Marijuana Legalization

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Detroit to Vote on Marijuana Legalization in August

The Michigan Supreme Court has cleared the way -- finally -- for Detroiters to vote on a marijuana legalization initiative. The high court Friday refused to hear an expedited appeal of a February appeals court ruling that Detroit election officials had acted improperly when they blocked the measure from getting on the ballot.

Detroit skyline (saferdetroit.net)
That means Detroit residents can expect to see the initiative on the August 7 primary ballot. The initiative, sponsored by the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over by amending the city's controlled substances ordinance to say that it does not apply to small-time pot possession by adults.

Although initiative supporters had cleared all the legal hurtles to making the ballot back in 2010, the measure was opposed by the Detroit City Council, especially Council President Charles Pugh, who also serves as chairman of the Detroit Election Commission. The commission voted 3-0 to block the measure from appearing on the city ballot.

But initiative advocates were undeterred and persevered in pursuing the matter through the courts. Now, with the Supreme Court rejecting the city's motion for immediate consideration of its appeal, they have prevailed.

"A long trail of voter abuse by the City of Detroit has come to an end," said the Coalition's Tim Beck, in an e-mail to supporters. "We got everything right. Our petitions were flawless," said Beck.

Detroit Mayor Bing had no comment Friday evening, but a Detroit police spokesman told the Detroit Free Press the department could adapt to legalization "if it's handled in an appropriate way, and this is what the citizens of Detroit choose."

That's a remarkably open-minded and democratic statement from Detroit police, especially when compared to law enforcement reactions elsewhere to legalization, lowest law enforcement priority, and medical marijuana votes. It will be up to the voters of Detroit to ensure that the department lives up to its word.

Detroit, MI
United States

Poll Finds California Not Quite There on Marijuana Legalization

Californians overwhelmingly support medical marijuana, especially for "patients with terminal and debilitating conditions," but when it comes to legalizing it, a new poll finds the state has a ways to go. According to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, only 46% of respondents favored legalization, with 50% opposed.

On medical marijuana, 80% supported it, with 62% strongly supporting and 18% supporting. Only 17% were opposed, and 3% pronounced themselves undecided.

On marijuana legalization, the poll asked "Do you think marijuana should be legalized for recreational or general use by adults?" One-third (33%) strongly supported legalization, while another 13% supported it. Strong opposition to legalization was at 42%, with soft opposition at 8%, while the remaining 4% either had no opinion or refused to answer.

Looking at the poll's cross tabs provides a more detailed breakdown of where support for legalization is strong and where it isn't. The cross tabs show majority support for legalization among independents (56%) and Democrats (51%), but not Republicans (28%). Among ethnic groups, half of blacks (50%) support legalization, and 49% of whites, but only 37% of Hispanics. Among people with kids, only 47% support legalization, but that's one point higher than people without kids (46%).

Support for legalization correlates with income. Among people making $50,000 a year or more, support was at 54%, while among people making less than that, support was only at 40%.

The only region of the state with majority support for legalization was the San Francisco Bay area, with 55%, followed by Los Angeles County (49%), Sacramento and Northern California (46%), the Central Coast (42%), Southern California outside of LA County (41%), and the Central Valley (34%).

The gender gap evident in other marijuana polls also shows up in this one. While 51% of men favored legalization, only 41% of women did.

With no legalization initiatives making the ballot this year, California activists have at least two years to work on upping the numbers. It looks like they better be prepared to do a lot of talking to Hispanic women with kids and low-paying jobs.

CA
United States

Marijuana Legalization Advocate Wins Texas Congressional Primary

Former El Paso city councilman Beto O'Rourke has defeated US Rep. Silvestre Reyes in the battle for the Democratic Party nomination for the seat Reyes has held since 1996. According to election results from the Texas Secretary of State's office early Wednesday morning, O'Rourke had picked up 51.3% of the vote to Reyes' 41.3%, meaning O'Rourke also avoids the need for a run-off election.

Beto O'Rourke (betoforcongress.com)
O'Rourke is a vocal drug policy reformer who has specifically called for marijuana legalization, while Reyes, a former Border Patrol official, has built a career on tough on the border and tough on drugs politics.

O'Rourke garnered national attention in 2009, when he championed a council resolution calling for a national conversation on legalizing and regulating drugs as a possible solution to the drug cartel violence just over El Paso's border in Mexico. The mayor vetoed the unanimously-passed resolution and the council was set to override the veto until Congressman Reyes threatened that the city would lose federal funding if it insisted on pushing the legalization conversation. The override vote failed, but O'Rourke has managed to use the issue as a launching pad for his campaign against what had been a heavily-favored incumbent.

O'Rourke has spoken eloquently of the violence in Mexico and its roots in drug prohibition, including at Drug Policy Alliance conferences, and is the coauthor, along with fellow El Paso city council member Susie Byrd, of Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the US and Mexico, which calls explicitly for marijuana legalization.

"O'Rourke's victory demonstrates that support for drug policy reform, and even for legalizing marijuana, is no detriment to electoral success - in fact it was a key asset in his triumph," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of Drug Policy Action, the Alliance's campaign and lobbying arm.. "Reyes' surprising defeat, meanwhile, shows that kneejerk support for persisting with failed drug war tactics can hurt politicians at the ballot box."

Earlier this month, the Democratic primary for Attorney General in Oregon featured a similar dynamic. Ellen Rosenblum won a surprising victory over favorite Dwight Holton, in a race in which medical marijuana became a major issue. Rosenblum is supportive of patients' right to safe and legal access to medical marijuana, while her opponent, former Interim U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton, is sharply critical of the program. Although Holton was heavily favored early in the race, he was targeted for defeat by supporters of medical marijuana after actively trying to undermine responsible state regulation. With no Republican filing for the office, Rosenblum is all but certain to be the state's next attorney general.

"Beto O'Rourke's congressional victory in Texas, coming on the heels of Ellen Roseblum's victory in Oregon's attorney general race, shows that drug policy reform is no longer a third rail in American politics," said Jill Harris, managing director of strategic initiatives for Drug Policy Action. "In both of those races, the candidates' views on marijuana reform were used against them in attacks by their opponents - and in both cases, the voters supported the pro-reform candidate. A majority of Americans now favor treating marijuana like alcohol, and strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans say the federal government should not interfere with state medical marijuana laws. From blue states like Oregon to red states like Texas, it's a new day for the politics of drug policy reform."

Having won the Democratic primary, O'Rourke is well placed for a victory in November in this solidly Democratic district that has sent Reyes to Washington eight times. But now, it's a drug reformer El Paso is likely to send to Congress, not a drug warrior.

(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.)

El Paso, TX
United States

Status Report: Statewide Marijuana Legalization Initiatives [FEATURE]

As summer draws near, the election picture when it comes to statewide marijuana legalization initiatives is becoming a bit clearer. At the beginning of the year, activists in eight states undertook efforts to get initiatives on the ballot, but the field has been winnowed.

With polling this year starting to show majority support for legalization and regulation, 2012 could be the year that legalization actually wins, and voters in at least two states -- Colorado and Washington -- will have the chance to make that happen. Initiatives in those two states have already been approved for the ballot, and the election campaigns are underway.

Four separate and competing initiatives from a divided marijuana movement came up short in the past few weeks in California, while the Show Me Cannabis Regulation initiative in Missouri, long on heart but short on funds, gave up the ghost for this year earlier this month. Activists in both states are planning to return to the fray in 2014.

That leaves four states -- Michigan, Montana, Oregon and Nebraska -- where initiatives are still in the signature-gathering phase. Within a few weeks, we will know for sure whether any of them will make it to the ballot in November, but as of this week, Oregon appears best placed to join Colorado and Washington in the fall.

Here's how it's looking in the four states where initiatives are still trying to qualify for the ballot:

Michigan

The Committee for a Safer Michigan is currently circulating petitions for its constitutional amendment to repeal marijuana prohibition. The committee has until July 9 to gather the 322,609 valid voter signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. So far, it has only handed in about 35,000, but organizers say many signature-bearing petitions are still out in the field.

"The number of signatures we have in hand is significantly lower than the real number," said Brandi Zink, campaign volunteer coordinator. "We have 2500 volunteers out there with petitions."

If each volunteer signature gatherer has only come up with 100 signatures so far, that would be another 250,000, putting the 306,000 valid signatures within reach.

The campaign will make a big push in the final weeks, but desperately needs money, Zink said.

"We've been reaching out to the political parties here," she said. "We have friends in the Democratic Party and Ron Paul supporters among the Republicans. We are going to be at every major festival and we're still recruiting volunteers, but we still need help and we still need donations.  Anyone who would like to give generously to our effort will be most appreciated. We certainly have the will and the boots on the ground. If we had money, we can get this on the ballot and win."

Zink called on drug reformers across the country to chip in.

"We're asking people in the reform movement to please contribute," she said. "If you're not in Michigan, this is how you can make a difference here. What we're doing in the Midwest can have an impact throughout the nation."

Montana

Montana First
, the same group of activists and supporters who last summer and fall organized the successful signature-gathering campaign to put the IR-124 medical marijuana initiative on the November 2012 ballot to undo the legislature's destruction of the state medical marijuana distribution network, is also working on a legalization initiative, Constitutional Initiative No.110 (CI-110).

It would add two sentences to the state constitution: "Adults have the right to responsibly purchase, consume, produce, and possess marijuana, subject to reasonable limitations, regulations, and taxation. Except for actions that endanger minors, children, or public safety, no criminal offense or penalty of this state shall apply to such activities."

To qualify for the ballot, campaigners need to gather some 45,000 valid voter signatures, and Montana law also requires that those signatures include 10% of voters in at least 40 of 100 of the state's electoral districts. They have until June 22, and they're less than halfway there, but still holding out hope.

"We're making a serious run, and we have one month left. We're behind on our goals, but we're accelerating rapidly, and that gives me some cause for optimism," said Montana First's John Masterson. "We have about 20,000 signatures so far and we're gearing up for primary day on June 5. If we do everything right on that day we could double what we have," he said.

"We've got a small army of signature-gatherers on the street, and we have some paid signature-gatherers, too," Masterson said. "People are coming out from under their rocks despite the federal raids, despite the radical acts of the legislature, despite their fears. They are saying they have to stand up and fight for the right of adults to use cannabis in responsible ways."

Nebraska

The Nebraska Prop 19 2012 Cannabis Initiative would amend the state constitution so that any law regarding the private, non-commercial cultivation and consumption of marijuana would be forbidden, with the legislature directed to enact regulations for commercial sales and cultivation. Any current laws violating the amendment, such as the current marijuana laws, are declared null and void and convictions for violations of them are set aside.

 

In addition to the web site above, the campaign has a Facebook petition page and has shown some signs of life, holding events in Lincoln and Omaha, but has otherwise been remarkably stealthy. While the initiative was filed by McCook attorney Frank Shoemaker, the signature-gathering campaign has reportedly been taken on by the Nebraska Cannabis Alliance.

 

We have no reliable reports of far the campaign has progressed, but it needs just under 50,000 signatures to make the November ballot and has until July to do so.



Oregon

In Oregon, two separate initiatives appear poised to make the ballot with six weeks left to gather signatures. The Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA) initiative, which would allow for the legal cultivation and sale of marijuana, needs 87,213 valid signatures to make the ballot. The Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative constitutional amendment, which would give adult Oregonians the constitutional right to possess marijuana, has to reach a higher threshold of 116,284.

Both measures have until July 6 to turn in signatures, but also face a Friday deadline for turning in enough signatures to qualify for early verification by the secretary of state's office. The early verification allows campaigns to know whether they have come up short because of invalid signatures and gives them six weeks to make up the difference. Both initiatives appear well-placed to do so.

"As of Sunday, we had 109,000 signatures in hand," said Paul Stanford, the primary force behind OCTA. "That's 127% of the total. Assuming an invalidation rate of 30% to 35%, we need to turn in 132,000 to 136,000. We're getting about 10,000 a week, and we have six and a half weeks left," he said.

Stanford has largely funded the OCTA campaign through his multi-state chain of medical marijuana clinics -- not dispensaries -- and said he had pumped $60,000 of his money into the campaign this month.

"We need 116,300 signatures turned in for early approval, and we currently have 132,000," said Robert Wolfe, proponent for OMPI. "We are going to make the ballot, no question about it. The secretary of state will disqualify some percentage, so we're aiming for 185,000 and we'll be collecting up until the deadline."

Both men said that in the event both measures made the ballot, they would complement -- not contradict -- each other.

"The OMPI is a constitutional amendment that requires that the state regulate cannabis, and our OCTA initiative would fulfill that regulatory requirement and save the legislature from contentious debate," said Stanford.

While Wolfe agreed that the two measures could complement each other, he also expressed concerns about mixed messaging.

"There is a difference in the messaging," he said. "We've been careful to frame this as an issue of social justice and wasted resources, while a lot of the OCTA supporters have a more strident marijuana lifestyle message. Those aren't the voters we're trying to attract. We can't win an election with hardcore cannabis supporters alone; we have to appeal to mainstream voters by talking about things they think are important."

Still, having two marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot is the kind of problem activists in other states wish they had.

What happened to California?

While the failure of the Missouri initiative to make the ballot was not a huge surprise -- it faced big obstacles in the south-central state -- the failure of an initiative to make the ballot in California was a surprise and a disappointment to many reformers, especially after the state came so close with Proposition 19 in 2010.

But the failure of Prop 19, along with the conflicts over medical marijuana, may have sealed the fate of initiative efforts in the Golden State this year, said long-time California scene-watcher and CANORML head Dale Gieringer.

"We just voted on this, and people didn't quite buy it," he said, referring to the Prop 19 defeat. "And the polling hadn't moved. We have a fair amount of chaos in our medical marijuana system, and as long as California voters don't have the confidence we can regulate medical marijuana well, I think they're reluctant to open the doors to further chaos with legalization."

The ongoing federal crackdown on medical marijuana wasn't helping, either, he added.

The failure in 2010 also scared off big money funders, said Gieringer, who estimated it would cost a million dollars just to make the ballot.

"There wasn't the money to do it. We tried in 2010, and it's hard to come back two elections in a row," he said. "Since the polls hadn't moved, the funders weren't terribly interested and thought they could get better bang for their buck in Colorado and Washington and maybe Oregon."

Although there were four separate initiatives, he said, "You add up all the funding for all the initiatives, and it's just not very much. Even if there had been only one initiative, it wouldn't have had a chance."

California led the way with medical marijuana in 1996 and with Proposition 19 in 2010, but if activists in Colorado, Washington, and maybe Oregon, Montana, Michigan, or Nebraska have their way, it will not be the first state to legalize marijuana.

Marijuana Legalization Hits 56% Support in Rasmussen Poll

A Rasmussen poll of likely voters released Tuesday found support for legalizing and regulating marijuana at 56% nationwide, a significant increase over a March Rasmussen poll and in line with other recent polls that show legalizing gaining majority support and trending upward.

The poll comes ahead of elections in November that will see votes in at least two states, Colorado and Washington, vote on marijuana legalization initiatives. Efforts are still underway to get on the ballot in four other states -- Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, and Oregon. The poll did not break down support by state.

Legalization garnered majority support among both sexes and across age groups, although with some significant differences. While 61% of men supported "legalizing marijuana and treating it like alcohol or cigarettes," only 52% of women did, reflecting a gender gap apparent in other polls. And while even seniors came in with 50% support, only 49% of respondents with minor children supported legalization.

Support in that demographic jumped, however, when pollsters asked if they would favor legalization "if no one under 18 could buy it, it was banned in public, and there were strict penalties for driving under the influence." Under those conditions, support among parents jumped to 58% and support among Republicans increased to 52%, bumping up overall support for legalization one point to 57%.

The poll also asked whether it should not be a crime "for someone to smoke marijuana" in private. Only 32% agreed that private pot-smoking should remain a crime, while 68% disagreed.

The same poll asked whether US drug consumption is a major cause of drug violence in Mexico and Central America, with 62% agreeing that it is. More surprisingly, 47% said they agreed with legalizing marijuana and cocaine if it would reduce the violence along the Mexican border. But in another question in the poll, only 11% agreed with legalizing and regulating cocaine.

The poll sampled 1,000 likely voters. It has a margin of error of +/- 3%.

Danish Government Rejects Legal Marijuana

There will be no hash bars or cannabis cafes in Copenhagen at any time in the near future. Over the weekend, the Danish government rejected Copenhagen's request to experiment with legalizing cannabis sales in the city.

downtown Copenhagen (wikimedia.org)
In a letter to the Copenhagen city council, Social Democratic Justice Minister Morten Bødskov wrote that the government was rejecting the request because it feared it would lead to increased availability and use of the herb and because it had been linked to a variety of side effects.

"Because of this the government will not permit the experiment," Bødskov wrote.

City council members, who had overwhelmingly supported the request, said they were disappointed in the decision.

"It’s very disappointing," councilman and deputy mayor for social affairs Mikkel Warming told public broadcaster DR. "The prohibitive policies we have operated under in Denmark for so many years have not worked. You can still buy hash on street corners across the city which also means the hash is mixed up with other harder drugs. Criminals also pocket about two billion kroner a year from the trade."

Warming said he would continue to work for marijuana legalization and counseled patience, noting that it took a decade for parliament to approve a supervised injection room for hard drug users.

"Legalization would limit the gang conflict and it would also give us access to the group of users who have been left to the criminal environment," councilman Lars Aslan Rasmussen told Ritzau. "We had hoped that they would take our proposal seriously, as we have the support of 80% of the city council. Copenhagen has a serious problem because the gang conflict is a result of the trade in marijuana. The gangs turn over more money than 7-Eleven."

With the action by the Danish government, the black market profits of Denmark's hash slingers and pot dealers will remain safe for now.

Copenhagen
Denmark

Marking Mother's Day With Calls for Reform [FEATURE]

On this Mother's Day, more than 100,000 women are behind bars in American prisons, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and many of them are doing time for drug offenses. That's too many, said members of a new coalition, Moms United to End the War on Drugs, as they held events last week in the days running up to Mother's Day.

Gretchen Burns Bergman at the National Press Club (Moms United)
"The war on drugs is really a war on families," said Mom's United's Gretchen Burns Bergman. "It is time to end the stigmatization and criminalization of people who use drugs and move from arrest and mass incarceration to therapeutic, health-oriented strategies. Moms were the driving force in repealing alcohol prohibition and now moms will play a similar role in ending the war on drugs."

Bergman, from San Diego, is the mother of two sons who have struggled with substance abuse and incarceration and is a founder of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing). A New PATH has joined forces with other groups, including Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), the NORML Women's Alliance, Families to Amend California's Three Strikes, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy to form Moms United to agitate for an end to the drug war and a turn toward sensible, evidence-based drug policies.

The week leading up to Mother's Day was a week of action under the rubric of Cops and Moms Working Together to End Prohibition. The week saw events and press conferences in Atlanta, Boston, New York City, and Washington, DC, in the East and Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland on the West Coast.

"Mother's Day was derived out of an intensely political effort to organize women on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line against the Civil War," said Sabrina Fendrick, coordinator for the NORML Women's Alliance. "The reason mothers were made the vehicle was because they were the ones whose children were dying in that war. Women were also largely responsible for ending alcohol prohibition. This is more than just a ‘greeting-card holiday,’ this is the beginning of an institutional change in our society. The government's war on drugs is unacceptable. For our children's sake, the concerned mothers of the world are being called on to demand the implementation of a rational, responsible, reality-based drug and marijuana policy."

Last Wednesday, at a San Diego press conference, the umbrella group unveiled the Moms United to End the War on Drugs Bill of Rights, a 12-point motherhood and drug reform manifesto which calls for "the right to nurture our offspring, and to advocate for their care and safety" and "the parental right to policies and practices that recognize addiction as a disease in need of treatment, rather than a willful behavior to be criminalized," as well as the right to have harm reduction and overdose prevention practices implemented, the right to be free from heavy-handed, constitution-threatening drug war policing, and the right to be free from drug war violence.

Moms United in Los Angeles (Moms United)
"If we stop arresting and incarcerating drug users, think of the number of children who would have the chance to look upon their parents as positive role models instead of having parents who are absent because they are incarcerated," the group said. "We have a moral and ethical obligation to give these children a better chance in life by allowing parents to take care of their families. These parents should have the opportunity to become the productive members of society and role models to their children that they want to be and that their children need and deserve."

The Bill of Rights has been endorsed by a number of religious, reform, and civil rights groups, and individuals can sign onto it, too. To sign on, go to the online petition.

"We are building a movement to stop the stigmatization and criminalization of people who use drugs or are addicted to drugs," the group said. "We urgently call for health-oriented strategies and widespread drug policy reform in order to stop the irresponsible waste of dollars and resources, and the devastating loss of lives and liberty."

It's not just Moms United who is using Mother's Day to strike a blow for drug reform. In Colorado, where Amendment 64 to legalize and regulate marijuana is on the ballot, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is running a television ad featuring a young woman writing an email to her mother in which she explains that she has found her marijuana use to be safer and healthier than the drinking she did in college.

The ad is aimed at a demographic that is both critical to and difficult for the campaign: women in their 30s and 40s, many of whom are mothers. The ad appeared Friday and again on Mother's Day.

"Our goal with the ad is to start a conversation -- and encourage others to start their own conversations -- about marijuana," Betty Aldworth, the advocacy director for the campaign.

And it's not just the United States, either. In mother-honoring Mexico, which marked Mother's Day on Thursday, hundreds of women and other family members traveled to Mexico City on the National March for Dignity to demand that the government locate their loved ones gone missing in the drug wars, according to the Frontera NorteSur news service.

"They took them alive, and alive we want them," the marchers chanted.

While the drug wars in Mexico have claimed at least 50,000 lives, including 49 people whose dismembered bodies were found on a highway outside Monterrey Sunday morning, thousands more have gone missing, either simply vanished or last seen in the hands of armed, uniformed men.

The Mexican government doesn't report on how many have gone missing in its campaign against the cartels, but the Inter-American Human Rights Commission counts more than 5,000 missing persons complaints filed with police -- and this in a country where many people so mistrust the police they don't bother to file official reports.

"For some it has been years, for others months or days, of walking alone, of clamoring in the desert of the hallways of indolent and irresponsible authorities, many of them directly responsible for disappearances or complicit with those who took our loved ones away," the mothers' group said.

On Mother's Day, many mothers in Mexico have "nothing to celebrate," said Norma Ledezma, cofounder of Justice for Our Daughters in Chihuahua City. "As families, we want to take this occasion to tell society not to forget that in Mexico there is home with a plate and a seat empty."

"We have walked alone in the middle of stares and stigmatizing commentaries, and we have been treated like lepers, marginalized and condemned to the worst pain a human being could live: not knowing the whereabouts of our sons and daughters," the new mother's movement declared. "But now we are not alone. We have found hundreds of mothers and we unite our clamor and our love to recover our loved ones and bring them home."

On Mother's Day, the agony of the drug war transcends borders. And the call from mothers for a more sane and human alternative continues to grow, from Chihuahua to Chicago and from Oaxaca to Washington.

Charlottesville Says Decriminalize or Regulate Marijuana

The Charlottesville, Virginia, city council approved a marijuana-related resolution Monday night calling on the governor and the legislature "to revisit the sentencing guidelines that merit jail terms for simple possession, do away with rules that suppose intent to distribute without evidence and give due consideration to sponsored state bills that would decriminalize, legalize or regulate marijuana like alcohol."

Charlottesville City Council (City of Charlotteville)
[Editor's Note: To find the actual resolution, click on the link above, select "May 7, 2012 (with background)," then scroll to the very end of the PDF file.]

Under current law, possession of marijuana is classified as a misdemeanor carrying punishment of up to 30 days in jail and/or fines of up to $500. Subsequent convictions carry a jail sentence of up to a year and/or fines of up to $2,500.

The council had been presented with two resolutions, the version that passed and one that also included language making marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority, but councilors balked at the lowest priority language, saying they feared it would send the wrong message to children. Two of the five-member council supported the lowest priority language, but they dropped that in order to pick up a third vote on the decriminalization and regulation language.

"I think it's perfectly legitimate for us to say as an elected body that there are other priorities and that we're going the wrong direction when it comes to the war on drugs," said Councilor Dave Norris in remarks reported by the Charlottesville Daily Progress.

"Obviously, we don't have the power to decriminalize marijuana, but I think it does send the message actually in support of those who can," said Councilor Dede Smith.

"I think that decriminalization has more to with regulation and control than it does with saying it's okay," said Councilor Kristin Szakos, the swing vote who suggested the one-paragraph compromise.

Two council members, Mayor Satyendra Huja and Councilor Kathy Galvin, voted against any reform resolution.

"I think passing such a resolution... would detract from community health, safety and welfare of our citizens," said Huja.

"I honestly cannot think that this bully pulpit can be used to send such mixed messages to our children," said Galvin. "We are spending a lot of time talking about state and federal law. This is not something we should be spending local time doing."

City police lobbied against the lowest priority language, saying that marijuana possession is already a low priority, accounting for only about 100 arrests a year out of the 5,000 made by police, and that many of those busts were incident to arrest on other charges.

"The officers in the police department are duty bound to enforce the laws of the city, state and federal governments. However, all police departments must balance the pressing enforcement needs of a community with their resources," read a memo to councilors from City Manager Maurice Jones and city Police Chief Timothy Longo. "The Charlottesville Police Department has done exactly that by utilizing its funding to appropriately address higher priority crimes in our city than marijuana possession. Knowing this, staff believes it is unnecessary to include a directive from council to de-prioritize the enforcement of personal marijuana use."

Public comment at the meeting was mixed, with the first six speakers opposing the resolution. Some referred to their own struggles with addiction, while others described it as an insidious drug that robs addicts of true happiness.

"Charlottesville will become the city of potheads," warned city resident Melanie Roberts.

But local attorney Jeff Fogel supported the resolutions, including the lowest priority language, and called the war on drugs "a colossal failure" that led to violence. "I don't think we elected the police department to make policy or law in this community," Fogel said. "And you know what, I'm not sure the police department does either."

The resolution was citizen-initiated, brought to the council by Jordan McNeish. Formerly involved with Occupy Charlotte, the 23-year-old activist has since founded a local NORML chapter. He said he had been busted for pot possession in the past.

Charlottesville is now on the record for marijuana reform. Where are Norfolk and Newport News, Roanoke and Richmond?

Charlottesville, VA
United States

Gary Johnson Picks Judge Jim Gray for Libertarian Party Ticket

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who is seeking the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, has selected California Judge Jim Gray as his running mate, the Daily Caller reported Monday.

Gov. Gary Johnson
Johnson, a pro-drug reform Republican, sought the GOP presidential nomination earlier this year, but switched gears (and parties) and entered the Libertarian nominating fray after failing to gain traction with Republicans.

His selection of Judge Gray, a prominent advocate of marijuana legalization, "puts pot front and center in the campaign," a Johnson staffer told the Caller. But that staffer added that Johnson's opposition to the war in Afghanistan will remain the campaign's central issue.

As governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, Johnson emerged on the national scene as one of the first elected officials to embrace drug law reform and helped lay the groundwork for the passage of a medical marijuana law there under his successor, Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson.

Like Johnson, Gray is a former Republican turned Libertarian whose vantage point on the criminal bench turned him away from the drug policy status quo and toward drug legalization. He is the author of several books on drug policy and the law and was an outspoken supporter of California's 2010 Proposition 19, as well as a proponent of this year's Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative, which failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot.

“Jim Gray is not only a highly-respected jurist, but he is also a proven leader on issues of concern to Americans -- from drug policy to civil liberties to ethics," Johnson said in a statement Monday. "I am proud he is joining me to offer America a real choice in this election, and excited that his forceful and extremely credible voice will be a vital part of our campaign. Judge Gray is a reformer with the track record and credentials to prove it, and I urge the Libertarian Party to nominate him for Vice-President of the United States."

Gray, for his part, said he was "excited" to join Johnson in campaign that will provide voters with "a credible, proven alternative" to the choices offered by the two major parties.

"Especially with the candidacy of former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the 2012 election offers an historic opportunity for libertarian ideals and policies to be a very real part of the national debate," Gray said. "As the only candidates for president and vice president who will be on the ballot in all 50 states who will cut federal spending by 43%, oppose the war in Afghanistan and the failed and expensive war on drugs, repeal the Patriot Act, support gay marriage equality and the legalization of marijuana, we will offer voters a choice voters crave."

According to the Daily Caller, Gray wasn't the campaign's first choice, although Johnson kept suggesting his name. The Caller reported that Fox News host Judge Andrew Napolitano, former California Rep. Barry Goldwater, Jr., and Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson all turned down a place on the ticket before the campaign offered the nod to Gray.

"Gary had liked him from the very beginning," the Johnson adviser said. "Every time we would bring up somebody else, Gov. Johnson would say 'what about Jim Gray?' He was Johnson's favorite from the beginning."

Johnson still has to win the Libertarian Party nomination, which has its nominating convention this week in Las Vegas, but is expected to easily do so. For a complete list of Libertarian presidential nominee candidates, go here.

A Johnson-Gray Libertarian Party ticket emphasizing marijuana legalization and broader drug law reform could potentially impact the presidential race in at least two states identified as "toss ups" by the campaign watch site Real Clear Politics. In Colorado, the electorate will also be voting on a marijuana legalization initiative, Amendment 64, while in New Hampshire, pot politics is also a hot issue, with both medical marijuana and decriminalization before the legislature this session.

(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.)

British Columbia Mayors Join Increasing Calls to Legalize Marijuana

The mayors of eight British Columbia cities have added their voices to the growing chorus of prominent figures calling on the provincial government to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. In a joint letter last Thursday to provincial elected officials, the mayors said it was time to "tax and strictly regulate marijuana under a public health framework."

The letter was signed by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, as well as the mayors of suburban Burnaby and North Vancouver and the mayors of the interior communities of Armstrong, Enderby, Lake County, Metchosin, and Vernon.

The letter was posted on the web site of Stop the Violence BC, a coalition of public health officials, academics, legal experts, and law enforcement officials. The group has been calling for the development of and implementation of marijuana laws that reduce social harms, such as crime and gang violence.

Despite "an endless stream of anti-marijuana law enforcement initiatives," the herb remains easily available to young people, the mayors said. "Based on the evidence before us, we know that laws that aim to control the marijuana industry are ineffective and, like alcohol prohibition in the US in the 1920s, have led to violent unintended consequences."

The mayors are only the latest British Columbia public figures to climb on board the legalization bandwagon. In November, four former Vancouver mayors endorsed the Stop the Violence BC campaign to end pot prohibition. In December, the Health Officers Council of BC urged legalization, and in February, four former BC attorneys-general joined the call.

None of this is surprising in a province where 66% of the population supports marijuana legalization, according to an Angus Reid poll cited by the mayors. But it runs directly counter to the direction of the Conservative federal government, which not only opposes legalization, but recently passed crime legislation that for the first time imposes mandatory minimum prison sentences for some drug offenses, including the cultivation of as few as six marijuana plants.

Canada

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