The Next Front In The Marijuana Battle

Discussion in 'Marijuana Legalization' started by Superjoint, Jul 8, 2004.

  1. By Ann Harrison, AlterNet
    Source: AlterNet

    While the battle to allow marijuana for medical use is still being fought across the nation, the forward edge of the war for acceptance is pushing further: towards ending prohibition altogether. Campaigns to regulate rather than prohibit marijuana are catching fire around the country. The residents of Oakland, California – which already has legal medical marijuana dispensaries, will soon vote on whether to permit marijuana sales to all adults as a way to eliminate street dealing and fund city services.

    On June 29, county officials qualified the Oakland Cannabis Initiative for the November election. Supporters of the initiative had turned in over 32,000 signatures. "It would require the City of Oakland to develop a system to tax and regulate adult sale and use of marijuana as soon as possible under state law," says Joe DeVries, a board member of the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance, which supported the measure. "And until state law makes it possible, it requires that the Oakland police treat adult use and sale of marijuana as the lowest policing priority."
    The Oakland Cannabis Initiative is one of several similar measures intended to show local support for statewide marijuana law reform legislation. Medical cannabis is fully legal in only nine states.

    "We want Oakland to be at the forefront of a new trend. We have had inquiries from in and out of state to follow Oakland's language and use it elsewhere," says Dale Gieringer, president of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which backed the initiative. Gieringer says West Coast cities north of Santa Cruz, California are ready to tax and regulate marijuana. "A couple of local cities in the Bay Area are interested, they are waiting to see what happens in Oakland," says Gieringer, who adds that a group of San Diego activists also contacted the Oakland campaign.

    National drug law reform groups – the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) – supported the Oakland campaign. But DeVries says half the funding came from local residents like himself who believe that regulated marijuana sales will make the drug less available to young people. Tight controls on youth tobacco use have resulted in a drop in teen smoking, whereas drug war tactics have not lowered the number of teens smoking cannabis. A study released in May by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 21.9% percent of teens reported smoking cigarettes within the last month while 22.4% smoked marijuana.

    "By not having any regulation, young people are just using marijuana and putting themselves in danger and then moving on to other drugs," said Oakland resident Jane Coast, 53, who added her signature to the Oakland Cannabis Initiative one Sunday morning. Settling into a nearby cafe for brunch, Margaret Clasing, 24, also signed but took a different view. "If they use it responsibly I don't think its harmful at all,"said Clasing. "But I think it's safer to regulate it and take it off the street."

    Initiatives Throughout the Nation

    MPP executive director Rob Kampia says his organization put out a call a year ago looking for activists to run local marijuana initiatives. One initiative in Gainesville, Florida, which sought to make adult marijuana use the lowest policing priority, folded after organizers gathered only a small number of signatures. But a similar measure is expected to make the November ballot in Tallahassee, Florida.

    In Michigan, a Detroit medical marijuana initiative has qualified for the August 3 primary ballot. Another in Ann Arbor will be put to voters in the November election. One local ballot initiative in Columbia, Missouri takes a decriminalization approach, removing penalties and arrest for persons possessing up to 35 grams of marijuana and allowing only a civil fine. Massachusetts activists are still collecting signatures for up to a dozen non-binding local ballot initiatives which advise legislators to support marijuana law reform.

    The first local medical marijuana initiative passed in San Francisco in 1991. But it took another five years for California to pass the Compassionate Use Act (Prop. 215), which legalized medical cannabis throughout the state. Gieringer suggests that passage of a statewide California private adult use initiative will require the same time frame. Kampia agrees that local initiatives are crucial for building statewide support. "Once you get the debate heated up, public hearings and people editorializing about it, then you win a statewide ballot initiative," he says.

    Support appears to be strong for statewide medical marijuana in half a dozen states this year. The Vermont legislature just passed a medical marijuana law. Two more are pending in the Rhode Island and New York state legislatures. According to Kampia, a medical marijuana bill will soon be introduced in the Michigan state legislature. Statewide medical marijuana ballot initiatives in Arkansas and Montana will be voted on in November.

    DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann points out that while about 80 percent of Americans are comfortable with medical marijuana, only 30 percent to 50 percent now support broader legalization. He notes that state-wide initiatives are expensive and says he is hesitant to support them until polling indicates that they have a clear majority of voters behind them.

    A statewide initiative to regulate and tax adult recreational use of marijuana is on the ballot in Alaska this year, and Nevada is struggling to place a major initiative on its ballot, despite a setback in the signature-gathering. Some 6,000 signatures were lost in Clark County and did not make the submission deadline. The Committee for the Regulation and Control of Marijuana submitted 35,000 signatures; 31,360 are required to qualify, but the verification process often discounts about 30 percent.

    In 2002, a similar initiative in Nevada lost by 22 percentage points after heavy opposition by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a massive get-out-the-vote effort by Republicans and several highly publicized deaths attributed to marijuana use. Kampia believes that if the initiative gets on the ballot, the high voter turnout expected in the November election will bring out enough supportive Nevada voters to carry this year's measure. The Nevada initiative removes the threat of arrest and jail for those 21 and over who possess up to one ounce of marijuana. It also also requires the state legislature to establish a privately run system to grow, sell and tax cannabis. Like Oakland, the Nevada initiative emphasizes lowering teen access through marijuana regulation and points out that 28% of Dutch teens have smoked grass (where it is legal) compared to 67% in Nevada.

    But Nadelmann cautions activists not to underestimate the resistance to drug reform measures. "We have an incredibly committed, emotional and in some respects fanatical opposition willing to do virtually whatever it can to block this," he says.

    Oakland Confronts the Opposition

    Some of the ongoing turmoil in Oakland illustrates the opposition against drug law reform. Two Oakland city counselors backed the Oakland Cannabis Initiative, and campaigners say their polls show 71 percent of likely voters support it. But Mayor Jerry Brown, who is running for California State Attorney General, has remained conspicuously silent and declined to comment for this story. According to his spokeswoman, the mayor is still studying the initiative. But Brown has been spotted enjoying a drink at at a trendy new bar in Oakland's "Oaksterdam" district, which has been revitalized by a cluster of medical marijuana clubs that the city has largely shut down. The Oakland City Council decided to license only four of the clubs citywide and went further this month, closing all but three of the city's ten or so thriving medical cannabis dispensaries.

    Richard Lee, owner of two Oakland medical cannabis clubs, said the city felt that Oaksterdam was colliding with other development plans. But he points out that the medical cannabis clubs brought in $70 million dollars per year in gross revenue and attracted diners and shoppers that developers find attractive. Lee is optimistic that the city will eventually license more clubs, including those for non-medical cannabis users. "What we hope is that by allowing more clubs, not less, they will eliminate problems and at the same time generate revenue for the city and attract tourism," says Lee who supported the Oakland Cannabis Initiative.

    "We want to tax cannabis and get it off the streets," says initiative field director Kim Swinford, who estimates that the marijuana trade in California is a $2-billion-a-year business. "We want the city to put the money into services like schools and libraries and youth programs which are way underfunded. Our schools are the worst."

    Swinford notes that California spends $100 million each year enforcing marijuana laws, plus an estimated $40 million incarcerating those non-violent offenders. She adds that people of color, who make up two thirds of Oakland residents, are especially targeted by police for drug arrests. Yet when Swinford ran into Mayor Brown at the Oaksterdam bar, she said he was unhappy that the Oakland Cannabis Initiative received funding from national organizations and later complained to another campaign worker that Oakland was a "guinea pig" for drug law reform. "Oakland is a city of thinkers and city of leaders, we are not guinea pigs," says an angry DeVries. "We are proud to go out and tell John Ashcroft and the Bush Administration that thirty years and billions of dollars spent locking people up, ruining their lives, and making it impossible to return to their jobs doesn't work."

    But the Oakland Police are not convinced that the cannabis initiative will reduce street dealing or availability to kids. "If marijuana is more expensive in the stores than on the street you will have a black market and it will not change anything. Street dealers don't have any overhead," says police Lt. Rick Hart who heads the Oakland Police Department's narcotics unit. "There are going to be those customers who have alternative ways to purchase it."

    DeVries points out that medical cannabis clubs sell marijuana at below street prices, and those selling to adults from regulated cannabis shops could too. He says undercutting street dealers removes the profit motive and will help de-escalate drug related violence on the streets of Oakland. As for a black market catering to young people, "I don't see a lot of kids out there selling alcohol to minors on the sly," says DeVries.

    But Hart says federal authorities will still target Oakland's proposed non-medical marijuana sales whether or not they are sanctioned by state law. "Just because you sell it in a store and because police have a lower priority doesn't mean that the federal government won't target the store or shut them down, make arrests and seize contraband," says Hart, who confirms that two of his Oakland officers are cross deputized to work with a federal Drug Enforcement Agency narcotics task force.

    DeVries points out that most people are arrested on marijuana charges under state laws. But he says preventing local police from targeting marijuana sellers under federal law remains a big challenge for local drug law reformers. "If the city of Oakland says we want to tax and regulate cannabis and make it available to adults," says DeVries. "The local police have to stop doing the federal government's dirty work and stop participating in federal drug task forces – like San Jose did last year."

    Note: California, Nevada, Alaska, Massachusetts, Florida: Marijuana initiatives are burning up the ballots – not just for medical use, but for regulated adult use too.

    Ann Harrison is a freelance reporter working in the Bay Area.

    Source: AlterNet (US)
    Author: Ann Harrison, AlterNet
    Published: July 1, 2004
    Copyright: 2004 Independent Media Institute

    Related Articles & Web Site:

    Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance

  2. its good to see these stats..I wondered what kind of numbers the facts would produce..interesting people!! very interesting!
  3. Now if Pennsylvania could get off their lazy ass and attempt to pass something I'd be happy. Regulation, decriminalization, anything! Anyway, the article was a good read. I hope somebody makes the first sucessful move. If one place gets it done then other places will jump on the bandwagon, it's the American way. We're full of a bunch of followers with a few leaders.
  4. One of those states is mine...hell yeah...this is deffinitly a step closer in the right direction....seems like things are lookin up for mary jane...
  5. FUnk yes! Go East Bay! I live like 20 mins from Oakland.
  6. I live in one of those states too... maybe it will be legal someday, I hadn't realized how many people were fighting to make it legal. I'm about an hour from Oakland.
  7. battle ?

    I see no battle.

    Perhaps at one time ,but I would hardly call "Please may I have some marijuana" ,much of a battle.

    Legally ,Marijuana will never be what current users hope it will be.

    Medically ,it will never be 'proven' to either be of any use ,or controllable for financial gain.(As that is the true motivation of every doctor I've ever met.)

    roach...................................Pittsburgh ,Pennsylvania.

    And no longer a marijuana user.

  8. This person has the right idea
  9. man....I just keep planting the seeds from my stash...and hoping to overgrow the bastards

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