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Drug Truth 12/07/09

Cultural Baggage * Century of Lies * 4:20 Drug War NEWS Cultural Baggage for 12/06/09, 29:00 Mason Tvert, director of Safer Choice in Colorado discusses progress in fighting reefer madness LINK: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/2684 TRANSCRIPT: Tuesday Century of Lies for 12/06/09, 29:00 Bruce Mirken, outgoing director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project re his 8 years serving drug reform + Jack Cole, Dir of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition LINK: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/2685 TRANSCRIPT: Tuesday 4:20 Drug War NEWS, 12/07 to 12/13/09 Link at www.drugtruth.net on the right margin - Sun - Bruce Mirken, Dir of Comm for Marijuana Policy Project Sat - Mason Tvert, 2/2 Fri - Mason Tvert of Colorado's "Safer Choice" & co-author: Marijuana is Safer, So Why are We Driving People to Drink? 1/2 Thu - Jack Cole of LEAP 2/2 Wed - Jack Cole Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition 1/2 Tue - Steff Sherrer, Director of Americans for Safe Access Mon - DTN Editorial/Appeal to Canadian Legislators Programs produced at Pacifica Radio Station KPFT in Houston, 90.1 FM. You can Listen Live Online at www.kpft.org - Cultural Baggage Sun, 7:30 PM ET, 6:30 PM CT, 5:30 PM MT, 4:30 PM PT (Followed Immediately By Century of Lies) - Century of Lies, SUN, 8 PM ET, 7 PM CT, 6 PM MT & 5 PM PT Who's Next to "Face The Inquisition?": TBD Hundreds of our programs are available online at www.drugtruth.net, www.audioport.org We have potcasts, searchability, CMS, XML, sorts by guest name and by organization. We provide the "unvarnished truth about the drug war" to scores of broadcast affiliates i You can tune into both our 1/2 hour programs, live, at 6:30 central time on Pacifica's KPFT at http://www.kpft.org and call in your questions and concerns toll free at 1-877-9-420 420. The two, 29:00 shows appear along with the seven, daily, 3:00 "4:20 Drug War NEWS" reports each Monday morning at http://www.drugtruth.net . We currently have 71 affiliated, yet independent broadcast stations. With a simple email request to dean@drugtruth.net , your station can join the Drug Truth Network, free of charge. Check out our latest videos via www.youtube.com/fdbecker Please become part of the solution, visit our website: www.endprohibition.org for links to the best of reform. "Prohibition is evil." - Reverend Dean Becker, DTN Producer, 713-462-7981, www.drugtruth.net ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Marijuana: California Tax and Regulate Cannabis 2010 Initiative Suspends Signature Gathering -- Because They Have Enough

The Tax and Regulate Cannabis 2010 initiative, sponsored by Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, has laid off its paid signature gatherers, saying they already have sufficient signatures to qualify for the November 2010 ballot.

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Richard Lee, in front of Oaksterdam University gift shop (courtesy cannabisculture.com)
Lee told the Chronicle Thursday that more than 650,000 signatures have been turned in, and that he expects an additional 50,000 or so to dribble in during the coming weeks. Precisely 433,971 valid signatures of registered California voters are required for an initiative to be approved for the ballot. That leaves Lee and the initiative a substantial cushion of about a quarter-million signatures to make up for any invalid ones.

The campaign will wait to turn in signatures until January 15. If they were turned in this month, the initiative would appear on the June ballot, not the November ballot. Lee and the campaign prefer the latter.

Lee's initiative, which would allow individuals up to 25 square feet to grow their own and would allow counties and municipalities to opt to tax and regulate marijuana sales on a local basis, is controversial. Some national figures believe it is premature and risks going down in flames at the polls, thus setting the movement back, while some California activists believe it does not go far enough and does not entice voters with potential revenues for the crisis-ridden state budget.

But it will be on the November 2010 ballot, provided the signatures are certified by election officials in February. It may not be the only legalization initiative on the ballot. At least two other signature-gathering campaigns for competing initiatives are under way.

Not Guilty: How Juries Can Destroy the War on Drugs

A seldom-discussed but significant weak link in the drug war infrastructure is the ability of any defendant to have their fate decided by a jury. Although the threat of draconian sentences leads the vast majority to plead out and accept an agreed-upon punishment, those who choose to fight it out before a jury of their peers have an opportunity to escape the drug war's icy death-grip. It's a high-risk/high-reward strategy that could become more effective as public support for the war on drugs continues to decline.

A not guilty verdict in San Diego this week highlights the difficulty of securing convictions against medical marijuana providers:

SAN DIEGO COURTS — A Navy veteran who was the manager of a medical marijuana dispensary was acquitted of five charges of possessing and selling the drug illegally yesterday, a verdict that emboldened medical marijuana activists and was a setback for San Diego prosecutors who have aggressively pursued medical marijuana cases. [San Diego Union Tribune]

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the acquittal of an accused street dealer shows how aggressive drug war tactics have eroded public trust in police:

Only two witnesses testified at the two-day trial – Correa [the arresting officer] and a crime lab technician who tested the drugs and concluded they were indeed heroin and cocaine. Defense attorney Marie Sennett told jurors in her opening statement that the case rested solely "on the word of the officer."

And, Sennett added, "Unfortunately, that's not enough."

The jury agreed and acquitted Walker-Bey on all charges of possessing drugs and possessing drugs with intent to distribute. [Baltimore Sun]

In a climate of increased public skepticism surrounding the efficacy of the war on drugs and the fairness of the criminal justice system, outcomes like these will hopefully become more commonplace. When the jury refuses to play along, even the virtually unchecked prosecutorial powers that have done so much to fill our prisons with drug offenders can be overcome. There's no reliable formula for spotting jurors who might be reluctant to convict in a drug case, and it only takes one to complicate the process dramatically. Provided they don't, for example, write a blog about legalizing drugs, getting on a jury can be as simple as dressing appropriately and affirming their willingness to uphold the law.

The power of juries to reshape the drug war landscape can already be seen in California, where prosecutors learned years ago that medical marijuana cases aren't nearly as open and shut as federal law would suggest. The Ed Rosenthal saga, in which the jury revolted after the verdict and got the conviction thrown out, gave federal prosecutors an early taste of what lay ahead if they tried to win the war on medical marijuana in the courtroom.

Such events go a long way towards explaining why DEA agents so often raided dispensaries and confiscated profits, while declining to press charges against anyone. Every medical marijuana trial is a guaranteed public relations nightmare and there's no upside if you can't even count on a conviction. I've long suspected that the threat of uncooperative juries may in fact have been the most significant factor in enabling California's medical marijuana industry to survive and expand during the Bush Administration. With little confidence in their ability to make an example of anybody, the Feds just broke stuff instead, while leaving the industry almost completely intact.

With marijuana legalization now rapidly approaching majority support among the American public, it just seems inevitable that prosecutors will have a harder time getting groups of 12 random people to send someone to jail for marijuana. And if that happens, even a little, the implications are far-reaching. The criminal justice system is pathetically dependent on plea-bargaining in drug cases, and would grind to a halt rather quickly if more defendants insisted on taking their case to trial.

I'm beginning to fantasize here, obviously, but I do think it's important to start looking at some of the ways in which growing public support for our cause can manifest itself in contexts besides just the ballot box. The drug war is vulnerable on all fronts and the harder we work to expose and exploit its countless weakness, the more efficient and decisive our victory will be.

For more on the rights of jurors, visit the Fully Informed Jury Association.

Feature: At the Statehouse -- Salvia Banned in Four More States This Year

Hysteria over salvia divinorum, the fast-acting, short-lived psychedelic member of the mint family, continued in state legislatures this year. Although after five years, the DEA has not found a reason to add salvia to the federal list of controlled substances, that hasn't stopped state legislators from trying. This year, four more states joined the list of those that have criminalized it, while bills to do the same were introduced in seven others.

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salvia leaves (photo courtesy Erowid.org)
Next week, we will conclude our review of drug policy-related issues in state legislatures with a look at sentencing reform, drug testing, meth-related measures, and some odds and ends.

Salvia Bills That Passed

Nebraska: Salvia Divinorum became a Schedule I controlled substance in February, after LB 123 passed the unicameral legislature on a 44-0 vote that same month. The governor quickly signed the bill.

North Carolina: A bill to prohibit the use, possession, sale, or manufacture of Salvia Divinorum, SB 138, passed the House on a 45-0 vote in May and the Senate on a 96-15 vote in August. It was signed into law that same month and went into effect December 1.

Ohio: Salvia Divinorum became a Schedule I controlled substance in April, 90 days after Gov. Ted Strickland (D) signed a bill banning the plant that passed the legislature late last year.

South Dakota: Possession of less than six ounces of salvia divinorum became a misdemeanor and possession of more became a felony after HB 1090 passed the House 67-2 and the Senate 34-0 in February. Gov. Mike Round (R) signed the "emergency" legislation in March, and it went into effect immediately. Curiously, the bill does not criminalize salvia sales.

Salvia Bills That Did Not or Have Not Passed

Alabama: A bill to make Salvia Divinorum a Schedule I controlled substance, HB 475, was introduced in February. It was assigned to the Judiciary Committee, where it has been sitting since May.

Kentucky: A bill to make Salvia Divinorum a Schedule I controlled substance, HB 228, passed the House on a 99-0 vote in February and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where no action has since occurred.

Maryland: A bill to make Salvia Divinorum a Schedule I controlled substance, HB 8, died in March after being reported unfavorably out of the House Judiciary Committee. A companion bill, SB 9, died without any action being taken.

Michigan: A bill to make Salvia Divinorum a Schedule I controlled substance, HB 4849, was introduced in April, referred to the Committee on Health Policy and promptly went nowhere. Its companion measure, SB 570, met a similar fate.

New Jersey: SB 2436 and its companion measure, AB 1323, would make Salvia Divinorum a Schedule I controlled substance. Both were both introduced at the end of 2008 for the 2009-2010 legislative session, and neither has gone anywhere.

Pennsylvania: A bill to make Salvia Divinorum a Schedule I controlled substance, SB 769, was introduced and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee in April. It hasn't moved since. A companion measure, HB 2037, was introduced in October and sits before the House Judiciary Committee.

Texas: A bill that would make it a crime to provide Salvia Divinorum to minors, SB 257, was introduced last November. It was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 30-1 vote in April. In the House, the bill was approved by the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in May, and has done nothing since. Another bill, HB 126, which would make Salvia a controlled substance in Penalty Group III (along with LSD and pentobarbital, among others), was introduced last November, referred to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in February, and allowed to die there in March.

California Tax and Regulate Cannabis Initiative Suspends Signature Gathering--Because They Have Enough Already!

The Tax and Regulate Cannabis 2010 initiative, sponsored by Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, has laid off its paid signature gatherers, saying they already have sufficient signatures to qualify for the November 2010 ballot. Lee told the Chronicle this afternoon that more than 650,000 signatures have been turned in, and that he expects an additional 50,000 or so to dribble in in the coming weeks. Precisely 433,971 valid signatures of registered California voters are required for an initiative to be approved for the ballot. That leaves Lee and the initiative a substantial cushion of about a quarter-million signatures to make up for any invalid signatures. The campaign will wait to turn in signatures until January 15. If they were turned in this month, the initiative would appear on the June ballot, not the November ballot. Lee wants the initiative on the latter. Lee's initiative, which would allow individuals up to 25 square feet to grow their own and would allow counties and municipalities to opt to tax and regulate marijuana sales on a local basis, is controversial. Some national figures believe it is premature and risks going down in flames at the polls, thus setting the movement back, while some California activists believe it does not go far enough and does not entice voters with potential revenues for the crisis-ridden state budget. But it will be on the November 2010 ballot, provided the signatures are certified by election officials in February. It may not be the only legalization initiative on the ballot. At least two other signature-gathering campaigns for competing initiatives are under way.
Location: 
Oakland, CA
United States

Canada: Montreal Heroin Maintenance Study in Doubt after Quebec Refuses to Pay

Fresh on the success of NAOMI, the North American Opiate Maintenance Initiative, in which hardcore heroin addicts in Vancouver were given either methadone, heroin, or Dilaudid in maintenance doses, Canadian researchers announced earlier this year plans to broaden and deeper their research with SALOME, the Study to Assess Long-term Opiate Maintenance Effectiveness. SALOME was supposed to begin this fall in Vancouver and Montreal, but Quebec provincial authorities have thrown a wrench in the works.

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Hastings Street, on Vancouver's East Side (vandu.org)
The Toronto Star reported this week that Quebec has balked on paying its share of the project, stopping the Montreal portion of SALOME in its tracks. The Vancouver portion, supported by the British Columbia provincial government, is set to move forth.

Quebec's refusal to pay its share -- the Canadian Institutes of Health Research are kicking in $1 million for the three-year project -- led Montreal's SALOME head researcher to charge the government with discrimination. The decision will have "disastrous consequences for people addicted to heroin and (who) don't respond to standard treatment," said Dr. Suzanne Brissette, chief of addiction medicine at Saint-Luc hospital. "There is no other treatment for these people."

NAOMI showed that heroin maintenance worked for people for whom methadone and other forms of treatment had not, she said. Had researchers found a treatment for cancer or diabetes, Quebec would not hesitate to help fund it, she added. "It's a clear case of discrimination," she said. "We have a treatment that works and they're saying, 'Sorry folks, you won't get it.'"

NAOMI researchers estimate that Canada has between 60,000 and 90,000 heroin addicts. The NAOMI trials found that addicts on maintenance heroin used less illicit heroin, committed fewer crimes, and adapted healthier lifestyles.

Europe: Scotland Ponders Move to Fines for Small-Time Marijuana Possession

In a report released Wednesday, the Scottish government is recommending that small-time marijuana offenders simply be handed on-the-spot fines of $67. The fines, or "fixed penalty notices," are already in effect for a number of public nuisance offenses, such as public drunkenness, vandalism, and urinating in public.

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Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, Scotland (photo from Sam Fentress via Wikimedia)
Adding small-time marijuana offenses to the list won the support of 83% of police officers surveyed for the report. If adopted, the ticketing scheme would move Scottish practices closer to those in England or in limited parts of Scotland, where police officers have the option of issuing a warning to people caught smoking or in possession of small amounts of marijuana.

"This was felt to be a proportionate means of dealing with a minor offence which would also save a lot of police time," the report said.

Handing out tickets instead of arrests for public order offenses freed up nearly 22,000 hours of police officers' time, said Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing. "It is right that anyone committing a serious crime should continue to be brought before a sheriff to face the full range of penalties available to the court," he said. "However for less serious offences, such as consuming alcohol in the street, these figures show that our police officers are punishing low-level antisocial behavior swiftly and effectively, hitting perpetrators in their pockets. This is swift and visible justice for those who commit acts of anti-social behavior in our communities and hits them in their pockets."

Under current United Kingdom drug law, marijuana is a Class B drug, with simple possession punishable by up to two years in prison. In practice, such harsh sentences are rarely imposed.

Feature: Marijuana Decriminalization and Legalization Bills at the Statehouse This Year

Thirteen states have decriminalized marijuana possession so far; none have legalized it. This year, marijuana legalization bills have been filed in two states -- California and Massachusetts -- and decriminalization bills -- loosely defined -- were introduced in six states and passed in one, Maine. In Virginia, a bid to create a new marijuana offense was defeated.

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press conference for California AB 390 hearing -- Assemblyman Ammiano at right
We have tried to create a comprehensive list of marijuana reform legislation in the states -- not medical marijuana, we did that last week -- but we can't be absolutely certain we've covered everything. If you know of a bill we missed, please email us with the details and we'll add it to the list. (We compiled this list from our own coverage and a variety of other sources. The Marijuana Policy Project's state pages were especially useful.)

California: San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D) introduced a landmark legalization bill, the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, AB 390, in March. Under the bill, the state would license producers and distributors, who would pay an excise tax of $50 per ounce, or about $1 per joint. Anyone 21 or over could then purchase marijuana from a licensed distributor. The bill also would allow any adult to grow up to 10 plants for personal, non-commercial use. AB 390 got a hearing before the Assembly Public Safety Committee in October, but has not moved since.

Connecticut: Senators Martin Looney (D-New Haven), the Senate Majority Leader, and Toni Harp (D-New Haven), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, introduced a marijuana decriminalization bill, SB 349, in January. It would have made possession of less than half an ounce an unclassified misdemeanor with a maximum $250 fine. The measure passed the Joint Judiciary Committee in March on a 24-14 vote, but it was filibustered to death in the Senate Finance Committee by Sen. Toni Boucher (R-New Canaan) in May.

Maine: The legislature passed in March and Gov. John Baldacci (D) signed in May LD 250, which increases the amount of marijuana decriminalized in the state to 2.5 ounces. Previously, possession of up to 1.25 ounces was a civil offense, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, but possession of between 1.25 and 2.5 ounces was a misdemeanor that could get one six months in jail. Unfortunately, the bill also increased the penalty for possession of more than eight ounces from six months and a $1,000 fine to one year and a $2,000 fine.

Massachusetts: -- At the request of former StoptheDrugWar.org and NORML board member Richard Evans, Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst) introduced another landmark legalization bill, AN ACT TO REGULATE AND TAX THE CANNABIS INDUSTRY -- H 2929, that would remove marijuana offenses from the criminal code and allow for the licensed production and sale of marijuana. The bill was assigned to the Joint Committee on Revenue, where it got a public hearing in October.

Montana: A marijuana decriminalization bill, HB 541, was introduced by Rep. Brady Wiseman (D-Bozeman). It would have made possession of up to 30 grams a civil infraction punishable by only a $50 fine. Under current law, that same amount can get you up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. The bill got a House Judiciary Committee hearing in March, but failed to get out of committee on a straight party-line 9-9 vote.

New Hampshire: In January, Rep. Steven Lindsey (D) introduced a bill that would decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Under the bill, HB 555, persons over the age of 18 would face no more than a $100 fine. Simple possession would also be decriminalized for minors, but they would be subjected to community service and a drug awareness program at their own expense or face a $1,000 fine. While the House passed a similar measure last year (it died in the Senate), this year the bill never made it out of committee. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee deemed it "inexpedient to legislate" in February.

Rhode Island: In July, as the General Assembly rushed to adjourn, the Senate approved a resolution introduced that same day to create a nine-member commission to study a broad range of issues around marijuana policy. The resolution, which did not require any further approval, set up a "Special Senate Commission to Study the Prohibition of Marijuana," which is charged with issuing a report by January 31. The panel met for the first time last week.

Tennessee: -- A bill, SB 1942, that would have made possession of less than an eighth of an ounce of marijuana a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of between $250 and $2500 died after being deferred by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May. Companion legislation, HB 1835, met a similar fate in the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Practice and Procedure in March.

Vermont: Led by Rep. David Zuckerman (P-Burlington), 19 members of the Vermont legislature introduced in February a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Under the bill, HB 150, small-time possession would have become a civil infraction with a maximum $100 fine. But the bill was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, where it has languished ever since.

Virginia: It was not decriminalization but increasing marijuana penalties that was on the agenda in the Old Dominion. Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-Richmond) introduced HB 1807, which would create a new felony offense for people caught transporting more than one ounce but less than five pounds of marijuana into the state. The bill was filed in January and sent to the Committee on Courts of Justice, where it died upon being "Left in Courts of Justice" on February 10.

Washington: A bill, S 5615, that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana was introduced in January and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee a week after a public hearing in February. It then went to the Senate Rules Committee, where it stalled. A companion bill in the House, HB 1177, was referred to the House Committee on Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness, which effectively killed it by refusing to schedule it for a hearing before a legislative deadline in March.

The Staggering Incoherence of Drug Warrior Charles Grassley

Earlier this month, notorious drug war cheerleader Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) provoked outrage by attempting to censor debate about drug policy reform in Congress. He proposed an amendment that would literally ban a congressionally appointed expert panel from discussing legalization or decriminalization as part of a broad evaluation of criminal justice policies.

It's just a transparently pathetic strategy of defending the drug war status quo by outlawing meaningful debate and keeping alternatives off the table. Fortunately, just about everyone saw right through it. Pete Guither points out that Grassley is so cornered, he's now begging his constituents in Iowa to back him up on this. And the harder he tries to defend it, the weaker it sounds:

First and foremost, Congress ought to tackle issues whenever possible before bucking them to commissions. Increasingly, Congress is using commissions to avoid doing what Americans elect members to do: ask tough questions, identify possible answers, debate policy solutions and take a stand. [Des Moines Register]

Yeah, who needs experts when we've got politicians to make all our decisions for us?

This commission also would cost $14 million. It's hard to justify that expenditure in the current fiscal situation, especially when it's work that Congress should be doing itself.

Wait, so you can justify spending $50 billion a year on the war on drugs, but we can't justify $14 million to evaluate whether it makes any sense?

Finally, I put forward an amendment to address the issue of decriminalization and legalization of any controlled substance. I filed this amendment in an effort to start a debate on this important issue.


Really, Chuck? Really? How exactly does banning discussion of something promote debate? Everything, from the language of Grassley's amendment to his rich history of ignorant pro-drug-war posturing, proves what a total lie that is. The very essence of this controversy is that he blatantly attempted to prevent experts from looking into the issues he doesn’t want to talk about. Clearly, Grassley greatly underestimated the growing public demand for a new dialogue about our drug policies and got burned by his own arrogance, to such an extent that he is now hilariously masquerading as the champion of that critical discussion.  

The obvious bottom line here is that Grassley is consumed by his fear about what the experts will say. That is just implicit in all of this. If he wasn't deeply afraid of their conclusions, he wouldn’t be introducing amendments telling them what conclusions not to reach.  

The commission hasn’t even been appointed yet, so the very notion that it will become a referendum on the urgent need for sweeping reforms to our drug policy is purely a product of his paranoid imagination (combined perhaps with a subconscious recognition that the drug war is a gaping suckhole and smart people aren't exactly in love with it anymore). If Congress had named an expert panel consisting of Ethan Nadelmann, Rob Kampia, Jacob Sullum, Paul Armentano, Micah Daigle, Norm Stamper, Pete Guither and Willie Nelson, then maybe Charles Grassley could be forgiven for tearing from D.C. to Des Moines on horseback, flailing a dinner bell over his head and screaming that the legalizers are coming.  

Until that happens, the drug war pep squad would be well advised to just pipe down for the time being, lest their suggestions that we not discuss certain things should lead to yet more discussion of the things they don’t want discussed.

Update: Turns out Grassley's piece was a response to this Op-ed by Marni Steadham of University of Iowa SSDP. More coverage here.

Conference: Drug War Damage 101

Conference to explore: * Consequences of Criminalization of Drug Use * Increasing Healthcare Response to Drug Addiction * Medicinal Marijuana & Prosecution of Patients * Prohibition vs. Decriminalization or Legalization Keynote Speaker: Ethan Nadelmann, PhD, JD Additional Speakers: Reverend Canon Mary Moreno-Richardson, St. Paul’s Cathedral Gretchen Burns Bergman, A New PATH Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, Drug Policy Alliance and more… Sponsored by A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing), St. Paul’s Cathedral of San Diego, and the Drug Policy Alliance
Date: 
Sat, 11/21/2009 - 9:00am - 12:00pm
Location: 
2728 6th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103
United States

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