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Medical Marijuana Bill Faces Senate Committee Hearing Tuesday

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MARCH 2, 2009  

Medical Marijuana Bill Faces Senate Committee Hearing Tuesday

CONTACT: Former Rep. Chris DeLaForest (R-Andover)..........................................…………(763) 439-1178

ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA — Minnesota's medical marijuana bill faces its next crucial committee test in the Senate Judiciary Committee this Tuesday. If passed, the measure would make Minnesota the 14th state to permit medical use of marijuana by seriously ill patients with a physician's recommendation. The newest such law, in Michigan, was passed by voters in November with a record-setting 63 percent voting "yes."

    WHAT: Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and vote on medical marijuana legislation
    WHO: Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing) and committee members
    WHEN: Tuesday, March 3, 3 p.m.
    WHERE: Rm. 15, State Capitol, 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul

United States

Press Release: NYS Assembly to Pass Rockefeller Reform Legislation this Week

For Immediate Release: March 2, 2009 For More Info: Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Gabriel Sayegh at (646) 335-2264 New York State Assembly Preparing to Enact Real Reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws Vote this Week on Legislation that Would Restore Judicial Discretion, Expand Treatment, Improve Public Safety Advocates Applaud Speaker Silver and the Assembly's Commitment to Reforming Drug Laws, Call on Senate and Governor to Support Real Reform This week, the NY State Assembly is poised to pass A.6085-legislation that will, finally, enact real reform of the Rockefeller Drug laws. The bill, sponsored by Aubry, Silver and many more (multiple sponsors), represents a significant step forward in developing more rational, effective approaches to drug policy by taking a public health and safety approach. The general purpose of the bill is to reduce drug-related crime by addressing substance abuse that often lies at the core of criminal behavior. "With everyone from the Sentencing Commission to the Governor talking about reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws, it's critical to examine any proposal and make sure it constitutes real reform," said Gabriel Sayegh, project director with the Drug Policy Alliance. "To be real, meaningful reform, any proposal must include restoration of judicial discretion in drug cases; expansion of alternative-to-incarceration programs and community based drug treatment; fair and equitable sentencing reforms; and retroactive sentencing relief for people serving unjust sentences under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The Assembly has included these provisions, and their proposal constitutes real reform." Enacted in 1973, the Rockefeller Drug Laws mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Supposedly intended to target major dealers (kingpins), most of the people incarcerated under these laws are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses, and many of them have no prior criminal record. Approximately 12,000 people are locked up for drug offenses in New York State prisons, representing nearly 21 percent of the prison population, and costing New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Nearly 90% of those incarcerated are Black and Latino, representing some of the worst racial disparities in the nation. Despite modest reforms in 2004 and 2005, the Rockefeller Drug Laws continue to deny people serving under the more punitive sentences to apply for shorter terms, and does not increase the power of judges to place addicts into treatment programs. After the reforms of 2004, there were more people sent to prison under Rockefeller Drug Law offenses than in previous years. A.6085, introduced last week and expected to pass this week, includes the following provisions which balance safety and justice: * Returns discretion to sentencing judges to tailor the penalty to the facts and circumstances of each drug offense. * Allows a sentence of probation and treatment when appropriate. * Strengthens in-prison treatment and reentry services. * Expands the use of alternatives to incarceration, including community-based treatment, when appropriate. * Allows certain eligible individuals incarcerated for low-level drug offenses previous to the 2004/05 Drug Law Reform Act (DLRA) to apply for resentencing-these are people who did not receive relief in previous reforms. Individuals convicted of violent crimes are not eligible. * Expands use of drug courts throughout New York. * Increase penalties for sale of a controlled substance to a child. * Establishes a new kingpin crime for trafficking through a controlled substance organization. The Assembly's introduction of the bill comes just weeks after drug policy reform experts and stakeholders convened at the New York Academy of Medicine to develop a public health and safety approach to drug policy. The historic conference was attended by representatives of the Governor's office; the Speaker and members of the Assembly; leadership from the State Senate; members of the New York City Council; and hundreds of doctors, lawyers, advocates, people in recovery, drug treatment specialists, criminal justice experts and more. ( "New Yorkers simply cannot afford these failed laws any longer," said Sayegh. "Incarceration costs approximately $45,000 per year, while treatment and alternatives to incarceration can cost less than $10,000 and are far more effective at reducing recidivism and restoring community health. The Assembly, by proposing real reform, is taking the first step towards advancing a public health and safety approach to drug policy in our state. Now the Senate and the Governor need to weigh in. They've expressed their support for real reform in the past, and we are hopeful they'll support real reform now."
United States

Feature: California Assemblyman Introduces Landmark Bill to Legalize, Tax, and Regulate Marijuana

California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) told a press conference in his home town Monday he had introduced a bill that would create a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana sales and production. If the bill were to pass, California would become the first state in the nation to break so decisively with decades of pot prohibition.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, sponsor of AB 390
Under the bill, AB 390, the state would license producers and distributors, who would pay an excise tax of $50 per ounce, or about $1 per joint. Anyone 21 or over could then purchase marijuana from a licensed distributor. The bill also would allow any adult to grow up to 10 plants for personal, non-commercial use. The bill would not alter California's medical marijuana law.

Ironically it was California which passed the nation's first marijuana prohibition bill, in 1913, according to a history compiled by Drug WarRant's Peter Guither. Federal marijuana prohibition was enacted in 1937.

As currently written, the taxation and regulation aspects of AB 390 would not go into effect until six months after federal marijuana laws were changed, but the removal of marijuana as a controlled substance under California law would go into effect upon passage of the bill. That is likely to change.

"We've just come through a torturous budget process in this state, and the marijuana industry in California is $14 billion going up in smoke," said Ammiano. "We need to capture some of that. This would also allow us to save money on law enforcement, incarceration, and even the environment."

According to research done by the state Board of Equalization, which handles taxes for the state, legalizing and taxing marijuana sales would generate about $1.3 billion in tax revenues a year. It would also, the board said, lead to a 50% decrease in retail prices.
Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan
"This is a responsible measure for prioritizing law enforcement," the board's Betty Yee told the assembled media. "These numbers are a credible new estimate."

"It's ironic that the largest cash crop in the state is not being taxed," said Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. "We need to devote our law enforcement resources to violent crime. We're losing the war. It's time for regulation and fiscal responsibility."

"This bill is a winning proposition for California's taxpayers," said Dale Gieringer of California NORML (CANORML). "In this time of economic crisis, it makes no sense for California to be wasting money on marijuana prohibition, when we could be reaping tax benefits from a legal, regulated market instead."

It also comes at a time when support for marijuana legalization on the West Coast has gained majority status. In a Zogby International poll released last week, 58% of West Coast respondents said they favored taxing and regulating marijuana.

"This is indicative of what an important moment we are at," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This week, we saw Dan Walters, a middle of the road columnist for the Sacramento Bee do a column saying now is the time to do this. The Los Angeles Times said it was time for the feds to rethink this. There is a growing sense that Ammiano has captured that the way we've been dealing with marijuana since 1937 doesn't make a bit of sense and rethinking is required."
Judge James P. Gray, Orange County Superior Court
"This is landmark legislation," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "There has never been a legalization bill in the history of marijuana law reform. This is the first such bill."

But, St. Pierre revealed, before summer is here, at least two more states will see similar bills. "California is leading the country in the discussion, but it won't be by itself. By June, there will be 45 or 50 million people having a discussion about legalizing marijuana -- not decrim, not medical, not lowest law enforcement priority, but marijuana legalization."

"I think with the introduction of this bill, we have reached the tipping point in the discussion about marijuana," said St. Pierre. "When the largest state in the nation, facing crushing economic times, is forced to review the festering situation of all that untaxed marijuana and it already has the example of retail access through the dispensaries, the discussion has changed."

"You don't know if you're at the tipping point until you've gone past it, but we could be," said Mirken. "Nobody imagines it's going to get done overnight, but we've suddenly reached the point where it's no longer a fringe issue, and that's huge."

"I think this is the beginning of the end," said Southern California legalization activist Clifford Shaffer, creator of the Let Us Pay Taxes web site, which pleads "Take our Money Please," purportedly on behalf of the California marijuana industry. "A number of factors have come together, such as public education, the obvious failure of the drug war, and the economy, and they are producing a 'perfect storm' for reform. We will see big changes in the coming year and this bill is a good start," Shaffer predicted.

Acceptable progress this year, said Mirken, would be for the bill to move forward at all. "A good year would be getting a couple of committee hearings and though a couple of committees, laying the groundwork for actual passage in a year or two. The conversation was long overdue, but it has now been engaged."

"I'm not so naïve as to think it will pass this year," agreed CANORML's Gieringer. "I think the conflict with federal law will pose problems with law enforcement for sure, and we know the governor always supports law enforcement. This is the opening shot in a process that could take several years to work out, but we have now opened the debate. For all the years I've been dealing with this issue, politicians have been afraid to say anything more than medical marijuana or decriminalization, but as long as you don't move beyond decrim, you still get all the problems of prohibition," he argued.

"It's essential to get past decriminalization; it keeps the problems of prohibition and doesn't bring any revenue to the state," Gieringer continued. "We need a viable solution, not some half-baked one that wouldn't solve the problems. And I think we're close to having a majority here in California. I know we have majority support in Oakland, San Francisco, and other parts of Northern California. I think we're getting there."

It's been 96 years since California passed that first marijuana prohibition law. Can prohibition be ended before it enters its second century? Thanks to Assemblyman Ammiano's AB 390, we can dream that maybe it just might.

Heroin Maintenance: Study Suggests Baltimore Could Be Ripe for a Pilot Program

Baltimore is home to one of the nation's most intractable heroin-using populations, and now a study done for the city's Abell Foundation is suggesting it could be time to try something new, at least in this country: heroin maintenance. The idea is not so much to push for such a program now, but to open the door for discussion -- a worthy idea given that decades of repression and, more recently, conventional drug treatment have done little to stem the tide of addicts.

Authored by University of Maryland drug policy expert Peter Reuter, the study, Can Heroin Maintenance Help Baltimore?, examined existing heroin maintenance programs in Switzerland and Germany as well as the now-ended North American Opiate Maintenance Initiative (NAOMI) program in Vancouver, and examined the Baltimore heroin scene. His review of results so far found decreases in criminality, increases in employment, and health improvements for participants.

But Reuter also noted that those existing programs are expensive (more expensive than methadone treatment), serve relatively small numbers, and would be politically controversial in the US setting. In fact, the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, offered a chance to participate in the NAOMI program, declined. In addition, Reuter wrote that significant differences between hard core heroin users in Baltimore and in European cities made predictions of success difficult.

Can heroin maintenance help Baltimore? Here's how Reuter answered his own question:

At best there is a case only for an experiment. There are too many potential differences between Baltimore City and the other sites in which HAT [heroin-assisted therapy] has been tried to allow confident predictions of the outcomes. Visits to facilities in other countries hardly provide an inspiring model. The client population in Baltimore City is highly troubled so even if HAT leads to better outcomes for the group as a whole, many of the clients will remain unemployed, marginalized, and in poor health conditions. There will be some poster children but not many.

The potential for gain, however, is substantial. Even in the aging heroin-addict population, there are many who are heavily involved in crime and return frequently to the criminal justice system. Their continued involvement in street markets imposes a large burden on the community in the form of civil disorder that helps keep investment and jobs out. If heroin maintenance could remove 10 percent of Baltimore's most troubled heroin addicts from the streets, the result could be substantial reductions in crime and various other problems that greatly trouble the city. That is enough to make a debate on the matter worthwhile.

"It is a sensible innovation to consider," Reuter told the Baltimore Sun. "I am not a passionate advocate for it, but I do think someone should try it in the US. It has enough plausibility that it's worth trying."

But Baltimore officials are not convinced. "I think it would be a mistake to pursue an expensive and unproven idea when we need more resources for effective drug treatment," said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the city health commissioner, who apparently did not actually read the report. "There's nothing that persuades me to invest in something that is so expensive and without evidence."

Former Baltimore health commissioner Dr. Peter Beilenson worried that the notion was too radical to fly in the US and could undercut more plausible reforms. "It's not like everything has been tried and everything has failed and you just throw up your hands," said Beilenson, who is now Howard County's top health official. "The problem is if you are going to do any reasonable drug policy reform, this heroin thing is such a red flag that it takes all the attention away. It makes it look like anyone who is interested in drug policy reform is crazy." [Ed: Beilenson should know -- he tried it in 1998.]

But some addiction specialists said there should at least be a clinical trial. "Do I think it would be interesting? In a controlled clinical trial setting, yes," said Susan Sherman, an epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health "To me, it's also important to have a public dialogue, regardless of the outcome. It forces people to deal with really hard issues about drug use and drug users."

"Most studies clearly show they help," said Dr. Christopher Welsh, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland medical school. "But using public funds to fund something like this would be a whole other level of politics, especially in this economy."

Law Enforcement: Belated Justice for Kathryn Johnston as Judge Sentences Atlanta Narcs Who Killed Her to Prison

A federal judge in Atlanta Tuesday sent three former Atlanta narcotics officers to prison for their roles in a misbegotten drug raid that ended in the death of a 92-year-old woman and shone a disturbing light on police practices in the Atlanta police drug squad. The victim, Kathryn Johnston, was killed when the three officers fired 39 rounds at her after she fired one shot at them as they were breaking down her door on a bogus drug raid.
Kathryn Johnston
US District Court Judge Julie Carnes sentenced former officer Arthur Tesler to five years in prison, Gregg Junnier to six years, and Jason Smith to 10 years. All three sentences were less than those called for by federal sentencing guidelines.

Johnston was killed about 7 p.m. on November 21, 2006. Three hours earlier, Tesler arrested and roughed-up a small-time drug dealer named Fabian Sheats and threatened to send him to prison unless he gave up another drug dealer. Sheats eventually pointed out Johnston's home, apparently at random, telling Tesler and his partners he saw a dealer named "Sam" with a kilo of cocaine there.

The three officers wanted to make a buy, but didn't consider Sheats reliable, so they called an informant named Alex White to come make the buy. But White was unavailable, so the trio simply wrote a false affidavit saying they had watched White make a cocaine buy at Johnston's home. Shortly before 6:00 p.m., they had their no-knock search warrant. An hour later, Johnston was dead after firing upon the intruders she apparently thought were robbers.

Then the cover-up kicked in, with the trio creating more false documents to hide the truth. But their cover-up fell apart when their informant, Alex White, grew frightened and went to the FBI.

In her sentencing statement, Judge Carnes criticized the Atlanta Police Department for its performance quotas for search warrants and arrests, saying the "pressures brought to bear did have an impact on these and other officers on the force." If anything good came from Johnston's death, it will be "a renewed effort by the Atlanta Police Department to prevent something like this from ever happening again," Carnes said. "It is my fervent hope the APD will take to heart what has happened here," the judge said.

Medical Marijuana: New Jersey Bill Passes State Senate

The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (S119) passed the state Senate Monday on a 22-16 vote. Gov. Jon Corzine (D) said Wednesday he would "absolutely" sign the bill, but it must first get through the Assembly, where it faces votes in the health committee and by the Assembly as a whole.

The day was also notable for what happened right after the bill passed. Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex), a well-known jokester, pretended to answer a phone on the podium, then yelled out to bill sponsor Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Linden): "Excuse me, Sen. Scutari, I just what you to know that was congratulating you, and it was from Michael Phelps," to groans and embarrassed laughter from the chamber, which, not surprisingly, contained several seriously ill medical marijuana patients but no college-aged bong-hitters.

And that could be a sign of changing times, too. The joke went over like a lead balloon, a local TV station made an evening news feature of Codey's joke and the unamused reactions of medical marijuana patients and supporters, and the Asbury Park Press even editorialized that Codey should apologize for his "tasteless gag." The days of cheap laughs from comparing seriously, even terminally ill patients with Cheech & Chong may be coming to an end.
Jim Miller, husband of well-known patient/activist the late Cheryl Miller, at CMMNJ press conference introducing Sen. Scutari's first medical marijuana bill
Under the bill, there would be no penalties for the possession, use and cultivation of a small amount of marijuana when a licensed physician recommends it for a patient with a debilitating medical condition. Qualifying medical conditions include chronic pain, cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn's disease. Patients would be issued ID cards in a program run by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and permitted to grow up to six plants and possess one ounce of marijuana, or have a registered caregiver grow it for them.

"The bill is very conservative," said Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey. "No medical marijuana state has a smaller plant limit or possession amount. Still, it will help a tremendous number of patients here. We applaud the senators who supported this bill."

Still, bill sponsor Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Linden) was understandably proud. "If medical marijuana can ease some of the suffering of a patient who's dying from a chronic, severe or terminal disease, state government should not stand in the way of that relief," Scutari said after the vote.

"For the sake of our most vulnerable, our sick and dying patients struggling for relief, now is the time for New Jersey to join the growing list of states allowing compassionate use of medical marijuana," said Roseanne Scotti of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office.

On Wednesday, Gov. Corzine reiterated his previously articulated support for medical marijuana legislation. Appearing on WNYC radio's "Brian Lehrer Show," he responded to a question about whether he would sign this bill by saying "absolutely."

Now, it's on to the state Assembly. If the bill makes it to the governor's desk, New Jersey would become the 14th medical marijuana state, joining Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Feature: End of an Era? No More DEA Raids on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, US Attorney General Says

In response to a question at a Wednesday news conference, US Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they are legal under state law. The announcement marks the fulfillment of a President Obama campaign promise, and it marks the end of 13 years of stubborn federal resistance to state medical marijuana programs.


DEA raids of medical marijuana facilities in California continued after Obama's election in November and even after his inauguration last month. Holder was asked if those raids represented Justice Department policy under the new administration.

"Shortly after the inauguration there were raids on California medical marijuana dispensaries. Do you expect these to continue?" the reporter asked, noting that the president had promised to end the raids in the campaign.

"No," Holder responded. "What the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign. He is formally and technically and by law my boss now. What he said during the campaign is now American policy." (Watch the video here.)

Nearly 75 million Americans live in the 13 states where medical marijuana is legal. But because of the federal government's refusal to recognize state medical marijuana laws, dozens of dispensaries in California have been raided by the DEA, typically in over-the-top paramilitary-style operations. More than a hundred people are facing prosecution, sentencing, or are already imprisoned under draconian federal marijuana laws because of their roles in operating dispensaries.

"There has been a lot of collateral damage in the federal campaign against medical marijuana patients," said Steph Sherer, medical marijuana patient and executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation's largest medical cannabis advocacy organization. "We need to stop the prosecutions, bring the prisoners home, and begin working to eliminate the conflict between state and federal medical marijuana laws."

At an ASA press conference hastily called for Thursday afternoon, Sherer elaborated. "I'm overjoyed to finally hold a press conference with some great news," she said. "Today is a victory and a huge step forward in what has been at times a cruel and tragic period. My outrage over the raids was shared by millions of Americans, and now our collective voice has been heard in Washington. We look forward to working with the Obama administration to harmonize the conflicts with state laws once and for all."
Charlie Lynch (from
But for some patients and dispensary operators, the damage has already been done. Larry Epstein operates a legal medical cannabis dispensing collective in Marina Del Rey, California, that was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on February 4, despite President Obama's statements on the campaign trail indicating a change in federal policy.

"We had been operating as a legitimate cooperative dispensary per California law for a number of years," said Epstein. "But the DEA came in here as if we were operating an illegal drug cartel. They stole all our property, all our product, and froze our bank accounts. Now, we can't pay our taxes; that's part of what they stole. It's devastating when they do those types of actions, never mind the hundreds of patients who rely on our facility to get their medicine."

Heather Poet operates a medical cannabis dispensing collective in Santa Barbara, California. The Justice Department has pressured her landlord to evict the collective using threats of prosecution and civil asset forfeiture. Her case prompted US Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) to ask Attorney General Holder to stop any and all prosecutions of property owners in a February 16 letter.

"Our landlord has twice been threatened by the US Attorney for the Central District of California, most recently just last month," Poet said. "If he did not initiate the termination of our lease for the 'illegal use' of his property -- we were operating legally under California law -- they would begin forfeiture proceedings against his property. That's when I contacted Rep. Capps. Within a week, she had contacted ASA and begun working on that letter. We are so grateful and proud of her for working so quickly to protect our rights and those of our patients. This has been a real travesty for so many sick people in California who have had to worry. Now, thousands of people will be able to breathe easier."

One person who isn't breathing easier just yet is Charles C. Lynch, a Morro Bay dispensary operator arrested and convicted on federal marijuana distribution charges. Lynch faces the dubious distinction of being perhaps the last person sent to prison under the federal war against medical marijuana; he faces at least a five-year mandatory minimum sentence when he is sentenced March 23.

"I became a medical marijuana patient in 2005 and decided we needed a dispensary here in the San Luis Obispo area so patients didn't have to drive 90 miles to Santa Barbara," Lynch explained. "Before I opened the dispensary, I called the DEA and asked them their policy. They told me it was up to the cities and towns, so I got a business license from the city of Morro Bay, and opened up on April 1, 2006. The mayor, the city attorney, and council members all came by to visit the facility. We even joined the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce. I did everything I thought was necessary to run a legitimate business."

But thanks to a recalcitrant local sheriff who, lacking any basis under state law to go after the dispensary, sicced the DEA on it, Lynch's dispensary was raided. "In March 2007, they raided me, took all my money and froze my bank account. They made it sound like I was selling drugs to children in the schoolyard. The city of Morro Bay reissued my business license -- the DEA had stolen it, too -- and I reopened for business. Two weeks later, the DEA threatened my landlord with forfeiture unless he evicted us for good, so on March 16, 2007, the dispensary closed for good."

That has been sufficient to slake the fed's thirst for vengeance in many dispensary raids: Trash the premises, steal the money and property, and drive the business out of existence. But in other cases, federal prosecutors wanted an extra pound of flesh and actually prosecuted dispensary operators. Charles Lynch falls into that unfortunate latter category.

"On July 17, 2007, I woke up to federal agents banging down my door with an arrest warrant for federal marijuana distribution charges," Lynch related. "I had a spotless record, but I had to post a $400,000 bond to get out of federal detention. The DEA and the sheriff did everything in their power to defame me, destroy me, and destroy my life. Now, I have been found guilty on five counts of distribution and await sentencing. I'm filing for bankruptcy, my friends are scared to talk to me because the feds are breathing down my neck. They've destroyed my life."

Clearly, Attorney General Holder's announcement Wednesday is a major breakthrough for the medical marijuana movement. Just as clearly, there are still messes to clean up and injustices to be righted. It is only when there is no one remaining in or threatened with federal prison for helping sick patients that the medical marijuana movement will have achieved real justice.

Prohibition: Salvia Mania Sweeps State Legislatures as Bans Spread Across County

After more than five years of examination, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has yet to find that salvia divinorum is dangerous or addictive enough to merit placement as a scheduled drug under the Controlled Substances Act, but that isn't stopping legislators across the land from moving to criminalize it or restrict its sales despite the lack of any real evidence that it does anything more than take its users on a psychedelic journey of a no more than a few minutes duration.
salvia leaves (photo courtesy
Since the plant was first banned in Delaware in 2004, a handful of states each year have made efforts to prohibit the increasingly popular psychedelic. This year, the trickle is turning into a tide despite a rising chorus of opposition from scientists, researchers, public health experts, and people who believe they should be able to control their own consciousness.

The Nebraska legislature voted 44-0 last Friday to add salvia and its active ingredient, Salvinorin A, to Schedule I of its controlled substance list, the same as LSD and psychedelic mushrooms. The state of Nebraska is going to save its youth from themselves by sending them to prison for up to five years for having some leaf or extract, and up to 20 years for selling it.

The man behind the campaign to ban the plant, Attorney General Jon Bruning, pronounced himself satisfied. "I'm pleased with the legislature's vote today to ban salvia," Bruning said. "I think it is important that salvia not be allowed to be used by members of the public."

Nebraska's northern neighbor, South Dakota, is on the verge of doing the same. A bill pronouncing the salvia "threat" an emergency easily passed the House two weeks ago and a Senate committee this week. Under the emergency legislation, a ban would go into effect immediately upon the governor's signature of the bill.

And the Kentucky House Tuesday voted 99-0 to make it illegal to possess, buy, sell, or cultivate salvia. The sponsor of that bill, Rep. Will Coursey (R-Benton) told his colleagues the plant was a safety risk.

Meanwhile, similar bills have been filed or proposed in Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas.

Thirteen states -- Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Virginia -- have classified salvia as Schedule I under state drug laws. Three more -- Louisiana, Maine, and Tennessee -- restrict the sale of the plant. Maine and California ban it only for minors.

NJ Senate President Embarrasses Himself With Bad Pot Joke

The New Jersey Senate passed a medical marijuana bill on Monday, prompting State Senate President Richard J. Codey to utter one of the worst pot jokes I've ever heard:

Dude, you're not Jay Leno. Sadly, it's hard to imagine what threshold must be crossed before sick and dying patients can receive protection under the law without having to endure the completely banal, sophomoric comedy stylings of some of America's least funny people.

Too many public officials, news anchors, and journalists still think pot jokes are a free ride to funnytown, and we'll usually give them a pass on it, even as they unleash one sorry groaner after another. But the line ought to be drawn on the senate floor, when seriously ill patients are in the room. That is just basic professional courtesy.

Fortunately, FOX at least picked up the story and acknowledged the controversy that this type of childish behavior provokes. Hopefully, we are moving towards a point when legitimate medical marijuana patients are left alone, not only by police, but by bad amateur comedians in all sectors of public service.

California considers junking marijuana prohibition

Dear friends:

On Monday, a California state legislator introduced historic legislation that would end marijuana prohibition in California. The bill — authored by Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) — would eliminate criminal penalties for responsible marijuana use and set up a system to regulate and tax marijuana sales similarly to alcohol.

Last night, I appeared on "Glenn Beck" on the Fox News Channel to discuss the legislation. You can watch the segment here:

As the nation's largest state, California's serious consideration of ending marijuana prohibition is making huge waves. Within hours of the bill's introduction, it made national headlines and has since generated media coverage across the country, including the Associated Press, USA Today, Washington Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, MSNBC, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox News, and much more. MPP has already been featured in at least 20 TV, radio, and print stories about the bill. For instance, one of California's most respected political columnists, Dan Walters, opined in support of the bill in his Tuesday column, quoting MPP's Aaron Smith.

While the legislation isn't likely to become law this year, it's a strong signal that we're making tremendous strides. And California has a reputation for leading the way for other states. When I co-founded MPP in 1995, most people thought medical marijuana wasn't going to become legal anytime soon, but a year later California approved the nation's first medical marijuana law, and since then a dozen other states have followed suit.

MPP is the leading organization working on this and other efforts to end the government's war on marijuana users. Would you please consider investing in this important work by making a contribution today so that we can continue changing laws across the nation?

Thank you in advance for anything you're inspired to give.

Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $2.35 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2009. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School