November 8, 2009 – Marijuana arrests in California are increasing faster than the nationwide rate, and African Americans are being booked for pot-related crimes much more often than whites, a ba-CORRECTION_Su_0500753667new report says.

But despite the rise in arrests and in the seizure of marijuana plants, use of pot in California has increased slightly, said the report, part of a nationwide study released Thursday by a Virginia researcher.

In both California and the United States as a whole, “we keep arresting more and more people, but it’s not having a deterrent effect,” said Jon Gettman, an adjunct assistant professor of criminal justice at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va.

Nationally, Gettman said, marijuana arrests have doubled since 1991,but marijuana use is unchanged.

Gettman is a former director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He said he favors the legalization of marijuana.

Gettman’s report came a day after state officials announced that the state-federal Campaign Against Marijuana Planting had seized a record 4.4 million pot plants in California this year, up from 2.9 million in 2008.

Gettman’s study is based on state and FBI arrest records and other government data from 2003 through 2007. It said California officers arrested 61,375 people on marijuana charges in 2003 and 74,024 in 2007, an average increase of more than 5 percent per year. Eighty percent of the arrests in 2007 were for marijuana possession, the report said.

Nationwide, the annual increase during the same period was just under 4 percent, the report said, although California’s marijuana arrest rate, compared to its population, remained among the nation’s lowest.

The report also found a large racial discrepancy in arrests.

African Americans were about 20 percent more likely than whites to use marijuana in 2007, but the arrest rate for blacks on marijuana charges was nearly 270 percent of whites’ arrest rate, the report said.

Gettman said he found similar disparities nationwide and in most major cities, including San Francisco.

“I don’t believe it’s racially motivated,” he said. Among the possible contributing factors, he said, are “more intensive patrolling” by police in minority neighborhoods, and the presence of marijuana when people are arrested for other crimes.

Overall, the report said, marijuana use increased in California by 0.73 percent a year in the four-year period, while nationwide use declined by 0.21 percent a year.

By geographic zone, the state’s northernmost counties, which include the prime marijuana-growing areas of Humboldt and Mendocino counties, ranked 12th out of 350 regions in the nation in pot use by their residents. A region consisting of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties ranked 15th. Source.

Read the report

October 29, 2009 – SACRAMENTO — Marijuana legalization advocates and law enforcement officials duked it out in a three-hour legislative hearing Wednesday on whether making the drug legal under state law would be good public policy.schwarzenegger_marijuana_debate

Advocates said legalization and regulation could bring as much as $1.4 billion in state and local excise and sales tax revenue per year; control the drug’s potency; do more to keep it out of children’s hands; and end a century long double standard in which alcohol and tobacco — which they say are more harmful — are legal while marijuana isn’t, leading to a war on drugs particularly destructive to people of color.

Law enforcement officials testified the harms caused by marijuana legalization would far outweigh whatever tax revenue it might bring — more, not less, use by children; more people driving under the influence, causing more injuries and deaths; decreased worker productivity that could hurt the economy; and a still-thriving black market.

The hearing was convened by Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who earlier this year introduced a bill to legalize and tax marijuana under a system not unlike that used for alcohol. Even as several proposed ballot measures for legalization seek to qualify for next year’s ballot, Ammiano is rewriting his bill to bring it forward again in January, and Wednesday’s hearing was supposed to help him gather input for that revamp.

First up Wednesday were the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which said state and local law enforcement could save “several tens of millions of dollars each year” by no longer pursuing marijuana cases, and the Board of Equalization, which has estimated $1.4 billion in annual revenue from taxes on legalized marijuana.

Then came the lawyers. Drug Policy Alliance staff attorney Tamar Todd and American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Allen Hopper testified California is free to criminalize or not criminalize whatever it wants, and can and should chart its own course as a laboratory for new social and economic policy.

But Martin Mayer, general counsel to the California Peace Officers’ Association and the California Police Chiefs Association, underscored there would be no protection from federal law enforcement agencies arresting, charging and prosecuting Californians for violating the federal marijuana ban.

California Peace Officers’ Association President John Standish said there’s “no way marijuana legalization could protect or promote society — in fact, it radically diminishes it” by impairing educational ability, worker productivity, traffic safety and drug-related crime rates.

Ammiano asked whether police resources now used to fight marijuana would be better spent fighting harder, more harmful drugs such as methamphetamine.

“That’s like, ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ Standish replied, calling marijuana and methamphetamine “both equally critical problems our society needs to address.”

Sara Simpson, acting assistant chief of the state Justice Department’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, said much of California’s major marijuana cultivation is run by Mexican drug cartels on remote public lands, and she recited a litany of violent and deadly clashes with armed guards at such sites. Such growing operations also are environmentally devastating, she said, and produce marijuana far more potent than that used just years ago. There’s no reason to believe the cartels would adhere to state laws on cultivation, potency and taxation any more than they adhere to prohibition now, she said.

Rosalie Pacula, co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at renowned think-tank RAND Corp., said prohibition has kept marijuana prices high, and legalization with heavy taxation that elevates marijuana’s price far above the cost of its production will lead to a thriving black market.

But Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice Executive Director Dan Macallair said arrest statistics from the past 20 years show California law enforcement is far more focused on prosecuting simple possession and use than cultivation and sales. Various counties are more or less tolerant of marijuana use, he said, a lack of consistency and continuity that could be solved by regulation.

And retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray said the state can allow and regulate marijuana without condoning its use just like alcohol and tobacco, but any legalization legislation must ban advertising lest marijuana use become glamorized. By Josh Richman. Source.

GREELEY, Colo. — Health and law enforcement officials around the nation are scrambling to figure out how to articleLargeregulate medical marijuana now that the federal government has decided it will no longer prosecute legal users or providers.

For years, since the first medical marijuana laws were passed in the mid-1990s, many local and state governments could be confident, if not complacent, knowing that marijuana would be kept in check because it remained illegal under federal law, and that hard-nosed federal prosecutors were not about to forget it.

But with the Justice Department’s announcement last week that it would not prosecute people who use marijuana for medical purposes in states where it is legal, local and state officials say they will now have to take on the job themselves.

In New Hampshire, for instance, where some state legislators are considering a medical marijuana law, there is concern that the state health department — already battered by budget cuts — could be hard-pressed to administer the system. In California, where there has been an explosion of medical marijuana suppliers, the authorities in Los Angeles and other jurisdictions are considering a requirement that all medical dispensaries operate as nonprofit organizations.

“The federal government says they’re not going to control it, so the only other option we have is to control it ourselves,” said Carrol Martin, a City Council member in this community north of Denver, where a ban on marijuana dispensaries was on the agenda at a Council meeting the day after the federal announcement.

At least five states, including New York and New Jersey, are considering laws to allow medical marijuana through legislation or voter referendums, in addition to the 13 states where such laws already exist. Even while that is happening, scores of local governments in California, Colorado and other states have gone the other way and imposed bans or moratoriums on distribution even though state law allows it.

Some health and legal experts say the Justice Department’s decision will promote the spread of marijuana for medical uses because local and state officials often take leadership cues from federal policy. That, the experts said, could lead to more liberal rules in states that already have medical marijuana and to more voters and legislators in other states becoming comfortable with the idea of allowing it. For elected officials who have feared looking soft on crime by backing any sort of legalized marijuana use, the new policy might provide support to reframe the issue.

“The fact that the feds are backing off is going to allow changes that are going to make it more accessible,” said Bill Morrisette, a state senator in Oregon and chairman of a committee that oversees the state’s medical marijuana law. Mr. Morrisette said he expected a flurry of proposals in the Legislature, including a plan already floated to have the state grow the marijuana crop itself, perhaps on the grounds of the State Penitentiary in Salem.

“It would be very secure,” he said.

Here in Greeley, anxiety and enthusiasm were on display as the City Council considered a ban on dispensaries.

Most of those who testified at the hearing, including several dispensary operators, opposed the ban and spoke of marijuana’s therapeutic benefits and the taxes that dispensary owners were willing to pour into Greeley’s budget, which has been battered by the recession.

But on the seven-member Council, the question was control. Mr. Martin, for example, said that he hated to see the spread of marijuana, but that the barricades had fallen. Still, he said he opposed a local ban on dispensaries.

“If we have no regulations at all, then we can’t control it, and our police officers have their hands tied,” Mr. Martin said.

Mayor Ed Clark, a former police officer, took the opposite tack in supporting the ban, which passed on a 6-to-1 vote.

“I think we do regulate them, by not allowing dispensaries,” Mr. Clark said.

The backdrop to the debate here in Colorado is a sharp expansion in marijuana dispensaries and patients, fueled in part by the State Board of Health decision in July not to impose limits on the number of patients handled by each marijuana provider.

The state attorney general, John W. Suthers, said the federal government’s retreat, combined with the growth in demand, had created a legal vacuum.

“The federal Department of Justice is saying it will only go after you if you’re in violation of state law,” Mr. Suthers said. “But in Colorado it’s not clear what state law is.”

In New Hampshire, by contrast, where the state legislature is scheduled to meet this week to consider overriding the governor’s veto and passing a medical marijuana law, government downsizing has colored the debate.

The state agency that would be responsible for licensing marijuana dispensaries has been battered by budget cuts, said Senator Sylvia B. Larsen, the president of the New Hampshire Senate and a Democrat. Concerns about the department, Ms. Larsen said, have made it harder to find two more votes in the Senate to reach a two-thirds majority that is needed to override a veto by Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat.

An even odder situation is unfolding in Maine, which already allows medical marijuana and where residents will vote next month on a measure that would create a new system of distribution and licensing.

The marijuana proposal, several political experts said, has been overshadowed by another fight on the ballot that would overturn a state law and ban same-sex marriage.

The added wrinkle is that opponents of same-sex marriage, said Christian Potholm, a professor of government at Bowdoin College, have heavily recruited young, socially conservative voters, who by and large tend to not be concerned about medical marijuana expansion.

“The 18- to 25-year-old vote is going to be overrepresented because of the gay marriage situation, so overrepresented in favor of medical marijuana,” Professor Potholm said.

Some legal scholars said the federal government, by deciding not to enforce its own laws (possession and the sale of marijuana remain federal crimes), has introduced an unpredictable variable into the drug regulation system.

“The next step would be a particular state deciding to legalize marijuana entirely,” said Peter J. Cohen, a doctor and a lawyer who teaches public health law at Georgetown University. If federal prosecutors kept their distance even then, Dr. Cohen said, legalized marijuana would become a de facto reality.

Senator Morrisette in Oregon said he thought that exact situation — a state moving toward legalization, perhaps California — could play out much sooner now than might have been imagined even a few weeks ago. And the continuing recession would only help, he said, with advocates for legalization able to promise relief to an overburdened prison system and injection of tax revenues to the state budget. Source.

October 21, 2009 – Since Monday when the Department of Justice announced its new ‘hands-off’ policy on Picture 52persecuting Medical Marijuana dispensaries operating in compliance with state laws, there has been an avalanche of media coverage – over 2000 major media articles. Here is a sampling of the range and scope of coverage and opinions:

Medical Marijuana: ‘Be Careful,’ Ex-White House Drug Spokesman Bob Weiner Tells DOJ About ‘New Lax Enforcement’ Policy; ‘Use May Explode for Healthy People’
Source: PRnewswire
Excerpt: “You may get way more than you bargained for”, Weiner cautions of the new policy barring states attorneys from busting and prosecuting users and caregivers of so-called “medical” marijuana who act “in accordance with state law.” “Prescription marijuana use may explode for healthy people.” Unfortunately, as many as 90% of purchases at clinical distribution centers are “false defenses”, some law enforcement agents report – “which means individuals are not really sick but simply want the pot,” Weiner asserts.

U.S medicinal smokers exhale sigh of relief
Source: Now Toronto
Excerpt: Obama administration finally makes good on promises to call of the dogs on medicinal pot shops

Medical marijuana: An excuse to get high
Source: Baltimore Sun
Excerpt: The medical marijuana issue has little to do with helping people and more to do with making the drug legal for all those who want to get high and not get into trouble. If we are truly concerned about using marijuana for medicinal purposes, we would send it to the Food & Drug Administration to be tested and if approved they would decide on the best way to make the drug available.

Medical marijuana policy move sparks cautious optimism
Source: CNN.com
Excerpt: Patients in the 13 states where medical marijuana is legal can now light up without fear of federal reprisal, but they may still have to answer to local authorities. The federal move could encourage other states to make their own laws allowing medical marijuana use. The Justice Department this week announced that it will no longer seek to prosecute people using, prescribing, or distributing pot for medical purposes, as long as they’re in compliance with local law. However, regulations in some medical marijuana states remain murky.

The National Review: A Case Of Token Federalism
Source: NPR
Excerpt: The Obama administration has discovered federalism, at least a version of it, and it has therefore foresworn prosecuting medical-marijuana users and distributors who are acting in accord with state laws. This is good news for medical-marijuana users in the 14 states that allow cannabis to be prescribed for such purposes as mitigating the side effects of chemotherapy.

Good Sense on Medical Marijuana
Source: New York Times
Excerpt: The federal government should not be harassing sick people and their caregivers. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has made the right decision, calling off prosecutions of patients who use marijuana for medical purposes or those who distribute it to them — provided they comply with state laws. It is a welcome reversal of the Bush administration’s ideologically driven campaign to prosecute dispensaries, even in states that had made medical uses legal and often with overwhelming popular support.

Will Health Coverage Pay for Medical Marijuana?
Source: CBS News
Excerpt: “The main issue here is the question of FDA approval that all drugs need to go through,” said Pisano. Lack of FDA approval means no coverage either by private insurers or through any public plan to be drafted in Congress.
So what, then, are the prospects that medical marijuana will get FDA approval? In the short term, at least, they’re pretty slim. The fact that marijuana remains a controlled substance presents one hurdle to approval; another, perhaps more significant one is that it isn’t a synthesized drug – that is, its component parts are not crafted by drug companies.

Medical marijuana is an insult to our intelligence
Source: Washington Post
The Justice Department says it’s backing off the prosecution of people who smoke pot or sell it in compliance with state laws that permit “medical marijuana.” Attorney General Eric Holder says “it will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers.” Party hardy! I mean — let the healing begin!

A federal misstep with medical marijuana?
Source: Christian Science Monitor
Excerpt: The problem with the Obama administration’s new directive limiting federal prosecution of medical marijuana is that it encourages those who would legalize the drug. The federal government has limited resources to fight drugs, and funds should not be wasted on prosecuting users and providers of medical marijuana who comply with state laws, the Obama administration said this week. While this argument may indeed seem a sensible prioritizing of federal effort and dollars, the White House and the public should realize it comes with a cost.
That cost is Washington’s tacit approval of state-sanctioned medical marijuana, which the drug’s proponents will take as a green light to push even harder for their ultimate goal: full legalization of marijuana use and distribution.

SAN FRANCISCO — Medical marijuana advocates in California said the Obama administration’s announcement of new guidelines for pot prosecutions Monday contained Picture 43some hopeful signs, but lacked the specifics needed to keep patients and their suppliers out of court.

“It’s an extremely welcome rhetorical de-escalation of the federal government’s long-standing war on medical marijuana patients,” said Stephen Gutwillig, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Dale Gieringer, California coordinator of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the administration’s advice to U.S. attorneys that they respect state law – such as California’s Proposition 215, the 1996 measure legalizing medicinal use of the drug – was encouraging.

However, he added, “the policy has major loopholes that give prosecutors broad discretion to determine what they think is legal.”

A Justice Department memo, sent Monday to federal prosecutors in California and 13 other states whose laws allow medical use of marijuana, provides guidelines to implement the policy Attorney General Eric Holder announced in March: that federal authorities should refrain from arresting or prosecuting people who are complying with their state’s laws.

Federal prosecutors should focus on major drug traffickers and networks, rather than on those who “are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws” on medical marijuana, said Deputy Attorney General David Ogden.

But he added some qualifications: Prosecutors can go after those who sell marijuana for profit, a category that federal authorities have commonly invoked in charging growers and sellers of medicinal pot.

San Francisco’s U.S. attorney, Joseph Russoniello, asserted in August that most of California’s 300 marijuana dispensaries make profits, in violation of state guidelines, and are therefore open to federal prosecution.

Ogden also said the Justice Department would fight any effort by people now charged with marijuana-related crimes in federal court to claim that they were simply following state law. And even those who are clearly complying with a state’s law can be investigated and prosecuted, he said, in the pursuit of “important federal interests.”
‘Lot of discretion’

“It leaves a lot of discretion up to the U.S. attorneys,” said Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group for patients who use marijuana. “We hope that these guidelines rein in rogue prosecutors like Russoniello. There’s no guarantee that’s going to happen.”

Russoniello’s office is prosecuting owners of two Hayward-area medical marijuana dispensaries that were licensed by local governments. In March, after Holder’s announcement, federal agents raided Emmalyn’s California Cannabis Clinic in San Francisco, which had a city permit. No charges were filed.

Russoniello’s office referred inquiries Monday to the Justice Department, where spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said Ogden’s memo was intended to provide “guidance and clarification” to prosecutors and does not change administration policy.

Judges go easy
Since Holder’s announcement, prosecutors have told several federal judges in California that the new policy did not justify leniency for marijuana defendants whose cases originated during President George W. Bush’s administration.

Judges have nonetheless imposed lighter sentences than the Justice Department wanted, notably a one-year term for a Central Coast pot club operator for whom prosecutors sought five years.

Although Monday’s guidelines, like Holder’s earlier statement, do not expressly apply to pending cases, defense lawyers will argue to judges that the Obama administration’s memo justifies a break in sentencing, said Joe Elford, lawyer for Americans for Safe Access.

He also predicted that some prisoners would cite the memo in asking President Obama for clemency.

The guidelines don’t say how federal authorities would respond if California legalized marijuana for personal use, as proposed in an Assembly bill and several pending initiatives. But Gutwillig, whose organization advocates legalization, said he saw a glimmer of hope.

“The Obama administration has taken a further step today to follow the lead of the states on marijuana policy,” he said.

Source.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 – Attorney General Eric Holder today announced formal guidelines for federal prosecutors in states that have enacted laws Obamaauthorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The guidelines make clear that the focus of federal resources should not be on individuals whose actions are in compliance with existing state laws, while underscoring that the Department will continue to prosecute people whose claims of compliance with state and local law conceal operations inconsistent
with the terms, conditions, or purposes of those laws.

“It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal,” Holder said. “This balanced policy formalizes a sensible approach that the Department has been following since January: effectively focus our
resources on serious drug traffickers while taking into account state and local laws.”

The guidelines set forth examples of conduct that would show when individuals are not in clear and unambiguous compliance with applicable state law and may indicate illegal drug trafficking activity of potential federal interest, including unlawful use of firearms, violence, sales to minors, money laundering, amounts of marijuana inconsistent with purported compliance with state or local law, marketing or excessive financial gains similarly inconsistent with state or local law, illegal possession or sale of other controlled substances, and ties to criminal enterprises.

Fourteen states have enacted laws in some form addressing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. A copy of the guidelines, in a memo from Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden to United States Attorneys, can be found here:

SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice

WASHINGTON – Federal drug agents won’t pursue pot-smoking patients or their sanctioned suppliers in states that allow medical marijuana, under new legal guidelines to be issued US-department-of-justice-buildingMonday by the Obama administration.

Two Justice Department officials described the new policy to The Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law.

The guidelines to be issued by the department do, however, make it clear that agents will go after people whose marijuana distribution goes beyond what is permitted under state law or use medical marijuana as a cover for other crimes, the officials said.

The new policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.

Fourteen states allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

California is unique among those for the widespread presence of dispensaries — businesses that sell marijuana and even advertise their services. Colorado also has several dispensaries, and Rhode Island and New Mexico are in the process of licensing providers, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that promotes the decriminalization of marijuana use.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in March that he wanted federal law enforcement officials to pursue those who violate both federal and state law, but it has not been clear how that goal would be put into practice.

A three-page memo spelling out the policy is expected to be sent Monday to federal prosecutors in the 14 states, and also to top officials at the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration.

The memo, the officials said, emphasizes that prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, and says it is not a good use of federal manpower to prosecute those who are without a doubt in compliance with state law.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the legal guidance before it is issued.

“This is a major step forward,” said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This change in policy moves the federal government dramatically toward respecting scientific and practical reality.”

At the same time, the officials said, the government will still prosecute those who use medical marijuana as a cover for other illegal activity. The memo particularly warns that some suspects may hide old-fashioned drug dealing or other crimes behind a medical marijuana business.

In particular, the memo urges prosecutors to pursue marijuana cases which involve violence, the illegal use of firearms, selling pot to minors, money laundering or involvement in other crimes.

And while the policy memo describes a change in priorities away from prosecuting medical marijuana cases, it does not rule out the possibility that the federal government could still prosecute someone whose activities are allowed under state law.

The memo, officials said, is designed to give a sense of prosecutorial priorities to U.S. attorneys in the states that allow medical marijuana. It notes that pot sales in the United States are the largest source of money for violent Mexican drug cartels, but adds that federal law enforcement agencies have limited resources.

Medical marijuana advocates have been anxious to see exactly how the administration would implement candidate Barack Obama’s repeated promises to change the policy in situations in which state laws allow the use of medical marijuana.

Soon after Obama took office, DEA agents raided four dispensaries in Los Angeles, prompting confusion about the government’s plans. Source.

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