Marijuana and the campaign for attorney general

A couple of issues involving marijuana have arisen in the Democratic primary campaign for Oregon attorney general, and I shall attempt to sort them out here. Some background:

— Oregon was the first state to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana. The 1973 Legislature made possession of less than one ounce punishable as an infraction with a maximum fine of $100. (It’s now a maximum of $1,000.)

— The 1997 Legislature passed a bill to recriminalize simple possession as a misdemeanor. But opponents collected enough signatures to force a statewide election on the measure — which automatically put it on hold — and voters rejected it in November 1998 by a 2 to 1 majority (66.5 percent against the 1997 law).

— Also in the same 1998 election, voters approved a separate ballot initiative to authorize medicinal use of marijuana for specified conditions, with a doctor’s permission. (The majority here was 54.6 percent.) California was the first state to do so in 1996. Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., have such laws; Maryland allows it only as a legal defense, and is not among the 16. Federal law, however, makes no such provision.

— Law enforcement types favored the tougher possession law and opposed the medical-marijuana initiative, but lost on both. The medical-marijuana law has been amended a couple of times by the Legislature, but only after a consensus product was negotiated. Oregon does not allow its sale, unlike California, but patients registered with the state can designate registered caregivers to supply it. Persona limits are 24 ounces and 24 plants (6 mature and 18 immature). Doctors must grant permission, but they do not write “prescriptions.”

Back to the election, which has two candidates in the Democratic primary for the office being vacated by Democrat John Kroger. There is no Republican, and whoever wins the Democratic primary is the odds-on favorite for the Nov. 6 general election, even if there are minor-party candidates on that ballot. The contenders are Dwight Holton, former interim U.S. attorney for Oregon, who has spent 15 years as a federal prosecutor in New York and Portland, and Ellen Rosenblum, also a former federal prosecutor (not at the same time as Holton), a Multnomah County judge and Oregon Court of Appeals judge.

A political committee called Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement has weighed in against Holton and for Rosenblum, based on a past statement by Holton that the 1998 medical-marijuana law was a “train wreck,” a letter by him to landlords housing offices assisting medical-marijuana patients, and federal raids last fall (while he was the interim U.S. attorney) on state-sanctioned marijuana grow sites.

(The state law is not a legal shield against federal action.)

Here’s a statement from Robert Wolfe, director of Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement:

(start of Wolfe statement)

“Ellen Rosenblum will support Oregon’s voter-approved medical marijuana program, and says personal marijuana use is the lowest priority for law enforcement. That’s common sense.

“Dwight Holton has called our voter-approved law a ‘train wreck’ and is campaigning on his plan to gut it. Holton is openly disrespectful of Oregon voters, and hostile to medical-marijuana patients and providers. He would be a disaster as attorney general.

“Most voters agree that marijuana law enforcement should be a low priority. Holton used prosecutorial resources to go after state-approved medical marijuana providers. That’s wasteful and unnecessary. That’s just part of why Dwight’s not right for attorney general.

“Judge Ellen Rosenblum brings years of Oregon experience as a prosecutor and a judge, and she supports this key law that Oregonians overwhelmingly support. The choice is clear for supporters of our medical marijuana program or voter-approved initiatives in general.”

(end of Wolfe statement)

The group organized pickets outside the Governor Hotel in Portland, where Holton and Rosenblum appeared Friday at the Portland City Club. (Full disclosure: I had planned to go, but I had some computer problems at the office that delayed my work.)

Now for Holton’s responses, which were furnished by his campaign at my request:

(start of Holton’s furnished material)

On support for Medical Marijuana Act: I will enforce Oregon’s Medical Marijuana Act as attorney general. The voters passed it for a very compassionate reason and it will be my job to uphold the law.

On problems with OMMA: The law should be about meeting the needs of patients — that was voters’ intent when they passed it. I’ve heard two things: One, advocates say that people who need it can’t get it.  And two, law enforcement says that it’s ending up on the black market. If you care about the law, then you also need to protect its integrity.  It should not be used as back-door legalization.  It is on this point that Ellen and I differ.

On Ellen’s comment on her Web site that that “marijuana enforcement will be a low priority”: Ellen says she will make marijuana enforcement a low priority.  She is making a campaign promise not to enforce Oregon’s marijuana laws and that is appalling — especially when you’re running to be attorney general, the state’s top law enforcement officer.

So the choice before voters is someone who will uphold Oregon law – or someone who makes campaign promises not to enforce the law in order to get votes. I don’t believe the AG gets to make unilateral decisions about which laws to enforce and not enforce. The voters and the legislature expect you to uphold all state laws.

(end of Holton’s furnished material)

I should note, as I have in previous coverage, that the district attorneys in Oregon’s 36 counties — not the attorney general — initiate most criminal prosecutions. The Department of Justice, which is led by the attorney general, does have responsibility to assist district attorneys and defend appeals of criminal convictions in trial courts.

See also separate post on Holton’s criticism of Wolfe on a related matter.

— Peter Wong



Marc Emery’s suggestions from prison to better B.C.

By Jon Ferry, The Province April 29, 2012

Marc Emery has 10 suggestions for improving life in British Columbia:

1. Eliminate the provincial income tax, lowering it to zero in thirds over three years.

2. Abolish the RCMP in the province. Establish a modest-sized provincial police force answerable to the provincial solicitor-general and attorney-general. B.C. will need far fewer cops and jails once you eliminate the illegal drug markets.

3. Base MLA selection based on a combination of preferential voting (first, second and third choices, etc., on each ballot) or a first-past-the-post system combined with proportional representation.

4. Make the referendum process in B.C. much more accessible by lowering the threshold of signatures required to four per cent of registered voters obtained over a 180-day period, with paid signature-gathering permitted.

5. Eliminate all provincial tax subsidies to business, including the entertainment industry.

6. Raise the royalties on resource extraction (lumber, oil and gas and mining) while reducing regulations.

7. Allow offshore oil and gas exploration.

8. Require all B.C. educational facilities to encourage students to become proficient in Chinese languages.

9. Get the B.C. government out of education, ending the "monolithic union influence," and set up a voucher system so parents can send children to a school of their choice in a vibrant marketplace with multiple options for both parents and teachers.

10. Reduce the number of people sent to prison by ending drug prohibition and so-called computer crimes and by making greater use of house arrest. Put violent people in cottages in remote locations with electronic monitoring, a garden where they can grow food and a limited library.

Read more:

Marc Emery calls B.C.’s leaders ‘uninspiring’

Jailed activist is a fan of Ayn Rand and rational capitalism

By Jon Ferry, The Province April 29, 2012

APRIL 20, 2009 – Marc Emery lights up at the annual "4-20" pot rally held at the Vancouver Art Gallery and attended by thousands of marijuana advocates and aficinados.

Photograph by: Jack Simpson , For The Province

Jailed marijuana activist Marc Emery is all over the map politically. A founding member of the Marijuana Party of Canada, he’s moved his support between the B.C. and federal NDP, the federal and provincial Greens and federal Liberals over the years.

But Emery says that’s because so few of our leaders, including Premier Christy Clark, NDP Leader Adrian Dix or Green Party Leader Jane Sterk, are inspirational in any way.

"B.C. has got such an uninspiring lot of leaders who stand for nothing, are willing to stand for nothing," he told me from the Mississippi jail where he’s serving out his five-year term for selling marijuana seeds. All play the waiting game, he says, waiting for the other to collapse.

"I’m well plugged in, but I cannot think of anything bold or exciting about Adrian Dix. And where did Jane Sterk of the B.C. Greens go? If she can’t exploit the weakness in the B.C. Liberals and lack of enthusiasm for the NDP in these times, that’s a failed franchise opportunity for sure."

However, Emery absolutely loves libertarian U.S. Republican candidate Ron Paul, who also calls the so-called war on drugs a total failure.

"What a great man! I’ve known of him since 1980 when I read about him in Reason magazine a year after I read Ayn Rand and became a convert to rational capitalism," he noted. "But I’ve been promoting him for president since 2006."

Emery says he doesn’t tend to get into political discussions with his fellow inmates, most of who are from a completely different culture than that in British Columbia.

But he does tell them to have their families vote for Paul because part of his platform is to pardon all nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison.

"So that’s the only way many of these inmates will ever get out," Emery told me in a prison email. "That would even get me out a year earlier, but to the guys who have served 10, 15, 20 years of a life sentence, it would be far more important."

Emery adds that it’s weird that, while so many leading British Columbians are coming out in favour of marijuana decriminalization, Premier Christy Clark still seems to be wavering on the issue.

"When I was a guest on her show on CKNW, she said on the air, ‘I don’t really think anyone’s against marijuana decriminalization anymore, it’s not really an issue for most people nowadays.’ But with the B.C. Conservatives at 20 per cent, she’s running scared."

Besides, Emery says, women leaders generally don’t do well in Canadian politics: "I think of Grace McCarthy, Alexa McDonough, Audrey McLaughlin, Kim Campbell and now, I’m certain, Christy Clark may well be the face of the disappearance of the B.C. Liberals."

However, he noted that the B.C. Social Credit legacy keeps being reincarnated, under different banners. "Each transition gives the NDP a chance at power, which they manage to fail at," he notes.

When he returns to B.C., he says, he’s hoping wife Jodie can secure the Liberal Party of Canada nomination for Vancouver Centre in the fall of 2014.

But Jodie Emery says she has not joined the federal Liberals, and doesn’t think it’s realistic that she would win such a nomination when she hasn’t been a Liberal Party member or done the necessary backroom work.

Besides, she’s not sure how she feels about politics right now.

"I’m kind of enjoying not being beholden to any party and being able to speak in my mind," she said. "The problem with running any party is that you kind of need to be a cheerleader for that party’s policies. And I like being able to speak my mind."

Read more:

Marc Emery claims victory in drug war

Marc Emery and wife Jodie embrace in the visitors’ area of U.S. medium-security prison in Yazoo City, Mississippi.

Photograph by: Contributed , Cannabis Culture

YAZOO CITY PRISON, Mississippi — Vancouver cannabis crusader Marc Emery may be facing two more frustrating years behind bars in the Deep South of the United States. But he’s more confident than ever he’s winning the war on drug prohibition.

The Prince of Pot believes the drug legalization campaign he’s waged for more than 30 years is already over at the "intellectual" level. And it’s only a matter of time before marijuana and other recreational drugs are sold in stores in Canada and the U.S. – and taxed and regulated just like liquor and cigarettes.

"The end of prohibition is close, five years for marijuana or less," he told me from inside the U.S. federal correctional complex where he’s serving a five-year term for selling marijuana seeds. "And I can take a lot of credit for it."

Crisply dressed in khaki prison fatigues and black boots, Emery said he was heartened that John McKay, the former U.S. attorney who helped put Emery in jail, has had a Saul-on the-road-to-Damascus conversion and is now championing a Washington State initiative to legalize pot.

He’s also encouraged that a raft of Canadian VIPs, including four former B.C. attorneys-general, have jumped on the decriminalization bandwagon.

"I’m running out of people who disagree with me anymore," the pot entrepreneur quipped, as we sipped pop together inside the visitors’ area of the massive, razor-wire-clad jail northwest of the Mississippi state capital of Jackson.

The 54-year-old activist, who once raised the ire of Canadian and U.S. cops by publicly flaunting his marijuana-smoking habits, even admits he doesn’t miss the weed that he first smoked in 1980, when he was 22.

"It’s the most common question I’m asked in letters and even among inmates here, but I have never once thought of marijuana in the actual in two years," he said in a prison email. "Not missed smoking it. In fact, I’ve never thought about it once."

Emery explained that this might stem from the realization that he misses nothing except his devoted wife, Jodie, who runs what remains of his once-thriving pot empire – which, he says, grossed $15 million between 1995 and 2005.

The 27-year-old Jodie, now owner and operator of Cannabis Culture on West Hastings, flies down from Vancouver to visit him every two to four weeks.

"I think of her every hour of every day," Emery said, adding he spends much of his time practising bass guitar and honing his skills as leader of Yazoo, an interracial rock band named after the prison’s rural hometown, known for its blues musicians.

"I never believed I would emerge from prison an accomplished musician, a band leader, playing music I have loved my whole life, with other far more accomplished and talented musicians," he said in another email. "This is a miracle that I’m very grateful for."

My prison visit, which Emery says is the first by any journalist in the two years since he’s been locked up in the U.S., wasn’t easy to arrange. And I wasn’t allowed to bring in a pen, notepad, tape recorder or other reporting tools. Taking pictures on the property was also a no-no, and my rental car was searched. But what really surprised me was how tanned and fit Emery looked compared to how he appeared when I last saw him on TV in Vancouver.

I asked him whether this wasn’t due to the fact that prison had forced him to give up marijuana (and that being caught with pot could lead to a whole range of punishments, including up to three months in solitary).

Emery insisted this was not so. It was simply that he was much less stressed and had far fewer legal/ money worries than when, at the helm of the world’s largest marijuana seed-selling business, he was facing the sobering prospect of extradition to the United States.

Judging by what he says and how he appears, he’s fitting well into prison life as the only Canadian among 1,700 mostly black inmates, many of them serving what appear to be cruelly long sentences for crack cocaine and other drug offences.

Coming from outside with no "cultural baggage" obviously helps, as it does for former newspaper publisher Conrad Black, another Canadian celebrity who’s been doing hard time in the U.S. south.

But Emery says prison life is probably harder on Black because he’s older and used to luxury in his life. "I come from a more working class/ middle class background so it’s not so difficult for me," he said.

The Mississippi climate is also in his favour.

Indeed, Emery says he far prefers the fresh air and sunny climate in the Magnolia State to the "morose" Vancouver weather.

"And I have never had an unkind word spoken to me by any inmate in two years," he said.

"And I am frequently asked, probably every day, for some help or information, as they think of me as a useful, knowledgeable person."

What perhaps misses most are fresh vegetables. However, little niceties are generally only a postage stamp away.

Yes, in the absence of cash, the $1 postage stamp is the universal prison currency.

And he says you can buy services like getting your hair cut, your cell cleaned, your running shoes washed or your headphones fixed for one to five stamps.

Smoking is officially prohibited, but contraband cigs tend to get broken up into four or five small cigarettes and sold for, say, stamps apiece. That means a single street cigarette can fetch $25 . . . with a couple of batteries and a piece of toilet paper serving as a makeshift lighter.

So life is not overly harsh. Indeed, Emery, who shares a cell, thinks he has fewer grey hairs now than when he did when he was in Vancouver.

"I didn’t know your hair could reverse its direction like that regarding colour," he told me. "I was losing my hair from 2002 to 2004. When I look at my hair, its thicker than it was some 10 years ago."

But is the natural-born showman, known in Vancouver for his take-no-prisoners outbursts, really a changed individual? Can a leopard change his spots?

Well, he says he’s matured and learned to tone things down: "Confrontation will get you nowhere good in prison."

Violence in a medium-security prison, though, is always just around the corner. And Emery tells me that only a couple of weeks ago a Hispanic inmate suspected of being an informant was bludgeoned half to death by two others. He was apparently beaten over the head by a metal door-locker lock inside a sock.

Emery’s official release date is July 9, 2014. But he could be free as early as next year, if Ottawa allows him to be transferred back to Canada.

On his return to B.C., he plans to have a big welcome-back bash outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, followed by a world tour with Jodie, including stops in Jamaica and Italy.

As for his career future, he says he’ll finish the autobiography he’s writing and try to become a radio talk show host, a job he used to do back in his hometown of London, Ont.

"One of the problems of the so-called entertainment right-wing radio shows I hear on many AM and FM channels here is they don’t respect facts or balance.

"The discussion is all one-sided, and often just derision, insult and talking in a circular manner," he said.

"I believe I can provoke but still welcome all sides in a discussion."

Like it or not, in other words, you’ll be hearing a lot more from Emery whatever band — or bandwagon — he’s heading.

Read more:

Marc Emery’s U.S. prosecutor urges pot legalization

John McKay once prosecuted B.C.’s ‘Prince of Pot’ Marc Emery
CBC News Posted: Apr 18, 2012 12:12 PM PT

Former U.S. Attorney John McKay joined marijuana legalization activist Jodie Emery in Vancouver on Wednesday.

The former U.S. district attorney who prosecuted B.C. marijuana activist Marc Emery in a cross-border sting is calling for the legalization and taxation of pot in Canada and the U.S.

John McKay, a former U.S. attorney for the western district of Washington State, was joined by Emery’s wife Jodie and former B.C. Attorney General Geoff Plant at a lecture in Vancouver on Wednesday.

McKay said he did not regret prosecuting Emery because he broke U.S. law, but he believes the war on pot has been a complete and total failure. He said the laws keeping pot illegal no longer serve any purpose, but allow gangs and cartels to generate billions in profits.

"I want to say this just as clearly and as forthrightly as I can, marijuana prohibition, criminal prohibition of marijuana is a complete failure," McKay said.

McKay said marijuana, like alcohol, should be produced and sold to adults by the government, and that would generate at least half a billion dollars in revenue annually in Washington State alone.

More importantly, he said, ending prohibition would end the violent reign of gangs and drug cartels who are profiting from the situation. He said any prohibition in society requires broad support from the population, and that isn’t the case with marijuana.

The appearance was organized by Stop the Violence BC, a coalition of high-profile academic, legal, law enforcement and health experts, which is working to reduce crime and public health problems stemming from the prohibition on marijuana.

The group includes several former B.C. attorneys general, several former Vancouver mayors, a former B.C. premier and a former RCMP superintendent for the province.

McKay, a Republican, was a U.S. Attorney from 2001 to 2007, when he resigned or was fired along with eight other U.S attorneys by President Bush.

He is now a professor in the faculty of law at Seattle University and an avid supporter of the Washington State ballot initiative for the November election to implement a regulated, taxed market for marijuana.

Marc Emery remains in prison in the U.S., serving a five-year sentence for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana through his mail-order cannabis seed business.

Marc Emery is a Canadian activist imprisoned in the United States for selling marijuana seeds through the mail

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Marc Emery is a Canadian activist imprisoned in the United States for selling marijuana seeds through the mail and using the proceeds to finance advocacy and political campaigns in the United States and worldwide from 1994-2005. See for more information



When I first began my Vancouver hemp store, HEMP BC, in July 1994, my first hires were Ian Hunter and Danna Rozek, two people I’d met in the months prior to opening my retail shop at 324 West Hastings (across from the location, 18 years later, of Cannabis Culture Headquarters). I noticed right away that Danna and her friend, also hired at Hemp BC, Cindy Lassu, were ‘Deadheads,’ totally committed to the culture and language and music of the Grateful Dead.

I remember my surprise and curiosity when Ian and Danna both yelled elatedly at 4:20 pm each afternoon I was in their company, "It’s 4:20, smoke ’em if ya got ’em." I had never heard that phrase or ritual before, and yet I’d been smoking pot (in London, Ontario) since 1981. I moved to Vancouver in March of 1994.

I thought it was an odd west coast thing, something peculiar to Vancouver. In conversations I had with High Times editor Steve Hagar, I learned that it first became a ritual in the high schools of central California around 1976 or so. Up to the mid-70’s, high school classes went to 4 pm, so by the time school was out, and you got out of class, 4:20 pm became a time of congregation to smoke a joint.

Some of those high school students were followers of the Grateful Dead, joining in the legendary treks across America following that ubiquitous San Francisco band on what is known as ‘Dead Tour.’ There they continued their smoking pot at 4.20 pm ritual with an enthusiastic "It’s Four Twenty!"

So starting in those California high schools, those students graduated and continued their ritual in the very iconoclastic society of "Deadheads" that followed the band the Grateful Dead on their tours across America and Europe in the mid and late 70’s. 4:20 become an established part of Deadhead culture by the early 80’s, and when ever one Deadhead wanted to see how hip you might be, the question "What time is it?" began to be a litmus test of the culture. If you gave the regular time, you were ‘straight,’ but if you responded "It’s 4:20!" (no matter what time it was), you were cool, ‘one of us.’ In Deadhead culture, at 4:20 pm, one yelled out to friends, "It’s 4:20!" and joint smoking ensued.

When in July 1994, in my little revolutionary activist headquarters HEMP BC shop open on Hastings St. in downtown Vancouver, I allowed the staff and any customers to smoke pot in the store, so at 4:20 pm every day, Danna, Ian, Cindy, and by November 1994, Dana Larsen, would yell "It’s 4:20" and everyone would light up. Back then, even most of our customers had never heard this ‘4:20’ thing before, as only a few months earlier, neither had I.

In March 1995, while working as manager of my Hemp BC store, Danna and Cindy asked me at my desk, "Marc, can we have a 420 celebration next door at Hemp For Victory Square (which is what we called Victory Square at Cambie & Hastings back then) on April 20?"

"What do you mean?" I asked, " You mean we should go over and smoke in the park at 4:20 on April 20 because that’s the 4th month, 20th day?"

"No," replied Danna, " I mean we should party over there all day on April 20, not just at 4:20 in the afternoon."

"My God, no, that’s decadent, we can’t party all day" I said, being very much of the Ayn Rand school of cannabis liberation, and thinking a day-long party was unthinkable to my capitalist work ethic.

So Danna and Cindy went back to work in the store. An hour later Danna came back to me and said, "Even though you don’t approve, can we do it anyway?"

I thought about that and asked, "Well, what would you do?"

Danna replied, "We’d get a PA system, invite a few bands, give speeches, smoke lots of pot, from, say, noon to 5 pm."

"Do you think we’d get away with that?" I asked incredulously.

"Yes! It’ll be so much fun."

"All right. You can give it a shot." I conceded.

"Will you help us because you have the money and we’ll need electrical power, cables, PA equipment, and other things?" she cajoled.

"Okay," I remember laughing at her audacity, "I’ll help you."

On April 20, 1995, it was a beautiful sunny day, and 6 cables ran from various electrical outlets at Hemp BC seventy-five feet to Victory Square to supply power for the PA system, the microphones, amplifiers. The party began around noon but because it was a very new idea, never done on April 20 any time before, there were about only 150 people by 2 pm, peaking at 250 people at 4:20 pm. Nonetheless, open pot smoking went on for about 6 hours without any police interference, much to my surprise, only 25 feet from a major intersection of Hastings and Cambie. Everyone who came seemed to have a wonderful time.

The following year, in 1996, at Victory Square again, 500 people came at its peak. For 1997, we moved the event to the Vancouver Art Gallery, its current location, where about 1,000 people came. By 2003 and 2004, 3,000 people attended at its peak at 4:20pm, but in 2005, the number attending exploded to 6,000, and every year since then, numbers increase, with 10,000 in 2009, 13,000 in 2011, and upwards of 15,000 expected this year.

You can see video of Vancouver 4/20 from 2006 to 2011 at the website My pioneering video website has archival footage of the 4/20 from 2002 to 2005. When YouTube came out, videos of our smoking protest party went viral and the event was emulated in other cities. Now the Vancouver event is so popular, hundreds of people come as early as 9 am to start the party, with thousands at the art gallery grounds by noon, and by 3 pm it is densely packed.

From 2000 to 2008, the master of ceremonies was activist David Malmo-Levine, who at 4:10 would ask people in the crowds to sit down while he and other ‘volunteers’ tossed joints out to the masses, making sure all would have something to smoke at 4:20 pm. Then Peter Tosh’s ‘Legalize It’ would play at 4:20 pm and a huge, incredible plume of bluish smoke would rise above the assembled mass; you could smell it 3 to 4 blocks away, and on video and in photographs looked spectacular.

Over the years pot vendors selling joints, bags of pot, pot cookies, pot brownies, and various cannabis consumables became a prominent aspect of the festivities. Never in the history of the 4/20 celebration have police interfered with selling or consumption of cannabis. Beautifully, there have been very few incidents of cannabis overuse and virtually no unhappy medical emergencies.

For 2011 and 2012, the event has become very sophisticated, with excellent musical entertainment organized by Adam Bowen, featuring musicians and genres from across the musical spectrum, with prominent staging and sound amplification. Media from all over Canada photograph, videotape, broadcast and cover the event. As always since the beginning, has coverage of the event.

In the recent decade, April 20 celebrations by the cannabis culture began to be seen everywhere around the world, certainly every major city in the United States and Canada now has a April 20 celebration, and in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South America. That’s the power of YouTube and 4/20!

This day is now famous everywhere in the world now as ‘the national holiday of the cannabis culture,’ but we’re proud it started here in Vancouver first, 17 years ago, in 1995!

Marc Emery is a Canadian activist imprisoned in the United States for selling marijuana seeds through the mail and using the proceeds to finance advocacy and political campaigns in the United States and worldwide from 1994-2005. See for more information

Weird: Medical Marijuana Advocates Oppose Legalization Bids


Submitted by Reason Foundation on Apr 16, 2012

By Mike Riggs

Members of the medical marijuana industry have come out against ballot initiatives in two states that would allow consumers over the age of 21 to legally purchase and consume small quantities of marijuana for recreational use.

Washington State’s Initiative 502 and Colorado’s Amendment 64 would regulate pot similarly to alcohol and tobacco, according to their backers. In Washington, even home growers producing for personal use would have to seek a license from the state liquor board, and consumers would be allowed to possess only an ounce at a time. Colorado’s initiative would have the same possession limit, and would allow home growers to have up to six plants.

The bills, in other words, don’t treat pot exactly like alcohol, of which a consumer can own as much as he likes and brew at home without a license, but they’re being sold by their proponents as better than the status quo. For some medical marijuana activists, better than the status quo is not good enough.

Here’s what Washington’s I-502 would do, in the words of Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and former U.S. Attorney (and drug warrior) John McKay, who are the initiative’s most well-known proponents:

This measure would remove state-law prohibitions against producing, processing, and selling marijuana, subject to licensing and regulation by the liquor control board; allow limited possession of marijuana by persons aged twenty-one and over; and impose 25% excise taxes on wholesale and retail sales of marijuana, earmarking revenue for purposes that include substance-abuse prevention, research, education, and healthcare.  Laws prohibiting driving under the influence would be amended to include maximum thresholds for THC blood concentration.

Gil Mobley, a Washington physician who owns a medical marijuana clinic, created Patients Against I-502 to oppose the initiative. The name has since been changed to No on I-502. It sums up its opposition to the bill simply: "I-502 is not legalization."

It simply creates a legal exception for possession of an ounce and a few other minor cannabis related crimes. Under this initiative it would still be illegal for individuals to grow any amount. In addition, hemp would still not be explicitly legal, passing a joint would still be felony distribution, and a new form of prohibition will be introduced that will cause cannabis consumers to be wrongfully convicted and imprisoned (the per se DUID mandate). People under 21 have the potential to be convicted of a DUID simply for being in the presence of cannabis smoke for an extended period of time. Beyond this, the entire distribution system will be federally preempted (rendered invalid in court) due to the fact that it creates a positive conflict with our federal Controlled Substances Act (you can’t force a state to accept taxes from a federally illegal substance).

Mobley and his allies received a drubbing last week when The Stranger’s Dominic Holden criticized No on I-502 in a New York Times op-ed, writing, “I haven’t found a single scientific study showing that even the heaviest of pot users would exceed the five-nanogram [DUI] cutoff after 24 hours. And the civil liberties attacks are simply dishonest. The rules would remain the same as they currently are for medical marijuana—no registration requirements and no database.”

Holden went on to say that “it’s more than a little strange to defend the status quo, in which nearly 10,000 people are arrested in Washington for possession each year, on civil liberties grounds. And it’s not as if voters would accept a law that didn’t include restrictions on smoking and driving.” His op-ed also featured an appearance by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ Allen St. Pierre, who said, “The medical marijuana industry is driven by profit…It’s not driven by compassion anymore. It is driven by the need to make money.”

(St. Pierre expressed a similar sentiment earlier this year when he wrote that “Cannabis consumers…want good, affordable cannabis products without having to go through the insult and expense of ‘qualifying’ as a ‘medical’ patient by paying physicians and/or the state for some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card. How intellectually honest is all of this?”)

I reached out to a Washington-based marijuana activist about opposition to the bill. He was at odds with both St. Pierre and No on I-502:

Of course there are some bad apples that only care about profit, but they are usually weeded out (no pun intended) by patients themselves and market forces. Others are able to turn a tidy profit while still providing a valuable service to their patients. This is America. What is wrong with wanting your business to make money? As long as no one is being exploited, particularly patients, who is getting hurt? This is the only industry that is being punished by the federal government for being too successful.

When people lump all members of the industry together, it makes it that much easier for prohibitionists to dismiss calls for policy change and gives the feds carte blanche to shut them all down because they are just ‘greedy drug dealers’.

In terms of politics, I would have to say that when it comes to the opponents of I-502 within the marijuana industry, there are certainly some that are looking out for their own financial interests, while others don’t necessarily understand the initiative. Still others simply don’t care about full legalization and are convinced that they will lose their driving privileges, or think that this initiative is too restrictive in one way or another.

It is unfortunate that some within the industry do not realize that the best way to ensure safe and affordable medical access for patients is to remove criminal penalties for all adults, or that they will continue to be able to make a living under a taxed and regulated legal framework. That does not make the whole industry a sham.

In Colorado, medical marijuana dispensaries opposed to Amendment 64 are less organized, and less concerned with how the bill will affect users who drive. Here’s a sample complaint voiced last month:

Although he supports adult recreational marijuana use, Rocky Mountain Remedies co-owner Kevin Fisher said legalizing pot for all Colorado adults could jeopardize the business model he and other state dispensary owners have worked hard to create. Specifically, Fisher said he’s concerned approval of a system that permits recreational marijuana use would lead to increased federal intervention in Colorado.

“While we support adult access to cannabis in any form, we’re not sure supporting this initiative is right at this time,” Fisher said last week.

Fisher said the state’s medical marijuana industry has come a long way in a short time. He didn’t want anything to jeopardize his business, which now employs 40 people.

“We still have plenty of growing pains on the medical side on the local, state and federal levels,” he said. “Moving forward with the retail model for recreational use, I’m not sure where we sit. I don’t want to go to federal prison."

The sense I get from some activists is that internecine fighting over the best way to make marijuana fully legal at the state level is a) limited to big-time activists and players in the medi-mari industry, not medical or recreational users; and b) bad for the movement. 

And yet it seems as if the reform movement can’t progress until it addresses opposition from protectionists in the medical marijuana community, as well as people who want better protections for recreational users and home growers. A failure to address that first concern led growers in Trinity, Humboldt, and Mendocino counties to vote against California’s Prop 19 in 2010, and the inability of I-502 advocates to thoroughly address No on I-502’s complaints—the DUI aspect, the penalties for sharing marijuana—may seal the initiative’s fate long before November.

"Every recent poll except one has shown most Washington voters are now ready to pass the initiative," Holden writes in his op-ed. "But support has slipped since last fall, down to only 51 percent, according to SurveyUSA. The flagging enthusiasm correlates with the escalating effort to stop the initiative."

RE: Chuck Byrnes from HempRock Radio “Burnman”…






High Everyone. We’re sad to say our friend and fellow activist, Chuck ‘the Burnman’ Byrnes from HempRock Radio and TV, is loosing his battle with cancer!

I know he’d love to hear from you all so we’re asking those of you who can’t visit him or reach him by phone, to please leave a message for him on the HempRock Hempline. I will be collecting them over the next few days and will burn them all on a CD for him to listen to. You can leave up to a 3 minute message.

Thanx from me and Burnman!

HempRock Hempline 513-68-4-HEMP (4367)

When It Comes To Marijuana Prohibition, The April Fool’s Day Joke Is On Us




OREGON–(ENEWSPF)–April 1, 2012.  Ending marijuana prohibition is a serious issue. However, politicians are rarely willing to take the issue seriously. Some of the stuff that comes out of their mouths would suggest that they are joking, but they are completely serious. I read a media report that exemplifies the stupidity that permeates the halls of Washington D.C. not too long ago. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) told a constituent via letter that he doesn’t support the idea of marijuana legalization because marijuana can lead to death.

Almost every argument that marijuana opponents make should have a disclaimer at the end that states, ‘April Fool’s!’ because hardly any of their arguments are based in fact. The phrase that marijuana opponents are throwing around right now most often is that ‘if marijuana prohibition ends, there will be a ‘stoned driver epidemic.’ I would point to a study in AMERICA by the National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who said the following, “Comparing traffic deaths over time in states with and without medical marijuana law changes, the researchers found that fatal car wrecks dropped by 9% in states that legalized medical use — which was largely attributable to a decline in drunk driving. The researchers controlled for other factors like changes in driving laws and the number of miles driven that could affect the results.” The link I provided in this paragraph clearly shows that worries about drugged driving are exaggerated.

I don’t have a team of researchers and untold resources to find facts like politicians and the government. So why is it so easy for me to find these obvious facts, yet the government and politicians act like they don’t exist? Is it an April Fool’s Day joke? Or is it blatant lying, because they say this stupid stuff 365 days a year? The fact of the matter is that when it comes to marijuana prohibition, the joke is on America. The joke is on all of the people that can’t get college aid because they were caught one time with marijuana in the wrong state. The joke is on all of the unemployed people that would love to work a legitimate job in the cannabusiness industry, but they are forced to live in poverty or pursue a non-honest living. The joke is on suffering patients that would love to give up their organ-killing pills for a harmless plant, but they are forced to be slaves to big pharm.

It’s beyond time that the citizens of America stand up, marijuana consumers and non-marijuana consumers, and demand that the government and politicians take this issue seriously, instead of trying to act like it’s some 365 day long April Fool’s joke. Generating tax revenue from a more than willing cannabis industry is a serious issue. Directing police resources towards REAL crime is a serious issue. Helping suffering people is a serious issue. Trying to figure out a way to harness the power of hemp for energy and textile purposes is a serious issue. The solution to so many problems is staring politicians and government officials in the face. Hopefully they quit trying to act the fool, and start taking their jobs seriously.

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Richard Lee is giving up his downtown Oakland-based pot businesses after a federal raid bankrupted him.


Above:  U.S. marshals stand at the entrance of Oaksterdam University in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, April 2, 2012. The federal agents raided the medical marijuana training school at the heart of California’s pot legalization movement. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

OAKLAND, Calif.—The founder of a Northern California medical marijuana training school said Friday he was giving up his downtown Oakland-based pot businesses after a federal raid bankrupted him.

Richard Lee has been instrumental in pushing for ballot measures to legalize the drug, giving more than $1.5 million as the lead financial backer of a 2010 initiative to legalize the drug in the state. He said he will now focus solely on his advocacy work.

"I am now in this legal situation, so it’s better for me to step aside," Lee said.

Internal Revenue Service and Drug Enforcement Administration agents on Monday raided Oaksterdam University, Lee’s home and a medical marijuana dispensary he also founded. The purpose of the raids hasn’t been disclosed.

Oaksterdam University offers classes to would-be medical marijuana providers in fields ranging from horticulture to business to the legal ins-and-outs of running a dispensary. It does not distribute marijuana.

Agents confiscated marijuana, computers and files from Lee’s businesses, making it difficult to continue operations, he said. The university has held some classes since the raid and is soliciting donations to stay up and running. Oaksterdam Executive Chancellor Dale Sky Jones is working to put together a new leadership team for the school, he said.

Lee said the agents who came to his home Monday morning showed him search warrants but did not tell him what they were seeking or the purpose of their investigation.

"It was something we’ve always feared, but we’ve always known it’s a part of the politics of this issue," Lee said.

Federal prosecutors in San Francisco, who have been leading a months-long crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries, did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Lee said he was not interrogated but simply detained while the agents conducted the raids. He was not arrested.

Lee said his decision to step back from the businesses was not part of any deal with investigators.

"We don’t know if it will make any difference at all to them," he said.

But the 49-year-old paraplegic and former roadie said he hopes the raid will make a difference in promoting the pro-marijuana legalization agenda.

A street protest drew several hundred demonstrators to downtown Oakland within a few hours of the raids, and more than 18,000 have signed Lee’s online petition on demanding an end to the federal crackdown on medical marijuana in California.