Arrest records in New York City show racial bias persists

Racism persists in New York City. You can tell by looking at marijuana arrest records. This is not new, but arrest rates of young black and Latino males (for small amounts of marijuana) are higher than in any other city in the world.

Missouri Sentencing Reform Measure Reduces Marijuana Possession Penalties
Image courtesy of the daily chronic

What’s going on?

An article entitled “No Progress on Marijuana Arrests” appeared last week in the New York Times.

It explains that low-level marijuana arrest records for public possession started going down in the 1970s and then climbed back up, up, UP again. There were fewer than 1,000 arrests for possession of trivial amounts of marijuana in 1990, yet this number grew to 50,000 in 2011.

It did drop to 28,600 arrests in 2013, but that number of arrests for trivial amounts of marijuana still remains greater than ANY city in the world.

Why? What happened?

In the 1970’s police were better at following the law which dictated that arrests were not supposed to be made unless marijuana was being smoked or displayed in public. So, by the year 2011 police found a way around that and were (illegally) tricking people (primarily young black and Latino men) into emptying their pockets –and then charging them with “public possession”.

Over 86% of the people arrested were black and Latino men and 75% of them had no prior criminal convictions.

The article offers up an explanation based on a Marijuana Arrest Research Project and Drug Policy Alliance report. The reason given: “police officers patrolling white neighborhoods typically do not search the vehicles and pockets of white citizens”.

Institutionalized racism persists despite our efforts. Perhaps this article will help people who think racism is a thing of the past to understand how this situation can persist.

You can read the entire article HERE

We have a new Field Organizer –WENDY GIBSON

We have a new field organizer joining our team. Wendy Gibson is an RN who has been an advocate of drug policy reform for many years. Here’s what she has to say to you:

Hello everyone,

I’m Wendy Gibson, a nurse, and medical marijuana (cannabis) patient advocate. I’m pleased to announce that I will be serving as The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii’s new Field Organizer.

It’s great to be joining them at such an exciting (and hopeful) time in our drug reform history. I appreciate the DPFHI successes in reforming Hawaii’s Medical Marijuana (cannabis) Program and promoting harm reduction policies.

In my 21 years of living on Oahu, the transfer of the Medical Marijuana program to the Department of Health is one of the biggest successes, one that I advocated for. I know this will help thousands of patients. And, knowing the need for a dispensary system, I’m hopeful that the Dispensary Task Force will help us establish one.

I have worked in the health care field for over 30 years, 21 of those here in Hawaii. I pushed many pharmaceutical drugs to patients for 9 years working as a pharmacy clerk and for 4 years as an R.N. I hope to work just as many years helping promote the use of alternative medications, such as cannabis which is showing promise as a safer and more effective treatment than many of the current pharmaceuticals.

I envision a future in which science and education prevail, so that people are no longer fearfully rejecting the use of these alternative (and formerly illegal) substances as medicine.

I’m looking forward to working with fellow advocates who share my opinion that all drugs should be legalized and regulated. This is the only way to truly promote harm reduction and good healthcare.

Travel Guru Rick Steves on Legalization

steves_01Travel guru Rick Steves has been a long time supporter of the legalization of marijuana, but he has recently started taking on a much larger role in helping to make legalization a reality.

You can learn more about Rick Steves’ views on drug policy here.

Steves has been doing a 10 city tour of Oregon in support of that state’s legalization initiative: Measure 91. Here are a few of the best quotes from one of his recent events (courtesy of Williamette Week magazine)

  • “A lot of Americans have this dream of a drug free society. There never has been a drug free society, there never will be a drug free society, and frankly I don’t want a drug free society.”
  • “I think fear is for people who don’t get out much. There’s a lot of fear wrapped up in this drug policy debate—fear of doing something different.”
  • “It’s fun to make Cheech and Chong jokes, but this is a very serious issue.”
  • “The best way to lose control of a dangerous substance is to make it illegal. The best way to gain control of it is to regulate it and educate people. I think we can do that with marijuana.”
  • On minority arrests and citations for marijuana-related crimes: “That’s the new Jim Crow.”
  • “States are incubators of change. State by state, we’re going to take down the prohibition of our age.”
  • “I’m a hardworking, churchgoing, kid raising, tax-paying, American citizen. If I want to go home, smoke a joint and look at the fireplace all night, that’s my civil liberty.”


Robert Sharpe responds to Kevin Sabet’s Letter to the Editor

If you missed Kevin Sabet’s most recent letter to the editor, you can probably imagine what its about after just reading the headline: “If you think Big Tobacco is bad wait until you see Big Marijuana.” The crux of his argument is that legalization will create a new Big Tobacco that will be even worse for reasons that don’t make very much sense.

I responded to his editorial with this letter to the editor:

No one wants to return to prohibition:

Yesterday’s paper featured an Op-ed by Kevin Sabet of Project SAM, an anti-marijuana organization. He argues that legalization will create a new “big tobacco” trying to prey on children and get people addicted to marijuana. His comparison is misleading. No one is seriously disputing that marijuana safer than tobacco and alcohol. Still, even if it were as dangerous as Sabet claims to believe it is, how would that be an argument for its continued prohibition?

I doubt that Sabet would make the case that we should go back to the “Boardwalk Empire” world of bootlegging and moonshine. Alcohol is far more harmful than marijuana is, and what we learned from our experience in the 1920’s is that prohibition makes it even worse. During prohibition the profits enrich criminals, and there can be no regulation. I agree with Sabet that a new big tobacco is not what we want to see. That doesn’t mean we should resign ourselves to ongoing prohibition.

That being said, the Star Advertiser chose instead to publish this editorial submitted by Robert Sharpe:

We already have ‘Big Marijuana’

Kevin Sabet just doesn’t get it (“If you think Big Tobacco was bad, wait until you see Big Marijuana,” Star-Advertiser, Insight, Sept. 24).

Big Marijuana already exists in the form of Mexican drug cartels. These are ruthless people who cut off heads to resolve business disputes, sell drugs to anyone regardless of age, and have a vested financial interest in providing cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin to consumers.

Like it or not, marijuana is here to stay. We can collect taxes on legal marijuana or we can subsidize drug cartels. Punitive laws have little, if any, deterrent value. Despite the dire predictions of drug warriors, the sky is not falling in Colorado.

There is no societal benefit to having consumers purchase untaxed, unregulated and potentially unsafe marijuana from criminals. It’s time to put public health before culture-war politics. We can close the gateway to hard drugs by taxing and regulating legal marijuana.

Robert Sharpe
Policy analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy Washington, D.C.

The Washington Post Embarrasses Itself

Let me start by saying that generally, I am a actually a big supporter of the Washington Post. One of my favorite data journalists, Christopher Ingraham is a reporter with them, and I generally find the coverage at WaPo to be well researched and informative.

... from the Washington Post editorial board.
… from the Washington Post editorial board.

That’s why this editorial board article is such a let down. Not only are they opposed to legalization, which might be forgiveable, their rationale is utterly junk.

Firstly, they cite a Project SAM article about legalization in Colorado. This article uses data from before legalization in Colorado to show “legalization’s adverse affects” which is obviously bunk. The Washington post is not the first paper to have made the mistake of using Project SAM “data” as though it actually meant what they claim it did. Still, they not only used this “data” in their rationale, they cited it publicly.

They also refused to speak with any proponents of the legalization effort in DC. Had they done so, these proponents, familiar with the tactics of Project SAM, may well have pointed this out to them, and saved the Washington Post a little bit of egg on its face.

Further, they advanced the theory that marijuana is a gateway drug. This is simply not true. Liberalization of marijuana laws reduces abuse of harder drugs, both in the United States and elsewhere. (Here’s a good, in depth report on it if you need more on the gateway drug hypothesis) At this point, citing the gateway drug hypothesis is like saying that the earth is flat. People used to believe it, but they were wrong and everyone knows that now.

It’s nothing short of embarrassing for the Washington Post, and it seems unlike them to listen only to one side of a story. I hope that this is a blip and not the start of a bold new direction their taking.

Roger Christie Released to Half-Way House

Watch this story at KITV.


Roger Christie has been released to an Oahu half-way house.

The police and federal law enforcement treated Roger Christie as a threat to the community, and kept him locked away in a federal penitentiary for 50 months.  While he was away, things have been changing. Colorado, Christie’s home state where he once ran for mayor of Denver, legalized recreational marijuana. In time, the state of Hawaii and the nation as a whole may recognize that what happened to Roger Christie was unconscionable, but until then, he will have to hope that his sacrifice was not in vain, and that he can help to effect change in Hawaii’s marijuana laws.

Ethan Nadelmann Talks about Decriminalization

Ethan Nadelmann is the Executive Director of Drug Policy Alliance, a group that works on drug policy issues nationwide. Here is a video of him speaking about the decriminalization of marijuana on Democracy Now.

It seems to me that Hawaii should look towards taking the approach used by Washington D.C. for its next decriminalization bill.

Colorado Struggling to Adjust the Supply of Marijuana

Read the original story at the Denver Post.

costeffectiveColorado has done nearly everything right, and we’ve been seeing a flurry of hopeful signs coming in. One problem however, seems to be that prices of cannabis in Colorado are too high.

Unlike Washington, where high prices are because of exorbitant taxes, in Colorado, the problem seems to have more to do with the limitations on growers. Some in Colorado say that the current system privileges the established growers at the expense of smaller start-ups, and that’s probably true. The long and short of it, though, is that as long as these regulations are a barrier to entry and a limit on scale, the whole-sale price of marijuana will remain high and the black market will thrive. For Colorado to regain the high levels of tax revenue it was seeing in the early days of legalization, it will need to reconsider these policies. Colorado should look for policies that keep wholesale prices as low as possible, and keep the price of marijuana in the legal market at a comparable price with the black market.


New York Times Writer is Not Impressed by White House Response to Editorial

I have already posted Christopher Ingraham’s superb article entitled “The Federal Government’s Incredibly Poor, Misleading Case for Prohibition.

That piece broke down, point by point, what was wrong with the the federal response to the New York Times editorial calling for us to repeal prohibition again. Still, if you weren’t convinced by that piece, here is an interview with a writer at the New York Times, (brought to us by Huffington Post) saying many of the same things.

The truth is that its beside the point to say that underage use of marijuana and drugged driving are bad, because that’s a big part of why legalization makes so much sense. Drug dealers don’t card, but dispensaries and adult use stores do. In legal states we can encourage users not to drive under the influence, but elsewhere they’re already breaking the law.

Saying that marijuana is bad is not the same as saying that legalization is bad. You can’t argue with the results in Colorado, and increasingly in Washington. Violent crime is down. Teen use is down. Traffic fatalities are down.

If the federal government wants to keep punishing users of marijuana, they’ll need to come up with something better than that.

Marijuana and Domestic Violence

Let me start by saying this: I’m not saying marijuana use is good for you. I think there are many circumstances, especially for young people, where marijuana use is a bad decision, and can lead to other bad decisions.

That said, maybe its time to recognize that there are good social impacts from wider spread use of marijuana. This study, the abstract of which is available online, suggests marijuana use may prevent domestic violence.

Couples in which both spouses used marijuana frequently reported the least frequent [incidence of domestic violence] perpetration.

Generally speaking, controlling for other factors, more frequent marijuana use in a couple reduces the likelihood of domestic violence. I don’t think that this implies causality. It may be a certain selection bias, in which the types of people who like to consume marijuana are also the types of people less likely to engage in domestic violence.

That being said, there is likely also a causal relationship, as couples consume more marijuana, they also likely consume less alcohol. We’ve already seen that liberalization of marijuana laws reduces the number of automobile accidents, the incidence of dependence on prescription pain medication, etc. How long will it be before we realize that, while marijuana is not safe, it is a lot safer than the alternatives?