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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.

Drugs, Freedom, and Responsibility at Burning Man

Editor's note: This is a repost of the piece I wrote about Burning Man last year. I couldn't top it, so I'm sharing it again. Enjoy.

Having just emerged from one of the most epic experiences of my life, I'd like to share a few thoughts before returning to my usual news-skewering routine. Don't worry, it's about drug policy, although I'm proud to say I did manage to go an entire week without thinking about the drug war much at all.

I just spent seven days in the desert with 50,000 very enthusiastic adventurers, more than a few of whom engaged in the recreational use of mind-altering substances other than alcohol. Now, Burning Man is about much more than drugs, and even among those choosing to consume, beer seemed to be the most popular choice. But there was also a robust and visible psychedelic culture to be found there, making the event a rather vivid depiction of what happens when you release thousands of rabid psychonauts in harsh desert conditions and let them do whatever the hell they want.

Let's just say the outcome is substantially more graceful and orderly than even my own wide-open mind could have anticipated. I've seen far more sloppiness and idiocy at any football game I've ever attended than I did at Burning Man, even after dark when the serious weirdos really get down to business. Not even an abundance of liquid acid can unravel the inherent civility that takes hold when an intentional community of caring and curious people unites to celebrate free-expression on its own terms.

No major festival is entirely immune to the disruptive influence of individual trouble-makers, but Burning Man has established an impressive track record of general safety and cohesion going back many years now. It's a brilliant exhibit in the viability of expanding the boundaries of acceptable human behavior, particularly insofar as anyone who doesn't want to see naked people driving around in fire-breathing dragon-cars can simply choose not to attend.

The whole experience for me became yet another reminder of the profound stupidity of attempting to purge the psychedelic experience from our culture. If the paranoid fulminations of the anti-drug demagogues even approached the truth, an event such as this could never exist, for the playa would be soaked in blood and tears before the first sunrise. Once it's understood that the post-legalization drug apocalypse we've been taught to fear for so long is nothing more than a mindless fantasy, the justification for war evaporates faster than sweat under the desert sun.

Feds vs. Deadheads in Missouri "Schwagstock" Forfeiture Battle [FEATURE]

Since 2004, when veteran musician Jimmy Tebeau brought the 350-acre rural property in central Missouri and turned it a camping and concert venue, Camp Zoe has been Deadhead central in the Show Me State. A member of the Grateful Dead tribute band The Schwag, Tebeau has hosted numerous Schwagstock and Spookstock festivals, as well as other concerts and events, drawing nationally known acts and thousands of fans for weekends of outdoor fun in the sun.

Jimmy Tebeau (image via campzoe.com)
But the DEA and the Missouri Highway Patrol harshed Camp Zoe's mellow vibe last November, when they rolled into the venue early in the morning and searched the site. A week later, they announced that they were initiating federal civil asset forfeiture proceedings against the property because of alleged rampant drug use and Tebeau's failure to put a halt to it.

According to a complaint filed November 8 in the Eastern Missouri US District Court, the feds alleged that "over the past several years law enforcement agents have specifically observed the open sales of cocaine, marijuana, LSD (acid), ecstasy, psilocybin mushrooms, opium and marijuana-laced food products by individuals attending the music festival and made multiple undercover purchases of illegal drugs."

Tebeau and other Camp Zoe staff members "were in the immediate area" when drug deals were going down and "took no immediate action to prevent the activity," the complaint continued. It added that "undercover purchases have been made as recently as September 2010," when Schwagstock 45 was held, but noted that the investigation stretched back to 2006 and included evidence from "surveillance, undercover operations, source information, bank records, and interviews."

Most critically, the complaint alleges that Camp Zoe was "knowingly opened, rented, leased, used, or maintained for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing or using controlled substances." In other words, the feds are arguing that the purpose of Camp Zoe was not to be a concert venue, but a drug den, and it could thus be lawfully seized, along with nearly $200,000 in cash they seized from the site and various bank accounts.

good clean fun at Camp Zoe (image from campzoe.com)
The case pitting a local counterculture icon and his property against the power of the federal government has stirred considerable interest in Missouri, as well as among members of the peripatetic Deadhead set. (In fact, I had a conversation about the case with a dreadlocked young woman at a Northern California music festival last weekend.) It has also excited the attention of asset forfeiture reformers and critics of overweening governmental power.

But wait, it's even worse. The feds upped the ante further just a couple of weeks ago. After stalling the asset forfeiture proceedings for seven months -- leaving Camp Zoe silent and vacant and Tebeau without his primary source of income -- and seeing that Tebeau was not about to roll over for them, federal prosecutors last week sought and got a criminal indictment charging that Tebeau "knowingly and intentionally profited from and made available for use, with or without compensation, said place for the purpose of unlawfully storing, distributing, or using controlled substances."

"This is the sort of things Soviet thugs did and that continues to happen in Russia under Vladimir Putin," said Eapen Thampy, executive director of the Kansas City-based Americans for Forfeiture Reform. "They take a businessman, take his money, and take him to jail. I see this as an attempt by rich and powerful law enforcement agencies to acquire property or money they can turn into salaries or equipment."

fun and camping at Camp Zoe (image from campzoe.com)
"The Camp Zoe situation is really interesting," said Dave Roland, a St. Louis-based attorney who is director of litigation for the libertarian-leaning Missouri Freedom Center. "The federal government has recently come back and said they will charge him with maintaining the property for the purpose of facilitating drug transactions, but that seems like an after the fact justification for their attempt to seize the property. The more likely explanation is that the government was embarrassed by the fact people kept saying how can you take this property without alleging he's doing something illegal in the first place," he ventured.

"There was no one engaging in violence at Camp Zoe, there were no allegations of harm or injury," Roland continued. "That the government is concentrating on these sorts of victimless crimes demonstrates misplaced priorities. Especially in light of the financial crunch, we ought to be reallocating resources to deal with real threats to the health and safety of the community and not these drug witch hunts."

But there's the rub. Missouri law enforcement agencies profit handsomely from asset forfeiture, especially when they do an end run around state asset forfeiture law and partner with the feds. Under a 2004 asset forfeiture reform law, funds seized by state and local law enforcement agencies are supposed to go to the state education fund, but that's not what happened.

The state auditor's reports on asset forfeiture activity show a quick learning curve by state and local law enforcement. While, after the 1994 reforms, schools got 27% of seized funds in 1996 and 1997, in 1998, that figure fell by half to 14%. There was no audit done in 1999, but in 2000 and every year since, schools have gotten 2%, with that figure dropping to 1% in 2008 and 2009. Meanwhile the Justice Department and state and local cops have raked in millions of dollars, gobbling up the vast majority of funds that were supposed to go to Missouri's schools.

"Asset forfeiture abuse is rampant all over the country," said Roland. "Here in Missouri, the state made an effort to improve its statutes a decade ago, but the problem is that law enforcement agencies find alternative ways to accomplish the same end. Now, you see state and local law enforcement handing cases over to federal agencies because they get a kickback from the asset forfeitures. There is an actual financial incentive to assist federal agencies in the unconstitutional use of asset forfeiture laws."

"Missouri has laws that say how asset forfeiture should be conducted and where the money should go, but they aren't being followed," said Thampy. "When you put this into that context, these abuses are way more serious," he said, adding that he believed 90% of Missouri counties were not in compliance with the law.

Neither Roland nor Thampy were impressed with the criminal charges now being brought against Tebeau. Nor were they aware of other cases of "maintaining a drug premise" being brought against other concert venues. That law is widely known as the "crack house" law.

"The government has a pretty steep hill to climb to prove that Tebeau was operating this camp so that people could buy illegal drugs," said Roland. "I'm very skeptical that the government is going to be able to carry its burden of proof."

"That charge is complete bullshit," Thampy responded bluntly. "If they wanted to charge him with drug trafficking or drug possession, those would be appropriate charges if they could prove them. But charging him with running a drug premise says that he got this land for the sole purpose of conducting drug transactions. It would be putting it mildly to say this is an abuse of prosecutorial power."

"To the best of my understanding, this is not a commonly used statute," said Roland. "I don't recall ever seeing it used in the context of a concert venue owner. They're alleging that the property is being used for the purpose of facilitating drug transactions simply because Tebeau didn't take some unspecified affirmative action."

Now facing criminal charges as well as the seizure of Camp Zoe, Tebeau is still refusing to roll over and cut a deal. With his income-producing property shut down and his bank accounts seized, Tebeau is at a real disadvantage, but thanks to his fans and followers and continuing gigs as a musician, he has so far been able to raise the funds to defend himself.

"A just outcome would be dropping the charges and dropping the attempted asset forfeiture," said Roland. "If we're not going to legalize drugs, the government needs to at least focus on the people and activities they're really worried about. Jimmy hasn't been charged with actually being involved, and it's unjust to target him for a criminal action because someone else was doing something illegal. That's manifestly unjust."

MO
United States

LSD Icon Owsley 'Bear' Stanley Dead at 76; Killed in Car Accident in Australia

Location: 
Australia
Owsley "Bear" Stanley's long, strange trip has ended. The counterculture icon who was a major LSD producer in the 1960s and was celebrated in song by The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix, has died in a car crash in Australia.
Publication/Source: 
New York Daily News (NY)
URL: 
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/2011/03/14/2011-03-14_lsd_icon_owsley_bear_stanley_dead_at_76_killed_in_car_accident_in_australia.html

High Time? Websites Give Cannabis a Classy New Look

As state medical marijuana laws push marijuana closer to Main Street, a few websites are starting to give it an updated, more understated image aimed at mainstream marijuana lovers outside the prototypical "stoner" demographic.
Publication/Source: 
ABC News (US)
URL: 
http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/high-time-websites-give-cannabis-classy/story?id=11756275

Drugs, Freedom, and Responsibility at Burning Man

Having just emerged from one of the most epic experiences of my life, I'd like to share a few thoughts before returning to my usual news-skewering routine. Don't worry, it's about drug policy, although I'm proud to say I did manage to go an entire week without thinking about the drug war much at all.


I just spent seven days in the desert with 50,000 very enthusiastic adventurers, more than a few of whom engaged in the recreational use of mind-altering substances other than alcohol. Now, Burning Man is about much more than drugs, and even among those choosing to consume, beer seemed to be the most popular choice. But there was also a robust and visible psychedelic culture to be found there, making the event a rather vivid depiction of what happens when you release thousands of rabid psychonauts in harsh desert conditions and let them do whatever the hell they want.

Let's just say the outcome is substantially more graceful and orderly than even my own wide-open mind could have anticipated. I've seen far more sloppiness and idiocy at any football game I've ever attended than I did at Burning Man, even after dark when the serious weirdos really get down to business. Not even an abundance of liquid acid can unravel the inherent civility that takes hold when an intentional community of caring and curious people unites to celebrate free-expression on its own terms.

No major festival is entirely immune to the disruptive influence of individual trouble-makers, but Burning Man has established an impressive track record of general safety and cohesion going back many years now. It's a brilliant exhibit in the viability of expanding the boundaries of acceptable human behavior, particularly insofar as anyone who doesn't want to see naked people driving around in fire-breathing dragon-cars can simply choose not to attend.

The whole experience for me became yet another reminder of the profound stupidity of attempting to purge the psychedelic experience from our culture. If the paranoid fulminations of the anti-drug demagogues even approached the truth, an event such as this could never exist, for the playa would be soaked in blood and tears before the first sunrise. Once it's understood that the post-legalization drug apocalypse we've been taught to fear for so long is nothing more than a mindless fantasy, the justification for war evaporates faster than sweat under the desert sun.

Review: "Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love"

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: Nicholas Schou, "Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World" (2010, St. Martin's Press, 305 pp., $24.99 HB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/orangesunshine.jpg
As a teenager in remote South Dakota in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I had friends who traveled to Southern California and returned bearing strange gifts indeed: Orange Sunshine brand LSD, hash oil called "Number 1," Thai sticks. I had no clue at the time I was becoming a participant in a messianic drug-selling venture that spanned the world from its headquarters in Laguna Beach, but it turns out I was. That stuff my friends brought back from California was all thanks to the efforts of a group of Orange County surf bums and trouble-prone working class kids who took acid, got religion, and set out to change the world.

They ended up calling themselves the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and "Orange Sunshine" is their story. And what a story it is! Led by a charismatic Laguna Beach street-fighter and troublemaker turned acid-washed mystic named John Griggs (who later died after taking a massive dose of synthetic psilocybin), the Brotherhood adopted as its mission the turning-on of the whole planet. What is shocking is how far they came in achieving their goal.

By the time the Brotherhood went down in flames in a massive federal bust in 1972, it had manufactured and distributed untold millions of doses of its trademark Orange Sunshine, it had pioneered the smuggling of Afghan hashish to the US, it had smuggled massive amounts of Mexican weed into the US, it provided a strong impetus for the formation of the DEA, and, strangely enough, it had made possible Maui Wowie and the Hawaiian pot boom of the 1970s.

The story of Maui Wowie is worth recounting, given that it demonstrates the scope of the Brotherhood's operations and the avidity with which its members went about their business. Wanting to finance another massive Afghan hash deal, Brotherhood members bought a boatload of Mexican weed and took it to Hawaii to sell before heading on to Afghanistan for the second part of the deal. Trapped in an endless, drug-fueled party on Maui, the Brotherhood never completed that deal, but someone there crossbred the Mexican weed with some Afghan pot plants and -- voila! -- Maui Wowie was born, and so was the Hawaiian pot industry.

Relying on interviews with Brotherhood members and the police who chased them, as well as court and newspaper records, OC Weekly writer Nicholos Schou spent four years tracking down the story of the legendary group and telling it in a rollicking, page-turning fashion. In so doing, he also opens a window on the beginnings of the acid era and the cultural turmoil of the late 1960s.

What jumps out at contemporary readers is the naivete and innocence of the time. Griggs and the other Brotherhood members really believed that LSD could change the world -- it certainly changed their world -- and set out with missionary zeal to make it so. Yes, there was money to be made, but for the idealistic Brotherhood, money was not an end, but a means. In fact, the Brotherhood bragged that it had knocked the bottom out of the Southern California hash market intentionally, because prices were too high.

Of course, idealistic zeal could hardly compete with cash, and before long, the Brotherhood and its members were acting like any other dope dealers, more interested in the bottom line than in blowing minds. Such a trajectory seems preordained today, but at the time, the holiness of LSD was supposed to lead us past such materialistic traps. That it didn't hardly seems surprising now, and I suppose that shows how far we've fallen.

Idealistic zeal also had a hard time dealing with pressure and betrayal. While Brotherhood members stayed remarkably loyal for years, one of them eventually cracked under police pressure (and because of disaffection with a group that had drifted from its noble goals), allowing the feds to roll up their operation in 1972. And Timothy Leary, the apostle of acid, whom the Brotherhood worshipped and who stayed with the Brotherhood in Laguna Beach, also turned on it, spilling the beans to the feds after being arrested in Afghanistan. What made Leary's betrayal sting even more painfully was the fact that the Brotherhood had financed the successful Weatherman/Black Panther effort to break Leary out of prison after he had been busted in Laguna Beach.

"Orange Sunshine" is full of great stories, but my favorite has to be the Laguna Beach Christmas party in 1970, when 25,000 hippies headed for Laguna Canyon for a Woodstock-style event. On Christmas day, a cargo plane hired by the Brotherhood flew over the gathering and bombed the crowd with several tens of thousands of hits of Orange Sunshine. Now, that's what I call a party!

But all parties must come to an end, and that was true for the Brotherhood as well, although, despite bold pronouncements from the feds that they had broken the group in 1972, individual members of the Brotherhood kept at their dope-dealing trade for years afterwards. All in all, "Orange Sunshine" is an eminently readable trip down memory lane to the beginning of the contemporary drug culture and a fascinating look at how a small group of high-minded kids ended up changing the world.

Feature: The Global Marijuana Marches, Part II

Last Saturday saw the second phase of the Global Marijuana March. While the May Day marijuana marches two weeks ago appeared to be concentrated in North America, last Saturday it was the turn of the Europeans and Latin Americans to take center stage.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/buenosaires2010.jpg
Buenos Aires (Mike Bifari in front row, wearing green)
Known variously as the Global Marijuana March, the Million Marijuana March, the World Marijuana March, or, more informally, International Weed Day, the actions in cities around the globe are designed to advance the cause of marijuana legalization and celebrate the global cannabis culture.

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 (ENCOD) 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 on May 1 and Rome and Latin America last Saturday, marchers came out in the thousands, while in others, including small communities and college campuses across the US, the number was in the dozens or possibly the hundreds.

During the first phase of the Global Marijuana March, the largest turnout was in Toronto, where an estimated 20,000 people rallied for legalization and to free "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery. (See related story here.) That turnout was exceeded this week in Rome, where an estimated 30,000 people marched and, quite possibly, in Mexico City, where no crowd estimates were made, but where video of the march shows a multitude of marchers filling the street for block after block. Buenos Aires, meanwhile, was the scene of another large turnout, with organizers there estimating the crowd at 8,000.

The march in Rome, while the largest world-wide this year, was smaller than usual, said Alberto Sciolari of the group Mefisto, which organized the event. "This year, we didn't allow techno sound systems on trucks, just some reggae, to enhance specifically cannabis awareness among participants and to avoid problems with young people possibly using chemical drugs and not caring about cannabis," he said. "So the march was smaller, but we were happier."

While Sciolari reported no problems with police at the march, there have been lots of problems with police for Italian pot smokers recently, and the march addressed that issue. "It was dedicated to the victims of prohibition, of which we've had so many in recent times," he said. "We also had a press conference with relatives of some of the victims Saturday morning."

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/newyork2010.jpg
New York (courtesy Andrew Seidenfeld)
By contrast, turnouts were smaller in Northern Europe this year, reported ENCOD's Joep Oomen. "There were about 150 people in Brussels, 500 in Paris, and 1,000 in Amsterdam," he said, laying the blame on cold, chilly weather.

In Buenos Aires, an Argentine cannabis community energized by last year's court rulings invalidating the law against marijuana possession (Congress has yet to draft a new one), left its traditional rallying spot at Parque Planetario and took to the streets, marching first to the Plaza de Mayo, home of the presidential palace, then down Avenida de Mayo to Congress.

"This last march was historic, nothing will be the same after this incredible demonstration," said a jazzed Mike Bifari, one of the organizers and speakers at the rally. "We were tired of just sitting there and doing nothing; we wanted our voices to be heard. And this march was so big and energetic, like never before, because there were so many groups organizing the rally and people were coming from all over the province of Buenos Aires, as well as from the popular neighborhoods in the city itself."

Speakers honored the dead, including Edith "La Negra," a famous Argentine pot smoker and Jack Herer, said Bifari. "It was like his spirit was there telling us all the benefits of our lovely plant," he said.

The theme in Buenos Aires was "stop the raids against our brothers, stop the police from arresting people for marijuana, and release our brothers in prison," Bifari said. While Congress dawdles in writing a new pot law, "We suffered a few raids these last few months, mainly in the interior of the country," he said.

"One thing that everybody agrees on is that the law must catch up with us because it can't stop our growing healthy cannabis movement, especially now that we know how to gain the streets when we need to."

In Mexico City, where the annual march celebrated its 10th anniversary, thousands packed the Zocalo before marching between the towers of downtown. Organized by AMECA (the Mexican Association for Cannabis Studies) and nearly a dozen other groups and collectives, marchers called for legalization of the weed, not the pseudo-decriminalization passed by the government last year.

"We are at a conjunctural moment," said AMECA's Leopoldo Rivera Rivera, citing the prohibition-related violence plaguing Mexico even as the US -- the largest market by far for illicit Mexican drugs -- appears headed toward relaxing its drug laws.

In Rio de Janeiro, about 1,500 marched for marijuana legalization on May Day, reported Luiz Guanabara of Psicotropicus. Marches took place in other Brazilian cities last Saturday, except for Fortaleza, where a judge blocked the march as an "apology for crime."

And so, another year's worth of Global Marijuana Marches have come and gone. Will next year be the year people take to the streets to celebrate landmark advances in marijuana legalization in the US? Stay tuned.

Feature: Reed College in the Crosshairs of Prosecutorial Drug Crackdown

While Oregon sees hundreds of drug overdose deaths a year -- from both illegal and prescription drugs -- a pair of publicity-seeking state and federal prosecutors have made a small Portland liberal arts college where two students have died of heroin overdoses in the past two years the public focus of their attack on the drug trade. Last week, Reed College President Colin Diver was summoned to the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, where he was warned that the school could face a cutoff of federal funds, including student loans, if it is not found to be taking "adequate steps to combat illegal drug activity," starting with this weekend's annual school year-end bash, Renn Fayre, which the prosecutors vowed will be filled with undercover police determined to quash drug use and sales.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/rennfayre.jpg
Renn Fayre (sarako on flickr.com)
According to the Oregon State Medical Examiner, 119 people died from heroin overdoses in 2008 and 127 in 2009. Including prescription drug overdoses, 492 Oregonians died of ODs in 2008, 270 from prescription opiates. For some reason, the State Medical Examiner did not include prescription drug deaths in the 2009 figures.

In Multnomah County alone, where Reed is located, 63 people died of heroin overdoses in 2008 and 71 in 2009. That's more than one a week for both years. But no other single overdose or pair of overdose deaths has excited the reaction displayed by state and federal prosecutors who went after Reed last week.

Reed makes an excellent target for drug warriors. For decades, the academically rigorous school has had a reputation as a counterculture haven where drug use is accepted. While that reputation is overblown and outdated, students say, it makes the college a handy lightning rod for those engaged in the culture wars.

Enter US Attorney for Oregon Dwight Holton and Multnomah County (Portland) District Attorney Michael Schrunk. In an email to Divers that they asked be forwarded to the Reed community, the prosecutorial pair used the deaths of the two students as a battle cry for a crackdown.

After lamenting the loss of the students, they wrote: "But while now may be a time for reflection and grief, it is also a time for action. It is now time for the Reed community to abandon the myth that drug use is a safe and acceptable form of exploration. It is time for Renn Fayre and Reed to adopt a zero tolerance policy prohibiting illegal drugs flat-out."

It isn't beatnik days anymore, prosecutors wrote, in a bid to appeal to Reed's countercultural heritage: "The illegal drug trade has changed radically since the days when giants like Alan (sic) Ginsberg and Gary Snyder '51 roamed campus here. The fact is that the drug trade is now fueled by one of the most potent forces in the West: greed."

The pair then explained at length how "drug cartels" are "targeting middle class and wealthier kids," then went on to say they made no distinction between non-lethal drug like marijuana and drugs like heroin. "Don't get sucked in by this bogus Siren call. The fact is that if the Reed community insists that this is 'not our problem' and tries to draw distinctions between 'hard' and other drugs, you will send the message that drug use can be safe... It is time for the Reed community to embrace the notion that drug use is not safe and it will not be tolerated -- without fine print, without provisos, and without conditions."

They then issued a blunt warning: "As the top federal prosecutor in Oregon and the Multnomah County District attorney, we have a responsibility to this community -- including you and your families. We cannot, and we will not stand by if drug use is tolerated on your campus. We cannot, and we will not stand by if Renn Fayre is a repeat of years past -- where even in the wake of Alejandro Lluch's death drug use and distribution were allegedly rampant."

Finally, the prosecutorial pair gallantly offered their assistance: "We stand ready to help in any way we can. If need be, we will use all the tools available to us in federal and state law enforcement. We owe that to the people of our community, including you."

A suitably cowed President Diver responded with his own email to the Reed community: "My message regarding drug use at Renn Fayre 2010 is very simple: Do not use illegal drugs. That means no marijuana, hallucinogens, designer drugs, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, or other illegal substances."

Diver said he got a forceful and direct message from the prosecutors: "Shut down illegal drug use and distribution at Reed College, starting with Renn Fayre. Based on ongoing criminal investigations, including conversations with current and former students and other sources, these officials have heard numerous allegations about drug use at Reed, and particularly at Renn Fayre."

Diver also mentioned the threats he received: "In the course of the conversation, the US Attorney pointedly referred to a federal statute that makes it a criminal and civil offense for anyone knowingly to operate any facility for the purpose of using illegal drugs. We were also reminded of federal legislation that allows all federal funding -- including student loans -- to be withdrawn from any college or university that fails to take adequate steps to combat illegal drug activity."

On Wednesday, Diver was forced to clarify. According to Inside Higher Education News, the US Attorney only cited the federal crack house statute, under which Reed could face large fines, not the Drug-Free Schools Act, which is the statute that could impact student loans, Diver said. While the US Attorney "referred to federal legislation that could be applied to the college if it failed to crack down more forcefully," he never cited the Drug-Free Schools Act, Diver conceded.

In his email to the Reed community, Diver also delivered a more immediate warning: "We have been told that, during next weekend's Renn Fayre celebration, undercover Portland police officers will be circulating on campus, uniformed Portland police officers will be on alert to respond immediately to calls, and prosecutors stand ready to process criminal charges."

The prosecutorial shakedown has stirred controversy both on campus and in the broader Portland community, with many defending Reed's students, while others say the "druggies" need to be brought under control. In any case, Reed's reputation has complicated its relations with law enforcement.

"There's always a market here for a 'Reed is strange and weird' story," Bear Wilner-Nugent, a Reed alumnus, one-time director of Renn Fayre, and Portland criminal lawyer told USA Today this week. "I think it's going to scare students using drugs to be more underground. I think it's going to discourage students from seeking help for drug problems. It's a waste of resources on what is a tiny fingernail clipping in the drug problem," he said. "It's showboating."

Wilner-Nugent will be attending Renn Fayre again this year, and he said it compares favorably with end-of-semester parties at other schools. "There's a less macho attitude to it, there is less drinking and so you don't see the sexual harassment compared to other institutions," he said. "They are busting one of the saner and healthier college parties in the nation."

"This is the first time any college president has been threatened with the loss of federal funding because of campus drug use, so that's pretty interesting," said Jon Perri, West Coast coordinator for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). "We need to be criticizing those prosecutors, as well as law enforcement, for sending in undercover agents and spreading misinformation about drug dealers coming in to target rich white kids. And we need to keep after Reed President Divers, who after his sit-down with prosecutors, basically said don't do illegal drugs, then mentioned a long list of drugs that doesn't include alcohol, which does more harm," Perri pointed out.

"Our chapter there is actively participating in the planning for Renn Fayre, and they will be waging a Good Samaritan policy campaign, while the feds are coming in and trying to do the same old stuff," Perri. "Reed SSDP is trying to pitch it as instead of trying to increase penalties, try something that will save lives."

Perri said he worked with students at Reed to reactivate the Good Samaritan campaign after the second student death. Good Samaritan policies allow drug overdose victims or their friends to seek help without fear of arrest, or, in the case of colleges, academic discipline. "I encouraged them to get it back up and running," he said. "They were wary of starting a campaign because they didn't want to be seen as politicizing those kids' deaths, but that's what the prosecutors have now done."

While by all accounts there has been drug use at Renn Fayre in past years, it is a much milder, less raucous event than many end-of-year campus parties, with a penchant for hallucinogens -- not heroin -- and an abundance of weed. Renn Fayre also features full-body human chess, softball tournaments, a great feast, and lots of music. And alcohol for those over 21.

"Everyone here fears that come Saturday there could be mass arrests for marijuana possession and underage drinking," said Reed SSDP chapter head McKenzie Warren. "It some senses, it's not totally surprising because there has been a lot of local press aimed at Reed, but there is a lot of worry," she reported. "ODs happen all the time, but the homeless population isn't going to get the same focus as a well-known private liberal arts college," said Warren. "Over the years, Reed earned a reputation as a crazy drug-taking school. Maybe it once was, way back in the 1970s, but these days the reputation outstrips the reality."

Reed SSDP is working with other campus groups to protect students from the tender ministrations of law enforcement, Warren said. "We have a number of groups working on harm reduction this weekend, we've had a Reed alumni who is a lawyer come and give talks on how to deal with the police, especially with respect to dorm rooms, and we printed up 1,500 ACLU know your rights cards. We've also been putting up flyers and posters."

And it will push for a full-fledged Good Samaritan policy. "We have only half a Good Samaritan policy," said Warren. "The school just adopted a new implementation plan for our drug policy, and it differentiates pot and alcohol from harder drugs. There is a Good Samaritan policy for alcohol and marijuana, but not for harder drugs. The administration is trying to crack down."

A Good Samaritan policy for alcohol makes sense; for marijuana, the need for it is much less. But a Good Samaritan policy that excludes the drugs that are most likely to kill people doesn't make much sense. There is work to be done at Reed, and the Good Samaritan battle looks like a good way to counter the weight of the prosecutorial offensive.

Jack Herer Has Died

Jack Herer, author of "The Emperor Wears No Clothes," died this morning in Eugene, Oregon. He had been in ill health since suffering a heart attack at the Portland Hempstock Festival last Fall. Here's the report from the Salem News:
The Hemperor, Jack Herer has Died (SALEM, Ore.) - The sad news has been confirmed. Jack Herer, author of Emperor Wears No Clothes and renowned around the world for hemp activism, has died at 11:17 a.m. today, in Eugene, Oregon. Jack Herer suffered a heart attack last September just after speaking on stage at the Portland HempStalk festival. The last seven months have proven to be a huge challenge to the man, with several health issues making his recovery complicated. Jack Herer's health has been poor lately, this last week there have been reports of the severity, and an outpouring of prayers on his behalf. "It's shocking news, even after these last seven, trying months," said Paul Stanford, THCF Executive Director. "Jack Herer has been a good friend and associate of mine for over 30 years. I was there when he had the heart attack at our Hempstalk festival and I know he wouldn’t appreciate the quality of life he's endured these last months. Still he will be greatly missed. I honor his memory." "No other single person has done more to educate people all across the world about industrial hemp and marijuana as Jack Herer. His book is translated into a dozen different languages, it's a bestseller in Germany," added Stanford. "The Hempstalk stage will forever be the Jack Herer Memorial stage. And, a Memorial is planned to be built where he fell that day," Stanford said. "His legacy will continue to inspire and encourage for generations to come."

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