In the USA...United Surveillance AmericaThousands gather in Washington for anti-NSA 'Stop Watching Us' rally
Statement from whistleblower Edward Snowden read to crowd featuring groups from left and right of political spectrum
Jim Newell in Washington
theguardian.com, Saturday 26 October 2013 22.06 BST
Link to video: Protesters rally in Washington against NSA surveillancehttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/oct/26/protesters-rally-washington-against-nsa-surveillance-video
Thousands gathered by the Capitol reflection pool in Washington on Saturday to march, chant, and listen to speakers and performers as part of Stop Watching Us, a gathering to protest "mass surveillance" under NSA programs first disclosed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Billed by organizers as "the largest rally yet to protest mass surveillance", Stop Watching Us was sponsored by an unusually broad coalition of left- and right-wing groups, including everything from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Green Party, Color of Change and Daily Kos to the Libertarian Party, FreedomWorks and Young Americans for Liberty.
The events began outside Union Station, a few blocks away from the Capitol. Props abounded, with a model drone hoisted by one member of the crowd and a large parachute carried by others. One member of the left-wing protest group Code Pink wore a large Barack Obama mascot head and carried around a cardboard camera. Organizers supplied placards reading "Stop Watching _____", allowing protesters to fill in their own name – or other slogans and occasional profanities. Homemade signs were more colorful, reading "Don't Tap Me, Bro" "Yes, We Scan" and "No Snitching Allowed".
"They think an open government means our information is open for the taking," David Segal of Demand Progress, an internet activist group, said to kick off events. As the march proceeded from Union Station to the Capitol reflecting pool, the crowd sang various chants, from "Hey hey, ho ho, mass surveillance has got to go" to "They say wire tap? We say fight back!"
David Reed, of Maryland, said he felt compelled to show up because of the "apathy" he sees among much of the public towards whistleblowers. Reed said he attended the trial of Chelsea Manning, the military whistleblower who leaked thousands of State Department cables to Wikileaks, as an observer, and was "disappointed that so few people showed up".
"The courtroom only held about 30 people, and there were few days that it was filled up," said Reed, who described himself as "just a concerned citizen". "We just stand by and watch."
Protester at anti-NSA rally in Washington DC A protester wears a mask depicting a skull beneath the head of the Statue of Liberty, beneath a model of a US drone aircraft. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
The program at the reflecting pool included ex-politicians, whistleblowers, professional activists, poets and a punk band, YACHT, who performed their song Party at the NSA. ("Party at the NSA/Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours a day!")
Thomas Drake, the former NSA official who blew the whistle on government surveillance and waste following 9/11 and was charged under the Espionage Act, was on hand, talking to reporters about, among other things, recent revelations that the US government had tapped the phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other world leaders.
"For what? Why would you violate her rights? Because, what, she might know something about terrorism?" he said. "What is that all about? They're an ally! They're partnered with us. I mean there are threats to the international order and stability. Why would you breach the trust of the chancellor of Germany?"
When Drake addressed the crowd, he said any domestic surveillance legislation that might result from the Snowden leaks "must include whistleblower protection", because "without adequate protections, [government employees] are more likely to turn a blind eye" to abuses of power. He warned against the "acid turned up by the potent brew of secrecy and surveillance".
Another well-received speaker, Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and 2012 Libertarian party candidate for president, said "there's only one way to fix the Patriot Act: and that's to repeal the Patriot Act". He too was concerned about the apathy towards surveillance programs that comes when someone thinks it's "not about me".
Demonstrators hold placards supporting Edward Snowden Demonstrators hold placards supporting Edward Snowden. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
But the big star of the day, despite his physical absence, was Edward Snowden – "Thank you, Edward Snowden" was the most popular banner slogan among the cord. Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department ethics advisor who is now a director with the Government Accountability Project, read a statement from Snowden to the crowd.
"This isn't about red or blue party lines, and it definitely isn't about terrorism," Snowden wrote. "It's about being able to live in a free and open society." He also noted that "elections are coming up, and we are watching you". Members of Congress and government officials, he said, were supposed to be "public servants, not private investigators".
William Evans, of Richmond, Virginia, may have best embodied the nonpartisan atmosphere and message of the event. He wore a "Richmond Tea Party" baseball cap, as well as a Code Pink sticker saying "Make Out, Not War". He is a member of the Richmond Tea Party but not of Code Pink, he said, adding that he "just loved" what the sticker said. Evans said he was attending to protest the "shredding of the constitution" and added that he was happy that "you guys on the left are finally starting to see it".
"We may not always agree on our belief system," he added, "but thank God we agree on the constitution."
*****************Congressional oversight of the NSA is a joke. I should know, I'm in Congress
I've learned far more about government spying on citizens from the media than I have from official intelligence briefings
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 12.45 BST
In the 1970s, Congressman Otis Pike of New York chaired a special congressional committee to investigate abuses by the American so-called "intelligence community" – the spies. After the investigation, Pike commented:
It took this investigation to convince me that I had always been told lies, to make me realize that I was tired of being told lies.
I'm tired of the spies telling lies, too.
Pike's investigation initiated one of the first congressional oversight debates for the vast and hidden collective of espionage agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Security Agency (NSA). Before the Pike Commission, Congress was kept in the dark about them – a tactic designed to thwart congressional deterrence of the sometimes illegal and often shocking activities carried out by the "intelligence community". Today, we are seeing a repeat of this professional voyeurism by our nation's spies, on an unprecedented and pervasive scale.
Recently, the US House of Representatives voted on an amendment – offered by Representatives Justin Amash and John Conyers – that would have curbed the NSA's omnipresent and inescapable tactics. Despite furious lobbying by the intelligence industrial complex and its allies, and four hours of frantic and overwrought briefings by the NSA's General Keith Alexander, 205 of 422 Representatives voted for the amendment.
Though the amendment barely failed, the vote signaled a clear message to the NSA: we do not trust you. The vote also conveyed another, more subtle message: members of Congress do not trust that the House Intelligence Committee is providing the necessary oversight. On the contrary, "oversight" has become "overlook".
Despite being a member of Congress possessing security clearance, I've learned far more about government spying on me and my fellow citizens from reading media reports than I have from "intelligence" briefings. If the vote on the Amash-Conyers amendment is any indication, my colleagues feel the same way. In fact, one long-serving conservative Republican told me that he doesn't attend such briefings anymore, because, "they always lie".
Many of us worry that Congressional Intelligence Committees are more loyal to the "intelligence community" that they are tasked with policing, than to the Constitution. And the House Intelligence Committee isn't doing anything to assuage our concerns.
I've requested classified information, and further meetings with NSA officials. The House Intelligence Committee has refused to provide either. Supporters of the NSA's vast ubiquitous domestic spying operation assure the public that members of Congress can be briefed on these activities whenever they want. Senator Saxby Chambliss says all a member of Congress needs to do is ask for information, and he'll get it. Well I did ask, and the House Intelligence Committee said "no", repeatedly. And virtually every other member not on the Intelligence Committee gets the same treatment.
Recently, a member of the House Intelligence Committee was asked at a town hall meeting, by his constituents, why my requests for more information about these programs were being denied. This member argued that I don't have the necessary level of clearance to obtain access for classified information. That doesn't make any sense; every member is given the same level of clearance.
There is no legal justification for imparting secret knowledge about the NSA's domestic surveillance activities only to the 20 members of the House Intelligence Committee. Moreover, how can the remaining 415 of us do our job properly, when we're kept in the dark – or worse, misinformed?
Edward Snowden's revelations demonstrate that the members of Congress, who are asked to authorize these programs, are not privy to the same information provided to junior analysts at the NSA, and even private contractors who sell services to foreign governments. The only time that these intelligence committees disclose classified information to us, your elected representatives, is when it serves the purposes of the "intelligence community".
As the country continues to debate the supposed benefits of wall-to-wall spying programs on each and every American, without probable cause, the spies, "intelligence community" and Congressional Intelligence Committees have a choice: will they begin sharing comprehensive information about these activities, so that elected public officials have the opportunity to make informed decisions about whether such universal snooping is necessary, or constitutional?
Or will they continue to obstruct our efforts to understand these programs, and force us to rely on information provided by whistleblowers who undertake substantial risks to disseminate this information about violations of our freedom in an increasingly hostile environment? And why do Generals Alexander and Clapper remain in office, when all the evidence points to them committing the felony of lying to Congress and the American people?
Representative Pike would probably say that rank-and-file representatives will never get the information we need from the House Intelligence Committee, because the spying industrial complex answers only to itself. After all, Pike, and many of the members of his special congressional committee, voted against forming it. As it is now constituted, the House Intelligence Committee will never decry, deny, or defy any spy. They see eye-to-eye, so they turn a blind eye. Which means that if we rely on them, we can kiss our liberty good-bye.
October 26, 2013Federal Prosecutors, in a Policy Shift, Cite Warrantless Wiretaps as Evidence
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department for the first time has notified a criminal defendant that evidence being used against him came from a warrantless wiretap, a move that is expected to set up a Supreme Court test of whether such eavesdropping is constitutional.
Prosecutors filed such a notice late Friday in the case of Jamshid Muhtorov, who was charged in Colorado in January 2012 with providing material support to the Islamic Jihad Union, a designated terrorist organization based in Uzbekistan.
Mr. Muhtorov is accused of planning to travel abroad to join the militants and has pleaded not guilty. A criminal complaint against him showed that much of the government’s case was based on e-mails and phone calls intercepted under a 2008 surveillance law.
The government’s notice allows Mr. Muhtorov’s lawyer to ask a court to suppress the evidence by arguing that it derived from unconstitutional surveillance, setting in motion judicial review of the eavesdropping.
The New York Times reported on Oct. 17 that the decision by prosecutors to notify a defendant about the wiretapping followed a legal policy debate inside the Justice Department.
The debate began in June when Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. discovered that the department’s National Security Division did not notify criminal defendants when eavesdropping without a warrant was an early link in an investigative chain that led to evidence used in court. As a result, none of the defendants knew that they had the right to challenge the warrantless wiretapping law.
The practice contradicted what Mr. Verrilli had told the Supreme Court last year in a case challenging the law, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Legalizing a form of the Bush administration’s program of warrantless surveillance, the law authorized the government to wiretap Americans’ e-mails and phone calls without an individual court order and on domestic soil so long as the surveillance is “targeted” at a foreigner abroad.
A group of plaintiffs led by Amnesty International had challenged the law as unconstitutional. But Mr. Verrilli last year urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the case because those plaintiffs could not prove that they had been wiretapped. In making that argument, he said a defendant who faced evidence derived from the law would have proper legal standing and would be notified, so dismissing the lawsuit by Amnesty International would not close the door to judicial review of the 2008 law. The court accepted that logic, voting 5-to-4 to dismiss the case.
In a statement, Patrick Toomey, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which had represented Amnesty International and the other plaintiffs, hailed the move but criticized the Justice Department’s prior practice.
“We welcome the government’s belated recognition that it must give notice to criminal defendants who it has monitored under the most sweeping surveillance law ever passed by Congress,” Mr. Toomey said. “By withholding notice, the government has avoided judicial review of its dragnet warrantless wiretapping program for five years.”
The Justice Department change traces back to June, when The Times reported that prosecutors in Fort Lauderdale and Chicago had told plaintiffs they did not need to say whether evidence in their cases derived from warrantless wiretapping, in conflict with what the Justice Department had told the Supreme Court.
After reading the article, Mr. Verrilli sought an explanation from the National Security Division, whose lawyers had vetted his briefs and helped him practice for his arguments, according to officials with knowledge of the internal deliberations. It was only then that he learned of the division’s practice of narrowly interpreting its need to notify defendants of evidence “derived from” warrantless wiretapping.
There ensued a wider debate throughout June and July, the officials said. National security prosecutors raised operational concerns: disclosing more to defendants could tip off a foreign target that his communications were being monitored, so intelligence officials might become reluctant to share crucial information that might create problems in a later trial.
Mr. Verrilli was said to have argued that there was no legal basis to conceal from defendants that the evidence derived from legally untested surveillance, preventing them from knowing they had an opportunity to challenge it. Ultimately, his view prevailed and the National Security Division changed its practice going forward, leading to the new filing on Friday in Mr. Muhtorov’s case.
Still, it remains unclear how many other cases — including closed matters in which convicts are already service prison sentences — involved evidence derived from warrantless wiretapping in which the National Security Division did not provide full notice to defendants, nor whether the department will belatedly notify them. Such a notice could lead to efforts to reopen those cases.
**************Hackers suspected of causing NSA website to crash
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 25, 2013 20:30 EDT
The National Security Agency’s website went down Friday and the U.S. spy service known for hacking into computer networks said it was investigating the outage, a spokesperson said.
“We are looking into this,” said Vanee Vines of the NSA, without offering any details about what had caused the site to go dark.
The website, nsa.gov, went down Friday afternoon, setting off speculation on Twitter that the site may have suffered a denial of service attack by hackers.
The hacker group Anonymous joked about the website going down in a tweet without saying if it had played any role. “Aw don’t panic about nsa.gov being down. They have a backup copy of the internet,” it said.
The loosely organized, international hacker collective has frequently clashed with US authorities over file-sharing as well as allowing banks to handle donations to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
The NSA has been at the center of a furor over its vast electronic surveillance operations, revealed in a series of leaks from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who has obtained asylum in Russia.
**************Cruz lashes out at Senate GOP over shutdown failure
By David Ferguson
Saturday, October 26, 2013 12:34 EDT
In remarks to an Iowa Republican group on Friday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that his government shutdown and debt default plan would have worked at repealing the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — if Senate Republicans had only backed him up. According to Talking Points Memo, Cruz was the keynote speaker at Iowa Republicans’ annual Ronald Reagan fundraising dinner.
“We didn’t accomplish our ultimate policy goal in this battle, and we didn’t because unfortunately a significant number of Senate Republicans chose not to unite and stand side by side with House Republicans,” Cruz insisted. “Had we stood together I’m convinced the outcome of this fight would be very, very different.”
The Canadian-born freshman Senator exhorted the crowd to “come together” and beat the ACA’s health insurance mandate and the national debt (which is currently falling faster than at ant time during the last 60 years).
The key to turning the country around from its current state, said Cruz, is to “restore historic economic growth” by deregulating more industries and battling trade unions.
“And let me tell you, growth and principles are ideas that unify Republicans,” Cruz said, as quoted by the Des Moines Register. “They are principles and ideals that unify the evangelical community, the liberty movement and the business community. Growth and freedom are principles that bring together Main Street and the tea party.”
“Right now I’m more encouraged than ever,” he said, in spite of his recent high-profile defeats.
“There are some of the old guard in the Grand Old Party that frankly don’t approve of the kind of principled leadership being shown by the new conservative leaders like Sens. Cruz, (Rand) Paul (R-KY) and (Mike) Lee (R-UT),” said Iowa Republican co-chair David Fischer..
“Some Republicans have even gone so far as to call them names. Well, I have a name for these new leaders, too,” Fischer said. “I call them the future.”
PerspectivesWhat Ted Cruz Doesn’t Want You to Know
October 25, 2013
by Timothy Karr | Free Press
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pauses as he listens to a reporters question at the Fort Worth Texas Chamber of Commerce office after he participated in a small business roundtable meeting with area business representatives, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, in Fort Worth, Texas. Across the nation, the GOP is in the midst of an internal war pitting tea partyers like Cruz who argue for ideological purity against more mainstream Republicans advocating a more pragmatic, inclusive party approach to governing. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) pauses as he listens to a reporters question at the Fort Worth Texas Chamber of Commerce office. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
By now it seems pretty clear that Senator Ted Cruz has a plan to occupy the White House. But he doesn’t want people to know too much about it.
And he definitely doesn’t want you to know about the special interests that have already begun to bankroll his political ambitions.
That’s why the Texas senator’s latest crusade targets the Federal Communications Commission — and its efforts to better identify the funders of political ads.
Cruz has placed a hold on the Senate confirmation of Tom Wheeler to head the agency, despite bipartisan agreement to vote on Wheeler without delay. Cruz wants assurances from Wheeler that the FCC won’t follow the law and require disclosure of the real funders for dark-money political groups that clog the airwaves with negative and misleading ads.
These nominally independent 501(c)4 groups plowed millions of dollars into the 2012 elections, and there’s every indication they’ll be back in even greater numbers in 2014.
And while the Federal Elections Commission is limited in its ability to identify the funders of the groups that emerged in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the FCC has a clear legal path to mandate transparency.
Broadcasters are obliged by law to disclose who pays for political ads in exchange for using the airwaves. It’s a public interest bargain stretching back almost a century, and one that forms the foundation of US communications law.
Free Press and our allies won a major victory in 2012 when the FCC ordered all television stations to post this information to an online database the agency manages. In the past, you could find this information only by visiting each station, a time-consuming process that uncooperative receptionists, steep photocopying fees and incomplete and unwieldy paper files made even more complicated.
Now you can go to a single website and find important data on who is spending how much on political ads at major stations in the nation’s 50 largest television markets. (The FCC plans to include political file data from stations in all 210 U.S. broadcasts markets by 2014.)
While a vast improvement over its paper-file predecessor, the system has some glitches. The FCC should make it easier to aggregate, search and analyze the data by requiring television stations to upload their political files in a machine-readable format.
It should also require fuller disclosure. Communications law expert Andrew Schwartzman, who serves as a legal adviser to Free Press, has petitioned the FCC to enforce existing sponsor identification requirements and disclose the names of principal funders in the body of the ads themselves.
Taking this action would let viewers know that an ad from Concerned Taxpayers of America is actually the creation of two multimillionaires: the owner of a Maryland concrete company and a New York hedge-fund manager.
And that scares Sen. Cruz and his supporters in groups like the Koch brothers funded Americans for Prosperity, which raises millions of dollars from anonymous donors to run attack ads against their political foes.
Letting the FCC do its job means advancing the public interest at a time when politicians are running amok in Washington. And that means shedding light on the money that helped elect many of these individuals, no matter which party they’re from.
Sen. Cruz shouldn’t deny us our right to know. His reckless ambitions are hurting our democracy. Cruz needs to lift his hold and stop blocking the FCC’s vital work on political disclosure.
*****************The Lies That Will Kill America
October 25, 2013
by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
Here in Manhattan the other day, you couldn’t miss it — the big bold headline across the front page of the tabloid New York Post, screaming one of those sick, slick lies that are a trademark of Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing media empire. There was Uncle Sam, brandishing a revolver and wearing a burglar’s mask. “UNCLE SCAM,” the headline shouted. “US robs bank of $13 billion.”
Say what? Pure whitewash, and Murdoch’s minions know it. That $13 billion dollars is the settlement JPMorgan Chase, the country’s biggest bank, is negotiating with the government to settle its own rip-off of American homeowners and investors — those shady practices that five years ago helped trigger the financial meltdown, including manipulating mortgages and sending millions of Americans into bankruptcy or foreclosure. If anybody’s been robbed it’s not JPMorgan Chase, which can absorb the loss and probably take a tax write-off for at least part of it. No, it’s the American public. In addition to financial heartache we still have been denied the satisfaction of seeing jail time for any of the banksters who put our feet in cement and pushed us off the cliff.
This isn’t the only scandal JPMorgan Chase is juggling. A $6 billion settlement with institutional investors is in the works and criminal charges may still be filed in California. The bank is under investigation on so many fronts it’s hard to keep them sorted out – everything from deceptive sales in its credit card unit to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme to the criminal manipulation of energy markets and bribing Chinese officials by offering jobs to their kids.
Nor is JPMorgan Chase the only culprit under scrutiny. Bank of America was found guilty just this week of civil fraud, and a gaggle of other banks is being investigated by the government for mortgage fraud. No wonder the camp followers at Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC and other cheerleaders have ganged up to whitewash the banks. If justice is somehow served, this could be the biggest egg yet across the smug face of unfettered, unchecked, unaccountable capitalism.
One face in particular: Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase. One of Murdoch’s Fox Business News hosts, Charlie Gasparino, claims the Feds are on a witch hunt against Dimon for criticizing President Obama, whose administration, we are told, “is brutally determined and efficient when it comes to squashing those who oppose their policies.” But hold on: Dimon is a Democrat, said to be Obama’s favorite banker, with so much entree he’s been doing his own negotiating with the attorney general of the United States.
But that’s crony capitalism for you, bipartisan to a fault. Rupert Murdoch has been defending Dimon in his media for a long time. Last spring, when it looked like there might be a stockholders revolt against Dimon, Murdoch was one of many bigwigs who rushed to his defense. He tweeted that JPMorgan would be “up a creek” without Dimon. “One of the smartest, toughest guys around,” Murdoch insisted. Whether Murdoch’s exaltation had an effect or not, Dimon was handily reelected.
Over the last few days, The Wall Street Journal, both Bible and supplicant of high finance as well as one of Murdoch’s more reputable publications — at least in its reporting — echoed the “UNCLE SCAM” indignation of the more lowbrow Post. The government just wants “to appease their left-wing populist allies,” its editorial writers raged, with a “political shakedown and wealth-redistribution scheme.” Perhaps, the paper suggested, the White House will distribute some of the JPMorgan Chase penalty to consumers and advocacy groups and “have the checks arrive in swing congressional districts right before the 2014 election.” We can hear the closet Bolsheviks panting for their handouts now and getting ready to use their phony ID’s to stuff the box on Election Day with multiple illegal ballots.
Such fantasies are all part of the Murdoch News Corp. pattern, an unending flow of falsehood and phony populism that in reality serves only the wealthy elite. Fox News is its ministry of misinformation, the fake jewel of the News Corp. crown, a 24/7 purveyor of flimflam and the occasional selective truth. Look at the pounding they’ve given Obama’s healthcare reform right from the very start, whether the non-existent death panels or claims that it would cause the highest tax increase in history.
While it’s true that the startup of Obamacare has been plagued by its website nightmare and other problems, Fox News consistently has failed to mention Republican roadblocks that prevented the program from getting proper funding or the fact that so many states ruled by Republican governors and legislatures — more than 30 — have deliberately failed to set up the insurance marketplaces critical to making the new system work. Just the other day, Eric Stern at Salon.com fact-checked a segment on Sean Hannity’s show. “Average Americans are feeling the pain of Obamacare and the healthcare overhaul train wreck,” Hannity declared, “and six of them are here tonight to tell us their stories.”
Eric Stern tracked down each of the Hannity Six and found that while their questions about health reform may have been valid, the answers they received from Hannity or had decided for themselves were not. “I don’t doubt that these six individuals believe that Obamacare is a disaster,” Stern reported. “But none of them had even visited the insurance exchange.”
And there you have the problem: ideology and self-interest trump the facts or even caring about the facts, whether it’s banking, Obamacare or global warming. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists say that climate change is happening and that humans have made it so, but only four in ten Americans realize it’s true. According to a new study in the journal Public Understanding of Science, written by a team that includes Yale University’s Anthony Leiserowitz, the more that people listen to conservative media like Fox News or Limbaugh, the less sure they are that global warming is real. And even worse, the less they trust science.
Such ignorance will kill democracy as surely as the big money that funds and encourages the media outlets, parties and individuals who spew the lies and hate. The ground is all too fertile for those who will only believe whatever best fits their resentment or particular brand of paranoia. It is, as an old song lyric goes, “the self-deception that believes the lie.” The truth will set us free; the lie will make prisoners of us all.
October 26, 2013Few Problems With Cannabis for California
By ADAM NAGOURNEY and RICK LYMAN
LOS ANGELES — In the heart of Northern California’s marijuana growing region, the sheriff’s office is inundated each fall with complaints about the stench of marijuana plots or the latest expropriation of public land by growers. Its tranquil communities have been altered by the emergence of a wealthy class of marijuana entrepreneurs, while nearly 500 miles away in Los Angeles, officials have struggled to regulate an explosion of medical marijuana shops.
But at a time when polls show widening public support for legalization — recreational marijuana is about to become legal in Colorado and Washington, and voter initiatives are in the pipeline in at least three other states — California’s 17-year experience as the first state to legalize medical marijuana offers surprising lessons, experts say.
Warnings voiced against partial legalization — of civic disorder, increased lawlessness and a drastic rise in other drug use — have proved unfounded.
Instead, research suggests both that marijuana has become an alcohol substitute for younger people here and in other states that have legalized medical marijuana, and that while driving under the influence of any intoxicant is dangerous, driving after smoking marijuana is less dangerous than after drinking alcohol.
Although marijuana is legal here only for medical use, it is widely available. There is no evidence that its use by teenagers has risen since the 1996 legalization, though it is an open question whether outright legalization would make the drug that much easier for young people to get, and thus contribute to increased use.
And though Los Angeles has struggled to regulate marijuana dispensaries, with neighborhoods upset at their sheer number, the threat of unsavory street traffic and the stigma of marijuana shops on the corner, communities that imposed early and strict regulations on their operations have not experienced such disruption.
Imposing a local tax on medical marijuana, as Oakland, San Jose and other communities have done, has not pushed consumers to drug dealers as some analysts expected. Presumably that is because it is so easy to get reliable and high-quality marijuana legally.
Finally, for consumers, the era of legalized medical marijuana has meant an expanded market and often cheaper prices. Buyers here gaze over showcases offering a rich assortment of marijuana, promising different potencies and different kinds of highs. Cannabis sativa produces a pronounced psychological high, a “head buzz,” while cannabis indica delivers a more relaxed, lethargic effect, a “body buzz.”
Advocates for marijuana legalization see the moves in Colorado and Washington as the start of a wave. A Gallup poll released last week found that 58 percent of Americans think the drug should be made legal.
“There is definitely going to be a legalization here at some point, one way or another, like in Colorado and Washington,” said Tom Ammiano, a Democratic state assemblyman from San Francisco who has pushed the Legislature to legalize recreational marijuana use.
Still, even as public opinion in support of legalizing marijuana has grown, opposition remains strong among many, including some law enforcement organizations, which warn that the use of the drug leads to marijuana dependence, endangers the health of users and encourages the use of other drugs.
“Unfortunately, many have been convinced that marijuana is harmless, and many in policing do not believe that is the case,” Darrel W. Stephens, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, wrote in an e-mail.
Craig T. Steckler, a former chief of the Police Department in Fremont, Calif., who is now the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said the problems in Los Angeles and robberies of cash-rich marijuana farms in Northern California were just two of the reasons states should hesitate before legalizing the drug.
“If it’s more readily accessible, if the parents and the siblings are doing it, then it becomes available to the younger kids — it’s going to be in the house, it’s going to be in the car,” he said.
“Where does it stop?” Mr. Steckler asked. “You make all drugs legal? Or just marijuana for now and suffer for that? What happens when you find out this wasn’t such a good idea?”
After California, medical marijuana was legalized in 19 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Although the law in California applies only to people who have a medical need for marijuana, like glaucoma or cancer, the requirements for getting the card to buy the drug are notoriously lax. Doctors can recommend its use for ailments as common as sleeplessness and headaches. And marijuana in California has become almost as culturally accepted, and in some parts of the state nearly as widely used, as alcohol.
“Marijuana users are much more representative of the overall adult population in California than medical marijuana populations in other states,” said Amanda Reiman, the state policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization working toward the decriminalization of marijuana.
The percentage of California drivers with traces of marijuana in their systems, 14 percent, was found to be nearly double that of people with alcohol during a spot check last year, according to a report from the California Office of Traffic Safety.
In a broad study on the ramifications of legalizing recreational marijuana about to be published in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, two economics professors said a survey of evidence showed a correlation between increased marijuana use and less alcohol use for people ages 18 to 29.
The researchers, D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University and Daniel I. Rees of the University of Colorado, said that based on their study, they expected younger people in Colorado and Washington to use marijuana more and alcohol less.
“These states will experience a reduction in the social harms resulting from alcohol use: Reducing traffic injuries and fatalities is potentially one of the most important,” the professors said.
Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an expert on marijuana policy who was the chief adviser to Washington on its marijuana law, said the connection between alcohol and marijuana use, if borne out, would be a powerful argument in favor of decriminalization.
“If it turns out that cannabis and alcohol are substitutes, then by my scoring system, legalizing cannabis is obviously a good idea,” Mr. Kleiman said. “Alcohol is so much more of a problem than cannabis ever has been.”
Still, he said, it will take time before long-term judgments can be made.
“Does it cause problems?” he said. “Certainly. Is it on balance a good or bad thing? Ask me 10 years from now.”
Mr. Rees also said his study found no evidence of increased drug use among high school students in Los Angeles during the period when medical marijuana shops opened here, probably because dispensaries were vigilant about not risking their thriving ventures by selling to under-age consumers.
“The dispensary numbers went through the roof,” he said. “But nothing happens to marijuana use among teenagers.”
The marijuana cultivation business in Northern California has been an economic boon for many communities, creating tax revenues, an industry of ancillary industries, and local wealth, visible by expensive cars parked along once dusty streets.
“A lot of cottage industries have popped up that service the marijuana industry,” said Scot Candell, a lawyer in San Rafael who specializes in medical marijuana clients. “Labs that do testing, hydroponic stores that provide growing equipment, software developers, insurance companies that specialize in dispensaries.”
Steve DeAngelo, the founder of the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, one of the state’s largest marijuana dispensaries, said his dispensary collected $1.2 million last year in marijuana sales tax for the city.
Medical marijuana, he said, has “created a whole new cast of people who have a vested interest in cannabis.”
“What was inevitable is that the movement, at some point, would go into hyper-speed, and that is what’s happening now,” he said.
This has altered the economy of places like Mendocino County.
“I am not aware of any business in Mendocino County that doesn’t consider marijuana as part of their business plan, and that can be good and bad,” said Sheriff Thomas D. Allman.
Mr. Candell said that while regulation was important, overregulation could be counterproductive. In California, several communities outlawed all marijuana dispensaries, giving rise to delivery services, which are not subject to regulation.
In Mendocino the issue is not dispensaries, but cultivation. There has been a spectacular rise in the amount of marijuana being grown there because, under county law, individuals with medical marijuana cards can have up to 25 plants for personal use.
Sheriff Allman said he spent about 30 percent of his resources on medical marijuana cases, especially between April and October, the growing season. The No. 1 call to 911 in October is complaints about the overwhelming smell of a next-door plot.
In Los Angeles, repeated attempts to regulate the stores have failed, causing an uproar in quiet neighborhoods like Larchmont and Mar Vista. Yet there is a lesson here: San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, which imposed strict regulations on the shops from the start, have had few problems.
“Those cities really took charge in 1996, saying: ‘We have to figure out how we are going to regulate this. We need to figure out how marijuana could be sold, how it will be regulated, what it will mean for tax revenue,’ ” Ms. Reiman said. “As a result, those three cities have seen little to no issues in terms of crime or public safety issues.”
Consumers of marijuana are also benefiting. Competition among growers has resulted in powerful strains, raising the levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, to as high as 25 percent. Previously, levels ranged from 6 percent to 9 percent.
And since cities have competing dispensaries, prices have tended to decrease or at least keep pace with street prices. At Harborside in Oakland, marijuana buds run anywhere from $240 to $360 an ounce, though patients tend to buy smaller amounts like an eighth or a quarter of an ounce.
The array of products has exploded, and now includes not only smokable buds but also hashish, marijuana-rich oils that are drunk or smoked, edible cakes and other food products, and topical ointments intended to ease skin or joint pain without providing a high.
California has learned a lot in its years of dealing with a legal form of marijuana, Mr. Candell said. “But there are a lot of states that are just now going through it, and there are things they need to know.”
October 26, 2013Vision of Prairie Paradise Troubles Some Montana Ranchers
By JACK HEALY
MALTA, Mont. — On fields where cattle graze and wheat grows, a group of conservationists and millionaire donors are stitching together their dreams of an American Serengeti. Acre by acre, they are trying to build a new kind of national park, buying up old ranches to create a grassland reserve where 10,000 bison roam and fences are few.
The privately financed project — now a decade in the making — has ambitions as big as the Montana sky, tapping private fortunes to preserve the country’s open landscapes. Supporters see it as the last, best way to create wide-open public spaces in an era of budget cuts, government shutdowns and bitter battles between land developers and conservationists.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said George E. Matelich, the chairman of the conservation group, American Prairie Reserve, and a managing director of a New York private equity firm. “It’s a project for America.”
The trouble is many ranching families here in northern Montana say it is not a project for them. As the reserve buys out families and expands its holdings — it now has about 274,000 acres of private ranches and leased public lands — some here are digging in their heels and vowing not to let their ranches become part of the project.
They say they know the transformative power of real estate out West: Western mining towns become ski havens, high mesas become ranch retreats for business moguls, and cultures inevitably change.
“We don’t intend to sell,” said Leo Barthelmess, 57, who was 8 when his family moved here and settled on a 25,000-acre sheep and cattle ranch. “We have children coming back. We’re working on a succession plan. We want this landscape to carry on to the next generation.”
Mr. Barthelmess and other ranchers say families like theirs have rebuilt the prairie, season by season, since the destruction wrought by the Dust Bowl. They work with conservation groups, rotate their herds to encourage a healthy mix of prairie grass and set aside ample room for sage grouse, plovers and herons. They are trying to till less ground, which can destroy an underground ecosystem. Some even allow small colonies of prairie dogs, which many farmers exterminate as pests.
“We’ve already saved this landscape,” Mr. Barthelmess said.
As more of their neighbors sell, some ranchers say they worry that this corner of Phillips County, population 4,128, will sacrifice its identity. Two years ago, people here railed against the whiff of a federal proposal to create a new national monument along the Canadian border. A billboard along the gravel roads informs visitors that the county can produce enough cattle to feed more than two million people.
“These are our livelihoods, these are our businesses,” said Perri Jacobs, whose husband’s family has run their ranch since 1917. “This is an agriculturally based economy. That’s about being able to fund our schools and our government and being able to support our businesses on Main Street.”
Officials at the American Prairie Reserve say they have done everything possible to be good neighbors and have not foisted their vision on anyone. They have installed electric fences to ensure that their 275 bison do not roam onto other people’s property. They allow hunting on the land. They lease back some of their land to allow ranchers to graze their cows.
They say they take an understated approach to buying land. They approach families after they have decided to sell, and sometimes negotiate arrangements that let ranchers live or work on their land for years after a sale goes through. Because the reserve project is nonprofit, officials say they can bid only fair-market value and do not artificially drive up property prices.
“It’s a misnomer that we’re paying top dollar,” said Sean Gerrity, the president of the American Prairie Reserve. “There are some properties we’re interested in, but they’re currently priced at above market value and we can’t go there.”
Still, the financial profiles of the reserve’s supporters have created a divide in a county where the average job pays about $25,400, according to Montana State University. The group has several current and retired fund managers and retail billionaires on its board, and counts heirs to the Mars candy fortune as supporters. It has raised a total of more than $63 million in donations and pledges.
Mr. Gerrity estimated it would take 15 to 20 more years to quilt together the patchwork of public and private lands that represent the group’s vision of three million acres of preserved prairie. Right now, the group owns about 58,000 acres outright and has grazing leases on an additional 215,000 acres of federal land.
The reserve’s goal is to revive a landscape that existed when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed through in the early 1800s. They have taken down 37 miles of fence. They have replanted some tilled ground with native grasses. They have pulled down barns and sheds and cleared away heaps of trash. Their bison saunter across dirt roads.
“The idea is to open this place back up,” said Dick Dolan, who oversees acquisitions and finances for the reserve. “The vision is to have an ecosystem functioning as naturally as possible.”
A public campground has been open for two years, and the reserve has also put the finishing touches on a camp of high-end yurts, complete with hot showers and air-conditioning. Some in the area have grumbled that sleeping in a climate-controlled yurt and eating chef-prepared meals hardly qualifies as roughing it.
But what binds the ranching families and their new neighbors is a fierce love of the land. One evening, just before sunset, Mr. Dolan stood astride a bluff overlooking undulating stretches of sagebrush and prairie grass. The Little Rocky Mountains lay to his left. The Missouri River ran behind him. In the riverbeds below, the leaves of cottonwoods and box elders were burning yellow. He spread his arms wide.
“It makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the ocean,” he said. “It’s a big, big place. It’s such a beautiful landscape.”