Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rhode Island Eliminates Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences

I have to say, I love my hometown of Rhode Island. We are showing the world how to create sensible policies surrounding medical marijuana and are reforming devastating mandatory minimum sentencing for drug possession - all through the legislature. All this despite a governor that has an itchy veto finger when anything calling for common sense drug policy hits his desk.

Set to take effect next month, RI will now allow judges to use discretion when deciding the appropriate sentence for a drug possession offender.

PROVIDENCE—A new law eliminating mandatory minimum drug sentences in Rhode Island has taken effect without the governor’s signature.

Similar measures had been vetoed in past years by Gov. Don Carcieri. But supporters say they compromised on this year’s legislation by removing a provision that placed a cap on the maximum sentence a judge could give for drug possession crimes.

The new law, which took effect this month, leaves the sentence to the judge’s discretion.

Under the old law, anyone caught manufacturing, possessing or dealing up to one kilogram of heroin or cocaine, or up to five kilograms of marijuana, could face a minimum 10-year sentence.

I think it's no coincidence that the RI state motto is HOPE.

Transform drug policy foundation, a UK think tank, recently released a report that details various models of regulation in a post-prohibition world. It's all too common for opponents of the war on drugs to criticize current drug policy without giving proper consideration to a more effective paradigm. The report, entitled "After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation," provides drug policy reformers with a variety of useful responses to the question, "What would the world be like after drug prohibition?"

Prohibition allows drugs to be supplied by criminals, who routinely use violence to secure maximum possible profits. Additionally, the buyer is deprived of the information and resources that would reduce the harms associated with drug use.

On the other end of the spectrum, the "hands-off" or laissez-faire approach, would end the black-market violence that prohibition inspires but would also prevent the implementation of important harm-reduction policies. Legalization and regulation is essentially a marriage between the absolutist positions of prohibition and laissez-faire.

The report discusses the options for regulating drugs and makes recommendations for each individual drug. The options range from pharmacies distributing drugs, to various licensing schemes, to coffee-shop style sales. For cannabis, the report recommends the licensing of coffee-shops to distribute and provide users a place for consumption. Additionally, the THC content would be clearly indicated on the packaging and prices would be set by the government. For cocaine, the report recommends that the drug be sold only to licensed users by a pharmacy-style business, possibly with the requirement of a prescription.

Even if you don't agree with the specific recommendations that the author makes, these post-prohibition ideas provide valuable fodder for thinking about a world without the war on drugs.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

LEAP Tells the DEA What's Up About Marijuana Scheduling

Last week the American Medical Association (AMA) announced its support of removing marijuana from Schedule I status. The AMA has refused to budge on this for a long time now, and opponents of marijuana law reform often cite the organization’s stance in their argument that pot prohibition is a good thing.

The DEA hasn't made a stink about the announcement but I highly doubt they're happy about it. Yesterday, however, the agency removed that particular bulletpoint from its list of reasons why pot should remain illegal.

What made them take down the bulletpoint? I doubt they were worried about misinformation since the rest of the website is full of it. I think it was Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of police officers, judges, lawyers, and many other law-enforcement officials who oppose drug prohibition. LEAP organized a letter-writing campaign to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting the site be updated and bam! it was taken down a week later.

I guess I'm left to wonder, if the DEA were truly transparent, as it claims to be, wouldn’t it not only remove the previous AMA position but replace it with the association’s new stance?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Drug Policy Reform Conference Withdrawal

After five days of being surrounded with over 1,000 like-minded drug policy reformers at the 2009 Drug Policy Alliance conference, it's easy to forget that the entire world isn't filled with people who accept the beauties of logic and reasoning when talking about drug policy.

If you haven't seen it yet, check out Ethan Nadelmann, Drug Policy Alliance's Executive Director, making his opening speech at the conference.

Ethan Nadelmann: "Right now the wind is at our back" from Hungarian Civil Liberties Union on Vimeo.

I'm not sure if anyone's talented enough to put into words how inspiring a conference like this one is, but to say the least, I'm counting down to SSDP's 2010 International Conference. Sign up now to receive updates about scholarship opportunities!

See you there!!!