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Feature: California Marijuana Initiative Has Slim Lead

According to two different polls released Wednesday, the Tax Cannabis California marijuana legalization initiative is ahead but not by much, making the path to victory in November a rough one. Both polls show the initiative winning, but just barely, and both polls show the initiative hovering around 50% support. On the other hand, polling also shows remarkably high support for the concept of marijuana legalization in some form -- especially when the word legalization is not used.

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initiative proponent Richard Lee, working with a student at the Oaksterdam University medical marijuana school
In an internal campaign poll, when voters read either the ballot measure's title or the attorney general's summary of it -- all voters will see when they cast their votes -- the initiative garners 51% and 52%, respectively, with opposition at 40%. In a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll, 49% approved of the initiative, while 48% opposed it.

The standard wisdom among initiative veterans is that campaigns should begin with support around 60%. They argue that once a campaign begins, opponents will find ways to shave off percentage points, and if you are starting with only half the voters on your side, losing any support means you lose.

With such a tight margin, expect both proponents and opponents to be energized in the six months between now and the November vote. Initiative organizers have to be concerned with the narrowness of their lead, especially given that attacks on the whole notion of pot legalization in general and on specific provisions of the initiative will only mount between now and then.

The initiative would tax and regulate marijuana much the way alcohol is now. It would legalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and allowing the growing of a 25-square-foot garden throughout the state, but would give counties and municipalities the local option of whether to allow taxed, regulated marijuana sales or not.

Additional findings from both polls provide further detail on where the initiative does -- and does not -- have support, and offer hints of where the campaign is going to have its work cut out for it. Among the PPIC poll's other findings:

  • Majorities of Democrats (56%) and independents (55%) favor legalization. Thirty-four percent of Republicans are in favor.
  • Most San Francisco Bay Area residents (56%) are in favor. Residents in other regions are either divided or opposed.
  • Most Latinos (62%) oppose legalization. A majority of whites (56%) are in favor.
  • Men (54%) are more likely to be in favor. Less than half (42%) of women favor legalization.
  • Support for legalization decreases with age. 56 percent of adults aged 18-34 are in favor, compared with 42 percent aged 55 and older.

The additional findings from the initiative's internal poll are the surprising ones:

  • 76% say marijuana is already being used in the state and ought be regulated.
  • 74% say marijuana ought be regulated like tobacco and alcohol.
  • 69% say the initiative will bring the state needed revenue.
  • 61% say marijuana is easier for minors to obtain than alcohol.
  • 60% say it will save the state money.
  • 57% say it will put police priorities where they belong.

These number will provide the initiative campaign with a number of promising avenues of attack in the coming months, but they also speak to the disconnect between attitudes favorable to marijuana legalization in the abstract and actually voting for a concrete measure. To win, the campaign is going to have to close that gap, convincing voters that the initiative will do what voters themselves suggest they want.

"This is further evidence that voters remain eager to replace a failed policy with a more honest, commonsense solution that will control and tax marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes, generate critically needed revenue, and reduce crime by putting police resources where they belong, while ending the black market," campaign spokesman Dan Newman told the Chronicle.

"The numbers reflect what I've said all along -- it's going to be a tough battle," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "It's going to take a lot of work to maintain a lead. There is a tendency for voters to vote no on initiatives, and this is a nasty year with a nasty turnout of angry right-wingers not inclined to support these things. It's also an off-year, when students and progressives are less likely to vote."

"Depending on how Richard Lee is doing building a campaign organization, building support, and raising funds, this has a real chance," said long-time drug reformer Eric Sterling. "It would have a profound impact if it wins. It will have extremely important political consequences. It upsets the international treaties, it completely changes what the US can say to its foreign partners about drug policy," he argued, making the case for getting behind the initiative.

"Anyone who works in drug policy and underestimates the long-term impact of a victory makes a mistake," Sterling said. "People should really think about committing themselves to making monthly contributions by credit card and encouraging everyone they know to get on the list. This is really worth it. If activists all around the country committed themselves to raising some money for the campaign and started having bake sales and pot lucks and the like, that pool of money could be like the kind of contributions that brought Obama an electoral victory. It is certainly doable."

Democrats would be well-advised to embrace the campaign, said Sterling. "With the polling showing that Democrats and young people support this, it seems to me that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee interested in getting Sen. Boxer reelected and the National Democratic Governor's Association interested in getting a Democrat elected governor and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would be interested in issues that appeal to Democrats and young people. They need to mobilize some fraction of the electorate that voted for Obama two years ago," he argued. "If they don't, they won't have the turnout and the success they seek."

It would be good politics for Democrats, Sterling said. "They need to encourage their candidates to support it when they can and think about their strategies to tamp down the opposition. They can make the necessary warnings that they're not pro-drug, but trying to regulate it and protect children and bring revenue into the public coffers."

But Democrats aren't known for their backbone on this issue, said Gieringer. "Democrats should like this on the ballot because it encourages turnout by young Democratic and liberal voters, so there is a lot of support in Democratic quarters for that reason," Gieringer said. "But the Democratic Party of California has never even endorsed medical marijuana; they are scared of the drug issue and scared of the crime issue. Anti-crime measures do very well here, and a lot of Democratic elected officials, like a lot of the public, regard the initiative as a 'pro-crime' measure," he pointed out.

The organized opposition, consisting of law enforcement groups, anti-drug community groups, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving coalesced into an anti-initiative coalition called Public Safety First, was quick to go on the attack. "These numbers certainly suggest a great deal of voter skepticism out there," noted group spokesman Tim Rosales in a Wednesday news release. "This is before voters have received any information about this measure's truly numerous flaws."

Citing the initiative's poll findings that large majorities want pot regulated like alcohol and tobacco and that the initiative would bring in needed revenue, Rosales continued his broadside, previewing opposition arguments likely to be fined honed by November. "Those numbers basically show that this measure cannot pass, once voters know what it does and doesn't do," said Rosales. "This measure doesn't regulate marijuana, it does just the opposite. Furthermore, the initiative specifically forbids the state to tax marijuana, so they are basically giving voters a huge reason to vote 'No.'"

In fact, the measure gives cities and counties the option of taxing and regulating marijuana sales. While leaving taxation and regulation to local authorities will not help the state government address its perpetual budget crisis, it will help cash-strapped local governments who desperately need increased revenues to avoid service cuts and lay-offs.

That the opposition is organized and ready to put up a fight is clear. What is less clear is the support the initiative will receive from California's large and multi-faceted marijuana industry. "Marijuana users are overwhelmingly in favor of the initiative, but most of the money in the marijuana lobby at the moment is in medical marijuana, and those folks are happy with things as they are and are not exactly jumping to open up competition like this. And some growers are seriously worried, so there are important parts of the movement that are not necessarily excited," the veteran California activist said.

We're less than six months from Election Day. Victory is in grasp, but so is defeat. These next few months are going to be very interesting indeed.

Canada: "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery Jailed, Ordered Extradited to US

Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson Monday ordered that his country's most famous marijuana legalization advocate be extradited to the US to serve a five-year federal prison sentence. Erstwhile pot seed entrepreneur and Cannabis Culture magazine publisher Marc Emery turned himself in to authorities and is now in custody awaiting imminent extradition to the US.

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Marc and Jodie Emery (courtesy Cannabis Culture)
Emery and two employees, Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams, were arrested in Vancouver in 2005 by Canadian police acting at the behest of US authorities, who had indicted the trio in Seattle for selling pot seeds over the Internet to customers in the US. After Rainey and Williams were offered plea bargains that allowed them to stay in Canada, Emery himself pleaded guilty to one count of marijuana distribution in exchange for a five-year sentence. He had faced up to life in prison for his pot seed sales.

Prior to his arrest in 2005, Emery was becoming an increasingly irritating burr under the saddle of prohibitionists on both sides of the border. He poured much of his pot seed profits into pro-pot political formations, both in Canada and across the border, agitating relentlessly for legalization as he vowed to "overgrow the government" and confronting then US drug czar John Walters when he visited Vancouver.

After Emery's arrest, then DEA administrator Karen Tandy issued a press release calling the bust a "significant blow to the US and Canadian marijuana trade, and to the marijuana legalization movement" and crowed about taking down Emery and his "propagandistic magazine."

But that was five years ago. Since then, Emery has continued to agitate for legalization, Cannabis Culture has continued to publish (albeit only online now), and he has used his own predicament as yet another tool toward his broader goal. He generated thousands of letters and phone calls to Ottawa in his support, as well as appeals from members of Parliament from all major parties.

Even on the steps of the British Columbia Supreme Court, where he turned himself over Monday morning, Emery was still talking. "I think the best thing that could happen to our movement is that the minister decides, foolishly, to extradite me. Canadians will be very, very angry and punish this government," he told reporters.

"If I'm extradited, I've told my supporters that every Conservative member of Parliament is to be hounded endlessly and unmercifully until they are defeated in the next or following elections," he said. "It's to be a life project for them as long as I am incarcerated in the United States or Canada."

Emery is seeking to serve his time in Canada, one of attorneys, Kirk Tousaw, told The Canadian Press. "The United States has already agreed to support Mr. Emery's treaty transfer back to Canada to serve his sentence here," Tousaw said. "We certainly would anticipate the minister of public safety would agree."

Emery, who has been arrested repeatedly for his marijuana activism, said he had no regrets. "I think of myself as a great Canadian -- I've worked my whole life for individual freedom in this country, I've never asked for anything in return," Emery told reporters. "And now I will be possibly handed over to the United States for a five-year sentence for the so-called crime of selling seeds from my desk to consenting adults all over the world and the United States. I'm proud of what I've done, and I have no regrets."

On Tuesday, Vancouver New Democratic Party MP Libby Davies called on Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to "stop the extradition" of Emery by allowing him to serve his sentence in Canada. American officials were agreeable to that approach, she said, but "your government has refused to cooperate." Davies pointedly added that Emery was being extradited to serve time in the US "for actions that are not worthy of prosecution under Canadian laws."

Read the latest update on the Cannabis Culture web site for more info on the continuing campaign to free Marc Emery.

Britain's New Prime Minister Thinks Drugs Should Be Legal

David Cameron He probably won't admit it now, but Britain's new prime minister thinks drugs should be legal. David Cameron, whose Conservative Party (the Tories) ousted Labor in last week's election, told the UK paper The Independent that the United Nations should consider legalization. He also wanted Britain to revive its former practice of providing heroin maintenance for addicts, and to open safe injection sites too. According to The Independent, which did the interview in 2005 when Cameron was vying for the Conservative's leadership spot, Cameron favored "fresh thinking and a new approach" toward British drug policy, adding "we have to let 1,000 flowers bloom and look at all sorts of treatment models." Cameron started off well as a parliamentarian, initially backing the government's downgrading of cannabis (marijuana) penalties from schedule B to C. But as a tabloid-driven hysteria over marijuana in the UK unfolded, Cameron (and The Independent) did a foolish about face. Still, Cameron's past comments are on the record, and his personal instincts on the issue at least seem to be good ones. I am not going to hold my breath waiting for the Tories to roll out legalization proposals, Cameron's past statements notwithstanding. But Labor under Gordon Brown was abominable on the drug issue, so whatever left-leaning Britons may miss about the former Labor government, they likely won't miss the drug policy. If Cameron does want to do something about this, Britain's Transform Drug Policy Foundation has a "Blueprint for Regulation" report ready and waiting.

Marijuana: Detroit Possession Legalization Initiative Hands in Signatures

Organizers of a municipal initiative that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults handed in 6,000 signatures to the Detroit City Clerk Wednesday. They need only 3,700 valid signatures to make the ballot, so they have a quite comfortable cushion.

According to the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, which is spearheaded by long-time local activist Tim Beck and which organized the signature-gathering drive, more than 1,500 people were arrested for simple marijuana possession in Detroit last year. The group also reports that Detroit police have begun issuing "civil citations" for marijuana possession and seizing vehicles or other property owned by pot smokers. This asset seizure, which is done without a hearing, forces the ticketed person to pay large sums -- fines, towing and storage fees -- to retrieve the seized property -- and the "civil citation" is recorded as a misdemeanor on his criminal record.

The initiative would amend the city code to exempt from arrest or prosecution "the use or possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, on private property, by anyone who has attained the age of 21 years."

Passage of the initiative would not necessarily end pot possession arrests in Detroit. Detroit police could still charge marijuana users under state law if they so desired. But passage of the initiative would send a clear message to police, prosecutors, the city council, and the mayor that voters do not want their law enforcement resources wasted on minor pot busts.

Feature: The Global Marijuana Marches, Part One

If this is the first week in May, then it is time for the annual celebration of cannabis culture known variously as the World Marijuana March, Global Marijuana March, the Million Marijuana March, or, more informally, International Weed Day. This year, because of the calendar, the marches are being held over two weekends, with the first batch occurring last Saturday. From Auckland to Austin and from Madison to Missoula, marijuana supporters took to the streets to call for legalization and to free the weed.

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Dallas rally (via cannabisculture.com)
From nerve centers at Cures Not Wars in New York City, Cannabis Culture magazine in Vancouver, and the European NGO Coalition for Safe and Effective Drug Policies in Brussels, activists in more than 320 cities across the planet took the local initiative in the own communities. In some places, particularly Canada and New Zealand, marchers came out in the thousands, while in others, including small communities and college campuses across the US, the number was in the dozens.

Reports from Europe and Latin America are that most marches there will go off tomorrow, with large crowds expected in Buenos Aires and Mexico City. In one European city, Brighton, England, 200 people marched last Saturday to call for legalization, saying they wanted to "enjoy a smoke without the hassle of being arrested." Two of them were, though, perhaps making their point.

The same sort of problem emerged in Denver, where police picked two protestors out of a crowd of about 100 and ticketed them for pot possession. That led to angry yelling and the rapid reinforcement of police before the march resumed peacefully. Only two weeks ago, thousands of people rallied in Denver in the annual 4/20 celebrations.

In Canada, where the Conservative government just this week announced plans to reintroduce its draconian mandatory minimum sentence for growing marijuana bill, 20,000 people gathered in Toronto, the largest known march so far this year. Thousands more rallied in Ottawa and Vancouver. In Toronto, "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery addressed the crowd, seeking support for his effort to avoid deportation to the US to serve a five-year prison sentence for selling seeds and calling on Canadians to "overgrow the government."

In New Zealand, where police just weeks ago busted hundreds of people in a scheme aimed at grow shops and their customers, thousands of people turned out in Auckland, Wellington, and other communities to protest the attack on Kiwi cannabis culture. New Zealand NORML president Phil Saxby called the raids "a waste of time and money" and said they contributed to a large turnout across the country.

"It's our biggest J-Day for years, both in terms of crowd numbers and the number of centres participating: Auckland, Hamilton, New Plymouth, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin," he said. "The police are working hard to sell the story that they have hurt the local cannabis cultivation industry, but there are no reports of any big quantities found. It looks like they have wasted all this time and money on a few small operators growing a low-level, low risk drug. Police continue to tell us that Operation Lime has been a success in 'breaking the cornerstone' of the cannabis industry in New Zealand, but there seemed to be no shortage of cannabis around the place on Saturday", said Saxby.

Both Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas saw around a thousand people show up for pro-pot rallies. In Portland, marchers were energized by the prospect of either a medical marijuana dispensary initiative or a pot legalization initiative or both making the November ballot, and signature-gatherers worked the crowd. In Austin, the counterculture capital of Texas as well as the actual state capital, the Third Annual Texas Cannabis Crusade marched through downtown before rallying at the capital.

"It's not a war against drugs, it's a war against people, it's a war against your personal liberties and personal freedom," shouted one marcher, sharing a sentiment echoed by marchers around the globe.

Both Oregon and Texas saw other, smaller marches as well. In Eugene nearly a hundred people marched, while in Dallas about 50 enthusiastic pot people rallied downtown, waving flags and posters and cheering at passing cars.

Larger rallies took place in Raleigh, North Carolina and Madison, Wisconsin. In Madison, at least 250 ralliers marched to the annual Mifflin Street Block Party, where they were joined by thousands of celebrants. A march is set for this Saturday in Milwaukee. In Raleigh, hundreds more rallied at the State Capitol before marching through downtown to demand that the legislature pass a medical marijuana bill.

Smaller events occurred in cities and towns across the country, from Wichita to Missoula to Toledo, while numerous college campuses also hosted rallies. There will be more this weekend. Come back next week for part two of our coverage of the Global Marijuana Marches.

Canada: Poll Finds Majority Still Want to Legalize Marijuana, But Not Other Drugs

Marijuana legalization continues to garner majority support in Canada, with 53% of respondents to a new Angus-Reid poll saying they supported legalization. That figure is unchanged from the previous Angus-Reid poll on the issue two years ago.

Support for legalization was highest in pot-producing British Columbia (61%), neighboring Alberta (59%), and Canada's most populous province, Ontario (57%). Legalization had less than majority support only in the Atlantic provinces (47%) and the prairie provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (34%).

But while supporting marijuana legalization, Canadians also indicated they support many of the Conservative government's anti-drug proposals. Most non-controversially, 83% supported introducing a National Drug Control Strategy with media campaigns aimed at stopping young people from using drugs. Even the government's draconian mandatory minimum sentence proposal for marijuana growers and drug dealers won 70% support.

What Canadians do not support is scrapping the previous government's marijuana decriminalization proposal or eliminating harm reduction programs, such as needle exchanges and the Vancouver safe injection site. Only 36% of respondents agreed with those measures.

While support for freeing the weed remains strong in Canada, support for legalizing other drugs, which was never very high, is declining. Only 6% supported legalizing ecstasy, 5% supported legalizing crack, powder cocaine or heroin, and only 4% supported legalizing methamphetamine. All of those figures represent a drop of a least three percentage points from the previous Angus-Reid poll on the issue in May 2008.

Declining support for drug legalization and support for government anti-drug measures may be a consequence of Canadians' fears that the country has a drug problem. Some 42% of respondents think Canada "has a serious drug problem that affects the whole country," while 40% said the problem is limited to certain locales and populations, and only 11% said Canada did not have a serious drug problem.

Public Opinion: California Support for Pot Legalization At 56% in New Poll

A SurveyUSA poll conducted this week for a consortium of California television stations showed majority support for marijuana legalization. An initiative that would do just that, the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, will be on the ballot in November.

The poll found that 56% of those surveyed responded affirmatively to the question, "Should the state of California legalize marijuana?" That's the same number as supported legalization in a Field poll a year ago this month. In this week's poll, only 42% answered negatively, with 3% undecided.

People under 35 supported legalization by a margin of three-to-one (74%-25%), with support declining to 46% among the 35-to-49 age group, rising to 49% among the 50-64 group, then declining again to 39% among those 65 and older. Among all voters under age 50, support was at 61%, while among those over 50, it dropped to 46%

The poll revealed a significant gender gap, with 65% of men supporting legalization, while a dramatically lower 46% of women supported it. That means legalization supporters will have to work to win over a key demographic.

There was majority support for legalization among all ethnic groups except Hispanics, of whom only 45% wanted to free the weed. Support was highest among blacks (67%), followed by whites (59%), and Asians (58%).

Somewhat surprisingly, there was majority support for legalization in all regions of the state, although only barely, except for the San Francisco Bay area, where support was at 65%. In Central California and the Inland Empire, support was at 54%, and in the Greater Los Angeles area, support was at 52%.

The poll was conducted Tuesday and involved interviews with 500 adults across the state. It has a margin of sampling error of plus/minus 4.4%.

Public Opinion: Battle of the Marijuana Polls

Only 33% of respondents in a new Associated Press/CNBC poll support legalizing marijuana, with a solid majority (55%) opposing it. Decriminalization fared similarly poorly, garnering only 34%, while support for medical marijuana was at 60%.

But the AP/CNBC is a low-end outlier compared to other recent national polls on marijuana legalization and/or decriminalization, finding levels of support about 10 points less than other polls conducted in the past year or so. More in line with other recent polls was a CBS News poll released Tuesday that had legalization support at 44%.

One reason for the low levels of support in the AP/CBC poll may lie in the apparent over-representation of the country's most conservative regions. Thirty-seven percent of respondents were from the South and 22% from the Midwest, while only 18% were from the Northeast and 23% from the West.

Unfortunately, the AP/CNBC poll does not provide a breakdown of support for legalization or decriminalization by region. That information could have provided especially useful insight on support for legalization on the West Coast, where a legalization initiative will be on the ballot in California and legalization initiative signature-gathering campaigns are underway in Oregon and Washington.

But the CBS poll does provide a regional breakdown, and the results have to be encouraging for reformers on the West Coast. That poll found majority support (55%) for legalization in the West, the only region where legalization has a majority. Support was at 44% in the Northeast, 40% in the South, and 36% in the Midwest.

The AP/CNBC poll also suggests that American attitudes toward marijuana legalization are a bit incoherent. While only 33% supported legalization and 34% supported decriminalization, 56% thought marijuana should be treated the same as alcohol (44%) or less strictly than alcohol (12%). Alcohol, of course, is a legal, regulated substance.

Among the 55% of people who said they oppose marijuana legalization in the AP/CNBC poll, 14% said they would support it if state governments could tax the proceeds and use the revenues to fund programs. That would bring support for legalization up to the 40-41% range, more in line with other recent polls, but it will not hearten legalization campaigners hoping that economic arguments will significantly increase support for reforms.

A plurality of respondents to the AP/CNBC poll (46%) did not believe that legalization would have any impact on the economy, although 32% thought it would a positive impact. One in five (21%) thought legalization would have a negative impact on the economy. Still, a solid majority (62%) were up for taxing marijuana if it were legal.

Respondents were evenly divided on the impact that legalization would have on crime. One-third thought crime would increase, one-third thought crime would decrease, and one-third thought there would be no change in crime rates. Respondents were also divided on whether the cost of enforcing marijuana prohibition was worth it. Forty-eight per cent said yes and 45% said no.

Some of the opposition to legalization in the AP/CNBC poll stems from health concerns and fears that marijuana use will lead to hard drug use. A plurality of people (46%) thought legalization would harm the overall health of the country, while 39% thought it would have no effect and 13% thought it would improve health. And while 49% of respondents thought that legalizing marijuana would have no affect on hard drug use levels, a sizeable minority (39%) still adheres to the discredited "gateway theory" that smoking pot pushes people to try harder, more dangerous drugs.

The AP/CNBC poll was conducted April 7-12, 2010 via phone interviews with 1,001 respondents and has a margin-of-error factor of plus/minus 4.3%. The CBS News poll was conducted March 29-April 1 via phone interviews with 858 respondents. It has a margin of error factor of plus/minus 3%. Both polls were conducted using both landline and cell phone numbers.

Feature: 4/20 Events Bring Out Tens of Thousands Nationwide

Tuesday was 4/20, National Weed Day -- or whatever you want to call it -- and America's Cannabis Nation celebrated it with clouds of marijuana smoke on college campuses and city parks across the land. This year, 4/20 felt a little different, with attendees buoyed by a sense of impending change and the suit and tie wearing movement worriers a little less concerned about how mass pot parties will play with the public. It wasn't just clouds of pot smoke in the air, but the scent of looming change, too, was palpable.

CU Boulder time-lapse video

More than 10,000 people rallied in Denver and another 10,000 or so did so 35 miles away at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Hundreds more at the University of California at Santa Cruz celebrated with a mass light-up at 4:20pm. San Francisco's Golden Gate Park hosted thousands more happy puffers, while in Washington, DC, the party was inside. Well-attended 4/20 events also took place in Seattle and Boston, while smaller celebrations of the stoner holiday took place all across the country, including dozens of college campuses.

In New Hampshire, about 100 people rallied in the state capital of Concord, while in Juneau, Alaska, about 20 people, two dogs, and a mother pushing a stroller braved driving rain as they marched past the state capitol and city hall, chanting "Yes, we cannabis!" Oakland got a head start on 4/20 when the recently opened iGrow marijuana cultivation supply shop held a 4/20 Eve party, complete with a Hummer serving as a smoking room.

Local NORML chapters in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Tucson held events, and the Seattle Hempfest held a 420 Members' Social, while New York City was the scene of a 4/20 rally. The date was commemorated with cannabis competitions in Oakland and Olympia, Washington, and marked by celebrations in San Diego and Los Angeles, as well.

And, as compiled by Celeb Stoner, and suggestive of the growing cultural impact of 4/20, the day was marked by concerts, record releases, and movie screenings linked to cannabis culture. Famous tokers Cypress Hill played San Francisco, while Snoop Dogg played New York, Willie Nelson performed in Topeka, Sublime played in Los Angeles, and Slightly Stoopid played in Austin. Cypress Hill, fellow tokers the Kottonmouth Kings, Devin the Dude, and Nelson all released albums on 4/20.

Pot-friendly comics also got into the act. Doug Benson did a 4/20 show in Minneapolis, Sarah Silverman did one in New York City, and Ngaio Bealum played San Francisco.

Theaters in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, DC, marked 4/20 with screenings of the "Phish 3D" movie, while in Calgary, Alberta, the 4/20 Film fest featured thematically appropriate films like "Johnny Appleweed," "Blaze," and "400 Bowls."

This year's 4/20 events come as the sense of momentum toward legalization grows palpable, with a legalization initiative headed for the November ballot in California and polling above 50%. (See related stories this issue here and here.) Meanwhile, legalization initiative signature gathering campaigns are underway in Oregon and Washington, so there is a chance the whole West Coast could vote to free the weed this fall.

4/20 also came on the heels of two events, one in San Francisco and one in Colorado Springs, that strongly suggest marijuana is going mainstream. In San Francisco, the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo drew about 15,000 of visitors over the weekend. Vendors there offered up everything from coffee cops emblazoned with marijuana leaves to a 52-foot mobile grow trailer, and a doctor was on hand offering medical marijuana recommendations for $100.

In Colorado Springs, meanwhile, Colorado's first Medical Cannabis Expo was also attended by thousands of people. The Expo comes at Colorado's medical marijuana scene it taking off in ways reminiscent of California's "Wild West" days of just a few years ago and as Colorado legislators work desperately to rein it in. The Expo saw dozens of vendors, including lawyers, dispensary owners, and realtors, and made evident that marijuana is a big and growing business in the state.

While in the past, some prominent drug reform movement leaders have criticized 4/20 and similar events as counterproductive and promoting stoner stereotypes, those critiques were less prominent this year. In fact, at least two reform leaders, Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance and former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition published pieces urging 4/20 celebrators to put down the joint -- at least for a moment -- and pick up the pen. 4/20 is not just a party, they suggested, but a time to stoke activism as well.

"While I certainly wish we could get 10,000 to come out to rally in support of an initiative or a legislative agenda, the reality is that more people are prone to show up when it entails smoking in public," said Mason Tvert of Colorado-based SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation). "It's part of this movement, and it needs to be embraced. These are organic, grassroots events that are growing in popularity and are being normalized," he said.

"I don't tell everyone to light up and get high," Tvert continued. "I say I hope you will show this same level of excitement and enthusiasm when there is something on the ballot. Trying to tell 10,000 people who are using marijuana that they're doing something wrong is not terribly helpful, so I told them to think about how nice it was to light up with that overt fear of punishment and how great it would be if they use marijuana without fear everyday and they should be supporting organizations that will help them achieve that," he said. "With events like this, all we can do is try to ride the beast."

"I went down to the gathering in Golden Gate Park," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "You had thousands of people primarily in their 20s hanging out and smoking marijuana. It was peaceful, friendly, and remarkable diverse, and I think that in itself is significant. There were no speeches, no organized entertainment, just people hanging out, but also making something of a political statement."

The Drug Policy Alliance has decided that the stoner celebrations aren't necessarily are a bad thing, said Nadelmann. "We've reached a bit of consensus that to the extent the gatherings are large in number and fairly well-run, they are a net plus," he said. "But if they're small and scraggly, they're probably not a plus and could be a negative."

Like Tvert, Nadelmann acknowledged the grass-roots nature of 4/20. "The drug reform movement didn't create 4/20, and people are going to gather and do this regardless of what the drug reform movement says. The operative question for us is how to make the most of these events, and we are focusing on trying to turn them into more political events. It would have been nice to have even a few minutes with the crowd Tuesday to get it one step more political."

Even the Marijuana Policy Project, which specializes in working the corridors of power, had little bad to say about 4/20. "Our approach to improving marijuana laws is to take it from a serious lobbying position," said Mike Meno, the group's communications director. "But at the same time, we rely on grassroots support from people who are passionate about the issue, and many of them like 4/20. While we would prefer a more buttoned-down approach, we don't discourage anyone from getting involved in other ways. We just ask that they do so with a focus on what is going to help and improve our chances," he said.

Still, Meno said, those sorts of events can cut for or against reform. "It's sort of a double-edged sword," he reasoned. "It's great if there's a big turnout and people see how diverse it is and how much support there is for changing the law, but on the other hand, if only a half-dozen people show up, maybe it's not the best thing image-wise."

4/20 may have come and gone this year, but the sense of imminent victory apparent at the events will linger into the election season. Next year, 4/20 may be about celebrating the first major step toward national pot legalization -- winning a victory in California, and maybe Oregon and Washington, too.

Public Opinion: California Support for Pot Legalization At 56% in New Poll

A SurveyUSA poll conducted this week for a consortium of California television stations showed majority support for marijuana legalization. An initiative that would do just that, Control and Tax Cannabis California 2019, will be on the ballot in November. The poll found that 56% of those surveyed responded affirmatively to the question, "Should the state of California legalize marijuana?" That's the same number as supported legalization in a Field poll a year ago this month. In this week's poll, only 42% answered negatively, with 3% undecided. People under 35 supported legalization by a margin of three-to-one (74%-25%), with support declining to 46% among the 35-to-49 age group, rising to 49% among the 50-64 group, then declining again to 39% among those 65 and older. Among all voters under age 50, support was at 61%, while among those over 50, it dropped to 46% The poll revealed a significant gender gap, with 65% of men supporting legalization, while a dramatically lower 46% of women supported it. That means legalization supporters will have to work to win over a key demographic. There was majority support for legalization among all ethnic groups except Hispanics, of whom only 45% wanted to free the weed. Support was highest among blacks (67%), followed by whites (59%), and Asians (58%). Somewhat surprisingly, there was majority support for legalization in all regions of the state, although only barely, except for the San Francisco Bay area, where support was at 65%. In Central California and the Inland Empire, support was at 54%, and in the Greater Los Angeles area, support was at 52%. The poll was conducted Tuesday and involved interviews with 500 adults across the state. It has a margin of sampling error of plus/minus 4.4%.
Location: 
CA
United States

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