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Marijuana: Massachusetts Legalization Bill Set for Hearing Next Week

Last November, voters in Massachusetts approved an initiative decriminalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Now, one activist is pushing the envelope with a legalization bill. It is set for a hearing next Wednesday at the statehouse.
Get to the State House, Bay Staters
The brainchild of Northampton attorney and former DRCNet and NORML board member Dick Evans, H. 2929 and its companion bill, SB 1801, would regulate the commercial cultivation of marijuana and impose an excise tax. Under the bill, marijuana would be sold by licensed vendors in one-ounce boxes bearing the identity of the grower, the grade, and a tax stamp proving that taxes have been paid. Anyone 21 or older could buy or possess marijuana. Commercial cultivators, processors, distributors, and retailers would all be licensed. The bill permits licensed direct sales from farmers to consumers, and it allows for unlicensed, unregulated non-commercial cultivation.

With no sponsors in the legislature, the bill is unlikely to go anywhere this year. But even getting a hearing on the issue is a step forward.

As Evans told the crowd at a rally earlier this year: "Sooner or later, our country will come to its senses about marijuana, and later is now sooner. With Question 2, Massachusetts voters went to the polls and said enough, enough, enough arrests, we have to decriminalize. Now, we can talk about things we couldn't talk about before, we can talk about the futility of arresting people for marijuana, we can now have a serious discussion about prohibition. The debate has begun, and the burden of proof has shifted; the defenders of prohibition are on the defense. People are starting to look at the tax revenue from tax and regulated marijuana."

And now Evans has provided an opportunity for the legislature to start looking at it, too. He would like to see a lot of people show up for the hearing, he said. "We need to fill up the statehouse with people, so bring yourselves down there, and bring your parents with you," he implored.

The hearing is Wednesday, October 14, at 10:00am in Room B2 at the State House. Click here for directions.

Marijuana: Massachusetts Legalization Bill Gets Hearing

A long line of Massachusetts residents lined up for an opportunity to tell their legislators to free the weed as a marijuana legalization bill got its first hearing before the legislature's Joint Revenue Committee Wednesday. The bill, H 2929, the brainchild of Northampton attorney Richard Evans, a former board member of and NORML, was filed at Evans' request by Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst).

"Whether you like it or you hate it... it is undeniable in 2009 that marijuana has become inextricably embedded in our culture," Evans told the committee. "It is ubiquitous and it is ineradicable. Members should put on your green eye shades and give close scrutiny to marijuana prohibition," he added, saying that the state could reap revenues from legal marijuana comparable to those gained by introducing casinos.

The bill would remove marijuana offenses from the criminal code and allow for the licensed production and sale of marijuana. Licenses would cost $2,000 a year. It would also impose excise taxes on marijuana retails sales of up to $250 for the highest THC-level weed. Less potent pot would be taxed at a lower rate.

While lawmakers on the committee said little in either support of or opposition to the bill, committee co-chair Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington) said he was struck by one particular facet of the arguments in favor of legalization. "This is probably the only hearing this committee has ever had or will ever have with this number of people asking to be taxed," he said.

The move to legalize comes less than a year after Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce. But proponents of the bill argued that decriminalization doesn't go far enough and that it doesn't provide a place for users to legally obtain marijuana.

That measure was opposed by most of the state's political establishment, including Mayor Thomas Menino (D), the state's district attorneys, and by Gov. Deval Patrick (D), who in his '06 campaign said he was very comfortable with the idea of legalizing marijuana, but would veto a decrim bill because he doesn't consider it a priority. But leaders expressed their commitment to implement the measure after it passed.

The current bill is unlikely to go anywhere this year, but now it has at least had a hearing. That's a start.

Hearings on Massachusetts "Tax and Regulate" Bill in Boston Next Week

On Wednesday, October 14, 2009, at 10:00am in Room B2 at the State House in Boston, the Joint Committee on Revenue in the Massachusetts legislature will hold a public hearing on bill H. 2929, An Act to Regulate and Tax the Cannabis Industry. If passed, the new law would repeal existing marijuana prohibition laws at the state level and replace them with a system of regulation and taxation, similar to how wine is sold. The law, in fact, is largely modeled after the alcohol control laws. According to Northampton attorney Richard M. Evans, a former DRCNet board member and the petitioner whose Representative presented the bill, Wednesday will mark the first time a state legislature has considered a full legalization bill. The moment is also propitious because Massachusetts this year implemented its new, voter-enacted decriminalization law, and because Gov. Deval Patrick, while not prioritizing it, is on the record as being very comfortable with the idea of legalizing marijuana. So while we don't expect that H. 2929 will be enacted this year, it is a rare and important opportunity to forward the debate on alternatives to prohibition. And you can help: by showing up Wednesday if you can; by spreading the word and getting others to come out; by suggesting to your local newspaper that they cover the hearing; and by contacting your state legislators to express your support for H. 2929. Directions to the State House are available here. Please let us know what you're able to do to support H. 2929, and visit for further information about it. Visit to find out about extensive activist opportunities in Massachusetts.
Boston, MA
United States

New York Rockefeller Drug Law Reforms Go Into Effect Today

Okay, everybody stop, take a breath. Perhaps smile. Reforms to New York state's draconian Rockefeller drug laws have gone into effect today. State authorities have identified about 1,100 inmates who are eligible to apply for resentencing now -- I've also seen the figure 1,500 cited. The Legal Aid Society is already working with 270 of them. It isn't nearly enough. Our article published just before the legislation passed last April outlines some of its deficiencies. If all of those 1,100 gain earlier release than they would have gotten, that will leave another 13,000, and resentencing doesn't mean they'll all get out right away. Of course, the limited scope of the reforms passed by the legislature didn't stop prosecutors from trying to block their implementation. But they failed. This is the second time the legislature has modified the Rockefeller laws -- the first time was in 2004 -- and yet most of the work still lies ahead of us. But 1,100 people, potentially, will have their lives transformed, and another chink has been made in the drug war wall of injustice. To once again make use of a Churchill quote that drug reformers have used before: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." In the meanwhile, watch this video:

Press Release: Gov. Paterson to Speak Wed: Rock Drug Law Reform Becomes Active; 1,500 Eligible for Resentencing and Release!

For Immediate Release: October 7, 2009 Contact: Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Gabriel Sayegh at (646)335-2264 1,500 Incarcerated People Eligible for Resentencing and Release, Judges Now Have Discretion Governor Paterson to Mark Milestone at Brooklyn Courthouse on Wednesday at 10 a.m. An Army of Legal Advocates and Human Service Agencies Stand Ready to Provide Reentry, Drug Treatment and other Services New York- On Wednesday, October 7, key elements of the Rockefeller Drug Law reform go into effect: Decision making authority is returned to judges, who can now divert people suffering from drug dependency into treatment and other service programs, instead of prison. And nearly 1,500 people currently incarcerated for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses under the Rockefeller Drug Laws can petition the court for resentencing and, if approved by a judge, will be released. After Governor David Paterson signed the reforms into law earlier this year, advocates and service providers have worked diligently to prepare for implementation. Legal aid and public defender agencies are providing legal counsel. Hundreds of social and human agencies around the state have volunteered to provide a broad range of services to those individuals who will be released from prison as a result of drug law reform. In New York City alone, over 100 human service agencies have agreed to work with legal aid and public defender agencies to provide services like housing, job training and drug treatment to those individuals returning from prison as a result of drug law reform. "As someone who spent 12 years behind bars on Rockefeller charges and another 12 fighting the inhumane laws, I am thrilled that the law has been changed, said Anthony Papa, author of 15 Years to Life. "But, Rockefeller will only be real when those who are behind bars are allowed to come home and those who need help get treatment instead of a jail cell." "New Yorkers fought for decades to reform the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, and we finally succeeded this year," said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Now we need to make Rockefeller reform work. Today marks another step towards our state moving in new direction on drug policy, one based on public health and safety. Thankfully, legal and human service agencies are stepping up to implement reform." "Rockefeller Drug Law reform symbolizes a critical time in our history, where we acknowledge the individual stories and personal struggles of those who have been most affected by such a harsh and racist sentencing scheme," said Shreya Mandal, Mitigation Specialist for the Legal Aid Society. "These reforms will allow people to reclaim their dignity as we shift from a punitive criminal justice model to a much needed holistic public health model. Now it is time to see this reform through by empowering formerly incarcerated individuals with comprehensive re-entry planning." Governor Paterson will be marking the milestone at an event at 10 a.m. at the Brooklyn Court House, 320 Jay St., Room 283. In addition to the Governor, two drug court graduates will speak at the event. ###
United States

Asset Forfeiture: Texas DA Seeks to Use Seized Funds to Defend Herself in Lawsuit Over Unlawful Seizure of Same Funds; ACLU Objects

The Texas district attorney accused of participating in an egregious asset forfeiture scheme in the East Texas town of Tenaha now wants to use the very cash seized to pay for her legal defense in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by victims of the practice. The ACLU of Texas, which, along with the national ACLU, is representing the plaintiffs in the case, filed a brief last Friday with the Texas Attorney General's office seeking to block her from doing so. Lynda Russell is the district attorney in Shelby County, where Tenaha is located. She is accused of participating in a scheme where Tenaha police pulled over mostly African-American motorists without cause, asked them if they were carrying cash, and if they were, threaten them with being immediately jailed for money laundering or other serious crimes unless they signed over their money to authorities. Representing a number of victims, attorneys from the ACLU of Texas and the ACLU Racial Justice Project filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in June 2008. According to the suit, more than 140 people, almost all of whom were African-American, turned over their assets to police without cause and under duress between June 2006 and June 2008. If a federal judge agrees that assets were in fact illegally seized, they should be returned to their rightful owners, whose civil rights were violated. In one case, a mixed race couple, Jennifer Boatwright and Ronald Henderson, were stopped by a Tenaha police officer in April 2007. According to the lawsuit, they were stopped without cause, detained for some time without cause, and asked if they were carrying any cash. When they admitted they had slightly more than $6,000, a district attorney's investigator then seized it, threatening them with arrest for money laundering and the loss of their children if they refused to sign off. There was never any evidence they had committed a crime, and they were never charged with a crime. The town mayor, the DA, the DA's investigator, the town marshal, and a town constable are all named in the lawsuit. While they claim to have acted legally under Texas asset forfeiture law, the lawsuit argues that "although they were taken under color of state law, their actions constitute abuse of authority." The suit argues that the racially discriminatory pattern of stops and searches violated both the Fourth Amendment proscription of warrantless searches and the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause. While either the county or the state would normally be expected to pony up for the DA's legal expenses for a lawsuit filed as a result of her performance of her duties, neither has done so. That's why Russell—with a tin ear for irony—requested that she be allowed to use the allegedly illegally seized money stolen from motorists. She has asked the state attorney general's office for an opinion on whether using the funds for her defense violates the state's asset forfeiture law. "It would be completely inappropriate for the district attorney to use assets which are the very subject of litigation charging her with participating in allegedly illegal activity to defend herself against these charges," said Lisa Graybill, legal director at the ACLU of Texas. "Texas has a long history of having its law enforcement officials unconstitutionally target racial minorities in the flawed and failed war on drugs and it is of paramount importance that those officials be held accountable." "The government must account for the misconduct of officials who operate in its name," said Vanita Gupta, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program, who represented African-American residents of Tulia, TX in high-profile litigation challenging their wrongful convictions on drug charges. "The state of Texas has seen egregious examples of racial profiling that result from poor oversight of criminal justice officials." The ACLU of Texas is using the Tenaha case to push for asset forfeiture reform in the Lone Star State. One such bill stalled in the state legislature this year. "The misuse of asset forfeiture laws by local officials is exacerbated by inadequate oversight," said Matt Simpson, policy strategist for the group. "The legislature must squarely address these reported civil rights violations via reform of forfeiture laws that strengthen protection against unconstitutional conduct and racial profiling."
Tenaha, TX
United States

Medical Cannabis Patients' Capitol Convergence

Medical cannabis patients and their supporters will hold a rally at Lafayette Park in support of the FDA's rescheduling of cannabis' medicinal use under the Controlled Substance Act. This rally, which is specifically intended to draw attention to People Living With AIDS (PLWA's) who use Medical Cannabis, will coincide with the National March for Gay Rights and Equality on October 11th. Speaking at the rally will be San Franciscans Dennis Peron, author of "Proposition 215" the medical cannabis law that allows patients to grow cannabis in California, and Cleve Jones, founder of the AIDS Quilt. Both men were close friends of legendary mayor and gay rights activist, Harvey Milk. Also speaking will be L.A. City Councilman, Bill Rosenthal on behalf of the city of Los Angeles, California. From 4:20 til 4:30, Rally attendees have permission to take a group photo in front of the White House which will later be made into a postcard and mailed to President Barack Obama. While in Washington DC, Dennis and Richard Eastman, both longtime medical cannabis activists, plan to meet with the Mayor and the City Council of Washington, DC. They hope to urge them to implement DC's medical marijuana law (Initiative 59), a law, which DC voters passed overwhelmingly 10 years ago. Since then, this legislation has been stifled by Congressman Bob Barr, who attached riders to annual DC spending budgets and subsequently banned it's implementation into law for almost a decade. This summer Congress removed the retired Congressman's wording from this year's DC spending budget and left the door open for medical cannabis in the District of Columbia.
Sat, 10/10/2009 - 12:00pm - 4:30pm
1600 Pennsylvania Ave
Washington, DC
United States

Iowa Board of Pharmacy Public Hearing on Medical Marijuana

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy will conduct a third in a series of four monthly public hearings on the medical value of marijuana. Carl Olsen and George McMahon of Iowans for Medical Marijuana will attend the hearing in Iowa City and will be available to answer questions from the press and public. On April 24, Polk County District Judge Joel D. Novak ruled that the Pharmacy Board unlawfully rejected a petition by Iowans for Medical Marijuana’s Board of Directors to remove marijuana from its current classification as a substance having no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. The petition was based on the fact that marijuana has been accepted for medical use in 13 states in the United States. On July 21, the Board of Pharmacy again rejected the petition, ruling that accepted medical use in treatment in the United States means accepted medical use in all 50 states. The Iowa Board of Pharmacy insists it can determine whether marijuana has accepted medical use in the United States based on science, not on 13 state laws. Another court hearing has been scheduled for October 9 in the Polk County District Court to review the Board’s July 21st supplemental ruling. Whatever the science shows, it’s clear the Iowa Board of Pharmacy has no authority to recommend marijuana be accepted for medical use in any state other than Iowa. The authority of a state administrative agency ends at its own state’s borders. For More Information: Carl Olsen, 515-343-9933
Wed, 10/07/2009 - 12:00pm - 7:00pm
51 Newton Rd
Iowa City, IA
United States

Marijuana: Daily 4:20 Protests Spark Saturday Arrest in Keene, New Hampshire

Daily marijuana legalization protests in the Central Square in Keene, New Hampshire, led to one arrest Saturday for marijuana possession and one Sunday -- but the victim in that arrest was later found to be smoking chocolate mint in his glass pipe and released without charges. The demonstrations began last Tuesday with a couple of dozen people gathering at 4:20pm to toke up as an act of civil disobedience and call for marijuana law reform. After Saturday's arrest, the protests continued, with about 100 people showing up Monday.
(YouTube and
The protests are being led by Free Keene, a local affiliate of the libertarian New Hampshire Free State Project. The project's stated goal is to persuade 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire in a bid to shift the politics of the low-population Granite State.

Arrested Saturday was Richard Paul, 40, one of the protest organizers. Paul was arrested after police patrolling the square saw him smoking a joint. Protestors shouted at police, yelling "Leave him alone!" and "This is how they did it in Nazi Germany!"

After the arrest, about 50 protestors followed Paul and police officers to the police station, where they shouted through the door and sat in a circle smoking marijuana. No more arrests were forthcoming, though.

To confuse police at the protests at the square, some smokers smoked things other than marijuana. That was the case Sunday, when police arrested a protester identified only as "Earl" for puffing on a glass pipe. Embarrassingly for police, that substance turned out to be not marijuana but chocolate mint, and Earl was quickly released.

Protests continued this week in Keene and have now spread to Manchester. In the latter town, protestors sparked up in the presence of police, but failed to provoke any arrests.

Perhaps the cops have better things to do. And that's precisely the point.

Feature: NORML Annual Conference Meets in Atmosphere of Hope, Determination, and Exhilaration

Riding a wave of enthusiasm about increasing prospects for marijuana law reform, hundreds of people poured into the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown San Francisco last Thursday for the 38th annual national conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). By the time it ended with a Saturday night NORML benefit, the conference had left most attendees even more energized than when they arrived.

Gathering under the slogan "Yes, We Cannabis" and sensing a fresh breeze blowing since the inauguration of President Barack Obama, conference organizers, speakers, and attendees spent three days in sessions devoted to medical marijuana issues, the prospects for legalization in California (and beyond), the change in public attitudes around marijuana, what parents should tell kids about pot, and much, much more.

The conference was California-centric, but understandably so. Not only was a California city the host for the conference, the Golden State's constantly mutating medical marijuana industry is creating an omnipresent and accessible distribution system, and California is now the home of four competing marijuana legalization initiative campaigns and a similar effort in the state legislature.

In between (and sometimes during) sessions, the pungent odor of pot smoke hung in the air over the Hyatt's outdoor patio as patients medicated and non-patients just plain got high. Hippie attire abounded, but in contrast to the stoner stereotypes, there were plenty of people in suits and ties toking away, too.

At least three newsworthy items came out of the conference:

  • At a Saturday press conference, Oaksterdam University head Richard Lee, the leading proponent of the legalization initiative most likely to actually make the November 2010 ballot -- because it has Lee's financial backing -- announced the formal beginning of signature gathering for the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act, which would allow California cities and counties the local option to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and a 25-square foot garden. Accompanied by former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, "Marijuana Is Safer" author Mason Tvert, and fellow initiative proponent Jeff Jones, Lee also announced the measure's endorsement by former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who is running for mayor of Oakland.
  • State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF), author of Assembly Bill 390, which would legalize the possession, growing, and sale of marijuana for people 21 or over, announced Friday that he will hold an informational hearing on his bill. The date is tentatively set for October 28 at the capitol in Sacramento. The current political climate has created a "perfect storm" for marijuana law reform, he said. "It's certainly connected to California's economy, which is in the toilet," he added.
  • Oakland City Council member and medical marijuana supporter Rebecca Kaplan (D) announced Saturday that the city is preparing to issue permits for medical marijuana growing and processing operations and for medical marijuana edibles production. The city already has issued permits to four dispensaries, and voters there this summer approved a dispensary-led initiative to add a special medical marijuana tax on them. "We gave permits for a federal felony for the dispensaries, and they didn't bust them -- even under Bush," she said. "We protected them." And now, Oakland is set to expand those protections to other sectors of the industry.

"There is no doubt that today, Sept. 25, 2009, is the moment of genuine zeitgeist to decriminalizing marijuana in America," said NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre as the conference opened. "This conference represents that we are at that tipping point."

But where the movement goes from here was open to heated and healthy debate. Thursday's sessions, which were devoted primarily to the intricacies of medical marijuana dispensing in California, saw detailed discussion of the minutiae of defining collectives and co-ops and operating within state law and the state attorney general's guidelines, but they also saw calls from some leading voices warning about the medicalization of marijuana.

Dr. Frank Lucido, a leading medical marijuana advocate, while lauding the work of the medical marijuana movement, said the weed should really be treated like an over-the-counter herbal supplement. "This should be out of the hands of doctors and in the hands of herbalists," he argued.

Similarly, Steven DeAngelo of the Harborside Health Center, an Oakland dispensary, pointed out that California's medical marijuana distribution system is creating a situation where "cannabis consumption is part of the mainstream." In a speech delivered at the conference, he argued that effective medical marijuana laws are paving the way for a day where medical recommendations are not required to obtain cannabis legally. "Most over-the-counter drugs are far more harmful than marijuana, but there are no restrictions on them," he said. "Let's not waste medical resources on something that doesn't require them."

But the most heated debates were around what is the best path toward outright legalization in California. With several initiatives and an assembly bill all in play, opinion was deeply divided on whether to wait for the legislative process to work its way, to support the Oaksterdam initiative -- which was almost universally considered the most conservative of the initiatives, but which also has the best chance of making the ballot -- or to support one of the competing initiatives.

Joe Rogosin, one of three Northern California defense attorneys who authored the California Cannabis Initiative, admitted that his initiative lacked the deep pockets of the Oaksterdam initiative, but argued that it was still superior to the Oakland effort. It repeals all state laws forbidding people 21 and over from possessing, growing, or selling marijuana.

"We don't want people to go to jail for cannabis," Rogosin said. "Unlike Richard's, our initiative actually legalizes cannabis."

While contending camps were fighting over who had the best initiative, other movement members were warning that none of them were likely to pass. Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia said that his group would not be devoting substantial resources to the initiatives and would not formally endorse them, but would render what low-budget aid it could if one of them actually makes the ballot.

California NORML head Dale Gieringer was blunt in his assessment of the measures' chances. "I don't expect any of them to pass," he said flatly.

As always, California pot politics is in turmoil, and while circular firing squads are not quite forming, the movement is in danger of shooting itself in the foot if it fails to get behind an initiative that makes the ballot -- or if it does get behind an initiative and that initiative loses badly at the ballot box.

There was, of course, much more going on at the NORML conference. Check out the NORML web site for updates with conference content. And keep an eye on California, because marijuana reform is one hot topic there now.

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