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Legal Marijuana No Simple Matter for Colorado Retailers [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Denver-based journalist Rebecca Chavez

Starting January 1, any person in Colorado over the age of 21 can walk into a retail marijuana facility and purchase marijuana with just a show of ID. While the process should be simple for those who choose to imbibe legally, things have not been so simple for the dispensary owners who have made the choice to sell retail marijuana. Luke Ramirez is one of these owners. His store, Walking Raven, sits on one of Denver's busiest streets.

For Ramirez, planning for retail marijuana sales began in February of 2012, when Walking Raven officially endorsed Amendment 64, the legalization initiative that won at the ballot that November. Even with almost two years of planning behind him, he finds that there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome. It wasn't until May of 2013 that Ramirez and other dispensary owners knew what would be expected of them by the state. Even with state legislation settled, Amendment 64 allows for municipalities to come up with even stricter rules for retail marijuana stores.

Denver started working on its own regulations in September, and wasn't done when the Chronicle spoke with Ramirez in late December. Though he was only the seventh person in the city of Denver to apply for a license, the constant changes mean that he won't be able to open until about January 10, over a week beyond the official start of recreational marijuana sales. In late December Ramirez was still getting calls about changes to marijuana laws at the city level.

The process has been similar for dispensary owners all over Denver, which means it might be one of the few places where a legal retail marijuana shortage will happen right away. The licensing for retail locations and retail grows is happening at the same time. This would be a problem for those trying to open on January 1, except that the state has allowed a one-time transfer of medical marijuana to retail. This transfer is how all stores will start, and it gives a little something extra to the consumer as well.

The edible companies have to go through the same process as other marijuana facilities, but some are opting out in the early stages. During the one time transfer, marijuana stores can make some edibles retail that otherwise wouldn't be available. This means some store owners are stockpiling certain items that they feel will be popular with retail consumers.

Ramirez has opted out of stockpiling because he simply can't afford it. The cost of selling retail marijuana is incredibly high, which prices smaller dispensaries out of an immediate switch. All told, Ramirez has spent $60,000 dollars going through the process of getting licensed and prepared to make the switch. Before he actually gets his license he expects to spend about $10,000 more.

Inside Walking Raven (Rebecca Chavez)
Money is a huge concern for retail marijuana dispensaries, and Ramirez is unsure of whether they will be able to make it all back during the first few months of retail sales. He acknowledges that the supply for retail just won't meet the demand, and worries that owners will see the same marijuana shortage that caused some of them to temporarily close their doors in 2012. This, of course, affects the people who work behind the counter. Ramirez wants to make sure that all of his employees are well-taken care of, but he acknowledges that he may have to cut back on hours at some point.

The marijuana shortage has another effect on the market. With marijuana prices possibly going as high as $70 for an eighth, Ramirez says that retail marijuana "won't get rid of the black market until supply meets demand."

In the meantime, his store and many others will have to compete with the grey market that has sprung up on Craigslist since the passage of Amendment 64.

Despite the many difficulties in his way, and the five inspections that he has to go through, Ramirez is confident that he is making the right choice. While he cannot sell retail marijuana at present, he is concerned to ensure that marijuana is still available for his current customers: medical marijuana patients.

"Patients definitely still need medicine," he says, and that's why he's sure to always have some on hand, segregated from retail marijuana for non-patients.

Retail and medical marijuana are sold in the same store, but they have to be kept in separate containers. Medicinal users can purchase retail, but retail consumers cannot get any of the medical marijuana regardless of a possible shortage. Despite eventual plans to sell only 10% of his product as medicinal, Ramirez is determined to always be able to take care of the patients.

They are, after all, the ones that supported him before the end of prohibition in Colorado.

Denver, CO
United States

Permitted Marijuana Party at Seattle Space Needle Marks Legalization Anniversary

King 5 News reported Friday that hundreds of people lit and smoked marijuana at a party under the famed landmark the Seattle Space Needle. The party was a lawful event that received a permit from the city, though activist Ben Livingston said it took him three months to persuade them to issue the permit.

Click here for the article and video footage. Via TheWeedBlog.

Location: 
Seattle, WA
United States

In Reversal, Denver Council Rejects Front-Porch Pot Ban

(front porch image, from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
[This article was originally published on the Speakeasy blog -- check out the Speakeasy for quick updates and commentary on a daily basis.]

Good, and, frankly, somewhat surprising news for Denver tokers. The city council last night reversed itself and undid the ban on marijuana smoking in public view even if on one's own property. There will be one more vote on the ordinance next week.

According to KUSA TV, Councilwoman Susan Shepherd offered up an amendment to undo the ban, which had passed last week on a 7-5 vote. The vote last night to reverse was 7-6.

Shepherd suggested that rather than calling the police, neighbors try being neighborly. That would mean talking to your neighbor if his marijuana smoke bothers you, and dealing with your neighbor's concerns if your marijuana smoke bothers him.

Sounds reasonable.

Oregon Solons to Take Up Marijuana Legalization

State Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), the powerful head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, last Friday unveiled a draft bill that would ask voters in the November 2014 election whether they wanted to legalize marijuana. The announcement came as lawmakers began debating whether to advance the issue.

Under Prozanski's plan, the legislature would pass the bill, and the marijuana legalization question would then appear on the November 2014 ballot. If approved by the voters, the legislature would then be charged with crafting regulations in 2015.

Next year, Oregon has only a six-week special legislative session beginning in February. That's why Prozanski wants solons to handle the regulatory issues in 2015, when there is more time.

Prozanski said a vote on legalization is inevitable, and if the legislature doesn't act, activists will put their own measures before the voters. At least two initiatives are already in the works, one by Paul Stanford, the controversial force behind last year's failed Measure 80 campaign, and one by local activists organized as New Approach Oregon, which is already picking up some seed money.

"It is here, we need deal with it," Prozanski said in remarks reported by the Associated Press. "Because if we don't deal with it, it's going to be given to us, and I think we'll have a lot of unintended consequences."

New Approach Oregon spokesman Anthony Johnson told the AP it was too early to tell if Prozanski's draft bill would satisfy his group. If not, Oregon voters could have two or more separate proposals to choose from next November.

Salem, OR
United States

Chronicle Daily News--November 1, 2013

The big news today is yesterday's surprising appeals court ruling allowing the NYPD to continue stop-and-frisk searches, but there's more as well on marijuana reform, drug testing, and a conference in New Zealand.

NYPD practices stop-and-frisk techniques (nyc.gov/nypd)
Search and Seizure

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Judge's Ruling on NYPD Stop-and-Frisk. The 2nd US Court of Appeals in New York City blocked an order by District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin requiring changes in the NYPD's much criticized stop-and-frisk program. In an unusual move, the appeals court also removed Judge Scheindlin from the case, saying she had violated the code of conduct for federal judges by giving media interviews and publicly responding to criticism of her court. Scheindlin had found that NYPD violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of people by subjecting them to stop-and-frisk searches based on their race.

Drug Testing

Truckers Object to Federal Bill to Allow Hair Drug Tests. A bill pending in Congress, House Resolution 3403, the "Drug Free Commercial Driver Act of 2013," is drawing opposition from an independent trucker group, the association's organ Landline Magazine reports. The bill would allow trucking companies to use hair testing for pre-employment and random drug tests. Currently, federal regulations mandate urine testing and allow hair testing only in conjunction with urine tests, not as a replacement. Hair-based testing can reveal drug use weeks or months prior to the testing date. The independent truckers accuse bill sponsors of carrying water for larger trucking firms that want to undercut their competition.

Marijuana Policy

Colorado to Vote Tuesday on Marijuana Tax. Colorado voters will decide Tuesday whether to impose a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales to pay for school construction and a 10% sales tax to pay for marijuana regulation. The tax vote wasn't included in Amendment 64 because state law requires any new taxes to be approved by the voters. The measure is expected to pass despite opposition from some marijuana activists.

No Pot in Washington Bars, State Regulators Say. The Washington State Liquor Control Board Wednesday filed a draft rule banning any business with a liquor license from allowing on-site marijuana use. The state's pot law already bars public use, including in bars, clubs, and restaurants, but some businesses have tried to find loopholes allowing customers to use on premise, such as by having "private clubs" within the establishment.

DC Marijuana Reform Moves Could Spur Congress to Ponder Legalization. The DC city council appears set to approve decriminalization, and DC marijuana activists are pondering a 2014 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. That could set the stage for Congress to finally turn its sights on federal marijuana legalization, Bloomberg News suggested in this think piece.

One-Fourth of Americans Would Buy Legal Weed, Poll Finds. At least one out of four Americans (26%) said they would buy marijuana at least on "rare occasions" if it were legal, according to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll released Thursday. Only 9% said they buy it on rare occasions now. One out of six (16%) of respondents said they never buy it now, but might if it were legal.

International

New Zealand to Host International Conference on Drug Reform Laws. The country has drawn international attention for its innovative approach to new synthetic drugs—regulating instead of prohibiting them—and will be the site of a March 20, 2014 "Pathway to Reform" conference explaining how the domestic synthetic drug industry began, how the regulatory approach was chosen and how it works. International attendees will include Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann and Amanda Fielding, of Britain's Beckley Foundation.

Medical Marijuana Update

A Michigan couple get their child back, New Jersey gets its second dispensary, and Washington regulators get an earful over moves to do away with patient home grows under I-502 legalization. And much, much more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Tuesday, a judge allowed a medical marijuana patient to continue to use while on probation, even though her plea agreement strictly forbade it. The county attorney in the case had added a blanket condition to plea agreements prohibiting offenders from using marijuana regardless of whether they hold medical marijuana cards, but the woman's attorneys argued that the clause violated state law and that prosecutors could not legally prohibit probationers from using medical marijuana. The judge agreed. The county prosecutor is expected to appeal.

On Tuesday, advocates and doctors urged the state to add PTSD as a condition treatable with medical marijuana. The occasion was a public hearing at the Arizona Department of Health Services. The state currently allows marijuana for eight specified medical conditions. The department will make its decision by January.

Also on Tuesday, the ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit requesting that the courts officially rule that extracts are covered under the state's medical marijuana law. The suit was filed in a bid to protect the parents of a 5-year-old boy suffering from epilepsy from criminal prosecution for treating him with marijuana-derived oil. Extracts are currently in a legal gray area in Arizona, where police and some prosecutors say they are illegal and the Department of Health Services is still "developing guidance to clarify these issues," even though that guidance was supposed to be completed this month.

California

On October 16, Mendocino County announced it had released more records to the federal government related to the former marijuana grow permitting program that allowed growers to have up to 99 plants per parcel. The county was responding to a second set of federal subpoenas, this one for a "limited number" of records concerning the program. An earlier subpoena was much broader, but was fought by the county. The county and the feds reached an agreement in April to release some records, but with the names of participants redacted.

Also on October 16, the Selma city council banned dispensaries and imposed tight restrictions on medical marijuana grows. The Fresno County community will require growers to register, get building permits, and stay 1,500 from sensitive uses, and no outdoor grows are allowed. The new ordinance is a slight improvement on a 2010 ordinance that banned all medical marijuana uses in the city.

Also on October 16, word came that the Justice Department has abandoned some asset forfeiture proceedings against medical marijuana landlords. The US Attorney for the Central District of California, Andre Birotte, dropped at least four cases in October. But other US Attorneys in the state continue to pursue asset forfeiture cases, including pending cases against landlords for Harborside Health Center and the Berkeley Patients Groups.

On October 17, medical marijuana activist Lanny Swerdlow prevailed in a civil trial against anti-drug crusader Paul Chabot. Swerdlow had alleged false arrest and malicious prosecution after a 2007 incident at a Rancho Cucamonga meeting. The jury found for the false arrest, but not the malicious prosecution, and awarded Swerdlow $5,000 for past losses. They will meet again to determine punitive damages.

On October 18, the owners of a former Vallejo dispensary filed suit against the city alleging abuse of power, excessive force, and retaliation after it was raided by police last year. Daniel and Rhonda Chadwick, owners of Homegrown Holistic Cooperative, Inc., claim the city retaliated against them after Daniel Chadwick spoke out at a contentious city council meeting after a series of dispensary raids. Police in Vallejo raided at least six dispensaries there in 2012 even though the city had voted the year before to tax dispensaries -- not shut them down. All of those cases fell apart, but the damage had been done.

Connecticut

On October 17, the Westport planning and zoning commission approved a moratorium on dispensaries and producers. The moratorium would last for a year, while the community has a chance to wrap its head around "the newness" of recently issued state regulations.

On Monday, the Farmington planning and zoning commission passed a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana facilities. The commission wants town staff to have adequate time to research the new state regulations.

Delaware

On October 22, the Marijuana Policy Project criticized Gov. Markell's dispensary plan. State law calls for three dispensaries, but Markell had delayed opening any dispensaries for the last two years after receiving a threat letter from federal prosecutors. Markell has now moved forward, but said he will support opening only one dispensary next year.

Florida

Last Thursday, state Attorney General Pam Bondi challenged a proposed ballot initiative for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The attorney general is required by state law to send initiatives to the state Supreme Court for review, but Bondi also attacked the initiative, saying if it passed, "Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations" and warning that it conflicted with federal law. The court will hear arguments on December 5.

Guam

Last Friday, Sen. Tina Muna-Barnes filed a medical marijuana bill. The bill would require that all medical marijuana come from Guam itself. Last month, Muna-Barnes introduced a resolution to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes that won broad support at a public hearing.

On Sunday, the Guam Medical Association complained it hadn't been consulted. The association didn't take a position for or against, but said it thought it should.

Massachusetts

On October 16, a Bolton town meeting decided to approve a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations. The moratorium would prevent such facilities until June 30, 2014.

Last Wednesday, a Saugus town meeting voted to approve a moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium will stay in effect until September 30, 2014, or until local zoning bylaws are adopted.

On Monday, Wareham voters approved a zoning law that allows medical marijuana treatment centers. The law replaces a temporary moratorium on such businesses that was voted in at the spring town meeting. The centers will be allowed in an "institutional district."

On Tuesday, Framingham selectmen gave the go-ahead for staff to take dispensary applications.There are at least a dozen proposals pending for dispensaries or grow operations in the city. A Special Town Meeting last week rejected a zoning bylaw and proposed overlay district that would regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and growing facilities. The town is developing a ranking system to rate applicants.

Michigan

Last Friday, an Ingham County judge ordered an infant child returned to her medical marijuana using parents. Steve and Maria Green's daughter Bree had been removed by Child Protective Services last month, but the judge found no evidence of abuse or neglect. The parents agreed not to medicate around their children, but said that's how they've handled things all along.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state's second medical marijuana dispensary opened. The Compassionate Care Foundation opened in Egg Harbor, making it the first in South Jersey. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2010, but the Christie administration has made the roll-out excruciatingly slow. Now, though, things are starting to roll. A third dispensary is slated to open in a couple of weeks in Woodbridge Township, and the state Department of Health is in licensing talks with three other facilities.

North Dakota

Last Tuesday, two Dickinson residents entered conditional guilty pleas to marijuana possession, enabling them to appeal to the state Supreme Court that their out-of-state medical marijuana guards should have allowed them to possess marijuana in North Dakota. Their lawyers will argue that the medical marijuana recommendations should be a valid defense.

Oregon

Last Friday, the panel charged with crafting rules for dispensaries met again. The legislature this year passed a bill to regulate the medical marijuana system statewide, and this was the panel's second meeting. It is expected to finish its work by December 1.

Virginia

Last Tuesday, a poll found support for medical marijuana at 71%. The state has taken no action to approve the medical use of the plant, but perhaps some legislators will take heed.

Washington

On Sunday, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles warned that the battle for homegrown medical marijuana is not over. State agencies charged with implementing marijuana legalization under the I-502 initiative have proposed eliminating patient grows under the state's medical marijuana program, but that effort has ignited a firestorm of criticism from patients. Now, they have at least one prominent supporter in the legislature.

Wisconsin

Last Tuesday, 18 legislators cosponsored a medical marijuana bill. The bill, Senate Bill 363, would allow for dispensaries and home cultivation. Patients or caregivers could grow up to 12 plants and possess up to three ounces at a time. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Republican Senator Leah Vukmir, but has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Oregon Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed, Has $$$ Support

Last Friday, Oregon activists organized as the New Approach Oregon political action committee filed a marijuana legalization initiative with the secretary of state's office. Unlike the initiatives filed this year by Paul Stanford, author of 2012's failed Measure 80 legalization initiative, this one has picked up the backing of deep-pocketed donors.

Last month, the new initiative picked up contributions of $32,000 from Progressive Insurance founder and marijuana law reform funder Peter Lewis and $50,000 from Drug Policy Action, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, the secretary of state's office reports. Since the spring, the effort has also received $38,500 in cash contributions from the American Victory Coalition, an Oregon-based federal nonprofit that opposes the war on drugs, among other issues.

Oregon has been widely touted as one of the states most likely to join Colorado and Washington in having legalized marijuana at the ballot box. This new initiative, with broad support within the state's activist community and financial support from major outside donors, increases the likelihood that Oregon will indeed free the weed in 2014.

Salem, OR
United States

Washington Medical Marijuana Recommendations Draw Opposition

The three state agencies and the governor's office that constitute the state's medical marijuana working group on Monday released their draft recommendations for dealing with medical marijuana in the era of legal marijuana possession and state-licensed marijuana stores under the I-502 initiative. Their recommendations would essentially gut the existing medical marijuana system, and patients and advocates are crying foul.

What's the future for medical marijuana in Washington?
The recommendations from the State Liquor Control Board (which is in charge of implementing the I-502 regime), the Department of Health, and the Department of Revenue would allow state-registered patients to purchase tax-exempt marijuana from the 334 stores envisioned under I-502, but would also reduce the amount patients could possess from 24 ounces to three ounces, require doctors to register patients with the state, remove the affirmative defense for medical marijuana patients, and end the right to petition for new medical conditions to be added.

The recommendations also call for eliminating the right of patients to grow their own, either individually or collectively, require existing dispensaries to comply with I-502 regulations, and force out of business those that can't. That would bring the state's medical marijuana system in line with I-502's no home grow provision.

While I-502 only envisions legalizing marijuana for adults 21 and over, the recommendations would allow 18-to-20-year-olds to use medical marijuana, but patients under the age of 18 would only be allowed to use it with parental consent and could only possess one dose at a time.

The state agencies will make their final recommendations by January 1, when they must send a final report to the state legislature, but in the meantime, they are taking for public comment between now and November 8. They can expect to get an earful from an angry medical marijuana community.

"Washington was one of the first states in the nation to recognize that patients under a physician's care have the right to use medical marijuana," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "The needs of this vulnerable population are distinctly different from the wants of recreational users and it's vital that elected officials understand the difference."

ASA, which worked with local activists to create the Health Before Happy Hour campaign to try to ensure that medical marijuana patients don't get run over by the legalization bus, is also holding a series of stakeholder meeting to mobilize the community and protect what it views as its hard-won rights. Those meetings will be held between October 27 and 30 in Bellingham, Olympia, Seattle, Spokane, and Yakima.

ASA created that campaign in part because of ominous portents coming from state officials and other key players. In May, Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith warned that competition from the medical marijuana market will pose "a challenge" to the viability of the state's new recreational program, while state Rep. Chris Hurst (D-Enumclaw), chairman of the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, more recently called the medical marijuana industry "a sham," and urged the task force to recommend that all of the state's dispensaries be shut down.

Then, Mitch Barker of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs chimed in to claim that "the two (laws) are not going to be able to exist side by side for very long." As if that weren't enough, the DEA continues to raid dispensaries, and US Attorneys continue to menace patients and providers. US Attorney Jenny Durkan qualified the state's medical marijuana system as "untenable," and vowed to shut down the dispensaries.

"We are living with HIV/AIDS, end-stage cancers, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other serious, often painful and debilitating diseases," said Paul Feldman, who experiences relief with the help of medical marijuana. "It is wholly inappropriate to force us to get our medicine from anything resembling a liquor store and equally unacceptable to make patients pay an excise tax," continued Feldman. "No other medication is taxed this way and cannabis shouldn't be either."

Instead of gutting the medical marijuana program, the Health Before Happy Hour campaign is calling for a system of state-licensed and regulated dispensaries outside the scope of I-502. The campaign is supporting legislation similar to Senate Bill 5073, the proposal previously sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) which was partially vetoed in 2011 by then-Governor Christine Gregoire (D).

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Olympia, WA
United States

"Defelonization"--The Next Step in Winding Down the Drug War [FEATURE]

Thirteen states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have already passed laws making simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony, and the momentum appears to be growing. A bill in California to do something similar has passed the legislature and is currently sitting on the governor's desk, and efforts are afoot to push a defelonization measure through the Washington legislature next year.

An overcrowded California prison (supremecourtus.gov)
Such measures are designed to ease prison overcrowding, ease pressures on budgets, and help drug users by avoiding saddling them with felony convictions. They also reflect increasing frustration with decades of drug prohibition efforts that have failed to stop drug use, but have resulted in all sorts of collateral costs.

In California alone, even after Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) prison realignment scheme, more than 4,000 people remain in state prisons on simple drug possession charges. At $47,000 per inmate per year, that comes out to more than a $200 million annual bill to state taxpayers.

Under current California law, people convicted of a drug possession felony can be sentenced to up to three years in prison. More than 10,000 people are charged with drug possession felonies each year, although many of them receive probation if convicted.

California state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) moved to redress that situation with Senate Bill 649, which passed the legislature on the final day of the session. The bill is not a defelonization bill per se; instead, it makes drug possession a "wobbler," meaning it provides prosecutors with the flexibility to charge drug possession as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

"Our system is broken," said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which supported the bill. "Felony sentences don't reduce drug use and don't persuade users to seek treatment, but instead, impose tremendous barriers to housing, education and employment after release -- three things we know help keep people out of our criminal justice system and successfully reintegrating into their families and communities."

Even Republicans got on board with the bill, helping to get it through the Assembly earlier this year.

California state Sen. Mark Leno (wikipedia.org)
"I am proud that we got bipartisan support in the Assembly," Leno told the Chronicle.

The bill currently awaits Gov. Brown's signature, and although his signature is not required for it to become law, Leno said he believed the governor would act on it, and he urged supporters to let the governor know now that they want him to sign it.

"Anyone can go to the governor's web site and offer support through an email communication," Leno said. "I am always hopeful he will sign it."

While Californians wait for the governor to act (or not), activists and legislators in Washington are gearing up to place a defelonization bill before the legislature there next year. Sensible Washington, the activist group behind the effort, says it has lined up legislative sponsors for the bill and will pre-file in December for next year's legislative session.

State Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) will be the primary sponsor of this proposal in the House. Reps. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien), Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver), Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle), and Chris Reykdal (D-Tumwater) have all signed on as official cosponsors, with more to be announced soon. Sensible Washington hopes to have a companion bill filed simultaneously in the Senate.

Under current Washington law, the possession of any controlled substance (or over 40 grams of cannabis) is an automatic felony. Under this new proposal, the possession of a controlled substance -- when not intended for distribution -- would be reduced from a felony charge, to a misdemeanor (carrying a maximum sentence of 90 days, rather than five years). Laws regarding minors would not be affected.

"Removing felony charges for simple drug possession is a smart, pragmatic approach to reducing some of the harms associated with the war on drugs," said Anthony Martinelli, Sensible Washington's communications director. "The goal is to stop labeling people as felons, filling up our prisons and ruining their lives in the process, for possessing a small amount of an illegal substance."

He elaborated in a Tuesday interview with the Chronicle.

"We support full decriminalization, like the Portuguese model, but defelonization is a big step forward, and we feel that the public and lawmakers are ready for it," he said. "We have to find a way to deal with the dangers of the war on drugs. Another reason is the massive disparity in our cannabis law -- an ounce is legal, but an ounce and a half is a felony. This would remove felonies for cannabis possession, but we don't think anyone should be hit over the head with a felony for personal drug possession."

Martinelli said Sensible Washington and its allies would be spending the next few months preparing to push the bill through the legislature.

"We will be building public and legislative support, continuing to work on garnering media attention, activating our base, and getting more lawmakers on board," he said. "We're really trying to form a bipartisan coalition and get other organizations involved as well."

One of those groups is the ACLU of Washington. Sensible Washington and the ACLU of Washington were bitter foes in the fight over the state's successful I-502 marijuana legalization initiative -- Sensible Washington opposed it as a half-measure that endangered medical marijuana, a claim that ACLU and other advocates contested -- but appear to be on the same page when it comes to this sentencing reform.

"We support the decriminalization of drug use", said Alison Holcomb, criminal justice project director for the ACLU of Washington. "We're looking forward to working in collaboration with Sensible and its allies to achieve that goal."

Martinelli said he could now announce that the proposed bill has picked up its first Senate sponsor, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D), to add to its growing list of House sponsors. Missing from that list of House sponsors is one of the most prominent drug reformers in the House, Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), the chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, but that's not because he opposes the idea, Goodman told the Chronicle Tuesday.

"As chair of the committee, it's important for me to be an honest broker to get legislation through," Goodman explained. "My position as chair is weakened if there is a potentially controversial issue and I'm seen as being on one side of it. It's not that I oppose it, and I certainly will hold a hearing on it and move it, but my role is more to facilitate negotiations on provisions of the bill without being an interested party," he said.

It is an idea that is certainly worth pursuing, he said.

"We need to reprioritize. The tough penalties we impose on people for merely possessing drugs is so arbitrary compared to the penalties for other offenses where there is direct physical harm perpetrated against others," Goodman said. "And by now, we all acknowledge that drug possession is not merely an indiscretion, but might be linked to behavioral health issues. Our approach should be to facilitate therapeutic interventions. We have deferred prosecution programs already, but only for alcohol. Those arrested for drug possession are not eligible because it's a felony. If we could make deferred prosecution available for drug cases, we could make much more headway on the problem," he said.

And doing so would only codify what is already often existing practices, he said.

"Many or most courts and prosecutors are already pleading down felony drug cases to misdemeanors because of budget constraints and space limitations in the jails," Goodman noted. "We can change the law to conform with that practice without an additional threat to public safety. Beyond that, we could remove the prejudicial effect of a felony conviction when it is so evident they hinder people from reintegrating into the community."

While Sensible Washington and its allies are moving full steam ahead, passing the bill could be a multi-year effort, Goodman warned.

"I anticipate prosecutors saying that if we set a certain possession threshold, drug dealers will make sure they possess no more than that amount and will play the system," he said. "We have to figure out a way to find a threshold or divide possession cases into degrees. I hear the concern, but I'm not sure what the solution is. But this is a next important phase of drug policy reform: cranking down the drug war yet one more notch and doing what's rational and fiscally responsible."

There is lots of work to be done, Goodman said.

"We'll see how this plays out in the legislature. It's probably going to need more lobbying and more background discussion among more legislators," he predicted. "So far, it's not a real prominent topic, so it might end up being a work in progress. But who knows? It might catch on fire, and we'll get a quick consensus."

Oregon 2014 Marijuana Legalization Initiative Likely

Oregon activists organized as New Approach Oregon will try to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November 2014 ballot, the leader of the group told the Willamette Week this week. The move comes after an effort in the legislature to put the issue before voters didn't bear fruit.

"Our coalition is moving forward with a legalization measure to end cannabis prohibition in Oregon in the 2014 election," said New Approach Oregon director Anthony Johnson.

Johnson said the Oregonians were working with Drug Policy Alliance(DPA), a move that should help with funding. Fundraising was a key shortcoming of the failed 2012 marijuana legalization Measure 80 initiative campaign headed by Paul Stanford.

Stanford filed two new initiatives in June, but it's not clear if he's going to move forward with them.

"DPA will help us draft the measure that we'll move forward in 2014," Johnson said.

The move comes after New Approach Oregon, DPA and a group of Oregon political insiders were unable to move House Bill 3371. Lawmakers could have referred that marijuana legalization bill to the voters, but declined to do so.

OR
United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School

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