Pubdate: Sun, 16 Feb 2014
Source: Times-Tribune, The (Scranton PA)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Author: Gene Johnson, the Associated Press


Marijuana Legalization Movement Gains a Lot of Traction Across the 
Globe Following New Laws in Two States.

(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 legalize its cultivation, at least 
for medical and industrial use.

And in Mexico City, the vast metropolis of a country ravaged by 
horrific cartel bloodshed, lawmakers have proposed a brand new plan 
to let stores sell the drug.

 From the Americas to Europe to North Africa and beyond, the 
marijuana legalization movement is gaining unprecedented traction - a 
nod to successful efforts in Colorado, Washington state and the small 
South American nation of Uruguay, which in December became the first 
country to approve nationwide pot legalization.

Leaders long weary of the drug war's violence and futility have been 
emboldened by changes in U.S. 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 U.S. to look at other 
countries and say, 'You can't legalize, you can't decriminalize,' 
because it's going on here."

Alternatives to drug war

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

President Barack Obama recently told The New Yorker magazine that he 
considers marijuana less dangerous to consumers than alcohol, and 
said it's important that the legalization experiments in Washington 
and Colorado go forward, especially because blacks are arrested for 
the drug at a greater rate than whites, despite similar levels of use.

His administration also has criticized drug war-driven incarceration 
rates in the U.S. and announced that it will 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 U.S. position has changed in 
recent years. In 2009, the U.S. 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 U.S. 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-legalization group based in New York.

Fear of reprisals

Anxiety over U.S. 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 Mr. 
Nadelmann and local cannabis crusaders at a luxury hotel in 
Kingston's financial district and discussed next steps, including a 
near-term effort to decriminalize pot possession.

Officials are concerned about the roughly 300 young men each week who 
get criminal records for possessing small amounts of "ganja." Others 
in the debt-shackled nation 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 pot restrictions. Jamaica's health minister recently said 
he was "fully on board" with medical marijuana.

Mile-high summit

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 as the dispensary's owner gave them a tour.

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

There's no general push to legalize marijuana in Mexico, where tens 
of thousands have died in cartel violence in recent years. But in 
liberal Mexico City, legislators on Thursday introduced a measure to 
let stores sell up to 5 grams of pot. It's supported by the mayor but 
could set up a fight with the conservative federal government.

"Rather than continue fighting a war that makes no sense, now we are 
joining a cutting-edge process," said Jorge Castaneda, a former 
Mexican foreign minister.

Opponents to legalization worry that pot could become heavily 
commercialized or that increased access will increase youth use. They 
say the other side's political victories have reawakened their cause.

Growing movement

Washington and Colorado passed recreational laws in 2012 to regulate 
the growth and sale of taxed pot at state-licensed stores. Sales 
began Jan. 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.

A number of U.S. states are considering whether to try for 
recreational laws. Voters in Alaska will have their say on a 
legalization 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. Abroad, activists are pushing the issue before a United 
Nations summit in 2016.

John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America, a 
nongovernmental organization 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.

"This isn't just talk," he said. "Whether Colorado is going to do it 
well, or Washington, they're doing it. If you're going to pursue 
something similar, you're not going to be alone."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom