Archive for the ‘marijuana legalization’ category

Are Baby Boomers Ready To Give MJ a Second Chance?

April 15th, 2014

Are aging baby boomers ready to rekindle a long-ago love affair with marijuana? That is a weighty question for cultural anthropologists and cool-eyed business analysts alike as the once celebrated, later maligned, but explicitly contraband cannabis plant goes legit — for the first time in nearly 80 years — in a new era of medical and recreational use.

For many who smoked marijuana in their dorms in the ’60s and ’70s, it was an act of rebellion, a communal experience, and maybe a political statement. Today’s product is more likely to be marketed as anti-inflammatory than anti-establishment. And, to the distinct discomfort of some, it may come in a neat corporate package rather than an illicit nickel bag.

“I remember the smoke-filled theaters of our college years,” said Kathryn Maynes, 57, a Beacon Hill boomer who works for a real estate development firm. “There was the obligatory ‘Reefer Madness’ (film) on the screen and people blowing weed. It was very sociable. You didn’t just light up and have a joint to yourself. It was inclusive, it was friendly.”

Maynes, however, gave up marijuana in her 20s and never returned, partly because it left her with feelings of anxiety.

“If it were legalized tomorrow for recreational use, I would think twice about it,” Maynes said. “If I did it, it would only be with people I really trust.”

In fact, 20 states, including Massachusetts, already have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, while Colorado and Washington state have made recreational marijuana legal. Fully three quarters of Americans have told pollsters that they now see legalization for recreational use as inevitable, according to Martin A. Lee, director of Project CBD, a medical marijuana information service, and author of “Smoke Signals,” a social history of marijuana.

“On a cultural level, the debate is virtually over,” said Lee. “It’s widely recognized that marijuana has health benefits. For baby boomers who got high in the ’60s and ’70s, their experience was largely benign. And now it’s becoming mainstream. It’s not just long-haired rebels and stoners. It’s Mom and Dad, Republicans and Democrats, a real slice of America.”

Marijuana’s use for medicinal purposes dates back to ancient China. In the United States, it was used in a variety of treatments from the 1850s to the 1930s when, after getting snared in the Prohibition-era dragnet, it was made illegal.

The plant was formally removed from the US Dispensatory, a compendium of medicines, in 1942. But after a resurgence among hippies and college students in the 1960s, it emerged as a popular, though illegal, treatment in the 1980s for AIDS patients who found it could dull pain, stimulate appetite, and relieve nausea. That inspired a campaign to legalize or decriminalize medical marijuana in California and other states.

Since then, “it’s sort of been a U-turn back to the time when marijuana was widely used in medicine,” Lee said. The momentum was aided by a rediscovery of strains containing cannabidiol, called CBD, a marijuana component with low levels of the psychoactive agent THC. That has made it more appealing as a therapy for treating diseases ranging from cancer and Alzheimer’s to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, alcoholism, psychosis, and depression.

Studies project the growth of a $10 billion legal marijuana industry by 2018, and entrepreneurs and investors are scrambling to capitalize. In addition to growers and sellers, support services and enabling technologies have been cropping up in the emerging niche.

“We’ve developed two products that can help the baby boom generation adapt to all of the choices out there,” said David Goldstein, communications director for Potbotics, a Palo Alto, Calif., startup. “A lot of them feel overwhelmed by the consumer buying process.”

Later this year, Potbotics plans to launch BrainBot, a high-frequency monitoring system that can be used in doctors’ offices to evaluate the brain’s reaction to marijuana and recommend which strains might reduce anxiety or eliminate insomnia for specific patients. The company also plans to roll out PotBot, a recommendation engine in the form of an avatar that can suggest marijuana options for medical and recreational uses.

“You don’t need a doctor to talk to the avatar,” Goldstein said, suggesting an older generation may see a “paradigm shift” in how marijuana is viewed in popular culture.

“In the past, baby boomers used marijuana for the same reason they didn’t want their kids to use it. They were abusing the substance. But with the end of prohibition, everything’s been going in a good direction,” Goldstein said. “We’re giving jobs to taxpaying Americans rather than the black market or Mexican cartels.”

Younger generations may have fewer qualms about the emerging marijuana business.

Justin Desjardins, a 35-year-old Worcester man who works for a renewable energy firm, said his high school basketball career was ended when he was caught with marijuana, which he considered a victimless crime. More recently, after he injured his leg playing football at a family gathering, he said he has used it medically to help him cope with arthritis.

“I always thought that you should just make it legal,” Desjardins said. “People are finding out it’s somewhat of a miracle drug. I have no problem with it going corporate if it means you won’t ruin people’s lives if they got caught with a couple of joints.”

Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Author: Robert Weisman, Globe Staff
Published: April 13, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Globe Newspaper Company
Contact: letter@globe.com
Website: http://www.boston.com/globe/

What Perfect Marijuana High Would Feel Like

April 15th, 2014

Marijuana users really enjoy strong weed, but would prefer that it came without paranoia, memory loss and impaired ability to function. That’s according to a new report from the Global Drug Survey in partnership with The Huffington Post, which anonymously surveyed more than 38,000 users around the globe.

All marijuana is not created equal. Effects can vary depending on the plant variety, cultivation, processing and blending. Cannabis has two major plant types — indica and sativa — and hundreds of hybrid strains with different characteristics. It’s produced in forms that include dried flowers, oil and wax.

The survey asked users what they’d like in a “perfect cannabis.” The results show that the “global dominance of high potency [marijuana] leaves many users far from satisfied,” the researchers say.

So what would the effects be of perfect pot — or “balanced bud” as the Global Drug Survey calls it?

Users want their cannabis to be strong and pure. And they want it to have a distinct flavor, and to impart a high marked by greater sensory perception, allowing them to “comfortably” speak to others with more giggles and laughs, while giving them the “ability to function when stoned,” according to the Global Drug Survey report.

Users report they don’t like some side effects of strong marijuana, including hangover feelings, paranoia, harmful effects on the lungs, feelings of becoming forgetful, an urge to use more, and feelings of being distracted or preoccupied, according to the survey.

Responses to the Global Drug Survey:

“There appears to be a paradox in the way people describe their perfect cannabis,” the Global Drug Survey report says. “This is because most the effects of being ‘high’ are due to THC, but higher doses of this drug are associated with more negative psychological effects. So while they want a preparation with overall more pleasurable effects, they also describe wanting less of the negative effects that are also due to THC such as sedation, munchies, memory impairment, restlessness. It might well be what they are describing is a high potency THC containing preparation balanced by CBD which is missing from many current strains.”

Currently, 21 states have legalized medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana for recreational use and more than a dozen other states are considering legalization in some form. With all that interest and all those regulated marketplaces, growers and sellers can tap into users’ preferences with the Global Drug Survey data and help design a better plant.

The Global Drug Survey bills itself as the world’s biggest annual survey of drug users. This year, 79,322 people from more than a dozen countries participated in the anonymous online questionnaire.

Because the Global Drug Survey does not involve a random sample of participants, its results cannot be considered representative of any larger population. “Ultimately, the only people that this study (like so many others) can definitively tell you about are those who have participated,” the researchers say.

Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Matt Ferner, The Huffington Post
Published: April 14, 2014
Copyright: 2014 HuffingtonPost.com, LLC
Contact: scoop@huffingtonpost.com
Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

Steep Drop in Pot Cases Has Freed Up Resources

March 20th, 2014

A steep drop in charges filed against adults over 21 in Washington state after legalization of marijuana shows the new law is freeing up court and law-enforcement resources to deal with other issues, a primary backer of the law said Wednesday.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that such low-level charges were filed in just 120 cases in 2013, down from 5,531 cases the year before. “The data strongly suggest that I-502 has achieved one of its primary goals — to free up limited police and prosecutorial resources,” Mark Cooke, criminal-justice policy counsel with the state ACLU, said in a news release.

Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff at the King County Prosecutor’s Office, said that hasn’t been the case in his office. He said prosecutors handled only a few misdemeanor pot cases a day before the law went into effect.

“There’s no great relief of workload,” Goodhew said. “All this has meant is maybe our calendar in District Court in the Seattle division is maybe, instead of 46 cases in a day, 44 or 43 or 42. We’re no longer filing misdemeanor marijuana cases, but we were not expending any significant resources on those cases at the time I-502 passed.”

Cooke conceded the law hasn’t fundamentally changed what prosecutors do every day but said when considered more broadly, I-502 has saved resources, from basic investigation and filing of paperwork to court time. He noted King County’s adult misdemeanor pot cases fell from 1,435 in 2009 to 14 last year.

“I can’t fault their logic,” said Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “If we took speeding off the books, that would free up time. If we took robbery off the books, that would free up time.

“The question we all have to look at is, is it good public policy? My sole concern is that when you expand access to marijuana for adults, you expand access for underage people.”

The pot cases that were filed in the state last year likely involved people caught with more than an ounce of weed, or the 28 grams, they’re allowed to have under Washington’s Initiative 502, but less than the 40 grams that can trigger felony possession charges.

The data, which came from Washington’s Administrative Office of the Courts, also suggest racial disparities remain a concern in marijuana charges, Cooke said.

Before I-502’s passage in 2012, blacks were nearly three times as likely as whites to face misdemeanor marijuana-possession charges in Washington, and that remained true among the 120 cases filed last year, he said.

Of the 120, white defendants accounted for 82 cases and blacks for 11. That equated for whites to 2 cases per 100,000 residents; for blacks, to 5.6 per 100,000.

The number of misdemeanor filings for those older than 21 had been dropping for several years, the group said, from 7,964 in 2009 to 5,531 in 2012.

Court filings for all drug felonies, including marijuana growing and selling, have remained fairly constant since 2009, at about or slightly under 20,000.

Among people younger than 21, misdemeanor marijuana-possession charges have also fallen in the past two years from 4,127 in 2011 to 3,469 in 2012 and 1,963 last year. People younger than 21 aren’t allowed to have pot under the state law.

Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Author: Gene Johnson, The Associated Press
Published: March 19, 2014
Copyright: 2014 The Associated Press

Colorado Marijuana Taxes Net State $2 Million

March 11th, 2014

Colorado made roughly $2 million in marijuana taxes in January, state revenue officials reported Monday in the world’s first accounting of the recreational pot business.

The tax total reported by the state Department of Revenue indicates $14.02 million worth of recreational pot was sold. The state collected roughly $2.01 million in taxes.

Colorado legalized pot in 2012, but the commercial sale of marijuana didn’t begin until January. Washington state sales begin in coming months.

The pot taxes come from 12.9 percent sales taxes and 15 percent excise taxes. Voters approved the pot taxes last year. They declared that the first $40 million of the excise tax must go to school construction; the rest will be spent by state lawmakers.

Colorado has about 160 state-licensed recreational marijuana stores, though local licensing kept some from opening in January. Local governments also have the ability to levy additional pot sales taxes if they wish.

Monday’s tax release intensified lobbying over how Colorado should spend its pot money. Budget-writers expect the nascent marijuana industry to be extremely volatile for several years, making lawmakers nervous about how to spend the windfall.

Budget-writing lawmakers joke that plenty of interests have their hands out to get a piece of the pot windfall.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has already sent the Legislature a detailed $134 million proposal for spending recreational and medical marijuana money, including new spending on anti-drug messaging to kids and more advertising discouraging driving while high.

State police chiefs have asked for more money, too.

“The whole world wants to belly up to this trough,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, a Denver Democrat who serves on Colorado’s budget-writing Joint Budget Committee.

Other countries also are watching Colorado, which has the world’s first fully regulated recreational marijuana market. The Netherlands has legal sales of pot but does not allow growing or distribution. Uruguay’s marijuana program is still under development.

Colorado’s pot revenue picture is further complicated by the state’s unique budget constraints, known as the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights not only requires voter approval for tax increases, it limits budget-writers when those taxes earn more than the figure posed to voters. Last year’s pot vote guessed that the taxes would produce $70 million a year, and it’s not clear what lawmakers can do with tax money that exceeds that figure.

Colorado’s JBC plans a Wednesday briefing with lawyers to lay out their options for spending pot taxes beyond $70 million.

“There probably is a tendency to want to just grab on to this revenue from marijuana and feed my own pet projects, and I don’t think it’s going to be that simple,” said Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs and another JBC member.

Colorado’s 2014-15 budget is under debate now and does not include any anticipated recreational marijuana taxes.

Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Published: March 10, 2014
Copyright: 2014 The Associated Press

California Democrats Back Marijuana Legalization

March 10th, 2014

California Democrats have approved a party platform including a plank calling for marijuana legalization, marking a major shift for the state party. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, state party delegates moved Sunday to adopt a platform that includes support for “the legalization, regulation and taxation of pot in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol.” The platform was adopted by a near-unanimous voice vote.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, formerly the mayor of San Francisco, made the case for the position change during the Democrats’ 3-day convention in Los Angeles.

“It’s time for all of us to step up and step in and lead once again in California, just as we did in 1996. We did just that with medical marijuana,” Newsom said during his Saturday address to the convention. “But for almost 20 years now, we’ve sat back admiring our accomplishment while the world, the nation, and states like Colorado and Washington have passed us by. … It’s time to legalize, it’s time to tax, it’s time to regulate marijuana for adults in California.”

Newsom continued, “This is not a debate about hippies. This is not a debate about stoners. We can’t diminish this issue or the people involved in this debate by belittling them and trivializing them. Let me be clear. You can be pro-regulation without being an advocate for drug use.”

Watch Newsom’s Speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXr_jp63R3E

Newsom’s remarks came less than a week after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) voiced his concerns over marijuana legalization in an interview with NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

“The problem with anything, a certain amount is okay,” Brown said. “But there is a tendency to go to extremes. And all of a sudden, if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation? The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”

Marijuana legalization has strong support in the state, with recent polls showing a clear majority of Californians in support of taxing and regulating the drug. However, voters will likely have to wait until 2016 to vote in favor of legalization — leading marijuana policy groups in the state have decided against putting a pro-pot measure on the ballot this year in order to build up campaign coffers and widen support for the bill.

The 2014 party platform also called for minimum wage hikes, stronger anti-poverty programs and prison reform. Delegates also added a plank calling for a moratorium on fracking.

Newshawk: HempWorld
Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Mollie Reilly
Published: March 9, 2014
Copyright: 2014 HuffingtonPost.com, LLC
Contact: scoop@huffingtonpost.com
Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

MMJ Providers Fear Effects of Wider Legalization

March 10th, 2014

There should be, one might think, a note of triumph or at least quiet satisfaction in Muraco Kyashna-tocha’s voice. Her patient-based cooperative in north Seattle dispenses medical marijuana to treat seizures, sleeplessness and other maladies. And with the state gearing up to open its first stores selling legal marijuana for recreational use, the drug she has cultivated, provided to patients and used herself for years seems to be barreling toward the mainstream.

But her one-word summary of the outlook for medical marijuana is anything but sunny: “Disastrous,” she said, standing in her shop, Green Buddha, which she fears she will soon have to close.

The legalization of recreational marijuana for adults in Washington, approved by voters in 2012 and now being phased in, is proving an unexpectedly anxious time for the users, growers and dispensers of medical marijuana, who came before and in many ways blazed the trail for marijuana’s broader acceptance.

In the 16 years since medical marijuana became legal here, an entire ecosystem of neighborhood businesses and cooperative gardens took root, with employees who could direct medical users to just the right strain; there are now hundreds of varieties with names like Blue Healer, Purple Urkle and LA Confidential, each with a variety of purported medicinal benefits. Medical users could also start gardens in their backyards and keep large amounts of marijuana at home. It was all very folksy – and virtually unregulated, which the authorities say led to widespread abuses.

Now, under pressure from the federal government, the state is moving to bring that loosely regulated world, with its echoes of hippie culture, into the tightly controlled and licensed commercial system being created for recreational marijuana, which goes on sale this summer. (The first license to grow marijuana was issued on Wednesday.) This week, the Legislature is debating bills that would reduce the amount of the drug that patients can possess or grow, eliminate collective gardens under which most dispensaries operate, require medical users (unlike recreational users) to register with the state and mandate that all marijuana be sold only by new licensees, effectively shutting down the medical dispensary system.

Proponents say the changes are needed to stamp out fraud and help ensure that Washington has a uniform system, supplying the medical products people need and want while at the same time passing muster with guidelines issued by the federal government last summer, even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But many medical marijuana users and dispensary owners say the rules will inadvertently discourage the legitimate use of marijuana to treat illness and pain even as science has increasingly been validating its therapeutic effects.

Trusted dispensaries will be shuttered, they contend, and choices will diminish, with the varieties that marijuana medical users prefer squeezed off the shelves by more profitable recreational varieties grown for their greater, high-producing THC content, not for headache or nausea relief. In Seattle alone, about 200 dispensaries will have to close, replaced by 21 licensed retailers, and under current state regulations, employees in those shops will not be allowed to even discuss the medical value of the products for sale.

A medical marijuana user will of course certainly be able to enter a shop and buy marijuana, just like any other adult, once the new stores are open in June, but the old system of medical advice and supply, however flawed or beloved, is over, say both critics and supporters of the new rules.

“Prepare for the end,” said Hilary Bricken, a lawyer in Seattle who works mostly with the marijuana industry, summarizing the advice she is giving her medical marijuana dispensary clients.

Washington State’s struggles – and the inevitable comparison with Colorado’s different, smoother path toward retail marijuana – are being watched around the nation, Ms. Bricken and other legal experts said.

California, for example, with a medical marijuana system far larger but otherwise similar to Washington’s in its absence of state controls, also has active voter-initiative efforts pushing toward legalization. Twenty states as well as the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana, and at least 14 more are considering some form of it this year. Oregon’s Legislature is wrestling with how to administer its dispensary system even as efforts continue to put legalization on the ballot.

Colorado avoided trouble mostly by acting early. There, state regulators stepped in with strict rules for medical marijuana long before full legalization. And after voters approved legalization in 2012, those regulated dispensaries were put first in line for licenses, forming the backbone of the new recreational market. The dispensaries had supplies of the product in the pipeline – and expertise – which is why recreational marijuana sales started there from the first day of legalization, on Jan. 1, while Washington’s are still weeks away.

In Washington, some dispensaries might be well run, others poorly, but without oversight, state officials could not which was which. So a clean sweep – killing off the old system so that a new one could emerge – was seen as the only way forward, legislators say.

“We’re moving from the wild, wild West to the regulated West,” said State Senator Ann Rivers, a Republican and a sponsor of one of the leading bills. A similar bill, sponsored by a Democrat from Seattle, Representative Eileen Cody, passed the House last month.

Ms. Rivers emphasized that her goal was to protect, not punish, marijuana patients, though she said she understood their fear of change. Without formalized rules allowing patients to continue growing their own plants, for example (I-502, the initiative legalizing recreational marijuana, prohibits that), and to have more than one ounce in their possession, arrest and federal prosecution is a real risk, she asserts. Her bill allows for both.

A mandatory registry, she said, provided the legal spine to those protections. Under her bill, a registered patient buying medical marijuana at a licensed store with an “endorsement” from the state to specifically sell medical marijuana would also be exempt from the 25 percent retail tax charged to recreational buyers. (Other state taxes, assessed on growers and producers, would already be included in the retail price.)

“The feds have been very clear, that if we don’t get our ducks in a row, they are going to bring it to a screeching halt,” Ms. Rivers said. “We have a chance right now to define our destiny with this, and if we don’t we will most definitely allow the feds to define our destiny.”

To many patients and providers, though, the proposed mandatory registry is not a good thing. Some patients, especially those receiving Social Security or other federal aid, have said they would refuse to sign up because that would be a legal admission of drug use that they said could jeopardize their benefits. Others have told lawmakers they fear, with hacking and leaks of government data in the news, a loss of private information.

Some dispensary owners concede that the medical system was rife with abuses – but that patients were now about to pay the price.

“The state failed to regulate, allowing doctors to write these prescriptions to 20-year-old gangbangers on the street who said, ‘Oh, I hurt my knee playing basketball,’  ” said Karl Keich, a dispensary operator and founder of the Seattle Medical Marijuana Association, a group of collective gardens.

Andrea Mayhan, who takes medical marijuana to control muscle spasms and seizures that she suffers as a result of a degenerative disorder, says she believes she will be able to get the strains of marijuana she wants because she knows what to ask for. New patients, though, might walk in – or, like her, roll in using their wheelchairs – and find a clerk less familiar with medical strains, or prohibited by state rules from giving advice.

“They’re going to be lost,” she said.

Source: New York Times (NY)
Author: Kirk Johnson
Published: March 6, 2014
Copyright: 2014 The New York Times Company
Contact: letters@nytimes.com
Website: http://www.nytimes.com/

Why Wait? Fully Legalize Marijuana Now

March 10th, 2014

It’s time to get real about marijuana laws in the state of Minnesota. Passing a medical marijuana law will, in all likelihood, be the first step in total legalization of the drug for recreational use, just as it has proved to be in Colorado and Washington and soon will in California and other states.

Why not go there now? Most Americans think marijuana is a tightly controlled substance in DEA Schedule I, the most addictive class of drugs, they believe, based on good scientific and medical evidence. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Whether the use of a drug is considered abuse or not is determined by society, not by health care professionals. Why else would tobacco and alcohol use be legal in the United States when these are both known to be harmful? In fact, the World Health Organization considers alcohol to be the most dangerous drug in the world, yet it and tobacco are completely legal to use by anyone over the ages of 21 and 18, respectively. However, go to an Islamic country and you’ll find that consumption of alcohol is considered drug abuse because society has deemed it so.

From our own country’s past we have learned that prohibition as a solution to a perceived drug problem (alcoholism) didn’t work, and we had to amend the Constitution a second time (21st Amendment in 1933) to undo the damage caused by the 18th Amendment in 1919, which prohibited the manufacture or sale of alcohol within the United States. The reason was practical. We recognized that people are willing to do almost anything to get a product they want, even if it means breaking the law.

During the 14 years of Prohibition, drinking still went on and burgeoning underground illegal sources filled the need. Actual criminals became rich, while ordinary citizens became criminals. Many hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on law enforcement to fix a problem that was unfixable. For sensible reasons, the country changed its mind on Prohibition, and alcohol became a regulated and taxable product.

During this entire time, the medical hazards of alcohol had not changed one iota. What had changed was society’s attitude toward the issue.

We are at the same point again when it comes to the use of marijuana. Poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans are in favor of legalized pot.

The major argument against legalization has always been that marijuana is a gateway drug to harder, more dangerous drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. Ask any user of those drugs what illegal drug they first used and they will tell you: marijuana. But the reverse is not true. Not every user of marijuana moves on to harder drugs. Look at it another way. Every alcoholic began by drinking socially, but only a small percentage of people who drink beer or wine or who have an occasional cocktail become alcoholics.

Another argument, the one put forth by Dr. Borchardt in a Star Tribune article (“Doctors split on medical use of marijuana,” March 4) is that it is dangerous to the developing brains of young people. I agree, and I think that — as with alcohol — the retailing of marijuana should be limited to adults over age 21. However, it should be available for younger individuals for specific medical reasons, as it appears to have at least some medical utility for a number of conditions.

I know many people will disagree with me for various reasons, including the argument that we shouldn’t legalize another “dangerous” drug; what will come next, legalization of heroin and cocaine and LSD? The reality is that someday society’s views on these drugs may change as well, and they might become legal. But I suspect that is not going to happen during my lifetime.

On the other hand, how will you deal with it if society decides that caffeine is a dangerous drug, and your daily latte becomes illegal? I guarantee you’ll be looking to get your fix from some underground, completely illicit equivalent of Starbucks and making a new group of criminals even richer.

Leonard Lichtblau is an associate professor in the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. The opinions expressed here are solely his own.

Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Author: Leonard Lichtblau
Published: March 7, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Star Tribune
Contact: opinion@startribune.com
Website: http://www.startribune.com/

Law Enforcement Rallies Against Marijuana Bills

February 26th, 2014

Prosecutors, police chiefs and sheriffs gathered Tuesday in Annapolis to push back against the growing movement to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana or to legalize recreational use of the drug altogether.

At a news conference and at a Senate hearing, law enforcement leaders warned that loosening marijuana laws would undermine drug enforcement across the board. They said it would be premature to pass a bill following in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington state, which recently legalized pot, and opposed a separate measure that would treat possession as a minor civil offense.

“This legislation sends a horrible message,” said Riverdale Park Police Chief David Morris, speaking for the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association.

Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly, speaking on behalf of the Maryland State’s Attorneys Association, called the movement to legalize pot in Maryland “a rush to judgment.”

Cassilly said the state should wait for legalization in Colorado and Washington to be thoroughly studied, instead of relying on “anecdotal evidence from a bunch of pot heads.”

The otherwise solid show of support for the state’s existing marijuana laws was cracked by the testimony of Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore police major who has emerged as a vocal opponent of the war on drugs in general and the prohibition of marijuana in particular.

“It didn’t work back in the 1920s with alcohol prohibition,” he said. “We should have learned from history.”

Franklin argued the effect of prohibiting marijuana has been to leave its regulation in the hands of drug cartels and street gangs.

Most of the active law enforcement officers who attended took a hard line against legalizing marijuana for recreational use, though they were clear that their opposition did not extend to proposals making medical marijuana more readily available to those who need it.

“Those lines should not be blurred,” said Anne Arundel County Police Chief Kevin Davis, speaking at a morning news conference.

Some of the officers ran into trouble in the less-forgiving venue of the Senate hearing, where the sponsors of the legalization and decriminalization bills repeatedly sought proof of police assertions that law enforcement and public health would be hampered by their bills.

Annapolis Police Chief Michael A. Pristoop asserted that 37 people had died of marijuana overdoses on the first day of legalization in Colorado last month.

The claim drew groans from the packed hearing room. Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the legalization bill, pointed out that Pristoop had fallen for a hoax that ran in the satirical publication the Daily Currant.

Pristoop later issued an apology.

“I believed the information I obtained was accurate but I now know the story is nothing more than an urban legend,” he said in a statement.

Police warnings of the danger of marijuana overdoses aroused skepticism among senators of both parties.

“The only people I’ve seen overdose on marijuana had a big snack and fell asleep,” said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican.

Morris also took some heat from senators over his assertion that decriminalizing marijuana would lead to an increase in drug use.

Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat and author of the decriminalization bill, said he had “looked high and low” for evidence from 16 states that now treat marijuana possession as a civil offense. He said he found no evidence suggesting that usage had increased. When Zirkin pressed Morris to back up his assertion with studies, the chief could not.

Public polls show growing support for loosening marijuana laws in Maryland and across the country. A recent Baltimore Sun Poll found that 58 percent of Maryland voters favor either legalization or decriminalization.

Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Author: Michael Dresser and Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun
Published: February 25, 2014
Copyright: 2014 The Baltimore Sun
Contact: letters@baltsun.com
Website: http://www.baltimoresun.com/

Alaska Primed To Become Third State To Legalize

February 8th, 2014

Alaska is poised to become the third state to legalize retail marijuana after pro-pot advocates this week cleared the signature hurdle to place an initiative on the August ballot.

The Committee to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska hit 31,593 valid signatures Tuesday, well above the 30,169 signatures required to place the measure before voters. The initiative is expected to appear on the Aug. 19 primary ballot once a final count is certified by the state.

Alaska follows in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington, where voters approved measures to regulate the sale of recreational marijuana for adults in November 2012. Colorado unveiled the nation’s first retail pot shops in Jan. 1, and Washington is expected to begin marijuana sales in June.

Dependably Republican Alaska would become the reddest state to approve retail marijuana, but Committee spokesman Taylor Bickford predicted the legalization effort would appeal to the electorate’s libertarian streak.

“Alaska voters have a large degree of respect for personal liberty and freedom, and that’s reflected in the poll numbers we’ve been seeing,” said Mr. Bickford.

A newly released survey shows the idea already has significant public support. A Public Policy Polling survey posted Wednesday found 55 percent of registered voters polled agree with legalizing pot for recreational purposes, with 39 percent opposed.

Opposing the measure is Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a year-old group founded by former Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island Democrat, that favors decriminalization for pot smokers but not legalization.

“We’ve been approached by Alaskan treatment and prevention providers to offer advice,” said SAM co-founder Kevin Sabet.

So far Alaska’s leading elected officials haven’t said much about the issue, although the Marijuana Policy Project is lobbying for the support for Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, who backed a House bill last year to protect marijuana businesses from federal prosecution as long as they comply with state law.

“It’s a states’ rights issue, period,” Mr. Young told the Alaska Dispatch.

The marijuana measure would appear on the primary ballot alongside a number of other high-profile contests. Republicans are waging a contested Senate primary to decide who will face vulnerable Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in November.

The ballot is also expected to include initiatives on repealing a tax cut for oil companies and boosting the minimum wage, which could increase voter turnout.

The Alaska initiative hews closely to the language in the Colorado and Washington measures, which legalize small amounts of marijuana for adults 21 and over. The sale and cultivation would be regulated by the state in a manner similar to that of liquor.

The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would have regulatory oversight over recreational marijuana, but the state legislature would have the option of establishing and shifting authority to a Marijuana Control Board.

The measure also calls for a $50 per ounce excise tax for sales or transfers of marijuana from a cultivation facility or a store. Local governments could opt out by banning retail sales in their jurisdictions, although marijuana use and possession would still be legal.

The campaign doesn’t have an estimate yet on how much revenue would be generated under the initiative, but “what we do know is that a lot of jobs are going to be created, there will be a significant economic boost, and the state will have a new source of tax revenue,” said Mr. Bickford.

The biggest losers would be those now profiting from marijuana sales, he said, namely dope dealers and criminal syndicates.

“We expect to put a lot of drug dealers out of business by selling marijuana over the counter in a regulated market instead of on the black market,” said Mr. Bickford.

Source: Washington Times (DC)
Author: Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times
Published: February 6, 2014
Copyright: 2014 The Washington Times, LLC
Website: http://www.washtimes.com/
Contact: letters@washingtontimes.com

Eric Holder’s Pot Problem

February 3rd, 2014

Twenty states plus the District of Columbia now allow sales of medicinal marijuana, allowing pot prescriptions to treat pretty much any malady, from a headache to a hangnail. Colorado and Washington have legalized the drug for recreational use, too.

Yet federal law still prohibits the possession, use and sale of marijuana for any reason. This dichotomy explains why some banks are reluctant to accept the large amounts of cash that pot purveyors generate — even if the cash is legal under state law.

To redress this, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has promised to issue guidelines to make it easier for marijuana sellers who are operating in accordance with their state laws to use the banking system. Large amounts of cash “just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited,” Holder mused, “is something that would worry me, from a law enforcement perspective.”

The fact is, Holder encouraged those bundles of unbanked cash to be assembled in the first place. Last year, perhaps in a nod to opinion polls showing that a majority of Americans favor marijuana legalization, he said the Justice Department wouldn’t seek to overturn the Colorado and Washington measures. Nor, he said, would Washington interfere with the 20 states that allow medicinal marijuana. Instead, federal drug agencies and prosecutors would leave it to local authorities to enforce marijuana laws.

All of which raises the question: When did it become acceptable for the country’s top law-enforcement officer to decide which federal statutes to enforce and which to ignore? Even those who agree with the broader policy of marijuana legalization should be left uneasy by open defiance of the rule of law.

Under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which means it has high potential for abuse, serves no medical purpose and isn’t safe even under a doctor’s supervision. As recently as 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, even in states that allow medical marijuana sales, sellers and users can be prosecuted.

Whether or not a law is outmoded, unpopular or overtaken by cultural change, the attorney general doesn’t have the authority to ignore it altogether in half the country. To do so is wrong, and has practical consequences: Holder’s pronouncement caused a surge of cash to flow from the black-market weed business into the regular economy. His guidelines presumably will make it possible for buyers to use credit and debit cards now — and for banks to accept those transactions — without fear of reprisal. But some banks won’t go along.

Banks are subject to federal banking laws, including the anti-money-laundering statute, which discourages large deposits of cash by requiring reams of paperwork to document where it came from and where it went. When regulators don’t enforce the rules, lawmakers haul them in, Holder’s blind eye notwithstanding.

What’s more, in states that allow marijuana sales, a whole new pot economy has grown up, complete with cannapreneurs, growers, equipment makers, transporters and even private-equity financiers. The National Cannabis Industry Association estimates marijuana sales will exceed $2 billion in 2014 and $10 billion by 2019. Nevertheless, a future president could wipe the industry out by regarding the federal prohibition as wise and strictly enforcing the law.

If that happens, the marijuana industry and thousands of employees would be put out of work or forced back underground. Banks would again refuse to accept their cash, dispensaries would have to unplug their ATMs, and Visa and MasterCard would refuse to process marijuana transactions. Sales of the drug would continue, of course, but they would again go untaxed and unregulated.

At any rate, guidelines from Justice wouldn’t be enforceable in court, and therefore wouldn’t provide the legal defense bank lawyers must have before advising their clients there is a safe harbor against prosecution. 

It’s time Congress recognized reality. With 22 states openly in defiance of the federal statute, lawmakers should decide whether to keep the national ban or turn the question of marijuana decriminalization over to the states. Congress could, for example, withdraw marijuana from the Schedule 1 list, recognize that it has useful medical applications and let the states decide whether and where to allow its use.

What shouldn’t be an option is for the Justice Department to look the other way.

Source: Bloomberg.com (USA)
Published: February 2, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Bloomberg L.P.
Contact: view@bloomberg.net
Website: http://www.bloomberg.com/