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Northern Marianas Islands Senate Kills Marijuana Legalization Bill

The Senate in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands has rejected a bill that would have legalized marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use. The bill had passed the House two weeks ago. The bill would have allowed people 21 and over to possess, cultivate, and transport marijuana for personal use.

Saipan -- no pot in paradise (image from Wikimedia)
The passage of the bill by the House marked the first time a pot legalization bill had passed in a legislative chamber in any US territory.

The bill, HB 17-45, was championed by Rep. Stanley Torres (I-Saipan). Earlier this year, a cost-benefit analysis performed by the House Committee on Natural Resources said enacting the bill into law "will possibly result in the loss of federal funds but at the same time the Commonwealth government will generate funds through taxation."

Torres and other legalization supporters also argued that the bill would allow access to marijuana by the ill and reduce crime and violence in black markets.

But Senate President Paul Manglona (R-Rota) said after the House vote that the Senate would kill the bill. "It's for the same reasons I mentioned before," he told the Saipan Tribune, citing concerns about marijuana use's impact on CNMI youth and other ill effects on the community.

And Gov. Beningno Fitial signaled that he was okay with medical marijuana, but not for non-medical.
"I support it for medicinal use," Fitial told reporters. "I never smoke marijuana myself so I cannot talk much about it because I don't have the experience."

A bill just for medical marijuana may be next in the US Pacific territory. Senator Luis Crisostimo, who supported the bill that was just defeated, said he plans to introduce separate medical marijuana legislation.

United States Minor Outlying Islands

Federal and State Police Conduct Marijuana Terrorism Drill [FEATURE]

Northern California pot growers bomb a car and a bus, then take over Shasta Dam in a bid to free an imprisoned comrade. It sounds like the plot to a very cheesy Grade-B thriller, but it was actually the premise for a day-long terrorist attack drill conducted by 20 state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies Wednesday.

Shasta Dam (courtesy US Bureau of Reclamation)
According to an account published in the local paper the Redding Record Searchlight, the Shasta Dam scenario had the "Red Cell" pot grower/terrorists blowing up the car and bus to create a distraction and then taking over the dam. Holding three people hostage, the terrorist pot growers then threaten to flood the Sacramento River by opening the flood gates unless their imprisoned comrade is freed.

The drill was part of the US Bureau of Reclamation's Critical Infrastructure Crisis Response Exercise Program, which started in 2003. It identified six dams, including Shasta, the nation's second largest, as possible terrorist targets. Similar exercises took place at Utah's Flaming Gorge Dam in 2003, Washington's Grand Coulee Dam in 2005, and Hoover Dam on the Arizona-Nevada border in 2008. But none of those exercises identified pot growers as the putative terrorists.

According to bureau spokesperson Sheri Harral, the drill took 18 months of planning and cost the bureau $500,000. The other emergency and law enforcement agencies that participated paid their own expenses.

As of press time, Harral had not returned a Chronicle call asking why marijuana growers were selected as the terrorists. Northern California is home to thousands of pot growers, many of them doing it legally under the auspices of California's medical marijuana law. There are no known incidents of pot farmer terrorist attacks on critical infrastructure.

Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML and an observer of the state marijuana scene for decades, told the Chronicle he was unaware of any California pot grower terrorist cells—ever. "No, never," he said.

Nor was he impressed with the pot grower as terrorist scenario. "That was so stupid," he sighed. "I don't know what inspired it. I can see the need to do better pat downs for air travelers to make sure they're not holding joints in their underpants, but this? It sounds like something some yahoo red county sheriff would dream up."

Neither was the Marijuana Policy Project amused. "This is a classic example of law enforcement's utterly inaccurate stereotype of who is involved with marijuana," said the group's communications director, Mike Meno. "For decades, they have villainized users and people involved in the industry to such an extent that they now equate them with terrorists. It might be laughable," he said, "but it gives us real insight into the drug warrior mentality and what they think of marijuana people."

"Red Cell" plotter? No, just more Reefer Madness
"The whole idea that they would equate growers with terrorism is absurd and insulting," sputtered NORML founder Keith Stroup. "This is too ignorant to take seriously. It's hard to imagine that in this time of fiscal crisis, someone would have the nerve to propose spending money on such a ludicrous exercise. My goodness! Of all the potential violent criminals out there, the idea that they would focus on pot growers shows that this is a political game," he said.

"People will be laughing about this for decades," Stroup continued. "You have almost half the people in California voting for marijuana, and on the other hand, this. It's hard to believe this is going on.

At least, they could have called it the "Green cell."

Redding, CA
United States

Kamala Harris Takes Late Lead in CA AG Race
California's next attorney general? Let's hope so (Wikimedia)
Democratic California Attorney General candidate Kamala Harris has overtaken Republican Steve Cooley as absentee and provisional ballots continued to be counted. As of Wednesday afternoon, the last time the California Secretary of State's office updated the figures, Harris was leading 46.0% to 45.6%, a lead of some 30,000 votes out of more than nine million cast.

About 898,000 votes remain to be counted, with some 200,000 of them coming from Los Angeles County, where Cooley is the sitting county prosecutor. But Harris is whipping Cooley on his home turf, leading him by more than 12 points in the votes that have already been counted.

Cooley is adamantly opposed by California's medical marijuana community. He has been a persistent foe of Southern California medical marijuana dispensaries, and has argued that all dispensaries in the state are illegal.

One mathematical model that has proven accurate so far predicts that Harris will win a squeaker by about 13,000 votes. Now, it looks like that model was slightly too conservative.

Harris would be the first woman, the first African-American, and the first Asian-American to hold the office of California attorney general, and the first Indian-American to be attorney general in any state. 

United States

New Jersey Legislature Committees Reject Proposed Medical Marijuana Regulations

After hearing overwhelmingly negative testimony about proposed medical marijuana regulations developed by the state Department of Health and Senior Services, committees in both the New Jersey Assembly and Senate voted Monday in favor of resolutions demanding that the department rewrite the regs to increase patient access, reduce burdens on doctors, and remove onerous rules.

The resolution gives the department 30 days to rewrite the rules. Although Gov. Chris Christie (R) could heed the signal from today's vote and allow the process to move forward, that's not likely, said Ken Wolski of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey. Instead, he said, the resolutions will most likely have to be approved in floor votes.

"The concurrent resolutions in the Senate Health Committee and the Assembly Legislative Oversight Committee said the draft regulations were not consistent with the legislation," said Wolski. "There were hearings all afternoon, and testimony in favor of the resolutions was overwhelming."

New Jersey's medical marijuana law was signed in January by outgoing Gov. Richard Corzine (D). When Christie took office, he sought a six month delay in implementing the program, but the legislature only gave him three. The health department issued draft regulations for the medical marijuana program last month. Among the new limitations: A physician registry, capping THC content, having just three strains of cannabis and limiting cultivation to just two centers.

If the health department refuses to rewrite the regulations or comes back with another restrictive draft, the legislature could simply take over and draft regulations itself. But perhaps Gov. Christie and the executive branch will get the message now and quit standing in the way of patients, doctors, and providers.

Trenton, NJ
United States

Dr. Mollie Fry's Medical Marijuana Conviction Upheld

A panel on the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the marijuana cultivation and distribution conspiracy convictions of California Dr. Marion "Mollie" Fry and her partner, Dale Schafer. Fry and Schafer, both medical marijuana patients, had been sentenced to five years in federal prison in the case, but were free on bail pending the appeal. There is no word yet on when they will have to report to prison or whether they will try further appeals.

After developing breast cancer, Dr. Fry turned to medical marijuana, and she and Schafer built up a medical marijuana practice, with Dr. Fry writing recommendations and she and Schafer growing and distributing marijuana to patients. They did so with the understanding from local law enforcement that they were in compliance with state law.

But local law enforcement was working with the DEA, and the couple was raided, arrested, and convicted of violating federal drug control laws. Because they were convicted of growing more than 100 plants, they face mandatory minimum five-year prison sentences.

They appealed the conviction, arguing that because local law enforcement agents were cooperating with the DEA at the same time they were assuring the couple they were in compliance with state law, local law enforcement was in effect working for the feds to entrap them. They also argued that local law enforcement entrapped them for sentencing purposes by encouraging them to grow more than 100 plants, the number that triggers a mandatory minimum sentence. And they argued their convictions should be overturned because they were not allowed to mount a medical marijuana defense.

But the 9th Circuit panel didn't buy any of it. In the opinion authored by Judge Richard Tallman, the court held that Fry and Schafer did not prove they were entrapped and that they were correctly precluded by Supreme Court precedent from mounting a medical marijuana defense. Now, the health-care providing couple are most likely headed to federal prison for their efforts.   

San Francisco, CA
United States

Iowa Pharmacy Board Says Marijuana is Medicine

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy Tuesday declared that marijuana is a drug with medicinal purposes. In doing so, it agreed to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II under Iowa law.

The board found that while marijuana has a high potential for abuse, it is now considered to have accepted medical uses. Schedule I drugs are those that have no proven or accepted medical use.

But the board denied a request from petitioner Carl Olson of Des Moines that it promulgate rules on the medical use of marijuana. That is beyond the scope of the board's authority, chairman Vernon Benjamin said. While the board can regulate drugs and pharmacists, it is up to the legislature to approve the medicinal use of marijuana, he said.

"We can't set any penalties. We can't set any guidelines on how marijuana's going to be produced, what standards are going to be. And I think all those kind of things are things the legislature's going to have the ultimate say-so about anyway," said Benjamin in remarks reported by local media.

The ball is now in the hands of the legislature, which so far has failed to act to pass a medical marijuana bill.

Des Moines, IA
United States

Oregon Marijuana Dispensary Initiative Faces Uphill Battle [FEATURE]

Despite a lack of organized opposition, Oregon's medical marijuana dispensary initiative, Measure 74, faces an uphill battle as election day draws near. In a poll last week, it had only 40% support, almost unchanged from the 41% who supported it in an August poll.

Still, Measure 74 supporters are hoping that last minute campaign efforts, as well as an increase in "unlikely voters" will get the measure over the top. Yes on Measure 74, the main group pushing the initiative, commissioned a poll earlier this month of young, progressive voters inclined to sit out this year's election. It found that those voters were more than twice as likely to vote when told about the measure than when told about elections for state officer.

"The latest polls are using a likely voter model that is not favorable to us, so the poll numbers don't look so good," said campaign spokesman Anthony Johnson. "Forecasters are expecting a right-wing Tea Party wave, and what we are doing is calling voters under 40 who voted in 2008. If young voters come out like they did in 2008, we win in a landslide. It's all about turning out the vote."

The campaign was able to use Democratic Party phone banks in the get out the vote effort this week (the party endorsed the measure in October), but that's late in the game. In Oregon, voters vote by mail, not at a polling station, and the vote has been ongoing all month.

Since passage of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act in 1998, the number of Oregonians with a medical marijuana recommendation has ballooned to more than 36,000. But without a dispensary system in operation, patients either have to grow their own or find someone they can designate as a caregiver to grow for them. There are currently over 19,000 people registered as caregivers.

Medical marijuana advocates attempted a dispensary initiative in 2004, but that effort was defeated. It got 42.8% of the vote.

Measure 74 would create a system of state-licensed nonprofit dispensaries and grow operations to supply them. It bars dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools or residential neighborhoods. It sets annual fees for providers at $1,000 and for dispensaries at $2,000. Both growers and dispensaries would additionally pay a 10% sales tax on all medical marijuana transactions. Revenues from the dispensary and grow operations could boost state coffers from anywhere between $3 million and $20 million a year, according to a financial impact statement prepared by state officials.

While Measure 74 has reported only a few tens of thousands of dollars in donations this month, there is no organized opposition. Proponents are airing radio commercials in Portland and Eugene, and a legion of volunteers are putting up yard signs and doing get out the vote efforts across the state. There have been no opposition TV or radio ads.

"This has been a low-budget, grassroots campaign," said Johnson. "At the end, we got $25,000 to run radio ads by Tom Potter, the former police chief and mayor of Portland, and we're expecting another $50,000 to come. We also got $10,000 from Peter Lewis, and Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann rounded up another $15,000."

"The opposition is law enforcement, and that's about it," said Johnson. "We have 11 voter pamphlet arguments on our side, and there are only two opposing. One of them is a combined effort of sheriffs, police chiefs, and prosecutors. The other is from Oregonians Against Legalizing Marijuana, which is in cahoots with Calvina Faye's Save Our Society From Drugs."

Oregonians Against the Legalization of Marijuana executive director Shirley Morgan will not debate the issue or do interviews, according to Johnson, but Save Our Society From Drugs has a web page attacking Measure 74. It warns that passage of the initiative could lead to the same "pot shop chaos" as has occurred in California, Colorado, and Montana. The web site also worries that dispensaries could be robbed and that passage could lead to -- gasp! -- "heavy vehicle and foot traffic in retail areas."

One thing helping the campaign this year is near unanimity and unity within the state's often fractious marijuana and medical marijuana movements. Despite bickering and backbiting in the run-up to the campaign, almost all of the state's advocacy groups are now on the same page regarding Measure 74. The one exception is the Stormy Ray Cardholders Foundation, which has opposed this effort to create a dispensary system that would ease access issues for patients.

The hour is late for Measure 74. Given that Oregon is a mail-in voting state, most votes have probably already been cast. Whether a last minute push now can make the difference will be known in a matter of hours.

United States

California Blacks Disproportionately Busted for Marijuana, Report Finds [FEATURE]

In a new report released Friday, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the California NAACP charged that African-Americans have been disproportionately targeted in low-level marijuana possession arrests. The report, Arresting Blacks for Marijuana Possession in California: Possession Arrests in 25 Cities, 2006-2008, found that despite lower use rates, African-Americans were three, four, six, or even 13 times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites.

The report's release is timed to give Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization initiative, a boost in the few remaining days until election day. It was released at a press conference where California NAACP and DPA representatives were joined by Prop 19 campaign head Richard Lee, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) executive director Neill Franklin, Hollywood actor Danny Glover, and former US Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders. 

The report found that in Los Angeles, with 10% of the state's black population, blacks were seven times more likely to get busted than whites. In San Diego, the state's second largest city, blacks were six times more likely to get busted. Ditto for Sacramento. In Torrance, blacks were 13 times more likely to be busted than whites.

"This report documents enormous, widespread race-based disparities in the arrests of nonviolent, low-level marijuana possession offenders," said Stephen Gutwillig, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The context is an enormous increase in the number of arrests for low-level possession in the past 20 years. Arrest rates for all other crimes have plummeted, from rape and murder to all other drug possession crimes, but marijuana possession arrests have tripled since 1990, from around 20,000 then to 61,000 last year. This was made possible by the targeting of communities of color, specifically African-Americans and Latinos, and more specifically, young African-Americans and Latinos."

It's not just that blacks are arrested disproportionately to whites. They are also arrested at rates far exceeding their percentage of the population. In Los Angeles, blacks make up 10% of the population, but 35% of all marijuana possession arrests. In Sacramento, it's 14% and 50%.

"These disparities were built from routine, pervasive, system-wide police practices," said Gutwillig. "This is not the result of a few racist cops; this is the way the system works."

"I don't think there is any question this is a civil rights issue," said California NAACP executive director Alice Huffman. "If you don't believe that, you don't believe in justice in America."

"We're spending billions of dollars each year on the war on drugs," said Dr. Elders. "It's been a war on young black males. Wars are supposed to end sometime. It's time to end this war. Proposition 19 is an opportunity to take drugs out of the hands of the drug cartels and put them where they can be controlled and taxed."

"This is not about a right to get high, it's an issue of a policy that does not work and is damaging to our society and most importantly, specifically damaging to people of color," said LEAP's Neill Franklin. "Marijuana prohibition is the most dysfunctional public policy in this country since slavery. The violence generated in our communities is unbelievable and it's because of the criminal market this policy creates. The lives of young African-Americans are being lost every day, and whether they lose their lives to violence or to a prison sentence, both are devastating," he said.

"This is an opportunity for law enforcement to get it right," said the former Maryland narcotics officer. "We spend a majority of our time dealing with low-level drug offenders, mainly marijuana," Franklin said. "In the 1960s, we solved nine out of 10 murders; now it's six out of 10. When you apprehend a murderer, murders go down. But when you take someone off the streets for selling marijuana, sales don't go down, and the violence increases because people are fighting for market share."

"I want to say publicly that I support Proposition 19," said film star Danny Glover. "The current laws do not work; they have failed us," he said. "We know we are arrested disproportionately. This is a civil rights issue," he maintained.

"I'm not a marijuana smoker, although I have tried it in the past, but I don't want to stand in the way of people who want to use marijuana recreationally," Glover continued. "This is a long battle, and we're on the right side."

"I've always seen cannabis prohibition as causing a war between police and citizens," said Lee. "Police are supposed to serve and protect, not wage war on the populace. We need police back protecting us from real criminals, not ourselves."

The Prop 19 campaign and DPA did it again this week, this time with Latino marijuana possession arrest rates. But it's already clear that racial disparities in the enforcement of California's pot laws exist, and simply decriminalizing marijuana possession, as Gov. Schwarzenegger did last month, will not change anything in that regard, at least not directly. Minority youths can still be hassled, harassed, and searched for an infraction, just as they were for a misdemeanor. It will take legalization to end such practices.

Oakland, CA
United States

Arizona Medical Marijuana Initiative Poised for Victory [FEATURE]

Less than two weeks out from election day, the Arizona medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 203, appears poised for victory. If it wins, Arizona will become the 15th medical marijuana state. Or maybe the 16th -- polls close an hour earlier in South Dakota, which also has a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot.

Lily Rose, cancer survivor and Prop 203 spokesperson
"It's going real well," said Andrew Myers, spokesman for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project (AMMPP). "Prop 203 is the most popular of any of the initiatives or the candidates, including John McCain."

A Rocky Mountain poll released last week had Prop 203 passing with 54% among registered voters and 52% among likely voters. By comparison, Sen. John McCain in a runaway race has support at 49%, according to the poll.

The poll showed strong support among voters under 55 and a near even split among older voters, with 41% supporting and 43% opposed. Two-thirds of Democrats support the measure, as do 57% of independents. Republicans are divided, with 48% opposing, but 40% supporting.

"We expect that Arizonans will support Prop 203 the same way we supported medical marijuana before," Myers said, noting that voters had passed medical marijuana initiatives in 1996 and 1998. "Those votes demonstrated a high level of support, and we came back and drafted a complete piece of legislation. We were able to learn a lot of lessons about how these programs operated in other states, and apply those lessons in our initiative."

Under the initiative, patients suffering from a specified list of diseases or conditions (cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, Chrohn's disease, Alzheimers, wasting syndrome, severe and chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe muscle spasms) or "any other conditions or its treatment added by the Department [of Health]" could use marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. Patients or designated caregivers could possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of usable marijuana.

The initiative envisions a system of state-registered, nonprofit dispensaries that could grow, process, sell, and transport medical marijuana and be remunerated for costs incurred in the process. In most cases, patients or their caregivers would not be allowed to grow their own medicine. Instead, unless they live more than 25 miles from the nearest dispensary, they would have to purchase their medicine at a dispensary. Patients and their caregivers outside that range would be allowed to grow up to 12 plants.

Arizonans have also twice voted to approve medical marijuana, in 1996 and again in 1998. In 1996, the initiative passed, only to be rejected by the state legislature, which placed it on the ballot two years later in order to give voters a chance to rectify their mistake. But the voters again approved medical marijuana, only to find out later that the measure was unworkable because the initiative mandated that physicians prescribe -- not recommend -- medical marijuana. That meant that doctors who wanted their patients to use marijuana would run up against the DEA, which controls doctors' ability to prescribe controlled substances.

In 2002, voters rejected a decriminalization initiative that had, as Myers put it, "a wacky medical component." Under that measure, the state Department of Public Safety would have had to distribute seized marijuana for free to medical marijuana patients.

Organized opposition has been late and limited. All of the state's sheriffs and district attorneys signed on to a letter opposing Prop 203 earlier this month. Medical marijuana in other states has led to "disastrous results," the letter claimed. "Marijuana floods the state that legalizes it and becomes readily available through grow-houses and independent distributors... Prop 203 would endanger the good people of Arizona by increasing the amount of illegal drugs in our State. We believe Prop 203 will lead to increased crime and vehicle accidents and will drain the resources of law enforcement agencies."

The letter warns that passage of the measure would mean "kids (any age)" could use medical marijuana with their parents' permission, but fails to mention either that a doctor's recommendation would be required or that other medications are available to children when needed.

It also warns that "you can pilot an airplane, navigate a watercraft and drive an automobile and cannot be charged with DUI if you only have marijuana metabolites in your system and you are a medical marijuana cardholder" -- failing to mention that the presence of metabolites, which can remain in the system form weeks, is not an indicator of impairment.

More serious opposition is centered on Keep AZ Drug Free/No on Prop 213, which has been the recipient of $10,000 donations from both former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo and the Arizona Cardinals NFL team. This group has been active in getting op-eds published, doing call-ins to radio talk shows, and participating in public forums, but still doesn't seem to be gaining much traction.

"For a long time, we didn't hear a peep out of the opposition, but lately it's been getting intense and they've been getting increasingly strident," said Myers. "It's funny because their arguments have been very inaccurate, especially at the beginning of the campaign. I don't think they actually read the initiative before they came out against it."

The campaign is running on limited resources. The Marijuana Policy Project put $500,000 into the signature gathering phase of the campaign, but hasn't funded the actual election campaign. That means AMMPP is having to rely largely on local donations, and while the campaign isn't broke, like the opposition, it isn't exactly rolling in money, either.

"We're talking to as many voters as we can, we have TV ads up and running, but what we can do will depend on funding in these final days," said Myers. "We have an extensive cable TV buy in Phoenix and Tucson, but we haven't made our final spending decisions yet."

1996, 1998, 2002, 2010. It looks like the fourth time may be the charm for medical marijuana in Arizona.

United States

Governor Christie, NJ Senator Scutari Spar Over Medical Marijuana Rules

United States
A sponsor of the state’s medical marijuana law introduced a resolution that would repeal what he called “restrictive” proposed rules for the program if Governor Chris Christie does not make them resemble the original legislation. The action spurred angry words between Christie and State Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), the sponsor.
The Star-Ledger (NJ)

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