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New Jersey Medical Marijuana Patient Sent to Prison

A New Jersey man convicted of marijuana manufacture after he grew 17 plants in his backyard to use to treat his multiple sclerosis was ordered to prison to begin serving a five-year sentence Wednesday even as he appeals his conviction to the state Supreme Court.

John Ray Wilson demonstration, 2009 (courtesy CMMNJ)
According to a report from New Jersey-Pennsylvania marijuana reform activist Chris Goldstein's Freedom is Green blog, John Ray Wilson, 38, was taken into custody at the Somerset County Courthouse in Somerville immediately after a hearing where he sought unsuccessfully to continue to be granted bail pending the result of that appeal.

Wilson was arrested in 2008 and convicted of manufacture after he was not allowed to present evidence that he was growing the plants for his own use. He served five weeks in jail then before being granted bail and freed as he appealed to the New Jersey Appellate Division. He lost in the appeals court last month, and his attorney, William Buckman then filed a notice of petition to the Supreme Court to appeal the manufacturing conviction.

In Somerville Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Angela Borkowski ruled that any bail appeal should be made not to her court but to the Appellate Division, Goldstein reported. Buckman said he would file for bail immediately.

Deputy Attorney General Russell Curley argued during the hearing that Wilson should begin serving his sentence immediately, and Judge Borkowski agreed. He was taken into custody after the hearing.

"We think that the appellate decision is misguided," said Wilson’s attorney William Buckman, "We are hoping that the Supreme Court will set the record straight that New Jersey doesn’t want to put sick people or simple individual marijuana users into prison at the cost of $35,000 a year."

Wilson's plight has drawn the attention of activists who have championed his cause, including the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, whose executive director, Ken Wolski, was in the courtroom Wednesday.

"CMMNJ is still hopeful there is a chance for justice in the state Supreme Court," he told Goldstein. "But we are very disappointed that John is back in jail."

Somerville, NJ
United States

Michigan Marijuana Dispensaries Illegal, Appeals Court Rules

Medical marijuana cannot be sold in dispensaries, the Michigan Court of Appeals held in an opinion released Wednesday. The ruling held that the state's 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana law does not allow for medical marijuana to be sold, even among the nearly 100,000 people who have state-issued medical marijuana cards.

Dispensaries are now a no-no in Michigan. (image via Wikimedia)
The 3-0 decision came in Michigan v. McQueen, in which local authorities had sought to shut down the Compassionate Apothecary in Mount Pleasant as a "public nuisance." The ruling means other communities can target the estimated 200 to 300 dispensaries now operating in the state.

"The 'medical use' of marijuana does not include patient-to-patient 'sales' of marijuana. Defendants, therefore, have no authority under the [law] to operate a marijuana dispensary that actively engages in and carries out patient-to-patient sales," said appeals court judges Joel Hoekstra, Christopher Murray and Cynthia Diane Stephens.

"This ruling is a huge victory for public safety and Michigan communities struggling with an invasion of pot shops near their schools, homes and churches," said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement. "The court echoed the concerns of law enforcement, clarifying that this law is narrowly focused to help the seriously ill, not the creation of a marijuana free-for-all."

Not everyone was as pleased as Schuette. Chuck Ream, of A2 Compassionate Health Care in Ann Arbor told the Associated Press the ruling was an "assault on democracy" that would leave large numbers of patients who depend on dispensaries out in the cold.

"If they want wheelchairs chained to every door at the Capitol, if they want to fight about this -- oh, boy, they'll have a fight," said Ream. "There are a lot of people who don't want to be drooling idiots on Oxycontin. They've found a medicine that relieves their pain and makes them happy."

Robin Schneider, spokesperson for the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers, told the Lansing News the decision will force medical marijuana distribution into neighborhoods and gas station parking lots.

"It's horrible," she said of the decision. "My biggest concern right now is that what they have done is they have made a decision that will in fact shut down the dispensaries. This will create situations where people are selling marijuana in their neighborhoods," she said. "Little old ladies are going to be meeting on street corners to get their medicine," she said, making them easy targets for crime. "Dispensaries create safe access to medicine."

Michigan medical marijuana patients and providers had hoped the courts would save them from antithetical local governments, but they have been proven wrong. Now, if they want a dispensary system, they are going to have to fight long political battles. In the meantime, it's the patients who will be out of luck.

Lansing, MI
United States

Few Florida Welfare Applicants Fail Drug Tests So Far

During his election campaign last year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) campaigned on, among other things, cutting government spending by reducing the welfare rolls through drug testing. Welfare recipients were more likely than average citizens to be drug users, he claimed.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/drugtest.jpg
drug testing paraphernalia
Scott successfully pushed his welfare drug testing bill through the legislature, and the program went into effect July 1. But preliminary results undercut his claims of high drug use rates among people seeking welfare benefits and they suggest that the vaunted savings to taxpayers will not be very significant.

According to the Tampa Tribune, the state Department of Children and Families is reporting some preliminary numbers. So far, at least 1,000 applicants have undergone drug testing, and only 2% have failed their drug tests. Another 2% have, for reasons unknown, failed to complete the application process.

These numbers suggest that not only are Florida welfare recipients not a bunch of lazy junkies getting high on the backs of taxpayers, but that they actually use drugs at a significantly lower rate than the population as a whole. [Ed: Drug testing proponents might argue that the program is causing applicants to stop using drugs in order to quality for benefits. But that ideas squares neither with the "addict" characterization commonly made about welfare recipients nor the weeks that marijuana remains detectable in the bloodstream after its last use.]

According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 8.7% of the population nationally over age 12 used an illicit drug in the previous month. The rate was 6.3% for those ages 26 and up. The 2006 national survey disaggregated usage rates by state and found a figure of 7.69% of people 12 and over using within the past month in Florida.

The ACLU of Florida, which is studying a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the warrantless, suspicionless mandatory drug tests, told the Tampa Tribune the Florida law is based on stereotypes of poor people.

"This is just punishing people for being poor, which is one of our main points," said ACLU of Florida spokesman Dan Newton. "We're not testing the population at-large that receives government money; we're not testing people on scholarships, or state contractors. So why these people? It's obvious -- because they're poor."

These initial numbers also suggest that the welfare drug testing program will not be a big money saver for the state. Under the law, while welfare applicants and recipients must pay for the drug tests out of their own pockets, the state must reimburse those who test negative. At an estimated $30 a pop for the drug tests, that creates significant expenditures for the state.

Those expenditures are canceled out by the savings the state makes by not making welfare payments to those who test positive. If the current 2% positive test result rate holds true, the Tampa Tribune calculates, the state could save somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000 a year.

But that's a drop in the bucket in a program that is predicted to cost $178 million this year, and it doesn't include staff costs and other resources the state has expended to implement the program -- nor the cost if even one person testing positive ends up in an emergency room or courtroom as a result. And even the small savings projected by the Tribune could be wiped out by the cost of defending what is likely to be found an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of Florida welfare applicants and recipients to be free of unwarranted searches.

FL
United States

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Push Sparks Reaction

An Arkansas group is already gathering signatures to place a medical marijuana initiative on the November 2012 ballot, and now the effort is sparking a critical reaction from a local Christian conservative "traditional family values" organization. But medical marijuana backers say they have God on their side, too.

Arkansans for Compassionate Care isn't going to cede the religious high ground to Christian conservatives. (image courtesy ACC)
Arkansans for Compassionate Care won approval in April to circulate petitions for the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act. It needs to gather 62,507 valid voter signatures by next July to appear on the November 2012 ballot. The group said it plans to gather double the required number to provide a large cushion in case large numbers of signatures are found to be invalid.

The initiative would allow patients with serious illnesses like cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, and PTSD whose doctors recommend medical marijuana to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Patients would obtain marijuana from one of up to 30 state-regulated dispensaries or, if they don't live near a dispensary, they or a designated caregiver could grow their own. Patients more than five miles from a dispensary could grow up to six plants.

"I've talked to dozens and dozens of patients across the state," the group's Ryan Denham told Fox 16 TV News Monday night. "People that suffer from debilitating medical conditions things like multiple sclerosis, cancer, hepatitis c, and the patients are really kind of just fed up with the fact that they have to break the law to get the medicine their doctor recommends," he said.

"There are no southern states that have legalized medical marijuana, so I think it would send definitely an important message nationally to the Congress that our system is broken and patients need access to medical marijuana. And just to be clear, we're not trying to decriminalize marijuana or to provide it recreationally, this is only for people that are sick or have terminally ill conditions," Denham clarified.

That's not good enough for the Little Rock-based Family Council Action Committee (FCAC), which issued a statement Tuesday expressing concern about the measure. The group describes itself as "standing up for traditional family values in the political arena" and references scripture as a guide. It is best known for sponsoring a failed 2008 initiative effort that would have barred gays from adopting children.

"Substance abuse creates very real problems for families," said FCAC President Jerry Cox in the statement. "If a husband or wife is addicted to something, it's going to put a strain on that marriage. It's going to put a strain on their kids. If you think we have problems with marijuana now, just wait until it becomes legally available," he warned.

"This law would make Arkansas one of the most liberal states in the nation, where marijuana is concerned," Cox continued. "And there are too many unanswered questions. How are we going to be sure medical marijuana grown in Arkansas isn't sold illegally across state lines? I've read marijuana can be cultivated with varying levels of active ingredients in it much the same way nicotine levels can be manipulated in tobacco. How are they going to keep marijuana growers from using that to make their product more potent or addictive?"

But if Cox thinks medical marijuana is the devil's weed, Arkansans for Compassionate Care is prepared to fight back. Its web site contains a Resources for the Faith Community page that begins with an exhortation from God to Zechariah to "Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another." The page then lists eight major religious denominations that support medical marijuana and their reasons for doing so.

AR
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A drug-robbing Philly cop heads to prison; so does a Houston deputy who helped an Ecstasy dealer, but a lying Oklahoma cop will walk free, and a Texas prison guard is looking at prison for smuggling dope to prisoners. Let's get to it:

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police officer was sentenced August 18 to more than 16 years in federal prison for a plot to steal more than a half-pound of heroin and resell it for cash. Mark Williams, 28, was one of three Philly cops arrested in the case. The other two have already been sentenced. Williams had been found guilty in March of conspiracy to distribute heroin, distribution of heroin, attempted robbery, using a firearm in relation to a violent crime and related offenses. The trio of bad cops went down for a fake traffic stop and bust of a drug courier in which they simply kept the "seized" drugs.

In Houston, a former Harris County sheriff's deputy was sentenced August 18 to five years in federal prison for taking bribes from a drug dealer to provide protection and access to confidential information. George Wesley Ellington, 39, had pleaded guilty in April to extortion under color of official right after a joint investigation by the FBI and the Harris County Sheriff's Office found that he was providing protection and accessing official records for a man he knew was dealing Ecstasy. His wife, Tania Katrisse Ellington, will also serve time for knowingly concealing her husband's illegal activities. She'll do a year and a day.

In Marlow, Oklahoma, a former Marlow police officer pleaded guilty August 19 to charges he lied on the witness stand during a drug trial. He had been indicted on two counts of perjury after prosecutors in the trial stopped the trial because of his falsified testimony. He was set to go on trial Monday, but accepted a plea deal where he copped to one count of perjury and received a three-year suspended sentence and a fine. He also will be unable to work in law enforcement again.

In Huntsville, Texas, a former Texas Department of Corrections guard pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges he was smuggling heroin into a state prison. Alejandro Smith, 21, copped to one count of possessing with the intent to distribute heroin. He went down after "a source" told the FBI he was smuggling dope to prisoners. The FBI set up a sting in which he received from an undercover officer a duffle bag containing heroin. Smith faces up to 40 years in prison when he is sentenced in November.

Rhode Island Docs Tell Governor to Okay Marijuana Dispensaries

Dispensaries to serve medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island have been on hold since the spring, when, citing pressure from the federal government, Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I), blocked them from moving forward. Now, the Rhode Island Medical Society has sent him a letter saying the time for delay is over.

Citing fear of the feds, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee continues to block dispenary licensing. (image via Wikimedia)
A regulated system of dispensaries is crucial in providing "a source mechanism for patients to obtain their marijuana in a safe and legal manner," said society president Dr. Gary Bubly in the letter sent to Chafee and state Health Department Director Michael Fine.

"It requires appropriate security and oversight allowing patients to obtain their marijuana in a controlled environment," he wrote. "Further delay in implementing this law only serves to deny relief to patients suffering from the qualifying medical conditions."

After two years of reviews and public hearings, the state announced in March that it had selected three dispensaries to grow and sell medical marijuana to Rhode Island's nearly 4,000 registered patients. But the next month, US Attorney Peter Neronha sent Chafee a letter warning that people involved in large-scale drug production operations could face civil and criminal prosecution, prompting Chafee to block the issuing of licenses pending clarification from Neronha and the US Department of Justice.

Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger told the Providence Journal Monday that the governor has received a copy of the society's letter, but had yet to review it. She said the governor's office continues to review what other states are doing regarding dispensary licensing and that his decision to place a hold on licensing in Rhode Island remains in effect.

Other states in the Northeast, including Delaware, Maine, and Vermont ignored the federal threats and have moved ahead with licensing dispensaries. Last month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) ended that state's hold on dispensaries in the face of the threats, saying he though the risk was low when "reading between the lines" in the letters, and worth taking.

Providence, RI
United States

Second California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed

And then there were two. A group of Northern California attorneys, activists, and at least one prominent medical marijuana doctor Friday filed the text for a second marijuana legalization initiative aimed at the 2012 election in Sacramento Friday.

The 753-word initiative, the Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act, simply does what the title suggests: It would repeal all sections of California law imposing criminal penalties for pot possession, cultivation, or distribution for adults. The state Department of Health would be charged with regulating public smoking and pot use by minors, which would remain illegal. Driving while impaired would still be illegal, and providing pot to a minor would result in a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Anyone possessing, growing or otherwise involved with less than three pounds of pot would face no taxes. The Department of Public Health would have 180 days to come up with regulations for cannabis commerce.

The initiative is being backed by some familiar Northern California faces. Official proponents for the measure are Santa Rosa criminal defense attorney Joe Rogaway, Sebastopol criminal defense attorney Omar Figueroa, Oakland medical marijuana attorney Bill Panzer, Mendocino County medical marijuana activist Pebbles Trippet, and Berkeley-based medical marijuana physician Dr. Frank Lucido.

The repeal initiative is the second legalization initiative to get moving this year. Late last month, the Regulate Cannabis Like Wine initiative, filed by Libertarian Party and marijuana activist Steve Kubby and former Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray, was approved to begin signature-gathering.

Observers are also waiting to see what will happen with the folks behind last year's Proposition 19 campaign, which came achingly close to victory with more than 46% of the vote. They are still keeping mum, despite rumors they will wait until 2016 because of a lack of funds and poor polling results.

Any legalization initiative will face the huge hurdle of actually gathering enough valid voter signatures to make the ballot. It will take more than 504,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot, and repeal initiative organizers estimate it will take $1.25 million just to gather the signatures.

And then there were two. Before this is over, there could be one or two more. Now, it becomes a matter of who can come up with the money to get one (or more) on the ballot for November 2012.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Peru Halts Coca Eradication -- For Now

The government of newly elected Peruvian President Ollanta Humala announced last week that it is suspending the US-backed coca eradication program in the Upper Huallaga Valley, the only ongoing eradication program in the country. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Peru has surpassed Colombia as the world's largest coca leaf producer, although Colombia maintains a slight lead in cocaine production.

Town plaza with statues honoring the coca leaf in the VRAE (photo by the author)
The Upper Huallaga isn't Peru's largest coca growing area -- that distinction belongs to the Ene and Apurimac River Valleys (VRAE in the Spanish acronym), but that area is considered too lawless to even attempt eradication.

Newly appointed head of the National Commission for the Development of Life Without Drugs Ricardo Soberon told reporters last Wednesday that the program was being suspended so the Humala government could "evaluate the policies." Soberon added that the Humala government is in the midst of renegotiating anti-drug agreements with the US and that past anti-drug policies have failed, leading to an increase in cultivation.

Soberon is a well-known advocate of progressive drug policies and talks about reduction rather than eradication, saying efforts should be aimed at coca plots in national parks, near maceration pits where cocaine is produced, and that are beyond an "acceptable" size. His appointment as Peru's drug czar sends a strong signal that Humala wants to do something different when it comes to coca policy.

According to the UNODC, Peruvian coca production increased 2% over last year. The Andean nation is cultivating 150,000 acres of coca this year. Coca consumption is legal in Peru. So is production, as long as coca farmers register with ENACO, the government coca monopoly, which stockpiles coca for traditional and medicinal uses. But tens of thousands of Peruvian coca farmers grow without registering, and much of their production is destined to be turned into cocaine to be sold to ravenous North American, European, and Brazilian consumers.

Campaign sign urging voters in the VRAE to vote for the coca leaf symbol and the parties it represents. (photo by the author)
Humala, a leftist nationalist, campaigned on a platform that included decriminalizing unregistered coca growers, and even low-level players in the cocaine trade, but he has said his government is committed to the anti-drug struggle. He counted major coca growers among his supporters during the election campaign.

But on Friday, the Associated Press reported that US officials said they had received assurances from Peru that it would continue to cooperate in anti-drug efforts.

"We do not believe that the temporary suspension of eradication this week represents a permanent shift in the Peruvian government's counternarcotics policy," the State Department said. Peruvian government officials "at the highest levels" assured the US Embassy in Lima "of their intention to continue close collaboration in the fight against narcotics trafficking and criminality, and to work together to continue to reduce the cultivation of illegal coca in Peru," it said.

Still, with President Evo Morales in Bolivia and now with President Ollanta Humala in Peru, the US-imposed orthodoxy of coca eradication in place since the 1980s is increasingly being replaced by policies more in line with the interests of Lima and La Paz rather than Washington.

Peru

Victims of Deadly Tucson SWAT Raid Begin Legal Action

The attorney for the family of Jose Guerena, the ex-Marine gunned down in his own home as a Pima County SWAT team burst in, has filed a notice of claim. Such a legal maneuver lays the groundwork for a damage-seeking lawsuit.

Jose Guerena survived tours of duty in Iran and Afghanistan, but not his encounter with a Tucson, AZ SWAT team.
Earlier reports said that the lawsuit will seek $20 million in damages from the Pima County Sheriff's Office, several Pima County municipalities, and the SWAT team members. It will claim that the SWAT team used excessive force and was negligent in the raid.

Guerena, who shared the home with his wife and young son, died after SWAT team members fired 71 rounds at him as they burst through his door and confronted him in his underwear in a hallway holding a weapon. The fatal May 5 raid was part of a series of raids that day in what police said was the investigation of a drug rip-off gang.

But no drugs, cash, or illegal items were found at Guerena's home, and, to date, no one has been arrested for anything in relation to that investigation or those raids. The officers involved in the raid have already been exonerated of any wrongdoing by local officials.

On Friday, Guerena family attorney Chris Scileppi told Fox 11 News that a newly released sheriff's department video showing Vanessa Guerena being pulled from the house and 4-year-old Joel Guerena running to safety after his father had been shot demonstrated just how horrific Guerena's death at the hands of police had been.

"They just give a snapshot of the horror that his wife his small child went through as they crawled past their dying husband and dying father," said Scileppi.

Two days earlier, Scileppi filed the 15-page claim outlining what it calls reckless actions by the SWAT team.  "They were negligent and grossly negligent in how they performed this the execution of this warrant in killing Mr. Guerena," said Scileppi. The $20 million figure would "accommodate the children's loss of their father," he said. "No amount of money can replace Mr. Guerena to his wife, to his children, to his family."

The two sides have 60 days from last week to reach an agreement on the claim, or a lawsuit will be filed. Comments from Mike Storie, an attorney for Pima County SWAT team suggest, that agreement is unlikely and this matter will end up in the courts.

The $20 million figure was "obscene," he told Fox 11. "I would be absolutely shocked if anybody settles this case and did not fight it vigorously and if asked, I would say it would be a ridiculous result," said Storie. "I think a dollar is excessive. Any type of settlement for any type of award would be unwarranted in this case."

Jose Guerena was the 25th person to be killed this year in domestic law enforcement operations. This year's toll of drug war killings is currently at 32.

Tucson, AZ
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

This week, it's drug task forces gone bad! And a dope-snorting and -peddling sheriff, too. Let's get to it:

In Nashville, Tennessee, an audit of West Tennessee's 24th Judicial Drug Task Force has found abuses, including thefts by the group's administrative assistant and jail trustees partying with seized crack cocaine. The investigation conducted by the state Comptroller's Division of County Audit, which also found that District Attorney General Hansel McCadams and Henry County Sheriff Monte Belew liked to drive around in a seized BMW Z-3 on personal business. Auditors found that items seized from drug defendants were stolen or misused, with the administrative assistant and her ex-husband admitting to taking drugs, utility trailers, and a flat-screen television from the task force. Auditors also found that jail trustees had access to seized items and were not adequately supervised. Some trustees gained access to drug case files, smoked pot and crack while at the task force headquarters, and stole cash, coins, and other items. Prosecutor McCadams was cited for using a variety of seized vehicles including a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a golf cart, a go cart, a four-wheeler and a trailer for his personal use. He flew on task force airplanes and a helicopter on non-official business, according to the report. No word yet on whether anyone is going to face criminal charges.

In San Francisco, the former commander of an East Bay drug task force was indicted Monday on a slew of federal corruption charges along with a friend who is a private investigator. Norman Wielsch, the former commander of the Contra Costa County Central Narcotics Enforcement Team (CNET), and private eye Chris Butler face numerous counts in an ongoing scandal that has already enveloped other members of the squad. They allegedly ripped-off marijuana and methamphetamine from the evidence room and resold it, provided protection to a bordello, and committed armed robberies of prostitutes, among other corrupt activities made possible by Wielsch's command position with the task force. They are charged with narcotics conspiracy, two counts of methamphetamine distribution, five counts of marijuana distribution, four counts of theft from programs receiving federal funds, three counts of civil rights conspiracy, and two counts of extortion. They were being held pending a bail hearing at last report.

In Greenville, Missouri, the former Carter County sheriff was ordered last Friday to stand trial on three drug-related felonies, including distribution of methamphetamine and cocaine. Tommy Adams, 31, appeared at a preliminary hearing after which Associate Circuit Judge Randy Schuller found probable cause to believe he had committed those crimes. During the hearing, criminal investigators testified that Adams had consented to searches in April that led to the discovery of a small amount of cocaine in an evidence bag in his department-issued vehicle and that an evidence bag containing cocaine was missing from the evidence room. Investigators also found five bags of methamphetamine hidden under the vehicle's gas pedal. The searches came after an informant wearing a wire bought meth from Adams. After being arrested in May, Adams tested positive for methamphetamine. Adams resigned after his May arrest. He now awaits trial.

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