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Medical Marijuana: Colorado Judge Rules Users Have Right to Buy It

Colorado medical marijuana patients have a constitutional right to buy it, not just use it, a district judge ruled December 29. The ruling came in a lawsuit by the CannaMart dispensary, which sued the city of Centennial after it banned dispensaries, forcing the dispensary to move to a neighboring community.

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Colorado state medical marijuana application
In banning dispensaries, Centennial had argued that it could ban them because they violated federal drug laws. Using the same argument, other towns in Colorado have banned or are considering banning dispensaries, which have mushroomed in the past year in the wake of state health department administrative rulings and the Obama administration's vow to not harass medical marijuana providers acting within state laws.

But in granting CannaMart's request for an injunction blocking the city from keeping the dispensary closed while it challenges the city's federal argument, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Christopher Cross had some harsh words for cities making that argument. Centennial violated the rights of three medical marijuana patients who joined the lawsuit, he said. "These are people who have a right to medical marijuana, the right to the caregiver of their choice. That has been taken away from them," Cross said.

CannaMart attorney Lauren Davis echoed Judge Cross's words, telling the Associated Press the ruling "should be a warning to towns across this state" that are considering whether to ban dispensaries. "They are violating the rights of sick patients and caregivers," Davis said.

The CannaMart lawsuit against the city of Centennial will continue later this year. But Judge Cross warned that cities trying to ban dispensaries could find themselves in violation of the state constitution. "The voters have spoken. It is not a criminal act in the state of Colorado."

Sentencing: California Appeals Court Upholds Ban on Probationer's Medical Marijuana Use

A California appeals court has ruled that a judge who forbade a defendant from using medical marijuana as a condition of probation acted within his powers. The 2-1 decision was harshly criticized by the dissenting justice, who said it undermines California's voter-approved medical marijuana law.

The ruling by the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco came in People v. Moret, in which Fairfield resident Daryl Moret, then 19, was arrested in 2008 for carrying a loaded handgun he said he had found in the bushes. Moret pleaded no contest to illegal gun possession, and in an interview with a court probation officer indicated he had obtained a medical marijuana card to treat migraine headaches he had suffered since childhood.

At Moret's December 2008 sentencing hearing, Superior Court Judge Peter Foor said he didn't believe Moret's statements about how he obtained the gun or about medical marijuana. "Smoking dope isn't going to help any of this," the judge said, ordering Moret to surrender his medical marijuana ID card and abstain from marijuana if he wanted to be granted probation. Moret agreed to those terms, but appealed, saying the probation condition violated the medical marijuana law.

In rejecting Moret's appeal, the majority held since a defendant can choose to reject probation conditions and accept a prison sentence, California medical marijuana laws did not limit a judge's ability to forbid drug use as a condition of probation. Justice Paul Haerle wrot that Moret accepted probation voluntarily and offered no evidence to support his need for medical marijuana.

But in a lengthy and harsh dissent, Justice J. Anthony Kline said that a judge's demand that Moret forego medical marijuana or face prison for a non-drug-related offense violated the law's ban on criminal punishments for medical marijuana users. A judge "may disagree with the aims and directives of [the medical marijuana law], but... cannot defy them," Kline said.

A medical marijuana ID card is all the proof a patient needs under state law, said Kline. The sentencing judge could have held a hearing if he questioned the medical marijuana card's legitimacy. Merely because the defendant agreed under coercion to the restriction does not make the restriction legal, Kline added.

Moret and his attorney are considering whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal 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 over 16,000 people, with a death toll of over 7,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several 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:

Saturday, January 2

Near Mexico City, two bodies were found killed execution-style in San Pablo de las Salinas. One of the dead was wrapped in a blanket and had signs of torture. The other body was that of a woman in a plastic bag who had apparently been strangled to death. In 2009, the greater Mexico City area was the scene of some 300 drug-related homicides.

In the first 36 hours of 2010, eight people were killed in various incidents across Ciudad Juarez. Four of these deaths occurred just minutes after midnight on New Year's Eve when gunmen killed a family in the south of the city, including a four-year old girl. In another incident, a business owner was killed after being attacked by men wielding automatic weapons.

In other parts of Mexico, the bodies of two young men were found in a rural part of Guerrero, one in Ciudad Renacimiento, two in Sinaloa, including one with a message attached threatening thieves. In Durango, 11 people were killed, including one who was shot dead in the hospital after being wounded earlier in the day. In Tijuana, the year began with the killing of six people across the city. Two dismembered bodies were found in Michoacan, and one man was executed in Torreon, Coahuila.

Sunday, January 3

In Oaxaca, the brother of an indigenous radio broadcaster who was assassinated in 2008 was shot dead in the municipality of San Juan Copala. 15 other people were killed in violence in five Mexican states. Seven of the dead were found in Sinaloa. In Coahuila, the bodies of two federal agents who had been kidnapped and killed in Durango were found in the bed of a pickup truck.

In Ciudad Juarez, two brothers in a drug rehab facility were forcibly removed by gunmen and shot outside. One of them was killed instantly and the other seriously wounded. In another part of the city, two federal agents were involved in a firefight outside a hotel in which they were staying. One of them was killed and another wounded.

Additionally, one man was killed after being ambushed by gunmen in Tijuana and two people were found dead near Mexico City.

Monday, January 4

In the state of Sinaloa, four people were shot dead in several incidents. Among the dead was a man found with a note pinned to his back on the side of a highway.

In Tijuana, the decapitated body of a woman was found at the entrance to a cemetery. In another incident in the city, a police agent in charge of auto theft investigations was killed after being ambushed by gunmen in Mesa de Otay. A civilian traveling with him in the passenger seat was also killed. Although the motive is unclear, auto theft is often related to drug trafficking as stolen cars are used to move narcotics across the US border. Four other people were shot dead with automatic weapons in several other incidents in Tijuana.

In Parras, Chihuahua, the son of the mayor was shot dead. Four people were killed in Ciudad Juarez. Five people were killed in Sinaloa. In one incident, a man in Culiacan reportedly was shot 120 times. In Veracruz, two women were killed when a group of armed men stormed a bus. Two people were killed in Durango, and two decapitated bodies were found in Michoacan.

Soldiers arrested Carlos Beltran Leyva, the brother of cartel boss Arturo, who was killed by naval special forces in December. Carlos was arrested after being caught driving with a fake ID. Weapons and cocaine were found in the car as well.

Tuesday, January 5

In a 24-hour period, 29 people were killed in Chihuahua, including two state police officers. The two policemen were killed by a group of six gunmen as they left a body shop. In addition to the two police officers, 13 other people were killed in the city. Among the dead was a female activist who had brought attention to human rights abuses by the army and the police in Ciudad Juarez. 14 other people were killed in other parts of the state.

Total Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Total Body Count so far for 2010: 137

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Marijuana: Initiative to Legalize Marijuana in Nevada Filed, Vote Will Come in 2012

Organizers of an initiative that would tax and regulate marijuana in Nevada filed it with the secretary of state's office in Carson City Wednesday. That is the first formal step in getting it before voters in the November 2012 elections.

The initiative would:

  • Legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults;
  • Provide for up to 120 licensed retail outlets statewide; and
  • Provide for up to 50 licensed growers to supply licensed retailers.

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Retailers would have to pay a $2,500 licensing fee, and would collect sales tax on retail sales. Growers would have to pay a $5,000 licensing fee and would collect a wholesale tax of $50 an ounce from retailers.

The initiative has no provision for growing your own.

Backers will need to gather 97,002 valid signatures to send the measure to the 2011 Legislature. If lawmakers fail to act, it would be placed on the 2012 ballot.

The initiative is sponsored by Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, which is backed by the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). MPP and local affiliates have tried three other times in the past decade to legalize marijuana in Nevada. In 2002, voters rejected a proposal to legalize up to three ounces; in 2004, a second attempt failed to make the ballot; and in 2006, a proposal to legalize up to one ounce lost with 44% of the vote.

Backers are counting on changing public attitudes toward marijuana to take them over the top this time. "The environment we feel has changed," said campaign manager David Schwartz at a press conference before filing the papers. "The discussion has become nationwide."

The campaign will hammer away at the increasingly popular "marijuana is safer than alcohol" argument, Schwartz said. "We will encourage voters to consider this fact and decide for themselves whether it makes sense to allow adults to use alcohol freely, but punish them if they choose to use a less harmful substance, marijuana."

That makes five states where marijuana legalization is on the agenda. California is a two-fer, with both a pending legalization bill (which will get a hearing and a committee vote next week) and at least one legalization initiative with a number of signatures gathered that virtually guarantee its qualifying for the ballot. Meanwhile, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Washington state have legalization bills pending or about to be filed too.

Sentencing: New Jersey Legislature Rolls Back Mandatory Minimums, Governor Will Sign Bill Into Law

With a 46-30 vote Thursday, the New Jersey Assembly gave final approval to a bill that will end mandatory minimum sentences for some "drug free zone" drug offenses. The bill passed the Senate in December. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he will sign the bill into law. When that happens, New Jersey will become the first state to roll back a mandatory minimum school zone law.

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misleading concept
Under a sentencing law in place since 1987, drug offenses that occurred within 1,000 feet of a school incurred mandatory minimum sentences of one to three years. Critics had argued for years that the law had a disproportionate impact on minority inner city residents and that it unnecessarily filled the state's prisons with low-level drug offenders who could be better served by drug treatment. The state spent $331 million last year to imprison drug offenders.

The bill just passed, A2762, would allow judges the discretion to impose a lesser sentence or probation, depending on whether school was in session, how close to a school it was, and whether children were present. Mandatory minimums would stay in effect if the offense took place on school grounds or involved violence or a gun.

According to the state Department of Corrections, 69% of drug offenders doing time are doing mandatory minimums. This bill will allow those doing mandatory minimums for school zone offenses to appeal those sentences.

"The mandatory minimum sentencing the zones require has effectively created two different sentences for the same crime, depending on where an individual lives," said Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer), one of the bill's cosponsors. "This is geographic discrimination at its most basic."

"This is a progressive solution to a complex problem," said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), another cosponsor.

The legislature's action won praise from sentencing and drug policy reform groups that were part of a broad coalition to pass the bill. "Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) commends the legislative leaders who fought for smart on crime sentencing policies in New Jersey. State lawmakers are increasingly disenchanted with ineffective and costly mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent, drug-related offenses and are turning to policies that allow the courts to individualize punishments based on the facts of each case. This move signals a better course for New Jersey, and fairer sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders," said Deborah Fleischaker, FAMM's director of state legislative affairs.

Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office, said the vote signals a new willingness on the part of elected officials at both the state and national level to reform failed sentencing and drug policies.

"At one time, these types of mandatory minimum laws were considered untouchable," said Scotti. "But there is a growing public backlash against these failed policies and a growing willingness on the part of elected officials to address the mistakes of the past."

Europe: Dutch Delay Plan to Make Border Cannabis Cafes Members Only

A plan to make Dutch border town cannabis cafes members only in a bid to thwart "drug tourism" is on indefinite hold, a Dutch official said Monday. The plan, which was supposed to go into effect January 1, needs further study, the official said. "We need to finalize our preparations before we can put the project into operation," said Petro Hermans, a project officer for the southeastern city of Maastricht. "We are studying the legal feasibility of the project," he said, adding the date of January 1 "was not practicable". Maastricht is one of eight municipalities in southern Limburg province that announced jointly last May they would make the 30 coffee shops in their jurisdictions members only. The plan would also reduce the daily limit on marijuana purchases from five grams to three and require that payment be made with a Dutch debit card. The measures are a bid to reduce the estimated four million visitors to Limburg each year who come from more repressive neighboring countries—France, Germany, and Belgium—to buy marijuana. Limburgers have complained that the drug tourists cause problems ranging from traffic congestion to public urination to hard drug dealing. The Dutch government decriminalized the possession of up to five grams of marijuana in 1976 and allows for retail sales through licensed coffee shops. There are about 700 coffee shops throughout the country. Back in Limburg, Hermans said that a report on the feasibility of the members only plan was due by mid-month. "We will then decide how to proceed," he said.
Location: 
Maastricht, LI
Netherlands

Canada: Mandatory Minimum Bill for Pot Growing Dies Sudden Death When Prime Minister Shuts Down Parliament

In a political maneuver designed to shield his embattled Conservative government from criticism during the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Wednesday "prorogued," or shut down, parliament until a new session begins in March. The move kills all pending legislation, including a Tory "tough on crime" bill, C-15, that included mandatory minimum nine-month prison sentences for growing as much as a single marijuana plant. Prorouging parliament is not a routine move, but this is the second time Harper has done it in a year. Last December, he did it to head off a looming vote of no-confidence, with a coalition of New Democrats, Liberals, and Bloc Quebecois looking to replace his Conservative government. Now, he says he is doing it to introduce a new budget, but the maneuver also kills all parliamentary committees, including one looking into allegations Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan turned detainees over to Afghan authorities who abused them. That inquiry has raised embarrassing questions about Canada's policies in Afghanistan. To the relief of drug reform advocates and Canada's cannabis culture, the move kills a bill that was very harsh and very near to passage. Under the provisions of C-15 as passed by the House, people growing between one and 200 marijuana plants faced a minimum of six months if the "offense is committed for the purpose of trafficking." That would rise to nine months if it were a rental property, if children were endangered, or if the grow presented a public safety threat, i.e. was stealing electricity. The bill mandated a one-year minimum for between 201 and 500 plants or for producing hashish and two years for more than 500 plants. It also had one-year minimums for importing or exporting marijuana and for trafficking more than three kilograms if it was for the benefit of "organized crime," there was threat or use of violence or weapons, or if the offender had a serious previous drug offense. The trafficking minimum jumped to two years if it occurred in a prison, if the trafficking was to a minor, or if it was "in or near a school, in or near an area normally frequented by youth or in the presence of youth." The bill had been amended earlier this month by the Senate Constitutional Affairs and Legal Committee to remove the mandatory minimum provisions for under 201 plants, but only if the grows were not in residential areas and owned by the grower. That meant anyone growing in a residential neighborhood or in a rental property still faced a nine-month minimum, limiting relief to rural home-owners. The bill awaited only a final vote in the Senate. Now, Harper has sacrificed it on the altar of his political calculations. But like a vampire, C-15 is likely to rise from the grave. It has been a central plank in Harper's appeals to his law-and-order constituencies, and his government is almost certain to reintroduce it when the new session begins in March, or after he calls snap elections, which the Conservatives seem well-positioned to win as their main rivals, the Liberals, flounder. Don't put away those wooden stakes just yet.
Location: 
Ottawa, ON
Canada

Heroin Maintenance: SALOME Trials Set to Begin in Vancouver

In the Chronicle's review of the top international drug policy stories of the year last week, the slow spread of heroin maintenance was in the mix. This week, it's back in the news, with word that a new Canadian heroin maintenance study in Vancouver is about to get underway.

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Hastings St., on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (courtesy vandu.org)
The Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME) will choose a Downtown Eastside location next month and begin taking applications from potential participants in February, according to a Tuesday press release from the Inner Change Foundation, which, along with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, is funding the trial. With selection of participants supposed to last only three weeks, that means SALOME could be underway by March.

SALOME will enroll 322 hard-core heroin addicts -- they must have been using at least five years and failed other treatments, including methadone maintenance -- in a year-long, two-phase study. During the first phase, half will be given injectable heroin (diacetylmorphine) and half will be given injectable Dilaudid® (hydromorphone). In the second phase, half of the participants will be switched to oral versions of the drug they are using.

The comparison of heroin and Dilaudid® was inspired by unanticipated results from SALOME's forerunner, NAOMI (the North American Opiate Medication Study), which began in Vancouver in 2005 and produced positive results in research reviews last year. In NAOMI, researchers found that participants could not differentiate between heroin and Dilaudid®. The comparison of success rate among injection and oral administration users was inspired by hopes of reducing rates of injection heroin use.

SALOME was also supposed to take place in Montreal, but Quebec provincial authorities effectively killed it there by refusing to fund it. SALOME researchers have announced that it will now proceed in Vancouver alone.

With an estimated 5,000 heroin addicts in the Downtown Eastside and a municipal government that has officially embraced the progressive four pillars approach to problematic drug use -- prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and law enforcement -- Vancouver is most receptive to such ground-breaking research. It is also the home of Insite, North America's only safe injection site.

The NAOMI and SALOME projects are the only heroin maintenance programs to take place in North America. Ongoing or pilot heroin maintenance programs are underway in Britain, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

[Editor's note: Bernd went on holiday Sunday; look for the rest of this week's Mexico news in the next issue of Drug War Chronicle.]

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Ciuded Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal 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 over 16,000 people, with a death toll of over 7,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several 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:

Friday , December 18

An assistant soccer coach of Mexico's first division team Indios was killed in Ciudad Juarez. Pedro Picasso, 34, was found dead in a cell phone store along with another unidentified person.

Saturday , December 19

In Nuevo Leon, a high ranking Gulf Cartel member nicknamed "The Korean" was killed, along with five others, after a gun battle with army personnel. Two of the dead were municipal police under the employ of the drug traffickers. The army also seized 616 kilos of marijuana and several weapons, including two assault rifles, from the men.

Additionally, in Sonora, a federal police official in charge of combating retail drug distribution was gunned down in Nogales, and six bodies were found in Puerto Penasco. In other violence across Mexico, four people were killed in Durango, four in Baja California, two in Puebla, and one in Aguas Calientes.

In Ciudad Juarez, four policemen were killed after a series of attacks on patrol cars across the city. In one of the attacks, two brothers who worked for different police agencies but were patrolling together were killed. Two other policemen were wounded in the shootings.

Tuesday , December 22

The family of naval commando Ensign Melquisedet Angulo Cordova, who was killed in the raid that led to the death of drug lord Arturo Beltran-Leyva, was executed in their hometown of Villahermosa. Just hours after the family had returned from an elaborate state funeral for Ensign Argulo, gunmen burst into their home, killing his mother, sister, aunt and brother. Another sister was wounded in the attack.

The following day, four people were arrested in connection with the murders. Two are accused of paying the hitmen, while the other two are accused of acting as lookouts. All four are accused of being members of the Zetas organization, which is allied to the Beltran-Leyva cartel.

In Coahuila, gunmen opened fire on a restaurant with the mayor of a US town inside. Chad Foster, mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas, was dining with Coahuila Attorney General Jesus Torres when gunmen sprayed the restaurant with gunfire. A woman standing outside was killed. Torres was quickly spirited away by security personnel and Foster returned to the US on his own.

Thursday , December 24

In the state of Guerrero, ten bodies were found in two mass graves. Authorities found the bodies after being tipped by an anonymous phone call. Based on the state of the bodies, it appears that the bodies were killed and buried two months ago. Also in Guerrero, seven members of the Beltran-Leyva organization were arrested, including one man suspected in the killing and decapitation of military personnel.

In the town of Tulum, on Mexico's Caribbean coast, a journalist was killed by two gunmen on a motorcycle. Jose Alberto Velazquez Lopez, who owned a magazine and worked for a TV station, was driving to work when he was shot and lost control of his car. Two men were later taken into custody, but released because tests could not determine whether they had discharged firearms or not.

Saturday , December 26

In a 36-hour period, 10 people were killed across Sinaloa. Among the dead were two men who were found bound and executed with shots to the head, and a teenage boy who was killed when a group of gunmen opened fire on a group of people Christmas morning.

Total Body Count since last update: 321

Total Body Count for the Year: 7,598

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Latin America: Bolivia's Morales Says He Will Legalize Small Coca Holdings

Bolivian President Evo Morales said Saturday he wants to legalize the small holdings farmers use to grow coca. Morales, who rose to power as the head of a coca growers' union, said he wants to permit farmers to cultivate a coca plot, or cato, of 130 feet by 130 feet.

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coca seedlings
Under Bolivia's coca law, Law 1008, farmers can produce up to 30,000 acres of coca nationwide for traditional uses. But the law makes no provision for how much individual farmers can grow.

"We need to achieve a legal market for coca, and because of that, we are rationalizing the cato of coca," he told coca growers in Cochabamba. "It is our obligation to plan how to legalize the cato of coca in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly," Morales said, using the new name for the Bolivian congress.

Morales handily won reelection on December 6 with 64% of the vote, and his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) holds a two-thirds majority in the assembly. Noting these facts, Morales predicted that the measure will pass.

If it does, it will only add to tensions between Bolivia and the US and between Bolivia and International Narcotics Control Board. In the past year, the US has criticized Morales' policies allowing an increase in coca production, while Bolivia has expelled DEA agents and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, accusing them of meddling in internal Bolivian affairs. Bolivia under Morales is also demanding that the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs be amended so that coca is removed from its list of controlled substances.

While the US-sponsored Law 1008 allows for up to 30,000 acres of coca cultivation, the actual area under cultivation this year was nearly three times that, according to the UN. Morales and his supporters argue that amending Law 1008 both to increase the overall legally permitted acreage nationwide and to limit each farmer to one cato will serve to allow more farmers to grow coca without allowing individual farmers to grow so much they can divert it to the black market to be made into cocaine.

Bolivia is the world's third largest coca and producer, behind second place Peru and first place Colombia.

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