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Feature: 4/20 -- A Day for Celebration or a Day for Remonstration?

Over the past three decades, 4/20 has crept -- and then leapt -- into the public consciousness as the unofficial National Marijuana Day. While the origins and significance of 4/20 as a marijuana holiday are the subject of contention, the most commonly accepted version is the one enunciated by High Times editor Steve Hager. (See explanatory YouTube video here.) Hager explains that 4/20 began in 1971 as the code for a small group of San Rafael High School pot smokers who would gather after school at 4:20 to indulge in their vice.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/toledo-ssdp.jpg
student activist flyering during 2007 4/20 rally in Toledo, Ohio
Since then, 4/20 has mushroomed, embraced by countless marijuana enthusiasts as their special time of day, or, in the case of April 20, day of the year. What began as private celebrations of stoner togetherness have now morphed into sometimes massive public events hailing the herb, not to mention a whole industry of 4/20 paraphernalia makers and sellers. This year, as the topic of marijuana and marijuana law reform grows white hot (look for an article on that here next week), 4/20 celebrations garnered increased attendance and increased media attention. This year's 4/20 was probably the most recognized yet, with thousands of people gathering at places like the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of California at Santa Cruz to celebrate the weed and to express that celebration by publicly toking up in massive numbers.

But it wasn't just Boulder and Santa Cruz. 4/20 events took place across the land, with several thousand people gathering in Denver and another large crowd in San Francisco. In New York City, High Times threw in a party. In Oakland, medical marijuana advocates used the occasion to conduct a fundraiser. In Memphis, hundreds participated. In Saratoga Springs, New York, about 100 Skidmore College students celebrated. Similar accounts can be heard from campuses and communities across the land.

"It's a time for us to celebrate our pastime, I guess you could call it, or adult substance of choice," Richard Lee, president of Oaksterdam University, an Oakland trade school for cannabis club workers told the Associated Press. "It's like St. Patrick's Day is for drinkers."

It wasn't just pot heads acknowledging 4/20. The cable TV network G4 ran marijuana-friendly programming all day. The cable TV network Showtime used 4/20 to send out a mass email promoting its hit series "Weeds." 4/20 seems to have come into its own.

But while 4/20 is proving wildly popular with Cannabis Nation and enterprising entrepreneurs, it is not without its critics, and some of the themes they hit will be familiar to anyone who has followed movement debates about strategy and tactics. Does the spectacle of mass drug-taking and law-breaking help the movement? Malakkar Vorhyzek doesn't think so.

Vohryzek, the New York office coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, attacked the 4/20 celebrations in a same day blog post, In Opposition of 4/20 on 4/20. "How does it look, this annual celebration? Juvenile. Like our opponents to sensible drug policy have more sense than us. They celebrate their victories in real terms with a frame that makes it look like they're actually accomplishing something (when in fact, prohibition has failed by all measures). Their markers lead to more funding, more acceptance in political circles, more acceptance as an appropriate way to handle drugs in our society. The 4/20 celebrations, on the other hand, look imbecilic. Despite the miserable failure to radically alter the drug policy landscape, despite the hundreds of thousands of ruined lives from cannabis prohibition, these celebrations make those who appreciate or need cannabis look like people who are just happy to party," he continued.

While Vohryzek took pains to make it clear he supported ending drug prohibition, until the cannabis prisoners are freed, he said, "4/20 partying can go to hell." Instead of celebrating, Cannabis Nation should spend 4/20 "protesting the senseless policy of cannabis prohibition -- demanding amnesty, clemency and/or pardon to all cannabis 'offenders.' Once we achieve something like that, then celebrate."

"The 4/20 celebrations feed into a stoner stereotype that actually hurts us," said Vohryzek Wednesday, pointing to the inevitable front-page newspaper photos of very young people smoking pot in public. "Even when I was in the middle of my drug career, I didn't publicly celebrate it," said Vohryzek, whose drug career ended after he was sent to prison on LSD charges.

As a former drug war prisoner, said Vorhyzek, "I find it offensive that people are so set on celebration without paying any attention to all those people behind bars. I'm offended that people are celebrating while prohibition is still in place. What do you think people in prison or treatment think watching these events? We need to combine these 4/20 events with protests to say we won't celebrate while there are still people in jail."

Vohryzek also criticized the 4/20 events as "privileged" and "sending the wrong message." "We shouldn't be encouraging drug use of any kind," he said. "You don't have national meth snorting day. There is also a racial dynamic. Smoking marijuana is protected by privilege, whether it's skin color or a certain amount of money in the bank, so there is a sort of discriminatory aspect to it. You don't have 4/20 in the hood because the cops would be cracking down. 4/20 happens in white suburbs or college campuses, where privilege protects the participants," he said.

Bruce Mirken is communications director for the besuited Marijuana Policy Project. "We don't do 4/20 parties because we think there is a lot of value in letting people see the non-stereotypical side of our movement," he said. "I still have to handle way too many pot and stoner jokes."

Still, said Mirken, there is room in the big tent for everybody. "We are a large and mixed movement, and becoming larger every day as people come out of the closet. That's a healthy thing. I have a long history in other movements where there have been similar debates, and I've always been resistant to trying to censor anybody. I think we should let the world see the multitudes of folks who either use marijuana or think the laws need to be changed, but at the same time, if you're going to a public event, it wouldn't hurt to think about the possibility you'll end up on the evening news. Are you going to show up in a way that helps people understand and advance the issue or not?"

Colorado-based activist Mason Tvert of SAFER said his attitude toward 4/20 events was changing. "I've long held that these things aren't necessarily helpful," he said. "They may be counterproductive in terms of media coverage; in many cases, they send the message that marijuana smokers are irresponsible, that they're openly breaking the law."

But the event in Denver this week and the attention it garnered signals a change, he said. "I've had a shift in my attitude that I think reflects a shift in public attitude," Tvert said. "The headline in the Denver Post was 'Peaceful Pot Party at Civic Center,' and I was quoted about police just standing around with nothing to do. No incidents, no arrests, no injuries. If those cops were at a University of Colorado football game with all the drinking, they'd be in riot gear."

Tvert took issue with Vohryzek's characterization of 4/20 participants as "privileged." "Here in Denver, the majority of people out there were black and Hispanic youth, not upper class white kids at all. That skin privilege argument just wasn't the case at all in Denver."

There is also a certain hypocrisy about getting upset over people using marijuana in public, said Tvert. "This may not be the best image for our cause, but keep in mind there are public drinking events all the time and keep in mind that 4/20 is safer than any alcohol-fueled sporting event or party. We have to highlight the positive, safe, peaceful side of these events. Just compare Hemp Fest with Mardi Gras."

Even if movement leaders in all their wisdom decided that events like 4/20 are bad for the movement, they're not going away, said Tvert. "Here in Denver, people have been gathering to celebrate 4/20 for years. They're going to happen whether SAFER or DPA or MPP likes it or not. Our job is to figure out how to harness that energy. We have hundreds of people signing up to get involved at these events, and that's a good thing."

And that is probably the most sensible approach to the annual celebration of the marijuana subculture. It is a true grassroots phenomenon, percolating up from communities and campuses across the land like so much bubbling bong water, and now it seems to be breaking into the mainstream, too. 4/20 may not be the ideal face for the marijuana law reform movement, but it is the face of many of the people the movement claims to serve.

Canada: Victory for Patients as Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Government's Medical Marijuana Appeal

The Canadian federal government's monopoly over medical marijuana production is now officially history. The Canadian Supreme Court Thursday refused to hear a government appeal of two earlier lower court decisions annulling Health Canada's Medicinal Marijuana Access Regulations.

Under the government regulations, only a monopoly contractor growing marijuana in Flin Flon, Alberta, could supply medicine for more than one patient. Registered patients could grow their own or have a caregiver grow for them, but that caregiver could grow for only one patient.

Canadian medical marijuana patients and providers have chafed under the regulations for years. They complained that the Flin Flon marijuana was substandard in quality and that the regulations effectively criminalized co-ops and collective dispensaries growing for a community of patients.

"This type of litigation, which was challenging the restrictive nature of the government program, started in 2002," said lawyer Alan Young. "It's taken seven years for this resolution, and finally Health Canada has their marching orders. Now it's a question of whether we can compel this department to actually do what the courts have said they should do, which is provide compassionate access to people," he told the Canadian Press.

A federal court judge in British Columbia declared the Medicinal Marijuana Access Regulations invalid in January 2008, echoing the earlier decision of the Ontario Court of Appeals. The government was trying to appeal both decisions.

Now, Canada's medical marijuana providing community should flourish, Young said. "Hopefully some very good cultivators will be supplying medicine to sick people, and Health Canada can then monitor it in a very effective way. That's what I've been telling them for eight years."

Medical Marijuana: New Hampshire Bill Heads for Final Legislative Vote

The New Hampshire medical marijuana bill is headed for a Senate floor vote after passing out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a 4-1 vote Thursday afternoon. The bill has already passed the House.

The bill would allow seriously ill patients to possess up to six marijuana plants, six seeds, and two ounces of marijuana. Patients must be certified by a physician as having a debilitating condition that would benefit from the use of marijuana.

Responding to concerns by Gov. John Lynch about how distribution would be controlled, the Senate committee decided to postpone settling distribution questions until after the bill is passed. The committee accepted an amendment that would create a panel to study "issues related to creating a statewide system for the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana." That panel would issue a report by May 1, 2010.

The measure is expected to have a Senate floor vote next week.

Sentencing Postponed in the Charlie Lynch Trial


I spent all afternoon getting geared up to go ballistic over this, only to learn that nothing happened:
The sentencing of Morro Bay, California medical marijuana dispensary owner Charles Lynch has been delayed yet again, this time until June 11. According to Reason.tv producer Ted Balaker, who has followed the Lynch saga from its start, the mood in the courtroom was guardedly optimistic, especially as Judge George H. Wu openly expressed his sympathy for Lynch.

"To be blunt, if I could find a way out, I would," said Wu, referring to mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that insist Lynch get at least five years in prison. However, Wu summarily dismissed the notion of disregarding the guidelines, claiming it would simply be a "monumental waste of time" because such a decision would be overruled by a higher court. [Reason]
I'm not sure what this postponement means. It's definitely not a bad thing, though. If nothing else, it gives us more time to contact DOJ and the White House in support of Charlie. Please do exactly that. Here's some background for those that need it:



Opposing Medical Marijuana is Politically Risky

This new poll from New Hampshire casts further doubt on the rapidly unraveling notion that politicians must support harsh marijuana policies to get votes:

The Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center showed that 45 percent of residents said they were more likely to vote for a Senate candidate who supports legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The poll showed that 24 percent of residents said they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate. Another 26 percent said it would make no difference. [WMUR]

Clearly, supporting medical marijuana legalization is by far the safest choice for New Hampshire politicians. The margins are likely smaller in many states, but I bet you'd see a clear preference for pro-medical marijuana candidates throughout most of the country.

It's exactly this type of data that matters at this stage in our efforts. We've crossed a threshold in terms of educating our political culture about this issue. They know who we are and what we want. Our biggest challenge is demonstrating that political trends in fact favor reform decisively on certain issues and that opposition to something like medical marijuana will fairly reliably get you in trouble at the polls.

The numbers are already on our side, but I suspect we'll have to start being more aggressive to drive the point home. When we start launching vicious swiftboat-style attack ads accusing our opponents of wanting to arrest cancer patients, they'll suddenly become a lot more interested in what the polls say.

Happy Birthday ASA!

 

Happy Birthday ASA!

Hello ASA Supporter,

Seven years ago a handful of patients, doctors, and providers came together to stand up against federal intimidation and to chart out a plan for protecting safe access to medical cannabis. Today, we have turned that handful into thousands of committed advocates across the country. Through ASA we have built a strong, engaged movement.

Please donate $100 to ASA today to support this growing movement!

As a movement we have celebrated countless victories in the realm of access and extended patient protections. As a movement we have mourned together as our brothers and sisters left us. And as a movement we have shouted and protested the sight of our friends and family being harassed, detained, persecuted and jailed.

I have been truly amazed and touched by the family that has come together to fight for safe and legal access. Over the past seven years I have had the honor of meeting many of you. I have listened to story after story about the benefits that medical cannabis has brought to you and your loved ones. I have listened to countless stories about the hardships of lack of access and police harassment. And what is truly amazing is that in each of those stories you have also shared the inspiration of your willingness to stand up for yourself and those around you.

I carry those stories with me, as does the ASA staff. Your experiences define the work we do and the manner in which we do it.

We have already accomplished so much together. Our successful lobbying, media and legal campaigns have resulted in important court precedents, new sentencing standards, and more compassionate community guidelines. Together we have rolled back public ambivalence and media bias to make medical cannabis a national issue.

Now the time has come to ramp up our work - we have an administration that is open to moving safe access forward, and now we must show our strength and share our vision. This is ASA's most important year and we need your support to move forward. Opportunity is there but we must Engage for Change! Please donate $100 today to support ASA's work this year and beyond.

Happy B-Day ASA family!

Yours truly,


Steph Sherer
Executive Director
Americans for Safe Access


Americans for Safe Access is the nation's largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research.

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Press Release: Will Charles C. Lynch Be the Last to Go to Federal Prison For a Misguided Policy?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
APRIL 22, 2009

Will Charles C. Lynch Be the Last to Go to Federal Prison For a Misguided Policy?
Advocates Call For Leniency in the Name of Justice

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

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA -- The Marijuana Policy Project is calling for leniency in Thursday's federal court sentencing of Charles C. Lynch, a California medical marijuana provider who worked scrupulously to follow state and local laws but now faces five years in federal prison. MPP officials will be available by phone for comment after the sentencing, scheduled for 3 p.m. at the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

     In February, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that henceforth the Drug Enforcement Administration would only conduct enforcement actions against medical marijuana defendants who were violating both state and federal law, reversing the Bush administration's policy of ignoring state medical marijuana laws. But Holder did not indicate whether this change would affect handling of older, leftover cases such as that of Lynch, who was convicted last year. 

     "We can't help but wonder if Mr. Lynch will be the last American to go to federal prison for a mistake, the final victim of bad policy that has been repudiated but whose mean-spirited effects still linger," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. "Putting Mr. Lynch in prison would be a cruel and pointless miscarriage of justice. At a time when federal law enforcement at the Mexican border is so overwhelmed that traffickers coming through with up to 500 pounds of marijuana are let go, even one more hour spent persecuting Mr. Lynch is an outrageous waste of resources."

     "Mr. Lynch's medical marijuana collective was licensed by the city of Morrow Bay, and officials routinely inspected the facility for compliance with state and local laws," said MPP California policy director Aaron Smith. "Because federal law still makes no statutory allowance for medical marijuana, any discussion of California's medical marijuana law was explicitly barred from his trial. In the interest of fairness, the judge should follow the example of Judge Charles Breyer in the 2003 case of Ed Rosenthal, and issue a token, one-day sentence. Charles Lynch is simply not a criminal in any rational sense of the term."

     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: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

Wow, These 4/20 Celebrations Are Surprisingly Safe

Actually, I'm not very surprised. But this should come as a shock to anyone who thinks we need cops to protect us from the dangers of marijuana:
SANTA CRUZ -- The phrase "getting baked" took on a dual meaning Monday for several thousand marijuana enthusiasts who braved record-breaking heat to smoke up at the annual 4/20 party in Porter Meadow at UC Santa Cruz.

Despite the 96-degree heat, which shattered a 110-year-old record of 88 degrees for the day, there were no medical incidents reported. [San Jose Mercury News]
There were also no reported incidents of anyone stealing from their little sister, or getting straight D's, or leaving their ex-girlfriend 27 messages, or making their mother cry, and other stuff like that…



Obama's Fraudulent Pledge to Respect Medical Marijuana Laws

The legal plight of medical marijuana provider Charlie Lynch has provided a useful instrument with which to measure the new administration's commitment to respecting state medical marijuana laws. Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that only cases involving violation of state laws will be pursued, prompting the judge in Lynch's trial to request guidance from the Dept. of Justice before handing down the sentence. Here's what came back:

…in response to the Court's inquiries, the Office of the Deputy Attorney General has reviewed the facts of this case and determined that the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of defendant are entirely consistent with the policies of DOJ and with public statements made by the Attorney General with respect to marijuana prosecutions.

Huh!? That can only be true if Lynch violated California's medical marijuana laws, which hasn't been proven in court (he was only charged under federal law), and is entirely inconsistent with his well-documented cooperation with local authorities including the city council and chamber of commerce.

Charlie Lynch is exactly the sort of defendant we aren't supposed to be seeing anymore under Obama, and yet here he is, scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday and the new administration won't lift a finger to stop it. He'll likely receive a 5-year mandatory minimum for doing something the President has repeatedly said would not be prosecuted under his administration. It's just that simple.

On Thursday, we'll find out exactly how much Obama's campaign promises were worth. This won't go down quietly. Stay tuned.

Media Advisory -- DOJ: Policy Statements on Medical Marijuana Don't Affect Federal Sentencing 4/23

MEDIA ADVISORY Americans for Safe Access For Immediate Release: April 21, 2009 DOJ: Policy Statements on Medical Marijuana Don't Affect Federal Sentencing Advocacy group to argue at 4/23 sentencing hearing that Lynch did not violate state law Los Angeles, CA -- Legal counsel for the advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access (ASA) will appear on behalf of Charles C. Lynch at his federal sentencing hearing on Thursday, April 23rd to challenge the federal government's claim of state law violations. Even though defendants are prevented from using a medical marijuana defense in federal court, they can argue state law compliance at sentencing. ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford will argue that Lynch in no way violated state law, something that U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien has alleged in his sentencing recommendations. At Lynch's previously scheduled sentencing hearing on March 23rd, federal district court Judge George H. Wu asked for written clarification from the U.S. Attorney General as to whether recent statements by that office would impact Lynch's sentencing. In a brief filed Friday, U.S. Attorney O'Brien stated that "the Deputy Attorney General has reviewed the facts of this case and determined that the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of defendant are entirely consistent with the policies of DOJ and with public statements made by the Attorney General with respect to marijuana prosecutions." Lynch's sentencing, which was originally postponed until April 30th, was changed by Judge Wu to April 23rd. What: Sentencing hearing for Charles C. Lynch at which state law compliance will be argued by Chief Counsel for medical marijuana advocates Americans for Safe Access When: Thursday, April 23rd at 10:30 a.m. Where: Los Angeles Federal Court, 312 N. Spring Street, Courtroom 10 "It's bad enough that the Justice Department is accusing Lynch of violating state law in order to sentence him in federal court," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. "But, there is not even any evidence that state law was violated." Despite a March 2008 public statement by then-Senator Obama that he was "not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws" on medical marijuana, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has since stated that the DOJ would still "go after those people who violate both federal and state law." Advocates contend that the federal government should not even be prosecuting violations of state medical marijuana law. "It's disingenuous to accuse people of state law violations and then prosecute them under federal law, thereby denying them an adequate defense in federal court," continued Elford. Because of the June 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich, federal medical marijuana defendants are prohibited from entering evidence related to medical marijuana or their compliance with local and state laws. With more than two dozen pending federal medical marijuana cases, advocates are demanding that the government cease prosecutions or remove them to state court where evidence can properly be heard. Defense attorneys are seeking time served for Lynch, but he faces a mandatory minimum of 6 years and the possibility of up to 20 years in federal prison. Before his medical marijuana dispensary was raided by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in March of 2007, Lynch had operated for 11 months without incident, and with the blessing of the Morro Bay City Council, the local Chamber of Commerce, and other community members. Two months after Lynch closed his dispensary, Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, he was indicted and charged with conspiracy to possess and possession with intent to distribute marijuana and concentrated cannabis, manufacturing more than 100 plants, knowingly maintaining a drug premises, and sales of marijuana to a person under the age of 21. None of the federal charges constitute violations of local or state law. Further information: DOJ Response to Judge Wu's request for clarification: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/DOJ_Lynch_Response.pdf Charles C. Lynch Interview with John Stossel: http://www.friendsofccl.com/johnstossel.htm Friends of Charles C. Lynch website: http://www.friendsofccl.com # # #
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States

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