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Medical Marijuana Update

Federal threats continue to hover over medical marijuana distribution across the country, and local battles continue as well.

California

Last Wednesday, the Yuba City city council voted to ban outdoor grows. The council approved an immediate 45-day ban and could extend it for up to a year, which the city says it plans to do. The council also imposed restrictions on indoor grows, saying patients must register them with the city, limit them to 50 square feet, hide any evidence of a grow from onlookers, and lock up their yards, as well as their greenhouses.

Last Friday, Vallejo police raided the Red Dog Green Collective and arrested its owners. It was the third Vallejo dispensary raid in the past three weeks. Police say the crackdown is part of an ongoing move against local dispensaries. They come at a time when the city was about to begin collecting a 10% tax on dispensary sales that voters approved in November.The owners pleaded not guilty Wednesday.

On Tuesday, a Riverside County judge ruled in favor of a dispensary, ordering the city of Rancho Mirage to move ahead with the inspection and permitting process for the Desert Heart Collective. The collective opened in 2010, but was later shut down by the city. Desert Heart filed a $2 million civil lawsuit against the city in February 2011. The city prohibits dispensaries "due to the significant negative secondary effects that such dispensaries have been found to create -- such as increased crime," the city attorney claimed. The city also argued that granting a permit to Desert Heart would expose it to federal prosecution, but the judge accepted Desert Heart's argument that by granting the permit, the city neither commanded the activity nor had anything to do with marijuana.

Also on Tuesday, the DEA and local police raided an Upland dispensary that has been at odds with the city for the past two years. G3 Holistic was the targeted operation, and the raiders seized 25 pounds of marijuana and 89 pounds of edibles. G3 President Aaron Sandusky said DEA agents entered with guns drawn and handcuffed four patients who were present. There were "acting like a terrorist organization," he said. The city of Upland and G3 have been engaged in a lengthy court battle that will soon find its way to the state Supreme Court.

Also on Tuesday, US District Court Judge Andrew Guilford set a March 26 hearing date in a case in which patients and collectives in Costa Mesa are seeking to enjoin federal authorities from sending letters ordering the closure of medical marijuana collectives in the city. The unique argument in the case is that since Congress belatedly acknowledged the votes of District of Columbia voters to authorize medical marijuana there, California patients are being denied the same right to vote to approve medical marijuana there.

And then there are the Tuesday night city council and county board of supervisors meetings:

On Tuesday, the California Coastal Commission approved a Humboldt County ordinance limiting indoor marijuana grows. The county's Local Coastal Plan limits indoor grows to 50 square feet and has other regulations.

Also on Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors upheld an appeal against a would-be dispensary in Oceano. A resident had complained that the proposed dispensary would be within 1,000 feet of a park.

Also on Tuesday, the Amador County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to lift a 4-month-old ban on medical pot gardens and allow any single garden to be used to grow as many as 12 plants per patient for as many as two patients for a maximum of 24 plants. That is only a third of the capacity recommended in February by the county's Planning Commission. Supervisors cited a deadly marijuana-garden robbery in September as they voted for tighter limits.

Also on Tuesday, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to fine a property owner and tenant of a property where medical marijuana was being cultivated. County inspectors found 82 plants growing on the property in January; county code allows only 12 plants per parcel. The tenant disposed of the out of compliance plants the next day, but the county is still imposing a whopping $58,000 fine.

Also on Tuesday, the Madera County Board of Supervisors voted to ban cultivation within 2,000 feet of a school or church and to require that caregivers and patients live together. California's voter-approved medical marijuana law makes no such requirement.

Also on Tuesday, the Needles city council approved a special election for a proposed city ordinance creating a medical marijuana business tax. The approval is to put a tax in place for up to 10% on gross sales of marijuana. If the tax is approved by voters, the city council would approve an ordinance related to the tax. Language has already been created for that ordinance. The ordinance defines how businesses would pay the tax, defines marijuana, marijuana business and other terms.

Colorado

On Tuesday, Boulder County DA Stan Garnett sent a letter to federal prosecutors asking them to halt their crackdown on dispensaries that are abiding by state law. "I can see no legitimate basis in this judicial district to focus the resources of the United States government on the medical marijuana  dispensaries that are otherwise compliant with Colorado law or local regulation," Garnett wrote in the letter to Colorado US Attorney John Walsh. "The people of Boulder County do not need Washington, DC, or the federal government dictating how far dispensaries should be from schools, or other fine points of local land-use law." Walsh has sent threat letters to 23 Colorado dispensaries, forcing them to close.

Also on Tuesday, a proposed medical marijuana initiative was filed for the November ballot.The new measure, Proposed Initiative No. 65, would give doctors discretion to recommend marijuana for any medical condition. Currently, a doctor must diagnose a patient with one of eight medical conditions in order for the patient to qualify for medical marijuana. Proponents will need to gather 86,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot.

Florida

On Tuesday, medical marijuana advocates unveiled billboards urging viewers to educate themselves about the issue. "Legalize Medical Marijuana" shouts one, with a godlike hand extending from the heavens, a marijuana leaf in its palm. Facing it is the photo of a senior in a wheelchair and the caption "I'm a Patient Not a Criminal." The billboards urge readers to contact the Silver Tour, a group founded by 1970s pot smuggler and recently released federal drug war prisoner Robert Platshorn to enlighten senior citizens about the benefits of the herb.

Maryland

Last Thursday, Gov. Martin O'Malley's office said he would veto any legislation legalizing medical marijuana in the state. His spokesman cited concerns about federal scrutiny. The comments came as legislators began debating three medical marijuana bills in the House of Delegates. "We have some serious concerns about liability," said O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. "Those concerns were raised by US attorneys across the country. Based on those concerns, it is probably likely we would veto any legislation."

Montana

Last Tuesday, the Montana Supreme Court set an April 30 hearing date for arguments over whether a judge was right to block portions of last year's medical marijuana overhaul by the legislature. District Judge Jim Reynolds last year blocked four provisions of the law from taking effect, including a ban on profits from medical marijuana sales. State prosecutors argue that the commercial sale of marijuana is illegal under state and federal law, and that Reynolds abused his discretion with his injunction. The groups challenging the new law, led by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, say Reynolds should have gone further and blocked the entire law.

New Jersey

Last Wednesday, the Plumstead Township Committee reversed itself and voted to support the introduction of an ordinance that would allow a medical marijuana company to apply for an operating permit. Members said they feared the township could be sued for not complying with the state's medical marijuana law, and that without an ordinance, a medical marijuana operation could set up near a school. The committee repealed a December ordinance blocking permit applications not in compliance with federal law. Efforts to open dispensaries in New Jersey have been plagued by NIMBYism.

On Monday, a California man charged for possessing medical marijuana hosted a rally outside the Middletown court house. Eric Hafner was charged with marijuana and paraphernalia possession, but is arguing that his California doctor's recommendation for him to use marijuana should be honored in New Jersey. Hafner suffers from PTSD, but that syndrome is not recognized under New Jersey's law, so he his supporters organized a rally in support of adding PTSD to that list. They walked along Kings Highway, outside of the Middletown courtroom building, before during and after his case was being heard, showing signs and offering information about the cause and Hafner's case to anyone cared to listen.

On Tuesday, Ken Wolski announced that he had been selected Green Party US Senate candidate. Wolski, one of the state's most well-known medical marijuana activists, is head of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey.

(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.)

Why Obama Won't Oppose Marijuana Legalization in an Election Year

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The anti-marijuana zealots at the Christian Science Monitor are at it again, pleading with the President to please, please, please help promote pot prohibition. They're frustrated that Vice President Biden traveled all the way to Mexico to lament legalization talk among Latin American leaders, yet the Obama Administration remains silent regarding marijuana legalization measures hitting the ballot in Colorado and Washington this year.

The administration needs to step up and make a strong case against legalization in the US in order to counter a well-financed, well-organized pro-marijuana effort. One argument is that the cartels would actually welcome legalization, in the same way that US casino owners have welcomed state gambling lotteries. To drug dealers, the more addicts the better.

Biden did say a debate in Latin America about legalization would help “lay to rest some of the myths that are associated with the notion of legalization.”

How about he and Obama start to challenge those myths in states like Colorado and Washington? [CSM]

They're not going to do that. See, it really isn't at all a coincidence that Joe Biden happened to not be in America when he made the only anti-legalization remarks of his vice-presidential career. As much as I'd love the notoriously gaffe-prone VP to spend more time discussing his dumb ideas about drugs, he actually knows better than to do that.

In case anyone has managed to miss the memo somehow, a majority of Americans don't want a war on marijuana anymore. Seriously, the Christian Science Monitor should be grateful that the Obama Administration has done as much as it has to piss off the marijuana reformers who helped put this President in office. Alienating half the electorate and way more than half the Obama base with a bunch of pea-brained anti-pot propaganda is more likely to compromise Obama's Colorado campaign than it is to stop the momentum of the marijuana reform movement.

That's why Obama never talks about marijuana, ever, unless publicly forced to do so, and it's also why his Administration has taken no ownership of its outrageous betrayal of the President's pledge to protect medical marijuana patients. From now until November, President Obama will pretend to the very best of his ability that there is no such thing as marijuana. Bet on it.

In fact, if I am wrong, and the President actually engages in the sort of desperate anti-pot posturing proposed by the Christian Science Monitor, I will even buy a subscription to that stupid newspaper just so I can read them gloating over 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.)

Saying "Ron Paul Can't Legalize Marijuana" Is Stupid and Misses the Point of his Candidacy

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I don't know how else to describe my reaction to this piece by Chris Roberts in SF Weekly. It's truly a first-rate hack job that must be seen to be believed.

A growing number of marijuana activists are embracing Paul as a pot-friendly alternative to President Barack Obama, whose Justice Department has done more to dismantle state-legal medical marijuana than George W. Bush's crew ever did. 

These supporters ignore a key point: If Paul were president, he wouldn't be any better for legalizing marijuana than President Obama -- or worse than Romney or Santorum.

Marijuana was criminalized by the feds in 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act was passed by Congress (under pressure from Richard M. Nixon's administration). Only Congress can repeal an act of Congress, just as only Congress can amend the Constitution, raise taxes, and wage war (legally). 

The whole thing is a pretty embarrassing mischaracterization of the executive branch's critical role in setting national drug policy priorities. Heck, even the above paragraph points to Nixon as the protagonist in the story of how modern drug prohibition was born. Electing a president who is committed to correcting that mistake is one of the most powerful forward steps this movement can take, and this is true for several reasons that ought to be obvious:

  1. The president appoints the nation's top drug policy officials, including heads of the ONDCP (the Drug Czar) and the DEA, and can exert tremendous influence over their budgets and enforcement priorities.
  2. The president has the power to veto bad laws. If anyone is concerned about congress passing dumb anti-drug legislation in the future (a legitimate concern if ever one existed), they would be wise to support candidates who would reject our continued decent into endless drug war oblivion.
  3. The president can pressure congress to implement sensible reforms, including the passage of legislation to fix problems created by congress in the past. Not a walk in the park when it comes to drug policy, not even close, but technically true nevertheless, and certain to become critically important as the movement for drug policy reform continues its present momentum and exerts increasing influence over both the executive and legislative branches of government.
  4. The president has the loudest microphone on the planet and can use it to change the way people think about the issues facing our nation. This alone suffices to illustrate unequivocally why putting a marijuana reform advocate into the White House would be the greatest watershed moment in the history of this movement. One can't even begin to calculate all the ways in which the president's influence could be used to advance the cause of reform. I can’t believe it's even necessary to explain this, because honestly, when has anyone ever seriously suggested that the president's opinion on any matter of intense political debate was somehow irrelevant because the president lacks the powers of congress? That notion is too plainly absurd to justify further refutation.
  5. The mere act of electing a president who openly supports marijuana legalization or other drug policy reform positions makes a devastatingly powerful statement about the potency of those political ideas. This is known as the concept of a "mandate," wherein the electorate's choice of a certain candidate, particularly when made decisively, is seen as a message to our political culture that this candidate's platform reflects the values of the American people. When marijuana reform is included in that package, it speaks to the tone of the political climate on that issue and sends a message to congress that their constituents are ready to see real changes considered in a serious way. 

All of these points, and I'm sure I missed several more, serve to illustrate why it is just stupid to even suggest that the president cannot serve as a powerful champion of marijuana legalization and other drug policy reforms. And yet, the assertions to which I respond here weren't leveled against the perceived front-runner in the republican primaries. All of these plainly farcical distortions of the president's power to influence national drug policy were directed at Ron Paul.

Ron Paul, though I know some will disagree or hope otherwise, is really a protest candidate, albeit a very popular and effective one. His goal is primarily to introduce into our political discourse ideas which he and his supporters feel have been unduly dismissed and disregarded by the political establishment. Ron Paul and his supporters already consider the campaign a success, because it's done exactly that.

His advocacy for the reform of marijuana laws ranks among the most popular aspects of his candidacy, resonating with his base of hardcore libertarian-minded supporters, while simultaneously piquing the interest of many on the left, who've been disgusted by Obama's brazen assault on medical marijuana. For anyone who cares about making long-term political progress on these issues, it makes absolute sense to cheer for the only candidate who is talking about it.

Publicly supporting politicians who publicly support marijuana reform is a necessary step towards demonstrating the political viability of the issue on a larger scale, so that future candidates for any elected office will have more reason to consider including this position in their platform. Simultaneously, the process of raising the profile of the debate over marijuana and other drug policy issues during a period of intense campaign season press coverage is an obvious and very effective way of marketing this idea to the public, increasingly support for it, and convincing future candidates to adopt it.

I really don’t know how much more completely one can misunderstand the significance of Ron Paul's marijuana advocacy than by arguing that it is pointless unless he A) gets elected President of the United States, and B) immediately legalizes marijuana throughout the nation. That is a standard so preposterous, so plainly unreasonable and bizarre, that, if taken seriously, it could call into question the importance of drug policy reform efforts in general. That's why I took this much time to respond, and why I hope Ron Paul's critics, regardless of their motives, will dispense with this particular brand of nonsense permanently.

Update: And, of course, there's also the president's power to pardon people for drug crimes. The president can just send anyone home from jail and erase their charges. That's kind if a big deal, yes?

(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.)

Ron Paul Explains Why Other Candidates Won't Discuss the Drug War

If you've been following our coverage of the presidential candidates in New Hampshire, you'll find this to be a refreshing change in tone.

I think he's exactly right, and it's worth pointing out that you don't have to be just like Ron Paul to win points with voters by supporting drug policy reform. Paul's libertarian philosophy doesn't resonate well with many progressives, who are otherwise impressed with his drug policy positions. Any number of politicians on the left could earn enormous support, especially from young voters, just by copying Ron Paul's approach to marijuana policy and ignoring much of the rest of what he stands for.

Ron Paul is a complicated political personality, but the lessons to be learned from his politically successful advocacy of drug policy reform shouldn't be too difficult to grasp: public support for changing our drug laws creates a substantial and growing opportunity for politicians with the wisdom to capitalize on 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.)

Mitt Romney Promises "A Full Answer" About the Drug War

At least, I hope that's what he meant by this response.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing on Mitt Romney's website that explains his views about the War on Drugs. But maybe – hopefully – what Romney meant wasn't that he had a drug policy page on his site, but rather that he plans to create one. He's right that it's a long question, so if he's going to put together a long answer, well, I'm looking forward to seeing it.

How amazing it is, though, that a group of college students had to follow him around for days and demand answers on drug policy before it even occurred to him that he needs to have a position on this. In all likelihood, it never even occurred to Mitt Romney before this very moment that this issue is actually important enough that people would want to know what he thinks about it before deciding if he should be president.

(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.)

Gary Johnson to Seek Libertarian Presidential Nomination

The Washington, DC, political news web site Politico.com reported Tuesday that Gary Johnson will end his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and instead seek the Libertarian Party nomination. Citing Johnson campaign sources, Politico.com said that Johnson will make the announcement at a December 28 press conference in Santa Fe.

Gary Johnson (wikimedia.org)
Calling news of the switch "the worst kept secret," Libertarian Party Chairman Mark Hinkle told Politico.com that Johnson had been in talks with Libertarian officials for months. "It looks like it's definitely going to come to fruition here," he said.

The former New Mexico governor's bid for the Republican nomination never got any traction and he never got above single digits in any polls. The low polling numbers keep him out of most debates -- unfairly, his campaign claimed -- further reducing his chances in a crowded field.

Johnson has a strong drug reform platform, which calls outright for legalization of marijuana and a harm reduction approach to other drugs.

"Abuse of hard drugs is a health problem that should be dealt with by health experts, not a problem that should be clogging up our courts, jails, and prisons with addicts," the platform says. "Instead of continuing to arrest and incarcerate drug users, we should seriously consider the examples of countries such as Portugal and the Netherlands, and we should ultimately choose to adopt policies which aim to reduce death, disease, violence, and crime associated with dangerous drugs."

Although it's no shoo-in, Johnson could well win the Libertarian nomination. While there are a handful of other contenders, none of them has Johnson's national stature. And while party stalwarts daydream of a Ron Paul or Jesse Ventura candidacy, Paul is busy fighting for the Republican nomination and says he has no plans to seek a third party nomination, and Ventura is incommunicado in Mexico.

If he wins the nomination, not only could Johnson use the campaign as a bully pulpit for his drug policy ideas, his candidacy could have an impact on the two-party presidential race, especially in his home state of New Mexico, which went big for Obama in 2008. According to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted earlier this month, Johnson would pull 23% in a contest with Obama (44%) and Romney (27%) and he would pull 20% in a contest with Obama (45%) and Gingrich (28%). Obama is currently polling well against all the Republican candidates and can probably carry the state, but a third party Johnson candidacy would almost ensure an Obama victory in a state he can ill afford to lose next year.

(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.)

Washington, DC
United States

Newt Gingrich Wants to Kill Dealers, Drug Test Everybody Else

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Newt Gingrich (photo courtesy Gage Skidmore via wikimedia.org)
Ever since Newt Gingrich became the latest front-runner for the republican presidential nomination, a lot of people have been reminding us how horrible he is on drug policy issues. Heck, even Next Gingrich has been reminding us how horrible Newt Gingrich is on drug policy issues:

“I think the California experience is that medical marijuana becomes a joke.”

“My general belief is that we ought to be much more aggressive about drug policy.”

“In my mind it means having steeper economic penalties and it means having a willingness to do more drug testing.”

“I think if you are, for example, the leader of a cartel, sure.” (When asked if he supports killing drug smugglers)

“Places like Singapore have been the most successful at doing that. They've been very draconian. And they have communicated with great intention that they intend to stop drugs from coming into their country.” [Yahoo News]

Well yeah, by hanging people. They’ve been killing people for marijuana, which can’t even kill you by itself. And Newt Gingrich thinks that’s cool, even though he himself has smoked marijuana. It makes you wonder why Newt Gingrich doesn’t go track down the people who gave him marijuana in college…and kill them.

Seriously, this guy is such a screwball he should be hosting a show on AM radio, not polling in first place among republican presidential candidates. I mean, Singapore? Really? I’ve been following the drug war debate for a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of the worst drug warriors in the world perform live: John Walters, Bill Bennett, Nora Volkow, David Murray, Kevin Sabet, to name a few, but I’ve never heard anyone come along saying that we need to be more like Singapore.

It’s an idea so violently ignorant, so recklessly unhinged, that only a lone fool acting alone would propose it, perhaps months after the resignation of the people whose job it is to stop you from saying such things.

(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.)

Gingrich Would Execute Mexico Drug Cartel Leaders

Republican presidential nominee contender Newt Gingrich said Saturday he would favor the use of the death penalty against Mexican drug trafficking organization leaders. The comments came in an interview with Yahoo News in which the former Georgia congressman and Speaker of the House also called medical marijuana in California "a joke" and suggested he would try to make life miserable for US drug users as a means of driving down drug use rates.

GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich (wikimedia.org)
Gingrich is now a leading contender for the Republican nomination. According to Real Clear Politics, which averages all polls, Gingrich is in first place nationally with 23.8%, ahead of his closest contender, Mitt Romney, who has 21.3%.

"My general belief is that we ought to be much more aggressive about drug policy, and that we should recognize that the Mexican cartels are funded by Americans," Gingrich said.

When asked if he stood by his 1996 legislation that would have given the death penalty to drug smugglers, he replied in the affirmative.

"I think if you are, for example, the leader of a cartel, sure," he said. "Look at the level of violence they've done to society. You can either be in the Ron Paul tradition and say there's nothing wrong with heroin and cocaine or you can be in the tradition that says, 'These kind of addictive drugs are terrible, they deprive you of full citizenship and they lead you to a dependency which is antithetical to being an American.' If you're serious about the latter view, then we need to think through a strategy that makes it radically less likely that we're going to have drugs in this country."

Gingrich suggested that Singapore, which imposes corporal punishment for minor offenses and the death penalty for drug offenses, was a role model. "Places like Singapore have been the most successful at doing that," Gingrich said. "They've been very draconian. And they have communicated with great intention that they intend to stop drugs from coming into their country."

For Gingrich, being aggressive on drug policy also "means having steeper economic penalties and it means a willingness to do more drug testing."

He elaborated on what he had in mind in response to another question: "I think that we need to consider taking more explicit steps to make it expensive to be a drug user," he said. "It could be through testing before you get any kind of federal aid. Unemployment compensation, food stamps, you name it."

Gingrich said that he wasn't a fan of imprisoning drug users and instead suggested that they be subjected to forced drug treatment. "I think finding ways to sanction them and to give them medical help and to get them to detox is a more logical long-term policy," he said.

Regarding medical marijuana, Gingrich, said he would continue current federal policy "largely because of the confusing signal that steps towards legalization sends to harder drugs [sic]." He also rejected letting states set their own policies "because I think you guarantee that people will cross state lines if it becomes a state-by-state exemption."

He also threw in a gratuitous jab at California's medical marijuana law. "I think the California experience is that medical marijuana becomes a joke," he said. "It becomes marijuana for any use. You find local doctors who will prescribe it for anybody that walks in."

GOP contenders Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson have taken firm anti-prohibitionist stands on drug policy, but they are finding little support among voters for a party that claims to be for limited government and states' rights. Newt Gingrich's comments on drug policy are only the latest indication that for most Republicans, continuing to fight the war on drugs trumps other party principles.

(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.)

The 2011 International Drug Policy Reform Conference Meets in Los Angeles [FEATURE]

For three days last weekend, the towering Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles was awash with drug reform activists running from presentation to presentation and chatting in hallway confabs while discussing myriad topics on the streets outside. It was the Drug Policy Alliance's 2011 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, and it was the largest yet, with more than 1,200 people from around the country and the world in attendance.

conference plenary session (photo courtesy HCLU, drogireporter.hu/en)
Police officers from Brazil and the US (mainly members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) mingled with drug user activists from Latin America and Europe, college kids from Students for Sensible Drug Policy sat down with grizzled veteran activists, former drug war prisoners discussed issues with elected officials, Southeast Asian harm reductionists swapped stories with American social workers, East European AIDS workers talked shop with their counterparts from the US and Canada, Mexican poets shared panels with American city council members. And medical marijuana and pot legalization activists, especially from host state California, were everywhere.

In all, people from more than 30 countries and probably every state in the union, representing dozens of different drug reform, harm reduction, human rights, reproductive rights, and other groups flooded into Los Angeles to get the latest skinny on drug reform, drug legalization, and ending drug prohibition.

The reform conference is so large and the issues so complex and interconnected that for a single person to attend all the sessions would require an army of clones. Over the three-day conference, five or six fascinating panels went on simultaneously throughout the day, not to mention the mobile workshops (medical marijuana, Skid Row, juvenile justice) taking attendees on themed city tours, the open rooms where various groups maintained a continuous presence, the evening events, and, last but not least, the Thursday night "End the Drug War" rally in MacArthur Park that drew several thousand people.

Some highlights follow.

Republican Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson

In the conference's opening plenary session, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who is struggling to gain traction in the Republican presidential nomination contest, found a friendly audience and threw it some red meat. Marijuana should be legalized and pot prisoners freed, he said to loud cheers and applause.

Johnson, who has been an advocate of drug legalization since his days as governor, said it was his stance on drug reform, rather than his record as governor or his advocacy of small government, that gets him noticed. "That's the marijuana guy," people always say when they see him, he said.

California NAACP president Alice Huffman (courtesy HCLU)
Politicians are behind the curve when it comes to drug reform, Johnson said. "Fifty percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana," he said. "But zero percent of the universe of politicians support this." Certainly not his Republican rivals, who look at the drug wars ravaging Mexico and compete to see who can sound tougher. "They all talk about border violence and adding guns to the equation instead of looking at the root of the problem, which is prohibition," he said.

The only other Republican presidential contender to take a firm line on ending the drug war is Texas Rep. Ron Paul. But Paul and Johnson together are only polling at about 10% of the Republican electorate, with Paul polling the majority of that. Johnson said he was concentrating on the New Hampshire primary, where he hopes a strong showing can keep his candidacy and his strong anti-drug war message alive.

[DRCNet Foundation and the Drug War Chronicle do not take positions on candidates. As a precaution, this article was produced by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network.]

Mexico's Symbol of Drug War Resistance Tells Us It's Our Fight, Too

Read our feature story on this here.

Whither Medical Marijuana?

In the context of renewed federal repression aimed at medical marijuana production and distribution, not just in California, but in medical marijuana states around the country, panels on the future of medical marijuana understandably generated great interest. A nationally-focused panel noted that the Justice Department has not explained itself and its apparent change of heart, nor has it given any indication whether the raids and other actions against medical marijuana will continue, stop, or escalate.

Meanwhile, a second, California-centric panel worried about medical marijuana's future in the Golden State and bruited about ideas about how best to preserve it.

"There is a historic backlash against medical marijuana, and that is a result of our success," said Don Duncan, Southern California leader for Americans for Safe Access. "We made a strategic decision to go to localities, but now is the time to go back to Sacramento because we could lose ground in the towns. It is time for the legislature to adopt statewide regulations to protect safe access," he said.

Mikki Norris and Chris Conrad at Thursday's rally and concert in Macarthur Park (courtesy HCLU)
"We need to authorize storefront distribution, protect cultivators, and protect the civil rights of patients," Duncan continued, citing housing discrimination, employment problems, and custody issues.

But it's going to be a tough battle in Sacramento, he suggested. "Even the Democrats say the dispensaries are out of control, the patients don't look sick, the doctors are too lenient," he said. "Our base of support in Sacramento is eroding."

"I will call out my own party," said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). "It's time to get militant. There is a pro-marijuana vote, it's bipartisan, and it's populist."

There is support for medical marijuana on the right side of the aisle in Sacramento, too. "Very few, even in my party, still believe in Reefer Madness," said Assemblyman Chris Norby (R-Orange County).

Pending California Marijuana Initiatives

A session on pending California marijuana legalization, decriminalization, and medical marijuana initiatives was useful for sorting out the competing proposals, with representatives of all serious proposals at the table. Here they are:

The Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act would simply repeal the sections of California law prohibiting marijuana. It would also create a California Cannabis Commission to create a system of regulated cannabis commerce.

"If conduct is not prohibited, the feds cannot force a state to prohibit it," said Joe Rogoway, one of the initiative's sponsors. "This initiative eviscerates cannabis prohibition in California, all the laws would be wiped off the books," he said.

The Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative would also repeal marijuana prohibition and set up a system of regulated distribution. It mandates the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to set up regulations for sales by 2013. It is sponsored by, among others, long-time Libertarian and legalization activist Steve Kubby and retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray.

"We've done our homework," said Gray. "We address those things that scare voters. We will have 10,000 valid signatures in two weeks," he vowed.

conference audience (courtesy HCLU)
Unlike the two legalization initiatives above, political consultant Bill Zimmerman's Marijuana Penalties Act would not legalize it, but would extend California's current decriminalization of up to an ounce to up to two ounces.

"California is not ready to legalize marijuana," argued Zimmerman, "but a strong majority agree that private adult use should not result in jail time. It seems sensible to try to move the ball forward this year."

Then there is the California Economic, Environmental, Hemp Restoration Act of 2012, a project of the Budget Economic Environmental Protection Alliance, which would legalize industrial hemp, medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana for people 21 and over. This initiative is still in the drafting phase.

"We want to create green jobs now," said initiative promoter Mark O'Hara. "Let's legalize industrial hemp and adult marijuana."

Finally, the folks who brought you Proposition 19, the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, have decided to forego another legalization bid for 2012, and are instead working on an initiative to regulate medical marijuana statewide.

"We want to create a robust environment for our members," said United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) cannabis division head Dan Rush. "Our initiative isn't done yet, but we want to be inclusive, serve people, the industry, and patients."

Rush was the only one to mention the 800-pound gorilla in the room: the mountain of cash it will take for any of the initiatives to make the ballot, let alone win in November 2012.

"We need to raise $15 million for the initiative and legislative action," he said. "We need a broad coalition beyond our movement."

More to Come

This article has touched on only a tiny fraction of what was discussed in Los Angeles last weekend. Look for more about and/or inspired by the conference in the near future. In the meantime, the Drug Policy Alliance deserves praise for once again putting together a reform conference that is staggering in its breadth and depth, and, as just about everyone agreed, maximally inspirational.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

What’s it like to smoke herb with Rick Santorum?

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/santorummarijuana1.png

Huffington Post has a nifty little slideshow looking at the Republican presidential candidate’s positions and past statements on marijuana. Short version: Gary Johnson and Ron Paul support freedom and common sense, the rest are generally in favor of arresting lots of people.

But if I learned one thing from reading this, it’s that holy crap, Rick Santorum smoked weed in college. I did not know this. Really, just try to picture Rick Santorum sucking on a bong without cringing and freaking out a little. I can’t do it.

Still, it does a raise a lot of interesting questions, such as who the hell gave weed to that guy and what happened next? Honestly, if I was packing bowls in a dorm room somewhere and somebody brings Rick frickin’ Santorum into the session, I’m immediately calling a Code Red Suspected Narc alert and jumping out the window.

In any case, Rick Santorum makes a pretty good poster-boy for proving that you can smoke pot without getting addicted, turning into a hippie, or otherwise derailing your dream of becoming a homophobic, bible-thumping Republican Senator.

(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.)

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