RSS Feed for this category

Drug War Chronicle Video Review: "Prince of Pot: The US v. Marc Emery," Directed by Nick Wilson (2008, Journeyman Pictures)

Let me say right up front that Marc Emery sometimes pays me money to write articles for his magazine, Cannabis Culture, so I am not a completely disinterested observer. That said, "Prince of Pot" director Nick Wilson has done a superb job of explaining who Emery is, where he came from, and what he is all about -- and in tying Emery's trajectory to the larger issues of marijuana prohibition, the drug war in general, and Canadian acquiescence to US-style prohibitionist drug policies.
Marc Emery (courtesy Cannabis Culture magazine)
I assume that anyone reading these words already knows who Marc Emery is: Canada's most vocal advocate of marijuana legalization, founder of the BC Marijuana Party, publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine, operator of POT-TV, and former proprietor of the Marc Emery Seed Company. Emery made lots of money with his seed company, and plowed much of it back into the marijuana legalization movement, not only in Canada, but also bankrolling activists in the US Marijuana Party south of the border and putting some loonies (Canadian nickname for their one-dollar coin) into various Global Marijuana Marches. For Emery, the seed company was merely a means to an end, a method of raising money to subvert marijuana prohibition, or, as he nicely put it, to overgrow the government.

But all that came to a crashing halt three years ago, when Emery and two of his employees, Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle on marijuana trafficking charges for his seed sales. Now, the Vancouver 3, as they have come to be known, face up to life in prison in the US if and when they are extradited.

The documentary, which is available from Journeyman Productions, opens with some vintage Emery, addressing the crowd at a pro-legalization, anti-extradition rally in Vancouver, the headquarters of his operation. "The DEA says I am responsible for 1.1 million pounds of pot," he said to cheers from the crowd. "I would be happy to believe that. That's the problem -- the DEA and I agree on the facts."

"Prince of Pot" follows Emery's career from his beginnings as an Ontario bookstore owner who loathed stoners, but came to embrace their cause as he fought the Canadian government's censorship of "drug-related" magazines like High Times. Early on, Emery displayed the same qualities that propelled his meteoric rise to the heights of the pot legalization movement: a libertarian sensibility, "an ego that takes up 40% of his body weight," as one observer put it, an aggressive, abrasive personality, a penchant for the publicity stunt, and a mouth that never stops working.

The documentary also shows that Emery's exhibitionism isn't limited to the sphere of the political. Early on, viewers are treated to a shot of Emery's backside as he gets out of bed, and another scene shows him naked on a Vancouver nude beach being anointed with cannabis oil by his young wife Jodie in an experiment to see whether it could have an impact on "any cancerous or pre-cancerous cells." (No word on how that turned out.)

But if Marc Emery's ass is on the screen, it's also on the line, and this is where "Prince of Pot" really shines. The documentary makers interviewed the unrepentant US attorney in Seattle who indicted him and a Seattle DEA agent who justified the bust, and confronted DEA head Karen Tandy at a 2006 international DEA conference in Montreal.

"Prince of Pot" hones in with precision accuracy on Tandy's post-bust press release where she bragged about how Emery's arrest was "a blow to the legalization movement." That press release may be Emery's best long-shot chance at avoiding extradition because it provides evidence that his prosecution was politically motivated.

All of the feds, of course, deny that was the case, but, in tracing Emery's career, his succession of trivial arrests by Canadian authorities, and growing US frustration with Canada's seeming indifference to his activities, the documentarians make a strong case that Marc Emery was busted not because he sold seeds, but because he was a burr under the saddle of Washington.

The documentary also features a strong cast of Canadian supporters, including former Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell ("The drug czar is an idiot"), Vancouver East MP Libby Davies, Toronto attorney Alan Young, Ottawa attorney and criminal justice professor Eugene Oscapella ("Why should we emulate the failed drug policies of the United States?"). Vancouver activist David Malmo-Levine, shown smoking a foot-long joint at one point, makes a compelling observation, too: "They want to send him to prison for life," he exclaims, recounting the DEA's argument about the harm Emery has caused by promoting marijuana production. "What harm? Show me the bodies," he demands. "There has to be at least one body if they want to send him away for life. There has to be at least one person who suffered more than bronchitis."

Washington state marijuana defense attorney Douglas Hiatt's brief appearance is also powerful and worth noting. Visibly angry at the injustice of the marijuana laws, Hiatt lashes out at prosecutors and the DEA. "If the DEA wants to talk about destroying families," he growls, "they can talk to me about the families they've destroyed for trying to use medical marijuana. The only thing I see ruining people's lives is the government's policies," Hiatt spits out. His righteous wrath is refreshing.

At one point in the documentary, film-maker Wilson says that for him, "It's not about seeds, it's about sovereignty." From the Canadian perspective, he's right, of course, but it's really about marijuana prohibition, and Wilson does a wonderful job of sketching its history and ugly current reality.

At the end, the documentary speculates about a possible deal for Emery to serve a shorter prison term in the US. That didn't happen. Neither did a proposed deal that would have seen charges dropped against Rainey and Williams and Emery serving a few years in a Canadian prison. Now, it's back to fighting extradition, and given that the decision to extradite is ultimately a political one made by the Justice Minister and given that the Canadian federal government is in bed with the US on drug policy, extradition remains the most likely outcome.

In a touching scene, Emery and his wife argue over whether he will serve his cause by martyring himself, something he seems determined to do. I have personally counseled him otherwise. I suggested that he become the marijuana movement's Osama bin Laden. No, not that he blow up DEA headquarters, but that he escape to a hidden cave complex somewhere in the Canadian Rockies and bedevil his enemies with communiques from his hidden sanctuary. I, for one, would rather see Marc Emery figuratively flipping the bird to the US government than disappearing, like so many others have, into the American gulag.

Check out this documentary. It's a good one. It'll give you goose bumps at some points, make you want to cry at some, and make you want to cheer at others.

Medical Marijuana: Montana Supreme Court Okays Use By Probationers, Parolees

The Montana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that courts there cannot order medical marijuana patients to refrain from using their medicine as a condition of probation or parole. The ruling came in the case of State v. Nelson, in which Timothy Nelson was convicted of growing marijuana and as a condition of his probation, was barred from using medical marijuana.

Nelson was not certified under Montana's medical marijuana law when arrested, but obtained that certification before sentencing. But after local prosecutors told the trial judge the state Department of Corrections would not allow him to use medical marijuana while under its supervision -- only synthetic Marinol -- the judge imposed the following condition (among others) on Nelson:

The Defendant will not possess or use illegal drugs or any drugs unless prescribed by a licensed physician. Although the Defendant states he has a medical use exception which allows him to possess marijuana, the Defendant may not possess marijuana except in pill form and only then by prescription from a licensed physician. The prescription may not be more than 6 months old. The Defendant may not have a prescription older than 6 months in his possession. The Defendant will not be in control of or under the influence of illegal drugs, nor will he have in his possession any drug paraphernalia.

Nelson appealed, and on Wednesday, the state Supreme Court agreed, finding that the trial judge had overstepped her authority. "The District Court unlawfully denied Nelson the right and privilege to use a lawful medical treatment for relief from a debilitating condition under the Montana Medical Marijuana Act," Justice Patricia Cotter wrote in the majority opinion.

The court also found that "when a qualifying patient uses medical marijuana in accordance with the (Medical Marijuana Act), he is receiving lawful medical treatment. In this context, medical marijuana is most properly viewed as a prescription drug."

The court also rejected the state's argument that limiting probationers to prescribed medications was appropriate. "The District Court ignored the clear intent of the voters of Montana, that a qualifying patient with a valid registry identification card be lawfully entitled to grow and consume marijuana in legal amounts," Cotter wrote.

"This is a very big and important victory, both for patients and Montana voters," Tom Daubert, founder and director of Patients and Families United, a support group for patients who use medical marijuana, told the Great Falls Tribune after the decision. "Montana voters clearly decided that Marinol is not the equivalent of medical marijuana," Daubert said. "The court recognizes in its decision that the so-called pill form of marijuana is not marijuana. It's really a common-sense interpretation of our law."

Feature: Drug Policy Reform and Sentencing Initiatives on the November Ballot

With election day little more than a month away, it is time for a round-up of drug policy reform initiatives facing voters in November. Not only are there a number of state-level initiatives dealing with marijuana decriminalization, medical marijuana, and sentencing reform (or its opposite), there are also a handful of initiatives at the county or municipal level.
November 4th is coming up
But after a spate of drug reform initiatives beginning in the mid-1990s and continuing into the beginning of this decade, the pace has slowed this year. Of the 139 statewide initiatives identified by the Initiative and Referendum Institute as making the ballot this year, only seven have anything to do with drug reform, and four of those seek to increase sentences for various drug offenses.

Drug reformers have had an impressive run, especially with medical marijuana efforts, winning in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, and losing only in conservative South Dakota. Reformers also scored an impressive coup with California's "treatment not jail" initiative, Proposition 36, in 2002. At the municipal level, initiatives making adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority have won in cities across California; as well as Denver; Seattle; Missoula County, Montana; Eureka Springs, Arkansas; and Hailey, Idaho. Detroit and several smaller Michigan cities have also approved municipal medical marijuana initiatives.

One reason for the slow-down in reformers' resort to the initiative process is that, as Marijuana Policy Project assistant communications director Dan Bernath put it, "We've already grabbed all the low-hanging fruit."

While medical marijuana initiatives have had an impressive run, the remainder of the 22 initiative and referendum states -- Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming -- present a more difficult social and political terrain, in most cases. Running a successful initiative is also costly, said Bernath.

"Only half the states have initiatives, so there are only so many places where reformers can push them," he said. "And it is an expensive process that is often complicated. On the other hand, you don't have to rely on timid politicians. The voters are often way out in front of politicians on marijuana reform initiatives, and with an initiative, you don't have to worry about those timid politicians tinkering with your legislation and taking all the teeth out of it," Bernath noted. "As a general rule, I think most reformers would prefer to see something passed by the voters, that gives it a lot of legitimacy."

And that's just what reformers are trying to do with medical marijuana in Michigan and marijuana decriminalization in Massachusetts this year, both of which appear poised to pass. Likewise, in California, reformers are seeking to expand and deepen Prop. 36, but they also face a pair of sentencing initiatives aimed at harsher treatment of drug offenders. And next door in Oregon, anti-crime crusaders also have a pair of initiatives aimed at punishing drug offenders -- among others.

Here's a rundown of the statewide drug reform and/or sentencing initiatives:

CALIFORNIA: It's the battle of the crime and sentencing initiatives, with Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act (NORA) going up against a pair of initiatives headed in the other direction. Building on the success (and limitations) of 2002's Prop. 36, Prop. 5 would expand the number of drug offenders diverted from prison into treatment, expand prison and parole rehabilitation programs, allow inmates earlier release for participating in such programs, and cut back the length of parole. It would also decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Led by the Drug Policy Alliance Southern California office, the Yes on Prop. 5 campaign has won broad support from drug treatment professionals, with the notable exception of drug court advocates. But it also faces opposition, not only from the drug court crew and the usual law enforcement suspects, but also actor Martin Sheen and several prominent newspaper editorial boards. No polls on Prop. 5's prospects have been released. See our earlier in-depth reporting on Prop. 5 here.

Proposition 6, the Safe Neighborhoods Act, is primarily aimed at gang members, violent criminals, and criminal aliens, but also includes provisions increasing penalties for methamphetamine possession, possession with intent, and distribution to be equal to those for cocaine, and provides for the expulsion from public housing of anyone convicted of a drug offense. The measure also mandates increased spending for law enforcement. Read the California League of Women Voters' analysis of Prop. 6 here.

Proposition 9, also known as the Crime Victims Bill of Rights Act, unsurprisingly is concerned mostly with "victims' rights," but also includes provisions that would block local authorities from granting early release to prisoners to alleviate overcrowding and mandates that the state fund corrections costs as much as necessary to accomplish that end. It would also lengthen the amount of time a prisoner serving a life sentence who has been denied parole must wait before re-applying. Currently, he must wait one to five years; under Prop. 9, he must wait three to 15 years. Prop. 9 would also allow parolees who have been jailed for alleged parole violations to be held 15 days instead of the current 10 before they are entitled to a hearing to determine if they can be held pending a revocation hearing, and stretches from 35 to 45 the number of days they could be held before such a hearing. These last two provisions, as well as one limiting legal counsel for parolees, all conflict with an existing federal court order governing California's procedures. Read the California League of Women Voters' analysis of Prop. 9 here.

Ironically, both "tough on crime" initiatives have received significant funding and support from Henry Nicholas, the co-founder and former CEO of Broadcom. Nicholas has reportedly contributed at least $5.9 million to the initiatives. That was before he was indicted in June on federal fraud and drug charges. His indictment alleges that he kept properties for drug parties, supplied methamphetamine and cocaine to friends and prostitutes, and spiked technology executives' drinks with Ecstasy.

MASSACHUSETTS: The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy is sponsoring an initiative that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Known as Question 2 on the November ballot, the initiative builds on nearly a decade's worth of work by local activists who ran dozens of successful ballot questions directed at individual representatives. Question 2 looks like almost a sure winner; it garnered 72% support in a mid-August poll. Still, late-organizing opposition has formed, primarily from the usual suspects in law enforcement and prosecutors' offices. See our earlier analysis of Question 2 here. (Massachusetts also has medical marijuana voter questions on the ballot in four towns.)

MICHIGAN: Michigan is poised to become the first medical marijuana state in the Midwest. An initiative sponsored by the Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care and appearing on the ballot as Proposition 1 would allow patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, MS and other conditions as may be approved by the Department of Community Health to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. It would require the department to create an ID card system for qualified patients and their designated caregivers and would allow patients and caregivers to grow small amounts of marijuana indoors in a secure facility. It would also permit both registered and unregistered patients and caregivers to assert a medical necessity defense to any prosecution involving marijuana. A poll released this week showed the measure gaining the approval of 66% of voters. Read our earlier analysis of the initiative and campaign here.

OREGON: While medical marijuana activists are working on a dispensary initiative for 2010, perennial Oregon "crime fighter" Kevin Mannix is once again looking to throw more people in prison. Ballot Measure 61, "Mandatory Sentences For Drug Dealers, Identity Thieves, Burglars, And Car Thieves," is pretty self-explanatory. It would impose mandatory minimum sentences for the manufacture or delivery of cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine of 36 months in some cases and 30 months in others. It also lays out similar mandatory minimums for the other criminal offenders listed above. Mannix originally included a provision attempting to supplant the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, but dropped it when it became apparent it could drag down the entire initiative.

Another measure initiated by the legislature and referred to the voters, Ballot Measure 57, would also increase penalties for the sale or distribution of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and Ecstasy. It sets a sentencing range of 34 months to 130 months, depending on the quantity of the drug involved. The measure would also require drug treatment for certain offenders and impose sanctions for those who resist, provide grants to local jurisdictions for jails, drug courts, and treatment services, and limit judges' ability to reduce sentences.

LOCAL INITIATIVES: In addition to the statewide initiatives mentioned above, there are also a handful of municipal initiatives on the November 4 ballot. Here they are:

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA: In Berkeley, Measure JJ seeks to broaden and regularize medical marijuana access. Supported by the Berkeley Patients Group and at least two city council members, the measure would expand the non-residential zones where dispensaries can locate, create an oversight commission including representatives from each of the three existing collectives to promulgate standards and determine whether relocating or future operators are in compliance, issue zoning certificates by right if operators meet standards, and bring Berkeley possession limits in line with recent state court rulings determining that such limits are unconstitutional. The ballot argument in favor of the measure can be viewed at the link above; no ballot argument opposing the measure has been submitted.

FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS: The local grassroots organization Sensible Fayetteville is sponsoring an initiative that would make enforcement of adult marijuana possession laws the lowest law enforcement priority. It also includes language mandating city officials to write an annual letter to their state and federal representatives notifying them of the city's position and urging them to adopt a similar one. If the measure passes, Fayetteville will become the second Arkansas community to adopt such an ordinance. Nearby Eureka Springs did so in 2007.

FERNDALE, MICHIGAN: Ferndale passed a medical marijuana initiative in 2005, but this year a shadowy group known as the National Organization for Positive Medicine has placed an initiative on the ballot that would allow for the distribution of medical marijuana, but only by the National Organization for Positive Medicine. The initiative is not affiliated with the statewide medical marijuana initiative.

HAWAII COUNTY, HAWAII: Hawaii's Big Island (Hawaii County) will be voting on an initiative making adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. Ballot Question 1 not only makes adult possession offenses the lowest priority, it would also bar county law enforcement officials from accepting federal deputization or commissions to enforce laws in conflict with the initiative, prohibits the County Council from accepting or spending funds to enforce adult marijuana possession laws, and bar the County Council from accepting any funds for the marijuana eradication program. The initiative is sponsored by Project Peaceful Sky, a local grassroots organization whose name alludes to the disruption of tranquility caused by law enforcement helicopters searching for marijuana.

Alright, potential voters, there you have it. See you at the polls November 4.

The Drug Czar Can’t Stop Panicking About Medical Marijuana

Here we go again:

Pete Guither couldn’t make it all the way through. I’m not even going to try. We’ve heard all of this before. We heard the same thing in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Yet no one is demanding the repeal of those laws. Medical marijuana works and so do the laws that protect patients from arrest.

If you’re in Michigan, vote Yes on Prop. 1. Pass it on.

Medical marijuana patients attacked in new ad

Dear friends:

Michigan's medical marijuana initiative is under attack.

With just five days remaining until Election Day, prohibitionists are running this fear-mongering TV ad, which shows “footage” of a child trying to go in a medical marijuana dispensary and “patients” assaulting an elderly woman.

Attacking medical marijuana patients is a truly despicable tactic. Medical marijuana patients aren't thugs. They're seriously ill doctors, teachers, nurses, plumbers, and other upstanding Americans — who don't want to fear arrest and jail for using the medicine their physicians have recommended.

Here's a look at one of them:

Will you please help protect people like Dr. Wagoner and his wife from arrest and jail?

Not only is the opposition lying to voters about the face of medical marijuana, but they're lying about the initiative too. Michigan's initiative wouldn't even allow dispensaries; it simply permits private marijuana use by patients with a doctor's approval.

If this turns your stomach like it does mine, please turn your anger into action: Help the campaign win here.

Time is running short. Even a donation of $10 to the campaign committee will help ensure that sick and dying patients no longer must fear arrest.

Thank you,
Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $3.0 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2008. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

United States

The Perfect Argument for Medical Marijuana in Michigan

Wow. The drug czar likes to complain about the deep pockets of the "pot lobby," and he's lucky it's a lie. If we could afford to put this video on the airwaves across America, the federal war against medical marijuana would be over in the blink of an eye. This is the truth about why we do what we do. These are the people who pay the price for our brutal drug laws and their stories are in our hearts each day as we fight for change. If you live in Michigan, please vote YES on Prop. 1. Tell your friends. Tell your mom. With your support, we can win another important victory for seriously ill patients.

Watch our new medical marijuana TV ads

Dear friends:

MPP's Michigan campaign committee hit the airwaves with two hard-hitting new TV ads, urging voters to pass the medical marijuana initiative there on November 4.

One ad features Michigan resident Deb Brink, who used medical marijuana to ease the side effects of chemotherapy during cancer treatment. The other spotlights Dr. George Wagoner, who lost his wife of 51 years, Beverly, to ovarian cancer last year. He explains how marijuana helped ease her suffering when drug after drug failed.

If a majority of Michigan voters pass MPP's initiative on November 4, Michigan law will change to allow patients to use, possess, and grow their own marijuana for medical purposes with their doctors' approval.

Michigan might be just days away from becoming the 13th state to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest and prison — and the first in the Midwest — but our opponents are pushing back hard, and we need the financial help of supporters like you to win. Would you please donate to MPP's campaign committee today, so that we have the funds it will take to win on Election Day?

We are counting on people like you to lend your voice for what's right in these final days. Thank you in advance for any help you can give.

Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $3.0 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2008. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

United States

Feature: NORML Does Berkeley

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) held its 37th annual conference last weekend in Berkeley, California, and what better locale than the pot-friendly San Francisco Bay area? Just across the bay from San Francisco, just a few miles up the road from Oakland's Oaksterdam, just a couple of hours down US 101 from Northern California's marijuana-growing epicenter, Berkeley is the kind of place where NORML is, well, normal.
conference poster
The setting, too, was superb, in a hotel on the Berkeley marina, with views of the bay and the San Francisco skyline to one side and the Berkeley hills to the other. Hotel employees and security guards limited their policing to making sure people smoking stayed away from building entrances: "We don't care what you're smoking, just don't do it within 25 feet of the door," they pleaded.

Tie-dyed, long-haired, pot-bellied, aging-hippy mountain pot growers proudly bearing mason jars full of their best home-grown buds rubbed shoulders with suit-and-tie East Coast politicos. Research scientists mingled with hard-core legalizers. Media types met media critics. Lonely activists from the far provinces found their movement peers... and realized they were not alone. And loads of remarkably normal looking people roamed the halls, perused the vendors' tables, listened to conference sessions, and periodically wandered out back to join the non-stop medicating and just plain relaxing going on in the outdoors (in accordance with California's strict anti-smoking laws).

Compared to some other drug reform conferences, with their dizzying array of panels, often four or five at the same time, the NORML conference agenda was blessedly succinct. For the most part, it was one session per time block. On Friday, it was "Pot, Politics 2008 and Beyond," "The Legal Marijuana Generation -- Growing Up and Raising Children in the Age of Legal Pot," "Getting the Story Wrong -- How the Media Lie About Cannabis," followed by a trio of breakout sessions on activism Friday afternoon. On Saturday, it was "What if We Arrested 20 Million Americans -- and No One Noticed?," "The Politics of Marijuana and Health," lunch with a keynoted speech by California Assemblyman Mark Leno (D), "Drug Testing and Cannabis Use: The Case Against Legally Sanctioned Discrimination Via Forensics," and "Oaksterdam, USA (Cannabis Freedom is Closer Than You Think)," "Pot Culture." Sunday was devoted to sessions on setting up and operating dispensaries in California.

"This is not your parent's prohibition," said NORML board chair Steve Dillon, quickly hitting the conference's theme in his remarks opening the event. "It's much worse, much more costly. It's costing us the loss of freedom, our property, and our access to compassionate care. But marijuana prohibition is doomed to fail," he said to cheers. "It's totally illogical and counterproductive to continue to try to prohibit marijuana, but our government will have to be forced to end prohibition. We must elect new leaders and restore our damaged Constitution," he said.

"Marijuana prohibition is deeper and more entrenched than ever," said NORML executive director Alan St. Pierre, reprising the theme. "We'll be arresting a million people a year for pot by 2010 or 2012," he predicted. Marijuana prohibition is becoming harsher and more intensive."

But the prospects for positive change are the best in decades, St. Pierre argued. "If Barack Obama is elected, we will have the best chance for reform in the past 35 or 40 years. Maybe we can actually have an MD for a drug czar, or maybe Dr. Ethan Nadelmann," he daydreamed, to loud applause.

Also speaking at the opening session was Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington, who told the crowd it will take a long, hard, social, cultural, political, and legal battle to do away with "these stupid, absurd, insane marijuana policies." The people are way ahead of the politicians on marijuana legalization he said, urging people to put the pressure on their elected officials.

The day's second session, on the current state and future of marijuana reform politics was wide-ranging, with topics being discussed including the lowest priority initiative in Fayetteville, Arkansas, California Attorney General Jerry Brown's recent directive to law enforcement on medical marijuana, and the role of local activists in fending off an electoral backlash in Mendocino County. The session also saw attention to the big picture, with Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann, Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) head Rob Kampia, and Oregon NORML head Madelyn Martinez discussing current and future state-level efforts. (See a detailed story on those plans here.)

An especially illuminating panel took place Friday afternoon, with former NORML head and founder Richard Cowan moderating a panel on the press that included NORML's Paul Armentano, MPP direction of communications Bruce Mirken, Oregon activist and XM talk radio host "Radical Russ" Belville, and long-time pot beat reporter Ann Harrison. "We've been lied to and lied about," snorted Cowan, as he prepared to get out of the way and let the panelists explain how and why.

Armentano shone with a dissection of press coverage of the results of scientific studies on marijuana. "Less than 5% of cannabis studies are reported at all by the mainstream media," he noted, citing hard numbers from last year, "and those the media does focus on are the studies that focus on the dangers. Studies with health findings that do not support the dangers of cannabis are typically ignored," he added, listing a number of studies and how and with what frequency they were reported.

Armentano also created a typology of marijuana reporting in the mainstream press. "News reports must have alarmist headlines," he enumerated. "They must be based on press releases prior to publication of the actual research. They must be highly selective. And they must make no reference to earlier contradictory data."

Belville echoed Armentano's analysis of marijuana story types, presenting a list of common pot stories: "It's not your mother's marijuana," "Medical Marijuana Can Cause Adverse Effects, Researchers Say," "Teen Marijuana Use Linked to Later Illness."

Citing the work of political theorist George Lakeoff, Belville then explained how such headlines fit into a "frame," or pre-designed narrative form in which marijuana is associated with vice and filthy hippies. "We have to change the frame," he said in his finest radio announcer voice. "Say cannabis instead of marijuana -- it doesn't have all the bad associations."

Although Ann Harrison has now moved to working on human rights issues, the veteran reporter had plenty of advice for journalists continuing to cover the marijuana. "There was a surge in 2007 marijuana arrests in California," she noted. "What are the costs? How much are the feds paying? That's what reporters need to be asking." But reporters need to find that human angle, she reminded. "Stories run on emotion," Harrison said.

MPP's Mirken had advice on how to influence the media, especially when unhappy with its coverage of the marijuana issue. "Start with the reporter, be polite, take a positive approach, and be specific and factual with your complaint," he said. "Perhaps he will make a retraction or positively update the story, perhaps not. But the idea is to start establishing relationships" that can guide the reporter in the right direction, he said.

An exhaustive recounting of all the conference sessions is beyond the scope of this article. Readers who want more should check out the NORML blog and others who blogged on the conference, because there is much much more that was worthwhile and informative there.

Feature: Beyond 2008 -- Looking Past the November US Elections

With the November 4 elections now less than two weeks away, most people, drug reformers included, are focused on the near term. Drug reformers in particular are watching with great interest as Michigan voters decide on medical marijuana, Massachusetts voters decide on marijuana decriminalization, and California voters decide whether to approve a groundbreaking treatment-not-jail initiative.
(chart appears courtesy MPP)
But some are looking past next month's elections and plotting the future of drug reform. Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project is one of them. At last weekend's National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) conference in Berkeley, Kampia laid out his vision for the next few years.

But before that, he bluntly predicted success in Massachusetts and Michigan. "We are looking at a pair of major victories on November 4," he told the cheering crowd.

With a dozen medical marijuana states already and Michigan poised to be the breakthrough state in the Midwest, MPP will be aiming at placing medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot in three more states in 2010 -- Ohio, Massachusetts, and Arizona, Kampia said.

He also listed nine states where MPP is working to move medical marijuana forward through the legislative process. In four of them -- Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York -- significant progress has already been made, and MPP will attempt to build on that. In five other states -- Delaware, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia -- work is just getting started in the legislature.

How successful MPP will be in the near future depends greatly on the outcome of next month's national election, warned MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "The overarching thing is we will push ahead with as much of this as we can, but it will all be affected by next month's election," he said. "That will either give us a major push or make our lives much more complicated. We're hopeful it will be the former."

But regardless of what happens in November, MPP will also be returning to Nevada in what would be a third bid to actually legalize marijuana possession there. "We will try to file a legalization initiative in Nevada in 2012," Kampia said.
(chart appears courtesy MPP)
"Nevada is definitely on the agenda," said Mirken. "We've always considered Nevada to be an ongoing project, we got significantly closer on our last attempt, and we're definitely looking at going back."

One clear sign of MPP's intentions in Nevada is their latest hiring announcement. It includes five positions in the state.

MPP isn't the only national reform organization eyeing the future. "We have a lot planned," said Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) executive director Ethan Nadelmann, "but the bigger question right now is what will happen with California's Proposition 5 (related story here). It contains a marijuana decriminalization provision, and if it passes, it will affect a larger number of people than any decrim measure ever."

But while the outcome of Prop. 5 will have an immediate impact, it will also set the course for DPA's future work in the Golden State. "What we do next in California depends on Prop. 5," he said.

Whatever happens in California, DPA will be continuing to work on medical marijuana legislative efforts in three states -- Alabama, Connecticut, and New Jersey -- as well as implementing the hard-won New Mexico medical marijuana law's distribution provisions, and working with local activists in Maine to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot there. The Connecticut legislature passed a medical marijuana bill last year, only to see it vetoed by Republican Gov. Jodi Rell. None of the efforts in the other states have gotten that far yet.

"We will go back and push for medical marijuana in Connecticut," said Nadelmann. "But again, it will depend on our ability to get Gov. Rell to be more flexible. Our legislative sponsor in Alabama has said she is prepared to run with it again, and our New Jersey office has lined up a bunch of legislators to support medical marijuana," he added.

Meanwhile, while MPP is eyeing another legalization run in Nevada four years from now, activists in Oregon's fractious cannabis community are preparing a pair of competing initiatives for the 2010 ballot. Oregon NORML is working on the Oregon Tax Act of 2010, which would regulate and tax adult sales, license the cultivation of marijuana for sale in state-run liquor stores and adults-only businesses, allow for adults to grow their own and farmers to grow hemp without a license, and remove taxation from medical marijuana.

While the Tax Act would do away with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) by rendering it redundant, Voter Power, the group of activists who got OMMA passed a decade ago, have their own initiative in the works. The Voter Power initiative would allow for dispensaries and Patient Resource Centers (PRCs) to sell smokeable marijuana, edibles, tinctures, and lozenges to patients, for growers to legally sell marijuana to dispensaries and PRCs, and for 10% of gross revenues to go back into the Oregon Medial Marijuana Program.

But wait, there's more: According to Kampia, the ACLU is organizing for decriminalization efforts in Montana and Washington, and activists in five additional states -- Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin -- are working on medical marijuana efforts in their state legislatures.

Right now, all eyes are on November 4, but reforming the drug laws is a work in process, and that process is set to advance in the coming years.

Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey Meeting

Please join us for our next monthly public meeting. For more information, as well as minutes from our last meeting, see
Tue, 12/09/2008 - 7:00pm - 9:00pm
United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School