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Law Enforcement: Facing Budget Woes, Minneapolis Axes Dope Squad

Facing a $5 million budget deficit, the Minneapolis Police Department responded Monday by disbanding its narcotics squad. That makes Minneapolis the only major city in the US without one. Last year, the 14-member narcotics squad investigated nearly 4,000 cases resulting in 519 federal and state charges. Officers seized about $300,000 in drug money, as well as 24 guns and 26 vehicles. Police Chief Tim Dolan said the department still has sufficient resources to handle drug cases. He said community resource teams in the department’s five precincts will handle street-level and mid-level dealing, while the Violent Offender Task Force will work on high-level cases. The department also has officers seconded to an anti-drug task force with state, local, and DEA members, and it has just started a gang unit, he said. "Are we going to be as good as we were before in dealing with drug cases? I don't know," he said. "Their stats speak for themselves." The former head narc, Lt. Marie Przynski, was not happy. "This unit has been highly productive, if not the most productive unit in the Minneapolis Police Department," Przynski said. "I'm disappointed, and so are my officers, about this decision." The 14 former narcs will be reassigned, with three of them joining the Financial Crimes unit, including an asset forfeiture specialist and a specialist in pharmaceutical investigations ranging from forged prescriptions to insurance fraud. Other members of the defunct dope squad will be assigned at least temporarily to street patrols. The department still needs to cut 50 positions to get under budget. It may also reduce the number of deputy chiefs from three to two. Still, Dolan said neither street patrols nor key units, such as homicide, robbery, sex crimes, juvenile, and domestic abuse would be reduced. One city council member, Ralph Remington, suggested that the department could have more money if its members quit misbehaving. Just three weeks ago, the city paid out $495,000 to a man slugged by a Minneapolis police officer during a drug raid last year. That was only the most recent high-profile settlement paid by the city for departmental misbehavior. "The department could save a lot of money if they corrected the bad behavior of a few bad cops," said Remington.
Location: 
Minneapolis, MN
United States

Feature: Will Foster Back in Prison in Oklahoma, Supporters Mount Campaign to Free Him

Will Foster became a poster boy for drug law reform more than a decade ago, when he was sentenced by an Oklahoma court to a nightmarish 93 years in prison for growing marijuana plants to treat his rheumatoid arthritis. National publicity -- indirectly gained for Foster by StoptheDrugWar.org, publisher of this newsletter -- helped get his sentence reduced to 20 years, and in 2001, he was paroled to California. Now he is back in prison in Oklahoma, charged with violating the terms of his parole, and is likely to remain there until either 2011 or 2015 -- depending on whose interpretation of the state's arcane sentencing laws is followed.

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Will Foster
Foster did well in California, sponsored in his parole by "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal. After three years on parole there, California parole officials deemed him rehabilitated and ended his parole. That didn't sit well with Oklahoma parole officials, who argued that under the interstate compact governing parole to other states, it was the state which had sentenced the parolee that should determine when he had discharged his sentence.

"Based on his discharge date, we requested that Foster be put back under supervision," said Milt Gilliam, administrator of Parole and Interstate Services for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. "California indicated they were finished, but we indicated to him that no, we dete\rmine the length of the sentence, as required by our state law."

Oklahoma issued a parole violation warrant for Foster, and, after an encounter with police in California -- he was cited for driving with an Oklahoma license -- he was jailed pending extradition back to Oklahoma. But Foster filed a writ of habeas corpus seeking his freedom in California and won.

"That warrant was thrown out," Gilliam recalled. "We didn't agree with the judge's decision, and our best option was still to get him under supervision, but we were not successful."

Oklahoma parole officials then notified Foster that they had changed his discharge date from 2011 to 2015 and demanded that he sign paperwork to that effect. He refused, and Oklahoma issued another parole violation warrant.

"We sent an explanation to Mr. Foster about the difference in discharge dates," said Gilliam, explaining that the later date was based on the fact that he had earned credits at a different rate than originally stated. But a moment later, Gilliam argued that 2015 had always been his discharge date. "My contention is that the 2011 date and the 2015 date were given to him from the beginning," he said.

"That is complete crap," retorted Foster's partner and primary supporter, Susie Mueller. "All of the original documents we have only mention 2011. This 2015 stuff only came up after they lost that habeas case. They said they made a mistake and they were taking away his good time credit, then they added the additional time. But every document we have says his discharge date is 2011. They went back in and added two fake charges, gave him 18 years, and set his discharge date for 2015, but that isn't in the original documents."

Foster's Oklahoma Department of Corrections offender page suggests that something funny is going on. It shows the four charges Foster was convicted of in 1997 with the latest discharge date of 2011. But a recent addition to the page lists two new counts of cultivation of a controlled substance with a discharge date of 2015. Oddly, though, unlike the four original counts, which show a conviction date of February 27, 1997, the two new counts show no conviction date.

"Before the Department of Corrections can treat a conviction as valid, they have to have a certified copy of the judgment of sentence," said Foster's Oklahoma attorney, Mike Arnett. Arnett declined to comment on the specifics of Foster's case until he could talk to Foster and get his approval.

Oklahoma got another crack at Foster last year, when he and Mueller were arrested by California police after an informant with a grudge against the pair told police Foster was engaged in illegal marijuana cultivation. But Foster was a registered medical marijuana patient, and his grow was within state and local guidelines. After letting Foster sit in the Sonoma County Jail for more than a year, local prosecutors dropped all charges against him and Mueller.

But Foster remained behind bars under the new Oklahoma parole violation warrant. A new writ of habeas corpus was unsuccessful, and late last month, Oklahoma officials arrived at the jail, shackled Foster in a van, and drove him back to Oklahoma. After sitting in the Tulsa County Jail for a week, Foster faced an preliminary hearing to revoke his parole on Tuesday and is now housed in the Oklahoma state prison system.

He will get an administrative hearing sometime in the next one to three months. If administrators revoke his parole, his case then goes to the governor's office. Under Oklahoma law, the governor ultimately decides whether or not to revoke parole.

Foster's supporters are working up a campaign to ask the governor and the parole board to either pardon Foster or commute his sentence. For more information on the campaign, go here.

Lynda Forrester, the parole officer handling Foster's case, declined to speak to the Chronicle. Instead, she referred reporters to the department's public information office, whose Kathy King did attempt to explain what was going on.

"The basis of Foster's parole revocation is that he violated city, state, or federal law, the use or possession of illicit substances, failure to report, and failure to follow the parole officer's directives," she said, reading from documents. "Police in California confiscated 184 marijuana plants, MDMA, and methamphetamine."

Although Foster and Mueller were never charged with possession of MDMA or meth and although the marijuana cultivation charges were dropped because Foster was operating within California's medical marijuana law, parole officials can still use that against him, King said. "That will be presented in revocation hearings," she said.

"The MDMA and meth stuff is a flat-out lie," said Mueller, suggesting strongly that any drugs found in the home -- if any really were -- were "throw-down" drugs placed there by the raiding officers. "We have never seen any MDMA or meth," she said. "We volunteered to take immediate drug tests, but they just laughed at us. There were arrest reports written by three different officers, and each report had the supposed drugs recovered from a different location. They do this to try to discredit the medical marijuana movement, to try to portray us as drug dealers."

When confronted by the discrepancy in release dates, King was unable to explain it. "The official record shows 2015," she said. "I can't answer questions about the stuff on the web site. I don't know where that information comes from."

Unlike Tuesday's preliminary parole revocation hearing, Foster and his attorney will have the opportunity to challenge the evidence and cross examine witnesses at his next hearing. They intend to make the most of it.

In the meantime, Foster remains behind bars, yet another victim of a justice system seemingly operating on petty vengeance and mindless reflex.

Medical Marijuana: More Than a Dozen Dispensaries Hit, 31 Arrested in Coordinated San Diego Police Raids

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San Diego medical marijuana demo
One day after the San Diego City Council voted 6-1 to create a medical marijuana task force to help draft local laws governing dispensaries, local law enforcement agencies backed by the DEA Wednesday raided more than a dozen dispensaries in the city and its surroundings. For a complete list of the dispensaries raided, go here.

The raids were the result of an investigation led by San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a long-time ardent foe of medical marijuana. At a Thursday news conference, Dumanis announced that 31 people had been arrested, $70,000 in cash seized, and 14 dispensaries shuttered.

Taking a page from the DEA's playbook, Dumanis attempted to portray the dispensaries as drug dealing operations, not medical providers. The raids have "nothing to do with legitimate medical marijuana patients or their caregivers," she said. Instead they were aimed at "so-called medical marijuana businesses that appear to be run by drug dealers."

Under California medical marijuana law, dispensaries are legal if they are organized as collectives and operate as nonprofit entities. San Diego has licensed nine dispensaries, but had an estimated 60 dispensaries -- at least until Wednesday's raids.

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San Diego patient activist Donna Lambert
It's not the first time Dumanis has gone after dispensaries. A series of raids in 2007 shut down a dozen dispensaries and led to prosecutions that are still underway.

Medical marijuana supporters were livid at both Dumanis and the Obama administration. "Not only does the federal government have no place helping to enforce state and local medical marijuana laws," said Americans for Safe Access California director Donald Duncan. "Local officials must regulate medical marijuana and enforce those laws with civil actions, not with the barrel of a gun. It is incumbent on District Attorney Dumanis to help pass local regulations in San Diego not to aggressively undermine safe access to medical marijuana," he said.

"We're extremely disappointed that the feds participated in this attack on patients. The priority of the White House should be protecting patients, not helping local officials enforce oppressive restrictions," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Any concerns that the District Attorney may have will not be resolved through SWAT-style tactics like pulling people from their wheelchairs, as we saw yesterday. The federal government has no business enforcing state and local medical marijuana laws. It's our local governments' job to regulate medical marijuana and enforce those rules -- not with armed raids, but with civil actions," said Dooley-Sammuli. "The Obama administration has allowed Ms. Dumanis to use federal resources to further obstruct implementation of Prop 215 as she prepares to run for reelection in 2010. The people of San Diego deserve better."

Look for a feature article on San Diego's continuing recalcitrance regarding medical marijuana next week.

Will Foster is Back in Prison in Oklahoma and Needs Your Help

Will Foster’s nightmarish saga continues. Foster, you may recall, is the medical marijuana patient who was sentenced to 93 years in prison for growing a few plants in 1997. Thanks in no small part to a publicity campaign by Stopthedrugwar.org, Foster’s sentence was eventually reduced to 20 years, and he was paroled to California. After three years on parole, California officials decided Foster no longer needed supervision, but Oklahoma officials disagreed. When Foster was arrested in California for driving on an Oklahoma drivers’ license, Oklahoma issued a parole violation extradition warrant, but Foster filed a successful writ of habeas corpus to quash that warrant. Then, last year, Foster was arrested on bogus marijuana cultivation charges--those California charges were dropped after he spent a year in jail--and Oklahoma again sought his extradition as a parole violator. Oklahoma officials took Foster from the Sonoma County Jail in California, and he is now residing in prison in Oklahoma until 2011--or 2015, as Oklahoma parole officials are now claiming. In Oklahoma, the governor ultimately decides on whether to revoke parole or not. Foster had an administrative hearing Tuesday, which unsurprisingly found he had indeed violated his parole (by refusing to sign paperwork agreeing that his sentence had been extended). An executive hearing will take place sometime in the next one to three months, then that decision goes to the governor for approval or rejection. Foster and his supporters are urging the public to write to the parole board to ask it to recommend pardoning him or commuting his sentence, and to write or call the governor asking for the same thing. Key points: * Foster is a non-violent medical marijuana patient seriously ill with rheumatoid arthritis; * Foster plans to return to California and never set foot in Oklahoma again; * The after-the-fact extension of his sentence from 2011 to 2015 is unfair and unwarranted; * It does not make fiscal or budgetary sense for the state of Oklahoma to spend thousands of scarce public dollars to incarcerate Foster again for this non-violent offense. I just spoke to the parole office in Oklahoma, and they don’t yet have the information in their system required to send letters to parole board members, so instead, fax your concise, respectful letters to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board at (405) 602-6437. Mention Foster’s full name, William Joseph Foster, and his prisoner number, ODOC #252271. Fax your letter to Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry at (405) 521-3353 or, better yet, call his office at (405) 521-2342. In either case, mention Foster’s full name and prisoner number, and be polite. Drug War Chronicle will continue following Foster’s saga. Look for a feature article on the latest twists and turns on Friday.

Marijuana: Denver to Move to $1 Fine for Pot Possession?

Denver could soon see a maximum $1 fine -- the lowest in the country -- for simple marijuana possession. The city's Marijuana Policy Review Panel voted 6-2 Wednesday to recommend that the city do just that.

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Denver skyline (from denvergov.org)
The panel was created by Mayor John Hickenlooper in December 2007 to comply with the will of voters who had just passed an ordinance making adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. That vote came after a 2005 vote to legalize marijuana in the city, a vote that was ignored by local law enforcement and prosecutors, who instead charged offenders under state law.

In May 2008, the city attorney's office set the fine for possession at $50 and arranged for payment to be made by mail instead of at a court appearance. Now it will be up to the city's presiding judge to decide whether to go even further and set the fine at $1.

"By setting the fine at just $1, we are sending a message to Denver officials that the era of citing adults for using a less harmful drug than alcohol is over. It's simply not worth the city's time or resources," said panel member and SAFER executive director Mason Tvert, who coordinated the successful Denver marijuana initiatives.

A Denver Police Department representative on the panel unsurprisingly voted against the proposal. "There's no indication that there's a problem with the fine schedule," said Lt. Ernesto Martinez. "The panel is going outside the bounds of the language of the ordinance."

But, in a sign of the times, Martinez appears to be the one out of step with the panel and public opinion in the Mile High City.

Will Foster Extradited to Oklahoma

Medical marijuana patient Will Foster is en route to prison in Oklahoma after being picked up Friday by Oklahoma law enforcement officials. He had been held at the Sonoma County Jail in Santa Rosa, California, for the past 15 months as he fought bogus marijuana cultivation charges there--he was a registered patient with a legal grow--and, after the California charges were dropped, on a parole violation warrant from the Sooner State. Foster had been arrested and convicted of growing marijuana in Oklahoma and sentenced to 93 years in prison in the 1990s. After that draconian sentence focused national attention on his case, he was eventually resentenced to 20 years in prison. He later won parole and moved to California, where he served three years on parole and was discharged from parole by California authorities. That wasn't good enough for vindictive Oklahoma authorities, who wanted to squeeze more years out of Foster. He refused to sign Oklahoma paperwork requiring him to return there to serve out the remainder of his sentence. He also refused to sign paperback that extended his original service. Oklahoma authorities issued a parole violation warrant, and the governors of both states signed it. Foster had sought to block extradition by filing a writ of habeas corpus--he had won a similar writ against Oklahoma earlier--but that effort failed on Friday, and Oklahoma authorities were there to whisk him away. Foster is scheduled to be held at the Tulsa County Jail before being assigned to a prison in the Oklahoma gulag. Efforts by Foster supporters to secure his release continue and are now focusing on Oklahoma parole authorities and the state governor. For more information about the Foster case, see our Chronicle story here and at Ed Rosenthal's blog here. Drug War Chronicle will continue to follow the Foster case. Look for a feature article next week.

Medical Marijuana: Iowa Public Hearings Get Underway

Medical marijuana advocates were out in force Wednesday in Des Moines as the Iowa Pharmacy Board held the first in a series of public hearings on whether the state should reschedule marijuana from Schedule I (no medical use, high abuse potential) to Schedule II (medical use, high abuse potential). The board will make recommendations to the state legislature later this year.

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Carl Olsen
The hearings are part of the board's review of the scientific evidence around the medicinal use of marijuana, a review that will also examine state and federal laws. The review comes after the board last month again rejected a petition from Carl Olsen of Iowans for Medical Marijuana to remove marijuana from Schedule I. The board had earlier rejected a similar petition, but a Polk County (Des Moines) judge in April ordered the board to reconsider.

Olsen argued that because medical marijuana is legal in 14 states it no longer meets the definition of a Schedule I drug. The board disagreed, saying that marijuana would have to be legal in all 50 states and under federal law for it to be rescheduled. But it did agree to review the evidence. The public hearings are part of that process.

Wednesday's hearing in Des Moines featured poignant testimony from patients as they pleaded with the board to stop treating them like criminals for using marijuana to treat pain and other conditions. "People are suffering who need not suffer. People are rotting in jail who should not be there," said Kevin Feeley of Ames in remarks reported by the Des Moines Register. Feeley said he used marijuana to ease his suffering from spinal cancer.

Feeley joined other speakers in telling the board that marijuana is safer and less addictive than many prescription medications. They urged the board to help Iowa join the ranks of states where patients are allowed to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

Robert Manke of Des Moines said he used marijuana for pain relief from injuries caused by traffic accidents and to reduce nausea from prescription medications. "I know what it's like to crawl around on the bathroom floor like an animal in the morning, vomiting with my head in the stool," he said. "I need your help. I'm not here because I want to get high. I'm here because I want to stop being sick. And I want to stop being persecuted."

It wasn't just patients. Several doctors testified in support of medical marijuana Wednesday, including Dr. Edward Hertko, a retired physician, who echoed that marijuana is less dangerous and addictive than many common prescription drugs. It wasn't about getting high, he said. "The people who want recreational marijuana already know how to get it," Hertko noted.

Not everyone was on board. Representing the Iowa Elks Association, Gary Young warned that allowing for medical marijuana could make it easier for people, including young people, to get ahold of it. He also challenged the plant's medical efficacy and argued that prescription drugs are more pure and easier to control than smoked marijuana. "I urge the board to make its decision on scientific evidence and not on anecdotal evidence," he said.

The Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy did not testify at the hearing, but offered a written statement in opposition. The office position is that the science so far does not support using marijuana as a medicine. As its web site notes: "Unless, or until, the consensus of medical evidence changes, ODCP opposes any proposal to legalize marijuana smoking for medical purposes."

The three remaining public hearings are September 2 in Mason City, October 7 in Iowa City, and November 4 in Council Bluffs.

Hemp: Oregon Governor Signs Farming Bill Into Law

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

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hemp plants (Luke Zigovitz for votehemp.com)
The bill passed the House by a vote of 46-11 and the Senate by an overwhelming margin of 27-2. It sets up a state-regulated program for farmers to grow hemp.

"I am glad that Oregon has joined the other states that have agreed that American farmers should have the right to reintroduce industrial hemp as an agricultural crop," said Prozanski. "By signing SB 676 into law, which passed the Oregon Legislature with strong bi-partisan support, Governor Kulongoski has taken a proactive position allowing our farmers the right to grow industrial hemp, to provide American manufacturers with domestically-grown hemp, and to profit from that effort."

"Oregon's federal delegation can now take this law to the US Congress and call for a fix to this problem, so American companies will no longer need to import hemp and American farmers will no longer be denied a profitable new crop," said Patrick Goggin, director of the industry lobbying group Vote Hemp. "Under current federal policy, industrial hemp can be imported, but it cannot be grown by American farmers. Hemp is an environmentally-friendly crop that has not been grown commercially in the US for over fifty years because of a politicized and misguided interpretation of the nation's drug laws by the DEA."

Hemp is a member of the cannabis family, but is distinguished from smokeable marijuana by its low THC content and its lanky, fibrous appearance. The Oregon law specifies that industrial hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC. So does pending federal legislation, HR 1866, sponsored by Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), which would remove low-THC hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and thus the DEA's domain.

According to the industry trade group the Hemp Industries Association, annual retail sales for hemp products in the last year were approximately $360 million. Because of the DEA ban on domestic hemp production, every ounce of hemp used in those products had to be imported.

The eight other states that have removed barriers to hemp production or research are Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia. Oregon joins North Dakota as the only states that do not require farmers to obtain federal permits from the DEA to grow hemp.

Salvia Divinorum: North Carolina Latest State to Ban or Regulate Sally D

The Tarheel State is about to become the latest to ban salvia divinorum, the potent but fast-acting hallucinogen that has become increasingly popular among young drug experimenters in recent years. A bill that would do that, SB 138, now sits on the desk of Gov. Beverly Perdue, who is expected to sign it. Last week, the House approved the measure by a vote of 94-15. It earlier passed the Senate on a unanimous 45-0 vote.

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salvia leaves (photo courtesy Erowid.org)
The bill makes possession of salvia an infraction, a minor crime punishable by a maximum $25 fine. A third possession offense would be charged as a misdemeanor. The bill has no separate provisions for charging manufacturing or sales offenses.

The bill includes two exemptions. The first is for ornamental gardening; the second is for university-affiliated researchers.

North Carolina will join 14 other states and a handful of towns and cities that have banned or regulated salvia in recent years, the most recent being the resort town of Ocean City, Maryland, earlier this month. Salvia is not a prohibited controlled substance under federal law, although the DEA is evaluating whether it should be, a process that has gone on for more than five years now.

Marijuana: California Gubernatorial Candidates Not High on Legalization

With three marijuana legalization initiatives filed so far (another one was filed last week) and a marijuana legalization bill pending in Sacramento, California is the epicenter of the ever-louder national debate about freeing the weed. But despite all the noise, despite siren calls from proponents that legalization could earn the state billions in taxable revenues, despite recent polling showing a majority of Californians supporting legalization, not one of the major party candidates in the race to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) is currently willing to go on record supporting it.

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California State Capitol, Sacramento
On Saturday, the San Francisco Chronicle asked the leading candidates where they stood on marijuana legalization, a move that would once again cement California's vanguard status on liberalizing repressive marijuana laws. In 1975, then Gov. Jerry Brown (now attorney general and candidate for the Democratic Party nomination) signed one of the country's first marijuana decriminalization bills. Thirteen years ago, California again led the way, this time with the nation's first successful statewide medical marijuana initiative.

But Brown is singing a different tune these days, and when it comes to the current crop of gubernatorial candidates, he's just part of a one-note chorus.

"If the whole society starts getting stoned, we're going to be even less competitive. And we're going to have more broken families and more angry husbands and wives," said Brown. "As far as telling everybody to -- what did Timothy Leary say, 'Tune in, turn on, and drop out'? - that will not be the recommendation of the attorney general."

Republican candidate Tom Campbell, a former US congressman who has been harshly critical of the war on drugs in the past, disappointingly had also changed his tune when it came to marijuana legalization. He opposes it because law enforcement sources told him legalization could benefit Mexican drug cartels, which control both marijuana and methamphetamine imports, he said. "If you legalize the one, you run the risk of creating a distribution mechanism for the other," he reasoned.

Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, another powerful Republican contender, flat out opposes legalizing pot. "I am absolutely against legalizing marijuana for any reason. We have enough challenges in our society without heading down the path of drug legalization," she said.

The third major Republican contender, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, stands opposed, too, his spokesman said. "The idea of legalizing drugs is one more bad idea from a bygone era," said Jarrod Agen. "Nor can California smoke its way out of the structural budget deficit. Only those who are smoking something think tax increases will lead to economic growth," he added.

The only contender whose opposition to legalization appears even slightly mushy is San Francisco's Democratic Mayor Gavin Newsom. Newsom is willing to call the drug war "an abject failure" that consumes "precious, limited, public safety dollars" by treating nonviolent drug offenders like violent felons. But when pressed directly on the issue of marijuana legalization, Gavin spokesman Nathan Ballard would say only that Newsom doesn't think it's a "responsible way to balance the state's budget."

Well, that leaves all the major contenders competing for the 44% of California voters who don't want to see marijuana legalized. One could be forgiven for thinking, however, that someone is eventually going to realize that he will gain more votes than he loses by courting the 56% who do want it legalized.

(This article 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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