December 22, 2011

Cannabis in Amsterdam: A Look at the Economic Impact of a Persecuted Market

Amsterdam has been deemed famous for their approach to Drug Policy. Since the 70’s the Dutch government has adopted policies surrounding cannabis showing tolerance for personal use and allowing the sale of small amounts in a controlled and regulated environment. For this reason, a healthy tourism market developed accommodating millions of travelers from all over the World. Americans know Amsterdam to be a hub of Cannabis culture, the place to get seeds and an example of how allowing Cannabis use in society does not lead to crime or inspire the use of harder more illicit drugs. But how has this impacted the region economically?

Local sources estimate the total gross revenue of the Cannabis Industry as exceeding 1.6 billion Euros each year paying out an estimated 400 million or more in tax revenue to the government. It has been documented an employee of a coffee shop could at one point receive a home loan based on job security once provided by healthy Cannabis markets. As coffee shops close and jobs are lost, these same employees are losing their homes to foreclosure. This report seeks to examine the economic impact retracting decade old tolerance policies has on a region allowed to enjoy Cannabis as a sustainable livelihood strategy for so long.

The First Coffee Shop in Amsterdam is still open today.
In 1975, The Bulldog opened up in a building formally used as a brothel in the Red Light District. The business thrived and grew in spite of the fact the Dutch government did not fully adopt and define their soft drugs low tolerance policies until 1976 and coffee shops were technically deemed illegal until 1985. In the early years, Henk de Vries, the shop’s owner, and his friends were arrested by Dutch Police hundreds of times and yet the shop remained opened and business thrived. Today, the business incorporates multiple hotels and coffee shops, cannabis seeds, bicycles and promotional items into its portfolio.

Coffee shops were never and still are not considered legal by the Dutch authorities. The policies allowing for businesses such as The Bulldog to operate are defined in regulations meant to funnel enforcement efforts to eradicating harder drugs while appropriating tax dollars to the prosecution of those engaging in illegal activities involving these same hard drugs. Individual sales in coffee shops are limited to 5 grams per customer and businesses are not permitted to stock more than 500 grams at any given time. Additional restrictions limit sales to anyone over 18 and prohibit advertising.

Growers here employ the same strategies seen in the US, small grow houses sparsely distanced in any one region or City. It is illegal to grow and transport cannabis in Holland. Once the Cannabis reaches the coffee shop, it is legal to sell the cannabis as long as the transaction does not exceed the 5 gram limit. Growers remain elusive and those maintaining a house of cannabis slated for distribution in the coffee houses or moving it from a grow house to a coffee shop takes the highest risk of prosecution.

Until 2003, there were no medical programs in place for the use of Cannabis, so Doctors were not involved in the process at all. Today, residents of Amsterdam can receive a prescription for Cannabis and receive this medicine from a pharmacist. Most of these patients make arrangements to grow their own medicine, but everyone in Holland, regardless of patient status is limited to growing only 5 plants at a time. 

At the height of the Cannabis Industry, Amsterdam housed 228 coffee shops engaging in sales of small amounts of cannabis. 43 were closed in 2008 due to the implementation of more stringent zoning laws disallowing a coffee shop to be within 1,000 feet of a school or bus stop. Dutch authorities claimed they were not changing their tolerance policies with regards to soft drugs, but would be attempting to scale down the amount of foreigners entering the City to enjoy cannabis for leisure without fear of prosecution, a reality unavailable to them in their own countries.

After the first wave of coffee shop closures subsided, more than 350 jobs had been lost in Amsterdam alone. Reports from the Association of Licensed Maastricht Coffee Shops (VOCM) indicate over 300 million Euros have been lost in revenue since the ban on sale to foreigners was enacted earlier this year. These numbers come from verifiable sources, but considering the lost revenue on the grower’s side, they seem to be only a portion of the real big picture. There is no way to verify the economic impact on the trimmers, gardeners and middle men involved in cultivating what was sold in the coffee shops.

Programs for registering travelers visiting coffee shops are being debated heatedly in political realms. Local activists criticize these proposals for their inability to curb illicit black market drug activity citing people will simply purchase from street drug pushers or pay local residents to obtain Cannabis from a shop for them. Those involved in cultivation receive no protections from these policies. Growing would still be an offense punishable with fines and time served.

Another policy change designed to limit foreign travel to Amsterdam affects the growers directly and seems unenforceable when cultivation is completely illegal. Dutch authorities are proposing to limit the amount of THC in the Cannabis sold in coffee shops to 15%. This downgrades the quality of the cannabis sold, making Amsterdam an undesirable location for obtaining high end marijuana.

The entire World is watching Holland to see how these changes in policy play out. Some activists believe losing this battle would give credence to the argument used by conservatives that tolerance does not work. Others see these attempts to curb Cannabis tourism as a complete waste of time as regulations are realistically unenforceable. The government imposes the highest retail income tax on coffee shops of any country and enjoys more than 400 million Euros annually from tax revenue generated by coffee shops. Coffee shop owners estimate 75% of their business comes from tourism, the rest serving local communities. Most of their income would be lost with this ban and they see it as taking the revenue from legitimate well established business and handing it back over to the black market. 
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Coffee Shops are not the only canna-businesses based in Amsterdam. Seed companies like Sensi Seeds, Green House Seeds and Bulldog Seeds, a side endeavor from The Bulldog Coffee House are still thriving. World renowned geneticists based in Holland are able to study and create seeds, sold on the internet and some of the largest seed banks call Amsterdam their home.  These businesses are not being threatened and are continuing to grow at a steady rate each year.

So where does it go from here? For tourists, the countdown to cut-off has begun as the official ban goes into effect in January of 2013 making 2012 the last year to plan a trip to experience the City's offerings. Activists are planning protest rallies on the coveted April 20th holiday and business owners are making hard decisions being forced to diversify their services or be pushed out of business altogether. Even though the true economic impacts appear immeasurable by scientific and statistical standards, the reality of the loss felt by businesses and individuals is most certainly experienced on very profound and personal levels.  
Activist Peter Lunk is inviting residents and tourists to participate in a 420 Amsterdam Smoke Out and Protest. Groups in the area hope everyone will show up to protest the discriminating WIETPAS rules allowing only Dutch citizens to enter the City to buy Cannabis at local coffee shops.
420 Protest information can be found on the event's Facebook page or visit the Official Information Page.

Article Source Links: 
Radio Netherlands Worldwide Radio coverage of economic losses since the initial ban enacted.
Radio Netherlands Worldwide FAQ page with information on Holland's soft drugs vs hard drugs tolerance policy.
Steve Elliot from Toke of the Town article featuring local activist Peter Lunk.

November 02, 2011

Medical Marijuana in the Liquor Stores?

New Approach Washington has proposed an initiative in Washington State, I-502 which according to the document's opening mission is to "authorize the state liquor control board to regulate and tax marijuana for persons twenty-one years of age and older, and add a new threshold for driving under the influence of marijuana." Currently, the mission of the Washington State Liquor Board reads "Contribute to the safety and financial stability of our communities by ensuring the responsible sale, and preventing the misuse of, alcohol and tobacco." I do not know if they are achieving their goals as far as alcohol, but when I first heard about the idea of putting cannabis in liquor stores, I wondered logistically how this would play out. What would this mean for patients in WA State? 

I took a trip down to my local liquor store in search of a different perspective, one of someone greatly affected by this initiative, the liquor store employee. Two clerks were on duty, both between 35 and 45 years of age, one female and one male. I asked them what they thought about distributing cannabis with alcohol. Their quick smirks made it apparent conversations around the water bottle had already occurred back at the home office.  They were happy to talk about cannabis in the liquor stores citing job security as their number one reason for liking the idea. 

Immediately, I was told neither of them smoke marijuana themselves. As employees of WA State they are subject to random drug tests. Testing positive for Marijuana would get you fired.  
The man was confused by the purchasing process. He made the point liquor comes prepackaged. Would the cannabis be sold with packaging or would he be weighing it out on some sort of scale and then placing it into a little plastic bag? The woman assumed they would only be dispensing marijuana in the same way as tobacco, a neat box with 20 pre-rolled smokes in it. 

I thought of all of the incredible bud tenders currently working in Seattle meticulously educating the patients they serve, allowing each of  them to see the medicine, smell it, even check out tricrome development with high end magnifying equipment before making their donation. I did not ask the liquor store clerks if they knew what trichrome development meant. I assume they know nothing about the plant's analytical cannabinoid breakdown. 

There are similar bills were recently passed in Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Both initiatives have a back up in place should no qualified manufacturers apply for licenses, cannabis would be then distributed in tobacco stores. The difference is tobacco stores are back up options whereas WA State's NAW initiative proposes liquor stores as appropriate venues governed by the State Department.

Assuming tobacco companies would want in on the recreational user side, I searched for indication they had already placed bids for distribution. I found many articles with key industry professionals on both sides of the issue speaking about the ability of tobacco companies to convert to marijuana cultivation having strong infrastructures and large growing spaces readily available. Contrary to the popular 'urban myth' that Phillip Morris has already patented a marijuana cigarette, I was unable to find any real proof when searching the US patent database. 

With all of this talk of tobacco companies, what's going on with the pharmaceutical angle? 

Recently, Harvard Professor Lester Grinspoon summed it up nicely when referring to the pharmaceutical companies approach to cannabis medicines, “They know that marijuana is so versatile in treating everything from Crohn’s disease to nausea to premenstrual syndrome that once it can be produced in an economy of scale and free of prohibition tariffs it would sweep all these artificially expensive pharmaceutical products on the market aside."

Does this mean as soon as pharmaceutical companies find a middle ground in the cannabinoid conundrum, the market will be theirs for the taking simply based on the fact they have more money? Is this Mexican standoff between the Feds and those participating in our industry just a smoke screen, keeping everyone wrapped up in semantics so the pharma companies can corner our market? 
Meanwhile, the United States still owns the Patent to use cannabinoids as neuroprotectants and antioxidants. Where does it go from here? The irony of the entire situation robs me of the ability to speculate. I can't help but believe the answer lies in class action lawsuits against a government holding the patent to use cannabinoids as neuroprotectants and antioxidents while simultaneously waging a war against its own citizens for doing the same. 

I am not sure if the liquor stores are the best point of distribution for cannabis. Patients need more particular care when learning about cannabis as a medicine. In the end, people will always just grow their own, though not everyone is physically able to maintain even a small grow operation. These are things to be considered as we move closer to possibly voting on the NAW issue, but certainly not the main issue. This initiative has many flaws and leaves too many questions to analyze in one place. 

For more information: 

Patients Against New Approach WA on Facebook
New Approach WA on Facebook


October 17, 2011

Internation Cannabis and Hemp EXPO sets a new standard for Northern CA

Int Che Entrance Sign
Kim Cue started the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo as a way to bring Cannabis Education to the public in Northern CA. The first shows were held at the famous Cow Palace in Daly City, a venue housing hundreds of concerts and events over the years. The first Expo of its kind in the area, Int Che provided a Prop 215 Consumption area for CA Medical Cannabis patients and featured hundreds of diverse vendors, industry professionals speaking on educational panels and a VIP Cannabis Cup made only available to those with a golden ticket. This year, the International Cannabis and Hemp EXPO made another movement shaking accomplishment. They moved from the Cow Palace to the downtown Streets of Oakland, CA on September 3 & 4th, 2011. The prop 215 consumption section was situated on the front lawn of Oakland's City Hall. Hundreds of vendors moved from an indoor exhibition space to 14th & Clay Street.

Int Che Golden Ticket
The elements of this show were the same as previous events. Patients with a Golden Ticket received judges boxes complete with samples of flower, hash, kief, oils and medibles. Promotional items and a glass smoking piece also come with the box, so attendees were able to sample the products onsite in the VIP section.  
Selkta Lou, premier resident DJ for most events in the Cannabis Industry held the chill vibe in the VIP section hosting guest DJ's throughout the weekend. Mixes of mellow hip hop and reggae filled the air while patients enjoyed the Hash Bar. Winners are announced at the end of the event. This year's winners included Angel Care's WOW for Best CA Cannabis Strain and Best CA Cannabis Hash, San Jose Patients Group's Purple Dragon's Breath for Best CA Wax, Irish Moss Drinks for Best CA Edible and Granny's Greef Leaf's medicated herbal balm for Best CA Specialty product.

Speaker panels with Anna Rae Grabstein of SteepHill Labs, Cheryl Shuman of Kush Magazine, Mikki Norris of West Coast Leaf newspaper, Steve Bloom of Celebrity Stoner, Melissa Balin of Hemp Can Save the Planet and Angel Reich of Angel Reich Center for Health or ARCH Collective were held on the speaker stages in the general public area. panalists discussed many issues affecting the Cannabis movement today including media, politics, culture, trends and science.

Oaksterdam University, located on 16th and Broadway adjacent to the festival grounds hosted after parties for Golden Ticket Holders and conducted tours of the facilities for folks interested in seeing their grow labs and classroom spaces. Oaksterdam University is the first Trade School University of its kind in the Cannabis industry and has expanded since its inception in 2009 to include 4 locations Nationwide. Oaksterdam also showcased their antique car fueled by hemp oil demonstrating the value of industrial Hemp as a replacement for petroleum. Henry Ford's original car was built to be run on alternative fuels like Hemp oil and corn ethanol.

Oaksterdam Hemp Car
Int Che Main Stage Oakland City Hall
Of course with milestones comes criticism. Many articles were published after the event ridiculing the City of Oakland for allowing a Prop 215 smoking section on the front lawn in spite of the City's efforts to keep the media from publishing photos of people smoking with City Hall in the background. Journalists were required to sign a waiver stating they would not publish photos of people smoking with the municipal building in the background. There were no reports of violence or disruption reported at the event.

Although sales of Cannabis medicines were not allowed, many samples were available to patients in the Prop 215 section including flower, seeds and medibles. Originally, the permit allowed for onsite sales in a Farmer's Market environment, however the language was removed from the permit one day before the show. Vendors were told they would not be able to sell cannabis goods upon arrival.

Glass, clothing and accessories were available to the public in the general vending section located on 14th and Clay Streets including DoobTubes, Illusion Glass and 420 FL Products. The event also featured a walk in semi-truck sized Gro Bot container equipped with lights and a high end ventilation system for optimal plant yield.

For more information about the International Cannabis and Hemp EXPO, please visit their website: Int Che Events or email:

Golden Ticket Judges Box and Contents

October 04, 2011

NORML Life Featured Activist Tonya Davis

Cannabis Activist Tonya Davis
Tonya Davis, a featured activist in the documentary NORML Life has many reasons to use Medical Marijuana. Ailed with a rare genetic disease, Pseudohypoparathyroidism, causing nutrients necessary to basic bodily functions to pass through her body unrecognized and therefore, unused. Her Brain is covered in massive calcium deposits. Inflammatory Bowel Disease, similar to Chron's Disease has left adhesions throughout her digestive system, scarred from years of inflammation. Add crippling arthritis, a diseased esophagus and permanent spinal damage to the list of ailments and no one can argue Tonya Davis fits into any State's Medical Marijuana Patient program. Currently, Tonya lives in Ohio where the use of Medical Marijuana is illegal.

An avid cannabis user, Tonya believes her quality of life has improved due to prolonged use of marijuana and the medicinal qualities of the plant are powerful enough to preserve the parts of her brain not inundated with calcium deposits. Before Cannabis, Tonya went through many pharmaceutical treatments, including morphine patches and oxycotin, both leaving her more violently ill than the original  problems themselves. These are a few of the many reasons Tonya fights for patient rights in a State where she is considered a criminal for the very use of the plant in any form.

What does a Cannabis patient do in a State where the penalties for marijuana are severe, risking home invasion style arrests and imprisonment followed by debilitating fines? Lobbying isn't enough. In this environment, an activist has to bring people out of the comfortable confinement of secrecy and band together to affect change in the law. Tonya Davis joined an organization versatile enough to take on all aspects of marijuana prohibition while keeping the focus on compassionate care for the people in obvious need of cannabis medicines. The task requires connecting patients with attorneys, getting politicians to acknowledge people otherwise lost in a failed medical system and inspiring individuals to be more compassionate. The Ohio Patient Network and The Ohio Patient Action Network were established to serve patients in Ohio and continues to change legislation and educate the public today. Tonya currently serves on its Board of Directors as President.

Attorney General Mike DeWine
The battle is not easy anywhere in the war on drugs and Tonya's networks experience obstacles every step of the way.  Recently the Ohio Medical Cannabis Act was rejected by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine for writing technicalities represented in the Ohio Alternative Treatment Amendment. In early September the Ohio Medical Cannabis Act of 2012 was submitted with 2365 signatures to the attorney general as a continued effort to pass Ohio House Bill 214 introduced 4 years ago which would allow for patient safe access to medical cannabis. The Bill is currently stalled in the Health Committee and volunteers are busily preparing to file the next initiative with more than 2,000 signatures collected.

Tonya uses various media and participates in several organizations working to end cannabis prohibition including NORML, the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws to reach as many people as possible with her message. Since 2006, Tonya's YouTube Channel tonya420 has housed a collection of videos Tonya created over the years as a Medical Cannabis activist. In the videos, she describes living in constant fear of being prosecuted by police and educates the viewer about protecting their rights, using Cannabis as a medicine and more. At one time, Tonya was a co-host on Medical Marijuana Common Sense, a public access TV show with Nikki. Together, the two explored truth in medical marijuana from the woman's perspective. Archives of the show can be found on YouTube.

In addition to all of her production work, Tonya is the Medical Marijuana Director with Ohio NORML, President of Miami Valley NORML,  State Director for Ohio with American Alliance for Medical Cannabis and a member of the NORML Women's Alliance. Her efforts do not go unnoticed. Tonya is asked to speak all over the country and has won activists awards for her extensive work in the movement. In 2009 Tonya was the proud recipient of NORML's Pauline Sabin Award. Pauline Sabin was a lead woman in the movement to end the prohibition of alcohol, establishing the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform in 1929. 

Through the years, Tonya's message has reached mass audiences. Many lives have been changed as a result of her example of strength and courage, her refusal to give up until patients are guaranteed safe access to much needed Cannabis medicines. Her philosophy is simple: She doesn't have to change everyone's mind all at once. She focuses on changing one mind at a time and inspires others to do the same. Learn more about Tonya Davis in the documentary NORML Life, recently released on DVD by Cinema Libre Studios.

Order your copy of NORML Life on DVD today. Use the promotional code HEARTBRAIN when ordering online through Cinema Libre Studio or email for more information on public or educational screenings and wholesale distribution.

Words from others about working with Medical Marijuana activist, Tonya Davis: 
"She gave me the courage to come out and be honest with EVERYONE in my life about my use of MMJ for my pain and anxiety. Tonya Davis has helped to change public perception about MMJ for us all and I loudly applaud her for her efforts, especially knowing that she is in declining health. God bless this wonderful lady for her efforts to help many." Rhia R. Ferner Drouillard

"Tonya Davis works to change cannabis laws in Ohio. For the first years of my activism, I only knew of her from her posts to the email list I belong to through NORML. From those posts, I was inspired to keep going at times when I was ready to give up. She just never stops in spite of her continuing health issues. She pushes the envelope every single day to support this cause in Ohio. She is a proud medical cannabis patient in a state that offers her no protection. She is fearless, and I feel fortunate to have had the honor of meeting her in person at the national NORML Conference in Portland in 2010. I am proud to be in her company as a fellow Pauline Sabin Award winner." Oregon Cannabis Activist Anna Diaz

September 30, 2011

International Drug Policy: Lesotho Cannabis Business Sustains the World’s Poorest People

"Basically, it's a crop that can save the children of the poorest areas of the planet and the people perceive the crop as a positive one. They know it's a plant. They know it's not a poison. It's not a hard drug. They know that it's just a way to keep their families alive without harming the planet." Franco of Strain Hunters Africa Expedition speaking on the Economics of Cannabis in very poor regions of the World
Map of Lesotho

Lesotho Landscape
The population of Lesotho, Africa is approximately 1,800,000 situated in an area surrounded by South Africa only 11,720 square miles. Lesotho is listed as one of the poorest countries in the World and yet has a literacy rate of 85%, quite high comparatively on a continent where a formal education is a valued commodity and quite scarce.

In Lesotho, Cannabis is a hard money commodity supporting families on a seasonal basis making up as much as 28% of a single household's sustaining income. In this region of the World, choices are reduced to working in the minefields of South Africa, growing Cannabis and breeding livestock. Cannabis production income percentages decrease as a part of total family income when one or more family members work in the mines, meaning the poorest families are more dependent on growing and selling Cannabis to guarantee food on the table.

Lesotho Citizens Waiting to Vote
The government in Lesotho is considered a Constitutional Monarchy, a cross between royal family rule and a parliament elected by the people. Local Officials and Police realize in this rural community the population’s ability to vote out unpopular elected officials. For this reason and a general lack of the resources necessary to target and prosecute Cannabis Farmers, residents here have been able to grow and sell Cannabis as a way to sustain their families unhindered for many generations. Local officials recognize the plant’s value as a basic livelihood strategy for the economically challenged people of this part of the World and consider the trade a low priority with regards to arrests and prosecutions.

Archeologists have found evidence of Cannabis use dated as far back as the 15th Century signifying Cannabis as a deep part of the indigenous culture here for much of human history. Here, Cannabis is referred to as ‘metakoane’ in the native language of Sesotha.

Lesotho Farming Community
The region is mountainous, passable on foot or horseback. South African Cannabis traders hike to these remote villages and donkeys serve as the transport vehicle carrying the Cannabis out of the mountains at harvest. Some sources consider South Africa to be one of the leading producers of Cannabis in the World and Lesotho farmers have a lot to do with that reputation.

Lesotho’s main exportable natural resource is water, so in 1998 construction began on the massive World Bank funded Lesotho Highlands Water Project. The project was completed in 2004  and provides water to the Gautang region of South Africa and hydro-electric power to Lesotho. The project displaced many families and farmers needing miles of roads, tunnels and facilities to be built to accommodate large scale export operations.

Lesotho Highlands Water Project dam
The World Bank sent representatives to these mountain villages to let them know as the dams, roads and facilities were built, the area where they were located would be inundated with water at the completion of the project. A relocation plan was set forth and the people were given grain and monetary compensation for having to move. Some families went higher into the mountains and some went to more urban areas in search of work.

When the Cannabis Farmers complained the compensation offered was not comparable to the seasonal money received from growing Cannabis, the World Bank wanted to retract their offers for relocation help as Cannabis on the World market is an illicit crop. Local officials had to fight for these farmers and eventually won their case after civil unrest destroyed most of the infrastructure built in 1998.

Phase 1 of Lesotho Water Project
The Lesotho Highlands Water Project became an embarrassment to the World Bank very soon after relocation negotiations when a major bribery scandal came to the surface publicly. Masupha Sole, former head of the project accepted an estimated $2,000,000 in bribes from Corporations wanting to win the bid for the largest construction project on the African continent at the time and the second largest Hydroponic Power System to date.

The companies being accused, including large European construction firms ABB Ltd., a Swiss–Swedish Firm, Spie Batignolles of France, Impregilo of Italy, ED Zueblin of Germany, Acres International of Canada to name a few, settled in court and one company was disbarred from the World Bank bidding process permanently. All of this happened just after the World Bank’s 1997 Anti-Corruption campaign denouncing bribery as a form of business in projects backed by the international money lender.

Lesotho Farmer
Even though the project has been completed and relocation efforts have found closure, the War on Drugs rages on here in Lesotho.  Annette Hübschle, an ISS senior researcher for Organised Crime and Money Laundering reports on the region: “Cannabis eradication campaigns in Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa have been highly controversial and unsuccessful. The Agent Orange-type chemicals employed by the South African Police Service have led to the toxification of arable land and ground water. Subsistence farmers have moved their plantations to inaccessible land in the mountains. A divergence of legal and social morality is clearly discernible where local communities regard the cultivation of cannabis as necessary to survival thereby depriving the police of legitimacy and support from civil, political and social structures.”

In most parts of Africa drug related policies are being amended increasing monetary penalties and prison sentences for the production and transportation of Cannabis. Farmers in Lesotho have receded deeper into the mountains and continue to produce Cannabis for most of South Africa.
Lesotho Mother and Child
Lesotho is an excellent example of how Cannabis production can feed the poorest of the World’s people. Similar to other countries including parts of the United States, the people of Lesotho, including local law enforcement, recognize the plant for its economic and medicinal benefits and will therefore preserve the agricultural process in their country regardless of International Drug Policy.

This is the first in a series of informative articles examining the impacts of cannabis business in regards to livelihood diversification strategies adopted by individuals, families and collectively in communities worldwide brought to you by Cannabis Activist, Stephanie Bishop

Stephanie Bishop has worked with Doctors, Activists, Attorneys and Industry Professionals to help patients and the general public educate themselves about all aspects of the Cannabis plant. From every side of the movement, Stephanie brings news and trending conversation adding discussion topics and direct action to help people form a more in depth perception of prohibition.

Stephanie currently resides in Seattle WA and has worked locally with organizations like Seattle Hempfest, Americans for Safe Access and NORML to help spread the truth about the cannabis plant and the political battle to end the War on Drugs.

August 25, 2011

NORML Life: Marijuana Laws 101

NORML is an organization created many decades ago as lobby representation in Washington DC for responsible adult marijuana use. Since prohibition began in the late 30’s, Americans have paid billions of dollars to prosecute and jail marijuana users. NORML’s website notes an estimated 10 million citizens are arrested annually. Many Americans feel the time has come to reverse these destructive laws and have worked tirelessly to bring change on State, Local and Federal Levels.

1937 Marijuana Tax Stamp
The Marijuana Tax Stamp Act of 1937 made it illegal to grow marijuana if you did not have a Marijuana Tax Stamp. The government did not produce the stamp or offer it to farmers, so essentially growing marijuana became illegal. This happened just after a very well known propaganda campaign, Reefer Madness, essentially vilified the cannabis plant in the minds of general public. 

Since then, millions of people have been jailed for possession and personal use of marijuana costing the taxpayers billions of dollars. According to the NORML website 6.5 million people have been jailed in the last decade. NORML Website: War Against Marijuana Consumers
One marijuana smoker is arrested every 38 seconds in the United States according recent FBI statistical reports. For more information on annual arrests in the United States visit NORML’s page Arrest Statistics page.  NORML Website: Annual Marijuana Arrests in the US

Medical Marijuana laws are very complicated and somewhat difficult to understand. NORML helps tremendously keeping a large library of medical marijuana laws for the public to use as reference when trying to navigate the information including history, science and court cases. The first part of grasping the big picture is understanding the different ideas of legalization being debated in today’s think tanks. 

Although the use of Marijuana for medicinal purposes is against Federal law, many States have passed voter driven initiatives that lessen penalties and provide a layer of protection for patients being prosecuted on State levels for cultivating and using the plant. NORML’s website has a complete list of States with such laws in place and a directory showing which States currently have active initiatives on the voter ballots. 

Decriminalization means carrying small amounts of marijuana for adult personal use is considered a misdemeanor and treated similar to a traffic violation. A complete list of States who have decriminalized can be found here: NORML Website: States with Decriminalization Initiatives in Place
Click on the individual State links for more information on the initiatives and laws in place. 

Tax and Regulate allows the production and distribution of marijuana to be regulated by State and Local agencies and taxed for the benefit of the community. There are 16 States with active tax and regulation laws in place plus the District of Columbia. Complete List from NORML website: 
Click on the individual states for more information on regulations and patient programs in each area. 

Most Americans do not know 20 States in the United States currently use a system of taxation for possession of illicit drugs. After a person is arrested and processed through the court systems, they are additionally charged for tax evasion for not purchasing a Tax Stamp legally required to be affixed to contraband. Defendants are taxed by weight of the confiscated marijuana and penalized for non payment. For a list of States with Tax Stamp laws in effect and more information on penalties visit:NORML Website: States with Tax Penalties in Place

Legalization means the plant is completely legal to grow, distribute, buy and sell with no restrictions whatsoever.  Currently, there are no initiatives this extreme, however, there are groups advocating for the immediate and full legalization of the cannabis plants for all its uses. The MERP Model is one such example: MERP Model

Currently, The United States Federal Government has Marijuana in the Schedule 1 category, reserved for drugs with no medicinal benefits such as mescaline, heroin and lysergic acid. Rescheduling Cannabis to a less restrictive class would allow a broader range of businesses and individuals to work with cannabis as a medicine without the special permitting requirements necessary for schedule 1. NORML has been working with other activist organizations to reschedule the plant for decades. In 1972, NORML filed a petition and was not granted a hearing until 1986. That petition was eventually denied in spite of recommendations from court staff and industry experts to do so. Subsequent petitions have been filed since then including the most recent effort in May of 2011. For more information on NORML’s part in rescheduling cannabis, please visit their website. NORML Rescheduling Efforts

Many people are looking at the fiscal policies behind prohibition and wondering if we have the money to prosecute non violent marijuana users who would otherwise be responsible tax-paying citizens. States are starting to calculate the amount of tax revenue possible from a booming industry seemingly transcending a crashing World economy. NORML as an organization stays well ahead of the movement, supporting grass roots efforts at every level. They keep individuals updated on current issues, motivated with action items and show unwavering support to both recreational and medicinal users.  NORML chapters exist in most areas of the United States. Find a complete listing here: NORML Chapters

If you do not see a Chapter listed in your area, there is no affiliated group currently working there. Consider starting a Chapter! 

Find information on starting a local chapter here: Start a NORML Chapter

NORML Life, just released by Cinema Libre Studios to DVD explores the culture of an organization working to end the prohibition of the Cannabis Plant including interviews with activists, doctors, patients and providers. 

"NORML or National Organization of the Reform for Marijuana Laws has long advocated the decriminalization of cannabis for over 40 years. Its founder, current leaders and nationwide chapter representatives describe the patchwork of state and municipal laws that allow medical marijuana, while the federal government still regards cannabis as a dangerous narcotic. Voters in the US are increasingly recognizing the positive aspects of accepting and controlling medical marijuana in their communities for its medicinal benefits, as well as for its potential to generate needed tax revenue.

BONUS FEATURES: Ray Manzarek, co-founder of The Doors, speaks about his experiences with The Doors and marijuana."

Find NORML Life on Facebook

Purchase your copy of NORML Today! Puchase NORML Life 

Cinema Libre Studios is a full service production and distribution company serving independent filmmakers Worldwide. For more information on their movies and services, please visit their Website. 

August 17, 2011

NORML Life: Origins of the NORML Women's Alliance

In 2009, Marie Claire published an article about young women working in stressful corporate positions unwinding with marijuana after work instead of alcohol. Read Original Marie Claire Article Here Very soon after, the Today show aired a segment with Joanna Coles, Editor in Chief and Dr. Julie Holland a psychiatrist at the NYC School of Medicine following up the story with a surprising number. In a recent study, 8 Million women had admitted to choosing cannabis over alcohol as a way to relax and lower their stress levels.

Sabrina Fendrick at NORML read the article and was inspired by the power of the female voice in the movement to end cannabis prohibition. Immediately, she posted a follow – up article, Because Women are NORML, too. Read Original Article from NORML's Blog Here In it she states the following: “The normalizing of recreational cannabis consumption is not just happening with men, which is what most people think of when they think of pot smokers.  Women, who are not necessarily left out of the movement, are rarely recognized as a major demographic that is essential for the reform effort to push forward in a truly legitimate fashion.” Recognizing the power women had in the movement, the initial plans for the NORML Women’s Alliance were laid out and a new NORML chapter was written.

Georgia Edson, Sabrina Fendrick, Stacia Cosner, Kyndra Miller and Diane Fornbacher
Sabrina called prominent female activists in the movement together to create the NORML Women’s Alliance including NORML Foundation chair and film producer Ann Druyan, attorney and political activist Jessica Corry, editor Shelby Sadler, best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich, Beverly Hills NORML director Cheryl Shuman, NORML Foundation board member Jeralyn Merritt, Esq., cannabis activist and author Mikki Norris, Cannabis Action Network and Berkeley Patients Group founder Debby Goldsberry, NORML board member and director of Oregon NORML Madeline Martinez, law professor Marjorie Russell, and former ACLU president Nadine Strossen. Together they created a mission statement citing the following as direction for the alliance: “These diverse women will bring a contemporary approach to the public policy debate, and will proudly represent the interests of modern, mainstream women who believe that the negative consequences of marijuana prohibition far outweigh any repercussions from marijuana consumption itself.” NORML Women's Alliance Mission Statement

They followed up with a list of positions held by the Women’s Alliance called the NORML Women’s Alliance Declarations which include statements against cannabis prohibition citing wasteful fiscal policies policing private behavior, the blow to civil rights caused by a government overstepping its boundaries and the lack of truthful information when presenting the issue to the youth of America as consequences of failed drug policy. NORML Women's Alliance Declarations
Since its inception, the NORML Women’s Alliance has and continues to expand to include more chapters and new members of NORML inspired by these women to get involved and be heard. The alliance has added new programs to inspire activist recruitment like the Sister to Sister program coupling seasoned activists with new activists to establish big sister, little sister relationships for mentoring and The Speakers Bureau, a group of female activists on the forefront of the movement ready to make statements or be interviewed on issues related to marijuana for media.
Sabrina is a featured activist in NORML Life, being released to DVD August 16 by Cinema Libre Studios. NORML Life explores the issues surrounding the marijuana plant with interviews from NORML founders, patients, providers and activists working to end prohibition. Order your copy today here: Purchase NORML Life Here 

Cinema Libre Studios is a full service production and distribution company serving Independent Film Makers. For more information on their services or to explore their extensive library, please visit their website. Cinema Libre Studios Website

August 03, 2011

Sexism in Media: Representative of Society or Corporate Interests?

Recently, I have seen many conversations go in the direction of accused sexism in the heat of political and conversational debates. Sexism has and continues to be an effective war tactic for anyone wanting to derail their opponent, usually used when one has no argumentative defense. I have seen lots of men attacked lately, some more deserving than others, accused of hating women. I think it is more important to recognize the subliminal destructive nature of these images and videos being played in front of us for many hours of the day, than to debate the sexist nature of media.

This image shows a man with selfish interests violently attacking a woman who is assumed to have pushed him to the edge with her nagging. When considering this image, do you consider yourself to be well represented as a man or a woman?
Both men and women are unfairly represented in media today. Television shows and commercials often depict men as lazy, choosing to sit on the couch over eating and drinking beer while their wives are left with every day chores. Fathers are shown in situations where they are confused and incapable of interacting with their children, clueless on how to change diapers, etc.  Often times, Father - child relationships are strained, cynical or uneasy as if men are not connecting correctly. If the men in media represented the population of men in reality, we would assume all men function on nothing more than carnal instinct, driven only by the need for food, sex, sports and video games. No intelligent thought exists. 

This picture insinuates all men are crazy and unwilling to commit. It shows women as unsatisfied with every single man out there as if no man in our society is capable of making commitments.
Women are all over the scale as far as media representation. According to some media, women are over powering, nagging, busy bodies hell bent on making their men miserable, others are timid and weak. Women are represented as sex objects. Lesbians are man haters, with raging cases of penis envy and spiked hair. Housewives are mettlesome, over scheduled, uptight child taxis living out their dreams vicariously through their children. Their kids are placed into beauty pageants and sports events they wish they could have starred in themselves. Single women of all ages are either gold diggers, looking for shallow, rich men to take care of their every whim or career obsessed she bitches, taking the corporate World by force with no prisoners of course.

I personally do not believe society is really how it is represented by the companies and political organizations releasing the media for the purpose of increasing shareholder or personal profits. Media portrays how these entities want us to think and behave based on their research. Case in point: The next video is a discussion by The Young Turks talking about a new Got Milk Ad. The man is shown anxiously handing his woman multiple half gallon containers of milk to cure her PMS symptoms. The ad implies women are raging bitches during their monthly cycles and the men see being with a woman as a negative thing, as if this is all they have to look forward to when partnering with the opposite sex. 

The discussion proposes the question, “Is this ad sexist?” It doesn’t matter if the ad is sexist, the ad is not correctly representative of reality. Do women really have men rushing to the store to buy milk because an ad says it helps with PMS symptoms? Seriously, if women were to drink a gallon and a half of milk, they would have more problems to deal with than the uncomfortable symptoms of PMS. They would be so constipated, the days after their period would hold worse symptoms than during their actual cycle.

Media goes so far as to create issues and then shows situational comedy depicting the issues from the other side. Case in point, women are often shown as sex symbols and the media is known to cause low self esteem. Women feel the need for constant reassurances from their men leading to competitive feelings, jealousy and eating disorders. The media helped create a problem for men and women by playing on people’s subconscious emotional response. Men are then seen in situational media poking fun at the woman’s need for constant reassurance. Where then, does the cycle stop? 

This popular Super Bowl commercial shows a man pushing his wife out of the car to save himself from having to give up his car tires to road warriors. 

How many men out there would choose tires over their family members? Is this really what is happening in our society? 
Are these images real representations of society or an implied direction? Are all men crazy and non committal? Are all women shallow and obsessed? The answer is an obvious no for any optimist. I have met men and women who exist honorably, respecting and loving their families their entire lives. I have met men and women who fit the negative stereo-types. The question for me is – Is current media showing a reflection of real life or are we seeing these images and becoming a reflection of these false ideas? 

Media’s main purpose is to tell you what they want you to be, not what you should be or what would work for you. Their goals are all wrapped up in profit margins. I personally am insulted every time I see media showing negative social situations as reality for both men and women. It’s time to change the way we think about ourselves as a civilization. It’s time to decide who we are collectively and not take media’s word for it. The conversation here does not need to go in the direction of who hates the opposite sex more, but to how we really feel about media’s representation of us as individuals.

Human Beings are meant to be independent thinkers. We are not meant to follow the pack or fall into line just because it’s a popular decision. We should be deciding for ourselves who we are and how we want to be remembered, as strong loving individuals who work collectively for the betterment of the whole.
When I look at media now, I ask myself 2 questions: Where is the money going? and What do they want me to know? In doing this, I have strengthened my filters. I now see beyond the message. I know now, the corporations and governments lining their pockets at the expense of the majority of the human race want us to be stupid, selfish and complacent. They make more money when we are so wrapped up in mixed media messages, we can no longer see truth.
I encourage each of you to question media and have a conversation with your friends and family members. No matter your sex, we should all be asking the same questions: Am I really like the people in the ads and programs seen in media? From there ask ‘How do I want to be represented in media?’ so you can hold the advertisers accountable for the negativity. If these companies were held accountable, the World would be a better place.  Think about it.