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Medical Marijuana Update

Federal threats continue to hover over medical marijuana distribution across the country, and local battles continue as well.

California

Last Wednesday, the Yuba City city council voted to ban outdoor grows. The council approved an immediate 45-day ban and could extend it for up to a year, which the city says it plans to do. The council also imposed restrictions on indoor grows, saying patients must register them with the city, limit them to 50 square feet, hide any evidence of a grow from onlookers, and lock up their yards, as well as their greenhouses.

Last Friday, Vallejo police raided the Red Dog Green Collective and arrested its owners. It was the third Vallejo dispensary raid in the past three weeks. Police say the crackdown is part of an ongoing move against local dispensaries. They come at a time when the city was about to begin collecting a 10% tax on dispensary sales that voters approved in November.The owners pleaded not guilty Wednesday.

On Tuesday, a Riverside County judge ruled in favor of a dispensary, ordering the city of Rancho Mirage to move ahead with the inspection and permitting process for the Desert Heart Collective. The collective opened in 2010, but was later shut down by the city. Desert Heart filed a $2 million civil lawsuit against the city in February 2011. The city prohibits dispensaries "due to the significant negative secondary effects that such dispensaries have been found to create -- such as increased crime," the city attorney claimed. The city also argued that granting a permit to Desert Heart would expose it to federal prosecution, but the judge accepted Desert Heart's argument that by granting the permit, the city neither commanded the activity nor had anything to do with marijuana.

Also on Tuesday, the DEA and local police raided an Upland dispensary that has been at odds with the city for the past two years. G3 Holistic was the targeted operation, and the raiders seized 25 pounds of marijuana and 89 pounds of edibles. G3 President Aaron Sandusky said DEA agents entered with guns drawn and handcuffed four patients who were present. There were "acting like a terrorist organization," he said. The city of Upland and G3 have been engaged in a lengthy court battle that will soon find its way to the state Supreme Court.

Also on Tuesday, US District Court Judge Andrew Guilford set a March 26 hearing date in a case in which patients and collectives in Costa Mesa are seeking to enjoin federal authorities from sending letters ordering the closure of medical marijuana collectives in the city. The unique argument in the case is that since Congress belatedly acknowledged the votes of District of Columbia voters to authorize medical marijuana there, California patients are being denied the same right to vote to approve medical marijuana there.

And then there are the Tuesday night city council and county board of supervisors meetings:

On Tuesday, the California Coastal Commission approved a Humboldt County ordinance limiting indoor marijuana grows. The county's Local Coastal Plan limits indoor grows to 50 square feet and has other regulations.

Also on Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors upheld an appeal against a would-be dispensary in Oceano. A resident had complained that the proposed dispensary would be within 1,000 feet of a park.

Also on Tuesday, the Amador County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to lift a 4-month-old ban on medical pot gardens and allow any single garden to be used to grow as many as 12 plants per patient for as many as two patients for a maximum of 24 plants. That is only a third of the capacity recommended in February by the county's Planning Commission. Supervisors cited a deadly marijuana-garden robbery in September as they voted for tighter limits.

Also on Tuesday, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to fine a property owner and tenant of a property where medical marijuana was being cultivated. County inspectors found 82 plants growing on the property in January; county code allows only 12 plants per parcel. The tenant disposed of the out of compliance plants the next day, but the county is still imposing a whopping $58,000 fine.

Also on Tuesday, the Madera County Board of Supervisors voted to ban cultivation within 2,000 feet of a school or church and to require that caregivers and patients live together. California's voter-approved medical marijuana law makes no such requirement.

Also on Tuesday, the Needles city council approved a special election for a proposed city ordinance creating a medical marijuana business tax. The approval is to put a tax in place for up to 10% on gross sales of marijuana. If the tax is approved by voters, the city council would approve an ordinance related to the tax. Language has already been created for that ordinance. The ordinance defines how businesses would pay the tax, defines marijuana, marijuana business and other terms.

Colorado

On Tuesday, Boulder County DA Stan Garnett sent a letter to federal prosecutors asking them to halt their crackdown on dispensaries that are abiding by state law. "I can see no legitimate basis in this judicial district to focus the resources of the United States government on the medical marijuana  dispensaries that are otherwise compliant with Colorado law or local regulation," Garnett wrote in the letter to Colorado US Attorney John Walsh. "The people of Boulder County do not need Washington, DC, or the federal government dictating how far dispensaries should be from schools, or other fine points of local land-use law." Walsh has sent threat letters to 23 Colorado dispensaries, forcing them to close.

Also on Tuesday, a proposed medical marijuana initiative was filed for the November ballot.The new measure, Proposed Initiative No. 65, would give doctors discretion to recommend marijuana for any medical condition. Currently, a doctor must diagnose a patient with one of eight medical conditions in order for the patient to qualify for medical marijuana. Proponents will need to gather 86,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot.

Florida

On Tuesday, medical marijuana advocates unveiled billboards urging viewers to educate themselves about the issue. "Legalize Medical Marijuana" shouts one, with a godlike hand extending from the heavens, a marijuana leaf in its palm. Facing it is the photo of a senior in a wheelchair and the caption "I'm a Patient Not a Criminal." The billboards urge readers to contact the Silver Tour, a group founded by 1970s pot smuggler and recently released federal drug war prisoner Robert Platshorn to enlighten senior citizens about the benefits of the herb.

Maryland

Last Thursday, Gov. Martin O'Malley's office said he would veto any legislation legalizing medical marijuana in the state. His spokesman cited concerns about federal scrutiny. The comments came as legislators began debating three medical marijuana bills in the House of Delegates. "We have some serious concerns about liability," said O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. "Those concerns were raised by US attorneys across the country. Based on those concerns, it is probably likely we would veto any legislation."

Montana

Last Tuesday, the Montana Supreme Court set an April 30 hearing date for arguments over whether a judge was right to block portions of last year's medical marijuana overhaul by the legislature. District Judge Jim Reynolds last year blocked four provisions of the law from taking effect, including a ban on profits from medical marijuana sales. State prosecutors argue that the commercial sale of marijuana is illegal under state and federal law, and that Reynolds abused his discretion with his injunction. The groups challenging the new law, led by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, say Reynolds should have gone further and blocked the entire law.

New Jersey

Last Wednesday, the Plumstead Township Committee reversed itself and voted to support the introduction of an ordinance that would allow a medical marijuana company to apply for an operating permit. Members said they feared the township could be sued for not complying with the state's medical marijuana law, and that without an ordinance, a medical marijuana operation could set up near a school. The committee repealed a December ordinance blocking permit applications not in compliance with federal law. Efforts to open dispensaries in New Jersey have been plagued by NIMBYism.

On Monday, a California man charged for possessing medical marijuana hosted a rally outside the Middletown court house. Eric Hafner was charged with marijuana and paraphernalia possession, but is arguing that his California doctor's recommendation for him to use marijuana should be honored in New Jersey. Hafner suffers from PTSD, but that syndrome is not recognized under New Jersey's law, so he his supporters organized a rally in support of adding PTSD to that list. They walked along Kings Highway, outside of the Middletown courtroom building, before during and after his case was being heard, showing signs and offering information about the cause and Hafner's case to anyone cared to listen.

On Tuesday, Ken Wolski announced that he had been selected Green Party US Senate candidate. Wolski, one of the state's most well-known medical marijuana activists, is head of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle Book Review: "The Marijuana Conviction"

 

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The Marijuana Conviction: A History of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States, by Richard J. Bonnie and Charles H. Whitebread II (1999, Lindesmith Center Press, 368 pp.)

I don't customarily review books that aren't hot off the presses, and The Marijuana Conviction is even older than that 1999 publication date above, considerably so. In fact, it was originally published by the University of Virginia Press in 1974, back when Richard Nixon was still president. But we got our hands on a bunch of copies of it that we intend to share with our supporters, so I thought I would take a look.

I'm glad I did. Although I consider myself fairly well-read on the topic of marijuana law reform, I came away with a refreshed appreciation for the tumultuous social currents and historical happenstance that forged pot prohibition in the first place, the role of race and class, the opinion-shaping power of early media and political opportunists, and the bureaucratic maneuvering that enabled Harry Anslinger to shepherd the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act into law, enacting for the first time a federal ban on marijuana.

This is a foundational text for serious scholarship about the making of marijuana policy in America. Bonnie and Whitebread were University of Virginia law professors, and Bonnie had just finished a stint as Assistant Director of the Shafer Commission, which had been appointed by Nixon to examine the nation's drug policies (and was ignored by him when he didn't like what it had to say). The Marijuana Conviction first took form as an appendix to the commission report in 1972, and Bonnie and Whitbread spent the next year or so expanding and revising it into its published form.

We're talking primary documents here. Departmental memoranda from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, congressional testimony, state legislative hearings, and the like. It may sound dry, but it will be deeply fascinating and thought-provoking for serious marijuana policy wonks and even just pot history buffs.

And it's not all dusty documents. There is detailed social and cultural history, and there are extensive references to the lurid and outlandish press coverage of murderous marijuana maniacs and the campaign that percolated up from the states to criminalize the demon weed.

For that was the original charge against marijuana: It will enslave you, it will drive you to commit horrible crimes, and it will drive you insane. Bonnie and Whitebread devote much space to describing how such a view of marijuana emerged, and they tie it squarely to attitudes toward racial outsiders -- first the Chinese and the opium laws, then the Mexicans and blacks with the marijuana laws.

It doesn't paint a very appealing picture of American political decision-makers, whether it's lawmakers in Montana laughing as they voted to outlaw marijuana after testimony that consisted of a joking anecdote about how after Mexicans smoked it, they thought they were the Emperor of Mexico and wanted to assassinate their political enemies, or bureaucrats in Washington -- and not just Anslinger -- who deliberately covered up or suppressed information that didn't fit the emerging "marijuana menace" consensus.

It does, however, provide fascinating insight on the back-and-forth, both between Washington and the states and among the competing bureaucratic and political interests in Washington as that consensus concretized in harsh state and federal laws against marijuana.

But reading The Marijuana Conviction now, nearly four decades after the fact, leaves one feeling appalled and frustrated, too. Because not only do Bonnie and Whitebread describe the prohibitionist marijuana consensus -- that pot is addictive, criminogenic, and psychosis-inducing -- of the 1920s and 1930s, they also describe its disintegration in the 1960s. Of course, that consensus only crumbled when marijuana use spread to middle- and upper-class white youth, provoking not only the concern of well-placed parents, but also the interest of scientists and researchers who were just unable to find all of those pot-addled, blood-stained psychos.

But crumble it did. Almost a half century ago, the supposed scientific and medical basis for marijuana prohibition was exposed for the sham it was. At the time, Bonnie and Whitebread were too cautious, too professorial, to call for immediate "regulation" instead of prohibition. But as a first step, they demanded, at an absolute minimum, decriminalization.

In the decade in which they wrote, the reform impetus flourished, and 11 states actually did decriminalize. But since then, progress stalled, then came to a screeching halt during the Reaganoid dark ages of "Just Say No" and "This is your brain on drugs." It is only in about the last 15 years that the marijuana reform movement has begun moving forward again, now with ever increasing momentum.

But even with all that's gone on since the groundbreaking passage of Proposition 215 in California in 1996, marijuana is still illegal. The number of states that have even decriminalized is still in the teens, and while Bonnie and Whitebread waxed indignant about 250,000 people being arrested for pot each year, that number is now north of 800,000.

The Marijuana Conviction can't tell us how we can get out of this mess, although a close reading should yield some insights, but it certainly and artfully shows how we got into it. This is a must-have for any serious student of marijuana's bookshelf.


After Supreme Court Win, Antoine Jones Still Seeks Justice [FEATURE]

by Clarence Walker and Phillip Smith

So, a guy gets convicted in a cocaine conspiracy case and sent to prison for life without parole, but wins on appeal and then wins again in a landmark US Supreme Court ruling on search and seizure law that overturns his conviction and forces dramatic changes in the way federal law enforcers go about their work. You would think this guy would be a pretty happy camper, getting back to his life and enjoying his freedom after sticking a thumb in the federal government's eye. But you would be dead wrong.

Antoine Jones (photo by Clarence Walker)
Meet Antoine Jones, the Jones in US v. Jones, last month's Supreme Court case in which the high court held that tracking a vehicle's movements by placing a GPS tracking device on it without first obtaining a search warrant is constitutionally impermissible. That ruling set off an earthquake under the Justice Department, evidenced this week with reports that the FBI has turned off some 3,000 GPS tracking devices that were in use.

FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissman told a University of San Francisco conference appropriately titled "Big Brother in the 21st Century" that the FBI had had problems locating some of the turned off devices and had sought court orders to get permission to briefly turn them on again, so agents can locate and retrieve them. The Supreme Court decision had caused "a sea change" at Justice, he said.

The Jones case may have been a victory for civil liberties and constitutional rights advocates, but Antoine Jones is still sitting in prison. Determined to nail the former Washington, DC, nightclub owner, federal prosecutors have announced they will seek to retry Jones without the evidence garnered by the GPS tracking device, and they want him securely behind bars until they get around to doing so.

The decision to not free Jones even though his conviction has been vacated and his case sent back to the trial court is of a piece with prosecutors' earlier tactics. After Jones won his case on appeal, prosecutors argued successfully then against granting him bail as they awaited a Supreme Court decision.

They think they have a big time dope dealer. Back in 2005, when the case began, Jones was targeted by the FBI and other federal and state police agencies as a major player in a multi-million dollar cocaine ring with ties to a Mexico-based organized crime group. Investigators said Jones and his co-conspirators distributed cocaine throughout the DC metro area. They eventually won a conviction against him, although it took them two separate prosecutions to do so. It was that conviction that was reversed by the Supreme Court.

Veteran Houston-based crime beat reporter Clarence Walker has been in communication with Jones via mail and the occasional phone call for the past several years. He's also been talking to Jones' appellate attorney, Stephan Leckar, who is exploring a possible plea bargain, although Jones doesn't appear interested in anything less than complete exoneration.

While Jones is pleased with the Supreme Court decision, he's not so pleased with the fact he is still being denied his freedom.

"All I can say I am very happy with the Supreme Court decision and I hope the decision helps millions of Americans preserve their right to have reasonable expectation of privacy," Jones told Walker in a phone interview this month. "The ruling came right on time because who knows how many American citizens the government continues to track and monitor for weeks and months without a warrant. Even some of the men here in prison with me have warrantless GPS issues, like a friend of mines named Sigmund James. The government tracked his vehicle for 14 months."

James was convicted in a massive cocaine trafficking case in Orangeburg, South Carolina, an operation called "Bitter Orange." Like Jones, James was sentenced to life without parole.

Jones said he expected to be released after the Supreme Court decision and that he was "shocked" when Leckar told him prosecutors were seeking to retry him or get him to accept a plea bargain.

"Matter of fact, I thought once the mandate was released, I would be freed from prison right away," Jones said, "but Mr. Leckar said the government will never let me go unless I beat them at trial."

"The government is permitted to retry the conspiracy charge, provided they don't use the GPS evidence," Leckar told Walker. "But there are a number of other serious legal issues that must be resolved including whether drugs and cash said to be from a stash house could be admitted," he explained. "But like I told Antoine, the feds have no intention of letting him go and that they will probably retry him on the evidence that was not obtained by the GPS tracker."

Jones got a sentence of life without parole the first time around, Leckar noted, and if he loses a second time, he could face the same sentence. But Jones is not ready to compromise. Instead he is going to fight, both in the criminal courts and the civil courts.

Jones filed a pro se civil suit against numerous law enforcement agencies alleging numerous abuses, but that jailhouse lawsuit was dismissed by the US District Court for Washington, DC, in 2009. Now, however, Jones is refiling, and he has professional legal assistance this time. He is being represented in the civil suit by the DC law firm of Miller & Chevalier.

"The federal authorities know they not only violated my civil rights, and my wife's and son's rights, but they lied on the witness stand, and they burglarized my home and warehouse," Jones charged. "And so now that I have attorneys representing me in the civil suit against the government, they want to wrongfully convict me again to cover up their lies and the crimes they committed during the investigation of my case. The feds know what they have done was wrong."

Jones is not only on the offensive with the civil suits. He has also filed obstruction of justice complaints with the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of the Inspector General. He is alleging that FBI and ICE agents committed various illegal acts in attempting to nail him, including falsifying federal reports, conducting searches without a search warrant, planting evidence, forging signatures on search consent forms, and perjury.

GPS satellite
"Since Mr. Leckar said the government will never let me go unless I beat them in trial. I will focus on my civil rights complaints against the Feds and make sure my wife, son and mother-in-law pursue their civil right suit as well," Jones explained. "The civil suits and obstruction of justice complaints could get the federal agents and the police prison time if they are indicted and found guilty."

Purvis Cartwright, a former federal prisoner and highly respected Houston, Texas-based writ writer who has been closely monitoring the GPS case, told Walker that Jones may have made a mistake by suing the federal government because now prosecutors will come back at him very hard to convict him by using "snitchers" to testify against Jones, snitchers that Jones never met.

Cartwright called that strategy a "get on board" scheme, a way for informants to get their sentences reduced by helping prosecutors. "A rat don't have friends," he said, "only victims."

So far, one high-profile snitch has already gotten on board to help convict him in his upcoming retrial, Jones said. He said Leckar told him the government is planning to call a high-level Mexican drug dealer to say he shipped large loads of cocaine to him.

"I've never met nor talked with the guy in my whole life and he never testified in either of my trials," Jones said.

"The feds, like the DEA and FBI, have snitchers in the joint," Cartwright explained. "They will go to these guys and tell them they are trying to get something on a particular guy and then the feds will share with the snitchers some important background information about the target and next thing you know they ready to testify in court against someone they don't even know," he said. "This is rampant in the federal joint."

"The government still thinks they have a case, but they must have forgot what the Court of Appeals stated in their opinion," Jones said, before quoting word for word: "The evidence linking Jones to a conspiracy was not strong, let alone overwhelming, and the government did not have a drug transaction in which Jones was involved, nor any evidence that Jones possessed any drugs."

Prosecutors are reportedly offering a plea deal that would result in a 12-year federal prison sentence for Jones, but he isn't going to take it despite the possibility he could once again doing life without parole. He maintains his innocence, he said.

"I'll fight this case until the end."

Clarence Walker can be reached a cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana is making news all around the country, from city halls to federal court houses, not to mention dispensaries and patients' homes. Let's get to it:

Alabama

House Bill 25, the Michael Phillips Compassionate Care Act, is back. Sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd and backed by Alabama Compassionate Care, the bill would allow qualifying patients or their caregivers to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of usable marijuana and six mature and six immature plants. It would also provide for compassion centers where patients could obtain their medicine. Patients would be registered with the state. The bill has had its first reading and awaits action in the House Health Committee.

California

Last Tuesday, the Orland City Council voted to ban dispensaries, collectives, and collaboratives. The ban prohibits medical marijuana distribution facilities from the city, whether they are fixed or mobile, and says no permits or licenses will be issued for that purpose. The ordinance also prohibits patient grows within 300 feet of any hospital, church, school, park or playground, or any other area where large numbers of minors congregate, and imposes other limitations on patient grows.

Last Thursday, the California Second District Court of Appeal issued a decision affirming the legality of storefront dispensaries and rejecting the contention that every member of a collective must participate in cultivation. In the case, People v. Colvin, the state had argued that all members of a collective must do just that, but the court demurred, saying that "imposing the Attorney General's requirement would, it seems to us, contravene the intent of [state law] by limiting patients' access to medical marijuana and leading to inconsistent applications of the law."

Also last Thursday, a ballot initiative was launched to overturn a Costa Mesa ordinance banning collectives and cooperatives. The move is spearheaded by former collective operator Robert Martinez, whose Newport Mesa Patients Association, was one of 27 facilities that were shut down by federal officials at the behest of the City Council and city attorney last month.

Also last Thursday, a Vallejo dispensary operator pleaded not guilty to felony state drug charges. Matt Shotwell, owner of the Greenwell Cooperative, was arrested last Tuesday after a joint state-federal raid and faces multiple counts of trafficking, cultivating, possessing and maintaining a place for unlawfully providing marijuana. Vallejo police said last Wednesday they had asked the DEA for help in cracking down on the city's 24 dispensaries. At the same time, the city is getting ready to implement a voter-approved tax on all dispensaries next month.

Last Friday, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) filed a bill that would create a statewide medical marijuana regulation system. The bill, Assembly Bill 2312, got a first reading Monday. It could get a committee hearing March 27.

This week, three more bills pertaining to medical marijuana have been introduced:

Assembly Bill 2465, introduced by Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose), would require all medical marijuana patients to obtain a state ID card and also register the address where they are growing it. California NORML called the bill "blatantly unconstitutional" because it abridges the fundamental right of patients under Proposition 215.

Assembly Bill 2365, introduced by Assemblyman Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert), would require that family courts consider parents' documented use of prescribed controlled substances, including medical marijuana and narcotic maintenance medications, in child custody proceedings. At present, the family code does not explicitly address these issues, although they are frequently brought up in family court proceedings.

Assembly Bill 2600, introduced by Assemblyman Chris Norby (R-Fullerton), would prohibit the DMV from revoking a person's driving privileges for simple possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. At present, an automatic revocation of license is required for conviction of any drug offense where a motor vehicle is involved.

On Tuesday, the federal prosecutor for the Central Valley vowed a new crackdown on large medical marijuana grows. Benjamin Wagner, US Attorney for the Eastern District of California, said his office is not interested in prosecuting sick people using medical marijuana. But he warned that the "unregulated free for all" that has allowed marijuana growers and merchants to make fortunes must come to an end, and he said in the coming months a new focus will be made on pot farms in the valley.

Also on Tuesday, a federal judge in Sacramento dismissed a dispensary's request for a permanent injunction blocking the federal government from enforcing the Controlled Substances Act. The suit had been brought by the El Camino Wellness Center and patient Ryan Landers.

Also on Tuesday, the Madera County Board of Supervisors gave first approval to an ordinance that would ban outdoor gardens and limit indoor gardens to 100 square feet. The patient would also have to own and reside at the property. There are other restrictions as well. A final vote is set for March 13.

Colorado

On Monday, federal agents were dispatched to ensure that 23 dispensaries too close to schools had closed. US Attorney John Walsh had given the dispensaries 45 days to close or move because they were within 1,000 feet of schools. The 1,000-foot rule is a federal sentencing enhancement, not a requirement of the state medical marijuana law. Local industry representatives said all the affected dispensaries had complied.

Also on Monday, a Colorado Springs TV station aired footage of a SWAT raid on the home of two medical marijuana patients, who charged police used excessive force. At least 13 SWAT officers raided the home, breaking down the door, and throwing a flash bang grenade. The two patients were not arrested because the marijuana they were growing was in compliance with state law. Police were not apologetic, but local activists denounced the raid as heavy-handed.

Idaho

A Boise-based group is collecting signatures
to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot. Compassionate Idaho needs 47,500 signatures by April 30 to qualify. The initiative has the same language as House Bill 370, but activists aren't counting on the legislature to act.

Michigan

On Monday, an Oakland County circuit court upheld a Bloomfield Township ordinance requiring medical marijuana patients to register with the township. Richard Roe had sued, claiming the ordinance is invalid under the state's medical marijuana law, but the court sided with the township. It ruled that the suit wasn't valid because Roe had not actually been penalized by the law. The ruling is the latest in a series of court decisions challenging local medical marijuana laws. Last December, a circuit court judge threw out a lawsuit filed by two persons challenging the medical marijuana laws of Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills using almost identical language.

New Jersey

On Sunday, state officials told the Wall Street Journal they didn't think medical marijuana would be available there until the end of the year at the earliest. State Department of Health and Senior Services officials said it had taken longer than expected to launch the program because opposition to dispensaries in towns and villages was more vigorous than anticipated, and setting up a highly regulated system with safeguards against theft and fraud has proved challenging. State Department of Health and Senior Services officials.

New York

The New York City Bar Association's committees on Drugs and the Law and Health Law issued a report approving of pending medical marijuana legislation in Albany and offering some suggested modifications, including that the state explore letting patients grow their own. The bills before the legislature, Assembly Bill 2774 and its Senate companion bill, don't do that.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the Rhode Island Patient Advisory Coalition reported that the state House and Senate have reached agreement on a bill that would make compassion centers a reality. Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) had blocked the program after receiving threats from federal prosecutors, but Senate Bill 2555 is designed to ease his concerns.

Washington

On Tuesday, state prosecutors filed multiple charges against the owners of a medical marijuana dispensary in Lacey that had been raided in November. Dennis Coughlin, 68, and Jami Bisi, 50, the proprietors of Cannabis Outreach Services face 11 counts of unlawful delivery of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop; 12 counts of unlawful use of a building for drug purposes; and two counts of unlawful possession of marijuana with intent to deliver within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop, according to their charging documents. They are the seventh and eight persons charged in a series of Thurston County raids on five collectives. The raids came after undercover police carrying medical marijuana recommendations made purchases at those locations. Washington's medical marijuana law does not explicitly provide for dispensaries.

Review Essay: The Border and Mexico's Drug Wars

Border Junkies: Addiction and Survival on the Streets of Juarez and El Paso, by Scott Comar (2011, University of Texas Press, 214 pp., $24.95 PB)

Border Wars, by Tom Barry (2011, MIT Press, 171 pp., $14.95 HB)

Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the US and Mexico, by Beto O'Rourke and Susie Byrd (2011, Cinco Puntos Press, 119 pp., $12.95 PB)

El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin, edited by Molly Molloy and Charles Bowden (2011, Nation Books, 209 pp., $15.99 PB)

In addition to an ever-increasing death toll, now more than 50,000 since President Calderon sent in the army in December 2006, Mexico's drug wars are generating an increasing level of concern and interest in the US, including a burgeoning literature. Next week, we'll review a trio of new works that seek to describe the emergence and significance of the so-called cartels, but this week, we look at a quartet of books that focus on the drug wars (and the drug scene) along the border.

If there's anywhere in America more attuned to the Mexican drug wars -- by which I mean the prohibition-related violence among competing drug trafficking organizations, between them and Mexican law enforcement and the military, and, sometimes, even between different factions of the Mexican security apparatus -- it's El Paso, just across the Rio Grande from one of the epicenters of the drug trade and the violence, Ciudad Juarez.

That's reflected in these titles. One is written by a pair of El Paso politicians, two more are largely set in the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez bi-national metroplex, and the last covers the US border region of which El Paso is front and center. The view from El Paso, staring across the river at the killing and mayhem, can be frightening, but also enlightening.

In Dealing Death and Drugs, El Paso city council members Susie Byrd and Beto O'Rourke (he of the famous city council resolution calling for a discussion of legalization and now running for Congress) bring a home-town perspective on the drug wars, provide some lessons on the economics of the illicit marijuana business and present a concise, yet cogent, argument for legalizing weed as a means of weakening the cartels and reducing the violence.

Marijuana is critical for the cartels, Byrd and O'Rourke argue, because unlike cocaine, which must be purchased from producers elsewhere or methamphetamine, which requires imported precursor chemicals, the cartels control it from farm to market, generating profits each step of the way. They take you from the pot fields of the Sierra Madre Occidental, where a pound costs $23 to Juarez, where it goes for $73 a pound. Getting it past the border and into El Paso drives the price up to $240, and getting it past the Border Protection Service checkpoints a few miles into Texas gets it to its final US wholesale price of about $550 a pound.

US and Mexican law enforcement seized or eradicated 22 metric tons of Mexican weed in 2008, Byrd and O'Rourke note. That's as much as 90% of high end estimates of all the pot smoked in the US, which means either those estimates are way low or that the business is way profitable. And throwing billions of dollars at the problem through law enforcement hasn't helped.

Legalizing, regulating, and taxing the marijuana market is "the least bad" solution, Boyd and O'Rourke write. Their argument, like the book itself, is pithy, yet compelling, and, as Boyd notes in an afterword, even Calderon is starting to come around. But not yet most policymakers in the US.

With El Sicario, we take a deep, dark turn toward the underbelly of the Mexican drug wars. Border sage and drug war critic Charles Bowden and translator and Juarez body count keeper Molly Molloy bring the terrifying realities of the business into chilling focus through their interviews with a former cartel hitman now in hiding with a contract on his head. This may be the single scariest book I've read about the Mexican drug wars, not for its calm and collected accounts of horrifying acts of brutality, which can be truly stomach-turning, but for the picture it paints of absolutely corrupted and complicit law enforcement, including the military.

Can you imagine if you don't know whether that cop who just stopped you is going to write you a ticket or shoot you dead without warning, or kidnap and torture you because he's actually working for the cartels? That's the case in Mexico now. Our interlocutor in El Sicario attended the Chihuahua state police academy, rose to the rank of comandante, and underwent training by the FBI, all while carrying out killings, kidnappings, and tortures for the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels. Even more perversely, while he was running the anti-kidnapping squad for the state police, he was using police vehicles to kidnap people and transport drugs.

And he is by no means alone. According to the hit man, about a quarter of his graduating class at the police academy were on the cartel payroll -- from the very beginning of their law enforcement careers! The Mexican police are heavily salted with cartel men; it's a long-term business strategy that has paid handsomely for the cartels, but has absolutely shredded any trust the public has in state and local law enforcement there.

But it's not just rotten on the Mexican side of the border. The hit man details how he and his colleagues transported tens of millions of dollars worth of drugs across the border and how he personally paid a US Customs officer $50,000 to let cars full of drugs get through. El Sicario shows that dirty knows no borders, even if the cartels are smart enough to keep the blood-letting almost entirely south of the border.

But there are other ways US law enforcement is benefiting from the Mexican drug wars. In Border Wars, journalist and Center for International Policy analyst Tom Barry uses a series of interlocking essays to argue that since the September 2001 Al Qaeda attacks, the US has spent billions of dollars "securing the border" against a triple threat of illegal immigration, drugs, and terror, and has accomplished little good, quite a bit of bad, and plenty of stupid.

Barry opens with the death of Jesus Manuel Galindo, who died for lack of proper medical treatment in 2008 in a privately operated, publicly owned federal immigration prison in remote Pecos, Texas. He recalls that until 2006, we typically handled illegal immigration administratively, often simply deporting Mexicans back across the Rio Grande. But since then, the Bush administration began treating illegal immigration as a criminal matter, and now some 20,000 people languish in those distant prisons. Barry paints chilling, Kafkasque scenes of assembly-line "justice" where judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, all in the pay of the Us government, process dozens of shackled would-be immigrant laborers into the ever-expanding federal immigration detention system.

There is money to be made there, sucking off the federal teat, although more of it appears to go to lawyers, consultants, dealmakers and lobbyists than to the desperate rural towns hoping a private prison will provide them with a semblance of an economy. There's even more money to be made by border sheriffs and border state law enforcement entities in the seemingly endless billions of Department of Homeland Security dollars to fight drugs and terror.

Barry takes us to Texas and Arizona border counties where the numbers show little violent crime, but the sheriffs and politicians cry to high heaven about "spill over violence," Korans found on the border, and the threat of narco-Hezbollah conspiracies, for which there is no evidence. Some of these counties are among the poorest in the nation, lacking social and public services, yet in one of them, the sheriff's department is so awash in federal grant money that each deputy has two official vehicles, one patrol car and one SUV.

Along the way, he exposes the ugliness of border security politics and some of it practitioners, such as Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and Jan Brewer of Arizona, who use a politics of fear and hate to firm up support among their most reactionary supporters, who hype nonexistent violence on this side of the border, and who constantly tout their border security efforts "without help from Washington" even as they take in billions from Washington to pay for their loudly-touted initiatives. It's rank cynicism, opportunism, and hypocrisy at its worst, and Barry nails it.

For Barry, the central problem is our inability to enact comprehensive immigration reform, a goal always pushed further into the future as we "secure the border" first. And, he says, we have to separate national security from public safety. The gargantuan Department of Homeland Security should worry about terrorists; a separate Customs and Border Protection Service should deal with illegal immigration and drugs.

"The standard of success for our border policy shouldn’t be how completely sealed and secured our border is," he writes, "but rather how well it is regulated. New regulatory frameworks for immigration and drug consumption are fundamental prerequisites for a more cost-effective border policy." And a more sane and human one. 

Finally, with Border Junkies, University of Texas-El Paso borderlands historian Scott Comar takes us back to "the good old days" in Juarez, a decade ago, before the city earned its blood-drenched reputation. In an eye-opening work of auto-ethnography, Comar tells mainly his own story of his descent into abject addiction, in which he moved with appalling speed from owning his own moving truck to panhandling on the streets to feed his habit.

In telling his own story, though, Comar unveils a never-before-written-about world, that of the street junkies of Juarez. His account, based largely on his journal entries, details the day-to-day struggle of the border junkies, the strategies they adopt to survive and score -- and not necessarily in that order -- the kinship and friendship networks that envelop them, the heroin distribution systems that feed their insatiable appetites. For those with a taste for anthropological examinations of the junkie life, this is fascinating stuff, right up there with the work of Philippe Bourgois.

Border Junkies is notable in one other respect: I don't think there is one mention of the cartels in it. Comar recounts constant harassment by the Juarez police (and the El Paso police, too) and petty corruption, he mentions that some of his fellows belonged to gangs, though only passingly, but the existence of the cartels, the source of their dope, is so distant from their daily lives that it is as if they don't exist.

Of course, that was before the death toll in Juarez started climbing to thousands every year. Now those street gangs that in Comar's time seemed to be engaged mainly in minor thuggery, a little smuggling, and posing with pistols have, in the pressure cooker of the Mexican drug wars, morphed into true killing machines like Barrio Azteca, the Artist Assasins, and La Linea. Those guys who quietly peddled smack on the corners or out of their houses in Comar's day died by the hundreds when the violence swept through just a few years later.

Wretched as the border junkie's existence is, it is doable. Comar did it for three years, commuting over the river to panhandle in El Paso, then back across to cop and nod. It was a gritty, miserable existence, but Comar makes it seem almost routine, banal. And, along the way, he has some interesting things to say about addiction and recovery, too.

Perhaps it's fitting to end with the image of the junkie straddling the border, because the root causes of Mexico's drug wars certainly do. Whether it's America's never-ending appetite for Mexican weed, the cartels' addiction to money and power, their alcohol and cocaine-numbed killers, or border state and federal law enforcement's addiction to immigration/drugs/terror funding booty, it's all entangled there on the line.

Mexico may be another country and, thankfully, the violence, at least, remains on that side so far, but we are all in this together. Legalizing marijuana or even ending drug prohibition in the US won't make the cartels magically disappear, but failing to do so will only ensure that they grow ever more entrenched, while continuing to provide sustenance to malign political forces and authoritarian, if not downright Orwellian, policing tendencies here.

Medical Marijuana Update

From Alabama to Washington, medical marijuana continues to be a burning issue. Here's the latest:

Alabama

Supporters of a medical marijuana bill pending in the state legislature are tweaking the bill to make it more palatable to lawmakers. The Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition, which composed House Bill 66, is working on amendments to assuage concerns of legislators. One would add a 5% sales tax earmarked for city and county law enforcement to fight drugs; another would more closely define the doctor-patient relationship.

Arizona

The lawsuits are not over yet. Last week, the medical marijuana interests who filed a successful lawsuit to force state officials to implement the dispensary portion of the state's medical marijuana law filed an amendment to that lawsuit. Compassion Care First is seeking a summary judgment against state officials over regulations that require that a medical marijuana dispensary employ a licensed physician as a medical director. The requirement to employ a medical director is not found in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act passed by voters in November 2010, the lawsuit charges. Meanwhile, state officials said they were moving forward with the dispensary application and licensing process. Up to 124 dispensaries are allowed under the law.

California

Last Tuesday, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors quietly voted to amend the county's marijuana cultivation ordinance to eliminate the provision allowing collectives to grow up to 99 plants per parcel with a permit through the Sheriff's Office. The new ordinance reverts to the 25-plant limit for all growers, and is effective March 14. The county acted after the US Attorney's Office threatened to file an injunction against the county's ordinance and "individually go after county officials who were supporting these laws," 5th District Supervisor Dan Hamburg said.

Last Wednesday, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance (GLACA) announced it was supporting the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act of 2012, which would impose statewide regulation on medical marijuana operations. GLACA only lists 13 dispensaries on its roster, but has been a powerful player as city hall deals with the issue. The group said it had donated $50,000 to the campaign, which is in its signature-gathering phase.

Last Thursday, Sacramento County medical marijuana activists announced a local initiative campaign aimed at returning dispensaries to the county. Last year, there were at least 80 dispensaries operating in the county; now, after federal threats and the county's ban, there are nearly none. Longtime local activists Kimberly Cargile and Mickey Martin are behind the Patient Access to Regulated Medical Cannabis Act of 2012. It would allow one dispensary per every 25,000 people, for a total of 20 to 25 dispensaries and tax sales at 4%. It would also limit advertising and impose a 1,000-foot rule on dispensaries near schools and parks.

Also last Thursday, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved three new dispensaries, all in the Excelsior district. There are currently 21 dispensaries in the city, but 12 have been the subject of federal inquiries. Last year, the feds were interested in five other dispensaries; those are all gone now after landlords received threat letters.

Last Friday, the city of Murrieta won a preliminary injunction against a cooperative operating despite a local ban. The Greenhouse Cannabis Club can no longer distribute marijuana at the location, the injunction said.

Also on Friday, President Obama was met by medical marijuana demonstrators when he came to San Francisco on a fund-raising trip. The action was part of a national week of action criticizing the Obama administration's hard-line approach on the issue.

On Monday, Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal announced she intends to create a medical marijuana working group to research and evaluate ordinances in other cities and make recommendations following a review of the city's ordinance by the California Supreme Court. That should take between 12 and 18 months. The working group will include resident and business groups, medical marijuana dispensary representatives, the city attorney, the city prosecutor, city staff and others.

On Tuesday, the DEA and local law enforcement raided a prominent Vallejo dispensary and arrested the owner. The raiders hit the Greenwell Cooperative and arrested owner Matthew Shotwell. The exact charges are not yet clear. While the DEA was present, the cops were executing a state search warrant and included agents from the State Board of Equalization, which deals with tax collections. Employees and patients alike were temporarily detained, and marijuana and other items were seized.

Also on Tuesday, the Lake County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved placing a medical marijuana cultivation initiative on the June 5 ballot. The Lake County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Act of 2012 was brought by Lake County Citizens for Responsible Regulations and the Lake County Green Farmers Association. Supervisors could have just approved the initiative, but decided to punt to voters. The initiative came after the board earlier crafted a restrictive ordinance.

That same day, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to put a new dispensary ordinance on the June 5 ballot. The move comes after Kern Citizens for Patient Rights gathered more than 17,000 signatures to overturn the board's decision last summer to ban dispensaries. The board voted 4-1 to rescind the existing ordinance and put a new measure before voters in June. It includes restrictions on locations of dispensaries.

Also on Tuesday, the Glenn County Board of Supervisors passed a medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. Personal gardens will have to be 300 feet to 1,000 feet away from schools, churches, youth centers and treatment facilities and can be no bigger than 100 square feet. Collectives, dispensaries and collaboratives are banned in the unincorporated areas of the county.

On Wednesday, the city of Berkeley ordered two collectives to shut down. The 40 Acres Medical Marijuana Growers Collective stopped operations in late January after Berkeley Code Enforcement sent it a letter informing the group it was operating in violation of the city's municipal code, but the Perfect Plants Patients Group is still in business. The collectives had run afoul of the city's zoning ordinances.

Colorado

Last week, employees of the Budding Health dispensaries joined the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. They become the first union medical marijuana shop in Denver, though not the first in the state's medical marijuana industry. The UFCW organized some dispensaries in Fort Collins, but those have all been shut down by a local ban. The UFCW has also organized workers in numerous California dispensaries and has become an advocate for marijuana law reform.

Last Thursday, national and state medical marijuana supporters announced the formation of the  Patient Voter Project to inform patients and their supporters about hostile actions taken by the Obama administration against medical marijuana. It's a joint effort by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sensible Colorado, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America (MMAPA), Just Say Now and others with a combined reach in Colorado of more than 40,000 online supporters.

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana banking bill died in the Senate Finance Committee. The bill, Senate Bill 75, would have created the authority for licensed medical marijuana stakeholders to form an exclusive financial cooperative specific to the industry, but committee killed the legislation on a 5-2 vote. The bill was responding to dispensary operators who reported that banks have refused their business for fear of repercussions from the federal government. The bill was opposed by Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, the Colorado attorney general’s office and the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

Delaware

Last Thursday, the sponsor of the state's medical marijuana legislation urged Gov. Jack Markell (D) to reconsider his decision to halt implementation of the law. Senator Margaret Rose Henry (D) said regulation-writing and licensing of dispensaries should continue despite veiled threats of prosecution of state workers by US Attorney Charles Oberly III. Markell had called a halt to the program a week earlier after receiving a threat letter from Oberly. Delaware has no provision for patients to grow their own, so if there are no dispensaries, there is no medical marijuana program.

Michigan

Last Tuesday, the Port Orchard City Council extended a moratorium on dispensaries and another on collective gardens for six more months. The two moratoria have been in effect for a year now and are intended to give city staff more time to develop appropriate land-use and zoning regulations for medical marijuana collective gardens and dispensaries. The city attorney said regulations could be completed during this six-month period, especially if the state legislature clarifies regulation at the state level.

On Tuesday, the owner of the Herbal Resource dispensary in Owosso was charged with state marijuana cultivation distribution offenses.  The charges stem from a January 19 raid by the Mid-Michigan Area Group Narcotics Enforcement Team (MAGNET).

Montana

The number of medical marijuana patients and providers is plummeting after state and federal crackdowns, the Helena Independent Record reported Sunday. The number of patients peaked at 31,522 in May 2011, but has declined to fewer than 16,000 as of last month. The decline in growers and dispensaries is even more dramatic. For most of last spring, that figure hovered around 4,800, but following federal raids and the state legislature's virtual repeal of the voter-approved law, that number had declined by 90%, to 417. Under the 2011 law, all caregivers’ licenses cards became invalid on July 1, 2011. Those wanting to continue to legally grow and sell marijuana for medical reasons had to register with the department to get providers' cards.The number of participating physicians has also declined, but not so dramatically, dropping from a high of 365 last June to 274 in January.

That same day, the Missoulian reported that medical marijuana providers busted by the feds in raids last year are getting relatively light sentences. Many faced five-year mandatory minimum federal sentences, but the sentences handed down so far, all the result of plea agreements that saw some charges dropped, have been considerably shorter, ranging from six months to 18 months. In the case of three men who had operated businesses in Helena and Great Falls, Senior Judge Charles Lovell criticized agreed-upon sentencing guidelines as "excessive," making particular mention of the fact that the three men believed their work to be legal under state law. He sentenced them to one year, instead of the 2 ½ recommended. More than 60 indictments have resulted from the federal raids, with some people receiving sentences of up to five years in prison -- not the mandatory minimum five years.

Oregon

Hundreds of non-Oregon residents have obtained Oregon medical marijuana cards, the Oregonian reported Sunday. Since June 2010, when the state started issuing cards to non-residents, nearly 600 out-of-staters have traveled here to obtain one, according to the Oregon Health Authority, the agency that oversees the state's medical marijuana program.  Some 72,000 state residents also hold medical marijuana cards. Neighboring states account for nearly two-thirds of out-of-state card-holders, with 309 from Washington, 138 from Idaho, and 50 from California.

Washington

On Wednesday, a bill that would have regulated dispensaries in the state died after failing to move before a legislative deadline. Sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), Senate Bill 6265 was an effort to create a legal framework for dispensaries, but was opposed by some elements of the medical marijuana community.

Meet Obama's Proposed 2013 Federal Drug Budget [FEATURE]

The Obama administration this week released its Fiscal Year 2013 National Drug Control Budget, and it wants to spend nearly $26 billion on federal anti-drug programs. Despite all the talk about the staggering federal debt problem and current budget deficits, the administration found nothing to cut here. Instead, the proposed budget increases federal anti-drug funding by 1.6% over fiscal year 2012.

Drug War Autopilot and Co-Autopilot: ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske with President Obama
The proposed budget is remarkable for how closely it hews to previous years, especially in regard to the allocation of resources for demand reduction (treatment and prevention) versus those for supply reduction (domestic and international law enforcement and interdiction). The roughly 40:60 ratio that has been in place for years has shifted, but only incrementally. The 2013 budget allocates 41.2% for treatment and prevention and 58.2% for law enforcement.

"This is very much the same drug budget we've been seeing for years," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "The Obama drug budget is the Bush drug budget, which was the Clinton drug budget. Little has changed."

"It's really just more of the same," said Sean Dunagan, a former DEA intelligence analyst whose last assignment in northeastern Mexico between 2008 and 2010, a when prohibition-related violence there was soaring, helped change his perspective. Dunagan quit the DEA and is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

"There are very minor adjustments in how the drug spending is allocated and bit more money for treatment, but there's a significant increase in interdiction, as well as a $61 million increase for domestic law enforcement," Dunagan noted. "They're trying to argue that they're abandoning the drug war and shifting the focus, but the numbers don't really back that up."

The proposed budget also demonstrates the breadth of the federal drug spending largesse among the bureaucratic fiefdoms in Washington. Departments that catch a ride on the drug war gravy train include Agriculture, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, and Veterans' Affairs, as well as the federal judiciary, District of Columbia courts, the Small Business Administration, and, of course, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office).

"It's just the same old programs being funded through the same old stove-pipes," said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "In a way, it's ironic. When Congress passed the legislation creating the drug czar's office in 1988, the idea was for the drug czar to look at all the federal anti-drug spending and come in and say he was going to take the funds from one program and shift them to a more effective program. I think many in Congress hoped he would shift resources from law enforcement to treatment and prevention because there was evidence that those sorts of programs were more effective and a better use of resources. That didn't happen," he said.

"The people who run the bureaucratic fiefdoms at Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, State and Treasury have outmuscled the drug czar, and now the drug czar's budget announcements are reduced to public relations and spin," Sterling continued. "They take some $15 or $20 million program and bullet-point it as significant, but that's almost nothing when it comes to federal drug dollars."

The Justice Department alone would get $7.85 billion, up almost $400 million from FY 2012, with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the DEA among those Justice components seeing funding increases. BOP spending would increase by about 8%, while the DEA budget would increase from $2.35 billion to $2.38 billion. On the other hand, the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which lost its congressional patron with the death of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), has been zeroed out.
 

"The hundreds of millions of dollar increases in funding requested for the Federal Bureau of Prisons is particularly outrageous," said Sterling. "There are too many people doing too much time they don't need to be doing. Obama has the power to save hundreds of millions of dollars by commuting excessively long sentences. He could reduce the deficit and increase the amount of justice in America.

"He could tell the BOP he was ordering a cap on the federal prison population that now has a sentenced population of 198,000, Sterling continued, on a roll. "He could order them that whenever a new prisoner arrives, they have to send him the names of prisoners who may have served enough time for their crimes for him to consider for immediate release from prison. He could ask all the federal judges to send him the names of people they have sentenced to longer terms than they think are just. If he had the heart to reach out to those prisoners who are serving decades for minor roles and their suffering families, if he had the brains to put in place the means to achieve those cost-serving measures, and if he had the guts to actually use the constitutional power he has to do it, that would be great."

"That increase in incarceration spending really jumps out at me, too" said Dunagan. "To make their claim that they're not going to be locking up small-time dealers and users is pretty disingenuous."

Pentagon spending on interdiction and other anti-drug activities would decline somewhat, with the budget proposing $1.725 billion for 2013, a decline of $200 million from the 2012 budget. But interdiction spending goes up elsewhere, as Dunagan noted.

And State Department drug spending would take a hit. Spending would decline by just more than $100 million to $687 million, but most of that decrease would come from reduced funding for alternative development assistance, while State's other drug-related program, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), would see only a $6 million decrease.

While funding for prevention and treatment would increase by 4.6% under the proposed budget, some treatment and grant programs are seeing cuts, while criminal justice system-based approaches are getting more money.

"I'm concerned that the budget seems to be emphasizing drug courts and criminal justice-based drug treatment," said Piper. "They're cutting SAMHSA, which funds a lot of treatment, but increasing spending for prison-based treatment."

The $364 million earmarked for SAMHSA's treatment programs is a $61 million reduction from FY 2012, while drug courts saw a $17 million increase to $52 million and BOP drug treatment programs saw a $16 million increase to $109 million.

The new drug budget also resurrects the drug czar's widely criticized National Youth Media Campaign, dropped last year when Congress failed to fund it.

"I'm also disappointed that they put back in funding for the drug czar's failed youth media campaign, which Congress eliminated last year," said Piper. "It's only $20 million, and you can hardly do a national media campaign with that, but still."

This is only the administration's budget proposal, of course, and Congress will have plenty of opportunities to try to cut (or increase) portions of it. Still, the proposed budget is a window on the thinking of administration that has talked the talk about how we are no longer in a war on drugs, but has taken only stumblingly tiny steps toward walking the walk. And drug reformers aren't liking what they're seeing.

"LEAP thinks this is misguided," said Dunagan. "The only thing that's different is the rhetoric used to spin it, and even that is a sort of tacit acknowledgment by the administration that people don't really like the drug war, but substantively, there's very little different from the past."

"Between the drug budgets and his war on medical marijuana, we're very disappointed in Obama," said DPA's Piper.

"We should be disappointed in the Obama administration," said Sterling. "There was supposed to be change. This was the University of Chicago law professor, the Harvard-trained lawyer, who was going to bring in his own people and make real change. I'm very disappointed in his drug policies and criminal justice policies. My disappointment with his policy failures don't have anything to do with the economic crisis or the geostrategic situation he inherited.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana is an active issue around the country, and especially so these days in California. Here's the latest:

Arizona

Last Friday, Gov. Jan Brewer gave up her fight against medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. Her decision came after having her challenges thrown out in both federal and state court. Last Friday, she directed state officials to begin implementing the law to allow dispensaries to apply to operate.

California

The clock is ticking on Senate Bill 129, introduced by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). The bill would provide medical marijuana patients with protection from workplace discrimination. The legislature must act on the bill by month's end or it dies. It's the same story with Assembly Bill 1017, introduced by Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), which would allow for reduced misdemeanor charges in cultivation cases.

Last Tuesday, the Colusa City Council voted unanimously to extend its ban on dispensaries to another full year. The ordinance goes into effect immediately. This is the last extension on the temporary ban; after this, the city will need a permanent ordinance to spell out the restrictions.

Last Wednesday, federal agents raided the Disabled American Veterans Collective in Murrieta. The owner, Kevin Freeman of Temecula, and one other person were arrested on suspicion of possession of marijuana for sale. Federal search warrant documents accused Freeman of operating a for-profit business that would sell marijuana to people without medical conditions. But Freeman said his operation was "a true collective." The dispensary had previously seen customers pulled over by deputies after leaving the premises and been the subject of an undercover buy by a deputy who fraudulently obtained a medical marijuana recommendation.

Also last Wednesday, the US Attorney for Southern California announced that federal prosecutors over the past week have filed four asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties housing marijuana storefronts in Los Angeles and Orange counties and have sent warning letters to property owners and operators of "illegal marijuana stores" in several Southland cities. They also sent threat letters to dispensary operators and property owners of the nearly two dozen dispensaries operating in Costa Mesa. The feds also raided three Costa Mesa dispensaries.

Also last Wednesday, Glenn County supervisors moved ahead with an ordinance that would ban dispensaries, collectives, and co-ops, but would allow backyard grows for patients. The county's emergency moratorium ordinance expires in March.

Last Thursday, the California Supreme Court decided to hear four medical marijuana cases in a bid to restore same clarity to the state's muddled medical marijuana laws. The cases revolve around state-federal and state-local conflicts, and mixed rulings in lower courts have led to massive confusion in the state.

Also last Thursday, Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana announced it had filed a medical marijuana regulation initiative with the state last month. The campaign expects to be okayed for signature-gathering early next month and has until April 20 to gather more than 500,000 valid signatures to make the November ballot. See our feature story on it here.

Last Friday, prosecutors in San Luis Obispo County announced they were dropping the charges against six people arrested in 2010 for running medical marijuana delivery services. Prosecutors threw in the towel after a judge issued jury instructions that allowed the defendants to argue that they thought an undercover officer who infiltrated them was part of their collective. That would make the case tough to win, prosecutors said.

Also last Friday, a judge in Riverside rejected a restraining order sought by the city of Murrieta against a newly opened medical marijuana collective. The Greenhouse Cannabis Club can stay open pending a February 17 hearing, even though Murrieta has a moratorium on dispensaries, the judge ruled.

On Monday, federal agents and Riverside County sheriff's deputies raided six suites containing medical marijuana operations in a business park north of Murrieta. The lawmen became aware of the operations while raiding a neighboring dispensary last week. Three people were arrested on marijuana cultivation charges. The raids were led by the DEA.

Also on Monday, the Calexico Planning Commission approved a ban on dispensaries. The proposed ban will now go before the city council.

On Tuesday, San Francisco announced it would begin issuing dispensary permits again after the state Supreme Court agreed to hear four medical marijuana cases that could clarify state law. In doing so, the high court vacated a case, Pack v. Long Beach, that said city or county laws regulating medical marijuana violated federal law. Now that Pack has been vacated, city officials said the permitting process can resume as normal. The following day, the city changed its mind.

Also on Tuesday, Mendocino County supervisors voted to kill the county's medical marijuana permit program after receiving threats of legal action from Northern California US Attorney Melinda Haag. The innovative program allowed collectives to grow up to 99 plants per parcel, with each plant tagged by the sheriff's office.

Also on Tuesday, Humboldt County supervisors voted unanimously to extend a temporary moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries for an additional 10 months and 15 days. The supervisors also added language to the ordinance that is meant to protect existing dispensaries from closure. Three dispensaries currently operate in the county.

Also on Tuesday, the Whittier city council voted to impose a 45-day moratorium on new dispensaries, citing the Pack v. Long Beach ruling and ignoring the fact that the state Supreme Court vacated it last week. That means the number of dispensaries in the city is capped at one -- the Whittier Hope Collective, which opened in July 2010 after the council approved a conditional use permit. Although the moratorium is only for a month and a half, the council indicated it intended to maintain the status quo until the Supreme Court decides Pack and other medical marijuana cases.

Lastly, on Tuesday, a judge in Live Oak heard arguments in a civil lawsuit brought against the city over its ban on growing medical marijuana. James Maral sued after the city council last month approved the ban on even personal grows, saying it would force him to make "cruel choices." The lawsuit accused the city of running afoul of state law (Proposition 215), which allows patients to grow their own medicine. The city had acted after complaints from residents about the "stench" of marijuana and fears of violent robbery attempts. The judge refused to issue a temporary injunction because he had not seen the ordinance, but left open the possibility of revisiting the decision at a later date.

Colorado

Last Thursday, Colorado US Attorney John Walsh told the Denver Post that evidence medical marijuana is having a negative impact on kids spurred his decision to crack down on dispensaries near schools. The comments came days after he sent letters to 23 dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools. The letters ordered the dispensaries to close by Feb. 27 or face potential criminal prosecution or seizure of assets.

On Monday, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition sent a letter to Colorado US Attorney John Walsh saying his threats and actions against medical marijuana providers are "a disservice to the state of Colorado." The letter was signed by LEAP director Neill Franklin and two Colorado law enforcement figures, former municipal court Judge Leonard Frieling and retired Denver police officer Tony Ryan.

On Wednesday, medical marijuana supporters organized by Sensible Colorado did a mass phone-in to their US congressional representatives urging them to help call off the federal crackdown and support the state's medical marijuana program.

Indiana

Earlier this month, state Rep. Tom Knollman (R) introduced a medical marijuana bill, HB 1370, which calls upon the Indiana Department of Health to develop a regulatory framework for the growth and distribution of medical marijuana through dispensaries and to register patients with debilitating medical conditions. This is the first medical marijuana bill introduced in the state in recent memory.

Kansas

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill got a hearing in the House Health and Human Services Committee. The bill, the Kansas Compassion and Care Act, was introduced by Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita). Previous medical marijuana bills have been stalled in committee, and the committee took no action on this one Tuesday. Meanwhile, supporters of the bill packed the hearing room and demonstrated outside before the hearing.

Maryland

Maryland House Delegate Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore) has introduced a comprehensive medical marijuana bill that would replace a bill passed last year as a stop-gap measure while the state appointed a workgroup to further study the issue. House Bill 15, the Maryland Medical Marijuana Act, would create clear rules for qualified patients and law enforcement, and put in place a strictly regulated production and distribution system. A measure passed last year created minimal protections for patients but did not set up a distribution system. That measure created a working group to come up with proposals for this year, but neither of those proposals includes allowing patients to grow their own. Glenn's bill does. It now awaits committee hearings.

Montana

Last Thursday, the owner of the Big Sky Health Health dispensary in Missoula pleaded not guilty in federal court to a charge of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana. Jason Washington is one of six defendants in an indictment that followed federal raids last November on numerous businesses, homes and warehouses linked to marijuana businesses in western Montana. Washington is a former quarterback for the University of Montana Grizzlies, and the feds even seized his Big Sky championship ring, as well as 80 pounds of marijuana and $232,000 in cash.

Last Friday, a federal judge ruled that Montana's medical marijuana law doesn't shield providers of the drug from federal prosecution. US District Judge Donald Molloy dismissed a civil lawsuit by 14 persons and businesses that were among those raided by federal authorities last year. He cited the Constitution's supremacy clause. "Whether the plaintiffs' conduct was legal under Montana law is of little significance here, since the alleged conduct clearly violates federal law," Molloy wrote. "We are all bound by federal law, like it or not."

New Jersey

Last Friday, the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of John Ray Wilson. Wilson, an MS patient, was sentenced to five years in prison for growing his own medicine in his back yard. He had been out on appeal, but now must resume serving his sentence. Wilson was not allowed to tell his jury why he was growing marijuana plants. Supporters, including legislative leaders, have campaigned for clemency for Wilson, to no avail.

Ohio

Last Friday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine certified a medical marijuana ballot issue, and on Monday, the Ohio ballot board gave its okay. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment campaign can now begin signature gathering. It needs some 385,000 valid voter signatures to make the November ballot. This is the second Ohio medical marijuana initiative to be certified for the 2012 campaign. The Ohio Alternative Treatment Amendment was approved in October.

Washington

On Monday, the city of Bellingham revoked the registrations of medical marijuana dispensaries after deciding that dispensaries were not legal under state or federal law. The city has not yet decided what to do about dispensaries that are already operating there, but at least one said it would reopen as a private, members-only club next month.

Washington, DC

On Monday, a hydroponics superstore known as the "Walmart of Weed" announced it would open a store in the nation's capital in March. WeGrow sells all of the products and services one would need to grow marijuana or other indoor plants, but does not sell the plant itself. The company said it had signed a lease for a property on Rhode Island Avenue NE. The company already operates superstores in Oakland, Sacramento and Phoenix.

Police Need Warrant for GPS Tracking, Supreme Court Rules

The US Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must obtain a search warrant before using a GPS device to track criminal suspects. But the decision was narrow, leaving unanswered lingering questions about citizens' expectations of privacy in an age of rapid technological advance.

The ruling came in US v. Jones, in which Washington, DC, nightclub owner Antoine Jones was convicted of drug trafficking offenses based in part on evidence developed after police placed a GPS device on his vehicle and monitored his movements for 28 days. (See the Chronicle's earlier coverage of the Antoine Jones case here.) Police had sought a warrant to place a GPS tracking device, but that warrant expired before the device was actually placed on Jones' vehicle.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia said police needed a search warrant before attaching a GPS device to a suspect's vehicle. He was joined in the opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor.

"We hold that the government's installation of a GPS device on a target's vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constitutes a 'search'" under the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, Scalia wrote.

But the court split on whether the decision went far enough. Scalia wrote that if the government had been able to use electronic surveillance to spy on Jones without physically trespassing on his property, that may have been "an unconstitutional invasion of privacy." But, Scalia added, "The present case does not require us to answer that question."

That wasn't good enough for Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who, in a concurring opinion, said the court should have tackled the larger question instead of using "18th century tort law" to decide a case about "21st century surveillance techniques."

"The court's reasoning largely disregards what is really important (the use of a GPS for the purpose of long-term tracking) and instead attaches great significance to something that most would view as relatively minor (attaching to the bottom of a car a small, light object that does not interfere in any way with the car's operation)," Alito wrote.

It was the long-term surveillance itself, not the fact that police physically placed a tracking device on Jones' vehicle, that violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches and seizures, Alito argued.

"The use of longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy," he wrote. "For such offenses, society's expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not -- and indeed, in the main, simply could not -- secretly monitor and catalog every single movement of an individual's car for a very long period."

Although Justice Sotomayor joined the majority opinion, she also seemed disappointed that the court had not ruled more broadly. She wrote that the court had in effect ducked the big question of whether warrantless electronic surveillance was constitutional and warned that Monday's decision will do little to answer that question.

"With increasing regularity, the government will be capable of duplicating the monitoring undertaken in this case by enlisting factory- or owner-installed vehicle tracking devices or GPS-enabled smart phones," Sotomayor wrote. "In cases of electronic or other novel modes of surveillance that do not depend upon a physical invasion on property, the majority opinion's trespassory test may provide little guidance."

Still, this is a win for the Fourth Amendment and for individual privacy rights, even if it is limited.

Washington, DC
United States

Arizona Governor Gives Up Medical Marijuana Fight

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) said last Friday she would no longer block medical marijuana dispensaries from opening in the state. The news came in a statement announcing that the state would not try again after a lawsuit she filed blocking implementation was dismissed in federal court earlier this month.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/janbrewer.jpg
Gov. Brewer has lost her anti-medical marijuana fight
Brewer said she will direct the state health department to begin accepting and processing dispensary applications once a separate legal challenge over state regulations is settled. The pending state court lawsuit was filed on behalf of Compassion First, a group formed to advise those opening dispensaries, which has challenged restrictive health department rules restricting who can operate a dispensary.

"The State of Arizona will not re-file in federal court a lawsuit that sought clarification that state employees would not be subject to federal criminal prosecution simply for implementing the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA)," Brewer said in the statement. "Instead, I have directed the Arizona Department of Health Services to begin accepting and processing dispensary applications, and issuing licenses for those facilities once a pending legal challenge to the Department's medical marijuana rules is resolved."

Brewer also sent a letter to Ann Birmingham Scheel, acting US Attorney for Arizona, seeking clarification of the federal government's position regarding state employees who participate in regulating dispensaries. Brewer had tried and failed to gain that same clarification in her lawsuit.

"It is well-known that I did not support passage of Proposition 203, and I remain concerned about potential abuses of the law," Brewer said. "But the state's legal challenge was based on my legitimate concern that state employees may find themselves at risk of federal prosecution for their role in administering dispensary licenses under this law."

Now that the lawsuit has been dismissed, implementing the dispensary provision of the law is "the best course of action," Brewer said.

"The State of Arizona was fully implementing the provisions of Proposition 203 last spring," Brewer said. "That's when Arizona was among a host of states that received letters from the US Department of Justice threatening potential legal ramifications for any individual participating in a medical marijuana program, even in states where it had been legally approved," she reminded.

"Would state employees at the Department of Health Services, charged with administering and licensing marijuana dispensaries, face federal prosecution? This was the basis for calling a 'time out' in order for the State to seek a straightforward answer from the court. With our request for clarification rebuffed on procedural grounds by the federal court, I believe the best course of action now is to complete the implementation of Proposition 203 in accordance with the law."

But Brewer warned that she would shut things down in a hurry if it appeared state employees were really going to be prosecuted for their role in regulating the program.

"Know this: I won't hesitate to halt state involvement in the AMMA if I receive indication that State employees face prosecution due to their duties in administering this law," she said.

Phoenix, AZ
United States

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