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Medical Marijuana: Oakland Voters Approve Medical Marijuana Dispensary Tax

Voters in Oakland, California, approved by a wide margin a measure to tax medical marijuana sold at the city's four dispensaries. The measure is the first in the country to impose a special tax on medical marijuana.

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Oaksterdam University, school for persons interested in the legal marijuana business
The special tax was supported by the city's medical marijuana community, led by Oaksterdam University head and Coffeeshop Blue Sky owner Richard Lee. Lee and other supporters, including city council members, said the dispensaries wanted to do their part to help the city during economic hard times.

The all mail-in vote took place during the one-month period beginning June 22, and the votes were being counted Tuesday night. According to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, the ballot measure, known as Measure F, passed with 80% of the vote.

The measure creates a special business tax rate on dispensaries of $18 for every $1,000 in gross sales and is expected to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the city. Currently, the dispensaries are paying the same business tax rate as any other retail business in the city, $1.20 per $1,000. The measure will take effect on January 1.

The measure was part of a package of revenue measures before Oakland voters. All passed, but none by as large a margin as Measure F. That's just the latest sign of acceptance of marijuana in a very pot-friendly city. In 2004, voters there approved a measure requiring police to make arresting adults for small-time pot offenses their lowest priority.

"Oakland voters know a good idea when they see one," said Laura Thomas, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Once again, Oakland voters are ahead of the curve and we hope the rest of the state will follow their lead. The politicians need to listen to the wisdom of the voters. Taxing medical marijuana is a no brainer and fiscally makes sense for a cash-strapped state like California. But this is the tip of the iceberg," added Thomas. "Once Californians see the benefits of taxing and regulating medical marijuana in Oakland, the next logical step is to tax and regulate all marijuana revenue across the state."

Marijuana: Cook County Board Passes Decriminalization Ordinance, But Veto Possibility Looms

The Cook County (greater Chicago) Board Tuesday night passed a measure decriminalizing the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana, but it is unclear if Board President Todd Stroger will allow it to take effect. He told the Chicago Tribune that he wasn't ready to commit one way or another.

Under the ordinance, police officers would have the ability to issue a ticket with a $200 fine rather than making an arrest and filing criminal charges. If enacted, the ordinance would at first apply only to those unincorporated areas of the county where the commission is in charge. But the move would give municipal police forces within the county, including Chicago, the option to adopt decriminalization as well.

"Why bog down the courts with that kind of thing when we can just charge them a little fine instead?" said Commissioner Earlean Collins, chief sponsor of the measure, who added that her grandson had been arrested and jailed for a small amount of marijuana. "That's what this ordinance in the state allows us to do, to charge them a little fine, and then we will collect the fine rather than them charging them, taking them to the jail lockup, having them the next morning show up in court, and then bogging down the system, and they take the fine," she said.

"Lots of college towns do this," said Commissioner Bill Beavers. "We're just catching up to the 21st century."

Unsurprisingly, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart thought the move was premature. "It should be looked at, but as far as decriminalizing it, there needs to be a real thorough debate before people go down that road as far as what A, scientifically what information shows, but then B, what prosecutorially have been done with the cases," Dart said.

But Board President Stroger was initally coy about his possible veto plans. "I don't know. I wasn't paying enough attention to it. I'll find out about it later," Stroger said. "I can't comment on it."

By Wednesday morning, though, Stogner told local radio host Greg Jarrett he didn't think it was a good idea. "I'm not really an advocate of trying to decriminalize the drug that people start before they move on to the higher stuff," echoing the discredited "gateway theory" that marijuana use leads to harder drug use.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was equally coy when asked about the ordinance Wednesday. "We just had a ban on smoking. People say you can't smoke, they said, 'Please don't smoke.' And now everyone's saying, 'Let's all smoke marijuana.' I mean, after a while you wonder where America's going to," Daley said. But when asked directly whether he was against the ordinance, Daley waffled. The issue is "really clouded," he said, declining to stake out a position.

That's something of a retreat for Mayor Daley. Just a few years ago, he supported decriminalization in Chicago, saying most minor pot cases were thrown out. "If 99 percent of the cases are thrown out and we have police officers going to court, why?" Daley asked then. "It costs you a lot of money for police officers to go to court... You have to look at that... proposal."

But Board President Stoger is the man with the power to kill the ordinance, not Daley. If he does veto the measure, it will be tough to override. Under board rules, it takes 14 votes on the 18-person council to override. The measure did not pass by that great a margin.

Feature: Winds of Change Are Blowing in Washington -- Drug Reforms Finally Move in Congress

Update:Needle exchange legislation was passed by the full House of Representatives on Friday afternoon.

What a difference a change of administration makes. After eight years of almost no progress during the Bush administration, drug reform is on the agenda at the Capitol, and various reform bills are moving forward. With Democrats firmly in control of both the Senate and the House, as well as the White House, 2009 could be the year the federal drug policy logjam begins to break apart.

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US Capitol, Senate side
While most of the country's and the Congress's attention is focused on health care reform and the economic crisis, congressional committees are slowly working their way through a number of drug reform issues. Here's some of what's going on:

  • A bill that would eliminate the notorious sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine by removing all references to crack from the federal law and sentencing all offenders under the current powder cocaine sentencing scheme passed its first subcommittee test on Wednesday. This one was bipartisan -- the vote was unanimous. (See related story here)
  • The ban on federal funding for needle exchanges has been repealed by the House Appropriations Committee, although current legislation includes language barring exchanges within 1,000 feet of schools. Advocates hope that will be removed in conference committee. (Update:Needle exchange legislation was passed by the full House of Representatives on Friday afternoon.)
  • The Barr amendment, which blocked the District of Columbia from implementing a voter-approved medical marijuana law, has been repealed by the House.
  • Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank's marijuana decriminalization bill has already picked up more cosponsors in a few weeks this year than it did in all of last year.
  • Virginia Sen. Jim Webb's bill to create a national commission on criminal justice policy is winning broad support.
  • The Higher Education Act (HEA) drug provision (more recently known as the "Aid Elimination Penalty"), which creates obstacles in obtaining student loans for students with drug convictions, is being watered down. The House Education and Labor Committee Wednesday approved legislation that would limit the provision to students convicted of drug sales and eliminate it for students whose only offense was drug possession. (See related story here.)
  • The "Safe and Drug Free Schools Act" funding has been dramatically slashed in the Obama administration 2010 budget.
  • Funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy's youth media anti-drug campaign has been dramatically slashed by the House, which also instructed ONDCP to use the remaining funds only for ads aimed at getting parents to talk to kids.

"All the stars are now aligned on all these issues," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "I've never felt so optimistic about drug policy reform in DC."

Looking into his crystal ball, Piper is making predictions of significant progress this year. "I have a strong sense that the Barr amendment and the syringe funding ban will be eliminated this year. The Webb bill will probably be law by December. There's a good chance that HEA reform and the crack sentencing reform will be, too. If not, we'll get them done next year," he said.

"Things are heating up like I've never seen before," Piper exclaimed. "It's like a snowball rolling downhill. The more reforms get enacted, the more comfortable lawmakers will be about even more. Cumulatively, these bills represent a significant rollback in the drug war as we know it."

Former House Judiciary committee counsel Eric Sterling, now head of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, was a bit more restrained. Congress is just beginning to come around, and there are dangers ahead, he said.

"We're seeing windows being opened where we can feel the first breezes of spring, but it's not summer yet," Sterling said. "There are people asking questions about drug policy more broadly, there is more openness on Capitol Hill to thinking differently. Liberals are not as afraid they will be attacked by the administration. The climate is changing, but my sense is we're still at the stage where members of Congress are only beginning to take their shoes off to put their toes in the water."

What progress is being made could be derailed by declining popularity of Democrats, the drug reform movement's failure to create sufficient cultural change and a stronger social base to support political change, and the return of old-style "tough on drugs" politics, Sterling warned.

"People need to be aware that as unemployment continues to rise, Democrats will be feeling afraid of repercussions at the polls," he said. "If the economic stimulus does not seem to be generating jobs, if there is a widespread sense of trouble in the country, the drug issue can easily be recast as a bogeyman to distract people. Members of Congress could start talking again about 'fighting to help protect your families.' Those old ways of thinking and talking about these issues are by no means gone," Sterling argued.

That is why he is concerned about building a social base to support and maintain drug reform. "The drug reform movement needs to create cultural change to support political change, and I fear we haven't done enough of that," he worried.

Sterling also warned of a possible reprise of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the emergence of a parents' anti-drug movement helped knock drug reform off the agenda for nearly a quarter-century. The administration's effort to defund the Safe and Drug Free Schools Act in particular could spark renewed concern and even a reinvigorated anti-drug mobilization, he said.

"The administration says the Safe and Drug Free Schools program hasn't demonstrated its effectiveness and grant funds are spread too thin to support quality interventions, which may well be true," he said. "But little dribs and drabs of that get spread around the states, and that means a lot of people could be mobilized to fight back. The parents' community and prevention professionals will mobilize around these issues with renewed vigor," he predicted.

The Wild West show that is California's marijuana reality could also energize the anti-reform faction, Sterling said. "For those of us outside California, it's hard to fathom what's going on there. I don't think anyone back East can imagine a dispensary operating every quarter-mile along Connecticut Avenue," he explained. "I ask myself if this is growing in a way that could create a potential powerful reaction like we saw in the 1970s. There has already been a smattering of stories about marijuana use in school by patients. Will there be exposés next fall about medical marijuana getting into the schools, kids getting stoned? People in the movement have to be aware that very real and powerful emotions can be unleashed by these changes," he warned.

Still, "momentum is on our side," Piper said. "Webb's bill has bipartisan support, the sentencing stuff is taking off in a bipartisan way, and the crack bill has the support of the president, the vice-president, the Justice Department, and some important Senate Republicans. That's probably the steepest hill to climb, but I think we're going to do it."

These are all domestic drug policy issues, but drug policy affects foreign policy as well, and there, too, there has been some significant change -- as well as significant continuity in prohibitionist policies. And that situation is exposing some significant contradictions. Here, it is the Obama administration taking the lead, not Congress. The Obama administration has rejected crop eradication as a failure in Afghanistan, yet remains wedded to it in Colombia, and it has embraced the Bush administration's anti-drug Plan Merida assistance package to Mexico.

"The really exciting thing is Afghanistan and special envoy Richard Holbrooke's ending of eradication there," said Sanho Tree, drug policy analyst for the Institute for Policy Studies. "That's huge, and it has repercussions for the Western Hemisphere as well. The US can't have two completely divergent policies on source country eradication. On Latin America, I suspect there is a power struggle going on between the drug warriors and the Holbrooke faction. We need a Holbrooke for Latin America," he said.

The media spotlight on Mexico's plague of prohibition-related violence may be playing a role, too, said Sterling. "The mayhem in Mexico certainly created a lot of thinking about how to do things differently earlier this year," he noted. "The media climate has changed, and perhaps that's more important at this stage than the climate inside the Beltway."

But the Mexico issue could cut against reform, too, he suggested. "Where is all that marijuana in California coming from?" he asked. "If someone can make the case that Mexican drug cartels are supplying the medical marijuana market there, that could get very ugly."

As the August recess draws nigh, no piece of drug reform legislation has made it to the president's desk. But this year, for the first time in a long time, it looks like some may. There are potential minefields ahead, and it's too early to declare victory just yet. But keep that champagne nicely chilled; we may be popping some corks before the year is over.

ONDCP: Drug Czar Again Reveals Shocking Gap in Vocabulary, Knowledge Base

In Fresno, California, Wednesday to witness a massive marijuana eradication bust, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Gil Kerlikowske once again revealed a startling gap in his vocabulary. Kerlikowske claimed not to know a word that should be de rigeur in any drug policy debate, and he claimed the president was unaware of it, too.

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Gil Kerlikowske
"Legalization is not in the president's vocabulary, and it's not in mine," he admitted to the Fresno Bee.

It's not the first time Kerlikowske has relied on that trope. In fact, it appears to be one of his favorite stock phrases.

Not content with displaying his lack of vocabulary, Kerlikowske went on to display an equally stunning lack of knowledge about the emerging consensus on the myriad medicinal uses of marijuana. "Marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit," he said, ignoring an ever-growing pile of research finding just the opposite.

Obama's Drug Czar Says Marijuana Is Dangerous and Isn't Medicine

For the first time since taking office, Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske has worked up the nerve to make a definitive statement about why he thinks marijuana is bad:

The nation's drug czar, who viewed a foothill marijuana farm on U.S. Forest Service land with state and local officials earlier Wednesday, said the federal government will not support legalizing marijuana.

"Marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit," Kerlikowske said in downtown Fresno while discussing Operation SOS -- Save Our Sierra -- a multiagency effort to eradicate marijuana in eastern Fresno County. [Fresno Bee]

After having declined for months to actually engage the marijuana debate, it looks like someone finally sat Kerlikowske down and explained that if he's serious about being drug czar, he's gotta start lying and trying to scare people. And as you can see, he sucks at that.

Still, his statement that marijuana has no medical value is surprising, not only because it's just false, but also because he serves at the pleasure of a president who has ordered an end to federal interference with state medical marijuana laws. There's a conflict here that's difficult to reconcile and I hope the press will push the administration for some clarification as to whether the president stands by this statement. It's not the position Obama's taken previously, nor does the current political climate look favorably upon this sort of antiquated anti-pot propaganda.

I shudder to think where Kerlikowske is going with this, but regardless of his present agenda, he should be cautioned against adopting the rhetoric of his widely discredited predecessor. Unfortunately, until the drug czar's office is no longer mandated by law to oppose legalization in any form, we can expect more of this nonsense from anyone who bears the drug czar title. In the meantime, I agree with Pete Guither that this guy is a riot.

Obama's drug czar declares marijuana has no medical value

[Courtesy of MPP] 

Dear friends:

“Marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit.”
— White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, at a Fresno, Calif., press conference yesterday

Not again.

In fact — and it's getting a little tiresome to keep repeating it — the esteemed Institute of Medicine, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, American Academy of HIV Medicine, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Lymphoma Foundation of America, American Academy of HIV Medicine, and dozens of other medical organizations recognize marijuana's medical value.

What's more, President Obama's own statements on the campaign trail about marijuana's medical efficacy run counter to his new drug czar's statements yesterday. 

We need to stop this in its tracks. Would you please speak out against this ridiculous, outdated argument:

1. Please use MPP's online action center to e-mail the president about the drug czar's statement.

2. Please call the drug czar's office at (202) 395-6700 to politely complain that we're still hearing this sort of nonsense.

We need to make sure the drug czar receives the message loud and clear that the anti-science Bush era is over.

Thank you,

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 $2.35 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2009. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

Press Release: Congress and Obama Administration Embrace Major Drug Policy Reform

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 22, 2009 CONTACT: Bill Piper at 202-669-6430 or Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 Congress and Obama Administration Embrace Major Drug Policy Reform Crack/Powder Disparity, Syringe Exchange Funding, Medical Marijuana, HEA Reform All Advancing Decades of Harsh and Ineffective Federal Laws Likely to be Dismantled this Year At least four of the worst excesses of the federal war on drugs appear likely to be rolled back this year – the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, the federal ban on the funding of syringe exchange programs, the all-out federal war on medical marijuana, and the HEA AID Elimination Penalty. All four reforms are advancing quickly in Congress. “Policymakers from the President of the United States on down are calling for a paradigm shift so drug use is treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, repealing the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs to reduce HIV/AIDS, allowing the District of Columbia to move forward with medical marijuana, and reforming the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty are all examples of pairing action with rhetoric.” The House Crime Subcommittee is expected to pass legislation today eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity that punishes crack cocaine offenses one hundred times more severely than powder cocaine offenses. Both President Obama and Vice-President Biden have spoken in support of eliminating the disparity. In numerous statements this year, Justice Department officials have called on Congress to eliminate the disparity this year. Last week, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee repealed the 20-year ban prohibiting states from spending their share of HIV/AIDS prevention money on syringe exchanges program to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases. The full U.S. House takes up the underlying bill later this week. The ban is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. If the ban is not repealed, as many as 300,000 Americans could contract HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C over the next decade. President Obama called for elimination of the ban on the campaign trail. In legislation last week, the U.S. House repealed a provision of federal law that overturned a medical marijuana law approved by Washington, DC voters, setting the stage for the nation’s capital to make marijuana available to cancer, AIDS, and other patients, possibly as soon as next year. Earlier this year Attorney General Eric Holder declared that the Justice Department would no longer arrest medical marijuana patients, caregivers and providers, even if they violated federal law, as long as they were following the laws of their states. 13 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, but the Bush Administration raided medical marijuana dispensaries and made numerous arrests and prosecutions. In a vote yesterday, the House Education and Labor Committee reformed the HEA AID Elimination Penalty that denies loans and other financial assistance to students convicted of drug law offenses, including simple marijuana possession. Since 1998, more than 180,000 students have lost aid and many, no doubt, have been forced to drop out of college. Although the Obama Administration has not stated where it stands on the underlying law, it has said it wants to remove a question from financial aid applications that ask students if they have ever been convicted of a drug crime. In other drug policy news, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Rep. Ron Paul (R- Texas) have introduced bi-partisan legislation to decriminalize possession of marijuana for personal use. Sen. Jim Webb, D-VA, President Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, has introduced bipartisan legislation to create a national commission to study the U.S. criminal justice system and make recommendations on how to reduce the number of Americans behind bars, with a particular emphasis on reforming drug laws. Almost a third of U.S. Senators are cosponsors of the bipartisan bill and it is expected to pass the Senate sometime this year. “The ice is starting to crack,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The decades of harsh and ineffective laws that have led to overstuffed prisons and a growing HIV epidemic are starting to be challenged and hopefully soon dismantled.” ###

Press Release: Oakland Voters Approve Taxing Cannabis Dispensaries

[Courtesy of DPA] FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 22, 2009 CONTACT: Laura Thomas at (415) 283-6366 or Tommy McDonald at (510) 229-5215 Oakland Voters Approve Taxing Cannabis Dispensaries; Measure Expected to Produce $300,000 Annual Revenue for Essential Services DPA Congratulates Oakland Voters on Passing Medical Cannabis Revenue Measure, Expects other Cities to Follow Efforts to tax cannabis to generate revenue for California’s sagging coffers received a boost last night as Oakland voters approved Measure F by 80 percent Measure F adds a 1.8 percent gross receipts tax to medical cannabis dispensaries, producing nearly $300,000 in annual revenue. Early returns showed Measure F passing by the largest margin of all of the revenue measures on Tuesday’s ballot. The tax will go into effect in January 2010. “Oakland voters know a good idea when they see one,” said Laura Thomas, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Once again, Oakland voters are ahead of the curve and we hope the rest of the state will follow their lead. The politicians need to listen to the wisdom of the voters.” Medical cannabis dispensaries in Los Angeles and other communities also are pushing for new taxes, and should be recognized as a revenue source. Dispensaries already contribute payroll taxes, sales taxes, and licensing and other fees to government coffers. Marijuana sales have the potential to raise millions for California if regulated and taxed. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano introduced a bill (AB 390) where California would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. Recent estimates from the state Board of Equalization showed a possible $1.4 billion annual revenue stream. “Taxing medical marijuana is a no brainer and fiscally makes sense for a cash-strapped state like California. But this is the tip of the iceberg,” added Thomas. “Once Californians see the benefits of taxing and regulating medical marijuana in Oakland, the next logical step is to tax and regulate all marijuana revenue across the state.”
Location: 
Oakland, CA
United States

Tax Us: Oakland Voters Approve Medical Marijuana Dispensary Tax -- Dispensaries Supported It

Drug War Chronicle Voters in Oakland, California, approved by a wide margin a measure to tax medical marijuana sold at the city's four dispensaries. The measure is the first in the country to impose a special tax on medical marijuana. The special tax was supported by the city's medical marijuana community, led by Oaksterdam University head and Coffeeshop Blue Sky owner Richard Lee. Lee and other supporters, including city council members, said the dispensaries wanted to do their part to help the city during economic hard times. The all mail-in vote took place during the one-month period beginning June 22, and the votes were being counted Tuesday night. According to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, as of 8:00pm Tuesday, the ballot measure, known as Measure F, was winning with 79.9% of the vote. The measure creates a special business tax rate on dispensaries of $18 for every $1,000 in gross sales and is expected to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the city. Currently, the dispensaries are paying the same business tax rate as any other retail business in the city, $1.20 per $1,000. The measure will take effect on January 1. The measure was part of a package of revenue measures before Oakland voters. All passed, but none by as large a margin as Measure F. That's just the latest sign of acceptance of marijuana in a very pot-friendly city. In 2004, voters there approved a measure requiring police to make arresting adults for small-time pot offenses their lowest priority.
Location: 
Oakland, CA
United States

Apple's New Marijuana Feature for iPhone is a Smart Business Move

The press has been having a field day over a new iPhone application that helps users locate medical marijuana. As if the iPhone needed more product recognition, it is once again the most-discussed commodity on the web thanks to Apple's shrewd decision to approve this unique feature:

Here's how it works. The application displays an interactive map dotted with doctors who can prescribe medicinal marijuana treatment for their patients.

It also shows -- after, presumably, users have procured prescriptions -- the medicinal marijuana suppliers within the users' vicinity. And, what's more, the application includes a database of lawyers who specialize in marijuana-related cases, in [case] should users encounter skeptical local authorities. [ABC News]

The whole thing is just brilliant. They'll sell many thousands of these apps at $2.99 each, not to mention additional iPhone sales resulting from the massive press coverage. Of course, any time a marijuana-related story gets big coverage, you can count on someone in the press to botch the story. This time it was Alex Salkever at Daily Finance, who wrote:

I expect a backlash will hit Apple for having greenlighted Cannabis. Legalization opponents call marijuana a gateway drug that leads users to harder narcotic substances.

Wait a second. Apple just generated explosive international press for offering an innovative product and here we have a business columnist who thinks it's a mistake? Where is this "backlash" going to come from? If you want a controversy, you're going to have to start it yourself.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California for more than a decade and it's working so well that the Governor is now talking about legalizing marijuana outright. For many years now, the only controversy surrounding medical marijuana has been the DEA's widely unpopular interference with it, and President Obama has drawn nothing but praise for putting a stop to that.

Ironically, Salkever's analysis isn't just wrong, it's really the perfect opposite of what's going to happen here. Apple is doing this precisely because it's a good business strategy to reach out to marijuana culture and especially legal patients. Fears of "backlash" are what led Kellogg's to drop Michael Phelps and they got crucified for it, which is exactly what would have happened to Apple if they blocked services for medical marijuana patients.

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