Archive for January, 2009

Decriminalization at Home has Implications Overseas

…if you call Canada ‘overseas’, that is. And we’re fine with that!

Over the years, Canada has, unfortunately, adopted the ‘war on drugs’ that their southern neighbors held so dear. Their policies are still much more progressive than those in the US, but talk of decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana in Canada is usually abandoned due to the complications that would provide with US law.

All that falls apart, though, when states in the US (like Massachusetts) start decriminalizing marijuana. As the Vancouver Sun reports, changes like these might allow foreign countries (such as Canada) to ease up on their drug polices. (Unfortunately, the opposite is happening between The Netherlands and Germany).

What’s really interesting about this article is the tone. Generally, US journalism about the war on drugs is bent towards the status quo (ie, against decriminalization), with the very notable exception of liberal, niche-market newspapers. Note the way that the Sun reports on the implications of changing marijuana policies, and the statistics that they cite. It’s only one example, but it provides a stunning contrast with the vast majority of the articles I have read about Question 2 (and I’ve read almost every single one written in the last month on the subject).

In Canada, drugs are a provincial matter (just as they are a statewide matter here), and British Columbia laws regarding possession and drug use are far, far better than what most states in the US have adopted (and, in some ways, better than any state in the US). And the sky hasn’t fallen there yet, has it?

And just in case you missed it in the article:

Among 15- to 19-year-olds in B.C., occasional and regular use of cannabis is higher than is tobacco use. The lifetime use of cannabis in B.C. for those 15 and over is 52.1 per cent, the highest in Canada.

First of all, the lifetime use statistic is slightly higher than the one I generally see quoted for the US (and it surpasses the 50% benchmark!), but that’s not surprising. In order for these studies to report data, people have to admit to use, and local drug laws (or local culture and societal norms, which influence local drug laws), might dissuade a person from admitting their past use.

But more importantly – the newspaper actually reported the statistic. I would challenge you all to search Google news for ‘Massachusetts marijuana’ and go through each article until you find a statistic such as that.

And this is an important lesson for us activists – while political pressure (in the form of letters, phonebanking, etc.) is a good tactic, the media does control public perception, which in turn controls voting preferences, which in turn controls political pressure. Thus, putting pressure on media outlets is just as important as putting pressure on politicians, lest we forget.

January 8, 2009 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

Marijuana Tops Change.org

At change.org, which is an independent site that is also (like change.gov) collecting ideas for the new administration, the top issue is currently the legalization of medicinal and recreational use of marijuana.

The margin is only a few hundred votes, and these ideas will be presented to Obama on the day of his inauguration. Please take the time to vote and ensure that marijuana policy reform stays at the top of the list.

January 7, 2009 at 5:47 pm 1 comment

The Fight

Possession in Massachusetts is now decriminalized at the state level end-of-story-well-sort-of, but that doesn’t stop towns from passing their own bylaws banning public use. And if those laws are creatively crafted/applied, they could end up neutralizing a large part of what Question 2 did for us.

Especially if they make public use a criminal, misdemeanor offense.

Here is a letter that all residents of Boston should send to Mayor Menino. It is very adaptable to any other city – just replace the percentage of your city that supported the measure with the correct number and address the letter to your own mayor. If you live in a town, then address the letter the the appropriate official. (All contact information should be available on your city or town website).

The Honorable Thomas Menino

Mayor of Boston

1 City Hall Square, Suite 500

Boston, MA 02201-2013

Dear Mayor Menino:

I am writing to urge you to condemn any effort to recriminalize possession of marijuana in our city. While I recognize the arguments for outlawing public smoking of marijuana, I feel that any punishment should also take the form of a civil fine. When 71% of our city cast their ballots in favor of the Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative, we sent a strong message that we do not believe that personal use of marijuana is a crime – hence the term decriminalized.

As it stands, smoking marijuana in public is already illegal. Violators will have the marijuana confiscated and will be punished with a $100 fine. For many in our city, $100 is already steep sum, and, if that is coupled with an additional fine for public use, few will be willing to risk such an expensive activity.

We object, therefore, to the efforts to make public use of marijuana a misdemeanor offense. We voted for the measure – by a staggering margin! – specifically to avoid the hassle and expense to the city (and therefore taxpayers) of a criminal trial. Any effort to punish public use of marijuana as a criminal offense is thus tantamount to undermining 71% of our electorate.

Please consider the implications of ignoring what more than two-thirds of this city wants. On November 4th, we became a very vocal majority, and we want to ensure that our vote matters – that possession or use of less than an ounce of marijuana be treated as a civil violation and not a criminal offense.

Sincerely,

We worked hard for this law, and let’s make sure that our cities and towns don’t try to rob us of any part of the victory we had on November 4th.

January 6, 2009 at 5:33 am Leave a comment

Why Medicinal Use Matters

The reasons for supporting marijuana policy reform are as many and varied as there are advocates of marijuana policy reform. Medicinal use is only one, but right now, it is a very important one.

I find it hard to believe that there can be any significant change in marijuana policy without a change in the way law-abiding patients acting with a prescription are treated. Currently, patients in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington are subject to federal prosecution and violent raids by the DEA. At least they’re safe under state law, right?

Not so fast. According to a recent ruling by the California Supreme Court, people who supply marijuana to patients with a prescription are still subject to arrest as if they were drug dealers.

That’s funny – I thought the whole point of legalizing medicinal use was that medicinal use would be, you know, no longer a crime.

And therein lies the problem. How can we expect people to decriminalize marijuana on a wide scale – let alone legalize it- when law enforcement fails to recognize its use as a legitimate medicine?

Maybe I should clarify that: they recognize that marijuana is a legitimate medicine… they just believe that legal distribution and use of a medicine is a crime, even with a prescription and license.

In Michigan, the initiative to legalize medicinal marijuana received a greater portion of the vote than Obama did. (The same holds for the Massachusetts initiative to decriminalize small possession, and I am convinced that, had Massachusetts instead held a vote on medicinal use, it would have passed with over 70% of the vote.) It is no secret that a disproportionately large proportion of the elderly vote, compared to their children/grandchildren, and these voters are more likely to be sympathetic to medicinal use for ailments such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and others. These voters are less likely to support decriminalization or legalization for personal use (though as many as 70% in Massachusetts were polled as supporting decriminalization as well).

Once people accept marijuana as a medicine – thereby accepting that has beneficial properties – they are more likely to adjust their view of marijuana as a ‘dangerous, corruptive, gateway drug’ and start seeing it as it truly is.

We have reports of legislative efforts in Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York already, and it is very easy to start a campaign in your home state if there isn’t already one. (Contact us if you have any questions). It is key at this point to show strong support for state legislation legalizing medicinal marijuana, and it is also a very winnable battle, so let’s get to it!

January 5, 2009 at 5:03 am Leave a comment

New Directions for New York

The Drug Policy Alliance and the New York Academy of Medicine are co-hosting New Directions for New York, a conference on new options for drug policy in the state.

The description, as given on the event page, reads:

For too long, New York’s response to drug policy issues has relied heavily on a criminal justice approach. The Drug Policy Alliance and the New York Academy of Medicine have come together to convene a conference that will put forward New Directions for New York. This conference will bring together community advocates, researchers, service providers and legislators from all over the state in order to build a Public Health & Safety Approach to Drug Policy. For the first time, these various groups will participate in sessions and trainings that emphasize the need for better communication and a coordinated response to the drug policy issues facing New York. Using a public health framework, the conference will challenge participants to develop concrete proposals for improving the health of individuals, families, and communities in New York who are affected by substance use and misuse.

More information and registration can be found at the event page.

January 4, 2009 at 6:48 pm Leave a comment

Medicinal Marijuana in New Jersey?

Last month, a Senate Health Committee in New Jersey approved a medicinal marijuana bill by a 6-1 vote. This allows the issue to face the New Jersey State Senate for – unless I am mistaken – the first time in history.

Aside from the obvious, why is this significant? States such as California and Michigan passed their medicinal use laws through ballot initiatives. New Jersey does not allow ballot initiatives, which means that any change in the their laws must come from the legislature. In other words, this is the first step down the only path by which medicinal marijuana can be legalized in New Jersey.

The Drug Policy Alliance has a good automated form letter that New Jersey residents can use to urge their state senators to support the bill.

Letters are a good. Sometimes, the officials will even respond. However, in a state issue such as this one, phonebanking can be immensely successful. The office must keep a running tally of all call received, and with each senator representing such small areas, just a few calls represent a huge level of support.

Calling your state senator is surprisingly quick – seriously, time it, and you should be done with the whole process of looking up the number, calling, and reading from the script in less than four minutes. If you’re slow, that is.

To look up your state senator, go to www.votesmart.org and enter your 9-digit ZIP code (USPS has a form to look this up if you don’t know it).

Click on your state senator (not your senator in Congress!) and click ‘complete contact information’. Call this number, ask for the office of __________ (your state senator), and read any or all of the following:

I am calling to urge Senator __________ to support the current legislation to legalize medicinal use of marijuana. It is unconscionable to deny patients the benefits of a medicine that has been proven by over 20,000 medical studies to have beneficial properties. These applications range from treating headaches and nausea to treating diabetes, MRSA, glaucoma, cancer, and AIDS.

Medicinal use is not the same as recreational use. New Jersey’s laws on recreational use are firm. However, we cannot deny patients the benefits of a medicine simply because of its potential for abuse. Just as Valium, OxyContin, and Ritalin are all available with a prescription, marijuana should be as well.

DEA Judge young once declared,

Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.

I support the medicinal use of marijuana, and I hope that Senator _______ will voice his support as well.

That’s it. You can even read the whole thing in a monotone (though expression helps!). They have to take note of it regardless.

If you have the time (and seriously, who doesn’t have five minutes and 42 cents?), you can both send the letter and call the office. But, between the two, it might be worthwhile to call the office. These offices generally receive a low level of calls, and if supporters of the bill flood the office with calls, they are more likely to vote for the bill – and even openly support the bill with an endorsement.

If you live in New Jersey, do make the small effort to show your support for this law as a constituent, one way or the other (or both).

January 3, 2009 at 4:30 pm Leave a comment

Massachusetts Decriminalization Takes Effect Today

Today is the day that possession of less than an ounce is decriminalized in Massachusetts. From today, possession will no longer be a criminal offense and will be punished by a $100 civil violation and confiscation of the contraband.

However, there are some things to keep in mind. Lynda M. Connolly, the Chief Justice, issued a pamphlet about the new law.

Here are some basics:

In some districts, the police are threatening not to enforce the new law altogether. They may run into some issues in court when it is revealed that they are arresting citizens for a non-criminal offense (imagine trying to handcuff someone for rolling a stop sign or forgetting to feed the meter). Still you may be best avoiding the situation altogether.

Some towns are passing bylaws making public smoking of marijuana a misdemeanor criminal offense. Because these laws vary from town, it is hard to make a blanket statement about all of them, but it is possible that some could be worded badly enough that they apply to possession in public as well. Thus, it would be advisable not to walk down the street with a dime bag in your hands.

And, keep in mind – while marijuana has been decriminalized, it has not been legalized. $100 tickets could start to add up, and while they will not create a criminal record, they nevertheless do create a viewable record. If your job (or a job you aspire to have) forbids drug use, you would be best avoiding the fine altogether.

Before, police enforced the marijuana possession law weakly. Now, as evidenced on MassCops, they will be much stricter. Be smart – lighting up a joint in the middle of the Commons (or even a back alley) is probably not a good idea.

Also, the only law that has been changed is the one regarding possession of less than an ounce. Other violations, such as possession of more than an ounce, purchase, sale, and intent to distribute, are all still criminal offenses, and the police are likely to be more strict about those offenses with this new law. Dividing up half an ounce into two or more bags could be considered intent to distribute. It would be advisable not to risk the criminal offense – don’t divide up your stash into multiple parts. And passing a joint back and forth could be considered distribution, rather than simply possession.

In other words: While the penalties for possession have decreased, the risk of heavier charges instead of possession has increased. Use the same precautions under the new law that you used under the old law.

Lastly, OUIs are still criminal offenses. Not to mention that they are dangerous. Do not take the new law as an opportunity to drive while stoned. Officers no doubt will try and charge people with OUI instead of possession even when a driver is sober. Don’t make it any easier for them.

We worked hard to decriminalize marijuana in Massachusetts on the grounds that most marijuana users are safe and responsible. This is our chance to prove that we were right – let’s make the most of it.

Remember, Legal.Now does not encourage criminal activity. (Thankfully, though, possession is no longer a criminal activity in Massachusetts!) On a serious note, though, this post is not meant to encourage readers to smoke marijuana simply because of the change in law. Rather, it is meant as a bit of guidance as to what the changes in the law mean.

January 2, 2009 at 4:02 am Leave a comment

Happy New Year from Legal.Now!

It’s the new year. Everyone has New Year’s resolutions – and we at Legal.Now are no different. So here are our resolutions – may each and every single one come to pass before 2009 is out!

1. An end to federal raids on law-abiding medicinal marijuana patients.
Under Barack Obama’s administration, this is easily the most significant and most 
accomplishable change we can expect this year. Obama has already promised to end federal 
raids of law-abiding medicinal marijuana patients, and with enough pressure from activists, he
can effect this change without any loss in political capital.


2. Proper enforcement of ‘lowest priority’ laws in districts such as Santa Cruz and Missoula County.
While ‘lowest priority’ laws are certainly commendable, reports such as the one released last month in Missoula County leave reason to doubt that they are actually being followed. When voters speak and legislation is enacted, law enforcement has an obligation to follow the legislation.
3. Successful decriminalization in Massachusetts.
Huh? Didn’t they vote on this just two months ago? Well, yes, but just because a law is on the books doesn’t mean anything actually changes.  As far as I am concerned, ‘success’ in Massachusetts will mean at least three things:
1. The law will not be repealed.
2. Violators will be charged with the appropriate offense (ie, not charged with intent to distribute when the real offense is clearly posession of a few grams in a single bag).
3. There are no negative consequences to the law (such as a sudden spike in violent crime).
4. The media does not portray the law unfavorably.
I am not particularly worried about #3, because every study shows that marijuana use is not connected to violent crime in any way. (Sale and traffiking is another matter). As for the media, while they have not been reporting the facts as faithfully as one would like, they have not been overly biased against the law either. Thus, I would expect that the media will slightly over-emphasize the possibility of negative ramifications, but not any more than they normally do. In all, as long as Massachusetts residents put enough pressure on the legislature not to repeal the law and there is enough pressure on the judicial side to enforce the law fairly, I think that the new law will be a successs.
As you can see, with these three resolutions, we have our work cut out for us, but all three are within the range of possibility. If you have any further ideas for resolutions, contact us, so that we may take proper action.
Happy new year to all!

January 1, 2009 at 3:51 am Leave a comment

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