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Free Speech: Cop Smeared and Fired Over Decriminalization Advocacy Wins Big Settlement from Small Town

A former Mountlake Terrace, Washington, police officer who was vilified and fired because he supports the decriminalization of marijuana has won a massive settlement from the city and Snohomish County. The two entities will pay Sgt. Jonathan Wender $815,000, in addition to three years of back pay. But wait -- there's more: The city will also pay him his $90,000 a year salary for the next two years while he stays on administrative leave and then retires with full benefits.

Wender is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a professor at the University of Washington, where he writes and lectures about police work and drug policy. While a police officer, he had repeatedly and publicly criticized the department and its commanders over a number of issues, including drug law enforcement. That public dissent irked commanders and led to the department and the Snohomish County prosecutors office ultimately firing him on a pretext.

In July 2005, Wender received a call from a woman who reported a marijuana plant growing at her ex-husband's house. Under the couple's divorce settlement, drug use was forbidden because of the presence of children. Wender responded by telephoning the man and telling him he was "foolish and irresponsible" to be growing a pot plant and to "do what he needed to do" immediately. But the woman entered the house the next day, saw marijuana plants still there, photographed them and gave the photos to narcotics detectives, who raided the house.

Both department commanders and Snohomish County prosecutors used the incident to begin investigations of Wender, with prosecutors labeling him a "Brady cop," or a police officer whose integrity or honesty is so in doubt that prosecutors must tell defense attorneys about the allegations. That was enough to get Wender fired, even though he was never charged with a crime.

He sued, alleging the department and the county violated his free speech rights and fired him because of his political beliefs. He also claimed that prosecutors and the department gave him no opportunity to challenge the "Brady cop" finding, thus violating his right to due process.

That the city and the county settled the case instead of going to trial showed that Wender was targeted for his political views, his attorney, Andrea Brenneke, told the Seattle Times after the settlement was announced. "He was enforcing the law," Brenneke said. "The department and prosecutors made an assumption that because of his beliefs about the war on drugs that Sgt. Wender wasn't doing his job. That's not true."

Depositions from several other local police officers taken in the case showed that, while they might have handled the 2005 case differently, they all thought his response was within his discretion as a police officer. But his commanders and county prosecutors saw an opportunity to get rid of someone whose views challenged theirs. Now, the good citizens of Mountlake Terrace and Snohomish County will pay.

Canada: BC Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Marijuana Law

The British Columbia Supreme Court last Friday rejected a challenge to the country's law criminalizing marijuana possession based on deficiencies in Canada's medical marijuana regime. In cases earlier this decade, some Canadian courts had held that because Canada's drug law did not provide for the therapeutic use of cannabis, the law was invalid. But in part because of changes already made to the program, the BC Supreme Court wasn't buying that argument.

In response to those earlier rulings, the Canadian government created a limited medical marijuana program, whose utility was challenged in the present case. But Justice Austin Cullen ruled that even if Canada's medical marijuana program is less than ideal, that doesn't mean recreational pot smokers win a get out of jail free card.

Pot prohibition is constitutional only as long as medical need is accommodated, Cullen conceded. "There must be a constitutionally acceptable exemption from prosecution for seriously ill people with legitimate medical needs for the drug," he wrote in the opinion in Poelzer v. Her Majesty The Queen. But even if medical need is not adequately accommodated, as some courts have ruled, "it does not follow that the prohibition on possession of marijuana is of no force and effect," Cullen held. Any remedy should be "more specifically targeted to the constitutional shortcomings" in the medical marijuana program, not an excuse for marijuana users to avoid prosecution.

Ryan Poelzer was arrested in May 2007 for smoking a joint aboard a ferry pulling into Langdale, BC. Police searched him as he disembarked and found about five ounces of marijuana and a quarter-ounce of hashish. He was charged with marijuana possession, convicted, and handed six month's probation.

With the aid of attorney Kirk Tousaw, Poelzer appealed, arguing that defects in the medical marijuana law rendered marijuana prohibition invalid and, alternately, that conflicting court rulings had left the legal situation so muddied that prosecutions should be considered an abuse of process. But while provincial courts in Ontario had held the marijuana law invalid because of the medical marijuana problem, neither the federal nor the BC courts had.

"In British Columbia, there is no binding authority that [the marijuana law] is of no force and effect in the absence of a constitutionally acceptable exemption for medical marijuana users," Cullen ruled. To rule otherwise "would be to fashion or provide a remedy that in the words of the Ontario Court of Appeal would be 'overly broad and inadequately tailored to the constitutional deficiencies in the [medical program].'"

Looks like it's back to the drawing board for Canada's legalizers, at least on the West Coast.

The Border: El Paso City Council Folds in Face of Threats, Reverses Call for National Debate on Drug Legalization

Cowed by a US congressman and Texas state legislators who warned of funding cut-offs, the El Paso City Council has reversed last week's unanimous vote to call for a national debate on drug legalization as part of a resolution supporting its sister city, Ciudad Juárez, which has been plagued by prohibition-related violence. A motion to override Mayor John Cook's veto of that resolution last week failed Tuesday, with the council voting 4-4. Six votes were needed to override the veto.

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Beto O'Rourke
Last week's resolution had called on the federal government to take a number of non-controversial steps to aid Ciudad Juárez and Mexico in dealing with violence, such as clamping down on gun-running and money-laundering. But as the council debated the resolution, South-West Rep. Beto O'Rourke introduced an amendment calling for an "honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics." The council then voted unanimously to approve the amended resolution.

And stepped into a firestorm as the vote drew national attention. O'Rourke appeared on CNN's Lou Dobbs program, only to be pilloried by the pseudo-populist demagogue. Mayor Cook, meanwhile, was mobilizing support for his veto, and denigrating anyone who supported the resolution as "pot heads."

The resolution also came under fire from Congressman Silvestre Reyes (D), who represents the city in Washington. In a Tuesday letter to the council, Reyes warned that the city could lose federal funding if it passed the resolution.

"While this resolution is well-intentioned, I believe its passage would be counterproductive to our efforts to enact an ambitious legislative agenda at the federal level," wrote the former Border Patrol supervisor. "As our nation faces one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression, Congress is currently drafting an economic stimulus package in which El Paso stands to benefit. This is where our focus must be at this critical time, and it is important that our message reflect priorities that will provide real gains for the community."

The city's state legislative delegation also spoke out against the resolution. In a Monday letter to the council, the five state House members who represent El Paso in Austin issued the same sort of extortionate warning that Reyes did a day later.

"There will be state agencies, state legislators, and others in state government who will see this resolution as the City of El Paso supporting the legalization of drugs," the letter read. "Funding for local law enforcement efforts and other important programs to our community are likely being put in jeopardy, especially during a time when state revenues are scarce. We understand your stated goal is to bring attention to the problems that illegal drugs cause in our community and society. However, the position to ask the federal government to legalize narcotics does not bring the right attention to El Paso. It says 'we give up and we don't care.'"

The message from Reyes and the state legislators was clear: Shut up about even thinking about debating drug legalization or it will cost you. On Tuesday, the El Paso city council showed it could not stand up to that sort of political hardball, but it was quite a session. (Thanks to El Paso's NewspaperTree web site for all quotes below.)

While the council members were careful to be diplomatic toward each other and the mayor, it was clear that some of them mightily resented being blackmailed. "I personally don't support the legalization of narcotics, but I also don't support limiting debate," city Rep. Eddie Holguin said. "Debate is healthy, I feel. I believe that self-censoring ourselves is wrong, and we shouldn't trample on the Constitution and the people's right to free speech."

"I want to commend Rep. O'Rourke for being so courageous," said city Rep. Rachel Quintana. "That is the only word that I can think of because the ridicule that you have faced." Quintana said that while her constituents appeared split on the matter, the letters from Reyes and the state delegation "absolutely pushed me over."

"If we had voted yesterday, I would have voted in favor of it," said Rep. Emma Acosta, who also cited the threatening letters as her reason for changing her vote.

Rep. Holguin said the threatened price was too high. "When you receive calls and you have both members of the state and federal level telling you that you might lose funding for projects that are of vital importance for El Paso then you know you have to stop and think," he said. But he congratulated O'Rourke for getting national attention and getting the conversation started. "In that respect, I think you were successful, and I don't regret supporting the resolution the way that it passed. It's just unfortunate the way that it was portrayed, and at this point, I can't jeopardize funding from the state or the federal level."

Rep. Steve Ortega, who voted to override the veto, was angered by the heavy-handed interventions and said the resolution was necessary. "We've had 50 patients at Thomason (Hospital), and had a handful of kidnappings in this past year related to drugs," he said. "We've had local business that have been threatened and extorted for money based on some events in Mexico... You have possibility of a failed state and failed city and more death and destruction along this business community. That to me, you can't put a cost on, whether it is federal funding or state funding. I ask us to ask ourselves what is the cost of that."

Turning to the intervention of Reyes and the state legislators, Ortega issued a challenge: "I also want to ask our state legislators and our US congressman to openly name anybody who is threatening the city of El Paso with withholding funding for having dialogue," Ortega said. "That is un-American, and that is in contravention to our First Amendment. So I'm going to stand with the action that we took last Tuesday. There is to me nothing wrong with having a debate and a dialogue. If we are silent on this matter, the prospects for the future of this community are placed in danger. And I'm not going to stand here idly and listen to unnamed legislators threaten us for having a dialogue over the future of this community."

"I think it's unfortunate how this came about, but that's life and that's politics," said Rep. O'Rourke. "I will also say that the threat from Congressman Reyes, then articulated again by our House delegation at the state level is unfortunate, but it's having its desired effect, which is to chill discussion. And I want to be clear, I have not heard a specific funding amount that is being threatened to be withheld. I haven't heard a specific congressman or senator who has threatened to withhold that money, just vague, unspecific threats that should we have the courage of our convictions, money will be withheld from this community."

O'Rourke reminded the council that the city is suing the federal government over its proposed border wall. "If the federal government had come back and said we'll withhold funding from your community if you continue with this lawsuit, would this council fold on this lawsuit?" he said. "If our very principled position on undocumented immigration and on the Minutemen were challenged by the federal government, and we were told we were going to lose our funding if we continued with our position, would we fold? It's not just this issue. It sets a precedent that when debate is to be chilled, when positions are to be changed, people higher up will threaten us that we'll lose our money, and you have to ask yourselves if you can live with that."

As the council prepared to vote, O'Rourke concluded his remarks. "All we're asking for is a conversation, and no important issue in the history of the United States, social, criminal legal or otherwise has ever been harmed by having an open discussion. That's all we're asking for today. I hope the original resolution and the mayor's veto is overridden."

This time it wasn't. But the forces of suppression and intolerance have shown their true colors, and national attention has been drawn to the issue despite them.

If You Think Alcohol Should be Legal, You’re an Alcoholic

Amidst the hysteria surrounding this week’s events in El Paso, I neglected to mention that Mayor John Cook got caught calling us all "potheads" because we oppose the drug war:

ABC-7 obtained an excerpt from the mayor's e-mail, which was sent to Margie Velez, the former office manager for former Senator Phil Gramm in El Paso.

It states: "I can tell you that all the pot heads have sent their e-mails and they are encouraging the reps to stand by their decision. But why does the silent majority remain silent? We have certainly attracted attention to our city, but I don't think the attention is positive." [ABC7]

It’s hilarious on multiple levels, beginning with the delightfully bad press it earned him. He’s literally calling people potheads for supporting a city council resolution that advocates "an honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics." With few exceptions, it’s gonna reflect poorly on you if you resort to name-calling against people who asked for an honest and open discussion.

But the best part is when he asks for the "silent majority" to come save him from the stoners. Leaving aside the question of whether that "silent majority" even exists anymore (which is doubtful), the mayor’s agenda from day one has been to prevent discussion. If Mayor Cook wanted to give drug war supporters a voice, why the hell did he veto a debate on our drug policy? He torpedoed the discussion, only to then complain that certain views weren’t being heard. That is just classic.

Religious Freedom: Arizona Supreme Court to Hear Case on Spiritual Right to Marijuana

The Arizona Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to take up a case where the appellant is arguing that he has a constitutionally-protected right to use and possess marijuana as a sacrament of his church. Both the trial judge and a state appeals court rejected that argument. (See the appeals court opinion here.)

Daniel Hardesty is a member of the Church of Cognizance, an Arizona-based religion based on "neo-Zoroastrian tenets" that believes marijuana provides great spiritual benefits. He was convicted of marijuana and paraphernalia possession after being arrested in Yavapai County in 2005.

If the state high court rules in his favor, it would be the first time any Arizona court has recognized a religious defense for those who use marijuana. But it would not be the first time church members have been caught up in the courts. Last August, church founders Dan and Mary Quaintance pleaded guilty to possession and conspiracy to distribute marijuana after US District Court judge in New Mexico rejected their religious freedom claims.

But while no Arizona court has found a religious defense for marijuana use, courts there have found a religious defense for use of another drug: peyote. But the appeals court drew a distinction between peyote use and Hardesty's case. According to the appeals court, religious use of peyote by the Native American church amounted to use by a "discrete and well-defined group" and that prosecutors had never shown peyote was addictive or being used in harmful manners.

Expect oral arguments and then a ruling one of these months.

Marijuana: Arizona Supreme Court to Hear Case Asserting Religious Right to Use, Possess

The Arizona Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide whether there is a religious right to possess marijuana. The issue is being raised in Arizona v. Hardesty, in which Daniel Hardesty, a member of the Church of Cognizance, an Arizona-based church that practices neo-Zoroastrian tenets and believes marijuana provides spiritual enlightenment and a connection to the divine mind.

Hardesty was arrested for marijuana possession after being stopped for a burned out headlight in 2005 and convicted of marijuana and paraphernalia possession in district court despite arguing that First Amendment protections of the free exercise of religion entitled him to use and possess marijuana as a sacrament in his church. Hardesty appealed, but lost in the appeals court as well.

In rejecting Hardesty's appeal, the appeals court held that while he has the right to believe what he wants, the First Amendment protections do not give him the right to commit criminal offenses for religious reasons. The appeals court also said the legislature has a legitimate interest in banning marijuana and the courts should not second-guess the legislature.

If the state Supreme Court overturns the lower court decisions, it will be the first time an Arizona court has allowed for the religious use of marijuana -- but not the first time an Arizona court has allowed for the religious use of a controlled substance. Arizona courts have ruled repeatedly that the possession of peyote for religious purposes by the Native American Church is allowable.

The appeals court argued that was different. With peyote, there was never any finding that the cactus was addictive or being used in quantities harmful to the health of participants. Also, peyote was used by a "discrete and well-defined group," the court held. Now, one of these months, we'll see if the state Supreme Court agrees.

Salvia Divinorum: Banned in Ohio in 90 Days

Salvia divinorum will become a Schedule I controlled substance in Ohio 90 days from Wednesday. That's the day Gov. Ted Strickland (D) signed a bill banning the plant that passed the legislature late last year. It is unclear how salvia possession defendants will be charged, but a fifth degree felony, the least serious in Ohio, merits a jail sentence of up to a year.

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salvia leaves (photo courtesy Erowid.org)
Ohio now joins at least nine other states that have banned the use, possession, or distribution of salvia. In California, minors are barred from possessing the plant or its extracts.

Although used for centuries by Masatec shamans in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, salvia has in recent years become popular among recreational drug users here. Smoking extracts of the plants causes a powerful, disorienting, five-to-10 minute hallucinogenic experience.

Young people posting videos on YouTube of themselves under the influence of salvia have aroused anxious parents, politicians, and policemen across the land, who, seeing someone get high, can only come up with a reflex response to ban the new "threat." But salvia is not addictive and has not been linked to overdose deaths.

In Ohio, the sponsor of the ban bill, former state Rep. Thom Collier (R), seized on the killing of a Loudonville boy by a friend who had earlier used salvia. But even Collier has admitted there is no evidence the salvia use was directly involved in the killing.

Drug Legalization: El Paso City Council Unanimously Calls for National Debate, Mayor Vetoes Resolution Same Day, Override Vote Set For Next Week

Spurred by the unending prohibition-related violence tormenting Mexico, and in particular, Ciudad Juárez, El Paso's sister city on the other side of the Rio Grande, the El Paso City Council Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution that called for, among other things, "a serious debate" on drug legalization as a means of ending the violence. But Mayor John Cook, who sat silently through the council meeting, vetoed the resolution the same afternoon.

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DEA El Paso graphic (usdoj.gov)
The battle isn't over. South-West city Rep. Beto O'Rourke announced Wednesday he would seek to override the veto at the council meeting this coming Tuesday. The resolution passed 8-0; he will need six votes to override.

Drafted by the city's Border Relations Committee, the resolution outlined 11 steps the US and Mexican governments can take to help El Paso's "besieged and beleaguered sister city." But O'Rourke proposed a 12th step -- which also passed unanimously -- an amendment calling on national leaders to "support an honest open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics." (See the draft resolution not including the amendment here.)

"We know the war on drugs is empowering the drug lords and is costing us millions of dollars," O'Rourke told his fellow council members. "Let's start an honest national debate that would end the prohibition of narcotics," he said, successfully urging them to support his amendment.

"It's a terrible situation that calls for a more dramatic solution than just asking for stepped up enforcement," O'Rourke said after the Tuesday meeting. "What I asked for today and the council approved was urging our representatives to have an honest, open dialogue about ending the prohibition on narcotics," he told the El Paso Times."I hope our congressman, Silvestre Reyes, and our US senators hear us loud and clear and have a very difficult and politically challenging debate, one that needs to happen. We can't continue the status quo; it's not working."

But El Paso's federal representatives may not hear the council's request loud and clear, because later Tuesday afternoon Mayor Cook issued his veto. "The action of council... undermines the hard work of the committee by adding new language which may affect the credibility of the entire resolution," he said in the veto. "It is not realistic to believe that the US Congress will seriously consider any broad-based debate on the legalization of narcotics," Cook added. "That position is not consistent with the community standards both locally and nationally."

Cook's after-the-fact veto angered several council members. "I am really disappointed. I went and told him that personally," O'Rourke said. "This amendment received unanimous support from council and it also received the support of the members of the committee who wrote the resolution."

Eastridge/Mid-Valley city Rep. Steve Ortega said he respected Cook's decision, but disagreed with it. "The controversial amendment merely calls for the initiation of a debate regarding the prohibition of narcotics. It does not endorse the legalization of drugs but it places it on the table for debate," he said. "Ending cartel related violence in Juárez represents this region's biggest challenge and justifies an all-inclusive dialogue concerning potential solutions."

"I completely understand... this is a very uncomfortable conversation to have," said West-Central city Rep. Susie Byrd. "But the reason that I am compelled to support the resolution as we approved it is that whatever we have been doing in the last 40 years has not worked."

But Cook told the Times that asking for a debate on ending prohibition diverted attention from the real issue. "The whole purpose of the resolution was to get national attention to the violence in Juárez," he said. "After it was amended, the focus was placed instead on legalizing drugs in the United States."

And US Rep. Reyes, who would have been one of the recipients of the resolution, told the Times he would not have been receptive anyway. "Legalizing the types of drugs that are being smuggled across the border is not an effective way to combat the violence in Mexico," he said. "I would not support efforts in Congress that would seek to do so."

O'Rourke was irritated with the mayor's backroom maneuver. "We started a conversation about solutions ... a conversation that was supported by everyone on council," he said. "The mayor, though, didn't say a word during the meeting. It wasn't until I received a Xerox copy of his veto that I heard from him."

Now O'Rourke has to keep his fellow council members on board for Tuesday's vote. "My intention is to ask that this be on the Tuesday agenda, as adopted, for reconsideration, and we'll just see how the votes fall," O'Rourke said Wedneday. "I'm going to respect whatever the members of .council decide to do.After hearing from their constituents, they may have a different take on it."

Council members may fear the call for open debate on drug legalization will alienate voters ahead of looming elections, he said. "Unquestionably, it gets tougher for those representatives and the mayor to make this decision knowing they are going to face the voters in less than six months."

The debate over whether to even talk about radical drug policy reform continues to roil El Paso, and Tuesday's meeting should be interesting, to say the least. Among the latest to join the fray was former Mayor Bill Tilney, who served from 1991 to 1993. Where he came down was evident from the title of the op-ed he penned Wednesday: "Former mayor to City Council: Stay the course on drug resolution."

Some elected officials, such as Mayor Cook and Rep. Reyes, may want to close their eyes and plug their ears, but all El Pasoans have to do is look across the border to see how well the drug war is working. More than 5,000 Mexicans died in prohibition-related violence last year, hundreds of them in Ciudad Juárez alone. Now the people closest to the border are starting to demand something besides more of the same old same old.

Feature: Proposed Medical Marijuana Rules in Michigan Stir Chorus of Complaints

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), which is charged with crafting rules and regulations for the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program, got an earful from patients and activists at a public hearing in Lansing Monday. The MDCH draft regulations are overly burdensome and sometimes conflict with the new law, patients and activists charged.

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Michigan Capitol
Under the state's medical marijuana law, which passed with the approval of 63% of the voters, MDCH has until April 4 to craft program regulations and begin issuing ID cards to qualified patients and caregivers. But now, after the detailed criticisms of its draft regulations, MDCH will have to go back to the drawing board -- and move fast.

Under the proposed rules, those qualified to grow and use marijuana would have to register yearly and be issued registration cards that could be revoked for criminal use or sales. Registered medical producers could supply no more than five patients each, and possess no more than 12 mature plants and 2.5 ounces of marijuana per patient.

Among the proposed rules drawing the ire of patients and advocates was one that would require patients to keep an inventory of the amount of marijuana they had on hand and one that would require patients to treat their medical marijuana supply more restrictively than they treat other medicines, including prescribed opiates, by requiring that the usable marijuana -- not just the plants -- be kept in an enclosed, locked facility. Another proposed rule, barring the use of medical marijuana in view of the public, went beyond the scope of the law, which only bars use in public, patients complained. They said that rule could lead to patients being arrested for medicating on their porches or even inside their homes if visible through a window.

"It seems to me you are attempting an end-run of what the people wanted and voted for," said Ken Shapiro of East Lansing, who uses marijuana for metastatic melanoma that, he said, has afflicted him for 31 years. Shapiro said he had endured radiation, chemotherapy, and more than 50 operations during his struggle with the disease. "Marijuana helped me get through it," he said. "It should be taken for granted that seriously ill people are not dealing drugs."

Another medical marijuana patient, Tom Higgins of Bay City, who currently cultivates his own marijuana outside the protection of the law, said proposed rules requiring disclosure and paperwork requirements could create a trail that could expose him to federal prosecution. "I won't follow the rules as they are now; I'll just keep growing marijuana as I have been," said Higgins, who suffers from hepatitis.

"The regulations are far more burdensome than necessary, directly conflict with the law that the voters enacted in several areas, and would require things not permitted by the law," said Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which backed the November initiative. "The department doesn't have the authority to create new, restrictive requirements, but that's what they've tried to do."

O'Keefe also testified at the Monday hearing, where she presented a detailed, 22-point list of required revisions to bring the draft regulations in compliance with the medical marijuana law. Voters approved the law and the safeguards it contains "without requiring self-incrimination or making life overly difficult for the seriously ill patients whom 63% of Michigan voters chose to allow to use medical marijuana without fearing arrest," she told the hearing.

O'Keefe was guardedly optimistic that MDCH would heed the complaints. "They've said they would take all comments into consideration, and we hope they will do so. We want this to be fixed and to see the program up and running as soon as possible," she said. "Until they set the rules, they won't be issuing ID cards, and until then, patients are at risk of arrest."

"The rules as proposed were overly technical and burdensome," said Greg Francisco, executive director of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association (MMMA), the state's largest patient group. "But once we went through the hearings and explained our concerns, I think the state realized its rules weren't workable. We were not happy with the original rules, but we are happy the state seems to be listening."

Indeed, at the end of the hearing, State Bureau of Health Professions policy analyst Desmond Mitchell, who conducted the meeting, said the MDCH "will review everything and take a look at what revisions need to be made" in the coming weeks.

Even law enforcement complained about some of the proposed rules, especially one that would require that the medicine of patients who died or left the program be turned over to the state police. "It's burdensome for law enforcement to have someone come in, asking to destroy 12 plants," said Greg Zorotney of the State Police executive division. "Plants can grow quite big."

But Zorotney also told the panel that the ID card system should be entered into the same database as drivers' licenses, and that raised a red flag for advocates. "The state police don't want to be running around gathering up plants and medicine," said MPP's O'Keefe. "That's reasonable, and so is wanting the ability to verify ID cards 24-7. But they also want some kind of access to the patient database, and the law says that patient information is confidential. The only information they are entitled to is whether the patient is indeed registered," she said.

During the campaign to pass the initiative, the public face of patients was the Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care, but that MPP-funded group went out of business once its electoral objectives had been achieved. Now, MMMA, representing patients and activists who kept a low profile during the campaign, is coming to the fore.

"MPP asked us to lay low during the campaign, but we organized behind the scenes so we would be ready to go," explained Francisco. "We launched at the close of the polls on November 4. MMMA is about patients and what's right for the state and coming up with a workable medical marijuana program for the state," he said.

Now, MDCH has about three weeks to revise the rules and submit them to a legislative committee. The committee can either approve or reject the rules. If it rejects them, the legislature will have two weeks to write a bill with new rules, get it passed, and have it signed by the governor. In either case, the April 4 rollout date looms large.

"They have one more chance to get it right," said Francisco. "Once the revised rules go in, that's it. I really do believe these are just bureaucrats trying to do their job and that they will make the necessary changes. If not, it's litigation time."

"This has gotten a lot of attention in Michigan," said O'Keefe. "There was a really strong patient and advocate presence at the hearing, and there was a lot of media there. I think the department understands that it is important to get this right. If not, we are prepared to litigate," she warned.

Drug Testing: Federal Judge Rejects West Virginia School Board's Random Tests of Teachers

A federal judge in Charleston, West Virginia, Monday stopped the Kanawha County school system's plan to randomly drug test teachers in its tracks, issuing a scathing rebuke of the policy and the school board as he did so. US District Judge Robert Goodwin said the plan would force teachers to submit to an unjustified and unconstitutional search.

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drug testing lab
Despite being warned ahead of time that the county was in for a costly and probably futile legal battle if it approved the policy, the school board did so anyway in a 4-1 vote in October. The West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers filed suit to block the policy from being implemented in late November, and the West Virginia Education Association and the American Civil Liberties Union joined the fray last month.

On Monday, Judge Goodwin granted the motion for a temporary injunction. Goodwin said the school board's plan to test one-quarter of teachers and other school workers each year was crafted although there was no evidence of a pervasive drug problem in the community and was based on unreasonable worse-case scenario hypotheticals. He asked why the district did not also have a policy to randomly test teachers for tropical diseases.

"Total security for us and our children is only possible -- if unlikely -- in a totalitarian state," Goodwin said. "Who wants to live in a society when a government will stop at nothing to prevent bumps and bruises," he added.

Previous federal court decisions have held that government employees cannot be subjected to random suspicionless drug testing -- with a handful of exceptions, most related to public safety and security. The school board offered up the novel argument that teachers -- and cafeteria workers and janitors -- held "safety sensitive" positions and if they were impaired by drug use their inability to supervise a classroom could jeopardize student safety. But Judge Goodwin wasn't buying that.

Drug War Issues

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