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.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Why Medicinal Use Matters

The reasons for supporting marijuana policy reform are as many and varied as there are advocates of marijuana policy reform. Medicinal use is only one, but right now, it is a very important one.

I find it hard to believe that there can be any significant change in marijuana policy without a change in the way law-abiding patients acting with a prescription are treated. Currently, patients in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington are subject to federal prosecution and violent raids by the DEA. At least they're safe under state law, right?

Not so fast. According to a recent ruling by the California Supreme Court, people who supply marijuana to patients with a prescription are still subject to arrest as if they were drug dealers.

That's funny - I thought the whole point of legalizing medicinal use was that medicinal use would be, you know, no longer a crime.

And therein lies the problem. How can we expect people to decriminalize marijuana on a wide scale - let alone legalize it- when law enforcement fails to recognize its use as a legitimate medicine?

Maybe I should clarify that: they recognize that marijuana is a legitimate medicine... they just believe that legal distribution and use of a medicine is a crime, even with a prescription and license.

In Michigan, the initiative to legalize medicinal marijuana received a greater portion of the vote than Obama did. (The same holds for the Massachusetts initiative to decriminalize small possession, and I am convinced that, had Massachusetts instead held a vote on medicinal use, it would have passed with over 70% of the vote.) It is no secret that a disproportionately large proportion of the elderly vote, compared to their children/grandchildren, and these voters are more likely to be sympathetic to medicinal use for ailments such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and others. These voters are less likely to support decriminalization or legalization for personal use (though as many as 70% in Massachusetts were polled as supporting decriminalization as well).

Once people accept marijuana as a medicine - thereby accepting that has beneficial properties - they are more likely to adjust their view of marijuana as a 'dangerous, corruptive, gateway drug' and start seeing it as it truly is.

We have reports of legislative efforts in Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York already, and it is very easy to start a campaign in your home state if there isn't already one. (Contact us if you have any questions). It is key at this point to show strong support for state legislation legalizing medicinal marijuana, and it is also a very winnable battle, so let's get to it!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Directions for New York

The Drug Policy Alliance and the New York Academy of Medicine are co-hosting New Directions for New York, a conference on new options for drug policy in the state.

The description, as given on the event page, reads:
For too long, New York's response to drug policy issues has relied heavily on a criminal justice approach. The Drug Policy Alliance and the New York Academy of Medicine have come together to convene a conference that will put forward New Directions for New York. This conference will bring together community advocates, researchers, service providers and legislators from all over the state in order to build a Public Health & Safety Approach to Drug Policy. For the first time, these various groups will participate in sessions and trainings that emphasize the need for better communication and a coordinated response to the drug policy issues facing New York. Using a public health framework, the conference will challenge participants to develop concrete proposals for improving the health of individuals, families, and communities in New York who are affected by substance use and misuse.

More information and registration can be found at the event page.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Medicinal Marijuana in New Jersey?

Last month, a Senate Health Committee in New Jersey approved a medicinal marijuana bill by a 6-1 vote. This allows the issue to face the New Jersey State Senate for - unless I am mistaken - the first time in history.

Aside from the obvious, why is this significant? States such as California and Michigan passed their medicinal use laws through ballot initiatives. New Jersey does not allow ballot initiatives, which means that any change in the their laws must come from the legislature. In other words, this is the first step down the only path by which medicinal marijuana can be legalized in New Jersey.

The Drug Policy Alliance has a good automated form letter that New Jersey residents can use to urge their state senators to support the bill.

Letters are a good. Sometimes, the officials will even respond. However, in a state issue such as this one, phonebanking can be immensely successful. The office must keep a running tally of all call received, and with each senator representing such small areas, just a few calls represent a huge level of support.

Calling your state senator is surprisingly quick - seriously, time it, and you should be done with the whole process of looking up the number, calling, and reading from the script in less than four minutes. If you're slow, that is.

To look up your state senator, go to and enter your 9-digit ZIP code (USPS has a form to look this up if you don't know it).

Click on your state senator (not your senator in Congress!) and click 'complete contact information'. Call this number, ask for the office of __________ (your state senator), and read any or all of the following:

I am calling to urge Senator __________ to support the current legislation to legalize medicinal use of marijuana. It is unconscionable to deny patients the benefits of a medicine that has been proven by over 20,000 medical studies to have beneficial properties. These applications range from treating headaches and nausea to treating diabetes, MRSA, glaucoma, cancer, and AIDS.

Medicinal use is not the same as recreational use. New Jersey's laws on recreational use are firm. However, we cannot deny patients the benefits of a medicine simply because of its potential for abuse. Just as Valium, OxyContin, and Ritalin are all available with a prescription, marijuana should be as well.

DEA Judge young once declared,

Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.

I support the medicinal use of marijuana, and I hope that Senator _______ will voice his support as well.

That's it. You can even read the whole thing in a monotone (though expression helps!). They have to take note of it regardless.

If you have the time (and seriously, who doesn't have five minutes and 42 cents?), you can both send the letter and call the office. But, between the two, it might be worthwhile to call the office. These offices generally receive a low level of calls, and if supporters of the bill flood the office with calls, they are more likely to vote for the bill - and even openly support the bill with an endorsement.

If you live in New Jersey, do make the small effort to show your support for this law as a constituent, one way or the other (or both).

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Massachusetts Decriminalization Takes Effect Today

Today is the day that possession of less than an ounce is decriminalized in Massachusetts. From today, possession will no longer be a criminal offense and will be punished by a $100 civil violation and confiscation of the contraband.

However, there are some things to keep in mind. Lynda M. Connolly, the Chief Justice, issued a pamphlet about the new law.

Here are some basics:

In some districts, the police are threatening not to enforce the new law altogether. They may run into some issues in court when it is revealed that they are arresting citizens for a non-criminal offense (imagine trying to handcuff someone for rolling a stop sign or forgetting to feed the meter). Still you may be best avoiding the situation altogether.

Some towns are passing bylaws making public smoking of marijuana a misdemeanor criminal offense. Because these laws vary from town, it is hard to make a blanket statement about all of them, but it is possible that some could be worded badly enough that they apply to possession in public as well. Thus, it would be advisable not to walk down the street with a dime bag in your hands.

And, keep in mind - while marijuana has been decriminalized, it has not been legalized. $100 tickets could start to add up, and while they will not create a criminal record, they nevertheless do create a viewable record. If your job (or a job you aspire to have) forbids drug use, you would be best avoiding the fine altogether.

Before, police enforced the marijuana possession law weakly. Now, as evidenced on MassCops, they will be much stricter. Be smart - lighting up a joint in the middle of the Commons (or even a back alley) is probably not a good idea.

Also, the only law that has been changed is the one regarding possession of less than an ounce. Other violations, such as possession of more than an ounce, purchase, sale, and intent to distribute, are all still criminal offenses, and the police are likely to be more strict about those offenses with this new law. Dividing up half an ounce into two or more bags could be considered intent to distribute. It would be advisable not to risk the criminal offense - don't divide up your stash into multiple parts. And passing a joint back and forth could be considered distribution, rather than simply possession.

In other words: While the penalties for possession have decreased, the risk of heavier charges instead of possession has increased. Use the same precautions under the new law that you used under the old law.

Lastly, OUIs are still criminal offenses. Not to mention that they are dangerous. Do not take the new law as an opportunity to drive while stoned. Officers no doubt will try and charge people with OUI instead of possession even when a driver is sober. Don't make it any easier for them.

We worked hard to decriminalize marijuana in Massachusetts on the grounds that most marijuana users are safe and responsible. This is our chance to prove that we were right - let's make the most of it.

Remember, Legal.Now does not encourage criminal activity. (Thankfully, though, possession is no longer a criminal activity in Massachusetts!) On a serious note, though, this post is not meant to encourage readers to smoke marijuana simply because of the change in law. Rather, it is meant as a bit of guidance as to what the changes in the law mean.