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Lebanon Hash Farmers Attack Eradicators

hashish (wikimedia.org)
Lebanese security forces began eradicating cannabis fields in the Bekaa Valley Monday, but locals fought back with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, wounding one policeman and damaging two vehicles and forcing a temporary halt to the destruction of the crop, the Daily Star reported. The attack on the eradicators took place near the village of Boudai, on the outskirts of Baalbek.

Lebanon is one of the world's leading has producers, and the Bekaa Valley has long been known as a site of cannabis production. During the Lebanese civil war, the trade blossomed into a multi-billion dollar business, but after the war, the government banned it in 1992, and has undertaken eradication operations with varying degrees of enthusiasm each year since.

Hash producers also fought back Monday morning by using burning tires to block roads in some neighborhoods in Baalbek and in the town of Boudai. Police managed to clear those blockages by midday Monday. And armed men also attacked tractors used to destroy the crop. The National News Agency reported that 15 tractors were attacked in Ain al-Sawda, with the drivers reporting that they were warned not to take part in the eradication effort.

The hash farmers accused the Lebanese government of depriving them of their main source of income and neglecting the area's development needs. They argued that the Valley has been poor and marginalized for decades, and repeated crop substitution efforts have been half-hearted at best.

But Colonel Adel Mashmoushi, head of the Lebanese anti-drug agency, defended the eradication effort. He called cannabis "a dangerous poison" and warned "drugs will spread in Lebanese society," if the crop is not destroyed.

"Everybody knows that if we do not destroy cannabis, this will tarnish Lebanon's reputation on the international level," he added. "These plants deprive the Bekaa of all legitimate sources of making a living. God willing, in the coming days will prove how serious the state is in this move, we will continue to destroy cannabis until the last plant is eradicated."

And so begins the harvest season in Lebanon.

Baalbek
Lebanon

Oakland to President Obama: Change Your Ways! [FEATURE]

Several hundred -- perhaps as many as a thousand -- medical marijuana patients, providers, and supporters took to the streets of Oakland Monday afternoon to put President Obama on notice that they are extremely unhappy with his administration's crackdown on dispensaries. The president arrived at the Fox Theater in downtown Oakland for a fundraising event later Monday evening.

signs in business reflect community support (all photos by Drug War Chronicle)
The crowd was up in arms over the federal offensive that has seen hundreds of California dispensaries shuttered by threats of asset forfeiture or criminal prosecution since the state's four US Attorneys announced the joint offensive last fall. But it was even more incensed by the May raids on Richard Lee's Oaksterdam University and last week's issuance of asset forfeiture lawsuits aimed Harborside Health Center, the nation's largest medical marijuana dispensary.

Steve DeAngelo, Harborside's chief executive officer, led the raucous march past Oaksterdam University as it circled the Fox Theater before returning to Frank Ogawa Plaza. Waving signs saying "Fight Crime, Not Cannabis" and "Save Harborside, Save My Job," demonstrators chanted "Obama, keep your promise!" and shouted obscene references to the drug war.

Local businesses around Oaksterdam showed their support by displaying green flags. And numerous passing motorists honked in support, drawing huge cheers from the crowd.

Earlier in the day there was street theater at Frank Ogawa Plaza, followed by an early afternoon press conference at Oaksterdam University to denounce the offensive against the dispensaries in general and the recent assault on Harborside, one of the movement's flagships, in particular.

"I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue," Obama pledged during the 2008 campaign. The patients, providers, and political figures who stood before the microphones and TV cameras demanded that he -- and the federal agencies he controls -- abide by that pledge.

Steve De Angelo preparing to lead the march
"This is a watershed moment for our movement," said De Angelo. "If the US Attorneys are able to come after Harborside, no other dispensary will be safe. We want an immediate freeze on all such law enforcement actions until the highest levels of Justice can review them to ensure they are consistent with administration policy not to target organizations compliant with state law. Today, we are sending the president a message that will be too powerful to ignore."

"An attack on providers is an attack on patients," said Oaksterdam University executive chancellor Dale Sky Jones. "Attacking the providers keeps the criminals in charge of distribution and profits the cartels," she charged. "Name the advantages of continuing this failed policy, Mr. President."

Bob Swanson, a spokesman for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, was there to show Miley's support for the medical marijuana community. Miley was going to take a resolution passed by the county Democratic Party Central Council condemning the crackdown before the county board of supervisors, he announced.

"We're spending millions to bust dispensaries providing services to sick people," Swanson said. "President Obama needs to understand that his prosecutors have gone rogue -- they've gone Sarah Palin on him. This may cost him votes, and he needs every vote he can get."

on the march
Local officials have reason to support the dispensaries. In addition to providing services for the sick, they provide jobs and tax revenues. With its 100,000 patients, Harborside alone employs more than a hundred people and did more than $22 million in business last year, generating $1 million in tax revenues for the city of Oakland and another $2 million for the state of California.

But it wasn't just local officials. The press conference also drew Libertarian Party vice-presidential candidate Judge Jim Gray, hoping to find support for himself and the top half of his ticket, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, among those disenchanted with the administration's medical marijuana policies.

"Nothing good will come from closing down places like Harborside and Oaksterdam," said Gray, a longtime critic of drug prohibition. "Patients will have to go underground to get their medicine, and it won't result in less availability; it'll just make it illegal, giving more money to the drug cartels and criminal gangs," he argued.

"I proudly represent Gary Johnson, who understands this whole drug war system," Gray said, garnering loud applause. "He stands with you today, and I stand with him. There is no hope for medical marijuana dispensaries if either Obama or Romney is elected -- only Gary Johnson will ensure their survival."

Jason David, father of medical marijuana patient Jayden David, addressing the media
"This federal crackdown is the broadest and most serious since voters here approved medical marijuana in 1996," said Don Duncan, California coordinator for Americans for Safe Access. "We've got paramilitary-style raids, we've got intimidation in the financial sector, we've got denial of gun rights. An attack on patients' access is an attack on medical cannabis patients. It is legal patients and their caregivers who comprise our co-ops and collectives, that's who's going to suffer. If the administration wants the support and enthusiasm of our people, they're going to have to stop attacking medical cannabis patients."

There were several wheelchair-bound medical marijuana patients on stage as well, including Yvonne Westbrook-Whig, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who asked the president to "please show some compassion," but it was Jason David, whose young son, Jayden, suffers from a severe seizure syndrome, who most vividly brought home the impact of the attack on dispensaries.

"You have two beautiful daughters, Mr. President, you can imagine how it would feel, but you're going to shut down Harborside, the medical marijuana facility that takes care of my son's needs. What am I going to do? We use a CBD tincture that is non-psychoactive to reduce his seizures -- he's had more than 300 of them -- please help me save my son and help out the medical marijuana community. He's had to make 45 trips in the ambulance, but not one since medical marijuana. Everything you said before the election turned out to be a lie. Mr. Obama, I want some answers."

None have been forthcoming so far, but the medical marijuana community in Oakland and its supporters are doing everything they can to get the president to notice he has a problem. 

(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.)

Oakland, CA
United States

Marijuana Book Authors Talk at Oaksterdam [FEATURE]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oakland, CA
United States

Montana Marijuana Initiative Comes Up Short

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helena, MT
United States

Federal Medical Marijuana "Truth in Trials Act" Reintroduced [FEATURE]

US Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) Tuesday introduced House Resolution 6134, the Truth in Trials Act, which would allow defendants in federal criminal prosecutions the ability to use medical marijuana evidence at trial. The bipartisan legislation has 18 cosponsors so far, including Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX).

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/sam-farr-and-ashley-epis.jpg
Reps. Sam Farr and Barbara Lee, with Ashley Epis, daughter of medical marijuana prison Bryan Epis, 2003 (safeaccessnow.org)
This is not the first time around for the act -- a version was first introduced in 2003 and it has been introduced repeatedly since then -- but this time it comes as federal crackdowns in states like California, Colorado, and Montana are creating an increase in federal drug prosecutions against medical marijuana providers. Since the crackdowns began, at least 70 people who were medical marijuana patients or providers have been indicted on federal drug charges.

Currently in federal criminal cases, medical marijuana providers are not allowed to present evidence that they were operating under state medical marijuana laws. Federal prosecutors can exclude all evidence of medical use or state law compliance in federal trials, virtually guaranteeing the convictions of medical marijuana patients and providers.

"The federal government has tilted the scales of justice towards conviction by denying medical marijuana defendants the right to present all of the evidence at trial," said Congressman Farr. "My bill would restore due process rights to law-abiding citizens acting within the parameters of state and local laws. Juries should hear the entire story of a patient's medical marijuana use before choosing to convict, not the heavily edited version they currently hear."

Under the bill, people facing federal prosecution could "introduce evidence demonstrating that the marijuana-related activities for which the person stands accused were performed in compliance with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana."

The bill would also create an affirmative defense under federal law. "It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution or proceeding under any federal law for marijuana-related activities, which the proponent must establish by a preponderance of the evidence, that those activities comply with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana," the bill says.

And the bill would make it harder for the federal government to seize and destroy medical marijuana. "No plant may be seized under any federal law otherwise permitting such seizure if the plant is being grown or stored pursuant to a recommendation by a physician or an order of a state or municipal agency in accordance with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana," the bill says.

"The federal government should be leaving enforcement issues up to the local and state officials who designed the medical marijuana laws in the first place," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group and strong supporters of the legislation introduced today. "But, as long as the Justice Department is going to arrest and prosecute people in medical marijuana states, defendants ought to have a right to a fair trial. The 'Truth in Trials' Act will restore the balance of justice and bring fundamental fairness to federal medical marijuana trials."

Most federal medical marijuana cases result in plea bargains due to the denial of a defense at trial. But some defendants still choose to fight the charges -- and they lose. That was the case with Morro Bay, California, dispensary operator Charles Lynch, who was convicted and sentenced in 2008 after being unable to cite his compliance with state law.

Lynch is out on bail pending his appeal, which is currently before the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. He's doing better than Chico medical marijuana provider Bryan Epis, who is currently sitting in federal prison working on a 10-year sentence after fighting and losing his case and his appeals.

The bill could help -- not only with the immediate issue of medical marijuana legal defenses in federal court, but also in the broader ambit of marijuana law reform, advocates said.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction, even if it isn't as far-reaching as some of the other bills," said Marijuana Policy Project communications director Morgan Fox, alluding to the four other marijuana-related bills introduced in Congress this session. "If the administration is going to continue cracking down they way they have been, it would be nice to have an affirmative defense."

"This is the fifth marijuana bill this session," noted Drug Policy Alliance national affairs director Bill Piper. "That's a sign of momentum. It used to be a struggle to get one introduced, and now we have five and could see even more. When you look at issues that are moving, you see a lot of competing bills. This is a good sign," he said.

Piper held out little hope of any forward progress on the bill this year. "It's unlikely to go anywhere in the Republican-controlled House, but you never know about next year," Piper said.

But while the conventional wisdom is that marijuana reform legislation is unlikely to move in the House, Fox isn't so sure.

"The needle seems to be swinging, and it's possible House conservatives might try to use this in a symbolic way to go against the administration in an election period without having to significantly change their policies," he said, noting the low number of federal prosecutions it would actually effect. "It would be significant for the people getting arrested, of course, but that number is fairly small."

Allowing medical marijuana patients and providers to mount evidence that they are complying with state medical marijuana laws is the right thing to do, said Piper.

"It's just common sense to allow patients to tell juries the truth," Piper said. "It's not asking for much, just for defendants to be able to tell the truth."

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The federal crackdown on medical marijuana continues in California, the first plants are now being grown in New Jersey, and there's lot's more medical marijuana news, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last Tuesday, the US Department of Agriculture warned states that they cannot allow food stamp applicants to deduct the cost of medical marijuana expenses. The department acted after Portland's Oregonian newspaper surveyed medical marijuana states and found three -- Oregon, New Mexico, and Maine -- that allowed the deduction. Now, all three will have to stop.

On Tuesday, Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) introduced the Truth in Trials Act, which would allow medical marijuana patients and providers facing federal criminal prosecution to present evidence that they were in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. The bipartisan bill has 18 cosponsors, including Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX).

California

Last Wednesday, the DEA raided a Venice dispensary. The feds hit the Pacific Collective. The warrant remains under seal, so no further information is available, but it was the first federal action against Venice dispensaries since the state's US Attorneys announced a crackdown last fall.

Also last Wednesday, the Palm Springs City Council approved an urgency ordinance requiring city-approved dispensaries to visibly post that they are operating legally. While the city has numerous dispensaries, only three are legally approved by it. The ordinance also establishes an abatement process and fine program for dispensaries that do not comply with city mandates.

Last Thursday, Oakland officials ripped federal prosecutors for targeting the Harborside Health Center for closure. With 100,000 patients, Harborside is the world's largest dispensary. US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag filed asset forfeiture lawsuits against Harborside's two locations. The other one is in San Jose. At an early morning press conference, city and state officials lambasted the feds.The uproar will continue Monday, when President Obama visits the city. Protests are being planned now.

Also last Thursday, the former mayor and one-time city manager of Cudahy agreed to plead guilty to bribery charges for taking money to support the opening of a dispensary. Ex-Mayor David Silva and former City Manager Angel Perales will each plead guilty to one count of bribery and extortion. They solicited and received a $1,700 bribe from the would-be operator. Then they took $15,000 offered to them by a former dispensary operator turned FBI informant. They each face up to 30 years in prison.

On Monday, a Clovis dispensary operator was hit with federal money-laundering charges. Mark Bagdasarian owned the Buds 4 Life dispensaries in Tarpey Village and Friant. He already faced federal marijuana possession and distribution charges from an indictment filed last October, but now the feds have updated the indictment to include money laundering. They accuse Bagdasarian of laundering money through ATMs at his dispensaries.

Also on Monday, the San Leandro City Council moved to begin regulating dispensaries. The move came against the advice of city staff, who recommended a ban within city limits. Instead, the council directed staff to start work on regulating where and how such facilities could be located. The issue now moves to the council's rules committee, which will start work with city staff to determine how to begin the process of creating zoning and permitting rules.

On Tuesday, a dispensary sued the city of Victorville over its recently-passed ordinance banning dispensaries. High Desert Herbal Therapy opened in September and was cited for a city code violation and fined $400 in May for operating without a permit. The dispensary says the city refused to issue a permit and its ordinance conflicts with state law. It will seek a temporary restraining order next week.

Also on Tuesday, Lake County supervisors voted to disband the Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance Advisory Board. The move followed the adoption of a 45-day urgency cultivation ordinance at a special BOS meeting July 9 and the filing of a request for a temporary restraining order and injunction against Sheriff Frank Rivero and the County of Lake last Thursday by an attorney on behalf of Don Merrill, who was a member of the committee.

Also on Tuesday, the DEA raided a Lake Elsinore dispensary for the second time in three months. The feds hit the Compassionate Patients Association and seized marijuana, but not cash or paperwork. The collective was first raided in April. Now, the new owner says she doesn't know if she will reopen.

Also on Tuesday,  the Lemon Grove City Council voted to study regulating dispensaries. The council ordered city staff to prepare a report on the legal, financial, economic, and land use impacts dispensaries would have on the town. The council acted after Citizens for Patient Rights gathered enough voter signatures to put the issue to a vote if the council fails to act. The council also voted to have a subcommittee look into placing a competing measure on the same ballot that might include a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.

As of month's end, the number of dispensaries in San Francisco will be at a 10-year low. The announced July 31 closures of HopeNet and the Vapor Room under federal threat will bring the number of dispensaries to fewer than 20. A year ago, there were 26 licensed dispensaries operating in San Francisco. US Attorney Melinda Haag's office has shut down six to date. A seventh dispensary was put out of commission by a house fire. There were as many as 40 dispensaries in the city in 2005, but the municipal Medical Cannabis Act limited the areas in which they could do business, leading some to close.

Michigan

Last Tuesday, a medical marijuana initiative campaign conceded it wouldn't make the ballot. The Committee for a Safer Michigan said it had collected only about 50,000 signatures while it needed 322,609 valid ones. The group is pledging to return in 2014.

Last Wednesday, Kalamazoo officials confirmed a dispensary initiative will be on the ballot this fall. Initiative backers had met the signature requirements, but city officials had concerns that medical marijuana court decisions in the state might affect its legal viability. Now, they are prepared to let the vote go forward.

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana rally was canceled because of a cease and desist order from Hayes Township, where it was to have been held. Donnie and Billie Jo Hogan, owners of the Mid-Michigan Caregiver's Club in Harrison, had planned the rally as a protest after being arrested for selling marijuana last month. But Hayes Township said it sought the order because the Hogan's didn’t have permits for food and camping. The Hogans canceled the rally on their attorney's advice.

Montana

Last Friday, a medical marijuana grower and provider was sentenced to seven years in federal prison in one of the harshest sentences yet related to last year's federal raids of large Montana medical pot operations. Christopher Ryan Durbin pleaded guilty in March to charges of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana and structuring or making bank deposits of less than $10,000 to avoid IRS reporting requirements. Durbin owned and operated several medical marijuana businesses in the Columbia Falls area and was in charge of the distribution network.

New Jersey

On Monday, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora called for hearings on delays in the state's medical marijuana program. The Trenton Democrat was one of the sponsors of the law, and he says the state's administration should explain the delays, but a schedule for his proposed hearings hasn't been announced. The state planned to have dispensaries open by July 2011. But the first one to operate legally now won't open until at least late August.

On Wednesday, the Greenleaf Compassion Center revealed it had been growing medical marijuana for the past few weeks. That marks the first time in decades that marijuana has been grown legally in the state. The first plants are about a foot high and the center's Montclair dispensary should be open and accepting patients by mid-September, said center president Joseph Stevens.

Washington

Last Tuesday, the Leavenworth City Council voted to ban collective gardens and dispensaries. The 5-2 vote confirmed a moratorium  enacted in June after a collective garden opened in the city. Leavenworth Mayor Cheri Kelley Farivar said the city worried about liability, legality, zoning and public safety.

On Monday, the Shoreline City Council voted to approve regulations for collective gardens. It passed an ordinance providing for the adoption of  permanent development code regulations for medical marijuana collective gardens. The 6-1 vote was met with cheers from a packed chamber.

Marijuana Initiative Sues Oregon over Signature Counts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salem, OR
United States

Oregon OCTA Marijuana Legalization Initiative Makes Ballot

The Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA) initiative has qualified for the November ballot, the Oregon Secretary of State Election Division's official Twitter feed announced last Friday evening. That means voters in three Western states will vote on versions of marijuana legalization this year. The other two are Colorado and Washington.

The OCTA campaign and allies were quick to react.

"Today is an historic day for Oregon and for the national movement for common-sense marijuana policy," Paul Stanford, chief petitioner said in press release the same night. "Oregon's long had an independent streak and led the nation on policies that benefit the public good. Regulating marijuana and restoring the hemp industry is in that tradition of independent, pragmatic governance. Whether you're liberal or conservative, urban or rural, young or old, regulating and taxing marijuana and hemp makes sense for Oregon."

OCTA now becomes Measure 80 on the November Oregon ballot. It would regulate marijuana for adults 21 and over, with commercial sales only through state-licensed stores. The state's general fund would receive 90% of tax revenues, estimated at more than $140 million annually. Another 7% would go to drug treatment programs, and the remaining 3% would go toward promoting Oregon’s hemp food, fiber and bio-fuel industries.

Regulating marijuana is a more rational approach to decreasing crime and improving youth and public safety, said Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which supports the initiative.

"When the voters of Oregon pass this commonsense initiative, it will take money right out of the pockets of violent gangs and cartels and put it into the state's tax coffers, where it can be spent on improving schools, roads and public safety," said the 34-year career law-enforcement officer and veteran of narcotics policing in Baltimore. "Plus, when cops like me are no longer charged with chasing down marijuana users, we will be able to fully focus on stopping and solving serious crimes like murders, rapes and robberies."

Parts of organized labor are taking an interest in the job potential of a legal marijuana commerce.

"We support Measure 80 because it'll get middle-class Oregonians back to work, it’s as simple as that," said Dan Clay, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 555. "Whether it's hemp biofuel refineries on the Columbia River or pulp and paper mills in central Oregon, hemp makes sense and fits Oregon's renowned sustainability economy."

A hundred days out from election day, it looks like we've got us a possible marijuana legalization trifecta.

Salem, OR
United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle Review Essay: Summer Marijuana Reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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