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Video: Crack Sentencing Reform Petition Delivered to Congress -- Former Prisoners, Family Members and Advocates Speak Out

Last month the "Crack the Disparity" Coalition delivered petitions signed by tens of thousands of people, calling for an end to the draconian US crack sentencing laws, to the offices of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Pat Leahy (D-VT), respective chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. This short video on ColorOfChange.org shows one of the deliveries, and features comments from Karen Garrison, whose two sons were unjustly caught up in these laws; and from Nkechi Taifa, who heads up justice reform efforts at the Open Society Policy Center. The ColorOfChange.org page devoted to this petition also features audio from the press conference, including former Major League baseball star Willie Mays Aikens, who served 14 years in federal prison after an untreated cocaine addiction drew him into the federal system with crack charges.

Prohibition: Republican Senator Calls for Outlawing Tobacco

Supposed free-market conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who is also an MD, called last week on the Senate floor for cigarettes and other tobacco products to be outlawed. Coburn may have been merely seeking to score political points against the Democrats as the Senate debated a bill to have tobacco regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) -- it passed Thursday and is now headed for the president's desk-- but nonetheless, the prohibitionist impulse towards tobacco has now been clearly articulated in the Congress.

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Tom Coburn
"What we should be doing is banning tobacco," Coburn said during debate on the bill, as reported in the Congress-watching publication The Hill. "Nobody up here has the courage to do that. It is a big business. There are millions of Americans who are addicted to nicotine. And even if they are not addicted to the nicotine, they are addicted to the habit."

Instead of authorizing the FDA to regulate tobacco sales, marketing, and manufacture, the stuff should simply be banned, Coburn said. "If we really want to make a difference in health and we want to eliminate dependence on tobacco, what we have to do is to stop the addiction."

Placing tobacco under FDA regulation would just confuse the agency, the Oklahoma Republican argued. The agency's mission is to ensure the safety of food and drugs, and there is nothing safe about tobacco, he said. And regulating tobacco means not banning it, he added. "In this bill, we allow existing tobacco products not ever to be eliminated," he said.

With smokers the target of growing social ostracism and increasingly pervasive regulation, as well as being favorite subjects for targeted taxation, outright prohibition could be the eventual end game. But Coburn suggested Democrats, who back the regulation legislation, would seek to block outright prohibition because they seek to benefit a key interest group: trial lawyers. "We have had all of these lawsuits through the years where billions of dollars have gone into attorneys' coffers," he said.

Coburn was doubtless trying to score political points by accusing the majority of being in the pocket of the trial lawyers, but now someone in Congress may take him up on his crusade. Goodness knows prohibitionist sentiment still runs very deep in that august deliberative body.

Medical Marijuana: House Appropriations Committee Asks for Clarification of Federal Stance on Raids

The House Appropriations Committee Tuesday approved language seeking clarification of the Obama administration's stance on medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Attorney General Eric Holder has made several statements suggesting the administration would not seek prosecutions of people acting in line with state laws, but some DEA raids have occurred in California, medical marijuana providers continue to be sentenced to federal prison, and federal medical marijuana prosecutions remain in the pipeline, all leading to confusion about where the administration actually stands.

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Rep. Hinchey addresses a 2005 press conference on medical marijuana, as Montel Williams awaits his turn at the podium
Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) sponsored the addition of the following language: "There have been conflicting public reports about the Department's enforcement of medical marijuana policies. Within 60 days of enactment, the Department shall provide to the Committee clarification of the Department's policy regarding enforcement of federal laws and use of federal resources against individuals involved in medical marijuana activities."

Hinchey, along with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), has in past years sponsored the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would have barred the DEA from using federal funds to raid medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal. Now, despite Holder's remarks, Hinchey and the committee are seeking to remove any ambiguity in the administration's position.

The language is part of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related appropriation bill for fiscal year 2010. The full House will consider the measure sometime in the next few weeks.

"I'm very pleased that the House Appropriations Committee today approved a simple, straightforward provision that will provide clarity as to what the Obama administration's precise policy is on medical marijuana," Hinchey said. "I've been greatly encouraged by what President Obama and Attorney General Holder's public statements in support of states determining their own medical marijuana, but remain concerned about the matter since the federal government has still continued raids in states that permit the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. This provision will provide Congress with the transparency we need to determine whether any further legislative action is needed. It's imperative that the federal government respect states' rights and stay out of the way of patients with debilitating diseases such as cancer who are using medical marijuana in accordance with state law to alleviate their pain."

The move was good news for medical marijuana advocates. "We are glad to see the federal government finally moving toward sanity on medical marijuana," said Marijuana Policy Project director of government relations Aaron Houston. "No one battling serious illness and following their state's laws should live in fear of our federal government, and we look forward to clear assurances that suffering patients will be left alone."

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) also praised Hinchey and the committee. "ASA applauds Congressman Hinchey's continued leadership on this matter and welcomes the support for this provision by the House Appropriations Committee," wrote Caren Woodson, ASA director of government affairs. "I hope that this provision helps to clarify who, under the new policy, will arbitrate whether there has been any violation of state law. This is especially important for medical marijuana advocates to the extent that federal defendants are still prohibited from providing any evidence during federal trial that the activities for which they stand accused were done in accordance with state law. As such, ASA believes it is absolutely imperative that any alleged violation of state law be handled strictly within the state."

Harm Reduction: Overdose Prevention Bill Introduced, Study Released

In response to a rapid increase in the number of drug overdose fatalities -- doubling from 11,000 in 1999 to 22,000 in 2005 -- US Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) Wednesday introduced the Drug Overdose Reduction Act, which would allocate $27 million a year to cities, states, tribal governments, and nonprofits to implement overdose reduction strategies. Accidental drug overdoses are now the second leading cause of accidental deaths, second only to auto accidents.

Edwards introduced the bill in conjunction with a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance, Preventing Overdose, Saving Lives: Strategies for Combating a National Crisis, which lays out a number of ways in which the overdose toll can be reduced:

  1. Enhance overdose prevention education.
  2. Improve monitoring, research, outreach and coordination to build awareness of the overdose crisis, its ramifications and public health approaches to reducing it.
  3. Remove barriers to naloxone (Narcan) access.
  4. Promote 911 Good Samaritan immunity law reform.
  5. Establish trial supervised injection facilities.

"We've got the science, we've got the technology and the medicine to do this," said Dr. Donald Kurth, head of the American Society of Addiction Medicine during a Wednesday conference call. Yet despite a national overdose death toll "like a jumbo jetliner crashing every three days," the US "as a nation hasn't had the political will to let physicians use what's already available."

FedCURE NEWS: NCJCA ~ LIVE WEBCAST: 3:00PM, THURSDAY -- Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing Scheduled on Webb Bill to Overhaul America’s Criminal Justice System


Media Advisory for:                          Contact: Jessica Smith – 202-228-5185

Thursday, June 11, 2007, 3:00pm                        Kimberly Hunter – 202-228-5258

*** LIVE WEBCAST: 3:00PM, THURSDAY ***

Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing Scheduled on

Webb Bill to Overhaul America’s Criminal Justice System

National Criminal Justice Commission Act charges comprehensive

 review of system, concrete solutions for reform

Washington, DC – On Thursday, June 11, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs will hold a hearing on Senator Webb’s legislation to comprehensively review and reform the nation’s criminal justice system. The hearing entitled “Exploring the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009,” will host a number of experts in the field to discuss the need for such legislation. Senator Webb will participate in the hearing.

On March 26, Webb introduced S.714 to create a blue-ribbon commission charged with conducting an 18-month, top-to-bottom review of the nation’s entire criminal justice system and offering concrete recommendations for reform. The legislation has received widespread bipartisan support and has 29 cosponsors in the Senate, including Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Ranking Member Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Judiciary Committee member Senator Orrin G Hatch (R-UT).

In the 110th Congress, Webb chaired two hearings of the Joint Economic Committee that examined various aspects of the criminal justice system. In October of 2008, he conducted a symposium on drugs in America at George Mason University Law Center.

The hearing will be webcast online at the Senate Judiciary Committee website. The watch live, please go to: http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=3906

WHAT:                       Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs Hearing: “Exploring the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009”

WHEN:                       Thursday, June 11th, at 3:00pm

WHERE:                    226 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC

                                    Or online at: http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=3906

WITNESSES:            Pat Nolan, Vice President, Prison Fellowship

Chief William Bratton, Los Angeles Police Department

Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Harvard Law School

Brian W. Walsh, Senior Legal Research Fellow, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation

For background materials on Senator Webb’s legislation, please visit:  http://webb.senate.gov/email/criminaljusticereform.html

For  additional materials or to RSVP, please contact Kimberly Hunter at: Kimberly_Hunter@webb.senate.gov.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Webcast: U.S. Senate Hearing -- Exploring the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009

On Thursday, June 11, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs will hold a hearing on Senator Webb’s legislation to comprehensively review and reform the nation’s criminal justice system. The hearing entitled “Exploring the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009,” will host a number of experts in the field to discuss the need for such legislation. Senator Webb will participate in the hearing. On March 26, Webb introduced S.714 to create a blue-ribbon commission charged with conducting an 18-month, top-to-bottom review of the nation’s entire criminal justice system and offering concrete recommendations for reform. The legislation has received widespread bipartisan support and has 29 cosponsors in the Senate, including Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Ranking Member Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Judiciary Committee member Senator Orrin G Hatch (R-UT). In the 110th Congress, Webb chaired two hearings of the Joint Economic Committee that examined various aspects of the criminal justice system. In October of 2008, he conducted a symposium on drugs in America at George Mason University Law Center. To watch live, please go to: http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=3906 or , Washington, DC For additional materials or to RSVP, please contact Kimberly Hunter at: Kimberly_Hunter@webb.senate.gov. Witnesses include: Pat Nolan, Vice President, Prison Fellowship Chief William Bratton, Los Angeles Police Department Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Harvard Law School Brian W. Walsh, Senior Legal Research Fellow, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation
Date: 
Thu, 06/11/2009 - 3:00pm
Location: 
226 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC
United States

Press Release: House Appropriations Committee Seeks Clarification on Medical Marijuana Policy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
JUNE 9, 2009   

House Appropriations Committee Seeks Clarification on Medical Marijuana Policy
Amendment Seeks Explanation in Light of Attorney General Holder's Recent Statements

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

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In light of recent statements by Attorney General Eric Holder indicating that the Obama administration would not pursue prosecutions of individuals involved in medical marijuana activities sanctioned by state law, the House Appropriations Committee has added language seeking clarification of the new policy to the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill.

     The language, sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), states, "There have been conflicting public reports about the Department's enforcement of medical marijuana policies. Within 60 days of enactment, the Department shall provide to the Committee clarification of the Department's policy regarding enforcement of federal laws and use of federal resources against individuals involved in medical marijuana activities."

     In past years, Hinchey and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) have sponsored an amendment aimed at ending Drug Enforcement Administration raids on state-legal medical marijuana patients and providers. But in recent months, Attorney General Eric Holder has disavowed any intent to pursue such attacks. Last week, Holder told KOB-TV in Albuquerque, "For those organizations that are doing so sanctioned by state law and do it in a way that is consistent with state law, and given the limited resources that we have, that will not be an emphasis for this administration. ... Medicinal marijuana ... that is something for the states to decide."

     "We are glad to see the federal government finally moving toward sanity on medical marijuana," said Marijuana Policy Project director of government relations Aaron Houston. "No one battling serious illness and following their state's laws should live in fear of our federal government, and we look forward to clear assurances that suffering patients will be left alone."

     With more than 27,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

####

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Rethinking Federal Sentencing Policy

Congressional Black Caucus Justice and Civil Rights Taskforce and Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School presents Rethinking Federal Sentencing Policy: 25th Anniversary of the Sentencing Reform Act. For more information, contact: Bernard Moore, PhD, Senior Policy Fellow, Office of Congressman Danny K. Davis at 202-360-7551 or Bernard.moore@mail.house.gov. Schedule: Welcome and Opening remarks by Rep. Danny Davis (5 minutes) Rep. Charles Rangel (5 minutes) Welcome and Introduction of A.G. by CBC Justice & Civil Rights Task Force, Rep. John Conyers (5-10 minutes) Remarks by Eric Holder, Attorney General (15 minutes), U.S. Department of Justice Introduction of Justice O’Connor by Sen. Patrick Leahy, Charles Hamilton Houston, Institute for Race & Justice (5 minutes) Remarks by Hon. Sandra Day O’Connor (15 minutes), Supreme Court of the United States Mandatory Minimums Panel One: Rep Maxine Waters (CA) History of Mandatory Minimums Hon. Terry Hatter, Judge, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California Hon. J. Spencer Letts, Senior Judge, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California Eric Sterling, President, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation Charles E. Black, formerly Incarcerated Panel Two: Rep. Bobby Scott (VA) the need for repeal and how to repeal, including legislative update Hon. Ann Williams, Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit A.J. Kramer, Federal Defender, Federal Public Defender of the District of Columbia Julie Stewart, President, Families Against Mandatory Minimums Disparity between Crack and Powder Cocaine Panel Three: Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX) Hon. Reggie B. Walton, Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Hon. William Sessions, Vice Chairman, U.S. Sentencing Commission Brace Nicholson, Legislative Counsel, American Bar Association David Kirby, Former United States Attorney for the District of Vermont Good Time Panel Four: Rep. Danny K. Davis (IL) Hon. Consuelo B. Marshall, Senior Judge, U.S. District Court for Central District of California Nancy Gertner, Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts Marc Mauer, Executive Director, Sentencing Project Harley G. Lappin, Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons (Discuss overcrowding)
Date: 
Wed, 06/24/2009 - 4:30pm - 7:30pm
Location: 
Orientation Theater-South
Washington, DC
United States

Sentencing: Obama Administration Tells Congress to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity

In a break with the Bush administration, Justice Department officials called Wednesday for the first time for Congress to pass legislation that would undo the vast disparities in sentences for those convicted of crack and powder cocaine possession offenses. For years, drug reformers, civil rights groups, and even the US Sentencing Commission have called for the disparities to be undone, saying they have had a racially disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities.

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Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) opens the hearing
Under federal sentencing laws adopted in the midst of the crack hysteria of the 1980s, it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to generate a mandatory minimum five-year federal prison sentence, but only five grams of crack to generate the same sentence. Historically, blacks have accounted for more than 80% of all federal crack convictions, with whites accounting for less than 10%.

Competing bills have been introduced to eliminate or reduce the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences, but in previous years they have not gotten far. With the administration now behind eliminating the disparity, this year could be different.

Justice Department Criminal Division Chief Lanny Breuer told a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee Wednesday that the administration supported bills that would equalize punishments for crack and powder cocaine offenses. The disparity should be "completely eliminated," he said.

"Now is the time for us to reexamine federal cocaine sentencing policy, from the perspective of both fundamental fairness and safety," Breuer told the Judiciary subcommittee on crime and drugs. He added that a Justice Department panel is reviewing a broad range of criminal justice topics, including sentencing reforms.

It's about time, said Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), the Senate majority whip, citing the racially disproportionate crack conviction figures. "These racial disparities profoundly undermine trust in our criminal justice system and have a deeply corrosive effect on the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities," Durbin said.

US District Judge Reggie Walton, representing the Judicial Conference, also addressed the committee. The crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity is "one of the most important issues confronting the criminal justice system today," he said. "No one can appreciate the agony of having to enforce a law that one believes to be fundamentally unfair to individuals who look like me," said the judge, who is black.

Sentencing reform advocacy groups were also on hand for the hearing. Mary Price, vice president and general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) told the subcommittee the sentencing disparity has a discriminatory impact on blacks, including people like FAMM client Eugenia Jennings, now serving a 20-year prison sentence for twice trading small amounts of crack for designer clothes.

"This hearing gives new hope to thousands who have loved ones serving harsh sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses," Price said.

Even former DEA head and enthusiastic drug warrior Asa Hutchinson had little good to say about the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. "When significant numbers of African Americans on the street question the fairness of our criminal justice system, then it becomes more difficult for the officer on the street to do his or her duty under the law," Hutchinson said.

A number of bills have been filed in both the House and the Senate to address the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Now, the fight will be to ensure that eliminating the disparity means reducing crack sentences, not increasing powder ones.

Click here to view archived video of the hearing.

Feature: Marijuana Reform Approaches the Tipping Point

Sometime in the last few months, the notion of legalizing marijuana crossed an invisible threshold. Long relegated to the margins of political discourse by the conventional wisdom, pot freedom has this year gone mainstream.

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Is reason dawning for marijuana policy?
The potential flu pandemic and President Obama's 100th day in office may have knocked marijuana off the front pages this week, but so far this year, the issue has exploded in the mass media, impelled by the twin forces of economic crisis and Mexican violence fueled by drug prohibition. A Google news search for the phrase "legalize marijuana" turned up more than 1,100 hits -- and that's just for the month of April.

It has been helped along by everything from the Michael Phelps non-scandal to the domination of marijuana legalization questions in the Change.gov questions, which prompted President Obama to laugh off the very notion, to the economy, to the debate over the drug war in Mexico. But it has also been ineffably helped along by the lifting of the oppressive burden of Bush administration drug war dogma. There is a new freedom in the air when it comes to marijuana.

Newspaper columnists and editorial page writers from across the land have taken up the cause with gusto, as have letter writers and bloggers. Last week, even a US senator got into the act, when Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) told CNN that marijuana legalization is "on the table."

But despite the seeming explosion of interest in marijuana legalization, the actual fact of legalization seems as distant as ever, a distant vision obscured behind a wall of bureaucracy, vested interests, and craven politicians. Drug War Chronicle spoke with some movement movers and shakers to find out just what's going on... and what's not.

"There is clearly more interest and serious discussion of whether marijuana prohibition makes any sense than I've seen at any point in my adult lifetime," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "It's not just the usual suspects; it's people like Jack Cafferty on CNN and Senator Jim Webb, as well as editorial pages and columnists across the country."

Mirken cited a number of factors for the sudden rise to prominence of the marijuana issue. "I think it's a combination of things: Michael Phelps, the horrible situation on the Mexican border, the state of the economy and the realization that there is a very large industry out there that provides marijuana to millions of consumers completely outside the legal economy that is untaxed and unregulated," he said. "All of these factors have come together in a way that makes it much easier for people to connect the dots."

"Things started going white hot in the second week of January," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "We had the fallout from the Michael Phelps incident, the Change.gov marijuana question to Obama and his chuckling response, we have the Mexico violence, we have the economic issues," he counted. "All of these things have helped galvanize a certain zeitgeist that is palpable and that almost everyone can appreciate."

"The politicians are still very slow on picking up on the desires of citizens no matter how high the polling numbers go, especially on decriminalization and medical marijuana," said St. Pierre. "The polling numbers are over 70% for those, and support for legalization nationwide is now at about 42%, depending on which data set you use. Everything seems to be breaking for reform in these past few weeks, and I expect those numbers to only go up."

"It feels like we're reaching the tipping point," said Amber Langston, eastern region outreach director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy. "I've been feeling that for a couple of months now. The Michael Phelps incident sent a clear message that you can be successful and still have used marijuana. He's still a hero to lots of people," she said.

"I think we're getting close now," said Langston. "We have moved the conversation to the next level, where people are actually taking this seriously and we're not just having another fear-based discussion."

"There is definitely momentum building around marijuana issues," said Denver-based Mason Tvert, executive director of SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation), which has built a successful strategy around comparing alcohol and marijuana. "Yet we still find ourselves in a situation where change is not happening. Up until now, people have made arguments around criminal justice savings, other economic benefits, ending the black market -- those things have got us to where we are today, but they haven't been enough to get elected officials to act," he argued.

"The problem is that there are still far too many people who see marijuana as so harmful it shouldn't be legalized," Tvert continued. "That suggests we need to be doing more to address the relative safety of marijuana, especially compared to drugs like alcohol. The good arguments above will then carry more weight. Just as a concerned parent doesn't want to reap the tax benefits of legal heroin, it's the same with marijuana. The mantra is why provide another vice. What we're saying is that we're providing an alternative for the millions who would prefer to use marijuana instead of alcohol."

With the accumulation of arguments for legalization growing ever weightier, the edifice of marijuana prohibition seems increasingly shaky. "Marijuana prohibition has become like the Soviet Empire circa 1987 or 1988," Mirken analogized. "It's an empty shell of a policy that continues only because it is perceived as being huge and formidable, but when the perception changes, the whole thing is going to collapse."

Still, translating the zeitgeist into real change remains a formidable task, said Mirken. "It is going to take hard work. All of us need to keep finding ways to keep these discussions going in the media, we need to work with open-minded legislators to get bills introduced where there can be hearings to air the facts and where we can refute the nonsense that comes from our opponents. Keeping the debate front and center is essential," he said.

Mirken is waiting for the other shoe to drop. "We have to be prepared for an empire strikes back moment," he said. "I predict that within the next year, there will be a concerted effort to scare the daylights out of people about marijuana."

Activists need to keep hammering away at both the federal government and state and local governments, Mirken said. "We are talking to members of Congress and seeing what might be doable. Even if nothing passes immediately, introducing a bill can move the discussion forward, but realistically, things are more likely to happen at the state and local level," he said, citing the legalization bill in California and hinting that MPP would try legalization in Nevada again.

Part of the problem of the mismatch between popular fervor and actual progress on reform is partisan positioning, said St. Pierre. "Even politicians who may be personally supportive and can appreciate what they see going on around them as this goes mainstream do not want to hand conservative Republicans a triangulation issue. The Democrats are begging for a certain degree of political maturity from the reform movement," he said. "They're dealing with two wars, tough economic times, trying to do health care reform. They don't want to raise cannabis to a level where it becomes contentious for Obama."

The window of opportunity for presidential action is four years down the road, St. Pierre suggested. "If Obama doesn't do anything next year, they will then be in reelection mode and unlikely to act," he mused. "I think our real shot comes after he is reelected. Then we have two years before he becomes a lame duck."

But we don't have to wait for Obama, said St. Pierre. "We expect Barney Frank and Ron Paul to reintroduce decriminalization and medical marijuana bills," he said. "I don't think they will pass this year, but we might get hearings, although I don't think that's likely until the fall."

It's not just that politicians need to understand that supporting marijuana legalization will not hurt them -- they need to understand that standing its way will. "The politicians aren't feeling the pain of being opposed to remain," St. Pierre said. "We have to take out one of those last remaining drug war zealots."

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