Majority of Americans Now Support Legalizing and Regulating Marijuana like Alcohol
Senator John McCain: “I Respect the Will of the People”
By Steve Elliott
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, September 10, will hold the first-ever Senate hearing on the issue of marijuana legalization and the tension between state and federal marijuana laws.
Colorado and Washington last November became the first political jurisdictions in the world to approve the legal regulation of marijuana. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have also approved the medical use of marijuana.
The witnesses at Tuesday's hearing will include Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel to Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper, and the Honorable John Urquhart, Sheriff of King County in Seattle, an outspoken proponent of marijuana law reform.
Witnesses are expected to testify regarding the unnecessary challenges placed on regulators and law enforcers by lack of access to banking services and the resulting cash-based business structure.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET in the Hart Senate Office Building, Room 216.
On August 29, the Department of Justice issued a directive to federal prosecutors instructing them not to interfere with state marijuana laws – as long as a number of stipulations are adhered to, such as preventing distribution to minors.
By Steve Elliott
A huge pro-marijuana billboard now greets visitors to Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos, thanks to the Marijuana Policy Project.
MPP is continuing its strategy of advertising at our near popular American sports events with the billboard purchase just outside Sports Authority Field at Mile High, reports Dan Carson at Bleacher Report.
"Stop Driving Players To Drink," the billboard scolds the National Football League, referring to the NFL's policy of punishing players for smoking marijuana, but allowing alcohol use.
"NFL players are being told that they can go out and get completely drunk, but face no punishment from the leagues," MPP spokesman Mason Tvert said. "But if a player gets caught using marijuana, they could be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars, forced to sit out games and deemed a troublemaker."
MPP had attempted to air a promotional video at the Indianapolis Speedway in July during the Brickyard 400, but the ad was pulled before the race began.
MPP reportedly paid $5,000 for the ad space. The billboard is located one block west of the stadium.
Colorado voters, like those in Washington state, last November legalized marijuana for adults. Last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal government won't interfere with the state laws legalizing cannabis -- at least not right now.
By Steve Elliott
It's no wonder that New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie has been foot-dragging for years when it comes to implementation of his state's medical marijuana law, signed by his Democratic predecessor Jon Corzine on Corzine's last day in office: He really hates cannabis.
While speaking to a crowd in Point Pleasant, N.J., on Thursday, Gov. Christie said the Obama Administration's decision to not legally challenge marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington was "a mistake" that essentially legalizes cannabis, reports Susan K. Livio at The Star-Ledger. Christie vowed that "will never happen" in New Jersey while he is governor. But something tells me Christie doesn't have to worry about a second term.
Christie was responding to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that the Obama Administration would not challenge the decision by Colorado and Washington voters to legalize marijuana possession.
"Based on assurances that those states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system, the Department is deferring its right to challenge the legalization laws at this time," the memo read. "Marijuana is and remains illegal under federal law."
Christie, a former U.S. Attorney, claimed Holder overstepped his authority.
Colorado and Washington to Establish Systems for State-Regulated Marijuana Retail Sales
By Steve Elliott
At a Thursday press briefing, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it will allow Colorado and Washington to move forward with implementation of laws establishing state-regulated systems of marijuana production and distribution.
Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of Washington and Colorado that the DoJ would "allow" the states to create a system of regulation implementing the ballot initiatives that legalized adult use of marijuana, reports Ryan Grim at The Huffington Post.
The directive will also apply to the 20 states that have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole also issued a three-and-a-half page memo to U.S. Attorneys.
"The Department's guidance in this memorandum rests on its expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health and other law enforcement interests," Cole's memo reads. "A system adequate to that task must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice."
The memo outlines eight priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing marijuana laws. According to the new guidance, DoJ will still prosecute individuals or entities to prevent:
• The distribution of cannabis to minors;
Attorney General Holder Invited to Hearing Scheduled for September 10
By Steve Elliott
Senator Patrick Leahy (D–VT) on Monday invited Attorney General Eric Holder to a September 10 hearing to clarify the federal response to states that have passed marijuana laws in conflict with federal policy.
"It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal," Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Monday, reports US News.
"I believe that these state laws should be respected," Leahy said. "At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government."
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and Colorado and Washington last year became the first places in the world to legalize and regulate marijuana for personal use.
Holder has been saying that an announcement clarifying the federal response to these new state laws would be coming “soon” since last year. In the meantime, the federal government has continued to crack down on medical marijuana providers, leaving states and local communities unsure how best to proceed.
By Steve Elliott
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's proposal to dial back mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders will likely find a receptive audience among Americans, whose attitudes towards marijuana use are the most relaxed they've ever been. Americans, research shows, are highly skeptical of the value of enforcing marijuana laws.
A March survey from the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of Americans believe enforcing the marijuana laws costs more than they are worth, reports Andrea Caumont at Pew. Sixty percent said the federal government should not enforce federal laws against cannabis in states where it is legal.
There is broad agreement across partisan and demographic groups that enforcing the marijuana laws is not worth the cost. While some partisan differences exist, 78 percent of independents, 71 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans said marijuana enforcement costs more than it is worth.
Older Americans are less likely to say enforcing the marijuana laws is too costly: 63 percent of those older than 65 say this, compared with 72 percent of those aged 50-64, 73 percent of those aged 30-49 and 76 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds.
Bipartisan Support Grows In Congress for Overhauling U.S. Drug Laws
By Steve Elliott
In a Monday speech to the American Bar Association, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to announce major federal sentencing changes, including dropping the use of mandatory minimum sentencing in certain drug cases, expediting the release of certain nonviolent elderly prisoners, leaving more offenses to state courts to deal with, and working with Congress to pass bipartisan sentencing reform.
In the future, many low-level charges against dealers not judged to be part of a large gang or cartel will no longer detail how much they were caught with, side-stepping the federal minimum sentencing laws, reports Dan Roberts at The Guardian. A memo outlining the new policy will be sent out to U.S. Attorneys by the Justice Department, reports CBS This Morning
Bi-Partisan Support Grows In Congress for Overhauling U.S. Drug Laws
Drug Policy Alliance Urges Administration to Think Big and Leave a Lasting Legacy
In an interview with NPR that aired on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said there are too many people in prison and it is time for federal sentencing reform. He could announce major changes as early as next week.
In the NPR interview Holder said: “The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old. There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”
“Attorney General Holder is clearly right to condemn mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Both he and the president have an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy by securing substantial, long overdue drug policy reform.”
A team of lawyers at the Justice Department is reportedly working on proposals that Holder could present as early as a speech next week. Some of the proposals could include de-prioritizing low-level drug offense.
Sen. Murray, Sen. Cantwell, and five U.S. Reps. emphasize the need to address the serious banking issue plaguing legitimate businesses
By Steve Elliott
In a June 17 letter, seven members of the Washington Congressional delegation urged U.S. Attorney Eric Holder and the Department of Justice to “respect the will of the voters” and honor Colorado and Washington’s right to tax and regulate marijuana sales to adults.
Seven months after the historic passage of Initiative 502 in Washington and Amendment 64 in Colorado, the Department of Justice has yet to indicate its intentions regarding the laws; the letter cites the expense already incurred by both states in implementation and the lost potential for economic advancement as two compelling reasons the delegation desires a statement be made without further delay.
Recreational marijuana sales in Washington are expected to begin in early 2014 unless DOJ does something to stop that from happening.
"We urge DOJ to expeditiously announce a course of action that will respect the will of these voters, and to work cooperatively with our states during the implementation of these laws," the lawmakers wrote.
By Steve Elliott
Attorney General Eric Holder encountered an unhappy crowd of dozens of pro-marijuana protesters at the University of California Berkeley's campus on Saturday when he visited to address the graduating law school class.
During Holder's visit to campus, an airplane circled above Berkeley's Greek Theater for more than two hours, pulling a banner reading "Holder: End Rx Cannabis War #Peace4Patients," reports Carly Schwartz at The Huffington Post. As the Attorney General's limo turned toward the graduation ceremony, demonstrators were waving signs reading "Fight Crime, Not Cannabis."
"There's no doubt we got the A.G.'s attention," said California NORML President Dale Gieringer. "He can't come to Berkeley and not be reminded of his department's bad faith with respect to marijuana."
Holder and the Obama Administration have been harshly criticized for the stepped-up federal crackdown on the medical marijuana industry in California and other states which allow the medicinal use of cannabis.
Though medical marijuana was legalized by California's voters through Proposition 215, a 1996 ballot initiative, cannabis remains illegal for any purpose under federal law.
By Steve Elliott
Law enforcement's eradication of marijuana plants has plunged by more than 60 percent in the last few years, from a record high of more than 20 million plants in 2009 and 2010 to fewer than 4 million plants in 2012, according to newly released federal statistics.
The number of cannabis plants eradicated dropped to 6,735,511 in 2011 and 3,933,950 in 2012, far less than goal of 9 million plants that the Drug Enforcement Administration had hoped to destroy, report Ryan J. Reilly and Matt Sledge at The Huffington Post.
Red-faced DEA officials blamed the steep decline in part on California, claiming in the agency's 2014 budget proposal that the Golden State's financial troubles resulted in "the decreased availability of local law enforcement personnel to assist in eradication efforts."
The DEA also claimed that "drug trafficking organizations" are shifting their cultivation efforts from public lands to private grow areas, and that those who do still grow in parks and on other public land tend to locate in "vast mountainous regions, which are more difficult for law enforcement to detect and reach."
By Steve Elliott
Marijuana legalization on Tuesday got its first hearing in the Oregon Legislature when the House Judiciary conducted a brief hearing on House Bill 3371, which would license producers, processors and sellers of cannabis.
Under HB 3371, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission would have the authority to tax marijuana, but unlike Washington state's Initiative 502, home cultivation would still be permitted, reports Peter Wong of the Salem Statesman Journal.
"Marijuana legalization is coming to Oregon sooner rather than later," said activist Anthony Johnson of New Approach Oregon. "It makes sense to regulate marijuana like alcohol and for the Legislature to take the lead on the issue and make sure sensible regulations are in place."
A survey conducted last week by DHM Research of Portland showed that support for legalization is around the 50 percent mark in Oregon. "It sends a signal to where the voters' attitudes are heading," said John Horvick of DHM.
Predictably, the Oregon State Sheriffs Association is stuck in the past, and opposes legalization, preferring to keep the broad powers over otherwise law-abiding citizens given to law enforcement by the marijuana laws.
States' moves reflect 'new era' of acceptance
By William M. Welch and Donna Leinwand, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES — James Gray once saw himself as a drug warrior, a former federal prosecutor and county judge who sent people to prison for dealing pot and other drug offenses. Gradually, though, he became convinced that the ban on marijuana was making it more accessible to young people, not less.
"I ask kids all the time, and they'll tell you it is easier to get marijuana than a six-pack of beer because that is controlled by the government," he said, noting that drug dealers don't ask for IDs or honor minimum age requirements.
So Gray — who spent two decades as a superior court judge in Orange County, Calif., and once ran for Congress as a Republican — switched sides in the war on drugs, becoming an advocate for legalizing marijuana.
"Let's face reality," he says. "Taxing and regulating marijuana will make it less available to children than it is today."
Green is their signature color. Medicinal marijuana gardeners throughout the state of Oregon enjoyed a plentiful harvest last fall, and look to 2010 as a year of growth, and change.
By Bonnie King, Salem-News
(SALEM, Ore.) - “After living through arrests in the past for growing marijuana, to be able to do it legally, it’s almost entirely stress-free compared to when it was illegal. So to be able to help the people that need this - it warms our hearts,” said Paul Stanford, Executive Director of The Hemp & Cannabis Foundation. The fear of breaking the law has stopped most people for seven decades from considering marijuana, or cannabis, to treat their ailments. That is no longer the rule of the day, as this medical marijuana garden clearly proves.
By Sam Pearson, State Hornet
When a student was caught smoking marijuana in the Tahoe National Forest, he might once have faced charges despite having a medical marijuana card. Instead, in this particular case, prosecutors dropped the charges because of recent changes in drug policy, said Roseville-based defense attorney Toni Carbone.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Oct. 20 the federal government would stop prosecuting medical marijuana users in states that had passed medical marijuana laws, such as California and 12 other states, including Nevada and Oregon.
Carbone has already seen the effects of this change. Her client received no penalty even though park rangers ticketed him for having 1.2 grams of marijuana on federal land, where state medical marijuana laws do not apply.
California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, creating a program that allowed people to obtain doctors' recommendations to use marijuana and obtain it from dispensaries throughout the state.
State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill that would legalize and tax marijuana in California and held a hearing Oct. 28 at the state Capitol as part of the Public Safety Committee, which he chairs. It was the first-ever legislative hearing held on marijuana legalization.