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Doctor fights prosecutors' efforts to gag him, supporters

Wichita, KS
United States
Fort Mill Times (SC)

Press Release: Congressman Frank Introduces Federal Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

[Courtesy of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy] For Immediate Release: April 17, 2008 Contact: Whitney A. Taylor, (617) 901-7765 Congressman Frank Introduces Federal Marijuana Decriminalization Bill CSMP Applauds Effort and Symmetry with Proposed Statewide Ballot Initiative Boston, April 17 — The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP) today applauded U.S. Rep. Barney Frank's (D-4th MA) introduction of federal marijuana decriminalization legislation that parallels CSMP's statewide effort to create sound marijuana policies. Last month Frank announced his intention to reform smalltime marijuana penalties – a position shared by the majority of Massachusetts voters – during an appearance on HBO’s "Real Time with Bill Maher." Following through with that commitment, today Frank introduced "The Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008" — which would change federal law to remove federal penalties for the personal possession of up to 100 grams and not-for-profit transfer of up to 28.3 grams of marijuana, and make public consumption of marijuana punishable by a $100 fine. "The Massachusetts Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy is proud to be moving forward on the state level to create a sound marijuana policy while Congressman Frank tackles this issue in the nation’s capital," said Whitney A. Taylor, CSMP campaign manager. "The people of Massachusetts are ready for a proven, practical marijuana policy, which is reflected in the efforts of both Congressman Frank and CSMP." While not as far reaching as Frank's proposal to change federal law, CSMP's initiative will greatly reduce the human and financial costs of current laws by creating a civil penalty system for possession of up to 28 grams of marijuana. According to Harvard economist Dr. Jeff Miron, Massachusetts’ taxpayers spend $29.5 million a year just to arrest and book offenders who possess about 28 grams or less of marijuana. This arrest can result in up to six months in jail and a $500 fine, but more costly is the creation of a criminal record — or CORI — for these offenders. A CORI can essentially mean a lifetime of punishment, making an individual ineligible for student loans, creating barriers to employment, and banning smalltime marijuana violators from many housing opportunities, Taylor said. Last year, over 7,500 Bay Staters received a CORI and endless barriers to a successful life for personal possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. "This commonsense approach to marijuana possession will create huge savings, both human and financial," Taylor said. "Thousands of individuals will be able to move on to lead productive lives, while over $29 million a year can stay in local community coffers — it is a win-win for Massachusetts." ###
Boston, MA
United States

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


Barney Frank Introduces Bold Reform of Federal Marijuana Laws MPP Praises Bill as "Major Step Toward Sanity"

CONTACT: Dan Bernath, MPP assistant director of communications, 202-462-5747 ext. 115

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Officials of the Marijuana Policy Project praised the "Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008," introduced today by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), as an important step toward bringing federal law into line with scientific fact, practical reality and public opinion.

    "Congressman Frank's bill represents a major step toward sanity in federal marijuana policy," said MPP director of government relations Aaron Houston. "The decades-long federal war on marijuana protects no one and in fact has ruined countless lives. Most Americans do not believe that simple possession of a small amount of marijuana should be a criminal matter, and it's time Congress listened to the voters."

    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 one 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.

    An October 2005 Gallup poll found that 55 percent of voters believe "possession of small amounts of marijuana ... should not be treated as a criminal offense," while only 43 percent believed marijuana possession should be a criminal matter. Eleven states treat possession of a small amount of marijuana as a relatively minor offense – often a civil infraction rather than a criminal offense – that generally does not involve arrest and jail. In Alaska, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana in the home is legal, protected by the right to privacy guaranteed by the state constitution.

    "In fact, federal prosecution of individuals for possession of a small amount of marijuana is extremely rare," said Houston. "Congressman Frank's bill would bring federal law into line with this reality, as well as with the undisputable scientific fact that marijuana is far safer than legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol."

    With more than 23,000 members and 180,000 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.

United States

Bill introduced in Congress to decriminalize marijuana!

[Courtesy of Marijuana Policy Project] 

Today, a bill to eliminate all federal penalties for marijuana possession was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Would you please take one minute to ask your U.S. representative to support this bill? MPP’s easy online action system makes it simple — just enter your name and contact info and we'll do the rest.

"The Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008," introduced by Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), would eliminate the threat of arrest and prison for the possession of up to 3.5 ounces of marijuana and/or the not-for-profit transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana. It would not affect federal laws prohibiting selling marijuana for profit, importing and exporting marijuana, or cultivating marijuana.  It also would not affect any state or local laws and regulations.

Because almost all marijuana arrests are made by local and state police, the primary impact of this federal bill is twofold:  First, it would offer protection to people who are apprehended with marijuana in federal buildings or on federal land (such as national parks); and, second, the bill sends a message to state governments that the federal government is now open to the notion of states reducing their marijuana penalties, too.

This historic legislation comes 36 years after the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse made a similar recommendation to President Richard Nixon, suggesting that he decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

MPP has worked closely with Congressman Frank’s staff over the last year, helping to craft the legislation and build political support for the proposal on Capitol Hill.

Now that the bill has been introduced, members of Congress need to hear from their constituents who want to see it passed. It takes only a minute or two to use MPP’s online action system to send a quick note to your member of the House.

Thanks so much for your help.

Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $3.0 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2008. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

Washington, DC
United States

Harm Reduction: More Than 300,000 HIV/AIDS Cases Linked to Injection Drug Use

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 300,000 people have been infected with the HIV/AIDS virus through injection drug use. That is roughly 30% of all the slightly more than one million cases reported in the US since the disease first appeared on the radar in the early 1980s. The figures are contained in Table 3 of the CDC's latest HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report, covering cases through 2006.

According to the report, more than 170,000 men and nearly 75,000 women contracted the virus through sharing dirty needles. Another 68,000 men contracted the virus through a combination of injection drug use and male-to-male sexual contact.

If there is any good news on the HIV/AIDS drug injection front, it is that the percentage of new cases linked to injection drug use appears to be dropping. While over the history of the epidemic, roughly 30% of all cases are linked to needle-sharing, in 2006 that number was only 17%.

Still, that means that more than 3,000 men and more than 1,700 women contracted the virus in 2006 through injection drug use. Nearly 1,200 more men contracted the virus through a combination of needle-sharing and male-to-male sex.

Needle exchange and other programs designed to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS currently operate in around 200 US localities, but despite their proven record in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, they continue to face hostility in some communities and from some state and local officials. Under an amendment offered by then Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), the federal government is prohibited from spending federal funds on needle exchange programs. Both remaining Democratic Party presidential candidates, Sens. Hillary Clinton (NY) and Barack Obama (IL), have called for an end to that ban.

Marijuana: Barney Frank Introduces Federal Decriminalization Bill

Last month, Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) announced he would file a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession at the federal level. Wednesday, Frank followed through, introducing the "The Personal Use of Marijuana By Responsible Adults Act of 2008," which would set a maximum $100 fine under federal law for possession or not-for-profit transfer of less than 100 grams of marijuana.

Barney Frank
Frank did not comment publicly this week on the proposed legislation, but in a statement last month on his marijuana legislation, Frank said it was a waste of federal time and resources to prosecute minor marijuana offenses.

"I think it is poor law enforcement to keep on the books legislation that establishes as a crime behavior the government does not seriously wish to prosecute," he said. "For highly-trained federal law enforcement agents to spend time prosecuting people for smoking marijuana is a diversion of scarce resources from their job of protecting public safety."

Marijuana laws should be left to the states, he suggested. "The norm in America is for the states to decide whether particular behaviors should be made criminal. To make the smoking of marijuana one of those extremely rare instances of federal crime -- to make a 'federal case' out of it -- is wholly disproportionate to the activity involved. We do not have federal criminal prohibitions against drinking alcoholic beverages, and there are generally no criminal penalties for the use of tobacco at the state and federal levels for adults. There is no rational argument for treating marijuana so differently from these other substances."

Even if the Frank bill were to pass, which seems unlikely any time in the near future, it would have limited impact on the 800,000-plus marijuana arrests each year since the vast majority of them are made by state and local law enforcement. But it would send a very strong signal to the states that the federal government no longer considered pot-smoking a serious problem worthy of the criminal justice system.

Barney Frank Introduces Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Via MPP (sorry no link):
"The Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008," introduced by Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), would eliminate the threat of arrest and prison for the possession of up to 3.5 ounces of marijuana and/or the not-for-profit transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana. It would not affect federal laws prohibiting selling marijuana for profit, importing and exporting marijuana, or cultivating marijuana. It also would not affect any state or local laws and regulations.

Because almost all marijuana arrests are made by local and state police, the primary impact of this federal bill is twofold: First, it would offer protection to people who are apprehended with marijuana in federal buildings or on federal land (such as national parks); and, second, the bill sends a message to state governments that the federal government is now open to the notion of states reducing their marijuana penalties, too.

This historic legislation comes 36 years after the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse made a similar recommendation to President Richard Nixon, suggesting that he decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
Congress can send the right message by passing this bill and demonstrating its commitment to defending individual freedom, while focusing federal law-enforcement resources on real crimes. As Barney Frank argues:
"I do not believe that the federal government should treat adults who choose to smoke marijuana as criminals. Federal law enforcement is a serious business, and we should be concentrating our efforts in this regard on measures that truly protect the public."
Despite bi-partisan co-sponsorship (Ron Paul, of course), I'm kinda not expecting this thing to become law anytime soon, but it will be fun to see who our friends are. Any debate over the bill will just reveal the idiocy of those in Congress who want federal law enforcement agents busting hippies for half-eighths, instead of defending the homeland from terrorists, zombies, and dancing libertarians.

Let it be known that one can stand for sensible drug policy without being voted out of Congress.
United States

Please Burn the Byrne Grants

Since Scott opined yesterday about the injustice of paramilitarized policing, I thought I would follow up by referring back to a related topic I've addressed from time to time -- coordinated drug busts as taxpayer-funded lobbying by law enforcement agencies, large numbers of raids conducted together as part of statewide operations, intended to garner publicity for a funding program known as the Byrne Grants and thereby avoid Congressional budget cuts. California and Kentucky were among the guilty parties last year, though I suspect they were not the only ones. Kentucky is at again, according to libertarian SWAT-critic Radley Balko of Reason magazine, writing last week for FoxNews.com:
Last month, police in Kentucy went on a 24-hour drug raid blitz. According to local media accounts, the raids uncovered 23 methamphetamine labs, seized more than 2,400 pounds of marijuana, identified 16 drug-endangered children and arrested 565 people for illegal drug use. ... "During 'Operation Byrne Blitz,'" a local television station reported, "state police and highway patrol agencies, local police and sheriff's departments, and drug task forces throughout the country conducted undercover investigations, marijuana eradication efforts and drug interdiction activities. The collaborative effort, named for the federal grant program which funds many of the anti-drug efforts, underscored the impact that cuts to this funding could have on local and statewide drug enforcement."
Perhaps because they often are tied to drug arrest statistics, it was task funded by the Byrne grants that perpetrated the racist scandals in Tulia and Hearne, in which large numbers of minorities were rounded up and prosecuted, only for it all to turn out to be fabrication. In the Overkill report, Balko has identified the grants as one of the reasons for the overwhelming increase in the use of SWAT teams for minor drug enforcement. The Bush administration, surprisingly, has taken the lead in trying to slash Byrne funding, while Democrats have led efforts to restore it, such as NY Sen. Chuck Schumer at a press conference late last month. A letter signed by 51 senators asked the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Appropriations to restore cut Byrne funding, among them presidential contenders Clinton and Obama. To be fair to the candidates, some of our favorite senators unfortunately are on there too, such as Chris Dodd (D=CT), sponsor of the first Senate bill taking on the Higher Education Act drug penalty; Dick Durbin (D-IL); the justice-reform-minded Jim Webb (D-VA), others who've done some good things from time to time. Democrats clearly relish the support of national law enforcement unions, and it must be hard for any politician to resist getting to stand up next to law enforcement leaders at a press conference and call for more money for them. The Byrne grants fund other things besides arrests too, and the reasons for opposing the program may seem like harder sells from the point of view of a member of the "establishment" than it does for us out here. Also to be fair to the Democrats, those 51 signatories included 15 Republicans. A conservative commentator from the Heritage Foundation, Cully Stimson, also commented on FoxNews.com, but making the case for the grants, in Don't Burn the Byrne Grants, back in February. Still, if George Bush can get it right, I think it's lame for Democrats not to, especially when one of the results of this program is what happened in Tulia and Hearne, about as close to overt race-based persecution by government as can be found. I say, do burn the Byrne Grants, in fact please burn them. The fact that law enforcement groups quite transparently lobby for them by conducting massive numbers of drug busts to get attention ought to set off warning bells. Any good things the grants might also support can be funded through other channels. This program is badly structured and misdirected, and it should go.
United States

Sentencing: Supreme Court Passes on Chance to End Punishments for Acquitted Crimes

In a March 31 order , the US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from a man who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for an offense of which he was acquitted. In refusing to hear the appeal, the high court let stand the federal judicial practice of punishing defendants convicted of one crime by crafting sentences based also on "acquitted conduct" -- in effect punishing them for crimes in which they were found not guilty.

Supreme Court sanctions supreme injustice
The case was that of Mark Hurn of Madison, Wisconsin, who was charged with possession of crack cocaine and possession of powder cocaine after a 2005 raid of his home in which police seized 450 grams of crack and 50 grams of powder cocaine. At trial, Hurn admitted to dealing drugs, but testified the crack belonged to other people living in the house. The jury convicted him of the powder cocaine offenses, but acquitted him of the crack offenses.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Hurn should have faced about three years in prison for the powder cocaine conviction. But federal prosecutors argued he should be punished for both offenses with a 20-year sentence, and US District Court Judge John Shabazz agreed. Saying there was good reason to think Hurn was guilty of the crack charges, he sentenced him to nearly 18 years.

"This was an extraordinary increase," said Elizabeth Perkins, a lawyer in Madison who filed his appeal. "Allowing a sentencing judge to disregard the verdict of the jury is very disappointing," she told the Los Angeles Times.

But it's business as usual in the Alice in Wonderland world of the federal courts. Nearly a decade ago, the Supreme Court endorsed sentencing for acquitted conduct in a California case, but only in a short unsigned opinion. Under the court's rule, judges can sentence defendants by "relying on the entire range of conduct" presented by prosecutors, not just the charges that resulted in guilty verdicts. That has given judges the freedom to send people to prison for years for charges of which they were not convicted.

Hurn had appealed to the appeals court in Chicago, which agreed that his sentence was "based almost entirely on acquitted conduct," but upheld it nonetheless, citing the earlier Supreme Court ruling.

Hurn appealed to the Supreme Court last fall, with his lawyers arguing that prosecutors shouldn't be able to "execute an end run" around the jury. They cited a series of Supreme Court rulings in recent years that severely limited judges' ability to sentence defendants based on conduct not proven before a jury, but the Supreme Court didn't want to touch it. Instead, it rejected without comment even hearing the appeal.

"This is very disappointing," Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor who is an expert on sentencing, told the Times. "They have dodged this for now, but eventually the Supreme Court will have to grapple with this again."

Pain Treatment: Prosecutors in Case Seek to Shut Up Doctor, Critics

Federal prosecutors in the case of Haysville, Kansas, physician Dr. Steven Schneider and his wife, who were indicted for allegedly operating a "pill mill" by prescribing to pain patients, asked a federal judge last Friday for a gag order to keep Schneider and his supporters from making their case in the court of public opinion.

The case of the Schneiders has attracted the attention of pain treatment advocates critical of heavy-handed federal government attacks on pain doctors, including the Pain Relief Network. The network's leader, Siobhan Reynolds, has been instrumental in mobilizing Schneider's patients in support of their doctor and in opposition to the federal prosecution. Prosecutors sought a temporary injunction to bar Schneider, his wife, other family members, and PRN's Reynolds from talking to the media.

"We strongly oppose a gag order because we believe in the public's access to the justice system," defense attorney Lawrence Williamson told the court. "We think the request is overbroad and not supported by law at all." While prosecutors accused the defense of trying to taint the jury pool, Williamson said that was not the case. "We are often contacted by media to respond to allegations that are made by the government and if the public has questions to the allegations we should be able to respond to those within the rule," Williamson said.

Prosecutors had no problem with media coverage of the case when they trumpeted the arrests of Schneider and his wife back in December, and they remained quiet when local media ran stories supportive of the prosecution. But questions raised in the press by Reynolds and other supporters about the 34-count indictment of Schneider accusing him of a variety of crimes related to his prescribing of opioid pain medications have the feds seeking to silence their foes.

Prosecutors claimed Reynolds told a patient that if he was going to kill himself because of lack of access to pain medications, he should do it publicly -- a charge Reynolds angrily rejected, calling it "absolutely false."

"This is just a wild allegation," Reynolds said. "Basically it was put out there to try to smear me. The Pain Relief Network works very hard to try to stop the suicides going on across the country because of untreated pain, the epidemic of untreated pain," she told the Associated Press. "I'm shocked that the government would try to get a gag order against a political activist. I find that stunning."

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