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Top Ten Cannabis Stories Of 2012

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newspaper legalization

Newspaper headlines mark the historic day that an ounce of cannabis became legal in Washington State.

Two thousand and twelve will certainly go down in history as one of the most important ever in cannabis news as the cannabis community made dramatic political, cultural and scientific advances that will shape drug policy for years to come.  While Colorado and Washington dominated the cannabis headlines with their historic marijuana legalization measures passing in November, there were many other important events that impacted the cannabis community, some that flew under the radar, but are very important nonetheless.  Without further ado, let’s take a look at the top cannabis stories of 2012.

10.  Springfield City Council passes a marijuana decriminalization measure, then repeals it, subverting democracy.

Springfield, Missouri, the third-largest city in the Show-Me State, rests in the heart of the bible belt, and may seem to many to be an unlikely place for cannabis law reform activists to launch a city marijuana decriminalization effort.  Many would-be activists are reluctant to put their jobs and reputation on the line to publicly advocate for cannabis law reform and the pressure to conform to the status quo can be even greater in politically conservate locales.  However, this pressure did not deter the hard-working activists to collect thousands of signatures during the sweltering Missouri Summer.

Whenever activists place any type of initiative petition measure before a city council, the council members have the option of either passing the bill outright or vote to send the proposal to the voters so their constituents can have their say the next election.  Surprisingly, the Springfield City Council voted to pass the decriminalization measure.  Even more shocking, the council voted to repeal the measure just a month later, depriving Springfield citizens of an opportunity to vote on the measure.  Regardless of one’s views about marijuana policy, subverting democracy in this manner has shocked the conscience of many in the Springfield area, and across the country. This issue is ongoing as local activists are negotiating with the city council on a compromise bill.  If the negotiations fail, there will likely be a lawsuit filed and, if need be, yet another initiative petition drive.  We here at NCC are proud to have been the primary funder of the Springfield effort and will continue to assist the local activists, Show-Me Cannabis and Springfield Cannabis Regulation, throughout this ongoing political drama.  (Full disclosure: I serve on the Board of Directors of Show-Me Cannabis.)

9. The Marijuana Majority emerges

For years, public opinion poll after public opinion poll showed support for sensible cannabis law reform.  At first, a strong majority stated their support for legalizing medical cannabis while a near majority expressed the feeling that marijuana should be legalized for all adults.  Then, over half of voters stated that marijuana prohibition should be ended for the first time in history.  Next, a recent poll demonstrated that 58% of American voters want to legalize marijuana. Finally, a poll that will likely resonate heavily throughout 2013 as the federal government contemplates how to handle states that have reformed their marijuana laws, is a poll showing that 64% of Americans want the feds to allow states the ability to craft their own marijuana legislation.

Marijuana Majority is helping demonstrate that supporting sensible marijuana law reform is a mainstream position.

8. Marijuana Majority is established

Capitalizing on the fact that supporting marijuana legalization is now a mainstream issue supported by a majority of Americans, Marijuana Majority was established.  Headed by Tom Angell, media relations director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Marijuana Majority places all of the prominent people across our political and cultural spectrum who have expressed support for reforming marijuana laws in one handy site.  The organization, kickstarted by a grant from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), demonstrates that folks such as conservative evangelist Pat Robertson actually agrees with rapper Snoop Dogg on the need to end marijuana prohibition.

“We want to help people understand that marijuana reform is a mainstream, majority-supported issue and that no one who thinks these laws need to change should be afraid to say so,”  Tom Angell expressed to me in a Facebook message exchange. With the continued increase in public support and the fact that other prominent people don’t experience negative consequences after proclaiming their support of sensible marijuana laws, Marijuana Majority will not only help increase the number of celebrities and policy makers to freely speak their mind, but also provide a user-friendly website that allows people to educate themselves or possibly their Tea Party uncle at Thanksgiving that both his favorite musician (Willie Nelson, for example) agrees with one of his favorite politicians (Tom Tancredo, for instance) that marijuana should be regulated and taxed like alcohol.

The launch of Marijuana Majority garnered extensive media attention, drawing attention to the increasing support for sensible cannabis laws in this country and educating people who may not be aware that the conservatives at the National Review actually agree with liberal Jon Stewart on the need to end marijuana prohibition.  The media savviness of Marijuana Majority combined with the fact that more and more prominent people will be comfortable publicly expressing their support of marijuana law reform makes me confident that this organization will be significantly helping improve our marijuana laws for years to come.

The Weed Blog has become the online hub for the cannabis community for news and culture.

7. The Weed Blog spreads the word

Amazingly, with very little resources, The Weed Blog (TWB) became the most prominent online source for marijuana-related news in 2012.  The Oregonians behind the blog simply utilized their dedication, tech savviness and ability to effectively work with anyone and everyone in the marijuana movement to become a major online hub for the cannabis community.  While I am most impressed with the dissemination  of cannabis-related news as the website is an accepted media outlet for Google News, TWB has also become the go-to spot for cannabis culture with information regarding all aspects of the cannabis lifestyle.  With over 13,000 unique visitors a day (nearly a half million per month), TWB is starting to attract sponsors and supporters who are hip to the increasing importance of online messaging.  While staying true to their core mission, but increasing their networking, TWB will only see their cannabis online media empire spread to new heights in the New Year and beyond.

6.  Michigan local marijuana measures mop up at the ballot box, but some local officials ignore the will of the voters

Sometimes lost among state-wide ballot measures are local marijuana law reforms that beneficially impact the lives of local residents while also helping set the stage for state-wide reforms in years to come.  These local measures, usually occurring in cannabis-friendly locales such as college towns and progressive cities, help protect the educational and employment opportunities of local residents while helping establish the campaign infrastructure and political momentum for future cannabis law reforms.  When Michigan eventually legalizes marijuana, the 2012 electoral victories in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Flint will certainly be one of the foundations for that future successful campaign.  The voters of the 1st, 2nd and 7th most populous cities in the Great Lakes State supported marijuana law reform by very strong majorities.

Unfortunately, a change at the state level is exactly what is desperately needed as Michigan laws allows localities to ignore local laws that conflict with state law.  While Ann Arbor, a city that decriminalized cannabis in the 1970-s, and Grand Rapids respect their voters, the city council and law enforcement officials in Flint and Detroit apparently don’t and have called the local measures meaningless as they vow to continue to wastefully enforce state marijuana law.  As Reason points out, the abysmal economic situation these Michigan cities find themselves in should have local officials salivating at ways, such as marijuana decriminalization  that can help alleviate their budget woes, but sadly these local politicians are putting their personal biases above the economic health and will of their constituents.

The electoral victory of Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is just one example of the cannabis community positively affecting a political race. More and more politicians will support sensible law reform if we continue to flex our political muscle.

5. The electoral victory of Ellen Rosenblum for Oregon Attorney General marks the defeat of former US Attorney Dwight Holton

The Weed Blog’s Johnny Green named this event his favorite story of 2012 and it is certainly one of mine.  We were both at Ellen Rosenblum’s election party with most of the Oregon cannabis law reform community and it was one of the best nights of my activist life.

Dwight Holton was the significant favorite to win the Democratic nomination for Oregon Attorney General, with a substantial fund-raising advantage and backing from the political establishment.  As US Attorney, Dwight Holton led raids of Oregon medical cannabis providers and a fear-mongering campaign of the state’s patients resource centers, as well as their landlords.  Due to his attacks on medical marijuana as a federal law enforcement official, the Oregon cannabis community rallied behind Ellen Rosenblum, but Holton was still the odds-on favorite to win the nomination, a nomination that guaranteed a general election victory as the Republicans didn’t have anyone on the ballot vying for the Oregon GOP’s nomination.  Rosenblum, on her election website, vowed to protect the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, while also making marijuana possession a low law enforcement priority, so the choice was easy for the Oregon cannabis community, but nobody foresaw the candidate’s differing marijuana policies as the major issue of the campaign.

The election took a turn for the better when Dwight Holton called the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program a “train wreck” in the first debate with Rosenblum and her campaign and the Oregon cannabis community pounced.  Buoyed by an influx of funds from the cannabis activists across the country, particularly the Drug Policy Alliance, the fund raising gap between the two candidates shrank dramatically.  Nike billionaire Phil Knight even chipped in $25,000 to Rosenblum, while we don’t know if marijuana policy had an impact, the donation was made after marijuana became the signature issue of the campaign.  In his last, fund-raising email, Holton called out NCC by name, decrying the fact that we were helping “national weed money” influence this campaign.  While what NCC donated to the effort to defeat Holton was relatively small compared to organizations with bigger pockets, we were honored to have gained Mr. Holton’s attention as it legitimized our efforts as we concentrated on print and social media outlets as we saw those as media avenues being somewhat neglected in the campaign.

Not only did the money advantage swing, but so did the polling as the primary election neared, polls showed that a Rosenblum victory was likely, a huge swing in just a couple of months.  Rosenblum ended up winning a landslide of a victory as Holton may have suffered the most devastating defeat for a candidate with such financial and establishment backing, all because of a difference in cannabis policy.

The victory of Ellen Rosenblum demonstrated that cannabis policy can be an important mainstream electoral issue and that the cannabis community can effectively flex its political muscle, especially in Democratic primaries.  The lessons learned by the drug policy movement and the Oregon Democratic Party will resonate in the Beaver state and beyond in coming years.  Look for cannabis policy to be a major issue in Democratic primaries in years to come, all across this country and even the 2016 presidential primary.

“I have spoken directly and passionately about the toll the drug war takes on Juarez and on the disproportionate impact it has on communities of color in the United States. I will continue to fight for what is best for El Paso and the U.S.-Mexico border.” Beto O’Rourke.

4. The election of Beto O’Rourke to Congress

Beto O’Rourke, an up-and-coming political figure out of El Paso, Texas, threw his hat in the political ring to challenge incumbent Democratic Congressman Sylvestre Reyes in what became a nail-biter of an election.  The El Paso-area district is heavily Democratic, so the primary election was sure to determine the general election victor.  Beto, as Mr. O’Rourke is affectionately known, had voiced strong opposition to the Drug War as he climbed the political ladder in El Paso and the drug law reform community flocked to his candidacy as Reyes has been a supporter of the failed Drug War.

Defeating an incumbent member of Congress like Sylvestre Reyes is never easy, especially when the incumbent is endorsed by both Bill Clinton and President Obama.  Despite, the establishment support, Beto garnered over 50% of the vote, staving off a run-off election against Reyes and ensuring that the next Congress would have a drug law reformer representing the border community that is so adversely affected by our failed Drug War and the consequences the war has in neighboring Mexico.  Beto’s victory was fresh on the heels of Ellen Rosenblum’s similar victory in Oregon, continuing the electoral momentum of Drug War opponents.

3. Cannabis science continues to support a need to end prohibition

Every year, there are new developments in cannabis science and 2012 was no different.  Once again, the medical benefits of cannabis were found and the fear-mongering pseudo-science of prohibitionists was debunked.

Researchers at the the University of California, San Francisco analyzed the association between cannabis use and pulmonary (lung) function over two decades, examining the impact of marijuana use of over 5,000 people across four US cities.  The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that, ”With up to 7 joint-years of lifetime exposure (e.g., 1 joint/d for 7 years or 1 joint/wk for 49 years), we found no evidence that increasing exposure to marijuana adversely affects pulmonary function.”  And just like that, another Drug War propaganda piece, that marijuana cigarettes are more harmful than tobacco cigarettes, went up in smoke.

Yet another medical benefit of cannabis was discovered this year as researchers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) examined the association between diabetes mellitus (DM) and marijuana use among adults aged 20 to 59 in a sample population of  over 10,000 people.  The research, published in the British Medical Journal found that “participants who used marijuana had a lower prevalence of DM and lower odds of DM relative to non-marijuana users.”

2. Cannabis law reform in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island

Since so much media attention is paid to legalization measures, both successful and not, other types of cannabis law reform can fly under the radar and I imagine that a lot of folks don’t know that Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island all reformed their marijuana laws for the better.

Connecticut became the 17th medical marijuana state by legislative action when the Constitution State’s law went into effect on October 1st.  Massachusetts officially becomes the 18th medical cannabis  on January 1st, 2013 when the law goes into effect.  The Massachusetts victory was also notable because Bay State residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of medical marijuana as the medical proposal garnered 63% of the vote (more votes than President Obama received), despite the best efforts of Kevin Sabet, a former Drug Czar aide and prominent Drug War supporter.

Rhode Island will officially become the 15th state to decriminalize personal amounts of cannabis on April 1, 2013, just in time for April 20th celebrations in the Ocean State.  Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the marijuana law reform in June, protecting the educational and employment opportunities of folks who choose to possess personal amounts of cannabis.

Rhode Island joins Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon with some type of statewide marijuana decriminalization.  While many in the cannabis community are understandably frustrated that states don’t just legalize marijuana, these incremental steps are often necessary in our political process and they make a real benefit in people’s lives.

And without further ado:

Newspaper headlines mark the historic day that an ounce of cannabis became legal in Washington State.

1. On an epically historic day, Colorado & Washington pass legalization measures 

No big surprise here as two states legalizing marijuana made huge headlines on Election Day and will continue to make headlines throughout 2013 as the Obama Administration figures out how to handle two states that not only legalized personal amounts of marijuana, but plan to implement a system to tax and regulate cannabis like alcohol.  President Obama, a former member of the Choom Gang in Hawaii, is in a tough spot politically, but the cannabis community is, once again, hopeful that he will do the right thing and tell his fellow members of the Executive Branch to not make marijuana a priority, especially in states that have passed legalization measures.

President Obama has been aided by the fact that Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy has announced his attention to hold hearings in hopes of crafting legislation that can fix the federal-state conflict on this issue.  The President is further helped by conservatives, such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, calling for a states’ rights solution to the federal-state cannabis dichotomy.  Ultimately, President Obama will need us to provide the political muscle to ensure that the federal government respects the will of Colorado and Washington voters.  We will have the opportunity to make our voices heard throughout 2013 and if we organize and flex our political muscle effectively, the federal government will have no choice but to allow Washington and Colorado to implement their marijuana laws effectively as their votes intended.

The end of cannabis prohibition is inevitable as even those that oppose marijuana legalization know that they are only hindering our progress.  With a majority support of all voters now combined with the overwhelming support of younger voters, the demographic writing is simply on the wall.  When the history books on cannabis prohibition are written, 2012 will certainly be one of the most important years discussed as it was the year that the foundation of the United State’s War on Marijuana started crumbling as those seeking a Drug Peace, instead of wanting to wage a Drug War on our own citizens, out-organized and out-foxed the Drug War warriors from coast-to-coast.

While 2012 was a banner year for the cannabis community, I am convinced that the best years are ahead of us.  Building upon our victories of 2012, we will continue to see advances at the ballot box and in public opinion in 2013 and beyond.  This year was great, but the best is yet to come.  Thanks to 2012 and great victories in years past, we shall soon all be set free.  Happy New Year, everybody!

Article originally appeared on National Cannabis Coalition and republished with special permission

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About Author

Anthony Johnson is the director of New Approach Oregon, the PAC responsible for Measure 91, that ended cannabis prohibition for all Oregon adults in 2014. In addition to helping organize the International Cannabis Business Conference & the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference, he also serves as a Board Member of the National Cannabis Coalition, working to legalize cannabis across the country and Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, an organization specifically working to end cannabis prohibition in Missouri. As President of the University of Missouri Law School ACLU Chapter, Anthony co-authored the measures that legalized medical cannabis possession and decriminalized personal possession for all adults within the city limits of Columbia, Missouri, in 2004. Following law school, Anthony practiced criminal defense for two years before working full time in the political field to help improve and protect civil liberties. You can follow Anthony on Twitter and also friend him on Facebook by following the links below as he posts mostly about civil liberties and politics with dashes of sports, music, movies and whatnot.

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