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Pat Robertson Talks Marijuana Legalization, Backs Away


A day after blowing the collective mind of the drug policy blogosphere by saying weed ought to be legalized, TV evangelist Pat Robertson was having second thoughts. The "700 Club" host and one-time presidential candidate told the New York Times the next day that he did not intend to suggest support for marijuana legalization, but only to question the severity of the punishments meted out to those who use or possess small amounts of the herb.

In a "700 Club" broadcast discussing the new conservative criminal justice reform group Right on Crime, Robertson launched into a heartfelt, if factually challenged, diatribe about the injustice of the country's marijuana laws.

"We're locking up people that take a couple puffs of marijuana and the next thing you know they've got 10 years," Robertson said. "They've got mandatory sentences; the judges throw up their hands and say there is nothing they can do. We've got to take a look at what we're considering crimes, and that's one of them. "I'm not exactly for the use of drugs -- don't get me wrong -- but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of  of a few ounces of pot, that kind of thing is just costing us a fortune and ruining young people. Young people going to prisons, they go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals, and that's not a good thing," said the culturally conservative preacher.

Pat Robertson (image via Wikimedia)
In reality, nobody is serving mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentences for simple marijuana possession. But still, the consequences of even a small-time pot possession arrest can be serious and life-long.

Wednesday, after the Internet hubbub over his "700 Club" remarks, a spokesman for Robertson emailed media outlets (including the Speakeasy blog) to clarify. He wasn't really calling for marijuana decriminalization, the spokesman said.

"Dr. Robertson did not call for the decriminalization of marijuana," the email explained. "He was advocating that our government revisit the severity of the existing laws because mandatory drug sentences do harm to many young people who go to prison and come out as hardened criminals. He was also pointing out that these mandatory sentences needlessly cost our government millions of dollars when there are better approaches available. Dr. Robertson’s comments followed a CBN News story about a group of conservatives who have proven that faith-based rehabilitation for criminals has resulted in lower repeat offenders and saved the government millions of dollars. Dr. Robertson unequivocally stated that he is against the use of illegal drugs."

Supporting pot legalization is still a bridge too far for the man who once famously blamed legal abortion for Hurricane Katrina, but at least he's coming out for the reform of mandatory minimum drug sentences. That's as far as Right On Crime goes too, at least on its web page. In its issue pages on prisons and substance abuse, it calls for considering repeal of mandatory minimums and increased use of drug courts.

(Watch the CBN video footage here.)

A Thousand March for Marijuana in Buenos Aires

marching down Avenid Cinco de Mayo
About a thousand people took to the streets of Buenos Aires on December 18 to celebrate a year of marijuana activism and call for the right to grow their own plants. The march, led by student groups from around the country, ended at the Argentine Congress building, where speakers addressed the marchers. We present two dozen+ photos from the day here, courtesy Argentine activists.

Marching behind a banner saying "No to the Drug Traffic," the protestors criticized drug prohibition as fueling violent drug trafficking organizations. Another banner called for "An end to ignorance, the right to grow your own, and education for responsible consumption."

The Argentine courts decriminalized marijuana possession for personal use last year, but cultivation remains a criminal offense. The Buenos Aires demonstrators want to see cultivation legalized as well.

marching down Avenid Cinco de Mayo

"no to the black market drug trade"

demonstrators mass in front of the Argentine Congress

in front of the Argentine Congress (courtesy Marcelo de Rienzo)

Rosario Association for Cannabis Studies

marching through Buenos Aires

a boisterous crowd

"Cultivate your rights, Rosario"

Cannabis Association of La Plata

protesting in downtown Buenos Aires

"enough of ignorance, yes to grow your own, education for responsible consumption"

Mike Bifari in Rosario Global Marijuana March t-shirt

"Growing your own -- the end of the black market drug trade"

no to the black market drug trade

addressing the crowd

passions run high

in front of the Congress

activist Mike Bifari takes a load off his feet

unidentified activist addresses the crowd

a wake up call for central Buenos Aires

marching through downtown

Justice in the province of Formosa, please!

unidentified activist (l), Mike Bifari (r)

in front of the Congress

Bifari addresses the marchers

addressing the crowd

listening to the oratory

Buenos Aires

Florida Drug Czar Office Falls to Budget Ax

newly unemployed drug war bureaucrat seeks position
The Florida Office of Drug Control is going out of business. The four-man fiefdom in the Sunshine State's drug war bureaucracy has fallen afoul of incoming Republican Governor-elect Rick Scott's war on state spending and was notified late last month that it would be out of business come this month.

The office was established by Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and its FY 2010-2011 budget is $551,300. Its charge was reducing substance abuse in Florida and helping set state drug policy. The office put out an annual report, as well as other reports, compiled statistics, lobbied for tighter restrictions on the state's burgeoning pain medicine clinics, and sought funds for prescription monitoring when the state legislature failed to allocate them.

Office director Bruce Grant, Florida's "drug czar," unsurprisingly thought the decision to disband the office was a mistake and sent the wrong message. "It kind of says this is not a priority issue," he said, adding that the state's drug problems are not going away. "It's not a war that's going to be over tomorrow."

The duties of the Office of Drug Control will likely be taken up by law enforcement and the state Department of Health, but that didn't mollify Grant. "Somebody's going to have to pick up the ball," he said. "Frankly, the Department of Health is not the aggressive type of agency to do it."

In the meantime, the incoming governor has surgically excised a layer of drug war bureaucracy and saved Florida taxpayers a half a million bucks a year in the process. It's not much, but it's a start.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Senate Unanimously Confirms Leonhart as DEA Head

The US Senate December 22 unanimously confirmed Michele Leonhart as DEA adminstrator. Leonhart, a long-time DEA veteran, had served as acting administrator since late in the Bush administration and was nominated to head the agency by the Obama administration.
Michele Leonhart
Drug reformers and concerned others had attempted last this year to block her nomination, citing her supervision of numerous raids on medical marijuana providers when she was Special Agent in Chief in Los Angeles, her refusal to allow a Massachusetts academic permission to grow marijuana for research purposes, and her unsavory relationship with former DEA "supersnitch" Andrew Chambers.

But those efforts got no traction in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where senators failed to ask a single tough question raised by reformers. The only flak Leonhart got in the committee was from Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Herb Kohl (D-WI), who complained about strict DEA drug diversion programs that made it difficult for seniors in nursing homes to receive pain medications in a prompt and timely fashion.

Kohl went so far as to announce a hold on her nomination to block a floor vote because of the issue, but although Leonhart refused during her confirmation hearing to tell him when the DEA would respond on the issue, Kohl lifted the hold before the vote, allowing her confirmation to go ahead.

Washington, DC
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

From the Rio Grande Valley to New York City, it's more cops gone wild this week. Let's get to it:

In Houston, a Harris County sheriff's deputy was charged December 16 with possession of a large amount of cocaine in what authorities said was a case of a cop protecting drug dealers and their product. Deputy Richard Bryan Nutt Jr., 43, came under investigation after authorities got information he was protecting loads of drugs. Prosecutors say he helped dealers by stopping the vehicles of people they had sold large quantities of cocaine to, seizing the drug, and returning it to the original dealer. Police recovered nearly 4 1/2 pounds of cocaine in the investigation, they said. He and three other men were all charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine, as well as with using a firearm while committing a felony. Nutt is now out on $20,000 bail.

In Atlanta, a US Customs and Border Protection officer was arrested December 16 on drug and gun smuggling charges after getting caught in a sting operation linked to a large seizure of ecstasy. Officer Devon Samuels took $72,000 in cash from undercover officers and smuggled it to Jamaica, accepted five firearms and $20,000 in alleged drug money from another agent, and checked government computers to see if he or associates were under investigation.

In New York City, an NYPD officer pleaded not guilty December 15 in a scheme to buy $40,000 worth of ketamine to distribute at raves. Officer Kifah Othman, 40, allegedly tried to score the Special K from a former cop-turned-tattoo-parlor-operator who is cooperating with the feds in a bid for leniency in a narcotics case. Othman has been suspended and is free on $250,000 bond. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

In Brownsville, Texas, a Cameron County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty Friday to trying to smuggle weapons into Mexico in exchange for money. Jesus Longoria, 31, admitted to trying to smuggle 13 weapons he believed were destined for a drug cartel into Mexico in exchange for $4,000. Longoria waved a driver through on an international bridge after contacting him via cell phone to tell him when it was safe to cross. Unfortunately for Longoria, the driver was an undercover federal agent. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison and is being held in custody pending his March 14 sentencing.

In St. Martinville, Louisiana, a former St. Martinville police officer was sentenced Friday to three years in prison for stealing cash, guns, and drugs from the department's evidence room to support her gambling habit. Charlotte Durand, 57, a 20-year veteran, was working as the department's evidence custodian when she was arrested in April 2009. Durand pawned her department issued gun in December 2007, and after that, began stealing guns, cash, and cocaine from the evidence room. She was originally charged with three counts of malfeasance in office and two counts of felony theft, but pleaded guilty in March to one count of malfeasance in office and one count of felony theft as part of a plea agreement.

In Atlanta, a former Atlanta police officer was sentenced December 16 to 12 years in prison on drug and corruption charges. Lucius Solomon III, 32, went down after offering protection for what he thought were large cocaine loads, and doing so while in uniform and on duty. He pleaded guilty on September 2.

In Woodward, Oklahoma, a former Woodward police detective is under investigation after he admitted stealing methamphetamine from a department evidence locker. Former officer Mike Morton told an unrelated federal court hearing in July that he stole the meth and gave it to his wife. The pair divorced in June. The Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation is now examining the evidence in some 2,500 cases to see what, if anything is missing.

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 30,000 people, including more than 12,000 this year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest 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:
Zetas wanted poster, US State Dept.
Thursday, December 16

In Chihuahua, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz was shot and killed in front of the governor’s office. Ortiz had been well-known for her protests and activism after the 2008 murder and dismemberment of her 16-year old daughter Rubi Frayre by her boyfriend Sergio Barraza. Barraza, thought to be a Zeta, was captured a year later in Zacatecas but was released after being exonerated by a Mexican court. Another court reversed the decision, but Barraza remains a fugitive. Barraza is thought to have ordered the killing of Ortiz, and had previously been implicated in several death threats against her life. The murder was caught on security camera video.

On Friday, heavily armed gunmen burned down a lumberyard belonging to Ortiz’s partner, Jose Monje Amparan. His brother, Manuel, 37, was kidnapped during the attack. He was later tortured, strangled and thrown from a moving vehicle.

Friday, December 17

In Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, over 140 inmates escaped through the main vehicle entrance of a prison. It is suspected that prison guards were complicit in the escape. The prison director is missing along with the 141 escapees. Soldiers and Federal Police surrounded the prison after the incident.

In Zuazua, Nuevo Leon, a car bomb exploded outside a police station, wounding two people. It is unclear whether the two events are related, but the Zetas and Gulf Cartel are both extremely active in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.

Saturday, December 18

In Ciudad Juarez, at least six people were murdered in several incidents. In one incident, a car with Oklahoma license plates was ambushed by gunmen, killing two men and wounding an 18-year old female and three children. In another incident, a man was found dead and wrapped up in a blanket. These killings bring the December total to 130. The yearly total is now being variously being reported as being somewhere between 3,000 and 3,100.

Sunday, December 19

In Guatemala, authorities declared a state of siege in Alta Verapaz province. According to the Guatemalan government, several cities in the province -- including the capitol, Coban -- have been overrun by members of the Mexican Zetas organization. Under the state of siege, the army is allowed to detain suspects and conduct searches without warrants, as well as control local gatherings and local media.

[Editor's Note: No body count this week because El Universal, on which we rely, has not updated theirs. But the Mexican attorney general's office reported last week that this year's death toll had reached 12,456 as of November 30 and that the number of dead since Calderon called out the troops in December 2006 was 30,196 -- although they conceded the numbers could be higher.]


Patients Protest Israel's First Medical Marijuana Raid

An Israeli police raid Wednesday on the Rehov Ibn Gvirol medical marijuana dispensary Tel Aviv sparked protests Sunday by aggrieved patients, the Jerusalem Post reported. The dispensary, which is operated by Tikkun Olam, the country's largest medical marijuana supplier, remained closed after the raid.
(image from
Dozens of disabled and terminally ill patients protested outside the clinic, waving ID cards and clamoring to receive their monthly medicine. Tikkun Olam set up a makeshift sales counter in the courtyard of the building, where dozens more medicated on the spot.

Police said they suspected significant amounts of marijuana had been given to criminal organizations that used fake prescriptions. Police detained two managers at the storefront and questioned them for hours about illegal drug trafficking.

Police also claimed they had received complaints the group was handing out marijuana in amounts greater than the 30 grams a month allowed under Israeli regulations. Israel has suffered from a hashish shortage for the past year, and police believe criminal elements are diverting medical marijuana to the black market.

But Tikkun Olam spokesman Shai Meir told reporters that the raids served only to harm legitimate medical marijuana patients. "The bottom line is that the only ones who have suffered as a result of these police actions are the patients. Every arrest, every detention of a patient disrupts their treatment, treatment that demands routine. This causes serious harm to the patients," Meir said.

One patient who took part in the protest, Yedidya Kanuf, said medical marijuana was a lifesaver for him. As he spoke, he sat inside the apartment in a wheelchair hooked up to a portable oxygen system. Kanuf has been paralyzed since a car accident a decade ago.

"Before I was on medical marijuana, I was being treated for pain with all types of very strong drugs. I never got out of bed, never saw the sun. Once I started taking prescription cannabis the amount of drugs I took plummeted. When people call it a drug I get annoyed, because for me it has given me life," Kanuf said, his breathing labored.


Marijuana Legalization Billboard Goes Up on I-5 Near Seattle

Commuters on the busy I-5 freeway near Seattle will get a daily reminder that an effort to legalize marijuana in Washington state is underway. Sensible Washington, the group behind this year's initiative effort that failed to make the ballot, has put up a billboard saying "Because Drug Dealers Don't ID... Legalize in 2011," with the group's web address and a pot leaf superimposed on a state map.

(image courtesy Sensible Washington)
Although Sensible Washington's 2010 initiative effort was hampered by criticism and lack of support from key elements of the state's drug reform community, the group is back and is aiming at getting its initiative on the ballot next year.

The huge, bright yellow billboard is installed at mile marker 138 in Fife, Washington, between Tacoma and Seattle. The double-sided sign faces both north- and south-bound traffic and will be seen by more than a quarter-million vehicles per day.

The billboard will remain up through the November 2011 election. That means commuters passing it twice daily will have seen the message more than 400 times each by Election Day.

"Thanks to generous donations from two Sensible Washington volunteers and support and cooperation of the billboard company, Gotcha Covered Media (thank you!), we now have North- and South-facing billboards at this location through the November 2011 election," the group announced on its web site.

United States

Former British Drug Czar Says Legalize It All

Former Home Office drug minister and former Defense Minister Bob Ainsworth has called for all illegal drugs, including cocaine and heroin, to be legalized. He told the House of Commons Friday that addicts should be prescribed heroin rather than allowing global criminal organizations to handle and get rich from the illicit drug trade.

Bob Ainsworth breaks ranks with drug prohibition. (image courtesy Wikimedia)
Ainsworth called in the House of Commons for a fundamental rethink of British drug policy. Ainsworth's call was met with support from some MPs from all parties, but was roundly criticized by his own Labor Party.

Ainsworth served as head of drug policy under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and as Blair's defense minister, he oversaw the British effort to eliminate opium planting in Afghanistan.

"Prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harm to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit," Ainsworth said in remarks reported by The Independent. "We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children. We must take the trade away from organized criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists."

Ainsworth said his experiences in Afghanistan had been an education. "Bombs and bullets and the wherewithal to produce IEDs are bought by funds supplied by international drugs," he said. A massive NATO occupation had failed to stamp out the heroin traffic, he said, so it was now time to consider "taking the market away" by legalizing drugs.

Former deputy Conservative leader Peter Lilley said he favored legalizing marijuana, while continuing to keep hard drugs illegal. Still, he supported Ainsworth's call for a reexamination of British drug policy. "I support Bob Ainsworth's sensible call for a proper, evidence-based review, comparing the pros and cons of the current prohibitionist approach, with all the alternatives, including wider decriminalization, and legal regulation."

"This could be a turning point in the failing UK 'war on drugs,'" said Labor MP Paul Flynn, a legalization supporter.

But Labor's leadership was quick to distance itself from Ainsworth's remarks. "Bob's views do not reflect Ed's views, the party's view or indeed the view of the vast majority of the public," a spokeswoman for Labor Leader Ed Miliband said.

Ainsworth's remarks were "extremely irresponsible," said an unnamed party source. "I don’t know what he was thinking."

United Kingdom

Montana Marijuana Prosecution Runs into Jury Pool "Mutiny"

No way would they convict someone of possessing a 16th of an ounce of marijuana, member after member of a Missoula County jury pool told a stunned judge and prosecutor last week. As a result, the Missoulian newspaper reported, the judge in the case ordered a recess, and a plea bargain was reached in a drug trafficking case against Touray Cornell.

not business as usual at the courthouse in Missoula (image courtesy Wikimedia)
Potential jurors repeatedly told the court they would not convict for a couple of buds found during a raid on Cornell's home in April. One juror wondered out loud why the county was wasting time and money prosecuting the case at all, especially in a locale that approved a 2004 initiative making marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority.

After that juror questioned the prosecution, District Judge Dusty Deschamps polled the jury pool and found at least five others who agreed. That was in addition to two others who had already been excused because of their philosophical objections to pot prosecutions.

"I thought, 'Geez, I don't know if we can seat a jury,'" Deschamps said, explaining why he called a recess.

Instead, Deputy District Attorney Andrew Paul and defense attorney Martin Ellison worked out a plea agreement on the more serious drug trafficking charge. Cornell entered an Alford plea, in which he did not admit guilt. He was then sentenced to 20 years in prison with 19 suspended. Since Cornell has already served 200 days awaiting trial, he should be out in a matter of months.

"Public opinion, as revealed by the reaction of a substantial portion of the members of the jury called to try the charges on Dec. 16, 2010, is not supportive of the state's marijuana law and appeared to prevent any conviction from being obtained simply because an unbiased jury did not appear available under any circumstances," according to the plea memorandum filed by his attorney.

It was "a mutiny" by the jury pool, said Paul.

"I think it's going to become increasingly difficult to seat a jury in marijuana cases, at least the ones involving a small amount," Deschamps said.

Noting changing attitudes toward marijuana, as evidenced by the Missoula initiative and voters' approval of the state's medical marijuana law, Deschamps wondered if it were fair to insist on impaneling a jury that consisted only of "hardliners" who object to all drug use. "I think that poses a real challenge in proceeding," he said. "Are we really seating a jury of their peers if we just leave people on who are militant on the subject?"

"I think that's outstanding," John Masterson, who heads Montana NORML, said when told of the incident. "The American populace over the last 10 years or so has begun to believe in a majority that assigning criminal penalties for the personal possession of marijuana is an unjust and a stupid use of government resources."

Deputy DA Paul said that normally a case involving such a small amount of pot wouldn’t have gone that far through the court system, but for the felony charge involved. But the response of the jury pool "is going to be something we're going to have to consider" in future cases, he said.

Missoula, MT
United States

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