Monday, April 11, 2016

Why Should Marijuana Legalization Be An Election Issue In Congressional Races?


If you follow this blog, you may be aware that I stopped using drugs in 1969-- December 1, 1969, to be precise... in my VW van at the Ganda Singh Wala border crossing parking lot between Pakistan and India. Last year, suffering from the side effects of massive chemotherapy treatments, I reluctantly decided to try to cope with the pain and other side effects by using marijuana again, which my doctor approved of. I tried marijuana oil and it immediately allowed me to sleep without pain and to eat (after losing over a quarter of my body weight). Without sleep and food, your body can't heal. The marijuana did that for me. And after a while I didn't need it any more. That was last July and I still have some around but I've never been any more tempted to use it than I am to use any of the medications I have left over from those dark days. Do I sound like an advocate of marijuana legalization? I am.

Yesterday one of the Blue America-backed congressional candidates, FL-23 progressive law professor Tim Canova sent out a lengthy explanation to his constituents about why he plans to vote for legalization when he ousts anti-marijuana fanatic Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who, I might add, get a significant amount of money from a private prison industry that demands the war on drugs continue unabated so that their cells remain full (and income-producing). "I have opposed the misguided drug war for many years," wrote Canova. "We should not be locking people up for using the same drugs that have been used by at least the last three American presidents and, according to many surveys, by a majority of American people." His prospective is very libertarian-oriented, one that extols personal freedom without the heavy and of Big Government barging into people's private lives, something Wasserman Schultz has never fully understood.
As an activist and a law professor, I have been involved in the grassroots movement to decriminalize drugs. The goal should be to let adults make their own decisions as long as they are not harming themselves and others, let the States and their voters decide their own drug policies, and treat drug abuse as a public health issue, rather than burdening our criminal justice system. And the federal government should get out of the way.

In Florida, I supported the 2014 medical marijuana referendum that garnered about 58 percent of the vote statewide, falling just short of the required 60 percent mark. My opponent, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is a drug warrior who opposed the medical marijuana referendum. Calling marijuana a “gateway” drug, she refuses to allow her constituents in South Florida, in consultation with their doctors, to decide for themselves whether to utilize this plant-based medicine to alleviate pain and other symptoms of various illnesses and the side effects of other medications.

Certain industries have a special interest in keeping marijuana illegal-- for example, the alcohol and pharmaceutical industries, both of which view recreational and medicinal use of marijuana as a competitive threat; and the private prison industry, which profits from warehousing people in jails, including for marijuana possession. Not surprisingly, having taken in lots of campaign donations from the alcohol, pharmaceutical, and private prison industries and their political action committees (PACs), Debbie Wasserman Schultz opposes medical marijuana and supports privatized prisons and mass incarceration. Unlike my opponent, I do not take any contributions from these special interests, or from any corporate interests at all.

In addition to Florida’s medical marijuana referendum, I also support the recent reforms by Miami-Dade and Broward Counties to decriminalize marijuana for personal use, and I call on the federal government to “deschedule” marijuana from the list of controlled and dangerous substances.

Far more serious than recreational marijuana use is the rise of illegal pill mills, the over-prescription of opioids, the enormous increase in heroin abuse, and the epidemic of flakka, synthetic crystals and bath salts imported from China, which has turned many users into paranoid and often violent zombies with superhuman strength and off-the-charts near-death vital signs. In the first year since the flakka epidemic began in Broward County, 60 people have died as a result, with hospitals getting dozens of overdosed patients a day, and on some nights, half the calls to police are flakka-related emergencies. Likewise, opioid use has resulted in an alarming rise in overdose deaths around the country, including in more affluent areas, and particularly in South Florida. These are the type of drugs on which we should be focusing our law enforcement and public health efforts.

In many of the states that have moved in the direction of legalization and regulation of marijuana for personal use, entire new industries are flourishing, adding jobs and increasing tax revenues, and crime rates are falling. While I support state efforts to allow individuals to make their own decisions, I also recognize the need to provide young people-- and people of all ages-- with many more job and educational opportunities in a time of decriminalization and legalization.

While ending the drug war presents a range of challenges, there is no doubt that the drug war itself has been a costly disaster for millions of individuals, families, and taxpayers. An entire private prison industry has arisen that lobbies for harsh drug wars with severe sentencing. The drug war institutionalizes racial, generational, and economic injustice, by disproportionately punishing people of color, young people, and people with lower incomes at far greater rates than the population as a whole. For instance, although surveys show that illicit drug use is no higher among people of color, African-American men are arrested at many times the rate of white men on drug charges in the U.S., and at even higher rates in Florida.

The drug war results in mass incarceration. More than half a million people are languishing behind bars on drug charges in the U.S., breaking up and often irreparably destroying families. And there are other collateral consequences. People convicted of even misdemeanor drug offenses, including marijuana possession, are denied access to education, housing and federal financial aid under federal law, and frequently will find that they are virtually barred from the job market. In Florida and some other states, those convicted of non-violent drug felonies are barred for life from voting, even after they have served their sentences, regardless of whether they are responsibly employed, paying taxes, and raising families. In 2001, I helped spearhead the grassroots lobbying campaign that overturned New Mexico’s felon disenfranchisement law, and worked successfully with a Republican governor to do so. Unfortunately, Florida leads the country in felon disenfranchisement. More than one in ten Floridians-- and nearly one in four African American Floridians-- are shut out of the polls because of felony convictions, most of which are non-violent drug felonies.

Public opinion surveys show that people across the country, and particularly in South Florida, want to end this misguided drug war. Unfortunately, powerful industries continue to lobby for the drug war-- including the same pharmaceutical, alcohol, and private prison companies from which my opponent readily takes large amounts of money. It is time to take corporate money out of politics, end the drug war, and provide legal and healthy alternatives for everyone. People should have the freedom to decide with their doctors whether to use medical marijuana, and to decide for themselves whether to use marijuana recreationally. We don’t need more prisons. We need more jobs and more educational opportunities as alternatives to drug dealing and chronic drug use. And for those who are caught in the grip of the disease of drug addiction, rather than warehouse them in prisons as punishment, we need more treatment programs to provide a better means to help them recover.
Canova is hardly alone in his thinking. In California, where, at least technically, medical marijuana is already legal, one of our favorite incumbents and one of our favorite challengers, respectively Ted Lieu and Lou Vince, are commonsense backers of the humane approach to marijuana. "In an era of limited resources," Congressman Lieu told us recently, "it is insane to have federal investigators and prosecutors devote even one second of their time to investigating or prosecuting marijuana cases. This insanity rises to new levels when medical evidence shows marijuana can be useful in treating a variety of medical conditions. The current system is also corrosive to our democracy because states are now routinely ignoring the outdated federal law that criminalizes marijuana. It is time to stop the federal criminalization of marijuana."

Lou Vince, an ex-marine and LAPD officer who is running in CA-25 (Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and the Antelope Valley) took a very pragmatic perspective: "According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report, police arrest more Americans per year on marijuana charges than the total number of arrestees for all violent crimes combined, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Decriminalizing marijuana frees up law enforcement resources to deal with more serious crimes. Nationwide, more than 60,000 individuals are behind bars for marijuana offenses at a cost to taxpayers of $1.2 billion per year. Furthermore, Decriminalizing Marijuana will go a long way to reduce the mass incarceration problem we face in America. Marijuana prohibition laws have been used to put African Americans in handcuffs at a much higher rate than whites-- black people are three times as likely to be arrested for personal marijuana possession even though young blacks consume marijuana at lower levels than young whites."

Alex Law will have just turned 25, the minimum age for occupying a House seat, by the time he beats Donald Norcross in New Jersey's first congressional district across the river from Philly. Although he talks a lot in his campaign about protecting Medicare and Social Security benefits for seniors, his age predicts he would be more open-minded about the benefits of medical marijuana than most elderly, brain-washed politicians are. "In America," he told us, "we have a creed that we are the 'Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave' but truth be told, America has the largest percentage of its population in prison of all the countries in the civilized world. Crimes related to marijuana contribute significantly to that terrible reality. The legalization of marijuana is important for our society. The war against marijuana, a substance science has proven to have real medical benefits and to be significantly less harmful than other legal substances, has contributed to bankrupting many of our states. The war on marijuana has turned many nonviolent members of society into criminals. This is also an issue of racial equality. White Americans use marijuana at the same rate as African Americans, yet an overwhelming majority of arrests are of African American males. The enforcement of the current drug laws is just as wrong as the laws themselves. It is time we make the American deed match the American creed.

"States have long been considered he laboratories of democracy," Alex continued. "This issue is no exception. Colorado has legalized marijuana and seen a huge net positive from that decision. Crime is down, tax revenues are up, there is a booming industry creating new middle class jobs, and the state has seen an increase in tourism. All of this has happened without any access to capital markets. The growth would explode even more if these new companies had access to financing, an ability to take credit card payment, and an ability to expand out of state. The federal government should follow Colorado’s lead and legalize marijuana in America. As progressives, this is a policy we must endorse. Our criminal justice system is in desperate need for sweeping reforms... We must end the War on Drugs, eliminate broken-window policing, establish an independent review system for law enforcement, provide enhanced training to our officers, substantially limit the use of force, mandate body cameras on all on-duty officers, end officers acting as revenue generators, and end the militarization of our officers by focusing on community-based policing."

Eloy Delgado is another New Jersey Bernie-supporter taking on a complacent and hackish Democratic incumbent. Eloy is anything but complacent about the so-called "war on drugs" that has ravaged communities across northern New Jersery. "For the last four decades," he told us yesterday, "the United States has engaged in a disastrous war on drugs that has led to us having the world’s highest prison population. Unfortunately, many Democrats have been among the chief accomplices of this war and have just recently begun to rethink their position. My opponent has been in office for over a decade and he has never led on this issue and is virtually silent about his positions on drugs and crime. Instead, he voted to increase funding to various groups in Mexico that are engaged in the horrendous cartel war. Currently, New Jersey is battling a heroin epidemic, and Elizabeth, NJ is at the center of the epidemic. Yet, Albio Sires is silent on the issue and just goes along wherever the winds may be blowing. I believe that we are not going to make progress on this issue unless we decriminalize personal drug use and instead focus on treatment for those who are afflicted by addiction. Also, we must get a handle on the explosive use on prescription pain killer medications that lead to many people becoming addicted to heroin in the first place. We can substantially reduce these interconnected problems by focusing on treatment, getting rid of private prisons, and legalizing the use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Addiction is a mental illness not a crime, and it should not be treated as such. Growing up in public housing, I saw first-hand how crack-cocaine ripped apart our community. Instead of getting help, the people afflicted by addiction were arrested and removed from their families. Once released back into society, what were their job prospects? What opportunities could they take advantage of if society had already labeled them a criminal? This issue is very personal to me, and I vow to do everything in my power to end this disastrous war on American citizens. Albio Sires can’t possibly take a leading role on many progressive issues because he is beholden to special interests/superPAC money that fund his campaigns. It is time we elect a real urban progressive to Congress."

Tim Canova, Alex Law, Eloy Delgado and Lou Vince are all on virtually the same page in regard to criminal justice reform and marijuana legalization-- as well as on the page of congressional candidates who have endorsed Bernie and who are running on his issues-- the one you can get to by tapping the thermometer below:
Goal Thermometer

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At 6:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very dear friend of ours we had known practically all of our lives just recently committed suicide - shot himself. He was chronically addicted to pain pills and they were no longer working to alleviate his pain. We live in a red state that will never approve medical marijuana and all I could think about when he committed this terrible act, was if he could have had access to medical mj he might not have become so addicted to the pain pills. Alcohol destroyed several members of our family, and no one who has used marijuana has had the problems that pain pills and alcohol create. It is time. Way past time.

At 6:35 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

In Portland a marijuana shop had a fundraiser, "Burn one for Bernie."

At 7:15 PM, Blogger Travis Mitchell said...

You've probably read it, but if not I think you would greatly enjoy? be enraged by? "Chasing the Scream" by Johann Hari.

I hadn't realized my favorite singer played a big part in shaping how US drug policy evolved, to her great loss and ours.


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