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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.
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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.
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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.

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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."

Editorial: Justice Unhinged

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
One of the basic elements of the US system of justice, a founding principle in fact, is that of the trial by a jury of one's peers. The jury is seen as a safeguard against tyranny, and has also been a matter of pride representing the strength and quality of our democracy.

No kangaroo courts, we say, no railroading by the system, and above all justice based on facts. If just one of the 12 jurors on a case feels that guilt has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, that juror should vote not guilty and then a conviction shall not be obtained -- another trial can be held, if the government thinks it's worth it, but a conviction is not obtained that time. If they all vote not guilty, then not guilty is the verdict, and the matter ends.

It is hoped thereby that the innocent will be protected from the overwhelming power of the state. Because another one of our founding principles is that it is better to let many guilty persons go free rather than convict and even incarcerate one innocent.

Unfortunately, while for many defendants in the courts those principles are still the law, for others they merely describe what once was. The wrench that unhinged justice was the "war on drugs." Within the '80s drug war, perversions were wrought that allowed those whose guilt was unproven to be punished, and in fact those who were acquitted of charges brought against them to also be punished.

One such perversion was civil asset forfeiture. In that corrupt practice, a charge is leveled not at a person, but at a piece of property. If the property is found to have been used in the commission of a drug crime (and some other kinds of crimes), it is "guilty," and the government can take it whether the owner knew about the lawbreaking or not. Some restrictions have been placed on this practice by states and even the feds from time to time, but they have been largely ineffective. The result of forfeiture is the disgusting spectacle of government agents stealing from members of the public -- the thefts ranging from dollars and cents on the street up to cars or even homes and retirement savings -- with the profits going to law enforcement agencies where they are spent on various purposes, many questionable.

An even greater perversion is what has happened to federal sentencing. Once upon a time, a conviction by a jury was needed to send a person to prison. That is still the case, if a defendant happens to be acquitted of all charges. But get convicted of just one charge that has been brought against you, if charges are brought together, and now you can be sentenced based on the others, even if there is no verdict or even if you were acquitted of them. In fact it's not even strictly necessary for the charges to be brought at all.

Though the Supreme Court has rendered some decisions in recent years to restrict this practice in certain cases, in others it is apparently wide open. In 2005, Mark Hurn was prosecuted in federal court in Wisconsin for possession of powder cocaine, and a larger amount of crack cocaine, was convicted of the former but acquitted of the latter. Federal guidelines specified about three years for the charge that was the subject of the conviction -- itself a grave injustice. But the prosecutor argued to the judge that Hurn was probably guilty of the crack charges too, the judge bought it, and hiked the sentence up to 18 years instead.

Late last month, the Supreme Court declined to hear Hurn's case. And so Hurn is stuck with 18 years behind bars, but the vast majority of it for conduct of which he was exonerated. Who are the true criminals here? Not Mark Hurn, as far as I am concerned. Justice has been unhinged, courtesy of the drug warriors, the judiciary complicit. What fine service they have rendered to the nation.

Latin America: Bloody Easter Weekend in Mexico's Drug Wars

Prohibition-related violence in Mexico took no break for the Easter holiday, with 59 people killed in the three-day period between Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday, according to Mexican press reports compiled by New Mexico State University's Frontera NorteSur (FNS) news service. The victims included former and current policemen, four soldiers, street-level drug dealers, used car salesmen, and an American citizen, Cuban-born Humberto Flores, who was gunned down in Cancun.

The violence ran the length and breadth of the country, with killings occurring in the northern border states (Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas), the center (Guanajuato, Mexico state), the Yucatan peninsula (Quintana Roo), the east coast (Veracruz), and the Pacific Coast (Oaxaca, Guerrero, Sinaloa). As FNS noted: "Once again, the geographical pattern of killings demonstrates how organized crime has extended its violent reach to virtually every nook and cranny of the country."

But there are hotspots, and one of them is Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande River from El Paso. Nearly two dozen killings took place there over Easter weekend, including four people found burned to death at Los Lamentos ("The Regrets"), Chihuahua, on the New Mexico border. The police chief there crossed the US border into New Mexico seeking asylum after his deputies quit, saying he feared drug traffickers.

Further down the river in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, the body of Araceli de la Cruz, a 47-year-old woman kidnapped March 13, was dumped in front of an army post blindfolded and with a mutilated hand stuffed in her mouth. Accompanying the body was a note addressed to a Mexican army general warning of the fate that befalls informers.

In the past two years, as the Mexican government has undertaken massive offensives against the drug trafficking organizations, and the cartels have fought among themselves for control of lucrative franchises, the death toll has been around 2,000 a year. It looks as if 2008 is on, if not ahead of, the pace. And the killing continues: Nine more murders were reported in Ciudad Juárez by mid-week this week.

Search and Seizure: US Supreme Court to Decide Warrantless Search Case

The US Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a case that could clarify limits on when police using an informant may enter a residence. The case is Pearson v. Callahan (07-751), in which five members of the Central Utah Narcotics Task Force are being sued by a man whose home was searched without a warrant after an informant bought methamphetamine inside.

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US Supreme Court
In 2002, a snitch working with the task force bought $100 worth of meth from Afton Callahan inside Callahan's trailer in Fillmore, Utah. Once the officers waiting outside received the snitch's signal via wire that the deal had gone down, they entered and searched the trailer and arrested Callahan for sale and possession of meth.

Callahan moved to have the evidence suppressed because a warrantless search is unconstitutional, but a state court trial judge rejected that motion. Callahan then agreed to a conditional guilty plea while appealing the Fourth Amendment issue. A state appeals court later agreed with him and overturned his conviction.

Callahan then turned around and sued the task force members for violating his Fourth Amendment rights. The officers then argued that they were immune under the doctrine of "qualified immunity," which holds that government officials cannot be held liable for violating a law that was not clear at the time. A federal district judge, Paul Cassell, ruled in 2006 that the police were entitled to immunity, even if the search was unconstitutional, but the US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overruled Cassell, holding that the Constitution was so clear on the need for a warrant that no reasonable police officer would have proceeded without one.

Lawyers for the police officers then appealed to the US Supreme Court, which will have to decide both the search and the immunity questions. But despite what the 10th Circuit held, the federal courts are divided on whether a warrant is necessary in those circumstances. Some federal circuits -- but not the 10th -- have created the strange notion of a "consent-once-removed" exception to the Fourth Amendment. Under that theory, someone who consents to the entry of an undercover police informant is also consenting to the entry of police as well -- even if he doesn't know it. Because the resident gives permission to the snitch to enter, he has also given permission for the police to enter, this novel doctrine holds.

Now, the US Supreme Court will decide if there will be yet one more addition to the holes in the Fourth Amendment created by the drug war. And whether police who conduct unconstitutional searches will have to pay for them.

No Evidence Needed? War on Salvia Divinorum Heating Up -- YouTube Videos Play Role

Nearly a year ago, we reported on mounting efforts to ban salvia divinorum in states and localities around the country. Since then, the war on the hallucinogenic plant has only intensified, despite the lack of any evidence that its use is widespread or that it has any harmful physical effects on its users.

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salvia leaves (courtesy erowid.org)
Salvia is a member of the mint family from Mexico, where it has been used by Mazatec curanderos (medicine men) for centuries. Within the past decade, awareness of its powerful hallucinogenic properties has begun to seep into the popular consciousness. Now, it is widely available at head shops and via the Internet, where it can be purchased in a smokeable form that produces almost instantaneous intoxication and a freight train of a trip lasting a handful of minutes.

Fueled largely by the appearance of salvia-intoxicated youths on YouTube (there were some 3,500 such videos at last count), law enforcement's reflexive desire to prohibit any mind-altering substances, and legislators' wishes to "do something" about youth drug use, efforts to ban the plant are spreading. While some states have stopped at limiting salvia's use to adults, most recently Maine, more have banned it outright. Legislative measures affecting salvia have been filed in 16 more states too, as well as a number of towns and cities.

In 2005, Louisiana became the first state to ban salvia, making it a proscribed Schedule I controlled substance. Since then, Delaware, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, and Tennessee have joined the list. (Tennessee bans ingestion -- it's a Class A misdemeanor -- but not possession. All the others excepting North Dakota have placed it in Schedule I.) In Oklahoma, only concentrated salvia is banned. Salvia is also a controlled substance in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

The press has also played a role in stoking fears of salvia and misstating its popularity. "Salvia: The Next Marijuana?," asked the Associated Press in a widely-reprinted story earlier this month.

Chris Bennett, proprietor of Urban Shaman Ethnobotanicals in downtown Vancouver, just laughed at the "salvia is the next marijuana" meme. "Anyone who says that is demonstrating their complete lack of knowledge of either salvia or marijuana," he said. "There is just no comparison. Cannabis is a mild relaxant and euphoric, while salvia is a very fast-acting visionary substance where some people report out of body experiences."

Researchers say that while salvia's effects on consciousness may be disquieting, the plant has not been shown to be toxic to humans, its effects are so potent is unlikely to be used repeatedly, and its active property, salvinorin A, could assist in the development of medicines for mood disorders. While action at the state level would unlikely affect research, a move by the DEA to put it on the controlled substances list could.

There are hazards to messing with hallucinogens, one expert was quick to point out. "It's an hallucinogen, and while its hallucinogenic actions are different from those induced by LSD and other hallucinogens, it has the liabilities that hallucinogens do," said Bryan Roth, a professor of pharmacology at University of North Carolina's School of Medicine, the man who isolated salvinorin A. "When people take it, they are disoriented. If you don't know where you are and you're driving a car, that would be a bad experience."

Still, said Roth, while it may make you freak out, it isn't going to kill you. "There is no evidence of any overt toxicity, there are no reports in the medical literature that anyone has died from it. The caveat is that there have been no formal studies done on humans, but the animal data suggests that it doesn't kill animals given massive doses, and that's usually -- but not always -- predictive for human pharmacology."

The DEA has been evaluating salvia for several years now, but there is no sign that it is ready to take action. "Salvia is a drug we are currently looking at to see if it should or should not be scheduled," said Rogene Waite, a spokesperson for the DEA, which is tasked with evaluating potential drug "threats." The agency has initiated the process of evaluating the eight factors listed in the Controlled Substances Act in determining whether or not to schedule a drug, she said. "There is no time frame or limit on this process," she said, providing no further hint on when or if ever the DEA would move to add salvia onto the federal list of controlled substances.

But legislators across the land are not waiting for the DEA. In California, Assemblyman Anthony Adams (R-Hesperia) introduced a bill that would ban salvia for minors at the urging of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, he told the Riverside Press-Enquirer. "If you have the opportunity to get in front of an emerging drug, I think, geez, you should do that," said Adams, whose district includes San Bernardino and Redlands.

On the other side of the country, Massachusetts state Rep. Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth) is cosponsoring legislation that would criminalize salvia possession. "I believe by not making this drug illegal we are sending a message to our youth that it is okay, and there is no way that a drug that causes such mind altering effects on an individual should be considered legal," deMacedo told the Plymouth News.

Again, legislators took action after being alerted by law enforcement. DeMacedo said he agreed to sponsor the bill after hearing from Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph MacDonald. "I'd never heard of it before," deMacedo said. "It creates this psychedelic-type, mind-altering high, similar to LSD. I thought, 'You've got to be kidding. Something like this is legal?'"

In Florida, Rep. Mary Brandenburg wants to save the kids by sending anyone possessing salvia to prison for up to five years. "As soon as we make one drug illegal, kids start looking around for other drugs they can buy legally. This is just the next one," she explained.

While legislators attempt to stay ahead of the curve by banning any new, potentially mind-altering substances at the drop of hat, their efforts are misdirected, said Urban Shaman's Bennett. The YouTube kids may be the public face of salvia, but they are only a minority of users, he said. "It's all ages," he said, adding that his store does not sell to people under 18. "Every time there is some media attention, I get a bunch of middle-aged people coming in and asking for it."

Salvia is not a party drug, said Bennett. "The most serious users are people seeking a classic shamanic experience, seeking a visionary experience as part of their spiritual path. They feel they're accessing a higher level of consciousness," he explained. "And even they don't seem to use it more than once a month or so."

For all the commotion surrounding salvia, there is very little evidence of actual harm to anyone, said Bennett. "You'll notice you don't hear anybody talking about organic damage to the human organism," he said. "This is all purely fear and loathing of people having a visionary experience."

What little data there is on salvia use and its effects tends to bear him out. There are no reported deaths from salvia use, with the exception of a Delaware teenager who committed suicide in 2006 at some point after using it. (That unfortunate young man is widely cited by the proponents of banning salvia, even though there is no concomitant wave of salvia-linked suicides. Also, he was reportedly taking an acne medication linked to depression and had been using alcohol.) Users are not showing up with any frequency in mental hospitals or hospital emergency rooms.

While the YouTube kids may present a problematic public face of salvia use, there's not much to be done about that, said Bennett. "You can't control that," he shrugged. "And so what? Some kids are having a powerful visionary experience for five minutes on YouTube. Why is that somehow more threatening than watching someone in the jungle take ayahuasca or something on National Geographic?"

Bennett, for one, has no use for a ban on salvia -- or any other plant, for that matter. "We have a fundamental natural right to have access to all plants, and I don't care if it's salvia or marijuana or poppy or coca. That's just as clear-cut as our right to air and water," he said.

But Bennett's perspective is not one widely shared by legislators in the US. Instead, they reflexively reach to prohibit that which they do not understand. And the very "kids" they claim to be saving will be the ones going to prison.

Medical Marijuana: California Dr. Molly Fry Sentenced to Five Years

A federal judge in Sacramento sentenced Dr. Marion "Mollie" Fry and her companion, attorney Dale Schafer, to five years in federal prison for conspiring to grow and distribute marijuana on March 19. Fry, who used marijuana herself in connection with radical breast cancer surgery, and Schafer, who used it for back pain and a dangerous form of hemophilia, also provided marijuana to patients under California's Compassionate Use Act.

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Fry, Schafer and family at August 2007 demonstration (courtesy indybay.org)
But the Justice Department prosecuted the couple under the federal marijuana laws, leaving US District Judge Frank Damrell Jr. no choice but to impose the mandatory minimum five-year prison sentenced required under the law because they had more than 100 plants.

"It is a sad day, a terrible day," Damrell said during sentencing, adding that if it were up to him, the punishment would have been less. But he also criticized Fry and Schafer for refusing to accept a plea bargain that could have left them free. "You had the opportunity to resolve this case, but you wanted to soldier on, knowing that your kid would be left behind," he told the couple.

In a departure from normal practice on the federal bench and to the delight of supporters who packed the courtroom, Judge Damrell granted the pair bail, so they will remain free while their case is appealed. Damrell, who is also presiding over the Bryan Epis case and has granted him bail too, said the exceptional circumstances of the case create "serious issues that need to be decided by an appellate court." Among those, he noted, are Fry and Schafer's claim they were entrapped.

Marijuana: Barney Frank to Introduce Federal Decriminalization Bill

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) used a Friday night appearance on the HBO program "Real Time," hosted by Bill Maher, to announce that he planned to file a federal bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana this week. Frank, who has long been a supporter of marijuana law reform, said that federal law unfairly targets medical marijuana patients in states where it is legal. He also argued that decisions about whether to make marijuana illegal should be left up to the states.

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Barney Frank
Asked by Maher as to why he would push a pot decriminalization bill now, Frank said the American public has already decided that personal use of marijuana is not a problem. "I now think it's time for the politicians to catch up to the public," Frank said. "The notion that you lock people up for smoking marijuana is pretty silly. I'm going to call it the 'Make Room for Serious Criminals' bill."

Elaborating on his TV remarks in a Sunday interview with the Associated Press, the Massachusetts congressman said elected officials are lagging behind public opinion on the issue. "Do you really think people should be prosecuted for smoking marijuana? I don't think most people agree with that. It's one area where the public is ahead of the elected officials," Frank said. "It does not appear to me to be a law that society is serious about."

He seemed particularly irked by DEA raids and federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers in California. "I don't think smoking marijuana should be a federal case," he said. "There's no federal law against mugging."

A dozen states have already decriminalized marijuana possession, with the New Hampshire House voting to approve such a measure last week. But the Granite State bill is opposed by state Senate leaders and the governor.

Rep. Frank's bill had not appeared on the Congressional web site as of Thursday afternoon.

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