By Steve Elliott
I guess no group is immune to ignorance. A group representing 57 Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday morning announced it opposes the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.
The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians are hurting my heart, announcing they have passed a resolution calling for the group to work closely with the dim-witted Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) anti-cannabis group spearheaded by former U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy and former federal drug policy advisor Kevin Sabet.
The Native American organization and SAM on Wednesday morning jointly released a statement that the tribes "stand strongly in opposition" to legalized marijuana in the Pacific Northwest, reports Noelle Crombie at The Oregonian. The group represents tribal governments in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, southeast Alaska, northern California and western Montana.
The Indian tribes "stand with SAM in support of their principles," said Simon Lee Sampson of Yakama Nation.
According to a statement from the Native American group, it supports "drug prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery efforts that focus on reducing marijuana use, especially among youth."
"We cannot deny that marijuana legalization will have a devastating impact on our communities and we want none of it," said a deeply clueless Sampson.
Forum Addresses Issues Pertinent to D.C. Residents Affected by Criminal Justice System
A coalition of civil rights and civil liberties’ organizations is hosting "Race, Policing and Criminal Justice," a D.C. mayoral forum on Thursday that will educate the public about candidate’s views on criminal and racial justice issues.
On any given day in the District, more than 16,000 people are under court-ordered supervision or incarcerated. Thousands more D.C. residents are affected by a loved one’s involvement in the criminal justice system and how law enforcement interacts with the community.
This forum provides an opportunity to educate the public about how candidates view criminal and racial justice issues pertinent to D.C. residents.
This free event is being co-sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, D.C. National Lawyers Guild, Drug Policy Alliance, DC Branch of the NAACP, Howard University Chapter of the NAACP, Collective Power, Defending Dissent, DC Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, We Act Radio and Acqunetta Anderson ANC4A01.
All of the mayoral candidates have been invited to participate in this forum and an independent moderator will present prepared questions to the candidates who attend. Each candidate will have equal time and opportunity to respond to each question.
By Steve Elliott
Despite the Obama Administration's message to bankers -- that even though marijuana sales are a federal crime, they can still provide banking services to this new industry without fear of prosecution, if they follow guidelines -- the nation's bankers say that doesn't change the fact that any bank which does so could be prosecuted.
While many in the cannabis movement praised the policy change as giving financial institutions the green light to finally serve the cannabis industry, bankers just don't see it that way, reports Herb Weisbaum at NBC News.
According to bankers, the guidance from the Justice Department and the Treasury Department doesn't change federal law, and a change in federal law is the only thing that would mean banks wouldn't be subject to prosecution for handling marijuana money. Besides, the new guidelines require lots of complicated paperwork and due diligence to satisfy federal regulators and prosecutors.
The guidance is a red light instead of a green light, said the Colorado Bankers Association. The group's senior vice president, Jenifer Waller, said the government detailed "all the risks involved of banking the marijuana industry" and "made it very clear that financial institutions can still face criminal liability."
By Steve Elliott
Minnesota state Rep. Carly Melin, who is pushing to legalize medical marijuana, said that negotiating with the state's law enforcement leaders has been "like negotiating with a brick wall," and she believes police agencies are hooked on Drug War dollars.
"All along I have said that I am willing to amend the bill," Rep. Melin (DFL-Hibbing) said, reports Mike Mosedale at Politics In Minnesota. "But they won't move at all."
Rep. Melin told of a particularly frustrating meeting last November with representatives of the powerful Minnesota Law Enforcement Coalition. "They wouldn't discuss any specific provisions, and said they had a blanket opposition to medical marijuana," Hibbing said.
Melin took particular note of one objection voice at the meeting, but not mentioned in the Law Enforcement Coalition's 10-page white paper: worry over the impact medical marijuana legalization might have on police budgets.
Dennis Flaherty, the executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (a group included in the Law Enforcement Coalition), told her that he was worried that medical marijuana legalization could lead to reductions in the federal grants that are a big source of money for many police departments, Melin said.
"I don't think it's part of the debate because they wouldn't publicly admit that it's even an issue," Melin said. "Nobody wants to question the motives or honesty of law enforcement."
Proposals Aim to Decriminalize Possession of All Drugs, Establish Medical Marijuana Program, Create New Regulatory Structure for Drug Control
Mexico Building on Momentum Throughout the Americas to Dismantle the Failed Drug War
Two bills were introduced in Mexico City on Thursday that would reform drug policies in North America's largest city and on a national level. The first bill seeks to decriminalize the possession of marijuana for personal use, removes incarceration as the first response for the possession of other illicit substances, and creates a limited mechanism for the sale of marijuana if certain requirements are met.
Possession of less than 5 grams of marijuana would not lead to any form of prosecution or jail time. Additionally, the bill establishes threshold quantities for cocaine, heroin and other illicit substances, under which people who use drugs can be referred to a “Dissuasion Committee” -– based on principles of collaboration and human rights -– that offers information and support to minimize the risks and harms of drug use.
By Steve Elliott
Italy's constitutional court on Wednesday struck down the country's marijuana law which tripled sentences for selling, growing or possessing cannabis. The law has been blamed for prison overcrowding in the country.
The court ruled that the law, passed in 2006 by Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government, was "illegitimate," without going into details, reports Steve Scherer at MSN News. Some estimates suggest 10,000 people could be released from Italian jails, which are the most overcrowded in the European Union.
The prison rights group Antigone says the harsh drug law was the biggest reason for Italy's prison overcrowding problem. According to the group, 40 percent of all inmates in Italian prisons are serving sentences for drug crimes.
About 62,000 inmates are crammed into cells built for fewer than 48,000, according to official data.
The 2006 drug law classified marijuana and hashish as equal, legally, to cocaine and heroin. It boosted sentences for cannabis cultivation, sale and trafficking from 2-6 years to 6-20 years.
The drug law previously in place will now take effect after the court's ruling. Crimes related to hard drugs like cocaine and heroin will once again carry longer prison sentences than cannabis.
Neither the old law, nor the new one, made it a crime to consume marijuana, but both outlawed its possession.
Measure would establish a legal market for licensed businesses to sell marijuana to adults 21 and older; 53 percent of Rhode Island voters support such a law, according to a January poll
Rhode Island Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Josh Miller and House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Edith Ajello announced Wednesday that they will introduce a bill to make marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and establish a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol.
“Marijuana prohibition has been a long-term failure,” Sen. Miller said. “Forcing marijuana into the underground market ensures authorities have no control of the product. Regulating marijuana would allow the product to be sold safely and responsibly by legitimate businesses in appropriate locations.”
The measure would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to two marijuana plants (only one may be mature) in an enclosed, locked space. It would also establish a tightly regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, and testing facilities, and enact an excise tax of up to $50 per ounce on the wholesale sale of marijuana flowers applied at the point of transfer from the cultivation facility to a retail store (a special 10 percent sales tax would also be applied at the point of retail sales).
The Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation would be required to establish rules regulating security, labeling, health, and safety requirements.
Eighteen Members of Congress joined together Wednesday in calling on President Obama to use his authority to reclassify marijuana from its current position as a dangerous drug, alongside heroin and LSD, with no medical value. A letter sent by federal legislators says that marijuana's current status "makes no sense," and requests that President Obama "instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way." The Congressional letter comes just days after Obama told The New Yorker magazine that marijuana was less dangerous than alcohol.
Although marijuana was sold as an over-the-counter medicine until the 1930s, produced by the likes of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970 classified marijuana as a Schedule I substance. Ignoring White House-appointed commissions, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) judges, and reports, all calling for marijuana's reclassification, the federal government has refused to recognize the medical science and popular will in order to maintain marijuana's current status.
By Steve Elliott
Marijuana could be a major factor in Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race this year, with a Penn Law grad in the race adopting a pro-legalization stance.
John Hanger's position on cannabis has come to define his candidacy, reports Joel Mathis at Philly Mag. While he embraces that, he also says he has a lot more plans for the state beyond pot legalization.
The Hanger campaign has put up billboards in a couple of Pennsylvania towns urging voters to legalize and tax marijuana. "This issue involves the lives of two million Pennsylvanians," Hanger said.
"Some folks say marijuana is not a voting issue, it's not important. Tell that to the 500,000 Pennsylvanians who have conditions that are treated with cannabis in 20 states," he said. "Tell that to the moms I was with this morning, who have children who are suffering from Dravet Syndrome, whose lives are hanging in the balance. They want marijuana for their children and for them it is not the only issue," Hanger said.
"This is also a very important issue for all taxpayers. We are spending $300 million, approximately, chasing down and arresting people who are possessing small amounts of marijuana," he said. "If we get it out of the underground economy and start taxing it, instead of spending that $300 million we will raise $200 million of new revenue. That's a big deal for taxpayers."
By Steve Elliott
GOP Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has once again blasted President Obama for not enforcing federal marijuana laws in states which have legalized cannabis.
Sen. Cruz said he supported an "intelligent conversation" about drug policy in a new interview with the libertarian magazine Reason, reports Eric W. Dolan at The Raw Story. But Cruz certainly didn't provide any intelligent conversation, himself.
"I will say one thing that's been dismaying about the Obama Administration," Cruz said. "The Obama Administration's approach to drug policy is to simply announce that across the country, it is going to stop enforcing certain drug laws.
"Now, that may or may not be a good policy, but I would suggest that should concern anyone -- it should even concern libertarians who support that policy outcome -- because the idea that the President simply says criminal laws that are on the books, we're going to ignore," Cruz said. "That is a very dangerous precedent."
Cruz claimed Obama overstepped his authority by declining to arrest marijuana users and sellers in Colorado and Washington. Only Congress could enact such a policy, he said.
Eight of 13 council members are sponsoring measure that would replace criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession with a $25 civil fine similar to a parking ticket
A bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the District of Columbia is expected to advance Tuesday at a meeting of the Washington, DC Council, according to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). If approved, it will be on the agenda for final passage at the council's next legislative session.
The measure would remove criminal penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana for individuals 18 years of age and older and replace them with a civil fine of $25, similar to a parking ticket. The fine increases to $100 for public smoking of marijuana.
Individuals under the age of 18 who commit a violation would also have their parents notified. It also removes penalties for possession of paraphernalia in conjunction with small amounts and specifies that individuals cannot be searched or detained based solely on an officer’s suspicion of marijuana possession.
Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
The bill is sponsored by Ward 6 Council Member Tommy Wells and supported by eight of the council's 13 members, as well as by D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray.
At-large Council Member David Grosso has introduced separate legislation that would tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.
By Steve Elliott
Barack Obama said in a new interview that it's up to Congress to remove marijuana from its listing as a Schedule I controlled substance, implying that he might support such a move.
In an interview with CNN that aired on Friday, Obama was asked about recent remarks he made to The New Yorker that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, reports Zeke J Miller at Time. The President was asked if he would push to remove cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Administration's list of the most dangerous drugs.
"First of all, what is and isn't a Schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress," Obama replied.
"I stand by my belief, based, I think, on the scientific evidence, that marijuana, for casual users, individual users, is subject to abuse, just like alcohol is and should be treated as a public health problem and challenge," the President said. "But as I said in the interview, my concern is when you end up having very heavy criminal penalties for individual users that have been applied unevenly, and in some cases, with a racial disparity."
A spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) had tweeted on Wednesday that Attorney General Eric Holder could reclassify marijuana after a scientific review, but that it was "not likely given current science."
By Steve Elliott
The four Republican candidates for lieutenant governor of Texas took the stage Monday night for a live debate hosted by public television station KERA in Dallas. Asked for their positions on marijuana laws, three of the four voiced opposition to any change in the state's current laws concerning both recreational and medical marijuana.
Incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and state Sen. Dan Patrick all said they didn't want to change the marijuana laws, reports Mark Wiggins at KVUE.
"I would not legalize it," said Dewhurst. "I would not decriminalize it. I think marijuana can be an addictive drug and cause problems for people who are suffering from that addiction."
"We do not need to lower our standards," Staples said. "I think that those that are receiving government assistance should not be eligible if they're illegally using narcotic substances in our state, and our laws need to reflect that fully."
"We know the medical research proves, without question, that marijuana does impact young people more than older people," claimed Patrick. "So it's a nonstarter with me."
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson staked out his own position, however. While opposed to recreational marijuana legalization, Patterson explained his support for medicinal cannabis by comparing its active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to other pharmaceutical agents.
By Steve Elliott
The Farm Bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday morning by a vote of 251 to 166, including the hemp provision. "This is a big first step towards allowing American farmers to once again grow industrial hemp," according to VoteHemp.org.
The hemp provision was originally introduced as an amendment to the Farm Bill by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), all three of whom represent states which have legalized industrial hemp. The provision allows universities and state agriculture departments to grow hemp for academic or agricultural research purposes, but applies only to states where industrial hemp farming has already been legalized under state law.
"By including language easing restrictions on industrial hemp in states where it is legal, Congress sends an important message that we are ready to examine hemp in a more appropriate way," Rep. Blumenauer said on Monday.
"Vote Hemp was pleased with the bipartisan support for the amendment and worked with key Republican and Democratic offices in both the House and Senate to ensure the amendment was included in the conference report, which passed the House on Thursday. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) reportedly worked to keep and strengthen the hemp provision in the Farm Bill.
By Steve Elliott
Banking institutions say that while reassurances from Attorney General Eric Holder are nice, they are going to need more than a nod and a wink before providing banking services to marijuana businesses in states where recreational or medical cannabis is legal.
Atty. Gen. Holder made headlines last week when he said the Obama Administration plans to allow banks to make loans to or open accounts for marijuana businesses in states where they are legal, report Kate Davidson and Kevin Cirilli at Politico.com. Marijuana is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.
Financial firms face a complex maze of anti-money-laundering rules enforced by federal bank regulators, and violations can be very risky for banks which do business with companies which are breaking federal laws.
One major problem for bankers is that the Justice Department directive isn't binding; there have been past examples of federal prosecutors who disagree with DOJ guidance ignoring its directives. If the next administration is more conservative, all the banks catering to cannabis businesses could once again be subject to federal prosecution. If a U.S. Attorney files criminal charges against a bank, it could lose its charter and be forced to close.
All this means that the risks still outweigh the rewards for banks when it comes to accepting marijuana money.