Pubdate: Sun, 09 Mar 2014
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Note: Letters MUST be 150 words or less
Author: Gene Johnson, Associated Press


Many Countries Now Emboldened to Rethink Stance in War on Drugs.

(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."

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.

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, 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 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.

"The cooperation on this issue far outweighs what I've seen before," 
Seiveright said. "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.

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 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 of 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.

"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 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.

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. It has been legal to sell pot, but 
not 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 
decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs, from cocaine to 
marijuana, there is significant public opposition to further 
legalization. But top officials are realizing that it is nevertheless 
on the table, despite the longstanding efforts of the U. S., 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 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 long 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.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom