The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) — the country’s oldest and largest public interest and human rights bar organization — issued a report yesterday addressing the federal government’s flawed policy on marijuana. According to its author NLG Senior Researcher Traci Yoder, High Crimes: Strategies to Further Marijuana Legalization Initiatives “analyzes the legalization process under way in the states, suggests strategies to further marijuana legalization initiatives, and highlights current obstacles to ending prohibition.”
While significant attention is given to the adult use of marijuana, generally, the report recommends reframing drug use as “a social and public health issue and not a criminal justice problem,” something we’ve been saying for years at Americans for Safe Access. High Crimes also recommends reclassifying marijuana for medical use. Citing the “[m]ounting scientific and anecdotal evidence” of marijuana’s therapeutic benefits, the Guild rightly points out that “Rescheduling cannabis would allow for expanded medical research and use under international law.”
The NLG report comes days after a report issued by Americans for Safe Access (ASA), detailing the social and economic costs of the federal government’s war on medical marijuana. The ASA report entitled What’s the Cost? is geared toward educating federal legislators on the consequences of that war, not only in terms of how it affects the prisoners, their families, and thousands of patients, but also how it impacts the average taxpayer and our federal budget.
For example, the Obama Administration has spent nearly $300 million on aggressive enforcement against medical marijuana patients and businesses. Since he’s been in office, President Obama has spent $8 million on at least 270 paramilitary-style raids, and has invested up to four percent of the Justice Department’s budget on this issue.
In its most recent crackdown on medical marijuana, the Justice Department has used the threat of asset forfeiture against the landlords of state-lawful cannabis-based businesses. While the threat of legal action alone has been enough to shutter hundreds of dispensaries in California, Colorado, and Washington, the Justice Department has filed more than 30 medical marijuana forfeiture lawsuits at a cost of over $10 million.
The High Crimes report argues that such seizures lead to unjust treatment of patients and their providers as well as skewed police priorities, the militarization of U.S. police departments, and increased police corruption. The NLG urges an end to “the practice of civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement agencies” and, until that can be achieved, the group recommends that forfeiture laws at the very least “require criminal convictions before enabling the government seizure of any property.”
In addition to law enforcement, the Guild points a finger at the private prison industry as a major factor in the development and execution of U.S. drug policy, which invariably affects hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients . “It is crucial to examine who profits from the continued prohibition of marijuana,” said Yoder.
The increasing militarization of police forces is funded through property and financial seizures during drug arrests. Continued profit making by private corrections corporations is contingent upon ever-increasing rates of incarceration.In this over-incarcerated and increasingly militarized environment, ASA is demanding Peace for Patients and, like the NLG, is calling on the Obama Administration to put into place a more humane, public health policy.