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Feature: 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conferences Opens Amid Optimism in Albuquerque

Hundreds, possibly more than a thousand, people poured into the Convention Center in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the Drug Policy Alliance's 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference got underway yesterday. Set to go on through Saturday, the conference is drawing attendees from around the country and the world to discuss dozens of different drug reform topics. (See the link above for a look at the program.)

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screening of near-final version of the next Flex Your Rights film, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police
This is the second time DPA has brought the conference to the distant deserts of the Southwest. In 2001, DPA rewarded libertarian-leaning New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R) for becoming the highest ranking elected official in the US to call for ending drug prohibition by bringing the conference to his home state. Since then, the ties between DPA and New Mexico have only deepened.

As DPA New Mexico office head Reena Szczepanski explained at the opening plenary session, the Land of Enchantment is fertile ground for drug reform. "Back in 1997, when drug policy reform was little more than a twinkle in the eye, New Mexico passed a harm reduction act mandating the Department of Health to give out clean syringes for people with HIV/AIDS," she noted. "Then, when Gov. Johnson said it was time to end the war on drugs, DPA very wisely immediately opened an office here. In 2001, we passed the overdose prevention act, allowing for the distribution of naloxone. Then we passed opting out on the federal welfare ban, we passed asset forfeiture reform, we passed the 911 Good Samaritan Act -- saving somebody's life is more important than busting them for small amounts of drugs."

But wait, there's more. "Thanks to Gov. Bill Richardson, we became the 12th state to have legal access to medical marijuana for seriously ill people," Szczepanski continued. "We're working on treatment instead of incarceration, we're working to end the war on drugs in New Mexico and this country. This is a very special place for drug policy reform."

New Mexico is also right next store to one of the drug war's bloodiest battlegrounds: the mean streets of Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Texas, which in turn in borders New Mexico. More than 2,200 people have died in prohibition-related violence in Juarez this year alone.

That violence just across the river inspired El Paso City Councilman Beto O'Rourke to turn a motion expressing sympathy for El Paso's sister city into one that also asked for an open and honest debate on ending drug prohibition. The resolution passed the city council by a unanimous vote, only to be vetoed by the mayor. Then, as the council scheduled an override vote, the pressure came down.

"Each of us on the council got a call from Rep. Silvestre Reyes, our congressman and a very powerful figure," O'Rourke told the crowd Thursday. "He told us if we went forward with this, it will be very hard to get your district the federal funding you need. That's a powerful threat, since we rely on federal funding to deliver basic services. It was enough to get four members to change their votes."

While the resolution was defeated, the debacle opened the door for serious debate on drug policy in El Paso and generated support for ending prohibition as well, O'Rourke said. "Our local Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter came out very strongly and helped organize a global policy forum in El Paso. I received hundreds of calls, letters, and emails of support from around the country and the world," O'Rourke related to sustained applause.

If Councilman O'Rourke was a new face, Ira Glasser is a familiar one. Former executive director of the ACLU and president of the DPA board of directors, Glasser told the crowd he was more optimistic about the prospects for change than ever before.

"Today we stand on the brink of transformative progress," he said. "I have never said that before. We can almost touch the goals we have sought, the unraveling of the so-called war on drugs, which is really a war on fundamental freedoms and constitutional rights, on personal autonomy, on our sovereignty over our minds and bodies, a war against people of darker skin color."

Just as Jim Crow laws were the successor to the system of slavery, said Glasser, so the drug war has been the successor to Jim Crow. "It's no accident that after the civil rights revolution ended with the passage of the last federal civil right law in 1968, Richard Nixon was elected on the southern strategy against progress on civil rights," he noted. "Within months of taking office, Nixon declared the modern war on drugs."

Glasser wasn't the only one feeling uplifted. "I am feeling good, better than ever before," said DPA executive director and plenary keynote speaker Ethan Nadelmann. "The wind is at our back. We are making progress like never before. We have to move hard and fast. Historically speaking, there are moments when everything comes together," drawing a pointed comparison with the successful temperance movement that managed to get alcohol banned during Prohibition. But Prohibition generated its own counter-movement, he said, again drawing a pointed parallel.

"Now, we're in another moment," Nadelmann said. "We're hurting with the recession, state budgets are hemorrhaging. More and more people are realizing we can't afford to pay for our prejudices, we can't continue to be the world's largest incarcerator."

But it's not just the economy that is opening the window, he continued. "What's happening in Mexico and Afghanistan, where illicit drugs are ready sources of revenues for criminals and political terrorists, that has people thinking. We have two major national security problems causing people to think afresh."

Nadelmann had a suggestion: "Ending marijuana prohibition is a highly effective way of undermining that violence," he said. "Until we end it, buy American."

Just after the opening plenary session ended, reporters and other interested parties repaired to a Convention Center conference room to see the US unveiling of the British Transform Drug Policy Foundation publication, After the War on Drugs: A Blueprint for Regulation, a how-to manual on how to get to drug reform's promised land. Transform executive director Danny Kushlick was joined by Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies, Deborah Small of Break the Chains, and DPA's Nadelmann as he laid out the case for moving beyond "what would it look like."

"There's never been a clear vision of a post-prohibition world," said Kushlick. "With this, we've tried to reclaim drug policy from the drug warriors. We want to make drug policy boring," he said. "We want not only harm reduction, but drama reduction," he added, envisioning debates about restrictions on sales hours, zoning, and other dreary topics instead of bloody drug wars and mass incarceration.

"As a movement, we have failed to articulate the alternative," said Tree. "And that leaves us vulnerable to the fear of the unknown. This report restores order to the anarchy. Prohibition means we have given up on regulating drugs; this report outlines some of the options for regulation."

That wasn't the only unveiling Thursday. Later in the evening, Flex Your Rights held the first public showing of its new video, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. The screening of the self-explanatory successor to Flex Your Right's 2003 "Busted" played to a packed and enthusiastic house. This highly useful examination of how not to get yourself busted is bound to equal if not exceed the break-out success of "Busted."

The conference, of course, continued Thursday afternoon and will go through Saturday, but your reporter was busy getting this week's Drug War Chronicle ready to go. Come back next week for fuller reports on the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference.

Medical Marijuana: Colorado Judge Blocks Restrictions on Caregivers

A judge in Denver Tuesday overturned a state Board of Health decision last week that medical marijuana caregivers must do more than simply provide marijuana to qualify as caregivers. Denver District Judge Larry Naves voided the decision, saying the board had violated state open meeting laws and ignored the needs of patients.

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Colorado medical marijuana certificate (courtesy cannabisculture.com)
The board held an emergency meeting last week with less than one day's notice to respond to a state Court of Appeals ruling that a woman who provided marijuana to a registered patient did not qualify as a caregiver under the law. That move outraged medical marijuana supporters, who immediately filed suit to block the move.

Attorney Richard Corry filed the lawsuit. He argued that the board failed to provide adequate public notice of the meeting and that the Court of Appeals ruling applied only to the criminal case in question. Naves agreed.

Naves was harshly critical of the Board of Health and let first assistant attorney general Anne Holton, who was representing the board, know it. "Did this board ever think about the impact on the health of people like these people here?" he asked, referring to a medical marijuana user and provider in the courtroom who had challenged the new requirements.

Holton replied that the board was merely trying to clarify restrictions for providers, and that the action was only temporary while the board came up with permanent standards.

"It's not temporary if you're trying to down 30 pills," Naves retorted, referring to testimony by a patient in an older, related case who said he couldn't keep his numerous medications down without marijuana.

Holton said she did not know if the Board of Health would appeal the decision. It has a December 15 hearing scheduled on the issue.

The dispute comes as medical marijuana is taking off in Colorado. The state now has more than 11,000 registered patients, and this year, dozens of dispensaries have sprung up, first in Denver, but now across the state.

Marijuana Legalization Confusion in Connecticut

Drug policy reformers did a double-take today when the following "Budget Suggestions" were discovered on the website of Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell:

January 9, 2009: Decriminalize marijuana – allow for medicinal purposes and collect taxes on it purchase. Create a tax stamp for these packages – anyone caught with a bag of marijuana without the stamp should face harsher penalties than someone caught with a bag with a stamp.

February 3, 2009: Legalize marijuana and have the Department of Agriculture grow it for sale in 1 ounce bags -- sell it over the Internet.

March 2, 2009: Increase revenue by legalizing marijuana and administering its sale and tax to be sold in pharmacies as well as in liquor stores. Apply law enforcement standards currently used for alcohol. This would save money in not having to chase drug dealers and generate huge revenues.

This is surprising stuff to see on the site of a governor who'd vetoed medical marijuana legislation. And, unfortunately, it was too good to be true.

It turns out these ideas came from unnamed current or former state employees as part of a program called the Innovative Ideas Initiative. They're not endorsed by the Governor's Office, although a much better job could have been done to explain the source of the proposals when posting them under a picture of Gov. Rell. It wasn't until reporters started calling her office today asking about marijuana legalization that the whole story emerged.

So I suppose you could argue that there's not much of a story here, but I do find it amusing to see the debate over marijuana legalization popping up where you least expect it.

The Border: US Begins Turning Busted Smugglers Over to Mexico for Prosecution

For years, getting caught trying to smuggle drugs across the US-Mexican border meant being handed over to US authorities for prosecution. Problem was, US Attorneys on the border were so swamped with marijuana smuggling cases, the general rule was they wouldn't prosecute for less than 500 pounds. Instead, local prosecutors got those cases, but they were swamped, too. As a result, thousands of Mexican marijuana smugglers never faced prosecution in the US -- they were simply deported back over the border to Mexico.

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Reynosa/Hidalgo border crossing (courtesy portland.indymedia.org)
But now, according to the New York Times, under an agreement reached last month, US authorities have begun returning captured Mexican pot smugglers to Mexico for prosecution by Mexican authorities. Late last month, Sonora, Mexico, resident Eleazar Gonzalez-Sanchez won the dubious distinction of being the first person turned over to Mexican authorities after he was popped with 44 pounds by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Nogales, Arizona, border crossing.

The border agreement is a sign of "our effort to enhance cooperation between the US and Mexico on prosecuting drug trafficking cases," said Arizona US Attorney Dennis Burke.

There is plenty of work to do. In the past year, ICE opened 646 smuggling cases out of busts at the Nogales port of entry. In the fiscal year ending in October 2008, ICE busted 71,000 pounds of pot on the Arizona border.

The program is a pilot program currently operating in Arizona. US officials will be monitoring the cases returned to Mexico, and if satisfied with the results, may extend it all along the border.

Colorado Ski Town of Breckenridge Votes to Legalize It; Measure Passes With 72%

Residents of the Colorado ski town of Breckenridge overwhelmingly voted to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana Tuesday. Early returns had the local measure passing with 72% of the vote. That means as of January 1, people in Breckenridge can legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana under local ordinance. The measure also legalizes the possession of marijuana paraphernalia. "This votes demonstrates that Breckenridge citizens overwhelmingly believe that adults should not be punished for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol," said Sean McAllister, Breckenridge attorney and chair of Sensible Breckenridge, a local project of the statewide marijuana law reform group Sensible Colorado. "As state and national focus grows on this important issue, the popular ski town of Breckenridge has taken center stage on marijuana reform-- and not just for medical purposes," said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado. "With this historic vote, Breckenridge has emerged as a national leader in sensible drug policy" The campaign, which had no formal opposition, received a chorus of local support including endorsements from Breckenridge Town Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron, former. Colorado State Representative and Breckenridge resident, Gary Lindstrom, and the Summit Daily News. Measure 2F was placed on the ballot when over 1400 local supporters signed a petition supporting the reform measure. Under Colorado state law, possession of up to an ounce is decriminalized and punishable by a $100 fine. But Breckenridge police will "still have the ability to exercise discretion," said Chief Rick Holman. “It's never been something that we've spent a lot of time on, so I don't expect this to be a big change in how we really do business,” he told the Summit Daily News. Breckenridge residents had voted for Amendment 44, a statewide legalization initiative, by the same percentage in 2006. That initiative won only 41% of the vote statewide. Denver became the first city to vote to legalize marijuana possession under municipal ordinance in 2005.
Location: 
Breckenridge, CO
United States

Medical Marijuana: New Hampshire Veto Override Falls Two Votes Short

Three months after New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) vetoed a medical marijuana bill, bill supporters attempting to override the veto came up one vote short in the state Senate Wednesday. A two-thirds majority was required to override. The override effort had successfully passed the House earlier in the day.

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almost but not quite at the New Hampshire Statehouse
The House voted to override the veto by a vote of 240-115, or 67.7% of the vote. But supporters failed to pick up a single vote in the Senate, and that made all the difference. The Senate vote both last summer and this week was 14-10 to override. It would have taken 16 votes to reach a two-thirds majority.

The bill, HB 648, would have established three nonprofit dispensaries to distribute up to two ounces of marijuana every 10 days to patients whose use had been approved by a doctor. Patients could be approved for chronic or terminal conditions that included cachexia, or wasting disorder; chronic pain; or nausea or muscle spasms. They would have had to register with the state to obtain an ID card.

In his veto message earlier this year, Gov. Lynch cited concerns about cultivation and distribution, as well as the opposition of law enforcement. Lawmakers had attempted to address those concerns in conference committee, crafting a tightly-drafted bill, but Lynch was unmoved.

"It's up to 16 of us in this chamber to look at those who are suffering to say, 'I understand and I will help','' said Sen. Peggy Gilmour (D-Hollis). But every senator who voted against the measure earlier this year voted against the override Wednesday.

Pushing for the bill was the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense, backed by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "You never give up hope so I'm disappointed," coalition spokesman Matt Simon told the Nashua Telegraph. "Now I'm not looking forward to making those difficult calls to people depending on the legislature to relieve their unrelenting pain."

In fact, Simon and other medical marijuana supporters are looking to inflict a little pain on legislators who voted against them. In a message to supporters after the override failed, MPP pointedly noted that two senators who had voted against the override, Betsi DeVries and Ted Gatsas, are up for reelection in Manchester next week.

Medical Marijuana: Colorado Court of Appeals Rules Caregivers Must Do More Than Just Grow Pot

In an opinion released Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled that persons designated as "caregivers" under the state's medical marijuana law must do more than merely supply marijuana to patients. In so doing, the court upheld the conviction of a Longmont woman, Stacy Clendenin, who argued that marijuana she grew in her home was distributed to authorized patients in dispensaries.

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Colorado state medical marijuana application
That wasn't good enough for the appeals court. Caregivers authorized to grow marijuana for patients must actually know the patients they are growing for, the court said.

"We conclude that to qualify as a 'primary care-giver' a person must do more than merely supply a patient who has a debilitating medical condition with marijuana," the court ruled.

The ruling, if upheld on appeal, threatens to put a crimp in Colorado's burgeoning medical marijuana industry. Dozens of dispensaries have sprung up in the state this year, and growers have been supplying some of them.

That has sparked calls for reining in the dispensaries, a call that was echoed in a concurring opinion to the ruling. In his concurrence, Judge Alan Loeb wrote that Colorado's constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana "cries out for legislative action."

Attorney General John Suthers told the Denver Post he applauded the decision. "I am pleased to see the Court of Appeals has provided legal support for our case that a caregiver, under Amendment 20, must do more than simply provide marijuana to a patient," Suthers said. "I also was pleased to see the assertion in the special concurrence that Amendment 20 'cries out for legislative action.' I could not agree more. I hope the legislature will act and create a regulatory framework that gives substance to the Court of Appeals' findings."

But Clendinin's attorney, Robert Corry, said the ruling was limited and that he would appeal it. "This decision is quite limited and only applies to Stacy Clendenin and only applies to those who went to trial before July when the state board agreed that caregivers could simply provide marijuana," Corry said. "I am concerned that the court superimposed California law on Colorado and I don't think California (medical marijuana) law is a shining star of success."

Medical Marijuana Regulations: We need your input!

Sensible News header

Sensible Colorado - working for an effective drug policy

 


Medical Marijuana Regulations:  We need your guidance 

 

Dear Supporters of Sensible Drug Policy,
 
Interesting news!

 

Colorado State Senator Chris Romer has requested that Sensible Colorado contact our large database of patients and supporters to request input on a bill he plans to run in 2010-- a statewide bill to Regulate Medical Marijuana Sales.  Senator Romer has told Sensible Colorado that he wants to see our state become a leader in alternative therapies-- including medical marijuana-- for all seriously ill people. 
 
The Senator wants to hear from you.  Please take advantage of this unique opportunity to help shape the future of medical marijuana in Colorado.  Contact Sen. Romer today with your guidance and comments at:  sen.romer@gmail.com.  To assist with this process, we have linked a copy of Sensible Colorado's White Paper titled "Medical Marijuana Dispensaries:  Benefits and Regulation" HERE and have included an email template below.    
 
--Here is a sample email--
 
Dear Sen. Romer,
 
On behalf of Sensible Colorado and the movement for safe access in Colorado, I applaud you for examining the important issue of medical marijuana regulation in our state.  It is vital that Colorado's sick patients have safe and reliable access to this doctor-recommended medicine.  Please keep in mind that medical marijuana dispensaries are utilized by the sickest members of your community, so please act to preserve these facilities.  Here are some ideas for sensible regulation:
 
-- Arbitrary caps on the number of dispensaries can be counterproductive.  Policymakers do not need to set arbitrary limitations on the number of dispensaries allowed to operate within a community because, as with other services, competitive market forces will be decisive. 
 
--Regulations are best handled by Health and Planning Departments, not law enforcement.  Let's leave medical issues to health professionals.  Law enforcement agencies, having little expertise in health and medical affairs, are ill-suited for handling such matters.
 
--Restrictions on the locations of dispensaries are often unnecessary and can create barriers to access.  Certainly we don't want dispensaries-- or liquor stores for that matter-- next to schools.  However, patients benefit from dispensaries being convenient and accessible, especially if the patients are disabled. 
 
--Patients benefit from onsite consumption and proper ventilation systems.  Dispensaries that allow patients to consume medicine onsite encourage members to take advantage of non-marijuana, therapy services and allow for greater social interaction, which can have positive psychosocial health benefits for this chronically ill population.  
 

Thanks for your time and for the opportunity to comment on this important topic.
 
Sincerely,
 
[NAME]

Sensible Colorado | PO Box 18768 | Denver CO 80218

Location: 
CO
United States

Feature: Busted for Handing Out Clean Needles -- The Mono Park 2 Fight Back in California's Central Valley

Hit hard by a double whammy of drought and economic slowdown, California's Central Valley has become a hotbed of methamphetamine and other injection drug use. Now, the dusty town of Modesto, in Stanislaus County, has become a focal point in the statewide and nationwide battle over how to help injection drug users. Last week, two volunteers at an unsanctioned needle exchange were in court in Modesto hoping to reach a plea bargain after they were arrested in April for handing out syringes. Now known as the Mono Park 2, they're looking at serious jail time for trying to save lives.

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mobile needle exchange/clinic site in nearby Fresno
The deal was supposed to be that Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager would drop drug paraphernalia possession charges against exchange volunteers Kristy Tribuzio and Brian Robinson if they agreed to quit handing out needles until there was a legal program in place. But that didn't happen. Instead, at the last minute, the DA rejected the plea deal. Another hearing is set for November 9. If the DA and defense attorneys cannot reach agreement then, the case will go to trial.

The case has its genesis in longstanding efforts to win official approval for a needle exchange in Modesto. California law allows for needle exchanges, but only as a local option. The county board of supervisors must declare a health emergency in order for needle exchanges to operate legally.

In a 2008 report, Containing the Emerging Threat of Hepatitis through a Syringe Exchange Program (begins on page 22), the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury recommended the county authorize syringe exchanges and implement them either directly or through a community based contractor. The effort also had the support of county public health officials, including Public Health Department, the Advisory Board for Substance Abuse Programs, the Local AIDS Advisory Implementation Group, and the Hepatitis C Task Force, who cited a high incidence of Hepatitis C. They cited research indicating that needle exchanges reduced the spread of blood-borne diseases, brought injection drug users into contact with public health workers, and did not result in increases in drug use.

But despite the input from the public health community and the grand jury report, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors a year ago voted unanimously against allowing needle exchanges. In so doing, they heeded their own prejudices and those of law enforcement over science-based policies and the advice of the public health community.

County Sheriff Adam Christianson and DA Fladager both spoke out against needle exchanges, saying they would enable drug users to continue their addiction. Fladager said needle exchanges sent the wrong message to young people and encouraged them to think the county would take care of them if they become addicted.

"All of the challenges we are faced with in Stanislaus County, the gangs, methamphetamine, crimes, all have elements of drug addiction," Christianson said. "A syringe exchange program enables people to continue with their drug addiction."

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used syringes collected by exchange -- they might otherwise have been discarded in public places
Noting that Hep C was not a big issue for the county because most patients are covered by insurance, Supervisor Bill O'Brien also objected on bizarre moral grounds. "Then there's the human issue. Giving a drug user a clean needle is not the best thing for him. Illegal drug use has a risk, and making it safer promotes it," he said.

Supervisor Jim DeMartini thanked the grand jury for the report, but then dismissively added, "Like many well-intentioned programs that don't work out, this will never work out and deliver the benefits promised."

Too bad the sheriff, the DA, and the county board don't agree with the nation's drug czar. "Needle exchange programs have been proven to reduce the transmission of blood-borne diseases," Gil Kerlikowske told Congress during confirmation hearings earlier this year. "A number of studies conducted in the US have shown needle exchange programs do not increase drug use. I understand that research has shown these programs, when implemented in the context of a comprehensive program that offers other services such as referral to counseling, healthcare, drug treatment, HIV/AIDS prevention, counseling and testing, are effective at connecting addicted users to drug treatment."

Given the knowledge base about the effectiveness of exchanges and the evident human need for them in Modesto, needle exchange advocates were not content to simply roll over and die. Instead, they created an unauthorized needle exchange in the city's Mono Park, also known as needle park by residents because of the used needles littering the ground there. The program was publicized and went along on a low-level basis without a hitch until April, when, after an elaborate undercover sting, police swooped down and arrested the exchange volunteers.

Kristi Tribuzio just happened to be volunteering with the needle exchange the day the bust went down. Now, she's one of the defendants. "There was a direct need for this, and when I found out there was an existing exchange -- I saw a flyer on a telephone pole -- I asked how is this happening?" she said. "I got involved; I was just going out there for the people. An undercover cop came up and did an exchange, and then, a little later eight to 10 undercover officers drove up with a drug dog and arrested us. It was pretty harsh and crazy," she recalled.

"Looking back, Brian and I think it was maybe naive of us to just go out there and do something that was helping people in line with other syringe exchange programs," said Tribuzio. "We didn't understand what the consequences could be."

Now, she and Robinson face up to a year in jail for violating the paraphernalia law. For Tribuzio, there were other consequences, including the loss of her contract position with the Stanislaus County drug and alcohol education and prevention program. "I was laid off two days after I was arrested. Because I was a contract worker, they didn't need a reason to fire me, and no official reason was given. Ironically, my employer supports needle exchange," she said. "Maybe that's why they laid me off instead of firing me for cause. Now, at least, I can get unemployment."

Tribuzio had previously worked as a substitute teacher, but she can't do that now, either. "I'm getting an MA in education, and I have a teaching credential, but my credential is now suspended," she said. "Imagine, a teacher in San Francisco could be doing just what I did, and there would be no problem."

That's because needle exchanges have been authorized by the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors, just as they have in most large California cities. But in more conservative locales, like the Central Valley, the fight is more difficult, and therein lies the problem -- and the solution -- said one prominent harm reductionist.

"What we need is to get legislation authorizing syringe exchanges on a statewide level rather than our current system, which requires that they be authorized by local authorities," said Hilary McQuie, Oakland-based Western director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. "Requiring local authorization means we have to deal with 54 jurisdictions instead of just one, and the politics makes it really difficult in conservative places like Fresno or Modesto. It will be really difficult to get syringe exchange approved in Modesto without a statewide mandate," she said.

Short of that, needle exchange advocates need to carefully lay the groundwork beforehand, she said. In that respect, the Modesto needle exchange perhaps suffered from political naivete. "The effort with the grand jury in Modesto was done in good faith, but the grand jury finding required a response from the Board of Supervisors within three months," she noted. "They hadn't really lined up their support with the Board, and the Board ended up voting against it. That was problematic."

While personally difficult for Tribuzio and Robinson, the battle over needle exchanges in Modesto has moved the issue forward locally and stirred support from around the country and the world. A Mono Park 2 Defense Committee has formed to back them. At last week's hearing, more than a dozen supporters were present in court, and the pair had letters of support from some 35 public health and harm reduction organizations here and abroad.

"We've gotten a ton of support from the harm reduction community," said Tribuzio. "This whole thing has been stressful and overwhelming for us, but they've given us a wealth of training, knowledge, and support, more than we ever expected. We've gotten support from people in other exchanges, and letters of support from around the world. We've also been building alliances with people in the community. Things in the Central Valley are crazy, and we can't turn our heads away in the face of disease. Now, at least, people are paying attention."

While Robinson and Tribuzio wait for their legal problems to be resolved, they continue to work with at-risk communities. "After the bust, we started Off The Streets, and that does everything except for needle exchange," said Tribuzio. "We're doing needs assessments, trying to get our fingers on the pulse of the community, trying to help where we can."

For McQuie, the trials and tribulations of the Mono Park 2 are, sadly, par for the course. "This is how most of the programs got started, doing them illegally, so they're in good company," she said.

Medical Marijuana: California Judge Issues Injunction Blocking LA Dispensary Moratorium

A California Superior Court judge ruled Monday that the City of Los Angeles' moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries is invalid and granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the ban. The Green Oasis dispensary and a number of other collectives sued the city last month seeking to overturn the moratorium.

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medical marijuana dispensary, Ventura Blvd., LA (courtesy wikimedia.org)
They argued that the City Council violated state law when it extended its original moratorium in March. They also argued the measure was unconstitutionally vague.

Superior Court Judge James Chalfant concluded that the city did not follow state law when it moved to extend the moratorium, but had instead relied on an out-of-date local ordinance. "The city cannot rely on an expired ordinance," he said as he issued the injunction.

The injunction applies only to Green Oasis, but the ruling appears to challenge the city's ability to enforce the moratorium against the hundreds of dispensaries that have opened in the city in the last two years. According to some estimates, the city could have as many as a thousand dispensaries operating right now. With the Green Oasis ruling, other dispensaries will be inspired to join the lawsuit or file lawsuits of their own.

The ruling only adds to the confusion around the legality of dispensaries in California in general and Los Angeles in particular. Also on Monday, the Obama administration issued a memo saying that prosecuting medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal should not occur unless the providers are violating state law. But last week, LA District Attorney Steve Cooley argued that under his interpretation of state law, "100%" of LA dispensaries are illegal, and he was going to move against them.

In the meantime, more dispensaries continue to open in Los Angeles. And now, in the wake of this week's ruling, the LA city council is moving in an expedited manner to get a handle on them. It expects to have plans in place next week to begin to shut down hundreds. This is a battle that is far from over.

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