The movement to restore civil liberties and resolve systemic racial injustices in the criminal justice system scored a major victory on Thursday. And no, this time we’re not talking about ending the war on drugs. Or at least not yet.
Washington became the 20th state to abolish the death penalty, with the state Supreme Court ruling that capital punishment is unconstitutional because “it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”
If you’re already seeing parallels to arguments for ending drug prohibition, you’re not alone.
Many of the same points the court made in their ruling against the death penalty ring true for the war on drugs, too. For example, the court argued that death sentences have been disproportionately carried out against black defendants, at a rate more than four times higher than it is for white defendants.
There were three main factors the justices cited as justification for abolishing capital punishment.
- “There is significant county-by-county variation in decisions to seek or impose the death penalty, and a portion of that variation is a function of the size of the black population but does not stem from differences in population density, political orientation or fiscal capacity of the county.
- Case characteristics as documented in the trial reports explain a small portion of variance in decisions to seek or impose the death penalty.
- Black defendants were four and a half times more likely to be sentenced to death than similarly situated white defendants.
“The most important consideration is whether the evidence shows that race has a meaningful impact on imposition of the death penalty,” the justices wrote in their opinion. “We make this determination by way of legal analysis, not pure science.”
“Given the evidence before this court and our judicial notice of implicit and overt racial bias against black defendants in this state, we are confident that the association between race and the death penalty is not attributed to random chance. We need not go on a fishing expedition to find evidence external to Beckett’s study as a means of validating the results. Our case law and history of racial discrimination provide ample support.”
Similarly, drug reform advocates have long maintained that prohibition is racially discriminatory given disproportionate rates of enforcement and arrests for drug-related offenses. Black Americans are nearly three times as likely to be arrested for a drug-related crime, compared to white Americans. That’s in spite of the fact that rates of consumption are roughly equal among both groups.
What’s more, a 2012 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that black men serve drug sentences that are about 13 percent longer than those applied to white men.
The Washington court said another factor that contributed to their decision concerned “contemporary standards and experience in other states.”
“We recognize local, national, and international trends that disfavor capital punishment more broadly. When the death penalty is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner, society’s standards of decency are even more offended.”
The parallel here couldn’t be more clear. If such trends demonstrate a need to review and reform an existing law, the same rationale could theoretically apply to drug prohibition. A majority of states have legalized cannabis for medical or adult-use, and national interest in changing federal marijuana laws has steadily grown in recent years. Beyond marijuana, a broader drug reform push has included calls to abolish mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses.
Of course, marijuana is already legal in Washington, and no other states have yet legalized drugs, so this part of the ruling’s applicability to a potential case seeking to strike down broad drug prohibition in the state might not be quite ripe yet.
While it’s unclear whether the constitutionality of prohibition could be reasonably challenged on similar legal grounds, the similarities are striking. The justification for capital punishment was another point of interest for the justices, who noted that the system failed to achieve its “penological goals” of “retribution and deterrence.”
For all intents and purposes, drug prohibition too has failed to achieve similar goals. Decades of drug war have not appreciably deterred consumption. From 2001 to 2013, the rate of marijuana use among American adults almost doubled, for instance.
The Cato Institute analyzed the impact of the drug war in a 2017 report. It concluded that prohibitionist policies “fail on practically every margin.”
“Economic thinking illustrates that these failures are not only understandable, but entirely predictable. As a result of prohibition and the changes it induces in the market for drugs, increased disease, death, violence, and cartels are all expectable outcomes. Moreover, economics can help us link together these policies with other issues, such as race relations and police militarization.”
A last note from the Washington Supreme Court justices:
“Under article I, section 14, we hold that Washington’s death penalty is unconstitutional, as administered, because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” the justices wrote. “Given the manner in which it is imposed, the death penalty also fails to serve any legitimate penological goals.”
Now swap “death penalty” with “drug prohibition” in that last quote… Fits like a glove.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Successful Constitutional Case Against Death Penalty Works For War on Drugs, Too
At a recent address to law enforcement officials about crime and drugs America’s new Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he was “determined that this country will not go backwards” and then preceded to make some of the most assbackwards statements about medical marijuana possible.
“We need to say, as Nancy Reagan said, ‘Just say no.’ There’s no excuse for this, it’s not recreational. Lives are at stake, and we’re not going to worry about being fashionable.”
He said, according to the Washington Post.
As if holding up the Reagan Drug War legacy like it was a golden era is not already backwards enough, he then dismissed what has been one of medical marijuana’s most promising modern day uses: opioid addiction.
“I’ve heard people say we could solve our heroin problem with marijuana,”
“How stupid is that? Give me a break!”
Well, stupid is as stupid does as someone used to say, and that’s some stupid shit Sessions. But if we are talking about actual science there is nothing that has become more clear recently than cannabis’s amazing ability to help individuals get off of not just heroin but also prescription opioid painkiller addiction, which is actually a more serious problem.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), powerful painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin are responsible for more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined, but you are surely not going to hear Sessions and his new Drug War team going after them – even though that would be moving forwards instead of backwards.
Fortunately, for those of use that know anything about the miraculous benefits of cannabis, the future is looking pretty green despite Session’s claims that the mighty herb has been “hyped-up”.
First of all, cannabis is one of the most powerful painkillers in the world. According to a recent news release by the National Academy of Sciences, the treatment of chronic pain is one of the primary therapeutic uses of marijuana and it has been found to be effective for everything from mild lower back pain to severe multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms.
This is of course why medical marijuana users actually have a lower rate of using opioids and getting addicted in the first place. As a 2016 study in the Journal of Pain found; “cannabis use was associated with 64 percent lower opioid use in patients with chronic pain,”, meaning people are self-medicating with pot in order to avoid using dangerous prescription painkillers. This alone should be reason to make it widely available.
When it comes to actual heroin addiction, which is at an “alarming” 20 year high, according to a recent UN report, medical marijuana is the best way to actually move forward, despite Session’s infantile doublespeak.
According to a February 2017 press release from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York; “cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid in the marijuana plant devoid of rewarding properties, reduces the rewarding properties of opioid drugs and withdrawal symptoms.”
“Additionally, CBD directly reduces heroin-seeking behavior.”
The press release states, also adding that
“CBD’s strongest effects were on the reduction of the anxiety induced by heroin cues.”
CBD is of course an extremely abundant and medicinal compound that also happens to be non –psychoactive meaning that any Drug War argument against it falls flat on its face as there is simply no “high” behind it at all.
Moreover, a simple natural substance that not only reduces the withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin addiction but the cravings that make it so hard to break and doesn’t even alter your state of mind in the process only proves how far removed from reality Session’s statements really are. Cannabis is a miracle medicine that is here to help us with even our toughest problems, serious addiction included.
The only possible reason that the government would want to keep marijuana away from the public is because there is serious money involved (tens of billions of dollars annually) in the prescription opiate game, no matter how dangerous.
By pretending to protect patients by attacking a real medicine like cannabis, Sessions only reveals that he is just another corporate flunkie protecting the big business kingpens who control him and the rest of the White House at this point. But Mama Marijuana is coming for them too.
That multi-billion dollar prescription industry is facing off against a plant so powerful that you would have to be blind to not see how this is going to play out. Why would you take an expensive chemical drug for your pain that is both potentially dangerous and addictive when a completely safe and natural alternative is available?
Legal marijuana is now the fastest growing industry in the United States and that’s only going to increase velocity as more and more states pass laws for medical and recreational use. Check out the chart below from the Washington Post that shows that in states that have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, prescriptions for a wide class of pharmaceuticals have dropped significantly. The most dramatic drop being in, you guessed it, painkiller prescriptions where the average doctor is prescribing almost 2,000 less prescriptions for these synthetic opioids a year.
That’s punching big holes in the corporate bigwigs’ pockets.
It also explains why the largest adversaries to the legalization are the pharmaceutical companies themselves. In Arizona for example, the biggest campaign contributions to the anti prop 205 campaigns were from Insys Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company that produces painkillers. While 205, which would have legalized medical marijuana, was defeated, the margin was very small and the masses are already rallying for the next brawl. Its only a matter of time.
In fact, the latest poll out of Quinnipiac University shows that over 90 percent of Americans now support the medical use of marijuana, the highest number ever.
Despite the posturing, America is not going back to the Reagan era of waging war against medical plants that are actually solving problems that big corporations have only made worse – like opioid addiction. Jeff Sessions can stay stuck on stupid for as long as he wants because the tide has turned and the only thing better than see an idea whose time has come blossom into fruition is seeing an idea that was bad to begin with get swept away with the flotsam and the jetsam.
There is compelling evidence from multiple sources that legalization efforts in the United States are putting a dent in illegal marijuana originating from Mexico.
In figures provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the seizure of marijuana at the border is at its lowest level in ten years. This figure is used as a general indicator of how much marijuana is crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.
To compound this evidence, the street price of marijuana has decreased sharply.
“Two or three years ago, a kilogram [2.2 pounds] of marijuana was worth $60 to $90,”
a Mexican marijuana grower told NPR.
“But now they’re paying us $30 to $40 a kilo. It’s a big difference. If the U.S. continues to legalize pot, they’ll run us into the ground.”
What’s more, customers are demanding higher quality as cannabis becomes more mainstream. In its 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment, the DEA has pointed towards quality as a deciding factor among the U.S. cannabis consumer.
“Mexican cartels are attempting to produce higher-quality marijuana to keep up with U.S. demand.” said the report.
“The quality of marijuana produced in Mexico and the Caribbean is thought to be inferior to the marijuana produced domestically in the United States or in Canada.”
While the instinct might be to look at Colorado, Washington and Oregon as indicators of these changes, California may hold the key to evaluating long term trends regarding reduction in illegal marijuana. The Golden State has been growing, consuming and selling cannabis far longer than any other state, (both legally and illegally) and the “Emerald Triangle” is the largest cannabis-producing region in the world. Based on research by the RAND corporation, exports from California to other states could cause a decrease in demand for illegal marijuana from Mexico, should interstate commerce between marijuana-friendly states become legal.
As with any business, supply and demand are at play in Mexico’s illegal drug industry. Methamphetamine and cocaine from Mexico are increasing as Americans have a consistent appetite for these substances.
On Monday, October 19, Canadian citizens ousted their Conservative Party Prime Minister of nearly a decade, Stephen Harper, in a general election and instead selected Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Party candidate. While public policy toward medical and recreational cannabis is typically supported most by liberal or progressive politicians, Trudeau stands out based on his campaign promise of legalizing recreational marijuana at the federal level in the Great White North.
During the campaign, the Liberal Party proclaimed:
“We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana. Canada’s current system of marijuana prohibition does not work.”
If Trudeau and the Liberal Party are able to achieve federal legalization of recreational cannabis, it will result in the first developed nation to do so. Currently, Uruguay is the only country to have legalized recreational cannabis at the federal level.
Given Canada’s tight trading relationship with the U.S. and the long border the two countries share, such a policy shift would certainly gain the attention of those in Washington who oppose legalization and the current state-level medical and recreational “experiments” that exist in the States.
While Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia have legalized and begun regulating recreational marijuana, Canada’s acceptance of the herb on a national level could signal a new revolt to decades-old international treaties prohibiting a slew of drugs, including cannabis. These treaties, a collection of international agreements and laws led by the United States and orchestrated via the United Nations, were signed over a 27-year period between the 1960s and 1980s.
There are currently three major international drug policy treaties, all signed between 1961 and 1988:
- 1961: Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
- 1971: Convention on Psychotropic Drugs
- 1988: UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances
Canada’s secession from these treaties would send a progressive, rebellious signal to the international community that the economic, political, and regulatory models evolving — and thriving — in states like Colorado, California, and Washington should be heeded as a positive example by the world. Lower crime, increased tax revenues, improved public health, and an overall better economy can all be claimed by both first and third world nations that legalize in an effort to join the small enclaves of the world, like Oregon and Uruguay, that have chosen a decidedly 21st century approach to drug policy.
Trudeau’s Liberal Party believes that public policy must be progressive and embrace marijuana legalization, treating it as public health and economic growth opportunity issue, not a criminal one. “If we pass smart laws that tax and strictly regulate marijuana, we can better protect our kids, while preventing millions of dollars from going into the pockets of criminal organizations and street gangs.”
Wrote German Lopez on the topic:
“So Canada’s decision to legalize pot — if it comes, and that’s still unsure — would be the most high-profile rebuke of the international treaties since they were signed.”
Whether Canada, under its new, young, charismatic leader will actually succeed in legalizing cannabis remains uncertain. The Conservative Party and others opposed to such progressive legislation aren’t dead; they simply lost a federal election. But the will of the people in Canada is clear: They want rational, progressive laws, regulations, and taxes applied to legal recreational cannabis, finally completing the federal-level medical cannabis program the country implemented way back in 2001 — and that Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party have been fighting against ever since.