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Feature: Push for Medical Marijuana Underway in Kansas

An effort to bring Kansas into the ranks of the medical marijuana states took a big step forward last Friday as one of the state's most well-known political figures appeared at a news conference at the state capitol to announce his support of such a move. Former Attorney General Robert Stephan, a Republican who held the position from 1979 to 1995, told the news conference the state has an obligation to act to allow its citizens to use medications that would alleviate suffering.

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Robert Stephan, KSCCC press conference, August 2007
"Let me make clear that I am in no way advocating drug legalization," said Stephan, who has been on record as a medical marijuana supporter since 1983. "But I also do not believe that the state should preempt the role of the physician when it comes to deciding what's best for ill Kansans. That's why I support changing state law to ensure that individuals can obtain and use a limited amount of marijuana if recommended by their doctor -- without fear of prosecution."

Stephan cited his own experience as a cancer patient, as well as the suffering of other patients, in calling for a Kansas medical marijuana law. Rejecting opposition to the medicinal use of marijuana as "voodoo medicine" and recounting the moans of misery he heard on the cancer ward, Stephan said, "It seemed incomprehensible to me that there should be such suffering and any drug, including marijuana, should be available to assist the patient." Stephan said access to medical marijuana should not be limited to cancer patients. It has proven useful for glaucoma, AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, and other diseases, he said.
Stephan declined a Drug War Chronicle request for an interview. He said he feared talking to a publication that advocates for drug legalization would damage his cause.

Last Friday's event marked the public coming out for the Kansas Compassionate Care Coalition, which has been busy laying the groundwork for a campaign it hopes will lead to legislation next year. It certainly garnered attention in the Jayhawk State. A Google search this week produced dozens of local media mentions of the news conference.

And that's just fine with KSCCC head Laura Green. "Our goal is to get a bill introduced in the Kansas legislature to protect seriously ill Kansans from arrest and prosecution for using marijuana as a medicine," said Green, "and this will kick-start the conversation."

It is a conversation that could use a boost in the Heartland. Twelve states with some 50 million inhabitants currently have medical marijuana laws, but none of them are in the Midwest. Efforts in legislatures in states such as Illinois and Minnesota have not reached fruition, while voters in South Dakota last year narrowly defeated a medical marijuana initiative -- the first state to reject medical marijuana at the ballot box.

The KSCCC is not carrying a pre-drafted bill to present to the legislature, said Green. "We're still five months away from the legislative session, so we don't have a bill yet," she said. "We're working with individual legislators and trying to built support and a consensus. There are many different medical marijuana models out there, and we're looking for one that our legislators can get comfortable with," Green said.

Some Kansas politicians were quick off the mark to reject medical marijuana after last Friday's press conference, but Green is not concerned. "We don't have a lot of political support right now, but that's to be expected," she argued. "Some politicians say they haven't had a chance to hear from their constituents, while even some of the ones who say publicly they're against it tell us something different in private."

It's not just legislators, said Green, who added she and the KSCCC will do everything they can to make sure elected officials do hear from constituents favoring a medical marijuana bill. The coalition is about a year old and some 400 members strong right now. "We're going around the state recruiting members -- patients, physicians, nurses, members of the religious community -- to try to build our numbers," Green said.

The Kansas State Nursing Association is a key target. The influential group will vote on a medical marijuana resolution in October, Green said, noting that an endorsement from the nurses will be a powerful tool.

The group is also attempting to get the Kansas clergy on its side. "We are getting a lot of religious support," said Green, who, as head of the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas spent long hours mapping out the state's hundreds of congregations as part of laying the groundwork for drug reform efforts. "We did a mailer to members of the clergy last Friday, and we've already had 30 responses. The response from the clergy has really been great," Green said.

If the legislative record in other medical marijuana states is any indication, KSCCC and its supporters have a long and twisting road in front of them. Passage of a medical marijuana law seems to be almost universally a three-year affair, or more. But in Kansas, patient proponents have been laying the groundwork for a year or more, and now they have emerged with a key state political figure standing with them. If they manage to enter the legislative session in January with some momentum, they just might short-circuit the normal, glacial legislative process.

Democratic Presidential Candidates All Support Medical Marijuana

It's about time Barack Obama took the right position on a drug policy issue. Last night he concurred with the other democratic presidential hopefuls that the federal medical marijuana raids must stop:
MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE — In his first public statement on the subject, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged to end medical marijuana raids in the 12 states that have medical marijuana laws Tuesday at a campaign event during a Nashua Pride minor league baseball game.

Obama's pledge came as a response to a question from Nashua resident and Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana volunteer Scott Turner, who asked the senator what he would do to stop the federal government from putting seriously ill people like Turner in prison in states where medical marijuana is legal.

"I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users," Obama said. "It's not a good use of our resources." [MPP]
I remain unimpressed with Obama, however. He promises "change" yet openly laments the "political capital" it would cost to repair a no-brainer racial justice issue like the crack powder sentencing disparity. Arguably the worst on drug policy among the democratic contenders, Obama's stance on medical marijuana could easily be dismissed as a political rather than a compassionate stance.

Still, Obama's gutlessness would hardly alienate him from a Democratic Congress that remains enslaved by the drug war status quo. Really, if all democratic candidates agree with ending the medical marijuana raids, why the hell are democrats continually blocking the Hinchey Amendment, which does exactly that?

I just asked MPP's Aaron Houston this question, and he says it's a lot easier for the President to define DOJ's priorities than it is to get every single Democrat to sign onto something that many believe could hurt them politically. This may explain why Hinchey didn't do better this year under a democratically-controlled Congress. Since the democrats see a strong chance of reclaiming the White House, they have little incentive to take even minor political risks over an issue that could be resolved administratively in January '09.

That's a long wait for patients and providers that continue to live in fear of the DEA, but with Hinchey on pace to pass in 2027, January '09 feels like a fine time to bring this madness to an end.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
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United States

Supporting Medical Marijuana Is Smart Politics

This exchange between Bill Richardson and Stuart Cooper of Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana shows the political wisdom of supporting compassionate policies. Richardson discusses his efforts to protect patients in New Mexico, and describes the broader drug war as a failure, then appeals to Cooper for support:

Richardson: By the way, I hope you can get me some votes. I haven't won too many votes with that one. You should see the letter I got from the Sheriff's Association, but sometimes you gotta do the right thing. It's the right thing.

Cooper: Sir, 80% of New Hampshire voters agree with you.

Richardson: Do they?

Cooper: Yes sir.

Richardson: Will you tell them?

Already on the presidential campaign trail, Richardson was nonetheless surprised to learn that his support for medical marijuana would resonate with a huge majority of voters.

That was July 16. By August 17, Richardson had sent a letter to President Bush demanding that ONDCP stop threatening his state's new medical marijuana program. He also ordered the NM Dept. of Health to move forward despite federal intimidation. All of this is displayed proudly on his presidential campaign site.

The point here isn’t that Richardson is trying to win the favor of voters. He already supported medical marijuana, but stepped up his efforts after learning that it was safe and, in fact, smart to do so. By taking this message to the other candidates, we might get more than just a promise to end the federal raids.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
Location: 
United States

New Mexico Medical Marijuana Update -- Richardson Says Full Steam Ahead Despite Attorney General's "Prank"

Late Thursday night we reported in the Chronicle that New Mexico's Dept. of Health had balked at supplying medical marijuana to patients following a warning from state Attorney General Gary King that he wouldn't defend state workers if the feds prosecuted them. Gov. Richardson, who is running for president in the Democratic primary, has ordered the Health Dept. to comply with the law, and has urged President Bush to stop the medical marijuana prosecutions. I'm not surprised by Richardson's stance, given how hard he fought to rescue the bill last spring when its demise had already been pronounced. Looking at the text of the law, I really have to say I think King is full of it. The law does not tell the Health Dept. to have its own employees grow or distribute marijuana; it tells the department to license people to grow it. Then those licensees will be taking their chances with the feds, for their own individual reasons. But that's not the same thing as state employees being subject to federal prosecution themselves. There have certainly been federal raids of medical marijuana providers in states that have licensed them, but not of the state agencies who have issued them licenses to protect them from state prosecution. Good for Bill Richardson, shame on Gary King, did he really think he could put that one over?
Location: 
Santa Fe, NM
United States

Medical Marijuana: A Push Gets Underway in Kansas

While state medical marijuana laws are in place along both coasts, not a single state from the Great Plains to the Appalachian Mountains has passed such a law. A voter initiative last year in South Dakota was narrowly defeated, and while legislative efforts in some Midwestern states, notably Illinois and Minnesota, have progressed, none have made it to a governor's desk. For medical marijuana, the Heartland might as well be the Empty Quarter.

Now, a Kansas drug reform activist and a prominent state politician are hoping to change that. Today, Laura Green of the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas and former Kansas Attorney General Bob Stephan are holding a press conference on the capitol steps in Topeka to announce the formation of the Kansas Compassionate Care Coalition, which will push to get a medical marijuana law in place in the Jayhawk State.

Stephan, a Republican who was attorney general from 1979 to 1995, came out of the closet as a medical marijuana supporter to local media this week, telling reporters he had supported legalizing the medicinal use of the herb for the past 20 years. His opinion was based on his own experience as a cancer patient, as well as talking to other cancer patients, he said.

"Our objectives are simple," said Green in a press release announcing the news conference and the new organization. "To allow physicians -- not politicians -- to make decisions about what is best for patients and to protect citizens from the risk of arrest simply because they're trying to gain relief from a major medical problem. No one should face the ordeal of arrest and possibly prison because they want to feel better," Green said. "That's why the Compassionate Care Coalition is working closely with state legislators, law enforcement officials, healthcare leaders and others to pass laws that will help our fellow Kansans in their time of need."

Look for a feature article on what's cooking in Kansas next week.

Medical Marijuana: Feds Seek Oregon Patient Records in Probe of Growers -- Patients Cry Foul

Oregon medical marijuana patients and their supporters are up in arms after it was revealed that a federal grand jury next door in Yakima, Washington, has issued subpoenas demanding medical records for 17 Oregon patients. The subpoenas were issued in April as part of a federal investigation into a small number of Washington and Oregon marijuana growers.

Subpoenas were served to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, the state office that issues permits to patients and growers, as well as The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, a private Portland clinic where doctors examine patients to see if their conditions can be alleviated by medical marijuana.

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Donald DuPay, official 2006 election photo
As part of the same investigation, DEA agents in June raided the home of medical marijuana patient and caregiver Donald DuPay, seizing 135 plants he was growing for other patients. DuPay, who hosts a local cable TV show about marijuana, was not arrested. He is among the 17 people whose records were subpoenaed.

For Oregon patients, the experience has been frightening and disturbing. "It's crazy. It's really scary. If they can get my records, they can get Gov. Kulongoski's, they can get yours," DuPay, a former Portland police officer and 2006 candidate for Multnomah County sheriff, told The Oregonian on Saturday.

For medical marijuana advocates, it looks like a new tactic deployed by the feds in their ongoing effort to thwart state medical marijuana laws. The grand jury subpoenas are the first ever issued for patient records in a marijuana case, "and of course, it is very worrisome," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "People have an expectation of medical privacy, and I think they have a right to expect medical privacy," Mirken said. "It's one thing to talk about people selling a product that is in fact not legal under federal law. We may think that's stupid. But that's in a whole different realm than obtaining people's medical records."

"This sends a message to the other states and their programs that they're vulnerable to federal interference," said Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access. "It doesn't take a brick to hit you over the head to know that the federal government is trying to undermine California's medical marijuana law, given all the raids and threats to landlords. This is one step further that shows the federal government is very serious about going after patients."

Patients and their advocates are fighting the subpoenas. On August 1, attorneys representing the state of Oregon, and the ACLU representing The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, went before Chief US District Court Judge Robert Whaley in Yakima to urge him to throw out the subpoenas.

In that hearing, Assistant US Attorney James Hagery, who is leading the federal investigation, admitted that the subpoenas were too broadly written. He told the judge the grand jury is investigating "four or five" Washington and Oregon growers for using the medical marijuana laws to cover up their marijuana sales, that the 17 patients were people who got medical marijuana from the growers in question, and that the grand jury wants only current addresses and phone numbers, not "medical records" for those patients.

Hagerty did not explain why, if he is investigating alleged non-medical marijuana sales, he needs to look at registered medical marijuana patients.

A ruling on the subpoenas will come soon, the judge said.

Medical Marijuana: New Mexico Balks At Growing It

Update: Gov. Richardson has ordered the Health Dept. to implement the law, and has urged President Bush to stop the medical marijuana prosecutions.

When the New Mexico legislature passed the state's medical marijuana law this year, the law was unique in mandating that the state would oversee the production and distribution of the herb. But Wednesday, the state health department announced it would not comply with that portion of the law for fear of the feds arresting state employees.

"The Department of Health will not subject its employees to potential federal prosecution, and therefore will not distribute or produce medical marijuana," said Dr. Alfredo Vigil, who heads the agency.

The decision was not exactly a surprise. New Mexico Attorney General Gary King warned last week that the department and its employees could be criminally prosecuted by the feds and that his office could not defend state workers in criminal cases.

But while lifting the threat of potential federal prosecution from the health department and its employees, the move may open them to legal action from supporters of the law. The agency is "leaving itself open for a lawsuit," Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico office head Reena Szczepanski told the Associated Press Wednesday. "I remember certain legislators talking about how they didn't want their grandmother to have to go into some alley and deal with some criminal element," said Szczepanski.

South Asia: India's Shravan Pilgrims Bring Profits to Marijuana Sellers

Pilgrims celebrating the Hindu month of Shravan (mid-July to mid-August) are filling the pockets of marijuana sellers in the Deoghar district of Jharkand, according to a report in the News Post of India. Considered auspicious by followers of Lord Shiva, the month is marked by, among other things, a pilgrimage by millions of adherents to pour water on the Shiva Linga at the Baidyanath temple in Deoghar.

The pilgrims, clad in saffron, smoke marijuana (ganja) as part of the observance. According to one estimate cited by the News and Post, devotees are buying and smoking 50 to 65 pounds of marijuana a day from happy Deoghhar pot vendors.

Police are aware of the sales, but turn a blind eye, the newspaper reported.

"Marijuana is liked by Lord Shiva. There is nothing wrong in smoking ganja. It makes the 110 km journey from Sultanganj in Bihar to Deoghar easy," one pilgrim told the newspaper.

Marijuana has been used for spiritual purposes for thousands of years in India. It is currently cultivated in at least 10 districts in Bihar and Jharkhand, and Maoist guerrillas reportedly are also getting into the business.

Who's Planting All That Pot in the Woods?

Long before the Drug Czar raised eyebrows by calling pot growers "violent criminal terrorists," police in California were blaming Mexican drug cartels for increased outdoor marijuana cultivation throughout the Golden State:
…these aren't flower-power farmers growing a few stalks hydroponically for personal toking. They're organized criminal gangs — some with deep roots in Mexico — and pot helps fund their violence. [Merced Sun-Star]
There's no limit to how far they'll go to promote this idea:
"Ninety-nine percent of the plants seized in the national forests," [Special Agent] Stokes said, "were planted by members of the Mexican National Cartel which has a huge network throughout California and the west.

"We've actually tracked the dollars back to Mexico," Stokes concluded. [Mountain News]

Something doesn’t add up here. For starters, the Mexican National Cartel doesn't seem to exist. And I don’t know how you'd track dollars from a marijuana crop that was eradicated and never sold.

And then there's this from the Merced Sun-Star:

…it's extremely rare and difficult for law enforcement to bust the drug lords responsible for funding the large growing operations. Often, even the growers themselves do not know who is funding an illegal cultivation.

So really, no one has any idea who's behind this. Arrests for outdoor cultivation are extremely rare, and yet local papers throughout California eagerly and repeatedly quote law-enforcement officials who blame the problem on Mexicans.

Appeals to racial prejudice and hysteria have always been a primary propaganda tool in the drug war. Exaggerating the involvement of violent drug cartels glamorizes the process of looking for pot in the woods and casts marijuana users as funders of violence. Such claims also facilitate the Drug Czar's desperate attempt to link marijuana prohibition to the more-popular war on terror.

Whether they're Mexican gangsters or white college kids, the people planting pot in the woods are a product of marijuana prohibition. They'll never stop growing pot in the woods because it's valuable and they never get in trouble for it. The only way to stop people from planting drugs in the forest is to let them do it somewhere else.

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United States

Police Often Lack Basic Knowledge About Marijuana

Every year at this time, police around the country start excitedly notifying local papers that they're getting better and better at finding pot in the woods. It's a tiresome ritual, but reporters just love it, and it would never occur to them that the police sometimes don’t have a clue what they're talking about:
[Merced Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force Commander] Compston said more growers are cloning female plants, which produce the valuable buds with higher THC levels, in order to yield a product that will be more profitable on the street. "They are basically making hybrid plants," Compston said. [Merced Sun-Star]
Maybe I'm being picky, but I think it's rather telling that a regional task force commander fundamentally misunderstands how marijuana works. All commercial marijuana is female. Male plants aren't just less profitable, they're worthless and not available for sale. So to suggest that cloning females is some sort of new trade secret is just ridiculous.

Even more amusing is the claim that these plants are hybrids. Clones, by definition, are not hybrids. They are clones, which means they're genetically identical to the mother plant. If the plants are all female, as Compston says, there can be no cross-pollination and therefore no hybrids. It sure is fun to call them "hybrids" though. How scary that sounds.

Of course, the most popular marijuana myth continues to be the pound-per-plant estimate:
Most marijuana plants are valued at $1,000 to $3,000 per plant, based on the measurement that an average plant will yield one pound of finished product per season, according to Merced County Sheriff's Detective Scott Dover. With the newer varieties' higher THC content, however, Dover said it's not uncommon to find a single plant priced up to $5,000.
Dover's right about one thing: it's not uncommon to find police estimating the value of marijuana plants at $5,000. But a marijuana plant capable of actually yielding a pound is hardly the norm. An average plant yields ¼ pound, far less than the standard one pound estimate by which police determine the supposed street value of every crop they eradicate.

The point here isn’t just that police are often ignorant about marijuana. That has been obvious for a long time. What's notable is that reporters continue to regurgitate factually incorrect statements from law-enforcement with no effort to verify the accuracy of their claims. This behavior is critical to maintaining support for marijuana prohibition, not only by reinforcing myths about the drug, but also by falsely portraying the effectiveness of efforts to eradicate it.
Location: 
United States

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