Medical-cannabis patients and providers should expect ongoing persecution in California. However, media backlash due to the nearly half-year-old federal crackdown is affecting at least one prominent drug warrior: United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California Benjamin Wagner.
Wagner broke the Department of Justice’s near silence with regard to the crackdown during a candid, hour-long talk and question-and-answer session last Tuesday at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon. The $30-a-plate affair took place on the 15th floor of 1201 K Street, and inside, Wagner admitted that the cannabis cleanup was the idea of the four U.S. Attorneys in California, not Washington, D.C.
The four were upset because of what Wagner called “flagrant” marijuana sales in the state. So they declared war on medical marijuana last October, sending out hundreds of forfeiture-warning letters to dispensaries across California. His office is in the process of seizing at least one dispensary in Sacramento, while officials have closed more or less every dispensary in Sacramento County.
He reiterated that they’re not going after patients and caregivers, rather interstate transporters, huge pot farmers and illicit dispensaries grossing tens of thousands of dollars per day in cash.
But the media critique of the war is wearing on Wagner, it seems. He said he counts on good press to create a “deterrent effect” in regard to cases of mortgage fraud, child exploitation, human trafficking and major gang violence. But he’s not getting any of that.
“I think that the members of the press would be forgiven for thinking that marijuana enforcement is all that we do,” he said. “It is far from the most important thing that we do. I have many other higher priorities that have a much bigger impact on public safety. I did not seek the position of U.S. attorney in order to launch a campaign against medical marijuana.”
Wagner was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 and has been with the DOJ since 1992, primarily in the Eastern District. When he and the other three U.S. attorneys took office at the end of 2009, “We found that we were in the middle of an explosion of marijuana cultivation and sales,” he said.
Federal policy didn’t change, rather “what we saw … was an unregulated free-for-all in California in which huge amounts of money was being made selling marijuana … to virtually anybody who wanted to get stoned.”
Wagner said that’s not what California voters approved. Stores marking up pot 200 percent is “not about sick people. That’s about money.”
His reaction has been “quite measured,” he said. Most dispensaries just got warning letters.
“In a few instances, after ample warnings, we’ve brought civil-enforcement actions while reserving criminal prosecution for the most flagrant violators of not only federal law but state law,” he said.
He referred to cases such as one where seven Roseville and Fresno suspects were indicted in February for growing pot with doctor’s recommendations and running a dispensary as a front to traffic it to seven states in the Midwest and South.
Wagner also warned that a season of raids in the Central Valley is coming in 2012, and that mega pot farmers are on notice that if they plant again this year, their land could be seized.
He tried to make the case that pot is just a fraction of what his office does, referring to 61 indictments on mortgage fraud last fiscal year.
During audience questions, activists asked why the federal government says marijuana has “no medical use,” yet the United States has patented its ingredient, cannabidiol, for treating strokes.
“What I know about marijuana as medicine you can probably put in a thimble,” he said.
But health policy is not his job, he said. “My advice to you is to write your congressman.”
Sacramento lawyer Alan Donato asked for guidelines for local dispensaries to avoid federal attention.
“I’m not in a position to be of much comfort,” Wagner said. “You don’t ask the CHP, ‘How many miles over the speed limit can I go before you pull me over?’”
Stephen Downing, a retired Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, asked if the failed drug war would ever make Wagner say “Enough is enough” to his boss, Attorney General Eric Holder.
“That’s hard to say,” Wagner said. “I totally understand the debate over legalization as opposed to criminalizing narcotics.
“It really depends on what the cost-benefits are. Marijuana is obviously not nearly as destructive as [methamphetamine]. The risks in legalizing marijuana may be significantly less that meth.”
But prescription drugs “are the biggest, worst drug problem in terms of trends … [and] that’s a legal drug.”
SN&R news intern Matthew W. Urner got the biggest attention of the lunch, asking Wagner if he ever tried the second-most-commonly used mind-altering substance in America, and if so, what he thought.
“Uh,” said Wagner, “I’ll say that I went to college.”
Vice President Joe Biden heads to Latin America this Sunday amid unprecedented pressure from political and business leaders to talk about something U.S. officials have no interest in debating: decriminalizing drugs.
Presidents of Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia and Mexico, all grappling with the extremely violent fallout of a failing drug war, have said in recent weeks they’d like to open up the discussion of legalizing drugs. Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Mexico already allow the use of small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption, while political leaders from Brazil and Colombia are discussing alternatives to locking up drug users.
Business leaders are weighing in as well: in February, a group of banking, medical and legal experts sponsored a drug policy conference in Mexico City which concluded that current drug control policies aren’t working and need reform.
“It’s a different moment when you have actual heads of state talking about the need for a thorough debate on this,” said John Walsh, a drug policy expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, an independent think tank. “It’s certainly different for sitting presidents to be uttering those words. You wouldn’t have thought it possible just a few years ago.”
Dan Restrepo, the top Latin America official in the White House, briefing reporters about Biden’s upcoming trip, said the vice president does expect a “robust conversation” about the security problems Latin American countries face as drug traffickers battle to control the lucrative U.S. sales. But he said Latin American leaders shouldn’t expect a shift in policy.
“The Obama administration has been quite clear in our opposition to decriminalization or legalization of illicit drugs,” said Restrepo.
Biden is scheduled to arrive in Mexico City on Sunday to discuss economic and security issues with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. He also plans to meet Monday with the three top Mexican presidential candidates running for a six-year term to replace Calderon this year.
On Tuesday Biden is slated to travel to Honduras to meet President Porfirio Lobo, along with the presidents of El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala, all countries struggling with the sweeping consequences of expanding drug cartels. Drug gangs have killed tens of thousands, overcrowded prisons are overflowing with accused drug users while powerful cartels fuel corruption — influencing elections, weakening democracies and threatening fragile economies.
“I do think that the issue of legalization will be raised by the leaders to Biden, but in private,” said Walter McKay, a policing expert on security issues in Mexico, where more than 47,500 people have been killed in drug gang violence since 2006.
Two weeks ago, Guatemala’s president Otto Perez Molina, a right wing conservative and former army general, stunned observers when he declared the U.S. inability to cut illegal drug consumption leaves his country with no option but to consider legalizing the use and transport of drugs. He vowed to galvanize regional support.
Since then, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and Funes have said they’re open to the discussion, while Panama’s leaders say they do not agree with decriminalizing drugs.
For decades Latin Americans leaders and the U.S. have cooperated on a war on drugs, with more than a trillion dollars spent by the U.S. to support enforcement and eradication in Latin America, as well as promises to reduce cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine use in the U.S. that generates an estimated $25 billion in profits each year.
But during that time, demand for drugs has increased, fueling violent competition between dealers.
In 2009, former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia blasted the war on drugs and said it was time to consider the decriminalization of marijuana. Last summer they were joined by more than a dozen high level international leaders including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. officials George P. Shultz and Paul Volcker, again slamming the war on drugs as a failure and calling on governments to undertake experiments to decriminalize the use of drugs, especially marijuana, to undermine the power of organized crime.
But while it’s one thing for former presidents to suggest decriminalizing drugs, it is another thing entirely when sitting presidents do so, said retired Brazilian judge Maria Lucia Karam in an email to The Associated Press.
Karam said that while Latin American leaders at first may have been willing to give the “get tough” strategy time to work, they’ve been worn down by the drug war’s relentless toll.
“The public comments we are seeing are a sign of deep frustration and anger that is now prevalent in Latin America due to the U.S. and U.N.’s seeming unwillingness to engage in a serious debate about implementing effective drug policies that respect human rights and truly protect health,” she said.
Danny Kushlick, who heads the London-based Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said the region is “on the verge of a tipping point that will begin when the Latin Americans raise the issue within earshot and in full view of the Americans. Ultimately this is about allowing democratic conversations to take place without being leaned upon by the U.S.”
But former U.S. drug czar John Walters said those who are calling for a debate on legalization are taking a dangerous and misguided step.
“I would note to them that the kind of dangerous people they face would welcome that change, to become more powerful,” he said. “Legalizing is not a solution, it’s an excuse.”
Associated Press writers Marcos Aleman in El Salvador, Romina Ruiz in Guatemala and Freddy Cuevas in Honduras contributed to this report.
As GOP candidates debate values, I have not heard them address legalizing marijuana. The words of a narcotics agent ring in my ears: ‘I can’t say every pot smoker goes on to get hooked on the hard stuff. But I can say every addict I know on the hard stuff got started on pot.’
By John Hughes / March 2, 2012
Members of the California El Dorado County sheriff’s department prepare to hook approximately 300 pounds of marijuana plants to a helicopter at a marijuana garden in a remote area of El Dorado County in August 2009. The US Justice Department says it will enforce federal marijuana laws in California and other states.
When I worked as a foreign correspondent in Asia for the Monitor, I recommended to my editors that we pay serious attention to international narcotics traffic.
I had seen a fair amount of drug abuse by American soldiers in Vietnam and was aware of drug trafficking inLaos and Thailand and other Asian countries. My editors agreed, even though it would cost considerable time and money. Their judgment was justified when the Overseas Press Club of America gave the published series the prize for best foreign reporting.
The project took me around the world for five months, visiting not only Asian lands but nations in the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, and Africa. I met dealers in marijuana, opium, heroin, and victims of a traffic that sickened me.
The words of a narcotics agent came back to me when singer Tony Bennett recently supported the legalization of drugs at a pre-Grammy gala where various Hollywood personalities were depicted smoking pot on TV.
The agent’s words were: “I can’t say every pot smoker goes on to get hooked on the hard stuff. But I can say every addict I know on the hard stuff got started on pot.”
n one Washington State poll, proponents of legalizing marijuana narrowly outnumbered opponents, though because of the margin of error, the result was a statistical tie.
In Colorado, supporters of legalizing marijuana have been seeking enough signatures on a petition to secure a formal vote in state-wide elections later this year. In a number of other states, proponents of legalization are organizing.
Fortunately, the Obama administration is standing firm in opposition to legalization. Federal agents say they will not shrink from arresting growers and distributors who are obviously supplying recreational users. TheOffice of National Drug Control Policy has declared: “Legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.”
Supporters of legalization argue that prohibiting marijuana is an assault on personal freedom. They maintain that prohibition stimulates a black market in the drug and increases prices. They say that by providing legal supplies of a currently illegal drug, prices would fall and there would be fewer crimes committed by both drug users and suppliers.
But opponents cite a variety of reasons for their positions. There is the opinion of the narcotics agent I quoted that such use can lead to addiction to more serious drugs. There is the threat of violence, and neglect of children, by parents on pot. Greater availability of legal marijuana could encourage new consumers. Drivers under the influence of marijuana could cause as much damage and misery as drivers under the influence of alcohol.
California authorizes the sale of marijuana for medical reasons, but its voters balked in 2010 at legalization for recreational use. Let us hope that supporters of recreational use who are renewing their campaign to get it voted on again and approved this year are not successful.
If the seasoned narcotics agent I met is correct, and every addict he knew on hard drugs started on marijuana, why in the world would we want to make it more respectable, cheaper, and readily available?
John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column.
by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy DirectorMarch 2, 2012
A federal judge in Sacramento this week dismissed a federallawsuit filed in November by members of the NORML Legal Committee against the US Department of Justice, US Attorney General Eric Holder, and DEA Director Michele Leonhart. The lawsuit (read it here), one of four filed simultaneously in the state’s four federal districts, argues that the Justice Department’s ongoing crackdown against medical marijuana providers and distributors in California is in violation of the Ninth, Tenth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution because the use of cannabis therapeutically is a fundamental right. Petitioners also argue, using the theory of judicial estoppel, that the Justice Department had previously affirmed in public memos and in statements made in federal court that it would no longer use federal resources to prosecute cannabis patients or providers who are compliant with state law.
On Wednesday, US District Judge Garland Burrell, Jr., rejected those arguments and and granted the respondent’s dismissal motion. He denied petitioners request for public hearings prior to making his ruling.
Judge Burrell rejected plaintiffs’ Ninth and Tenth Amendment challenges, finding: “Since the Supreme Court has held the that CSA’s (federal Controlled Substances Act) categorical prohibition of the possession, manufacturing, and distribution of marijuana does not exceed Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause (Article I Section 8, Clause 3 of the US Constitution), plaintiffs do not have a viable …. claim.”
He also rejected plaintiffs’ equal protection arguments, finding that the Justice Department’s actions in California mimic efforts the federal government has taken against “similarly situated individuals” elsewhere. Judge Burrell also cited court rulings finding that defendants in previous challenges have failed to meet the “heavy burden of proving the irrationality of the schedule I classification of marijuana.”
Finally, Judge Burrell dismissed plaintiff’s judicial estoppel clam, which argues that defendants’ “recent crackdown … against medical cannabis patients flouts the representations made on the record by the Department of Justice” in public memos and statements in court. Responding to this challenge, Judge Burrell determined, “Since judicial estoppel does not apply unless ‘a party’s later position [is] ‘clearly inconsistent with its earlier position,’ and the Ogden memo does not contain a promise not to enforce the CSA, defendants’ enforcement of the CSA is not inconsistent.”
Commenting on the ruling, Attorney David Michael of San Francisco, who along with Matt Kumin and Alan Silber were the lead attorneys in these four challenges, said “We are disappointed, but not discouraged, that the District Courts have thus far denied us the relief we had sought. They are constrained by existing precedent, and the result was not unexpected. It is the Ninth Circuit where we hope to find a receptive audience, and, with the Lawrence v. Texas decision, we may also have a more receptive audience in the Supreme Court, should the issue go there.”
Judges for the Ninth Circuit had previously determined in Raich v Gonzalez: “For now, federal law is blind to the wisdom of a future day when the right to use medical marijuana to alleviate excruciating pain may be deemed fundamental. Although that day has not yet dawned, … (it) may be upon us sooner than expected.”
As the the 2012 election year shifts into full gear, the subject of legalizing marijuana has yet again come to the forefront. Most notably, Ron Paul has gained a large following of pro-marijuana advocates, citing hisconsistent pot-friendly stance during his 30-year tenure in the House of Representatives.
Outside of the realm of politics, marijuana also has the autism community talking, with many questioning the safeness and efficacy of the drug for those on the autism spectrum.
In 2009, Mieko Hester-Perez made national headlines for giving her then-ten-year-old son marijuana, which she claims saved his life. With her son Joey’s weight dropping to a dangerous 46 lbs. due to his very poor diet, Perez began prescribed treatments of marijuana-laced brownies, which caused the youngster to immediately gain 38 lbs., restoring his health in the process. In addition to an increased appetite, Perez also claims the marijuana helped curb her son’s self-injurious behavior, wandering and aggressive demeanor — all within a short period of time.
As the Perez story made the rounds, other desperate families quickly followed suit, creating a huge tug-of-war debate about the ethical, legal and health implications of medical marijuana for autism.
Not surprisingly, some physicians have been very critical of its use and claim there is little data to support its effectiveness and argue that prolonged treatments can have huge implications for those on the autism spectrum. And as one of our authors pointed out in a story last year, the use of psychotropics and other mind-altering drugs for autism almost always result in undesired consequences.
I agree that we should be extremely wary of putting anything in our children’s bodies that will affect their mood, behavior or psychological state. However, playing the role of devil’s advocate, it’s also very difficult to argue against the success Mieko Hester-Perez has experienced with her child.
We would love to get your thoughts on this topic — please let us know what you think in the comment section below.
Last Tuesday, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors quietly voted to amend the county’s marijuana cultivation ordinance to eliminate the provision allowing collectives to grow up to 99 plants per parcel with a permit through the Sheriff’s Office. The new ordinance reverts to the 25-plant limit for all growers, and is effective March 14. The county acted after the US Attorney’s Office threatened to file an injunction against the county’s ordinance and “individually go after county officials who were supporting these laws,” 5th District Supervisor Dan Hamburg said.
Last Wednesday, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance (GLACA) announced it was supporting the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act of 2012, which would impose statewide regulation on medical marijuana operations. GLACA only lists 13 dispensaries on its roster, but has been a powerful player as city hall deals with the issue. The group said it had donated $50,000 to the campaign, which is in its signature-gathering phase.
Last Thursday, Sacramento County medical marijuana activists announced a local initiative campaign aimed at returning dispensaries to the county. Last year, there were at least 80 dispensaries operating in the county; now, after federal threats and the county’s ban, there are nearly none. Longtime local activists Kimberly Cargile and Mickey Martin are behind the Patient Access to Regulated Medical Cannabis Act of 2012. It would allow one dispensary per every 25,000 people, for a total of 20 to 25 dispensaries and tax sales at 4%. It would also limit advertising and impose a 1,000-foot rule on dispensaries near schools and parks.
Also last Thursday, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved three new dispensaries, all in the Excelsior district. There are currently 21 dispensaries in the city, but 12 have been the subject of federal inquiries. Last year, the feds were interested in five other dispensaries; those are all gone now after landlords received threat letters.
Last Friday, the city of Murrieta won a preliminary injunction against a cooperative operating despite a local ban. The Greenhouse Cannabis Club can no longer distribute marijuana at the location, the injunction said.
Also on Friday, President Obama was met by medical marijuana demonstrators when he came to San Francisco on a fund-raising trip. The action was part of a national week of action criticizing the Obama administration’s hard-line approach on the issue.
On Monday, Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal announced she intends to create a medical marijuana working group to research and evaluate ordinances in other cities and make recommendations following a review of the city’s ordinance by the California Supreme Court. That should take between 12 and 18 months. The working group will include resident and business groups, medical marijuana dispensary representatives, the city attorney, the city prosecutor, city staff and others.
On Tuesday, the DEA and local law enforcement raided a prominent Vallejo dispensary and arrested the owner. The raiders hit the Greenwell Cooperative and arrested owner Matthew Shotwell. The exact charges are not yet clear. While the DEA was present, the cops were executing a state search warrant and included agents from the State Board of Equalization, which deals with tax collections. Employees and patients alike were temporarily detained, and marijuana and other items were seized.
Also on Tuesday, the Lake County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved placing a medical marijuana cultivation initiative on the June 5 ballot. The Lake County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Act of 2012 was brought by Lake County Citizens for Responsible Regulations and the Lake County Green Farmers Association. Supervisors could have just approved the initiative, but decided to punt to voters. The initiative came after the board earlier crafted a restrictive ordinance.
That same day, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to put a new dispensary ordinance on the June 5 ballot. The move comes after Kern Citizens for Patient Rights gathered more than 17,000 signatures to overturn the board’s decision last summer to ban dispensaries. The board voted 4-1 to rescind the existing ordinance and put a new measure before voters in June. It includes restrictions on locations of dispensaries.
Also on Tuesday, the Glenn County Board of Supervisors passed a medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. Personal gardens will have to be 300 feet to 1,000 feet away from schools, churches, youth centers and treatment facilities and can be no bigger than 100 square feet. Collectives, dispensaries and collaboratives are banned in the unincorporated areas of the county.
On Wednesday, the city of Berkeley ordered two collectives to shut down. The 40 Acres Medical Marijuana Growers Collective stopped operations in late January after Berkeley Code Enforcement sent it a letter informing the group it was operating in violation of the city’s municipal code, but the Perfect Plants Patients Group is still in business. The collectives had run afoul of the city’s zoning ordinances.
By: Phillip Smith
Medical Director and Senior Vice President of Health Services, Daytop Village; President-elect, New York Society of Addiction Medicine
The 911 call placed on behalf of Demi Moore last month suggested the actress may have endured a highly-negative reaction to synthetic marijuana, also known as K2, or Spice.
The caller said that Moore had been smoking something other than marijuana, and similar to incense. Synthetic marijuana is often packaged under names like “K2,” “spice,” “herbal incense,” and “potpourri.”
The caller frantically claimed that Moore, while breathing, was convulsing. The use of synthetic cannabinoids, like K2, can produce anxiety, hallucinations and convulsions, according to recent studies. Because synthetic marijuana is so recent to the drug scene, more studies are needed.
Moore survived. But not everyone does. What makes synthetic marijuana so dangerous is that it is far more potent than cannabis and can lead to toxic, even fatal reactions.
A 13-year-old Pennsylvania boy suffered chemical burns to his lungs from smoking synthetic pot. The lung injuries were so grave the boy underwent a double lung transplant. He died from complications of an infection.
Emergencies stemming from the use of synthetic pot are rising drastically. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, centers around the country reported receiving 6,955 calls last year involving people who were harmfully exposed. That’s well more than double the reports in 2010.
The dangers of synthetic marijuana led, in March, 2011, to the temporary classification of five synthetic cannabinoids as a schedule 1 substance.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) divides controlled substances into five categories. Schedule 1 is the most restrictive. Drugs that are in this category are considered not only highly abusive but also have no currently accepted medical use. Schedule I drugs include, heroin, ecstasy, and LSD .
The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, in fact, authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to ban products that pose an “imminent hazard to the public safety.”
Today, 43 U.S. states have passed or proposed a law banning the sale of specific chemicals contained in synthetic marijuana and other dangerous drugs such as “bath salts.”
Synthetic cannabinoids are widely available online, where they are typically marketed as “spice,” “incense” or “potpourri.” Manufacturers are playing a cat-and-mouse game with authorities: Every time one chemical gets banned, makers substitute another chemical, chemically virtually identical in its composition and effects, to circumvent a ban. The solution to implement a broader, widespread ban on synthetic chemicals has yet to overcome legislative hurdles.
Even if federal laws are passed, their enforcement, say prosecutors, is difficult and time consuming. The result is that these highly-toxic synthetic cannabinoids are readily available to drug seekers and can be obtained in many convenience stores without fear of prosecution.
When packaged, synthetic marijuana looks like the real thing, and when smoked, tastes and feels like the real thing.
But it’s not the real thing. “Monster weed” (synthetic pot, now K2 and its related family of compounds), originally developed by a Clemson University organic chemistry professor to test on lab animals, is much more potent. And it can lead to convulsions, seizures, paranoia, hallucinations, paranoia and high blood pressure.
What can be done to reduce synthetic drug abuse, of K2 and many other dangerous drugs, is not simply legislation or enforcement. It is education, public awareness and early intervention. That was what the White House Drug “Czar” Gil Kerlikowske, with whom I met in New York at the DEA’s most recent National Prescription Drug Take Back Day in October 2011, told me.
Like most public health hazards, treatment and law enforcement mutually support one another. Communities must become more vigilant at recognizing the dangers of synthetic marijuana. Public awareness about its dangers can reduce its use and help channel people to treatment. We are at risk of an epidemic that could impose a costly human, social and economic toll. Law enforcement is a necessary but limited means of drug control, as we know dating back to the days of prohibition. But the media high profile emergency involving Demi Moore should serve as a public warning about the dangers of synthetic marijuana in a way that is far more effective than what many academicians and doctors are able to convey.
- Originally published @ Cato Unbound, as part of a series of essays on ending the government’s failed war against cannabis
Ending Cannabis Prohibition in America
The now forty-year-old organized effort to reform cannabis laws in America is on the precipice of major socio-political reforms with approximately fifty percent of the population no longer supporting the nation’s seventy four-year-old Cannabis Prohibition. While reformers have made tremendous gains, notably at the state level, which have placed them at this crossroads, obstacles to full cannabis legalization are abundant and deep-seated in Congress and the federal government.
This paper seeks to identify important areas of concern for cannabis law reform, highlight the factors that have created a positive environment for reform, recognize who are the last and largely self-interested factions in society who fervently defend and/or prosper from Cannabis Prohibition’s status quo, and what are some of the strategic decisions that reformers can implement that will hasten an end to Alcohol Prohibition’s illegitimate, long-suffering cousin.
Important Areas Of Concern For Cannabis Law Reformers
There are several areas of concern for reformers, notably the federal vs. state disconnect in Washington, D.C.; citizens’ illogical fear of cannabis more than alcohol; and the political box canyon potentially created by medical cannabis.
Federal vs. State Government Disconnect –
On a recent video essay broadcast October 20, CNBC host and former senate staffer Lawrence O’Donnell lamenting about Cannabis Prohibition said ‘that only in the U.S. Senate can there be zero discussion about a policy change fifty percent of the country supports’. In a nutshell, despite 14 states having decriminalized cannabis possession, and 16 states and the District of Columbia ‘medicalizing’ cannabis, the U.S. Congress and the executive branch (along with a federal judiciary that is totally deferential to Congress’ intent and will regarding anti-cannabis laws) have a near total disconnectbetween what the governed want vis-à-vis reforming cannabis laws and elected policymakers on Capitol Hill who strongly support the status quo.
The numbers that frame this political quandary: 75% of the public support medical access to cannabis; 73% support decriminalizing cannabis possession for adults and now 50% of the population support outright legalization (California, where one out of eight U.S. citizens live, nearly passed a legalization voter initiative last fall, only losing by three percentage points). So it can be asserted with confidence that ‘soft’ cannabis law reforms of medical access and decriminalization enjoy overwhelming public support and that the ‘hard’ reform of legalization has now moved into the majority (The recent Gallup poll showed only 46% of citizens continue to support Cannabis Prohibition).
However, even with clear polling data to help guide them away from restrictive policies no longer supported by the public, the Obama Administration’s fifth attempt this October since he took office to introduce ‘digital democracy’ into policymaking decisions by creating a public website where citizens and organizations can post online petitions seeking changes in the ways government works, the president was once again confronted by the publics’ number one question: Why do we have Cannabis Prohibition in 2011? Shouldn’t it be ended as an ineffective public policy?
Unfortunately, like the previous four opportunities to confront public unrest about Cannabis Prohibition, despite the NORML petition being number one with 72,000 signatures, the Obama Administration once again totally rejected any public calls for cannabis law reforms and re-asserted the federal government’s primacy over the states in enforcing national Cannabis Prohibition laws (see discussion below).
Cannabis’ Fear Factor –
Recent polls and focus group data gathered by cannabis law reform advocates post last year’s near-victory in California for Prop. 19 (the initiative that would have legalized cannabis) revealed an important and troubling public perception that reformers need to largely overcome to be successful: Almost fifty percent of the general public in California—where the issue of reforming cannabis laws have been vetted like no other place on earth since the late 1960s— illogically fears cannabis more so than alcohol products.
Forgive the pun, but reformers have to do a better job ‘normalizing’ cannabis use such that its responsible use causes no greater concern in the public’s eye than the responsible use of alcohol. Otherwise, it is hard to imagine cannabis becoming legal anytime soon if fifty percent of the public fears the product and the consumers who enjoy it.
Medical Cannabis’ Political Limitations –
While NORML is the sui generis of medical cannabis in the United States (first suing the Drug Enforcement Administration to reschedule cannabis as a medicine in 1972, NORML vs. DEA), the organization recognizes that absent substantive changes in the federal government’s Controlled Substances Act (and controlling International treaties envisaged and championed by America at the United Nations), qualified medical patients accessing lawful cannabis with a physician’s recommendation in states that authorize such is an untenable conflict with the existing federal laws that do not, under any circumstance, allow for the therapeutic possession, use or manufacture of cannabis.
This state and federal conflict regarding Cannabis Prohibition laws came into full view this year despite previous attempts otherwise by the Obama Administration to slightly modify the federal government’s historic recalcitrance in allowing states greater autonomy to create cannabis controls, and in some cases such as Colorado, to establish tax and regulate bureaucracies specifically for medical cannabis.
Federal actions against medical cannabis in 2011:
*US Attorneys in California deny the city of Oakland the ability to set up a city-sanctioned arrangement with medical cannabis industry to cultivate and sell medical cannabis;
*The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that medical cannabis dispensaries are not legitimate businesses under federal law and therefore can’t take standard business tax deductions;
*The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) sent a memo to all gun dealers in the U.S. warning them not to make any sales of guns or ammunition to medical cannabis patients, even those who possess a state-issued ‘medical cannabis patient’ card. In effect, this federal action has rendered medical cannabis patients with no Second Amendment rights;
*Federal banking regulators regularly harass and threaten local and state banks not to do business with commercial medical cannabis businesses, even if the businesses have state and city-issued licenses to sell medical cannabis;
*US Attorneys in California and the DEA sent warning letters to otherwise state-compliant medical cannabis businesses that are properly zoned under local laws to shut down or move away from federally-funded schools, day care or recreation centers within 1,000 feet of the dispensary;
*These same US Attorneys are now threatening to legally pursue newspapers and magazines that advertise what are otherwise legal, state and city-authorized businesses and their lawful commerce.
Also, under numerous state Supreme Court decisions, lawful medical patients can be denied employment; along with driving privileges (which was recently overturned in California), child custody,Section Eight housing, university residences, and even be denied a life-saving organ transplant.
With so many onerous institutional discriminatory practices and restrictions—and the price of medical cannabis remaining inordinately high because of the existence of Cannabis Prohibition—patients who genuinely need access to this low toxicity, naturally occurring herbal medicine would be far better served by ending Cannabis Prohibition in total than trying to carve out special legal exemptions to existing prohibition laws.
Why Cannabis Reform Is More Popular Now Than Ever Before
The rapid increase in public support for cannabis law reform is made possible by five factors:
1) Baby Boomers are now largely in control of most of the country’s major institutions (media, government, entertainment, education and business) and they have a decidedly different perception and/or relationship with cannabis than the World War II generation (AKA, the Reefer Madness generation), who, were largely abstinent of consuming cannabis.
2) These crushing recessionary times have forced many elected policymakers to drop their support for rigorous enforcement of Cannabis Prohibition laws. Numerous states and municipalities have adopted half measures towards legalization, notably decriminalizing possession or adopting a lowest law enforcement priority strategy.
3) Medical cannabis first becoming legal in 1996 by popular vote in California. After the nation’s largest and most politically important state adopted medical marijuana guidelines, sixteen states and the District of Columbia have followed suit setting up a terrific state vs. federal government conflict that has already visited the U.S. Supreme Court twice (2002 and again in 2005).
4) The advent of the Internet in the mid 1990s allowed citizens to communicate directly with each other at very low costs, create large social networks of like-minded community members, avoid mainstream media (which readily serves as a lapdog, rather than government watchdog in the war on some drugs) and educate themselves with verifiable and credible information about cannabis (rejecting government anti-cannabis propaganda programs like the controversial DARE program in the public schools and thePartnership for Drug-Free America’s ineffective ad campaigns in the mainstream media).
5) Americans are apparently (and finally!) becoming increasingly Cannabis Prohibition weary after seventy-four years. In comparison, America’s great failed ‘social experiment’ of Alcohol Prohibition lasted about a dozen years.
Who Actually Wants Cannabis Prohibition To Continue?
One of the principle lessons in the Art of War is to ‘know thy enemy’. Therefore, it behooves cannabis law reformers to understand what small, but powerful factions in American society actively work to maintain the status quo of Cannabis Prohibition:
1) Law enforcement – There is no greater strident voice against ending Cannabis Prohibition than from the law enforcement community—from local sheriff departments to the Fraternal Order of Police to State Police departments to federal law enforcement agencies.
2) Federal and state bureaucracies born from Cannabis Prohibition itself – Washington, D.C. and most state capitals have created dozens of anti-cannabis government agencies to both maintain and enforce existing Cannabis Prohibition laws. Examples: Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of National Drug Control Policy (AKA, drug czar’s office), DARE, Partnership for a Drug-Free America,National Institute on Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, National Drug Control Information Center, etc…
Many of these bureaucracies in turn provide most of the funding to so-called ‘community anti-drug organizations’ to create the false appearance of local grassroots opposition to any cannabis law reforms.
3) Alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies –
Historically, alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals companies play both ends of the middle when opposing cannabis law reforms for the simple reason that all of these industries will lose a portion of their market share to legal cannabis.
4) Private corporations that prosper from Cannabis Prohibition –
Numerous private companies donate significant funding annually to anti-cannabis politicians and organizations to maintain the status quo. Examples of such are private prisons, drug testing companies, rehabilitation services, communication companies, contraband detection devices, interdiction services and high-tech companies.
Reformers can hasten the end of Cannabis Prohibition
-Bipartisan support to end Cannabis Prohibition is a political given. However, since the 1990s every single major cannabis law reform initiative that has been successful has been funded by one of two liberal, politically divisive billionaires (George Soros and Peter Lewis). Reformers need to achieve greater political and funding diversity to significantly advance cannabis law reforms in today’s highly divided national political landscape.
-Recognize that most all of the major policy reforms are first achieved at the local and state level, in time putting due political pressure on the federal government to follow suit.
-Cannabis law reformers need to better work in concert with other like-minded political and social organizations that also oppose failed government programs or seek redress for grievances against the government.
-Reformers need to create a far more simpler reform narrative that juxtaposes ‘pot tolerant’ citizens against ‘intolerant’ citizens in the same manner that Alcohol Prohibition pit ‘wets’ against ‘drys’.
-Reformers need to continue demonstrating the tremendous cost to taxpayers of maintaining Cannabis Prohibition; the loss of needed tax revenue and the genuine lack of social controls that enhance public safety.
-Reformers need to keep directing public and media attention to the serious de-stabilization of the country’s borders created by the tremendous illegal succor of Cannabis Prohibition in countries likeMexico.
-Continuing what cannabis law reformers have been successfully achieving for forty years, which is to say winning a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign in the population, and recognizing that elected policymakers in Washington are not going to be able to lead the country out of it’s long-suffering Cannabis Prohibition without public advocacy that is derived from effective, politically diverse and bottoms up grassroots stakeholdership.
Signature gathering began this month for a new ballot initiative aimed at allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in Sacramento despite a recent ban on cannabis-related operations in the county.
The “Patient Access to Regulated Medical Cannabis Act of 2012” is the product of the newly established Committee for Safe Patient Access to Regulated Cannabis (CSPARC), organized by local medical marijuana industry advocate Mickey Martin.
“In December when the Board of Supervisors passed the back-door ban on medical marijuana, there were a lot of people (who felt that) what they were passing was just bad policy,” Martin said Monday.
“(The policy) just doesn’t address the issue,” Martin added.
Martin said the problem is that medical marijuana operations are not well-regulated and banning them outright “doesn’t make them disappear,” it just pushes them out of sight and makes it unnecessarily harder for people to get to.
Martin compiled the initiative with local medical cannabis patients and providers, he said. The legal language was written by local attorney James Clark and filed with the County Office of Elections in late January.
“(The measure) went through 15 drafts with a lot of feedback along the way,” Martin said. “I think we’ve come up with a plan that meets state law and will satisfy a lot of the issues that have come up in the past.”
Those issues, Martin said, included the large number of dispensaries that cropped up within the county and the proximity of those operations to schools, playgrounds and residential neighborhoods.
David Spradlin, former director of Magnolia Wellness – a medical marijuana collective – and founder of a community services organization called Orangevale Beautiful, said in a press release Friday that the county has failed to provide “meaningful guidance” on how patients should get their medicine.
Spradlin said one of the purposes of Proposition 215 was to encourage governments to implement a plan to provide for safe and affordable distribution of medical marijuana to patients.
Instead, Spradlin said, the county has “opted out of following state law” by banning dispensary operations.
“When Magnolia Wellness was forced to close, tens of thousands of local patients who depended on us for medicine were displaced,” Spradlin said. “Dispensaries provide a safe place for patients who are unable to, or not interested in, growing cannabis to get a variety of quality medicine in a caring environment.”
The proposed Patient Access Act includes provisions for limiting the number of dispensaries in the unincorporated areas of the county, sets a tax rate of 4 percent on all cannabis sales and restricts the minimum distance between any cannabis operation and “sensitive use” areas, such as schools and residences, to more than 1,000 feet.
“We think that federal interference has been less in areas that have regulated programs in place and more controls,” Martin said.
According to information from the County Office of Elections, the initiative must have a minimum of 57,000 valid registered voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
Martin said he and the CSPARC organization are seeking volunteers to help gather signatures with the goal of getting at least 80,000 to 100,000 signatures.
The official title and summary of the Patient Access to Regulated Medical Cannabis Act of 2012 can be found HERE.
Local medical marijuana activist Ryan Landers said he was part of the group that worked to get Proposition 215 passed in 1996, and he doesn’t want to see those efforts wasted.
“Patients need the right to cultivate their medicine like we gave them 15 years ago,” Landers said Monday. “I don’t want to see those rights taken away or stepped on.”
Landers said the Board of Supervisors’ move to ban dispensary operations in December was “inappropriate and unnecessary,” and would do more harm than good for medical marijuana patients.
“It’s not just an alternative, it’s life or death for thousands of people right here in Sacramento,” Landers said. “It not only stopped distribution, but also cultivation.”
If voters approve the proposed ballot initiative, it will bypass the authority of the Board of Supervisors.
The board will still have power to adjust the tax rate on cannabis sales or increase the allowable number of dispensaries from the measure’s minimum of one dispensary per 25,000 residents within the county, Martin said.
“The board cannot thwart the will of the people, though,” Martin said.
Offices of the members of the Board of Supervisors were closed Monday in observance of Presidents Day, and supervisors were unavailable for comment.
The deadline to submit all signatures to the County Office of Elections is June 17, according to the county website. Martin said CSPARC’s goal is to have the required number of signatures submitted by June 1.
Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.
by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive DirectorFebruary 20, 2012
Originally published April 22, 2010, ‘Abraham Lincoln Was A Hempster’
Update: National Public Radio reports that more books have been written about Abraham Lincoln than any other human who has ever lived–second only to Jesus Christ. More than 15,000 books have been penned about ol’ Abe. An impressive 35-foot high tower representing these numerous literary works is found at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
When Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, first strode onto the public stage in 1832 and stepped into American History, he was wearing a pair of hemp pants.
From many points of view, Abraham Lincoln was America’s greatest President. Besides guiding America though the Civil War, the most troubled passage since our nation’s founding, he possessed the keenest intellect of anyone to have ever lived in the White House. He also possessed the greatest understanding of the life lived by the common man of anyone who had been or will ever be elected President. Abraham Lincoln came from the dirt, the death, the toil, and struggle of the American frontier.
He was born of the pioneer hordes that keep forever moving westward. A champion wrestler, Abe was the tallest, the strongest, the toughest, the fastest runner, the longest crowbar and maul-throwing man to ever sit in the Oval Office. Almost entirely self-educated, Abe had the benefit of only a total of four months of formal schooling. The stories of Lincoln walking twenty miles to return a borrowed book are true. He had a great fire burning within to learn—and as a teenager, had read all the books within a 50-mile radius of where his family lived in frontier Indiana. Dennis Hanks said of his cousin, “Seems to me I never seen Abe after he was twelve ‘at he didn’t have a book in his hands or pocket…It didn’t seem natural, nohow, to see a feller read like that.” Through hard work, determination, unbending honesty, and a deep well of talent, Abraham Lincoln rose to become the most revered man in all of American history.
In Nineteenth Century America, social classes were set apart in many ways, their clothing was one of the most obvious. It was a time when the expression, “Clothing makes the man,” was still at full currency. Slaves, indentured servants, the pioneers living out on the frontier, the poorest of the poor, all wore a fabric called “tow-cloth”, and like a “tow-rope” it was woven out of hemp fibers. Tow-cloth was cheap and virtually indestructible. You could grow it and weave it yourself. Hemp had much longer, tougher, and courser fibers than flax. Flax was woven into the fabric called “linen”, and sometimes flax was blended with hemp to make tow-linen—though at times the term “tow-linen” was also used to give a fancy name to cheap goods (plain old tow-cloth) somewhat like how faux-suede or faux-fur is used today. Easy to grow in most climates, hemp resists pests, produces nutritious seeds, and has universally useful fibers. Josiah Henson (1798-1883) an escaped slave who won international fame and inspired Uncle Tom’s Cabin stated in his autobiography that for fellow slaves: “Our dress was tow-cloth; for the children nothing but a shirt; for the older ones a pair of pantaloons or gown in addition.” Tow-cloth, tow-linen, hemp cloth, different names for pretty much the same thing—and not only for slaves, but millions of America’s poor whites wore it as well.
All the years Abe was growing up, the dirt poor Lincoln family wore tow-linen, home-grown hemp cloth they wove themselves. They were so poor that “Men and women went barefoot except in colder weather; women carried their shoes in their hands and put them on just before arrival at church meetings or at social parties.” his Dennis cousin Abe Lincoln; “In the early years he wore buckskin breeches and moccasins, a tow linen shirt and coonskin cap, ‘The way we all dressed in them days,’ said Dennis Hanks.” Hard cash money was very hard to come by on the frontier. Men’s wages were as low as $.25 per day, when there was work. Frontier people had to make do with what they could raise or catch. Dennis Hanks said it was a, “mighty interesting life fur a boy, but thar was a good many chances he wouldn’t live to grow up.” The pioneers made most of their own essentials for living, their log homes and hand-hewn furniture, their clothes that came from the animals they killed and skinned and the hemp and flax they grew, spun into thread, and wove into cloth. By the time Abe was eight, “The clerk was the only man he knew who was wearing store clothes, Sunday clothes, everyday of the week.”
It is an oft repeated, and even more often ignored, fact that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written on hemp paper. Paper in the early days of America was made primarily from rags. Since the poor and the very poor constituted by far the largest percentage of the early American population, most of the rags available to be made into paper came off the backs of the poor were rags of tow-cloth or tow-linen. The other famous hemp-growing Presidents, Washington and Jefferson, grew hemp for cordage and to clothe their own field slaves.
Of all the thousands of biographies of Abraham Lincoln that have been written, there is one that stands out to me, the biography written by Carl Sandberg, the poet. Sandberg grew up in the Illinois prairie, talked to and lived among men and women who knew Lincoln. His six-volume biography of Lincoln took Sandberg a whole lifetime to complete. He received a Pulitzer Prize for it in 1939. The first volume, The Prairie Years, through Sandberg’s mastery of the English language, captures the feel of the American frontier life as very few books ever have. It is from Sandberg’s Lincoln that I am quoting in this blog.
Lincoln was in attendance when, “The boys were having a jollification after an election. They had a large fire made out of shavings and hemp stalks; and some of the boys bet a fellow I shall call ‘Ike,’ that he couldn’t run his bobtail pony through the fire.” The pony had more sense than its rider and slammed on the breaks at the very last second, “and pitched poor Ike into the flames.” Lincoln saved him. You can be sure that the boys and Ike were drunk on corn squeezings, or somesuch, not high on hemp fumes, because the varieties of hemp grown for fiber contain less than .03% of the active ingredients for which its brother marijuana is world-famous. Today law enforcement in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois annually wastes significant time and resources each year gathering and destroying millions of wild hemp plants to puff-up their drug enforcement statistics. This “ditchweed,” this non-psychoactive feral hemp, mid-west law enforcement has been chasing for years, like a dog chasing its own tail, might very well have escaped into the wild from one of Tom Lincoln’s several farms in those states, between 1810 and 1830, when hemp was grown and worn the Lincoln family to protect American History’s most important person from the elements.
Elections were to become a big factor in the rest of Abraham Lincoln’s life, both those he lost as well as those he won. Abe volunteered at the outbreak of the Black Hawk War and was elected Captain by his men. Upon returning home from that campaign, Abe ran for public office for the very first time. When he first ran to try to become a state representative, he ran wearing a pair of hemp pants. “Lincoln started electioneering and kept it up till the ballots were counted. He traveled over Sangamon County with his long frame wrapped in flax and tow-linen pantaloons, a mixed jean coat, clawhammer style, short in the sleeves, and bobtail,” When the results were all in, Lincoln had lost his first election, coming in eighth among thirteen contenders. But, from the voters in his home district, Abe had received an astonishing 277 out of the 300 votes cast! Our man in hemp pants had a big future in politics.
Next, Lincoln hunkered down as a clerk in New Salem, Illinois and studied the law. “At one time, while storekeeping, he slept on the counter of the store because the Rutledge Tavern was overcrowded. He wore flax and tow-linen pantaloons, no vest, no coat, and one suspender, a calico shirt, tan brogans, blue yarns socks, and a straw hat bound round with on string or band.” These flax and tow-linen pantaloons could be the very same pair of pants mentioned earlier when Abe first ran unsuccessfully for election. Hemp cloth, as tough as it is, probably hadn’t worn out yet.
Abe won the election the next time he ran for state representative. But even after he’d become a member of the Illinois state legislature and a lawyer, Lincoln’s material station in life hadn’t changed very much. As described by a colleague, Abe, “He was poverty itself, but independent.” But Lincoln was now in position; he was ready now to make his mark in history, and to make it when slavery had become the dominant issue. As he said later, “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not feel this way.” At the very end of his first term in the Illinois state legislature Abe and one other member introduced a resolution protesting resolutions supporting slavery stating, “They believe that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy.” This humble man from the backwoods had taken his first public stand on slavery, the most important and divisive issue that has ever confronted America. It started a path for an honest man in hemp pants that he would walk unfailingly to its end, a path that would make him immortal.
Quotes from Carl Sandberg, © 1924 Lincoln The Prairie Years and Carl Sandberg, © 1954 Lincoln The Prairie Years and the War Years one volume edition, italics and bolding added
Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot in Ford’s Theater the evening of April 14, 1865. He died the next morning. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said, at Lincoln’s passing, “Now, his is one for the ages.” There was a white banner trimmed in black hung over Broadway in New York City, it read, “The great person, the great man, is a miracle of history.”
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