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Feature: American Nightmare -- Will Foster and Justice, Oklahoma Style

Will Foster became a poster child for the mindless cruelties of the drug war more than a decade ago. The Tulsa computer consultant and medical marijuana user -- he suffers from degenerative arthritis -- was raided by police with a warrant for a methamphetamine lab back in 1995. Police found no meth, but they did find a small marijuana garden. The unfortunate Foster was convicted of cultivation and sentenced in 2007 to a mind-blowing 93 years in prison.

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Will Foster (medicalmarijuanaofamerica.com)
It took a growing national movement and, ultimately, an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision to get that sentence redressed. After the state high court threw out his sentence, Foster was resentenced to 20 years, twice denied parole, then finally paroled to the more medical marijuana-friendly state of California, where he moved in temporarily with "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal, who had testified in his defense in Oklahoma and then befriended him.

And they all lived happily ever after, right? Wrong. Although Foster settled into a law-abiding life in Northern California, picking up a new family along the way, and successfully completed what the state of California considered an adequate parole period, that wasn't good enough for the state of Oklahoma. Upset that California officials hadn't kept him on parole as long as they would have, Oklahoma parole officials demanded that he return to that benighted state to finish his parole and when he, perhaps understandably, declined, issued a warrant for his arrest for violating the terms of his parole.

Nothing came of that until Foster had his ID checked in a police encounter, but then, the pending Oklahoma warrant popped up, and Foster was jailed in California to be returned to Oklahoma to finish the rest of his sentence. With nothing to lose, Foster fought the warrant by filing a writ of habeas corpus and winning its dismissal in the California courts in 2006.

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Susie Mueller and family
Once again, Foster was a free man, but Oklahoma still wasn't done with him. Oklahoma parole officials then offered to reinstate him in the interstate compact, which governs the supervision of parolees who parole to states other than the one in which they were sentenced, but then added that they had made a mistake when originally calculating the length of his parole period. His parole didn't end in 2011, but in 2015, they said, demanding he sign a document to that effect. Again, perhaps understandably, Foster declined that offer, and again, the state of Oklahoma issued another warrant for his arrest for violating the terms of his parole.

By then, Foster had moved to Santa Rosa, California, about 50 miles north of San Francisco, and was in a relationship with and supporting a local woman, Susie Mueller, and her three daughters. At Foster's residence, he had a medical marijuana grow, all completely legal under state law and county guidelines. But he also had a personal enemy, Mueller's estranged husband, who told law enforcement officials he was operating a major marijuana grow operation.

The next thing Foster and Mueller knew, DEA agents and Sonoma County sheriff's deputies were kicking down Foster's door, the couple was arrested on state marijuana cultivation charges, and Mueller's youngest daughter was taken into custody as an endangered child.

"It was terrible," said Mueller. "They did a full-on raid and arrested him over seven mature plants, and they arrested me and took my daughter away. They thought because he knew Ed there was something big going on. They said if I told them where the other grows were, they wouldn't arrest me and take my daughter. I told them that's all there was and that he was within the guidelines, and they said 'take her kid,' and they arrested me."

A hard-nosed Sonoma County prosecutor delayed months before dropping the baseless charges, and Foster sat in the Sonoma County Jail the whole time. But even after the charges were dropped, Foster remains behind bars, fighting the extradition warrant back to Oklahoma. It's now going on 16 months of imprisonment for him.

"In their warrant, they said I violated the terms and conditions of parole in Oklahoma, then fled Oklahoma to escape justice," Foster said Wednesday in a phone call from the jail. "But I haven't been back in Oklahoma since I left in 2001. I successfully finished parole here, I beat back that earlier extradition effort, and they're still coming after me."

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger routinely signed off on the Oklahoma warrant without knowing all the facts, Foster said. "The governor has not been given all the information. Oklahoma didn't tell him I had finished parole, had an earlier extradition attempt thrown out, or that they had tried to extend my parole six years after the fact," he pointed out.

Neither the California nor the Oklahoma governors' offices nor Oklahoma parole officials responded to Chronicle inquiries about the Foster case.

Now, with his options running out, Foster and his supporters are pursuing two strategies, one political and one judicial. The first is aimed at the two governors, urging them to revoke the warrants. The second is to file another writ of habeas corpus, which Foster said he would do at the end of this month. Otherwise, he will be taken back to Oklahoma in shackles before July is over.

"I am asking the governor of Oklahoma to recall the warrant and commute my sentence and let me live in peace in California and just leave me alone," he said. "I'm asking Gov. Schwarzenegger to not honor the extradition request. There is case law suggesting that he does not have to grant extradition; he can deny it and recall his warrant."

Ed Rosenthal is leading the campaign to free Foster. On his blog is complete information about how to contact the two governors to ask them to recall the warrants.

"Every human being whose life is disrupted because of the marijuana laws deserves our attention, but Will's case is important first because people already know about the terrible injustice done to him back in Oklahoma, and second because it's just so weird and egregious," said Rosenthal. "People just shake their heads and say this shouldn't be happening. We're trying to get him out, and we're trying to bring this injustice to the attention of people who don't already know about it," he said.

"Apparently, Oklahoma has a lot of money to burn on this vindictiveness," he noted. "This is a sad and stupid case."

It's costing cash-strapped California, too. The cost for imprisoning Foster for the past 15 months is now in excess of $100,000, and that doesn't include the cost of the bogus marijuana cultivation prosecution.

"I'll be filing a habeas writ on June 29," Foster said, "and the state will have 15 days to respond. There will probably be a hearing in 30 days."

It's unusual for habeas writs to be granted, and Foster is uncertain about his prospects for victory, but is prepared for the long haul. "If I don't win there, I can drag this out for years. I could go all the way to the California Supreme Court, and then into the federal courts. But that would require that I continue to sit here in jail," he said.

Susie Mueller visits Foster in jail almost every day. "This is heartbreaking for me, it's very emotionally difficult because he shouldn't be in there," she said. "But I'm really devoted to him. I go almost every night, and we talk for an hour and play tic-tic-toe and go over the case."

In one of the strange ironies of Foster's ordeal, Mueller said she had gathered signatures for petitions seeking his release when he was imprisoned in Oklahoma a decade ago. "I met him at work here in Santa Rosa and didn't even realize he was that Will Foster," she laughed. "What a coincidence."

"Ed and Susie are the best advocates a guy could have," said Foster. "I'm so grateful for all they're doing."

For Foster, Oklahoma's efforts to punish him further are not about justice, but vengeance. "I beat them on the sentencing, I beat them on the first extradition warrant, and they want to teach me a lesson," he said. "They want to impose their authority."

Right now, the decision to extradite Foster back to Oklahoma is up to the two governors and their extradition specialists. An outpouring of public support in favor of allowing Foster to remain in California as a free man could make the difference.

Medical Cannabis Resource Center: TV Show Filming and Patient MeetUp

Please join us for our monthly filming and meeting. For more information, call 503-363-4588 or visit http://mercycenters.org/tv/. NOTE: MERCY-TV is filmed every last Thursday of the month in Salem, 7pm, at CCTV.
Date: 
Thu, 06/25/2009 - 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Location: 
585 Liberty St., SE
Salem, OR 97301
United States

Marijuana Debate on CNN




Rob Kampia's closing line is right on target. As the debate heats up, we're seeing our opposition desperately invoke the horrors of alcohol and tobacco in a cynical attempt to frame legalization in a familiar and negative context. The simple response is that those drugs are far more dangerous. The harms they cause are only relevant to the discussion insofar as they illustrate the mindless hypocrisy of our marijuana laws. If the most workable alcohol and tobacco policy is legalization, then the same must absolutely be true of marijuana.

Press Release: Barney Frank Introduces Sweeping Reform of Federal Marijuana Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
JUNE 18, 2009

Barney Frank Introduces Sweeping Reform of Federal Marijuana Laws
Measure Comes as Growing Chorus Calls for End to Prohibition

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With criticism of marijuana prohibition rising, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has introduced legislation to end federal criminal penalties for possession or not-for-profit transfer of small amounts of marijuana.

     "Congressman Frank's bill represents a major step toward sanity in federal marijuana policy," said MPP director of government relations Aaron Houston. "Calls for rethinking our marijuana policies are coming from all quarters, and for good reason. Our decades-long war on marijuana has given us the worst of all possible worlds -- a drug that's widely used and universally available but produced and sold entirely by unregulated criminals who obey no rules and pay no taxes."

     Frank's bill would remove federal criminal penalties for possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana and the not-for-profit transfer of up to 1 ounce (28.3 grams) of marijuana. It would not change marijuana's status as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act and would not change federal laws prohibiting the cultivation of marijuana, sale of marijuana for profit, or import or export of marijuana. It also would not affect any state or local marijuana laws or regulations.

     As recently as 2005, no national opinion survey had ever found a level of support for making marijuana a legal, regulated product above 36 percent. This year, a succession of major surveys have found levels of support for "legalization" ranging from 40 percent (Rasmussen) to 46 percent (ABC News/Washington Post) and even as high as 52 percent (Zogby). A June 12 report from CQ Researcher noted that opposition to legally regulated marijuana "appears to be weakening."

     With more than 27,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

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Latin America: Chile Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization Yet, Poll Finds

An independent candidate in Chile's December presidential election has raised the topic of marijuana legalization, but according to a new Angus-Reid poll, that's not a winning issue in the conservative South American country. A solid majority oppose legalization, the poll found.

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Marco Enríquez-Ominami
More than 57% of Chileans polled by the organization said they opposed marijuana legalization. Only slightly more than one out of five (21.7%) supported legalization for medical reasons, and slightly fewer than one out of five (19.6%) supported general legalization.

Former Socialist Party politician Marco Antonio Enríquez-Ominami Gumucio, who split from the party to run for the presidency as an independent, had broached the topic. He created something of a stir in Chile by saying he "is a supporter of looking into the matter of legalizing marijuana."

That is apparently still a hard sell in the socially conservative country where abortion is illegal, being gay was a crime until 1988, and divorce was illegal until 2004. Whether Enríquez-Ominami's presidential bid gets any traction will be determined December 11, when the first round of the election will be held.

Alert: Medical Marijuana Defendant Bryan Epis Wants YOU to Take Political Action

Dear reformers:

You probably know my name from the pages of Drug War Chronicle. I was the first California medical marijuana provider to be prosecuted by the federal government -- in 1997, during the Clinton administration -- and I served two years before being released in 2004 while my ten-year sentence was appealed. Last month a federal judges panel upheld that sentence, and now I'm appealing to the full 9th Circuit.

I'm writing to StoptheDrugWar.org readers because I'm one of 32 medical marijuana activists who are still caught up in a federal prosecution, despite the Obama administration's promise to stop interfering with state medical marijuana laws; and because there are 67 others of us whose convictions are final and who should be pardoned. I've created a "political action" page that asks you to sign eight online petitions and to write a letter to President Obama about these issues. The page also takes on other aspects of marijuana prohibition. Please visit my page at http://www.bestlodging.com/politics/ to sign them -- the only way that anything will change is if we all let our voices be heard, and the dozens of us caught up in this for helping patients need for change to come sooner rather than later.

A little bit about the petitions, three of which I authored. One of them is directed to US Attorney General Eric Holder, listing the 32 medical marijuana defendants whose cases should be dismissed. Another is about my case, and emphasizes some egregious prosecutorial misconduct that occurred in my case and affected the outcome -- I think you'll agree it's an astonishing story. A third is directed to President Obama, and lists all 67 defendants whose convictions are final and who should be pardoned because they were implementing state medical marijuana law. (Let me know if I've left anyone out.) The other five petitions are related to these issues.

Thank you for standing up and taking action.

Sincerely,

Bryan Epis

Medical Marijuana: Legislature Overrides Veto to Make Rhode Island Third Dispensary State

The Rhode Island legislature Wednesday easily overrode Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri's veto of a bill that will create medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. The override vote was a unanimous 68-0 in the House and a punishing 35-3 in the Senate.

Rhode Island will now become the third medical marijuana state to allow for patients to be supplied through a dispensary system. The other two states are California and New Mexico. With the override, Rhode Island becomes the first state to expand an existing medical marijuana program to allow for state-licensed dispensaries. California voters did it at the polls, and in New Mexico, dispensary provisions were written into the law passed by the legislature.

"This gives a safe haven for those who have to go into the seedy areas to try and get marijuana," said Rep. Thomas Slater (D-Providence), who suffers from cancer and has said he plans to smoke the drug for pain relief. "I think that this center will definitely help those who most need it," he added as he received a standing ovation from the House floor.

"Our hard work has paid off," said Jesse Stout, director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. "Within a year, the Department of Health will license a nonprofit compassion center to grow and distribute medical marijuana for patients."

"We are seeing a historic shift to allowing state-licensed, regulated medical marijuana production and distribution," said Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which backed the effort. "Combining regulated distribution with provisions for patients to grow a limited quantity for themselves is the best way to assure safe access for patients, with solid safeguards to prevent abuse."

Other states where pending medical marijuana bills include dispensary provisions include Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In Arizona, a ballot initiative with similar language is circulating, while in Maine, voters will vote in November on an initiative to add dispensaries to that state's law.

"During the Bush administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided medical marijuana patients and caregivers in California, leaving states hesitant to set up state-regulated distribution," said MPP director of government relations Aaron Houston. "Now that the Obama administration has announced a policy change, state legislators seem to feel safer adopting a sensible, regulated system of medical marijuana distribution that avoids the mistakes of California, where dispensaries sprang up with no rules. This is a historic step forward."

Europe: Croatia Supreme Court Throws Out Jail Sentence in Veteran's Use of Medical Marijuana for PTSD

In a June 3 decision, Croatia's Supreme Court threw out a jail sentence given to a war veteran who used marijuana to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The high court held that the man's use of marijuana was a "meaningless act" under Croatian law, which means he cannot be prosecuted.

The ruling comes even as Croatia embraces a "zero tolerance" drug policy. Under new Croatian drug laws, even the possession of a single joint can lead to a jail sentence.

The man, known only as "KD" in Croatian press reports, is one of about 18,000 veterans of the 1991-1995 wars around the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. He was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to jail in his home town of Vitrovitica for growing marijuana plants and possessing a little more than two ounces of usable marijuana.

The Supreme Court overturned the conviction and sentence, noting that "the defendant suffers from PTSD, and marijuana relaxes him and helps him to overcome psychological problems." The ruling is viewed as a precedent for other war veterans with PTSD.

Medical Marijuana: Barney Frank Introduces Federal Bill to Get DEA Out, Reschedule as Medicine

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced legislation Monday that would reschedule marijuana as a Schedule II drug and eliminate federal authority to prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. Titled the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act (HR 2835), the bill currently has 16 sponsors and has been sent to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

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Barney Frank
Frank introduced similar legislation in the last two Congresses, but the bills never got a committee vote or even a hearing. Advocates hope that with a Democratically-controlled Congress and a president who has at least given lip service to medical marijuana, Congress this year will prove to be friendlier ground.

"We are encouraged by the federal government's willingness to address this issue and to bring about a more sensible and humane policy on medical marijuana," said Caren Woodson, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access. "It's time to recognize marijuana's medical efficacy, and to develop a comprehensive plan that will provide access to medical marijuana and protection for the hundreds of thousands of sick Americans that benefit from its use."

When it comes to reining in the feds, the bill would bar the use of the Controlled Substances Act or the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act for prohibiting or restricting doctors from prescribing marijuana and patients, caregivers, and co-ops or dispensaries from using, possessing, transporting or growing marijuana in accordance with state law.

The Obama administration has pledged to not use Justice Department resources to go after medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. Still, the DEA has continued to target medical marijuana providers, prosecutors continue to file drug charges against providers acting in accord with state laws, and federal judges continue to sentence medical marijuana providers who followed state laws, but were convicted under federal drug laws.

Marijuana: US Congressman Mark Kirk Introduces Bill Targeting "Kush Super-Marijuana"

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) Monday introduced a bill that would dramatically increase prison sentences for marijuana trafficking offenses if the pot in question had THC levels over 15%. Warning Monday that "kush super-marijuana" had invaded the Chicago suburbs, Kirk is calling for prison sentences of up to 25 years for trafficking even small quantities of the kind bud.

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Mark Kirk
Under current federal law, the manufacture, distribution, import and export, and possession with intent to distribute fewer than 50 kilograms or 50 plants is punishable by up to five years in federal prison, a $250,000 individual fine and $1 million group fine. Kirk's bill, the High-Potency Marijuana Sentencing Enhancement Act (HR 2828) increases the maximum fines for high-potency pot to $1 million for an individual and $5 million for a group, as well as increasing the maximum prison sentence five-fold. A second offense would double the fines and increase the maximum sentence to 35 years.

In a press release announcing the bill, Kirk warned of "zombie-like" pot smokers stumbling around the Chicago suburbs. "According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 25 million individuals age 12 and older used marijuana in 2007 -- significantly more than any other drug," he said. "That's why Kush and other high-potency marijuana strains are so worrying. Local law enforcement reports that Kush users are 'zombie-like' because of the extreme THC levels. Drug dealers know they can make as much money selling Kush as cocaine but without the heavier sentences that accompany crack and cocaine trafficking. Higher fines and longer sentences aren't the total solution to our nation's drug problem. But our laws should keep pace with advances in the strength and cash-value of high-THC marijuana. If you can make as much money selling pot as cocaine, you should face the same penalties."

Rep. Kirk appears to have swallowed the assumption that higher-potency marijuana is somehow more harmful than lower-potency pot, an old bromide dating back to former drug czar John Walters' "it's not your father's marijuana." But marijuana users say they adjust dosages to achieve the desired effect by smoking smaller amounts of more potent varieties. A user might smoke an entire blunt of low-potency Mexican brick weed, but only a couple of tokes of more potent pot, just as an alcohol user might chug down a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor, but only a few ounces of more potent distilled spirits.

Further, kush is only one of a number of different strains of high-potency marijuana now available on the market. Many of those strains will produce potency levels of 15% or higher, much to the pleasure of marijuana connoisseurs.

"I don't know what's more ridiculous about this," said Bruce Mirken, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project, "Kirk's incredible scientific ignorance or the hypocrisy of a man who's taken thousands of dollars from the alcohol and tobacco industries going after marijuana."

By Wednesday afternoon, Kirk's bill had yet to pick up any cosponsors.

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