NN10 Liveblog: Marijuana Policy and Politics

As part of today’s 3-way FDL liveblog from Vegas, I’m covering the Marijuana Policy and Politics panel with FDL’s own Jon Walker. Here’s some background on the panel and panelists:

Marijuana Policy and Politics
SAT, 07/24/2010 – 1:45PM, Miranda 3-4
With a wave of populist energy upending the old political coalitions, bloggers have a leading role to play in redefining the political playing field. One of the openings is drug policy, with marijuana policy in the lead, pulling together the libertarian elements of the Tea Party movement, small-government conservatives and progressives. Medical marijuana is now legal in 14 states, and several more are considering taxing and regulating marijuana for non-medical use. Ballot measures are being considered in several states for 2010 and 2012. By embracing marijuana as a serious issue to be addressed in the context of a broader populist movement, bloggers can help to take it out of the policy and political ghetto where it normally resides and could make genuine progress.

This panel features players from major drug policy reform organizations: NORML, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Drug Policy Alliance, and Firedoglake, respectively from the above list of speakers.

DPA’s Jill Harris is moderating today’s panel, and is reviewing the 14 states with medical marijuana, including just 4 states with legal dispensaries. It’s a weird legal area without a legal supply, which some states are starting to remedy.

Harris: New Mexico leading the way in state laws for dispensaries, with Rhode Island and Maine com

ing up. California leaves it to the localities de facto to make regulations. Varies from area to area. Oakland is more regulated and professional, while LA “buried their heads in the sand and refused to make regulations.” Regulation is the key to taming the market and stopping a “Wild-West” from taking place. “Prohibition is chaos.”

Harris: something happening with marijuana in majority of US states, though it’s mostly medical. Decriminalized in 11 states for less an ounce of possession. Misdemeanor in most states, while a handful have a felony for second possession. Some cities have voted to make marijuana possession as “lowest law enforcement priority.”

Next up: Russ Belville of NORML on how we got to today’s legal lay of the land. People often say, “why focus on marijuana? Why not poverty?” Because marijuana affects so many rights and other aspects of life.

Belville: polls across the board show increasing support for legalization now; support dropped from the 70s to 1989 with the War on Drugs and more. (“Thanks Joe Biden!”) But since then, ever increasing support as it becomes more accepted, with medical marijuana. In 2008, 83 of 83 counties in Michigan supported medical marijuana, getting more support than Obama and McCain.

Belville: democrats, liberals, young people support legalization. Womens’ support going up, which is key to success of any legalization folks. Just 1 in 5 Americans support jailing people for marijuana possession.

Belville: 41% of US population have tried marijuana; chart shows big spike in people saying they smoke pot when Bush was president. Under age 50, more than half have smoked. Baby boomers increasingly saying they smoke. 1 in 4 young people use it; more than 1 in 10 use it weekly. 11% of people aged 18-25 smoke pot twice a week or more.

Belville: 3 in 4 adults who smoke are white; but of those in jail for pot, only 27% are white. More than 1 trillion spent on War on Drugs, with no measurable successes.

Next up: Drug Policy Alliance’s Stephen Gutwillig: calls Prop 19 as “the exit strategy for the War on Drugs.” CA as epicenter, quick show of hands reveals half the room is from California.

Gutwillig: Prop 19 isn’t full scale legalization, but gives localities to regulate and tax within their jurisdictions if they so choose. Drug policy reformers getting more attention than ever before; much discussion now centering around taxation with collapse of economy. Mexican cartels are also playing into that too “to create a story the media can’t ignore.”

Gutwillig: Not best idea to make decisions in policy based on income alone; polling shows that’s not what people are focused on. Not a game changer for peoples’ votes. Marijuana enforcement is now big business, mostly took off during Clinton. Fed gov’t subsidizing local police forces to do as much small scale enforcement as possible. Marijuana prohibition is incentivized. Rate of arrests for marijuana dramatically increased while every other kind of crime arrest is down. Possession skyrocketed because the money is there.

Gutwillig: NYC is marijuana arrest capital of the world; possession is decriminalized, but policy frisk and bring marijuana out of pockets at which point it’s arrestable for having in public view. Black and brown folks are disproportionately targeted. Very routine, it’s the way it works across the country but especially in CA. Not only is racist enforcement offensive and wrong on its own, but whites do the crime and blacks do the time.

Gutwillig: voters consistently favor redirecting law enforcement from marijuana, less keen on taxation as public message.

Next up, Major Neill Franklin, 33 year law enforcement veteran and incoming director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Franklin: LEAP is not just cops, but judges, corrections, prosecutors, feds. 30,000 supporters, thousands of law enforcement members who fought war on drugs on front lines and who now support ending prohibition. War on Drugs supposed to reduced crime and addiction, but it hasn’t worked.

Franklin: discussing his experience with Maryland State Police, and people he knew who were cops murdered by drug dealers protecting their illegal profits. A family of seven killed in arson by drug dealer seeking vengeance. The War on Drugs hurts.

Franklin: All about the money. Burn grants from feds to burn marijuana. Law enforcement get money for marijuana. No money for arrests for homicides, pedophiles, rapists. But money for toking on a joint.

Good cops don’t want to do this stuff. Good cops want to be respected in their communities. They want to increase arrest rate for real crimes, they don’t want to arrest people for smoking marijuana. We need to educate and talk to cops and shift focus to where it needs to be. But they need our help and our voice.

If people want to smoke and drive, they already are. But real problem is alcohol and Rx drugs, not marijuana.

When we ended alcohol prohibition, it was because of women and moms. Making that shift today when they get the facts. Moms always make good decisions. Let’s get moms moving with us.

Next up, Firedoglake’s own Jon Walker! Jon’s talking about political aspects. Good thing for people to get organized. It’s something people understand inherently. This is not a complicated issued, people get it. Prohibition against marijuana has failed, it’s a terrible policy.

Walker: There’s a way to message it to win. Drug laws have always been racists. Created by racists, enforced in racist way. KKK fought as main source of alcohol prohibition. Prohibition was first instance of wiretapping. Erosion of civil liberties begins with war on drugs.

Walker: One of big fights is teachers are being laid off all over the country. Marijuana taxation could lead to 25,000 teachers. Could be policemen, firemen. Could take $4,000 off tuition of every CA university system student with legalization.

Walker: nothing does more to undermine government’s faith is war on drugs. Police destroying viable businesses. Creating animosity betwen government and people. Destroying concept of government. #1 driver of anti government mentality of young people: “government is fucking with you.”

Walker: more people pushing in Congress to privitize medicare, with only 20%. BUt only 4 members of Congress support legalization supported by 50% of country.

Walker: marijuana posts on blogs drive tons of traffic. Nate Silver’s legalization polling piece is second most popular post on his site. News organizations create pot content because people want to read and talk about it.

Walker: if people say marijuana isn’t the most important thing, it’s too bad because Congress hasn’t got anything else going on. Huge public support among Democrats and progressives, and we need to start talking about it. It really affects every aspect of society. Firedoglake will be very much involved, and this is a moment to show an actual theory of change. Good thing with Prop 19, you don’t have to elect it and wait 4-5 years for change like Obama.

Now, Q&A.

Q1: Will turnout be affected by marijuana on the ballot?

A: Jill Harris has heard of this, Democrats interested in it. Could be our gay marriage.

Stephen (DPA): lots of questions about it, isn’t definitive data yet on this. A lot of interest on this question about marijuana surge vote. Anecdotes of people mistakenly trying to vote in June primary. Will be crucial issue, including relationship of this vote to CA-Gov and CA-Sen.

Russ (NORML): Dems and progressives have to watch their flank on this. GOP is aging and have tea party movement of small govt. If 2010 election brings out youth vote for Prop 19, and not vote for Dems, Dems might wake up and seize the issue.

Stephen (DPA): Dems trying to have it both ways right now, can’t work that way.

Q2: Why are cops targeting minorities instead of whites when usage is with whites, including higher income areas?

A: Neill (LEAP): 1. logical, because cops are concentrated in minority areas and so arrests happening there. 2. when you arrest young black and latinos, not much of a push back. If we go into suburban areas and start flexing muscles as law enforcement, phone will be ringing before you get back to precinct with arrest. So it’s easier to arrest minorities.

Stephen (DPA): Not a conspiracy, this is how it’s supposed to work. Recommends “The New Jim Crow” book that discusses it. Only variable that matters is race.

Neill (LEAP): In open air drug activities, good citizens call the police. You want to see 4th amendment violations, watch police in minority areas. Lock up every body that moves. It’s how business is done, and there’s no pushback so it continues and fills up our jails.

Q3: Couldn’t hear, something about local communities making decisions.

Russ (NORML): Marijuana prohibition started in localities, then cities, then states, then fed govt in 1937. Seeing the same thing for ending prohibition, with local and states ending prohibition first.

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Michael Whitney

Michael Whitney

My name is Michael Whitney. I'm a progressive online organizer working with FDL Action. Rush Limbaugh called me "clueless" once. He went into rehab two days later.