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Harm Reduction: New Jersey Needle Exchange Bill Moves to Final Floor Votes Next Week

After more than a decade of struggle and thousands of preventable HIV/AIDS cases, New Jersey is on the brink of passing the first bill that would allow needle exchanges to take place in the state. After winning a final Assembly committee vote Monday, the measure now advances to final floor votes in the Assembly and the Senate next Monday.

The bill, A1852, the Bloodborne Disease Harm Reduction Act, would allow up to six Garden State municipalities to begin needle exchange programs for injection drug users in a bid to reduce HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C infection rates. It also appropriates $10 million in "seed money" for drug treatment programs.

With legislative action in Maryland and Delaware in recent years, New Jersey is the only state that allows neither needle exchanges nor the non-prescription sale of needles. A bill that would allow for non-prescription needle sales, A2839, has also passed all committee hurdles in both houses and will go to an Assembly floor vote next Monday, but is unlikely to be voted on in the Senate until next year.

Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office was guardedly optimistic about the needle exchange bill's chances for passage in e-mails to supporters. While noting that the bill had already passed the Assembly once in 2004 and would probably pick up support in that chamber this time around, the Senate fight will be "very tough."

"This is a positive development that could put New Jersey back into the mainstream of other states that have approved clean-needle exchanges and other strategies to reduce the transmission of AIDS among drug addicts, their partners and children," said the bill's sponsor, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. (D-Camden).

Feature: Medical Marijuana Gets a Hearing in Michigan

The medical marijuana issue came to the Michigan statehouse for the first time ever this week. In Lansing on Tuesday, the state House Government Operations Committee held a hearing where medical marijuana patients, advocates, and supporters were given the floor -- and they came from across the state and the country to do just that.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/michigancapitol.jpg
Michigan Capitol
The hearing was tied to 5740, a bill that would allow people with 'debilitating medical conditions' to use marijuana without fear of arrest, which was introduced by Rep. LaMar Lemmons III and now has eight cosponsors. But with the legislative session just two weeks away from ending, the hearing will lead to no action this year.

It does, however, lay the groundwork for further work in the legislature next year, and perhaps for an initiative in 2008 should the solons prove recalcitrant. That it occurred at all is a testament to the efforts of local activists working in concert with reformers around the country.

"LaMar is my state representative," said Tim Beck, executive director of Michigan NORML. "I raised money for him, and he believes in this issue, so when he asked what I would like, I said I would like a medical marijuana bill," Beck told Drug War Chronicle. Beck was a moving force behind the successful 2004 Detroit medical marijuana initiative. Ferndale, Ann Arbor and Traverse City have also enacted ordinances permitting use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Lemmons, a Democrat, introduced the bill, but to get a hearing also required the assent of the committee chair, Republican Rep. Leon Drolet. Not only did Drolet agree to hearings, he became a sponsor of the bill.

With that opportunity, the Michigan activists reached out, and, working with the Marijuana Policy Project, brought in people like federal medical marijuana patient Irv Rosenfeld, Republican Connecticut state Senator Penny Bacchiochi, and former Maryland legislator Donald Murphy, head of Republicans for Compassionate Access, as well as patients and supporters from across the state. Up against them was peripatetic deputy drug czar Scott Burns, who magically shows up to argue against medical marijuana wherever it appears.

Rosenfeld, a Florida stockbrocker who suffers from multiple congenital exostosis, has been receiving US government marijuana since 1982 in a program that was extinguished under President Bush the Elder. Rosenfeld and a handful of others were grandfathered in.

"I'm a very productive member of society because I have the right medication," Rosenfeld told the committee, adding that the 10 or so joints he smokes a day help keep him alive. "There is no need for prosecuting people who are sick."

Rep. Bacchiochi, the Connecticut Republican, has been a major legislative supporter of medical marijuana in her home state, and was eager to talk to her fellow solons about it. She told the committee how her husband was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer in the early 1980s and a doctor urged her to try marijuana for him. "I hadn't smoked marijuana, I had never done drugs, I knew I wanted a public career. It was a terrifying moment for me," she told the committee. "But as I watched my husband basically die in front of me, I decided I would do it at any cost. For three years I went out and I bought pot for him, and I watched his remarkable recovery. Not that he recovered from the cancer, but he was able to eat, he was able to laugh, he was able to regain some quality of life," she told lawmakers.

Laura Barber of Traverse City spoke of the difficulties her family went through when her husband, who uses medical marijuana to treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, was arrested. Two other Michigan patients were ready to speak, but time ran out before they could testify. They were Rochelle Lampkin of Detroit, who uses the drug to treat the pain associated with multiple sclerosis, and Martin Chilcutt of Kalamazoo, a Navy veteran who used medical marijuana to relieve the pain and nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy.

"The medical use of marijuana has helped to relieve the pain and suffering associated with serious illnesses in my life and in the lives of several close friends of mine," Chilcutt commented. "We need rational decisions and action to combat an irrational status quo. The most perilous aspect of using medical marijuana is the threat of getting arrested and going to jail, and that's why the legislature needs to pass HB 5470."

The bill is likely going nowhere this year, but this week's hearing was important, said Beck. "The value of having the hearing is that it demonstrates we have power. We were able to get the hearing, and we were able to bring in heavyweights like Irv and Don and Penny. I don't think those legislators expected anything like the performance we had," he laughed.

"This is an historic first, and we got massive publicity out of this hearing," Beck continued. "We're laying the groundwork for next year. The one thing we have is the initiative process, and I think the legislators understand that. The Democrats will control the state House next year, and I think we'll get a better reception then. But it will be like 'Do you want to write the law or do you want us to write the law?' We don't want to do an initiative if we don't have to. It's cheaper to go through the legislature."

Marijuana Bill Snuffed Out

Location: 
Lansing, MI
United States
Publication/Source: 
Lansing State Journal
URL: 
http://www.lsj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061129/NEWS04/611290350/1005/opinion

MI: Hearing on Medical Marijuana Bill Featuring Patient Testimony

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, the House Committee on Government Operations will hold a hearing on HB 5470, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, introduced by Rep. Lamar Lemmons III (D-Wayne County). The measure, similar to laws now in effect in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, would protect seriously ill patients using medical marijuana with their physician's recommendation from arrest and jail. WHAT: Hearing on HB 5470, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, in the House Committee on Government Operations. WHO: Scheduled speakers include: - Irvin Rosenfeld, one of five surviving patients still receiving medical marijuana from the U.S. government, in a program closed to new patients in 1992. Rosenfeld, a Florida stockbroker who suffers from a rare and painful condition called multiple congenital cartilaginous exostosis, has been receiving government marijuana since 1982. - Rochelle Lampkin, multiple sclerosis patient and grandmother from Detroit, who uses medical marijuana for pain relief. - Martin Chilcutt, Navy veteran from Kalamazoo, who used medical marijuana to relieve pain and nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy. - Don Murphy, former Maryland state legislator; executive director, Republicans for Compassionate Access. - Rep. Penny Bacchiochi (R), Connecticut state legislator. WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 28, 10:30 a.m. WHERE: Room 326, House Office Building, corner of Ottawa Street and North Capitol Avenue. For more information, please visit www.MarijuanaPolicy.org.
Date: 
Tue, 11/28/2006 - 10:30am - 5:00pm
Location: 
United States

Drug Raids: Atlanta Police Kill Woman, 92, Who Shot Invading Officers

Three undercover Atlanta police officers who kicked in the door of an elderly Atlanta woman to serve a no-knock search warrant for drugs were shot and wounded when the woman opened fire on the intruders. They returned fire, killing 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston inside her home.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/kathrynjohnston.jpg
Kathryn Johnston
Friends, neighbors, and relatives of the woman described her as a long-term neighborhood resident who was feeble and frightened, rarely letting even friends and neighbors enter her home, which she kept locked. She apparently opened fire as the police raiders broke through burglar bars on her front door. Johnson fired five shots from a revolver, wounding the three officers before she was killed by two shots to the chest.

As anger and concern grew in the community, Atlanta police worked urgently to explain and justify the killing. During a Wednesday press conference, Assistant Police Chief Alan Dreher said police had purchased drugs from an unknown man earlier in the day at the Johnston residence and returned the same evening with a no-knock search warrant. That man was not found, but police said they found an unspecified amount of an unspecified controlled substance inside the home. Police originally said they knocked and announced their presence before entering the home, but that is now in doubt.

"It was a very tragic and unfortunate incident," said Assistant Chief Dreher, who added that Johnston was not suspected of selling drugs and that police knew nothing about her.

He got no argument from local activist the Rev. Markell Hutchins on that point. "This is one of the most tragic cases of police-involved use of force, not only in Atlanta, but in the nation," said Hutchins, who had counseled the family, and set up a meeting with a law firm. "It appears Mrs. Johnston was a model citizen. A good citizen and a matriarch of the community," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"A confrontation with police and a 92-year-old woman don't go together," echoed State Rep. "Able" Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta).

Although Assistant Chief Dreher promised "a complete, thorough investigation" of the killing, neighbors and community activists did not wait to take to the streets. On Wednesday evening, more than a hundred people gathered in front of the Johnston home for a candlelight vigil to demand justice in the case.

Johnson is only the latest victim of overzealous law enforcement in police raids gone bad, the vast majority of them related to drug law enforcement. See "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America" by Cato Institute analyst Radley Balko for an overview of the subject.

It's time to legalize marijuana in Illinois (Chicago Sun-Times)

Location: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.suntimes.com/news/anderson/132863,CST-EDT-monroe12.article

Election 2006: Drug Reformers in Third Party Statewide Bids Poll Single Digits, But One Wins a State House Seat in Washington

Third party candidacies for statewide office by prominent drug reformers garnered significant attention for drug reform issues during the campaign season, but failed to make a dent in the two-party monopoly on competitive races for elected offices. On the other hand, one prominent drug reformer running as a Democrat will take a seat in his state's House of Representatives.

In Washington state, Roger Goodman, the guiding force behind the emergence of the King County Bar Association's Drug Policy Project, has won the District 45 Position 1 state representative race with 55% of the vote. While Goodman is known as an articulate advocate of substantive drug policy reform, he did not emphasize those positions during the campaign and was attacked in opposition mailings (quoting extensively from Drug War Chronicle) for speaking out on those positions.

In Alabama, Loretta Nall, running a write-in campaign for governor on the Libertarian Party ticket, reports that her write-in votes will not even be counted until a week from Monday. She also reports receiving numerous e-mails from angry voters wondering why their votes aren't being counted.

In Connecticut, Cliff Thornton, the founder of the Hartford-based drug reform organization Efficacy, ran for governor on the Green Party ticket. Despite a vigorous campaign and a full-fledged drug policy blitz, he could do no better than 1%.

In Maryland, long-time drug reformer Kevin Zeese ran a three-party third-party campaign for US Senate under the banner of the Green, Populist, and Libertarian parties, with a broad range of issues ranging from the war in Iraq to corporate control of US politics to drug policy reform, Zeese hoped to break through the bipartisan stranglehold on electoral office. Democratic nominee Ben Cardin ended up defeating his Republican challenger Michael Steele by 55% to 44%. Zeese got the difference, 1% of the vote.

Election 2006: Massachusetts Voters in Four More Districts Continue the Clamor for Marijuana Law Reform

Since 2000, marijuana reform activists associated with MassCann, the Bay State NORML affiliate, and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts have sponsored advisory marijuana reform questions in state representative and senate districts and have won every one. The trend continued this year, with reform questions in four more districts being approved by voters.

According to DPFMA board member John Leonard, a question asking whether representatives in the 1st and 12th Plymouth Representative Districts should be instructed to support marijuana decriminalization passed in both, with margins of 61% and 60% respectively. In the 3rd Middlesex Senate District and the 7th Norfolk Representative District, voters were asked to vote on questions asking whether to instruct their representatives to support medical marijuana legislation. Those questions won with 67% in Middlesex and 64% in Norfolk.

According to MassCann, more than 420,000 Massachusetts residents in 110 communities had voted to urge their legislators to embrace either decriminalization or medical marijuana before Election Day. We can now add another 63,000 pro-reform votes and four more communities to the tally.

In a debate last month, newly elected Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick said he's "very comfortable" with the idea of marijuana legalization but would veto a decriminalization bill if it came to his desk because "I just don't think it ought to be our priority." Hopefully the legislature will give him the opportunity to change his mind.

Sentencing: Public Hearings on Illinois SMART Act Pack 'Em In

Supporters of an Illinois bill that would allow judges to divert low-level drug offenders into county "drug schools" instead of jail or prison are holding a series of public hearings across the state to drum up renewed support for the stalled measure. If the turnout in Chicago is any indication, public interest is high.

Illinois House Bill 4885, the Substance Abuse Management Addressing Recidivism Through Treatment (SMART) Act", would appropriate $3.5 million to allow state's attorneys' offices to open drug schools where low-level drug offenders could have their cases dismissed and arrest records expunged after completing an eight-hour course and -- depending on a mental health and addiction assessment -- possibly undergoing drug treatment.

The bill would allow counties to opt to follow the example set in Cook County (Chicago), where District Attorney Dick Devine pioneered the drug school idea. In the Cook County Drug School program, first-time drug possession offenders are offered mental health screenings, addiction assessment, and an eight-hour drug education program, and some -- depending on their assessment -- may be ordered into drug treatment. The county spends roughly $350 per person per year on the program, compared to the more than $21,000 it costs to incarcerate someone for a year.

After being introduced in January, the bill stalled in the legislature this fall, but supporters were able to pass a resolution calling on legislators to participate in a series of public hearings on alternatives to imprisonment and issue a report on those hearings. Hearings have already been held in Champaign, East St. Louis, and Chicago, with more set later this month for Decatur, Rockford, Rock Island, and Waukegan.

At the October 25 meeting in the Ashburn Lutheran Church in Chicago, the Southwest News Herald reported that "hundreds of people crowded into the church for the hearing, with some coming on buses from as far away as Rockford." Convened by the Developing Justice Coalition, a statewide alliance of community-based social service and religious organizations working on issues such as sentencing reform, prisoner re-entry, and public, the hearing featured several dozen speakers, including many ex-prisoners who said their drug arrest records had dogged them ever since. The coalition was organized by the Safer Foundation, which works to help ex-prisoners re-enter society.

Turnout for the hearing was "phenomenal," said Ashburn Lutheran pastor the Rev. Pam Challis. "It has been a long time since we had to put chairs in the aisles," said Challis, looking around at the standing-room only crowd after the meeting. "It is indicative of the fact that this is needed."

"I am a product of incarceration. I was in jail twice, and while I was incarcerated I learned absolutely nothing," said drug educator Armando Fox. After the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council gave him "a second chance" he was able to turn his life around. "Sometimes the choices we make aren't always the best, but we really shouldn't just throw people in prison. They don't learn anything."

But with its current drug laws, the state of Illinois throws quite a few people in prison. It spends nearly $250 million a year on its prison budget.

Attending the hearing were state Representatives Mary Flowers (D-31st) and Esther Golar (D-6th). Flowers, a 23-year veteran of the legislature, accused the body of passing "bad legislation" with its zero tolerance drug laws that set strict sentencing guidelines for drug offenses. "Some of those crimes should have been probational. The only thing we did was dig ourselves a bigger hole at your expense," she said.

The legislature is out of session now, but the SMART Act will probably come to a vote in January. Advocates are doing all they can do to show lawmakers there is broad public support, and packing hundreds of people into a hearing on a relatively obscure piece of legislation is a good start.

Harm Reduction: New Jersey Needle Exchange, Needle Access Bills Advance

A bill that would allow up to six New Jersey municipalities to set up needle exchange programs and a companion bill that would permit the sale without prescription of up to 10 syringes at pharmacies passed the Assembly Health and Senior Citzens Committee Thursday. After more than a decade of efforts to win legislation that would allow drug users easier access to clean needles, it now appears the bills have momentum.

New Jersey politicians have begun lining up behind the bills. Before testimony at the committee Thursday, Chairman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington) said bluntly, "This bill is going to pass." Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts and Gov. Jon Corzine have stated publicly they intended to legalize syringe exchange as soon as possible.

During testimony, state epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz told lawmakers they needed to act now. "We should not be delaying another minute in putting life-saving tools such as syringe exchange programs in the hands of communities desperate to stop the transmission of blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and AIDS," he said. "Syringe exchange programs not only prevent the transmission of blood-borne diseases but also help drug addicts get into treatment.''

The Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office has been lobbying for the bills for several years now. "We're incredibly grateful for such a resounding vote of support on the part of the committee members," DPA's Roseanne Scotti told the Associated Press after the vote.

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