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This Man Holds the Fate of Pa. Cannabis Decriminalization in His Hands

Posted by on Jul 25, 2017 in Blog

In the Pennsylvania legislature there are some members who wield a tremendous amount of power. Some of those are men like House Majority Leader Dave Reed, House Speaker Mike Turzai and several others.

Some of the most powerful members are the chairs of the committees.

All bills that are introduced are assigned to a committee. A committee can have anywhere from 12 to 24 members. Senate committees are smaller than House committees.

20371199_10210009168965935_490964408_nIn any committee, although each member has one vote, there is only one person who really wields the power and that is the chair of that committee. In the House Judiciary Committee that man is Ron Marsico.

Right now, there are two bills for decriminalization of cannabis that are sitting in the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Representative Ron Marsico.

1977223_734016720054185_6009592695473201343_nKCC supports HB195, which was introduced by Representative Ed Gainey. It is a very good bill. It eliminates the threat of jail for possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, lowers the maximum fine to $100, reduces the charges from a criminal misdemeanor to a summary offense and removes the threat of losing your driver’s license.

The other bill that sits in the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Marsico is HB928. It is very similar to Rep. Gainey’s bill but the max fines are higher. KCC does not enthusiastically support HB928 but we do not oppose it. If it passes it will be a major victory for us and will put us in a much more tolerable position while we work for the full legalization of cannabis that includes the right to grow our own.

The last I checked, HB195 had two dozen cosponsors. 23 of them were Democrats. Although KCC supports HB195 we also realize that the state senate and house are both controlled by large Republican majorities. Every single head of every single committee is a Republican. Democrat bills, especially on matters relating to cannabis are a steep climb.

The path of least resistance is probably HB928. It was introduced by Representative Barry Jozwiak of Berks County. Jozwiak was a career law enforcement officer until he became a lawmaker just a few years ago. He is the type of champion that conservative Republicans like, a law and order man proposing a more reasonable approach. They can get behind that.

PORTJozwiakRep. Jozwiak introduced HB928 at the behest of Berks County District Attorney, John Adams. That also bodes well for us, an endorsement from a law and order District Attorney. Most of the cosponsors of HB928 are Republicans.

In April, we met with Chairman Marsico to discuss moving these bills to pass them out of committee so we can debate and get a floor vote. We suggested that the House Judiciary Committee hold hearings on HB195 and HB928.

Chairman Marsico and his chief of staff both seemed open to holding hearings on the bill but said that they were busy until at least June, which they indicated would be the earliest time to schedule such hearings. Chairman Marsico did not tip his hand but all three of us who attended the meeting agreed that he seemed to be ON OUR SIDE. The arguments we made in favor of decriminalization seemed to make sense to him and he seemed to agree that the time has come to address the need to take away the threat of jail and reduce penalties.

Well, here we are in July and still no word on hearings. No news of anything happening with HB195 or HB928. It’s just sitting there, in the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Ron Marsico.

In our conversation, Chairman Marsico admitted that HB928 had a far greater chance of passing than HB195. He seemed to be in favor of HB928. The problem was, HB928 had already been referred to the House Transportation Committee. We wanted that bill in Marsico’s committee and he did too, so he made a motion to have the bill re-referred to the Judiciary Committee and it was done. Now he has it and has complete power over it, to let it die or to pass it on to the House.

18156352_1227090214080164_8842963523030944600_oA couple weeks after our meeting with Marsico and his staff, we held the Pennsylvania Marijuana Decriminalization Rally in the Maine Rotunda of the State Capitol in Harrisburg. One of our speakers was Representative Ed Gainey, prime sponsor of HB195, the bill supported by KCC. Gainey took us to CHURCH with his soaring Martin Luther King-esqe rhetorical oratory. He stirred the passions in the 400 people who gathered to support immediate decriminalization and full legalization of cannabis.

Given our movements embrace and support of HB195 we think Representative Gainey has earned some serious political clout.

If the Republicans want to pass Representative Jozwiak’s HB928, they need the support of Ed Gainey and all of his cosponsors.

We are hoping to see some form of compromise between Gainey’s bill and Jozwiak’s bill. Maybe they can meet in the middle and come up with something that everyone can support. When hearings are held hopefully it will lead to the committee adopting language that we all can support.

When we passed hemp legislation the key were the senate and house Agriculture and Rural Affairs committees. We were told that most members of the legislature know nothing about agriculture, so if the ag committees pass on a bill it is almost always certain to pass.

In the same way, if the House Judiciary Committee passes on the billto the House it will be as though they baptized the bill, blessed it and passed it on with a strong recommendation of passing it. If we can get a floor vote, we will win. If we can win in the House then we will definitely win in the Senate and we know that Governor Wolf will sign it.

How do we get to that point though? What do we have to do to make this happen? We have to educate our lawmakers and press them to support and take action on HB195 and HB928. This is the order of importance of who we must convince.


1. Chairman Ron Marsico – Although every single committee member must be educated and asked to support HB195 and HB928, Marsico is the man who we must persuade to move this legislation. He is the man who wields ALL the power to move or to kill any bill in his committee. He represents Dauphin County and his cousin is the DA of Dauphin County, Ed Marsico. Ed Marsico was a supporter of the decriminalization ordinance passed by Harrisburg City Council in July of 2016. Call Ron Marsico’s office and ask him to hold hearings on HB195 and HB928. You can reach him at his Harrisburg office at (717) 652-3721 or his capitol office at (717) 783-2014.

2. Every member of the House Judiciary Committee – Next to Marsico, the next most important person to reach is Demoratic Chair Joseph Petrarca. All members of the Judiciary Committee must hear from citizens, must be educated and persuaded to support decrim and taking action in their committees. None of them wield the power of the chairman but we will have to count on their Yes votes. You can find Judiciary Committee members and their contact numbers on this site.

3. Every member of the General Assembly – Start with your own state senator and your own representative. Your state senator cannot cosponsor HB195 or HB928 because those are House bills. They still must be educated and their support for decrim must be achieved. Right now, most of our focus is on the Representatives in the House. Once the bill is passed out of committee and voted on and passed in the House then it will be time to focus all efforts on the Senate.

4. Public support – Without focused attention on dealing with the legislators in the General Assembly all the public support in the world won’t mean anything. However, although the most recent F&M poll showed that 56% of Pennsylvanians support full legalization of cannabis, there is still LOTS of resistance and some districts where support for legalization is lower than the state average. For this reason, continuing education of the public is absolutely necessary. To accomplish this, it is useful to write letters and op-eds to the newspapers, write blogs, share articles on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and anything else you can think of to educate as many people as you know why decriminalization and legalization are good policies.

I saw a story today called Despite Growing Support for Marijuana, Legalization Faces Rocky Road on Pewtrusts.org. It contained this quote:

“G. Terry Madonna, a public affairs professor who coordinates polling for Franklin and Marshall College, says legislatures are unlikely to take up legalization because most are controlled by Republicans who are less likely to support marijuana legalization and because supporters of legal marijuana don’t care enough about legalization to pressure lawmakers into voting for it.

9251426_orig“The question I always ask is, ‘Do [voters] care about it?’ ” he said. “What’s the level of concern that they have. And right now, for the vast majority of Americans, it’s not a cutting-edge issue.”

Sigh. “Supporters of legal marijuana don’t care enough about legalization to pressure lawmakers into voting for it.”

Is that true? Are our supporters too apathetic to win? There has been some truth to this so far. Lots of people have been doing work on this issue and KCC is on the front lines. We appreciate all of those who have stood with us and fought the battles so far. If we are going to win the next victory though it is going to take the continued effort of all of us AND we must grow our movement.

The decriminalization bills in the House Judiciary Committee are not dead. We have until the last day of December of next year before the bills are dead. Our goal has been to pass a decrim bill by the time the medical cannabis dispensaries open up. We are racing to meet that goal. If not, we MUST pass it before the current two year legislative session is up. Failure is not an option.

Take-A-Stand-e1397491401780I hope you can help KCC by joining in our efforts to persuade Chairman Marsico to hold hearings on HB195 and HB928, gain the support of every member of the Judiciary Committee and to garner enough support to win on the floor votes.

You can support the efforts of KCC by making a generous donation today.

Thank you, together with your help we WILL win!


Les Stark

Executive Director, Keystone Cannabis Coalition

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Reading Eagle Editorial Board Spouts Reefer Madness

Posted by on May 23, 2017 in Blog

05 - Reefer MadnessThe editorial staff of the Reading Eagle must be smoking the most mind-crippling substance around. Somewhere, somehow, they got too big of a whiff of the old reefer madness.

The editorial board wrote an editorial that they published on May 22, 2017 called: “Editorial: Marijuana legalization wrong, regardless of poll results”

The Issue: A recent survey finds more than half of Pennsylvanians support allowing recreational use of pot.
Our Opinion: Changing the state’s policy on this issue would be bad for public health.”

The editors of the Reading Eagle do not believe that just because the majority of people want legalization that we should have legalization. They opened up their editorial with:

“While a recent poll found increasing support in Pennsylvania for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, we urge legislators to hold their ground on this issue and avoid a knee-jerk reaction that they could very well regret. According to a Franklin & Marshall College poll, 56 percent of registered voters favor legalization, marking the first time the survey has found more than half of Pennsylvanians take that view. In 2006, just 22 percent favored legalization.”

Knee-jerk reaction? I’ll tell you what a knee-jerk reaction is – making this stuff illegal in the first place. In 1846 Dr. Isaac Hiester cured a man named Charles Sassaman of lock-jaw with cannabis in Reading. By the 1850’s cannabis was sold in the pharmacies of Reading. In 1865 famous Reading resident Herman Strecker wrote about his use of hashish for medicine and rebuked those who stuck their nose in his business for doing so and called them asses.

Cannabis was used in Reading up until the 1920’s. That’s when Mexicans started flocking to Reading to work in their industrial plants. A local Reading police officer was a veteran of the Spanish-American War. He hated these new arrivals. They brought cannabis with them. On the streets of Reading one day Officer Knopp arrested a Mexican man who resisted and slashed him across the face. Knopp blamed it on “marihuana”.

In November of 1932 a Berks County man from West Lawn named Chester A. Mohn was elected as a freshman state representative and took office in January of 1933. He had heard the story of Knopp’s altercation with the Mexican man on Penn Street and introduced a bill to make “marihuana” illegal in March of 1933.

gateway-drug-pot-opens-doorThere was very little debate. The newspapers were printing reefer-madness hysteria. It was a slam dunk. It took about two months to pass it. The bill was signed into law by prohibitionist Governor Gifford Pinchot on May 22, 1933 and went into effect on September 1, 1933. All because of a story he heard about in Reading. Now THAT’S a knee-jerk reaction.

The editors went on to write:
“We recognize that this poll result is part of a national trend of changing views on the subject, but we remain strongly opposed to legalization. Our state does not need to make it easier for people to obtain this potentially addictive, mind-altering substance. Mainstream medical organizations including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association still oppose legalization because it represents a danger to public health.”

thPIXMME9BMake it easier to obtain? Seriously? Do they not know how easy it is to get now? A danger to public health? I’ll tell you what’s a danger to public health – putting people in jail for association with a plant.

They continued:
“Marijuana is a mood-altering drug capable of producing dependency,” the American Society of Addiction Medicine wrote. “While popularly thought to be a fairly benign ‘drug,’ marijuana can have adverse effects on memory and learning, perception, behavior and functioning, and on pregnancy.”

The editors are dependent themselves. They are dependent on lies and lunacy. They thought that reefer-madness was benign, not realizing the negative effects on their memory, learning, perception, behavior and functioning. They have no memory, no knowledge of history. Their perception is way off.

The institutionalized ignorance continued with:
“We are quite familiar with the argument that if liquor is legal, marijuana should be as well. We disagree. Our culture struggles to deal with the ill effects caused by alcohol abuse and drunken driving as it is. Putting another addictive, mind-altering substance on the market will only make matters worse. We are particularly concerned about the possibility of more minors trying the drug once it’s legalized.”

Putting another substance on the market? The whole reason journalists exist is to uncover the news, to investigate, to report on what is going on, to know the community. Yet they so blindly have failed to pick up on the fact that cannabis is everywhere and always has been. It’s been a rite of passage in our culture for a couple generations and is firmly entrenched part of our American culture. It’s always been here, still is and it’s never going away. Ever.

somebody-please-think-of-the-children-en-ffffff Those minors. Always concerned with those minors. Oh no, what if they smoke pot! Horrors! Do they not even know that kids have been smoking pot for over 80 years? They ought to know, they’ve been telling us for over 80 years. That’s why they banned it in the first place back in the 30’s, because kids were getting it on the school ground. Then the 40’s came and they were alarmed because the kids were smoking it. Then the 50’s came, rock and roll happened and the authorities were alarmed that more kids were smoking it than ever. Then came the 60’s and we all know what happened in the 60’s. They said they had an epidemic of kids smoking cannabis. Then the 70’s came and they said more kids were smoking it than ever. I graduated in 1984 and half my class smoke or tried pot. I knew people that graduated in the 90’s and they told me there was plenty of pot in high school.

Now they think that if we legalized cannabis, taxed it and regulated it, set the age at 21 and strictly enforced it, somehow THAT’S going to get kids smoking it. This kind of foolish idiocy hurts us all. The kids are smoking it now and always have because the reefer-madness fools don’t want to regulate it.

They continued:
“The results in Colorado since marijuana was legalized there suggest supporters should have second thoughts. According to the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, Colorado now leads the country in past-month marijuana use by youth, and states with legal marijuana are experiencing higher rates of traffic deaths from driving while high and more marijuana-related poisonings and hospitalizations. And the group reports that the black market for marijuana remains strong even in places where the drug can be purchased legally.”

projectsamTheir first mistake was trusting anything put out by “Smart Approaches to Marijuana”. Just because something says “smart” doesn’t make it so.

Anytime I go somewhere out of state and I see a place selling “authentic Philly cheesesteaks” I know it’s not going to be authentic. When the guru tells you he is wise, run from the guru. When someone tells you “I’m smart, I have a very good brain,” that’s when you know you are listening to a blathering pretentious fool.

Don’t ask Smart Approaches. Ask Governor Hickenlooper. Here’s what he told The Cannabis a few months back:
“We haven’t seen a spike in teenage use. We haven’t seen a giant increase in people’s consumption of marijuana. Seems like the people who were using marijuana before it was legal, still are. Seems like the people who weren’t using marijuana before it was legal, still aren’t.”

Hickenlooper continued:
“I don’t think there’s much question the old system was a disaster. We sent hundreds of thousands — millions — on a nationwide basis, millions of kids to jail for non-violent crimes. We inducted them into a high probability of a lifetime of crime, strictly by sending them to prison for something that was a non-violent crime. This new system, where we may not be completely sure of (whether) we’ve solved all the problems and that we’re going to be successful in this grand experiment, it does offer certain advantages to the status quo of the previous system. Now we have tax revenues.

Some people complain about the black market, “You’ve got this black market, this large black market. How do you address that?” Well, you know five years ago, it was a huge black market. Everything was black market, right? It was all illegal. Everything was being paid in cash and under the table. At least now we have some tax revenues that we can use to market to teenagers and make sure they understand that they could lose permanently a piece of their long-term memory.

Almost every brain doctor I’ve talked to feels there’s a very high probability — if your brain is still rapidly growing during your teenage years … there’s a high probability, it’s more than just risk, you’ll lose a sliver of your long-term memory every time you smoke this high-THC marijuana. Most kids don’t realize that. But we now have money we can advertise for that. We can provide more money to public safety to crack down on this gray market that turns into a black market. Each year we’re changing the regulatory structure to make it I think a little better.”

The Eagle editorial board seemed confused. They wrote:
“Furthermore, until we have a national consensus on how to deal with this issue, there is going to be a serious challenge. With the White House and Justice Department looking to take a tougher approach to drug enforcement, having conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana is bound to cause problems and considerable confusion.”

not_rocket_science_by_bj_o23-d5ddhgv.png.jpegThere doesn’t have to be confusion. The states are moving forward on legalization and the people have already reached a national consensus. All scientific national polls show that the American people favor legalization of cannabis. Now the elected representatives need to catch up to the people. What’s confusing about that?
The Reading Eagle seems unable to follow the madness of their position to its logical conclusion. They write:
“Just because we don’t favor legalization of recreational use does not mean we believe in filling our jails with people charged with marijuana offenses. People caught with small amounts of the drug should not face harsh punishment. When it comes to the issue of drug use and abuse, treatment-based solutions are far preferable to mass incarceration.”

Wow, how generous they think they are by saying those charged with possession should not get jail. They think anyone caught with cannabis needs TREATMENT. No. Absolutely not. Someone needs to sit down with them and explain to them that the earth is not flat, science has advanced in leaps and bounds since Medieval days and that we know so much more now than we did in the 1930’s. Cannabis consumers don’t need treatment they need FREEDOM!

Different-types-of-addiction Look, if someone really thinks they have a problem with smoking too much cannabis, or if they have a problem with any drug, then by all means get treatment. The vast majority of people who get caught with cannabis don’t need treatment. We can’t afford it anyway. The state has a 3 ½ billion dollar structural deficit. We arrest 20,000 people a year for possession of cannabis in Pa. Where are we going to get the money to treat 20,000 cannabis users a year? No, really, think about it.

Now, if you are REALLY concerned with funding rehabilitation of people addicted to hard drugs I’ll tell you how to do it – legalize, tax and regulate cannabis! You’ve got to be really thick-headed in 2017 to not be able to see the clear answer sparkling right in front of your eyes. We’ll make 500 million dollars in tax revenue every year in addition to the 30,000 jobs it would create. We could apply that money to the General Fund, to fund education, to fix roads, to fund drug rehab and legitimate law enforcement concerns.

Calling for rehab for cannabis consumers is social engineering at its worst. It’s another tax and spend feel good measure that doesn’t even feel good. It stinks. What are they going to tax next in order to throw all the pot smokers into rehab? It’s terrible to witness the intellectual meltdown of the desk-jockey pundits advocating such blatantly stupid policies that would require a huge tax to carry out. Sending 20,000 cannabis smokers a year to rehab is just as stupid as sending them to prison. It’s a burden we can’t afford. Don’t take our money for such a foolish endeavor. Tax the cannabis we buy instead and use some of it to help the heroin addicts.

untitledThe Reading Eagle editorial board concluded with:
“At this point we’re not particularly worried about Pennsylvania changing its marijuana law. As F&M pollster G. Terry Madonna said after the survey results came out, the conservative Republicans who control the state Legislature are not likely to go along with this idea. Nevertheless, we feel obligated to remind them that they should resist any temptation to govern based on poll results. Public opinion can be fleeting, and the job of lawmakers is to do the right thing, even if it isn’t necessarily popular.”

The Reading Eagle has sided with the prohibitionists. History will judge them harshly. It will be known that when change was breaking out all over America, they resisted. They advocated drastically failed policies that were not only wrong, cruel and immoral but blatantly stupid as well. The status quo simply cannot be maintained and change is so obviously coming that it can be seen by all – even those who oppose it.

legalize_it_by_poisongageThe people defending this destructive policy are fighting a rearguard action that is doomed to fail. They are like Hitler in the bunker, refusing to surrender as Berlin was being destroyed by the defenders of freedom all around him.
They urge our legislators to do what is right, whether it is popular or not. KCC also urges our legislators to do what is right. In this case it is something that is both right and popular and it is popular BECAUSE it is right – legalize cannabis in Pennsylvania!

Gloating that the Republicans in the Pa. legislature control things and will never go along with legalization is beneath their dignity. Eventually, even Republicans will favor legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis. It will happen or they will no longer keep control.

We know that the General Assembly is not ready to do the right thing and legalize cannabis. However, we believe that there is strong bipartisan consensus that our laws are wrong and they must change. The agreement is with a form of decriminalization or downgrading of charges from a criminal misdemeanor to a summary offense.

Coincidentally, Berks County representative, Barry Jozwiak has introduced a bill to do just that. It is called HB928 and was just recently passed from the House Transportation Committee to the House Judiciary Committee chaird by Reperesentative Ron Marsico. Jozwiak introduced the bill at the behest of Berks County District Attorney John Adams.

84 years ago today, a Berks County representative got the bill signed into law. The next year he was soundly defeated in a landslide election by the people of Berks who rejected him as completely out of touch with their concerns. Today a Berks County representative is leading the way to downgrade penalties for personal possession of cannabis.

It all started here in Berks County and it’s coming to an end here in Berks County.

Les Stark
Executive Director, Keystone Cannabis Coalition

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Cannabis Decrim in Pennsylvania? Just Ask…NOW!

Posted by on May 18, 2017 in Blog

underpaidImagine you’ve been working at a job for a while and you start really getting mad because you realize you haven’t had a raise in a long time. Day after day it bothers you more and more. Your boss should give you a raise. He should just do it. Why isn’t he?

You start to complain to your buddy at work. He’s in the same boat. He hasn’t gotten a raise in a long time either. Now both of you are mad. A few months go by and every single day it’s eating at you. Underlying everything you do is an anger and resentment. Why isn’t the boss giving you the raise that you so clearly deserve?

After about six months of this finally you can’t take it anymore. You go into the boss’s office and tell him you think you deserve a raise. To your surprise, the boss gives you a raise! Turns out all you had to do was ask.

9251426_origYou see, our movement has been plagued with a certain sense of fatalism. For the last 50 years people have walked around carrying this tremendously heavy resentment that cannabis has been criminalized and wondering why the government doesn’t just legalize it. There was the sense that change was impossible. They walked around pissed but yet they didn’t ask. They did not stick up for themselves.

That’s what it comes down to right now in 2017. If you want cannabis to be decriminalized, if you want cannabis legalized, you MUST make your voice heard. You must contact your state senator and your state representative. The difference is, they are not your boss – YOU are. They are your representatives.

phbvfxk50xp0yotnzrndThere is a theme some people say about how we should not “beg our masters” for legalization. That’s true, but who are our masters? WE are the masters of ourselves. As citizens, we must engage in the political system or we have no hope. Just as the boss isn’t going to give you a raise if you don’t ask, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania is not going to pass either decriminalization or legalization legislation unless the citizens of Pennsylvania stand up for themselves and demand change.

18156352_1227090214080164_8842963523030944600_oLast month we had a big rally in the Harrisburg capitol building. About 400 people representing 10 cannabis reform groups from around Pennsylvania demanding the immediate decriminalization of cannabis and the full legalization of cannabis that includes the right to grow our own.

th1124O2J6So now, KCC and members of the reform community are contacting members of the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Representative Ron Marsico, and asking them to please hold hearings on the two bills for downgrading cannabis possession cases currently in their committee. The bills are Ed Gainey’s HB195 and Rep. Barry Jozwiak’s HB928.

We are also contacting all members of the House to support either HB195 or HB928. We are asking for them to either cosponsor one of these bills or for their support once they are passed out of the committee.

On the senate side there is no companion bill for downgrading cannabis offenses but state senators should still be contacted to make them aware of the house bills and to possibly seek a sponsor for a senate version of the house bills.
We need everyone to do this. Everyone always asks, “What can I do to help decriminalize and legalize cannabis in Pennsylvania?” The thing that you must do now is to call your state representative’s office, your state senator and the chairman and members of the House Judiciary Committee and ask them to advance HB195 and HB928.

Take-A-Stand-e1397491401780There will be multiple rallies this summer in cities throughout Pennsylvania. You should go to those rallies. They are important for raising public awareness and making a strong statement. More importantly though, you have to make your voice heard to those who represent us.

If you are exceptionally knowledgeable and confident, schedule an appointment to talk to them directly and take along good information for them. If that doesn’t sound like you then call their office. Let them know why the cannabis laws must change.

th98EN45LMWe ask that you do this soon. The battle is not some time in the distant future. The battle is now. HB195 and HB928 are alive RIGHT NOW. If we all work hard we can pass one of these bills by the end of summer or by the end of THIS YEAR! Our goal is to get the downgraded penalties in effect by the time the medical cannabis dispensaries are in operation next year.

One we pass HB195 or HB928 we are in range of our ultimate goal – the full legalization of cannabis that includes the right to grow our own.

KCC will do our part. We will rally the troops and make the case to our lawmakers but we need YOU to do your part. It will take all of us working together in smart and effective ways. KCC relies on the generous donations of our supporters. If you would like to help fund this important work, please click the link and help us to stop the war.

Les Stark,
Executive Director, Keystone Cannabis Coalition

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