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Cuomo Signs NY Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Bill

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo June signed into law July 20 legislation aimed at reducing the number of preventable drug overdose deaths in the Empire State. The new law gives protection from prosecution for drug possession offenses to overdose victims seeking medical help or to people seeking medical help for them.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has signed a bill designed to reduce drug overdose fatalities. (image via wikimedia.org)
The new law also provides protection from underage drinking and drug paraphernalia prosecutions for overdose sufferers or others seeking to help them. The law does not provide protection from drug distribution charges.

New York now becomes the most populous state to enact what are commonly referred to as 911 Good Samaritan laws. They are designed to reduce overdose deaths by removing the fear of prosecution for victims or their acquaintances seeking help.

New York is one of the states where drug overdose -- from both legal and illegal drugs -- is the leading cause of accidental death. In the absence of protections like those just enacted, people suffering overdoses or their friends have often been reluctant to seek medical attention for fear of being arrested.

"No one should go to jail for trying to save a life," said Hiawatha Collins, a leader and Board member of VOCAL-NY, one of the many groups that supported the reforms. "This law will help make sure that calling 911 is the first thing someone does if they witness an overdose -- not worry about what the cops will do. New York is making clear that saving lives needs to be our priority, not locking people up."

"It is uplifting to see our elected officials come together to pass a law that will save thousands of lives in New York," said Evan Goldstein, policy coordinator of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Our elected officials should be applauded for passing this law that is grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights."

New York is the fourth state to enact a 911 Good Samaritan law, following the lead of New Mexico in 2007, Washington state in 2010, and Connecticut earlier this year. The law will go into effect in 60 days.

Albany, NY
United States

SWAT Reporting Bill Filed In Michigan

A bill that would impose reporting requirements on law enforcement SWAT teams has been introduced in the Michigan House. The bill, House Bill 4857, would require those specialized paramilitary units to file a report when they forcibly enter a home, discharge a weapon, or injure or kill a suspect.

At least one Michigan legislator wants to know how often SWAT teams are deployed. (image via wikimedia.org)
The sponsor, Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) told the instate Livingston Daily he introduced the bill in part because of concerns stemming from a May 2010 Detroit police SWAT raid in which police shot and killed 7-year-old Aiyanna Jones. He said he was most concerned about the lack of information from SWAT teams, which use automatic weapons and grenades, as well as kicking down doors.

"These are areas where a little transparency wouldn't hurt," McMillin said. "I think it will raise some awareness of where reporters and other interested citizens may have additional questions. These are not your typical traffic stops," he added.

As introduced, the bill would apply to SWAT teams within the Michigan State Police, county sheriff's departments, and municipal police departments. That formulation is leading some law enforcement officials to say that it would not apply to interagency drug task forces, such as the LAWNET task force that raided the Marshall Alternatives medical marijuana dispensary in Fowlerville earlier this year.

Livingston County Sheriff Bob Bezotte, who presides over LAWNET, said the reporting bill wouldn't apply to task force actions and attacked the measure as a "political" effort to deal with isolated instances.

"We've got enough laws -- so from that aspect, I disagree with what he wants to do," he said "The state can't come down and tell me how to run my department," Bezotte added. "What they end up doing is causing more problems than we originally had," he added.

Drug units deserve special consideration, Bezotte added. "It's not to try to get away with anything. I think if you've worked with a drug unit, you would understand you don't want anyone knowing who you are, especially if you're doing undercover buys," he added. "I would side with the drug units on that one in terms of secrecy."

But that interpretation didn't fly with attorney Denise Pollicella, who represents Marshall Alternatives. "It absolutely would apply to LAWNET," she said."I know, personally, of three different occasions and three different raids where they did not list all of the property and cash that they took on their inventory," Pollicella added.

The bill was a necessary "accountability measure," she said. "I think that if the public actually realized how prevalent these raids are, and how unnecessary the extreme force is and how traumatizing it is for the victims, there would be significantly more outrage," she said.

McMillin said he wasn't sure whether multiagency drug task force SWAT teams would be covered by the bill as written. He said the bill could become more agency-specific as it moves through the legislative process. It is currently in the House Judiciary Committee, with a hearing set for July 27.

The only other state to impose reporting requirements on SWAT teams is Maryland. That law passed only after a Prince Georges County SWAT team made the mistake of practicing its usual tactics on the mayor or Berwyn Heights, who was both innocent of any wrongdoing and in a position to be able to right the wrong inflicted on him.

MI
United States

La Crosse, Wisconsin, Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

La Crosse, Wisconsin, has decriminalized the possession of up to a quarter ounce of marijuana, as well as pot-related drug paraphernalia. The final move came last Thursday night, when the city's Common Council overrode Mayor Matt Harter's veto of the measure.

The decriminalization measure, authored by District 3 council member Chris Olson, allows city law enforcement to cite small-time marijuana law violators with an offense under the municipal code instead of a criminal misdemeanor under state law.

In achieving the decrim victory, the council had to overcome two vetoes by Mayor Harter. Harter said last month he vetoed the measure because it would be perceived by the public as being "soft" on drug use.

But Olson argued that allowing police to issue municipal citations would create revenue for the city and give "a first-time offender a second chance." He also criticized Police Chief Ed Kondracki for saying he would not have his officers enforce the ordinance.

"We shouldn't be setting policy being dictated by an individual," Olson said.

But a police spokesman later said that Olson was mistaken and that the department would allow officers to issue citations under the ordinance if they wished. The spokesman also noted that the La Crosse County Sheriff's Department has yet to cite anyone under a similar county ordinance, instead charging them under state law.

La Crosse isn't the first Wisconsin locality to decriminalize pot possession. Madison, the state capital, did in 1977, and Milwaukee, the state's largest city, did in 1997. A number of other cities and counties have done so since then.

La Crosse, WI
United States

Indiana Lawmakers to Study Marijuana Legalization

Lawmakers in Indiana will convene between legislative sessions to study whether the Hoosier State should change its marijuana laws. Under a bill passed into law earlier this year, the General Assembly's Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy study committee is charged with reexamining the state's approach to pot.

The commission's first meeting is set for next week, although it's not clear if marijuana policy will be on the agenda then or during future meetings.

The bill, Senate Bill 192, gives the commission a broad mandate. It asks the commission to report back on whether the use and possession of marijuana should continue to be illegal in Indiana, and if so, what penalties and quantities related to its possession are appropriate. It also asks the commission to assess whether marijuana should be regulated and taxed like alcohol, whether Indiana should implement a medical marijuana program, and "any other issue related to marijuana."

Under current Indiana law, possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, although conditional discharge is possible for a first offense. Possession or sale of more than 30 grams is a felony, with a sentence of up to three years. A second pot paraphernalia offense can also earn a three year sentence. There is no provision for medical marijuana under Indiana law.

Indiana has "draconian" pot laws, state Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes), who pushed for the study commission, told the Associated Press. "One day, I watched three young kids plead cases on possession of small amounts," Tallian said. "I thought, 'Why are we spending all of the time and money to do this?' Frankly, I put marijuana in the same category as alcohol."

Tallian said she is lining up speakers for the meeting when marijuana law reform is on the agenda.

"I've got testimony from all different groups," she said. "They keep calling me wondering when it's going to be. I had them lined up when the bill was in the senate -- medical people, criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement. There are a wide range of people interested in the topic."

One of the Republicans who supported the study commission was Rep. Tom Knollman -- who aptly hails from the town Liberty -- a multiple sclerosis sufferer. He told his colleagues during debate earlier this year that he wished he could try medical marijuana to ease his pain. Knollman described himself as among the most conservative of state legislators, but said he hoped he could be a law-abiding citizen and make use of one of "God's plants."

Indianapolis, IN
United States

Mississippi Tea Partiers Push Welfare Drug Testing Initiative

Mississippi Tea Party groups are busily collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would require welfare recipients and state employees to undergo drug testing. The measure, officially known as Ballot Initiative #33, is part of a broader push by Mississippi Tea Partiers against "un-Constitutional welfare programs" and illegal immigration. The initiative would also require anyone receiving state benefits to prove his or her US citizenship.

(image via wikimedia.org)
While the umbrella Mississippi Tea Party is playing a role in supporting the initiative campaign, most of the energy behind it appears to be based in the Mississippi Gulf Coast 912 Project, an influential South Mississippi Tea Party group affiliated with conservative former Fox News program host Glenn Beck's national 912 Project.

The Mississippi Tea Party sent a December letter to legislators demanding that they take action to drug test welfare recipients, act against illegal immigrants, reactivate the legislature's un-American activities panel, and nullify a number of federal programs under the rubric of state sovereignty, among other proposals. When the legislature failed to pass welfare drug testing, Ballot Initiative #33 was the result.

"Initiative #33 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to require that persons receiving public assistance, as well as state contractors, subcontractors, and state employees, must undergo random drug testing," says the initiative's official summary. "Failing two drug tests results in loss of benefits. Persons not currently receiving public assistance must pass drug testing before receiving benefits. This initiative also requires that persons residing in the state illegally are prohibited from receiving public assistance or state salary of any kind."

The initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment, is broader than the failed bill it substitutes for. It also includes state contractors, subcontractors, and employees.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast 912 Project needs to collect 90,000 valid voter signatures by mid-October, which is the deadline for getting the initiative on the 2012 ballot. If organizers can't gather 90,000 signatures by mid-October, but can get over the top by the next deadline, mid-December, they could qualify it for the 2012 ballot.

The random, suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients was thrown out by a federal appeals court as unconstitutional -- a violation of the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unwarranted searches -- when Michigan tried it a decade ago. Another such program went into effect July 1 in Florida, and will face a similar constitutional challenge. If Initiative #33 is ever enacted, Mississippi taxpayers will be the next to have to defend an already invalidated program.

MS
United States

Montana Judge Blocks Restrictive Medical Marijuana Provisions

A state judge has blocked some of the most onerous provisions of a new law designed to rein in Montana's medical marijuana industry from taking effect. But other provisions of the law, which will make life more difficult for patients and providers, are now in effect.

medical marijuana containers and vaporizer (image via wikimedia)
District Court Judge James Reynolds issued a preliminary injunction late Thursday to block those portions of the law from going into effect hours later. But the rest of the repressive "reform" is in effect as of July 1.

Reynolds ruled that lawmakers went too far in trying to clamp down. He blocked a provision of the new law that outlawed anyone making money in the business, including growers being compensated for their efforts. He blocked the law's ban on advertising and promotion of medical marijuana. And he threw out the new law's provision limiting providers to growing for no more than three patients.

"The court is unaware of and has not been shown where any person in any other licensed and lawful industry in Montana -- be he a barber, an accountant, a lawyer or a doctor -- who, providing a legal product or service, is denied the right to charge for that service or is limited in the number of people he or she can serve," Reynolds wrote.

Those provisions in the law "will certainly limit the number of willing providers and will thereby deny the access of Montanans otherwise eligible for medical marijuana to this legal product and thereby deny these persons this fundamental right of seeking their health in a lawful manner," Reynolds continued.

The lawsuit against the new law was brought by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, which is also organizing a referendum effort to block the law from going into effect until it can go before the voters in November 2012. Montana voters approved the old, less restrictive, medical marijuana law in 2004 with 62% of the vote.

The association called the ruling "a partial victory," noting that "caregivers" have been eliminated and must now become registered "providers." "This, of course, temporarily breaks down the entire system, Yet, it was clearly the judge's intention to allow commercial activity," the group noted.

For a more detailed look at the new law and how the judge's order modified it, visit this Montana NORML web page.

Helena, MT
United States

Montana Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative Petition

The state of Montana Tuesday officially approved the petitions medical marijuana advocates want to circulate in an attempt to suspend or overturn a highly restrictive medical marijuana law approved by the legislature this year. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch notified the initiative's sponsor, the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, that Attorney General Steve Bullock had found the petition's language legally sufficient.

The changes in the law, which would wipe out the state's heretofore thriving dispensaries, are set to take effect Friday. But that might not happen. The association filed suit in district court seeking to temporarily block the new law. District Judge James Reynolds of Helena is expected to issue an order Thursday blocking parts or all of the law from taking effect.

Signature gathering will begin after the association trains the hundreds of volunteers who will be collecting signatures, association spokeswoman Kate Cholewa told The Missoulian Tuesday.

"We want to get everyone trained and trained well," Cholewa said. "There will be some petitions out on the street over the Fourth of July weekend. Everyone wants to do something to contribute, and this is certainly an opportunity."

To suspend the new law, organizers must obtain the signatures of 15% of the voters in 51 of the 100 House districts. That will mean somewhere between 31,238 and 43,247 valid signatures, depending on which House districts are used.

Signatures must be turned in by September 30. If enough voters reject the new law, the 2004 medical marijuana initiative that became law with 62% of the vote would be back in effect.

Montana's medical marijuana melee is far from over.

Helena, MT
United States

More States Go After Synthetic Drugs

Although new synthetics are coming to market faster than governments can ban them, a number of states have moved in recent weeks to criminalize their possession and distribution. In Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, state governments have enacted bans on synthetic cannabinoids ("fake pot") or synthetic stimulants ("bath salts"), or both. In South Dakota, they took a slightly different path to arrive at the same end.

Fake pot goes under many brand names. Spice is one. (image via wikimedia.org)
Synthetic cannabinoids are marketed as "incense" under a variety of names, including Spice and K-2. They are currently the subject of a one-year emergency ban by the DEA, which is set to expire at the end of February. "Bath salts" are made from methcathinone analogues, typically mephedrone and MDPV, and produce a high likened to cocaine, methamphetamines, and ecstasy. The DEA lists them as a "drug of concern," but has yet to act against them.  They are sold under names like Bliss, Ivory Wave, and the less mellow-sounding Charley Sheene and Drone.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law House Bill 1039 on May 31. It criminalizes the possession of "bath salts" by making them a Schedule I controlled substance. The new law makes permanent an emergency ban on the drugs that went into effect in January.

In Louisiana, the legislature has passed House Bill 12, which bans both synthetic marijuana and "bath salts." Gov. Bobby Jindal, who in January issued an executive emergency ban on the synthetic stimulants and who made this bill part of his legislative agenda, is expected to sign it shortly. Under the bill, both fake pot and "bath salts" will be classified as Schedule I drugs and their possession or distribution will be punished accordingly. This bill is set to go into effect July 15.

In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton (D) has signed into law HF0057, which criminalizes bath salts, fake pot, and 2-CE, as well as any substances that are "substantially similar" in chemical structure and pharmacological effects to illegal drugs. That law goes into effect Friday. Although all of the substances are placed on Schedule I of the controlled substances list, possession of fake pot is a misdemeanor and sale of fake pot is a gross misdemeanor. Possession or sale of bath salts or 2-CE is a felony.

"Please do not use as SNUFF," a web site that peddles "bath salts" helpfully advises (ivory-wave.com)
In Minnesota, at least, retailers are fighting back. Three of them filed suit in Hennepin County (Minneapolis) District Court Monday charging that the law is too vague and broad and is not backed by scientific proof. They also argue that the law provides no criteria for determining if a substance is "substantially similar" to an illegal drug and that the ban infringes on individuals' right to privacy and pursuit of happiness.

Consumers and retailers won't know "if they're committing a crime or not," said attorney Marc Kurzman, who is representing the stores. "You shouldn’t have to get the answer by being charged and going through criminal trials," he said. 

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) last week signed into law Senate Bill 1006, which bans the possession, sale, and use of fake pot, "bath salts," and, for good measure, the psychedelic designer drug 2-CE and salvia divinorum. Possession of the proscribed substances can earn you a year in prison, while sales or possession with intent can get you five years. The law will go into effect in late August, 60 days after it was signed into law.

"If left unchecked, synthetic drugs could have developed into the most dangerous drug crisis since methamphetamine labs found their way into our state,'' Corbett said in a press release announcing his signature. "This ban on synthetic drugs sends a strong message that Pennsylvania will not tolerate the use of these chemicals."

In South Dakota, Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) back in March signed into law Senate Bill 34, which will go into effect Friday. In deals with the fake pot and "bath salts" "threat" not by criminalizing them, but by making it a crime to use, possess, manufacture, or distribute them -- or any other substance -- to get high. In South Dakota, it is already a crime to have ingested an illegal drug; now, it will be a crime to ingest legal substances if it is for the purpose of intoxication.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) last week signed into law Senate Bill 54 criminalizing the sale, manufacture, and possession of synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic stimulants. Possession of synthetic cannabinoids is now punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and three years in prison for a second offense, while manufacture or distribution garners up to six years in prison. Possession of synthetic stimulants now garners up to a year in jail for a first offense, while distribution of manufacture earns a number of years in prison, depending on the quantity involved.

"By classifying dangerous synthetic narcotics as illegal in the state of Wisconsin we are giving law enforcement the ability to take these destructive substances off of our streets and out of our neighborhoods," Gov. Walker said in a signing statement.

For a master list of states that have banned or are considering banning or otherwise controlling mephedrone and MDPV ("bath salts"), go here. For a master list of states that have banned or are considering banning or otherwise controlling fake pot, go here.

Maine House Rejects Marijuana Legalization Bill

The Maine House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to reject a bill that would have brought the state closer to legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The bill failed on a vote of 107-39.

The Maine state capitol. There is no joy for pot fans in Augusta this week. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Introduced by Sen. Diane Russell (D-Portland), the bill, LD 1453, would have legalized the possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use and placed a 7% tax on pot sales. But the bill was amended in committee to propose a statewide voter referendum on the issue and to add a caveat that it would not take effect until marijuana was legal under federal law.

Even that watered down version of the bill was too much for opponents.

"I don’t believe the time has come yet for this," said Rep. Michael Celli (R-Brewer) during debate. "We have to let the federal government make the first move."

Supporters of the measure argued in vain that Maine was wasting $26 million a year enforcing the pot laws and that citizens should at least be given the chance to decide the issue. They also disputed statements by opponents that pot is a "gateway drug."

"It is time to stop turning law-abiding people into criminals," Russell said.

Not all Republicans opposed the bill. Libertarian-leaning Rep. Aaron Libby (R-Waterloo) said the federal government is trampling on states' rights and the constitution.

"We should follow the constitution and stop trying to police moralities," Libby said.

That's not going to happen this year, though. The same day the House rejected the bill, it went to the Senate, which concurred with the House vote. The bill is now dead for the session.

Augusta, ME
United States

Daniels Vetoes Indiana Asset Forfeiture "Reform"

A bill that would have given 90% of the proceeds from seized cash and goods to local prosecutors and law enforcement agencies involved in the case has been vetoed by Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). The remaining 10% would have gone to the Common School Fund.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) has vetoed a smelly asset forfeiture bill. (Image courtesy state of Indiana)
Under the Indiana constitution, all proceeds from seized items must go to the Common School Fund, but county prosecutors and law enforcement agencies have found several means of skirting the law. Some county prosecutors have contracted out asset forfeiture cases to private attorneys, leading to lucrative pay-outs to lucky litigators. Others have claimed ludicrous law enforcement "expense of collection" costs to justify keeping hold of their looted lucre.

In vetoing Senate Enrolled Act 215, Gov. Daniels said paying out 90% of every forfeiture dollar to police and prosecutors for "expense of collection" was improper. "That is unwarranted as policy and constitutionally unacceptable in light of the Supreme Court's recent guidance and the plain language of Article 8, Section 2 of the Indiana Constitution," Daniels said in his veto message.

On April 27, the state Supreme Court reaffirmed that asset forfeiture funds must be paid to the Common School Fund. But two days later, the Republican-led General Assembly voted to approve the change in asset forfeiture distribution anyway.

Now, Gov. Daniels has stood up for Indiana schoolchildren -- and the rule of law -- in the face of the law enforcement lobby and despite the wishes of his own Republican peers.

Indianapolis, IN
United States

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