Pubdate: Sat, 15 Feb 2014
Source: Taranaki Daily News (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2014 Fairfax New Zealand Limited


(AP) - In a former colonial mansion in Jamaica, politicians huddle to 
discuss trying to ease marijuana laws in the land of the late reggae 
musician and cannabis evangelist Bob Marley. In Morocco, one of the 
world's top producers of the concentrated pot known as hashish, two 
leading political parties want to legalise its cultivation, at least 
for medical and industrial use.

And in Argentina, the nation's drug czar, a Catholic priest who has 
long served in its drug ravaged slums, is calling for a public debate 
about regulating marijuana.

 From the Americas to Europe to North Africa and beyond, the 
marijuana legalisation movement is gaining unprecedented traction  a 
nod to successful efforts in Colorado, Washington state and Uruguay, 
which in December became the first country to approve nationwide pot 

Leaders long weary of the drug war's violence and futility have been 
emboldened by changes in US policy, even in the face of opposition 
from their own conservative populations. Some are eager to try an 
approach that focuses on public health instead of prohibition, and 
some see a potentially lucrative industry in cannabis regulation.

"A number of countries are saying, 'We've been curious about this, 
but we didn't think we could go this route,"' said Sam Kamin, a 
University of Denver law professor who helped write Colorado's 
marijuana regulations.

"It's harder for the US to look at other countries and say, 'You 
can't legalise, you can't decriminalise,' because it's going on here."

That's due largely to a White House that's more open to drug war alternatives.

US President Barack Obama recently told The New Yorker magazine that 
he considers marijuana less dangerous to consumers than alcohol, and 
said it was important the legalisation experiments in Washington and 
Colorado went ahead, especially because blacks were arrested for the 
drug at a greater rate than whites, despite similar levels of use.

His Administration also has criticised drug war-driven incarceration 
rates in the US and announced it will soon let banks do business with 
licensed marijuana operations, which have largely been cash-only 
because federal law forbids financial institutions from processing 
pot related transactions.

Such actions underscore how the official US position has changed in 
recent years. In 2009, its Department of Justice announced it 
wouldn't target medical marijuana patients. In August, the agency 
said it wouldn't interfere with the laws in Colorado and Washington, 
which regulate the growth and sale of taxed pot for recreational use.

Government officials and activists worldwide have taken note of the 
more open stance. Also not lost on them was the Obama 
administration's public silence before votes in both states and in Uruguay.

It all creates a "sense that the US is no longer quite the drug war 
obsessed government it was" and that other nations have some 
political space to explore reform, said Ethan Nadelmann, head of the 
nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalisation group based in New York.

Anxiety over US reprisals has previously doused reform efforts in 
Jamaica, including a 2001 attempt to approve private use of marijuana 
by adults. Given America's evolution, "the discussion has changed", 
said Delano Seiveright, director of Ganja Law Reform Coalition Jamaica.

Last summer eight lawmakers, evenly split between the ruling People's 
National Party and the opposition Jamaica Labor Party, met with 
Nadelmann and local cannabis crusaders at a luxury hotel in 
Kingston's financial district and discussed next steps, including a 
near-term effort to decriminalise pot possession.

Officials are concerned about the roughly 300 young men each week who 
get criminal records for possessing small amounts of "ganja."

Others worry about losing out on tourism dollars: For many, weed is 
synonymous with Marley's home country, where it has long been used as 
a medicinal herb by families, including as a cold remedy, and as a 
spiritual sacrament by Rastafarians.

Influential politicians are increasingly taking up the idea of 
loosening restrictions. Jamaica's health minister delano Seiveright 
recently said he was "fully on board" with medical marijuana. "The 
cooperation on this issue far outweighs what I've seen before. Both 
sides are in agreement with the need to move forward."

In Morocco, lawmakers have been inspired by the experiments in 
Washington, Colorado and Uruguay to push forward their longstanding 
desire to allow cannabis to be grown for medical and industrial uses. 
They say such a law would help small farmers who survive on the crop 
but live at the mercy of drug lords and police attempts to eradicate it.

"Security policies aren't solving the problem because it's an 
economic and social issue," said Mehdi Bensaid, a legislator with the 
Party of Authenticity and Modernity. "We think this crop can become 
an important economic resource."

In October, lawmakers from Uruguay, Mexico and Canada converged on 
Colorado for a firsthand look at how that state's law is being 
implemented. They toured a medical marijuana dispensary and sniffed 
bar-coded marijuana plants during a tour.

"Mexico has outlets like that, but guarded by armed men," Mexican 
Congressman Ren Fujiwara Montelongo said afterward.

There's no general push to legalise marijuana in Mexico, where tens 
of thousands have died in cartel violence in recent years. But in 
more liberal Mexico City, legislators are planning to pitch a further 
loosening of pot laws by increasing personal possession limits, 
allowing residents to grow up to three plants and allowing private 
marijuana smoking clubs.

Legalisation opponents worry marijuana could become heavily 
commercialised youth use will increase. They say the other side's 
political victories have reawakened their cause.

"There's been a real hunger from people abroad to find out how we got 
ourselves into this mess in the first place and how to avoid it," 
said Kevin Sabet of Project Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Washington and Colorado passed recreational laws in 2012 to regulate 
the growth and sale of taxed pot at state-licensed stores. Sales 
began January 1 in Colorado, and are due to start later this year in 
Washington. Twenty states and the District of Columbia already have 
medical marijuana laws.

Some states are considering whether to try for recreational laws. 
Voters in Alaska will have their say on a legalisation measure this 
summer. Oregon voters could also weigh in this year, and in 
California, drug reform groups are deciding whether to push a ballot 
measure in 2014 or wait until 2016's presidential election. Activists 
are pushing the issue before a United Nations summit in 2016.

While some European countries, including Spain, Belgium and the Czech 
Republic, have taken steps over the years to liberalise pot laws in 
the face of international treaties that limit drug production to 
medical and research purposes, the Netherlands, famous for its pot 
"coffee shops," has started to pull back, calling on cities to close 
shops near schools and ban sales to tourists.

There is, however, an effort afoot to legitimise the growing of 
cannabis sold in the coffee shops. While it's been legal to sell pot, 
it's never been legal to grow it, so shops must turn to the black 
market for their supply, which may wind up seized in a raid.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, where some countries have 
decriminalised possession of small amounts of drugs, from cocaine to 
marijuana, there is significant public opposition to further 
legalisation. But officials are realising it is on the table, despite 
the longstanding efforts of the US, which has provided billions of 
dollars to support counter-narcotics work in the hemisphere.

Current or former presidents in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and 
Brazil have called for a reevaluation of or end to the drug war, a 
chorus echoed by Roman Catholic priest Juan Carlos Molina, the drug 
czar in Argentina.

He said he's following orders from President Cristina Fernandez to 
change the government's focus from enforcing drug laws against young 
people to getting them into treatment.

He also said after Fernandez appointed him in December that Argentine 
society was ready to openly debate legalising marijuana. "Argentina 
deserves a good debate about this. We have the capacity to do it. The 
issue is fundamental for this country."

The pace of change has put American legalisation activists in heavy 
demand at conferences in countries weighing their drug laws, 
including Chile, Poland and the Netherlands.

The advocates have advised foreign lawmakers and activists on how to 
build campaigns.

Clara Musto, a spokeswoman for the Uruguayan campaign, said meeting 
with the Americans helped her group see that it would need to promote 
arguments beyond ensuring the liberty of cannabis users if it wanted 
to increase public support. "They knew so much about how to lead," she said.

John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America, a 
nongovernmental organisation that works to promote social and 
economic justice, was among the Americans who visited Uruguay as the 
president, the ruling party and activists pushed their proposal to 
create a government-controlled marijuana industry.


What's Smoking Elsewhere


Personal possession of controlled substances has been decriminalised, 
thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in 2009 that found imposing jail 
time for small amounts of drugs was a violation of Argentina's 
constitution, which protects private actions that don't harm others.


Brazil doesn't punish personal drug use, but trafficking or 
transporting small amounts of controlled substances is a criminal 
offence, punishable by drug abuse education or community service.


President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, a hard-hit cocaine transit 
country, took the floor at the UN last year to join other nations 
calling the drug war a failed strategy.


Possession remains illegal and can result in mandated treatment or 
rehabilitation, though usually the defendant pays a small fine and is 
not incarcerated.


Tens of thousands have been killed in drug war violence in recent 
years, but there is no general push to legalise or regulate marijuana 
for recreational use.


The Netherlands has liberal cannabis laws. Hoping to keep pot users 
away from dealers of harder drugs, the country in the late 1970s 
began allowing "coffee shops" to sell marijuana, which remains 
technically illegal.

United States

Since 1996, nearly half the states have allowed medical use of 
marijuana despite federal laws banning it, and some states are 
considering following the lead of Washington state and Colorado in 
legalising recreational use.


In December, Uruguay became the first nation to approve marijuana 
legalisation and regulation. AP
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom