Prohibition


Canadian authorities have still not laid charges ten days after the police action.

December 5, 2009 – (SALEM, Ore.) – There’s a man from Athol, Nova Scotia, Canada who has caused a stir around the world. About five years ago, he made the shocking claim to have cured cancer. As unbelievable as that sounds, there is viable evidence to support his claim.

You may not have heard of Rick Simpson, many people have not yet had the chance. He’s well known globally in the cannabis community, but the general public has been slow in receiving his whole story.

Simpson makes and distributes a medicinal cannabis extract popularly known as “hemp oil”. He does so without any profit motive. Many patients have claimed to be cured of their ailments, often terminal cancer, by this extract.

This pioneer for alternative health solutions was in Europe in November, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) took the opportunity to raid Simpson’s home in Canada. As his house, office, and garden were being trampled through by police, Simpson was accepting an International Freedom Fighter award, thousands of miles away.

“While he has been touring in Europe his residence was raided by the RCMP and rumor has it the DEA was involved as well,” explains friend Desmond Wynnd.

“The newest issue of “High Times” that came out a week or two ago has a lengthy article on his story and it’s felt by many this is what prompted the latest raid. He is now seeking political asylum in Europe.”

The 22nd Annual High Times Cannabis Cup is held in Amsterdam annually, and Rick Simpson received the acclaimed honor of “Freedom Fighter of the Year”. The special event came on the heels of a European tour Simpson had just completed.

For five years, Simpson has been diligently working on the behalf of saving lives, challenging the traditional remedies for skin cancer and other cancers, diabetes, as well as many chronic illnesses. He aspires to enlighten the medical community and bring the discussion of curing cancer to a new level. That discussion is widely believed to be more politically motivated than cure goal-oriented.

Though Rick Simpson has helped so many, there are forces that want to stop him, at any cost.

As of December 3rd, Canadian authorities had still not charged Simpson, ten days after the police action. Initially there were discrepancies in available information from the two involved agencies that carried out this police action.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police first claimed that such an action would have been undertaken by the Amherst Police Department, as Simpson’s home falls within their jurisdiction. Amherst PD denied that they incited this action when reached for comment, and deferred inquiry for detail to the RCMP.

Rick Simpson wrote, “If I return home, I will be arrested and put in jail without bail or medicine. I am not afraid of their jails but I cannot go without my medicine, the system has nothing that could help me with my conditions. So for me to return to Canada would be like committing suicide. I would be thrown in jail and denied my medicine and a short time later you would hear in the news that ‘Rick Simpson died of natural causes’.”

“It seems the goal is to keep me from returning home and they succeeded. But to what end? All hemp magazines on this planet are now telling their readers how to heal themselves with this wonderful medicine. If governments want to live in denial, it will be short-lived. We are gaining tens of thousands of followers every day. You cannot stop the truth.”

“For the time being, it seems I will be seeking asylum in Europe.”

The Canadian government’s lack of tolerance for marijuana has been building the last few years, a reaction, some believe, to America’s own drug war. Canadians are feeling the brunt. “They’re doing a great job directing hate toward Americans when it’s undeserved. I haven’t met a bad American yet. In the end, we have to take care of ourselves and each other,” Wynnd said.

One theory on limiting a person’s ability to share information is to incarcerate them. That’s a pretty easy solution. A fellow Canadian, Marc Emery, can vouch for that, out on bail for selling cannabis seeds. He is currently scheduled to be extradited to the United States for a sentence of five years in US federal prison.

Perpetrators of the incarceration strategy believe that eventually the subject may lose support of their advocates, the costs will mount up, and just getting through the drama of arrest, red tape and humiliation that follows will be enough to distract even the most passionate, motivated activists.

But Rick isn’t like “most” activists.

He’s been arrested twice in the past, and his medicinal Cannabis plants confiscated. Both times, he was able to reason with the judicial system and continue living freely. Where the maximum penalty has been 12 years imprisonment in one of these instances, the courts instead levied a $2,000 fine.

Most of us have been duped into completely and blindly accepting that there is no cure for cancer.
–Christian Laurette, producer

“Last time he was arrested, the judge wouldn’t send him to jail because the judge believed it would be a crime to lock up Rick Simpson, it’s all public record,” said Wynnd. “During his last trial he had doctors and patients lining up to testify for him. Even Narcotic officers have sent people to Rick so he could help them.”

“Mr. Simpson is in an unusual position, because unlike other people engaged in the drug trade, he was not engaged in trafficking for financial gain,” said Judge Carole Beaton. “He was engaged in an altruistic activity and was firm in his belief that he was helping others,” she said after Rick Simpson’s sentencing for his second offense in healing dying cancer patients with hemp oil.

Rick Simpson didn’t start out as a crusader to stamp out cancer. He started out as an average guy, first as a steel worker, then in maintenance at a hospital in the boiler room. In his early twenties, Simpson suffered through the loss of a cousin to cancer. That long, exasperating experience changed him forever. He heard some reports about hemp’s healing qualities, and wondered if things would have gone differently for his cousin, had hemp been an option.

For someone who had never even smoked marijuana, this was a very foreign, open-minded idea. The thought provoked some personal research though and later proved very beneficial.

After 25 years working at the hospital, Simpson was in a serious accident causing a temporary nervous-system shutdown, within hours he developed an unbearable ringing in his ears. The doctors tried to find a solution for over a year, and gave up. Not willing to accept his life sentence of daily drugs that altered his memory and other side effects, he asked about medical marijuana, to no avail. So, he began his own research, and experimented with making oil. What he discovered…worked.

To be clear, Rick Simpson’s Hemp Oil isn’t hemp oil in the truest sense. Hemp is the Cannabis (marijuana) plant, specifically the stalk and leaves raised mainly for industrial use, with extremely low THC. Rick Simpson’s oil is made exclusively from the Cannabis flowers, or buds. Not to be confused with hemp seed oil, a very different product, Rick Simpson’s hemp oil is a very pure cannabis extract made from high quality buds with a very high THC content.

In 2003, Simpson had three spots on his skin that his doctor believed to be skin cancer. The doctor removed and biopsied one, which then became infected and didn’t heal. Almost on a whim, Simpson applied hemp oil directly to that sore and the other two spots. In only four days, all three cancerous spots were gone. A miracle? Maybe so, but it isn’t a lone event.

Once he started sharing his success story with others, people lined up to try the hemp oil. Jack Herer is an avid supporter of Simpson’s, always ready to demonstrate his personal success as the oil healed many long-term diabetic lesions on his legs. Herer would be the first to say that Rick Simpson’s Hemp Oil is miraculous.

Rick Simpson has never charged a patient for the hemp oil he creates. He not only teaches people how to make the extract and provides it to the ailing folks who request it, but he also uses it for a variety of his own medical issues. He freely lists the recipe on his site.

What will happen next for Rick Simpson remains to be seen. One thing is for sure though, raiding and seizing his home does not make the police look like the good guys. This type of action only propogates further division in society, turning civilians and police away from one another.

“People are dying needlessly when there’s a cure we all can grow on our own, or have provided to us,” Desmond Wynnd said. “This is all a waste of energy, when we could be helping sick people. That’s all Rick is trying to do.” Source.

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

November 4, 2009 – With the national debate over how–or even whether–to legalize marijuana now hitting a fevered pitch, many eyes are focused squarely on Colorado, where lawmakers aremarijuana-medical now considering proposals to increase regulation of the state’s vibrant medical marijuana industry.

Unfortunately, emotion is trumping fact in too much of this public debate. In a guest column carried in today’s Denver Post (authored by Robert and titled “Stop the Medical Marijuana Madness”), as well as through previous commentary we’ve authored, we lament how a handful of powerful politicians, including some of our fellow Republicans, are using antecdotes, half-truths, and unfounded theories, to make their case for cumbersome regulation, including moratoriums that could prevent new dispensaries from opening at all.

In doing so, these officials are ignoring other critical public policy needs and basic facts proving that the hysteria around the tremendous growth in public demand for medical marijuana is not based in fact. While some regulation of any industry may be appropriate at times, medical marijuana is being unfairly villianized by those who disagree with the state’s voters, who have consistently and overwhelmingly maintained a commitment to patient access to such treatment.

From today’s Denver Post:

Most elected leaders have a good sense of proportion regarding this issue. A minority of politicians, however, avoid reasonable proposals to tax and regulate marijuana, and instead irresponsibly fear-monger in the worst tradition of Prohibition-era ‘Reefer Madness’ propaganda. We hear racially charged tales of ‘Mexican cartels’ supposedly running the medical marijuana business, when the truth is Colorado homegrown marijuana puts foreign cartels out of business, and it is law enforcement that enriches cartels through hostility to medical marijuana.

Even putting aside the state’s serious economic woes, any focus on medical marijuana should be far down the list when it comes to the serious health care concerns we face. Today, Colorado is one of more than a dozen states where fatal prescription drug overdoses now outnumber deaths from car accidents.

Doctors across the state mourn the epidemic of “doctor shopping,” powerless against preventing patients who have become addicted to prescription narcotics from seeking out multiple prescriptions from different doctors to feed their addictions. The game can become fatal very quickly. And despite this shocking trend, which has resulted in a three-fold increase in prescription drug deaths over just the last decade, anti-marijuana activists publicly express little, if any, concern.

Instead, they continue to blast medical marijuana dispensaries, ignoring their many benefits, including the revitalization of struggling communities, the addition of much needed jobs, as well as the significant tax revenue they provide for municipal coffers. More importantly, they ignore the value of businesses providing alternative medical treatment for our sick and dying, many of whom seek such treatment only after years of living in the haze of pharmaceutical narcotic addiction. While the vast majority of medical marijuana patients abide by the system to the letter of law, activists exploit the stories of a few battle apples as a way to enhance their pro-prohibition polemic.

For legislators eager to villanize medical marijuana providers and their patients, we’d suggest they proceed with caution. Most dispensary owners are astute business entrepreneurs; they welcome commonsense standards as a way to best serve their own economic interests, as well as the interests of the patients they serve. Attacking them without getting the facts will only stunt a productive dialogue on regulation.

In addition, legislators should expect resistance from voters in this era where public support for both medical marijuana and outright legalization has grown substantially over the last decade, and today is greater than ever before.

In 2000, a strong majority of voters first amended our state Constitution to allow for legal access to medical marijuana. In 2006, more than 40 percent supported a statewide initiative seeking outright legalization of adult marijuana use. While Republicans voters in Colorado still outnumber Democrats by a slim margin, the 2006 legalization effort received more voter support than that year’s Republican candidate for governor.

Nationally, polls show that a growing number of voters of all ideological persuasions in other states are interested in following Colorado’s lead. A national media survey conducted earlier this year shows that nearly half of Americans support legalization. If legalization advocates can convince just one more voter in every ten, marijuana prohibition could quickly become a thing of a past in many states, including Colorado.

As proud Republicans and even prouder parents of two young children, we’re seen as unconventional legalization supporters by many. If we can open minds, we relish the role. But as the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker recently noted, we’re actually far from alone in our views among free thinkers within our party.

Republicans committed to our party’s founding ideals of individual rights and responsibility should join us. During a FOX News interview yesterday profiling our efforts, we reiterated this commitment. We will not stand by complacently as our federal government wastes our tax dollars to continue a prohibition that costs billions each year and results in 850,000 Americans each year being forced into to our criminal justice system for marijuana-related offenses. In these tough economic times, we owe our children better than to accept the status quo.

Colorado stands at center stage in the national debate over marijuana. In the face of such controversy, we ask those on all sides of the debate to commit to just one thing: let’s stick to the facts. With emotions running high and our federal debt running even higher, now is the time to leave no stone unturned in the effort to restore our nation to a place of solid fiscal and philosophical foundations. Our children’s future depends on it. By Jessica Peck Corry and Robert J. Corry, Jr. Source.

November 2, 2009 – Carroll Fisher does not regularly use marijuana. But he’d like to. The retiredcancerdude 67-year-old Niles factory worker has never smoked a joint — except for trying one in his 20s — until July. That was three months after he was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. He took a trip to Canada to visit friends and had the occasion, as he describes it, to smoke marijuana. Twice a day.

Feeling better
“I slept better. It gave me an appetite where as the chemotherapy takes it away,” he said about the drug, which is illegal in Canada. “It helped me with the pain,” he added.
When he returned to Michigan, where voters a year ago approved medicinal marijuana, he asked his cancer physician in Niles, Dr. Chil Kang, to sign the state form authorizing Fisher to use medicinal marijuana. “He won’t do it,” Fisher said. Nor will his eye doctor or his family practitioner, Dr. Douglas Tacket. “I can’t get anyone to sign it,” Fisher said.

Michigan’s law requires a licensed state physician to sign a certification form, authorizing the patient to grow up to 12 plants to use for medical purposes. The form is necessary for Fisher to obtain a registry card allowing him to use the drug. Greg Francisco, executive director of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, is not surprised by Fisher’s problem. “Access to doctors (who will certify the form) is limited in Southwestern Michigan,” Francisco said.
“They’ve closed ranks and agreed behind closed doors not to write them,” he said.
That’s what Fisher has discovered.

Kang declined to be interviewed for this story. Tacket could not be reached for comment.
Francisco, of Paw Paw, Mich., said there are a few doctors in southwestern Michigan who will write the recommendation for their longtime patients who they have treated for years.
“But they are doing it quietly, and they aren’t taking new patients,” Francisco said.
Dr. Frank Lucido, a California physician with a practice in Berkeley, said it will take time before Michigan doctors will begin to embrace the new law. California approved marijuana for medicinal purposes more than a decade ago.

“They won’t feel comfortable with it because they don’t know the law. And they don’t know the value of cannabis,” he said. Lucido, who graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School, recently opened an office in East Lansing and he has a Web site — called drlucido.com — to help patients and doctors navigate medicinal marijuana uses and laws.

Fisher said he’s heard from other cancer patients that many doctors in Detroit will certify the state form, but Fisher said he would need to spend about $300 for a doctor’s visit and travel costs to drive to Detroit. “I shouldn’t have to do that,” he said.

Traveling doctors
There may be a remedy, said Francisco, but Fisher will have to wait. Since Michigan’s law was passed by a referendum on Nov. 4, 2008, a handful of traveling doctors have cropped up to help sign up patients. “They do an assessment. It’s not guaranteed,” said Francisco.
The cannabis clinics have stopped in St. Joseph. The last time Dr. Robert Kenewell of the Clinic for Compassionate Care was in St. Joseph was about two weeks ago, Francisco said.The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, with Dr. Eric Eisenbud based in Southfield, Mich., also makes regional visits.

“I’ve been after them (the clinics) to do one in Niles,” Francisco added, because demand is high.
Francisco suggested Fisher go to the Web site MediJuana.com to find out where the doctors will be stopping next. Fisher said he is not trying to get on the marijuana bandwagon as an excuse to use the illicit drug. For him, marijuana improved his health, he said.

He went to Canada again for two weeks around Labor Day and smoked marijuana daily.
Fisher said his health improved radically. Each time Fisher has returned home he has gained back a few of the 26 pounds he has lost during 34 rounds of radiation and weeks of chemotherapy.
“I got my strength back. and my weight back. I was almost feeling normal,” said Fisher, who is 6 feet tall, when he returned home in September. He has since dropped down to about 166 pounds.

Daily doses
Every day Fisher takes about seven different drugs.
One helps his appetite, one minimizes pain, another helps him sleep, another helps him swallow, another reduces nausea. He said when he smoked marijuana, he didn’t need many of the medications he has been prescribed. “I wouldn’t have to take half of that,” he said, pointing to an assembly of pill containers lined up on his kitchen table. Fisher’s wife died two years ago and he has two grown daughters. “I am not a druggie,” he said about his desire to use marijuana as part of his treatment plan. “My daughter was worried about that,” he said.

She also has, he said, been worried that if he does obtain a registry card to grow marijuana, his home may be a target for desperate drug users. But Fisher said he’s not worried about that.
He sleeps with a shotgun near his bed. His biggest concern is getting through the next four weeks, when he visits Dr. Kang for weekly chemotherapy sessions. The drug leaves him feeling weak and sick. But now he has even another concern. He’s worried that since he has spoken to The Tribune, his doctors may treat him differently. He looks down to hide his tears.
“I’m sorry,” he said, as he reaches for a tissue.

October 19, 2009 – The Justice Department announced today that federal drug agents will no longer arrest or prosecute people who are legally using, selling or supplying medical marijuana in the states that allow it.

“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,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement when he released the new guidelines. But, Mr. Holder said, “we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal.”

How significant is the change in federal drug policy? What will the new guidelines mean for local and state law enforcement?

A Muddier Federal Role
Picture 29Tom Riley-Tom Riley was associate director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2001 to 2009.

The new policy announced on medical marijuana can be broken down into two parts. The first of these is not really “new” and the second is not really “policy.”

First, Attorney General Holder announced that it would no longer be a “priority” for the federalPicture 31 government to prosecute patients with serious illnesses. But that has never been a priority of federal law enforcement, which has been focused on people engaged in the cultivation and trafficking of significant quantities of illegal drugs. Let’s not be conned here: The average quantity of marijuana that someone is in federal prison for marijuana possession is over 100 lbs.

That is not “personal use,” nor is it Granny getting locked in the slammer for puffing a few joints for “medical” purposes. Leaving aside the wisdom of determining medical policy by ballot measure rather than by science, keeping the federal law enforcement focus on drug trafficking is nothing new — it is a continuation of the Bush and Clinton administration policies.

Second, the memo itself is internally conflicted to the point of incoherence. While ostensibly encouraging prosecutors to defer to state and local laws on marijuana, it also recognizes that federal “interest” can still allow the feds, at their discretion, to step in and prosecute. In fact, federal law remains completely unchanged.

The memo specifically states that the new policy should not be interpreted to mean that medical marijuana has been legalized, and that it does not provide a legal defense against federal prosecution. Moreover, it states that even if an individual scrupulously complies with state laws, they still may be subject to federal prosecution.

The gap between the headlines and the reality can only lead to further confusion. California municipalities are struggling with an explosion of store-front pot shops and grow operations. The new federal “guidelines” make the federal role muddier, and may send a green light to cultivators and traffickers who have been cynically using the “medical” label.

A Victory for Common Sense
Picture 30Richard N. Van Wickler-Richard N. Van Wickler is the Cheshire County superintendent of New Hampshire Department of Corrections and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

The announcement by the Obama administration to not use limited resources to target states that allow the use of medicinal marijuana, and the citizens who use them, is a significant victory for common sense.

One case in point is California, which has built 21 new penitentiaries in a five-year period. Picture 32
The state should get some relief from the no fewer than 200 raids by federal officers on state-approved medicinal marijuana cooperatives — a significant acknowledgment of compassion for the sick and respect for the autonomy of our individual states. The change shines a new light on the horribly failed drug war.

Citing limited federal resources as a principal reason not to pursue state-approved medicinal marijuana cooperatives is only one of many excellent reasons why our country must change course. Considering that 83 percent of property crimes and as much as 40 percent of violent crimes are unsolved in our country, it seems that what resources we do have could be much better utilized. If preventing crime, reducing disease and addiction rates, and reducing violence and needless death are goals of this administration with respect to the drug war, then an exit strategy is urgently needed on this failed war.

But Is It Effective?
Picture 34Henry I. Miller-Henry I. Miller, a medical doctor, is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was an official at the Food and Drug Administration from 1979 to 1994.

As an “exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion,” in the words of the Department of Justice, this decision is understandable — and even welcome — but it is not altogether satisfactory. Arguably, if marijuana has therapeutic potential, it should be required to pass scientific and regulatory muster like any other medicine.

We have considerable experience with making drugs from the opium poppy, for example, butPicture 33 we don’t authorize patients to smoke opium for medical purposes; rather, we require that opiate products, including morphine for analgesia and paregoric for diarrhea, be standardized and quality-controlled by composition and dose, fully tested, delivered in an appropriate manner, and shown to be safe and effective. Why should marijuana be any different?

A promising and rational alternative to smoked marijuana is a marijuana-derived drug called Sativex, formulated as a mouth spray, which has been approved in Canada for the treatment of neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis and is in advanced clinical trials for muscle spasticity, intractable pain and other uses. Unlike crude marijuana, its purity and potency can be standardized.

Patients who are genuinely in need deserve safe and effective medicines, and rigorous testing and oversight are the best ways to provide them.

Hypocritical Foolishness
Picture 36Joseph McNamara-Joseph D. McNamara, a retired deputy inspector of the New York Police Department and former police chief of San Jose, Calif., is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

I never smoked a cigarette in my life, let alone a reefer. It’s not that I was a puritan. Like the overwhelming majority of my fellow cops, I thought it manly and cool to consume my share of beer and booze.

But as a veteran of more than 30 years in law enforcement, I always thought it hypocritical Picture 35foolishness to bust 700,000 to 800,000 Americans a year for pot, and especially ridiculous to get excited about sick people smoking marijuana because they believed accurately or mistakenly, that it helped ease their pain.

I’m not inclined to enter the endless debates between crusading zealots against marijuana and those who cite contrary evidence that marijuana is a relatively harmless drug. I am convinced, however, that if you must be a heavy drug user, you’re far better off smoking pot than, say, playing the dangerous, insane drinking games common among our high school and college kids, and excessive alcohol consumption by older heavy boozers.

In my mind, the question should focus on the societal costs of arresting someone for using certain substances we disapprove of, and consequently giving them a criminal record that can damage their lives and turn them into career criminals. If Misters Clinton, Bush, or Obama, and countless other successful people had been busted for their youthful flirtation with drugs most would have been stigmatized and suffered irreparable career harm. The learning moment here is that there is a terrible human cost to arresting someone, which must be balanced against the harm it supposedly prevents.

Additional costs of the violence, corruption, and other crimes associated with prohibition never seem to be included in estimated costs of drug war policies. For example, the use of scarce police, court, and correctional resources, and the disproportional mischief that aggressive arrest tactics impose on minorities tilt the already out of balance price tag for our irrational policy of unnecessarily criminalizing widespread conduct. Why is a free society so terrified of trusting adults to make responsible decisions?

Source.

October 16, 2009 – A nine-block section of downtown Oakland, Calif., has become a modern marijuana mecca—and a model for what a legalized-drug America could look like. Why the stars are aligning for Picture 22the pro-weed movement.

On the corner of Broadway and 17th Street in downtown Oakland, nudged between a Chinese restaurant and a hat shop, Oaksterdam University greets passersby with a life-sized cutout of Barack Obama and the sweet smell of fresh marijuana drifting from a back room. Inside, dutiful students flip through thick plastic binders of the day’s lessons, which, on a recent Saturday began with “Pot Politics 101,” taught by a ponytailed legal consultant who has authored a number of books on hemp. The class breaks for lunch around noon, and resumes an hour later, with classes on “budtending,” horticulture and cooking, which includes a recipe for “a beautiful pot pesto.” There are 50 students in this class, the majority of them Californians, but some have come all the way from Kansas. In between lectures, the university’s founder, Richard Lee, 47, rolls in and out on his wheelchair greeting students, looking the part of a pot school dean in Converse sneaker, aviator glasses, and a green “Oaksterdam” T-shirt.

Locals refer to the nine-block area surrounding the university as Oaksterdam—a hybrid of “Oakland” and the drug-friendly “Amsterdam,” where marijuana has been effectively legal since 1976. Nestled among what was once a rash of vacant storefronts, Lee has created a kind of urban pot utopia, where everything moves just a little bit more slowly than the outside world. Among the businesses he owns are the Blue Sky Coffeeshop, a coffee house and pot dispensary where getting an actual cup of Joe takes 20 minutes but picking up a sack of Purple Kush wrapped neatly in a brown lunch bag takes about five. There’s Lee’s Bulldog Café, a student lounge with a not-so-secret back room where the haze-induced sounds of “Dark Side of the Moon” seep through thick smoke, and a glass blowing shop where bongs are the art of choice. Around the corner is a taco stand (Lee doesn’t own this one) that has benefitted mightily from the university’s hungry students.

An education at Oaksterdam means learning how to grow, sell, market, and consume weed—all of which has been legal in California, for medicinal use only, since 1996. For the price of an ounce of pot and a couple of batches of brownies (about $250), pot lovers can enroll in a variety of weekend cannabis seminars all focused on medicinal use. But “medicinal” is something of an open joke in the state, where anyone over age 18 with a doctor’s note—easy to get for ailments like anxiety or cramps, if you’re willing to pay—can obtain an ID card allowing access to any of the state’s hundreds of dispensaries, or pot shops. (“You can basically get a doctor’s recommendation for anything,” said one dispensary worker.) Not all of those dispensaries are legally recognized, however: there’s a growing discrepancy over how California’s laws mesh (or don’t mesh) with local and federal regulations. But Oakland is unique in that it has four licensed and regulated dispensaries, each taxed directly by the city government. This past summer, Oakland voters became the first in the nation to enact a special cannabis excise tax—$18 for every $1,000 grossed—that the city believes will generate up to $1 million in the first year. Approved by 80 percent of voters, and unopposed by any organization, including law enforcement, the tax was pushed by the dispensary owners themselves, who hope the model will prove to the rest of California that a regulated marijuana industry can be both profitable and responsible. “The reality is we’re creating jobs, improving the city, filling empty store spaces, and when people come down here to Oakland they can see that,” says Lee, who smokes both recreationally and for his health, to ease muscle spasms caused by a spinal chord injury.

The arguments against this kind of operation are easy to tick off: that it glamourizes marijuana, promotes a gateway drug, leads to abuse. Compared to more serious drugs like heroine, cocaine or even alcohol, studies have shown the health effects of marijuana are fairly mild. But there are still risks to its consumption: heavy pot users are more likely to be in car accidents; there have been some reports of it causing problems in respiration and fetal development. And, as the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, put it recently, there are a number of medical professionals, and many parents, who worry that the drug’s increased potency over the years has heightened the risk of addiction. “It’s certainly true that this is not your grandfather’s pot,” says Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, like much of the country, Oakland is suffering economically. The city faced an $83 million budget deficit this year, and California, of course, is billions in the red. So from a public coffers perspective, if ever there were a time to rethink pot policy, that time is now. Already in Sacramento, there is a legalization measure before the state assembly that the author claims could generate $1.3 billion in tax revenue. And while analysts say it has little hope of passing (it faces strong opposition from law enforcement), the figures prompted even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—who’s vetoed every marijuana-related bill to come across his desk—to proclaimed that “It’s time for a debate.” On a federal level, marijuana is still illegal—it was outlawed, over the objections of the American Medical Association, in 1937. But in February, Attorney General Eric Holder stunned critics when he announced that the feds would cease raiding medical marijuana dispensaries that are authorized under state law. “People are no longer outraged by the idea of legalization,” wrote former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown in a recent op-ed. “And truth be told, there is just too much money to be made both by the people who grow marijuana and the cities and counties that would be able to tax it.”

Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron has estimated that the cost of cannabis prohibition is $13 billion annually, with an additional $7 billion lost in potential tax revenue. Even the students at Lee’s Oaksterdam cite the job market as a reason for showing up: one man, there with his 21-year-old son, told NEWSWEEK he’d lost his business in the housing bust; another was looking for a way to supplement his income as a contractor. “Alcohol prohibition, the result of a century-long anti-alcohol crusade, was fairly quickly repealed in part because of the onset of the Great Depression,” says Craig Reinarman, a sociologist at UC Santa Cruz and the coauthor of Crack in America. “I think we’re in a similar situation now, where states are so strapped for money that any source of new revenue is going to be welcomed.”

Oakland has become a kind of test lab for what legalized marijuana might look like. City Council member Rebecca Kaplan tells NEWSWEEK that the new tax revenue will help save libraries, parks, and other public services, and that the once-destitute area where Oaksterdam now thrives has seen a clear boost. Over the past six years, 160 new businesses have moved into downtown Oakland, and the area’s vacancy rate has dropped from 25 percent to less than 5, according to Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency. And while that can’t be attributed to Oaksterdam directly, some local business owners believe it’s played a key role—particularly as it relates to local tourism. Lee hosts 500 students at Oaksterdam University each month—about 20 percent of them from out of state—and has graduated nearly 4,000 since he opened the school in late 2007, inspired by a “cannabis college” he discovered on a trip to Amsterdam. The Blue Sky Coffeeshop serves about 1,000 visitors a day, half of them from out of town, and neighboring stores say the traffic has helped drive business their way. Regulation, say advocates, has also made consumption safer. They say it gets rid of hazardous strains of the drug, and eliminates the crime that can accompany underground dealing.

Presently, 13 states allow medical marijuana, with similar legalization campaigns underway in more than a dozen others. And a number of cities, such as Oakland and Seattle, have passed measures making prosecution of adult pot use the lowest law enforcement priority. Now Lee, along with an army of volunteers, has begun collecting signatures for a statewide legalization measure (for Californians 21 and over) that he plans to place on the November 2010 ballot. Backed by former state Senate president Don Perata, he’s already collected a fourth of the needed 434,000 signatures, and pledged to spend $1 million of his own funds to support the effort.

In California, where voters rule, getting an amendment on the ballot doesn’t take much more than a fat wallet, but the amount of attention Lee’s campaign has received has drawn attention to just how far American attitudes have changed over the past decade. In April, an ABC/Washington Post survey showed that 46 percent of Americans support legalization measures, up from 22 percent in 1997. And in California, a recent Field Poll showed that 56 percent are already on board to legalize and tax the drug. “This is a new world,” says Robert MacCoun, a professor of law and public policy at UC Berkeley and the coauthor of Drug War Heresies. “If you’d have asked me four years ago whether we’d be having this debate today, I can’t say I would have predicted it.”

The fact that we now are debating it—at least in some parts of the country—is the result of a number of forces that, as MacCoun puts it, have created the perfect pot storm: the failure of the War on Drugs; the growing death toll of murderous drug cartels; pop culture; the economy; and a generation of voters that have simply grown up around the stuff. Today there are pot television shows and frequent references to the drug in film, music, and books. And everyone from the president to the most successful athlete in modern history has talked about smoking it at one point or another. “Whether it’s the economy or Obama or Michael Phelps, I think all of these things have really worked to galvanize the public,” says Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the coauthor of a new book, Marijuana Is Safer; So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?”At the very least, it’s started a national conversation.”

That conversation, in some sense, has always existed. In 1972—a year after President Nixon declared his “War on Drugs”—the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse urged Congress to decriminalize possession of marijuana for personal use. That never happened, in part because marijuana regulation has always been more about politics than actual science, say advocates. But these days, the masses, at least in California, seem to be heading toward greener, shall we say, pastures. “This is sort of the trendy thing to do right now, but I also think there’s an expectation that the time has come to simply acknowledge the reality,” says Armentano. “Hundreds of thousands of Californians use marijuana, and we should regulate this commodity like we do others.” It’s a fight that’s heating up. And the pro-pot crowd in Oakland is ready to light the way. By Jessica Bennett. Source.

October 12, 2009 – Californians have made it clear at the ballot box that they favor legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes. But, as critics feared, Prop. 215, the medical marijuana initiative that was passed 13 cali_pot_0311years ago, has only opened the door to abuse.

It’s estimated that there are 40 marijuana dispensaries in Long Beach and 800 or more in Los Angeles alone. L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley decided last week that most of them are operating illegally, and wants to shut them down.

That may be too harsh. As supporters of medical marijuana rightly contend, closing all dispensaries would punish people who are entitled to marijuana.

Prop. 215 and the state law permitting collective cultivation of marijuana were meant to help chemotherapy and others suffering from pain or nausea to obtain marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. An actual prescription wasn’t needed. Given an opening, marijuana dispensaries cropped up everywhere, providing a safe, although apparently illegal, way for just about everyone to obtain the drug at competitive prices.

There is a better way to regulate marijuana. For starters, people who really need and want marijuana for their medical conditions should get a prescription — from a doctor — and fill the prescription at a pharmacy, just as they would obtain any medication. The whole process must be confidential. Keeping a list of medical marijuana users is unjust and unnecessary.

The next step would be to bow to the will of Californians, who generally favor decriminalizing marijuana use. It’s estimated that California is losing tens of millions of dollars from illegal marijuana sales — revenue it could collect if marijuana sales were legal. Once it’s legal, of course, prescriptions would not be necessary, and dispensaries could be tightly regulated, similar to the way liquor stores are regulated. Age limits, proximity of dispensaries to schools and residential areas would have to be regulated and enforced. Just as liquor can’t be sold without a license, street sales would be illegal.

Legalizing marijuana would go a long way toward reducing trafficking, which has turned Mexican border cities into horrific battlegrounds as drug cartels fight each other and the police, many of whom are so corrupt as to make regulation farcical.

If America learned anything from Prohibition, it’s that criminalizing a substance people want will only drive them to get it illegally. That lesson applies to marijuana. Legalize it. Regulate it. And enforce the regulations. The time has come. Source.

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