Pubdate: Sun, 16 Feb 2014
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal (NV)
Copyright: 2014 Las Vegas Review-Journal
Author: Gene Johnson, the Associated Press
Page: 10A


Change in U.S. Policy Spurs Advocates Abroad

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 this week proposed a 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."

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

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 largely have been cashonly
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.

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 prolegalization group based in New

Anxiety over U.S. reprisals previously has 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 met with Nadelmann and local cannabis
crusaders at a luxury hotel in Kingston's financial district and
discussed the 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 increasingly are taking up the idea of
loosening pot restrictions. Jamaica's health minister recently said he
was "fully on board" with medical marijuana.

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

"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, a political party closely allied with the
country's king.

In October, lawmakers from Uruguay, Mexico and Canada converged on
Colorado for a firsthand look at how that state's law is being

Washington and Colorado passed recreational laws in 2012 to regulate
the growth and sale of taxed pot at statelicensed 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 also could weigh in
this year, and in California, drug-reform groups are deciding whether
to push a ballot measure in 2014 or wait until 2016.

While some European countries, including Spain, Belgium and the Czech
Republic, have taken steps over the years to liberalize 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 legitimize the growing of
cannabis sold in the coffee shops. While it's been legal to sell pot,
it's not to grow it, so shops must turn to the black market for their
supply, which might wind up seized in a raid.

Current or former presidents in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil
have called for a re-evaluation of or end to the drug war, a chorus
echoed by Argentina's drug czar, Juan Carlos Molina, a Roman Catholic
priest who has served in the nation's drug-wasted slums.

Molina 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 is ready to openly
debate legalizing marijuana altogether.

The pace of change has put American legalization activists in heavy
demand at conferences in countries weighing their drug laws, including
Chile, Poland and the Netherlands. The advocates, including those who
worked on the efforts in Washington and Colorado, 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

John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America, a
non-governmental 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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