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The Drug Czar's Office Doesn't Know What to Say About Marijuana

Ever since Obama's awful attempt to duck the marijuana legalization debate last week, it's becoming increasingly clear to me that the issue of marijuana reform is a major challenge for the new administration. They aren't ready to endorse legalization, but they're equally intimidated by the rapidly growing movement to reform marijuana laws.

Another example is found at the drug czar's blog, which posted the video of Obama's statement, yet withheld any further comment on the matter. It 's a subtle, yet profound departure from the way this blog was run during the previous administration. Every post related to marijuana ended with, "Click here to learn more about how marijuana is highly f#$king toxic."

I can't prove that, though, because they deleted everything when Obama took office (which just further demonstrates that the new ONDCP is a very different creature). Considering that ONDCP's charter mandates opposition to drug policy reform efforts, their failure to actually even applaud Obama's statement against marijuana legalization is remarkably tame.  

It almost feels like we're running out of people to argue with.

End the D.C. medical marijuana ban

Dear Friends:

A decade has passed since Congressman Bob Barr thwarted the will of D.C. voters by blocking a medical marijuana program, voted into law by nearly 70% of the district. Please help MPP remove the legislation blocking D.C. from implementing its medical marijuana program.

Since 1999, when Congressman Barr's legislation took effect, national support for medical marijuana has grown to nearly 80%, the American College of Physicians (America's second largest medical association) has come out in support of medical marijuana, and even Congressman Bob Barr has switched sides, lobbying with MPP to repeal his own legislation and allow D.C. medical marijuana patients the protections they deserve.

Please take action today. Send an e-mail to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton and ask her to remove the Barr Amendment from the D.C. appropriations bill.


Ben Morris
Assistant Manager of Government Relations
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, DC
United States

Obama Doesn't Know What to Say About Marijuana

Pete Guither points to yet another prominent example of the Obama administration's glaring inability to explain the president's position on legalizing marijuana:

When asked why Obama opposes legalization, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs literally said this:

"Uh, he, he does not think that, uh, uh, that that is uh, uh, [pause] he opposes it, he doesn't think that that's the, the right plan for America."

It's a comical and precious moment, like when the teacher calls on that half-asleep kid who never has a clue. Except, as Paul Armentano points out, they knew perfectly well that this was a hot issue in their online forum and that the press would likely be asking about it. Clearly, they are badly boxed in, simultaneously reluctant to embrace reform, while equally hesitant to offend marijuana reform advocates with the typical anti-pot propaganda you'd expect from a guy who just said he opposes legalization.

The result is a ridiculous and failed effort to laugh the issue off, even as everyone stares at them expectantly. They're still working from the old rules which state that drug legalization questions are best handled by chuckling and mockery, followed by a quick pivot towards a more "serious" issue. That advice is no longer very good.

Press Release: Medical Marijuana Implementation Starts April 4, Patients Available for Interviews

MARCH 31, 2009

Medical Marijuana Implementation Starts April 4, Patients Available for Interviews

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205

LANSING, MICHIGAN -- Full implementation of Michigan's medical marijuana law, passed by voters with 63 percent of the vote last November, begins April 4, and Michigan Department of Community Health offices will be open to accept applications on Monday, April 6. Because of great interest in the new law, a number of patients have agreed to make themselves available for media interviews.

     In the period leading up to full implementation, medical marijuana patients have been able to defend themselves against marijuana-related charges, but have not had the protection from arrest that will now be available to those who take advantage of the registration process and obtain a state ID card. Michigan is the 13th state to remove criminal penalties for medical marijuana patients, and medical marijuana bills are presently under consideration in several state legislatures, including Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Jersey.

     Patients available for interviews include:

     Lynn Allen, Williamston, suffers from AIDS and hepatitis C, contracted from a blood transfusion.

     Stephanie Annis, Oakland County, suffers from severe nausea resulting from 10 abdominal surgeries.

     Jon Dunbar, Kalamazoo, suffers severe, chronic pain due to spinal problems.

     For further information on the new law or to arrange interviews with any of these patients (or others who may become available as the implementation date approaches), please contact MPP director of communications Bruce Mirken at 415-585-6404 (office) or 202-215-4205(cell).

     With more than 26,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit


United States

DEA Ignores New Policy, Raids SF Medical Marijuana Dispensary

DEA Ignores Policy, Raids San Francisco Dispensary
Raids Defy U.S. President and Attorney General, and need your response!

Dear ASA Supporter,

We never expected that the DEA would defy the public statements of both the U.S. President and the Attorney General in such an arrogant and brazen way.

And yet yesterday, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided a legal, permitted San Francisco medical cannabis dispensing collective against the will of the President and the Department of Justice... and we need you to respond RIGHT NOW!

In early February national media attention exploded around statements from a White House spokesperson and from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, telling the press that DEA raids would no longer continue, and that an end to such raids, according to Holder, was “now U.S. policy.”

And DEA's response?

They thumbed their noses at the President and immediately raided a legal dispensing collective and, according to the San Francisco Police, did not even inform local cops! DEA claimed that the permit-holding dispensary was "violating state law," but went on to say that evidence was "under seal" and could not be shared with the public.

The DEA is out of line and out of control, and this raid is nothing if not vindictive. Even if there was a violation of state law:

1. Why where there no arrests?
2. Why were local cops not involved?
3. Why are United States Federal Agents interpreting and enforcing California state law without consulting California officials?
4. Why was the collective not given due process through the proper authorities, but rather ransacked with a "smash and grab" raid?

DEA has twisted the words of the U.S. Attorney General, and thought that by saying publicly "they violated state law" that they could continue raiding whenever they want. Well that doesn’t fly. We DEMAND that the DEA stop immediately, and that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder reprimand DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart for her blatant insubordination and violation of the “new American policy.”

Now it's up to you, and all it takes is two phone calls, one to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and the other straight to the DEA.

Please call the U.S. Attorney General at (202) 353-1555 and say:

Hi, my name is _____________. First I want to thank you for your numerous public statements verifying the end of DEA raids on legal medical marijuana dispensaries in California. But on Wednesday the DEA went against your word and the word of the President of the United States by raiding a permitted dispensary in San Francisco. We respectfully demand that you issue a statement condemning and officially ending these raids until the Obama Administration has had a chance to review the new policy.

When you’re done, call the DEA at (202) 307-8000, ask for Administrator Michele Leonhart, and say:

Hi, my name is ___________. The U.S. Attorney General and the President of the United States have both made high-profile public statements, saying DEA raids on legal medical marijuana dispensaries is no longer U.S. policy. Yet your DEA raided a legal, permit-holding San Francisco dispensary yesterday, in conflict with these statements. This disgraceful and anti-democratic. Why is your agency not listening to the policy statements of our elected leaders and your boss? Is this how you'll run DEA if you are appointed in the Obama Administration? We demand that you STOP it immediately!


George Pappas
Field Coordinator
Americans for Safe Access

P.S. Please forward this message to all your friends and family so that we can generate a response big enough to get officials to act!

San Francisco, CA
United States

Press Release: Medical Marijuana Raid Raises Questions About Obama Policy

MARCH 26, 2009

Medical Marijuana Raid Raises Questions About Obama Policy
Patients, Advocates Wonder Whether DEA Is Conducting Business as Usual Despite Change Announced by Attorney General Holder

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA -- Wednesday's Drug Enforcement Administration raid on Emmalyn's California Cannabis Clinic, a licensed medical marijuana collective in San Francisco, has raised serious questions among medical marijuana supporters about implementation of the new policy announced by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week. According to the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Emmalyn's had obtained a temporary city permit and was actively working with the city to meet all the requirements for a permanent license.

     On March 18, Holder told reporters that the DEA would only raid medical marijuana providers if it found violations of both state and federal laws.

     "It is disturbing that, despite the DEA's vague claims about violations of state and federal laws, they apparently made no effort to contact the local authorities who monitor and license medical marijuana providers," said Marijuana Policy Project California policy director Aaron Smith. "For an agency that for eight years said it couldn't care less about state law to suddenly justify raids as an effort to uphold state law simply doesn't pass the smell test."

     "Because so little information has been released thus far, we have more questions than answers," added Aaron Houston, MPP director of government relations. "But with an actual shooting war along our Mexican border, not to mention federal law enforcement there being so overwhelmed that traffickers coming through the border with up to 500 pounds of marijuana are let go, it's very hard to believe that this is the best use of DEA resources, especially in a city with an active program to license and regulate medical marijuana providers."

    With more than 26,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit


San Francisco, CA
United States

Marijuana: Legalization Bill Introduced in Massachusetts

And then there were two. Last month, California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced the first marijuana legalization bill in state history. Now, on the other side of the country, Massachusetts lawmakers are joining in the action.

Fulfilling a citizen petition, Massachusetts Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst) has filed House Bill 2929 and Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D-Northampton) has filed a companion measure, Senate Bill 1801, in the upper chamber. The citizen seeking the bills is Richard Evans, a former board member of (DRCNet -- publisher of this newsletter) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The proposals would "tax and regulate" the state's marijuana industry, with the tax assessed varying according to the potency of the pot. Class C schwag would be taxed at $150 an ounce, Class B smoke would be taxed at $200, and Class A kind bud would fetch $250 an ounce for the state. The taxes could raise nearly $100 million in revenue for the cash-strapped Bay State.

But the proposals also allow for tax-free personal home grows and "gratuitous distribution" to other adults. All commercial grows, importation, processing, and sales would be licensed by a new bureaucratic entity, the Cannabis Control Authority.

"Decades of whispered grumblings about the wisdom and efficacy of prohibition is rapidly giving way to a serious -- really serious public discussion about how to replace it," said Evans, who assisted in drafting the landmark legislation. "Those who consider themselves leaders in government and the media have the obligation to either show how prohibition can be made to work, or join in the exploration of alternatives."

Last November, Massachusetts voters approved marijuana decriminalization with 65% of the vote. Now, their legislators have the opportunity to see if they can advance to the Bay State vanguard by voting for outright legalization. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, let the pincer movement begin.

Visit for further information.

Medical Marijuana: In Wake of Holder Comments, Federal Judge Postpones Sentencing of California Medical Marijuana Provider Charles Lynch

Charles Lynch expected to be sentenced to a mandatory minimum federal prison term Monday for operating a medical marijuana dispensary legal under state and local laws, but it didn't happen. Instead, US District Court Judge George Wu postponed the proceedings, telling prosecutors he wanted more information about what appears to be a Justice Department change of heart and policy regarding such prosecutions.
Charlie Lynch (from
Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would only prosecute medical marijuana providers who violated both state and federal law. Lynch's case is one where he was clearly in compliance with state law in operating his Morro Bay dispensary.

Under Bush administration policy, which did not recognize any distinction between medical and non-medical marijuana, California dispensary operators were targeted for DEA raids and federal prosecutions with no regard for their compliance with state laws. Prosecutions like those of Lynch, who was found guilty in federal court last August, generated loud and boisterous solidarity movements, protests, and scorn toward the federal government.

Judge Wu said he did not believe the apparent change in policy would affect Lynch's conviction, but he said he wanted to consider any new information about the policy change before he imposed sentence on the 47-year-old Lynch.

Federal marijuana law calls for mandatory minimum sentences in cases involving more than 100 pounds or plants, as was the case with Lynch. We can only hope, given the apparent turnaround in federal policy, that Judge Wu finds a way to make his sentence fit the new reality.

Europe: Italian High Court Okays Lonesome Shepherd's Pot Smoking

For the second time in eight months, the Italian Court of Cassation, the country's highest court, has crafted a quirky exception to that country's laws against marijuana possession. In a ruling last week, the high court held that a shepherd's marijuana use was justified because he was alone with his flock.

The shepherd, identified only as Giorgio D., was convicted of possession after police found 38 grams of pot in his car as he drove off for an extended stay with his flock in the mountains of Alto Adige, in the country's far north. But the Court of Cassation upheld his appeal of the conviction, ruling that he was justified in possessing small amounts of the drug because of the "long and solitary period" he was about to spend "in the countryside and the mountains, due to the migration of his flock of sheep."

Back in June 2008, the same court overturned the marijuana possession conviction of a practicing Rastafarian, known only as Giuseppe G. In that case, the high court held that his use of marijuana was allowed because for him the herb "was a possible conveyor to a psychophysical state connected to contemplative prayer in the belief that the sacred herb grew on the tomb of Solomon, acquiring its potency from that wise king."

Well, that's a start. Now, if only Italy would get around to making it so you don't have to be a Rastaman or a shepherd to be able to smoke pot in peace.

Medical Marijuana: Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire Bills Advance

Medical marijuana supporters won committee votes this week in two states and a full House vote in one more. Legislative committees in Illinois and Minnesota advanced bills, while the New Hampshire House passed its bill.

In the Granite State, the New Hampshire House approved HB 648 which would allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. The bill passed by a vote of 234-138. The vote marked the first time a medical marijuana measure had won in a floor vote in either New Hampshire chamber.

"This vote proves that House members have taken this debate seriously, listened carefully to the testimony of patients who rely on medical marijuana for relief from terrible, debilitating conditions, and understand their duty as elected officials to provide for their needs with responsible, compassionate legislation," said Sen. Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth), co-sponsor of the bill. "Now it's up to my colleagues to do the same, and end the ongoing harassment of patients who have committed no crimes, and who only wish to be protected from arrest for using the proven, safe medicine their doctors recommend."

Now, the New Hampshire Senate needs to get to work. Matt Simon of the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy is confident they will. "This vote shows New Hampshire is ready to protect patients by enacting a responsible medical marijuana law," he said. "Public opinion may soon become public policy," alluding to polls showing 71% support for it in the state.

That same day, the Illinois Senate Public Health Committee passed SB 1381 on Wednesday. A companion bill, HB 2514, passed the House Health and Human Services Committee March 4.

Sponsored by a former three-term state's attorney, Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton), the bill would allow seriously ill patients with specified debilitating medical conditions to use marijuana without fear of arrest provided they have a doctor's recommendation. The favorable committee votes clear the way for possible floor votes in both houses, a first in Illinois.

"This is an important step for suffering Illinoisans who rely on medical cannabis because they, in consultation with their doctors, have determined it is the best treatment available to them," Haine said. "I'm grateful to my colleagues in the public health committee who listened to science and reason today and made the sensible, compassionate decision to pass this bill."

One day earlier, the Minnesota House Public Safety and Oversight Committee advanced that state's medical marijuana bill, HF 292, but only after amending it. The bill passed the committee on a 9-6 vote after it was altered so that it must be reapproved in two years and so it would be more difficult for patients to grow their own medicine.

State law enforcement testified in opposition to the measure Tuesday and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty continues to vow to veto any such legislation that crosses his desk, but former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper told the committee that despite hearing similar plaints in Washington state, the sky had not fallen. He suggested that police should leave doctoring to the doctors.

"The police, as important as our voice is in the conversation in the dialog about drug policy, are not physicians, are not care givers," Stamper said. "And that it is inappropriate for the police to substitute our judgment for that of physicians and those in need of the care of physicians."

The Minnesota bill is advancing in both houses, having now survived six different committee votes. It remains to be seen whether it will get floor votes in both chambers, and whether it will pass with enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto.

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