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Posts: 60
Reply with quote  #1 

Help, Appeal on 1/10/2013 2:30 AM wrote:


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"Pot opponents regroup following Wash., Colo. votes"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new AP article which highlights how the broader public policy conversation over marijuana is starting to transform as a result of the state initiative passed back in November. Here are excerpts:
Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy adviser and an outspoken opponent of legalizing marijuana, watched with dismay last fall as voters in Washington and Colorado did just that.

But the next day he got a call from former Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who has struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. The son of late Sen. Ted Kennedy was worried that the votes sent the wrong message about marijuana. "The level of his concern impressed me," Sabet recalled. "He said, `We have to do something that is not falling into this false dichotomy of prohibition versus legalization.'"

So began the regrouping of the anti-pot lobby, an effort which on Thursday launches a new organization, Project SAM, for "smart approaches to marijuana." Kennedy is the chairman, and other board members include Sabet and David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

"Our country is about to go down the wrong road, in the opposite direction of sound mental health policy," Kennedy said. "It's just shocking as a public health issue that we seem to be looking the other way as this legalization of marijuana becomes really glamorous."

The idea is to halt the legalization movement by arguing the U.S. can ease the ills of prohibition   such as the racial disparities in arrest rates and the lifelong stigma that can come with a pot conviction   without legalizing the drug.  Kennedy called marijuana a dangerous drug that lowers IQ and triggers psychosis in those genetically predisposed toward it; critics charged him with distorting the scientific evidence by cherry-picking studies that relate only to a tiny fraction of pot users.

"It's almost `Reefer Madness'-type stuff about marijuana he's saying," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance. "There's something remarkable about Patrick Kennedy deciding to go after users of a drug that is by almost all accounts less dangerous than the drugs he struggled with.  Where Patrick Kennedy could have made a really important contribution is by saying that we need a responsible public health model for dealing with legal marijuana."...

The organization hopes to raise money to oppose legalization messages around the country, shape the legalization laws taking effect in Washington and Colorado, promote alternatives to jail time for pot users and speed up scientific research on the effects of marijuana....

Kennedy served 16 years as a congressman from Rhode Island, during which he made mental health treatment and insurance coverage a legislative priority.  He revealed he had struggled with depression and alcoholism, as well as addiction to cocaine and prescription painkillers.  In 2006, Kennedy crashed his Ford Mustang into a security barrier on Capitol Hill. He agreed to a plea deal on a charge of driving under the influence of prescription drugs and received a year's probation.

Low-level marijuana offenders should pay a fine, not go to prison, Kennedy said, but it's a bad idea to make pot more accessible: More people will experiment, including young people whose still-developing brains seem to be most susceptible to addiction.  He said he fears the creation of a huge marijuana industry that might target teens the way the tobacco industry did....

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the Justice Department has not said whether it will sue to try to block the state-licensing schemes from taking effect.

Supporters of Washington's Initiative 502 raised more than $6 million. The measure was sponsored or endorsed by former top federal law enforcement officers in the state, as well as some former public health officials and a University of Washington addiction specialist.

Alison Holcomb, the drug policy director of the state's American Civil Liberties Union chapter and I-502's campaign manager, said she's as concerned as anyone else about the public-health ramifications of legal marijuana, and that's why the initiative requires new surveys of drug use among teens and earmarks money for substance abuse prevention and treatment.

I am glad to learn that Patrick Kennedy and the other high-profile persons involved with Project SAM are eager to ensure that we have a robust public-health conversation about marijuana. In particular, I am especially glad to hear from this piece that Project SAM (which does not yet appear to have a website) is going to work to "promote alternatives to jail time for pot users and speed up scientific research on the effects of marijuana."

If speeding up scientific research on the effects of marijuana is going to be key part of the mission of Project SAM, I hope it will join other marijuana public policy reformers and activists in encouraging Congress and/or the Obama Administration remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.  It has long been my understanding that scientific research on marijuana by universities and other major research institutions has been virtually impossible because cannabis is listed by federal law as a Schedule I drug under the CSA (background here).  Whatever the other goals and plans of Project SAM, I sincerely hope it will join forces with the marijuana reform community on this critically important "public health" front.

A few recent and older related posts:

If force to choose, would you legalize marijuana or prohibit tobacco?
Intriguing new comments from President Obama on federal pot prohibition policy
New report on feds' on-going debate over response to pot legalization
"Marijuana backers court conservatives with appeals on states  rights, ineffective pot laws"
Female voters seen as key to success of pot reform initiatives
"Marijuana: A Winning GOP Issue?" ... and a lost 2012 Romney opportunity
Will there be a "constitutional showdown" if a state legalizes pot? And would that be so bad?
Timely new Cato policy analysis on federal supremacy and pot prohibition reform
"Will the Feds Crack Down on Pot or Look the Other Way?"
How can and should we assess the "success" of medical marijuana and pot prohibition reform efforts?
"California inspired   and now inspired by   other states' marijuana legalization measures"
Proof of prohibition's failings?: teens now smoke pot more than tobacco
"Drugs, Dignity and Danger: Human Dignity as a Constitutional Constraint to Limit Overcriminalization"
January 9, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"Barack the Unmerciful: Obama's amazingly stingy clemency record"

The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Jacob Sollum over at Reason.com. Here are excerpts:
Will Barack Obama go down in history as our least merciful president? With less than two weeks to go in his first term, this reputedly progressive and enlightened man has a strong shot at winning that dubious distinction.

December, a traditional season for presidential clemency, has come and gone, and still Obama has granted just one commutation (which shortens a prisoner s sentence) and 22 pardons (which clear people s records, typically after they've completed their sentences). Barring a last-minute flurry of clemency actions, his first-term record looks weaker than those of all but a few previous presidents.

Which of Obama s predecessors managed to make less use of the clemency power during their first terms? According to numbers compiled by P.S. Ruckman Jr., a professor of political science at Rock Valley College in Rockville, Illinois, just three: George Washington, who probably did not have many clemency petitions to address during the first few years of the nation s existence; William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia a month after taking office; and James Garfield, who was shot four months into his presidency and died that September.

With the exception of Washington's first term, then, Obama so far has been stingier with pardons and commutations than any other president, especially when you take into account the growth of the federal penal system during the last century, the elimination of parole, the proliferation of mandatory minimums, and the concomitant increase in petitions. This is a remarkable development for a man who proclaims that "life is all about second chances" and who has repeatedly described our criminal justice system as excessively harsh....

The one significant way in which Obama followed through on this rhetoric after being elected was by supporting 2010 legislation that shrank the irrational sentencing gap between crack cocaine and cocaine powder (although there was not much political risk in doing so, since the bill passed Congress almost unanimously). But the Fair Sentencing Act did not apply retroactively, and Obama has used commutation to help just one of the thousands of crack offenders serving mandatory minimums that nearly everyone now admits are unjust.

More generally, Obama has granted clemency petitions at a lower rate than all of his recent predecessors. The odds of winning a pardon from Obama so far are 1 in 59, compared to 1 in 2 under Richard Nixon, 1 in 3 under Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, 1 in 5 under Ronald Reagan, 1 in 10 under George H.W. Bush, 1 in 5 under Bill Clinton, and 1 in 13 under George W. Bush, per Ruckman's calculations. The odds for commutation are even longer: 1 in 6,631 under Obama, compared to probabilities under the seven preceding presidents ranging from 1 in 15 (Nixon) to 1 in 779 (Bush II).

As Obama embarks upon a second term, he deserves credit for this amazing accomplishment: He has made Richard Nixon look like a softie.

January 9, 2013 in Clemency and Pardons, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

SCOTUS unanimously rules defendants have federal burden to prove withdrawal from conspiracy

As reported in this brief AP account of the ruling, today the US Supreme Court has said "it is up to defendants to prove they withdrew from criminal conspiracies in time to take advantage of a five-year statute of limitations on prosecution." The short unanimous ruling in Smith v. United States, No. 11 8976 (S. Ct. Jan. 9, 2013) (available here), was authored by Justice Scalia and it starts and ends this way:
Upon joining a criminal conspiracy, a defendant s membership in the ongoing unlawful scheme continues until he withdraws.  A defendant who withdraws outside the relevant statute-of-limitations period has a complete defense to prosecution. We consider whether, when the defendant produces some evidence supporting such a defense, the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not withdraw outside the statute-of-limitations period....

Having joined forces to achieve collectively more evil than he could accomplish alone, Smith tied his fate to that of the group. His individual change of heart (assuming it occurred) could not put the conspiracy genie back in the bottle.  We punish him for the havoc wreaked by the unlawful scheme, whether or not he remained actively involved. It is his withdrawal that must be active, and it was his burden to show that.

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