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Slowly, states are lessening limits on marijuana

LOS ANGELES — James Gray once saw himself as a drug warrior, a former federal
prosecutor and county judge who sent people to prison for dealing pot and other
drug offenses. Gradually, though, he became convinced that the ban on marijuana
was making it more accessible to young people, not less.”I ask kids all the
time, and they’ll tell you it is easier to get marijuana than a six-pack of beer
because that is controlled by the government,” he said, noting that drug dealers
don’t ask for IDs or honor minimum age requirements.
So Gray — who spent two decades as a superior court judge in Orange County,
Calif., and once ran for Congress as a Republican— switched sides in the war on
drugs, becoming an advocate for legalizing marijuana.

“Let’s face reality,” he says. “Taxing and regulating marijuana will make it
less available to children than it is today.”MARIJUANA FARMResearchers
focuses on limiting abuse
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 ATTITUDES SHIFTMarijuana
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cancel Michigan game
Gray is part of a growing national movement to rethink
pot laws. From California, where lawmakers may outright legalize marijuana, to
New Jersey, which implemented a medical use law Jan. 19, states are taking
unprecedented steps to loosen marijuana restrictions. Advocates of legalizing
marijuana say generational, political and cultural shifts have taken the USA to
a unique moment in its history of drug prohibition that could topple 40 years of
tough restrictions on both medicinal and recreational marijuana use.

A Gallup Poll last October found 44% favor making marijuana legal, an
eight-point jump since the question was asked in 2005. An ABC News-Washington
Post poll in January found 81% favor making marijuana legal for medical use.
Attorney General Eric Holder last fall announced that raiding medical marijuana
facilities would be the lowest priority for U.S. law enforcement agents — a
major shift that is spurring many states to re-examine their policies. The
American Medical Association recommended in November that Congress reclassify
marijuana as a drug with possible medicinal benefit.  OREGON CAFEMedical
marijuana users socialize, smoke
 14TH STATE:N.J.
approves medical marijuana bill
At least 14 states this year — some deeply
conservative and Republican-leaning, such as Kansas — will consider legalizing
pot for medical purposes or lessening the penalties for possessing small amounts
for personal use. Fourteen other states and the District of Columbia already
have liberalized their marijuana laws.
“We are absolutely in an important new era in which increasing majorities of
Americans are not just questioning the wisdom and efficacy of marijuana
prohibition but are demanding alternatives,” says Stephen Gutwillig, California
director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which favors legalizing marijuana.

Kurt Gardinier, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which promotes
marijuana for medical use, calls Holder’s shift “one of the most significant
changes in federal drug policy in the last 30 years. It puts states at ease that
they won’t be in conflict with the federal government.”

The Obama administration still opposes smoking marijuana for its medicinal
benefit, says Tom McLellan, deputy director of the White House Office of
National Drug Control Policy. He says more research is needed to deliver the
medically useful ingredients in a non-smokable form.

“We have the safest medications in the world and it’s not a coincidence. We have
an enviable process by which we approve medications, and that’s through the
(Food and Drug Administration),” he says. “It’s a bad idea to approve medication
by popular vote.”
Yet even a few prominent opponents admit it’s getting harder for them to
persuade lawmakers to continue tough restrictions on marijuana, though they vow
to continue fighting against legalization and warn of dire long-term
consequences.
“The momentum is not with us, and we understand that,” says Michael Carroll,
president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the police
chief of West Goshen Township in Chester County, Pa.
The 20,000-member police chiefs association opposes legalizing medical marijuana
and decreasing penalties for possession because it fears abusers will cause
drugged-driving accidents and other societal and health problems that come with
drug abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says marijuana can cause heart
irregularities, lung problems and addiction.
“We’re going to multiply the problems we have with alcohol abuse,” Carroll says.
“Things are not going our way, but that’s not stopping us for speaking out about
it.”
Among the states considering marijuana bills this year:

• Alabama, Delaware, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, are debating
allowing medicinal use of marijuana for people with certain illnesses;
• Hawaii and Rhode Island, are considering bills to reduce the penalties for
marijuana possession to fines rather than jail time;
• Vermont is weighing whether to allow state-licensed liquor stores to sell
medical marijuana.

California leads the way
California became the first state to allow marijuana for medical use when voters
approved a statewide ballot issue in 1996, and its provisions are so broad that
tens of thousands of people have obtained a doctor’s recommendation to use
marijuana for ailments from cancer to arthritis.

Now California’s Legislature is considering a bill that would make it the first
state to legalize marijuana for recreational use as well. It is unlikely to pass
this year, but Gray and other advocates hope to have a proposition on the
November ballot that would legalize marijuana use for anyone 21 or older.
California would levy taxes that the state tax board says could raise $1.3
billion or more a year for the deficit-plagued state, while saving tens of
millions in prison and law-enforcement costs. Sponsors of the ballot issue have
turned in 690,161 signatures on petitions for verification, far more than the
433,971 valid signatures required to get on the ballot.

A 2009 statewide Field Poll found 56% support pot making pot legal for
recreational use and taxing it.

The economics argument may be the clincher, proponents hope. They call the
proposition a matter of “tax and regulate” rather than “legalize,” saying state
control will take marijuana out of criminals’ hands while generating badly
needed revenue.
“It’s history repeating itself, with (the) alcohol prohibition repeal during the
Great Depression,” says Richard Lee, an Oakland marijuana entrepreneur and
president of Oaksterdam University, which trains people to work in the medical
marijuana industry. Lee, who is pushing the ballot issue, says, “Now we have the
Great Recession. That will be on people’s minds.”

Yet as changing attitudes and economic forces propel the legal pot movement in
California, some wrinkles have emerged as the medical marijuana industry
expands. After some complaints from neighbors, municipalities and prosecutors
are moving to regulate the industry more closely to limit the growth of pot
dispensaries and prevent sales for recreational use.

Prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Diego contend that while the law allows
marijuana for medical uses, it does not specifically permit the sale of
marijuana. They have launched a series of raids aimed at closing some of the
hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries now operating out of storefronts.

“I call it the slippery slope,” says Dennis Zine, an Los Angeles city
councilman. “Now we have it for medical purposes. Now let’s expand it to anyone
who wants to get high? I don’t support that. … Do we then legalize cocaine,
legalize heroin?”
Tehama County, Calif., Sheriff Clay Parker said the state’s current medical
marijuana law is filled with gray areas that make enforcement uneven and
difficult. He says he opposes further relaxation of state laws but would welcome
a federal change that would drop marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 controlled
substance, the most tightly restricted, to a lower level that would place
marijuana in a category with prescription drugs that pharmacies could dispense.
Gray, who retired as a judge in 2009, says many judges agree with him that
sending marijuana users to jail places a costly burden on the state and clogs
the justice system, ultimately taking police and court resources from pursuing
violent criminals. Most judges, he says, fear saying so.

“Probably half of my colleagues talk privately the same way I do, but publicly
they’re concerned about standing out,” he says.

Jeff Studdard, 46, is another one-time drug warrior who has changed his
thinking. A former school police officer and Los Angeles County sheriff’s
deputy, Studdard tried marijuana to ease pain and restore his appetite after a
broken back forced him out of law enforcement. “I have stopped all my (other)
pain meds now and I’ve gained weight. It’s almost like a wonder drug,” he says.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a Democrat from San Francisco who introduced the tax
and regulate bill, predicts California eventually will legalize marijuana and
other states will follow.

“It’s inevitable that there will be some kind of legalization of recreational
marijuana,” Ammiano says. “How and where it’s going to happen I think is an open
question, but I think a lot sooner than later.”

Support not politically risky
Despite growing popular acceptance of marijuana, battles are still fought in
state legislatures when such bills are introduced, and many of the bills still
fail. Yet advocates say politicians are more willing to take on what only a few
years ago was a politically risky cause.
“Politicians are finally catching up with the American public,” Gardinier says.

Most of the changes have come on the West Coast and Northeast, but lawmakers in
a few Southern and Central states also are proposing bills, in part because they
see marijuana as a potential money-maker, says Gutwillig of the Drug Policy
Alliance.
Rhode Island is among the states considering legislation that would regulate and
tax marijuana or reduce penalties for personal use to a misdemeanor and fine.

Rhode Island’s Legislature adopted medical marijuana last year, setting up
dispensaries and a registration system. A decriminalization bill introduced in
the 75-member House has 35 co-signers, including three of the six Republican
lawmakers.

Sen. Joshua Miller, a Democrat from Cranston, R.I., leads a Senate commission
that is studying whether to drop tough penalties for marijuana use. He says
statewide polls show 80% of Rhode Islanders favor decriminalization. Rhode
Island borders Massachusetts, which decriminalized marijuana last year. The
debate, he says, has been framed by the state’s poor financial condition.

“We’d rather spend our resources on violent crime,” he says. “I’d also argue
that the best way to get to people who abuse drugs is treatment over
incarceration.”

That argument is being reinforced at the federal level by President Obama’s drug
czar Gil Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief who favors a
treatment-driven approach to drug abuse.

Even in conservative Kansas, where the Legislature recently voted to outlaw a
synthetic drug that mimics marijuana, backers of looser marijuana laws say they
have hope.

Rep. Gail Finney, a first-term Democrat, has proposed legalizing marijuana for
use by the critically ill. The bill is unlikely to pass this year, Finney says,
but she wants to use the hearings to educate fellow lawmakers and plans to
reintroduce it until it passes.
“It’s time for Kansas to have an open, honest debate about this,” she says.

She thinks many of her House colleagues would support the bill if they didn’t
fear backlash in an election year — a fear she says is unfounded. A Feb. 2 poll
of 500 Kansans by KWCH-TV in Wichita found 58% supported medical marijuana.
“If they were in touch and in tune with their constituents,” Finney says, “they
would know that this is what they want.”

Source: USA
Today
 By William M. Welchand Donna Leinwand

Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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