Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ category

Feds Favor Anti-Pot Research

April 8th, 2014

As the nation’s only truly legal supplier of marijuana, the U.  S.  government keeps tight control of its stash, which is grown in a 12-acre fenced garden on the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

From there, part of the crop is shipped to Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina, where it’s rolled into cigarettes, all at taxpayer expense.

Even though Congress has long banned marijuana, the operation is legitimate.  It’s run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the U.  S.  Department of Health and Human Services, which doles out the pot for federally approved research projects.

While U.  S.  officials defend their monopoly, critics say the government is hogging all the pot and giving it mainly to researchers who want to find harms linked to the drug.

U.  S.  officials say the federal government must be the sole supplier of legal marijuana in order to comply with a 1961 international drug- control treaty.  But they admit they’ve done relatively little to fund pot research projects looking for marijuana’s benefits, following their mandate to focus on abuse and addiction.

“We’ve been studying marijuana since our inception.  Of course, the large majority of that research has been on the deleterious effects, the harmful effects, on cognition, behavior and so forth,” said Steven Gust, special assistant to the director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which was created in 1974.

With polls showing a majority of Americans supporting legalization, pot backers say the government should take a more evenhanded approach.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the White House drug czar have become favorite targets to accuse of bias, with both prohibited by Congress from spending money to do anything to promote legalization.

Some critics hope the situation will change; federal officials recently approved a University of Arizona proposal that will let researchers try to determine whether smoking or vaporizing marijuana could help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD.  The researchers got the green light to provide the equivalent of two joints per day for 50 veterans.

The approval was a long time coming.

Suzanne Sisley, clinical assistant professor of internal medicine and psychiatry at the University of Arizona’s medical school, said the Health and Human Services Department waited more than three years to approve the project after it was first sanctioned by the Food and Drug Administration.  She said the extra federal review should be scrapped and that approval by the FDA should be sufficient for a study to proceed.

“Nobody could explain it – it’s indefensible,” she said in an interview.  “The only thing we can assume is that it is politics trumping science.”

After the long delay, Sisley said she’s excited to get started and hopes to launch the project late this spring or early this summer, after getting the marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  She said pressure by veterans helped get the project approved.

For critics, the process is far too slow.  In the fight to sway public opinion, the research battles have assumed a sense of urgency, with opponents and proponents of legalization scrambling to find more evidence to advance their positions.

For opponents, it means trying to link pot use to such things as increased highway deaths, student dropouts and emergency hospital admissions.  That could help defeat a plan to legalize pot for recreational use in Alaska, set for an August vote.

For supporters, it means trying to find new ways to use pot to treat diseases.  That could get voters in more states to approve medical marijuana; 20 states and the District of Columbia already have done so, and Florida could join the list in November.

Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group, said President Barack Obama should end the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s monopoly and remove all other research barriers.  The legalization of marijuana “is inevitable” and more studies are needed, he said.

“That is exactly why federal law and policies shouldn’t tie the hands of scientists by favoring certain kinds of research over others,” Riffle said.

The national institute’s Gust said the federal government is open to the idea of looking for more medical applications for marijuana and that it’s a “red herring” to say that his agency is blocking research.

“This is an untruth that’s been put out there by certain groups, and quite frankly I wonder if it’s not having the perverse effect of actually decreasing the amount of applications and interest in research,” Gust said.

National Institute on Drug Abuse officials said they gave more than $30 million in government grants to finance 69 marijuana-related research projects in 2012, a big jump from the 22 projects that received less than $ 6 million in 2003.  While the institute would not provide exact figures, Gust said it has funded at least five to 10 projects examining possible medical applications.

The institute also provides marijuana for privately funded projects approved by the Health and Human Services Department.  Of the 18 research applicants who requested marijuana from 1999 to 2011, 15 got approval, officials said.

The University of Mississippi received nearly $847,000 in 2013 to produce and distribute the pot for the research projects, mainly Mexican, Colombian, Turkish and Indian varieties.

The university grows 6 kilograms ( a little more than 13 pounds ) of marijuana each year, or more if the demand is higher.  Nine employees are involved in the work.  Among the university’s tasks, it analyzes marijuana confiscated by drug enforcement agents and sends “bulk plant material” to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Institute, just outside of Durham at Research Triangle Park, where marijuana cigarettes are produced and packaged.

Some of the pot is sent to a handful of Americans who won the right to smoke the drug for medical reasons under a court settlement in 1976, 20 years before California became the first state to approve medical marijuana.

Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2014 Austin American-Statesman
Contact: letters@statesman.com
Website: http://www.statesman.com/

America Is Turning A Corner On Marijuana

April 2nd, 2014

Since the beginning of the year, more than 70 bills related to hemp have been introduced in more than half of the states in the U.S. That’s more than triple the number of hemp bills introduced during the same legislation period last year, and nearly double the total amount of hemp bills introduced in all of 2013.

Added to that is the recent passage of the Farm Bill, which legalizes industrial hemp production for research purposes in states that permit it. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), one of the congressmen who introduced the industrial hemp amendment to the Farm Bill, told The Huffington Post that all the progress on hemp legislation is a key indicator of just how fast policy is changing in the U.S.

“It’s not just turning a corner, it’s turning a corner and running downhill,” Blumenauer said. “The case against industrial hemp production has always been flawed, but now three things are happening. One, we’ve been able to make some significant inroads in a variety of states that have already passed legislation easing [production]. Second, the actual amendment to the Farm Bill was a beacon. And third, we are just seeing [that] the ice dam that has been containing modernization of our marijuana laws generally is cracking.”

Thus far, 12 states have legalized industrial hemp production and about two dozen others have introduced legislation that, if passed, would authorize research, set up a regulatory framework or legalize the growing of industrial hemp in the state.

In February, President Barack Obama signed the Farm Bill, which legalized industrial hemp production for research purposes. The state bills, like the hemp amendment to the Farm Bill, represent a sharp departure from a long-standing ban on hemp under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which doesn’t make a distinction between marijuana, the drug, and hemp, the plant.

Hemp is the same species as marijuana — Cannabis sativa — but they are cultivated differently in order to enhance or diminish their THC properties, depending on the crop. Hemp contains little to no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana associated with the “high” sensation.

Last year, Colorado farmer Ryan Loflin harvested the first known hemp crop grown on American soil in nearly 60 years, after the 2012 passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use and laid the groundwork for industrial hemp production in the state. An eager Loflin planted 55 acres of hemp before regulations were officially in place, but he met with no interference from the federal government or state officials. With Colorado’s regulations now on the books, the state has become the first in the nation to legally regulate hemp since the federal government allowed for limited production.

Hemp — sometimes called marijuana’s “sober cousin” — has a long history in America, one that skews largely toward legal use and encompasses a range of household products, including paper, oils, cosmetics and textiles. In the 1700s, American farmers were required by law to grow the plant in Virginia and other colonies. For hundreds of years hemp was grown and used to make rope, lamp oil, clothing and much more in the U.S.

American industrial hemp production peaked in 1943, with more than 150 million pounds from 146,200 harvested acres. But production dropped to zero in the late 1950s as a result of “anti-drug sentiment and competition from synthetic fibers,” according to the Associated Press.

Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Matt Ferner, The Huffington Post
Published: April 2, 2014
Copyright: 2014 HuffingtonPost.com, LLC
Contact: scoop@huffingtonpost.com
Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

Press Release: Eighteen Members of Congress Call on Obama to Reschedule Marijuana

February 12th, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 12, 2014
Contact: Darby Beck: darby.beck@leap.cc415.823.5496

EIGHTEEN MEMBERS OF CONGRESS CALL ON OBAMA TO RESCHEDULE MARIJUANA

Current Scheduling Limits Medical Research, Creates Hurdles to Legitimate Business

Bill to “Unmuzzle Drug Czar” Also Introduced

WASHINGTON, DC–Citing high numbers of arrests, billions of dollars wasted, disproportionate effects on black Americans and the relative safety of marijuana, a group of eighteen Congress members today called on President Obama to “delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II.” The move comes in light of Obama’s recent comments to The New Yorker that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol and that it was important to allow legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington to proceed.

Currently, marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug, a classification for drugs with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Because of this classification, most medical research on marijuana is prohibited, it cannot be prescribed in accordance with federal law and it creates a host of tax and business regulation problems for state-legal marijuana businesses trying to comply in good faith with all relevant laws.

“No drug should be listed as Schedule I, which limits potentially life-saving research into both benefits and dangers of a substance and guarantees a violent, illegal market for the product,” said Law Enforcement Against Prohibition executive director Major Neill Franklin (Ret.) “This is even more true of marijuana right now, when after four decades of failure, states are doing their best to find something that works and federal regulations keep interfering with their doing so.”



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DEA Chief Slams Obama For Pot Remarks: Reports

January 26th, 2014

The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration slammed President Barack Obama this week for saying marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol, according to a report Saturday in the Boston Herald.

DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart reportedly told a group of sheriffs at a closed-door conference in Washington that she was frustrated by the administration’s recent openness toward state legalization. Although Leonhart’s remarks were not made publicly, her pointed references to the president could put her job in jeopardy.

“She was honest,” Mike H. Leidholt, president of the National Sheriffs’ Association, told the Herald. “She may get fired. But she was honest.”

The administration so far has shown itself willing to let Colorado’s and Washington’s experiments with marijuana legalization move ahead. But those baby steps toward respecting state legislation appear to have sown dissension at the DEA.

Leonhart, a former Baltimore cop and long-time DEA agent before ascending to the agency’s top role, staunchly opposes mainstreaming marijuana use. In 2012 House Judiciary testimony, she refused to answer a question from Colorado Rep. Jared Polis (D) about whether she thought crack or heroin were worse for a person’s health than marijuana. She said in December that legalization sends “mixed messages” to high-schoolers, and this month, one of her top deputies told Congress that legalization is “reckless and irresponsible.”

Leonhart also appears to have been upset by a flag made of hemp that flew over the U.S. Capitol on July 4 at the behest of Polis.

Bristol County, Mass., Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson told the Herald that “she said her lowest point in 33 years in the DEA was when she learned they’d flown a hemp flag over the Capitol on July 4. The sheriffs were all shocked. This is the first time in 28 years I’ve ever heard anyone in her position be this candid.”

The flag was made with industrial hemp, which is not a drug.

“This shows how shockingly out of touch Michele Leonhart is,” Polis told HuffPost in an email Saturday. “You would think that one of her lowest points would have been when she completely embarrassed herself by failing to state the obvious scientific fact that marijuana is less harmful and addictive than heroin. Almost half a million Americans saw her make a fool of herself.”

A DEA spokeswoman contacted by the Herald did not comment on Leonhart’s remarks, but reiterated the agency’s opposition to legalization. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.

Aside from Obama’s statements, it also appears that Leonhart was incensed that the unofficial White House softball team squared off against a marijuana reformers’ team in a game covered exclusively by HuffPost. The White House staffers lost.

Tom Angell, founder of the reform group Marijuana Majority, told HuffPost in an email that he doesn’t expect Leonhart to be fired for her “insubordinate speech.”

“But in light of the president’s newfound boldness in speaking out about the unfairness of marijuana prohibition enforcement, he should take the opportunity to significantly reform federal marijuana policy and rearrange the agencies that have mismanaged it for so long,” he said.

Newshawk: runruff
Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Ryan Grim and Matt Sledge
Published: January 25, 2014
Copyright: 2014 HuffingtonPost.com, LLC
Contact: scoop@huffingtonpost.com
Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

Obama Nudges The Ball Forward on Marijuana

January 22nd, 2014

In an interview with the New Yorker released on Sunday, President Obama made perhaps the strongest endorsement by any sitting president on relaxed marijuana laws. Pushed by interviewer David Remnick, Obama acknowledged that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol in its effect on consumers. He also noted the obvious racial and economic disparities in enforcement of marijuana laws. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.”

A fully budded marijuana plant ready for trimming is seen at the Botanacare marijuana store ahead of their grand opening on New Year’s day in Northglenn, Colorado, in this December 31, 2013 file photo. The District of Columbia will take a step closer toward decriminalizing marijuana on January 15, 2014 with a move that will make smoking a joint in the U.S. capital a violation comparable to a parking ticket.

In fact, the president backhandedly came close to endorsing outright legalization of the drug for recreational purposes, by offering a modified endorsement of new laws in Colorado and Washington that do exactly that:

Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

Obama circled back around and noted the new laws in both states could be “a challenge” because of the potential for legalization of other, harder types of drugs. He also noted he has advised his daughters not to smoke marijuana. So it wasn’t an outright endorsement.

But the moment was still significant in several ways. In context of the United States’ long-running and highly problematic war on drugs, it is quite notable to have a president come out and say that marijuana isn’t nearly as harmful as it is often made out to be and to back serious changes in the legal regime governing the drug.

Obama is correct about the racial disparities at work here: The American Civil Liberties Union issued a report last year finding that African Americans are four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana, despite similar rates of use.

The White House’s record is somewhat checkered on this issue. On the one hand, early in Obama’s time in office, his administration stepped up federal crackdowns on marijuana producers sanctioned by state law, a move that was highly criticized by reformers. However, Attorney General Eric Holder recently took steps to relax federal prosecution of marijuana offenses and said the Justice Department won’t challenge new state laws on marijuana. Obama’s comments may reflect a real evolution in his approach to drug policy, and one that may have long-lasting effects.

But there is, of course, also a political angle here. Whether he meant to or not, Obama was positioning himself and his party on the correct side of an issue that many Democrats feel could reap serious political rewards in the coming months and years.

For example, in Florida, strategists on both sides of the gubernatorial race there believe a statewide referendum to legalize some marijuana use could tilt the contest to Democrats. Republicans have filed a legal challenge to keep it off the ballot, because they openly admit it may bring young people and minorities — traditional Democratic voters — to the polls in unusually high numbers. “It’s an issue that the Democrats can use to pump up the youth vote,” Alex Patton, a Republican political consultant told Bloomberg Businessweek. “The politics of it are dangerous for the GOP.”

And Florida isn’t the only place marijuana will be on the ballot this year. At least four other states will put the issue before voters, and people outside those areas are no doubt following the evolving debate closely.

Polls have shown recent spikes in support for legalized marijuana. Gallup found 58 percent of Americans favor legalization, and other surveys show majorities also share Obama’s view that the drug is not physically or mentally harmful. I have no idea if Obama’s remarks were a calculated move, but his party’s prospects this fall seem likely to improve as a result.

Source: Washington Post (DC)
Author: George Zornick
Published: January 20, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Washington Post Company
Contact: letters@washpost.com
Website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/

Thousands Cited for Having Pot on Federal Land

September 16th, 2013

Karen Strand didn’t think she’d get in trouble for having a small container of medical marijuana when she went hiking in Olympic National Park this summer.

President Barack Obama, she remembered, had said the federal government had “bigger fish to fry” than people who follow state marijuana laws, and Washington state had just legalized pot.

But a ranger pulled her over on a remote gravel road, and Strand wound up as one of at least 27,700 people cited for having pot on federal land since 2009, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal court data. The number of citations is small compared to the hundreds of millions of visitors to national parks, forests and monuments each year.

But it nevertheless illustrates one of the many issues Washington, Colorado and other states face in complying with last month’s Justice Department memo that requires them to address eight federal law enforcement priorities if they want to regulate marijuana. Among those priorities is keeping marijuana use and possession off federal property.

State officials have no plans to license pot gardens or stores on federal land, but beyond that, they say, it’s not clear what they can do to discourage backpackers or campers from bringing a few joints into Rocky Mountain or Mount Rainier National Park.

“It’s not one of the big topics we’ve talked a lot about,” said Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Other concerns on the DOJ’s list include keeping marijuana away from kids and cartels, preventing drugged driving and pot-related gun violence, and keeping unregulated marijuana grows from spoiling federal land.

Thousands of people receive tickets every year charging them with having pot on U.S. property — a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. The charges typically don’t result in jail time, but often do require at least one court appearance. They are frequently negotiated down to an infraction, akin to a traffic ticket, and a fine of up to a few hundred dollars.

Through the first seven months of this year, at least 146 people had been cited in Washington for having pot on federal land, which makes up nearly one-third of the state. At least 135 had been cited in Colorado. Washington’s figure is slightly below the same period for the past few years, while Colorado’s is roughly on track.

The number of people cited nationally has dropped, from 6,282 in 2009 to 5,772 in 2012, and is on pace to hit about 5,300 this year, according to data from the U.S. Courts Central Violations Bureau. The citations were issued at national parks, seashores, forests, military bases and monuments. There were even 10 tickets issued at the Pentagon.

Officials say the actual numbers are likely greater: Park rangers and other federal agents sometimes simply write on the ticket that the offender had a controlled substance, without specifying the drug.

Defendants say being prosecuted for having tiny amounts of pot on U.S. land — especially in Washington, Colorado and states with medical marijuana laws — belies the administration’s assertions that going after people who comply with state marijuana laws is not a priority. The DOJ first announced that position in a 2009 memo, though the fine print also made clear that pot isn’t welcome on federal property.

Strand, 36, was pulled over for having a broken taillight, and the ranger reported that he could smell fresh pot. She was ticketed for having 2 grams — far less than the ounce, or 28 grams, allowed by Washington’s recreational pot law, or the 24 ounces allowed by the state’s medical marijuana law.

“It is exceptionally confusing,” she said.

One morning this month, Strand sat in a small, crowded room at the federal courthouse in Tacoma for her initial appearance on charges of marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia — a pipe.

Near her sat her husband as well as several other people caught with weed on federal land, including a 21-year-old man who was accused of having 0.1 grams during a traffic stop on a highway that skirts Mount Rainier National Park.

“I just thought it was legal now,” Jonah Hunt said. “I didn’t know I was on federal land.”

Barbara Sievers, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the cases, informed the defendants their charges would not be dismissed.

“Regardless of whatever happened in the state, it’s federal law, and it’s federal property,” she said.

Former school teacher Melanie Cease, of Seattle, said a park ranger approached her one day in June at a secluded campsite in Olympic National Park. He came to make sure her dog was on a leash, but then saw an empty pipe on the picnic table.

With his hand on his gun, she said, the ranger demanded she turn over whatever pot she had. Cease, 48, was cited for having a “trace amount,” according to the ranger’s report.

“I’ve never been arrested in my life, and now I’m being threatened with six months in jail and a $5,000 fine for using my medicine?” she said. “It was my understanding the government was not going to mess with individual patients.”

Strand and Cease both pleaded not guilty, and their cases were set for trial in October.

Strand and her husband, Thomas, said they remain troubled by what they said felt like harassment from the park ranger. He repeatedly placed his hand on his gun when speaking to them, they said.

“It’s a beautiful place up there,” Thomas Strand said. “And I don’t know if I’ll ever go back.”

Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Author: Gene Johnson, The Associated Press
Published: September 16, 2013
Copyright: 2013 The Associated Press

Answers Sought for When Marijuana Laws Collide

September 11th, 2013

A deputy attorney general told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that the Justice Department had begun working with Treasury officials and financial regulators to clarify how it legally deals with banks and other businesses that serve marijuana dispensaries and growers in states that have legalized the drug for medical or recreational use.

The deputy attorney general, James M. Cole, said the Obama administration was dedicated to enforcing federal drug laws and was choosing the best among a number of imperfect solutions by relying on states to regulate marijuana “from seed to sale.”

The hearing was the first aimed at sorting out differences between state and federal laws since Colorado and Washington State passed measures approving the recreational use of marijuana in November.

Those laws “underscored persistent uncertainty” about how the Justice Department resolves conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws, said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the committee’s chairman.

Financial institutions, security providers and landlords that serve marijuana businesses can be prosecuted for racketeering, money laundering and trafficking under current federal laws, which Mr. Leahy said also hinder states in regulating the banking and taxation of growers and dispensaries.

But Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s ranking Republican, said the Justice Department move was a step toward broad legalization of marijuana that would result in disastrous consequences for public safety and might violate international treaties. More broadly, he and other critics said, the Justice Department’s new policy was another example of the Obama administration’s picking which laws to enforce and which to disregard.

Marijuana’s status as an illegal drug “isn’t based on a whim,” Mr. Grassley said. “It’s based on what science tells us about this dangerous and addictive drug.”

Mr. Cole responded: “We are not giving immunity. We are not giving a free pass. We are not abdicating our responsibility.”

He said the agency would go after marijuana providers who market the drug to children or who try to sell it across state lines.

Advocates for marijuana legalization say a more coordinated effort between states and the federal government would be an improvement over current policies that have failed to rein in drug cartels and reduce violence.

The Justice Department said last month that it would not seek to pre-empt the state laws as long as states set up “robust” regulations to keep marijuana operations from running afoul of the agency’s top enforcement priorities, like preventing children and drug cartels from obtaining the drug and prohibiting its use on federal land.

But John Urquhart, who was a police officer for 37 years in Seattle before he became the sheriff of King County, Wash., said states were still handcuffed by not knowing how banks and other financial institutions could conduct marijuana-related business.

“I am simply asking the federal government to allow banks to work with legitimate marijuana businesses who are licensed under state law,” he said.

Kevin A. Sabet, a former drug policy adviser in the Obama administration who opposes legalization, said the administration’s decision to rely on states for regulation ignores the Justice Department’s own statements that some marijuana operations had already violated its enforcement priorities.

“I just don’t see any of that being regulated, and that’s what I worry about,” he said.

Colorado and Washington are among the 20 states and the District of Columbia that allow the use of marijuana for medical reasons or for recreation.

A version of this article appears in print on September 11, 2013, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Answers Sought for When Marijuana Laws Collide.

Source: New York Times (NY)
Author: Ashley Southall
Published: September 11, 2013
Copyright: 2013 The New York Times Company
Contact: letters@nytimes.com
Website: http://www.nytimes.com/

Fans of Legal Marijuana Cheer

September 10th, 2013

The pros and cons of marijuana will take center stage Tuesday in Washington, D.C., when the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a landmark hearing on legalization.

Requested by committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the hearing was triggered by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement last month that federal authorities no longer will interfere as states adopt laws to allow medical marijuana or to legalize the drug entirely.

The hearing is on conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws. In calling for it, Leahy questioned whether, at a time of severe budget cutting, federal prosecutions of marijuana users are the best use of taxpayer dollars.

Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the nonprofit lobby group Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said he hopes for a breakthrough in the hearing that would lead to changes in federal banking laws, allowing marijuana sellers to accept credit cards and checks, not just cash.

That would do a lot to legitimize the nation’s marijuana industry, safeguarding transactions from the risk of robberies and smoothing the route away from the black market and Mexico’s drug cartels, Riffle said.

But “the elephant in the room is that we have an administration that’s essentially working around federal law” to allow states to legalize marijuana, he said. “What we should do is just change federal law — just legalize marijuana.”

This fall, Michigan lawmakers could take up bills that would ease laws on marijuana and widen medical users’ access to it.

With public attitudes bending toward legalization in the last three years and reaching a majority in March, those who favor legal weed say they’ve reached a watershed year — one like 1930 might have felt to those who welcomed the nationwide legalization of alcohol in 1933.

“It is historic — you can feel it,” said Matt Abel, a Detroit lawyer who heads Michigan NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Fans of legal marijuana say their cause just hit the tipping point, and point to a series of events that they say prove that legalization is on the cusp of being more than a pipe dream. They include that:

* In March, for the first time, a majority of Americans — 52% — told pollsters they favored legalizing marijuana, according to the Pew Research Center.

* In anticipation of retail pot stores opening this January, recreational users are flocking to Colorado and Washington state.

* Two national opinion leaders signaled changes of heart about cannabis. CNN medical correspondent and Novi native Dr. Sanjay Gupta, in his documentary “Weed” last month, reversed the stance he expressed in his 2009 Time magazine article, “Why I Would Vote No on Pot.” And U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told an audience in Tucson last week, “Maybe we should legalize marijuana. … I respect the will of the people.”

Planning to be in a front-row seat at Tuesday’s hearing is Neill Franklin, who heads LEAP — for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition — a nationwide group of mostly retired police, judges and corrections officers who want to see all street drugs legalized.

“A nationwide policy of prohibition leads to organized crime, underground crime, mass incarceration, very costly law enforcement, and ironically, the drugs become widely available and more dangerous because there are no quality-control standards,” Franklin said last week.

“We saw that with alcohol,” he said.

But not all at the hearing will be in favor of all-out legalization.

Kevin Sabet, a former senior adviser on drug policy to President Barack Obama’s drug czar, is expected to testify that legalization is being rushed into the states without understanding its consequences.

His arguments are laid out in detail in his new book “Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths about Marijuana” (Beaufort Books, New York: $14.95), Sabet said.

“It’s an appeal for a science-based and a health-based marijuana policy, not based on legalization but also not based on incarceration for small amounts” — and instead advocates wider access for marijuana users to state-of-the-art drug treatment programs, said Sabet, the director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida.

Sabet will bring his message to Michigan next month as a presenter at a public conference on youths and the consequences of marijuana. It’s Oct. 10 at the Oakland County Intermediate School District offices.

“Yes, there are medical properties in marijuana,” Sabet said, “but we don’t need to deliver that by smoking a joint or eating a brownie.”

Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Author: Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
Published: September 10, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Detroit Free Press
Website: http://www.freep.com/
Contact: letters@freepress.com

Feds Say They Will Go Easy on Banks

September 1st, 2013

During the groundbreaking phone call on Thursday, August 29 in which U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of Colorado and Washington the federal government would not attempt to intercept regulated legal marijuana in their states, he also said the Department of Justice (DOJ) is “actively considering” how to oversee the relationship between banks and marijuana shops.

According to the Huffington Post, Holder told the governors as long as marijuana shops “operate within state laws and don’t violate other federal law enforcement priorities” the DOJ is looking to regulate those interactions as legal.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, released a statement on Thursday calling for a hearing to discuss his proposed bill, Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act (HR 2652). In the statement, he raised concerns over “public safety, crime, and lost tax revenue associated when these legal and regulated businesses are operating in a cash-only system.”

He continued:

“We need to provide financial institutions certainty they can make their own business decisions related to legal, financial transactions without fear of regulatory penalties. Currently, under federal banking laws, many legal, regulated legitimate marijuana businesses operating legally according to state law are prevented from maintaining bank accounts and accessing financial products like any other business such as accepting credit cards, depositing revenues, or writing checks to meet payroll or pay taxes. They are forced to operate as cash-only enterprises, inviting crime such as robbery and tax evasion, only adding to the burden of setting up a legitimate small business.”

To that regard, a senior DOJ official speaking on a condition of anonymity told Huffington Post “the department recognized that forcing the establishments to operate on a cash basis put them at greater risk of robbery and violence.”

CNN warned in a report that since the new guidelines do not change federal money laundering laws, some large banks might “still be leery of doing business with marijuana producers and sellers.”

Along with Holder’s announcement on Thursday came a memo from Deputy Attorney General James Cole, addressed to U.S. attorneys nationwide. The memo outlines eight priorities intended to serve as strict guidelines the attorneys are required to follow as federal marijuana policy when prosecuting in the states where it is legal.

According to the Huffington Post , the anonymous DOJ official said, “For now, financial institutions and other enterprises that do business with marijuana shops that are in compliance with state laws are unlikely to be prosecuted for money laundering or other federal crimes that could be brought under existing federal drug laws, as long as those pot businesses don’t otherwise violate the priorities.”

In addition, the Huffington Post reported, the official said he “would not rule out prosecution in any case, but the new approach is a reversal of a DEA policy that had warned banks not to work with marijuana businesses.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the state’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson thanked Holder for his efforts to work with the states’ decision to legalize and regulate pot, and called Holder’s announcement “good news” in a statement on Thursday.

“Attorney General Holder also expressed a willingness to work with the states on a financial structure that would not run afoul of federal law,” they said, calling the news an “affirmation of good work” by the state Liquor Control Board, which the state put in charge of designing a system of regulation and implementation for the new marijuana laws.

They continued, “We can assure the Attorney General that Washington state will remain vigilant in enforcing laws against the illicit marijuana market.”

April M. Short is a Bay Area journalist focusing on social justice reporting.

Newshawk: The GCW
Source: AlterNet (US)
Author: April M. Short
Published: August 31, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Independent Media Institute
Contact: letters@alternet.org
Website: http://www.alternet.org/

Obama Administration Won’t Fight State MJ Laws

August 31st, 2013

In a historic pivot in the War on Drugs, the Obama Justice Department announced this week that the federal government will allow Washington and Colorado to implement their state laws for the taxation and regulation of legal marijuana.

The carefully worded Justice Department memo does nothing to alter federal law. Instead, it makes explicit the federal objectives of continued enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act preventing activities including the distribution of marijuana to minors, the diversion of marijuana profits to criminals and cartels, the growing of pot on federal land and the export of marijuana from states where it is legal to states that uphold prohibition.

To the extent that states themselves support those federal priorities by implementing “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana,” the memo suggests, they should be left alone for now. In a radical twist, the memo even suggests that “robust” state regulation of legal pot “may affirmatively address [federal] priorities by . . . replacing an illicit marketplace that funds criminal enterprises with a tightly regulated market in which revenues are tracked and accounted for.”

The administration’s move exceeded even the rosiest expectations of drug reform advocates. “Today’s announcement demonstrates the sort of political vision and foresight from the White House we’ve been seeking for a long time,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement. “I must admit, I was expecting a yellow light from the White House. But this light looks a lot more green-ish than I had hoped. The White House is basically saying to Washington and Colorado: Proceed with caution.”

In fact, the memo applies not only to states that have legalized recreational pot (or will), but gives new certainty to the nearly 20 states that have legalized medical marijuana. Most striking, the memo reverses the big-is-bad and profit-is-evil principles that have driven the recent crackdown on medical marijuana operations in California and beyond. “In exercising prosecutorial discretion,” the memo says, “prosecutors should not consider the size or commercial nature of a marijuana operation alone as a proxy for assessing whether marijuana trafficking implicates the Department’s enforcement priorities.”

“This is the most heartening news to come out of Washington in a long, long time,” said Neill Franklin, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “The federal government is not simply standing aside and allowing the will of the people to prevail in these two states. The attorney general and the Obama administration are exhibiting inspired leadership. The message to the people of the other 48 states, to all who value personal freedom and responsible regulation is clear: seize the day.”

Source: Rolling Stone (US)
Author: Tim Dickinson
Published: August 30, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P.
Contact: letters@rollingstone.com
Website: http://www.rollingstone.com/