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Minn. governor vetos medical marijuana bill

Dear Friends:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) today vetoed the medical marijuana bill just passed by the Minnesota Legislature.

MPP has been lobbying in Minnesota for five years, pushing our medical marijuana bill closer and closer to passing. The Senate passed our bill on May 4, and on Monday, the House followed suit … the first time a medical marijuana bill has been debated on the floor of the Minnesota House in history.

However, because the governor had been threatening a veto, the House narrowed the scope of the bill, hoping to find common ground with the governor and start protecting Minnesota's patients from arrest and jail. The final version of the bill was watered down beyond what any medical marijuana advocates wanted to see — in its ultimate version protecting only terminally ill patients.

And yet disgustingly, the governor still vetoed it, while simultaneously claiming that he “has great empathy for the sick” … the same sick and dying people he has now sentenced to arrest and jail.

Disgusted? Me too.

It's not going to end here. Every recent poll shows that Minnesotans support medical marijuana by a 2-to-1 margin, and if the governor won't listen to them, we can bypass him entirely. In Minnesota, constitutional amendments bypass the governor and are instead ratified by voters after passing the legislature. We can lobby next year to pass a constitutional amendment for a comprehensive medical marijuana law that would appear on the state's November 2010 ballot.

But that would mean going from our lobbying campaign in the legislature — which was expensive but affordable — to a ballot initiative campaign, which would require statewide advertising, which is much more expensive. What do you think? Should we should stand up and fight? Taking the battle to the next level will cost more but would be the only way forward.

If you're outraged by the governor's cruelty and want to gird for the next stage of battle, can you help us show the governor and other prohibitionists like him that their time is past? We can win — just like we've won in other states  — but we need your help to do it.

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.

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Cool "History of Weed" Video from Showtime "Weeds" Program

A precisely two minute YouTube ad for the Showtime program "Weeds" offers "A Brief History of Weed." The video begins with medical marijuana use documented in China in 2727 BC -- about 2,300 years too early for the Buddha image they use to represent it, but that's nitpicking. Flamethrower imagery at 1:06, representing the beginning of federal marijuana prohibition, is very effective, and post-Prop. 215 marijuana storefront footage is downright exciting. Check it out -- check out the Weeds season premiere on June 8th too. (Via The Daily Dish blog's "Cool Ad Watch.")

Medical Marijuana: Eddy Lepp Sentenced to 10 Years in Federal Prison

California medical marijuana grower, spiritualist, and activist Eddy Lepp was sentenced Monday to a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence on federal marijuana cultivation charges in a case where he grew more than 20,000 pot plants in plain view of a state highway in Northern California's Lake County. US District Court Judge Marilyn Patel also sentenced him to five years probation. He must report to federal authorities by July 6.
Eddy Lepp (courtesy
Lepp contended that the plants were a medical marijuana grow for members of the Multi Denominational Ministry of Cannabis and Rastafari and legal under California law. But during his trial, he was not allowed to introduce medical marijuana or religious defenses. He was found guilty of conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute more than 1,000 pot plants and of cultivating more than 1,000 plants, which carries a maximum life sentence.

According to California NORML (CANORML) and the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, there were gasps and sobs from Lepp supporters in the courtroom as Patel passed sentence. The sentence was "extreme," Patel conceded, but said her hands were tied by federal law.

In a nod toward the current turmoil over the status of federal prosecutions of medical marijuana providers, Judge Patel said Lepp could apply for a rehearing if the laws changed. Lepp and his attorneys plan to appeal the verdict and the sentence.

Lepp attorney Michael Hall told Patel the sentence was "incredible."

"Incredible is what the law requires," Patel responded, adding that legalizing marijuana appeared to be Lepp's driving passion. "Maybe you want to be a martyr for the cause," she said.

Sentencing Lepp, a 56-year-old veteran in ill health, to prison is a travesty and a waste, said supporters. "This case sadly illustrates the senselessness of federal marijuana laws," said CANORML's Dale Geiringer. "The last thing this country needs is more medical marijuana prisoners. Hopefully, we can change the law and get Eddy out of jail before he completes his sentence."

"Locking up Eddy Lepp serves no purpose and is a huge waste of life and scarce prison space," said Aaron Smith, California policy director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "The community would be a lot better served if we taxed and regulated California's $14 billion marijuana industry rather than continuing to incarcerate nonviolent people like Eddy, who are clearly of no danger to society."

Europe: Oslo Police Plan Crackdown on Hash Users, Buyers
Police in Norway's capital, Oslo, have announced a crackdown on hashish buyers as part of a broader crackdown on street drugs sales and use. Hash is peddled by street dealers in neighborhoods including Grønland and Grünerløkka along the Akerselva River, according to online scene reports.

The Scandinavian countries are among Europe's toughest when it comes to drug use and sales. In Norway, penalties for simple drug possession include fines and jail terms of up to six months. For sales, you're looking at two years, 10 years if the offense is "aggravated," 15 years if a "considerable quantity" is involved, and up to 21 years for "very aggravating circumstances."

Under the newly announced crackdown, police are warning that people caught buying hash for their own use face arrest, loss of drivers' license, heavy fines, and even custody rights over their children. Some offenders caught with small amounts of hash have already been fined up to $1,560, according to early reports.

Feature: Supreme Court Rejects Counties' Challenge to California's Medical Marijuana Law

The last serious challenge to California's medical marijuana law died an anticlimactic death Monday as the US Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from two California counties that rejected the law and argued it should be struck down as violating federal drug laws. The court rejected the appeals without comment.
US Supreme Court
San Diego and San Bernardino counties had challenged the legality of Proposition 215 and the 2004 Medical Marijuana Act implementing it, which required counties to issue identification cards to qualified patients. The two counties refused to issue the cards, arguing that to do so would place them in conflict with federal law. (Eight other California counties have also failed to issue ID cards, but did not join in the legal challenge.)

While medical marijuana patients are not required to have the state-issued cards, they are seen as a means of protecting patients, doctors, and providers from arbitrary arrest under state drug laws. Local activists, frustrated with the recalcitrant stands of their elected officials, threatened to sue San Diego County, but instead of responding to the demands of the citizenry, officials there and in San Bernardino County filed suit themselves, seeking a declaration that federal drug laws preempted California's medical marijuana laws.

The counties lost in California district court in San Diego and appealed to the state appeals courts. They lost there, too, with the California 4th District Court of Appeal ruling unanimously against them. "Congress does not have the authority to compel the states to direct their law enforcement to enforce federal laws," the appeals court opinion noted, ruling that the state medical marijuana law was not voided by federal drug laws.

The counties then went to the California Supreme Court, which refused to hear their appeal. Now, the US Supreme Court has followed suit.

This same US Supreme Court ruled in 2005 in Gonzalez v. Raich that the federal government did have authority over even the non-commercial personal use of medical marijuana, but it did not rule on whether state laws allowing for medical marijuana are void because they conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act. It still hasn't, but its refusal to hear the counties appeal clears the way forward both in California and nationwide.

"No longer will local officials be able to hide behind federal law and resist upholding California's medical marijuana law," said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a national medical marijuana advocacy group, which represented patients in the county's lawsuit against the state. "The courts have made clear that federal law does not preempt California's medical marijuana law and that local officials must comply with that law."

"The Supreme Court's order marks a significant victory for medical marijuana patients and advocates nationwide," said Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, which also represented San Diego patients in the case. "This case struck at the core of the contentious intersection between state and federal medical marijuana policy, and, once again, it is clear that state medical marijuana laws are fully valid. Coupled with the Department of Justice's recent pronouncements that the agency will respect state medical marijuana laws, the Court's order leaves ample room for states to move forward with enacting and implementing independent medical marijuana policies."

"There is no longer any question that California officials must comply with state medical marijuana laws, that they can't use federal law as an excuse to subvert the will of the voters and the legislature," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "As a result, stonewalling by a handful of hold-out counties will end, and medical marijuana patients statewide will receive the protections they are entitled to."

"The Supreme Court and the lower courts in California have blown away the myth that federal law somehow prevents states from legalizing medical marijuana," said Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) executive director Rob Kampia. "Opponents can no longer hide behind federal law in order to excuse their war on medical marijuana patients."

DPA's California state director, Stephen Gutwillig, took it a bit further. "The US Supreme court is reaffirming a basic principle of our democracy that states can establish and enforce drug laws that don't conform to federal law," he said. "The Supreme Court's action sets the stage for California to end decades of wasteful and ineffective marijuana laws that ensnare tens of thousands of people every year. Federal prohibition is no obstacle to eliminating California's arcane pot laws."
California medical marijuana bags (courtesy Daniel Argo via Wikimedia)
"The court has flattened the last faint justification for counties refusing to issue ID cards to legally qualified medical marijuana patients," said California policy director Aaron Smith. "We expect all counties that have delayed issuing cards to start following the law immediately and stop putting patients at needless risk. It's time for San Diego and San Bernardino Counties to end their war on the sick and obey the law," Smith said. "And taxpayers should hold to account the irresponsible officials who wasted their tax dollars on frivolous litigation."

County supervisors in both counties signaled this week that even if they weren't prepared to follow the will of the voters, they will heed the direction of the courts. "The case is officially over," San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price told the San Diego Union-Tribune Tuesday. "It is incumbent on us now to proceed with issuing medical marijuana ID cards, after we hear from our staff on appropriate guidelines."

Slater-Price had joined supervisors Dianne Jacob and Bill Horn in voting not to issue ID cards and again to pursue the case to the US Supreme Court after it lost in the state courts. The other two were still grumbling.

"I am disappointed the court did not take our case, but I am respectful of the court's decision," said Jacob. "We were seeking a definitive ruling, in writing, that would resolve the conflict between state and federal law. In my opinion, there remains a gray area that will continue to pose challenges for law enforcement and users."

Horn said he would abide by court rulings, but complained that the high court refused to hear the case. "It's still an issue I wish they would have heard," he said.

Meanwhile, in San Bernardino County, Supervisor Josie Gonzales told a group of medical marijuana supporters she is ready to support the issuing of ID cards now. "I've long been a supporter of medical marijuana," she said.

Feature: Minnesota Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, But Veto Looms

After accepting amendments that significantly narrowed the scope of the medical marijuana legislation before it, the Minnesota legislature passed the bill, SF 97, Monday night. But Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has vowed to veto the bill, an act which has probably occurred by the time you read these words.
Minneapolis patient Lynn Rubenstein Nicholson, Minnesotans for Compassionate Care ad
If, as promised, Pawlenty does veto the bill, proponents are not giving up. Instead, they are pondering another shot in the legislature next year, and if Pawlenty remains immune to compromise, they may instead seek a constitutional amendment next year, which would bypass the governor, taking the measure directly to the voters once it passes the legislature again.

The House passed its version of the bill Monday night on a 70-64 vote. The Senate, which had approved its version of the bill last month, accepted the House version, passing it on a 38-28 vote. The vote was largely along party lines, with most Republicans opposing and most Democratic Farm Labor (DFL) members supporting the bill. In neither chamber was the margin of victory large enough to overcome a veto.

The votes came after a day of rancorous debate Monday. Hoping to address law enforcement concerns cited by Pawlenty, the House accepted amendments limiting medical marijuana to terminally ill patients (even excluding cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy) and removing the ability for patients to grow their own plants.

But that wasn't enough for some opponents of the measure. "It is absolutely wrong to refer to this as medical. It is wrong to use the pain and discomfort of sick people to sell this bill," said Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud).

"The bill will be vetoed no matter what form it leaves here. I'm not willing to give up the war on drugs. If we leave this war more people are going to get sick and die," vowed Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder).

If such comments are a normal part of the legislative debate, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Delano) crossed a line with some of his colleagues. Emmer offered a series of snickering amendments that enraged supporters and led to a heated exchange. One amendment he offered would remove every reference to the words "medical marijuana" and replace it with the word "pot."
Minnesota State Capitol
"We are not talking about medicine. We are not talking about marijuana. Let's call it what it is: 'pot,'" Emmer said. "It is a gateway drug and it has very serious and real physical impact. All we are doing here is legalizing marijuana." He added, "Let's not send the kind of message to the children of the state that marijuana is OK."

One of the bill's authors, Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia), reacted angrily. "It might be cute, but the testimony of the families of people who were helped by medical marijuana are very moving," he said, speaking directly to Emmer. "I don't know if you are trying to be cute, but I think your amendment stinks and I would urge members to vote against it."

"You should be ashamed of yourself," said Rep. Thomas Huntley (DFL-Duluth), recalling the struggles his own family members had with cancer.

Even a Republican colleague chastised Emmer. "We have a very serious issue in front of us," said Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan). "We are talking about the quality of people's lives at the end of their lives, the sickest of the sick," he said. "It's not a matter we should be joking about on the House floor."

Emmer responded angrily to his critics. "I didn't bring this here to be cute, to make a mockery," he shouted. "You are taking a drug that has serious consequences for young people in the country, so before you start mocking me for doing what I think is right, think about that! This is no joke!"

The "pot" motion failed, but on a roll, Emmer then offered two more amendments, one to remove the word "medical" from the bill and one to replace "medical marijuana" with "authorized marijuana." Those two amendments also failed.

Now, the measure is in the hands of Gov. Pawlenty, who has consistently said he shared law enforcement's concerns about rising crime and drug use if the measure passed. At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, he announced that he would veto the bill. Then he added, "I have great empathy for patients."

"What he said about empathy for the sick is just a lie," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, whose state affiliate, Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, led the fight for the bill's passage. "You don't show empathy for the sick by throwing them in jail while they're dying."

Overriding a veto isn't a "realistic option," said former Republican state representative Chris DeLaForest, lobbyist for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care. "The votes aren't there."

But the effort will continue next year. "We could come back next session and pass it again and try to address Pawlenty's concerns," said DeLaForest. "I'm always optimistic," he said diplomatically. "The legislature doesn't reconvene until February. There's time to work in the interim."

Pawlenty's refusal to sign onto even the watered down version of the bill that finally passed the legislature suggests his stated reasons for opposing it are questionable, said Mirken. "This bill was narrowed down so drastically that even the flimsiest pretexts that he and law enforcement used have evaporated," he said. "They said it would be rife with abuse, but this bill as passed is limited to terminal patients who would have to get their marijuana from a state-licensed dispensary. A lot of suffering and deserving patients would have been left out, but in regards to a coherent reason to veto this, there is none."

Pawlenty is being talked about as a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Mirken noted. "One can only assume that this veto is about politics," he said. "This is a guy with political ambitions who thinks he needs to stay on the right side of law enforcement to advance his career. It's a shame he is willing to sacrifice patients on the altar of his ambition."

Blocked by a recalcitrant governor, Minnesota medical marijuana proponents are considering an end run around him next year. Under Minnesota law, the legislature can bypass the governor by voting for a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana use. If such a measure passes the legislature, it would then go directly to a popular vote. With support for medical marijuana at high levels in Minnesota, proponents believe the measure would pass.

If DeLaForest is optimistic, he's also pragmatic. Noting that Pawlenty has proven immune to even the most tightly drawn legislation, DeLaForest said a constitutional amendment was a possibility. "That would be drafted in bill form and would have to pass the legislature, but the governor is essentially written out of the process," he said. "It goes directly onto the ballot for our next election, and medical marijuana is polling at 64% here."

"We have indications that some of our legislative supporters are willing to go that route," said Mirken. "We would certainly support a constitutional amendment at this point. It's sad that we have to, but if that's what it takes, that's what it takes."

Medical Marijuana: Rhode Island House Passes Dispensary Bill

A bill that would allow for the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries passed the Rhode Island House Wednesday, paving the way for a showdown with Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri, an opponent of medical marijuana. The state Senate passed its version of the bill last month. Now, the two chambers must go through the formality of approving each other's bills. Then the bill will go before the governor.

"To go through cancer, or to go through a debilitating disease is extremely, extremely hard," said Rep. Thomas Slater (D-Providence), the bill's sponsor and a cancer patient himself. "One day you might feel great, the next day you may have pain all over your body... This bill gives people a safe haven to get help, to get medical marijuana."

Rhode Island lawmakers overrode a Carcieri veto three years ago to make medical marijuana legal in the state. But since then, patients have complained that the measure provided only limited access to marijuana. This year's bill, H5359, addresses that concern by providing for the creation of state-regulated "compassion centers" or dispensaries.

A similar bill passed the Senate last year, only to die in the House. Gov. Carcieri vetoed a compromise measure that would have set up a study commission on the dispensary issue. This year, the measure passed both houses by margins that strongly suggest lawmakers have the votes to override any veto attempt by the governor.

The House leadership appears ready to try an override if necessary. "I would hope that the governor wouldn't veto it, and look at the broader issues raised," said House Majority Leader Gordon Fox (D-Providence). "But if he does I think we have the votes to override and I would advocate doing that."

Leading the push for the bill was the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC), working with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). Their and the legislature's work is not quite done, but they're almost there.

Marijuana is Illegal, But it Doesn’t Have to be

The Amethyst Initiative is a coalition of college presidents who believe we should consider lowering the drinking age to help address the harms of underground drinking. It's great that they understand how the law creates unintended consequences, but listen to what they have to say about the idea of equalizing penalties for marijuana and alcohol:

The leader of the Amethyst Initiative, John McCardell Jr., president emeritus of Vermont's Middlebury College, says there's a big difference between the two debates.

"The fact is marijuana is prohibited across the board. It's not a matter of age discrimination, as where alcohol is concerned," he said. [AP]

Huh? Underage drinking is illegal just like marijuana. What's the difference between reforming alcohol laws vs. marijuana laws? The fact that marijuana isn't legal for anyone serves only to illustrate how marijuana laws are even stupider and more incoherent than the arbitrary drinking age of 21.

I understand that these folks might prefer to avoid getting caught up debating a separate issue, but if they don't wanna talk about it, they don't have to. He could have declined to comment instead of trying to draw ridiculous distinctions. The bottom line is that our marijuana laws are a constant source of insanity and injustice on college campuses and it's bizarre that these college presidents would have the courage to question the drinking age while failing to confront the extremely similar problems posed by marijuana prohibition.

Anyone who thinks 18-year-olds should be able to buy liquor ought to be open to some kind of marijuana reform. Seriously.

Help pass the best medical marijuana law in the country

Dear Friends:

Yesterday, MPP's campaign committee, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project (AMMPP), launched a signature drive to place a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in Arizona.

The initiative would allow seriously ill patients who find relief from marijuana to use it with their doctors' approval, much like the laws in the other 13 medical marijuana states do. What's unique about the Arizona law is that it would permit qualifying patients or their caregivers to legally purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries — so they wouldn't need to obtain it from the criminal market.

The importance of this can't be overstated. Although medical marijuana collectives exist in other states, state laws permitting them are a hodgepodge, leaving them largely unregulated and subject to legal challenges. In Arizona, our initiative would provide clear guidelines for state-regulated dispensaries, thus ensuring safe access for patients — meaning that Arizona would have the best medical marijuana law in the country.

But to get the initiative on the ballot, our campaign committee must collect 153,365 valid signatures from Arizona voters, which means about 250,000 gross signatures. We know from our past successful signature drives, like in Michigan, that it costs about $2 to collect every signature (because of the costs of paying canvassers, checking validity, and so forth), which means it will take $500,000 to fund this stage of the campaign.

Can you help?

As you can see at the bottom of this message, a major philanthropist is willing to match your donation dollar-for-dollar, so AMMPP only needs you and other MPP members to donate a total of $250,000. Arizona patients and I are grateful for anything you can do to help.

The chances of this initiative winning are strong. According to a February 2009 poll, 65% of Arizona voters support removing criminal penalties for the medical use of marijuana. And we've contracted with the best political consultants in the Arizona, who are building coalitions with organizations in the state … have hired an experienced campaign manager on the ground in Phoenix … and have already garnered the support of state opinion leaders.

Will you be part of this exciting campaign and help protect another state's medical marijuana patients from arrest and jail?  By donating to our campaign committee here, you can ensure the initiative wins.

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.
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