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Law Enforcement: California Budget Crisis Could Gut State Narcs, Drug Task Forces

The latest version of the California state budget being considered by legislators in Sacramento would reduce the number of state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement (BNE) agents to 100 and zero-out funding for 51 drug task forces funded by the agency. A decade ago, BNE fielded 400 agents. Cuts in recent years have reduced that number to 185 agents, and the latest budget proposals would slice that number nearly in half.

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California ''Campaign Against Marijuana Planting'' (CAMP) task force at work (photo from calguard.ca.gov)
California is faced with a $26 billion budget deficit, state employees have been told to take three unpaid days of leave each month, the state is now issuing IOUs instead of cash payments to some vendors (and people expecting income tax refunds), and drastic cuts are already being administered to a wide variety of health, education, and welfare programs. But that doesn't stop the narcs from squealing.

"We realize everyone's going to take cuts," said Mike Lloyd, head of the Association of Special Agents. "But to have already cut us by 215 agents and turn around and cut us again this year by another 70 agents, which is 50 percent of our general fund budget, that's huge. There's no agency in the state that's taking that kind of hit," he told the Redding Searchlight.

The association met with legislators last week to try to reverse the cuts. The narcs argued that in additional to handling statewide drug enforcement, BNE also funds the local drug task forces. If BNE funding dries up, those task forces will go the way of the dodo bird, the narcs warned.

BNE has the support of California Attorney General Jerry Brown. "What the task forces do and what BNE does is they bring expertise and resources to stop drug-trafficking organizations that go beyond city and county lines," said Brown spokesman Scott Gerber. "They're the only bureau in the state that does that. They play a critical role."

If the BNE funding cuts actually occur, drug law enforcement will devolve back to local police forces and sheriff's departments, which are also cutting back because of budgetary pressures. The end result is likely to be less drug law enforcement, for better or worse. [Ed: Mostly for better.]

Europe: Copenhagen Ponders Cannabis Decriminalization, Coffee Shops

In its glory days, the Copenhagen neighbourhood of Christiania was known as the place to go to purchase cannabis. It even had a "Pusher Street" where vendors sold their wares. But a conservative Danish government cracked down on Christiania's hash sellers in 2003, and six years later, the Copenhagen city government is starting to wonder whether that was a mistake.

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entrance to Christiania, Copenhagen (courtesy Wikimedia)
The City Council's Social Affairs Committee has issued a report on cannabis policy and is calling on the council to seriously consider decriminalization as a means of reducing gang violence. Since the crackdown on Christiania, the hashish trade has been pushed out into the rest of the city, with police admitting that much recent gang violence is linked to the geographical expansion of the trade.

The report called on the council to consider decriminalization as "a possible alternative" to prohibition. It found that cannabis prohibition has neither lessened use rates nor reduced crime related to its sale. It also noted that "easy access to cannabis has not been shown to lead to more users or addicts."

The report was largely based on the Global Cannabis Commission Report published by the British Beckley Foundation. That report sought "more rational and effective" approaches to cannabis control.

The go-ahead for the report came in February, when the Social Democrats, the largest party on the council, joined with the Social Liberals, the Red-Green Alliance, and the Socialist People's Party to approve it. The three smaller parties already backed the legal sale of cannabis in small quantities for personal use, or "the Amsterdam model," but the Social Democrats are not willing to go that far.

According to the Copenhagen Post, a recent poll found 59% support for Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes. Still, Social Democrats social affairs spokesman Thor Gronlykke told the newspaper his party would only support a model that aims to limit the number of abusers and addicts.

The Red-Green Alliance is ready to go much further. It has long supported the Amsterdam model and has campaigned for cannabis to be legalized and sold as freely as alcohol and tobacco are now.

"It's completely ridiculous that police use more time and energy looking for clumps of cannabis at Christiania than they do finding the people behind human trafficking," wrote Mikkel Warming, deputy mayor for social affairs, on the party's website. "The legalization of cannabis would get rid of a huge part of gangs' income base."

Decriminalization is also supported by Liberal Party council candidate Lars Dueholm. If he wins a seat on the council, decriminalization would become even more likely.

"For me there are two important reasons to decriminalise cannabis," he said. "One is the fact that we're pouring millions, if not billions, of kroner into gang pockets because they're the only ones selling hash when it's illegal."

Still, even if the Copenhagen City Council approved decriminalization and/or cannabis cafes, the measure would have to win approval by the Danish parliament.

Feature: Censorship in South Dakota -- Marijuana Activist Silenced By Judge as Condition of Probation

For most of this decade, Bob Newland has been the voice of marijuana law reform in South Dakota. The photographer and Black Hills resident has organized Hempfests, lobbied for reform legislation in the state capitol, relentlessly crisscrossed the state from the Black Hills to the Sioux Valley, and organized medical marijuana petition drives. He is the director of South Dakota NORML and founder of South Dakotans for Safe Access. As a marijuana reform activist, Newland has been unstoppable -- until now.

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Bob Newland
Newland was arrested earlier this year after being pulled over while driving for carrying slightly under four ounces of marijuana on what his lawyer described as a "mission of mercy." Originally charged with possession with intent to distribute, the veteran activist accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to possession of under a half-pound of marijuana, an offense that carries a sentence of up to two years in the state penitentiary. Prosecutors agreed to make no sentencing recommendations.

On Monday, Newland appeared in court in Rapid City to learn his fate. Judge John Delaney didn't throw the book at him -- he was sentenced to one year in jail, with all but 45 days suspended -- but threw him a curveball instead. While under the court's supervision for the next year, Newland must not exercise his First Amendment right to advocate for marijuana law reform in South Dakota.

According to the Rapid City Journal, which had a reporter in the courtroom, Judge Delaney had two issues with Newland's marijuana reform advocacy. He was determined that Newland not appear to have gotten off lightly, and he did not want Newland's words to encourage young people to drink or use drugs.

"You are not going to take a position as a public figure who got a light sentence," Delaney warned Newland before talking about how juvenile courts are packed with kids who have drug problems. "Ninety-five percent of my chronic truants are using pot," Delaney said.

The no free speech probation condition raised ire and eyebrows not only in South Dakota, but across the land. Concerns are being expressed not only by drug reformers and civil libertarians, but also by legal scholars.

"Surrendering our First Amendment rights cannot be a condition of probation," said Allen Hopper, litigation director for the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. "The Constitution clearly protects the right to advocate for political change without fear of criminal consequence. It is a shame that the court feels obligated to muzzle protected speech in a misguided effort to guard society from unfounded fears of open debate. Bob Newland is just the latest victim of a baseless drug policy that continues to clog our prisons and trample our rights."

"Courts impose conditions on probationers all the time, but this sort of condition is very unusual," said Chris Hedges, professor of law at the University of South Dakota. "People ought to be able to argue that the law should be changed, but now he can't do that. We always have to be concerned when someone's speech is infringed," she said.

"Bob is a classic example of an individual activist who was one of the lone activists in the whole state and who now knows smartly the pains of prohibition," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of national NORML. "Those of us familiar with South Dakota laws and practices were not surprised with the jail time, but clamping down on First Amendment rights is something else. Judges put all kinds of restrictions on people on probation, but they don't usually say you can't engage in First Amendment activity."

It was precisely Newland's role as the face of marijuana reform in the state that earned the censorious probation, St. Pierre said. "Bob's pot bust was hardly an aberration, but the judge recognized he had the state's leading reefer rabble rouser in front of him. Had the judge had Joe Blow in front of him, I can't imagine that he would be saying you can't talk to anybody about this."

"It's appalling," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "I can't imagine any reason why anyone should, as part of a criminal sentence, be barred from arguing that the law he was arrested on is wrong and should be changed. This is profoundly troubling. Whatever you think of the individual or the law, we do have something called the First Amendment, and it should apply to Mr. Newland as well as anyone else. I can't imagine how the people of South Dakota could be endangered by allowing Mr. Newland to advocate for what he believes in."

"It's really sad what happened to Bob on Monday," said Emmett Reistroffer, who has stepped up to take Newland's place as leader of South Dakotans for Safe Access, which currently has a signature gathering drive under way to get a medical marijuana initiative on the 2010 ballot. "I've never heard of that before in my life. I'm not an attorney, but the first thing I think is what basis does the judge have for depriving someone of their First Amendment rights?"

Newland himself was surprised at the probation condition, but uncertain as to whether it was worth fighting. In what may be his last words on the subject -- for the next year, anyway -- he told the Chronicle he feared the "negative effects" of challenging it. In other words, he doesn't want to get thrown in jail for even longer than he will already have to serve.

"This seems to me to be a quite unusual sentence provision, of a sort I have never encountered in all my years of activism and watching other people get sentenced for illegal substances. It certainly plays at the edges of suppression of speech of the sort we expect to see in totalitarian countries," he said. "Judge Delaney wanted to make a statement with the sentence, and he surely did. If I were inclined to fight the provision, the immediate negative effects on my life would almost certainly outweigh any gain I could accomplish. Therefore, I must say that I accept the judge's decision in the same light that I accept all the other provisions of the sentence. If this statement so far hasn't taken me over the boundaries of taking a 'public role' in reform advocacy, I'd probably better wait a year to add to it."

But Newland may not be silenced just yet. Those words were written Wednesday, before the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project had a chance to discuss the issue with him. That organization is definitely interested in pursuing the case. If Newland wants to move forward with challenging the no free speech provision, drug reform groups will stand with him, said St. Pierre and Mirken.

"Drug policy reform groups have an immediate interest in this case," said St. Pierre. "It sets a terrible precedent and is such an aberration to be told what political subjects you can talk about. The right to exercise political speech is the fulcrum this will turn on."

Newland may also gain some reassurance from law professor Hutton. Newland should be free to challenge the no free speech condition without fear of legal reprisal, said Hutton. "If he just filed something to challenge that, it cannot be used against him," she said.

Ironically, the judge's probation condition may prove to be a boon to the movement in South Dakota, said St. Pierre. "Just the fact that this has happened has caught the attention of people around the world," he said. "Painful as this is, Bob is now probably going to raise the profile of this debate higher than 10 years of wearing out shoe leather -- and without saying a word."

Feature: Censorship in California -- MPP Marijuana Ad Campaign Hits Bumps as Stations Reject It

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) kicked off a TV ad campaign aimed at gaining support for a California marijuana legalization bill in the legislature on Wednesday, but ran into problems with several TV stations around the state, which either rejected the ad outright or just ignored MPP efforts to place it. Still, the spots are up and running on other Golden State stations.

Playing on California's budget crisis -- the state is $26 billion in the hole and currently issuing IOUs to vendors and laying off state workers -- the 30-second spots feature middle-aged suburban Sacramento housewife Nadene Herndon, who tells the camera:

"Sacramento says huge cuts to schools, health care, and police are inevitable due to the state's budget crisis. Even the state's parks could be closed. But the governor and the legislature are ignoring millions of Californians who want to pay taxes. We're marijuana consumers. Instead of being treated like criminals for using a substance safer than alcohol, we want to pay our fair share. Taxes from California's marijuana industry could pay the salaries of 20,000 teachers. Isn't it time?"

As Herndon finishes speaking, the words "Tax and regulate marijuana" appear on the screen, as well as a link to Controlmarijuana.org. Clicking on that link actually takes you to MPP's "MPP of California" web page.

"I'm a medical marijuana user," Herndon told the Chronicle. "I was at Oaksterdam University with my husband looking at some classes, and the chancellor [Richard Lee] came out and said I would be perfect for an ad they were thinking about. I talked to my husband, and he said maybe I should do it. It is a cause near and dear to my heart, so I did," she said.

The response from acquaintances has been very positive, she said. "I've gotten lots of positive messages, and a few who are worried for my safety or that my house might be vandalized," said Herndon. "I have gotten a couple of odd phone calls, though, so I've changed my number."

The spots are aimed at creating public support for AB 390, a bill introduced in February by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). That bill would legalize the adult possession of marijuana and set up a system of taxed and regulated cultivation and sales.

The bill and the ad campaign come as support for marijuana legalization is on the rise in California. A recent Field poll showed support at 56%. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has gone on the record saying that legalization needs to be discussed. And, thanks to the state's medical marijuana laws, millions of Californians can see with their own eyes what a regime of legal marijuana sales might look like.

It would appear that marijuana legalization is a legitimate political topic in California, but that's not what a number of the state's major market TV stations think. At least six stations have rejected or ignored the ads. Oakland NBC affiliate KTVU and San Francisco ABC affiliate KGO declined to air the ad, as did San Jose NBC affiliate KNTV. Three Los Angeles stations, KABC, Fox affiliate KTTV, and KTLA also refused to air the ad.

KGO told MPP that they "weren't comfortable" with the spot, while KNTV said only that "standards rejected the spot." KABC claimed the ad "promotes marijuana use."

But while some local stations have balked, the ad is running on stations in Oakland, Sacramento, and San Francisco, as well as on MSNBC, CNBC, and CNN, via California cable operators.

"We are astonished that major California TV stations chose to censor a discussion that Governor Schwarzenegger has said our state should have on an issue supported by 56% of voters, according to the Field poll," said Aaron Smith, MPP California policy director. "The two million Californians who use marijuana in a given month deserve to have their voices heard -- and their tax dollars should help solve the fiscal emergency that threatens our schools, police and parks."

"That those stations would refuse to run the ad is appalling," said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "This wasn't something we expected; this wasn't a stunt to get press coverage. This was intentionally a very innocuous ad."

Mirken took special umbrage at KABC's suggestion that the ad "promotes marijuana use." "It's a really tortured reading of that ad to claim that," he said. "The ad is simply recognizing the reality that there are lots of marijuana consumers out there unable to pay taxes on their purchases because we have consigned marijuana to a criminal underground," he said.

Alison Holcomb, drug policy director for the ACLU of Washington, told the Huffington Post that while the refusals don't "implicate the First Amendment from a legal standpoint," she believes the practice "undermines a core principle underlying the First Amendment: that the strength of a democracy flows from the exchange of ideas."

As Holcomb noted, the various stations' refusal to accept the ad is not a First amendment violation in the strict sense -- no governmental entity is suppressing MPP's right to seek air time to run its ad, and the stations are within their legal rights to refuse it. But the effect is to suppress MPP's ability to compete in the marketplace of ideas, and MPP smells a double standard.

"When the governor of the state has said we ought to have this debate, it would seem to mean letting all sides air their views," said Mirken. "Pretty much all of these stations that rejected our ad have aired ONDCP anti-marijuana ads, which are often blatantly dishonest, so they are effectively taking sides in the argument. That feels fundamentally unfair."

The battle continues. As of Thursday, MPP was effectively shut out of the Los Angeles market, except for the cable news networks. But Mirken said he hoped to have the ad on the air there by the weekend.

South Dakota Judge Sentences Marijuana Reform Activist to Shut Up

South Dakota's most well-known marijuana legalization advocate, Bob Newland, was sentenced yesterday to a year in the Pennington County Jail with all but 45 days suspended for felony marijuana possession--a little less than four ounces. Once he does his time, he'll be on probation for a year. Newland can, I suppose, consider himself fortunate. According to the South Dakota Department of Corrections, there are currently six people imprisoned for possession of less than half a pound and seven for more than half but less than one pound, as well as 14 doing time for distribution of less than an ounce and another 25 doing time for distribution of less than a pound. But in another respect, Newland is not so lucky. He has basically been stripped of his First Amendment right to advocate for marijuana legalization while he is on probation. As the Associated Press reported:
A longtime South Dakota supporter of legalized marijuana has been sentenced to serve 45 days in jail for possessing the illegal drug. Authorities say Bob Newland of Hermosa was found with four bags of marijuana, a scale and $385 in cash when he was stopped for speeding in March. He pleaded guilty in May to a possession charge under a plea agreement in which prosecutors agreed to drop a more serious charge of possession with intent to distribute. Newland will be on probation for the rest of the year following his jail term. During his probation, he is barred from publicly advocating the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Newland, understandably, is not inclined to challenge the probation condition. There's something about staring at the walls of a jail cell that does that to a guy. But that doesn't mean others shouldn't raise a stink about this arguably unconstititional sentence. I'll be looking into this and will have a Chronicle story about it on Friday.
Location: 
Rapid City, SD
United States

Industrial Hemp: Bill Passes Oregon Legislature, Heads for Governor's Desk

The Oregon House Monday passed SB 676 by a veto-proof margin of 46-11. The measure would allow for the production, possession, and commercialization of industrial hemp and its products. The measure passed the state Senate on June 19 an equally veto-proof 27-2 margin.

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hemp plants
During the House debate, hemp supporter Rep. Jules Bailey (D-Portland) used visual aids to demonstrate the diversity of hemp products, waving around bags of hemp tortilla chips and non-dairy hemp milk. He also held up a t-shirt emblazoned with the words "Senate Bill 676 is about rope, not dope."

"I am glad that Oregon has joined the list of states that have agreed that American farmers should have the right to reintroduce industrial hemp as an agricultural crop," said bill sponsor Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-South Lane and North Douglas Counties). "By passing SB 676 with strong bipartisan support, the Oregon legislature has taken a proactive position to allow its farmers the right to grow industrial hemp, to provide American manufacturers with domestically-grown hemp, and to profit from that effort."

The industry association Vote Hemp said it was confident Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) would sign the bill. If he does, or if a veto is overridden, Oregon will become the ninth state to authorize industrial hemp production under state law. It remains forbidden by federal law.

"The time has come for the federal government to act and allow farmers to once again grow hemp, so American companies will no longer need to import it and American farmers will no longer be denied a profitable new crop," said Vote Hemp president Eric Steenstra. "Under current federal policy, industrial hemp can be imported, but it cannot be grown by American farmers. Hemp is a versatile, environmentally-friendly crop that has not been grown in the US for over fifty years because of a misguided and politicized interpretation of the nation's drug laws by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). While a new bill in Congress, H.R. 1866, is a welcome step, the hemp industry is hopeful that President Obama's administration will recognize hemp's myriad benefits to farmers, businesses and the environment," he added.

"We are looking forward to the opportunity to invest in hemp processing and production locally," says Hans Fastre, chief executive officer of Living Harvest, one of the numerous hemp product companies based in Oregon. "This bill represents another step towards heightening the hemp industry's profile within mainstream America and making hemp products more accessible to businesses and consumers."

If the bill becomes law, Oregon will become the second state to approve industrial hemp this year. Maine did so last month. Four other states, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and North Dakota passed resolutions or memorials urging Congress to allow states to regulate hemp farming this year.

The states that have okayed hemp production are Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia. North Dakota has even issued licenses to would-be hemp farmers for the past two years, but the federal prohibition has prevented any hemp planting.

Medical Marijuana: Oakland Dispensary Tax in Hands of Voters

Voters in Oakland, California, will decide this month whether to create a new business tax aimed at the city's four medical marijuana dispensaries. Mailed ballots went out this week and must be returned to the city registrar's office by July 21 to be counted.

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The tax measure, known as Measure F, would levy a business tax rate of $18 per every $1,000 in gross sales at dispensaries. Under the standard retail business tax rate, the dispensaries now pay $1.20 per every $1,000, meaning the new rate would be a whopping 1500% increase.

But that's okay with Oakland dispensary operators. In fact, it was the dispensaries that approached Oakland City Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Nancy Nadel about instituting a new tax.

Operators say they are willing to pay their fair share to help the city deal with pressing financial problems. The proposed tax should bring in $315,000 in tax revenues for the city in 2010, up substantially from the $21,000 generated under the retail tax rate last year.

It is also an effort to further legitimize medical marijuana in a city that is already pretty pot-friendly. "Criminals don't pay taxes," said James Anthony, an attorney for Harborside Health Center, one of the dispensaries. "Law-abiding citizens do. We are nothing if not law-abiding citizens," he told the Oakland Tribune.

Councilmember Kaplan, a prominent medical marijuana supporter, also argued in favor of the measure. "It is important that there be regulation and that there be a permit process and that there be taxation," Kaplan said. "Both because the city needs the revenue and to be sure that we weed out the bad actors."

The ballot measure needs a simple majority to pass. It is also supported by the broad-based Yes 4 Oakland coalition.

Marijuana: Rhode Island Senate Okays Commission to Explore Marijuana Prohibition, Legalization, and Decriminalization

As the Rhode Island General Assembly rushed to adjourn last Friday, the Senate approved a resolution introduced that same day to create a nine-member commission to study a broad range of issues around marijuana policy. The last-minute move comes just weeks after the legislature approved the creation of dispensaries for medical marijuana patients.

Under the move, which does not require any further approval, a "Special Senate Commission to Study the Prohibition of Marijuana" will be set up to issue a report by January 31, 2010. The commission will be composed of "elected members of the Rhode Island Senate, local law enforcement officials, physicians, nurses, social workers, academic leaders in the field of addiction studies, advocates or patients in the state's medical marijuana program, advocates working in the field of prisoner reentry, economists, and members of the general public."

Among the specific issues and questions the resolution mandates the commission to address are:

  • The experience of individuals and families sentenced for violating marijuana laws.
  • The experience of states and European countries, such as California, Massachusetts and the Netherlands, which have decriminalized the sale and use of marijuana.
  • Whether and to what extent Rhode Island youth have access to marijuana despite current laws prohibiting its use.
  • Whether adults' use of marijuana has decreased since marijuana became illegal in Rhode Island in 1918.
  • Whether the current system of marijuana prohibition has created violence in the state of Rhode Island against users or among those who sell marijuana
  • Whether the proceeds from the sales of marijuana are funding organized crime, including drug cartels.
  • Whether those who sell marijuana on the criminal market may also sell other drugs, thus increasing the chances that youth will use other illegal substances.
  • How much revenue the state could earn by taxing marijuana at $35 an ounce.

The sponsors of the resolution were Senators Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), Leo Blais (R-Coventry), Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), Charles Levesque (D-Portsmouth), and Susan Sosnowski (D-South Kingstown).

In a Wednesday interview with the Providence Journal, Miller said the move was sparked by "a national trend towards decriminalization" and the voter-driven decriminalization of marijuana in Massachusetts. He added that he waited until the sessions' end to introduce the resolution because it was "very important" for the study to stay separate from the issue of medical marijuana.

The marijuana policy commission is a done deal. But who will sit on it isn't. Rhode Island activists would behoove themselves to follow the selection process closely. Maybe they could even come up with some suggestions.

Medical Marijuana: Users, Growers Can Sue Over Police Raids, California Appeals Court Rules

In the first ruling of its kind, the California 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento held Wednesday that medical marijuana patients and growers can sue police for illegally raiding their properties and destroying their plants. The ruling came in County of Butte v. Butte County Superior Court.

In that case, a Butte County sheriff's deputy went to the home of medical marijuana grower David Williams and demanded he destroy all but 12 of the 41 plants he was growing for a seven-person collective. Williams had complete documentation for his grow, but, threatened with arrest, he complied with the unlawful order. He then sued the county and won in Superior Court.

The county appealed, arguing that patients and providers could invoke the state's medical marijuana law only as a defense to criminal charges, not to sue for damages. But the appeals court sided with the lower court, holding that medical marijuana patients and providers have the same right as any other citizens to sue officials who violate the constitutional ban on illegal searches and seizures.

Williams was relying on "the same constitutional guarantee of due process available to all individuals," wrote Justice Vance Raye for the 2-1 majority. Medical marijuana patients and providers do not need to suffer "the expense and stress of criminal proceedings," to assert their rights, he wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Fred Morrison wrote that Congress should ease the federal ban on marijuana to accommodate the 13 states that allow medical use. But in the meantime, he argued, no one has the right to use marijuana, and police can legally confiscate it.

The county is likely to appeal to the state Supreme Court. But unless and until that happens, law enforcement in California should be on notice that any misbehavior regarding medical marijuana could turn out to be very expensive.

Can You Name One Good Thing About the War on Marijuana?

On the heels of its successful effort to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, the Rhode Island Senate has voted to launch a comprehensive study of marijuana laws in general. They'll seek to answer these questions, among others:

Whether and to what extent Rhode Island youth have access to marijuana despite current laws prohibiting its use;  

Whether adults' use of marijuana has decreased since marijuana became illegal in Rhode Island in 1918;  
 
Whether the current system of marijuana prohibition has created violence in the state of Rhode Island against users or among those who sell marijuana;  
 
Whether the proceeds from the sales of marijuana are funding organized crime, including drug cartels;

The costs associated with the current policies prohibiting marijuana sales and possession, including law enforcement, judicial, public defender, and corrections costs;

Whether there have been cases of corruption related to marijuana law enforcement;

The experience of individuals and families sentenced for violating marijuana laws;

The experience of states and European countries, such as California, Massachusetts and the Netherlands, which have decriminalized the sale and use of marijuana;

Hmm, I think I can tackle this one: Yes, No, Yes, Yes, Enormous, You don't even want to know, Heartbreaking, Impressive.

This is yet another superb effort from RI legislators and it really sets the standard for how public representatives ought to be examining these laws. These are central questions that, if answered honestly, will drive a stake through the heart of marijuana prohibition once and for all.

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