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Leading UK Drug Reform Groups Push Ahead with Blueprints for Legalization

Two UK based organizations are charting a course through the miasma of international drug policy by publishing detailed road maps for comprehensive legalization.

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Mark Kleiman, an American policymaker and the author of When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment, understands this backlash against the cannabis clinics. He believes that the cannabis reform activists shot themselves in the foot with Prop 215, the first "compassionate use" state law passed in 1996, and ruined their chances for making cannabis legal in November.

"With Prop 215 Californians thought that they were approving a law that would allow terminal cancer and AIDS patients access to medical marijuana," Kleiman told an audience at the recent "Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century" conference held in San Jose.

His lack of a qualifying statement clearly communicated the state of affairs. Regardless of the merits of marijuana as medicine, which are voluminous, no one can argue that the law was not exploited. Instead of a medically contained set of procedures, cannabis clinics that were more like candy stores popped up in strip malls across Southern California, next to the Korean restaurant and your local yoga studio. An entire cannabis-goods industry grew up around it. This whole saga is chronicled in the new documentary, How Weed Won the West by Kevin Booth, the director of American Drug War: The Last White Hope. Although beginning as a well-intentioned expose about the raids on LA cannabis clinics, the film lacks any restraint and halfway through devolves into a self-indugent "stoner movie" replete with cliches and stereotypes. It is a brilliant portrait of the industry as it exists today, but whether Booth realizes it or not, in the end his film does the cause far more harm than good.

Certainly these abuses will be highlighted by the prohibitionists in the upcoming campaign against the California ballot initiative, and it will most definitely portend future battles in this arena. Regardless of the optimism of reformers that decriminalization is right around the corner, it may be that the system remains entrenched not only for economic reasons but against liability as well. When I asked Mark Kleiman directly if he ever saw a day when nonviolent drug offenders might be considered political prisoners because they were imprisoned for lifestyle choices, or that nonviolent offenders might form class action suits to seek reparations for the draconian limitations their convictions gave them, his answer was an unequivocal, "no."

Charles Shaw is a writer and activist living in the Bay Area of San Francisco. He is the author of Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics and Spirituality and serves as editor for the Dictionary of Ethical Politics and the oD Drug Policy Forum .