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Marijuana: Colorado Ski Town Votes to Legalize It, Measure Passes With 73%

Residents of the Colorado ski town of Breckenridge overwhelmingly voted to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana Tuesday. The measure passed with 73% of the vote.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/breckenridge.jpg
Breckenridge, Colorado
That means as of January 1, people in Breckenridge can legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana under local ordinance. The measure also legalizes the possession of marijuana paraphernalia.

"This votes demonstrates that Breckenridge citizens overwhelmingly believe that adults should not be punished for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol," said Sean McAllister, Breckenridge attorney and chair of Sensible Breckenridge, a local project of the statewide marijuana law reform group Sensible Colorado.

"As state and national focus grows on this important issue, the popular ski town of Breckenridge has taken center stage on marijuana reform -- and not just for medical purposes," said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado. "With this historic vote, Breckenridge has emerged as a national leader in sensible drug policy."

The campaign, which had no formal opposition, received a chorus of local support including endorsements from Breckenridge Town Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron, former Colorado State Representative and Breckenridge resident, Gary Lindstrom, and the Summit Daily News.

Measure 2F was placed on the ballot when over 1,400 local supporters signed a petition supporting the reform measure.

Under Colorado state law, possession of up to an ounce is decriminalized and punishable by a $100 fine. But Breckenridge police will "still have the ability to exercise discretion," said Chief Rick Holman. "It's never been something that we've spent a lot of time on, so I don't expect this to be a big change in how we really do business," he told the Summit Daily News.

Breckenridge residents had voted for Amendment 44, a statewide legalization initiative, by the same percentage in 2006. That initiative won only 41% of the vote statewide.

Denver became the first city to vote to legalize marijuana possession under municipal ordinance in 2005.

Feature: Maine Voters Approve Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Voters in Maine Tuesday approved Question 5, the Maine Medical Marijuana Act, an initiative instructing the state government to set up a system of state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. The measure passed with 59% of the vote.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/maineplea.jpg
a plea from a patient -- Maine voters listened (courtesy mainecommonsense.org)
Sponsored by Maine Citizens for Patient Rights (MCPR) and the Maine Medical Marijuana Policy Initiative (MMMPI), and funded primarily by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Maine Medical Marijuana Act will:

  • Establish a system of nonprofit dispensaries which would be overseen and tightly regulated by the state;
  • Establish a voluntary identification card for medical marijuana patients and caregivers;
  • Protect patients and caregivers from arrest, search and seizure unless there is suspicion of abuse;
  • Create new protections for qualified patients and providers in housing, education, employment and child custody;
  • Allow patients with Lou Gehrig's disease and Alzheimer's disease access to medical marijuana;
  • Require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a procedure for expanding the list of conditions for which marijuana can be used; and
  • Keep current allowable marijuana quantities at 2.5 ounces and six plants.

"We weren't surprised at all by the outcome," said Jonathan Leavitt of Maine Citizens for Patients Rights, who had predicted weeks ago the measure would cruise to victory. "We would have done a lot better in most elections, but this time there was a big turnout from the hard-core religious right," he said, referring to the heated battle over a gay marriage referendum that went down to defeat the same day.

"We're really tickled," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which also supported the campaign. "This was a state election with some controversial issues, but medical marijuana wasn't one of them. Oh, the usual suspects objected, but nobody was listening. This suggests the comfort level with medical marijuana is growing by leaps and bounds."

Some long-time Maine marijuana activists, such as the Maine Vocals, had joined the "usual suspects" in opposing the measure. They argued that the measure gave too much power to the state. But their complaints appeared to have little impact on the electoral outcome.

"It's great to see Maine leapfrog other states in adopting cutting-edge medical marijuana legislation," said Jill Harris, DPA managing director for public policy. "What's especially nice is that the medical marijuana guidelines recently issued by the US Department of Justice provide reassurance to Maine officials that they can implement the new law without fear of reprisal by federal authorities."

"This is a dramatic step forward, the first time that any state's voters have authorized the state government to license medical marijuana dispensaries," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. "Coming a decade after passage of Maine's original marijuana law, this is a huge sign that voters are comfortable with these laws, and also a sign that the recent change of policy from the Obama administration is having a major impact."

Maine becomes the sixth state to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, and, as Kampia noted, the first one to approve state-licensed dispensaries through a popular vote. New Mexico and Rhode Island approved state-licensed dispensaries through the legislative process, while California, Colorado, and Washington adopted locally-approved dispensaries through the initiative process.

In New Mexico, there is currently one state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary; in Rhode Island none yet exist. In Colorado, by contrast, there are nearly a hundred, while in California, the number of locally-permitted (or not) dispensaries is somewhere shy of 2000. In Washington State, the number of dispensaries is much lower, but still higher than in states where dispensaries are licensed by the state.

"The trend toward licensed dispensaries is a good thing," said Kris Hermes, communications director for Americans for Safe Access, the nation's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "Back in 1996, when the first initiative was passed in California, that initiative included language calling on the state and federal governments to work together to create a plan for distribution. But because the federal government was not only unhelpful, but actually working to actively undermine medical marijuana distribution in California during the Bush years, people at the local level were forced to develop a model they could advance. What we now have in California is a local model of distribution," he noted.

While locally-approved dispensaries appear to provide access to medical marijuana to greater numbers of people, they are also subject to more harassment and even prosecution by the state or even the federal government. The Obama administration has declared it will not go after dispensaries operating in accord with state law, but in states like California and Colorado, where local prosecutors determine legality -- not a state law -- dispensary operators could still see themselves prosecuted by the feds.

One such incident occurred in September in San Diego, where hard-line county District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis led joint state and federal raids against dispensaries, and at least two people were charged with federal marijuana distribution offenses. Similarly, the Los Angeles county prosecutor has warned that he considers almost all LA-area dispensaries to be illegal.

"That's the fundamental difference Maine, New Mexico, and Rhode Island on one hand, and California and Colorado on the other," said MPP's Mirken. "The latter have a large number of dispensaries, but they are operating in a grey area. In California, we've seen the feds justify participating in raids where local DAs say the dispensaries aren't legal."

That could continue to happen, even with the Obama edict, Mirken said. "Until the courts settle these issues, it's not shocking that the feds might defer to local prosecutors," he said. "There's something to be said for legal clarity."

What is needed, said Hermes, is federal acceptance of medical marijuana. "As long as the federal government continues to deny medical marijuana's efficacy and refuses to develop a national plan that goes beyond law enforcement, states will have to develop their own laws to deal with the issue of distribution," he said. "Having said that, we continue to work with the Obama administration to develop that national policy, and hopefully, one day soon we will have a policy that obviates the need for individual policies at the state level."

In the meantime, it's up to the states. In Maine, that means getting the state-licensed dispensary system up and running. "The process starts when the governor signs it into law, which we expect shortly," said Leavitt. "He will then set up a task force to pull together appropriate oversight for the new law. We hope to be part of that stakeholder process. I think it will take at least three or four months before we actually have functioning dispensaries."

Marijuana Legalization: California Poll of Primary Voters Finds Narrow Majority Say Keep It Illegal

A poll released this week suggests backers of California marijuana legalization initiatives have their work cut out for them. The Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research poll of 750 primary voters in late October found 52% wanted to keep marijuana illegal, while 38% supported legalization.

An April Field poll found that 56% of respondents supported legalization. But that support came in the context of a polling question about legalizing and taxing marijuana in the context of California's ongoing budget crisis. In that poll, respondents said they favored "legalizing marijuana for recreational use and taxing its proceeds."

The difference in poll questions influenced the way people responded, said poll director Adam Probolsky. "By saying there is a chance to help solve the budget crisis, you'd push some people toward making it legal," he said. "It makes it more palatable to people. If we had asked the same question, and said some studies show we'd have 10,000 more highway deaths, you'd push it the other way."

The two polls also sampled different voter pools. The Capitol Weekly poll was based on likely June primary voters, which is a smaller and more conservative group than general election or registered voters. The Field poll looked at registered voters.

While the poll may be a shot across the bow for legalization initiative organizers, it may not accurately predict how such a campaign will fare, Probolsky said. "This doesn't test the push messages -- closing the state budget gap versus the public safety messages," he said. "You need to test half a dozen of those pros and cons to see where the initiative lies."

When measured by party affiliation, only 25% of Republicans supported legalization, compared to 45% of Democrats and nearly 48% of voters who declined to state a party preference. Voters over 65 were most likely to oppose legalization, with 56% saying prohibition should continue. But that was only one point higher than the 55% of 18-to-34-year-olds.

The poll was taken the same week the Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF) held a hearing on his marijuana legalization bill at the state capitol in Sacramento. It also comes as petition-gatherers for at least three different legalization initiatives pound the pavement for signatures.

Victories in Maine and Colorado tonight

Dear friends:

Great news! Two marijuana-related ballot initiatives, one in Maine and one in a ski town in Colorado, won in voting booths on Tuesday.

By 59%-41%, Maine voted to become the third state to license nonprofit dispensaries to provide medical marijuana to qualified patients.

And by an overwhelming 73%-27%, Breckenridge, Colorado voted to allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. The Breckenridge initiative was spearheaded by MPP grant recipient Sensible Colorado.

Maine's new law is enormously important. While 13 states permit medical marijuana use, until now only Rhode Island and New Mexico have had laws allowing dispensaries, both of which were adopted by the states’ legislatures. Patients in the other states have had to grow their own marijuana, find someone to procure it for them, or buy it from the criminal market.

Tonight's vote is a dramatic step forward, the first time that any state’s voters have authorized the state government to license medical marijuana dispensaries. Coming a decade after passage of Maine’s original marijuana law in 1999, this is a huge sign that voters are comfortable with these laws, and also a sign that the recent change of policy from the Obama administration is having a major impact.

The new Maine law also expands the number of conditions that make a patient eligible for medical marijuana use and protects patients from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and child custody.

A coalition of activists and marijuana policy reform organizations are responsible for this victory: MPP got the momentum going by drafting the initiative and providing start-up funding to Maine Citizens for Patients' Rights, and the Drug Policy Alliance provided assistance to help complete the signature drive.

If you support initiatives like this, would you please consider automatically donating $5 or more on your credit card each month to help us pass more laws like these?

We have momentum on our side, so now is the time to push even harder for change. Please consider helping us rack up more victories like these.
 
Thank you,

Rob Signature

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $2.35 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2009. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

Maine Votes “Yes” on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                             
NOVEMBER 3, 2009

Maine Votes “Yes” on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries,

Becomes 3rd State to License Medical Marijuana Providers; Vote Seen as Latest Advance Spurred by Obama Policy

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications …………… 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205

AUGUSTA, MAINE — In a landmark vote, Maine voters today approved Question 5, making the state the third in the country to license nonprofit organizations to provide medical marijuana to qualified patients and the first ever to do so by a vote of the people. With 49 percent of the vote tallied, the measure was cruising to an easy win with 60.2 percent voting “yes” and 39.8 percent voting “no.”

         Under the measure, the state will license nonprofit organizations to provide medical marijuana to qualified patients and set rules for their operation. While 13 states permit medical use of marijuana, only Rhode Island and New Mexico have similar dispensary provisions, both of which were adopted by the states’ legislatures. Maine’s original medical marijuana law was passed in 1999.

         “This is a dramatic step forward, the first time that any state’s voters have authorized the state government to license medical marijuana dispensaries,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., which drafted the initiative and provided start-up funding for the campaign. “Coming a decade after passage of Maine’s original marijuana law, this is a huge sign that voters are comfortable with these laws, and also a sign that the recent change of policy from the Obama administration is having a major impact.”  

         In October, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a formal policy indicating that federal prosecutors should not prosecute medical marijuana activities authorized by state law.

         Question 5 also expands the list of medical conditions qualifying for protection under Maine’s law to include several conditions that are included in most other medical marijuana states, including intractable pain, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (“Lou Gehrig’s disease”).

         With more than 29,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

####

Location: 
ME
United States

Maine Votes to Okay Medical Marijuana Dispensaries; Measure Passing With 60% of the Vote

Voters in Maine Tuesday approved Question 5, which will allow the state to license nonprofit organizations to operate medical marijuana dispensaries for qualified patients. In early returns with nearly half the vote tallied, the measure was winning easily, with 60% of the vote. Maine thus becomes the third state to create a system of state-licensed dispensaries, and the first one to do so by a direct vote. Only Rhode Island and New Mexico have similar dispensary provisions. "This is a dramatic step forward, the first time that any state’s voters have authorized the state government to license medical marijuana dispensaries," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, DC, which drafted the initiative and provided start-up funding for the campaign. "Coming a decade after passage of Maine’s original marijuana law, this is a huge sign that voters are comfortable with these laws, and also a sign that the recent change of policy from the Obama administration is having a major impact." MPP local affiliate Maine Citizens for Patients' Rights led the fight on the ground. Question 5 also expands the list of medical conditions qualifying for protection under Maine’s law to include several conditions that are included in most other medical marijuana states, including intractable pain, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ("Lou Gehrig’s disease"). Look for a feature article on the Maine victory and the push for state-licensed dispensaries in the Chronicle on Friday.
Location: 
ME
United States

Colorado Ski Town of Breckenridge Votes to Legalize It; Measure Passes With 72%

Residents of the Colorado ski town of Breckenridge overwhelmingly voted to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana Tuesday. Early returns had the local measure passing with 72% of the vote. That means as of January 1, people in Breckenridge can legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana under local ordinance. The measure also legalizes the possession of marijuana paraphernalia. "This votes demonstrates that Breckenridge citizens overwhelmingly believe that adults should not be punished for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol," said Sean McAllister, Breckenridge attorney and chair of Sensible Breckenridge, a local project of the statewide marijuana law reform group Sensible Colorado. "As state and national focus grows on this important issue, the popular ski town of Breckenridge has taken center stage on marijuana reform-- and not just for medical purposes," said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado. "With this historic vote, Breckenridge has emerged as a national leader in sensible drug policy" The campaign, which had no formal opposition, received a chorus of local support including endorsements from Breckenridge Town Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron, former. Colorado State Representative and Breckenridge resident, Gary Lindstrom, and the Summit Daily News. Measure 2F was placed on the ballot when over 1400 local supporters signed a petition supporting the reform measure. Under Colorado state law, possession of up to an ounce is decriminalized and punishable by a $100 fine. But Breckenridge police will "still have the ability to exercise discretion," said Chief Rick Holman. “It's never been something that we've spent a lot of time on, so I don't expect this to be a big change in how we really do business,” he told the Summit Daily News. Breckenridge residents had voted for Amendment 44, a statewide legalization initiative, by the same percentage in 2006. That initiative won only 41% of the vote statewide. Denver became the first city to vote to legalize marijuana possession under municipal ordinance in 2005.
Location: 
Breckenridge, CO
United States

Feature: Maine Medical Marijuana Dispensary Initiative Ahead in November Election Campaign

In a little more than two weeks, Maine residents will go to the polls to vote on a measure that would build on the state's decade-old existing medical marijuana law by creating a system of dispensaries. Despite some grumbling from the usual suspects and announced opposition from some not-so-usual suspects, proponents of the measure say they are confident it will win easily on November 3.

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Maine coast
Sponsored by Maine Citizens for Patient Rights and the Maine Medical Marijuana Policy Initiative, and funded primarily by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Maine Medical Marijuana Act would:

  • Establish a system of nonprofit dispensaries which would be overseen and tightly regulated by the state;
  • Establish a voluntary identification card for medical marijuana patients and caregivers;
  • Protect patients and caregivers from arrest, search and seizure unless there is suspicion of abuse;
  • Create new protections for qualified patients and providers in housing, education, employment and child custody;
  • Allow patients with Lou Gehrig's disease and Alzheimer's disease access to medical marijuana;
  • Require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a procedure for expanding the list of conditions for which marijuana can be used; and
  • Keeps current allowable marijuana quantities at 2.5 ounces and six plants.

When voters go to the polls on November 3 to vote on Question 5, the Medical Marijuana Act, this is the question they will be asked: "Do you want to change the medical marijuana laws to allow treatment of more medical conditions and to create a regulated system of distribution?"

"We feel the campaign is in really good shape right now," said Jonathan Leavitt, who is leading the charge for the initiative.

The existing law needs reform to make it workable, Leavitt said. "In the 10 years since the medical marijuana law went into effect, it has barely been utilized because patients have not had a legal means of obtaining their medicine except to grow their own, and that's just not workable for a seriously ill patient," he said. "With this measure, qualified patients will have full access to their medicine through the establishment of not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensaries."

The measure's language protecting patients from discrimination in housing, employment, and child custody issues is necessary because patients have suffered in the past, Leavitt said. "This will provide a security blanket for qualified patients by really putting in black and white the full legal protections they need."

The child custody provision says that medical marijuana patients cannot be denied visitation or custody of a minor child unless their behavior is "unreasonably dangerous to the minor." That provision drew criticism from the Maine Prosecutors Association, which announced last month it is opposing the measure, but is not putting money into doing so.

"This law reeks of paranoia that the entire criminal justice system is not to be trusted," said association president Evert Fowle, without a hint of irony. Medical marijuana patients across the country, including Maine, have seen their children seized or have lost custody battles solely because of their medical marijuana use or production.

Physicians in Maine can be found on both sides of the question. Dr. John Woytowicz, a family physician in Augusta, told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, "I don't start with medical marijuana as the first choice for a medical condition. It's part of a whole assessment of what can be done for a given condition. And I put it very frankly to the patient that I would like to explore all opportunities and this could be one of the options as well. My experience is for the appropriate patient, it can be a good option for them, and most people have been benefitted by it with the minimal amount of side effects." Mark Publicker, an addiction specialist with Mercy Recovery Center in Westbrook, told MPBN, "I would advocate for limiting access to marijuana and not to regard it as a medication."

The measure has drawn fire from one unexpected direction: the Maine Vocals, a group of longtime marijuana and medical marijuana legalization activists. The Vocals and its offshoot, Maine Citizens for Medical Marijuana, have announced they oppose the initiative.

"I favor what we have now and working to make it better," said Maine Vocals founder Don Christen. "But this isn't the way. They're just instilling the government into this program, and the government doesn't want it to work," he said.

"The initiative puts DHS in charge of the distribution centers and the overall medical marijuana law, and we're not happy about that because that's the department that has been taking people's children away," said Christen. "DHS is like law enforcement when it comes to medical marijuana. We would like instead to see it in a different department's hands, and with a board of patients and doctors instead of politicians."

"When it came to administering the dispensaries, it was either law enforcement or the Department of Human Services," Leavitt replied. "We thought DHS would be a better fit for questions around the medicinal use of marijuana. DHS also has a mandate to deal with child custody issues, so we included the child custody language because we want it crystal clear that patients will be protected, including around these issues."

Christen also took issue with the $5,000 fee required of dispensary operators. "That's a bit ridiculous," he snorted. "The cost will be prohibitive for a lot of people."

Leavitt responded that such fees had worked in other states and that they were necessary to ensure the measure did not impose a burden on taxpayers.

Christen also objected to the patient ID card system on both philosophical and practical grounds. "After 9/11, Maine opted out of the federal Real ID program," he said. "We don't believe in making lists of everybody up here. And the ID card system gives rights and privileges to those with cards that other patients don't have."

About that, Christen is correct, but only to a point. To enjoy the full protections of the measure, patients, caregivers, and dispensary operators must register with the state and obtain an ID card. Qualifying patients who do not obtain an ID card could still be subject to arrest, but could present their status as medical marijuana patients as an affirmative defense to prosecution and move to have the charges dismissed. But those same patients can be arrested today.

Christen also complained that the measure would bar people who have marijuana felonies from acting as caregivers or dispensary operators or employees. "Those who have marijuana felonies, including myself, will be taken out of the picture," he said, noting that he himself had only gotten out of jail on a marijuana charge 10 days ago.

"We say they haven't read the bill," Leavitt responded. "They talk about how they are fearful they will be knocked out of the loop because they are marijuana felons, but marijuana felons would not be considered felons under this measure."

Actually, the language is a bit ambiguous. It says that someone convicted of a "felony drug offense" cannot be affiliated with a dispensary, but also says that doesn't apply if the felony is more than 10 years old or if it was "an offense that consisted of conduct that would have been permitted under this chapter." Whether Christen would qualify might depend on whether the medical marijuana growing he was convicted for was found to be consistent with the new law's cultivation provisions, and perhaps with yet-to-be-written regulations.

Leavitt wasn't pleased with the not-so-friendly fire. "The Maine Vocals just haven't done the work to get something on the ballot, let alone passed," Leavitt said. "They're doing a great disservice to patients by speaking out against us."

But even with the criticism from the Vocals, it appears that Maine will be the next medical marijuana state to adopt the dispensary system.

Marijuana: Boston Freedom Rally Draws 30,000 -- No Arrests, Some Tickets, in Wake of State Decrim Vote

The 20th annual Boston Freedom Rally brought an estimated 30,000 people to Boston Common on Saturday, September 19, to support the reform of marijuana laws. That would make the Freedom Rally the second largest marijuana reform event in the country, behind only the Seattle Hempfest.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/bostonrally09.jpg
2009 Boston Freedom Rally (Scott Gacek on bostonfreedomrally.com)
All afternoon, tens of thousands of people sat in the sun, listening to speakers extolling the virtues of cannabis and calling for its legalization and bands rocking out for the cause. At 4:20pm, a massive cloud of marijuana smoke rose from the Commons as the crowd celebrated the stoner holiday (or time of day).

Sponsored by MassCann, the Bay State affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the Freedom Rally had in some past years been marred by arrests for pot-smoking. In a previous article, Drug War Chronicle predicted that the rally would see "numerous arrests -- if police behavior in the past is any indicator." That was an overstatement -- our apologies to MASSCANN for it. 2007 did see 53 arrests at the Freedom Rally, according to Boston Police -- one of them of NORML founder Keith Stroup. But even that number, while significant, was a fraction of a percent of the attendees. Last year, the number of possession busts was down to just six.

And this year there were none. Massachusetts residents voted to decriminalize marijuana possession last November, and so all the police could do this year was issue tickets with a maximum fine of $100, which they did to 136 people. Three others were arrested for marijuana distribution, and another three on unspecified charges.

Still, participants and organizers of the festival alike lauded the relative freedom of living in a decrim state, while decrying the presence of undercover officers who, apparently randomly, would select members of the crowd to be searched and hassled. On its web site, Freedom Rally organizers have asked that people who were ticketed or searched by police contact them.

Stay tuned for Chronicle coverage of the Massachusetts decriminalization law and of the movement in Massachusetts.

Feature: NORML Annual Conference Meets in Atmosphere of Hope, Determination, and Exhilaration

Riding a wave of enthusiasm about increasing prospects for marijuana law reform, hundreds of people poured into the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown San Francisco last Thursday for the 38th annual national conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). By the time it ended with a Saturday night NORML benefit, the conference had left most attendees even more energized than when they arrived.

Gathering under the slogan "Yes, We Cannabis" and sensing a fresh breeze blowing since the inauguration of President Barack Obama, conference organizers, speakers, and attendees spent three days in sessions devoted to medical marijuana issues, the prospects for legalization in California (and beyond), the change in public attitudes around marijuana, what parents should tell kids about pot, and much, much more.

The conference was California-centric, but understandably so. Not only was a California city the host for the conference, the Golden State's constantly mutating medical marijuana industry is creating an omnipresent and accessible distribution system, and California is now the home of four competing marijuana legalization initiative campaigns and a similar effort in the state legislature.

In between (and sometimes during) sessions, the pungent odor of pot smoke hung in the air over the Hyatt's outdoor patio as patients medicated and non-patients just plain got high. Hippie attire abounded, but in contrast to the stoner stereotypes, there were plenty of people in suits and ties toking away, too.

At least three newsworthy items came out of the conference:

  • At a Saturday press conference, Oaksterdam University head Richard Lee, the leading proponent of the legalization initiative most likely to actually make the November 2010 ballot -- because it has Lee's financial backing -- announced the formal beginning of signature gathering for the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act, which would allow California cities and counties the local option to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and a 25-square foot garden. Accompanied by former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, "Marijuana Is Safer" author Mason Tvert, and fellow initiative proponent Jeff Jones, Lee also announced the measure's endorsement by former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who is running for mayor of Oakland.
  • State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF), author of Assembly Bill 390, which would legalize the possession, growing, and sale of marijuana for people 21 or over, announced Friday that he will hold an informational hearing on his bill. The date is tentatively set for October 28 at the capitol in Sacramento. The current political climate has created a "perfect storm" for marijuana law reform, he said. "It's certainly connected to California's economy, which is in the toilet," he added.
  • Oakland City Council member and medical marijuana supporter Rebecca Kaplan (D) announced Saturday that the city is preparing to issue permits for medical marijuana growing and processing operations and for medical marijuana edibles production. The city already has issued permits to four dispensaries, and voters there this summer approved a dispensary-led initiative to add a special medical marijuana tax on them. "We gave permits for a federal felony for the dispensaries, and they didn't bust them -- even under Bush," she said. "We protected them." And now, Oakland is set to expand those protections to other sectors of the industry.

"There is no doubt that today, Sept. 25, 2009, is the moment of genuine zeitgeist to decriminalizing marijuana in America," said NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre as the conference opened. "This conference represents that we are at that tipping point."

But where the movement goes from here was open to heated and healthy debate. Thursday's sessions, which were devoted primarily to the intricacies of medical marijuana dispensing in California, saw detailed discussion of the minutiae of defining collectives and co-ops and operating within state law and the state attorney general's guidelines, but they also saw calls from some leading voices warning about the medicalization of marijuana.

Dr. Frank Lucido, a leading medical marijuana advocate, while lauding the work of the medical marijuana movement, said the weed should really be treated like an over-the-counter herbal supplement. "This should be out of the hands of doctors and in the hands of herbalists," he argued.

Similarly, Steven DeAngelo of the Harborside Health Center, an Oakland dispensary, pointed out that California's medical marijuana distribution system is creating a situation where "cannabis consumption is part of the mainstream." In a speech delivered at the conference, he argued that effective medical marijuana laws are paving the way for a day where medical recommendations are not required to obtain cannabis legally. "Most over-the-counter drugs are far more harmful than marijuana, but there are no restrictions on them," he said. "Let's not waste medical resources on something that doesn't require them."

But the most heated debates were around what is the best path toward outright legalization in California. With several initiatives and an assembly bill all in play, opinion was deeply divided on whether to wait for the legislative process to work its way, to support the Oaksterdam initiative -- which was almost universally considered the most conservative of the initiatives, but which also has the best chance of making the ballot -- or to support one of the competing initiatives.

Joe Rogosin, one of three Northern California defense attorneys who authored the California Cannabis Initiative, admitted that his initiative lacked the deep pockets of the Oaksterdam initiative, but argued that it was still superior to the Oakland effort. It repeals all state laws forbidding people 21 and over from possessing, growing, or selling marijuana.

"We don't want people to go to jail for cannabis," Rogosin said. "Unlike Richard's, our initiative actually legalizes cannabis."

While contending camps were fighting over who had the best initiative, other movement members were warning that none of them were likely to pass. Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia said that his group would not be devoting substantial resources to the initiatives and would not formally endorse them, but would render what low-budget aid it could if one of them actually makes the ballot.

California NORML head Dale Gieringer was blunt in his assessment of the measures' chances. "I don't expect any of them to pass," he said flatly.

As always, California pot politics is in turmoil, and while circular firing squads are not quite forming, the movement is in danger of shooting itself in the foot if it fails to get behind an initiative that makes the ballot -- or if it does get behind an initiative and that initiative loses badly at the ballot box.

There was, of course, much more going on at the NORML conference. Check out the NORML web site for updates with conference content. And keep an eye on California, because marijuana reform is one hot topic there now.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School