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Drug Reform Ally Barney Frank Retiring from Congress

Advocates of drug policy reform are losing a key ally on Capitol Hill. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) announced Monday that he will not seek reelection and will retire at the end of this term in January 2013.

Barney Frank at press conference calling for repeal of a law that denies financial aid to students because of drug convictions
Frank, 71, has served in Congress for 30 years and is now the ranking minority member of the House Financial Services Committee. The openly gay congressman has been a liberal stalwart throughout his tenure on the Hill and among the strongest congressional advocates of drug policy reform.

Beginning in 2001, Frank repeatedly introduced bills that would block the government from intervening in states with medical marijuana laws, and since 2008, he has introduced bills that would decriminalize marijuana possession. This year, he teamed up with libertarian Republican Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) to introduce the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. That bill currently has 19 cosponsors.

Frank was also the lead sponsor of the "Removing Impediments to Students' Education" act to repeal a provision added to the Higher Education Act in 1998 that delays or denies federal financial aid to students because of drug convictions. The law was scaled back in 2006 to apply just to offenses committed while one is in college and receiving aid, and in 2009 the House of Representatives passed language as part of a student aid funding bill that would have limited it further to just sales convictions. (The section of the 2009 bill containing that language was stripped as part of Democrats' strategy to pass health care reform, in which the health care reform and education bills were combined.)

In 1994 Frank was one of four members of Congress, a Democrat and Republican from both the House and Senate, who advanced "safety valve" legislation to allow judges to exempt first-time drug offenders from five- and ten-year mandatory minimum sentences under specified circumstances.

None of his marijuana law reform bills have come close to passage, but Frank gets big kudos from the reform community for his tireless efforts. His sponsorship of marijuana reform legislation has helped change the conversation in Congress, a process he admitted in a 2009 interview with Esquire is still far from complete.

"Announcing that the government should mind its own business on marijuana is really not that hard," he said. "There's not a lot of complexity here. We should stop treating people as criminals because they smoke marijuana. The problem is the political will. This is a case where there's cultural lag on the part of my colleagues. If you ask them privately, they don't think it's a terrible thing. But they're afraid of being portrayed as soft on drugs."

Frank's bold and straightforward stance has helped begin to change that, but with his impending retirement, marijuana and larger drug policy reform will lose a champion in Congress. His seat may remain Democratic, but there are few Democrats who have been as good as Barney Frank when it comes to trying to end the drug war.

Washington, DC
United States

Vancouver Mayors Say Legalize Marijuana

Four of Vancouver's last five former mayors called last week for end of marijuana prohibition, saying anti-pot policies have failed to reduce marijuana's availability and that prohibition has fueled violence in British Columbia communities. Thursday evening, current Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson joined his predecessors, adding his voice to the call.

Free the weed, say Vancouver mayors (image courtesy the author).
In an open letter released November 23, former mayors Mike Harcourt (1980-1986), Philip Owen (1993-2002), Larry Campbell (2002-2005), and Sam Sullivan (2005-2008) called on the province's politicians to legalize and regulate pot in BC. The letter was released by Stop the Violence BC, which just last month published a report outlining the links between marijuana prohibition and organized crime and violence and calling for a regulated, public health approach to marijuana.

"Marijuana prohibition is -- without question -- a failed policy," the former mayors wrote. "It is creating violent, gang-related crime in our communities and fear among our citizens, and adding financial costs for all levels of government at a time when we can least afford them. Politicians cannot ignore the status quo any longer; they must develop and deliver alternative marijuana policies that avoid the social and criminal harms that stem directly from cannabis prohibition."

The ex-mayors' intervention comes as the Canadian federal government of Conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper is attempting to push through a crime bill that would, among other things, impose mandatory minimum prison sentences for growing as few as five plants. But that's not a popular position in British Columbia, where a recent Angus Reid poll had support for taxing and regulating marijuana at 69%. It is past time for elected officials to get on board the marijuana reform bandwagon, the ex-mayor's said.

"Clearly, elected officials are out of step with their public on marijuana prohibition," they wrote. "It is time that elected officials enter the debate and deliver specific proposals to address the easy availability of cannabis to youth and the organized crime concerns stemming directly from cannabis prohibition."

One elected official who has heeded that call is current Vancouver Mayor Robertson. In a tweet sent out the following evening, Robertson said, "Good to see 4 Vancouver ex-mayors calling for end of cannabis prohibition. I agree, we need to be smart and tax/regulate."

In British Columbia, at least, the wall of silence by elected officials around legalizing marijuana has been breached. Whether that will lead to BC retaking its spot in the vanguard of pot law reform worldwide remains to be seen, but it's a good start.

(Drug War Chronicle's 2003 interview with Mayor Campbell is online here.)

Vancouver, BC
Canada

Kalamazoo Passes Marijuana Lowest Priority Initiative

Voters in Kalamazoo, Michigan, overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative making the use or possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults the lowest law enforcement priority. The measure passed by a margin of nearly two-to-one, with 4,649 yes votes and 2,416 no votes.

Similar measures have passed in a number of cities around the country since Seattle led the way in 2003, but Kalamazoo is the first Michigan locale to do so.

The question before the voters was: "Shall the Kalamazoo City Charter be amended such that the use and/or consumption of one ounce or less of usable marijuana by adults 21 years or older is the lowest priority of law enforcement personnel?"

The measure passed easily despite the opposition of Michigan's governor and attorney general. Local officials said passage of the measure won't change much. "The proposed charter amendment has no bearing or standing relative to the enforcement of state or federal law, which our officers have the full authority to enforce," Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley told the Kalamazoo Gazette last month.

Still, the effort led by the Kalamazoo Coalition for Pragmatic Cannabis Laws has made clear to elected officials just where the local electorate stands on the issue. As Hadley's comment shows, activism does not end when a law gets passed.

Kalamazoo, MI
United States

Video: Former Mexican President Says Time to Legalize Drugs

Video from October 18 Cato Institute forum featuring former President of Mexico Vicente Fox (Cato's Ian Vasquez moderating):

Hint to politicians and the media: When people with that kind of stature bring up an issue over and over, that means it's important.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Colombia President Calls for Global Marijuana Legalization

In a Sunday interview, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called for the global legalization of marijuana, but said his country could not be the one to lead the way. Santos also called for a tougher, smarter approach to international drug trafficking and hard drug use.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/juan-manuel-santos-3.jpg
Juan Manuel Santos
"The world needs to discuss new approaches," Santos said. "We are basically still thinking within the same framework as we have done for the last 40 years."

Colombia has made progress in its fight against cocaine trafficking in the past 20 years, managing to destroy first the Medellin and then the Cali cartels and subsequently seeing a reduction in the violence that had plagued the country. But a legion of mini-cartels have emerged to take up the trafficking mantle, and Colombia remains a world leader in cocaine production.

When asked by his interviewer whether marijuana legalization could be a means of further reducing the violence, Santos said he would support legalization, but only if it were a global move. "Yes, that could be an answer, provided everyone does it at the same time," he said.

Colombia would not undertake such a move itself because of national security reasons, Santos said. "For Colombia, this is a matter of national security," he explained. "Drug trafficking is what finances the violence and the irregular groups in our country. I would be crucified if I took the first step. We need to insist on more multinational actions on drug trafficking and innovate the ways we are dealing with it," he said.

"In other countries [Europe and the US] this is mainly a health and crime issue," Santos continued. "We need to look at all components, one of them being targeting the assets in this business. But we need to do so on a global level. We must discuss a new approach, looking at all the components: The profit and the crime that follows drug trafficking, the fight against money laundering, trade with arms and so on. These are all effects of drugs."

Or, more precisely, global drug prohibition. And so, the consensus continues to crumble.

Bogota
Colombia

California Doctors' Group Says Legalize Marijuana

California's largest doctors' group is calling for marijuana legalization. The trustees of the California Medical Association (CMA) adopted the position at their annual meeting in Anaheim Friday. The call came after the group last year decided to study the issue and make recommendations.

The group, which represents more than 35,000 physicians statewide, called for legalization even as it acknowledged health risks and questioned the medical value of pot.

The CMA's policy recommendations on marijuana included rescheduling marijuana in order to encourage further research, regulating recreational marijuana "in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco," taxing marijuana, and facilitating information about the risks and benefits of marijuana use.

Dr. Donald Lyman, a Sacramento physician who authored the new policy, wrote that the new policy was inspired by frustration with California's medical marijuana law. The law permits marijuana use with a physician's recommendations, even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That puts doctors in an untenable position, Lyman argued.

"It's an uncomfortable position for doctors," he told the Los Angeles Times. "It is an open question whether cannabis is useful or not. That question can only be answered once it is legalized and more research is done. Then, and only then, can we know what it is useful for."

But despite questioning marijuana's medical efficacy, the CMA made it clear that it sees pot prohibition as a failure. "The California Medical Association (CMA) has recognized that the criminalization of cannabis is a failed public health policy," Lyman wrote in the white paper. "Based on the growing momentum of medical cannabis decriminalization nationally (16 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized medical cannabis), there may also be growing public support in several states for decriminalization of the cultivation, transport and use of cannabis."

The CMA said it was the first state medical association to call for marijuana legalization.

Anaheim, CA
United States

Activist Dana Beal Sentenced, Suffers Heart Attack

Iconic activist Dana Beal suffered a heart attack while in a Wisconsin jail awaiting transfer to a state prison to begin serving a 2 ½ prison sentence for marijuana trafficking. According to Celebstoner.com and the Free Dana Beal and Free Ourselves Facebook page, Beal was stricken Tuesday morning, and at last report, he was hospitalized in stable condition under sedation at the Intensive Care Unit at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison.

Beal leading Global Marijuana March in NYC, 1994 (wikimedia.org)
Last week, Beal was sentenced to prison in Wisconsin after pleading guilty to trafficking 180 pounds of pot in a bust that unraveled when his 1997 Chevy van got pulled over for expired tags and no tail light. He also got 2 ½ years of probation to be served after his jail time. He got credit for 267 days already served.

Despite courtroom testimonials from Beal supporters, including "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal and Wisconsin medical marijuana patient Jacki Rickert, Beal got prison time. But it was less than the four years the prosecution asked for and well below the 15 year maximum allowable under Wisconsin law.

Beal was already on probation after being busted with another 100-pound-plus load in Nebraska in 2009. The previous year, the New York City-based activist saw more than $100,000 in cash seized in Illinois, although he avoided any convictions in that case. He also has previous drug convictions in 1971, 1987, 1993 and 2006.

When not fighting his own cases, Beal has built a career as an activist, first with the Yippies in the early 1970s, then as a founding organizer of the Global Marijuana Marches, and in recent years, as a crusader for the addiction-treating powers of ibogaine with his group Cures Not Wars.

Madison, WI
United States

Mexico and the War on Drugs: Time to Legalize

Mexico and the War on Drugs: Time to Legalize
Tuesday, October 18, 12:00 p.m.

Mount Vernon Place • Undercroft Auditorium
900 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C.


Featuring Vicente Fox, Former President, Mexico; moderated by Ian Vásquez, Director, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, Cato Institute

About the event - The drug war has led to a rise in corruption and gruesome criminality that is weakening democratic institutions, the press, law enforcement, and other elements of a free society. Former Mexican president Vicente Fox will explain that prohibition is not working and that the legalization of the sale, use, and production of drugs offers a superior way of dealing with the problem of drug abuse.

Date: 
Tue, 10/18/2011 - 12:00pm - 2:00pm
Location: 
900 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

WA State Dems Endorse Marijuana Legalization

The Washington state Democratic Central Committee Saturday endorsed a marijuana legalization initiative, throwing the party's weight behind the effort to put the measure on the ballot for the November 2012 election.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/downtown_seattle.jpg
downtown Seattle
The Central Committee voted 75-43 for a resolution supporting Initiative 502, which would legalize the possession of marijuana by adults and allow for its sale through pot-only stores regulated by the state liquor control authority. Initiative sponsors New Approach Washington estimate that marijuana legalization under its model would generate more than $200 a million a year in tax revenues, with more than half of that earmarked for public health programs.

The Democrats cited, among other things, law enforcement costs of marijuana prohibition and the revenues that could be gained with legalization. They noted that marijuana possession arrests, with mandatory 24-hour jail stays, accounted for half of all Washington drug arrests. 

I-502 is controversial among some segments of the marijuana legalization and medical marijuana communities because it also includes a per se driving under the influence provision. The initiative sets a blood THC level of 5 nanograms per millileter above which drivers are presumed to be impaired, but some activists argue that such a provision will result in the arrest and conviction of pot-accustomed drivers who are not actually impaired.

That didn't seem to bother the Democratic Central Committee too much, though. The committee included that provision in its long list of "whereases" in support of the initiative, noting that "this per se limit will not apply to the non-psychoactive marijuana metabolite carboxy-THC that can appear in blood or urine tests for days or even weeks after last use."

I-502 is supported by the ACLU of Washington, whose Alison Holcomb has taken a leave of absence to spearhead the campaign, and has been endorsed by prominent Washington figures, including former US Attorney John McKay (the man who prosecuted Marc Emery, ironically), Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, and travel writer and TV show host Rick Steves.

Organizers have until next July to gather 241,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. But I-502 is an initiative to the legislature, meaning that if it passes the signature-gathering hurdle, it would then go before the state legislature in the upcoming session. If the legislature refuses to act, the initiative would then go before the voters in November 2012.

Bellingham, WA
United States

Three Marijuana Legalization Initiatives in Oregon [FEATURE]

Activists in Oregon are serious about legalizing marijuana. There are currently three different marijuana legalization initiative campaigns aimed at the November 2012 ballot underway there and, this year, there are signs the state's fractious marijuana community is going to try to overcome sectarian differences and unify so that the overarching goal -- freeing the weed -- can be attained.

The three initiatives are in varying stages of advancement, with one already engaged in signature-gathering, one just approved for a ballot title, and the third trying to obtain the 1,000 signatures necessary to be granted a ballot title and be approved for signature-gathering.

The initiative currently furthest down the path toward the ballot box, is the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 2012 (Initiative Petition #9), sponsored by veteran activist and medical marijuana entrepreneur Paul Stanford. It would allow adult Oregonians to possess and grow their own marijuana. It would allow Oregon farmers to grow hemp. And it would license Oregon farmers to grow marijuana to be sold at state-licensed pot stores. An earlier version of OCTA failed to make the ballot last year.

OCTA has been approved for signature-gathering, and OCTA spokespersons said it had so far collected more than 30,000 signatures. It needs some 87,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot, so OCTA's goal is to gather about 130,000 to have a comfortable cushion to account for invalid signatures.

The initiative next in line is a proposed constitutional amendment (Initiative Petition #24) to repeal the state's marijuana laws sponsored by the Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative, which is supported by numerous in-state groups. "Except for actions that endanger minors or public safety, neither the criminal offenses and sanctions nor the laws of civil seizure and forfeiture of this state shall apply to the private personal use, possession or production of marijuana by adults 21 years of age and older," the amendment says. "The State may enact laws and regulations consistent with this amendment to reasonably define, limit and regulate the use, possession, production, sale or taxation of marijuana under state law."

Because it is a constitutional amendment and not an initiative, the OMPI must climb a higher hurdle to qualify for the ballot. Instead of 87,000 valid signatures, it needs 114,000.

The initiative still in the initial phase of qualifying for a ballot title is from Sensible Oregon, a coalition formed this year that includes Oregon NORML and a variety of other groups. The Sensible Oregon initiative "would remove existing civil and criminal penalties for adults twenty one years of age, who cultivate, possess, transport, exchange or use marijuana" and require the legislature to come up with a regulatory scheme.

The Sensible Oregon initiative has gathered about 400 of the initial 1,000 needed to win a ballot title. Activists are gathering them on a volunteer basis.

"We don’t have any paid petitioners; we're working strictly as volunteers," said Oregon NORML board member and Sensible Oregon spokesperson Anna Diaz, who added that it is difficult to obtain funding at this early stage. "When we talk to various funding sources, we need to wait for the ballot title before anyone will take us very seriously. Once we do that, our hope is that we can go after some big funding."

Funding is also an issue for the OCTA campaign, said campaign spokesperson Jennifer Alexander. "We had to stop our signature gathering effort because we need to do some major fundraising," she said. "We have some volunteers, but we're trying to raise about $150,000 to fund the rest of the signature drive. If we can raise the money, we can do it in eight or ten weeks."

OCTA will be the initiative "most accepted by the public," Alexander said. "It also addresses hemp, which would be a huge economic and environmental boon to the Oregon economy, and it provides the regulatory structure that Oregonians are most familiar with, similar to how we handle alcohol. You can grow your own or you can buy it from the store, and the money goes back to the state, which generates revenue and a regulated environment."

Last year, Oregon NORML supported OCTA, but it is going down a different path this year. "Paul Stanford has been trying to pass some form of OCTA for about 20 years, and we didn't want to do the same thing and get the same results," said Diaz. "At the same time, the Sensible Washington people had come forward with the idea of removing all criminal penalties, and we decided that would be more appealing to voters and a better model to attempt," Diaz said. "While we are not disparaging Paul or his efforts, OCTA has just failed one too many times for us."

Doug McVay, a long-time activist now (again) working for Voter Power, the group behind Oregon's successful 1998 medical marijuana initiative, said Voter Power supports any and all of the initiatives, but is concentrating its limited resources on the OMPI constitutional amendment and a second initiative that would create a state-regulated medical marijuana dispensary system.

"In Oregon, we have three chances to make history, and that's exciting," he said. "All of them or any of them could create a ripple, hell, a tidal wave across the country. I will be working to help them make the ballot and working to make their passage a reality."

Factionalism and in-fighting has been the bane of the marijuana movement in Oregon, as in so many other places, but this time around, there is a lot of talk about unity and supporting whatever will work.

"We will get behind other initiatives if ours doesn't work out," said Diaz. "There is also talk about all three initiatives doing polling to see which would really fly, and all of us jumping on that. Surprisingly, this is one time where I'm hearing proponents of every proposed initiative suggesting we should all support each other. It's not a matter of competing against each other."

"We're all trying to end prohibition and these are just different models to do so," said OCTA's Alexander. "I love that we have so many going to the ballot. We have all pretty much agreed that whichever one makes the ballot, we will support it. There have been a lot of people picking apart the different initiatives, but we have to get behind each other and work for the common goal."

That would be a very good thing. A marijuana movement unified around a legalization initiative would be able to concentrate on real opposing forces instead of having to defend itself from sniping from within. We don't want to see a repeat of last year's experience in California, where "Stoners against Prop 19" types had initiative organizers looking over their shoulders to fend off attacks from within the ranks even as they tried to confront the organized opposition.

OR
United States

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