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Marijuana: Colorado Ski Town Votes to Legalize It, Measure Passes With 73%

Residents of the Colorado ski town of Breckenridge overwhelmingly voted to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana Tuesday. The measure passed with 73% of the vote.

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Breckenridge, Colorado
That means as of January 1, people in Breckenridge can legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana under local ordinance. The measure also legalizes the possession of marijuana paraphernalia.

"This votes demonstrates that Breckenridge citizens overwhelmingly believe that adults should not be punished for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol," said Sean McAllister, Breckenridge attorney and chair of Sensible Breckenridge, a local project of the statewide marijuana law reform group Sensible Colorado.

"As state and national focus grows on this important issue, the popular ski town of Breckenridge has taken center stage on marijuana reform -- and not just for medical purposes," said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado. "With this historic vote, Breckenridge has emerged as a national leader in sensible drug policy."

The campaign, which had no formal opposition, received a chorus of local support including endorsements from Breckenridge Town Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron, former Colorado State Representative and Breckenridge resident, Gary Lindstrom, and the Summit Daily News.

Measure 2F was placed on the ballot when over 1,400 local supporters signed a petition supporting the reform measure.

Under Colorado state law, possession of up to an ounce is decriminalized and punishable by a $100 fine. But Breckenridge police will "still have the ability to exercise discretion," said Chief Rick Holman. "It's never been something that we've spent a lot of time on, so I don't expect this to be a big change in how we really do business," he told the Summit Daily News.

Breckenridge residents had voted for Amendment 44, a statewide legalization initiative, by the same percentage in 2006. That initiative won only 41% of the vote statewide.

Denver became the first city to vote to legalize marijuana possession under municipal ordinance in 2005.

Marijuana Legalization: California Poll of Primary Voters Finds Narrow Majority Say Keep It Illegal

A poll released this week suggests backers of California marijuana legalization initiatives have their work cut out for them. The Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research poll of 750 primary voters in late October found 52% wanted to keep marijuana illegal, while 38% supported legalization.

An April Field poll found that 56% of respondents supported legalization. But that support came in the context of a polling question about legalizing and taxing marijuana in the context of California's ongoing budget crisis. In that poll, respondents said they favored "legalizing marijuana for recreational use and taxing its proceeds."

The difference in poll questions influenced the way people responded, said poll director Adam Probolsky. "By saying there is a chance to help solve the budget crisis, you'd push some people toward making it legal," he said. "It makes it more palatable to people. If we had asked the same question, and said some studies show we'd have 10,000 more highway deaths, you'd push it the other way."

The two polls also sampled different voter pools. The Capitol Weekly poll was based on likely June primary voters, which is a smaller and more conservative group than general election or registered voters. The Field poll looked at registered voters.

While the poll may be a shot across the bow for legalization initiative organizers, it may not accurately predict how such a campaign will fare, Probolsky said. "This doesn't test the push messages -- closing the state budget gap versus the public safety messages," he said. "You need to test half a dozen of those pros and cons to see where the initiative lies."

When measured by party affiliation, only 25% of Republicans supported legalization, compared to 45% of Democrats and nearly 48% of voters who declined to state a party preference. Voters over 65 were most likely to oppose legalization, with 56% saying prohibition should continue. But that was only one point higher than the 55% of 18-to-34-year-olds.

The poll was taken the same week the Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF) held a hearing on his marijuana legalization bill at the state capitol in Sacramento. It also comes as petition-gatherers for at least three different legalization initiatives pound the pavement for signatures.

Europe: Dutch Cannabis Café Owner on Trial Over Amount of Pot on Hand

In what is widely viewed as a test case as the Netherlands tilts toward a tougher stance toward cannabis use and sales, the owner of one of the country's biggest cannabis coffee shops went on trial this week on drug trafficking charges. Meddy Willemsen, 58, owned and operated the Checkpoint coffee shop in Terneuzen near the Belgian border until it was shut down in May 2008.

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downstairs of a coffee shop (courtesy Wikimedia)
Now, he and 16 managers and suppliers are on trial in Middleburg. Prosecutors are calling them an organized crime ring.

Checkpoint was serving up to 3,000 customers a day, mainly Belgian and French, but was closed after investigators twice found large amounts of cannabis on the premises. They found 120 kilograms on premise in 2007 and 110 kilos in May 2008.

Under Holland's "tolerance" policy toward cannabis, people can purchase up to five grams per day at licensed coffee shops. Coffee shops are limited to having five pounds on hand. That law has been widely, if quietly, flouted. For a high-volume coffee shop like the Checkpoint, for example, five pounds could be going out the door every hour five grams at a time.

Like all Dutch coffee shops, the Checkpoint also suffered from the "back door" problem. While the Netherlands provides for legal sales, it does not provide for a legal cannabis supply to the coffee shops. That leaves the supply, a $4 billion a year black market business, to an ever-responsive criminal underground.

"The question is whether the conditions of the government's tolerance policy have been violated," Judge Saskia Meeuwis said at the start of the trial.

Prosecutors certainly thought so. "This is clearly a contravention of the spirit of the tolerance policy devised by the government to respond to local demand," said Middelburg prosecution spokeswoman Elke Kool. "This is the biggest-ever case of its sort. We are dealing with a real criminal organization here."

But Raymond Dufour of the Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation told Cannazine the case shows that the current system does not work. "Coffee shops are only allowed to have 500 grams of cannabis in stock," he said. "Everybody knows that if you have 2,500 clients a day, you need more than 500 grams. It's just a silly condition. Everybody in Terneuzen must have known this."

The trial comes as the Netherlands moves to tighten the reins on the coffee shops. The national government announced in September that it wanted to reserve coffee shops for local users -- not foreign drug tourists. The city of Amsterdam has moved to cut the number of its coffee shops in half, while other cities are imposing zoning restrictions on them. In southern Limburg province, 30 coffee shops will become members-only clubs next year, while in two border towns, local authorities are shutting down all coffee shops in a bid to defeat drug tourism.

In April last year, Checkpoint introduced a customer card system intended to prevent customers from exceeding the daily five gram limit and prevent minors from entering the shop.

A verdict in the Checkpoint case is expected December 2.

Feature: Maine Voters Approve Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Voters in Maine Tuesday approved Question 5, the Maine Medical Marijuana Act, an initiative instructing the state government to set up a system of state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. The measure passed with 59% of the vote.

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a plea from a patient -- Maine voters listened (courtesy mainecommonsense.org)
Sponsored by Maine Citizens for Patient Rights (MCPR) and the Maine Medical Marijuana Policy Initiative (MMMPI), and funded primarily by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Maine Medical Marijuana Act will:

  • Establish a system of nonprofit dispensaries which would be overseen and tightly regulated by the state;
  • Establish a voluntary identification card for medical marijuana patients and caregivers;
  • Protect patients and caregivers from arrest, search and seizure unless there is suspicion of abuse;
  • Create new protections for qualified patients and providers in housing, education, employment and child custody;
  • Allow patients with Lou Gehrig's disease and Alzheimer's disease access to medical marijuana;
  • Require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a procedure for expanding the list of conditions for which marijuana can be used; and
  • Keep current allowable marijuana quantities at 2.5 ounces and six plants.

"We weren't surprised at all by the outcome," said Jonathan Leavitt of Maine Citizens for Patients Rights, who had predicted weeks ago the measure would cruise to victory. "We would have done a lot better in most elections, but this time there was a big turnout from the hard-core religious right," he said, referring to the heated battle over a gay marriage referendum that went down to defeat the same day.

"We're really tickled," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which also supported the campaign. "This was a state election with some controversial issues, but medical marijuana wasn't one of them. Oh, the usual suspects objected, but nobody was listening. This suggests the comfort level with medical marijuana is growing by leaps and bounds."

Some long-time Maine marijuana activists, such as the Maine Vocals, had joined the "usual suspects" in opposing the measure. They argued that the measure gave too much power to the state. But their complaints appeared to have little impact on the electoral outcome.

"It's great to see Maine leapfrog other states in adopting cutting-edge medical marijuana legislation," said Jill Harris, DPA managing director for public policy. "What's especially nice is that the medical marijuana guidelines recently issued by the US Department of Justice provide reassurance to Maine officials that they can implement the new law without fear of reprisal by federal authorities."

"This is a dramatic step forward, the first time that any state's voters have authorized the state government to license medical marijuana dispensaries," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. "Coming a decade after passage of Maine's original marijuana law, this is a huge sign that voters are comfortable with these laws, and also a sign that the recent change of policy from the Obama administration is having a major impact."

Maine becomes the sixth state to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, and, as Kampia noted, the first one to approve state-licensed dispensaries through a popular vote. New Mexico and Rhode Island approved state-licensed dispensaries through the legislative process, while California, Colorado, and Washington adopted locally-approved dispensaries through the initiative process.

In New Mexico, there is currently one state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary; in Rhode Island none yet exist. In Colorado, by contrast, there are nearly a hundred, while in California, the number of locally-permitted (or not) dispensaries is somewhere shy of 2000. In Washington State, the number of dispensaries is much lower, but still higher than in states where dispensaries are licensed by the state.

"The trend toward licensed dispensaries is a good thing," said Kris Hermes, communications director for Americans for Safe Access, the nation's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "Back in 1996, when the first initiative was passed in California, that initiative included language calling on the state and federal governments to work together to create a plan for distribution. But because the federal government was not only unhelpful, but actually working to actively undermine medical marijuana distribution in California during the Bush years, people at the local level were forced to develop a model they could advance. What we now have in California is a local model of distribution," he noted.

While locally-approved dispensaries appear to provide access to medical marijuana to greater numbers of people, they are also subject to more harassment and even prosecution by the state or even the federal government. The Obama administration has declared it will not go after dispensaries operating in accord with state law, but in states like California and Colorado, where local prosecutors determine legality -- not a state law -- dispensary operators could still see themselves prosecuted by the feds.

One such incident occurred in September in San Diego, where hard-line county District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis led joint state and federal raids against dispensaries, and at least two people were charged with federal marijuana distribution offenses. Similarly, the Los Angeles county prosecutor has warned that he considers almost all LA-area dispensaries to be illegal.

"That's the fundamental difference Maine, New Mexico, and Rhode Island on one hand, and California and Colorado on the other," said MPP's Mirken. "The latter have a large number of dispensaries, but they are operating in a grey area. In California, we've seen the feds justify participating in raids where local DAs say the dispensaries aren't legal."

That could continue to happen, even with the Obama edict, Mirken said. "Until the courts settle these issues, it's not shocking that the feds might defer to local prosecutors," he said. "There's something to be said for legal clarity."

What is needed, said Hermes, is federal acceptance of medical marijuana. "As long as the federal government continues to deny medical marijuana's efficacy and refuses to develop a national plan that goes beyond law enforcement, states will have to develop their own laws to deal with the issue of distribution," he said. "Having said that, we continue to work with the Obama administration to develop that national policy, and hopefully, one day soon we will have a policy that obviates the need for individual policies at the state level."

In the meantime, it's up to the states. In Maine, that means getting the state-licensed dispensary system up and running. "The process starts when the governor signs it into law, which we expect shortly," said Leavitt. "He will then set up a task force to pull together appropriate oversight for the new law. We hope to be part of that stakeholder process. I think it will take at least three or four months before we actually have functioning dispensaries."

The Border: US Begins Turning Busted Smugglers Over to Mexico for Prosecution

For years, getting caught trying to smuggle drugs across the US-Mexican border meant being handed over to US authorities for prosecution. Problem was, US Attorneys on the border were so swamped with marijuana smuggling cases, the general rule was they wouldn't prosecute for less than 500 pounds. Instead, local prosecutors got those cases, but they were swamped, too. As a result, thousands of Mexican marijuana smugglers never faced prosecution in the US -- they were simply deported back over the border to Mexico.

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Reynosa/Hidalgo border crossing (courtesy portland.indymedia.org)
But now, according to the New York Times, under an agreement reached last month, US authorities have begun returning captured Mexican pot smugglers to Mexico for prosecution by Mexican authorities. Late last month, Sonora, Mexico, resident Eleazar Gonzalez-Sanchez won the dubious distinction of being the first person turned over to Mexican authorities after he was popped with 44 pounds by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Nogales, Arizona, border crossing.

The border agreement is a sign of "our effort to enhance cooperation between the US and Mexico on prosecuting drug trafficking cases," said Arizona US Attorney Dennis Burke.

There is plenty of work to do. In the past year, ICE opened 646 smuggling cases out of busts at the Nogales port of entry. In the fiscal year ending in October 2008, ICE busted 71,000 pounds of pot on the Arizona border.

The program is a pilot program currently operating in Arizona. US officials will be monitoring the cases returned to Mexico, and if satisfied with the results, may extend it all along the border.

New Evidence Proves That Legalization Won't Increase Marijuana Use

No concept is more central to any defense of our oppressive marijuana laws than the argument that use will increase dramatically under legalization. Opposition to marijuana reform rests in its entirety upon the premise that marijuana = bad & more marijuana = more bad.

And yet, there exists a powerfully simple example of how wrong that is. There's really nothing groundbreaking about this latest data, but I can only assume it's surprising new information for anyone who thinks legalization is a one-way ticket to oblivion:

Dutch among lowest cannabis users in Europe-report

AMSTERDAM, Nov 5 (Reuters) - The Dutch are among the lowest users of marijuana or cannabis in Europe despite the Netherlands' well-known tolerance of the drug, according to a regional study published on Thursday. Among adults in the Netherlands, 5.4 percent used cannabis, compared with the European average of 6.8 percent, according to an annual report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, using latest available figures. [Reuters]

When it comes to debating the impact of allowing marijuana sales, there is no data more important, more relevant and more revealing than this. The Dutch people can buy marijuana anytime they want, but a huge majority of them choose not to. All of this serves to illustrate a very simple, yet significant, fact about marijuana that everyone should know: people who don’t want marijuana will not use it no matter how legal and available it is.

The very idea that there exists a vast population of potential marijuana users deterred solely by the drug's illegal status is just wrong. That's not how this works. You see, no one respects our marijuana laws. People who enjoy marijuana will overwhelmingly make their own decision about it and the only thing the government can do is literally rip it out of our freedom-loving hands one at a time. We all know how badly that effort has played out.

The bottom line here is that when we debate marijuana policy, we are not weighing competing visions of how much marijuana use is acceptable in our society. The only question to be addressed – the only issue we have control over – is whether it makes moral and practical sense to punish people for marijuana. We don't get to decide how many people will use it. But it's our decision how to treat those who do.

Why Legalizing Marijuana Protects Young People

Jann Gumbiner, Ph.D. has a post at Psychology Today pondering how young people will be affected by marijuana legalization. She has more questions than answers, but it's interesting to see what concerns come up for a parent who's undecided on the issue.

Her conclusion strikes me as quite sensible:

As a parent, I ask myself, "what are the dangers to teens?" And, what are the likely scenarios? If pot is still illegal to anyone under 21, how will teens get it? I think the most likely scenario is the same as beer and cigarettes. Older brothers and sisters, with IDs, will legally buy packaged marijuana cigarettes at gas stations and share them with younger ones on Friday night parties. As a parent, I ask myself, "how do I feel about this?" And... after a little thought, I actually feel better knowing my child is with trusted friends, ingesting measured substances than on a corner at night buying an illegal substance from a stranger.

Bingo. It's a pretty rational conclusion, but one that can only be reached by accepting the reality that marijuana will be available with or without legalization. Too often, opponents of regulating marijuana sales appear to believe that it only becomes available once it's legal. I'm afraid it's not nearly that simple.

As a teenager, I witnessed firsthand a world in which it was easier to get marijuana than alcohol. I don't just say this now because it suits my agenda; it's the truth. If my friends wanted booze for a party, they planned days ahead. If they wanted pot, they just made a phone call. The difference was that old, but very true, cliché that drug dealers don’t check ID. That's why research has repeatedly shown that teenagers have easier access to marijuana than beer. What can never be quantified, however, are all the other harms that go along with this vast underground, underage drug economy that continues to thrive thanks to marijuana prohibition.

To be clear, I doubt this is the argument that's going to turn things around. If that were true it would have happened already. People don’t seem to get this, maybe because those darn kids have a nasty habit of not telling the grown-ups about their pot hook-ups. Instead, I would simply add this to the long list of reasons that legalization will work even better than most people expect.

That's right parents. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised.

Drug Czar Blames the Media for Marijuana's Popularity

If you wanna hear drug czar Gil Kerlikowske getting served by random people who hate the drug war, check out this NPR interview. As soon as the phones open, Mr. K gets put on the defensive by a social worker, a physician and various others who aren't too fond of the war on drugs. Right on, radio people.

But I think my favorite part is this clueless attempt to explain America's obsession with marijuana:

KRIS (Caller): Thank you. I was wondering - I'm 62 years old, and when I was in high school, I didn't even know what marijuana was. And I'm wondering why is it so rampant now, and it never used to be?

Mr. KERLIKOWSKE: Well, I wish I had a good answer for that, Rachel. I am - I actually just about two years younger than you are, and so I'm afraid I would put myself in exactly the same mindset. But I think that marijuana is popularized on television shows. It is popularized in media. There is only one antidrug media message out there, and that's the one that the Office of the National Drug Control Policy actually funds, and that - the antidrug.com…

Has it occurred to you, sir, that TV shows and the media are talking about marijuana because people are interested in it, not the other way around? It wasn't the press that popularized marijuana, it was the people.

But this isn’t just about the popularity of pot, either. The reason marijuana is in the news constantly isn't just because everyone loves smoking it. This is happening because our marijuana policy is such a complete disaster that every single one of us is affected by it. If there weren't a massive war against marijuana being fought everyday throughout the country, then there wouldn’t be nearly as much to talk about, I assure you.

Maine Votes “Yes” on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                             
NOVEMBER 3, 2009

Maine Votes “Yes” on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries,

Becomes 3rd State to License Medical Marijuana Providers; Vote Seen as Latest Advance Spurred by Obama Policy

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

AUGUSTA, MAINE — In a landmark vote, Maine voters today approved Question 5, making the state the third in the country to license nonprofit organizations to provide medical marijuana to qualified patients and the first ever to do so by a vote of the people. With 49 percent of the vote tallied, the measure was cruising to an easy win with 60.2 percent voting “yes” and 39.8 percent voting “no.”

         Under the measure, the state will license nonprofit organizations to provide medical marijuana to qualified patients and set rules for their operation. While 13 states permit medical use of marijuana, only Rhode Island and New Mexico have similar dispensary provisions, both of which were adopted by the states’ legislatures. Maine’s original medical marijuana law was passed in 1999.

         “This is a dramatic step forward, the first time that any state’s voters have authorized the state government to license medical marijuana dispensaries,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., which drafted the initiative and provided start-up funding for the campaign. “Coming a decade after passage of Maine’s original marijuana law, this is a huge sign that voters are comfortable with these laws, and also a sign that the recent change of policy from the Obama administration is having a major impact.”  

         In October, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a formal policy indicating that federal prosecutors should not prosecute medical marijuana activities authorized by state law.

         Question 5 also expands the list of medical conditions qualifying for protection under Maine’s law to include several conditions that are included in most other medical marijuana states, including intractable pain, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (“Lou Gehrig’s disease”).

         With more than 29,000 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 http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

####

Location: 
ME
United States

Maine Votes to Okay Medical Marijuana Dispensaries; Measure Passing With 60% of the Vote

Voters in Maine Tuesday approved Question 5, which will allow the state to license nonprofit organizations to operate medical marijuana dispensaries for qualified patients. In early returns with nearly half the vote tallied, the measure was winning easily, with 60% of the vote. Maine thus becomes the third state to create a system of state-licensed dispensaries, and the first one to do so by a direct vote. Only Rhode Island and New Mexico have similar dispensary provisions. "This is a dramatic step forward, the first time that any state’s voters have authorized the state government to license medical marijuana dispensaries," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, DC, which drafted the initiative and provided start-up funding for the campaign. "Coming a decade after passage of Maine’s original marijuana law, this is a huge sign that voters are comfortable with these laws, and also a sign that the recent change of policy from the Obama administration is having a major impact." MPP local affiliate Maine Citizens for Patients' Rights led the fight on the ground. Question 5 also expands the list of medical conditions qualifying for protection under Maine’s law to include several conditions that are included in most other medical marijuana states, including intractable pain, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ("Lou Gehrig’s disease"). Look for a feature article on the Maine victory and the push for state-licensed dispensaries in the Chronicle on Friday.
Location: 
ME
United States

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