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NYC Comptroller Says Legalize and Tax Marijuana in New Report

New York City Comptroller John Liu Wednesday released a report calling for the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. Doing so would reduce the harms generated by marijuana prohibition and generate more than $400 million a year in taxes to pay for higher education, Liu said.

New York City Comptroller John Liu (wikipedia.org)
The comptroller is the chief fiscal officer and financial officer for the city. Liu, who has served one four-year term, is not seeking reelection.

"New York City's misguided war on marijuana has failed, and its enforcement has damaged far too many lives, especially in minority communities," said Comptroller Liu. "It's time for us to implement a responsible alternative. Regulating marijuana would keep thousands of New Yorkers out of the criminal justice system, offer relief to those suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions, and make our streets safer by sapping the dangerous underground market that targets our children. As if that weren't enough, it would also boost our bottom line."

Liu estimated the size of the city's marijuana market at $1.65 billion a year and proposed using tax revenues from the legalized trade to cut tuition at the City University of New York (CUNY) by up to 50%.

"In this way, we'll invest in young people's futures, instead of ruining them," he said. "By regulating marijuana like alcohol, New York City can minimize teens' access to marijuana, while at the same time reducing their exposure to more dangerous drugs and taking sales out of the hands of criminals."

Under Liu's proposal, adults age 21 and over could possess up to one ounce of marijuana, which would be grown, processed, and sold by government-licensed businesses for recreational or medicinal purposes. A strict driving under the influence enforcement policy would be implemented concurrently, and marijuana use in public would be prohibited.

The report comes just days after a federal judge slammed the city for its stop-and-frisk policing tactics, which have played a key role in making the Big Apple the world leader in marijuana possession arrests. The street searches are racially biased, the judge found, ordering reforms.

"New Yorkers, like people elsewhere around the country, are questioning our broken polices related to marijuana," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Comptroller Liu's report offers another important opportunity for New Yorkers to examine the issues and discuss the range of options for fixing these laws. An increasing number of elected officials in the City and state agree that our marijuana policies are broken -- resulting in racial disparities, Constitutional violations, fiscal waste and needless suffering. While there may not be widespread agreement about how to fix these problems, it's critical that we have an open and vigorous debate about the issue."

New York City, NY
United States

Norway Greens Call for State Marijuana Production

The Norwegian Green Party is calling for "state-controlled production and sale of cannabis," as well as the decriminalization of possession for all drugs. The call comes as the party releases its platform ahead of elections set for September.

Aker River, Oslo (wikimedia.org)
Norway's Greens are not a major political force in the Scandinavian country. While they have won some local elections, they hold no seats in parliament and have never gathered more than 0.5% of the popular vote in parliamentary elections. They have, however, been on the upswing since elections in 2011, when they won 17 local council seats and 1.3% of the popular vote. 

"Current policies are clearly not working," the party's spokesperson Hanna Marcussen, told Aftenposten newspaper. "Today marijuana is sold openly along the Aker River in Oslo without anyone managing to restrict access. It is time that someone takes on this difficult debate."

Marcussen also said the Greens do not view hard drug users as criminals and that decriminalizing drug possession would improve public health.

"We want to decriminalize the use of heavier drugs. This is a health problem," Marcussen said. "Compared with other countries, we have a particularly high number of fatal overdoses due to hard drugs."

The proposals resemble those of Copenhagen mayor Frank Jensen, who has long pushed for state-run cannabis production, and they come just a day after Uruguay's lower chamber of parliament approved a bill that would make the South American nation the first country in the world to legalize marijuana markets, also with state controls. That measure still awaits a vote in the country's upper chamber.

Oslo
Norway

UN Drug Agencies Fret over Uruguay Marijuana Vote

Wednesday night's vote in the Uruguayan chamber of deputies to approve state-run marijuana commerce would make the South American nation the first to create legal pot markets, and that's making United Nations anti-drug bureaucracies nervous. Both the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) issued statements Thursday fretting about the vote.

Uruguay hasn't legalized the marijuana market yet -- that will require a vote in the Uruguayan Senate this fall -- but the Vienna-based UN organs aren't waiting. Charged with enforcing the global drug prohibition regime, and its legal backbone, the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and successor treaties, the INCB and UNODC are raising the alarm about the apparent looming breach of the treaty.

"The INCB has noted with concern a draft law under consideration in Uruguay which, if adopted, would permit the sale of cannabis herb for non-medical use," INCB head Dr. Raymond Yans said in a statement. "Such a law would be in complete contravention to the provisions of the international drug control treaties, in particular the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, to which Uruguay is a party."

The INCB said it had always "aimed at maintaining a dialogue with the government of Uruguay" and complained that Montevideo wasn't paying attention to it. "The Board regrets that the government of Uruguay refused to receive an INCB mission before the draft law was submitted to parliament," Yans said.

The statement further urged Uruguayan leaders "to ensure that the country remains fully compliant with international law which limits the use of narcotic drugs, including cannabis, exclusively to medical and scientific purposes" and warned that legalization "might have serious consequences for the health and welfare of the population and for the prevention of cannabis abuse among the youth."

The UNODC, for its part, said in its statement that it supported the INCB statement and was continuing "to follow developments in Uruguay closely."

But, perhaps signaling a belated recognition that the global drug prohibition regime is increasingly tattered, the UNODC acknowledged that the results of enforcing drug prohibition, including "horrorific violence" related to black market drug trafficking have "led to a debate over best to address such problems."

UNODC said it "welcomes this discussion," but that "this dialogue should be conducted on the basis of the agreed conventions, in line with international law. It invited nations to talk about it all at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting next year.

In the meantime, Uruguay isn't waiting, and there is little the UN anti-drug agencies can do about except shout from their bully pulpits.

Vienna
Austria

Uruguay House Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill

The Uruguayan lower house of parliament passed a bill that would create the world's first legal, regulated marijuana markets Wednesday night. The bill passed on a vote of 50-46 after nearly 12 hours of debate.

Movida Cannabica Florida Uruguay display at the Legislative Palace (facebook.com/movida.floridauruguay)
"Sometimes small countries do great things," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "Uruguay's bold move does more than follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington. It provides a model for legally regulating marijuana that other countries, and US states, will want to consider -- and a precedent that will embolden others to follow in their footsteps."

Under the bill, the Uruguayan government would license producers, sellers, and consumers. Smokers would be limited to buying 40 grams a month. Unlicensed possession, cultivation, or sales would be criminal offenses, including prison time in some cases.

Registered users would be able to grow up to six plants, join a marijuana-growing collective, or purchase marijuana at a dispensary or pharmacy.

President Jose Mujica has been pushing the bill as a means of attacking black markets and organized crime by creating a legal, licensed marijuana marketplace. He first unveiled it nearly a year ago, but postponed voting at year's end to try to rally public support. A "Responsible Regulation" campaign including TV ads tried to sway the public in recent weeks, to little effect, and public opinion remained opposed to the measure.

But Mujica's Broad Front (Frente Amplio) coalition held a narrow 50-49 edge in the lower house, and parliamentary discipline prevailed. The bill will go before the upper house later this year. The Broad Front holds a bigger majority there, meaning the bill should pass if discipline continues to hold.

"At the heart of the Uruguayan marijuana regulation bill is a focus on improving public health and public safety," said Hannah Hetzer, who is based out of Montevideo, Uruguay, as DPA's Policy Manager of the Americas. "Instead of closing their eyes to the problem of drug abuse and drug trafficking, Uruguay is taking an important step towards responsible regulation of an existing reality. By approving this measure, Uruguay will take the broad regional discussion on alternatives to drug prohibition one step further. It will represent a concrete advance in line with growing anti-drug war rhetoric in Latin America," she said.

Uruguayan President Jose "Pepe" Mujica (wikimedia.org)
According to accounts from the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse, the debate Wednesday featured sign-waving crowds dancing to reggae music outside the Congress building and dozens of legalization supporters filling the galleries.

"The regulation is not meant to promote consumption, consumption already exists," lawmaker Sebastian Sabini, who helped draft the legislation, said at the beginning of the session.

The black market in marijuana "finances organized crime" and "marijuana use has doubled in the last 10 years," pro-legalization lawmakers added.

Opposition lawmakers were unimpressed with the arguments.

"We will not end the black market," warned National Party lawmaker Gerardo Amarilla. "Ninety-eight per cent of those who are today destroying themselves with base cocaine began with marijuana. I believe that we're risking too much. I have the sensation that we're playing with fire."

Richard Sander of the opposition Colorado Party played an anti-legalization video of ex-addict testimony, adding that the government plan was full of "ad-libbing."

But the opposition came to nought in the end, and now Uruguay is one step closer to becoming the first country in the world to have a legal, regulated marijuana market.

Montevideo
Uruguay

Marijuana Legalization in Uruguay???

Movida Cannabica Florida Uruguay display at the Legislative Palace (facebook.com/movida.floridauruguay)
The Uruguayan government's proposal to legalize marijuana was "fiercely debated" in the House today, according to The Washington Post about an hour ago. President Mujica's party, The Broad Front (Frente Amplio en español) has a wider majority in the Senate, so the House is seen as legalization opponents' best chance to stop it. Stay tuned.

Tony Newman sent out a press release for Drug Policy Alliance this week.

See some of our prior Uruguay stories here and here. Also, former Uruguayan Senator Margarita Percovich speaking at our 2003 conference, here. (Ms. Percovich was in parliament at the time, and became a senator later. I believe she is doing human rights work now.)

This will be huge and historic news if it happens -- the first time a country has legalized marijuana outright, anywhere in the world -- a direct break with the international drug control treaties.

Location: 
Montevideo
Uruguay

Canada Liberal Party Leader Says Legalize Marijuana

Canada's opposition Liberal Party head Justin Trudeau has called for the legalization of marijuana, putting himself and his party on a collision course with the ruling Conservatives ahead of 2015 elections. Trudeau's stand also differentiates the Liberals from the New Democratic Party (NDP), which has been the progressive party on drug reform, but which only calls for decriminalization.

Justin Trudeau (wikimedia.org)
The Liberals adopted marijuana legalization as a platform plank in January 2012, but Trudeau had previously lagged behind the party, calling only for decrim.

Trudeau revived drug policy as an issue when, at a Kelowna, British Columbia, event Sunday, he spotted someone in the crowd holding a sign calling for decriminalization.

"I'll take that as a question," he volunteered. "I'm actually not in favor of decriminalizing cannabis, I'm in favor of legalizing it, tax and regulate," he said to applause. "It's one of the only ways to keep it out of the hands of our kids, because the current war on drugs, the current model, is not working."

In Vancouver on Thursday, Trudeau elaborated.

"Listen, marijuana is not a health food supplement, it's not great for you," he told reporters, but added that it was no worse for people than cigarettes or alcohol and he was now willing to go further than just decrim. "I have evolved in my own thinking," Trudeau said. "I was more hesitant to even decriminalize not so much as five years ago. But I did a lot of listening, a lot of reading, and a lot of paying attention to the very serious studies that have come out and I realize that going the road of legalization is actually a responsible thing to look at and to do."

When Liberals controlled the national government at the beginning of this century, they moved to reform the marijuana laws. But the Liberals only favored a quasi-decriminalization, and they ended up not even being able to move that forward.

The Conservatives have held national power since 2006 and have ratcheted up penalties for some drug offenses, including some marijuana offenses. Responding to Trudeau's comments this week, the party said it was staying the prohibitionist course.

"These drugs are illegal because of the harmful effect they have on users and on society, including violent crime. Our government has no interest in seeing any of these drugs legalized or made more easily available to youth," the prime minister's office said in a statement.

The Conservatives' position on marijuana puts them out of step with most Canadians on the issue. An Angus-Reid poll last fall showed Canadian support for legalization at 57%, and other surveys have polled even higher.

Canada

With Legalization Looming, Lessons from the Netherlands [FEATURE]

The US states of Colorado and Washington voted last year to legalize marijuana and are moving forward toward implementing legalization. Activists in several states are lining up to try to do the same next year, and an even bigger push will happen in 2016. With public opinion polls now consistently showing support for pot legalization at or above 50%, it appears that nearly a century of marijuana prohibition in the US is coming to an end.

A coffee shop in Amsterdam, where clients can sit and smoke. Why no on-premises consumption here? (wikimedia.org)
Exactly how it comes to an end and what will replace it are increasingly important questions as we move from dreaming of legalization to actually making it happen. The Netherlands, which for decades now has allowed open marijuana consumption and sales at its famous coffee shops, provides some salutary lessons -- if reformers, state officials, and politicians are willing to heed them.

To be clear, the Dutch have not legalized marijuana. The marijuana laws remain on the books, but are essentially overridden by the Dutch policy of "pragmatic tolerance," at least as far as possession and regulated sales are concerned. Cultivation is a different matter, and that has proven the Achilles Heel of Dutch pot policy. Holland's failure to allow for a system of legal supply for the coffee shops leaves shop owners to deal with illegal marijuana suppliers -- the "backdoor problem" -- and leaves the system open to charges it is facilitating criminality by buying product from criminal syndicates.

Still, even though the Dutch system is not legalization de jure and does not create a complete legal system of marijuana commerce, reformers and policymakers here can build on the lessons of the Dutch experience as we move toward making legal marijuana work in the US.

"Governments are looking to reform their drug policies in order to maximize resources, promote health and security while protecting people from damaging and unwarranted arrests," said Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, Director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program. "The Netherlands has been a leader in this respect. As other countries and local jurisdictions consider reforming their laws, it's possible that the Netherlands' past offers a guide for the future."

A new report from the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program lays out what Dutch policymakers have done and how they have fared. Authored by social scientists Jean-Paul Grund and Joost Breeksema of the Addiction Research Center in Utrecht, the report, Coffee Shops and Compromise: Separated Illicit Drug Markets in the Netherlands tells the history of the Dutch approach and describes the ongoing success of the country's drug policy.

This includes the separation of the more prevalent marijuana market from hard drug dealers. In the Netherlands, only 14% of cannabis users say they can get other drugs from their sources for cannabis. By contrast in Sweden, for example, 52% of cannabis users report that other drugs are available from cannabis dealers. That separation of hard and soft drug markets has limited Dutch exposure to drugs like heroin and crack cocaine and led to Holland having the lowest number of problem drug users in the European Union, the report found.

Pragmatic Dutch drug policies have not been limited to marijuana. The Netherlands has been a pioneer in harm reduction measures, such as needle exchanges and safe consumption sites, has made drug treatment easy to access, and has decriminalized the possession of small quantities of all drugs. As a result, in addition to having the lowest number of problem drug users, Holland has virtually wiped out new HIV infections among injection drug users. And, because of decriminalization, Dutch citizens have been spared the burden of criminal records for low-level, nonviolent offenses.

The Dutch have, for example, virtually eliminated marijuana possession arrests. According to figures cited in the report, in a typical recent year, Dutch police arrested people for pot at a rate of 19 per 100,0000, while rates in the US and other European countries were 10 times that or more.

For veteran drug reform activist Joep Oomen of the European NGO Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), the report is welcome but not exactly "stop the presses" news.

"The conclusions of this report have been known for a long time," he told the Chronicle. "Already by the end of the 1990s, when European governments had to acknowledge that Dutch drug policies had proven more effective in reducing risks and harms than many other countries, the criticism that had been expressed earlier by mainly German and French heads of state was silenced. For instance, in the Netherlands the age of first heroin use is the highest of Europe, which is explained by the relative tolerance concerning cannabis use." [Ed: A high age of first use is considered good, because it means that fewer people are experimenting with a drug when they are young -- which in turn means fewer people ever trying it, and those who do being more likely to be capable of avoiding problematic use.]

While the Dutch can point to solid indications of success with their pragmatic drug policies, it is not all rosy skies. The "back door problem" alluded to above continues unresolved, and the relative laxness of Dutch marijuana policy has led to an influx of "drug tourists," especially from neighboring countries, such as France and Germany. Both of those irritants have provided fodder for conservative parties and administrations that have sought to roll back the reforms.

"There seems to be more admiration for Dutch drug policy outside the Netherlands than inside," Oomen observed. "Right-wing governments that have dominated the Dutch political climate since 2002 have slowly dismantled acceptance-oriented drug policy. Lately the establishment of the Weedpass in the southern part of the country [which excludes non-Dutch from access to the coffee shops] and new measures against grow shops and coffee shops are definitely threatening to undermine the coffee shop model," he said.

"Instead of completing the regulation of this model by solving the coffee shops' back door problem, the government seems to apply a policy of slow elimination by making the conditions worse in which the shops have to operate," Oomen continued. "And the Dutch press follows blindly, often referring to coffee shops as a link in a criminal chain, which is unavoidable since the ban on cultivation forces shop owners to deal with criminals, but without questioning the measures that reinforce the criminal aspect."

While the national government may now be hostile to pragmatic marijuana policies, it is facing considerable resistance from elected officials. The Weedpass program now appears to be largely a dead letter, thanks to opposition from the likes of Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan, and other local elected officials are moving to address the back door problem.

"Several Dutch mayors have plans for municipal cannabis farms to supply the coffee shops and take crime out of the industry," said Grund, research director at the Addiction Research Center. "But if Dutch drug policy offers one lesson to foreign policymakers, it is that change should be comprehensive, regulating sale to consumers, wholesale supply and cultivation."

Grund is watching the American experience with legalization in Colorado and Washington and had some observations he shared with the Chronicle.

"As far as I can judge," he said, "these are both pretty solid proposals, although quite different in detail and approach -- e.g., a vertically integrated chain of supply in Colorado and separate licensing for producers, processors, and retailer in Washington. Clearly in both states legislators have done their best. Interesting then, that they end up with rather different plans, which is actually fine, as it provides us with the opportunity to evaluate different models. For more than 25 years, there was just about only the Dutch experience with cannabis decriminalization and coffee shops; now we see different models of cannabis reform and distribution being implemented across continents. Comparing these experiences as they evolve should allow us to develop more effective drug policies."

Policymakers and regulators should try to avoid rigidity and be ready to deal with unintended responses and consequences, the Dutch social scientist said.

"The point is to approach these flexibly and pragmatically; adjust when necessary, while keeping your eyes on the ball: cutting the link between cannabis on the one hand, and criminal records, mafia and more, on the other," Grund advised, noting that the 1976 Dutch law separating hard and soft drugs did not anticipate the arrival of the coffee shop phenomenon. "As Dr. Eddy Engelsman, former chief drug policy maker at the ministry of health -- and known as the architect of Dutch drug policy -- said when we interviewed him, 'coffee shops just emerged.' The policymakers deemed that these fit their overall policy objectives and allowed for them to ply their trade openly," he recalled.

Grund also weighed in on personal cultivation -- Colorado allows it; Washington does not -- and public use, which it appears will remain forbidden in both states.

"I think Washington presents more of a business and revenue raising strategy, while Colorado feels more like grassroots meets civil libertarian meets amenable regulator," he opined. "The more social, homegrown orientation of the Colorado proposal – allowing for home growing, bartering between friends -- could perhaps engender a less market driven distribution structure, where friends compete in growing the most pleasant marijuana, not the most profitable. Something like the Spanish cannabis clubs," he suggested.

Public, convivial pot smoking in designated areas should be allowed, Grund said, because it has benefits.

"Dedicated places of consumption -- such as the coffee shops in the Netherlands or shisha parlors -- offer an opportunity to promote responsible behavior around cannabis consumption," he argued. "Smoking cannabis in a safe, hospitable and stress free environment engenders different use patterns from quickly getting high in a service ally behind a bar or in a car parked in a quiet place. Coffee shops offer a moderating environment where self regulation is supported by social learning and control."

While Grund was looking forward to the future in the US, Oomen was thinking of the unfinished business in the Netherlands, but his musing also provide food for thought for American reformers, especially those contemplating decriminalization measures.

"The lesson here is that decriminalization or depenalization are useful concepts for a transition period, but real progress can only be obtained and assured with legal regulation of the entire chain from producer to consumer," the ENCOD leader noted. "The Dutch case shows that politicians will always use the smallest margin they have to maintain to a repressive model, provoking criminal activities which they can use to justify their policies publically. This is the drug policy perpetual motion machine."

Colorado and Washington are already well down their particular paths to marijuana legalization. But there is still time for the next wave of legalization states to learn and apply those lessons, not just from Denver and Olympia, but from the Dutch pioneers as well.

Netherlands

Portland, Maine, To Vote on Marijuana Legalization

Voters in Maine's largest city will have the chance to legalize marijuana in November. The Portland city council Monday night voted 5-1 to put the issue before voters.

The council could have simply adopted a citizen-initiated ordinance to legalize the possession of up to 2 ½ ounces that was endorsed by more than 2,500 voters. Instead it punted, leaving it to Portland voters to approve the measure or not in the November 5 elections.

Even if approved by Portland voters, marijuana possession remains illegal under federal law. State law considers possession of less than 2 ½ ounces of marijuana a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $600.

The vote to take the matter to the voters came after a Monday afternoon press conference at which civil rights leaders and political figures said that marijuana prohibition is expensive and its enforcement is racially disproportionate. Speakers included representatives of the NAACP of Maine, the Maine ACLU, the Portland Green Independent Committee, and the Marijuana Policy Project.

Speakers cited the recent national ACLU report on racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement. Regina Phillips of the NAACP of Maine, invoking the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of black youth Trayvon Martin, argued that the marijuana laws are just another example of racial injustice in America.

"It has begun to feel like locking up young black men has become a national pastime," she said, citing figures that showed blacks get arrested at twice the rate of whites in Maine.

Maine wastefully spends $9 million a year on "aggressive enforcement" of marijuana laws that "ensnares thousands in the criminal justice system," said the Maine ACLU's Bob Talbot. "These are tax dollars that could be spent on hospitals, schools, or better solutions. The truth is the war on marijuana is a failure."

City Councilor David Marshall said that even though Maine had decriminalized possession, being caught with marijuana is still a federal drug crime with all its consequences.

"There's a whole host of federal programs you can be denied simply by having a possession of marijuana charges on your record," he said, adding that he thought the measure would be approved by "a large majority" of voters.

Portland, ME
United States

Chronicle Book Review: Cannabis Nation and Marijuanamerica

Cannabis Nation: Control and Consumption in Britain, 1928-2008, by James Mills (2013, Oxford University Press, 292 pp., $65.00 HB)

Marijuanamerica: One Man's Quest to Understand America's Dysfunctional Love Affair with Weed, by Alfred Ryan Nerz (2013, Abrams Image, 271 pp., $19.95 HB)

The United States and the United Kingdom seem to be in two quite different places when it comes to marijuana and marijuana policy. On this side of the Atlantic, two states have legalized the weed, and in all likelihood, more will follow in 2014 and more yet in 2016. Meanwhile, medical marijuana continues to expand, and states that aren't quite ready for legalization are moving toward decriminalization.

National polls here are consistently showing that support for marijuana legalization has crossed the threshold into majority territory, weed-smoking is now the stuff of casual comment instead of horrified gasps, and, in what could the clearest sign of marijuana's growing acceptance, profit-minded entrepreneurs are beginning to line up for a chance to grab the grass ring. It's almost, but not quite, as if we have already won, and all that's left is clearing the last holdouts of pot prohibition.

On the other side of the Atlantic, things seem to be heading in the opposite direction. Heeding the advice of its drug experts (an increasingly rare thing there), Britain in effect decriminalized marijuana in 2004, but backtracked four years later, pushing it a notch back up its dangerous drug schedules. The British press is full of reports of raids on "cannabis factories," or what we would call indoor gardens, and replete with the sort of Reefer Madness nonsense that would make Harry Anslinger blush.

Fertilizer becomes "poison cannabis chemicals," the deadly "skunk" turns kids into homicidal "feral youths," and anti-cannabis crusade victims regularly appear before the courts to go through the self-abasing ritual of explaining that they should have mercy because their cannabis addiction ruined their lives. They know what they're supposed to say. When it comes to marijuana, in feels like 1963 in Britain instead of 2013.

Cannabis Nation and Marijuanamerica certainly reflect those differences in style as well as substance, even if they don't explain them. (And why should they? Neither makes a pretense at being a comparative study.) The former is a stately academic review of British pot policy in the last century, relying heavily on governmental files, diplomatic archives, commission reports, and police arrest records, while the latter is an impressionistic journey through American weed's Wild West, relying heavily on interviews, first-person reporting, some participatory journalism, and copious amounts of the chronic itself.

Despite their differences in tone and subject matter, both are worthwhile contributions to the rapidly increasing literature around marijuana and marijuana law reform. Cannabis Nation is authored by respected British drug historian James Mills and is the sequel to his 2003 Cannabis Britannica, which traced Britain's involvement with the herb from 1800 into the beginning of the 20th Century. In this second volume, Mills not only tracks the emergence of marijuana consumption in the metropole, but also the impact of Britain's legacy as a colonial power on its encounter with the weed.

There are parallels with the American experience, but also differences. In both countries, marijuana was the province of outsiders. Here, it was Mexicans and black jazz musicians who were the original consumers; in Britain, as Mills shows, it was South Asian, Caribbean, and Arab colonial subjects who brought pot-smoking to Albion. And before the aftermath of World War II, when Commonwealth citizens flooded into Britain, marijuana use was rare indeed. Mills shows the pre-war pot arrests were almost nonexistent, counted in the dozens annually, and almost entirely of merchant seamen of Arab or Indian descent enjoying their shore leave.

It was only in the post-war era that British marijuana consumption began to spread rapidly, first among the Commonwealth emigrants, for whom its use was long-engrained in their home cultures, and then among working- and middle-class Anglo-Saxon youth. By the 1960s, the issue of marijuana exploded with the arrest and jailing of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richard and subsequent campaigns for liberalization led by the Beatles and other counter-cultural figures. But Mills downplays the importance of the counter-culture rebellion, arguing that for many young British consumers, marijuana was no more (and no less) than something to get intoxicated with, not a token of cultural revolt.

In fact, the British marijuana reform movement gets relatively short shrift, as Mills concentrates on the doings of the politicians, ministries and constabularies. It is worth noting that, thanks to the drug diplomacy in the era of the League of Nations, Britain not only got a broad understanding of the plant's widespread use (British India lobbied hard for a relaxed approach, while British Egypt lobbied equally hard for a tough prohibition), but British police were mobilized to police marijuana early -- before there was any consumption to speak of.

One of Mills' key points is that nearly a century later, the police continue to play the key role in British pot policy. In the wake of the 1960s' pot controversies, politicians adopted the "British compromise," maintaining existing marijuana prohibition, but leaving the level and intensity of enforcement up to the police. As he shows, with politicians treating marijuana as a political football, that's still the case. Such a stratagem may work for the police, less so for marijuana growers and consumers, but it raises the question of whether law enforcers should be de facto policy-makers.

Overall, Cannabis Nation is a key contribution to the history of British pot politics, an academic treatise that is also quite readable and provocative, and one that disentangles the political and social forces behind marijuana use and reform in Britain. Given its $65 cover price, though, you're probably going to want to read it at your university library, or else hope that an affordable paperback edition appears.

Alfred Nerz inhabits a different world from James Mills. His Marijuanamerica is only among the most recent of dozens of popular accounts of the reefer revolution sweeping the US, and he traverses lots of familiar territory: He attends Oaksterdam University, interviews Richard Lee and Harborside Health Center's Steve DeAngelo, then heads for Humboldt County to smell the revolution for himself.

Amidst his travels, Nerz takes detours to address the issues around marijuana use -- is it helpful or harmful? What are its physical effects? Is it addictive? And should I quit smoking so much? -- and does so with verve, wit, and an engaging way with the science.

But what makes Marijuanamerica stand out in an increasingly crowded field is Nerz's own story of getting involved with California marijuana "outlaws." The book opens with him cruising eastbound down Interstate 80 just outside of Omaha with 100 pounds of weed in the trunk and a Nebraska State Patrol trooper on his tail. For someone carrying a personal pot stash down the nation's interstates, such an encounter is frightening; for someone carrying several felonies worth, it is absolutely terrifying.  You'll have to buy the book to discover how that experience turned out.

In Northern California, a mightily stoned Nerz managed to hook up with a marijuana grower and distributor nicknamed Buddha Cheese, spend time at some of his grow sites scattered throughout the Emerald Triangle and the Sierra, and get a very close-up look at outlaw marijuana production without even the pretense of it being destined for the medical marijuana market. It's a sketchy, criminal scene, with lots of riff-raff and shady characters, just as one would expect in an underground criminal economy. It's a load of Buddha Cheese's product Nerz is driving to the East Coast, hoping to pocket $200 a pound for his troubles, a nifty $20,000 for toting his hundred-pound load. (Given the pot glut and dropping prices on the West Coast, getting the weed to the other coast can be the difference between $2,000 a pound at home and $6,000 a pound in New York or Philadelphia.)

Nerz's sojourn with the outlaws is eye-opening and somewhat disturbing, but also refreshing. There have been an awful lot of words written about medical marijuana, with its noble purveyors working to alleviate human suffering. And most of them are true. But California also produces one hell of a lot more pot than even its wide-open medical marijuana market can absorb, and so do growers in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and other medical marijuana states. It's the All-American combination of enthusiasm for a wonderful plant that gets you nicely high, the desire to stick it to "the man," and the impulse to get rich quick. That's been part of America's pot culture for the past half-century at least, and it's nice to get past the sanctimony of medical marijuana and back to the outlaws.

You will want to read Cannabis Nation if you have a serious interest in the history, politics, and diplomacy of marijuana in England, and you'll have fun doing so. You don't need to be nearly as serious with Marijuanamerica, and you'll most likely have more fun, especially hanging out with those shady pot outlaws and Nerz himself. But both would make nice additions to your drug literature bookshelf.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in DC

District of Columbia Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) filed a marijuana decriminalization bill for the nation's capital Wednesday. Wells is chairman of the council's Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.

The bill would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot, with the maximum penalty being a $100 fine. Minors would have to complete a drug awareness program in addition to the fine, with failure to do so resulting in a $200 fine and court-ordered community service.

Pressure is mounting for marijuana law reform in the District. If the council doesn't act, DC-based activists are contemplating an initiative next year. Reform supporters have been emboldened by a recent Public Policy Polling survey that found 75% of District voters support decriminalization and more than 60% would support a tax, regulate, and legalize initiative similar to those that passed in Colorado and Washington last year. That same poll found a solid majority (54%) in favor of decriminalizing the possession of all drugs.

The release last month of an American Civil Liberties Union report on racial disparities in marijuana arrests has only upped the pressure. That report found that DC residents are arrested for marijuana possession at a higher rate than the residents of any state and that black DC residents are arrested at a rate far higher than white ones.

"The introduction of this legislation by Councilmember Tommy Wells is a positive step toward putting an end to marijuana possession arrests that cause irreversible harm to people's lives, disproportionately impact communities of color, and waste public resources," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance Office of National Affairs. "While this legislation is an important step in the right direction, Councilmembers should consider following in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington by legally regulating marijuana," said Smith.

"The District's current policy of arresting and prosecuting thousands of adults for marijuana possession each year is doing far more harm than good," said Morgan Fox, communications manager for the DC-based Marijuana Policy Project. "Nobody should face life-altering criminal penalties simply for possessing a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and law enforcement officials' time and attention would be better spent addressing serious crimes. It is time to adopt a more sensible marijuana policy in our nation's capital, and that is what Councilman Wells has proposed," Fox said.

"As Councilmembers look to end marijuana possession arrests, they should also consider the broad human and fiscal toll that decades of failed drug prohibition has wrought on District residents," said Smith. "Ultimately, drug use is most effectively addressed as a health issue instead of as a criminal justice issue -- and this means that possession of any drug in DC should not be criminalized," said Smith.

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