Since being founded in 2013, anti-legalization organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) has consistently presented itself as supporting a balanced middle-ground approach between incarceration for consumers and the commercialization of cannabis. But it has never clearly described what it thinks police and government agencies should do to people caught possessing marijuana instead of putting them behind bars or just ignoring them.
In a new document uploaded to SAM’s website last week, the group lays out “several key points to be addressed in model legislation” for cannabis at the state level.
Chief among them:
“Require mandatory assessment of problem drug use by a treatment professional after the first citation; those who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder can be diverted into a treatment track where they receive the appropriate level of care, those who are not problem users can be directed to social services for follow-up and addressing other life factors contributing to drug use.”
Let’s break that down.
If the police catch someone possessing a small amount of marijuana once, the person is directed to a “mandatory assessment of problem drug use.” If they are diagnosed as having a substance use disorder they are then forced to undergo treatment. If they refuse, presumably they’d be incarcerated or otherwise punished in some way.
But even if it is determined that the person is “not a problem” user, they still get directed to “social services” to dig into “other life factors” associated with their decision to consume cannabis.
“Project SAM, like U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, firmly believe that ‘good people don’t use marijuana,'” Paul Armentano, NORML’s deputy director, told Marijuana Moment after reading the prohibitionist organization’s proposal. “In SAM’s case, their overarching philosophy appears to be, ‘Only people with problems use marijuana.'”
“Clearly, SAM believes that marijuana use per se should be defined under the law as aberrant behavior requiring varying degrees of state intervention,” he said. “Such an approach perpetuates the needless stigmatization of marijuana and those who consume it, and is clearly at odds with the attitudes of the majority of the public who desire to see and end to these discriminatory and punitive public policies.”
SAM representatives did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for clarification about whether and how people would be punished for refusing mandatory assessments, treatment or participation in social services programs.
While the organization this year endorsed New Jersey decriminalization legislation that would require people caught with marijuana to undergo assessments, the new blog post appears to be the first time the group has made a considerable effort to articulate its favored alternative to cannabis legalization despite repeated promises over the course of years that it would “soon” release information about its policy aims beyond just impeding efforts to end prohibition.
@SanhoTree There are plenty of non-legalization alternatives that are also non incarceration. We will unveil some soon.
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) March 25, 2015
— Tom Angell 🌳📰 (@tomangell) August 9, 2014
Under the new plan, it appears that most people caught with marijuana would have to pay for treatment themselves.
But in a concession to legalization advocates who have pointed out that marijuana laws are often enforced more harshly against those from communities with lesser economic means, SAM does suggest waiving fines and treatment costs for people who don’t have the money to pay. They also say community service could be an alternative to shouldering the monetary costs for those with “severe financial hardship.”
Kevin Sabet, SAM’s president, has consistently said in interviews that he doesn’t seek to punish people for consuming or cultivating marijuana at home and is merely concerned with stopping “Big Marijuana” companies from commercializing addiction. But his organization has repeatedly opposed legislative proposals to allow possession and limited cultivation with no sales.
“You could grow a plant at home, actually. You could homegrow,” he said in a 2016 interview, for example. “You could do gifting. You could do a kind of decriminalization where basically we turn the other way.”
Nonetheless, the group opposed a 2014 ballot measure in Washington, D.C. to legalize low-level possession and homegrow, as well as legislation in Vermont this year to allow the same thing. Neither proposed to create a legal, commercialized cannabis sales market and instead allows adults to “gift” marijuana to one another in line with Sabet’s statement.
Both measures were enacted into law over SAM’s objections.
Perhaps tiring of standing on the sidelines yelling “no” to legalization to no avail, the group is finally preparing to try its hand in shaping policy. It remains to be seen if the new “model legislation” document leads to a more hands-on role in the cannabis legislative process for the prohibitionist organization.
Mormon Church Faces Potential Lawsuit Over Medical Marijuana Opposition
One week after Utah voters approved a medical marijuana ballot initiative, a lawyer representing patients and advocates has formally notified the Mormon church to preserve records ahead of a potential lawsuit concerning its alleged attempts to undermine the measure.
It’s no secret that the church opposed the medical cannabis initiative, which ultimately passed by roughly 52-46 percent, with some ballots still left to be counted. Though the organization said it supports medical cannabis reform, it vehemently resisted Proposition 2 and implored church members to vote against it.
Advocates and opponents reached a tentative compromise last month ahead of Election Day to have the Utah state legislature pass legislation during a special session ensuring access to medical marijuana. But not all legalization proponents felt encouraged by the deal, and the new legal notice to the church signals continued battles over exactly how the state’s patients will access legal cannabis.
Several Utah lawmakers, the Utah Patients Coalition and the Utah Medical Association were also named in the notice and asked to maintain records.
The church has “a long history of dominating and interfering with the government of the State of Utah, often dictating to state and municipal legislators what legislative measures or policies they are to support or oppose,” attorney Rocky Anderson, a former mayor of Salt Lake City, wrote in the notice, which was shared with Marijuana Moment.
“That dominance and interference is prohibited by the Utah Constitution.”
Whether or not there will be a lawsuit remains unclear, as Anderson wrote that it was up to the claimants who reached out to him to determine if that was the best course of action. Advocacy groups TRUCE and the Epilepsy Association of Utah, along with several patients, are listed as claimants in the document.
Brian Stoll, a reform advocate who has served as a spokesperson for TRUCE and is also a member of the church, told Marijuana Moment that he does expect a lawsuit to go forward.
“Speaking as myself, not TRUCE, I do believe that they have every intention of going forward with the lawsuit if only to get lawmakers under oath discussing the domination of the political process in Utah of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on record,” he said. “There have been many stories over the years about their undue influence, including some accounts published by lawmakers detailing how intimately involved they are in legislation regarding certain topics.”
“As you know, I’m an active member of The Church, and that will remain true. However, after having worked with the Utah legislature for the better part of three years where I saw this happen, and seeing all their work to thwart Prop 2 including having the ability to call a special session, I feel that it’s unethical and not right for them to have such an influence.”
If there is a lawsuit, the church is being implored to preserve a wide range of records, both physical and electronic. Anderson alleges that the church forced the special session “to radically undermine and alter the new law,” which he claims amounts to a constitutional violation.
“Vastly altering the law mandated by the people is contrary not only to the popular will, but contrary to the intention expressed in the Utah Constitution that the people can, through an initiative, directly exercise their constitutionally guaranteed legislative power,” he wrote.
In a statement provided to Marijuana Moment, a spokesperson for the Mormon church said “we have worked, from the outset, with medical professionals, law enforcement, educators and many other groups and prominent community leaders to seek the best for the people of Utah, to provide relief from human pain and suffering, especially where children are concerned.”
“Broad community engagement was the reason a workable, beneficial and safer medical cannabis program was put together at the direction of state leadership. We stand behind and look forward to the safe, responsible and compassionate solution that will be considered by the state legislature,” the spokesperson said.
Read the full notice below.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from reform advocate and Mormon church member Brian Stoll, as well as a statement from the church.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Colorado Governor Touts Marijuana Legalization’s Benefits
After the 2012 election, which saw Colorado become the first state to legalize marijuana, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said he probably would have reversed the vote if he had a magic wand.
But with the perspective of a few years post-legalization, today he says he’d put that wand “back in the drawer.”
“I’m not quite there to say this is a great success, but the old system was awful,” Hickenlooper said at a forum hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago on Wednesday.
What’s more, “the things that we most feared—a spike in teenage consumption, a spike in overall consumption, people driving while high—we haven’t seen them,” he said.
“We had a little increase in teenage consumption, but then it went down. We do think that some of the teenage consumers are using it a little more frequently than they were five years ago before legalization. We have in many ways seen no demographic where there’s an increase in consumption, with one exception: senior citizens. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.”
Hickenlooper, who’s been floated as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, described the challenges his administration faced when Colorado voters approved an adult-use legalization measure. Elected officials and advisors were opposed to it, he said, and plus, “it’s no fun to be in conflict with federal law.”
But he pushed forward with implementation, recruiting the “smartest people” he could find to figure out the best approach to regulation and taxation. And Illinois, which recently elected pro-legalization J.B. Pritzker for governor, will likely be better off if they pursue reform because they can learn from the successes and failures of Colorado’s system, Hickenlooper said.
“Ultimately, I haven’t come to a final conclusion yet, but I think it’s looking like this is going to be—for all of the flaws and challenges we have—a better system than what we had. You guys are going to benefit, I think, having let us make a bunch of the mistakes and deal with it, I think you’re going to be able to have a much better system if indeed that is the direction that the state wants to go.”
Asked what advice he’d give to Pritzker if Illinois does elect to fully legalize cannabis, Hickenlooper offered three tips: 1) don’t overtax marijuana, or else the illicit marketplace will persist, 2) get data from law enforcement on the presence of cannabis metabolites in the blood after highway fatalities to establish “good baselines” for comparison and 3) set limits on THC concentrations in edibles.
“What they’re selling now, they tell me it’s 10-to-12 times more intense than what allegedly I smoked in high school,” Hickenlooper said, pausing before conceding, “I smoked pot in high school and I inhaled, but it was a fraction of the intensity of what these kids are getting now.”
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Economic Club of Chicago.
The DEA Just Got Scolded Over Its Marijuana Eradication Program
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) got a slap on the wrist from a federal watchdog agency over its management of a multi-million dollar marijuana eradication program.
In a report released on Wednesday, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the DEA had failed to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners that received funds through the federal program. And that lapse could prevent the agency from being able to accurately assess “program performance.”
What’s more, the DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals,” according to the report.
In other words, the agency expends about $17 million in funds to partners across the U.S. each year to help them get rid of illegal cannabis grows. That includes fully legal states like California, where enforcement efforts are generally limited to public lands—namely national forests. But due to inadequate record keeping, the DEA doesn’t really know if that money is serving its purpose.
To fix the problems, the GAO issued four recommendations:
1. The DEA Administrator should develop and implement a plan with specific actions and time frames to ensure that regional contractors are implementing DEA’s requirement for collecting documentation supporting participating agencies’ Domestic Cannabis Eradication And Suppression Program (DCE/SP) program expenditures in the intended manner.
2. The DEA Administrator should clarify DCE/SP guidance on the eradication and suppression activities that participating agencies are required to report, and communicate it to participating agencies and DEA officials responsible for implementing DCE/SP.
3. The DEA Administrator should clearly document all DCE/SP program goals.
4. The DEA Administrator should develop DCE/SP performance measures with baselines, targets, and linkage to program goals.
The DEA was able to review a draft of the GAO report ahead of its release and, in an October 17 letter, a Justice Department official said the agency concurred with all four of the recommendations and would take steps to address them.
You can listen to a podcast about the GAO report here:
Just because it’s the DEA’s program doesn’t mean it’s the only agency dropping the ball on marijuana eradication efforts. In April, a report from the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that agents weren’t adequately cleaning up public lands after cannabis busts, which can pose threats to humans, animals and the environment.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.