Mandatory Minimums

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Canadian Tories' Mandatory Minimum Drug Bill Draws Stiff Opposition, But Can It Be Stopped?

Canada's Conservative federal government last week introduced legislation -- bill C-26 -- that would create mandatory prison sentences for drug trafficking and drug producing offenses, including marijuana cultivation. The move marks a firm embrace of US-style drug war policies by the government of Prime Minister Steven Harper and comes as part of a larger "tough on crime" legislative package. While the measure has strong support among Harper's culturally conservative base and the law enforcement community, it has also excited a firestorm of opposition, and efforts to move it through parliament are sure to result in a battle royal.

But the Harper drug bill will advance -- or not -- within the context of a minority government able to wield the threat of any early call for elections against a Liberal opposition party that doesn't think it is up to the challenge just now. Because Harper's is a minority government, it will need the support of some opposition members to pass, and whether the Liberals will want to make tougher sentences for drug offenders a make or break issue remains to be seen.

While New Democratic Party (NDP) drug policy critic MP Libby Davies (Vancouver East) has already denounced the measure, neither the Liberals nor the Bloc Québecois have issued statements on it. Nor had either party responded to Chronicle requests for comment by press time.

"Drug producers and dealers who threaten the safety of our communities must face tougher penalties," said Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson in a statement announcing the legislation. "This is why our government is moving to impose mandatory jail time for serious drug offenses that involve organized crime, violence or youth."

According to the justice minister, the legislation will amend Canada's drug law, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, to include the following mandatory minimum sentences and other enhanced penalties:

  • A one-year mandatory prison sentence will be imposed for dealing drugs such as marijuana when carried out for organized crime purposes, or when a weapon or violence is involved;
  • A two-year mandatory prison sentence will be imposed for dealing drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines to youth, or for dealing those drugs near a school or an area normally frequented by youth;
  • A two-year mandatory prison sentence will be imposed for the offense of running a large marijuana grow operation of at least 500 plants;
  • The maximum penalty for cannabis production would increase from 7 to 14 years imprisonment; and
  • Tougher penalties will be introduced for trafficking GHB and flunitrazepam (most commonly known as date-rape drugs).

"Drugs are dangerous and destructive, yet we see Canadian youth being exposed to and taking drugs at such young ages, and grow-ops and drug labs appearing in our residential areas," said Minister Nicholson. "By introducing these changes, our message is clear: if you sell or produce drugs -- you'll pay with jail time."

According to a justice ministry backgrounder on the legislation, marijuana trafficking offenses involving at least three kilograms of weed would be subject to one- or two-year mandatory minimum sentences if "aggravating factors" are present. To earn a one-year mandatory minimum sentence, the offense would have to be "for the benefit of organized crime," involve the use or threat of force or violence, or be committed by someone convicted of a similar offense within the past 10 years. Aggravating factors that can garner a two-year mandatory minimum include trafficking in a prison, in or near a school or "near an area normally frequented by youth," in concert to a youth, or selling to a youth.

The proposed legislation also includes mandatory minimum sentences for any marijuana cultivation offense -- if "the offense is committed for the purpose of trafficking." For up to 200 plants, it's six months mandatory jail time; for 201-500 plants, it's one year in jail; and for more than 500 plants, it's a two-year mandatory minimum. The penalties increase to nine months, 18 months, and 36 months, respectively, if "health and safety factors" are involved. Those factors include using someone else's property to commit the offense, creating a potential health or safety hazard to children, creating a potential public safety hazard in residential areas, or setting traps.

"How fast can we go backwards?" asked attorney and University of Ottawa criminology professor Eugene Oscapella, head of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy. "The government is lurching from mistake to mistake on drug policy issues. The Canadian Supreme Court shot down a mandatory minimum seven-year penalty for importing narcotics, and now this government is trying to slip in and establish mandatory minimums that will meet constitutional muster. It is the wrong thing to do in terms of a sensible drug policy," he said.

The legislation could have unintended consequences if it passes, Oscapella said. "By bumping up penalties from seven to 14 years for growing cannabis, it could scare away the "Ma and Pa" operators and leave the field open for organized crime. This bill acts as a broom to sweep out the minor players, and who will fill that gap?"

"This bill will make George W. Bush very happy," said the NDP's Davies. "He will know that at least Stephen Harper is following his lead. The bill has all the dirty hallmarks of the so called 'war on drugs' that has been raging in the United Sates for close to 40 years. As in the US, the rhetoric and spin on this bill plays on fears of drug pushers, especially regarding youth, as the bill promises to get tough on traffickers and dealers, and to protect our children in and around school premises."

Too bad it won't work, said Davies. "The only problem is, as history and reality shows us, this heavy handed reliance on law enforcement is not only a failure; it is a colossal failure, economically, socially, and culturally. Law enforcement regarding drugs typically targets low level dealers and users, and ironically re-enforces the monopoly of organized crime and the drug kingpins, who either escape enforcement or are in the best position to negotiate deals."

The legislation wasn't winning any kudos from Canada's cannabis community, either. "While being portrayed as balanced in government talking points, this legislation is anything but," said Tim Meehan of Patients Against Ignorance and Discrimination on Cannabis, a recently formed medical marijuana advocacy organization based in Ontario. "Unlike the de facto leniency Canadians mostly get before the courts if they have a very small home garden, in this bill there is no personal growing exemption -- even one plant will get you six months, which is effectively nine months unless you are growing in your own house, in a rural area, and are miles from schools or even a park where kids hang out."

"They define organized crime as at least three people operating to the benefit of at least one," pointed out Cannabis Culture magazine publisher Marc Emery, perhaps Canada's best known marijuana advocate. "That means if you grow a plant and give some to me and I sell some to someone else, we're now organized crime. If you're growing a few plants for sale, that's a nine-month mandatory minimum and they take your kids away. They're going to need a new prison in British Columbia every year if this passes."

Emery also predicted other unintended consequences. "The price will go up within a year of passage, and that will cause us to be importing weed from the US for the first time ever," he prophesied.

But, of course, the bill does have its supporters, not only among the Conservative base, but also among powerful law enforcement organizations. "We support the legislation," said Fredericton, New Brunswick Police Chief Barry MacKnight, head of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. "Our overall position is that there must be a balanced approach to the drug problem, and mandatory minimum sentences are just part of that. A very aggressive judicial approach toward drug dealers and manufacturers is consistent with our objectives," he said. "This isn't aimed at that young person smoking a joint behind a building."

While such words may be intended to provide reassurance to the likes of Meehan and Emery, Canada's cannabis nation should not mistake the chief's attitude as one of tolerance. "When it comes to marijuana, our message is clear," said MacKnight. "The jury is in: Marijuana is a harmful drug. Clearly, we are focused on the most harmful drugs, but you can't isolate marijuana from this debate. When it comes to production and trafficking, marijuana is part of the drug subculture."

Ever the guerrilla warrior, Emery is calling for a a nationwide series of demonstrations outside parliament members' offices on December 17. "There are 308 MP offices, and we plan to have at least a dozen people outside each one of them dressed in prison uniforms and holding signs saying 'This is your child with the new Tory drug laws,'" he said. "There won't be any pot-smoking at these events -- this is about politics, not defiance -- and we'll also have people in suits handing out information. The object is to educate the MP and the public. We're telling everyone to tell their MP to stall the bill, or better yet, reverse it -- legalize pot and end prohibition."

While Emery takes the battle to the streets, others will be walking the hallways as they seek to block the bill. The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has long opposed mandatory minimum sentencing, even publishing a 2006 briefing paper detailing its objections. The group's executive director, Richard Elliott, said Wednesday it would fight the bill in parliament.

"We don't know whether we'll be able to stop it, but we will try to talk to the relevant MPs and we will request to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice, as we did last year," Elliott said. "We'll also make the case as to why this is not a particularly good approach to the relevant ministers, although I doubt they will be open to hearing any criticism."

And so it will come down to the Liberals, the NDP, and the Bloc to stop the bill, and as the largest opposition party, the Liberals are key. With the Conservative threat to call early elections looming in the background, the question is whether the Liberals risk provoking elections over the drug bill. Don't count on it, said Elliott.

"Even if we manage to convince some Liberals this is the wrong approach, I'm not sure they're willing to fall on their swords over this particular issue," he said. "The current political situation is really quite favorable to the governing party because the opposition parties aren't ready to go."

"This is one of those gut-reaction issues," said Oscapella. "When you talk about how we have to tough on drugs, politicians tend to tag along. But it's very important that this bill be blocked; once you have mandatory minimums, they are very difficult to get rid of."

To that end, look for a growing coalition of opponents to emerge and attempt to coordinate. Some portions of the opposition parties will join the fight, as will civil society organizations, and perhaps, given the costs they would have to bear, some provincial governments. But they need to organize quickly; the Conservatives could move fast.

"I suspect this will be one of their top priorities," said Elliott. "They can move this quickly, and I suspect there will be committee hearings early next year, and after that, a vote by the House on a final reading," he predicted.

"This is about creating the perception they are tough on crime," Elliott said. "Unfortunately, we are heading more in your direction with this legislation, and this will only make matters worse."

"These are frightening times," said Oscapella. "We look down and what a colossal failure these policies have been in the US and say, 'Hey, let's do that, too.'"

Canada: Federal Government Introduces Anti-Drug Legislation

Canada's Conservative federal government Tuesday introduced legislation that would create mandatory prison sentences for drug trafficking and drug producing offenses, including marijuana cultivation. The move marks a firm embrace of US-style drug war policies by the government of Prime Minister Steven Harper and comes as part of a larger "tough on crime" legislative package.

"Drug producers and dealers who threaten the safety of our communities must face tougher penalties," said Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson in a statement announcing the legislation. "This is why our government is moving to impose mandatory jail time for serious drug offenses that involve organized crime, violence or youth."

According to the justice minister, the legislation will amend Canada's drug law, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, to include the following mandatory minimum sentences and other enhanced penalties:

  • A one-year mandatory prison sentence will be imposed for dealing drugs such as marijuana when carried out for organized crime purposes, or when a weapon or violence is involved;
  • A two-year mandatory prison sentence will be imposed for dealing drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines to youth, or for dealing those drugs near a school or an area normally frequented by youth;
  • A two-year mandatory prison sentence will be imposed for the offense of running a large marijuana grow operation of at least 500 plants;
  • The maximum penalty for cannabis production would increase from 7 to 14 years imprisonment; and
  • Tougher penalties will be introduced for trafficking GHB and flunitrazepam (most commonly known as date-rape drugs).

"Drugs are dangerous and destructive, yet we see Canadian youth being exposed to and taking drugs at such young ages, and grow-ops and drug labs appearing in our residential areas," said Minister Nicholson. "By introducing these changes, our message is clear: if you sell or produce drugs -- you'll pay with jail time."

According to a justice ministry backgrounder on the legislation, marijuana trafficking offenses involving at least three kilograms of weed would be subject to one- or two-year mandatory minimum sentences if "aggravating factors" are present. To earn a one-year mandatory minimum sentence, the offense would have to be "for the benefit of organized crime," involve the use or threat of force or violence, or be committed by someone convicted of a similar offense within the past 10 years. Aggravating factors that can garner a two-year mandatory minimum include trafficking in a prison, in or near a school or "near an area normally frequented by youth," in concert to a youth, or selling to a youth.

The proposed legislation also includes mandatory minimum sentences for any marijuana cultivation offense -- if "the offense is committed for the purpose of trafficking." For up to 200 plants, it's six months mandatory jail time; for 201-500 plants, it's one year in jail; and for more than 500 plants, it's a two-year mandatory minimum. The penalties increase to nine months, 18 months, and 36 months, respectively, if "health and safety factors" are involved. Those factors include using someone else's property to commit the offense, creating a potential health or safety hazard to children, creating a potential public safety hazard in residential areas, or setting traps.

The proposed legislation also doubles the maximum sentences for marijuana growing or trafficking offenses from seven to 14 years.

The Harper government's legislation is a direct attack on Canada's cannabis culture, the most-friendly in the West, according to United Nations usage statistics. Look for a battle royal over this proposed step backward, and look for a Drug War Chronicle feature article on the coming battle next week.

Sentencing Reform: Massachusetts Bar Association Forms Drug Policy Task Force

The Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) will form a drug policy task force, MBA President David White, Jr. announced last week. The task force will examine current drug policy and consider reforms, White said.

"We look to build a coalition from a broad spectrum of the Massachusetts health care, business and law enforcement communities. The coalition will take a hard look at the difficult questions of drug addiction and punishment of drug-related crimes," said White. "This is one part of our effort to improve sentencing in Massachusetts. Reforms of the current sentencing system will reduce crime, rebuild families and communities and save money," he added.

White's announcement came as a two-hour symposium on sentencing at the Statehouse Great Hall came to an end. During that symposium, panels of legislators, advocates, and attorneys suggested that the Bay State could see meaningful sentencing reform for the first time in years.

"I'm more optimistic than ever that we can have a useful discussion," said panelist state Sen. Robert Creedon Jr., Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

Mandatory minimum sentencing came under attack from several panelists, including at least one law enforcement official. Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral said mandatory minimums make treating inmates with drug problems more difficult and constitute obstacles to rehabilitation.

"The sheriffs, we are on the forefront of reentry programs, but we are stymied by mandatory minimums that don't allow us to classify people for acceptance into some of our programs," Cabral said.

Other panelists at the symposium included Northeastern University criminal justice professor James Alan Fox, Families Against Mandatory Minimums vice president and general counsel Mary Price, Washington state Rep. Roger Goodman (who leads the pioneering King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project), and several ranking Massachusetts elected officials.

White was named head of the MBA earlier this year. He has said that sentencing reform is one of his top priorities.

Feature: New, Less Severe Federal Crack Cocaine Sentencing Guidelines Go Into Effect, But Will They Be Retroactive?

Since Congress failed to act by Thursday to stop them, new, less severe federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses promulgated by the US Sentencing Commission are now in effect. That means some 4,000 federal crack defendants each year can now count on marginally shorter sentences. For those serving the longest sentences that could mean years off.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/crackcocaine.jpg
DEA crack cocaine photo
"We're very encouraged about this reform," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "What the Sentencing Commission is doing is terrific and long overdue."

Under federal drug laws adopted by Congress in the mid-1980s, crack offenders are treated much more severely than powder cocaine offenders. Selling five grams of crack carries a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to merit the same treatment.

The Sentencing Commission, whose job it is to set federal sentencing guidelines, responded to the mandatory minimums by adjusting the guidelines to incorporate them, resulting in guideline sentences that were above the mandatory minimums. The Commission also tried, in 1995, to reduce crack cocaine sentences to match those for powder cocaine, a move that prompted Congress to reverse the Commission's recommendation for the first time in its history. Now, in frustration with congressional failure to deal with the rising clamor over the inequities of the federal cocaine laws, the commission has amended the guidelines to lower the base offense levels for crack convictions.

The differences this time are marginal, but will still make a difference for those facing federal crack time. For example, instead of a sentencing range of 12 to 15 years for a certain drug quantity, defendants will face 10 to 12 years.

But the Sentencing Commission has not yet decided whether to make those changes retroactive, a move that, according to a Sentencing Commission impact analysis published in October, could bring relief to nearly 20,000 crack defendants currently behind federal prison bars -- about 85% of them black. It has the authority to do so; the question is whether it has the political will. The commission recently extended the period for public comment on the retroactivity issue from October 1 to November 1, and has scheduled a November 13 public hearing.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/prisondorm.jpg
prison dorm
The response has been intense, with the commission reporting that more than a thousand comments have been received -- most of them favoring retroactivity. That is at least in part because groups like Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) have launched a campaign to support the commission's long-held position that the racial disparity in cocaine sentences undermines the objectives of the country's sentencing laws.

It's not just FAMM. The American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Federal Public and Community Defenders, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and numerous other groups have weighed in in support of retroactivity.

"Retroactivity is huge," said Nora Callahan, executive director of the November Coalition, an anti-prohibitionist group that concentrates on drug war prisoners. "If it isn't retroactive, it isn't justice," she said.

"The commission has for years acknowledged the adverse impacts of the current sentencing structure, and that hasn't gone unnoticed," Callahan continued. "The system lacks transparency, consistency, and fairness. That's not the commission's fault, but it is the commission's responsibility to address these issues. Reducing the racial disparities resulting from the crack laws cannot be accomplished without retroactivity. If there is no relief, that will only breed more despair and disrespect for the law," she said.

"I'm encouraged about retroactivity because there have been thousands of comments sent to the commission supporting it," said Mauer. "The commission has both a moral and a practical reason to support retroactivity. In terms of equity issues, there is a strong argument for retroactivity there. The commission has been on record since 1995 recommending reform of the crack penalties, and it seems to us that anyone sentenced since then should certainly be eligible to receive these reductions. If the commission supports retroactivity, it would be entirely consistent with what it has been recommending for years."

The Sentencing Commission's crack sentencing guideline amendment that went into effect this week and its pending decision on retroactivity come as the federal crack laws are under attack from all sides. The Supreme Court is considering them in the recently heard Kimbrough case, and at least three bills to address the crack-powder sentencing disparity are pending in Congress.

"There is more momentum now than at any time since the laws were established two decades ago," said Mauer. "It is that overdue recognition that the laws don't make sense, they're ineffective, and they are having a terrible racial impact. It's very encouraging to see this critique of the crack laws coming from all these different directions. We don't know how it will all play out, but there is a growing consensus that some reform will take place."

Hopefully it will include those already imprisoned under the draconian federal crack laws, some of whom have been behind bars since 1992. If not, the bulging federal prison system could see ominous rumbling like it hasn't seen for a decade -- the last time crack prisoners got their hopes up, only to see them dashed.

Marijuana: Florida Bill Would Toughen Penalties for Growing

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum (R), an inveterate drug warrior dating back to his days in the US Congress, and two hard-line state legislators have unveiled a bill for the 2008 state session that attempts to crack down on the Sunshine State's flourishing indoor marijuana growing industry. The bill, which is not yet available on the Florida legislature's web site, would dramatically decrease the number of growing plants needed to prosecute someone as a drug trafficker, a first-degree felony with a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/mccollumetal.jpg
McCollum press conference
Under current Florida law, growers can be charged as traffickers only if they grow more than 300 plants. Federal marijuana laws require 100 plants to trigger the equivalent offense. But under the "Marijuana Grow House Eradication Act," it would take only 25 plants to trigger a trafficking charge.

But there is more nastiness embedded in the measure. It would also create new penalties for those who own a house for the purpose of growing marijuana and those who live in the house or take care of the grow op. It would also ratchet up penalties for people who have both kids and a grow op, and ratchet them up even higher if the kids are three or under.

The bill is a response to an apparent explosion in marijuana grows in Florida. According to McCollum's press release announcing the measure, indoor grow ops were detected in 41 of Florida's 67 counties. The number of indoor grows busted in Florida ranks it second only to California, the release said.

The bill will not be heard until next spring's legislative session, but that didn't stop McCollum and his legislative and law enforcement allies from getting the ball rolling earlier this month. "As Florida's Attorney General, my priority is protecting our children and our communities from the devastation of illegal drugs," said McCollum. "This legislation targets those who grow marijuana for profit."

"Every time law enforcement can detect a grow house and arrest those involved with it, less crime will be on our streets," said cosponsor Senator Steve Oelrich (R-Gainesville), adding that the main purpose of this legislation is eliminating the spread of illegal drugs in Florida. "This legislation will provide law enforcement with critical tools to get these narcotics out of our kids' hands and put drug traffickers behind bars."

"In Florida, those who use grow houses to traffic drugs belong in prison," added Representative Nick Thompson (R-Fort Myers). "Under this legislation we are clearly telling drug dealers, 'if you grow, you go!'"

"Whether grown outdoors or in a garage, marijuana today is extremely potent and dangerous and the cultivation of this illicit drug will not be tolerated by DEA," chimed in Mark Trouville, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Miami Field Division.

With some months until the bill is actually considered, saner heads will have time to craft a response. It remains to be seen if they will emerge to do so.

Obama Comes Out Against Mandatory Minimums

It's about time. We've been concerned about Obama's perspective on drug policy, but it looks like he's coming around:

Washington, D.C. (AHN) - Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) outlined his civil rights platform Friday, saying that if elected president, he would target racial disparities in the U.S. justice system through a host of measures, including relaxing drug sentencing laws.


"We have a system that locks away too many young, first-time, non-violent offenders for the better part of their lives - a decision that's made not by a judge in a courtroom, but all to often by politicians in Washington and state capitals around the country," Obama said. [AHN]

Obama also pledged to address the crack/powder sentencing disparity, which he's sounded reluctant to do previously.

How could anyone disagree with him? Sentencing reform has become standard fair for the democratic candidates, and I've yet to hear the republicans dispute it. Maybe, just maybe, this one issue can escape the icy death grip of partisan politics. Maybe we can all just agree to stop treating petty drug offenders like murderers and rapists. Can we give this a try? Please?

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
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Paey Starts Afresh with Call from Crist

Location: 
FL
United States
Publication/Source: 
St. Petersburg Times
URL: 
http://www.sptimes.com/2007/09/22/Pasco/Paey_starts_afresh_wi.shtml

Pain Patients: Florida Prisoner Richard Paey is Pardoned

Richard Paey, the wheelchair-bound Florida pain patient sentenced to 25 years in prison as a drug dealer for seeking desperately-needed medications, may be a free man by the time you read this. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) granted Paey a full pardon on Thursday after a brief hearing in Tallahassee. Paey and his family had only sought clemency.

Paey was severely injured in a 1985 auto accident. A New Jersey physician provided him with prescriptions for necessary pain relievers, but when Paey moved to Florida he took pre-signed prescription forms with him. He was arrested in 1997 and charged with illegally possessing and trafficking in about 700 pain pills obtained with those prescriptions.

Under Florida's draconian drug laws, persons in possession of that amount of pain medication are treated as drug traffickers. Standing on principle, Paey refused plea offers from the state and was ultimately convicted and sentenced to the mandatory minimum 25-year sentence.

Paey's case became a cause celebre for the country's growing pain patient and doctor movement. In August, the governor's office announced that it would grant a waiver allowing Paey to seek clemency. In most cases, inmates cannot seek clemency until they have serve 1/3 of their time.

Thursday, Gov. Crist and three members of the Florida cabinet heard Paey's appeal for clemency. Though the state's parole commission had recommended against granting time-served, Crist went further, granting him a full pardon and ordering he be released immediately. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Crist allowed Paey's attorney, John Flannery to speak for nearly 30 minutes -- the usual time limit is five minutes, then allowed Paey's wife, three children and a family friend to speak as well.

Crist then commented, "I want to move that we grant a full pardon," continuing, "We aim to right a wrong and exercise compassion and to do it with grace," the governor said. "Congratulations... and I state he should be released today."

For further information on the Paey case, click here.

Medical Marijuana: Bryan Epis Re-Sentenced to 10 Years in Federal Prison

Bryan Epis, the first California medical marijuana provider tried in federal court for growing marijuana, was sentenced last Friday to 10 years in federal prison -- again. Epis was convicted in 2002 of growing more than 1,000 marijuana plants and served 25 months of his original 10-year sentence before being released on appeal bond.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/bordenepis.jpg
David Borden and Bryan Epis at the 2005 NORML conference
The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had ordered the lower court to reconsider Epis' conviction, but it found him guilty again.

Epis argued all along that he was a medical marijuana patient who worked with other patients within California law at a medical marijuana grow in Chico. But prosecutors portrayed him as an entrepreneurial mastermind with plans to distribute marijuana across the state.

In an unusual move, Circuit Court Judge Frank Damrell refused prosecution requests to immediately take Epis into custody, noting that the 9th Circuit had earlier ordered him released "without comment," a move Damrell described as "unprecedented in my experience. The law requires such an action be supported by exceptional circumstances, so I can only assume that they found exceptional circumstances," Damrell said. "My suspicion is the 9th Circuit would grant bail again," the judge added.

Damrell set an October 22 hearing date for a forthcoming motion for bail pending appeal.

Epis' attorney, Brenda Grantland, has argued that prosecutor Samuel Wong and DEA agents intentionally misinterpreted documents seized at Epis' home when it was searched in June 1997. Wong described the documents as a statewide marketing plan, saying Epis' "goal was to go statewide and use Proposition 215 as a shield to manufacture and traffic marijuana."

Grantland told Damrell that the 9th Circuit was "very interested" in her allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and perjury by narcotics officers in the case. Damrell agreed that the appeals court "may have some interest" in the issues Grantland raised.

For his part, Epis told the court he was a martyr for medical marijuana.
"If Proposition 215 had not passed, I wouldn't be standing here today," Epis told Damrell. "I'm being prosecuted because I have a heart. I've seen too many people suffer and die from cancer and AIDS not to try to help them. I'm not ashamed of what I did, but I am sorry for my family."

Richard Paey's Torturers Must be Held Accountable

As we celebrate Richard Paey's freedom today, it is important to remember that his tragic fate was no accident. Many people worked very hard at tax-payers' expense to put this innocent and miserable man behind bars. They deserve recognition today as well.

Certainly, these events vividly depict the insanity of a war on drugs that targets seriously ill people for trying to treat their own pain:
State prosecutors concede there's no evidence Paey ever sold or gave his medication away. Nevertheless, under draconian drug-war statutes, these prosecutors could pursue distribution charges against him based solely on the amount of medication he possessed (the unauthorized possession of as few as 60 tablets of some pain medications can qualify a person as a "drug trafficker"). [National Review]
Yet, as Radley Balko revealed at National Review, the persecution of Richard Paey involved so much more than the reckless enforcement of short-sighted laws. This was a prolonged and deliberate campaign on the part of malicious prosecutors and vengeful prison officials.

*Prosecutors blamed Paey's harsh sentence on Paey himself, claiming that he should have accepted a plea bargain. As Balko explains, they essentially retaliated against him for asserting his factual innocence and insisting on his right to a jury trial.

*Prison officials transferred Paey further away from his family after he gave a New York Times interview that was critical of the State of Florida.

*Prison medical staff threatened to withhold Paey's medication, also in apparent retaliation for his interview with the New York Times. Since he could die without it, this was the functional equivalent of a death threat and caused him great distress.

Now that Florida's Governor and Cabinet have concluded that Paey did nothing wrong, it is time to examine the way he was treated throughout this great travesty. If there are sociopaths working in Florida's criminal justice system, that's something Governor Crist would want to know about. If we can afford to imprison people for decades in order to protect ourselves from drugs, surely we can also afford to evaluate public servants who wield extraordinary power in order to ensure that they aren't deeply disturbed.

Mentally healthy people do not persecute the seriously ill, even if the drug war says it's ok.
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