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Medical Marijuana Update

The biggest medical marijuana news this week has to be the Oregon election that saw a pro-medical marijuana attorney general candidate win against a former interim US Attorney, but there was plenty of other news, as well. Let's get to it:

National

Last Wednesday, Mitt Romney got asked about medical marijuana and didn't much like the question or really answer it. "Aren't there issues of significance that you'd like to talk about?" Romney asks the interviewer. "The economy, the economy, the economy. The growth of jobs. The need to put people back to work. The challenges of Iran. We've got enormous issues that we face, but you want talk about -- go ahead -- you want to talk about marijuana? I think marijuana should not be legal in this country. I believe it is a gateway drug to other drug violations. The use of illegal drugs in this country is leading to terrible consequences in places like Mexico -- and actually in our country."

On Tuesday, a Mason Dixon poll found broad support for medical marijuana among Republicans. Some 67% of Republicans said federal officials should respect state medical marijuana laws. So did 75% of Democrats and 79% of independents.

Also on Tuesday, researchers reported that smoking marijuana can relieve MS symptoms. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that smoked marijuana relieved pain and muscle tightness spasticity. The research was published in the peer-reviewed Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Arizona

As of Monday, Arizona started accepting dispensary applications. Arizona has some of the strictest dispensary rules in the country, including requirements that a licensed physician be employed on premises, that letters be obtained showing dispensaries are complying with zoning laws, and that they have a business plan showing they are operating as nonprofits. Then there is the $5,000 application fee and the preference that will be shown to those who can prove they have $150,000 in the bank. Still, competition is expected to be fierce for the licenses, which will be capped at 125 statewide. Interested parties have until May 25 to apply.

California

Beginning Saturday, a medical marijuana "Unity" conference gets underway in Sacramento. It goes through Monday and is aimed in part at obtaining passage of Assembly Bill 2312 to regulate medical marijuana cultivation and distribution statewide. The conference is sponsored by the PAC Californians to Regulate Marijuana as well as  Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, California NORML, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, and the Emerald Growers Association. The conference will focus on skill-building and grass roots leadership, with a day of lobbying set for Monday.

Last Thursday, a Santa Barbara dispensary operator took a plea deal. Charles Restivo, operator of the Pacific Coast Collective between 2008 and 2010, was arrested after a four-dispensary raid by local law enforcement in February 2010. He was charged with possession of marijuana for sale and cultivation of marijuana for sale since authorities argued the dispensary was violating state laws regarding medical marijuana. Under the deal, Restivo pleaded guilty to one new count of possession of concentrated cannabis (hash) in return for the other charges being dropped. He will get three years probation.

Also last Thursday, the Clear Lake city council voted to oppose Measure D, the Lake County marijuana cultivation initiative set to go before voters June 5. The council's action follows similar votes taken by the Lake County Office of Education Board of Trustees Wednesday night, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday and the Lakeport City Council last week. It is also opposed by the Sierra Club, the Lake County Deputy Sheriffs Association, Kelseyville Business Association, Lake County Chamber of Commerce, California Women for Agriculture, Lake County Farm Bureau, the Buckingham and Clear Lake Riviera homeowners associations, and the Lake County Association of Realtors' Board of Directors. Measure D would allow 12 female plants to be grown in residential areas on lots under a half acre, 24 plants on lots larger than a half acre and 84 plants on larger parcels.

On Tuesday, the DEA and local police raided a Fontana dispensary. The raiders hit Holistic Meds RX, detaining four people, and seizing large quantities of medical marijuana. It was a federal warrant, but town and San Bernadino County police aided the DEA. Dispensaries have opened in Fontana, but have been unable to get permits because the city considers the businesses illegal.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles city council postponed adopting a "gentle" ban on dispensaries proposed by Councilman Jose Huizar. The move came after Councilman Paul Koretz instead proposing allowing some dispensaries to continue to operate if they agreed to city regulations. Koretz called Huizar's "gentle" ban, which would close all dispensaries, but allow personal and collective grows, in reality a "vicious, heartless" ban. The city is home to an uncertain number of dispensaries, somewhere in the hundreds.


Colorado

On Monday, 25 dispensaries targeted by federal officials had to be closed down. That was the second wave of dispensaries threatened by US Attorney John Walsh, who earlier forced 22 out of business. He says a third wave of threat letters is forthcoming. In the first wave, Walsh targeted dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools; in the second wave, he targeted dispensaries within 1,000 feet of college campuses. No telling yet what his criteria will be next time.

On Tuesday, the Dacono city council moved forward with its ban on dispensaries, as well as grows and edibles manufacturing. The council voted 4-2 for the ban, but must do so one more time on June 11 before it takes effect. The town has had a temporary moratorium on new medical marijuana businesses since July 2010, but that edict expires on July 1. The town has three existing dispensaries, but they would be forced to close if the ban passes.

Michigan

Last Friday, the state appeals court confirmed the conviction of a man who had a medical marijuana card, but not a fence. Lewis Keller of Emmet County got busted with 15 plants on his property. Under state law, he could have 12, but it had to be fenced. Keller said he knew he was over the limit, but he didn't realize the plants had to be secured.

On Tuesday, the Jackson city council got an earful from advocates concerned about its proposed medical marijuana ordinance. Under the proposed ordinance, qualifying patients or primary caregivers who are registered by the Michigan Department of Community Health to grow marijuana could do so in their homes. Patients could consume the drug only in their homes or their primary caregivers' homes. Patients and primary caregivers also could grow medical marijuana at non-dwelling locations in certain commercial and industrial business districts.
The city has had a moratorium on medical marijuana operations during the drafting of the ordinance. The city council will revisit the issue next week.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, the House passed a medical marijuana bill already passed by the Senate. It now goes back to the Senate for approval of changes. Gov. John Lynch (D) has vowed to veto the bill over concerns over distribution, just as he did in 2009, when a veto override failed by two votes in the Senate.

New York

On Wednesday, a Siena College poll found majority support for medical marijuana in the Empire State. The poll had 57% supporting it and only 33% opposed. A bill in the Assembly has been stalled since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signaled that this was not the year for it.

Oregon

On Tuesday, Ellen Rosenblum defeated former interim US Attorney Dwight Holden in the fight for the Democratic Party nomination for state attorney general. Oregon medical marijuana activists and national drug reformers rallied against Holden and supported medical marijuana-friendly Rosenblum as she picked up 63% of the vote against the former front-runner. Activists said the vote shows opposing medical marijuana carries a political price tag.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the House passed compromise dispensary legislation. A similar measure has already passed the Senate, so after the formalities of concurrence votes, the measure will head to Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I), who is expected to sign it.

Washington

On Monday, the Pasco city council moved closer to banning grows. A workshop discussion that night leaves little doubt that the city will outlaw medical marijuana gardens in the city at its next meeting to avoid violating federal anti-drug laws. Pasco is among Washington cities that have been waiting for nearly a year for the legislature to act to clarify a law allowing cities to write their own rules for medical marijuana garden collectives. The council is expected to vote on the ordinance Monday.

(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.)

Would Romney be Worse for Medical Marijuana Than Obama? Ctd

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Andrew Sullivan responds to my statement that, regarding medical marijuana, "I honestly doubt Romney could be any worse than [Obama] if he tried."

I don't. The man doesn't even drink coffee. His impulse when seeing a man with muscular dystrophy in desperate need of medical marijuana was to listen, ignore and then walk away. Obama deserves criticism on medical marijuana - but the notion that there would be no difference between his DEA and Romney's strikes me as ... well I can't help remembering how, in 2000, I thought Gore would be no different than Bush.

I do agree that Obama is almost certainly a lot less hostile to the issue than Romney is on a personal level. I could have been clearer that my point wasn't so much to suggest that they would definitely be equally bad on the issue, but rather that it's incoherent to defend Obama's actions based on the premise that Romney would obviously be worse. I've been told more than once that I should mute my criticism of Obama and instead encourage the medical marijuana community to support him for fear of Romney, and I think that's rather ridiculous.

What worries me is that Obama seems to be getting a pass on some things that I suspect would invite more vigorous outrage if carried out by Romney. When the President claimed that the raids were focused on groups that violated their own state laws, even Andrew Sullivan, an outspoken critic of the raids, agreed it was a fair point. He later went on to say, "I also wish some states had exercized more discretion and care in allowing for medical marijuana."

I understand Andrew's concern, but let's not forget what happened when states did exercise discretion and care in attempting to regulate medical marijuana activity. Obama's DOJ threatened to arrest not only the providers, but also the state officials monitoring them to ensure compliance with state law. Federal posturing stalled efforts to regulate dispensaries in Washington and Rhode Island, and resulted in the elimination of a strict plant-tagging program in California that was becoming a model for effective regulation.

What we've got now is the functional equivalent of chasing off the code inspectors and then claiming that our restaurants are dirty. Sure, there's been some excessive profiteering and other abuses in the medical marijuana industry, but to a large extent, those problems are a result of federal interference and not an excuse for it.

Any discussion of Obama's approach to medical marijuana is incomplete if it doesn't address the far-reaching implications of these efforts to thwart regulation at the state level. This is true not only because these events show how this administration has posed an existential threat to medical marijuana in states that are trying to launch programs, but also because they vividly illustrate the inaccuracy of Obama's recent suggestion that his DOJ is merely upholding local laws.

The fact that he's comfortable misrepresenting events that have unfolded before our eyes means that not enough pressure is being applied from Obama's pro-medical marijuana base, and I'm worried that fear of Romney is part of the reason why.

Update: To be clear, none of this is to suggest that Andrew Sullivan hasn't done enough to criticize Obama on this issue. He's done an awesome job of that. 

Follow Scott Morgan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drugblogger

(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.)

Medical Marijuana Ally Wins Oregon AG Race

In an Oregon primary election where medical marijuana was a prominent campaign issue, former judge and ally of the state's medical marijuana community Ellen Rosenblum came from behind to decisively defeat former interim US Attorney Dwight Holton Tuesday in the campaign for the Democratic Party's nominee for state attorney general.

Oregon Democratic Party attorney general nominee Ellen Rosenblum (ellenrosenblum.com)
Drug reformers who aided the Rosenblum campaign said as election results came in that they showed attacking medical marijuana patients and their distribution systems was "not a smart political move."

"As attorney general, I will make marijuana enforcement a low priority, and protect the rights of medical marijuana patients," Rosenblum says on her campaign website.

According to the Oregon Secretary of State's unofficial election results Tuesday evening, with 100% of the vote counted, Rosenblum had won with 63% of the vote, compared to 37% for Holton.

The winner of the Democratic Party nod is almost certain to be the next state attorney general. The Republicans didn't even field a candidate for the post, and in a primary where the Democratic attorney general race attracted more than 183,000 voters, the Republican non-race attracted fewer than 9,000 write-in votes.

Holton was an early favorite in the race and had the support of law enforcement constituencies, but aroused the ire of medical marijuana supporters for his actions as interim US Attorney last year, when he oversaw several raids against medical marijuana providers and sent out letters threatening asset forfeiture to other providers and their landlords. It didn't help when he called the the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program "a train wreck" during the campaign and pledged to work with Republican legislators to "fix" it.

The state's medical marijuana and marijuana legalization advocates mobilized to defeat Holton and encourage support for Rosenblum. But national drug reform activists, heartened by the grass roots response and emboldened by the opportunity to inflict a political price on those participating in the federal crackdown on medical marijuana distribution, mobilized as well.

Through its lobbying and campaign arm, Drug Policy Action, the Drug Policy Alliance kicked in $100,000 in donations to the Rosenblum campaign and Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement (CSLE), which, among other things, launched a series of radio ads against Holton. CSLE is also the group behind the I-24 marijuana legalization initiative, one of two Oregon legalization initiatives edging very close to making the November ballot.

DPA ally and deep-pocketed drug reform donor John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix, also contributed $100,000 to the Rosenblum campaign.

DPA and Oregon medical marijuana advocates were quick to claim the election result showed there was a price to be paid for going against the drug reform tide. It was a message they wanted both prosecutors and the Obama administration to hear.

"Dwight Holton’s defeat in the Oregon Attorney General’s race should be taken as a clear and unambiguous message to US Attorneys around the country and to the national Democratic leadership that attacking state-approved medical marijuana programs is not a smart political move," said Jill Harris, managing director of strategic initiatives for Drug Policy Action, and a native of Eugene.

"Medical marijuana has overwhelming public support -- it is now legal in 16 US states and the District of Columbia, and national polls have consistently shown support in the 70-80% range for well over a decade. Drug war rhetoric and tactics will not be tolerated, and organizations like Drug Policy Action will be there to defend patients’ rights to safely access the medicine they need," she said in a Tuesday night statement.

No Oregon groups have yet released any statements, but there was much joy on their list serves Tuesday night. "I hope that law enforcement is paying attention as well," said one poster. "As this just goes to show that Oregon is sick of them wasting their resources on marijuana."

(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.)

OR
United States

Mitt Romney's Crazy Comments on Medical Marijuana

The instant I write something suggesting that Romney wouldn't be any worse than Obama on medical marijuana, along comes Romney flipping out on a reporter for merely asking about it. The fun starts at 2:10:

So…Mitt Romney totally hates marijuana, but also doesn’t think it's important enough to be worth talking about. It's a horribly tone-deaf and idiotic thing to say in Colorado, where marijuana policy is a major issue and a legalization initiative is hitting the ballot the same day Romney is asking Coloradans for their votes. Language like that is also just perfect for alienating the Ron Paul crowd, whose support he desperately needs if he's going to get anywhere in the general election. 

But just when you thought Romney was completely clueless on this, watch the end of the interview (at about 4:50) and you'll see him saying marijuana is a state issue that's irrelevant to his presidential campaign. Seriously? You wait until the interview is over to say something interesting about this?

A lot of people in Colorado and elsewhere would be very excited to think that Mitt Romney would leave marijuana policy up to the states. To even suggest such a thing is a very clever hedge that might work to earn some sympathy from libertarian-leaning republicans.  But if you're gonna take that path, don't precede it by saying pot is a horrible gateway drug and insulting everyone by insisting the issue isn't even significant enough to discuss.

It really shouldn’t even be necessary to explain to a prominent politician that people ask questions because they care about the subject. It's just impossibly rude and stupid to mock anything any reasonable person asks you, especially when it has to do with a policy as deeply unpopular and controversial as the government's ongoing war on medical marijuana. If marijuana is important enough to arrest people for possessing, then it's important enough to discuss. And if it's important enough to discuss, then no politician who can't or won't discuss it intelligently is fit to hold public office.

It should soon become clear to Mitt Romney that he can't visit states like Colorado without taking questions about marijuana, and when that happens, he'd be very wise to tell us a lot less about how marijuana is a "gateway drug," and a lot more about how it's a state issue.

Follow Scott Morgan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drugblogger

(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 Picks Judge Jim Gray for Libertarian Party Ticket

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who is seeking the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, has selected California Judge Jim Gray as his running mate, the Daily Caller reported Monday.

Gov. Gary Johnson
Johnson, a pro-drug reform Republican, sought the GOP presidential nomination earlier this year, but switched gears (and parties) and entered the Libertarian nominating fray after failing to gain traction with Republicans.

His selection of Judge Gray, a prominent advocate of marijuana legalization, "puts pot front and center in the campaign," a Johnson staffer told the Caller. But that staffer added that Johnson's opposition to the war in Afghanistan will remain the campaign's central issue.

As governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, Johnson emerged on the national scene as one of the first elected officials to embrace drug law reform and helped lay the groundwork for the passage of a medical marijuana law there under his successor, Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson.

Like Johnson, Gray is a former Republican turned Libertarian whose vantage point on the criminal bench turned him away from the drug policy status quo and toward drug legalization. He is the author of several books on drug policy and the law and was an outspoken supporter of California's 2010 Proposition 19, as well as a proponent of this year's Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative, which failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot.

“Jim Gray is not only a highly-respected jurist, but he is also a proven leader on issues of concern to Americans -- from drug policy to civil liberties to ethics," Johnson said in a statement Monday. "I am proud he is joining me to offer America a real choice in this election, and excited that his forceful and extremely credible voice will be a vital part of our campaign. Judge Gray is a reformer with the track record and credentials to prove it, and I urge the Libertarian Party to nominate him for Vice-President of the United States."

Gray, for his part, said he was "excited" to join Johnson in campaign that will provide voters with "a credible, proven alternative" to the choices offered by the two major parties.

"Especially with the candidacy of former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the 2012 election offers an historic opportunity for libertarian ideals and policies to be a very real part of the national debate," Gray said. "As the only candidates for president and vice president who will be on the ballot in all 50 states who will cut federal spending by 43%, oppose the war in Afghanistan and the failed and expensive war on drugs, repeal the Patriot Act, support gay marriage equality and the legalization of marijuana, we will offer voters a choice voters crave."

According to the Daily Caller, Gray wasn't the campaign's first choice, although Johnson kept suggesting his name. The Caller reported that Fox News host Judge Andrew Napolitano, former California Rep. Barry Goldwater, Jr., and Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson all turned down a place on the ticket before the campaign offered the nod to Gray.

"Gary had liked him from the very beginning," the Johnson adviser said. "Every time we would bring up somebody else, Gov. Johnson would say 'what about Jim Gray?' He was Johnson's favorite from the beginning."

Johnson still has to win the Libertarian Party nomination, which has its nominating convention this week in Las Vegas, but is expected to easily do so. For a complete list of Libertarian presidential nominee candidates, go here.

A Johnson-Gray Libertarian Party ticket emphasizing marijuana legalization and broader drug law reform could potentially impact the presidential race in at least two states identified as "toss ups" by the campaign watch site Real Clear Politics. In Colorado, the electorate will also be voting on a marijuana legalization initiative, Amendment 64, while in New Hampshire, pot politics is also a hot issue, with both medical marijuana and decriminalization before the legislature this session.

(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.)

Oakland 4/20: "Obama, You're Alienating Your Base" [FEATURE]

4/20 is supposed to be a day of cannabis celebration, but in Oakland last Friday it was a day of protest and demonstration. Angered by the ongoing federal crackdown on medical marijuana distribution and shocked and infuriated by the April 2 raids on Oaksterdam University and associated businesses, protestors gathered outside the federal building in downtown Oakland to denounce the administration before marching to President Obama's Northern California campaign headquarters to deliver a letter demanding the administration cease and desist.

Delivering a message to the Obama campaign: Back off!
"Terrorist Haag Wanted for War Crimes Against Humanity," read one hand-made sign, an expression of the widespread anger against the US Attorney for Northern California, who has targeted Northern California dispensaries as part of the ongoing federal offensive against medical marijuana distribution.

Printed green, white, and red "Cannabis medicine, let states regulate" sign waved among the crowd, as chants of "Obama, keep your promise!" and "Stop the lies, legalize!" echoed through the courtyard of the towering federal building.

But it's not just marijuana advocates who are angry. "What happened here two weeks ago with the raid of Oaksterdam was an attack on our local and our members," said Matt Witemyre, special project union representative for UFCW Local 5, which represents Northern California dispensary workers. "We're here to register our displeasure with the administration's actions and we're stopping by campaign headquarters to let them know we do not support these policies. We're here in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. They had good jobs and good benefits, and in the midst of the worst economic crisis in the country in decades, the administration is destroying these jobs. It makes no sense," he fumed.

Richard Lee addressing an admiring and supportive crowd.
"We're behind you 100%," said Bob Swanson, representing Oakland Supervisor Nate Miley. "We ask that President Obama back off and rein his people in. Marijuana is medicine; let the people have it. Leave Richard Lee alone -- he's a good man and had done wonders for Oakland."

Lee himself made an appearance. "This was supposed to be a day of celebration, but it's a day of protest," he said to loud cheers and cries of support.

There was also support from the other side of San Francisco Bay, with representatives of San Francisco United, a medical marijuana coalition opposing the federal attacks, standing in solidarity with their brethren in the East Bay.

"We are outraged and disgusted with what happened here two weeks ago," said SF United's Stephanie Tucker, referring to the Oaksterdam raids. "We won't be treated this way. Obama, you are alienating your voter base. Rein in the Department of Justice and the US Attorneys. They are going after a peaceful and well-regulated community," she said to more cheers.

The president isn't winning friends in Oakland...
"We're here to protest the outrageous use of federal resources and what our federal government has done, raiding Oaksterdam and many other well-respected and -loved cannabis establishments here in California," said California NORML executive director Dale Gieringer. "This is not the kind of change we were expecting from the Obama administration."

Friday was also Gieringer's birthday, and the crowd gave the veteran activist a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" to mark the occasion.

"They said they wouldn't waste Justice Department resources on medical marijuana, but we've seen DEA raids all up and down the state, we've seen Treasury attacking the banks, we've seen the IRS going after dispensaries, we've seen BATF saying that medical marijuana patients don't have the right to bear arms, we've seen the Justice Department deny that marijuana has any medical value," Gieringer continued.

"They've turned down a rescheduling petition after nine years of delay and ignored hundreds of studies to the contrary. This administration was supposed to respect science, but it's turned its back on it. This makes no sense at all, and we're going to deliver a message to the Obama administration," he said before leading the chanting, banner-waving crowd on the short march to Obama campaign headquarters.

Passing cars honked in support as the crowd gathered in front of Obama headquarters. Richard Lee's replacement as head of Oaksterdam, Dale Sky Jones, and UFCW representative Dan Rush hand-delivered a letter to campaign staffers demanding the administration cease and desist.

...and neither is US Attorney Melinda Haag.
"What advantages do we derive from continuing this failed policy of prohibition?" asked Jones. "They're committing robbery with a badge, empowering terrorists and cartels, and denying a proven medicine to patients in the guise of keeping it from our kids. We ended the first failed Prohibition. We can do it again, President Obama. We must repeal prohibition," she insisted.

After handing over the letter at the doorway to the campaign headquarters, the crowd lingered to chant and wave signs, making sure the campaign noticed their presence.

"The local staff has heard our cries, and they support us," said Jones. "They will take the letter we've written and deliver it straight to him."

The Obama campaign has gotten the letter, but has it gotten the message? Time will tell, but the demonstrators in Oakland Friday put the campaign on notice that the administration is losing friends in California with its attacks on medical marijuana.

(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.)

Oakland, CA
United States

Could Romney Beat Obama by Changing His Stance on Marijuana?

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When you've been arguing as long as I have that politicians are missing an opportunity by ignoring supporters of marijuana reform, it's fun to see the Washington Post join the conversation.

Here’s a radical proposal for Mitt Romney: If he wants to pick up the much-coveted support of Ron Paul’s energized and organized “army,” the best way to their hearts might be through marijuana.

Pot legalizers note that he could couch his support in terms of a 10th amendment argument — essentially saying it should simply be up to states to decide for themselves. That would allow him to maintain his own opposition to legalization while also giving a shout-out to social conservatives, who love a good nod to state’s rights. [Washington Post]

At first glance this strikes me as a bit too ingenious to actually happen in real life. But nothing is impossible when it comes to the possibility of Mitt Romney changing his position on controversial issues in the hopes of getting himself elected.

I don't see any reason that the instinctive anti-pot posturing we've come to expect from him couldn't get tweaked just enough to open an interesting new angle for the Romney campaign. The real challenge would be conveying the actual facts of the matter to Romney's team in such a way that they recognize the opportunity that exists and the limited scope of the measures required to take advantage of the situation.

Unfortunately, I doubt anyone they'd listen to is actually trying to sell them this storyline, but if someone did, they might begin by introducing the following:

A. Support for medical marijuana is around 80% nationally.

B. Support for marijuana legalization is around 50% nationally.

C. Obama's pledge to respect state medical marijuana laws generated positive media attention and widespread public support.

D. Obama's violation of that pledge drew negative media attention and widespread public disapproval.

E. Obama's recent assault against medical marijuana is very unpopular in Colorado, a key swing state.

F. Romney has no other plausible plan for appealing to Ron Paul's vigorous support base.

A simple nod to state's rights on this issue would ignite a hard-to-reach constituency, while creating virtually zero political risk. Romney would basically be adopting the same medical marijuana position that Obama used successfully in '08. It's a perfect flanking maneuver that would more or less render the candidates indistinguishable on marijuana policy, a comparison that primarily hurts Obama because his supporters expect him to be better.

Would anyone from the right or the left criticize the Romney campaign for doing this? Would any republicans get upset about Romney's state's rights position on medical marijuana and opt instead to support Obama and his incoherent, contradictory position that nobody even understands? No, they wouldn't. It's probably only a slight exaggeration to say that Romney would literally lose zero votes by doing this, while picking up a potential windfall of libertarian-leaning republicans just waiting for Romney to give them a reason to get on board.

Unfortunately, at present, the chances of something like this working are much higher than the chances of it actually happening, because politicians and their handlers remain convinced that no one in America supports any change in our marijuana policy, despite the abundance of very clear evidence to the contrary.

(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.)

Follow Scott Morgan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drugblogger

Mexico Presidential Candidate Vows to End Drug War

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the candidate-in-waiting of the center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), said last week that he would end the US-backed war on drugs in Mexico if he is elected president. He said his government would instead concentrate on creating jobs and fighting corruption.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (wikimedia.org)
His comments come as the region is awash in criticism of US-style drug wars and calls for a discussion of alternatives, including decriminalization and legalization. Regional heads of state will meet to discuss the issue later this month, and it looks likely to be on the agenda at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia next month.

AMLO was also the PRD candidate in the 2006 elections, barely losing to National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe Calderon in a hotly contested election. At least in part to strengthen his stature amid accusations of election fraud, Calderon called out the military to fight Mexican drug trafficking organization shortly after taking office. Since then, more than 50,000 people have been killed in prohibition-related violence, shaking the country's confidence in its institutions.

Lopez is currently trailing the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) candidate Enrique Pena Nieto and PAN nominee Josefina Vazquez Mota in national polls. In one poll early this month, Pena Nieto had 36%, Vazquez Mota had 29%, and AMLO had 17%. In another, the figures were Pena Nieto at 49%, Vazquez Mota at 28%, and AMLO at 19%.

"We're going to stop the war (against organized crime) and justice will be procured," if he is elected, AMLO said in remarks reported by the Mexico City daily La Jornada. "We are not going to use this strategy because it has not produced results. There will be jobs, we'll fight corruption and calm down the country. We know how to do it, I'm sure," he said.

He also vowed to end impunity and criticized the government's use of high-profile arrests and heavily-covered presentations of captured capos to the media as evidence it was actually achieving anything in its battle with the drug cartels.

"Politicians who want to resolve everything through the use of the media are responsible for the lack of security and violence, because they have not established justice, employment and wellbeing. They look the other way and, continue a policy that produces poverty, resentment, hate, hostility, insecurity and violence; they want to resolve it with wars, threats of a crackdown and PR stunts," he said.

"How are those who have no moral authority, who are dishonest and corrupt, going to guarantee justice?" AMLO asked. "With what moral authority can they ask others to do right if they don't do it themselves? And furthermore they let established interest groups make decisions just like in the past in this country."

Bernardo Batiz, whom Lopez Obrador has named as his attorney general-in-waiting if he wins, added that they want to bring social peace and respect for the human rights of victims, witnesses, and criminals alike.

"We propose to move from a war where there are enemies to a justice system with humane criteria," he said. He also vowed there would not be harsher laws, more prisons, more soldiers in the streets, or "complicity with anybody," a clear reference to the widespread suspicion in Mexico that the Calderon government is cozy with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and his Sinaloa cartel.

While AMLO and company were campaigning against the drug war, PAN candidate Vazquez Mota was doing some drug-related politicking herself. On Saturday, as she filed documents needed to make her the official PAN candidate, Vazquez Mota also handed in a drug test and a lie detector test she said showed she has no ties to organized crime.

The election is July 1.

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.)

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