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When Police Mistake Candy for Crack…

Everyone's talking about this wild story from New York City, in which two men spent 5 days in jail for a bag of coconut candy. The driver consented to a search of his vehicle and both men were arrested after police discovered what they believed was crack cocaine. An officer told the passenger to "shut up" when he insisted it was candy, and the men had to wait in jail for almost a week before lab tests proved their innocence.

In addition to demonstrating the combined arrogance, incompetence, and contempt for innocent people that so often characterizes drug war policing, the story also provides another glaring example of how consenting to police searches can instantly make a bad situation much worse. Pete Guither explains:

Lesson #1: Never, ever, ever, ever, agree to a search. If you’re guilty, you’re helping them catch you. If you’re innocent, you’re wasting your time, you’re taking a chance since they aren’t required to fix anything they break, you’re leaving yourself open for being charged for something you didn’t know about that fell out of a friend’s pocket, and you’ve got the possibility that a couple of morons will think your coconut candy is crack and throw you in jail for a week.

Whether or not refusal prevents the search is beside the point here (although, yes, refusal often prevents the search). Such cases are less likely to be prosecuted, even after evidence is discovered, due to the fact that police and prosecutors do – believe it or not – sometimes recognize a constitutional violation and decline to proceed simply because they don’t want to bring a messy case into the courtroom. Finally, consider how much more impressive a civil suit would look in this case with an illegal search thrown into the mix along with the already-compelling story of spending days in jail over coconut candy.

We'll never know how things would have turned out if these guys had refused the search, but there's no question what happened when they agreed to it.

Drug Testing: Bills to Drug Test for Public Assistance Recipients Pop Up Again

A perennial favorite of drug warriors, bills that would require people receiving public benefits to submit to mandatory drug tests are being introduced in statehouses around the country again this year. In South Carolina, the focus is on people receiving unemployment benefits; in Kentucky, the focus is on people receiving any public assistance, including food stamps and state medical care. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, the author of last year's failed mandatory drug test bill for welfare recipients is back with a new, improved version. And in Florida, a similar drug testing bill is in the works.

Drug testing recipients of public assistance has a certain superficial appeal, especially to politicians willing to pander to culturally and fiscally conservative constituencies. But that appeal is usually found wanting in the face of questions about cost, practicality, and, most crucially, legality. Michigan is the only state to actually pass a law requiring mandatory drug testing to receive benefits, but that law was declared unconstitutional by a federal appeals court that held it violated the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches.

That did not stop legislators in at least six states from introducing bills last year, and at least four states have seen bills filed or pre-filed so far this year.

In South Carolina, Sen. David Thomas (R-Greenville) has introduced S 920, which could cut off unemployment benefits for people who test positive for illegal drugs. Under the bill, anyone currently receiving benefits must submit to a drug test. If the test is positive, the benefits are cut off until the applicant completes drug treatment. The applicant must agree to random drug testing, and if he fails a random drug test, he must undergo a second round of treatment. He also loses benefits for a year.

"My concern is as much for those who are addicted or misusing drugs as for the folks that are paying the bills," Thomas told the Associated Press. "Ultimately, I think the question needs to be asked, 'Should unemployment be provided for people with ongoing drug problems, because they're using that unemployment money to feed the habit?'"

About 150,000 South Carolinians are currently receiving unemployment benefits. Testing each of them could run into the millions of dollars, and providing treatment for some percentage of them could prove costly as well.

Thomas' bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. No hearings have been scheduled.

In Kentucky, the bill introduced by Rep. Lonnie Napier (R-Lancaster), HB 120, is even more ambitious that the South Carolina bill. It would require anyone seeking public assistance via cash, food stamps or the state medical assistance program to be drug tested. Nearly 740,000 Kentuckians receive food stamps and 748,000 receive medical assistance.

Under Napier's bill, all recipients would face an initial drug test and a random drug test at some point over the next year and every year they are receiving assistance. Those who test positive for a Schedule I controlled substance or a prescription drug not prescribed to them would be ineligible for benefits. The bill contains no provision for drug treatment, nor any provisions financing a million or more drug tests.

In West Virginia, Delegate Craig Blair (R-Berkeley), whose controversial bill to drug test welfare recipients was killed last year, is touting a new version of the bill, and this time, he has the backing of the House Republican caucus, which made the bill part of its 15-point legislative agenda this week. The new bill has some new twists: it calls for random drug testing of West Virginia elected officials, it would make drug testing of welfare recipients random instead of mandatory, and it would only apply to new welfare applicants. Under the new bill, randomly selected applicants who test positive could receive welfare benefits for two months, but after that, they would have to test clean or be in a drug treatment program or risk losing their benefits.

We will be watching these and any similar bills filed at statehouses around the country. Stay tuned!

Judge Reprimanded for Illegally Drug Testing Random Guy

Imagine you're in court quietly observing someone else's trial, when suddenly, the judge starts pointing at you:

NASHVILLE (CN) - A judge in Dickson County, Tenn., had officers pull a spectator out of his courtroom "on a hunch," held him in custody and made him submit to a urinalysis for drugs, the man claims in Federal Court. Benjamin Marchant claims that General Sessions Judge Durwood Moore admitted that he "routinely drug-screens 'spectators' in his courtroom if he 'thinks' they may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol." Moore allegedly called it the "routine policy of the court."

The whole thing is so flagrantly unconstitutional and illegal that Moore's fellow judges were forced to throw him under the bus:

Moore acknowledged he had violated Marchant's rights and was censured by the Tennessee Supreme Court's Judiciary Court on May 1, 2009, the highest form of punishment short of seeking a judge's removal from the bench, according to the complaint.

Marchant tested negative for drugs, which was probably helpful in illustrating the absurdity of pulling random people aside with no justification and making them pee in a cup. I shudder to think that the outcome may have been different if he'd come up positive. Would Judge Moore have been hailed as a skilled professional who can pick potheads out of a crowd, instead of an out-of-control jerk who doesn't understand the most basic laws he's sworn to uphold?

It's seriously creepy to think that this guy's job is to interpret the law. Pete Guither asks:

How does this guy get to be a judge? You have to be better informed to get a cosmetology license.

Which is why I can't get excited about any form of punishment that falls short of permanently stopping this guy from deciding the legal fate of anyone ever again. Sure, no one was killed, falsely imprisoned, or otherwise substantially harmed by the incident, but it just reveals such a fundamental contempt for the Constitution that I refuse to believe it was a misunderstanding.

The problem is not that this judge was ignorant of the law, but rather that he deemed himself to be above it.

The Year on Drugs 2009: The Top Ten US Domestic Drug Policy Stories

As 2009 prepares to become history, we look back at the past year's domestic drug policy developments. With the arrival of a highly popular (at least at first) new president, Barack Obama, and Democratic Party control of the levers of power in Congress, the drug reform gridlock that characterized the Bush years is giving way to real change in Washington, albeit not nearly quickly enough. A number of this year's Top 10 domestic drug stories have to do with the new atmospherics in Washington, where they have led, and where they might lead.

But not all of them. Drug reform isn't made just in Washington. Under our federal system, the 50 states and the District of Columbia have at least some ability to set their own courses on drug policy reforms. In some areas, actions in the state legislatures have reflected trends -- for better or worse -- broad enough to earn Top 10 status.

And Washington and the various statehouses notwithstanding, movement on drug reform is not limited to the political class. Legions of activists now in at least their second decade of serious reform work, a mass media that seems to have awakened from its dogmatic slumber about marijuana, a crumbling economy, and a bloody drug war within earshot of the southwestern border have all impacted the national conversation about drug reform and are all pushing politicians from city councilmen to state legislators to US senators to rethink drug prohibition.

For drug reformers, these are interesting times, indeed. Herewith, the Top 10 domestic drug policy stories of 2009:

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marijuana plants (photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia)
Marijuana Goes Mainstream

Wow. This year has seen the US enter the beginnings of a sea change on policies and attitudes toward the recreational use of marijuana. The first hint that something had changed was the Michael Phelps bong photo non-scandal. When the multiple Olympic gold medal winner got outed for partying like a college student, only one corporate sponsor, fuddy-duddy Kellogg, dumped him, and was hit by a consumer boycott -- and arguably by falling stock prices -- in return. Otherwise, except for a deranged local sheriff who tried fruitlessly to concoct a criminal case against somebody -- anybody! -- over the bong photo, America's collective response basically amounted to "So what?"

Post-Phelps it was as if the flood gates had opened. Where once Drug War Chronicle and a handful of other publications pretty much had the field to ourselves, early this year, the mass media began paying attention. Countless commentaries, editorials and op-eds have graced the pages of newspaper and those short-attention-span segments on the cable news networks, an increasing number of them calling for legalization. The conversation about freeing the weed has gone mainstream.

The sea change is also reflected in poll numbers that, for the first time, this year showed national majorities in favor of legalization. In February, a Zogby poll showed 44% support nationwide -- and 58% in California. By late spring, the figures were generally creeping ever higher. An April Rasmussen poll had support for "taxation and regulation" at 41%, while an ABC News/Washington Post poll found 46% supported "legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use." Also in April, for the first time, a national poll showed majority support for legalization when Zogby showed 52% saying marijuana should be "legal, taxed, and regulated." In July, a CBS News poll had support for legalization at 41%.

In October, a Gallup poll had support for legalization at 44%, the highest ever in a Gallup survey. And a few weeks ago an Angus-Reid poll reported 53% nationwide supported legalization. Legalizing pot may not have clear majority support just yet, but it is on the cusp.

Marijuana law reform was also a topic at statehouses around the country this year, although successes were few and far between. At least six states saw decriminalization bills, but only one passed -- in Maine, which had already decriminalized possession of up to 1.25 ounces. This year's legislation doubled that amount. And then there were legalization bills. Two were introduced in the 2009 session, in California and Massachusetts, and two more have been pre-filed for next year, in New Hampshire and Washington. Both the California and Massachusetts bills got hearings this year, and the California bill is set for another hearing and a first committee vote in the Assembly in two weeks. In Rhode Island, meanwhile, the legislature voted this year to create a commission to study marijuana law reform; it will report at the end of January.

And then, finally, there is the excitement and discussion being generated by at least three separate marijuana legalization initiative campaigns underway in California. Oaksterdam medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee's Tax Cannabis 2010 initiative has already announced it has sufficient signatures to make the ballot. Time will tell if the others make it, but at this point it is almost certain that voters in California will have a chance to say "legalize it" in November.

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medical marijuana dispensary, Ventura Blvd., LA (courtesy wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana: The Feds Butt Out and the Floodgates Begin to Swing Open

During his election campaign, President Obama promised to quit siccing the DEA on medical marijuana patients and providers. In February, new Attorney General Eric Holder announced there would be no more federal raids if providers were in compliance with state law, and pretty much held to that promise since then. In October, the Justice Department made it official policy when it issued a policy memo reiterating the administration's stance.

The new "hands off" policy from Washington has not been universally adhered to, nor has it addressed the issue of people currently serving sentences or facing prosecution under Bush administration anti-medical marijuana initiatives, but it has removed a huge looming threat to growers and dispensary operators and it has disarmed a favored (if intensely hypocritical) argument of medical marijuana foes that such laws should not be passed out of fear of what the feds would do.

Meanwhile, California rolls right along as medical marijuana's Wild West. Like countless other localities in the Golden State, the city of Los Angeles is grappling with what to do with its nearly one thousand dispensaries. The issue is being fought city by city and county by county, in the state courts and in the federal courts. And while the politicians argue, dispensary operators are creating political facts on the ground as their tax revenues go into hungry state and local coffers.

This year also marked the emergence of a medical marijuana industry infrastructure -- growers, grow shops, dispensaries, educational facilities, pot docs -- beyond California's borders, most notably in Colorado, where the dispensary scene exploded in the wake of the removal of the federal threat, and in Michigan, where last year's passage of a medical marijuana law has seen the creation of the Midwest's first medical marijuana industry.

While medical marijuana is legal in 13 states (and now, the District of Columbia), it remains difficult to win victories in state legislatures. There were medical marijuana bills in at least 18 states, but only two -- Minnesota and New Hampshire -- were approved by legislatures, and they were vetoed by prohibitionist governors. Bills are, however, still alive in six states -- Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin -- with New Jersey and Wisconsin apparently best positioned to become the next medical marijuana state. In Rhode Island, which already approved a medical marijuana law in 2007, the legislature this year amended it to include a dispensary system.

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salvia leaves (photo courtesy Erowid.org)
The Reflexive Prohibitionist Impulse Remains Alive -- Just Ask Sally D

Despite evident progress on some drug reform fronts, a substantial number of Americans continue to hold to prohibitionist values, including a number of state legislators. The legislative response to the popularity of the fast-acting, short-lived hallucinogen salvia divinorum is the best indicator of that.

The DEA has been reviewing salvia for five years, and has yet to determine that it needs to become a controlled substance, but that hasn't stopped some legislators from trying to ban it. Appalled by YouTube videos that show young people getting very high, legislators in 13 states have banned or limited sales of the herb.

This year, four more states joined the list. The good news is that legislators in seven other states where salvia ban bills were introduced had better things to do with their time than worry about passing them.

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drug testing lab
"We Must Drug Test Welfare and Unemployment Recipients!"

In another indication that the drug warrior impulse is still alive and well -- as are its class war elements -- legislators in various states this year continued to introduce bills that would mandate suspicionless drug testing of people seeking unemployment, public assistance, or other public benefits. Never mind that Michigan, the only state to pass such a law, saw its efforts thrown out as an unconstitutional search by a federal appeals court several years back.

Such efforts exposed not only public resentment of benefits recipients, but also a certain level of ignorance about the way our society works. A common refrain from supporters was along the lines of "I have to get drug tested for my job, so why shouldn't they have to get drug tested?" Such questioners fail to understand that our system protects us from our government, but not from private employers.

But if welfare drug testing excited some popular support, it also excited opposition, not only on constitutional grounds, but on grounds of cost and elemental fairness. In the four states where drug testing bills were introduced -- Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and West Virginia -- none of them went anywhere. But even in an era when drug reform is in the air, such bills are a clear sign that there will be many rear-guard battles to fight.

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unjust, but also unaffordable
Rockefeller Drug Law and Other State Sentencing Reforms

Reeling under the impact of economic downtowns and budget crises, more and more states this year took a second look at drug-related sentencing policies. Most notable of the reforms enacted at the state level this year were reforms in New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws, which went into effect in October. Under this newest round of Rockefeller drug law reforms, some 1,500 low-level drug offenders will be able to seek sentence reductions, while judges gain some sentencing power from prosecutors, and treatment resources are being beefed up. But still, more than 12,000 will remain in Empire State prisons on Rockefeller drug charges.

New York wasn't the only state to enact sentencing reforms this year. This month, New Jersey legislators passed a bill giving judges the discretion to waive mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. Last month, Rhode Island mandatory minimum reforms went into effect. Earlier this year, Louisiana finally acted to redress the cruel plight of the "heroin lifers," people who had been sentenced to life without parole for heroin possession under an old state law. A new state law cut heroin sentences, but did not address the lifers. As a result, some lifers remained in prison with no hope of parole while more recent heroin offenders came, did their time, and went. Now, under this year's law, the lifers are eligible for parole.

Sentencing reforms are also in the works in a number of other states, from Alabama to California and from Colorado to Michigan. In some cases, reform legislation is in progress; in others, legislators are waiting for commissions to report their findings. In nearly every case, it is bottom-line budget concerns rather than bleeding heart compassion for the incarcerated that is driving the reforms.

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PolitickerMD cartoon about the Berwyn Heights raid
Swatting SWAT

It was only one bill in one state, and all it required was reporting by SWAT teams of their activities, but the Maryland SWAT bill passed this year marked the first time a state legislature has moved to rein in aggressive paramilitary-style policing. More precisely, the bill requires all law enforcement agencies that operate SWAT teams to submit monthly reports on their activities, including when and where they are used, and whether the operations result in arrests, seizures or injuries.

In took an ugly incident involving the mayor of a Washington, DC, suburb to make it happen. Marijuana traffickers sent a load of pot to the mayor's address to avoid having police show up on their doorstep in the event something went wrong, but something did go wrong, and police tracked the package. When the mayor innocently carried the package inside on returning home, the SWAT team swooped, manhandling the mayor and his mother-in-law and killing the family's pet dogs. The cops were unapologetic, the mayor was apoplectic, and now Maryland has a SWAT law. A new bill just filed in Maryland would take it further, requiring police to secure a judge's warrant before deploying a SWAT team.

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shrine to San Malverde, Mexico's ''narco-saint,'' Culiacan, Sinaloa
America Finally Notices the Drug War Across the River

While Congress and the Bush administration got serious about Mexico's bloody drug wars in 2008, passing a three-year, $1.4 billion anti-drug aid package for Mexico and Central America, it was not until this year that the prohibition-related violence in Mexico really made the radar north of the border.

It only took about 11,000 deaths (now up to over 16,000) among Mexican drug traffickers, police, soldiers, and innocent bystanders to get the US to pay attention to the havoc being wreaked on the other side of the Rio Grande. But by the spring, Washington was paying attention, and for the first time, one could hear mea culpas coming from the American side. Mexico's drug violence is driven by demand in the US, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano echoed.

But just because Washington admitted some fault didn't mean it was prepared to try anything different. And while the Mexican drug wars brought talk of legalization -- especially of marijuana -- what they brought in terms of policy was the Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, which is basically mo' better drug war.

Mexico's drug wars show no signs of abating, and the pace of killing has accelerated each year since President Felipe Calderon sent in the army three years ago this month. The success -- or failure -- of his drug war policies may determine Calderon's political future, but it has for the first time concentrated the minds of US policymakers on the consequences of prohibition south of the border.

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syringes -- better at the exchange than on the street
Congress Ends Ban on Needle Exchange Funding, Butts Out of DC Affairs

After a decade-long struggle, the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs ended this month with President Obama's signature on an omnibus appropriations bill that included ending the federal ban, as well as a similar ban that applied to the District of Columbia. The bill also removed a ban on the District implementing a medical marijuana law passed by voters in 1998.

Removing the funding ban has been a major goal of harm reduction and public health coalitions, but they had gotten nowhere in the Republican-controlled Congresses of the past decade. What a difference a change of parties makes.

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Jim Webb at 2007 incarceration hearing (photo from sentencingproject.org)
Questioning the Drug War: Two Congressional Bills

The US Congress has been a solid redoubt of prohibitionist sentiment for decades, but this year saw the beginning of cracks in the wall. Two legislators, Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) and Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced and have had hearings on bills that could potentially challenge drug war orthodoxy.

Engel's bill, the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act, which has already passed the House, would set up a commission to examine US eradication, interdiction, and other policies in the Western Hemisphere. While Engel is no anti-prohibitionist, any honest commission assessing US drug policy in the Americas is likely to come up with findings that subvert drug war orthodoxy.

Meanwhile, Sen. Webb's National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 comes at the issue from a much more critical perspective. It calls for a top-to-bottom review of a broad range of criminal justice issues, ranging from sentencing to drug laws to gangs and beyond, with an emphasis and costs and efficacy. Webb's bill remains in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but has 35 cosponsors. Webb has already held hearings on the costs of mass incarceration and the economic costs of drug policy, and even more than Engel's bill, the Webb bill has the potential to get at the roots of our flawed national drug policy.

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Sen. Durbin at May hearing on crack sentencing
The Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

The 100:1 disparity in the quantities of crack needed to earn a mandatory minimum federal prison sentence versus the quantities of powder cocaine needed to earn the same sentence has been egregiously racist in its application, with roughly 90% of all federal crack offenders being non-white, and pressure has been mounting for years to undo it. It hasn't happened yet, but 2009 finally saw some serious progress on the issue.

The move to reform the sentencing disparity got a boost in June, when Attorney General Holder said it had to go. The next month, a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee passed the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009. The bill is now before the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce Committees.

On the Senate side, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a companion bill in October, the Fairness in Sentencing Act. It hasn't moved yet, but thanks to a decade-long effort by a broad range of advocates, all the pieces are now in place for something to happen in this Congress. By the time we get around to the Top 10 of 2010, the end of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity better be one of the big stories.

Search and Seizure: Ohio Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrant to Search Cell Phones

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police officers must obtain a search warrant before reviewing the contents of a suspect's cell phone unless their safety is in danger. The ruling came on a narrow 5-4 vote of the justices.

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hands off, at least in Ohio
The ruling came in State v. Smith, in which Antwaun Smith was arrested on drug charges after answering a cell phone call from a crack cocaine user acting as a police informant. When Smith was arrested, officers took his cell phone and searched it without his consent or a search warrant. Smith was charged with cocaine possession, cocaine trafficking, tampering with evidence and two counts of possession of criminal tools.

At trial, Smith argued that evidence derived through the cell phone search should be thrown out because the search violated the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. But the trial judge, citing a 2007 federal court ruling that found a cell phone is similar to a closed container found on a defendant and thus subject to warrantless search, admitted the evidence. Smith was subsequently convicted on all charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Smith appealed, but lost on a 2-1 vote in the appeals court. In that decision, the dissenting judge cited a different federal court case that found that a cell phone is not a container.

In the majority opinion Tuesday, state Supreme Court Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote that the court did not agree with the appeals court and trial judge that a cell phone was a closed container. "We do not agree with this comparison, which ignores the unique nature of cell phones," Lanzinger wrote. "Objects falling under the banner of 'closed container' have traditionally been physical objects capable of holding other physical objects. ... Even the more basic models of modern cell phones are capable of storing a wealth of digitized information wholly unlike any physical object found within a closed container."

"People keep their e-mail, text messages, personal and work schedules, pictures, and so much more on their cell phones," Craig Jaquith, Smith's attorney, said in a statement. "I can't imagine that any cell phone user in Ohio would want the police to have access to that sort of personal information without a warrant. Today, the Ohio Supreme Court properly brought the Fourth Amendment into the 21st century."

But Greene County prosecutor Stephen Haller complained to the Associated Press that the high court had gone too far. "I'm disappointed with this razor-thin decision," Haller said. "The majority here has announced this broad, sweeping new Fourth Amendment rule that basically is at odds with decisions of other courts."

Search and Seizure: Ohio Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrant to Search Cell Phones

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police officers must obtain a search warrant before reviewing the contents of a suspect’s cell phone unless their safety is in danger. The ruling came on a narrow 5-4 vote of the justices. The ruling came in State v. Smith, in which Antwaun Smith was arrested on drug charges after answering a cell phone call from a crack cocaine user acting as a police informant. When Smith was arrested, officers took his cell phone and searched it without his consent or a search warrant. Smith was charged with cocaine possession, cocaine trafficking, tampering with evidence and two counts of possession of criminal tools. At trial, Smith argued that evidence derived through the cell phone search should be thrown out because the search violated the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. But the trial judge, citing a 2007 federal court ruling that found a cell phone is similar to a closed container found on a defendant and thus subject to warrantless search, admitted the evidence. Smith was subsequently convicted on all charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Smith appealed, but lost on a 2-1 vote in the appeals court. In that decision, the dissenting judge cited a different federal court case that found that a cell phone is not a container. In the majority opinion Tuesday, state Supreme Court Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote that the court did not agree with the appeals court and trial judge that a cell phone was a closed container. "We do not agree with this comparison, which ignores the unique nature of cell phones," Lanzinger wrote. "Objects falling under the banner of 'closed container' have traditionally been physical objects capable of holding other physical objects. ... Even the more basic models of modern cell phones are capable of storing a wealth of digitized information wholly unlike any physical object found within a closed container." "People keep their e-mail, text messages, personal and work schedules, pictures, and so much more on their cell phones," Craig Jaquith, Smith's attorney, said in a statement. "I can't imagine that any cell phone user in Ohio would want the police to have access to that sort of personal information without a warrant. Today, the Ohio Supreme Court properly brought the Fourth Amendment into the 21st century." But Greene County prosecutor Stephen Haller complained to the Associated Press that the high court had gone too far. "I'm disappointed with this razor-thin decision," Haller said. "The majority here has announced this broad, sweeping new Fourth Amendment rule that basically is at odds with decisions of other courts."
Location: 
Columbus, OH
United States

At the Statehouse: Sentencing, Drug Testing, Good Samaritan, Hemp, and SWAT Bills

As 2009 winds up, we present the last installment in our series of articles on drug reform in state legislatures. This week, we look at Good Samaritan bills, sentencing bills, drug testing bills, and a hemp bill and a SWAT bill.

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Rhode Island Senate chamber
Although we have tried to be comprehensive, we might have missed something. If we have, please write to us here.

Good Samaritan Bills

Connecticut: A bill that would protect overdose victims and the people seeking help for them from prosecution, HB 5445, was introduced in January and referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, where it got a hearing in March. It has not moved since.

Hawaii: A bill providing limited immunity from prosecution for overdose victims and those seeking to help them, HB 532, was introduced in January, passed the Health Committee on an 8-0 vote in February, and was assigned to the Judiciary Committee. It has now been held over for the 2010 session.

Maryland: A bill that would protect overdose victims and the people seeking help for them from prosecution, HB 1273, passed the House on a 135-0 vote in March, passed the Senate on a 47-0 vote in April, and was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley in May.

Nebraska: A bill protecting drug overdose victims and those seeking to assist them from prosecution, LB 383, was introduced in January and got a hearing before the Judiciary Committee in March, but has not moved since.

New York: A bill that would provide protection to drug overdose victims and those seeking to help them, A 8147, was introduced in May and referred to the Assembly Rules Committee in June, where it has sat ever since. A companion measure, S 5191, was introduced in April and has sat before the Senate Codes Committee ever since.

Rhode Island: A bill that would provide limited immunity from prosecution for drug overdose victims and those trying to help them, S 194, was introduced in February and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it has been stalled ever since.

Washington: A bill that would protect overdose victims and those trying to help them from prosecution, HB 1796, was introduced in January and approved by the Committee on Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness in February. It was then referred to the House Rules Committee, where it died for lack of action.

Drug Testing

Kansas: A bill that would have required people who seek public assistance to undergo drug testing, HB 2275, passed the House on a 99-26 vote in March. It was referred to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee at that time, but has not moved since.

Louisiana: A bill that would have required welfare recipients to undergo drug testing, HB 137, died in June on an 11-5 vote in the House Appropriations Committee.

Missouri: A bill that would have made it a crime to falsify a drug test or to sell or transport drug test adulterants, HB 446, was introduced in May and promptly went nowhere. It is currently "not on the calendar." A bill that would require drug testing of welfare recipients upon "reasonable suspicion," SB 73, won a hearing before the Senate Progress and Development Committee in February, but has been dormant ever since.

West Virginia: A bill that would have mandated random drug tests for people who receive food stamps or unemployment benefits, HB 3007, was blocked in committee. A last ditch effort to revive it via a House floor vote was defeated 70-30 on a straight party line vote. Republicans voted for it.

Sentencing

Louisiana: A bill, HB 630, which would grant parole eligibility to people sentenced to life without parole for heroin offenses, passed the House and Senate in the spring and became law without the governor's signature in July. It became effective August 15.

Massachusetts: The state Senate last month approved SB 2210, which grants parole eligibility to nonviolent drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences. But the House recessed without taking action on the measure.

New Jersey: A bill that would give judges discretion to waive mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, SB 1866, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 23 and passed Senate yesterday. Its companion measure, A2762, passed the Assembly last year, and Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he will sign the bill.

New York: The legislature and Gov. David Paterson (D) came to an agreement in March on a second round of reforms to the state's draconian Rockefeller drug laws. The reforms, which went into effect in October, included returning judicial discretion in low-level drug cases, expanding treatment and reentry services, expanding drug courts, and allowing some 1,500 people imprisoned for low-level drug offenses to apply for resentencing.

Hemp

Oregon: Oregon became the 17th state to pass legislation favorable to hemp farming and the ninth state to remove legal barriers to farming the potentially lucrative crop as Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) in August signed into law SB 676, an industrial hemp act sponsored by state Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D). The bill removes all state legal obstacles to growing hemp for food, fiber, and other industrial purposes. It passed the House 46-11 and the Senate 27-2. Industrial hemp production remains prohibited under federal law.

SWAT

Maryland: Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law a bill that will require law enforcement SWAT teams to regularly report on their activities. The bill was largely a response to a misbegotten drug raid last July in Prince Georges County in which Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo and his family were doubly victimized -- first by drug traffickers who used their address for a marijuana delivery, then by Prince Georges County police, who killed the family's two pet dogs and mistreated Calvo and his mother-in-law for several hours. The bill, the SWAT Team Activation and Reporting Act (HB 1267), requires all law enforcement agencies that operate SWAT teams to submit monthly reports on their activities, including when and where they are used, and whether the operations result in arrests, seizures or injuries.

10 Rules for Dealing With Police (Film Preview)

If you've ever wondered why I only blog at night, it's because I've been spending the daylight hours at Flex Your Rights helping write and produce what I believe will be the best know your rights resource ever made. Here's a peak at the new film 10 Rules for Dealing with Police, which we're releasing on January 25:

I have a cameo in the film where I get chased and tackled by a massive plainclothes narcotics officer. Mark your calendars.

No Marijuana Smoking at the Dog-Sled Races

Apparently, there's no climate so inhospitable that the drug testers won't show up to collect everyone's urine:

FAIRBANKS -- The Iditarod plans to test mushers for drugs and alcohol in March, a change many mushers have no problem with -- but one that three-time champion Lance Mackey scoffs at.

"I think it's a little bit ridiculous," Mackey said Wednesday night from his home near Fairbanks after a training run. "It is a dog race, not a human race. It (using a drug) doesn't affect the outcome of the race."

Mackey, a throat cancer survivor who has a medical marijuana card, admits to using marijuana on the trail and thinks his success has made some of his competitors jealous. [ADN]

The funny part is they've already been drug testing the dogs for several years. I just assumed that the mushers were wasted the whole time. I mean, you're racing a dog-sled through arctic conditions for 1,000 miles with no sleep. According to the comments on the article, some guy once won the thing completely jacked on coke.

It'll be embarrassing next year when no one finishes the Iditarod.

Do You Know Your Rights When Dealing With Police?

Check out the brand new redesigned Flex Your Rights website, which is so filled with delicious know-your-rights info and advice that it might even make you wanna go out looking for trouble. Of course, the point is not to embolden you (being cocky is a huge mistake), but rather to provide answers that aren’t available elsewhere and help people heal just a little from the pressure and confusion of living in a nation that jails more of its citizens than any other.

So please take a look and share it with friends and family. This is your first -- and sometimes only -- line of defense.

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