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Over 95 Million Served July 21, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Drug War, Economy, Marijuana, Politics, Taxes, US Drug Policy.
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marijuana restaurantEveryone probably has heard at least one story about the unsuspecting tourist in Amsterdam that walks into a “coffee shop” expecting to get a cup of coffee.   For those that have not, a coffee shop in Amsterdam is where one can go to smoke marijuana – if you want coffee, go to a cafe.  I was amused to no end when an aunt of mine visited one of these places and brought back a menu.  I did not ask if she ordered off it.

Like many Americans, I have operated under the assumption that Marijuana is legal in the Netherlands.  To my surprise, it is not – it has merely been decriminalized for the use of small amounts – and the establishments that sell it are legal, though they are not allowed by law to grow their own supplies.  This is to ensure the safety of the supply as well as the government’s income from it.  Recently, the Dutch government has been cracking down on the Amsterdam coffee shops – new zoning laws are regulating where they can be located – but the city still has over 200 operational establishments.  One of the reasons cited is so that all drug use – including marijuana use – is discouraged.  It is estimated that about 17% of the Dutch population has ever used marijuana and 3% have used it within the past month.

Compare these statistics – in a country where marijuana use is discouraged but tolerated – to the U.S. policy wherein marijuana use is a crime and the punishments are severe.  Almost 37% of Americans have used marijuana in their lifetimes (about 95 million of them) and five and a half per cent have used in the past month.   The American “War on Drugs” has certainly not been successful in curbing illegal drug use.  About 20% of the inmates in American state prisons are incarcerated on non-violent drug offenses.  Of these, 47% are marijuana offenses and 90% of those are for simple possession.

There has been a growing chorus to rethink American drug policy – especially where marijuana use is concerned.  California estimates the value of marijuana grown and distributed in the state at approximately $6.4 billion annually.  Taxed at a rate similar to alcohol, California could bring in revenues of about $1.5 million per year plus achieve savings on prosecution and incarceration of drug offenders.  About eight and a half per cent of the California prison population – about 13,000 inmates – are incarcerated for an average two years.  It costs California $31,000 per year to house a single inmate.  This translates to over $800 million to keep those prisoners incarcerated for two years.  A non-violent offender caught up in the “three-strikes” policy would average a 25-year sentence and cost the state over $750,000 to keep him incarcerated.  When does the end – cost – no longer justify the means?  Law enforcement has more important responsibilities than arresting 750,000 individuals a year for marijuana possession, especially given the additional justice costs of disposing of each of these cases. Marijuana arrests make justice more expensive and less efficient in the United States, wasting jail space, clogging up court systems, and diverting time of police, attorneys, judges, and corrections officials away from violent crime, the sexual abuse of children, and terrorism.

Many on the other side of this debate, those who would argue for the continued prohibition of marijuana, cite the drugs addictive and “gateway” properties.   Several studies, however, have shown these arguments to be erroneous.  In a 1999 study by the Institutes of Medicine, researchers concluded that “There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”   They reasoned that marijuana was considered a gateway drug in that “Because it is the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug most people encounter. Not surprisingly, most users of other illicit drugs have used marijuana first. In fact, most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana — usually before they are of legal age.”  As far as addictive properties, marijuana is considerably less so than alcohol; alcohol has twice the intoxication rate of marijuana and three times the dependence rate.  The dependence rate of caffeine is twice as high as that of marijuana.

Lastly, there are other economic benefits to marijuana legalization.  Foremost among these is the development of Hemp as an eco-friendly cash crop.  As one of the fastest-growing biomasses on the planet, the Hemp plant can be cultivated anywhere in the world and requires nearly no pesticides or herbicides.  Because of its density, it has been valued in farming for weed control and soil enrichment.  The plant can also be used to “mop” impurities and chemical out of the soil and water.  Hemp fiber can be used in cordage, building materials, biofuels, fabric, and paper.  Hemp seeds are also a nutritionally sound foodstuff and could bring more food security around the globe.

When you stack up all the benefits of marijuana and hemp against the policies we follow in this country today, it is clear that we are going down the wrong road.  We need voices and politicians that are unafraid to bring this issue to the forefront and turn us in the right direction.

(Please see the NORML website for more information on legalization)


From My Cold, Dead Hands April 6, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Constitution, Crime and Punishment, Gun Control, National Politics, Politics, Second Amendment.
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2ndammendOn March 29, Robert Stewart walked into a North Carolina nursing home and opened fire, killing 8 people.  It is believed that the killings were motivated by a recent estrangement from his wife. 

On April 3, Jiverly Voong – a recent immigrant from Vietnam – walked into the American Civic Association in Binghamton and opened fire, killing 13 people before turning the gun on himself.  Police say Voong was distraught over losing his job and his inability to speak English well.

On April 4, three Pittsburgh police officers were shot and killed by an armed gunman as they answered a domestic dispute call.  Richard Poplawski, 23, was said to be upset over losing his job and consumed with fear that the Obama Adminstration was poised to take away his guns.

Also on April 4, James Harrison of Washington State, put his 5 children to bed – then shot them dead – before driving to a convenience store and killing himself.  It is said that Harrison was distraught because his wife had left him for another man.

In a single week, thirty-one Americans have been killed in episodes of mass gun violence.  How many more have to die before we – as a nation – accept that we must do something about guns and gun violence in this country?  It is time that we seriously consider practical ways to control firearms and the use of firearms in the United States.

This is not an easy position for me.  Even though I am a leftie socialist Democrat, I grew up in a family of hunters, and I believe that the Second Amendment confers the individual right to bear arms to the citizenry.   In fact, Mr. Kitchen Table – a hunter himself – argued this point with me over the weekend.  He, like many people on the left,  is of the opinion that the right to bear arms is only applicable in the context of a militia – that anyone who wants to own a gun must join the state militia or National Guard.  He says he is ready to give up his weapons.

The text of the Second Amendment is simply, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  My argument is that, in the context of the times when the Constitution was written, it is obvious the writers of the document meant an individual right.  A farmer would be expected to bring his own rifle to the the place of mustering if the militia were called up.  Indeed, the early experience of the American Revolution was that there were never enough guns; volunteers brought their own if they had them. 

That being said, it is not 1787 any more – nor is it 1887.  The guns the framers of the Constitution talking about were single-shot long guns or pistols.  By the 1880’s, multiple shot handguns (revolvers) were winning the west, but they still depended upon the speed in which the human could pull the trigger; one trigger pull, one bullet.  The danger of automatic weapons capable of firing multiple rounds per minute would have been inconceivable.  The exponential kill potential in modern-day firearms is what makes them necessary to control.

Jiverly Voong used two automatic pistols in his rampage.  Though he was said to be distraught, Mr. Voong planned his episode very carefully, parking a car so that it would block the only other exit in the building.  He also wore body armor.  Richard Poplawski used an AK-47, a favorite weapon of terrorists and street gangs.  Poplawski was wearing a bullet-proof vest.

Robert Stewart and James Harrison used garden-variety shotguns on their victims.  Single shot weapons that require reloading between firing – but they were shooting helpless victims.  Harrison killed his children in their beds.  Stewart killed elderly bed-ridden people. 

The gun lobby is going crazy over all this.  They realize that when things like this happen, Americans look more seriously at gun control laws.  How can they possibly say that unregulated guns are not the problem?  Would thirty-one people be dead if Jiverly Voong, Richard Poplawski, James Harrison, and Robert Stewart  been forced to go on their rampages with a knife or a club?  Part of the reason it is so attractive to kill with a gun is that the gunman is detached from what he is doing.  You have to get up really close to a person to stab or beat them to death. 

The right-wing gun crazies have begun frothing at the mouth.  On the Newsbusters.org web site, they are going positively apoplectic over the “left-wing bloggers” blaming  the Fox News fear merchants (Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity) for inciting the violence.  They say that each gunman was responsible for his own actions – and he was – but doesn’t right-wing propaganda bear SOME responsibility?  Glenn Beck is on TV crying that he loves his country and he and Chuck Norris are just going to kick some ass to “take the country back”.  As noted in the Central Maine Morning Sentinel today, right-wing extremism did not die with Tim McVeigh.  The paper states, “on Feb. 27, broadcaster Glenn Beck, who masquerades as a self-reliant (millionaire) libertarian, said the stimulus plan will “help people at the point of a gun. …They’re going to help you in ways that you do not want to be helped.”

“…it is easy to see how irresponsible right-wing Republican propagandists like Beck really are, especially since they are attempting to protect their right-wing media monopoly by saying that balance of political opinion is actually “censorship.” Apparently right-wing thought can’t exist with two-sided examinations of issues.”

The late Charlton Heston, former president of the NRA, said that we could have his guns when we pry them from his “cold, dead hands”.  Maybe the 31 American who died this week would prefer if we had gotten rid of guns that killed them before THEIR hands were cold and dead.