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A Long Strange Trip

Is the End of Prohibition at Hand?

by MICHAEL DONNELLY

Back in 1970, I was part of a group of about thirty protesters who descended upon the Michigan State Capitol to protest the hard-time incarceration of our friend, ally and hero John Sinclair. John,  a fellow Flint native whom I’ve known since I was nine-years-old,  had been sentenced in 1969 to ten years in prison after giving two joints to an undercover agent who had incessantly begged him for some. This blatant political sentence against the founder of the anti-racist/anti-war  White Panther Party and erstwhile music promoter/DJ hammered home the oligarchy’s hatred of all things “counterculture” – the music, the pro-Civil Rights politics, the whole Peace, Love and Granola rising culture… but, foremost was its intentional, chilling effect on peaceful marijuana users.

We entered the balcony to the Senate Chamber. Soon, we were surrounded by police who forced us out of the balcony and then suddenly gassed us once we were on the circular stairs of the Rotunda. The entire Capitol evacuated through dense stinging smog that lingered under the Rotunda Dome. We retreated to a corner of the Capitol lawn, cleared our eyes and commiserated under our White Panther and Woodstock Nation flags. (Another guy who suffered many an arrest and many a beating in the cause of ending the Vietnam War, Abbie Hoffman, who had famously rushed on stage at Woodstock to protest Sinclair’s incarceration – and got yet another beating by the jackass Pete Townshend for his troubles – had supplied the fine black flag with central green cannabis leaf over a red star that I carried. Ironically, The Who were playing the song The Acid Queen when Townshend bonked Hoffman in the head with a guitar.)

Someone shouted in the direction of the phalanx of cops now surrounding the Capitol, “You fuckers. In two years pot will be legal and you’ll be joining us!”

Sinclair was released in December 1971, three days after the great John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Abbie, Allen Ginsberg and others held a benefit concert for John in Ann Arbor. Soon, the felony laws he was convicted under were overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court. It looked like that fellow protester’s prediction was at hand.

Decades Later – Ballot Measure 80

Well, that was certainly a pipe dream. Two years later is now 42 years later – a lifetime of further unjust harassment and incarceration of peaceful marijuana smokers. It costs the taxpayers over $1 billion per year to enforce Prohibition and over 850,000 people a year are arrested in the US under Prohibition laws – one every 19 seconds!

I was at another state capitol this July 6th. Petitioners turned in the last of around 168,000 signatures on Petitions to the Secretary of State. 87,200 of those signatures (equal to 6% of the voters who voted for governor in the last state-wide election) were needed to be valid for the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA) to be placed on this November’s Ballot. Friday, July 13th, the Oregon Secretary of State certified the signatures and Ballot Measure 80 is official!

This chance to vote for legalization of cannabis for adult use and hemp for agricultural/industrial use is the result of tireless work by Paul Stanford and his many allies at The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation (THCF) http://www.hemp.org/ THCF has helped over 150,000 patients in nine states get legal medical marijuana status.

The 411 on Legal 420

This isn’t the first time legalization or some form of quasi-legalization has come before the voters in Oregon. Though Oregon is a leader in Medical Marijuana legislation, recently, we saw a ballot effort to establish regulated medical marijuana dispensaries shot down by a well-funded opposition. But, OCTA is certainly the best chance we’ve ever had. Preliminary polls show around 62% positive. With the expected barrage of anti-ads from the Prison/Industrial complex, Alcohol and tobacco dealers, Big Pharma, et al., that will shrink; but, hopefully not below 50.1%

OCTA is not without some good support on its side: the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union is on board, as are the common sense officers of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). The unions recognize the potential of new industries related to hemp and cannabis. Already, UFCW and Stanford have begun an effort to unionize workers in the Medical Marijuana industry.

“When the voters of Oregon pass this common-sense initiative, it will take money right out of the pockets of violent gangs and cartels and put it into the state’s tax coffers, where it can be spent on improving schools, roads and public safety,” said Neill Franklin, the national executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a 34-year career law-enforcement officer and veteran of narcotics policing in Baltimore. “Plus, when cops like me are no longer charged with chasing down marijuana users, we will be able to fully focus on stopping and solving serious crimes like murders, rapes and robberies.”

The great American treasure, Willie Nelson, an Oregon Medical Marijuana patient has given much support as will many others.

You can contribute to this historic effort through the campaign’s website.

As past legalization efforts foundered on a lot of mis-and dis-information, I asked some friends just what questions they have about it. I then asked Paul Stanford the top questions that kept coming up:

Q: There is an age limit (Minors forbidden) in OCTA. Just how will it be distributed and age limit enforced? How will someone over 21 buy any? Will it be in established State Liquor Stores or a new system?

Answer: It will be distributed and the age limit enforced in the same way that alcohol is today. There will be state-licensed stores and businesses where those under 21 are not allowed, like bars and taverns that sell alcohol today. The stores will get it from licensed distributors who will buy it from licensed farmers. Adults will be carded and show their ID to validate they are over 21 years of age. It will be a new system, and not part of the state liquor store system today.

Q: Any quantity? What quantity can a citizen possess? …Can have growing at any time?

Answer: As long as it is for personal use, there are no limits in our initiative for the amount grown, plants grown, nor amount of cannabis possessed.

Q:  Where does the distributor get their supply?

Answer: Farmers will be licensed to grow it for sale to processors/distributors. The law says that licenses will be equitably distributed among all applicants. The type sold will be according to market demand.

Q: Who certifies?

Answer: The newly created Oregon Cannabis Commission. OCTA says, “The OCC shall consist of seven commissioners. Initially, seven commissioners shall be appointed by the Governor before December 31, 2012 for a term of one year and they shall promulgate administrative rules, create systems and begin licensing applicants by February 28, 2013. Thereafter, five commissioners shall be elected at large by growers and processors licensed under ORS 474.035 for a term of one year, and two commissioners shall be appointed by the Governor for a term of two years. The OCC shall work to promote Oregon cannabis products in all legal national and international markets.

Q: What would the tax be? Per unit? (Any guess as to eventual Market Price(s)?)

Answer: OCTA says, “The commission shall sell cannabis through OCC stores and shall set the retail price of cannabis to generate profits for revenue to be applied to the purposes noted in ORS chapter 474 and to minimize incentives to purchase cannabis elsewhere or to purchase cannabis for resale or for removal to other states. “ So, it will be higher at first, while surrounding states are illegal, but the price will go down as it becomes legal elsewhere. My guess is it will start at $100-$200 per ounce, and go down, eventually, to $20-$50 per ounce for good buds.

Q:  What about all of the people in prison and on probation? – immediate amnesty if their convictions are no longer based on a crime?

Answer: Our polls in 2008 showed we lost 15 percent by imposing amnesty for cannabis offenders. So, based upon that, we decided that that is another battle, after we restore hemp and cannabis. The best we can do for them now is legalize it.

Q: Something like 90% of all people forced by the Courts to pay for private for-profit Drug Rehab are young people convicted of simple possession. Many are also forced to cover the costs of their Probation even after they serve time. In that vein, how much opposition do you expect from the 5P Posse (Police, Prisons, Prosecutors, Pharma and Politicians), given all the jobs and profits involved in Prohibition?

Answer: We expect some opposition. Clatsop County District Attorney, Josh Marquis, debated me on OCTA on Portland’s ABC affiliate, KATU-TV, channel 2 show, Your Voice; Your Vote. You can see the debate, sans commercials, on our website. Marquis is a spokesperson for the National District Attorneys Association (www.ndaa.org).

Q: Once passed, how long before it takes effect – the stated date and the expected date after lawsuits and other challenges?

Answer: The act takes effect on January 1, 2013. It is hard to say now for certain, but we can look to history. It took the Death with Dignity Act (another Oregon first) about 2 years from passage in Nov. 1994 before the US Supreme Court upheld it in Gonzales v. Oregon in 2006.

We wrote OCTA to be upheld in federal court by invoking findings by the people, the sovereign, based on historical and scientific facts, and on international and constitutional law, and by implementing controls mandated by international treaties.

A Harvard economist has studied the OCTA and has estimated that the Act would save Oregon $60 million in enforcement/incarceration costs per year and would raise another $160 million in new taxes per year.

Celebration

John Sinclair, still keeping the faith at 70 and I will be joining Paul Stanford and thousands of other supporters at Portland Hempstalk this September 8 and 9 at Kelley Point Park in Portland . Paul Stanford and THCF have sponsored this music and cultural gathering for a few years now. This year will be special with OCTA on the Ballot. Come join us.

I’ll be writing updates as the campaign progresses. Along with the politics of it all, I will examine the numerous positive benefits of this wonder plant. Send me any questions you have. A long, strange trip with countless injustices is coming to an end.

MICHAEL DONNELLY lives in Salem OR. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com