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Medical Marijuana Update

Lots of action -- good, bad, and ugly -- in California this week, plus a Washington appeals court ruling that appears to clear the way for dispensaries. Let's get to it:

California

Last Tuesday, Humboldt County supervisors extended a moratorium on new dispensaries. The extension was the second one and lasts for one year. The county began the moratorium last December after the federal government began threatening local governments with legal action over medical marijuana-related ordinances.

Last Wednesday, an appeals court ruled a Rancho Mirage dispensary must shut down until the city's efforts to close it are resolved. Rancho Mirage Safe Access Wellness Center must close while the city's appeal of a Riverside County Superior Court judge's ruling allowing it to stay open is under consideration by Division Two of the Fourth District Court of Appeals, the court said, granting a request from the city.

Also last Wednesday, Palm Springs police put un-permitted dispensaries on notice that they must shut down or face fines that begin at $1,000 and rise to $5,000 for each week they remain open. Palm Springs is the only Coachella Valley city to permit the sale of medical marijuana, but it limits the number of available licenses to three. There are about 10 collectives in Palm Springs without a city permit. The city and the un-permitted collectives have battled with competing lawsuits, and no end is in sight.

Also last Wednesday, an appeals court held that medical marijuana use alone is not sufficient cause for removing a child, reversing a trial court order that the father undergo drug testing and parenting courses because of his medical marijuana use. The court found that, "Although father uses medical marijuana pursuant to a physician's recommendation, there is nothing in the record to indicate that he has a substance abuse problem." Accusing a parent of child abuse or neglect merely for using medical marijuana "without any evidence that such usage has caused serious physical harm or illness or places a child at substantial risk of incurring physical harm or illness is unwarranted and will be reversed," the court said.

Last Friday, Los Angeles activists handed in 70,000 voter signatures for a referendum that would regulate but not ban dispensaries in the city. "The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Control Act" is supported by Americans for Safe Access and a local committee and is a response to the city council's effort to ban all dispensaries. If the city fails to regulate the dispensaries, the referendum will be waiting.

On Monday, a new Murrieta dispensary was served notice of the city's moratorium on dispensaries. Diamond Star Remedies opened despite being denied a business license, and its operator, John Szwec, said he had plans to pave his lot and put up a permanent building as soon as the city is willing "to stop harassing and start following state laws." Murrieta city council voted in September to extend its moratorium for one year while it awaits a state Supreme Court decision on whether cities have the power to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in their jurisdictions.

On Tuesday, Yuba County supervisors approved a progressive grow ordinance. The ordinance allows up to 18 plants to be grown on parcels of less than an acre, while up to 99 plants may be grown on parcels greater than 20 acres. The ordinance eliminates a misdemeanor provision for violators and instead allows penalties and gives the county the authority to remove marijuana that doesn't follow growing guidelines.

Also on Tuesday, the city of Concord moved closer to banning outdoor grows. The move comes after the council heard complaints about offensive odors from residential grows and the risk of robbery or theft. The city council voted unanimously to review the city of Moraga's ordinance and possibly follow the Moraga model, which bars outdoor cultivation and demands that indoor grows be hidden from view.

Also on Tuesday, Pittsburg city planners recommended a ban on dispensaries. Planning commissioners approved the ban on a 4-1 vote, with a final vote before the city council set for January 22. The city has had a two-year moratorium on dispensaries, which expires in April, while staff studied whether to permanently ban them.

Also on Tuesday, Mendocino County supervisors hired a San Francisco attorney to deal with the federal government's subpoena of the county's medical marijuana records. Supervisors announced after a closed-door meeting with county counsel that the board "has retained the legal services of William Osterhoudt of San Francisco to assist the county in representation regarding the subpoenas." The subpoenas from the US Attorney Office for Northern California seek "any and all records" for the county's medical marijuana cultivation ordinance from January 1, 2010 to the present, including those with third-party garden inspectors and Mendocino County Board of Supervisors. The county quit issuing permits under its program in March, when federal prosecutors threatened to file an injunction against the county's medical marijuana cultivation ordinance and seek legal action against county officials who supported it. The county has until January 8 to respond to the records request.

Also on Tuesday, Sonoma County supervisors rejected repealing the county's outdoor grow guidelines. The guidelines, in place since 2006, allow patients or caregivers to grow up to 30 plants in up to 100 square feet of space. Repeal would have meant reversion to the "state minimum" of six plants, but was voted down 5-0. Supervisors did agree to consider a proposal to ban the use of unoccupied residential buildings for grows and to establish a working group that would help the county shape its medical marijuana program.

Colorado

Last Friday, the state agency in charge of regulating dispensaries announced it is preparing a broad rewrite of the rules. The Department of Revenue's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, or MMED, said it will release a draft of the rewritten rules by December 28. The draft rules will be the subject of three public hearings beginning in January. "Based on industry feedback, and its own experience, the MMED has determined that the majority of the existing medical marijuana rules... are in need of amendment," MMED said.

Maine

On Monday, a state representative said he would introduce a bill to eliminate the categories that limit when medical marijuana can be authorized by a doctor. The proposed legislation would also allow any physicians to recommend medical marijuana, not just a few licensed to do so. Rep. Mark Dion (D-Portland) said he would submit the bill next month.

Montana

Last Thursday, a judge pushed back the trial date for medical marijuana provider and former University of Montana quarterback Jason Washington. He is accused of violating federal drug laws in a case arising from the federal crackdown on medical marijuana in Montana in early 2011. Washington and prosecutors now have a court date of January 14 and a January 3 deadline to reach a plea agreement. If that doesn't happen, Washington will become only the second medical marijuana provider in the state to stand trial. The other, Chris Williams, was convicted and is looking at up to 80 years. Five of Washington's co-defendants have already cut plea deals.

Washington

On Tuesday, an appeals court overturned the conviction of a Spokane dispensary operator. Scott Shupe opened the first dispensary in Spokane, only to be charged with and convicted of marijuana trafficking under state law. But the Division III Court of Appeals threw out the conviction, saying that Spokane Police did not have probable cause to search Shupe’s residence and business and that Spokane County prosecutors did not have sufficient evidence to justify Shupe’s convictions. But the opinion went further, and appears to have agreed with Shupe and that the law allows providers to sell marijuana to one person at a time rather than the state’s interpretation of providers selling only to one person, period.

Marijuana Is Now Legal in Colorado! [FEATURE]

And then there were two. On Monday, December 10, 2012, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order certifying last month's Amendment 64 victory and legalizing the use, possession, and limited cultivation of marijuana by adults 21 and over.

Colorado now joins Washington as states where voters approved marijuana legalization last month and where the will of the voters has now become law. In both states, it is only the possession (and cultivation in Colorado) parts of the new laws that are now in effect. Officials in Denver and Olympia have a matter of some months to craft and enact regulatory schemes for commercial marijuana cultivation and distribution -- provided the federal government does not seek to block them from doing so.

While the federal government may seek to block implementation of regulations, it cannot make the two states recriminalize marijuana possession. And the states have no obligation to enforce federal marijuana laws.

In both states, however, it remains illegal to sell marijuana or cultivate it commercially pending the enactment of regulatory schemes. Still, pot possession is now legal in Washington and Colorado.

"Voters were loud and clear on Election Day," Hickenlooper wrote. "We will begin working immediately with the General Assembly and state agencies to implement Amendment 64."

In addition to the executive order certifying the election results, Hickenlooper also signed an executive order establishing a 24-person task force charged with coming up with a way to implement Amendment 64's taxation and regulation provisions. The task force consists of government officials and other stakeholders, including representatives of medical marijuana patients, producers, and non-medical consumers, and will make recommendations to the legislature on how to establish a commercial marijuana market.

"All stakeholders share an interest in creating efficient and effective regulations that provide for the responsible development of the new marijuana laws," the executive order said. "As such, there is a need to create a task force through which we can coordinate and create a regulatory structure that promotes the health and safety of the people of Colorado."

Issues that will be addressed include: the need to amend current state and local laws regarding the possession, sale, distribution or transfer of marijuana and marijuana products to conform them to Amendment 64's decriminalization provisions; the need for new regulations for such things as security requirements for marijuana establishments and for labeling requirements; education regarding long-term health effects of marijuana use and harmful effects of marijuana use by those under the age of 18; and the impact of Amendment 64 on employers and employees and the Colorado economy.

The task force will also work to reconcile Colorado and federal laws such that the new laws and regulations do not subject Colorado state and local governments and state and local government employees to prosecution by the federal government.

"Task force members are charged with finding practical and pragmatic solutions to the challenges of implementing Amendment 64 while at all times respecting the diverse perspectives that each member will bring to the work of the task force," the executive order emphasized. "The task force shall respect the will of the voters of Colorado and shall not engage in a debate of the merits of marijuana legalization or Amendment 64."

Marijuana legalization supporters cheered the issuance of the executive orders.

"This is a truly historic day. From this day forward, adults in Colorado will no longer be punished for the simple use and possession of marijuana. We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for issuing this declaration in a timely fashion, so that adult possession arrests end across the state immediately," said Mason Tvert, one of the two official proponents for Amendment 64 and newly appointed communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"We look forward to working with the governor's office and many other stakeholders on the implementation of Amendment 64," Tvert continued. "We are certain that this will be a successful endeavor, and Colorado will become a model for other states to follow."

Not everyone was as thrilled as Tvert. Both US Attorney for Colorado John Walsh and Colorado State Patrol James Wolfinbarger issued statements Monday warning respectively that marijuana is still illegal under federal law and that driving while impaired by marijuana is still a crime.

"The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington state," Walsh said in his statement. "The Department's responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 10th in Colorado, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses."

"The Colorado State Patrol would like to remind motorists that if you chose to consume marijuana and make the decision to drive that you are taking a huge risk," Wolfinbarger said. "Drivers must realize that if you are stopped by law enforcement officials and it is determined that your ability to operate a motor vehicle has been affected to the slightest degree by drugs or alcohol or both, you may be arrested and subjected to prosecution under Colorado's DUI/DUID laws. It is imperative that everyone takes responsibility for public safety when driving on Colorado's highways."

While the implementation of regulations for marijuana commerce in Colorado and Washington is by no means assured, the legalization of pot possession in the two states is a done deal. And with it, a huge hole has been blown through the wall of marijuana prohibition. Since the election last month, public opinion polls have shown increasing support -- and in three out of four cases, majority support -- for marijuana legalization, as well as little patience for federal interference in states that have legalized.

Marijuana prohibition may not be dead yet, but voters in Colorado and Washington have delivered a mortal blow. The clock is ticking.

Denver, CO
United States

Prohibitionists are Overstating Feds vs. State Marijuana Legalization Case to Media

A mostly great piece in Rolling Stone this weekend, "Obama's Pot Problem," missed the mark on the federal preemption question -- can the feds shut down Washington and Colorado's legalized regulation systems? Tim Dickinson wrote the following on that subject:

[T]he administration appears to have an open-and-shut case: Federal law trumps state law when the two contradict. What's more, the Supreme Court has spoken on marijuana law: In the 2005 case Gonzales v. Raich contesting medical marijuana in California, the court ruled that the federal government can regulate even tiny quantities of pot – including those grown and sold purely within state borders – because the drug is ultimately connected to interstate commerce. If the courts side with the administration, a judge could issue an immediate injunction blocking Washington and Colorado from regulating or taxing the growing and selling of pot – actions that would be considered trafficking under the Controlled Substances Act.
 

But a former Bush administration official quoted in the New York Times on Thursday, former DOJ civil division head Gregory Katsas, made the opposite prediction. Katsas was "skeptical" that a preemption lawsuit would succeed, according to the Times. Why? Perhaps because it's not just that the feds can't force states to criminalize drug possession, as Kevin Sabet selectively pointed out to Dickinson. It's also the case that they probably can't directly force the states to criminalize sales either. The Controlled Substances Act in fact leans against federal preemption of state drug policy, as pointed out in a law professors brief on preemption submitted in a California case this year.

Dickinson also pointed out that federal officials had used threats to prosecute state employees involved in implementing regulations for medical marijuana. In my opinion the US Attorney letters were deliberately vague -- scary enough to influence state officials, but in most if not all cases stopping short of explicitly making that threat. A better piece of evidence, I think, is that in 16 years of state medical marijuana laws, no federal prosecutor has ever tried to actually invalidate such a law in court, not even after the Raich ruling. Why not? They must not think they have a slam dunk case. And if preemption is not a slam dunk for medical marijuana, then it's not a slam dunk when it comes to legalization either, although there are additional arguments to throw against full legalization.

The reality is that no one knows how this will turn out if it goes to court. Raich established that federal police agencies can use their powers in medical marijuana states to continue to criminalize marijuana federally, justified by the Interstate Commerce Clause. But that is not the same as having the power to forbid states from granting exceptions to the states' own anti-marijuana sales laws, which in legal terms is what the regulatory frameworks do, and plenty of smart lawyers are skeptical that they can do that. This is not a slam dunk either way.

Majority Says Feds Should Stay Out of Marijuana Legalization States

A slight majority of adults say the federal government should not attempt to enforce federal marijuana laws in states which have voted to legalize it, according to a new YouGov poll. Some 51% of respondents said the federal government should "exempt adults who follow state law from enforcement."

The poll was conducted December 5 and 6 among 1,000 adults. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.4%.

The poll comes as the Obama administration ponders how to respond to last month's passage of marijuana legalization measures Amendment 64 in Colorado and I-502 in Washington. While possession of up to an ounce by adults became legal last week in Washington and will become legal within weeks in Colorado, both states have a matter of months to come up with regulatory structures for commercial marijuana cultivation and distribution.

There has been speculation that the administration may attempt to block the regulatory and tax components on the initiatives, but this poll suggest little support for that among the public.

Fewer than one-third (30%) of respondents said the federal government should "enforce the drugs laws the same way it does in other states," while an unusually high 20% of respondents were not sure.

This is the second poll this month to find a majority saying the question of legalization should be left to the states. A CBS News poll last week  had 59% of respondents saying it should be up to the states. Like the YouGuv poll, this poll had only about one-third (34%) saying it should be up to the federal government.

What Happens Next?

We noted this morning that marijuana is now legal in Washington State. (!) But what happens next?

As WA press noted, federal authorities had no plans to intervene at this time -- the expected celebrations proceeded unmolested, at least we've not heard of any problems.

Seattle skyline
Of course that's not what the feds would do. As we've noted here, most law enforcement is state and county and local -- federal arrests for marijuana possession are a rarity, and mostly occur in places like national parks that are specifically federally controlled. Thinkers within and without our movement have been speculating what the federal response might be and what options they will legally have at their disposal once the courts weigh in.

As one of our advisors, Eric Sterling, commented in our newsletter after the election, officials at the Dept. of Justice were taken by surprise, perhaps by the passage of the initiatives and certainly by the strong margins of victory. A New York Times story today by Jack Healy noted that the Obama administration has yet to announce any policy on the matter, but have simply noted that federal law remains unchanged. According to the article, officials asked about it referred to a statement released yesterday by the US Attorney in Seattle, Jenny Durkan:

"In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance," [Durkan] said. "Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6 in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law."
 

Which tells us nothing we didn't know. But Durkan did say that the administration is reviewing the initiatives. And according to Healy's article, "several people familiar with the [administration's] deliberations" say they are considering legal action. There are a few legal issues at stake:

  • Can the government "preempt" the states' regulatory systems -- that is, not just raid marijuana stores if they choose to, but prevent the state from exempting any growers or distributors or sellers under state law?
  • If they can, will that endanger the rest of the laws? The argument for that, Healy posits, would be that voters mightn't have passed the laws without the regulations.
  • Do the state laws run afoul of our government's treaty obligations, particularly the 1961 Single Convention on Drugs?

Many scholars are skeptical that a preemption challenge would succeed. Gregory Katsas, a DOJ official in the George W. Bush administration, pointed out to the Times that there is nothing in the laws that prevent the federal government from bringing marijuana cases in the states. The argument there is that the laws are not in "positive conflict" with the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), despite their clear "tension" with it. Several legal scholars submitted a brief in a California case on this subject earlier this year taking that viewpoint.

My takeaway from the brief was that the feds might not be able to preempt even the regulatory portions of the laws, and would probably have to amend the CSA to have a chance. The very same law that would be invoked in a court case, is the same one at work in prohibition of medical marijuana. And in 16 years of state medical marijuana laws, including now 10 dispensary states, no federal prosecutor has sought to invalidate any of these laws in court. That suggests they are not confident of what their prospects would be.

Regarding the treaties, my guess would be that the same reasons federal law might not preempt state marijuana legalization applies to the treaties too -- marijuana is still federally illegal. The treaties do seem to frown even legalized possession. But they explicitly allow for alternatives to criminalizing possession, such as health and education-based approaches -- which we don't have as much of as we should, but which we do have. So it's not clear that the treaties will be a problem either.

All that said, we do not know what will happen, and Congress's power to regulate commerce is broad -- the pressure on the feds to do something is greater, and the set of arguments they can bring to court are more numerous.

I am excited but also anxious about what may happen next. Are Amendment 64 and I-502 going to federal court? What will the courts say? Will the feds try to scare Washington and Colorado officials from implementing regulations -- will the states' governors stand up to them if they do, or will they seek delays as happened in a number of medical marijuana states? Will the federal raids being made against medical marijuana facilities be expanded when legalized marijuana stories eventually open? Such a strategy would be more effective in Washington, less so in Colorado where there will be more stores and where home growing is legal. But they can probably take down anyone in Colorado as they choose. Will there be threats to withhold highway funds over the laws, or law enforcement funds?

Hopefully the Obama administration will finally choose to be on the right side of history on this issue. But we'll ses. What happens next? For now we wait -- I am nervous but also excited.

Marijuana is Now Legal in Washington State! [FEATURE]

As of today, Thursday, December 6, 2012, marijuana possession is legal in the state of Washington. Under the I-502 initiative passed by the state's voters last month, adults 21 and older can now legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana (or 16 ounces of marijuana-infused edibles) without fear of arrest or criminal prosecution.

King 5 news report (nwcn.com)
The date comes just one day after the 80th anniversary of the end of alcohol Prohibition and could mark the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition in the United States. Colorado voters also legalized marijuana, and it will be legal to possess an ounce there -- and grow up to six plants -- sometime between now and January 5, the last day the governor has to ratify the November election results.

Alaska had been the only state to allow the possession of small amounts of marijuana. But, citing the state constitution's privacy protections, Alaska courts found that right only existed in the privacy of one's home.

Emboldened by the popular vote in Colorado and Washington, legislators in at least four states so far have now filed or will soon file marijuana legalization bills, with more to follow. And in states where the initiative process is allowed, activists are chomping at the bit in a race to be the next to legalize it at the ballot box (although they may want to wait for 2016, when the presidential race increases liberal turnout). And a spate of public opinion polls released since the election show support for legalization nationwide now cracking the 50% barrier.

While the federal government may attempt to block efforts to tax and regulate legal marijuana commerce in the two states, it cannot block them from removing marijuana offenses from their criminal codes. Nor can it make them reinstate them. News reports have noted that the federal government has no plans to intervene in Washington state's legalization today.

I-502 isn't a free for all. It remains a criminal offense to grow or distribute marijuana, and the state-licensed producers and stores for legal cultivation and sales and regulations governing them are a year away. There is no way in the meanwhile to legally buy marijuana. You can't smoke it in public (though that proscription is unlikely to hold for today at least), or drive in a vehicle with a lit joint (an offense equivalent to open container laws). If you live or work on federal property, you are still subject to federal drug laws. And if you're under 21, you're out of luck.

But, those caveats aside, pot possession is legal today in Washington, with sales and production coming, and that's a big deal.

"Washington state and Colorado made history on Election Day by becoming not just the first two states in the country -- but the first political jurisdictions anywhere in the world -- to approve the legal regulation of marijuana," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The only way federal marijuana prohibition is going to end is by voters and legislators in other states doing just what folks in those two states just did."

"This is incredibly significant," said freshly minted Marijuana Policy Project communications director Mason Tvert, who just took the job after leading the Colorado Amendment 64 campaign to victory. "This is having a major impact on public perceptions and is showing that times are changing and a majority of people in various areas are ready to take these steps."

"This is the single most important event that has occurred in 75 year of marijuana prohibition," said Keith Stroup, founder and currently counsel for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "The change in the perception of what is possible has been dramatic. Now, elected officials and state legislatures all over the country are honestly considering the option of tax and regulate where before November that was generally perceived as a radical proposal."

The election results are shifting the parameters of the discussion, the silver-haired attorney and activist said.

"Several states are considering full legalization now, and that makes decriminalization sound like a moderate step, which could work in a lot of Southern and Midwestern states where they're perhaps not quite ready yet to set up a regulated market," Stroup pointed out. "The context of the public policy debate has totally changed as a result of Colorado and Washington. It's as dramatic as anything I've witnessed in my lifetime."

While reformers are elated, author and marijuana scholar Martin Lee had a slightly more sober assessment.

"It's way too early to tell whether I-502 in Washington state signals the death knell of marijuana prohibition in the United States," said Lee, who recently published Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana -- Medical, Recreational, and Scientific.

"The cultural momentum in the United States favors marijuana legalization, but the political response, thus far, has been lagging," Lee noted. "Political change can sometimes happen very quickly -- think of the sudden demise of Soviet Bloc Communism after the Berlin Wall unexpectedly toppled in 1989. Swift, dramatic change seems possible with respect to cannabis prohibition, which is based on lies and could collapse like a house of cards. But powerful political interests in the United States -- in particular law enforcement -- have long benefited from the war on drugs and they are reluctant to throw in the towel."

Lee also raised the specter of law enforcement retaliation, especially against some of its easiest targets.

"My biggest concern is that the new state law in Washington will do little to prevent or discourage law enforcement from selectively targeting and harassing young people, especially young African-Americans and Latinos. Racial profiling is endemic in Washington state and throughout the United States," he said.

"It's also disconcerting that I-502 includes a zero tolerance provision for under 21-year-old drivers, who could be punished severely if blood tests show any trace of THC metabolites (breakdown products) in their system. Because THC metabolites can remain in the body for four weeks or longer, blood and urine tests for marijuana can't measure impairment. What's to stop law enforcement in Washington from randomly testing and arresting minority youth under the guise of public safety?"

It remains to be seen just how the DUID provision will work out, either for young drivers or for drivers over 21, who face a presumption of impaired driving if THC levels are over a specified standard. The record from other states with either zero tolerance or per se DUID laws suggest they make little difference in DUID arrest rates, perhaps because of probable cause standards needed to conduct blood tests or the time and complexity involved in doing so.

Regardless of valid concerns, the fact remains that the wall of marijuana prohibition in the US has just had a huge hole punched in it. And the margins of victory in Colorado and Washington -- each initiative won with 55% of the vote -- leave breathing room for activists in other states to consider not including such controversial provisions, which were seen by proponents as necessary to actually win the vote.

As veteran activist Stroup put it, despite the contentiousness and the sops to the opposition, for marijuana activists, "This is a great time to be alive. I wish folks like Mezz Mezrow, Louis Armstrong, and Allen Ginsberg, who helped form LEMAR (Legalize Marijuana), then Amorphia, which morphed into NORML, could have been around to see this."

While Stroup took a moment to look backward, DPA's Nadelmann was looking forward.

"Now, the race is on as to who will be first to leapfrog the Dutch and implement a full legal regulatory system for marijuana:  Washington, Colorado or Uruguay!” he told the Chronicle.

WA
United States

New Poll Has Record High for Marijuana Legalization

There is a third poll in the past few days suggesting that Americans' attitudes toward marijuana legalization have reached the tipping point, if not toppled over it. A survey conducted over the weekend by Public Policy Polling (PPP) finds a record high 58% of respondents think pot should be legal, while only 39% think it should not.

That finding comes on the heels of a CBS News poll showing the highest support for legalization since it starting asking the question (although still not quite over the top at 47%) and an Angus-Reid poll that had support for legalization at 54%.

It also comes just days before Americans are confronted with the reality of legal marijuana in one of the two states that legalized it last month. On Thursday, the provision of Washington's I-502 initiative allowing the adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana goes into effect. The possession (and cultivation) provisions of Colorado's Amendment 64 will go into effect days later, by January 5 at the latest.

In the PPP poll, 33% of respondents felt "strongly" that marijuana should be legal, while another 25% agreed, but didn't feel strongly about it. Taking the two together, that's 58% in support of freeing the weed.

Poll respondents also wanted the federal government to allow Colorado and Washington to chart their own paths on marijuana (47%), with only one-third (33%) calling for the federal government to intervene. And a slight plurality (45%) said marijuana was safer than alcohol, while 42% said it was not safer.

There were few surprises in the cross-tabs. Support for legalization was stronger among men (62%) than among women (54%) and stronger among Democrats (68%) and independents (59%) than among Republicans (42%). Somewhat surprisingly, Hispanics reported stronger support for legalization (61%) than blacks (56%) or whites (55%). There was majority support for legalization among voters under 45, but not over. Still, even among the older folks, there was 47% support among 45-to-64-year-olds and 48% for the above-65 set.

First Nonviolent Drug Offender Released Under CA Prop 36

It didn't take long. Voters in California last month approved Proposition 36, which amends the state's draconian Three Strikes law to require that a third strike be a serious or violent felony, and last week, the first person to be released under the initiative walked out of prison.

Prop 36 will help reducing overcrowding in California prisons (US Supreme Court)
Kenneth Corley, 62, had been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison in 1996 after being convicted of drug possession for sale. His previous two felony "strikes" were convictions for burglary and attempted burglary. Per Prop 36, he was entitled to seek resentencing, and a San Diego judge resentenced him to 15 years and ordered him released with time served.

Thousands of inmates are doing decades in prison under the state's Three Strikes law, which until it was amended last month by voters, allowed sentences of up to life for a third felony offense even if the crime was something as trivial as drug possession or stealing a pizza.

Not all inmates eligible to seek sentence reductions under Prop 36 will get them. Judges reviewing their cases are required to decide whether releasing them would present a risk to public safety. If so, they will not get a sentence reduction. But the new law should still benefit thousands of other Three Strikes prisoners, as well as preventing people who committed trivial third felonies from being sentenced under the law.

San Diego, CA
United States

Colorado Business Groups Ask Feds to Enforce Marijuana Laws

Some 20 Colorado business organizations wrote a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder last Friday urging him to enforce federal laws barring the sale and possession of marijuana. In doing so, the business groups are taking direct aim at the will of the voters, who passed Amendment 64 legalizing marijuana with 55% of the vote last month.

"Passage of Amendment 64 left considerable uncertainty for employers and business in Colorado with regard to their legal rights and obligations," the letter said. "We encourage enforcement of the [federal Controlled Substances Act] to provide the certainty and clarity of law we seek."

Amendment 64 legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to six plants by adults 21 and over. That part of the amendment will go into effect by January 5 at the latest. It also directs the state to craft a system of regulations for commercial marijuana cultivation and sales. The state has until October 2013 to complete that task.

Still, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the Justice Department headed by Holder has yet to signal how it will respond. The Obama administration initially backed off enforcing federal laws in medical marijuana states, but for the last two years has stepped up enforcement actions.

For Coloradans and others who want to know who is attempting to undercut the will of the voters and respond in an informed and appropriate manner, here is the complete list of signatory organizations:

  • Colorado Concern
  • Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance
  • Associated Builders and Contractors -- Rocky Mountain Chapter
  • Colorado Technology Association
  • Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce
  • Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce
  • Greeley Chamber of Commerce
  • Pueblo Chamber of Commerce
  • Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance
  • Northern Colorado Economic Development Corporation
  • Upstate Colorado Economic Development Association
  • Colorado Contractors Association
  • International Electrical Contractors -- Rocky Mountain Chapter
  • National Federation of Independent Business -- Colorado and Wyoming Chapter
  • Club 20
  • Loveland Chamber of Commerce
  • Colorado Bankers Association
  • Colorado Auto Recyclers Association
  • Chrisland Commercial
  • Douglas County Business Alliance

(Update: One of our readers has posted contact information for these organizations, here in the comments section.)

CO
United States

Outrage at Potential Sentence for Montana Medical Marijuana Grower [FEATURE]

Chris Williams is sitting in a private federal prison on the Montana prairie these days awaiting sentencing. If the federal government has its way, he won't be a free man again for three-quarters of a century, an effective life sentence for a middle-aged man like Williams.

Medical marijuana provider Chris Williams in happier days (facebook.com)
So, what did he do that merits such a harsh sentence? Did he murder someone? Did he rape, pillage, and plunder? No. He grew medical marijuana. And, as is not uncommon in Montana, he had guns around as he did so. Standing on firm conviction, he steadfastly refused repeated plea bargain offers from federal prosecutors, which could have seen him serving "only" 10 years or so.

Williams is one of the more than two dozen Montana medical marijuana providers caught up in the federal dragnet after mass raids in March 2011 savaged the state's medical marijuana community, including Montana Cannabis, one of the state's largest providers, where he was a partner. A true believer in the cause, Williams is the only one of those indicted after the federal raids to not cop a plea, and he was convicted on eight federal marijuana and weapons charges in September after being blocked from mentioning the state's medical marijuana laws during his trial.

It is the gun charges that are adding decades to his sentences. As is the case in drug raids where police come up against armed homeowners, or as was the case of Salt Lake City rap record label owner and pot dealer Weldon Angelos ended up with a 55-year sentence because he sometimes packed a pistol, the Williams case is one where the rights granted under the 2nd Amendment clash with the imperatives of the drug war.

Williams was not convicted of using his firearms or even of brandishing them, but merely of having legal shotguns present at the medical marijuana grow, which was legal under Montana law. Still, that's enough for the gun sentencing enhancements to kick in, and that's enough to cause a rising clamor of support for Williams as he faces a January sentencing date.

"The sentence shocks the conscience," said Chris Lindsey, a former business partner of Williams who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to a federal marijuana conspiracy charge. "Look at (former Penn State assistant football coach) Jerry Sandusky. For 45 counts of child sexual abuse, he gets 30 years. Chris Williams is going to get three times that for being a medical marijuana provider. It doesn't make any logical sense," he told the Missoulian.

Williams supporters have created a Free Chris Williams Facebook page and are petitioning the White House through its We the People online petition program for a full pardon for him. The White House responds to petitions that achieve over 25,000 signatures; the Williams petition has managed to generate slightly more than 20,000 signatures in less than two weeks. Other petitions seeking clemency for Williams are at SignOn.org and Care2.com.

Williams and his supporters are not just relying on the kindness of the White House. He is appealing his criminal conviction to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, and he is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that claims he and other medical marijuana providers were in compliance with Montana state law and the federal raid and subsequent prosecutions were an unconstitutional usurpation of state and local powers under the 10th Amendment. That amendment says powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution and not prohibited by the states are reserved to the states or the people.

But legal experts said his chances for victory in the civil lawsuit were small, and he would still be saddled with the federal criminal conviction.

"The war on drugs is too sacrosanct a sacred cow for the courts to weigh in favor," said California marijuana attorney Robert Raich, who has argued and lost two marijuana cases at the Supreme Court. "I think we can make better progress by doing something other than filing lawsuits," he said in an interview with the Helena Independent Record.

Still, Raich said he sympathized with Williams' plight and added that the federal attack on Montana providers was among its harshest.

"Montana is the worst," he said. "The federal government has attacked medical cannabis with a vengeance in Montana more than any other state."

Williams' attorney in the civil suit, Paul Livingston, said he would press forward with the appeal even if his client is behind bars.

"He has been made a martyr," said attorney Livingston. "It's a very solid case, it is a case that needs to be decided and I think everyone would agree once they learn the facts of what happened," Livingston said.

Ironically, as Williams languishes behind bars contemplating spending the rest of his life in prison, Montana could become the next state to legalize marijuana. Medical marijuana activists there, frustrated by the legislature's gutting of their program last year and their inability to get that overturned this year, have filed papers to put a legalization initiative on the ballot in 2014. Even that wouldn't directly help Williams, but it would serve to further underline the senselessness of his sentence.

MT
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