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Medical Marijuana: Rhode Island Program Begins to Kick In

Rhode Islanders are registering under the state's new medical marijuana program at a rate of just under one a day, according to health authorities. At least 131 patients have obtained state registration cards since the program got under way in April, and another 129 people have been certified as caregivers.
leading RI patient activist Rhonda O'Donnell, at DC protest
Rhode Island became the 11th state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana in January. Under the Rhode Island law, patients with one of several chronic illnesses, including cancer and AIDS, must provide documentation from a doctor that the benefits of using marijuana for their condition outweigh the risks. The state Health Department then issues a registry card. Patients or their appointed caregivers may then possess up to 12 plants or 2.5 ounces of the weed.

Rhode Island law makes no provision for how patients are to obtain seeds or marijuana, and state health officials don't want to know, nor will they provide advice on where to get it. "I don't ask," said Charles Alexandre, chief of health professions regulation, the department that operates the program. "They frequently ask me where to get it. I have to do a bit of explaining," he told the Providence Journal.

According to Alexandre, 89 doctors have signed medical marijuana recommendations, alleviating fears that patients would end up going to a small number of "pot doctors."

Rhode Island is now joining the ranks of states where seriously ill patients may take their medicine in peace -- at least as long as the feds don't show up.

Europe: London Police More Likely to Arrest Blacks Than Whites for Marijuana Possession

A report from Scotland Yard, headquarters for London's Metropolitan Police, on race and marijuana arrests is leading to charges of racism. The report found that people from an African or Caribbean background made up 40% of all marijuana arrests in London, despite making up only 12% of the population. To make matters worse, once someone was stopped by police for violating the marijuana laws, he was more likely to be arrested if he was black.

The report looked at all 24,916 marijuana possession offences in the city between January and April of this year. It came as part of a broader study of marijuana policing since the weed was downgraded to a Class C drug in 2004. Since then, police have retained the power to arrest people for simple possession, but also have the option of issuing them a formal caution or giving them an informal "street warning."

They appear to be wielding that discretionary power in a discriminatory way. While 18.5% of blacks were arrested, only 14% of whites were. The numbers flipped when it came to those given a caution, with 19.3% of whites receiving them, compared to 14.2% of blacks.

Scotland Yard refused to blame racism in the ranks -- a sensitive topic in the Metropolitan Police in recent years -- and said "no remedial action is planned" pending further research. "We are undertaking further research of these figures in order to understand what the reason for the over-representation is," a police spokeswoman said. "It is not possible to reach a conclusion without this further work being conducted. The decision to arrest and charge will vary on a case by case basis and is often dependent on a complex variety of factors."

But George Rhoden, chairman of the Yard's Black Police Association, wasn't buying it. "It has got to be about racism. These figures show that racism plays a significant part in the way police deal with people of color," he told The Guardian. He said the police had been aware of the problem of disproportionality for many years. "So why are we still at this stage?"

Rhoden's criticism was joined by that of Dr. Richard Stone, who chaired an earlier commission looking at racism within the Metropolitan Police. Stone had "great sympathy" with Rhoden, he told The Guardian. "Where there is a disproportion of any kind you try to exclude any other possible reasons but none justify the continuing disproportion. You have to think the color of the suspect's skin is a significant factor. But the word racism has dropped off the agenda," he said.

Scotland Yard may not want to say the word, but the numbers speak for themselves.

Willie Nelson Cited for Drug Possession (Again)

Breaux Bridge, LA
United States
Associated Press

Media Regularly Misreport Marijuana/Drug Stories, New Book Charges

Press Release from the Marijuana Policy Project: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE SEPTEMBER 18, 2006 Media Regularly Misreport Marijuana/Drug Stories, New Book Charges Other Chapters in "Pot Politics: Marijuana and the Costs of Prohibition" Examine Criminal Laws, Workplace Drug Testing, Prevention, Religious/Ethical Issues CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications, 415-668-6403 or 202-215-4205 WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A chapter in Pot Politics: Marijuana and the Costs of Prohibition, a new anthology published by Oxford University Press, suggests that U.S. mass media regularly misreport stories on marijuana and drug policy. Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., argues that media reports on marijuana issues too often omit essential context while failing to ask the questions needed to give the public an accurate picture. This isn't necessarily a sign of bias, notes Mirken, who spent a dozen years as a reporter covering health and social issues for publications such as Men's Health, AIDS Treatment News and the San Francisco Examiner before joining MPP in 2001. He writes that the demand for "clear, involving story lines that can be summed up in just a few words ... almost invariably does violence to the subtleties and uncertainties of science." Still, journalists regularly report government studies, reports or announcements without bothering to include any non-official voices, leaving readers and viewers with no clue that another point of view even exists. This can turn journalists into unwitting accomplices of officials who seek to marginalize opponents and confuse the consequences of current marijuana laws with the effects of marijuana itself. Pot Politics also features chapters by experts on biology, sociology, religion/ethics, and even a Harvard economist. The book is edited by Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D. a prominent researcher in psychology and addictions and associate professor of psychology at The University at Albany, State University of New York. His previous book, Understanding Marijuana (Oxford University Press, 2002) is considered a landmark in the field. To arrange interviews with Mirken, contact him at 415-668-6403, [email protected]. For interviews with Earleywine or review copies of Pot Politics, contact Victor Gulotta, 617-630-9286, [email protected] With more than 20,000 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
United States

Marijuana Debate Still Smoking

Daytona Beach, FL
United States
Daytona Beach News-Journal

50 Arrested at Marijuana Rally (Boston Freedom Rally)

Boston, MA
United States

San Deigo Leading Backlash Against California Medical Marijuana Law

San Diego, CA
United States
Associated Press

Owner of Marijuana Cafe Sent to Jail (Vancouver)

Vancouver, BC
Toronto Globe & Mail

ONDCP Publicly Debates Drug Reform Leaders for the First (and Probably Last) Time Ever

Last night I attended the D.C. premiere of Jed Riffe’s film Waiting to Inhale, which was followed by a debate that pitted Special Assistant to the Drug Czar David Murray against MPP’s Rob Kampia, and DPA’s Ethan Nadelmann (Former ONDCP staffer Andrea Barthwell didn’t show).

The film takes a compelling look at the history of medical cannabis and gives us a glimpse into the lives of several patients who depend on it. For those of us who’ve been following the issue, the plight of the patients depicted is all too familiar. I’d bet that many people who’ve formed snap judgments about medical marijuana would be stunned to see the faces behind this controversy.

Knowing that David Murray was in the room gave it an extra bite. Would he really stick around to defend these atrocities? He looked villainous in the film, and for all the nonsense to which we’ve become accustomed from him, I was somehow still surprised that his head didn’t explode halfway through.

But Murray is a professional, and with no choice but to fight, he faced two of his most articulate critics with as much grace as you might expect from a man who gets paid to excuse the inexcusable.

  • When Murray read the FDA’s absurd statement on MMJ, Kampia waved a pair of handcuffs and asked why patients were being arrested for taking their doctors advice.
  • When Murray claimed that these guys just want to legalize drugs, Nadelmann acknowledged that he advocates a variety of reforms but considers the persecution of sick people to be the drug war’s greatest injustice.
  • When Murray claimed that medical groups don’t support MMJ, Kampia enumerated the rambling list of medical groups that do in fact support MMJ.
  • When Murray claimed that DEA doesn’t target doctors, Nadelmann pointed out that DPA had to win a significant court battle to prevent exactly that.
  • When Kampia claimed that youth marijuana use in California has dropped significantly since the passage of Proposition 215, Murray claimed that it would take too long to explain why that was misleading.
  • When Murray claimed that medicines must be approved through the rigorous FDA approval process, Nadelmann noted that the Federal Government routinely blocks MMJ research.

And so it went, each point disputed on its face with no concessions made by either side. At times, it sounded like they weren't talking about the same drug. Or the same laws, the same patients, the same research, or for that matter the same country.

But I applaud David Murray for being there. He told lies in front of people who know the truth, and that takes guts. He said the film “felt like a cartoon” to him, demonstrating the detachment such a man must summon when confronted with the consequences of his deceit.

That this event even took place is testament to the relentless and growing pressure our movement has brought to bear against those who persecute the sick and dying. David Murray might be able to view Waiting to Inhale in the comfort of arrogant indifference, but the film could prove a bitter pill for less-entrenched adherents to the drug war doctrine.

This is no cartoon, Mr. Murray. It’s real, it’s the truth, and it will never go away.

Sidenote: Tom Angell and I spotted David Murray drinking a beer before the film. I guess even shameless drug warriors gotta take the edge off.

United States

Feature: California Activists Look for Triple Play in November

Inspired by local initiatives making marijuana the "lowest law enforcement priority" in Seattle and Oakland, activists in three California cities -- Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica -- are busy working to ensure that similar measures pass there in November. Organizers in all three cities say their prospects for victory are good.

The three California local initiatives contain almost identical language and describe themselves similarly. As the web site for Santa Monicans for Sensible Marijuana Policy, the group running the campaign there, notes, the initiative "makes marijuana offenses, where cannabis is intended for adult personal use, the lowest police priority" and "it frees up police resources to focus on violent and serious crime, instead of arresting and jailing nonviolent cannabis users."

The Santa Cruz initiative goes one step further by establishing an official city position in favor of marijuana legalization. The initiative there would "establish a city policy supporting changes in state and federal laws that call for taxation and regulation for adult use of marijuana."

This year's batch of initiatives are a direct outgrowth of the 2004 Oakland Measure Z campaign, where activists organized as the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance (OCLA) managed to pass an initiative making adult marijuana offenses the lowest priority and instructing the city to advocate for the taxation and regulation of marijuana. While OCLA is not formally involved in this year's initiatives, some of its members, like Richard Lee of the Oaksterdam News and the Bulldog Coffeeshop, have helped bankroll the effort. Others, such as long-time activist Mikki Norris of the Cannabis Consumers Campaign and California NORML head Dale Gieringer have been instrumental as advisors.

"After our successful experience with Measure Z in Oakland, those of us from OCLA wanted to spread this around California to show broad support, so last year, we and California NORML sponsored a statewide activists' conference where we shared our Oakland strategy and looked for which other areas in the state might be amendable to doing something similar," Norris told Drug War Chronicle. "The political consultant we had used, Susan Stevenson from Next Generation, wrote a grant application to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) saying we were interested in initiatives or ordinances in five cities, and we got an MPP contract that provided basic funding. We still have to do more fundraising, but that grant made this possible," she said.

Following that, said Norris, the activists narrowed their focus. "We found people in what looked like good areas, and we raised some money to do polling to see if they were viable, we looked at the demographics, and we settled on these three cities."

Actually West Hollywood and San Francisco were also targeted, but in the former, a city councilman came forward with an ordinance that organizers could live with, and they dropped their initiative campaign. In San Francisco, city supervisors this week were moving toward adopting a lowest priority ordinance.

Organizers in the three Santas are hard at work now to ensure victory in November, they told the Chronicle in remarkably similar on-message terms. "It's looking very good here," said Sensible Santa Barbara spokesperson Lara Cassell. "We've been very successful so far, and there is no organized opposition," she told the Chronicle. "In fact, no one even bothered to submit an opposing argument for the ballot, which is fabulous. Santa Barbara is very friendly to our issue."

Sensible Santa Barbara was benefiting from the help provided by statewide activists, said Cassell, "but we are lucky to have a lot of people in the community here who support us. We feel very good about this. We are confident it will pass."

"Things are going really well here," said Kate Horner, campaign director for Sensible Santa Cruz, the group leading the effort there. "There is no organized opposition, although a few community leaders have spoken out against the initiative over possible costs. But those costs will be minimal," she told the Chronicle. "In Seattle and Oakland, they say the costs are basically a matter of photocopying charges, no more."

Unlike the Santa Barbara and Santa Monica initiatives, the Santa Cruz initiative goes beyond lowest priority language. "That provision would require the city clerk to annually send letters to state and federal government officials stating the city's preference for a tax and regulate model," Horner explained. "That would be our city policy."

Support for not criminalizing marijuana users runs high in Santa Cruz. In a poll done in November, more than 80% of people there opposed criminalizing pot smokers.

"That polling data gave us our mandate," said Horner. "It really showed strong support. Since then, it has just been a matter of building coalitions across the community. I'm confident the community wants to redirect resources from nonviolent marijuana offenders to serious and violent criminals."

"Things are looking good here," said Nicki LaRosa, spokesperson for the Santa Monica effort. "Our strategy is to get as many people involved as possible. There are lots of people here who have expressed support, and we are working on making sure we get the message out and get our voters to the polls," she told the Chronicle.

"We do have police opposition -- they wrote the ballot argument against the initiative -- but we also have a lot of community support. The police say marijuana is already a low priority, but the statistics we've seen show people still getting arrested. We want to send a message to Sacramento and Washington that Santa Monica is ready for the next phase of ending the drug war by deprioritizing marijuana offenses."

Santa Monica looks like the toughest nut to crack, said Norris. "We feel confident in Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara; Santa Monica is where we are most concerned," said Norris. "We are expecting opposition from the police officers association. Santa Monica is a bit of a challenge. It is a progressive city, but it has also been undergoing a transformation in recent years with luxury hotels and property values going up. And unlike Oakland, even progressives seem to align themselves with the police in Santa Monica. The city is also very finicky politically and has a strong NIMBY component," she worried.

But Norris also noted that current political issues could have positive impact in all three cities. "These initiatives are especially timely as California is currently confronted with a severe prison overcrowding crisis," she pointed out. "It's time to reconsider who we are placing in these overcrowded prisons and to set priorities. We can keep building new prisons at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, or we can look at alternative policies that stop sending so many nonviolent offenders to prison. Cities and the state will certainly save money by not arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating otherwise law-abiding citizens to prison for marijuana," she argued.

And not only could the state save money, it could also make money by moving to taxation and regulation, Norris argued. "It's been all over the news lately that law enforcement is finding and uprooting thousands and thousands of marijuana plants grows on public lands with the street value in the millions," she said, alluding to the state's annual fall eradication frenzy. "It doesn't seem to be making much of a dent on the supply. The market in this state is huge. We could conceivably raise billions of dollars in revenues and help fund services if we controlled, taxed and regulated cannabis."

That's the not so long-term plan, Norris confided. "We want to set this up so on election day we can say that people across California want to stop arresting marijuana offenders and get the police to concentrate on violent and serious crime," she said. "We're hoping to get a big enough bounce off this election to either inspire another round of initiatives or go statewide," said Norris. "Our goal is ultimately to bring fundamental marijuana law reform across the state."

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