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On March 15, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while addressing a law enforcement conference in Richmond, Va., said: “I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use, but too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store, and I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana—so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”

Yes, the attorney general of the United States just said marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

This isn’t a question of being “unfashionable,” but of the AG being factually wrong about the effects of two very different drugs. While some cannabis industry and advocacy groups have forced a smile and tried to paint a green-tinted picture of states’ rights, Trump likes medical cannabis, it’ll all be OK, yadda yadda yadda, how can we not see a difficult future ahead for cannabis when America’s top cop is so glaringly ignorant in his crusade against it?

“With over 600,000 arrests a year, the only thing life-wrecking about marijuana is its prohibition,” said Erik Altieri, NORML’s executive director, in a statement the day of Sessions’ speech.

Sessions spoke with reporters after his speech in Richmond.

“I think medical marijuana has been hyped, maybe too much,” Sessions said, according to various media sources. “Dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial, I acknowledge that, but if you smoke marijuana, for example, where you have no idea how much THC you’re getting, it’s probably not a good way to administer a medicinal amount. So forgive me if I’m a bit dubious about that.”

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, countered Sessions’ remarks in a statement issued the same day.

“Statements like these from the Attorney General are factually inaccurate,” Sherer said. “In January, the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering released a report that reviewed over 10,000 research articles, which states there is conclusive, moderate, and substantial evidence for benefits of cannabis in several conditions. Sessions needs to stop spreading unfounded, unscientific theories about medical marijuana and take the time to actually meet the millions of Americans that are benefitting from its use before making comments about it being over-hyped.”

President Trump said he was “100 percent” in favor of medical marijuana during the campaign. But White House press secretary Sean Spicer recently clarified that the president sees a “big difference” between medical and recreational use.

As we’ve seen in the days since the inauguration, things are moving fast on all fronts in the Trump era. Those wishing to preserve and even further legalization must not be reactionary in their activism. There is too much at stake to take a wait-and-see position.

One productive way to be proactive in the defense and progress of legalization is to participate in and support the organizations that have been fighting this battle for decades—and will be on the front lines in the coming years.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

norml.org

Keith Stroup was smoking with Ralph Nader’s legal team in 1970 when someone suggested he ask Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Foundation for a grant to fund his fledgling pro-pot organization. Hefner approved a grant of $5,000, and NORML was born. By the mid-1970s, Hef was donating $100,000 a year to NORML. It was this support that helped make NORML the premier pro-pot organization.

NORML now boasts 135 chapters and a network of more than 500 lawyers. With legalization becoming more of a reality, NORML has edited its mission to “move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable.”

Americans for Safe Access

www.safeaccessnow.org

The ASA is a medical marijuana advocacy group founded in 2002 by medi-pot patient Steph Sherer. The mission is “to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research.”

ASA is the largest national member-based organization of medical professionals, patients and scientists promoting medical use and research, with more than 100,000 active members in all 50 states.

Brownie Mary Democratic Club of Riverside County

www.browniemaryclub.org

If you’re looking for a way to get involved locally, stay informed on the latest developments, and meet like-minded individuals, check out the Brownie Mary Democratic Club of Riverside County. Founded by activist Lanny Swerdlow, it is believed to be the first political-party-affiliated cannabis advocacy group in California. It is named for Mary Jane Rathbun, who got the nickname “Brownie Mary” for illegally baking and distributing cannabis brownies to AIDS patients while volunteering at San Francisco General Hospital.

Meetings are held the first Saturday of every month at 11:30 a.m. at Crystal Fantasy, 268 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs.

Marijuana Policy Project

mpp.org

Founded in 1995, the MPP deals with lobbying and ballot initiatives. The MPP PAC, founded in 2003, donates to key congressional candidates. The mission is to affect federal law, to allow states enact to their own marijuana policies without federal interference, and to regulate marijuana like alcohol nationwide. In terms of budget, members and staff, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest national organization working specifically on marijuana policy reform.

Drug Policy Alliance

www.drugpolicy.org

The DPA takes an active role in the legislative process, and its goals include rolling back the excessive laws of the War on Drugs, blocking harmful initiatives, and pushing for sensible drug-policy reforms.

Considering the mixed (or worse) signals we’re getting from the current administration, it is clear that the fight for legalization and acceptance is far from over. We must not rest on recent victories. We must remain vigilant, and we must let our representatives know that we support the legalization of cannabis. When the will of the people is ignored in favor of a self-righteous crusade with no base in science or democracy, we must resist. Joining, supporting, and participating in these organizations shows that we are unified—and that we are not going anywhere.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

The pro-cannabis movement has had quite a few recent state-level victories—both here in California and elsewhere—but the anti-prohibition movement and the development of the cannabis industry continue to be crippled at the federal level by the Drug Enforcement Administration, as the agency desperately tries to retain relevancy by preserving the failed War on Drugs—and the revenue that goes with fighting it.

But before we talk about that, let’s look at the good news happening at the state level.

Here in California, the State Assembly passed civil-asset-forfeiture reform legislation by a 69-7 vote on Aug. 15. The legislation—which has gone through numerous amendments, including a previous version which was passed in the Senate—is expected to glide through when it returns to the Senate.

Information from the U.S. Department of Justice and California’s Attorney General’s Office shows that most asset-forfeiture cases involve cash and property valued less than $40,000. Currently, assets can be seized before any criminal conviction. Supported by the ACLU, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Justice, the Ella Baker Center, and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Senate Bill 443 would require that a conviction be gained in the underlying criminal case before seized cash and money with a value of less than $40,000 can go to bolster law-enforcement coffers.

“If Gov. Brown signs this bill, it will be one of the most far-reaching civil-asset forfeiture reforms in the country and will once again demonstrate that states are taking the lead to protect people’s due process and property rights,” said Lynne Lyman, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a news release. “This important legislation will drastically reduce the opportunity for police to take money from and otherwise harass poor people, immigrants, people of color, and small businesses that work primarily in cash.”

The bill was delayed last year by law-enforcement lobbyists who claimed the loss of revenue would result in lower standards of crime prevention. The revised bill, now on the way to becoming law, is the result of extensive negotiations between proponents and law-enforcement representatives. Republican Assemblyman Donald Wagner called the effort and resulting bill “the model of lawmaking.”


Excise Tax Shelved by Senate Appropriations Committee

In another cannabis victory here in California, a bill to put a 15 percent excise tax on medical marijuana has been killed by a Senate panel following claims by patient advocates that its passage it would put an undue financial burden on medi-pot patients.

AB 2243 was shelved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, in part because a 15 percent tax on cannabis is part of Proposition 64, to be voted on by Californians on Nov. 8; the ballot question would legalize the recreational use of cannabis in the state if passed.

Authored by Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), the bill would have charged up to $9.25 per ounce of flower product, $2.75 per ounce of leaf and $1.25 per ounce of immature plants.

Wood says the excise tax is needed to cover the costs of enforcing new licensing for the cultivation, transportation and sale of medical cannabis. This seems like a fairly hollow justification for a huge tax burden to fall on patients—in light of how much money law enforcement stands to save by not enforcing draconian cannabis-prohibition laws.

California NORML and Americans for Safe Access were among the opponents to the bill.

These are just a couple California examples of the marijuana progress being made on the state level. Medical cannabis has been legalized in 25 states. Recreational use is now legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and our nation’s capitol, Washington D.C. (Well, it’s sort of legal. Residents have voted for legalization, though Congress—which controls Washington, D.C.’s budget—prohibits retail sale for recreational use there). California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine will all vote on recreational use this November, and medicinal use will be on the ballot in Arkansas, Florida and Missouri.


Then There Are the Feds …

Back in May, the DEA indicated it would again consider moving cannabis from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2. The move would lead to wider access to marijuana by researchers, and would open traditional banking avenues to cannabis businesses that are now off limits due to federal prohibition.

After months of anticipation, the Drug Enforcement Agency—following (sarcasm alert) what was surely careful and balanced analysis, and consideration of the will of the people—decided to leave Cannabis on Schedule 1, alongside heroin, GHB, bath salts, mescaline and Ecstasy.

The classification indicates the drug has no medicinal purpose, and the DEA stands by this assertion—in spite of hundreds of credible studies and tests proving the plant’s medicinal benefits.

Who cares if marijuana can increase revenues in state coffers, reduce the prison population (We’re No. 1!), increase funding for school construction and budgets, and help with back pain/cerebral palsy/arthritis/social anxiety/PTSD/cancer/insomnia/eating disorder/etc./etc.? So what if state after state is following the will of the people and embracing cannabis?

When will the DEA give up the ghost on cannabis? The time for the agency to take any kind of leadership on the issue has long since passed, and it’s time for the feds to follow the findings of science and the will of the American people—or at least get out of the way.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

State legislators are finally addressing one of the most racist drug laws on the books.

On July 2, the state Assembly Appropriations Committee approved the California Fair Sentencing Act of 2014 on a 12-3 margin (with two abstentions). Aided by a bullish review from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, the bill will hit the full floor in August. It passed the Senate on a 21-12 vote in May.

The act, Senate Bill 1010, aims to reverse a drug policy that for years incarcerated people of color for exponentially longer prison terms than white individuals for violating essentially the same law: possession of cocaine for sale.

“(It’s) one of the most egregious missteps of the drug war,” said Glenn Backes, a spokesman for the Drug Policy Alliance, which endorses SB 1010.

The penal code in California currently treats crack cocaine—which comes from cutting the drug with an alkali, like baking soda—more seriously than it does the powder version. Anyone convicted of possessing crack cocaine for sale faces a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three, four or five years—and those terms are doubled with a prior strike conviction, like burglary or robbery.

Meanwhile, a person who’s busted for possessing cocaine powder earns prison terms of two, three or four years. Probation or suspended sentences are also easier to come by for convicted possessors of powdered coke.

Here’s why that’s wrong: Between 2006 and 2010, 95.5 percent of those locked up in state prisons for possessing crack for sale were people of color, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation figures analyzed by the Drug Policy Alliance. A whopping 77.4 percent were black.

Meanwhile, a national drug-use survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2012 showed the use of crack was approximately equal among all races.

None of this data is new.

Mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines were adopted at the federal level in 1986 and a year later in California. According to Backes, cocaine powder was still being medically prescribed in small doses post-surgery at the time, one of the reasons it was treated differently. But there was also a spurious assumption, fanned by the media, that crack was deadlier and more addictive than powder cocaine.

“It wasn’t long before the medical field said, ‘You’re mistaken,’” Backes said. A major study in the American Medical Journal was one of several reports to debunk that claim.

There have been previous efforts to reform the law. Late Democratic Sen. Mervyn M. Dymally tried to address the disparities in 2005 and 2008, but both efforts died in committee.

Sen. Holly J. Mitchell believes the climate has changed enough to give her version of the bill a decent shot. “From my perspective, it just seemed like the stars aligned,” she said.

A bipartisan majority of the U.S. Congress passed a federal version of this reform in 2010, and it was championed by such conservative luminaries as Sen. Lindsey Graham, Newt Gingrich and California’s last Republican attorney general, Dan Lungren. Meanwhile, five other conservative states have all beaten California to the punch in modifying their sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine, the Sentencing Project reports.

With such widespread support among red-state powers, you’d be forgiven for thinking SB 1010 was riding a bipartisan wave here in the Golden State. It’s not.

“Thus far, we haven’t gained one Republican vote for this law,” said John Skoglund, a legislative aide to Mitchell.

However, the bill did end up securing a Republican vote on July 2, from former gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly.

The California Police Chiefs Association, one of only two organizations officially opposing SB 1010, believes the disparate penalties should be streamlined the other way, so that powder busts are more serious. But, added spokeswoman Sara Dwyer, the association wasn’t “actively engaged on this bill.” The California District Attorneys Association, which opposed earlier reform efforts, is remaining neutral.

Four county DAs in the state have authored strongly worded letters of support for the proposed law.

Still, California may be finally catching up to the rest of the country when it comes to less severe sentencing policies. State voters overwhelmingly adopted three-strikes reform in 2012. And recently, an initiative to lower the severity of certain drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors qualified for the November ballot.

As for the lasting impact of mandatory minimum drug sentences, Backes described a grim one. “A number of black families (were) pulled apart,” he said. “The legacy is not just on those families, but on the communities that had every reason to believe the system was rigged against them.”

This article originally appeared in the Sacramento News & Review.

Published in Politics