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Feature: Maine Medical Marijuana Dispensary Initiative Ahead in November Election Campaign

In a little more than two weeks, Maine residents will go to the polls to vote on a measure that would build on the state's decade-old existing medical marijuana law by creating a system of dispensaries. Despite some grumbling from the usual suspects and announced opposition from some not-so-usual suspects, proponents of the measure say they are confident it will win easily on November 3.

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Maine coast
Sponsored by Maine Citizens for Patient Rights and the Maine Medical Marijuana Policy Initiative, and funded primarily by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Maine Medical Marijuana Act would:

  • Establish a system of nonprofit dispensaries which would be overseen and tightly regulated by the state;
  • Establish a voluntary identification card for medical marijuana patients and caregivers;
  • Protect patients and caregivers from arrest, search and seizure unless there is suspicion of abuse;
  • Create new protections for qualified patients and providers in housing, education, employment and child custody;
  • Allow patients with Lou Gehrig's disease and Alzheimer's disease access to medical marijuana;
  • Require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a procedure for expanding the list of conditions for which marijuana can be used; and
  • Keeps current allowable marijuana quantities at 2.5 ounces and six plants.

When voters go to the polls on November 3 to vote on Question 5, the Medical Marijuana Act, this is the question they will be asked: "Do you want to change the medical marijuana laws to allow treatment of more medical conditions and to create a regulated system of distribution?"

"We feel the campaign is in really good shape right now," said Jonathan Leavitt, who is leading the charge for the initiative.

The existing law needs reform to make it workable, Leavitt said. "In the 10 years since the medical marijuana law went into effect, it has barely been utilized because patients have not had a legal means of obtaining their medicine except to grow their own, and that's just not workable for a seriously ill patient," he said. "With this measure, qualified patients will have full access to their medicine through the establishment of not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensaries."

The measure's language protecting patients from discrimination in housing, employment, and child custody issues is necessary because patients have suffered in the past, Leavitt said. "This will provide a security blanket for qualified patients by really putting in black and white the full legal protections they need."

The child custody provision says that medical marijuana patients cannot be denied visitation or custody of a minor child unless their behavior is "unreasonably dangerous to the minor." That provision drew criticism from the Maine Prosecutors Association, which announced last month it is opposing the measure, but is not putting money into doing so.

"This law reeks of paranoia that the entire criminal justice system is not to be trusted," said association president Evert Fowle, without a hint of irony. Medical marijuana patients across the country, including Maine, have seen their children seized or have lost custody battles solely because of their medical marijuana use or production.

Physicians in Maine can be found on both sides of the question. Dr. John Woytowicz, a family physician in Augusta, told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, "I don't start with medical marijuana as the first choice for a medical condition. It's part of a whole assessment of what can be done for a given condition. And I put it very frankly to the patient that I would like to explore all opportunities and this could be one of the options as well. My experience is for the appropriate patient, it can be a good option for them, and most people have been benefitted by it with the minimal amount of side effects." Mark Publicker, an addiction specialist with Mercy Recovery Center in Westbrook, told MPBN, "I would advocate for limiting access to marijuana and not to regard it as a medication."

The measure has drawn fire from one unexpected direction: the Maine Vocals, a group of longtime marijuana and medical marijuana legalization activists. The Vocals and its offshoot, Maine Citizens for Medical Marijuana, have announced they oppose the initiative.

"I favor what we have now and working to make it better," said Maine Vocals founder Don Christen. "But this isn't the way. They're just instilling the government into this program, and the government doesn't want it to work," he said.

"The initiative puts DHS in charge of the distribution centers and the overall medical marijuana law, and we're not happy about that because that's the department that has been taking people's children away," said Christen. "DHS is like law enforcement when it comes to medical marijuana. We would like instead to see it in a different department's hands, and with a board of patients and doctors instead of politicians."

"When it came to administering the dispensaries, it was either law enforcement or the Department of Human Services," Leavitt replied. "We thought DHS would be a better fit for questions around the medicinal use of marijuana. DHS also has a mandate to deal with child custody issues, so we included the child custody language because we want it crystal clear that patients will be protected, including around these issues."

Christen also took issue with the $5,000 fee required of dispensary operators. "That's a bit ridiculous," he snorted. "The cost will be prohibitive for a lot of people."

Leavitt responded that such fees had worked in other states and that they were necessary to ensure the measure did not impose a burden on taxpayers.

Christen also objected to the patient ID card system on both philosophical and practical grounds. "After 9/11, Maine opted out of the federal Real ID program," he said. "We don't believe in making lists of everybody up here. And the ID card system gives rights and privileges to those with cards that other patients don't have."

About that, Christen is correct, but only to a point. To enjoy the full protections of the measure, patients, caregivers, and dispensary operators must register with the state and obtain an ID card. Qualifying patients who do not obtain an ID card could still be subject to arrest, but could present their status as medical marijuana patients as an affirmative defense to prosecution and move to have the charges dismissed. But those same patients can be arrested today.

Christen also complained that the measure would bar people who have marijuana felonies from acting as caregivers or dispensary operators or employees. "Those who have marijuana felonies, including myself, will be taken out of the picture," he said, noting that he himself had only gotten out of jail on a marijuana charge 10 days ago.

"We say they haven't read the bill," Leavitt responded. "They talk about how they are fearful they will be knocked out of the loop because they are marijuana felons, but marijuana felons would not be considered felons under this measure."

Actually, the language is a bit ambiguous. It says that someone convicted of a "felony drug offense" cannot be affiliated with a dispensary, but also says that doesn't apply if the felony is more than 10 years old or if it was "an offense that consisted of conduct that would have been permitted under this chapter." Whether Christen would qualify might depend on whether the medical marijuana growing he was convicted for was found to be consistent with the new law's cultivation provisions, and perhaps with yet-to-be-written regulations.

Leavitt wasn't pleased with the not-so-friendly fire. "The Maine Vocals just haven't done the work to get something on the ballot, let alone passed," Leavitt said. "They're doing a great disservice to patients by speaking out against us."

But even with the criticism from the Vocals, it appears that Maine will be the next medical marijuana state to adopt the dispensary system.

Oakland Cannabis Tax on Lehrer News Hour Last Night

Oakland's new cannabis tax was highlighted on the PBS Lehrer News Hour report last night. The tax, counterintuitively, was supported by members of the Oakland medical marijuana community who are now subject to it -- an effective demonstration of the value the quasi-legal marijuana trade has for the Oakland community as a whole, at least that's the idea. I haven't had a chance to review the footage yet -- talk amongst yourselves. Favorable, neutral or otherwise, it's very much a sign of the times.

In Act of Civil Disobedience, Hemp Farmers Plant Hemp Seeds at DEA Headquarters

Fresh from the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) annual convention last weekend in Washington, DC, a pair of real life farmers who want to plant hemp farmers joined with hemp industry figures and spokesmen to travel across the Potomac River to DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, where, in an act of civil disobedience, they took shovels to the lawn and planted hemp seeds. Within a few minutes, they were arrested and charged with trespassing. Hoping to focus the attention of the Obama administration on halting DEA interference, North Dakota farmer Wayne Hauge, Vermont farmer Will Allen, HIA President Steve Levine; hemp-based soap producer and Vote Hemp director David Bronner, Vote Hemp communications director Adam Eidinger, and hemp clothing company owner Isaac Nichelson were arrested in the action as another dozen or so supporters and puzzled DEA employees looked on. "Who has a permit?" demanded a DEA security official. "A permit--that's what we want from the DEA," Bronner responded. After being held a few hours, the Hemp Six were released late Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, two pleaded guilty to trespassing and were fined $240. The others are expected to face similar treatment. Although products made with hemp—everything from foods to fabrics to paper to auto body panels—are legal in the US, under the DEA's strained interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act, hemp is considered indistinguishable from marijuana and cannot be planted in the US. According to the hemp industry, it is currently importing about $360 million worth of hemp products each year from countries where hemp production is legal, including Canada, China, and several European nations. The DEA refused to comment on the action or the issue, referring queries instead to the Department of Justice, which also refused to comment beside pointing reporters to its filings in the ongoing hemp lawsuit. Currently, eight states-- Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia--have programs allowing for industrial hemp research or production, but their implementation has been blocked by DEA bureaucratic intransigence. This spring, however, President Obama instructed federal agencies to respect state laws in a presidential directive on federal pre-emption: "Executive departments and agencies should be mindful that in our federal system, the citizens of the several States have distinctive circumstances and values, and that in many instances it is appropriate for them to apply to themselves rules and principles that reflect these circumstances and values," said Obama. "As Justice Brandeis explained more than 70 years ago, 'it is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.'" The hemp industry and hemp supporters see several paths forward. Farmer Hauge is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challengingly the DEA's interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act. That lawsuit is now before the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. US Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA) are sponsoring a bill that would allow farmers to plant hemp in states where it is permitted, and the industry is urging President Obama and the Justice Department to follow their own example on medical marijuana and leave hemp farmers alone as long as they are legal under state law. But despite all their efforts, nothing is happening. Tuesday's civil disobedience was designed to begin breaking up the logjam. "We're getting frustrated," said Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, which has been used hemp oil in its soaps since 1999. "This is supposed to be change with Obama, and things aren't changing. We just had the DEA and local DA go nuts on the dispensaries in San Diego where I live. We spent money on a lobbying firm to get a statement from the Justice Department along the lines of Holder's statement on medical marijuana, but nothing is happening. This would be easy to do, but it's not happening. We understand that Obama has a lot going on, but we're getting increasingly disappointed and frustrated. We hope this will help catalyze something in this administration." "We're like the fired-up hempsters, we're keeping Jack Herer's ideas alive," said Eidinger still fired up a day after his arrest Tuesday. "We're beginning a new chapter of hemp activism, and there needs to be a lot more of this stuff. Civil disobedience has to be part of a comprehensive campaign in the courts, in Congress, and out on the streets, in front of DEA offices all over the country." "We've passed a law in Vermont that you can grow industrial hemp," said Allen, the white-haired, pony-tailed proprietor of Cedar Circle Farm. "The only barrier now is the DEA, so we're trying to convince them to back off on this like they backed off on enforcing the medical marijuana law in California. Here, we have a crop that isn't going to get anybody high. We grow organic sunflower and canola, and we'd like to have another oil crop in rotation at our location. It just makes economic sense, and it's a states' rights thing. The DEA shouldn’t be involved in this; this isn't a drug." "We want to get some attention for the cause and show the distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana," said North Dakota farmer Hauge, who is licensed by the state to grow hemp and who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the DEA now before the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals. "It's not a drug; it's just another crop that can be grown in rotation. If it wasn't for the DEA, I would be harvesting my crop right now." Getting himself arrested for hemp activism in Washington, DC, was a totally new experience for Hauge, who is usually hunkered down on a few hundred acres of North Dakota prairie just south of the Canadian border and just east of the Montana state line. "It was definitely a first for me," said Hauge. "I've never even been stopped for anything." "We need industrial hemp here in the US, we need to bring jobs to this country," said Nichelsen, founder, owner, and CEO of Livity Outernational, a California-based fashion and accessory company that mixes art and activism. "I'm sick of making all our stuff in China cause that’s the only place I can get the raw materials. We sent the message that there is a clear distinction between marijuana and industrial hemp," Nicholson said. "We need the support of our president and our law enforcement branches. They need to understand that the US is missing out on a giant opportunity. The myth that hemp causes any problems in society has been completely dispelled." Even DEA underlings—if not their higher ups—get it, said Nicholson, recounting his exchange with one agency employee on Monday. "One DEA official came out and said, 'What's the connection between weed and hemp?' and we said, 'Exactly.'" The action brought some much-needed media attention to the issue, said Eidinger. "We got a really good article in the Washington Post, the Washington Times wrote about it, too, CNN used our video, NPR talked about the action, the Associated Press picked it up, we had a number of TV stations do reports, so we definitely reached a national audience," he recounted. "And North Dakota media has covered this closely; I've been on the phone with all the media in Bismarck. It wasn't just civil disobedience in front of the cameras. After the HIA convention ended, hempsters headed for Capitol Hill, where dozens of people attended over 20 scheduled meetings with representatives of their staffs to lobby for the Frank-Paul hemp bill. Some unannounced, unscheduled meetings also took place, Eidinger said. If the hemp movement indeed adopts further civil disobedience actions, it will have added another prong to its multi-prong strategy of pressing for the end of the prohibition on industrial hemp planting in the US. It might be time for other segments of the drug reform movement to start thinking about civil disobedience, too.
Location: 
Arlington, VA
United States

Asset Forfeiture: Texas DA Seeks to Use Seized Funds to Defend Herself in Lawsuit Over Unlawful Seizure of Same Funds

The Texas district attorney accused of participating in an egregious asset forfeiture scheme in the East Texas town of Tenaha now wants to use the very cash seized to pay for her legal defense in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by victims of the practice. The ACLU of Texas, which, along with the national ACLU, is representing the plaintiffs in the case, filed a brief last Friday with the Texas Attorney General's office seeking to block her from doing so.

Lynda Russell is the district attorney in Shelby County, where Tenaha is located. She is accused of participating in a scheme where Tenaha police pulled over mostly African-American motorists without cause, asked them if they were carrying cash, and if they were, threaten them with being immediately jailed for money laundering or other serious crimes unless they signed over their money to authorities.

Representing a number of victims, attorneys from the ACLU of Texas and the ACLU Racial Justice Project filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in June 2008. According to the suit, more than 140 people, almost all of whom were African-American, turned over their assets to police without cause and under duress between June 2006 and June 2008. If a federal judge agrees that assets were in fact illegally seized, they should be returned to their rightful owners, whose civil rights were violated.

In one case, a mixed race couple, Jennifer Boatwright and Ronald Henderson, were stopped by a Tenaha police officer in April 2007. According to the lawsuit, they were stopped without cause, detained for some time without cause, and asked if they were carrying any cash. When they admitted they had slightly more than $6,000, a district attorney's investigator then seized it, threatening them with arrest for money laundering and the loss of their children if they refused to sign off. There was never any evidence they had committed a crime, and they were never charged with a crime.

The town mayor, the DA, the DA's investigator, the town marshal, and a town constable are all named in the lawsuit. While they claim to have acted legally under Texas asset forfeiture law, the lawsuit argues that "although they were taken under color of state law, their actions constitute abuse of authority." The suit argues that the racially discriminatory pattern of stops and searches violated both the Fourth Amendment proscription of warrantless searches and the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause.

While either the county or the state would normally be expected to pony up for the DA's legal expenses for a lawsuit filed as a result of her performance of her duties, neither has done so. That's why Russell -- with a tin ear for irony -- requested that she be allowed to use the allegedly illegally seized money stolen from motorists. She has asked the state attorney general's office for an opinion on whether using the funds for her defense violates the state's asset forfeiture law.

"It would be completely inappropriate for the district attorney to use assets which are the very subject of litigation charging her with participating in allegedly illegal activity to defend herself against these charges," said Lisa Graybill, legal director at the ACLU of Texas. "Texas has a long history of having its law enforcement officials unconstitutionally target racial minorities in the flawed and failed war on drugs and it is of paramount importance that those officials be held accountable."

"The government must account for the misconduct of officials who operate in its name," said Vanita Gupta, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program, who represented African-American residents of Tulia, TX in high-profile litigation challenging their wrongful convictions on drug charges. "The state of Texas has seen egregious examples of racial profiling that result from poor oversight of criminal justice officials."

The ACLU of Texas is using the Tenaha case to push for asset forfeiture reform in the Lone Star State. One such bill stalled in the state legislature this year. "The misuse of asset forfeiture laws by local officials is exacerbated by inadequate oversight," said Matt Simpson, policy strategist for the group. "The legislature must squarely address these reported civil rights violations via reform of forfeiture laws that strengthen protection against unconstitutional conduct and racial profiling."

Sentencing: New York's Rockefeller Drug Law Reforms Now in Effect

As many as 1,500 low-level, nonviolent drug offenders will be able to apply for release or shorter sentences under reforms to New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws that went into effect Wednesday. The partial reforms also mean increased judicial discretion in sentencing, allowing judges to send some offenders to treatment instead of prison.

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June 2003 ''Countdown to Fairness'' rally, NYC (15yearstolife.com)
The reforms were signed into law in April by Gov. David Paterson (D) after he and the state legislature came to agreement on the issue. They build on earlier partial reforms passed in 2004 that addressed the lengthy sentences assigned to more serious drug offenders.

"Under the Rockefeller Drug Laws, we did not treat the people who were addicted. We locked them up," Paterson said Wednesday at the Brooklyn Court House. "Families were broken, money was wasted, and we continued to wrestle with a statewide drug problem. The reforms that take effect today address those problems. By returning judicial discretion to the courtroom, we are reuniting families and fighting criminal activity and addiction in our communities," he said.

Because the reforms eliminate some mandatory minimum sentences and allow judges to order eligible defendants to treatment or diversion over prosecutorial objections, the State District Attorneys Association opposed the reforms. But they were championed by a formidable Drop the Rock coalition of drug policy, criminal justice, social justice, and other groups calling for repeal of the Rockefeller laws, as well as by the now Democrat-controlled legislature and statehouse.

"As someone who spent 12 years behind bars on Rockefeller charges and another 12 fighting the inhumane laws, I am thrilled that the law has been changed," said Anthony Papa, author of 15 Years to Life. "But, Rockefeller will only be real when those who are behind bars are allowed to come home and those who need help get treatment instead of a jail cell."

"New Yorkers fought for decades to reform the draconian Rockefeller drug laws, and we finally succeeded this year," said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Now we need to make Rockefeller reform work. Today marks another step towards our state moving in new direction on drug policy, one based on public health and safety. Thankfully, legal and human service agencies are stepping up to implement reform."

"Rockefeller Drug Law reform symbolizes a critical time in our history, where we acknowledge the individual stories and personal struggles of those who have been most affected by such a harsh and racist sentencing scheme," said Shreya Mandal, mitigation specialist for the Legal Aid Society. "These reforms will allow people to reclaim their dignity as we shift from a punitive criminal justice model to a much needed holistic public health model. Now it is time to see this reform through by empowering formerly incarcerated individuals with comprehensive re-entry planning." The Legal Aid Society is already working on 270 cases that should qualify for early release, according to the Associated Press.

But there is still work to be done getting drug offenders out of prison. While as many as 1,500 could get out early, they will leave behind another 12,000 or so, according to the most recent figures from the state Department of Corrections. That's more than 20% of all New York state prisoners.

Marijuana: Massachusetts Legalization Bill Set for Hearing Next Week

Last November, voters in Massachusetts approved an initiative decriminalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Now, one activist is pushing the envelope with a legalization bill. It is set for a hearing next Wednesday at the statehouse.

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Get to the State House, Bay Staters
The brainchild of Northampton attorney and former DRCNet and NORML board member Dick Evans, H. 2929 and its companion bill, SB 1801, would regulate the commercial cultivation of marijuana and impose an excise tax. Under the bill, marijuana would be sold by licensed vendors in one-ounce boxes bearing the identity of the grower, the grade, and a tax stamp proving that taxes have been paid. Anyone 21 or older could buy or possess marijuana. Commercial cultivators, processors, distributors, and retailers would all be licensed. The bill permits licensed direct sales from farmers to consumers, and it allows for unlicensed, unregulated non-commercial cultivation.

With no sponsors in the legislature, the bill is unlikely to go anywhere this year. But even getting a hearing on the issue is a step forward.

As Evans told the crowd at a rally earlier this year: "Sooner or later, our country will come to its senses about marijuana, and later is now sooner. With Question 2, Massachusetts voters went to the polls and said enough, enough, enough arrests, we have to decriminalize. Now, we can talk about things we couldn't talk about before, we can talk about the futility of arresting people for marijuana, we can now have a serious discussion about prohibition. The debate has begun, and the burden of proof has shifted; the defenders of prohibition are on the defense. People are starting to look at the tax revenue from tax and regulated marijuana."

And now Evans has provided an opportunity for the legislature to start looking at it, too. He would like to see a lot of people show up for the hearing, he said. "We need to fill up the statehouse with people, so bring yourselves down there, and bring your parents with you," he implored.

The hearing is Wednesday, October 14, at 10:00am in Room B2 at the State House. Click here for directions.

Marijuana: Massachusetts Legalization Bill Gets Hearing

A long line of Massachusetts residents lined up for an opportunity to tell their legislators to free the weed as a marijuana legalization bill got its first hearing before the legislature's Joint Revenue Committee Wednesday. The bill, H 2929, the brainchild of Northampton attorney Richard Evans, a former board member of StoptheDrugWar.org and NORML, was filed at Evans' request by Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst).

"Whether you like it or you hate it... it is undeniable in 2009 that marijuana has become inextricably embedded in our culture," Evans told the committee. "It is ubiquitous and it is ineradicable. Members should put on your green eye shades and give close scrutiny to marijuana prohibition," he added, saying that the state could reap revenues from legal marijuana comparable to those gained by introducing casinos.

The bill would remove marijuana offenses from the criminal code and allow for the licensed production and sale of marijuana. Licenses would cost $2,000 a year. It would also impose excise taxes on marijuana retails sales of up to $250 for the highest THC-level weed. Less potent pot would be taxed at a lower rate.

While lawmakers on the committee said little in either support of or opposition to the bill, committee co-chair Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington) said he was struck by one particular facet of the arguments in favor of legalization. "This is probably the only hearing this committee has ever had or will ever have with this number of people asking to be taxed," he said.

The move to legalize comes less than a year after Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce. But proponents of the bill argued that decriminalization doesn't go far enough and that it doesn't provide a place for users to legally obtain marijuana.

That measure was opposed by most of the state's political establishment, including Mayor Thomas Menino (D), the state's district attorneys, and by Gov. Deval Patrick (D), who in his '06 campaign said he was very comfortable with the idea of legalizing marijuana, but would veto a decrim bill because he doesn't consider it a priority. But leaders expressed their commitment to implement the measure after it passed.

The current bill is unlikely to go anywhere this year, but now it has at least had a hearing. That's a start.

Hearings on Massachusetts "Tax and Regulate" Bill in Boston Next Week

On Wednesday, October 14, 2009, at 10:00am in Room B2 at the State House in Boston, the Joint Committee on Revenue in the Massachusetts legislature will hold a public hearing on bill H. 2929, An Act to Regulate and Tax the Cannabis Industry. If passed, the new law would repeal existing marijuana prohibition laws at the state level and replace them with a system of regulation and taxation, similar to how wine is sold. The law, in fact, is largely modeled after the alcohol control laws. According to Northampton attorney Richard M. Evans, a former DRCNet board member and the petitioner whose Representative presented the bill, Wednesday will mark the first time a state legislature has considered a full legalization bill. The moment is also propitious because Massachusetts this year implemented its new, voter-enacted decriminalization law, and because Gov. Deval Patrick, while not prioritizing it, is on the record as being very comfortable with the idea of legalizing marijuana. So while we don't expect that H. 2929 will be enacted this year, it is a rare and important opportunity to forward the debate on alternatives to prohibition. And you can help: by showing up Wednesday if you can; by spreading the word and getting others to come out; by suggesting to your local newspaper that they cover the hearing; and by contacting your state legislators to express your support for H. 2929. Directions to the State House are available here. Please let us know what you're able to do to support H. 2929, and visit http://www.cantaxreg.com for further information about it. Visit http://www.masscann.org to find out about extensive activist opportunities in Massachusetts.
Location: 
Boston, MA
United States

New York Rockefeller Drug Law Reforms Go Into Effect Today

Okay, everybody stop, take a breath. Perhaps smile. Reforms to New York state's draconian Rockefeller drug laws have gone into effect today. State authorities have identified about 1,100 inmates who are eligible to apply for resentencing now -- I've also seen the figure 1,500 cited. The Legal Aid Society is already working with 270 of them. It isn't nearly enough. Our article published just before the legislation passed last April outlines some of its deficiencies. If all of those 1,100 gain earlier release than they would have gotten, that will leave another 13,000, and resentencing doesn't mean they'll all get out right away. Of course, the limited scope of the reforms passed by the legislature didn't stop prosecutors from trying to block their implementation. But they failed. This is the second time the legislature has modified the Rockefeller laws -- the first time was in 2004 -- and yet most of the work still lies ahead of us. But 1,100 people, potentially, will have their lives transformed, and another chink has been made in the drug war wall of injustice. To once again make use of a Churchill quote that drug reformers have used before: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." In the meanwhile, watch this video:

Press Release: Gov. Paterson to Speak Wed: Rock Drug Law Reform Becomes Active; 1,500 Eligible for Resentencing and Release!

For Immediate Release: October 7, 2009 Contact: Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Gabriel Sayegh at (646)335-2264 1,500 Incarcerated People Eligible for Resentencing and Release, Judges Now Have Discretion Governor Paterson to Mark Milestone at Brooklyn Courthouse on Wednesday at 10 a.m. An Army of Legal Advocates and Human Service Agencies Stand Ready to Provide Reentry, Drug Treatment and other Services New York- On Wednesday, October 7, key elements of the Rockefeller Drug Law reform go into effect: Decision making authority is returned to judges, who can now divert people suffering from drug dependency into treatment and other service programs, instead of prison. And nearly 1,500 people currently incarcerated for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses under the Rockefeller Drug Laws can petition the court for resentencing and, if approved by a judge, will be released. After Governor David Paterson signed the reforms into law earlier this year, advocates and service providers have worked diligently to prepare for implementation. Legal aid and public defender agencies are providing legal counsel. Hundreds of social and human agencies around the state have volunteered to provide a broad range of services to those individuals who will be released from prison as a result of drug law reform. In New York City alone, over 100 human service agencies have agreed to work with legal aid and public defender agencies to provide services like housing, job training and drug treatment to those individuals returning from prison as a result of drug law reform. "As someone who spent 12 years behind bars on Rockefeller charges and another 12 fighting the inhumane laws, I am thrilled that the law has been changed, said Anthony Papa, author of 15 Years to Life. "But, Rockefeller will only be real when those who are behind bars are allowed to come home and those who need help get treatment instead of a jail cell." "New Yorkers fought for decades to reform the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, and we finally succeeded this year," said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Now we need to make Rockefeller reform work. Today marks another step towards our state moving in new direction on drug policy, one based on public health and safety. Thankfully, legal and human service agencies are stepping up to implement reform." "Rockefeller Drug Law reform symbolizes a critical time in our history, where we acknowledge the individual stories and personal struggles of those who have been most affected by such a harsh and racist sentencing scheme," said Shreya Mandal, Mitigation Specialist for the Legal Aid Society. "These reforms will allow people to reclaim their dignity as we shift from a punitive criminal justice model to a much needed holistic public health model. Now it is time to see this reform through by empowering formerly incarcerated individuals with comprehensive re-entry planning." Governor Paterson will be marking the milestone at an event at 10 a.m. at the Brooklyn Court House, 320 Jay St., Room 283. In addition to the Governor, two drug court graduates will speak at the event. ###
Location: 
NY
United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School