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Wisconsin Marijuana and Free Speech Activist Ben Masel Has Died

Wisconsin free speech and pot legalization activist Ben Masel died in a Madison hospice Saturday of complications from a months-long struggle with lung cancer. He was 56 years old.

Born in the Bronx and raised in New Jersey, Masel moved to Madison in 1971 and became a fixture of the counter-culture scene in the decades since then. Masel was the director of the Wisconsin state NORML chapter in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and served as state NORML vice-president for the past decade.

He had hoped to attend the national NORML conference in Denver last month for one last hurrah, but complications from his cancer treatments left him too ill to attend. Instead, NORML honored him with a marijuana legalization lifetime achievement award that was accepted by Wisconsin NORML members in attendance.



A hard-core civil libertarian, Masel repeatedly challenged state and local officials who sought to shut him up -- and won repeated free speech cases, with resulting cash settlements, in state and federal courts. He frequently joked that that was a great way to make a living -- as long as you could wait indefinitely to get paid.


Masel also made repeated forays into electoral politics, running in 1990 as a Republican primary challenger to Gov. Tommy Thompson on a hemp legalization platform, and two years later gaining 7,000 votes as the Democratic candidate for Dane County sheriff. In that campaign, he said he would "fight real crime: end the drug war." In 2006, he challenged Sen. Herb Kohl in the Democratic primary and picked up 15% of the vote against the popular incumbent.

Although he was diagnosed with cancer in January and was in the midst of treatments, Masel was energized by the mass protests in Madison in March and managed to get to the capitol to participate. One of the last activist images of Masel is him holding up a sign in a capitol corridor announcing an "Emergency Test of the Free Speech Network."

Ben was always a fixture at national marijuana policy conferences. We spent many a smoke-break outside together, comparing notes and plotting strategies. I will miss him as a friend and colleague, but the movement is now missing one of its champions.

- Phillip Smith

Madison, WI
United States

Two GOP Drug War Critics Seek Presidency

Two prominent Republican anti-prohibitionists are seeking the nod to head the party's ticket in the 2012 presidential election. Last week, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson formally threw his hat in the ring with a tweet and a speech in New Hampshire, and this week, Rep. Ron Paul (TX) announced he was forming an exploratory committee for the 2012 campaign, with a final decision to come next month.

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson wants to legalize marijuana. (image via Wikimedia.org)
Both men are libertarian-leaning, anti-interventionist, fiscal conservatives who will compete to gain the support of some of the same elements of the Republican base. Both have long records of speaking out against drug prohibition. They are up against a Republican field that has so far thrown up few strong front runners, and early primary victories could catapult them to the front of the field.

Johnson was in typical form last week, telling ABC News what he was all about. "I support gay unions. I think the government ought to get out of the marriage business. And then for me as governor of New Mexico, everything was a cost-benefit analysis. There weren't any sacred cows -- everything was a cost-benefit analysis. What are we spending money on and what are we getting for the money that we're spending? So in that sense, the drug war is absolutely a failure."

Drug reform as an issue is prominently displayed on Johnson's campaign home page, and his drug reform page is worth noting. "Despite our best efforts at enforcement, education and interdiction, people continue to use and abuse illegal drugs," the page says. "The parallels between drug policy today and Prohibition in the 1920's are obvious, as are the lessons our nation learned. Prohibition was repealed because it made matters worse. Today, no one is trying to sell our kids bathtub gin in the schoolyard and micro-breweries aren't protecting their turf with machine guns. It's time to apply that thinking to marijuana. By making it a legal, regulated product, availability can be restricted, under-age use curtailed, enforcement/court/incarceration costs reduced, and the profit removed from a massive underground and criminal economy.

"By managing marijuana like alcohol and tobacco -- regulating, taxing and enforcing its lawful use -- America will be better off," the issue page continues. "The billions saved on marijuana interdiction, along with the billions captured as legal revenue, can be redirected against the individuals committing real crimes against society. Harder drugs should not be legalized, but their use should be dealt with as a health issue -- not a criminal justice issue."

The issues page uses large-font type to ensure that readers understand that he wants to "make marijuana legal" and embraces a harm reduction approach to harder drugs.

Johnson has embraced drug reform since at least 1999, after cruising to victory to serve a second term as New Mexico governor in 1998. That stance made him one of the earliest high ranking officials in the US to call for pot legalization and a harm reduction approach to other drugs. He retired from New Mexico politics after being term-limited out of office after his second term.

Johnson, who is a relative unknown among the Republican field, is counting on a strong showing in New Hampshire, home of the nation's first primary, to boost his candidacy. "I have to do, and want to do, really well in New Hampshire," he said on the steps of the statehouse in Concord as he announced his candidacy. "So I'm going to spend a lot of time in New Hampshire, where you can go from obscurity to prominence overnight with a good showing."

Drug war foe Ron Paul hopes the third time is the charm (house.gov)
Veteran Texas congressman Ron Paul, for his part, announced Tuesday that he has formed a presidential exploratory committee for the 2012 nomination. If he runs, that would mark his third presidential campaign. He ran as a Libertarian in 1988 and as a Republican in 2008. In the latter campaign, he generated a core of devoted followers, but dropped out in June after averaging less than 10% of the vote in early primaries.

But Paul supporters said their candidate could do better this year. They cited the name recognition from his 2008 run and the rise of the Tea Party, where Paul's fiscally conservative and constitutionalist views, if not always his views toward drug and foreign policy, should find a warm welcome.

Paul has long been a critic of the war on drugs, has supported bills in Congress to decriminalize marijuana and hemp, and takes a states' rights approach to drug policy. He is also strongly anti-interventionist, but unlike many libertarians, opposes abortion.

While both men are long-shots in the Republican nomination process, the state of the field leaves the door open to one or both of them. A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that 56% of Republicans were not enthusiastic about any of a long list of declared and potential candidates. (Johnson and Paul weren't listed in that poll).

And then there were two anti-prohibitionist presidential candidates -- in the Republican Party, no less. Maybe there will finally be a serious discussion of drug policy in the 2012 campaign, even if only in the primaries.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Hearing Set for Bill Legalizing Marijuana in Maine

Location: 
ME
United States
At 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 10, supporters of legalized marijuana in Maine will crowd into a hearing room in Augusta to support a Portland legislator's bill to decriminalize pot. Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, sponsor of LD 1453, "An Act To Legalize and Tax Marijuana," said she was thrilled to learn about the hearing that has been scheduled before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
Publication/Source: 
The Portland Daily Sun (ME)
URL: 
http://portlanddailysun.me/news/story/hearing-set-bill-legalizing-marijuana

US Congressman to File Marijuana Legalization Bill This Year [FEATURE]

America is on the cusp of majority support for marijuana legalization, but legalization is not inevitable and it's up to activists and the multi-billion-dollar marijuana industry to start throwing their weight around to make it happen, US Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) told an overflow crowd during the keynote address at NORML's 40th annual conference at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown Denver Saturday afternoon.

legalization legislation coming to the Capitol soon
"I am optimistic that we will reach a day when America has the smart, sensible marijuana policy that we deserve," Polis told an attentive audience. "But it could go either way. We could return to the dark ages of repression, or we could be on the eve of a new era of marijuana legalization. Your efforts will help determine which route this country takes and the legacy of this generation of activists on what marijuana policy looks like. Together we can accomplish this," he told the crowd.

Polis said that he would file a marijuana legalization bill this session in Congress. The language was still being developed, he added. He is also working on a bill that would address problems the medical marijuana industry is having with banks, he said.

"Marijuana policy is really coming of age," the businessman turned politician said. "Our Colorado model is very exciting," he added, touting the vibrant local medical marijuana industry on display for conference attendees from across the country. "In my last two elections, even my Republican opponents were for legalization. It's become a very mainstream value here."

That assertion is likely to be put to the test next year. Colorado and national drug reform groups have already announced they plan to put a legalization initiative on the ballot for 2012. A similar initiative in 2006 got 44% of the vote, but that was before the state's medical marijuana boom and its resulting economic impact. While the medical marijuana boom may have created a backlash, its economic benefits could counter that, Polis suggested.

"The marijuana industry here generated $1.7 billion last year and thousands of jobs," he pointed out. "It has created jobs, and jobs in ancillary businesses, it has filled storefronts and filled our alternative newspapers with ads, it has created work for lawyers and accountants, it has created tax revenues. There is a direct nexus to jobs and the economy and deficit reduction," he said.

"We are at a tipping point, on the unprecedented cusp of legalization," Polis told the audience. "The progress at the state level has led the way, but it won't come nationally until it happens in a critical mass of states. Then there comes much more pressure on Congress to legalize and regulate at the national level. Our streets will be safer and our economy stronger."

While no state with the partial exception of Alaska has legalized marijuana, that critical mass could come sooner rather than later. In the best case scenario, the entire West Coast and Colorado could legalize through the initiative process by the end of next year. Meanwhile, legislative efforts at legalization are advancing in New England and the Northeast.

Polis has emerged as one of a handful of US representatives who have publicly supported marijuana legalization or decriminalization. Others include Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA), Peter Stark (D-CA), and Ron Paul (R-TX). While the Obama administration has been arguably sympathetic to medical marijuana -- although recent raids and some US attorneys' statements have raised activists' hackles -- Polis wants a legalization bill to protect patients in medical marijuana states in the event of a less friendly future administration, but to go further as well.

Jared Polis
Polis has demonstrated before that he is not afraid to go public with his anti-prohibitionist views. At the end of last month, he appeared at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, standing alongside representatives of the newly-formed medical marijuana industry lobbying group, the National Cannabis Industry Association.

"Ending the failed policy of prohibition with regard to marijuana will strike a major blow against the criminal cartels that are terrorizing Americans and Mexicans on both sides of the border," he said at that time.

Polis wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder last February asking him to ensure the feds complied with its October 19th memo on respecting state law. "Treating drug policy as primarily an issue of public health, as opposed to an issue of criminal justice, is both practical and compassionate and it has been and will continue to be supported by the voters of Colorado," he said then.

Polis is a Democratic progressive, and marijuana legalization fits squarely into a progressive agenda he has created with his Fearless Campaign, which also emphasizes education reform, immigration reform, food security, net neutrality, and gay, lesbian, and transgender issues.

"Close to half of Americans support legalization, yet progress is Congress is still far away," Polis said Saturday. "That's why I launched the Fearless Campaign. It's really about informing you about what's happening on Capitol Hill and empowering you to speak truth to power. We want the advocacy community tied in. These are transforming issues that are too hot to handle, but too important to ignore. Politicians need to know they're not alone, that you have their backs," he said.

"I think Americans are ready for a serious discussion about tough issues," Polis continued. "Reforming our failed drug policies is a prime example of that. Our policy of marijuana prohibition is a failed policy that doesn’t make our communities safer, while driving legitimate economic activity underground."

Efforts at legalization are growing close to fruition on both coasts, and with representatives like Jared Polis now holding forth in Congress, even that august institution is being infected with the legalization virus. The times, they are a-changing.

Denver, CO
United States

Portland Legislator Pushes Bill to Legalize, Tax Marijuana in Maine

Location: 
ME
United States
Imagine walking into a neighborhood store to buy beer, wine, liquor and cigarettes. But on your way home you make one more stop – to buy marijuana, legally. That's the vision Rep. Diane Russell will outline at a press conference on Wednesday at Portland City Hall, when she introduces LD 1453: An Act to Legalize and Tax Marijuana.
Publication/Source: 
The Forecaster (ME)
URL: 
http://www.theforecaster.net/content/p-maine-rep-introduces-bill-legalize-tax-marijuana-042011

Marc Emery Denied Transfer to Canadian Prison

Canadian marijuana legalization activist Marc Emery, currently serving a five-year federal prison sentence in the US, has been denied in his request to finish serving his time in a Canadian prison. His Canadian attorney, Kirk Tousaw, said Friday that Emery received notice that US authorities had denied the request on the grounds of "the seriousness of the offense" and "law enforcement concerns."

Marc Emery leading a rally in Calgary during happier times (image via wikimedia.org)
Emery, the self-proclaimed "Prince of Pot," is serving time for selling marijuana seeds. Emery used the profits from those seed sales to fund legalization campaigns in Canada, the US, and elsewhere. His supporters have long charged that his prosecution was politically motivated.

Emery is currently at the federal holding facility in El Reno, Oklahoma, while awaiting transfer to a medium-security prison in Mississippi. He had previously been held in a minimum-security prison in Georgia. It is unclear why he is being transferred to a higher security prison.

Under a bilateral treaty, Canadian prisoners serving time in the US can apply to serve their sentence in their home country, and vice versa. The guidelines for evaluating prisoner transfer applications are available here.

"This refusal is a terrible affront to the sovereignty of Canada," said Tousaw. "Marc is a target of political persecution that appears to have transcended his conviction and now infects the treaty transfer process. He qualifies under every relevant factor and should have been allowed to serve out his jail term in Canada, close to his wife Jodie and in the country in which all of his activity took place. We call upon Prime Minister Harper and the leaders of the Liberal Party and NDP to stand up for this Canadian hero and demand his immediate repatriation."

Emery's wife, Jodie Emery, said she was "shocked and sickened" by the denial. "He has been punished for speaking out for the rights of tens of millions of cannabis consumers here and in the US and it's truly frightening," she said in a statement. "Canadians who feel Marc has been treated unfairly with an unjust five-year US prison sentence for seeds should punish the Conservatives in the federal election on May 2nd for extraditing Marc in the first place."

Tousaw said the notification of the denial came through unusual channels. Neither he nor Emery's US attorney were notified of the decision, as would usually be the case. Instead, someone in the US government notified the Canadian government, and Emery was notified via a letter from the Canadian consulate.

"This is very unusual and should not have happened," Tousaw said. "It makes me wonder whether the US and Canada are engaged in ongoing dialogue about Marc and lends support to the belief that politics are still influencing the process."

Emery can reapply for a transfer to his homeland in two years. If that doesn't occur, he will remain imprisoned in the US until he does 85% of his sentence.

El Reno, OK
United States

Mexico, Just Say No to America's Prohibitionist War on Drugs (Opinion)

Location: 
Mexico
Gwynne Dyer, an independent journalist based in London, opines on the state of Mexico's drug prohibition war against the backdrop of a remarkable event that occurred in Mexico last week. Tens of thousands of Mexicans gathered in the main squares of cities across the country to demand an end to the "war on drugs". In the Zocalo, in the heart of Mexico City, they chanted "no more blood" and many called for the resignation of President Felipe Calderon, who began the war by using the army against the drug trafficking organizations in late 2006.
Publication/Source: 
The New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
URL: 
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=10718630

Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies in Washington State

A bill that would have legalized marijuana in Washington state has died. It failed to move out of committee by Friday, a legislative deadline for action.

Will voters take matters into their own hands now? (Image via Wikimedia)
The bill, House Bill 1550, sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-Seattle), would have legalized the possession and sale of marijuana, with sales regulated by the state Liquor Control Board. The bill would have imposed a 15% per gram tax on marijuana sales, which supporters said would bring hundreds of millions of dollars into state coffers in coming years.

The bill had the support of the entire Seattle legislative delegation, as well as the Seattle Times editorial board. But that wasn't enough to move it out of committee.

The legislature's failure to act clears the way for an effort to take the issue directly to the voters. Sensible Washington is already gathering signatures for a legalization initiative to go before the voters in November.

They need 241,000 valid signatures by July 8, a target they missed by some 50,000 signatures last year after failing to win the support of some key players in Evergreen State pot politics.

Olympia, WA
United States

Chronicle Book Review: "The Pot Book" and "Cannabis Policy"

The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis -- Its Role in Medicine, Politics, Science and Culture, edited by Julie Holland, MD (2010, Park Street Press, 545 pp., $19.95 PB)

Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate, by Robin Room, et al., 2010, Oxford University Press, 233 pp., $59.95 PB)

The literature of marijuana is booming. Hundreds of new titles have appeared in recent years and more are coming this year in a bid to assuage the reading public's seemingly insatiable appetite for books about pot. Two of the better contributions from last year are The Pot Book and Cannabis Policy.

One is broad in scope while the other is narrowly focused, but both turn a sharp eye on their respective subject matters. For Dr. Julie Holland and more than 50 contributors to The Pot Book, the subject matter is damned near anything having anything to do with marijuana, while for Robin Room and his crew of academic collaborators, including the University of Maryland's Peter Reuter, Cannabis Policy is all about, well, changing the pot laws.

The Pot Book is a virtual Encylopedia Cannabinica, with contributions ranging from ancient history to cutting edge research. Stoner culture mavens will read about everything from primitive cannabis cults and ancient Chinese medicine to modern pot culture and politics, and they will be regaled by some of the country's leading experts on various aspects of the world of marijuana.

The politics of pot are discussed by the likes of the Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann, NORML's Allen St. Pierre, the ACLU Drug Policy Project's Graham Boyd, and former Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Bruce Mirken, among others. Tommy Chong adds a bit of comic relief about getting busted, although he finds it "not so funny."

But none of that is likely to be news to readers of the Chronicle. What is more exciting is to see contributions from people who have made their reputations outside the marijuana movement. Famed food writer Michael Pollan has a fascinating essay on "Gardener's Rights, Forgetting, and Co-Evolution," while natural medicine figure Dr. Andrew Weil contributes an interview on the clinical applications of cannabis.

A section on the risks of use and harm reduction is noteworthy for actually applying the concept of harm reduction to marijuana use and, one hopes, widening the awareness of harm reduction among readers who aren't wonks or activists. It, too, includes some of the foremost experts on various aspects of marijuana use, such as NORML's Paul Armentano on pot and driving and Professor Harry Levine on race and marijuana arrests.

Likewise, contributions on medical marijuana, pot cultivation, early and recent history, and cannabis culture feature cogent, well-informed writing. Novelist and essayist Douglass Rushkoff's "Cannabis: Stealth Goddess" was especially enjoyable, and an interview with philanthropist and Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis looks at a usually neglected part of the world of marijuana -- financing reform.

At more than 500 pages, The Pot Book has something for you if you have any interest in marijuana whatsoever. And even the most obsessive and knowledgeable stoners are going to find new nuggets of information.

While The Pot Book touches on marijuana policy reform, Cannabis Policy is all about it. This is serious, staid, academic stuff, likely to be of interest to serious reformers and activists, but less so for your average pot smoker.

The academics behind Cannabis Policy review the literature on the relationship between marijuana prohibition enforcement policies and use levels and find little correlation, an important but too often overlooked finding. After all, if enforcing pot laws more harshly does not achieve the putative goal of prohibition -- reducing marijuana use -- then why do it?

They also examine alternative approaches to marijuana possession, including depenalization (still illegal, but with non-penal punishments), decriminalization (no criminal record), de facto legalization (the Netherlands), and de jure legalization (Alaska), and their implications, in terms of both policy and politics.

Most usefully, Cannabis Policy examines how far marijuana law reforms can be pushed and still remain within the bounds of the UN drug conventions and, more excitingly, how the conventions could be amended or undone to allow for a legal marijuana industry. The authors are not exactly sanguine about the prospects for undoing a half-century of global prohibition (the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs celebrated its 50th birthday this month), but they have presented a road map for doing so.

The Pot Book illustrates the scope and breadth of marijuana's impact in the modern world, while Cannabis Policy looks at the nuts and bolts of policy making and the social science that should underpin it. Both are welcome contributions to the literature.

New England Swings... On Marijuana Law Reform [FEATURE]

Over, the past decade, New England has quietly emerged as a center of marijuana law reform. Outside of the West, no other region of the country has matched the advances of that historic corner of America bounded by New York, Canada, and the North Atlantic. Is there something in the maple syrup?

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/old-north-bridge-concord.jpg
Old North Bridge, Concord, MA (Jim Louzouski, nps.gov)
When New England comes to mind, people tend to think of the leaves turning in the fall, the wild and rocky Maine seacoast, Vermont's Green Mountains, or Boston and its historic role in the American Revolution. But given what the region has accomplished in terms of marijuana policy, perhaps it's better to think of it as an ongoing social experiment, and the question to ask is: Why New England?

New England consists of six states -- Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont -- with a combined population of 14.4 million. It is dominated by megalopolitan Boston, whose 7.4 million residents make up more than half the region's residents. But all six states combined still contain fewer people than Florida, New York, Texas, or California.

Of those six states, half have already passed medical marijuana laws (Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont) and a third have already decriminalized pot possession (Maine and Massachusetts). In both cases, New England scores well above the national average. In fact, outside of New England and the West, from the Dakotas to the Carolinas and from the Rio Grande to the Potomac, the landscape for pot law reform has been largely harsh and barren.

And New Englanders aren't resting on their laurels. The region is intent on remaining in the pot reform vanguard. Whether it's medical marijuana, decriminalization, or legalization, New Englanders are keeping the pressure on.

In Connecticut, where Republican Gov. Jodi Rell vetoed a medical marijuana bill in 2007, current Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy is pushing both medical marijuana and decriminalization bills, the latter as part of a broader corrections reform package. In Rhode Island, which already has a medical marijuana law, the licensing of dispensaries began this month. Legislators there are considering both decriminalization and legalization bills.

In Maine, where possession of up to 2.5 ounces is already decriminalized, there is a bill to double that to five ounces -- and to decriminalize the cultivation of up to six plants, as well. In Massachusetts, where voters decriminalized marijuana through the initiative process in 2008, activists continue to push the envelope. Both medical marijuana and legalization bills have been filed.

In New Hampshire, where a medical marijuana bill was vetoed by Gov. John Lynch (D) in 2009, a new medical marijuana bill passed the House earlier this month and awaits consideration by the Senate. In Vermont, which already has medical marijuana, a bill to allow two nonprofit dispensaries to open up is moving. So is a decriminalization bill endorsed by Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.

While the passage of these bills is by no means assured, the battles are being fought and advances are being made. Observers of the scene say that's only par for the course in a region that has been a crucible for progressive social movements since the days of John Adams and Paul Revere.

It's not only the Revolutionary War heritage, of course; New England has been the home of critical social thinkers such as Emerson and Thoreau, a hotbed of the abolitionist movement in the 19th Century, birthplace of the anti-nuclear movement in the 20th Century, and among the first areas to feel the impact of the Industrial Revolution.

It also the land of participatory democracy through its storied town meetings. And it is the most politically liberal region of the country. Four of its six state houses are controlled by Democrats, and even the region's Republicans are moderate compared to the rest of the country. It is also home to the nation's only socialist senator, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and only independent governor, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (formerly a moderate Republican).

Not least of all, it is also hosts one of the densest concentrations of college students in the land. New England is home to Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth (half of the Ivy League), as well as MIT, half of the historically liberal arts women's colleges known as the Seven Sisters, and the Five Colleges consortium in Western Massachusetts. The Boston area in particular is crawling with students.

"In New England, we have a rich history of standing up and speaking truth to power dating back to even before this country was founded," said Tom Angell, a New Englander born and bred, who rose through the ranks as an activist with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) at the University of Rhode Island and as staff in the national office SSDP in Washington, DC, before taking his current position as communications director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "This is really in our blood," he said.

Angell pointed to the critical role of student activists in the region. "We have this enormous concentration of colleges and universities, and, at least from a Rhode Island perspective, many of the campaigns we've seen over the past few years were initiated by or happened with members of SSDP chapters," he said. "Students from the University of Rhode Island and Brown founded the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition and did all the legwork building coalitions" that led to passage of the medical marijuana bill there, he said.

A relatively small population in the region also plays a role, activists said. "The populations in New England are smaller, and it's easier to get public education done," said Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "There is also a lot of public support for reform, as well as a tradition of independent thinking regarding any type of policy issues."

"There are fewer people here and less bullshit," said Cliff Thornton, a long-time Connecticut-based drug reformer. "California alone has almost three as many people as all New England. When you understand that, you understand why there are fewer voices for prohibition."

New England is fertile ground for reform, said Thornton, who was quick to add that he was not just talking about pot law reform and was in fact critical of reformers who concentrated solely on marijuana. "It seems like all of a sudden everyone just woke up," Thornton said. "Every damned week, there is some type of forum on marijuana or prohibition or prison. I think here in New England we've reached critical mass, and people feel safer now coming out against the drug war."

But critical mass doesn't just suddenly happen, and it is here that the region's more immediate history of drug reform activism plays a role. To take just one regional example, the Boston Freedom Rally, the nation's second-largest marijuana reform event (behind Seattle's Hempfest) has been going on since 1989, and the MassCann activists associated with it have spent the last decade running non-binding public policy questions on medical marijuana, decriminalization, and legalization. They have never lost, and that wins them some leverage at the state house.

"Here in Massachusetts, 20 years of activism has played a key role in getting us to where we are today," said MassCann's Bill Downing. "Massachusetts is so active because we have a history, a tradition of civil activity here, and many people in Massachusetts believe it's their patriotic duty; that's how democracy works."

"Activism has made a tremendous impact in New England," said Thornton. "I've been doing this for a long time, but now other organizations are springing up, and over the years, we've garnered a lot of credibility. We've got some good activists now and they have been able to turn a lot of people around."

MassCann's Downing also saluted young people and suggested that the region's marijuana reform movement has matured enough to allow for a changing of the guard. "We have so many young people in Boston," he said. "For years, we've been reaching out to them, and it's paying off. Our board of directors just had a sea change, with a lot of new people and a lot of women coming in. Last year, we didn't have any women on the board; now there are five."

For reasons historical and demographic, cultural and geographic, New England is clearly in the vanguard of marijuana law reform. And, as MassCann's Downing noted, the same spirit that animated the Founding Fathers animates reformers today.

"People forget that the major reason marijuana law reform is good is because we are more free," he said.

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