Legal issues of cannabis

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This article has a focus on the law and enforcement aspects of growing, transporting, selling and using cannabis. For other aspects, see cannabis.

Many countries have laws regarding the cultivation, possession, supply or use of cannabis (hemp). Non-drug cannabis products (e.g. fibre and seed) are legal in many countries, and these countries may license cultivation for these purposes. The herb is a controlled substance in most, though its use is condoned in some locales for medicinal purposes. In some countries, such as Portugal, cannabis drug material is legal for personal use, though restrictions do apply to its sale, distribution or consumption, and the legal limit is 25g. In Germany and in Switzerland and Colombia, the consumption of cannabis is legal, although it is illegal to possess, sell or distribute it. If the amount of cannabis a person possessed is considered as "minor", a law suit may be dropped. In the U.S.A (nationwide, in 2004) a person is arrested on "marijuana charges" every 42 seconds. Most other countries have very strict laws against even the possession or consumption of cannabis.

Contents

[edit] Criminalization

Cannabis was criminalized across most of the world in the early parts of the 20th century. The reasons for and approaches to criminalization vary from country to country, but the most substantial factor in global terms has been the influence of the conservative drug policies of successive United States federal administrations, as embodied in the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics, founded on 1930, and its successor, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, formed in 1973. Through these and other agencies, the U.S. government energetically lobbied both nationally and internationally from 1930 onwards for the criminalistion of cannabis and its use, and the campaign was largely successful.

At a 1925 conference to amend the International Opium Convention, Egypt and other nations complained of abuse problems with hashish and proposed requiring Parties to prohibit non-medical, non-scientific use of the drug. India and others, citing traditional uses of the drug and its prevalance as a wild-growing plant, successfully watered down the provision to only ban export of cannabis to countries whose domestic laws prohibited its use[1].

In the United Kingdom, cultivation and use of cannabis was generally outlawed in 1928. In the United States, the use of cannabis and other drugs came under increasing scrutiny after the formation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930, headed by crusading Prohibitionist Harry J. Anslinger. As part of the government's broader push to outlaw all drugs and alcohol, the FBN encouraged efforts to "educate" the public about drugs and this produced a number of highly sensationalised propaganda films which sought to demonise cannabis (or at least to capitalise on fears about it).

The most famous of these films is Reefer Madness (1936). It was originally produced as an educational film by a church group and released under the title Tell Your Children. It might have been forgotten, but it was obtained and subjected to a radical re-edit by the notorious American 'exploitation' film-maker Dwain Esper, who intercut the existing footage with highly sensational inserts. The resulting hybrid depicted cannabis smoking as the cause of every form of sin, depravity and immorality, up to and including murder. Whether these films were effective at the time is debatable, and Reefer Madness and similar works largely disappeared from view after their initial screenings. It was not until 1971 that the pro-cannabis lobby group NORML, realising the unintended parodic quality of the work, began screening a restored print at pro-pot festivals. It became a major cult hit when distributed on American college campuses, and this is reported to have been a major early success for the New Line Cinema organisation.

In the United States, the significant legislation was the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, a federal culmination of many separate state laws that had been enacted in the previous years. Some claim that the U.S. laws may have been in response to lobbying by makers of synthetic fibers that competed with hemp. While hemp was not their main competitor, it was a much easier target than cotton or wool, for example. Critics of the American prohibition have also pointed to the possiblity that there was a racial underpinning to the criminalisation of marijuana in America, since it was know to be a popular and widely-used recreational drug in the African-American and Latino communities. Nevertheless, the prohibition was strenuously resisted in some quarters, with New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia becoming one of the new law's most prominent and outspoken critics.

The 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs finally did prohibit all non-medical, non-scientific cannabis use. However, tincture of cannabis remained available in the UK as a prescription only drug (POM) until it was banned in 1971 under the then new Misuse of Drugs Act. The international restrictions on recreational use of cannabis were further strengthened by the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Laws usually govern distribution, cultivation, and possession for personal use. Enforcement of the law varies from country to country. Large-scale marijuana growing operations are frequently targeted by police in raids to attack the supply side and discourage the spread and marketing of the drug, though the great majority of those in prison for cannabis are either there for simple possession or small scale dealing.

There have been over seven million cannabis arrests in the United States since 1993, including 755,186 arrests in 2003. Cannabis users have been arrested at the rate of 1 every 42 seconds. About 88% of all marijuana arrests are for possession-not manufacture or distribution. (FBI Uniform Crimes Report)

[edit] Decriminalization campaign in United States

Main article: Cannabis rescheduling in the United States

After 1969, a time categorized by widespread use of cannabis as a recreational drug, a wave of legislation in America sought to reduce the penalties for the simple possession of marijuana, making it punishable by confiscation and/or a fine rather than imprisonment. Decriminalization is a drug supply-side control strategy that discourages users, but largely removes them from the criminal justice system, while imposing stiff penalties on those who traffic and sell the drug on the black market. Some of the first examples of this adjustment in drug policy were found in Alabama, when state judges decided to no longer impose five year mandatory minimum sentences for small possession (one marijuana cigarette); Missouri, when their legislature reformed statutes that made second possession offences no longer punishable by life in prison; and in Georgia, when that state revised second sale offences to minors no longer punishable by death.

Soon after these developments, an official decriminalization movement was started in 1973 with Oregon prompting other states, like Colorado, Alaska, Ohio, and California, to follow suit in 1975. By 1978, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, and Nebraska also had some form of marijuana decriminalization. In 2001, Nevada reduced marijuana possession from a felony offence to a misdemeanor. [2]

Regardless of these states' rights, decriminalization was never adopted as a national affair, principally because U.S. Congress disagrees with passing a version of legislation on the federal level. However, several petitions for cannabis rescheduling in the United States have been filed to remove marijuana from the "Schedule I" category of tightly-restricted drugs that have no medical use. The Controlled Substance Act allows the executive branch to decriminalize medical and recreational use of marijuana without any action by Congress; however, such an initiative would depend on the findings of the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services on certain scientific and medical issues specified by the Act. [3]

Issues regarding the unalienable Right to Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness expressed in the Declaration of Independence have at times been raised in the debate, arguing that those imprisoned for cannabis use are de facto political prisoners .[4]

In 2005, libertarian economist Milton Friedman and more than 500 other economists, called for the legalization of marijuana in an open letter to the President, Congress, Governors, and State Legislatures of the United States.

[edit] Decriminalization campaign in the United Kingdom

Main article: Cannabis reclassification in the United Kingdom

[edit] Decriminalization campaign in Canada

Main article: Cannabis legalization in Canada

[edit] Decriminalization campaign in the Netherlands

Main article:Drug policy of the Netherlands

[edit] Use of capital punishment against the cannabis trade

Several countries have either carried out or legislated capital punishment for cannabis use or trafficking.

Country Status Notes
Saudi Arabia Frequently used An Iraqi man named Mattar bin Bakhit al-Khazaali was convicted of smuggling hashish and was executed in the northern town of Arar, close to the Iraqi border.
Malaysia Has been used Mustaffa Kamal Abdul Aziz, 38 years old, and Mohd Radi Abdul Majid, 53 years old, were executed at dawn on January 17, 1996, for the trafficking of 1.2 kilograms of cannabis. [5]
Philippines Frequently Used The Philippines introduced stronger anti-drug laws, including the death penalty, in 2002. [6] Possession of over 500 grams or marijuana usually earns execution in the Philippines, as does prosessing over ten grams of opium, morphine, heroin, ecstasy, or cocaine.
United Arab Emirates Sentenced In the United Arab Emirates city of Fujairah, a woman named Lisa Tray was sentenced to death in December 2004, after being found guilty of possessing and dealing hashish. Undercover officers in Fujairah claim they caught Tray with 149 grams of hashish. Tray claims that her stepfather had given her the bag of hashish to deliver to someone, but didn't know its contents. Her lawyers have appealed the sentence.
Thailand Frequently Used Death penalty is possible for drug offences under Thai law. Extra-judicial killings also alleged. [7]
Singapore Frequently Used Death penalty carried out many times for cannabis trafficking. (July 20 2004) A convicted drug trafficker, Raman Selvam Renganathan, 39, who stored 2.7 kilogrammes of cannabis or marijuana in a Singapore flat was hanged in Changi Prison. He was sentenced to death last September 1 after an eight-day trial. (The Straits Times, July 20 2004).
People's Republic of China Frequently Used Death penalty is exercised regularly for drug offences under Chinese law, often in an annual frenzy corresponding to the United Nations' International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking [8] The government does not make precise records public, however Amnesty International estimates that around 500 people are executed there each year for drug offenses. Those executed have typically been convicted of smuggling or trafficking in anything from cannabis to methamphetamine.
Taiwan Available Death penalty is possible for drug offences under Taiwanese law
United States Available Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1996 proposed to introduce a mandatory death penalty for a second offense of smuggling 50 grams of marijuana into the United States, in the proposed law H.R. 4170.

The proposal failed. Under the 1994 Crime Act, the threshold for sentencing a death penalty in relation to marijuana is the involvement with the cultivation or distribution of 60,000 marijuana plants (or seedlings) or 60,000 kilograms of marijuana.

The death penalty is also possible for running a continuing criminal enterprise that distributes marijuana and receives more than $20 million in proceeds in one year, regardless of the weight of marijuana involved.

[edit] Cannabis for non-drug purposes

Main articles: Hemp for use as fibres, and Cannabis sativa for use as herb

Hemp is the common name for cannabis and the name most used (in English) when this annual herb is grown for non drug purposes. These include the industrial purposes for which cultivation licences may be issued in the European Union (EU). When grown for industrial purposes hemp is called, often, industrial hemp, and a common product is fibre for use in a variety of different ways. Fuel is often a by-product of hemp cultivation.

Hemp may be grown also for food (the seed) but in the UK at least (and probably in other EU countries) cultivation licences are not available for this purpose. Within Defra (the UK's Department for the Environment, Food and the Rural Affairs) hemp is treated as purely a non-food crop, despite the fact that seed can and does appear on the UK market as a perfectly legal food product.

In the UK, at least, the seed and fibre have been always perfectly legal products. Cultivation for non drug purposes was however completely prohibited from 1928 until circa 1998, when Home Office industrial-purpose licences became available under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

If industrial strains of the herb are intended for legal use within the EU then they are bred to be compliant with regulations which limit potential THC content to 0.3%. (THC content is a measure of the herb's drug potential and can reach 20% or more in drug strains). In Canada the THC limit is 1%.

Millennia of selective breeding have resulted in varieties that look quite different. Also, breeding since circa 1930 has focussed quite specifically on producing strains which would perform very poorly as sources of drug material.

Hemp grown for fibre is planted closely, resulting in tall, slender plants with long fibers. Ideally, according to Defra in 2004, the herb should be harvested before it flowers. This early cropping is because fibre quality begins to decline as flowering starts and, incidentally, this cropping also pre-empts the herb’s maturity as potentially a source of drug material. UK licence conditions actually oblige farmers, however, to allow some flowering so that flower material can be tested for its drug potential.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

(note that the following sites may express opinions for or against cannabis, and you are urged to visit more than one of the following for balance)

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