Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Culture High

Legalising drugs could benefit the economy and save lives

BETWEEN 1920 and 1933 the US government prohibited alcohol, including a ban on production, transportation, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages.

The ban arose from America’s Protestant-inspired Temperance movement. At first, the movement pushed for moderation, but, after some time, they advocated for complete prohibition.

Despite the organisation’s success, alcohol was readily available to a number of Americans through illegal means. This is a classic example of how markets can be distorted. However, my intention is not to show you how alcohol prohibition was an epic failure, but to explain why legalising drug use makes perfect economic sense.

A couple of days ago I read an article about a 16-year-old girl from East London who died in a drug-related incident. This really saddened me, and raised the question: "Shouldn’t a government look after the welfare of its people?"

People say that drug use leads to death. Yes, it does, but more people die from road accidents, alcohol abuse and swimming. In some countries, there are more reported deaths from skiing or snowboarding than drug-related ones and yet these activities are all legal.

Studying economics taught me how important free choice is and how paramount it is for governments to respect consumer sovereignty. Interfering with this basic economic principle results in major market failures.

Drug prohibition does not eliminate drug use nor does it eliminate the market for drugs. Instead, the market narrows and the black market flourishes. As a result, prices are driven up and incentives are created to make cheaper and more potent drugs.

Since there are no institutions to enforce contracts in black markets disputes are usually resolved through the use of guns or intimidation. This leads to the formation of gangs to protect market share. Furthermore, there are greater incentives to bribe police officers, court officials and politicians.

Of greater concern is that prohibition creates huge health risks. There are no quality control agencies in the black market to force producers to include ingredient information on their products.

The government protects the drug industry by keeping the prices high. Economics 101 dictates that a free market exchange drives prices down because of the relative ease of entry and exit into the market. The barriers of entry created by government ensures that the interests of the drug cartels are protected.

Simply put: the government promotes anticompetitive behaviour in the drug trade.

My point is that the costs of keeping drugs illegal outweigh the costs of legalising them. South African prisons and holding cells are crowded with small-time drug dealers and people who were arrested for drug possession while the big drug lords are out roaming the streets freely.

Legalising drugs will ultimately eliminate the black market and, in my opinion, street gangs. It can lead to the establishment of new industries that increase gross domestic product substantially.

Strict rules regarding health, safety and information about the product can be introduced and dealers held responsible for deaths.

Does my viewpoint mean I approve of drug use? No, certainly not. To be aware of the enormous risks attached to drug use is an educational task that starts at home, and is continued at schools and through churches and other community-based organisations. That duty is ours, not that of a government using its legislative powers.

• Meyiwa is an economics student at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

High cost of SA’s anti-dagga laws

Cape Town - South Africa’s anti-dagga laws are in the spotlight. The issue is already before Parliament, and this week was highlighted at an international law enforcement conference in Cape Town when activist Julian Stobbs pointed out that the cost to the state for arresting, prosecuting and applying correctional sanctions in respect of each marijuana offender stood somewhere around R240 000.
This was money, Stobbs suggested, that could be used more effectively fighting higher-priority crimes.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 68 percent of all drug busts on the African continent, and 16 percent globally take place in South Africa. The majority of these relate to dagga seizure, meaning Stobbs is correct.
The late IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini made headlines before his death by campaigning vigorously for the legalisation of marijuana for medical use, revealing he was suffering from terminal cancer – a disease he believed was in part treatable with cannabis-derived medication.
Six months before his death in August, Ambrosini introduced a bill aimed at legalising marijuana for medical and industrial use – a bill which was subsequently tabled for processing by ANC chief whip Stone Sizani after Ambrosini’s death.
While Sizani was careful to point out that the tabling did not necessarily mean the ANC supported the bill, it comes at a time when the legal status of marijuana is internationally in the balance.
IOL cz Dagga 02
A ballpark estimate of just how much dagga is grown in South Africa leaves a big question mark.INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS
Those opposed to softening the official stance argue that it is a gateway drug whose use leads to the use of harder drugs, it is harmful to health like tobacco and alcohol, and it can have a particularly harmful effect on people who have an inherent vulnerability to mental illness.
However, for the last decade, policy and law enforcement initiatives in respect of the narcotic have been under scrutiny.
Since the 1990s the Dutch have effectively legalised the use of cannabis as a hallucinogenic and decriminalised its cultivation for personal use, though only in certain parts of the country. Following suit, countries like Spain and France have decriminalised, though not per se legalised, the dreamy herb, arguing that there is no compelling scientific evidence it is either particularly addictive or particularly debilitating.
Especially in the past half decade or so resistance to the US’s official stance has been increasingly subverted by geopolitical formations like Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China, prior to South Africa joining) who concluded agreements on drug policy – relaxing sanctions and moving to decriminalise cannabis.
Bolivia, one of the world’s major producers of cocaine, withdrew in 2011 from the Vienna Convention, which binds signatory nations to legal sanctions in pursuit of the war on drugs. Bolivian President Evo Morales is currently campaigning from the chair of the G-77 grouping of developing nations for coca leaf – the source of cocaine and in leaf form chewed as a mild stimulant – to be removed from the UN’s list of banned substances.
Meanwhile in 2012 Uruguayan President Jose Mujica announced plans to legalise cannabis and regulate its cultivation and supply – and to tax it. Mujica argued that government control would free law enforcement agencies to clamp down on trafficking in cocaine, heroin and other hard drugs.

Under the new deal, Uruguayan citizens over the age of 18, on registration as users, are entitled to buy up to 40g of cannabis for recreational use.
Half of all the US states – 26 of 50 and the District of Columbia – have either decriminalised cannabis for use and possession or made it legal for specific medical and other applications. At the same time, although it remains criminalised by federal law, Washington, Colorado and Rhode Island have legalised the hallucinogenic for recreational use since 2012, and in Colorado it is sold over the counter and taxed by the government.
US President Barack Obama has admitted he smoked cannabis in his youth. He went on to express the opinion that it was less harmful than alcohol and its abuse should be treated as a public health issue.
Dagga seizure and related prosecutions remain the approach of South Africa’s law enforcement authorities.
In a recent report by the Anti-Drug Alliance NGO, some of the implications are teased out, in an analysis of drug busts in Gauteng.
Here around 3 000 arrests were effected, the vast majority for dagga, leading to the seizure of drugs worth R13 million – but in the end leading to convictions in only 9 percent of the cases.
But despite the low conviction rate, the cost of keeping this 9 percent in jail would set the State back R245m, which together with the R38m spent on the arrests themselves pushed the total expenditure to nearly R300m – all this for a tangible yield of only R13m.
The effectiveness of South African law enforcement is also debatable. The bulk of marijuana in the Netherlands is reportedly sourced from this country, and a startling 80 percent of all marijuana traffickers arrested in Ireland in 2012 were South Africans peddling South African product.
In the light of these anomalies, there is a growing call to rethink South Africa’s dagga policy. While President Jacob Zuma has promised to “intensify the war on drugs and succeed”, there is likely to be intensified debate about whether South Africa’s approach to dagga should be liberalised, with the Anti-Drug Alliance noting that a third of respondents in a 2013 survey agreed that cannabis should be legalised, whereas a similar survey the previous year had found less than 10 percent supported it.
Legalised crops could become big money spinner
A ballpark estimate of just how much dagga is grown in South Africa leaves a big question mark.
Official sources are wildly erratic on the subject. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (Unodac) for instance, records some 6 000 hectares under cultivation in 1992, 2 140 in 1994, then 82 000 in 1995 before slipping back to the low thousands by 2000.
At the same time, however, revenues and exports were noted to have steadily grown, exports increasing between 1991 and 1996 from 15 percent of total production to 70 percent.
So what is this illicit industry worth? An convincing estimate is even more difficult to arrive at.
According to the UN, the average size of a cannabis field in Southern Africa (including the cultivation hubs of Lesotho and Swaziland) is some 300 square metres. Such a field will produce around 10kg of flowing tops, high in the psychotropic tetrahydrocannabinol, and around 25 to 30kg of inferior and lower-priced “majat”.
While the flowering part would fetch far greater returns in Europe and even in South African cities, the UN records that farmers will be paid around R700 for 10kg of flowering top and around R500 for the 25 to 30kg of majat.
The Unodac calculates that each hectare would yield cannabis to the value of around R40 000 on each flowering cycle, with as a many as four in a single year.
By the UN’s calculations, this would mean the average subsistence farmer (on a single flowering) would make R4 800 to R8 000 a year – only a fraction of what the dealer will accrue on the retail market, where dagga will fetch R1 a gram in South Africa and up to five times that amount overseas.
Hydroponic cultivation can take profits to a much higher level, at the same time significantly boosting the drug’s psychotropic effects – to the point where a single plant could yield cannabis to the value of R40 000 in each flowering period. In tunnels where dozens, even hundreds, of plants are cultivated, the profits can be astronomical.
If the law changed, the playing field would be somewhat levelled. The criminal syndicates which control the market and export would be cut out of the equation, and their share largely passed on to the producers – nearly all of them impoverished subsistence farmers. The government would also be in a position to tax the industry which drains the fiscus of billions of rand in policing and fighting a war that many say is already lost.
The government would be in a position to promote research into quality and cultivation as well as facilitate the export of cannabis to centres where it has been legalised, garnering foreign exchange.
Plant has been used for over 8 millennia
Carl Sagan in his Cosmos television series suggested cannabis could have been the first crop husbanded and cultivated.
Apart from the plant’s use as a hallucinogenic, it has for upwards of eight millennia of recorded history been used as a foodstuff, a source for fibres used in rope making, construction and textiles, and a source for pulp used in paper, as well as for the treatment and palliative care of a range of diseases and indispositions.
Originally found in central Asia the cannabis plant gradually found its way to the near East and India before moving on trade routes throughout the world. Possibly 2 000 years ago, but certainly 1 500, cannabis was under cultivation in Egypt and by the 14th century CE used in Ethiopia.
Introduced to Africa by traders, apparently around 1500 CE, marijuana was integrated into the ritual and shamanistic practices of indigenous inhabitants.
A shipment of Angolan slaves unloaded in north- eastern Brazil in 1549, introduced the herb to the New World. It was also in Brazil that one of the earliest acts of prohibition was recorded.
But until the 20th century, cannabis remained relatively uncontroversial. In the early 17th century, King James I commanded that US colonists produce hemp. Cannabis was subject to tax and included in the US’ Pharmacopoeia. Those who produced cannabis in quantity included several of the founding fathers of the US.
In 1915, California became the first state to outlaw possession, and particularly with the influx of Mexican workers it came to be classified as a “dangerous underground drug”.
In 1961, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was introduced in the UN, classifying marijuana as a psychoactive drug possessed of “particularly dangerous properties”.
In 2013, the US reinforced its commitment with an above-the-line spend of $3.7 billion (R41bn) on enforcing the law in respect of marijuana, and, below the line, efforts such as continuing to support and fund crop destruction.
When the US introduced legislation banning cannabis for all but very limited industrial and medical uses in 1937, at the same time introducing a stringent tax regime, the moves were lobbied by newspaper and lumber barons, including William Randolph Hearst who also funded and promoted a ferociously anti-marijuana film titled Reefer Madness in the late 1930s. Also powerfully lobbying against cannabis were the tobacco companies as well as pharmaceutical companies. All had much to gain from the marijuana and hemp industry being banned.
In September, Vice Media published a story revealing that several prominent US academics who vigorously opposed the legalisation of cannabis, were in fact on the payroll of pharmaceuticals companies.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Global Cannabis March 2014


The South African National Cannabis Working Group SANCWG, in collaboration with NORML ZA, hereby informs you about the upcoming Global Cannabis March 2014, taking place on the 3rd of May. Cape Town will be one of 117 cities across Earth taking to the streets to promote awareness of many issues relating to cannabis. The event is sanctioned by the City of Cape Town and arrangements have been made for the police to be present.

Since the beginning of January this year a number of jurisdictions, including Colorado, Washington, Uruguay and Turin, passed ordinances to make cannabis legal for those of adult age. As a result, new economies have been created with economic growth rates outperforming the cellular mobile sales market. This will further motivate public involvement in the cannabis reform process.

In light of the current public discourse, both locally and internationally, and the introduction of the Medical Innovation Bill, the Global Cannabis March creates an opportunity to introduce the faces of the cannabis law reform community to the greater public. Cape Town marchers are calling for the review and reform of current cannabis policies and advocate for public participation backed by rational evidence based policy making. The event will allow for interaction with the media.

March organisers will avail themselves for interviews before the march gets underway between 9:30 and 10 am, media covering the story should use this opportunity to get their soundbites. Provision has also been made for photo opportunities while the march is under way.

Volunteers will be assembling from 8AM. Public gathering at 10.00AM on the corner of Keizersgracht and Chapel Street.

Visit cannabis.reforms.co.za for more information.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

MPs debate virtues of Cannabis

View Cancer and Cannabis
Cape Town - Everyone knew someone with cancer, and the fear that such a diagnosis caused, MPs agreed in an emotional debate which for once lacked blatant politicking, after IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini opened on Wednesday’s discussion with a plea for a holistic response to the cancer “pandemic”.

But parliamentarians fretted how best to fight the disease, stopping short of a wholesale endorsement of alternative treatments, like dagga.

Oriani-Ambrosini last month admitted to using dagga, in oil form, as part of his alternative treatment regimen for the aggressive, terminal lung cancer with which he was diagnosed in April last year. His statement during the parliamentary State of the Nation address debate was followed by the tabling of a private member’s bill to allow doctors greater discretion on what treatments to prescribe to terminally ill patients, including bicarbonate of soda and medical marijuana.

Delivering his final speech in Parliament, DA MP Pierre Rabie disclosed both he and his wife are cancer survivors, while DA deputy chief whip Sandy Kalyan paid tribute to a dear friend, who had died at the weekend.

Often struggling to speak Oriani-Ambrosini said cancer knew no political differentiation. “Cancer is not just a health emergency, it’s a societal emergency. We must train our communities, our families, our workplaces...”

This meant creating the space for alternative therapies – including bicarbonate of soda, dagga, alkalising diets and oxygen therapy – to be administered under controlled circumstances. Dagga was a “small segment of what our government can do and must do”, he said, adding that there was a need for centres where alternative treatments could be administered.

He claimed chemotherapy and radiation therapy did not work, and were unaffordable under a national health insurance scheme. “Think of what you would do with your cellphones if (they) did not work 97 percent of (the time),” Oriani-Ambrosini said.

Parliamentary health committee chairman Monwabisi Bevan Goqwana said anything that was medicinal should be used, but the important question was “Is it safe to be used by the people?”

Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald said: “We support scientific, controlled research to see what the effect would be if dagga was also used as part of the treatment. I don’t think any one can oppose this”.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Zuma notes MP’s call for medicinal dagga

Cape Town - IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini’s urgent call for the legalisation of marijuana for medicinal use seems to have found an ear in the country’s top office.

“I was touched to see the man I’ve known and worked with for more than 20 years in this condition. I’ve asked the minister of health to look into this matter,” President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday during his reply to the parliamentary debate on the State of the Nation address.

Less than two hours earlier, Oriani-Ambrosini, flanked by IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi and IFP caucus chairman Ndlovu Velaphi, released details of his private member’s bill, the Medical Innovation Bill.

“I am here because I am a man of principle. This is not an easy thing to do,” said Oriani-Ambrosini, the day after he used his four minutes in the parliamentary debate on Wednesday to make his call – almost a year after he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

“I am now in the 0.01 percent survival rate… Being a politician, paid by the people of South Africa to do a job, it became natural for me (to speak) for those who do not have a voice. The most important thing to do is to remove the legal obstacles.”

His private member’s bill seeks to make it possible to prescribe marijuana, or other alternative treatments, to terminally ill patients. It excludes doctors and patients from possible prosecution, seeks to regulate the use of medical marijuana – “to trade criminal profits into tax for people”, according to Oriani-Ambrosini – while also establishing at least one research hospital for medical treatment innovation.

Published in the Government Gazette on Valentine’s Day, the private member’s bill also sets out a framework for the commercial and industrial uses of cannabis, which is already used in textiles and building materials in a global industry.

“This is my contribution – I don’t want to say last contribution – I hope God will give me the strength… ” said Oriani-Ambrosini, who with his usual self-depreciating wit touched on the consequences of using medicinal dagga.

“There are no side effects except my hair growing curly for the first time in my life. I’m still looking to manage this,” he quipped, adding that he appreciated his glowing skin.

Buthelezi confirmed his support for his MP.

“Dr Ambrosini, we have travelled a long road with him. We have slaughtered many monsters… He has taken on one of the most fearsome monsters at this time.

“I do hope, with God’s help, he will do something not only for himself, because this is not his attitude, but for the whole human race.”

Advocate Robin Stransham-Ford, also a cancer patient on alternative treatment, outlined plans to push for a constitutional challenge to decriminalise dagga for medicinal use next year, but acknowledged Oriani-Ambrosini’s request to try for a political solution.

It is understood the president has already received from Oriani-Ambrosini the large volumes of work of the South African national working group on the medicinal use of marijuana.

Submitted to the government last November, it includes reports on various clinical trials, including several run by US teaching hospitals, on the benefits of medicinal marijuana.

- Political Bureau

Health Minister mulls MP's proposal to legalise medical cannabis

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

MP’s heartfelt plea to legalise cannabis

Cape Town - In an emotional plea for a change to the law, IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini on Wednesday admitted he was using dagga as part of his fight against the terminal cancer he was diagnosed with almost a year ago.

“I was supposed to die many months ago. I am here because I had the courage of seeking alternatives... in Italy in the form of bicarbonate of soda and here in South Africa in the form of cannabis, marijuana, dagga,” Oriani-Ambrosini said, adding: “It is a crime against humanity not to allow this...”

The IFP MP announced he had submitted a private member’s bill to allow doctors greater discretion in what treatments to prescribe to terminally ill patients, including medical marijuana and bicarbonate of soda.

Oriani-Ambrosini takes dagga in the form of an oil as part of the alternative cancer treatment he embarked on last April after being diagnosed with terminal stage-four lung cancer.

“I have to speak out. I have had opportunities which are withheld from others. Someone has to speak up in the first person,” he said.

During his four minutes on the National Assembly podium, the MP pointed out an advocate in the public gallery who had instructions to take the government to court to push for the legalisation of medical marijuana as is permitted, for example, in 20 states in the US.

Last month, France’s health ministry gave the nod to medical marijuana, falling in line with 17 other European countries.

However, Oriani-Ambrosini, who battled to speak with a hoarse voice and had clearly lost much weight, said he had advised against court action, instead punting his private member’s Medical Innovation Bill.

His appeal appeared to have found an ear. Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who followed him in the debate, announced that she and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who had earlier listened attentively, had just had a word.

“We are very keenly following up the potential of decriminalising medical marijuana. We are a caring society,” said Sisulu, adding on a personal note to someone she had worked with: “It hurts me to see you in the state you are in.”

At the start of his speech, Oriani-Ambrosini turned to the ANC side of the House to address President Jacob Zuma: “You’ve known me for 20 years and I’m sure you had a few occasions to curse my name” – and proceeded with an appeal to help “people who are dying of bad policies and bad laws we can change”.

Later, he also had a word or two for Motsoaledi. “I admire our minister of health. He has guts and backbone… ”

- Political Bureau

Monday, February 17, 2014

US drug policy fuels push for legal pot worldwide

In a former colonial mansion in Jamaica, politicians huddle to discuss trying to ease marijuana laws in the land of the late reggae musician and cannabis evangelist Bob Marley. In Morocco, one of the world's top producers of the concentrated pot known as hashish, two leading political parties want to legalize its cultivation, at least for medical and industrial use.

And in Mexico City, the vast metropolis of a country ravaged by horrific cartel bloodshed, lawmakers have proposed a brand new plan to let stores sell the drug.

From the Americas to Europe to North Africa and beyond, the marijuana legalization movement is gaining unprecedented traction — a nod to successful efforts in Colorado, Washington state and the small South American nation of Uruguay, which in December became the first country to approve nationwide pot legalization.

Leaders long weary of the drug war's violence and futility have been emboldened by changes in U.S. policy, even in the face of opposition from their own conservative populations. Some are eager to try an approach that focuses on public health instead of prohibition, and some see a potentially lucrative industry in cannabis regulation.

"A number of countries are saying, 'We've been curious about this, but we didn't think we could go this route,'" said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor who helped write Colorado's marijuana regulations. "It's harder for the U.S. to look at other countries and say, 'You can't legalize, you can't decriminalize,' because it's going on here."

That's due largely to a White House that's more open to drug war alternatives.
U.S. President Barack Obama recently told The New Yorker magazine that he considers marijuana less dangerous to consumers than alcohol, and said it's important that the legalization experiments in Washington and Colorado go forward, especially because blacks are arrested for the drug at a greater rate than whites, despite similar levels of use.

His administration also has criticized drug war-driven incarceration rates in the U.S. and announced that it will let banks do business with licensed marijuana operations, which have largely been cash-only because federal law forbids financial institutions from processing pot-related transactions.
Such actions underscore how the official U.S. position has changed in recent years. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it wouldn't target medical marijuana patients. In August, the agency said it wouldn't interfere with the laws in Colorado and Washington, which regulate the growth and sale of taxed pot for recreational use.

Government officials and activists worldwide have taken note of the more open stance. Also not lost on them was the Obama administration's public silence before votes in both states and in Uruguay.

It all creates a "sense that the U.S. is no longer quite the drug war-obsessed government it was" and that other nations have some political space to explore reform, said Ethan Nadelmann, head of the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization group based in New York.

Anxiety over U.S. reprisals has previously doused reform efforts in Jamaica, including a 2001 attempt to approve private use of marijuana by adults. Given America's evolution, "the discussion has changed," said Delano Seiveright, director of Ganja Law Reform Coalition-Jamaica.

Last summer eight lawmakers, evenly split between the ruling People's National Party and the opposition Jamaica Labor Party, met with Nadelmann and local cannabis crusaders at a luxury hotel in Kingston's financial district and discussed next steps, including a near-term effort to decriminalize pot possession
Officials are concerned about the roughly 300 young men each week who get criminal records for possessing small amounts of "ganja." Others in the debt-shackled nation worry about losing out on tourism dollars: For many, weed is synonymous with Marley's home country, where it has long been used as a medicinal herb by families, including as a cold remedy, and as a spiritual sacrament by Rastafarians.

Influential politicians are increasingly taking up the idea of loosening pot restrictions. Jamaica's health minister recently said he was "fully on board" with medical marijuana.

"The cooperation on this issue far outweighs what I've seen before," Seiveright said. "Both sides are in agreement with the need to move forward."
In Morocco, lawmakers have been inspired by the experiments in Washington, Colorado and Uruguay to push forward their longstanding desire to allow cannabis to be grown for medical and industrial uses. They say such a law would help small farmers who survive on the crop but live at the mercy of drug lords and police attempts to eradicate it.

"Security policies aren't solving the problem because it's an economic and social issue," said Mehdi Bensaid, a legislator with the Party of Authenticity and Modernity, a political party closely allied with the country's king. "We think this crop can become an important economic resource for Morocco and the citizens of this region."

In October, lawmakers from Uruguay, Mexico and Canada converged on Colorado for a firsthand look at how that state's law is being implemented. They toured a medical marijuana dispensary and sniffed bar-coded marijuana plants as the dispensary's owner gave them a tour.

"Mexico has outlets like that, but guarded by armed men," Mexican Congressman René Fujiwara Montelongo said afterward.

There's no general push to legalize marijuana in Mexico, where tens of thousands have died in cartel violence in recent years. But in liberal Mexico City, legislators on Thursday introduced a measure to let stores sell up to 5 grams of pot. It's supported by the mayor but could set up a fight with the conservative federal government.
"Rather than continue fighting a war that makes no sense, now we are joining a cutting-edge process," said Jorge Castaneda, a former Mexican foreign minister.

Opponents to legalization worry that pot could become heavily commercialized or that increased access will increase youth use. They say the other side's political victories have reawakened their cause.

"There's been a real hunger from people abroad to find out how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place and how to avoid it," said Kevin Sabet of Project Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Washington and Colorado passed recreational laws in 2012 to regulate the growth and sale of taxed pot at state-licensed stores. Sales began Jan. 1 in Colorado, and are due to start later this year in Washington. Twenty states and the District of Columbia already have medical marijuana laws.

A number of U.S. states are considering whether to try for recreational laws. Voters in Alaska will have their say on a legalization measure this summer. Oregon voters could also weigh in this year, and in California, drug-reform groups are deciding whether to push a ballot measure in 2014 or wait until 2016's presidential election. Abroad, activists are pushing the issue before a United Nations summit in 2016.

While some European countries, including Spain, Belgium and the Czech Republic, have taken steps over the years to liberalize pot laws in the face of international treaties that limit drug production to medical and research purposes, the Netherlands, famous for its pot "coffee shops," has started to pull back, calling on cities to close shops near schools and ban sales to tourists.

There is, however, an effort afoot to legitimize the growing of cannabis sold in the coffee shops. While it's been legal to sell pot, it's not to grow it, so shops must turn to the black market for their supply, which may wind up seized in a raid.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, where some countries have decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs, from cocaine to marijuana, there is significant public opposition to further legalization. But top officials are realizing that it is nevertheless on the table, despite the longstanding efforts of the U.S., which has provided billions of dollars to support counter-narcotics work in the hemisphere.

Current or former presidents in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil have called for a re-evaluation of or end to the drug war, a chorus echoed by Argentina's drug czar, Juan Carlos Molina, a Roman Catholic priest who has long served in the nation's drug-wasted slums.

Molina said he's following orders from President Cristina Fernandez to change the government's focus from enforcing drug laws against young people to getting them into treatment. He also said after Fernandez appointed him in December that Argentine society is ready to openly debate legalizing marijuana altogether.
"I believe that Argentina deserves a good debate about this. We have the capacity to do it. The issue is fundamental for this country," Molina said in an interview with Radio del Plata.

The pace of change has put American legalization activists in heavy demand at conferences in countries weighing their drug laws, including Chile, Poland and the Netherlands. The advocates, including those who worked on the efforts in Washington and Colorado, have advised foreign lawmakers and activists on how to build campaigns.

Clara Musto, a spokeswoman for the Uruguayan campaign, said meeting with the Americans helped her group see that it would need to promote arguments beyond ensuring the liberty of cannabis users if it wanted to increase public support. "They knew so much about how to lead," she said.

John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America, a non-governmental organization that works to promote social and economic justice, was among the Americans who visited Uruguay as the president, the ruling party and activists pushed their proposal to create a government-controlled marijuana industry.

"This isn't just talk," he said. "Whether Colorado is going to do it well, or Washington, they're doing it. If you're going to pursue something similar, you're not going to be alone."

AP writers David McFadden in Kingston, Jamaica; Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City; Leonardo Haberkorn in Montevideo, Uruguay; Michael Corder in The Hague, The Netherlands; Michael Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Paul Schemm in Rabat, Morocco; Adriana Gomez Licon in Mexico City; and Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed. 

President's drugs plan 'is failing us'

The hopes of seven mothers in Eldorado Park, south of Johannesburg, are turning into despair at what they describe as "failed promises" by President Jacob Zuma.

It will be a year in April since the mothers wrote to Zuma, pleading with him to help them in the fight against drug abuse. The plea prompted Zuma to visit the area a month later.

At his meeting with concerned residents, Zuma pledged a raft of interventions to address the complaints of rampant drug use, crime and ineffective policing.

"Things went well following the president's visit . but only for about three months. They soon went back to how they were. If anything, they may have gotten worse," said Dereleen James, one of the mothers who told Zuma of their experiences of living with drug-addicted children... Timeslive



Monday, January 6, 2014

The drug war is the latest manifestation of a centuries-old ‘race war’ - Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky recently took part in a video conference with Foundation Degree students about the legacy of the American Civil Rights movement, where he described the war on drugs as a “race war” against poor minorities.

When a student asked how “important Martin Luther King was to the movement,” Chomsky replied by saying “that’s almost like asking how important Nelson Mandela was to the anti-apartheid movement.” He then returned to a point he had made earlier, that the assassination of Black Panther Fred Hampton was the most significant of the period.

“Hampton was a very effective organizer…the most energetic and effective leader,” and he was killed by the FBI and operatives for the United States government, which Chomsky claimed created a necessarily adversarial relationship between “liberation movements” and the government.

Of course, he continued, that’s not the story the government wants citizens to believe, so they were “blanked out.”

“There are things,” Chomsky said, “the white liberal establishment just doesn’t want to be part of history.”

Another aspect of American history that was “blanked out” was “the criminalizing of black life.” He noted that abolition robbed the industrial class of cheap labor, and [they] needed a way to replace it. “Slaves were capital, but if you could imprisoned labor, states could utilize them — you get a disciplined, extremely cheap labor force that you don’t have to pay for.”

“Part of the whole industrial revival was based on the reinstitution of slave labor. That went on until the start of the Second World War,” he continued, “after which black men and women were able to work their way into the labor force, the war industries.”

“Then came two decades, the ’50s and the ’60s, of substantial economic growth. Also, egalitarian growth — the lower quintile did about the same as the upper quintile, and the black population was able to work its way into the society. They could work in the auto factories, make some money, buy a house. And over the course of those same 20 years the Civil Rights Movement took off.”

After correlating the rise of the Civil Rights Movement with the establishment of a black middle class, Chomsky went on to claim that it was on the issue of class that the black liberation movements stalled.

“The black movement hit a limit as soon as it turned to class issue,” he said. “There is a close class-race correlation, but as the black and increasingly Latino issues…began to reach up against the class barriers, there was a big reaction. Part of it was reinstitution of the criminalization of the black population in the late 1970s.”

“If you take a look at the incarceration rate in the United States, around 1980 it was approximately the same as the rest of developed society. By now, it’s out of sight — it’s five-to-ten times as high as the rest of wealthy societies.”

“It’s not based on crime,” Chomsky continued. “The device that was used to recriminalize the black population was drugs. The drug wars are fraud — a total fraud. They have nothing to do with drugs, the price of drugs doesn’t change. What the drug war has succeeded in doing is to criminalize the poor. And the poor in the United States happen to be overwhelming black and Latino.”

Chomsky then made his most explosive statement, claiming that the war on drugs is, in fact, “a race war.”

“It’s a race war. Almost entirely, from the first moment, the orders given to the police as to how to deal with drugs were, ‘You don’t go into the suburbs and arrest the white stockbroker sniffing coke in the evening, but you do go into the ghettos, and if a kid has a joint in his pocket, you put him in jail.’ So it starts with police action, not the police themselves, but the orders given to them.”

“Then there’s the sentencing, which is grotesquely disproportionate — then the highly punitive system instituted after, if anybody ever gets out of prison.” He claimed that “[p]rison’s only about one thing: punishment. They only learn one thing in prison, which is how to be a criminal…and the result is like reinstating Jim Crow.”

“The black population now — they don’t call it ‘slavery,’ but it’s under conditions of impoverishment and deprivation that are extremely severe, so if you look at the past 400 years of United States history, there have only been about 20 or 30 years of relative freedom for the black population. And that’s a real scar on society.”

“The great achievement of the Civil Rights Movement,” he concluded, “can’t be denied, but we shouldn’t overlook the fact that it set in motion forces that would try to overturn those changes to protect class privilege.”

Watch the entire teleconference with Noam Chomsky below.

2013 Cannabis Position Paper

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Drunk-drive botch-up

Police and traffic officers in South Africa's top tourist cities are making thousands of drunk-driving arrests that fail to result in convictions, amid claims that dockets are being tampered with for cash.
Internal documents obtained by Sunday Times reporters reveal that at Durban Central police station alone, 1481 arrests in 2012 led to only 111 convictions - a rate of 7.5%. This excludes thousands of dockets a year opened at other Durban police stations.

In Cape Town, 3022 drunk drivers were arrested in 2012 and 3089 in 2013, with fewer than 7% convicted, according to a senior official with access to provincial statistics.

Several senior officers interviewed in different parts of the country - some with direct knowledge of the cases - blamed corruption and chasing arrest quotas for dismal conviction rates. All spoke on condition of anonymity. One received death threats this week after Sunday Times reporters began to make enquiries.

They said police officers were not encouraged to build tight cases because convictions did not affect promotion prospects.

"At a typical roadblock, you employ up to 20 SA Police Service and metro police members for an eight-hour shift, getting paid overtime," said one official. "You need a booze bus, blood kits, a nurse to draw blood. Then you need two or three members to drive up to Pretoria every week to take these samples to the lab. It's a very costly, fruitless expense to the state. These members could be used to fight other crimes."

The official also said police officers were being paid to deliberately throw cases.

Another senior police officer said convictions were rare, either because the police botched the cases - intentionally or not - or the prosecutors withdrew charges. "They're also chasing targets and don't want these cases to clog up the courts. It's a scam."

A third official estimated that "80% and 90% of all drunken driving cases are thrown out of court or withdrawn because of botched blood samples or straightforward corruption".

"If one out of every 200 drunken driving cases gets a conviction, it's a lot," he said.

Another official agreed that the figures did not add up. "There's a huge discrepancy between the number of drunks caught and the number of convictions for drinking and driving," he said.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate confirmed this week that Durban Central police station was in its sights.

"We are investigating a systemic corruption matter related to about 200 drunk-driving cases," said spokesman Moses Dlamini. "There are indeed cases where it is clear there is a problem."

Sunday Times reporters have seen a sample of 17 suspicious drunk-driving dockets at Durban Central from arrests in 2010, 2011 and 2012 in which charges were withdrawn - in all but one case by the same officer, a Captain NEP Ndlazi.

In six cases, Ndlazi closed the dockets several months before blood samples arrived from the laboratory.

The dockets are replete with other errors. In one case, the arresting officer failed to specify the time of the offence. In another, the time of taking a blood sample was "tampered with". Several dockets contain sworn statements showing that chain-of-evidence statements have gone missing or have not been signed - all grounds for throwing a case out.

In six cases, the forensic laboratory said the blood sample could not be analysed because it was "clotted", "dried in transit" or was "too small".

This was highly unlikely to happen without deliberate tampering, one official said. "What they do is put the sample in the microwave or leave it in the boot of the car on a hot day."

A government pathologist, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak to the media, confirmed blood samples taken at roadblocks "generally arrive in good condition" at laboratories.

Ndlazi refused to comment on specific allegations. "I will only discuss the allegations with the person investigating, who must come to me with all the evidence," she said.

Three cases involved minibus drivers transporting passengers. One was chased by a police vehicle after jumping a red light. He abandoned his taxi and fled on foot. When he was caught, he had bloodshot eyes and "smelt of liquor". Another minibus driver reeked of booze and had to be handcuffed after resisting arrest.

Several of the drivers told the Sunday Times they had no idea why the charges against them had been withdrawn. "They said they would contact me and nothing ever happened after that," said one. "It did feel a bit strange."

Another, who, according to his docket, was so intoxicated that he was "unable to blow into the breathalyser", confirmed the charges against him had been withdrawn, but declined to say why. "I got a lawyer," he said.



Sunday, December 29, 2013

Blazing cannabis, US states eye tourism surge

Cannabis users in Colorado and Washington are counting down the hours before the western US states become the first to legalize recreational pot shops on January 1.
Blazing a trail they hope will be followed in other parts of the United States, cannabis growers and others are also rubbing their hands, while tax collectors are eyeing the revenue the newly-legalized trade will generate.

Enterprising companies are even offering marijuana tours to cash in on tourists expected to be attracted to a Netherlands-style pot culture — including in Colorado’s famous ski resorts.

“Just the novelty alone is bringing people from everywhere,” said Adam Raleigh of cannabis supplier Telluride Bud Co.

“I have people driving in from Texas, Arizona, Utah... to be a part of history.

“Over the last month I have received somewhere between four to six emails a day and five to 10 phone calls a day asking all about the law and when should people plan their ski trip to go along with cannabis,” he added.

Medical marijuana is already legal and regulated in 19 US states, and has been allowed in some cases for the past 20 years.

And in most of them, private consumption of cannabis is not classified as a crime.

But Colorado and Washington are creating a recreational market in which local authorities will oversee growing, distribution and marketing — all of it legal — for people to get high just for the fun of it.

The market is huge: from $1.4 billion in medical marijuana in 2013 it will grow by 64% to $2.34 billion in 2014 with recreational pot added in Colorado and Washington, according to Arcview Market Research, which tracks and publishes data on the cannabis industry.

Both states legalized recreational consumption of marijuana in referendums in November last year, but new rules coming into force on January 1 allow cannabis shops.

In Colorado, famous for its Rocky Mountain ski resorts, officials this week issued 348 retail marijuana licenses including for small shops which from January 1 can sell up to 28 grams of pot to people aged 21 or older.

Washington state authorities have received applications for 3,746 marijuana business licenses, including 867 retail licenses, according to The Seattle Times newspaper, which urged caution in an editorial.

“Legalization of marijuana (is) a seismic change in drug-control policy, perhaps the biggest since the end of alcohol prohibition.

Supporters and skeptics need to take a deep breath,” it said.

Colorado’s branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said everyone will benefit.

“It will mean jobs, tax revenue for the state and local jurisdictions, increased tourism, and a developing progressive new industry in Colorado,” NORML attorney Rachel Gillette told AFP.

“It will also have an impact in that marijuana sales will be brought out of the shadows and the black market,” she added.

Michael Elliott, head of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, noted that Colorado has licensed medical marijuana businesses since 2010, but said the influx of tourists for recreational use of pot could lead to shortages.

“It’s tough to know whether supply will meet demand, mainly because it’s tough to know the impact of tourism on this new market,” he said.

“It looks like demand will exceed supply, so I anticipate that prices in Colorado will go up ... But as time goes on, more businesses will open meaning there will be more supply,” he added.

Telluride Bud Co’s Raleigh compared decriminalizing pot shops to legalizing same-sex weddings, which are now allowed in more than a third of US states.

“Give it six months, and when other states see that the sky didn’t fall and the revenue we are producing, I believe this will spread just like gay marriage,” he said. “You just can’t stop the will of the people.”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cannabis advocates hail ‘major step’

Washington - In a move marijuana advocates hailed as a historic shift, the Obama administration on Thursday began giving US states wide leeway to experiment with pot legalisation, and started by letting Colorado and Washington carry out new laws permitting recreational use.

The Justice Department said it would refocus marijuana enforcement nationwide by bringing criminal charges only in eight defined areas - such as distribution to minors - and giving breathing room to users, growers and related businesses that have feared prosecution.

The decisions end nearly a year of deliberation inside President Barack Obama's administration about how to react to the growing movement for relaxed US marijuana laws.

Advocates for legalisation welcomed the announcement as a major step toward ending what they called “marijuana prohibition”.

“Today's announcement demonstrates the sort of political vision and foresight from the White House we've been seeking for a long time,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group.

“I must admit, I was expecting a yellow light from the White House,” he said in a statement. “But this light looks a lot more green-ish than I had hoped. The White House is basically saying to Washington and Colorado: Proceed with caution.”

Marijuana remains illegal and tightly controlled under federal law, even as about 20 states, plus the District of Columbia, allow the use of medical marijuana. Voters in Colorado and Washington legalised recreational use in groundbreaking ballot measures in November 2012.

Obama had signalled he did not want a new crackdown, telling ABC News in December: “It does not make sense, from a prioritisation point of view, for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that's legal.”

The leeway for the states will go only so far, though, if Colorado, Washington or other states show they are unable to control the drug, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Forty-two percent of Americans age 12 or older have used marijuana at some point, according to a 2011 survey by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Obama has said he used marijuana when he was young.

One opponent of marijuana legalisation said his group would redouble efforts to spread word of the negative effects the drug can have on adolescents.

“This is going to really quicken the realisation among folks that more marijuana in our communities is not a good thing,” said Kevin Sabet, a co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

US Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Obama administration should not decline to enforce laws that it finds inconvenient or that it does not like.

“This sends the wrong message to both law enforcement and violators of federal law. Apprehending and prosecuting illegal drug traffickers should always be a priority for the Department of Justice,” Grassley said in a statement.

The Justice Department could have sued to block the Colorado and Washington laws from taking effect under the theory that they conflict with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the primary US anti-drug law.

Coupled with the decision not to sue, the Justice Department sent a four-page memorandum to federal prosecutors nationwide outlining eight priority areas for marijuana enforcement.

While department officials said they are committed to enforcing federal restrictions on marijuana, prosecutors have now been told not to expend effort on cases unless they fall in one of the eight areas.

The areas include distribution to minors, situations when marijuana revenue is going to other criminal enterprises, trafficking across state lines and growing on public land.

The criteria mean, for example, that federal prosecutors will not charge a marijuana dispensary simply because it is large or profitable, said a Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But the criteria also stop short of guaranteeing immunity for anyone, leaving business and individuals open to prosecution if the case fits one of the eight areas, the official said.

Colorado and Washington will need to have regulatory systems to protect against those types of crimes, or else risk giving up the whole experiment, the department said in a statement.

Attorney General Eric Holder had a phone call on Thursday with the governors of Colorado and Washington to inform them of the decisions and told them there would be a “trust but verify” relationship between the Justice Department and the states, said the department official.

State officials said they shared Holder's concerns.

“This reflects a balanced approach by the federal government that respects the states' interests in implementing these laws and recognises the federal government's role in fighting illegal drugs and criminal activity,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, both of whom are Democrats, said in a statement. - Reuters