The marijuana legalization pitch for people who don’t actually want to smoke it

The Yes on 91 office here, a rented suite on the second floor of a drab professional building by the convention center, is full of moms. They’re staging a press conference in favor of Oregon’s ballot measure to legalize marijuana — a dueling production to the moms across town who are holding their own event railing against it.

To clarify, the Yes on 91 moms don’t want to legally buy marijuana. Nor do they want their kids to have access to it. In fact, that’s their argument.

“With no regulation, marijuana is sold everywhere,” says Leah Maurer, a stay-at-home mom of three who’s been volunteering for the campaign. “It’s sold on the streets, in parks, outside schools, under the bleachers at baseball and basketball games.”

She holds up a photo, for the benefit of the four television cameras that have crammed into the makeshift press conference room, showing edible THC lollipops with smiley faces painted on them. “This is what’s out there right now. This is what this looks like to our children,” Maurer says. Then she holds up a second image — a sterile white vial with a label on it. “This is what it will look like,” she says, “under Measure 91.”

Broadly speaking, this is the campaign’s particular mom-proof, skeptic-co-opting logic: Measure 91 is less pro-pot than pro-rules-on-pot. The people who want to smoke have likely already decided to vote for the law, and the people who think marijuana’s evil are probably set against it. What’s in between are all the Oregonians not particularly interested in their own personal access to marijuana who might be swayed that the state can better manage this market — and, say, a child’s access to it — than drug dealers can.

Behind Maurer and half a dozen other moms, a few kids on their hips, Yes on 91 posters are taped to the wall that prominently spell out “REGULATE IT.” The rest of the campaign’s three-part mantra — “Legalize it. Tax it.” — is printed much smaller underneath. All the emphasis is on the idea that marijuana here will be swaddled in oversight, not simply legal.

The full measure — on which Oregonians are already voting in their mail-in election — runs to 36 pages. It is the most regulated of the three marijuana proposals that initially tried to collect signatures this election cycle. And it’s much tougher than the measure that failed here two years ago — a “wacky pot law,” as ABC News put it at the time, that would have effectively put the state itself in the business of selling marijuana. That measure’s preamble celebrated the fact that George Washington grew cannabis, too!

By contrast, says Anthony Johnson, the chief petitioner for the latest measure and a co-author of its many rules, “Measure 91 is the most regulated and strict marijuana measure ever voted upon in Oregon.”

The most recent state-wide poll suggests that pitch is working: 52 percent of voters said they support the measure, 41 percent said they don’t. The final result will depend heavily on voter turnout — support is particularly high among the groups typically least likely to vote.

The Measure 91 campaign in the meantime isn’t particularly talking about the libertarian arguments that responsible adults should be able to smoke what they want, although about 80 percent of people polled in the state libertarian party support the measure (“I have a feeling,” Johnson says, “that the 20 percent that don’t support it don’t support because they think it’s too regulated, too restricted, and it’s too much of a tax”). It’s also not saying much about an argument that was central to Colorado’s campaign: that marijuana is safer than alcohol.

Instead, Measure 91 has been drilling “regulate-it-legalize-it-tax-it” as if the phrase were one long word. For $20, you can order a “regulate it, legalize it, tax it” T-shirt (which might qualify is one of the few pieces of campaign swag ever to cheer a new regulatory regime). The press release that went out about the moms press conference announced that they had endorsed Measure 91 to “regulate, legalize and tax marijuana.” In discussing the measure with Johnson, I never once heard him refer to legalization without its two inseparable cousins.

At one point while we were talking in the Measure 91 office, he needed to return a phone call to his mother. When I asked how she felt about the effort, he paused, then said: “She hasn’t always agreed with my politics. But now she’s a supporter of regulating, legalizing and taxing marijuana.”

Amid all of the regulations contained in the measure, Oregon has tried to improve on the two-year-old laws already in place in Colorado and Washington. Those two states have left open confusion about drug-free workplaces; Oregon’s measure explicitly states that employers will retain the right to drug test. Colorado permits up to six plants per person, or 12 per household, for home growers; Oregon tops out at four plants and eight ounces per household. Like Washington, Oregon will rely on the state liquor control commission to regulate marijuana, and like Oregon’s own alcohol laws, local communities will retain the right to vote on going dry (or pot-free?).

Washington’s tax scheme has made legal pot so expensive that it has struggled to compete with the black market. Oregon will charge only one tax, a $35 per ounce sales tax on the final purchase, an amount that’s designed to make marijuana cheap enough to undermine the black market, while expensive enough to generate tax revenue for drug treatment, law enforcement and school funding.

If Oregon sufficiently undermines the black market, marijuana wouldn’t be sold, as Maurer puts it, “everywhere.” And where it is sold, government would control access the same way it does to age-restricted alcohol. Teens of course still get their hands on beer, as they will no doubt still get their get their hands on marijuana — a point the moms opposed to Measure 91 make. If you don’t want your kid to smoke marijuana, the question is whether you think a regulated world — one that comes with tighter control but greater public acceptance of pot — will create the lesser of two evils.

"Think about the repeal of prohibition of alcohol," Johnson says. "Voters and concerned citizens still wanted to know there’s somebody checking IDs, that alcohol’s being tested, labeled properly, sold in properly zoned areas. When you repeal, you didn’t have it legal so anybody could brew as much as they want and sell it."

Alcohol could never have been legalized either without taxing and regulating it, although the story of prohibition often isn’t recalled that way: as a case of reasserting rules, not just removing bans. With marijuana — and with much of the rest of the country still hesitant — it may be easier to emphasize the first interpretation.

"After studying the issue, we’ve determined that’s the best policy," Johnson says of regulating-legalizing-and-taxing-marijuana. "It also happens to be what’s most palatable to voters."

For hours this afternoon, Canada’s CBC News covered the breaking news of at least three shooting incidents in Ottawa. Led by veteran anchor Peter Mansbridge, the rolling coverage was smart, careful, and absolutely un-American.

As NPR’s Andy Carvin noted, Mansbridge set a respectful, careful tone, calling out interview subjects who had unconfirmed or contradictory information. “So much we could learn from his delivery today,” Carvin told me on Twitter.

On screen, CBC News kept a ticker scrolling, a “Breaking News” bug in the corner, a “LIVE” bug at the top right, and three boxes showing video and live pictures. Mansbridge rarely appeared on camera, even as he took pains to ensure information was correct before reporting anything–particularly the news a soldier shot at Ottawa’s War Memorial had died of his injuries.

As I watched via the network’s live stream in New York, I never heard a second of dramatic music, never saw a full-screen wipe with a catchy graphic like TERROR ON PARLIAMENT HILL, and never, ever heard Mansbridge or any of the CBC’s reporters dip even a toe into the waters of self-promotion.

Compared that to the American cable news networks, where we’ve come to expect that every prime time newscast will begin with urgent music and BREAKING NEWS–complete with multiple on-screen reminders that this is BREAKING NEWS of great importance. CBC’s coverage was, well, very Canadian. And to the nervous system of an American observer of TV news, it was decidedly strange to experience.

Mansbridge, in sharp contrast to the frenetic, breathless delivery we’ve come to expect from American news anchors in times of breaking news (including stories of far less significance than the attacks in Canada), was thoughtful, took his time, and seemed at times to pause, and to consider his words before speaking. Just. Imagine. That.

Around 1:30 ET, three-and-a-half hours into his coverage, Mansbridge paused to update viewers. “What do we know with certainty right now?” There was no place for exaggeration, rumor, or mistakes. It was like watching grown-up news. And suddenly, seeing it, I was struck by how often wedon’t see it here in the U.S. It’s been a long time since American anchors like Frank Reynolds said “let’s nail it down…let’s get it right.”

Even if it means letting someone else report it first.

CBC News was soundly beaten by various journalists on Twitter with word the War Memorial soldier had died, but when time came for Mansbridge to bring this sad fact into his coverage, he warned he had “bad news” to report, and then very carefully explained how CBC came to believe this information was correct. It wasn’t loud and urgent. It was quiet and somber. And as such, it felt very, very important. It felt proper.

On a very frightening and horrific day for Canada, Mansbridge and his CBC colleagues did their jobs with dignity and respect. Andy Carvin is right. We could learn from their example.

'Oil And Water' by Lights for CBC

This calm, credible CBC newscast shows how to cover a breaking story like sensible adults…The broadcast was deliberative and deferential to the facts even when they were sparse. Exacting and painstaking, but never slow or boring, Mansbridge weighed the credibility of every detail, constantly framing and reframing what we knew and, most crucially, how we knew it. He literally spoke the news as it happened, using his experience not to opine nor fill the gaps in his knowledge, but to provide the necessary support for his team’s reporting.

The CBC should be proud of all of the accolades it has received today.  We, as Canadians, should be proud that we have such a professional organization in times like this. 

'Muscle Memory' by Lights for CBC
على مسئوليتى مع احمد موسى | الجزء الثانى | 24-10-2014

على مسئوليتى مع احمد موسى | الجزء الثانى | 24-10-2014

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Marijuana legalization could be drawn out by D.C. Council

D.C. voters are likely to legalize marijuana possession in the District next month. But it could be many more months, perhaps a year or more, before residents would be able to legally purchase non-medicinal marijuana.

And in the interim, the organizers of the ballot initiative — which is supported by nearly two-thirds of likely voters, according to recent polls — are warning lawmakers not to delay its basic provisions of the voter initiative, which would allow the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and the home cultivation of as many as six cannabis plants.

But D.C. Council members — who have the power to modify the initiative, delay it or overturn it entirely — appear determined to move forward carefully, in keeping with their previous efforts to implement a medical-marijuana initiative.

“I don’t want uncertainty to be out there in the streets and in the market, and the initiative as it is written doesn’t give us the certainty we need,” said David Grosso (I-At Large), who is perhaps the council’s most outspoken advocate of legalization. “It may be easier to just delay the whole thing while we come up with the regulatory framework.”

Grosso, who introduced a bill more than a year ago establishing a possible framework for the regulation and taxation of marijuana sales, said if the initiative passes, the council should step in and delay its effect until a regulatory regime can be rolled out.

That, he said, could be late summer, or even as late as October 2015, when the District’s new fiscal year begins.

The coalition of activists who are promoting the ballot measure, known as Initiative 71, is pushing back at any suggestion of delay, however. The activists concede that developing a system of regulation and taxation may take time to develop but say that that shouldn’t forestall the legalization of possession and home cultivation.

Malik Burnett, a medical doctor who is helping organize support for the initiative, said he has had generally positive conversations with lawmakers, who have tended to support the sentiment behind it but are concerned about how best to regulate sales and protect the public from potential wrongdoing.

“I can understand their mind-set on that,” he said of the council. “But I don’t think they should in any way interfere in the will of the voters.”

Two D.C. Council committees have scheduled a hearing for Oct. 30 to start exploring how to manage the post-initiative landscape. Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), the chairman of one of the committees, said he has started researching aspects of the legalization measures in Colorado and Washington state.

Among his concerns: the rate of taxation, and how the public funds generated by marijuana sales will be used in those states. “It could be an opportunity to generate a tremendous amount of tax revenue,” he said. “But from my point of view, it has to be set up right.”

Grosso’s bill, as introduced, would levy a 15 percent tax on the gross sales of non-medical marijuana and 6 percent on medical marijuana. Those funds, as well as fees charged to cultivators and retailers, would be earmarked to a variety of agencies and programs, including police training, youth programs and efforts to combat substance abuse.

Orange suggested that education and affordable-housing efforts might also benefit from marijuana revenue, which has not yet been officially estimated by city financial officials. “If we’re going to go in this direction, we should look at some of our pressing needs right now,” he said.

The responsibility for regulating marijuana, under Grosso’s bill, would rest with the District’s alcohol regulators. The District’s existing medical marijuana program is regulated through the city health department, and council members have speculated that those rules could form the basis for a broader system of marijuana sales.

Otherwise, the biggest outstanding question appears to be what happens in the period between when the initiative becomes law and when the council is able to pass a bill establishing a regulatory regime.

Advocates are pressing the council to leave their hands off, allowing the possession and cultivation measures.

“This won’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen overnight in Colorado,” said Adam Eidinger, another activist for Initiative 71. “But what did happen is that they stopped arresting people, they let people grow their own and keep what they grew. There was no regulation in place other than that.”

Eidinger said he expects “some sanding of the rough edges” from the council if the initiative passes. But delaying the initiative’s effect while a regulatory bill is drafted, he said, would create confusion and increase the likelihood of congressional intervention.

Much depends on whether Congress steps in to block the initiative or otherwise interfere. But attempts by congressional Republicans to overturn the city’s marijuana decriminalization law have been unsuccessful, and the advocates and council members are proceeding under the assumption that the bill will not be challenged.

Should the initiative succeed, it would be transmitted to Congress for a 30-legislative-day review period probably late next month or in early December, meaning its provisions could take effect as soon as late January. And even if the council moves to delay its effect, the vagaries of national politics have local leaders mindful that there is no reason to dawdle.


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How marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington is making the world a better place

No pressure, Colorado and Washington, but the world is scrutinizing your every move.

That was the take-home message of an event today at the Brookings Institution, discussing the international impact of the move toward marijuana legalization at the state-level in the U.S. Laws passed in Colorado and Washington, with other states presumably to come, create a tension with the U.S. obligations toward three major international treaties governing drug control. Historically the U.S. has been a strong advocate of all three conventions, which “commit the United States to punish and even criminalize activity related to recreational marijuana,” according to Brookings’ Wells Bennet.

The U.S. response to this tension has thusfar been to call for more “flexibility” in how countries interpret them. This policy was made explicit in recent remarks by Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, who last week at the United Nations said that “we have to be tolerant of different countries, in response to their own national circumstances and conditions, exploring and using different national drug control policies.” He went on: “How could I, a representative of the Government of the United States of America, be intolerant of a government that permits any experimentation with legalization of marijuana if two of the 50 states of the United States of America have chosen to walk down that road?”

As far as policy stances go this is an aggressively pragmatic solution. The federal government lacks the resources and perhaps the political will to crack down on the legalization states, but it also likely doesn’t want to openly admit that it’s allowing regulation regimes that openly contradict the provisions of major treaties. By saying that those treaties allow for interpretation, the government is attempting to carve out some space to allow legalization experiments to continue with minimal boat-rocking.

But as Wells Bennet and John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America write in a new Brookings report, that position will “rapidly become implausible and unsustainable if legalization spreads and succeeds.” At today’s event, Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute, an international think tank, agreed: “The U.S. is hesitant to acknowledge that the legal regulation [of marijuana] is a direct violation of the treaty system… you have reached the limit of what you can defend applying the most flexible interpretation of the treaty system.”

As a result, the panelists at the event were in agreement that it’s time to explore a multilateral reworking of the drug control treaties to better reflect current realities - particularly, to begin the process of re-scheduling marijuana, which international law currently considers one of the most dangerous drugs(despite decades of evidence to the contrary).

Sandeep Chawla, former deputy director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, called the current restrictions on marijuana “the weakest point of this whole control system, something that has been obvious for 30 years.” He noted that one of the main obstacles to meaningful reform is layers of entrenched drug control bureaucracies at the international and national levels - just in the U.S., think of the DEA, ONDCP and NIDA, among others - for whom a relaxation of drug control laws represents an undermining of their reason for existence: “if you create a bureaucracy to solve a particular problem, when the problem is solved that bureaucracy is out of a job,” he explained.

Lisa Sanchez, a program manager at México Unido Contra la Delincuencia, a Mexican non-profit devoted to promoting “security, legality and justice,” underscored how legalization efforts in the U.S. are having powerful ripple effects across the globe: events in Colorado and Washington have “created political space for Latin American countries to have a real debate [about drug policy].” She noted that motivations for reform in Latin America are somewhat different than U.S. motivations - one main driver is a need to address the epidemic of violence on those countries that is fueled directly by prohibitionist drug war policies.

Many countries are now taking a close look at what’s happening in the states to learn lessons that can be applied to their own situations. And so far, the news coming out of Colorado and Washington is overwhelmingly positive: dire consequences predicted by reform opponents have failed to materialize. If anything, societal and economic indicators are moving in a positive direction post-legalization. Colorado marijuana tax revenues for fiscal year 2014-2015 are on track to surpass projections.

Countries, particularly in Latin America, are starting to apply these lessons in order to craft smarter policies that reduce violence and other societal harms brought about by the drug war. Uruguay, for instance, has moved toward full national legalization of marijuana, with an eye toward reducing the thriving black market there. Mexico’s president has given signs he’s open to changes in that country’s marijuana laws to help combat cartel violence. The Organization of American States recently issued a statement in favor of dealing with drug use as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice one.

Regardless the eventual direction of marijuana legalization in the U.S., steps toward reform here are already prompting other countries to seek out more pragmatic solutions to their drug problems. In short, they’re making the world a better place.