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Permitted Marijuana Party at Seattle Space Needle Marks Legalization Anniversary

King 5 News reported Friday that hundreds of people lit and smoked marijuana at a party under the famed landmark the Seattle Space Needle. The party was a lawful event that received a permit from the city, though activist Ben Livingston said it took him three months to persuade them to issue the permit.

Click here for the article and video footage. Via TheWeedBlog.

Location: 
Seattle, WA
United States

Majority for Marijuana Legalization in New California Field Poll

A new Field Poll released Tuesday has 55% support for generic marijuana legalization and 56% support for the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014 (CCHI).

It's only the latest to show California majorities for legalization. A September Public Policy Institute of California poll showing 60% of registered voters favoring legalization and an October Tulchin poll that had support for legalization at 65% among likely voters.

The CCHI isn't the only initiative out there. Two more are at the state attorney general's office awaiting approval to begin signature-gathering, including one filed last week by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act.

The question now is whether these most recent poll results are likely to persuade enough major players that California should be contested next year instead of waiting for 2016. There are big logistical and financial obstacles to getting an initiative on the ballot for next year at this late date.

Look for more on the Field Poll results in a Chronicle news brief later today.

Location: 
CA
United States

New California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed

The Drug Policy Alliance has filed a marijuana legalization initiative with the California Secretary of State's office. But it's not clear whether backers will try to get it on the ballot next year.

The initiative, The Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act, would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by persons 21 or over and allow people to grow up to four plants. It would leave the rest of the state's marijuana laws and its medical marijuana laws unchanged, but would create statewide regulation of adult sales and commercial cultivation, with a 25% retail sales tax.

The initiative is backed by the Drug Policy Alliance, which says that given impressive recent poll numbers, it wanted to have something ready for 2014 just in case.

It's not clear whether there will actually be an effort to get this on the ballot for 2014, or if this is more like a place marker for 2016. Look for a firm decision on that next month.

Another initiative, The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014, was submitted in August and is now in its signature gathering phase. It has until the end of February to come up with 504,000 valid voter signatures, but it has not received big money backing, making the effort to get on the ballot an uphill battle.

Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States

Human Rights Watch on Coerced Guilty Pleas in US Drug Cases

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/offer-you-cant-refuse.jpg
A report from Human Rights Watch released this morning demonstrates the corruption of justice that mandatory minimum sentencing has brought about. According to "An Offer You Can't Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Defendants to Plead Guilty," prosecutors commonly force drug defendants to plead to lengthy mandatory sentences in order to avoid losing their entire lives. Jamie Fellner of HRW writes:

"Prosecutors give drug defendants a so-called choice -- in the most egregious cases, the choice can be to plead guilty to 10 years, or risk life without parole by going to trial," said Jamie Fellner, senior advisor to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "Prosecutors make offers few drug defendants can refuse. This is coercion pure and simple."
 

In one case cited, Sandra Avery, a small-time drug dealer, declined to plea to 10 years for possession of 50 grams of crack with intent to deliver. Prior convictions she had for simple drug possession triggered a sentencing enhancement, at the prosecutor's behest, and Avery was sentenced to life without parole.

I think that very clearly constitutes a human rights violation, and we need to take this kind of power away from the officials who perpetrate such violations. One way to do that is by repealing mandatory minimum sentencing. There is a real chance of doing that, for the first time in a very long time, as a recent article we published shows. More on this coming soon.

Phil Lauded in Denver Last Month -- Video

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I posted some photos last month, but here is the video from Phil's award at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference. It was produced by Peter and Istvan from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, who were the official conference videographers and whose you may have seen me post here before.

Phil's award was first in the line-up, and this video begins with Ethan Nadelmann talking about the DPA awards and their history. At a little over a minute in, he describes the Brecher Award, then turns it over to Tony Newman, who introduces Phil. And then it's all Phil -- I think he did a great job.

In Reversal, Denver Council Rejects Front-Porch Pot Ban

Good, and, frankly, somewhat surprising news for Denver tokers. The city council last night reversed itself and undid the ban on marijuana smoking in public view even if on one's own property. There will be one more vote on the ordinance next week.

According to KUSA TV, Councilwoman Susan Shepherd offered up an amendment to undo the ban, which had passed last week on a 7-5 vote. The vote last night to reverse was 7-6.

Shepherd suggested that rather than calling the police, neighbors try being neighborly. That would mean talking to your neighbor if his marijuana smoke bothers you, and dealing with your neighbor's concerns if your marijuana smoke bothers him.

Sounds reasonable.

Location: 
Denver, CO
United States

Final Uruguay Marijuana Legalization Vote Set for Next Week

It looks like the fat lady is about to sing. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, which has an operative in Montevideo, the Uruguayan Senate will vote next week, most likely next Tuesday, on the pending bill to legalize marijuana commerce. That's the final vote.

The bill is sponsored by the government and has already passed the House on a 50-46 vote in July. Once approved in the Senate, the government will have 120 to write regulations before the law goes into effect.

Once the law goes into effect, Uruguay will have become the first country on the planet to break the global prohibitionist consensus embodied in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and subsequent treaties when it comes to marijuana legalization.

The Dutch have long allowed limited retail sales, but they remain formally illegal, and the supply remains criminalized, and other countries have decriminalized possession, but not taken the next step. Two US states have taken the next step, but marijuana commerce remains illegal under federal law.

If things go as planned, December 10, 2013, could be a day for the history books.

Location: 
Montevideo
Uruguay

Denver City Council Set to Deliver Symbolic Slap in the Face to Marijuana-Friendly Voters

The Denver city council is poised to give final approval today to an ordinance that would prevent people from smoking pot on their own property if they are visible to the public. The police chief says it would be a low priority, and even the Denver Post thinks it's stupid, but it looks like that won't stop the council.

The ordinance passed a first vote on a margin of 7-5 last week, and the council votes typically don't change.

Here is the Denver Post's latest story on the vote.

And here is the Denver Post's Monday editorial, which slams the council for pursuing the idea. "The proposal is unenforceable, will provoke fruitless disputes and, if it were followed, would restrict many pot users almost exclusively to the indoors," the Post noted.

Location: 
Denver, CO
United States

United Nations Drug Policy Divisions Aired

British publications have gotten their hands on a leaked UN document that reveals fundamental splits among nations as the international organization prepares for the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs in 2016. Much, but not all, criticism of the status quo is coming from Latin America.

Read the Guardian's article here: Leaked Paper Reveals UN Split Over War on Drugs

Among the countries seeking specific reformist changes in the UN's drug stance:

Ecuador wants language recognizing that the world needs to look beyond prohibition.

Venezuela wants language addressing the economic implications of drug prohibition.

Norway wants language that includes a critical assessment of the "so-called war on drugs."

Switzerland wants language that recognizes the public health consequences of current policies.

The European Union wants language emphasizing drug treatment and care over incarceration.

It's been little over a half-century since the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs codified the global drug prohibition system. The consensus represented by the 1961 treaty is now, at long last, crumbling.

Update: Bill Clinton supports countries being able to make their own decisions about prohibition.

New Drugs: Europe is Discussing

EESC hearing on EC new drugs proposal,11/27/13 (drogriporter.hu)
The European Commission has proposed new procedures that would fast-track its ability to criminalize or otherwise regulate new drugs, according to a report by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union's Peter Sarosi, who attended a public hearing by the European Economic and Social Council (EESC) in Brussels last Wednesday.

Peter spoke at the hearing and recommended the EC refocus its attention from law enforcement to public health, and instead of adopting the EC proposal to follow the example of New Zealand by regulating rather than prohibiting the drugs.

More on this soon.

Location: 
Brussels
Belgium

Uruguay Marijuana Legalization Bill Passes Senate Committee

A bill that would make Uruguay the first country to create a legal marijuana commerce passed the Senate Health Commission Thursday. The government-supported bill has already passed the lower house; a final Senate vote is expected next month.

Read more here:

"Uruguay Moves Closer to Legalising Marijuana"

Location: 
Montevideo
Uruguay

Cannabis Cafes Coming to Berlin?

The Green Party mayor of Berlin's hip Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district has won the support of the district council for her plan to make the area a zone of cannabis tolerance. Now, they have to get the federal government to buy in.

Read more about it here:

"Berlin borough pushing for Germany's first cannabis coffee shop"

http://rt.com/news/marijuana-berlin-shop-opens-462

Location: 
Berlin
Germany

Radel Hypocrisy Charge Doesn't Withstand Scrutiny

[Update: I've posted an improved version of this editorial in the Chronicle. Request links and likes there instead. - DB]

One of the top political stories this week is the recent bust for cocaine possession of Rep. Trey Radel, a Republican freshman congressman from Florida. Radel pleaded guilty today, and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation. As I write this piece, he is giving a press conference to apologize to the country and his family.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/trey-radel-200px.jpg
Trey Radel
Since the bust came to light, headlines have been circulating to the effect of Radel having voted for legislation to drug test food stamp recipients. I believe this is off base, because it is true only in a technical sense. As the body of the articles explain, what Radel voted for was an ultimately failed version of the Farm Bill, one of the major, recurring federal budget bills that get authorized every five years. It includes things like agricultural subsidies, funding for the food stamps program as a whole (now known as SNAP, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, rather than "food stamps"), many other items. Drug testing of food stamp recipients was just one provision out of many in the bill, and a look at the bill's roll call shows that while it was mostly Republicans who voted for it, there were also some Democrats, including some liberals who almost certainly opposed the drug testing provision. Politicians frequently have to vote for bills that include provisions they don't like, because they want to larger package to pass.

The drug testing language was actually added to the bill through an amendment sponsored by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), which was passed on a voice vote, no roll call. That means there is no way to know, at least from the official legislative record, what Radel's position on the amendment was. His vote for the Farm Bill is consistent with supporting the amendment, with opposing the amendment, or with having no position on it. It's legitimate to point out, as a Politico article did, that Radel's arrest "brings up drug testing for food stamps." I hope it does, but that's a different point.

A ThinkProgress article noted that Radel has made comments suggesting "nuance" in his views on drug policy, pointing out he cosponsored a bill to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenses. Perhaps in a nod to the "drug testing vote" headlines, the article has an update at the bottom mentioning the vote. I believe the original thrust of the article was on target, and I don't see the hypocrisy angle holding up in this case, at least from as much as we know right now.

Hemp Industries Association Conference Coming to DC Next Week!

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The 20th Annual Hemp Industries Association Conference will convene in Washington, DC this Sunday and Monday, Sunday and Monday, November 17-18, 2013, featuring expert speakers, a luncheon, hemp exhibits & sales, a silent auction, and an organized lobby day.

Visit http://thehia.org/2013conference.html for information or to register.

Video: How to Prevent Prescription Drug Overdoses

The next video from the International Drug Policy Reform Conference, by our friends from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (who were also the conference's official videographers). The video highlights interviews with US-based harm reduction experts on ways to prevent prescription drug overdoses.

Uruguay May Legalize Marijuana Any Week Now (was Day Now)

pamphlet distributed by NGO coalition that advocated for the Uruguay law
Update: We've heard that end of the month is more likely now.

Uruguay's House of Representatives passed a marijuana legalization bill, we reported last summer, with the Senate vote expected to be easier due to the wider majority held there by President Mujica's governing party. The Senate vote has been predicted to be around the middle of November, which means it could happen any day now. Stay tuned.

An article about it on infobae (in Spanish), the most recent news article I've seen about the imminent vote, has some disappointing quotes from Mexican and Brazilian officials about it. But perhaps these governments are just covering their backs in the diplomatic fray. Brazil's former president, Fernando Enrique Cardoso, is an outspoken advocate on this issue, and recently joined the International Conference on Drug Policy Reform via Skype as part of acceptance remarks for an award given on the last night of the event to the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

The Uruguay legislation, assuming it goes the right way as expected, will directly challenge the international drug treaties -- more so even than Washington and Colorado, because we still have federal law in force in those states, despite the changes to the state laws. It opens up the possibility for interesting new dynamics as the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs approaches, and the 2014 preparatory drug session.

Missouri Cannabis Conference This Weekend!

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/ShowMe-Cannabis.png
ShowMe-Cannabis logo (show-mecannabis.com)
Show-Me Cannabis and Missouri NORML are hosting their fall 2013 statewide Cannabis Policy Conference for the Show-Me state, this Saturday in Kansas City. There are other events too, one of them a happy hour fundraiser TONIGHT with LEAP's Neill Franklin. Visit http://show-mecannabis.com/events for more info.

Also click here for one of the (many) reasons this is important.

Location: 
208 W. 19th St.
Kansas City, MO 64108
United States

Only Two More Days to Weigh in on Washington State Medical Marijuana

The Washington state Liquor Control Board announced last week that it was extending the deadline for public comment on proposed changes to the state's existing medical marijuana program until this Wednesday, November 13. The proposed rules would remove patients' ability to grow their own, reduce the amount of medicine they could have on hand, and most likely result in the forced closing of numerous existing dispensaries.

"We have extended the deadline to submit public comment for the draft recommendations regarding medical marijuana," the board announced. "The new deadline for public comment is November 13, 2013, which coincides with the public hearing/special meeting on the subject." Submit public comment by email at medicalmarijuana@liq.wa.gov, by fax at 360-664-9689 or by mailing them directly to:

Medical Marijuana
Liquor Control Board
P.O. Box 43080
Olympia, WA 98504-3080

It's probably too late to mail or Fedex a comment unless you overnight it, but the email and phone are still available.

Now is the time to speak up.

Location: 
Olympia, WA
United States

Don't Miss Mexican Human Rights/Drug War Activist Javier Sicilia in DC This Week

Mexico poet and human rights activist Javier Sicilia and the Caravan for Peace (Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity) will be in the nation's capital Tuesday and Wednesday. Sicilia will address both Congress and the Organization of American States. The events are open to the public. This press release has more details.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Conference Tour of Colorado Medical Marijuana Industry

Some attendees at last week's conference signed up for a tour looking inside Colorado's legal cannabis industry, led by River Rock Wellness general counsel Norton Arbelaez. Video by Drug Truth Network's Dean Becker:

Location: 
Denver, CO
United States

California Study Suggests Marijuana a Substitute for Alcohol

A New York Times article this week, Few Problems With Cannabis for California, reports that a pending study in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management by Mark Anderson and Daniel Reese has found increased marijuana use to be a substitute for alcohol use in California:

Based on existing empirical evidence, we expect that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington will lead to increased marijuana consumption coupled with decreased alcohol consumption. As a consequence, these states will experience a reduction in the social harms resulting from alcohol use.
 

The article discusses alcohol's relationship to traffic fatalities and violent crime, including domestic abuse, predicting that marijuana legalization will reduce those problems, with youth use of marijuana remaining stable.

The substitution question has been raised repeatedly at academic fora on marijuana legalization since the Colorado and Washington initiatives passed last year. In our movement we have tended to assume that they are substitutes, but not all academics are sure. At a one-day conference held by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, at their Washington office, one of the guest presenters said the evidence they've seen "clearly" indicates that marijuana is a complement for alcohol use, e.g. increased availability of marijuana could have the effect of increasing alcohol use and is at least correlated with it. Another one of the guest presenters immediate chimed in to say that the evidence his team has seen "clearly" indicates that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.

DPRC co-director Beau Kilmer often notes that a change in the amount of alcohol use, up or down, could dwarf any increase in marijuana use in terms of its public health ramifications, because alcohol is more harmful than marijuana. But he's cited evidence pointing in both directions, sometimes in different directions for different groups of people. Hopefully the JPAM study's findings will be born out by further research.

Another Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing...

US Capitol, Senate side
From http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=d3ddc8eaa9b9f780d5af0a554e5fcf98:

September 11, 2013

NOTICE OF COMMITTEE HEARING

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a hearing entitled "Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences" for Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

By order of the Chairman.

Witness List

Hearing before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

On

"Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences"

Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 226
10:00 a.m.

Panel I

The Honorable Rand Paul
United States Senator
State of Kentucky

Panel II

The Honorable Brett Tolman
Shareholder
Ray Quinney & Nebeker
Salt Lake City, UT

Marc Levin
Policy Director
Right on Crime Initiative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Austin, TX

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Marijuana Policy Going on Now

An interesting hearing on federal marijuana policy in the face of medical marijuana in 20 states and legal marijuana in two states was supposed to start a few minutes ago.

It hasn't yet, though.

You can watch the hearings in real time here.

I'll be popping back in periodically to update this blog post as warranted, and will be writing a feature article on it for later today.

Update: 2:50 PM EST the hearing has started. Leahy is speaking.

Update: Leahy: "I don’t think federal prosecutors should be pursuing low level users of marijuana complying with the laws of their states."

Update: 3:00 PM EST Grassley: "Marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug....we could see a Starbucks of marijuana..."

Update: 3:20 PM EST In response to a question from Leahy, Deputy AG Cole said that a preemption lawsuit wasn't a good choice because if the federal government prevailed, marijuana would still be legal in Colorado and Washington, but there wouldn't be any regulation.

Update: 3:35 PM EST Sen. Whitehouse asks for clarity regarding not prosecuting financial institutions and others receiving funds. Cole says only if the eight federal enforcement priorities are implicated. Earlier, he suggested that the DEA wasn't going to be pressuring armored car companies to not work with dispensaries.

Update: 3:45 PM EST Cole is done. Now up are the King County, WA, sheriff, a rep of Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper, and neo-prohibitionist Kevin Sabet.

Update: 3:50 PM EST King County Sheriff Urquhart: "My experience shows me the drug war has been a failure. We've incarcerated a generation of citizens, but not stopped demand. We in the government have failed the people, and the people decided to try something else. I support I-502."

Update: 4:00 PM EST Kevin Sabet finds Deputy AG Cole's recent guidance "disturbing" and argues that the administration can take steps now to destroy the looming creation of Big Marijuana. Why open the floodgates and hope for the best?

Update: 4:15 PM EST The issue of access to banking services has been raised throughout the hearing, both by senators and by witnesses. I was a bit surprised, but I guess business is business.

I'm signing off on this post now unless someone says something really surprising in the remaining minutes. Look for our feature article on the hearing later today.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Youth Drug Use on Decline, Most Media Fail to Notice

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One of the two annual major drug use surveys in the US released its results this week, coinciding with National Recovery Month, according to the news release from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health contains a wealth of information and is hard to boil down, but there are some number that seem salient.

One of them is that current marijuana use by adults (past 30 days) has increased from 5.8% of the population in 2007 to 7.3% in 2012, or 18.9 million current users. However, current marijuana use among youths aged 12 to 17 decreased slightly from 2011 to 2012, 7.9% down to 7.2%, although it's up slightly from 2006 and 2007 (6.7% in both years), but in turn down from 2002 (8.2%). It doesn't look like teen marijuana use is going up generally, and it may be going down, but data like this is usually complicated.

Another is that heroin use has been going up, 373,000 past-year users in 2007 vs. 669,000 in 2012. But cocaine and methamphetamine use have dropped significantly during the same timeframe, while nonmedical use of prescription drugs has stayed about constant.

The other major annual drug use survey, Monitoring the Future, has a category that I believe is useful, "Illicit Drugs Other Than Marijuana." NSDUH doesn't seem to provide a breakdown on that. MTF has found that while use of any given illicit drug besides marijuana varies, the percentage using some illicit drug besides marijuana is roughly constant over time.

Also, drug use by older people (the "baby boomers") is way up relative to a decade ago, though still only about 7%.

How did the mainstream media do? Mixed. A number of outlets highlighted the increase in drug use by older persons, and I certainly agree that's a key finding. But most major outlets focused on the increase in marijuana use overall, while failing to note the decrease in teen marijuana use, including TimeCNN, US News and World Report, USA Today and Fox News. In the (quick and incomplete) look at Google News links that I took, only ABC noted that youth illicit drug use had dropped even as overall illicit use had increased.

I think it's a significant "fail" that most major media did not note that, given the importance place that youth drug use naturally holds in these concerns. Overall, though, the media did not "freak out" over the drug use stats, and that's a good thing.

I've only taken a fairly quick look at the new numbers. We'd welcome any insights readers have on this topic -- even if you think I'm wrong -- post to the comments below, or email us your thoughts or links to your own analyses.

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