Posts Tagged ‘Drug War’

Hey readers, forgive the week or so off from posting, it was my birthday and life happened. I’m back now with more posts and some big news.

Uruguay is one step away from being the first country in the world to legalize cannabis. They’re just waiting for the President to sign it into law, which he is expected to do. Once he does Uruguay will be the first country in the world where cannabis is legal and regulated by the government. Unexpectedly, only 26% of Uruguayans actually supported the bill in a poll done after it was first introduced in the summer. I say it is unexpected given the context of struggle I am used to in the US, constantly fighting to gain an inch in the war to legalize cannabis. I imagine the situation in largely Catholic Uruguay to be rather different and perhaps that reflects the seemingly un-Democratic passage of the bill.

You may be thinking, “this isn’t news, pot is legal in Amsterdam and Portugal decriminalized all drugs.” First off, cannabis and ‘recreational mushrooms’ are 100% illegal in Amsterdam but tolerated through an official policy of decriminalization. Second, decriminalization is totally different than legalization. If a compound is legal there are laws on the books supporting the right to legally use it, usually in the form of regulations on its use or distribution. Cigarettes, alcohol, morphine, Oxycontin, Xanax, methamphetamine, St. John’s Wart, and fish oil are all legal; there are laws governing their creation, safety, sale, usage, and more. This allows even potentially dangerous compounds like methamphetamine to be used in relative safety to achieve therapeutic effects but not abusive highs. It also allows for taxation to take place, like with alcohol and cigarettes; this is impossible without full legalization as one cannot tax a grey or black market.

A decriminalized market is taxable in a situation like the Netherlands with storefronts selling a product, but Amsterdam is almost a de facto legalization. The main difference between decriminalized Amsterdam and a real legal market is a difference of opinion. Namely political opinion, which can shift spontaneously, and if it does it is a small matter to arrest those shop owners and their patrons; that could not happen nearly as easily in a fully legal market. Decriminalization, like what you have in the Netherlands, is not codified. There is no law on the books instructing police that a product is legal, merely a statement that the government will no longer arrest/fine people for the formerly prohibited conduct. Usually decriminalization focuses on personal possession only with no legal protection for growers and distributors. I fail to see how this semi-legal model can ever work as well as actual legalization, but Portugal found a way and managed to cut abuse rates in half. If a country were to pursue a policy of decriminalization it should be modeled on Portugal as the most functioning model.

Back to Uruguay and how that is big news. The UN and various other international regulatory bodies exist to enforce international law, including the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This Convention is the precursor to America’s 1970 Controlled Substances Act and establishes a similar regulatory framework for all UN member nations. Like any system with power the UNODC and its affiliates do not want to lose their power and have already sent a strongly worded letter to the US about Washington and Colorado; I am curious how they will deal with Uruguay. It would seem they plan to address it the same as with Washington and Colorado, a strongly worded letter, but maybe in time the UN will do more. Maybe in time they will impose sanctions on Uruguay for their bold decision to lead the way into a better future.

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As you may have noticed already with this blog I am strongly and decidedly against the War on Drugs. I’ve been a former chapter president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, worked with the Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Marijuana Policy Project, Americans for Safe Access and more. I was a regional director for the Proposition 19 campaign to legalize cannabis in California, which came 4% away from passing in 2010 and paved the way for 2012’s victories in Colorado and Washington. Before you begin thinking, “this guy is a drug legalizing radical,” recognize that I am not alone, I am part of the marijuana majority.

I feel that the war on drugs is one of the most important proxy battles we can fight for freedom. While there are numerous battlefields, I feel that the war on drugs, and the Prison Industrial Complex it feeds, is one of the most insidious evils perpetuated by my government, making it my battle to win. Though not my only battle.

Now, if there is only thing  I like about as much as I love cannabis it is tea. I have always loved it, green, white, black, oolong, sencha, rooibos, chai, loose leaf, bagged – tea is tea and it is a wonderful thing. I do not personally know Oshan Anand, though many of my friends do. I only found out about his amazing tea house and all the work he has done for Bay Area tea culture after he was sent to prison for intent to distribute MDMA and psychedelic mushrooms; both charges he plead not guilty to and is appealing. If you weren’t aware, court isn’t cheap and running a tea house is not normally how one gets rich. Oshan needs our help if he is going to get his appeal and get out before his 12.5 year  mandatory minimum sentence.

If you are like me and part of a growing majority of Americans who feels that the drug war is criminally wrong please take after my example and donate to Oshan’s defense. This young man is not a criminal, we don’t have prison’s to lock up non-violent teahouse owners; prison is for hardened criminals like murders and rapists. If you can’t donate, Oshan is able to take letters; please write Oshan and help return the sense of community to his life that has been stolen from him by the state.

While this post has focused solely on Oshan Anand, someone who to the naked eye is “a white guy,” the vast majority of those incarcerated for drug crimes are under 25, male, and black or latino. The arrest disparity is so bad it has been rightfully called The New Jim Crow and led to the creation of Orange is the New Black, who’s title is a subtle shout out to all the inmates in orange working as slave labor for Walmart.

As a last comment, while I referred to Oshan as a “white guy,” I loathe that term. I used it because he, like me, passes as white to the naked eye and thus will get pigeon-holed as ‘an awful white male oppressor’ by strangers who can’t be bothered to learn who he/I really are. That whole logic of, “you’re X/Y/Z you won’t understand” is a way to keep people down and divided, while ignoring a myriad of diversity. Diversity, like how Oshan and I are Buddhists; or how I am white and genderqueer. One can assume by Oshan Anand’s name there is something non-white there, like my own smattering of Cherokee. There is more to diversity than skin-color, but when you are talking about prison it is ignorant of the facts to ignore race.

Please, donate to Oshan’s defense, help him and every non-violent drug offender get their Constitutionally guaranteed freedom.