Tag Archives: Public Policy

Middle Class Relaxing With Marijuana – Science Daily article reports

Middle Class Relaxing With Marijuana

Adapted from materials provided by University of Alberta, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS. Reposted here for education use

ScienceDaily (May 15, 2008) — A variety of middle-class people are making a conscious but careful choice to use marijuana to enhance their leisure activities, a University of Alberta study shows.

A qualitative study of 41 Canadians surveyed in 2005-06 by U of A researchers showed that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ marijuana user, but that people of all ages are selectively lighting up the drug as a
way to enhance activities ranging from watching television and playing sports to having sex, painting or writing.

“For some of the participants, marijuana enhanced their ability to relax by taking their minds off daily stresses and pressures. Others found it helpful in focusing on the activity at hand,” said Geraint Osborne, a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus in Camrose, and one of the study’s authors.

The focus was on adult users who were employed, ranging in age from 21 to 61, including 25 men and 16 women from Alberta, Quebec, Ontario and Newfoundland whose use of the drug ranged from daily to once or twice a year. They were predominantly middle class and worked in the retail and service industries, in communications, as white-collar employees, or as health-care and social workers. As well, 68 per cent of the users held post-secondary degrees, while another 11 survey participants had earned their high school diplomas.

The study also found that the participants considered themselves responsible users of the drug, defined by moderate use in an appropriate social setting and not allowing it to cause harm to others.

The findings should open the way for further scientific exploration into widespread use of marijuana, and government policies should move towards decriminalization and eventual legalization of the drug, the study
recommends.

“The Canadian government has never provided a valid reason for the criminalization of marijuana,” said Osborne. “This study indicates that people who use marijuana are no more a criminal threat to society than are alcohol and cigarette users. Legalization and government regulation of the drug would free up resources that could be devoted to tackling other crime, and could undermine organized crime networks that depend on marijuana, while generating taxes to fund drug education programs, which are more effective in reducing substance abuse,” Osborne added.

The study was published recently in the journal Substance Use and Misuse.

University of Alberta. “Middle Class Relaxing With Marijuana.” ScienceDaily 15 May 2008. 18 September 2008 <http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/05/080514111721.htm>.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080514111721.htm

Free the Internet! Open Access – #5

Free the Internet! — Open Access, Levelling the Playing Field #5

By Dave Olson 

[Originally published in Menu Magazine from Olympia, Washington, circa 1999]

There are many ways for you to get an Internet connection to your home, office or wherever. What you likely don’t realize is the morass of politics, tariffs and such-nense that goes on behind the scenes in order to provide a high-speed digital data link to your house.

Indeed, it is often a double-edged sword as laws that were made to de-construct Telco monopolies often hinder the progress of open-access. The accepted standards aren’t necessarily driven by the best technology and consumer- demand but rather by what the Telcos lobby for and decide to release (often based on the benefit to the bottom line).

As is the normal custom in this column, we will glance into the past somewhat to get a sense of how we got where we are now.

Continue reading Free the Internet! Open Access – #5

Drug Court – Observations on Restorative and Rehabilitative Justice

Drug Court – Observations on Restorative and Rehabilitative Justice

By Dave Olson

Originally written for “Visions of Justice” program The Evergreen State College, Winter 2004

An Overview of the Drug Court Model

The Drug Court program of the Thurston County Superior Court is designed as a rehabilitative program for non-violent drug and related property crime offenders. The program features intensive counseling, strict supervision, payment of treatment fees, and therapy techniques aimed at assisting the successful participant in becoming a responsible community member.

The program relies on a working partnership between prosecutors, assigned defense counsel, sheriff and police departments, and a third-party chemical dependency counseling facility. These entities work together in co-operation with the aim of bringing a disposition that benefits both society, and the offender. With each successful program graduate, society reaps increased public safety as well as economic rewards. Unlike traditional retributive punishments such as incarceration, the successful drug court program client learns the emotional and vocational skills to build a productive life while dealing with chemical addiction problems.

At a Thurston County Chamber of Commerce forum about the Drug Court program and the proposed $120,000,000 “Regional Justice Facility”, I engaged in short discussion with Thurston County Superior Court Judge, Richard A. Strophy. Besides adjudicating his share of cases, he also is the presiding judge for the Drug Court program, he remarked that, “For a quarter of what they want spend on the new jail, we could expand drug court program and we could get by on what we have.” He went on to express his opinion that prevention, rehabilitation, and personal responsibility for actions were critical steps in addressing both drug problems and the related crimes which support drug addict’s habits, particularly property crimes such as theft, as well as domestic violence.

The need for Drug Court is wrought from the endless cycle of re-offenders who are unable to break their habit and have limited capacity to find adequate resources to help. As a result, the same drug offenders revolve through the court system causing significant expense both in a jail beds and court costs, but also societal opportunity costs as drug offenses pull money away from public health and prevention programs further exacerbating the situation.

In his book “Reinventing Justice: The American Drug Court Movement,” James L Nolan, Jr. puts forth, “The burgeoning drug court movement first developed in response to the growing number of drug cases overcrowding America’s criminal court calendars. … The innovative adjudicative model draws heavily on the American therapeutic idiom to give direction and meaning to its philosophy, forms, and procedures.i”

A study by the Scottish Executive called “International Experience of Drug Courts”, points out that, “The main impetus for developing drug courts at a local level came from individual judges who were frustrated at the single ‘revolving door’ of drugs and crime. Nationally, however, drug courts have come to be seen as a part

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solution to the United States quadrupling of the national prison population since the 1980s (making it the highest among Western democracies).”ii

The Thurston County Drug Court is not the first nor alone in this progressive foray into alternative justice. As Nolan continues, “Since the first drug course was launched in Dade County, Florida, in 1989, more than eight hundred similar courts have been initiated or are in the planning stages. The model has received almost uniformly positive media coverage and overwhelming support at both the national and local levels. Judges celebrate the drug court as an exciting movement, a new way of justice, even a revolution in American jurisprudence.” iii

The Scottish Executive study found that, “Since the first programmes (sic) started in 1998, more than 140,000 drug using offenders have entered comprehensive programmes that include frequent drug testing, supervision, treatment, and judicial monitoring and court-mandated sanctions.”iv

The Drug Court provides a process which enables offending members of society to heal themselves and become contributing members of society by offering combination of rehabilitative, restorative justice, as an alternative to (or in combination with), retributive justice methods.

Specifically, the Drug Court states their goals as:

• Reduce the revolving door of crime and drugs by providing treatment to drug-addicted criminal offenders

• Require strict accountability from program participants through frequent in-person court hearings and intensive monitoring

• Abstain from alcohol and drug use • Reduce emergency room and other medical costs • Reduce domestic violence • Reduce property crimes • Require completion of education • Require tax-paying employment • Decrease use of public assistance • Reduce court, jail, and prison overcrowding and costs v

But what drugs are Drug Court participants treated for? In my observations, the highly addictive and easily produced drug methamphetamine is the primary substance abuse problem handled by Drug Court program. All cases I observed save two, were for meth related charges. Incidentally, the exceptions were cocaine and prescription pain-pills.

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While beyond the scope of this paper, I feel it is worth pointing out that ‘drugs’ is a somewhat nebulous moniker, which includes myriad illicit substances, which are organized by federal law into ‘schedules.’

While the State Board of Pharmacology ostensibly makes decisions for the state pertaining to classification of illegal drugs in the schedules, in reality the federal DEA and FDA (as well as International treaties) dictate policy.

The Washington RCW states that Schedule One drugs: (1) have high potential for abuse; (2) have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; and (3) lack accepted safety for use in treatment under medical supervisionvi.

Drugs in this category run a laundry list from heroin, to hallucegenics, to cannabis. Schedule Two contains opium, cocaine, morphine, methamphetamine, and methadone.

However, cannabis possession under forty grams is a misdemeanor in Washington and offenders are (usually) not referred to Drug Courtvii.

Nevertheless, cannabis charges cause a significant strain on the court system as a whole. Indeed in 2000, 730,000 people were charged for some cannabis offense. Approximately 60,000 Americans are in jail for cannabis-related charges, 16,000 of which are simply for possession. Since 1992, the US has increased pot charges laid by 200%,viii a statistic, which calls to question the motives behind society’s choice to arrest and punish non-violent offenders.

Judicial Philosophy

Drug Court is an example of a Utilitarian approach to justice. Rather than making the offender “pay” for the crime (addiction) at significant expense, Drug Court seeks to counsel and reduce the opportunity for further harm to society “fixing” the problem when the opportunity arises through an arrest incident.

Besides the program’s emphasis on rehabilitative concepts of justice, there is some amount of restorative justice (improving yourself to be a better member of community) as well as retribution justice through jail time as deterrent/punishment for program infractions.

The Judge constantly emphasizes taking responsibilities for actions, making and keeping promises to self/court/other, discipline and organization – all tools need to contribute positively to society. This includes forming relationships, trusting others, and working in groups in a non-adversarial, results-oriented environment.

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The Scottish Executive report found that, “one of the important differences between drug courts and other types of criminal justice based treatment interventions is the unique linkages and partnerships. In addition, drug courts depart from the traditional court structure through its encouragement of a non-adversarial relationship amongst the key players. These qualitative impacts are somewhat difficult to measure and there is no national data that fully explores the impact of this. However, a number of drug court evaluations have sited the successful development and implementation and criminal justice/treatment partnerships and a high degree of satisfaction among drug court staff with the inter-agency relationship.”ix

Drug Court Process

Arraignment

The Drug Court is the first stop for most all felony drug–related offenses in the county which do not have additional aggravating factors (such as assault or weapons charges), and if the accused does not have significant prior convictions.

At this stage of the process, the Drug Court is rather similar to most any other courtroom with a few key differences. At the arraignment hearing, the Judge is joined by the “usual cast” of prosecuting and defense attorneys, clerk, reporter, bailiff, and a jury box with (rather haggard-looking), cuffed prisoners in orange jumpsuits. Additionally, at least in addition to (I believe) Drug Court program administrators, two counselors were in attendance, working closely with the attorneys to determine eligibility for the program, and scheduling Drug Court candidates for intake counseling.

Not all of the arraigned defendants request participation in the Drug Court program, nor would all qualify. Other defendants arraigned pled “not-guilty” with the advice of either a personal attorney or an attorney from the Office of Assigned Counsel. In such cases, a pre-trial and trial date was set along with conditions of release. Also as per usual, in the event of a “no-show”, the Judge issues a no-bail warrant.

My observations lead me to believe that the Drug Court team are accustomed to working together and are committed to fairness and respect to the participants who sincerely seek help. There seems to be a somewhat unspoken flow to their process and the atmosphere, while dignified, is much less adversarial than a ‘normal’ court proceeding.

Eligibility and Admission

The Judge, attorneys and counselors review the defendant’s record to ascertain initial eligibility. In each arraignment I observed, the charges were felony possession of meth-amphetamine though the Drug Court program also accepts non-violent perpetrators accused of property crimes which are likely associated with substance abuse lifestyle (i.e.: breaking and entering, theft, vandalism). The Deputy Prosecuting Attorney reviews the case to determine eligibility based on the existence of prior and/or pending charges which would disqualify the defendant.

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One example I witnessed during a non-Drug Court arraignment hearing with Judge Casey presiding, a woman (Anderson, Monte Jean vs. State of Wa. 2/4/04), was read her charges of felony possession of meth- amphetimine and ephedrine (charges 04-00122-0, 125-4, 178-5, 124-6, 121-1, 154-8). I immediately wondered why she was not a Drug Court candidate, however I realized after the prosecutor pointed out that she had seventeen prior felony convictions for similar charges, that she would not be a candidate for Drug Court.

The Drug Court’s eligibility requirements exclude offenders with numerous prior convictions at the discretion of the Prosecutor. Thus, only candidates with a higher chance of success are generally referred to the program. Instead this defendant would likely go to trail (or plea) and, if found guilty, sentenced according to Chapter 9.94A of the RCW Sentencing Reform Act of 1981 and Article IV “Offenses and Penalties” of RCW 69.50.4013 in which possession is usually a Class ‘C’ felony.

If the prosecutor recommends Drug Court program eligibility, the Office of Assigned Counsel advises the defendant of his/her options. The Judge asks the Defendant if they wish to participate in the Drug Court program. If the Defendant chooses the Drug Court option (instead of going to trial, or pleading guilty), the program administrator then interviews him/her.

Upon acceptance into the program by the program administrator, the candidate is obliged to sign a contract and he/she is given a Program Handbook, and assigned to numerous tasks and appointments required as part of the treatment and restitution process.

Intake

The next step is an appointment to St. Peter’s Chemical Dependency Unit for an intake interview with treatment counselors, along with baseline urinalysis testing. After the intake, the participant is assigned to a primary counselor who then works out a treatment schedule and plan addressing the needs of the individual participant.

If the defendant is incarcerated, the Judge issues a furlough order allowing the defendant to travel to the appointment. The Judge carefully informs the defendant of the additional felony charges if the expiration time of the furlough order is not carefully observed.

Treatment and Supervision

Though it is beyond the scope of the paper to tackle the various levels of addiction, suffice to say that the Drug Court program usually takes 12-18 months. On-going throughout the phases of the program, various supervisory and treatment techniques are employed. Specifically:

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Random urinalysis for illicit drug and alcohol – UA requirements are very strict and frequent. Missed tests and non-standard test results (ie: too-watery, evidence of tampering, not watery-enough), are considered the same as a “dirty” test result. Such failure results in court-imposed sanctions (usually jail time) and reduction in treatment phase level.

Court progress review – Beginning at once per week in Phase One to once a month in later phases, the Drug Court participant appears before the bench and discusses progress with a Judge and treatment counselors to maintain consistent accountability. Additionally, the Drug Court staff, including the Judge and treatment counselors, meet weekly to discuss participants’ progress or problems and bring up topics from their meetings with the participants during their review hearings.

In my observation, the tone of the court progress reviews can perhaps best be described as “parental” though at the same time, the mood is (oddly) casual. The participants address counselors in a first name basis and ask the Judge, “How ya doing?” Clothes are sometimes grubby, hats not immediately removed, and manners somewhat lacking, but the focus is clearly on real results, not appearances.

Judge Strophy plays his role as a stern, but caring father figure who seeks to help the participant help themselves. He is conversational and sincere, but terse and commanding as needed. He asks about home life situations, jobs, meetings, relationships, kids, significant others and just about anything else.

A sample paraphrasing from his conversation with a 23-year-old white female named April:

Judge: Congratulations, 239 days clean and sober. (Applause in the crowd) Judge: So what’s been going on in your life? April: Still under house arrest (from a charge in Lewis county) so I haven’t really been going anywhere.

Judge: How are you doing at your Phase three studies? April: Working on anger management (brief conversation about what she’s learned about dealing with anger). Judge: Sounds like things are going well, congratulations again on your sobriety. How’s your living situation? April: Boyfriend just got out of jail but he went to live with his dad in Lake Havasu Arizona. Judge: How do you feel about that? April: Actually glad and relieved. Judge: What are your plans for your living situation? April: It is really crowded at my house now so I hope to move once I am off house arrest and on my feet with bills. Judge: You seem to be making progress. Anything else? April: Can I go “Clean and Free” on (such and such date)? Judge: (reviews record) OK (sets stipulation on UA) Anything else?

In another review with a 20-something white male named Jason, the Judge and participant discussed progress with therapy work. Additionally, the Judge admonished the participant to be part of positive change to the community, and to “take life on it’s own terms,” plus learn the tools to cope with the issues and challenges in life. The Judge asked about the participant’s father who had recently fallen ill. Jason discussed how his dad

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had been supportive during recovery and now they are closer than ever. Jason also related an anecdote about being rear-ended on the highway and how he is able to cope better thanks to his therapy. The Judge remarked how “blessings sometimes come disguised” and scheduled the next court date. He also presented a “purple coin” to commemorate nine months of sobriety and the defendant (rather proudly) announced he had made payment on his fines. The Judge commended him on using his tax return to pay his treatment costs and fines although scoffed somewhat when Jason said that he had paid (only) $300 out of a $3500 tax return.

Another progress review featured the Judge getting a bit more stern with a participant who wasn’t really “buying into” the program. In fact, the participant had once dropped out of the program before and was given a second chance. The Judge discussed how “change is a process” and then extolled him to “get real,” “speak from the heart,” “no masking your emotions,” “don’t manipulate,” “dig deeper,” “toe the mark,” and “decide who you want to be, you are in your thirties, you have to figure it out.”

My anecdotal observations of the court proceedings suggest a pattern of additional aggravating factors in offender’s lives, notably: challenging domestic situations, trouble at school, adjusting to life after high school, difficulty handling unforeseen stress, and other extenuating lifestyle circumstances, intentional or not.

Meetings – In addition to the court dates, participants are heavily scheduled with meetings and treatment sessions throughout the week. My personal observations noticed one participant reviewing her schedule with a counselor (paraphrasing), “Education session on Saturday, group process on Monday, 3 twelve-step program meetings and 12 more community service hours (to make up for a missed meeting), by next court date on Tuesday.”

Participants also must attend a required number of court-approved “12-step” group support meetings. In my observations, the court allowed the participant to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or Analon. Attendance is supported with signed logbooks and the participant may attend only once per day (ie: cannot double up on one day and skip the next).

Failure to attend required meetings of any kind results in court-imposed sanction, usually community service, and the participant must take responsibility for failure to attend. In other words, the Judge doesn’t want to hear excuses and expects the individual to do whatever it takes to attend. Responsibility is rewarded by permission to attend out of town events.

During a Drug Court progress review session, I observed at least three participants requesting permission to attend an event called, “Clean and Fee.” The Judge reviewed their record carefully before granting permission contingent on doing a UA test on the Friday before leaving and again on the following Monday before noon. Failure to perform test would result in revocation of privileges and additional sanctions.

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Payment of treatment fees – Drug Court participants pay for their own treatment through Providence St. Peter Chemical Dependency Center. Doing so saves tax dollars for other programs and increases participant’s sense of responsibility for personal improvement. Additionally, some participants have punitive fines stemming from other related charge that need to paid before graduating.

Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) – While not privy to actual therapy sessions, my understanding is the MRT is a trademarked and copyrighted series of training tools for instructing participants in morals, thinking, attitudes, decision-making, and other characteristics of a “Normal, Ordinary, Responsible Person (NORP).”

In court process review sessions, the Judge frequently asked participants about various concepts discussed in lessons books that are a part of this therapy technique.

A study by the University of Maryland for the Washington State Legislature describes MRT further, “Moral Reconation Therapy was developed in the tradition of the moral development approach as a way of reducing the recidivism by increasing the moral reasoning abilities of offenders. Specifically, the program incorporates seven elements of treatment; confrontation and assessment of self, assessment of current relationships, reinforcement of positive behavior, identity-formation, enhancement of self-concept, decreasing hedonistic orientation and increasing delay of gratification, and development of higher stages of moral reasoning.x”

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – EMDR is an innovation technique designed to provide rehabilitation from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder including irrational negative beliefs, unregulated emotions, and trigger responses.

While not used extensively according to St. Peter Chemical Dependency Center counselor, Hollie Christiancy, due to the expensexi, EMDR is basically a therapeutic technique in which the patients move their eyes back and forth while concentrating on the problem. The therapist waves a stick or light in front of the patient and the patient is supposed to follow the moving stick or light with their eyes.xii

Proponents of EMDR (developed by Francine Shapiro) suggest that, “after EMDR processing, clients generally report that the emotional distress related to the memory has been eliminated, or greatly decreased, and that they have gained important cognitive insights.”xiii

Comprehensive Treatment Services – The Drug Court program emphasizes the participant taking responsibility for all aspects of life. This tasks include: gaining employment (complete with W-2); organizing finances and paying fees and fines; re-building relationships with family and friends; tending to medical, dental and exercise needs; improving home living situation as needed; and even getting in touch with one’s spirituality.

Phases

The treatment program is divided into three Phases providing obtainable targets to the participant.

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Phase One: Orientation/Intake: 3-4 months Intake, assessment, and treatment plan Drug and alcohol education Moral Reconation Therapy

Individual and group counseling

Phase Two: Intensive Counseling: 5-8 months Relapse prevention sessions Referral to community resources and services Vocational and educational service referrals

Phase Three: Referral Monitoring: 4-6 months Individual and group counseling Completion of individual needs workbook Completion of personal recovery plan Community linkagesxiv

At each phase-level obtained, and at various sobriety milestones, the Judge in a brief ceremony in the courtroom presents the participant colored, commemorative coins designating achievement. In the event of a transgression, the participant is obliged to return the coins and earn them back through continued sobriety and passing phase requirements.

Graduation

Graduation Requirements

Completion of all three phases of treatment Six months minimum abstinence Payment of all fees and fines (if any) Four months full time employment and/or education GED or High School diplomaxv

Graduation Ceremony Upon fulfilling the graduation requirements, the participants are feted with at a festive ceremony held right in the Courtroom. Attending the Drug Court graduation is a unique courtroom experience complete with punch and cookies, applause, embracing, presentation of gifts, crying, cheering and even Judge Strophy “teasing” the participants in his paternal manner by showing their intake “mug shots” to the assembled crowd.

Rather than the usual somber but anxious courtroom atmosphere, the Drug Court graduation crowd is filled with relieved families, beaming spouses, and proud counselors and even a few police officers and curious community members. The mood is akin to an “old time revival” crossed with an “AA” meeting. Each graduate is afforded the full attention of the courtroom while his or her full Drug Court history is read aloud. The narrative report includes a description of the participant’s attitude upon first entering Drug Court and significant events (both positive and negative) throughout their Drug Court supervision period. Plus a complete timeline of their substance abuse history, significant challenges, achievements, personality characteristics, school and work successes and even family matters are discussed on the record.

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The graduate’s primary counselor then speaks from a treatment standpoint more about performance during the myriad counseling sessions. The emotion expressed by the counselors clearly shows the difficult yet rewarding bond they develop with the participants. The counselor then presents the graduate with a ceremonial mug filled with various symbolic tokens of encouragement and they share an embrace. Indeed, considering the perseverance required to graduate, the counselor must feel a significant sense of pride and satisfaction with each successful participant.

Next up is the Judge who makes some remarks about the graduate path towards becoming a responsible person in significant detail. In some cases, he described the “vacant spaced out look” when they started the program, or cited a bad attitude or rebellious nature requiring focusing onto positive tasks. Finally, he presents a graduation certificate then poses with the grad for a photo.

At last, the graduate takes the stand to address the crowd and thanks those who supported him/her through the process. Amongst the frequent applause, there are at least a few tear-jerking moments and tissues are common as the graduates speak with near religious zeal about their life changes and future plans to be a responsible member of society.

Effectiveness

How does one rate the effectiveness of the brand of justice dispensed in the Thurston County Drug Court? I think three factors are crucial to balance both the tangible and intangible integers of success. 1) Recidivism – How many graduates are re-arrested compared with non-participants?; 2) Cost Benefit – How much does it cost to administer the program combined with the savings in related problems caused by drug addiction?; and 3) Societal Gain – Is the benefit of a responsible member of society worth more than the ‘moral satisfaction’ of retributive punishment?

I will address each in turn with a few empirical notes:

First of all, recidivism. The aforementioned Scottish Executives report cites a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University which found that in a Delaware Adult Drug Court, 4% were re-arrested during treatment. In Ventura County, California, drug court participants produced a 12% re- arrest rate compared to a 32% re-arrest rate for a comparison group over an eight-month period. In Jackson County (MO?), the study found a 4% re-arrest rate compared to 13% over a six-month period.xvi

Thurston County Drug Court supplied statistics put forth recidivism rates which appear favorable in comparison with other State penal entities. Specifically: State of Washington Prison: 47% Thurston County Jail: 72%

Thurston County Drug Court: 6%

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The University of Maryland study agrees when discussing MRT’s (the primary therapy technique used by the Drug Court) success rate, saying, “Moral Reconation Therapy is effective in reducing the recidivism of offenders. At least five studies of sufficiently rigorous scientific methodology, have found significantly lower recidivism rates between MRT participants and comparison groups on at least some measures of recidivism.”xvii

Second, cost benefit. Again, the Scottish Executive study cites a Multnomah County, Oregon criminal justice system cost savings of $2,476,795 over a two-year period. After the one million dollars of operating the drug court program. The savings increase to $10,223,532 over two years when estimated savings in victimization, theft reduction, public assistance and medical costs are added in.xviii

Thurston County Superior Court produced materials also compare average treatment duration and cost per day in various supervisory institutionsxix: State of Washington Prison: $67 – Average length of supervision/treatment: 76 days Thurston County Jail: $54 – Average length of supervision/treatment: 95 days

Thurston County Drug Court: $14 – Average length of supervision/treatment: 365 days

Finally, the societal benefits. This is the most difficult benefit to gauge since questions of a moral payment of a debt to society clouds the objectivity required to effect a just ruling. All we humans carry unique subjective political and emotional conceptions which color our feelings as to whether the offender has wronged society. The US legal system tries individuals against the State as though society (or one of it’s parts) is harmed each time a law is broken. However, in case of a crime when the only victim is the offender herself, the case for a moral payment to society becomes less relevant.

Rather, treating addiction from a harm reduction trajectory – specifically comprehensive treatment supervised by the Courts – serves society’s interests better than incarceration because: the offender becomes a contributing member of society (or at least not a perennial drain on government resources); the victim (usually the offender and his/her family) gains a sense of closure and therapeutic healing; and the community as a whole enjoys increased public safety (or at least a reduction in public nuisance), and economically both through decreased criminal justice costs, and the ancillary cost savings (further such savings also provides opportunity for prevention and education programs).

Additionally, I will also contend that society also benefits morally by showing empathy in treating and preparing non-violent drug offenders for life in society. The additional negative attributes of incarceration (introduction to more criminal elements, violent society) further supports rehabilitation for non-chronic offenders. In all, considering whether “Justice is Served,” I would suggest, yes.

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Endnotes

i Nolan, James L. Jr., “Reinventing Justice: The American Drug Court Movement,” Princeton University Press, 2002. Quoted from http://pup.princeton.edu/chapters/i7085.html.

ii Scottish Executive, “International Experience of Drug Courts,” Chapter 1: Background to the US Drug Court System. Quoted from http://www.scotland.gov.uk/cru/kd01/green/courts05.htm.

iii Ibid, Nolan.

iv Ibid, Scottish Executive.

v Thurston County Superior Court “Drug Court Program” brochure, 2004(?).

vi Revised Code of Washington, RCW 69.50.201-212 “Authority to change schedules of controlled substances.” ARTICLE II STANDARDS AND SCHEDULES

vii RCW 69.50.4014, “Possession of forty grams or less of marihuana — Penalty.” viii Cannabis Culture magazine, Marc Emery Publisher, Vancouver BC, Canada, Feb./March 2004. ix Ibid, Scottish Executive, Chapter 2.

x University of Maryland: Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, “An Examination of the Effectiveness of the Type of Rehabilitation Programs offered by Washington State Department of Corrections,” Chapter Six, “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Programs: Moral Reconation Therapy and What Works In Corrections?” Submitted to the State of Washington Legislature Joint Audit and Review Committee, June 1998.

xi Christiancy, Hollie, “Personal correspondence with author via e-mail”, March, 2004.

xii Robert Todd Carroll, “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing,” The Skeptic’s Dictionary. Quoted from http://skepdic.com/emdr.html.

xiii Shapiro, Francine et al, “A Brief Description of EMDR.” Quoted from http://ww.emdr.com/briefdes.htm.

xiv Ibid, Thurston County Superior Court.

xv Ibid, Thurston County Superior Court.

xvi Scottish Executive International Experience of Drug Courts,” Chapter 2: Drug Court Evaluation of US Drug Court System. Quoted from http://www.scotland.gov.uk/cru/kd01/green/courts06.htm.

xvii Ibid, University of Maryland. xviii Ibid, Scottish Executive, Chapter 2. xix Ibid, Thurston County Superior Court.

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Vancouver park board approves Olympic RV parks despite residents’ objections | Vancouver, Canada | Straight.com

Vancouver park board approves Olympic RV parks despite residents’ objections | Vancouver, Canada | Straight.com

London Skypeing – DaveO on the BBC spieling forth about Olympics and Social Media

I am on the BBC Radio 5 show called “Blogs and Pods”  spieling forth about renegade media and Olympics.

I spoke to Jamillah via Skype last week – the show aired on BBC radio on Sunday and released as a podcast Monday, Dec. 8th.

NOTE: accessed from Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, February 2017

The food, wine, opera and sport edition

This week: the campaign for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver to be more open to citizen journalists; the politics of festive food; wine online and a bit of opera to round it all off.

The podcast is poised and waiting for you to listen up! If there was something in the show that you missed and a link would come in handy – they’re all right here for you:

Should citizen journalists have full press access to Olympic events? Dave Olsen, community evangelist of Rain City Studios in Canada thinks so and explains why.

Here’s how to tune in:

Podfeed: http://feeds.feedburner.com/PodsAndBlogs

Show Site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/podsandblogs/

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Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Sun writes about the Emerging Medical Cannabis Economy

This is simply too important of an article to not spread around. Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Sun is the only MSM journalist in Vancouver who really speaks out sensibly and professionally about the pragmatic economics and realistic public policy options about cannabis in BC and Canada.

Thanks Ian for excellent work (PS Would you like to be a guest on a Choogle on podcast?)

Copied from the Vancouver Sun article: A bright green spot in the economy

A bright green spot in the economy

With courts striking down the government’s monopoly on supplying medical marijuana, private growers are clamouring to capitalize on pot’s commercial potential

Ian Mulgrew
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Photo: Various types of marijuana are offered by former NDP candidate Dana Larsen at his marijuana dispensary on East Hastings Street. He says the medical pot market is about to expand.CREDIT: Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun “Various types of marijuana are offered by former NDP candidate Dana Larsen at his marijuana dispensary on East Hastings Street. He says the medical pot market is about to expand.”

DUNCAN – Eric Nash can barely contain his excitement waiting to hear from Health Canada whether he can start growing marijuana for 250 patients.

That would be just the start. There are tens of thousands more who are ailing across the country clamouring for his organic B.C. bud.

“There is a great opportunity here for the government to collect significant tax revenue currently being lost to the street market,” Nash, one of the best-known legal cannabis producers, enthused.

“With the current global financial crisis, this court ruling is certainly a bright light in dark economic times. We’re just waiting for clarification. I figure our production would increase significantly from several pounds to 150 pounds or more immediately.”

Now that the Federal Court of Appeal has struck down the government’s monopoly on supplying medical marijuana, Nash believes commercial agricultural production of pot is around the corner and the sky’s the limit.

His local company, Island Harvest, has cleared the industrial security regulatory hurdles so the company meets the standards set by Ottawa to grow the much-demonized plant.

“Our vision is to have a sustainable commercial agriculture operation,” he said. “There’s no reason we can’t achieve that. Look at the number of compassion clubs, look at the number of people using marijuana to relieve a headache or pre-menstrual cramps!”

More and more research is supporting previous anecdotal evidence that cannabis may have a wide range of therapeutic uses from the treatment of Alzheimer’s, depression, glaucoma, epilepsy and cancer to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and ADD/ADHD. Its most ardent promoters say cannabis may be an addition to the modern pharmacopeia that rivals Aspirin in the breadth of its applications.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize the potential profits are staggering.

Until now, the government’s poorly administered medical program has artificially depressed that market by making it difficult for patients to qualify, supplied what many consider poor-quality marijuana and imposed an arbitrary restriction on qualified licensed growers to supplying only two patients.

Doctors, too, have exacerbated the situation with their reluctance to prescribe marijuana, claiming they have no guide on dosage or the usual pharmaceutical medical studies to rely on. That is changing, slowly.

Nash explained there have been three relatively recent, serious analyses of the medical marijuana market, which give an idea of its scope and potential.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal did a survey in 2000 and estimated the number of self-medicating marijuana patients to be 1.9 per cent of the population; a Price Waterhouse report prepared for Health Canada two years later concluded it was more like four per cent of the population, and a report in 2004 by a member of the federal government’s advisory committee on pot suggested the reality was closer to seven per cent.

(Health Canada, after eight years, has issued roughly 2,500 exemption permits to needy patients.)

Regardless, Nash said, based on the four-per-cent model, that puts sales at more than $400 million annually.

More optimistic projections say the medical market, including ancillary products such as vaporizers and paraphernalia, could be as high as $20 billion.

Add it up: The government sells maybe $1 million a year worth of the pot produced in a Manitoba mine, and compassion clubs across the country sell about $10 million worth of cannabis products.

By far the vast majority of patients who need marijuana as a medicine continue to buy their drugs from the black market. It’s a crazy situation: imagine if diabetics had to go to a corner dealer to score insulin.

That’s one of the fundamental reasons behind the court ruling Oct. 27: the medical marijuana program set up by Ottawa at the turn of the millennium isn’t working.

The government adopted the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR) and accompanying bureaucracy in 2001. It has modified it since then in the face of judicial warnings that it was constitutionally inadequate, but it still can’t pass muster.

The courts find that offensive.

This new judgment heralds a tectonic shift in the country’s medical-marijuana regulatory regime and perhaps even the drug laws. It may even invalidate the cannabis prohibition.

Two B.C. Supreme Court justices sitting on separate cases (one about simple possession, the other production and trafficking) are currently seized with that question.

If they agree that because a section of medical program is unconstitutional the criminal law cannot be enforced, it would also mark the triumph of a Trojan horse strategy by cannabis activists to achieve legalization by expanding medical access.

Just as liquor was once obtained via prescription, cannabis could be regulated in a similar fashion, obviating the need for a criminal prohibition.

No matter how you look at it, the federal court decision promises an economic boon immediately for the hundreds of legal cannabis producers and increased opportunity for many others.

Nash said it was good news for both the consumer and producer.

The former government communications worker and his partner, Wendy Little, have been growing since 2002 and proselytizing longer than that. Their book Sell Marijuana Legally is a huge hit; they created an online users’ group for patients and growers, and they teach courses.

But medical growers across the country have been restricted, a policy that results in a huge gift of revenue to organized crime.

B.C. BUD’S STAGGERING NUMBERS

Stephen Easton, an economist at Simon Fraser University and with the Fraser Institute, has done the most respected work on the size of the domestic pot industry.

He sat down earlier this year in Denny’s with one of B.C.’s biggest dealers and went over his numbers.

“He figured it out differently than I did, using lights and ballasts,” Easton said. “But he worked out the numbers with me and it all worked out. He told me it was very close. He was quite surprised. I was very happy about that. We had a really good talk. He was really helpful for me.”

Since Easton’s original estimates, the domestic marijuana market has undergone some changes, but nothing cataclysmic.

“The fluctuations in the dollar are the main economic factor,” he said. “It has gone up and down and that pushes these guys.”

For most of the last few years, the most significant factor has been the various improvements in border security triggered by the 9/11 terrorist strikes.

In the 1990s and even throughout the early part of this decade, tons and tons of Canadian marijuana flooded into the U.S. market carried by anyone with moxy and a decent plan.

People were backpacking across with as much weed as they could carry in the Interior, or kayaking across with a stash of bud worth as much as emeralds.

Between 1990 and 2000, the Canadian pot market doubled in size fuelled primarily by the increased hydroponic production of B.C. bud.

Nationally, we apparently spent $1.8 billion toking up — just shy of the $2.3 billion we burned on tobacco.

By 2006, when he did his calculations, Easton said the numbers indicated a provincial wholesale market of $2.2 billion. You could increase that to $7.7 billion retail if consumers paid top dollar for their bud.

That dwarfed any other B.C. agricultural product.

The result on the street was easy to see: a proliferation of gangs duly documented by the RCMP, as every crook plucked what Easton called “the low-hanging fruit.”

The tightening of the border has had several effects.

Not just everyone can take it across now, with underground sensors, heightened air traffic scrutiny and the deployment of the military. Smuggling now is more the purview of the very organized and the very desperate.

At the same time, U.S. authorities have charted the rise of their own domestic production as American states relaxed enforcement and sentencing — the opposite of the 1980s and 1990s when their stiff attitude drove marijuana growers north.

In California alone, Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica and San Francisco all have officially told police to make marijuana offences their lowest priority.

EVOLVING PRODUCTION

Pot production in California rivals Canada’s total output.

Similar initiatives have been adopted in other states and cities such as Seattle, Denver and even Missoula, Mont.

With the north-south route to market more problematic, more B.C. bud has moved east to feed eastern appetites or find a less monitored area of the border before turning south. The Mounties have responded by increasing surveillance along the Trans-Canada on the Prairies, resulting in large seizures.

By far the biggest factor in the marijuana market in recent years, however, has been the revolution in production — the ease, predictability and most importantly the portability that has come with advances in indoor cultivation that mean great weed can be grown anywhere.

The RCMP have been reporting huge busts in Eastern Canada as production has sprouted in the Maritimes and Ontario, reducing their appetite for West Coast pot.

In Ontario, whose provincial production is said to have surpassed B.C.’s, authorities have uncovered two separate operations each capable of producing $100 million worth of cannabis a year.

B.C. bud ruled in the 1990s when the underground marijuana trade was responsible for keeping afloat many small communities buffeted by resource-market gales.

Our pot even had cachet even up until four or five years ago but these days, be you in Charlottetown or Joe Batt’s Arm, Nfld., you can easily obtain good seeds and fail-safe equipment and within a few months be producing marijuana to rival B.C.’s best.

Nevertheless, Easton explained, when you are looking at a commodity and domestic production, it’s all about the money.

The rise of the dollar in recent years worked against growers and exporters, but its recent fall provides an upward fillip.

“I imagine with all the market turmoil the domestic marijuana industry will pick up a bit,” Easton said. “it’s just had a 15-to-20-per-cent bump in two months.”

Some estimates in the 1990s suggested as much as 50 cents of every dollar generated in some Kootenay towns could be traced directly to pot.

With the international financial tempest wreaking havoc again with commodity prices, B.C. bud may yet help ride out the storm but probably not to the same extent.

“We’ll just have to watch housing prices in Nelson,” Easton laughed.

MEXICO CONSIDERING LEGALIZATION

Sitting in Kitsilano eating breakfast before meeting the city’s police board, former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Celerino Castillo III nodded his head furiously.

“Yes, yes, it’s all about the money,” he said. “The money, it’s all so corrupt.”

Castillo spent 12 years in the USDA infiltrating Manhattan drug rings, destroying jungle cocaine labs and training anti-narcotics agents. The climax of his career was pulling the curtain back on drug-smuggling by the Nicaraguan Contras with links to Lt.-Col. Oliver North and the CIA.

From the Amazon to the slums of Mexico City to the ghettos of America, Castillo has had a front-row seat on the western hemisphere’s drug world and come to the conclusion it’s time to abandon our current approach.

Mexico is again considering legalization because of the violence and social upheaval caused by illicit drug trafficking, and Canada should be headed down the same path, he says. So should South America and, of course, the U.S.

The money is too corrosive.

“The corruption is everywhere — every month we arrest a law enforcement official, every month,” he insisted, “whether it’s a border patrol agent or a customs agent or a DEA agent or an FBI agent. We arrest a law enforcement officer once a month, It’s huge. The amount of money is just so big. ‘I have a mortgage to pay, I have to send my kids to college.’ That’s always the excuse.”

He shakes his head.

He explained that in his state, drug couriers once arrived with suitcases of cash to deposit in local banks: “Now they buy the banks. Especially now with this upheaval. Who else has the ready cash?”

He laughed.

“But that’s actually how they’re money-laundering today — they buy a bank,” Castillo added. “There’s no way we can keep up.”

In retirement, Castillo has become a featured speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an association of former police, corrections and judicial officers who want to change drug policy.

“There’s more production, more product and more of everything than there ever was. The war on drugs doesn’t work,” he said.

“All I’m hoping for is people to start to listen and educate themselves about what’s going on in the world,” he said. “I know first-hand. I’ve seen it from an agent’s point of view.

“It’s affecting and destroying a lot of families. For 40 years we’ve been trying this John Wayne approach and it’s not working. The bottom line: There are a lot more drugs today than we had 40 years ago.”

‘THESE ARE THE DEALING TABLES’

Dana Larsen ushers me into his new marijuana dispensary in the 800 block of East Hastings Street.

The former NDP candidate, who stepped down during the federal election when his recreational drug use was publicized, has renovated the run-down storefront and is promoting a new compassion club.

Like Nash, he thinks the medical pot market is about to expand exponentially and legally.

“There’s no smoking in here,” he said as he showed me around the spartan office. “But there’s a vapour lounge two doors down in the Seed Bank where you can light up after you leave.”

There is a modest reception area and a large back room. It’s clean but unfinished.

“These are the dealing tables,” he said, pointing to a handful of folding tables separated by office screens to provide a measure of privacy.

He laughed.

“I guess I should call them dispensing tables.”

Larsen, who used to be the leader of the B.C. Marijuana Party and Prince of Pot Marc Emery’s lieutenant, thinks the time has come to move into the medical field.

“I think there’s enough of a market in town to support another dispensary,” Larsen said.

“There are more than enough patients who need reliable, quality cannabis products than the current two clubs in the city provide.”

His menu of cannabis products included six strains of dried marijuana, four kinds of hash, two pot products in capsules and double-strength bon-bons — cannabis-infused organic chocolates.

The pot ranged in price from $7.50 a gram for Pine Cross up to $8 a gram for Sweet Tooth; pressed Kif (soft hash made with a sieve) went for $8 a gram; and very potent Bubblehash, which was extracted using water and ice rather than a sieve, went for $25 a gram.

In Oakland, Calif., the private dispensaries that support the state’s medical marijuana program are said to be generating revenues in excess of $70 million a year.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA COULD HELP THE SICK

Michelle Rainey is one of roughly 2,500 Canadians with a licence to possess and use marijuana. She’s also a celebrity in the medical marijuana world and on YouTube.

Rainey has Crohn’s disease and finds her home-grown pot an effective replacement for her previous expensive regimen of pharmaceutical drugs.

She believes the country’s health-care system could save a fortune if there was a working medical marijuana program, and those who could benefit from cannabis could easily shift away from other medications.

The roughly 110,000 Canadians suffering from Crohn’s disease and the 90,000 living with ulcerative colitis, for example, are estimated to spend $162 million a year for prescription drugs.

Many of those people are already benefiting from marijuana, Rainey said, but many, many more could be.

Consider too that many battling cancer and HIV/AIDS find edible cannabis products work to stimulate the appetite, but they’ve got to buy them on the street.

“We have a huge problem with physicians being apprehensive about signing for patients even though the proof is there,” Rainey said.

“Our seniors, for instance, are spending their pensions on big pharma only to end up with more aches and pains when all they may need is a puff or a brownie!”

Rainey has facilitated more than 70 exemptions for local patients, 30 suffering from Crohn’s: “I receive dozens of e-mails from people suffering every day from all over the world who have discovered cannabis alleviates pain and nausea. The government should not be preventing people from getting access to an effective medicine.”

The courts agree.

In its decision, the Federal Court of Appeal did more than simply hand Ottawa a legal loss. It said the government had been knowingly dragging its heels since at least 2003.

As a result, lawyer Kirk Tousaw told B.C. Supreme Court that this decision renders the criminal law invalid based on that history of jurisprudence, which ties enforceability of the criminal law to the existence of a constitutionally adequate medical access scheme.

He said the judgments in Ontario courts and now the federal court mean the state of the law is unclear and therefore criminal sanctions cannot be imposed.

In this latest case — called Sfetkopoulos et al v. Attorney General of Canada — some 27 patients with exemptions to possess marijuana for medicinal use applied to Health Canada for authorization to designate Carasel Harvest Supply Corporation as their marijuana producer.

Health Canada refused, saying that violated the regulations that restricted growers to supplying only two patients at a time.

But the Federal Court Trial Division agreed with the patients and declared section 41 (b.1) of the MMAR was contrary to s. 7 of the Charter because it threatened their liberty and security of the person by preventing them from choosing their marijuana producer.

The judge accepted that sick people should have access to marijuana for the treatment of serious medical conditions and they should not be forced to risk imprisonment to buy their medication on the black market.

He interpreted the constitutional guarantee of security of person rights to include access to medication without undue state interference.

Ottawa appealed and lost.

COURT REBUKES GOVERNMENT

The appeal court agreed with the trial judge — the medical marijuana scheme was constitutionally deficient — and rebuked the government.

The three judges said the Crown had brought forward a case dismissed by the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2003, that nothing had changed and the marijuana access regulations remained flawed.

In the unanimous 2003 decision, the justices similarly complained about Ottawa’s failure to deal properly with this issue.

In their terse three-page decision a fortnight ago, the justices refused to suspend the impact of their ruling to give the government time to amend the regulations.

Health Canada spokesman Phillipe Laroche said the department was still studying the ruling and had not decided on its response.

Now, Tousaw has argued that those charged or convicted while the medical marijuana access scheme was deemed unconstitutional should have their convictions overturned or their charges stayed. That’s thousands of Canadians.

In particular, Tousaw says Ryan Poelzer should have his conviction overturned.

Poelzer was charged May 18, 2007 and there is no disagreement about the facts. He was smoking a joint on a B.C. Ferry as it pulled into Langdale and that offended an off-duty cop who called the RCMP. As he stepped off the ferry, Poelzer was arrested and in his backpack police found 78.3 grams of marijuana, 8.6 grams of hash, and assorted paraphernalia and pro-drug literature.

In spite of Tousaw’s argument that the cannabis prohibition was invalid, or alternatively that the status of the prohibition is so confused that prosecution constituted an abuse of process, the provincial court judge in the case decided B.C. jurisprudence had declared the medical marijuana scheme valid and therefore the criminal law was fine and Poelzer in clear violation of it.

But Tousaw says the B.C. precedents are wrong and fly in the face of this latest ruling.

The Crown disagrees.

Federal lawyer Peter Eccles said the MMAR requirements are reasonable given the legitimate societal interest in controlling the distribution of a “potentially harmful drug.”

“They ensure only those with a bona fide medical need for marijuana, verified by appropriate medical declaration, obtain legal access,” Eccles said. “Mr. Poelzer is not such an individual.”

Perhaps.

Two B.C. justices will render their opinions soon on whether there actually is a criminal marijuana law in force at the moment or whether de facto legalization has occurred because the medical access scheme is unconstitutional.

Market issues ‘need to be addressed’

The question is how will Ottawa respond to the federal court decision.

Since the impugned marijuana access scheme is a product of regulation rather than statute, the government can quickly promulgate new rules.

“They could make cosmetic regulatory changes,” Nash acknowledged, “which would force another court challenge. But I think the judges are pretty fed up with them doing that.”

And for good reason — sick people should not have to deal with the black market.

Nash said it’s time to get medical marijuana out of the courts, properly regulated and controlled.

“It comes down to consumer choice,” Nash said. “We have people across Canada who want our organic product. Patients want different price ranges, they want different strains, they want different hybrids. There are market issues here that need to be addressed. When you go to a pharmacy do you want to be told you can only have Bayer?

“This is about patients’ rights and a legitimate need.”

imulgrew@vancouversun.co

Note:

Ian Mulgrew is the Vancouver Sun’s legal affairs columnist and the author of several non-fiction books, including Bud Inc.: Inside Canada’s Marijuana Industry (Random House, 2005).

See also:

Choogle on podcast interview with Dana Larsen: Party at the Vancouver Seed Bank – Choogle on #59

What happened in Canadian Election?

My pal Raul asked this question at: What the heck happened this past Canadian Federal Election?

Here’s my brief reply:

The left was split and Canada’s true desires weren’t manifest. The Liberals ran a (sorry) lousy campaign, the Green acquitted themselves excellently but are out numbered everywhere and the Cons slipped right in strategically laughing while Layton attacked Dion.

We need a proportional representative system where the House reflects Canada. We need a run-off style ballot so we aren’t flummoxed by the “strategic voting” conundrum (i vote with my heart).

And the parties need to show – in short, clear statements – how we (they) can protect the environment while promoting the economy.

I am still worked up about they way this election went down and riffed more about it at A Few words for Democracy at happyfrog.

I have a Choogle on! podcast coming out shortly (really) with my emotional reaction to the results in Canada and the impending vote in the USA. And I discussed the Conservative minority win on the Dopecast on Dopefiend.co.uk.
While i am on topic, here are my democratic actionable items, observations etc. cross-posted from happyfrog post A Few words for Democracy:
flying coloursOhhhh Canada

With the Canadian Federal election behind us, a looming USA General election (which will effect everyone), plus a Vancouver Mayoral race in which the winner will preside over the 2010 Olympics and attempt to assuage the controversies around the development, democracy in action is catching the attention of everyone – or should be anyhow.

I’ve personally learned that policy is decided by those who “show up” and let their opinions be heard – not by throwing rocks but rather by civilized discourse and personal expression to the policy makers.

Here are a few tools, events and ideas I’ve come acress to help constructively participate in the political process, while not sinking to the mud-slinging which happens when the issues cut to the core of who we are as a community.

Media Democracy Day- Speak up!

Media Democracy Day LogoThis Saturday at SFU’s downtown campus come “Speak for Ourselves” and learn about the critical issues effecting the media – both in terms of content and delivery – at Media Democracy Day Vancouver 2008.

With mainstream conglomerates amalgamating local media into a generic mish-mash more focused on selling ad space than spreading critical information, and Telcos (with the encouragement of the Federal government) tightening their grip on the gates of what’s “acceptable” there is plenty to educate yourself about.

Noted speakers will share their opinions – including happyfrog columnist and co-founder of Greenpeace Rex Wyeler and Tyee’s chief David Beers – and relevant panels will present different perspectives on this dynamic landscape from open access to citizen journalism to copyright/wrong.

Now Polling Grassroots Opinions

happyfrog at Car Free Fests

I’ve seen and chatted with Pedro from NowPolling.ca at many community events as he spreads the message that “Participation is the essence of Democracy”.

Sign up for a free account at NowPolling.ca and you can weigh in with your opinion on current issues of concern to the community on a local, provincal and federal level.

Here’s how they describe their work:

“This is a non-profit forum where anyone can register their opinions on a broad range of issues. You can choose your answers now, and if you change your mind, you can return to change your vote anytime.

As far as we know, nowpolling.ca is the first in the world to provide a perpetual polling system which facilitates your democratic right to participate in the political process.”

Sign up for an free NowPolling.ca account and see how your opinions jibe with your fellow electors.

Fairer Voting

Despite the optimism I held from watching the debates and CBC engaging X Challenge debate (with a cameo by happyfrog pal Chris Livingstone of EPIC Sustainable Living Expo), the results were a split left and a stronger minority government for the Conservative Party. Ugh.

go green

During the election, many folks rallied for strategic voting for the environment in order to prevent Conservatives from taking seats. While I fervently support the environment, I personally don’t buy into strategic voting.

The solution which has come out of the election with some vigor is proportional representation. You can learn more about this at Fairvote.ca but briefly, this means a House of Commons which reflects the popular vote rather than the minority winner from the patchwork of ridings.

Here’s Fairvote’s statement about the recent election:

As usual, the first-past-the-post system played havoc with voters’ intentions. The Green Party, western Liberals, the NDP and urban Conservatives were among the political victims. The Parliament voters tried to create would have looked quite different from what the voting system gave us. Read the Fair Vote Canada press release.

The impetus for many to rally behind this is seeing the Greens leap up to just shy of 7% of the popular vote yet get no seats while the NDP led the Bloc Quebecois in the popular vote but trailed in the seats.

Sign the petition

Another related idea is to vote for your 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice to form a “run-off” in each riding with the lowest candidate dropped and the votes recounted until a candidate had over 50% of the vote rather than the “first past the post” system now.

Whichever way you feel, it is a big question for Canadians and there is a movement for a voting referendum to encourage *more* democracy.

Voteabroad.org & Democrats Abroad

happyfrog at Car Free Fests

Ex-pat BeccaJo explained in her post “Last chance to vote in the U.S.!” the process and importance of voting for Americans living in the Great White North.

Registering is the critical first step. Next up, voting! If you are from the USA, you should have received your ballot already – if not, get on the phone to the county auditor in your last county of residence.

If you have received it, fill it out and get it in the mail or drop it off at the US Embassy. Unlike mailing from within the USA, you gotta pony up for an international air mail stamp.

For Demo-politicos seeking bonding in Canada, consider hanging out with the Democrats Abroad in Vancouver or via email. They are likely to be hosting a results viewing party for a big Nov. 4th.

CBC using Twitter

Some netizens have noticed the new happyfrog_ca Twitter account. Like many new web apps, this is a bit strange to explain at first – basically 140 character mini-thoughts.

The recent General election provided a good example as CBC followed the chatter via Twitter as voters watched the Leader Debates and flowed out a stream on collective consciousness with their off the cuff, candid reactions to the Q&A flowed to OrmistonVotes Twitter account.

Ormiston Voting Twitter

If you aren’t using Twitter, it’s free and fun. If you are, follow happyfrog_ca and pay attention to #vanvotes and other keywords (known as “hashtags” and when preceded with a # sign) to keep a pulse on what the people are feeling/thinking/expressing right now – all in haiku-like length.

And Finally, a By-Election

If you aren’t all voted out yet, great because there is a provincial by-election coming up. happyfrog pal Miss604 has an awesome (as usual) overview BC By-Elections for Vancouver-Burrard and Vancouver-Fairview.

Monte Paulsen gives the low down in The Tyee’s The Hook political blog:

As if Vancouverites needed another fall election, Premier Gordon Campbell has called two provincial by-elections for October 29th in the Vancouver-Burrard and Vancouver-Fairview ridings.

Vancouver-Burrard became vacant in September after MLA Lorne Mayencourt, a B.C. Liberal, resigned to run for the Conservative Party in the Oct. 14 federal election.

Vancouver-Fairview became vacant in July after MLA Gregor Robertson, a B.C. New Democrat, resigned to run as Vision Vancouver’s mayoral candidate in the Nov. 15 civic election.

With some high-profile candidates in the mix, hopefully voter apathy and burnout will be thwarted and the turnout will be high and mighty.

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U.S. Dept. of Heath and Human Services Obtains Patent for Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants

As long rumoured, the The United States of America as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services, has indeed obtained patents on various forms of THC despite the endless litany of claims to the contrary, enforced by life damaging, draconian policies. Thanks to the remarkable Google Patent directory, you can explore the whole patent in details beyond the abstract provided below.

The Google directory is a fair bit easier to explore but here the USTPO reference as well for you wonks:

6,630,507 Full-Text Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants

Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants – Aidan J. Hampson et al

Abstract
Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidoil, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present invention. A particular disclosed class of cannabinoids useful as neuroprotective antioxidants is formula (I) wherein the R group is independently selected from the group consisting…

Patent number: 6630507
Filing date: Feb 2, 2001
Issue date: Oct 7, 2003
Inventors: Aidan J. Hampson, Julius Axelrod, Maurizio Grimaldi
Assignee: The United States of America as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services
Primary Examiner: Kevin E. Weddington
Attorneys: Klarquist Sparkman, LLP
Application number: 9/674,028

U.S. Classification
514/454

International Classification
A61K 3135

Bonus:

Although not owned by the US government patents are rather interesting as well:

7,285,687 Full-Text Cannabinoids
7,179,800 Full-Text Cannabinoids

or a general search for cannabis at USTPO

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Washington State hearings on medical marijuana limits and Hempfest

See Cannabis Defense Coalition for more info on this ongoing issue.

State’s proposed pot limit brings out critics
By Drew Mikkelsen, KING 5 News – Aug 25, 2008
http://www.king5.com/health/stories/NW_082508WEBDM_medical_marijuana_KC.10cb30f3.html

How Much Medicinal Marijuana Is Enough?
By Austin Jenkins, National Public Radio – Aug 25, 2008
http://news.opb.org/article/2907-how-much-medicinal-marijuana-enough/

Wash. medical pot patients protest caps on supply
By Curt Woodward, Associated Press – Aug 25, 2008
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008137941_apwamedicalmarijuana1stldwritethru.html

Health officials want public input on medical marijuana
By Jeanne Lockhart, KIRO Radio – Aug 25, 2008
http://www.mynorthwest.com/?nid=11&sid=83713

Hempfest taunt: What’s Gregoire smoking?
The Olympian – Aug 22, 2008
http://www.theolympian.com/118/story/555658.html

Revelry, politics mix at Hempfest
By Bob Young, Seattle Times – Aug 17, 2008
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008119349_hempfest17m0.html

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What to say to the Police (hint: nothing!)

Professor James Duane, a fast-talking, charmingly rebellious, and engaging law professor gives a compelling lecture about how to respond to the police in the event of a criminal investigation. Critical information to understand your American rights – particularly the 5th Amendment.

And a response from Office George Bruch of the Virgina Beach Police Dept. (who is also a law student) who gives real, behind the scenes info on police tactics of interrogation (they say “interviews”) and questioning. Useful info about misleading recordings, confession methods, and the advantages of keeping your mouth shut.

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Rick Steves gets even cooler with a Cannabis Policy Guest Column in Seattle PI

Travel in Europe guru, PBS super-star, decent Lutheran guy, and multi-purpose enlightened thinker Rick Steves wrote a guest column about the failed USA war on drugs policy – i’ve re-posted for educational use from Seattle P-I.com

We need to get smart about marijuana

RICK STEVES
GUEST COLUMNIST

As a parent helping two children navigate their teen years, and as a travel writer who has seen firsthand how Europe deals with its drug problem, I’ve thought a lot about U.S. drug policy — particularly our criminalization of marijuana.

Europe, like the U.S., is dealing with a persistent drug-abuse problem. But unlike us, Europe, which treats drug abuse primarily as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue, measures the success of its drug policy in terms of pragmatic harm reduction.

Europeans seek a cure that isn’t more costly than the problem. While the U.S. spends its tax dollars on police, courts and prisons, Europe fights drug abuse by funding doctors, counselors and clinics. European Union policymakers estimate that for each euro invested in drug education and counseling, they save 15 euros in police and health costs. Similar estimates have been made for U.S. health-based approaches by the Rand Corp. and others.

While Europeans are as firmly opposed to hard drugs as we are, the difference in how they approach marijuana is striking. Take the Netherlands, with its famously liberal marijuana laws. On my last trip to Amsterdam, I visited a “coffee shop” — a cafe that openly and legally sells marijuana to people over 18. I sat and observed the very local, almost quaint scene: Neighbors were chatting. An older couple (who apparently didn’t enjoy the trendy ambience) parked their bikes and dropped in for a baggie to go. An underage customer was shooed away. Then a police officer showed up — but only to post a warning about the latest danger from chemical drugs on the streets.

Some concerned U.S. parents are comforted by the illusion of control created by our complete prohibition of marijuana. But the policy seems to be backfiring: Their kids say it’s easier to buy marijuana than tobacco or alcohol. (You don’t get carded when you buy something illegally.) Meanwhile, Dutch parents say their approach not only protects their younger children, but also helps insulate teens over 18 from street pushers trying to get them hooked on more addictive (and profitable) hard drugs.

After a decade of regulating marijuana, Dutch anti-drug abuse professionals agree there has been no significant increase in pot smoking among young people, and that overall cannabis use has increased only slightly. European and U.S. government statistics show per-capita consumption of marijuana for most of Europe (including the Netherlands) is about half that of the U.S., despite the criminal consequences facing American pot smokers.

When it comes to marijuana, European leaders understand that a society must choose: Tolerate alternative lifestyles or build more prisons. They’ve made their choice. We’re still building more prisons.

According to Forbes magazine, 25 million Americans currently use marijuana (federal statistics indicate that one in three Americans has used marijuana at some point), which makes it a $113 billion untaxed industry in our country. The FBI reports that about 40 percent of the roughly 1.8 million annual drug arrests in the U.S. are for marijuana — the majority (89 percent) for simple possession.

Rather than act as a deterrent, criminalization of marijuana drains precious resources, clogs our legal system and distracts law enforcement attention from more pressing safety concerns.

But things are changing. For example, in Seattle, Initiative 75, which makes adult marijuana use the lowest law enforcement priority for local cops, was recently reviewed after four years in action. The results clearly show that during that period, marijuana use didn’t measurably increase, and street crime associated with drugs actually went down.

More and more U.S. parents, lawyers, police, judges and even travel writers feel it’s time for a change. Obviously, like Europeans, we don’t want anyone to harm themselves or others by misusing marijuana. We simply believe that regulating and taxing what many consider a harmless vice is smarter than outlawing it.

Like my European friends, I believe we can adopt a pragmatic policy toward marijuana, with a focus on harm reduction and public health, rather than tough-talking but counterproductive criminalization. The time has come to have an honest discussion about our marijuana laws and their effectiveness. We need to find a policy that is neither “hard on drugs” nor “soft on drugs” — but smart on drugs.

Rick Steves is a travel writer based in Edmonds.

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Obama’s Position on Medical Marijuana

Barry Obama, class of '79With the US aflutter with electioneering, my old buddy (who i am very eager to go visit) Hemp Ed in Pe Ell (hear Ed on Bacon, Biscuits and Hemp Ed – Choogle on #39) sent along Senator Obama’s campaign’s response to Ed’s query about the candidate’s medical marijuana policy.

Note that cannabis seems absent from the current political discourse aside from Mitt Romney (stop stalking me Mitt!) telling a terminally ill patient that he wouldn’t allow him to have medicine (he must be stopped!) aside from Ron Paul who has been marginalized by the process (despite rabid grassroots support).

Anyhow, Barack (who has toked in his time)’s folks say:

Dear Friend,

Thank you for contacting Obama for America to inquire about the Senator’s position on allowing severely ill patients to use marijuana for medical purposes.

Many states have laws that condone medical marijuana, but the Bush Administration is using federal drug enforcement agents to raid these facilities and arrest seriously ill people. Focusing scarce law enforcement resources on these patients who pose no threat while many violent and highly dangerous drug traffickers are at large makes no sense. Senator Obama will not continue the Bush policy when he is president.

Thank you again for contacting us.

Sincerely,

Obama for America

We’ll see if noted Olympia correspondent Cosmo (and precinct organizer for Obama AFAIK) has anything to add.

Photo Credit: Awesom high school yearbook image from Pushing String blog Barry Obama and the gang