Marijuana Legalization

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Washington Marijuana Initiative Has Good Week

This has been a good week for I-502, the Washington state initiative to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana, and its sponsors, New Approach Washington. Over the weekend, the campaign racked up big bucks with a handful of six-figure contributions, and just before that, a new poll had it with a promising lead.

SurveyUSA polled registered voters last week on the question of whether I-502 should be enacted into law, and 55% said yes, while only 32% said no. That's a 23-point lead, a figure that exceeds the number of undecideds (13%). Even if the undecideds break strongly against I-502, as they are wont to do in initiative votes, the measure merely needs to not shed too much support to still be able to win in November.

The good poll numbers were followed over the weekend by New Approach Washington's announcement that it had received $1.25 million in new donations. The measure had already received $1.7 in donations before announcing the latest round.

The big bucks came from a handful of donors: $450,000 from Progressive Insurance founder and drug reform sugar daddy Peter Lewis; another $450,000 from the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance; $250,000 from TV travel show host Rick Steves, who had already kicked in another $100,000; and $100,000 from the ACLU of Washington.

I-502 would legalize the sale and possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Marijuana and marijuana-infused products would be grown by state licensed growers and sold in state-licensed stores. The measure would impose steep excise taxes on pot sales.

It is opposed by state law enforcement associations, but also by some legalization and medical marijuana activists concerned with its provision that would impose a new limit on active THC in the blood of drivers. Those critics argue that the provision would effectively criminalize driving by medical marijuana patients and other regular users.

It wasn't all good news this week. Word came out late last week that Steve Sarich, the state's most prominent purveyor of medical marijuana, and other opponents of I-502 have filed a lawsuit to keep the measure off the November ballot. They claim that passage of I-502 would be "ruinous" to the state budget and that the Office of Financial Management is conspiring with the I-502 campaign by not yet releasing a fiscal impact statement. But as Holcomb noted, the agency has until August 10 to do so.

WA
United States

Marijuana Book Authors Talk at Oaksterdam [FEATURE]

Despite the May DEA raids and Richard Lee's retirement, Oaksterdam University is still alive, and Saturday evening saw its first event under the leadership of his replacement, new executive chancellor Dale Sky Jones. It was a timely and informative one, featuring the authors of four recent books on marijuana, three of which we have recently reviewed, with moderation by David Downs, author of the weekly East Bay Express's Legalization Nation column.

Campos, Kilmer, Campbell, and Rosenthal at Oaksterdam (photos by Drug War Chronicle)
The writers present were Isaac Campos, a University of Cincinnati professor (and SSDP chapter faculty sponsor), and author of "Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico's War on Drugs," Beau Kilmer, codirector of the RAND Corporation's Drug Policy Research Center and one of the coauthors of "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know," Greg Campbell, veteran journalist and author of "Pot, Inc.: Inside Medical Marijuana, America's Most Outlaw Industry," and Ed Rosenthal, widely known as the "guru of ganja" and author of numerous marijuana cultivation books, including the "Marijuana Growers' Guide."

But before getting down to business, Jones took a moment to talk up Oaksterdam and its founder, who was present at the event.

"This is the first new Oaksterdam University presentation, and it's a perfect opportunity to put Oaksterdam University back on the map," she said. "We cannot let this historic institution die, and we owe it all to Richard Lee," Jones added, sparking a round of applause from the several dozen in attendance.

Then Downs took over, explaining that he would treat the event as if he were the host of a TV talk show and invite one author to the dais at a time to discuss his work before opening things up for general discussion and questions from the audience.

First up was Campos, whose research into historical Mexican attitudes toward marijuana is and should be leading to some revisions in the standard narrative of US pot prohibition, which both followed and echoed Mexico's. As Campos showed, cannabis came to Mexico as hemp way back in 1530, then escaped into the indigenous pharmacopeia only to be demonized as a devil weed by the Inquisition, meanwhile picking up the marijuana moniker.

The Mexicans themselves developed a full-blown Reefer Madness, complete with the belief that marijuana use led to madness and murder, decades before we did. And we imported it, lock, stock, and barrel, thanks to the yellow press in both countries and the creation of the Associated Press, which allowed the same Mexican press horror stories to be picked up and circulated for years among different US newspapers.

"In the contemporary era, the US has been putting pressure on Mexico to fight the war on drugs, and people in the scholarly literature assumed this was always the case, but marijuana was banned nationally in Mexico in 1920, with the first local bans beginning in the 1870s," Campos explained. "That doesn't really fit the model. I'm a drug reformer, too, but we have to understand it's not simply the US imposing this; it has deep roots in other places, Mexico being one, but others in Latin America, too."

"For lease" sign atop Oaksterdam University. OU will live on, but not here.
Next up was Beau Kilmer, who, along with his coauthors, has been getting a lot of attention with their just published "Marijuana Legalization." Downs asked if the book was proving controversial.

"Well, The Weekly Standard liked it, and so did StoptheDrugWar.org," he said.

A recent Slate article based on the book sensationally warned that with full legalization, the price of marijuana could decline dramatically. That prompted Downs to query Kilmer about it.

"National legalization and legalization in a state are two different things," the RAND scholar carefully pointed out. "If it were farmed like any other agricultural good, the price would drop dramatically to as low as a few dollars an ounce. But at the state level, it's a different story. It would depend on what the federal government would do, and no one knows that. That's important because much of the price is compensation for risk, and under national legalization, there would be a reduction in risk compensation, too."

"And the fear is that low prices might drive usage up?" asked Downs.

"Well, people who are not fans of pot might not like that," Kilmer responded. "We think legalization would end up increasing use, but we make clear we don't know by how much. And we have to think about its effects on alcohol consumption. The harms of heavy cannabis use pale in comparison with those of alcohol, but we don't know whether legalization would decrease or increase alcohol use."

Local legend Ed Rosenthal, whose Quick Trading Company has become a pot publishing powerhouse and whose latest title is about dealing with pests, talked about his love for growing and had one of the better lines of the night.

"Marijuana isn't addictive, but growing it can be," he proclaimed.

Greg Campbell, whose "Pot, Inc." used his adventures in the Colorado medical marijuana boom as a springboard for a broader discussion of marijuana prohibition and its alternatives, said he came to the issue not as an advocate, but as a curious outsider.

"I am representative of the majority in Colorado, who are not morally disgusted by the idea of this industry, nor are they true believers," Campbell said, explaining that his personal experience with marijuana was limited to a college semester and didn't go well. "I was neutral about this industry popping up, with some healthy skepticism about the medicinal qualities. But I learned that the medical qualities can't be denied and I ended as a true believer in legalization."

Colorado has survived its experiment so far, he said in response to a question from Downs.

"We've had two or three years without people dropping dead from smoking Sour Diesel, everything is fine, and we're a little bit annoyed by the federal government. They've been picking off the low-lying fruit," he complained, alluding to the two dozen or so Colorado dispensaries forced to shut their doors in the face of federal threats.

Legalization will be on the ballot in Colorado this year, along with Oregon and Washington, and it was on the minds of Downs and the four writers.

"There are signs of regime change," said Campos. "When moral revolutions come, some cruel or nonsensical practice will have existed for a long time, then suddenly it ends. The end begins with a strong, well-organized, well-funded movement against it, as there was with the African slave trade or foot-binding in China, and then there's a tipping point. I feel that with well-organized, well-funded groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and NORML, we're very close to that point now. It's time to push even harder and continue to fund these groups."

Legalization has many unknowns, said Kilmer, and should have an escape clause.

"No one has ever legalized cannabis production before; it should have a sunset provision," he declared.

"The war on drugs has been a human rights disaster," said Campos. "We need to keep our eyes on the prize of ending drug prohibition. I'm convinced that someday our children will look back on this period and wonder how we allowed that system to remain.

As for the unknowns of legalization, Campos had one cogent observationt.

"Look back at the late 19th Century, when not only cannabis, but heroin and cocaine were completely unregulated, yet use was never that high," he pointed out.

But leave it to Rosenthal to really put things in perspective.

"Marijuana has been illegal for 75 years," he noted. "In the history of the United States, the norm has been for marijuana to be legal. Marijuana prohibition is an aberration. The bottom line is nobody should go to jail or prison for marijuana, people should be able to grow their own, and the police should be out of it."

Oakland, CA
United States

Montana Marijuana Initiative Comes Up Short

Montana residents will have a chance to vote on medical marijuana in November, but not on legalization. In a Friday statement, Secretary of State Linda McCullough announced that the medical marijuana initiative, IR-124 would be on the general election ballot (even though it had been a done deal since late last year), but that the constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, CI-110, had failed to qualify.

]According to the secretary of state's office, CI-110 handed in fewer than 18,000 valid signatures. It needed more than 48,000 by the Friday deadline to make the ballot.

"None of the other issues appear to have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot," McCulloch said as she announced that IR-124 and an unrelated measure had qualified. "We will continue to tabulate all certified signatures, and the totals at the ime of qualification will be certified to the governor and released publicly next week."

"We didn't make it," said Barb Trego of East Helena, CI-110's sponsor. "We just ran out of time. We just got going too late," she told the Missoulian.

Trego said the CI-110 backers had to change the proposal's language at least three times because of objections by state officials. That delayed their signature-gathering efforts.

"We're not giving up," she said. "When we do it the next time, we'll be more prepared. We already have the language."

The failure of CI-110 to make the ballot means the final tally of states where be on the November ballot is three: Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.

Helena, MT
United States

Flint (MI), Springfield (MO) Marijuana Petitions Turned In

Voters in two Midwest cities may have the opportunity to vote on marijuana law reforms this November. Advocates of a Flint, Michigan, initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by those 19 and over and advocates of a Springfield, Missouri, initiative that would make small-time pot possession the lowest law enforcement priority both handed in signature petitions last week.

Activists want cops to lay off the buds (wikimedia.org)
In Flint, the Coalition for a Safer Flint handed in more than 1,300 signatures last Monday. They need 784 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The Flint initiative would exempt those 19 and over in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from city code prohibitions on its possession. Possession would remain illegal under state law.

"We're really hoping this will give the officers here in Flint the option to use discretion so they can spend better time dealing with the rampant crime happening in the city," the coalition's Brian Morrissey told Michigan Live. "There are still quite a few people being arrested for minor possession of small amounts of marijuana... I think the citizens of Flint are definitely ready to see their police resources used more efficiently. I think this is a no-brainer."

The signatures are now being reviewed by city election officials. If the measure is approved, Flint will join Detroit in voting on marijuana law reforms. A Detroit measure to legalize possession of up to an ounce by adults won a legal battle to get on the ballot last month.

In Springfield, Springfield Cannabis Regulation turned in more than 2,600 signatures for an initiative that would make small-time marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority. The group needs 2,101 valid signatures to make the ballot and can continue to gather more until July 26.

"This petition will allow Springfield voters to instruct the government that the police have more important tasks than arresting people for possession of small amounts of cannabis," the group's Maranda Reynolds told KMOX-TV. "By eliminating the hundreds of arrests for simple possession that occur every year in Springfield, we will free up resources to focus on more serious offenses such as property and violent crimes."

If the measure is approved, it will be sent to the city council for its consideration at its August 13 meeting. If the council fails to approve it without amendment it goes to the voters in the November general election.

In both states, statewide signature-gathering to get legalization initiatives on the ballot came up short this year. But at least voters in some locales may have a chance to vote for reform.

Marijuana Initiative Sues Oregon over Signature Counts

There could yet be not one, but two marijuana initiatives on the Oregon ballot in November. The Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative (OMPI) filed a lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court last week against Secretary of State Kate Brown over her office's invalidation of tens of thousands of signatures on petitions for Initiative Petition 24 (IP-24), which would legalize personal possession and cultivation of marijuana for adults via a constitutional amendment.

The other Oregon legalization initiative, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), officially qualified on Friday. It will be known as Measure 80 on the ballot. OCTA needed only 84,000 signatures to make the ballot, but because the OMPI is a constitutional amendment it faces a higher hurdle.

The OMPI has handed in more than 175,000 signatures, far in excess of the 116,000 needed to qualify for the ballot, but the effort was hit hard when Brown's office invalidated nearly 48% of the 122,000 signatures handed in on May 25. That means almost 100% of the 53,000 signatures handed in after May 25 must be found valid if the measure is to make the ballot.

The lawsuit challenges a range of specific methods and reasons used by Brown's office to disqualify individual voter signatures and entire sheets of up to 10 voter signatures each in a sampling process conducted in June, before the final deadline for signatures on petitions on July 6. That sampling process invalidated resulted in a historically low validity rate and damaged the initiative's chance to make the ballot. Other measures submitted at the same time are suffering similarly low validation rates.

"Under the policies of Kate Brown, the Oregon Elections Division works hard to remove every possible signature from initiative petitions and for reasons that make no sense," said OMPI proponent Robert Wolfe. "Instead, they should be working to include as many signatures as possible, thus preserving citizen access to the ballot through the initiative system, as demanded by the Oregon Constitution."

The OMPI lawsuit seeks to reopen the state's validation work on IP-24 so that the measure can legitimately qualify the November ballot based a fair count of valid signatures from Oregon voters.

"The recently developed policies of the state and of Kate Brown reduce access to the initiative process and make it the province of only the wealthiest special interests," Wolfe said. "A win for IP-24 would help restore ballot access to all petition sponsors. It is time to shine a bright light on the undemocratic policies and actions of Oregon's Secretary of State."

Salem, OR
United States

Book Review: "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know"

Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know by Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Beau Kilmer, and Mark Kleiman (2012, Oxford University Press, 266 pp., $16.95 PB)

(Note: You can now order "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know" and support StoptheDrugWar.org at the same time -- click here for details on our current membership offers.)

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Marijuana legalization in one form or another will be on the ballot in at least two states -- Colorado and Washington -- this fall, and maybe three, if one or both of the Oregon initiatives currently in the signature validation process actually qualifies. [Editor's Note: One did, Friday night.] Public opinion polls show a populace that is now evenly split on the subject, but with support for it trending rapidly upward in recent years. We could be on the cusp of the biggest changes in how we deal with marijuana since pot prohibition began to emerge in the states a century ago.

So, Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know couldn't be more timely. A collaborative effort by four academic drug policy researchers, this tome is thoughtful, thorough, and balanced as it addresses the wide array of issues and disputes associated with changing pot policy. One can only hope that politicians charged with voting on marijuana policy reform would read it, or at least, that their staffs would do so and offer them up a nicely bullet-pointed précis.

Grappling with the topic of marijuana legalization is a surprisingly complicated affair. Marijuana use is so common, the impacts of marijuana prohibition so pervasive, that to talk about marijuana law reform involves disciplines ranging from botany and biochemistry to medicine and public health and diplomacy and international law, and more. One of the qualities that makes Marijuana Legalization so handy is the way it disaggregates the multi-sided issue into easily digestible, bite-sized chunks. The book is divided into two sections, one on marijuana itself and one on legalization, and subdivided into thematic chapters ("Who Uses Marijuana?" "What are the Risks of Using Marijuana?" "What if Marijuana Were Treated Like Alcohol?"), which in turn are further subdivided into one-to-two page questions and answers.

The answers to the questions are carefully based on the latest academic research and meta-analyses and appear, overall, to be fair representations of the state of knowledge in the fields in question. Sometimes, though, it appears the authors are striving so much for fairness that they risk pulling muscles from bending over backwards.

In the section on the gateway theory, for instance, the authors note that there is a correlation between teen pot use and an increased likelihood of moving on to other drug use, but that a causal relationship is more difficult to determine and that other underlying social, psychological, or physiological risk factors could be at play. Still, they feel compelled to note in language approaching the Rumsfeldian that "the fact that causal connections are not needed to explain the observed correlations does not mean there is no causal connection." Ummm, okay. And the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Actually, given the decades of efforts to establish the gateway theory, the paucity of evidence to support it is pretty good evidence.

All of the talk about marijuana dependency may grate on the nerves of advocates, some of whom may well qualify as dependent under the clinical criteria. But clearly, like any psychoactive substance, people can grow habituated to pot and it can have deleterious effects. For all the emphasis on marijuana dependency, though, the authors deserve credit for clearly and forthrightly stating that all dependencies are not created equal. It's one thing to be a skin-and-bones crack addict; quite another to smoke pot and be a couch potato every night.

The careful, balanced tone of Marijuana Legalization is something that legalization advocates might want to strive for. This holds doubly true for claims about the impacts of marijuana legalization that might not hold up to scrutiny. For instance, Proposition 19 advocates may have overstated the impact that legalization in California would have on Mexican drug cartels, only to have opponents come back and undercut those claims. Likewise, claims that our prisons are filled with pot-smokers are unsupported by the facts. That anyone is in prison for marijuana is bad enough -- and the authors say 40,000 people are -- but overstating the negatives of even some aspects of prohibition does not aid the cause in the long run.

Similarly, the authors make clear that there are some things we just don't -- and can't -- know. How much would use increase under various legalization schemes? Anyone who tells you they have a definitive answer is blowing smoke, and his credibility should be called into question. We can make educated guesses, but given the lack of laboratory conditions, that's all they are.

When it comes to legalization itself, the authors delineate several versions, from a free market scheme where marijuana is treated like any other commodity to one that that would see marijuana produced and sold with regulations and restrictions like alcohol or tobacco. There is also a medical model and a state monopoly model (similar to what Uruguay is now proposing). Given the "nightmare scenario" -- potential massive decreases in price along with powerful advertising campaigns by vendors leading to massive increase in use and dependency -- of the more open legalization approaches and the political opposition such fears can engender, that state liquor store model looks a little more attractive, even though it runs in the face of current ideological trends about the inability of the state to do anything as well as private enterprise can.

I have to give the authors kudos for one chapter in particular, "What is Known about the Non-Medical Benefits of Marijuana?" In our drug policy discourse in general, marijuana included, the emphasis is almost entirely on the negative results of drug use. That begs the question: If these drugs are so horrible, why does anyone use them in the first place, let alone get strung out on them? Drug use clearly does have positive benefits for users -- otherwise they wouldn't be using them -- and it's refreshing to actually hear some forthright talk about that when it comes to pot.

Marijuana Legalization doesn't advocate for or against legalization. At the very end of the book, each of the authors lays out his or her personal views. But I'm not going to be a spoiler. Read the book and find out for yourself. It's a most handy primer on the diverse and interrelated topics that constitute the universe of marijuana legalization issues, and its structure helps disentangle what can be an overwhelming array of concerns and issues.

Yes, the authors have undoubtedly reached some conclusions that will not be well-received by the drug reform community, but they have done so in a spirit of scholarship and fairness. If you don't like the conclusions they reach, rebut them or deal with them in the same manner. It'll do you and the cause good.

(Note: You can now order "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know" and support StoptheDrugWar.org at the same time -- click here for details on our current membership offers.)

(The author's have launched a web site associated with the book, http://www.marijuanalegalization.info.)

Chronicle Review Essay: Summer Marijuana Reads

Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race for the Cannabis Cup by Mark Haskell Smith (2012, Broadway Paperbacks, 235 pp., $14.00 PB)

Pot Farm by Matthew Gavin Frank (2012, University of Nebraska Press, 223 pp., $14.95 PB)

Pot, Inc.: Inside Medical Marijuana, America's Most Outlaw Industry by Greg Campbell (2012, Sterling Publishers, 262 pp., $22.95 HB)

Marijuana is going mainstream. This year alone the weed and our relationship to it will be the subject of dozens of new titles ranging from dry policy discussions to zonked-out memoirs, and that's not even counting the unending stream of how-to-grow books, for which there appears to be an infinite appetite.

And while Drug War Chronicle is into the serious policy wonkery -- look for a review of Kleiman et al's Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know on Friday -- we also just enjoy good reads about one of our favorite subjects. And all three titles reviewed here provide that, each in its own way and each with its own emphasis.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/heart-of-dankness-book-200px.jpg
In Heart of Dankness, Mark Haskell Smith embarks on a smoke-filled quest for "the dank," that special weed possessing the superior smell, taste, appearance, and high that are the hallmarks of dankness. That quest leads from Amsterdam, where covering the Cannabis Cup for the Los Angeles Times led Smith into the underground world of pot cultivation, back to Los Angeles, as well as connoisseur pot grows in the Sierra Nevada, seed breeders in the San Fernando Valley, and activists in the Bay Area (hello, Debbie Goldsberry!) before ending where it all began, back in Amsterdam at the Cannabis Cup. 

Heart of Dankness is rollicking reefer romp through the marijuana demimonde, from thuggish medical marijuana dispensaries in Eagle Rock to pristine botanical labs where the pursuit of dankness is the end all and be all. Readers will not only have a good time with Smith's prose, they will also get a sense of the science (and art) behind those killer strains developed by the obsessed, sometimes egotistical, masters of the art.

Pot Farm is a little different, but still fascinating and educational. In it, Matthew Gavin Frank and his wife take a break after spending eight months helping his mother recover from a bout with cancer -- by going to work on an apparently industrial-scale medical marijuana grow in Mendocino County. They are there for the duration, living miles from civilization on a remote farm owned by Lady Wanda, the massive, elusive, wealthy, and well-armed businesswoman behind Weckman Farm and its massive grow operation. How massive? Well, Lady Wanda has tents for up to 60 people, she has a pair of chefs to feed the crew, she has an on-site, full-time masseuse (Frank's wife), she has a full-time maintenance man and a fleet of vehicles. It's a big operation.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/pot-farm-book-200px.jpg
Who ends up working on a pot farm at the end of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere? Some pretty strange cats is who, Frank finds. Pseudo-hippie kids, ex-alcoholics and drug addicts, alternative healers, former soldiers perched high in the redwoods serving as armed guards and lookouts, all are among the eccentric cast of characters. All of them, Frank included, spend plenty of time stoned out of their minds on the product they're producing, too.

And then there are the patients. The ones Frank describes who work alongside him on Wanda's farm ring true to me. One patient couple, the woman desperately ill, the man a little crazed, become part of Frank's crew of close comrades, praising the healing power of the herb and denouncing the authorities, but seem to have only an addled idea of the nuts and bolts of the medical marijuana politics that fills their lives. The woman dies in a Sacramento motel room after she and her partner go there to lobby for a bill.

Or perhaps, it's not their idea of medical marijuana politics that is a bit addled, but Frank's. The process in California is complex and confusing; Frank doesn't help matters by referring to both propositions and legislative bills as propositions. Still, even if he gets a wonky detail or two wrong, he has succeeded in drawing an engrossing portrait of a real life medical marijuana farm, with all its sweat and smoke.

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Pot, Inc.'s Greg Campbell was a stereotypical Deadhead college student, stoned out of his mind all the time. But that was 20 years ago. Now, he's a middle-aged family man living in Denver who hadn't smoked in years, but noticed a couple of years ago that the medical marijuana industry was taking off in Colorado and decided to see just what it was all about. As the Great Green Rush exploded there in 2009 and 2010, Campbell signed up as a patient, went to pot school to learn how to grow, produced his own basement crop (replete with the requisite paranoia), then tried to sell it.

Campbell tells the tale of his adventures in the medical marijuana business, interspersing it along the way with forays into the roots of marijuana prohibition and the politics of pot in Colorado and the nation. Originally a skeptic about the health claims for marijuana, along the way he finds an entire subculture of patients and providers for whom recreational use is irrelevant and for whom the medical benefits cannot, in his estimation, be denied.

It's a sign of how far the conversation about marijuana has advanced that none of the authors of the books reviewed here are wondering whether pot should be legalized, but are instead wondering why the hell it hasn't been already. To varying degrees, all three books delve into the Reefer Madness and fear-mongering at the root of pot prohibition, but those are more attempts to explain the unexplainable than legalization manifestos.

One thing that's worth noting is how the actuality of medical marijuana opened the door to the marijuana subculture for all three authors. Sure, Smith was covering the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, but when he got serious about writing his book, the first thing he did was go to a pot doc and get a medical marijuana card. Frank worked on an actual medical marijuana farm. And Campbell, too, got the doctor's note.

I don't think they're unrepresentative in that respect. Medical marijuana in relatively wide-open states like California and Colorado has provided countless people entrée into the dank world of weed. (If I recall correctly, both Smith and Campbell went, with some trepidation, with the old standby "chronic pain," but easily got their recommendations.) All three authors agree that marijuana has medicinal applications that have eased the lives of thousands of patients. Whether that was really the case for them personally, or is the case for all those bong-pulling 20-something hacky sack players, I don't know or care. medical marijuana deserves to be legal in its own right, but if it ends up exposing more people to cannabis culture and allows more people to buy weed without fear of legal problems, more power to it.

If you're looking for some not-too-heavy pot-related reading this summer, we have three winners. Check 'em out.

Narc Scandal Front and Center in Florida Sheriff Race [FEATURE]

Scandal has been brewing in the Pinellas County, Florida, Sheriff's Office over the possibly criminal misbehavior of some of its narcotics detectives, and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, a Republican, has been trying to keep it from spinning out of control. But with his job on the line in November, his challengers, Republicans and Democrats alike, are making the scandal -- and the department's emphasis on busting marijuana grows -- issues with which to wound him in the campaign.

Narcotics deputies went above and beyond in their efforts to bust indoor marijuana grows (wikimedia.org)
Pinellas County sits on Florida's Gulf Coast and includes the city of St. Petersburg. For the last few years, it has been an epicenter of the state's prescription opioid epidemic, but despite the county leading the state in Oxycontin overdose deaths, some Pinellas County narcs were more interested in pot growers than pill mill merchants.[Editor's Note: At least one candidate for sheriff is challenging the conventional law enforcement narrative regarding opioid pain medications; see Scott Swope's comments on the topic at the end of this article.]

It all began when narcotics detectives with the sheriff's office hit on the bright idea of spying on a legal business -- a Largo hydroponics grow shop -- and taking down the license plate numbers of customers, and then snooping around to see what they could find. At least four detectives were involved in surveillance that apparently crossed the line into illegality by trespassing on private property without a warrant, by disguising themselves as utility company workers, and by subsequently falsifying search warrant affidavits (they would claim to have smelled marijuana from the street, when they had actually trespassed to find evidence).

They would have gotten away with it if not for tenacious defense attorneys. But things began to unravel last year, when the attorney for Allen Underwood, who had been arrested in a grow-op bust, filed a complaint saying that Underwood's surveillance cameras had recorded one of the detectives hopping over his fence. The detective ordered the surveillance video deleted, and the sheriff's office found no evidence of wrongdoing by its man.

Next, Largo defense attorney John Trevena charged in a case that one of the detectives had donned a Progress Energy shirt and cap to gain warrantless access to a private property. The detective first denied it under oath, then admitted it. At the time, Gualtieri attributed the deception to "over-exuberance" by a young detective.

Then, in February, Tarpon Springs attorney Newt Hudson questioned one of the detectives under oath about whether he ever saw his dope squad colleagues trespass. Under questioning, the detective admitted that he and one of the other detectives had once broken down a fence to enter a yard of interest.

"That was the game changer," Sheriff Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times last month as he announced he was launching a criminal investigation of the four detectives. "Misconduct will not be tolerated and we will hold accountable any member of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office who acts contrary to the law," Gualtieri said. "The ends never justify the means."

Embattled Sheriff Bob Gualtieri (bobforsheriff.com)
Three of the detectives have resigned, and Gualtieri fired the fourth, but it might be too late to undo the damage to local law enforcement and to Gualtieri's own political prospects. At least 18 pending marijuana grow prosecutions have been halted, and Gualtieri and Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said they also will review charges against about two dozen other defendants who previously pleaded guilty, were convicted or accepted plea bargains.

And Gualtieri has been repeatedly pummeled by challengers over the scandal. Not only the sole Democrat in the race, Palm Harbor attorney Scott Swope, but Gualtieri's Republican challengers, most notably former Sheriff Everett Rice, have criticized his handling of the affair. The Republican primary, which Gualtieri hopes to survive, is set for August 14.

"They shouldn't have been investigating the store to begin with," Swope told the Chronicle. "As far as criminal activity is concerned, we have bigger fish to fry than trying to catch people who are purchasing grow lamps. It was absolutely ridiculous."

Especially given that the sheriff's office had had to cut $100 million from its budget and eliminate 600 positions, including the cold case unit and sexual predator tracking, Swope said, alluding to the severe financial straits in which the department and the county found themselves.

"When I'm at a campaign presentation and tell people that they had detectives for surveilling this business selling legal equipment, but not for human trafficking or cold cases, everyone hears that and goes 'wow,'" Swope said. "It's an argument that has some traction."

Swope also criticized the leisurely pace of Gualtieri's internal investigation.

"The internal investigation took way too long," said Swope. "When you have an assertion that one of your detectives is trespassing to obtain evidence, falsifying ID to obtain evidence, falsifying affidavits, then destroying evidence, that needs to take precedence over every other internal investigation, and it didn't. When Gualtieri first went on the record, he said he didn't believe it; he just dismissed it, at least initially."

For Rice, who served as sheriff for 16 years until 2004, the pot grow scandal was an indication of misplaced priorities in Gualtieri's department.

"How is it that Pinellas and Pasco County became the pill-mill capital of the world in the last three or four years," Rice asked at a candidates' forum this spring, "and meanwhile we're spying on people who have hydroponic materials?"

Rice was still on the attack last month, telling the Tampa Bay Times that problems in the department are not limited to the pot grow scandal, but also include reports of slipshod internal investigations, narcotics sergeants claiming pay while monitoring detectives from home, and possible thefts.

"The question is,'' said Rice, "how did that culture come about in the first place? I think people realize that a Sheriff Rice wouldn't put up with such things,'' Rice said.

Except that he did. During his time in office, one of Rice's narcotics detectives gathered evidence of a pot grow illegally and lied about it under oath. He also fabricated evidence for a search warrant by calling in his own "anonymous tip." In another case, deputies used an informant to get a search warrant without revealing that the informant's wife was having an affair with the suspect. Pinellas judges tossed a number of pot grow cases over police misconduct during Rice's reign, and one detective was prosecuted for perjury.

One of the cases tossed was against Randy Heine, a Pinellas Park smoke shop owner. In that 1997 bust, deputies raided Heine's home and seized two pounds of pot, but a judge threw out the case, finding that deputies had resorted to "gross, material misrepresentation of the facts'' in their search warrant application.

Heine, a perennial gadfly on the local scene, has also become a harsh critic of Pinellas-style drug law enforcement. He was briefly a candidate in the sheriff's face before dropping out after failing to pay a filing fee. That leaves Swope, Gualtieri, and Rice.

Democratic challenger Scott Swope (swopeforsheriff.com)
For Swope, Gualtieri and Rice are birds of a feather -- traditional lawmen who don't think twice about the futility and expense of continuing to fight the war on marijuana. He offers a different vision, one that includes marijuana decriminalization and, eventually, legalization and regulation.

"Florida should go the way of more than a dozen other states and decriminalize," he said. "Then the sheriff's office wouldn’t have to expend limited resources trying to catch people in possession of small amounts. That would make it so those young people don't have a criminal record, they're still eligible for student loans, they can get jobs. It's a bit of a shocker for some of my audiences, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense to save tax dollars by not investigating and prosecuting possession of small amounts."

A marijuana bust of 20 grams or less is a misdemeanor in Florida, but it means a trip to jail, booking, and waiting to get bonded out. It also uses up law enforcement man-hours during arrest, booking, detention, and prosecution. Florida should and will decriminalize eventually, Swope said, but he wouldn't wait for the legislature to act if elected.

"As sheriff, I can't tell the legislature what to do, but I would have some influence over the county commission. I could lobby them to enact an ordinance making possession of less than 20 grams an ordinance violation," he explained. "That way, instead of deputies having to arrest people and put them in the criminal justice system, they could just issue an ordinance violation ticket, and the fines would go to Pinellas County.

Swope was philosophically open to legal, regulated marijuana sales, but wasn't pushing it as a campaign position. First things first, he said.

"From the perspective of this campaign, the majority of the population believes medical marijuana should be legal, and I do, too," he explained. "Decriminalization and regulation similar to alcohol and cigarettes, well, that's a bit more of a progressive position. I think it's going to be a two-step process: Make medical marijuana legal, and after enough time, and people realize these folks aren't committing crimes, then it's time for step two."

Swope also had an interesting perspective on the pain pill and pill mill issue.

"Pinellas County had a very serious problem with pain pills, we led the state four straight years in Oxycontin deaths, and it's still a serious problem, but unfortunately, when they really ramp up the pain pill mill enforcement, the pendulum can swing too far the other way," he noted. "There is a potentially serious negative impact on doctors and pharmacies trying to help people who need the help. If Florida were a little more progressive and had a medical marijuana law, perhaps many could treat themselves with that instead of narcotics."

The one-time deputy's drug war positions are winning him support outside of traditional Democratic constituencies, including Libertarian Party figures ranging from county stalwarts to presidential nominee Gary Johnson.

"I have the endorsement of the Libertarian Party here, and that has some of the Democrats scratching their heads. I just explain that I'm a lawyer familiar with the Constitution, I'm progressive-thinking and understand and appreciate the value of personal liberty and what the Constitution means and I will make damned sure the sheriff's office abides by the Constitution."

Pinellas County has 3,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, but most county offices, including the sheriff's, have been in Republican hands for decades. A victory for Democratic challenger Scott Swope in November would not only break the GOP's stranglehold on elected office in Pinellas, it could also bring a fresh new perspective to Florida law enforcement.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Gualtieri has just unleashed an offensive against "fake pot."

(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.)

St. Petersburg, FL
United States

Oregon Marijuana Initiative Hands in Final Signatures

Oregon could well be the third state to end up with a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot after supporters of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA) said they had handed in more than 165,000 signatures by last Friday's deadline. Marijuana regulation and legalization initiatives have already qualified for the ballot in Colorado and Washington.

The Oregon measure needs 87,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

"We believe we are going to make it easily," said OCTA chief petitioner Paul Stanford at a Salem news conference Friday morning.

But it's still nail-biting time as state election officials can take up to a month to validate signatures, and they have already invalidated signatures handed in earlier at a record rate. At the end of May, OCTA turned in 108,000 signatures, only to have nearly half of them invalidated, a shockingly high percentage of disqualifications.

With only 55,000 valid signatures from that first batch of 108,000, that means OCTA has to come up with 32,000 valid signatures from that second batch of 57,000. If the same rate of invalidation holds, the measure will fall just short.

But last month, Stanford told the Chronicle the OCTA campaign had tightened up its signature gathering in the wake of the high invalidation rate on the early signatures. "We're screening our signatures much better now, we're checking in with every single petitioner. We're closely scrutinizing every incoming sheet," he said.

If OCTA makes the ballot and is approved by voters in November, Oregon would regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana to adults 21 and over. The measure would also legalize hemp production in the state.

A second marijuana effort, the Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative (OMPI), would have asked Oregon voters to approve a state constitutional amendment to legalize personal cultivation and possession of marijuana. While it, too, appeared to have a good chance of qualifying earlier this year, it too suffered from record high signature invalidation rates.

Because it is a constitutional amendment, it faces a higher hurdle, needing 124,000 valid signatures to qualify. Chief petitioner Robert Wolfe told Reuters this week he did not expect OMPI to make the ballot because of the high number of disqualifications. He told the Chronicle last month he was contemplating legal challenges to the invalidations.

In a month or less, we will know if OCTA has qualified. We could end up with a Western weed legalization trifecta for November.

Salem, OR
United States

Uruguayan Government May Sell Marijuana in Proposed Legalization System

Members of the Uruguayan government said last Wednesday they plan to introduce a bill that would allow the government to sell marijuana. Only the government would be allowed to sell it, and only to registered users.

Barrio Sur, Montevideo, Uruguay (wikimedia.org)
According to the Associated Press, government officials told reporters in Montevideo that the move is aimed at weakening crime in the country by taking profits away from drug dealers and keeping marijuana users from going to dealers who peddle other, harder drugs.

"We're shifting toward a stricter state control of the distribution and production of this drug," said Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro. "It's a fight on both fronts: against consumption and drug trafficking. We think the prohibition of some drugs is creating more problems to society than the drug itself."

Possession of marijuana has never been a criminal offense in Uruguay, but its illicit sale has benefited criminals.

Some Uruguayan media reports said that money from marijuana sales would go to drug rehabilitation, while others said people who purchased too much marijuana would have to undergo treatment. But the government spokesman did not address those issues.

Some Uruguayans have expressed skepticism about buying their weed from the government.

"People who consume are not going to buy it from the state," said Natalia Pereira, 28, adding that she smokes marijuana occasionally. "They're going to be mistrust buying it from a place where you have to register and they can typecast you."

"The main argument for this is to keep addicts from dealing and reaching (crack-like) substances" such as base paste, said Juan Carlos Redin a psychologist who works with drug addicts in Montevideo. "Some studies conclude that a large number of base paste consumers first looked for milder drugs like marijuana and ended with freebase," he told the AP.

But other drug rehabilitation experts booed the idea. Guillermo Castro, head of psychiatry at the Hospital Britanico in Montevideo told the AP marijuana is a gateway to stronger drugs.

"In the long-run, marijuana is still poison," Castro said.  "If it's going to be openly legalized, something that is now in the hands of politics, it's important that they explain to people what it is and what it produces," he said. "I think it would much more effective to educate people about drugs instead of legalizing them."

If Uruguay were to move forward with government pot sales, it would be in line with the reformist trend percolating across Latin America. Tired of years of violence and prisons stuffed with drug offenders, governments in the region have moved away from "drug war" policies and are embracing a more tolerant approach.

In fact, it was then Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle who became the first sitting head of state to advocate drug legalization back in 2000. Batlle was a member of the long-ruling Colorado Party, but the current government, headed by President Jose Mujica, is the left-leaning Broad Front.

Montevideo
Uruguay

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