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Chronicle AM -- May 5, 2014

Uruguay prepares for the formal rollout of its marijuana commerce rules; meanwhile, across the Rio de la Plata estuary, Argentina sees the largest pot protest in history. Also, things are looking good for the Florida medical marijuana initiative, there's going to be a hemp planting in Kentucky, and more. Let's get to it:

The sun rises on industrial hemp in America. (votehemp.com)
Colorado "Cannabis Credit Co-op" Bill Passes House. A bill to create "cannabis credit co-ops" to handle financial services for marijuana businesses passed the House last Friday. House Bill 14-1398 now heads to the Senate. The legislative session ends this week.

Florida Poll Has Support for Legalization at 53%; For Medical Marijuana, It's 88%. A new Quinnipiac Poll shows majority support for marijuana legalization and near unanimous support for medical marijuana in the Sunshine State. There is no legalization on the ballot there this year, but there is a medical marijuana initiative, and with numbers like these, it has a pretty darned good chance of passing. That would make Florida the first full-fledged medical marijuana state in the South.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Muddle. Two separate, competing medical marijuana bills are now in play in Minnesota, Senate File 1641 and House File 1818. The St. Paul Pioneer Press has a good article summarizing the bills, the differences, and the politics behind them. Both bills are set for hearings today. Click on the title link to get the low-down.

Hemp

Hemp Planting Event to Take Place Next Week in Kentucky. The industrial hemp advocacy group Vote Hemp has announced that it has partnered with the Kentucky nonprofit Growing Warriors to organize an industrial hemp planting in Mount Vernon, Kentucky, on Friday, May 16. Growing Warriors is a group that seeks to get returning veterans involved in agriculture. The seed planted will be provided by the state Department of Agriculture and will be grown as part of a research and development program with Kentucky State University. Click on the link for more details.

Missouri Legislator Vows to Keep Fighting for Hemp. State Sen. Jason Holsman (D-Kansas City) has been pushing hemp legislation at the state house for years. It isn't going to happen this year, he said, but vowed to keep pushing. "Are we a free people to grow a plant that we find industrially applicable especially when it comes to clothing, rope, fibers and all the things we know that we know we can do with the hemp plant?" he asked.

International

Uruguay Unveils Marijuana Commerce Plans. Uruguay is expected to formally roll out its marijuana commerce rules tomorrow, but word has already leaked out that they will allow consumers to purchase up to 10 grams a week at a price of less than $1 per gram. Consumers will have to register before they can buy it in pharmacies, which should have legal marijuana in stock by December. The government will issue between two and six licenses for commercial growers, which it calls on to get planting "no more than two weeks after the decree enters into force."

Buenos Aires Sees Largest Global Marijuana March Ever. An estimated 150,000 people filled the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina, from the Plaza de Mayo to the Plaza del Congreso Saturday in what is certainly the largest marijuana protest ever. "No Jail for Cultivation -- Regulate Cannabis Now!" was the theme of the march. Click on the link to see a pic of the crowd.

The Largest Marijuana March Ever? 150,000 Protest in Buenos Aires!

Good Golly, Miss Mary Jane! I've been watching marijuana legalization marches for a long time and I've never seen a crowd like this.

"No Jail for Cultivation -- Regulate Cannabis Now!" 150,000 march in Buenos Aires Saturday (Marcelo Somma/Revista THC)
The organizers of the Argentine Global Marijuana March are reporting that 150,000 people showed up in the capital, Buenos Aires, Saturday to march from the Plaza de Mayo to the Plaza de Congreso. The masses marched under the banner "No Jail for Cultivation -- Regulate Cannabis Now!"

Now, maybe they're exaggerating. Maybe it was only 100,000. But this is humongous. I can recall seeing 70,000 turn out in Rome one year, and crowds in the tens of thousands sometimes in European capitals and major Canadian cities.

But just look at that mass of humanity in Buenos Aires! That's sending a very strong signal to the Argentine government that it needs to quit dilly-dallying and get down to freeing the weed.

And it wasn't just Buenos Aires. Organizers reported marches in numerous Argentine cities, with more than 15,000 showing up in Cordoba, 11,000 in Rosario, 7,000 in Mendoza, 2,500 in La Plata, 300 on the slopes at Bariloche, and even 200 way down Patagonia way in Comodoro Rivadavia.

The Argentine may be suffering from some legalization envy -- situated just on the other side of the Rio de la Plata estuary is Uruguay, where the government is formally announcing its legalization regulations this week. Whatever the reasons, congratulations to the Argentines, and may we all be inspired by their example.

Location: 
Buenos Aires
Argentina

Global Marijuana Marches Set for Tomorrow

For more than 30 years, marijuana fans and legalization supporters have marched on the first weekend in May in support of the cause. Despite legalization having occurred in Uruguay and the US states of Colorado and Washington, this year is no different.

As of Friday, at least 160 cities in 35 countries have signed up for marches Saturday (or thereabouts). That number may be an undercount; some countries where there will be marches in many cities do not have complete lists. Those include Brazil, Colombia, France, Germany, New Zealand and Spain.

In previous years, crowds have been tens of thousands strong in some cities, including Vancouver, Toronto, Rome, and Buenos Aires. But marches have also taken place in smaller towns and cities across the world, with attendance ranging from mere handfuls to thousands.

This year, marchers will take to the streets in Aceh, Indonesia; Albany, New York; Alva, Oklahoma; Amsterdam, Antofagasta, Chile; Antwerp, Atlanta, Auckland, and Austin; Texas. And that's just the letter "A."

Other notable march cities include Erbil, Iraq; Iqalit, Nunavat, Canada; Johannesburg, Lima, Mexico City, and New York City.

Click on the link above to find the Global Marijuana March city closest to you. And wear comfortable shoes.

Chronicle AM -- May 1, 2014

Asset forfeiture gone wild is in the news, so is a Delaware drug lab scandal, there's a major report on imprisonment from the National Academy of Sciences, Silk Road is back, and more. Let's get to it:

Silk Road is back and as busy as ever.
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill to Seal Old Marijuana Convictions Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bipartisan sponsored bill that would allow someone to have their marijuana conviction sealed, if the conviction is now legal under Amendment 64. The committee heard nearly two hours of public comment before approving the measure, Senate Bill 14-218. The bill passed on a 3-2 vote and is now headed to the Committee on Appropriations.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Dies in Committee. There will be no medical marijuana legislation passing through the Louisiana legislature this year. Senate Bill 541, sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills (R-New Iberia) was defeated in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on a vote of 6-2.

Iowa Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate. The Iowa Senate on Thursday approved a narrow opening for Iowa parents with children suffering from severe epilepsy to be able to access cannabis oil as a treatment option. After an emotion-charged debate, senators voted 36-12 to pass Senate File 2360, a bill that legalizes the possession and medical use under certain conditions of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that backers say possesses a wide range of therapeutic benefits. Ten Republicans joined 26 Democrats in passing the bill. Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) is the sponsor.

US House Narrowly Defeats Amendment to Allow VA Docs to Recommend Medical Marijuana. Nearly 200 members of Congress, including 22 Republicans, voted in favor of an amendment Wednesday intended to allow physicians within the Veterans Affairs system to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states that allow it. The bipartisan-sponsored amendment failed 195-222. The amendment, sponsored by Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO), was the first of its kind to be introduced on the House floor. It would have become part of House Resolution 4486, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Sheriff on Asset Forfeiture Rampage. Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair is seizing criminal suspects' assets like never before, according to this report from The Ocala Star Banner. Prior to Blair taking office in 2012, asset forfeiture cases averaged 38 a year, but jumped to 57 last year, and there are already 33 so far this year. Now, Blair is expanding the practice beyond drug cases to include common crimes. Suspects face being stripped of their property after being arrested by officers for DUI, shoplifting, burglary, armed robbery, resisting arrest, driving with a suspended or revoked license, or grand theft. One woman had her 2008 Chevy seized after being caught with a few oxycodone pills. Here's the money quote (so to speak), as Blair's office explains the increase in seizures: "It shows the difference between a sheriff with 35 years of law enforcement experience and a sheriff who came from the business world," Chief Deputy Fred LaTorre explained. The whole article is worth the read; click the link.

Class Action Lawsuit Coming Over Nevada County's Highway Robbery Asset Forfeiture Program. Humboldt County already had to give back the money it stole from driver Tan Nguyen under the guise of its highway asset forfeiture program -- and pay his lawyer's fees -- but now the county faces a class action lawsuit from other victims of its overzealous law enforcement practices. After Ngyuen won his case against the Humboldt County Sherff's Department, 20 more people have come forward to say that they too had been stopped in Humboldt County and forced to give up money without any charges or even being accused of a crime. In many cases, they weren't even slapped with a speeding ticket. "What they're doing is profiling. They think they're stopping people who are on their way to California to buy drugs, and then bring them back to the Midwest or the Eastern states, and then sell them," said John Ohlson, he attorney for the cash seizure victims.

Drugged Driving

"Impaired" Driving Bill Wins Vermont Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a drugged driving bill, House Bill 501, but not before amending it to remove the zero tolerance language in the version passed by the House. Instead, the Senate version now says the amount of drugs in your system has to actually impair your ability to drive. While the distinction between the two bills seems small, it may be a tough fight to hammer out a compromise by next Friday, when the session adjourns. The version of the bill cited here is the original; the amended version is not yet available.

Law Enforcement

Delaware Drug Lab Scandal Could See Thousands of Drug Cases Thrown Out. The Delaware Public Defender's Office on Wednesday filed "the first wave" of legal challenges to try and overturn 9,500 drug convictions because of tampering and thefts at the state's drug testing lab. This is on top of the more than 3,700 pending drug prosecutions in Delaware courts that are at risk of being dismissed due to the scandal at the Controlled Substances Lab inside the Delaware Medical Examiner's Office. And on the same day that public defenders delivered five archive boxes containing 112 motions for post-conviction relief to prosecutors and the court, state officials revealed that an employee at the Medical Examiner's Office has been suspended with pay as an investigation into the missing drug evidence continues. Click on the link for all the sleazy details.

Georgia Narc Denied Immunity in Killing of Innocent Pastor in Drug Investigation. A narcotics officer who fatally shot a Baptist pastor in Georgia persuaded a federal judge to partly reduce the jury-imposed $2.3 million verdict, but failed in his bid to claim qualified immunity because he was acting in his capacity as a law enforcement officer. Billy Shane Harrison shot and killed Pastor Jonathan Ayers after Ayers attempted to flee in his car from undercover officers attempting to question him in a drug investigation. The judge in the case ruled that "defendant could not have reasonably believed that Ayers posed an imminent threat of serious harm or that deadly force was necessary to prevent his escape," the 11-page ruling states. "And because it is clearly established that it is unreasonable for a police officer to use deadly force under such circumstances, defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law based on qualified immunity is denied." No criminal charges were ever filed against Harrison for the killing.

Maine Governor Says He Found Money to Pay for More Drug War. Gov. Paul LePage (R) announced Wednesday that his administration has found $2.5 million to pay for a drug enforcement bill that would add agents, judges and prosecutors and increase funding for addiction treatment programs. The bill was enacted with broad bipartisan support, but the Legislature's budget committee did not fund it. On Wednesday, the LePage administration said it has found a projected surplus in the state's unclaimed-property fund, which is overseen by the State Treasurer's Office and consists of money and personal assets that are considered lost or abandoned. The governor said he will propose emergency legislation today to allocate the surplus to the drug enforcement initiative. But it's unclear whether the Legislature will consider it. The ACLU of Maine, which has consistently opposed the bill, urged lawmakers to reject LePage's proposal. "The governor continues to push a proposal that would scale up an already bloated criminal justice system while giving a back seat to more effective treatment programs," the group said. "Plenty has been said about the need for a balanced approach, but this proposal is nothing of the sort... A truly balanced approach would mean scaling back law enforcement while increasing treatment and prevention."

Sentencing

National Academy of Sciences Report Calls for Big Cuts in Imprisonment. A groundbreaking report released yesterday by the National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, documents the unprecedented and costly price of US incarceration rates. As the report points out, this unprecedented rate of incarceration is a relatively new phenomenon in US history. America's prison population exploded largely as a result of the failed drug war policies of the last 40 years. The report calls for a significant reduction in rates of imprisonment and says that the rise in the US prison population is "not serving the country well." It concludes that in order to significantly lower prison rates, the US should revise its drug enforcement and sentencing laws.

Sentencing Commission Submits Federal Sentencing Guideline Amendments to Cut Drug Sentences. On Wednesday, the US Sentencing Commission submitted its proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines to Congress. In addition to recommending reductions in some drug sentences, the Commission is also seeking public comment on the issue of whether to apply the amendment to the drug quantity table retroactively. Comments can be made through July 7 and can be emailed to public_comment@ussc.gov.

Federal Judge Calls for Clemency for Convicted Cocaine Dealer. In an opinion issued Tuesday, US District Court Judge Paul Friedman urged President Obama to commute the sentence of Byron McDade, who was convicted following a jury trial in 2002 of conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. Friedman sentenced McDade to 27 years in prison, the shortest sentence possible under federal sentencing guidelines, which were mandatory at the time. Prior to his conviction in the drug case, McDade had only a single misdemeanor on his record, for which he paid a $10 fine. "The sentence this Court was required to impose on Mr. McDade was unjust at the time and is 'out of line' with and disproportionate to those that would be imposed under similar facts today," Friedman wrote in his opinion dismissing McDade's latest bid to overturn his conviction. "While the Court is powerless to reduce the sentence it was required by then-existing law to impose, the President is not. The Court urges Mr. McDade's appointed counsel to pursue executive clemency on Mr. McDade's behalf so that justice may be done in this case." The administration recently called on federal drug prisoners to seek clemency.

International

Silk Road Internet Drug Sales Web Site Still As Busy As Ever. Eight months after federal agents brought down the man alleged to be running an underground Web site called Silk Road that had become a thriving venue for drug trafficking, not only is the site up and running again but the new version is more vibrant than ever. Busted Not Broken, a report from watchdog group the Digital Citizens Alliance claims the "online black market economy has done a complete somersault in the six months since the fall of the original Silk Road. New players have arisen, including a second incarnation of 'Dread Pirate Roberts' and a revived Silk Road (which seems to be thriving, even after law enforcement arrested and charged some of the new site's prominent figures) has replaced the original."

Jakarta Drug Crackdown An Exercise in Futility. The vice governor of Jakarta, commonly known as Ahok, has announced a crackdown on drugs in the Indonesian capital, but a thoughtful analysis from asiancorrespondent.com's Patrick Tibke shows how it is in exercise in both futility and hypocrisy. Click on the link; the read is worth it.

Lebanese Druse Leader Walid Jumblatt Says Legalize Marijuana. Walid Jumblatt, stalwart of the Lebanon's Druse community and leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, said Thursday he supported marijuana legalization, for both medical and economic reasons. "Never in my life have I smoked marijuana, but I support growing cannabis for medical use and to improve the living conditions of farmers in north and the Bekaa Valley," Jumblatt told Al-Jadeed TV. "Let's legalize cannabis and regulate its cultivation," the politician said. Crop substitution programs in the Bekaa Valley, which once saw a multi-billion marijuana trade, have been a failure, he added.

Chronicle Review Essay: Marijuana Policy Past and Future

A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition by Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian (2014, The New Press, 264 pp., $17.95 PB)

After Legalization: Understanding the Future of Marijuana Policy by John Walker (2014, FDL Writers Foundation, 194 pp., $14.99 PB)

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/after-legalization.jpg
It has been fewer than 20 years since California voters ushered in the modern era of marijuana policy by approving a loosely-written initiative to allow for the use of medical marijuana. Since then, medical marijuana laws have spread to almost half the states (and that's not including those CBD-only bills in vogue this year), nearly as many states have decriminalized small-time pot possession, and two have taken the plunge into full (more or less) legalization.

I'm optimistic that the pace of change is only going to accelerate. I can foresee Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia legalizing it at the ballot box this year; with California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Montana all good candidates for doing the same in 2016. And if advocates in big Midwest states like Ohio and Michigan can ever manage to get a legalization initiative on the ballot there, we could pick up critical states in the Heartland.

It'll be a tougher slog in the states, mainly in the East, that don't have the initiative process. I would be surprised to see any of them legalize it until after 2016, in part because the legislative process is typically so slow, but also in part because after 2016, legislators will begin to understand that they're about to miss the marijuana revenues boat. While legalization bills are already popping up around the country, I'm not holding my breath, but I expect one or more of the New England states to legalize it at the statehouse in the months following the 2016 election, and then the race will really be on.

I have to thank Firedoglake's Jon Walker for helping to clarify my thoughts on this. With After Legalization, he posits what the near future of pot policy is going to look like, and he presents a convincing scenario similar to that which I have just advanced. Walker uses the rhetorical conceit of looking back from the year 2030 and argues that by that point, federal marijuana prohibition will be history (having ended sometimes in the 2020s) and 43 of the 50 states will have legalized it. (Two more, Idaho and Wyoming, in Walker's scenario, will have chosen to allow people to grow and consume their own, but won't allow marijuana sales.)

But After Legalization is much more than mere wishful prognosticating. It is an in-depth, thoughtful, and insightful look at how our approach to legal marijuana will evolve, what the issues are likely to be, where the battle lines are likely to be drawn, and who the players will be (you might be surprised). Walker provides concrete hypothetical examples of different approaches to legalization (available at state stores only, available from private stores, available from gourmet boutique stores), different product lines, and differing tax and regulation schemes, as well as delving into the minutiae of state and local regulation.

One thing that struck me was Walker's assertion that the wholesale cost of high quality marijuana under general legalization would be about $37 an ounce, and that good pot would probably sell for something like $75 an ounce retail -- more at those fancy boutiques. That's way cheaper than what we're currently seeing in Colorado, where legal pot is fetching near black market prices, but I suppose that black market premium will go down in the face of broader legalization.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/a-new-leaf.jpg
Relatedly, Walker also argues that the federal government can effectively set retail marijuana prices. It can do so by imposing a two-tiered excise tax that only kicks in if individual states have not passed their own excise tax. California could choose to impose no excise tax on pot, but it would gain no competitive advantage in pricing because then the federal excise tax would come into play. Such a system would, however, discourage states from setting excessive excise taxes because they could be undercut by neighbors.

After Legalization is an exercise in serious marijuana wonkery -- and I mean that in a good way. After legalization, the struggle won't be one of freedom and liberation, but of legislative committees, zoning boards, and product packaging disputes. Multiple interests will be at play, and pot smokers will only be one of them. Walker's work unpacks these intricacies, lays out the possibilities, and still manages to be entertaining. It should be required reading for policy-makers, legislators, and staffers beginning to grapple with these issues, but it's a comprehensive and provocative read for anyone with a serious interest in the future of pot policy.

If Walker attempts to answer the question "Where do we go from here?" Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian attempt to tell us how we got here in the first place with A New Leaf. With the pair of investigative journalists, we're off on a journey into the recent history of marijuana law reform. Regular readers of the Drug War Chronicle will know the stories the pair tell and the people they talk to -- this is exactly what I've been covering for the past 13 years -- but Martin and Rashidian manage to turn the whirlwind of events into a seamless, comprehensive narrative that explains the rise of the marijuana movement, culminating with the election day victories in Colorado and Washington in 2012.

They interview patients, growers, researchers, businesspeople, legislators, activists, and more as they tease the tale of marijuana reform from those first federally approved patients in the 1970s and 1980s through the AIDS crisis and the rise of medical marijuana in California, and beyond. Anyone wanting to join the conversation about the rapidly changing landscape of marijuana reform would be well-served to have A New Leaf on his bookshelf.

Like Walker, Martin and Nushidian see pot prohibition imploding in short order, and that brings us to the next order of business. With marijuana no longer illegal, the broader war on drugs loses its primary raison d'etre. Marijuana users constitute the vast majority of all illicit drug users -- with pot legal, the number of illicit drug users would drop from more than 20 million to somewhere around 2 million.

That could mean that the drug war collapses for lack of a suitable target. Or it could mean that the resources of the law enforcement juggernaut are focused all the more intensely on the remaining illicit drugs and their consumers. Even when marijuana legalization is a done deal, our work isn't done until we manage to kill the beast of prohibition once and for all.

Oregon Governor Calls for Marijuana Legalization, Legislature to Act

Gov. John Kitzhaber now supports marijuana legalization, reports The Oregonian:

"I hear the drumbeats from Washington and Colorado," states that recently approved legalization measures, he said. Oregon voters could do the same.
 

And he wants the legislature to take it on:

"I want to make sure we have a thoughtful regulatory system," Kitzhaber said. "The Legislature would be the right place to craft that."
 

Perhaps Kitzhaber is hoping to head off a ballot initiative that could legalize marijuana in Oregon instead. Either way, we'll take it.

German Cannabis Activist Georg Wurth Wins a Million Euros!

Big congratulations are in order for our German brethren. They have scored a major publicity and resource coup that will definitely help them advance the cause.

Cannabis activist George Wurth of the German Hemp Association (Deutscher Hanf Verband) has won a million-Euro prize to expand the group's legalization activism from the German television program Millionaire Choice (Millionaerswahl).

Millionaire Choice is a reality TV program where self-selected contestants compete in a multi-stage process of elimination to see whose idea will be funded. The cross-media campaign is determined by the vote of viewers.

"The madness! George has won. We are completely overwhelmed. The work of 10 years has now finally paid off. Along with the events in the US and Uruguay, this can be the starting point for the hemp movement gaining strength in Germany," the group's home page exclaimed.

"January 25, 2014 will be long remembered by the DHV and raise the German hemp scene to a new level," the group said in a weekend press release. "When we decided to participate in the Millionaire Choice, we would not have expected this tremendous success. We thank you all for your votes and your infectious enthusiasm. You have voted for George, and without you this huge success would not have been possible."

Location: 
Germany

DPA Files California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, But… [FEATURE]

A California marijuana legalization initiative backed by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) was filed Wednesday with the state attorney general's office. But the national drug reform group said it has not yet decided whether to campaign to get it on the November 2014 ballot.

The Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act would legalize up to an ounce and four plants for people 21 and over and create a statewide system of regulated marijuana commerce. It would also impose a 25% tax on retail sales.

A year ago, in the wake of the legalization victories in Colorado and Washington, major players in the California marijuana reform movement, including California NORML, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, the ACLU of California, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, and late drug policy reform funder Peter Lewis's representative, Graham Boyd, met in San Francisco and came to a tentative agreement that they would work together toward putting an initiative on the ballot in 2016.

Reluctant to risk another defeat at the ballot box like Proposition 19 in 2010, the movement heavyweights jointly decided to let other states take the lead in 2014 rather than act precipitously and potentially see the reform movement suffer a major blow with another defeat in the nation's most populous state.

But momentum in favor of marijuana legalization was growing quickly, as evidenced by a September Gallup poll's 58% in favor of legalization nationally and polls out of red states like Indiana, Louisiana, and Texas showing majority support. That was also the case in California, with a September Public Policy Institute of California poll showing 60% of registered voters favoring legalization and an October Tulchin poll that had support for legalization at 65% among likely voters.

Those numbers prompted some key players to reconsider, especially given that two other marijuana legalization initiatives -- not vetted by the heavyweights -- are already floating around. The first, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014, the perennial effort by acolytes of the late Jack Herer, is in the signature gathering phase, but shows little sign of having the financial wherewithal to actually gather enough signatures to make the ballot. The second, the Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Regulation Act of 2014, described by its proponents as "the world's first open source initiative," is pending approval at the attorney general's office after its proponents handed in its second amended version Friday.

Now DPA has stepped in with its own 2014 initiative. "The Drug Policy Alliance is the primary force behind this and primary drafter of this initiative," said Steve Gutwillig, DPA's deputy director of programs. "We wanted to make sure that a responsible and well-drafted initiative would be available in 2014 should a full-fledged campaign become possible. Filing this initiative is making sure that there is a viable initiative vehicle if we go forward in 2014. We think it reflects what the voters will support."

Gutwillig emphasized that no decision to move forward had been made, but that one would be forthcoming early next year.

The clock is ticking. The deadline for gathering signatures for November 2014 is April, and given that state officials have up to 60 days to return a ballot summary and let signature gathering commence, that means the window for signature gathering could be as short as three months. With more than 500,000 valid signatures needed to make the ballot, that would be a daunting and very expensive prospect.

It may still be better to wait for 2016, said Dale Gieringer, the longtime head of California NORML.

"I don't see that this does much for patients or consumers," he said. "The fact that we have three initiatives proposed for 2014 shows a relative lack of unity and a lack of adequate consultation among the various groups. And it's really late in the day."

Gieringer pointed to language leaving the state's medical marijuana system intact as one issue. "We would have two systems, one with a special tax, one without," he noted. "Guess which one most people would patronize. The legislature might respond by getting rid of collectives or dispensaries. Medical marijuana regulation is the elephant in the room, and these are complicated issues that will require consultation by a lot of interest groups."

He also counseled patience.

"People started panicking when those strong poll numbers came out in the fall and started thinking 'Gee, this is really feasible,'" Gieringer said. "But it was so late in the day that people couldn't really get together and plan and vet to come up with a well-conceived plan. This is a stab in the dark, especially until we see how Colorado and Washington play out, especially the tax and regulate part. How is this going to work in the marketplace? Will people patronize highly taxed marijuana shops or not?"

The DPA effort may not be the perfect marijuana legalization initiative -- that elusive creature has yet to be spotted -- but it is out there now, at least as a place holder. The other two initiatives appear unlikely to actually make the ballot, so the decisions made early next year by DPA and its allies are likely to determine if California votes on marijuana legalization next year or not.

CA
United States

In Memoriam: Peter Lewis, Major Supporter of Drug Policy Reform

Peter B. Lewis, the billionaire head of Progressive Insurance and a leading funder of drug reform efforts in recent decades, died Saturday at his home in Coconut Grove, Florida. He was 80 years old.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/peter-lewis-200px.jpg
Peter Lewis (wikipedia.org)
The Cleveland native built Progressive, a small company started by his father, into an auto insurance powerhouse with more than 26,000 employees and $17 billion in premiums. His personal fortune was estimated at around $1 billion at the time of his death, and over his lifetime, he donated about $500 million to various causes.

As progressive as the name of his insurance company, Lewis financially supported the American Civil Liberties Union and the 2004 presidential campaign of then Sen. John Kerry. He also helped launched progressive organizations including Media Matters, Third Way, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, among others.

One of his causes was drug law reform, particularly marijuana. Open about his enjoyment of the herb, Lewis was arrested by New Zealand authorities in 2000 after flying into the country to attend yacht races. But his financial support for the cause predated that event. Through the years Lewis contributed millions of dollars to a series of a initiative campaigns, including last year's successful campaigns in Colorado and Washington, where he was the single largest donor. Before he died, he also contributed to a nascent effort to put a legalization initiative on the 2014 Oregon ballot.

Along with financier George Soros and Phoenix University founder John Sperling, Lewis was for years one of the troika of big money funders for drug reform. That has begun to change as a new generation of entrepreneurs begin to pony up for reform, but Lewis and his money played a critical role in the reform movement getting to where it is now.

"The role that Peter has played in marijuana reform is that of leading this movement to the very brink of success," attorney and Lewis political strategist Graham Boyd told the Cleveland Plain Dealer Saturday night. "We've won two important states and I think just in the very near future there's going to be a cascade of victories that will be attributable to him and I do wish he had lived to see that success."

Coconut Grove, FL
United States

Canada Liberal Party Leader Says Legalize Marijuana

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

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

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

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

In Vancouver on Thursday, Trudeau elaborated.

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

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

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

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

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

Canada

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