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ALERT: Crucial Vote on Souder's Law Happening Tomorrow -- YOUR PHONE CALLS NEEDED!

Update: We won. Dear friend: Our nemesis in Congress, arch-drug warrior Mark Souder, is at it again. Earlier this year, the House Education & Labor Committee passed a student aid bill including language to scale back his infamous financial aid/drug conviction law. The new version of the law would only count sales convictions -- a great step forward, though we still want full repeal. More than 200,000 students already have lost aid for college because of drug convictions. Tomorrow, we're told, Rep. Souder will offer an amendment on the floor of the House of Representatives, seeking to have this good language stripped from the final version of the bill. PLEASE CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVE AND ASK THAT HE OR SHE VOTE NO ON SOUDER'S AMENDMENT TO THE STUDENT AID BILL. Students should not lose access to college because of drug possession convictions! The bill is called SAFRA, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, H.R. 3221. To reach your Representative (or find out who your Rep is), call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. When the receptionist in your representative's office answers the phone, politely say something like the following:
"My name is _____ and I'd like Rep. ___ to vote against Rep. Souder's amendment to the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which would deny educational opportunities to students with minor drug possession convictions. Blocking access to education causes more drug problems and hurts the economy. Thank you."
When you're done, please forward this alert to all your friends, and please post it to sites like Facebook and Twitter too. A copy of this alert can be found at http://stopthedrugwar.org/alerts/college_aid. Also, please send us a note letting us know that you've taken action and if the staffer you spoke with told you anything that sounds important. Visit http://www.raiseyourvoice.com for further information on this issue and the hundreds of organizations that support repeal. Thank you for taking action! Please consider making a donation to support these efforts. Sincerely, David Borden, Executive Director StoptheDrugWar.org Washington, DC http://stopthedrugwar.org P.S. Find StoptheDrugWar.org on Facebook here and here, and on Twitter here.

Marijuana: Hawaii Insurer Denies Woman Transplant Because of Pot Use

Waimea, Hawaii, resident Kimberly Reyes died July 27 at Hilo Medical Center, 10 days after her insurance provider denied the liver transplant she needed because she had tested positive for marijuana in a series of toxicology tests. Reyes was not a registered medical marijuana user, but her family told the Honolulu Advertiser she had used it to deal with nausea, pain, and disorientation caused by the hepatitis that killed her.

Reyes' attorney, Ted Herhold of San Francisco, told the Observer that the diagnostic test results were the sole basis for Hawaii Medical Service Association's (HMSA) denial of transplant coverage. Reyes' husband Robin, and her mother, Noni Kuhns, said the decision was based on failure to comply with HMSA's policy forbidding drug use, but that neither HMSA nor her doctors had told her just what that policy was.

"Just because someone takes a hit off of a joint doesn't mean that it should be the end of their life -- this is not a reason to deny life," said Kuhns.

HMSA has refused to comment or provide its policies on drug use and transplant approval.

Denial of transplants to marijuana users has happened before. Last year, Seattle-area musician Timothy Garon died after being refused a transplant because of doctor-recommended medical marijuana use. In 2003, Oregon resident Dave Myers was removed from a transplant list merely for Marinol, a prescription medicine related to marijuana.

Financial Aid: House Committee Lightens Up on Students with Drug Possession Convictions

For a decade, a law authored by Indiana Republican Rep. Mark Souder has been an obstacle to higher education for people with drug records. The Higher Education Act (HEA) anti-drug provision, known more recently as the "Aid Elimination Penalty," barred students with drug offenses from receiving financial aid for specified periods of time.

Under pressure from students, educators, and others in a growing coalition to repeal the provision, Souder himself supported a partial reform in 2006 that restricted the provision's reach to those convicted of drug offenses while in school, and further changes in 2008 to help motivated students regain their eligibility early. Still, pressure to repeal it completely remained.

Now, with Democrats firmly in control of the Congress, the provision is once again undergoing scrutiny. On Tuesday, the House Education and Labor Committee voted to further shrink the provision's impact by limiting it only to students who are convicted of selling drugs, not those convicted simply of drug possession.

The vote came as part of broader legislation reforming the student loan system. That legislation must still pass the House and the Senate before the reform takes place. The committee turned back an amendment by Souder to strip the language reforming the drug provision by a vote of 20-27.

Feature: Winds of Change Are Blowing in Washington -- Drug Reforms Finally Move in Congress

Update:Needle exchange legislation was passed by the full House of Representatives on Friday afternoon.

What a difference a change of administration makes. After eight years of almost no progress during the Bush administration, drug reform is on the agenda at the Capitol, and various reform bills are moving forward. With Democrats firmly in control of both the Senate and the House, as well as the White House, 2009 could be the year the federal drug policy logjam begins to break apart.

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US Capitol, Senate side
While most of the country's and the Congress's attention is focused on health care reform and the economic crisis, congressional committees are slowly working their way through a number of drug reform issues. Here's some of what's going on:

  • A bill that would eliminate the notorious sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine by removing all references to crack from the federal law and sentencing all offenders under the current powder cocaine sentencing scheme passed its first subcommittee test on Wednesday. This one was bipartisan -- the vote was unanimous. (See related story here)
  • The ban on federal funding for needle exchanges has been repealed by the House Appropriations Committee, although current legislation includes language barring exchanges within 1,000 feet of schools. Advocates hope that will be removed in conference committee. (Update:Needle exchange legislation was passed by the full House of Representatives on Friday afternoon.)
  • The Barr amendment, which blocked the District of Columbia from implementing a voter-approved medical marijuana law, has been repealed by the House.
  • Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank's marijuana decriminalization bill has already picked up more cosponsors in a few weeks this year than it did in all of last year.
  • Virginia Sen. Jim Webb's bill to create a national commission on criminal justice policy is winning broad support.
  • The Higher Education Act (HEA) drug provision (more recently known as the "Aid Elimination Penalty"), which creates obstacles in obtaining student loans for students with drug convictions, is being watered down. The House Education and Labor Committee Wednesday approved legislation that would limit the provision to students convicted of drug sales and eliminate it for students whose only offense was drug possession. (See related story here.)
  • The "Safe and Drug Free Schools Act" funding has been dramatically slashed in the Obama administration 2010 budget.
  • Funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy's youth media anti-drug campaign has been dramatically slashed by the House, which also instructed ONDCP to use the remaining funds only for ads aimed at getting parents to talk to kids.

"All the stars are now aligned on all these issues," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "I've never felt so optimistic about drug policy reform in DC."

Looking into his crystal ball, Piper is making predictions of significant progress this year. "I have a strong sense that the Barr amendment and the syringe funding ban will be eliminated this year. The Webb bill will probably be law by December. There's a good chance that HEA reform and the crack sentencing reform will be, too. If not, we'll get them done next year," he said.

"Things are heating up like I've never seen before," Piper exclaimed. "It's like a snowball rolling downhill. The more reforms get enacted, the more comfortable lawmakers will be about even more. Cumulatively, these bills represent a significant rollback in the drug war as we know it."

Former House Judiciary committee counsel Eric Sterling, now head of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, was a bit more restrained. Congress is just beginning to come around, and there are dangers ahead, he said.

"We're seeing windows being opened where we can feel the first breezes of spring, but it's not summer yet," Sterling said. "There are people asking questions about drug policy more broadly, there is more openness on Capitol Hill to thinking differently. Liberals are not as afraid they will be attacked by the administration. The climate is changing, but my sense is we're still at the stage where members of Congress are only beginning to take their shoes off to put their toes in the water."

What progress is being made could be derailed by declining popularity of Democrats, the drug reform movement's failure to create sufficient cultural change and a stronger social base to support political change, and the return of old-style "tough on drugs" politics, Sterling warned.

"People need to be aware that as unemployment continues to rise, Democrats will be feeling afraid of repercussions at the polls," he said. "If the economic stimulus does not seem to be generating jobs, if there is a widespread sense of trouble in the country, the drug issue can easily be recast as a bogeyman to distract people. Members of Congress could start talking again about 'fighting to help protect your families.' Those old ways of thinking and talking about these issues are by no means gone," Sterling argued.

That is why he is concerned about building a social base to support and maintain drug reform. "The drug reform movement needs to create cultural change to support political change, and I fear we haven't done enough of that," he worried.

Sterling also warned of a possible reprise of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the emergence of a parents' anti-drug movement helped knock drug reform off the agenda for nearly a quarter-century. The administration's effort to defund the Safe and Drug Free Schools Act in particular could spark renewed concern and even a reinvigorated anti-drug mobilization, he said.

"The administration says the Safe and Drug Free Schools program hasn't demonstrated its effectiveness and grant funds are spread too thin to support quality interventions, which may well be true," he said. "But little dribs and drabs of that get spread around the states, and that means a lot of people could be mobilized to fight back. The parents' community and prevention professionals will mobilize around these issues with renewed vigor," he predicted.

The Wild West show that is California's marijuana reality could also energize the anti-reform faction, Sterling said. "For those of us outside California, it's hard to fathom what's going on there. I don't think anyone back East can imagine a dispensary operating every quarter-mile along Connecticut Avenue," he explained. "I ask myself if this is growing in a way that could create a potential powerful reaction like we saw in the 1970s. There has already been a smattering of stories about marijuana use in school by patients. Will there be exposés next fall about medical marijuana getting into the schools, kids getting stoned? People in the movement have to be aware that very real and powerful emotions can be unleashed by these changes," he warned.

Still, "momentum is on our side," Piper said. "Webb's bill has bipartisan support, the sentencing stuff is taking off in a bipartisan way, and the crack bill has the support of the president, the vice-president, the Justice Department, and some important Senate Republicans. That's probably the steepest hill to climb, but I think we're going to do it."

These are all domestic drug policy issues, but drug policy affects foreign policy as well, and there, too, there has been some significant change -- as well as significant continuity in prohibitionist policies. And that situation is exposing some significant contradictions. Here, it is the Obama administration taking the lead, not Congress. The Obama administration has rejected crop eradication as a failure in Afghanistan, yet remains wedded to it in Colombia, and it has embraced the Bush administration's anti-drug Plan Merida assistance package to Mexico.

"The really exciting thing is Afghanistan and special envoy Richard Holbrooke's ending of eradication there," said Sanho Tree, drug policy analyst for the Institute for Policy Studies. "That's huge, and it has repercussions for the Western Hemisphere as well. The US can't have two completely divergent policies on source country eradication. On Latin America, I suspect there is a power struggle going on between the drug warriors and the Holbrooke faction. We need a Holbrooke for Latin America," he said.

The media spotlight on Mexico's plague of prohibition-related violence may be playing a role, too, said Sterling. "The mayhem in Mexico certainly created a lot of thinking about how to do things differently earlier this year," he noted. "The media climate has changed, and perhaps that's more important at this stage than the climate inside the Beltway."

But the Mexico issue could cut against reform, too, he suggested. "Where is all that marijuana in California coming from?" he asked. "If someone can make the case that Mexican drug cartels are supplying the medical marijuana market there, that could get very ugly."

As the August recess draws nigh, no piece of drug reform legislation has made it to the president's desk. But this year, for the first time in a long time, it looks like some may. There are potential minefields ahead, and it's too early to declare victory just yet. But keep that champagne nicely chilled; we may be popping some corks before the year is over.

Press Release: Congress and Obama Administration Embrace Major Drug Policy Reform

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 22, 2009 CONTACT: Bill Piper at 202-669-6430 or Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 Congress and Obama Administration Embrace Major Drug Policy Reform Crack/Powder Disparity, Syringe Exchange Funding, Medical Marijuana, HEA Reform All Advancing Decades of Harsh and Ineffective Federal Laws Likely to be Dismantled this Year At least four of the worst excesses of the federal war on drugs appear likely to be rolled back this year – the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, the federal ban on the funding of syringe exchange programs, the all-out federal war on medical marijuana, and the HEA AID Elimination Penalty. All four reforms are advancing quickly in Congress. “Policymakers from the President of the United States on down are calling for a paradigm shift so drug use is treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, repealing the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs to reduce HIV/AIDS, allowing the District of Columbia to move forward with medical marijuana, and reforming the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty are all examples of pairing action with rhetoric.” The House Crime Subcommittee is expected to pass legislation today eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity that punishes crack cocaine offenses one hundred times more severely than powder cocaine offenses. Both President Obama and Vice-President Biden have spoken in support of eliminating the disparity. In numerous statements this year, Justice Department officials have called on Congress to eliminate the disparity this year. Last week, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee repealed the 20-year ban prohibiting states from spending their share of HIV/AIDS prevention money on syringe exchanges program to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases. The full U.S. House takes up the underlying bill later this week. The ban is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. If the ban is not repealed, as many as 300,000 Americans could contract HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C over the next decade. President Obama called for elimination of the ban on the campaign trail. In legislation last week, the U.S. House repealed a provision of federal law that overturned a medical marijuana law approved by Washington, DC voters, setting the stage for the nation’s capital to make marijuana available to cancer, AIDS, and other patients, possibly as soon as next year. Earlier this year Attorney General Eric Holder declared that the Justice Department would no longer arrest medical marijuana patients, caregivers and providers, even if they violated federal law, as long as they were following the laws of their states. 13 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, but the Bush Administration raided medical marijuana dispensaries and made numerous arrests and prosecutions. In a vote yesterday, the House Education and Labor Committee reformed the HEA AID Elimination Penalty that denies loans and other financial assistance to students convicted of drug law offenses, including simple marijuana possession. Since 1998, more than 180,000 students have lost aid and many, no doubt, have been forced to drop out of college. Although the Obama Administration has not stated where it stands on the underlying law, it has said it wants to remove a question from financial aid applications that ask students if they have ever been convicted of a drug crime. In other drug policy news, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Rep. Ron Paul (R- Texas) have introduced bi-partisan legislation to decriminalize possession of marijuana for personal use. Sen. Jim Webb, D-VA, President Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, has introduced bipartisan legislation to create a national commission to study the U.S. criminal justice system and make recommendations on how to reduce the number of Americans behind bars, with a particular emphasis on reforming drug laws. Almost a third of U.S. Senators are cosponsors of the bipartisan bill and it is expected to pass the Senate sometime this year. “The ice is starting to crack,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The decades of harsh and ineffective laws that have led to overstuffed prisons and a growing HIV epidemic are starting to be challenged and hopefully soon dismantled.” ###

Breaking: House Committee Votes to Eliminate Financial Aid Loss Penalty for Drug Possessors

Read about the partial repeal of Souder's law included in their student loans bill by the House Education and Labor Committee -- of which Souder is a member -- in Souder's hometown newspaper. This is the third time Congress has moved to scale the law back -- the first two times Souder supported the changes, this time he didn't. Of course this is just one stage of the process, but leadership wouldn't have moved it forward if they didn't think they could make it stick. We've been working on this issue since 1999 when the law first passed. Exciting times. The work will go on, or course, to fully repeal the law for everyone. Look for more news on this soon.
press conference we organized on this issue in 2002
, for the
Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, attended by ten
members of Congress
Localização: 
Washington, DC
United States

Drug War Chronicle Film Review: "The War on Kids" (2009, Spectacle Films, 99 min., $19.95)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

For quite a while now, I've breathed a sigh of relief that my children are grown and not subjected to today's middle schools and high schools, with their achingly paranoid approaches to security and their obeisance to the principles of zero tolerance. As I've watched news account after news account of some kindergartener arrested for kissing a classmate, a middle school girl suspended for possessing Midol, an entire South Carolina high school raided for drugs as if it were an Afghan Taliban hangout, I've known that something was rotten in the way we treat our kids.

But I never gave it serious thought, never developed a comprehensive critique of our ever more freaked-out approach to youth, our desire to protect them from some drugs while doping them with others, or our increasingly authoritarian educational system. "The War on Kids" does. Winner of the best educational film at this year's New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, the 99-minute film smartly and entertainingly documents baseless and excessive punishment by schools and police, extreme forms of social repression, scapegoating by the media, exclusion from mainstream society and what can only be called pharmacological abuse.

All of this dehumanizing and psychological damaging abuses rise from our desire to protect -- or is it control? -- our kids. We want to protect them from violence and from drugs, from teenage sex and drinking. And this, of course, is where the war on drugs intersects with the war on kids, each reinforcing the other in an ever-increasing spiral of repressive, oppressive responses.

Unsurprisingly -- although this is underdeveloped in the film -- our story begins in the scary Reagan years of "just say no" and teen "superpredators." That was the time of the rise of zero tolerance, a policy that substitutes rigid, harshly punitive rules for common sense and an individual approach. Zero tolerance was originally about protecting students from weapons, but devolved into suspending them for drawing pictures of guns. And it was about protecting them from violence, but devolved into arresting them for schoolyard fights. And it was about protecting them from drugs -- some drugs anyway -- but devolved into strip searches of teen girls for Ibuprofen, suspending them for possession of Alka-Seltzer, and turning over anyone caught with a joint to the police.

As youth sociologist Mike Males, author of "Scapegoat Nation," put it in the film: "They must conform, they must have constant monitoring and supervision, schools won't tolerate a single drop of alcohol, no cigarettes, no drugs, no sex. This is absolutist conformity to arbitrary rules that are one size fits all."

Males goes on to note that despite the virtual panic over teen prescription drug use and overdoses, the real pain pill and OD epidemic is among the middle-aged. "It's not permissible to discuss drug use as a middle aged problem, so we have this unreal discussion about teens," he notes.

The youth, of course, are a convenient scapegoat. As much as they encapsulate our hopes and dreams, they also represent our fears and nightmares. Much better to project all that crap onto the kids than look into the mirror and deal with it ourselves.

The flip side of the war on drugs is the bizarre resort to the doping of a generation with Adderall, Ritalin, and the rest of the cavalcade of "good drugs." Here again, the filmmakers shine, turning a bright spotlight onto such insidious, invidious practices. The juxtaposition of the film's two drug chapters also shines a bright light on our whole insane approach to pharmaceutical substances. If a kid gets caught with cocaine, he is expelled and jailed. If a kid is on prescription Ritalin, all is good. Never mind that the two drugs produce almost identical biopharmaceutical effects.

"The War on Kids" is not just about the war on drugs. It also delves into the ever more Orwellian surveillance state built in the schools, the roles of administrators and teachers as akin to those of prison guards, and even the authoritarian architecture of the public school. (When driving through the countryside and coming across a grim, fenced, nearly windowless edifice, I find myself saying, "That's either a school or a prison.")

But the war on drugs and the war on kids feed on each other. Our draconian approaches to drug use and drug policy are a critical component of the war on kids. "The War on Kids" reveals that interaction, but also places it within the much broader context of our society's fear of urge to control our youth. In so doing, it unmasks the cant, the hypocrisy, and the fear-mongering that too often pass for reasoned analysis of the problems of youth.

As the Who once famously put it: "The kids are alright!" It's the grown-ups that have me worried.

Feature: Drug Reformers Boycott Kellogg Cereals Over Dumping of Michael Phelps Over Bong Photo

Mixing equal parts genuine outrage and political calculation, major elements of the drug reform movement have begun a national boycott of cereal giant Kellogg over its treatment of Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. Phelps was famously caught holding a bong in a photograph that surfaced last week, leading Kellogg to refuse to renew his endorsement contract.

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Michael Phelps
So far, Kellogg stands alone in dumping Phelps. Other corporations with which he had endorsement deals, such as Subway, have stood by him. He has been handed a three-month suspension by Colorado Springs-based USA Swimming , which is now under attack for its treatment of the Olympic champion by the Colorado activists of Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), led by Mason Tvert.

In a statement last week, the Michigan-based Kellogg said Phelps' behavior was "not consistent with the image of Kellogg." Oddly enough, Kellogg did not have a problem with Phelps' 2004 conviction for drunk driving. As recently as last fall, Kellogg's was touting its partnership with the hero of the Beijing Olympics.

"Michael's commitment to encouraging healthy lifestyles, especially among children, is in line with our many programs that educate consumers and promote good nutrition," said Brad Davidson, president of Kellogg North America. "He demonstrates that winning is not just about the glory that comes with gold medals, but that it's also about good sportsmanship, eating right, working hard and being your best."

Kellogg did not respond to Drug War Chronicle calls and emails this week requesting comment.

As the Phelps affair rocketed through the media -- it has been the subject of countless mass media reports, sports columns, and blog postings -- anger over Kellogg's treatment of the talented swimmer percolated through the drug reform community, as well as among marijuana aficionados everywhere.

"Kellogg's dismissal of Phelps is hypocritical and disgusting, and our members are angrier than I've ever seen them," said Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) executive director Rob Kampia. "Kellogg's had no problem signing up Phelps when he had a conviction for drunk driving, an illegal act that could actually have killed someone. To drop him for choosing to relax with a substance that's safer than beer is an outrage, and it sends a dangerous message to young people," he said.

"Kellogg is telling young people that drunk driving is okay, but using a social relaxant that's safer than beer gets you fired," Kampia continued. "That's not just outrageous, it's potentially lethal. We all know that boycotts are difficult to pull off, but the 100 million Americans who've made marijuana this nation's number one cash crop represent a lot of buying power -- buying power that Kellogg may wish it hadn't alienated."

MPP is by no means alone. In a coordinated effort, groups including the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and StoptheDrugWar.org have endorsed the boycott.

And it isn't just the "pro-pot lobby," as some media have referred to the reform groups, that is upset. Kellogg was so inundated with calls complaining about its decision to dump Phelps that it had to set up a special phone line to handle them all. The Kellogg Phelps line was getting so many calls it was listed above the line for dealing with questions about salmonella-tainted peanut butter products.

''If you would like to share your comments regarding our relationship with Michael Phelps, please press one to speak to a representative,'' said the recording. ''If you're calling about the recent peanut butter recall, please press two now.''

Boycotts are iffy things; their success depends not only on mobilizing consumers to act, but also on the willingness of the target to be influenced. The groups involved in the boycott said they understood the chances of persuading Kellogg to reverse its decision were not great, but that helping Phelps regain his lucrative endorsement deal was not the only reason for the action.

"We are trying to bring attention to the fact that Michael Phelps has committed an act that millions and millions of Americans have committed," said Amber Langston, SSDP eastern region outreach director, who noted that about 25,000 people had signed on to the group's petition -- begun before the Kellogg announcement -- urging that Phelps not be barred from Olympic competition. "He's still a hero, he's not a bad person, and he doesn't deserve to be punished. Our students have really mobilized to let Kellogg know how we feel."

The Phelps bong brouhaha and the South Carolina arrests of students attending the party where he was photographed could have a silver lining, Langston said. "Those arrests were completely ridiculous, but some good could come of all this by bringing attention to the fact that people are being needlessly punished. Phelps should not be arrested, and neither should the people who were there with him."

Langston may be on to something. Media coverage of the affair has been remarkable in that it has sparked more coming out of the closet as pot smokers than ever before and notable for the mocking tone about the hand-wringing over Phelp's bong photo and marijuana in general.

"This has struck a nerve like never before," said DPA's Ethan Nadelmann. "It is a case of overreach that provides an opportunity for the movement," he said. "When you look at the overwhelming majority of responses to this, it was give me a break, we have a president who smoked pot, enough with this hypocrisy. They are trying to say this sends the wrong message to the kids, but this is a guy who brought home a dozen gold medals."

Kellogg's decision to dump Phelps provided a rare opening for the reform movement, said Nadelmann. It's easier to pressure a corporation than a government, he noted.

"One of the challenges we face in drug policy reform," said Nadelmann, "is that we don't often have the option of targeting corporations doing bad things because we are mostly opposed to government -- not corporate -- policies. But this is an easy case. Also, Kellogg is a very prominent company, and it is helpful to be able to go after a visible target. And to be able to say that millions of Americans will no longer be turning to Kellogg when they have the munchies is a laugh line, but it's also true."

"The boycott call gives us a venue to really put the issue in perspective and talk about why marijuana prohibition is harmful and counterproductive," said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "It's a way to put the issue out into the public discussion. Nobody would care if this guy was photographed holding a martini or a bottle of beer, yet there is all this uproar despite there being no dispute that alcohol is the more dangerous drug."

And it's working, Mirken said. "We're a bit blown away by the intensity of the media attention around this. We've been doing radio interviews literally all day, and we have more scheduled for tonight," he said Wednesday. "Even if we don't change Kellogg's position -- and we know that effective boycotts are difficult -- this gives us a huge opportunity to educate the public about the fact that the laws don't make any sense."

East Asia: Tokyo Metro Government Annoyed but Helpless Over Pro-Marijuana Mag

A Tokyo-based magazine that has repeatedly published issues referring to marijuana use and provided cultivation tips is drawing the ire of the Tokyo metropolitan government, according to a Japanese press report. The magazine is an irregular publication of Core Magazine, which also publishes a number of adult manga titles.

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marijuana plants (photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia)
Three times in the last two years, the magazine has raised eyebrows among Tokyo metro police. In a 2007 issue, the magazine featured an article about how marijuana is smoked abroad. In March 2008, it carried an article called "The Reality of Cannabis Pollution," with detailed photographs of how marijuana is grown, as well as a DVD with more photos.

That earned the magazine the designation of a "harmful publication for juveniles" by the Tokyo metro government, which concluded that the article could lead readers to imitate the illustrated cultivation methods. That designation means that the magazine must be kept in a secure location in stores so minors can't see it.

At the time, the publishers played innocent, telling the metro government: "We failed to consider the content of the article. We'll be careful from now on."

But the mag came back with a December article detailing how to grow marijuana on balconies, and another DVD full of illustrative photos. Now it, too, has been designated a harmful publication, and the metro government has issued a "stern warning" to the publishers.

Again, the publishers acted apologetic. "The article was written by an outsider, and our check system dealt with it inadequately," they told the government. "We won't carry similar articles ever again."

While the magazine has been given a stern warning and seen its sale locations restricted, that is all the government can do under Japanese law, and that has officials grumbling. "It was extremely inappropriate for a magazine that juveniles can easily get hold of to carry such an article," said one official. "We took a countermeasure that we believed was best based on our ordinance. But we can't do anything further under the current Cannabis Control Law and our ordinances. All we can do for now is just trust the publisher's word, but that could be a cat-and-mouse game."

The Core magazine controversy comes as the number of marijuana charges being laid by Japanese police is hitting a new high. According to the National Police Agency, some 2,194 people were arrested for possession or cultivation from January through October of last year, putting the year on track for the highest number of pot arrests ever.

Among the arrested have been several sumo wrestlers, including Wakakirin, who got busted last Friday for possession. Police in that case said he told them: "I became interested [in cannabis] after reading about it in a magazine."

Feature: After Decriminalization Victory, Massachusetts Activists Fight Rear-Guard Action Against Recriminalizers

Massachusetts voters supported marijuana decriminalization by a margin of nearly two-to-one in November, despite the horrified protestations of the Bay State's law enforcement community. Now, thanks to the inclusion of a sentence in the ballot initiative and guidance from state Attorney General Martha Coakley, decriminalization foes see an opening to keep fighting their lost battle by seeking to pass municipal ordinances that would fine, or in some cases, subject to criminal penalties, people who consume marijuana in public.

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''Gutterheads'' and ''Girls 4 Ganja'' pre-lobbying party, week of Quincy hearing
Under the initiative passed in November and in effect since early this month, the maximum penalty for marijuana possession (up to one ounce) is a $100 fine. But as the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security noted in law enforcement guidelines issued earlier this month: "Question 2 permits the cities and towns to pass ordinances or by-laws prohibiting public use of marijuana or THC and to provide for additional penalties for public use. EOPSS recommends that municipalities enact such by-laws or ordinances and provide police with the option of treating public use as a misdemeanor offense. "

Attorney General Coakley was happy to help out. Her office drafted and distributed a model ordinance for banning the public use of marijuana, which could include either criminal or civil sanctions, or both. A number of Massachusetts towns and cities have expressed interest in passing such ordinances, which does not sit well with decriminalization advocates, and now battles over the ordinances are breaking out all across the state.

It hasn't gone as well for the recriminalizers as they might have expected. The first municipality to vote on an ordinance, Worchester, voted it down last week. West Newbury Police Chief Lisa Holmes asked for a public pot smoking ordinance, but the council there unanimously said no. In Methuen and Quincy, Bay State activists have managed to put local elected officials on alert that they can expect trouble if they pass such ordinances.

But those battles aren't over yet, and there are many more to be fought. In Framingham, the town board of health passed a measure amending the smoking ban to include marijuana, but state law already prohibits the lighting of tobacco or other combustible products in public buildings. In Braintree, an ordinance proposing a $500 fine for public consumption will be discussed in coming weeks. In Auburn, where the police chief said the decriminalization law was unenforceable, he is expected to draft an ordinance fining public smokers. Ordinance fights will also take place in Danvers, Everett, Haverhill, Melrose, Milford, Newburyport, North Andover, Plymouth, Revere, Wakefield, and Watertown, according to Massachusetts activists. And there are probably more to come -- or perhaps not, if a string of defeats occurs.

And if activists can mobilize in those towns like they did Tuesday night in Quincy, they might just have the recriminalizers on the run. In Quincy, more than 60 people showed up outside city hall with signs and banners to express opposition to any ordinance. Mobilized by cell phone, Facebook, MySpace, and the BostonFreedomRally.com web site, about two-thirds of the ralliers were young people, said BostonFreedomRally.com's Scott Gacek.

"Many of our people had just voted for the first time, for Obama and for decriminalization, and now they feel like their votes are being ignored," said Gacek in explaining the youth turn-out. Although the ordinance was on the agenda, the city council dithered for hours over a zoning issue, but the crowd lingered into the night, sending the council a strong message of opposition.

"The council introduced the measure and, with no discussion whatsoever, voted to send it to the public safety and ordinance committees, but it doesn't exactly look like it's on a fast track," said Gacek.

Citizen action is a good thing, affirmed Bill Downing, president of the MassCann, the Bay State NORML affiliate. "If people want to participate in these protests in places like Quincy, that's a significant thing. If people are reading this in Maine or New Hampshire or Rhode Island, they can get on our e-mail list as well as read the news on the MassCann web site and join in. Please."

For Downing, the ordinance moves are a last gasp of the anti-decrim dinosaurs. "I see this as sour grapes by the folks who lost the vote," he said. "Hopefully, people throughout the state who voted for this would see actions like that as an insult, as they well should. It may end up helping us progress toward better marijuana laws because these people are only vilifying themselves."

"Attorney General Coakley was hostile toward us from the beginning, and after the election she sent out a model ordinance," said John Leonard, a former MassCann chair and currently a board member with the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts (DPFMA). "Now, they're jumping on this all over the place. We are in the process of formulating an action plan here at DPFMA," he said. "We're fighting these things left and right, and we need some help. We're happy that the Marijuana Policy Project came here and did the initiative, but now we're left with the aftermath."

MPP largely dictated November's initiative language and funded the campaign. Local activists had issues with some of the initiative's language, but papered over them to unite behind the campaign. In the sometimes rancorous debate in the run-up to the initiative, the language about ordinances was not an issue.

Perhaps it should have been, Leonard suggested in hindsight. "It is a shame that Question 2 allowed for public consumption laws," said Leonard. "Those are traditionally used for legal substances, like alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana is already illegal in public."

Downing also blamed the wording of Question 2 for some of the current problems. "The question itself said it didn't prevent towns from passing local ordinances. If they hadn't put that in there, this whole thing could have been avoided. Don't get me wrong," Downing continued. "We're thankful for MPP for all they did, but now we have to deal with this."

DPFMA is mobilizing to fend off the ordinances, Leonard said. "We are going to buy advertising in Quincy, which is the largest city where this is an issue, and we're going to be asking all the national organizations to chip in by adopting a town and lending their support. We want to stop this now," he said.

MPP is a bit more sanguine about the ordinances than Bay State activists. "The bottom line is really whether specific proposals are an attempt to subvert the intent of Question 2 or whether it is just a reasonable public nuisance ordinance," said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "If they are going to use this as a pretext to give people criminal records, then that becomes a problem." But it's Massachusetts voters who can stop the ordinances, or not, Mirken said. "It is up to local folks to decide what they're willing to tolerate and how organized they're going to get to stop something they don't like."

It's not that big a problem, said another national reform leader. "We're not worried that there will be serious damage from this," said Keith Stroup of national NORML. "It sounds like most of this is just chest-beating from the losers. They didn't like the initiative, so they run out and say 'in my town we're going to be tough,' but they are going to find that not many elected officials will want to go up against the expressed will of the voters."

"We want to make sure this law works well, and if it doesn't, we are going to need to work with people to fix it," said Stroup. "But we're not going back to arresting marijuana smokers. I think the people of Massachusetts appreciate their new law and having police pay more attention to serious crimes."

The ordinance battles will continue. At best, they will result in a resounding defeat of the recriminalizers. But even if decrim foes are able to get ordinances passed in some municipalities, it may be a pyrrhic victory: In the process of trying to do so, they are waking up a whole new generation of Bay State marijuana activists. Perhaps the local ordinance clause will turn out to be a Trojan Horse for building the drug policy reform movement.

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