MPP’s Rob Kampia on “The Daily Show”

June 29th, 2012 6 Comments Morgan Fox

An arrest record for marijuana possession, even for a small amount, can cause years of problems. It is more difficult to get a job or student aid, and you can forget about a political career. The last three presidents admitted that they had used marijuana, but none of them were saddled with the stigma of an arrest on their records. Do you think it is fair that President Obama, who loved to use marijuana in his younger years, says it is acceptable to keep arresting people for the same thing?

Neither do we.

Check out MPP’s Rob Kampia on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” earlier this week, where the topics are arrests and the politics of presidential marijuana use.

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City of Chicago Reduces Penalties for Marijuana Possession

June 27th, 2012 5 Comments Morgan Fox

Today, the City Council of Chicago voted 43-3 to amend the city’s code to direct police officers to cite, rather than arrest, individuals in possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana. Under the proposal, which has the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, police could still arrest those who cannot produce identification or present a threat to public safety. Those cited would face fines of $200 to $500 dollars and up to 10 hours of community service; however, there would be no risk of jail time.

Passage of the measure means that adults in possession of small amounts of marijuana will no longer be arrested or saddled with criminal records that can make it harder to obtain employment, housing, and student loans. The ordinance will also allow law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes, like the city’s soaring murder rate, while conserving limited police resources. Violent crime has become a serious concern in Chicago, with homicides up 38% over the last year.

Chicago now joins over 90 other localities in Illinois and 15 other states across the nation in removing criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Since enacting laws replacing arrest and jail with fines for such violations, there has been no appreciable increase in marijuana use in those areas, either among adults or young people. The move follows a recent trend in marijuana reforms, including a similar penalty reform in Rhode Island and medical marijuana legislation in Connecticut this May and June. Legislative chambers in New York, New Hampshire, and New Jersey also approved marijuana policy reforms in recent weeks. This trend reflects growing public consensus that harsh marijuana laws are ineffective, and scarce law enforcement resources should not be used to arrest adults for using a substance safer than alcohol.

If only President Obama’s former colleagues, like his good friend the Mayor of Chicago, could convince him that people are ready for real marijuana policy change, and that we need it more than ever.

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Medical Marijuana

N.H. medical marijuana override vote falls short

June 27th, 2012 2 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Today, the New Hampshire Senate came three votes shy of overriding Gov. John Lynch’s veto of SB 409, the state’s medical marijuana bill.

Sixteen senators’ votes were needed, and 16 voted for the bill at one point during the year. Unfortunately, one “yes” vote, Sen. Andy Sanborn (R), resigned to run for another seat, leaving his seat vacant. In addition, two Democratic senators who had consistently voted for SB 409 put political allegiances ahead of patients and voted to uphold Gov. Lynch’s veto. Those senators were Senators Lou D’Allesandro (D) and Sylvia Larsen (D).

Crucially, the one man who stands in the way will be out of office next year: Gov. Lynch is not running for re-election, and we are hopeful that the next governor will be compassionate. In addition, at least two of today’s “no” votes in the Senate — Senators Russell Prescott (R) and Lou D’Allesandro — are facing challengers who support medical marijuana protections: Prescott in his primary and D’Allesandro in the general election.

Despite today’s setback, New Hampshire’s legislature did make history this year: This was the first time a Republican-led legislature voted to send effective medical marijuana legislation to the governor’s desk.

With changes in the governorship and the Senate, there are many reasons to believe that next year will be the year patients finally get relief.

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Medical Marijuana

Will New Hampshire Republicans override Democrat’s veto?

June 21st, 2012 5 Comments Kate Zawidzki

It came as no surprise when New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat serving his fourth and final term, vetoed SB 409 today. Gov. Lynch vetoed a similar bill in 2009, and he has avoided meeting with patients who hoped to educate him on the subject, so this veto was unfortunate but very much expected.

Despite the governor’s opposition, this bill has earned majority support in both parties and both chambers of the legislature. All eyes will now be on the House and Senate next Wednesday, June 27, when both chambers will vote on whether or not to override the veto.

Fortunately, Sen. Jim Forsythe (R-Strafford) has refused to give up. He published a powerful editorial this week in the Concord Monitor, and he is still working hard to convince his colleagues they should override the veto and pass SB 409 into law.

The Republican-dominated House has twice passed SB 409 by better than the two-thirds margin needed for an override. The Republican-dominated House passed SB 409 in a 236-96 vote on April 25, with 97% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans voting in favor.

In the Senate, which was composed of 19 Republicans and five Democrats this session, 10 Republican Senators have joined all five Democrats in supporting the bill.

Unfortunately, one Senate vote has been lost due to a supportive senator’s recent resignation, so the outpouring of public support for SB 409 will have to continue for the override effort to succeed. MPP, Sen. Forsythe, and our team of allies have worked hard to gain additional votes in the Senate, and the fate of seriously ill patients in New Hampshire will soon be decided.

The plea of patients and their family members is simple and profound: “Don’t let one man stand in the way!”

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Prohibition, Video

When Is the Contempt Vote for Michele Leonhart?

June 21st, 2012 50 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Between selling guns to Mexican drug cartels, killing innocent civilians in Honduras, and having to suspend agents for cavorting with prostitutes, it’s been a rough year so far for the DEA. You can understand then why the House Judiciary Committee wanted to call in Michele Leonhart, head of the DEA, for an oversight hearing yesterday.

After a blistering round of questions (starting at 1:02:07) from Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) on the agency’s bloated budget and the relative harms of marijuana, it was Congressman Jared Polis’ (D-CO) turn to try to get some sort of answers from Leonhart. Again, Leonhart dodged, ducked, and weaved, refusing to answer question after question from the Congressman. Watch for yourself. It really was a virtuoso performance in evasion techniques, particularly considering she works for an administration who recently claimed its drug policy is committed to “science over dogma, evidence over ideology.”

What I find interesting about all this is on the same day that Ms. Leonhart steadfastly refused to answer the questions of Congressmen Cohen and Polis, the House Oversight and Government Reform committee voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with its own investigation into the “Fast and Furious” scandal. My question is this: if it’s contempt for Holder to stonewall a congressional committee, shouldn’t Michele Leonhart be held in contempt for her performance yesterday?

Here is the most ridiculous part of Leonhart’s testimony:

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Prohibition, Uncategorized

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signs marijuana decriminalization bill

June 13th, 2012 16 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Today, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) signed legislation (PDF) into law that will reform how Rhode Island penalizes the simple possession of up to an ounce of marijuana (PDF). Currently, simple possession can be penalized with a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $200-$500 criminal fine. Under the provisions of the new law – which will take effect on April 1, 2013 – most violations of possession of up to an ounce of marijuana will be penalized with a simple civil fine of $150!

Rhode Island is the 15th state to remove the threat of jail time for the simple possession of marijuana. Other states are considering enacting similar laws or improving their existing ‘decriminalization’ laws. Where one stands on marijuana policy has become a deciding issue at the polls lately, and support for reform is winning out. Colorado and Washington will vote on measures to tax and regulate the marijuana market like alcohol come November. It’s becoming more and more clear that supporting sensible marijuana policy reform is mainstream politics.

While MPP is definitely pleased by the progress made in Rhode Island, we are not finished with our work in the state. In addition to leading the lobbying effort to pass medical marijuana, compassion centers, compassion center amendments, and the decriminalization law, MPP is spearheading an effort to tax and regulate marijuana distribution in Rhode Island in a manner similar to alcohol. We have wonderful bill sponsors and support from the voters of the Ocean State (PDF), and we’re determined to end marijuana prohibition in Rhode Island and beyond!

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Congress Members Responsible For Marijuana Prohibition May Soon Be Able To Obtain It For Medical Use

June 13th, 2012 11 Comments Kate Zawidzki

It’s unfortunate that chronic pain isn’t a qualifying condition under D.C.’s medical marijuana law because prohibitionists in Congress have been getting beaten up pretty badly lately (metaphorically, of course). Late yesterday afternoon, the District of Columbia Department of Health announced the prospective operators eligible to register as medical marijuana dispensaries and begin distributing medical marijuana to patients in the fall. The announcement comes on the heels of Rhode Island’s legislature passing a decriminalization bill, and both Connecticut and New Hampshire’s legislatures passing medical marijuana legislation.

Ironically, that means medical marijuana will soon be available just blocks from Congress, which is responsible for prohibition and for holding up D.C.’s program for more than a decade. Despite nearly 70% of D.C. voters approving a medical marijuana initiative in 1998, Congress put a hold on D.C.’s appropriations bill that prevented the District from implementing the law. That hold was finally lifted in late 2009, and the District has been slowly but surely putting regulations in place and licensing cultivators and distributors since.

In the end, four dispensary applicants made the cut, one of which will be owned and operated by a rabbi. The next steps are for cultivation centers to begin producing marijuana and for the District to begin accepting applications from patients with HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis whose doctors have certified them for participation in the program. The latest estimates are for the program to be up and running later this year.

Don’t worry all you ailing members of Congress; we’ll be working to expand the list of qualifying conditions soon enough.

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Country Music Television Embraces Marijuana

June 12th, 2012 12 Comments Kate Zawidzki

During the 2012 CMT Music Awards, Willie Nelson, a country music legend and well-known marijuana supporter, performed his song, “Roll Me up,” a marijuana ballad whose refrain is “roll me up and smoke me when I die,” a clear allusion to marijuana. Joining Mr. Nelson in singing verses of the popular song were some of country music’s best and brightest: Darius Rucker, Toby Keith, Zac Brown, and Jamey Johnson.

It is refreshing to see mainstream musicians that are thought to cater to a relatively conservative fan base singing in support of marijuana. More than that, by singing “Roll Me Up” in a venue that is seen by so many and considered family-friendly, these artists are removing the stigma from the marijuana discourse. They are not debating the use or legality of the drug; they are simply singing a song about marijuana, taking for granted that the subject matter is perfectly normal and acceptable.

The performance can be seen here:

While understated, this is a very important gesture for the artists, as well as CMT, in regard to how marijuana is viewed in the mainstream. Let’s hope that other artists, among all genres and mediums, will follow suit.

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New Study on Teen Attitudes Shows Need for Regulation, Not Prohibition

June 8th, 2012 3 Comments Morgan Fox

The Center for Disease Control just released their latest data on youth attitudes and behaviors, and it showed that more teens are using marijuana than cigarettes. While minors should not be using either substance, it is certainly indisputable that tobacco is far more dangerous than marijuana, with tobacco causing 443,000 deaths every year and marijuana causing … well, zero.

What is more important is that this study shows the need to regulate marijuana in order to keep it away from minors. Since instituting strict age controls for tobacco and ramping up education about the dangers of smoking, teen use has dropped dramatically. Imagine if we applied that same strategy to marijuana. Let adults use the product legally, and use the revenue saved on arrests to pay for education. Sounds simple, right?

A press release from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol sums it up:

DENVER – The High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey released yesterday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control highlights the need to regulate marijuana in order to reduce availability and use among teens.

Significantly more teens in the United States are using marijuana than cigarettes, according to the survey. Just more than 23 percent of high school students nationwide reported using marijuana within 30 days of taking the latest survey, up from 20.8 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, 18.1 percent reported past-30-day cigarette use, down from 19.5 percent in 2009.

“Marijuana prohibition has utterly failed to reduce teen access to marijuana, and it is time for a new approach,” said Betty Aldworth, advocacy director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. “Strictly regulating tobacco and restricting sales to minors has lent to significant decreases in use and availability, and we would almost surely see the same results with marijuana.”

Previous studies have shown that cigarette use and availability among teens, which had been sharply increasing in the early 1990s, began steadily declining shortly after the 1995 implementation of the “We Card” program, a renewed commitment to strictly restrict the sale of tobacco to young people.

“By putting marijuana behind the counter, requiring proof of age, and strictly controlling its sale, we can make it harder for teens to get their hands on it,” Aldworth said.

Interestingly, the CDC report also found that Colorado has bucked the national trend of increasing teen marijuana use. Nationwide, past-30-day marijuana use among high school students climbed from 20.8 percent in 2009, to 23.1 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, in Colorado, it dropped from 24.8 percent to 22 percent. It is worth noting that from 2009 to 2011, Colorado enacted strict state and local regulations on the production and sale of marijuana for medical purposes, whereas no such regulations were implemented throughout the rest of the country.

“This report suggests that even the partial regulation of marijuana could decrease its availability to teens,” Aldworth said. “Those who shrug off this mounting evidence are shrugging off the health and safety of our young people.”

Interestingly enough, the Denver Post points out that the poll also showed Colorado high-schoolers have less sex, get in fewer fist-fights, and get more exercise than the national average. Connection? Maybe teens respond well to rationality and honesty from adults.

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Medical Marijuana, Uncategorized

Medical marijuana gains Republican support in New Hampshire Senate

June 6th, 2012 4 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Two Republican senators added their support to SB 409 today, as the New Hampshire Senate voted 13-9 to approve a final draft of the medical marijuana bill.

Senate President Peter Bragdon (R-Milford) and Senator Fenton Groen (R-Rochester) joined the majority in support after having previously voted in opposition.

Advocates noted that 15 senators, including 10 Republicans and all five Democrats, have now voted in favor of the bill this year. One of the previous “yes” votes, former Senator Andy Sanborn (R-Henniker) resigned his seat yesterday to run for office from another district. A cosponsor of the bill, Senator John Gallus (R-Berlin) was not present for today’s vote.

The same final draft was approved by the House in a voice vote this morning. Now that the House and Senate have passed identical language for SB 409, the bill will be presented to Governor John Lynch.

Sadly, Lynch, a fourth-term Democrat serving his last year in the governor’s office, has pledged to veto the bill despite overwhelming support in both the House and Senate. When Lynch vetoed a similar bill in 2009, the House voted to override his veto but an effort in the Senate fell two votes short.

Senator Jim Forsythe (R-Strafford), the bill’s prime sponsor, vowed he would continue working to gain two additional Senate votes in anticipation that a veto override may be necessary. “Most senators now agree we have a moral obligation to protect seriously ill patients from being arrested in our state,” he explained.

“There is no excuse for maintaining criminal penalties against patients in our state, when Vermont, Maine, and 15 other states have created exceptions under state law for medical use,” Forsythe continued.

“New Hampshire truly deserves better, and if there’s any way to get SB 409 passed into law, I will continue doing my best to make that happen,” he concluded.

Longtime House champion Rep. Evalyn Merrick (D-Lancaster), a cancer survivor who credits marijuana with helping to save her life, was similarly upbeat after the Senate vote.

“Over the years, we have convinced many legislators to support this critical reform,” she observed.

“With support either from Governor Lynch or two additional senators, this bill can finally pass and patients will finally have legal access to medical marijuana,” she concluded.

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