Drug War Chronicle #698 - August 25, 2011

1. Oklahoma Bill Would End Life Without Parole Drug Sentences [FEATURE]

Oklahoma has long been notorious for its harsh sentencing policies. Now, a legislator is taking aim at one of the harshest: life without parole for nonviolent drug offenses.

2. Three Marijuana Legalization Initiatives in Oregon [FEATURE]

Oregon marijuana legalization activists are working on three different initiatives aimed at the November 2012 ballot -- but are also offering assurances about unity and working together.

3. Second California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed

A second initiative to legalize marijuana in California has now been filed. This one would repeal all criminal penalties for adult use, cultivation, and distribution and give the state six months to come up with regulations for cannabis commerce.

4. Peru Halts Coca Eradication -- For Now

The new nationalist government of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has announced the temporary suspension of coca eradication as it evaluates its options.

5. Few Florida Welfare Applicants Fail Drug Tests So Far

Florida Gov. Rick Scott claimed he could save the state money by making welfare applicants and recipients pass drug tests. He assumed they were a bunch of addicts, but early results are proving him wrong.

6. Rhode Island Docs Tell Governor to Okay Marijuana Dispensaries

The Rhode Island Medical Society is calling on Gov. Chafee to quick blocking the licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries, but he doesn't appear to be ready yet.

7. Michigan Marijuana Dispensaries Illegal, Appeals Court Rules

A Michigan appeals court has shut the door on medical marijuana dispensaries, ruling that sales are not legal, even among patients.

8. New Jersey Medical Marijuana Patient Sent to Prison

John Ray Wilson was sent to prison Wednesday in New Jersey for the crime of growing his own medicine. Meanwhile, medical marijuana is now legal there and state-registered dispensaries are about to open. Go figure.

9. Arkansas Medical Marijuana Push Sparks Reaction

The religious right is rising up to contest an Arkansas medical marijuana initiative, but the pot people have some ecumenical resources on their side, too.

10. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A drug-robbing Philly cop heads to prison; so does a Houston deputy who helped an Ecstasy dealer, but a lying Oklahoma cop will walk free, and a Texas prison is looking at prison for smuggling dope to prisoners.

11. This Week in History

Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.

1. Oklahoma Bill Would End Life Without Parole Drug Sentences [FEATURE]

Despite some recent sentencing reforms, Oklahoma still has some of the harshest drug laws in the country, including life without parole for some drug offenses. One Oklahoma legislator says it is time for life without parole for nonviolent drug offenses to go.

Sen. Constance Johnson
State Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) last Wednesday introduced Senate Bill 986 (no link yet available), which would end life sentences without parole for nonviolent drug offenses and require the state Pardon and Parole Board to review all existing life without parole sentences for those offenses. The measure also addresses punishment enhancements for felony offenses.

"Numerous studies have shown that these sentences do not reduce drug use, but rather result in lengthy prison terms that contribute to overcrowding and increased costs," Johnson said, citing research from the The Sentencing Project, a Washington, DC-based research and advocacy group. "We must develop more reasonable and cost effective policies to address drug crimes rather than locking up offenders for life, something that financially hurts the state as well as the families of these individuals."

Although Johnson had scheduled a press conference Wednesday to announce the introduction of the bill, the announcement was delayed for a day because she wanted to attend a Pardon and Parole Board hearing for one of the victims of the life without parole law, 61-year-old Larry Yarbrough, who is 17 years into his life sentence for possession of an ounce of cocaine and three marijuana cigarettes after having previous felony convictions, including distribution of marijuana and distribution of LSD in the 1980s.

Yarbrough, a model prisoner whose case has garnered national media attention, had been recommended for a commutation to 20 years by the parole board in 2002, but that recommendation was vetoed by then Gov. Frank Keating (R). He had better luck Wednesday, with the board commuting his sentence to 42 years, meaning he will be eligible for release sometime next year if Gov. Mary Fallin (R) agrees.

At the parole board hearing were more than two dozen supporters, including members of Yarbrough's family, his attorney, Sen. Johnson, and one of the jurors in the case that got him sentenced to life. That juror, Dennis Will of Hennessey, sent a letter to the board last week urging the board to release Yarbrough. In the letter, Will said he did not vote for a life sentence for Yarbrough and believes "he was set up and railroaded by the Kingfisher County judicial system."

Yarbrough, who is imprisoned at the Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville, testified via electronic link. He told the board he had undergone numerous drug treatment programs and had acted as a mentor for newly arriving prisoners sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent drug offenses. There are currently 48 drug lifers in the Oklahoma prison system.

"This is a victory," Yarbrough's attorney, Debra Hampton, told the Associated Press after the board commuted his sentence.

"We have murderers, rapists and child molesters getting paroled, but here is a husband, father, grandfather, businessowner and community servant who could spend half his life in prison costing the state millions of dollars," said Johnson.  "We have people serving less time for greater amounts of drugs than what Mr. Yarbrough was convicted of -- an ounce of cocaine and three marijuana cigarettes. Surely 17 years is a long enough punishment for his crime.  In the name of justice and common sense, I urge Gov. Fallin to accept the board's recommendations," she added.

"Wednesday's hearing was timely with regard to a statewide advocacy push to achieve this and other measures that evidence shows will reduce the costs of incarceration to our state," Sen. Johnson continued. "Fortunately, other state and local officials are beginning to see that the current system has filled our prisons to near capacity, cost the state millions in tax dollars, and still isn't working."

Johnson was referring to the passage in May of House Bill 2131, a sentencing reform bill sponsored by the Republican legislative leadership. That bill, now the law of the land, removes the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenses, expands community sentencing eligibility, and provides for GPS monitoring of nonviolent offenders.

"We took a step in the right direction in the legislature this past session passing major reforms for our state's correction system under HB 2131, which will save our state millions of dollars, and still protect the public from the state's most dangerous, violent offenders. These were great first steps but we have even more to do this coming session and beyond.  We need to ensure that offenders' sentences fairly match their crimes, both as a matter of human decency and fiscal responsibility," said Johnson.

Johnson introduced legislation to eliminate life without parole for nonviolent drug offenses in 2010, but that bill was bottled up in committee and went nowhere. Let's hope that the legislature's passage of sentencing reform this year and the parole board's commutation of Yarbrough's sentence are indicators of changed attitudes in the state this year and beyond.

back to top

2. Three Marijuana Legalization Initiatives in Oregon [FEATURE]

Activists in Oregon are serious about legalizing marijuana. There are currently three different marijuana legalization initiative campaigns aimed at the November 2012 ballot underway there and, this year, there are signs the state's fractious marijuana community is going to try to overcome sectarian differences and unify so that the overarching goal -- freeing the weed -- can be attained.

The three initiatives are in varying stages of advancement, with one already engaged in signature-gathering, one just approved for a ballot title, and the third trying to obtain the 1,000 signatures necessary to be granted a ballot title and be approved for signature-gathering.

The initiative currently furthest down the path toward the ballot box, is the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 2012 (Initiative Petition #9), sponsored by veteran activist and medical marijuana entrepreneur Paul Stanford. It would allow adult Oregonians to possess and grow their own marijuana. It would allow Oregon farmers to grow hemp. And it would license Oregon farmers to grow marijuana to be sold at state-licensed pot stores. An earlier version of OCTA failed to make the ballot last year.

OCTA has been approved for signature-gathering, and OCTA spokespersons said it had so far collected more than 30,000 signatures. It needs some 87,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot, so OCTA's goal is to gather about 130,000 to have a comfortable cushion to account for invalid signatures.

The initiative next in line is a proposed constitutional amendment (Initiative Petition #24) to repeal the state's marijuana laws sponsored by the Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative, which is supported by numerous in-state groups. "Except for actions that endanger minors or public safety, neither the criminal offenses and sanctions nor the laws of civil seizure and forfeiture of this state shall apply to the private personal use, possession or production of marijuana by adults 21 years of age and older," the amendment says. "The State may enact laws and regulations consistent with this amendment to reasonably define, limit and regulate the use, possession, production, sale or taxation of marijuana under state law."

Because it is a constitutional amendment and not an initiative, the OMPI must climb a higher hurdle to qualify for the ballot. Instead of 87,000 valid signatures, it needs 114,000.

The initiative still in the initial phase of qualifying for a ballot title is from Sensible Oregon, a coalition formed this year that includes Oregon NORML and a variety of other groups. The Sensible Oregon initiative "would remove existing civil and criminal penalties for adults twenty one years of age, who cultivate, possess, transport, exchange or use marijuana" and require the legislature to come up with a regulatory scheme.

The Sensible Oregon initiative has gathered about 400 of the initial 1,000 needed to win a ballot title. Activists are gathering them on a volunteer basis.

"We don’t have any paid petitioners; we're working strictly as volunteers," said Oregon NORML board member and Sensible Oregon spokesperson Anna Diaz, who added that it is difficult to obtain funding at this early stage. "When we talk to various funding sources, we need to wait for the ballot title before anyone will take us very seriously. Once we do that, our hope is that we can go after some big funding."

Funding is also an issue for the OCTA campaign, said campaign spokesperson Jennifer Alexander. "We had to stop our signature gathering effort because we need to do some major fundraising," she said. "We have some volunteers, but we're trying to raise about $150,000 to fund the rest of the signature drive. If we can raise the money, we can do it in eight or ten weeks."

OCTA will be the initiative "most accepted by the public," Alexander said. "It also addresses hemp, which would be a huge economic and environmental boon to the Oregon economy, and it provides the regulatory structure that Oregonians are most familiar with, similar to how we handle alcohol. You can grow your own or you can buy it from the store, and the money goes back to the state, which generates revenue and a regulated environment."

Last year, Oregon NORML supported OCTA, but it is going down a different path this year. "Paul Stanford has been trying to pass some form of OCTA for about 20 years, and we didn't want to do the same thing and get the same results," said Diaz. "At the same time, the Sensible Washington people had come forward with the idea of removing all criminal penalties, and we decided that would be more appealing to voters and a better model to attempt," Diaz said. "While we are not disparaging Paul or his efforts, OCTA has just failed one too many times for us."

Doug McVay, a long-time activist now (again) working for Voter Power, the group behind Oregon's successful 1998 medical marijuana initiative, said Voter Power supports any and all of the initiatives, but is concentrating its limited resources on the OMPI constitutional amendment and a second initiative that would create a state-regulated medical marijuana dispensary system.

"In Oregon, we have three chances to make history, and that's exciting," he said. "All of them or any of them could create a ripple, hell, a tidal wave across the country. I will be working to help them make the ballot and working to make their passage a reality."

Factionalism and in-fighting has been the bane of the marijuana movement in Oregon, as in so many other places, but this time around, there is a lot of talk about unity and supporting whatever will work.

"We will get behind other initiatives if ours doesn't work out," said Diaz. "There is also talk about all three initiatives doing polling to see which would really fly, and all of us jumping on that. Surprisingly, this is one time where I'm hearing proponents of every proposed initiative suggesting we should all support each other. It's not a matter of competing against each other."

"We're all trying to end prohibition and these are just different models to do so," said OCTA's Alexander. "I love that we have so many going to the ballot. We have all pretty much agreed that whichever one makes the ballot, we will support it. There have been a lot of people picking apart the different initiatives, but we have to get behind each other and work for the common goal."

That would be a very good thing. A marijuana movement unified around a legalization initiative would be able to concentrate on real opposing forces instead of having to defend itself from sniping from within. We don't want to see a repeat of last year's experience in California, where "Stoners against Prop 19" types had initiative organizers looking over their shoulders to fend off attacks from within the ranks even as they tried to confront the organized opposition.

back to top

3. Second California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed

And then there were two. A group of Northern California attorneys, activists, and at least one prominent medical marijuana doctor Friday filed the text for a second marijuana legalization initiative aimed at the 2012 election in Sacramento Friday.

The 753-word initiative, the Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act, simply does what the title suggests: It would repeal all sections of California law imposing criminal penalties for pot possession, cultivation, or distribution for adults. The state Department of Health would be charged with regulating public smoking and pot use by minors, which would remain illegal. Driving while impaired would still be illegal, and providing pot to a minor would result in a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Anyone possessing, growing or otherwise involved with less than three pounds of pot would face no taxes. The Department of Public Health would have 180 days to come up with regulations for cannabis commerce.

The initiative is being backed by some familiar Northern California faces. Official proponents for the measure are Santa Rosa criminal defense attorney Joe Rogaway, Sebastopol criminal defense attorney Omar Figueroa, Oakland medical marijuana attorney Bill Panzer, Mendocino County medical marijuana activist Pebbles Trippet, and Berkeley-based medical marijuana physician Dr. Frank Lucido.

The repeal initiative is the second legalization initiative to get moving this year. Late last month, the Regulate Cannabis Like Wine initiative, filed by Libertarian Party and marijuana activist Steve Kubby and former Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray, was approved to begin signature-gathering.

Observers are also waiting to see what will happen with the folks behind last year's Proposition 19 campaign, which came achingly close to victory with more than 46% of the vote. They are still keeping mum, despite rumors they will wait until 2016 because of a lack of funds and poor polling results.

Any legalization initiative will face the huge hurdle of actually gathering enough valid voter signatures to make the ballot. It will take more than 504,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot, and repeal initiative organizers estimate it will take $1.25 million just to gather the signatures.

And then there were two. Before this is over, there could be one or two more. Now, it becomes a matter of who can come up with the money to get one (or more) on the ballot for November 2012.

back to top

4. Peru Halts Coca Eradication -- For Now

The government of newly elected Peruvian President Ollanta Humala announced last week that it is suspending the US-backed coca eradication program in the Upper Huallaga Valley, the only ongoing eradication program in the country. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Peru has surpassed Colombia as the world's largest coca leaf producer, although Colombia maintains a slight lead in cocaine production.

Town plaza with statues honoring the coca leaf in the VRAE (photo by the author)
The Upper Huallaga isn't Peru's largest coca growing area -- that distinction belongs to the Ene and Apurimac River Valleys (VRAE in the Spanish acronym), but that area is considered too lawless to even attempt eradication.

Newly appointed head of the National Commission for the Development of Life Without Drugs Ricardo Soberon told reporters last Wednesday that the program was being suspended so the Humala government could "evaluate the policies." Soberon added that the Humala government is in the midst of renegotiating anti-drug agreements with the US and that past anti-drug policies have failed, leading to an increase in cultivation.

Soberon is a well-known advocate of progressive drug policies and talks about reduction rather than eradication, saying efforts should be aimed at coca plots in national parks, near maceration pits where cocaine is produced, and that are beyond an "acceptable" size. His appointment as Peru's drug czar sends a strong signal that Humala wants to do something different when it comes to coca policy.

According to the UNODC, Peruvian coca production increased 2% over last year. The Andean nation is cultivating 150,000 acres of coca this year. Coca consumption is legal in Peru. So is production, as long as coca farmers register with ENACO, the government coca monopoly, which stockpiles coca for traditional and medicinal uses. But tens of thousands of Peruvian coca farmers grow without registering, and much of their production is destined to be turned into cocaine to be sold to ravenous North American, European, and Brazilian consumers.

Campaign sign urging voters in the VRAE to vote for the coca leaf symbol and the parties it represents. (photo by the author)
Humala, a leftist nationalist, campaigned on a platform that included decriminalizing unregistered coca growers, and even low-level players in the cocaine trade, but he has said his government is committed to the anti-drug struggle. He counted major coca growers among his supporters during the election campaign.

But on Friday, the Associated Press reported that US officials said they had received assurances from Peru that it would continue to cooperate in anti-drug efforts.

"We do not believe that the temporary suspension of eradication this week represents a permanent shift in the Peruvian government's counternarcotics policy," the State Department said. Peruvian government officials "at the highest levels" assured the US Embassy in Lima "of their intention to continue close collaboration in the fight against narcotics trafficking and criminality, and to work together to continue to reduce the cultivation of illegal coca in Peru," it said.

Still, with President Evo Morales in Bolivia and now with President Ollanta Humala in Peru, the US-imposed orthodoxy of coca eradication in place since the 1980s is increasingly being replaced by policies more in line with the interests of Lima and La Paz rather than Washington.

back to top

5. Few Florida Welfare Applicants Fail Drug Tests So Far

During his election campaign last year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) campaigned on, among other things, cutting government spending by reducing the welfare rolls through drug testing. Welfare recipients were more likely than average citizens to be drug users, he claimed.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/drugtest.jpg
drug testing paraphernalia
Scott successfully pushed his welfare drug testing bill through the legislature, and the program went into effect July 1. But preliminary results undercut his claims of high drug use rates among people seeking welfare benefits and they suggest that the vaunted savings to taxpayers will not be very significant.

According to the Tampa Tribune, the state Department of Children and Families is reporting some preliminary numbers. So far, at least 1,000 applicants have undergone drug testing, and only 2% have failed their drug tests. Another 2% have, for reasons unknown, failed to complete the application process.

These numbers suggest that not only are Florida welfare recipients not a bunch of lazy junkies getting high on the backs of taxpayers, but that they actually use drugs at a significantly lower rate than the population as a whole. [Ed: Drug testing proponents might argue that the program is causing applicants to stop using drugs in order to quality for benefits. But that ideas squares neither with the "addict" characterization commonly made about welfare recipients nor the weeks that marijuana remains detectable in the bloodstream after its last use.]

According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 8.7% of the population nationally over age 12 used an illicit drug in the previous month. The rate was 6.3% for those ages 26 and up. The 2006 national survey disaggregated usage rates by state and found a figure of 7.69% of people 12 and over using within the past month in Florida.

The ACLU of Florida, which is studying a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the warrantless, suspicionless mandatory drug tests, told the Tampa Tribune the Florida law is based on stereotypes of poor people.

"This is just punishing people for being poor, which is one of our main points," said ACLU of Florida spokesman Dan Newton. "We're not testing the population at-large that receives government money; we're not testing people on scholarships, or state contractors. So why these people? It's obvious -- because they're poor."

These initial numbers also suggest that the welfare drug testing program will not be a big money saver for the state. Under the law, while welfare applicants and recipients must pay for the drug tests out of their own pockets, the state must reimburse those who test negative. At an estimated $30 a pop for the drug tests, that creates significant expenditures for the state.

Those expenditures are canceled out by the savings the state makes by not making welfare payments to those who test positive. If the current 2% positive test result rate holds true, the Tampa Tribune calculates, the state could save somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000 a year.

But that's a drop in the bucket in a program that is predicted to cost $178 million this year, and it doesn't include staff costs and other resources the state has expended to implement the program -- nor the cost if even one person testing positive ends up in an emergency room or courtroom as a result. And even the small savings projected by the Tribune could be wiped out by the cost of defending what is likely to be found an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of Florida welfare applicants and recipients to be free of unwarranted searches.

back to top

6. Rhode Island Docs Tell Governor to Okay Marijuana Dispensaries

Dispensaries to serve medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island have been on hold since the spring, when, citing pressure from the federal government, Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I), blocked them from moving forward. Now, the Rhode Island Medical Society has sent him a letter saying the time for delay is over.

Citing fear of the feds, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee continues to block dispenary licensing. (image via Wikimedia)
A regulated system of dispensaries is crucial in providing "a source mechanism for patients to obtain their marijuana in a safe and legal manner," said society president Dr. Gary Bubly in the letter sent to Chafee and state Health Department Director Michael Fine.

"It requires appropriate security and oversight allowing patients to obtain their marijuana in a controlled environment," he wrote. "Further delay in implementing this law only serves to deny relief to patients suffering from the qualifying medical conditions."

After two years of reviews and public hearings, the state announced in March that it had selected three dispensaries to grow and sell medical marijuana to Rhode Island's nearly 4,000 registered patients. But the next month, US Attorney Peter Neronha sent Chafee a letter warning that people involved in large-scale drug production operations could face civil and criminal prosecution, prompting Chafee to block the issuing of licenses pending clarification from Neronha and the US Department of Justice.

Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger told the Providence Journal Monday that the governor has received a copy of the society's letter, but had yet to review it. She said the governor's office continues to review what other states are doing regarding dispensary licensing and that his decision to place a hold on licensing in Rhode Island remains in effect.

Other states in the Northeast, including Delaware, Maine, and Vermont ignored the federal threats and have moved ahead with licensing dispensaries. Last month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) ended that state's hold on dispensaries in the face of the threats, saying he though the risk was low when "reading between the lines" in the letters, and worth taking.

back to top

7. Michigan Marijuana Dispensaries Illegal, Appeals Court Rules

Medical marijuana cannot be sold in dispensaries, the Michigan Court of Appeals held in an opinion released Wednesday. The ruling held that the state's 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana law does not allow for medical marijuana to be sold, even among the nearly 100,000 people who have state-issued medical marijuana cards.

Dispensaries are now a no-no in Michigan. (image via Wikimedia)
The 3-0 decision came in Michigan v. McQueen, in which local authorities had sought to shut down the Compassionate Apothecary in Mount Pleasant as a "public nuisance." The ruling means other communities can target the estimated 200 to 300 dispensaries now operating in the state.

"The 'medical use' of marijuana does not include patient-to-patient 'sales' of marijuana. Defendants, therefore, have no authority under the [law] to operate a marijuana dispensary that actively engages in and carries out patient-to-patient sales," said appeals court judges Joel Hoekstra, Christopher Murray and Cynthia Diane Stephens.

"This ruling is a huge victory for public safety and Michigan communities struggling with an invasion of pot shops near their schools, homes and churches," said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement. "The court echoed the concerns of law enforcement, clarifying that this law is narrowly focused to help the seriously ill, not the creation of a marijuana free-for-all."

Not everyone was as pleased as Schuette. Chuck Ream, of A2 Compassionate Health Care in Ann Arbor told the Associated Press the ruling was an "assault on democracy" that would leave large numbers of patients who depend on dispensaries out in the cold.

"If they want wheelchairs chained to every door at the Capitol, if they want to fight about this -- oh, boy, they'll have a fight," said Ream. "There are a lot of people who don't want to be drooling idiots on Oxycontin. They've found a medicine that relieves their pain and makes them happy."

Robin Schneider, spokesperson for the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers, told the Lansing News the decision will force medical marijuana distribution into neighborhoods and gas station parking lots.

"It's horrible," she said of the decision. "My biggest concern right now is that what they have done is they have made a decision that will in fact shut down the dispensaries. This will create situations where people are selling marijuana in their neighborhoods," she said. "Little old ladies are going to be meeting on street corners to get their medicine," she said, making them easy targets for crime. "Dispensaries create safe access to medicine."

Michigan medical marijuana patients and providers had hoped the courts would save them from antithetical local governments, but they have been proven wrong. Now, if they want a dispensary system, they are going to have to fight long political battles. In the meantime, it's the patients who will be out of luck.

back to top

8. New Jersey Medical Marijuana Patient Sent to Prison

A New Jersey man convicted of marijuana manufacture after he grew 17 plants in his backyard to use to treat his multiple sclerosis was ordered to prison to begin serving a five-year sentence Wednesday even as he appeals his conviction to the state Supreme Court.

John Ray Wilson demonstration, 2009 (courtesy CMMNJ)
According to a report from New Jersey-Pennsylvania marijuana reform activist Chris Goldstein's Freedom is Green blog, John Ray Wilson, 38, was taken into custody at the Somerset County Courthouse in Somerville immediately after a hearing where he sought unsuccessfully to continue to be granted bail pending the result of that appeal.

Wilson was arrested in 2008 and convicted of manufacture after he was not allowed to present evidence that he was growing the plants for his own use. He served five weeks in jail then before being granted bail and freed as he appealed to the New Jersey Appellate Division. He lost in the appeals court last month, and his attorney, William Buckman then filed a notice of petition to the Supreme Court to appeal the manufacturing conviction.

In Somerville Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Angela Borkowski ruled that any bail appeal should be made not to her court but to the Appellate Division, Goldstein reported. Buckman said he would file for bail immediately.

Deputy Attorney General Russell Curley argued during the hearing that Wilson should begin serving his sentence immediately, and Judge Borkowski agreed. He was taken into custody after the hearing.

"We think that the appellate decision is misguided," said Wilson’s attorney William Buckman, "We are hoping that the Supreme Court will set the record straight that New Jersey doesn’t want to put sick people or simple individual marijuana users into prison at the cost of $35,000 a year."

Wilson's plight has drawn the attention of activists who have championed his cause, including the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, whose executive director, Ken Wolski, was in the courtroom Wednesday.

"CMMNJ is still hopeful there is a chance for justice in the state Supreme Court," he told Goldstein. "But we are very disappointed that John is back in jail."

back to top

9. Arkansas Medical Marijuana Push Sparks Reaction

An Arkansas group is already gathering signatures to place a medical marijuana initiative on the November 2012 ballot, and now the effort is sparking a critical reaction from a local Christian conservative "traditional family values" organization. But medical marijuana backers say they have God on their side, too.

Arkansans for Compassionate Care isn't going to cede the religious high ground to Christian conservatives. (image courtesy ACC)
Arkansans for Compassionate Care won approval in April to circulate petitions for the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act. It needs to gather 62,507 valid voter signatures by next July to appear on the November 2012 ballot. The group said it plans to gather double the required number to provide a large cushion in case large numbers of signatures are found to be invalid.

The initiative would allow patients with serious illnesses like cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, and PTSD whose doctors recommend medical marijuana to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Patients would obtain marijuana from one of up to 30 state-regulated dispensaries or, if they don't live near a dispensary, they or a designated caregiver could grow their own. Patients more than five miles from a dispensary could grow up to six plants.

"I've talked to dozens and dozens of patients across the state," the group's Ryan Denham told Fox 16 TV News Monday night. "People that suffer from debilitating medical conditions things like multiple sclerosis, cancer, hepatitis c, and the patients are really kind of just fed up with the fact that they have to break the law to get the medicine their doctor recommends," he said.

"There are no southern states that have legalized medical marijuana, so I think it would send definitely an important message nationally to the Congress that our system is broken and patients need access to medical marijuana. And just to be clear, we're not trying to decriminalize marijuana or to provide it recreationally, this is only for people that are sick or have terminally ill conditions," Denham clarified.

That's not good enough for the Little Rock-based Family Council Action Committee (FCAC), which issued a statement Tuesday expressing concern about the measure. The group describes itself as "standing up for traditional family values in the political arena" and references scripture as a guide. It is best known for sponsoring a failed 2008 initiative effort that would have barred gays from adopting children.

"Substance abuse creates very real problems for families," said FCAC President Jerry Cox in the statement. "If a husband or wife is addicted to something, it's going to put a strain on that marriage. It's going to put a strain on their kids. If you think we have problems with marijuana now, just wait until it becomes legally available," he warned.

"This law would make Arkansas one of the most liberal states in the nation, where marijuana is concerned," Cox continued. "And there are too many unanswered questions. How are we going to be sure medical marijuana grown in Arkansas isn't sold illegally across state lines? I've read marijuana can be cultivated with varying levels of active ingredients in it much the same way nicotine levels can be manipulated in tobacco. How are they going to keep marijuana growers from using that to make their product more potent or addictive?"

But if Cox thinks medical marijuana is the devil's weed, Arkansans for Compassionate Care is prepared to fight back. Its web site contains a Resources for the Faith Community page that begins with an exhortation from God to Zechariah to "Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another." The page then lists eight major religious denominations that support medical marijuana and their reasons for doing so.

back to top

10. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A drug-robbing Philly cop heads to prison; so does a Houston deputy who helped an Ecstasy dealer, but a lying Oklahoma cop will walk free, and a Texas prison guard is looking at prison for smuggling dope to prisoners. Let's get to it:

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police officer was sentenced August 18 to more than 16 years in federal prison for a plot to steal more than a half-pound of heroin and resell it for cash. Mark Williams, 28, was one of three Philly cops arrested in the case. The other two have already been sentenced. Williams had been found guilty in March of conspiracy to distribute heroin, distribution of heroin, attempted robbery, using a firearm in relation to a violent crime and related offenses. The trio of bad cops went down for a fake traffic stop and bust of a drug courier in which they simply kept the "seized" drugs.

In Houston, a former Harris County sheriff's deputy was sentenced August 18 to five years in federal prison for taking bribes from a drug dealer to provide protection and access to confidential information. George Wesley Ellington, 39, had pleaded guilty in April to extortion under color of official right after a joint investigation by the FBI and the Harris County Sheriff's Office found that he was providing protection and accessing official records for a man he knew was dealing Ecstasy. His wife, Tania Katrisse Ellington, will also serve time for knowingly concealing her husband's illegal activities. She'll do a year and a day.

In Marlow, Oklahoma, a former Marlow police officer pleaded guilty August 19 to charges he lied on the witness stand during a drug trial. He had been indicted on two counts of perjury after prosecutors in the trial stopped the trial because of his falsified testimony. He was set to go on trial Monday, but accepted a plea deal where he copped to one count of perjury and received a three-year suspended sentence and a fine. He also will be unable to work in law enforcement again.

In Huntsville, Texas, a former Texas Department of Corrections guard pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges he was smuggling heroin into a state prison. Alejandro Smith, 21, copped to one count of possessing with the intent to distribute heroin. He went down after "a source" told the FBI he was smuggling dope to prisoners. The FBI set up a sting in which he received from an undercover officer a duffle bag containing heroin. Smith faces up to 40 years in prison when he is sentenced in November.

back to top

11. This Week in History

August 28, 1964: The Beatles are introduced to marijuana.

August 28, 1995: The World Health Organization (WHO) publishes "WHO Project on Health Implications of Cannabis Use: A Comparative Appraisal of the Health and Psychological Consequences of Alcohol, Cannabis, Nicotine and Opiate Use." The original version -- not the official one -- states, "...there are good reasons for saying that [the risks from cannabis] would be unlikely to seriously [compare to] the public health risks of alcohol and tobacco even if as many people used cannabis as now drink alcohol or smoke tobacco."

August 30, 1996: The Washington Post reports that Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole hammered President Clinton for his drug policy and made the war on drugs one of his top campaign issues. Declaring that President Clinton had "surrendered" in the war against drugs, Dole called for an expanded role of the National Guard, and for military and intelligence services to fight drugs.

August 25, 2001: The Denver Post reports that US District Judge John L. Kane, Jr. said: "The best way for a kid who is caught using or selling drugs to get off is to select a congressman, senator or high-ranking official as one's parent." Indeed, after the son of the now-disgraced US Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), was found flying an airplane loaded with 400 pounds of marijuana, he was freed on bail but then tested positive for cocaine three times. He wound up getting 2 1/2 years in prison -- a long time, but not by the standards of US criminal justice today. Former Education Secretary Richard Riley's son got just six months' house arrest for conspiring to sell cocaine and marijuana, though he had been indicted earlier on charges that can lead to life in prison.

August 29, 2001: The Dallas Morning News reports that Ernesto Samper, the former president of Colombia, said, "The problem is the law of the marketplace is overtaking the law of the state... We have to ask, is legalization the way out of this? We cannot continue to fight this war alone. If the consuming nations do nothing to curb demand, to control money-laundering, to halt the flow of chemicals that supply the drug-production labs, then in a few short years the world is going to see legalization as the answer."

August 27, 2002: Canadian Press, Canada's national newswire, reports that Health Minister Anne McLellan said the federal government is not backing away from its plan to supply patients with medical marijuana. Bristling earlier reports that the project had been shelved, McLellan said, "In fact, far from shelving it, what we're doing is implementing the second stage."

back to top
Permission to Reprint: This issue of Drug War Chronicle is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School

StopTheDrugWar Video Archive