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Former Surgeon General: Legalize Marijuana; Decrim Not Good Enough

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A physician who once served at the U.S.’s top medical official is speaking out for the legalization of marijuana, saying that mere decriminalization is not good enough.

“The war on marijuana exacerbates poverty, which is strongly correlated with— among other problems—reduced access to health care. The unjust prohibition of marijuana has done more damage to public health than has marijuana itself,” Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who served as U.S. surgeon general during the Clinton administration, wrote in a new article in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

But simply ending arrests and incarceration for cannabis possession doesn’t fully address the harms of prohibition, Elders says.

“Times are changing. In 2017, even physicians who oppose legalization generally believe that marijuana should be decriminalized, reducing penalties for users while keeping the drug illegal,” she wrote. “Although decriminalization is certainly a step in the right direction, [it is] an inadequate substitute for legalization and regulation for a number of reasons.”

Elders co-authored the new piece with Dr. David L. Nathan and H. Westley Clark, a former director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Together, they are members of the advocacy group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation.

“Decriminalization does not empower the government to regulate product labeling and purity, which leaves marijuana vulnerable to contamination and adulteration,” the doctors wrote. “This also renders consumers unable to judge the potency of marijuana, which is like drinking alcohol without knowing its strength. More- over, where marijuana is merely decriminalized, the point of sale remains in the hands of drug dealers, who will sell marijuana— as well as more dangerous drugs—to children.”

This isn’t the first time Elders has spoken up about marijuana and drug law reform.

In 1993, while serving as surgeon general, she advocated that the country should seriously consider legalizing drugs. “I do feel we’d markedly reduce our crime rate if drugs were legalized,” she said. “I don’t know all the ramifications, but I do feel we need to do some studies.”

While acknowledging that state legalization “has not been perfect,” Elders and her coauthors ague that “it is far better than the prohibition it replaced, and the worst fears of opponents have not materialized.”

They also point out that decriminalization polices don’t actually fully protect consumers from criminal sanctions and other consequences.

“Contrary to popular belief, decriminalization does not actually end the arrests of marijuana users,” they wrote. “Despite New York State decriminalizing marijuana in the 1970s, New York City makes tens of thousands of marijuana possession arrests every year, with continuing racial disparities in enforcement. Finally, under a decriminalized system, the government prosecutes marijuana growers and sellers, thus constricting the supply chain. This drives up the price of marijuana, making the untaxed illegal product more lucrative, the market for it more competitive and violent, and purchasing it more dangerous.”

Atlanta’s mayor signed a marijuana decriminalization ordinance into law this week.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

O’Rourke And Cruz Clash On Marijuana And Drugs At Senate Debate

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Candidates in one of the most contentious U.S. Senate races in the country this year clashed about the issues of marijuana legalization and drug policy reform during a debate on Friday night.

“I want to end the war on drugs and specifically want to end the prohibition on marijuana,” Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke said in response to an attack on his drug policy record from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, whom he is seeking to unseat in November.

During one of the most heated exchanges of the hour-long debate, the GOP incumbent slammed O’Rourke for sponsoring an amendment as an El Paso city councilman in 2009 that called for a debate on legalizing drugs as a possible solution to violence along the Mexican border.

“I think it would be a profound mistake to legalize all narcotics and I think it would hurt the children of this country,” Cruz argued.

He also criticized a bill the Democrat filed in Congress to repeal a law that reduces highway funding for states that don’t automatically suspend drivers licenses for people convicted of drug offenses. “That’s a real mistake and it’s part of pattern,” he said.

“There’s a consistent pattern when it comes to drug use, that in almost every single instance, Congressman O’Rourke supports more of it.”

Calling the issue “personal to me,” Cruz spoke about his older sister, who died of a drug overdose.

“To be clear, I don’t want to legalize heroin and cocaine and fentanyl,” O’Rourke countered.

“What I do want to ensure is that where, in this country, most states have decided that marijuana will legal at some form—for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes or at a minimum be decriminalized—that we don’t have another veteran in this state, prescribed an opioid because the doctor at the VA would rather prescribe medicinal marijuana but is prohibited by law from doing that,” he said.

Enumerating other potential beneficiaries of cannabis reform, the Democrat also referenced an “older woman with fibromyalgia” and “an African-American man, because more likely than not, that’s who will be arrested for possession of marijuana, to rot behind bars, instead of enjoying his freedom and the opportunity to contribute to the greatness of this country.”

Cruz, who called O’Rourke, “one of the leading advocates in the country for legalizing marijuana,” said that he thinks ending cannabis prohibition “is actually a question on which I think reasonable minds can differ.”

“I’ve always had a libertarian bent myself,” he said. “I think it ought to be up to the states. I think Colorado can decide one way. I think Texas can decide another.”

But despite his support for letting states set their own cannabis laws, which he also voiced during his failed candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Cruz hasn’t cosponsored a single piece of legislation during his time in the Senate that would scale back federal marijuana prohibition.

Earlier in the debate, the two sparred over the killing this month of Botham Jean, an African-American man shot in his own apartment by a Dallas police officer, a subject about which O’Rourke recently made headlines by calling out in a fiery speech to a black church.

Marijuana In Texas: Where Ted Cruz And Beto O’Rourke Stand On Legalization

Photo courtesy of NBC News.

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Lawmaker Pushes For Marijuana Legalization In Kenya

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A Kenyan lawmaker is introducing legislation to legalize marijuana nationwide.

Member of Parliament Kenneth Okoth wrote a letter to the National Assembly speaker on Friday, requesting help to prepare the legislation so that it can be published.

The bill would decriminalize cannabis possession and use, clear criminal records of those with prior cannabis-related convictions, enact a legal and regulated commercial sales program and impose “progressive taxation measures” in order to “boost economic independence of Kenya and promote job creation.”

Currently, marijuana (or “bhang,” as it’s locally known) is illegal in Kenya—as it is in most of Africa.

Another provision of the draft legislation concerns “research and policy development.” Okoth wants the country to conduct studies on the medical, industrial, textile and recreational applications of cannabis. And that research would have a “focus on the preservation of intellectual property rights for Kenyan research and natural heritage, knowledge, and our indigenous plant assets,” according to the letter.

“It’s high time Kenya dealt with the question of marijuana like we do for tobacco, miraa, and alcohol,” Okoth wrote on Facebook.

“Legalize, regulate, tax. Protect children, eliminate drug cartels, reduce cost of keeping petty offenders in jail. Promote research for medical purposes and protect our indigenous knowledge and plants before foreign companies steal and patent it all.”

Okoth’s push for legalization in Kenya comes days after South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled that individuals can grow and use marijuana for personal purposes. The court determined that prohibition violated a person’s right to privacy, effectively legalizing cannabis in the country.

It’ll take a while for Okoth’s bill to move forward. The legislation will need cabinet approval, then it must be published so that all interested parties can review the proposal before it enters into parliamentary debates. Whether Okoth’s fellow lawmakers will embrace the legislation is yet to be seen.

Don’t Legalize Marijuana, UN Drug Enforcement Board Warns Countries

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Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Bill, Making History In US Territory

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With a governor’s signature on Friday, the latest place to legalize marijuana in the U.S. isn’t a state. It’s the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)—a tiny Pacific territory with a population of just over 50,000.

Under the new law signed by Gov. Ralph Torres (R), adults over 21 years of age will be able to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana, as well as infused products and extracts. Regulators will issue licenses for cannabis producers, testing facilities, processors, retailers, wholesalers and lounges. Home cultivation of a small number of plants will be allowed.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

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