Boulder Democrat Polis plans to push decriminalizing marijuana at federal level
If Colorado was allowed to treat marijuana like alcohol — or any other medicine, for that matter — pot dispensaries could freely set up business bank accounts without fear of federal prosecution and marijuana could, like corn and wheat, be grown openly in national forests.
This is according to U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, who said he plans to push a law in the new Congress that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level so that states with medicinal laws on the books, like Colorado, could treat it as they wish.
Under Polis' structure, marijuana laws would be extremely local — similar to states that have so-called dry, alcohol- free counties.
"It's not in the federal government's realm," Polis said. "I'm proud of Colorado being a pioneer in this regard and setting up a regulatory structure. We've benefited in tax revenues and I think it's dealt a big blow to criminalize it."
The Obama administration has urged federal prosecutors' tolerance in prosecuting pot possession in the more than a dozen states that have medical-marijuana laws on the books.
But Polis continues to push full decriminalization in case future administrations — and federal Drug Enforcement Agency chiefs — may not be so friendly.
He also believes that a law protecting states means banks would be more comfortable setting up interstate accounts with pot dispensaries.
In August, Wells Fargo & Co. said it was going to stop handling marijuana-dispensary accounts because of federal laws.
Though other banks will take the accounts, Polis wants dispensaries to have a choice.
Polis has supporters in the libertarian movement, who believe that legalizing marijuana would be kind to already- clogged courts and, perhaps, cause less havoc because people "are a lot less danger to themselves and society when they are smoking marijuana than when they drink too much alcohol," said David Kopel, an adjunct law professor at the University of Denver.
"Marijuana was legal from the time when the pilgrims showed up through the 1930s, and the country grew from humble beginnings to a world superpower with legal marijuana," Kopel said. "I think it's a waste of criminal justice resources," to prosecute pot cases.
But former U.S. Attorney Troy Eid has a different opinion. He is not in favor of full decriminiliazation but respects voters' approval of a medical-marijuana laws. He wants to see it put through a clinical trial like other drugs.
"With all due respect, we just don't know the pros and cons of marijuana as medicine from a scientific perspective," said Eid, now a private attorney. "It's very important we have a dispassionate conversation about this. Voters have said they want medicine. We should treat it like medicine."
Polis plans to push his proposed law in Washington early this year, though its prospects in a Republican-controlled House appear to be dim.
Plans are underway to get a pot legalization ballot measure on Colorado's 2012 ballot (a similar measure failed in 2006).
"Every state should be able to take this issue on its own," said Mason Tvert, executive director of SAFER Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, which is working on fundraising for the ballot measure.
Tvert said the rumored help from Democratic billionaire George Soros was not true, but "if whoever is saying that wants to put us in touch, that would be wonderful."
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Marijuana Legalization Push Gets Voice On Capitol Hill
The cannabis industry has flexed its muscles in 15 states where it's legal to smoke marijuana for medical purposes. Now the industry is ready to go to work in Washington. A new trade group called the National Cannabis Industry Association is an attempt to bring together sellers, growers and manufacturers and to promote pot on Capitol Hill. "Our intent is to be the go-to organization in Washington for this industry," said Aaron Smith, the group's executive director.
For the past five years, Smith worked as the California director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "There's been a lot of enthusiasm. It's pretty clear that the medical marijuana industry is becoming recognized more and more by the mainstream as a fully legitimate part of the economy." Even though California voters last month rejected a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for all adults, it was just a matter of time before the drug was fully legalized.
"Legalization is looking inevitable," he said. "It didn't happen in 2010, but it's likely to happen in 2012. It's going to be relatively soon we're going to see states move from medical marijuana into broader legal markets. And the federal government needs to catch up. Frequently the American people are ahead of the Congress." But Smith will have a hard time finding many marijuana advocates in Congress. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted 400-4 to back a resolution sponsored by California Republican Rep. Wally Herger that calls on authorities to get tougher with those who cultivate marijuana on federal land.
New Jersey reaches medical marijuana agreement
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) -- New Jersey moved on Friday to implement a law legalizing medical use of marijuana for critically ill patients.
An agreement between Republican Governor Chris Christie and the law's Democratic sponsor is designed to avoid the fraud and the criminal use of the drug which critics say have affected some 15 other U.S. states where it has been legalized.
The accord resolves a dispute that delayed implementation.
In a change to previous regulations, the agreement allows for six treatment centers -- up from two originally proposed by Christie -- that would be allowed to dispense and grow medical marijuana. Home delivery and satellite locations for the centers will not be permitted.
It also stipulates certain "debilitating conditions" for which medical marijuana can be prescribed but only after conventional therapies have been exhausted.
The agreement preserves an earlier proposal that prescribed marijuana should have a maximum 10 percent of THC, the main substance in the cannabis plant that affects mental function.
It also requires physicians to have an ongoing relationship with the patient for whom the drug is prescribed.
"This is a reasonable and fair resolution that will keep implementation of the program on track without unnecessary delay," said Democratic Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, the primary sponsor of the law that was signed by former Governor Jon Corzine.
Governor Christie said the pact will speed relief for patients suffering serious illnesses.
"We are protecting the interests of all residents of New Jersey by preventing some of the abuses we have seen in other states," he said in a statement.
Prop. 19 pot measure 'very important' to voters
But the people most interested in it were opposed to it, according to a new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.
According to the survey of 2,003 California voters who reported participating in the Nov. 2 election, 38 percent said they were most interested in Prop. 19, an enthusiasm level more than double that for any other proposition.
The problem for cannabis enthusiasts: 51 percent of those who said the outcome of Prop. 19 was "very important" voted no on it. Only 18 percent of those who found its outcome very important supported it. Others ranked it less highly.
"While it wasn't a vocal opposition, the opposition harkened back to what (former President Richard) Nixon called 'the silent majority,' " said Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the opposition to Prop. 19. "It was very important to a small segment of the population but not to a lot of people."
However, when asked if they supported the legalization of marijuana, voters were equally split: 49 percent thought it should be legalized, and 49 percent thought it shouldn't.
"But there was some wariness about the way (Prop. 19) was written," said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California. Overall, two-thirds of the voters said the wording on all the ballot initiatives was "too complicated or confusing," according to the survey.
While the poll found that 60 percent of Latinos and 58 percent of voters between 35 and 54 opposed Prop. 19, it was supported by 62 percent of voters under 34 and 55 percent of independents.
"It's not a matter of if (marijuana is legalized), it is a matter of when," said Dan Newman, a consultant who advised sponsors of Prop. 19.
On another issue, while much pre-election pundit chatter nationally foreshadowed an "enthusiasm gap" among Democratic voters, that appears to be "less of the case in California," Baldassare said. An October poll from the University of Southern California found that 39 percent of GOP supporters ranked their enthusiasm a "10" on a scale of 1 to 10 compared with a finding that 35 percent of Democrats were that enthusiastic.
Wednesday's PPIC survey found that 46 percent of overall voters were "more enthusiastic" about voting this year. Republicans (54 percent) were more likely than Democrats (44 percent) or independents (40 percent) to feel catapulted to the polls.
Anticipating that gap, Democratic operatives in California tried to rally base supporters by warning them they would get smothered by the spending of GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who poured $144 million of her own money into her campaign.
"We stressed that when we went out to talk to funders and others - we needed them to step up," said Salazar, who also was a spokesman for an independent expenditure campaign that supported Gov.-elect Jerry Brown and was largely funded by labor organizations.
Baldassare attributed voter enthusiasm to the competitive gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, provocative propositions, Whitman's record contributions and the continuing popularity President Obama enjoys in California - contrary to his national approval ratings. "People here wanted to support him," he said.
The poll found that 53 percent of Californians, including 54 percent of independent voters, approve of the way Obama is doing his job.
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