OAKLAND — Federal agents swooped in Monday morning to search Oakland’s Oaksterdam University in Oakland, the state’s first cannabis industry training school.
Agents with the U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation division are searching the university at the corner of 16th Street and Broadway, in the heart of the city’s widely recognized downtown cannabis-oriented district, authorities said.
The university has been cordoned off by yellow caution tape.
Arlette Lee, an IRS spokeswoman, said she could not say why the agents were there other than to confirm that they were serving a federal search warrant.
[UPDATE!] You can view video from yesterday’s federal raid, coverage of today’s march and protest in San Francisco, and also read Richard Lee’s first public statement since the DEA and IRS took action against him here.]
Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University, was the man who poured $1.5 million of his own money into the Prop 19 effort in 2010 to legalize marijuana in California. That effort garnered the greatest-ever support for statewide marijuana legalization at 46.5%.
Oaksterdam was founded in November of 2007 to provide training for the caregivers and collectives providing cannabis medicine to California’s medical marijuana patients. But rather than just establish a “grow school”, Richard Lee also seeded the curriculum with classes covering the entire cannabis industry, including how to address the political and legal impediments that prohibition of cannabis for healthy people imposes on getting medicine to sick people.
The recent “crackdown” by the four US Attorneys in California, which has included threatening letters to landlords of medical marijuana dispensaries as well as outright raids of longstanding, community-approved outlets like Berkeley Patients Group, has been devastating to Oaksterdam’s enrollment.
There is now no doubt in my mind that this is a full-court press by the Obama Administration to squelch the voices of legalization, retard the propagation of truth about marijuana, and stall our growing political momentum long enough for the campaign donors in Big Pharma to get cannabinoid pharmaceuticals through the FDA approval process.
Colorado and Washington – 2012 is THE year. Failure to pass legalization this year gives the government four more years before they have to worry about serious attempts at legalization. By then, a few more states will have passed medical marijuana laws without home grow. By 2016, Sativex and other cannabinoid pharmaceuticals are brought to market. Those states without home grow will then begin switching their state-run dispensary patients to Sativex. States with home grow will be under great pressure to do the same.
[NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano adds: I have tremendous personal respect for Richard Lee, having advocated along side with him in support of Prop. 19 — the statewide initiative he boldly and generously spearheaded in 2010 — and having lectured at Oaksterdam University, the groundbreaking educational facility he founded. On more than one occasion I ended my lectures at O.U. by highlighting the difference between changing public opinion and changing culture. Richard’s activism — opening the nation’s first brick-and-mortar cannabis ‘college,’ bankrolling Proposition 19 which nearly succeeded in legalizing the adult use of marijuana in California, and revitalizing downtown Oakland — fell into the latter category. He was changing the culture. And that is why the federal government and the Obama/Holder administration is trying to silence him today.]
Marijuana law reform legislation is pending in nearly 30 states this 2012 legislative session. Is your state among them? Find out here.
More importantly, have you taken the time to call or write your state elected officials this year and urged them to support these pending reforms? If not, NORML has provided you with all of the tools to do so via our capwiz ‘Take Action Center’ here. (FYI: NORML’s capwiz page is specific to legislation only, not ballot initiative efforts. A summary pending 2012 ballot initiative campaigns may be found at NORML’s Legalize It 2012 page on Facebook here or on the NORML blog here.)
Below is this week’s edition of NORML’s Weekly Legislative Round Up — where we spotlight specific examples of pending marijuana law reform legislation from around the country.
** A note to first time readers: NORML can not introduce legislation in your state. Nor can any other non-profit advocacy organization. Only your state representatives, or in some cases an individual constituent (by way of their representative; this is known as introducing legislation ‘by request’) can do so. NORML can — and does — work closely with like-minded politicians and citizens to reform marijuana laws, and lobbies on behalf of these efforts. But ultimately the most effective way — and the only way — to successfully achieve statewide marijuana law reform is for local stakeholders and citizens to become involved in the political process and to make the changes they want to see. Get active; get NORML!
California: Democrat Assemblywoman Norma Torres is sponsoring legislation, AB 2552, that seeks to criminalize anyone who operates a motor vehicle with any detectable amount of marijuana or its metabolites in their system, regardless of whether their psychomotor performance is demonstrably impaired. NORML is opposing this measure, which has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Public Safety. More information about this legislation is available from California NORML or via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.
Connecticut: Legislation that seeks to allow for the limited legalization of medical marijuana by qualified patients is moving forward in the Connecticut state legislature. On Wednesday, March 21, members of the Judiciary Committee voted 35 to 8 in favor of the measure, Raised Bill 5389. NORML thanks all of you who contacted your elected officials ahead of this important vote.
The Committee vote follows on the heels of the release of a statewide Quinnipiac University Poll of over 1,600 residents which reported that 68 percent of voters endorse the measure. According to the poll, “there is no gender, partisan, income, age or education group opposed” to legalizing marijuana as a physician-recommended therapy.
To receive future e-mail updates on the progress of this legislation and what you can do to assure its passage, please contact Erik Williams, Connecticut NORML Executive Director, here.
New Hampshire: Members of the Senate Committee on Health voted 5-0 last week in favor of Senate Bill 409, which allows for the limited legalization of medical marijuana by qualified patients, on March 23rd. SB 409 now awaits a vote on the Senate floor, which may come as soon as this week. [UPDATE!] On Wednesday, March 27th, members of the Republican-led New Hampshire State Senate voted 13-11 in favor of Senate Bill 409. You can watch lawmakers reaction to the vote here. As amended, qualified patients would be able to possess up to four cannabis plants and/or six ounces of marijuana for therapeutic purposes. SB 409 now awaits action from the House of Representatives, House Health and Human Services Committee. To become involved in the statewide campaign effort in favor of SB 409, contact NH Compassion here or visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.
Rhode Island: Legislation seeking to reduce marijuana possession penalties has been reintroduced in both chambers of the Rhode Island legislature. House Bill 7092 and its companion legislation Senate Bill 2253 amend state law so that the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by an individual 18 or older is reduced from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by one year in jail and a $500 maximum fine) to a non-arrestable civil offense, punishable by a $150 fine, no jail time, and no criminal record. A recent statewide poll, conducted in January by the Public Policy Polling Firm, shows that 65 percent of Rhode Island’s residents approve of this change.
On Tuesday, March 27, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony in favor of the measure. Last week, members of the House Judiciary Committee held similar hearings. NORML submitted written testimony in favor of the measure to the Committee.
Separate legislation to regulate the adult sale and use of marijuana is also pending in both chambers, and will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow.
Additional information about these measures is available from NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.
[UPDATE] Tennessee: The House version of legislation, the “Safe Access to Medical Cannabis Act”, that seeks to allow for the use of medical marijuana passed out of Committee on Tuesday, March 27. The bill now goes to the full House Health and Human Resources Committee, which will hear the measure on Wednesday, April 4, at 1:30pm. In past years, similar legislation has gained significant legislative support. NORML had previously retained a state lobbyist to work on behalf of the medicinal cannabis issue in the state legislature, and many Tennessee lawmakers have expressed support authorizing patients’ access to marijuana therapy. Now lawmakers need to hear from you. You can contact your lawmakers about this legislation via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.
At 8am on the morning of September 29, 2011, the Butte Interagency Narcotic Task Force (BINTF) forced entry into the home of Daisy Bram and her husband Jayme Walsh. Law enforcement officers arrested the couple and working jointly with Child Protective Services, seized their children — including their 3-week-old suckling newborn, Zeus, who was violently ripped from his mother’s arms. He and his 15-month-old brother, Thor, were snatched and placed in a stranger’s home. Neither of these nursing babies had ever been away from their parents.
Three weeks prior, on September 7, 2011, after a summer of watching sheriff’s helicopters fly over the area, two Butte County Sheriff’s deputies trespassed onto a clearly marked private road, maneuvered around a locked/gated driveway, and onto the property of Daisy and Jayme’s remote home on a mountain in Concow, California. They were there for a “compliance check”.
[A “compliance check” is a convenient excuse created by local county law enforcement used solely for the purpose of unlawfully obtaining access to private homes to investigate legal medicinal cannabis gardens for potential arrest and prosecution.]
During this “compliance check” police assured Daisy’s husband that “…everything looks okay… good luck with the baby.” The necessary and appropriate valid medical paperwork was and is in order.
The couple has since been charged with eight class A felonies, six relating to cannabis and two charges of child abuse). After a preliminary hearing, at which Jayme Walsh represented himself and Bram, they had the good fortune of retaining attorneys Michael Levinsohn and Jen Reeder. The child related charges, and one cannabis related charge were dismissed, leaving five remaining criminal cannabis charges. One of the most disturbing factors in this nightmare is that there has never been any attempt by prosecutors to verify the validity of their status as qualified patients in the state of California. Both Walsh and Bram have legal state-recognized recommendations for medical marijuana.
UPDATE [3/13/12] – Butte County Assistant District Attorney, Jeff Greeson, re-filed felony child abuse and misdemeanor child endangerment charges, against Daisy Bram (www.freemybabies.org). Daisy and her husband Jayme Walsh are medical cannabis patients in Butte County. Their 3 week old and 15 month-old children were taken and held by Butte County CPS for more than four months, following the parents arrest for cannabis.
Tamara Lujan, NORML Women’s Alliance Community Leader for Butte County issued the following statement:
“Considering the felony and misdemeanor charges were dropped, and are now being re-filed after public outcry and the filing for a Grand Jury Investigation, we can come to no other conclusion except this is a retaliatory measure, from the Butte County DA’s office.”
The outrage over this incident has driven several local residents to come forward with similar complaints regarding the misconduct of the BINTF and Child Services Division of Butte County (which leads all of California’s large counties in the percentage rate of permanent removal of children from parents). As a result, the NORML Women’s Alliance has filed an official request for an investigation by the Grand Jury in Butte County (including a financial audit). On Friday March 9th, the NWA, along with Butte County residents, put forward a complaint to the Grand Jury of Butte requesting an investigation into the County Children Services Division for the agency’s perceived and widespread misconduct. The findings in the people’s request include numerous testimonials from directly affected persons, submitted herein via the GRAND JURY COMPLAINT FORMS, which specify various and detailed claims of CSD misdeeds.
To see the full press click here.
“We thank the Grand Jury for its time, consideration and diligence in pursing our request. Only when government agencies have proper oversight can we as a community rest assured that corruption, abuse and other misdeeds are kept in check and deterred. Together We the People of Butte County and the Grand Jury can make these necessary strides of investigation and oversight to ensure all Butte families are truly served well, and are safe and secure at home.” – Tamara Lujan (NWA Butte County Community Leader)
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This week in weed: a recent study further illustrates marijuana’s effectiveness in treating chronic pain and a federal judge dismisses the NORML Legal Committee lawsuit against the federal government.
Ending Cannabis Prohibition in America
The now forty-year-old organized effort to reform cannabis laws in America is on the precipice of major socio-political reforms with approximately fifty percent of the population no longer supporting the nation’s seventy four-year-old Cannabis Prohibition. While reformers have made tremendous gains, notably at the state level, which have placed them at this crossroads, obstacles to full cannabis legalization are abundant and deep-seated in Congress and the federal government.
This paper seeks to identify important areas of concern for cannabis law reform, highlight the factors that have created a positive environment for reform, recognize who are the last and largely self-interested factions in society who fervently defend and/or prosper from Cannabis Prohibition’s status quo, and what are some of the strategic decisions that reformers can implement that will hasten an end to Alcohol Prohibition’s illegitimate, long-suffering cousin.
Important Areas Of Concern For Cannabis Law Reformers
There are several areas of concern for reformers, notably the federal vs. state disconnect in Washington, D.C.; citizens’ illogical fear of cannabis more than alcohol; and the political box canyon potentially created by medical cannabis.
Federal vs. State Government Disconnect –
On a recent video essay broadcast October 20, CNBC host and former senate staffer Lawrence O’Donnell lamenting about Cannabis Prohibition said ‘that only in the U.S. Senate can there be zero discussion about a policy change fifty percent of the country supports’. In a nutshell, despite 14 states having decriminalized cannabis possession, and 16 states and the District of Columbia ‘medicalizing’ cannabis, the U.S. Congress and the executive branch (along with a federal judiciary that is totally deferential to Congress’ intent and will regarding anti-cannabis laws) have a near total disconnect between what the governed want vis-à-vis reforming cannabis laws and elected policymakers on Capitol Hill who strongly support the status quo.
The numbers that frame this political quandary: 75% of the public support medical access to cannabis; 73% support decriminalizing cannabis possession for adults and now 50% of the population support outright legalization (California, where one out of eight U.S. citizens live, nearly passed a legalization voter initiative last fall, only losing by three percentage points). So it can be asserted with confidence that ‘soft’ cannabis law reforms of medical access and decriminalization enjoy overwhelming public support and that the ‘hard’ reform of legalization has now moved into the majority (The recent Gallup poll showed only 46% of citizens continue to support Cannabis Prohibition).
However, even with clear polling data to help guide them away from restrictive policies no longer supported by the public, the Obama Administration’s fifth attempt this October since he took office to introduce ‘digital democracy’ into policymaking decisions by creating a public website where citizens and organizations can post online petitions seeking changes in the ways government works, the president was once again confronted by the publics’ number one question: Why do we have Cannabis Prohibition in 2011? Shouldn’t it be ended as an ineffective public policy?
Unfortunately, like the previous four opportunities to confront public unrest about Cannabis Prohibition, despite the NORML petition being number one with 72,000 signatures, the Obama Administration once again totally rejected any public calls for cannabis law reforms and re-asserted the federal government’s primacy over the states in enforcing national Cannabis Prohibition laws (see discussion below).
Cannabis’ Fear Factor –
Recent polls and focus group data gathered by cannabis law reform advocates post last year’s near-victory in California for Prop. 19 (the initiative that would have legalized cannabis) revealed an important and troubling public perception that reformers need to largely overcome to be successful: Almost fifty percent of the general public in California—where the issue of reforming cannabis laws have been vetted like no other place on earth since the late 1960s— illogically fears cannabis more so than alcohol products.
Forgive the pun, but reformers have to do a better job ‘normalizing’ cannabis use such that its responsible use causes no greater concern in the public’s eye than the responsible use of alcohol. Otherwise, it is hard to imagine cannabis becoming legal anytime soon if fifty percent of the public fears the product and the consumers who enjoy it.
Medical Cannabis’ Political Limitations –
While NORML is the sui generis of medical cannabis in the United States (first suing the Drug Enforcement Administration to reschedule cannabis as a medicine in 1972, NORML vs. DEA), the organization recognizes that absent substantive changes in the federal government’s Controlled Substances Act (and controlling International treaties envisaged and championed by America at the United Nations), qualified medical patients accessing lawful cannabis with a physician’s recommendation in states that authorize such is an untenable conflict with the existing federal laws that do not, under any circumstance, allow for the therapeutic possession, use or manufacture of cannabis.
This state and federal conflict regarding Cannabis Prohibition laws came into full view this year despite previous attempts otherwise by the Obama Administration to slightly modify the federal government’s historic recalcitrance in allowing states greater autonomy to create cannabis controls, and in some cases such as Colorado, to establish tax and regulate bureaucracies specifically for medical cannabis.
Federal actions against medical cannabis in 2011:
*US Attorneys in California deny the city of Oakland the ability to set up a city-sanctioned arrangement with medical cannabis industry to cultivate and sell medical cannabis;
*The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that medical cannabis dispensaries are not legitimate businesses under federal law and therefore can’t take standard business tax deductions;
*The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) sent a memo to all gun dealers in the U.S. warning them not to make any sales of guns or ammunition to medical cannabis patients, even those who possess a state-issued ‘medical cannabis patient’ card. In effect, this federal action has rendered medical cannabis patients with no Second Amendment rights;
*Federal banking regulators regularly harass and threaten local and state banks not to do business with commercial medical cannabis businesses, even if the businesses have state and city-issued licenses to sell medical cannabis;
*US Attorneys in California and the DEA sent warning letters to otherwise state-compliant medical cannabis businesses that are properly zoned under local laws to shut down or move away from federally-funded schools, day care or recreation centers within 1,000 feet of the dispensary;
*These same US Attorneys are now threatening to legally pursue newspapers and magazines that advertise what are otherwise legal, state and city-authorized businesses and their lawful commerce.
Also, under numerous state Supreme Court decisions, lawful medical patients can be denied employment; along with driving privileges (which was recently overturned in California), child custody, Section Eight housing, university residences, and even be denied a life-saving organ transplant.
With so many onerous institutional discriminatory practices and restrictions—and the price of medical cannabis remaining inordinately high because of the existence of Cannabis Prohibition—patients who genuinely need access to this low toxicity, naturally occurring herbal medicine would be far better served by ending Cannabis Prohibition in total than trying to carve out special legal exemptions to existing prohibition laws.
Why Cannabis Reform Is More Popular Now Than Ever Before
The rapid increase in public support for cannabis law reform is made possible by five factors:
1) Baby Boomers are now largely in control of most of the country’s major institutions (media, government, entertainment, education and business) and they have a decidedly different perception and/or relationship with cannabis than the World War II generation (AKA, the Reefer Madness generation), who, were largely abstinent of consuming cannabis.
2) These crushing recessionary times have forced many elected policymakers to drop their support for rigorous enforcement of Cannabis Prohibition laws. Numerous states and municipalities have adopted half measures towards legalization, notably decriminalizing possession or adopting a lowest law enforcement priority strategy.
3) Medical cannabis first becoming legal in 1996 by popular vote in California. After the nation’s largest and most politically important state adopted medical marijuana guidelines, sixteen states and the District of Columbia have followed suit setting up a terrific state vs. federal government conflict that has already visited the U.S. Supreme Court twice (2002 and again in 2005).
4) The advent of the Internet in the mid 1990s allowed citizens to communicate directly with each other at very low costs, create large social networks of like-minded community members, avoid mainstream media (which readily serves as a lapdog, rather than government watchdog in the war on some drugs) and educate themselves with verifiable and credible information about cannabis (rejecting government anti-cannabis propaganda programs like the controversial DARE program in the public schools and the Partnership for Drug-Free America’s ineffective ad campaigns in the mainstream media).
5) Americans are apparently (and finally!) becoming increasingly Cannabis Prohibition weary after seventy-four years. In comparison, America’s great failed ‘social experiment’ of Alcohol Prohibition lasted about a dozen years.
Who Actually Wants Cannabis Prohibition To Continue?
One of the principle lessons in the Art of War is to ‘know thy enemy’. Therefore, it behooves cannabis law reformers to understand what small, but powerful factions in American society actively work to maintain the status quo of Cannabis Prohibition:
1) Law enforcement – There is no greater strident voice against ending Cannabis Prohibition than from the law enforcement community—from local sheriff departments to the Fraternal Order of Police to State Police departments to federal law enforcement agencies.
2) Federal and state bureaucracies born from Cannabis Prohibition itself – Washington, D.C. and most state capitals have created dozens of anti-cannabis government agencies to both maintain and enforce existing Cannabis Prohibition laws. Examples: Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of National Drug Control Policy (AKA, drug czar’s office), DARE, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, National Drug Control Information Center, etc…
Many of these bureaucracies in turn provide most of the funding to so-called ‘community anti-drug organizations’ to create the false appearance of local grassroots opposition to any cannabis law reforms.
3) Alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies –
Historically, alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals companies play both ends of the middle when opposing cannabis law reforms for the simple reason that all of these industries will lose a portion of their market share to legal cannabis.
4) Private corporations that prosper from Cannabis Prohibition –
Numerous private companies donate significant funding annually to anti-cannabis politicians and organizations to maintain the status quo. Examples of such are private prisons, drug testing companies, rehabilitation services, communication companies, contraband detection devices, interdiction services and high-tech companies.
Reformers can hasten the end of Cannabis Prohibition
–Bipartisan support to end Cannabis Prohibition is a political given. However, since the 1990s every single major cannabis law reform initiative that has been successful has been funded by one of two liberal, politically divisive billionaires (George Soros and Peter Lewis). Reformers need to achieve greater political and funding diversity to significantly advance cannabis law reforms in today’s highly divided national political landscape.
–Recognize that most all of the major policy reforms are first achieved at the local and state level, in time putting due political pressure on the federal government to follow suit.
–Cannabis law reformers need to better work in concert with other like-minded political and social organizations that also oppose failed government programs or seek redress for grievances against the government.
–Reformers need to create a far more simpler reform narrative that juxtaposes ‘pot tolerant’ citizens against ‘intolerant’ citizens in the same manner that Alcohol Prohibition pit ‘wets’ against ‘drys’.
–Reformers need to continue demonstrating the tremendous cost to taxpayers of maintaining Cannabis Prohibition; the loss of needed tax revenue and the genuine lack of social controls that enhance public safety.
–Reformers need to keep directing public and media attention to the serious de-stabilization of the country’s borders created by the tremendous illegal succor of Cannabis Prohibition in countries like Mexico.
–Continuing what cannabis law reformers have been successfully achieving for forty years, which is to say winning a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign in the population, and recognizing that elected policymakers in Washington are not going to be able to lead the country out of it’s long-suffering Cannabis Prohibition without public advocacy that is derived from effective, politically diverse and bottoms up grassroots stakeholdership.