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Is It Time for Another DC Marijuana Initiative? [FEATURE]

In the wake of the legalization victories in Colorado and Washington last November, and medical marijuana in Massachusetts, activists are talking about where the next marijuana reform campaigns should be waged and what they should attempt to do. One document that has gotten some discussion is from the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), listing seven states where it would be working to legalize marijuana next. The list includes possible tax and regulate initiatives in Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oregon.

DC's partial diamond (map from
Absent from the list is one jurisdiction that would also appear ripe for a legalization initiative: Washington, DC. The nation's capital has several things going for it.

DC has the initiative process, and activists used it to great effect in passing medical marijuana with 69% of the vote in 1998 (even if, thanks to Congressional action and the glacial pace of the DC government it has taken 15 years to implement it). The District is also overwhelmingly liberal; Obama won with 91% of the vote in November.

Unlike large states like California, the District is small in size and population and would not require a huge expenditure of resources to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. Similarly, it is a relatively small media market, meaning TV advertising would be in reach of all but the most ill-funded campaign.

Last, but not least, it is the nation's capital. A successful initiative in Washington, DC, would reverberate not only around the country, but around the world, particularly an initiative that enacted legalization..

MPP may not have included the District in its "to do" list, but that doesn't mean the organization isn't watching, said the organization's director of governmental relations, Steve Fox.

"[DC] is being discussed," said Fox. "When you look at the places where an initiative would be possible, the District stands out. One reason we didn't mention it is that it’s a jurisdiction where we're not necessarily looking at tax and regulate, but there are options to do less, such as a decriminalization initiative."

The problem of congressional interference is cause for concern, though, Fox said.

"DC certainly is ripe for some kind of reform, but we also have to be cognizant of the fact that it is unique in that it has congressional oversight," Fox said. "With the medical marijuana system finally getting off the ground, we don't necessarily want to ruffle any feathers by attempting to do anything too bold. When the medical marijuana initiative passed in 1998 and Congress wanted to mess with it, they ended up having a provision something along the lines of DC not being able to spend any funds to lower or reduce penalties related to any schedule I or II substances. If Congress thought DC was going too far too fast, it could block DC from spending any money for reforms of Schedule I substances."

Doing DC would be tempting, said Fox, but again worried about moving too fast for Congress.

"There would certainly be value in passing something in the District," he mused. "You would be making a statement that a strongly Democratic-leaning jurisdiction thinks marijuana should be regulated like alcohol, but that might not be big news to a lot of people. The real impact and real value would be to actually have a regulated market in operation, and members of Congress could see that the sky isn't falling. We've waited 15 years to show Congress you can have medical marijuana dispensaries up and running and serving patients and the public good, and we want to make sure Congress has a chance to absorb that reality."

"As a longtime DC resident, I've always thought of the District as low-hanging fruit," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, who expressed interest in an initiative. "The media market is limited, and there is an overwhelmingly liberal population. But we don't even have a NORML chapter here, and I see little impetus in the reform community."

But things are happening in the District, according to long-time activist Adam Eidinger, co-owner of the Capitol Hemp Emporium until it was forced to close under law enforcement pressure last year. Eidinger told the Chronicle that both legalization and medical marijuana activists were meeting to plot potential courses of action, including either a legalization initiative or an initiative to expand medical marijuana rights.

"We're thinking 2014," said Eidinger, "but while I think this is a no-brainer, it has to be poll tested. We're not going to go for it if it polls less than 65%. "We will poll medical as well as legalization and see what the difference is. I know some of our friends wouldn't support legalization, but would support a patients' rights initiative that would give them the right to grow limited amounts, more rights to use outside the home, and more flexibility on dispensaries. This isn't California; DC is super strict on medical marijuana, and the patients here are going to be AIDS patients and cancer sufferers."

Test polling will happen soon, he said.

Eidinger, who also runs a media consulting firm, also saw the potential for a media coup. "This is a great place to do it for the public relations value," he said.

MPP's Fox said the group was looking for a few good people.

"As MPP did in Colorado and with medical marijuana in Arkansas, what we look for are committed and competent people on the ground who are able to do this kind of work," Fox said. "We're looking to support good people. I coordinate ballot initiatives, and I'm in DC, and so are other activists. I would be happy to work with local activists to craft something."

"The symbolism alone would probably be worth it," said St. Pierre. "It probably wouldn't cost more than $15,000 or $20,000 to get it done. This is a low cost project with a huge potential upside."

If recent comments from DC elected officials are any indication, further marijuana law reform is only going to come through the initiative process. While one city council candidate, Paul Zuckerberg, is running on a platform that includes decriminalization, the mayor and other top officials have made clear they are not interested in going further.

"I'm not prepared at this stage to support the decriminalization of any drugs at this point," Mayor Vincent Gray said earlier this month. "Look at the most abused substance in our society, and it's probably alcohol. People do abuse, irrespective of whether it's legal or not."

Police Chief Cathy Lanier also expressed unease, although her comments did suggest she drew a line between marijuana and other drugs.

"I know the legalization of marijuana is in large debate around the country, whether it be medical marijuana or just straight-out legalization of marijuana. That's one issue," Lanier said. "But I think when you talk about some of these other drugs that are extremely dangerous -- PCP, for example -- to say that we should decriminalize that and just allow people to have that without any penalty in the community would just be devastating."

With the DC council unlikely to advance reform, that leaves the field open to potential initiative campaigns. The District is most likely ripe for the picking, if anyone decides to go that route.

Washington, DC
United States

Hawaii House Speaker Files Marijuana Legalization Bill

Hawaii House Speaker Joseph Souki (D-8) last Friday introduced a bill to legalize the possession of marijuana by adults and create a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce. The measure, House Bill 150, would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and grow an as yet unspecified number of plants in a secure location.

The bill passed its first reading last Friday, but has yet to be sent to a committee. The 2013 legislative session began Tuesday.

"Regulating and taxing marijuana similarly to alcohol takes marijuana sales out of the hands of criminals and puts them behind the counter in legitimate businesses that will generate significant new revenue for Hawaii," said Mason Tvert, director of communications at the Marijuana Policy Project, which is working on passage of the bill. "Law enforcement resources should be focused on preventing and responding to serious crimes rather than enforcing antiquated marijuana prohibition laws."

In addition to allowing adult possession and cultivation, the bill would also authorize the state to license marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities. Public pot smoking, driving under the influence, and use by individuals under the age of 21 would remain illegal.

The bill introduction comes on the heels of the release earlier this month of a QMark Research Poll that showed support for legalization at 57%. That poll was sponsored by the Drug Policy Action Group, a sister group of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, and the ACLU of Hawaii, suggesting that local as well as national reform groups are pushing the bill.

In the wake of the legalization victories in Colorado and Washington last November, at least a half dozen states are expected to entertain legalization bills. Hawaii is first out the gate; the others are Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Honolulu, HI
United States

Hawaii Poll Shows Majority Supports Marijuana Legalization

A poll released last Thursday shows 57% of Hawaiians favor the idea of taxing and regulating marijuana. That's a startling 20% increase in support in just seven years -- a 2005 poll by the same group asking the same question had only 37% support.

The QMark Research poll was conducted for the Drug Policy Action Group and consisted of telephone interviews with 603 respondents. It has a margin of error of +/- 4.07%.

The poll showed 45% strongly supporting tax and regulate, with another 12% saying they had "somewhat strong support." Only 40% opposed legalization, a figure that has declined by 20 points since the 2005 poll.

The poll also found strong support for decriminalization (58%), for medical marijuana dispensaries (78%), and for the medical marijuana law passed by the legislature in 2000 (81%). The law allows patients to use marijuana, but makes no provision for them to obtain it except by growing it.

The poll numbers were released at a press conference conducted by the Drug Policy Action Group, a sister organization to the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, and the ACLU of Hawaii. Also introduced at the press conference was a study (available at the poll link above) by University of Hawaii economist David Nixon on the economic impact of marijuana law enforcement in the state.

Nixon found that Hawaii spends $9 million a year on marijuana law enforcement and foregoes $11 million a year in potential revenues under legalization. He also found that marijuana arrests are increasing in the state, with possession arrests up nearly 50% since 2004 and distribution arrests almost doubling.

"From the survey findings, it's clear that Hawaii voters are open to reconsidering local marijuana laws," said the Action Group's Pam Lichty. "The data in both of these reports will help our communities craft more effective, less costly approaches for the future. The Drug Policy Action Group, the ACLU of Hawaii, and our allies will advocate for the policy reforms that people in Hawaii want."

"In Hawaii as across the nation, arrests for marijuana possession are one of the most common ways that individuals get caught up in the criminal justice system, at great social and economic cost," said Vanessa Chong, executive director of the ACLU of Hawaii. "These studies provide important, updated facts for the Hawaii community as we consider new directions."

Honolulu, HI
United States

Law Enforcement Call on DOJ to Respect State Marijuana Laws [FEATURE]

Tuesday morning, former Baltimore narcotics officer Neill Franklin delivered a letter signed by 73 current and former police officers, judges, prosecutors, and federal agents to Attorney General Eric Holder at the Justice Department in downtown Washington , DC, urging him not to ignore the wishes of voters in Colorado and Washington state who voted to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana.

LEAP leader Neill Franklin delivers letters to the Justice Department. (
Franklin is the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which supported Amendment 64 in Colorado and Initiative 502 in Washington. Both measures won with 55% of the vote in this month's elections.

"As fellow law enforcement and criminal justice professionals we respectfully call upon you to respect and abide by the democratically enacted laws to regulate marijuana in Colorado and Washington," the letter said. "This is not a challenge to you, but an invitation -- an invitation to help return our profession to the principles that made us enter law enforcement in the first place."

The Obama administration's response to the legalization votes could help define its place in the history books, LEAP warned.

"One day the decision you are about to make about whether or not to respect the people's will may well come to be the one for which you are known. The war on marijuana has contributed to tens of thousands of deaths both here and south of the border, it has empowered and expanded criminal networks and it has destroyed the mutual feeling of respect once enjoyed between citizens and police. It has not, however, reduced the supply or the demand of the drug and has only served to further alienate -- through arrest and imprisonment -- those who consume it," the letter said.

"At every crucial moment in history, there comes a time when those who derive their power from the public trust forge a new path by disavowing their expected function in the name of the greater good. This is your moment. As fellow officers who have seen the destruction the war on marijuana has wrought on our communities, on our police forces, on our lives, we hope that you will join us in seeking a better world," the letter concluded.

The LEAP letter is only the latest manifestation of efforts by legalization supporters to persuade the federal government to stand back and not interfere with state-level attempts to craft schemes to tax and regulate marijuana commerce. Members of the Colorado congressional delegation have introduced legislation that would give the states freedom to act, while other members of Congress, notably Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX), have called on the Obama administration to "respect the wishes of voters in Colorado and Washington." Frank and Paul are cosponsors of a pending federal legalization bill.

"We have sponsored legislation at the federal level to remove criminal penalties for the use of marijuana because of our belief in individual freedom," Frank and Paul wrote in a letter to President Obama last week. "We recognize that this has not yet become national policy, but we believe there are many strong reasons for your administration to allow the states of Colorado and Washington to set the policies they believe appropriate in this regard, without the federal government overriding the choices made by the voters of these states."

"We seem to be at a turning point in how our society deals with marijuana," said Franklin Tuesday. "The war on marijuana has funded the expansion of drug cartels, it has destroyed community-police relations and it has fostered teenage use by creating an unregulated market where anyone has easy access. Prohibition has failed. Pretty much everyone knows it, especially those of us who dedicated our lives to enforcing it. The election results show that the people are ready to try something different. The opportunity clearly exists for President Obama and Attorney General Holder to do the right thing and respect the will of the voters."

"During his first term, President Obama really disappointed those of us who hoped he might follow through on his campaign pledges to respect state medical marijuana laws," continued Franklin. "Still, I'm hopeful that in his second term he'll realize the political opportunity that exists to do the right thing. Polls show 80% support for medical marijuana, and in Colorado marijuana legalization got more votes than the president did in this most recent election."

"From a public safety perspective, it's crucial that the Obama administration let Colorado and Washington fully implement the marijuana regulation laws that voters approved on Election Day," added LEAP member Tony Ryan, a retired 36-year Denver Police veteran. "There's nothing the federal government can do to force these states to arrest people for marijuana possession, but if it tries and succeeds in stopping the states from regulating and taxing marijuana sales, cartels and gangs will continue to make money selling marijuana to people on the illegal market. Plus, the states won't be able to take in any new tax revenue to fund schools."

At a Tuesday noon press conference, Franklin and other LEAP members hammered home the point.

"LEAP members have spent the majority of their careers on the front line of the war on drugs and have seen the failure of prohibition," he said. "We call now to end prohibition and embrace a new drug policy based on science, facts, and the medical field."

Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper told the press conference the war on marijuana was essentially a war on youth, especially minority youth, that sours police-community relations.

"I have come to believe that the war on marijuana has made enemies of many law-abiding Americans, especially many young, black, Latino, and poor Americans," Stamper said. "The law and the mass incarceration behind it have set up a real barrier between police and the community, particularly ethnic communities."

Legalization and regulation will help change that negative dynamic, Stamper said.

"This frees up police to concentrate on violent, predatory crimes, those crimes that really scare people, drive property values down, and diminish the quality of our lives," he said. "We're convinced that by working with the community, including those victimized by these laws, we can build an authentic partnership between police and the community and create true community policing, which demands respect for local law enforcement. By legalizing we have a chance to significantly reduce race and class discrimination. Watch what we do, we will use these states as a laboratory, and the sky will not fall."

"I joined this movement when I was made aware the war on drugs was a war on our community," said Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP. "Instead of being protected, we were being targeted. We don't feel like the police are protecting us; instead, they have declared war on our young men and women. The amount of resources being used in this war to divide the community is why we have so many incidents between law enforcement and our community. We know that come Friday and Saturday night there will be a ring of law enforcement personnel ringing our community looking to make those low-level drug arrests."

"I believe the regulation and legalization of marijuana is not only long overdue, but will make our communities safer," Huffman continued. "I am very hopeful that our president, who has some experience of his own with marijuana use, which didn't prevent him from becoming a strong leader, will see the light and get rid of these approaches that do nothing but condemn our people to a life of crime because they have felonies and are no longer employable. Instead of treating them like criminals, maybe we can treat them like people with health problems."

The Obama administration has yet to respond substantively to this month's victories for marijuana legalization. Nothing it says or does will stop marijuana from becoming legal to possess (and to grow in Colorado) by next month in Washington and by early January at the latest in Colorado, but it could attempt to block state-level attempts to tax and regulate commercial cultivation and distribution, and it has some months to decide whether to do so. Tuesday's letter and press conference were part of the ongoing effort to influence the administration to, as Franklin put it, "do the right thing."

Washington, DC
United States

Marijuana Legalization Polls Highest Support Yet

A new YouGov poll conducted for the Huffington Post has found that a whopping 59% of respondents nationwide support legalizing marijuana, with 51% saying they want it legalized, taxed, and regulated, and another 8% saying they it legalized -- period.Only 26% opposed legalization, while another 15% were uncertain.

The YouGov results show stronger support for legalization than other polls, most famously a Gallup poll that showed support breaking 50% for the first time ever. Other polls in recent months, including ones from CBS News and the Pew Research Center, had support for legalization at 40% and 45%, respectively.

Some of the polling difference may be the result of the question structure. The YouGov poll gave respondents the option of supporting either legalization with taxation and regulation or without, possibly garnering support from respondents concerned about wide-open legalization.

Another difference is that the YouGov poll was conducted online instead of using live interviewers over the phone. This relatively new polling method used a 1,000-person "sample drawn from YouGov's opt-in online panel that was selected to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult US population." The poll has a margin of error slightly larger than most other polls, at +/- 4.2%.

Breaking down the demographics, support for taxed and regulated legalization was remarkably consistent across age groups, from a low of 49% among 45-to-64-year-olds to a high of 53% among those 65 and older, with other age groups coming in between.  But support for untaxed and unregulated legalization was more age specific, with the highest levels of support coming from the 45-to-64 age group (13%) and those under age 29 (9%).

By political affiliation, 69% of Democrats supported legalization (either regulated and taxed or not), as did 58% of independents and 47% of Republicans. That latter figure is higher than the figure for Republicans who opposed legalization (44%).

Only 38% of respondents said they had used marijuana, although another 8% refused to answer.

Somewhat surprisingly, support for medical marijuana was only slightly higher than support for legalization, with some 64% saying they supported it and 23% saying they were opposed.

Whether the YouGov poll is an outlier because of its relatively new polling methods remains to be seen, but it appears to be yet another in an increasingly long line of polls showing support for marijuana legalization trending upward.

At NORML, A Sharp Focus on the Marijuana Initiatives [FEATURE]

The 41st National NORML conference took place at a downtown Los Angeles hotel over the weekend under the theme of "The Final Days of Prohibition." With marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot in three states and medical marijuana on the ballot in two others, the several hundred attendees could almost smell the scent of victory come election day -- or at least a historic first win for legalization.

Rick Steves, Keith Stroup, Ethan Nadelmann, Brian Vicente for OR Amendment 64, Roy Kaufman for OR Measure 80 (
"This is a great movement, not because it's about marijuana, but because it's a movement about truth and freedom, the freedom to live our private lives as we wish," NORML board chairman Paul Kuhn told the crowd in his conference-opening remarks. "A White House that serves liquor, a president who smoked a lot of marijuana, and a speaker of the house who is addicted to nicotine -- they have no business demonizing us because we prefer a substance less dangerous than liquor or alcohol."

For Kuhn, as for many others at the conference, supporting the legalization initiatives was front and center. (While grumbling and gnashing of teeth was heard among some attendees, particularly over the Washington initiative's drugged driving provision, no initiative opponents were seen on any of the panels or presentations.)

"We're beyond the concept of legalization. Now, we're supporting real laws, and no law will satisfy everybody in this movement," Kuhn continued, implicitly acknowledging the dissension around the Washington initiative. "We have our differences, sometimes heated, and this is healthy and necessary if we are to evolve and craft the best laws and regulations, the best form of legalization. All of us in this movement are allies, we're friends, we share the same goals of truth and freedom and legal marijuana. We have worked too hard for too many years to let our opponents divide us, or worse, divide ourselves."

"These are the final days of prohibition. The data is clear," said NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre, pointing not only to public opinion polls but also to the political reality of the initiatives and the progress the movement has made in Congress and the states. "We have a cannabis caucus in our Congress and in the state houses, and we helped get them elected. There are 15 or 20 members of Congress who are genuine supporters of ending prohibition, most of them are Democrats. In the states, we now have sitting governors and representatives calling us and saying 'we want your support, your endorsement, your money.'"

 With the initiatives looming, much of the conference was devoted to the minutiae and arcana of legalization, regulation, and taxation models. Thursday afternoon saw extended discussions in panels on "Cannabis Legalization and Regulation: What it Might Look Like" and "Cannabis and the 'Demo' Gap: Who Doesn't Support Legalization and What We Can Do about It."

"How do we win the hearts and minds of non-smokers?" asked Patrick Oglesby of the Center for New Revenue. "The revenue card is one we can play. That gives people something to vote for. Every state in the union legalizes and taxes alcohol and tobacco. Revenue from marijuana isn't going to fix our economic problems, but let's start with the easy stuff, let's fix this and get some revenues."

"At least one state will tip in November, and others will follow," predicted Pepperdine University researcher and Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know coauthor Angela Hawken. "Parents will wake up and realize their children didn't turn into zombies."

Parents -- and mothers in particular -- are a key demographic that must be won over if marijuana legalization is to advance, and the way to win them over is to address their fears, panelists said.

"Women are more safety conscious and they tend to believe authority," noted NORML Women's Alliance coordinator Sabrina Fendrick. "They just need to be educated. Proposition 19 failed in large part because of women and seniors. Many were concerned over the driving issue and children being on the road with stoned drivers. The way to bring support up is to educate them about the difference between use and abuse, and to make women who support legalization feel safe about coming out."

The NORML Women's Alliance is working on that, and on increasing the number of female activists in a movement that has been male-dominated from the outset.

Law enforcement is another key bastion of opposition to legalization, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) representative Steven Downing told the audience the key to swaying law enforcement was not in the rank and file, but at the pinnacle of the command structure.

"We have to influence change at the top," he said. "When that comes, the young officers on the street will do as they're told. Many of them already agree with legalizing marijuana. Don't treat the police as the enemy, but as people who can benefit from the education you can give them. Do it in a way that they're not defensive, then refer them to LEAP," the former LAPD officer suggested. "Tell them that if they support the war on drugs, they're not supporting public safety."

On Friday, longtime Seattle marijuana activist-turned-journalist Dominic Holden gave a spirited defense of Washington's I-502 initiative and ripped into its movement critics, including calling out NORML board member and Seattle defense attorney Jeff Steinborn, who has been a vocal foe of the initiative despite a unanimous board vote to support it.

"Who is opposing 502?" Holden asked. "The law enforcement opposition has been quiet and halfhearted. It's Steve Sarich, who runs CannaCare, it's cannabis doc Gil Mobley, and a whole passel of pot activists along with them. The ones opposing pot legalization right now are the ones making money hand over fist with prohibition. If they're profiting off it, I don't give a rat's ass what they think," he said.

"They don't like the DUID provision and its per se standard. They say that someone who uses marijuana regularly will test positive, but there is not a single scientific study to back them up. Their argument is fundamentally flawed because it is a lie," Holden countered, mincing no words.

"There is also concern that if we pass it, the federal government will challenge us on legalizing pot. That's the damned point!" he thundered.

"But marijuana is going to be taxed, they complain. Shut up, Teabaggers!" Holden jeered. "What planet do you live on where they're not going to tax a huge agricultural commodity?"

He pointed out that Steinborn and Sensible Washington, who are opposing I-502, had tried unsuccessfully to mount an initiative of their own.

"If you want to run a winning campaign, you need a bunch of money, credible spokespeople, campaign professionals, and the polling on your side," he said. "Part of that is compromise. You don't always get what you want, you don't always get the initiative of your dreams. What you want is a bill that can win."

"This is poll driven," said travel writer, TV host, and I-502 proponent Rick Steves. "It isn't a utopian fix. We need to win this. This doesn't feel pro-pot, but anti-prohibition."

"Regulate marijuana like alcohol is our message," said Sensible Colorado head and Amendment 80 proponent Brian Vicente. "We don't talk about legalization, but regulation. We've built support for this through two avenues, medical marijuana, where we've worked hard to make our state a model for how it can be taxed and regulated, but also through consistent earned media pushes and ballot initiatives to introduce the public to the idea that this isn’t the demon weed. We're consistently ahead five to ten points in the polls. We think this will be a damned close election."

When Vicente noted that the Colorado initiative had no drugged driving provision, he was met with loud applause. 

Drug Policy Alliance
head Ethan Nadelmann provided a primer on what major donors look for when it comes to supporting initiatives.

"We don't pick out a state in advance," he explained. "We want to know at the get-go if there is already a serious majority in favor of legalization. To think you can use a campaign to move the public is not true; the role of the ballot process is to transform majoritarian public opinion into law when the state legislature is unable or unwilling to do so. You want to go in with 57% or 58% on your side. Anything short of that, you're going to lose."

And watch out for October, he warned.

"In the final weeks, the opposition mobilizes," Nadelmann said. "You get the cops, the politicians, the feds speaking out and scaring people -- that's why these are hard to win, and that's why I'm still really nervous."

Still, the Drug Policy Alliance is deeply involved in Colorado and has put a lot of money into Washington, Nadelmann said, while noting that the Marijuana Policy Project had also put big bucks into Colorado.

"We have to win this year so we can figure out how to win a bunch more in 2016," Nadelmann said, adding that he was looking toward California. "We're going to try to put together the best and most winnable legalization initiative in California in 2016.

NORML 2012 wasn't all about the initiatives -- there were also panels on advances in medical marijuana, advances in the Northeast, and the role of women in the movement, among others, and a rousing speech from long-time anti-war activist Tom Hayden and a new-born movement star in Ann Lee, the mother of Richard Lee -- but with the marijuana legalization movement looking like it's about to step foot in the Promised Land after decades in the political wilderness, next month's elections dominated. The prospect of imminent victory really focuses the mind.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

Marijuana Tax and Regulate Questions Aim at Massachusetts Ballot

A drive to put non-binding public policy questions on the ballot in select Massachusetts electoral districts this November has cleared its first hurdle. Late last month, the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts announced that it had handed the requisite signatures to qualify in the 2nd Berkshire State Representative District.

Voters there will be asked: "Shall the representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would allow the state to regulate and tax marijuana in the same manner as alcohol?"

The group is also doing signature-gathering to get the same question on the ballot in four state senate districts that encompass Cambridge, Somerville, a third of Boston, and eight suburban towns. And it is working to expand the signature-gathering drive to districts that include the rest of Boston. The Drug Policy Forum said it expects 10% of voters in the state to be able to vote on the question by the time the dust settles.

Various drug reform groups are working together on the drives. In addition to the Forum, they include MassCann/NORML, Suffolk University NORML, Boston University SSDP, and other SSDP chapters.

This year's non-binding public policy question campaign will mark the seventh consecutive election in which activists have put marijuana policy-related questions to voters. They have yet to lose in 63 votes. In 2010, activists put the tax and regulate public policy question to the test in eight representative and one senate district, winning each, and none by a margin of less than 54%.

Voters across the state will also be voting on a binding medical marijuana referendum, so marijuana will be much on the minds of Bay State voters this year.

United States

Colorado Democrats Endorse Marijuana Legalization Initiative

Delegates at the Colorado Democratic Party state convention in Pueblo Saturday formally endorsed Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. Because support for the initiative was so strong at the convention, the endorsement becomes part of the party's "essential" platform.

The initiative had already won the support of Democrats in 15 counties, including eight of the 10 most populous. Those counties are Boulder, Delta, Denver, Douglas, Eagle, Elbert, El Paso, Garfield, Jefferson, La Plata, Larimer, Pitkin, Pueblo, Routt, and Weld.

"This is a mainstream issue," said Cindy Lowery-Graber, chair of the Denver Democratic Party. "Polls show that more than 60% of Democrats and a solid majority of independents believe marijuana should be treated like alcohol. A broad coalition is forming in support of Amendment 64 and I am proud to say that it now includes the Colorado Democratic Party."

It's not just Democrats and independents who are supporting the notion of marijuana regulation. Last month, the Denver County Republican Assembly approved a resolution calling for just that, although they did not explicitly endorse Amendment 64. That resolution got 56% of the vote.

"While there may be more support among Democrats and independents, this is quickly becoming a popular position," the campaign's Mason Tvert told Westword over the weekend. "Supporting an end to marijuana prohibition and regulating marijuana like alcohol is a position that spans the political and ideological spectrum."

Colorado is not the only state where marijuana legalization will be on the ballot in November. A similar measure has qualified in Washington state. Signature-gathering campaigns are ongoing in a number of other states, with Montana and Oregon appearing to have the best shot of making the ballot.

Denver, CO
United States

Billboard Goes Up for Colorado Marijuana Initiative

In the opening move of its election season effort to pass Amendment 64, a marijuana legalization and regulation initiative, the Colorado Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has put up a billboard in the heart of Denver featuring a nice, middle aged woman who says, "For many reasons, I prefer marijuana over alcohol" and asks "Does that make me a bad person?"

the first billboard in the Colorado campaign (CRMLA)
The billboard near Mile High Stadium sits above a liquor store. It went up last Thursday.

The initiative, which takes the form of a constitutional amendment, legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over. Adults would also be able to possess up to six plants -- three mature -- and the fruits of their harvest.

It also calls for the licensing of marijuana cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and retail stores. It would require the legislature to pass an excise tax on the wholesale sale of marijuana and that the first $40 million in tax revenues each year be dedicated to the state's public school capital construction assistance fund. It would give local governments the ability to regulate such facilities or prohibit them.

In the most recent polling on the issue, a December Public Policy Polling survey found that 49% supported the general notion of legalizing marijuana -- the poll did not ask specifically about Amendment 64 -- while 40% opposed it and 10% were undecided.

That shows that victory is within reach, but by no means assured. One of the key demographic groups needed to win is mothers and middle-aged women, like that nice lady on the billboard.

Colorado isn't the only state where marijuana legalization will be on the ballot. A similar effort in Washington has qualified for the ballot, while signature-gathering for initiatives continues in a number of states. Of those, efforts in Oregon and Montana now appear to have the best shot of actually qualifying for the ballot.

Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing

A bill that would legalize the possession of and commerce in marijuana got a hearing at the Massachusetts legislature's Joint Committee on the Judiciary Tuesday. While even the bill's sponsor conceded it was unlikely to pass, it helps lay the groundwork for a proposed marijuana legalization initiative down the line.

Massachusetts State House, Beacon Hill, Boston (
Marijuana possession was decriminalized by popular vote in 2008, but people can still be fined and have their marijuana seized, and marijuana commerce remains illegal.

The bill, House Bill 1371, sponsored by Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst), would legalize marijuana and "establish a tax on the cannabis industry."

"The state needs to make money," Story told her colleagues in the committee. "This would allow the state to benefit from marijuana by regulating it."

Story said she decided to sponsor the bill after a non-binding resolution to legalize marijuana won the approval of 70% of her constituents in the 2010 municipal elections.

"There are a number of legislators who said to me privately that they think it is an excellent idea, but they are nervous about saying it publicly," Story said. "Nobody wants to be seen as soft on drugs."

But some committee members were skeptical.

"If it's OK with marijuana, should we legalize cocaine and LSD?" asked Rep. Sheila Harrington. "I'm not sure that the justification is people are breaking the law all the time and we should just open it up."

Also testifying was Suffolk University senior and campus NORML head Sean McSoley. He related how he was stabbed six times on Boston Commons by men who wanted to take his bag of weed.

"There is nothing about marijuana that makes people violent," he said. "The prohibition is the reason for the crime surrounding marijuana and not the plant itself. This would have never happened if it were a pack of cigarettes or a six pack of beer," he said. "By legalizing this plant, these incentives to rob and kill would no longer exist."

Professional anti-reform activist Kevin Sabet, this time wearing the cap of the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, testified that the bill was unnecessary, it would increase drugged driving accidents, and it would cause mental health issues.

"There's no need for legalization," Sabet said. "No one's going to jail for small amounts. If we're worried about Big Tobacco, we need to be worried about Big Marijuana because they're going to be coming up right behind them."

No vote was taken and the bill remains in committee.

Boston, MA
United States

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