By Steve Elliott
A new ordinance removing all penalties for marijuana possession took effect on Friday in Portland, Maine, and nervous city officials are trying to head off the kind of celebration that took place on election night last month.
Several cannabis advocates celebrated the lopsided victory in November by smoking a foot-long joint outside a downtown bar, reports Randy Billings at the Portland Press Herald.
"The ordinance clearly says you can't do it in public," said City Councilor David Marshall, a member of the Portland Green Independent Committee, which led the legalization drive. "We certainly hope people respect the ordinance."
Two thirds of Portland voters -- an overwhelming 67 percent -- on November 5 voted to legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for adults 21 and older. Under the ordinance, adults are allowed to possess marijuana in public, but not use it openly.
It is still illegal to buy or sell cannabis in Portland, and landlords can still ban pot smoking in their apartments.
Medical marijuana is already allowed under Maine state law. Maine is also one of 16 states that have decriminalized possession, meaning anyone caught with under 2.5 ounces is subject only to a civil summons and a fine, not criminal charges.
Cannabis advocates on Friday morning turned in tens of thousands signatures for two marijuana initiatives in the state capitol of Salem. The initiatives are aiming for the November 2014 ballot in Oregon.
Oregon's 2014 Initiative 21 is a constitutional amendment to end marijuana prohibition, and Initiative 22 is a statute to regulate and tax marijuana, allowing farmers to grow hemp for fuel, fiber and food. Organizers behind I-21 and I-22 turned in the signatures to the Oregon Secretary of State's Elections Division offices on the 5th floor in the Public Service Building.
“Prohibition doesn't work," said chief petitioner Paul Stanford of the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp (CRRH). "Filling our jails with nonviolent marijuana prisoners is a waste. It is time to end marijuana prohibition.”
Recent polls show that more than 60 percent of likely Oregon voters support ending marijuana prohibition now. "Our initiatives, one constitutional, the other statutory, will poise Oregon to lead this new industry, which some say is the fastest growth industry in America today," Stanford said.
Who: Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp, an Oregon nonprofit PAC
What: Press Conference and Signature Turn-In for Two Marijuana Initiatives
When: 10 a.m. on Friday, December 6
Where: Lobby of the Public Service Building at 255 Capitol St. NE; Salem, Oregon
By Steve Elliott
Should Florida voters be allowed to decide the medical marijuana question for themselves? The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday began hearing arguments that could determine whether voters get to make the call at the ballot box next year.
For the past three years, medical marijuana bills in the Florida Legislature died without Republican leaders even scheduling a vote. Cannabis advocates say they are now acting because the Legislature failed to lead.
Opponents of a proposed constitutional amendment which would allow the medicinal use of cannabis with a doctor's authorization want the court to rule the proposal does not meet ballot requirements, reports Scott Powers at the Sun Sentinel. Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and other opponents claim the ballot language, limited by law to 90 words, is a misleading summary of the six-page amendment.
They also claim that the amendment changes more than one government function, while under Florida law, constitutional amendments must be limited to "single subjects." Opponents claim the proposed medical marijuana law affects the Department of Health, the Florida Legislature, law enforcement, open records and courts.
Federal prosecutors routinely threaten extraordinarily severe prison sentences to coerce drug defendants into waiving their right to trial and pleading guilty, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Thursday. In the rare cases in which defendants insist on going to trial, prosecutors make good on their threats.
Federal drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain, according to new statistics developed by Human Rights Watch.
The 126-page report, “An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty,” details how prosecutors throughout the United States extract guilty pleas from federal drug defendants by charging or threatening to charge them with offenses carrying harsh mandatory sentences and by seeking additional mandatory increases to those sentences. Prosecutors offer defendants a much lower sentence in exchange for pleading guilty.
Since drug defendants rarely prevail at trial, it is not surprising that 97 percent of them decide to plead guilty.
Thursday, December 5 marks the 80th anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment, which ended the prohibition of alcohol in 1933. The amendment repealed the 18th Amendment, passed in 1920, after more than a decade of increased crime, dangerously unregulated products, and a failure to reduce consumption convinced the American public prohibition was an ineffective and destructive way to attack the problems associated with substance use.
Alas, it was a lesson quickly forgotten. Decades later America repeated the mistake with the prohibition of drugs -- heir to all of the same problems as alcohol prohibition and then some.
As former prosecutor and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) board member James Gierach says, "Al Capone and other gangsters thrived when government outlawed what people wanted. When booze went legit with the 21st Amendment, mobsters had to wait only 40 years before government did it again with drugs. Same problem, same solution: legalize, license, regulate and tax."
Two comparisons with the current War On Drugs are particularly worthy of note.
First, the prohibition of alcohol was actually closer to what reformists today call “decriminalization” – the removal of criminal penalties for use and possession while sales, distribution and manufacture remain prosecutable offenses.
By Steve Elliott
The Denver City Council, busily making rules around marijuana use ever since Colorado voters decided to legalize cannabis with the Amendment 64 vote last year, will next week decide whether to limit the number of pot plants that can grown at home.
The ordinance would allow up to six marijuana plants per adult for recreational use to be grown in a home, but set a maximum of 12 plants per dwelling unit, reports Jeremy Mayer at The Denver Post.
Some cannabis advocates say the plan would disproportionately affect veterans and medical marijuana patients, but Councilwoman Jeanne Robb, who sponsors the ordinance, claimed it comes from "safety concerns."
"The police are very worried about the homegrows and the problems they could cause, fires, pesticide use, the mold, structural damage, children who might be living in these areas and THC on surface areas," Robb claimed. "They really want to be able to go in and have law enforcement ability to do our zoning."
Robb's supposed concerns, which echo the talking points of an anti-pot group called Smart Colorado, "seem pretty weak," according to Jacob Sullum at Forbes.
By Steve Elliott
Former President Bill Clinton in a TV interview on Tuesday said he "never denied" smoking marijuana.
"I didn't say I was holier than thou; I said I tried," Clinton told Fusion TV's Jorge Ramos. "I never denied that I used marijuana."
Ramos had asked if Clinton were running now if he would answer questions about his cannabis use differently, reports Eliana Dockterman at Time. The former President claimed his original answer, which he gave during his 1992 campaign, had been twisted by the media.
Clinton's infamous claim was that he "didn't inhale" when he tried pot during his Rhodes scholar years.
"When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and didn't like it," he said in 1992. "I didn't inhale, and I didn't try it again."
"I told the truth," Clinton says now. "I thought it was funny. And the only journalist who was there said I told the truth."
"The drug issue should be decided by people in each country, based on what they think is right," Clinton said when Ramos asked him about marijuana legalization. "We have a process in America for doing it that's being revisited state by state.
"And Latin America is free to do the same thing," Clinton said. "It's obvious that attitudes are changing and opening up."
(Photo of President Clinton and Jorge Ramos: Fusion TV)
By Steve Elliott
Police in Jackson, Michigan say they'll follow a new law approved by city voters last month which legalizes the possession of marijuana on private property.
The ordinance, passed 2,242 to 1,434 by voters in November, removes all criminal penalties for cannabis possession by adults 21 and older in the city, reports Will Forgrave at Mlive.com.
The city police department has advised its officers to follow the new law, said Jackson Police Chief Matthew Heins.
"First and foremost, it was my objective to enforce what voters voted on," Chief Heins said. "We struggled with some details in the law, but it's the law."
One of the points in the law debated by Heins and others, is exactly what constitutes "private property."
"Target is private property, for example," Heins said. "But we don't think it was the public's intention to allow a 21-year-old to possess marijuana at your local Target." Hey Chief, maybe you should worry less about interpreting intentions, and just enforce the law as written? Just a novel idea.
The ordinance changed Jackson's code to read, "None of the provisions of this division shall apply to the use, possession or transfer or less than 1 ounce of marijuana on private property by a person who has attained the age of 21 years."
Jackson County Prosecutor Jerry Jarzynka said his office will continue busting pot smokers, just as they always have.
By Steve Elliott
An Iowa lawmaker has said he will introduce two bills in the upcoming session of the Legislature which would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) said that similar efforts have failed over the past decade, reports The Associated Press.
"I think we're a cautious state, we have some conservative views on this issue," Sen. Bolkcom said. "I think what has been missing in Iowa is the compelling stories and recently, people are courageously coming forward and are sharing stories about not getting the care they need."
Bolkcom said one of the bills he plans to introduce would reclassify cannabis as a drug with medical benefits, and the other bill would create a medical marijuana program modeled after the one currently operating in New Mexico.
According to a 2010 poll for The Des Moines Register, 64 percent of Iowans support legalizing medical marijuana, but many lawmakers have been wishy washy.
Gov. Terry Branstad does not support medical marijuana, according to spokesman Tim Albrecht.
State Rep. Clel Baudler (R-Greenfield), chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, is also a vocal opponent of medicinal cannabis. "In my opinion this movement is based on one thing and that's to legalize marijuana to get high," said former state trooper Baudler.
By Steve Elliott
A leaked United Nations document has revealed major international disagreements over the global "War On Drugs." The paper sets out the U.N.'s plans for a long-term strategy to combat illegal substances.
The draft, written in September and leaked to the Observer, highlights serious disagreements over the United States-led policy of drug prohibition as an approach to the problem, reports Jamie Doward at The Guardian.
A number of countries, particularly in Latin America, are now pushing for a different approach, placing more emphasis on treating drug use as a public health problem rather than the War On Drugs approach which treats it as a criminal problem.
Only the final version of such policy documents are normally seen; it is unusual for such a leak to happen before all differences between the U.N. member nations are ironed out.
The differences outlined in the paper are important; the document will eventually be a "high-level" statement on international drug policy which will be published next spring. The publication of the document will set the stage for a review by the U.N. General Assembly, which occurs only once every 10 years; this event, scheduled for 2016, will set the tone of the international body's drug policy for the next decade.
By Steve Elliott
Eighty percent of Floridians favor medical marijuana, according to the latest poll, so opponents, seeing little hope at the ballot box, have now turned to the Florida Supreme Court to stop the momentum of a proposed ballot initiative which would legalize the medicinal use of cannabis in the Sunshine State.
The state Supreme Court on December 5 will hear arguments over the language of the medical marijuana proposal, reports Lloyd Dunkelberger at the Herald Tribune. Sponsors need nearly 700,000 valid voter signatures by February in order to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.
Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and other opponents of the measure claim the ballot language is misleading and would lead to "widespread use of marijuana." Supporters say they are backing the constitutional amendment because state legislators refuse to legalize medical marijuana, and are out of touch with ordinary Floridians on the subject.
A Quinnipiac University poll this month showed Florida voters approve of letting doctors authorize patients to use medical marijuana, 82 percent to 16 percent.
The ballot language is an attempt to let Floridians decide for themselves whether to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis, as 20 other states have done, according to trial lawyer John Morgan, the chief financial backer of the measure.
By Steve Elliott
Massachusetts voters have already approved medical marijuana, and have decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis for recreational use by adults. Now activists are pushing for the full legalization of marijuana for adults, putting it on equal footing with alcohol and cigarettes.
The group Bay State Repeal said it plans to put a proposal on the 2016 general election ballot, reports Steve LeBlanc at The Associated Press. The group said it plans to first test various versions of the measure by placing non-binding referendums on next year's midterm ballot in about a dozen districts.
The non-binding questions will help gauge voter support for different versions of the binding initiative for 2016, according to Bay State Repeal.
Massachusetts voters in 2008 approved a ballot initiative decriminalizing adult possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, making it a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine.
Of course, there are the usual naysayers. Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett claimed cannabis can lead young people to hard drugs and other harmful behaviors.
"I'm not saying everyone who tries marijuana becomes a heroin addict, but the medical information is irrefutable that kids who start smoking marijuana are more likely to have substance abuse problems as adults," Blodgett, president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, claimed.
By Steve Elliott
Based on the first week's worth of applications, Washington state has more than enough people interested in getting licenses to grow marijuana. But so far there are applications for fewer than half the number of cannabis stores allowed by state regulations.
The application period for those who want to grow, process or sell marijuana in Washington state under the implementation of legalization measure Initiative 502 began on November 18, reports Jim Camden at the Spokane Spokesman-Review. Applications are filed with the state Department of Revenue, which processes the requests before sending them on to the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
The LCB is in charge of implementing and regulating recreational marijuana sales. On Tuesday, it released the names and locations from the 922 applications filed during the first week (for the list, click "Marijuana License Applicants" on this page. The Board said it will grant up to 334 retail licenses statewide, with limits in each county. So far 158 applications have been received for retail licenses; no applications have been received so far from 14 counties.
The amount of space allowed to be devoted to growing marijuana, statewide, has been limited to 2 million feet by the Board. Submitted applications from the first week alone for growing licenses total almost 6.8 million square feet.
By Steve Elliott
The second-ranking Democrat in the Arizona House, saying legislation is better than a voter initiative, wants to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use.
Cannabis advocates are gearing up to put the issue on the 2016 ballot, pointed out Rep. Ruben Gallego of Phoenix, but he wants the issue debated through the legislative process, reports Howard Fischer at Capitol Media Services. Gallego said that lawmakers are better suited to come up with a comprehensive plan, without unforeseen problems, than advocates circulating petitions.
The Arizona Constitution sharply limits tinkering by the Legislature with voter-approved initiatives; such rules were passed after lawmakers twice gutted medical marijuana laws approved by the voters, before voters finally sealed the deal in 2010. Gallego believes, therefore, that any mistakes included in voter initiatives could be difficult to correct after the fact.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert), while admitting that attitudes around marijuana are softening in Arizona and elsewhere, said he's still opposed to legalization. He said just because voters were in favor of it, is no reason for him and others who are against cannabis legalization to vote for it. (Heck, I don't see much reason for voters to elect Farnsworth again, either.)
Mothers Speak About the Devastation and Loss Caused by the Preventable Drug Overdose, Mass Incarceration, and Prohibition-Related Violence
Moms From California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York and Texas Available to Discuss Personal Experience with Drug War
This holiday season, A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing) and moms from around the country will share their stories of loss while calling for an end to the War On Drugs, which has been so disastrous for tens of millions of families. Many of the moms leading this campaign have been personally impacted by the war on drugs.
Leaders of the Moms United campaign from around the country include: Gretchen Burns Bergman (San Diego, CA), the mother of two sons who have struggled with heroin addiction and repeated incarceration; Julia Negron (Florida), a mother of a son whose son served several prison terms for drug possession; Denise Cullen (Palm Desert, CA), a social worker specializing in grief counseling, whose son died from an overdose five years ago, Joyce Rivera (New York, NY) who founded St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction in the Bronx and is the sister of an injection drug user who died of HIV/AIDS, Kathie Kane-Willis (Chicago), Director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy Roosevelt University, Charmie Gholson (Michigan), Director of Michigan Moms United, and Joy Strickland (Dallas, Texas), who lost her son to teen violence.