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Hemp Farming Bill Filed in Kentucky

A bill to allow farmers to register to grow industrial hemp in Kentucky was filed last Thursday. House Bill 286 has 12 cosponsors.

hemp field at sunrise (votehemp.com)
The bill would create a process through which farmers could apply to grow hemp and then be vetted by state officials. If applicants passed a background check, they would pay a fee to be registered to grow hemp.

Hemp production is prohibited under federal law (unless the DEA authorizes a permit, which it doesn't), and the bill acknowledges as much, saying "nothing in [this bill] shall be construed to authorize any person to violate any federal rules or regulations."

But bill supporters said passage of a hemp legalization bill would send a message to Washington that Kentucky is joining the list of states that want to grow hemp. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a former House member, is among those supporters.

"This sends a message that this is something we're serious about here in Kentucky," Comer said.

According to the industry group Vote Hemp, nine states have passed bills authorizing either hemp production or research into it, while eight states have passed resolutions calling for legal hemp production.

Kentucky passed a hemp research bill in 2001, and hemp production bills have been introduced there each year since 2009.

Hemp is produced in at least 30 countries, and can be legally imported to the US, but not grown here because the DEA refuses to make a distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana. Hemp is the only plant that can be imported, but not produced here.

The bill was filed Thursday by Rep. Richard Henderson (D-Jeffersonville), with co-sponsors including former House Speaker Jody Richards (D-Bowling Green), David Osborne (R-Prospect) and Mary Lou Marzian (D-Louisville).

The bill has been assigned to the Agriculture and Small Business Committee.

Lexington, KY
United States

Mitt Romney Doesn't Know What Industrial Hemp Is

This is…I mean, what can I even…oh whatever, just watch.

Um, it's what the Constitution was written on. But it's illegal now, and we're trying to get to the bottom of the situation. Our best guess presently is that there's been a big misunderstanding of some sort. The DEA seems to think hemp is drugs. It's not, though. Could you look into it for us?

*Thanks to our friends at Students for Sensible Drug Policy for hitting the ground in New Hampshire and making this happen.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Newt Gingrich Says George Washington Would Have Punished Pot Growers

Pot growers such as…George Washington? This gem comes courtesy of our friends at SSDP who are on the ground in New Hampshire confronting candidates about the War on Drugs.

Newt is apparently unaware that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew marijuana crops for the purpose of harvesting hemp. Or, maybe that's just not what Newt had in mind when he heard the question. But even if he'd known or understood, what then would he have said? It's nevertheless a fact -- a very stupid fact -- that it's presently illegal to grow hemp anywhere in America, and no one better try to make rope and paper the way our forefathers did, or there'll be hell to pay.

Whatever Newt may or may not know about hemp farming at Mount Vernon and Monticello is beside the point. The real story here is that our government is so embarrassingly terrified of the marijuana plant that modern farmers aren't even permitted to grow harmless and useful hemp crops for fear of…hell, who even knows.

Hemp isn't even a drug, and we're at war with it because it looks like one. If you can think of anything stupider than that, please don't tell Newt Gingrich about it.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

White House Rebuffs Marijuana Legalization Petitions

As promised, the White House has responded to the online petition to "Legalize and Regulate Alcohol," and seven other similar pot petitions as well, but the response wasn't favorable. That's not particularly surprising, given that the person chosen to deliver the response, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Gil Kerlikowske, is mandated by law to oppose legalization.

"Isn't it time to legalize and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol?" asked the petition submitted by "Erik A" of Washington, DC. "If not, please explain why you feel that the continued criminalization of cannabis will achieve the results in the future that it has never achieved in the past?

The threshold for an official response was at least 25,000 signatures by 30 days from October 3. The marijuana legalization petition was by far the most popular, with more than 74,000 signatures as of Friday night. Another seven petitions similarly calling for one form of pot legalization or another, which Kerlikowske also included in his response, carried an additional 76,000 signatures.

The marijuana legalization petitions far exceeded all others. Currently, the other leading contenders are banning puppy mills (30,234), abolishing the TSA (28,515), and two other issues that are closely related to marijuana reform -- allowing for industrial hemp (20,498) and ending the war on drugs (18,614).

The official response from drug czar Kerlikowske is certain to disappoint and infuriate marijuana legalization supporters and drug reformers, but should come as little surprise. Under the 1998 ONDCP Reauthorization Act, the drug czar is required by law not only to not spend any money to study legalization but also to "take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize" a Schedule I substance, a category that under federal law includes marijuana. The drug czar could no more come out for marijuana legalization than the 17th Century Holy Office could endorse a universe without the earth at its center.

That the administration chose the drug czar to respond sends a strong signal that legalization talk will go nowhere in this administration. That it chose to release its response during the late Friday afternoon "news dump," when it will hopefully vanish over the weekend suggests that it realizes it isn't going to win many political points with its position.

"Our concern about marijuana is based on what the science tells us about the drug's effects," Kerlikowske begins before warning that "marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment." He then wheels out marijuana treatment admissions and emergency room visits, reminds that potency has increased, and concludes that "simply put, it is not a benign drug."

Kerlikowske asserts that the administration is "ardently support[ing] ongoing research" into marijuana as a medicine, but scoffs at smoked marijuana as a medicine. Then he actually addresses the petition.

"As a former police chief, I recognize we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem," the drug czar continued. "We also recognize that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use."

Instead, Kerlikowske recommends, not surprisingly, his own 2001 National Drug Control Strategy, "emphasizing prevention and treatment while at the same time supporting innovative law enforcement efforts that protect public safety and disrupt the supply of drugs entering our communities." What is needed is not marijuana legalization, but more drug treatment and more drug courts, Kerlikowske concludes.

The legalization petition was drafted in response to the White House's We the People campaign "because we want to hear from you," according to the web page. "If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it is sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response."

The drug czar's recitation of the harms associated with marijuana use is certainly debatable and will doubtlessly be thoroughly criticized in days to come. But as the administration response makes clear, that marijuana is a dangerous drug that Americans cannot be trusted with to use responsibly is the official line, and they're sticking to it.

Washington, DC
United States

Brown Vetoes California Hemp Bill, Criticizes Federal Ban

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed a bill that would have allowed farmers in select counties to grow hemp, saying it would subject them to federal prosecution, but in doing so, he lashed out at the federal ban on hemp farming in the US, calling it "absurd."

hemp field at sunrise (votehemp.com)
Sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the bill, Senate Bill 676, would have allowed farmers in four Central California counties to grow industrial hemp for the legal sale of hemp seed, oil, and fiber to manufacturers. The bill specified that hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and farmers would have to submit their crops to testing before they go to market.

The bill had mandated an eight-year pilot program that would end in 2020, but not before the California attorney general would issue a report on law enforcement impact and the Hemp Industries Association would issue a report on its economic impact.

But although, like three other hemp bills that have been vetoed in California in the past decade, the bill passed the legislature and had the broadest support of any hemp measure considered in the state, Gov. Brown killed it, citing the federal proscription on hemp farming.

"Federal law clearly establishes that all cannabis plants, including industrial hemp, are marijuana, which is a federally regulated controlled substance," Brown said in his veto message. "Failure to obtain a permit from the US Drug Enforcement Administration prior to growing such plants will subject a California farmer to prosecution," he noted.

"Although I am not signing this measure, I do support a change in federal law," Brown continued. "Products made from hemp -- clothes, food, and bath products -- are legally sold in California every day. It is absurd that hemp is being imported into the state, but our farmers cannot grow it."

Industry groups were not assuaged by Brown's language criticizing the federal hemp ban. In a press release Monday, Vote Hemp and the Hemp Industries Association blasted the veto.

"Vote Hemp and The Hemp Industries Association are extremely disappointed by Gov. Brown's veto. This is a big setback for not only the hemp industry -- but for farmers, businesses, consumers and the California economy as a whole. Hemp is a versatile cash and rotation crop with steadily rising sales as a natural, renewable food and body care ingredient. It's a shame that Gov. Brown agreed that the ban on hemp farming was absurd and yet chose to block a broadly supported effort to add California to the growing list of states that are demanding the return of US hemp farming. There truly was overwhelming bipartisan support for this bill," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp and executive director of the HIA.

"After four vetoes in ten years in California, it is clear we lack a governor willing to lead on this important ecological, agricultural and economic issue. We will regroup, strategize and use this veto to our advantage at the federal level," added Vote Hemp Director and co-counsel Patrick Goggin.

The US hemp market is now estimated to be about $420 million in annual retail sales, but manufacturers must turn to foreign suppliers because the DEA, which refuses to differentiate between industrial hemp and recreational and medical marijuana, bars its cultivation here.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Drug Policy Prospects on Capitol Hill This Year [FEATURE]

There are nearly two dozen pieces of drug policy-related legislation pending on Capitol Hill, but given a bitterly divided Congress intently focused on the economic crisis and bipartisan warfare in the run-up to the 2012 election, analysts and activists are glum about the prospects for passing reform bills and even gloomier about the prospects for blocking new prohibitionist bills.

uphill climb for reform this year
But while drug reform in the remainder of the 112th Congress may take on the aspect of slow-moving trench warfare, there is work to be done and progress to be made, advocates interviewed by Drug War Chronicle said. And intensely expressed congressional concern over federal budget deficits could provide opportunities to take aim at the federal drug war gravy train.

Bills to reform drug policy or of relevance to drug policy reform this session run the gamut from hemp legalization, medical marijuana reforms, and marijuana legalization to various sentencing reform and ex-offender re-entry measures, as well as a pair of bills aimed at protecting public housing residents from eviction because a family member commits a drug offense. Also worth mentioning is Sen. Jim Webb's (D-VA) National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2011, which, if it were to pass, would be a feather in the soon-to-be-retiring senator's cap.

On the other side of the issue, the most intense prohibitionist fervor this session is centered around banning new synthetic drugs, with five bills introduced so far to criminalize the possession and trade in either synthetic cannabinoids ("fake weed"), or synthetic stimulants ("bath salts"), or both. Other regressive bills would ban anyone with a drug arrest from owning a gun and require states to drug test welfare recipients. A hearing on welfare drug testing is reportedly coming soon. Conservative Republican-controlled House foreign affairs and national security committees could also see efforts to boost drug war spending in Mexico or other hard-line measures in the name of fighting the cartels.

[To see all the drug policy-related bills introduced so far in Congress, as well as legislation introduced in the states, visit our new Legislative Center.]

While advocates are ready to do battle, the political reality of a deeply divided Congress in the run-up to a presidential election in the midst of deep economic problems means drug policy is not only low on the agenda, but also faces the same Republican House/Democratic Senate gridlock as any other legislation.

"The inertia is not exclusive to sentencing or drug policy reform," said Kara Gotsch of the Sentencing Project. "Nothing is moving. There is such a deadlock between the House and the Senate and the Republicans and the Democrats in both chambers. I don't think failure to move in this Congress is necessarily a sign of limited interest in reform, but the political fighting means nothing moves."

"The House is passing stuff with no expectation it will pass the Senate," said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "The whole Congress right now is in a state of suspended animation, waiting to see whether Obama is reelected or not and whether the Senate goes Republican or not. The gridlock we all see in the headlines around big issues such as taxes and spending filters down to almost every committee and every issue."

And with Republicans in control of the House, the prospects for marijuana law reform in particular are grim in the short term, the former House Judiciary Committee counsel said. "I don't think there is going to be any positive legislative action," Sterling predicted. "The House is not going to take up the medical marijuana bills and it's not going to take up the Frank-Paul legalization bill. They won't even get hearings."

"I don't think any of these marijuana bills will pass with this Congress, but they're very important as placeholders," agreed Morgan Fox, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "As long as those bills are out there, we can keep bringing the issue in front of lawmakers and continue to educate them about this."

Even stalled bills provide opportunities for advancement, Sterling concurred. "That's not to say there isn't important education that can be done, and organizing and encouraging members to cosponsor good legislation. They need to be educated. The test of whether the effort is worthwhile or not is whether it can be passed this session," he offered. "The political stars are not lined up.

Jim Webb at 2007 hearing on incarceration (photo from sentencingproject.org)
Medical marijuana legislation in Congress includes a pair of bills aimed at making the financial system friendlier to dispensaries and other medical marijuana-related businesses, as well as a bill that would reschedule marijuana for prescription use:

  • Introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), H.R. 1984, the Small Business Banking Improvement Act of 2011, would protect financial institutions that accept medical marijuana deposits from federal fines or seizures and having to file "suspicious activity" reports. Such threats have prompted major banks to stop doing business with dispensaries.
  • Introduced by Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), H.R. 1985, the Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2011, would allow dispensaries to deduct expenses like any other business and is designed to avoid unnecessary IRS audits of dispensaries and put an end to a wave of audits already underway.
  • The marijuana rescheduling bill, H.R. 1983, the States' Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, would also specifically exempt from federal prosecution people in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. It was introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA).

"We're having our grassroots support all three pieces of legislation, but our primary thrust is H.R. 1983," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access. "It's tough to get people engaged at the federal level, but we've mounted a social media campaign and want to promote the bill through Facebook and other methods, getting some viral participation in something that should be important for most patients around the country."

Part of the group's difficulty in getting members to focus on Congress is because they are busy fending off assaults at the state and local level, said Hermes. "We've had many instances of state officials doing an about-face on implementation of state laws or further restricting them, so the battleground has become very focused and localized," he noted.

"That takes energy away from what's going on at the federal level, and that's the real tragedy because it's the federal government that's at the root of all the opposition and tension taking place at the local level," Hermes said, pointing to this year's spate of threatening letter from US Attorneys to elected officials. "Having to fight this locally takes energy away from what's going on at the federal level."

Aaron Smith of the National Cannabis Industry Association, the recently formed trade association for marijuana businesses, said his group was focused on the financial bills. "I'm not holding my breath on the Republicans in the House, but the very introduction of these bills is progress," he said. "For the first time, we're actually seeing some of the industry's issues addressed. We think we'll see more traction for these bills than the broader legalization issue. There's already an industry clamoring for regulation, and federal laws are getting in between states and businesses in those states. We will be seeing state officials supporting these reforms. It's hard to write a check to the IRS or state treasuries when you can't have a banking account."

While the association is not predicting passage of the bills this session, it will be working toward that goal, Smith said. "We can get more cosponsors and we will be working to raise awareness of the issue," he said. "Just a year ago, no one even knew about these problems, now they are being addressed, and that's progress in itself."

But Congress is not the only potential source of relief for the industry, Smith said. "It would be helpful if we could get a memo from the Department of the Treasury clarifying that businesses licensed under their respective state laws are not a banking risk," he continued, suggesting that the existence of the bills could help prod Treasury.

While acknowledging the obstacles to reform in the current Congress, Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, was more upbeat about the state of affairs on Capitol Hill. "I'm super-excited about the level of support for the Frank-Paul marijuana legalization bill," he said. "It has 15 cosponsors now, and when you consider that it is completely undoing federal marijuana prohibition, that's pretty remarkable. Three or four years ago, we couldn't even get anybody to introduce it. And I'm also pleasantly surprised by not only the number of cosponsors, but who they are. They include Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Charlie Rangel (D-NY), and Barbara Lee (D-CA), three important members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and most recently, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), a member of the Hispanic caucus."

In the event that the Democrats retake the House in 2013, Conyers would become chair of the House Judiciary Committee again, Piper noted. "We would have a cosponsor of a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition chairing that key committee," he said. Until then, Piper continued, "while the bill is gaining steam, it is unlikely to get a hearing in this Congress."

If the prospects are tough for marijuana reform in the current Congress, they aren't looking much better for sentencing reform, although the budget crisis could provide an opening, Piper said. "I'm not optimistic about sentencing reform, but DPA is advocating that it be added to the package of spending cuts and bills designed to reduce the deficit over the long term. If they're talking about reforming entitlements and the tax code, they should be talking about reducing unsustainable drug war spending," he argued.

The Sentencing Project's Gotsch said that while the Hill would be difficult terrain for the rest of the session, there is progress being made on the sentencing front. "The Sentencing Commission has been very good, and the Department of Justice has responded favorably to Fair Sentencing Act implementation. Justice supported retroactivity on crack, and it has also reversed course on prosecuting crack cases prior to August 2010," she said.

Even in the Congress, there are small signs of progress, she noted. "I am encouraged by things like federal good time expansion included in the Second Chance Act reauthorization. That has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, and it even picked up one Republican vote. That's good, and that's a discussion we hadn't had before."

What Gotsch is not getting enough of is hearings, she said. "It's disappointing that there hasn't been more activity regarding hearings, but next month, the Sentencing Commission will hopefully release its mandatory minimum sentencing report, and I know the advocacy community will be pushing the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on that."

For Sterling, it is money that is going to move things in the current Congress. "According to the latest Sentencing Commission on federal drug cases, 26% of federal drug cases were marijuana cases," he noted. "With a federal drug supply reduction budget of $15.4 billion, you can argue to the Congress that if you were to pass the Frank-Paul legalization bill, you could save about $4 billion a year."

Sterling is making a similar argument to the deficit-tackling congressional Supercommittee about federal crack cocaine prosecutions. "I argue to them that if they eliminated federal crack cocaine prosecutions, which account for about 20% of federal drug cases, they could save $3.5 billion a year," he said. "Crack is made and sold locally; it shouldn't be a federal case. That should be reserved for people like Mexican cartel leaders."

But while Sterling's argument is logical, he is not sanguine about the prospects. "We could save billions of dollars a year, but I don't think something that gets translated as letting dope dealers out of prison is going to get very far. Still, it's a contemporary argument, and the money is real money. What is clear is that these expenditures are a waste; they're not keeping drugs out of the hands of the community or reducing the crime in the community, and the money could be better spent on something else."

Budget battles offer potential openings to drug reform foes as well. House Republicans are using budget bills to attempt to kill reforms they didn't like, such as opening up federal AIDS funding streams to needle exchange programs, said Hilary McQuie of the Harm Reduction Coalition.

"We have to fight this constantly in the House now," she said. "They're reinserting all these bans; they even put a syringe exchange ban rider in the foreign operations budget bill, so that's a new front, and we can't even fight it in the House. That means we have to make sure the Senate is lined up so these things can be fixed in conference committee. It feels to me like we can't make any progress in Congress right now."

McQuie said, though, that Congress isn't the only game in town. "We're looking less to Congress and more to the regulatory bodies," she said. "Obama's appointments have been pretty good, and just last week we had SAMHSA coming out with guidance to the state about applying for substance abuse block grants. This is the first big piece of money going out with explicit instructions for funding syringe exchange services. Even in this political atmosphere, there are places to fight the fight."

Where the Congress is likely to be proactive on drug policy, it's likely to be moving in the wrong direction. The ongoing panic over new synthetic drugs provides a fine opportunity for politicians to burnish their drug warrior credentials, and legislation to ban them is moving.

"I'm pessimistic about those stupid bills to outlaw Spice and bath salts," said Piper. "One bill to do that just sailed through the House Commerce Committee, and we're hoping it at least goes through Judiciary. The Republicans definitely want to move it, it went through Commerce without a hearing, and no one opposed it," he explained. "But we're working on it. Given that this is the 40th anniversary of the failed war on drugs, why add another drug to the prohibitionist model?"

"Those bills are going to pass," Sterling bluntly predicted. "There may be some quibbling over sentencing, but there's simply no organized constituency to fight it. DPA and the ACLU are concerned about civil liberties, but I don't think that's going to have much of an impact. I'd be very surprised if more than a handful of liberals vote against this."

That may not be such a bad thing, he suggested. "I'm quite willing to say that people who use these things should not be punished, but I'm not sure I want to defend the rights of people to sell unknown chemicals and call them whatever they want," he said.

Even though the evidence of harm from the new synthetics may be thin, it remains compelling, Sterling said, and few legislators are going to stand up in the face of the "urgent" problem. "Even if you argued that these drugs needed to be studied, the rejoinder is that we are facing a crisis. To challenge these bills is asking more courage of our legislators than our system tolerates."

The remainder of the current Congress is unlikely to see significant drug reform, in large part for reasons that have more to do with congressional and presidential politics than with drug policy. But that doesn't mean activists are going to roll over and play dead until 2013.

"People should continue to pressure members of Congress to get on the Frank-Paul legalization bill," urged Piper. "The more cosponsors we get, the more it helps with passing legislation at the state level, and it also helps with getting media on the issue and making it more likely that the bill will get a hearing. That's a top priority for us."

The budget issue also needs to stay highlighted, Piper said. "Whether it's Democrats or Republicans in charge, Congress is going to make cuts, and they should definitely be pressured to cut the drug war. We want the drug war on the chopping block. This is a unique historical opportunity with the recession and the focus on the budget cuts. We have to re-frame the drug war as not only failed, but too expensive to continue."

Washington, DC
United States

California Hemp Bill Awaits Governor's Signature

A bill that would allow farmers in four California counties to grow industrial hemp has passed the state legislature and now sits on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D) awaiting his signature. The bill, Senate Bill 676, the California Industrial Hemp Farming Act, passed the Senate earlier this year, then passed the Assembly last week.

Hemp field at sunrise. Will California farmers be able to enjoy its fruits? (votehemp.org)
Sponsored by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the bill would allow farmers in those counties to grow industrial hemp for the legal sale of hemp seed, oil, and fiber to manufacturers. The bill specifies that hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and farmers must submit their crops to testing before it goes to market.

The eight-year pilot program would end in 2020, but not before the California attorney general would issue a report on law enforcement impact and the Hemp Industries Association would issue a report on its economic impact.

"California is one step closer to building a successful hemp industry in the Central Valley," said Leno after the Assembly approved the bill on a vote of 49-22 on September 7. The Senate gave its final approval to Assembly amendments the following day.

While hemp bills have passed the state legislature previously, SB 676 is the furthest reaching yet and managed to pick up support from businesses, farming groups, local government, labor, even law enforcement. Supporters ranged from the California Grange and the California Certified Organic Growers to the United Food and Commercial Workers to the Kern County Board of Supervisors and the Kern and King county sheriffs, both of whom wrote letters of support in favor of the bill.

"Hemp is a versatile cash and rotation crop with steadily rising sales as an organic food and body care ingredient. Today, more than 30 industrialized nations grow industrial hemp and export it to the US. Hemp is the only crop that is illegal to grow yet legal for Americans to import," explained Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp and executive director of the Hemp Industries Association.

The US hemp market is now estimated to be about $420 million in annual retail sales, but manufacturers must turn to foreign suppliers because the DEA, which refuses to differentiate between industrial hemp and recreational and medical marijuana, bars its cultivation here.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Three Marijuana Legalization Initiatives in Oregon [FEATURE]

Activists in Oregon are serious about legalizing marijuana. There are currently three different marijuana legalization initiative campaigns aimed at the November 2012 ballot underway there and, this year, there are signs the state's fractious marijuana community is going to try to overcome sectarian differences and unify so that the overarching goal -- freeing the weed -- can be attained.

The three initiatives are in varying stages of advancement, with one already engaged in signature-gathering, one just approved for a ballot title, and the third trying to obtain the 1,000 signatures necessary to be granted a ballot title and be approved for signature-gathering.

The initiative currently furthest down the path toward the ballot box, is the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 2012 (Initiative Petition #9), sponsored by veteran activist and medical marijuana entrepreneur Paul Stanford. It would allow adult Oregonians to possess and grow their own marijuana. It would allow Oregon farmers to grow hemp. And it would license Oregon farmers to grow marijuana to be sold at state-licensed pot stores. An earlier version of OCTA failed to make the ballot last year.

OCTA has been approved for signature-gathering, and OCTA spokespersons said it had so far collected more than 30,000 signatures. It needs some 87,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot, so OCTA's goal is to gather about 130,000 to have a comfortable cushion to account for invalid signatures.

The initiative next in line is a proposed constitutional amendment (Initiative Petition #24) to repeal the state's marijuana laws sponsored by the Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative, which is supported by numerous in-state groups. "Except for actions that endanger minors or public safety, neither the criminal offenses and sanctions nor the laws of civil seizure and forfeiture of this state shall apply to the private personal use, possession or production of marijuana by adults 21 years of age and older," the amendment says. "The State may enact laws and regulations consistent with this amendment to reasonably define, limit and regulate the use, possession, production, sale or taxation of marijuana under state law."

Because it is a constitutional amendment and not an initiative, the OMPI must climb a higher hurdle to qualify for the ballot. Instead of 87,000 valid signatures, it needs 114,000.

The initiative still in the initial phase of qualifying for a ballot title is from Sensible Oregon, a coalition formed this year that includes Oregon NORML and a variety of other groups. The Sensible Oregon initiative "would remove existing civil and criminal penalties for adults twenty one years of age, who cultivate, possess, transport, exchange or use marijuana" and require the legislature to come up with a regulatory scheme.

The Sensible Oregon initiative has gathered about 400 of the initial 1,000 needed to win a ballot title. Activists are gathering them on a volunteer basis.

"We don’t have any paid petitioners; we're working strictly as volunteers," said Oregon NORML board member and Sensible Oregon spokesperson Anna Diaz, who added that it is difficult to obtain funding at this early stage. "When we talk to various funding sources, we need to wait for the ballot title before anyone will take us very seriously. Once we do that, our hope is that we can go after some big funding."

Funding is also an issue for the OCTA campaign, said campaign spokesperson Jennifer Alexander. "We had to stop our signature gathering effort because we need to do some major fundraising," she said. "We have some volunteers, but we're trying to raise about $150,000 to fund the rest of the signature drive. If we can raise the money, we can do it in eight or ten weeks."

OCTA will be the initiative "most accepted by the public," Alexander said. "It also addresses hemp, which would be a huge economic and environmental boon to the Oregon economy, and it provides the regulatory structure that Oregonians are most familiar with, similar to how we handle alcohol. You can grow your own or you can buy it from the store, and the money goes back to the state, which generates revenue and a regulated environment."

Last year, Oregon NORML supported OCTA, but it is going down a different path this year. "Paul Stanford has been trying to pass some form of OCTA for about 20 years, and we didn't want to do the same thing and get the same results," said Diaz. "At the same time, the Sensible Washington people had come forward with the idea of removing all criminal penalties, and we decided that would be more appealing to voters and a better model to attempt," Diaz said. "While we are not disparaging Paul or his efforts, OCTA has just failed one too many times for us."

Doug McVay, a long-time activist now (again) working for Voter Power, the group behind Oregon's successful 1998 medical marijuana initiative, said Voter Power supports any and all of the initiatives, but is concentrating its limited resources on the OMPI constitutional amendment and a second initiative that would create a state-regulated medical marijuana dispensary system.

"In Oregon, we have three chances to make history, and that's exciting," he said. "All of them or any of them could create a ripple, hell, a tidal wave across the country. I will be working to help them make the ballot and working to make their passage a reality."

Factionalism and in-fighting has been the bane of the marijuana movement in Oregon, as in so many other places, but this time around, there is a lot of talk about unity and supporting whatever will work.

"We will get behind other initiatives if ours doesn't work out," said Diaz. "There is also talk about all three initiatives doing polling to see which would really fly, and all of us jumping on that. Surprisingly, this is one time where I'm hearing proponents of every proposed initiative suggesting we should all support each other. It's not a matter of competing against each other."

"We're all trying to end prohibition and these are just different models to do so," said OCTA's Alexander. "I love that we have so many going to the ballot. We have all pretty much agreed that whichever one makes the ballot, we will support it. There have been a lot of people picking apart the different initiatives, but we have to get behind each other and work for the common goal."

That would be a very good thing. A marijuana movement unified around a legalization initiative would be able to concentrate on real opposing forces instead of having to defend itself from sniping from within. We don't want to see a repeat of last year's experience in California, where "Stoners against Prop 19" types had initiative organizers looking over their shoulders to fend off attacks from within the ranks even as they tried to confront the organized opposition.

OR
United States

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Filed

Twin initiatives that would regulate marijuana sales and production and legalize the possession of pot by adults were filed with the state Secretary of State's office Wednesday. The initiatives were filed by a new coalition called Show-Me Cannabis.

You could grow 100 square feet's worth of these if a Missouri initiative becomes law. (photo by the author)
One of the initiatives would amend the state constitution; the other would revise state statutes. The Secretary of State's office has a month to approve their language. Once one or both are approved, signature gathering aimed at putting the initiative on the November 2012 ballot could get underway.

The initiative would:

  • Remove marijuana from the state's schedule of controlled substances;
  • Legalize marijuana possession by adults over 21 (no amount specified);
  • Legalize the cultivation of up to 100 square feet of marijuana for personal use;
  • Allow for licensed commercial marijuana cultivation and sales;
  • Allow the legislature to enact a tax of up to $100 a pound on marijuana sold for personal use;
  • Allow for medical marijuana use with a doctor's recommendation and apply protections to doctors and patients;
  • Allow employers to fire workers who are impaired on the job;
  • Make no changes to impaired driving laws; and
  • Allow for the production of industrial hemp.

"The state presently spends millions of tax dollars incarcerating citizens who use cannabis, depriving those imprisoned of the ability to earn a living, pay taxes and care for their families," said initiative backer Fred Raines, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Washington University. "Meanwhile, the law of supply and demand continues to support an unending criminal enterprise. The social and economic costs of prohibition continue to far outweigh any benefits. It's time we acknowledge that and move forward."

Also backing the campaign are the Missouri affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, NORML chapters in St. Louis, Kansas City, Joplin; the MU campus in Columbia, the MSSU campus in Joplin, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and the medical marijuana group Sensible Missouri.

Missouri is now at least the sixth state where efforts to get marijuana legalization on the November 2012 ballot are underway. The others are California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington.

Jefferson City, MO
United States

Colorado Marijuana Initiative Campaign Gets Underway

Signature gathering began last Thursday for an initiative that would end marijuana prohibition in Colorado and create a system in which its sale would be taxed and regulated. Sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the initiative could be only the first of several competing marijuana initiatives aiming at Colorado's November 2012 ballot.

The initiative would allow you to grow six of these or go the pot shop and buy some. (image via wikimedia.org)
But this initiative is not only the first one out of the gate -- its language was approved by state officials yesterday -- it is also backed by leading state and national groups. The initiative's backers include Mason Tvert and SAFER Colorado and Brian Vicente and Sensible Colorado, as well as national players the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, NORML, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

That means it is likely to come up with the resources to hurdle the relatively low bar of gathering 86,000 valid voter signatures in the next 180 days and actually be on the ballot next year.

"Voters in Colorado are ready to end marijuana prohibition and begin regulating and taxing it in a manner similar to alcohol," said Vicente, one of the initiative's two formal proponents. "By regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol Colorado can tightly control its production and sale, generate tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue, and redirect our limited law enforcement resources toward serious crimes."

According to the campaign, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012 would:

  • Remove criminal penalties for the private possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, and for the home-growing of up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed locked space, similar to the number allowed under current medical marijuana laws;
  • Direct the Department of Revenue to establish a tightly regulated system through which it licenses retail stores, cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities;
  • Require the general assembly to enact an excise tax of up to 15% on the wholesale sale of marijuana applied at the point of transfer from the cultivation facility to a retail store or product manufacturer (sales tax will also be applied at the point of retail sales);
  • Direct the general assembly to establish a system of regulating the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp;
  • Give cities or counties the right to ban marijuana establishments either through elected officials or via citizen initiative;
  • Leave current impaired driving laws intact; and
  • Preserve the right of employers to maintain their current employment policies (meaning those employers who use drug tests could still fire someone who tests positive).

"This will be a high-energy, volunteer-powered grassroots campaign," said initiative proponent Tvert. "We're excited to begin petitioning and speaking to voters one-on-one about the benefits of repealing the wasteful prohibition of marijuana and replacing it with a tightly controlled system in which it is regulated and taxed like alcohol."

The system the initiative would set up is more restrictive in some ways than today's alcohol regulation. For example, there are no legal limits on the amount of alcohol someone can possess. That means possession of more than an ounce or more than one's harvest would still be a criminal offense, as would growing more than six plants. 

The initiative's less-than-absolutist position has in turn helped motivate advocates of a more radical approach. One group working to bring what they call a "true legalization" initiative to the ballot is Legalize 2012, led by long-time Colorado activist Lauro Kriho. Kriho and company are still working on the language for their initiative, but have attacked the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative as not "legalization" and not "similar to alcohol."

Whether Legalize 2012 acts as a drag on the Like Alcohol initiative like Stoners Against Prop. 19 did in California last year or whether it boosts its prospects by making it appear that much more pragmatic and palatable to Colorado voters remains to be seen. It's going to be an interesting next year and a half in Colorado pot politics.

Denver, CO
United States

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