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Comparing Denver’s ER Visits for 4/20 and Boston’s for St. Patrick’s Day

By: Monday April 21, 2014 10:01 am

On Sunday people in Denver, Colorado celebrated the historic first 4/20 since recreational sales started in the state. Tens of thousands of people, many from all over the country, took part in events in the city celebrating pot.

Even with so many people consuming marijuana together there were relatively few emergency health issues. According to Denver Health Medical Center, paramedics took only 18 individuals from 4/20 events to area hospitals for any reason, and of this group four were taken to detox. This number was partially attributable to the fact that yesterday was a sunny unseasonably warm day, making dehydration a threat.

I was interested to see how these number stack up against the result of holidays that tend to revolve around alcohol consumption, such as St. Patrick’s Day, but when I asked the Denver health center said they didn’t specifically track that number last month.

So instead I decided Boston would be a good point of comparison. It has almost the exact same population as Denver and Boston is known for its St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the same way Denver is known for 4/20.

In 2012, Boston’s alcohol related emergency visits for St. Patrick’s Day weekend were roughly double what they were for a normal weekend. It would seem St. Patrick’s Day was mainly responsible for around 60 additional ER visits for just alcohol related issues in Boston that weekend.

Given that ten of thousands of people can gather to use a substance and the result is very few issues, the question naturally becomes is it worth spending so much money to keep it illegal in the other 48 states?

This year I published my book After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy. To celebrate 4/20 the ebook version is on sale for $1.99 until the end of Monday.

Obama Planning Clemency for Many Non-Violent Drug Offenders

By: Monday April 21, 2014 7:21 am

A senior official says that during Obama may grant clemency to “hundreds perhaps thousands of people.”

The Obama administration is planning to grant clemency to a large number of nonviolent drug offenders who were saddled with obscene terms thanks to mandatory minimum laws. These tough-on-drug laws that were popular three decades ago have played a big role in the explosion of the American prison population.

A senior official says that during Obama’s last few years in office he may grant clemency to “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of people“:

The scope of the new clemency initiative is so large that administration officials are preparing a series of personnel and process changes to help them manage the influx of petitions they expect Obama to approve. Among the changes is reforming the recently censured office within the Justice Department responsible for processing pardon petitions. Yahoo News has learned that the pardon attorney, Ronald Rodgers, who was criticized in a 2012 Internal watchdog report for mishandling a high-profile clemency petition, is likely to step down as part of that overhaul. Additional procedures for handling large numbers of clemency petitions could be announced as soon as this week, a senior administration official said, though it could take longer.

While it is important to reserve praise until there is tangible action to actually judge, this would be a very positive move. Not only would it improve the lives of many Americans who were treated unjustly, but also it would save the country enormous amounts of money. Keeping someone in prison costs tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have been working together on a sentencing reform bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, which could improve things moving forward but the President is the only one who has the power to do something immediately.

Annual 4/20 Year in Review for Marijuana: First Legal Sales Going Well

By: Sunday April 20, 2014 4:20 am

The 4/20 Year in Review

It is once again that time of the year where I look back at all the progress that has been made on marijuana reform since the last 4/20. Since this past November was an odd-numbered year there weren’t any big advances via the ballot but there have been notable advances in implementation and by local legislatures.

Marijuana Legalization

Uruguay – In December President José Mujica signed a law legalizing marijuana in Uruguay sparking an international conversation about reform. Becoming the first country in the hemisphere to legalize marijuana Uruguay could serve as a nucleus for change in Latin American.

Colorado – The other major change was legal recreational marijuana sales finally started in Colorado this January. Fortunately, there was no effort by the federal government to stop these businesses and no major problems have emerged. In fact, the data so far is very positive. Significant tax revenue is coming in, pot arrests have plummeted, support for legalization among Coloradans went up, and the state is experiencing a tourism boost. Hopefully, as other people see how well things are going in Colorado it will create pressure for change elsewhere

Alaska – An initiative to legalize marijuana qualified for the ballot this year in Alaska. The people will get to vote on it either this August or November. Polling shows it is on track to be approved.

Medical Marijuana

In the past year states adopted real medical marijuana laws: New Hampshire, Illinois and Maryland. That brings the total of medical marijuana states up to 21 plus the District of Colombia. In addition, a medical marijuana amendment made the ballot in Florida for the 2014 November election and it is polling very well.

Marijuana Decriminalization

Several legislatures have also moved to decriminalize marijuana since the last 4/20 making possession of small amounts of marijuana merely a civil fine. Vermont adopted their decriminalization in May, and in Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed both the medical marijuana law and a marijuana decriminalization law just this last Monday. In addition, the D.C. Council approved one of the best decriminalization bills in the country but because of the unjust way Congress has control over all local laws in the district it will not go into effect until the 60-day Congressional review period is over.

Industrial Hemp

Finally, also worth mentioning is that this past February the federal government finally took a baby step towards allowing American farmers to grow hemp again. Included in the farm bill was a provision that allows the creation of pilot programs in ten states to grow industrial hemp for research purposes.

This year I also publish my book After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy. To celebrate 4/20 the ebook version is on sale for $1.99 until Monday.

New Approach Oregon Begins Gathering Signatures for 2014 Pot Legalization Initiative

By: Friday April 18, 2014 8:58 am

New Approach Oregon can begin gathering signatures this Thursday

The well funded New Approach Oregon campaign was finally able to begin gathering signatures this Thursday to get their marijuana legalization initiative on the 2014 November ballot.

They have just under three months to gather the roughly 87,000 valid signatures if they want to qualify. While that is a short window, the campaign claims they are confident they can get it down.

The measure is roughly similar to the 2010 initiatives approved in Colorado and Washington State. It would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over and have it regulated like alcohol. Oversight of the licensing of recreational marijuana growers and stores would be under the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

The law would permit limited home growing and give municipalities the ability to vote on banning local marijuana businesses.

It is not the only legalization initiative trying to get on the ballot. In addition, the people behind the failed 2012 initiative are gathering signatures for two measures. One would simply amend the state constitution to say adults can possess and produce marijuana subject to state regulation. The other is an initiative which legalizes marijuana creating specific rules for its regulation and taxation. While this new version of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act is similar to the initiative that lost in 2012, some changes were made to address the most common criticisms of the previous effort.

Overwhelming Support for Medical Marijuana in Key Presidential Swing States

By: Friday April 18, 2014 7:55 am

It can not be highlighted enough just how huge the disconnect is between regular voters and federal politicians on marijuana. Quinnipiac polling just tweeted this graph of their recent state medical marijuana poll. From Qunnipiac:

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In the top swing states of Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Iowa over 80 percent of voters back allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana. It is possibly the least controversial policy issue that has not yet been adopted.

It should be considered unacceptable for any presidential candidate in 2016 to not at least support changing federal law to allow medical marijuana.

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