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Obama's Drug Czar?

You Can Make a Difference

Dear friends,

You have an opportunity right now to influence one of the most important choices President-elect Obama will make. The media is reporting that he is considering nominating Republican Congressman James Ramstad (MN/3rd) to be his “drug czar”. It’s easy to understand why. Rep. Ramstad is in recovery from substance abuse (alcohol) and has a long track record in support of increasing access to drug treatment. Ramstad, however, is still mostly wedded to the failed punitive drug war policies of the last 30 thirty years.

For instance, Ramstad has voted against medical marijuana five times. He has voted against making sterile syringes more available to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS three times. Even though his colleagues are increasingly supporting sentencing reform, including eliminating the crack/powder sentencing disparity, he hasn’t stood up on the issue.

In other words, Rep. Ramstad does not appear to be committed to the kind of change President-elect Obama has said he will bring to our nation’s drug policies. 

Obama needs to hear from you, and is making it easy for you to contact him through his website. Will you take a minute today to urge Obama to choose a drug czar who will champion reform?

The Drug Policy Alliance believes our nation’s next drug czar should be chosen based on the following criteria:

  1. Are they committed to enacting and supporting evidence-based policies? ONDCP should make decisions based on science, not politics or ideology.
  2. Are they committed to reducing the harms associated with both drugs and punitive drug laws? We need a new bottom line for U.S. drug policy.
  3. Do they think drug use should be treated as a health issue not a criminal justice issue? To paraphrase former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, we need a surgeon general not a military general or police officer.
  4. Do they welcome and encourage debate and research? We need a drug czar who is open-minded and willing to consider every alternative.
  5. Are they committed to reducing the number of nonviolent offenders behind bars? Our country’s next drug czar should be fully committed to major sentencing reform.

Who President-elect Obama chooses as his drug czar will affect everyone. DPA is working over-time to influence that decision but we need your help. Please let Obama know that you want him to nominate a drug czar who supports marijuana law reform, syringe availability and treatment-instead-of-incarceration. 

Sincerely,

Bill Piper
Director, National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance Network

Latin America: Bolivia's Morales Says Yes to Obama, No to the DEA

Bolivian President Evo Morales said at a Monday news conference at the UN that he would like to improve ties with the incoming administration of Barack Obama, but that the DEA would not be allowed back in Bolivia during the remainder of his term. The comments signal an effort to restore ties with the US that were badly frayed during the Bush administration while still retaining Bolivian sovereignty over its drug control policies.

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Evo Morales, probably holding a coca branch
"My interest is how to improve relations with the new president," Morales said after addressing the UN General Assembly. "I think we could have a lot of things in common.
If we talk about change I have some experience now," he said, referring to the Obama presidential campaign's slogans based on the need for change. "I think it would be good to share experiences with the new president-elect."

Morales, a former coca grower union leader who became the first indigenous person to become Bolivia's leader, compared himself to Obama, who is the first black man to win the US presidency. Better relations between the two countries would have to be based on "respect from one government to another," Morales said.

There has been tension between the US and Morales over his "zero cocaine, but not zero coca" policies, under which Bolivian farmers in certain areas are allowed to grow coca for traditional and industrial uses. But because the Morales government appears committed to battling the cocaine trade, US criticism of his coca policies was muted until recently.

In response to what it called US meddling in its internal affairs, Bolivia has this fall undertaken a number of measures to hit back. It ordered USAID to leave the Chapare coca growing region, and after unrest from right-wing separatists resulted in bloody conflict in September, Morales expelled the US ambassador. The US retaliated by expelling Bolivia's ambassador to Washington and by "decertifying" Bolivia as not cooperating in US drug war goals. After that, Morales first barred over-flights by US drug surveillance planes and then, two weeks ago threw the DEA out of the country.

"The DEA will not return whilst I am still president," Morales said, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. Nor does he want US anti-drug aid. He said he was working with other countries in the fight against drug trafficking. "We've discussed matters with Brazil, Russia and France, where they manufacture helicopters," he said. "We want to buy some, perhaps using emergency loans. There is interest in South American countries and Europe to join together to fight against a common problem, which is drug trafficking."

And Washington is the odd man out. Perhaps overall relations will warm with an Obama presidency, but not if the US insists that the DEA be allowed back.

Australia: Hemp Production Now Legal in New South Wales

American hemp consumers still can't grow their own, but as of this week, they now have one more choice of where to import it from. The state government of New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, Wednesday approved large-scale hemp farming and is set to begin considering license applications under the new plan.

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hemp plants (Luke Zigovitz for votehemp.com)
Hemp, the lanky, minimal-THC cousin to recreational marijuana, produces oils used in foods and balms, as well as fibers that are used in in clothing, cosmetics, livestock and animal feeds, and building materials, among other things. The US DEA considers hemp to be marijuana and bars its cultivation to the US, although due to a federal appeals court ruling, it has been blocked in its efforts to ban hemp imports or the sale of hemp products here.

Hemp is also environmentally friendly. It requires little water and grows quickly. In the US Midwest, feral hemp plants grow in abundance more than 60 years after fields were planted during World War II's "Hemp For Victory" campaign and then destroyed after the war.

"Industrial hemp has the potential to provide farmers with a much-needed additional fast-growing summer crop option that can be used in rotation with winter grain crops," said the Minister for Primary Industries, Ian Macdonald, in remarks reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. "It's a potentially lucrative industry due to its environmentally friendly nature."

Under the Hemp Industry Act regulations, farmers must be licensed, fields must be audited and regularly inspected, and police must test the crop to ensure that it has insignificant THC levels.

Some 200 people have contacted the Department of Primary Industries to inquire about growing hemp, the Morning Herald reported.

Australia will now join Canada, China, and a number of European countries as hemp producers. The US will continue to import the hemp it consumes. Tough luck, American farmers.

Feature: Obama's Appointees Raise Questions in the Drug Reform Community

Like other interest groups, the drug reform movement has the Obama transition under a microscope, searching for clues on the new administration's intentions as it scrutinizes those appointments for positions that are going to be key to advancing the cause. Some of the Obama transition team's early moves have some drug reformers sounding alarm bells, but other reformers -- not so much.

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Eric Holder -- not the reformer's dream pick
Drug reformers were not particularly enthralled with Obama's vice-president selection, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), who made a career authoring drug war legislation. Biden can rightfully claim to be the father of the drug czar's office, he was a big fan of harsh sentencing laws, he crafted the horrid RAVE Act. Never encountering a "drug problem" that couldn't be fixed with another federal criminal law, Biden most recently authored a bill that would criminalize being on board a home-made submarine carrying drugs.

While Biden may have begun to see the light in recent years -- he is author of one of the best bills seeking to address the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity (which he helped create) -- drug reformers remain deeply suspicious of a man who built a political power base on the shoulders of the assembled ranks of law enforcement.

Nor did the appointment of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) as White House chief of staff alleviate concerns. While the sharp-elbowed political operative has not been a leading drug warrior, neither has he shied from using drug war discourse as a weapon against his political foes.

One oft-cited example of Emanuel's penchant for drug war rhetoric came a decade ago, when he defended the Clinton administration's unconstitutional effort to punish physicians who recommended medical marijuana to patients. "We are going to continue to find ways within the administration to fight legalization and the notion of legalization," he said in an interview. "We're against the message that [California's medical marijuana initiative] sends to children," Emanuel demagogued. (Emanuel, now a member of Congress, did vote for the pro-medical marijuana Hinchey amendment in July of last year.)

This week's announcement that former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder would be nominated for the Attorney General post did little to allay mounting fears that Obama was filling key positions for drug policy with Clinton-era drug war holdovers. Some were quick to point to Holder's time as US Attorney for the District of Columbia, when he pushed through changes in DC's marijuana laws that made sales a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

As the Washington Post reported:

In addition, US Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. said in an interview that he is considering not only prosecuting more marijuana cases but also asking the DC Council to enact stiffer penalties for the sale and use of marijuana. "We have too long taken the view that what we would term to be minor crimes are not important," Holder said, referring to current attitudes toward marijuana use and other offenses such as panhandling.

Holder said he hopes to discourage some of that activity by being tougher on marijuana crimes. New guidelines should be in place by the end of the month, he said, noting that the District could learn from New York's "zero-tolerance" policy. There, crime plummeted when police aggressively enforced quality-of-life crimes, including panhandling and public drinking, which gave officers an opportunity to check for drugs, guns and outstanding warrants.

That same year, he told the Washington Times he was considering proposing a mandatory-minimum 18-month sentence for any marijuana sales. That, at least, didn't happen.

Drug reformers took some small solace, however, from Holder's comments on mandatory minimum sentencing in a 1999 interview. Responding to a question about whether it was time to review mandatory minimums, Holder said:

I do not think that we should ever foreclose the possibility that we take a look at how the laws that we have passed are working. I tend to think that mandatory minimum sentences that deal with people who commit violent crimes are almost always good things. I think the concerns are generally raised about mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. And I think there are some questions that we ought to ask.

I do not go into it with a presumption that they're necessarily bad, but we ought to look at the statistics and see, are we putting in prison, are we using our limited prison space for the kind of people that we want to have there? Are the sentences commensurate with the kind of conduct that puts people in jail for these mandatory minimum sentences?

Those are the kinds of questions I think that we ought to ask. And as thinking legislators on both sides, Republicans and Democrats, liberal and conservative, I would hope that we would ask those questions and then go into it with an open mind.

With drug war cheerleaders like Biden and Emanuel and professional drug warriors like Holder being invited to join the Obama team, drug reformers are understandably skittish. But most are taking a wait and see attitude, even as they bemoan some of Obama's choices.

"Some of the appointments, such as Holder, are certainly concerning," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "There is some problematic stuff in the past, yes, but people do change and learn. Who would have thought that a drug warrior like Bob Barr would end up as a Libertarian?" Mirken asked. "I don't think that because somebody said or did something we disagreed with a decade ago, he is necessarily bound to those same positions now, but we will be watching closely. If the time comes to freak out, we will, but it's premature to freak out now."

The reform community should not be freaking out, agreed Eric Sterling, who served as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee in the 1980s and now heads the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. Instead, it should be trying to flex its muscles.

"I think the reform community is way overreacting and, more importantly, not taking the initiative," he said "Reform leaders ought to be asking themselves what letters they've written to President-elect Obama, what letters to the editor they've penned, what op-eds they've submitted. Is the movement doing anything other than passively reacting?" he asked.

"Our movement has been under such assault for the past eight years that we're really out of practice in being effective political actors," Sterling argued. "I just contacted [the left-leaning magazine] In These Times suggesting an article about taxing marijuana as a way to prevent the lay-off of public employees. Our movement should be reaching out to people like the public employee unions, maybe buying ads saying 'No teacher should be fired until the legislature tells us how many legal marijuana could pay for.'"

"What you can say about Emanuel and these other people is that they are political and will respond to pressure," said Sterling. "If Emanuel thought our issues were good politics, he would be standing on the ramparts, but it's not good politics because we haven't made it good politics. It's not enough to mobilize the drug reform aficionados, we have to be working with much more powerful organizations and interest groups around issues they care about. The dire situation with the economy right now and the lack of revenues for state and local governments is a tremendous opportunity for us, exactly like 1933 in that sense. What did they do then? They ended Prohibition and taxed alcohol."

Marijuana does not enjoy the same cultural favor that alcohol did, Sterling noted, but that can be overcome. "We need to frame the issue in very stark economic terms. We need to be asking who is going to teach our kids? How are we going to pay for teachers? If the state taxing marijuana is the only way to pay for teachers, should we do it? That marijuana isn't going anywhere. It's still going to be smoked, whether we tax it or not. Why don't we benefit from it?"

"Drug policy reform has its work cut out for it," said Kevin Zeese, a long-time reformer who doubts either major party is ready for fundamental change. "The best we can hope for is a little benign neglect, and that they not continue to waste law enforcement resources on medical marijuana providers in states that allow it."

Given the plateful of problems facing the incoming administration and the state of the drug reform movement, a big push on drug policy on the federal level is unlikely, Zeese argued. "We should be working locally to continue to build momentum and a real movement," he said, suggesting that "benign neglect" could come into play. "If the reform movement continues to push state and local initiatives, I think the Obama administration will stay out of those conflicts. I don't think we'll see the drug czar flying off to different states to campaign against initiatives, and that would be a good thing."

A big push for drug reform is not only unlikely, it may be unwise at this time, Zeese suggested. "The caution Obama brings to the job, and Biden and Emanuel's histories present some room for us to maneuver, but it may be best not to poke the sleeping bear with a stick. We don't want to wake up the criminal justice advocates in the federal government. Benign neglect is better than abuse. Perhaps we should just work under the radar and allow their political caution to work for us, instead of against us."

While Zeese could tick off the bad drug policy stances of some of Obama's newly-forming inner circle, he suggested that those stances were based more on political calculations than ideological enthusiasm. "As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden aligned himself with police and prosecutors -- that is his criminal justice base, that's where the power and safety is. Emanuel was a clear architect of the crime control acts under Clinton that increased police numbers and lengthened sentences. But both these guys are essentially political animals and will take what looks like a hard line to neutralize an issue."

One area that could be an early indicator of the Obama administration's drug reform proclivities is the ongoing DEA raids against California medical marijuana providers. Obama vowed during the campaign to halt those raids. But the big news there could be that there is no news.

"We expect that Obama will keep his promise about ending the raids in California," said MPP's Mirken. "There are plenty of reasons for him to do so, including Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Michigan -- all states that had gone Republican, but that he carried. Whatever else you think about Obama and his team, they can count, and it's hard for me to imagine that they think it is in their interest to continue a war against a quarter of the country, most of whom voted for him," he said.

"That doesn't have to happen in dramatic fashion, you don't have to hold a press conference, it could just be something that happens quietly," said Mirken. "It may be awhile before anyone really sees for sure that a change has occurred. And that's fine -- we don't need a press conference as long as he stops arresting patients and caregivers."

"Obama is no doubt already thinking about a second term and doesn't want to make drug policy reform an issue of conflict with Republicans," said Zeese. "He will play it safe, but there is some opportunity for us there, and I think ending the raids is one of the things he could make happen. He'd prefer not to have medical marijuana patients and advocates angry at him in places like California and Oregon."

"I think he will stop the raids," said Sterling. "I don't see how the raids are helpful to him unless the Republicans are able to gin up some anger about providers, so it would be wise to stay low-key and continue to work with state and local officials so it is not controversial at the local level. But if it becomes controversial, and the Republicans are able to make it an issue, then Obama will be against us. We need to stay under the radar on this right now."

While reformers watch to see what does and doesn't happen regarding the DEA raids -- will they just quietly vanish into that long good night? -- there is still plenty of work to do, said Sterling. "We have to build the movement. We keep seeing the same 300 people at the conferences, maybe 1,000 if you're talking about the harm reduction conferences. No one is going door to door in the black community talking about how the drug war is undermining public safety and its relationship with the police. No one is talking to the unions. We've done well on the education part of our issue, but we haven't done well in developing a political power base, and until we do that, we won't get reform."

Eric Holder and Drug Policy

Obama’s selection of federal prosecutor Eric Holder to serve as attorney general has provoked concern among reformers, namely due to Holder’s calls for increased marijuana enforcement and harsher sentences in Washington, D.C. during the mid-90’s.

U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. said in an interview that he is considering not only prosecuting more marijuana cases but also asking the D.C. Council to enact stiffer penalties for the sale and use of marijuana.

"We have too long taken the view that what we would term to be minor crimes are not important," Holder said, referring to current attitudes toward marijuana use and other offenses such as panhandling. [Washington Post]

There’s nothing good to be said about that, but it’s incomplete in terms of giving us a sense of what Holder’s overall drug policy priorities may be. 3 years later, Holder was sounding a bit more reasonable on the issue of drug sentencing:

QUESTION: In the last couple of weeks there has been renewed dialogue about mandatory minimum sentences. Some conservative groups and some traditionally thought of as liberal groups are both saying that the mandatory minimums are not working, they are filling jails unnecessarily. Is the administration fairly well satisfied that mandatory minimums are good idea? Or will you try -- will this administration try again in the coming Congress to take another look at mandatory minimums?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I do not think that we should ever foreclose the possibility that we take a look at how the laws that we have passed are working. I tend to think that mandatory minimum sentences that deal with people who commit violent crimes are almost always good things. I think the concerns are generally raised about mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders. And I think there are some questions that we ought to ask.

I do not go into it with a presumption that they're necessarily bad, but we ought to look at the statistics and see, are we putting in prison, are we using our limited prison space for the kind of people that we want to have there? Are the sentences commensurate with the kind of conduct that puts people in jail for these mandatory minimum sentences?

Those are the kinds of questions I think that we ought to ask. And as thinking legislators on both sides, Republicans and Democrats, liberal and conservative, I would hope that we would ask those questions and then go into it with an open mind.

Almost a decade later, the disastrous consequences of mandatory minimum sentencing are more evident than ever and even notorious drug warriors like Joe Biden have pushed drug war posturing aside to begin addressing the problem. As the political landscape surrounding drug sentencing continues to evolve, Holder’s "open mind" along with Obama’s concerns about over-incarceration of non-violent drug offenders could provide a positive climate for sentencing reform.

Beyond that, we just don’t have a great deal of evidence to draw upon. I haven’t seen any public statements from Holder regarding medical marijuana and other top drug policy reform issues. Realistically, it may be a best-case scenario that we’re faced with a long-time U.S. attorney who appears viable and at least lacks a lengthy track record of drug war grandstanding. The totality of Holder’s scary drug policy demagoguery potentially falls far short of what we might hear from others with his background. Silence on most of our issues is arguably the best reformers can hope for when it comes to selecting the next head of the DOJ.

At this point, I know nothing about Eric Holder that would indicate opposition to the drug policy reforms Obama endorsed on the campaign trail. Holder enters office fully cognizant of Obama’s perspective on the war on drugs and I remain hopeful that he’ll become a critical figure in moving forward the reforms we’ve been told to expect from this administration.

San Francisco Chronicle Catches Drug Czar in a Crazy Lie

The drug czar's recent claim that there are more medical marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks stores in San Francisco has finally achieved the level of public embarrassment it so thoroughly deserved.

San Francisco's Department of Public Health, which issues permits for medical marijuana dispensaries, is also befuddled by the federal data.

"It was extremely incorrect," said Larry Kessler, a senior health inspector at the department. "I don't know how they got that." [San Francisco Chronicle]

SF Chronicle obtained the alleged dispensary list from ONDCP and found double listings, closed businesses, and even a business in Los Angeles. With their fraud fully exposed, ONDCP has issued a totally bizarre reply saying it's "good news" that their story got press.

It’s straight-up insane. By the time you get to the part about how many Taco Bells there are in San Francisco, you’ll join me in hoping Sarah Palin is the next drug czar so we can at least get MSNBC to give these clowns the daily fact-checking they deserve.

Another Drug Czar Rumor

Pete Guither has the details. I agree with Pete that we’re just not going to know who the next drug czar is for a while still, but it’s worth noting that none of the names circulating thus far are very encouraging.

If we end up disappointed, it will be our own fault for thinking Obama’s nominee wouldn’t completely suck.

Press Release: Licensed Hemp Farmers Heard by US Court of Appeals -- Decision in Lawsuit Could Bring Back Hemp Farming in US

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November, 13, 2008 CONTACT: Adam Eidinger at 202-744-2671 or adam@votehemp.com, or Tom Murphy at 207-542-4998 or tom@votehemp.com Licensed Hemp Farmers Heard by US Court of Appeals Decision in Lawsuit Could Bring Back Hemp Farming in US ST. PAUL, MN – Two North Dakota farmers, who filed a lawsuit in June of 2007 to end the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) ban on commercial hemp farming in the U.S., were heard yesterday, November 12, 2008, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The oral arguments before the three judge panel centered on the farmer’s assertion that because there is no possibility the hemp crop could be diverted into the market for drugs, the Commerce Clause does not allow DEA to regulate industrial hemp farming in North Dakota. If successful, the landmark lawsuit will lead to the first state-regulated commercial cultivation of industrial hemp in over fifty years. The court’s decision is not expected until next year. The farmers, North Dakota State Rep. David Monson and seed breeder Wayne Hauge, are appealing a decision by the U.S. District Court of North Dakota on a number of grounds; in particular, the District Court ruled that hemp and marijuana are the same, as DEA has wrongly contended. In fact, scientific evidence clearly shows that not only are oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis genetically distinct from drug varieties, but there are absolutely no psychoactive effects gained from eating it. All court documents related to the case can be found online (http://www.VoteHemp.com/legal_cases_ND.html). Representative Monson observed oral arguments made on his behalf by attorneys Joe Sandler and Tim Purdon. In court Mr. Sandler argued, “Given North Dakota’s unique regulatory regime, nothing leaves the farmer’s property except those parts of the plant Congress has already decided should be exempt from regulation: hemp stalk, fiber seed and oil. The question is whether there is any rational basis for Congressional regulation of the plant itself growing on the farmer’s property. The answer is no — because industrial hemp is useless as drug marijuana and there’s no danger of diversion, so there’s no possible impact on the market for drug marijuana.” The government’s arguments centered on the idea that the plaintiffs should apply to the DEA for permission to grow hemp and that the court didn’t have jurisdiction over the issues raised by the farmers. “The plaintiffs should await the DEA’s decision on their application,” said Melissa Patterson on behalf of the government. In response, Judge Michael Milloy asked, “Isn’t it true the DEA will not rule on the farmer’s applications to grow hemp, you’ve had eleven months?” Ms. Patterson answered, “The DEA has not replied out of respect to the pending proceedings.” In response to the jurisdictional objections made by the DEA, Judge Lavenski Smith said, “When there is a legitimate constitutional issue brought before us we can hear the case.” Background In 2007 the North Dakota Legislature removed the requirement that state-licensed industrial hemp farmers first obtain DEA permits before growing hemp. The question before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will be whether or not federal authorities can prosecute state-licensed farmers who grow non-drug oilseed and fiber hemp pursuant to North Dakota state law. Vote Hemp, the nation's leading industrial hemp advocacy group, and its supporters are providing financial support for the lawsuit. If it is successful, states across the nation will be free to implement their own hemp farming laws without fear of federal interference. Learn more about hemp farming and the wide variety of non-drug industrial hemp products manufactured in the U.S. at www.VoteHemp.com and www.TheHIA.org. # # #
Location: 
St. Paul, MN
United States

Evidence: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Drug Crime Lab Case

The US Supreme Court Monday heard oral arguments in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (No. 07-591), and appeared inclined to rule that defendants in drug and other cases confronted with crime lab reports must be allowed to cross-examine the forensic analysts who prepare the reports. The case involves a Massachusetts man who challenged his conviction for cocaine use after he was not allowed to question the analyst who examined the alleged cocaine.

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US Supreme Court
Luis Melendez-Diaz was convicted of trafficking in cocaine partly on the basis of a crime lab analysis that confirmed cocaine was in plastic bags found in the car in which he was riding. A state appeals court upheld his conviction. But this week the Supreme Court listened to his argument.

Crime labs analyzed some 1.9 million substances following drug arrests in 2006, a figure noted by 35 states that joined with Massachusetts in urging the court not to require that cross-examination of lab analysts be allowed. Some 20 states, including California, already give defendants some right to cross-examine lab employees.

Arguing for the state of Massachusetts, state Attorney General Martha Coakley warned that if lab analysts had to be made available to testify, "district court misdemeanor drug prosecutions would essentially grind to a halt."

But Jeffrey Fisher, the attorney representing Melendez-Diaz, told the justices there are not that many cases where defendants want to make an issue of lab reports, mainly because in most cases there is little dispute that the substance seized was illicit drugs. "There is every reason to believe it's not going to cause any problem, because defendants aren't going to want to challenge them very often," Fisher said.

The justices appeared unsympathetic to Coakley's arguments. "I do wish you would comment on the argument that the state of California, a huge state with many, many drug prosecutions, seems to get along all right," Justice Anthony Kennedy said to Coakley. She had no reply.

Justice Stephen Breyer noted that there have been repeated reports of lab analyses poorly done, tests not actually run, and results manipulated to hurt defendants in recent years. "Aren't there some things I read in the paper all the time about these laboratories in various places, and they lost the results, they got it all wrong?" he asked.

Expect a decision sometime next spring or summer.

Hemp: North Dakota Farmers Head to Federal Appeals Court

A pair of North Dakota farmers who want to be able to grow hemp were in US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota, Wednesday to argue their case. Farmers Wayne Hauge and David Monson, who is also a Republican state representative, applied to grow hemp under North Dakota's hemp law but have yet to receive a permit to do so from the DEA. They filed suit in federal district court in Bismarck last year, but lost at the district court level.

The farmers and their attorneys, Joe Sandler and Tim Purdon, are appealing on a number of grounds, including the district court's ruling that hemp and marijuana are the same. The farmers argued that the scientific evidence is clear that hemp is genetically distinct from drug varieties of cannabis and that there are no psychoactive effects from ingesting it.

The DEA, which has jurisdiction over drug scheduling decisions, does not recognize any difference between hemp and marijuana. Under current federal law, anyone who grows industrial hemp for use in foods, lotions, fuels, cloth, and paper, among others, is subject to prosecution under federal marijuana cultivation statutes.

Justice Department attorney Melissa Patterson told the court that state law cannot override federal law. The Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate commerce between states, Patterson said, and that is the basis of federal drug laws. "What states do cannot expand or contract Congress's interstate regulation powers," Patterson told the judges.

But Sandler retorted that that was not the question before the court. "The question here is whether the mere existence of a plant can affect interstate commerce," he said.

In an effort to allay the concerns of the appeals court panel, the farmers and their attorneys argued that North Dakota's law is so strict that their hemp could not be converted into psychoactive marijuana and that the state's monitoring of hemp fields would prevent illicit marijuana cultivation. "It would be the last place in the world that anybody would do anything illegal," Sandler said.

A decision could come down in weeks or months.

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