Here are the Top 10 Drug Law Blog stories of 2008. Keep in mind that my stories reflect the focus of this blog — i.e.
10. Salvia divinorum becomes a YouTube celebrity. California passes AB259 to try to crack down on a drug that is not associated with any health problems.
2008 was the year that an obscure, hallucinogenic plant,
9. For the second time in two years, Mexico proposes decriminalization of personal use of drugs. Just like the last time, this proposal goes nowhere fast. Meanwhile, Mexico spirals further into extreme, prohibition-related violence.
Back in 2006, the then-president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, briefly suggested that he intended to approve a law to decriminalize personal use of small amounts of drugs. That proposal seemingly evaporated, reportedly after pressure from the U.S. This year, President Calderon proposed something very similar. More intriguing still, Office of National Drug Control Policy head John Walters said that he was actually in favor of the proposal.
However, the result of this year’s proposal was the same as the result in 2006: absolutely nothing happened. Meanwhile, Mexico was absolutely savaged in 2008 by violence related to an attempt to crack down on drug trafficking. The AP reported in December that more than 5,000 people had been killed in these battles this year. Once-vibrant Places like Tijuana are basically ghost-towns now because of the threat of violence, underscoring the truly terrible human costs created by aggressive prohibition policies.
8. California’s substantive law on medical marijuana evolves: The battle in People v. Kelly is
There were several important California medical marijuana cases in 2008: Ross v.
People v. Kelly is still on review to the California Supreme Court, but as I noted back in October, the Attorney General has already conceded the argument in that case. That means that strict quantity limits on medical marijuana defenses brought under California’s Compassionate Use Act are almost certainly going to be struck down by the Cal Supremes. Seems like a big deal to me, but nobody has picked up on this story.
In August, the Attorney General also released a set of guidelines around medical marijuana. I find them confusing, odd, and of uncertain value for defendants, but some people in the medical marijuana world consider them to be a victory.
Finally, the California legislature passed a bill authored by Mark Leno, AB2279, that would have given workplace protections to medical marijuana users (in response to the defeat in RagingWire, noted above). However, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure.
7. Federalism follies: San Diego and San Bernardino Counties continue losing their protracted, mean-spirited attempt to overturn California medical marijuana law.
My birthplace of San Diego continued to embarrass itself in 2008 by relentlessly pursuing a case called County of San Diego v. San Diego NORML, which is basically an attempt to argue that California state law can not be modified to allow people to use medical marijuana without prosecution because the federal law of the United States preempts any action in that area. Got that? Federal preemption is so potent a force, according to San Diego County (and San Bernardino County, which is also pursuing this case), that California is literally obliged to continue arresting medical marijuana patients under state law and prosecuting them in state court.
It’s a terrible argument, which presumably is why it lost at the trial level and then lost in the court of appeal, and why the California Supreme Court denied review. Nevertheless, San Diego has vowed to seek
6. Massachusetts voters pass an initiative making personal possession of marijuana an infraction.
This is not a California story, but it’s pretty darn remarkable and could well point the way toward reforms in other states. In the November 2008 election, voters in Massachusetts passed an initiative that makes possession of less than an ounce of marijuana for personal use an “infraction” — in other words, an offense comparable to a speeding ticket.
Law enforcement in Masschusetts is already moaning that the administration of this law will be a real “headache” for them. Apparently it would be a lot easier –for them, that is — just to go on arresting and prosecuting people for a nonviolent act that harms nobody.
(On a related point, as Pete of Drug WarRant noted, Arizona’s Attorney General stated right at the end of 2008 that he might be willing to consider marijuana decriminalization if a way could be found to administer the process. With any luck, Massachusetts will show the rest of the nation that this is really not that big of a deal.)
5. California’s Prop. 5 (the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act) is defeated in California after a massive infusion of cash from the state prison guards’ union.
California voters had a chance in the 2008 election to enact really significant drug law reform via an initiative called the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act. Unfortunately, the initiative was extremely long and technical and very easily distorted by its opponents, including most of the usual suspects in state law enforcement. California’s prison guards (the highest paid correctional officers in the nation) threw their weight into the anti-prop. 5
4. The slow-motion crackdown on California dispensaries continues
Though we finally moved toward what we fervently hope will be a more reasonable federal drug policy (see #3, below), 2008 saw a relentless and depressing parade of federal raids on California medical marijuana dispensaries and prosecutions and convictions of people who have simply tried to operate within the law as passed by California voters and the California legislature. It’s as if the Bush administration was determined to waste as much taxpayer money as possible on these crackdowns while it was still holding onto the reigns of the Department of Justice.
One of the most discouraging cases in 2008 was the conviction in federal court of Charles Lynch, the Morro Bay dispensary operator whose story is told in the clips below. When the history of this movement is written, it is folks like
3. Barack Obama is elected after having promised to end federal raids on medical marijuana patients. Early indications of Obama’s stance on drug policy, however, are not particularly encouraging.
Well, Obama got elected and that felt sort of warm and fuzzy, and it’s at least possible that it will mean a more progressive federal stance on medical marijuana. Obama stated during his campaign that “I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users. It’s not a good use of our resources.” If he stays true to his word, it will be a dramatic thing, and may well be the change that ushers in medical marijuana on a nationwide basis.
On the other hand, Obama has never seemed to be interested in taking a very progressive stance on drug policy. His nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder, is a former prosecutor who “proposed legislation to stiffen penalties for the possession of marijuana” while with the Justice Department, according to NORML. Obama is also reportedly considering Jim Ramstad as Drug Czar, despite the fact that Ramstad is reportedly an opponent of both medical marijuana and needle exchange.
All of which means
2. Prescription drugs outstrip street drugs as the drug of choice.
Despite the fact that the policing priorities of the federal government and most other jurisdictions are still heavily skewed toward traditional “street” drugs like marijuana, 2008 was the year when it became entirely obvious that “street” drugs are no longer the growth industry in recreational drug use: that dubious honor belongs, instead, to diverted pharmaceutical drugs, which are now the “drug of choice” for people all over America.
As the Office of National Drug Control Policy noted in its 2008 National Drug Control Strategy Document (see page 17 of the report (pdf)), more 12 and 13-year-olds now use prescription drugs recreationally than use marijuana. The numbers are sufficiently worrisome that some guy named Joe Biden held Senate hearings in March all about what it called “Generation Rx” — i.e., a generation that has turned away from the drugs that we’re sending people to prison for and turning instead to the drugs that are already in the medicine cabinet and being used by mom and dad.
1. The chickens come home to roost, as the United States is documented to have the highest drug consumption in the world, the highest incarceration rates in the word, and appalling levels of racial discrimination in drug policing.
Everybody who has a decent head on their shoulders knows that the drug war is a policy that has some shortcomings. 2008, however, was the year in which the statistical evidence of those shortcomings began to pile up to a degree that was totally absurd on every level.
Problems with extreme
Problems with unfair and racist policing patterns around drug use? Check, check and check. 2008 saw the release of not
Problems accomplishing the goals of prohibition? Check. A study released in the summer of 2008 showed that the United States