Tax and Regulate

Taxing and Regulating Marijuana “A Legitimate Idea,” Says Governor’s Office

July 30th, 2010 19 Comments Kate Zawidzki

A website set up by Washington state Gov. Christine Gregoire’s office asked citizens to vote on different ideas to help plug the state’s $3 billion budget gap. The most popular—out of more than 1,700 submitted ideas—was legalizing and taxing marijuana. (Not the first time we’ve seen such a result in an online forum.)

So what does the governor think about ending the state’s prohibition on marijuana?

“It’s a legitimate idea,” said her spokesperson, Karina Shagren. “But we’d have to see how the federal government would respond.”

Though it’s not a ringing endorsement, this response is quite encouraging for a governor whose state this year considered both a legislative bill and a ballot initiative that would have made marijuana legal for adults.

The initiative didn’t gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but with polls showing more than half of Washington voters supporting an end to marijuana prohibition, it’s all but certain local organizers will try again in upcoming years.

Even more promising, this year the initiative received an official endorsement from the Washington state Democratic Party. And Gov. Gregorie just happens to be a Democrat.

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The Flower: An Animated Look at Regulation vs. Prohibition

July 29th, 2010 22 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Artist, designer, and animator Haik Hoisington just sent along his most recent animation, and I consider it a must-watch for marijuana policy reform activists. “The Flower” does an amazing job of contrasting a society that regulates (and taxes) a flower with one that chooses the path of prohibition.

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Most Americans Think Legalization ‘Somewhat Likely’ in Next 10 Years

July 28th, 2010 35 Comments Kate Zawidzki

A Rasmussen poll released earlier this week about Americans’ attitudes toward marijuana didn’t reveal any surprising changes in levels of support for reform—43% favor ending prohibition, just slightly less than the 44% Gallup found last October—but it did contain this one interesting nugget:

However, 65% believe it is at least somewhat likely marijuana will be legalized in the United States in the next 10 years. Just 28% do not expect this to happen.

That’s fascinating. If the majority of Americans come to think that marijuana legalization is inevitable, could that make it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Could many otherwise neutral or indifferent voters be encouraged to support reform because they want to be on the winning side? Would that make opponents mellow in their resistance? Whether or not there’s merit to the idea, reformers can’t become complacent. There’s still a lot that needs to happen before we finally turn the page on the failure of marijuana prohibition—including winning some of these ballot measures in November.

Such victories will only advance the perception that prohibition’s days are nearing an (inevitable) end.

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Medical Marijuana

D.C. Medical Marijuana Law Clears Congressional Hurdle!

July 27th, 2010 18 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Washington, D.C.’s medical marijuana law cleared a mandatory 30-day Congressional review period Monday night, after Congress declined to take action against a D.C. Council bill that allows the District to license between five and eight medical marijuana dispensaries. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton made the announcement on Tuesday. The District will join 14 states across the country in having effective medical marijuana laws.

This historic development comes almost 12 years after 69 percent of District voters approved a referendum on medical marijuana in 1998. Congress had blocked the law’s implementation until last year. Now the District Department of Health and Mayor Adrian Fenty are tasked with developing a set of regulations for dispensaries that will be licensed to distribute medical marijuana to qualified patients. Medical marijuana is not fully legal yet, as the new law allows qualified patients to legally possess marijuana only if it comes from a licensed dispensary.

“After thwarting the will of District voters for more than a decade, Congress is no longer standing in the way of effective relief for D.C. residents who struggle with chronic ailments,” MPP executive director Rob Kampia said in a press release. “This moment is a long overdue victory for both D.C. home rule and the wellbeing of District residents whose doctors believe medical marijuana can help ease their pain.”

Under the bill, patients who are suffering from chronic conditions including HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis, and receive a recommendation from their doctor will be able to obtain safe access to medical marijuana through a system of licensed dispensaries. A task force will be charged with, among other things, recommending additional conditions, such as PTSD or severe, chronic pain to the list of qualifying conditions. Unlike the laws in 13 out of 14 medical marijuana states, patients will not be allowed to grow their own medicine, though the task force will also examine the issue of home cultivation. Medical marijuana will be subject to the city’s 6 percent sales tax.

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Medical Marijuana

In Historic Move, V.A. Eases Rules for Medical Marijuana Patients

July 26th, 2010 26 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Major news! The Department of Veterans Affairs has formally announced that patients being treated at V.A. facilities will be allowed to use medical marijuana if they live in one of the 14 states where it is legal.

This historic development was trumpeted over the weekend in a front-page New York Times story that quoted MPP’s Steve Fox. “We now have a branch of the federal government accepting marijuana as a legal medicine,” Steve told the Times, adding that the department needs to make its guidelines clear to patients and V.A. officials nationwide.

Under the policy, V.A. doctors still won’t be allowed to recommend marijuana to patients, but legal medical marijuana users will not be automatically precluded from pain management programs. Previously, many veterans believed they could lose access to prescription pain medications if they were found to be using medical marijuana, and some—including an Army veteran interviewed by The Times—were even told they needed to choose between medical marijuana and other pain medications. This latest policy clarification should prevent similar future incidents.

But there is still more that needs to be done. The new policy does not apply to patients or veterans in the 36 states where medical marijuana is still illegal. Many veterans rely on the V.A. for all their healthcare needs as well, and even if they live in a medical marijuana state, they may not be able to receive a recommendation from a non-V.A. doctor.

Regardless, this is a huge step forward – and one more crack in the federal government’s baseless opposition to sane medical marijuana policies.

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UPDATE: Police Targeted Wrong Man in Deadly Las Vegas Raid

July 23rd, 2010 45 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Last month, we wrote about the tragic slaying of Trevon Cole, a 21-year-old father-to-be who was shot and killed by a police officer in front of his pregnant fiancé during a raid on their Las Vegas home.

At the time, police claimed they had evidence that Cole was a marijuana dealer; undercover officers had reportedly purchased marijuana from him on three separate occasions and allegedly took an unknown amount from his home during the raid.

Cole’s fiancé said at the time that Trevon smoked marijuana occasionally but was not a drug dealer, and police were slow to answer questions about the validity of the raid itself, let alone the tactics used.

Now we know why: They raided the wrong Trevon Cole.

Read the details here in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

While police contended they were going after a major drug dealer, they in fact purchased only 1.8 ounces for $840 from Cole over five weeks. This was apparently the only confirmation police needed to raid the couple’s home with guns drawn. And the disproportionate and needless tactics that were employed ultimately claimed another innocent life in the government’s unjustified war on marijuana.

The family has not yet filed a lawsuit against the police department, and is waiting for the results from Cole’s autopsy, according to their lawyer.

Stay tuned to the blog for updates.

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Prohibition, Tax and Regulate

“The marijuana patches don’t bother me, but I don’t like the shootouts.”

July 22nd, 2010 25 Comments Morgan Fox

The cost of pointless marijuana eradication efforts in California went up Wednesday when sheriff’s deputies shot and killed an unidentified man while hiking around in the woods looking for clandestine grow sites.

It is currently unknown whether this man was involved in marijuana cultivation, whether he was armed or fired at deputies, or even if there was any marijuana found nearby. Authorities are being typically tight-lipped about the entire incident.

What is known, beyond any doubt, is that eradication efforts are a complete failure, despite a huge fiscal and human cost. Read the rest of this entry »

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The MPP Insider, Episode #012

July 22nd, 2010 7 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Here it is, the latest MPP Insider!

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Medical Marijuana

MPP, Allies Call on Pres. Obama to Withdraw Nominee for DEA Administrator

July 21st, 2010 43 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Today, a coalition of organizations supportive of medical marijuana patients and providers — including MPP, Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), NORML, California NORML, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) —  is calling on President Obama to withdraw his nomination of Michele Leonhart to serve as administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The following is a from press release just sent out on behalf of the coalition:

Ms. Leonhart, who is currently the DEA’s acting-administrator, has not demonstrated that she is capable of leading the agency in a thoughtful manner at a time when 14 states have enacted medical marijuana laws and science is increasingly confirming the therapeutic benefits of the substance.

Under Leonhart’s leadership, the DEA has staged medical marijuana raids in apparent disregard of Attorney General Eric Holder’s directive to respect state medical marijuana laws. Most recently, DEA agents flouted a pioneering Mendocino County (CA) ordinance to regulate medical marijuana cultivation by raiding the very first grower to register with the sheriff. Joy Greenfield, 69, had paid more than $1,000 for a permit to cultivate 99 plants in a collective garden that had been inspected and approved by the local sheriff.

Informed that Ms. Greenfield had the support of the sheriff, the DEA agent in charge responded by saying, “I don’t care what the sheriff says.” The DEA’s conduct is inconsistent with an October 2009 Department of Justice memo directing officials not to arrest individuals “whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

Ms. Leonhart has also demonstrated that she is unable to be objective in carrying out the duties of the administrator as it relates to medical marijuana research. In January 2009, she refused to issue a license to the University of Massachusetts to cultivate marijuana for FDA-approved research, despite a DEA administrative law judge’s ruling that it would be “in the public interest” to issue the license. This single act has blocked privately funded medical marijuana research in this country. The next DEA administrator will likely influence the outcome of a marijuana-rescheduling petition currently before the agency. It is critical that an administrator with an open mind toward science and research is at the helm.

“With Leonhart’s nomination pending, one would expect her to be more — not less — respectful of the Department of Justice and the rights of individuals in medical marijuana states,” said Steve Fox, director of government relations at the Marijuana Policy Project. “Such behavior is an ominous sign for the future of the DEA under her leadership. Moreover, she has continually demonstrated her desire to block privately funded medical marijuana research in this country. The Obama administration has reversed many Bush administration policies over the past 18 months. It is time to transform the culture at the DEA by either withdrawing Leonhart’s nomination or directing her to change her attitude toward medical marijuana.”

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Marijuana Use Rarely Leads to Emergency Room, Study Shows

July 20th, 2010 24 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Researchers at the University of Michigan have sifted through nationwide data to determine the prevalence of different drug-related emergency room visits and (surprise, surprise!) their recently released results show that “marijuana dependence was associated with the lowest rates” of emergency room visits.

NORML’s Paul Armentano has broken down the study here on Alternet:

Among those surveyed, subjects that reported using cannabis were the least likely to report an ED visit (1.71 percent). Respondents who reported lifetime use of heroin, tranquilizers, and inhalants were most likely (18.5 percent, 6.3 percent, and 6.2 percent respectively) to report experiencing one or more ED visits related to their drug use.

Investigators concluded, “[M]arijuana was by far the most commonly used (illicit) drug, but individuals who used marijuana had a low prevalence of drug-related ED visits.”

Paul also points to a recently released RAND study that found California hospitals received only 181 admissions related to marijuana in 2008, compared to an estimated 73,000 such admissions related to alcohol.

This is extremely valuable information in the debate over marijuana prohibition, since opponents of legalization—including the nation’s drug czar—consistently argue that marijuana’s “social costs” are a leading reason why we shouldn’t lift prohibition. Read the rest of this entry »

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