Meet the first sitting US senator to publicly support marijuana legalization – Updated by German Lopez on October 27, 2014, 1:40 p.m. ET

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), in an interview with Talking Points Memo last week, became the first sitting US senator to publicly support marijuana legalization.

Merkley told TPM he will likely vote in support of Measure 91, which would fully legalize marijuana possession and sales in Oregon.

“I lean in support of it,” he said. “I think folks on both sides of the argument make a good case. And there is concern about a series of new products — and we don’t have a real track record from Colorado and Washington. But I feel on balance that we spend a lot of money on our criminal justice system in the wrong places and I lean in favor of this ballot measure.”

Some of the “new products” Merkley referred to are marijuana edibles, which are often packaged in a way that could appeal to children. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in June reported a very bad experience with a marijuana-infused candy bar in Colorado, drawing more public attention to the state’s weak dosage and packaging regulations for edibles.

Oregon, Alaska, Florida, and Washington, DC, will vote on legalizing marijuana for recreational and medical purposes next week. To learn more, read Vox’s in-depth guide to 2014’s marijuana ballot measures.

Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana in 2012, when voters approved legalization. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, although the Obama administration said it will allow state-level rules to stand without much federal interference.

Outside of the United States, Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana in 2013. The Netherlands allows citizens to keep and cultivate some marijuana, and police let coffee shops sell marijuana as long as they don’t sell to minors or break other major rules. Spain also permits marijuana clubs where people can use the drug, although the drug is officially illegal to sell. And according to multiple reports from experts, visitors, and defectors, North Korea either has no law restricting marijuana or the law goes effectively unenforced.

What It Really Means to Be A High Nation – By BAS HEIJNE August 19, 2014

If you Americans want to legalize marijuana, come to Holland first. It’s not as easy as it looks.

Mothers and their children leave a nearby school as a sign prohibiting the use of marijuana in a designated area is seen in Amsterdam, Wednesday Dec. 12, 2012. Amsterdam’s mayor Eeberhard van der Laan said Wednesday he would formally ban students from smoking marijuana at school as of Jan. 1, 2013, making the the Dutch capital the first city in the Netherlands to do so. Under the ‘tolerance’ principle, marijuana is technically illegal here, but police can’t prosecute people for possession of small amounts. That’s the loophole that made possible Amsterdam’s famed ‘coffee shops’, cafes where marijuana is sold openly.  But it has also had the unwanted side effect that Dutch children are frequently exposed to the drug in public areas. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Early this summer Pharrell Williams, the American singer-songwriter, appeared slightly inebriated on stage at the North Sea Festival in Rotterdam and joyously confessed that he had downed a few shots beforehand. The Dutch audience reacted with a slightly weary smile. The real surprise was that it was just alcohol, and not drugs, that seemed to make Pharrell so exuberantly happy.

For decades, the Dutch have been familiar with American bands and singers appearing high on stage, especially in Amsterdam’s famous “Rock Temple,” Paradiso. We are used to putting up with below-par performances and zonked-out singers losing themselves between songs in endless ramblings about what love really means and what beautiful human beings the Dutch are, and how their wonderful new-found insights originated at the local “coffee shop”—read marijuana shop—which always seems to be just around the corner in major Dutch cities. Most of the time it is an amusing spectacle, seeing well-known performers coming to Holland and behaving like wide-eyed kids in a candy store. And, of course, it is somewhat flattering—for quite a few Americans the Netherlands, in this aspect at least, seems to be truly the land of the free.

It’s not only performers. When Hillary Clinton, as first lady, gave a lecture in a Delft church in the late ‘90s and professed her regret that due to lack of time she would not be able to visit the places in Amsterdam where her husband, coming over from London as an Oxford University graduate student, had enjoyed himself so much, the audience immediately got the joke—probably because they had heard it so many times before.

Today, judging from what I’m hearing from across the Atlantic, America is considering whether to become a lot more like the Dutch. Colorado and Washington state have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and theNew York Times editorial page recently declared that the national ban on marijuana today is even sillier than banning alcohol during Prohibition, saying it is “a substance far less dangerous.”

But before you go there, America, let me tell a little about what it really means to be a High Nation. First of all, we Dutch are not quite as liberal about drugs as you might think. Second, and more important, we’re still very confused—in fact more confused than we ever have been—about how liberal we should be. The truth is, many Dutch are coming to believe that our whole experiment with drug tolerance hasn’t worked out well at all.

Contrary to what many people think, the Dutch generally are not obsessed with drugs, just as they do not have Anne Frank or Vincent van Gogh on their mind most of the time. Where I live, in the center of Amsterdam, there are a quite a few of those uniquely Dutch coffee shops, but I hardly go there—not out of principle, but because most of the time I have better things to do than getting high. For many people they are just part of everyday life. For us they do not have the aura of naughtiness — of being allowed to do something that is joyfully transgressive — that they have for foreign visitors. Smoking cannabis in Holland is not a statement or an act of social defiance. It’s no longer part of any kind of exciting counterculture whatsoever—you just have to like it. If you do, enjoy. If not, you can just have a cup of coffee.

The other myth is that drugs are simply legal in the Netherlands. They are not—and that goes for hard and soft drugs. Soft drugs are just officially “tolerated.” And there the problem starts. As a Dutch citizen you are allowed to buy small quantities of soft drugs for your personal use, but you are forbidden from growing weed for commercial purposes. If this seems confusing for an outsider, it is also so for the Dutch themselves—one could say we have struggled for decades with the consequences of our own so-calledgedoogbeleid, our famous policy of drug toleration. It has created a completely illogical situation for the coffee shops, which are, bizarrely, both legal and illegal at the same time. They are allowed, under strict conditions, to sell soft drugs at the “front door”—but having drugs delivered to their shops, the business that happens at the “backdoor,” is still regarded as criminal activity.

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Can Congress Get Stoned if D.C. Legalizes Marijuana? – Abby Haglage

The District of Columbia just added an initiative that would legalize marijuana to the November 4 ballot. So will lawmakers be able to toke legally if it passes? A green investigation.

When the District of Columbia Board of Elections agreed to put an initiative on the November 4 ballot that would legalize marijuana in the district, they prompted an interesting question: Will Congress be allowed to get stoned?

The short answer is—yes. If passed, Initiative 71 will allow D.C. residents above the age of 21 to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana, cultivate up to six cannabis plants at home, and transfer, not sell, up to 1 ounce. Assuming that members of Congress who live in D.C. are adults, they, too, will be permitted to get stoned at their leisure.

But don’t start dreaming of hot-boxing the Capitol. “This initiative changes D.C. law,” says Bill Piper, the director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Marijuana possession would still be illegal on federal property.” Until cannabis is removed from the Schedule I substance list, it will not be allowed on federal property. So, members of Congress couldn’t light up at work—but they could if they live in the district. “Possessing marijuana in their own home would be legal under D.C. law, as it would be for anybody else,” says Piper.

Marijuana news: Pot and the teen brain – By Noelle Crombie – January 30, 2014 at 7:40 AMw11


This morning’s marijuana news roundup comes to you from the southern Oregon city of Ashland, where I’ll be covering the first of two marijuana industry conferences this week.

A few headlines caught my eye this morning:

CNN has a story on cannabis and the teen brain. Writer Randye Hoder talks with a couple of Northwestern University medical researchers who say teens are vulnerable to marijuana’s harms. The drug, they say, can impact teens’ ability to solve problems and think critically. It’s a message, Hoder writes, that’s getting lost in “the pro-legalization fervor.”

Hoder writes:

Use of pot among adolescents, which had declined from the late 1990s through the mid-to-late 2000s, is again on the rise, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. One likely reason: “The percentage of high-schoolers who see great risk from being regular marijuana users has dropped,” over time, the agency points out. 

That perception, however, is all wrong. In a study published last month, Smith and his colleagues found that teens who smoked a lot of pot had abnormal changes in their brain structures related to working memory — a predictor of weak academic performance and impaired everyday functioning — and that they did poorly on memory-related tasks.

Could Nevada be among the next states to legalize marijuana? Legalization advocates in that state are laying the groundwork for legalizing recreational cannabis, reports The Las Vegas Sun.
Staff writer Andrew Doughman reports:

Touting the benefits of regulating and taxing what is now an underground industry in Nevada, advocates say they’re confident they’ll have the money and votes required to pass an initiative similar to the one that Colorado voters approved in 2012.

“Based on the dynamics we’re seeing in Colorado with full adult use being legal, it seems a natural fit for Nevada,” said Joe Brezny, executive director of the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association and officer with the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana, the Nevada political action committee organized to get the legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot.

Two months after federal raids on marijuana businesses, The Denver Post reports that many of the operators who were apparently targeted by investigators are back in business.

Several stores raided by armed federal agents have reopened. Some cultivation warehouses that were swept clean are again filled with marijuana plants. Nobody named in the search warrants has been arrested or even publicly accused of wrongdoing. At least three of those targets say they are baffled why the feds showed up at their doors.

A couple more headlines from The Oregonian before you go:

Marijuana opponents pay for anti-pot billboards near Super Bowl
Follow me on Twitter for updates from today’s marijuana business conference. (@NoelleCrombie)

— Noelle Crombie

Legal Pot in Maryland? – ByBen Jacobs 01.03.14

Photo by © Andres Stapff / Reuters

Amsterdam, Vancouver, and Silver Spring?

Maryland could become the latest destination for legal marijuana, joining the states of Washington and Colorado, if an effort to allow the regulated sale of the drug in the Old Line State becomes law.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Friday, Mike Miller, the powerful president of the Maryland Senate, said, “I favor the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with restrictions.” Miller, a relatively conservative Democrat who has opposed both same-sex marriage and abolishing the death penalty, said he believes his position is the way of the future. “I know where people are going to be a generation or two from now,” he said.

However, in the interview, Miller appeared pessimistic about the chances for the legislature to legalize marijuana during its 2014 session, noting that it faced long odds in the House of Delegates and a skeptical governor in Martin O’Malley. Another legislator echoed Miller’s take, stating that either or perhaps both O’Malley and Speaker Michael Busch would have to push for a legalization bill for the effort to have a chance at success in the House of Delegates. It’s not likely that O’Malley, a possible 2016 presidential contender who first rose to fame as the law-and-order mayor of Baltimore, would support such an effort.

Instead, the new effort may be to shift the debate around marijuana to focus on decriminalization. Last year, the Maryland Senate voted to remove criminal penalties for those caught possessing up to 10 grams of marijuana and instead subject offenders to a $100 civil fine.

If Maryland does legalize marijuana, the effect on the national drug debate would be significant. Drug Enforcement Administration officials in Arlington, Virginia, would be able to look across the Potomac River and see a state with legal pot. Also, unlike Washington or Colorado, which are relatively geographically isolated, Maryland is in the middle of the Northeast Corridor. New York City is about two hours from the Maryland state line, and Washington, D.C., is a few metro stops away.

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