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Public Opinion: Poll Finds Support for Marijuana Legalization Still Rising, Medical Marijuana Overwhelming

A new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has found that nearly three out of four Americans (73%) support legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana, while fewer than one out of four (23%) oppose it. Support is broad and solid, spanning all major political and demographic groups, and is equally high in states that do and do not already have medical marijuana laws.

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The poll comes with 14 states and the District of Colombia, representing about one-fourth of the US population, already having approved medical marijuana. Several other states, including New York, South Dakota, and Wisconsin could join the list this year, and medical marijuana has been an active issue in another dozen or so state legislatures this year.

The poll identified concerns about medical marijuana. Nearly half (45%) of respondents said they would be "somewhat concerned" or "very concerned" if a medical marijuana dispensary opened in a local retail district, and about the same number (46%) said that allowing medical marijuana made it easier for people to obtain marijuana even if they didn't have a legitimate need. But only 26% said that bothered them. Not surprisingly, opponents of medical marijuana legalization were most likely to cite such concerns.

When it comes to general marijuana legalization, support is much lower than for medical marijuana and is still a minority position. The Pew poll found that 41% or respondents supported legalization, while 52% opposed it. The good news is that figure is the highest since Pew started polling on the question in 1969 and it continues a steady upward climb in the past two decades.

After support for legalization peaked at 30% in 1978, then bottomed out at 16% in 1990, support grew steadily, surpassing the 1978 level in 2000 (31%), and reaching 38% in 2008. It has grown by three percentage points in the last two years. The Pew numbers are similar to a Gallup Survey conducted last October that showed 44% support for legalization.

Unfortunately, the Pew poll does not contain a regional breakdown of support. In California, an initiative has already made the ballot; in Oregon and Washington initiatives are still in the signature-gathering stage.

The polling reveals significant demographic divides. A majority of under-30s (58%) support legalization, while support declining steadily with age. For those 30 to 49, support was at 42%, for 50 to 64, 40%, and for those 65 and older, support dropped dramatically to 22%.

There are differences between the sexes. Men are almost evenly divided on the question (45% yes, 47% no), while 57% of women oppose legalization.

An even higher percentage of Republicans (71%) oppose legalization, while Democrats are evenly divided, and liberal Democrats show majority support (57%) for legalization. Among independents, 49% support legalization. Among both Democrats and independents, support has increased dramatically in the past decade. Ten years ago, only 29% of Democrats and 35% of independents supported legalization.

The poll found that 40% of respondents had tried marijuana, and that people who had tried marijuana were much more likely (64%) to support legalization, than those who had not (25%).

Bottom line: We're not quite there yet nationally, but the trend line points to national majority support for general marijuana legalization within a decade.

Legalization: Drug Czar Avoids Answering Question on Fed Response to California Initiative

Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Gil Kerlikowske declined to directly answer a question about how the federal government would respond if California voters passed the Tax, Regulate and Control Cannabis Act, the marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Oaksterdam entrepreneur Richard Lee. Kerlikowske's no comment came in a Thursday webcast on ABC News' Top Line program.

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Gil Kerlikowske in his Seattle days
Kerlikowske said he wouldn't speculate on how the Obama administration would respond to a legalization victory in November. "Since it hasn't passed -- right now it would be improper to speculate on what the federal government's role is," he said.

The Obama administration has made it clear it would respect the rights of medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal, but it is not at all clear that it would respond in the same way to legalization for personal use.

When prodded, Kerlikowske said the federal government could respond in a variety of ways, including filing lawsuits to litigate differences between state and federal drug laws. "You can envision a lot of different things," he said.

Let's hope that come November, the question is no longer hypothetical and the administration will be forced to grapple with the question of how to deal with Californians having voted to free the weed. Then things could get really interesting.

Law Enforcement: New York City to Pay Out $33 Million for Unlawful Strip Searches

For the third time in the past nine years, New York City has been forced to pay big bucks for subjecting nonviolent prisoners -- including minor marijuana offenders -- to illegal strip searches. In a settlement announced Monday, the city announced it had agreed to pay $33 million to end the most recent lawsuit stemming from the searches.

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The settlement applies to roughly 100,000 people who were strip-searched after being charged with misdemeanors and taken to Rikers Island or other city jails. These were people who were arrested and strip-searched between 1999 and 2007.

In 2001, under the Giuliani administration, the city settled a similar lawsuit on behalf of 40,000 people strip-searched prior to arraignment for $40 million. In 2005, the city agreed to pay millions of dollars more to settle a lawsuit on behalf of thousands of people illegally strip-searched at Rikers and other city jails between 1999 and 2002.

The most recent settlement came from a lawsuit filed in 2005 by a local law firm. In 2007, the city acknowledged wrongdoing and agreed to hire monitors to ensure that the practice was stopped. But the settlement includes at least 19 people who had been illegally strip-searched after 2007.

Richard Emery, law lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the New York Times it had been settled law since 1986 that it was unconstitutional to require people accused of minor crimes to submit to strip searches. "The city knew this was illegal in 1986, they said it was illegal and they stopped in 2002, and they continued to pursue this illegal practice without justification," he said. "We hope the settlement constitutes some semblance of justice."

It is expected that about 15% of those illegally strip searched, or 15,000 people, will file claims seeking damages. If that's the case, each plaintiff who files would collect about $2,000, although at least two women subjected to involuntary gynecological exams will receive $20,000. The law firm will get $3 million for its efforts.

Emery said many of those strip-searched had been charged with misdemeanors like shoplifting, trespassing, jumping subway turnstiles, or failure to pay child support. Others were small-time marijuana offenders. Under New York law, pot possession is decriminalized, but the NYPD has a common practice of ordering people to empty their pockets -- which you are not required to do -- and then charging them with public possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor.

David Sanchez, 39, of the Bronx, was one of the people strip-searched after a minor pot bust. He said he was searched twice by officers after being arrested in a stop and frisk outside a friend's apartment, but after he was arraigned and taken to Rikers Island, jail guards demanded he submit to a strip-search.

"I was put into a cage and told to take off my clothes," he said Monday, describing how he had to squat and spread his buttocks. "It was horrifying, being a grown man. I was humiliated."

"I don't know why it was done," Emery said, "but it seems like it was a punishment, a way of showing the inmates who is in charge."

And now the good burghers of New York City will pay yet again for the misdeeds of their public servants. Will the third time be the charm? Check back in a few years.

Medical Marijuana: New Jersey MS Patient Gets Five Years for Growing His Medicine

New Jersey Multiple Sclerosis patient John Ray Wilson was sentenced last Friday to five years in prison for growing marijuana plants to ease his symptoms. Wilson, whose case we profiled in December, originally faced up to 20 years in prison, but a jury failed to convict him of the most serious charge, maintaining a habitation where marijuana is manufactured. He was convicted of manufacturing marijuana (17 plants) and possession of psychedelic mushrooms.

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courthouse demo supporting John Ray Wilson, 2009
Wilson was convicted in December, before New Jersey recognized medical marijuana. Ironically, it became the 14th state to do so between the time Wilson was convicted and his sentencing. But the new New Jersey law would not have protected Wilson's marijuana growing because it only allows for patients to obtain it at state-monitored dispensaries.

State Superior Court Judge Robert Reed banned any references to Wilson's medical condition during his trial, finding that personal use was not a defense and that New Jersey had no law protecting medical marijuana use. Wilson was ultimately able to make a brief, one-sentence mention of his medical reasons for growing marijuana, but that wasn't enough to sway the jury.

Wilson's attorney, James Wronko, told the Associated Press that the outcome might have been different had the jury been allowed to hear more about his illness. "We're disappointed that he's in state prison for smoking marijuana to treat his multiple sclerosis," Wronko . "I think anytime someone using marijuana for their own medical use goes to state prison, it's clearly a harsh sentence."

Wilson's case became a cause célèbre for regional medical marijuana advocates, and also drew attention from the state legislature. Two state senators, Nicholas Scutari, sponsor of the medical marijuana bill, and Ray Lesniak, called in October for Gov. Jon Corzine (D) to pardon Wilson. But Corzine punted, saying he preferred to wait until after Wilson's trial had finished. Now, Wilson has been sentenced to prison, Corzine's term has ended, and new Republican Gov. Chris Christie is not nearly as medical marijuana-friendly.

Wronko said an appeal of the sentence was in the works.

Canada: Half Support Marijuana Decriminalization, Poll Finds

An EKOS Research Associates poll has found that half of all Canadians support marijuana decriminalization, while only 30% oppose it, with 20% apparently uncertain or without strong views on the matter. That's a 5% increase in support since EKSOS last polled on the issue a decade ago.

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The numbers are lower than those reported in recent Angus Reid polls on marijuana legalization. In those polls, support for legalization was 55% in July 2007, 51% in October 2007, and 53% in May 2008.

A notable aspect of the EKOS poll is the high number of undecideds. While opposition to decriminalization has been declining (down from 37% in 2000), uncertainty has also been increasing, up from 16% in 2000. Optimistically one hopes the new undecideds are former opponents.

Also notable about the EKOS poll is the political context. Canada is six years into Conservative rule, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week released a Youtube video in which he said he rejected marijuana legalization.

In the EKOS poll, the Conservatives were the only party with less than majority support for decriminalization at 39%. Some 63% of left-leaning New Democratic Party voters supported decrim, as did 59% of Green Party members, 58% of the Bloc Quebecois, and 53% of the main opposition party, the Liberals.

Regionally, support for decrim was strongest in British Columbia (54%), Ontario (53%), and Quebec (51%). Support was lowest in the prairie provinces of Alberta (45%) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (45%).

Support for decriminalization was also strong among young people (58% for under-25s), and, while declining with age, was still above 50% for every age group except the over-65s. Among seniors, support declined to only 38%.

Harper and the Conservatives have been pushing a harder line on crime, drug offenses, and marijuana offenses in particular. This poll is only the latest indicator that the Conservative push may not be in line with public opinion.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Atlanta cop gets nailed, a Tarheel State two-fer and the de rigeuer dope-smuggling jail guard make the hall of shame this week. Let's get to it:

In Atlanta, an Atlanta police officer was arrested Wednesday for participating in multiple cocaine sales and protecting what he thought were cocaine deals, but were actually FBI stings. Officer Lucius Solomon, 31, faces seven drug and weapons counts, including conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and possessing a weapon while participating in drug sales. He's facing up to 65 years in prison.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, a former Burgaw police officer was sentenced last Friday to 10 years and one month in federal prison after being convicted in December of conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine. Michael Carl Stevenson, 46, went down after traveling to Richmond County to buy a half kilo of cocaine with a convicted drug dealer and the dealer's uncle. All three were arrested during a controlled buy. Prosecutors said Stevenson had taken three Narco test kits from the department to test the drugs and that he had run the license plate of the other vehicle they met at the buy. Testimony during trial also revealed that Stevenson had stored drugs for the convicted dealer at his home and profited from it.

In Durham, North Carolina, a former Durham police officer pleaded guilty in federal court March 18 to a single weapons charge in a plea agreement that saw a drug distribution charge dropped. Sherrod Peace, 35, copped to possession of a firearm in the furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime in return for the dismissal of a charge of distributing less than five grams of crack cocaine. Peace was indicted in January after Durham police received a complaint in October 2009 and investigated further, with help from the DEA. He was accused of selling crack and carrying a firearm while doing so. He is out on bond until he is sentenced in August.

In Chicago, a Cook County Jail guard was arrested March 16 after being caught going to work with marijuana in his boot and the trunk of his car. Jail guard Kenneth Crawford, 33, went down after drug dogs sniffed out the weed, and allegedly struggled with investigators as they tried to take him into custody. He is now charged with possession of contraband in a penal institution, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, official misconduct, resisting arrest and battery to a police officer.

Feature: California Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization This Year!

Californians will be voting on whether to legalize marijuana in November. The California Secretary of State's office Wednesday certified the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 initiative as having handed in enough valid voters' signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

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Will California take the next step? (photo courtesy wikimedia.org)
The initiative is sponsored by Oaksterdam medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee and would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults and allow for personal grows of up to 25 square feet. It also provides for the taxed and regulated sale of marijuana by local option, meaning counties and municipalities could opt out of legalized marijuana sales.

Some 433,000 valid signatures were required to make the ballot; the initiative campaign had gathered some 690,000. On Tuesday, state officials had certified 415,000 signatures as valid, but that didn't include signatures from Los Angeles County. Initiative supporters there Wednesday handed in more than 140,000 signatures. With an overall signature validity rate of around 80%, that as much as ensured that the measure would make the ballot.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the California Secretary of State's office made it official. Its web page listing Qualified Ballot Measures now includes the marijuana legalization under initiative approved for the November ballot. The 104,000 valid signatures from Los Angeles County put it well over the top.

"This is a watershed moment in the decades-long struggle to end marijuana prohibition in this country," said Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Banning marijuana outright has been a disaster, fueling a massive, increasingly brutal underground economy, wasting billions in scarce law enforcement resources, and making criminals of countless law-abiding citizens. Elected officials haven't stopped these punitive, profligate policies. Now voters can bring the reality check of sensible marijuana regulation to California."

"If passed, this initiative would offer a welcome change to California's miserable status quo marijuana policy," said Aaron Smith, California policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which recently endorsed the initiative. "Our current marijuana laws are failing California. Year after year, prohibition forces police to spend time chasing down nonviolent marijuana offenders while tens of thousands of violent crimes go unsolved -- all while marijuana use and availability remain unchanged."

Proponents of the measure will emphasize the fiscal impact of taxing marijuana -- the state Board of Equalization has estimated that legalization could generate $1.3 billion in tax revenues a year -- as well as the impact that regulation could have on reducing teen access to the weed. They can also point out that by now, California has lived with a form of regulated marijuana distribution -- the medical marijuana dispensary system -- for years and the sky hasn't fallen.

Opponents, which will largely consist of law enforcement lobbying groups, community anti-drug organizations, and elements of the African-American religious community, will argue that marijuana is a dangerous drug, and that crime and drugged driving will increase.

But if opponents want to play the cop card, initiative organizers have some cards of their own. In a press release Wednesday evening, they had several former law enforcement figures lined up in support of taxation and regulation. "As a retired Orange County Judge, I've been on the front lines of the drug war for three decades, and I know from experience that the current approach is simply not working," said retired Superior Court Judge and former prosecutor James P. Gray. "Controlling marijuana with regulations similar to those currently in place for alcohol will put street drug dealers and organized crime out of business."

"The Control and Tax Initiative is a welcome change for law enforcement in California," said Kyle Kazan, a retired Torrance Police officer. "It will allow police to get back to work fighting violent crime."

Jeffrey Studdard, a former Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff, emphasized the significant controls created by the Control and Tax Initiative to safely and responsibly regulate cannabis. "The initiative will toughen penalties for providing marijuana to minors, ban possession at schools, and prohibit public consumption," Studdard said.

But the three leading contenders for the California governorship, which is also up for grabs this year, were quick to stake out positions opposing the initiative. "I've already indicated that that's not a provision I am likely to support," state Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown told a gathering of law enforcement officials in Sacramento Wednesday. "I've been on the side of law enforcement for a long time and you can be sure that we will be together on this November ballot."

Republican candidate Meg Whitman is "absolutely against legalizing marijuana for any reason," said spokeswoman Sarah Pompei. "She believes we have enough challenges in our society without heading down the path of drug legalization," she said.

"Like electing Jerry Brown, the idea of legalizing drugs is one more bad idea from a bygone era," said Jarrod Agen, communications director for GOP candidate Steve Poizner. "Steve Poizner feels we need an across-the-board tax cut to reignite our state's economy, not an attempt to smoke our way out of the budget deficit," he said.

The campaign should be a nail-biter. Legalization polled 56% in an April Field poll, and initiative organizers say their own private research is showing similar results. But the conventional wisdom among initiative watchers is that polling needs to be above 60% at the beginning of the campaign, before attacks on specific aspects of any given initiative begin to erode support. But despite the misgivings of some movement allies, who cringe at the thought of defeat in California, this year's legalization vote is now a reality.

"California led the way on medical marijuana with Prop. 215 in 1996," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Now it's time again for California to lead the way in ending the follies of marijuana prohibition in favor of a responsible policy of tax and regulation."

Commentary: What Not to Do if You Grow Marijuana and Police Visit You

by John Calvin Jones, professor of law, American University in Bosnia and Hercegovina

[Editor's Note: Last week we reviewed Flex Your Rights' new video, "10 Rules for Dealing with Police." Coincidentally, this piece from law professor John Calvin Jones came in over the transom at the same time. Like Flex Your Rights, Jones, too, is attempting to educate Americans about how to effectively exercise their constitutional rights -- and what can happen to you when you fail to do so. Jones' rules are a little different from Flex Your Rights' "10 Rules," but both are saying essentially the same thing. Here we present Jones' analysis of the case of one New Jersey man and what happened to him when he failed to exercise his rights.]

The latest case of a naïve marijuana grower comes out of New Jersey, where, on March 15, an appellate court affirmed a ruling from 2007 which denied a motion to suppress evidence: a seizure of a lot of weed from the house of one Brian McGacken. Recent headlines on Slate and other web sites emphasized why the police arrived at McGacken's house in the first place -- apparently he and his girlfriend were loud while having sex -- so loud that police received an "anonymous 911 call." Having the police come to your home because of loud sex could lead to amusing anecdotes down the years, but it is doubtful McGacken is finding anything to laugh about.

Instead, we have a scenario where police enter the house, follow McGacken upstairs (without being invited), smell pot, then start asking questions, and well, we know the rest. Before reviewing the legal arguments and ultimate ruling of two New Jersey Appellate Division judges (Lihotz and Ashrafi) in New Jersey v. McGacken, let me start with the errors of Brian McGacken.

According to the opinion, as admitted by McGacken, when police arrived at his place to investigate the 911 call, McGacken invited the police into the foyer. Rule #1: If you are growing any plants, much less have any weed in your domicile, do not invite the police inside. Then, after McGacken explained that any reports of screaming were accurate -- as then confirmed by his sex partner, police asked McGacken for ID. Rule #2: If you are growing weed in your house, speak to the police as little as possible. And since the Supreme Court ruling in Hiibel v. Nevada, 542 U.S. 177 (2004), unless you live in one of 20 states that have a law requiring you to identify yourself, which NJ does not, then you do not need to say anything to the police. That is, it is not a crime to refuse to answer or ID yourself -- even the Appellate Court in McGacken's case noted that. Regardless, if you do live in one of those self-ID states, just give your full name -- do not lie -- and then say nothing more.

By the way, the Supreme Court qualified the issue of ID laws in Hiibel, noting that one must identify only when police say that they have reason to believe that a person is suspected of committing a crime. If you ask the police if you are suspected of a crime, and they say no, as was the case with McGacken, not only are you not required to show ID, but you should then apply Rule #3: Always ask the police, "Am I free to leave?" If they say "no," but are still in your house -- tell them to leave, that you do not consent to their presence or search, and get the phone and tell them that you are calling your lawyer. (The reason you say that you are calling a lawyer is two-fold: first, it puts the cops on notice that they should go harass someone else; and second, while they will tell you that you cannot use the phone, they know that one can always have counsel present while in custody -- so you can surely have advice of counsel when you are not in custody). Of course, you do not have to call any real lawyer, just call your own voicemail and make a recording of the events in a loud voice saying stuff like: "The police are in my house/apartment without a warrant and no probable cause, they are not invited, I have asked them to leave, I do not consent to any search, etc." If after all that, the police still do not leave, just sit there -- and be quiet.

Needless to say, McGacken did not follow rules #2 or #3 either. But, according to the court opinion -- McGacken admitted he went upstairs to get his ID, and was followed by New Jersey State Trooper Thomas Holmes.

According to the opinion, "Trooper Holmes testified that he followed defendant upstairs for two reasons -- to protect his own and his fellow trooper's safety and to make sure there was no other person in the home in need of aid." But did he really?

Earlier in the opinion, the judges wrote that:

"Trooper Thomas Holmes and a fellow trooper responded [to the 911 call]. [Once on the scene, they] heard and saw nothing unusual from outside the residence. They knocked on the door and announced that they were the State Police. Within a reasonable time, defendant opened the door dressed only in a bathrobe. Otherwise, defendant's demeanor and conduct were normal, and he was completely cooperative. When told about the report of screaming, defendant invited the troopers to step inside and explained that the screaming came during loud sex with his girlfriend. The troopers asked to talk to the girlfriend. She came from upstairs wearing only a towel and confirmed defendant's explanation."

If the two occupants of the house said that they are the only two in the house, and the officers believe them, then there is no reason to make sure there is no one else in the house "in need of aid." Further, if the police accept the explanation for the screaming, and the police are ready to end a routine follow-up to an unnecessary 911 call, then there is no reason to suspect that Trooper Holmes or his fellow trooper would be at risk from the sex screamers. But if the police thought that McGacken was lying or acting suspicious, then there might be cause to keep an eye on McGacken. But, according to the ruling, that's not what police thought.

"No evidence suggested [that] the police had any suspicion of criminal activity by defendant or his girlfriend, or [that the police] wished to conduct a search for evidence of crime. Trooper Holmes testified that... nothing that defendant and his girlfriend did or said downstairs raised suspicion of criminal activity."

The police and the court admit that Trooper Holmes lied when he testified there was no suspicion of criminal behavior. He could not have believed the report of the two lovers, but still had cause to look around to see if someone were in need of assistance. And thus, because he did not believe their explanation, Holmes implied that the two were hindering or obstructing an investigation, an arrestable offense.

But as the court recognizes that Holmes declared that he had no suspicions, that means Holmes believed no one else was in the house -- therefore there was no need to go upstairs in the name of what the court references as an exigent circumstance, of the sort where police may enter a house without a warrant so as to preserve life or prevent serious injury. Again, because Trooper Holmes testified that he had no suspicions that McGacken and his girlfriend were lying, he had no basis to justify a warrantless intrusion.

But that's not how the appeals court ruled. The New Jersey judges referred, over and over, to the idea of this type of warrantless search as necessary to save lives -- and not search for evidence of a crime. So, what did Trooper Holmes do and see when reaching the upstairs bedroom with McGacken? First the court says that Holmes smelled marijuana.

What happened next for this Trooper -- who was not searching for evidence of a crime, but merely responding to a perceived exigency to save a life? According to the court:

"Upstairs, Trooper Holmes saw defendant use his foot to push a tray under a couch. [Holmes] asked defendant what was on the tray, and defendant soon admitted that the tray contained marijuana. In defendant's bedroom, the trooper saw, in plain view, a number of growing marijuana plants, as well as bagged and loose marijuana. He placed defendant under arrest."

Thus, two New Jersey Appellate Court judges decided to abandon all pretense of reason. Without comment they claim that Holmes had to go upstairs to find someone to rescue, though he did not suspect anyone was in need of aid.

McGacken's misadventure leads us to yet another rule, Rule #4: When police ask you something, do not answer. Police are not your friends. They use drug arrests -- the easy pickings -- to gain fame (for some reason local press usually lauds these cops) and fortune. All states and the federal governments have seizure laws that allow law enforcement to take cars, houses, bank accounts, and boats on the mere suspicion that you are engaged in drug-related criminal activity. You can even be acquitted or have charges dropped, yet the cops can keep your stuff.

But more importantly, getting back to Rule #4 and anything related to a search of your person, house, car, or stuff, note what the court did not report that Holmes did after seeing McGacken move the tray? The police officer did not go over and grab the tray. Even though the court said that Holmes was within his right to make a warrantless search given the exigent circumstance of trying to save someone in imminent harm -- and not intending to seize evidence or make an arrest, Holmes did not even try.

Because the tray was not in plain view -- it was hidden under the couch -- and Holmes did not have probable cause to search without a warrant, the cop relied on the tried and true method to collect evidence and make an arrest: a confession. That leads to Rule #5: Never consent to a search. Because the tray was not in plain view -- it was hidden under the couch -- and Holmes did not have probable cause to search without a warrant, the cop relied on the tried and true method to collect evidence and make an arrest: a confession! That is why you are not supposed to answer their questions -- just call the lawyer (see Rule #3 above).

Holmes was careful to say that in no way did he look under the couch to see what was on the tray. However, Holmes testified, and the court explained, that the seized marijuana plants were "in plain view" (meaning not in a closed space, drawer, etc.). Even Trooper Holmes knows Rule #6: If it is in plain view, it belongs to the police, not you!

This exercise in legal sophistry and hypocrisy is not to advocate that anyone should violate state or federal laws -- especially drug laws. Instead it should serve to emphasize that every person should know the limits, guidelines, and rules on constitutional provisions about search and seizure. Even in those states that allow licensed grow operations the Obama administration is still making busts. If you want to stay out of prison, or reduce your chances of getting busted, follow the general advice of The Clash and "know your rights."

Europe: Dutch Coffee Shop Owner Fined $10 Million Euros for Having Too Big a Stash

A Dutch court Thursday fined a Terneuzen cannabis coffee shop owner $10 million Euros (more than $13 million US dollars), after convicting him and 15 others, including former employees, of drug trafficking and involvement in a criminal organization because the coffee shop's stash exceeded what is allowed by Dutch law.

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downstairs of a coffee shop (courtesy Wikimedia)
Coffee shop owner Meddy Willemsen took the financial hit after police found more than 440 pounds of marijuana at his Checkpoint coffee shop in raids in 2007 and 2008. Dutch law allows coffee shops to have no more than 500 grams (slightly more than one pound) on hand at any given time.

But Checkpoint, near the Belgian border, was reportedly serving up to 3,000 customers a day at its peak. If each customer bought the allowed five grams, that would add up to 15,000 grams. If Checkpoint were to have complied with Dutch law, it would have had to have had someone bringing it a fresh pound of pot every few minutes.

The case is illustrative of the "backdoor problem," where, while Holland allows for the sale of marijuana at coffee shops, it has not adequately allowed for them to be supplied. As a result, supplying the coffee houses has become part of a $3 billion a year illicit cannabis cultivation industry that is increasingly infested by organized crime elements.

Still, the court said Willemsen got off lucky. He would have had to pay an even larger fine if Middelburg municipal authorities had not turned a blind eye to his activities."Checkpoint could not have expanded as much as it did without collaboration from the municipality of Middelburg," it said. "Also, the police never warned that the coffee shop had to scale down."

The Checkpoint case is being widely viewed as a test case for cracking down on large-scale border coffee shops that cater to a largely foreign clientele. The verdict is undoubtedly sending chills down the spines of other large border town coffee shop owners.

Willemsen better have sold a whole bunch of pot while his shop was open. He certainly has a huge fine to pay now.

Feds: National Drug Intelligence Center Predicts Continued Failure in Drug War

In a report released Thursday, the Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) said that overall, the availability of illegal drugs is increasing and that "the overall threat posed by illicit drugs will not diminish in the near term." The announcement comes after more than four decades of harsh state and federal policies designed to curb the supply of illicit drugs.

The report, the National Drug Threat Assessment 2010, also once again identified Mexico's so-called drug cartels as the "single greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States." It blamed the cartels, or DTOs (drug trafficking organizations), as it more accurately but less catchily refers to them, for much of the increase in illegal drug availability.

The NDIC noted that the prevalence of four out of five of the major drugs of concern -- heroin, marijuana, MDMA (ecstasy), and methamphetamine -- was "widespread and increasing in some areas." Only cocaine availability was down, with NDIC reporting persistent shortages.

Heroin availability was up, and NDIC said that was "partly attributable to increased production in Mexico," where opium production more than doubled between 2007 and 2008. Meth availability was up "as the result of higher production in Mexico," and "sustained" US domestic production. Also, "marijuana production increased in Mexico." Only with MDMA did NDIC point the finger at anyone else -- in this case, Asian DTOs who produce it in Canada.

"Mexican DTOs, already the predominant wholesale suppliers of illicit drugs in the United States, are gaining even greater strength in eastern drug markets where Colombian DTO strength is diminishing," NDIC said as it pronounced them the greatest drug trafficking threat. It included the following bullet points making the case:

  • Mexican DTOs were the only DTOs operating in every region of the country.
  • Mexican DTOs increased their cooperation with US-based street and prison gangs to distribute drugs. In many areas, these gangs were using their alliances with Mexican DTOs to facilitate an expansion of their midlevel and retail drug distribution operations into more rural and suburban areas.
  • In 2009, midlevel and retail drug distribution in the United States was dominated by more than 900,000 criminally active gang members representing approximately 20,000 street gangs in more than 2,500 cities.
  • Mexican DTOs increased the flow of severaldrugs (heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana) into the United States, primarily because they increased production of those drugs in Mexico.
  • Drugs smuggled into the United States by Mexican DTOs usually are transported in private or commercial vehicles; however, Mexican DTOs also use cross-border tunnels, subterranean passageways, and low-flying small or ultra-light aircraft to move drugs from Mexico into the United States.
  • Mexican DTOs smuggled bulk cash drug proceeds totaling tens of billions of dollars from the United States through the Southwest Border and into Mexico. Much of the bulk cash (millions each week) was consolidated by the DTOs in several key areas, including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and North Carolina, where it was prepared for transport to the US-Mexico border and then smuggled into Mexico.
  • According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Mexican DTO members or associates acquire thousands of weapons each year in Arizona, California, and Texas and smuggle them across the border to Mexico.

The report came as a senior US delegation led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returns from Mexico City, where it spent two days in talks with Mexican officials about increasing cooperation in their joint struggle against the drug traffic.

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