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Feature: Seattle Hempfest Bigger Than Ever in 2009, But Gaining Critics

Somewhere around 300,000 people converged on the Seattle waterfront Saturday and Sunday to attend the 19th annual Seattle Hempfest, the world's largest marijuana "protestival," as organizers like to call it. While organizers and drug reform advocates were out in force to encourage attendees to get involved in changing the marijuana laws, for most of the crowd, Hempfest was one big pot party. And that has some movement critics unhappy.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.com/files/hempfest2009-1.jpg
Hempfest crowd
Last year's attendance was estimated at 310,000. While figures are not yet in for last weekend's event, given the huge crowds, it is likely this year's figure will be even higher.

With hundreds of vendors selling glass pipes, bongs, tie-dyes, and assorted other pot-related paraphernalia, as well as dozens of food vendors, with seven stages alternating musical acts with activist speakers, and with crowds so thick that people literally could not move at some points by mid-afternoon on both days, Hempfest seems more like a dense urban community than a festival. And like any urban community, Hempfest had a police presence, but as far as can be determined, police couldn't find anyone to arrest despite the ever-present scent of marijuana smoke in the air.

That's in part because Seattleites voted in 2003 to make adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. But it is also in part because, unlike some other police forces, the Seattle police actually acknowledge and heed the will of the voters. In all of last year, Seattle police arrested only 133 people for marijuana possession -- and those were all people who had already been detained on other charges.

It is that tolerant attitude toward marijuana that makes the massive law-breaking at Hempfest possible. In almost any other city in the US, such brazen defiance of the drug laws would almost certainly result in mass arrests. Even this weekend's Boston Freedom Rally, the second largest pro-marijuana event in the country, will see numerous arrests -- if police behavior in the past is any indicator.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.com/files/hempfest2009-3.jpg
Hempfest-targeted sky ad, pulled by helicopter
Drug reform organizations including NORML, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter) were present with booths or tables, as were numerous medical marijuana support groups. But those booths and tables had to compete with bong-sellers and pipe-makers, t-shirt vendors and hippie couture outlets, and the hundreds of other vendors cashing in on the crowds.

To really get the drug reform message out, Hempfest organizers and reform activists took to the various stages between acts to exhort audiences to make Hempfest a party with a purpose. Among the nationally known activists speechifying at Hempfest were "Radical Russ" Belville of NORML, Sandee Burbank of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse, Mike and Valerie Corral of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), Debbie Goldsberry of the Berkeley Patients Group, Washington state legislator and head of the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers Roger Goodman, medical marijuana specialist Dr. Frank Lucido, former medical marijuana prisoner Todd McCormick, cannabis scientist Dr. Robert Melamede, and NORML founder Keith Stroup and current executive director Allen St. Pierre. For a complete list of speakers, go here.

Activists also educated those interested in learning more about marijuana law reform and related topics at the Hemposium tent, which featured panels on "Human Rights for Cannabis Farmers, Dispensers and Consumers," "Global Hempenomics," "Cannabliss: An Entheogen for the Ages," "Cannabis and the Culture Wars: The Coming Truce," and "Cannabis Coverage: Reefer Sanity for the 21st Century." For a complete list of Hemposium panels, click here.

While Hempfest came off without any serious problems, it has sparked a couple of related controversies. This week, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation head Eric Sterling wrote a blog post, Hempfest is Huge, But is It Good Politics?, in which he answered his own question with a resounding "no." Hempfest and similar rallies are "a political fraud," he wrote. Even worse, they are "advertisements for irresponsible drug use."

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''Hemposium,'' with speakers (l-r): Reason's David Nott, SAFER's Mason Tvert, journalist Fred Gardner and Chronicle editor Phil Smith
Similarly, former Hempfest organizer Dominic Holden stirred the pot the week before Hempfest with an article in the Seattle Stranger, A Few Words About Hempfest, in which he complained it was a "patchouli-scented ghetto" and overly countercultural. Like Sterling, Holden saw the hippiesque trappings of Hempfest as counterproductive. "Countercultural celebrations and drug legalization advocacy are mutually undermining ambitions," he wrote.

Hempfest organizers were not amused, and on Sunday, Holden was removed from the back of the Main Stage by unhappy erstwhile comrades. They explained why in an interview with Steve Bloom's Celebstoner, and Holden continued the spat with his own interview.

Perhaps the organizers of Hempfest and similar events will listen to Sterling and Holden, but probably not. Hempfest is a celebration of the pot-smoking counterculture, and it's not likely to go away or change its ways because a guy in a suit and a disaffected former friend are unhappy with how it operates. Straight-laced drug reformers will most likely just have to put up with Hempfest and its pot-happy ilk. They can treat it like the crazy aunt in the attic, but they can't get rid of it.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Marijuana is Safer -- So Why Are Driving People to Drink?" by Paul Armentano, Steve Fox, and Mason Tvert (2009, Chelsea Green Publishers, 209 pp., $14.95 PB)

In the past few years, Colorado-based activist Mason Tvert has taken the notion of comparing marijuana to alcohol and used it to great success, first in organizing college students around equalizing campus penalties for marijuana and underage drinking infractions (marijuana offenses are typically punished more severely), then in running a successful legalization initiative in Denver in 2005. Tvert and his organization, SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation), continue to hammer away at marijuana prohibition, and now, in collaboration with NORML analyst Paul Armentano and MPP director for state campaigns Steve Fox, he has taken his "marijuana is safer" campaign to a new level -- and, hopefully, to a new and broader audience.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/saferbook.jpg
Having known (and repeatedly interviewed) all three coauthors in the course of my duties for the Drug War Chronicle, I assumed "Marijuana Is Safer" would be a good book. I was mistaken. It's a great book, and an extremely useful one. "Marijuana Is Safer" starts out hitting on all eight cylinders with a foreword from former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper and never lets up. It hits its points concisely and engagingly, it is thoroughly researched, and its political arguments are carefully thought out.

Regular readers of the Chronicle may not expect to learn a lot that they didn't know already, but they will likely be surprised, especially when it comes to the deleterious effects of alcohol. Did you know about the nasty effects of acetaldehyde? I didn't. It's what you get when you metabolize ethanol (alcohol), and it's carcinogenic and damages internal organs. Because it is so damaging, the body breaks it down into acetate, but if you're drinking at the rate of more than a drink an hour, you're body starts lagging behind. Something to keep in mind the next time someone invites you to join a drinking contest.

Similarly, you may share the general conviction that alcohol use can lead to violence, disease, crime, and accidents, but "Marijuana Is Safer" offers up the hard numbers -- complete with footnotes. Here's just one hard number: 35,000. That's the number of deaths each year attributed to chronic alcohol consumption. We all know what the number of deaths attributed to chronic use of the chronic is, don't we? That's right, zero.

Armentano, Fox and Tvert offer a mix of history, science, medicine, media critique, and just plain straight talk as they survey the history of alcohol and marijuana use in America, discuss the differing attitudes toward the two drugs, explain the rise of marijuana prohibition, and, most centrally, compare and contrast the effects of the two drugs on individual consumers and society as a whole.

They also dissect the arguments that legalizers have used -- so far, unsuccessfully -- to try to end marijuana prohibition. While those arguments are perfectly valid, the coauthors argue that they cannot counter the objection of people who might otherwise be persuaded: Why should we legalize another vice?

Naturally enough, Armentano, Fox and Tvert have the answer: "We would not be adding a vice; we would be allowing adults the option to choose a less harmful alternative for relaxation and recreation," they write.

They also provide the "money quotes" for several other skeptical responses to a legalization pitch, all designed to highlight the comparison of alcohol and marijuana. And these three are extremely well-positioned to know what to say; all three have been engaging in this conversation for years.

The coauthors also make a compelling argument that the "marijuana is safer" approach is a winner precisely because it forces listeners to think about alcohol and what it does -- something that all Americans know quite a bit about even if they don't drink. The comparison of marijuana and alcohol brings the discussion down from lofty abstractions about freedom and liberty to real world experiences with America's most popular drugs.

The "marijuana is safer" approach works just fine for marijuana, but potentially subverts broader anti-prohibitionist politics. It is difficult to imagine an argument for drug legalization based on "methamphetamine is safer" or "heroin is safer." It also effectively throws up a wall between "soft" marijuana and "hard" other drugs, abandoning broader drug legalization for freeing the weed alone. But perhaps "abandoning" is the wrong word. After all, Armentano and Fox work for marijuana reform organizations -- not drug reform organizations -- and Tvert's work all along has been about marijuana.

But possible unhelpful side-effects for broader anti-prohibitionism aside, "Marijuana Is Safer" is extremely worthwhile. This is a book you can hand to your mother or your teacher or your preacher and provide him or her with a nice framework for looking at marijuana -- one that by its inexorable comparative logic leads to the inescapable conclusion that marijuana should be legalized.

And for those readers with an interest in activism, this book needs to be on your bookshelf. It's full of handy, well-documented facts, it's got the answers to the questions you're likely to hear, and it's even got a how-to activism section at the back. I guarantee that if you own this book, it's going to be very well-thumbed before very long.

Latin America: Mexican Decriminalization Bill Now Law of the Land

A bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use in Mexico is now the law of the land, although it will not go into effect for one year to give states time to adjust their laws. It was published Thursday in the Official Daily of the Federation, the Mexican equivalent of the Federal Register. (To read the complete text of the bill in Spanish, go to page 83 of the Official Daily.

According to the new law, the amounts of various drugs decriminalized for personal use are:

  • opium -- 2 grams
  • cocaine -- 1/2 gram
  • heroin -- 1/10 gram
  • marijuana -- 5 grams
  • LSD -- 150 micrograms
  • methamphetamine -- 1/5 gram
  • ecstasy -- 1/5 gram

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/mexicocitymarch-smaller.jpg
''Global Marijuana Day'' demonstration in Mexico City, May 2008
The decriminalization measure is part of a broader bill aimed at reducing "narcomenudeo," or retail drug sales. The bill would allow states and localities to prosecute small-time drug dealing offenses, a power that currently resides only with the federal government. It also allows police to make drug buys to build cases, a break with precedent in Mexico.

Whether the overall bill is a step forward or a step back is open to debate. Read our earlier discussion of the bill here.

Free Seminar on Colorado's Medical Marijuana Law

Sensible Colorado will present a free seminar on Colorado's medical marijuana law. This 90 minute training will cover all aspects of Amendment 20 and will include a "Know Your Rights" portion-- teaching patients and others their rights when dealing with police.
Date: 
Sun, 08/30/2009 - 2:00pm
Location: 
571 32 Rd., Units D and E
Clifton, CO 81520
United States

"Marijuana Is Safer" Book Bomb Set for Tomorrow

"Marijuana is Safer," the brand spanking new book by NORML's Paul Armentano, MPP's Steve Fox, and SAFER's Mason Tvert (who came up with the whole "marijuana is safer than alcohol" trope) is set for book bomb tomorrow. The idea behind a book bomb is to get large numbers of people to buy a book on a designated day, thereby driving it up the best-seller lists on Amazon. If enough people buy "Marijuana is Safer" tomorrow, we could drive it to #1 on Amazon and generate even more publicity for the book--and the message it sends. While we will no doubt offer the book as a premium at some point in the near future, I want to encourage people to participate in tomorrow's book bomb to help get the word out. You can find out more at marijuana book bomb. I'll be reviewing "Marijuana is Safer" for the Chronicle this week, but don't wait for the review. If you've been thinking about buying the book, tomorrow is the day to do it.

Doctors, Patients to Testify at Pharmacy Board Medical Marijuana Hearing Wednesday

MEDIA ADVISORY   
AUGUST 18, 2009

Doctors, Patients to Testify at Pharmacy Board Medical Marijuana Hearing Wednesday

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

DES MOINES, IOWA -- Medical experts from Iowa and around the country as well as patients and others will testify Wednesday at the first of a series of Iowa Board of Pharmacy hearings to examine the medical value of marijuana and whether marijuana's classification under state law should be changed.

    WHAT: Iowa Board of Pharmacy hearing on medical marijuana
   
    WHO:
Witnesses expected to testify include:
        Dr. Joseph McSherry, neurologist at Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington, Vt., who has testified before Vermont's legislature and has extensive experience with Vermont's medical marijuana law. Scheduled to speak at 10:30 a.m.
        Dr. Ed Hertko, retired internal medicine specialist from West Des Moines and founder of Camp Hertko Hollow, a residential camp for youth with diabetes. Scheduled to speak at 11:10 a.m.
       Dr. Alan Koslow, vascular surgeon from West Des Moines and founding member of the Iowa Pain Institute, who served on the Governor's Task Force for Early Childhood Care and on the board of the American Diabetes Association. Scheduled to speak at 2:10 p.m.
      Jeff Elton
of Des Moines, who suffers from gastric paresis, causing severe nausea and vomiting.

    WHEN: Wednesday, Aug. 19, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

    WHERE: Iowa State Historic Building (auditorium), 600 East Locust St., Des Moines.

    To arrange interviews with the above witnesses or with Marijuana Policy Project staffers who can place Wednesday's hearing in a national context, contact MPP director of communications Bruce Mirken at 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205.

     With more than 27,000 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: 
Des Moines, IA
United States

Confused Cop Worries That Medical Marijuana Could be Laced With PCP

Legal medical marijuana has been around for more than a decade now, but that certainly hasn't stopped bitter law-enforcement spokespeople from conjuring horrific doomsday fantasies about it. Police in Rhode Island are still struggling to understand the issue, it seems:

State police Lt. Col. Steven G. O’Donnell said there is nothing prohibiting caregivers from lacing their marijuana with phencyclidine (PCP) or other powerful drugs. [Providence Journal]

No, no, no, you misunderstand, sir. It's medical marijuana that's legal in Rhode Island, not PCP. Got it? Medical m-a-r-i-j-u-a-n-a. You can still arrest people for PCP.  I doubt this will be an issue though, because for some reason, medical marijuana laws don't seem to result in increased use of PCP. It's awesome.

But O'Donnell still doesn't get it. There's something bothering him about marijuana policy, but he can't quite figure out what it is:

"It’s very unregulated," he said. "It makes no sense to us. We regulate hamburger and food, but we do not regulate medical marijuana. There are no checks and balances."

Here, lets try that line again, but this time without the word "medical." I think we're onto something here. If we could all just agree that marijuana – medical and otherwise – needs to be monitored for quality and sold by licensed professionals, maybe we can finally put this whole mess behind us.

Drug Czar Admits He Was Wrong About Medical Marijuana

Last month, Obama's drug czar raised eyebrows by claiming that "marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit."  Though not an unusual remark for a drug czar to make, the comment came as a surprise given the new administration's stated policy of respecting state medical marijuana laws.

Well, it looks like someone in the administration had a little talk with the drug czar, because he's already backtracking:

Asked if he regretted what he said, Kerlikowske said, "Sometimes you make a mistake and you work very hard to correct it. That happens. I should've clearly said 'smoked' marijuana and then gone on to say that this is clearly a question that should be answered by the medical community." [KOMO News]

Of course, this is still utter nonsense given the abundance of scientific evidence that medical marijuana works. But it's remarkable to hear the drug czar acknowledge making "a mistake." As false and obnoxious as his corrected statement may be, it's nice to know that the word "mistake" is in his vocabulary.

Marijuana: Hawaii Insurer Denies Woman Transplant Because of Pot Use

Waimea, Hawaii, resident Kimberly Reyes died July 27 at Hilo Medical Center, 10 days after her insurance provider denied the liver transplant she needed because she had tested positive for marijuana in a series of toxicology tests. Reyes was not a registered medical marijuana user, but her family told the Honolulu Advertiser she had used it to deal with nausea, pain, and disorientation caused by the hepatitis that killed her.

Reyes' attorney, Ted Herhold of San Francisco, told the Observer that the diagnostic test results were the sole basis for Hawaii Medical Service Association's (HMSA) denial of transplant coverage. Reyes' husband Robin, and her mother, Noni Kuhns, said the decision was based on failure to comply with HMSA's policy forbidding drug use, but that neither HMSA nor her doctors had told her just what that policy was.

"Just because someone takes a hit off of a joint doesn't mean that it should be the end of their life -- this is not a reason to deny life," said Kuhns.

HMSA has refused to comment or provide its policies on drug use and transplant approval.

Denial of transplants to marijuana users has happened before. Last year, Seattle-area musician Timothy Garon died after being refused a transplant because of doctor-recommended medical marijuana use. In 2003, Oregon resident Dave Myers was removed from a transplant list merely for Marinol, a prescription medicine related to marijuana.

Middle East: Dubai Court Sentences Woman to Life for Selling a Joint

A court in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, has sentenced a young woman to life in prison for selling a joint to an undercover officer and possessing 16 more weighing a total of 19 grams. According to the UAE news site 7 Days, the unnamed Tanzanian citizen in her 20s was caught after police received a tip she was running a "drug den" in the Diera area of Dubai.

An Emirati police officer told the Dubai Court of First Instance that they had been tipped in December that the woman was selling drugs from her apartment. "Our sources informed us that she used her flat in Deira area of Dubai as a drugs den and she was trading with customers there," the Emirati officer said. "We sent an undercover policeman to her flat and he bought a cigarette for dhs30. She was possessing many cigarettes full with marijuana and she confessed to us that she used to sell them for dhs30 each."

That converts to about $8.10. At the same per joint rate, the young woman's entire stash would be worth less than $130.

The woman also tested positive for unspecified drugs. That alone is enough to get you imprisoned in the UAE, which has snared not only its own citizens but also unwary travelers passing through Dubai International Airport, who with depressing regularity receive four-year prison sentences for a positive drug test or possession of even the tiniest detectable traces of drugs.

The young woman had denied all charges. Her lawyer has vowed to appeal, but barring a successful appeal or pardon, she would not be eligible to be released and deported for at least 25 years.

Dubai court officials were fine with that. "The law orders us to sentence anyone trading with any amount of drugs to life in jail. Even if the amount is a few grams, it's still trading," one told 7 News. "This verdict is sending out a clear message to anyone trading with drugs that this business can ruin your life."

Or, more accurately, the Dubai courts can.

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