Politics & Social Justice Archive


Federal Cannabis Prohibition Turned 75-Years-Old on October 1

Friday, October 12th, 2012

In a milestone that will no doubt go largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, today marks the 75th anniversary of the enactment of federal marijuana prohibition. On October 1, 1937, the US government criminally outlawed the possession and cultivation of cannabis — setting into motion a public policy that today results in some 850,000 arrests per year and has led to more than 20 million arrests since 1965.

But times are changing. Now, for the first time, a majority of Americans say that they favor replacing this failed policy with one of cannabis legalization and regulation. Further, on November 6th, voters in three states — Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — will decide at the ballot box whether to allow for the limited legalization of cannabis for adults. According to the latest polls, voters Colorado and Washington appear ready to take this historic step, while Oregonians remain closely divided on the issue.

That is why we have themed this week’s 41st national NORML Conference in Los Angeles ‘The Final Days of Prohibition’. (Conference registration information is here.) Today we reflect upon the decades of failure imposed by prohibition; tomorrow we look to the very near future when cannabis prohibition is abolished once and for all.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (2009, Chelsea Green) which looks back at how we got into this mess in the first place.

By 1935, most states in the country had enacted laws criminalizing the possession and use of pot, and newspaper editors were frequently opining in favor of stiffer and stiffer penalties for marijuana users. As [US Federal Bureau of Narcotics' Director Harry J.] Anslinger’s rhetoric became prominent, he found additional allies who were willing to carry his propagandist message to the general public. Among these were the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Hearst newspaper chain – the latter of which luridly editorialized against the “insidious and insanity producing marihuana” in papers across the country.

Members of state and local law enforcement also joined the FBN’s anti-marijuana crusade. Writing in The Journal of Criminology, Wichita, Kansas, police officer L. E. Bowery asserted that the cannabis user is capable of “great feats of strength and endurance, during which no fatigue is felt.” Bowery’s toxic screed, which for years thereafter would be hailed by advocates of prohibition as the definitive ‘study’ of the drug, concluded:

“Sexual desires are stimulated and may lead to unnatural acts, such as indecent exposure and rape. … [Marijuana use] ends in the destruction of brain tissues and nerve centers, and does irreparably damage. If continued, the inevitable result is insanity, which those familiar with it describe as absolutely incurable, and, without exception ending in death.”

… By 1937, Congress – which had resisted efforts to clamp down on the drug some two decades earlier – was poised to act, and act quickly, to enact blanket federal prohibition. Ironically, by this time virtually every state had already ratified laws against cannabis possession. Nonetheless, local authorities argued that the marijuana threat was so great that federal intervention was also necessary.

On April 14, 1937, Rep. Robert L. Doughton of North Carolina introduced House Bill 6385, which sought to stamp out the recreational use of marijuana by imposing a prohibitive tax on the drug. The measure was the brainchild of the U.S. Treasury Department, and mandated a $100 per ounce tax on the transfer of cannabis to members of the general public. Ironically, a separate anti-marijuana measure introduced that same year sought to directly outlaw possession and use of the drug. However this proposal was assumed at that time to have been beyond the constitutional authority of Congress.

Members of Congress held only two hearings to debate the merits of Rep. Doughton’s bill. The federal government’s chief witness, Harry Anslinger, told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that “traffic in marijuana is increasing to such an extent that it has come to be the cause for the greatest national concern. … This drug is entirely the monster Hyde, the harmful effect of which cannot be measured.”

Other witnesses included a pair of veterinarians who testified that dogs were particularly susceptible to marijuana’s effects. “Over a period of six months or a year (of exposure to marijuana), … the animal must be discarded because it is no longer serviceable,” one doctor testified. This would be the extent of ‘scientific’ testimony presented to the Committee.

The American Medical Association (AMA) represented the most vocal opposition against the bill. Speaking before Congress, the AMA’s Legislative Counsel Dr. William C. Woodward challenged the legitimacy of the alleged ‘Demon Weed.’

“We are told that the use of marijuana causes crime. But yet no one has been produced from the Bureau of Prisons to show the number of prisoners who have been found addicted to the marijuana habit. An informal inquiry shows that the Bureau of Prisons has no evidence on that point.

You have been told that school children are great users of marijuana cigarettes. No one has been summoned from the Children’s Bureau to show the nature and extent of the habit among children. Inquiry of the Children’s Bureau shows that they have had no occasion to investigate it and no nothing particularly of it.

… Moreover, there is the Treasury Department itself, the Public Health Service. … Informal inquiry by me indicates that they have no record of any marijuana or cannabis addicts.”

Woodward further argued that the proposed legislation would severely hamper physicians’ ability to utilize marijuana’s therapeutic potential. While acknowledging that the drug’s popularity as a prescription medicine had declined, Woodward nonetheless warned that the Marihuana Tax Act “loses sight of the fact that future investigations may show that there are substantial medical uses for cannabis.”

Woodward’s criticisms of the bill’s intent – as well as his questions regarding whether such legislation was objectively justifiable – drew a stern rebuke from the Chairman of the Committee. “If you want to advise us on legislation, you ought to come here with some constructive proposals, rather than criticism, rather than trying to throw obstacles in the way of something that the federal government is trying to do,” the AMA’s counsel was told. “Is not the fact that you were not consulted your real objection to this bill?”

Despite the AMA’s protests, the House Ways and Means Committee approved House Bill 6385. House members even went so far as to elevate the Anslinger’s propaganda to Congressional findings of fact, stating:

“Under the influence of this drug the will is destroyed and all power directing and controlling thought is lost. … [M]any violent crimes have been and are being committed by persons under the influence of this drug. … [S]chool children … have been driven to crime and insanity through the use of this drug. Its continued use results many times in impotency and insanity.”

Anslinger made similar horrific pronouncements before members of the Senate, which spent even less time debating than the measure than had the House. By June, less than three months after the bill’s introduction, the House of Representatives voted affirmatively to pass the proposal, which was described by one congressman as having “something to do with something that is called marijuana. I believe it is a narcotic of some kind.”

Weeks later, after the Senate had approved their version of the bill, the House was asked to vote once again on the measure. Prior to the House’s final vote, one representative asked whether the American Medical Association had endorsed the proposal, to which a member of the Ways and Means Committee replied, “Their Dr. Wharton (sic) gave this measure his full support.” Following this brief exchange of inaccurate information, Congress gave its final approval of the Marihuana Tax Act without a recorded vote.

President Franklin Roosevelt promptly signed the legislation into law. The Marihuana Tax Act officially took effect on October 1, 1937 – thus setting in motion the federal government’s foray into the criminal enforcement of marijuana laws which continues unabated today.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

Montana: Supreme Court Says Patients Possess No Fundamental Right To Cannabis

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Members of the Montana Supreme Court ruled 6 to 1 on Tuesday that patients do not possess a fundamental right to access and consume cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The decision reverses a District Court ruling enjoining the state from enforcing various provisions of a 2011 state law that limits the public’s access to medical marijuana.

“In pursuing one’s health, an individual has a fundamental right to obtain and reject medical treatment,” Justice Michael Wheat opined for the majority. “But, this right does not extend to give a patient a fundamental right to use any drug, regardless of its legality.”

He added, “A patient’s ‘selection of a particular treatment, or at least a medication, is within the area of government interest in protecting public health,’ and regulation of that medication does not implicate a fundamental constitutional right.”

The Court further opined that a patient’s “right to privacy does not encompass the affirmative right of access to medical marijuana.”

The majority concluded, “[T]he plaintiffs cannot seriously contend that they have a fundamental right to medical marijuana when it is still unequivocally illegal under the (federal) Controlled Substances Act.”

The Court’s decision allows for the state to fully implement Senate Bill 423, a 2011 law that sought to significantly limit the use, production, and distribution of cannabis among patients who possess a physician’s authorization to consume it.

Montana voters will decide in November on Initiative Referendum 124, which seeks to repeal SB 423. Montana voters in 2004 approved patients’ use of medical cannabis for qualified illnesses by a vote of 62 percent.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

Study: Non-Psychotropic Cannabinoid “Proven To Be Safe” In Humans

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

The oral administration of the non-psychotropic cannabis plant constituent cannabidiol (CBD) is safe and well tolerated in humans, according to clinical trial data published online by the journal Current Pharmaceutical Design.

Investigators at Kings College in London assessed the physiological and behavioral effects of CBD and THC versus placebo in 16 healthy volunteers in a randomized, double-blind, crossover trial.

Investigators reported that the oral administration of 10 mg of THC was associated with various physiological and behavioral effects – such as increased heart rate and sedation – whereas the oral administration of 600 mg of CBD was not.

They concluded, “There were no differences between CBD and placebo on any symptomatic, physiological variable. … In healthy volunteers, THC has marked acute behavioral and physiological effects, whereas CBD has proven to be safe and well tolerated.”

A previous review of the use of CBD in human subjects, published in the scientific journal Current Drug Safety last year, similarly concluded that the compound was safe, non-toxic, and well tolerated.

Separate investigations of CBD have documented the cannabinoid to possess a variety of therapeutic properties, including anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-epileptic, anti-cancer, and bone-stimulating properties. In recent years, patients in states that allow for the use of cannabis therapy, particularly California, have expressed an interest in plant strains that contain uniquely high percentages of the compound.

Cannabidiol, because it is an organic component of cannabis, is presently classified under federal law as a schedule I prohibited substance. Such substances are required by law to possess “a high potential for abuse,” “a lack of accepted safety … under medical supervision,” and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

Full text of the study, “Acute effects of a single, oral dose of d9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) administration in healthy volunteers” appears online in Current Pharmaceutical Design.

Originally posted here.

Michigan: Grand Rapids Voters Will Decide On $25 Fine-Only Offense For Pot Possession

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Voters in Grand Rapids, Michigan will decide this November on a municipal measure to depenalize marijuana possession offenses to a non-criminal, fine-only offense.

The City Commissioner’s office has approved the measure, Proposal 2, which seeks to allow local law enforcement the discretion to ticket first-time marijuana offenders with a civil citation, punishable by a $25 fine and no criminal record.

The city of Ann Arbor enacted a similar municipal ordinance in the early 1970s. That ordinance remains in effect today.

Proponents of the Grand Rapids initiative collected over 10,000 signatures from registered Grand Rapids voters to place the proposal on the November ballot.

Voters in Detroit will also decide on a municipal measure this November to remove marijuana possession penalties for those age 21 or older.

Under state law, possessing cannabis is a criminal misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Information regarding 2012 statewide marijuana-specific ballot initiatives is available at NORML’s ‘Smoke the Vote’ webpage here.

Scientific Review: “There Is Now Clear Evidence That Cannabinoids Are Useful For The Treatment Of Various Medical Conditions”

Friday, August 17th, 2012

For the second time in recent months, a scientific paper published in a peer-reviewed journal has thoroughly rebutted the present Schedule I status of cannabis under US federal law, which states that the plant and its organic constituents possess a “high potential for abuse,” and that they lack “accepted medical use” and “accepted safety … under medical supervision.”

According to a just published review in the German scientific journal Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, scientific findings from over 100 controlled clinical trials involving either cannabis or its constituents provide “clear evidence that cannabinoids are useful for the treatment of various medical conditions.”

Investigators from the nova-Institute and the Hannover Medical School in Germany reviewed over 100 controlled trials assessing the safety and efficacy of cannabis and cannabinoids.

Researchers reported: “Knowledge about the therapeutic potential of cannabis products has been greatly improved by a large number of clinical trials in recent years. … There is now clear evidence that cannabinoids are useful for the treatment of various medical conditions,” including chronic neuropathy (nerve pain), multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, Gilles de la Tourette syndrome, and other indications.

Regarding the safety profile of cannabis and cannabinoids, investigators determined: “The most common side effects of cannabinoids are tiredness and dizziness (in more than ten percent of patients), psychological effects, and dry mouth. Tolerance to these side effects nearly always develops within a short time. Withdrawal symptoms are hardly ever a problem in the therapeutic setting.”

Authors did express concern that cannabis could pose additional health risks for adolescents and/or pregnant or breast-feeding women, as well as individuals diagnosed with Hepatitis C, severe cardiovascular disease, addictive disorders, or those vulnerable to certain psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia.

Investigators acknowledged that cannabis dosing may adversely impact psychomotor skills. However, they noted, “Patients who take cannabinoids at a constant dosage over an extensive period of time often develop tolerance to the impairment of psychomotor performance, so that they can drive vehicles safely.”

They concluded, “No acute deaths have been described that could be unequivocally attributed solely to cannabis consumption or treatment with cannabinoids.”

This most recent paper follows the publication of a similar review, published in May in The Open Neurology Journal. In that paper, investigators with the University of California at San Diego and the University of California, Davis concluded: “Evidence is accumulating that cannabinoids may be useful medicine for certain indications. Based on evidence currently available, the (federal) Schedule I classification (of cannabis) is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”

In 2011, the Obama administration — via the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) — formally denied a nine-year-old administrative petition filed by NORML and a coalition of public interest organizations calling on the agency to initiate hearings to reassess the present classification of marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance. In her denial of the petition, DEA administrator Michele Leonhart alleged: “[T]here are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving (marijuana’s) efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts. … At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”

In June, Ms. Leonhart testified before Congress that she believed that heroin and marijuana posed similar threats to the public’s health because, in her opinion, “all illegal drugs are bad.”

Coalition advocates are presently appealing the DEA’s denial of their petition in federal court.

Full text of the most recent study, “The therapeutic potential of cannabinoids,” is available online here.

Alternet: “Five Scientific Conclusions About Cannabis That The Mainstream Media Doesn’t Want You To Know”

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Writing in the journal Science some four decades ago, New York State University sociologist Erich Goode documented the mainstream media’s complicity in maintaining cannabis prohibition.

He observed: “[T]ests and experiments purporting to demonstrate the ravages of marijuana consumption receive enormous attention from the media, and their findings become accepted as fact by the public. But when careful refutations of such research are published, or when later findings contradict the original pathological findings, they tend to be ignored or dismissed.”

A review of today’s mainstream media landscape indicates that little has changed. While studies touting the purported dangers of cannabis are frequently pushed by the federal government and, therefore, all but assured mainstream media coverage, scientific conclusions rebutting pot propaganda or demonstrating potential positive aspects of the herb often tend to go unreported.

Writing today on the website Alternet.org, I explore five recent scientific findings regarding cannabis that have gone all but unnoticed by the corporate media.

Click here for the full story.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

Congressional Lawmakers Reintroduce Truth In Trials Act

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

A bipartisan coalition of Congressional lawmakers yesterday reintroduced federal legislation to provide state-authorized medical marijuana patients and their providers with an affirmative defense from federal prosecution.

The legislation, H.R. 6134 –- The Truth in Trials Act (Read the text of the bill here.) –- would allow certain federal defendants the opportunity to “introduce evidence (at trial) demonstrating that the marijuana-related activities for which the person stands accused were performed in compliance with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana.”

It states, “It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution or proceeding under any federal law for marijuana-related activities, which the proponent must establish by a preponderance of the evidence, that those activities comply with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana.”

Fifteen Democrats and three Republicans are sponsoring the measure.

Under present law, federal defendants are legally prevented from presenting evidence at trial that their actions were in compliance with state medical marijuana laws — or even acknowledging the fact that cannabis possesses therapeutic value — because the substance remains classified as a Schedule I prohibited substance under federal law. Passage of the Truth in Trials Act would ease these restrictions.

House Bill 6134 is pending before the House Committee on the Judiciary, which is Chaired by ardent pot prohibitionist Lamar Smith (R-TX).

Advocates can voice their support for The Truth in Trials Act to their members of Congress here.

Of course, this legislation would not even be necessary were the Obama administration simply to have upheld the President’s one-time pledge to no longer use federal “Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws” regulating the physician authorized use and distribution of medical cannabis. You can tell President Obama to halt the administration’s escalating attack on medical cannabis here.

US News & World Report: ‘Is It Time To Scale Back The War On

Monday, July 16th, 2012

The editors at US News & World Report are asking the question, ‘Is it time to scale back the war on drugs?’ They’ve assembled a round-table of participants to respond.

Arguing in favor politics as usual are Kevin Sabet, former Senior Policy Adviser to President Obama’s Drug Czar and David Evans, Special Adviser to the Drug Free America Foundation. Predictably, neither author’s platitudes are resonating with US News readers. (Both Evans and Sabet have only 15 ‘up’ votes combined, versus some 650 ‘down’ votes.)

Myself, Aaron Houston (Executive Director: Students for Sensible Drug Policy), and Neill Franklin (Executive Director: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) take the opposite approach — and are much better received.

You can read an excerpt from my commentary below:

“It’s time for politicians to call for a truce in the so-called war on drugs. According to a 2010 investigation by the Associated Press, lawmakers have spent over $1 trillion dollars enforcing the drug war. Their actions have resulted in a quadrupling of the U.S. prison population since 1980, but little else. In fact, according to America’s present drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, “in the grand scheme, [the drug war] has not been successful.”

Least successful among the government’s drug war policies is its long-standing criminalization of marijuana. Since 1970, over 21 million U.S. citizens have been cited or arrested for violating marijuana laws. Yet despite this vigorous criminal enforcement, over 100 million Americans—including the president—acknowledge having consumed cannabis, and 1 in 10 admits using it regularly. Marijuana prohibition hasn’t dissuaded the general public from consuming cannabis or reduced its availability, especially among young people. But it has damaged the lives and careers of millions of people who were arrested and sanctioned for choosing to ingest a substance that is safer than alcohol or tobacco.

… Despite more than 70 years of federal prohibition, marijuana is here to stay. Let’s acknowledge this reality, cease ceding control of the marijuana market to untaxed criminal enterprises, and put it in the hands of licensed businesses.”

Click here to read all of the round-table submissions and to cast your vote.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

Chicago: City Council Votes To Remove Criminal Misdemeanor Penalties For Pot Possession

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

The American public is fed up with the criminalization of cannabis. And now, more and more politicians are finally starting to get the message.

This afternoon, members of the Chicago City Council voted overwhelmingly to halt the practice of arresting minor marijuana offenders. By a vote of 43 to 3, members of the Council approved a new municipal ordinance that reduces most marijuana possession offenses to a ticket-like offense — no arrest, no jail, and no criminal record.

Under present law, the possession of any amount of marijuana is defined as a criminal misdemeanor offense, punishable by 30 days to one year imprisonment. Under the new municipal law, which takes effect August 4, police will in most cases now have the option of issuing civil citations, punishable by a fine, in those instances involving the possession of up to 15 grams (about one-half ounce) of marijuana.

The reduced penalties will not apply to cases involving the possession of marijuana in public parks or on school grounds, nor would they apply to incidences involving public cannabis smoking.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — a former opponent of reducing marijuana penalties — advocated in favor of the new measure, which mimics police policy in many surrounding suburbs. In 2010, the city of Philadelphia enacted a similar policy.

Advocates for the new law had argued that the present criminal enforcement of marijuana possession laws disproportionately targeted African American and Hispanic youth. According to data compiled and posted by the website marijuana-arrests.com, 95 percent of all defendants arrested on marijuana charges in Chicago are either Black or Hispanic. Of those individuals criminally convicted of low-level marijuana possession offenses, 98 percent are either Black or Hispanic.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink

Study: Non-Psychotropic Plant Cannabinoids Counteract Prostate Cancer Growth

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

[Editor's note: This post is excerpted from this week's forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML's news alerts and legislative advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up here.]

The administration of non-psychotropic plant cannabinoids, in particular cannabidiol (CBD), inhibit proliferation and selectively trigger cell suicide of prostate carcinoma, according to preclinical data to be published in the British Journal of Pharmacology. (Read the study abstract online here.)

An international team of investigators from Italy and the United Kingdom assessed the anti-cancer properties of various non-psychoactive synthetic and botanical cannabinoids, including CBD, CBG (cannabigerol), CBN (cannabinol) and THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin), in vivo and in vitro (in culture).

Researchers reported, “The … data presented here allow us to suggest that non-THC cannabinoids, and CBD in particular, retard proliferation and cause apoptosis (programmed cell death) of prostate carcinoma growth via a combination of cannabinoid receptor-independent cellular and molecular mechanisms. … We suggest that non-THC cannabinoids … might provide the basis for the development of novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of prostate carcinoma.”

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in American men. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in American males, trailing only behind lung cancer.

Authors of the study concluded, “[T]he effects reported here, together with previously reported cannabinoid receptor-mediated effects of THC on PCCs (prostate carcinoma cells), might provide momentum to clinical studies on cannabinoids and cannabis extracts as a therapy for human prostate carcinoma, either in addition to currently used treatments, or as stand alones, as suggested also by our present in vivo data.”

A separate study of cannabinoids on prostate cancer published in the present edition of the Indian Journal of Neurology also concluded, “Prostate cancer cells possess increased expression of both cannabinoid 1 and 2 receptors, and stimulation of these results in decrease in cell viability, increased apoptosis, and decreased androgen receptor expression and prostate-specific antigen excretion. … It is our conclusion that it would be of interest to conduct clinical trials involving medicinal cannabis or other cannabinoid agonists, comparing clinical markers such as PSA with controls, especially in men with bone metastatic prostate cancer, whom would not only benefit from the possible anti-androgenic effects of cannabinoids but also from analgesia of bone pain, improving quality of life, while reducing narcotic consumption and preventing opioid dependence.”

Cannabinoids and endocannabinoids have been consistently shown to be potent anti-cancer inhibitors in preclinical models, halting the proliferation of glioma cells, breast carcinoma, lung carcinoma, and lymphoma, among other cancer cell lines. NORML’s literature review of this data appears here.

Full text of the study, “Non-THC cannabinoids counteract prostate carcinoma growth in vitro and in vivo: pro-apoptotic effects and underlying mechanisms,” will appear in the British Journal of Pharmacology.

Paul Armentano is co-author of the book
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink