The DEA was at it again Wednesday, raiding 11 medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles County, including five in West Hollywood. City council members there had only the night before introduced an ordinance to permanently regulate the dispensaries, and they aren't happy.
Even as Canada's Conservative government works on a tough, law enforcement-heavy new national drug strategy, a study released Monday says such approaches have failed.
An activist's short but noteworthy life sets an example for others to follow...
It's been relatively quiet on the corrupt cop front this week, but we've still got a Newark police officer who made a bad choice of boyfriends, and the requisite pair of crooked jail guards.
A video camera captured the brutality of a pair of wrongful arrests in a case of mistaken identity in Pinellas County, Florida. Now the county gets to pay up.
Medical marijuana is currently legal in 10 states, but that number could nearly double with bills already introduced in a handful of states this year.
Local drug enforcement agents raided the offices of CannaCare, an Everett, Washington, medical marijuana support and advocacy group this week, accusing of it providing marijuana to patients.
No marijuana decriminalization bill has passed since the 1970s, but legislators in Massachusetts and New Hampshire are ready to try this year.
In his new state budget, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has under-funded for the popular and successful treatment-not-jail program Proposition 36. He's in for a fight.
The Scottish drug debate heated up this week as a Labor Party MSP attacked her party for heading in the wrong direction, and more than 250 senior police, health officials, academics, and others interested in drug policy pondered the future.
Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.
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by Phillip Smith, January 18, 2007, 07:45pm, (Issue #469)
Agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided 11 Los Angeles County medical marijuana dispensaries Wednesday, including five in the city of West Hollywood, where supportive officials have been working with store owners to responsibly regulate their operations. The raids mark a departure from recent DEA actions in the state, which for the most part this year have targeted dispensaries in areas where local officials are unsupportive of or even hostile to medical marijuana.
DEA agents dressed in SWAT-style attire seized several thousand pounds of processed marijuana, bagsful of cash, guns, and hundreds of marijuana plants. Agents detained 20 people, but none have so far been charged with any crime. It was the largest DEA swoop in the county in recent memory.
The DEA raiders were greeted yesterday by dozens of protestors chanting "DEA Go Away" and "States' Rights" along Santa Monica Boulevard, where four of the raided dispensaries sit in a five-block stretch. Thursday morning, about 100 people gathered at West Hollywood city hall to protest the assault on the state's medical marijuana law.
DEA post-raid publicity photo
California voters approved the use of medical marijuana in a 1996 initiative, but the federal government has never accepted that law. Wednesday's raids were only the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle that has seen dozens dispensaries raided this year. Unlike raids in places like Modesto, Riverside County, and San Diego, where recalcitrant local law enforcement worked hand in glove with the feds, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department did not participate, except to provide crowd control for anticipated expressions of public displeasure, and was not even informed of the raids until shortly before they took place.
"It's outrageous that we have a situation where the voters have spoken, the legislature has spoken, the courts have affirmed it, local officials are regulating it, and then the DEA comes in and says 'we know better,'" said William Dolphin, communications director for the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access, which helped organize the Wednesday and Thursday protests. "This is not how a democracy is supposed to work, and it is a terrible problem for patients. They say they aren't targeting patients, but they're doing everything they can to shut off their access to their medicine, and they're taking a page from the terrorists' handbook by simultaneously hitting a bunch of places to create an atmosphere of pervasive fear."
Medical marijuana activists were not the only people upset by the raids. The West Hollywood city council, which supports the state's medical marijuana law, had only the night before introduced an ordinance establishing permanent regulations for the dispensaries. It was thus little surprise that council members reacted testily.
"The state of California voted to allow marijuana for medical purposes," said West Hollywood city council member Abbe Land. "The City of West Hollywood along with other cities across the state have established regulations to govern the dispensing of medical marijuana, so that people whose lives depend on this drug can be assured of safe access to their medicine. The DEA should spend their time going after dispensaries that are not operating in accordance with local ordinances, as well as unscrupulous doctors who write illegitimate prescriptions," she continued.
"Today's actions again demonstrate the skewed priorities of the Bush administration and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration," said West Hollywood City Council Member Jeffrey Prang. "Providing safe access to medical marijuana for those living with serious and often painful illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, cancer and other terminal diseases is something this city supports. We have worked closely with our community to insure these establishments operate safely and comply with the spirit of Proposition 215 adopted by the voters of California."
The DEA couldn't care less. For the agency, marijuana is illegal, period. For the feds, the raids are not about stopping people from getting their medicine, but about crime, or at least so they say. "Today's enforcement operations show that these establishments are nothing more than drug trafficking organizations bringing criminal activities to our neighborhoods and drugs near our children and schools," crowed DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Ralph Partridge, as the agency displayed seized cash, candy bars, and cannabis.
"We're here to enforce the drug laws," DEA Los Angeles spokeswoman Special Agent Sarah Pullen told Drug War Chronicle Thursday. "Those were marijuana distribution centers, and the cultivation, possession, and distribution of marijuana in any form is a crime under federal law. Obviously there is a drug problem out here and there are many different types of drugs. We're working many different kinds of cases, and these raids are just one of them. We're doing our best to enforce the law."
"You certainly have to wonder if these guys don't have anything better to do," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "They raided several places in West Hollywood, a city which is working very hard to regulate its dispensaries to ensure that they're operating properly. The DEA cannot reasonably argue that these were runaway dispensaries; they went after some of the most carefully regulated dispensaries in the state," he told the Chronicle.
"This is yet one more example of the federal government's priorities being out of whack with any respect for federalism and state's rights, let alone human decency," Mirken said. "One can only hope this will give new impetus to efforts in Congress to rein them in," he said, referring to what was known in previous years as the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would bar the use of federal funds for raids on medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal.
"That's the only good side to this," said ASA's Dolphin. "Speaker Pelosi is an outspoken defender of medical marijuana access for patients, and we have a large number of new Democrats in the House, along with some Republicans like Rohrabacher. With this new Congress, we're much closer to passing something like Hinchey-Rohrabacher. And we will definitely see much more pressure for the DEA to provide some accountability."
When asked whether the agency might be setting itself up to lose funding for raids against medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal, the DEA's Pullen deferred to Washington. "That's a question for the director," she said. "We're just here to enforce the law." A Chronicle call to DEA director Karen Tandy's office has so far gone unreturned.
With the Justice Department and the DEA feeling emboldened since last year's Supreme Court decision in Raich, it may be that the only way to bring an end to the raids is to adopt a tactic increasingly bruited about in discussions of ending the war in Iraq: Cut off the funds.
Advocates will demonstrate against the DEA raid on Monday, January 22, noon, at 255 East Temple Street in Los Angeles, and a planning meeting will take place the preceding Saturday. Visit http://www.ASAaction.org for further information or to download a master copy of the event flyer. Visit http://www.safeaccessnow.org/article.php?id=3747 for info on supporting events happening nationwide.back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 18, 2007, 03:57pm, (Issue #469)
Despite formally adopting harm reduction as part of a national drug strategy in 2003, the Canadian government continues to spend the vast majority of its anti-drug funds on unproven and probably counterproductive law enforcement measures, according to a study published Monday. The report was released the same day as a Vancouver Sun poll that found two-thirds of Canadians support treating drug use as a public health issue. Together, the study and the poll are a clear shot across the bow for the Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper, which has promised a tough new national drug strategy with a heavy emphasis on law enforcement.
Produced by the BC Center for Excellence in AIDS, which is partially funded by the British Columbia provincial government, "Canada's 2003 renewed drug strategy -- an evidence-based review," offers a blistering critique of what its authors call the "Americanization" of Canadian drug policy. The study warns that continued reliance on such policies would be a "disaster."
Canadian Parliament, Ottawa (courtesy Library of Parliament)
The study found that of the $368 million the Canadian federal government spent on drug programs in 2004-05, some $271 million, or 73%, went to law enforcement measures such as Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigations, border control, and federal drug prosecutions. Another $51 million (14%) went to treatment programs, and $26 million (7%) was spent on "coordination and research," while prevention and harm reduction programs were on a starvation diet with $10 million (2.6%) each.
Canada has little to show for all that money spent on drug law enforcement, the study suggested. The report showed Canada's Drug Strategy has failed to stem the numbers of Canadians trying illicit drugs. In 1994, 28.5% of Canadians reported having consumed illicit drugs in their life; by 2004, that figure had jumped to 45%.
The proportion of federal anti-drug spending devoted to law enforcement activities has decreased from 95% in 2001 after the former Liberal government began emphasizing harm reduction and prevention in the face of criticism from the federal auditor-general and other critics. But for the authors of the study released Monday, the portion of the budget devoted to law enforcement remains unacceptably high.
"While the stated goal of Canada's Drug Strategy is to reduce harm, evidence obtained through this analysis indicates that the overwhelming emphasis continues to be on conventional enforcement-based approaches which are costly and often exacerbate, rather than reduce, harms," the report concluded.
"Current federal spending on scientifically proven initiatives which target HIV/AIDS and other serious harms is insignificant compared to the funds devoted to law enforcement," said Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the BC Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and one of the report's senior authors. "However, while harm-reduction interventions supported through the drug strategy are being held to an extraordinary standard of proof, those receiving the greatest proportion of funding remain under-evaluated or have already proven to be ineffective."
That comment was a direct shot at the Harper government's reluctance to reauthorize Insite, the Vancouver facility that is North America's only safe injection site for hard drug users. On September 1, when Health Minister Tony Clement gave the facility only a one-year reauthorization (it had asked for three), he publicly questioned research showing the site is effective, save lives, and does not increase drug use or crime rates in the neighborhood. More research was needed, Clement said.
That same day, the Canadian Police Association, representing rank and file officers, publicly condemned harm reduction measures. Association vice-president Tom Stamatakis told the media then that harm reduction was sucking too much money from law enforcement. "This harm-reduction focus has led to unprecedented levels of crime in our city," he said, calling for a new national strategy that focuses on treatment, prevention and enforcement.
But that is precisely what is not needed, the BC Center study found. "The proposed Americanization of the drug strategy towards entrenching a heavy-handed approach that relies on law enforcement will be a disaster," said Dr. Thomas Kerr, a study coauthor. "It is as if the federal government is willing to ignore a mountain of science to pursue an ideological agenda."
"I think it's great that this study has been released," said Donald McPherson, drug policy coordinator for the city of Vancouver. "It clearly shows that while there has been some movement since 2001, there is still not a very balanced drug strategy. This week's polling shows that the public gets it, that people understand this is primarily a health issue," he told Drug War Chronicle. "My hope is that people in the federal government will look at the evidence and eventually realize that evidence-based approaches are preferable to ideologically war on drugs-type approaches. The fact that the public gets it will help the politicians get it."
The study also won applause from New Democratic Party (NDP) Vancouver East Member of Parliament Libby Davies, who in a message to eNDProhibition, the party's anti-prohibitionist wing, said she agreed that "the Conservative government must stop relying on a law-enforcement approach to address problems associated with illegal drug use in Canada. My NDP colleagues and I have long supported a harm reduction, education, and prevention approach to illegal drug use in Canada," she added.
"Prohibitionists have never been called on to justify prohibition, and this report is saying they can't justify these policies," said Eugene Oscapella of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy. "This comes from a very credible organization, and it will help to sway public opinion," he told Drug War Chronicle. "It will resonate with Canadians in general, but I doubt it will make the Conservatives shift gears. These guys are quite willing to overlook the facts in pursuit of their ideological goals."
While Monday's Vancouver Sun poll showed only one-third of Canadians favoring tougher, law enforcement-based approaches, Oscapella noted, that one-third is the Conservative Party's base. "The Conservatives will go with their base on this, but to the extent this report educates the public, it could have an impact on the margins."
Drug War Chronicle contacted the Canadian Department of Justice for comment, but its press people referred us to Health Canada, which has not responded to the query.back to top
by David Borden, January 19, 2007, 01:10pm, (Issue #469)
Drug policy reform has lost a long-time friend and colleague. Aaron Wilson, a member of DRCNet's Board of Directors from 1997-1998, passed away unexpectedly of heart failure in his sleep on December 21 of last year, in his home in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
Aaron Wilson (courtesy RememberingAaron.org)
Though Aaron's professional work the last several years was in labor health and safety activism, his work opposing the drug war would make up an impressive resume on its own. From 1995-2000 he was staff and then associate director of the Partnership for Responsible Drug Information
in New York, where among other works he spearheaded a series of public forums, authored a major experts directory on drug policy for media
, helped to set up the Voluntary Committee Lawyers
organization and dealt with media himself. With Tom Leighton and Vinnie Kane (a firefighter who later lost his life on 9/11), Aaron co-founded the Marijuana Reform Party of New York, an organization that garnered extensive publicity and twice placed Leighton on the gubernatorial ballot. At Columbia University, where he earned two masters degrees, Aaron co-founded the Columbia University NORML chapter with Wayne Jebian and organized with the Faculty Senate to bring about a much-needed scrutinizing by the university of academic standards at Joe Califano's affiliated Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
Aaron was a major figure in the early development of the student drug policy reform movement, work that was close to his heart. During his undergraduate years at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, he co-founded, with close friends Brian Julin and Kai Price, the U-Mass Cannabis Reform Coalition (UMACRC), now the oldest continuously running campus drug policy reform group. I remember during DRCNet's early days reading about UMACRC's energetic work, including an action in which members brought small, yellow-colored jars of liquid to a job fair, where they delivered them to the booths of companies that do employee drug testing. Aaron told me the group reached a membership of several hundred people during his time there. A personal encounter verified for me later that UMACRC's achievements were indeed more than hype, when I met a cousin for the first time who went to college during the same years as Aaron and I told him what kind of work I do. My cousin told me that he understood legalization because he had gone to U-Mass and the issue had a high profile on the campus. Later, Aaron served as the National Campus Coordinator for NORML, and in 1999 he conceived and organized an important early student drug policy organizing conference.
Those are a few facts about Aaron's work, but facts of that sort alone fall short of really telling a person's story or what he meant to those around him. One of the most striking things about Aaron was how in his short life he managed to straddle such different worlds and ideas. Aaron was a radical with a Rasta cap, who was respected by doctors and lawyers. He was a gruff anti-authoritarian, who might lecture you on the importance of hard work and traditional morals. At a time when the drug policy reform movement was more cautious than before or since about anything that could be taken as "pro-drug," Aaron was an advocate for "pot power." I think he understood the humor these contrasts sometimes had. Speaking of hard work, I never understood how he would juggle a full-time job, school and multiple activist projects, and expect to come through on all of them, but I saw the results.
Aaron and I lost touch a long time ago, and I regret the lost years. I have occasionally heard, and since his passing read more about, his deeds over the years. He was Executive Director of the Western Massachusetts Committee for Occupational Safety and Health in Springfield, where he trained union members in improving health and safety conditions and helped families of deceased Chapman Valve, Inc. employees get compensation for uranium ore exposure. He helped put together the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, a collaboration between labor and environmental groups promoting safer alternatives to toxic chemical use. He was a member of the Amherst Town Meeting and the Hampshire County United Way Board of Directors, was Board Chairman of the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts, and was a delegate for now-Gov. Deval Patrick. His work in labor earned him much-deserved recognition, including the Micah Award for Springfield Community Activist of the Year and the Unsung Hero Award, and others.
I would like to have been there to celebrate some of those moments with him. But for me the old memories will have to be enough -- drives to Charlotte and Atlanta for local harm reduction conferences, attending the big New Orleans conference together, enjoying music and cable TV in Washington Heights, laughing whenever we'd meet one of the people we had only before known through the Internet. Some of my best friendships and most valuable professional relationships are owed to introductions Aaron made, and for that I will always be grateful.
Friends of Aaron have organized a memorial service, taking place at 1:00pm on Sunday, January 28 in Amherst -- they've rented a large auditorium on the campus, and are expecting to need the space. Visit http://RememberingAaron.org for information, to read more about him or share your own memories, or to donate to a scholarship fund established in his memory.
- David Bordenback to top
by Phillip Smith, January 18, 2007, 07:53pm, (Issue #469)
A relatively slow week this week. We've got a Garden State cop whose choice of boyfriends wasn't too wise, and the requisite pair of crooked jail guards. Let's get to it:
In Newark, New Jersey, a former Newark police officer was sentenced to seven years in prison last Friday for selling cocaine and helping her drug-dealing boyfriend elude police. Brandy Johnson, 30, a five-year veteran who was fired after she was arrested in July 2004, admitted that she sold 11 grams of cocaine for $400 dollars for her boyfriend and lied to police about the boyfriend's whereabouts after she was arrested. The boyfriend was found hiding in her attic the following month. Johnson pleaded guilty to cocaine distribution and official misconduct last September.
In Hernando, Mississippi, a a DeSoto County jail guard was fired Sunday after a Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics investigation into drug sales at the jail. Guard John Thomas, 29, had worked the night shift at the jail since September. Local officials said the results of the investigation would be turned over to the DEA, and that Thomas would be arrested once he is indicted.
In Chicago, a Cook County jail guard was arrested January 8 after authorities saw him buying two kilograms of cocaine from an informant. The value of the coke was set at $25,000. Guard Frederick Burton had been under surveillance for several months before being arrested, according to the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. Burton is in jail with bail set at $750,000 and a trial date set for January 31.back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 17, 2007, 11:17pm, (Issue #469)
Florida's Pinellas County has agreed to pay $100,000 to two men mistakenly arrested and roughed up by deputies from the sheriff's department's narcotics division. Fortunately for the men, Desmond Small, 26, and Christopher Lobban, 20, the incident was caught on videotape from a camera in a car rental office where the bad bust went down.
The August 17 incident occurred when deputies following a vehicle thought to be carrying drugs lost track of it. Minutes later, another pair of deputies spotted what they thought was the same vehicle and followed it to the car rental agency. When the vehicle's occupants got out and entered the car rental office, the deputies burst in with guns drawn and forced Small and Lobban to the floor. One deputy put his foot on the back of Small's head and and repeatedly pushed his face into the floor. Small suffered abrasions to his face and a cut to his mouth that required stitches. Rental agency employees said the carpet he was lying on was so bloodstained they had to throw it out. The video also showed two officers exchanging high-fives over their big bust, and one of them apparently stomping on Small's leg as he lay cuffed on the carpet.
Although rental agency employees who witnessed the arrest said Small and Lobban did not resist, the deputies accused Small of not cooperating. "I don't think they were resisting other than just being kind of shocked," rental employee Brad Bess told the St. Petersburg Times.
"I was like, 'What the hell is going on?'" Small said in an interview with sheriff's investigators released Wednesday. "I said, 'Sir, I didn't do anything.'"
The $100,000 pay-out to the two men was approved by County Attorney Susan Churuti. She said that given the results of the sheriff's department's investigation, the pair could have sued the county for civil rights violations, wrongful arrest and personal injury.
The two narcotics deputies, whose status as undercover agents apparently protects them from having their identities revealed, are now serving 12-day suspensions without pay and are on workplace suspension for a year.
But at least one county commissioner doesn't think that's enough. "If I were sheriff, I think I would send a stronger message that that kind of conduct is unacceptable," Commissioner Kenny Welch said. "And I'm not sure I want to see those two particular officers working narcotics in South County. I plan to raise that issue with the sheriff."back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 17, 2007, 11:08pm, (Issue #469)
With state legislatures getting down to business around the country this month, the medical marijuana issue is showing up at the statehouse. So far, bills to okay the medicinal use of the herb have been introduced in Michigan and South Carolina, with one planned in New Mexico. Meanwhile, in Vermont, which approved medical marijuana in 2004, a bill has been introduced that would expand the range of conditions for which it could be used.
Medical marijuana is currently legal in 11 states, beginning with a California initiative in 1996. Since then, seven more states (Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Maine and Washington) have approved medical marijuana through the initiative process, while in three states (Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont), it was approved by the legislature.
Arizona voters also approved medical marijuana at the polls, but the law there is effectively dead because it requires a doctor to prescribe it, which the DEA will not allow. Other states learned from Arizona's experience and require only a doctor's recommendation, thus getting around the DEA roadblock. In Maryland, the medicinal use of marijuana can be offered as an affirmative offense in the event a patient is arrested.
Whether this year will see additions to the list of medical marijuana states remains to be seen, of course, but some legislators have been quick off the mark. In Michigan, where medical marijuana obtained its first legislative hearing ever in November, Rep. Lamar Lemmons Jr. is set to introduce HB 4038, which is essentially the same bill as last year's. According to the Michigan legislature's web site, it will be formally introduced on Monday.
In South Carolina, state Sen. William Mescher (R-Pinopolis) last week introduced a bill, S 220, which would allow patients suffering from any open-ended list of medical ailments and their caregivers to possess up to six plants and one ounce of marijuana. Patients would have to register with the state, which would issue identification cards.
Mescher told the Florence Morning News his wife had died of lung cancer 24 years ago, and doctors at the time told him marijuana might alleviate some of her symptoms, but that she could become dependent. "There were concerns that she would become addicted," he said. "Here this woman had maybe two or three months to live -- and in extreme pain. It didn't make any difference if she became addicted."
A friend in similar circumstances now compelled him to act, he said. "To me, it's no different than morphine or any other painkiller that a doctor can prescribe. Some doctors say it doesn't help. But if the person thinks it's helping them, then it's helping them."
Mescher has a reputation as a determined crusader in South Carolina. He fought for a decade to legalize tattooing in the state so it could be regulated. "It took me 10 years to get tattooing regulated in South Carolina," Mescher said. "I've got a bulldog tenacity."
In New Mexico, the Drug Policy Alliance Network announced this week that it is again pushing the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act (last year's version here). For the past two years, the measure has passed every legislative hurdle, but not received a House floor vote for reasons primarily unrelated to the issue.
The law requires a patient to receive a recommendation for medical marijuana from his or her medical provider, after which the patient must submit an application to the New Mexico Department of Health for approval. The department will then issue an ID card that permits the patient and a primary caregiver to possess medical marijuana. A licensed facility approved by the Department of Health will be responsible for producing, distributing, and dispensing medical cannabis to patients.
In Massachusetts, the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts reports that Rep. Frank Smizik has reintroduced a medical marijuana bill, with this year's version numbered H 2507. (Last year's version is here.) Modeled on the law adopted next store in Rhode Island, the bill would provide protection for patients with a written recommendation from their doctors.
Meanwhile in Vermont, which passed a medical marijuana bill in 2004, Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has introduced a bill would expand the law to include additional diseases and conditions and allow patients to grow more marijuana for their own use. Under the current law, only cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis patients qualified, but under Sears' proposed S 007 that list would expand to include any "life threatening, progressive, and debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces severe, persistent, and intractable symptoms such as: cachexia or wasting syndrome; severe pain; severe nausea; or seizures."
The bill increases the number of plants patients or caregivers can grow from one mature plant to six and from two immature plants to 18. The amount of usable marijuana they can possess would be increased from one ounce to four.
The Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing January 11. Max Schlueter, head of the Vermont Crime Information Center, told the committee there were 29 people registered for the program. Patients like Steve Perry and Mark Tucci helped explain why the law needs to be changed.
Perry suffers from degenerative bone disease and would like to use marijuana to ease its symptoms, but it is not currently on the list of approved diseases. "Because the law doesn't allow me to legally use or obtain marijuana, I have to put myself at risk of being arrested and going to jail every time I need to ease the pain," Perry said.
Mark Tucci has multiple sclerosis, one of the currently approved trio of ailments, but he said the current law doesn't allow him to produce enough to supply his needs and forces him into the black market. "I'm getting sick of going out to try to find the stuff," said Tucci.
The legislative season in the states is young, but medical marijuana is off to a fast start in a handful of them.back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 18, 2007, 08:37pm, (Issue #469)
Washington state drug enforcement agents raided the headquarters of CannaCare, an Everett-based medical marijuana advocacy and support group Wednesday. Agents with the federally-funded West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team seized what they said was more than a thousand marijuana plants, as well as computers containing medical records and other personal information on about 200 people authorized to use the herb under state law. No one has yet been arrested or charged with a crime.
It is the second raid in a week at addresses linked to CannaCare. Last week, agents raided the Renton home of John Worthington, an associate of CannaCare head Steve Sarich, a prominent Washington medical marijuana advocate who, according to the Seattle Times, provoked police by "aannouncing that CannaCare will provide pot plants to patients."
In the Renton raid, police seized six marijuana plants, and Worthington screamed foul. "They went after me because I'm an activist, and I've been terrorized out of growing," Worthington told the Post-Intelligencer. "I can't have my kids frisked like they're criminals. That was disgusting. I'm not Al Capone -- I'm a dad."
Sarich, too, remains unrepentant. "Since they don't like medical marijuana, this is an attack on the people that support it," Sarich told the Seattle paper while insisting he is no drug dealer. According to Sarich, only a few ounces of marijuana were found in the raid, and most of the seized plants were unrooted clones and starter plants. The slightly more than $1,000 cash police seized was to pay his utility bill, he claimed.
But the network of patients around CannaCare and local privacy watchdogs are concerned about patient records falling into the hands of police. "Who knows what they're doing with our information?" said Steve Newman, who has multiple sclerosis and has been using marijuana, obtained through CannaCare, for two years. "It makes me concerned -- really, really concerned. But we're pretty helpless. Nobody can say much about it," he told the Post-Intelligencer.
"CannaCare had a lot of records related to patients they were providing cuttings for," said Alison Chin Holcomb, director of the Washington ACLU's Marijuana Education Project. "We are not real comfortable with law enforcement having the ability to disseminate information from people's medical records," she told Drug War Chronicle.
The group may move to restrict police access to those records, Holcomb said. "We're investigating what legal grounds we might have for requesting that a judge issue a protective order, or maybe even an order sealing those records," she said. "We want to minimize patient exposure."
But if CannaCare and Sarich were providing marijuana to more than one patient, there could be a tough legal battle ahead of them, Holcomb said. "Under Washington law, a designated caregiver can provide for only one patient. If it turns out he is providing to large numbers of people, that could be a real problem for him."back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 17, 2007, 11:04pm, (Issue #469)
Twelve states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon) have enacted some form of marijuana decriminalization, all of them during the 1970s, but if legislators in Massachusetts and New Hampshire have their way, that number will grow again this year for the first time in decades. In the former, friendly legislators are reintroducing a decrim bill, while in the latter, a local group is allying with legislators to push new legislation.
In Massachusetts, Senate Bill 881, sponsored by Sen. Pat Jehlen, with four cosponsors, is a refilling of a bill that was approved last year in the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee. It specifies a civil penalty for the possession of one ounce of less of marijuana of $250.
The Massachusetts effort builds on years of work by the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts and the Bay State NORML affiliate, MassCann. The two groups have brought ballot questions urging their representatives to support various marijuana reform measures before more than 400,000 Bay State voters, and won every one of them. It remains to be seen if the popular support for reform can be translated into a new decrim law.
In New Hampshire, a new grassroots group, the Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy is urging support for HB 92, which was set for a Wednesday hearing in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
"Despite the threat of severe penalties, many responsible, productive New Hampshire citizens continue to use marijuana. As long as these individuals do not harm others, we believe it is unwise and unjust to continue persecuting them as enemies of the state," the group declared.
Hopeful that the Granite State's "Live Free or Die" motto will resonate with their peers, Reps. Chuck Weed (D-Keene), Paul Ingbretson (R-Haverill), and Steve Vailancourt (R-Manchester) sponsored the bill. But even though Democrats took over both houses in the November elections, the measure's chances are uncertain. It will be opposed by the usual suspects in law enforcement and the Attorney General's office. The fate of a 2001 medical marijuana bill, which was overwhelmingly defeated, also signals potential problems.
Still, despite a decades-long hiatus since the decrim glories of the Carter years, legislators in at least two states will have the opportunity to renew a long dormant reform movement.back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 17, 2007, 11:21pm, (Issue #469)
As part of his 2007-08 budget released this week, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting funding for the state's treatment-not-jail program, Proposition 36. Under the six-year-old program, people charged with drug possession can be diverted into drug treatment instead of being sent to prison. Some 140,000 people have entered treatment under Prop. 36, saving the state an estimated $1.3 billion dollars in prison costs.
Passed by the voters in 2000, Prop. 36 mandated that the state allocate $120 million a year for its first five years. Last year, the first year in which the legislature had to set funding, it approved $145 million for Prop. 36. Schwarzenegger's proposed budget is thus a $25 million dollar decrease from the previous year. But it is almost $90 million less than the $209.3 million the California Coalition of Alcohol and Drug Associations estimated is needed to "adequately address the treatment needs."
To make matters worse, Schwarzenegger's proposal would funnel $60 million of the $120 million into the year-old Substance Abuse Offender Treatment Program (OTP), which requires counties to come up with matching funds before they can get any of the state funds. Cash-starved county governments will have to come up with the money or they will lose out. The counties have already said they will challenge that requirement, and the measure could lead to lawsuits by counties or drug offenders if treatment is not made available.
Schwarzenegger's proposed cuts come despite a UCLA analysis showing that taxpayers saved $2.50 for every dollar invested in the program. Look for a funding battle in Sacramento over Prop. 36 this year.back to top
by Phillip Smith, January 17, 2007, 11:13pm, (Issue #469)
On the eve of a major conference on new approaches to Scottish drug and alcohol policy Monday, outgoing Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) Susan Deacon, blasted her party's increasingly hard-line approach to drug policy, defended harm reduction approaches, and called drug prohibition "the product of a bygone age." The harsh critique of the Scottish Labor Party's disdain for methadone maintenance, push for abstention-based drug treatment, and enthusiasm for taking children from drug-using parents came in an opinion piece published in the Sunday Herald, "The Political Addiction to Tough Talking on Drugs Has Failed Us All."
Deacon, the MSP for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh, is a member of the Scottish Royal Academy's RSA UK Commission on Illegal Drugs, Public Policy and Communities
, which will issue a report in March. She is also a former Labor health minister who will retire after the next elections. And she is increasingly at odds with her bench-mates on drug policy. The party's recent moves toward abstinence-based "contracts" for addicts and away from previous support for methadone maintenance prompted Deacon to respond with vigor.
"The fact is," she wrote, "it's time to get real. The demonization of drugs and drugs users may make for rabble-rousing speeches and sensationalist headlines but it does little to promote understanding of what is really going on in our society, to help those whose lives are affected. Here in Scotland, we have seen too many knee-jerk responses and blanket solutions. Policy and practice should not be framed by immediate reactions to the latest tragic incident or research report. We need a pragmatic approach to drugs policy -- not a moralistic one."
The notion that methadone maintenance had failed was "nonsense," Deacon wrote. "What about the people for whom methadone has helped them to move away from criminal activity, to hold down a job or to look after their children?" Deacon called proposed moves to restrict treatment options "utterly perverse" and said the idea of taking children from drug-using parents was "paternalistic and simplistic."
But while she explicitly defended harm reduction as a policy approach to drug problems, Deacon also attacked drug prohibition. "UK drugs control laws are more than 30 years old, a product of a bygone age," she wrote. "A growing number of voices, both at home and abroad, are raising questions about whether the current national and international legal framework is fit for purpose -- this discussion cannot be a no-go area."
Oddly enough, Deacon's intra-party foe on drug policy, MSP Duncan McNeil called her critique "conservative." McNeil, who first proposed the idea of "contracts" for drug users, said of Deacon: "The harm reduction policy was well meant and necessary, but things move on. Susan has her views on this subject but she has become very conservative.
"The Labor Party has gone through an extensive consultation on this, but Susan didn't take part in the debate on it at conference."
While her own Labor Party was one target of Deacon's opinion piece, she also aimed to inoculate Monday's Scottish parliament's Futures Forum from more reflexive drug fighter chest-beating. The forum brought together more than 250 senior police officers, academics, community leaders, and health professionals seeking a "fresh perspective" on Scotland's approach to drugs and alcohol.
According to one account of the forum, Deacon may have found a more receptive audience there than within her own party. That account found leading police official and drug policy experts talking bluntly about the need to get beyond "macho posturing" and how the Misuse of Drugs Act was "not fit for contemporary purpose."
With endemic heroin and alcohol abuse, and now, the newfound popularity of cocaine, Scotland is in need of new approaches to drug policy. With politicians like Deacon fighting regressive tendencies in her own party and ongoing efforts like the Futures Forum and the RSA UK Commission on Drugs underway, Scottish politicians will have the knowledge base to act. Whether they will have the political will to apply that knowledge remains to be seen.back to top
by David Guard, January 18, 2007, 09:32pm, (Issue #469)
January 23, 1912: In the Hague, twelve nations sign a treaty restricting opium and coca production.
January 21, 1943: The New York Times reports that swing-band leader Gene Krupa pleaded innocent to a charge that he contributed to the delinquency of a minor by asking 17-year-old John Pateakos to fetch marijuana cigarettes from his hotel room for him.
January 25, 1990: President George Bush proposes to add an additional $1.2 billion to the budget for the war on drugs, including a 50% increase in military spending.
January 22, 1992: The California Research Advisory Panel concludes that drug prohibition has a more harmful effect on society and the individual than illegal drugs.
January 24, 1992: A Washington Post editorial comments, "...performance testing appears to be more effective than the standard urinalysis now used in the industry both after accidents and on a random basis." It also mentions that 97 percent of railroad accidents are caused by fatigue, illness, stress and other factors not associated with drug or alcohol use, and states, "On an annual basis, the test is less expensive than periodic urinalysis, and it’s far less intrusive."
January 25, 1993: Based on a tip that drugs were on the premises, police smash down the door and rush into the home of Manuel Ramirez, a retired golf course groundskeeper living in Stockton, California. Ramirez awakes, grabs a pistol and shoots and kills one policeman before other officers kill him. No drugs are found.
January 25, 1994: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act extends ONDCP's mission to assessing budgets and resources related to the National Drug Control Strategy. It also establishes specific reporting requirements in the areas of drug use, availability, consequences, and treatment.
January 25, 1995: The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is incorporated as a nonprofit organization in the District of Columbia by Robert Kampia and Chuck Thomas. MPP’s mission is to provide the marijuana law-reform movement with full-time, organized lobbying on the federal level.
January 23, 1996: President Clinton nominates General Barry McCaffrey to become the nation's fourth drug czar.
January 20, 1997: The Lymphoma Foundation calls for rescheduling of marijuana as a medicine and the reopening of the Investigational New Drug compassionate access program.
January 19, 1999: Twenty heavily armed officers from the Placer County sheriff's department in northern California raid the home of Steve and Michele Kubby.
January 20, 2000: John Warnecke, former friend and colleague of Al Gore at The Tennessean, contradicts Gore's characterization of his past marijuana use as minimal.
January 21, 2003: Ed Rosenthal's federal trial for marijuana cultivation begins. Rosenthal was growing medically with authorization from the city of Oakland, California, but his legal team is barred by Judge Charles Breyer from informing the jury of this. Rosenthal is ultimately convicted but sentenced to one day.
January 21, 2003: A Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) article discusses a Commonwealth Government report that found tobacco and alcohol accounts for 83 percent of the cost of drug abuse in Australia, dwarfing the financial impact of illegal drugs.
January 21, 2003: MAPS and California NORML sign a contract for a $25,000 protocol study to evaluate the contents of the vapor stream from the Volcano Vaporizer.
January 24, 2005: The US Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision, rules that police do not violate the Fourth Amendment when they use drug-detecting dogs to locate illegal drugs in the trunks of cars during a legal traffic stop.back to top
by David Borden, January 18, 2007, 06:34pm, (Issue #469)
Are you a fan of DRCNet, and do you have a web site you'd like to use to spread the word more forcefully than a single link to our site can achieve? We are pleased to announce that DRCNet content syndication feeds are now available. Whether your readers' interest is in-depth reporting as in Drug War Chronicle, the ongoing commentary in our blogs, or info on specific drug war subtopics, we are now able to provide customizable code for you to paste into appropriate spots on your blog or web site to run automatically updating links to DRCNet educational content.
For example, if you're a big fan of Drug War Chronicle and you think your readers would benefit from it, you can have the latest issue's headlines, or a portion of them, automatically show up and refresh when each new issue comes out.
If your site is devoted to marijuana policy, you can run our topical archive, featuring links to every item we post to our site about marijuana -- Chronicle articles, blog posts, event listings, outside news links, more. The same for harm reduction, asset forfeiture, drug trade violence, needle exchange programs, Canada, ballot initiatives, roughly a hundred different topics we are now tracking on an ongoing basis. (Visit the Chronicle main page, right-hand column, to see the complete current list.)
If you're especially into our new Speakeasy blog section, new content coming out every day dealing with all the issues, you can run links to those posts or to subsections of the Speakeasy.
Click here to view a sample of what is available -- please note that the length, the look and other details of how it will appear on your site can be customized to match your needs and preferences.
Contact us for assistance or to let us know what you are running and where. And thank you in advance for your support.back to top
by David Borden, January 18, 2007, 06:41pm, (Issue #469)
RSS feeds are the wave of the future -- and DRCNet now offers them! The latest Drug War Chronicle issue is now available using RSS at http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/feed online.
We have many other RSS feeds available as well, following about a hundred different drug policy subtopics that we began tracking since the relaunch of our web site this summer -- indexing not only Drug War Chronicle articles but also Speakeasy blog posts, event listings, outside news links and more -- and for our daily blog postings and the different subtracks of them. Visit our Site Map page to peruse the full set.
Thank you for tuning in to DRCNet and drug policy reform!back to top
by David Borden, January 18, 2007, 06:43pm, (Issue #469)
With the launch of our new web site, The Reformer's Calendar no longer appears as part of the Drug War Chronicle newsletter but is instead maintained as a section of our new web site:
The Reformer's Calendar publishes events large and small of interest to drug policy reformers around the world. Whether it's a major international conference, a demonstration bringing together people from around the region or a forum at the local college, we want to know so we can let others know, too.
But we need your help to keep the calendar current, so please make sure to contact us and don't assume that we already know about the event or that we'll hear about it from someone else, because that doesn't always happen.
We look forward to apprising you of more new features of our new web site as they become available.back to top
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