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Dutch-Only Cannabis Coffee Shop Policy Meets Resistance [FEATURE]

A Dutch government policy aimed at barring foreign tourists from buying marijuana in the Netherlands went into effect in three southern border provinces Tuesday, but it didn't go exactly as authorities planned.

Amsterdam cannabis "coffee shop" (wikimedia.org)
In the southern border city of Maastricht, hundreds of demonstrators filled a central square to protest the move, waving signs saying "Away with the Weed Pass," "No Discrimination Against Belgians," and "Dealers Wanted!" and toting a six-foot long joint. Meanwhile, cannabis coffee shop owners across the city closed their doors to protest the imposition of the scheme, leaving the city's mayor ruffled and pot-buyers to seek out street dealers.

The weed pass plan is the brainchild of the rightist Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition government, which collapsed last month. But the Dutch parliament had already approved the plan, and it is still scheduled to go into effect nationwide beginning January 1.

Under the weed pass plan, cannabis coffee shops will be forced to become "members only" clubs, with membership limited to 2,000 people per club. Members must register their identities, and only Dutch citizens and residents will be allowed to join the clubs.

Marijuana remains illegal in the Netherlands, but under a policy of pragmatic tolerance in effect since 1976, the Dutch government has allowed for the sale of small amounts of marijuana through the coffee shops. The current lame duck government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, playing to its conservative base, has moved against the coffee shops as part of a broader anti-drug campaign that has also seen it label hashish a "hard drug" and move to criminalize khat, which is used almost exclusively by the country's small Somali immigrant population.

The weed pass plan is now in effect in the provinces of Brabant, Limburg, and Zeeland, which border Belgium and/or Germany. Reuters reported that most coffee shops in cities such as Eindhoven, Roermond, and Tilburg were also shut, or were ignoring the weed pass.

"We've been selling cannabis to anybody who comes, as normal," said William Vugs, owner of the 't Oermelijn coffee shop in Tilburg. "We are being forced to discriminate against foreigners. They don't just spend their money here, they buy groceries and fill up their cars, too," he said.

Vugs said his shop served 800 customers a day, about one-fifth of them from Belgium. Turning them away would have economic consequences beyond the coffee shops, he said.

Vugs is one of the coffee shop owners who hopes to block the weed pass in court by arguing that it is discriminatory. That's the plan concocted by the Maastricht Coffee Shop Union (VOCM), which announced in a press release Monday that it would challenge the law in court.

"Too much is still unclear about the privacy concerns, but also on the exact requirements of the minister, said VOCM leader Marc Josemans, owner of the Easy Going coffee shop in Maastricht. "Therefore we will not register customers and will continue to sell to anyone aged 18 and older who can identify himself. "

Instead, in a surprise move, the city's coffee shops closed their doors -- except for Easy Going. Josemans opened long enough to refuse to sell pot to a group of foreigners, who then proceeded to a local police station to file a discrimination complaint. Such complaints will be the basis of the looming legal challenge to the weed pass.

Josemans then stayed open, selling marijuana to anyone who asked for it, and local police arrived shortly.

"The police paid me a visit about a half an hour later and warned me I was violating the new rules, and if I do it again, I'll be closed down for a month," he said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. But he added that he planned to continue selling to all comers and that he expected his shop to be shut down. He would then take his case to the European Court of Justice, he said. "Discrimination is never the right answer,"Joseman said.

Previous efforts to overturn the law, both in the Dutch courts and the European Court of Justice, have failed, but the coffee shop owners and their supporters are determined to try again.

Tuesday also saw competing press conferences in Maastricht, with the mayor and city officials at one and coffee shop supporters at the other, held in front of Easy Going.

Maastricht Mayor Onno Hoes said the city supported the weed pass plan and that the coffee shop owners were "rude" to close their doors. "I did not think the owners would be so cheeky," he complained. "By doing this, they are hurting the local population."

But not the street drug dealers, who, according to the VOCM, are flocking to the city to take advantage of the ban on sales to foreigners.

"Maastricht is now faced with drug runners who have never been spotted in the city before, coming from Liege, eastern Europe and northern France," the group said. "They are using flyers explaining the new rules that were issued by the city of Maastricht in order to lure tourists! Thus we are rapidly returning to a long gone past where a separation of markets for cannabis and hard drugs did not exist and dealers controlled the streets."

Former head of the Netherlands Police Union Hans van Duijn echoed that sentiment at the press conference in front of Easy Going. "Everyone who is rejected here will walk a few meters down the street to the drug dealers who drive over from Rotterdam, among other places, and ride around in large numbers," he said.

The primary reasons the Dutch adopted the pragmatic tolerance policy allowing for the coffee shops were to separate "soft" and "hard" drug markets and to reduce the number of street dealers. But it appears the weed pass policy will have the opposite effect.

"This weed pass is a bizarre U-turn by a government of moralistic politicians looking for ways to score points among the conservative part of the nation," said Joep Oomen, director of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) from his home next door in Belgium. "It is a slap in the face of the millions of non-Dutch residents who visit the coffee shops every year without ever causing any nuisance, as well as of Dutch society as a whole, that will now be faced with an increasing illegal cannabis circuit."

Oomen noted that street dealers in Maastricht Tuesday were openly defying authorities by giving interviews on Dutch TV.

"Nobody expects that people looking for good quality cannabis will now cease to do that," he continued. "They will just not be allowed in the coffee shops anymore and will instead find their stuff on the streets."

For ENCOD, the weed pass plan is a repressive last gasp that could have unintended consequences, good as well as bad.

"We consider this as a last convulsion of a dying body," Oomen said. "The problems that this effort to end the coffee shop model will create will cause the Dutch public to see that the only real solution is to regulate the 'back door' of the coffee shops."

Oomen was referring to the peculiarity in the current Dutch system which allows for marijuana to be sold, but does not allow for a legal supply for the coffee shops. That has resulted in increasing black market pot production.

The issue of the "back door" was also on Joseman's mind.

"Let's forget this right wing hobby and focus on the real problem -- the 'back door,'" he said. "This is the Achilles heel of Dutch cannabis policy. When we finally start to regulate the cultivation of cannabis and supply to the coffee shops, we will kill three birds with one stone: significantly less crime, huge profits for public health, and one billion euros a year extra in the national treasury."

But first, the coffee shops have to deal with their current "front door" problem. The looming court cases are one avenue, but the September elections set to replace the current government provide another one.

"Our hope is on the outcome of the trial processes that have started today in Maastricht and Tilburg by the closure of the coffee shops that refuse to carry out the new measure, and on the general elections in September," said Oomen. "Predictions are that at least two of the five left-wing parties that are currently in opposition will participate in the next government, and they will cancel the new measures or at least diminish their impact."

Netherlands

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

Dutch Court Upholds Cannabis Café Ban on Foreigners

A Dutch judge in The Hague last Friday upheld a law banning foreigners from entering the country's famous marijuana coffee houses. That means that as of this week, foreigners will be unable to purchase marijuana at coffee houses in three southern border provinces.

Amsterdam coffee shop (wikimedia.org)
The ban on foreigners is expected to go into effect nationwide by next year, but whether that will actually happen is unclear, given strong opposition from Amsterdam and other cities, and given that the conservative coalition government that crafted the policy has fallen, and the country will have elections to select a new government this fall.

The government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte has moved on several fronts to rein in the Netherlands' decades-long tradition of tolerance for marijuana and marijuana sales. It has labeled hashish and stronger strains of marijuana as "hard drugs" and forbidden their sale in the coffee houses. And it has moved not only to ban foreigners from the coffee houses, but also to make them "members only" clubs with a membership limited to 2,000 per club. Entry would be allowed only to persons holding a "weed pass," or membership card.

Coffee shop owners in the southern provinces where the ban took effect Monday filed suit to block it, arguing that the ban discriminates against other members of the European Union. But the court in The Hague upheld the law.

Lawyers for the coffee shop owners said they would immediately appeal. They said they would take the case to the European Court for Human Rights and argue that the Dutch government should not be able to discriminate against people based on where they live.

"It's going to cost me 90% of my turnover," said coffee shop owner Michael Veling, who is also a spokesman for the Dutch Cannabis Retailers Association. "That is a very good reason for anyone to oppose any plan. Second, it puts our customers in a very difficult spot, because why do you have to register to buy a substance that is still illegal?" he told the BBC.

The battle over Holland's iconic cannabis cafes is by no means over. In addition to the continuing fights in the courts, both national and European, the issue will undoubtedly be addressed in the coming election campaign.

Netherlands

Medical Marijuana Update

More DEA raids in California and Montana, and more action in the legislature in Connecticut and New Hampshire, among other medical marijuana news, and the president addresses the medical marijuana crackdown. Let's get to it:

National

In an interview with Rolling Stone published Wednesday, President Obama addressed the federal crackdown on medical marijuana distribution. The questioner is Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner. Here is the exchange:

Rolling Stone: Let me ask you about the War on Drugs. You vowed in 2008, when you were running for election, that you would not "use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana." Yet we just ran a story that shows your administration is launching more raids on medical pot than the Bush administration did. What's up with that?

President Obama: Here's what's up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it's against federal law. I can't nullify congressional law. I can't ask the Justice Department to say, "Ignore completely a federal law that's on the books." What I can say is, "Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage." As a consequence, there haven't been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.

"The only tension that's come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we're telling them, "This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way." That's not something we're going to do. I do think it's important and useful to have a broader debate about our drug laws. One of the things we've done over the past three years was to make a sensible change when it came to the disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. We've had a discussion about how to focus on treatment, taking a public-health approach to drugs and lessening the overwhelming emphasis on criminal laws as a tool to deal with this issue. I think that's an appropriate debate that we should have.

California

Last Thursday, Assemblywoman Norma Torres amended her drugged driving bill, AB 2552, to remove criminal penalties for driving with the residue of marijuana or other drugs. The bill originally would have made the presence of any level of marijuana metabolites per se evidence of impairment, but will now simply divide the driving under the influence law to distinguish between drugged and drunk driving.

Also last Thursday, DEA agents raided a Murrieta dispensary for the second time in a month. Volunteers at the Greenhouse Cannabis Club were handcuffed as agents searched the building. They scored an ounce of medical marijuana, some vaporizing equipment, a computer, and some baked goods ("fake edibles") left by volunteers as a joke after the first raid. The federal raid came two days after the dispensary filed a $3 million lawsuit against the city alleging it was invading the privacy of patients. The lawsuit seeks to stop police patrols around the store and nullify the city's moratorium on collectives.

On Friday, 4/20, more than 100 demonstrators marched to Obama campaign headquarters in Oakland to protest the ongoing federal crackdown on dispensaries and the raids earlier this month on Oaksterdam University and associated businesses in particular. The marchers hand delivered a letter to campaign headquarters demanding that the federal government cease and desist.

Also on Friday, Vallejo police made their fourth dispensary raid in two months. This time they hit Life Enhancement Services and arrested its operator on marijuana distribution charges. Police are raiding dispensaries even as the city has begun taxing them with voter approval. Friday evening, a local radio station held a benefit for the Greenwell Co-op, which was raided in February.

Also on Friday, Los Angeles police raided a Topanga Canyon dispensary. Three staff members were temporarily detained at Topanga Caregivers, which was supplying a large number of patients after LAPD almost wiped out dispensaries in its Devonshire division. Police seized electronics, records, and cash in what activists called "a smash and grab" operation. It's unclear if anyone has been charged.

On Saturday, San Francisco saw an anti-dispensary rally. The unusual event was led by labor organizer Leon Chow, who is challenging incumbent Supervisor John Avalos in the November election. Chow led about 100 mostly Chinese men, women, and children on a mile-long march in opposition to three proposed medical cannabis dispensaries down the main drag of Mission Street in the Excelsior. They were met by medical marijuana advocates mobilized by the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access.

On Tuesday, the Senate Public Safety Committee approved SB 1182, which expands the list of those exempt from penalties under state law for possession, possession for sale, and transportation of medical marijuana to include cooperatives, collectives, and other business entities. The idea is to clarify that reimbursements paid to cooperatives and collectives are just as legal as those paid by patients to primary caregivers. The bill is sponsored by drug reform friend Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). It now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Colorado

On Tuesday, medical marijuana businesses and supporters held a press conference to urge President Obama to protect jobs in the state by calling off the federal crackdown on dispensaries. The press conference was organized by the National Cannabis Industry Association and was prompted by Obama's visit to Boulder on a campaign swing. Boulder has seen three dispensaries shut down after receiving threat letters from US Attorney John Walsh.

Connecticut

Last Friday, a medical marijuana bill passed a General Assembly committee vote. The bill, House Bill 5389 was approved by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on a 36-14 vote after fending off hostile amendments from medical marijuana foe state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-Wilton).

On Tuesday, the bill passed the Public Assembly committee on a 19-6 vote. It now goes before the House for a floor vote. Gov. Dan Malloy has reportedly said he will sign it if it passes. The session ends May 9.

Michigan

Last Wednesday, a state appeals court ruled against medical marijuana patients who face drugged driving charges after using their medicine. Their status as medical marijuana patients is no defense against the state's zero-tolerance drugged driving law, the court held. There are 130,000 state-registered patients in the state.

Also last Wednesday, the ACLU asked that a wrongful firing lawsuit against Walmart be reinstated. The ACLU told the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that its lawsuit against Walmart for firing a medical marijuana patient who used it outside of work was wrongfully dismissed by a federal district court judge. The ACLU argued that the case should be reinstated because it belonged in state court, where the group originally filed it, and because the lower court ignored the text of the state law, which prohibiting such firings.

Montana

Last Thursday, three members of a Miles City family were sentenced to federal prison for operating dispensaries. Richard Flor, 68, and reportedly suffering from dementia and depression, was sentenced to five years as a co-owner of Montana Cannabis, one of the state's largest providers. His wife, Sherry, who did the books for the operation and tended plants in the back yard, was sentenced to two years, and his son, Justin, who worked the dispensary, was sentenced to five years. Those were the harshest sentences so far in the federal prosecutions after the DEA swept the state in a series of March 2011. The sentencing judge is US District Judge Charles Lovell. Oh, wait -- there's more: The Flors must also give up their home, six vehicles, and 28 weapons, and they must pay the feds $288,000 in money they made selling medical marijuana.

Also last Thursday, US Attorney Michael Cotter issued a statement bragging that 25 people have been indicted on federal drug charges stemming from the March 2011 raids and 12 convicted and sentenced. He also promised that prosecutions will continue. His office "will continue to support investigations and prosecutions of significant traffickers of all illegal drugs, including marijuana, in an effort to disrupt and dismantle illegal drug manufacturing and trafficking networks in Montana and elsewhere," he said.

Last Friday, 4/20, DEA agents raided a Billings medical marijuana operation. Agents and local police seized an undisclosed amount of marijuana and growing equipment from the unnamed business. There was no word on any arrests. The number of medical marijuana providers in Montana has declined by more than 90% since the DEA swept the state with raids a year ago.

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana bill passed a House committee vote. The bill, Senate Bill 409, passed the Republican-controlled House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee on a 12-4 vote. It would allow patients to legally possess or grow up to six ounces of marijuana. A similar measure passed the House last year, but died in the Senate, where it did not have enough support to overcome a threatened veto by Gov. John Lynch (D). A slightly different version of this year's bill earlier passed the Senate.

On Tuesday, Gov. Lynch vowed to veto the bill if it passes. Lynch spokesman James Richardson said Tuesday that Lynch will veto the bill if it reaches his desk. Richardson said Lynch has compassion for people who believe in marijuana's benefits but is concerned about a lack of control over its distribution.

On Wednesday, the House voted 236-96 to pass the bill despite Gov. Lynch's veto threat. The bill is now expected to be referred to a second House committee for further consideration before returning to the Senate for a concurrence vote. The Senate passed SB 409 March 28 in a 13-11 vote, so support from three additional senators will be necessary to override the expected veto.

Fight Against Dutch Cannabis Café Restrictions Heats Up

The Dutch conservative coalition government's plan to close the country's famous cannabis coffee shops to foreigners and turn them into "members only" clubs is under increasing fire from coffee shop owners and pot enthusiasts. Last week, border coffee shop owners went to court to block the restrictions, and in Amsterdam on 4/20, hundreds of coffee shop supporters staged a flash-mob smoke-in to protest the proposed changes.

Amsterdam cannabis coffee shop (wikimedia.org)
This as the conservative coalition itself collapsed Monday, with Prime Minister Mark Rudde resigning before being named caretaker leader until new elections can be held in the fall. The coalition collapsed after a rightist anti-immigrant party pulled out in protest of economic austerity measures.

Rudde's government plans to impose the restrictions on coffee shops in three southern border provinces May 1 and extend them nationwide on January 1, 2013. They would make all coffee shops "members only," limit them to Dutch citizens and residents, and cap the number of members at each club at 2,000.

The city of Amsterdam, where the cafes are a major tourist draw, is opposed to the plan. Mayor Eberhard Van der Laan said the city doesn't have big problems with pot smokers and that a policy that might make sense on the border doesn't make sense in the he Dutch capital. He said he wants to negotiate some sort of compromise with the national government.

The border cities of Tilburg, Breda and Maastricht also oppose the "weed pass" plan, but Eindhoven plans to implement it. The eastern city of Dordrecht, which is not subject to the May 1 deadline, has said it wants to adopt it anyway because it anticipates an influx of foreign buyers no longer able to go to the southern border towns.

Border coffee shop owners aren't waiting for the government to come around. Last Wednesday, they went to court in The Hague to overturn the restrictions, with their attorneys arguing that the ban on foreigners is discriminatory.

Dutch drug policy gives citizens "the fundamental right to the stimulant of their choosing" and should not deprive visiting foreigners of the same right, argued attorney Ilonka Kamans.

But government attorney Eric Daalder said the ban was necessary. "Fighting criminality and drug tourism is a reasonable justification," he told the court.

Marc Josemans, a Maastricht coffee shop owner, told the Associated Press he expected the government to lose when the court issued a decision Friday, but that if it won, he would disregard the ruling and force a test case.

"We understand that this topic is something that's of interest to tourists, but it's equally important to our Dutch customers, which is most of them," he said before the hearing. "The limits on membership are going to lead to immediate problems in cities that don't have enough coffee shops."

Two days after the coffee shops went to court, an estimated 500 people gathered in Amsterdam for a smoke-in to protest the government plan. Waving banners and t-shirts emblazoned with slogans like "Weed Pass -- No Thanks!" and "Weed Pass -- Kiss My Ass!" protestors fired up joints and listened to reggae music.

"We are here to protest against the cannabis card," said organizer Peter Lunk. "We are legal consumers."

It's only a week until May 1, so, barring a favorable ruling in The Hague, the southern restrictions are likely to be imposed. But given that the conservative coalition pushing the restrictions has now crumbled and a new government must be elected, plans for the nationwide restrictions are looking more uncertain.

Netherlands

Obama Releases 2012 National Drug Control Strategy

The Obama administration released its 2012 National Drug Control Strategy and accompanying 2013 drug budget Tuesday, but while the administration touted it as a "drug policy for the 21st Century," it is very much of a piece with anti-drug policies going back to the days of Richard Nixon.

The federal government will spend more than $25 billion on drug law enforcement under the proposed budget, and despite the administration's talk about emphasizing prevention and treatment over war on drugs spending, it retains the same roughly 60:40 ratio of law enforcement and interdiction spending over treatment and prevention training that has obtained in federal drug budgets going back years.

The administration is high-lighting a renewed emphasis on drugged driving and is encouraging states to pass "zero tolerance" drugged driving laws. It is also emphasizing the massive increase in non-prescription use of opioid pain pills.

While the strategy calls for lesser reliance on imprisonment for drug offenders, it also calls for increased "community corrections" surveillance of them, including calling for expanded drug testing with "swift and certain" sanctions for positive tests. But drug testing isn't just for parolees and probationers; the drug strategy calls for expanded drug testing in the workplace, as well.

The drug strategy acknowledges the calls for recognition of medical marijuana and marijuana legalization, but only to dismiss them.

"While the Administration supports ongoing research into determining what components of the marijuana plant can be used as medicine, to date, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine has found the marijuana plant itself to meet the modern standard for safe or effective medicine for any condition," the strategy said. "The Administration also recognizes that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use."

This year's drug strategy looks like last year's drug strategy, which looked like Bush administration drug strategies, which looked like Clinton administration drug strategies. When it comes to the federal drug war, it's more of the same old same old.

Look for an expanded version of this news brief Thursday afternoon, with deeper analysis and commentary from drug war observers.

Washington, DC
United States

Oaksterdam University Will Carry On, But Without Richard Lee [FEATURE]

At an Oakland press conference Wednesday, Oaksterdam University announced that it would attempt to stay open in the wake of the April 2 federal raid on its campus and associated businesses, but that its founder, Richard Lee, would no longer be involved with the business. Lee, Oaksterdam representatives, and others also used the press conference to call for a national day of action Friday (4/20) and for people to barrage the Obama White House with phone calls demanding it end its policy of repression aimed at medical marijuana providers.

"My future is very uncertain," Lee said. "I'm waiting for a possible legal case. But I hope to be free to support marijuana legalization campaigns like in Colorado and Washington and medical marijuana campaigns like in Ohio. This is a big issue and getting bigger. If I can use my notoriety to help, I will do what I can."

Lee will be replaced at Oaksterdam University by Dale Sky Jones, who was the school's executive chancellor and who worked closely with Lee in 2010's Proposition 19 campaign. Jones and Oaksterdam will face some tough challenges. The federal raiders stripped the campus of all its equipment and computers, and the school has been unable to hold classes or pay staff. Instead, some 45 people are working on a volunteer basis to get it up and running again.

"The raid knocked the wind out of us," said Jones. "We will need help to get back on our feet in the short term, but in the long term, we will come back."

The school will have to move to a smaller, more affordable, space, Jones said.

"It's not sustainable in the current building," she explained. "We'll keep leasing the auditorium where we teach classes until further notice, and that will allow us to continue to enroll new students, which will allow us to buy new computers. But our office will move to a new location. We're staying in the heart of Oaksterdam, but with a much smaller office space. We've created a new parent company that will have the Oaksterdam trademark. Oaksterdam University will survive, just with a new parent company."

Some 15,000 people have taken courses at Oaksterdam, with a curriculum covering all aspects of the medical marijuana industry, from the basics of growing to how to run a business to how to navigate the maze of state, federal, and local laws and regulations. The school has been at the heart of the revitalization of Broadway in downtown Oakland, as well as at the heart of the East Bay medical marijuana community.

"In terms of public safety, I've been to downtown Oakland on numerous occasions, and if you think this will make it a safer community, it will do just the opposite," said Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore police commander in the city's Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement, and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "Effective public safety is the result of healthy communities, not police action. When people come together, as they did in Oaksterdam, that's when crime is reduced. Now, we'll have patients forced back into the criminal market, funding organized crime. The public is trying to send a message to Washington, DC, that it's time to move away from these destructive prohibition policies."

"This cost the jobs of 100 union members, and those were good jobs with a decent wage," said Ron Lind, president of the UFCW's Local 5, which represents Bay area dispensary workers. "This misguided policy doesn't only impact patients; it also impacts workers. We will continue to support Oaksterdam and its reemergence. There is a huge potential for good middle-class jobs throughout this industry, and it's time for the federal government to stop undermining it."

"This administration is out of touch not only with the public, but with its own campaign pledges," said Franklin. "Obama won last time after forcefully pledging to back off from the federal attacks. Anyone who thinks this is a good electoral strategy needs to look at the polling," in which support for medical marijuana typically runs at 70% or higher.

Richard Lee surrounded by supporters in San Francisco a day after the April 2 raid
Given the ongoing federal crackdown, it is time for Oaksterdam University to broaden its mission, said Jones.

"Our focus has been on providing quality education to the cannabis community, but we need to start focusing on creating safer communities by controlling, taxing, and regulating cannabis," she said. "These days, it's more accessible than any other drugs. You're not getting it at the store, but behind the store. You don't see legal wine grape growers wielding machine guns."

"We want to thank Richard Lee and Oaksterdam for all you do," said Laura Thomas, interim state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, "both to increase access to medical cannabis and for Proposition 19. We join in calling on people to let the president know what you think of this raid and his drug policies in general. Obama has for the first time acknowledged that there needs to be debate on this topic. We need to let him know that legalization is something that should be talked about."

Oaksterdam supporters will gather at the campus Friday for a demonstration and march to the Oakland federal building. They are also urging sympathizers to sign a petition to President Obama urging him to stop the raids. It has more than 23,000 signatures so far.

"This is a big political issue," said Lee. "We're getting a lot of support right now, and the most recent polls show legalization with about a 5% lead across the country. The opponents of ending cannabis prohibition are fighting back. This issue is at the tipping point."

Oakland, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

It's taken ever so long, but it now looks like dispensaries will soon be operating in Arizona, New Jersey and Washington, DC. Meanwhile, the battles over medical marijuana continue across the country. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Wednesday, the state announced it would begin accepting dispensary applications next month. The Arizona Department of Health Services said it will accept applications for medical marijuana dispensaries from May 14 through May 25. Voters approved medical marijuana in November 2010, but Gov. Jan Brewer (R) dragged her feet on approving dispensaries, citing fears of federal prosecution of state employees. She lost in federal court. The health department will announce which dispensaries are awarded licenses on August 7.

California

Last Tuesday, a proposal to shut down dispensaries in Vallejo died in a split city council vote. Mayor Osby Davis had proposed sending cease and desist orders to the city's dispensaries, but the motion failed on a 3-3 vote. Later in the same meeting, the council voted 5-1 to have City Manager Dan Keen send a policy-clarifying letter, and warning, to all dispensaries. Keen's pending letter is expected to include information on the city's new medical marijuana business tax, approved by voters in November, and a reminder that the tax does not provide dispensaries with immunity to law enforcement. The letters are also to include an explanation of laws the city enforces in regard to dispensaries and a warning that dispensaries are subject to further potential raids. Several raids have occurred since late February, and operators have been arrested for allegedly violating state laws.

Also last Tuesday, a Murrieta dispensary won a victory in court when a Riverside Superior Court judge ruled this week that the city cannot bar it from opening. The Cooperative Medical Group might not reopen, though, because if it does, it could face another lawsuit from the city for violating a temporary moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium runs through October 2013.

Last Thursday, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved a permit for a new dispensary in the SOMA district. That's the fifth new dispensary approved by the commission in the last two months. Five is coincidentally the number of dispensaries forced to close recently under federal threat. The city Planning Department staff had recommended the permit not be approved, but commissioners overrode them.

Also last Thursday, Orange County deputies raided the Charles Café, a small dispensary that was the last one remaining in Lake Forest. It was the third raid on the dispensary in the last six months, and now the Charles is shut down. The Orange County Sheriff's Department said it had executed a search warrant there, but had no information about any arrests or seizures. Lake Forest once had 40 dispensaries, but Lake Forest City Attorney Scott Smith wrote to the US Attorney for Southern California seeking assistance and got it. The feds cracked down on dispensaries, including a November 2011 raid on the Charles. It had already been hit by Orange County deputies the previous May.

Last Friday, two Long Beach dispensary operators won a new trial after the judge in their case sent a complimentary letter to prosecutors after they were convicted on marijuana sales and related charges but before they were sentenced. Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron saw their convictions thrown out after an appeals court found that Long Beach Superior Court Judge Charles Sheldon had a strong bias against medical marijuana defenses. The pair has maintained there was no illegal activity at the cooperatives, two in Long Beach and one in Garden Grove, but that they were the victims of overzealous police and prosecutors.

On Tuesday, a bill to regulate medical marijuana distribution statewide won a vote in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill, AB 2312, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), would also prevent most bans on cooperatives and collectives and limit the amount of taxes cities and counties can collect.

Also on Tuesday, a bill that would have required state-issued ID for patients was dropped. The bill, AB 2465, introduced by Assemblywoman Nora Campos, was challenged as an unconstitutional violation of patients' rights under Proposition 215.

Also on Tuesday, a replacement for Richard Lee as head of Oaksterdam University was announced. Stepping up is Dale Sky Jones, who had been executive chancellor at the university and who had worked with Lee on the Proposition 19 campaign in 2010. See our feature story on this in this issue.


Colorado

Last week, a Fort Collins initiative campaign to overturn a dispensary ban got underway. Medical marijuana supporters filed a petition notice with the city clerk's office, and once the wording is approved, they will have 60 days to collect 4,214 valid voter signatures. If they do, the measure will appear on the November ballot.

Delaware

Last Thursday, the state issued proposed regulations for the medical marijuana program. The Department of Health and Social Services proposal does not include regulations for dispensaries. The department is taking public comment on the regulations through April 30.

Maine

Last weekend, a medical marijuana exposition in Augusta attracted hundreds of people. The Canna Maineia Medical Marijuana Exposition also featured live music and dozens of vendors. Much of the conference focused on providing information to patients on how to grow their own medicine.

Michigan

Last Friday, police raided a South Haven dispensary and arrested one man. The target was Tranquility Central, which police searched in an investigation into the "illegal sale and distribution" of marijuana.

On Tuesday, medical marijuana supporters demonstrated at the state capitol to protest proposed changes in the state's medical marijuana law. Legislators are considering a package of bills they say will clarify the voter-approved law, but patients say the changes infringe on their rights. The four bills have made it out of committee and await a House floor vote. HB 4834 would require a photograph for medical marijuana patient registration cards, extend the expiration from one to two years, and would allow law enforcement officers or officials to access medical marijuana patient information.  HB 4851 attempts to clarify the definition of “bona fide physician-patient relationship,” which is required for medical marijuana cardholders. HB 4853 lays out sentencing guidelines, and HB 4856 regulates the transportation of medical marijuana in cars.

On Monday, the city of Douglas extended its dispensary moratorium for another 60 days. The town first addressed the possibility of a medical marijuana operation in July 2010, and city planners drafted an ordinance, but the planning commission rejected it last week. The city is waiting for the state Supreme Court to rule on pending cases.

Montana

Last Wednesday, Tom Daubert agreed to a plea bargain on federal drug charges. Daubert, one of the state's most well-known medical marijuana advocates, will plead guilty to conspiracy to maintain drug involved premises. He was a co-owner of Montana Cannabis, one of the dozens of dispensaries and other medical marijuana businesses raided by the feds in March 2011. He helped draft the state's voter-approved medical marijuana initiative and is the founder of the group Patients and Families United. He's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state finally issued the first permit for a medical marijuana grow. The state Department of Health announced the permit for the Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair.The center will need a second permit before it can begin providing marijuana to patients, but since it will take three to four months for the first crop to be harvested, the state is confident it can issue that permit before harvest time.

On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Greenleaf's owner "should stop complaining" about delays in implementing the state's program, which was signed into law in January 2010, but has yet to see a single dispensary sell any medical marijuana to any patient. Christie blamed legislators and former Gov. Jon Corzine (D) for forcing him to delay the program in order to address what he called concerns about security.

Washington

Last Thursday, a judge denied a temporary restraining order to block Bellingham from shutting down two medical marijuana cooperatives raided by police last month. The Northern Cross and The Joint collectives had sought the order, but Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Steven Mura denied it, saying it would be an "empty order."

Washington, DC

Last Thursday, the city health department announced it given four applicants preliminary approval to run dispensaries in the nation's capital. Seventeen potential operators had applied, and the four selected had all scored enough points to seek approval from their advisory neighborhood commissions. The move to advance the dispensary licensing comes two weeks after officials gave the green light to six medical marijuana cultivation centers. Those businesses now are pursuing business licenses and other permits in order to get final approval to open and operate.

Most of North Carolina Grand Jury's Cases Are Drugs

A Pitt County (Greenville), North Carolina, grand jury offered up a batch of indictments on April 9 that suggest that the war on drugs is generating most of the criminal justice system activity in the county. This snapshot offers a revealing glance at just what law enforcement and prosecutors are spending their resources on, at least with this grand jury.

City Hall, Greenville (wikimedia.org)
Grand juries are empanelled by local prosecutors to bring charges when prosecutors believe they have evidence a person can be charged with a crime. Grand jury indictments are a strong indicator of law enforcement and prosecutorial priorities.

Overall, the April grand jury indicted 37 people felony charges. Only two were for violent offenses, both of which were assaults with a deadly weapon. Another two people were indicted for child sex offenses.

One person was indicted for possession of a stolen firearm and carrying a concealed weapon, one for obstruction of justice, one for breaking and entering, and four more for various theft offenses (obtaining property under false pretenses, larceny by an employee, larceny of a merchant, financial card theft).

Overall, 15 people were indicted on non-drug offenses. But 22 were indicted in cases where drugs were the leading charge, and eight of them were indicted for possession of marijuana with the intent to sell and deliver. That's 22% of all the indictments, or nearly one-quarter of the grand jury's business.

Another four people were charged with possession of cocaine with intent to sell and deliver, three people were charged with trafficking heroin/opium, three with trafficking a Schedule II controlled substance (pain pills), two with conspiracy to traffic cocaine, one with possession of cocaine, and one with attempting to obtain a controlled substance by fraud.

Drug possession or sales cases thus accounted for a whopping 60% of all indictments by the April 9 grand jury. If drug possession and sales were not criminal offenses, police and prosecutors could use those resources elsewhere, or elected officials could decide that police and prosecutors don't need as many resources and reallocate those taxpayer dollars to more fruitful ventures. Or they could lower taxes.

Greenville, NC
United States

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