California’s “Adult Use of Marijuana Act” (AUMA) is a voter initiative characterized as legalizing marijuana use. But critics warn that it will actually make access more difficult and expensive, squeeze home growers and small farmers out of the market, heighten criminal sanctions for violations, and open the door to patented, genetically modified (GMO) versions that must be purchased year after year.
The health benefits of cannabis are now well established. As I analyzed previously, cannabis is a cheap, natural alternative effective for a broad range of conditions, and the non-psychoactive form known as hemp has thousands of industrial uses. At one time, cannabis was one of the world’s most important crops. There have been no recorded deaths from cannabis overdose in the US, compared to about 30,000 deaths annually from alcohol abuse (not counting auto accidents), and 100,000 deaths annually from prescription drugs taken as directed. Yet cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance (“a deadly dangerous drug with no medical use and high potential for abuse”), illegal to be sold or grown in the US.
Powerful corporate interests no doubt had a hand in keeping cannabis off the market. The question now is why they have suddenly gotten on the bandwagon for its legalization. According to an April 2014 article in The Washington Times, the big money behind the recent push for legalization has come, not from a grassroots movement, but from a few very wealthy individuals with links to Big Ag and Big Pharma.
Leading the charge is George Soros, a major shareholder in Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company and producer of genetically modified seeds. Monsanto is the biotech giant that brought you Agent Orange, DDT, PCBs, dioxin-based pesticides, aspartame, rBGH (genetically engineered bovine growth hormone), RoundUp (glyphosate) herbicides, and RoundUp Ready crops (seeds genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate).
Monsanto now appears to be developing genetically modified (GMO) forms of cannabis, with the intent of cornering the market with patented GMO seeds just as it did with GMO corn and GMO soybeans. For that, the plant would need to be legalized but still tightly enough controlled that it could be captured by big corporate interests. Competition could be suppressed by limiting access to homegrown marijuana; bringing production, sale and use within monitored and regulated industry guidelines; and legislating a definition of industrialhemp as a plant having such low psychoactivity that only GMO versions qualify. Those are the sorts of conditions that critics have found buried in the fine print of the latest initiatives for cannabis legalization.
Patients who use the cannabis plant in large quantities to heal serious diseases (e.g. by juicing it) find that the natural plant grown organically in sunlight is far more effective than hothouse plants or pharmaceutical cannabis derivatives. Letitia Pepper is a California attorney and activist who uses medical marijuana to control multiple sclerosis. As she puts it, if you don’t have an irrevocable right to grow a natural, therapeutic herb in your backyard that a corporation able to afford high license fees can grow and sell to you at premium prices, isn’t that still a war on people who use marijuana?
Follow the Money to Uruguay
Monsanto has denied that it is working on GMO strains. But William Engdahl, author of Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation, presents compelling circumstantial evidence to the contrary. In a March 2014 article titled “The Connection Between the Legalization of Marijuana in Uruguay, Monsanto and George Soros“, Engdahl observes that in 2014, Uruguay became the first country to legalize the cultivation, sale and consumption of marijuana. Soros is a major player in Uruguay and was instrumental in getting the law passed. He sits on the board of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the world’s most influential organization for cannabis legalization. The DPA is active not only in the US but in Uruguay and other Latin American countries. Engdahl writes:
Studies show that Monsanto without much fanfare conducts research projects on the active ingredient in marijuana, namely THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), in order to genetically manipulate the plant. David Watson of the Dutch company Hortapharm has since 1990 created the world’s largest collection of Cannabis seed varieties. In 1998, the British firm GW Pharmaceuticals signed an agreement with Hortapharm that gives GW Pharma the rights to use the Hortapharm cannabis for their research.
In 2003 the German Bayer AG then signed an agreement with GW Pharmaceuticals for joint research on a cannabis-based extract. In 2007, Bayer AG agreed to an exchange of technology with . . . Monsanto . . . . Thus Monsanto has discreet access to the work of the cannabis plant and its genetic modification. In 2009 GW Pharmaceuticals announced that it had succeeded in genetically altering a cannabis plant and patented a new breed of cannabis.
Monsanto could have even greater access to the Bayer/GW research soon. In March 2016, Monsanto approached the giant German chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer AG with a joint venture proposal concerning its crop science unit. In May, Bayer then made an unsolicited takeover bid for Monsanto. On May 24th, the $62 billion bid was rejected as too low; but negotiations are continuing.
The prospective merger would create the world’s largest supplier of seeds and chemicals. Environmentalists worry that the entire farming industry could soon be looking at sterile crops soaked in dangerous pesticides. Monsanto has sued hundreds of farmers for simply saving seeds from year to year, something they have done for millennia. Organic farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to prevent contamination of their crops by Monsanto’s GMOs.
In Seeds of Destruction, Engdahl quotes Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State. Kissinger notoriously said, “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.” Engdahl asserts that the “Green Revolution” was part of the Rockefeller agenda to destroy seed diversity and push oil- and gas-based agricultural products in which Rockefeller had a major interest. Destruction of seed diversity and dependence on proprietary hybrids was the first step in food control. About 75% of the foodstuffs at the grocery store are now genetically manipulated, in what has been called the world’s largest biological experiment on humans.
Genetic engineering is now moving from foodstuffs to plant-based drugs and plant-based industrial fibers. Engdahl writes of Monsanto’s work in Uruguay:
Since the cultivation of cannabis plants in Uruguay is allowed, one can easily imagine that Monsanto sees a huge new market that the Group is able to control just with patented cannabis seeds such as today is happening on the market for soybeans. Uruguay’s President Mujica has made it clear he wants a unique genetic code for cannabis in his country in order to “keep the black market under control.”
Genetically modified cannabis seeds from Monsanto would grant such control. For decades Monsanto has been growing gene-soybean and GM maize in Uruguay too. George Soros is co-owner of agribusinesses Adecoagro, which planted genetically modified soybeans and sunflowers for biofuel.
Other commentators express similar concerns. Natural health writer Mike Adams warns:
[W]ith the cannabis industry predicted to generate over $13 billion by 2020, becoming one of the largest agricultural markets in the nation, there should be little doubt that companies like Monsanto are simply waiting for Uncle Sam to remove the herb from its current Schedule I classification before getting into the business.
In a 2010 article concerning Proposition 19, an earlier legalization initiative that was defeated by California voters, Conrad Justice Kiczenski noted that criminalization of cannabis as both industrial hemp and medical marijuana has served a multitude of industries, including the prison and military industry, the petroleum, timber, cotton, and pharmaceutical industries, and the banking industry. With the decriminalization of cannabis, he warned:
The next stage in continuing this control is in the regulation, licensing and taxation of Cannabis cultivation and use through the only practical means available to the corporate system, which is through genetic engineering and patenting of the Cannabis genome.
AUMA: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?
Suspicions like these are helping to fuel opposition to the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), a 2016 initiative that would rewrite the medical marijuana laws in California. While AUMA purports to legalize marijuana for recreational use, the bill comes with so many restrictions that it actually makes acquisition more difficult and expensive than under existing law, and makes it a criminal offense for anyone under 21. Critics contend that the Act will simply throw access to this medicinal wonder plant into the waiting arms of the Monsanto/Bayer/petrochemical/pharmaceutical complex. They say AUMA is a covert attempt to preempt California’s Compassionate Use Act, Proposition 215, which was passed in 1996 by voter initiative.
Prop 215 did not legalize the sale of marijuana, but it did give ill or disabled people of any age the right to grow and share the plant and its derivatives on a not-for-profit basis. They could see a doctor of their choice, who could approve medical marijuana for a vast panoply of conditions; and they were assured of safe and affordable access to the plant at a nearby cooperative not-for-profit dispensary, or in their own backyards. As clarified by the 2008 Attorney General’s Guidelines, Prop 215 allowed reimbursement for the labor, costs and skill necessary to grow and distribute medical marijuana; and it allowed distribution through a “storefront dispensing collective.” However, the sale of marijuana for corporate profit remained illegal. Big Pharma and affiliates were thus blocked from entering the field.
At the end of 2015 (effective 2016), the California state legislature over-rode Prop 215 with MMRSA — the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act of 2015/16 – which effectively rewrites the Health Code pertaining to medical marijuana. Opponents contend that MMRSA is unconstitutional, since a voter initiative cannot be changed by legislative action unless it so provides. And that is why its backers need AUMA, a voter initiative that validates MMRSA in its fine print. In combination with stricter California Medical Association rules for enforcement, MMRSA effectively moves medical marijuana therapy from the wholistic plant to a pharmaceutical derivative, one that must follow an AUMA or American Pharmaceutical Association mode of delivery. MMRSA turns the right to cultivate into a revocable privilege to grow, contingent on local rules. The right to choose one’s own doctor is also eliminated.
Critics note that of the hundreds of millions in tax revenues that AUMA is expected to generate from marijuana and marijuana-related products, not a penny will go to the California general fund. That means no money for California’s public schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure. Instead, it will go into a giant slush fund controlled by AUMA’s “Marijuana Control Board,” to be spent first for its own administration, then for its own law enforcement, then for penal and judicial program expenditures.
Law enforcement and penalties will continue to be big business, since AUMA legalizes marijuana use only for people over 21 and makes access so difficult and expensive that even adults could be tempted to turn to the black market. “Legalization” through AUMA will chiefly serve a petrochemical/pharmaceutical complex bent on controlling all farming and plant life globally.
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.
Ellen Brown is an attorney, president of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt. In The Public Bank Solution, her latest book, she explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her websites areWeb of Debt, Public Bank Solution, and Public Banking Institute.
Marijuana Decriminalization Won’t Kill Discrimination
New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said something very interesting last week about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to decriminalize the public possession of marijuana. With respect to the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk practices, Bloomberg said that decriminalization would “certainly end some of the objections.”
It’s an odd turn of phrase, whether Bloomberg put much thought into it or not, to state that a measure would “end objections” as opposed to, say, fix problems.
However, in the case of the decriminalization proposal currently on the table in the New York state house, Bloomberg’s comment may have been spot on; the proposal to decriminalize the public possession of small amounts of marijuana risks ending a number of objections to the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices, without properly addressing the racist skew of the policing tactic and the damage it can wreak on the lives of those it targets (namely young black and Latino men in primarily poor neighborhoods). More troubling still, decriminalization as it is currently proposed could lead to even less transparency and accountability when it comes to NYPD practices.
Across the United States, marijuana policy reform is gaining momentum on state-level legislative agendas. In New York, where low-level marijuana arrests constitute one in every seven arrests made, the proposal to decriminalize public marijuana could lessen the harm done to the lives of those consistently stopped, frisked and deemed criminal by the NYPD. When you dig into the details, however, it seems that decriminalization could be little more than a Band-Aid over the bullet wound of racist police practices.
Cuomo’s proposal responds to one of the major criticisms leveled against stop and frisks: that the NYPD quite literally forces individuals to commit criminal offenses relating to marijuana. Police officers regularly compel the subjects they stop (85 percent of whom are black or Latino) to empty their pockets. In New York, it is currently a violation, but not a crime, to possess a small amount of marijuana privately. If the drug is brought into public, however, this becomes a crime (a misdemeanor). So, when the police instruct subjects to empty their pockets during stops (or, as has often been reported) illegally reach into subjects’ pockets to pull out small amounts of marijuana, the subject now faces criminal charges because police action has brought the drug into public.
As such, the decriminalization proposal, if passed, would stop the direct creation of criminals through stop-and-frisks as described above. The plan is to make the possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana in public a violation (as in the case of private possession) and no longer a misdemeanor, so no longer a criminal offense. Police would then issue a summons for the violation, but the subject would not face arrest, fingerprinting, photographing and the lifelong burden of criminal charges.
The NYPD made 50,864 low-level marijuana arrests in 2011: 82 percent of the arrestees were black or Latino. Were decriminalization to go through (which alone involves a long, difficult political battle), thousands of young black and Latino New Yorkers stopped by police might at least not face the immediate punishment of an arrest record for possessing a small amount of pot. This would take a significant punitive sting out of stop and frisk and its racist bent.
The key thing to understand about the proposed decriminalization is that it moves low-level marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to a violation. So, what happens with a violation? Harry G. Levine, professor of sociology at Queens College CUNY and long-term researcher into marijuana arrests, points out that violations are regularly mischaracterized by those with little experience of New York’s penal system.
“People say, ‘Oh, a violation, that’s just like a traffic ticket.’ It’s not like a traffic ticket,” Levine told me in a phone interview. “It’s what I’d call a ‘misdemeanor lite.'”
Levine explained the swift (and common) way in which violations become criminal charges. If an individual is charged with a violation by a police officer and issued a consequent summons, the person is required to appear in court on a certain date and likely pay a fine. (The fine for the noncriminal violation of marijuana possession as a first-time offense in New York is currently “no more than $100”). However, if you fail to appear in court on the required date, or if you show up and wait in what are often hours-long lines, but have to leave before your name is called (perhaps because of childcare or work commitments), or if you fail to pay a fine by the required date, then a court-ordered arrest warrant (a “bench warrant”) is issued and entered onto the NYPD database. Then, if you are stopped by the police again, you will face arrest and a criminal record.
“The summons system can produce some of the same consequences as the arrest system,” noted Levine. But perhaps most crucially, there is currently no way of knowing precisely how often summonses turn into criminal charges because of bench warrants – the data is simply not available.
Long-term cannabis hemp activist and Occupy supporter, Ergoat Oneiric, has personally experienced how even noncriminal low-level drug charges can haunt lives. Oneiric lived in Maine, which was one of the first states to decriminalize the possession of a small amount of marijuana back in 1999. Oneiric was stopped and searched by local cops and found with a pipe – he was ticketed for carrying “drug paraphernalia.”
“I never was given a court date, so assumed they threw out the case or even dropped charges. Years later, I was told I was fined and they suspended my driver’s license for not paying a fine I never knew about,” said Oneiric, who now lives in California and is still not allowed to drive. He adds that a friend of his, who was given a citation for possessing a tiny amount of marijuana, lost his federal financial aid to the University of Maine and so had to drop out because of the (noncriminal) charge. “This is the ‘freedom’ decriminalization brought to Maine,” Oneiric said, calling decriminalization only a “minor appeasement.”
The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) collects and makes publicly available data about criminal arrests in the entire state. However, no such data is compiled regarding noncriminal violations. Criminal arrest data includes demographic information, such as the race of the arrestee; no such information exists for summonses. “The summons system is quite subterranean,” said Levine, noting that for some years he has unsuccessfully sought data on how many noncriminal violations lead to criminal charges through bench warrants.
Levine added that without legislative or policy reform to make marijuana possession summonses traceable, this lack of data will prove a “huge problem.” Given that issuing summonses (essentially writing a ticket) takes up considerably less time and resources than actually bringing someone to a precinct for a criminal arrest, police could write thousands more summonses for marijuana possession, potentially widening the net of those who have to face the criminal justice system. Stop-and-frisk practices can remain as discriminatory as ever, with even less data available to prove it.
“There needs to be a conversation about what decriminalization means,” said Levine, noting that there are growing examples around the country of bad decriminalization with high fines, which go directly to the city and the police – thus incentivizing cops to write more summonses. In different states, counties and cities, police departments handle marijuana arrests in different ways; across the country, however, with or without decriminalization, racial discrimination prevails despite government statistics showing that white young men use marijuana more than any other demographic.
Levine quips all too seriously that “good decrim.” would mean that everyone was treated like most white upper-middle class people with regards to marijuana (“they don’t get arrested, ticketed, or fined”). Which drives home the perturbing accuracy of Bloomberg’s comment on decriminalization and stop and frisks. Decriminalization might “end some objections,” but it won’t stop systematically racist policing.