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Drug War Chronicle #751 - September 20, 2012

Please join the first StoptheDrugWar.org teleconference:
The 2012 Ballot Initiatives to End Marijuana Prohibition
Thursday, September 27, 9:00pm EST

1. Colorado's Amendment 64 Heads for the Home Stretch [FEATURE]

Colorado's Amendment 64 campaign is leading by about 10 points in the polls, but not complacent as the clock ticks down toward November 6.

2. Chronicle Film Review: Lynching Charlie Lynch

Award-winning film maker Rick Ray turns his camera and his sharp eye on the ongoing medical marijuana wars with his 2012 documentary Lynching Charlie Lynch. It's quite good.

3. Drug Sentences Driving Federal Prison Population Growth, Government Report Finds

Doh! The GAO has found that the drug war is driving federal prison overcrowding and that that can have negative consequences. That's a shocker.

4. Initiative Watch

Three marijuana legalization initiatives, two medical marijuana initiatives, and one sentencing reform initiative are on state ballots this year. We'll be running a feature story on one of them each week between now and election day, but we've created this short-term feature to keep up with all of them.

5. Medical Marijuana Update

Last issue, we reported that the DEA had taken the week off. Well, they're back, and so is the push-back.

6. Colorado Marijuana Legalization Measure Polls 51%

There is more good polling news from Colorado, but we'd still like to see those numbers for marijuana legalization go higher.

7. Oregon Marijuana Initiative Trailing Slightly in Poll

The Oregon marijuana legalization initiative is trailing narrowly in a new poll, with a large number of undecideds.

8. California Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Bill Signed Into Law

California will become the 10th state to enact a Good Samaritan law designed to reduce fatal drug overdoses by providing some protections from criminal prosecution for people seeking emergency help for overdose victims.

9. Mass. Crime Lab Scandal Threatens 34,000 Drug Cases

A Massachusetts crime lab analyst whose zeal to help prosecutors win drug cases has endangered the prosecution of more than 30,000 drug cases after her misconduct in the lab was uncovered.

10. Bolivia, Venezuela Reject US Drug Criticism

Bolivia and Venezuela told the US to take a hike after President Obama last week certified them as not cooperating in US drug policy objectives. They suggested the US take a good look in the mirror.

11. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Virginia prison guard smuggles heroin, a Pennsylvania cop steals and uses it, and a New Jersey cop pays off a prostitute with it, and that's just some of the crooked cop action this week.

1. Colorado's Amendment 64 Heads for the Home Stretch [FEATURE]

With only a few weeks left until election day, Colorado's Amendment 64 tax and regulate marijuana initiative is well-positioned to win on November 6, and its supporters are doing everything they can to ensure it does. Opponents are gearing up as well, and the weeks leading up to the election are going to be critical.

Amendment 64 would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in an enclosed locked space. It also allows for the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp. And it would create a state-regulated marijuana cultivation, processing, and distribution system, including retail sales.

If the state fails to regulate marijuana commerce, localities could issue licenses. Localities would also have the right to ban marijuana businesses, either through their elected officials or via citizen-initiated ballot measures.  

If Amendment 64 passes, the legislature would be charged with enacting an excise tax of up to 15% on wholesale sales, with the first $40 million of revenue raised annually directed to the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund. In keeping with the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), such a tax increase would have to be approved by voters.

Amendment 64 does not change existing medical marijuana laws, but it does exempt medical marijuana from the proposed excise tax. For current patients, passage of Amendment 64 would enhance their privacy because no registration would be required -- just ID proving adulthood.

Amendment 64 does not increase or add penalties for any current pot law violations, nor does it change existing driving while impaired laws (although a bill reintroduced this year once again seeks to impose a per se DUID standard.)

The initiative's provisions appear to be broadly popular. According to the latest poll, released Saturday by SurveyUSA for the Denver Post, Amendment 64 is leading with 51%, with 40% opposed and 8% undecided.

While in line with other recent polls, the SurveyUSA/Denver Post poll marks the first time in recent months that support for the initiative has broken 50% except for an outlier June Rasmussen poll that had support at 61%. The Talking Points Memo's PollTracker Average, which includes this latest poll, currently shows 49.7% for Amendment 64, with 39.3% opposed.

That 10-point lead in the polls has initiative backers pleased, but not complacent.

"There has certainly been a nice positive trend in the past few polls, but we are not letting up in our efforts to build support," said Mason Tvert of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is leading the Amendment 64 effort.

"We've got a good feeling, but at the same time, we're redoubling our efforts to push this over the end line," said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, who is part of the campaign. "We haven't seen a tax and regulate measure pass anywhere yet. It's a heavy lift, but we're confident."

"It's looking good overall, the polling is good, and we're starting to make some hay within the progressive community," said Art Way, the Colorado point man for the Drug Policy Alliance's lobbying and campaign arm, Drug Policy Action Network.

The campaign has sufficient financial backing to go the distance, although it is of course always looking for more. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the main, but not the only funding mechanism, for the campaign, has taken in nearly a million dollars so far, according to the Secretary of State's Office. Related campaign committees have raised another $50,000 or so.

"We've seen a whole lot of support from around the state and the country and to see that continuing toward the election," said Tvert. "It's looking like it will come down to the wire, so late contributions will have a bigger impact than ever before."

With only $87,000 in the bank rank now, the campaign coffers may appear relatively bare, but that's deceiving, said Vicente.

"We've placed about $800,000 worth of ads that will air in October, and we bought that space months in advance because it's cheaper," he explained. "There are ungodly sums of presidential campaign money coming in now."

The only organized opposition so far, Smart Colorado, by contrast has raised only about $162,000, the bulk of it from long-time drug war zealot Mel Sembler of the Drug-Free America Foundation. And it has limited itself to the occasional press release and responses to reporters' queries. Still, it has more money than it had in 2006, when a similar initiative lost with 41% of the vote.

"I've never seen the opposition have so much money," said Tvert. "In 2006, they came up with maybe $50,000. Regardless, the fact is that our opponents will rely on scare tactics and fear-mongering and will partner with law enforcement and the drug treatment industry, who benefit from maintaining the prohibition status quo."

But other opposition is emerging, with a battle for supporters raging on both sides. The opposition has picked up the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), as well as the endorsements of numerous sheriffs, prosecutors, and elected officials.

Still, Amendment 64 has been impressive on this count too, picking up endorsements from the state Democratic, Green, and Libertarian parties, the NAACP, local elected officials, the ACLU of Colorado, as well as the Gary Johnson campaign and the drug reform movement, among others.

"Government officials have been standing in the way of marijuana policy reform for more than 80 years, and the public has come to realize their opposition is not based on evidence so much as politics and the fear of change," Tvert said. "We've seen public support grow significantly in the past 15 years despite the fact that we still largely see elected officials opposed, and now we're seeing things like Gov. Hickenlooper being ripped into by newspaper editorials after he came out against. There was a time when papers like the Denver Post would have paid him kudos for standing up against this, but now, they criticize him for being hypocritical."

One area where the campaign doesn't have to worry too much is the marijuana and medical marijuana community. While there has been some grumbling in the ranks from those in search of the perfect initiative, unlike the "Stoners Against Prop 19" movement in California in 2010 or the internecine warfare in Washington state this year, the friendly fire in Colorado has been fairly muted.

"We occasionally hear people complaining, but the back and forth has been focused almost entirely between us and the no campaign," Tvert said. "By and large, the people who support ending marijuana prohibition in Colorado have come together to support this initiative."

"We're not worried about losing the base," agreed Vicente. "We went to great efforts to involve lots of stakeholders, including lots of dispensary owners and activists, when drafting the language and formulating the campaign plans. People feel bought in win our initiative; it appeals to all Coloradans, but to our base as well."

Another reason Colorado hasn't seen the circular firing squad that is taking place this year in Washington is that Amendment 64 doesn't include some of the controversial provisions included in the Washington initiative, said Vicente.

"There are some key differences with Washington," he pointed out. "We allow adults to home grow and we don't dictate a DUID level. By steering clear of those issues, we help maintain our more traditional base."

If the base appears secure, another key demographic is definitely in play, and it's an uphill struggle for the campaign. The polling throughout suggest that parents with children at home and especially mothers remain a weak spot. The campaign is acutely aware of that and has created another campaign organization, Moms and Dads for Marijuana Regulation, to address it.

"One of the most powerful ways that parents are becoming educated about the benefits of the tax and regulate system is conversation with other parents," said Betty Aldworth of Moms and Dads. "Moms and dads are starting to recognize that taking it out of unregulated market and putting it behind the counter where we can tax and regulate it is a better model. We're encouraging moms and dads to talk to other moms and dads. We've tapped a lot of parents to be spokespeople and will be continuing to educate about why marijuana is safer."

Parents who are open to the conversation can be brought along, Aldsworth said.

"Marijuana is universally available," she said, explaining what she tells concerned parents. "And our options here are to place it behind the counter where a responsible businessperson is checking ID or to leave it in the hand of criminals. When you talk to parents about that specific scenario, which is the reality of marijuana in the world today, they understand that we can do the same thing with marijuana that we did with alcohol, only now we have the advantage of having programs to start rapidly reducing youth access."

"We knew 18 months ago that the soccer moms would be a crucial demographic, and we still have an issue with that area," said Way. "That's why Betty Aldworth is working on that, but we're also making inroads with Women for Medical Marijuana, and the League of Women Voters will be having an event. We're making inroads, but it's not showing up in the polling so far."

"We find that people's fallback position is 'How will it affect my kids?' and we've been trying to engage in a public discussion about how regulating and moving it off the streets is a more effective way to reduce teen use than the failed policy of prohibition," said Vicente. "We've been doing billboards and some TV, as well as the face-to-face," he said.

The Amendment 64 campaign is poised, practiced, and ready to roll to victory in November. It has identified weak spots in its support and is working to bolster them. It's up nine or 10 points a little more than six weeks out, but knowing how previous initiative campaigns have played out, expect that margin to shrink as election day draws near. Victory is within reach, but this is going to be a nailbiter.

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2. Chronicle Film Review: Lynching Charlie Lynch

Lynching Charlie LynchA Film by Rick Ray (2012, Rick Rays Films, 1:40, $29.95 DVD)

Of all the various fronts of the war on drugs, the assault on medical marijuana patients and providers may not be the stupidest -- that distinction probably belongs to the ban on hemp farming -- but it is arguably the cruelest. No fair-minded observer can doubt that marijuana soothes many maladies, and there is an ever-increasing mountain of peer-reviewed scientific and medical research to back that up.

And no one can listen to the testimonials of patients suffering serious ailments about the relief they've found with marijuana without empathizing with their all-too-real suffering. My personal experience is only anecdotal, but I've been meeting bona fide patients for years now, people with multiple sclerosis, people undergoing chemotherapy, people debilitated by agonizing migraine headaches -- all of whom swear by the weed.

Sure, California's medical marijuana allows virtually anyone with $75 and the ability to say "chronic pain" to get a medical recommendation, and many people who arguably suffer no real infirmity take advantage of that, but the fact that some people are using medical marijuana recommendations as a "get out of jail free" card certainly does not negate the reality of marijuana's therapeutic value--it's just one more hypocritical artifact of prohibition.

But it's been nearly 16 years since voters in California passed Proposition 215, starting a social and political phenomenon that has now spread across the country, and the federal government remains intransigent. At times aided and abetted by recalcitrant local sheriffs, prosecutors, and other elected officials, the Justice Department right now is busily putting the screws to California's dispensaries. They've managed to run more than 400 of them out of business in the past year by the exercise of federal muscle: DEA raids, threats of federal criminal prosecution -- sometimes carried out -- and threats of asset forfeiture directed at dispensary landlords.

It seems so dry when you just type the words out on the page, but what we are talking about is the destroying of people's lives by their own government, a war waged against citizens by the people who are supposed to be serving them. Imagine what a DEA SWAT team raid is like, as a nonviolent dispensary operator who's targeted -- and that can be just the beginning. Then they take all your possessions, your computers, your bank accounts, leaving you penniless, probably car-less, possibly homeless -- if you're lucky. If you're not, you're then staring into the maw of the federal criminal prosecution machine, a particularly Kafkaesque prospect when it comes to federal medical marijuana prosecutions, where dispensary operators become "drug dealers" in trials where the words "medical marijuana" are not to be spoken.

Charlie Lynch's sad saga begins a few years earlier, back when George W. Bush was still president, but his tale is all too familiar by now. In his powerfully rendered Lynching Charlie Lynch, award-winning filmmaker, writer, and producer Rick Ray manages to illuminate the human reality (and the inhuman idiocy) of the war on medical marijuana distributors. As many Chronicle readers no doubt recall, Lynch operated the Central Coast Compassion Center in Morro Bay, California, until he was raided, arrested, and convicted on federal marijuana trafficking charges in federal court.

Through interviews with Lynch, his neighbors, his landlord, and local attorneys and politicians, interspersed with TV news accounts and surveillance videos, Ray portrays a socially awkward straight arrow of a man, whose most serious offense before his run-in with Uncle Sam was a speeding ticket (which his mother explains he got expunged by taking a defensive driving course). Lynch found his way to medical marijuana not out of any affinity for the weed or because he hung in stoner milieus (he didn't), but because he heard it might help with his excruciating migraine headaches (it did).

Lynch subsequently tired of driving miles to the nearest dispensary and decided he was interested in opening one in San Luis Obispo County, where he lived. The fastidious Lynch researched the laws, even asking the DEA what its policy on medical marijuana dispensaries was -- it was up to state and local law enforcement, they told him. He filled out his forms, got his business license, rented a property, and had a ribbon-cutting with the Chamber of Commerce in attendance. He had the support of the mayor and other town officials. He was operating within the mandates of state law. He thought he was doing everything right.

None of that mattered to Sheriff Pat Hedges, who like too many in law enforcement who cannot accept laws they don't believe in, and tried fruitlessly for a year to find some way to bring Lynch down. His deputies surveilled the premises, they followed workers and patients from the dispensary, they tried unsuccessfully to set up undercover buys, but they couldn't come up with enough evidence of any violation of state law to get a judge to sign a search warrant.

Then, in a betrayal of his community and out of a sense of frustration that he was unable to nail Lynch, Hedges sicced the feds on him. Hedges' deputies joined forces with DEA agents to raid the Compassion Center and Lynch's residence, where he was shoved to the floor naked with a rifle pointed to his head.

Lynching Charlie Lynch tells the story of his transformation from respected local businessman to convicted federal drug dealer, the sleazy legal machinations of the federal prosecutors turning his prosecution and trial into a sordid charade, a mockery of justice. But his story is bigger than one man. It is also a story about a healing plant and about a nation that can't seem to come to grips with it, a nation that somehow thinks it's justifiable or even sane to persecute people for growing plants for others.

Along the way, Rick Ray takes a few side-trips that only add to the documentary. He talks to University of California at San Francisco researcher Dr. Donald Abrams about how he recommends marijuana for a wide variety of ailments and he talks to Professor Lyle Craker, the Massachusetts plant scientist who has sought -- so far unsuccessfully -- permission from the DEA to grow marijuana for the purpose of conducting clinical trials of its medical efficacy. The stolid, white-haired researcher offers up a powerful indictment of a corrupted federal research process.

Ray also talks to some representatives of the other side, and I want to thank him for giving folks like California anti-drug activist Paul Chabot, anti-marijuana fanatic Dr. Eric Voth and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America's David Evans the opportunity to display their character with their own words. When confronted with Lynch's fate, the smarmy, sanctimonious Chabot, a self-described "Christian" who says there are no legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries, said that he would pray for him "and maybe he will come to terms with what he did and join our side some day."

Similarly, Evans does his best to appear to be a thoughtful, rational human being, but gives himself away when he goes on a rant about the dangers of growing pot."They endanger others by setting up these facilities when there is no proof there," the former prosecutor muttered darkly. "He could have harmed people, killed people, caused cancer, caused birth defects. If someone chooses to put other people at risk, they should be prepared to take the consequences."

Uh, we're talking about growing a plant here.

Charlie Lynch's story isn't over yet, although he's already lost most everything. One of the last scenes of the film shows him putting his remaining belongings into storage after his house went into foreclosure in the wake of his prosecution. And he is still waiting to find out if he will have to go to federal prison. He's already been sentenced, but is appealing.

Lynch may be appealing, but what happened to him at the hands of his own government is appalling. Rick Ray deserves major credit for bringing his compelling story to the screen with grace, tenderness, and just the right touch of righteous indignation.

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3. Drug Sentences Driving Federal Prison Population Growth, Government Report Finds

In a report released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that growth in the federal prison population is outstripping the Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) rated capacity to house prisoners and that the bulge in federal prisoners is largely attributable to drug prisoners and longer sentences for them. That growing inmate overcrowding negatively affects inmates, staff, and BOP infrastructure, the GAO said.

The federal prison population increased 9.5% from Fiscal Year 2006 through FY 2011, exceeding a 7% increase in rated capacity. Although BOP increased the number of available beds by 8,300 during that period by opening five new facilities (and closing four minimum security camps), the number of prisons where overcrowding is occurring increased from 36% to 39%, with BOP forecasting overcrowding increasing to encompass 45% of prisons through 2018.

The drug war and harsh federal drug sentencing are the main drivers of the swelling federal prison population. The GAO reported that 48% of federal prisoners were drug offenders last year, and that the average sentence length for federal drug prisoners is now 2 ½ times longer than before federal anti-drug legislation passed in the mid-1980s.There are also now more than 100,000 federal drug prisoners, more than the total number of federal prisoners as recently as 20 years ago.

The negative effects of federal prison overcrowding include "increased use of double and triple bunking, waiting lists for education and drug treatment programs, limited meaningful work opportunities, and increased inmate-to-staff ratios," the report found. All of those "contribute to increased inmate misconduct, which negatively affects the safety and security of inmates and staff." The report also noted that "BOP officials and union representatives voiced concerns about a serious incident [read: riot] occurring."

For this report, the GAO also examined prison populations in five states and actions those states have taken to reduce populations. It found that the states "have modified criminal statutes and sentencing, relocated inmates to local facilities, and provided inmates with additional opportunities for early release."

Noting that the BOP does not have the authority to modify sentences or sentencing, it nevertheless identified possible means for Congress to address federal prison overcrowding. It could reduce inmate populations by reforming sentencing laws or it could increase capacity by building more prisons, or some combination of the two.

Or it could remove drug control from the ambit of criminal justice altogether and treat the use and distribution of currently illegal drugs as a public health problem.

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4. Initiative Watch

Three marijuana legalization initiatives, two medical marijuana initiatives, and one sentencing reform initiative are on state ballots this year. We'll be running a feature story on one of them each week between now and election day, but we've created this short-term feature to keep up with all of them. Here's what's happening:

Arkansas

Last Wednesday, supporters and foes of the medical marijuana initiative sparred in court over ballot summary language. Opponents are attempting to knock the initiative off the ballot by challenging the language, but supporters say it is fair and want the state Supreme Court to block the move. If it stays on the ballot and passes, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act would be the first such initiative passed in the South.

Colorado

Last Wednesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper came out in opposition to Amendment 64, the tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative. He said that making marijuana legal would send the wrong message about drug use. "Colorado is known for many great things -- marijuana should not be one of them," Hickenlooper wrote.

That provoked an immediate, tart response from Mason Tvert of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "Governor Hickenlooper's statement today ranks as one of the most hypocritical statements in the history of politics," said Tvert. "After building a personal fortune by selling alcohol to Coloradans, he is now basing his opposition to this measure on concerns about the health of his citizens and the message being sent to children. We certainly hope he is aware that alcohol actually kills people. Marijuana use does not. The public health costs of alcohol use overall are approximately eight times greater per person than those associated with marijuana. And alcohol use is associated with violent crime. Marijuana use is not."

Also last Wednesday, a Denver district judge allowed a state-issued voters' guide to proceed even though the Campaign had challenged it as grossly imbalanced after a legislative committee edited the wording. The voters' guide now contains 366 words opposing the measure and only 208 supporting it.

Also last Wednesday, the Colorado University Board of Regents formally opposed Amendment 64. "We are expressing to parents and future students that we oppose Amendment No. 64 because it's against state laws and federal laws and we're law abiding regents," regent Tillie Bishop explained. Following the vote, Bishop offered an open invitation to his fellow regents to attend the 21st annual Colorado Mountain Winefest, which began last Thursday in Palisade.

Last Saturday, the latest poll had Amendment 64 leading 51% to 40%, with 8% undecided. The average of all polls so far has Amendment 64 leading by 49.7% to 39.3%.

On Wednesday, the Colorado Education Association opposed Amendment 64, this after campaign organizers had included language directing funds to public school construction in a bid to at least have the group stay neutral.

"We're sorry to hear the Colorado Education Association has been convinced to embrace a position counter to the interests of students and parents," Mason Tvert responded. "In fact, it was CEA that suggested tax revenue raised through the initiative should benefit public school construction in Colorado. We agreed it would be a good use of new revenue, and we are proud to say that Amendment 64 would direct tens of millions of dollars per year toward improving Colorado schools. It's odd that our opponents are criticizing the idea of Amendment 64 directing new revenue toward public school construction, as it was embraced by the CEA when it contributed that very idea during the drafting process. In fact, when we consulted with CEA during the drafting of the initiative they indicated they would be remaining neutral on the issue, but that's politics for you. It's understandable that an organization like CEA would want to toe the line of the powers that be, but it's unfortunate that they are playing politics when the future of Colorado schools -- and the health and safety of our children -- are at stake."

Also on Wednesday, the campaign announced pending endorsements from national law enforcement groups and former law enforcement officials. The endorsing groups are the National Latino Officers Association and Blacks in Law Enforcement in America. They will hold a press conference Thursday.

Massachusetts

Last Tuesday, Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis announced he had given $465,000 to the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, the ballot committee behind Question 3, the medical marijuana initiative. The brings the total raised by the committee to $512,860, compared to $600 raised by the opposition Vote No on Question 3 committee.

Last Thursday, a spoof site ridiculing medical marijuana opponents grabbed the Vote No on Question 3 domain name, even though the opposition group had listed it on the state voters' guide. (They forgot to register it.) Now the address is home to a web page warning that medical marijuana is a gateway to "Twinkie addiction."

On Monday, the latest polling had Question 3 winning with 59% of the vote. The opposition was at 35%, with 6% undecided. The yes vote was a slight increase over the previous poll.

North Dakota

On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court ruled that the medical marijuana initiative will not be on the ballot. The secretary of state had blocked the initiative, saying there was ample evidence that University of North Dakota football players hired as signature gatherers had committed fraud by forging signatures. Proponents of the measure sought to get the court to overturn the secretary of state's decision, to no avail.

Oregon

On Monday, state Rep. Peter Buckley endorsed Measure 80, the state's tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative. "Overall, legalization would take the black market out of Oregon," said Buckley (D-Ashland) who has served as co-chairman of the Legislature's Ways and Means Committee for the past two sessions.

On Monday, a new political action committee was formed to raise funds for Measure 80. Oregonians for Law Reform co-director Sam Chapman said, "Ending prohibition is an idea whose time has come, again. We will urge voters to rally behind Measure 80, not get bogged down in the typical pro and con rhetoric around the details of an initiative. We must show our support for this measure to help build momentum for victory, either in November or some time soon."

On Tuesday, a new poll had Measure 80 trailing 41% to 37%, with 22% undecided.

Washington

Last Monday, the Children's Alliance endorsed Initiative 502, the state's tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative. The Children's Alliance is a Seattle-based advocacy group with more than 100 social-service agencies as members. "The status quo is not working for children, particularly children of color," said deputy director Don Gould. "Public policy ought to move us further toward racial equity and justice, and Initiative 502 is one step forward to that."

Last Wednesday, a new poll had I-502 winning with 57% of the vote and only 34% opposed. Support is up 3% over a June poll.

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5. Medical Marijuana Update

Last issue, we reported that the DEA had taken the week off. Well, they're back, and so is the push-back. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, the Women's CannaBusiness Network held a press conference in Washington, DC, to call on President Obama to cease enforcement actions against medical cannabis providers while the administration reviews its policies to determine whether they are in the public interest. The group is a project of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

On Monday, Americans for Safe Access called for Thursday demonstrations at Obama campaign headquarters across the country "in an effort to draw attention to the Obama Administration's aggressive efforts to shut down legal medical marijuana dispensaries and obstruct the passage of laws that would regulate such activity." Demos are set for Washington, DC, as well as in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.

California

Last Wednesday, the DEA raided Green Heart Collective facilities in Anderson and Redding. "They broke all the windows, vandalized the inside of the building and took all of the medicine," owner Gina Munday said. "We were so surprised." No arrests have been made so far.

Also last Wednesday, the Encinitas city council approved a dispensary initiative for the 2014 ballot. Initiative backers the Patient Care Association had signatures verified by the registrar of voters on August 8, two days before the state deadline for the 2012 ballot, but the council would have had to have called a special meeting to place it on the ballot. It failed to do so.

Last Thursday, Harborside Health Center asked a federal judge to stop its landlord from trying to shut it down. Harborside and its landlords have been hit with threat letters from federal prosecutors, and its San Jose landlord had moved to force it out. But Harborside is fighting everything to do with the federal threats.

Last Friday, Vallejo police raided Nature's Love Collective for the second time. They arrested the operator, just as they did four months ago, the last time they raided it. Vallejo police have raided  nine dispensaries this year despite the city voting to tax and regulate them.

On Monday, an initiative to overturn the LA dispensary ban qualified for the ballot.  City Clerk June Lagmay said activists needed 27,425 valid signatures for their measure to qualify and that a statistical sampling of the signatures showed they had turned in 110% of the amount needed. The city council can now repeal its "gentle ban" ordinance, call a special election, or put the measure on the March 5 city election ballot. In the meantime, the ban is on hold, although LAPD has said it intends to continue busting dispensaries.

Oregon

On Tuesday, the DEA raided the High Hopes Farm grow operation outside Jacksonville. James Bowman, a longtime activist, owns the farm and went public about his activities last spring with a spread in the Oregonian newspaper. Bowman could be the single largest medical marijuana producer in the state. He wasn't arrested, but agents plowed under his crop.

Vermont

As of Sunday, the Vermont Department of Safety has granted conditional approval to two dispensary applicants. One applicant, the Champlain Valley Dispensary, has been approved for Burlington and hopes to be open and serving patients within six months. A second applicant, Patients First Inc., has been approved for Waterbury. The department received five applications this year, but three of them did not meet minimum standards. Under a 2011 law, the state can have four dispensaries and will accept more applications next year if that number isn't reached this year.

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6. Colorado Marijuana Legalization Measure Polls 51%

The latest poll, released Saturday by SurveyUSA for the Denver Post, has Colorado's marijuana legalization initiative at 51%, with 40% opposed and 8% undecided. The initiative, Amendment 64, would legalize the possession of up to an ounce and six plants by adults 21 and over and allow for state-regulated commercial cultivation and sales.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is targeting its message toward wary parents. (regulatemarijuana.org)
While in line with other recent polls, the SurveyUSA/Denver Post poll marks the first time in recent months that support for the initiative has broken 50% except for an outlier June Rasmussen poll that had support at 61%. The Talking Points Memo's PollTracker Average, which includes this latest poll, currently shows 49.7% for Amendment 64, with 39.3% opposed.

The poll found stronger support among men (53%) than women (49%), with 12% of women saying they were still undecided compared to 5% of men.

When it came to support by age group, support was highest among the 18-to-34 group (61%), followed by the 50-to-64 group (58%). But support declined below 50% for the 35-to-49 group (44%) and those 65 and older (37%).

The numbers suggest that parents with young children and especially mothers remain a weak spot for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. In its early advertising, the campaign has been targeting that demographic.

While the poll numbers are good, they also suggest this will be a very close contest. In 2010, California's Proposition 19 was polling at 52% three months before the election, but it ended up losing with only 46% of the vote.

A similar measure was on the ballot in Colorado in 2006, but it lost 59% to 41%.

The SurveyUSA/Denver Post poll was conducted between September 9 and 12 and relied on automated calls. It has a margin of error of +/- 4%.

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7. Oregon Marijuana Initiative Trailing Slightly in Poll

The campaign behind an initiative that would legalize marijuana in Oregon has an uphill battle ahead, according to a new SurveyUSA poll. That poll has the initiative, known as Measure 80 on the ballot, trailing by a margin of 41% to 37%.

But SurveyUSA reported a margin of error on the poll of +/-4%, meaning that the contest is a virtual dead heat and, as Portland's KATU-TV, which paid for the poll, put it, "it could go either way."

Campaign supporters can also take some solace in the high number of undecided voters. More than one out of five (22%) of those surveyed had yet to make up their minds, meaning the Amendment 80 campaign still has time to attempt to bring them over to its side.

Paralleling polling date from the other 2012 marijuana legalization initiative states, the poll found a significant gap in support between men (42%) and women (33%). Likewise, among age groups, support was strongest among the 18-to-34 group (47%), followed by 50-to-64 (39%), 35-to-49 (36%), and then those over 65 (24%).

As in the other initiative states, the data appears to suggest that parents -- and especially mothers -- with children at home will be a crucial demographic to be won over if the initiative is to succeed. Compared with its brethren in Colorado and Washington, the Oregon campaign has been a low-budget affair, but these polling numbers suggest a healthy cash injection could be critical, especially in swaying the large undecided vote.

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8. California Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Bill Signed Into Law

California Gov. Jerry Brown Monday signed into law Assembly Bill 472, the "911 Good Samaritan Bill," aimed at reducing fatal drug overdoses by removing the threat of criminal prosecution for people who seek assistance for people suffering from them. California becomes the 10th state to enact such a law since New Mexico led the way back in 2007.

fatal drug overdose (wikimedia.org)
Sponsored by Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), the bill received bipartisan support in the legislature and was cosponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU of California, and the Health Officers Association of California.

"This is a great victory for parents. None of us want our kids overdosing on drugs, but as I told the legislature, I'd rather have my kid around to yell at than attend a funeral," said Ammiano. "The young friends of those who overdose shouldn’t hesitate to seek help because they fear arrest. With the Governor's signature, they won't have to."

"This is an incredibly special day for the thousands of California family members who worked so hard and for so long to pass this life-saving bill," said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager of the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is just a small first step in reducing the number of fatal overdoses in California, but it's a deeply important one."

Drug overdose deaths are the number one cause of accidental death in California, as in many other states. The new law encourages people to seek emergency health services when they witness an overdose by providing limited protections from charge and prosecution for low-level drug law violations, including possession of small amounts of drugs. Those who sell drugs are not protected under the new law.

"I never go a day without thinking of my son Jeff and I never will," said Denise Cullen, cofounder of GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing). "Losing a child to a drug overdose is a tragedy in ways I can't explain, but fighting so hard for him and for all the parents just like me, to get this law passed is really the best possible way I can honor him."

"After forty years of the war on drugs, California is finally righting its priorities by putting saving lives ahead of making petty arrests. The message is loud and clear: call for help in case of an overdose. This is an important step toward better drug and public health policies and it will save lives," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, senior policy advocate for the ACLU of California.

"The physician Health Officers who provide leadership for public health programs in every county are grateful to Governor Brown for partnering with us on this common sense, no-cost approach to saving lives," said Bruce Pomer, executive director of Health Officers Association of California. "It's urgently needed."

Now the task is to get the word out to those populations where it will do the most good. Advocates from dozens of state and local organizations will be working to do just that, both before the new law goes into effect on January 1, and throughout the following year.

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9. Mass. Crime Lab Scandal Threatens 34,000 Drug Cases

Some 34,000 eastern Massachusetts drug cases could go up in smoke in the wake of a still unfolding scandal around a state laboratory analyst who resigned under fire earlier this year. State Police have notified prosecutors that some 64,000 drug samples involving the cases may be tainted because of alleged misconduct by former analyst Annie Dookhan in conducting tests on substances submitted to her by them.

Dookhan worked at the Hinton crime lab in Jamaica Plain from 2003 until she resigned in June. According to the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which was briefed on the scandal by the Deval Patrick administration last week, the meeting revealed why State Police are now questioning the reliability of the drug evidence Dookhan worked on.

"The lab analyst in question had unsupervised access to the drug safe and evidence room, and tampered with evidence bags, altered the actual weight of the drugs, did not calibrate machines correctly, and altered samples so that they would test as drugs when they were not," the association wrote in a letter to its members.

Executive Office of Public Safety and Security spokesman Terrel Harris confirmed to the Boston Globe that Dookhan had "unsupervised access to the evidence lockup," but declined to address the other allegations in the association's letter, saying they were the focus of an ongoing investigation.

Dookhan's misconduct came to light after her coworkers at the Department of Public Health lab told State Police last year they would not testify under oath about the results of drug tests she performed. But there were signs going back years that something funny was going on.

In 2004, for instance, Dookhan whipped through some 9,239 samples while her colleagues averaged only one-third that number of drug tests. Last year, the Department of Public Health discovered misconduct by Dookhan, but downplayed it, telling law enforcement mistakes had occurred on only one day and had only affected 90 cases. The department also waited six months before alerting police and prosecutors to the problem.

The Dookhan scandal has left heads rolling in its wake. Last Thursday, state officials announced that the lab director, Dr. Linda Han, had resigned and the director of analytical chemistry, Julie Nassif, had been fired. Dookhan's direct supervisor now faces disciplinary hearings, too.

[Update: Now, more heads have rolled. On Monday, Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach fell on his sword, resigning with a public statement. It was clear there was "insufficient quality monitoring, reporting and investigating on the part of supervisors and managers" at the lab, which his department had overseen before it was transferred to state police as part of a budgetary realignment. "What happened at the drug lab was unacceptable and the impact on people across the state may be devastating, particularly for some within the criminal justice system." Auerbach said in the statement. "We owe it to ourselves and the public to make sure we understand exactly how and why this happened."]

Dookhan's fiddling with the drug evidence is so damaging because prosecutors have to prove that substances seized by police are scientifically proven to be illegal drugs and that they have not been tampered with between arrest and trial.

While the state has set up an ongoing conference of prosecutors, defense lawyers, court officers, and others to review the cases that might be affected, defense attorneys are already beginning to file motions for dismissal in pending cases and prosecutors in three counties -- Plymouth, Norfolk, and Suffolk -- have begun asking judges to reduce or eliminate bail requirements in cases where they have confirmed that Dookhan was involved in the drug testing. But prosecutors also vowed to try to convict if there is credible evidence.

"If someone is held or convicted on tainted evidence, we won't hesitate to take every appropriate step to bring the case to light and correct the record,’’ Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said in a statement last Thursday. "But if there are credible facts and evidence to support the legitimacy of an implicated case, we'll work just as hard to ensure that the defendant is held accountable."

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10. Bolivia, Venezuela Reject US Drug Criticism

Last Thursday, the White House released its annual determination of major drug trafficking or producing countries, the "majors," singling out Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela as countries that have failed to comply with US drug policy demands. That has sparked sharp and pointed reactions from Bolivia and Venezuela.

Evo Morales (wikimedia.org)
"I hereby designate Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela as countries that have failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to make substantial efforts to adhere to their obligations under international counter-narcotics agreements," President Obama said in the determination.

That marks the fourth year in a row the US has singled out Bolivia and Venezuela, which are left-leaning regional allies highly critical of US influence in Latin America. But while the US has once again put the two countries on its drug policy black list, it is not blocking foreign assistance to them because "support for programs to aid Bolivia and Venezuela are vital to the national interests of the United States."

Despite that caveat, Bolivia and Venezuela were having none of it.

"Venezuela deplores the United States government's insistence on undermining bilateral relations by publishing this kind of document, with no respect for the sovereignty and dignity of the Venezuelan people," the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said in a communique last Friday.

Venezuela "rejects in the most decided manner the accusations of the government of the United States," the communique said, adding that the presidential determination is "plagued with false statements, political preconceptions and veiled threats," which only repeat its "permanent line of aggression against independent sovereign governments."

Venezuela also counter-punched, accusing the US of allowing "a fluid transit" of drugs across its borders" and "the laundering of capital from drug trafficking through the financial system."

"The government of the United States has become principally responsible for this plague that is the scourge of the entire world," it said.

The foreign ministry added that Venezuela's anti-drug efforts improved after it kicked out the DEA in 2005, that it has been free of illegal drug crops since 2006, and that it has actively pursued leading drug traffickers, including 19 it had extradited to the US since 2006.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, for his part, said the US, home of the world's largest drug consumer market, had no grounds on which to criticize other countries about its war on drugs.

"The United States has no morality, authority or ethics that would allow it to speak about the war on drugs. Do you know why? Because the biggest market for cocaine and other drugs is the United States," Morales said in a Saturday speech. "They should tell us by what percentage they have reduced the internal (drug) market. The internal market keeps growing and in some states of the United States they're even legalizing the sale of cocaine under medical control," the Bolivian president said.

It's unclear what Morales was trying to say with that latter remark. Although as a Schedule II drug, cocaine can be and occasionally is used medically in the United States, there are no current moves by any US state to take that further. Some 17 US states and the District of Columbia have, however, moved to legalize the distribution of marijuana under medical control.

"I'm convinced that the drug trade is no less than the United States' best business," Morales added, noting that since the first international drug control treaties were signed in 1961, drug trafficking has blossomed, not declined. He said he has suggested to South American leaders that they form a commission to report on how well Washington is doing in its war on drugs.

Morales also took the occasion to lambaste the US for opposing Bolivia's request before the United Nations to modify that 1961 treaty to acknowledge that chewing coca leaf is "an ancestral cultural practice" in the Andes.

Like Venezuela, Bolivia protested that it, too, has been fighting drug trafficking. The Bolivian government said that it had seized 182 tons of cocaine since Morales took power in 2006, compared to only 49 tons confiscated in the previous five years. Bolivia has seized 31 tons of cocaine so far this year, most of it from Peru, the government said.

The US presidential determination named the following countries as major illicit drug producing or trafficking countries: Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.

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11. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Virginia prison guard smuggles heroin, a Pennsylvania cop steals and uses it, and a New Jersey cop pays off a prostitute with it, and that's just some of the crooked cop action this week. Let's get to it:

In Camden, New Jersey, a Camden sheriff's officer is facing possible criminal charges for trading seized heroin for sex with a prostitute for more than a year. Officer Thomas Smith told investigators the prostitute was a confidential informant and he only gave her cigarettes. He has been offered a deal by prosecutors: plead guilty to a third degree crime and resign, or face more serious official misconduct charges. In a letter received by his attorney, prosecutors said the prostitute told investigators he gave her drugs he was supposed to destroy in an incinerator.

In Monroe, Louisiana, a former Monroe K-9 officer was arrested last Monday for stealing methamphetamine that was being used to train his drug dog. Kenneth Johnson, 40, was holding 36 grams of meth when he was arrested. He is charged with theft, malfeasance, and meth possession. He had resigned the previous week after the police chief announced he was under investigation.

In Berwick, Pennsylvania, a former Berwick police officer was arrested last Friday on charges he ripped off more than 800 packets of heroin from the evidence locker to support his drug habit. Christian Wilson, 30, faces four counts of theft and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. Wilson went down after the Berwick Police Special Operations Group got information that he was using and requested the Attorney General's Office take over the investigation. The investigation turned up video surveillance footage of Wilson taking packages of syringes from the station, and when he was interviewed in July, he admitted being strung out. He then gave agents consent to search his home, where they found an empty evidence envelope that at one time contained 831 packages of heroin. Wilson admitted using all the dope himself.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, a state probation and parole officer was arrested Monday on charges she accepted money from drug traffickers under her supervision. Roxanne Davis, 38, is accused of accepting payments from a paroled murderer and a man who was on probation for two drug trafficking convictions. In return for the cash, Davis didn't enforce their parole and probation conditions and alerted the probationer to investigators looking into his trafficking activities. Davis went down as part of Operation Delta Blues, which has snared a dozen law enforcement personnel and dozens of others in its investigation of trafficking and corruption in the West Memphis area.

In Newark, New Jersey, a Paterson police officer was arrested Monday on charges he conspired to plant drugs on a person and then falsely arrest him. Officer Marmoud Rabboh, 43, allegedly plotted with three other persons to do the dirty deed, and they actually pulled it off in February, falsely arresting an innocent man, with Rabboh pulling him over in his police squad car. But one of the co-conspirators was actually an FBI snitch, and now Rabboh is charged with conspiracy to violate civil rights and with deprivation of civil rights under color of law. The first charge carries s a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The second charge carries a maximum potential penalty of one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

In Richmond, Virginia, a former federal prison guard was sentenced last Friday to a year in federal prison for conspiring to smuggle heroin into the Federal Correctional Complex in Petersburg over a three-year period. Former guard Kief Jackson, 49, conspired with an inmate in the prison to smuggle heroin in from 2008 until October 2011. Jackson met with acquaintances of the inmate to obtain heroin on multiple occasions, and after the inmate was released, he provided the heroin directly to Jackson. He went down after the FBI opened an investigation, then stopped him on his way to work last October and found a package of heroin in his vehicle.

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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.

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