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Cool "History of Weed" Video from Showtime "Weeds" Program

A precisely two minute YouTube ad for the Showtime program "Weeds" offers "A Brief History of Weed." The video begins with medical marijuana use documented in China in 2727 BC -- about 2,300 years too early for the Buddha image they use to represent it, but that's nitpicking. Flamethrower imagery at 1:06, representing the beginning of federal marijuana prohibition, is very effective, and post-Prop. 215 marijuana storefront footage is downright exciting. Check it out -- check out the Weeds season premiere on June 8th too. (Via The Daily Dish blog's "Cool Ad Watch.")

Michael Phelps and Marijuana Legalization

Phelps resumed competition this weekend, prompting Jim Caple at ESPN to call for a debate on legalizing marijuana:

We need to hear all sides, as part of a serious discussion on this subject, and then make a rational decision about whether marijuana should be legal in this country.

What we do not need is to waste any more energy fretting over a college-age athlete smoking pot and the negative lesson it sends to the nation's youth. Otherwise the negative message kids will learn from Phelps' bong hit is this: Adults are too busy shouting about meaningless crap to intelligently discuss what is actually important.

Damn straight. I'm assuming, of course, that he's referring to those who condemned Phelps and not those of us who launched an angry boycott against Kellogg's. Because that was totally necessary.

Feature: Cannabis Nation Takes to the Streets in First Week of Global Marijuana March

Marijuana aficionados and reform supporters took to the streets of more than a hundred towns and cities across the globe last weekend in phase one of the annual Global Marijuana March.

The march, first organized in New York City in the 1970s, has since grown into a massive international event. This year, some 263 cities on every inhabited continent are listed as holding the marches.
Vancouver, British Columbia (courtesy
Typically held the first weekend in May, the event this year was broken up into two weekends, largely to accommodate Europeans, where the May Day labor celebrations are taken far more seriously than in the US (where May 1 is not Labor Day, but National Law Day). Finland was the exception there, with a march in Helsinki last weekend drawing at least 300 people, and events in Tampere and Turku drawing about 200 people each.

But on this side of the water, marchers took to the streets in cities like Portland and Philadelphia, which both drew about a thousand people, among the largest crowds of the day. In San Francisco, where 15,000 people gathered last year, crowd size -- if not spirits -- was dampened by drenching downpours all day.

The marches also hit middle America, if in smaller numbers. In Champaign, Illinois, hundreds marched, while in Cincinnati a similar crowd gathered. In Ogden, Utah, 30 lonely cannabis supporters rallied together, while Palm Springs, California saw a few dozen marchers.

Things were a bit livelier in Canada, with some 15,000 people gathering in Toronto and a thousand more in Vancouver. Even Edmonton, way out on the northern plains of Alberta, drew several hundred participants.

"It was fantastic, we had a lot of people show up here in Vancouver," said Jeremiah Vandermeer, production editor for Marc Emery's Cannabis Culture magazine, one of the organizing foci for the marches. "It was a great march. The Liberals were having their convention here, so we marched on that shouting that they need to stop C-15, the Conservative bill that would impose mandatory minimum sentences even for growing one plant."

When asked why Canadian cities appeared to be able to generate larger turnout than American ones, Vandermeer made several points. "Canada has a very strong cannabis culture, we have a lot of organizers who have been working very hard for years, Marc Emery included, of course, and our newspapers are very friendly," he said. "They promote the marches before they even happen, and that's a big help."

While the US has its cannabis friendly elements and its veteran organizers, too, it does not generally have a press that is willing to provide free publicity beforehand for the marches. Nor, with the exception of the two groups mentioned below, do the marches garner any meaningful support from drug reform organizations. And, unlike the case in some European cities that draw huge crowds, events here have not drawn sponsors willing to put up cash to publicize the marches.

In some cities, events are organized by independent activists. In others, local chapters of groups like the National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) take the lead. But in all cases, the size and success of the events is determined largely by local resources and talent.

"With some legitimate organization ahead of time and funding and promotion, perhaps these turnouts would be bigger, but as it stands now most of these US efforts are loosely organized at best, said NORML's Paul Armentano. "And perhaps culturally Americans are not as likely to take to the 'streets' as are their counterparts in other countries like Venezuela and Greece."
GMM 2009 poster (courtesy GMM)
Cures Not Wars is the primary US-based organizing focus for the Global Marijuana March. It does what it can, but its resources are limited.

"We at Cures Not Wars provide material and logistical support for the marches," said Douglas Greene, one of the group's cofounders, along with Dana Beal, the man present at the beginning. "But that support is basically limited to providing posters and contact lists, things like that. We don't have money to hand out to make them happen, so these marches are primarily financed by what the local grassroots people can do," Greene said.

"I think the 4/20 events just a couple of weeks before the marches may drain energy and resources from the marches," said Greene. "Press coverage helps, but unlike Canada, we don't have prior coverage here in any city I can think of."

Greene pointed to some of the European cities, such as Rome, Athens, London, and Berlin, that regularly see crowds of thousands or even tens of thousands. "In Berlin, where the events rival the size of the Boston Freedom Rally, they have at least 10 major sponsors. We don't get that in this country," he pointed out.

Greene also said that perhaps the drug reform community should rethink its disdain for the marches. "These have evolved into an expression of the cannabis community, and it's unfortunate that they haven't become something the broader drug reform community has come together on," he argued. "Here in New York City, we had a lot of kids chanting 'We smoke pot and we like it a lot!', and while that is not going to necessarily change the law, at the same time we always have people who come up to us who are really interested in learning and changing the laws. These marches are going to happen no matter what the reform community thinks; it seems like it would be a good idea if we could work together and attract some serious people and try to educate those people who show up."

The marches may not be politic, there may be too many tie-dyed t-shirts, too much hair, and an uncomfortable number of young-looking public tokers, but the marches aren't going away and they are an authentic expression of cannabis culture. Perhaps the different strands of the movement will find a way to move closer together.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Calls for Marijuana Legalization Debate

Considering that he vetoed a hemp bill in 2006, this is about as good a statement as I would expect from him:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says California should study other nations' experiences in legalizing and taxing marijuana, although he is not supporting the idea.

He says it's time to debate proposals such as a bill introduced in the state Legislature earlier this year that would treat marijuana like alcohol.

State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat, says taxing marijuana at $50 per ounce would bring more than $1 billion a year to the state.

Schwarzenegger said during a Tuesday news conference that "it's time for debate" on the idea. [NBC]

I like what's happening with this "let's debate it" line we keep hearing lately. It's a way for public officials to show interest in the subject without alienating anyone who feels strongly about the issue. Perhaps it has come to the Governator's attention that 56% of Californians support legalizing marijuana.

Considering the famous Schwarzenegger-smoking-pot video that's all over the web, some will accuse him of hypocrisy should his position ultimately fall anywhere short of outright support for legalization. Still, it's notable in and of itself that we're beginning to see politicians shifting away from knee-jerk opposition to reform, in favor of the more open-minded position of endorsing a debate on the subject.

Dennis Sobin Escapes from Jail!

[Courtesy of Prisons Foundation] Even as our director Dennis Sobin prepared to go to jail in October 2009 for violating a court order by attending a City Hall public hearing, he planned his escape. We were pleased to furnish him with the escape tools he needed. They consisted primarily of writing paper and music composition paper. Dennis explains: "That's all I needed to get out of prison. I used the writing paper to author books and articles, and the music paper to compose music. In this way my mind was able to escape from jail, even as my body stayed behind." On April 16, 2009, with his six-month sentence completed, Dennis's body was able to join his mind on the outside. Welcome home Dennis! Don't forget: When in Washington, DC, please visit the Prison Art Gallery, 1600 K St. NW, Suite 501, Washington, DC where you will find over 1000 works of art by imprisoned artists from across America.
Washington, DC
United States

The Movies: "American Violet" Film Opens Tonight, Tells the Story of the Hearne, Texas, Injustice

announcement from Samuel Goldwyn Films

On April 17, Samuel Goldwyn Films will release American Violet, a new film based on true events that occurred in the small Texas town of Hearne. The film examines how drug laws and enforcement practices target African-Americans, and, how the justice system uses threats and intimidation to steer them towards guilty pleas, regardless of their innocence or the evidence against them. As the film points out, more than 95% of criminal convictions in this country are the result of plea-bargains, not jury trials. While the film is based on a specific case, the story it represents is hardly unique or isolated, and, the film's release presents an exceptional opportunity to explore how the drug war has become the new Jim Crow.

American Violet is inspired by the real life story of Regina Kelly, an African-American, single mother of four girls who was arrested in 2000 in a military-style drug raid. The raid resulted in the arrest of nearly 15% of the town's young black male population for felony cocaine distribution.

Kelly was innocent. Her name, along with the names of many others arrested (nearly all African-American), were given to police by a single, highly unreliable informant with personal reasons to antagonize her. Despite Kelly's innocence, she was urged to plead guilty by her family and even her public defender so that she could return to her children and receive a minimal sentence. A felony conviction, however, would have resulted in the loss of her right to vote and the public assistance programs on which her family depended, not to mention the tainting of her personal reputation and her ability to obtain employment. She chose to maintain her plea of not guilty. The ACLU Drug Law Reform Project came on board to represent her.

In American Violet, Kelly's on-screen character is named Dee Roberts (played by newcomer Nicole Beharie) and the ACLU lawyer in the film is played by Tim Blake Nelson. Alfre Woodard, Charles Dutton, Will Patton, Michael O'Keefe and Xzibit also star. The town of Melody and certain other characters and events are fictitious.

Eventually, the charges against Kelly were dropped (as were the charges against most of the others arrested in the same drug raid due to the same informant's lack of credibility). Yet, she was separated from her children while she was incarcerated, shamed in her small community by being labeled a drug dealer, fired from her job, and had difficulty obtaining employment thereafter; in short, her life was torn apart due to her arrest and her time in jail. Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project represented her in a lawsuit against the county and the District Attorney (among other parties), for damages, which resulted in a settlement.

More importantly, the case resulted in a change in Texas law, whereby now, cases cannot be prosecuted based solely on the claims of a single informant.

Visit for a list of cities where the movie is opening.

CU-Boulder Reminds Students to Have a Massive Pot Party on 4/20

If you don't want 10,000 people to smoke pot on your campus on 4/20, the last thing you should do is send them a note ahead of time encouraging them not to do that:

TO: All CU-Boulder Students
FROM: Office of the Chancellor
DATE: April 15, 2009
SUBJECT: A statement from the CU-Boulder leadership to CU Students on the 4-20 gathering

Dear Students:

As another April 20 approaches, we are faced with concerns from students, parents, alumni, Regents, and community members about a repeat of last year’s 4/20 “event.”

Let us start by saying that we share their concerns. A gathering of thousands on our campus for the sole purpose of engaging in unlawful activity is contrary to everything that CU-Boulder stands for and is in no way condoned. This event only serves to harm the reputation of this great university and is comprised in large part of individuals with no investment in the university at all.

The increasingly large crowds that have gathered in recent years present safety risks for participants, whether students or people not affiliated with the campus. This activity violates a number of campus regulations designed to provide for the well-being of our campus and neighboring community.

On April 20, 2009, we hope that you will choose not to participate in unlawful activity that debases the reputation of your University and degree…[CelebStoner]

Oh, you are so screwed now. Whose idea was this? The administration should have just been thankful that 4/20 lands on a Monday this year and left it at that. You just had to challenge them, didn't you? Well, bring a gas mask to work on Monday, you genius.

Sobin "Behind the Wall" 17

Dear Friends, The Prisons Foundation is now working with nonprofit organizations to set up in-office branches of the world famous Prison Art Gallery. If you have only a wall in your office to spare and a corner for a small attractive art rack to display prison art (it looks like a magazine rack), you can take advantage of this no-risk opportunity to have your own mini Prison Art Gallery! In the last six years the, the Prisons Foundation has used prison art to heighten public awareness of the humanity of prisoners and increase its revenue. Last year alone, the D.C. Commission on the Etas and Humanities and the Art Appreciation Foundation (headed by ex prisoner philanthropist Lloyd S. Rubin) awarded us more than $115,000 in grants. You can do as well or better! You owe it to the prisoners in your state and to the bottom line of your organization to consider this no-cost, no-obligation opportunity! Below is the proposal agreement you would sign to receive 50 - 100 pieces of beautiful art by imprisoned masters to get you started: Agreement to Establish an In-Office Branch of the Prison Art Gallery 1) This agreement is between (your organization; herein called the "sponsor") and the Prisons Foundation (herein called the "Foundation"). 2) The Sponsor will establish and operate a branch of the Prison Art Gallery at the Sponsor's office or other designated address. 3) The Foundation will supply original art made in prison to be displayed and sold to the Sponsor on a contingency basis. The Sponsor pays shipping of $2.00 per art piece in advance of shipment, or supplies its UPS, Fed Ex, etc. shipping number to cover the cost of shipping. 4) The Foundation gives the Sponsor permission to use the name "Prison Art Gallery." 5) The Sponsor will keep regular hours and will not charge any admission to the public to view Prison Art Gallery artwork. 6) The Sponsor will offer the art for sale using set-donation guidelines outlined by the Foundation, but if any of the pieces of art are not sold during a six month time period the Sponsor may offer them at whatever donations-price it can negotiate with potential buyers. 7) Of the donations received, the Sponsor will keep 40% (forty percent), with the remainder going to the Foundation (to cover art preparation costs and profit sharing with the prison artists). 8) The Sponsor is allowed to accept additional art from other (non-Foundation) sources as long as the art has been created by prisoners or ex prisoners. The Sponsor will give the Foundation 10% (ten percent) of gross sales of art that comes from non-Foundation sources (to cover the expenses of publicity and ongoing support that the Foundation will supply). 9) The Foundation will include the Sponsor's name in all of the Foundation's publicity, press releases, publications and mailings. 10) The Foundation will provide the Sponsor with copies of successful grants proposals it has used to win grants for the Sponsor to utilize. 11) Money due to the Foundation for art sales by the Sponsor will be calculated and paid by the Sponsor to the Foundation each quarter on January 5th, April 5th, July 5th and October 5th. 12) New art will be provided by the Foundation to the Sponsor quarterly as pieces are sold by the Sponsor. 13) The Sponsor will send whatever unsold pieces it wishes back to the Foundation and will receive new pieces in return. This will allow the Sponsor to have a rotating display and to always have a fresh inventory. The Sponsor will pay shipping costs both ways. 14) The Sponsor has the option of purchasing from the Foundation limited edition prison art prints for the wholesale price of $10.00 (ten dollars) each, with the Foundation paying for shipping costs. These prints are 11" x 17" hand-mounted on 16" x 20" art boards, individually numbered and encased in clear, acetate protective sleeves. These prison-created works of art can be sold by the Sponsor for $25.00 - $100.00 each, with the Sponsor keeping all of the revenue received. 15) This agreement can be terminated by either party with a 90-day notice, at which time the Sponsor will return (at its own expense) all unsold art provide by the Foundation, and cease using the name Prison Art Gallery. Now that you have read this proposed agreement, we hope you will take the next step by emailing us information about your organization so that we can discuss the next step for establishing a branch of the Prison Art Gallery at your location Yours for justice, Dennis Sobin Prisons Foundation 1600 K Street NW Suite #501 Washington, D.C. 20006 A CALL FOR SUPPORT: The Prisons Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC that promotes the arts and education in prison and alternatives to incarceration. We are now accepting tax deductable donations. The support of our supporters, quite bluntly, is what keeps us going. Please consider making a tax deductible donation to the Prisons Foundation so that we may continue to promote the arts in prison and help encourage the wonderful atistic talent we cultivate everyday. *Note the views in this letter are those of Dennis Sobin. Please send your comments directly to him.
Washington, DC
United States

Sobin "Behind the Wall" 16

Dear Friends, We are expecting an outstanding "From Prison to the Stage" show at the Kennedy Center this year (Labor Day weekend). Excellent plays and proposals sent to our review committee continue to arrive weekly. Playwright and Virginia inmate Hakim M. Abdul-Wasi sent us his terrific play "The Love that Divides." It compellingly tells the story of the turmoil in a Christian family when one of its members returns home as a converted and committed Muslim. It got high rankings by our review committee. Another excellent submission is by the Judy Dworin Performance Project. It's a collaboration between this well-known performance group and women at a maximum security prison in Connecticut. Entitled "Time In," here is an eye-opening and moving multi-arts piece that that integrates dance, music and dialogue in exposing the hopes and hardships of women in prison. In other news about our production "From Prison to the Stage;" we have a contact in Michelle Obama's office and have invited the First Lady to be one of our presenters. Stay tuned for more exciting updates about this widely acclaimed annual event that gives imprisoned playwrights and composers the recognition and prominence they deserve. Yours for justice, Dennis Sobin Prisons Foundation 1600 K Street NW Suite #501 Washington, D.C. 20006 A CALL FOR SUPPORT: The Prisons Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC that promotes the arts and education in prison and alternatives to incarceration. We are now accepting tax deductable donations. The support of our supporters, quite bluntly, is what keeps us going. Please consider making a tax deductible donation to the Prisons Foundation so that we may continue to promote the arts in prison and help encourage the wonderful atistic talent we cultivate everyday: *Note the views in this letter are those of Dennis Sobin. Please send your comments directly to him.
Washington, DC
United States

Latin America: Mexican Drug War Targets Informal Saints of the Poor and the Narcos

Beware San Malverde! Watch out, Santa Muerte! The enemies of Mexico's violent and thriving illicit drug trade are after you. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported last weekend that Mexican authorities destroyed dozens of religious shrines paying homage to Santa Muerte (Saint Death), an informal Catholic saint favored by the poor as well as by criminals and drug traffickers, and San Malverde, a similar figure based on a peasant highwayman of the late 19th century.
San Malverde picture, with Malverde pot leaf, Malverde keychain and Malverde pot leaf belt buckle (author's personal collection)
Images of both saints have been appropriated by Mexico's drug traffickers and have been found on walls, tattoos, pendants, belt buckles, even engraved into the grips of pistols. For US law enforcement, coming across either saint is strongly indicative of drug trade activity. But the saints are also widely revered by Mexico's Catholic poor. Marches for Santa Muerte have drawn thousands of adherents in Mexico City, and San Malverde branded beer is available in Sinaloa, his home state and home of the Sinaloa cartel.

Four shrines to Santa Muerte and one to San Malverde were destroyed last Saturday in Tijuana and nearby Rosarito Beach. Tijuana Mayor Jorge Ramos said it was a military action, but the military has not confirmed that. Two days later, city and federal officials destroyed 34 more Santa Muerte chapels that had sprung up in recent years along the highway between Monterrey and the border town of Nuevo Laredo.

For officials, the unsanctioned saints are, like the narcocorridos (drug ballads), celebrating the exploits of drug traffickers, evidence of the drug culture seeping into broader civic culture. "This is a subject that must open a great social debate in Tijuana," Ramos said in an interview last week. "Should we permit these spaces where hired assassins who kill children, families, police seek protection? What side are we on? I am on the side of tranquility and security."

Ramos, a member of President Felipe Calderón's National Action Party (PAN), is pushing censorship as a response to the spreading drug culture. He is agitating for a package of bills before the Baja California legislature that would ban the broadcast of narcocorridos, as well as videos and images that would "glorify" drug traffickers.

But such plans have their critics, who argue that destroying shrines will not accomplish anything and that the informal saints are adored by many who have nothing to do with drug trafficking. "Destroying these chapels is not going to do anything to diminish crime," said Jose Manuel Valenzuela, a researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a Tijuana think-tank. "Someone who's going to commit a crime could just as easily go to a Catholic church as a Santa Muerte shrine, or go nowhere at all."

The people who came to the Tijuana shrines last week only to find they had been destroyed were not happy. "I feel so angry," said Zaida Romero, 33, a used-clothing vendor and single mother of seven, standing by the pile of rubble and twisted metal on the day the shrines were destroyed March 21. "She has helped me so, so, so much," said Romero, explaining that La Santa Muerte helped her overcome cancer.

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