December 3, 2009 – Marijuana is California’s largest agricultural commodity with $14 billion in sales yearly, distancing itself from the state’s second largest—milk and cream—which bring in $7.3 billion a year. But California’s coffers only receive a fraction of the marijuana sales, $200 million coming from the sale of medical marijuana. That could all change with Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s (D-San Francisco) Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act (AB 390).

Since February, when the bill was introduced, it has made little headway in the Legislature. But in October, a hearing on the bill was held by the Public Safety Committee; marking the first time a legislative committee held a hearing on marijuana legalization.

AB 390 would create a system that would regulate marijuana much like alcohol is regulated. Those over the age of 21 could purchase pot from vendors with licenses to do so. The state’s Legislative Analyst and the Board of Equalization have estimated that pot sales could bring up to $1.3 billion in revenue yearly. That number is based off a proposed $50-per-oz. levy placed on marijuana purchases and sales tax.

With a projected deficit of $20 billion facing the state next fiscal year, sources of guaranteed revenue are needed. But there are those that believe that the social issues legalizing pot could have far outweigh any economic benefits.

“Why add another addictive element to our society? I don’t think we should criminalize marijuana, but I don’t think having marijuana where you can buy it like cigarettes or alcohol is something we ought to be doing as a society. I believe we are moving in the wrong direction on that,” said Steve Francis, a former San Diego mayoral candidate and founder of the site KeepComingBack.com—a site that focuses on news and research of alcohol and drug addiction.

Francis says that legalizing marijuana would ultimately cost the state money. He cited a report issued by the Marin Institute that found the economic cost of alcohol use is $38 billion annually, with the state covering $8.3 billion for health-care treatment of alcohol-caused illnesses, plus crime costs, traffic incidents and reduced worker productivity. The taxes and fees collected from alcohol sales only cover 22 percent of total government costs. He says there is every reason to believe the same would happen with marijuana.

“Whatever taxes the author of the legislation thinks we are going to collect on the taxation of marijuana will be very little compared to the social costs on California,” he said.

But the economic impact legalizing marijuana could have goes beyond taxation. Nearly a fifth of California’s 170,000 inmates are locked up because of drug-related crimes. Although most are convicted on crimes more severe than possession, legalizing marijuana would save the state $1 billion in law enforcement and corrections costs.

Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray says the best solution is to repeal the prohibition of marijuana, allowing the substance to become regulated and less available to children.

“We couldn’t make this drug any more available if we tried,” he said in TIME. “Unfortunately, every society in the history of mankind has had some form of mind-altering, sometimes addictive substance to use, misuse, abuse or get addicted to. Get used to it. They’re here to stay. So let’s try to reduce those harms, and right now we couldn’t do worse if we tried.”

Even if California were to legalize marijuana, there are those that believe that the gray area between federal and state law would only widen. Since California’s Compassionate Use Act was passed in 1996, medicinal marijuana has become more accessible to those need it. But it has opened the gates of confusion, as federal laws still consider marijuana illegal. In fact, cannabis is described as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has no medical use and cannot be prescribed by a physician. Many California municipalities have been reluctant to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, even though they were legalized 13 years ago.

There has been some indication that the federal government is starting to ease its control of marijuana. A few days after Ammiano introduced AB 390, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that states should be allowed to determine their own rules for medical marijuana and that federal raids on dispensaries would stop in California. President Obama’s nomination of Gil Kerlikowske to be the so-called drug czar and head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy indicated that a softer federal stance on marijuana is being taken. Kerlikowske is the former police chief in Seattle, where he made it clear that going after marijuana possession was not a priority for his department.

A vote by the Public Safety Committee on AB 390 is expected in January. Ammiano said the bill could take between a year and two years before it is heard or voted on in the Legislature. Until then, the debate over decriminalizing marijuana will continue amidst one of California’s worst economic times. BY Landon Bright Source.

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October 15, 2009 – In a recent interview, Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske talks about his job and his previous statements on marijuana.

Being in such a high profile job isn’t easy. Just three months after taking over, Kerlikowske found himself in a controversy when he said that marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit.

Kerlikowske said he wishes he would have been more clear that he was referring to smoked marijuana.

“It’s been very clear from the FDA that smoked marijuana doesn’t have medicinal effect. When it comes to other things, that may have a benefit. We’ll let science answer that question and I think it’s still being resolved.”

Kerlikowske’s office plans to release the nation’s new drug strategy sometime in February.

He said Americans will notice a shift towards more treatment-oriented programs.

“More people are dying from overdoses than from car crashes and gunshot wounds. This is something parents can prevent.”

Watch the video:
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SAN FRANCISCO — Marijuana advocates are gathering signatures to get as many as three marijuana-legalizationpot-legalization measures on the ballot in 2010 in California, setting up what could be a groundbreaking clash with the federal government over U.S. drug policy.

At least one poll shows voters would support lifting the pot prohibition, which would make the state of more than 38 million the first in the nation to legalize marijuana.

Such action would also send the state into a headlong conflict with the U.S. government while raising questions about how federal law enforcement could enforce its drug laws in the face of a massive government-sanctioned pot industry.

The state already has a thriving marijuana trade, thanks to a first-of-its-kind 1996 ballot measure that allowed people to smoke pot for medical purposes. But full legalization could turn medical marijuana dispensaries into all-purpose pot stores, and the open sale of joints could become commonplace on mom-and-pop liquor store counters in liberal locales like Oakland and Santa Cruz.

Under federal law, marijuana is illegal, period. After overseeing a series of raids that destroyed more than 300,000 marijuana plants in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills this summer, federal drug czar Gil Kerlikowske proclaimed, “Legalization is not in the president’s vocabulary, and it’s not in mine.”

The U.S. Supreme Court also has ruled that federal law enforcement agents have the right to crack down even on marijuana users and distributors who are in compliance with California’s medical marijuana law.

But some legal scholars and policy analysts say the government will not be able to require California to help in enforcing the federal marijuana ban if the state legalizes the drug.

Without assistance from the state’s legions of narcotics officers, they say, federal agents could do little to curb marijuana in California.

“Even though that federal ban is still in place and the federal government can enforce it, it doesn’t mean the states have to follow suit,” said Robert Mikos, a Vanderbilt University law professor who recently published a paper about the issue.

Nothing can stop federal anti-drug agents from making marijuana arrests, even if Californians legalize pot, he said. However, the U.S. government cannot pass a law requiring local and state police, sheriff’s departments or state narcotics enforcers to help.

That is significant, because nearly all arrests for marijuana crimes are made at the state level. Of more than 847,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2008, for example, just over 6,300 suspects were booked by federal law enforcement, or fewer than 1 percent.

State marijuana bans have allowed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to focus on big cases, said Rosalie Pacula, director of drug policy research at the Rand Corp.

“It’s only something the feds are going to be concerned about if you’re growing tons of pot,” Pacula said. For anything less, she said, “they don’t have the resources to waste on it.”

In a typical recent prosecution, 29-year-old Luke Scarmazzo was sentenced to nearly 22 years and co-defendant Ricardo Ruiz Montes to 20 years in federal prison for drug trafficking through a medical marijuana dispensary in Modesto.

At his bond hearing, prosecutors showed a rap video in which Scarmazzo boasts about his successful marijuana business, taunts federal authorities and carries cardboard boxes filled with cash. The DEA said the pair made more than $4.5 million in marijuana sales in less than two years.

The DEA would not speculate on the effects of any decision by California to legalize pot. “Marijuana is illegal under federal law and DEA will continue to attack large-scale drug trafficking organizations at every level,” spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said.

The most conservative of the three ballot measures would only legalize possession of up to one ounce of pot for personal use by adults 21 and older – an amount that already under state law can only result at most in a $100 fine.

The proposal would also allow anyone to grow a plot of marijuana up to 5 feet-by-5 feet on their private property. The size, Pacula said, seems specifically designed to keep the total number of plants grown below 100, the threshold for DEA attention.

The greatest potential for conflict with the U.S. government would likely come from the provision that would give local governments the power to decide city-by-city whether to allow pot sales.

Hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries across the state already operate openly with only modest federal interference. If recreational marijuana became legal, these businesses could operate without requiring their customers to qualify as patients.

Any business that grew bigger than the already typical storefront shops, however, would probably be too tempting a target for federal prosecution, experts said.

Even if Washington could no longer count on California to keep pot off its own streets, Congress or the Obama administration could try to coerce cooperation by withholding federal funds.

But with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement earlier this year that the Justice Department would defer to state laws on marijuana, the federal response to possible legalization remains unclear.

Doug Richardson, a spokesman for the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the office is in the process of re-evaluating its policies on marijuana and other drugs.

Richardson said the office under Obama was pursuing a “more comprehensive” approach than the previous administration, with emphasis on prevention and treatment as well as law enforcement.

“We’re trying to base stuff on the facts, the evidence and the science,” he said, “not some particular prejudice somebody brings to the table.” Source.

September 7, 2009 – When a white cop handcuffed a black professor outside his own home we had a beer summit in the name of better race relations. That summit addressed the number one social problem in this country since 1619 (the date the first African slaves were sold in the U.S.)medical-marijuana

I’m calling for a marijuana summit. This summit will benefit the health of millions, while saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

The federal government must concur with what we the people already know. In the Obama Transition Team’s own on-line poll, respondents overwhelmingly selected legalizing marijuana as our country’s number one priority. This May, even a Zogby poll commissioned by the conservative O’Leary Report, found 52 percent of American voters in favor and only 37 percent opposed to legalizing (and taxing) marijuana.

I call on Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, to have a frank discussion with doctors and researchers on medical cannabis and the efficacy of various routes of administration. Sadly, Kerlikowske seems to be using the same illogic as his predecessors in the drug office. He recently cited a University of Washington treatment program as the information source for his position that cannabis is bad stuff. Why? Because people who had a choice between treatment and going to jail chose treatment. Duh. I am disappointed in Kerlikowske. I expect more from a former Seattle police chief and Obama appointee.

The chief administrative law judge of the Food and Drug Administration, in a 1988 decision, found that cannabis is one of the safest therapeutic agents known to man. The FDA in 2005 said that liquid marijuana (Sativex) is safe enough to test on humans, cancer patients in fact. The government needs to look at the types of cancers that cannabis has been shown to treat. Chief Kerlikowske has said he wants to hear from the doctors on this.

When he does he’ll find that we have a national organization, the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine, which will give him the real dope on the medical utility of cannabis. We can tell him of the benefits that our patients have received. I have incredible, compelling stories. There is the 85-year-old ex-Marine cancer survivor who was dying from starvation and used cannabis as an appetite stimulant and mood elevator. The 26-year-old. hemiplegic woman with intractable epilepsy that was well controlled by cannabis. The Vietnam vet who got surgery to remove shrapnel, due to intractable seizures, and as a result of the surgery got double vision and headaches. Cannabis allows him to productively participate in civic affairs. And the examples go on and on, including paraplegics with intractable pain, patients successfully treated for gastrophoresis , post-traumatic stress disorder, cyclic vomiting syndrome. I’ll tell him about the productive lives of my patients. They include the principal of a high school, the mayor of a small city, a deputy sheriff, an assistant DA, a counselor at a drug treatment program, a very famous movie director, and lots of people with everyday jobs in construction, medicine, education—contractors, developers, doctors, nurses, professors.

Kerlikowske has tried to mitigate his earlier statements by saying he only meant smoked marijuana. He was recently quoted as saying that “the FDA has not determined that smoked marijuana has a value, and this is clearly a medical question that should be answered by the medical community.” Speaking as the vice president of the AACM, let me assure the drug czar that cannabis is medicine whether smoked, vaporized, sprayed sublingually, dropped sublingually, drunk in beverages, made into tea, eaten, or used topically.

Kerlikowske is wise to say he will listen to the doctors. If he had a medical background I don’t believe he would say it’s okay to have intractable seizures, excruciating migraines, phantom limb pain, or to suffer with the symptoms of Crohn’s Disease, or to die of malnutrition. Like thousands of American physicians, he would see the medical efficacy of cannabis. I have literally hundreds of patients with those conditions and a thousand more with chronic pain, cancer, and failed back syndrome who have benefited from the medicinal use of cannabis, smoked or otherwise.

The Drug Czar is on a listening tour. Let’s give him an earful. It is not marijuana that is dangerous, but the laws which restrict research on it and make it difficult for people to use it therapeutically. That is real risky. We need to get the federal government out of the way, to honor the 9th and 10th Amendments to the Constitution limiting the federal government’s authority, and to affirm that the 1925 Linder decision—recognizing the right of states to regulate the practice of medicine—still means something. It is time for the drug czar to listen to America. It is time for the marijuana summit.

By David Bearman, M.D., physician, founder of the Isla Vista Medical Clinic, former Goleta Water District boardmember, and current Goleta West Sanitary District boardmember. Source.

August 15, 2009 – Considered one of the largest annual gatherings in the world for the decriminalization of marijuana, the Seattle Hemp Fest will takehempfest1sm place August 15-16 in Myrtle Edwards, Olympic Sculpture and Elliott Bay Parks along the northern section of Seattle’s waterfront.

The two-day “protestival” will host seven stages presenting a compendium of music and comedy performances, as well as exhibits, displays, panel discussions and presentations on marijuana policy reform. In addition, a large collection of vendors will sell an array of hemp and other products, from food, clothing, jewelry and natural fragrances to bongs, arts and incense.

Since the birth of Hemp Fest in Seattle’s Volunteer Park 18 years ago, the event has grown from a quaint gathering of 500 local marijuana activists to more than 150,000 people, from the marginalized beatnik and avid pot-smoker to curious festival-goer and everyday family. Attendees trek from all over the country to attend the event, transforming the upscale, condominium towered neighborhood into a modern-day, Woodstock-esque celebration.

Seattle’s Hemp Fest is, as they say, “the real deal”. The festival is and represents an enormous cultural phenomenon that has moved from the backyard to front lawn of some of Seattle’s most prestigious public real estate. Long known for its liberal urban policies and innovative social programs, Seattle has served at the vanguard of the decades-long movement to legalize marijuana, a crusade that has graduated from the smoker’s pipe dream to frontline political debate.

And, yes, what you’ve heard is true: marijuana users imbibe their favorite cannabis of choice with Seattle police on peaceful mounted patrol only a few feet away; in past years, residents of neighboring Queen Anne hill have reported a thick “cannabis cloud” blanketing festival grounds.

With former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske now the nation’s drug czar, this year’s event promises to be even more popular and relevant.

More information on Hemp Fest, including a calendar of performances and presentations, is available on
http://www.hempfest.org
Source.

August 14, 2009 – Last month, Obama’s drug czar raised eyebrows by claiming that “marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit.” Though not an unusual remark for a drug czar to make, the comment came as a surprise given the new administration’s stated policy of respecting state medical marijuana laws.

Well, it looks like someone in the administration had a little talk with the drug czar, because he’s already backtracking: Asked if he regretted what he said, Kerlikowske said, “Sometimes you make a mistake and you work very hard to correct it. That happens. I should’ve clearly said ‘smoked’ marijuana and then gone on to say that this is clearly a question that should be answered by the medical community.” [KOMO News]

Of course, this is still utter nonsense given the abundance of scientific evidence that medical marijuana works. But it’s remarkable to hear the drug czar acknowledge making “a mistake.” As false and obnoxious as his corrected statement may be, it’s nice to know that the word “mistake” is in his vocabulary. Source.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (CNN) — As the health care debate captivated America, a white flag was quietly raised along the violence-torn U.S.-Mexico border. In case you missedPicture 2 it, it was our nation’s surrender in the war on drugs.

Addressing the sixth annual Border Security Conference in El Paso, Texas, on Monday, the director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, R. Gil Kerlikowske, said this administration’s drug strategy will not be a war because a war limits what can be done.

“If the only tool is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail,” Kerlikowske said. “That phrase — war on drugs — tells you that the only answer is, in fact, force. … We want to have a different conversation when it comes to drugs.”

At the same time, President Obama pledged ongoing cooperation with Mexico on drugs and immigration, but the details were sparse and the timeline shifting and uncertain.

As the war on drugs ends, what’s our new strategy?

According to the El Paso Times, “Kerlikowske said his visit to El Paso was part of a national tour to solicit ideas before making recommendations to the president. Once unveiled, Obama’s drug strategy will probably include treatment centers, education, drug courts, more cooperation with Mexico and increased law enforcement, Kerlikowske said.”

I agree with all of the above, but since Kerlikowske asked, and since both he and the president have been somewhat vague and noncommittal on the topic, I would like to suggest some ideas regarding what “cooperation with Mexico” should look like to ensure our communal success in conquering the drug beast, regardless of the brand name attached to the campaign.

If decreasing demand for drugs is one side of the equation, decreasing the ability and desire to supply those drugs is the other side. As the United States broadens its approach, Mexico must do so as well.

“Cooperation with Mexico” involves convincing our neighbors to change culturally entrenched social hierarchies and dynamics that date to pre-Columbian times.

Unfortunately, it’s easier and less disruptive to the existing power structure perpetuated by Mexico’s ruling elite to wage a war against the cartels than it is to revolutionize a society that denies the vast majority of its members legitimate opportunities for socioeconomic advancement.

Yes, the war on drugs in Mexico has resulted in over 12,000 dead since 2008 and turned border cities like Juarez into combat zones overrun by army trucks carrying machine gun-toting armored troops.

But most of Mexico’s wealthy and powerful families can still find solace in their foreign bank accounts, their well-appointed homes north of the border, their bodyguards and multigenerational business empires.

Perhaps to them, the continuing crackdown on the cartels seems like the most effective way to react to the threats made to legitimate business-owners and affluent families via extortion and kidnapping.

However, the Mexican government, the Mexican ruling class and the United States must also generate legitimate opportunities for Mexican citizens to advance in life, alternatives to achieving financial success without breaking the law.

According to a study by professor Emilio Parrado of the University of Pennsylvania, “Occupational opportunities failed to keep pace with rising human capital in Mexico. … Instead, entry and mobility into good jobs became more difficult to achieve and downward mobility more prevalent even among highly educated workers.”

At the same time, north of the border, politicians have increased pressure to close our borders and squelch illegal immigration since September 11.

Where are hard-working Mexicans with a desire to improve their circumstances supposed to turn? Perhaps both nations should give these folks a little more love and a little less war.

Let’s make love, not war, on drugs. Although today’s drug lords are beyond reform, this is a long-term endeavor. Our nations should collaborate to ensure that Mexico’s youth can find viable, legal alternatives for their own development and advancement, both at home in Mexico and abroad in the United States.

In Mexico, this will involve a cultural shift in which the ruling elite comes to terms with the realization that the nation will never fulfill its potential if broader segments of its population are not empowered to advance socially and economically via legitimate means.

It means accelerated democratization of the educational and economic system and increased opportunities for entrepreneurship, access to capital, sociopolitical progress and upward mobility.

On the United States side, it means further opening trade, stimulating foreign investment in Mexico and reforming immigration to allow for guest workers from Mexico to be legal, productive members of the economy and society.

In the eyes of this border native, that’s what “cooperation” should look like. Combined, our countries can channel the energies and talents of future generations away from the destructive and unsustainable allure of drugs and toward the enduring productivity and prosperity of our hemisphere.

I’m not sure yet what we should call that process. All I know is, it takes a little love.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rudy Ruiz.