Golden Era for Pot Reform?

Golden Era for Pot Reform?
Posted by CN Staff on December 18, 2008 at 05:57:38 PT
By Scott Thill, AlterNet
Source: AlterNet
USA -- December has been an interesting month for marijuana, or cannabis as it is known to scientists and all too few others. To kick off the month, the U.S. Supreme Court decided against reviewing a California state appellate court ruling arguing that its medical marijuana law trumped federal law. That, in effect, set the stage for better implementation of medical-marijuana law in not just California, but every state that has one, while also reminding local police that the job of enforcing federal drug policy is, in fact, not its job.
Two days later, the oldest stash of cannabis ever found was unearthed from a 2,700-year-old grave in the Gobi desert, aptly reminding humankind and its ass-backwards politicians that pot has been around a lot longer than lobbyists. If the eye-candy archaeological slideshow didn't fully illustrate the value of such a stash, the scientists did. "As with other grave goods, it was traditional to place items needed for the afterlife in the tomb with the departed," explained Ethan Russo, lead author of the Journal of Experimental Botany paper that announced the find. But as readers pondered packing their own trusty pot for use in the afterlife, better news broke on the same day: President-elect Barack Obama nominated New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to his Cabinet as secretary of commerce. Given that Obama had already confessed to inhaling -- "that was the point," he classically cracked -- and once declared the hyperbolically named War on Drugs "an utter failure," adding that America needed to "rethink and decriminalize" American cannabis laws, Richardson's nomination to Commerce was cause for celebration. After all, Richardson signed a bill in 2007 making New Mexico the 12th state to legalize medical marijuana."So what if it's risky? It's the right thing to do," he said of his decision. "My God, let's be reasonable."Reason is indeed what proponents of decriminalization have been crying for after four consecutive presidential terms derailed their hopes and maneuvers for legalized cannabis, medical and otherwise. But something has always stood in the way of that inevitability, and it has usually leaned quite heavily on the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause, which states that Congress has the right to regulate commerce between the United States and other nations, as well as between its own states. It remains the most widely interpreted clause in the Constitution and has been more abused than the American people's goodwill. In the landmark case Gonzales v. Raich, the U.S. Supreme Court, under the distracted leadership of Justice Antonin Scalia, sided with the Bush administration's argument that banning the homegrown cultivation and consumption of marijuana is a federal imperative, even when no cannabis changes hands or travels across state lines. The lunacy of the ruling even threw rightward justices like Clarence Thomas, Jr. off their creaking rockers. "Certainly no evidence from the founding suggests that 'commerce' included the mere possession of a good or some personal activity that did not involve trade or exchange for value. In the early days of the Republic, it would have been unthinkable that Congress could prohibit the local cultivation, possession and consumption of marijuana … Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything -- and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers."Thomas is right, but a mostly Democratic Congress and Richardson offer the best chance in years to right this conundrum. With Richardson at Commerce, and Congress on the hunt for new sources of green, environmental and financial, during a time of deep economic recession, the launch window for legalization has never been wider… "Richardson was a strong champion for legal access to medical marijuana," explains Reena Szczepanski, director of New Mexico's chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance. "In his role at the Commerce Department, he may be well-positioned to examine the economic contributions of the medical cannabis sector to the economy in states that have medical cannabis laws." Well-positioned is right, but will Richardson exhibit the kind of spine he showed in the Democratic primary, when his brave decision on medical marijuana in his own state caused him to stick out like a sore realist? The answer came, once again, in December. When asked in an interactive question-and-response forum on Obama's transition site whether the president-elect will "consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion-dollar industry right here in the U.S.," the site's answer was the following curt, depressing cop-out: "President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana." That is probably a play-it-safe deferral, given that Obama has yet to take office. But it is still disappointing, given that legalization is an even safer position with the public."The main obstacle to legalization of medical marijuana is that many politicians haven't yet figured out that it is a popular, politically safe issue," argues Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The fact that it keeps rolling up wins surely helps with that, and the continuing stream of positive scientific studies does as well. But clearly the public is more divided on marijuana policy outside of medical situations, and we need to do a better job of understanding the public's concerns and addressing them." In order for that to happen, a public dialogue needs to take place on legalization, and that is almost sure to happen under Obama's watch, as well of that of his friendly Democratic Congress. Indeed, the balls have already begun to roll."Legislation will be reintroduced in the House of Representatives during Obama's first term to reform America's antiquated and overly punitive federal marijuana laws," explains Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "One bill seeks to allow state governments the ability to legalize and dispense medical cannabis without running afoul of federal law. Another seeks to remove federal anti-drug penalties on the possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana, roughly 3 ounces, by adults. One would hope that the new Congress will hold hearings on these proposals and begin a long-overdue, objective political discussion on Capitol Hill regarding the need to amend America's marijuana policies." Given that the Bush administration left behind political and economic wreckage at home and abroad, decriminalization and reform might not be at the top of either branch of the government's to-do list. But an exponentially increasing climate crisis, resource shortage and recalibration of globalization and consumption is going to demand some homegrown answers, as nations, states and even cities circle the wagons and look for answers from the interior. And since cannabis has been with humankind for at least a newly established 2,700 years, can grow in practically any climate and was once cultivated by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, there may be no place like home when it comes to turning around a superpower. "That we spend billions every year in futile efforts to eradicate America's No. 1 cash crop, a drug markedly less harmful than alcohol, is insane," says Mirken. "And with the federal deficit approaching a trillion dollars, it is time to bring marijuana out of the underground economy, regulate it appropriately, and generate billions of dollars in tax revenues. Instead of guaranteeing all the profits to criminals, which is what prohibition does." And if money isn't the point, let's move instead to morality. Even on that diaphanous front, the numbers have spoken. "Since 1965, America has arrested over 20 million Americans for violating marijuana laws," explains Armentano. "Penalties include probation and mandatory drug testing; loss of employment; loss of child custody; removal from subsidized housing; asset forfeiture; loss of student aid; loss of voting privileges; loss of adoption rights; and loss of certain federal welfare benefits, such as food stamps. In human terms, some 34,000 state inmates and an estimated 11,000 federal inmates are serving time behind bars for violating marijuana laws. In fiscal terms, this means U.S. taxpayers are spending more than $1 billion annually to imprison pot offenders." That's money and lives that disappear down the drain, never to return. And in the end, that is probably the reality that Obama and Richardson will be forced to reconcile. So even if Obama is against legalization now, he will probably be for it later. And if not him, someone else, who pissed-off voters will no doubt vote into office one day. "It is not politically risky for the incoming administration to move forward in this area," adds Armentano. "This is a realm where the public is well ahead of the politicians."Scott Thill runs the online mag His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.Note: Bill Richardson believes we need to "rethink and decriminalize" our cannabis laws. Now that he's in office, he has the chance to achieve it.Complete Title: Could Obama's Pro-Marijuana Commerce Secretary Spell a Golden Era for Pot Reform?Newshawk: The GCWSource: AlterNet (US)Author: Scott Thill, AlterNetPublished: December 18, 2008Copyright: 2008 Independent Media InstituteContact: letters Website: -- Cannabis Archives
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Comment #24 posted by Commonsense on December 29, 2008 at 13:50:56 PT
Sorry for the late respone. If you see this, I tend to agree that it will probably be 2016 or 2020 or so before we start seeing many politicians coming out for legalization. Aside from just the age thing, we're also seeing the percentage of people for legalization increasing by about one percentage point a year. If 40% are for it today and the percentage for it goes up by one point a year, in ten years 50% will be for it. Of course I don't know if the percentage will keep going up by about one point a year, but that has been the trend and hopefully it will continue. The numbers vary when they look at different demographics, like age, number of times people go to church in a month, political affiliation, whther they consider themselves liberals or conservatives, etc. Geographic demographics matter too. People in the West for instance are much more likely to favor legalization than people in the Southeast. There are probably people in Congress now who come from districts where the majority are for legalization. We'll see a lot more of that before the majority of Americans are for legalization. The national polls might show 45% for legalization but we'll have some Congressmen coming from areas where only 30% of the voters are for it and other Congressmen coming from areas where over 60% of the voters are for it. Needless to say the latter would be far more likely to come out for legalization than the former. 
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Comment #23 posted by christ on December 25, 2008 at 21:50:19 PT
Commonsense. Political outlook.
Great analysis on the age of our members of Congress.I've never thought the general public was aware of the difference between decriminalization and legalization. The term "legalization", though seems to carry some immoral connotations. So it seems that when politicians want to end prohibition, they propose legislation that is essentially decriminalization as a baby step; while avoid being labeled as in favor of "full blown" legalization as they call it. Given the above, plus your analysis of the average age of Congress, I don't think it would be until 2016 or 2020 when politicians start declaring support (to the main stream media) for decriminalization.
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Comment #22 posted by Commonsense on December 19, 2008 at 12:14:54 PT
Unrealistic Expectations
I'm kind of surprised by what I'm reading on this thread. A lot of people seem to think Obama is going to legalize marijuana. Others don't think he will, and they're mad at him about that. Obama has never said he is for legalizing marijuana. While he did say we need to think about decriminalizing marijuana, he qualified that by saying he was not for legalization. As for medical marijuana, he did say he doesn't think the federal government ought to be spending money going after medical marijuana users and those growing marijuana legally under state laws. Obama might very well be for legalization deep down, but I'm sure he doesn't think that's a safe position to take now politically. Most of the polls on marijuana legalization now put the number of American adults for legalization at around 35%. I think there has been one that put the number at about 40%. When you look at the breakdowns on the poll numbers though what you see is that the highest levels of support are among the youngest of voters. The older the survey respondents, the less likely it is that they support legalization. This is important because the older people get, the more likely they are to vote, so politicians tend to be more worried about what older voters think than they are about what younger voters want. Politically, it wouldn't make much sense for Obama to come out for legalization now. For one thing, a president would not have the power to just up and change the marijuana laws. It will literally take an act of Congress to do that. And if the feds legalized then states would have to legalize as well before it would be legal under state laws. Obama could try to get some legislation through the Congress, but it wouldn't fly. Most in Congress and the Senate are against marijuana legalization. Part of this is because they are afraid of what their constituents would think, and part of it is because those in our federal legislative bodies tend to be old folks. Still the senior and most powerful lawmakers in both houses are for the most part not even Baby Boomers. They are mostly people who grew up before marijuana became so popular in the U.S. The average age of a committee leader in the Senate is 67, and the average age of a committee leader in Congress is somewhere up there. These are a bunch of old guys who probably never have smoked weed. They don't have friends that smoke it. They don't know much about it and like others their age they tend to be a lot more afraid of it than younger people who have been there and done that with pot. It's going to be a while before our federal lawmakers will seriously consider legalizing marijuana. If Obama came out next year and tried to push a marijuana legalization bill through he wouldn't succeed no matter how hard he tried. He'd make a lot of people very happy if he did that, but he'd make a lot more mad. This would not be good for Obama or the Democrats in general. They have mid-term elctions in 2010 to worry about. We have an economic crisis that is going on now and will likely not be resolved for several years. We have enemies all over the world who want to do harm to us. We have so many important issues that demand attention right now. If our president came out pushing hard for marijuana legalization, he and Democrats in general would come under attack for it. I can hear people now talking about how all Democrats care about is their pot, that and taxing people to death in a time of economic crisis. His actions would probably cost Democrats a lot of seats in the 2010 election. He's not going to risk that. E_Johnson says we're screwed and the only satisfaction we'll get is revenge in 2012. Think about that though. Revenge for what? Revenge against Obama for not doing something he never even suggested let alone promised that he would do? What good would revenge do? The next Republican presidential candidate will likely be more of an economic conservative because the biggest issue in the 2012 election will still likely be the economy, but he's going to have to be a candidate that appeals to the Bible thumping social conservatives too who are rabidly anti-pot. Obama will hopefully have the feds back off on those involved with medical marijuana. A Republican president elected in 2012 would attack medical marijuana again though because the social conservatives all tend to look at it as a ruse by liberals they are fighting a culture war against. He or she probably wouldn't say they were for decriminalization. In fact whoever it would probably threaten to veto decriminalization legislation to appease their social conservative base. There are certainly some Republicans who are all for marijuana legalization or at least decriminalization, but aren't going to see one of those get the Republican nomination in 2012. Taking revenge against Obama fin 2012 or not doing something he never promised to do would hurt us more than it would help us.Personally, I don't think marijuana will be legalized during Obama's second term either, but the chances will be at least somewhat better for it then, He won't be worried about re-election in his second term and hopefully the economy will be back on track by then or we'll at least be well on the road to recovery. Also, things will likely be different in the legislature during Obama's second term.  Remember how I said the average committee leader in the Senate is 67? In 5 years the oldest Baby Boomer will be 67, so about half of the committee leaders will be younger than that and half older. Almost none of the older politicians will be people who have smoked pot or who have lots of friends they grew up with who smoked it. A lot of the Baby Boomer politicians have smoked it and/or have friends and family memebers that have done it and in some cases still do it. They may still talk the talk about "the message it would send to children" and all that, but a lot more of these people are secretly for legalization or at least decriminalization than those who came before them. These "younger" politicians are starting to outnumber the older politicians who are most anti-pot and they are starting to become the elder politicians themselves, the ones with the most power in our legislative branch. At the same time the oldest voters are dying off and being replaced by younger voters who are much more marijuana friendly on average. The politicians have to see this too. Younger ones who grew up since pot became popular are going to have friends back home they grew up with who still smoke it, or who have smoked it and who will be telling them that the time has come to legalize it. These Washington types are out of touch with the people, and one of the ways they try to get a feel for what the public wants is by talking to family and friends back home. The younger ones have younger family and friends who are much more likely to be expressing pro-legalization views than the family and friends of politicians today who in their mid to late sixties and beyond. Look for our legislative bodies to become slowly but surely more marijuana friendly as the years go on. We may very well be in the Golden Era for pot reform. If that is the case though, we are just in the beginning stages of it. If you are looking for Obama to come out for legalization anytime soon you will be dissappointed. He may never come out for legalization while he is president, and he certainly won't do it during his first term.  
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Comment #21 posted by OverwhelmSam on December 19, 2008 at 11:18:28 PT
It basically means that the appealate court ruling is law now. State police do not enforce federal law. If it's legal in the state, it's legal.
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Comment #20 posted by runruff on December 19, 2008 at 07:03:41 PT
Is the tide receding?
What exactly does this ruling mean?U.S. Supreme Court decided against reviewing a California state appellate court ruling arguing that its medical marijuana law trumped federal law
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Comment #19 posted by Hope on December 19, 2008 at 05:06:55 PT
Comment 11 GCW
Lol! Sounds about right!
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Comment #18 posted by afterburner on December 18, 2008 at 20:30:28 PT
Higher Hopes
Bummed Out Pot Activists Have Higher Hopes For Obama,
by Nick Juliano. Posted on Tuesday, December 16 2008 11:22:01 PM
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Comment #17 posted by afterburner on December 18, 2008 at 19:34:13 PT
Bill Richardson in Commerce - Woo Hoo!
Maybe, now the federal government can get back to a Constitutionally valid definition of Commerce and stop power-tripping."Haba en haba naba ki baba" - Little by little fills the measure.
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Comment #16 posted by FoM on December 18, 2008 at 16:57:29 PT
charmed quark 
That's what I think too.
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Comment #15 posted by HempWorld on December 18, 2008 at 16:22:32 PT
charmed quark if Obama had publicly supported
the legalization of marijuana, he would have never been elected.
On a mission from God!
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Comment #14 posted by charmed quark on December 18, 2008 at 16:14:13 PT
AFAIK, Obama has never publicly supported the legalization of marijuana. What he has said is that he supports reform of the drug laws. He has even kinda supported decriminalization.
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Comment #13 posted by fight_4_freedom on December 18, 2008 at 15:08:08 PT
That is quite a screwy post.....but it totally makes sense :)
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Comment #12 posted by HempWorld on December 18, 2008 at 15:08:04 PT
I want to put in my 2 cents ...
On a mission from God!
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Comment #11 posted by The GCW on December 18, 2008 at 15:02:08 PT
I feel like We might not be screwed. We could be a little screwed but not totally screwed. If We're going to be screwed it's good to know We are going to be less screwed than if McCain were screwing Us. But then I'll be happy not getting screwed at all. Almost getting screwed but then being respected in the end instead is the goal. I think We could get screwed going foward but it's better than getting screwed going backwards. I don't think We are going to be screw free, but screwed less...
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Comment #10 posted by Rainbow on December 18, 2008 at 13:37:35 PT
John Tyler
I think I agree. there might be anotehr way to take it as well. President-elect Obama is not in favor but maybe President Obama will be.As you point out he is still not President and does not need controversy yet. Let's let him play the cards and give him a while to get going. then ask again when we see who the drug czar is going to be.I am going to be optimistic until he says No nad he appoints anotehr Mccaferty or Pee walter. But I do not think he will he is too thoughtful for that kind of irrational choice.
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Comment #9 posted by OverwhelmSam on December 18, 2008 at 12:35:30 PT
Bill Richardson in Commerce Helps
But it may go either way with marijuana reform. The best thing for the cannabis community to do is behave for a while, and give Obama a chance to get on board and establish himself as the President. Aside from that, I'm just glad we have a genius for President for once. Don't choke Obama.
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Comment #8 posted by E_Johnson on December 18, 2008 at 12:18:40 PT
Grasping at straws
We're screwed. It's over. The only satisfaction left will be getting revenge in 2012.
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Comment #7 posted by ekim on December 18, 2008 at 12:05:43 PT
Leap on the radio
December 2008 
Dec 23 08 KRMS 1150 AM: The Morning Show Peter Christ Osage Beach Missouri USA 
 Mike McSorley, Host
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Comment #6 posted by FoM on December 18, 2008 at 11:14:21 PT
This Is How I Have Always Believed
And if money isn't the point, let's move instead to morality. 
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Comment #5 posted by MarijuanaSavesLives on December 18, 2008 at 11:00:42 PT
Great Article
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Comment #4 posted by FoM on December 18, 2008 at 09:11:57 PT
fight_4_freedom and John Tyler
I agree.
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Comment #3 posted by fight_4_freedom on December 18, 2008 at 08:35:06 PT
I agree John 
I personally didn't make too much of that statement made by the Obama administration. I think it was too vague of a statement to take all that much from it. He knows a good majority of our population agrees that cannabis should be legal for adults. Now I don't think he will call for outright legalization, but I certainly don't believe that the war on marijuana will be worse with his administration. Just give him time. 
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Comment #2 posted by John Tyler on December 18, 2008 at 08:14:03 PT
walk the walk
Obama is a skilled politician. The site’s answer that, "President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana,” to me, is nuanced. It doesn’t say he is against it. I hope this is a cautious statement of the president-elect to keep the prohibitionist off his back until he is inaugurated and his people get in place. Even if he is “not in favor” he could still do a lot to ease up on the Drug War, and hopefully would approve legislation to lead to legalization. He and his staffers know a large segment of the public are “in favor” and are keenly interested in what he is going to do. In the past he has “talked the talk” about the failures and injustices of the Drug War, soon he will get the chance to show us if he is going to “walk the walk”. I have my fingers crossed that he will do the right thing.
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Comment #1 posted by Storm Crow on December 18, 2008 at 06:14:57 PT
Dang, I hope he's right! 
I keep hoping and waiting. One of these years, those politicians have GOT to listen to us. Cannabis was the #1 question for Obama's Seems there are a lot of us VOTERS who want it! So it's either listen to us, or get in the unemployment line! Their choice! 
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