Releaf Magazine
24Dec/120

California = free for some

Marijuana, Not Yet Legal for Californians, Might as Well Be

nytimes.com

the gov says its just a plant

the gov says its just a plant

LOS ANGELES — Let Colorado and Washington be the marijuana trailblazers. Let them struggle with the messy details of what it means to actually legalize the drug. Marijuana is, as a practical matter, already legal in much of California
No matter that its recreational use remains technically against the law. Marijuana has, in many parts of this state, become the equivalent of a beer in a paper bag on the streets of Greenwich Village. It is losing whatever stigma it ever had and still has in many parts of the country, including New York City, where the kind of open marijuana use that is common here would attract the attention of any passing law officer.

“It’s shocking, from my perspective, the number of people that we all know who are recreational marijuana users,” said Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor. “These are incredibly upstanding citizens: Leaders in our community, and exceptional people. Increasingly, people are willing to share how they use it and not be ashamed of it.”

Marijuana can be smelled in suburban backyards in neighborhoods from Hollywood to Topanga Canyon as dusk falls — what in other places is known as the cocktail hour — often wafting in from three sides. In some homes in Beverly Hills and San Francisco, it is offered at the start of a dinner party with the customary ease of a host offering a chilled Bombay Sapphire martini.

Lighting up a cigarette (the tobacco kind) can get you booted from many venues in this rigorously antitobacco state. But no one seemed to mind as marijuana smoke filled the air at an outdoor concert at the Hollywood Bowl in September or even in the much more intimate, enclosed atmosphere of the Troubadour in West Hollywood during a Mountain Goats concert last week.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former Republican governor, ticked off the acceptance of open marijuana smoking in a list of reasons he thought Venice was such a wonderful place for his morning bicycle rides. With so many people smoking in so many places, he said in an interview this year, there was no reason to light up one’s own joint.

“You just inhale, and you live off everyone else,” said Mr. Schwarzenegger, who as governor signed a law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Some Californians react disdainfully to anyone from out of state who still harbors illicit associations with the drug. Bill Maher, the television host, was speaking about the prevalence of marijuana smoking at dinner parties hosted by Sue Mengers, a retired Hollywood agent famous for her high-powered gatherings of actors and journalists, in an interview after her death last year. “I used to bring her pot,” he said. “And I wasn’t the only one.”

When a reporter sought to ascertain whether this was an on-the-record conversation, Mr. Maher responded tartly: “Where do you think you are? This is California in the year 2011.”

John Burton, the state Democratic chairman, said he recalled an era when the drug was stigmatized under tough antidrug laws. He called the changes in thinking toward marijuana one of the two most striking shifts in public attitude he had seen in 40 years here (the other was gay rights).

“I can remember when your second conviction of having a single marijuana cigarette would get you two to 20 in San Quentin,” he said.

In a Field Poll of California voters conducted in October 2010, 47 percent of respondents said they had smoked marijuana at least once, and 50 percent said it should be legalized. The poll was taken shortly before Californians voted down, by a narrow margin, an initiative to decriminalize marijuana.

“In a Republican year, the legalization came within two points,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who worked on the campaign in favor of the initiative. He said that was evidence of the “fact that the public has evolved on the issue and is ahead of the pols.”

A study by the California Office of Traffic Safety last month found that motorists were more likely to be driving under the influence of marijuana than under the influence of alcohol.
Still, there are limits. No matter how much attitudes in California may have changed, it remains illegal in most of the country — as Californians have been reminded by a series of crackdowns by the Justice Department on medical marijuana here. People who use the drug recreationally, who said they would think nothing of offering a visitor a joint upon walking through the door, declined to be quoted by name, citing the risks to career and professional concerns.
That was the case even as they talked about marijuana becoming commonly consumed by professionals and not just, as one person put it, activists and aging hippies. Descriptions of marijuana being offered to arriving guests at parties, as an alternative to a beer, are common.

In places like Venice and Berkeley, marijuana has been a cultural presence, albeit an underground one, since the 1960s. It began moving from the edges after voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana in 1996.

That has clearly been a major contributor to the mainstreaming of marijuana. There is no longer any need for distasteful and legally compromising entanglements with old-fashioned drug dealers, several marijuana users said, because it is now possible to buy from a medical marijuana shop or a friend, or a friend of a friend growing it for ostensibly medical purposes.

That has also meant, several users said,¸that the quality of marijuana is more reliable and varied, and there are fewer concerns about subsidizing a criminal network. It also means, it seems, prices here are lower than they are in many parts of the country.

Mr. Newsom — who said he did not smoke marijuana himself — said that the ubiquity of the drug had led him to believe that laws against it were counterproductive and archaic. He supports its legalization, a notable position for a Democrat widely considered one of the leading contenders to be the next governor.

“These laws just don’t make sense anymore,” he said. “It’s time for politicians to come out of the closet on this.”

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6Dec/120

Smoke it, because you can!

Smokers celebrate as Wash. legalizes marijuana

SEATTLE (AP) — The crowds of happy people lighting joints under Seattle’s Space Needle early Thursday morning with nary a police officer in sight bespoke the new reality: Marijuana is legal under Washington state law.

Hundreds gathered at Seattle Center for a New Year’s Eve-style countdown to 12 a.m., when the legalization measure passed by voters last month took effect. When the clock struck, they cheered and sparked up in unison.

A few dozen people gathered on a sidewalk outside the north Seattle headquarters of the annual Hempfest celebration and did the same, offering joints to reporters and blowing smoke into television news cameras.

‘‘I feel like a kid in a candy store!’’ shouted Hempfest volunteer Darby Hageman. ‘‘It’s all becoming real now!’’

Washington and Colorado became the first states to vote to decriminalize and regulate the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults over 21. Both measures call for setting up state licensing schemes for pot growers, processors and retail stores. Colorado’s law is set to take effect by Jan. 5.

Technically, Washington’s new marijuana law still forbids smoking pot in public, which remains punishable by a fine, like drinking in public. But pot fans wanted a party, and Seattle police weren’t about to write them any tickets.

In another sweeping change for Washington, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday signed into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage. The state joins several others that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.

The mood was festive in Seattle as dozens of gay and lesbian couples got in line to pick up marriage licenses at the King County auditor’s office early Thursday.

King County and Thurston County announced they would open their auditors’ offices shortly after midnight Wednesday to accommodate those who wanted to be among the first to get their licenses.

Kelly Middleton and her partner Amanda Dollente got in line at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Hours later, as the line grew, volunteers distributed roses and a group of men and women serenaded the waiting line to the tune of ‘‘Going to the Chapel.’’

Because the state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is Sunday.

In dealing with marijuana, the Seattle Police Department told its 1,300 officers on Wednesday, just before legalization took hold, that until further notice they shall not issue citations for public marijuana use.

Officers will be advising people not to smoke in public, police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the SPD Blotter. ‘‘The police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a ‘Lord of the Rings’ marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to.’’

He offered a catchy new directive referring to the film ‘‘The Big Lebowski,’’ popular with many marijuana fans: ‘‘The Dude abides, and says ‘take it inside!'’’

‘‘This is a big day because all our lives we've been living under the iron curtain of prohibition,’’ said Hempfest director Vivian McPeak. ‘‘The whole world sees that prohibition just took a body blow.’’

Washington’s new law decriminalizes possession of up to an ounce for those over 21, but for now selling marijuana remains illegal. I-502 gives the state a year to come up with a system of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores, with the marijuana taxed 25 percent at each stage. Analysts have estimated that a legal pot market could bring Washington hundreds of millions of dollars a year in new tax revenue for schools, health care and basic government functions.

But marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That means federal agents can still arrest people for it, and it’s banned from federal properties, including military bases and national parks.

The Justice Department has not said whether it will sue to try to block the regulatory schemes in Washington and Colorado from taking effect.

‘‘The department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged,’’ said a statement issued Wednesday by the Seattle U.S. attorney’s office. ‘‘Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress.’’

The legal question is whether the establishment of a regulated marijuana market would ‘‘frustrate the purpose’’ of the federal pot prohibition, and many constitutional law scholars say it very likely would.

That leaves the political question of whether the administration wants to try to block the regulatory system, even though it would remain legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.

Liberties Union of Washington and served as the campaign manager for New Approach Washington, which led the legalization drive. She said the voters clearly showed they’re done with marijuana prohibition. ‘‘New Approach Washington sponsors and the ACLU look forward to working with state and federal officials and to ensure the law is fully and fairly implemented,’’ she said

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13Nov/120

Does your governor do this?

Gov. Gregoire meeting with feds over marijuana law

Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire will meet with Deputy Attorney General James Cole on Tuesday to discuss the state's recent passage of a measure to legalize and tax the sale of marijuana for recreational use.

By RACHEL LA CORTE

Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire will meet with Deputy Attorney General James Cole on Tuesday to discuss the state's recent passage of a measure to legalize and tax the sale of marijuana for recreational use.

Gregoire spokesman Cory Curtis said Monday that the meeting was added to a slate the governor had already scheduled in Washington, D.C., on other state matters. But on the issue of marijuana, Curtis said Gregoire wanted to meet with federal officials because "we want direction from them."

"Our goal is to respect the will of the voters, but give us some clarity," he said.

Initiative 502 passed with 55 percent of the vote last week. The measure decriminalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana beginning Dec. 6, but the state has a year to come up with rules governing the state-licensed growing, processing and labeling of pot before sales to adults over 21 can begin. It also establishes a standard blood test limit for driving under the influence.

Home-growing marijuana for recreational reasons remains barred, as does the public display or use of pot.

Colorado also passed a measure legalizing the drug. Colorado's governor and attorney general spoke by phone Friday with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, with no signal whether the U.S. Justice Department would sue to block the marijuana measure.

If Colorado's marijuana ballot measure is not blocked, it would take effect by Jan. 5, the deadline for the governor to add the amendment to the state constitution. The measure allows adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and six marijuana plants, though public use of the drug and driving while intoxicated are prohibited.

Colorado's measure also directs lawmakers to write regulations on how pot can be sold, with commercial sales possible by 2014.

Gregoire went to D.C. on Monday for a meeting with the Council of Governors and Army Lt. Gen. Frank Grass at the Pentagon to discuss National Guard issues, and for another meeting with Energy Secretary Steven Chu to discuss plans to deal with a leak at a large, double-walled tank of waste at Hanford, the nation's most contaminated nuclear site.

Curtis said that the meeting with Cole was added to her schedule on Monday.

"Our biggest concern is that the state has a fairly big startup cost in creating the whole licensing and regulating scheme around this," he said. "We want some sort of clarity on this before we get a year down the road on the process."

Gregoire will return to Washington state on Tuesday night.

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18Nov/114

What can legalization do for YOU?

Washington marijuana-legalization effort gains support

The Seattle Times' online letters to the editor

Transform liquor stores into marijuana stores

The state of Washington will be out of the liquor business by June 1, 2012, and now has a fortuitous opportunity. Consider this:

Law enforcement is devoting enormous amounts of effort, manpower and funds in a largely ineffective effort to stop marijuana use. So-called medical marijuana usage has soared, public opinion is shifting toward legalizing marijuana, crime syndicates reap large profits from marijuana sales and now former U.S. Attorney John McKay has spoken strongly in favor of legalization. [“He fought pot, now leads effort to make it legal here,” page one, Nov. 17.]

The day after the liquor stores close they could reopen as marijuana stores. Nine-hundred jobs would be saved and the state would have a new generous source of income, police efforts could be redirected to better serve the public, marijuana use would be controlled and crime profits would drop.

Of course, this would require quick, innovative and decisive action by a state Legislature not known for quick, innovative and decisive action.

— Harry Petersen, Bellevue

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22Jun/111

Former US Atty: POT LAWS ARE STUPID/ SHAME CONGRESS

Former U.S. attorney McKay backs effort to legalize pot in Washington

California failure all over again? Or another possible  jumpstart? -UA

6/22 Seattle Times

A coalition that includes former U.S. Attorney John McKay, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and travel guide Rick Steves is launching an initiative that would legalize marijuana in Washington state.

The group, led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, decided to push the initiative this spring after Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of a medical-marijuana bill that had passed the state Legislature.

"We did some more public-opinion research, looked at the numbers and said, 'Yeah, this is the time,' " said Alison Holcomb, campaign manager for the initiative and drug-policy director of the ACLU of Washington.

The initiative would regulate the recreational use of marijuana in a way similar to how the state regulates alcohol.

It would legalize marijuana for people older than 21, authorize the state Liquor Control Board to regulate and tax marijuana for sale in "stand-alone stores" and extend drunken-driving laws to marijuana, with blood tests to determine how much of the substance's active ingredient is present in a driver's blood.

Taxing sales would bring the state $215 million a year, conservatively estimated, Holmes said.

McKay, who spent five years enforcing federal drug laws as the U.S. attorney in Seattle before he was fired by the Bush administration in early 2007, said he hopes the initiative will help "shame Congress" into ending pot prohibition.

He said laws criminalizing marijuana are wrongheaded because they create an enormous black market exploited by international cartels and crime rings.

"That's what drives my concern: The black market fuels the cartels, and that's what allows them to buy the guns they use to kill people," McKay said. "A lot of Americans smoke pot, and they're willing to pay for it. I think prohibition is a dumb policy, and there are a lot of line federal prosecutors who share the view that the policy is suspect."

Supporters would have until the end of this year to gather more than 240,000 signatures to get the initiative before the Legislature. Lawmakers could approve it or allow it to go to the ballot next year.

The coalition pushing the initiative is called New Approach Washington. It also includes Dr. Robert W. Wood, former director of the HIV/AIDS Program of Public Health — Seattle and King County, and state Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, who this year sponsored an unsuccessful bill to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. Both McKay and Holmes supported Dickerson's bill.

While Dickerson's effort failed, separate legislation to license and regulate medical-marijuana dispensaries and grow operations, and give patients broader arrest protection, was approved.

Gregoire, however, vetoed parts of the bill in late April, saying it would put state workers at risk of prosecution under federal law, which bans marijuana.

Although the veto wasn't the only factor behind the initiative, that's when members of the coalition began talking more about a measure that would go beyond medical marijuana, the ACLU's Holcomb said.

"The public opinion is there to support full legalization," she said. "If you're going to put the effort into doing an initiative, it doesn't make sense to limit yourself to medical marijuana."

New Approach Washington planned a news conference Wednesday to announce the effort.

No state has legalized marijuana for recreational purposes in such a way, although some have decriminalized it. The initiative would put Washington squarely at odds with federal law.

It would set limits on how much cannabis people can have: an ounce of dried bud, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused foods in solid form, and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids, or all three, Holcomb said. Limits are necessary to help ensure that people don't buy large amounts for resale in other states, she said.

Holmes called the measure the "first comprehensive legalization, regulation and taxation initiative. It addresses every concern that has been voiced in the debate over the last several decades."

California voters last year rejected Proposition 19, which would have allowed for personal possession and growing of limited amounts of marijuana, 54 percent to 46 percent.

Steves, a longtime critic of the nation's marijuana laws, said he supports the Washington state initiative because "I just care about our community, and I think the war on marijuana is hurting people. ... I think it's flat out good citizenship to address a problem that needs to be tackled in a more thoughtful way."

McKay said he long has considered marijuana prohibition a failed policy, but that his job as U.S. attorney was to enforce federal law, and he had no problem doing so.

But now, he said, "I can say the law is stupid."

McKay added that he does not use marijuana and that his position is based on a belief that marijuana prohibition has failed.

"When you look at alcohol prohibition, it took the states to say, 'This policy is wrong,' " he said. "This bill might not be perfect, but it's a good step forward. I think it will eventually shame Congress into action."

Another group, Sensible Washington, already is pushing a legalization initiative that would remove all state criminal and civil penalties for marijuana use, possession and cultivation in any amount. Their effort is an initiative directly to the voters, meaning that, if it qualifies for the November ballot and passes, it would become law without input from the Legislature.

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