarkable lesson in genuine democracy that we wish more governments would emulate, Mújica declared back then: “Don’t vote on a law because you have majority in parliament. Support has to come from the streets.”
But Mújica is not quite your average president either, being more like the Nelson Mandela of Latin America. A former Tupamaros guerrilla leader during the brutal Uruguayan military dictatorship in the 1970s, Mujica was shot by the police six times and served 14 years in prison, including over two years in solitary confinement at the bottom of a well. Known for his humility and kindness, Mujica gives to charity 90% of his $12,000 monthly salary, and shunned the presidential palace, its pump and its armored limousines to live in his modest ranch with his wife, commuting in his old Volkswagen beetle.
Early this week, the Uruguayan initiative received the informal blessing of José Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS regroups all 35 independent states of the Americas, with the domineering and often resented presence of the US, the Northerly Big Brother. Insulza was on a two days visit to introduce the recently published report on drug consumption in the Americas, prepared by the OAS as a mandate of the Sixth Summit of the Americas. The report favors drug decriminalization of marijuana and other soft drugs, and advocates a broad debate about drug policy. Insulza emphasized that Uruguay is the first country where he is presenting the OAS report, saying “What better place to start than here, where there is already a debate.”
“Nearly half of all consumers of cocaine and opiates in the world live in our region, as well as a quarter of those who smoke marijuana,” declared Insulza, “this consumption has created an illegal business that threatens the integrity of our institutions… The number of deaths caused by drug consumption seem minimal when compared with the deaths caused by drug-related criminal activity.“
Insulza praised the efforts of the Government of Uruguay: “I would like to publicly recognize the responsible and serious manner in which the Uruguayan State and civil society are addressing the project presented by the government on the production, sale and use of marijuana in this country.” And concluded: “Uruguay’s experience is being watched with great attention by the rest of the Hemisphere and we are convinced that whatever the outcome of this process, we can all draw important lessons from it.”
If adopted on July 31, as now seems likely, Uruguay will become the first country in the world to establish a controlled marketplace for marijuana, which would be a major breakthrough and would break a taboo, challenge international laws, and set a precedent. Uruguay has also been debating cultivation for personal use for over two year. The approval of both measures would be a giant step forward.
As New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan signed a new medical marijuana bill into law on July 23, Illinois MMJ bill still awaits Governor Quinn signature.
The last New England state turned green on Tuesday July 23 as New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan signed the local mmj bill, bringing to 19 the number of medical marijuana states.
This number is likely to turn 20 on august 4 when Illinois House Bill 1 becomes law unless Governor Quinn decide to veto it at the last minute, a very unlikely prospect. House Bill 1 was sent to the Governor’s desk on June 5. Under Illinois law, if the Governor fails to sign or veto a bill within 60 days of receiving it from the legislature, the bill automatically becomes law.
Under a temporary medical marijuana pilot program, House Bill 1 would allow people suffering from specific medical conditions, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it.
Qualified patients would be able to obtain marijuana from one of up to 60 dispensaries, which would acquire marijuana from up to 22 cultivation centers. The Illinois Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, and Department of Financial & Professional Regulation would regulate the cultivation, acquisition, and distribution of marijuana.
Under the four-year pilot program outlined in the Illinois bill, patients would have to be diagnosed with one of 33 debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis or HIV/AIDS in order to qualify for medical marijuana. Patients must register with the state’s health department and have written certification from their physicians.
Patients will be limited to 2.5 ounces (70 grams) of marijuana every two weeks. The marijuana must be grown in Illinois, kept in a closed container, and not used in public or in front of minors.
Those who use, grow or sell medical marijuana must be fingerprinted and undergo background checks during the application process. Patients suspected of driving under the influence face the loss of not only their driving privileges, but also their medical marijuana cards.
Although one of the most restrictive in the country, House Bill 1 would make Illinois the 2nd largest medical marijuana state just behind California. Next in line is another heavyweight, NY State.
AOS (Organization of American States) endorse the marijuana legalization process
In a meeting with Uruguayan president Jose Mujica, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza came as close as he could to fully endorsing marijuana legalization, declaring that the current prohibitionist strategy doesn’t work and that legalization is an alternate strategy that deserves a try.
This declaration was made during the presentation to the Parliament of Uruguay of a recently released OAS report on drug policy just 10 days before the marijuana legalization project is scheduled to come to a vote on July 31, following a year-long national debate. OAS Secretary General Insulza’s visit was largely seen as a show of support for the Uruguayan initiative and is expected to sway key sway votes still on the fence on the legalization issue.
The 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, gave the OAS (Organization of American States) a mandate to study the impact of current drug policies and explore possible alternatives. The results of the $2.2 million study were presented on Friday, May 17, by OAS secretary general José Miguel Insulza to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the Casa de Nariño (the Colombian White House).
Santos said the report presented “simple, realistic options” for future action in order to “reduce the deaths, the violence that drug trafficking wreaks, the consumption of drugs and the profits of criminals.” The 400-page study emphasizes drug abuse as primarily a public health issue and suggests drug abusers should not be criminally prosecuted but rather treated as ill. “Decriminalization of drug use needs to be considered as a core element in any public health strategy,” it says.
The study included two documents: an analytical report to look at current trends, best practices, and policy challenges; and a set of scenarios about what might happen in the future and the results that could be expected in each scenario. The objective of the reports is to assist the Americas’ leaders to find a better way to address the challenges posed by illicit drugs.
The report – “Scenarios for the Drug Problem in the Americas, 2013-2025” – presents four possibilities for how drug policy could evolve in the Americas, most of which break from the current U.S.-led approach. These scenarios are stories about what ‘could’ happen in the future in and around the hemispheric drug system, based on current trends, and including relevant political, economic, social, cultural and international dynamics. The report calls for an open and serious discussion on marijuana legalization and the widespread implementation of harm reduction strategies.
The most controversial scenario would involve countries unilaterally abandoning the fight against drug production and trafficking in their territory in order to reduce violence. President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, a hard-hit cocaine transit country along with neighboring Honduras, made headlines before the Cartagena summit when he said he was tempted to put his country on such a path.
The OAS scenarios report will also be presented and discussed on Monday, in Washington, D.C., at the bi-annual meeting of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD). Two weeks later (on June 4-6), the OAS will hold its General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala, with drug policy as the principal item on the agenda. These developments and others will undoubtedly shape the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, currently scheduled for 2016.
Drug policy reform advocates called the report historic, though it made no specific proposals and said there was “no significant support” among the OAS’ 35 member states for legalizing cocaine, the illicit drug with the greatest impact on Latin America.
“This is the first time any multilateral organization anywhere has done something like this,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the White House’s drug czar, said in response to the report that “any suggestion that nations legalize drugs like heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine runs counter to an evidenced-based, public health approach to drug policy and are not viable alternatives.”
“Never before has a multilateral organization engaged in such an inclusive and intellectually legitimate analysis of drug policy options. Indeed, it would have been inconceivable just two years ago that the OAS – or any multilateral organization – would publish a document that considers legalization, decriminalization and other alternatives to prohibitionist policies on an equal footing with status quo policies. Political pressures by the US and other governments would have made that impossible.
Much has changed, however, in the past few years. In 2009, former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), César Gaviria (Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) joined with other members of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy in saying the time had come to “break the taboo” on exploring alternatives to the failed war on drugs. In 2011, those presidents joined with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss and other members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy in calling for fundamental reforms to national and global drug policies. Former presidents Jimmy Carter, Ricardo Lagos (Chile), Vicente Fox (Mexico) and Aleksander Kwasniewski (Poland) were among those who seconded their recommendations.
Beginning in late 2011, current presidents began to join the calls of their predecessors. These included President Santos in Colombia, Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala, José Mujica in Uruguay and then-President Felipe Calderón of Mexico. Simultaneously, the victorious marijuana legalization ballot initiatives in Washington State and Colorado transformed a previously hypothetical debate into real political reform. Other states will almost certainly follow their lead in coming years.
The OAS scenarios report thus represents the important next step in elevating and legitimizing a discussion that until a few years ago was effectively banned from official government circles. It is sure to have legs in a way that few reports by multilateral institutions ever do.
Illinois Senate passes medical marijuana bill
The number of medical marijuana states is set to reach 20 as the Illinois Senate approved medical marijuana by a 35-21 vote. Sponsored by Dem. State Senator Bill Haine, a former county prosecutor, the bill is the toughest in the nation and has support from doctors’ groups.
Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign the bill, making Illinois the 2nd most populous medical marijuana state after California.
Republic of Georgia considers legalizing marijuana
Minister of Labor, Health and Social Affairs, David Sergeyenkostated that the nation was considering new strategies to deal with the issue of drugs among them, the legalization of marijuana. David Sergeyenko pointed out “ban-related mechanisms,” such as Georgia’s laws against marijuana, “often entail a ricochet effect, which means strengthening and development of other directions,” a reference to distinguishing marijuana from other drugs. He added the issue requires a “well-considered strategy” and said the legalization of marijuana could be a part of it.
The strategy is one that could quickly gain some national attention, and political support. Multiple lawmakers in the Republic of Georgia have, in the past, called for the legalization of “soft drugs” such as cannabis. Advocates of such a move say that it will reduce violent crimes by reducing money funneled into the blackmarket. They also argue that it’ll bring revenue to the nation, including from tourists, and will bring about what should be a fundamental freedom for an individual to consume a nonlethal plant.
Discussions are only preliminary at the moment, but expect the issue to gain some traction, and attention, in the coming weeks.
Brazil between decriminalization and mandatory minimum sentencing
Seven justice ministers who served during the 1995-2003 government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the 2003-2011 administration of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva delivered a letter on Tuesday to Federal Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes, advocating the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use.
The former ministers pointed out to the failure of the criminalization of drug users, declaring “each citizen has the freedom to build his own mode of life provided that he respects the space of others…Treating the consumer as a citizen and offering him treatment structure by means of a policy of damage reduction is more appropriate than stigmatizing him as a criminal.”
The signers cite successful experiences in countries such as Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Spain, Italy and Portugal, which adopted decriminalization of drug possession for one’s own personal use as an “effective way” of fighting drug trafficking. The letter was released as the lower house of Congress is preparing to vote on a reform of the Drug Law that includes the possible compulsory treatment for drug users and increasing the mandatory minimum sentence for drug-related offenses from five to eight years.
Ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso is himself a strong advocate of drug policy reform and one of the founders of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.
Marijuana substitution for crack addicts in Bogota, Colombia
The city of Bogota is planning a system of “controlled consumption centers,” where addicts could be weaned off more hard-core drugs, such as heroin or crack, and slowly introduced to pot.
Although Colombia has successfully cracked down on its drug export business, many native Colombians are addicted to drugs, including the highly addictive cocaine derivative known as basuco, Agence France-Presse previously reported.
Because of its continued prevalence, as well as its toxicity, basuco will be one of the drugs targeted by Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro’s planned treatment centers, according to BBC Mundo. The treatment centers are part of a larger movement in Colombia to classify drug addiction as an issue of public health rather than crime, AFP noted in 2012.
“We’re in the process of looking for alternatives to a policy that, over 30 years, has caused deaths, has caused problems and has caused economic and public health difficulties and social problems in Colombia,” Rubén Ramírez, director of the Center for Study and Analysis in Coexistence and Public Safety, told BBC Mundo. “And among the ideas is one to do a pilot study on the substitution of [marijuana for cocaine].”
The initiative could be implemented within two months and would be used to study the effectiveness of marijuana on reducing and alleviating withdrawal symptoms in addicts who want to kick their cocaine or heroine habits.
Uruguay launches a nationwide public debate over marijuana legalization – Its government deserves our full support
On November 15, 2012, the government of Uruguay submitted to its parliament a proposal for the legalization of the sale of marijuana under state control (possession and use of marijuana is already legal in Uruguay). The bill would create a National Cannabis Institute to regulate commercial marijuana production and distribution. The bill would allow the cultivation of up to six plants for personal use and the possession of up to 17 ounces.
If passed into law, Uruguay would become the first country in the world to formally legalize marijuana commerce.
With public opposition to marijuana legalization still at around 64%, President Mujica decided to slow down the project last December. The government is now launching a three-month public debate that will feature round tables, seminars, and conferences across the country.
This is unprecedented in the history of the drug policy reform movement. No government has ever taken such an active role in the drug policy debate. We cannot afford to drop the ball on Uruguay. If you haven’t done so yet, I urge you to sign our petition of support.If you have signed it already, please help its promotion through social network, email, blogging or any other way you can think of.
When you sign the letter underneath, it will be sent with your signature to President José Mujica and the two major opposition parties. Please share this blog post on Facebook, on Twitter and other social medias or by email.
Remember: This is just a proposal for the time being, and it needs to go thru parliamentary approval. For those of you who think that it doesn’t go far enough, that it gives too much control to the government, just think about the uphill battle President José Mujica and his government are facing, and the expected US government’s stonewalling. There is absolutely no guarantee that this proposal will go thru, which is why we need to show our support.
For more impact, you can also tweet your own message of support to the following:
Presidency of Uruguay: @SCpresidenciauy
Senator Jorge Larrañaga, @guapolarranaga, leader of Alianza Nacional
Pedro Bordaberry, @PedroBordaberry, President of the CEN colorado, was minister of Tourism and Industry in the Government of Jorge Batlle, the first head of state in the world to call for the legalization of all drugs in 2000, shortly after taking office.
While he was growing hemp in his backyard and probably smoked it mixed with tobacco on his front porch, Thomas Jefferson proposed in 1779 a law that would mandate castration for gay men and mutilation of nose cartilage for gay women. Considering that homosexuality was a crime routinely punished by death penalty at the time, his was actually a rather liberal position. 234 years later in Lawrence v. Texas[i], the US Supreme Court struck down the sodomy law in Texas and, by extension, invalidated sodomy laws in thirteen other states, making same-sex sexual activity legal in every U.S. state and territory. Another ten years later, the Supreme Court appears ready to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and rule unconstitutional the discrimination against same-sex couples. Same-sex marriage is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, but is specifically banned either in the Constitutions or by law in 40 states. Nonetheless, to quote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., “political figures are falling over themselves to endorse [same-sex marriage].” Even ultra-conservative Rush Limbaugh admits that national gay marriage is unstoppable.
Meanwhile, drug users have yet to make a credible case for their own rights, rights that are routinely violated while they are considered criminals or sick people in the best case. Marijuana is still scheduled alongside heroin and crack-cocaine and possession is still subject to harsh punishment at the federal level. “Drug users aren’t criminals, they’re sick,” says João Goulão, head of Portugal’s national anti-drug program in an article published by Speigel Online on March 27.[ii] The truth is that while drug addiction is indeed a medical condition, drug users are neither sick nor criminals, and they should be granted the same rights as alcohol drinkers or psycho-pharmaceuticals users.
Far from falling on themselves to endorse drug users rights, politicians openly supporting marijuana legalization are barely a handful and the topic retains all its political toxicity. Still, medical marijuana is legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia. 11 states have medical marijuana bills pending in their legislature, with New Hampshire and Maryland in the final stages of adoption. Marijuana has been fully legalized in Colorado and Washington and 8 more states are debating joining them through their legislature, although only Oregon stands any decent chance of doing so. Medical marijuana has the overwhelming support of the US population and a majority now favors outright legalization. Why then, has the marijuana policy reform movement failed, so far, to translate its very substantial public support into political clout?
The gay rights movement and the marijuana legalization movements took off at about the same time in the late sixties to early seventies in the US and were both originally tied to the counterculture movement. Estimates of the gay population vary between 2 and 4% of the US population, while up to 50% of the US adult population has used illegal drugs at least once and up to 20% are occasional users.
Why was the relatively small gay community so successful in overcoming the strong prejudice it had long suffered while the much larger minority of drug users has still failed to do so? Why has the gay rights movement built so much political clout while drug users are still considered pariahs and drug policy reform still retains its political toxicity? Why have elected officials been well ahead of public opinion on gay rights issues while they are still lagging far behind on drug users-rights issues?
Several reasons have been advanced to explain the remarkable success of the gay-rights movement. As gay people came out of the closet, people realized that anti-gay discrimination directly harms their loved ones, their friends and family members. But the same could be said of drug users. Gay people were unnecessarily dying of AIDS; but drug users are unnecessarily dying of overdoses or blood-borne diseases, including AIDS. In the prohibitionist propaganda, drug use is still equated with drug abuse, but gay lifestyle is not systematically associated with hazardous sexual practices anymore.
The reasons for the sharp contrast between the gay rights movement and the drug users-rights movement come from the drug users themselves. While the first gay pride marches started in 1970, there are still no marijuana pride marches to this day. Past use may have lost its stigma, but outside the entertainment industry, admission of current use still bears a strong stigma and drug users are still extremely reluctant to come out of the closet.
More importantly, while drug users in general and marijuana users in particular are still marginalized and strongly identified to the counterculture and pot-heads are often perceived as neo-hippies, the gay right movement has long moved towards the mainstream and resolutely embraced mainstream values, all the way to claiming their rights to the much threatened marriage institution.
Far more critically, gay rights activists organized early on into a powerful electoral constituency, shaping the political debate, contributing heavily to political campaigns, massively mobilizing the votes, getting their members elected into office. Drug users on the other hand remain extremely distrustful of the electoral process, stay away from political campaigns, barely ever contribute to the political debate and rarely even vote. The 2008 presidential election marked some kind of political awakening when marijuana activists mobilized in droves to elect the first president they perceived widely as potentially one of them, Presidential candidate Barack Obama, a self-confessed former pothead. Still, to this day, no openly declared marijuana user is sitting in the House or the Senate.
Another determining factor of the contrasting fate of gay-rights and drug users-rights might have been that anti-gay prejudice stroke essentially the white Caucasian majority, and the prejudice increased along the social ladder. Meanwhile, drug use was widely tolerated if not glamorized in the upper class of the same Caucasian majority and drug prohibition was disproportionately striking racial minorities and the poor. Paradoxically, the Obama administration’s decision to turn against the Caucasian-dominated marijuana dispensaries helped galvanize public support for marijuana policy reform. Had Obama a hidden agenda of drug policy reform, he couldn’t have played a smarted move.
While drug policy reform is still a long way away, marijuana activists already succeeded in moving the debate from fringe lunacy into the mainstream. They must now capitalize on their gains and transform them into politically clout. This can only be done through active participation in the political process at every level. To that effect, they have a lot to learn from the gay-rights movement, which clearly demonstrated that passion, will and determination with the right strategy can overcome even the deepest-rooted biases and the most entrenched institutional injustices. The recipe for success is rather straightforward: get out of the closet, unite, mobilize, organize, participate.