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Delaware House Passes Medical Marijuana Bill

The Delaware House last Thursday passed a bill that would allow chronically ill patients to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation and to obtain it at one of three state-licensed not-for-profit dispensaries. Senate Bill 17, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington), passed on a vote of 27-14.

Medical marijuana edges ever closer at the state house in Dover. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The state Senate has already passed the bill, but must now vote to approve changes made in the House version of the bill. Those changes require that medical marijuana be distributed in tamper-proof containers (so caregivers can't pilfer it) and prohibit smoking it in buses and vehicles.

Henry, who is also Senate Majority Whip, told Delaware Online the Senate could have its final vote as early as this week and that the House changes would not derail the bill. "They're fine," she said of the changes. "It's not a problem."

The bill would allow people with cancer, MS, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, and other debilitating conditions to get a doctor's recommendation for marijuana to treat their illnesses or the pain or nausea associated with them. Patients would be issued a state ID card. Patients would not be able to grow their own, but would have to go the dispensaries, one for each of the state's three counties.

"This is a significant victory for seriously ill patients in Delaware," said the Marijuana Policy Project, which crafted the bill and has helped shepherd it through the legislative process.

If the bill attains final passage in the Senate next week and is signed by Gov. Jack Markell, the Department of Health and Social Services would have a year to draft regulations for licensing the dispensaries. That means it could be mid-2012 before medical marijuana actually comes to Delaware.

Dover, DE
United States

Florida Legislature Passes Welfare Drug Test Bill

A bill requiring Florida welfare recipients to undergo drug tests passed the state Senate last Thursday. A similar measure has already passed the House. The bill was supported by Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is expected to sign it into law shortly.

(image via Wikimedia.org)
"It’s fair to taxpayers," Scott said after the vote. "They're paying the bill. And they're often drug screened for their jobs. On top of that, it's good for families. It creates another reason why people will think again before using drugs, which as you know is just a significant issue in our state."

Scott has already signed an executive order mandating drug tests for state workers. But Republican senators this week fended off bipartisan amendments that would have imposed drug tests for anyone working for a company that receives public funds and schoolchildren in the Bright Futures program. Those amendments were designed to sabotage the bill by spreading the net uncomfortably wide.

If Scott signs the bill into law, it is almost certain to face a constitutional challenge, and the challengers would have a strong case. The only other state to pass a suspicionless drug testing bill for welfare recipients, Michigan, saw its law thrown out by a federal appeals court in 2003 as an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against warrantless searches. Arizona has a welfare drug testing law, but that law requires probable cause before a drug test can be demanded.

The bill, House Bill 353, requires all adult applicants for or existing recipients of federal cash benefits -- the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program -- to undergo drug testing at their own expense. If they pass the drug test, the cost of the test is reimbursed by the state. The tests would screen for all controlled substances and recipients would have to disclose any legal prescriptions they have.

If recipients test positive, they lose their benefits for a year. If they fail a second test, they lose their benefits for three years. Children whose parents lose their benefits could still receive benefits if another adult is designated the payee on their behalf.

The bill is set to go into effect July 1, provided Gov. Scott actually signs it and no legal challenge has been filed by that date.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

NYC Mayor Bloomberg Discusses Drug Legalization

In a radio interview on WOR-AM last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unexpectedly brought up the subject of drug legalization. Responding to a question about medical marijuana tweeted by a listener, Bloomberg seemed to realize he was stumbling into a minefield. "I'm sort of reticent to bring it up," he said, "What's up with medical marijuana in NYC," he continued, reading the question aloud. "Is it going to be okay soon? Need to know by this weekend," he read, inspiring mayoral laughter.

Mike Bloomberg
"We don't allow medical marijuana in this state," he replied. "They do in California…"

Then, apparently very much in the moment, Bloomberg turned from medical marijuana to drug legalization: "The argument is that the only way you're going to end the drug trade is to legalize drugs and take away the profit motive," he said. "And that the corruption funds enormous dislocations, like Mexico, where thousands or tens of thousands of people have been killed in the wars where the government tried to crack down on the drug dealers..."

Good start! Mayor Bloomberg, uncharacteristically for a prominent mainstream US politician, had articulated two of the core arguments made by legalization advocates. But then, perhaps realizing where he had gone politically, Bloomberg fumbled. "There is no easy answer to these things... There are places where they've legalized drugs, and whether it destroyed society or didn't is open to debate."

Actually, no country has legalized drugs. There are countries, however, that have embraced drug policies less reliant on repression via law enforcement, such as the Netherlands, with its tolerance of cannabis coffee shops and personal possession, or Portugal, which decriminalized drug possession a decade ago.

Both countries still exist and seem to have actual few ill effects as a result of their liberal approaches. The Netherlands has marijuana use rates similar to other European countries and lower than in the US. There have been problems with organized crime involvement in cultivation and supplying the cannabis cafes, but those problems are artifacts of an incomplete legalization. The Dutch liberalization does not provide for a legal supply for the cannabis cafes, thus, the so-called back door problem -- partial prohibition.

As for Portugal, Glenn Greenwald has done a comprehensive review for the Cato Institute. Bloomberg might want to read it. Greenwald found that "judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success."

The experiences of both countries could hold valuable lessons for a man who presides over a city that spends $75 million a year arresting marijuana users, according to a recent report from the Drug Policy Alliance. In fact, New York city accounts to close for 10% of all marijuana possession arrests nationwide, and this in a state that has decriminalized marijuana possession. [Editor's Note: That's only possible because the NYPD has a practice of stopping and frisking young men of color and ordering them to empty their pockets, then charging them with possession in public, a misdemeanor. You do not have to empty the contents of your pockets.]

While these NYPD practices originated under Bloomberg predecessor Mayor Giuliani, whose tenure saw a quick ten-fold increase in marijuana arrests -- primarily of African Americans and Latinos -- they have continued unabated under Mayor Bloomberg. Given the understanding the mayor evidently has of prohibition, he should act to end these costly and unjustifiable policies, especially in a city undergoing a fiscal crisis, not equivocate with uninformed commentaries.

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 more than 36,000 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:

Drug prohibition funds the mayhem in Mexico. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Tuesday, April 26

In Tamaulipas, two gunmen were killed after shooting at an army convoy that was patrolling the highway between Nueva Ciudad Guerrero and Ciudad Mier.

Thursday, April 28

In Tamaulipas, six gunmen were killed during a fierce clash between suspected members of the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel in the towns of Aldabas and Arcabuz. According to some accounts over 40 SUVs full of gunmen participated in the clashes, in which the army eventually intervened.

In Sinaloa, seven people were killed in a series of fire fights which began after an attack on a police station in the town of Guamuchil. Nobody was killed or wounded in the initial attack, which was carried out by a convoy of five vehicles. The convoy later left the bodies of four men who had been abducted earlier on the road, but was then ambushed by a group of rival gunmen. Three members of the convoy were killed and several vehicles were later found abandoned.

Friday, April 29

In Toluca, Mexican authorities handed over former Tijuana-cartel kingpin Benjamin Arellano-Felix to US Marshals to be extradited to the United States. Arellano-Felix has been in prison in Mexico since 2002. His three brothers have all been captured or killed. The cartel is no under the leadership of his nephew Fernando, but is thought to pay the Sinaloa Cartel for the right to the points of entry into California.

In Ciudad Juarez, a massive arsenal was found hidden in a home gym in an upscale neighborhood. The stockpile included three anti-aircraft weapons, dozens of assault rifles and grenades, 50 military uniforms, bulletproof vests and 26,000 rounds of ammunition.

Monday, May 3

In San Antonio, Texas, former Mexican president Vicente Fox said that the only way to end the violence in Mexico is for the United States to legalize drugs. "As a country, we are going through problems due to the fact that the United States consumes too many drugs," he said.

In the Ciudad Juarez area, four people were murdered. Eight people have been murdered in the area in the first three days of May, and 808 have so far been murdered in 2011, according to statistics kept by researcher Molly Molloy.

Tuesday, May 4

In the city of Cuautitlan Izcalli, near Mexico City, five headless bodies were discovered on the backseat and in the trunk of an abandoned BMW.

In Guadalupe, Nuevo Leon, six men were gunned down by heavily armed gunmen. Among the victims were 56-year old Moises Chavez, his two sons, and an unidentified neighbor.

[Editor's Note: We believe our body count is seriously understating the actual number of people killed. Mexican officials this week put the number of dead in April alone at 1,402. We will continue to try to find an accurate way of compiling these numbers.]

Total Body Count for the Week: *34

Total Body Count for the Year: *2,308

Total Body Count for 2010: 15,273

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

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

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

Total Body Count for Calderon's drug war through 2010: 34,883

Mexico

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Perverted probation officers, greedy jail guards, and a perjury plot backfires. Let's get to it:

In Portland, Oregon, a former US probation officer pleaded guilty April 28 to coercing sexual favors from female defendants, including drug offenders, under his supervision. Mark John Walker, 52, admitted to violating the victims' constitutional rights to bodily integrity while acting under color of law. In one case, Walker forced the victim to have sex with him against her will when he visited her home as part of his official duties. In other cases, he kissed victims or touched their breasts, buttocks, and inner thighs without their consent. Under the plea agreement, both sides have agreed to recommend a 10-year prison sentence when he is sentenced June 18.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, a Middlesex County Sheriff's Department sergeant was arrested Monday on drug charges after allegedly receiving cocaine from an undercover state trooper. Sgt. Michael Dell'Isola, 51, is charged with trafficking cocaine. He went down after the sheriff's office received an anonymous tip last month and ended up setting up a sting. Dell'Isola, who worked at the Cambridge Jail, took cocaine and $500 cash from the undercover trooper, and was arrested on the spot. The 28-year veteran was being held pending a bail hearing.

In Detroit, a former Inskster police officer was sentenced Tuesday for his role in a perjury scheme in a 2005 cocaine trafficking trial. Robert McArthur was sentenced to 90 days in jail for misdemeanor willful neglect of duty. He could have faced up to life in prison on felony perjury charges, but accepted a plea bargain that includes his testifying next month against one of his co-defendants, retired Wayne County Judge Mary Waterstone. McArthur, Waterstone, another Inkster police officer, and Wayne County's former top drug prosecutor were all charged with perjury for letting a paid police informant testify without revealing that he was a key participant in the operation. Former prosecutor Karen Plants and former Inskter Police Sgt. Scott Rechtzigel have also take plea deals in the case and received short jail sentences. Waterstone has turned down all plea offers and faces trail June 7.

Ohio Billionaire Seeks Medical Marijuana Vote

Cleveland-based billionaire Peter Lewis, the chairman of Progressive Insurance, wants Ohioans to vote on becoming a medical marijuana state. Through his attorney, he has put out a request for proposals for an Ohio medical marijuana initiative that will "create a model for future campaigns in other states."

Could Ohio be next? Peter Lewis would like to make it happen. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Lewis has given millions of dollars to drug reform campaigns across the country, including $900,000 last year to the Marijuana Policy Project and another $200,000 for Proposition 19 in California. Now, his drug reform funding is channeled through his attorney, Graham Boyd of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project.

Ohio "stands out as having particularly high levels of voter support," the request said. It seeks proposals that include drafting ballot language, qualifying for the ballot, building a campaign organization, communicating with voters, and raising money -- although it is probably safe to assume Lewis would kick in a substantial sum himself.

But it's not a done deal yet. "You shouldn't take it as a given that there will be a ballot initiative this campaign," said Boyd told Forbes on Tuesday. "But we want to see proposals."

Lewis's interest in marijuana reform is personal. He was arrested for pot and hash possession in New Zealand in 2000, but got the charges dropped by making a generous donation to a local drug treatment center.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, but only one of them, Michigan, is in the Midwest. In Michigan, it won through a voter initiative; if someone is on the ball in the Buckeye State, Ohio could be next.

Cleveland, OH
United States

New Zealand Commission Urges Drug Law Reform

The New Zealand Law Commission Monday urged a broad overhaul of the island nation's drug laws to bring them into the 21st Century. The call came as the commission unveiled its review of the country's drug laws in a report, Controlling and Regulating Drugs: A Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

Will Auckland become more like Oakland? It will if the Law Commission has its way. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The Law Commission is an independent, but government-funded, body whose mission is to review areas of law that need developing or reforming and to make recommendations to parliament. It was asked by the then Labor government in 2007 to review the drug laws.

The commission called for steps toward legalizing medical marijuana, decriminalizing drug possession and small-time drug dealing, and doing away with drug paraphernalia laws. In response to the arrival of new synthetic drugs, it called for the reversal of current policy, which allows them until they are proven dangerous, and its replacement with a policy that bans them until they are proven safe.

The review calls for clinical trials on medical marijuana "as soon as practicable" and said medical marijuana patients should not be arrested in the meantime. "Given the strong belief of those who already use cannabis for medicinal purposes that it is an effective form of pain relief with fewer harmful side effects than other legally available drugs, we think that the proper moral position is to promote clinical trials as soon as practicable. We recommend that the government consider doing this."

People caught with drugs for personal use should be "cautioned" instead of arrested, the report said. "We recommend that a presumption against imprisonment should apply whenever the circumstances indicate that a drug offense was committed in a personal use context," the review said.

There should also be a statutory presumption against imprisonment for small-time drug dealing, the review said. ''We consider that the supply by drug users of small amounts of drugs with no significant element of commerciality ("social dealing") is entirely different from commercial dealing.''

Get rid of drug paraphernalia laws, the review said. ''We are not aware of any evidence that existence of the offense itself deters drug use."

The report highlights four key recommendations:

  • A mandatory cautioning scheme for all personal possession and use offences that come to the attention of the police, removing minor drug offenders from the criminal justice system and providing greater opportunities for those in need of treatment to access it.
  • A full scale review of the current drug classification system which is used to determine restrictiveness of controls and severity of penalties, addressing existing inconsistencies and focusing solely on assessing a drug's risk of harm, including social harm.
  • Making separate funding available for the treatment of offenders through the justice sector to support courts when they impose rehabilitative sentences to address alcohol and drug dependence problems.
  • Consideration of a pilot drug court, allowing the government to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of deferring sentencing of some offenders until they had undergone court-imposed alcohol and/or drug treatment.

"There are adverse social consequences from a distinctly punitive approach to lower level offending," Law Commission head Grant Hammond told the New Zealand Herald. "Quite large numbers of young New Zealanders receive criminal convictions -- which might subsist for life -- as a result of minor drug offenses. This is a disproportionate response to the harm those offenses cause. More can be done through the criminal justice system to achieve better outcomes for those individuals and for society at large."

The review won plaudits from Green Party leader Metiria Turei. "Current drug law is 35 years out-of-date and is hurting our families," she said. "Too many resources are directed into criminalizing people rather than providing them with the medical help they most need. The Law Commission's report recognizes this and seeks to redress it by adopting a harm reduction approach for dealing with personal drug use by adults. This new approach, if adopted, will actually save money enabling greater resources to be directed into health services for breaking the cycle of drug abuse and addiction. It will also free police to tackle more serious crime."

But Bob McCoskrie, director of the tough-on-drugs group Family First found little to like in the review. "A weak-kneed approach to drug use will simply send all the wrong messages that small amounts of drug use or dealing aren't that big a deal -- the completely wrong message, especially for younger people," he warned. "A cautioning scheme will simply be held in contempt by users, and fails to acknowledge the harm done by drug use which is undetected. The report is correct to call for better treatment facilities for addiction and mental illness, but a zero-tolerance approach to the use of drugs combined with treatment options is a far better solution."

A spokesman for the governing center-right National Party said the government welcomed the report, but needed time to study it.

Auckland
New Zealand

Wisconsin Marijuana and Free Speech Activist Ben Masel Has Died

Wisconsin free speech and pot legalization activist Ben Masel died in a Madison hospice Saturday of complications from a months-long struggle with lung cancer. He was 56 years old.

Born in the Bronx and raised in New Jersey, Masel moved to Madison in 1971 and became a fixture of the counter-culture scene in the decades since then. Masel was the director of the Wisconsin state NORML chapter in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and served as state NORML vice-president for the past decade.

He had hoped to attend the national NORML conference in Denver last month for one last hurrah, but complications from his cancer treatments left him too ill to attend. Instead, NORML honored him with a marijuana legalization lifetime achievement award that was accepted by Wisconsin NORML members in attendance.



A hard-core civil libertarian, Masel repeatedly challenged state and local officials who sought to shut him up -- and won repeated free speech cases, with resulting cash settlements, in state and federal courts. He frequently joked that that was a great way to make a living -- as long as you could wait indefinitely to get paid.


Masel also made repeated forays into electoral politics, running in 1990 as a Republican primary challenger to Gov. Tommy Thompson on a hemp legalization platform, and two years later gaining 7,000 votes as the Democratic candidate for Dane County sheriff. In that campaign, he said he would "fight real crime: end the drug war." In 2006, he challenged Sen. Herb Kohl in the Democratic primary and picked up 15% of the vote against the popular incumbent.

Although he was diagnosed with cancer in January and was in the midst of treatments, Masel was energized by the mass protests in Madison in March and managed to get to the capitol to participate. One of the last activist images of Masel is him holding up a sign in a capitol corridor announcing an "Emergency Test of the Free Speech Network."

Ben was always a fixture at national marijuana policy conferences. We spent many a smoke-break outside together, comparing notes and plotting strategies. I will miss him as a friend and colleague, but the movement is now missing one of its champions.

- Phillip Smith

Madison, WI
United States

Undercover Narc Kills Drug Suspect in Shootout

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

A 22-year-old Florida man was killed and one of his companions and an undercover police officer were wounded in a drug deal gone bad in Putnam County Wednesday. Rodrigo Espinoza of Pomona Park becomes the 23rd person killed in domestic drug law operations so far this year.


According to police accounts, two undercover police officers had arranged to buy cocaine and weapons from Espinoza and two other men. When the police arrived at the isolated meeting place demanded by the trio, the officers exited their car.

"Almost immediately when these three arrived they produced handguns and gunfire was exchanged," said Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesman Keith Kameg. "As far as the motive, we're looking into numerous possibilities about what they were doing."

One of the undercover officers, St. Augustine Beach detective David Tiller, was shot in the leg during the confrontation and was recovering at a DeLand hospital. The other, who was described only as a US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms agent, was uninjured.

One of Espinoza's crew, 19-year-old Avery Corbitt, was shot and wounded in the neck and was hospitalized. He is charged with trafficking cocaine, although no cocaine was found at the scene. The other member of the trio, Espinoza's 17-year-old brother Emmanuel, fled the scene but was captured hours later. He is charged with aggravated assault and cocaine trafficking.

The undercover agents were working on temporary assignment to the Tri-County Drug Task Force, which is composed of officers from Putnam, St. Johns and Flagler counties and federal agencies under the supervision of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Pomona Park, FL
United States

Washington Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire Friday vetoed large parts of a medical marijuana bill that would have created a state-wide patient and provider registry and a state-licensed and regulated dispensary system, citing the potential threat to state workers who could be prosecuted under federal law. Gregoire's partial veto eliminated the dispensary and registry provisions, leaving little left of Senate Bill 4073 but a reiteration of existing affirmative defenses for patients and providers.

Gregoire chooses militarization over regulation
In her veto statement, Gov. Gregoire said that the dispensary licensing and regulation provisions "would direct employees of the state departments of Health and Agriculture to authorize and license commercial businesses that produce, process or dispense cannabis. These sections would open public employees to federal prosecution, and the United States Attorneys have made it clear that state law would not provide these individuals safe harbor from federal prosecution. No state employee should be required to violate federal criminal law in order to fulfill duties under state law. For these reasons, I have vetoed" the relevant sections.

She also vetoed language that would require owners of housing to allow medical marijuana use on their property because it "put them in potential conflict with federal law." And she vetoed reciprocity language allowing nonresidents to use while in Washington because it "would not require these other state or territorial laws to meet the same standards for health care professional authorization required by Washington law."

Gregoire's veto pen also killed language that would have allowed people on probation or parole to use medical marijuana with a court's approval. "The correction agency or department responsible for the person's supervision is in the best position to evaluate an individual's circumstances and medical use of cannabis," she explained.

Gregoire said she vetoed the statewide patient and provider registration provisions because "they are intertwined with requirements for registration of licensed commercial producers, possessors, and dispensers of cannabis" and would thus leave state employees still facing the threat of federal prosecution.

"I am not vetoing Sections 402 or 406, which establish affirmative defenses for a qualifying patient or designated provider who is not registered with the registry," which she vetoed. That and provisions allowing for scientific study of medical marijuana, protecting the parental rights of patients, and barring discrimination in housing or organ transplants are about all that's left of what was supposed to be Washington's dispensary bill.

Gregoire signaled in mid-month that she was leery of federal prosecution of state employees, citing letters from the state's two US attorneys warning that state employees who licensed or regulated large-scale commercial marijuana operations would not be immune from prosecution under the Controlled Substances Act.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) said she was disappointed but not surprised by Gregoire's action. "I think the potential for federal arrest and prosecution of state employees is extremely improbable," Kohl-Welles told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer after the governor's partial veto. "I think that the patients are the most important consideration."

Kohl-Welles said she was working on a new bill for the legislature's current special session, one that would not involve state employees. "Gregoire does not want to have state workers included at all," Kohl-Welles said. "We have to find out what can be done without their involvement."

The ACLU of Washington sent Gregoire a letter Thursday urging her to sign the bill unaltered and suggesting her fear for state employees was unwarranted. "The federal government has never prosecuted state employees involved in implementing a state-adopted medical marijuana law, and it will not do so in Washington," the letter said. "Empty threats by the federal government should not be used as justifîcation for refusing to sign legislation that will aid suffering residents, as well as local governments, of Washington."

But that's just what Gov. Gregoire did with the veto pen last Friday.

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