Thursday, January 22, 2009

New Directions for New York - Tonight!

Tonight is the evening plenary event for New Directions for New York. Registration is free for tonight's event (the conference tomorrow is completely booked). If you live anywhere in the Tri-state area, try and make it to this event from 7-9, as it promises to be spectacular. More information is available in the registration link.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Montanta Readies for a Step Forward... and a Step Back?

In Montana, two bills are being proposed to change the state medicinal marijuana policy - one for the better, and one for the worse.

House Bill 73 seeks to expand the use of medicinal marijuana by allowing physicians assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe marijuana. (For comparison, nurse practitioners can currently prescribe the same prescription drugs that a psychiatrist can).

Senate Bill 212 seeks to disqualify permanently from the medicinal marijuana program any person who is found operating a motor vehicle with any trace amount of THC in their bloodstream. This is a completely ridiculous proposal, as trace THC can be found in the bloodstream for days after use, and it does not by any stretch mean that the person is operating while under the influence.

Both bills are being discussed this week, so call your representative and senator and voice your support for House Bill 73 and your opposition to Senate Bill 212. As always, contact information can be fount at Here are two short sample scripts:

Dear ________ (name of state representative),

I am calling to voice my support for House Bill 73. Medicinal marijuana is currently available as a prescription medication, and I feel that all professionals licensed to prescribe such medication - including physicians assistants and nurse practitioners - should be allowed to do so. Cannabis has many documented medicinal properties, and as many people as possible should have the option of this form of treatment for their ailments if they need it.

Dear __________ (name of state senator),

I am calling to voice my strong opposition to Senate Bill 212. Operating under the influence is dangerous, but this bill targets any person who has smoked cannabis within the past two weeks, regardless of whether or not they are still under the influence. We do not charge a person with driving under the influence of alcohol or punish them otherwise simply for having consumed alcohol within the last two weeks, and, likewise, we should not punish someone for operating a motor vehicle when they are not under the influence.

Call soon to make sure that your voice is heard.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Obama Citizens Briefing Book

Though Obama was able to dodge the question in his second round of Open for Questions, he may not be so lucky with the Citizens Briefing Book, which is more or less the same process under a different name - people like you and me voted on issues that they think Obama should be focusing on.

Guess what the most popular and the third most popular issues were. Surprised?

Neither are we.

But look at the wording of the top question, which received 92970 'points' (1 vote = 10 points)

Ending Marijuana Prohibition

I suggest that we step back and take a non-biased "Science Based" approach to decide what should be done about the "Utter Failure" that we call the War on (some) Drugs.
The fact is that Marijuana is much less harmful to our bodies than other Legal Drugs such as Tobacco and Alcohol. And for the Government to recognize Marijuana as having Medicinal Properties AND as a Schedule I drug (Has NO medicinal Properties) is an obvious flaw in the system.
We must stop imprisoning responsible adult citizens choosing to use a drug that has been mis-labeled for over 70 years.

Ooh, this might be a trickier one to dodge. This isn't asked as a question in the form of 'will you' (a question easily answered with one two-letter word). Not only that - it hits the nail quite squarely on the head, listing a few of the most salient points necessary, and invoking the magic word: 'science'.

Like him or not, Obama is a politician, and politicians are nothing if not masters at dodging questions. I wouldn't be surprised if Obama found a way to avoid opening Pandora's box with this one as well (and I wouldn't blame him for being afraid to do so). Still, we're not making it any easier for him this time around, because Obama either has to ignore all scientific evidence (as John Walters is clearly not above of doing) or try and provide solid, logical reasons why we should... uphold illogical drug laws.

Don't be shocked to find a less-than-satisfactory response to this question. In all reality, the purpose of this system (and the 'Open For Questions' exchanges as well) is not to extract meaningful, groundbreaking responses from the president-elect (in other words, if he hasn't spoken up about an issue in front of the media yet, why should this be any different?) The real purpose is twofold:

1. See what people actually care about

2. Show people that Obama cares about #1.

And, given the results of all three surveys (for lack of a better word), I'd say that we've succeeded in our part. Like it or not, Obama is going to have to make some changes in the current system of dealing with drugs. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. That, or come up with some very compelling reasons not to - and between you and me, I'd say that the clock is ticking for pro-Prohibitionists to come forward with some actual scientific evidence to back their policies. I think seven decades is long enough, don't you?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Obama Responds Again to the Marijuana Question

Or, in this case, doesn't respond again.

The second round of 'Open for Questions' at has closed, and the administration has already posted a video response to some of the top questions. Note the operative word here. As is written on the page:

Since there were so many popular questions in so many categories, we tried to pull out some of them that had been addressed previously by the President-elect or Vice President-elect in order to focus the video portion on questions that haven’t been as specifically addressed during the Transition.

To be entirely honest, I excepted this result. Obama cannot backtrack on the statement that he made in the first round of responses, so they chose to answer the question phrased as 'will you' rather than one worded as 'why' (as some were).

The point of voting was not to extract a response, but rather to demonstrate the widespread support for reform. As my last count, there were either three or four questions related to drug policy reform in the top ten 'Additional Questions' (one of which kept flip-flopping between first and second place), and three related to drug policy reform under 'National Security'.

I'd consider that a success, if nothing else.

The first real test of this administration and its treatment of marijuana policy reform will be the appointment of the next drug czar. There have been rumors that Jim Ramstad is the pick, and I hope that they are unsubstantiated, because Ramstad would be a terrible choice. Ramstad opposes medicinal marijuana, which, as I have noted before, will probably be the first step in reform.

All is not lost yet, though. There are several ways to let Obama know that we expect better:

In our efforts to change local laws - efforts that have been almost universally successful in recent years - we should not forget the importance of reforming drug policy at the national level, which sets the tone for the country as a whole.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Decriminalization at Home has Implications Overseas

...if you call Canada 'overseas', that is. And we're fine with that!

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

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

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

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

And just in case you missed it in the article:

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Marijuana Tops

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

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

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Fight

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

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

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

The Honorable Thomas Menino

Mayor of Boston
1 City Hall Square, Suite 500
Boston, MA 02201-2013

Dear Mayor Menino:

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

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

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

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


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