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Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative Makes Ballot

An initiative that would let Montana voters undo legislative changes that gutted the state's medical marijuana law will be on the ballot in November 2012. According to the Montana Secretary of State, organizers for I-124 have collected enough signatures to make the ballot.

medical cannabis with vaporizer (wikimedia.org)
The initiative needed 24,337 valid voter signatures to make the ballot; it handed in 26,778 valid signatures. It needed to obtain the signatures of at least 5% of registered voters in at least 34 of the state's 100 legislative districts; it qualified in 49.

The initiative campaign is in response to the Republican-controlled state legislature, which first passed a bill to completely repeal the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law, and then, after it was vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D), passed another bill, Senate Bill 423, essentially killing the state's medical marijuana distribution system. That bill was challenged in court, and parts of it were enjoined, but other onerous portions of it remain in effect.

That will be the case until and unless Montanans vote for the initiative next November. Organizers could have attempted to repeal the law outright through the initiative process, but that would have required three times the number of signatures needed to get this measure on the ballot, and that was beyond the reach of the ill-funded, nearly all-volunteer effort.

See our feature story last week for more on the Montana campaign to repeal SB 423.

Helena, MT
United States

No Evidence Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Cause Crime, RAND Study Finds

Opponents of medical marijuana dispensaries have long argued that they are magnets for criminality, but a study released last week by the RAND Corporation does not support that contention. The RAND study found that crime rates rose in surrounding neighborhoods when dispensaries were shut down when compared to areas where dispensaries were allowed to stay open.

Neighborhoods are safer where dispensaries are open, a RAND study finds. (image via wikimedia.org)
The study examined neighborhoods in Los Angeles for 10 days before and 10 days after more than 70% of the 638 dispensaries in the city were shut down on June 7, 2010. Researchers found that incidents such as break-ins rose in neighborhoods where dispensaries were shut down.

In the immediate blocks surrounding closed dispensaries, crime increased 60% more than in the blocks surrounding dispensaries that were allowed to stay open. Those effects in the immediate vicinity were not apparent across a wider area.

"If medical marijuana dispensaries are causing crime, then there should be a drop in crime when they close," said Mireille Jacobson, the study's lead author and a senior economist at RAND. "Individual dispensaries may attract crime or create a neighborhood nuisance, but we found no evidence that medical marijuana dispensaries in general cause crime to rise."

The expansion of medical marijuana dispensaries in states such as California and Colorado have given rise to oft-voiced concerns by law enforcement and some neighborhood activists that the outlets are a public nuisance that create crime, but such concerns have not previously been subject to rigorous evaluation. The RAND study is the first systematic analysis of the link between medical marijuana dispensaries and crime.

Researchers suggested that the crime increase near closed dispensaries could be caused by factors such as the loss of foot traffic, the loss of on-site security provided by dispensaries, an increase in outdoor drug activity, or changes in police practices, such as fewer nearby patrols.

RAND said that because of the limited data and the short period of time in its study, the study's results should be viewed as preliminary, but that they could inform policy makers' decision-making process.

UCLA researcher Bridget Freisthler, who is studying crime around dispensaries in Sacramento, criticized the RAND study as "deeply flawed" for precisely the reasons RAND noted above. Still, Freisthler's own research results so far tend to dove-tail with the RAND findings. Last year, she examined 31 Sacramento dispensaries and found that those with security cameras, guards, and signs announcing that buyers needed cards had lower crime rates in the immediate vicinity than those that didn't.

But it is too simple even from her own research to just say "pot clubs don't cause crime," she said. "I suspect what's going on, although we don't know for sure, is that those areas that already had a strong illegal drug market aren't really seeing a lot of dispensaries because access to marijuana is already easy," she told UCLA's news department. "The dispensaries are finding a market among people who aren't willing to buy on the street. Whether people in charge of the drug markets in dispensary-free areas are actively trying to keep the dispensaries out, I don't know."

 The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was also critical of the RAND findings, citing a small number of high-profile crimes committed against dispensaries. In one incident last year, a dispensary employee was shot to death on the job, and in another, two days later, a dispensary employee was shot to death.

"We question the findings," sheriff's department spokesman Steven Whitmore told NBC Los Angeles. "We don't think they're accurate. We want to know where exactly they're talking about and how they're coming to these conclusions because we’ve had some very dangerous crimes that have happened at these dispensaries."

But he didn't cite any hard data. And the only hard data so far suggests that, law enforcement claims notwithstanding, there is little support for the notion that dispensaries are crime magnets.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

Rhode Island Governor Nixes Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Bowing to pressure from Washington, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) announced last Thursday that he will not allow the state to move forward with a plan to open three long-delayed medical marijuana dispensaries. That leaves thousands of Rhode Island patients to their own devices when it comes to procuring their medicine.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/lincoln-chafee.jpg
Lincoln Chafee
"After much internal and external discussion and research, I have decided that the State of Rhode Island cannot proceed with the licensing and regulation of medical marijuana compassion centers under current law,'' Chafee said in a statement.

The announcement came two days after the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition announced its plans to sue the governor and force him to lift his hold on the compassion centers.

Rhode Island became a medical marijuana state in 2006, when the legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto to pass the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act. But that law did not allow for dispensaries, and in 2009, the legislature passed a law authorizing the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana through three state-registered and -regulated dispensaries.

Despite growing pressure from patients and doctors, movement toward actually implementing the dispensary system was achingly slow. After two years of reviews and public hearings, the state announced in March that it had selected three dispensaries to serve 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.

Now, Chafee has decided that the federal threats are valid.

"Unfortunately, Rhode Island's compassion center law is illegal under paramount federal law," he said in the statement. "And, while the United States Attorney in each district is given some discretion in the local enforcement of federal laws, I have received communications from both the United States Department of Justice and from the United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island that large scale commercial operations such as Rhode Island's compassion centers will be potential targets of 'vigorous' criminal and civil enforcement efforts by the federal government. I cannot implement a state marijuana cultivation and distribution system which is illegal under federal law and which will become a target of federal law enforcement efforts. Federal injunctions, seizures, forfeitures, arrests and prosecutions will only hurt the patients and caregivers that our law was designed to protect."

Chafee added that he remains "committed to improving the existing medical marijuana cultivation and distribution system in Rhode Island" and that he hoped the legislature would address flaws in the system in the upcoming session. "I pledge to work with advocates, patients and members of the General Assembly towards that end."

No state or national groups had officially reacted to Chafee's move by the time this story went to press, but in an email announcing the bad news, the Marijuana Policy Project urged supporters to tell Chafee to "reverse course" and let the program go ahead. Federal threats hadn't stopped other states, the group noted.

"It's been over two years since the General Assembly passed legislation creating compassion centers in Rhode Island," MPP wrote. "In that time, Maine, Vermont, Delaware, Arizona, and New Jersey have all enacted laws allowing for regulated dispensing of medical marijuana. All of these states, with the exception of Arizona, are moving forward with giving patients the humane option of safe access, despite the fact that the laws irk officials in DC."

Providence, RI
United States

Activist Dana Beal Sentenced, Suffers Heart Attack

Iconic activist Dana Beal suffered a heart attack while in a Wisconsin jail awaiting transfer to a state prison to begin serving a 2 ½ prison sentence for marijuana trafficking. According to Celebstoner.com and the Free Dana Beal and Free Ourselves Facebook page, Beal was stricken Tuesday morning, and at last report, he was hospitalized in stable condition under sedation at the Intensive Care Unit at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison.

Beal leading Global Marijuana March in NYC, 1994 (wikimedia.org)
Last week, Beal was sentenced to prison in Wisconsin after pleading guilty to trafficking 180 pounds of pot in a bust that unraveled when his 1997 Chevy van got pulled over for expired tags and no tail light. He also got 2 ½ years of probation to be served after his jail time. He got credit for 267 days already served.

Despite courtroom testimonials from Beal supporters, including "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal and Wisconsin medical marijuana patient Jacki Rickert, Beal got prison time. But it was less than the four years the prosecution asked for and well below the 15 year maximum allowable under Wisconsin law.

Beal was already on probation after being busted with another 100-pound-plus load in Nebraska in 2009. The previous year, the New York City-based activist saw more than $100,000 in cash seized in Illinois, although he avoided any convictions in that case. He also has previous drug convictions in 1971, 1987, 1993 and 2006.

When not fighting his own cases, Beal has built a career as an activist, first with the Yippies in the early 1970s, then as a founding organizer of the Global Marijuana Marches, and in recent years, as a crusader for the addiction-treating powers of ibogaine with his group Cures Not Wars.

Madison, WI
United States

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

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

Thursday, September 22

In Veracruz, the Mexican navy announced that 11 bodies were discovered in several parts of the city. Additionally, police assaulted three journalists outside a morgue and ordered them to delete photos that they had taken.

In Sinaloa, gunmen shot and killed the nephew of former Juarez Cartel boss Amado Carrillo Fuentes, "the Lord of the Skies." Francisco Vicente Castillo Carrillo, 18, was traveling along a highway when he was intercepted by gunmen wielding AK-47's, causing him to lose control of his vehicle, which caught on fire.

Saturday, September 24

On several Mexican websites, a group of armed paramilitaries posted a message in which they vow to eliminate the Zetas Organization. The men, all dressed in black, claim to be the "armed wing of the people" and offer apologies to the public and the Mexican government, and condemn corrupt civil servants in various Veracruz municipalities. A similar video was recently issued by a Sinaloa Cartel allied organization called the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion, which is challenging the Zetas for control of the Veracruz region.

Sunday, September 25

In Ciudad Juarez, at least eleven people were murdered in several incidents in the city. Among the dead was the chief of an important municipal police station in Babicora who was gunned down as he walked to his car at the end of his shift.

Monday, September 26

In Mexico City, the Defense Secretariat announced that 22 suspected cartel members were killed and three soldiers wounded during a 15-day sweep in the states of Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Coahuila and San Luis Potosi. Operation Scorpion, which began on September 10, resulted in 13 engagements and the rescue of 14 kidnap victims. The operation also netted 118 handguns, 459 rifles, 84 grenades, 272 vehicles, and significant quantities of cash and narcotics.

In July, a similar operation, "Northern Lynx," led to the arrest of nearly 200 suspects and the death of another 30, most thought to have been members of the Zetas.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least three people were killed, including a woman who was kidnapped and later found with her throat slit. One of the other victims was discovered with his hands and feet bound and executed.

Tuesday, September 27

In Acapulco, five decomposing heads were found outside an elementary school. The heads were placed in a white bag atop a wooden box, in full view of students and faculty.

In Tamaulipas, heavy fighting was reported in several cities. In Matamoros, prolonged firefights took place in several locations, in some instances lasting over half an hour. The initial gun battle broke out between rival cartels, but Mexican authorities arrived shortly after, leading to a three-way fight. Fighting later spread to other areas of the city as gunmen set up road blocks to interfere with the army's movements. The International Bridge to the US was temporarily closed.

In the Rio Bravo area, several incidents were reported, including grenade attacks on a movie theater and a state police building.

In Reynosa, three different grenade attacks were reported which resulted in no casualties. Grenade attacks were also reported on a Federal Electric Commission warehouse in Ciudad Victoria.

On a highway near McAllen, Texas, a 32-year old Mexican national was shot and killed along with a 22-year old passenger. Authorities have said that the driver, Jorge Zavala, has ties to the Gulf Cartel in Reynosa and Matamoros, leading to speculation that he was killed because of an internal power struggle within the cartel.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least four people were murdered. Among the dead were two men who were snatched by heavily armed gunmen from a residence earlier in the day. Both were found shot dead and showing signs of torture.

Editor's Note: We can no longer accurately enumerate the number of deaths in the Mexican drug wars this year. The Mexico City newspaper El Universal had been running a tally on which we relied, but it stopped. Our estimate for this year's death toll is just that -- an estimate.]

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

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

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

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

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 7,400

Mexico

Santorum Attacks Perry on Medical Marijuana

With the contest for the Republican presidential nomination now in full swing, the candidates are looking for any issue on which to attack their competitors. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum thinks that in medical marijuana he has found an issue with which to lay into arguable front-runner Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Santorum is attacking Perry for the latter's states' rights approach to medical marijuana, a stance the Texas governor articulated in his book Fed Up! and which his spokesman reaffirmed this week to the Washington Post. In Fed Up!, Perry wrote that while he opposed marijuana legalization, he supported the right of states like California to legalize it themselves.

"When the federal government oversteps its authority, states should tell Washington they will not be complicit in enforcing laws with which they do not agree," he wrote. "Again, the best example is an issue I don't even agree with -- the partial legalization of marijuana. Californians clearly want some level of legalized marijuana, be it for medicinal use or otherwise. The federal government is telling them they cannot. But states are not bound to enforce federal law, and the federal government cannot commandeer state resources and require them to enforce it."

That wasn't the only reference to marijuana and state rights in the book. "If you don't support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don't come to Texas," Perry wrote. "If you don't like medicinal marijuana and gay marriage, don't move to California."

Queried this week by the Post about the passages, Perry spokesman Mark Miner reaffirmed Perry's position. "While the governor is personally opposed to legalizing the use of medical marijuana, if states want to allow doctor prescribed medical marijuana, it seems to him that under the 10th Amendment, they have the right to do so."

That was something Santorum, who is struggling to break into the front ranks, thought he could sink his teeth into. "Gov. Perry was quite clear too in his recently published book, that the definition of marriage should be left up to 50 different state interpretations," a Santorum spokesman told the Post. "It's certainly Gov. Perry right to believe marriage can be redefined at the state level, that marijuana can be legalized and that tax dollars should be used to give illegal aliens special college tuition rates, but that's completely out of touch with what most Americans believe."

But on medical marijuana, at least, it is Santorum who is out of touch. National polls on medical marijuana in the past decade show support levels of above 60% in every poll, and up into the 80% zone in some polls.

Two other Republican contenders, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, support drug policy reform including medical marijuana.

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

Washington, DC
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Nine more dirty cops this week. Of four incidents, two were on the border. Let's get to it:

In Romulus, Michigan, the former Romulus police chief and five other former officers were arrested Monday on charges they stole thousands of dollars from the department's drug forfeiture accounts. Former Chief Mike St. Andre, his wife, and the five former officers had been under investigation in a probe stretching back three years. St. Andre's homes in Romulus and Garden City were raided earlier this year, and the chief resigned just two weeks ago. No word yet on the formal charges, but the chief and his wife are now free on bond.

In Tucson, Arizona, a US Customs and Border Protection officer was indicted Monday on charges he knowingly let 547 kilograms of marijuana pass through his inspection lane at the Douglas crossing. Officer Luis Carlos Vasquez, 32, was charged along with five other people with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, conspiracy to import marijuana and importation of marijuana. Vasquez is out on a $100,000 personal appearance bond. He is looking at up to 40 years on each count, with a mandatory minimum of five years. The bust was conducted by an FBI border corruption task force, with help from the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility and the Douglas Police.

In Brownsville, Texas, a former federal probation officer was sentenced Monday to 14 years in prison after copping to drug trafficking and bribery charges. Armando Mora had worked as a probation officer in Rio Grande City and admitted accepting bribes from members of a drug trafficking organization in exchange for sensitive, confidential information from government records. The cartels used that information to do background checks on people they were thinking about hiring as drivers.

In Boston, a former Massachusetts jail guard was sentenced Tuesday to 2 ½ years in prison for his role in a plot to smuggle heroin to inmates at a middle-security prison near Boston. Ronald McGinn Jr., 40, had sent text messages to an undercover FBI agent about the amounts he would smuggle and fees he would charge and was arrested in April while in possession of 29 grams of heroin.  McGinn went down after another jail guard snitched him out.

Miami Man Drowns Fleeing Drug Bust

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

Margate Canal, Miami (wikimedia.org)
A Miami man drowned Saturday night attempting to flee a drug bust. Winston Gaskin, 23, becomes the 38th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to NBC-TV Miami, citing police sources, police responded to a call about narcotics activity at a convenience store on Northwest 19th Street. When an officer engaged attempted to engage Gaskin at the scene, he took off running and jumped into a canal. He only made it about half way across before he began struggling, then went under.

"The suspect swam for a little bit," before encountering trouble, said police spokeswoman Constance Stanley. "At that time, officers called paramedics and they assisted in pulling him out of the canal, performing CPR until paramedics arrived."

Gaskin was transported to Florida Medical Center in critical condition and was pronounced dead shortly before midnight.

"The police later found out that Mr. Gaskin did have an arrest warrant out for cocaine possession," Stanley said, "so that could be the reason that he fled."

Miami, FL
United States

NYPD Ordered to Stop Marijuana Possession Arrests

New York City may soon shed its infamous reputation as the pot bust capital of the world. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued an internal order on September 19 to the NYPD telling officers they can no longer arrest people for marijuana possession in public view if the marijuana was not in public view before officers either searched the person and produced it or the person produced it after an officer's demand that he empty his pockets.

NYC City Hall
Although New York state has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the NYPD has made a practice of stopping people -- mainly young people of color -- on the streets, searching them or demanding they empty their pockets, then charging them with possession in public view. Unlike simple pot possession, which is only a ticketable offense, possession in public view is an arrestable offense that typically results in a day-long stay in jail before the defendant can appear before a judge.

New York City and the NYPD have come under increasingly heat over the practice, which has resulted in tens of thousands of marijuana in public view arrests each year in recent years. The policy began under the administration of then Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but has continued under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who famously admitted having smoked pot and enjoying it.

Both city council members and state representatives have recently taken up the call to end the practice. A bipartisan bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view was recently introduced in Albany.

"Questions have been raised about the processing of certain marihuana arrests," Kelly wrote in the internal order delivered to commanders this week. "At issue is whether the circumstances under which uniformed members of the service recover small amounts of marihuana ... from subjects in a public place support the charge of Criminal Possession of Marihuana in the Fifth Degree.

"The specific circumstances in question include occasions when the officers recover marihuana pursuant to a search of subject's person or upon direction to the subject to surrender the contents of his/her pockets or other closed container. A crime will not be charged to an individual who is compelled to engage in the behavior that results in the public display of marijuana. Such circumstances may constitute a violation of [the decriminalization statute], not [the possession in public view statute], a Class B misdemeanor.

"To support a charge [under the possession in public view statute], the public display of marijuana must be an activity taken under the suspect's own volition. Thus, uniformed members of the service may not charge the individual with [violation of the possession in public view statute], if the marihuana recovered was displayed to the public view at the officer's discretion."

So will New York City marijuana arrest numbers now plummet?

New York City, NY
United States

Marijuana Legalization Trails in New California Poll

Even as a trio of proposed California marijuana legalization initiatives are getting underway in an effort to make the November 2012 ballot, a poll released last Thursday suggests they could face an uphill battle. The Public Policy Institute of California poll had 51% opposing pot legalization, with 46% in favor.

In the survey, only the San Francisco region favored legalization, while a majority of Southern California and Central Valley residents opposed it. Not surprisingly, liberals and Democrats were more supportive of legalization than conservatives and Republicans.

In 2010, when Proposition 19 was on the ballot, it led in polls throughout the run-up to the election, sometimes achieving more than 50% approval, before the poll numbers tightened and then reversed in the final weeks of the campaign. Prop 19 lost with 46% of the vote, the same number the generic marijuana legalization question is garnering now.

The common wisdom among initiative and referendum experts is that an initiative should be polling at 60% favorable or above at the beginning of the campaign because support will inevitably drop as Election Day draws near, more people start paying more attention, undecideds are forced to decide, and opponents start attacking.

The man behind Prop 19, Oaksterdam medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, said earlier this month that his group's effort to return to the ballot in 2012 is "pretty much dead, the funders didn't come through."

The funders haven't been coming through for the other proposed initiatives, either, according to the California Secretary of State's office. It reports no significant donations so far for Lee's Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, the Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act of 2012 initiative sponsored by a pair of North Bay attorneys and Northern California activists, the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative championed by Libertarian and marijuana activist Steve Kubby and retired Judge Jim Gray, and the (reduce) Marijuana Penalties Act of 2012 initiative, being pushed by long-time Southern California political operative Bill Zimmerman.

If any of these proposed initiatives are going to attract the serious funding necessary to gather signatures to make the ballot and then pay for an ad campaign as the election draws near, there is going to have to be some evidence of a shift in these numbers. And it will have to happen soon, as the cost of gathering the substantial number of signatures needed to get an initiative to the ballot in California escalates as the time remaining to do so counts down.

CA
United States

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