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New Michael Phelps Ad Tries to Capitalize on Marijuana Controversy

Check out Subway's new "Be Yourself" ad featuring Michael Phelps:

The ad concludes "You can always be yourself at Subway." The whole thing is a brilliantly veiled reference to the backlash against Kellogg's that emerged when they dropped Phelps for smoking pot. Better yet, Subway has launched a new promotional website at You see what they're doing, right?

The new campaign is already generating tons of press coverage, including positive reactions to the ad's apparent reference to the infamous marijuana incident. It's a brilliant maneuver by Subway and, hopefully, an early indicator that corporate America is finally learning that it makes more sense to wink at pot culture than risk alienating it.

Once again, I'm humbled by the immeasurable impact of the Michael Phelps marijuana saga. I'm seeing discussion of the Kellogg's boycott reemerging in comment threads around the web today and I don't think one can easily exaggerate what a major event that was, and still is, for our cause. Along with the intense and heavily-publicized popularity of marijuana reform questions on the President's website, it's becoming widely understood that marijuana culture has a tremendous and now powerfully intimidating web presence.

In the age of viral web marketing and online-everything, the visible web presence of marijuana culture becomes a potent weapon that's now reshaping the debate right before our eyes. For fear of offending us, the President and his drug czar can scarcely utter more than a vague sentence in defense of our marijuana laws. Meanwhile, the mainstream press is hustling marijuana stories like dimebags in a city park. And Subway is celebrating freedom of personal choice in a new ad campaign featuring the world's most famous marijuana user.

The war remains, but the battlefield has changed. I can smell it, like the aroma of fresh baked bread wafting free from the entrance of the Subway down the block from our office, which I might just visit tomorrow for the first time in a while.

South Dakota Judge Sentences Marijuana Reform Activist to Shut Up

South Dakota's most well-known marijuana legalization advocate, Bob Newland, was sentenced yesterday to a year in the Pennington County Jail with all but 45 days suspended for felony marijuana possession--a little less than four ounces. Once he does his time, he'll be on probation for a year. Newland can, I suppose, consider himself fortunate. According to the South Dakota Department of Corrections, there are currently six people imprisoned for possession of less than half a pound and seven for more than half but less than one pound, as well as 14 doing time for distribution of less than an ounce and another 25 doing time for distribution of less than a pound. But in another respect, Newland is not so lucky. He has basically been stripped of his First Amendment right to advocate for marijuana legalization while he is on probation. As the Associated Press reported:
A longtime South Dakota supporter of legalized marijuana has been sentenced to serve 45 days in jail for possessing the illegal drug. Authorities say Bob Newland of Hermosa was found with four bags of marijuana, a scale and $385 in cash when he was stopped for speeding in March. He pleaded guilty in May to a possession charge under a plea agreement in which prosecutors agreed to drop a more serious charge of possession with intent to distribute. Newland will be on probation for the rest of the year following his jail term. During his probation, he is barred from publicly advocating the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Newland, understandably, is not inclined to challenge the probation condition. There's something about staring at the walls of a jail cell that does that to a guy. But that doesn't mean others shouldn't raise a stink about this arguably unconstititional sentence. I'll be looking into this and will have a Chronicle story about it on Friday.
Rapid City, SD
United States

New Study: Marijuana Doesn’t Increase Your Risk of Going Crazy

Remember two years ago when some scientists announced that marijuana causes psychosis and the press, along with the entire nation of Great Britain, went borderline psycho just from thinking about it?

Well, Paul Armentano at NORML reports that a new study has proven that the whole thing was just a bunch of crazy talk:

“[T]he expected rise in diagnoses of schizophrenia and psychoses did not occur over a 10 year period. This study does not therefore support the specific causal link between cannabis use and incidence of psychotic disorders. … This concurs with other reports indicating that increases in population cannabis use have not been followed by increases in psychotic incidence.”

In non-sciency terms, this means that when rates of marijuana use go up, rates of mental illness do not. Therefore, we can conclude that marijuana apparently doesn't cause anyone to develop psychosis who otherwise wouldn’t have.

It's really a shame that this now-debunked junk science about marijuana and psychosis led the British government to increase penalties for marijuana. But, as we know all too well, fits of ignorance and distortion are causally linked to an increased risk of bad drug legislation.

Medical Marijuana: Oakland Dispensary Tax in Hands of Voters

Voters in Oakland, California, will decide this month whether to create a new business tax aimed at the city's four medical marijuana dispensaries. Mailed ballots went out this week and must be returned to the city registrar's office by July 21 to be counted.
The tax measure, known as Measure F, would levy a business tax rate of $18 per every $1,000 in gross sales at dispensaries. Under the standard retail business tax rate, the dispensaries now pay $1.20 per every $1,000, meaning the new rate would be a whopping 1500% increase.

But that's okay with Oakland dispensary operators. In fact, it was the dispensaries that approached Oakland City Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Nancy Nadel about instituting a new tax.

Operators say they are willing to pay their fair share to help the city deal with pressing financial problems. The proposed tax should bring in $315,000 in tax revenues for the city in 2010, up substantially from the $21,000 generated under the retail tax rate last year.

It is also an effort to further legitimize medical marijuana in a city that is already pretty pot-friendly. "Criminals don't pay taxes," said James Anthony, an attorney for Harborside Health Center, one of the dispensaries. "Law-abiding citizens do. We are nothing if not law-abiding citizens," he told the Oakland Tribune.

Councilmember Kaplan, a prominent medical marijuana supporter, also argued in favor of the measure. "It is important that there be regulation and that there be a permit process and that there be taxation," Kaplan said. "Both because the city needs the revenue and to be sure that we weed out the bad actors."

The ballot measure needs a simple majority to pass. It is also supported by the broad-based Yes 4 Oakland coalition.

Marijuana: Rhode Island Senate Okays Commission to Explore Marijuana Prohibition, Legalization, and Decriminalization

As the Rhode Island General Assembly rushed to adjourn last Friday, the Senate approved a resolution introduced that same day to create a nine-member commission to study a broad range of issues around marijuana policy. The last-minute move comes just weeks after the legislature approved the creation of dispensaries for medical marijuana patients.

Under the move, which does not require any further approval, a "Special Senate Commission to Study the Prohibition of Marijuana" will be set up to issue a report by January 31, 2010. The commission will be composed of "elected members of the Rhode Island Senate, local law enforcement officials, physicians, nurses, social workers, academic leaders in the field of addiction studies, advocates or patients in the state's medical marijuana program, advocates working in the field of prisoner reentry, economists, and members of the general public."

Among the specific issues and questions the resolution mandates the commission to address are:

  • The experience of individuals and families sentenced for violating marijuana laws.
  • The experience of states and European countries, such as California, Massachusetts and the Netherlands, which have decriminalized the sale and use of marijuana.
  • Whether and to what extent Rhode Island youth have access to marijuana despite current laws prohibiting its use.
  • Whether adults' use of marijuana has decreased since marijuana became illegal in Rhode Island in 1918.
  • Whether the current system of marijuana prohibition has created violence in the state of Rhode Island against users or among those who sell marijuana
  • Whether the proceeds from the sales of marijuana are funding organized crime, including drug cartels.
  • Whether those who sell marijuana on the criminal market may also sell other drugs, thus increasing the chances that youth will use other illegal substances.
  • How much revenue the state could earn by taxing marijuana at $35 an ounce.

The sponsors of the resolution were Senators Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), Leo Blais (R-Coventry), Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), Charles Levesque (D-Portsmouth), and Susan Sosnowski (D-South Kingstown).

In a Wednesday interview with the Providence Journal, Miller said the move was sparked by "a national trend towards decriminalization" and the voter-driven decriminalization of marijuana in Massachusetts. He added that he waited until the sessions' end to introduce the resolution because it was "very important" for the study to stay separate from the issue of medical marijuana.

The marijuana policy commission is a done deal. But who will sit on it isn't. Rhode Island activists would behoove themselves to follow the selection process closely. Maybe they could even come up with some suggestions.

Feature: Marijuana Legalization Legislation in the Works in Portugal

Portugal has been the subject of a lot of attention lately over its decriminalization of drug possession. Although decriminalization has been in place for eight years now, it is only this year that it has caught the world's attention. The success of Portugal's approach was the subject of a piece by Salon writer Glenn Greenwald commissioned by the Cato Institute that was widely read and commented on earlier this year, and last week it earned kind words from a most unexpected place: the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which could find little to complain about for its 2009 World Drugs Report.
But Portugal isn't resting on its laurels, and at least one political party there is preparing to take the country's progressive approach to drug reform to the next level. The Leftist Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda) is preparing legislation that would legalize the possession, cultivation, and retail sales of small amounts of marijuana, as well as providing for regulated wholesale cultivation to supply the retail market.

The Bloc is also now actively encouraging the participation of ENCOD, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, in developing new drug laws. The alliance comes too late to influence the marijuana bill, but will provide an entree for drug reformers in the process in future drug legislation, or even revising the current marijuana bill if it does not make in through parliament this year.

"The contacts between ENCOD and the Bloc were arranged by common activists and members," explained ENCOD steering committee member and Portuguese law student, journalist, and activist Jorge Roque.

Under the draft bill, a copy of which was made available to the Chronicle, marijuana consumers could purchase "the amount needed for the average individual for a 30-day period," as determined by the existing decriminalization law, or 15 grams of hashish and 75 grams (almost three ounces) of marijuana. The average daily dose is a half-gram of hash and 2.5 grams of pot. Individuals would be allowed to grow up to 10 plants, and could possess the 30-day amount as well as up to 10 plants.

The draft bill calls for licensed retail sales outlets authorized by municipal councils. Such retail establishments would not be allowed to sell alcohol or allow it to be consumed on the premises, would not be allowed within 500 meters of schools, and would not be allowed to have gambling machines. No one under 16 would be allowed to enter, nor would people adjudged to be mentally ill.

The draft bill prohibits advertising, but requires that packaging for marijuana products intended for retail sale clearly reveal the source, the amount, and a statement giving the World Health Organization's position on the effects and risks of consumption.

The bill also provides for the Portuguese National Institute of Pharmacy and Medicine to license the wholesale cultivation of marijuana to supply the retail trade. And it provides for an excise tax on cannabis sales to be determined during the budgetary process.

People who traffic in marijuana outside the parameters set down in the draft would face four to 12 years in prison for serious offenses, and up to four years for less serious offenses. Licensed retailers or wholesalers who breach the regulations could face imprisonment for up to three months or a fine of up to 30 days' minimum wage.

The bill's immediate prospects are uncertain. The Leftist Bloc is a small party, holding only eight seats in the 230-seat parliament. But the government is controlled by left-leaning parties, and the Bloc has a reputation as a "hip" party in the vanguard of political change in the country.

"Honestly, at first I thought this would never pass, but with time and after discussing this with the deputies, I am much more optimistic," said Roque. "Of course, the Left Bloc alone cannot get it passed, but as usual, they provoke the debate of ideas, and then, since they are seen as an intelligent and humane group, they can pick up support among other political parties."

While it is too late for ENCOD to influence this legislation, the group can still play a role in the debate, said ENCOD coordinator Joep Oomen. "ENCOD could contribute with information on the need to make consistent moves and no half-measures, as has been the case before with the decriminalization of possession. Portugal should learn from the experiences in the Netherlands. Here liberal cannabis policies that have proven successful during more than 30 years are now in danger of being abolished because of the pressure of Christian parties who continue blaming these policies for problems that in fact are caused by prohibition," he said.

Oomen was alluding to Holland's "backdoor problem," where the sale of marijuana is tolerated, but there is no provision for legally supplying Dutch cannabis cafes. That has led to the growth of organized crime participation in the pot business in Holland.

"It is quite simple," Oomen said. "When you allow people to use, you should allow them to possess, and if you allow them to possess, you should allow them to cultivate, produce, buy or sell. If you only go halfway, and refuse to regulate the first necessary element in the process (cultivation or production) you create more problems than solutions."

For Roque, Portugal's experience with decriminalization was critical in laying the groundwork for the legalization bill. "Decriminalization helped us lose the taboos and break the fear of being persecuted for drugs, and Portugal nowadays is much more ready to move forward," said Roque.

One big remaining taboo is the UN drug conventions, but neither Oomen nor Roque appeared to be very concerned about them. "Portugal does not need to openly challenge the UN conventions," said Oomen. "As long as the new bill is aiming at regulating cultivation of cannabis for personal use, it cannot be considered as a violation of international conventions, which leave it up to national authorities to deal with the status of drug use."

Roque was a bit more combative. "The international conventions and the Lisbon treaty don't provide solutions in these matters, and the UN conventions were ratified by the specific will of one country," said Roque. "When the UN conventions don't present any solutions that are good for the national interest, only a stupid country will follow them forever."

Now, Portugal can put the conventions and their interpretation to the test, if its parliament so chooses.

Medical Marijuana: Users, Growers Can Sue Over Police Raids, California Appeals Court Rules

In the first ruling of its kind, the California 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento held Wednesday that medical marijuana patients and growers can sue police for illegally raiding their properties and destroying their plants. The ruling came in County of Butte v. Butte County Superior Court.

In that case, a Butte County sheriff's deputy went to the home of medical marijuana grower David Williams and demanded he destroy all but 12 of the 41 plants he was growing for a seven-person collective. Williams had complete documentation for his grow, but, threatened with arrest, he complied with the unlawful order. He then sued the county and won in Superior Court.

The county appealed, arguing that patients and providers could invoke the state's medical marijuana law only as a defense to criminal charges, not to sue for damages. But the appeals court sided with the lower court, holding that medical marijuana patients and providers have the same right as any other citizens to sue officials who violate the constitutional ban on illegal searches and seizures.

Williams was relying on "the same constitutional guarantee of due process available to all individuals," wrote Justice Vance Raye for the 2-1 majority. Medical marijuana patients and providers do not need to suffer "the expense and stress of criminal proceedings," to assert their rights, he wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Fred Morrison wrote that Congress should ease the federal ban on marijuana to accommodate the 13 states that allow medical use. But in the meantime, he argued, no one has the right to use marijuana, and police can legally confiscate it.

The county is likely to appeal to the state Supreme Court. But unless and until that happens, law enforcement in California should be on notice that any misbehavior regarding medical marijuana could turn out to be very expensive.

Innocent Teenage Girls Forced to "Jump Up and Down" During Marijuana Search

Following the Supreme Court's recent decision that school officials violated the 4th Amendment when they strip-searched a 13-year-old girl, another similar lawsuit has been filed and the story is equally sickening:

According to the complaint, the incident began when the bus arrived at the school and two employees boarded it in order to resolve a dispute in which the girls were not involved. The employees "smelled what they thought was marijuana," the complaint states, and five girls seated at the back of the bus, including Gaither and S.C., were detained and searched.

During an interrogation that lasted the entire school day, and after being denied repeated requests to call their parents, the girls were required to "remove their shoes and socks, unbuckle their belts, unbutton their pants, and unzip their pants," the complaint says. They also had their "waistlines physically touched and searched" by a male employee while their pants were undone, and were made to "lift up their bras while their shirts remained on and jump up and down."

The searches were all performed behind closed doors and without the presence of police offices or female staff, the suit says. No marijuana was found. [Courthouse News]

The whole thing is so perverse and disturbing, it really ought to be examined in criminal court as well as civil. By the time a group of teenage girls was ordered lift their bras and hop up and down, it wasn't just a drug search anymore. This was something much sicker than that. But you can thank decades of propaganda-fueled marijuana hysteria for creating the environment in which school officials think they can get away with stuff like this.

Can You Name One Good Thing About the War on Marijuana?

On the heels of its successful effort to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, the Rhode Island Senate has voted to launch a comprehensive study of marijuana laws in general. They'll seek to answer these questions, among others:

Whether and to what extent Rhode Island youth have access to marijuana despite current laws prohibiting its use;  

Whether adults' use of marijuana has decreased since marijuana became illegal in Rhode Island in 1918;  
Whether the current system of marijuana prohibition has created violence in the state of Rhode Island against users or among those who sell marijuana;  
Whether the proceeds from the sales of marijuana are funding organized crime, including drug cartels;

The costs associated with the current policies prohibiting marijuana sales and possession, including law enforcement, judicial, public defender, and corrections costs;

Whether there have been cases of corruption related to marijuana law enforcement;

The experience of individuals and families sentenced for violating marijuana laws;

The experience of states and European countries, such as California, Massachusetts and the Netherlands, which have decriminalized the sale and use of marijuana;

Hmm, I think I can tackle this one: Yes, No, Yes, Yes, Enormous, You don't even want to know, Heartbreaking, Impressive.

This is yet another superb effort from RI legislators and it really sets the standard for how public representatives ought to be examining these laws. These are central questions that, if answered honestly, will drive a stake through the heart of marijuana prohibition once and for all.

Opponents of Marijuana Legalization Will Say Anything

This letter in the Montgomery Advertiser is a mind-numbing illustration of the vivid imaginations that local anti-drug activists can frequently be found to possess:

Assume the government legalizes pot. It will be taxed (federal and state) and regulated for THC content. Do drug cartels just fold their tent? Hardly. Simply offer a more potent product at a lower cost -- tax-free, of course. Higher THC content is the goal of all serious pot smokers -- check out any issue of High Times, or the myriad of Internet sites offering more potent seeds.

Note to prohibitionists: the second you find yourself arguing that no one will buy legal pot, you've gone off the rails badly. If you wanna talk about the advertisers in High Times, what about the ones that make money hand over fist selling legal herbs that merely look like pot? Legal pot will be an extremely popular product among people who like pot. You don't have to worry about that.

And if you find yourself arguing that drug cartels can stay in business despite sudden widespread competition by simply improving their product and lowering their prices, maybe you should stop to consider how ridiculous that sounds. If they do that, they'll go broke overnight, hence you just accidentally stumbled across the exact reason why legalizing marijuana will annihilate the black market for pot.

It really shouldn’t be necessary to explain that drug cartels thrive on astronomical black market inflation. Everything they are and everything they do revolves around the massive drug monopoly that prohibition bestows upon them. If you take that away, they are nothing.

But if the fundamentals of black market economics continue to escape anyone, I suppose we could always just agree to legalize potent pot as well.

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