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Legalization: Vermont States Attorney Calls for Decriminalization of All Drugs

Windsor County, Vermont, States Attorney Robert Sand has spoken out against the drug war. In a Thursday interview with the Rutland Herald, Sand said he favors decriminalizing all drugs and a public health approach to drug use.

"It's hard for me to see the vast resources expended on drug cases," Sand said. The 15-year prosecutor added that he wished more resources would go into prosecuting the physical and sexual abuse of children. "Don't get me wrong. Drugs are bad for you, they impair your judgment, they affect your memory, they reduce your inhibitions in a dangerous way. They're not good for you."

But the state of Vermont needs to rethink whether it is the role of government to forcibly stop people from using intoxicating substances, Sand said. The idea should not be considered radical, he protested. "I actually reject the premise that it's radical. I'm not condoning people breaking the law. My duty is to enforce the law but it's not my role to just passively accept a situation that exacerbates public danger. Prohibition doesn't work; we should have learned that with alcohol," he said.

It is drug prohibition, not drugs themselves, that causes the most serious crime, Sand argued. "Drug transactions cause the most serious crimes," he said, noting that the disputes deal with money owed, drugs stolen and turf wars between dealers. "That's the violence of drugs," he said, not drug-induced crime. "We don't see crazed crack heads or someone on crystal," he said.

Sand told the Herald he had taken his message to major police departments, and after an initially rocky response, could get police to see his point of view. He asks them to think "about the worst drug house in their community, the worst drug dealer, the worst addict" and then asks them to envision the house painted and repaired and people obtaining drugs legally. That's when they come around he said. "It means less violence. It means less addicts."

Sand has only recently begun speaking out, he told the Herald. It sounds like he is ready to be heard.

Drug Raids: Atlanta Police Kill Woman, 92, Who Shot Invading Officers

Three undercover Atlanta police officers who kicked in the door of an elderly Atlanta woman to serve a no-knock search warrant for drugs were shot and wounded when the woman opened fire on the intruders. They returned fire, killing 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston inside her home.

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Kathryn Johnston
Friends, neighbors, and relatives of the woman described her as a long-term neighborhood resident who was feeble and frightened, rarely letting even friends and neighbors enter her home, which she kept locked. She apparently opened fire as the police raiders broke through burglar bars on her front door. Johnson fired five shots from a revolver, wounding the three officers before she was killed by two shots to the chest.

As anger and concern grew in the community, Atlanta police worked urgently to explain and justify the killing. During a Wednesday press conference, Assistant Police Chief Alan Dreher said police had purchased drugs from an unknown man earlier in the day at the Johnston residence and returned the same evening with a no-knock search warrant. That man was not found, but police said they found an unspecified amount of an unspecified controlled substance inside the home. Police originally said they knocked and announced their presence before entering the home, but that is now in doubt.

"It was a very tragic and unfortunate incident," said Assistant Chief Dreher, who added that Johnston was not suspected of selling drugs and that police knew nothing about her.

He got no argument from local activist the Rev. Markell Hutchins on that point. "This is one of the most tragic cases of police-involved use of force, not only in Atlanta, but in the nation," said Hutchins, who had counseled the family, and set up a meeting with a law firm. "It appears Mrs. Johnston was a model citizen. A good citizen and a matriarch of the community," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"A confrontation with police and a 92-year-old woman don't go together," echoed State Rep. "Able" Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta).

Although Assistant Chief Dreher promised "a complete, thorough investigation" of the killing, neighbors and community activists did not wait to take to the streets. On Wednesday evening, more than a hundred people gathered in front of the Johnston home for a candlelight vigil to demand justice in the case.

Johnson is only the latest victim of overzealous law enforcement in police raids gone bad, the vast majority of them related to drug law enforcement. See "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America" by Cato Institute analyst Radley Balko for an overview of the subject.

Editorial: Things That Happen Over and Over

One of the feature stories in the news this week was the annual ritual of the Thanksgiving "Turkey Pardon." This year "Flyer" and "Fryer," their names chosen in an online reader poll on the White House web site, got to live out the remainder of their natural lives on a farm in rural Virginia. The Turkey Pardon, a quasi-official act of the sitting US President, has happened reliably every Thanksgiving week for nearly 60 years.

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David Borden
Another annual occurrence has been the current President's relative disuse of his power to grant clemencies and pardons. When I first commented on the Turkey Pardons, "Stars" and "Stripes" in 2003, Bush had yet to use the power at all. Now that is no longer completely true, but it is still close to being true. According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Debra Saunders, the federal prisoner count rose steeply since 2003 -- from 150,000 to over 190,000 -- while the president has issued a mere two commutations and 97 pardons over his entire term. As a long-time vegetarian, I certainly don't oppose the turkey pardons. But when it comes to another long-time White House holiday tradition, Christmas pardons of people, George Bush has been a veritable Scrooge, if not a Grinch, and that should stop.

Yet another thing that happens over and over -- something no one would dare to call a tradition, yet whose reoccurrence is plainly inevitable -- is the accidental killing in drug raids of innocent or at least nonviolent people by paramilitarized police squadrons. What happens is that SWAT teams, many of which have more or less turned into drug squads, will use incredibly aggressive tactics like battering rams or stun grenades to break into homes of suspected drug offenders. The people inside, not expecting the intrusion and not understanding it to be any different from an attack, react with mere trauma most of the time, but sometimes by dying of heart attacks or by pulling out guns in self-defense and getting shot. Sometimes the people inside get shot whether they pull out guns or not.

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Pardoning turkeys isn't enough -- because enough is enough.
A report by the Cato Institute this year examines the problem in detail. It has been growing. Atlanta's Kathryn Johnston was the latest victim. The 92-year old opened fire on three police officers after they forced their way into her home without knocking. The officers were wounded, but returned fire on Johnston, who was killed. People are justifiably angry, many regarding Johnston's use of her weapon as justified in the circumstances, albeit tragic in where it led. Police called the incident "tragic" but said they were executing a legal warrant after an undercover officer had bought drugs at her home. Time will tell if that claim is truthful or otherwise. But even if it is, how does it justify what happened?

Drug war killings by SWAT teams of people who are innocent or undeserving of it are only one of the many drug war outrages that happen over and over. In my opinion it is time to say "enough is enough."

As a first step, I ask that those of you reading this, who have other drug war outrages they care about, make posts discussing them to the comment section at the bottom of this web page. (If would be great if you could log in first too, so you won't be "anonymous" and people including us at DRCNet will know how to reach you. We're going to be doing some redesign work to make that easier during the next few weeks.)

Next week we will begin to talk about step two...

Marijuana: San Francisco Supervisors Approve Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Policy

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors gave final approval Tuesday for an ordinance making marijuana offenses the police department's lowest priority. The San Francisco district attorney is also directed to make prosecuting marijuana offenses her office's lowest priority. Public marijuana sales, possession by minors, and use by motorists will continue to be prosecuted.

The ordinance also creates an oversight committee through which people who feel they were wrongly targeted can seek a review of their cases. And it requires the Board of Supervisors to annually notify the state and federal governments that "the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco has passed an ordinance to deprioritize marijuana offenses by adults, and requests that the federal and California state governments take immediate steps to tax and regulate marijuana use, cultivation, and distribution and to authorize state and local communities to do the same."

The ordinance introduced by Supervisor Tom Ammiano passed 8-3.

"San Francisco should determine its marijuana policy locally, not hand it over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration," the ordinance read. "Law enforcement resources would be better spent fighting serious and violent crimes."

San Francisco now joins Oakland, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood on the list of California cities that have embraced lowest priority ordinances. Only West Hollywood and San Francisco have adopted such an ordinance through action by elected officials; in the other cities, action came through voter initiatives. Seattle, Columbia, Missouri, Missoula, Montana, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas, have also passed such initiatives.

A panoply of state and national drug reform organizations supported the move. Among them were Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, California NORML, and a number of local drug reform groups and political clubs.

"By urging our law enforcement community to ignore adult marijuana offenses, our police officers can focus on battling the increase in serious and violent crime, much of which is ironically directly related to our failed prohibitionist approach to drugs," said Camilla Field, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance San Francisco office. "This vote represents one small, but significant, step toward making our communities safer."

And one more small step toward undoing the marijuana laws.

Racial Profiling: It Never Went Away on the New Jersey Turnpike

Despite seven years of reforms aimed at eradicating racial profiling by the New Jersey State Police, the practice continues unabated and has even gotten worse. That's according to an American Civil Liberties Union study that found 30% of drivers stopped on the southern portion of the New Jersey Turnpike were black while African-Americans comprised only 18% of the population.

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New Jersey Turnpike entrance
The ACLU of New Jersey used a Tuesday hearing of the Advisory Committee on Police Standards to submit its findings as it urged continued monitoring of state troopers to prevent racial profiling. The Tuesday meeting was the last of four set to study the problem. The panel was appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine (D) to decide whether court-ordered monitoring of the state police should continue.

The state agreed to a consent decree aimed at reforming State Police practices following the shooting of three unarmed young people of color on the Turnpike in 1998. In recent years, court-appointed monitors have found the agency is complying with the decree, and the federal government has offered to lift it.

But State Police continue to stop black drivers at "greatly disproportionate" rates on the southern part of the turnpike, ACLU legal director Edward Barocas told the committee. "Profiling continues unabated," Barocas testified. "African-Americans now make up a higher percentage of stops than they did before the consent decree began."

State Police spokesmen said they were aware that black drivers were being stopped disproportionately, but claimed it did not result from racial profiling. "We've been assured by the independent monitoring team that they have seen no indication of troopers performing unconstitutional actions or any sign of disparate treatment," said Lt. Col. Tom Gilbert.

While Gilbert played defense, State Troopers Fraternal Association president David Jones went on the attack. The ACLU study, in which an outside consultant measured the number of black, brown, and white drivers on the southern Turnpike and compared it with the number of traffic stops, was "junk science" designed to protect the "cottage industry" of defense lawyers who sue the State Police, he claimed. "Everybody there (at the Moorestown Station) from the very top on down has been changed a multitude of times," Jones said, explaining about transfers. "The anomaly exists because sometimes a violator is a violator."

State Police head Rick Fuentes wants to replace the court-appointed monitors with an academic panel, but racial profiling expert Professor Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska-Omaha said stronger monitoring was needed. "External, independent oversight -- a different set of eyes and ears -- is extremely important for maintaining professional standards," said Walker. "You've got reforms in place. The real important issue is maintaining them... and it requires continuous attention."

The committee will decide on a recommendation to the governor, but there is no word yet on when that will happen.

Click here to view large portions of the historic 91,000 page New Jersey Racial Profiling Archive, released by the state attorney general's office in November 2000 and made available on the Internet by DRCNet.

Election 2006: Initiatives Defeated in Colorado and Nevada, But Hundreds of Thousands Voted to Legalize Marijuana

A Nevada initiative (Question 7) that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and provide for its regulated sale and taxation lost with 44% of the vote, while a Colorado initiative (Measure 44) that would have legalized the possession of up to an ounce lost with 40% of the vote. Both were bitterly opposed by local law enforcement and the federal drug war bureaucracy. In both cases, organizers are vowing to come back and try again.

The Nevada result is a 5% improvement over 2002, when a similar initiative garnered 39% of the popular vote. In Colorado, where legalization had never before been on the statewide ballot, four out of ten voters were prepared to vote for it the first time around.

In both states, anti-drug activists joined forces with law enforcement to turn back the tide. In Nevada, where gambling is legal and so is prostitution in most counties, the ironically named Committee to Keep Nevada Respectable resorted to misrepresentations of the measure to insist it would prevent employers from doing drug testing, as well as arguing that allowing for the regulated sale of marijuana would somehow increase youth marijuana use. The Committee consisted of a number of community anti-drug coalitions, the Reno and Las Vegas Chambers of Commerce, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the Southern Nevada Conference of Police and Sheriffs, and the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association.

In Colorado, the organized opposition was headed by Gov. Bill Owens and Attorney General John Suthers, who held a late press conference denouncing the measure (and who were rudely surprised by a vigorous counter-demonstration by Measure 44 supporters during that press conference). In both states, representatives of the Office of National Drug Control Policy showed up to interfere with state ballot measures.

While initiative organizers in both states professed disappointment at the results, they have vowed to continue the fight. "Today, a record number of Nevada voters called for an end to marijuana prohibition, the highest vote ever to end prohibition," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the parent group for the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana, the Nevada-based entity that led the campaign. "The momentum is with us. Major social change never comes easily, but change in our failed marijuana laws is coming because prohibition does nothing but harm. Prohibition funds criminals and guarantees that teens have easy access to marijuana, and voters have begun to see through the drug czar's lies. We've made huge progress since our 39% to 61% loss on a similar ballot measure in Nevada four years ago. We plan to try again with another marijuana initiative in Nevada in November 2008 or 2010."

"We are not disappointed at all with the results of today's election," said SAFER Colorado campaign director Mason Tvert. "This campaign, following on the heels of our successful legalization initiative in Denver last year, was just one step in a five- to ten-year battle to make marijuana legal in Colorado. Now we see that a number of counties support changing the state law regarding adult marijuana possession so that they have the right to set their own local policies."

Without significant outside funding, SAFER Colorado managed to reach out to hundreds of thousands of Coloradans with an "alcohol vs. marijuana" campaign that clearly resonated with voters. "One low-budget initiative campaign cannot overcome 70 years of government lies and propaganda," Tvert said. "If it were possible to make marijuana legal with a $60,000 campaign in a state with nearly three million voters, it would have been done long ago. But the writing is on the wall in Colorado and we will continue to educate the public while pressuring government officials and community leaders to explain why they think adults should be punished for using a substance less harmful than alcohol."

Although lost elections are never popular, other leading drug reformers looked for the positive. "Even though they lost, hundreds of thousands of people in two states still voted to legalize marijuana," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "I think that is very respectable, especially in Nevada, where the measure was so far-reaching."

Question 7 in Nevada would not only have legalized the possession of up to an ounce by adults, it would also have established a state-sanctioned system of regulated marijuana distribution. Colorado's Measure 44, on the other hand, was a simple marijuana possession legalization initiative that would have protected adults holding up to an ounce.

"These outcomes, while disappointing, were not unexpected," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), who traveled to Colorado to assist in the campaign's final days. "Despite these results, adults in Colorado and Nevada continue to live under state laws that authorize the medical use of marijuana and allow adults to possess and use small amounts of pot without the threat of incarceration or a criminal record."

That's good, but it's not enough, said SAFER Colorado's Tvert. "There will be a continuing effort in Colorado," he told Drug War Chronicle. "We were up against 70 years of marijuana prohibition, 70 years of lies and distortions about marijuana. This was the first time Colorado voters had to confront marijuana prohibition, and it won more votes than the Republican governor candidate. We got the message out and shocked the hell out of Colorado, even with no money and what some people would call a reckless campaign."

Nearly seven decades after national marijuana prohibition was enacted, no state has yet voted to end it at the state level. But the forces of reform are edging ever closer to victory. Will 2008 be the beginning of the end? Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana: First New Federal Prosecution in Three Years Underway in California

The US Justice Department had not prosecuted a California medical marijuana patient since 2003, but that changed Wednesday as the federal trial of Merced County medical marijuana patient and provider Dustin Costa got under way in Fresno. Costa, a leading medical marijuana activist, was originally arrested on state charges, but Merced County prosecutors handed his case over to the feds when it became apparent that California's Compassionate Use Act would make it impossible to convict him under California law.

The last federal medical marijuana patient and provider trial in California was the Ed Rosenthal debacle. In that case, Rosenthal was convicted on federal marijuana manufacture charges after the jury was not allowed to hear testimony relating to medical marijuana. Rosenthal was convicted, but when jurors learned the rest of the story, many of them publicly denounced the trial and the verdict, and the federal judge trying the case sentenced him to only one day in jail.

In Costa's case, the 60-year-old retired Marine who headed the Merced Patients Group, a nonprofit cultivation collective, was originally arrested by Merced County sheriff's deputies when they raided a greenhouse he was using to cultivate marijuana for patients in March 2004. But local prosecutors turned the case over to the feds, and Costa was re-arrested on federal charges in August 2005. Since then, he has been imprisoned at the Fresno County Jail. If convicted on the charges, he faces a mandatory minimum 20-year federal prison sentence.

Costa now faces federal charges of cultivation, possession with intent to distribute, and possession of a firearm. As in the Rosenthal case, Costa will not be allowed to even mention medical marijuana or its legality under state law during the trial.

"Dustin Costa is a victim of the federal government's refusal to respect medical science," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, a national medical marijuana advocacy group. "He and all the others being denied a medical defense at trial are the new targets in our government's war on patients."

Costa may be the first medical marijuana patient to be tried by the feds since the Rosenthal trial, but he probably will not be the last. According to figures compiled by Americans for Safe Access, at least 91 other California patients and providers have been arrested on federal marijuana charges and are awaiting trial.

Feature: Alabama Drug Reformer Loretta Nall Accidentally Becomes the "Cleavage" Candidate

Libertarian Party Alabama gubernatorial candidate Loretta Nall couldn't get enough signatures gathered to win a spot on next Tuesday's ballot, but in a bizarre twist, her breasts have garnered her enough attention to make her a water-cooler topic of conversation not only in the Heart of Dixie, but from coast to coast. The 30-something Alabama housewife has taken what could be viewed as a demeaning local newspaper column about her breasts and cleavage and, in an act equal parts political jiu-jitsu and political theater, used it to gain a nationwide soapbox for her platform of drug and sentencing reform, immigrant legalization, and opposition to the war in Iraq and the Patriot and Real ID Acts.

It all began with a photo of Nall alongside a brief, dismissive mention of her campaign in a column by the Montgomery Independent's Bob Ingram back in March. The photo -- obtained by the paper through a Google search and used in lieu of the more conservative image she had provided -- showed the amply-endowed Nall in a low-cut blouse with plunging cleavage. Ingram revisited the topic a few days later, telling readers the Nall photo marked the first time a woman's cleavage was featured in his column.

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Nall took it from there. In a letter to Ingram and Independent publisher Bob Martin, she challenged the apparently breast-obsessed pair to discuss her campaign instead of her physical attributes. "Now that you and the rest of Alabama have been introduced to 'the twins' perhaps you'd like to meet the rest of me," she wrote. "I'll don my burka, so y'all won't be distracted, and perhaps we can discuss the other planks in my platform, since Mr. Ingram saw fit to only discuss one."

By the end of March, Nall was reporting wildly increased traffic at her campaign web site and increasing attention across the blogosphere, and by the beginning of May she had taken advantage of the attention to unveil a new "Flash for Cash" appeal for donations, where an animated Nall figure would reveal what's behind the blouse for a $50 campaign contribution.

She took it to the next level when she unveiled a new line of t-shirts and posters featuring the famous cleavage shot above and photos of incumbent Republican Gov. Bob Riley and his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley below, with the text reading "More of These Boobs and Less of These Boobs."

Since then, it has been a media frenzy for Nall, with appearances on the national cable news networks Fox and MSNBC and NBC's The Today Show, as well as countless radio interviews -- both national and local -- and unceasing attention in the blogosphere. And in the ouroboros world of the media, the attention Nall received from some media outlets meant she was all the more newsworthy on other media outlets.

The national interest meant that the homeboy media needed to pay attention, and it did. An Alabama-based Associated Press story ran in papers across the country, local TV stations began devoting increasing air time to her breasts (and her campaign), and on Wednesday evening she was slated for a 20-minute appearance on Alabama's only statewide newscast, "On the Record."

"The Alabama press has really had a good time with this," Nall told Drug War Chronicle. "The campaign is full of nasty attack ads, and I'm doing something different and they're eating it up. Yes, there is lots of stuff about me being 'the breast candidate for the job' and 'racking up points,' but then they go on to actually talk about my campaign and my platform. The boobs thing has been fun for me and the media, and I've garnered some good editorials as a result."

But despite the humor of her campaign, Nall is a serious candidate. "Everybody was all excited about the boob stuff," she told the Chronicle, "but I just use that as a way of getting a platform to get at my real issues, especially the Patriot and Real ID Acts, No Child Left Behind, and drug policy and prison reform," the Alabama housewife explained. "Hammering away at the number of people in our overcrowded prisons has been one of my main planks."

And she wasn't afraid to go behind enemy lines, making an appearance on Fox News' Fox & Friends program, where she simply steamrollered a seemingly stunned pair of Fox anchors. "It's hard to outfox Fox, but I didn't really pay any attention to their questions, I didn't let them hem me in," Nall explained. "I figured if I pulled a Marc Emery and talked non-stop, they wouldn't have a chance, and they didn't."

Nall is not being included in polling on the governor's race, but said she believed she would poll well above the 1% needed to win a ballot line for the Libertarian Party in 2008. "If the feedback I've been getting is any indication, I could go as high as 5% or 6%," she predicted. "I am hearing from a lot of Republicans who say I am a true conservative, but I'm also getting support from a lot of lefty Democrats. There is a large segment of the population that feels like it doesn't have a political voice when the major party candidates here are trying to out-Jesus each other."

[South Dakota] Bill Pits Attorney General Against Medical Marijuana Proponents

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Rapid City Journal
URL: 
http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/articles/2006/11/01/news/top/news01.txt

Pot Proponents Shout Down Governor

Location: 
Denver, CO
United States
Publication/Source: 
ABC-TV7 Denver
URL: 
http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/10174806/detail.html

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