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Copenhagen Moves Closer to Legalizing Marijuana

The city council of Copenhagen voted 39-9 Thursday night to set up a committee to explore how best to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana in the Danish capital. The move is supported by Mayor Frank Jensen.

If the Copenhagen City Council has its way, hash buyers will no longer have to go to Christiania to score. (wikimedia.org)
After the committee makes its recommendations, the issue will go to the Danish parliament, where similar efforts have been blocked in the past, but some Danish politicians are saying this time could be different.

The council vote paved the way for the council's Social Affairs Committee to draft regulations making Copenhagen the first city in Europe to legalize marijuana sales. Holland's famous cannabis cafes operate in violation of Dutch law, but are allowed under a policy of "pragmatic tolerance."

While marijuana sales are quietly tolerated in Copenhagen's "hippie enclave" of Christiania despite authorities shutting down its most brazen manifestations several years ago, possession and sale of the herb remain illegal under Danish law. Possession of even small amounts can lead to a fine of up to $705 or even jail time. Still, the Copenhagen pot market is strong and vibrant, with annual sales estimated at $275 million, most going to criminal gangs.

"We are thinking of perhaps 30 to 40 public sales houses, where the people aren't interested in selling you more, they're interested in you," said Mikkel Warming, the councilman who heads the Social Affairs Committee. "Who is it better for youngsters to buy marijuana from? A drug pusher, who wants them to use more, who wants them to buy hard drugs, or a civil servant?" he asked in remarks reported by the Telegraph (UK).

Warming said that while questions remained about how to implement a marijuana sales system, the Dutch model was not one he wanted to follow. "We want to make it a little bit more concrete what kind of decriminalization we want: should it be a public buying system, should there be an age limit?" Warming said. "We don't want an Amsterdam model. We want a way to make it legal to import or grow marijuana," so that criminal gangs don't profit it from it, he said.

The notion of legal, regulated marijuana sales has significant, but not unanimous support among the Danish political class, the Copenhagen Post reported. Social Democratic councilor Lars Aslan Anderson told the Post legalizing the trade would bring broad benefits and that there is a parliamentary majority that would approve it.

"It's better that the council distributes hashish and not criminals," he said. "I hope we get the opportunity to try a new policy because we can’t just continue the current prohibition strategy with hash which is very outdated."

But not everyone was on board. "We strongly urge Frank Jensen as the country's former justice minister to stop this crazy proposal," said former Copenhagen deputy minister Martin Geertsen, a member of the conservative Venstre Party.

And not even all the Social Democrats are on board. "We don’t want to make it easier to get hold of hash because then more people would use it and be worse off for it," said Social Democratic MP Ole Haekkerup. "If you look at people who use hard drugs, two-thirds of them started with hashish," he claimed.

Still, legalizing marijuana in Copenhagen will be an item before the Danish parliament next year.

Copenhagen
Denmark

DEA Raids Seattle Area Marijuana Dispensaries

In an orchestrated strike Tuesday, DEA agents raided at least 14 medical marijuana dispensaries in the Seattle area, according to the locally based Cannabis Defense Coalition. The raids hit dispensaries in King, Pierce, and Thurston counties, including three operating inside the Seattle city limits.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/sfdispensaryraid.jpg
photo courtesy indybay.org
US Attorney Jenny Durkan said Tuesday afternoon the dispensaries were raided because they were suspected of violating Washington's medical marijuana laws, which do not explicitly provide for dispensaries. The state legislator had passed a bill to do that earlier this year, but Gov. Christine Gregroire (D) vetoed it, citing fears it would subject state employees to federal prosecution after being warned of just that by federal prosecutors.

"We will not prosecute truly ill people or their doctors who determine that marijuana is an appropriate medical treatment," Durkan said in a statement. "However, state laws of compassion were never intended to protect brash criminal conduct that masquerades as medical treatment."

Multiple arrests were reported, including at least 17 in Thurston County, but a final tally is not yet in.

The DEA Seattle office also issued a statement Tuesday: "The DEA will exercise its investigative authority to pursue criminal actions for any violation of federal law, when warranted. This includes investigating organizations or individuals that grow, manufacture, or distribute illegal drugs to include marijuana, and those who rent or maintain a property to facilitate drug trafficking."

The Justice Department's offensive against medical marijuana distribution has just broadened… again.

WA
United States

Washington Marijuana Initiative Gains Support

Initiative 502, the Washington state initiative to tax and regulate marijuana, is gaining both financial and political support. In the past week, the effort has picked up some important endorsements from former law enforcement figures, and a good sized cash contribution that will invigorate its signature-gathering efforts.

The initiative is sponsored by New Approach Washington, which hopes to gather sufficient signatures to put the measure before the legislature in January. If the legislature fails to approve it, it would then go before voters in November 2012.

In a joint statement that appeared as an op-ed in the Seattle Times, former US Attorney for Western Washington Katrina Pflaumer, former Seattle deputy mayor and municipal court Judge Anne Levinson, and retired state Superior Court Judge Robert Alsdorf announced they were endorsing I-502. Another former US Attorney for Western Washington, John McKay, endorsed the effort earlier.

"We have not only observed but also enforced marijuana laws at the federal, state, and local levels," wrote the trio of legal establishment figures. "We ask that these laws be changed. It is time for a different, more effective approach. That's why we endorse Initiative 502, which would decriminalize marijuana in our state and make a long-overdue change for the better in public policy."

Regulating marijuana would allow state and local governments to refocus criminal justice system resources on more serious offenses and would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues, the trio argued. It would also restore respect for law enforcement and "decrease the disproportionate criminalization of people of color who have historically been harmed most by the existing laws," they wrote.

On Monday, yet another former law enforcement figure climbed aboard. Charles Mandigo, former Special Agent in Charge of the Seattle FBI office, issued a statement announcing he was endorsing the initiative, if not the drug itself.

"I do not support or condone the use of marijuana. Rather, I think it is time for us to try a regulatory approach that frees criminal justice resources for more appropriate priorities and strikes a better cost-benefit balance than the strategy we've been pursuing for the past 40 years," he said in the statement.

"It concerns me a great deal that our minority communities are over-represented among marijuana defendants, and that 40,000 have died in Mexico in the past four years due to fighting over control of drug trafficking to the United States, a significant part of which involves marijuana," the 27-year FBI veteran added.

The new law enforcement endorsements come as the campaign is enjoying a late surge in financial support. Campaign director Alison Holcomb reported at the beginning of the month that it had just received a $100,000 donation from philanthropist Harriett Bullitt, had earlier received $50,000 from Progressive Insurance chairman Peter Lewis, and expected Lewis to kick in another $200,000 this month.

New Approach Washington has already collected more than 180,000 of the 241,000 valid signatures in needs to go before the legislature. It has until year's end to collect the rest, and the big name endorsements and donations are putting that goal within reach.

Not that everyone in the Washington state marijuana community is happy about that. The folks at Sensible Washington, who were twice unable to raise the money to gather enough signatures to make the ballot for their marijuana prohibition repeal initiative, are not supporting I-502, in part because it contains "a bitter pill" imposing per se drugged driving limits.

Sensible Washington is not alone in that criticism. Segments of the state's medical marijuana community also worry that the initiative's drugged driving provision could end up penalizing them.

Dr. Gil Mobley, who runs a Federal Way clinic catering to medical-marijuana patients, told the Seattle Times he recently tested several patients and found they passed cognitive tests even with THC concentrations of up to 47 nanograms. Nearly four hours after one patient medicated, they still tested at 6 nanograms. The initiative would set the per se level at 5 nanograms.

"I told them they'd be legally unable to drive if this law passes," said Mobley. "It's philosophically, morally and legally wrong."

And Nora Callahan of the November Coalition, a drug reform group that concentrates on drug war prisoners is also unenthusiastic about I-502. It would be "continuing prohibition," she said. "We want a law for the people. I don't know if this law cuts it. But we know there is money behind it."

I-502 supporters have countered the criticisms, saying the drugged driving provision would be rarely used and that signs of impairment would first have to be evident. They also point to states with per se drugged driving laws, noting there has not been a rash of prosecutions in them. And they argue that if an initiative is going to have a chance with voters concerned about the prospect of highways filled with stoned drivers, it must be pragmatic and address those fears.

New Approach Washington has created a fact sheet on driving under the influence of THC in a bid to defend the drugged driving provision. It notes that Washington already has a per se DUI law for alcohol, and that its proposed per se marijuana-impaired driving level of 5 nanograms of THC per millileter of whole blood is both "analagous" to the per se DUI law for alcohol and supported by existing science.

"I-502 does not change the fact that officers still must have probable cause for arrest and reasonable grounds to believe a driver is impaired before requiring a blood or breath test," the fact sheet says, addressing concerns that large numbers of drivers could be charged under the provision. "Nor does it change the fact that blood tests can only be administered by medical professionals."

Pot activist-turned-journalist Dominic Holden sharply criticized the friendly fire against I-502 coming from within the movement. In a column published in the Seattle Stranger, Holden wrote, "[I]t's dishonest to declare this this measure will subject people to more blood testing or result in a change of policing protocol. If voters pass I-502, 02, officers would be held to the same standards as they are today: They would still require probable cause to stop a car, evidence of driver impairment, and any tests would have to be conducted by a medical professional (typically at a medical clinic or an ER). Those are the standards now, they wouldn't change, and we hardly ever see those consequences for medical marijuana patients now because they aren't impaired and cops don't have probable cause to stop their vehicles. If cops didn't have probable cause or evidence of impairment, but took action anyway, a defense attorney could move to have the whole thing tossed out -- just like today."

Holden also cited polling for the campaign finding the initiative winning with the provision vs. losing badly without it. According the polling, Holden wrote, 62% of respondents were more likely to vote for an initiative with that provision, vs. 11% less likely.

New Approach Washington may not have succeeded in uniting all of the state's marijuana movement behind it, but it is getting enough big names and big bucks to have a very good shot at making the signature-gathering threshold. And if the campaigners and their polling are correct, they will then have a good shot at victory at the polling booth in November 2012 -- if the legislature doesn't approve it first.

WA
United States

Cities Can Ban Marijuana Dispensaries, CA Court Rules

In a decision that is already having an impact on medical marijuana access, a California appeals court ruled November 9 that cities and counties can lawfully ban medical marijuana dispensaries. In the days since the ruling was announced, a number of localities have already either moved to enact bans or halted plans to regulate dispensaries.

California laws "do not provide individuals with inalienable rights to establish, operate or use" dispensaries, nor do they say that dispensaries "shall be permitted within every city and county," wrote Justice Carol Codrington for a unanimous court in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center.

California law expressly allows localities to regulate dispensaries and restrict their locations, Codrington wrote, adding that a total ban is "simply a means of regulation or restriction."

The issue is one that has been roiling the waters for years, but the decision by the 4th District Court of Appeals in Riverside is clear and unambiguous. Combined with an appeals court ruling last month that the city of Long Beach could not adopt regulations allowing dispensaries because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the ruling paves the way for a reinvigorated crackdown on dispensaries by local governments across the state.

Access to medical marijuana is already problematic in large areas of the state. According to Americans for Safe Access, 168 cities and 17 counties have banned dispensaries and another 80 cities and 10 counties have enacted moratoriums. On the other side of the coin, only about 40 cities and 10 counties have enacted ordinances to allow dispensaries.

Localities were already getting nervous in the wake of the Long Beach decision last month, and the number of locales enacting bans is likely to grow quickly after the ruling. Santa Cruz County is likely to impose a moratorium this week, while the city of South Lake Tahoe is looking to repeal its recently enacted dispensary ordinance. The city of Long Beach is now considering a ban, and other cities that have been facing court challenges on similar issues, like Rancho Mirage, are now more confident their bans will be upheld.

While the city of Riverside now plans to move ahead with shutting down all 15 dispensaries in its jurisdiction, Inland Empire founder Lanny Swerdlow told the Los Angeles Times he expects the collective will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

"We think that it's wrong that a city can ban a state-permitted activity by zoning it out of existence," he said. "By allowing cities to ban, it just makes a crazy-quilt pattern across the state."

This pair of appeals courts decisions are yet another blow to a medical marijuana industry beset by a renewed federal offensive against distribution and cultivation. Federal prosecutors across the state last month moved to shut down a number of dispensaries, have threatened landlords with asset forfeiture and possible prosecution, and have even warned elected officials they were not immune to possible federal action.

Riverside, CA
United States

NORML Sues Feds in CA Medical Marijuana Fight [FEATURE]

Attorneys with NORML have filed suit against the federal government over its crackdown on medical marijuana distribution and cultivation in California. In lawsuits filed last week in the four US Attorney districts in the state, the NORML attorneys bring a number of legal and constitutional arguments to bear in asserting that the federal government has overstepped its boundaries in interfering with the state's medical marijuana business.

Leading the legal charge are San Francisco attorneys Matt Kumin, David Michael, and Alan Silber.

The lawsuits seek a temporary injunction to block the state's four US Attorneys, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder and DEA administrator Michele Leonhardt, "from arresting or prosecuting Plaintiffs or those similarly situated, seizing their medical cannabis, forfeiting their property or the property of their landlords or threatening to seize property, or seeking civil or administrative sanctions against them or parties whose property is used to assist them" while the case is being heard.

The plaintiffs in the case are California medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, and patients. Some targeted dispensaries have already been forced to shut down by a deadline last Friday to avoid possible federal reprisals if the temporary injunction is not granted.

The lawsuits also seek a permanent injunction barring further federal action against lawful (under state law) medical marijuana operators and patients. And they ask the courts to declare the federal Controlled Substances Act unconstitutional to the extent that it blocks California residents from obtaining marijuana as medicine as is legal under state law.

The lawsuits are a response to a federal offensive against medical marijuana in California unleashed last month, when the Justice Department sent dozens of letters to California landlords and dispensaries ordering them to close down or face possible seizure of their properties and criminal prosecution. Dozens of dispensaries have already closed in response to the threats.

The federal offensive has also included SWAT-style DEA raids on medical marijuana operations, including some that are among the most closely regulated under state law. In Mendocino County, for example, the DEA raided Northstone Organics, a cultivation operation so regulated by local authorities that every plant had a sheriff's tag on it.

The lawsuits claim the federal government "entrapped" medical marijuana suppliers by seeming to give the okay to their operations in an October 2009 Justice Department memo. They also claim that the federal actions violate the 9th, 10th, and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution.

The 9th Amendment says that merely because some rights are enshrined in the Constitution does not mean the federal government can "deny or disparage others retained by the people." The NORML attorneys argue that threatening seizure of property and criminal sanctions violates the rights of the people to "consult with their doctors about their bodies and health."

The 10th Amendment gives powers not delegated to the federal government "to the States respectively, or to the people." The NORML attorneys argue that the States have the "primary plenary power to protect the health of its citizens," and since the government has recognized and not attempted to stop Colorado's state-run medical marijuana dispensary program, it cannot suggest Colorado has a state's right that California does not.

A lawsuit challenging the federal crackdown filed last month by Americans for Safe Access also makes a 10th Amendment argument. The feds have "instituted a policy to dismantle the medical marijuana laws of the state of California and to coerce its municipalities to pass bans on medical marijuana dispensaries," the advocacy group complained.

"Although the Obama Administration is entitled to enforce federal marijuana laws, the 10th Amendment forbids it from using coercive tactics to commandeer the law-making functions of the State," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who filed the lawsuit in San Francisco. "This case is aimed at restoring California's sovereign and constitutional right to establish its own public health laws based on this country's federalist principles."

The 14th Amendment provides all citizens equal protection under the law. The NORML attorneys argue that because the federal government allows a handful of people access to marijuana through the Investigational New Drug program, allows a state-licensed medical marijuana system in Colorado to go unharassed, and blocks scientific research into medical marijuana, it is effectively denying equal protection to California residents.

The NORML attorneys also take issue with the US Supreme Court decision in Raich v. Gonzalez, which upheld the use of the Constitution's interstate commerce clause to stop California patients from legally growing their own medicine.

While acknowledging the Raich decision, they wrote that "it is still difficult to imagine that marijuana grown only in California, pursuant to California state law, and distributed only within California, only to California residents holding state-issued cards, and only for medical purposes, can be subject to federal regulation pursuant to the Commerce Clause. For that reason, Plaintiffs preserve the issue for further Supreme Court review, if necessary and deemed appropriate."

The courts are going to be busy with this matter for awhile, but a preliminary injunction would allow the California medical marijuana industry to go about its business unmolested while the matter gets sorted out.

CA
United States

The 2011 International Drug Policy Reform Conference Meets in Los Angeles [FEATURE]

For three days last weekend, the towering Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles was awash with drug reform activists running from presentation to presentation and chatting in hallway confabs while discussing myriad topics on the streets outside. It was the Drug Policy Alliance's 2011 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, and it was the largest yet, with more than 1,200 people from around the country and the world in attendance.

conference plenary session (photo courtesy HCLU, drogireporter.hu/en)
Police officers from Brazil and the US (mainly members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) mingled with drug user activists from Latin America and Europe, college kids from Students for Sensible Drug Policy sat down with grizzled veteran activists, former drug war prisoners discussed issues with elected officials, Southeast Asian harm reductionists swapped stories with American social workers, East European AIDS workers talked shop with their counterparts from the US and Canada, Mexican poets shared panels with American city council members. And medical marijuana and pot legalization activists, especially from host state California, were everywhere.

In all, people from more than 30 countries and probably every state in the union, representing dozens of different drug reform, harm reduction, human rights, reproductive rights, and other groups flooded into Los Angeles to get the latest skinny on drug reform, drug legalization, and ending drug prohibition.

The reform conference is so large and the issues so complex and interconnected that for a single person to attend all the sessions would require an army of clones. Over the three-day conference, five or six fascinating panels went on simultaneously throughout the day, not to mention the mobile workshops (medical marijuana, Skid Row, juvenile justice) taking attendees on themed city tours, the open rooms where various groups maintained a continuous presence, the evening events, and, last but not least, the Thursday night "End the Drug War" rally in MacArthur Park that drew several thousand people.

Some highlights follow.

Republican Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson

In the conference's opening plenary session, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who is struggling to gain traction in the Republican presidential nomination contest, found a friendly audience and threw it some red meat. Marijuana should be legalized and pot prisoners freed, he said to loud cheers and applause.

Johnson, who has been an advocate of drug legalization since his days as governor, said it was his stance on drug reform, rather than his record as governor or his advocacy of small government, that gets him noticed. "That's the marijuana guy," people always say when they see him, he said.

California NAACP president Alice Huffman (courtesy HCLU)
Politicians are behind the curve when it comes to drug reform, Johnson said. "Fifty percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana," he said. "But zero percent of the universe of politicians support this." Certainly not his Republican rivals, who look at the drug wars ravaging Mexico and compete to see who can sound tougher. "They all talk about border violence and adding guns to the equation instead of looking at the root of the problem, which is prohibition," he said.

The only other Republican presidential contender to take a firm line on ending the drug war is Texas Rep. Ron Paul. But Paul and Johnson together are only polling at about 10% of the Republican electorate, with Paul polling the majority of that. Johnson said he was concentrating on the New Hampshire primary, where he hopes a strong showing can keep his candidacy and his strong anti-drug war message alive.

[DRCNet Foundation and the Drug War Chronicle do not take positions on candidates. As a precaution, this article was produced by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network.]

Mexico's Symbol of Drug War Resistance Tells Us It's Our Fight, Too

Read our feature story on this here.

Whither Medical Marijuana?

In the context of renewed federal repression aimed at medical marijuana production and distribution, not just in California, but in medical marijuana states around the country, panels on the future of medical marijuana understandably generated great interest. A nationally-focused panel noted that the Justice Department has not explained itself and its apparent change of heart, nor has it given any indication whether the raids and other actions against medical marijuana will continue, stop, or escalate.

Meanwhile, a second, California-centric panel worried about medical marijuana's future in the Golden State and bruited about ideas about how best to preserve it.

"There is a historic backlash against medical marijuana, and that is a result of our success," said Don Duncan, Southern California leader for Americans for Safe Access. "We made a strategic decision to go to localities, but now is the time to go back to Sacramento because we could lose ground in the towns. It is time for the legislature to adopt statewide regulations to protect safe access," he said.

Mikki Norris and Chris Conrad at Thursday's rally and concert in Macarthur Park (courtesy HCLU)
"We need to authorize storefront distribution, protect cultivators, and protect the civil rights of patients," Duncan continued, citing housing discrimination, employment problems, and custody issues.

But it's going to be a tough battle in Sacramento, he suggested. "Even the Democrats say the dispensaries are out of control, the patients don't look sick, the doctors are too lenient," he said. "Our base of support in Sacramento is eroding."

"I will call out my own party," said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). "It's time to get militant. There is a pro-marijuana vote, it's bipartisan, and it's populist."

There is support for medical marijuana on the right side of the aisle in Sacramento, too. "Very few, even in my party, still believe in Reefer Madness," said Assemblyman Chris Norby (R-Orange County).

Pending California Marijuana Initiatives

A session on pending California marijuana legalization, decriminalization, and medical marijuana initiatives was useful for sorting out the competing proposals, with representatives of all serious proposals at the table. Here they are:

The Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act would simply repeal the sections of California law prohibiting marijuana. It would also create a California Cannabis Commission to create a system of regulated cannabis commerce.

"If conduct is not prohibited, the feds cannot force a state to prohibit it," said Joe Rogoway, one of the initiative's sponsors. "This initiative eviscerates cannabis prohibition in California, all the laws would be wiped off the books," he said.

The Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative would also repeal marijuana prohibition and set up a system of regulated distribution. It mandates the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to set up regulations for sales by 2013. It is sponsored by, among others, long-time Libertarian and legalization activist Steve Kubby and retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray.

"We've done our homework," said Gray. "We address those things that scare voters. We will have 10,000 valid signatures in two weeks," he vowed.

conference audience (courtesy HCLU)
Unlike the two legalization initiatives above, political consultant Bill Zimmerman's Marijuana Penalties Act would not legalize it, but would extend California's current decriminalization of up to an ounce to up to two ounces.

"California is not ready to legalize marijuana," argued Zimmerman, "but a strong majority agree that private adult use should not result in jail time. It seems sensible to try to move the ball forward this year."

Then there is the California Economic, Environmental, Hemp Restoration Act of 2012, a project of the Budget Economic Environmental Protection Alliance, which would legalize industrial hemp, medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana for people 21 and over. This initiative is still in the drafting phase.

"We want to create green jobs now," said initiative promoter Mark O'Hara. "Let's legalize industrial hemp and adult marijuana."

Finally, the folks who brought you Proposition 19, the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, have decided to forego another legalization bid for 2012, and are instead working on an initiative to regulate medical marijuana statewide.

"We want to create a robust environment for our members," said United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) cannabis division head Dan Rush. "Our initiative isn't done yet, but we want to be inclusive, serve people, the industry, and patients."

Rush was the only one to mention the 800-pound gorilla in the room: the mountain of cash it will take for any of the initiatives to make the ballot, let alone win in November 2012.

"We need to raise $15 million for the initiative and legislative action," he said. "We need a broad coalition beyond our movement."

More to Come

This article has touched on only a tiny fraction of what was discussed in Los Angeles last weekend. Look for more about and/or inspired by the conference in the near future. In the meantime, the Drug Policy Alliance deserves praise for once again putting together a reform conference that is staggering in its breadth and depth, and, as just about everyone agreed, maximally inspirational.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

Dutch Bar Foreigners from Southern Cannabis Cafes

No one other than Dutch residents will be allowed to buy marijuana in southern Holland cannabis coffee shops after January 1, the Dutch Justice Ministry said Tuesday. The stated objective of the move is to spare locals the nuisance of drug tourism, but if the experience of one city is any indicator, it will also spare locals millions of dollars in receipts.

coffee shop in Amsterdam (wikimedia.org)
For more than a year, the center right government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte has been considering making coffee shops members only clubs, with a "cannabis card" reserved for Dutch nationals required to enter one of the country's 670 cannabis cafes. The new policy is being rolled out regionally, with southern border provinces the first to see it go into effect.

"The measure will come into force for the provinces of Limburg, North-Brabant and Zeeland, the provinces most affected by drug tourism, on January 1," Justice Ministry spokeswoman Charlotte Menten said.

The new policy will be extended nationwide in January 2013, Menten added.

The southern city of Maastricht holds some clues as to what impact the new policy will have. In a pilot program since October 1, the city's 13 cannabis cafes have been allowed to serve only Dutch, Belgian, and German customers in a bid to reduce drug tourism from France. The Daily Telegraph reported this week that cutting off the French will cost the city nearly $42 million a year in revenues, the equivalent of the loss of 345 full-time jobs.

Netherlands

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Approved for Circulation

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announced Monday that two initiatives for marijuana legalization measures have been approved for circulation. Both were filed by attorney Dan Viets, a long-time marijuana legalization advocate and a member of the national NORML Legal Committee and board of directors.

Viets and Missouri NORML chapters have aligned themselves with other marijuana legalization advocates and supporters as Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, a reference to Missouri's nickname as the "Show Me" state.

The two measures are identical, except that one would amend the state constitution and the other would amend state law.

The initiatives call for marijuana legalization for persons 21 and over, a process for licensing marijuana establishments, and the lifting of criminal justice system sanctions against people imprisoned or under state supervision for nonviolent marijuana offenses that would no longer be illegal and the expunging of all criminal records for such offenses. The initiatives would also allow for the use of marijuana for medical reasons by minors and allow the legislature to enact a tax of $100 a pound on retail marijuana sales.

The initiatives now move on to the signature-gathering phase. To qualify for the November 2012 ballot, the constitutional amendment initiative must obtain the signatures of a number of registered voters equal to 8% of the total votes cast in the 2008 governor's race from six of the state's nine congressional districts. The requirements for the statutory amendment are slightly looser; it needs the signatures of 5% of the voters in those districts. Signatures must be turned in by May 6, 2012.

If marijuana legalization makes the ballot in Missouri next year, the state is likely to join Washington and Colorado in taking the issue before the voters. Efforts in those two states are the most advanced and likely to make the ballot, although there is a possibility that similar efforts could make the ballot in California and Oregon.

Columbia, MO
United States

US Reps, CA AG Chide Feds on Medical Marijuana

The unhappy reaction to the renewed federal offensive against medical marijuana growers and distributors continues to spread, with several members of Congress and California's attorney general among the latest to voice their displeasure.

Since the Sacramento press conference last month where California's four US Attorneys announced a crackdown on the medical marijuana using heavy-handed raids on businesses in exemplary compliance with state and local laws and a wave of letters to dispensary landlords threaten property seizure or even criminal prosecution if they don't throw out their medical marijuana tenants, reaction among medical marijuana supporters, including elected officials, has been growing.

On Friday, nine members of Congress, led by Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), sent a letter to President Obama expressing "concern with the recent activity by the Department of Justice against legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries in California that are operating legally under state law." The other congressional signers were Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Pete Stark (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Bob Filner (D-CA).

Citing "aggressive SWAT-style federal raids in at least seven states," as well as threats directed at landlords and elected officials, the solons told the president such actions "directly interfere with California's 15-year-old medical cannabis law by eliminating safe access to medication for the state's thousands of medical marijuana patients."

The nine US representatives called on the president to reschedule marijuana as either a Schedule II or Schedule III drug with recognized medicinal uses, either by administrative action or by supporting legislation to achieve that end. A bill that would do just that, H.R. 1983, the States' Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, has already been filed, they helpfully pointed out.

A week before the congressional letter, California Attorney General Kamala Harris added her voice to the choir of the concerned. "Californians overwhelmingly support the compassionate use of medical marijuana for the ill," she noted in a statement.

"While there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved either by the state legislature or the courts, an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California," the state's highest elected law enforcement officer said. "I urge the federal authorities in the state to adhere to the United States Department of Justice’s stated policy and focus their enforcement efforts on ‘significant traffickers of illegal drugs.'"

In mid-October, state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), stalwart friends of marijuana law reform, were among the first to speak out against the federal crackdown, followed shortly by fellow San Franciscan state Sen. Leland Yee (D).

"Medical marijuana dispensaries are helping our economy, creating jobs, and most importantly, providing a necessary service for suffering patients," Lee said in a statement. "There are real issues and real problems that the US Attorney's Office should be focused on rather than using their limited resources to prosecute legitimate businesses or newspapers. Shutting down state-authorized dispensaries will cost California billions of dollars and unfairly harm thousands of lives."

In the face of widespread criticism, the US Attorneys have attempted to insulate their boss from the political heat, with a spokesperson making pains to tell the Huffington Post they had coordinated only with the Justice Department, not the Obama administration. But it is ultimately President Obama who is in charge, and who will pay whatever political price is to be paid.

Canada Mandatory Minimum Crime Bill Set to Pass [FEATURE]

The Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been trying for years to pass a harsh drug crime bill that includes mandatory minimum sentences for growing as few as six marijuana plants. This year, with the Conservatives now holding an absolute majority in parliament, it looks like the Conservatives will get their wish..

Parliament Hill, Ottawa
"The bill will pass," said Eugene Oscapella, head of the Canadian Drug Policy Foundation, who testified against the bill in parliament last week and who was attacked by Conservatives for doing so. "The government has a clear majority, and under the parliamentary system, MPs will vote like trained seals. Even though I know Conservative MPs who disagree with this, if you spit in the face of the prime minister, you will be out of the caucus."

The Tories rolled out this year's version of their perennial drug bill last month as part of an omnibus anti-crime bill known as Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act. Ironically, the government's "tough on crime" initiative came just weeks before Statistics Canada reported that the country's homicide rate had declined to levels not seen since 1966. Overall violent crime is down, too.

The omnibus bill runs to 110 pages and brings together nine separate previous proposals to strengthen police and prosecutorial powers aimed at child sex predators, violent offenders, drug traffickers, and "out of control" youthful offenders. In addition to Canada's first mandatory minimum sentences, the package also includes tougher pre-trial custody conditions, restrictions on the use of probation, and lengthier sentences for violent and youthful repeat offenders.

"Since coming into office, our government has accomplished a great deal when it comes to cracking down on crime and better protecting Canadians," said Justice Minister Rob Nicholson as he introduced the omnibus bill last month. "By moving quickly to reintroduce and pass the Safe Streets and Communities Act, we are fulfilling our promise to Canadians by taking action to protect families, stand up for victims and hold criminals accountable."

"Our government remains committed to fighting crime, protecting Canadians and holding offenders accountable," said Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews. "Canadians gave us a strong mandate to improve safety for Canadians where they live, work and raise their families."

Voters may have given the Tories a mandate at the polls, but it's not clear that it was Tory crime policies driving the vote. A Nanos poll earlier this summer had only 2% of respondents selecting "fighting crime" as their highest priority for the Harper government. Instead, respondents were much more concerned about the provision of health care (40%) and reducing the deficit (26%).

Canada's other major political parties, the Liberals and the New Democrats, both oppose the bill, as does a broad swath of civil society. The Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network are among the groups opposing the bill, as are criminal defense attorneys, prisoners' advocates, and critics who point toward falling crime numbers and question whether the country can afford a massive expansion of its prison system.

The government has so far declined to specify projected costs of the bill or reveal its own projections about how much the prison population would increase under the bill.

"We believe the substance of this legislation both to be self-defeating and counterproductive, if the goal is to enhance public safety," vice-chair of the Canadian Bar Association's National Criminal Justice Section Eric Gottardi said last week. "It represents a profound shift in orientation from a system that emphasizes public safety, rehabilitation and reintegration to one that puts vengeance first."

"The Conservatives are completely divorced from the reality of what's going on," said NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies (Vancouver East) during a 10-minute House of Commons speech attacking the bill. "They have branded themselves and wrapped themselves in a cloak of crime and punishment, and as a result they are blind to evidence, they are blind to the costs, they are blind to the fact that we have the lowest crime rate since 1973, they are blind to building safe and healthy communities, they are blind to the horrendous experience of the United States and its war on drugs regime that is now being slowly repealed -- including the repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing... because of its catastrophic failure on people and society overall. They are blind to the evidence here in Canada and they are blind to the real impacts of what these bills will have on the lives of people and on communities overall."

The Tories are "only interested in manipulating people, creating fear, division, and creating a 'them and us' scenario," Davies continued. "I believe from the bottom of my heart that this omnibus bill is offensive because it is politically motivated and will have enormous negative impacts."

It's not just progressives, or even Canadians, who are upset by the bill. Crime-fighting conservative Texans have come out against it, citing their own unhappy experience with "lock 'em up and throw away the key" policies. "You will spend billions and billions and billions on locking people up," said Judge John Creuzot of the Dallas County Court. "And there will come a point in time where the public says, 'Enough!' And you'll wind up letting them out."

Still, with the Conservatives holding a solid parliamentary majority, the bill's passage now appears to be all but a done deal. That doesn't mean the fight against it will go away, though -- not before it passes and not after it passes. The lawyers are already gearing up for that second phase of the struggle.

"They are trying to ram this through as quickly as possible, and I don't know what can be done to stop it," said Oscapella. "It will have to be done at the back end, by means of constitutional challenges under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But that will take years."

Canada

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