All posts tagged: US politics

Jeff Sessions is leading America back into Reefer Madness | Jamie Peck

The US attorney general is trying to undo the progress made in liberalizing marijuana consumption in the US. This will only lead to more people in jail

Once upon a time, the 1936 film Reefer Madness attempted to spread sensationalistic messages about marijuana to youths across the land. Just one toke, the film warned, and you could be setting off down the primrose path to murder, hallucinations, rape, suicide, and yes, the titular madness. Yikes!

Luckily for fans of the plant, we now know the worst effects of marijuana are smokers cough, laziness and a predilection for salty junk food. Furthermore, studies have shown it can be used to treat a vast array of health problems, from glaucoma to the nausea caused by chemotherapy.

The total number of fatal marijuana overdoses per year remains steady at zero. Why, its almost like pot is no big deal, and we should be allowed to have it if we want.

This knowledge, plus widespread social acceptance a recent Gallup poll found that one in eight US adults admits to smoking the stuff, and more than half have tried it have led to a gradual liberalization of marijuana laws on the state level, to the point where 29 states plus Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana.

Eight states have gone a step further and legalized it for recreational use, allowing people over the age of 21 to enjoy it responsibly. In 2016 alone, the citizens of eight states voted to relax their laws on recreational and/or medical marijuana, one of few progressive victories in an otherwise depressing election. (Perhaps because its one of a few issues that unites progressives and libertarian-leaning conservatives.) It would seem a critical mass of Americans is coming to accept the popular plant as the relatively harmless, potentially helpful substance it is.

But all that progress may soon come to a halt. As threatened back in February, Donald Trumps Department of Justice has plans to aggressively go after states that have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana the latter despite Sean Spicers promise that Trump sees a big difference between the two.

After making baseless statements that marijuana is only slightly less awful than heroin and that good people dont smoke marijuana, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions who once joked that he thought the violent white supremacists of the KKK were okay until I found out they smoked pot has established a task force to investigate the connection between marijuana and violent crime.

He might learn that legalizing marijuana has actually been shown to reduce violent crime in some instances and leave it unaffected in others. But, in case anyone thought he was waiting for the task forces findings to come in before acting, in May he wrote a letter to congressional leaders asking them to roll back protections put in place by the previous Congress. These use the power of the purse to keep the Department of Justice from prosecuting medical marijuana in states that have voted to legalize it.

In said letter, he referred to a historic drug epidemic, willfully conflating marijuana use with the crisis of opiate addiction plaguing our country. (Sessions either doesnt know or doesnt care that opiate deaths have actually decreased in states that have legalized medical marijuana, partly because it can serve as a gentler alternative to addictive prescription painkillers.)

He scapegoats marijuana for violent crime once more. He even claims marijuana is linked to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as psychosis, which sounds a lot like reefer madness to me. As with Trumps Muslim ban, Sessions notes this issue is too important to respect the rights of states to make their own laws. In Sessions bigoted eyes, states rights are only important when it comes to the passage of bills designed to discriminate against transgender people who wish to use the bathroom.

This approach is a departure from that of the Obama administration, whose relationship with the states on marijuana was more mixed. While Barack Obama raided growers in states that had legalized weed from time to time, the Department of Justice stated in a 2013 memo that it would not challenge state marijuana laws, provided the drug was adequately regulated. Obama also took some small steps to reform our criminal justice system, particularly where non-violent drug crimes were concerned.

While the fallout from legal marijuana is far from proven, the fallout from the ineffective war on drugs can be measured in lives ruined, particularly the lives of people of color. By 2001, there were 2 million people in our countrys prisons, and nearly one in three black men ages 20-29 was caught up in the deeply flawed criminal justice system.

Racial profiling, uneven enforcement, disparities in sentencing, and unequal access to lawyers have all helped ensure the majority of people in jail for drug offenses are black and Latino, despite the fact that black and white Americans use drugs at similar rates.

In rolling back states attempts at more sensible drug policy, Sessions seeks to bring us back to the days when misinformation and hysteria beat out science and reason, and the government used the war on drugs as an excuse to go after anti-war hippies and African-Americans, as a former Nixon official was once quoted admitting.

Our only hope is that the rollout of this policy is as botched as everything else the Trump administration has tried to do. Which, judging from recent history, is entirely possible.

Read more:

Marissa SafontJeff Sessions is leading America back into Reefer Madness | Jamie Peck
read more

California, Nevada and Massachusetts vote to legalize recreational marijuana

How Americans voted on a range of ballot initiatives around the country

Voters around the US cast ballots for a diverse range of initiatives that seek to reform laws on marijuana, the death penalty, climate change and more. Below are results in the most important contests.


Approved: California voters approved recreational marijuana, a huge victory in the fight for cannabis legalization, paving the way for the largest commercial pot market in the US.

Approved: Massachusetts also voted for recreational pot, extending legal weed from coast to coast.

Approved: Nevada became the third state to approve a recreational cannabis law, making the west an even stronger region for marijuana sales.

Approved: Earlier in the night, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana, the first victory in a string of high-profile cannabis measures on Tuesdays state ballots.

Approved: North Dakota was the second state to approve medical weed, with the approval of Measure 5, which approves the use of marijuana to treat a number of diseases, including cancer, Aids, epilepsy and hepatitis C.

Approved: Arkansas also passed a medical cannabis measure that would allow patients with specific conditions to buy medicine from dispensaries licensed by the government.

Rejected: Arizona was the first state to vote against its marijuana measure, with the news early on Wednesday morning that voters have rejected Proposition 205. The measure would have legalized recreational pot.

Approved: Montana residents voted to expand the states medical marijuana system with the passage of Initiative 182, which removes limits on the number of patients providers can serve. Proponents of the measure argued that the existing restrictions blocked patients from accessing care.

Advocates and opponents agree that Californias Proposition 64 is the most important cannabis measure America has seen and could be an international game-changer for marijuana policy in the US.

California, which recently overtook the UK to have the fifth largest economy in the world, is expected to have a recreational marijuana market greater than Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska combined, said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

When I talk to everybody from allies to government officials in Mexico and I ask them whats it going to take to transform the debate, he said, the response to me is when California legalizes marijuana.

Too close to call: As of Wednesday afternoon, a recreational measure in Maine was still too close to call.

Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, paving the way for Oregon, and Alaska to follow suit.

As medical and retail cannabis operations have spread across the US, legal marijuana has become the fastest-growing industry in the US, with some analysts projecting sales to reach $22bn by 2020.

People gather for an election watch party put on by supporters of a legal marijuana initiative in Phoenix, Arizona. Photograph: Nancy Wiechec/Reuters

Although dozens of states have also taken steps to authorize medical marijuana or decriminalize pot, cannabis remains an illegal drug at the federal level.

Opponents of legalization, who have spent millions campaigning against this years measures, have argued that pot shops pose public safety risks and lead to an increase in adolescent drug abuse.

But supporters of the measures have argued that ending marijuana prohibition is critical for eliminating the war on drugs that has fueled mass incarceration and disproportionately affected people of color.

Some studies have also cast doubts on fears that legalization leads to higher rates of teen abuse, and backers of legalization further point to the big tax revenues the commercial industries have raised, exceeding initial projections.

Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and an expert in drug policy, predicted that as more states legalize pot, there will be a continual decline in marijuana arrests.

Youll see plunging prices all over, he added, and youre going to have a lot more consumption.

Tuesdays victories could encourage other states and Congress to pursue similar reforms, said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.

It emboldens legislators to take on the issue and treat it more seriously.

Supporters of medical marijuana wave signs at passing traffic at a street corner in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Photograph: Amy Beth Bennett/AP

Death penalty

Rejected: California rejected a high-profile measure to repeal the death penalty, which would have ended capital punishment and taken 741 inmates off of death row, instead sentencing them to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Too close to call: As of Wednesday afternoon, the states competing death penalty measure Proposition 66, designed to speed up executions was still too close to call. If it passes, the measure would be a major loss for death penalty opponents across the nation, who have fought for years to make California a leader in repealing capital punishment.

Approved: Oklahoma passed a measure to reaffirm the states commitment to the death penalty after the state attorney general suspended executions last year. Question 776, known as the Allow Any Execution Method, protects the death penalty in the constitution, blocking it from being declared cruel or unusual punishment.

Approved: Nebraska voters passed an unusual ballot measure to reinstate the death penalty after state lawmakers repealed it in 2015. The vote is a big loss for opponents of capital punishment given that Nebraska was the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty in more than 40 years.

The lethal injection facility at San Quentin state prison in California. Photograph: Eric Risberg/AP

Minimum wage

Approved: Arizona became the first state to raise the minimum wage on Tuesday night, with a Proposition 206 victory, raising the rate to $12 an hour by 2020. The measure also requires employers to provide paid sick time to workers.

Approved: Washington states proposal to raise the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour was also successful on Tuesday.

Approved: Colorado voters also approved a measure to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, which some studies suggest will boost incomes for 20% of households in the state.

Approved: Maines minimum wage increase proposal was another victory on Tuesday, solidifying a successful night for the Fight for $15 labor movement that has fought to make salary improvements for low-wage workers a national issue. Maines Question 4 also calls for $12 by 2020.

Rejected: South Dakota was an outlier this year with a referendum on whether to lower the minimum wage for workers younger than 18. But residents voted against the states Referred Law 20, which would have exempted youth from South Dakotas new minimum wage, increased to $8.50 in 2014.

The Fight for $15 labor movement helped put minimum wage increase initiatives on the ballot in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington. Photograph: UPI / Barcroft Media

Climate change

Rejected: Washington residents voted against a measure called Initiative 732, which called for the first carbon tax in the US. It would have cost emitters $25 for each ton of carbon dioxide from 2018. It would have increased gradually over the course of 40 years to $100 a ton.

Rejected: Florida voters said no to Amendment 1, a measure that would have restricted the ability of homeowners to sell electricity they create through rooftop solar panels to the grid. Environmental groups said the measure was fundamentally dishonest because it was backed by the states large utilities and could have hurt the regional solar industry.


Rejected: Colorado has voted against the creation of a single-payer healthcare system that would have made the state the first in the country to have universal, government-run healthcare. Amendment 69, also known as ColoradoCare, would have created a $36bn health system designed to ensure that every resident of the state is served. The program, which called for a new 10% payroll tax, would have replaced the private health insurance system. The defeat is a big win for major medical providers such as Anthem and Kaiser, which helped finance the opposition campaign.

Rejected: A California health proposal that received national attention thanks to an endorsement from US senator Bernie Sanders ultimately failed to earn enough votes. The state rejected Proposition 61, which would have restricted California from spending more on prescription drugs than the prices paid by the US Department of Veteran Affairs.

Opponents had spent $109m against the proposition, which the pharmaceutical industry strongly opposed. Sanders had said he hopes the measure would spark a national movement to lower drug prices.

Colorado is voting on a single-payer healthcare system, and California is voting on prescription drug prices. Photograph: Voisin/Phanie/Rex/Shutterstock


Approved: Washington state passed the first gun control ballot measure of the night, with the approval of Initiative 1491, which allows courts to issue protection orders to remove an individuals access to firearms, such as domestic abusers.

Approved: California voters followed suit, passing a proposal that requires people buying ammunition to undergo background checks and outlaws possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Approved: Nevada voters narrowly passed a measure to expand background checks, requiring that firearm transfers go through a licensed dealer. The proposal exempts transfers between immediate family members.

Rejected: Gun control advocates were dealt a major blow in Maine with the narrow defeat of Question 3, a measure that called for universal background checks. The proposal was supported by billionaire Michael Bloomberg and would have been a big victory for gun safety groups in a state that has traditionally supported gun rights.


Approved: A group of San Franciscos tech billionaires and millionaires successfully passed a measure to ban tents that homeless people use to sleep on the street. Opponents have slammed Proposition Q funded by venture capitalist Michael Moritz, angel investor Ron Conway and hedge fund manager William Oberndorf as a cruel proposal that further criminalizes homeless people without providing new funding for housing or services. Critics have also pointed out that local shelters have long waitlists for beds and that city workers already conduct regular sweeps of homeless encampments.

Approved: In Los Angeles, another city that has struggled with a homeless epidemic, voters approved a measure that creates a $1.2bn investment over 10 years to support housing and programs through the issuance of bonds.

Both San Francisco and Los Angeles have high-profile measures aimed to tackle homelessness in the west. Photograph: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Other initiatives

Rejected: California voted against Proposition 60, a controversial proposal that would have required pornography performers to wear condoms during film shoots. Performers opposed the measure, arguing that industry testing protocols are effective and that the proposal would have opened the door for private citizens to file lawsuits against producers and actors.

Approved: Indiana and Kansas both passed so-called right to hunt measures on Tuesday by wide margins.

Those victories are part of an ongoing movement to enshrine a constitutional right to hunt and fish. Since 1996, 18 states have amended their constitutions to establish hunting and fishing as inalienable rights.

The measures are politically popular, even though critics have argued that there are no legitimate threats to hunting or fishing.

Read more:

Marissa SafontCalifornia, Nevada and Massachusetts vote to legalize recreational marijuana
read more