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Feature: Colorado Marijuana Possession Legalization Initiative Makes the Ballot

The Colorado secretary of state announced Wednesday that an initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for people aged 21 and older has submitted sufficient signatures to make the November ballot. Organized by SAFER Colorado, the group that won a surprise legalization initiative victory last year in Denver, the Colorado Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative would push the state to the forefront of marijuana law reform by simply changing one sentence in the state statutes.

The announcement came less than two weeks after SAFER Colorado handed in more than 130,000 signatures, well more than the 80,000 needed to qualify for the ballot. The secretary of state's office certified the measure for the ballot based on a statistical sampling of the signatures.

"We are thrilled," said SAFER Colorado's Steve Fox. "We had well more signatures than we needed, and that allowed us to get this quick qualification instead of having the secretary of state going though our petitions line by line," he told Drug War Chronicle.

The initiative, which will be known as Amendment 44 on the ballot, asks voters to vote yes or no on the following question: "Shall there be an amendment to section 18-18-406 (1) of the Colorado revised statutes making legal the possession of one ounce or less of marihuana for any person twenty-one years of age or older?"

Under current Colorado law, possession of up to an ounce of marijuana is a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by a fine up of to $100. According to legislative staffers who prepared an analysis of the initiative, some 3,700 adults were convicted of simple marijuana possession last year.

Colorado now joins Nevada as states where voters this November will decide whether to radically reform the marijuana laws. In Nevada, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and its local affiliate, the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana are pushing an initiative that would not only legalize possession of up to an ounce, but would also allow for the regulated sales of like amounts.

MPP is not involved in the Colorado effort, but hopes it succeeds, said communications director Bruce Mirken. "This was a little bit of a surprise," he told Drug War Chronicle. "We wish them well. Nobody should underestimate these folks -- they surprised the whole world with their success in Denver last year."

In an odd way, that victory spurred the statewide effort. After the citizens of Denver voted for the ordinance, local law enforcement officials refused to abide by it, instead choosing to prosecute people under the state law. SAFER Colorado wants to take away that option. If the measure passes in November, communities in Colorado that want tougher marijuana laws would have to pass local ordinances and charge offenders under them.

The campaign will continue to emphasize its tried and tested theme that marijuana is safer than alcohol and, at the least, should not be treated more severely. That theme resonated strongly with students at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, both of which passed non-binding resolutions calling for equalization of penalties, as well as with voters in Denver last fall.

SAFER Colorado campaign director Mason Tvert was right on point Wednesday. "The campaign will highlight the hypocrisy of laws that prohibit the use of marijuana while allowing and even encouraging the use of alcohol, an infinitely more harmful drug," he said in a statement greeting the secretary of state's announcement.

Now it is time to win the election, said Fox. "We are doing some fundraising so we can distribute our materials and get our message out," he said. "We have a lot of fun items -- t-shirts, buttons, stickers -- that are aimed at people who support us but who don't necessarily get around to voting all the time. It is their duty to get out and vote, and we will do what we can to encourage them."

It will be an uphill battle to win in November. In the only polling done so far on the measure, the Denver Post found it losing 51% to 37%. But Fox looked at those figures and found the glass half full.

"We think that's pretty good as we head into this campaign," he said. "If only 51% support marijuana prohibition before we've even really begun to get our message out, we think we have a pretty good chance of winning. Listen, SAFER is the Barry Goldwater of marijuana. Even if we don't win this time, we are saying what should be done with the confidence that people will come around to our position. It is an undeniable truth that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol," he said. "Our campaign is here in Colorado, but this is about ending marijuana prohibition across the country, not just in one state. We are in this to win over the long haul."

One bright spot for the campaign is the lack so far of any organized opposition. "We have a crazy drug warrior lady who is making noise, but she is not a sophisticated opponent," said Fox. "We have seen one outside drug warrior set up an issue committee here in Colorado, and there are rumors that the attorney general is planning to put together an opposition group possibly made up of law enforcement officials, but that hasn't happened yet," he explained. "We hope that the law enforcement community will understand that they are law enforcers, not law makers, and they should let the people decide what the laws will be."

Colorado's official nickname is the Centennial State, but one of its unofficial sobriquets is the Highest State, based on its towering mountains and its average elevation. If Colorado voters approve Amendment 44 in November, undoubtedly many will consider it to be even more deserving of that nickname.

Marijuana Policy Reform is Emphasis at Hempfest

Location: 
Seattle, WA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Seattle Times
URL: 
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/outdoors/2003203519_nwwfestivalfocus17.html

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's not your typical week of corrupt cops this week. We've got the usual prison guard in trouble, but not in the usual way; we've got an LAPD officer arrested for making bad arrests; we've got an Alabama narc busted for stealing; and we've got an Alabama judge with an apparent bad habit. In regard to the judge, we don't typically run stories of cops facing simple drug possession charges, but when it's a judge who regularly sentences drug offenders, we think it's worth notice. Also this week, a pair of links to longer investigative pieces down by local newspapers about festering local corruption scandals. Let's get to it:

In Lowndes County, Mississippi, an Alabama judge has been arrested on methamphetamine possession charges, the Tuscaloosa News reported. Pickens County District Judge Ira Colvin was arrested Monday by Lowndes County sheriff's deputies at the same time they arrested a 36-year-old woman (not his wife) on the same charges, but in a separate vehicle. According to the Associated Press, Colvin was arrested as deputies investigated people driving from store to store to buy meth precursor materials. Precursors, a gram of powder meth, and two syringes filled with liquid meth were allegedly found in his car. Colvin's wife, Christy Colvin, was arrested on meth possession charges four months ago in Columbus, Mississippi, as she drove around town purchasing ingredients that could be used to make meth. Judge Colvin, who was appointed to the bench in December 2002 to replace a judge who resigned after being accused of improper contact with females involved in cases before his court, was indicted on federal bankruptcy fraud charges in May 2004 for allegedly hiding assets for a client in 2001, but those charges were dropped after Colvin apologized. He was awaiting a bail hearing Wednesday.

In Dothan, Alabama, a former Houston County narcotics officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges he stole property. Former Houston County Sheriff's Deputy Ricky Ducker was accused of stealing up to $30,000 worth of hunting equipment and accessories from Southern Outdoor Sports, where he once worked. Ducker pleaded guilty to first degree theft of property and faces from two to 20 years in prison when sentenced in October. According to WTVY-News 4, Ducker, a 25-year veteran of the sheriff's office, "hid behind his attorneys" as he entered the court house and "ran out of the courtroom after entering his guilty plea."

In Los Angeles, a veteran Ramparts Division LAPD officer was charged last Friday with making false arrests, the Los Angeles Times reported. Officer Edward Beltran Zamora was busted after he was caught in a sting by the LAPD Ethics Enforcement Section. The department says it has videotape of Zamora arresting two undercover officers posing as suspects on suspicion of drug possession when they did not possess drugs. Zamora, 44, has previously been accused of making false arrests, and the city of Los Angeles has already paid out $520,000 to settle two civil lawsuits filed against him. In one case, Zamora was accused of planting a rifle on a suspect, in the other, he was accused of planting drugs and a rifle. Zamora faces up to three years in prison on a felony count of filing a false police report. He also faces two misdemeanor counts of false arrest and false imprisonment. The 16-year LAPD veteran is free on bail.

In Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, a Texas jail guard was arrested Monday morning with 30 pounds of cocaine. According to KGBT-4 TV in Brownsville, Texas, Hidalgo County detention officer Pedro Longoria was arrested by Louisiana State Troopers and now faces charges of transporting cocaine. Longoria has now been fired from his job and is jailed pending a bond hearing.

For those interested in a more in-depth look at drug war-related police corruption at the local level, two recent newspaper articles are worth a read. In North Carolina, the Fayetteville Observer has a lengthy piece on "Operation Tarnished Badge," a federal investigation that has roiled Robeson County for the past few years, resulting in convictions of several officers and the dismissal or reversal of hundreds of drug cases. Meanwhile, in Mississippi, the Laurel Leader-Call has published an update on the ongoing investigation of the Southeast Mississippi Drug Task Force, which was shut down in April amid concern over "irregularities," with its story "Task Force Probe Nearly Complete".

Methamphetamine: One Month in One Texas County Courthouse Opens a Window on the Drug War Version 2.006

If you want a snapshot of the current state of the drug war in the American heartland, Grayson County, Texas, is as good a place as any. Grayson County lies about an hour north of Dallas on US Highway 75 just south of the Oklahoma border. According to the US Census of 2000, the county has a population of 110,000, with some 35,000 people in Sherman, the county seat and largest town. The local economy is dependent on agriculture, manufacturing, and increasingly, the county's role as a drug distribution hub for the Texoma border region of which it is a part. And if last month's 336th District Court case dispositions are any indication, it either has a big methamphetamine problem or a law enforcement apparatus obsessed with finding one.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/graysoncourthouse.jpg
quiet street but busy courthouse, thanks to the drug war
According to a list of case dispositions for the month of July compiled by Grayson County Attorney Joe Brown and published in the Sherman Herald-Democrat, 15 of the 31 defendants whose cases were resolved during that period faced methamphetamine charges. One case was a marijuana case, while three others involved cocaine possession or distribution. Of the methamphetamine cases, 11 were for simple possession, three for possession or transport of chemicals used in the manufacture of meth, and one for meth manufacture itself. Of all 19 drug cases, none was for drug sales and only one was for possession with intent to distribute.

336th District Court judges generally came down hard on meth offenders. Of the 11 simple meth possession cases, four got probated prison sentences, three got state jail time (up to two years), and four got sent to prison for sentences ranging from thee to six years and averaging 4 ½ years. The courts were especially tough on people seeking to buy chemicals to home-cook meth, handing out sentences of four, seven, and 10 years. The sole meth manufacturer got only 10 years probation, but he also got a two-year prison sentence for child endangerment.

The judges were also fairly tough on other drug offenders. The one gentlemen charged with marijuana possession in a drug free zone got two years in state jail, while one person convicted of cocaine possession got six years and the other got probation. The sole case of cocaine possession with intent to distribute garnered 10 years for the defendant.

The non-drug cases were a motley crew: One aggravated sexual assault of a child (15 years), one burglary of a habitation (nine years), one boating while intoxicated (three years), one credit card abuse (16 months), one endangering a child (two years), three evading arrest with a motor vehicle (two got two years each, one got probation), one failure to appear (three years), one forgery (two years), one retaliation (probation), and one theft over $1500 (15 months).

Without all those meth cases, the Grayson County Courthouse would be a lot quieter. In 13 of the 15 meth-related cases, there were no other non-drug-related charges, just people choosing an unpopular drug to ingest or try to make at home. Likewise with the other drug cases. Like good burghers everyone in America, the citizens of Grayson County are paying a lot of money to arrest, jail, convict, and imprison a lot of people who weren't doing anything to anybody.

Methamphetamine: Third Murder Trial For Woman in California Meth Poisoning Infant Death Case

A California woman whose infant son died with methamphetamine in his system will face a third murder trial, a Riverside County Judge ruled Monday. Amy Leanne Prien was convicted of second-degree murder in her son's death in 2003, but that conviction was overturned by an appeals court citing flawed jury instructions. A retrial ended in a mistrial in June after jurors deadlocked 6-6.

After the mistrial, Prien's lawyers moved to dismiss the charge, but Judge Patrick Magers declined. "It is abundantly clear to the court that the cause of death of the victim was methamphetamine intoxication," he said from the bench as he rejected the motion.

What is not so clear is where the meth in the child's system came from. Prosecutors have argued that Prien, an admitted long-time meth user, caused her child's death by feeding him her breast milk when she was using the popular stimulant. They argued that Prien continued smoking meth while breast-feeding, a charge she has consistently denied. She has suggested that a male guest in her home may have provided the drug to the baby.

A major problem for the prosecution is that the bottle of milk found beside the dead baby was misplaced by law enforcement and never tested for the presence of methamphetamine. And while Prien was tested and came back positive for meth, police never tested her breast milk. Los Angeles attorney Joe Reichmann, who is representing Prien, argued futilely that the charge should be dropped because it was based on "make-believe science" since prosecutors had no way of knowing the meth levels in her breast milk.

California prosecutors have repeatedly proven unable to make meth mother murder cases stick, and it is unclear why they are pursuing Prien with such a vengeance. It's not like she got off scot-free. In addition to losing her child, she is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for felony child endangerment in the same case.

Hearing Scheduled on Medical Marijuana Ballot Item (South Dakota)

Location: 
SD
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.ktiv.com/News/index.php?ID=3231

Harm Reduction: Boston About to Move to Supply Addicts with Heroin Antidote

Boston public health authorities will likely approve a trial program providing heroin users with naloxone (brand name Narcan) next week, the Boston Globe reported Wednesday. If the Boston Public Health Commission indeed approves the program, it will join cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, and New York where authorities have already approved its distribution to drug users.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/naloxone.jpg
In many locales, only paramedics or hospital emergency rooms administer the drug, which can stop a heroin overdose from turning into an overdose death. But with Boston facing a high number of heroin overdose deaths -- fatal overdoses increased 50% between 1999 and 2003 -- city health officials want to put the drug where it can do the most good most quickly: in the hands of drug users.

"The number one hope with this is to save lives," Public Health Commission executive director Joel Auerbach told the Globe. "Our paramedics have said it's a miracle drug. They've seen people who are comatose who are then revived and perfectly fine."

The trial run is expected to enroll 100 heroin users, who would have to undergo training and evaluation, as well as listen to encouragements to quit. But if they were not prepared to stop using, they would be instructed in how to administer Narcan. Then they would be given a prescription for two doses.

The proposed move comes just a week after the Office of National Drug Control Policy -- the drug czar's office -- rejected the idea as somehow encouraging drug use. "We don't want to send the message out that there is a safe way to use heroin," ONDCP spokesperson Jennifer DeVallance told the AP.

Program to Supply Addicts With Heroin Antidote Proposed

Location: 
Boston, MA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Boston Globe
URL: 
http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2006/08/09/program_to_supply_addicts_with_heroin_antidote_proposed/

Marijuana Activist Wants Judge Off Referendum Case (Pennsylvania)

Location: 
PA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Derrick and News-Herald
URL: 
http://www.thederrick.com/stories/08092006-3014.shtml

Medical Marijuana Patients Get Say in Counties' Legal Challenge to California Medical Marijuana Law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance and Americans for Safe Access Step In to Represent Medical Marijuana Patients in Lawsuit SAN DIEGO A San Diego Superior Court ruled today that lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Safe Access and the Drug Policy Alliance will be permitted to intervene in a lawsuit brought by several California counties seeking to thwart the state's Compassionate Use Act, which makes medical marijuana legal for patients with a doctor's recommendation. The groups joined the case on behalf of medical marijuana patients and their caregivers and doctors in order to assure their adequate representation in the legal proceedings. "We look forward to the opportunity to stand together with patients in defense of the rights of states to allow medicine to those in need," said David Blair-Loy, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. "We are heartened that the court recognized the necessity of giving voice to those truly at risk from the counties' ill-conceived actions." San Diego, San Bernardino and Merced counties argued in a lawsuit filed in state court that federal laws prohibiting all use of marijuana invalidate state laws that allow qualified patients to use medical marijuana. The ACLU, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and the Drug Policy Alliance (the Alliance) filed legal papers on July 7, 2006 seeking to intervene in the proceedings. "As the largest grassroots organization of patients, doctors and scientists advocating for safe and legal access, we feel it's critically important that California's medical marijuana laws be respected by everyone," said Steph Sherer, executive director of ASA. Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Alliance, added, "These county governments have ignored the needs of their sick and dying residents and the advice of California's physicians. By intervening in the lawsuit, patients will have the chance to confront their rogue county officials in court and defend the legality of the Compassionate Use Act." In addition to entering the case, the group's filing asked for a court order compelling the counties to abide by and implement California's medical marijuana laws, as well as an order affirming that the state's medical marijuana laws are not preempted by contrary federal statutes. The lawsuit, initially brought by San Diego County and later joined by San Bernardino and Merced counties, challenges state laws that permit patients to use, and doctors to recommend, medical marijuana under explicit exemptions from state criminal laws that otherwise prohibit all marijuana use. The counties' lawsuit further challenges the state's Medical Marijuana Program Act, which calls for the implementation of an identification card program that would allow police and others to more easily identify legitimate medical marijuana patients. The ACLU, the Alliance and ASA maintain that state medical marijuana laws are not preempted by the federal ban on medical marijuana. While the federal government is free to enforce its prohibition on medical marijuana, even in states such as California that permit its use, all states remain free to adopt and implement policies of their own design an opinion shared by the California Attorney General's office and the attorneys general of several other states, including Colorado, Hawaii and Oregon, that permit medical use of marijuana. The groups represent Wendy Christakes, Pamela Sakuda, William Britt and Yvonne Westbrook, Californians who use physician-recommended marijuana to treat medical conditions and their side-effects, including chronic pain and sciatica, multiple sclerosis, rectal cancer, epilepsy and post-polio syndrome. The groups also represent Sakuda's spouse and caregiver, Norbert Litzinger, as well as Dr. Stephen O'Brien, a physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS treatment in Oakland, California, and believes that many of his seriously ill patients benefit from the medical use of marijuana. In addition to being co-counsel, ASA is also a party to the proceedings on behalf of its membership, which includes thousands of medical marijuana patients, caregivers and physicians residing in California. The Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) is also represented by the groups. WAMM is a medical marijuana collective and hospice located in Santa Cruz, California, whose 250 members, the majority of whom are terminally ill, use marijuana to treat a range of conditions. The groups' legal papers are available online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/26090lgl20060707.html The ACLU's January 19, 2006 letter to the San Diego Supervisors explaining why California's medical marijuana laws are not preempted by federal law is online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/23565lgl20060119.html California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's opinion issued to the state's Department of Health Services affirming the validity of the state's medical marijuana laws is available at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/21194res20050715.html Additional background on the case can be found at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/23587prs20060124.html
Location: 
San Diego, CA
United States

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