Sunday, April 14, 2013

Drug Policy Lately #4: April 14

Lately in Drug Policy...

Public figures ask Obama for change; the 2014 drug budget still favors enforcement over treatment; and some optimism for the future of American marijuana markets.

Get On The Right Side of History

Last Tuesday, a group of over 175 public figures released an open letter to President Obama, encouraging him to lead the way towards more sensible drug policies. In the words of Dr. Boyce Watkins, one of the numerous signatories, "The letter is intended to be a respectful appeal to the Obama Administration asking that we develop productive pathways to supporting families that have been harmed by the War on Drugs."

The policy recommendations are realistic, too: support the Justice Safety Valve Act (SB 619) which would provide more flexibility to judges in regards to sentencing; give inmates a chance to have their sentences reduced if they were affected by the 100-to-1 crack-to-powder disparity; make a bolder use of the presidential power to pardon.

The letter eloquently reminds Obama that the movement's political capital cannot be ignored: "you now have the opportunity to leave a legacy by transforming our criminal justice system to an intervention and rehabilitation based model."

So who's on the right side of history? All sorts of people, really. You've got advocates like Rev. Jesse Jackson, retired cop Neill Franklin, or drug policy veteran Ethan Nadelmann; a number of enlightened bishops, rabbis, and reverends; successful folks such as Richard Branson, Mike Tyson, and Lamar Odom; and even a few courageous politicians, including Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim-American to be elected to the US Congress. But this letter also had the backing of another demographic: the entertainment industry.

Celebrities are surfing on the reform wave in greater numbers each week. (I can only imagine how many more Marijuana Majority entries will result from this.) From Justin Bieber's unexpected support on Twitter to Rachel McAdams' comically innocent pot confession, it's becoming difficult to ignore the movement to end the drug war.

And for those who were wondering, we've got support from not just one — not two — but three Kardashians! That's right, all three of the reportedly famous sisters signed the letter. That being said, there were some notable absents, such as Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who has had first-hand experience with drug war hysteria, and may have a thing or two to say to the President on that matter.

Meanwhile, Bill O'Reilly still doesn't get it:

That's Your Cue, Mr. President

Despite the growing public support for a new drug control strategy, we are still waiting on Obama for meaningful leadership on the issue.

This doesn't stop the administration from boasting about their "21st Century Drug Policy," apparently evidenced by the president's recently released 2014 Drug Budget. As a part of the administration's "balanced approach," more resources are devoted to treatment and prevention. While this new budget includes a small improvement in the ratio between spending on enforcement vs. spending on treatment and prevention, don't let yourself fooled by the graph below.

This graph is designed to suggest that most of drug control budget is allocated to prevention and treatment efforts and that the War on Drugs is a thing of the past. However, the supply reduction spending is cleverly divided into three distinct categories: domestic law enforcement, international law enforcement, and interdiction. Although the Obama administration praises this as a balanced approach that places prevention and treatment before drug arrests, the majority of resources (58%) are still allocated to law enforcement, leaving 42% for prevention and treatment. As Phillip Smith writes in the Drug War Chronicle: "That's very much what a late 20th Century drug policy looked like."

This new drug control budget isn't just the same failed approach to drugs, it's more of it: $9.5 billion in domestic law enforcement for 2014, versus $9.4 billion in 2012. Also worthy of note: an increase in funding for both the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Prisons. Naturally, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart thought it was a great idea; and, naturally, Russ Belville tears her propaganda apart with another radical blog post.

The American Green Rush: High Expectations

Last Thursday, the one and only Stephen Colbert gave marijuana policy the Colbert bump, playing devil's advocate with Reason's articulate editor Nick Gillespie. Meanwhile, Washington state continues to break new ground, this time returning marijuana to street dealers whose possession was within the legal amount. Seattle Police nevertheless encouraged them "to comply with the law while in public places and refrain from drug dealing."

The Atlantic Wire publishes an animated GIF highlighting the change in state marijuana policies over time.

Maryland's controversial medical marijuana law earns it the title of "18 1/2 Medical Marijuana State" from the Daily Chronic. SSDP Board member Sam Tracy gets a poignant letter to the editor published in Thursday's Washington Post:

Republicans should support marijuana legalization
As justification for his proposal, Mr. Wehner lamented the decline of support for regulating morality. But the same Pew poll also showed that fewer Americans consider marijuana use to be a moral issue: Less than a third now believe that smoking the drug is morally wrong.
If the GOP is interested in regaining some respect from the American people, it must support marijuana legalization, not stand in its way.

Meanwhile, on Huffington Post: A study by MMJ Business Daily suggests that revenue from legal marijuana sales "could quadruple by 2018."

More info

There is still a good chunk of drug policy news not covered in this post. If you'd like to stay up to date on what's happening in the field of drug policy, you can to subscribe to Drug Policy Lately or to the rest of my blog. Thanks for reading!

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