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Wisconsin Marijuana and Free Speech Activist Ben Masel Has Died

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

- Phillip Smith

Madison, WI
United States

Hearing Set for Bill Legalizing Marijuana in Maine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denver, CO
United States

Portland Legislator Pushes Bill to Legalize, Tax Marijuana in Maine

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

Marc Emery Denied Transfer to Canadian Prison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

El Reno, OK
United States

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox Tells Four Arts Audience He Favors Legalizing Drug Use

Location: 
2 Four Arts Plaza Society of the Four Arts
Palm Beach, FL 33480
United States
As president of Mexico from 2000 to 2006, Vicente Fox waged war on the wealthy drug trafficking organizations that wield so much power in his country. But now the former president says it is time to end the war that has cost 40,000 lives in five years. The answer, Fox told a Society of Four Arts audience, is to legalize drugs. "I don’t think nobody’s going to eradicate drugs from the face of the Earth," Fox said. "Yes, I am promoting the legalizing of drug consumption. Mexico has to get out of this trap. The sooner, the better. The cost for Mexico is too much."
Publication/Source: 
Palm Beach Daily News (FL)
URL: 
http://www.palmbeachdailynews.com/news/former-mexican-president-vicente-fox-tells-four-arts-1340574.html

Marijuana Legalization Advocates Organize to Put New Measure on California Ballot

Location: 
CA
United States
The campaign behind the initiative to legalize marijuana in California which lost narrowly announced it had formed a new committee to put another measure on the ballot. The Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform 2012 aims to build on the support that coalesced around Proposition 19, which would have allowed adults to grow and possess marijuana and authorized cities and counties to legalize and tax sales. Proposition 19 lost 46%-54% in November, but it drew worldwide media attention and stimulated a vigorous debate over the nation's drug policies. Polls have shown growing support for marijuana legalization nationwide, and a post-election poll in California suggested the measure might have passed if proponents had had the money for a campaign to reach swing voters.
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times (CA)
URL: 
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/03/new-medical-marijuana-initiative-in-california.html

Former U.S. Attorney to Speak in Favor of Marijuana Legalization and Taxation Bill

Location: 
WA
United States
Former federal prosecutor John McKay will join Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson of Seattle in speaking in favor of a bill to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana in Washington state.
Publication/Source: 
The Seattle Times (WA)
URL: 
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2014506919_apwaxgrlegalizingmarijuana.html

‘Shooting Galleries’ Take Aim at Illicit Drug Market

Location: 
United Kingdom
Lately, a few British politicians have revived the idea of dispensing taxpayer-funded heroin. Spurred by successful trials in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, the idea that governments can reduce both addiction and street crime — and maybe bleed black markets dry — by managing drug distribution has gained momentum. "It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation," a British MP named Bob Ainsworth said at the end of last year. "We must take the trade away from organized criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists."
Publication/Source: 
Miller-McCune (CA)
URL: 
http://www.miller-mccune.com/legal-affairs/shooting-galleries-take-aim-at-illicit-drug-market-27940/

Marijuana Reform Advocates Call for a Safer Alternative to Alcohol for St. Patrick's Day (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 11, 2011

CONTACTS: Rev. Jay Goldstein - Executive Director - Empire State NORML at (212) 473-2486 or jay@empirestatenorml.com; Doug Greene - Legislative Director - Empire State NORML at (516) 242-4666 or doug@empirestatenorml.com

MARIJUANA REFORM ADVOCATES CALL FOR A SAFER ALTERNATIVE TO ALCOHOL FOR ST. PATRICK’S DAY

WHEN: St. Patrick’s Day, Thursday, March 17th, 2011 at high noon
WHERE: City Hall Park - Broadway between Park Place and Barclay (east side)
WHO: Empire State NORML and numerous speakers (see list below):
WHAT: Rally and Press Conference

On March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day) at high noon, Empire State NORML (the New York State chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)) will remind New Yorkers that marijuana is a safer alternative to alcohol for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

“While scores of New Yorkers are out getting hammered, we want to remind the Big Apple that there is a safer, greener and cleaner choice for adults: marijuana,” said Doug Greene, Legislative Director of Empire State NORML, who organized the event for the first time in 2010.

“In an era of budget cuts and worsening public health, why is the Bloomberg administration driving New Yorkers to drink while spending tens of millions of dollars per year arresting peaceful, healthy cannabis consumers? New York City made over 50,000 marijuana possession arrests last year alone, and over 500,000 since 1996,” said Greene.

Marijuana arrests are 15% of all arrests in New York City. The NYPD is now jailing people for marijuana possession at the rate of nearly 1,000 arrests a week. With 2.7% of the U.S. population, New York City represents 6% of nationwide marijuana arrests.

Greene was first inspired to organize “Marijuana is SAFER” events after reading the book of the same name (subtitled “So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?), co-authored by Paul Armentano, the Deputy Director of NORML, by Mason Tvert, Executive Director of SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation) and by Steve Fox, Director of State Campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Speakers include:

· Dr. Julie Holland, a nationally recognized authority on drugs and drug safety, who has appeared multiple times on Today. She is the author of “Weekends at Bellevue” (which may be coming to TV on Fox this fall ) and editor of “The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis” and “Ecstasy: The Complete Guide.”

· Dr. Harry Levine, Professor of Sociology at CUNY Queens College, the co–author of the NYCLU report “Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City, 1997-2007.” He is also the co–author of a new report on the costs of New York City’s marijuana arrests, which will be released on March 15 by the Drug Policy Alliance.

· Tony Newman, Director of Media Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the nation’s leading organization calling for alternatives to the drug war and policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights.

· Daniel Jabbour, New York State Coordinator for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), an international grassroots network of students who are concerned about the impact drug abuse has on our communities, but who also know that the War on Drugs is failing our generation and our society.

· Chris Goldstein, Board Member, NORML-NJ/Coalition for Medical Marijuana-NJ (CMM-NJ). Chris is a radio broadcaster and marijuana advocate. Chris is considered an expert on the topic of marijuana and can comment on New Jersey and national issues regarding cannabis.

###

Location: 
Broadway between Park Place and Barclay (east side) City Hall Park
New York, NY 10007
United States

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