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Marijuana: Initiative to Legalize Marijuana in Nevada Filed, Vote Will Come in 2012

Organizers of an initiative that would tax and regulate marijuana in Nevada filed it with the secretary of state's office in Carson City Wednesday. That is the first formal step in getting it before voters in the November 2012 elections.

The initiative would:

  • Legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults;
  • Provide for up to 120 licensed retail outlets statewide; and
  • Provide for up to 50 licensed growers to supply licensed retailers.

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Retailers would have to pay a $2,500 licensing fee, and would collect sales tax on retail sales. Growers would have to pay a $5,000 licensing fee and would collect a wholesale tax of $50 an ounce from retailers.

The initiative has no provision for growing your own.

Backers will need to gather 97,002 valid signatures to send the measure to the 2011 Legislature. If lawmakers fail to act, it would be placed on the 2012 ballot.

The initiative is sponsored by Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, which is backed by the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). MPP and local affiliates have tried three other times in the past decade to legalize marijuana in Nevada. In 2002, voters rejected a proposal to legalize up to three ounces; in 2004, a second attempt failed to make the ballot; and in 2006, a proposal to legalize up to one ounce lost with 44% of the vote.

Backers are counting on changing public attitudes toward marijuana to take them over the top this time. "The environment we feel has changed," said campaign manager David Schwartz at a press conference before filing the papers. "The discussion has become nationwide."

The campaign will hammer away at the increasingly popular "marijuana is safer than alcohol" argument, Schwartz said. "We will encourage voters to consider this fact and decide for themselves whether it makes sense to allow adults to use alcohol freely, but punish them if they choose to use a less harmful substance, marijuana."

That makes five states where marijuana legalization is on the agenda. California is a two-fer, with both a pending legalization bill (which will get a hearing and a committee vote next week) and at least one legalization initiative with a number of signatures gathered that virtually guarantee its qualifying for the ballot. Meanwhile, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Washington state have legalization bills pending or about to be filed too.

Former Drug Czar Invents Awesome New Drug

It's becoming more and more apparent that former UK drug policy advisor David Nutt is a really cool guy. First, he got in trouble for saying ecstasy is as safe as horseback riding, then he got fired for saying marijuana is safer than all sorts of things, and now look how he's spending his free time:

An alcohol substitute that gives the drinker the pleasant feelings of tipsiness without an unpleasant hangover, is being developed by researchers.

The team, led by drugs expert Professor David Nutt, has developed the drink using chemicals related to the sedative Valium.

It works on the nerves in a similar way to alcohol causing feelings of well-being and relaxation. [Daily Mail]

Well, I suppose I'd be interested in knowing a whole lot more about that. If this stuff does what they're saying, it could prove to be the greatest discovery of modern times:

The team is also working on an antidote pill that would mute the effects of the synthetic alcohol on the brain receptors, allowing drinkers to drive soon afterwards.

Dude, are you serious? It would be just delightful if the guy who got fired for failing to support the government's unhinged anti-drug agenda ended up saving lives on a massive scale. Can you even imagine what the Home Office would say if David Nutt won a Nobel Prize for inventing the cure for drunk driving?

New Book Offer: "Marijuana is Safer -- So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?"

Dear friend of drug law reform,

To kick off our autumn fundraising drive, we are pleased to offer an exciting new book written by three of our colleagues, "Marijuana is Safer -- So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?," as our latest membership premium. Donate $36 or more and we will send you a complimentary copy of "Marijuana is Safer" as our thanks.

"Marijuana is Safer" offers an engaging mix of history, science, medicine, media critique, and just plain straight talk about the history of alcohol and marijuana use in America, the differing attitudes toward the two drugs, the rise of marijuana prohibition, and the effects the two drugs have on users and society as a whole. "Marijuana is Safer" is a book you can hand to your mother or your teacher or your preacher, to help them see the inescapable conclusion that marijuana should be legalized.

Your support will come at an historic and critical moment. A moment when Congress is moving on a wide range of important reforms to drug policy. When the prohibition debate is reaching new heights. But when despite it all the new drug czar continues to talk nonsense like the old drug czar. I encourage you to join us today as we fight this important fight at this important time.

Our ability to bring drug war injustices to the attention of major media, to promote policy change in Congress, to reach millions of people online each year -- all of these are possible because of, and depend on, you.

We continue to offer our exciting new t-shirts that make the point about prohibition and the drug war. For a contribution of $36, you can choose either of our new StoptheDrugWar.org T-shirts pictured to the right — "Prohibition Doesn't Work" or "STOP" (click on images for an enlarged view). For a gift of $60 or more, you can receive both t-shirts. For a contribution of $90 or more, you can receive both shirts and "Marijuana is Safer" as our thanks, or substitute any item from the StoptheDrugWar.org inventory.

What you and I and our friends are doing together is working. We can't back off now. By taking advantage of the opportunity we have during this pro-reform climate, we can change minds, change laws and, most importantly, change good people's lives.

Thank you very much,

David Borden
Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org (DRCNet)

P.S. It's time to stop wasting time, money and good people's lives. Please join us in "Changing Minds, Laws & Lives" by adding your support to StoptheDrugWar.org while we have this unique opportunity. Thank you!

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.

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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.

"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.

India: Moonshine Deaths Stir Alcohol Prohibition Debate in Gujarat

Last week, 136 people died in the Indian state of Gujarat after drinking tainted alcohol, and the incident has stirred debate over the state's alcohol prohibition policy, in existence since 1960. One of India's "liquor barons" has invited the state government to do away with prohibition, and the state government has invited him to shut up about it.

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moonshine still (courtesy Hagley Library)
The deaths occurred in Ahmedabad, about 35 miles from the state capital, Gandhinagar. Most of the dead were common laborers who had allegedly purchased illicit liquor produced or distributed by one Vinod Dagri, currently a fugitive, and described in local media as "the key mastermind in the hooch tragedy case."

It's not the first time contaminated black market alcohol has killed people in Gujarat. And as Gujarat officials were quick to point out, moonshine deaths also occur in Indian states without alcohol prohibition. In a Monday statement, Gujarat government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas noted that tainted alcohol had killed 31 people in Kerala in October 2000, 10 were killed and four blinded by bad hooch in Bhubaneswar in February of this year, 13 people died in of bad booze in Kolkata in May 2008, and 142 people in Karnataka had died from illicit liquor over the course of last year.

[Ed: Deaths from tainted alcohol in states that don't have prohibition are comparable to those in Gujarat, only because people in those states have access to alcoholic beverages that were legally produced, then smuggled into their states. If alcohol prohibition were to become more widespread, or nationwide, legally produced alcohol would become a scarcer commodity, and tainted alcohol would likely cause proportionally many more deaths in places like Kerala or Kolkata or Karnataka than it does today.]

Still, Vijay Mallya, chairman of the UB Group, India's largest liquor conglomerate, couldn't resist taking the opportunity to jab at the state's political leadership for its adherence to prohibitionist policies. Mallya offered to help the state craft a "responsible alcoholic beverages policy" in a statement cited in the Hindustan Times. "The deaths are not only tragic but should serve as a wake-up call to our political hypocrites. [Gujarat Chief Minister] Narendra Modi knows full well that every brand of alcohol is available in Gujarat," Mallya said. "The farce of prohibition, which cannot be enforced, leads to illegal, unhygienic and unsupervised production of deadly cocktails which claim innocent lives. It is time that political masters face reality in the interests of people's health," he added.

Minister Modi was not amused. "Many elements are giving the tragic incident political color and are trying to ruin the peaceful atmosphere in Gujarat," he said. "My government is sincere about eliminating the vice of illicit liquor."

State Health Minister Jay Narayan Vyas also suggested that Mallya butt out. "This is an internal matter of the Gujarat government and Mr. Mallya should avoid making suggestions on what should be done in Gujarat," Vyas told reporters in Gandhinagar.

Early this week, the Gujarat government was standing firm. "There is no question of any rethink on easing or lifting the prohibition laws," Vyas said on Monday. "The government is committed to implementing the prohibition laws for the peace, prosperity and security of the people of Gujarat."

Pennsylvania Liquor Store Employees Will Now be Nicer to You

Via Radley Balko, the irony is truly staggering:

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania liquor store clerks need to be more bubbly when they're selling Champagne.

The state's Liquor Control Board is spending more than $173,000 to try to make workers friendlier and more well-mannered at the nearly 650 stores it operates. The board says it wants to make sure clerks are saying "hello," "thank you" and "come again" to customers shopping for wine and spirits. [Comcast.net]

Seriously, alcohol users don’t need you to be nicer to them. Just be glad you can buy alcohol in a safe place, with products labeled for purity and no fear that you'll be charged with "intent to distribute" if police find a case of beer in your trunk.

Instead of being nicer to alcohol users, can we finally stop destroying people's lives for choosing other intoxicants instead?

South Asia: Indian Health Minister Calls for National Alcohol Prohibition

Indian Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss Wednesday called for alcohol prohibition, saying booze is the mother of all health problems. Ramadoss urged states to introduce prohibition and urged the creation of a national prohibitionist alcohol policy.

More young people are using alcohol, Ramadoss warned, citing statistics showing that the age of drinkers at the initiation of alcohol consumption had dropped from 28 to 13 ½ in recent years. He also blamed alcohol for rising death tolls from chronic disease.

"The four major risk factors which are directly or indirectly responsible for chronic non-communicable diseases are -- tobacco use, alcohol use, physical inactivity and unhealthy diet," Ramadoss said. "We need a national alcohol policy," Ramadoss said, urging states to introduce prohibition.

The minister added that so far only the states of Jammu & Kashmir and Gujarat had enforced prohibition. Gujarat, the birthplace of Gandhi, whose preaching of abstention continues to carry great weight, enforced alcohol prohibition as soon as Indian gained its independence from Britain in 1947.

Prohibitionist sentiment has historically been strongest in India's Northwest, where there are higher levels of alcohol and substance use and strong anti-liquor movements. States in other parts of India, such as the south, have since independence embraced partial prohibitions -- either days without drinking or banning of a particular beverage, usually arrack, a concoction made from sugar cane, fruit, or the sap of coconut palms.

Prohibitionist sentiment, however, has weakened in recent years, especially since India removed trade barriers in the early 1990s. Even in Gujarat, the state government now has crafted exemptions for economic development zones in an effort to boost foreign investment and job creation.

It looks like Mr. Ramadoss is fighting a losing battle.

Australia: Drug Researcher Says Ecstasy Safer Than Binge Drinking, Causes Flap

Responding to recent data suggesting that young Queenslanders are switching to ecstasy in the wake of a steep increase in the state government's tax on popular "alcopops," a leading drug researcher said the young people would be better off taking small amounts of ecstasy than going on drinking binges. Unsurprisingly, the comments have attracted criticism from some quarters.

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ecstasy pills
Professor Jake Najman, director of Queensland's Alcohol and Drug Research Center, said ecstasy was "a lesser evil" than binge drinking, long a popular Australian pastime. Ecstasy is "relatively benign if taken in small quantities," he said. "When young people switch from a substantial amount of alcohol to a small amount of ecstasy... I don't think that's a bad trade at all. It is not likely that one pill on a Saturday night poses the same dangers as frequent binge drinking."

Illegal drugs kill about a thousand Australians a year, but alcohol kills around 20,000. According to a 2004 government study, 19% of 18-to-24-year-old men and 11% of women in the same age group had engaged in binge drinking -- defined as seven drinks or more at a sitting -- at least once a week over the past year.

Ecstasy is "cheaper and safer" than excessive alcohol consumption, Najman said. "Even drug-related problems, including psychotic episodes and violent behaviour are not seen with ecstasy, as they are with amphetamines and alcohol," he said.

University of Adelaide PhD student Emily Jaehne attacked Najman's statement on two counts. She said ecstasy was often adulterated, but that is an artifact of prohibition, not a property of the drug itself. Her second count, that ecstasy causes potentially serious increases in body temperature, was stronger. "When taken at hot nightclubs or rave parties the heightened effects could lead to severe brain damage or death," Ms. Jaehne said.

But while the risk of death from using ecstasy is real, it is also infinitesimal. According to a 2004 study of national death statistics, 12 people died of ecstasy-related causes in Australia between 2001 and 2004.

Still, that didn't stop Jo Baxter, director of Drug Free Australia, from calling Najman's comments "irresponsible" and dangerous. "There is no guarantee that if young people hear a message of so-called 'safe use' from people in authority, that they will use only small quantities. Taking ecstasy is like Russian roulette. No one individual knows exactly what it will do to their body chemistry," she said.

"A person in Professor Najman's position and with his qualifications is showing an extraordinary lack of responsibility, if his views have been reported accurately," Baxter continued. "The other aspect is that we seriously have to question why our young people are feeling the need to take drugs in order to 'have a good time.' We need to be giving our young people reasons not to have to rely on drugs for their social events. If we can reduce the demand, the huge volumes of ecstasy now coming into Australia would have no market."

Good luck with that, Mrs. Baxter.

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