Pubdate: Sat, 15 Mar 2014
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2014 The Associated Press
Author: Gene Johnson, The Associated Press
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


(AP) - In a former colonial mansion in Jamaica - the land of late 
reggae musician and cannabis evangelist Bob Marley - politicians 
huddle to discuss trying to ease marijuana laws.

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 
cartel bloodshed, lawmakers have 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.

"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."

In 2009, the Justice Department 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 U.S. stance. Also noticed was the Obama administration's 
silence before votes in both states and in Uruguay.

Anxiety over U.S. reprisals has doused previous 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.

Officials there are concerned about the 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 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.

In Morocco, lawmakers have been inspired by the experiments in 
Washington, Colorado and Uruguay to push their longstanding desire to 
allow cannabis to be grown for medical and industrial uses. They say 
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, a political party closely allied 
with the country's king. "We think this crop can become an important 
economic resource for Morocco and the citizens of this region."

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.

There is 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 have introduced a measure to let 
stores sell up to 5 grams of pot. It is 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.

Legalization opponents worry that pot could become heavily 
commercialized or that youth use will rise. 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.

While some European countries, including Spain, Belgium and the Czech 
Republic, have taken steps over time 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 has been legal to sell 
pot, it is not legal to grow it, so shops must turn to the black market.

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 realize it is still on the table, despite 
longstanding efforts of the United States., 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 slums.

Molina said he is following orders from President Cristina Fernandez 
to change the government's focus from enforcing drug laws against 
young people to getting them treatment. He also said after Fernandez 
appointed him that Argentine society is ready to openly debate 
legalizing pot 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.

John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America, a 
nongovernmental organization that promotes social and economic 
justice, 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