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Medical Marijuana: Bill Coming Down the Pike in Idaho?

Idaho is a rocked-rib Republican state, and the state's Republican Party is no friend of medical marijuana, but that isn't stopping one GOP legislator from going ahead with plans to introduce a medical marijuana bill in the next legislative session. Rep. Tom Trail (R-Moscow) told the local Fort Mill Times over the weekend that he is drafting a bill now.

Although Idaho is a conservative state, it is bordered by four medical marijuana states -- Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and Montana -- as well as less medical marijuana-friendly Utah and Wyoming. And voters in at least one Idaho town, Hailey, last year approved a municipal medical marijuana referendum. After town officials balked at enforcing them, voters passed it again in May.

Rep. Trail said the bill he is drafting will be based on existing laws in Oregon and Washington. He also said he has been in contact with some Idaho doctors who support allowing the use of medical marijuana.

Still, it will be an uphill fight for the Panhandle Republican. In June, the GOP state convention committee voted 21-9 to oppose any relaxation of Idaho's marijuana laws, including medical marijuana. And there's still no medical marijuana in Hailey -- officials there filed a lawsuit after the May vote seeking guidance on how to deal with unruly voters who don't want authorities brutalizing medical marijuana users.

Feature: Drug Policy Reform and Sentencing Initiatives on the November Ballot

With election day little more than a month away, it is time for a round-up of drug policy reform initiatives facing voters in November. Not only are there a number of state-level initiatives dealing with marijuana decriminalization, medical marijuana, and sentencing reform (or its opposite), there are also a handful of initiatives at the county or municipal level.

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November 4th is coming up
But after a spate of drug reform initiatives beginning in the mid-1990s and continuing into the beginning of this decade, the pace has slowed this year. Of the 139 statewide initiatives identified by the Initiative and Referendum Institute as making the ballot this year, only seven have anything to do with drug reform, and four of those seek to increase sentences for various drug offenses.

Drug reformers have had an impressive run, especially with medical marijuana efforts, winning in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, and losing only in conservative South Dakota. Reformers also scored an impressive coup with California's "treatment not jail" initiative, Proposition 36, in 2002. At the municipal level, initiatives making adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority have won in cities across California; as well as Denver; Seattle; Missoula County, Montana; Eureka Springs, Arkansas; and Hailey, Idaho. Detroit and several smaller Michigan cities have also approved municipal medical marijuana initiatives.

One reason for the slow-down in reformers' resort to the initiative process is that, as Marijuana Policy Project assistant communications director Dan Bernath put it, "We've already grabbed all the low-hanging fruit."

While medical marijuana initiatives have had an impressive run, the remainder of the 22 initiative and referendum states -- Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming -- present a more difficult social and political terrain, in most cases. Running a successful initiative is also costly, said Bernath.

"Only half the states have initiatives, so there are only so many places where reformers can push them," he said. "And it is an expensive process that is often complicated. On the other hand, you don't have to rely on timid politicians. The voters are often way out in front of politicians on marijuana reform initiatives, and with an initiative, you don't have to worry about those timid politicians tinkering with your legislation and taking all the teeth out of it," Bernath noted. "As a general rule, I think most reformers would prefer to see something passed by the voters, that gives it a lot of legitimacy."

And that's just what reformers are trying to do with medical marijuana in Michigan and marijuana decriminalization in Massachusetts this year, both of which appear poised to pass. Likewise, in California, reformers are seeking to expand and deepen Prop. 36, but they also face a pair of sentencing initiatives aimed at harsher treatment of drug offenders. And next door in Oregon, anti-crime crusaders also have a pair of initiatives aimed at punishing drug offenders -- among others.

Here's a rundown of the statewide drug reform and/or sentencing initiatives:

CALIFORNIA: It's the battle of the crime and sentencing initiatives, with Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act (NORA) going up against a pair of initiatives headed in the other direction. Building on the success (and limitations) of 2002's Prop. 36, Prop. 5 would expand the number of drug offenders diverted from prison into treatment, expand prison and parole rehabilitation programs, allow inmates earlier release for participating in such programs, and cut back the length of parole. It would also decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Led by the Drug Policy Alliance Southern California office, the Yes on Prop. 5 campaign has won broad support from drug treatment professionals, with the notable exception of drug court advocates. But it also faces opposition, not only from the drug court crew and the usual law enforcement suspects, but also actor Martin Sheen and several prominent newspaper editorial boards. No polls on Prop. 5's prospects have been released. See our earlier in-depth reporting on Prop. 5 here.

Proposition 6, the Safe Neighborhoods Act, is primarily aimed at gang members, violent criminals, and criminal aliens, but also includes provisions increasing penalties for methamphetamine possession, possession with intent, and distribution to be equal to those for cocaine, and provides for the expulsion from public housing of anyone convicted of a drug offense. The measure also mandates increased spending for law enforcement. Read the California League of Women Voters' analysis of Prop. 6 here.

Proposition 9, also known as the Crime Victims Bill of Rights Act, unsurprisingly is concerned mostly with "victims' rights," but also includes provisions that would block local authorities from granting early release to prisoners to alleviate overcrowding and mandates that the state fund corrections costs as much as necessary to accomplish that end. It would also lengthen the amount of time a prisoner serving a life sentence who has been denied parole must wait before re-applying. Currently, he must wait one to five years; under Prop. 9, he must wait three to 15 years. Prop. 9 would also allow parolees who have been jailed for alleged parole violations to be held 15 days instead of the current 10 before they are entitled to a hearing to determine if they can be held pending a revocation hearing, and stretches from 35 to 45 the number of days they could be held before such a hearing. These last two provisions, as well as one limiting legal counsel for parolees, all conflict with an existing federal court order governing California's procedures. Read the California League of Women Voters' analysis of Prop. 9 here.

Ironically, both "tough on crime" initiatives have received significant funding and support from Henry Nicholas, the co-founder and former CEO of Broadcom. Nicholas has reportedly contributed at least $5.9 million to the initiatives. That was before he was indicted in June on federal fraud and drug charges. His indictment alleges that he kept properties for drug parties, supplied methamphetamine and cocaine to friends and prostitutes, and spiked technology executives' drinks with Ecstasy.

MASSACHUSETTS: The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy is sponsoring an initiative that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Known as Question 2 on the November ballot, the initiative builds on nearly a decade's worth of work by local activists who ran dozens of successful ballot questions directed at individual representatives. Question 2 looks like almost a sure winner; it garnered 72% support in a mid-August poll. Still, late-organizing opposition has formed, primarily from the usual suspects in law enforcement and prosecutors' offices. See our earlier analysis of Question 2 here.

MICHIGAN: Michigan is poised to become the first medical marijuana state in the Midwest. An initiative sponsored by the Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care and appearing on the ballot as Proposition 1 would allow patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, MS and other conditions as may be approved by the Department of Community Health to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. It would require the department to create an ID card system for qualified patients and their designated caregivers and would allow patients and caregivers to grow small amounts of marijuana indoors in a secure facility. It would also permit both registered and unregistered patients and caregivers to assert a medical necessity defense to any prosecution involving marijuana. A poll released this week showed the measure gaining the approval of 66% of voters. Read our earlier analysis of the initiative and campaign here.

OREGON: While medical marijuana activists are working on a dispensary initiative for 2010, perennial Oregon "crime fighter" Kevin Mannix is once again looking to throw more people in prison. Ballot Measure 61, "Mandatory Sentences For Drug Dealers, Identity Thieves, Burglars, And Car Thieves," is pretty self-explanatory. It would impose mandatory minimum sentences for the manufacture or delivery of cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine of 36 months in some cases and 30 months in others. It also lays out similar mandatory minimums for the other criminal offenders listed above. Mannix originally included a provision attempting to supplant the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, but dropped it when it became apparent it could drag down the entire initiative.

Another measure initiated by the legislature and referred to the voters, Ballot Measure 57, would also increase penalties for the sale or distribution of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and Ecstasy. It sets a sentencing range of 34 months to 130 months, depending on the quantity of the drug involved. The measure would also require drug treatment for certain offenders and impose sanctions for those who resist, provide grants to local jurisdictions for jails, drug courts, and treatment services, and limit judges' ability to reduce sentences.

LOCAL INITIATIVES: In addition to the statewide initiatives mentioned above, there are also a handful of municipal initiatives on the November 4 ballot. Here they are:

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA: In Berkeley, Measure JJ seeks to broaden and regularize medical marijuana access. Supported by the Berkeley Patients Group and at least two city council members, the measure would expand the non-residential zones where dispensaries can locate, create an oversight commission including representatives from each of the three existing collectives to promulgate standards and determine whether relocating or future operators are in compliance, issue zoning certificates by right if operators meet standards, and bring Berkeley possession limits in line with recent state court rulings determining that such limits are unconstitutional. The ballot argument in favor of the measure can be viewed at the link above; no ballot argument opposing the measure has been submitted.

FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS: The local grassroots organization Sensible Fayetteville is sponsoring an initiative that would make enforcement of adult marijuana possession laws the lowest law enforcement priority. It also includes language mandating city officials to write an annual letter to their state and federal representatives notifying them of the city's position and urging them to adopt a similar one. If the measure passes, Fayetteville will become the second Arkansas community to adopt such an ordinance. Nearby Eureka Springs did so in 2007.

FERNDALE, MICHIGAN: Ferndale passed a medical marijuana initiative in 2005, but this year a shadowy group known as the National Organization for Positive Medicine has placed an initiative on the ballot that would allow for the distribution of medical marijuana, but only by the National Organization for Positive Medicine. The initiative is not affiliated with the statewide medical marijuana initiative.

HAWAII COUNTY, HAWAII: Hawaii's Big Island (Hawaii County) will be voting on an initiative making adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. Ballot Question 1 not only makes adult possession offenses the lowest priority, it would also bar county law enforcement officials from accepting federal deputization or commissions to enforce laws in conflict with the initiative, prohibits the County Council from accepting or spending funds to enforce adult marijuana possession laws, and bar the County Council from accepting any funds for the marijuana eradication program. The initiative is sponsored by Project Peaceful Sky, a local grassroots organization whose name alludes to the disruption of tranquility caused by law enforcement helicopters searching for marijuana.

Alright, potential voters, there you have it. See you at the polls November 4.

Medical Marijuana: Schwarzenegger Vetoes Employment Rights Bill

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have protected medical marijuana patients from being fired from their jobs for testing positive for pot on a drug test.

The bill, AB 2279, authored by marijuana-friendly Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would have overturned a January California Supreme Court ruling that allowed employees to fire or otherwise punish employees who legally use medical marijuana under state law. Under the Leno bill, only people in safety-related or law enforcement positions could have been fired.

In that January ruling, the Supreme Court held that the state's Compassionate Use Act did exempt patients and caregivers from being prosecuted by the state, but was not intended to stop employers from firing workers for violating federal drug laws.

Schwarzenegger sang from the same hymnal in his veto message. "I am concerned with interference in employment decisions as they relate to marijuana use," the governor wrote. "Employment protection was not a goal of the initiative as passed by voters in 1996."

But medical marijuana supporters who spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle after the veto announcement begged to differ. "The intent of Prop. 215 was to treat marijuana like other legal pharmaceutical drugs," said Dale Gieringer, a coauthor of the ballot measure and California coordinator of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Leno told the local newspaper he was not surprised by the veto, given the Chamber of Commerce's opposition to the bill. He said the court majority and the governor apparently presumed that "the voters who supported Prop. 215 in 1996 intended that only those medical marijuana patients who are unemployed could make use of (the law)."

Europe: Marijuana Less Harmful Than Alcohol or Tobacco, Says British Drug Think-Tank

Smoking marijuana is less harmful than smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, said the British think-thank the Beckley Foundation in a report announced Thursday.

"Although cannabis can have a negative impact on health, including mental health, in terms of relative harms it is considerably less harmful than alcohol or tobacco," said the report. "Many of the harms associated with cannabis use are the result of prohibition itself, particularly the social harms arising from arrest and imprisonment," it said.

The report comes as the British government is moving to reschedule marijuana from a Class C drug to a more heavily-punished Class B drug. British officials have expressed great concern over the potency of marijuana, especially "skunk," which is apparently their generic name for any high-potency, home-grown weed, and its links to mental health problems in some users.

Rescheduling marijuana is the wrong way to go, said the foundation. "It is only through a regulated market that we can better protect young people from the ever more potent forms of dope," it said.

Now, we will see if the British government pays any attention. So far, it has resolutely ignored repeated reports finding that marijuana should be a Class C drug, or even legalized and regulated.

Police Defend the Right to Choke Marijuana Suspects

Watch this video of Mount Juliet, TN police officer Bill Cosby choking a marijuana suspect into unconsciousness during a traffic stop.

Officer Cosby apparently believed the suspect was trying to swallow marijuana, however nothing was found in his mouth and he subsequently passed a drug test, proving that he didn’t eat it. He just never had marijuana in his mouth. The video is so disturbing, a local judge refused to hear future cases brought by Cosby and the police chief had no choice but to fire him.

So you’d think that gratuitous police violence against a non-violent marijuana suspect would find no apologists. You’d hope that other officers would be universally disgusted by Officer Cosby’s deplorable example and support his dismissal. And you’d be wrong. I reviewed a comment thread on the case at PoliceOne.com and found that many officers believe choking non-violent marijuana suspects is necessary and even commendable:


The charges for the suspect should be reinstated and the officer should be commended for doing his job in a professional manner.
...
This is ridiculous. The officer did nothing wrong and a judge, prosecutor and chief are looking to hang him. It's no wonder we're losing cops by the dozens. Who wants to put their butt on the line when no one appreciates the job you do.
...
After viewing the video, the officer is not out of control or doing anything that isn't called for.


These comments imply that you could somehow die from eating marijuana:

The officer probably didn't want the guy to die over something as stupid as swallowing some dope.
...
Another Police Officer abandoned by his department because of fear of legal action from a criminal. Of course had he swallowed it and then died the family would have sued because the Police didnt choke it out of him.
...
I hope the Officer is cleared and gets a job at a real department. Also let the bad guys swallow the dope. With luck he will croak and save court costs.


This one admits that the choking appears malicious…then wishes the officer well.

That appears to be choking. The fact that it was called a vascular restraint makes it appear as "creative report writing." I pray for Cosby that he makes it through this experience.

This one recommends turning off your camera:

It has become an awareness to me that these dashcams are causing good cops to get into trouble or fired, so boys turn the damn things off.

This one endorses choking and stomping suspects, as long as they're out of the camera frame:

Hey brother...choke the asshole out if you are so inclined...stand on his trachea if you want...but how about bringing him to the back of your RMP [squad car]? Could you actually think that was something to get on film? Did you forget about the camera?

All of this really speaks for itself. To be fair, some comments were more reasonable, but the overall tone was that the officer shouldn’t have been disciplined. That is what real police officers believe, up to and including some of the violent and scary sentiments outlined above.

It is really just remarkable to imagine that those who would jettison any accountability for their own violent actions remain steadfast in their insistence that people who use marijuana for fun are dangerous thugs who deserve no mercy. That is the gaping chasm that often separates law enforcement’s self-imposed moral standards from those they apply to everyone else. It is a perfectly horrifying thing to behold, more so when one realizes that no effort was even made to conceal these vile sentiments from the public they serve.

Update: Chokings, mistakes, and misconduct aside, the fact that people commonly panic and eat their stash at the sight of police is troubling, isn't it? This needs to stop and I might be the only person who's taken this issue on, by writing Why You Shouldn't Try to Eat Your Marijuana If You're Pulled Over. Unfortunately, more dangerous drugs carry harsher sentences and a greater incentive for desperate people to risk an overdose rather than face prison time. Police use this as an excuse to choke us, but it's actually an exhibit in the absurdity of our drug policy.

When Police Mistake Chocolate For Hash…

NaturalNews.com has the unbelievable story of a Canadian couple who run a small chocolate company. Guess what happens when you try to cross back and forth between the U.S. and Canada with large quantities of chocolate?

Hint: It’s horrible.

Medical Marijuana: Washington State Judge Plays Doctor, Convicts Authorized Patient of Cultivating His Own Medicine

A Washington state man with a doctor's authorization to use medical marijuana was convicted of cultivation last Friday after a state judge ruled that his use of the herb to treat chronic lower back pain did not meet the conditions of the state's medical marijuana law. Superior Court Judge Anna Laurie ruled that Robert Dalton's marijuana use did not qualify because he failed to show his pain was "unrelieved by standard medical treatments and medications," such as opiate-based painkillers.

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medical marijuana demonstration, DC
Dalton was arrested in August 2007 after detectives with the West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team raided his property and found 88 plants growing. Police claimed the plants were more than the 60-day supply allowed by law. But that claim was problematic, since the state Health Department has not defined what constitutes a 60-day supply.

Kitsap County Deputy Prosecutor Coreen Schnepf argued during the trial that Dalton was receiving relief from opiate pain medications and that he needed to have pain that was not relieved by other medications in order to use medical marijuana. It is not known where Schnepf obtained her medical degree.

Defense attorney Douglass Hiatt argued that opiates sickened Dalton and did not relieve his pain, but Judge Laurie sided with prosecutors, effectively overruling the recommendation of the physician who okayed Dalton's medical marijuana use.

An angry Hiatt said the judge had no business second-guessing the doctor's recommendation. "If Judge Laurie wants to be a doctor, she should go to medical school," Hiatt told the Kitsap Sun. "No patient in this state is safe if she's right."

With the conviction, Dalton's medical marijuana card has been revoked and he now faces up to six months in jail for the felony conviction. His attorneys will ask for the sentence to be suspended pending appeals.

Dalton told the Sun after the verdict that he did not want to use opiates for pain relief because they are addictive. "I don't want to be a drug addict," he said. "That's why I chose medical marijuana." [Ed: It should be noted that opiate use for pain management does not constitute addiction, and opiophobia is itself another evil of the drug war just as is medical marijuana prohibition. For some patients marijuana is a better medicine, for others opioids are better.]

Europe: Dutchman Busted for Smoking Tobacco in Cannabis Coffee House

In the first coffee shop bust since the Dutch imposed a ban on tobacco smoking in public places earlier this year, an unnamed 27-year-old Amsterdam man has been issued a fine for smoking a marijuana joint laced with tobacco, the Netherlands Information Service reported. If he fails to pay the fine, his case will automatically advance to the courts, where it would be the first case to punish someone for illegally smoking a legal product in a legal business selling an illegal product. (Marijuana remains illegal under Dutch law, although the Dutch pragmatically regulate its sale.)

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downstairs of a coffee shop, Maastricht (courtesy Wikimedia)
The Dutch banned smoking tobacco in bars, restaurants, and other public accommodations, including coffee shops, beginning July 1. The smoking of cannabis is not banned, but the quaint European habit of mixing tobacco into marijuana joints had observers earlier this year predicting that such an incident was inevitable.

Although Dutch police are not charged with enforcing the smoking ban -- it is the domain of the Food and Non-Food Authority (VWA) -- the man was issued a citation by a police officer. "If a police officer signals an infringement, he does not close his eyes to it," according to a police spokesman.

New Developments in the Ryan Frederick Case

Ever since Ryan Frederick was charged with murder for killing a police officer who he mistook for a burglar during a botched drug raid, the case against him has become increasingly difficult to believe. Despite finding no evidence of cultivation, prosecutors are now claiming Frederick had been growing marijuana prior to the police raid and that he knew police were coming and planned the murder. It just doesn’t make sense, particularly insofar as a suspect who’s expecting police doesn’t need to shoot them. If he wanted to escape, he could just leave before they came.

Radley Balko has the details here and some additional analysis here.

Cop Fired For Choking Marijuana Suspect

See!? There really is accountability in the war on drugs. All you have to do is get video of a cop nearly killing a guy over a petty misdemeanor. Seriously though, as rare as this is, it does send an important message that there can be consequences for police who use excessive force against peaceful suspects:


MT. JULIET, Tenn. (AP) - A Tennessee police officer has pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault charges after he was caught on video using a chokehold on a man suspected of hiding marijuana in his mouth.

An attorney for Cpl. William Cosby says he pleaded not guilty Thursday.

A lawyer for the city of Mt. Juliet, about 20 miles east of Nashville, says Cosby has been fired.

Cosby's attorney, Chuck Ward, says the decision to fire Cosby shows the city believes him to be "guilty until proven innocent."

Video from a city police car shows Cosby using a chokehold on 26-year-old James Lawrence Anders Jr. during an April traffic stop. The video then shows Anders passing out.

Charges including marijuana possession were later dropped. Anders is suing over the incident.

The story went out on AP and was covered in several news outlets. One thing that remains unclear to me is whether the suspect ever even had any marijuana. If anyone can locate additional coverage or the actual video, please send it to me.

                                                                                                                                                                           [Thanks, Nate]

Update: That was fast. You can watch the video here. There was no marijuana in the suspect's mouth and he tested negative for marijuana use. Thanks, Zane. 

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