Why Oklahoma & Nebraska Hate America’s Children

Colorado just celebrated their one year anniversary of legalized recreational cannabis. Though the results of regulation and taxation did not meet the optimistic predictions of some supporters, the overall outcome has been positive. The state has created over 10,000 licensed jobs within the marijuana industry, not including those created in associated markets such as construction, business services, tourism or entertainment. Crime in Colorado has also seen a significant decrease, with violent crime falling to over 5.5%, accompanied by decreases in property crime, statewide traffic fatalities and adolescent drug use. There was also the added benefit of tax revenue collected from marijuana sales and licensing; the CO Department of Revenue has not yet released a final number, but as of Oct 2014, it had surpassed $40 million. These are pretty convincing statistics to support an ever-growing campaign to regulate and tax cannabis on a national level, yet marijuana still remains illegal as a Schedule-I Drug.

This last fact seems to be the foundation for a new lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma last month, challenging Colorado’s right to approve legislation to legalize marijuana within its borders. This lawsuit states that, “Amendment 64 has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system enacted by the US Congress. Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining plaintiff states’ own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries and placing stress on their criminal justice systems …”

A spokesperson from Attorney General of Oklahoma Scoot Pruitt’s office issued a statement declaring that the lawsuit filed by Oklahoma and Nebraska “does not challenge in any manner or form Colorado’s legalization of marijuana for use in possession in that state. Rather, the lawsuit challenges only the portion of Colorado’s law that legalized the commercialization of marijuana because those actions have led to an influx of illegal drugs entering surrounding states (like Oklahoma) in violation of their own state laws.”

USA Today has even reported that some towns in Nebraska have seen a rise in felony drug arrests of up to 400% in areas along the Colorado border over the past three years.  Though many of the arrests were not directly associated with marijuana, nor could it be verified that the sources were directly linked to Colorado residents, this data has helped promote a state of panic in response to progressive reform on a sensitive topic.

It seems that there will always be a “demonizing” approach to the manner in which opposition to cannabis reform will debate the justification for marijuana prohibition. In lieu of the many documented economic, social and medical benefits that regulation and taxation have brought to Colorado, pessimists still maintain a sky-is-falling mentality concerning an end to marijuana prohibition. A number of medical studies from worldwide sources show that there are significant medical benefits from the proper use of cannabis, yet it is still classified as a Schedule-I drug with no determined medical use.

I can only assume that the supporters of such federal laws have never heard of the hundreds of cases of children in the US who are currently being treated for debilitating and/or life-threatening diseases with medicinal cannabis. These are adolescents, infants and toddlers, who have mostly been given up on or failed by modern medicine and science.  These are children and families who have been given a second chance at a normal life after being told that there were no other options. The same children championed by opponents to the reform movement and their rallying cry of “What is the message we are sending to our children?”

Now I pose the same question to those who support the pending lawsuit against the state of Colorado. “What is the message that YOU are sending to our children?”

The Role of Propaganda Films

In 1936, a movie titled Tell Your Children was produced by a church group to warn parents about the dangers of marijuana use. This film was the epitome of everything that the prohibition movement, lead by Harry Anslinger, claimed cannabis to be. It depicted young adults as pot-crazed lunatics who turned to sex, violence, crime and murder while under the influence. Sometime after the film’s release, it was purchased, edited and redistributed by exploitation filmmaker Dwain Esper underthe name Reefer Madness. Though this film has become a cult classic over the past century and is synonymous with the cannabis culture, one should always remember that the original intent of this motion picture was to serve as a PSA against cannabis and its use.


If you haven’t seen Reefer Madness, Marihuana, or Assassin of Youth, I recommend watching one of them, as they laid the foundation to every relevant argument against the legalization of cannabis in the US.  I use the term “relevant” in a very lose manner, as the only relevance to these arguments are that they are the arguments used by those who support prohibition. The truth, however, is that these arguments are all grossly entrenched in the morals and values associated with a society that held absolutely no regard for individual rights, liberties and/or equality. Though the movies themselves may be laughable to a modern society, the true comedy lies in the fact that we have yet to rectify the injustices caused by such archaic views, allowing ignorance to dictate cannabis legislation.

Fortunately, we now have our own propaganda, founded on science and research, that can be used to reverse the stigma associated with cannabis. Though there are a number of publications that reference this topic (most notable, the small independent 13 Folds), there are also some great documentaries. Among these films are Hemp for Victory (an American-made film about the various uses of hemp and its importance to the WW2 war effort), High: The True Tale of American Marijuana (2008), The Union: the Business Behind Getting High (2007), and Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s Weed (2013).  The most interesting of the cannabis related-documentaries that I have seen to date, however, is Brett Harvey’s The Culture High, released earlier this year.

The Culture High tackles marijuana prohibition head on, touching all aspects of the debate with personal commentary, star-studded interviews and a number of case studies surrounding medical use, the privatized prison system, corporate America, a corrupt government and more. This film provides a number of eye opening segments, challenging a failed war on drugs and the current state of distrust between an out-of-touch justice system and an oppressed society. It demonstrates how an unchecked abuse of power can become so commonplace that society becomes blind to the abuses taking place. After watching this documentary, any believer in a true democracy should not only feel betrayed by the current stance on marijuana in the US, but should also be driven to seek reform.

Looking back on the original propaganda films presented in the ’30s, it is easy to see how undereducated community leaders and legislators were influenced by a fear of the unknown. In a world without easy access to information, it was commonplace to accept the advice of professionals tasked with counseling on such matters. We now live in a different world, however, where information lies just beyond the fingertips of any prepubescent teen with access to a computer or cell phone. At what point do we make the argument that the war against cannabis is nothing more than ignorance and complacency and stop using the excuse that there is a lack of information? At what point do we start to realize that this perceived comedy is actually one of the greatest tragedies perpetrated on the human race?

The Common Sense Approach to Marijuana Reform

It was November 18 in Providence, and I decided to forgo my regular Tuesday night routine of realigning my fantasy football teams for the following week in favor of making my way to Brown University for a forum on the regulation and taxation of marijuana. Jared Moffat of Regulate RI was set to moderate a discussion on the impact of cannabis prohibition and how society could better be served by taking a more common sense approach to this topic, as opposed to the current War on Drugs. As an avid supporter of such reform, I chose to sit in on this event and catch up on the current developments. You can view the two panel discussions in their entirety at http://dai.ly/x2appe1 and I suggest that anyone interested in learning some of the talking points in favor of an end to prohibition view them.

Panel one consisted of Jim Vincent, president of the Providence Branch of the NAACP; Dr. David C. Lewis, founder of Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies; Elizabeth Comery, former Providence police officer and member of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition); and Mason Tvert, Director of Communications at Marijuana Policy Project and co-director of the 2012 campaign to legalize cannabis in Colorado. This diverse panel of experts opened the night by focusing on the history of marijuana prohibition, the influence of racism on drug policy, the social impact that such prohibition has had on our society, and how current drug policy has led to a misguided and ineffective approach by current law enforcement agencies.

The second panel, which focused on more specific aspects of the Regulation and Taxation Bill presented in RI, introduced Michelle McKenzie, senior project director at The Miriam Hospital and director of the Preventing Overdose and Naloxone Intervention (PONI) Program; Pat Oglesby, former Chief Tax Counsel to the US Senate Finance Committee; and Senator Josh Miller (Democrat – RI District 28, Cranston, Warwick), sponsor of the current regulation and taxation bill in Li’l Rhody. Mason Tvert also returned to present some of his insight and dispel the fears of “fire and brimstone” that opponents to legalization predicted such legislation would leave on the Rocky Mountain state.

Both panels were quite informative. Most important, however, is that these discussions focused on every opposition argument to marijuana reform. From the dangers of cannabis use to the idea that marijuana reform will lead to an increase in adolescent use, each advocate laid waste to the propaganda that has reinforced such rhetoric throughout the past century of marijuana prohibition. What’s more, these were all well-respected professionals (some of whom don’t support drug use at all) and not of the “hippie” counterculture that society so often associates with the marijuana movement.

As much as I have learned over the past two years of running 13Folds.com, writing for Motif, and acting as an advocate for the cannabis movement, I can truly say that this was an eye-opening event. I have come to a new understanding about how deeply the roots of racism and corporate corruption play into the government’s current stance on marijuana policies. I have been armed with resources and statistics to show how biased the enforcement of prohibition policies are toward minorities and lower income communities. I have also seen proof in the current models, presented by Colorado and Washington state, that the fears of reform have not come to fruition. The only logical form of recourse now is to right the mistakes of our past and take a new approach to drug policy in this country.

Regulating Marijuana in Rhode Island: A Public Health and Safety Approach Takes Place to Educate Locals and Leaders

mariAfter a successful week at the midterm ballot boxes, the crusade to end cannabis prohibition seems to be gaining momentum. With victories in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., supporters are champing at the bit to see where the next domino will fall. One such domino has been teetering on its edge for the past three years and one of the major forces behind this push is a man named Jared Moffat, director of Regulate Rhode Island.  After a long morning of training and organizing the future advocates of the regulation and taxation movement here in RI, Jared was gracious enough to sit with me and discuss the next big event that he has organized, which takes place at Brown University, 64 College St, List Art Building Room 120 on Nov 18 from 6:30-8:30pm.

David Sorgman: First off, who is Jared Moffat and why has a clean cut kid like you chosen to become involved with the cannabis movement?

Jared Moffat: Cannabis prohibition is a central pillar in the war on drugs, and for several years I have been an active member of the movement to dismantle our failed drug policies that contribute to mass incarceration, the stigmatization of marginalized populations, and terrible violence here and abroad. I have always felt called to organize people to overcome social injustice. So when I saw that we have a real opportunity to remove a cornerstone of the war on drugs by ending cannabis prohibition in Rhode Island, I decided to go for it.

DS: There are a few local organizations that deal with the cannabis topic such as NORML, RIPAC and SSDP. What is Regulate RI and how do you differ from these other groups?

JM: Regulate Rhode Island is a coalition of citizens and organizations working to replace cannabis prohibition with a system to regulate and tax the sale of cannabis to adults. Regulate RI shares a lot of goals in common with those other groups, especially NORML and SSDP, which are both Regulate RI coalition partners. Where we differ is that our mission is solely to pass a law to regulate cannabis like alcohol. We wanted to establish a formidable political force with a very clear focus, drawing support from a broad alliance of groups that come at the issue from different perspectives. We are one of those rare “tri-partisan” political coalitions whose members include leaders from the Libertarian, Republican, and Democratic parties.

DS: What can you tell us about this next event, Regulating Marijuana in Rhode Island: A Public Health and Safety Approach and why have you decided to put this event together?

JM: With the addition of Oregon and Alaska to the list of states that have decided to regulate cannabis like alcohol, the recent elections on Nov 4 showed us that momentum for cannabis policy reform is continuing to grow. Regulate Rhode Island is hopeful that Lil Rhody will become the next state to follow that path. As discussion about cannabis policy reform gains more attention, we wanted to hold an event to educate state leaders and the general public about what it is exactly that we’re trying to do. We cannot rely on sound bytes in the media to adequately convey our message (although Motif does a great job of that!). So there’s a real need to facilitate public discussion about the issue, inform Rhode Islanders about what is happening in states like Colorado, and educate people about the opportunity to regulate cannabis here in Rhode Island.

DS: I noticed that there are some pretty significant names (local and national) on the list of speakers for this event. Who are the individuals and what kind of expertise does each bring to the discussion?

JM: We wanted to choose a diverse set of panelists that could contribute to the discussion about cannabis policy from different angles. From a medical and public health perspective, we have Dr. David Lewis, founder of Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, and Michelle McKenzie, a public health researcher at The Miriam Hospital. Elizabeth Comery is a retired attorney and former Providence police officer. Ms. Comery is also a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), and she can explain why regulating cannabis is better than prohibition for public safety reasons. Jim Vincent, president of NAACP – Providence, will speak to the harmful consequences of cannabis prohibition for communities of color. Mason Tvert is a nationally recognized advocate for cannabis regulation and was a leader in the successful campaigns to regulate cannabis in Colorado and Alaska. Pat Oglesby is the former Chief Tax Counsel for the US Senate Finance Committee and an expert on cannabis tax policies. And finally, we will have the primary sponsor of the Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act, Senator Josh Miller from Cranston, to explain his proposal and his vision for a regulated cannabis market in Rhode Island.

DS: With so many advocates and a majority of popular support, it seems like regulation and taxation is obviously the people’s choice. However, in Rhode Island we do not have the option of a ballot process to decide an outcome for this issue. Why is that and can you explain what the alternative to this method is?

JM: Rhode Island laws say that only the General Assembly has the power to put a question on the ballot. So unlike other states that allow citizens themselves to put initiatives on the ballot, Rhode Island must go through the state legislature. We believe it makes more sense to put forward a bill to regulate marijuana like alcohol rather than ask the General Assembly for a ballot question. The former option is a one-step process, whereas the latter takes two steps. It is possible that the General Assembly may decide they would rather put the question to the voters, and we would certainly welcome that if they are unwilling to vote on a bill themselves. But we are trying to pass a law directly through the state legislature as our first course of action.

DS: What do you feel are the prospects of RI legislators passing such legislation in this manner?

JM: I am very optimistic about our chances this year. A lot of legislators see the writing on the wall and recognize that the end of cannabis prohibition is inevitable — it’s simply a question of when. They also realize that states like Maine and Massachusetts are very likely to pass ballot initiatives to regulate cannabis like alcohol in 2016. So we have a window of opportunity in 2015 to give Lil Rhody a head start in developing what will soon be a national, multi-billion-dollar legal cannabis economy. If we become an early adopter, that means more businesses will want to headquarter their companies in Rhode Island, which means more jobs and more tax revenue for our state. All of the newly elected state leaders ran their campaign on revitalizing Rhode Island’s economy and regulating cannabis like alcohol is certainly one way to do that.

DS:  Do you think that the victories in Alaska and Oregon will have any influence on the efforts to legalize and regulate cannabis in RI?

JM: Absolutely. It shows that the cannabis policy reform movement is continuing to build momentum and that cannabis prohibition is on the way out. It is especially encouraging to see those results in Alaska and Oregon given that it was a mid-term election when the voting population is typically older and more conservative. These victories show that support for ending cannabis prohibition spans ideological and age divides.

DS: Why should people attend this next event and what can they expect to learn?

JM: We invite anyone who is interested in cannabis policy to attend our event, which we think will be informative and engaging. Each panel will be followed by a question and answer session with the audience, so I would encourage attendees to come with questions and an open mind. In our first panel we are going to have a conversation about why our nation is moving away from prohibition and toward cannabis regulation. We will discuss the social costs of prohibition as well as the various benefits of regulation. The second panel will take a more in-depth look at some specific topics such as cannabis tax policy, the specific provisions of Senator Miller’s Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act, and what we have learned from Colorado’s and Washington’s experiences so far.

DS: How can those who support an end to cannabis prohibition help make this dream a reality?

JM: The most important action people can take is to contact their state representative and state senator and ask them to make ending cannabis prohibition a legislative priority in 2015. It is not enough for legislators to say that they support the issue. We need them to speak out and ensure that our bill gets the vote it deserves on both the House and Senate floors. I would also encourage supporters to join the Regulate Rhode Island coalition by visiting RegulateRI.org, where you can sign up for our email alerts and learn more about the issue. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you Jared, once again, for taking the time to sit with me and discuss the future of Cannabis in Rhode Island. I appreciate your efforts and am honestly baffled that the act of taxation and regulation isn’t already practiced on a national level. With all of the current research, science and testimonials (easily accessed with the creation of a new piece of technology called the “interwebz”) it should be considered a crime against humanity that the government continues to enforce such archaic laws and penalties on the cannabis community.

A Stereotype Guide to Ending Cannabis Prohibition

mjguideWith the midterm elections taking place in November, politicians across the nation have been hitting the campaign trail hard; shaking hands and kissing babies. They are out “trick-or-treating,” looking to discuss the Affordable Care Act, unemployment rates, public assistance and how they need our help to make our communities better places to live (and maybe score some candy).

Now it seems that the latest “posh” Halloween costume for these politicians has come in the guise of the Cannabis Abolitionist. They like to focus on a few staple topics that revolve around preventing access to minors, providing tax revenue and social disparity in the justice system; all topics that weigh heavily on the working class family. Indeed, the lower income demographics are by far the most affected by such social injustices, which are perpetrated by the U.S. War on Drugs. However, I do not believe that this is the demographic that is going to sway public opinion in one way or another, nor do I believe that this is the demographic that is going to make the difference at the polls.

If you look at data collected from the US Government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive (SAMHDA) and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2012, you can see an extreme contradiction to what cannabis prohibitionists and the government have been telling us for over 75 years. Cannabis is not a low-income, minority based epidemic. Even though marijuana arrest and incarceration rates are disproportionately biased toward minorities, the use of cannabis is equally consistent among white people and spans a multitude of demographics.

Of everyone in the U.S. who has reportedly tried marijuana, 76% are white and only 11% are black. However, when marijuana users are divided by race, whites and blacks have tried it at about the same rate (38-39%). In addition, the relation between cannabis use and different income levels is almost non existent, with 38% of all people who earn less than $75,000 having tried marijuana, compared to 39% of those who earn over that amount. Finally, the age demographic to participate in cannabis use the most is between the ages of 26 and 34, at 55%. Ages 18 to 25 fall close behind at 52%, with 35- to 49-year-olds coming in third, at nearly 50%. Only 37% of those over the age of 50 have ever smoked pot. The gender gap is fairly narrow between males and females as well, with 47% of all men and 38% of all women having tried cannabis. Therefore, attempting to create a generalized profile for those who smoke cannabis becomes quite a challenge, as there is an equal chance that anyone under the age of 50 from any walk of life has smoked pot as there is that they haven’t.

Studying the information gathered from the census reports (as well as exit polls conducted by Edison Research of Somerville, N.J., for the National Election Pool) we can define a more appropriate target demographic for the campaign to end marijuana prohibition. When broken down by race, the voting demographic is directly proportionate to the demographic of those who smoke weed. The white demographic made up 72% of the total vote for the 2012 elections. African Americans made up 13% of the vote, with the hispanic demographic coming in third at 10%. Asians and all other races made up the remaining 5% of the voter turnout. Does this mean that everyone who smoked marijuana voted? I highly doubt it (no pun intended) but it does raise the question, “How can the minority vote be persuaded to become more engaged in the political system?”

I believe this is the reasoning behind a misguided concentration on the minority population, by people advocating an end to prohibition. There has always been an assumption that the minority communities have more of a stake in the cannabis movement because statistics show that they are more likely to be implicated in criminal activities by the authorities. However, this does not in any way represent the majority of the cannabis community. Indeed these communities would benefit the most from such changes to marijuana prohibition, but judging by the voter turnout from past elections, even if this demographic doubled their political involvement toward an end to prohibition, this would not be enough to sway an outcome.

If you take into account the age demographics for past major elections, there is another interesting parallel to be drawn. Voter turnout by age was the highest between 40 – 64 year olds, at 48%.  30 – 39 year olds brought in 17% of the vote, followed by 16% from those over the age of 65. The 18 – 24 year old demographic brought in 11% of the vote, with only 8% coming from the group ages 25 – 29.  The elderly community (as well as that 30 – 39 age group) represent the second highest turnouts for voter activity at the polls.  However, these two demographics represent the lowest groups for those who have actually used marijuana.

I find the elderly demographic to be the most surprising, especially with the major advancements that have been found with cannabis use in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. This is a group that has been molded by more than sixty years of anti-cannabis propaganda and it could be argued that they are likely set in their beliefs. They tend to represent old Republican ideals and come from a generation that has always viewed the use of drugs as an ugly mark on our society.  This generation will eventually be replaced by those 40 – 64 year olds, who dictate the current elections and are not as opposed to the current views and science that surround cannabis use.

Finally, we can review the income demographic that participated in the last presidential election. Voter turnout in 2012 was far higher for those who earned above $75,000 (at 77%) than it was for those who made less than $50,000, which rose from 59% – 62% since 2008. Although there is a significantly larger number of Americans who earn under $50,000 annually, those in the higher income bracket vote in larger numbers.  Because of this fact, the percentage of the actual vote weighs in favor of the wealthy. This higher income demographic is where I see the largest potential to market the legalization campaign in the U.S.

If legalization efforts would provide more of a focus toward those people from higher income brackets, there is a chance that cannabis initiatives could gain some momentum at the polls.  I don’t believe that these initiatives are defeated due to a lack of conviction by those in low income areas or minorities that have been affected by the war on drugs.  I believe that the data, gathered over a multitude of election years, proves that voter participation “is what it is.”  The turnout may fluctuate from election to election, but over a ten year period, there are no consistent trends in any one direction. These figures provide a basic prediction of what to expect through each election and the predominant determining factor tends to be that high income, white people determine election outcomes.

For the cannabis initiative to have the highest success rate, groups need to focus their efforts on demonstrating an appeal to the high-income, white demographic.  To accomplish this goal, the effort will have to demonstrate that there is a proven potential to generate revenue.  Since it’s already been proven through various models of taxation and regulation around the world, including those in Colorado and Washington, there should be a plethora of persuasive information. If presented by the right people (see previous paragraph), there is a chance that those in the $75,000 and up category will finally put their money where their mouths are.

Considering that 39% of this demographic have smoked weed, I would imagine that they wouldn’t have any moral issues with legalization, yet they do not seem to be expressing their views on the ballots. Maybe their views would change if they saw a way to benefit from it? Not only has the marijuana industry generated more new employment opportunities in our staggering economy than any other U.S. industry in the past decade, but there are billions of dollars to be made in this new market. Without the support of the people who can fund these opportunities, the fruits of our labors will never grow.

Marijuana Reform: The New Regime

Only two years ago, Colorado and Washington defied the will of the federal government as they voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana in their states. To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use with many others seeking to follow suit. Municipalities have even taken steps to legalize recreational use within their own city limits, further demonstrating that there is change in the current view on marijuana laws and regulations.

Growing support against marijuana prohibition, however, has been limited to state and local government; as the federal government maintains its long-standing position against legalization of recreational cannabis.  This opposition to marijuana reform has long been fueled by unsupported claims of chronic addiction, cannabis-related overdoses, physical and mental disorders, and a slew of other gateway theories that just don’t hold water, especially when compared to the scientific research and studies that have been done since the ’70s. These studies, which were intended to provide support to the anti-marijuana propaganda, not only failed to give any conclusive evidence that cannabis should be classified as a Schedule-1 drug, but in some cases proved that cannabis has some beneficial medical properties.

In 2009, however, Eric Holder entered the playing field as the newly appointed Attorney General for the Obama Administration. His approach to cannabis reform didn’t differ much from his predecessor’s in the first four years of his term. State marijuana laws were held in complete disregard, as the federal government continued to raid and disrupt legal, state-licensed medical marijuana operations that they claimed went against federal laws.

After Obama’s reelection, Holder’s approach was the first common sense reaction to reform that we’ve seen from any administration thus far. Eric Holder almost immediately came out in support of the individual states’ rights to responsibly explore marijuana reform. Holder, cautiously and always reserving the right for the Department of Justice to prosecute, issued a number of statements aimed at reassuring states that the federal government would allow them to operate without impediment, as long as they adhered to very strict guidelines and regulations.  The Department of Justice even issued a memorandum, briefly outlining this “trust but verify” approach and defining the eight priorities that federal law enforcement would identify as a breech of trust.  In January 2014, Eric Holder even showed support for new banking regulations that would allow for cannabis-related industries to more easily do business with US banks, instead of having to rely on cash-only transactions.

The bad news however, is that on September 25, 2014, Eric Holder resigned from his position as the US Attorney General and now appears most open about his stance on marijuana reform. He stated the following in an interview with Katie Couric, released on the day of his resignation:  

“The progression of people from using opioids to heroin, the spread and the destruction that heroin has perpetrated all around our country. And to see by contrast, what the impact is of marijuana use. Now it can be destructive if used in certain ways, but the question of whether or not they should be in the same category is something that we need to ask ourselves and use science as the basis for making that determination.”

We must applaud this common sense approach to a progressive movement. This is someone who is in direct opposition to the notion of cannabis reform, yet is willing to let logic and science dictate the ultimate outcome of this movement. The only question now is, what will his successor’s approach to marijuana reform be and how will that person influence the next stage of the cannabis movement?

The New England Green Rush — Tip of the Legalization Spear

As the November midterm elections approach, the Northeast is poised to be the new tip of the spear for the legalization movement. While Portland, Oregon, saw marijuana reform defeated in 2012, its uglier but much cooler twin sister, Portland, Maine, legalized recreational use the following year. In 2014, New Hampshire passed medical marijuana laws, making it the 19th state to pass such legislation, only two years after Massachusetts passed a similar bill. Decriminalization and medical marijuana laws also have been implemented in Rhode Island, Vermont, and Connecticut, where they have taken medical marijuana production to a pharmaceutical level. It is within this bastion of progressive thinking and libertarian ideology where I truly see the next big impact of the legalization movement taking place.

Let’s review Connecticut, where the first of six medical marijuana dispensaries, Prime Wellness, opened last August. The other six dispensaries are set to open over the next couple of months, but judging by the success in other states where dispensaries have been actively distributing marijuana to approved patients, this small step should provide much anticipated revenue for cultivators, facility owners and the state.  Once communities start to see the stigma associated with marijuana use lessen, it won’t be long before Connecticut residents are champing at the bit for a piece of the much larger revenue stream associated with recreational use, as demonstrated by Colorado earlier this year.

Dispensaries also opened in Massachusetts this year, providing the groundwork for a ballot initiative spearheaded by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) out of Washington, D.C.. MPP was largely responsible for the legalization initiatives passing in Colorado and Washington last year. Now they are focusing on the Northeast where they opened a ballot referendum committee with Massachusetts’ Office of Campaign and Political finance. MPP director of communications, Mason Tvert, expressed the desire to build a coalition focused on creating legislation for legalization and regulation of marijuana, which duplicates that which was successfully implemented in Colorado. He intends to take the issue to the ballot if state legislation is unwilling to cooperate.

In Little Rhodie, we unfortunately don’t have the privilege of a public vote on the issue. Things here must be done through a legislative process, where community action groups like Regulate RI, RIPAC and LEAP, among others, have been working in force to convince local politicians that legalization and regulation are the direction that constituents in this small state want to go. Though local polls show that over 53 percent of Rhode Islanders support laws to tax and regulate marijuana, RI officials have declined to vote on the subject for the past three years, holding the introduced bill for further study. Going into midterm elections, however, there has been a show of tri-partisan support for the legalization movement ranging from democratic hopefuls like Todd Giroux, Gina Raimondo and Clay Pell to Republican Daniel Harrop and even Buddy Cianci, who admits to influential groups in the statehouse that still believe erroneously that marijuana is a gateway drug. I look to 2015 for a reemergence of a recreational bill that will hopefully be supported by a fresh crop of political allies who are willing to let old stigmas die.

Finally, we can revisit the success that the individual municipalities have had in Maine. Following Portland’s lead, where recreational use within city limits passed the vote with flying colors, three other localities (Lewiston, South Portland and York) agreed to let the public take matters into their own hands on November 2. Despite opposition from state government, law enforcement, and the Maine chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), all three initiatives are gaining popular support and making steady headway going into the 2014 midterms. If all goes well, Maine could have four successful models for building and supporting a measure to tax and regulate marijuana in 2016.

Oaksterdam University: The Future of the Cannabis Industry

oaksterdamSLIDEOn August 15th through 17th, the RI Convention Center will be home to a rare three-day seminar presented by Oaksterdam University and hosted by the legendary Todd McCormick. During this program, Grow Medicine, Todd will discuss his personal history in the industry, commercial cultivation and the future of the cannabis industry. This event promises to be both informative and entertaining. Visit the Oaksterdam University website: oaksterdamuniversity.com or Todd’s site at hemp.xxx for event specifics and registration information.

To truly comprehend the significance of this event, however, one must first understand the two major players bringing this presentation to the East Coast. Oaksterdam University is the first university of its kind formed in the US. Founded in 2007 by Richard Lee, OU was modeled after Cannabis College in Amsterdam, where the primary focus of the curriculum was horticulture. Unlike Cannabis College, Richard recognized the potential for a booming industry that expanded beyond growing cannabis. When Oaksterdam was founded, Richard introduced courses in cannabis trade, politics, history and legal issues to offer students a broader scale of knowledge and a better chance to succeed in what could be the next big industry in our country.

Since 2007, Oaksterdam University has provided quality training about cannabis and marijuana policy reform for over 17,000 students at several US campuses. “The institution offers the chance to learn about this controversial plant, and creates an interesting blend of individuals and opportunity,” said Dale Sky Jones, Executive Chancellor. “OU welcomes diverse students who are looking to change careers; some simply want to brush up on their horticulture skills. OU also attracts business owners who want to train their staff, folks who want to open their own business, and patients simply trying to understand the law and their rights. More and more baby boomers are discovering they would rather smoke pot than reach for pharmaceuticals.”

Seven years later, OU has become the pioneer in addressing the growing needs of the marijuana movement — from patients to regulators — and has compiled an impressive academic staff, that includes some of the most recognized names in the cannabis industry. Their goal is to remove the stigma associated with the cannabis industry and provide the necessary knowledge and training to make it a respected and acceptable career path.

The second major player to participate in this event is presenter Todd McCormick. Todd started growing marijuana in 1984 to combat the side effects of cancer treatments. Between the ages of 2 and 10, Todd underwent long-term chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments, and had nine major operations in his fight against a rare disease called Histiocytosis X. When his mother feared that he would not survive a new tumor in the soft tissue next to his heart, she decided to give him some marijuana medicinally. Todd was 9 years old at the time, and his mother’s decision saved and changed his life.

Since 1994, Todd has been an activist, publicist and researcher of cannabis. He collaborated with Jack Herer on the ground-breaking book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. In the mid-90s he lived in Amsterdam, where he became one of the first 10 patients in The Netherlands to receive a prescription for medicinal marijuana. Best-selling author Peter McWilliams brought McCormick back to California in 1997 in order to write his first book: How to Grow Medical Marijuana. That summer, the DEA raided Todd’s Bel Air home and destroyed all the legal plants on the premises; years of work and rare genetics were lost forever. After a three-year-long legal battle, Todd was denied a medical necessity defense in federal court and imprisoned for five years. His only crime was growing and studying the medicine that saved his life.

There is no blueprint for what these pioneers of the cannabis industry are trying to accomplish in our country. Every day is a new learning experience where we must conquer new hurdles. We must master the art of not only growing and cultivating the marijuana plant, but also the art of regulating and refining the distribution and sale of these products. The best way to approach this industry is to set up for success but prepare for the worst. With people like Todd McCormick and organizations like Oaksterdam University, opportunities to do so are becoming more plentiful.

2014 Election: In their own Words: Why Isn’t cannabis legal yet?

RI Governor

Todd Giroux (D): I am in favor of legalization of cannabis for adult use. The “let’s wait and see” attitude is going to result in watching other states create the revenue while RI falls further behind. The momentum is very strong. I believe it will pass within the next two years

Gina Raimondo (D): It is legal here in Rhode Island for certain medical purposes, and there is a growing support nationwide for legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. We here in Rhode Island have a unique opportunity to follow and study states like Colorado and Washington as they begin to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

Clay Pell (D): I believe Rhode Island took the right step in decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. I have also supported medical marijuana and support efforts to fully implement this law. Colorado and Washington have recently taken a step further, and we should carefully watch and learn from their experience as we evaluate any such change in Rhode Island.

That said, when it comes to questions of drug policy, I also believe it is urgent to address the heroin overdose epidemic gripping our state, and New England as a region. Vermont Governor Shumlin dedicated his entire 2014 State of the State address to this topic, and rightfully so. The number of overdose deaths in Rhode Island is equivalent to that of an annual passenger jet crash at Green Airport. We would never allow that to happen in our state, and we must not allow the staggering number of heroin-related deaths to continue here.

As Governor, I will work with the substance abuse policy community, law enforcement, and other partners to both support drug awareness and treatment programs and combat drug addiction and fatalities.

Providence Mayor

Daniel Harrop (R): I have no idea. The stupid laws against it should have been repealed years ago. I can safely say I am the only candidate to have actually written permissions for patients to get a MJ card, but it would be so much easier to just get rid of the outdated laws and end the “War on Drugs,” which we have been losing for years.

Buddy Cianci (I): Cannabis definitely has become more accessible and decriminalized, but there are still influential groups that wield considerable power in the statehouse who believe it is a gateway drug.

Michael Solomon (D): I consider this a state issue, but I will certainly watch how things play out in Colorado over the next several years.

Jorge Elorza (D): There is now widespread agreement on decriminalization: What responsible adults want to do in their own homes isn’t a public matter, and furthermore, we can’t keep locking up so many of our youth and young adults for minor infractions. That’s real progress. But I don’t think it has been completely legalized yet because so many of us have read conflicting studies on its ramifications. Some studies say that legalization won’t increase drug use among teens, other say it will. There’s been no conclusive proof, so I think it’s wise that we’re taking a wait and see approach.

Brett Smiley (D): I think we’re making progress. I’m the only Democratic mayoral candidate [as of this writing] that’s supportive of taxation and legalization of marijuana for adults. Colorado and Washington will help pave the way to make it easier for us. We’re changing votes at the statehouse one vote at a time, but I think we’re making progress.

Providence Prohibition Party Brings Entertainment and Raises Awareness

prohibitionProvidence’s first ever official hemp festival was held on July 12 at Simon’s 667, hosted by Mike Liberty and Dave Death. Called the Providence Prohibition Party, the event drew a fun-loving and diverse crowd throughout its course, which spanned from early afternoon to the wee hours of the morning, transitioning from local indie and rock bands at the outdoor stage to an indoor EDM party. As well as music, there were beer tastings, artists and vendors selling posters and glass pipes.

While all in good fun, there was also a political undercurrent to the event – 10% of the proceeds from the day went to Regulate RI, an organization founded on the premise that marijuana prohibition has led to class and sex discrimination and does far more harm than good for the people of this state. They look forward to introducing a change to the legislation in 2015, but claim that legalizing and regulating marijuana is only the tip of the iceberg.

During one of the speeches given in between musical acts, Anne Armstrong, who is running for governor of Rhode Island, stated that pot “cures every illness” and that there is no reason why people should not have free and easy access to it. Although perhaps hyperbolic, her message was agreed with by the majority of people in attendance. Phrases such as “hemp is a beautiful product” and “what harm does it cause?!” were popular statements from party-goers. For those who support the cause, there were petitions and all the information on hemp and marijuana laws you could need available.

The first Providence Prohibition Party was a great success, and hopefully 2015 will bring some movement in the cause!