The Drug Debate

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Canada: Two-Thirds of British Columbia Voters Favor Legalizing Marijuana, Poll Finds

An Angus Reid Strategies poll of British Columbia adults released Monday has found that 65% favored legalizing marijuana as a means of reducing gang violence, while only 35% favored increasing marijuana trafficking penalties. The poll comes as the Conservative federal government seeks to increase penalties for marijuana trafficking offenses and with BC provincial elections looming.

Given a context of recent highly-publicized gang violence in Vancouver, Angus Reid shaped its polling question to reflect that concern. Pollsters asked respondents: "The illegal marijuana industry is linked to much of the gang violence on BC's streets. Some people say that violence would be reduced if marijuana was legalized, while other people say the violence would be reduced if penalties for marijuana trafficking were significantly increased. Which of the following statements is closest to your own view?"

The highest support for legalization came among supporters of the Green and New Democratic Parties, which generally poll behind the Liberals and Conservatives. Among Greens, support for legalization was 77%; it was 74% among NDP supporters.

While respondents favored legalization over increased criminalization by a margin of nearly two-to-one, their response to a question about lax enforcement of laws against "soft drugs" was more evenly divided. A tiny majority, 51%, said that enforcing laws such as those banning marijuana possession made criminals out of law-abiding citizens, while 49% said not enforcing those laws lets criminals go free, which could lead to violence.

Earlier in this decade, Canada was seen as a beacon of progress on marijuana reform. It became the first country to legalize medical marijuana in 2002, and two years later, the Liberal government of Paul Martin reintroduced a bill that would have removed criminal sanctions for the possession of less than 15 grams of pot. But that bill was never put to a vote, the Liberals lost power, and the current government of Stephen Harper is dogmatically opposed to marijuana law reform.

That opposition is shared by the leadership of the BC NDP and Liberals. Earlier this month, BC Liberal leader Gordon Campbell said he opposed marijuana decriminalization, adding: "We need to listen to the police on how to deal with this." BC NDP head Carole James also acted the naysayer, declaring: "It's a federal issue as we all know. It's not something individual provinces can take a look at."

With legalization sentiment at roughly two-thirds of the electorate, politicians who oppose it might want to think again. Winning elections is tough when you're aligned against the majority on a high-profile issue. And marijuana politics is high profile in BC.

Marijuana: Pot Continues to Climb in Public Opinion Polls -- Zogby Goes Over 50%

Support for marijuana legalization or decriminalization among the American public continues to climb and may now be a majority position, if a pair of recently released polls are any indication. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released April 30 found that 46% of those surveyed supported "legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use," or decriminalization, while a Zogby poll released Wednesday found that 52% supported the legalization, taxation, and regulation of pot.

The 46% figure in the ABC News/Washington Post poll is the highest since the poll first asked the question in the 1980s, and more than double what the figure was just a dozen years ago. Support for decriminalization hovered at around one-quarter of the population throughout the 1980s, and was at 22% as recently as 1997. By 2002, support had jumped to 39%, and now it has jumped again.

When it comes to political affiliation, support for decrim is at 53% for independents, 49% for Democrats, and 28% for Republicans. Since the late 1980s, Democratic support has jumped by 29 points and independent support by 27. Even among Republicans, support for decrim has increased by 10 points.

Support was highest among people reporting no religious affiliation, with 70%, and lowest among evangelical white Protestants, at 24%. People under age 30 supported decrim at a rate of 57%, nearly twice that of seniors, at 30%. People in between the young and the old split down the middle.

The numbers were even better in the Zogby poll. Confronted with a straightforward question about marijuana legalization, 52% of respondents said yes, 37% said no, and 11% were not sure.

The pollsters asked: "Scarce law enforcement and prison resources, a desire to neutralize drug cartels and the need for new sources of revenue have resurrected the topic of legalizing marijuana. Proponents say it makes sense to tax and regulate the drug while opponents say that legalization would lead marijuana users to use other illegal drugs. Would you favor or oppose the government's effort to legalize marijuana?"

The poll was commissioned for the conservative-leaning O'Leary Report and published Wednesday as a full page ad in the Washington, DC, political newsletter The Hill. In that poll, the sample of respondents was weighted to reflect the outcome of the 2008 presidential race, with 54% Obama supporters and 46% McCain supporters.

"This new survey continues the recent trend of strong and growing support for taxing and regulating marijuana and ending the disastrously failed policy of prohibition," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project."Voters are coming to realize that marijuana prohibition gives us the worst of all possible worlds -- a drug that's widely available but totally unregulated, whose producers and sellers pay no taxes but whose profits often support murderous drug cartels," Kampia said. "The public is way ahead of the politicians on this."

Feature: Mexico Decriminalization Bill Passes -- One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

Late last week, both houses of the Mexican Congress approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs. The measure is part of a broader bill aimed at small-scale drug dealing and rationalizing Mexico's struggle against violent drug trafficking organizations.

The bill was sponsored by President Felipe Calderón, but support for it from his ruling National Action Party (PAN) has dwindled. Still, most observers who spoke to the Chronicle this week think he will sign the bill.

The Mexican Congress passed similar legislation in 2006, but then President Vicente Fox refused to sign it after hearing protests from the Bush administration. This time, though, there has not been a peep out of Washington either for or against the bill.
Among the bill's main provisions:

  • Decriminalizes "personal use" amounts of drugs;
  • Recognizes harm reduction as a guiding principle;
  • Does not require forced drug treatment for "personal use" possessors;
  • Recognizes traditional cultural drug use;
  • Allows states and municipalities to prosecute small-time drug dealing ("narcomenudeo"), an offense which currently is handled exclusively by federal authorities;
  • Allows police to make drug buys to build cases.

The amounts of various drugs that are decriminalized for personal use are:

  • opium -- 2 grams
  • cocaine -- ½ gram
  • heroin -- 1/10 gram
  • marijuana -- 5 grams
  • LSD -- 150 micrograms
  • methamphetamine -- 1/5 gram
  • ecstasy -- 1/5 gram

The measure comes in the midst of ongoing high levels of violence as President Calderón attempts to crack down on Mexico's wealthy, powerful, and bloody-minded drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels. Approximately 10,000 people have died in prohibition-related violence in Mexico since Calderón called out the armed forces against the cartels in early 2007. The multi-sided confrontation pits the Mexican state against the cartels, the cartels against each other, and even factions of the same cartel against each other.
discussion growing: Feb. '09 drug policy forum held by Mexico's Grupo Parlamentario Alternativa (
The US backs Calderón's war on the cartels, allocating $1.4 billion over three years for Plan Mérida. President Obama reiterated his commitment to the Mexican drug war during a visit to the country last month.

The measure also comes against a backdrop of increasing drug use levels in Mexico and increasing concern about the problems associated with that drug use. In recent years, the cartels have figured out that their home country is also an increasingly lucrative market for their wares. Now, if you travel to the right neighborhoods in virtually any Mexican city, you can find storefront retail illegal drug outlets.

"This looks like one step forward, two steps back," said Isaac Campos Costero, an assistant professor of history at the University of Cincinnati and visiting fellow at the University of California at San Diego's Center for US-Mexican Studies. "If we're talking about reducing the crisis of violence in Mexico, I don't think this bill does anything good, and may even exacerbate it. It won't reduce demand, and at the same time it seeks to prosecute small-time dealers more energetically."

"That this suggests growing support for decriminalization, reduces the criminality of drug users, embraces harm reduction, and acknowledges cultural uses is a good thing and consistent with what is going on elsewhere in Latin America," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The idea of decriminalization of possession based in part on human rights and public health grounds has gained real traction in the region, which is somewhat surprising given the long preoccupation with drugs and organized crime," he said.

"But there's this other part of it that is all about Calderón's war on the traffickers; it's part and parcel of empowering law enforcement," Nadelmann continued. "There is serious concern that law enforcement has lost the upper hand to the gangsters, and the risk here is that the new law will give police all the more opportunity to go after low-level distributors and addicts who sell drugs to support their habits, while diverting attention from serious violent criminals."

For Mexican drug reformers organized as the Collective for Integrated Drug Policy, while the bill is an advance, its failure to more fully incorporate public health and human rights perspectives runs the risk of creating negative consequences for the country. In a statement released after the bill passed the Congress, the group praised the legislation for distinguishing between consumers, addicts, and criminals, for increasing the amount of marijuana from two grams to five, for acknowledging the role of harm reduction, and for removing the provision that would have required drug treatment for those caught holding.

But the group also expressed its preoccupation with other parts of the bill. "The law only marginally considers the problem of drug consumption and limits itself to legally defining it," the collective noted. "On the other hand, it focuses on intensifying a military and police strategy that has proven to be a failure."

The collective also worried that "the law will criminalize a vast group of people who make a living off small-time drug dealing" who are not cartel members but impoverished citizens. "Imprisoning them will not diminish the supply of drugs on the street, nor will it improve public security; yet it will justify the war on drugs, since the government will be able to boast the number of people incarcerated with this policy," the group wrote.

The decriminalization quantities are too small, the group said, and that will lead to problems. "These amounts are not realistic in terms of the drug market (for example, the initiative allows a consumer to have a half-gram of coke, when coke is sold on the streets by the gram), and we thus can anticipate a significant increase in corruption and extortion of consumers by police forces," the statement said.

Jorge Hernández Tinajero, an advisor to Social Democratic Party Deputy Elsa Conde, is also the leader of the collective. "Elsa went to the session and loudly criticized the bill, saying it was not an integrated policy but a new way to make more corruption and put more people in jail, especially women who desperately need to work and earn some money," he recounted. "She said 70% of the women in jail are there because they are small dealers."

"While the bill doesn't go far enough, it at least decriminalizes possession for personal use, and treatment is no longer mandatory if you get caught carrying your personal dose," said Dr. Humberto Brocca, a member of the collective. "Now, you will not have to show that you are an addict and thus a candidate for treatment," he said, referring to current Mexican law, which creates a loophole for addicts in possession of drugs.

"It's a mixed bag," said Ana Paula Hernández, a Mexico City-based consultant on drug policy and human rights. "The headlines will be that drug possession has been decriminalized, but when you look at it more closely, the consequences could be very serious," she said. "Now, state and local authorities will be able to prosecute crimes related to small-scale drug dealing. That would be good if Mexico were a different country, but corruption is so extreme at those levels that giving these authorities these powers could greatly increase their level of involvement in organized crime."

Whether the bill will have any impact at all on the major trafficking organizations who are ostensibly the target of the Mexican government's offensive remains to be seen.

"I don't think this is going to have any impact on the government's war against the cartels," said Hernandez. "For that to happen, we need to have a structural, democratic reform of police forces and the judiciary at the state and municipal level by reallocating resources for prevention and information campaigns on drug use with a risk and harm reduction perspective; and of course by other measures such as real decriminalization."

Brocca, too, foresaw more arrests as a result of the bill, but little impact on the violence plaguing the country. "Yeah, they will sweep up mostly small-timers so the party in power can look good," he said, "but it will probably have no impact whatsoever on the prohibition-related violence."

Whatever action Mexico takes is likely to have little impact on the violence without changes in US drug policies, Campos Costero said. Still, passage of the bill could have an important psychological effect, he said.

"From a symbolic point of view, once this goes into effect and Armageddon doesn't happen and society doesn't crumble, this may help break down attitudes a bit and pave the way for more substantive reforms in the future," said Campos Costero.

The bill could also undercut Mexico's historic opposition to relaxation of the drug laws north of the border. "Mexico has opposed US reform efforts on marijuana in the past, but by passing this bill, Mexico effectively reduces its ability to complain about US drug reform in the future," said Campos Costero. "And that's significant."

But that doesn't mean Mexicans would not raise a stink if the US moved toward radical drug reforms, Campos Costero noted. "For years and years, Mexicans have been hearing condescending remarks from the US about how they're not tough enough on drugs, so if the US were to pursue legalization, the Mexican public would go crazy. They see it as a demand problem, but of course, it's really a policy problem," he said. "If there were more rational drug policies, we could have demand at the same levels, but eliminate these problems."

Hello? Mexico on the Verge on Decriminalizing Drug Possession...

...and nobody north of the Rio Grande seems to have noticed. Last week, I wrote that the Mexican decrim bill had passed the Senate, but on the afternoon before we published that report, the bill also passed the Chamber of Deputies. Now it awaits only the signature of President Calderon. While a Dallas Morning News blogger wrote that it is unclear whether Calderon will sign the bill, it seems likely to me that he will. The bill, after all, was pushed by his ruling PAN party, and unlike 2006, when a similar bill passed only to be vetoed by then President Fox in the face of US threats and bluster, there have been no threats and bluster from Washington this time. And, of course, the situation in Mexico is much worse than in 2006, thanks largely to Calderon's war on the cartels. The bill is not great: The personal use quantities are tiny, and it allows for the states to prosecute low-level trafficking offenses (currently, that is the province of the feds, with the result being that being low-level traffickers are never tried because the federal prosecutors and courts are overwhelmed with serious trafficking cases). But it is decriminalization, and right on our border, not an ocean away, like Portugal. I'll be talking to people on both sides of the border this week about this bill and what it means and I'll have a feature article on it Friday. In the meantime, here's the lone Reuters article on these momentous events:
Mexico passes bill on small-scale drugs possession Fri May 1, 2009 8:39pm EDT MEXICO CITY, May 1 (Reuters) - Mexico's Congress has passed a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs, from marijuana to methamphetamine, as President Felipe Calderon tries to focus on catching traffickers. The bill, proposed by Calderon after an attempt by the previous government at a similar bill came under fire in the United States, would make it legal to carry up to 5 grams (0.18 ounces) of marijuana, 500 milligrams (0.018 ounces) of cocaine and tiny quantities heroin and methamphetamines. The lower house of deputies passed the bill late on Thursday. It already has been approved by the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by Calderon in the days ahead. Mexico's Congress passed a similar proposal in 2006 but the bill was vetoed by Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, after Washington said it would increase drug abuse. The United States recently pledged stronger backing for Calderon's army-led war on drug cartels, whose turf wars have killed some 2,000 people so far this year in Mexico, as the drug violence is starting to seep over the border. The new bill also allows Mexican states to convict small-time drug dealers, no longer making it a federal crime to peddle narcotics, a move that should speed up those cases. U.S. President Barack Obama praised Calderon's drug war efforts in a visit to Mexico last month and promised more agents and southbound border controls to curb the flow of guns and cash to the cartels. (Reporting Miguel Angel Gutierrez; Editing by Bill Trott)

Support for Marijuana Legalization is Huge in Canada

Duh. Still, I was intrigued by the way they framed the question:

The majority of British Columbians think the legalization of marijuana would reduce violence related to the drug trade, an Angus Reid Strategies poll suggests.

Sixty-five per cent of the respondents would legalize marijuana in order to minimize violence, while 35 per cent think harsher penalties for marijuana trafficking are the answer. [Vancouver Sun]

This question could be criticized for putting words in the respondents' mouths. Still, it's notable that, given a choice, so many opted to conclude that violence is a consequence of prohibition. Once that concept is understood, the whole idea of a war on drugs pretty much falls apart.

Support for Marijuana Legalization Continues to Grow in America

A new ABC poll shows that 46% of Americans favor legalizing personal use of marijuana. That's the highest number we've ever seen and, interestingly, it's doubled in only 12 years. Wow.

The idea of fixing our marijuana policy is enjoying a meteoric rise in popularity. It's particularly noteworthy when you consider how vigorously the previous administration campaigned to convince the public that marijuana is highly toxic and evil. They have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at us, and here we are, stronger than ever before.

So how does one explain such a dramatic shift in public perceptions surrounding marijuana policy?

Latin America: Mexico Senate Approves Bill Decriminalizing Drug Possession

The Mexican Senate Tuesday approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs in a bid to undercut Mexican drug trafficking organizations and free police to go after them instead of drug users. The bill was backed by the conservative government of President Felipe Calderón.
map of Mexico (from
Under the bill, personal use quantities of drugs could be possessed without criminal liability. The quantities include up to five grams of marijuana, a half gram of cocaine, and smaller quantities of drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine.

The bill would also shift the prosecution of low-level drug dealers to the states by making it no longer a federal crime to sell drugs. The federal government currently prosecutes all drug trafficking offenses, but because federal courts are busy trying higher-level drug traffickers, the cases of lower-level offenders rarely get tried.

The Mexican Congress passed a similar measure in 2006 under President Vicente Fox, but Fox vetoed that bill under pressure from the US. Now, after 10,000 deaths in 2 1/2 years of Calderón's drug war, Mexico appears less inclined to heed US demands to not decriminalize -- and given the change of administration in Washington, the US seems less likely to demand Mexico remain a drug war hardliner when it comes to small-time possession cases.

The measure must still pass the Chamber of Deputies. The congressional session was supposed to end Thursday, but there is some chance it will be extended because of the flu emergency in the capital.

"We celebrate that the legislators have agreed with the proposals of the Social Democratic Party," Mexico City PSD leader Razú Aznar told the official news agency Notimex after the vote. "Our platform proposes that we take legislative measures to eliminate criminal charges against addicts and help them into therapy in a voluntary manner and that they be treated by specialists," he said.

But decriminalization is only a first step, said Razú Aznar. "It is clear for the PSD that the regularization of drugs is at this time one of the best alternatives to reduce the profits of organized crime and eradicate the practice of violence."

Decriminalization may only be a first step, but as of this writing, the Mexican Congress has only completed half of that first step.

Prohibition: Measure to Ban BZP Moving in Colorado Legislature

In an example of legislative reflex response similar to that around salvia divinorum, legislators in Colorado are moving to ban the designer drug N-benzylpiperazine, better known as BZP, despite little evidence presented of its dangers. The measure has already made its way through the House, and won a Senate committee vote Tuesday.
BZP Bart Simpson pill (from
BZP is a controlled substance under federal law, but no states have yet moved against it. The DEA reports no known deaths from BZP, but has reported cases of users suffering psychotic episodes or seizures.

In a 2005 review, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reported that BZP has subjective effects similar to amphetamines and thus potential for abuse and dependency, but noted that BZP dependency levels are reported as low in New Zealand, where the drug is quite popular.

The EMCDDA reported seizures in rats at high doses when BZP was taken along with another piperazine, and reports of seizures in humans. "This finding is based on a very small number of cases," the agency noted.

The measure, HB 1157, has already passed the House and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. It has now been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Evie Hudak
"We are taking the right steps to ensure this drug stays off our streets and out of our schools," said Sen. Mike Kopp (R-Littleton), who is leading the push. "The time is now to give law enforcement the tools they need to go after these drug offenders."

Only two votes were cast against the measure in the judiciary committee. One came from Sen. Evie Hudak (D-Aurora), who cast doubt on the wisdom of the prohibitionist reflex.

"I was hoping that we would go in the opposite direction, that of decriminalizing drugs and other nonviolent offenses, and providing drug treatment, community corrections, proactive community supervision, etc., Hudak told the Denver Daily News. She added that she was not convinced the drug was dangerous.

"The fact that some young people have been found to be in possession of the drug, albeit in a form that is similar to other drugs of abuse -- such as a colored pill shaped like Bart Simpson -- is not enough evidence that the drug is dangerous," continued Hudak. "The testimony indicated that the drug has been consumed at concerts -- that alone is not evidence that the drug is dangerous."

But Hudak's was a lonely voice of reason in Denver.

Feature: Marijuana Reform Approaches the Tipping Point

Sometime in the last few months, the notion of legalizing marijuana crossed an invisible threshold. Long relegated to the margins of political discourse by the conventional wisdom, pot freedom has this year gone mainstream.
Is reason dawning for marijuana policy?
The potential flu pandemic and President Obama's 100th day in office may have knocked marijuana off the front pages this week, but so far this year, the issue has exploded in the mass media, impelled by the twin forces of economic crisis and Mexican violence fueled by drug prohibition. A Google news search for the phrase "legalize marijuana" turned up more than 1,100 hits -- and that's just for the month of April.

It has been helped along by everything from the Michael Phelps non-scandal to the domination of marijuana legalization questions in the questions, which prompted President Obama to laugh off the very notion, to the economy, to the debate over the drug war in Mexico. But it has also been ineffably helped along by the lifting of the oppressive burden of Bush administration drug war dogma. There is a new freedom in the air when it comes to marijuana.

Newspaper columnists and editorial page writers from across the land have taken up the cause with gusto, as have letter writers and bloggers. Last week, even a US senator got into the act, when Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) told CNN that marijuana legalization is "on the table."

But despite the seeming explosion of interest in marijuana legalization, the actual fact of legalization seems as distant as ever, a distant vision obscured behind a wall of bureaucracy, vested interests, and craven politicians. Drug War Chronicle spoke with some movement movers and shakers to find out just what's going on... and what's not.

"There is clearly more interest and serious discussion of whether marijuana prohibition makes any sense than I've seen at any point in my adult lifetime," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "It's not just the usual suspects; it's people like Jack Cafferty on CNN and Senator Jim Webb, as well as editorial pages and columnists across the country."

Mirken cited a number of factors for the sudden rise to prominence of the marijuana issue. "I think it's a combination of things: Michael Phelps, the horrible situation on the Mexican border, the state of the economy and the realization that there is a very large industry out there that provides marijuana to millions of consumers completely outside the legal economy that is untaxed and unregulated," he said. "All of these factors have come together in a way that makes it much easier for people to connect the dots."

"Things started going white hot in the second week of January," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "We had the fallout from the Michael Phelps incident, the marijuana question to Obama and his chuckling response, we have the Mexico violence, we have the economic issues," he counted. "All of these things have helped galvanize a certain zeitgeist that is palpable and that almost everyone can appreciate."

"The politicians are still very slow on picking up on the desires of citizens no matter how high the polling numbers go, especially on decriminalization and medical marijuana," said St. Pierre. "The polling numbers are over 70% for those, and support for legalization nationwide is now at about 42%, depending on which data set you use. Everything seems to be breaking for reform in these past few weeks, and I expect those numbers to only go up."

"It feels like we're reaching the tipping point," said Amber Langston, eastern region outreach director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy. "I've been feeling that for a couple of months now. The Michael Phelps incident sent a clear message that you can be successful and still have used marijuana. He's still a hero to lots of people," she said.

"I think we're getting close now," said Langston. "We have moved the conversation to the next level, where people are actually taking this seriously and we're not just having another fear-based discussion."

"There is definitely momentum building around marijuana issues," said Denver-based Mason Tvert, executive director of SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation), which has built a successful strategy around comparing alcohol and marijuana. "Yet we still find ourselves in a situation where change is not happening. Up until now, people have made arguments around criminal justice savings, other economic benefits, ending the black market -- those things have got us to where we are today, but they haven't been enough to get elected officials to act," he argued.

"The problem is that there are still far too many people who see marijuana as so harmful it shouldn't be legalized," Tvert continued. "That suggests we need to be doing more to address the relative safety of marijuana, especially compared to drugs like alcohol. The good arguments above will then carry more weight. Just as a concerned parent doesn't want to reap the tax benefits of legal heroin, it's the same with marijuana. The mantra is why provide another vice. What we're saying is that we're providing an alternative for the millions who would prefer to use marijuana instead of alcohol."

With the accumulation of arguments for legalization growing ever weightier, the edifice of marijuana prohibition seems increasingly shaky. "Marijuana prohibition has become like the Soviet Empire circa 1987 or 1988," Mirken analogized. "It's an empty shell of a policy that continues only because it is perceived as being huge and formidable, but when the perception changes, the whole thing is going to collapse."

Still, translating the zeitgeist into real change remains a formidable task, said Mirken. "It is going to take hard work. All of us need to keep finding ways to keep these discussions going in the media, we need to work with open-minded legislators to get bills introduced where there can be hearings to air the facts and where we can refute the nonsense that comes from our opponents. Keeping the debate front and center is essential," he said.

Mirken is waiting for the other shoe to drop. "We have to be prepared for an empire strikes back moment," he said. "I predict that within the next year, there will be a concerted effort to scare the daylights out of people about marijuana."

Activists need to keep hammering away at both the federal government and state and local governments, Mirken said. "We are talking to members of Congress and seeing what might be doable. Even if nothing passes immediately, introducing a bill can move the discussion forward, but realistically, things are more likely to happen at the state and local level," he said, citing the legalization bill in California and hinting that MPP would try legalization in Nevada again.

Part of the problem of the mismatch between popular fervor and actual progress on reform is partisan positioning, said St. Pierre. "Even politicians who may be personally supportive and can appreciate what they see going on around them as this goes mainstream do not want to hand conservative Republicans a triangulation issue. The Democrats are begging for a certain degree of political maturity from the reform movement," he said. "They're dealing with two wars, tough economic times, trying to do health care reform. They don't want to raise cannabis to a level where it becomes contentious for Obama."

The window of opportunity for presidential action is four years down the road, St. Pierre suggested. "If Obama doesn't do anything next year, they will then be in reelection mode and unlikely to act," he mused. "I think our real shot comes after he is reelected. Then we have two years before he becomes a lame duck."

But we don't have to wait for Obama, said St. Pierre. "We expect Barney Frank and Ron Paul to reintroduce decriminalization and medical marijuana bills," he said. "I don't think they will pass this year, but we might get hearings, although I don't think that's likely until the fall."

It's not just that politicians need to understand that supporting marijuana legalization will not hurt them -- they need to understand that standing its way will. "The politicians aren't feeling the pain of being opposed to remain," St. Pierre said. "We have to take out one of those last remaining drug war zealots."

Mexican Senate Votes to Decriminalize Drug Possession

Good news from Mexico:

MEXICO CITY, April 28 (Reuters) - Mexico's Senate approved a bill on Tuesday decriminalizing possession of small amounts of narcotics for personal use, in order to free resources to fight violent drug cartels.

The bill, proposed by conservative President Felipe Calderon, would make it legal to carry up to 5 grams (0.18 ounces) of marijuana, 500 milligrams (0.018 ounces) of cocaine and tiny quantities of other drugs such as heroin and methamphetamines.

Mexico's Congress passed a similar proposal in 2006 but the bill was vetoed by Calderon's predecessor Vicente Fox, under pressure from the United States, which said it would increase drug abuse, but now is worried by the drug-related violence along its border. [Reuters]

These are pathetically small amounts of drugs, but seeing any type of drug policy reform happening in Mexico is a positive development. When decriminalizing drug possession to help focus on the cartels doesn't work, maybe we can finally start talking about legalizing drugs to de-fund and destroy the cartels entirely.

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