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Marijuana: Wisconsin Towns Join Decriminalization Trend

Small town Washburn, Wisconsin, may cling to the shores of Lake Superior at the northernmost tip of the state, but it's not clinging to tough marijuana law enforcement. Last week, the Washburn City Council passed an ordinance allowing city police to issue tickets to people caught with small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting and booking them.

That made Washburn only the latest Cheesehead State locality to pass a decrim ordinance -- and that distinction was short-lived. On Monday, the Two Rivers City Council passed an ordinance making possession of less than eight grams of marijuana a municipal offense.

The move to municipal decrim began in the 1970s, when 15 cities, mostly college towns, adopted ordinances, according to veteran Wisconsin marijuana and civil liberties activist Ben Masel. Milwaukee moved to the scheme in the early 1990s. Also in the early 1990s, counties were given similar authority, and Walworth County, home of the Alpine Valley Music Theater, which hosted Grateful Dead tours, notoriously turned a nice profit on $454 marijuana possession citations.

This year, Dane County (Madison) and Eau County prosecutors announced they would charge offenders exclusively under county ordinances rather than state law. But in other locales, that decision is left to local prosecutors. Being prosecuted under local ordinances has the benefit of leaving no criminal conviction and no loss of student aid or other benefits. But there can still be hefty penalties, and, Masel noted, a lower burden of proof for a civil infraction and no right to a jury trial.

It's all good with Washburn Assistant Police Chief Jeremy Clapero, who told a local radio station the ordinance would give police flexibility in dealing with pot users. Under Wisconsin law, simple marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Previously lacking a municipal ordinance, police had to put marijuana possessors in jail.

"They were arrested on the spot and brought to jail -- they were booked into the jail and then they would be at some point released and appear in court on that charge," said Clapero. "Now there's a situation where they can get a ticket with the fine amount and released. It's not on their criminal record at that point."

While Clapero said people could still be arrested under the state law, the ordinance will save police time and resources. "A situation where a person has a small or a very small amount of marijuana in their possession or in their car, this may be used instead of bringing that person to criminal court and having a criminal offense on their record for something would he be issued a city ordinance citation which is a forfeiture offense -- similar to like a speeding ticket."

But don't think this means Washburn police have seen the light regarding the war on drugs. "It's not intended to say that we're not tough on drugs. We're still tough on drugs it's just gives us another avenue. We're behind just what every other agency has done, so we just kind of stepped up and did what they did." Clapero said.

Criminal Justice: Snapshots of the Drug War

Day after day, week after week, year after year, the war on drugs in the US is filling court dockets across the land. This week, we visit three different jurisdictions to get a snapshot of the role of the drug war down at the local courthouse.

In April, district court judges in Grayson County, Texas, about an hour north of Dallas, sentenced 95 people on felony charges. Of the 95 cases, the most serious charges in 16 were for simple methamphetamine possession, making that charge by far the most common of any before the court. Most people convicted of meth possession were given probation. One person was charged with enhanced meth possession and sentenced to 14 years, while two were charged with possession with intent to distribute. One got 20 years, the other got 10 years probation.

Seven people were sentenced for simple cocaine possession, with sentences ranging from probation to a month in jail to 10 years in prison. One person was sentenced for enhanced cocaine possession and got 6 years, while one other was sentenced for possession with intent to distribute and got 15 years. Four people were sentenced for possession of more than four ounces but less than five pounds of marijuana; two got probation, one got one year, and one got two years. One person was sentenced to two years in prison for possession of more than 50 pounds of marijuana.

Probation violators made up a sizeable contingent, with 13 being sentenced in April. Drug offenders accounted for nine of the violators, with meth, cocaine, and marijuana each accounting for three violators. Every drug-related probation violator was sent to prison, as were all other probation violators.

The rest of the cases where sentences were handed out were your typical array of assaults, aggravated and otherwise, burglaries, DWIs, frauds, robberies, and sexual assaults. In only two cases, aggravated sexual assaults on a child, were the sentences as long as the 20-year meth distribution sentence mentioned above.

All in all, persons charged under the drug laws accounted for 41 of the 95 cases adjudicated in Grayson County last month. That's more than 43% of the court's business being taken up with the drug war.

Meanwhile, down in the Pensacola, Florida, area, Tuesday was a typical day for felony arrests in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. In Escambia County, there were five arrests for probation violation (original offense unspecified), four arrests for narcotics violations, three for aggravated assault, two for aggravated child abuse, and one for introducing contraband into a jail. All in all, 29 people were arrested on felony charges Tuesday, with only six directly linked to drug prohibition.

In neighboring Santa Rosa County, there were a total of nine felony arrests Tuesday. One was for drug possession, one for possession with intent to distribute. Three were for unspecified probation violations. Throw in an aggravated assault, a failure to appear, a DWI, and "throwing/shooting deadly missiles," and there's your daily docket.

If the drug war seems mellow in the Florida Panhandle, that's definitely not the case in Licking County, Ohio. Last Thursday, five people had bond hearings in Licking County Municipal Court in Newark. All five were on drug charges, and every case seems to be an example of over-charging. Three people were charged with drug trafficking offenses for buying drugs. As the local paper noted in the case of a woman charged with crack cocaine trafficking: " On April 11, she allegedly was observed by Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force buying less than one gram of crack cocaine, according to court reports."

One woman was charged with aggravated drug possession for having a methadone tablet without a prescription. But most bizarre was the charge facing a Newark woman. She was charged with "permitting drug abuse, a fifth-degree felony." As the local paper noted: "Between March 29 and 30, [she] allegedly allowed an associate to buy about seven grams of methamphetamine on two occasions. Both alleged purchases were made in the vicinity of a Newark City school, according to court reports."

In Licking County, Ohio, the drug war accounted for all the court's business one day last week. In Grayson County, Texas, the drug war accounted for nearly half of the court's business last month. In the Florida Panhandle, the proportion was much lower. But all across the country, drug prohibition is taking up the time of police, prosecutors, judges, and prison guards. But then again, that's their choice because policing and prosecuting drug offenses is a matter of deliberate policy.

Governor Spitzer: Hip Hop Is Calling You Out!

Location: 
NY
United States
Publication/Source: 
Political Affairs (NY)
URL: 
http://www.politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/5249/1/258/

What the heck is going on in Licking County, Ohio?

There's something funny going on in Licking County, Ohio. According to the local newspaper's courthouse roundup, a bunch of people were charged with drug trafficking, but the charges don't seem to match the facts. Let me show you what I mean:
• Ti C. Warner, 27, last known address 381 N. Executive Drive, Newark, was charged with aggravated trafficking in drugs, a second-degree felony. The charge also carries a specification of selling drugs near a school. Between March 29 and 30, Warner allegedly was observed by Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force buying a total of about seven grams of methamphetamine on two occasions, according to court reports. Both purchases were allegedly made in the vicinity of a Newark City school, according to court reports. Branstool set Warner’s bond at $40,000. • Sherry L. Runyon, 46, last known address 16328 Pleasant Hills, Newark, was charged with trafficking in crack cocaine, a fifth degree felony. On April 11, she allegedly was observed by Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force buying less than one gram of crack cocaine, according to court reports. Branstool set Runyon’s bond at $10,000. • Kevin L. Barker, 29, last known address 9215 Lancaster Road, Hebron, was charged with aggravated trafficking in drugs, a fourth-degree felony. On March 26, he allegedly was observed by Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force buying 1.64 grams of methamphetamine, according to court reports. Branstool set Barker’s bond at $10,000.
Do you see what I mean? These are people who were apparently caught buying drugs. And they are charged with drug trafficking? I don't know who is responsible for these charging decisions—either the Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force or local prosecutors—but they don't seem to be supported by the facts. And here's one more bizarre charging example from Licking County:
• Kelly L. Mihelarakis, 32, last known address 633 Mount Vernon Road, Newark, was charged with permitting drug abuse, a fifth-degree felony. Between March 29 and 30, Mihelarakis allegedly allowed an associate to buy about seven grams of methamphetamine on two occasions. Both alleged purchases were made in the vicinity of a Newark City school, according to court reports. Branstool set Mihelarakis’ bond at $5,000.
Excuse me!? "Permitting drug abuse"? This person is charging with not stopping someone else from buying speed? This is a crime? You have got to be kidding. Well, my hat is off to the Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force and the Licking County criminal justice system. With their apparently unjustified charging decisions, they are certainly doing their part to ensure that Ohio's chronic prison overcrowding crisis continues.
Location: 
OH
United States

California Overdose Prevention Bill is Moving Forward

A harm reduction bill in the California legislature would deal with some liability issues and other obstacles that currently make it difficult to get the opiate overdose antidote Naloxone out to the communities where overdoses are taking place.
Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States

Prescription Monitoring Programs

Dr. Alexander DeLuca comments on Florida's proposed database in the War on Doctors / Pain Crisis blog.
Location: 
FL
United States

CA: Overdose Bill Moves Forward: Unanimous Judiciary Committee Support

[Courtesy of the Harm Reduction Coalition] For Immediate Release: May 8, 2007 Contact: Emalie Huriaux, tel: 510-469-7941 Overdose Bill Moves Forward: Unanimous Judiciary Committee Support SACRAMENTO - California Senate Bill (SB) 767, the Overdose Treatment Liability Act, cosponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC), a national health and human rights advocacy group working to reduce drug-related harm, and the County of Los Angeles passed the bipartisan California Senate Judiciary Committee today in a 5-to-0 vote. SB 767 will make it easier for health care professionals to participate in comprehensive drug overdose prevention programs that prescribe the opioid antagonist naloxone, thereby removing a large obstacle to the creation and expansion of such programs in California. This proposed legislation will also make it easier to get opioid antagonists into the hands of the people who are the most likely to be bystanders to opioid overdoses, increasing the likelihood that people overdosing on opioids will receive naloxone promptly. Emalie Huriaux, HRC's Overdose Project Manager stated after the unanimous vote, "We are pleasantly surprised. Liability legislation rarely gets support from the Senate Judiciary Committee. This vote shows that committee members understand the lifesaving effects SB 767 will have." Sandi McClure, a member of the Los Angeles Overdose Taskforce, delivered powerful testimony about the loss of her daughter, Jennifer, 15 months ago to a heroin overdose, and how access to naloxone may have saved her life. In addition, Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, Medical Director for the County of Los Angeles, spoke about the drug overdose epidemic in Los Angeles and throughout the country. Although naloxone is a very safe drug and recent studies have proven that lay people, with appropriate training, can safely and properly administer it, some clinicians are concerned about prescribing take-home naloxone for use by lay people. Clinicians voice concerns that patients may use naloxone on a third party experiencing an overdose and, in the event of an adverse reaction, the clinician could be held liable. In recent years, New York, New Mexico, and Connecticut have enacted legislation similar to SB 767 to protect licensed health care professionals from civil and criminal liability when prescribing take-home opioid antagonists. Since November 2003, HRC's Overdose Project has collaborated with the San Francisco Department of Public Health to provide overdose prevention, recognition, and response training, including naloxone prescriptions, to people at risk for experiencing an opioid overdose. To date, this collaboration has provided training and prescriptions to nearly 1,000 people and heard reports from 250 of them that they used naloxone in an overdose situation. Drug overdose, which is entirely preventable, is the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States. When a person overdoses on opioids (heroin, morphine, methadone, oxycontin, etc.), he/she is rendered unconscious and is in danger of dying because the opioids slow down, and eventually stop, the person's breathing. Naloxone counteracts life-threatening depression of the central nervous and respiratory systems caused by an opioid overdose, allowing an overdose victim to breathe normally. Currently, naloxone can be prescribed only by licensed health care professionals, and has the same level of regulation as prescription ibuprofen. SB 767 protects providers who prescribe take-home naloxone, facilitating greater access to lifesaving medicine for people experiencing opioid overdoses. The bill will be heard later this month by the Senate Appropriations Committee and, if passed, will move on for a vote by the entire Senate later this year. # # # # For more information about the Harm Reduction Coalition, visit http://www.harmreduction.org.
Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States

LTE: Marijuana raid on home was not just

Location: 
ME
United States
Publication/Source: 
Morning Sentinel (ME)
URL: 
http://morningsentinel.mainetoday.com/view/letters/3864363.html

Wahkiakum drug-testing policy goes to state's high court

Location: 
Olympia, WA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Daily News (WA)
URL: 
http://www.tdn.com/articles/2007/05/09/top_story/news01.txt

Hip Hop Star Releases Anti-Rockefeller Drug Law Video for Forthcoming Documentary

Gabriel Sayegh blogs about it for the Huffington Post...
Location: 
NY
United States

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