Friday, November 06, 2015

The Push for Legal Marijuana Spreads

While the Ohio initiative that would have legalized the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use went down to defeat on Tuesday and the likelihood of changes to Virginia's marijuana laws appears remote give the strangle hold the Virginia GOP - and by extension, its puppeteer The Family Foundation, a vicious and foul "family values" hate group based in Richmond - retains on the Virginia General Assembly, change is afoot elsewhere.  Just this week, the Supreme Court of Mexico handed down a ruling that may usher in major changes in that nations laws which have helped fuel drug cartels and the evils that go with them.  Change in the marijuana laws could also end the criminalization of those who have been caught up in ridiculously harsh drug laws.  The New York Times looks at the winds of change in a main editorial.  Here are highlights:
Support for making marijuana legal is increasing around the world, and that is a good thing. Earlier this week, the Mexican Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing the drug by giving four plaintiffs the right to grow cannabis for personal use.
In Canada, the newly sworn in prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has said he intends to change the law so people can use the drug recreationally; medicinal use is already legal in that country. And in the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, recently introduced a bill that would let states decide if they want to make the drug legal without worrying about violating federal law.

Laws banning the growing, distribution and possession of marijuana have caused tremendous damage to society, with billions spent on imprisoning people for violating pointlessly harsh laws. Yet research shows that marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, and can be used to treat medical conditions like chronic pain.

The Mexican Supreme Court’s ruling, which applies only to the four plaintiffs seeking a right to grow marijuana, does not strike down the country’s marijuana laws. But it will open the way to more legal challenges and put pressure on President Enrique Peña Nieto and the Mexican Congress to change the law, which has helped to fuel drug-related crime in the country.

Prohibition in Mexico and elsewhere in the Americas will also become harder to maintain if California voters legalize recreational use of marijuana. Activists there are seeking to put legalization initiatives on the 2016 ballot.  

What’s needed now is responsible leadership from President Obama and Congress. They ought to seriously consider the kind of legislation Mr. Sanders has proposed. His bill would remove marijuana, or “marihuana” as it is called in federal law, from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, which is meant for drugs that have a high potential for abuse and no medical use.

This change would allow states to decide if they want to make the drug legal and how to regulate it without being limited by federal law. 

If Congress is unwilling to act, Mr. Obama should move on his own by ordering the attorney general to request a study by the secretary of health and human services, which would be needed if the administration is to remove the drug from Schedule I on its own.

A growing group of activists, judges and lawmakers is showing the world a path to more sensible drug policies. Mr. Obama and Congress should join them.

While I do not handle criminal law matters, on occasion my corporate clients will receive a summons for a city code violation which is treated as a criminal offense and is heard before the criminal courts.  Each time I go to court to resolve one of these code violation cases, I usually have to sit through a parade individuals facing marijuana charges.  From what I have observed, the police seem to disproportionately target blacks, especially young black males, the majority of whom cannot afford legal counsel.  White defendants who appear with legal counsel typically get off with suspended sentences which are dismissed after a year of good conduct.  Black males without private counsel typically get convicted and thereafter have permanent criminal records which are impediments to many employment opportunities.  Meanwhile, conservatives and Virginia Republicans whine about the poor - read blacks - not being gainfully employed, yet Virginia's outdated marijuana laws help to insure these types of criminal convictions will bar gainful employment.

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