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V.20 No.26 | 6/30/2011


Ron Paul pushes first bill ever that would lift U.S. marijuana ban

Forty years after Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, 16 states, including New Mexico, have approved the use of medical marijuana.

If Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) get their way, the federal ban on marijuana would cease entirely.

The bipartisan legislation introduced yesterday calls for state control of marijuana production and possession—independent of the federal government. That means states could continue to prohibit marijuana or could choose to legalize it. This is the first bill introduced to Congress that would end federal marijuana prohibition.

This comes as good news to Erik Briones, president and founder of Minerva Canna Group, a marijuana provider in Rio Rancho.

“The war on drugs is basically a failure,” he says in a phone interview, as a hash-making device whirs away in the background. “If you look at the stats, we have the highest rate of teens trying drugs, and more and more coming across the border. The government spends trillions of dollars, and they're losing the war.”

A symptom of the criminalization of marijuana, Briones says, is the overcrowding of prisons across the country.

“If you take out everyone in jail for marijuana-related charges, the prison population would be cut in half,” he says.

Thirteen states have decriminalized the use of non-medical marijuana, treating small-quantity possession like a minor traffic violation. Interestingly, New Mexico is not on that short list, though we've legalized medical cannabis.

More states are moving toward decriminalization, Briones says, but the Drug Enforcement Administration continues to bust licensed producers in Colorado, Montana and California.

“For the DEA, it's all very black and white,” he says. “We're all a bunch of scumbag criminals”

The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act of New Mexico allows registered users to possess and use marijuana without facing arrest, prosecution or penalty. The law—protecting patients, primary caregivers, licensed producers and practitioners—passed in 2007.

Other states look to New Mexico when formulating their medical cannabis policy, Briones says, due to the tightness of the regulations.

Twenty-five licensed providers operate in New Mexico, with the majority in Albuquerque. Providers can grow up to 150 plants at a time.

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