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Feature: Mendocino Marijuana Battle Waits for Election Results, Restrictive Initiative Draws Strong Opposition

Eight years ago, voters in Northern California's Mendocino County passed the groundbreaking Measure G, which allowed people to grow up to 25 marijuana plants for medical or personal use and directed local law enforcement authorities to make marijuana offenses their lowest enforcement priority. Since then, the already well-established Mendocino cultivation community has exploded, and with the size of the crop estimated to be somewhere between $500 million and $1.6 billion a year, marijuana is now the backbone of the local economy.

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outdoor marijuana harvest in California (from NDIC via usdoj.gov)
But with the boom have come problems, and now the backlash. Some of it is purely ingrained cultural opposition to marijuana, but other Mendocino residents have complained of environmental damage from commercial grows, diversion of water supplies, trash in the forests, neighboring backyards with valuable crops that attract thieves and armed robbers, the smell of growing marijuana wafting into schools and homes, and the disturbing of rural tranquility by pot-enriched ne'er-do-wells roaring around back roads in their high-dollar SUVs.

Last week, Mendocino residents went to the polls to vote on a measure that would undo Measure G and set cultivation limits at six plants, as mandated by state law. (That portion of the law was recently declared unconstitutional by a state appeals court; see our coverage here.) Known as Measure B, the initiative had the support of most of the county Board of Supervisors and the rest of the political establishment and prominent local media, and polling suggested it would easily pass.

But despite media reports on election night that the measure had passed by a margin of 52% to 48%, the election is by no means over. Nearly 11,000 hand-delivered absentee ballots, or about 38% of the total vote, have not yet been counted. The county has until the end of the month to count them and certify the election, although the final results could be announced any day.

Opponents of Measure B think that they will prevail when all the votes are counted. Supporters of Measure B say the same.

"The margin right now is only 710 votes, and we think we will win in the end," said Laura Hamburg, spokesperson for the insurgent movement to defeat the initiative known as the No on Measure B Coalition.

"One reason for optimism is that those last minute ballots are coming from people who were very concerned about making sure the registrar got their votes, and we have been stirring those people to get out and vote. The second reason is geography. The county seat of Ukiah is more conservative, but the outlying areas of the county have been much more liberal and sympathetic to mom and pop personal and medical use. These rural areas are where the hand-delivered absentee ballots are coming from."

"There are a lot of conservative voters who take voting seriously and don't trust the Post Office and want to hand deliver their votes," argued Ross Liberty, spokesman for Yes on Mendocino County Measure B Coalition. "And our strongest district is District 1, which is where most of the uncounted votes are coming from. This is still doable," he said, while conceding that some of his allies consider his prediction of a 60%-40% win "overly optimistic." Still, said Liberty, his team all agrees they are odds on favorites to win.

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Dale Gieringer (courtesy pot-tv.net)
"No matter what the final outcome, this is a moral victory for us," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML, which opposes Measure B. "We were opposed by the board of supervisors, city councils, the sheriff, the DA, the monied civic groups, and the leading local media. We had the deck stacked against us, we were supposed to lose, but this has turned into a really close contest," he said.

Liberty said he was not opposed to medical marijuana or even recreational marijuana use, but that the situation in Mendocino County was intolerable. "I'm a libertarian," he said. "I would think I'd died and gone to heaven if federal marijuana prohibition were lifted, but I don't want Mendocino to be the only place doing it. These people aren't growing despite it being illegal, but because it's illegal. They're growing and dealing because its illegal and has a federal price support program."

Liberty said he was not personally impacted by marijuana growing -- although he complained about "the trained helplessness that dependence on federal marijuana prohibition brings to our community" -- but that other supporters of repeal were. "People who live near me grow, and it doesn't bother me, but there are quite a few people who can't stand the smell of it -- it really reeks in the summer -- and it can make their lives miserable," he said.

"It's also dangerous because it's worth so much money," Liberty continued. "One lady I know, within a hundred yards of her house, there's collectively a million-dollar marijuana crop in her neighbors' back yards. You have people with guns going through yards just following their noses looking for marijuana to steal. How do you let you kids out to play when that's going on?"

Liberty mentioned yet another problem, too. "I've had people grow on my property without my permission," he said. "It's not medical marijuana, it's just dope growers and outlaws." But, Liberty said, that incident predated Prop. 215.

Measure B doesn't address the real problems created by commercial growing, said opponents. "This initiative isn't aimed at the problems created by the large commercial grows -- the growing on public land, the environmental damage -- but at the people growing fewer than 25 plants," said Gieringer. "They're cracking down on the small growers, not the commercial growers. With even our opponents conceding it shouldn't be illegal, we should be about dealing with the problems associated with those big grows, and Measure B doesn't do that," he said.

"We've seen an increase in criminal profiteering with commercial grows and growing on federal land, so there was a backlash from that," Hamburg acknowledged. "People started feeling like the energy was different, they saw all this profiteering. We're in our fourth decade of marijuana farming here, and we do it well, it is one of the glues that holds this county together, but there had never been any public venting of tensions about these changes," she said. "People wanted to DO SOMETHING, and many of them initially supported Measure B, but that has been changing as they really think about what it means," she said.

"This measure targets the wrong people," argued Hamburg. "If you want to address marijuana, why turn on the community? Why don't we see instead how we can thwart those big commercial grows? Mom and pop growers are community-minded people; if they are compensated by the dispensaries, they report their income. They're proud of being organic gardeners. We think we should put resources and energy into fighting crime, not backyard grows, and that's what's been happening."

Indeed, with the election of a new sheriff and district attorney in late 2006, marijuana law enforcement has come down harder, and asset forfeiture numbers are rising through the roof -- up from $100,000 in 2005 to $1.6 million last year -- but it's not the illegal large national forest grows being targeted, said Hamburg.

"When the sheriff goes after those big commercial grows, all they typically find is some guys living in tents in the woods -- there are no assets to seize," she noted. "We're very concerned that they are targeting smaller growers. Don't turn on law-abiding citizens who are part of the fabric of this community," she pleaded. "Don't turn us into criminals. We don't want to be felons for growing one plant for personal use or seven for medical."

It wouldn't just be mass criminalization that Mendocino would have to worry about if Measure B passes, it could be economic recession. Marijuana is by far the most important economic activity in the county, and Liberty freely admits that victory could lead to hard times, or, as he put it, "a period of adjustment."

"To the extent that we move the needle, we will have to adjust from an economy dependent on federal prohibition to one that is driven by the free market," he said. "Now, you don't see regular jobs coexisting with this marijuana economy. Basic industry jobs that must be globally competitive cannot compete with the wages driven by the price support program we know as federal prohibition."

Whatever the final election result, the Mendocino marijuana wars are far from over. And proponents of a more open system of regulated growth and sales are feeling emboldened. "After we came back in this campaign, we have a lot of bargaining strength," said Gieringer. "We expect to make some really forward-looking proposals for regulating the industry in Mendocino and moving closer to a legally regulated market that makes money for the county and keeps the criminals and fringe element at bay."

Stay tuned.

Southwest Asia: Afghanistan Makes "World's Largest" Drug Bust -- 260 Tons of Hash Destroyed

Afghan police found and destroyed a whopping 260 tons of hashish near Spin Boldak in Kandahar province near the Pakistan border Monday. The contraband cannabis was buried in trenches and bunkers in the desert, and the stash was so extensive that NATO called in two aircraft to bomb it. Also found was five tons of opium.

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hidden drug cache, Afghanistan 2008 (from nato.int)
In a Wednesday press release, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) claimed to have struck a major blow against the Taliban, which is strong in Kandahar and widely thought to profit handsomely -- along with many other actors -- from the Afghan drug trade.

"With this single find, the police have seriously crippled the Taliban's ability to purchase weapons that threaten the safety and security of the Afghan people and the region," said General David McKiernan, commander of ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force.

The hash had an estimated regional wholesale value of $400 million. ISAF officials estimated that the Taliban would have pocketed about $14 million from the sale of the drugs. But despite McKiernan's claim, that's chump change compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars the Taliban is estimated to make each year from the opium trade.

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burning of hash cache, Afghanistan 2008 (from nato.int)
The seizure of such a massive quantity of hashish should also raise questions about the Afghan government's overall anti-drug program. While Afghan and Western officials praised Afghanistan for eradicating opium production in some northern provinces last year, it appears farmers there simply switched over to cannabis.

Still, NATO and the West were patting themselves and their Afghan partners on the back. "This was the largest ever single find of narcotics in history," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement. "It reflects the efforts of the Afghan government against the drug trade, and was so large that two aircraft were brought in to destroy the underground bunker in which the hashish was being stored."

"The Afghan National Police Special Task Force has made a huge step forward in proving its capability in curbing the tide of illegal drug trade in this country," said General McKiernan. "The international community will continue to support the Afghan forces with more of the same training and support that helped them achieve such success in this mission."

Meanwhile, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's most recent report on the Afghan crop, Afghan opium production this year looks to maintain its record high levels. The country currently supplies more than 90% of the world's opium.

Medical Marijuana: Oregon Appeals Court Protects Workers

Oregon employers must make a reasonable accommodation for workers who use medical marijuana for a disability, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in an opinion released Wednesday. The ruling upheld an earlier ruling by the state Bureau of Labor and Industries that found that state laws barring discrimination protected medical marijuana users from being fired because of their choice of medications.

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medical marijuana bags (picture courtesy Daniel Argo via Wikimedia)
The decision came in the case of Emerald Steel Fabricators, Inc., in which an employee was terminated after admitting he had a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana. A key factor in the court's decision was the fact that the employee did not use marijuana at work. In a 2006 ruling, the state Supreme Court upheld the firing of a worker after he tested positive for marijuana, but in that case, the high court avoided the issue of non-workplace use of medical marijuana.

The voter-approved 1998 Oregon Medical Marijuana Act was unclear on whether employees must accommodate workers who use medical marijuana away from the workplace. In the present case, the Oregon Court of Appeals emphasized that the Emerald Steel employee did not use marijuana at work.

The appeals court also rejected several arguments by Emerald Steel, including the claim that employees could be affected on the job by off-hours medical marijuana use and the claim that marijuana use violates federal law even if it is legal under state law. Emerald Steel had not raised those issues during earlier proceedings. "Accordingly, we will not consider those issues for the first time on review," wrote Judge Timothy Sercombe in the opinion.

Legislators and some employer lobbies in Oregon have been trying for the past several years to impose restrictions on medical marijuana use and for laws that would allow employers to fire workers who use medical marijuana. But so far, those efforts have gone nowhere. Now, the Oregon Court of Appeals has dealt another blow to those efforts.

World Record Marijuana Crop Gets Blown Up By Fighter Jets

What do you do if you find the world's largest marijuana stash? Call in the airforce!


The crack teams discovered 236.8 tons of cannabis buried in vast trenches in the desert. The drugs had a minimum street value of £225 million, and weighed more than 30 double-decker buses, officials said.

Lieutenant General Abdul Hadi Khalid, Afghanistan's deputy interior minister, said: "This is a new world record in the global war on drugs."


British fighter jets were called in from nearby Kandahar Airfield to smash open the underground stores. A Nato spokesman said the planes dropped three 1,000lb bombs on the trenches, before troops from the commando unit known as 333 doused the wreckage with petrol and set them alight. [scotsman.com]

There's something tragically ironic about using fighter jets to launch air strikes on a plant that's never killed anyone in the history of the world. Are you having fun yet, brave desert drug soldiers? Someone get these guys some volleyball nets before they nuke a poppy field.

Americans for Safe Access: June 2008 Activist Newsletter

Powerful Congressman Challenges DEA Tactics

House Judiciary Chair Questions Federal Attacks on Medical Marijuana

Federal attacks on medical marijuana patients have drawn the notice of a powerful congressman whose committee oversees the Drug Enforcement Administration.

US House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) has demanded that the DEA explain the raids and intimidation tactics it has been orchestrating against medical marijuana patients and caregivers in California and elsewhere.

John Conyers Rep. John Conyers

On April 29, Conyers (D-MI) sent a letter to DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart challenging her interference in state medical marijuana programs. Conyers' action resulted from months of nationwide activism by Americans for Safe Access and other patient advocates, as well as concerned elected officials.

Conyers first voiced his concerns about DEA interference after a series of coordinated California raids in December. He is the highest ranking elected official to challenge the DEA's tactics since medical cannabis raids in California escalated dramatically in 2007. The congressman's letter is the first step towards Congressional hearings of the DEA by the House Judiciary Committee.

Conyer's letter questions the DEA's heightened raid activity across California and its intimidation of property owners with threats of prosecution and asset forfeiture because they rent to medical cannabis dispensaries.

In reference to letters the DEA has been sending landlords, Conyers pointedly asks, "is the use of civil asset forfeiture, which has typically been reserved for the worst drug traffickers and kingpins, an appropriate tactic to employ against individuals who suffer from severe or chronic illness and are authorized to use medical marijuana under California law?"

Conyers letter also recognizes how the State of California benefits from the estimated $100 million in sales taxes medical marijuana dispensaries pay annually. He asks Leonhart whether she has considered that the DEA's actions are "negatively impacting the ability of state and local officials across California to collect tax revenue, which they are entitled to under California law."

Over the past several months, ASA and advocates all over the country have lobbied Congress to convene hearings on the DEA's attacks on medical marijuana patients. Dozens of legal, tax-paying dispensaries have been shut down from DEA raids or evictions by their landlords, and many more face the same fate if Congress does not intervene.

"Chairman Conyers' letter to DEA has emphasized the greater need to seek effective solutions that will advance safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research", said Caren Woodson, ASA Director of Government Affairs, who has been lobbying the offices of Conyers and Subcommittee Chairman Robert C. Scott about this issue for months. "However, before we can begin to develop a sensible national policy on medical marijuana, we must end federal attacks on patients and their care providers."

ASA's work with the House Judiciary Committee was bolstered by a statewide effort to get California's elected officials to call for an end to the harmful tactics of the DEA. ASA and its allies were successful in garnering strong letters of support from several elected officials, urging Chairman Conyers to hold hearings. Among those who spoke up were Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, Los Angeles City Councilmember Dennis Zine, and the mayors of Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and West Hollywood.

Visit AmericansForSafeAccess.org/ConyersLetter to read the letter from Chairman Conyers.

California Legislature Considering Several Medical Marijuana Measures

Implementation of California's medical marijuana program is becoming a more pressing political issue, and the state's legislature is taking steps to both more fully protect patients and turn back federal interference.

On May 28, patients in California got closer to being guaranteed employment protections when the Assembly passed the employment rights bill sponsored by ASA.

The measure, AB 2279, which now moves on to the California state senate, would protect the jobs of hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients by preventing discriminating against patients and caregivers in "hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment" based on their status or a positive drug test.

Assemblymember Mark Leno introduced AB 2279, which was drafted with assistance from ASA's Legislative Analyst Noah Mamber, in answer to a state Supreme Court decision that found patients can be fired, even if they are qualified to use cannabis under state law and do so only away from the workplace.

Mark Leno Assemblymember Leno

The bill leaves intact existing state law prohibiting consumption at the workplace and protects employers from liability by allowing exceptions for jobs where physical safety could be a concern. But employees such as Gary Ross, the software engineer whose case became a test of California's medical marijuana law, could no longer be terminated for following their doctors' advice.

"The California Assembly has acted to protect the right of patients to work and be productive members of society," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who argued the Ross case before the state Supreme Court. "The State Senate now has the important task of passing this bill with the aim to protect the jobs of thousands of Californians."

In response to continuing federal raids and threats, the state Senate is preparing to take the next step toward a landmark resolution calling on federal officials to end their interference with state medical marijuana programs. Senate Joint Resolution 20 is scheduled to be heard before the Senate Judiciary Committee soon, after passing in the Senate Health Committee recently.

Sponsored by Senator Carole Migden (D, San Francisco), the resolution calls on Congress and the President to enact federal legislation that would prevent future raids on state-qualified patients and providers, and to return any assets seized from medical marijuana patients and providers.

If passed, it would be the first time that a state legislature has denounced and demanded an end to DEA attacks on medical marijuana patients and providers. The Los Angeles City Council has passed its own resolution in support of SJR20.

A bill has stalled in the Assembly that would prevent local law enforcement from assisting the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies in "raids, arrests, investigations, or prosecutions" of medical marijuana patients or providers.

The sponsor of AB 2743, Lori Saldaña (D-San Diego), successfully shepherded the measure through two committees, but decide to make it "inactive" after passage by the Assembly Appropriations Committee because the measure was just a few votes short of the support needed to get it through the Assembly. More members supported it than opposed, but abstentions by a few lawmakers meant it did not have the necessary majority.

At least five California cities have passed resolutions barring their local law enforcement agencies from assisting in the DEA's war on medical marijuana patients and providers.

The other bill that failed to advance is SB 1098, a measure that would facilitate sales tax collection from dispensing collectives which are facing retroactive taxes. The Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee held a hearing in April but did not bring the bill to a vote. The state Board of Equalization began requiring the sale of medical cannabis to be taxed in 2005, but the BOE's decision to impose back taxes has jeopardized Califor-nia's oldest dispensing collectives, some of which have been operating since shortly after voters approved Prop. 215 in 1996. This bill would encourage compliance with BOE requirements and protect access by forgiving back sales tax prior to October 2005.

ASA Chapter Focus: Rhode Island

by Jesse Stout

Another of the many active local ASA chapters and affiliates is the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC).

RIPAC is Rhode Island's community of patients, caregivers, healthcare providers, and advocacy organizations supporting and implementing the Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Act. RIPAC works to advance our mission in four main areas: advocacy, education, research, and policy.

ADVOCACY: RIPAC has been connecting patients with one another through twice-monthly patient/caregiver meetings, and with the statewide advocacy community by garnering endorsements-most recently from the likes of the Rhode Island Office of the Public Defender, the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, and the Rhode Island Public Health Association.

EDUCATION: RIPAC actively educates law and health professionals about medical marijuana. In March, we presented a Continuing Legal Education course to public defenders and criminal lawyers. In April, we began a statewide tour of police trainings with the Portsmouth Police Department. And in May, we will host Dr. Donald Abrams, the renowned therapeutic cannabis and HIV researcher, for a physician education conference at Brown University.

RESEARCH: RIPAC representatives have recently met with both of our U.S. Senators and both of our members of the House of Representatives to ask support for Dr. Lyle Craker's research application to DEA. Dr. Craker, a professor at UMass-Amherst, is seeking a license to grow cannabis for federally approved medical research.

POLICY: RIPAC is supporting a bill in the General Assembly that would regulate the distribution of medical marijuana by licensing a non-profit Compassion Center to grow medicine for patients. Like many states with medical cannabis provisions, there is little in the law to ensure that patients have safe and reliable access to their medicine.

To find out more about RIPAC and what it's doing to support patients and caregivers, visit their website at www.ripatients.org.

Thank Chairman Conyers for Standing Up to the DEA

Last month, US House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) sent a letter to DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart challenging the DEA's actions. Chairman Conyers' letter questions DEA directly about its heightened raid activity across California and its intimidation of property owners owners with threats of prosecution and asset forfeiture because they rent to medical cannabis dispensaries.

This letter is an important and necessary step towards Congressional hearings by the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees the actions of the DEA. Please call Representative Conyers to thank him for sending this letter and for standing up for the medical cannabis community: (202) 225-5126

AMMA calls for a new initiative for Mendocino

[Courtesy of The American Medical Marijuana Association] Wednesday, June 4, 2008 AMMA calls for a new initiative for Mendocino by Steve Kubby, AMMA Director MENDOCINO, CA -- The passage of Measure B has generated widespread news coverage across the US. A lot of people are looking to the what happens in this haven for cannabis cultivation, as some sort of a national response to the increasing public acceptance of medical marijuana. With this in mind, the American Medical Marijuana Association is calling for a new initiative for the local Mendocino November Ballot to provide urgently needed protection for the rights of patients, caregivers and cooperatives to use and cultivation cannabis for medical purposes. In particular, the new initiative needs to have a civilian review board to oversee the operations of what appears to be rogue officers and officials in Mendocino, who hate medical marijuana and those who use it. Furthermore, to protect sick, disabled and dying patients, we believe it is absolutely necessary to legalize personal use and cultivation as well, since police, prosecutors and judges seem hopelessly unable to distinguish between medical and non-medical situations. Meanwhile, Mendocino law enforcement can now be expected to engage in a frenzy of raids and arrests, while the District Attorney's office will be just as enthusiastic about prosecuting felonies against any patient with 7 plants or more. We predict this will be a wake up call for the voters and they will be ready to support a return to the Measure G protection of their rights. The key to understanding why a new initiative is necessary and desirable is because Measure B passed with a mere 8,493 votes, while Measure G passed in 2000 with approximately 20,000 votes. That's because half as many people voted in this June election as in the November 2000 election. Since Mendocino is a traditionally Democratic stronghold, it seems reasonable to conclude that the November 2008 election will again see twice as many voters. We believe that those voters, after being harassed by law enforcement this summer, will be far more like to approve a new initiative to overturn Measure B and reinstate a modified Measure G type initiative. MEASURE B-Vote Analysis Total Votes for June 3, 2008 Election: 16,285 YES on B 8493 52.15% NO on B 7792 47.85% Difference between Yes and No vote 701 votes. =========== Total Votes for November 7, 2000 Election: 34,953 YES on G 58% NO on G 42% ###
Location: 
Mendocino, CA
United States

Marijuana Policy Project: Watch / listen to our ads in New York and Rhode Island

Dear friends:

Yesterday, MPP began airing this TV ad in New York State, urging concerned citizens to ask their state senators to make New York the 13th medical marijuana state.

The ad features Burton Aldrich, a quadriplegic father of five who relies on medical marijuana to control the excruciating pain and violent spasms related to his condition. In the ad, Aldrich says, "I don't know if I would be around if it wasn't for marijuana. It shouldn't be a crime to treat pain and suffering.”

The New York Assembly passed MPP's bill last June with a 95-52 vote, and now we need the state Senate to act before it adjourns on June 23. You can read media coverage of our campaign here.

As you may know, MPP is 100% dependent on financial help from supporters like you to keep this ad on the air over the next few weeks. If you support MPP's aggressive and effective campaigns to pass medical marijuana laws, would you please help today?

And last week, MPP began airing this radio ad in Rhode Island. You can listen here as medical marijuana patient George Des Roches asks, "Have you ever had a gun held at you to buy your medicine? I have, seven times." You can also see the Providence Journal's coverage of the ad here.

MPP passed a law protecting Rhode Island medical marijuana patients from arrest and jail in 2006. However, because some patients are unable to grow their own marijuana or to find a caregiver who can, they must risk buying marijuana on the criminal market. At least three, including George, have either had guns held at them or been mugged while trying to obtain medical marijuana on the streets.

The radio ad urges Rhode Islanders to pressure the Rhode Island House to pass legislation to allow three nonprofit organizations to dispense medical marijuana to registered patients. The Senate passed such legislation by a 29-6 vote on May 15 but — so far — the House has yet to take action.

The bill is supported by the state medical and nurses associations, as well as the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, the Rhode Island chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Rhode Island Office of the Public Defender, and — according to MPP's new poll — 69% of Rhode Island voters.

We're only able to press forward with ads like these with the financial support of our e-mail subscribers and other dues-paying members. Would you please help us keep these ads on the air by making a donation today?

Thank you,
Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $3.0 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2008. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

Reuters Should Stop Printing Mindless Anti-Pot Propaganda

No one other than the Drug Czar publishes more misleading headlines about marijuana than Reuters news service. Heck, the Drug Czar even gets his blogging ideas from them.

Via NORML, just look at these two recent Reuters headlines regarding recent marijuana research:

Heavy marijuana use shrinks brain parts

Marijuana may up heart attack, stroke risk


All of this sounds very disturbing, of course, but as is always the case with scary marijuana headlines, there turns out to be far more to the story and far less for marijuana users to worry about. In this case, both studies relied on small samples of obscenely heavy marijuana users (up to 350 joints per week!).

Let me be the first to concede that if someone smokes marijuana all day every day, there is something wrong with them. They may be treating a medical and/or psychological condition and their use may even be understandable under some unusual circumstance. But these are not the people we should study if we want to know the effects of marijuana. The lessons we learn from observing them won't apply to anyone but them.

Beyond all of that, neither of these studies even shows what the headline said. They just didn't. Sarah Baldauf at U.S. News & World Report helpfully points out that the "shrinking brain" study researchers didn't know what size the participants' brains were before initiating marijuana use. It's possible that people with a smaller hippocampus and amygdala are more likely to become compulsive marijuana users, and that the drug doesn’t change brain size at all. Brain size is also a deeply flawed measure of intelligence anyway. In sum, the story isn't news, it's nonsense.

As for the marijuana-heart disease link, the study didn’t address whether the subjects actually had heart disease. Its conclusions were based on heightened levels of a protein that's associated with heart disease. It means nothing, even if you leave aside the fact that the subjects of the study smoked an unbelievable 78-350 joints per week.

In fairness to Reuters, both stories included a strong counterpoint from MPP's Bruce Mirkin, arguing that the absurdly high marijuana consumption of the study participants rendered any conclusions meaningless. Nonetheless, we should not be grateful simply because a reformer got a quote in a story that should never have been published.

We could go on all day about bad things that marijuana "might cause," "could lead to," or "may be associated with," but none of that means a thing unless it's actually true. What is true, and will always be true, is that the war on marijuana users harms far more people than marijuana ever could.

Press Release: New York Patients Announce Medical Marijuana TV Ad Campaign

Gretchen Steele

For Release: June 3, 2008

Contact:
Bryan O’Malley, 518-455-4941 (office)/518-495-2181 (cellular)
Dan Bernath, MPP Assistant Director of Communications, 202-462-5747 ex. 115

New York Patients Announce Medical Marijuana TV Ad Campaign Legislation Would Protect Seriously Ill from Arrest, Jail

ALBANY, NEW YORK — Hoping to build support in Albany for legislation to protect seriously ill New Yorkers from arrest for using doctor-recommended medical marijuana, patients at a press conference today unveiled a new TV ad that begins airing today across the state. The bill has passed the Assembly, but has not been acted on in the state Senate.

The ad – available at mpp.org/NYads and http://youtube.com/watch?v=wARi35Jz2nM – features Kingston resident Burton Aldrich, a quadriplegic who relies on medical marijuana to control the excruciating pain and violent spasms related to his condition. In the ad, Aldrich says, "I don’t know if I would be around if it wasn’t for marijuana."

"I use medical marijuana with my doctors' support because I can't find anything that works as well with as few side effects," Aldrich said. "I have no choice but to break the law in order to find relief. That's wrong. I'm counting on the Senate to do the sensible, compassionate thing and make it right."

Bill sponsor Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried called on his Senate colleagues to finish the work the Assembly started last year when it passed a medical marijuana bill, 95-52.

"When the law says we must arrest sick and dying patients for seeking relief from debilitating pain, then it's time to change the law," the Assembly Health Committee chair said. "There’s no excuse for this cruel injustice."

Following the press conference, patients from across the state joined Aldrich to lobby senators to support medical marijuana legislation. Those lobbying included Bruce Dunn of Otsego County, who suffers chronic pain from a vehicle accident in 1988; Barbara Jackson, a cancer survivor from the Bronx who was arrested for using marijuana to treat dangerous appetite loss; and Richard Williams of Richmondville who has battled HIV for 20 years and also has hepatitis C.

With more than 23,000 members and 180,000 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 www.MarijuanaPolicy.org.

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Location: 
Albany, NY
United States

Press Release: New York Patients to Announce TV Ad Campaign, Urge Senate to Pass Medical Marijuana Law

Gretchen Steele
For Release: June 2, 2008

Contact:
Bryan O’Malley, 518-455-4941 (office) / 518-495-2181 (cellular)
Dan Bernath, MPP Assistant Director of Communications, 202-462-5747 ex. 115

**MEDIA ADVISORY** New York Patients to Announce TV Ad Campaign, Urge Senate to Pass Medical Marijuana Law

Patients with serious medical conditions from the across the state will join Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried (D, WF – Manhattan) to unveil a new TV ad campaign urging the Senate to pass medical marijuana legislation before its June 23 adjournment. Right after the press conference, patients with serious conditions will lobby their senators on the issue. Journalists are invited to follow along.

WHAT: Press conference to announce new TV ad campaign for New York's medical marijuana bill followed by "lobby day"

WHO: Scheduled participants include:

• Assembly Health Committee Chair and sponsor Richard N. Gottfried

• Burton Aldrich, a quadriplegic father of five from Kingston, featured in the ads

• Glenn Amandola, a retired New York City police officer who suffers from chronic pain and a seizure disorder after being injured on the job

• Bruce Dunn of Otsego County, who suffers chronic pain from a vehicle accident in 1988

• Fred McLaughlin, a multiple sclerosis patient from Long Island

• Barbara Jackson, a cancer survivor from the Bronx who was prosecuted for using marijuana to treat dangerous appetite loss

• Richard Williams of Richmondville who has battled HIV for 20 years and also has hepatitis C

WHEN: Tuesday, June 3 at 10:30 a.m.

WHERE: Room 823, Legislative Office Building, Albany

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Location: 
Albany, NY
United States

Drug War Issues

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