RSS Feed for this category

You Call That Change?

You Can Make a Difference


Dear friends,

Urge the Obama administration to clarify its position on medical marijuana. 

Email the president

Earlier this month, we told the Obama administration to stop sending mixed messages on medical marijuana. The drug czar has responded, but he still has his facts wrong. Let's ask President Obama to set his drug czar straight on medical marijuana.

In a recent news interview, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske tried to amend his claim that "marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit,” saying that he was referring only to smoked marijuana.

That's not good enough, because it’s still not true. The science is clear: marijuana can be highly effective as a medicine when it’s smoked. For some patients, that’s the easiest and most effective way to consume it, and the harms of smoking it pale compared to the benefits.

The president has repeatedly said that science should trump politics. He’s also acknowledged that marijuana can be an effective medicine. We hoped this drug czar would be different from his predecessors. We still hope so, but he needs to abandon the falsehoods and rhetoric of the past.

Our job is to hold the White House and its appointees accountable both to fulfill the promises made by candidate Obama and to ensure that the lies of the drug war become a thing of the past. Write to the president today and ask him to make clear that politics will no longer trump science when it comes to medical marijuana.


Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance Network


Medical Marijuana: Iowa Public Hearings Get Underway

Medical marijuana advocates were out in force Wednesday in Des Moines as the Iowa Pharmacy Board held the first in a series of public hearings on whether the state should reschedule marijuana from Schedule I (no medical use, high abuse potential) to Schedule II (medical use, high abuse potential). The board will make recommendations to the state legislature later this year.
Carl Olsen
The hearings are part of the board's review of the scientific evidence around the medicinal use of marijuana, a review that will also examine state and federal laws. The review comes after the board last month again rejected a petition from Carl Olsen of Iowans for Medical Marijuana to remove marijuana from Schedule I. The board had earlier rejected a similar petition, but a Polk County (Des Moines) judge in April ordered the board to reconsider.

Olsen argued that because medical marijuana is legal in 14 states it no longer meets the definition of a Schedule I drug. The board disagreed, saying that marijuana would have to be legal in all 50 states and under federal law for it to be rescheduled. But it did agree to review the evidence. The public hearings are part of that process.

Wednesday's hearing in Des Moines featured poignant testimony from patients as they pleaded with the board to stop treating them like criminals for using marijuana to treat pain and other conditions. "People are suffering who need not suffer. People are rotting in jail who should not be there," said Kevin Feeley of Ames in remarks reported by the Des Moines Register. Feeley said he used marijuana to ease his suffering from spinal cancer.

Feeley joined other speakers in telling the board that marijuana is safer and less addictive than many prescription medications. They urged the board to help Iowa join the ranks of states where patients are allowed to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

Robert Manke of Des Moines said he used marijuana for pain relief from injuries caused by traffic accidents and to reduce nausea from prescription medications. "I know what it's like to crawl around on the bathroom floor like an animal in the morning, vomiting with my head in the stool," he said. "I need your help. I'm not here because I want to get high. I'm here because I want to stop being sick. And I want to stop being persecuted."

It wasn't just patients. Several doctors testified in support of medical marijuana Wednesday, including Dr. Edward Hertko, a retired physician, who echoed that marijuana is less dangerous and addictive than many common prescription drugs. It wasn't about getting high, he said. "The people who want recreational marijuana already know how to get it," Hertko noted.

Not everyone was on board. Representing the Iowa Elks Association, Gary Young warned that allowing for medical marijuana could make it easier for people, including young people, to get ahold of it. He also challenged the plant's medical efficacy and argued that prescription drugs are more pure and easier to control than smoked marijuana. "I urge the board to make its decision on scientific evidence and not on anecdotal evidence," he said.

The Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy did not testify at the hearing, but offered a written statement in opposition. The office position is that the science so far does not support using marijuana as a medicine. As its web site notes: "Unless, or until, the consensus of medical evidence changes, ODCP opposes any proposal to legalize marijuana smoking for medical purposes."

The three remaining public hearings are September 2 in Mason City, October 7 in Iowa City, and November 4 in Council Bluffs.

Southeast Asia: Malaysia Court Sentences Woman to Death for Two Pounds of Marijuana

A Malaysian court has sentenced a Thai woman to death for trafficking 1.04 kilograms of marijuana. Under the country's draconian Dangerous Drugs Act of 1952, any drug trafficking offense garners a mandatory death sentence.

The ruling came Wednesday at the High Court in Kota Baru. Judge Datuk Muhamad Ideres Muhamad Rapee ordered the sentence after the prosecution managed to prove a prima facie against Roseedah Cheubong, 41, who was crying as the sentence was issued.

The court ignored the pleas of Roseedah's attorney, Zamri Mat Nawang, who told it she was a single mother trying to fend for herself and her teenage child and that she was sorry for what she had done. Instead, it listened to deputy prosecutors Wan Abad Razak Wan Hussin, who called for the mandated penalty because of the "gravity" of the offense.

Roseedah has been jailed since she was arrested in February 2004 for selling a kilogram of weed outside a gas station. No word yet on possible appeals.

The provincial High Court sentence came little more than a week after the Malaysian Federal Court upheld the death sentence of a taxi driver for trafficking less than two kilos of marijuana. According to the anti-death penalty organization Hands Off Cain, so far this year, Malaysian courts have imposed the death sentence 12 times. Only two death sentences were for murder. The other 10 were for drug trafficking, and eight of those were for trafficking marijuana.

Human rights and harm reduction groups have organized an international campaign to end the death penalty for drug offenses. Read about it here. Since Malaysia does not make a habit of publicly announcing executions, it is unclear how many of the marijuana traffickers sentenced to death have actually been executed.

East Asia: Japanese Marijuana Arrests at Record Levels

Japan's National Police Agency reported Thursday that marijuana arrests were at an all-time high during the first six months of this year. Police said 1,446 were arrested for possessing, using or trafficking in marijuana, up 21.3% from a year earlier. Of those arrested for pot offenses, 63.2% were under the age of 30, suggesting that marijuana use is spreading among young people.

One hundred four people were arrested for marijuana cultivation, up 40.5% over the same period last year. Home cultivation of marijuana is assisted by the availability of seeds and grow supplies over the Internet and by consumers' fears of venturing into illicit drug markets.

The 40.5% increase in grow busts in the first half of this year comes after a 50% increase in grow busts during the first half of last year.

The record arrest figures come as Japan comes to grip with a growing marijuana culture. In the past couple of years, the country has seen repeated "scandals" around marijuana use, including the expulsion of three Russian wrestlers from sumo competition for smoking pot, the arrests of various celebrities, and a national freak-out over students at prestigious universities smoking pot.

The apparent increase in marijuana use in Japan comes despite mass media denunciations of it and despite harsh drug laws. Under the 1948 marijuana control law, any pot offense can earn a prison term of up to 10 years.

Feature: Seattle Hempfest Bigger Than Ever in 2009, But Gaining Critics

Somewhere around 300,000 people converged on the Seattle waterfront Saturday and Sunday to attend the 19th annual Seattle Hempfest, the world's largest marijuana "protestival," as organizers like to call it. While organizers and drug reform advocates were out in force to encourage attendees to get involved in changing the marijuana laws, for most of the crowd, Hempfest was one big pot party. And that has some movement critics unhappy.
Hempfest crowd
Last year's attendance was estimated at 310,000. While figures are not yet in for last weekend's event, given the huge crowds, it is likely this year's figure will be even higher.

With hundreds of vendors selling glass pipes, bongs, tie-dyes, and assorted other pot-related paraphernalia, as well as dozens of food vendors, with seven stages alternating musical acts with activist speakers, and with crowds so thick that people literally could not move at some points by mid-afternoon on both days, Hempfest seems more like a dense urban community than a festival. And like any urban community, Hempfest had a police presence, but as far as can be determined, police couldn't find anyone to arrest despite the ever-present scent of marijuana smoke in the air.

That's in part because Seattleites voted in 2003 to make adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. But it is also in part because, unlike some other police forces, the Seattle police actually acknowledge and heed the will of the voters. In all of last year, Seattle police arrested only 133 people for marijuana possession -- and those were all people who had already been detained on other charges.

It is that tolerant attitude toward marijuana that makes the massive law-breaking at Hempfest possible. In almost any other city in the US, such brazen defiance of the drug laws would almost certainly result in mass arrests. Even this weekend's Boston Freedom Rally, the second largest pro-marijuana event in the country, will see numerous arrests -- if police behavior in the past is any indicator.
Hempfest-targeted sky ad, pulled by helicopter
Drug reform organizations including NORML, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and (publisher of this newsletter) were present with booths or tables, as were numerous medical marijuana support groups. But those booths and tables had to compete with bong-sellers and pipe-makers, t-shirt vendors and hippie couture outlets, and the hundreds of other vendors cashing in on the crowds.

To really get the drug reform message out, Hempfest organizers and reform activists took to the various stages between acts to exhort audiences to make Hempfest a party with a purpose. Among the nationally known activists speechifying at Hempfest were "Radical Russ" Belville of NORML, Sandee Burbank of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse, Mike and Valerie Corral of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), Debbie Goldsberry of the Berkeley Patients Group, Washington state legislator and head of the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers Roger Goodman, medical marijuana specialist Dr. Frank Lucido, former medical marijuana prisoner Todd McCormick, cannabis scientist Dr. Robert Melamede, and NORML founder Keith Stroup and current executive director Allen St. Pierre. For a complete list of speakers, go here.

Activists also educated those interested in learning more about marijuana law reform and related topics at the Hemposium tent, which featured panels on "Human Rights for Cannabis Farmers, Dispensers and Consumers," "Global Hempenomics," "Cannabliss: An Entheogen for the Ages," "Cannabis and the Culture Wars: The Coming Truce," and "Cannabis Coverage: Reefer Sanity for the 21st Century." For a complete list of Hemposium panels, click here.

While Hempfest came off without any serious problems, it has sparked a couple of related controversies. This week, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation head Eric Sterling wrote a blog post, Hempfest is Huge, But is It Good Politics?, in which he answered his own question with a resounding "no." Hempfest and similar rallies are "a political fraud," he wrote. Even worse, they are "advertisements for irresponsible drug use."
''Hemposium,'' with speakers (l-r): Reason's David Nott, SAFER's Mason Tvert, journalist Fred Gardner and Chronicle editor Phil Smith
Similarly, former Hempfest organizer Dominic Holden stirred the pot the week before Hempfest with an article in the Seattle Stranger, A Few Words About Hempfest, in which he complained it was a "patchouli-scented ghetto" and overly countercultural. Like Sterling, Holden saw the hippiesque trappings of Hempfest as counterproductive. "Countercultural celebrations and drug legalization advocacy are mutually undermining ambitions," he wrote.

Hempfest organizers were not amused, and on Sunday, Holden was removed from the back of the Main Stage by unhappy erstwhile comrades. They explained why in an interview with Steve Bloom's Celebstoner, and Holden continued the spat with his own interview.

Perhaps the organizers of Hempfest and similar events will listen to Sterling and Holden, but probably not. Hempfest is a celebration of the pot-smoking counterculture, and it's not likely to go away or change its ways because a guy in a suit and a disaffected former friend are unhappy with how it operates. Straight-laced drug reformers will most likely just have to put up with Hempfest and its pot-happy ilk. They can treat it like the crazy aunt in the attic, but they can't get rid of it.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Marijuana is Safer -- So Why Are Driving People to Drink?" by Paul Armentano, Steve Fox, and Mason Tvert (2009, Chelsea Green Publishers, 209 pp., $14.95 PB)

In the past few years, Colorado-based activist Mason Tvert has taken the notion of comparing marijuana to alcohol and used it to great success, first in organizing college students around equalizing campus penalties for marijuana and underage drinking infractions (marijuana offenses are typically punished more severely), then in running a successful legalization initiative in Denver in 2005. Tvert and his organization, SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation), continue to hammer away at marijuana prohibition, and now, in collaboration with NORML analyst Paul Armentano and MPP director for state campaigns Steve Fox, he has taken his "marijuana is safer" campaign to a new level -- and, hopefully, to a new and broader audience.
Having known (and repeatedly interviewed) all three coauthors in the course of my duties for the Drug War Chronicle, I assumed "Marijuana Is Safer" would be a good book. I was mistaken. It's a great book, and an extremely useful one. "Marijuana Is Safer" starts out hitting on all eight cylinders with a foreword from former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper and never lets up. It hits its points concisely and engagingly, it is thoroughly researched, and its political arguments are carefully thought out.

Regular readers of the Chronicle may not expect to learn a lot that they didn't know already, but they will likely be surprised, especially when it comes to the deleterious effects of alcohol. Did you know about the nasty effects of acetaldehyde? I didn't. It's what you get when you metabolize ethanol (alcohol), and it's carcinogenic and damages internal organs. Because it is so damaging, the body breaks it down into acetate, but if you're drinking at the rate of more than a drink an hour, you're body starts lagging behind. Something to keep in mind the next time someone invites you to join a drinking contest.

Similarly, you may share the general conviction that alcohol use can lead to violence, disease, crime, and accidents, but "Marijuana Is Safer" offers up the hard numbers -- complete with footnotes. Here's just one hard number: 35,000. That's the number of deaths each year attributed to chronic alcohol consumption. We all know what the number of deaths attributed to chronic use of the chronic is, don't we? That's right, zero.

Armentano, Fox and Tvert offer a mix of history, science, medicine, media critique, and just plain straight talk as they survey the history of alcohol and marijuana use in America, discuss the differing attitudes toward the two drugs, explain the rise of marijuana prohibition, and, most centrally, compare and contrast the effects of the two drugs on individual consumers and society as a whole.

They also dissect the arguments that legalizers have used -- so far, unsuccessfully -- to try to end marijuana prohibition. While those arguments are perfectly valid, the coauthors argue that they cannot counter the objection of people who might otherwise be persuaded: Why should we legalize another vice?

Naturally enough, Armentano, Fox and Tvert have the answer: "We would not be adding a vice; we would be allowing adults the option to choose a less harmful alternative for relaxation and recreation," they write.

They also provide the "money quotes" for several other skeptical responses to a legalization pitch, all designed to highlight the comparison of alcohol and marijuana. And these three are extremely well-positioned to know what to say; all three have been engaging in this conversation for years.

The coauthors also make a compelling argument that the "marijuana is safer" approach is a winner precisely because it forces listeners to think about alcohol and what it does -- something that all Americans know quite a bit about even if they don't drink. The comparison of marijuana and alcohol brings the discussion down from lofty abstractions about freedom and liberty to real world experiences with America's most popular drugs.

The "marijuana is safer" approach works just fine for marijuana, but potentially subverts broader anti-prohibitionist politics. It is difficult to imagine an argument for drug legalization based on "methamphetamine is safer" or "heroin is safer." It also effectively throws up a wall between "soft" marijuana and "hard" other drugs, abandoning broader drug legalization for freeing the weed alone. But perhaps "abandoning" is the wrong word. After all, Armentano and Fox work for marijuana reform organizations -- not drug reform organizations -- and Tvert's work all along has been about marijuana.

But possible unhelpful side-effects for broader anti-prohibitionism aside, "Marijuana Is Safer" is extremely worthwhile. This is a book you can hand to your mother or your teacher or your preacher and provide him or her with a nice framework for looking at marijuana -- one that by its inexorable comparative logic leads to the inescapable conclusion that marijuana should be legalized.

And for those readers with an interest in activism, this book needs to be on your bookshelf. It's full of handy, well-documented facts, it's got the answers to the questions you're likely to hear, and it's even got a how-to activism section at the back. I guarantee that if you own this book, it's going to be very well-thumbed before very long.

Latin America: Mexican Decriminalization Bill Now Law of the Land

A bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use in Mexico is now the law of the land, although it will not go into effect for one year to give states time to adjust their laws. It was published Thursday in the Official Daily of the Federation, the Mexican equivalent of the Federal Register. (To read the complete text of the bill in Spanish, go to page 83 of the Official Daily.

According to the new law, the amounts of various drugs decriminalized for personal use are:

  • opium -- 2 grams
  • cocaine -- 1/2 gram
  • heroin -- 1/10 gram
  • marijuana -- 5 grams
  • LSD -- 150 micrograms
  • methamphetamine -- 1/5 gram
  • ecstasy -- 1/5 gram
''Global Marijuana Day'' demonstration in Mexico City, May 2008
The decriminalization measure is part of a broader bill aimed at reducing "narcomenudeo," or retail drug sales. The bill would allow states and localities to prosecute small-time drug dealing offenses, a power that currently resides only with the federal government. It also allows police to make drug buys to build cases, a break with precedent in Mexico.

Whether the overall bill is a step forward or a step back is open to debate. Read our earlier discussion of the bill here.

Free Seminar on Colorado's Medical Marijuana Law

Sensible Colorado will present a free seminar on Colorado's medical marijuana law. This 90 minute training will cover all aspects of Amendment 20 and will include a "Know Your Rights" portion-- teaching patients and others their rights when dealing with police.
Sun, 08/30/2009 - 2:00pm
571 32 Rd., Units D and E
Clifton, CO 81520
United States

"Marijuana Is Safer" Book Bomb Set for Tomorrow

"Marijuana is Safer," the brand spanking new book by NORML's Paul Armentano, MPP's Steve Fox, and SAFER's Mason Tvert (who came up with the whole "marijuana is safer than alcohol" trope) is set for book bomb tomorrow. The idea behind a book bomb is to get large numbers of people to buy a book on a designated day, thereby driving it up the best-seller lists on Amazon. If enough people buy "Marijuana is Safer" tomorrow, we could drive it to #1 on Amazon and generate even more publicity for the book--and the message it sends. While we will no doubt offer the book as a premium at some point in the near future, I want to encourage people to participate in tomorrow's book bomb to help get the word out. You can find out more at marijuana book bomb. I'll be reviewing "Marijuana is Safer" for the Chronicle this week, but don't wait for the review. If you've been thinking about buying the book, tomorrow is the day to do it.

Doctors, Patients to Testify at Pharmacy Board Medical Marijuana Hearing Wednesday

AUGUST 18, 2009

Doctors, Patients to Testify at Pharmacy Board Medical Marijuana Hearing Wednesday

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205

DES MOINES, IOWA -- Medical experts from Iowa and around the country as well as patients and others will testify Wednesday at the first of a series of Iowa Board of Pharmacy hearings to examine the medical value of marijuana and whether marijuana's classification under state law should be changed.

    WHAT: Iowa Board of Pharmacy hearing on medical marijuana
Witnesses expected to testify include:
        Dr. Joseph McSherry, neurologist at Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington, Vt., who has testified before Vermont's legislature and has extensive experience with Vermont's medical marijuana law. Scheduled to speak at 10:30 a.m.
        Dr. Ed Hertko, retired internal medicine specialist from West Des Moines and founder of Camp Hertko Hollow, a residential camp for youth with diabetes. Scheduled to speak at 11:10 a.m.
       Dr. Alan Koslow, vascular surgeon from West Des Moines and founding member of the Iowa Pain Institute, who served on the Governor's Task Force for Early Childhood Care and on the board of the American Diabetes Association. Scheduled to speak at 2:10 p.m.
      Jeff Elton
of Des Moines, who suffers from gastric paresis, causing severe nausea and vomiting.

    WHEN: Wednesday, Aug. 19, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

    WHERE: Iowa State Historic Building (auditorium), 600 East Locust St., Des Moines.

    To arrange interviews with the above witnesses or with Marijuana Policy Project staffers who can place Wednesday's hearing in a national context, contact MPP director of communications Bruce Mirken at 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205.

     With more than 27,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit


Des Moines, IA
United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School