July 04, 2013
By NANCY BENAC and
ALICIA A. CALDWELL
It took 50 years for American attitudes about marijuana to zigzag from the paranoia of "Reefer Madness" to the excesses of Woodstock back to the hard line of "Just Say No."
The next 25 years took the nation from Bill Clinton, who famously "didn't inhale," to Barack Obama, who most emphatically did.
Now, in just a few short years, public opinion has moved so dramatically toward general acceptance that even those who champion legalization are surprised at how quickly attitudes are changing and states are moving to approve the drug — for medical use and just for fun.
It is a moment in America that is rife with contradictions:
—People are looking more kindly on marijuana even as science reveals more about the drug's potential dangers, particularly for young people.
—States are giving the green light to the drug in direct defiance of a federal prohibition on its use.
—Exploration of the potential medical benefit is limited by high federal hurdles to research.
Washington policymakers seem reluctant to deal with any of it.
Richard Bonnie, a University of Virginia law professor who worked for a national commission that recommended decriminalizing marijuana in 1972, sees the public taking a big leap from prohibition to a more laissez-faire approach without full deliberation.
"It's a remarkable story historically," he says. "But as a matter of public policy, it's a little worrisome."
More than a little worrisome to those in the anti-drug movement.
"We're on this hundred-mile-an-hour freight train to legalizing a third addictive substance," says Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy adviser in the Obama administration, lumping marijuana with tobacco and alcohol.
Legalization strategist Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, likes the direction the marijuana smoke is wafting. But knows his side has considerable work yet to do.
"I'm constantly reminding my allies that marijuana is not going to legalize itself," he says.
By the numbers:
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes since California voters made the first move in 1996. Voters in Colorado and Washington state took the next step last year and approved pot for recreational use. Alaska is likely to vote on the same question in 2014, and a few other states are expected to put recreational use on the ballot in 2016.
Nearly half of adults have tried marijuana, 12 percent of them in the past year, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
Fifty-two percent of adults favor legalizing marijuana, up 11 percentage points just since 2010, according to Pew.
Sixty percent think Washington shouldn't enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have approved its use.
Where California led the charge on medical marijuana, the next chapter in this story is being written in Colorado and Washington state.
Policymakers there are grappling with all sorts of sticky issues revolving around one central question: How do you legally regulate the production, distribution, sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes when federal law bans all of the above?
The Justice Department began reviewing the matter after last November's election. But seven months later, states still are on their own.
Both sides in the debate paid close attention when Obama said in December that "it does not make sense, from a prioritization point of view, for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that's legal."
Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who favors legalization, predicts Washington will take a hands-off approach, based on Obama's comments. But he's quick to add: "We would like to see that in writing."
The federal government already has taken a similar approach toward users in states that have approved marijuana for medical use.
It doesn't go after pot-smoking cancer patients or grandmas with glaucoma. But it also has made clear that people who are in the business of growing, selling and distributing marijuana on a large scale are subject to potential prosecution for violations of the Controlled Substances Act — even in states that have legalized medical use.
There's a political calculus for the president, or any other politician, in all of this.
Younger people, who tend to vote more Democratic, are more supportive of legalizing marijuana, as are people in the West, where the libertarian streak runs strong.
Despite increasing public acceptance of marijuana overall, politicians know there are complications that could come with commercializing an addictive substance. Opponents of pot are particularly worried that legalization will result in increased use by young people.
Sabet frames the conundrum for Obama: "Do you want to be the president that stops a popular cause, especially a cause that's popular within your own party? Or do you want to be the president that enables youth drug use that will have ramifications down the road?"
Marijuana legalization advocates offer politicians a rosier scenario, in which legitimate pot businesses eager to keep their operating licenses make sure not to sell to minors.
"Having a regulated system is the only way to ensure that we're not ceding control of this popular substance to the criminal market and to black marketeers," says Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group for legal pot businesses in the U.S.
While the federal government hunkers down, Colorado and Washington state are moving forward on their own with regulations covering everything from how plants will be grown to how many stores will be allowed.
Tim Lynch, director of the libertarian Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice, predicts "the next few years are going to be messy" as states work to bring a black-market industry into the sunshine.
California's experience with medical marijuana offers a window into potential pitfalls that can come with wider availability of pot.
Dispensaries for medical marijuana have proliferated in the state, and regulation has been lax, prompting a number of cities around the state to ban dispensaries.
In May, the California Supreme Court ruled that cities and counties can ban medical marijuana dispensaries. A few weeks later, Los Angeles voters approved a ballot measure that limits the number of pot shops in the city to 135, down from an estimated high of about 1,000.
This isn't full-scale buyer's remorse, but more a course correction before the inevitable next push for full-on legalization in the state.
Growing support for legalization doesn't mean everybody wants to light up: Barely one in 10 Americans used pot in the past year.
Those who do want to see marijuana legalized range from libertarians who oppose much government intervention to people who want to see an activist government aggressively regulate marijuana production and sales.
For some, money talks: Why let drug cartels rake in untaxed profits when a cut could go into government coffers?
There are other threads in the growing acceptance of pot.
People think it's not as dangerous as once believed. They worry about high school kids getting an arrest record. They see racial inequity in the way marijuana laws are enforced. They're weary of the "war on drugs."
Opponents counter with a 2012 study finding that regular use of marijuana during teen years can lead to a long-term drop in IQ, and another study indicating marijuana use can induce and exacerbate psychotic illness in susceptible people. They question the notion that regulating pot will bring in big money, saying revenue estimates are grossly exaggerated.
They reject the claim that prisons are bulging with people convicted of simple possession by citing federal statistics showing only a small percentage of federal and state inmates are behind bars for that alone.
They warn that baby boomers who draw on their own innocuous experiences with pot are overlooking the much higher potency of today's marijuana.
In 2009, concentrations of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot, averaged close to 10 percent in marijuana, compared with about 4 percent in the 1980s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
"If marijuana legalization was about my old buddies at Berkeley smoking in People's Park once a week I don't think many of us would care that much," says Sabet, who helped to found Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization. "It's really about creating a new industry that's going to target kids and target minorities and our vulnerable populations just like our legal industries do today."
So how bad, or good, is pot?
J. Michael Bostwick, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, set out to sort through more than 100 sometimes conflicting studies after his teenage son became addicted to pot, and turned his findings into a 22-page article for Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2012.
For all of the talk that smoking pot is no big deal, Bostwick says he determined that "it was a very big deal. There were addiction issues. There were psychosis issues.
But there was also this very large body of literature suggesting that it could potentially have very valuable pharmaceutical applications but the research was stymied" by federal barriers.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says research is ongoing.
Dr. Nora Volkow, the institute's director, worries that legalizing pot will result in increased use of marijuana by young people, and impair their brain development.
"Think about it: Do you want a nation where your young people are stoned?" she asks.
Partisans on both sides think people in other states will keep a close eye on Colorado and Washington as they decide what happens next.
But past predictions on pot have been wildly off-base.
"Reefer Madness," the 1936 propaganda movie that pot fans turned into a cult classic in the 1970s, spins a tale of dire consequences "ending often in incurable insanity."
Associated Press writers Kristen Wyatt in Denver, Gene Johnson in Seattle, Lauran Neergaard in Washington and AP researcher Monika Mathur in Washington contributed to this report.
July 04, 2013
By JULIE PACE
President Barack Obama on July 1 courted African business leaders and announced new trade initiatives to open up East Africa’s markets to American businesses, as he sought to counter the rise of Chinese economic influence in the growing continent.
The United States, he declared, wants to “step up our game” in a region that is home to six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies.
The president was welcomed in Tanzania by the largest crowds of his weeklong trip to the continent where his family ties run deep. Thousands of people lined the streets as his motorcade sped through this city on the shores of the Indian Ocean, some wearing shirts and traditional khanga wraps bearing Obama’s image. The oceanfront road leading to the Tanzanian president’s residence had been permanently changed to “Barack Obama Drive” in honor of the visit.
Throughout his three-country trip, Obama has touted a new model for U.S. partnership with Africa, one based not just on aid and assistance, but also on trade. While the U.S. has long been a leader in foreign aid to Africa, China has surpassed America as sub-Saharan Africa’s largest trading partner. Countries like India, Turkey and Brazil also are increasing their presence on the continent.
“I see Africa as the world’s next major economic success story,” Obama told U.S. and African business leaders Monday. He spoke following a private meeting with top executives, including representatives from Coca Cola, Microsoft and General Electric.
In earlier stops in Senegal and South Africa, the president said he welcomed world economies turning their sights to Africa, declaring “the more, the merrier.” But he also challenged African leaders to pick their international partners carefully, saying they should push back against countries that bring in their own workers or mine Africa’s natural resources but handle the production outside the continent — all criticisms that have been levied against China.
Seeking to draw a contrast with Beijing, the president said his administration’s goal was “for Africa to build Africa for Africans,” and for the U.S. to be a partner in that process.
Obama’s trip marks his first stop in Africa since 2009, when he spent 24 hours in Ghana. China’s new President Xi Jinping embarked on an Africa swing less than two weeks after taking office earlier this year.
During his meetings in Tanzania, Obama announced a new venture, dubbed “Trade Africa,” that aims to increase the flow of goods between the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa. The initial phase will focus on East Africa – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania – and aim to increase the region’s exports to the U.S. by 40 percent.
The program is designed to assist those countries trade with each other. The president cited the laborious physical roadblocks and border crossings on the continent that delay the transport of goods and products. As an example, Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative who is traveling with Obama, told reporters it takes 42 days to export coffee out of Rwanda, compared to 14 days out of Colombia.
The president’s two-day visit to Tanzania marks the final leg of his weeklong visit to Africa. He arrived in Dar Es Salaam Monday afternoon, along with wife Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha.
During a joint press conference with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Obama appeared moved by the welcome from the exuberant crowds. He cited his ties to neighboring Kenya, where his father was born, and said that his father’s family had spent time in Tanzania.
Kikwete said there had never been a visit to Tanzania by a head of state that had attracted such big crowds.
Obama will close his Africa trip Tuesday with a rare meeting on foreign soil between two American presidents. George W. Bush is in Dar Es Salaam for a conference on African women organized by his institute and hosted by wife Laura Bush. The presidents will attend a wreath-laying ceremony honoring the victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing in Tanzania.
Ahead of the meeting, Obama praised the anti-AIDS program Bush began during his tenure, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR.
“I think this is one of his crowning achievements,” Obama said. “Because of the commitment of the Bush administration and the American people, millions of lives have been saved.”
Obama rejected the notion that he's reduced the U.S. commitment to the program, saying lower spending on PEPFAR is due to efficiencies in treating more people.
Tanzania in particular has benefited from the programs started under Bush and continued by Obama. Childhood mortality has been cut in half since 2000 and more than 90,000 people are receiving anti-retroviral treatment for HIV through facilities funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
While in Tanzania, the White House also announced a $10 million initiative to support anti-wildlife trafficking efforts on the continent. Grant Harris, Obama’s senior Africa director, said illegal wildlife trafficking is a $7 to 10 billion trade each year, with China and the U.S. the leading destinations for the animals.
The president also signed an executive order creating a task force that will develop a national strategy aimed in part at reducing U.S. demand for trafficked wildlife.
Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler in Dar Es Salaam and Jason Straziuso in Johannesburg contributed to this report.
July 04, 2013
By Christopher Torchia and Jason Straziuso
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A family feud over the burial site of three of Nelson Mandela’s children intensified Tuesday when criminal charges were filed against one of his grandsons, as the ailing 94-year-old former president remained hospitalized in critical condition.
Sixteen relatives have taken grandson Mandla Mandela to court after he reburied the children’s remains in Mandela’s birthplace of Mvezo in 2011. The Mandela relatives claim Mandla Mandela had not sought permission or even informed family members when he did so.
The revered statesman has long said that he wants to be buried in Qunu, where his children were buried in the family plot. Mandla Mandela moved the children's remains to Mvezo, where he plans to open a hotel.
Arguments were heard Tuesday over a court order calling for the bodies to be returned to Qunu; the case was adjourned until Wednesday.
Meanwhile, police said criminal charges of “tampering with a grave” have been pressed against Mandla Mandela over the exhumation of the three bodies.
“A case is opened at the police station and we will now investigate that case,” said police Lt. Col. Mzukisi Fatyela, who declined to reveal who pressed the charges.
Nelson Mandela was taken to a Pretoria hospital on June 8 for a recurring lung infection. Since then, there has been a groundswell of concern in South Africa and around the world for the man who spent 27 years as a prisoner under apartheid and then emerged to negotiate an end to white racist rule before becoming president.
Authorities also announced that former President F.W. de Klerk, who shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela, was fitted with a pacemaker on Tuesday. De Klerk is the last leader of South Africa’s apartheid era and freed Mandela from prison before going on to serve as his deputy president.
A Cape Town-based foundation named after 77-year-old de Klerk said the former president felt dizzy after returning home on Sunday from a trip to Europe, following several such spells of dizziness in recent weeks.
It said de Klerk was “doing fine” after the pacemaker was successfully implanted and that de Klerk, in line with standard procedure, was staying in the hospital overnight.
South Africa President Jacob Zuma released a statement wishing the former leader a speedy recovery.
On Saturday, the foundation issued a statement on behalf of de Klerk and his wife Elita, saying they had decided to suspend a working visit and vacation in Europe because Mandela is critically ill, and that they were praying for an improvement in the health of the anti-apartheid leader.
De Klerk, a former education minister who had backed segregated schooling, was a key figure in a delicate transition that turned out to be relatively peaceful despite fears of widespread racial conflict.
In 1990, a year after becoming South Africa’s president, he announced he was legalizing the African National Congress, the banned group that led the anti-apartheid movement, and would free Mandela. De Klerk received the Nobel prize along with Mandela for his reformist initiatives and effectively negotiating himself out of power.
De Klerk later served as a deputy president during Mandela’s single five-year term as president. Since his retirement from political life, he has traveled widely and delivered lectures. His foundation says its mission is to help poor and disabled children, contribute to conflict resolution and uphold South Africa’s constitution, which robustly supports the protection of human rights.
Last year, Mandela's archivists and Google announced a project to digitally preserve a record of Mandela’s life. In one online video, de Klerk recalled being asked to address parliament alongside Mandela in 2004. It was the 10th anniversary of the day Mandela became president. Mandela took de Klerk’s arm as lawmakers applauded.
“It is, if you now look back, a symbol of how reconciliation can manifest itself,” de Klerk said, reflecting on his encounter with Mandela.
June 27, 2013
LAWT Staff Report
Monday, by a 7-1 vote the Supreme Court decided to send the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions plan back to the lower courts (that had sided with the university) stating that the court had not properly applied the standard of strict scrutiny, the toughest judicial assessment of whether a government’s action is constitutional. Although the court had previously supported race as a consideration in university admissions in an effort to promote diversity, today the court raised the bar stating that schools must prove that there are “no workable race-neutral alternatives” to achieve said diversity.
“The University must prove that the means chosen by the University to attain diversity are narrowly tailored to that goal. On this point, the University receives no deference,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote.
“Strict scrutiny must not be strict in theory but feeble in fact.”
The decision is a small victory for Abigail Fisher, a white woman who claimed the University of Texas at Austin discriminated against her after her application was rejected in 2008 under the school’s race-conscious admission program.
“I am grateful to the justices for moving the nation closer to the day when a student’s race isn’t used at all in college admissions,” Fisher said in a statement.
The conservative-leaning decision could encourage more cases against race-conscious admissions elsewhere, but it has not yet ruled out the use of race in admissions decisions all together. Good thing for some, who still do not see the United States as being a post racial society.
“The majority of people under the age of five are now what we call ‘minority,’” wrote an anonymous Huffington Post user after the decision.
“What are the consequences if we don’t educate and train the adults of color amongst us now? They aren’t going away… They are going to be the people who have to care for YOU when you get old and need doctors and roads built. Be careful about the great disdain with which you are treating these young people. You better hope that your intentional under-investment and denigration of this population actually doesn’t come true. Too many whites are acting like petulant children about having to share the benefits of access they themselves take for granted.”
The thread continued with classic arguments for and against the decades old practice.
“Affirmative Action is racism,” declared a user named Steve.
“All collages use racism to select the balance of the students they want to for there school...[sic],” he said, garnering derisive comments about his spelling and his own need to apply to college.
The last time the court ruled on affirmative action in college admissions was in 2003, when the court ruled in Gutter v. Bollinger that a limited use of race by the University of Michigan Law School was acceptable in order to achieve diversity that benefits all students.
Meanwhile, some of the country’s elected officials have also weighed in on the debate.
“It’s shocking to think that we are still having to fight these same old fights to make sure that people of color and the disadvantaged are able to maintain a seat at the table and compete on equal footing like everyone else,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass.
Just like the ruling regarding the Voting Rights Act, we are seeing a disturbing trend from the high court where they are either ducking the opportunity to stand on the side of justice or punting the tough decisions for others to decide whether it be Congress or a lower court. The high court should be a place where the best ideals of our nation are reaffirmed but it’s becoming increasingly clear that today’s Supreme Court is more interested in pursuing or protecting a conservative right wing agenda working to undermine the rights and equal access for people of color in a broad range of areas. As this case moves back to the lower courts, it is critical that we keep working to make sure that young people of all backgrounds, races and ethnicities receive a fair shot at getting a good education. Affirmative action helps to ensure that this is the case and we must remain vigilant in working against any actions that might undermine the progress that has been made.”
Congresswoman Janice Hahn agrees.
“We must recommit to fostering equal opportunity for all young Americans trying to achieve academic excellence regardless of race or ethnic background.”
“Affirmative action always has to exist as long as a black child is not given the same opportunity as a rich child in Malibu,” said Los Angeles NAACP President Leon Jenkins.
“If you look at it, a lot of us come from the worst schools, in many cases with some of the worst teachers and the most poorly funded districts. It’s not fair for them to ask us to do what they would not consider doing, that is to give us the worst of everything and then ask us to compete with the best of everything.”