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Prop 19 Backers Eye 2012 Medical Marijuana Initiative

A budding coalition of medical marijuana reform backers, including some of the same folks behind last year's Proposition 19, is working on an initiative for the 2012 ballot that would impose statewide regulation on California's crazy-quilt medical marijuana dispensary scene. The announcement came during a San Francisco press conference Tuesday preceding a demonstration during a visit to the city by President Obama.

"We need statewide regulation," said Dale Sky Jones, spokeswoman for last year's Prop 19 campaign and for the organization's current incarnation, the California Coalition for Cannabis Reform. "We are working on a regulatory framework for 2012, but it's still being drafted. Many Prop 19 supporters back this."

It's not just Prop 19 supporters, added Steve De Angelo, proprietor of Harborside Health Center, Oakland's largest dispensary -- which is now under attack by the IRS as part of the new federal offensive against medical marijuana distribution. "There is a broad based recognition that it's time for state regulation," he said.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 is also behind the effort. "We will speak to the specifics of the initiative within a couple of weeks," said the union's Cannabis Division Coordinator, Matthew Witemeyer.

Although California has a statewide medical marijuana law, cities and counties have created a patchwork of rules and regulations, so that what may be permissible in one area would leave someone subject to prosecution for undertaking the same activity in another one. Conflicting rulings from state courts have not resolved the situation, leaving Californians with varying levels of access to medical marijuana through dispensaries. Local approaches range from cooperative regulation and taxation to hostile permanent moratoria on dispensaries.

San Francisco, CA
United States

Federal Judge Blocks Florida Welfare Drug Testing Law

A federal judge Monday halted Florida's law mandating drug testing for welfare applicants. District Court Judge Mary Scriven in Orlando granted a temporary injunction barring the state from enforcing the law until the case is resolved.

The new law, which went into effect in July, was challenged as an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unwarranted searches and seizures in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute on behalf of a Central Florida man. Luis Lebron, 35, a Navy veteran turned college student was denied state benefits after he refused to submit to a drug test.

In her order granting the temporary injunction, Judge Scriven thoroughly demolished the state's arguments that drug testing didn't amount to a search, that welfare applicants were more likely to use drugs than the population as a whole, and that the state had a special interest in drug testing welfare applicants that would override constitutional proscriptions against it. She also found that the ACLU of Florida has a good chance of prevailing in its lawsuit.

Scriven noted that Florida legislators passed the law despite an earlier Florida demonstration project that failed to uncover evidence of rampant drug use among welfare applicants, that concluded that drug use did not adversely impact the goals of the welfare program, that found that drug testing did not save the state money, and "despite the express recommendation that the project not be continued or expanded."

Scriven then turned to the state's contention that drug testing is not a search. "Notwithstanding the overwhelming body of case law to the contrary, the State contends that the drug testing of welfare recipients is not a search," she wrote. "According to the State, the drug test is not forced or compelled, and, if there is no consent to the testing, there is no drug test and, thus, no search… The Court finds this argument unpersuasive," she noted tersely.

Nor was she persuaded by Florida's claims about the risk to public health and the levels of drug use among welfare applicants. "Though the State speaks in generalities about the 'public health risk, as well as the crime risk, associated with drugs' being 'beyond dispute,' it provides no concrete evidence that those risks are any more present in TANF applicants than in the greater population," she noted. "Rather, the evidence suggests that those risks are less prevalent among TANF applicants. The Court, therefore, rejects the suggestion that the inchoate public health or crime risks assertions incanted by the State justify the Fourth Amendment intrusions mandated by [the drug testing law]."

Florida should have listened to its own researchers, whose earlier demonstration project found no evidence of widespread drug use among welfare applicants, Scriven wrote. "Florida gathered evidence on the scope of this problem and the efficacy of the proposed solution. The results debunked the assumptions of the State, and likely many laypersons, regarding TANF applicants and drug use. The State nevertheless enacted [the drug testing law], without any concrete evidence of a special need to do so -- at least not that has been proffered on this record. As the State has failed to demonstrate a special need for its suspicionless drug testing statute, the Court finds no need to engage in the balancing analysis -- evaluating the State's interest in conducting the drug tests and the privacy interests of TANF applicants."

The law requires applicants to pay for the drug test out of their own pockets -- those whose test clean would later be reimbursed by the state -- and bars them from benefits for a year unless they undergo drug treatment. So far, only about 2% of applicants have tested positive for drugs.

"I'm delighted for our client and delighted to have confirmation that all of us remain protected from unreasonable, suspicionless government searches and seizures," said Maria Kayanan, associate legal director of the ACLU of Florida, who is lead counsel in the case.

"The governor and the legislature sent their lawyers into court to advance a very startling proposition. They argued that some Floridians, namely poor families with children who qualify for temporary public assistance, are not protected by the Constitution of the United States," said ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon. "This extreme position -- that if the state provides assistance to someone it can conduct a privacy-invading physical search -- is especially startling coming from a governor who campaigned to stop government from trampling on the rights of the people."

"This should send a message to all lawmakers that the 4th Amendment protects everyone," said Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute and co-counsel with the ACLU.

Given that a number of states are currently considering hopping on the welfare drug testing bandwagon, Berg's comments are especially apropos.

Orlando, FL
United States

Pennsylvania Drug Suspect Dead After Swallowing Baggie

[Editor's Note: Drug War Chronicle is trying to track every death directly attributable to domestic drug law enforcement during the year. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing or death related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

A New Kensington, Pennsylvania, man being pursued by police died Saturday after he was seen swallowing a plastic bag suspected of containing illegal drugs. Curtis Patterson, 40, becomes the 41st person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Authorities told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Patterson had been pursued by police from various departments earlier in the evening and when he was finally stopped, police witnessed him swallowing the plastic bag. The contents of the baggie have yet to undergo lab analysis, but police say they suspect it is illegal drugs.

The Allegheny County medical examiner said the baggie obstructed Patterson's trachea, and he died of asphyxiation at 3:05am. The death is being ruled accidental.

The last six drug war deaths this year include two others who died after swallowing drugs, two who drowned trying to flee drug busts, and one man who stepped in front of a speeding semi-truck during a roadside drug bust.

Pittsburgh, PA
United States

Colombia President Calls for Global Marijuana Legalization

In a Sunday interview, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called for the global legalization of marijuana, but said his country could not be the one to lead the way. Santos also called for a tougher, smarter approach to international drug trafficking and hard drug use.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/juan-manuel-santos-3.jpg
Juan Manuel Santos
"The world needs to discuss new approaches," Santos said. "We are basically still thinking within the same framework as we have done for the last 40 years."

Colombia has made progress in its fight against cocaine trafficking in the past 20 years, managing to destroy first the Medellin and then the Cali cartels and subsequently seeing a reduction in the violence that had plagued the country. But a legion of mini-cartels have emerged to take up the trafficking mantle, and Colombia remains a world leader in cocaine production.

When asked by his interviewer whether marijuana legalization could be a means of further reducing the violence, Santos said he would support legalization, but only if it were a global move. "Yes, that could be an answer, provided everyone does it at the same time," he said.

Colombia would not undertake such a move itself because of national security reasons, Santos said. "For Colombia, this is a matter of national security," he explained. "Drug trafficking is what finances the violence and the irregular groups in our country. I would be crucified if I took the first step. We need to insist on more multinational actions on drug trafficking and innovate the ways we are dealing with it," he said.

"In other countries [Europe and the US] this is mainly a health and crime issue," Santos continued. "We need to look at all components, one of them being targeting the assets in this business. But we need to do so on a global level. We must discuss a new approach, looking at all the components: The profit and the crime that follows drug trafficking, the fight against money laundering, trade with arms and so on. These are all effects of drugs."

Or, more precisely, global drug prohibition. And so, the consensus continues to crumble.

Bogota
Colombia

Senate GOP Blocks Criminal Justice Commission Amendment

An amendment that would have created a national criminal justice commission to study wide-ranging reforms in the US criminal justice system was blocked last Thursday after most Senate Republicans voted against it, saying it would encroach on states' rights.

Jim Webb
The bill, S. 306, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, was introduced by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) and has 28 cosponsors. It would set up a commission to review all areas of the US criminal justice system, including localities, states, and the federal government. Its goals are to reduce crime and violence, reduce recidivism, improve cost-effectiveness, and ensure the interests of justice.

When he reintroduced the bill in February, Webb called the US criminal justice system "broken," citing a whopping 1200% in imprisoned drug offenders since 1980, America's role as the world's number one jailer, the large number of mentally ill people imprisoned, and "haphazard and often nonexistent" post-prison re-entry programs.

In voting down an amendment that would have moved the bill forward, Senate Republicans had virtually nothing to say about the state of the criminal justice system in the US. Instead, they criticized the commission bill as an attack on states' rights.

"We are absolutely ignoring the Constitution if we do this," warned Oklahoma arch-conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R). "We have no role to involve ourselves in the criminal court system or the penal system in my state or any other state."

Fellow conservative Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) echoed Coburn. "This is the most massive encroachment on states' rights I have ever seen in this body," she exclaimed.

Sen. Webb argued in vain that his proposed $5 million commission was only designed to gather advice and make recommendations, not force states to act. "This is not an encroachment; it actually convenes the best minds to get recommendations," he said.

But few of the Republicans were listening. The amendment failed 57-43, three votes short of the 60 needed to pass. All Democratic senators and four Republicans voted in favor of the commission. Efforts continue to pass S. 306.

Washington, DC
United States

Bay Area Pols Slam Feds' Medical Marijuana Crackdown

A pair of Northern California elected officials last week urged the federal government to back off on its "senseless assault" on medical marijuana dispensaries. At the same time, they said they want to meet with federal officials to see what's behind the crackdown.

Stalwart supporters of medical marijuana state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) took to the microphones at a news conference at the State Building in San Francisco.

"I urge the federal government to stand down in its massive attack on medical marijuana dispensaries," Leno said in remarks reported by KTVU-TV. "California voters intended that patients should have safe and affordable access to medical marijuana," he said.

Leno and Ammiano said they are pondering new state legislation to regulate dispensaries, but added that such laws would be workable only if California legislators hear from the Justice Department that such regulations would have an impact on federal enforcement efforts. They said they hoped to speak with Justice Department officials in the next few days.

"To be successful legislatively, we would need some indication from the federal government that (the state legislation) would impact" the Justice Department offensive, Ammiano said. 

"Call the dogs off and let's sit down," Leno said.

The news conference came in response to the October 7 announcement by California's four US Attorneys that they are ramping up federal persecution of medical marijuana providers in the state. Even though California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996, the federal government refuses to recognize such laws.

While the Justice Department has said it is not targeting patients, it is clearly targeting dispensaries and medical marijuana grow operations, with DEA raids ongoing and threatening letters being sent to dispensary landlords in a bid to force them to evict their medical marijuana tenants.

At the press conference, Ammiano conceded that California has little recourse when it comes to federal interference in its medical marijuana program. "In the end, they'll probably do whatever they want," he said.

Now, the federal government needs to be convinced that raiding medical marijuana providers operating in compliance with state laws is not what it wants. President Obama had a chance to get that message when he visited California on a fundraising swing this week. He was met by organized protestors when he came to San Francisco Tuesday.

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Tuesday, October 11

In Veracruz, the young son of a Zeta boss who was killed in May was kidnapped by armed men dressed in fatigues. A friend of his was also taken. His father, Rolando Veytia Bravo, "El Manitas," was allegedly the Zeta boss for Veracruz until being killed in a shootout with the military in May.

Wednesday, October 12

In Saltillo, Coahuila, a high-ranking Zeta commander was captured. Carlos Oliva Castillo, "La Rana," is alleged to be the third highest ranking member of the organization and is thought to have ordered the August 25 attack on a casino in Monterrey which left 52 people dead. His arrest sparked a series of gun battles throughout the city as cartel gunmen attempted to rescue him from the Mexican military. His bodyguard and girlfriend were also taken into custody.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least 16 people were murdered.  Among the dead were three anti-extortion investigators with the state Attorney General's Office who were gunned down near a high school. Additionally, a municipal police officer was shot and killed while waiting for his family in a supermarket parking lot.

Thursday, October 13

In Sinaloa, five gunmen were shot and killed by municipal police and soldiers. Four were detained, including two who were wounded.

Friday, October 14

In Mexico City, President Calderon acknowledged that the state of Veracruz had previously been left in the hands of drug traffickers. Violence has increased dramatically in Veracruz this year. Former Veracruz Governor Fidel Herrera Beltran, who left office in December 2010, has repeatedly been accused of having allowed the Zetas to operate freely. He has rejected the accusations.

Saturday, October 15

In Matamoros, a prison fight left 20 inmates dead and 12 wounded. The fight apparently began between two individuals, but others soon joined in. It took authorities several hours to reassert control of the facility.

In Piedras Negras, Coahuila, 61 hostages were rescued from a safe house where they were being held captive. Three armed men guarding them were taken into custody. Shoot-outs were reported in the area throughout the day as the city was cordoned off and swept by the military.

Sunday, October 16

In Vallecillos, Nuevo Leon, nine suspected Zetas were captured by members of the army. At least 21 gunmen were killed by troops during three days of operations. Authorities suspect that a Zeta training camp was located in the area. Vallecillos is roughly 100 miles from Monterrey.

Tuesday, October 18

In Veracruz, authorities announced that nearly 1,000 police officers have been fired in an effort to root out corrupt elements of the force. The 980 officers were fired after failing lie detector tests and other parts of the vetting process.

In Mexico State, authorities announced the capture of a founder of a criminal network that operates in the Acapulco area. Christian Arturo Hernandez Tarin, "El Cris," was arrested with three associates. His organization, the "Street Sweepers," was formerly an underling of Edgar Valdez Villareal, "la Barbie."

[Editor's Note: We can no longer tally this year's drug war deaths in Mexico with accuracy. The figure for this year's deaths is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 8,000

TOTAL: > 42,000

Mexico

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A quiet week on the corrupt cops front this week, with only two reports. But one of them raises interesting questions: Why does a drug task force commander who steals from suspects and tries to cover up his crimes only get probation, when the suspects if convicted may get prison? Let's get to it:

In Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a Williamsport police officer was sentenced October 12 to 18 months probation for abusing his power as head of a local drug task force and profiting from items seized from drug suspects. Thomas Ungard, Jr., the former coordinator of the Lycoming County Drug Task Force was convicted of tampering with public records and obstructing justice in the five-year-old case. The judge in the case has suspended the imposition of sentence while Ungard appeals his conviction. He was convicted in part thanks to the testimony of another Williamsport police officer and task force member, Dustin Kreitz. Kreitz had also been charged in the scandal, but pleaded no contest earlier this year to a theft charge in exchange for his testimony against Ungard. But now, Kreitz has withdrawn his plea and is set for trial early next year.

In Wetumka, Alabama, an Alabama Department of Corrections jail guard was arrested October 16 on charges he smuggled contraband including drugs and cell phones into the Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore. Guard Leonard Purter has since resigned, and at last report, he was residing at the Elmore County Jail. It's unclear what the formal charges are, and local officials said an investigation is continuing.

DEA Hits More CA Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

DEA agents conducted raids on two more California medical marijuana dispensaries Monday, according to local press reports. Monday's targets were the Medizen dispensary on Northgate Boulevard in Sacramento and the Central Valley Caregiver's Co-operative in nearby Stockton.

The raids are only the latest evidence of the Obama administration's ramped-up war on medical marijuana distribution in the Golden State. They come less than two weeks after the state's four US Attorneys announced they were aggressively going after not only dispensaries, but landlords and property owners. They also come less than a week after a DEA raid on Northstone Organic, a fully state- and county-law compliant medical marijuana grow and co-op in Mendocino County.

In Sacramento, a Medizen employee told local TV news that neither the dispensary nor its landlord had been the object of a threat letter from the feds, but that the business was forced to close without warning.

"I was supposed to open at 10am. They got here at 7:30. I heard... they came in and basically took all our stuff, seized everything, took all our cash and product and stuff and that's basically it," said employee Mike Amarao. "They just said they're shutting all the clubs down in Sacramento, that's all we heard."

An attorney representing several Sacramento dispensaries said that some were going out of business rather than weather the threat of federal harassment and prosecution. That's going to hurt the city, which instituted a dispensary tax in July. It was estimated that the tax would generate $2 million for city coffers, but without dispensaries that figure would become inoperative.

There are no details on the Stockton raid.

Meanwhile, in Southern California, Orange County NORML and Americans for Safe Access are gearing up for a Tuesday night protest in Lake Forest in Orange County, where eight dispensaries have been ordered to close by a landlord whose bank account has been seized by federal officials.

Activists there accuse local officials of calling in the feds to do their dirty work after their own anti-dispensary efforts were blocked in state court. The city had spent $600,000 in its failed legal efforts.

Federal agents Saturday handed out asset forfeiture notices to some of the dispensaries. As of Tuesday, five of the eight dispensaries had already closed, with the others reported to be closing by day's end.

CA
United States

Gallup Poll Support for Marijuana Legalization at 50% for First Time

Support for marijuana legalization in the US continues to climb, with the Gallup Poll reporting Monday that a record high 50% of Americans now approve of freeing the weed. That's up from 30% in 2000, 40% in 2009, and 46% last year.

But pot legalization remains a divisive subject. Nearly half -- 46% -- of respondents opposed legalization, with only 4% either undecided or not answering the question.

When Gallup first began asking the marijuana legalization question in 1969, only 12% approved and 84% opposed. Approval figures hovered in the mid-twenties from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s before beginning the current upward climb.

In line with other national polls, the current Gallup poll found support for legalization strongest among liberals (69%), 18-29-year-olds (62%), and moderates, Democrats, and independents (57%). Men (54%) and 30-49-year-olds (56%) also showed majority support for legalization.

Those demographic groups least like to favor marijuana legalization were people over 65 (31%), conservatives (34%), Republicans (35%), and women (46%).

Geographically, marijuana legalization had majority support in the West (55%), the Midwest (54%), and the East (51%). The only region not showing majority support for legalization was the South, where only 44% approved.

Especially in the West, these numbers will bring some solace to legalization campaigners. Organizers in at least four states -- California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington -- are working toward placing legalization initiatives on state ballots, and these numbers suggest they are within striking distance of victory, even if not within the 60%+ approval comfort zone of initiative veterans.

As Gallup itself noted, "Support for legalizing marijuana has been increasing over the past several years, rising to 50% today -- the highest on record. If this current trend on legalizing marijuana continues, pressure may build to bring the nation's laws into compliance with the people's wishes."

The poll was conducted by telephone interviews on October 6-9. The sample was a random sample of 1,005 adults 18 or older living in all 50 states and Washington, DC. The margin of error is +/- 4%.

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