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September 27, 2013 at 7:00 AM
The new approach to drug policy pioneered in Washington and Colorado is emboldening central and south American countries.
In a speech at the United Nations on Thursday, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina said his country was beginning work on drug policy reform, and praised the American trailblazers. Here’s an excerpt from his remarks:
Guatemala commends the visionary decision of the citizens of the States of Colorado and Washington that have led the way to an approach addressing drugs centered on public health, the prevention of addiction and violence, and full respect of human rights. We acknowledge President Obama for his wise decision of respecting the voice of the citizens of Colorado and Washington, to allow these innovative experiences to provide results.
The fact that Pérez Molina – a hard-line ex-military general who waged the drug war – sounds like a speaker at a NORML conference illustrates how far, and how fast, the mood has shifted in Latin America.
Uruguay is moving to become the first Latin American country to legalize marijuana, according to an Aug. 2 news story in The Independent. In Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos said he would favor regulation if other countries did so. Former Mexican presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon also support legalization. Two of their former cabinet ministers, Fernando Gomez Mont and Jorge Castañeda, made a strong case for Mexico City to decriminalize pot in an Aug. 3 guest column published in The Seattle Times.
A report in May by the Organization of American States rationally debated legalization strategies, which would have been unthinkable even a few years ago in conservative Catholic countries.
The Initiative 502 campaign to legalize marijuana argued that legalizing here could kneecap the marijuana profits of Mexican cartels. That was mocked at times, particularly by law enforcement opponents, as naive and patronizing.
Turns out, the presidents of central and south American countries, who’ve paid a blood price for our prohibition policies, agree: legalization is a better strategy than prohibition.
August 30, 2013 at 1:12 PM
August 30, 2013 at 6:07 AM
Here is the value of initiatives: the photo released Thursday of Gov. Jay Inslee on the phone with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, being told that the federal government won’t challenge Washington’s marijuana law.
Inslee, a Democrat, would not support Initiative 502 when it was on the ballot. Nor did the previous Democratic governor, Chris Gregoire. No encouragement came from the Democratic administration in Washington.
Democrats are the liberal party. Did it matter? No. Not on this. It was too sensitive, and state politicians were too scared to defy the federal government. It took a statewide public vote, which was brought about by private petitioners, to move political leaders. It was the same in Colorado. And in the late 1990s medical marijuana was pioneered exclusively by public vote in California in 1996, in Washington, Alaska and Oregon in 1998 and in Maine in 1999.
The Obama administration’s decision on this is good. But remember how it started.
May 29, 2013 at 12:32 PM
“Former Microsoft manager Jamen Shively wants to create the first national brand of retail marijuana and to open pot trade with Mexico.”
So begins a story in Wednesday’s Local News section. What to make of a story like this?
Jamen Shively, 45, is talking big. He was a manager at Microsoft, which suggests money and connections. He promises to bring Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico. The proposal is to lawfully import marijuana from Mexico to establish “the first national brand of retail marijuana.”
The story quotes attorney Alison Holcomb, primary author of last fall’s Initiative 502, reminding us that recreational marijuana regimes are being set up in Colorado and Washington only, under the promise to federal authority that they will be tightly regulated and confined to those states.
Two different approaches, the first bold, the second cautious. The difference is, she has won a political battle and he hasn’t. She has a law on the books and the support of a state government and its regulatory arm, the Liquor Control Board, and he hasn’t. She wants to protect the victory she’s won, and make sure it goes ahead as planned, which means giving the Obama administration the smallest possible reason to step into the Evergreen State and wreck things. A year ago, when I-502 was a mere proposal, she needed a high profile to get voters to pass it. Now a low profile makes more sense. The marijuana legalizers need to get the state regulations through, permits issued, stores set up, people earning a living, etc. Fait accompli.
Shively hasn’t achieved any of that. He needs to attract backers, to intimidate competitors, and to accustom people to the idea of mass marketing in the marijuana industry. National branded marijuana has to go from being a farfetched idea to an ordinary idea, which means people have to think about it for a while.
If I were Holcomb, or Gov. Jay Inslee, I might be worried that Shively is increasing the risk of federal intervention—that he will mess up what they have achieved, and knock everyone back to zero.
But I am not them. I am an observer, in favor of more thorough legalization, and I think: from a longer-term perspective, maybe Shively’s grandstanding is a good thing. It raises the political heat on Obama. Our president is a respecter of Microsoft money. He comes here and fills up on it often enough. Modern Democrats respect tech entrepreneurs. So, when Shively says the world is changing, and he’s not afraid to stick his neck out (rhetorically, at least), and announce that he wants the federal law against marijuana swept aside, and marijuana trade opened up with Mexico, maybe he’s speaking words that will be heard.
All of which may have little to do with the question of national brands, big corporations, etc., in the cannabis trade. Most likely, the shape of a legalized industry will be decided in the market, as with beer, bread, ice cream or anything else. And recall the starting point: medical marijuana is raised indoors under lights in temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms. It is sold by the gram to people who use small quantities at a time and demand high quality. This may not be so easy a market for one big guy to control.
May 3, 2013 at 6:15 AM
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration has sent shut-down-or-else letters to 11 Seattle-area marijuana dispensaries. These are medicine shops, which the federal government supposedly tolerates, not the “Initiative 502 stores” for all over-21s. Those won’t open until next year, if U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder decides to allow them to open. Medical dispensaries are supposed to be tolerated.
Apparently they are, except those within 1,000 feet of an iconic thing. What’s with that? This isn’t the 1,000-foot rule from Initiative 502. This is from the federal code, 21 USC 860. It starts out:
Any person who violates section 841(a)(1) of this title or section 856 of this title by distributing, possessing with intent to distribute, or manufacturing a controlled substance in or on, or within one thousand feet of, the real property comprising a public or private elementary, vocational, or secondary school or a public or private college, junior college, or university, or a playground, or housing facility owned by a public housing authority, or within 100 feet of a public or private youth center, public swimming pool, or video arcade facility, is (except as provided in subsection (b) of this section) subject to (1) twice the maximum punishment authorized by section 841(b) of this title…
The federal government needs to decide what it’s trying to do. Medical marijuana is illegal everywhere under federal law but legal under the laws of 18 states. Is the federal government going to fight those states? In 2009, the Obama administration indicated it would not. It has not decided what it will do about Washington and Colorado, which voted in November to decriminalize for over-21 adults.
In a city as dense as Seattle, the 1,000-foot rule applied to all the things in the law book wipes out most of the places for a marijuana shop outside of the SODO district. That’s ridiculous. And the rule doesn’t make sense anyway.
The rule was put in during the crack cocaine epidemic by legislators who imagined drug dealers hawking crack to children on the way to school. But these are medical dispensaries for clients, many of whom are middle aged or older. If they have doctor’s letters they can go inside and buy marijuana. What difference does it make if such a shop is less than 1,000 feet of a school? Kids can’t go in. Are they supposed to be corrupted by walking in front of it? Seeing a green cross in the window?
A final note: Philip Dawdy of the Washington Cannabis Association said several of the letters have gone out to dispensaries that were not within 1,000 feet of any of the taboo things. “The application of this seems to be scattered and random,” he said.
March 6, 2013 at 6:01 AM
UPDATE: 7:18 a.m. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration was “still considering” the federal response to voter-approved marijuana legalization laws in Washington and Colorado. Given the chance by Senate Judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy to make an announcement, Holder said a response would be coming soon.
Leahy, citing cuts to the Justice Department under sequestration, added: “I would suggest there are more serious things than minor possession of marijuana. That’s a personal view.”
ORIGINAL POST: Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to testify this morning before the Senate Judiciary committee (follow the link for a live webcast). Will today be the day he tips his closely-held hand regarding the Justice Department’s response to marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado?
He said recently that a memo was almost done, four months after the election.
And I’m suspicious about the timing of Tuesday’s twin condemnations of legalization by International Narcotics Control Board and by a group of ex-Drug Enforcement Administration chiefs, who demanded Holder take action. The ex-DEA administrators did so twice before the November election. Instead, 1.7 million Washington voters in 20 of the state’s 39 counties voted for a new approach to marijuana.
If the Justice Department produces a memo today or soon, here’s my prediction: it will condemn legalization and affirm the federal authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act. It will give marijuana users a bit of assurance that they won’t be locked up in a federal cell, with language similar to Justice’s 2009 “Ogden memo” giving medical marijuana users a pass if they operate within “clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws.”
But it won’t give state regulators a free pass to set up a marijuana market, no matter how tightly controlled the seed-to-sale rules are. Call me a pessimist, but I think the drug warriors in Washington D.C. will win this round because they’re living in a different era. It’s farther from Seattle to Washington D.C. as it is from Washington D.C. to Quito, Ecuador. We live on another planet out here on the Left Coast.
Having covered this issue for several years, I think the marijuana question is headed to federal court. If Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson are serious about upholding the will of the voters, they’ll put up a vigorous defense, in court and in the court of public opinion.
More importantly, it would then be time for our Congressional delegation to join with Colorado and demand a simple fix (one that has already been introduced by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado): strip the federal preemption of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. States go their own way on too many issues to count, and they’re the ones bearing the cost of marijuana prohibition.
I hope I’m wrong.
What do you think the Justice Department memo will say?
February 25, 2013 at 6:30 AM
As Washington’s Liquor Control Board bulls its way toward licensing hundreds of marijuana growers and retailers, there is a “green rush” of real estate hunting. And its definitely a seller’s market.
One unnamed party recently paid a $50,000 premium — above the lease rate — for a storefront outside of Seattle. Greta Carter, a Seattle marijuana activist passed on the tip, said the leaser paid it because the location was a prime spot, albeit grudgingly. “We’re accustomed to paying a premium in the cannabis industry, but you cross a line when you want $50,000 up front,” she said.
And it’s only going to be worse as legalized marijuana stores authorized by Initiative 502 come on line. To give I-502 a better chance of passing, it included 1,000-foot exclusion zones around schools, parks, transit centers, even game arcades. That excludes most of Seattle, as well as good chunks for dense Pugetopolis. This map by Seattle Department of Planning and Zoning shows the I-502-friendly zones in yellow, and zones legal for medical marijuana dispensaries in blue. Other big cities, including Spokane, are working on similar maps.
Even if you find an urban, I-502-friendly sliver — notice that prime spot at 23rd Avenue and East Union Street on Capitol Hill? — finding landlords willing to talk to the marijuana industry shrinks options further. And if you’re real estate hunting for an I-502 storefront, you’ll need enough cash to tie up the parcel for a year or more; the Liquor Control Board is not expecting to issue marijuana retailer licenses until December, at the earliest.
But Tom Gordon, a real estate broker who specializes in the marijuana industry, said that hasn’t slowed interest. “There’s probably 10-12-15 people calling on the same property, people from out of town,” said Gordon, of I-5 Realty.
February 13, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Another burning issue has arisen with marijuana in Washington: What if some cannabis smoker drops a bud at Bartell’s, or leaves their stash at Safeway?
If this improbable event occurs, what is the store manager to do?
We’re talking about a substance that retails for upwards of $12 a gram. People don’t tend to drop trails of it like Hansel and Gretel with the bread crumbs. But imagine it. Picture some hapless employee of Walgreen’s finding a blunt tucked behind the Tylenol.
“Hey, look what I found! Is this what I think it is?”
“Lemme have it.”
“No way. It’s mine.”
Now comes House Bill 1808, introduced by Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, and Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, described as:
AN ACT Relating to the proper disposal of legal amounts of marijuana inadvertently left at retail stores holding a pharmacy license.
This bill instructs the drugstore employee to promptly call the police, then “properly dispose of the marijuana.”
There was a hearing about H.B. 1808 Tuesday in the House Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight. The reason for the bill was explained. Pharmacies are subject to federal regulation. That is why they can’t sell medical marijuana. It’s contraband. They’d lose their licenses.
Apparently some lawyer in the drugstore trade has had a hallucination about what would happen if state-legal marijuana were discovered on his company’s premises—on the floor, in the cash register, in an employee’s pocket… How could the company make it up to Uncle Sam?
The answer: have a legal duty to call police. More important, protect the drugstore owner by keeping a record that his employee called police. The cops wouldn’t need to do anything. “The intent,” said Hurst, “is that they decline to respond.”
“Don’t even call us,” said Don Pierce of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “There is nothing we’ll do with that information.”
The unspoken message: Just say you called. As for the “contraband,” Pierce said, “I would suggest you destroy it however way you want.”