Marijuana

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Arnold Schwarzenegger Calls for Marijuana Legalization Debate

Considering that he vetoed a hemp bill in 2006, this is about as good a statement as I would expect from him:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says California should study other nations' experiences in legalizing and taxing marijuana, although he is not supporting the idea.

He says it's time to debate proposals such as a bill introduced in the state Legislature earlier this year that would treat marijuana like alcohol.

State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat, says taxing marijuana at $50 per ounce would bring more than $1 billion a year to the state.

Schwarzenegger said during a Tuesday news conference that "it's time for debate" on the idea. [NBC]

I like what's happening with this "let's debate it" line we keep hearing lately. It's a way for public officials to show interest in the subject without alienating anyone who feels strongly about the issue. Perhaps it has come to the Governator's attention that 56% of Californians support legalizing marijuana.

Considering the famous Schwarzenegger-smoking-pot video that's all over the web, some will accuse him of hypocrisy should his position ultimately fall anywhere short of outright support for legalization. Still, it's notable in and of itself that we're beginning to see politicians shifting away from knee-jerk opposition to reform, in favor of the more open-minded position of endorsing a debate on the subject.

Support for Marijuana Legalization is Huge in Canada

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

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

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

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

Support for Marijuana Legalization Continues to Grow in America

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana: Rhode Island Dispensary Bill Passes Senate

For the second time, the Rhode Island Senate has approved a bill that would allow dispensaries to provide marijuana to patients qualified under the state's existing medical marijuana law. The bill now heads to the House, where a committee vote was scheduled for Thursday.

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Gov. Donald Carcieri, unsuccessful medical marijuana foe
Rhode Island approved a medical marijuana law in 2006, but that law did not provide a legal avenue for patients unable to grow their own medicine or find a caregiver to grow it for them to otherwise procure it. The bill would create "compassion centers" for the distribution of marijuana to people with severe, debilitating illnesses, including cancer, Hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

Some 681 people are already registered with the Rhode Island Department of Health under the state's medical marijuana program.

The Senate approval of the compassion center program came on a 35-2 vote Wednesday. The vote came after bill sponsor Sen. Rhoda Perry (D-Providence) told her colleagues support for the bill was growing and it appeared the state police had dropped their opposition.

The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, which has lobbied hard for medical marijuana, praised the Senate for passing the bill. Spokesman Jesse Stout said it would make Rhode Island the second state after New Mexico to authorize nonprofit dispensaries for patients.

The Rhode Island Senate passed a similar bill last year, but it didn't make it through the House. Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) has vetoed medical marijuana bills twice, but was overriden by the legislature. A spokesman for the governor told the Providence Journal he continued to have "serious concerns with how the compassion centers would be set up and regulated."

Marijuana: Marc Emery Associates Plead Guilty in Seattle, Face Canadian Probation

After striking a deal with federal prosecutors, two employees of erstwhile Vancouver pot seed entrepreneur, continuing marijuana legalization activist and Cannabis Culture magazine publisher Marc Emery pleaded guilty in federal court in Seattle last Friday to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana. They will be formally sentenced June 17, according to a press release from the US Attorney's Office for Western Washington in Seattle.

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Marc and Jodie Emery (from cannabisculture.com)
Along with Emery, employees Michelle Rainey and Gregory Williams became known as the BC 3 after they were indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle on marijuana distribution charges because of Emery's seed sales enterprise. Authorities in Canada, where marijuana seed distribution is of ambiguous legal status, knew of Emery's business for years, but failed to act harshly against him or his employees.

Rainey and Williams accepted the guilty pleas on the condition that they be sentenced to two years probation to be served in Canada. Both defense attorneys and prosecutors will recommend that sentence. The judge is not bound to agree to that sentence, but the plea agreement stipulates that either party can call off the deal if the judge does not agree to that sentence.

According to court documents, Rainey filled mail orders for seeds, 75% of which were destined for customers in the US. Williams handled phone orders and walk-in customers. He confirmed Emery's claims that the company was grossing more than $3 million a year in seed sales.

Emery ploughed much of his profits back into the marijuana legalization movement and is known as the Prince of Pot for his loudly held positions. US DEA administrator Karen Tandy crowed at the time of his 2005 indictment that his arrest had dealt a blow to legalization forces, but prosecutors later claimed no political motivation for the bust of one of the drug war's loudest critics.

Rainey and Williams will be formally sentenced June 17. Emery's fate remains unclear. He continues to fight extradition from Canada, and a hearing in the British Columbia Supreme Court is set for the first week of June.

Europe: Cannabis Cafes in Dutch Border Region to Go Members Only?

All of the cannabis cafes in the Dutch border province of Limburg may be turned into members-only clubs in a bid to stop "drug tourism," the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant reported over the weekend. The proposal came from Gerd Leers, the mayor of Maastricht, the largest town in the province.

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downstairs of a coffee shop, Maastricht (courtesy Wikimedia)
Limburg hosts 30 of the cannabis cafes, also known as coffee shops, that attract thousands of visitors from the less cannabis-friendly neighboring countries of France, Belgium and Germany each year. The influx of foreign pot buyers has resulted in problems ranging from traffic congestion to public nuisances to dealing of hard drugs.

Under the Leers proposal, foreigners would not be barred from membership in the clubs, but would have to wait several days to buy cannabis. The proposal would thus discourage spur of the moment cannabis purchases, but would not prevent foreigners who plan ahead from being able to purchase cannabis once they have become members.

Leers' proposal also foresees banning cash sales, which would allow all sales to be traced, thus discouraging foreigners. Leers is also proposing reducing the amount of cannabis that can purchased from five grams to three grams. He said few foreigners would bother to drive to Holland for such a small quantity. [But Leers did not explain why foreigners would bother to drive to Holland to purchase only two grams more now, or what would stop them from visiting multiple cannabis cafes in a European version of smurfing.]

According to the Volkskrant, the Dutch home affairs and justice ministries have reacted favorably to the plan. While the conservative Dutch government would like to eliminate cannabis cafes altogether, it has pledged not to act until after elections next year. In the meantime, effective regulation of the cannabis cafes is in the hands of local authorities, such as Maastricht Mayor Leers.

Cannabis cafe owners declined to discuss their views on the proposal. They said they would wait to react until the proposal is formally presented May 12.

Medical Marijuana: New Hampshire Bill Passes Senate, Awaits Governor's Signature

New Hampshire is poised to become the 14th medical marijuana state after a bill legalizing the therapeutic use of marijuana passed the state Senate on a 14-10 vote Wednesday. A similar measure has already been approved by the House.

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New Hampshire Statehouse
The Senate amended the bill to include a panel to review questions of how patients would access medical marijuana. It also strengthened privacy provisions in the bill. Those changes are seen as minor and are expected to be approved by the House.

The bill would allow patients or their caregivers to grow up to six marijuana plants and possess up to two ounces of usable marijuana. Only patients with enumerated conditions, including chronic pain, seizures, muscle spasms, and severe nausea or vomiting, would be eligible under the bill.

New Hampshire law enforcement lobbyists opposed the bill, and Gov. John Lynch (D) has expressed sympathy for law enforcement concerns. He has also expressed concern that medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But he has not said he would veto the bill.

After the vote, advocates launched a statewide ad campaign featuring Multiple Sclerosis patient Sandra Drew, asking Gov. Lynch to sign the bill.

Feature: Marijuana Reform Approaches the Tipping Point

Sometime in the last few months, the notion of legalizing marijuana crossed an invisible threshold. Long relegated to the margins of political discourse by the conventional wisdom, pot freedom has this year gone mainstream.

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Is reason dawning for marijuana policy?
The potential flu pandemic and President Obama's 100th day in office may have knocked marijuana off the front pages this week, but so far this year, the issue has exploded in the mass media, impelled by the twin forces of economic crisis and Mexican violence fueled by drug prohibition. A Google news search for the phrase "legalize marijuana" turned up more than 1,100 hits -- and that's just for the month of April.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana: Minnesota Bill Passes Senate

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Minnesota State Capitol
The Minnesota Senate Wednesday approved SF 97, the state's medical marijuana bill. Victory came on a narrow 36-28 vote after debate pitting concern about those suffering from the pain of serious illness against fears that allowing patients to use marijuana would result in an increase in drug abuse in the state.

Law enforcement has consistently opposed the medical marijuana bill. But Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing) said during the debate that the issue is a medical issue, not one to be decided by "our brothers and sisters in blue."

The Senate has passed medical marijuana legislation before, but it has not been approved by the House. Advocates, such as the Marijuana Policy Project-backed Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, believe they have the votes to pass the House this year, but they still face a veto threat from Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R). Whether either chamber could muster the votes to override a veto is questionable.

The House is expected to take up the bill next week.

Seriously, Don't Try to Eat Your Marijuana if You're Pulled Over

We've seen this before and it just keeps happening:

NAPLES — A Naples man was caught in the middle of a marijuana feast Friday night, a Sheriff's Office arrest report said.

Carlos Mauricio Rodriguez, 21, 6465 College Park Circle Unit 30, had more than the munchies. He was arrested and charged with marijuana possession and tampering with evidence.

"When I walked up to the passenger of the vehicle I noticed the white male eating something. I also noticed suspect marijuana on his shirt and shorts," the report said. "I pulled the male out of the vehicle at this time. After the male was outside the vehicle I told him to open his mouth. When he opened his mouth I observed more suspect marijuana." [Naples Daily News]

Listen dudes, eating your pot is not the answer. If a cop sees you eating something, it's on. Nobody snacks during a traffic stop. If the cop even vaguely suspects that you've got something in your mouth, you could get choked unconscious.

If your stash is small enough to eat, it's probably small enough to escape detection anyway, so chill the hell out and learn your rights.

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