Cannabis in California: A local and federal divide

1 12 2011

The recent history of cannabis in California  demonstrates a split between state and federal law that is rapidly widening. The first U.S. state to have, in 1913, prohibited the use of the devil’s herb imported by Mexican immigrants that was “marijuana”, California was also the first to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis in 1996.

15 years of legal ambiguity on medicinal marijuana

Dancers prepare at a pro-cannabis rally in California

Dancers prepare at a pro-cannabis rally in California

2 weeks ago, medicinal marijuana users celebrated 15 years of Proposition 215, the law legalizing therapeutic use of cannabis in California. The law allows patients in possession of a prescription to grow their own medicine or designate a legal grower (also known as a caregiver) to grow it for them, according to California state law.

Federal law, meanwhile, still does not recognize the therapeutic applications of cannabis, and logically the state laws can not override national laws. Since 1996, however, thousands of clinics have opened across the Golden State.  This  was not accomplished without legal difficulties and not all the dispensaries have remained open, but despite the paradox in legislation, the state’s entrepreneurs still managed to establish an industry of cannabis in California that is now estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

Local economy at risk

Given the very special status of the plant at federal and international levels, the medical cannabis industry in California is exclusively local, from production to distribution. For years the federal government has been trying to destabilize this market by various means.

On October 7th 2011, four District Attorneys in the Golden State claimed in a press conference that their goal was to address the production, distribution and marketing of cannabis in California. Shortly after, they sent dispensary owners an injunction to close their shops within 45 days.

Since then, the IRS has decided to claim retroactive taxes from the dispensaries in addition to new taxes on the sales of something that is still an illegal substance at a national level. This use of the tax system to put an end to an industry that seems to bother Washington is eerily reminiscent of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which taxed cannabis suppliers all over America.

Even the banks are threatened with charges of money laundering if they agree to open accounts for business people  involved in the thriving Californian economy  of producing and distributing medical marijuana!

Medicinal Cannabis Dispensaries targeted

The legal status of dispensaries is comparable to the Dutch coffeeshop system, with one major difference: dispensaries go against American national policy, whereas coffeeshops have been licensed by the Dutch government. Some Californian cannabis clinics have become essential businesses for their local economy thanks to local taxes, while the federal government prefers not to touch a dime of this revenue.

It is these medicinal cannabis dispensaries which are the target of the Obama administration.  A complaint has been  filed by a group of activists and lawyers to stop this crusade against the clinics, targeting the Attorney General of the United States, the director of the DEA Michelle Leonard and the four District Attorneys who acted without authorization from their supervisors.

A confrontation between Washington and L.A?

Cannabis in California

Cannabis in California

The current situation creates a schism between local power and federal power. California’s economy is the eighth largest in the world, and cannabis in California allows the Golden State to prosper at the expense of the federal government and its repressive policies.

Californians have recently re-elected their former Governor and Attorney General Jerry Brown, who has always supported medical marijuana, and has even introduced legislation to improve the legal status of patients with prescriptions for cannabis. He also proposed that the distribution should be taken care of by non-profit organizations.

The support from Governor Brown, the complaint filed against representatives of the federal government and the choice of the people at the polls are all clear indicators of opposition to the policies of the federal government.

All that remains to be seen is how much wider the divide between state and federal law will be allowed to grow before one of the two sides makes a decisive move on the future of cannabis in California.





Medicinal cannabis patients classed as ‘drug addicts’ by Oregon sheriffs

13 04 2011

Despite the amount of illegal firearms and genuinely harmful drugs that America seems to be knee-deep in, police in Oregon are concerned that card-holding medicinal marijuana users might be legally carrying guns.

Under the U. S. Gun Control Act of 1968, guns may not be sold to drug addicts. Most people would agree that this is a good idea, as the mental image of a ‘drug addict’ is almost always negative: shaking, dirty, paranoid, and incapable of rational thought. Nobody wants to arm that person.

An elderly medicinal marijuana user

An elderly medicinal marijuana user in Oregon (image courtesy of NORML)

Concealed Handgun Permits are refused

The sheriffs of Oregon, however, are classing medicinal cannabis users as drug addicts and refusing to issue concealed handgun permits to them. The sheriff’s office, by state law, should not refuse to grant such a license provided a list of conditions is met. These conditions usually  include U.S. citizenship, completing  a gun safety course, no criminal record, no mental illness or substance abuse problems. Again, these are all reasonable requirements, but the medicinal cannabis patients who fulfill them are still being refused the permit.

Use of prescribed marijuana should not limit a person’s rights

Retired school bus driver Cynthia Willis is one such patient, and along with three co-plaintiffs she is part of a potentially landmark case currently under consideration by the Oregon Supreme Court. Cynthia likes to carry a Walther P-22 automatic pistol, which she says she’s never had to draw, for self-defense. She also uses cannabis to control muscle spasms and pain from her arthritis, but says she never uses it when she plans to carry her gun (or drive). So far she’s won two court cases on the argument that prescribed drug use does not disqualify a person from holding a concealed gun permit, and medicinal cannabis is a prescribed drug like any other.

Outdoor medicinal marijuana

An outdoor medicinal marijuana crop in America

More at stake than the right to carry a concealed firearm

What is at stake here is not just the right of medicinal cannabis users to carry (concealed) firearms: by Oregon law, if someone doesn’t have a concealed gun permit but does have a gun license, they can simply carry the gun openly, as Cynthia plans to do if she loses her case. Given the tragic events in Alphen aan den Rijn on Saturday as the latest in a long line of horrific shootings by licensed gun owners throughout the world,  it can be argued that gun licenses should be revoked altogether.

How do you abuse your own medicinal cannabis crop?

The underlying issue of concern in Oregon is the classification of medical marijuana patients as ‘drug addicts’, with all the negative connotations of this epithet. Although cannabis seeds have never been illegal in Oregon, and it was the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of bud back in 1973, courts recently decided that employers had the right to fire medicinal cannabis users. The sheriffs of this county openly argue that the majority of medicinal card holders are abusing the right to use ganja as a medicine, despite the fact that buying, selling, and dispensaries are still prohibited so patients must grow their own (or have someone grow it for them without profit) in order to do so.

Flyer for the Oregon NORML Cannabis Cafe, with buds

NORML is active in Oregon, which was the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis.

Defending the rights of medical marijuana users

Executive Director of NORML Allen St. Pierre is focused on defending the right of every medicinal marijuana card holder to be treated like any other citizen: “A person who uses medical cannabis should not have to give up their fundamental rights as enumerated by the Constitution,”‘ St. Pierre said.

Source material for this article here .





Cannabis Debates Begin Tomorrow

4 02 2011

In response to the current plans for limiting the right to buy cannabis to Dutch residents, and other related restrictions, a series of debates are taking place throughout the Netherlands during February and March. Beginning tomorrow (05/02) at the Cannabis College in Amsterdam, the Cannabis Debates are open to everyone over the age of 18 and attendance (14:00 to 17:00) is free.

Workable Cannabis Policy
The Cannabis Debates are organized by the VOC (lit. Society for the Abolition of Cannabis Prohibition) and THC (Taskforce for Cannabis Management), an independent work-group including members of the National Platform of Coffeeshop Unions (LOC) and the VOC. Their aim is to present a workable and well supported alternative to the potentially disastrous schemes favoured by the Cabinet.

This alternative is a clear and regulated management of cannabis, including growing, for personal use and would effectively remove the ‘back-door’ criminality from the ‘front-door’ legal sales. The contradiction between illegal wholesale supply and decriminalized personal supply is the root of the problems with the tolerance policy, caused not by going ‘too far’ as many politicians seem to think, but by not going far enough.
Concept model 'Van Gedogen Tot Handhaven'

Be part of the Cannabis Debates
The management concept presented by THC sets out a practical and safe system for regulating the cannabis trade and is entitled ‘Van Gedogen Naar Handhaven’ (‘From Tolerance To Management’). Contributions and suggestions are welcome from everyone who attends the debates (please bear in mind that the main language will be Dutch). Considering that the Tweede Kamer began their own debate on moving from cannabis tolerance to zero tolerance exactly a year ago today, the Cannabis Debates offer an essential opportunity to find a saner solution that must not be missed.

Other debate dates:

Zaterdag 26 februari:
Coffeeshop The Pink, Willemstraat 35, Eindhoven

Zaterdag 5 maart:
Koffieshop De Os, Korfmakersstraat 2, Leeuwarden

Maandag 21 maart:
Live 330 / Cremers, Korte Molenstraat 2, Den Haag

Source: VOC Nederland, Zaterdag 5 februari eerste cannabis debat in amsterdam





Dutch Coffeeshop Pass System Approved By European Court

16 12 2010

Coffeeshops will be effectively restricted from selling cannabis to non-residents, and Amsterdam is no exception. The controversial ‘weed pass’ system planned by the new Dutch government is not in conflict with the European treaty on free movement of goods, nor the current anti-discriminatory legislation, it was announced yesterday.

Man smoking a joint in an Amsterdam coffeeshop

Will tourists still be allowed to share cannabis bought by a resident?

The coalition government, already troubled by internal conflict and scandal in their first few months, asked that the European Court examine the new measure for possible conflict with existing legislation. The European Court has allowed the plans in order to combat the ‘drug tourism’ problems that residents have been experiencing in border towns.

Amsterdam relies on tourists, many of whom openly state that they would not visit the city if they were banned from coffeeshops, for a great deal of revenue. The Mayor of Amsterdam Eberhard van der Laan doubts that the pass system will improve anything, stating that street dealing and the problems associated with it will only increase. Despite this the government will not make an exception for the city that has been a Mecca for marijuana lovers for over three decades and a symbol of free thought and acceptance for hundreds of years.

The pass system will be implemented as soon as possible in the province of Brabant (in the south of the Netherlands, bordering Belgium) although details have not yet been released on who will approve, issue and control the passes, nor how they should be applied for. Other issues, such as whether tourists will be allowed into coffeeshops simply to drink coffee and if there will be restrictions on residents sharing legally purchased cannabis with non-residents, have yet to be explored.





Dutch Coffeeshops Closed To Tourists?

22 11 2010

coffeshop signPlans released this month for a pass system to exclude non-residents from Dutch coffeeshops are causing concern amongst cannabis users around the world. Citing the problems of crime and ‘social nuisance’ caused by foreign tourists smoking cannabis, the new and still unstable coalition government wants to make the coffeeshops into private clubs where only adults who live in the Netherlands can become members.

It is currently unclear whether this will be overruled by EU law which prevents discrimination in business trading, or pass on the grounds that the substance being traded is not fully legal and therefore not protected by legislation.

What is clear is that, if implemented, this plan will remove most of the revenue generated by coffeeshops- an estimated €1.8 billion per year- as well as costing many coffeeshop employees their jobs, in the middle of an economic crisis.

However, this plan was first discussed by the government in 2003 and still nothing concrete has been announced. Confidence in the new coalition is not high, with a recent poll showing that only 28% of voters expect it to last a full term.

Shamefully, this plan represents a complete reversal of Holland’s successful tolerance policy which has led to the country having the lowest rates of drug abuse in the developed world.





Mexico former president advocates for drug legalization

11 08 2010
And here’s one more former politician advocating for legalization of drugs!
It seems that quite a few of them can have a totally different speech once they retire. This double-sided view doesn’t reassure much when you realize these guys have the power, or better to say, they serve it. The organised crime in Mexico has indeed more power than it’s own government when it comes to war.
Maybe that is the lesson Vincente Fox, former president of Mexico, learned since he left his office. Not even a week after the current president Calderon opened the door for discussions about the legalization of drugs, Fox’s comment on his blog shows his support to such initiative.
“We should consider legalizing the production, distribution and sale of drugs,” said Fox, who served as president from 2000 to 2006 and is a member of President Calderon’s conservative National Action Party. “Radical prohibition strategies have never worked.”
“Legalizing in this sense does not mean drugs are good and don’t harm those who consume then,” he wrote. “Rather we should look at it as a strategy to strike at and break the economic structure that allows gangs to generate huge profits in their trade, which feeds corruption and increases their areas of power.”

According to Fox, the government could tax legalized drug sales to finance programs for reducing addiction and rehabilitating users.

Fox, who left office with low approval ratings, came under criticism for starting an anti-cartel crackdown aimed at arresting the gangs’ leaders.
The approach led to power vacuums that fed brutal fighting among rival cartels, bringing violence that has killed more than 28,000 people since Calderon took office.

Drug violence has damaged “the perception and image of the country, and economic activity, particularly in tourism and foreign investment,” Fox said.
Mexico already eliminated jail time for possessing small amounts of cannabis, cocaine, heroin, LSD and methamphetamine in 2009, giving it some of the world’s most liberal drug laws.

Several Latin American countries have decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use, but legalization has been slower in coming.

In his blog, Fox harshly criticized widespread drug violence. “The first responsibility of a government is to provide security for the people and their possessions… today, we find that, unfortunately, the Mexican government is not complying with that responsibility.”

He has a point. It seems that their government provided more for the cartels by wasting money on a lost war rather than for the rest of their population.
No wonder why the organised crime is known as the octopus, cut a tentacle and it will grow again! Best way is to starve it to death…




UK: Can the politics bail on scientific advise?

21 07 2010

“All too often governments make political policy choices rather than evidence-based ones. This approach has caused deep consternation among the scientific community in the UK, where a schism now exists between the government and its scientific advisers.
The trouble started last October after David Nutt, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), was sacked for publicly speaking out against the government’s decision to ignore the ACMD’s advice on cannabis.

In November, the scientific community, though understandably angry at the way in which the government had treated a respected scientific adviser, decided to respond in a constructive manner. 90 senior scientists, scientific advisers, and Sense about Science—an independent charity promoting good science for the public—drafted a set of principles on the treatment of scientific advice and sent them to the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. The principles fall under three themes: academic freedom to express views openly without restriction, independence of operation, and proper consideration of advice by ministers. The code enshrined what scientific advice to government should be—independent of political interference and ideology.
How did the government respond? It redrafted the principles to suit its agenda. Most notably, the government dropped academic freedom as a principle and inserted “trust and respect”. Under this heading it states that: “The government and its scientific advisers should work together to reach a shared position, and neither should act to undermine mutual trust.” However, asking scientific advisers to collude with government to reach a “shared position” on policies would undermine the independence of scientific advice. Essentially, these revisions represent an attempt by government to avoid any future public dissent from its scientific advisers.

The government must now listen to the concerns that have been raised over its version of the principles and revise them accordingly. Doing so will restore the confidence of both the scientific community and the public in ministerial policy making. It will also help to repair the damaged relationship that exists between the government and its scientific advisers.”

This is what the Lancet wrote about the issue in February this year. Since then, a new government has been formed out of a coalition between the Tory (conservatives) and the Lib-Dem.

But yet, nothing has been done to ensure independent scientific advice to be considered by the parliament.

It looks like ex Prime Minister G. Brown left the draft in a secure place or that the new government has other more important issues (?!)

Source: The Lancet








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