2012

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And the Fast Talking Has Started...

I posited yesterday that federal fast talking about the Colorado and Washington initiatives would start soon. It turns out that federal fast talking hasn't even needed feds to get started, a "Network Media Fail" analysis by Peter Guither demonstrates:

Some of the network media have been trying to cover the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington and clearly are in catch-up mode, not really knowing how to talk about it. And they're completely thrown by the fact that the DOJ, for the most part, isn't coming right out and commenting. So they're all forced to turn to… Kevin Sabet.
 

Kevin is a former Office of National Drug Control Policy staffer -- Phil faced off with him in The Fix on Tuesday. He had a respectable level position at the agency, from what I understand, but he was not the drug czar or near it, and he doesn't work at ONDCP now. Pete questions why media would think he knows what's going on behind the scenes or why we should think he does.

I'll just comment on two things from the ABC article by Christina Ng that Pete highlighted:

"When you have the governors of both states [opposing it] as well as the president and Congress, who has already determined that marijuana is illegal, this is not going to be a walk in the park for marijuana enthusiasts," Sabet said. [...]
 

That is an inaccurate characterization by Kevin of the positions of the governors. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper opposed the initiative, and according to the Denver Post is speaking with federal officials to assess their intentions -- Eric Holder, head of all DOJ, not ONDCP. But Hickenlooper also told the Post that "[y]ou can't argue with the will of the voters" and they plan to move forward with it. Washington governor-elect Jay Inslee has also said that he'll respect the will of the voters.

The second is a paragraph that was not presented as a quote, so I don't know precisely what Kevin told Ms. Ng, but here it is:

In 2005, the Supreme Court by an 8-0 margin struck down a California law that legalized medical marijuana in the state. The Court said Congress had the power to criminalize marijuana under the Commerce Clause.
 

Raich v. Gonzales was actually 6-3, but more importantly, the court did not strike down California's medical marijuana law! What the court did was decline to limit the reach of federal law. There's a difference.

As I discussed yesterday, state and federal law can be different, but that doesn't mean they're in conflict. And not every type of conflict is legally impermissible. California's medical marijuana law is very much in effect -- the trouble there is to providers, not directly to patients, and it's from federal raids and other actions, and local zoning restrictions. Tellingly, no federal prosecutor in 16 years of state medical marijuana laws has ever tried to undo one of them in court.

Perhaps they'll try now with one of the legalization initiatives, but their prospects for success on that route are unclear. What seems most unlikely is that states would be forced to reverse not only their licensing provisions, but their elimination of penalties for users and some sellers; much less that federal agents, more limited in number than state and local police, would conduct the massive numbers of possession busts (or in Colorado home growing busts) needed to keep prohibition going at that level. That's why the medical marijuana laws work.

In the meanwhile, police and prosecutors in Washington have more or less confirmed the walk in the park beginning December 6th.

Washington Police and Prosecutors Winding Down Marijuana Possession Cases

Dominic Holden reports for The Stranger:

Prosecutors won't charge marijuana possession cases anymore, starting December 6th:

Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff for the King County Prosecuting Attorney, says his office is trying to figure out how if they will charge the marijuana possession cases are pending. "We haven't figured out how we will handle all of those cases," he says. But assuming the possession portion of the law is not federally challenged -- and no credible lawyer thinks the possession portion can be -- Goodhew says that in future cases, "we cannot charge someone under state statute."
 

...and police won't make possession arrests:

Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, a spokesman for the Seattle Police Department, says this: "For us, the law has changed, and people can expect no enforcement for possession."
 

Or to put it another way: Yesterday Really Happened.

Expect Federal Fast Talking About CO and WA to Start Soon

Every drug reformer got to go to Denver except Dave Borden :) (SSDP leaders celebrate victory -- photo by Troy Dayton)
Not a day has passed since legalization initiatives passed in two states, and ominous words have already been spoken. According to CBS, "[d]rug laws remain unchanged following passage of marijuana ballot initiatives":

"The department's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. We are reviewing the ballot initiatives and have no additional comment at this time."
 

I haven't seen the statement on the DOJ web site yet. Perhaps it's only been sent to media outlets. Colorado's governor, meanwhile, hopes to talk to US Attorney General Eric Holder as soon as this week, according to the Denver Post.

Gov. Hickenlooper and CO Atty. General John Suthers both have said they intend to respect the will of the voters. But if the feds tell them that Colorado can't do this, that would be a convenient answer for these officials who probably don't want the trouble, especially when a little time has gone by and the spotlight on them over the amendment is a little less intense. So far DOJ's statements as well as Hickenlooper's sound accurate to me, to the extent that I've studied them. But it's important to be prepared to communicate a factual understanding of how the law works, in the event that federal or even state officials attempt to obfuscate.

As a CNN legal analyst this morning commented (email or post if you know his name), federal law toward marijuana, and state law in Colorado and Washington (as well as all medical marijuana states) are different. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they "conflict." Specifically, it doesn't mean that they have a "positive conflict." If the state itself were to sell or traffic in marijuana, that would be a "positive conflict" with federal law. But Colorado and Washington have no obligation to enforce federal drug laws. The legal question as far as federal preemption is whether they can issue licenses to marijuana sellers that protect the sellers under state law.

My understanding of the law as well as that of colleagues I've spoken with is that this is not a positive conflict, as it does nothing to prevent the feds from making a drug bust if they choose to do so. It may well get tested in court. But it's worth noting that in 16 years of state medical marijuana laws, no federal prosecutor in the country has ever tried to preempt state medical marijuana laws -- they've busted dispensaries, but they have not tested the laws themselves in court. The same law is at stake with these legalization initiatives, with the difference being the scope of what they legalize and regulate.

My guess is that DOJ will face greater pressure to try to lawfully preempt one of these laws (as opposed to squashing them by force) than they have felt with state medical marijuana laws, even if they are doubtful of their chances for success. But time will tell. For us, the thing to remember -- and to point out whenever it comes up -- is that federal law and state law are "different" -- they conflict politically, but that doesn't mean they conflict legally. The feds don't have a lot of incentive to acknowledge this, and as the statement shows, they can can be factual but still leave out that important point.

Several Initiatives' Margins Have Improved

When I first noted last night that Colorado's Amendment 64, marijuana legalization, was ahead, partial results had it leading with a little over 52% of the vote, with exit polling reportedly at 57%. When the Denver Post called the measure as passing, it was over 53%. The official Colorado election results now have Amendment 64 at 54.82% voting yes -- almost as high as Washington I-502's 55.44%.

The Arkansas medical marijuana initiative went down to defeat, unfortunately, but only 49-51 -- up from the 48-52 split we first noted, and pretty darn close -- not bad for a southern state, though frustrating for the same reasons.

When I first noted that Montana's medical marijuana initiative wasn't doing well, I linked to the state election results page but didn't write out the percentage split, 58-42. Maybe I didn't want to. It was still at that level later in the night. But as of right now (with still a bit of counting to go), I-124 was up to 43.45. (As we noted before, our side was hoping for a "no" vote on the initiative -- the "no" referring to a bill passed by the legislature that weakened the initiative passed by voters.)

California's three-strikes reform measure is up to 68.6%, having been closer to 68% when I looked last night.

Every little bit counts, and some of thes increases mean more than a little bit. Of the three defeats (Oregon, Arkansas and Montana), Montana's worries me the most, as it is a tough situation right now for the state's medical marijuana community, with both the state and the feds. But maybe our national momentum for marijuana law reform will make more things possible soon, maybe even in Montana. Phil wrote a feature story on the legalization initiatives last night -- live from Amendment 64 campaign headquarters -- and will be coming out with another on the rest of the election story later today.

Colorado, Washington Legalize Marijuana! [FEATURE]

Colorado voters made history Tuesday night, passing a constitutional amendment to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana and becoming the first state in the US to break with marijuana prohibition. Hours later, voters in Washington state followed suit, passing a legalization initiative there, but a similar effort in Oregon came up short.

Brian Vicente, Rob Kampia, and Steve Fox listen to Mason Tvert in Denver as Amendment 64 passes.
Even though marijuana legalization didn't achieve a trifecta, two states have now decisively rejected marijuana prohibition, sending an electrifying message to the rest of the country and the world. Tuesday's election also saw a medical marijuana initiative pass in Massachusetts, a sentencing reform initiative pass in California, and a limited legalization initiative pass in Detroit. Medical marijuana initiatives failed in Arkansas and Montana. [Editor's Note: Look for Chronicle news briefs soon on the election results we have yet to publish stories on.]

"The victories in Colorado and Washington are of historic significance not just for Americans but for all countries debating the future of marijuana prohibition in their own countries," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is now a mainstream issue, with citizens more or less divided on the issue but increasingly inclined to favor responsible regulation of marijuana over costly and ineffective prohibitionist policies."

According to the Colorado secretary of state's office, Amendment 64 was leading comfortably with 55% of the vote, compared to 45% voting "no." But an early lead was enough for Amendment 64 supporters and foes alike to call the victory. Rising excitement at Casselman's, the downtown Denver bar where campaign supporters gathered, turned to gleeful pandemonium as Colorado media began calling the result little more than two hours after the polls closed.

"Colorado voters have decided to take a more sensible approach to how we deal with marijuana in this state," said Mason Tvert, director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which had brought together state marijuana reform groups such as SAFER and Sensible Colorado with national reform organizations such as the Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Action, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition in a well-organized and well-funded winning campaign.

"Today, the people of Colorado have rejected the failed policy of marijuana prohibition," said Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente. "Thanks to their votes, we will now reap the benefits of regulation. We will create new jobs, generation million of dollars in tax revenue, and allow law enforcement to focus on serious crimes. It would certainly be a travesty if the Obama administration used its power to impose marijuana prohibition upon a state whose people have declared, through the democratic process, that they want it to end."

"I'm so happy we not only did this, we did it right," said MPP's Steve Fox, who had worked closely with Tvert, Vicente, and Yes on 64 spokesperson Betty Aldworth to bring the effort to fruition. "Now, it is legal in the state constitution to possess and grow marijuana. It can't be repealed on a whim; it is permanent. Thirty days from now, any veteran -- any person -- in this state can use marijuana."

"Colorado is the starting point, the tipping point, but it's not the end point," vowed MPP executive director Rob Kampia, who promised to take the effort to more states in the future.

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), a staunch opponent of Amendment 64, conceded its victory as well Tuesday night. "The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will," he said in a statement. "This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or goldfish too quickly."

According to the Washington secretary of state's office , as of 9:28pm Pacific time Tuesday, Initiative 502 was holding a comfortable lead of 55% to 45%. Sponsored by New Approach Washington, the initiative had excited opposition among segments of the pot-smoker and medical marijuana communities, but created a carefully crafted and financially well-backed campaign featuring a series of establishment endorsers.

Betty Aldsworth thanks the voters of Colorado.
I-502 legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over, but does not allow for personal cultivation, except by or for medical marijuana patients. It will license marijuana cultivation and retail and wholesale sales, with restrictions on advertising. Regulation will be the remit of the state liquor control board, which will have to come up with rules by December 2013. The measure creates a 25% excise tax on marijuana sales, with 40% of revenues dedicated to the general fund and 60% dedicated to substance abuse prevention, research, and healthcare. It also creates a per se driving under the influence standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

By contrast, Colorado's Amendment 64 allows adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or six marijuana plants, three of which can be mature. It will create a system of state-licensed cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities and state-licensed retail stores. Local governments would have the option of regulating or prohibiting such facilities. The amendment also requires the state legislature to enact legislation governing industrial hemp cultivation, processing, and sale, and to create an excise tax on wholesale marijuana sales. The first $40 million of that annual revenue will be dedicated to building public schools.

"Marijuana policy reform remains an issue where the people lead and the politicians follow, but Washington state shows that many politicians are beginning to catch up," said Nadelmann, noting that the Obama administration had failed to denounce the initiatives. "That bodes well, both states' prospects of implementing their new laws without undue federal interference."

In Oregon, Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), didn't fare so well. As of 11:30pm Pacific time, it was losing 45% to 55%, with 69% of the vote counted.

It came late to the ballot compared to the efforts in Colorado and Washington, could not demonstrate majority support in polls, and, as a result, did not manage to attract substantial funding from outside donors, sealing its fate.

But despite the loss in Oregon, when it comes to passing groundbreaking marijuana legalization initiatives in the United States, two out of three ain't bad.

Denver Post Has Called, Not Just Projected, Amendment 64

http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_21941918/nation-watches-colorados-marijuana-legalization-vote

(Hat tip Eric Sterling for the link.)

First marijuana legalization vote!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Denver Post Projects Amendment 64 Passing

There are postings on Facebook saying that Colorado's Amendment 64 for marijuana regulation has been called as passing. I don't think that's possible, with the amount of reporting so far. What I think people are thinking of is that the Denver Post has projected it passing. Things are looking very good, but I don't think it's been called yet.

Medical Marijuana Wins in Massachusetts

Massachusetts voters Tuesday supported a medical marijuana initiative there by a margin of nearly two-to-one, according to partial results Tuesday evening. With half the vote counted, Question 3 was winning handily by a margin of 63% to 37%. It maintained that same lead when all the votes were counted Wednesday.

Bay State voters' adoption of a medical marijuana program will make Massachusetts the 18th state to approve medical marijuana. It is also legal in the District of Columbia.

The measure would allow people suffering from a debilitating medical condition to use medical marijuana upon the recommendation of a doctor with whom they have a bona fide relationship. Patients could possess up to a 60-day supply -- what constitutes that supply will be determined by the Department of Health. The initiative would also set up a system of nonprofit medical marijuana cultivation and distribution centers.

Led by the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, with help from the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, the Question 3 campaign was low-key, well-funded and tightly controlled. That strategy worked in the Bay State, despite late opposition from law enforcement, the medical profession, and political figures.

MA
United States

Colorado Is Ahead So Far...

As of 8:12pm mountain time, the Colorado secretary of state site shows Amendment 64 leading 671,027 to 610,202, over 52% in favor. The site says that Colorado has 3,647.082 registered voters, with 31.41% of them having had votes counted so far. Assuming Colorado doesn't get 100% voter turnout, does this mean half the vote counted so far? Very promising.

Update (8:24pm mountain time): MPP says exit polling is at 57%.

Is Marijuana Prohibition About to Get its Ass Kicked?

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/marijuanaplants.jpg

Ballot measures to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington are polling strong on the eve of the election, and for many, this is a moment as momentous or more so than the presidential race itself. I've been too focused on other projects to comment regularly this time around -- and it hasn't been easy -- but tonight I can think of nothing else. And if you're reading this, I imagine you're thinking what I'm thinking.

Whether we win, lose, or a little of both, there's no question that we've taken this fight further than a lot of people thought possible when I was a young activist (and I'm still not that old yet). I haven't forgotten the time I spent explaining to friends and family why I was doing this work and that I wasn't doing it for fun; we do this to change lives and change our country for the better. As those changes grow ever more tangible, the momentum of our movement becomes self-evident and the people who once stood in our way step slowly back into the shadows.

Where once a powerful alliance of prohibitionist power players dogged us at every turn, it feels lately as if there's no one on the field anymore except us, Kevin Sabet, and a random assortment of disoriented profiteers on both sides who'll continue to fear change until they learn not to. The polls, meanwhile, move in our favor as fast as you can count them and the myth of marijuana policy's fringe position in American politics is dying an overdue death before our eyes.

All of this is true even if we don’t move the ball as far forward tomorrow as we hope to. I'm saying it now because we have a lot to be proud of either way.  I also just wanted to say something because I've been quiet for a little too long lately. If tomorrow goes our way, you can bet I will be anything but quiet.

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