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Budget Axe Falls on Stockton Narcs

The California Central Valley city of Stockton has been a poster child for the Great Recession, infamous for its housing developments filled with foreclosed homes, its tent cities along the San Joaquin River, and its horrendous 20% unemployment rate. As joblessness soared and the Central Valley economy withered, so did Stockton and its municipal finances.

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Stockton police union billboard (courtesy Kevin He and Flickr)
Faced with a grinding municipal budget crisis, the city last year laid off 29 police officers. Last month, it laid off 26 more, putting a $3.2 million dent in its $23 million budget deficit. In response, the Stockton Police Department announced Wednesday that it could no longer man its dope squad.

"We absolutely do not have any narcotics officers, narcotics sergeants working any kind of investigative narcotics type cases at this point in time," Officer Pete Smith told Sacramento's Fox40-TV.

That was news to Mayor Ann Johnson. "It distresses me that we've had to go to this extent in terms of reductions in our police department," she told Fox40. But the mayor blamed police for failing to negotiate a way to avoid layoffs. "It's really up to our unions, our police union to come to the table to make concessions so we can save officers or rehire officers. It's all about finances," said Johnston.

Stockton police and their union have fought hard to avoid cutbacks, even as the budget axe decimates other city departments. Before last month's layoffs, the Stockton Police Officers Association launched a billboard campaign, the billboards dripping blood and screaming "People are Being Murdered in Stockton" and "Stop Laying Off Cops."

The cops are resorting to the same sort of scare tactics now, with spokesmen warning of a jump in crime because of the lack of a dope squad. "Drugs are a breeding ground for many other activities," said Smith, "and if these are going more and more unchecked, one would have to speculate that you're going to see a rise across the board in those types of criminal activities."

Time will tell. And perhaps the good citizens of Stockton will come to see that there are better ways to protect the public than spending their money on drug squads.

Synthetic Cannabinoids: K2/Spice Banned in Missouri

Missouri has become the latest state to ban products containing synthetic cannabinoids, with Gov. Jay Nixon signing into law this week a bill making them and products containing them controlled substances in the state. The law goes into effect August 28.

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''spice'' packet (courtesy wikimedia.org)
Products under names such as K2 and Spice contain the synthetic cannabinoid JWH-018, synthesized by a Clemson University scientist more than a decade ago for research purposes. While the products are marketed as incense, most people buying them use them to achieve a marijuana-like high. Their use has been linked to adverse effects, including vomiting, hallucinations, and agitation.

K2, Spice and similar products began appearing in Europe in 2006 and started showing up in this country last year. They are now banned in most European countries, but not in the US, although the DEA has labeled JWH-018 a "drug of concern."

An increasing number of states are not waiting for the feds to act. This year, K2 was criminalized in Alabama (the same law also outlawed salvia divinorum), Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana (effective August 15), North Dakota, and Tennessee. Similar legislation has been proposed in several more states, including Florida, Illinois, and New York.

Press Release: Legislation Clarifying Law on Syringe Possession Heads to Gov. Paterson

Voices of Community Advocates and Leaders (VOCAL) | Drug Policy Alliance For Immediate Release: June 29, 2010 Contact: Sean Barry at (646) 373-3344 or Gabriel Sayegh at (646) 335-2264 Life-saving Legislation to Increase Access to Effective Public Health Programs Passes Legislature with Bi-partisan Support Bill Clarifies Confusion, States Clearly that People can Possess Syringes; New Law Should End Harassment by Police, Save Lives by Ensuring Clean Syringe Access and Safe Disposal Advocates Applaud Legislature, Await Governor Paterson’s Signature ALBANY -- Today, the New York State Legislature passed legislation clarifying conflict between the Penal Law and the Public Health Law. Senate Bill 5620-A (Duane) and it’s companion, Assembly Bill 8396-A (Gottfried) builds on 20 years of New York’s commitment to innovative and effective programs that have dramatically reduced the rates of HIV/AIDS and Viral Hepatitis transmission rates among people who inject drugs and their families. New York’s Public Health Law allows people that participate in Syringe Exchange Programs (SEP) and the Expanded Syringe Access Program (ESAP) – a law passed in 2000 that allowed for syringe sales for those over 18 at pharmacies without a prescription -- to possess clean syringes. However, the provision that allows for participants to possess syringes was never put into the Penal Code, which resulted in police harassment of participants, leading to a chilling effect that decreased access to clean syringes and prevented proper disposal of used ones. Since the police carry the Penal Law, and not the Public Health law, they often did not know that possession of syringes in New York was entirely legal. Thus cops would often arrest program participants, leading to a chilling effect around a syringe exchange and reducing participation. The evidence on syringe exchange programs is clear: In New York City, syringe exchange programs (SEPs) have expanded access to clean syringes, leading to a dramatic health benefits: HIV/AIDS transmissions amongst intravenous drug users dropped by 75% between 1990 and 2001. Along with access to clean syringes and safe disposal of used ones, exchanges offer HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C testing, condoms, counseling, and referrals to drug treatment. The clarification of the law—bringing the Penal Law into accordance with the Public Health law – will lead to increased access of these life-saving programs. Hiawatha Collins, a Leader of VOCAL NY-Users Union, a membership-led union of current and former drug users who create and advocate for policies that directly impact them, knows first hand how the police harassment has decreased access to clean syringes and proper disposal of used ones. “I want to thank Assemblymember Gottfried, Senator Duane and Governor Paterson for their leadership in passing this legislation,” Collins said. “They proved their commitment to under-served and diverse communities throughout New York City and State, and relied on the clear evidence that these programs save lives and enhance the health and safety of all New Yorkers. They looked into their hearts and chose to make a commitment to saving lives.” Governor Paterson submitted the same program bill last year that would place the Public Health Law language that allowed for syringe possession into the Penal Code, permit program participants to possess syringes for proper disposal, and create oversight by the Department of Criminal Justice Services to ensure that participants stop getting harassed. The bill passed the Assembly last year and was scheduled for a Senate vote before it was stalled by Senate coup last June. Last week, the Senate passed the legislation with strong bi-partisan support. The Governor’s signature is expected shortly. “This legislation is good for communities, good for cops, and good for New York,” said Evan Goldstein, policy associate at the Drug Policy Alliance. “By clarifying the law on syringe possession, there will be less confusion by cops and communities alike about accessing syringe exchanges, which save New Yorkers tens millions of dollars in health care costs each year while increasing the health of communities. We thank Assemblyman Gottfried, Senator Duane, and Governor Paterson for their leadership on this issue, and we thank the Legislature for their continued effort to address drugs as an issue of public health and safety.”
Location: 
NY
United States

Law Enforcement: Atlanta Police House Cleaning Marks End of Kathryn Johnston Case

Atlanta Police Chief George Turner officially announced June 10 that he had fired two veteran police officers for the roles in the 2006 killing of 92-year-old Atlanta resident Kathryn Johnston during a botched drug raid. The firings came after a department internal affairs report on the incident and a Citizens' Review Board report late last month that found Atlanta Police narcs were willing to break rules and lie in order to obtain search warrants.

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Kathryn Johnston
That brings to 14 the number of Atlanta police officers disciplined in the wake of the killing, including five who pleaded guilty to federal charges after an FBI investigation, four of whom are still in prison. Another six officers have been disciplined, and one quit before facing departmental charges.

The two officers fired were Carey Bond and Holly Buchanan. Turner fired them for lying and falsifying incident reports and search warrant affidavits.

"We expect professionalism and integrity from all of our officers -- at all times," Turner said. "Policing is a difficult job, no doubt, but we must be expected to comply with the very laws that we are sworn to uphold."

Johnston was killed in November 2006 when Atlanta narcs raided her home using a "no-knock" warrant based on a tip from a single informant that he bought drugs there. As officers attempted to break down her door, the elderly woman fired one shot from a pistol. Officers on the scene returned fire, shooting 39 times, and leaving Johnston dead. When the officers found no drugs, they planted marijuana on her and attempted to get another informant to lie for them. That informant instead went to the FBI, breaking the case wide open.

In addition to the prosecution, firing, or disciplining of officers involved, Turner said the internal investigation revealed a need for systemic changes in the department, including the way confidential informants are handled and how warrants are served. Now, Turner said, the department requires three buys from a location before issuing a warrant.

Kathryn Johnston died a victim of over-zealous drug war policing. But her death may not have been in vain if the changes in the Atlanta Police Department mean there will be fewer "no-knock" raids and tighter controls on narcs and their snitches.

Harm Reduction: Washington State 911 Good Samaritan Law to Prevent ODs Now in Effect

A law that provides some legal immunity for people who report a drug overdose in Washington state is now in effect, having kicked in on June 10. That makes Washington the second state to enact a "911 Good Samaritan Law." New Mexico was the first in 2007.

Under the measure, if someone overdoses and someone else seeks assistance, that person cannot be prosecuted for drug possession, nor can the person overdosing. Good Samaritans who manufactured or sold drugs could, however, be charged with those offenses.

The measure is aimed at reducing drug overdoses by removing the fear of arrest as an impediment to seeking medical help. According to the state Department of Health, there were 820 fatal drug overdoses in the state in 2006, more than double the 403 in 1999.

The bill also allows people to use the opioid agonist naloxone, which counteracts the effects of opiate overdoses, if it is used to help prevent an overdose.

Washington is the first state this year to pass a 911 Good Samaritan bill, but it may not be the last. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Rhode Island are considering similar measures.

Supporters of the new law held a press conference June 5 to tout its benefits. "In 2008, there were 794 drug overdose deaths in Washington state," said Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, a drug overdose researcher from the University of Washington. "These overdoses do not need to be fatal. Death often takes several hours to occur," and people are often present. He said more information on the law is available at http://www.stopoverdose.org.

"We're here today to encourage people who don't work in hospitals to help saves lives," Attorney General Rob McKenna said. "More people are dying now from prescription drug overdoses (than traffic accidents) and yet fewer people are aware of it," McKenna said. He said drug overdoses are a hidden problem because they aren't as visible as other problems.

Sen. Rosa Franklin, who worked to pass the bill, said she worked as a nurse before becoming a legislator and wanted to address a problem she saw and read about. She said this bill will save lives. "We can no longer... put our heads in the sand and say that drug overdose is not happening."

Alison Holcomb of the ACLU of Washington said drug overdoses wouldn't happen in an ideal world, and this law wouldn't be necessary. She said people do drugs to cope, find acceptance or escape. "We can continue to condemn such people as morally deviant and treat them as criminals," but, she said, that doesn't work. She said this law is an important step and a compromise agreement.

"My son, a bright, creative, compassionate and funny kid, began using prescription opiates... during his senior year of high school," John Gahagan said. Just weeks after graduation, his son died of a drug overdose. "The 911 Good Samaritan Law will save lives," he said, adding that his son was alone at the time of his overdose, but he knows parents of other teens who could have been saved. "This law will only be effective if there is awareness of it... Call 911 to save a life," he said.

Feature: Medical Marijuana Advocates Smell Victory in South Dakota

With Election Day still more than four months off, the South Dakota Coalition for Compassion is laying the groundwork for South Dakota to become the country's next medical marijuana state. The campaign is confident of victory in November, and low-key for now with no organized opposition in sight, but promises to progressively ramp-up its efforts through the summer and fall.

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coalition banner
Bucking a recent trend in state medical marijuana laws, the South Dakota Safe Access Act (known as Measure 13 on the ballot) does not provide for state-operated or -regulated dispensaries. Instead, it allows patients or designated caregivers to possess up to one ounce of usable marijuana and six plants. A single caregiver can grow for no more than five patients.

The measure cites the usual list of diseases (cancer, glaucoma, HIV, MS, Alzheimer's) and conditions (wasting syndrome, intractable pain, severe nausea, seizures, spasms) for which marijuana could be used medicinally, and includes a provision allowing the state Department of Health to add other diseases or conditions. Upon getting a physician's recommendation, the patient and his caregiver (if any) would register with the department and receive registration ID cards.

South Dakota gained notoriety in 2006 when it became the only state to see voters reject a medical marijuana legalization initiative, defeating it by a margin of 52% to 48%. This year, the outcome will be different, the coalition said. "I am very confident we're going to get it this time around," predicted coalition spokesman Emmett Reistroffer.

The political atmosphere, both locally and nationally, is certainly better this time around. In 2006, the medical marijuana initiative faced in Republican Larry Long a South Dakota attorney general strongly opposed to it and a Bush administration concerned enough to send officials from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) to the state to campaign against it. Now, recently-appointed Attorney General Marty Jackley, while, like Long, a Republican, is on the fence on the issue, and the Obama administration seems much less inclined to interfere in a state initiative vote.

"I talked to Marty Jackley, and he is nowhere near as opposed to medical marijuana as Larry Long was," said Reistroffer. "His ballot explanation was very fair, unlike 2006, when MPP had to sue then Attorney General Larry Long to make him write a fair explanation," he said.

"Jackley told me he was open to a carefully managed program, but wasn't prepared to specifically support our proposal. What he's afraid of is what could be hidden in the details," Reistroffer related. "Jackley was appointed to office and is running for election the same day as our ballot measure. I don't expect him to support us, but I do expect that he will remain neutral."

Jackley's office did not return Chronicle calls asking his position on the initiative.

The coalition has enlisted some potent advocates with credentials that could help push the effort over the top. One is Tony Ryan, a retired police officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "We are doing well, we seem to be well-received, we've been speaking to groups and have more invitations coming up," he said. "There seems to be a trend toward people being more accepting of the idea that we need to change our approach to drugs, and when you're talking specifically about medical marijuana and you can point to the ample evidence it is beneficial, people seem to be a lot more accepting than they were even four years ago."

Ryan was optimistic at the measure's prospects for passage this year. "Now that the American Medical Association has come out and said we need to think about getting it off Schedule I, things are really falling into place. This isn't about marijuana, this is about helping sick people -- that's the message we have to hammer home."

Another well-placed advocate is state Rep. Martha Vanderlinde (D-Sioux Falls), a practicing nurse who introduced a medical marijuana bill in the legislature, where it promptly went nowhere. "The South Dakota legislature is very conservative," she said. "They told me it was political suicide to sponsor that bill, but I felt it was necessary. There are people I talk to who say they want it, but they don't want to say so out loud," Vanderlinde explained.

"Medical marijuana is just one more tool in the kit for people with severe, debilitating medical conditions to use for relief," said Vanderlinde. "Working with cancer patients, MS patients, and others, I've seen it help so many people relieve their pain, their anxiety, their spasms. As a nurse working in the field, I see this as a simple herb that could help people, and that means a lot. Legalization for medical use is the only way to go."

This will be the year, she said. "With the AMA supporting medical marijuana, with the past president of the local MS Society on board, with Emmett and Tony crisscrossing the state to get the knowledge out there, the word is getting out. We want South Dakota to be the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana."

While the coalition is pleased with the AMA's acknowledgement of marijuana's medical benefits and call for a review of its scheduling, it's not so impressed with the local affiliate. The South Dakota Medical Association has been a disappointment, said Reistroffer. "We've received no support from them. They haven't even returned phone calls or emails. I'm hoping we can get them to remain neutral."

Things are about to start heating up, the coalition said. "We've got a little money set aside for some ads and we're ready to make a TV commercial featuring the former head of the state MS Society if the funding comes through," said Reistroffer. "Tony Ryan is in the middle of a long list of speaking engagements. Things are starting to pick up for us now, and July will be a big month, and the closer to the election we get, the more intense the campaign will get. I'm meeting with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) this week to probably set up our first polling."

"We helped draft the initiative and provided some strategic advice," said MPP spokesman Mike Meno. "The local campaign will be taking off soon. This almost passed in 2006; now, it's just a matter of getting people out to the polls."

"We will be reaching out to whoever we can," said Ryan. "We will be targeting college campuses," he said, noting the formation of a Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) chapter at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. "And we'll be using word of mouth. We'll be going places we didn't go in 2006, like some of those rural counties in the center of the state that voted strongly against it."

So far, so good in South Dakota. But let's see what the next four months bring.

Washington State 911 Good Samaritan Law to Prevent ODs Now in Effect

A law that provides some legal immunity for people who report a drug overdose in Washington state is now in effect. That makes Washington the second state to enact a "911 Good Samaritan Law." New Mexico was the first in 2007. Under the measure, if someone overdoses and someone else seeks assistance, that person cannot be prosecuted for drug possession, nor can the person overdosing. Good Samaritans could, however, be charged with manufacturing or selling drugs. The measure is aimed at reducing drug overdoses by removing the fear of arrest as an impediment to seeking medical help. According to the state Department of Health, there were 820 fatal drug overdoses in the state in 2006, more than double the 403 in 1999. The bill also allows people to use the opioid agonist naloxone, which counteracts the effects of opiate overdoses, if it is used to help prevent an overdose. Washington is the first state this year to pass a 911 Good Samaritan bill, but it may not be the last. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Rhode Island are considering similar measures. Supporters of the new law held a press conference Monday to tout its benefits. “In 2008, there were 794 drug overdose deaths in Washington state,” said Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, a drug overdose researcher from the University of Washington. “These overdoses do not need to be fatal. Death often takes several hours to occur,” and people are often present. He said more information on the law is available at www.stopoverdose.org. “We’re here today to encourage people who don’t work in hospitals to help saves lives,” Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “More people are dying now from prescription drug overdoses (than traffic accidents) and yet fewer people are aware of it,” McKenna said. He said drug overdoses are a hidden problem because they aren’t as visible as, for example, traffic accidents.. Sen. Rosa Franklin, who worked to pass the bill, said she worked as a nurse before becoming a legislator and wanted to address a problem she saw and read about. She said this bill will save lives. “We can no longer … put our heads in the sand and say that drug overdose is not happening.” Alison Holcomb of the ACLU of Washington said drug overdoses wouldn’t happen in an ideal world, and this law wouldn’t be necessary. She said people do drugs to cope, find acceptance or escape. “We can continue to condemn such people as morally deviant and treat them as criminals,” but, she said, that doesn’t work. She said this law is an important step and a compromise agreement. “My son, a bright, creative, compassionate and funny kid, began using prescription opiates … during his senior year of high school,” John Gahagan said. Just weeks after graduation, his son died of a drug overdose. “The 911 Good Samaritan Law will save lives,” he said, adding that his son was alone at the time of his overdose, but he knows parents of other teens who could have been saved. “This law will only be effective if there is awareness of it … Call 911 to save a life,” he said.
Location: 
WA
United States

Law Enforcement: Dog-Killing SWAT Raid Continues to Reverberate in Missouri College Town

The February SWAT team raid on Columbia, Missouri, resident Jonathan Whitworth and his family didn't start causing political tremors until video of the raid, in which one of the family's dogs was killed and another wounded, went viral on YouTube last month. But now, even after the Columbia Police Department has reined in SWAT with new policies, outrage and concern over the raid and the way the SWAT team has been used continues to reverberate.

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That was evident at a city council meeting Monday night, where a citizens' group whose formation was inspired by the SWAT raid, CoMoCitizens, urged the council to go a step further and act to make permanent the reforms announced by Police Chief Ken Burton. According to its web site, the group opposes the use of SWAT and the use of search warrants in nonviolent cases, including drug possession and distribution.

"It goes without saying that it is policy that needs to be changed," Warren said in remarks reported by the University of Missouri newspaper The Maneater and the Columbia Missourian. "Chief Burton has made significant policy changes and I've come here to ask you to make these policy changes permanent. I would also like to request that you consider enacting a policy that prohibits execution of search warrants which are inherently violent for nonviolent offenses," said Warren. "This would ensure the public that there is at least less of a risk of an incident such as the February 11 SWAT raid occurring in our community."

Making the restrictions on SWAT and the execution of search warrants binding would reassure the public and keep law enforcement officers safer, Warren said. "The raid itself is what escalates the situation to out-of-control mode," he told the council before reading from Radley Balko's Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Policing in America. "These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors," Warren quoted Balko.

The council did not act on CoMoCitizens' requests, but the emergence of the group is yet another indicator that the February SWAT raid has roused Columbia's citizenry. And that is precisely what it will take to make police law enforcement rein in its aggressive tactics against the citizenry. Maybe something good is coming out of that misbegotten raid after all.

Feature: Medical Marijuana Madness in Montana

With the number of medical marijuana patients expanding dramatically in the Big Sky State, with storefront operations springing up around the state, and with at least one group of medical marijuana advocates/entrepreneurs touring the state in a medical marijuana caravan complete with pot smoke-filled vans and doctors issuing instant recommendations via web cam, opposition to the way Montana's medical marijuana law is playing out is on the increase.

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sign of the times
In 2004, 62% of Montana voters approved a medical marijuana ballot initiative. The number of registered patients and caregivers remained relatively low until last year, when the Obama administration announced that it would not prosecute medical marijuana users and providers in states where it is legal. At the beginning of last year, the number of registered medical marijuana cardholders was about 3,000. Now it is closing in on 15,000. And alongside the increase in registered patients has been a boom in "dispensaries," or caregiver storefront operations.

While growing concern is evident across the state, it has burned red hot in Billings, a city of about 100,000 people on I-90 in southeastern Montana, where Western conservatism is strong. There, things have turned ugly, with fire bomb attacks on two medical marijuana businesses a month ago as the city council approved a moratorium on new medical marijuana business licenses. Accompanying those attacks was graffiti painted across windows: "Not in our town," it said.

"That fire bombing was just terrorism," said Mike Meno, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which bankrolled the 2004 initiative. "There is no other word for it. Local activists are telling us that people opposed to medical marijuana think it is something you can still dispute, that it's not even legal. This kind of thing is leading both sides to sort of step back and try to pass some strong regulations so people understand these are law-abiding operations."

And just last week, a group calling itself Safe Communities, Safe Kids emerged in a controversial fashion as children coming home from the last day of school in some Billings schools carried with them flyers containing its anti-medical marijuana message -- although not its name. The school board said it shouldn't have happened.

Now, Safe Communities, Safe Kids is engaged in a quixotic quest to place an initiative to repeal the Montana Medical Marijuana Act on the November ballot. Success is extremely unlikely -- the group now has one week to collect 24,000 signatures -- but the effort highlights the deep antipathy developing toward medical marijuana in various quarters of the state.

The legislature is one of those quarters, and lawmakers are busily drafting a variety of measures aimed at reining in what they view as a medical marijuana program out of control. Yesterday, Gov. Bryan Schweitzer (D) told reporters he agreed that the program needed "a legislative fix" and that he was open to working with legislators in the new session later this year.

Mark Higgins operates Montannabis Inc. and Billings Medical Marijuana, which he is careful to point out is not a dispensary, although it serves more than 200 patients, making it likely the largest caregiver in Billings. "Dispensaries are illegal under Montana law, so we are more of a private club or storefront," he explained. "We can only sell to people who designate us as their caregivers and have our name on the back of their registration card."

"It's gotten pretty insane," Higgins said of the fire bombings, but he didn't attribute them to especially nefarious forces. "I saw video of it; it was young kids with long, black hair. Kids don't think; they push it to extremes and don't think about the consequences."

Higgins is the only caregiver sitting on the city council's ad hoc committee on medical marijuana, and he ran for city council last year after the council ignored his efforts to get zoning requirements for medical marijuana storefronts. Things were getting out of hand, he said.

"The reason for the fire bombings and the parents and the initiative is that some people put marijuana storefronts close to schools, I mean really close," he said. "Who are these people trying to attract? Why would they go to locations like that? That upset a lot of people."

While the location and brazenness of some Billings operations may have inflamed what Higgins called "the West side Christian women," pushing the limits of what the law allows has caused concern and anger statewide. The above-mentioned "caravan" in particular has gotten under people's skin.

"The biggest thing is that for about a year now, a group that calls itself the Montana Caregivers Network has been going around the state holding clinics in different towns in which they have gotten physicians' recommendations for as many as a thousand patients in a single day," said Tom Daubert, who has the point man for the successful 2004 medical marijuana initiative. "They're doing it with physicians on web cams in other states, advertising no medical records necessary. They are very visible, and the guy running the group smokes pot openly. They had dozens of caregivers with big buckets of weed, and they sometimes sell to people who aren't registered. It's hellacious, it's irresponsible, and it's ridiculously stupid politically. It has incited a lot of the backlash."

Drug War Chronicle attempted to contact the Montana Caregivers Network, but the phone number listed on its web site is not a working number and the group has yet to respond to email inquiries.

"There are also a handful of folks who have created dispensaries that are similarly ridiculous in image," Daubert continued. "There are people with no business experience, sometimes with non-drug felony records opening dispensaries near schools, putting flowering plants on the porch, and just generally pushing the margins. And just as pseudo-activist ganja-preneurial craziness has taken on a life of its own, so has the backlash."

"The law needs to be fixed," said Daubert. "Even the folks who advocated for it and helped write it, we're in agreement with law enforcement on what needs to be done."

While Daubert agreed with the governor, law enforcement, and members of the legislature on the need for a legislative fix, Higgins didn't. While there is a need to suitably regulate medical marijuana storefronts, that should be a municipal issue, said Higgins, arguing that the Montana Medical Marijuana Act is working. "I think our system is fine," he said. "It's not broken and doesn't need to be fixed. All you have to do is follow the letter of the law. That's what I do."

But not everyone follows his example, he said. "There are people more willing to operate in grey areas, and there are a lot of caregiver to caregiver transfers and people who grow as wholesalers. That's not legal unless all those storefronts are their patients," Higgins explained. "The only people we can buy from are our patients. If I have a patient growing his own six plants, he can only possess one ounce of dried usable medicine, so as soon as he harvests, he's over the limit. As his caregiver, I can buy an ounce back from him. That's what we do."

A legislative interim committee is in the process of discovering how much consensus there is for legislation on the issue, Daubert said. A full Health Committee meeting is set for June 28 to discuss various proposals, and if there is consensus, committee staff could spend the summer drafting a bill for the committee to review in the fall.

For Daubert, Colorado is a model for how to regulate medical marijuana. "Why not do what Colorado has just done?" he asked. "At a minimum, I see two main thrusts: One would be tightening up the doctor recommendations to require a physical exam and diagnosis and/or a review of medical records. The doctor will have to be physically present in Montana. And it's likely there will be language prohibiting any kind of financial connection between doctors and caregivers," he said.

"The other thrust will be toward much more oversight and record-keeping and auditing and inspection of licensed products," Daubert said. "I'm advocating for recordkeeping that documents a closed-loop system, so we can document there is no diversion rather than arguing about it. Thanks to people being crazy and doing things like smoking openly, there is this mythology that there is a lot of diversion going on. This would address that."

If the legislature is going to act, said Higgins, there are some issues of patient-friendliness it should address. "If I wanted to expand my business and service the whole state, there is no way I could physically do that, so I would have to hire couriers," explained. "But there is nothing in Montana law that says that's legal. Also, they need to clarify on edibles. I don't provide them to my patients because it's a grey area," he said. "But we do give them recipes."

But from the look of it, helping the medical marijuana business thrive doesn't look to be high on lawmakers' agenda. The medical marijuana community is going to have to organize and fight to protect its interests, and if it can't find a way to police itself, lawmakers are going to be only too happy to take on the task.

"It's a shame," said Daubert. "We've been working on a careful strategy to use medical to get toward legalization. It was working until medical blew up in our faces."

Sentencing: South Carolina Governor Signs Reform Bill, Will End Mandatory Minimums for Some Drug Offenses

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) Wednesday signed into law a sentencing reform package that includes ending mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. The bill, SB 1154 was based on the recommendations of the South Carolina Sentencing Reform Commission, empanelled by the governor in a bid to slow the growth of corrections spending in the state.

"A number of structural problems with our prison and parole system have prevented Corrections from making improvements that would both discourage recidivism and save taxpayer resources in the process," Sanford said in a signing statement. "This bill accomplishes many of those goals. It's designed not only to make our corrections process even more lean and effective and thereby save taxpayers millions -- but also to reduce overall crime and consequently improve the quality of life we enjoy as South Carolinians."

While South Carolina can brag about how cheaply it can imprison people -- it spends the second lowest amount per inmate in the country -- its prison budgets have soared along with its inmate population since the 1980s. In 1983, South Carolina spent $64 million to keep 9,200 people behind bars; this year, it will spend $394 million to imprison 25,000 people.

The bill attempts to change that trajectory through a number of measures. It ends mandatory minimum sentences for first-time drug possession offenders and allows the possibility of probation or parole for certain second and third offenders. It also removes the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine possession.

It also allows more prisoners to get into work release programs in the final three years of their sentences and mandates six months of reentry supervision for nonviolent offenders. The bill allows for home detention for third time driving-with-a-suspended-license offenders and for route-restricted drivers on first and second convictions.

It isn't all sweetness and light. The bill shifts the status of two dozen crimes, including sex offenses against children, from nonviolent to violent, meaning inmates convicted of those offenses will have to serve at least 85% of their time before being paroled. It also increases penalties for habitual driving-while-suspended offenders who kill or gravely injure someone.

Still, the bill should have a real impact on the system, especially given that drug offenders are the biggest category of offenders in prison in South Carolina, followed in order by burglars, bad check writers, and people driving on a suspended license. Officials estimate the measure will save the state $409 million over the next five years.

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