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Kalamazoo Passes Marijuana Lowest Priority Initiative

Voters in Kalamazoo, Michigan, overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative making the use or possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults the lowest law enforcement priority. The measure passed by a margin of nearly two-to-one, with 4,649 yes votes and 2,416 no votes.

Similar measures have passed in a number of cities around the country since Seattle led the way in 2003, but Kalamazoo is the first Michigan locale to do so.

The question before the voters was: "Shall the Kalamazoo City Charter be amended such that the use and/or consumption of one ounce or less of usable marijuana by adults 21 years or older is the lowest priority of law enforcement personnel?"

The measure passed easily despite the opposition of Michigan's governor and attorney general. Local officials said passage of the measure won't change much. "The proposed charter amendment has no bearing or standing relative to the enforcement of state or federal law, which our officers have the full authority to enforce," Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley told the Kalamazoo Gazette last month.

Still, the effort led by the Kalamazoo Coalition for Pragmatic Cannabis Laws has made clear to elected officials just where the local electorate stands on the issue. As Hadley's comment shows, activism does not end when a law gets passed.

Kalamazoo, MI
United States

Portland, ME, Marijuana Initiative Dies… For Now

A Portland, Maine, campaign that aimed to put an initiative making marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority on this year's November ballot is over, stymied by its failure to collect enough valid signatures. Although initiative sponsors Sensible Portland handed in well over the required number of signatures, there were not enough of them found valid by local election officials for the initiative to qualify.

Sensible Portland turned in 2,141 signatures last month. They only needed 1,500 valid ones to make the ballot, but with an invalidation rate of more than one out of three -- because the signers either didn't live in Portland or weren't registered to vote -- they came up 93 votes short, with 1,407 valid signatures. [Ed: It is common for about one in three signatures on a ballot petition to come up invalid.]

The group and supporters asked the city council to allow them an extra 10 days to collect the necessary signatures. But that effort was turned aside Monday night when the council voted unanimously to postpone any decision on the group's request until October, making it impossible to get the measure on the ballot this year.

The campaign is down, but not out. Sensible Portland has vowed to continue signature-gathering with an eye toward qualifying for a later ballot.

Maine has already decriminalized the possession of up to 2 ½ ounces of pot, but the fines are significant, ranging from $350 to $600 for a first offense. The fine is $550 if you get busted a second time within six months.

Portland, ME
United States

Marijuana "Lowest Priority" Initiative Advances in Maine City

A municipal initiative that would make adult marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority in Portland, Maine, has handed in enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, organizers said at a press conference Tuesday. Sensible Portland, the group pushing the measure, said it had turned in 2,100 voter signatures, well above the 1,500 needed for it to qualify.

City Hall in Portland. The city council can approve the initiative or let the voters decide. (image via wikimedia.org)
The measure would amend city statutes to codify that marijuana possession offenses committed by nonviolent adults 21 or older would be the lowest law enforcement priority for city police. The proposed ordinance is aimed at stopping police from fining or arresting people for pot or pot paraphernalia possession.

The possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana is already decriminalized under state law, with a fine of up to $1,000. Pot paraphernalia possession is also decriminalized, with a maximum fine of $300. Possession of more than 2.5 ounces is considered possession with intent to distribute and is punishable by jail or prison time.

Sensible Portland leaders said they hoped the measure would spur "an adult conversation" about marijuana across the state and that the ultimate goal was marijuana legalization.

"To be clear, we hope that this measure is a step toward the eventual end of prohibition of marijuana in this country," said John Eder, a spokesman for Sensible Portland and a former Green Party state representative. "This local ordinance isn't a small thing," he added in remarks reported by the Portland Daily Sun.

"Most movements start locally, and this movement will have its effect on the state, and it will have its effect nationally, as Maine joins the chorus of states and cities that are going on record saying they want to end the prohibition of marijuana for persons over the age of 21," Eder continued.

The city clerk now has two weeks to verify that the 2,100 signatures turned in contain the 1,500 valid signatures needed to qualify. If that happens, the measure first goes to the city council, which can either vote to approve it or place it on the November 8 ballot.

Sensible Portland saw broad support for the measure during the signature-gathering campaign, said Anna Trevorrow, a former state Green Party chair. "We met with great response from Portland voters who were signing eagerly, who were not sure why marijuana was not already legal," she said, adding, "We feel that this goes beyond decriminalization."

Portland, ME
United States

Make Nonviolent Marijuana Offenses the Lowest Police Priority (Action Alert)

Dear Friends,

On March 15, a new report was released on the steps of New York City Hall documenting the crushing costs of the 50,383 marijuana possession arrests that occurred in 2010 in that city alone, costing New York City $75 million. Released by the Drug Policy Alliance and co-authored by Queens College sociology professor Dr. Harry Levine, the report reveals the police, judicial, and human costs of New York City’s marijuana arrest crusade.

Every single day, 140 people are arrested for marijuana offenses in New York City, making it the leading cause of arrest. A full 87% of those arrested are Black or Latino, a particularly outrageous number since people of color do not use marijuana at higher rates than the rest of the population. Incredibly, the NYPD has quietly made marijuana infractions their top law enforcement priority without even a pretense of public input or debate.

Although New York decriminalized possession of under 25 grams of marijuana, possession that is "open to public view" remains a crime.  Police officers have learned to ask vulnerable people they believe to be in possession to empty their pockets so they can then make an arrest.

The “suspects” do not have to be using, buying, or selling marijuana, nor do they have to be acting out in any way at all. They simply have to be “suspects.”

This flagrant abuse of state power is a tightly held secret. Please help us expose it. Stand with LEAP in supporting a more rational plan for drug policy. Our speakers are law enforcement professionals who know firsthand that the “war on drugs” is a waste of police resources. They speak out against our current drug policy in order to put police priorities back where they belong. 

Help us send the message to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that using already strained police and judicial resources in this way is not acceptable and that the overwhelming racial disparity of these arrests is appalling. Please sign our petition, and please make a contribution today to support LEAP as the voice of law enforcement in drug policy reform.

Thank you,

Major Neill Franklin (Ret.)
Executive Director
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition


Your donation puts LEAP speakers in front of audiences. To support LEAP's work by making a contribution, please click here.

           

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We need help growing our all-encompassing movement of citizens who want to end the failed "war on drugs," so please invite your family and friends to learn about LEAP.
 

 

 
Location: 
NY
United States

Montana Marijuana Prosecution Runs into Jury Pool "Mutiny"

No way would they convict someone of possessing a 16th of an ounce of marijuana, member after member of a Missoula County jury pool told a stunned judge and prosecutor last week. As a result, the Missoulian newspaper reported, the judge in the case ordered a recess, and a plea bargain was reached in a drug trafficking case against Touray Cornell.

not business as usual at the courthouse in Missoula (image courtesy Wikimedia)
Potential jurors repeatedly told the court they would not convict for a couple of buds found during a raid on Cornell's home in April. One juror wondered out loud why the county was wasting time and money prosecuting the case at all, especially in a locale that approved a 2004 initiative making marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority.

After that juror questioned the prosecution, District Judge Dusty Deschamps polled the jury pool and found at least five others who agreed. That was in addition to two others who had already been excused because of their philosophical objections to pot prosecutions.

"I thought, 'Geez, I don't know if we can seat a jury,'" Deschamps said, explaining why he called a recess.

Instead, Deputy District Attorney Andrew Paul and defense attorney Martin Ellison worked out a plea agreement on the more serious drug trafficking charge. Cornell entered an Alford plea, in which he did not admit guilt. He was then sentenced to 20 years in prison with 19 suspended. Since Cornell has already served 200 days awaiting trial, he should be out in a matter of months.

"Public opinion, as revealed by the reaction of a substantial portion of the members of the jury called to try the charges on Dec. 16, 2010, is not supportive of the state's marijuana law and appeared to prevent any conviction from being obtained simply because an unbiased jury did not appear available under any circumstances," according to the plea memorandum filed by his attorney.

It was "a mutiny" by the jury pool, said Paul.

"I think it's going to become increasingly difficult to seat a jury in marijuana cases, at least the ones involving a small amount," Deschamps said.

Noting changing attitudes toward marijuana, as evidenced by the Missoula initiative and voters' approval of the state's medical marijuana law, Deschamps wondered if it were fair to insist on impaneling a jury that consisted only of "hardliners" who object to all drug use. "I think that poses a real challenge in proceeding," he said. "Are we really seating a jury of their peers if we just leave people on who are militant on the subject?"

"I think that's outstanding," John Masterson, who heads Montana NORML, said when told of the incident. "The American populace over the last 10 years or so has begun to believe in a majority that assigning criminal penalties for the personal possession of marijuana is an unjust and a stupid use of government resources."

Deputy DA Paul said that normally a case involving such a small amount of pot wouldn’t have gone that far through the court system, but for the felony charge involved. But the response of the jury pool "is going to be something we're going to have to consider" in future cases, he said.

Missoula, MT
United States

Group Turns in Petitions to Make Marijuana the "lowest possible priority" for Kalamazoo Law Enforcement

Location: 
Kalamazoo, MI
United States
Voters in Kalamazoo, MI are one step closer to deciding the way law enforcement deals with the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the city. The Kalamazoo Coalition for Pragmatic Cannabis Laws turned in 4,776 signatures to the City Clerk’s Office — 2,000 more than required — seeking to amend the city charter to state that the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana by those 21 and older should be the “lowest possible priority” for law enforcement.
Publication/Source: 
Kalamazoo Gazette (MI)
URL: 
http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2010/08/group_turns_in_petitions_to_ma.html

Marijuana: Denver to Move to $1 Fine for Pot Possession?

Denver could soon see a maximum $1 fine -- the lowest in the country -- for simple marijuana possession. The city's Marijuana Policy Review Panel voted 6-2 Wednesday to recommend that the city do just that.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/denverskyline.jpg
Denver skyline (from denvergov.org)
The panel was created by Mayor John Hickenlooper in December 2007 to comply with the will of voters who had just passed an ordinance making adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. That vote came after a 2005 vote to legalize marijuana in the city, a vote that was ignored by local law enforcement and prosecutors, who instead charged offenders under state law.

In May 2008, the city attorney's office set the fine for possession at $50 and arranged for payment to be made by mail instead of at a court appearance. Now it will be up to the city's presiding judge to decide whether to go even further and set the fine at $1.

"By setting the fine at just $1, we are sending a message to Denver officials that the era of citing adults for using a less harmful drug than alcohol is over. It's simply not worth the city's time or resources," said panel member and SAFER executive director Mason Tvert, who coordinated the successful Denver marijuana initiatives.

A Denver Police Department representative on the panel unsurprisingly voted against the proposal. "There's no indication that there's a problem with the fine schedule," said Lt. Ernesto Martinez. "The panel is going outside the bounds of the language of the ordinance."

But, in a sign of the times, Martinez appears to be the one out of step with the panel and public opinion in the Mile High City.

Feature: Seattle Hempfest Bigger Than Ever in 2009, But Gaining Critics

Somewhere around 300,000 people converged on the Seattle waterfront Saturday and Sunday to attend the 19th annual Seattle Hempfest, the world's largest marijuana "protestival," as organizers like to call it. While organizers and drug reform advocates were out in force to encourage attendees to get involved in changing the marijuana laws, for most of the crowd, Hempfest was one big pot party. And that has some movement critics unhappy.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/hempfest2009-1.jpg
Hempfest crowd
Last year's attendance was estimated at 310,000. While figures are not yet in for last weekend's event, given the huge crowds, it is likely this year's figure will be even higher.

With hundreds of vendors selling glass pipes, bongs, tie-dyes, and assorted other pot-related paraphernalia, as well as dozens of food vendors, with seven stages alternating musical acts with activist speakers, and with crowds so thick that people literally could not move at some points by mid-afternoon on both days, Hempfest seems more like a dense urban community than a festival. And like any urban community, Hempfest had a police presence, but as far as can be determined, police couldn't find anyone to arrest despite the ever-present scent of marijuana smoke in the air.

That's in part because Seattleites voted in 2003 to make adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. But it is also in part because, unlike some other police forces, the Seattle police actually acknowledge and heed the will of the voters. In all of last year, Seattle police arrested only 133 people for marijuana possession -- and those were all people who had already been detained on other charges.

It is that tolerant attitude toward marijuana that makes the massive law-breaking at Hempfest possible. In almost any other city in the US, such brazen defiance of the drug laws would almost certainly result in mass arrests. Even this weekend's Boston Freedom Rally, the second largest pro-marijuana event in the country, will see numerous arrests -- if police behavior in the past is any indicator.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/hempfest2009-3.jpg
Hempfest-targeted sky ad, pulled by helicopter
Drug reform organizations including NORML, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter) were present with booths or tables, as were numerous medical marijuana support groups. But those booths and tables had to compete with bong-sellers and pipe-makers, t-shirt vendors and hippie couture outlets, and the hundreds of other vendors cashing in on the crowds.

To really get the drug reform message out, Hempfest organizers and reform activists took to the various stages between acts to exhort audiences to make Hempfest a party with a purpose. Among the nationally known activists speechifying at Hempfest were "Radical Russ" Belville of NORML, Sandee Burbank of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse, Mike and Valerie Corral of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), Debbie Goldsberry of the Berkeley Patients Group, Washington state legislator and head of the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers Roger Goodman, medical marijuana specialist Dr. Frank Lucido, former medical marijuana prisoner Todd McCormick, cannabis scientist Dr. Robert Melamede, and NORML founder Keith Stroup and current executive director Allen St. Pierre. For a complete list of speakers, go here.

Activists also educated those interested in learning more about marijuana law reform and related topics at the Hemposium tent, which featured panels on "Human Rights for Cannabis Farmers, Dispensers and Consumers," "Global Hempenomics," "Cannabliss: An Entheogen for the Ages," "Cannabis and the Culture Wars: The Coming Truce," and "Cannabis Coverage: Reefer Sanity for the 21st Century." For a complete list of Hemposium panels, click here.

While Hempfest came off without any serious problems, it has sparked a couple of related controversies. This week, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation head Eric Sterling wrote a blog post, Hempfest is Huge, But is It Good Politics?, in which he answered his own question with a resounding "no." Hempfest and similar rallies are "a political fraud," he wrote. Even worse, they are "advertisements for irresponsible drug use."

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/hempfest2009-2.jpg
''Hemposium,'' with speakers (l-r): Reason's David Nott, SAFER's Mason Tvert, journalist Fred Gardner and Chronicle editor Phil Smith
Similarly, former Hempfest organizer Dominic Holden stirred the pot the week before Hempfest with an article in the Seattle Stranger, A Few Words About Hempfest, in which he complained it was a "patchouli-scented ghetto" and overly countercultural. Like Sterling, Holden saw the hippiesque trappings of Hempfest as counterproductive. "Countercultural celebrations and drug legalization advocacy are mutually undermining ambitions," he wrote.

Hempfest organizers were not amused, and on Sunday, Holden was removed from the back of the Main Stage by unhappy erstwhile comrades. They explained why in an interview with Steve Bloom's Celebstoner, and Holden continued the spat with his own interview.

Perhaps the organizers of Hempfest and similar events will listen to Sterling and Holden, but probably not. Hempfest is a celebration of the pot-smoking counterculture, and it's not likely to go away or change its ways because a guy in a suit and a disaffected former friend are unhappy with how it operates. Straight-laced drug reformers will most likely just have to put up with Hempfest and its pot-happy ilk. They can treat it like the crazy aunt in the attic, but they can't get rid of it.

Marijuana: Pot Prohibition Causes Harm While Not Achieving Goals, Report Finds

Marijuana prohibition has not achieved its goals, but has inflicted significant costs on society and individuals, a pair of University of Washington researchers concluded in a report released last week. And all for naught, they suggest, because decriminalizing pot or deprioritizing marijuana law enforcement does not appear to lead to higher levels of marijuana use.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/marijuana-plants.jpg
marijuana plants (photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia)
The report, The Consequences and Costs of Marijuana Prohibition, was written by sociologist Katherine Beckett and geographer Steve Herbert, both associate professors in the University of Washington's Law, Societies, and Justice Program. Using data analysis and in-depth interviews, they compared the fiscal, public safety, and human costs of marijuana prohibition.

The scholarly duo found that the domestic portion of the federal drug control budget more than doubled in the 1990s, to more than $9.5 billion in 2001, with marijuana arrests accounting for nearly all the increase in drug arrests in that decade. With some 28,000 people imprisoned on marijuana charges in state or federal prison, that's an additional $600 million a year in incarceration costs borne by state and federal governments.

Despite the spike in marijuana arrests in recent years -- now more than 800,000 a year -- marijuana prohibition has signally failed to produce the desired results. Instead, the researchers found, the price of pot has dropped, the average potency has increased, as has availability, and use rates have often increased despite escalating enforcement.

"The report finds that the 'war on marijuana' is quite costly in both financial and human terms, and the prohibition of marijuana has not measurably reduced its use. This is a clear call for us to reconsider our laws and policies on marijuana," said Alison Holcomb, ACLU of Washington drug policy director.

What does not cause marijuana use rates to increase, said the researchers, are reformist policies. Areas that have decriminalized simple possession, deprioritized marijuana law enforcement, or that allow for medical marijuana have not seen increases in use rates, they found.

Marijuana: Kalamazoo Next for a Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Initiative

Work is getting underway in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on getting an initiative making adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority on the ballot, the Kalamazoo Gazette reported Monday. The effort is being led by Michigan NORML.

Lowest priority initiatives have become an increasingly popular way to advance the marijuana reform cause since the effort was pioneered in Seattle in 2003. Since then, a half-dozen California communities, Denver, and Eureka Springs and Fayetteville, Arkansas, among others, have passed similar initiatives.

Although ballot language is not yet final, organizers hope to have the issue on the November ballot. They will have to gather at least 1,273 valid signatures of registered city voters by August 14, a task organizers said they could accomplish easily. Once enough valid signatures are submitted, the Kalamazoo City Commission would have 14 days to either adopt the ordinance or put it before the voters.

Kalamazoo was chosen because it is "a progressive city with motivated activists on the ground," said Greg Francisco, director of MINORML's Southwest Michigan chapter. "Anyone who wants to use marijuana can already find it," Francisco said.

Unsurprisingly, local law enforcement is not amused. "This is a silly idea," Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team commander Capt. Joseph Taylor told the Gazette. "It's a roundabout way of circumventing the more difficult process of getting marijuana legalized," he said, adding that marijuana is a "gateway drug" and that violent dealers have migrated from crack cocaine to weed because of lower criminal penalties.

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