Feds won’t challenge states with marijuana legalization

This is big news. And, I think it’s good news.

The Obama administration on Thursday said it will not stand in the way of Colorado, Washington and other states where voters have supported legalizing marijuana either for medical or recreational use, as long as those states maintain strict rules involving distribution of the drug.

In a memo sent Thursday to U.S. attorneys in all 50 states, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole detailed the administration’s new stance, even as he reiterated that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The memo directs federal prosecutors to focus their resources on eight specific areas of enforcement, rather than targeting individual marijuana users, which even President Obama has acknowledged is not the best use of federal manpower. Those areas include preventing distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing the sale of pot to cartels and gangs, preventing sales to other states where the drug remains illegal under state law, and stopping the growing of marijuana on public lands.



The Senate's side of the Capitol Building in DC.
The Senate’s side of the Capitol Building in DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control:

11. Finding: Traditionally, U.S. Presidents – through ONDCP – have divided drug demand reduction into two main categories: prevention and treatment. However, the Obama Administration has added a third area: recovery. For the first time ever, in its 2010 National Drug Control Strategy, ONDCP focused on the need to invest in recovery. Treatment for drug abusers usually takes place during a fixed period of time. However, recovery is a lifelong process.

Recommendation: The private sector should foster the development of businesses that positively affect the lives of people in  recovery by increasing employment opportunities for them.

12. Finding: Residential treatment is a commonly used form of treatment. However, many states are facing a shortage of residential treatment beds. The shortage of beds is especially true for women with children seeking treatment. Last year, there were only 80 family-based treatment programs in the United States. Many of these programs have limits on the age of children women can bring with them as they receive treatment, further limiting access to care for women with children. The federal government does not have a precise measure for determining the shortage of residential drug treatment spaces.

SAMHSA administers a survey – the National Survey on Substance Abuse Treatment Services – of specialty treatment facilities, including residential facilities. This survey includes questions to determine the proportion of facilities that offer residential services and the number of beds available in such facilities. However, the survey is not able to provide an estimate of the demand for these beds. Most facilities do not track and record such information.

Recommendation: Across the country, there needs to be real time reporting on the demand for beds in residential treatment. There also needs to be a more rapid response in areas with bed shortages to ensure treatment is available when individuals request it.

13. Finding: Residential treatment programs are costly which often leads to individuals not receiving long enough treatment to stop their substance abuse dependency. Some residential treatment programs, such as the Delancey Street Foundation, are self-funded. The Delancey Street Foundation sustains itself by the work of residents who live on the premises and complete work in areas such as catering, holiday decor and moving services.

Recommendation: In the current difficult fiscal climate, residential treatment programs should look to the Delancey Street Foundation as a possible funding model that is self-sustaining without relying on federal,  state and local funds.

Sound familiar?

[Thanks Matt]

Why we can’t agree

Official portrait of United States Director of...

The Obama administration just released their annual drug control strategy report and all the headlines say it emphasizes treatment over incarceration.

Sounds great, but the stories are short on details.

Others, from the Drug Policy Alliance are dismissing it as more of the same.

More of the same? Really? I think Obama’s safely within the herd on this, but one doesn’t have to go back very far to reach a time when it would be a certain death sentence for a national politician to say that we should incarcerate fewer people for drug crimes. Change may not be coming as quickly as the DPA would like, but to say that the current state of affairs is “same old, same old” is pretty silly.

All of this is mildly interesting. What is was much more interesting was this quote:

Is it a disease of the brain? I asked Columbia University psychology professor Carl Hart, who is also a board member of Drug Policy Alliance. Hart laughed. “A behavioral disease, therefore the brain is involved? OK, we can say that about everything.”

I admit, the addiction-is-an-illness line never worked for me. It leaves out personal will. It sanitizes destructive decision making. It suggests that people cannot get clean without a health care professional.

Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, came up with the best explanation I’ve heard for the disease argument. People don’t want to see addicts jailed, he said, so they’ve come up with a scenario to spare users from incarceration. Ergo: “The whole drug establishment is invoking the disease model as an antidote to the criminal-justice model.”

I think it goes a long way toward explaining the difficulty in explaining the difficulty in finding any common ground on drug policy.

  • The question of free will is an important and under-addressed matter. Though I’m pretty confident it’s under-addressed because it’s not empirically knowable.
  • The suspicion of the disease model is a huge barrier. If there are profound disagreements about the nature of the issue, it’s very difficult to even begin to come up with solutions that address each other’s concerns.
  • The suspicion of each other’s motives is a huge barrier—”so they’ve come up with a scenario”. This paints advocates of the disease model as disingenuous. We’re manufacturing the model we need rather than describing what is.