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Feature: NORML Annual Conference Meets in Atmosphere of Hope, Determination, and Exhilaration

Riding a wave of enthusiasm about increasing prospects for marijuana law reform, hundreds of people poured into the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown San Francisco last Thursday for the 38th annual national conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). By the time it ended with a Saturday night NORML benefit, the conference had left most attendees even more energized than when they arrived.

Gathering under the slogan "Yes, We Cannabis" and sensing a fresh breeze blowing since the inauguration of President Barack Obama, conference organizers, speakers, and attendees spent three days in sessions devoted to medical marijuana issues, the prospects for legalization in California (and beyond), the change in public attitudes around marijuana, what parents should tell kids about pot, and much, much more.

The conference was California-centric, but understandably so. Not only was a California city the host for the conference, the Golden State's constantly mutating medical marijuana industry is creating an omnipresent and accessible distribution system, and California is now the home of four competing marijuana legalization initiative campaigns and a similar effort in the state legislature.

In between (and sometimes during) sessions, the pungent odor of pot smoke hung in the air over the Hyatt's outdoor patio as patients medicated and non-patients just plain got high. Hippie attire abounded, but in contrast to the stoner stereotypes, there were plenty of people in suits and ties toking away, too.

At least three newsworthy items came out of the conference:

  • At a Saturday press conference, Oaksterdam University head Richard Lee, the leading proponent of the legalization initiative most likely to actually make the November 2010 ballot -- because it has Lee's financial backing -- announced the formal beginning of signature gathering for the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act, which would allow California cities and counties the local option to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and a 25-square foot garden. Accompanied by former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, "Marijuana Is Safer" author Mason Tvert, and fellow initiative proponent Jeff Jones, Lee also announced the measure's endorsement by former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who is running for mayor of Oakland.
  • State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF), author of Assembly Bill 390, which would legalize the possession, growing, and sale of marijuana for people 21 or over, announced Friday that he will hold an informational hearing on his bill. The date is tentatively set for October 28 at the capitol in Sacramento. The current political climate has created a "perfect storm" for marijuana law reform, he said. "It's certainly connected to California's economy, which is in the toilet," he added.
  • Oakland City Council member and medical marijuana supporter Rebecca Kaplan (D) announced Saturday that the city is preparing to issue permits for medical marijuana growing and processing operations and for medical marijuana edibles production. The city already has issued permits to four dispensaries, and voters there this summer approved a dispensary-led initiative to add a special medical marijuana tax on them. "We gave permits for a federal felony for the dispensaries, and they didn't bust them -- even under Bush," she said. "We protected them." And now, Oakland is set to expand those protections to other sectors of the industry.

"There is no doubt that today, Sept. 25, 2009, is the moment of genuine zeitgeist to decriminalizing marijuana in America," said NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre as the conference opened. "This conference represents that we are at that tipping point."

But where the movement goes from here was open to heated and healthy debate. Thursday's sessions, which were devoted primarily to the intricacies of medical marijuana dispensing in California, saw detailed discussion of the minutiae of defining collectives and co-ops and operating within state law and the state attorney general's guidelines, but they also saw calls from some leading voices warning about the medicalization of marijuana.

Dr. Frank Lucido, a leading medical marijuana advocate, while lauding the work of the medical marijuana movement, said the weed should really be treated like an over-the-counter herbal supplement. "This should be out of the hands of doctors and in the hands of herbalists," he argued.

Similarly, Steven DeAngelo of the Harborside Health Center, an Oakland dispensary, pointed out that California's medical marijuana distribution system is creating a situation where "cannabis consumption is part of the mainstream." In a speech delivered at the conference, he argued that effective medical marijuana laws are paving the way for a day where medical recommendations are not required to obtain cannabis legally. "Most over-the-counter drugs are far more harmful than marijuana, but there are no restrictions on them," he said. "Let's not waste medical resources on something that doesn't require them."

But the most heated debates were around what is the best path toward outright legalization in California. With several initiatives and an assembly bill all in play, opinion was deeply divided on whether to wait for the legislative process to work its way, to support the Oaksterdam initiative -- which was almost universally considered the most conservative of the initiatives, but which also has the best chance of making the ballot -- or to support one of the competing initiatives.

Joe Rogosin, one of three Northern California defense attorneys who authored the California Cannabis Initiative, admitted that his initiative lacked the deep pockets of the Oaksterdam initiative, but argued that it was still superior to the Oakland effort. It repeals all state laws forbidding people 21 and over from possessing, growing, or selling marijuana.

"We don't want people to go to jail for cannabis," Rogosin said. "Unlike Richard's, our initiative actually legalizes cannabis."

While contending camps were fighting over who had the best initiative, other movement members were warning that none of them were likely to pass. Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia said that his group would not be devoting substantial resources to the initiatives and would not formally endorse them, but would render what low-budget aid it could if one of them actually makes the ballot.

California NORML head Dale Gieringer was blunt in his assessment of the measures' chances. "I don't expect any of them to pass," he said flatly.

As always, California pot politics is in turmoil, and while circular firing squads are not quite forming, the movement is in danger of shooting itself in the foot if it fails to get behind an initiative that makes the ballot -- or if it does get behind an initiative and that initiative loses badly at the ballot box.

There was, of course, much more going on at the NORML conference. Check out the NORML web site for updates with conference content. And keep an eye on California, because marijuana reform is one hot topic there now.

Marijuana: Daily 4:20 Protests Spark Saturday Arrest in Keene, New Hampshire

Daily marijuana legalization protests in the Central Square in Keene, New Hampshire, led to one arrest Saturday for marijuana possession and one Sunday -- but the victim in that arrest was later found to be smoking chocolate mint in his glass pipe and released without charges. The demonstrations began last Tuesday with a couple of dozen people gathering at 4:20pm to toke up as an act of civil disobedience and call for marijuana law reform. After Saturday's arrest, the protests continued, with about 100 people showing up Monday.

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(YouTube and freekeene.com)
The protests are being led by Free Keene, a local affiliate of the libertarian New Hampshire Free State Project. The project's stated goal is to persuade 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire in a bid to shift the politics of the low-population Granite State.

Arrested Saturday was Richard Paul, 40, one of the protest organizers. Paul was arrested after police patrolling the square saw him smoking a joint. Protestors shouted at police, yelling "Leave him alone!" and "This is how they did it in Nazi Germany!"

After the arrest, about 50 protestors followed Paul and police officers to the police station, where they shouted through the door and sat in a circle smoking marijuana. No more arrests were forthcoming, though.

To confuse police at the protests at the square, some smokers smoked things other than marijuana. That was the case Sunday, when police arrested a protester identified only as "Earl" for puffing on a glass pipe. Embarrassingly for police, that substance turned out to be not marijuana but chocolate mint, and Earl was quickly released.

Protests continued this week in Keene and have now spread to Manchester. In the latter town, protestors sparked up in the presence of police, but failed to provoke any arrests.

Perhaps the cops have better things to do. And that's precisely the point.

Marijuana: Daily 4:20 Protests Spark Saturday Arrest in Keene, New Hampshire

Daily marijuana legalization protests in the Central Square in Keene, New Hampshire, led to one arrest Saturday for marijuana possession and one Sunday—but the victim in that arrest was later found to be smoking chocolate mint in his glass pipe and released without charges. The demonstrations began last Tuesday with a couple of dozen people gathering at 4:20 p.m. to toke up as an act of civil disobedience and call for marijuana law reform. After Saturday's arrest, the protests continued, with about 100 people showing up Monday. By Tuesday, the protests had spread to Manchester. The protests are being led by Free Keene, a local affiliate of the libertarian New Hampshire Free State Project. The project's stated goal is to persuade 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire in a bid to shift the politics of the low-population Granite State. Arrested Saturday was Richard Paul, 40, one of the protest organizers. Paul was arrested after police patrolling the square saw him smoking a joint. Protestors shouted at police, yelling "Leave him alone!" and "This is how they did it in Nazi Germany!" After the arrest, about 50 protestors followed Paul and police officers to the police station, where they shouted through the door and sat in a circle smoking marijuana. No more arrests were forthcoming, though. To confuse police at the protests at the square, some smokers smoked things other than marijuana. That was the case Sunday, when police arrested a protester identified only as "Earl" for puffing on a glass pipe. Embarrassingly for police, that substance turned out to be not marijuana but chocolate mint, and Earl was quickly released. Protests continued this week in Keene and have now spread to Manchester. In the latter town, protestors sparked up in the presence of police, but failed to provoke any arrests. Perhaps the cops have better things to do. And that's precisely the point.
Location: 
Keene, NH
United States

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.

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Minneapolis skyline
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.

Feature: What's the Matter With San Diego? Another Round of Medical Marijuana Raids and Arrests Hit "America's Finest City"

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis claims to be a friend of medical marijuana, but one would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the local medical marijuana community who would agree with her. This "friend" coordinated mass raids against medical marijuana dispensaries there in 2006, again in February of this year, and yet again just last week.

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courthouse demonstration (courtesy William West, myspace.com/williamwwest)
It is part and parcel of a pattern of bitter, recalcitrant refusal on the part of San Diego county officials to abide by the will of the voters and accept the state's medical marijuana law. The conservative county Board of Commissioners is notorious for its opposition to medical marijuana, going so far as pursuing a quixotic and costly legal challenge to state laws, which it lost in every court that heard it.

On Tuesday, the Board unanimously extended for 10 months a moratorium on new dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. After its court challenge to the state law was defeated, the Board is now grudgingly allowing staff to develop regulations for dispensaries, but in the meantime, DA Dumanis is picking them off in batches.

The city of San Diego has been a bit more friendly. Last week, just one day before Dumanis' raiders struck, the City Council voted to implement a task force to create recommendations for regulating collectives and co-ops in accordance with guidelines issued earlier this year by the state attorney general. But if the City Council is working with the medical marijuana community, the San Diego Police Department is not. Instead, it has joined forces with Dumanis and her conservative cronies to attack the dispensaries.

Last week's raids shuttered 14 dispensaries in San Diego, the North County, and South Bay, and resulted in 33 arrests -- 31 under state charges and two under federal charges -- including wheelchair-bound patients hauled away by armed and uniformed law enforcement agents. Dumanis assembled squads of San Diego Police, San Diego County Sheriff's officers, DEA agents, and IRS agents to swoop down on the dispensaries, make arrests, seize cash and medicine, and disrupt the local medical marijuana distribution system.

While the DEA was present, last week's raids were Dumanis's baby. Only two of those arrested face federal charges.

"It was a joint investigation with the sheriff's department and the police department," said San Diego DEA spokeswoman Amy Roderick. "We were asked for our assistance. We were not at every location."

Roderick declined to spell out how DEA San Diego is interpreting the current Justice Department position on not pursuing medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal unless they are in violation of state law. "I can't comment on policy," she said. "It's not made by the DEA."

"Like most San Diegans, I support the use of legitimate and legal medical marijuana use," Dumanis said at a press conference touting the busts. "However, it appears these so-called 'marijuana dispensaries' are nothing more than for-profit storefront drug dealing operations run by drug dealers hiding behind the state's medical marijuana law."

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Donna Lambert (courtesy William West, myspace.com/williamwwest)
"We're not surprised at all, but very disappointed," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "What Dumanis is doing is simply unacceptable. If she has legitimate concerns about how dispensaries are operating, whether they're operating as collectives, she could use civil actions, she could use letters and accountants. There is no call for bringing in the DEA, arresting people in wheelchairs, scaring the hell out of patients, and shutting off medical marijuana access for very sick people. It's her tactics that we're really concerned with," she said.

"But also her misrepresentations to the public of what she's doing and her unproductive strategy of pointing out what she says is illegal, but not saying what is legal," Dooley-Sammuli continued. "Collective operators are doing their best to comply with the law, but she doesn't have answers for them. People have gone out of their way to follow the guidelines, but got raided anyway."

I don't think Bonnie Dumanis has ever seen a legal dispensary in 13 years," said Dion Markgraff, San Diego coordinator for Americans for Safe Access "She can't follow the plain language of the law, but instead she holds some impossible standard that no one else knows about," he said.

"We're on the front lines of the most terrorist county in the whole state," Markgraff continued. "The DA is sending in cops who lied to doctors to get valid recommendations, and then busting dispensaries that are operating according to the law. At worst, maybe somebody didn't file this or that piece of paper or had a zoning issue, but there was certainly nothing criminal."

Markgraff himself has had a taste of the DA's bitter medicine. "I was raided two months ago for 32 immature plants," he related. "My girlfriend and I both have medical marijuana recommendations, and I had a state caregiver card. The cops laughed at my card, then stole it. They took everything, they arrested me and my girlfriend, they took my kid, they gave us both $130,000 bail. Now we're fighting this Kafkaesque, Orwellian system where the prosecutors and the judges don't give a shit about legality."

There was nothing unique about police seizing his daughter, Markgraff said. "They do it all the time. The first thing they say is 'we're going to take your kids if you don't plead.' When they're using your kids as leverage, that's really ugly," he said.

"We have not, and will not prosecute people who are legitimately and legally using medical marijuana," Dumanis said at the press conference. "It's a shame that a few illegal drug dealers are trampling on the compassion shown by voters in passing California's medical marijuana law."

Medical marijuana patient and now criminal defendant Donna Lambert begs to differ. She joined a 10-person medical marijuana collective after the 2006 raids that disrupted supplies. "I provided medical marijuana to a valid qualified patient who was an undercover cop who lied to a doctor to get a doctor's recommendation," said Lambert, who was one of 14 people arrested in the Operation Green RX raids conducted in February. "There was no dispute about my patient status or his patient status."

In Operation Green RX, as many as ten detectives spent six months becoming qualified medical marijuana patients on fraudulent grounds and then joining medical marijuana collectives. Undercover San Diego Police Detective Scott Henderson lied to a doctor to obtain a valid medical marijuana recommendation and then reached out to Ms. Lambert for help. When, believing she was lawfully helping another patient, she supplied him with medical marijuana, Lambert became yet another of Dumanis' victims.

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San Diego demonstration against 'Operation Green RX' (courtesy William West, myspace.com/williamwwest)
Lambert, a 47-year-old San Diego resident, began relying on marijuana to cope with chemotherapy. She struggles with a number of serious illnesses, including hepatitis C, cirrhosis, cancer and Sjoegrens Disease. She was bound over for December trial during a preliminary hearing last week, despite the judge in that hearing noting that she was clearly not in it for profit. "My attorney says they've never dismissed a medical marijuana sales case in San Diego," she said.

"They are a little more conservative down there than the other coastal cities," said San Francisco-based Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Bruce Mirken when asked what was the matter with San Diego. "It seems like the county is more a problem than the city, and some of their officials, including the DA, are particularly bad."

California's confused medical marijuana law is part of the problem, said Mirken. "It doesn't specify with absolute clarity what is legal and what isn't when it comes to medical marijuana distribution. Everyone is operating on the attorney general's guidelines, which haven't been tested in court, and that leaves room for interpretation, so you have fertile ground for officials who choose to be jerks to wreak a great deal of havoc. That's what's happening in San Diego County."

"People got up in arms at the DEA, but in this case, they were playing a supporting role," said Mirken. "The real problem is local officials who think medical marijuana is okay as long as you don't actually get it from anyone. The law says patients can have marijuana, so it makes sense to have an aboveground, organized distribution system. We have working models for that in places like San Francisco and Oakland. It's not that hard to do if you have the political will to do it," Mirken said.

"It's just been an ongoing battle for lo these many years," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML in San Francisco. "The city of San Diego isn't so bad, but the county is more conservative. The county board of commissioners is the one that filed the lawsuit trying to overturn the state medical marijuana law. And the DA is just bad. We initially approved of her election; she is gay, and was viewed as progressive, but she's been really tough on medical cannabis. Still, I see a glimmer of hope here. In half of her statements, Dumanis seems to be saying that there might be some legal dispensaries around, but nobody's clear on who they are."

San Diego medical marijuana patients and activists aren't seeing glimmers of hope; they're seeing red. "We need to replace the DA, most of the county board, and the county sheriff," said Lambert. "They are all working together to subvert the state law. It doesn't matter to them if people are following the law or not, she just lies through her teeth about it. I am the perfect example of her lies."

"Dumanis has made a political calculation that this will appeal to her conservative base," said Markgraff. "There is no one currently running against her, but we are trying to get someone to do that. There are plenty of people upset with her, and now just in the medical marijuana community. She's ripe for being thrown out," he said.

"We are mobilizing in San Diego," said Dooley-Sammuli. "Patients and medical marijuana supporters are working to put pressure on her to stop these tactics, and we're working with the newly created city task force to craft regulations, but this is really all about Bonnie Dumanis and the upcoming election. She is hoping this will work for her politically, and we're working to see that it doesn't."

San Diego activists told the Chronicle of many more horror stories about medical marijuana persecution under DA Dumanis. While they are working to get rid of Dumanis and bring a measure of real justice to the DA's office, the Chronicle will be digging a little deeper into the alleged abuses.

Harm Reduction: Pennsylvania Allows Syringe Sales Without Prescription, Effective Immediately

Responding to years of agitation by harm reductionists and public health advocates, the Pennsylvania Board of Pharmacy Saturday published new regulations that will allow pharmacies to sell syringes without a prescription. The change goes into effect immediately. The move was lauded by activists as a significant public health victory in the battle against the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C via injection drug use.

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popular syringe exchange logo
Under previous regulations, pharmacies could sell syringes only to people who obtained a doctor's prescription. The new regulations carry no limit on the number of syringes that can be purchased at a time, nor do they have age limits.

"This change is particularly important in Pennsylvania because we have only two locations -- Pittsburgh and Philadelphia -- in which legally authorized syringe exchange programs operate," said David Webber, an attorney for the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. "These two programs alone are simply not adequate to address this problem across the entire state, but syringe exchange programs continue to be crucial in providing sterile syringes as well as access to drug treatment and health care for injection drug users."

"This is a chance for every pharmacy to become part of HIV prevention in Pennsylvania," said Scott Burris, professor at Temple University's School of Law and a national authority on syringe regulation and HIV prevention. "The pharmacy board has taken an important step forward for evidence-based policy."

It didn't come swiftly or easily. Activist organizations including the Pennsylvania Aids Law Project, Prevention Point Pittsburgh, Prevention Point Philadelphia, as well as legislators, HIV workers, and others had lobbied for the change for a decade. An article in the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal cited several efforts:

  • In 2002, a group called the Pennsylvania Coalition for Responsible Syringe Policy asked the Pharmacy Board to consider deregulation.
  • In 2005, another group called Pennsylvanians for the Deregulation of Syringe Sales filed a formal petition to the Board, and met with legislators and officials in the Rendell Administration.
  • In 2007, the the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association endorsed syringe deregulation and asked the Pharmacy Board to move swiftly on it.

Robert Field, organizer of Pennsylvanians for the Deregulation of Syringe Sales and co-chair of the Lancaster-based Common Sense for Drug Policy, told the Intelligencer Journal he looked at syringe deregulation after efforts to start a syringe exchange program in Reading met with opposition. The board responded in August 2007, proposing new regulations allowing for over-the-counter syringe sales and opening them up for public comment. Thanks to concerns expressed by harm reduction and public health groups during the comment period, the board removed age and quantity restrictions.

The board heard a number of concerns from the Pennsylvania Medical Society that the rule change would increase drug use. But research won the day. "Studies indicate that making syringes available will reduce the spread of HIV and will not lead to an increase of illicit drug use," said Field.

The board also rejected record-keeping requirements requested by the House Professional Licensure Committee, saying it "does not believe that maintaining a record and requiring individuals to provide a name or other identifying information would advance the public health and safety."

Now the number of states that do not allow syringe sales without a prescription is down to two: Delaware and New Jersey.

Harm Reduction: Pennsylvania Allows Syringe Sales Without Prescription, Effective Immediately

Responding to years of agitation by harm reductionists and public health advocates, the Pennsylvania Board of Pharmacy Saturday published new regulations that will allow pharmacies to sell syringes without a prescription. The change goes into effect immediately. The move was lauded by activists as a significant public health victory in the battle against the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C via injection drug use. Under previous regulations, pharmacies could sell syringes only to people who obtained a doctor’s prescription. The new regulations carry no limit on the number of syringes that can be purchased at a time, nor do they have age limits. “This change is particularly important in Pennsylvania because we have only two locations--Pittsburgh and Philadelphia--in which legally authorized syringe exchange programs operate,” said David Webber, an attorney for the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. “These two programs alone are simply not adequate to address this problem across the entire state, but syringe exchange programs continue to be crucial in providing sterile syringes as well as access to drug treatment and health care for injection drug users.” “This is a chance for every pharmacy to become part of HIV prevention in Pennsylvania,” said Scott Burris, professor at Temple University’s School of Law and a national authority on syringe regulation and HIV prevention. “The pharmacy board has taken an important step forward for evidence-based policy.” It didn’t come swiftly or easily. Activist organizations including the Pennsylvania Aids Law Project, Prevention Point Pittsburgh, Prevention Point Philadelphia, as well as legislators, HIV workers, and others had lobbied for the change for a decade. In August 2007, the pharmacy board proposed new regulations allowing for over-the-counter syringe sales and opened them up for public comment. Thanks to concerns expressed by harm reduction and public health groups during the comment period, the board removed age and quantity restrictions. The board rejected record-keeping requirements requested by the House Professional Licensure Committee, saying it “does not believe that maintaining a record and requiring individuals to provide a name or other identifying information would advance the public health and safety.” Similarly, it rejected a number of concerns from the Pennsylvania Medical Society that the rule change would increase drug use. The board’s action reflected well-established scientific evidence that access to clean syringes is a critical component of stemming the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hep C among injection drug users. Now the number of states that do not allow syringe sales without a prescription is down to two: Delaware and New Jersey.
Location: 
PA
United States

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.

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