Washington (CNN) — The Justice Department said it won’t challenge state laws that legalize marijuana and will focus federal enforcement on serious trafficking cases and keeping the drug away from children.
Attorney General Eric Holder, in a conference call Thursday morning, notified the governors of Colorado and Washington that the department, for now, will not seek to pre-empt those states’ laws, which followed voters’ approval of ballot measures that legalized recreational marijuana use.
5 Questions for Eliot Spitzer on the Biggest Healthcare Fraud Settlement in History
Big Pharma gets a Big Fine. Will it be enough to prevent future criminal behavior?
July 5, 2012 |
It’s the largest settlement involving a pharmaceutical company in history. British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and cough up $3 billion in fines for a long list of nasty and dangerous behavior, including misbranding drugs, failing to report safety data, and using undue influence to sway physicians to prescribe drugs by using everything from free spa treatments to outright bribes. The improper marketing of drugs — especially to children — is perhaps the most disturbing crime of all.
The fine against Glaxo over Paxil, Wellbutrin, and Avandia is big money. But will it change anything? I caught up with Eliot Spitzer, former Attorney General and governor of New York, to shed some light on this historic case. In 2004, Spitzer went after Glaxo for the same kind of fraud related to Paxil. In a settlement, the company was forced to publish details of clinical drug trials it had been concealing and pay a sum of $2.5 million. Spitzer’s pursuit of Glaxo paved the way for this week’s record-breaking settlement.
As the New York Times notes, the use of hard drugs has remained stable over the past twenty years. Statistics tell us not only what we’re up against, but how desperately we need reform:
A war on drugs whose objective is to eradicate the drug market — to stop drugs from arriving in the United States and stop Americans from swallowing, smoking, inhaling or injecting them — is a war that cannot be won. What we care about is the harm that drugs, drug trafficking and drug policy do to individuals, society and even national security. Reducing this harm is a goal worth fighting for.
That’s exactly world leaders (and now the New York Times) are calling for decriminalization (if not full-blown legalization) of drugs — to replace a failed criminal justice approach with a public health strategy that will give us real results.
EVEN IF I wanted to get marijuana, I wouldn’t know where to start looking. That predicament should not be true for the terminally ill. But the legal limbo regarding medical marijuana has left many state governments deciding between promoting patient care and exposing people to prosecution. Finally, the states are pushing back.
The debate over medical marijuana isn’t about the drug war. It is about where the issue fits in the federal bureaucracy. Location is as important for government agencies as for real estate. The Forestry Service is in the Department of Agriculture, not Interior; the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is within the Department of Homeland Security, not Commerce. Where an issue is handled is a reflection of the government’s priorities and policies.
Decisions about marijuana’s medical benefits are made by the Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Agency; decisions about whether to prosecute those who violate federal law against marijuana use reside with local US attorneys’ offices; decisions about whether there can be more medical studies are made by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, whose name gives you a sense of its priorities.
Medical marjiuana is governed by drug enforcers and prosecutors. This simple fact has created a legal fight over legitimate state attempts to administer this different kind of pain relief - the only one that, some cancer patients say, relieves their suffering.
Any column praising a marijuana effort should include the usual caveats about not inhaling or “I was once at a party where I saw it.” But, this is no reefer madness. The state legislative effort to promote medical marijuana was backed by George Soros’s Open Society Institute. Presently, 16 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana; another 10 are considering it. Close to one-third of all Americans live in states that authorize its use. Such crazy partiers as the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, and the American College of Physicians recognize the medical benefits of marijuana or, more cautiously, cannabis.
Nonetheless, even in the states that allow medical marijuana, federal authorities keep bringing cases against medical marijuana distributors, their clients, and the landlords that lease to them. Some may deserve it and just be fronts for recreational use. But because federal and state laws overlap, the only assurance the Justice Department can give to state supporters of medical marijuana is a promise that prosecutions against caregivers or patients are a low priority. That sentiment was reiterated by Attorney General Eric Holder just last week.
Assurances are not legally binding. This leaves governors in a terrible quandary about how, and whether, to proceed with laws allowing the distribution of marijuana for medical use. In Rhode Island, before Governor Lincoln Chafee ever enforced a law allowing distribution by “compassion centers,” he received a letter from the state’s US attorney to “ensure that there is no confusion.” With a passing reference to Holder’s priorities, the letter warns that Justice will vigorously enforce laws against the manufacture, distribution, and possession of marijuana “even if such activities are permitted under state law.”
Chafee and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, who received a similar letter, are now asking the federal government to change marijuana from a Schedule I drug, a status it shares with heroin, LSD, and mescaline, to Schedule II. Schedule II drugs, such as cocaine, morphine, and opium, are equally addictive but can also be dispensed for medical use.
The two governors speak from personal experience. Chafee brought his state’s plan to open distribution centers to a screeching halt in September, citing fears the state-regulated dispensaries would become the targets of federal enforcement actions. And this spring, Gregoire vetoed key portions of a bill that would have set up a regulated dispensary system in Washington for similar reasons.
The governors asked the DEA to move marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, which is reserved for drugs with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, to Schedule II, which includes drugs with a high potential for abuse, but with accepted medical uses. If moved to Schedule II, marijuana would be grouped with opioid pain relievers such as morphine, Dilaudid, and Fentanyl; prescription amphetamines and methamphetamines, such as Dexedrine and Desoxyn; barbiturates, and cocaine.
The White House announced Monday that President Barack Obama had granted pardons to five people, including three whose offenses were marijuana-related, and commuted the sentence of a woman doing more than 20 years on a crack cocaine charge. As is the case with every administration, the White House provided no explanation for its choice of pardons.
The only recipient of presidential largesse who was still actually serving a prison sentence is Eugenia Marie Jennings of Alton, Illinois. She was almost halfway through a 22-year sentence for crack cocaine distribution when President Obama commuted her sentence. She will now be released in one month, but will still have to serve eight years of probation. Jennings’s brother, Cedric Parker, testified before the House Judiciary Committee in 2009.
This is the third set of clemencies issued by President Obama. Each of the earlier sets also included at least one drug offender. So far, President Obama has pardoned or commuted the sentences of 23 people.
Editor’s Note: We can no longer tally this year’s drug war deaths in Mexico with accuracy. The figure for this year’s deaths is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]
Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300
Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400
Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600
Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273
Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 8,500
TOTAL: > 42,000
Abuse of prescription painkiller have reached “epidemic” levels in the US, a government report says.
Overdoses of pain relievers cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined, the report has found.
It says sales and prescriptions of the drugs rose sharply in recent years and this was linked to the rise in overdoses.
Narcotic painkillers are prescribed to relieve chronic pain but the drugs can be “highly addictive”, the report says.
The report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said fatalities caused by narcotic pain relievers have more than tripled in the last 10 years - equivalent to 40 deaths a day.
Last year, a national survey on drug use and health showed that one in 20 Americans over the age of 12 said they had used painkillers for non-medical reasons.
Named as the fastest growing drug problem facing the US, narcotic painkillers are increasingly used recreationally - for the high they cause.
Causes as many deaths as firearm violence:
In 2008, almost 15,000 deaths were caused by prescription painkillers, including the death of actor Heath Ledger.