NORML Canada: January 2014 Newsletter
Greetings Cannabis Law Reform Community
In this month’s newsletter:
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford – heard of him? – has publicly endorsed the idea of cannabis decriminalization: “Why wouldn’t [the Harper Conservatives] at least decriminalize it and try to get revenue from it?” Ford asked on Sports Junkies, a Washington DC-based radio show. The mayor has admitted to smoking “a lot” over the years – and not just cannabis. He does not see it happening, he says, under the current prime minister, but he’s attracted to the revenue potential that a reformed regime would generate.
Whatever you think of Mayor Ford, he says openly what many other public officials only think to themselves. What’s different about Toronto’s bull-in-a-china-shop mayor is that he’s fearless on political issues that he cares passionately about. Irrespective of whether he actually delivers on his claims – there is much controversy on this – Mayor Ford says what others dare not, at least when there’s a microphone or camera present. This is to be commended.
At the same time, politics makes strange bedfellows and reformers want to exercise caution around – or in association with – a person so potentially damaging to himself and the people around him. NORML does not endorse decriminalization because that leaves the black market intact – which in turn leaves unaffected the resources flowing to the police and security apparatus dedicated to the “war on drugs.” Decriminalization of cannabis is a half step: NORML advocates for re-regulation – including full legalization – so that Canadians, having attained the age of majority, can enjoy and/or benefit from the full range of cannabis’ therapeutic and recreational aspects. Mayor Ford’s thoughts on this would be much more persuasive coming from the candid reflection of almost any other big city mayor, serving premier, or prime minister. As the tide of reform politics comes in, that may happen: we in the reform community need to create a safe space for politicians, public officials, and leaders to say what they know to be true.
Thanks to the Alaska Campaign to Regulate Marijuana, the state is now closer to bringing cannabis legalization to fruition in 2014. The group has successfully collected 46,000 signatures, roughly 50% more than the required 30,000 needed to bring the initiative to a vote on the August 2014 ballot. Medical cannabis has been legal in Alaska since 1998, and at the time was approved by 59% of voters. However, a similar bill to legalize recreational cannabis failed in 2000, garnering only 41% of votes in favour. Advocates hope that over the past thirteen years, since the last attempt at legalization, public opinion has changed to support the new initiative. The details of the initiative are relatively similar to those enforced in Colorado. If successful, possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and up to six plants will be legal for adults 21 and older. Public consumption would not be tolerated, those caught doing so would face a $100 fine. The proposed initiative would grant the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board regulatory control of cannabis; however, the Alaska legislature would have the option to create a Marijuana Control Board. The proposal would make the manufacture, sale, and possession of cannabis accessories legal, and the control board would have nine months to impose regulations. Similar to Colorado, the establishment of retail stores, cultivation facilities, testing facilities, and infused-product manufacturers, would all be made legal. An excise tax of $50 per ounce would apply to the sale or transfer of cannabis from a cultivation facility to a retail store or infused-product manufacturer. The Division of Elections will proceed to review the submitted signatures. If enough of the collected signatures are deemed legitimate, Alaska will be significantly closer to legalization. By the time the initiative would be on the ballot, voters will have had some time to observe the effects of legalization in Colorado. Although it cannot be certain, Alaska may potentially be the third state to legalize cannabis outright.
Those of us who have been following this issue for years – or decades – will know that certain elements of the Canadian media have always been open to policy reform on drugs, particularly cannabis. To their credit the three largest Canadian newspapers, by circulation, have argued that prohibition of cannabis is excessive, unworkable, and disproportionately costly in human and social terms. Some years ago, the Ottawa Citizen’s Dan Gardner published a long and very thoughtful analysis of Canada’s 19th Century drug regime and laid to waste every argument or claim upholding prohibition. That tour de force performance won him numerous accolades from the policy reform community, and stony silence from drug warriors. Now it’s the turn of the Toronto Star’s Isabel Teotonio. In a series of full-length articles, Teotonio lays out the implications of policy reform from the standpoint of a number of different stakeholders, including police officers, vapour lounge owners, casual and medicinal users, etc. You’ll recognize some of the names – and all of the arguments. Worth reading and sharing.
Toronto Star: 2014 poised to go to pot
In a sign of just how quickly things can change, Uruguay – having legalized cannabis as of January 1st – is now preparing to export to the global market. Estimated to be in the tens of millions in export revenues, demand for medical use is coming from Chile and Israel (where one of the world’s premier scientific researchers is located). We can expect to see the proliferation of research facilities in numerous countries as the stigma abates and the long-overdue benefits of cannabis come under rigorous scientific scrutiny. Uruguay expects to have its final rules in place by April of this year. ABC News is reporting that Presidential Spokesperson Diego Cánepa claims that foreign labs have told the government they’d like to set up there, saying that “Uruguay will become a hub for biotechnology.” Uruguay’s new law, according to Harvard’s Jeffrey Miron, is very restrictive: Individuals can purchase no more than 40 grams of marijuana per month (and must register in a government database), and producers can cultivate no more than six plants unless they join growers’ clubs, which also face strict limits on production. Marijuana can only be sold in state-regulated pharmacies and cannot be exported or sold to tourists. A new Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis will supervise all of this. As of this moment, though things change rapidly, it looks like Uruguay is not pursuing the lassaiz-faire free market approach of Colorado. This warrants further investigation by Canadians because a re-regulated regime will produce a variety of outcomes, some of which are to be preferred over others – at least as understood from a public health standpoint.
There has been recent speculation regarding the possibility that Uruguay’s president, José Mujica will receive a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Speculation regarding possible nominees is usually a result of the person or persons behind the nomination. Drugs Peace Institute, a Dutch NGO, was reported to have nominated Mujica in 2013; Frans Bronkhorst, head of Drugs Peace Institute, has cited President Mujica’s dedication to ending the war on drugs as justification for his nomination. However, the Nobel Committee maintains a fifty-year secrecy rule, whereby the names of nominees will not be disclosed, to media as well as the nominees themselves, until fifty years have passed.
In June 2012, President Mujica announced plans to legalize the state controlled sale of cannabis, primarily to counteract drug related crimes in Uruguay. By legalizing cannabis, Mujica hopes to undermine the criminal market and to reduce the effects of drug cartels in the region. In July 2013, Uruguay’s House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize and regulate cannabis, which later gained approval from the Senate. On December 10th 2013, cannabis was officially legalized in Uruguay, garnering much attention worldwide, and shedding light onto the cannabis movement. The details of Uruguay’s legalization are projected to be complete by April 9th 2014, and the entire system will hopefully be established shortly after.
Mujica’s actions received mixed responses worldwide. The UN’s International Narcotics Control Board responded negatively towards Mujica, claiming that cannabis legalization will endanger youth. Despite some criticism, Mujica has also been widely praised for his courage on the international stage. As the first country to legalize cannabis, Uruguay has sparked debate globally. Latin American countries, specifically Mexico and Argentina, have shown signs of at least pondering the legalization of cannabis, and it is quite possible that many others will follow suit.
It is clear that President Mujica has acted valiantly given the current debate regarding the issue of cannabis legalization, and his actions are a testament to the increasing desire for change. In his own words, President Mujica has said, “Uruguay wants to make a ‘contribution to humanity’ by legalizing marijuana”; and in the eyes of many, Uruguay has done just that.
Try – just try – to keep up with the pace of change in drug policy south of our border. In the current issue of The New Yorker President Obama is quoted as admitting what his predecessors have been lying about since the mid-1960s: that cannabis is less harmful to the individual user than other drugs. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” He went on;
Read the entire article at newyorker.com
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