Already Four States Have Marijuana Legalization Bills In Play; Californians To Vote On Legalization in 2010
It can readily be said that 2009 was one of the busiest and most productive years in cannabis law reform since NORML’s founding in 1970. However, it appears as if 2010 is going to be an even busier year–notably marked by the increasing number of actual state legalization bills and a voter initiative in America’s most important state.
Currently, there is legalization legislation pending in California, Massachusetts, Vermont, and a legalization bill was just introduced this week in Washington. Frankly, most of these bills do not have a strong prospect in passing this time out, however the immense public discussion that is generated is crucial for overall reform efforts.
The formula is simple: No public discussion or debate about legalization, obviously equates to no substantive law reforms. This is what regrettably happened in the United States, Canada and Europe from 1980-2000, buttressed by extreme federal anti-marijuanism in the form of the DARE program in the public school, the blitzkrieg of Partnership for a Drug-Free America ads polluting media airwaves and omnibus federal crime bills overloaded with severe and costly penalties (i.e., mandatory minimum sentencing, civil forfeiture, mass drug testing, etc…). However, since the turn of the century, there have been ever-increasing public discussions and debates about marijuana prohibition–principally driven by the creation and implementation of medical cannabis laws in thirteen states–which is leading to greater public support for reform.
Many adults in the United States are willing to legalize marijuana, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 53 per cent of respondents support this notion, while 43 per cent are opposed.
Less than 10 per cent of respondents support the legalization of other drugs, such as ecstasy, powder cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine or “crystal meth” and crack cocaine.
The use of marijuana is illegal in the U.S. except in some regulated cases of medical use. The amount allowed for such purposes varies depending on the state. Some states have passed laws to reduce law enforcement for possession of small amounts of the substance.
In May, Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, ruled out a push to legalize marijuana, adding, “I’ve never advocated legalization and certainly the president has made it clear that’s his position.”
53% support for marijuana legalization! This is a nationwide sampling with a margin of error of ±3.1%, which means that unless the sample was wildly inaccurate, we can safely say a majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization.
Legalizing medical marijuana in New Jersey: What life will be like in the marijuana Garden State
A medical marijuana patient at right smells cannabis at Coffeeshop Blue Sky, a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, Calif. There has been a growing public sentiment towards legalizing marijuana in the state of California. Credit: MCT
The latest reports out of Trenton are that by the time the current governor leaves office, New Jersey is likely to have a law authorizing medical marijuana. So on a recent trip to California I decided to check out a marijuana clinic to see what the future will be like.
I was amazed at what I witnessed when I first walked in the door of the clinic on a downtown street in Oakland. The proponents of medical marijuana argue that those who need it are often suffering from dreadful, debilitating diseases. So I felt great sympathy for the patients as I watched them walk into the back room of the clinic to get their prescriptions filled. I could only imagine the agony these poor, unfortunate souls must have been experiencing.
Medical marijuana advocates released a poll Monday they said shows overwhelming support — by a 2-to-1 margin — for licensing and regulating cannabis dispensaries popping up across Colorado.
The poll comes as lawmakers are drafting legislation to regulate the burgeoning industry, a response to legal developments that have left local governments and medical marijuana dispensaries seeking clarity.
"There's vast public support for responsibly regulated medical marijuana," said Matt Brown, executive director of Coloradoans for Medical Marijuana Regulation, a coalition of dispensaries and growers that helped sponsor the poll.
However, Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican who has opposed medical marijuana as violating federal law, made little of the poll results.
"It's easy to say in a vacuum that voters support the type of medical marijuana distribution system that the dispensary owners advocate, but the devil is in the details," Suthers said. "Once the voters understand the full extent that the current system is being abused to allow healthy young people to procure marijuana, they will be much less likely to support it."
The telephone poll of 500 likely Colorado voters asked just one question regarding medical marijuana.
In the survey, which had a margin of error of 4.38 percent, respondents were first told there were "some proposals that voters might be voting on in the election next November."
A bud of legally grown marijuana is held by a cancer patient, in Portland, Maine. Credit: AP Photo
It's boom times for the marijuana trade in Northern California. Rural Humboldt County's economy depends on both the legal and illegal sales of pot, as growers to trimmers to entrepreneurs aim to land quick cash. But some citizens, and the mayor of Arcata, are trying to "rope back in" the business.
It's not easy to tell the difference between legal medical marijuana and illegal recreational pot.
And because doctors are prescribing pot to just about anyone who wants it, these are boom times for the marijuana trade.
Decades after back-to-the-land hippies first moved to rural Humboldt County in Northern California, it remains a mecca for marijuana.
At the plaza in downtown Arcata, there are still wandering, tie-dyed souls playing guitar and bartering for handmade bongs. They openly buy, sell and trade small bags of primo weed.
Nick Larson and his buddy hitchhiked to town to see if the streets truly are paved with pot.
"We've heard stories all the way down. 'Dude, get down to Humboldt. You gotta try their weed, it's amazing!' " he says. "So we get down here and people are like, tossing handouts, and we're just like, 'Oh my god.' Like, whether it be trim or just straight buds, it's just amazing."
In Eureka, the town next door, a long line stretches outside the Humboldt Patient Resource Center. The pot dispensary is marked with the familiar green leaf logo and a Tibetan prayer flag.
Thirteen states in America have made it legal in the past 13 years to smoke marijuana for medical reasons.
Another two states have eased the penalties against using marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Three states have licensed nonprofit corporations to grow medical marijuana and two state legislatures, in California and Massachusetts, are conducting hearings on whether to legalize pot.
In Europe, seven countries have decriminalized marijuana. In Latin America, the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico — all demoralized by the violence associated with the illegal drug trade - have proposed the repeal of prohibition.
The U.S. Justice Department recently announced the sensible policy that it would not use federal laws to prosecute medical-marijuana producers or users in states where the practices are legal.
All of these developments are, according to The Economist magazine, evidence of "a tentative worldwide shift towards a more liberal policy on drugs."
Widespread legalization and licensing of drugs such as marijuana won’t happen quickly, The Economist reported in its Nov. 14 edition. "But a debate about regulation is increasingly drowning out the one about enforcement."
In the United States, the shift toward decriminalization and conditional legalization has been driven not by left-wing radicals but by majorities of voters in states representing a diverse range of political views.
There was an old hippy saying in the '60s: "If the government figured out a way to tax it, marijuana would become legal." As of last week, Colorado has apparently crossed that Rubicon—at least for the prescribed version.
John Suthers, the state's Republican attorney general, issued an opinion on Nov. 16 that yes, the state of Colorado does have the authority to tax medical marijuana. The opinion was in response to a request for legal clarification from Colorado's Democratic Governor (and former Denver District Attorney) Bill Ritter. The governor's office hasn't indicated whether they support taxing medical marijuana, they simply wanted an official opinion on the state's authority to do so.
Before we get to my talk with Mr. Mirken, let’s touch on the history of marijuana criminalization in the United States.
1915-1937: Twenty-seven states pass laws prohibiting the use of marijuana. Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Montana lead the way.
1937: The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. At Congressional hearings, Harry Anslinger, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, stated, “Marihuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.” Contrasting testimony came from Dr. William C. Woodward. Dr. Woodward was both a doctor and a lawyer, and served as Chief Counsel to the American Medical Association. He said, “The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marihuana is a dangerous drug.”
Retail shops are a sort of second wave of medical marijuana.
California first approved the use of medical marijuana in 1996, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the state approved the creation of distribution centers. Now medical marijuana stores are sprouting like weeds in Los Angeles (sorry); the city council could vote today to limit their number, the WSJ reports.
Hundreds of stores have opened in the past year, and the city now has somewhere around 1,000 marijuana dispensaries. By contrast, San Francisco, which has more rules governing the shops, has about 30.
Customs officials at the Los Angeles Harbor received a shipment from China listed as Christmas ornaments.
But when they opened the "presents" Tuesday, they found 316,000 bongs and pipes.