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Zoe is a Portland-based blogger who covers Entertainment and Lifestyle for Higher Ground. And no, she does not watch Portlandia.


With the general election five months away, more Outside cash is making its way into the Alaska campaign to legalize marijuana.

The Marijuana Policy Project injected $140,000 into the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska at the end of May, according to filings with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. It marks the second largest donation the campaign has received this election season and pushes the contribution total for the campaign just over the half-million dollar mark.

Western Alaska leaders fret over marijuana legalization in rural communities

Supporters issue challenge to opposition in fight to legalize marijuana in Alaska

In comparison, the group opposing the measure, Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2, has raised a mere $31,000 since organizing in April. Most of that money came from a single donation from the Chenega Corp., an Alaska Native village corporation based in Anchorage, which gave $25,000 to the campaign last month.

At stake is Ballot Measure 2, an initiative that would regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol in Alaska. If approved, the initiative would regulate the production, sale, and use of marijuana to adults 21 years of age and older and tax its commercial sale. Alaska would become the third state to legalize marijuana, behind Washington and Colorado. The initiative’s language is largely based on Colorado’s law.

Proponents say the measure is long in coming and that the “prohibition” on marijuana isn’t working. Opponents argue that it’s too much, too soon, and that Alaska doesn’t need to be the testing ground for marijuana legalization. Polls conducted earlier in the year put support for the initiative at around 50 percent.

The $140,000 doesn’t mark the biggest donation from the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group that works to advocate for marijuana legalization across the U.S. In March, the organization contributed $210,000 in cash to the Alaska campaign. It also sent one staff member, Chris Rempert, to serve as campaign director.

Pro-legalization campaign spokesman Taylor Bickford said the donation will be used to “continue educating Alaskans” about the benefits of legalizing marijuana here. He said it was not intended to serve as a response to the large donation from Chenega.

“We have our own strategy and our own plan that we will be executing between now and November,” he said.

Deborah Williams, spokeswoman with the Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2 campaign, was not surprised to hear about the large donation Thursday, nor was she concerned, she said.

“We always anticipated we would be grossly outspent,” Williams said.

The anti-legalization campaign has focused on maintaining a grassroots presence, working more to start conversations and participate in forums that “get the truth of this initiative out” Williams said.

Williams noted that other Alaska political battles have proved that Alaskans don’t take well to Outside groups pushing agendas in Alaska.

“No matter how much money the Marijuana Policy Project and other Lower 48 entities put into this battle, they can’t eliminate those truths,” Williams said.

Bickford rejected the idea that the Marijuana Policy Project was pushing any sort of agenda. He said the group has been working to reform marijuana policy in Alaska for 20 years, and in that time has built meaningful connections in the state.

“Alaskans are going to focus on the issues. They’re not going to focus on distractions and fundraising,” he said.

What the campaign will look like from here remains to be seen. Bickford noted that with the U.S. Senate race dominating traditional advertising media right now, most campaigns are in the process of figuring out “how to deal with that.”

“All the campaigns are struggling with the limited air space due to the influx of money in the senate race,” Bickford said. “We plan on running a comprehensive campaign that connects with voters in various ways.”

(THANKS TO REPORTER SUZANNA CALDWELL and the Alaska Dispatch for this report.) 


(AP) – Oklahoma pro-marijuana advocates are pushing for a second signature drive to get the issue a statewide vote, this time for full legalization of cannabis, similar to Colorado and Washington.

Supporters of marijuana legalization filed an initiative petition on Friday with the Oklahoma secretary of state’s office. They will have three months to gather more than 155,000 signatures from registered voters to get the proposal on a statewide ballot.

It is the second marijuana-related initiative petition underway in Oklahoma. Supporters of medicinal marijuana already have launched a petition drive that would legalize the drug only for medical purposes.

Several politicians from both sides of the political aisle have announced their support for pro-marijuana initiatives, including both of the Republicans running against Gov. Mary Fallin in the June 24 GOP primary election.



The Seattle Police Department not only has a blog, but they have a sense of humor about the recent legalization of weed.



 The makers of a game called Weed Firm says Apple removed the app from the iTunes App Store this week after hitting No. 1 on the stores download charts. What are they, high!? Our crop was just about to come in!



Let’s face it: someone is gonna hit it big in the legalized marijuana business. The question is who, when, and will you be along for the ride. We here at Higher Ground in no way suggest you put your hard-earned money into Marijuana stocks. (In fact, the Stock Market in general seems quite the crap-shoot). But that doesn’t mean we’re not paying attention….



Past pristine green lawns, around a twisting forested lake road, where winding streets are lined with suburban mansions and shopping centers, people who live in Liberty Lake choose to get around by golf cart.

It’s something that has come to define the affluent community — situated almost exactly on the Washington-Idaho border. Golf carts sit in driveways here alongside luxury SUVs.

“People have said when they come to Liberty Lake that they feel like they have stepped into ‘The Truman Show,’” said Cris Kaminskas, a city councilwoman and the mayor pro tem. “People driving their golf carts, people going to the movies on Friday night.”

This is a family-driven, churchgoing town. And one, Kaminskas said, that is not on board with marijuana legalization.

As the state liquor control board scrambles to license legal marijuana growers, processors and retail stores, municipalities across Washington are deciding which side of the pot game they’ll play on — with remarkably different routes being taken. In January, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson released an opinion that, despite the passage of Initiative 502 statewide, cities are free to make strict zoning rules or ban pot businesses altogether. Moratoriums and outright bans on pot sales in cities across the state quickly followed. Retail pot stores are expected to begin opening in July.

Last week, Marysville — a city just one hour north of Seattle — passed a ban on recreational marijuana businesses there, joining a handful of other cities in the state that are turning a cold shoulder to pot.

And cities like Liberty Lake — where voters didn’t favor I-502 — are leaning in that direction too. Earlier this year, Kaminskas and other city council leaders here passed a six-month moratorium on the sale of recreational marijuana. And if the council makes a decision this summer to ban stores and processors there, anyone with a state-approved license to sell weed will have to go elsewhere. Currently, six licenses with Liberty Lake addresses are pending approval by the liquor control board.

Unlike alcohol prohibition in the early 1900s, this isn’t about use, Kaminskas said; it’s about city identity. Marijuana stores in an affluent bedroom community like Liberty Lake doesn’t make sense, she said.

“We are the first stop coming in from Idaho. If there are people from Idaho coming to buy their marijuana, this is where they are going to stop,” she said. “Personally, I don’t want Liberty Lake to be known as the tourist destination to buy your marijuana. That’s just not what our city is about. Our city is about family, clean, green. It just doesn’t fit.”

Undercutting state law

But framers of Initiative 502 say it really shouldn’t be up to individual communities to decide on something that passed statewide.

Alison Holcomb, the architect of I-502 and the criminal justice director for the state ACLU, said passage means the state liquor control board needs to ensure adequate access to marijuana in order to undercut the black market. Local bans on recreational sales gets in the way of that idea.

And she believes local bans are not legal.

“[Initiative 502] specifically required that the Washington State Liquor Control Board determine the number of retail outlets to be licensed per county,” Holcomb said. “Obviously, allowing counties to ban licensed marijuana businesses altogether would make it impossible to provide adequate legal sources to undercut the black market.”

Holcomb also points to the state Uniform Controlled Substances Act. That law says local laws that are inconsistent with the requirements of state law are essentially null and void.

Holcomb said prohibition on pot by municipalities undercuts the entire intention of I-502.

“It’s shortsighted. There’s this idea that somehow by eliminating legal, regulated businesses in their cities or towns, they’re going to stop marijuana from coming into their communities,” she said. “We’ve got 75 years of experiences that says that’s absolutely not true.”

No local benefit?

In Colorado, which also recently legalized marijuana, Amendment 64 explicitly allows localities to ban marijuana businesses.  A law passed the following year provides that 10 percent of a new marijuana tax will be distributed to local governments that allow retail sales, proportionate to their share of sales tax revenues.

In some Washington communities where moratoriums are in place, city officials say they are taking issue with the idea that enforcement, regulation and the problems they say come along with legal pot fall on local government and law enforcement yet they receive little or no financial assistance from the state.

In February nearly 100 mayors signed a letter asking Gov. Jay Inslee to share a slice of the tax revenue from pot sales. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes recently wrote an editorial saying that tax sharing with cities that allow marijuana business is one key way to ensure the black market goes away. As of now, though, Holcomb said about 80 percent of tax dollars go directly to drug prevention, treatment, research, education and evaluation.

Kaminskas said the lack of tax revenue sharing definitely plays into her opinion on restricting marijuana sales in Liberty Lake.

“Frankly, none of the cities will get any additional tax dollars from the state to fight any crime that happens because of [marijuana],” she said. “Businesses with a lot of cash, businesses with some drugs? It’s inevitably going to happen.”

Town blazes different trail

But Washington cities that allow for recreational pot sales will benefit from local sales taxes — and that’s something that communities like North Bonneville are banking on. Unlike Liberty Lake, tiny North Bonneville — which sits on the Columbia River, just across the water from Oregon — is hoping to sell lots of pot.

The 1,000-person bedroom community less than an hour from Portland, Ore., wants to sell pot itself. Mayor Don Stevens said the logic there is that if the city sells marijuana, it controls the business and gets more money.

“There was some concern that with a private party coming in, they’re obviously going to be a businessperson, so the bottom line will be profit margin,” he said. And with North Bonneville in control, “there’s a more community look at the whole process.”

Stevens said the city government could decide to not sell some of the more potent strains of marijuana. And proceeds from pot sales in North Bonneville would go toward proving a better quality of life for residents there.

“We’ve got streets that need to be paved. We’ve got stuff that every small community needs to pay for and less and less money to do those things,” he said. “This isn’t just a money grab.”

But unlike Kaminskas, Stevens said he would like to see his town become a hub for marijuana tourism. Since the news of North Bonneville’s intention to sell pot itself, his phone has been ringing with offers to start Napa Valley–style pot tours there.

He has even seen new businesses start to relocate to North Bonneville.

“We’ve got a guy right now in town who actually is a restaurateur by trade, and he’s been looking for somewhere to open a new restaurant,” Stevens said. And he’s planning to give pot tourists what they want: a brand-new North Bonneville pizza joint.

“There are going to be a lot of people,” Stevens said, laughing, “with the munchies.”

(Thanks to reporter Leah Sottile and Aljazeera)



(Courtesy of the Washington Post)

If there is one thing you can say about New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, it is that she knows her brand. Even when she has a bad high in Colorado and uses it as the peg for a column on the messy process of marijuana legalization, she does not lose sight of her Dowdisms. Dowd may have lost her mind via mis-dosage, but in writing about it, she stays on message by describing “my more mundane drugs of choice, chardonnay and mediocre-movies-on-demand,” blaming a girlish affinity for chocolate for her misfortune and confessing her stoned fascination with the green corduroy jeans she was wearing at the time.

But while it is easy to make fun of Dowd’s bad experience with edibles, when it comes to marijuana, there is a good point tangled up in her column. A majority of Americans may favor legalizing marijuana. But that does not mean that that everyone knows how to consume it in ways that are pleasurable and safe for them, or that avoid unpleasant side effects.

Most Americans learn to drink by a process of trial and error, conducted through well-established rituals and with social support. If marijuana is to be consumed in similar ways, a lot of new consumers will have to learn how to toke.

Take Dowd’s experience. She got much higher than she wanted to because she made the not-unreasonable assumption that a candy bar was a single serving, eating the whole thing in one go. “A medical consultant at an edibles plant where I was conducting an interview mentioned that candy bars like that are supposed to be cut into 16 pieces for novices,” Dowd explains that she finds out later. “That recommendation hadn’t been on the label.”

It is one thing for experienced consumers to scoff at Dowd’s lack of knowledge. But she is not going to be alone, and asking for labeling or instructions is not unreasonable. Similarly, new marijuana consumers may look to analogous delivery mechanisms and social rituals when they are smoking joints for the first time, and expect that they ought to treat joints exactly like cigarettes

When new marijuana consumers venture beyond products that look similar to ones they already know, they will have to figure out the answers to a number of questions.

New drinkers may know intellectually that beer, wine and liquor have different amounts of alcohol by volume. But they still have to figure out what they are comfortable drinking, and then determine the amounts they can drink and the rates at which they can drink it. The difference between passing out from keg stands and enjoying High West bourbon neat is a matter of education and socialization.

Smokers and eaters of edibles will have to learn the same things with different strains of and delivery systems for pot. How many hits can they take or brownies can they eat, depending on the bud or the clarified butter in question? How full should they pack the bowl of a pipe or the oven of a vaporizer? If their tolerance is higher than a single square of Dowd’s chocolate bar, how many is optimal? What is the difference in dosage between a nice vibe at a party and hiding in a corner to avoid displaying your incoherence and anxiety?

Americans long ago decided that tee-totaling isn’t the only alternative to being a sot. If the country is to determine that marijuana ought to be legal for recreational as well as medical use, we will need to find a model for marijuana consumption that differs from the motivation-sapped stoner or the deadly violence sometimes committed under the influence.

We figured out a way to regulate alcohol rather than banning it. And we developed a vision for classy, controlled alcohol consumption, even if we occasionally tweak that model in response to dismaying social developments like binge drinking. For Maureen Dowd’s dignity, and the rest of our sakes, we should do the same for marijuana.

(Thanks to reporter Alyssa Rosenberg and the Washington Post for contributing this story)


A proposed change to the nation’s rigid drug sentencing laws could save taxpayers billions, according to a new report by the United States Sentencing Commission, the agency that guides sentencing policy for the federal courts.

The report, released Tuesday, examines the impact of a reform that would shave an average of two years off the sentences of roughly half the people serving time in the federal prison system for drug crimes. Doing so would save the government 83,525 “bed years,” the report concludes. (A “bed year” is the bureaucratic term for the cost of keeping one person behind bars for one year.)

With about 100,000 federal prisoners doing time for drugs, at the cost of nearly $30,000 per prisoner a year, that comes out to more than $2.4 billion in total savings.

Recent remarks by Department of Justice officials suggest that they could use every cent. Prison costs make up a third of the department’s budget, and the department’s inspector general has warned that prison overcrowding poses an “increasingly critical threat” to the safety and security of prisoners and staff.

Last month, the seven-member Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to adopt a change to the sentencing guidelines that would reduce drug sentences by an average of about 11 months per prisoner. Unless Congress rejects the change, it will go into effect on Nov. 1. Tuesday’s report considers what would happen if the reform were applied to prisoners who are already behind bars. The commission says it will decide by July 18 whether to make the change retroactive.

Mary Price, an attorney with Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a group that opposes harsh sentencing laws, supports retroactivity “for so many reasons.”

“It would be a cruel irony to fix the problem of over-sentencing only to deny relief to the thousands who have suffered its consequences,” she said in a statement. “It will also make a real impact on the federal prison population, which hovers at nearly 40 percent above capacity and which siphons funds needed for crime prevention, detection and prosecution.”

To understand how the proposed reform would work, one needs to understand something of the history of America’s byzantine sentencing system. In 1986, at the crest of a national wave of concern about crack cocaine, the U.S. adopted a law that assigned specific sentencing levels and penalty ranges to a variety of drug crimes. For example, if someone is convicted of selling 15 grams of meth, that person is considered a “level 18” offender under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which imposes a recommended sentence for the crime, generally between 27 and 33 months in prison.

The new guidelines adopted by the Sentencing Commission would lower the standard sentencing levels by two points across the board. In this example, a person convicted of selling 15 grams of meth would then be rated a “level 16” offender, resulting in between 21 and 27 months behind bars.

Of the 100,888 people currently in federal prison for drug convictions, only about half would be eligible for a sentence reduction under the reform, should it be applied retroactively. Many of the ineligible prisoners were sentenced under separate mandatory minimum statutes that require they spend a fixed amount of time in prison.

The reform is just one measure that could allow the Department of Justice to trim its bloated prison budget. Congress is considering a bipartisan bill that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of nonviolent drug crimes, and the Justice Department recently announced a huge expansion of its clemency process, which could lead to hundreds of drug prisoners going free before their sentences are up.

(Thanks to reporter Saki Knafo and the HuffPo for this story)