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The Top Ten Drug Policy Stories of 2012 [FEATURE]

In some ways, 2012 has been a year of dramatic, exciting change in drug policy, as the edifice of global drug prohibition appears to crumble before our eyes. In other ways it is still business as usual in the drug war. Marijuana prohibition is now mortally wounded, but there were still three-quarters of a million pot arrests last year. The American incarceration mania appears to be running its course, but drug arrests continue to outnumber any other category of criminal offense. There is a rising international clamor for a new drug paradigm, but up until now, it's just talk.

The drug prohibition paradigm is trembling, but it hasn't collapsed yet -- we are on the cusp of even more interesting times. Below, we look at the biggest drug policy stories of 2012 and peer a bit into the future:

1. Colorado and Washington Legalize Marijuana!

Voters in Colorado and Washington punched an enormous and historic hole in the wall of marijuana prohibition in November. While Alaska has for some years allowed limited legal possession in the privacy of one's home, thanks to the privacy provisions of the state constitution, the November elections marked the first time voters in any state have chosen to legalize marijuana. This is an event that has made headlines around the world, and for good reason -- it marks the repudiation of pot prohibition in the very belly of the beast.

And it isn't going away. The federal government may or may not be able to snarl efforts by the two states to tax and regulate legal marijuana commerce, but few observers think it can force them to recriminalize marijuana possession. It's now legal to possess up to an ounce in both states and to grow up to six plants in Colorado and -- barring a sudden reversal of political will in Washington or another constitutional amendment in Colorado -- it's going to stay that way. The votes in Colorado and Washington mark the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition.

2. Nationally, Support for Marijuana Legalization Hits the Tipping Point

If Colorado and Washington are the harbingers of change, the country taken as a whole is not far behind, at least when it comes to public opinion. All year, public opinion polls have showed support for marijuana legalization hovering right around 50%, in line with last fall's Gallup poll that showed steadily climbing support for legalization and support at 50% for the first time. A Gallup poll this month showed a 2% drop in support, down to 48%, but that's within the margin of error for the poll, and it's now a downside outlier.

Four other polls released this month
demonstrate a post-election bump for legalization sentiment. Support for legalization came in at 47%, 51%, 54%, and 57%, including solid majority support in the West and Northeast. The polls also consistently find opposition to legalization strongest among older voters, while younger voters are more inclined to free the weed.

As Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown put it after his survey came up with 51% support for legalization, "This is the first time Quinnipiac University asked this question in its national poll so there is no comparison from earlier years. It seems likely, however, that given the better than 2-1 majority among younger voters, legalization is just a matter of time."

Caravan for Peace vigil, Brownsville, Texas, August 2012
3. Global Rejection of the Drug War

International calls for alternatives to drug prohibition continued to grow ever louder this year. Building on the work of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy and the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the voices for reform took to the stage at global venues such as the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, in April, the International AIDS Conference in Washington in July, and at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

While calls for a new paradigm came from across the globe, including commissions in Australia and the United Kingdom, this was the year of the Latin American dissidents. With first-hand experience with the high costs of enforcing drug prohibition, regional leaders including Colombian President Santos, Guatemalan President Perez Molina, Costa Rican President Chinchilla, and even then-Mexican President Calderon all called this spring for serious discussion of alternatives to the drug war, if not outright legalization. No longer was the critique limited to former presidents.

That forced US President Obama to address the topic at the Summit of the Americas and at least acknowledge that "it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are doing more harm than good in certain places" before dismissing legalization as a policy option. But the clamor hasn't gone away -- instead, it has only grown louder -- both at the UN in the fall and especially since two US states legalized marijuana in November.

While not involved in the regional calls for an alternative paradigm, Uruguayan President Mujica made waves with his announcement of plans to legalize the marijuana commerce there (possession was never criminalized). That effort appears at this writing to have hit a bump in the road, but the proposal and the reaction to it only added to the clamor for change.

4. Mexico's Drug War: The Poster Child for Drug Legalization

Mexico's orgy of prohibition-related violence continues unabated with its monstrous death toll somewhere north of 50,000 and perhaps as high as 100,000 during the Calderon sexenio, which ended this month. Despite all the killings, despite Calderon's strategy of targeting cartel capos, despite the massive deployment of the military, and despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid for the military campaign, the flow of drugs north and guns and money south continues largely unimpeded and Mexico -- and now parts of Central America, as well -- remain in the grip of armed criminals who vie for power with the state itself.

With casualty figures now in the range of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars and public safety and security in tatters, Calderon's misbegotten drug war has become a lightning rod for critics of drug prohibition, both at home and around the world. In the international discussion of alternatives to the status quo -- and why we need them -- Mexico is exhibit #1.

And there's no sign things are going to get better any time soon. While Calderon's drug war may well have cost him and his party the presidency (and stunningly returned it to the old ruling party, the PRI, only two elections after it was driven out of office in disgrace), neither incoming Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto nor the Obama administration are showing many signs they are willing to take the bold, decisive actions -- like ending drug prohibition -- that many serious observers on all sides of the spectrum say will be necessary to tame the cartels.

The Mexican drug wars have also sparked a vibrant and dynamic civil society movement, the Caravan for Peace and Justice, led by poet and grieving father Javier Sicilia. After crisscrossing Mexico last year, Sicilia and his fellow Mexican activists crossed the border this summer for a three-week trek across the US, where their presence drew even more attention to the terrible goings on south of the border.

5. Medical Marijuana Continues to Spread, Though the Feds Fight Back

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have now legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and while there was only one new one this year, this has been a year of back-filling. Medical marijuana dispensaries have either opened or are about to open in a number of states where it has been legal for years but delayed by slow or obstinate elected officials (Arizona, New Jersey, Washington, DC) or in states that more recently legalized it (Massachusetts).

None of the newer medical marijuana states are as wide open as California, Colorado, or Montana (until virtual repeal last year), as with each new state, the restrictions seem to grow tighter and the regulation and oversight more onerous and constricting. Perhaps that will protect them from the tender mercies of the Justice Department, which, after two years of benign neglect, changed course last year, undertaking concerted attacks on dispensaries and growers in all three states. That offensive was ongoing throughout 2012, marked by federal prosecutions and medical marijuana providers heading to federal prison in Montana. While federal prosecutions have been less resorted to in California and Colorado, federal raids and asset forfeiture threat campaigns have continued, resulting in the shuttering of dozens of dispensaries in Colorado and hundreds in California. There is no sign of a change of heart at the Justice Department, either.

6. The Number of Drug War Prisoners is Decreasing

The Bureau of Justice Statistics announced recently that the number of people in America's state and federal prisons had declined for the second year in a row at year's end 2011. The number and percentage of drug war prisoners is declining, too. A decade ago, the US had nearly half a million people behind bars on drug charges; now that number has declined to a still horrific 330,000 (not including people doing local jail time). And while a decade ago, the percentage of people imprisoned for drug charges was somewhere between 20% and 25% of all prisoners, that percentage has now dropped to 17%.

That decline is mostly attributable to sentencing reforms in the states, which, unlike the federal government, actually have to balance their budgets. Especially as economic hard times kicked in in 2008, spending scarce taxpayer resources on imprisoning nonviolent drug offenders became fiscally and politically less tenable. The passage of the Proposition 36 "three strikes" sentencing reform in California in November, which will keep people from being sentenced to up to life in prison for trivial third offenses, including drug possession, is but the latest example of the trend away from mass incarceration for drug offenses.

The federal government is the exception. While state prison populations declined last year (again), the federal prison population actually increased by 3.1%. With nearly 95,000 drug offenders doing federal time, the feds alone account for almost one-third of all drug war prisoners.

President Obama could exercise his pardon power by granting clemency to drug war prisoners, but it is so far a power he has been loathe to exercise. An excellent first candidate for presidential clemency would be Clarence Aaron, the now middle-aged black man who has spent the past two decades behind bars for his peripheral role in a cocaine deal, but activists in California and elsewhere are also calling for Obama to free some of the medical marijuana providers now languishing in federal prisons. The next few days would be the time for him to act, if he is going to act this year.

7. But the Drug War Juggernaut Keeps On Rolling, Even if Slightly Out of Breath

NYC "stop and frisk" protest of mass marijuana arrests
According to annual arrest data released this summer by the FBI, more than 1.53 million people were arrested on drug charges last year, nearly nine out of ten of them for simple possession, and nearly half of them on marijuana charges. The good news is that is a decline in drug arrests from 2010. That year, 1.64 million people were arrested on drug charges, meaning the number of overall drug arrests declined by about 110,000 last year. The number of marijuana arrests is also down, from about 850,000 in 2010 to about 750,000 last year.

But that still comes out to a drug arrest every 21 seconds and a marijuana arrest every 42 seconds, and no other single crime category generated as many arrests as drug law violations. The closest challengers were larceny (1.24 million arrests), non-aggravated assaults (1.21 million), and DWIs (1.21 million). All violent crime arrests combined totaled 535,000, or slightly more than one-third the number of drug arrests.

The war on drugs remains big business for law enforcement and prosecutors.

8. And So Does the Call to Drug Test Public Benefits Recipients

Oblivious to constitutional considerations or cost-benefit analyses, legislators (almost always Republican) in as many as 30 states introduced bills that would have mandated drug testing for welfare recipients, people receiving unemployment benefits, or, in a few cases, anyone receiving any public benefit, including Medicaid recipients. Most would have called for suspicionless drug testing, which runs into problems with that pesky Fourth Amendment requirement for a search warrant or probable cause to undertake a search, while some attempted to get around that obstacle by only requiring drug testing upon suspicion. But that suspicion could be as little as a prior drug record or admitting to drug use during intake screening.

Still, when all the dust had settled, only three states -- Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee -- actually passed drug testing bills, and only Georgia's called for mandatory suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients. Bill sponsors may have been oblivious, but other legislators and stakeholders were not. And the Georgia bill is on hold, while the state waits to see whether the federal courts will strike down the Florida welfare drug testing bill on which it is modeled. That law is currently blocked by a federal judge's temporary injunction.

It wasn't just Republicans. In West Virginia, Democratic Gov. Roy Tomblin used an executive order to impose drug testing on applicants to the state's worker training program. (This week came reports that only five of more than 500 worker tests came back positive.) And the Democratic leadership in the Congress bowed before Republican pressures and okayed giving states the right to impose drug testing requirements on some unemployment recipients in return for getting an extension of unemployment benefits.

This issue isn't going away. Legislators in several states, including Indiana, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia have already signaled they will introduce similar bills next year, and that number is likely to increase as solons around the country return to work.

9. The US Bans New Synthetic Drugs

In July, President Obama signed a bill banning the synthetic drugs known popularly as "bath salts" and "fake weed." The bill targeted 31 specific synthetic stimulant, cannabinoid, and hallucinogenic compounds. Marketed under brand names like K2 and Spice for synthetic cannabinoids and under names like Ivory Wave, among others, for synthetic stimulants, the drugs have become increasingly popular in recent years. The drugs had previously been banned under emergency action by the DEA.

The federal ban came after more than half the states moved against the new synthetics, which have been linked to a number of side effects ranging from the inconvenient (panic attacks) to the life-threatening. States and localities continue to move against the new drugs, too.

While the federal ban demonstrates that the prohibitionist reflex is still strong, what is significant is the difficulty sponsors had in getting the bill passed. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) put a personal hold on the bill until mandatory minimum sentencing requirements were removed and also argued that such efforts were the proper purview of the states, not Washington. And for the first time, there were a substantial number of Congress members voting "no" on a bill to create a new drug ban.

10. Harm Reduction Advances by Fits and Starts, At Home and Abroad

Harm reduction practices -- needle exchanges, safer injection sites, and the like -- continued to expand, albeit fitfully, in both the US and around the globe. Faced with a rising number of prescription pain pill overdoses in the US -- they now outnumber auto accident fatalities -- lawmakers in a number of states have embraced "911 Good Samaritan" laws granting immunity from prosecution. Since New Mexico passed the first such law in 2007, nine others have followed. Sadly, Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the New Jersey bill this year.

Similarly, the use of the opioid antagonist naloxone, which can reverse overdoses and restore normal breathing in minutes, also expanded this year. A CDC report this year that estimated it had saved 10,000 lives will only help spread the word.

There has been movement internationally as well this year, including in some unlikely places. Kenya announced in June that it was handing out 50,000 syringes to injection drug users in a bid to reduce the spread of AIDS, and Colombia announced in the fall plans to open safe consumption rooms for cocaine users in Bogota. That's still a work in progress.

Meanwhile, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs unanimously supported a resolution calling on the World Health Organization and other international bodies to promote measures to reduce overdose deaths, including the expanded use of naloxone; Greece announced it was embracing harm reduction measures, including handing out needles and condoms, to fight AIDS; long-awaited Canadian research called for an expansion of safe injection sites to Toronto and Ottawa; and Denmark first okayed safe injection sites in June, then announced it is proposing that heroin in pill form be made available to addicts. Denmark is one of a handful of European countries that provide maintenance doses of heroin to addicts, but to this point, the drug was only available for injection. France, too, announced it was going ahead with safe injection sites, which could be open by the time you read this.  

This has been another year of slogging through the mire, with some inspiring victories and some oh-so-hard-fought battles, not all of which we won. But after a century of global drug prohibition, the tide appears to be turning, not least here in the US, prohibition's most powerful proponent. There is a long way to go, but activists and advocates can be forgiven if they feel like they've turned a corner. Now, we can put 2012 to bed and turn our eyes to the year ahead.

Michigan Cops Ponder Detroit Marijuana Legalization Vote

Voters in Detroit overwhelmingly approved legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults on private property in last month's elections, but according to Michigan Live, local law enforcement agencies are either uncertain what to do or are fully prepared to ignore the will of the voters.

Marijuana is legal in the Motor City. Someone tell the cops. (wikimedia.org)
None of the law enforcement agencies contacted by Michigan Live said they had instructed their officers to stop citing or arresting people for pot possession in the city. Some agencies were set to ignore the Detroit ordinance, while others were not sure how they would respond.

State Police spokesman Lt. Mike Shaw said the ordinance would have no impact on its enforcement policies. If state police catch you with marijuana, he said, you will be cited with state misdemeanor possession charges and be looking at up to a year in jail.

"We don’t enforce local ordinances, so nothing has changed for us," Shaw said. "Marijuana is still illegal for us according to state law. Anyone who doesn't have a medical marijuana card will be arrested for state possession."

The Detroit Police Department isn't sure what it will do.

"This legislation is being reviewed by the city of Detroit Law Department," said Sgt. Eren Stephens of the Public Information Office.

Neither is the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.

"We have not developed a policy yet on that issue," said sheriff's spokesman Dennis Niemiec. "It’s being looked at by our training and legal departments."

The Wayne State University Police Department, which patrols the campus and some surrounding neighborhoods hasn't figured out yet how to respond, either.

"We have not come up with an official policy," said Chief Anthony Holt. "It’s a federal law regarding (marijuana possession) so it's probably something we’ll have to get an opinion on. But it's not a real big priority for us now."

And even though the measure passed by a margin of 65% to 35%, Detroit City Council members remain adamantly opposed to implementing the will of the voters.

Possession of marijuana is "still illegal" under state and federal law, Councilwoman Brenda Jones told the Detroit Free Press. "We will not be writing an ordinance that says something that's illegal is legal."

"It was really a waste or our time," said City Council President Charles Pugh.

Perhaps in the next election, Detroit voters will find that reelecting people like Jones and Pugh is a waste of their time.

Detroit, MI
United States

Marijuana Is Now Legal in Colorado! [FEATURE]

And then there were two. On Monday, December 10, 2012, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order certifying last month's Amendment 64 victory and legalizing the use, possession, and limited cultivation of marijuana by adults 21 and over.

Colorado now joins Washington as states where voters approved marijuana legalization last month and where the will of the voters has now become law. In both states, it is only the possession (and cultivation in Colorado) parts of the new laws that are now in effect. Officials in Denver and Olympia have a matter of some months to craft and enact regulatory schemes for commercial marijuana cultivation and distribution -- provided the federal government does not seek to block them from doing so.

While the federal government may seek to block implementation of regulations, it cannot make the two states recriminalize marijuana possession. And the states have no obligation to enforce federal marijuana laws.

In both states, however, it remains illegal to sell marijuana or cultivate it commercially pending the enactment of regulatory schemes. Still, pot possession is now legal in Washington and Colorado.

"Voters were loud and clear on Election Day," Hickenlooper wrote. "We will begin working immediately with the General Assembly and state agencies to implement Amendment 64."

In addition to the executive order certifying the election results, Hickenlooper also signed an executive order establishing a 24-person task force charged with coming up with a way to implement Amendment 64's taxation and regulation provisions. The task force consists of government officials and other stakeholders, including representatives of medical marijuana patients, producers, and non-medical consumers, and will make recommendations to the legislature on how to establish a commercial marijuana market.

"All stakeholders share an interest in creating efficient and effective regulations that provide for the responsible development of the new marijuana laws," the executive order said. "As such, there is a need to create a task force through which we can coordinate and create a regulatory structure that promotes the health and safety of the people of Colorado."

Issues that will be addressed include: the need to amend current state and local laws regarding the possession, sale, distribution or transfer of marijuana and marijuana products to conform them to Amendment 64's decriminalization provisions; the need for new regulations for such things as security requirements for marijuana establishments and for labeling requirements; education regarding long-term health effects of marijuana use and harmful effects of marijuana use by those under the age of 18; and the impact of Amendment 64 on employers and employees and the Colorado economy.

The task force will also work to reconcile Colorado and federal laws such that the new laws and regulations do not subject Colorado state and local governments and state and local government employees to prosecution by the federal government.

"Task force members are charged with finding practical and pragmatic solutions to the challenges of implementing Amendment 64 while at all times respecting the diverse perspectives that each member will bring to the work of the task force," the executive order emphasized. "The task force shall respect the will of the voters of Colorado and shall not engage in a debate of the merits of marijuana legalization or Amendment 64."

Marijuana legalization supporters cheered the issuance of the executive orders.

"This is a truly historic day. From this day forward, adults in Colorado will no longer be punished for the simple use and possession of marijuana. We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for issuing this declaration in a timely fashion, so that adult possession arrests end across the state immediately," said Mason Tvert, one of the two official proponents for Amendment 64 and newly appointed communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"We look forward to working with the governor's office and many other stakeholders on the implementation of Amendment 64," Tvert continued. "We are certain that this will be a successful endeavor, and Colorado will become a model for other states to follow."

Not everyone was as thrilled as Tvert. Both US Attorney for Colorado John Walsh and Colorado State Patrol James Wolfinbarger issued statements Monday warning respectively that marijuana is still illegal under federal law and that driving while impaired by marijuana is still a crime.

"The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington state," Walsh said in his statement. "The Department's responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 10th in Colorado, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses."

"The Colorado State Patrol would like to remind motorists that if you chose to consume marijuana and make the decision to drive that you are taking a huge risk," Wolfinbarger said. "Drivers must realize that if you are stopped by law enforcement officials and it is determined that your ability to operate a motor vehicle has been affected to the slightest degree by drugs or alcohol or both, you may be arrested and subjected to prosecution under Colorado's DUI/DUID laws. It is imperative that everyone takes responsibility for public safety when driving on Colorado's highways."

While the implementation of regulations for marijuana commerce in Colorado and Washington is by no means assured, the legalization of pot possession in the two states is a done deal. And with it, a huge hole has been blown through the wall of marijuana prohibition. Since the election last month, public opinion polls have shown increasing support -- and in three out of four cases, majority support -- for marijuana legalization, as well as little patience for federal interference in states that have legalized.

Marijuana prohibition may not be dead yet, but voters in Colorado and Washington have delivered a mortal blow. The clock is ticking.

Denver, CO
United States

Marijuana is Now Legal in Washington State! [FEATURE]

As of today, Thursday, December 6, 2012, marijuana possession is legal in the state of Washington. Under the I-502 initiative passed by the state's voters last month, adults 21 and older can now legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana (or 16 ounces of marijuana-infused edibles) without fear of arrest or criminal prosecution.

King 5 news report (nwcn.com)
The date comes just one day after the 80th anniversary of the end of alcohol Prohibition and could mark the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition in the United States. Colorado voters also legalized marijuana, and it will be legal to possess an ounce there -- and grow up to six plants -- sometime between now and January 5, the last day the governor has to ratify the November election results.

Alaska had been the only state to allow the possession of small amounts of marijuana. But, citing the state constitution's privacy protections, Alaska courts found that right only existed in the privacy of one's home.

Emboldened by the popular vote in Colorado and Washington, legislators in at least four states so far have now filed or will soon file marijuana legalization bills, with more to follow. And in states where the initiative process is allowed, activists are chomping at the bit in a race to be the next to legalize it at the ballot box (although they may want to wait for 2016, when the presidential race increases liberal turnout). And a spate of public opinion polls released since the election show support for legalization nationwide now cracking the 50% barrier.

While the federal government may attempt to block efforts to tax and regulate legal marijuana commerce in the two states, it cannot block them from removing marijuana offenses from their criminal codes. Nor can it make them reinstate them. News reports have noted that the federal government has no plans to intervene in Washington state's legalization today.

I-502 isn't a free for all. It remains a criminal offense to grow or distribute marijuana, and the state-licensed producers and stores for legal cultivation and sales and regulations governing them are a year away. There is no way in the meanwhile to legally buy marijuana. You can't smoke it in public (though that proscription is unlikely to hold for today at least), or drive in a vehicle with a lit joint (an offense equivalent to open container laws). If you live or work on federal property, you are still subject to federal drug laws. And if you're under 21, you're out of luck.

But, those caveats aside, pot possession is legal today in Washington, with sales and production coming, and that's a big deal.

"Washington state and Colorado made history on Election Day by becoming not just the first two states in the country -- but the first political jurisdictions anywhere in the world -- to approve the legal regulation of marijuana," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The only way federal marijuana prohibition is going to end is by voters and legislators in other states doing just what folks in those two states just did."

"This is incredibly significant," said freshly minted Marijuana Policy Project communications director Mason Tvert, who just took the job after leading the Colorado Amendment 64 campaign to victory. "This is having a major impact on public perceptions and is showing that times are changing and a majority of people in various areas are ready to take these steps."

"This is the single most important event that has occurred in 75 year of marijuana prohibition," said Keith Stroup, founder and currently counsel for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "The change in the perception of what is possible has been dramatic. Now, elected officials and state legislatures all over the country are honestly considering the option of tax and regulate where before November that was generally perceived as a radical proposal."

The election results are shifting the parameters of the discussion, the silver-haired attorney and activist said.

"Several states are considering full legalization now, and that makes decriminalization sound like a moderate step, which could work in a lot of Southern and Midwestern states where they're perhaps not quite ready yet to set up a regulated market," Stroup pointed out. "The context of the public policy debate has totally changed as a result of Colorado and Washington. It's as dramatic as anything I've witnessed in my lifetime."

While reformers are elated, author and marijuana scholar Martin Lee had a slightly more sober assessment.

"It's way too early to tell whether I-502 in Washington state signals the death knell of marijuana prohibition in the United States," said Lee, who recently published Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana -- Medical, Recreational, and Scientific.

"The cultural momentum in the United States favors marijuana legalization, but the political response, thus far, has been lagging," Lee noted. "Political change can sometimes happen very quickly -- think of the sudden demise of Soviet Bloc Communism after the Berlin Wall unexpectedly toppled in 1989. Swift, dramatic change seems possible with respect to cannabis prohibition, which is based on lies and could collapse like a house of cards. But powerful political interests in the United States -- in particular law enforcement -- have long benefited from the war on drugs and they are reluctant to throw in the towel."

Lee also raised the specter of law enforcement retaliation, especially against some of its easiest targets.

"My biggest concern is that the new state law in Washington will do little to prevent or discourage law enforcement from selectively targeting and harassing young people, especially young African-Americans and Latinos. Racial profiling is endemic in Washington state and throughout the United States," he said.

"It's also disconcerting that I-502 includes a zero tolerance provision for under 21-year-old drivers, who could be punished severely if blood tests show any trace of THC metabolites (breakdown products) in their system. Because THC metabolites can remain in the body for four weeks or longer, blood and urine tests for marijuana can't measure impairment. What's to stop law enforcement in Washington from randomly testing and arresting minority youth under the guise of public safety?"

It remains to be seen just how the DUID provision will work out, either for young drivers or for drivers over 21, who face a presumption of impaired driving if THC levels are over a specified standard. The record from other states with either zero tolerance or per se DUID laws suggest they make little difference in DUID arrest rates, perhaps because of probable cause standards needed to conduct blood tests or the time and complexity involved in doing so.

Regardless of valid concerns, the fact remains that the wall of marijuana prohibition in the US has just had a huge hole punched in it. And the margins of victory in Colorado and Washington -- each initiative won with 55% of the vote -- leave breathing room for activists in other states to consider not including such controversial provisions, which were seen by proponents as necessary to actually win the vote.

As veteran activist Stroup put it, despite the contentiousness and the sops to the opposition, for marijuana activists, "This is a great time to be alive. I wish folks like Mezz Mezrow, Louis Armstrong, and Allen Ginsberg, who helped form LEMAR (Legalize Marijuana), then Amorphia, which morphed into NORML, could have been around to see this."

While Stroup took a moment to look backward, DPA's Nadelmann was looking forward.

"Now, the race is on as to who will be first to leapfrog the Dutch and implement a full legal regulatory system for marijuana:  Washington, Colorado or Uruguay!” he told the Chronicle.

WA
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. (leap.cc)
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: What Can/Will the Feds Do? [FEATURE]

In the wake of last week's victories for marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, everyone is waiting to see how the federal government will respond. But early indications are that we may be waiting for awhile, and that the federal options are limited.

How will the feds respond to legalization? (justice.gov)
While the legal possession -- and in the case of Colorado, cultivation -- provisions of the respective initiatives will go into effect in a matter of weeks (December 6 in Washington and no later than January 5 in Colorado), officials in both states have about a year to come up with regulations for commercial cultivation, processing, and distribution. That means the federal government also has some time to craft its response, and it sounds like it's going to need it.

So far, the federal response has been muted. The White House has not commented, the Office of National Drug Control Policy has not commented, and the Department of Justice has limited its comments to observing that it will continue to enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act.

"My understanding is that Justice was completely taken aback by this and by the wide margin of passage," said Eric Sterling, former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee and currently the executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "They believed this would be a repeat of 2010, and they are really kind of astonished because they understand that this is a big thing politically and a complicated problem legally. People are writing memos, thinking about the relationship between federal and state law, doctrines of preemption, and what might be permitted under the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs."

What is clear is that marijuana remains illegal under federal law. In theory an army of DEA agents could swoop down on every joint-smoker in Washington or pot-grower in Colorado and haul them off to federal court and thence to federal prison. But that would require either a huge shift in Justice Department resources or a huge increase in federal marijuana enforcement funding, or both, and neither seems likely. More likely is selective, exemplary enforcement aimed at commercial operations, said one former White House anti-drug official.

"There will be a mixture of enforcement and silence, and let's not forget that federal law continues to trump state law," said Robert Weiner, former spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). "The Justice Department will decide if and at what point they will enforce the law, that's a prosecutorial decision the department will make."

Weiner pointed to the federal response to medical marijuana dispensaries in California and other states as a guide, noting that the feds don't have to arrest everybody in order to put a chill on the industry.

"Not every clinic in California has been raided, but Justice has successfully made the point that federal law trumps," he said. "They will have to decide where to place their resources, but if violations of federal law become blatant and people are using state laws as an excuse to flaunt federal drug laws, then the feds will have no choice but to come in."

Less clear is what else, exactly, the federal government can do. While federal drug laws may "trump" state laws, it is not at all certain that they preempt them. Preemption has a precise legal meaning, signifying that federal law supersedes state law and that the conflicting state law is null and void.

"Opponents of these laws would love nothing more than to be able to preempt them, but there is not a viable legal theory to do that," said Alex Kreit, a constitutional law expert at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego who co-authored an amicus brief on preemption in a now mooted California medical marijuana case. "Under the anti-commandeering principle, the federal government can't force a state to make something illegal. It can provide incentives to do so, but it can't outright force a state to criminalize marijuana."

An example of negative incentives used to force states to buckle under to federal demands is the battle over raising the drinking age in the 1980s and 1990s. In that case, Congress withheld federal highway funds from states that failed to raise the drinking age to 21. Now, all of them have complied.

Like Weiner, Kreit pointed to the record in California, where the federal government has gone up against the medical marijuana industry for more than 15 years now. The feds never tried to play the preemption card there, he noted.

"They know they can't force a state to criminalize a given behavior, which is why the federal government has never tried to push a preemption argument on these medical marijuana laws," he argued. "The federal government recognizes that's a losing battle. I would be surprised if they filed suit against Colorado or Washington saying their state laws are preempted. It would be purely a political maneuver, because they would know they would lose in court."

The federal government most certainly can enforce the Controlled Substances Act, Kreit said, but will be unlikely to be able to do so effectively.

"The Supreme Court said in Raich and in the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club cases that the federal government has all the power in the world to enforce the Controlled Substances Act," Kreit said, "and if they wanted to interfere in that way, they could. They could wait for a retail business or manufacturer to apply for a license, and as soon as they do, they could prosecute them for conspiracy -- they wouldn't even have to wait for them to open -- or they could sue to enjoin them from opening," he explained.

"But you can only stop the dam from bursting for so long," Kreit continued. "In California, they were able to stop the dispensaries at the outset by suing OCBC and other dispensaries, and that was effective in part because there were so few targets, but at a certain point, once you've reached critical mass, the federal government doesn’t have the resources to shut down and prosecute everybody. It's like whack-a-mole. The feds have all the authority they could want to prosecute any dispensary or even any patients, but they haven't been effective in shutting down medical marijuana. They can interfere, but they can't close everybody down."

As with medical marijuana in California, so with legal marijuana in Colorado and Washington, Kreit said.

"My guess is that if the feds decided to prosecute in Colorado and Washington, it would go similarly," he opined. "At first, they could keep people from opening by going after them, either enjoining or prosecuting them, but that strategy only works so long."

"I think the career people in Justice will seek to block Colorado and Washington from carrying out the state regulatory regime of licensing cultivation and sales," Sterling predicted. "A lower court judge could look at Raich and conclude that interstate commerce is implicated and that the issue is thus settled, but the states could be serious about vindicating this, especially because of the potential tax revenue and even more so because of the looming fiscal cliff, where the states are looking cuts in federal spending. The states, as defenders of their power, will be very different from Angel Raich and Diane Monson in making their arguments to the court. I would not venture to guess how the Supreme Court would decide this when you have a well-argued state's 10th Amendment power being brought in a case like this."

"Enjoining state governments is unlikely to succeed," said Kreit. "Again, the federal government has taken as many different avenues as they can in trying to shut down medical marijuana, and yet, they've never argued that state laws are preempted. They know they're almost certain to lose in court. The federal government can't require states to make conduct illegal."

At ground zero, there is hope that the federal government will cooperate, not complicate things.

"We're in a wait and see mode," said Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado and co-director of the Amendment 64 campaign. "It's our hope that the federal government will work with Colorado to implement this new regulatory structure with adequate safeguards that make them comfortable the law will be followed."

While that may seem unlikely to most observers, there is a "decent chance" that could happen, Vicente said. "Two mainstream states have overturned marijuana prohibition," he said. "The federal government can read the polls as well as we can. I think they realize public opinion has shifted and it may be time to allow different policies to develop at the state level."

The feds have time to come to a reasonable position, said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

"There is no need for a knee-jerk federal response, since the states are not required to create a regulatory scheme quickly," he said. "And while anti-marijuana forces more or less captured the drug czar's office early in Obama's first term, they're at odds with other people in the White House and the Obama administration whose views may be closer to our own. I think the White House will be the key. It's very likely that the fact that Attorney General Holder said nothing about the initiatives this fall, unlike two years ago, was because of the White House. I don't mean the drug czar's office; I mean the people who operate with respect to national politics and public policy."

Sterling disagreed about who is running drug policy in the Obama administration, but agreed that the feds have the chance to do the right thing.

"Given the large indifference to drugs as an issue by the Obama administration, its studious neglect of the issue, its toleration of an insipid director of ONDCP, its uncreative appointment of Bush's DEA administrator, it's clear that nobody of any seniority in the Obama White House is given this any attention. Unless Sasha and Malia come home from school and begin talking about this, it won't be on the presidential agenda, which means it will be driven by career bureaucrats in the DEA and DOJ," he argued.

That's too bad, he suggested, because the issue is an opportunity for bold action.

"They should respond in a vein of realism, which is that this is the future, the future is now," he advised. "They have an opportunity with these two different approaches to work with the states, letting them go forward in some way to see how they work and providing guidance in the establishment of regulations that would let the states do this and ideally minimize the interstate spillover of cultivation and sales."

"As part of that, they should ideally move to rewrite the Controlled Substances Act and begin working in the UN with other countries to revise the Single Convention on Narcotics. Our 100-year-old approach is now being rejected, not simply by the behavior of drug users, but by the voters, many of whom are not drug users," Sterling said. "That would be a way that a wise, forward-thinking, statesman-like public official should respond."

That would indeed be forward-thinking, but is probably more than can be reasonably expected from the Obama White House. Still, the administration has the opportunity to not pick a fight with little political upside, and it has time to decide what to do before the sky falls. Marijuana legalization has already happened in two states, and is an increasingly popular position. The federal government clearly hasn't been in the lead and it's not going to be able to effectively stop it; now, if it's not ready to follow, it can least get out of the way.

Medical Marijuana Update

All eyes may have been on the election last week, but the battles over medical marijuana didn't go away. Here are the highlights from the past few days. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Friday, state officials reported that 24 doctors were responsible for 75% of patient certifications in the state. The Arizona Department of Health Services said 475 doctors certified nearly 29,000 patients in that period, but that only a couple of dozen doctors were responsible for the vast majority of recommendations, raising questions about whether they were acting in patients' best interests. "A physician that is writing 1,000 to 1,500 certifications each year is not acting in his patients' best interests," said Health Services Director Will Humble, adding that he suspects such doctors are more likely to cut corners or be in it for the money.

California

Last Monday, the Corte Madera city council voted to continue its ban on new dispensaries. The council renewed the moratorium, cited the current conflict between state and federal laws. But an existing dispensary, Marin Holistic Solutions, will be allowed to continue to operate until at least July 2014, when its business license expires.

Last Tuesday, three Northern California communities voted to impose or maintain restrictions on medical marijuana production. In the Humboldt County town of Arcata, 69% of voters ensured easy passage of a utility tax aimed at households growing marijuana indoors. In the Siskiyou County town of Dunsmuir, medical marijuana advocates' attempt to roll back broad restrictions placed on medical marijuana grows last year failed with 47% of the vote. In Palo Alto, meanwhile, an attempt to overturn a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and allow up to three of them was defeated by 62% of voters.

Also last Tuesday, Long Beach police continued their raids on dispensaries. Working with county and state authorities, Long Beach cops have hit seven dispensaries in the past few days, including two last Tuesday and one the following day. At least 25 people have been arrested and an unknown quantity of cash and medicine seized. The enforcement is a joint effort by the Long Beach Police Department, the California Franchise Tax Board and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. More raids are likely unless the remaining dispensaries in the city shut down on their own, officials said.

Last Wednesday, three San Francisco supervisors called on President Obama to defend medical marijuana. "We want the president to keep the commitment he made to stop the federal government's attacks on medical marijuana," wrote supervisors  Christina Olague, David Campos and Scott Wiener. Obama is in San Francisco for a fundraiser. "We call on all citizens who support the use of medical cannabis to raise their voices with ours in telling President Obama to honor our laws for safe access," the supervisors wrote.

On Tuesday, the La Mesa city council voted to put a dispensary initiative on the 2014 ballot. The move came after more than 5,000 registered voters signed petitions seeking to allow dispensaries to operate in the city. The petition asks for an amendment to the city’s municipal code allowing the “compassionate use dispensaries” in specific zones in the city, to be regulated by the Community Development Department. The measure would also mean an extra 2 ½ percent sales tax on cannabis-based products sold in the city.

Maine

Last Friday, the head of the state's medical marijuana program was fired. John Thiele, who worked in the Department of Health and Human Services, broke the news at a Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine event. Medical marijuana community sources said Thiele was fired because he had become "too friendly with patients and caregivers," but a state representative said he was let go because "he was acting more as a social worker than a regulator."

New Mexico

Last Wednesday, the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board recommended keeping PTSD as a qualifying condition. After three hours of debate, the board voted unanimously to keep the disorder on its list of conditions for which medical marijuana can be recommended. An Albuquerque psychiatrist had challenged its inclusion, citing a lack of peer-reviewed studies, but he couldn't manage to sway the board, which also heard from numerous people who said they had benefited from its use.

Oregon

Last Wednesday, federal prosecutors moved to seize High Hopes Farm, a medical marijuana cultivation operation run by activist James Bowman. They are also going after two other properties where marijuana was cultivated. Authorities found more than 800 plants and 400 pounds of dried marijuana at his farm when they raided it earlier this year, but Bowman has claimed that his grow his legal under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.

Seattle Police Legal Marijuana Guide Features Gandalf and Bilbo

Embedded video from "The Lord of the Rings," appearing on Seattle Police Blotter legal marijuana guide page.
The SPD Blotter yesterday published "Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use in Seattle." It includes a guide for citizens as well as a heads-up on what police and the mayor are working on. Some highlights from the document, paraphrased:

  • You can legally carry up to an ounce of marijuana, as of December 6th, but not in public view.
  • Rules for marijuana stores will be developed over the next year, and won't be done until December 1st, which means no legal sales until then.
  • Growing is still illegal.
  • Marijuana smoking in public is ticketable in some places -- treated like cigarette smoking.
  • Driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal.
  • Police like the clarity of legalization more than the grey area of Seattle's previous "lowest priority" policy for marijuana enforcement.
  • Police are reviewing their hiring policies with regard to prospective officers' past marijuana use.
  • Police will not assist the federal government in any investigations into marijuana offenses that are legal under state law.
  • Police will not return marijuana they seized from you prior to the passage of the initiative.

The article was written with humor, and includes embedded video from The Lord of The Rings movie of Gandalf and Bilbo blowing smoke rings.

I almost forgot the main highlight from the bulletin: "You can certainly use marijuana in the privacy of your own home."

Initiative Watch

We're getting down to the final days, and the action around drug reform initiatives is fierce. Let's get to it:

National

On Sunday, the Obama administration said it would be unswayed if one or more states voted for marijuana legalization. Appearing on CBS's "60 Minutes," Deputy Attorney General James Cole, author of the infamous "Cole memo" authorizing the current federal offensive against medical marijuana dispensaries, said the federal government was ready to fight any "dangers" from legalizing marijuana. He said the administration's stance on legalization would be "the same as it's always been" regardless of what voters decide. "We're going to take a look at whether or not there are dangers to the community from the sale of marijuana and we're going to go after those dangers," Cole said.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, a state agency head distributed talking points against Issue 5, the state's medical marijuana initiative. Jennifer Gallaher, head of the Arkansas Division of Behavioral Health Services, issued the talking points, which consistently refer to "medical" marijuana. A spokesperson for the Department of Human Services defended the propriety of the talking points, noting that "Mrs. Gallaher's office gathered factual information on the issue and shared it with her staff, which is absolutely appropriate given what that division does."

Also last Thursday, TV talk show host Montel Williams visited the state to campaign for Issue 5. He appeared at a campaign event at the state capitol along with members of Arkansans for Compassionate Care. Williams, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has become a strong public advocate for medical marijuana. Williams and others present used to occasion to criticize as racist an anti-Issue 5 ad put out by the conservative Family Council Action Committee. The ad at one point features a scary looking black man measuring out marijuana.

Last Friday, the state's top anti-drug official and the Chamber of Commerce came out against Issue 5. State Drug Director Fran Flener said she and the groups planned to speak out against the measure. "While our group's vision of compassion does not include smoked marijuana as a medicine, it does include elements that we consider equally important measures of compassion," Flener said. She said those include "compassion for our citizens who travel our roads and our highways," ''the prevention of the establishment of crime-ridden dispensaries" and "the prevention of marijuana abuse particularly by children and teens." Also joining Flener in opposition were the Arkansas Sheriffs Association and the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police. The groups plan to air advertisements against the measure.

On Monday, the co-chair of the legislature's Joint Budget Committee endorsed Issue 5. Rep. Kathy Webb (D-Little Rock) said she had already voted for it. Early voting began Monday.

On Tuesday, GOP Congressman Tim Griffin said he opposes Issue 5. His Democratic, Green, and Libertarian challengers have all said they support it.

On Wednesday, a group of doctors said they opposed Issue 5. Led by Little Rock Dr. David Smith, the group said marijuana hasn't been scientifically proven as a treatment to relieve suffering.

California

On Tuesday, Grover Norquist penned an op-ed supporting Proposition 36, the Three Strikes sentencing reform initiative. Norquist, the conservative head of Americans for Tax Reform, wrote that "It is unjust and foolhardy to waste precious prison resources on nonviolent individuals who pose no criminal threat to our communities (while releasing violent criminals). These nonviolent offenders should be punished -- but conservatives should insist the punishments are fair, effective and efficient. Proposition 36 is a reform all conservatives can and should support."

Colorado

Last Wednesday, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol released its second TV ad. The message of the ad is simply and direct. Marijuana is not dangerous and government resources currently wasted enforcing marijuana prohibition would be much better spent elsewhere.

Last Thursday, actress Susan Sarandon began voicing robocalls for Amendment 64, the state's marijuana legalization initiative. Sarandon is on the advisory board of the Marijuana Policy Project, which has contributed more than a million dollars to the campaign.

Last Friday, Amendment 64 supporters rallied at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson was there and told attendees "Colorado has the opportunity to change drug policy worldwide."

On Monday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock came out against Amendment 64, saying he feared it would make Denver "a marijuana capital." The Amendment 64 campaign quickly counterattacked, saying "We are disappointed that Mayor Hancock is not basing his public policy on evidence. It is well-established that the gateway effect is not an effect of marijuana itself, but rather of marijuana prohibition. When you want to buy a six pack of beer -- a substance our elected officials are happy to celebrate -- you go to the store and buy a six pack, and the cashier doesn't offer you harder drugs. The same cannot be said for the gangs and cartels, who our opponents seem to prefer be in charge of the vast non-medical marijuana market in Colorado."

Massachusetts

On Monday, opponents and proponents of Question 3, the medical marijuana initiative, held dueling press conferences. Opponents from law enforcement and elected officials denounced it as "vague, ambitious, and open to exploitation" and warned that the path to death from drug abuse starts with "smoking that innocent little joint." But proponents of the measure, including Dr. Karen Munkacy, scoffed. "There's no property of medical marijuana that causes people to die," she said, adding that medical marijuana is a "gateway backwards," leading people off of addictive and harmful painkillers.

Also on Monday, the conservative Boston Herald came out against Question 3, warning that it was "the camel nose under the tent" for "the pro-pot lobby." Marijuana is not like other medicines, the Herald opined, because it isn't FDA approved. Worse yet, the campaign is "bankrolled by a wealthy pro-pot pooh-bah" (Peter Lewis) and "is part of a broader effort to normalize its sale and use."

Montana

See our feature article about the Montana medical marijuana initiative this week here.

Oregon

Last week, phone banking for Measure 80, the state's legalization initiative, got underway. A joint project of Firedog Lake and Oregonians for Law Reform, the phone bank push allows you to call Oregon voters to encourage them to vote yes on Measure 80. Firedog Lake has been doing the same thing in Colorado for some weeks now.

Last Friday, the Portland Mercury endorsed Measure 80. The Mercury is the state's second largest alternative weekly. It joins the state's largest alternative weekly, the Willamette Week, which has also endorsed the initiative.

Also last Friday, Measure 80 was still trailing in the polls. The latest poll from SurveyUSA had it losing 36% to 43%, but with nearly one-quarter of the voters still undecided.

Washington

As of Tuesday, I-502 was maintaining a lead in the polls. A Strategies 360 poll had the marijuana legalization initiative leading 54% to 38% with 7% undecided. In two polls late last week, it was leading 55% to 36% in one and 47% to 40% in the other, which queried only likely voters.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Medical Marijuana Update

The federal rescheduling petition got a day in court, the feds keep up the pressure in California, a dispensary may actually open in New Jersey, and those are just the headlines. There's much more going on, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last week, the National League of Cities adopted a resolution on medical marijuana. The resolution calls on the federal government "to consider a precise interpretation of the CSA to recognize and address whether the medicinal use of marijuana in prescribed circumstances is or is not in conflict with the CSA." The cities complained that they are wasting valuable resources trying to address the conflict between state laws allowing medical marijuana and the federal government's absolutist position.

On Tuesday, the DC Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on an appeal of the DEA's decision to reject the marijuana rescheduling petition. Click on the link to read our feature story on it.

Arizona

Last Friday, a medical marijuana patient sued the state after police seized her marijuana-infused oil. Charise Voss Arfa claims police wrongfully considered the oil labeled "Soccer Moms Tincture" a narcotic instead of marijuana. A tincture is typically an alcoholic extract of plant or animal material or solution. The lawsuit argues the statute defining cannabis is too vague and should not apply to medical-marijuana cardholders who legally participate in the state program. The lawsuit asks the courts to order police to return the oil; to ban police from arresting, prosecuting or taking property from medical-marijuana cardholders; and to declare the state's criminal statute related to cannabis void as it applies to medical-marijuana patients and caregivers.

California

Last Wednesday, the DEA and local police raided seven Long Beach dispensaries and arrested more than 40 people. The raid is just the latest, though possibly the largest, crackdown on medical marijuana in Long Beach since the city's ban went into full effect in August. The ban was a reaction by city officials to a court ruling that the city can't regulate the drug because it is illegal under federal law. City Hall had worked for two years to come up with a permitting system and regulations to control the number of collectives, and once that law was voided, the city council voted to ban medical marijuana rather than risk its unregulated proliferation throughout the city.

Last Friday, G3 Holistic dispensary owner Aaron Sandusky was convicted of federal marijuana charges by a jury that heard no mention of medical marijuana. Sandusky, who operated three Southern California dispensaries, was convicted on two charges, but the jury could not agree on four other counts. He is now looking at a mandatory minimum 10 years in federal prison, and up to a life sentence. Sandusky, who had been free on bail, was immediately jailed.

Also last Friday, Concord elected officials said they are considering an ordinance to restrict medical marijuana cultivation. The move comes after complaints from residents about smelly outdoor grows. "Perhaps looking at having the growth indoors instead of outdoors, that would take care of some of the major concerns we have," said Mayor Ron Leone.

Also last Friday, activists filed papers with the city of Los Angeles for a May referendum to regulate -- not ban -- dispensaries in the city. The Angelenos for Safe Access Committee needs to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. The proposed initiative would increase the city tax on dispensaries from 5% to 6% of revenues, require dispensaries to register with the city, require background checks for operators and employees, and require that dispensaries respect distance requirements from schools and churches. The move comes after the city council first banned dispensaries, then voted to un-ban them in the face of another, successful petition drive.

Also last Friday, the city of Covina took legal action to shut down a dispensary. The city attorney had sought and won a temporary restraining order to shut down the LPC Center, which had opened in the city during the summer, but the dispensary didn't shut its doors. The new complaint alleges that the dispensary operators lack a business license and that the dispensary is a public nuisance because it is in violation of the city's municipal code. There will be a hearing next week where a judge will consider granting Covina a preliminary injunction to force the cooperative to close. According to the complaint, "distributing marijuana, whether for medical purposes or otherwise, is not a permitted use" under Covina's municipal code.

Last Saturday, voters in Eagle Rock rejected most of the medical marijuana slate in neighborhood council elections. The neighborhood has been hit hard by police actions against dispensaries, with support from the neighborhood council. Dispensary operators and supporters had called on Los Angeles residents to vote in the neighborhood election in support of dispensaries, leading to charges of unfair election practices.

On Monday, DEA agents visited some LA dispensaries that had received federal threat letters in September. Agents visited up to 21 dispensaries, reminding them that they needed to shut down. "We do have a couple agents doing follow up," said DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen. "It's routine since these letters are going out. We wanted to determine the status of where these places are at." In late September, the DEA targeted 68 dispensaries with threat letters and raided three. The feds aim at wiping out dispensaries in Eagle Rock and downtown LA.

On Tuesday, DEA agents visited an Eagle Rock dispensary, prompting it to close its doors. The Together for Change dispensary had opened in May, after the American Eagle Collective, which operated at the same location, was raided and shut down by LAPD. Together for Change is one of the 68 dispensaries targeted by September federal threat letters.

Also on Tuesday, the Sacramento city council moved to prohibit outdoor marijuana grows. The council voted 8-1 to direct city staffers to draft an ordinance barring them. Council members said the grows were a magnet for crime and a nuisance to neighbors. The council also voted to keep in place existing location restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries. Those restrictions prohibit the shops from operating within 1,000 feet of other dispensaries, 300 feet from residences and 600 feet from schools and parks. The city has a moratorium on new dispensaries following the federal crackdown, but allows 17 already existing dispensaries to operate.

Colorado

As of the end of July, the number of registered medical marijuana patients passed the 100,000 mark for the first time since September 2011. That's according to figures released last week by the state Department of Public Health and Environment. The number of patients had peaked at more than 128,000 people in June 2011 before shrinking over a five-month period to just over 80,000. The decline was variously attributed to increased dispensary regulations, a glut of medical marijuana available from growers, and the $90 fee for registering.

On Tuesday, Carbondale trustees narrowly rejected a dispensary application. They voted 4-3 to deny CMED a business permit, even though the dispensary has been open for two years. CMED owner Michael Weisser, who has been caught in a regulatory wringer the entire time, demanded to know whether the town was shutting him down and was told the trustees would let him know."You'd better do it quick, because I'm going to move immediately for an injunction against the board," Weisser replied.

Maine

Last Saturday, Maine police returned plants stolen from a medical marijuana grower in Ellsworth. Police initially hesitated to return the plants, citing concerns about violating federal law, but then relented. The grower said he was able to save only part of the crop.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the Michigan Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in a case that will help determine whether dispensaries can sell marijuana to patients who don't grow their own. The case involves a Mount Pleasant dispensary that allowed members to sell marijuana to each other. It was prosecuted by Isabella County authorities, and the conviction was upheld last year by a state appeals court.

New Jersey

On Monday, the Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair received state permission to open. It would be the first in the state, and the permission comes nearly three years after the Garden State approved medical marijuana.

On Wednesday, the Compassionate Care Foundation said it wouldn't open a dispensary until next year. The foundation, which plans to open a dispensary in Egg Harbor Township near Atlantic City, has faced delays because of the state's extensive background check process.

New Mexico

On Monday, advocates announced a campaign to keep PTSD as a qualifying condition for the state's medical marijuana program. PTSD is currently a qualifying condition, but its status is threatened by a request to remove it. Advocates aid more than 3,000 New Mexico residents with PTSD are enrolled in the state's program. The advocates, including the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Alliance, the Drug Policy Alliance, and others are calling the campaign Don't Take Away Our Medicine. "We deserve access to effective medical treatments whether we’ve just come home from combat or we are suffering debilitating symptoms from other trauma," said Chris Hsu, NM Medical Cannabis Patient’s Alliance’s Vice President.

Rhode Island

On Monday, the Rhode Island Medical Society joined a lawsuit against the state health department over its recent decision to only allow physicians -- not nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants -- to sign medical marijuana applications. The state ACLU had sued last week on behalf of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, Rhode Island Academy of Physician Assistants and a Bristol patient. Applications signed by nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants had previously been accepted. The medical society said the new policy was arbitrary and that doctors needed to be able to delegate responsibilities to other medical professionals.

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