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Marijuana Votes Have Mexicans Talking Legalization

With US public support for marijuana legalization now at the 50% mark, and state legalization efforts now starting to come to fruition, people are naturally talking about it. Academics at RAND and elsewhere recently came out with a book, "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know," discussing the wide range of issues impacted by legalization and that will come into play affecting how it will play out. (We are sending out copies of this book, complimentary with donations, by the way.)

Spanish-language infographic from the Mexican Institute for Competitives marijuana legalization report
One of the most interesting discussions going on is about how legalization in Washington and Colorado will affect Mexico. We reported yesterday that Mexico's incoming administration plans to reassess Mexico's fight against drugs, which has cost the country dearly in lost life. Luis Videgaray, a key advisor to President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, assures that the president continues to oppose legalization, according to the AP. Nevertheless, other Mexican voices are raising the legalization question with increased intensity.

"It seems to me that we should move to authorize exports," [governor of the the violence-plagued border state of Chihuahaha Cesar] Duarte [an ally of Pena Nieto] told Reuters in an interview. "We would therefore propose organizing production for export, and with it no longer being illegal, we would have control over a business which today is run by criminals, and which finances criminals."
 

And as The Economist noted last week (hat tip The Dish), the Mexico City-based think tank Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) believes that legalization may cost the cartels big time. IMCO estimates that Mexican drug trafficking organizations earn $2 billion per year from marijuana, with $1.4 billion of it going to the US. Significantly, IMCO doesn't just think that legalization by the US and Mexico would cut off the cartels from those funds. They have speculated that marijuana grown in Washington and Colorado (particularly Colorado) might be diverted and sold in other states, with a dramatically lowered cost made possible by legalization causing prices to drop elsewhere as well. Lower prices in turn might lead US marijuana users who now buy Mexican weed to switch to marijuana grown in the US instead, even if it's still illegal in their own states.

I am skeptical that we will see that kind of price drop just yet, in the absence of federal legalization, even in Washington or Colorado. It hasn't happened yet from medical marijuana, even though marijuana grown for the medical market is just as divertable as marijuana grown for the recreational market may be -- the dispensaries themselves haven't undercut street prices, partly to try to avoid diversion. Sellers in other states, and the people who traffic it to them, will continue incur the kinds of legal and business risks that they have now. And it is still impossible to set up the large scale farming operations for marijuana that reduce production costs today for licit agriculture. But we don't really know yet.

Now one study is just one study, at the end of the day -- there are other estimates for the scale and value of the marijuana markets and for how much Mexican marijuana makes up of our market. But the cartels clearly have a lot of money to lose here, if not now then when federal prohibition gets repealed -- IMCO's point is valid, whether they are the ones to have best nailed the numbers or not.

It's also the case that some participants in the drug debate, such as Kevin Sabet, have argued that legalization won't reduce cartel violence, because "the cartels will just move into other kinds of crime." But those arguments miss some basic logical points. Cartels will -- and are -- diversifying their operations to profit from other kinds of illegal businesses besides drugs. But it's their drug profits -- the most plentiful and with the highest profit margin -- that enable them to invest in those businesses. The more big drug money we continue to needlessly send them, the more they will invest in other businesses, some of which are more inherently violative of human rights than drugs are.

Some researchers believe that Mexican cartels will step up their competition in other areas, if they lose access to drug trade profits, which could increase violence at certain levels of the organizations. But such effects are likely to be temporary. Nigel Inkster, former #2 person in Britain's intelligence service and coauthor of "Drugs, Insecurity, and Failed States: The Problems of Prohibition," at a book launch forum said he thinks that at a minimum the upper production levels of the drug trade, as well as the lower distribution levels, would see violence reductions. (We are also offering Inkster's book to donors, by the way.)

And it isn't just violence that's the problem. As a report last year by the Center for International Policy's Global Financial Integrity program noted, "[C]riminal networks... function most easily where there is a certain level of underdevelopment and state weakness... [I]t is in their best interest to actively prevent their profits from flowing into legitimate developing economies. In this way, transnational crime and underdevelopment have a mutually perpetuating relationship." The money flow caused by prohibition, accompanied by violence or not, is itself an important enough reason to urgently want to end prohibition as we do, and to reduce the reach of prohibition as much as is politically possible in the meanwhile, as Colorado and Washington have done.

And so Mexican and other thinkers are speaking up, as are victims of the current policy. For all their sakes, President Pena Nieto should not dismiss legalization so quickly. And Sabet and others should not be so quick to try to argue away the impact that the billions of dollars drug prohibition sends each year to the illicit economy has in fueling criminality and hindering societies from developing.

Initiative Watch

Just over a month out, medical marijuana and marijuana legalization initiative campaigns are heating up.

Arkansas

See our feature article this week on the Arkansas initiative and its prospects here.

California

All was quiet on the Proposition 36 three-strikes initiative front.

Colorado

Last Thursday, a group of armed forces veterans came out for Amendment 64. The group, Veterans for 64, was formed after the state denied a plea to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to its list of ailments for which medical marijuana can be used. "The state's failure to act is an effective denial of this compassionate petition," said Vietnam veteran Bob Wiley. "Our only option is to support Amendment 64, which will ensure that Coloradans 21 and older who suffer from PTSD will no longer be subject to arrest and prosecution for using marijuana."

Also last Thursday, a study found that one in 20 Colorado arrests are marijuana-related. The study, conducted by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy for the Drug Policy Alliance found that police forces in the state spend about 4.7% of their budgets enforcing marijuana prohibition, the courts spend 7%, and the corrections system spends 2%. All told, the study concludes that legalizing small amounts of marijuana will save Colorado taxpayers $12 million a year in the beginning and up to $40 million a year in later years.

On Tuesday, Republican state Sen. Shawn Mitchell endorsed Amendment 64. "It's clear the war on drugs isn't working, and we need to try different approaches to this in society," said Mitchell, who has long had a libertarian-style view of drug use, based in part on his own family's experience. "Watching a brother battle addiction has made me question the worth of legal penalties," he said. He joined former US Rep. Tom Tancredo and a handful of other Republican supporters organized by the Republican Liberty Caucus at a rally at the capitol that day.

On Wednesday, the Amendment 64 campaign released a new TV ad arguing that money from marijuana sales should go to Colorado schools, not Mexican drug cartels. "We all know where the money from non-medical marijuana sales is currently going," the narrator says as dollar signs cascade down from Colorado and into Mexico. "It doesn't need to be that way. If we pass Amendment 64, Colorado businesses would profit and tax revenues would pay for public services and the reconstruction of our schools. Let's vote for the good guys and against the bad guys -- let's have marijuana tax money go to our schools rather than criminals in Mexico."

Massachusetts

On Wednesday, opponents of Question 3 gathered in Somerville to discuss the measure. Some 20 people, including Somerville Police Chief Thomas Pasquarello, gathered for a talk by Cory Mashburn, Director of the Somerville Office of Prevention, part of the Somerville Health Department. Dispensaries will resemble "candy stores or a 7-11," he told the small crowd.

Montana

All was quiet on the I-124 front.

Oregon

Last Thursday, the Yes on 80 campaign criticized a raid on a major medical marijuana provider. The campaign addressed that day's raid on the Human Collective in Tigard, saying "prohibition is the problem, regulation is the solution."

On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported on money problems for Measure 80. The campaign had only $1,800 in the bank, the AP reported, citing potential large donors' doubts about the measure's ability to win and skepticism about the measure's main backer, Paul Stanford. The measure is trailing in the polls.

Washington

On Sunday, the Columbian (Vancouver, WA) endorsed I-502.

As of Monday, the I-502 campaign had raised $4 million, including $670,000 donated last week by Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis, who has now thrown in a total of $1.55 million. The campaign used some of that money for a $700,000 TV ad buy for use in the final week before the election.

Also on Monday, the campaign won the endorsement of King County Sheriff Steve Strachan, who is running for re-election. "I think the current situation is bad for the rule of law, bad for the criminal justice system and and it sends a bad message to our kids," he said. Strachan's opponent, longtime Sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart, previously endorsed I-502.

On Tuesday, the Spokane Spokesman-Review endorsed I-502.

On Wednesday, Republican US Senate hopeful Michael Baumgartner endorsed I-502, giving the campaign one of its highest-profile Republican supporters yet. He is running a long-shot bid to defeat Democratic US Sen. Maria Cantwell. I-502 is "taking a different approach to a very expensive drug war, and potentially a better approach," Baumgartner said. "They've checked all the boxes as far as what you would want to see happen in terms of provisions to keep it away from children and limiting access in the public space. I've just been impressed with the initiative and the people running it."

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

Former DEA Heads Urge Holder to Oppose Marijuana Legalization Measures

Every former head of the DEA since it was created by Richard Nixon in 1973 has signed onto a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to speak out against the marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot in three Western states. The former top narcs warned that silence would be seen as acquiescence.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/ericholder.jpg
Eric Holder
"We urge you to oppose publicly Amendment 64 in Colorado, Initiative 502 in Washington, and Measure 80 in Oregon," the former DEA chiefs wrote. "To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives."

Legalization at the state level would be a "direct violation of the Controlled Substance Act," they wrote. "Since these initiatives would 'tax and regulate' marijuana, there is a clear and direct conflict with federal law."

The former top narcs said they were "encouraged" by Holder's having spoken out against California's 2010 Proposition 19 and by President Obama's strong stance against legalization. They urged Holder to take a public position against the initiatives "as soon as possible."

Reuters reported that Holder's office had no comment on the letter, but former ONDCP official Kevin Sabet told the news agency he wouldn't be surprised if Holder again spoke out against legalization.

"Essentially, a state vote in favor of legalization is a moot point since federal laws would be, in (Holder's) own words (from 2010), 'vigorously enforced,'" Sabet said. "I can't imagine a scenario where the Feds would sit back and do nothing."

But marijuana legalization backers described themselves as unsurprised by the letter and were quick to strike back.

"Anyone who is objective at all knows that current marijuana policy in this country is a complete disaster, with massive arrests, wasted resources, and violence in the US and especially in Mexico," said Jill Harris, managing director of strategic initiatives for Drug Policy Action, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Similarly, Mason Tvert, co-director of the Colorado Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, told The Huffington Post Monday that he expected no less from the former top narcs, but that Holder and the Obama administration would be wise to reject their call.

"It is not surprising that these men, who have made a living off of marijuana prohibition, want their successors to continue profiting from the existence of the underground marijuana market," Tvert wrote. "They just want to keep billions of taxpayer dollars flowing to their buddies. They know that marijuana prohibition isn't really improving public safety; just as our nation's streets weren't safer when Al Capone and his cohorts controlled the alcohol trade," he added.

"For Eric Holder to act as the mouthpiece for these old school warriors of the irrational war on marijuana that is rapidly losing public support would be sending a message to tens of thousands of passionate supporters of Amendment 64 that their opinions do not matter," Tvert warned the administration. "He will be telling them that Colorado must continue to live under a system of marijuana prohibition not because it makes sense, but because the federal government demands it. Most people accept the view that drug prohibition has been a colossal failure."

What will Holder do? Time will tell.

NAACP Regional Chapters Endorse CO, OR, WA Marijuana Initiatives

All three marijuana legalization initiatives on state ballots this year have won the endorsement of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) regional organizations this week. Last Wednesday, the Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming conference of the NAACP endorsed the Colorado initiative, and last Friday, the Alaska, Washington, and Oregon conference of the NAACP endorsed the Washington initiative. That same conference endorsed the Oregon initiative earlier this month.

The Colorado initiative, Amendment 64, has already won the support of a growing list of organizations, including the Democratic and Libertarian Parties of Colorado, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, and the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. Similarly, the Washington initiative, I-502, also has a growing list of endorsers, including the King County (Seattle) Bar Association, the Washington State Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, the Green Party, the state Democratic Party, and numerous county and local Democratic Party groups. Likewise, the Oregon initiative, Measure 80, is busily picking up endorsements as well, including that of the Libertarian Party presidential ticket.

"In ending the prohibition against adult use of marijuana, we might affect mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on African-Americans and other people of color," said Rocky Mountain states regional NAACP president Rosemary Harris-Lytle.

"Treating marijuana use as a crime has not only failed, it has perpetuated racial inequities through unequal enforcement," said Pacific Northwest regional president Oscar Eason, Jr.  "African Americans are no more likely than whites to use marijuana, but we are much more likely to be arrested for it."

Every endorsement counts in what will be a nail-biter of a campaign in both states. According to recent polls, the Colorado and Washington initiatives are leading, but are only hovering around the 50% support level. It takes 50% plus one to win, and veteran initiative watchers say initiatives should be polling at least 60% as the campaigns head into the home stretch because some support is soft and likely to be peeled off by last minute opposition campaigning.

In Colorado, an early August Public Policy Polling survey of likely voters had Amendment 64 leading 49% to 40% and trending upward from an earlier PPP poll that had it leading 46% to 42%, but still not over 50%. In Washington, a July Public Policy Polling survey had I-502 leading 50% to 37% and trending upward over an earlier PPP poll that had it leading 47% to 39%, but still not over 50%. The battle looks to be a little tougher in Oregon, where a July Public Policy Polling survey asking a generic question about whether marijuana should be legalized had 43% saying yes and 46% saying no.

Look for in-depth reporting on these three marijuana legalization initiatives and their prospects after the Labor Day holiday.

Marijuana Legalization Advocate Wins Texas Congressional Primary

Former El Paso city councilman Beto O'Rourke has defeated US Rep. Silvestre Reyes in the battle for the Democratic Party nomination for the seat Reyes has held since 1996. According to election results from the Texas Secretary of State's office early Wednesday morning, O'Rourke had picked up 51.3% of the vote to Reyes' 41.3%, meaning O'Rourke also avoids the need for a run-off election.

Beto O'Rourke (betoforcongress.com)
O'Rourke is a vocal drug policy reformer who has specifically called for marijuana legalization, while Reyes, a former Border Patrol official, has built a career on tough on the border and tough on drugs politics.

O'Rourke garnered national attention in 2009, when he championed a council resolution calling for a national conversation on legalizing and regulating drugs as a possible solution to the drug cartel violence just over El Paso's border in Mexico. The mayor vetoed the unanimously-passed resolution and the council was set to override the veto until Congressman Reyes threatened that the city would lose federal funding if it insisted on pushing the legalization conversation. The override vote failed, but O'Rourke has managed to use the issue as a launching pad for his campaign against what had been a heavily-favored incumbent.

O'Rourke has spoken eloquently of the violence in Mexico and its roots in drug prohibition, including at Drug Policy Alliance conferences, and is the coauthor, along with fellow El Paso city council member Susie Byrd, of Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the US and Mexico, which calls explicitly for marijuana legalization.

"O'Rourke's victory demonstrates that support for drug policy reform, and even for legalizing marijuana, is no detriment to electoral success - in fact it was a key asset in his triumph," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of Drug Policy Action, the Alliance's campaign and lobbying arm.. "Reyes' surprising defeat, meanwhile, shows that kneejerk support for persisting with failed drug war tactics can hurt politicians at the ballot box."

Earlier this month, the Democratic primary for Attorney General in Oregon featured a similar dynamic. Ellen Rosenblum won a surprising victory over favorite Dwight Holton, in a race in which medical marijuana became a major issue. Rosenblum is supportive of patients' right to safe and legal access to medical marijuana, while her opponent, former Interim U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton, is sharply critical of the program. Although Holton was heavily favored early in the race, he was targeted for defeat by supporters of medical marijuana after actively trying to undermine responsible state regulation. With no Republican filing for the office, Rosenblum is all but certain to be the state's next attorney general.

"Beto O'Rourke's congressional victory in Texas, coming on the heels of Ellen Roseblum's victory in Oregon's attorney general race, shows that drug policy reform is no longer a third rail in American politics," said Jill Harris, managing director of strategic initiatives for Drug Policy Action. "In both of those races, the candidates' views on marijuana reform were used against them in attacks by their opponents - and in both cases, the voters supported the pro-reform candidate. A majority of Americans now favor treating marijuana like alcohol, and strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans say the federal government should not interfere with state medical marijuana laws. From blue states like Oregon to red states like Texas, it's a new day for the politics of drug policy reform."

Having won the Democratic primary, O'Rourke is well placed for a victory in November in this solidly Democratic district that has sent Reyes to Washington eight times. But now, it's a drug reformer El Paso is likely to send to Congress, not a drug warrior.

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

El Paso, TX
United States

Charlottesville Says Decriminalize or Regulate Marijuana

The Charlottesville, Virginia, city council approved a marijuana-related resolution Monday night calling on the governor and the legislature "to revisit the sentencing guidelines that merit jail terms for simple possession, do away with rules that suppose intent to distribute without evidence and give due consideration to sponsored state bills that would decriminalize, legalize or regulate marijuana like alcohol."

Charlottesville City Council (City of Charlotteville)
[Editor's Note: To find the actual resolution, click on the link above, select "May 7, 2012 (with background)," then scroll to the very end of the PDF file.]

Under current law, possession of marijuana is classified as a misdemeanor carrying punishment of up to 30 days in jail and/or fines of up to $500. Subsequent convictions carry a jail sentence of up to a year and/or fines of up to $2,500.

The council had been presented with two resolutions, the version that passed and one that also included language making marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority, but councilors balked at the lowest priority language, saying they feared it would send the wrong message to children. Two of the five-member council supported the lowest priority language, but they dropped that in order to pick up a third vote on the decriminalization and regulation language.

"I think it's perfectly legitimate for us to say as an elected body that there are other priorities and that we're going the wrong direction when it comes to the war on drugs," said Councilor Dave Norris in remarks reported by the Charlottesville Daily Progress.

"Obviously, we don't have the power to decriminalize marijuana, but I think it does send the message actually in support of those who can," said Councilor Dede Smith.

"I think that decriminalization has more to with regulation and control than it does with saying it's okay," said Councilor Kristin Szakos, the swing vote who suggested the one-paragraph compromise.

Two council members, Mayor Satyendra Huja and Councilor Kathy Galvin, voted against any reform resolution.

"I think passing such a resolution... would detract from community health, safety and welfare of our citizens," said Huja.

"I honestly cannot think that this bully pulpit can be used to send such mixed messages to our children," said Galvin. "We are spending a lot of time talking about state and federal law. This is not something we should be spending local time doing."

City police lobbied against the lowest priority language, saying that marijuana possession is already a low priority, accounting for only about 100 arrests a year out of the 5,000 made by police, and that many of those busts were incident to arrest on other charges.

"The officers in the police department are duty bound to enforce the laws of the city, state and federal governments. However, all police departments must balance the pressing enforcement needs of a community with their resources," read a memo to councilors from City Manager Maurice Jones and city Police Chief Timothy Longo. "The Charlottesville Police Department has done exactly that by utilizing its funding to appropriately address higher priority crimes in our city than marijuana possession. Knowing this, staff believes it is unnecessary to include a directive from council to de-prioritize the enforcement of personal marijuana use."

Public comment at the meeting was mixed, with the first six speakers opposing the resolution. Some referred to their own struggles with addiction, while others described it as an insidious drug that robs addicts of true happiness.

"Charlottesville will become the city of potheads," warned city resident Melanie Roberts.

But local attorney Jeff Fogel supported the resolutions, including the lowest priority language, and called the war on drugs "a colossal failure" that led to violence. "I don't think we elected the police department to make policy or law in this community," Fogel said. "And you know what, I'm not sure the police department does either."

The resolution was citizen-initiated, brought to the council by Jordan McNeish. Formerly involved with Occupy Charlotte, the 23-year-old activist has since founded a local NORML chapter. He said he had been busted for pot possession in the past.

Charlottesville is now on the record for marijuana reform. Where are Norfolk and Newport News, Roanoke and Richmond?

Charlottesville, VA
United States

British Columbia Mayors Join Increasing Calls to Legalize Marijuana

The mayors of eight British Columbia cities have added their voices to the growing chorus of prominent figures calling on the provincial government to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. In a joint letter last Thursday to provincial elected officials, the mayors said it was time to "tax and strictly regulate marijuana under a public health framework."

The letter was signed by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, as well as the mayors of suburban Burnaby and North Vancouver and the mayors of the interior communities of Armstrong, Enderby, Lake County, Metchosin, and Vernon.

The letter was posted on the web site of Stop the Violence BC, a coalition of public health officials, academics, legal experts, and law enforcement officials. The group has been calling for the development of and implementation of marijuana laws that reduce social harms, such as crime and gang violence.

Despite "an endless stream of anti-marijuana law enforcement initiatives," the herb remains easily available to young people, the mayors said. "Based on the evidence before us, we know that laws that aim to control the marijuana industry are ineffective and, like alcohol prohibition in the US in the 1920s, have led to violent unintended consequences."

The mayors are only the latest British Columbia public figures to climb on board the legalization bandwagon. In November, four former Vancouver mayors endorsed the Stop the Violence BC campaign to end pot prohibition. In December, the Health Officers Council of BC urged legalization, and in February, four former BC attorneys-general joined the call.

None of this is surprising in a province where 66% of the population supports marijuana legalization, according to an Angus Reid poll cited by the mayors. But it runs directly counter to the direction of the Conservative federal government, which not only opposes legalization, but recently passed crime legislation that for the first time imposes mandatory minimum prison sentences for some drug offenses, including the cultivation of as few as six marijuana plants.

Canada

Leonard Pitts Jr. on Obama, Drug Legalization, and Racial Disparities

Pulitzer-winning author Leonard Pitts, Jr., has a piece in the Miami Herald, "If Not Drug Legalization, What, Mr. President?"

If President Obama had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin. So the president famously said.

And the president’s son would thereby find himself at significantly greater risk of running afoul of the so-called “War on Drugs” than, say, a son of George W. Bush. Depending on what state he lived in, a Trayvon Obama might be 57 times more likely than a Trayvon Bush to be imprisoned on drug charges.

And not because blacks are committing most of the drug crime, which they're not, as Pitts demonstrates.

Nice way to start the weekend.

Oakland 4/20: "Obama, You're Alienating Your Base" [FEATURE]

4/20 is supposed to be a day of cannabis celebration, but in Oakland last Friday it was a day of protest and demonstration. Angered by the ongoing federal crackdown on medical marijuana distribution and shocked and infuriated by the April 2 raids on Oaksterdam University and associated businesses, protestors gathered outside the federal building in downtown Oakland to denounce the administration before marching to President Obama's Northern California campaign headquarters to deliver a letter demanding the administration cease and desist.

Delivering a message to the Obama campaign: Back off!
"Terrorist Haag Wanted for War Crimes Against Humanity," read one hand-made sign, an expression of the widespread anger against the US Attorney for Northern California, who has targeted Northern California dispensaries as part of the ongoing federal offensive against medical marijuana distribution.

Printed green, white, and red "Cannabis medicine, let states regulate" sign waved among the crowd, as chants of "Obama, keep your promise!" and "Stop the lies, legalize!" echoed through the courtyard of the towering federal building.

But it's not just marijuana advocates who are angry. "What happened here two weeks ago with the raid of Oaksterdam was an attack on our local and our members," said Matt Witemyre, special project union representative for UFCW Local 5, which represents Northern California dispensary workers. "We're here to register our displeasure with the administration's actions and we're stopping by campaign headquarters to let them know we do not support these policies. We're here in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. They had good jobs and good benefits, and in the midst of the worst economic crisis in the country in decades, the administration is destroying these jobs. It makes no sense," he fumed.

Richard Lee addressing an admiring and supportive crowd.
"We're behind you 100%," said Bob Swanson, representing Oakland Supervisor Nate Miley. "We ask that President Obama back off and rein his people in. Marijuana is medicine; let the people have it. Leave Richard Lee alone -- he's a good man and had done wonders for Oakland."

Lee himself made an appearance. "This was supposed to be a day of celebration, but it's a day of protest," he said to loud cheers and cries of support.

There was also support from the other side of San Francisco Bay, with representatives of San Francisco United, a medical marijuana coalition opposing the federal attacks, standing in solidarity with their brethren in the East Bay.

"We are outraged and disgusted with what happened here two weeks ago," said SF United's Stephanie Tucker, referring to the Oaksterdam raids. "We won't be treated this way. Obama, you are alienating your voter base. Rein in the Department of Justice and the US Attorneys. They are going after a peaceful and well-regulated community," she said to more cheers.

The president isn't winning friends in Oakland...
"We're here to protest the outrageous use of federal resources and what our federal government has done, raiding Oaksterdam and many other well-respected and -loved cannabis establishments here in California," said California NORML executive director Dale Gieringer. "This is not the kind of change we were expecting from the Obama administration."

Friday was also Gieringer's birthday, and the crowd gave the veteran activist a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" to mark the occasion.

"They said they wouldn't waste Justice Department resources on medical marijuana, but we've seen DEA raids all up and down the state, we've seen Treasury attacking the banks, we've seen the IRS going after dispensaries, we've seen BATF saying that medical marijuana patients don't have the right to bear arms, we've seen the Justice Department deny that marijuana has any medical value," Gieringer continued.

"They've turned down a rescheduling petition after nine years of delay and ignored hundreds of studies to the contrary. This administration was supposed to respect science, but it's turned its back on it. This makes no sense at all, and we're going to deliver a message to the Obama administration," he said before leading the chanting, banner-waving crowd on the short march to Obama campaign headquarters.

Passing cars honked in support as the crowd gathered in front of Obama headquarters. Richard Lee's replacement as head of Oaksterdam, Dale Sky Jones, and UFCW representative Dan Rush hand-delivered a letter to campaign staffers demanding the administration cease and desist.

...and neither is US Attorney Melinda Haag.
"What advantages do we derive from continuing this failed policy of prohibition?" asked Jones. "They're committing robbery with a badge, empowering terrorists and cartels, and denying a proven medicine to patients in the guise of keeping it from our kids. We ended the first failed Prohibition. We can do it again, President Obama. We must repeal prohibition," she insisted.

After handing over the letter at the doorway to the campaign headquarters, the crowd lingered to chant and wave signs, making sure the campaign noticed their presence.

"The local staff has heard our cries, and they support us," said Jones. "They will take the letter we've written and deliver it straight to him."

The Obama campaign has gotten the letter, but has it gotten the message? Time will tell, but the demonstrators in Oakland Friday put the campaign on notice that the administration is losing friends in California with its attacks on medical marijuana.

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

Oakland, CA
United States

Oaksterdam University Will Carry On, But Without Richard Lee [FEATURE]

At an Oakland press conference Wednesday, Oaksterdam University announced that it would attempt to stay open in the wake of the April 2 federal raid on its campus and associated businesses, but that its founder, Richard Lee, would no longer be involved with the business. Lee, Oaksterdam representatives, and others also used the press conference to call for a national day of action Friday (4/20) and for people to barrage the Obama White House with phone calls demanding it end its policy of repression aimed at medical marijuana providers.

"My future is very uncertain," Lee said. "I'm waiting for a possible legal case. But I hope to be free to support marijuana legalization campaigns like in Colorado and Washington and medical marijuana campaigns like in Ohio. This is a big issue and getting bigger. If I can use my notoriety to help, I will do what I can."

Lee will be replaced at Oaksterdam University by Dale Sky Jones, who was the school's executive chancellor and who worked closely with Lee in 2010's Proposition 19 campaign. Jones and Oaksterdam will face some tough challenges. The federal raiders stripped the campus of all its equipment and computers, and the school has been unable to hold classes or pay staff. Instead, some 45 people are working on a volunteer basis to get it up and running again.

"The raid knocked the wind out of us," said Jones. "We will need help to get back on our feet in the short term, but in the long term, we will come back."

The school will have to move to a smaller, more affordable, space, Jones said.

"It's not sustainable in the current building," she explained. "We'll keep leasing the auditorium where we teach classes until further notice, and that will allow us to continue to enroll new students, which will allow us to buy new computers. But our office will move to a new location. We're staying in the heart of Oaksterdam, but with a much smaller office space. We've created a new parent company that will have the Oaksterdam trademark. Oaksterdam University will survive, just with a new parent company."

Some 15,000 people have taken courses at Oaksterdam, with a curriculum covering all aspects of the medical marijuana industry, from the basics of growing to how to run a business to how to navigate the maze of state, federal, and local laws and regulations. The school has been at the heart of the revitalization of Broadway in downtown Oakland, as well as at the heart of the East Bay medical marijuana community.

"In terms of public safety, I've been to downtown Oakland on numerous occasions, and if you think this will make it a safer community, it will do just the opposite," said Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore police commander in the city's Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement, and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "Effective public safety is the result of healthy communities, not police action. When people come together, as they did in Oaksterdam, that's when crime is reduced. Now, we'll have patients forced back into the criminal market, funding organized crime. The public is trying to send a message to Washington, DC, that it's time to move away from these destructive prohibition policies."

"This cost the jobs of 100 union members, and those were good jobs with a decent wage," said Ron Lind, president of the UFCW's Local 5, which represents Bay area dispensary workers. "This misguided policy doesn't only impact patients; it also impacts workers. We will continue to support Oaksterdam and its reemergence. There is a huge potential for good middle-class jobs throughout this industry, and it's time for the federal government to stop undermining it."

"This administration is out of touch not only with the public, but with its own campaign pledges," said Franklin. "Obama won last time after forcefully pledging to back off from the federal attacks. Anyone who thinks this is a good electoral strategy needs to look at the polling," in which support for medical marijuana typically runs at 70% or higher.

Richard Lee surrounded by supporters in San Francisco a day after the April 2 raid
Given the ongoing federal crackdown, it is time for Oaksterdam University to broaden its mission, said Jones.

"Our focus has been on providing quality education to the cannabis community, but we need to start focusing on creating safer communities by controlling, taxing, and regulating cannabis," she said. "These days, it's more accessible than any other drugs. You're not getting it at the store, but behind the store. You don't see legal wine grape growers wielding machine guns."

"We want to thank Richard Lee and Oaksterdam for all you do," said Laura Thomas, interim state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, "both to increase access to medical cannabis and for Proposition 19. We join in calling on people to let the president know what you think of this raid and his drug policies in general. Obama has for the first time acknowledged that there needs to be debate on this topic. We need to let him know that legalization is something that should be talked about."

Oaksterdam supporters will gather at the campus Friday for a demonstration and march to the Oakland federal building. They are also urging sympathizers to sign a petition to President Obama urging him to stop the raids. It has more than 23,000 signatures so far.

"This is a big political issue," said Lee. "We're getting a lot of support right now, and the most recent polls show legalization with about a 5% lead across the country. The opponents of ending cannabis prohibition are fighting back. This issue is at the tipping point."

Oakland, CA
United States

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