Tag Archives: prohibition

Milwaukee alderman proposes ban on smokeless tobacco at sports venues

Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy has proposed an ordinance that would eliminate the use of smokeless tobacco products at Miller Park and other sports venues in the city.

An announcement from Murphy’s office said public health advocates would  join him at a Milwaukee Common Council hearing on the ordinance Nov. 10.

His proposal applies to all sports facilities at all levels — professional, collegiate, high school and amateur — within city limits and would cover everyone in the venues, including on the playing field, benches, vendor areas, spectator stands, parking lots and tailgating locations.

Murphy said Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco have enacted similar prohibitions. And a measure awaits the  mayor’s signature in Washington, D.C.

Also, next year, a law in California will take effect that would make 11 of the 30 Major League Baseball stadiums will be tobacco-free.

Public health experts, including at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Surgeon General, U.S. National Cancer Institute and World Health Organization, have concluded smokeless tobacco use is dangerous, containing at least 28 known carcinogens and causes oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer.

The product also causes nicotine addiction and other serious health problems like gum disease, tooth decay and mouth lesions. 

“For too long tobacco has been a stain on the great game of baseball and it’s time to get tobacco out of baseball once and for all to set the right example for the millions of kids who watch the sport and emulate their favorite players,” Murphy said in a statement. “When they are on the job, major league players have a responsibility to set the right example. Let’s make Milwaukee a shining example for the rest of the game.”

The CDC has reported that high school athletes use smokeless tobacco at nearly twice the rate of non-athletes and smokeless tobacco use among athletes increased more than 11 percent from 2001 to 2013, even as smoking rates dropped significantly.

Among male high school athletes, smokeless tobacco use is at 17.4 percent in 2013.

“Our national pastime should be about promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, not a deadly and addictive product,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Milwaukee is sending the right message that baseball players are role models for our nation’s youth and that chewing tobacco is dangerous and should not be an accepted part of sports culture.”

In 2013, manufacturers of smokeless tobacco spent more than $500 million on marketing.

On the Web

For information on the Knock Tobacco Out of the Park campaign go to tobaccofreebaseball.org.

Pennsylvania law prompts towns to rescind gun-control measures

Just a week after taking effect, a novel state law that makes it easier for pro-gun groups to challenge local firearms measures in court is already sparking change. Nearly two dozen Pennsylvania municipalities have agreed to get rid of their ordinances rather than face litigation.

Joshua Prince, an attorney for four pro-gun groups and several residents, cited the new law in putting nearly 100 Pennsylvania municipalities on notice that they would face legal action unless they rescinded their firearms laws.

At least 22 of those municipalities have already repealed them, or indicated they planned to do so, according to Prince, who specializes in firearms law and is based in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania has long prohibited its municipalities from enforcing firearms ordinances that regulate the ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of guns or ammunition.

Gun-rights groups complained that scores of municipalities ignored the 40-year-old prohibition by passing their own, mainly unchallenged gun measures.

Under the new state law, gun owners no longer have to prove they have been harmed by the local measure to successfully challenge it. Also, membership organizations such as the National Rifle Association can stand in to sue on behalf of any Pennsylvania member.

The challenger can also seek damages.

The cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster have sued to overturn the law, saying the legislation was passed improperly. That lawsuit is pending in Commonwealth Court.

Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, is encouraging municipalities with gun laws to stand pat, at least until the legal challenge is resolved.

“We certainly understand that they feel threatened and concerned. We feel like they have been put in a terrible position by their representatives in Harrisburg,” she said.

Reading City Council signaled last week it intended to repeal laws that ban firing weapons within city limits and require owners to report lost or stolen weapons. Officials said the city could ill afford a legal battle.

“We get ourselves in trouble in terms of trying to circumvent a state law,” said Councilman Jeff Waltman. “We’re not going to solve this with a local gun law anyway.”

The city of Harrisburg plans to defend its ordinances, asserting they comply with state law. The measures ban gunfire anywhere in the city and weapons possession in city parks. There’s also a reporting requirement for lost or stolen weapons.

Harrisburg’s laws are intended to combat gun violence and have the support of the police chief, said Mayor Eric Papenfuse.

“I don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all of public safety, but I think it’s an important tool to have, and it absolutely sends the wrong message to try to rescind those ordinances, especially given the epidemic of gun violence we have in cities like Harrisburg,” he said.

“Papenfuse denounced the new state law as representing ‘a fringe ideological view.'”

Papenfuse denounced the new state law as representing “a fringe ideological view.”

But gun activist Dave Dalton said no municipality has a right to flout Pennsylvania law. He said the law gives gun owners a tool to hold municipalities accountable.

“What gives a town or a city the authority to say, ‘We’re in Pennsylvania, but we don’t care about Pennsylvania law?’ It’s laughable,” said Dalton, founder of American Gun Owners Alliance in the Pocono Mountains, one of the groups represented by Prince.

The local laws have violated gun owners’ rights without making anyone safer, said another of Prince’s clients, Kim Stolfer, founder of Firearms Owners Against Crime.

“I think all of us are pleased it’s a good start, that communities are starting to look at this,” Stolfer said. Before gun groups were given standing to sue, he said, municipal officials “were just going to thumb their nose at a system that wasn’t going to hold them responsible.”

The NRA has not yet contacted any municipality, but said it’s reviewing local ordinances to ensure they comply with Pennsylvania law.

Colorado congressman invites Obama, Reid on pot tour

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., today invited President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to visit his state and see how new marijuana regulations are being successfully implemented.

Polis sent the invitation after both the president and the Senate leader expressed shifting, more relaxed positions on marijuana, which is being sold at stores and cafes in the Colorado.

Polis wrote, “I would like to extend an invitation to both of you to visit Colorado and join me to visit a legal dispensary and grow operation to see how the law is being implemented in the state. I am confident that when you see Colorado’s work to implement the law while protecting children and raising revenue for our schools firsthand, we can begin to make similar efforts on a federal level.”

Polis, who is openly gay, wants to lift federal laws criminalizing marijuana and regulate pot like alcohol.

He wrote to the president and Reid, “It is vital that our nation’s leaders recognize that marijuana’s placement on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act has cost taxpayers millions of dollars and has classified countless people as criminals simply for using or being in possession of a substance that, as you noted, Mr. President, is less dangerous than alcohol “in terms of its individual impact on consumers.”

The full letter:

I am writing to thank you both for your recent comments regarding your shifting positions on the regulation and legalization of marijuana. It is vital that our nation’s leaders recognize that marijuana’s placement on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act has cost taxpayers millions of dollars and has classified countless people as criminals simply for using or being in possession of a substance that, as you noted, Mr. President, is less dangerous than alcohol “in terms of its individual impact on consumers.”

As you both know, the state of Colorado began the regulated and legal sale of marijuana on January 1st, 2014, following the approval of Amendment 64 by the voters in the 2012 election. By regulating marijuana in the same way we do alcohol, Colorado has an opportunity to reduce crime and to help keep marijuana out of the hands of children. Mr. President, I appreciate your acknowledgement that often times, minorities and populations with lower incomes are disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana.

Majority Leader Reid, I was also encouraged by your assessment that, “We waste a lot of time and law enforcement,” going after marijuana users. Since the law has been implemented in Colorado, we have been fortunate to see the number of cases filed in regards to marijuana offenses plummet by 77 percent. I was also pleased to read the Majority Leader’s comments regarding how individuals who are suffering from an illness can often benefit from the relief provided by marijuana. For many, access to marijuana is the difference between being able to be treated for a life threatening illness or suffer even greater discomfort. As we strive to continue bringing our citizens the best health care in the world, we must be cognizant of the potential benefits that medicinal marijuana provides, and work to end the federal classification of marijuana, that according to U.S. Code has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”.

I also agree with the assessment that legalization of marijuana is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution to the most pressing social problems of the day, and that it is a vice with potential negative health effects. We must be diligent in continuing to expand educational opportunities for children, discouraging the abuse of drugs and alcohol, keeping drivers under the influence of alcohol or marijuana off the roads, and increasing awareness of the dangers associated with their use.

It is with this in mind that I would like to extend an invitation to both of you to visit Colorado and join me to visit a legal dispensary and grow operation to see how the law is being implemented in the state. I am confident that when you see Colorado’s work to implement the law while protecting children and raising revenue for our schools firsthand, we can begin to make similar efforts on a federal level.

Thank you for your consideration of my letter and I look forward to your response.

New Hampshire House votes to legalize marijuana

New Hampshire’s House of Representatives became the first legislative chamber in the United States to vote to end marijuana prohibition.

The vote was 170-162 on Jan. 15 for HB 492, which would legalize marijuana for adults and establish a system to regulate pot like alcohol.

A House committee will now review the revenue impacts of the proposal and then the House will vote a second time on the measure next month, or in March.

If approved again by the House, the measure would go to the Senate.

The Marijuana Policy Project, which has backed the provision, vowed in an announcement to “continue lobbying hard in support of this historic legislation.”

About 60 percent of voters in the state support the bill, according to MPP.

Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana through voter initiatives.

Secretary of State Kerry deeply concerned by Nigeria’s new anti-gay law

Secretary of State John Kerry on Jan. 13 responded with deep concern to news that Nigeria had enacted the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.

Kerry, in 1996, was one of just 14 U.S. senators to vote against the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act — anti-gay legislation that was partially overturned by the Supreme Court last June.

In a statement issued on Jan. 13, the secretary said, “The United States is deeply concerned by Nigeria’s enactment of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. Beyond even prohibiting same-sex marriage, this law dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians.”

He continued, “Moreover, it is inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations and undermines the democratic reforms and human rights protections enshrined in its 1999 Constitution.

“People everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality. No one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or who they love. We join with those in Nigeria who appeal for the protection of their fellow citizens’ fundamental freedoms and universal human rights.”

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed the measure into law, months after lawmakers passed the bill. Under the law, people who engage in same-sex “amorous relationships” or join gay rights groups could be sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Marijuana’s march to mainstream confounds feds

It took 50 years for American attitudes about marijuana to zigzag from the paranoia of “Reefer Madness” to the excesses of Woodstock back to the hard line of “Just Say No.”

The next 25 years took the nation from Bill Clinton, who famously “didn’t inhale,” to Barack Obama, who most emphatically did.

And now, in just a few short years, public opinion has moved so dramatically toward general acceptance that even those who champion legalization are surprised at how quickly attitudes are changing and states are moving to approve the drug – for medical use and just for fun.

It is a moment in America that is rife with contradictions:

-People are looking more kindly on marijuana even as science reveals more about the drug’s potential dangers, particularly for young people.

-States are giving the green light to the drug in direct defiance of a federal prohibition on its use.

-Exploration of the potential medical benefit is limited by high federal hurdles to research.

Washington policymakers seem reluctant to deal with any of it.

Richard Bonnie, a University of Virginia law professor who worked for a national commission that recommended decriminalizing marijuana in 1972, sees the public taking a big leap from prohibition to a more laissez-faire approach without full deliberation.

“It’s a remarkable story historically,” he says. “But as a matter of public policy, it’s a little worrisome. It’s intriguing, it’s interesting, it’s good that liberalization is occurring, but it is a little worrisome.”

More than a little worrisome to those in the anti-drug movement.

“We’re on this hundred-mile-an-hour freight train to legalizing a third addictive substance,” says Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy adviser in the Obama administration, lumping marijuana with tobacco and alcohol.

Legalization strategist Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, likes the direction the marijuana smoke is wafting. But he knows his side has considerable work yet to do.

“I’m constantly reminding my allies that marijuana is not going to legalize itself,” he says.

By the numbers:

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes since California voters made the first move in 1996. Voters in Colorado and Washington state took the next step last year and approved pot for recreational use. Alaska is likely to vote on the same question in 2014, and a few other states are expected to put recreational use on the ballot in 2016.

Nearly half of adults have tried marijuana, 12 percent of them in the past year, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. More teenagers now say they smoke marijuana than ordinary cigarettes.

Fifty-two percent of adults favor legalizing marijuana, up 11 percentage points just since 2010, according to Pew. Sixty percent think Washington shouldn’t enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have approved its use. Seventy-two percent think government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they’re worth.

“By Election Day 2016, we expect to see at least seven states where marijuana is legal and being regulated like alcohol,” says Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national legalization group.

Where California led the charge on medical marijuana, the next chapter in this story is being written in Colorado and Washington state.

Policymakers there are struggling with all sorts of sticky issues revolving around one central question: How do you legally regulate the production, distribution, sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes when federal law bans all of the above?

How do you tax it? What quality control standards do you set? How do you protect children while giving grown-ups the go-ahead to light up? What about driving under the influence? Can growers take business tax deductions? Who can grow pot, and how much? Where can you use it? Can cities opt out? Can workers be fired for smoking marijuana when they’re off duty? What about taking pot out of state? The list goes on.

The overarching question has big national implications. How do you do all of this without inviting the wrath of the federal government, which has been largely silent so far on how it will respond to a gaping conflict between U.S. and state law?

The Justice Department began reviewing the matter after last November’s election and repeatedly has promised to respond soon. But seven months later, states still are on their own, left to parse every passing comment from the department and President Obama.

In December, Obama said in an interview that “it does not make sense, from a prioritization point of view, for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that’s legal.”

In April, Attorney General Eric Holder said to Congress, “We are certainly going to enforce federal law. … When it comes to these marijuana initiatives, I think among the kinds of things we will have to consider is the impact on children.” He also mentioned violence related to drug trafficking and organized crime.

In May, Obama told reporters: “I honestly do not believe that legalizing drugs is the answer. But I do believe that a comprehensive approach – not just law enforcement, but prevention and education and treatment – that’s what we have to do.”

Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who favors legalization, predicts Washington will take a hands-off approach, based on Obama’s comments about setting law enforcement priorities.

“We would like to see that in writing,” Polis says. “But we believe, given the verbal assurances of the president, that we are moving forward in Colorado and Washington in implementing the will of the voters.”

The federal government has taken a similar approach toward users in states that have approved marijuana for medical use. It doesn’t go after pot-smoking cancer patients or grandmas with glaucoma. But it also has warned that people who are in the business of growing, selling and distributing marijuana on a large scale are subject to potential prosecution for violations of the Controlled Substances Act – even in states that have legalized medical use.

Federal agents in recent years have raided storefront dispensaries in California and Washington, seizing cash and pot. In April, the Justice Department targeted 63 dispensaries in Santa Ana, Calif., and filed three asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties housing seven pot shops. Prosecutors also sent letters to property owners and operators of 56 other marijuana dispensaries warning that they could face similar lawsuits.

University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin says if the administration doesn’t act soon to sort out the federal-state conflict, it may be too late to do much.

“At some point, it becomes so prevalent and so many citizens will be engaged in it that it’s hard to recriminalize something that’s become commonplace,” he says.

There’s a political calculus for the president, or any other politician, in all of this.

Younger people, who tend to vote more Democratic, are more supportive of legalizing marijuana, as are people in the West, where the libertarian streak runs strong. In Colorado, for example, last November more people voted for legalized pot (55 percent) than voted for Obama (51 percent), which could help explain why the president was silent on marijuana before the election.

“We’re going to get a cultural divide here pretty quickly,” says Greg Strimple, a Republican pollster based in Boise, Idaho, who predicts Obama will duck the issue as long as possible.

Despite increasing public acceptance of marijuana, and growing interest in its potential therapeutic uses, politicians know there are complications that could come with commercializing an addictive substance, some of them already evident in medical marijuana states. Opponents of pot are particularly worried that legalization will result in increased adolescent use as young people’s estimations of the drug’s dangers decline.

“There’s no real win on this from a political perspective,” says Sabet. “Do you want to be the president that stops a popular cause, especially a cause that’s popular within your own party? Or do you want to be the president that enables youth drug use that will have ramifications down the road?”

Marijuana legalization advocates offer politicians a rosier scenario, in which legitimate pot businesses eager to keep their operating licenses make sure not to sell to minors.

“Having a regulated system is the only way to ensure that we’re not ceding control of this popular substance to the criminal market and to black marketeers,” says Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group for legal pot businesses in the U.S.

See Change Research, which analyzes the marijuana business, has estimated the national market for medical marijuana alone at $1.7 billion for 2011 and has projected it could reach $8.9 billion in five years. Overall, marijuana users spend tens of billions of dollars a year on pot, experts believe.

Ultimately, marijuana advocates say, it’s Congress that needs to budge, aligning federal laws with those of states moving to legalization. But that doesn’t appear likely anytime soon.

The administration appears uncertain how to proceed.

“The executive branch is in a pickle,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., said at a recent news conference outside the Capitol with pot growers visiting town to lobby for changes. “Twenty-one states have a different view of the use of marijuana than the laws on the books for the federal government.”

While the federal government hunkers down, Colorado and Washington state are moving forward on their own.

Colorado’s governor in May signed a set of bills to regulate legal use of the drug, and the state’s November ballot will ask voters to approve special sales and excise taxes on pot. In Washington state, the Liquor Control Board is drawing up rules covering everything from how plants will be grown to how many stores will be allowed. It expects to issue licenses for growers and processors in December, and impose 25 percent taxes three times over – when pot is grown, processed and sold to consumers.

“What we’re beginning to see is the unraveling of the criminal approach to marijuana policy,” says Tim Lynch, director of the libertarian Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice. But, Lynch adds, “the next few years are going to be messy. There are going to be policy battles” as states work to bring a black market industry into the sunshine, and Washington wrestles with how to respond.

Already, a federal judge has struck down a Colorado requirement that pot magazines such as High Times be kept behind store counters, like pornography.

Marijuana advocates in Washington state, where officials have projected the legal pot market could bring the state a half-billion a year in revenue, are complaining that state regulators are still banning sales of hash or hash oil, a marijuana extract.

Pot growers in medical marijuana states are chafing at federal laws that deny them access to the banking system, tax deductions and other opportunities that other businesses take for granted. Many dispensaries are forced to operate on a cash-only basis, which can be an invitation to organized crime.

It’s already legal for adults in Colorado and Washington to light up at will, as long as they do so in private.

That creates all kinds of new challenges for law enforcement.

Pat Slack, a commander with the Snohomish County Regional Drug Taskforce in Washington state, said local police are receiving calls about smokers flouting regulations against lighting up in public. In at least one instance, Slack said, that included a complaint about a smoker whose haze was wafting over a backyard fence and into the middle of a child’s birthday party. But with many other problems confronting local officers, scofflaws are largely being ignored.

“There’s not much we can do to help,” Slack says. “A lot of people have to get accustomed to what the change is.”

In Colorado, Tom Gorman, director of the federal Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Taskforce, takes a tougher stance on his state’s decision to legalize pot.

“This is against the law, I don’t care what Colorado says,” Gorman said. “It puts us in a position, where you book a guy or gal and they have marijuana, do you give it back? Do you destroy it? What in effect I am doing by giving it back is I am committing a felony. If the court orders me to return it, the court is giving me an illegal order.”

More than 30 pot growers and distributors, going all-out to present a buttoned-down image in suits and sensible pumps rather than ponytails and weed T-shirts, spent two days on Capitol Hill in June lobbying for equal treatment under tax and banking laws and seeking an end to federal property seizures.

“It’s truly unfortunate that the Justice Department can’t find a way to respect the will of the people,” says Sean Luse of the 13-year-old Berkeley Patients Group in California, a multimillion-dollar pot collective whose landlord is facing the threat of property forfeiture.

As Colorado and Washington state press on, California’s experience with medical marijuana offers a window into potential pitfalls that can come with wider availability of pot.

Dispensaries for medical marijuana have proliferated in the state. Regulation has been lax, leading some overwhelmed communities to complain about too-easy access from illegal storefront pot shops and related problems such as loitering and unsavory characters. That prompted cities around the state to say enough already and ban dispensaries. Pot advocates sued.

In May, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that cities and counties can ban medical marijuana dispensaries. A few weeks later, Los Angeles voters approved a ballot measure that limits the number of pot shops in the city to 135, down from an estimated high of about 1,000. By contrast, whitepages.com lists 112 Starbucks in the city.

This isn’t full-scale buyer’s remorse, but more a course correction before the inevitable next push to full-on legalization in the state.

Baker Montgomery, a member of the Eagle Rock neighborhood council in Los Angeles, where pot shops were prevalent, said May’s vote to limit the number of shops was all about ridding the city of illicit dispensaries.

“They’re just not following what small amounts of rules there are on the books,” Montgomery said.

In 2010, California voters opted against legalizing marijuana for recreational use, drawing the line at medical use.

But Jeffrey Dunn, a Southern California attorney who represented cities in the Supreme Court case, says that in reality the state’s dispensaries have been operating so loosely that already “it’s really all-access.”

At the Venice Beach Care Center, one of the dispensaries that will be allowed to stay open in Los Angeles, founding director Brennan Thicke believes there still is widespread support for medical marijuana in California. But he says the state isn’t ready for more just yet.

“We have to get (medical) right first,” Thicke said.

Dunn doubts that’s possible.

“What we’ve learned is, it is very difficult if not impossible to regulate these facilities,” he said.

Other states, Colorado among them, have had their own bumps in the road with medical marijuana.

A Denver-area hospital, for example, saw children getting sick after eating treats and other foods made with marijuana in the two years after a 2009 federal policy change led to a surge in medical marijuana use, according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics in May. In the preceding four years, the hospital had no such cases.

The Colorado Education Department reported a sharp rise in drug-related suspensions and expulsions after medical marijuana took off. An audit of the state’s medical marijuana system found the state had failed to adequately track the growth and distribution of pot or to fully check out the backgrounds of pot dealers.

“What we’re doing is not working,” says Dr. Christian Thurstone, a psychiatrist whose Denver youth substance abuse treatment center has seen referrals for marijuana double since September. In addition, he sees young people becoming increasingly reluctant to be treated, arguing that it can’t be bad for them if it’s legal.

Yet Daniel Rees, a researcher at the University of Colorado Denver, analyzed data from 16 states that have approved medical marijuana and found no evidence that legalization had increased pot use among high school students.

In looking at young people, Rees concludes: “Should we be worried that marijuana use nationally is going up? Yes. Is legalization of medical marijuana the culprit? No.”

Growing support for legalization doesn’t mean everybody wants to light up: Barely one in 10 Americans used pot in the past year.

Those who do want to see marijuana legalized range from libertarians who oppose much government intervention to people who want to see an activist government aggressively regulate marijuana production and sales.

Safer-than-alcohol was “the message that won the day” with voters in Colorado, says Tvert.

For others, money talks: Why let drug cartels rake in untaxed profits when a cut of that money could go into government coffers?

There are other threads in the growing acceptance of pot.

People think it’s not as dangerous as once believed; some reflect back on what they see as their own harmless experience in their youth. They worry about high school kids getting an arrest record that will haunt them for life. They see racial inequity in the way marijuana laws are enforced. They’re weary of the “war on drugs,” and want law enforcement to focus on other areas.

“I don’t plan to use marijuana, but it just seemed we waste a lot of time and energy trying to enforce something when there are other things we should be focused on,” says Sherri Georges, who works at a Colorado Springs, Colo., saddle shop. “I think that alcohol is a way bigger problem than marijuana, especially for kids.”

Opponents have retorts at the ready.

They point to a 2012 study finding that regular use of marijuana during teen years can lead to a long-term drop in IQ, and a different study indicating marijuana use can induce and exacerbate psychotic illness in susceptible people. They question the idea that regulating pot will bring in big money, saying revenue estimates are grossly exaggerated.

They counter the claim that prisons are bulging with people convicted of simple possession by citing federal statistics showing only a small percentage of federal and state inmates are behind bars for that alone. Slack said the vast majority of people jailed for marijuana possession were originally charged with dealing drugs and accepted plea bargains for possession. The average possession charge for those in jail is 115 pounds, Slack says, which he calls enough for “personal use for a small city.”

Over and over, marijuana opponents warn that baby boomers who are drawing on their own innocuous experiences with pot are overlooking the much higher potency of the marijuana now in circulation.

In 2009, concentrations of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot, averaged close to 10 percent in marijuana, compared with about 4 percent in the 1980s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. An estimated 9 percent of people who try marijuana eventually become addicted, and the numbers are higher for those who start using pot when they are young. That’s less than the addiction rates for nicotine or alcohol, but still significant.

“If marijuana legalization was about my old buddies at Berkeley smoking in People’s Park once a week I don’t think many of us would care that much,” says Sabet, who helped to found Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization. “But it’s not about that. It’s really about creating a new industry that’s going to target kids and target minorities and our vulnerable populations just like our legal industries do today.”

So how bad, or good, is pot?

There are studies that set off medical alarm bells but also studies that support the safer-than-alcohol crowd and suggest promising therapeutic uses.

J. Michael Bostwick, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, set out to sort through more than 100 sometimes conflicting studies after his teenage son became addicted to pot. In a 22-page article for Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2012, he laid out the contradictions in U.S. policy and declared that “little about cannabis is straightforward.”

“Anybody can find data to support almost any position,” Bostwick says now.

For all of the talk that smoking pot is no big deal, Bostwick says, he determined that “it was a very big deal. There were addiction issues. There were psychosis issues. But there was also this very large body of literature suggesting that it could potentially have very valuable pharmaceutical applications but the research was stymied” by federal barriers.

Marijuana is a Schedule I drug under 1970 law, meaning the government deems it to have “no currently accepted medical use” and a “high potential for abuse.” The only federally authorized source of marijuana for research is grown at the University of Mississippi, and the government tightly regulates its use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says plenty of work with cannabis is ongoing, but Bostwick says federal restrictions have caused a “near-cessation of scientific research.”

The American Medical Association opposes legalizing pot, calling it a “dangerous drug” and a public health concern. But it also is urging the government to review marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug in the interest of promoting more research.

“The evidence is pretty clear that in 1970 the decision to make the drug illegal, or put it on Schedule I, was a political decision,” says Bostwick. “And it seems pretty obvious in 2013 that states, making their decisions the way they are, are making political decisions. Science is not present in either situation to the degree that it needs to be.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s director, Dr. Nora Volkow, says that for all the potential dangers of marijuana, “cannabinoids are just amazing compounds, and understanding how to use them properly could be actually very beneficial therapeutically.” But she worries that legalizing pot will result in increased use of marijuana by young people, and impair their brain development.

“You cannot mess around with the cognitive capacity of your young people because you are going to rely on them,” she says. “Think about it: Do you want a nation where your young people are stoned?”

As state after state moves toward a more liberal approach to marijuana, the turnaround is drawing comparisons to shifting attitudes on gay marriage, for which polls find rapidly growing acceptance, especially among younger voters. That could point toward durable majority support as this population ages. Gay marriage is now legal in 12 states and Washington, D.C.

On marijuana, “we’re having a hard time almost believing how fast public opinion is changing in our direction,” says Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance.

But William Galston and E.J. Dionne, who co-wrote a paper on the new politics of marijuana for the Brookings Institution, believe marijuana legalization hasn’t achieved a deep enough level of support to suggest a tipping point, with attitudes toward legalization marked by ambivalence and uncertainty.

“Compared with attitudes toward same-sex marriage, support for marijuana legalization is much less driven by moral conviction and much more by the belief that it is not a moral issue at all,” they wrote.

No one expects Congress to change federal law anytime soon.

Partisans on both sides think people in other states will keep a close eye on the precedent-setting experiment underway in Colorado and Washington as they decide whether to give the green light to marijuana elsewhere.

“It will happen very suddenly,” predicts the Cato Institute’s Lynch. “In 10-15 years, it will be hard to find a politician who will say they were ever against legalization.”

Sabet worries that things will move so fast that the negative effects of legalization won’t yet be fully apparent when other states start giving the go-ahead to pot. He’s hoping for a different outcome.

“I actually think that this is going to wake a lot of people up who might have looked the other way during the medical marijuana debate,” he says. “In many ways, it actually might be the catalyst to turn things around.”

Past predictions on pot have been wildly off-base, in both directions.

The 1972 commission that recommended decriminalizing marijuana speculated pot might be nothing more than a fad.

Then there’s “Reefer Madness,” the 1936 propaganda movie that pot fans rediscovered and turned into a cult classic in the 1970s. It labeled pot “The Real Public Enemy Number One!”

The movie spins a tale of dire consequences “leading finally to acts of shocking violence … ending often in incurable insanity.”

Associated Press writers Kristen Wyatt in Denver, Gene Johnson in Seattle, Lauran Neergaard in Washington and AP researcher Monika Mathur in Washington contributed to this report.


Time to end reefer madness and legalize pot

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia now have laws legalizing marijuana in some form, mostly for medical use. The Illinois Legislature recently enacted a medical marijuana law that has been sitting unsigned on Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk since May 17.

Legalizing marijuana, which is already widely used and more harmless than alcohol, is a great step forward toward ending the preposterous so-called “war on drugs.” Just as the end of Prohibition was inevitable, so is the end of the drug war folly.

An estimated $1 trillion has been spent on this “war” since President Richard Nixon launched it in 1971. The campaign has not only failed to reduce drug use in the United States, but it has also given rise to a brutal wave of international crime that’s destroyed our inner cities, strained our relations with other nations, murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens, corrupted law-enforcement officials and ruined millions of lives.

Drug offenses are responsible for nearly half of the 2.2 million people currently residing in the nation’s prisons and jails. They are the reason why the United States has the largest reported incarceration rate in the world.

Young people sent to jail on drug-related charges begin life with two strikes against them. Saddling them with prison records and exposing them to hardened criminals at an impressionable age help train the next generation of criminals.

The drug war disproportionately targets African Americans. A report issued by the ACLU on June 4 showed that blacks were arrested for marijuana possession at six times the rate of whites in Wisconsin in 2010, despite having usage rates comparable with whites.

Wisconsin ranked fifth in the nation for racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests in 2010, according to the report. It also found that between 2001 and 2010, the disparity between the races for marijuana arrests increased by 150 percent, the third highest such increase in the nation.

As a result of all this incarceration, Wisconsin now spends three times as much on the prison system as it does on students. Since students who don’t graduate from high school are eight times more likely to be incarcerated throughout their lifetimes than those who do, this ridiculous prioritizing of taxpayer money will lead to even less money for schools in the future.

Clearly someone is benefiting from the drug war or this insanity would not be allowed to continue. From police officers on the take to politicians exploiting anti-drug demagoguery to “smaller government” officials who dole out lucrative prison contracts to the security companies that support them, there will be some sore losers when the war on drugs ends.

And end it must. Our government’s addiction to the drug war is too costly to society in too many ways. In 2010, Wisconsin spent at least $15.63 million and as much as $73.1 million enforcing marijuana laws alone. And marijuana is only one of the many illegal and controlled substances.

We hope the marijuana legalization laws gaining traction across the country are the beginning of the end of reefer madness along with the entire black-market drug industry.

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Congressional push is on to end marijuana prohibition

A push is on to repeal federal marijuana prohibition in 2012 – before the two main sponsors of the legislation exit Congress.

U.S. Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Ron Paul, R-Texas, will not be running for re-election in November. Frank has decided to pursue other interests and Paul is campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination.

The two lawmakers are the strongest supporters of legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition, which is seen as a major obstacle to enacting medical marijuana laws at the state level.

This week, the national Drug Policy Alliance urged a citizens lobbying campaign to encourage sponsorship of H.R. 2306, which would end federal marijuana prohibition and allow states to set their own marijuana policy without federal interference.

DPA said congressional action would end federal raids on state-authorized medical marijuana dispensaries in California.

A Gallup poll has found that marijuana legalization is supported by a majority of independent voters, as well as majorities in Western, Eastern and Midwestern states.

Medical marijuana is legalized in 16 states, while a medical marijuana bill is pending in Wisconsin.

“We need other legislators to continue the fight that Reps. Frank and Paul started,” said DPA national affairs director Bill Piper. “Even though many lawmakers privately support ending marijuana prohibition, only some of them are courageous enough to take a public stand.”

Betting on disposable income

Resorts Casino Hotel recently opened Prohibition, the first gay nightclub in an Atlantic City casino. Investors are betting on the marketing claim that gays have more disposable income than straights. Prohibition is located on the 13th floor of the casino and decorated in a Roaring ’20s theme. “People think gays don’t gamble. That’s not true. They gamble. They drink. They like to travel. And they have that extra income,” said former gay bar owner John Schultz, who lobbied for the nightclub at Resorts.