Pennsylvania Senator Looks To Legalize Pot

Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D-17) is pushing legislation that would legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth, like Washington and Colorado. Of course, one should take into consideration the fact that Pennsylvania really is nothing like either Washington or Colorado, politically or otherwise. Well, all three states do have mountains, but that may be where the similarities end.

 

Sen. Leach undoubtedly means well, and he is generally correct in his assertion that the most likely reason that the Pennsylvania legislature would pass such a measure would be for financial reasons. However, aiming directly for the legalization of marijuana in one of the few remaining states that maintains a stranglehold on the sale of wine and spirits is a bit... well... crazy. Before talking about the Commonwealth taking over the control and sale of yet another vice, maybe it would be a good idea to sell off the liquor stores to private vendors first. Sure, there might be an argument for combining the two, for the sake of convenience. Well, maybe not.

 

While Pennsylvania probably isn't ready for Sen. Leach's proposal, according to Opposing Views, the pro-legalization organization NORML is quite happy with the Senator.

 

“NORML applauds Senator Leach for taking this important step forward to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition in his state. Pennsylvania has long been considered a bellwether state that sets the precedent for politics across the country, as such it is both exciting and encouraging to see the Keystone State take up this crucial dialogue,” said Erik Altieri, Communications Director for NORML, “Marijuana prohibition costs the state of Pennsylvania over 300 million dollars a year in enforcement costs and tens of millions a year in lost potential tax revenue, while doing little to keep the substance out of the hands of children or lower use rates. It is time for a new policy that works for the state and its people. We encourage all of Senator Leach’s colleagues in Harrisburg to join him in this call for rational marijuana laws.”

 

 

Other than the fact that the people pictured on the NORML website might make one think of that old REM tune, "Shiny, Happy People", the organization seems to be fairly dedicated to its cause. Whether or not it's taken very seriously in Pennsylvania remains to be seen. It might not be a good idea to send certain members of its advisory board, though - like half of the comedy team, Cheech and Chong.

 

Yes, it would be nice to see the courts in Pennsylvania lose quite a few cases of low-level marijuana possession from the dockets. It would be lovely to see fewer people have trouble finding gainful employment due to a past history with these sorts of crimes. And, like anywhere else in this country, it would be nice to see some revenue to offset the cost of enforcement and punishment for drug-related crimes. And there are some places in this country that are probably ready to deal with this sort of change. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania simply isn't anywhere close to being ready for this. As mentioned previously, the Commonwealth doesn't trust trade of wine and spirits to the private sector. Sen. Leach might be assuming that the distribution of legal marijuana would occur only in state-owned facilities. If that is the case, then that alone is a good reason to turn down this measure. Regardless, it is delusional to think that lawmakers in Pennsylvania would pass this sort of law while failing to give up state control of liquor sales even a little.

http://www.examiner.com/article/pennsylvania-state-senator-pushing-legal...

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Roger Stone Ponders Run For FL Gov Emphasizing Pot

Roger Stone says he will decide by the end of the year whether he will run for governor of Florida on the Libertarian Party ticket in 2014.

And if he decides to run, the colorful former Republican operative who has a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back tells The Daily Caller he’d make marijuana a big focus of his campaign.

In fact, the former Nixon aide says he’d like to announce his decision about whether he will run during the annual Hempfest at Florida State University in 2014 on April 20, a day in which marijuana enthusiasts typically smoke vast amounts of pot.

Stone also told TheDC that if he ran, he’d like to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for medicinal marijuana in 2014 in order to get the pro-pot voters to the polls. He pointed out that the Libertarian Party in Florida has 38,000 registered members.

Stone is scheduled to address the Libertarian Party of Miami-Dade, according to an invitation obtained by TheDC. That poster describes Stone as a “legendary political strategist” and “prospective candidate for governor.”

In an interview with the National Review, Stone asserted that, “I don’t have any illusions about winning, but I’d like to carry the flag for the liberty movement.”

“The Republican party is dead and it can’t be revived, so it’s time for the Libertarian party to be a force.”

In 2014, Republican Gov. Rick Scott is expected to run for re-election. Former Republican governor and recent convert to the Democratic Party Charlie Crist is also expected to ponder a campaign to return to the office.

“I’d love to debate CRIST and SCOTT,” Stone told TheDC in an email Thursday.

Asked who would run his campaign, Stone said it wouldn’t be him: “The candidate who manages his own campaign has a fool for a campaign manager.”

Invoking Nixon’s former attorney general and campaign director who served 19 months in prison after Watergate, Stone added: “Looking for my ‘John Mitchell.’”

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Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2013/02/07/roger-stone-pondering-a-campaign-for-florida-governor-with-an-emphasis-on-pot/#ixzz2KQfEVysF

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Medical Pot Sellers Disappointed By Ban On Dispensaries

At 3rd Coast Compassion Center in Ypsilanti -- one of an estimated 100 medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan -- it was business as usual Friday despite a court ruling that could be the death knell for such shops.

"We're still trying to figure out what the decision means," said Jamie Lowell, co-owner of 3rd Coast.

Nearby, medical marijuana users like Marchell Bauer, 56, of Wayne milled about, viewing and sniffing merchandise with names such as Moonshine Haze and Tangerine Trainwreck -- each specially priced this week, according to the club's Facebook site, for "donations" of $10 to $15 a gram.

"Ultimately, we're a private club," not a public store, Lowell said. Still, he was unsure Friday whether he could stay in business.

In a decision expected to affect tens of thousands of medical marijuana users across Michigan, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that dispensaries can't sell pot, except within tight limitations spelled out in the state medical marijuana act.

For state-registered users like Bauer, who said she suffers from chronic pain related to spinal surgery and glaucoma, the ruling means access to pot is likely to narrow.

Many longtime marijuana activists and their defense attorneys said the ruling appeared to spell the end of dispensaries.

"I did read the opinion and it's not pretty, but I was sort of expecting this," said Tim Beck of Detroit, a retired health insurance executive who helped write the ballot proposal that voters approved in 2008.

"What we said originally in the plain language of the act was that the only way a person could get medical marijuana was by either growing their own or getting it from a caregiver" -- an approved provider who is tied to just five patients on the state registry, Beck said.

"We thought the word 'dispensary' was just too dangerous and would cause us to lose at the polls," he said.

Echoing that were key defense attorneys for the medical marijuana community.

"A lot of cases have been stayed in circuit courts around the state, waiting for this decision," said Grosse Pointe Park criminal defense attorney Paul Tylenda.

"Now, honestly, this isn't the help that these clients were looking for," Tylenda said. He represents four clients charged with operating illegal dispensaries, two in Oakland County and two outstate, he said Friday.

According to the ruling, the only legal sales of medical marijuana in Michigan are those specifically allowed in the state act. It states that as many as five state-approved users may register with a single state-approved caregiver, who then becomes a long-term provider of the drug -- but only to those five users.

The ruling was hailed by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who said it showed that the state act passed by voters in 2008 is "not an open door to unrestricted retail marijuana sales."

"Dispensaries will have to close their doors," Schette said in a statement. Still, some supporters of medical marijuana held out cautious hope that dispensaries, in some form, could continue to operate.

The act that Michigan voters approved by a 63% margin did not include the words "sale" or "dispensary." Despite that, hundreds of retail outlets for medical marijuana quickly sprang up across the state. As police and prosecutors in some counties began raiding the outlets, some began calling themselves clubs, requiring membership fees and keeping doors locked to strangers.

In 2011, some began closing their doors when the state Appeals Court decided against dispensaries, ruling on the same Isabella County case whose final decision came Friday from the state Supreme Court, said medical marijuana advocate Rick Thompson of Flint.

Friday's decision "will probably cause another wave of closings, but I don't think this is the end of dispensaries in Michigan," said Thompson, editor of the online magazine Compassion Chronicles, aimed at Michigan's medical marijuana users.

Dispensaries might survive if they manage to stick closely to the business model allowed in the act -- one caregiver tied to five users, Thompson said.

Friday's ruling involved what the justices termed a "membership organization," called Compassionate Apothecary in Mt. Pleasant. Only state-registered caregivers and patients could join, according to court documents.

Members of Compassionate Apothecary rented lockers from the owners, whenever they'd grown more marijuana than they needed, and the two owners provided what amounted to a type of dispensary, with a display room and a station for weighing and packaging the drug. The Compassionate Apothecary owners would then take a service fee for each transaction, according to court documents.

The owners of the dispensary won their case in Isabella County Circuit Court but lost in the state Court of Appeals in 2011 and again lost, on slightly different grounds, in Friday's ruling.

Still, both rulings mean that Compassionate Apothecary is defunct and its owners face felony drug charges, attorneys familiar with the case said. Fear of a similar outcome loomed in Ypsilanti at 3rd Coast Compassion Center, where the co-owner Lowell said he was not positive he could stay open without fear of prosecution.

"We took an empty building, fixed it up and hired four employees to work here, all to help people with their health care choices," he said.

"People are meeting this weekend, lawyers are in correspondence with this community, but we really need to figure something out. You can't just cut patients off from their health care," Lowell said.

A bill pending in the state Legislature would allow dispensaries in Michigan.

"Now it's really time for all of us to get behind that," Lowell said.

Contact Bill Laitner: 313-223-4485 or blaitner@freepress.com

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Insight: Shrinking U.S. labor unions see relief in marijuana industry

WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The medical marijuana shop next to a tattoo parlor on a busy street in Los Angeles looks much like hundreds of other pot dispensaries that dot the city.

Except for one thing: On the glass door - under a green cross signaling that cannabis can be bought there for medical purposes - is a sticker for the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), the nation's largest retail union.

The dispensary, the Venice Beach Care Center, is one of three medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles that are staffed by dues-paying union members. Another 49 in the city plan to enter into labor agreements with the UFCW this year, the union says.

Together, the dispensaries are a symbol of the growing bond between the nascent medical marijuana industry and struggling labor unions.

During the last few years, unions, led by the UFCW, have played an increasingly significant role in campaigns to allow medical marijuana, now legal in California, 17 other states and Washington, D.C.

In the November elections, UFCW operatives also helped get-out-the-vote efforts in Colorado, where voters approved a measure that made possession of one ounce (28.3 grams) or less of the drug legal for anyone 21 and older. Washington state approved a similar measure and both states require regulation of marijuana growers, processors and retailers.

Union officials acknowledge that their support stems partly from the idea that the marijuana industry could create hundreds of thousands of members at a time when overall union membership is shrinking.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last month that union members - who accounted for 11.8 percent of the workforce in 2011 - now make up about 11.3 percent of all American workers, the lowest percentage in nearly a century.

Retail unions such as the UFCW are fighting the rise of part-time workers and a steady drop in real wages over the last two generations. Organized labor also has been under pressure from Republican governors such as Wisconsin's Scott Walker, who led an effort to curb collective bargaining rights for public workers in that state.

Union officials say there are now 3,000 UFCW members who work in the cannabis industry, a tiny fraction of the union's 1.3 million members.

Industry advocates acknowledge that the legal marijuana industry's potential to produce jobs is difficult to project. One reason: uncertainty over how the U.S. government will deal with an industry whose product is illegal under federal law but increasingly accepted by state laws.

Since Colorado and Washington state voted to legalize marijuana on November 6, President Barack Obama has said his administration will not pursue recreational pot users in those states.

However, the president has not said whether the U.S. government will allow widespread sales of the drug that would be legal under some state laws but not federal law.

PLANNING FOR A BOOM

Despite such uncertainty, the marijuana industry's growth potential intrigues unions and retailers, among others.

An analysis by Sea Change Strategies, a research firm for non-profit organizations, estimated that the medical marijuana market could grow to $8.9 billion by 2016.

A study by Washington state's Office of Financial Management said legalization could result in $1 billion in sales per year in the state, which is home to about 2 percent of the U.S. population.

For people like Dan Rush, who leads the UFCW's cannabis division, the numbers hint at big things to come for the marijuana industry.

"Since Election Day, we've had a rush to join the union" in states where marijuana is sold legally, said Rush, who has become a key player in the union's efforts to promote the legal use of the drug. "I can't keep up," he said. "That's a direct result of the best poll in the world being Election Day."

Rush said that if the industry expands, as he and others hope, it would support jobs across the country, from growers to truck drivers to carpenters to retail clerks.

The scale of the business could rival that of a major U.S. crop or the alcohol industry, according to UFCW officials who estimate that 100,000 workers could be added to their union in California alone.

By joining a union, marijuana workers could have more sway in pressing for higher pay and benefits such as healthcare.

Unlike business owners in other industries who typically view unions warily, some legal marijuana retailers welcome the prospect of a unionized workforce - for now, at least.

Marijuana retailers have invited the UFCW into their shops. They think the union could give legitimacy to their business and support against competitors who, the retailers say, undercut the industry's standing by operating outside the law.

"It's the difference between being - I hate to use the term - but a street dealer and being a legitimate business operator," said Brennan Thicke, 38, one of the founders of the Venice Beach Care Center.

RESISTANCE IN COLORADO

Other marijuana business owners aren't as enthusiastic about unions being involved with their enterprises.

Perhaps the toughest staging ground for the UFCW's marijuana efforts has been Colorado, where an individualistic spirit guides many of those who have tried to get a toehold in the medical marijuana business.

The retailers there say they are conflicted - grateful for the legitimacy that labor's involvement could bring their businesses, but worried that the support could undermine the already shaky financial footing of their small operations.

One marijuana business owner in Denver said he considered aligning with the UFCW but eventually backed away. He said he was worried that having a union shop would hurt the value of his business by driving up employment costs.

"Colorado isn't a big union state anyway," said the owner, who asked not to be identified. "I was surprised that they put so much focus and money in here in the first place."

'IT WAS A STRUGGLE'

The UFCW's Rush, a thick-shouldered 52-year-old with a laugh turned to gravel by Lucky Strike cigarettes, is based in Oakland.

The city became a major hub for medical marijuana after California became the first state to allow marijuana for medical treatment 17 years ago. Marijuana is prescribed as a pain reliever for a range of maladies.

Cannabis businesses, Rush said, have helped to revitalize the downtown and have put millions of dollars in tax revenue into Oakland's coffers.

He recalled that when the union was deciding in 2009 whether to get involved with the legal marijuana industry, not everyone in the leadership was sold.

"It was a struggle," Rush said. "Folks were not ready to hear it."

Eventually, he helped to persuade enough labor leaders that the same union that organized Hostess bakery workers could represent people who made pot brownies.

"Whether it was semolina or cannabis, this happens to be where our industry is growing," said UFCW spokesperson Dawn Le.

A major goal of the union's marijuana effort involves Obama - who enjoyed broad union support in winning re-election in November - to stop federal crackdowns on pot dispensaries that are legal under state laws.

Last year, federal authorities in California targeted more than 200 medical marijuana businesses, including the first in the country to unionize, in a show of force that highlighted the gulf between federal and state marijuana laws.

Union leaders say they aim to help businesses navigate the difficult legal climate and pressure lawmakers for change.

In Los Angeles, UFCW Local 770 is pushing a ballot measure that would set zoning and safety standards for medical pot dispensaries. For years, police and residents have complained about the impact that less-than-reputable medical marijuana dispensaries have on some neighborhoods.

Dispensary workers and owners who have aligned themselves with the union say that some competitors undermine prices and security by flouting labor laws and avoiding taxes.

"I feel safer with the union around," said Ayrn Taylor, 23, an employee at the Venice Beach Care Center.

UFCW gathered enough signatures for a local ballot measure in May that would limit the number of dispensaries in Los Angeles to fewer than 130.

The 50-plus dispensaries with union ties would be allowed to stay in business, said Rigo Valdez, an organizing director with UFCW. One city councilman estimates there may be as many as 900 dispensaries now open in Los Angeles.

If the union-backed initiative is successful, it would put most of those dispensaries out of business and make the UFCW a dominant player in one of the nation's most important markets for legal marijuana sales.

(Jacobs reported from Washington; Dobuzinskis from Los Angeles. Editing by David Lindsey and Christopher Wilson)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/06/us-usa-marijuana-unions-idUSBRE91507E20130206

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California Case Tests Obama Pot Policy

A criminal case in California is exposing the tension between federal and state laws on marijuana, and lawyers for the defendant say it is past time for senior Obama administration officials to weigh in.

Attorneys for Matthew Davies, a Stockton, Calif., resident being prosecuted by the feds for running what he contends was a medical marijuana operation, say their client shouldn’t be charged at all, based on statements from candidate and President Barack Obama, and his administration.

(PHOTOS: 9 pols who talked pot)

In December, Obama said the administration had "bigger fish to fry" than going after pot smokers. "It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal," Obama told ABC’s Barbara Walters in response to recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington. Obama's administration has also released documents instructing U.S. attorneys to consider not using resources to prosecute individuals for federal crimes if they are in compliance with state law.

Lawyers for Davies argue that if Obama sees no reason to prosecute recreational pot smokers or those following state law, there’s no reason for those involved in medical marijuana operations to face federal charges. Davies was indicted last year on two counts of manufacturing marijuana, each of which carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. Prosecutors have offered a plea deal for seven years.

The government raided Davies’s business Oct. 4, 2011, allegedly discovering 1,962 growing marijuana plants, 900 plant starter cuttings and 40 pounds of processed marijuana. The feds allege the business generated $1.3 million in sales and profits of $288,000 in its seven months of existence, according to a plea deal with one of Davies’s co-defendants.

Attorneys for Davies, however, say he was operating within state law. In a Jan. 24 letter obtained by POLITICO, they say Davies was running a not-for-profit, not a major commercial enterprise.

“Mr. Davies was not seeking to ‘make large profits from the cultivation and sale of marijuana.’ Rather, he organized not-for-profit cooperatives pursuant to the California Corporations Code, and personally realized only about $50,000 for all of his work over more than a year,” Davies’s attorney Elliot R. Peters wrote.

In response to prosecutors’ claims that Davies’s use of storefronts and the size of his operation violate state law, the letter cites a California Appeals Court ruling essentially finding that large-scale operations that use storefront dispensaries are legal, so long as they are not for profit. The California Supreme Court in January declined to rehear the case, calling the matter "final."

Peters asked prosecutors for a sit-down meeting, saying using federal resources against Davies is contrary to the goal that “justice shall be done.”

“The sad irony is that the federal government has now forced the one person who was doing everything right out of the field, and thereby emboldened people who do reap huge unreported profits, gouge patients, cheat on taxes, wield firearms, and lack the will or business know-how to successfully run a medical marijuana cooperative that complies with state law,” Peters wrote.

Davies, a married father of two girls under the age of two, was a small business owner who began researching medical marijuana after seeing his grandfather suffer through very painful, terminal stomach cancer, Davies’s attorney Steven Ragland told POLITICO in an interview. After Davies realized marijuana could help people like his grandfather, and after seeing the Obama administration’s statements about not prosecuting people in compliance with state law, he decided to go into the medical marijuana business, Ragland said.

Ragland disputes the government’s allegations that Davies was turning a massive profit – saying he paid taxes, took out insurance policies, paid worker’s comp, hired attorneys, lowered prices for consumers and had “all the expenses that a small business would have.”

Additionally, even if one believes Davies wasn’t in compliance with state law, Ragland says, that’s for the state courts to decide – not the feds, who as Obama told ABC News have “bigger fish to fry.”

The government’s position, articulated in a Dec. 19 letter to Davies’s attorneys, is that the administration’s statements on medical marijuana are irrelevant, as marijuana trafficking remains a “serious crime.”

“Mr. Davies was not a seriously ill user of marijuana nor was he a medical caregiver -- he was the major player in a very significant commercial operation that sought to make large profits from the cultivation and sale of marijuana,” wrote Benjamin Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California. “Mr. Davies is being prosecuted for serious felony offenses.”

At issue are statements by Barack Obama about marijuana and the 2009 Ogden Memorandum, which outlines the government’s policy toward prosecuting federal marijuana offenses in compliance with individual state laws.

The problem, one expert says, is the Ogden Memo is equivocal at best.

“If you look at the documents that [Davies] purports to rely upon, the Ogden Memorandum from 2009 for example, those are very equivocal statements from the government,” said Vanderbilt law professor Robert Mikos. “There are a lot of qualifications in the Ogden Memorandum and the Cole Memorandum that came after it, and you’d be hard-pressed to say anyone can rely on those statements.”

The Ogden Memo, released by the deputy attorney general in October 2009 for select U.S. attorneys, says in part, “The department is also committed to making efficient and rational use of its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources. … The prosecution of significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, and the disruption of illegal drug manufacturing and trafficking networks continues to be a core priority. … As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your states on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

But the memo goes on to say, “On the other hand, prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority of the department. To be sure, claims of compliance with state or local law may mask operations inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of those laws.”

The Cole Memorandum, released in June 2011, further clarifies: “The Odgen Memorandum was never intended to shield such activities from federal enforcement action and prosecution, even where those activities purport to comply with state law. Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling, or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law.”

Mikos says Davies’s attorneys are making a play for sympathy to get the feds to drop the charges of their own volition, as Davies doesn’t have much of a defense come trial.

“This argument is just a nonstarter in the court. To say that the government said, ‘Hey, we’re not going to spend our resources prosecuting marijuana,’ doesn’t mean you can go out and violate the law,” Mikos said. “It’s a case where there’s no really real legal claim to be made against the federal government.”

Davies’s attorney says the confusion in the matter means the Obama administration “owes it to the public” to weigh in.

“Now is the time for the Obama administration to tell us what its policy is in terms of prosecuting people who comply with state marijuana laws, because the statements that have been made that said, ‘If you comply with state law we won’t come after you,’ are demonstrably false in Matt’s case,” Ragland said.

Mikos cautions that since it’s unclear whether Davies was in compliance with state law, and given that California’s laws on medical marijuana are “a mess,” this may not be the test case marijuana advocates are waiting for to force the federal government’s hand. That said, it is indicative of a broader confusion taxing courts across the country.

“State courts, even the highest state courts, are really struggling with these issues, because they’re really difficult issues,” Mikos said. “It’s tasking overburdened lower state judges with an extremely complicated constitutional issue, and they’re coming to all sorts of different conclusions. … Until you get a federal court to weigh in, and preferably a federal appeals court or the Supreme Court, I think these issues will continue.”

In January, Davies’s wife, Molly, wrote a letter to President Obama asking why his administration was prosecuting her husband, and Davies’s attorneys also wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to review the matter. Ragland says they have not received any response to either.

A spokeswoman for Wagner said his office was unable to comment on an open case.

The first hearing on preliminary motions in the case is set for May. Two co-defendants have agreed to plea deals with the feds.

http://www.politico.com/blogs/under-the-radar/2013/02/california-case-tests-obama-pot-policy-155943.html

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Dems Move to Change Federal Pot Laws

Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Jared Polis to introduce bill Tuesday to end prohibition

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Topics: marijuana, Marijuana Legalization, earl blumenauer, Jared Polis, U.S. Congress, 

Enlarge(Credit: AP)

SEATTLE (AP) — An effort is building in Congress to change U.S. marijuana laws, including moves to legalize the industrial production of hemp and establish a hefty federal pot tax.

While passage this year could be a longshot, lawmakers from both parties have been quietly working on several bills, the first of which Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jared Polis of Colorado plan to introduce Tuesday, Blumenauer told The Associated Press.

Polis’ measure would regulate marijuana the way the federal government handles alcohol: In states that legalize pot, growers would have to obtain a federal permit. Oversight of marijuana would be removed from the Drug Enforcement Administration and given to the newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms, and it would remain illegal to bring marijuana from a state where it’s legal to one where it isn’t.

The bill is based on a legalization measure previously pushed by former Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Ron Paul of Texas.

Blumenauer’s bill would create a federal marijuana excise tax of 50 percent on the “first sale” of marijuana — typically, from a grower to a processor or retailer. It also would tax pot producers or importers $1,000 annually and other marijuana businesses $500.

His office said Monday it doesn’t yet have an estimate of how much the taxes might bring in. But a policy paper Blumenauer and Polis are releasing this week suggests, based on admittedly vague estimates, that a federal tax of $50 per ounce could raise $20 billion a year. They call for directing the money to law enforcement, substance abuse treatment and the national debt.

Last fall’s votes in Colorado and Washington state to legalize recreational marijuana should push Congress to end the 75-year federal pot prohibition, Blumenauer said.

Washington state officials have estimated that its legal marijuana market could bring in about half a billion dollars a year in state taxes.

“You folks in Washington and my friends in Colorado really upset the apple cart,” Blumenauer said. “We’re still arresting two-thirds of a million people for use of a substance that a majority feel should be legal. … It’s past time for us to step in and try to sort this stuff out.”

Advocates who are working with the lawmakers acknowledge it could take years for any changes to get through Congress, but they’re encouraged by recent developments. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week came out in support of efforts to legalize hemp in his home state of Kentucky, and U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., is expected to introduce legislation allowing states to set their own policy on marijuana.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has indicated he plans to hold a hearing on the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws and has urged an end to federal “mandatory minimum” sentences that lead to long prison stints for drug crimes.

“We’re seeing enormous political momentum to undo the drug war failings of the past 40 years,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, who has been working with lawmakers on marijuana-related bills. “For the first time, the wind is behind our back.”

The Justice Department hasn’t said how it plans to respond to the votes in Washington and Colorado. It could sue to block the states from issuing licenses to marijuana growers, processors and retail stores, on the grounds that doing so would conflict with federal drug law.

Blumenauer and Polis’ paper urges a number of changes, including altering tax codes to let marijuana dispensaries deduct business expenses on federal taxes, and making it easier for marijuana-related businesses to get bank accounts. Many operate on a cash basis because federally insured banks won’t work with them, they noted.

Blumenauer said he expects to introduce the tax-code legislation as well as a bill that would reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to enact medical marijuana laws without fear that federal authorities will continue raiding dispensaries or prosecuting providers. It makes no sense that marijuana is a Schedule I drug, in the same category as heroin and a more restrictive category than cocaine, Blumenauer said.

The measures have little chance of passing, said Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy adviser. Sabet recently joined former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy and former President George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum in forming a group called Project SAM — for “smart approaches to marijuana” — to counter the growing legalization movement. Sabet noted that previous federal legalization measures have always failed.

“These are really extreme solutions to the marijuana problem we have in this country,” Sabet said. “The marijuana problem we have is a problem of addiction among kids, and stigma of people who have a criminal record for marijuana crimes.

“There are a lot more people in Congress who think that marijuana should be illegal but treated as a public health problem, than think it should be legal.”

Project SAM suggests people shouldn’t get criminal records for small-time marijuana offenses, but instead could face probation or treatment.

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We are still, and always will be, about medical cannabis

I just wanted to remind our followers and supporters who have expressed concern that, yes, the Ohio Rights Group is still pushing hard for Medical Cannabis rights in Ohio.  You may have noticed that much of the content on our website has had to do with the benefits of Industrial Hemp. Since late last year, we decided that to only fight for one use of the plant was falling short of fully realizing the benefits that this amazing plant could bring to the citizens of Ohio.  We are of the mindset that separating marijuana and hemp is difficult, if not impossible. They are one plant – Cannabis. For example, the non-psychoactive plant (hemp, if you will) can contain significantly more CBD (cannabidiol), the component of Cannabis now believed to have significant therapeutic potential, particularly for the treatment of breast cancer. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21566064  Science is teaching us that the therapeutic applications of  Cannabis significantly miss the mark when they exclude what hemp (CBD) has to offer.

If you read our draft ballot language, you will see that we fully intend to establish the rights for eligible Ohioans to grow, process, sell, and consume cannabis for therapeutic treatment of serious illnesses.  So please don't be dismayed or disheartened by the Industrial Hemp content on our website. We've not forgotten our ailing supporters.  We've simply expanded our tent to include all of the 50,000+ uses that we currently know of and this ballot measure will also leave open the door for all the uses yet to be discovered.  I challenge anybody out there to show me a superior effort to change the laws in Ohio for the benefit of Cannabis patients.  A better, smarter ballot measure simply does not exist.  There are competing measures out there, but all of them have serious fatal flaws that will render them DOA on the Secretary of State's doorstep.  We will be demonstrating this fact in the weeks to come so stay tuned.  

John Pardee, President
Ohio Rights Group

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If You Smoke It, You WIll be Addicted

In recent weeks, we have seen a shift in how drug war proponents are talking about marijuana. No longer able to convince the public that people who use marijuana should go to jail, they are singing a new tune; they should all go to treatment. This is a shift we have seen before. When marijuana first came on the scene in the U.S. in the early 1900s, reports of marijuana induced violence among Mexicans fueled the nation’s fear about the little known plant. When the general population started experimenting with the herb in the 1920s, it became clear that the claims of violence were fabricated. Losing the ability to instill fear in the public around marijuana use, the message was modified. The new message tied marijuana use to insanity and mental illness, which were highly stigmatized conditions, and continue to be. Being labeled as mentally ill frightened the white, middle class, marijuana consumers, and this fear led to the support of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937.

Fast forward to 2012. Public support for marijuana legalization is at an all-time high and the government acknowledges that a change is being considered. No longer able to convince Americans that marijuana consumers are dangerous criminals who deserve to be locked up, history is repeating itself. We are seeing a shift in the message, from marijuana consumers as criminals to marijuana consumers as sick people who belong in treatment. It’s a propaganda shell game and we can’t fall for it again.

A recent article in the New York Times quoted Dr. Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse as saying that 1 out of 6 adolescents who try marijuana will become addicted. That is akin to saying, if you keep making that face, it will freeze that way. In fact, a mere 2.8% of 12-17 year olds who used marijuana in 2010 entered treatment for it, and many of those cases could be the result of an agreement between the courts and the defendant in lieu of involvement with the juvenile justice system. When looking at the broader landscape of marijuana use, we see that 1.1% of marijuana users 12 and older in 2010 went to treatment for the substance. We also saw twice as many arrested for simple marijuana possession that year than enter treatment for marijuana dependence (750,000 vs. 335,833). The claim that marijuana causes mental illness, or that all marijuana consumers are addicted and in need of treatment undermines the efforts by mental health and addictions professionals to address the serious illnesses and addictions that pose real threats to persons and society.

Dr. David Nathan, a clinical associate professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and recently elected as a distinguished fellow in the American Psychiatric Association, wrote in a piece on CNN.com, “Throughout my career as a clinical psychiatrist, I have seen lives ruined by drugs like cocaine, painkillers and alcohol. I have also borne witness to the devastation brought upon cannabis users — almost never by abuse of the drug, but by a justice system that chooses a sledgehammer to kill a weed.”

Recently, former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy announced the formation of a new group, SAM, which stands for A Smarter Approach to Marijuana. Kennedy and his group recognize that the argument of jail for marijuana is no longer salient with today’s population, so they have repackaged the message for a new generation: marijuana use is a mental illness and requires treatment, every time. This sentiment is echoed in his group’s project list, which includes, “Increased funding for mental health courts and treatment of drug dependency, so those caught using marijuana might avoid incarceration, get help and potentially have their criminal records cleared.”

On its face, this statement is not so outrageous, but upon closer look it is frightening for two reasons. First, although increased funding for mental health services and substance abuse treatment can be beneficial, according to a 2008 report, 90% of those who currently need substance abuse treatment do not receive it, this compares to 24% of diabetes patients who do not receive treatment. It is estimated that 23 million people need addiction care, and only 2.3 million receive it. Forcing marijuana consumers into an already overloaded system will reduce the likelihood of care for those with serious, life threatening addictions. Furthermore, since approximately 37% of treatment referrals come from the criminal justice system, initiating a pipeline from the courtroom to treatment will result in a tidal wave of first time, young marijuana offenders entering substance abuse treatment to trade the label of criminal for addict. Secondly, Kennedy’s group refers to treatment for those “caught” with marijuana. This implies, that, under his plan, the U.S. will continue to seek out marijuana users, presumably via law enforcement. Or, perhaps Kennedy et al will institute a special marijuana task force charged with roaming the country in search of marijuana addicts. Whatever the case, SAM’s plan involves the active identification of marijuana consumers, followed by forced involvement in the system. Don’t be fooled, this is not a “new way” for marijuana, but rather a regressive old approach dressed in new clothes.

Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Amanda Reiman, Policy Manager, Drug Policy Alliance
Published: January 18, 2013
Copyright: 2013 HuffingtonPost.com, LLC
Contact: scoop@huffingtonpost.com
Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

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Message from the President - the fuse is lit!

I just wanted to update you all on where we are at and where we are going.  

Where we are at: We've finalized the language and are preparing our filings to the State of Ohio for approval to commence signature gathering. We are also rapidly developing our online presence and we have a small but growing group of talented techies developing our online presence which will be critical for our success. If you are a techie and wish to donate your services, we'd love to have your help, so please reach out and let us know your capabilities. Our media team is also developing so if you have media experience or equipment at your disposal, please let us know. Remember, this is going to be a statewide campaign so we can never have too much talent.  We will find a way to use your services.

Where we are going: The fuse is lit Ohio.  Soon we will be exploding all over the state with events and volunteer recruitment and will be building an army of signature gatherers, fundraisers, event planners, and social media junkies in each and every county who will take our message and make it go viral.  This movement has the undeniable will of the people behind it and we are finally going to get this done in Ohio.  But our early efforts are not without it's challenges so as we continue to build, please pardon our dust as this organization is building from the ground up.  We need doers and donors, lots of them.  Doers: The sooner you can volunteer your time and talents, the faster we get out of the starting blocks. Donors: An operation like this requires capital investments.  So if you can spare $5, please send it to:

The Ohio Rights Group
1021 East Broad Street
Columbus, OH 43205

We will have an online donation button up soon but for now, please send your donations to our physical address.  We are a 501(c)(4) non-profit and you may review our incorporation records at the Ohio Secretary of State website.  

This is going to happen Ohio, but not if you sit on the sidelines.  Think of the sick and suffering who need help now.  Think of the unemployed who need good paying jobs now.  Think of the imprisoned who are in need of freedom now.  Don't be a spectator.  We are going to make history, Ohio. Be a part of it.  Volunteer or donate today.  

John Pardee
President
Ohio Rights Group

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The Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment

The Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment

Be it resolved by the people of the State of Ohio: That the Constitution of the State of Ohio be amended by adopting a section to be designated as Section 12 of Article XV thereof, to read as follows:

Article XV: Section 12. Medical, therapeutic and industrial use of Cannabis.

Section 1. Rights.

In accordance with Article 1: Bill of Rights, Section 1 of the Constitution of the State of Ohio:

(A) Residents of the State of Ohio, who have attained the age of majority and who are diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition, shall be eligible residents for the purpose of making therapeutic use of the genus Cannabis, also known as medical marijuana or marihuana, currently defined in Section 3719.01 of the Revised Code, hereinafter referred to as therapeutic, to alleviate their suffering. Residents of the State of Ohio, who are under the age of majority and who are diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition, may be eligible residents with the prior written consent of a parent or guardian.
(B) Eligible residents shall have the right to make therapeutic use of Cannabis to alleviate their suffering and to possess an amount of Cannabis sufficient to meet their therapeutic needs.
(C) Eligible residents shall have the right to be free of discrimination and interference from the State of Ohio with regard to their therapeutic use of Cannabis; medical necessity shall be deemed an affirmative defense in a court of law.
(D) Eligible residents shall have the right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to their therapeutic use of Cannabis, including but not limited to any records kept by the State pertaining to such use.
(E) Eligible residents who make therapeutic use of Cannabis shall have the right to produce their own Cannabis, and to acquire Cannabis sufficient to alleviate their suffering from state-licensed providers without fear of arrest, prosecution or undue interference by the state.
(F) Eligible residents shall have the right to access goods and services to enable their therapeutic use of Cannabis.
(G) Within the State of Ohio, it shall be a legal right for individuals or organizations, deemed eligible by the Ohio Commission of Cannabis Control, to grow, process, distribute, transport, purchase or sell Cannabis for therapeutic use in various forms to eligible residents according to rules and regulations as established by the Ohio Commission of Cannabis Control.
(H) Residents of the State of Ohio, deemed eligible by the Ohio Department of Agriculture under Section 3(E), shall have the right to produce non-psychoactive Cannabis, also known as hemp, for industrial use including, but not limited to paper, fuel, foods, building materials and clothing. With this right, Cannabis for industrial use is hereby removed from any schedule or classification system in the State of Ohio wherein it is listed as a drug.
(I) These rights shall not be abridged, and the State of Ohio shall support, uphold and defend these rights, notwithstanding Federal Patents, in accordance with the Health and Safety of Ohioans and the ninth and tenth amendments of the constitution of the United States of America.

Section 2. Limitations.
(A) Nothing in this Amendment requires the therapeutic use of Cannabis, or the industrial use of Cannabis; nor does this amendment invalidate existing anti-smoking laws.
(B) Nothing in this Amendment shall prohibit the reasonable regulation and control of the commercial production and distribution of Cannabis for therapeutic use by the Ohio Commission of Cannabis Control as set forth in Section 3.
(C) Nothing in this Amendment shall prohibit the reasonable regulation and control of the commercial production and distribution of Cannabis for industrial use as delegated by the Ohio Commission of Cannabis Control to the Ohio Department of Agriculture as set forth in Section 3.
(D) Nothing in this Amendment shall prohibit the sale of Cannabis for therapeutic use or for industrial use to eligible residents; nor prevent research or educational institutions from studying the therapeutic properties of Cannabis; nor prevent research or educational institutions from studying the properties of Cannabis for industrial use; nor prohibit the reasonable application of fines or fees pursuant to the regulation and control of Cannabis within the State in accordance with Section 4. The sale of Cannabis for industrial use is sale of tangible personal property for purposes of the collection of State and local sales taxes.
(E) Debilitating medical conditions include, but are not limited to the following diagnoses: glaucoma; multiple congenital cartilaginous exostosis; multiple sclerosis; nail-patella syndrome; positive status for human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS); Alzheimer’s disease; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; cancer; celiac disease; Crohn’s disease; hepatitis C; mylomalacia; post traumatic stress; rheumatoid arthritis; sickle cell anemia; injury or disease to the spinal cord, spinal column, or vertebra; Tourette's syndrome; a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe or chronic nausea, seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy, or severe or persistent muscle spasms; depression; and any additional medical condition or its treatment that may be designated by the Commission or set forth by the General Assembly pursuant to Section 3.
(F) Nothing in this Amendment authorizes any person to engage in, nor prohibits the imposition of civil, criminal or other penalties for undertaking any task under the influence of Cannabis, when doing so would constitute negligence or professional malpractice; or to operate, navigate or be in actual physical control of any motorized conveyance while under the influence of Cannabis.
(G) An eligible resident shall not be considered to be under the influence of Cannabis for therapeutic use solely because of the presence of active or inactive metabolites of Cannabis in the eligible resident’s urine, blood, tissue, hair or skin or as detectable by any other measure of body chemistry. The legal definition of impairment as a result of the therapeutic use of Cannabis and the applicable testing to determine such impairment shall be based on scientific evidence of impairment.

Section 3. The Commission.
(A) There is hereby created the Ohio Commission of Cannabis Control, which shall support and uphold the rights enumerated in Section 1; shall serve the public interest; shall license, regulate and control Cannabis for therapeutic use in Ohio; and shall ensure statewide compliance with this Amendment.
(B) The appointments to the Board of the Commission shall total nine members: three members to serve initial four year terms, three members to serve initial three year terms and three members to serve initial two year terms. Two members are to be registered Ohio voters, who shall also be eligible residents for the therapeutic use of Cannabis after regulations to be established by the Commission are in effect; two members are to be Ohio farmers, one of whom shall be a license or permit holder after implementation of a licensing and permitting system by the Commission and one of whom shall be a license or permit holder after implementation of a licensing and permitting system by the Ohio Department of Agriculture under Section 3(E); one member is to be a licensed medical practitioner; one member is to be a licensed mental health professional; one member is to be a full time law enforcement officer in the State of Ohio; one member is to represent the Ohio Department of Agriculture; and one member is to represent the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. Each Commissioner shall be a registered Ohio voter and shall be required to publicly disclose all corporate affiliations. No more than four (4) members shall be affiliated with the same political party. Initial appointments of the two registered Ohio voters, the two Ohio farmers, the licensed medical practitioner and the licensed mental health professional shall be selected by the Committee to Represent the Petitioners for this Amendment. Initial appointments of a full time law enforcement officer, the member to represent the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the member to represent the Ohio Civil Rights Commission shall be selected by the governor or, if not appointed within sixty (60) days of an affirmative vote by the electors of the state, by the Committee to Represent the Petitioners. Succeeding terms of the Commission shall be three years in length. No vacancy in the Commission shall impair the right of the remaining Commissioners to exercise all powers of the Commission.
(C) The Board of the Commission shall be duly constituted and conduct its first official meeting within ninety (90) days of an affirmative vote by the electors of the state. Regulations and licensing and permitting systems shall be implemented by the Commission within one hundred and eighty (180) days of an affirmative vote. Meetings of the Commission shall be open to the public and a matter of public record. The Commission shall issue to the General Assembly an annual report concerning its activities during the prior year.
(D) The Commissioners shall have the authority to enact and amend regulations, recommendations or findings as they pertain to Cannabis for therapeutic use in accordance with this Amendment, and to the procedures in the Ohio Administrative Procedure Act. The Commission shall license or authorize other personnel within the state to regulate Cannabis for therapeutic use and Cannabis for industrial use.

(E) The Commission shall delegate the authority to enact and amend regulations, recommendations or findings as they pertain to Cannabis for industrial use in accordance with this Amendment to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The Department shall have regulations in effect and the licensing and permitting systems implemented according to the time table in Section 3(C).
(F) The proposed regulations shall support, uphold and defend the Rights enumerated in Section 1 and shall include provisions for the protection from arrest and prosecution of eligible residents, providers, farmers and other entities who provide legal access to Cannabis for therapeutic use and to Cannabis for industrial use.

Section 4. Funding.

(A) Regulatory fees, licensing fees, permit fees and fines for the therapeutic use of Cannabis shall be determined by the Commission. Regulatory fees, licensing fees, permit fees and fines for the industrial use of Cannabis shall be determined by the Ohio Department of Agriculture pursuant to Section 3(E).
(B) All operating expenses of the Commission, of the Department pursuant to Section 3(E), and of their staff shall be funded by the reasonable fees and fines adopted to implement the activities authorized by this Amendment. Regulatory fees, license fees, permit fees and fines shall not be cost prohibitive for eligible residents, farmers or providers.
(C) The General Assembly shall provide adequate funds to cover the costs of implementing the provisions set forth by this Amendment, based on recommendations set forth by the Commissioners in consultation with the Department.
(D) Compensation for board members of the Commission shall not exceed the average compensation received by board members of all other Ohio governmental Commissions.

Section 5. Severability.
Any section of this Amendment being held invalid shall not affect the application of any other section that can be given full effect without the invalid section.

Version: 4.0 – 1/24/13

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