Washington Marijuana Law Takes Effect Tomorrow


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On this day in 1933, Congress responded to the growing number of states and citizens who decried the failed war on alcohol by ratifying the 21st Amendment. By effectively repealing federal alcohol prohibition, this historic event allowed states to determine the best way to deal with alcohol without interference from the federal government.

Tomorrow, history will begin to repeat itself as the ballot measure approved by voters in Washington officially goes into effect, making it the first state to remove all penalties for marijuana possession by adults. The federal government would be wise to learn from history and do what it did 79 years ago: get out of the way.

When it comes down to it, marijuana prohibition and alcohol prohibition are nearly identical, both in their intentions and in their failings. Both products are popular, and both prohibitions cause great harm to society. The laws that put non-violent alcohol users in prison and enriched violent gangsters like Al Capone are eerily similar to those that have destroyed the lives of millions of otherwise law-abiding marijuana consumers and propped up the cartels responsible for the daily violence south of the border.

Despite the glaring similarities with alcohol prohibition, there are still many government officials who simply do not see the parallels and insist that we cannot let responsible adults purchase marijuana – a far safer product than alcohol – from legitimate businesses instead of in the underground market.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the position of the U.S. Department of Justice, but we have yet to learn how, or if, they will push this position in states that choose a different, more rational path.

Washington’s new law will allow individuals 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana without penalty, fine, or arrest. Therefore, as of tomorrow, adults will no longer be persecuted simply for choosing to consume marijuana. It is now up to the state to create a system to tax and regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana so that this lucrative market can be properly managed, instead of being left in the hands of criminals without quality control or oversight.

The federal government should not interfere. It made that mistake when it tried to enforce federal law in states that had removed alcohol penalties, and the result was unnecessary suffering at the expense of states’ rights, vast amounts of money, and individual liberties.

The Obama Administration should not make the same mistake.

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New Poll: Record High Support for Marijuana in U.S.


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According to a national poll conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, a record high 58% of American voters said they think marijuana should be made legal, compared to only 39% who do not. In addition, 50% of respondents said they think marijuana will become legal under federal law within the next 10 years.

A strong plurality (47%) of respondents said they think President Obama should allow Colorado and Washington to implement the ballot measures approved by voters last month to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol. Just 33% said they approve of President Obama using federal resources to prevent them from going into effect. Interestingly, support for the rights of states could be higher, but 46% of Republicans surveyed support the federal government asserting its power over the states.

Download the full poll results here.

Marijuana possession by adults is scheduled to become legal in Washington on Thursday when Initiative 502 officially goes into effect. A similar measure adopted by Colorado voters, Amendment 64, will go into effect no later than January 6. The new laws in Colorado and Washington make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use. They also direct the legislatures of both states to create regulations in order to establish a legal market for businesses to cultivate and sell marijuana to adults. So far, the federal government has not stated whether it intends to use any resources to interfere with the implementation of the new state laws.

The poll of 1,325 voters asked the same question that has been used by Gallup since 1970 to measure support for marijuana legalization in the country. In October 2011 Gallup found, for the first time, a majority (50%) of Americans supported making marijuana legal. Election results and pre-election polls in Colorado suggest PPP’s automated telephone survey might be a more accurate gauge of support for marijuana legalization, perhaps due to a hesitancy of voters to express their pro-marijuana sentiments to live operators, such as those utilized by Gallup.

 

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2012: Marijuana on the Ballot


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On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, and our failed experiment with alcohol prohibition was put to rest. Americans grew tired of the ever-worsening violence associated with the rise of the criminal alcohol market that developed in the absence of a legally recognized and properly regulated industry. As a society, we came to realize that the dangerous and unavoidable collateral markets created by prohibition were in fact more detrimental to society than alcohol itself. On November 6, 2012, some 79 years later, many Americans will have the opportunity to strike the very important first blows against another failed prohibition: marijuana’s.

The upcoming General Election will allow millions of Americans to bypass the legislative process and decide for themselves whether prohibitive marijuana policies should stand. Three states – Colorado, Washington, and Oregon – will be voting on measures to end the state prohibition on adult marijuana possession and use. Two states – Arkansas and Massachusetts – will be voting on whether exemptions should be carved out of their state criminal codes to allow possession and use for the seriously ill. One state – Montana – will vote on a referendum to repeal a law that gutted their previously enacted medical marijuana law. Finally, a host of cities and towns across the country will be voting on measures that either reform city codes or send symbolic messages that greater reform is needed.

State measures to end marijuana prohibition

Three states will be voting on measures to tax and regulate marijuana, and odds are at least one will pass. There has been steady majority or plurality support for both Colorado’s and Washington’s initiatives, and Oregon’s question has seen a recent uptick in the polls as well. If any of the three do pass, it would represent a sea change in American marijuana policy.

While the minutia of all three measures differ – and I highly encourage voters in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon to read their measures – they are born of common goals. The idea is to devise a system where marijuana sales are brought out of the criminal market and instead subjected to careful regulation and taxation. With tight controls, marijuana would be legally grown and sold by law-abiding, tax-paying businesses, as opposed to the criminal enterprises that currently hold a monopoly over the lucrative marijuana market. Creating a legal and regulated market ensures safety and transparency with regard to potency by allowing cultivators to legally test their product. Strict age limits on sales will create barriers to underage consumption by imposing penalties on businesses that sell to minors (when was the last time a drug dealer asked for ID?). A taxed and regulated market also means that states will see added revenue that can help with funding education projects, medical research, etc. The current system ensures that states capture no revue on marijuana sales.

So what will the effect of passage be and what will the feds do? The first question is pretty easy: if one, two, or all three of these pass, millions of Americans 21 and older will no longer be subject to arrest for the possession or private use of a plant proven safer than alcohol. It is clear that states can, and do, create their own criminal laws. In addition, 99% of all marijuana arrests are made under state law. So if states remove their criminal penalties against marijuana possession and private use, we can expect to see a significant drop in marijuana-related arrests.

The second question – how the feds will react – is difficult to predict. The feds can choose to allow the states to proceed with implementation of the regulatory structure without interference. This would be what I like to call the ‘laboratory of democracy’ approach. We already know the results of the marijuana prohibition experiment: control in the hands of criminals, laced product, exposure to all kinds of other illicit drugs, violence, and no decrease in use or abuse. It’s high time a state tests a different approach. Although taxation and regulation may not lead to a decrease in use or abuse, it will certainly eliminate or greatly reduce the negative collateral consequences that are inherent in marijuana prohibition.

The feds could also sue to enjoin the implementation of the new regulatory schemes. At first blush, this may seem scary, but as Dominic Holden recently stated, this too represents a major opportunity for change. A suit against Colorado, Washington, or Oregon would force us to have a national dialogue about our current marijuana policies. With 50% of the population – not to mention an ever-growing list of opinion makers – arguing for the end of marijuana prohibition, it’s a conversation that needs to happen. Look at the increase in support for gay marriage after the first lawsuit was filed challenging California’s Prop 8. If we can have an open and honest conversation, we can expedite policy reform.

Either way, we’re not going to know until a state votes to change their marijuana policies. If you live in Colorado, please vote “yes” on Amendment 64. If you’re in Washington, you’re voting “yes” on I-502. For those of you in Oregon, please vote “yes” on Measure 80. To all of you, I’m envious of your ballot.

State medical marijuana questions

In addition to the three states voting on measures to regulate and tax the adult sales of marijuana, two states have initiatives on the ballot that will create medical marijuana programs. Arkansas and Massachusetts, if passed, will become the 18th and 19th medical marijuana states. They will join the District of Columbia and 17 other states that currently recognize the legitimate medical use of marijuana.

The number of medical marijuana states continues to grow despite obstruction and interference from the federal level, and for the most part, the previously enacted laws continue to thrive. Passage of one or two more laws come November 6 will not only protect citizens of Arkansas and Massachusetts from arrest and prosecution for using a medicine recommended by their physicians, but it will further the momentum and send a loud message to federal policy makers: reform your punitive and unscientific marijuana laws.

Unfortunately, the federal government’s attempt to undermine state medical marijuana laws worked in at least one state, Montana. This past legislative session, Montana lawmakers debated a series of bills that proposed severe restrictions and even outright repeal of the voter-approved medical marijuana law. The amendments the legislature settled on are onerous enough that many took to calling it “repeal in disguise.” After passage, enough signatures were gathered to put the new restrictive law to the voters as an up or down referendum. By rejecting the ‘repeal in disguise’ law, voters in Montana can once again affirm their desire to see sensible marijuana policies.

Reform on the local ballots

Reform comes not just from the state level, but from the local level as well. Municipalities across the country will have marijuana policy related questions – some binding, others not – on their ballots.

Five municipalities in Michigan will be voting on marijuana policy measures. Kalamazoo will be voting on whether to allow three medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within city limits. Residents of Detroit and Flint will decide if their city codes should be amended to remove criminal penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana on private property. Grand Rapids will ask its residents if the code should be amended to replace the possibility of arrest for marijuana possession with a nominal civil fine. Finally, Ypsilanti voters will decide on a measure to make the use and/or consumption of one ounce or less of marijuana by adults 21 years or older the lowest priority for law enforcement personnel.

In addition to voting on medical marijuana, voters in certain districts in Massachusetts will also vote on non-binding public policy questions that direct elected officials to support taxing and regulating marijuana. While they do not have the effect of law, passage of the questions would send a strong message to the representatives of those districts that their constituents support taxing and regulating marijuana. Further north, voters in Burlington, Vermont will be asked if the city should “support the legalization, regulation, and taxation of all cannabis and hemp products?”

Finally, many cities and localities across California will be voting on measures to allow or ban medical marijuana dispensaries from operating in their municipality. Unlike most laws with regulated distribution, California’s medical marijuana law allows localities to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries as opposed to the state.

High-level political support for marijuana policy reform

It is worth pointing out that marijuana policy reform is not just relegated to a ballot issue. There are many top-level politicians who are starting to either speak up, or speak louder, on the need to reform our marijuana policies. For instance, Gov. Pete Shumlin in Vermont has long supported decriminalizing the possession of marijuana. The Democratic Attorney General and candidate for Governor in Montana, Steve Bullock, opposes the recent assault on patients rights’ and will vote against IR-124. More impressive is the fact that the entire political delegation representing Seattle, Washington, including Mayor Mike McGinn, supports taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol.

The beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition

We very well may remember Wednesday, November 7 as the morning we woke up to discover marijuana’s been legalized. If not, then we most certainly will have seen the most support for a regulation and taxation measure to date. Regardless of the outcomes of the various questions, we will have advanced the conversation in a major way. Marijuana policy reform is not about letting a bunch of people get high. It’s about adequately addressing the harms that are associated with marijuana use while stamping out the atrocities that were born from marijuana prohibition. The ballot measures in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon would do just that, while the medical questions being asked of the citizens in Montana, Massachusetts, and Arkansas and the various municipal questions would impact the marijuana policy conversation as well. As a nation, we are moving ever closer to acceptance of a taxed and regulated marijuana marketplace; it’s now just a matter of time.

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Gary Johnson Calls Attention to Marijuana Prohibition


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Gary Johnson, this year’s Libertarian Party candidate for president, spoke at a rally on Tuesday outside the Democratic National Convention. He criticized both President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for avoiding one of the nation’s most important political issues. Obama has laughed off or ignored persistent questions about marijuana legalization, while Romney is equally dismissive, calling the issue insignificant.

During his two terms as governor of New Mexico, Johnson established himself as the highest-ranking public official to call for a dramatic shift in the nation’s drug laws. He explains that during his two terms, he applied a cost-benefit analysis to every issue. Regarding costs of the war on drugs, he has cited the United States’ world-record incarceration rate and the fact that approximately half of current criminal justice expenditures deal with drug cases.

On his campaign website, the former governor also refers to the harms of alcohol prohibition and the parallel harms of current drug prohibitions, including the enrichment of organized crime and the associated violence. The site clearly states his support for legalizing marijuana, specifying that the federal government should “end its prohibition mandate” and allow the states to determine their own policies. This is one area where he agrees with former Republican presidential contender and libertarian icon Ron Paul, to whom he has compared himself and whose supporters he may be courting. Although he does not explicitly call for legalization of other drugs, he does refer to drug abuse as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice problem, making reference to the decriminalization which is in effect in Portugal and presenting it as a model for the U.S. to consider.

Johnson’s support in national polling remains quite low, and his name has often been omitted from the polls. It is likely that he will be excluded from the presidential debates, which does not bode will for his chances of ultimately winning the presidency. However, Johnson is the most prominent advocate of drug policy reform in the race and is expected to be on the ballot in all 50 states. Support of even 5% puts him at the top of the pack of third parties, as it dwarfs the best-ever presidential results for both the Libertarian Party itself and the Green Party, whose candidate Ralph Nader won 2.7% in the 2000 elections. His position in the race not only makes him a significant figure in the drug policy reform movement, but should work to raise public awareness of the issue and to improve the prospects for real reform.

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Montana Medical Marijuana Pioneer Gets Probation, No Jail


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Yesterday, Montana medical marijuana activist Tom Daubert was sentenced to five years of probation by a federal judge for his involvement in a medical marijuana access point that was raided by federal agents early last year. That operation was one of 26 locations that were raided simultaneously throughout Montana by federal agents in an effort to destroy the state’s burgeoning and predominantly lawful medical marijuana industry.

Daubert has been actively fighting for medical marijuana patients’ rights since 2004. He began his work on the issue as the consultant for MPP’s campaign committee during the successful initiative campaign. Since then, he has worked tirelessly in the state capitol and with local law enforcement to ensure the future of medical marijuana and maintain good relations with lawmakers and police. He even invited them to tour the facility, which is documented in the film “Code of the West.”

Tom Daubert was fortunate not to receive any prison time, even though any punishment is far too heavy a sentence for merely trying to make sure that seriously ill people have safe access to their medicine. His former partner Richard Flor was treated far more harshly. On August 30, while serving a five-year sentence in federal prison, Flor died after suffering two heart attacks and other medical problems. His transfer to a facility that may have been able to treat his numerous health conditions had been delayed for months.

Meanwhile, several other providers and former staffers are still in prison — including Richard’s wife and son. Others are still facing trial or sentencing.

We at MPP wish Tom the best and thank him for everything he has done.

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Harborside targeted by feds while Leader Pelosi stresses importance of federal action on medical marijuana


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The Associated Press is reporting that Harborside Health Center, which has been called California’s largest non-profit medical marijuana dispensary, is being targeted by federal prosecutors in California. According to Harborside spokesperson Gaynell Rogers, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s office has threatened to seize the property on which Harborside’s two locations operate: one in Oakland and the other in San Jose.

Meanwhile, the ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives and congresswoman for nearby San Francisco, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, reaffirmed her support for the medical use of marijuana, telling a round table of bloggers that taking up and discussing federal legislation regarding medical marijuana would be “really important.” While she gave no firm promise to introduce specific legislation, her support for medical marijuana patients puts her at odds with the actions of President Barack Obama’s Justice Department.

President Obama would be wise to listen to his party’s ranking member in the House of Representatives as opposed to career drug warriors like DEA chief Michele Leonhart. While Leader Pelosi recognizes the real and growing evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy, Agent Leonhart cannot even bring herself to admit that heroin is more harmful than marijuana. And if science isn’t something that the president and his circle are interested in listening to, they should at least listen to the 77% of the American public who support medical access to marijuana.

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Compassion center legislation enacted in Rhode Island!


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Fourteen months ago, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee decided to withhold issuing certificates of operation to three prospective compassion centers (dispensaries) chosen by the governor’s own health department. This decision, made unilaterally by the governor, was Chafee’s reaction to a letter from Rhode Island United States Attorney Peter Neronha. The letter – one of several sent by United States attorneys across the country – reiterated the federal prohibition on marijuana, including for medical use. Additionally, it said Neronha’s office could prosecute people who violate the Controlled Substances Act. This stalled years of work done by the Rhode Island Legislature to give patients safe, regulated access to medical marijuana.

Needless to say, that day about 14 months ago wasn’t a good one around the MPP offices. MPP began lobbying to protect Rhode Island’s medical marijuana patients in 2004 and worked to allow compassion centers in the state since 2008. The legislature approved compassion center legislation in 2009, over then-governor Donald Carcieri’s veto. We watched with some frustration as the department needed two different application processes to determine who would operate the three compassion centers, but ultimately cheered the department when they finally approved the centers. We were on the verge of seeing compassion centers in Rhode Island, when Gov. Chafee received his letter. We were not pleased with Chafee or the federal government.

But then a funny thing happened up in Rhode Island: Chafee started feeling the heat of his decision. Patients would show up at his public events and hound him for restricting their access to a medicine that their physicians had recommended. Who is Gov. Chafee to refuse to implement duly enacted law anyway? Rhode Islanders demanded he reverse course. It was inspiring.

Over the course of the next months, MPP, along with our legislative champions, Sen. Rhoda Perry and Rep. Scott Slater, and patient advocates from the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, engaged Gov. Chafee and his staff. An open dialogue was created and ideas were offered from both sides. The governor recognized the legitimate need for regulated safe access to medical marijuana but feared the program as written — with the possibility of thousands of plants per center and millions of dollars of revenue — would draw the ire of U.S. Attorney Neronha’s office.

Last night, Gov. Chafee signed into law legislation that resulted from those good faith negotiations. To limit the size of the centers, the law has been amended to restrict the centers to cultivating a maximum of 150 marijuana plants, no more than 99 of which may be mature. Additionally, the centers may possess no more than 1,500 ounces of usable medical marijuana at a time. To ensure the viability of the centers, the law will allow medical marijuana patients and caregivers to sell their excess medicine to compassion centers, but caregivers must first attest that their patients have had their medical needs met.

We certainly disagreed with Gov. Chafee’s decision to halt initial implementation of the compassion centers, and we recognize that the compromise legislation is not perfect. However, the ball has been moved forward. The long arm of the federal government started shaking its sword and frightened a governor into inaction. With the help of logic, reason, sincere compassion, and dogged stick-to-it-ness by legislative leaders, Rhode Island has been able to move past the fear and pass legislation that will bring safe access to medical marijuana patients.

We’ve got one piece of advice for U.S. Attorney Neronha: voters will remember if you continue to bully those who provide medicine to the seriously ill instead of focusing on prosecuting real crimes. Be careful how you proceed next.

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Tell Congress to Stop Federal Interference with Medical Marijuana States


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An amendment to the 2013 Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations bill in the U.S. House that would effectively end federal interference in medical marijuana states is being considered today, and we need your help!

The Rohrabacher-Hinchey-Farr-McClintock Amendment would stop federal agencies from spending any funds to target individuals acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. This would include patients and providers, so long as those providers were following the law within their respective states.

If this passes, providers will no longer have to live in fear that the businesses they worked hard to build and keep in compliance with their state and local laws will be arbitrarily raided and destroyed by federal agents. Patients will no longer be forced to buy inferior medicine from dangerous criminals at the whim of U.S. attorneys. States will finally be free to determine the marijuana policies that work best for the seriously ill among their residents.

We need your help to make this happen. Please follow this link and call your member of Congress TODAY! Tell them that they need to support this amendment and make the federal government stop wasting its time and resources on medical marijuana.

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Broken Promises: The Obama Administration and Medical Marijuana


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President Obama owes a debt of gratitude to the medical marijuana community for his election in 2008 — a debt that patients, providers, and businesses hoped would be fulfilled by the president following through on the promises he made to respect state medical marijuana laws.

As you can see in this recent op-ed in the Washington Post by MPP’s Rob Kampia, not only has the administration failed to keep its promise of respecting states’ rights on this issue, it is now the most hostile administration in U.S. history towards medical marijuana!

More than three out of four Americans support legalizing medical marijuana for serious medical conditions. With an approval rating of less than 50%, Obama needs to recognize the political ramifications of these continued attacks on the medical marijuana community. If he wants to hold on to the White House this fall, Obama needs to keep the promises he made four years ago, and end the crackdown. As his attorney general said a few days ago, all he has to do is say the word.

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Six National Drug Policy Organizations Call on President Obama to End Unnecessary Assault on Medical Marijuana Providers


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In the wake of recent attacks on medical marijuana providers and patients by multiple branches of the federal government, including Monday’s raids on Oaksterdam University in Oakland, CA, a coalition of six national drug policy reform organizations is appealing to President Obama and his administration to follow its own previously stated policies respecting state medical marijuana laws. In the letter, posted in full below, the organizations call on the Obama administration to bring an end to the federal government’s ongoing campaign to undermine state efforts to regulate safe and legal access to medical marijuana for those patients who rely on it.

The Obama Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy Report 2012, reportedly being released in the coming days, is expected to cling to failed and outdated marijuana policies which further cement the control of the marijuana trade in the hands of drug cartels and illegal operators, endangering both patients in medical marijuana states and citizens everywhere. The members of this coalition stand together with members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, current and former Latin American leaders whose countries are being ravaged by drug cartels, state officials from five medical marijuana states, and tens of millions of Americans in their call for a more rational approach to marijuana policy.

THE LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA:

April 4, 2012

President Barack Obama

The White House

Washington D.C. 20500

Via Fax: 2024562461

Dear Mr. President:

Our coalition represents the views of tens of millions of Americans who believe the war on medical marijuana patients and providers you are fighting is misguided and counterproductive. As your administration prepares to release its annual National Drug Control Strategy, we want to speak with one voice and convey our deep sense of anger and disappointment in your lack of leadership on this issue.

Voters and elected officials in sixteen states and the District of Columbia have determined that the medical use of marijuana should be legal. In many of these states, the laws also include means for providing medical marijuana patients safe access to this medicine. These laws allowing for the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana actually shift control of marijuana sales from the criminal underground to state-licensed, taxed, and regulated producers and distributors.

Instead of celebrating – or even tolerating – this state experimentation, which has benefited patients and taken profits away from drug cartels, you have turned your back as career law enforcement officials have run roughshod over some of the most professional and well-regulated medical marijuana providers. We simply cannot understand why you have reneged on your administration’s earlier policy of respecting state medical marijuana laws.

Our frustration and confusion over your administration’s uncalled-for attacks on state-authorized medical marijuana providers was best summed up by John McCowen, the chair of the Mendocino County (CA) board of supervisors, who said, “It’s almost as if there was a conscious effort to drive [medical marijuana cultivation and distribution] back underground. My opinion is that’s going to further endanger public safety and the environment – the federal government doesn’t seem to care about that.”

The National Drug Control Strategy you are about to release will no doubt call for a continuation of policies that have as a primary goal the ongoing and permanent control of the marijuana trade by drug cartels and organized crime. We cannot and do not endorse the continued embrace of this utterly failed policy. We stand instead with Latin American leaders, members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, and the vast majority of people who voted you into office in recognizing that it is time for a new approach on marijuana policy.

With approximately 50,000 people dead in Mexico over the past five years as the result of drug war-related violence, we hope that you will immediately reconsider your drug control strategy and will work with, not against, states and organizations that are attempting to shift control of marijuana cultivation and sales, at least as it applies to medical marijuana, to a controlled and regulated market.

Sincerely,

Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)

Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)

National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP)

cc:  Eric Holder, Attorney General, Department of Justice

James Cole, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice

Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

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