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The Week Online with DRCNet
(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)

Issue #245, 7/12/02

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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Join students and survivors of abusive drug treatment programs to protest drug testing industry profiteering conference this Thursday (7/18) in Washington, DC and Friday (7/19) in Orlando, Florida. Visit for further info.

URGENT ALERT: Help stop S. 2633, the "Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act of 2002" -- call your Senators at (202) 224-3121 -- we will launch a write-to-Congress web site on Monday -- in the meantime visit for info.


  1. Editorial: What People Are Thinking
  2. British Cannabis Decrim: One Step Forward, One Step Sideways, One Step Back
  3. US Drug War: Trouble Down South America Way
  4. Motorist Flexing Rights Doesn't Sit Well With NC Cops -- Man Arrested, Lawsuit Pending
  5. DC Medical Marijuana Initiative Will Be on November Ballot -- Unless Congress Quashes It Again
  6. Newsbrief: Nevada Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot
  7. Newsbrief: Federal Jury Convicts in California Medical Marijuana Case
  8. Newsbrief: New Jersey Weedman Strikes Again
  9. Newsbrief: Kid Turned in Dad's Pot Grow, Did "Right Thing" -- or Did He?
  10. Newsbrief: Canada Just Says No to Workplace Drug Testing
  11. The Reformer's Calendar
(read last week's issue)

(visit the Week Online archives)

1. Editorial: What People Are Thinking

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 7/12/02

My job running a nonprofit advocacy group falls into the category often referred to by Human Resources types as "sedentary." I spend most of the time sitting down. I send e-mail, I write articles and grant proposals, I talk to people on the phone, I hold meetings. Sometimes I have to lean over to adjust a computer cable, or walk across the room to re-shelve a book. Sometimes I hop on a plane or get in a car to get to a conference. Occasionally I even go out in public to give a speech. Most of the time, though, I am what is sometimes known as a "keyboard warrior." And in an information age, for most of us at the center of activist networks, that is logical.

Ultimately, though, politics is about much more than can be seen from the front of a computer monitor in a downtown office. Politics is about the thoughts, emotions and attitudes of hundreds of millions of people around the country, in fact billions around the world. Their politics is local; it is shaped by their communities and their families, their economic outlook, their interactions with neighbors and friends and adversaries. And ultimately, politics is a real-time phenomenon. If you're not ready, things will happen with or without you, not necessarily the way you want.

So when I heard two weeks ago that the local medical marijuana initiative needed some help to get the needed number of petition signatures on time to qualify for this November's ballot, I decided to put on my Washington, DC citizen hat, go out and talk to people on a hot summer day, and hopefully get enough of them to sign on the line to make a difference.

As I expected, the personal interactions were revealing. First of all, it served as a healthy reminder that most people don't spend nearly as much time thinking about medical marijuana, nor larger drug policy, as I do. Most people didn't want to take the time to stop and put their signature down. They might have agreed with us (statistically I know that most of them do), but they were on their way to do other things, maybe they assumed we'd find enough other people to get the thing on the ballot, or maybe they just don't like being stopped randomly on the street (which isn't hard to understand). One way or another, it wasn't their priority.

Some people did stop, though. Those who did often wanted to know whatever happened to our medical marijuana vote last time. The most informed wanted to know if there was any chance Congress would let it go through this time. Most of our supporters are reliant on us to get them the information.

The most interesting were the people who didn't agree or agreed only with hesitancy. We don't need their support to pass medical marijuana, a modest reform for which many more people already approve than don't. But we do need to understand where they are coming from, if we are to get past that level and successfully win the hearts and minds of the public on larger drug policy issues.

One woman told me she had signed the petition already, and was okay with medical use, but wasn't sure anymore because she's had friends screw up their lives with hard drugs and she didn't want medical marijuana to lead to legalization. She made a good choice this time, but in a different moment might not have. We need to recognize that many Americans tend to lump all different types of drugs and drug use together to end up with poorly thought out policy conclusions -- for example, some people are strung out on heroin or methamphetamine, therefore marijuana shouldn't be legally available to sick people. We need to recognize that many Americans uncritically accept the idea of "legalization by stealth," ridiculous as that concept is -- obviously medical marijuana is just medical marijuana, drugs won't be legalized if people don't change their minds about that, and the most that partial reforms can possibly do is get people to think more about other changes.

One elderly woman told me that she would never vote for medical marijuana, because she used to have a neighbor who used marijuana, the smoke constantly traveled over to her apartment, and her landlord wouldn't do anything about it. We need to recognize that some people will react out of simple annoyance, not thinking through the obvious conclusion that arrest and incarceration and wildly extreme ways of dealing with annoying situations. We need to recognize that some people will fail to acknowledge the instances where they themselves share the responsibility for their situation -- for example, by choosing to go the apartment route, where there is obviously a risk of being exposed to the sounds, visitors, and legal or illegal smoke of not always considerate neighbors. Indeed, many drug laws are in reality driven by such annoyance.

One passerby told me he wouldn't sign the petition because he's in drug testing, and medical marijuana would put him out of business. We need to recognize that there are financially vested interests that will oppose us on any level out of selfishness, and people whose identities as drug warriors have been formed over years and who will be emotionally unable to let go of their crusade.

I urge everyone interested in fostering social change to leave your computers now and then and take the cause to your communities. Get out and talk to people. Hand out leaflets or stickers, find some framework that you're comfortable with, educate some people, and just as importantly, become educated by them. Find out what people are thinking; learn from experience what will bring them a little or a lot closer to us.

2. British Cannabis Decrim: One Step Forward, One Step Sideways, One Step Back

British Home Secretary David Blunkett is finding himself in a bit of a pickle these days. Caught between a rising clamor for an end to cannabis prohibition on one hand and the grumblings of the forces of reaction on the other, Blunkett is busily making a fine muddle of what was supposed to be a straightforward move to effectively decriminalize marijuana possession in Great Britain. On Wednesday, Blunkett appeared before the House of Commons to lay out Labour's new drug strategy, and while he did announce that the Tony Blair government will reschedule cannabis from a Class B drug (amphetamines, barbiturates) to a Class C (steroids, tranquilizers), the announcement was so wrapped up in caveats, cross-currents and contradictions that cannabis decrim is arriving in Britain not with a bang but with a whimper.

Saying that the Blair government wished to distinguish "between drugs which kill and drugs that cause harm," Blunkett told the House of Commons that "cannabis possession remains a criminal offense," but then added that in most cases users would not be arrested. The move would effectively extend the so-called "Lambeth experiment," where police in the south London borough do not arrest but merely cite cannabis offenders, to the entire nation.

Bowing to pressure from social conservatives from within the Labour Party as well as the Tories, however, Blunkett told the House users could be arrested in certain circumstances. "They will be able to arrest for possession where public order is threatened or where children are at risk," he said. He also announced new measures that would heighten penalties for some cannabis offenses. And to add insult to injury, he also announced that because the changes he announced would require enabling legislation from Parliament, they would not go into effect until July 2003.

In a nutshell, the new Labour drug policy:

  • Reclassifies cannabis as a less serious Class C drug with users and possessors usually not subject to arrest, only citation.
  • Gives police arrest powers for simple use or possession in cases where a so far ill-defined threat to public order or children exists.
  • Increases maximum prison sentences for cannabis dealing from 10 years to 14 years.
  • Will create a new criminal offense of supplying drugs to children.
  • Has no provision for legal cannabis sales.
  • Rejects the reclassification of ecstasy (MDMA) from a Class A to a Class B drug.
  • Rejects plans for safe injection sites for heroin users.
  • Acknowledges a role for heroin by prescription and on-premises injection for a limited number of Britain's estimated 200,000 heroin addicts.
Nobody is particularly happy. Former drug czar Keith Hellawell, who was sidelined last fall and sent into internal exile as an "international consultant," took Blunkett's pronouncement as a chance to resign with some notice. "This would virtually be the decriminalization of cannabis and this is, quite frankly, giving out the wrong message," he said in a press release. "Cannabis is simply not a sensible substance to take."

The Home Office pronounced itself "bemused" by Hellawell's sudden aversion to cannabis rescheduling, telling London newspapers Hellawell had been well aware of plans to do so and had not raised objections.

Conservative Party shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin also blasted the move toward decrim, warning Members of Parliament (MPs) of the "prospect of social disaster." Claiming the new Labour policy would send out "deeply confusing moral messages," he said it would give effective "control over cannabis to the drugs dealers with the police turning away." Letwin did not say who now controls cannabis. Perhaps hinting at the possibility of more fundamental reform, though, he said, "[t]here are two logical approaches -- and the home secretary has adopted neither."

Drug reformers and members of the parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee, who had issued a report calling for cannabis decrim, ecstasy down-scheduling, and safe injection sites, also had sharp criticisms for the Labour pronouncement. Roger Howard, head of the non-profit group DrugScope told the Independent (London) that the Blair government had "missed a golden opportunity." Howard described the Labour package as ranging from the "impressively forward-looking to the dangerously short-sighted." People could still be jailed for up to two years for cannabis possession, he pointed out.

MP Chris Mullins, head of the select committee, was more diplomatic, saying that cannabis reclassification was "plain common sense." He did not comment on Blunkett's failure to accept the committee's recommendations on safe injection sites and ecstasy reclassification, but is already moving to open a new parliamentary review of British drug policy. Mullin, who resigned from the government to chair the powerful Home Affairs Committee, will head a review of the possible formal decriminalization of cannabis, as well as investigating how well current policies are working.

Last week, BBC World at One polled 116 Labour MPs and found a substantial majority favored a serious, in-depth look at cannabis laws. The poll came on the heels of Conservative Party deputy leader Peter Lilley's call for outright legalization, much to the dismay of his traditionalist rank-and-file. Lilley called for cannabis sales to take place through licensed outlets.

With the chorus for cannabis legalization or decrim growing larger by the day, what was being touted as Britain's most important drug reform in decades is in danger of being left in the dust before it is even implemented. With the Blair government refusing to tackle legalization, its half-measure reforms have failed to satisfy anyone.

3. US Drug War: Trouble Down South America Way

While the Bush administration has been busy fighting multiple enemies in its ever-expanding "war on terrorism," the US drug war's southern front has been quietly eroding. Suddenly, distracted US officials find themselves faced with trouble throughout the Andean coca-producing region. From Venezuela to Bolivia, the area threatens to spin out of US control. Between Colombian coca eradication cutbacks, the halt to Peru's coca eradication program, the unstable tenure of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and suspicions of US involvement in his attempted ouster, and the rise of a Bolivian indigenous socialist former coca farmer who rails against "Yankee imperialism," the Bush administration's Andean policy is in a shambles.

Country by country:

VENEZUELA: While not involved in the Andean cocaine trade, the government of President Hugo Chavez drew the enmity of the US government because of Chavez's military populism and Latin American nationalism, as well as his friendly ties with US bogeymen such as Fidel Castro, Moammar Ghaddafi, and Saddam Hussein. (The latter two are heads of OPEC states; Chavez was OPEC head last year.) In the tense and polarized weeks since the attempted coup and countercoup against Chavez last April, the US government has been widely accused of involvement with the coup plotters.

COLOMBIA: Now the region's largest coca producer, Colombian production has been unaffected by two years of intensive aerial spraying of coca plants, and spraying has been suspended in the face of environmental concerns and popular discontent. In the last two weeks, both the incoming government of Alvaro Uribe and outgoing President Andres Pastrana announced plans to begin spraying again, but only on "industrial plantations" of five acres or more. The Colombian government will resort to manual eradication of peasant plots, which threatens to put it in direct conflict with peasants in areas such as Putumayo province.

Meanwhile, the country's FARC guerrillas have largely taken control of broad swaths of the country, particularly in the southern plains, as they wage with renewed vigor a war of position against the government, the government's de facto paramilitary allies and the faceless men from Washington. Ten days ago a Los Angeles Times reporter found the region "abandoned and chaotic," with little sign of municipal governments or police forces.

"We're in the beginning of a new phase," FARC organizer Juan Pablo told the Times a few miles from San Vicente del Caguan, in the heart of the former rebel zone. "We're going to demonstrate that we're in the position to control certain areas and that we can push that control to an extreme."

And the Bush administration is chomping at the bit to throw another $700 million down the rat hole this year.

PERU: The Peruvian government of Alejandro Toledo, the US favorite in last year's presidential elections, has "temporarily" halted coca eradication in one of that country's resurgent traditional coca hot spots, the Upper Huallaga Valley; and the charity organization CARE, which administers alternative development programs for the US government, has suspended operations in two other coca-producing areas, the Ene and Apurimac River valleys. The move came in the face of repeated violent protests by thousands of angry coca farmers, the Associated Press reported last week.

While Nils Ericsson, the country's leading anti-drug official, told AP the halt was only a suspension, the cut-off of the CARE-run alternative development program threatens to seriously disrupt US efforts to wean Peruvian farmers from the coca trade. The area of the suspended programs accounts for two-thirds of Peruvian coca production, according to UN figures.

Ericsson told the AP the government will meet with coca growers to attempt to re-launch coca eradication efforts with "less social resistance and more effectiveness."

Peru has eradicated approximately 5,000 acres of coca out of a low-ball estimate of 84,000 acres planted this year, a significant increase from the decade of the 1990s, when authoritarian President Alberto Fujimori brutally suppressed what had been the world's largest coca crop.

BOLIVIA: DRCNet reported last week on the surprising performance of cocalero leader Evo Morales in the July 1 presidential elections ( Morales, an indigenous Aymara, self-described "communal socialist" and fire-breathing anti-Yankee orator, who surprised all observers by finishing an extremely close third with 20.9% of the vote in an 11-man field, threatened to throw the DEA out of Bolivia in his final campaign speech and has vowed to embark on a program of nationalization of key industries.

Because of Morales' performance in the elections, his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party will become the largest opposition party in both houses of the Bolivian congress and is well-positioned to demand an end or significant modification of the US-backed "zero coca" option that has led to massive social unrest in the Andean nation. Morales and the MAS may even play a major role in selecting the next president, although he has denied any interest in "perverse negotiations" with the existing parties.

"I am happy," Morales said after the election. "There is enormous satisfaction, above all for the people, the people who are discriminated against. The people have voted against any further eradication of coca, not only in Cochabamba, but in all Bolivia."

The prospect of a radical indigenista ex-coca-farmer holding the strings of power in La Paz unnerved New York Times correspondent Juan Forero so badly that he scribbled that Morales could now "disrupt Bolivia's free-market policies and years of gains Washington has made in coca eradication." If the New York Times is spooked, what are they thinking in Foggy Bottom and at the Pentagon?

Morales, for his part, generously wished the US well on the 4th of July and offered a conciliatory coca leaf to US Ambassador Manuel Rocha, who is widely credited with giving Morales a boost with last-minutes threats against voting for him.

Faced with a Bolivarian populist in Venezuela, a roaring guerrilla war in Colombia, an insurgent coca farmer population in Peru, and an anti-imperialist Indian agitator in Bolivia, the Bush administration's drug war in South America is in for hard times.

Some recommended sources for further information:

4. Motorist Flexing Rights Doesn't Sit Well With NC Cops -- Man Arrested, Lawsuit Pending

Three weeks ago, DRCNet ran an interview with Steven Silverman of Flex Your Rights (, a new organization devoted to teaching US residents how to exercise their remaining constitutional rights during encounters with police officers. The interview struck a nerve among DRCNet readers: Silverman reported that after the interview appeared, the number of visitors to his web site soared from about 250 per day to nearly 10,000.

Silverman argued that US residents are amazingly ignorant of what their rights are and how to exercise them effectively during police encounters. Many, many drug arrests could be avoided if Americans were educated about how to exercise their rights, Silverman told DRCNet. Now, a case from North Carolina indicates that it is not just citizens but police officers as well who may need to be educated about the Constitution -- and one North Carolina law enforcement agency may soon be learning the hard way.

Durham, NC, resident Maurice McKellar Jr. last month filed a lawsuit in North Carolina state court alleging that a North Carolina Highway Patrol officer rode roughshod over his constitutional right not to consent to a vehicle search during a June 23, 2001 traffic stop. According to McKellar's complaint, he was stopped for speeding on Interstate 40 by Highway Patrol Trooper Fred J. Hargro Jr. McKellar did not contest the speeding charge, but, exercising his constitutional right not to consent to a warrantless search, refused to allow Hargro to search his vehicle.

"They wanted to search my car for drugs," McKellar told the Durham News & Observer last Friday. "I knew I didn't have any drugs, but it's my constitutional right to refuse a search of my car. When I said no, he should have given me my speeding ticket and let me go on my way. I gave them no reason and there was absolutely no reason to search my car."

Although McKellar was absolutely within his rights to refuse such a warrantless search, that's when things began to go bad. According to McKellar's complaint, instead of accepting his refusal to consent, Hargro responded by calling for back-up. Four more troopers arrived at the scene, along with a drug-sniffing dog. McKellar three more times refused to consent, at which point Hargro placed him under arrest for careless and reckless driving and speeding. (Under a recent Supreme Court ruling any traffic violation, no matter how trivial, may be considered an arrestable offense.) With McKellar now under arrest, the troopers were able to search the vehicle "incident to arrest." The vehicle search turned up a single prescription anti-depressant pill. Although McKellar told the troopers he had a prescription for the pill, he was then charged with possession of a controlled substance. He was tightly handcuffed and taken to jail.

When he appeared before a magistrate later that night, the magistrate dismissed the controlled substance charge and freed McKellar without bail. McKellar then had to pay $50 for a taxi ride back to his vehicle. McKellar also complained that the tight handcuffs damaged nerves in both his hands and cited doctors at Duke University Medical Center to support that claim.

McKellar filed a complaint about the stop with the Highway Patrol, but the agency, citing rules regarding "personnel matters," refused to divulge what action, if any, it had taken against Trooper Hargro. But, Highway Patrol commander Col. Richard Holden told McKellar in a letter last November, "you can rest assured that I have reviewed the report of the investigation and appropriate action has been taken." That wasn't good enough for McKellar.

On June 12 he filed a negligence claim against the Highway Patrol's parent agency, the North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, claiming that he was unjustly punished for exercising his constitutional rights. The state agency was negligent, McKellar argued, because it failed to properly train Trooper Hargro. Because McKellar filed his claim with the state Industrial Commission, which is set up to hear workers compensation cases and tort claims alleging negligent actions by state employees, he could be awarded up to $500,000 for "humiliation, emotional distress, physical pain, and mental suffering."

"McKellar did exactly the right thing," said Silverman of Flex Your Rights. "He had nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing so. And he is doing the right thing in filing a lawsuit. Suing North Carolina for big bucks could help reform the system. It would certainly give the state an incentive to follow the Constitution."

But McKellar's experience should sound a warning bell for those who are actually carrying contraband. Although any arrests resulting from evidence gathered in warrantless searches where no consent has been given may eventually be quashed, persons caught up in such affairs will still have to undergo the trauma and expense of arrest and subsequent legal battles. Until law enforcement agencies are willing to uphold the Constitution when it comes to consent searches, the only recourse for those whose rights have been violated may be a lengthy legal battle. But all it will take is one winning lawsuit in a state and law enforcement agencies will begin to take notice. "Flexing" one's rights by clearly stating one's non-consent to a possibly illegal search can increase the likelihood of victory later.

5. DC Medical Marijuana Initiative Will Be on November Ballot -- Unless Congress Quashes It Again

In 1998, Washington, DC, voters overwhelmingly approved a medical marijuana initiative, only to have it blocked uncounted by the District's congressional overseers. But after a federal court battle led by the Marijuana Policy Project ( resulted in the congressional amendment to the DC appropriations bill being ruled unconstitutional, MPP took to the streets this summer to gather signatures for another DC medical marijuana initiative. The group needed to gather 17,500 valid signatures by July 13 to get on the ballot.

On Monday, MPP presented petitions with more than 39,000 signatures to the DC Board of Elections, almost ensuring that District voters will have another chance to vote on medical marijuana this fall. "This safely qualifies us for the referendum," MPP executive director Rob Kampia told a DC press conference announcing the petition delivery. "We did not want some bad guys in Congress to challenge us on this."

Kampia had one congressional "bad guy" in mind: Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), the drug war zealot and occasional libertarian who engineered the successful congressional effort to keep medical marijuana away from residents of "the last plantation," as District residents unhappy with their lack of congressional representation sometimes refer to the city. The infamous Barr is already attempting another blocking move.

On Monday, Barr sent a letter to Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), head of the House Appropriations Committee DC Subcommittee, requesting that he include an amendment to the city's 2003 funding bill that would block spending on the initiative. "The DC initiative is another attempt by the drug legalization movement to move its agenda forward, to legalize marijuana under the pretext of 'medicinal' use," wrote Barr. "My language is wholly appropriate and necessary to prevent legalization of marijuana in the District of Columbia, and to prevent the use of taxpayers' monies to carry out the provisions of any such initiative."

There is no word yet on whether subcommittee chair Knollenberg will accept the Barr amendment, but MPP's Kampia told the press conference his group is already engaged in lobbying Congress to block the Barr effort. In a press release announcing the petition turn-in, MPP wrote it had already contacted more than 80 lawmakers since April and is arranging meetings between constituents and 120 congressional offices between now and Labor Day.

In any event, said Kampia, MPP will not quit until medical marijuana is legalized in the District. Medical marijuana is particularly important in Washington, DC, said Kampia, because the District has a high number of AIDS patients. "We do not believe sick people should be put in prison for using medical marijuana," he said.

The initiative has the support of a majority of the DC city council, five members of which filed affidavits in federal court backing MPP's lawsuit against Congress. For the council members, the issue is as much one of home rule -- the ability of DC residents to decide their own municipal fate -- as it is about medical marijuana. But the combination of popular support for medical marijuana in the District (it won 69% of the vote vs. 21% against in 1998) and anger over congressional interference provides a certain synergy to the effort.

"The initiative is justified on its merits, but it is also a matter of home rule," Councilman Jim Graham told the press conference. Graham, former director of the Whitman Walker Clinic for HIV/AIDS in Northwest Washington, said his experience at the clinic led him to favor the initiative. "I saw for myself the specific circumstances when patients need medical marijuana. I believe doctors ought to prescribe it," he said. "I feel comfortable about that."

The DC medical marijuana initiative may have popular support and political backing, but the extremely brief window of opportunity for signature gathering meant that MPP had to call in professional signature-gatherers to get the job done on time. That cost MPP and its funders more than $60,000, and they are still looking for another $5,000 to print 10,000 yard signs. Those signs will read: "This is OUR District, not Bob Barr's! Vote for Medical Marijuana AGAIN!"

The DC Board of Elections is expected to review the signatures and formally certify the initiative for the November ballot early next month, but MPP and the District's medical marijuana patients and supporters aren't waiting.

6. Newsbrief: Nevada Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot

Nevada marijuana laws could go from the harshest in the nation to the most lenient if voters there approve a measure that will first appear on the ballot this November. (Under Nevada law, constitutional amendments must be twice approved by voters in elections two years apart.) Until this year, even simple possession of small amounts of marijuana was a felony, but under the measure that will be on the ballot this fall, possession of up to three ounces will be non-criminal.

The measure also provides for marijuana to be taxed like cigarettes and sold in state-licensed shops and sets up a low-cost distribution system for medical marijuana. Driving under the influence of marijuana and smoking in public places would remain illegal.

Petition organizers had been sweating ever since they turned in their signatures two weeks ago with a signature count below what is considered a reasonable safety margin for invalidated signatures. But Nevada election officials announced on Wednesday that organizers had squeaked by with 75,000 valid signatures.

"The success of our petition drive provides solid evidence that most Nevadans think it's a waste of their tax dollars to arrest people for small amounts of marijuana," Billy Rogers of Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement told the Associated Press.

Nevada long had the nation's harshest marijuana laws, but last year the state legislature made possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a misdemeanor. And Nevada voters voted twice, in 1998 and 2000, to approve the use of medical marijuana. It appears that Nevada is well on the way from rearguard to vanguard on pot policy.

And one of the state's leading newspapers, the Las Vegas Review Journal, has just come on board. In a Sunday editorial, the Review-Journal wrote: "The measure would end the harassment of individuals who peacefully and privately use marijuana -- including seriously ill patients who should have some legal protection, not to mention some peace of mind, because they're covered by the medical marijuana program. As a matter of compassion and common sense, the initiative is a good first step."

7. Newsbrief: Federal Jury Convicts in California Medical Marijuana Case

Defying the predictions of medical marijuana advocates, a jury has convicted Bryan James Epis on federal marijuana production charges. Prosecutors alleged that Epis, who helped found and supply Chico Medical Marijuana Caregivers, was planning to grow as many as a thousand plants for profit. Epis argued that while he indeed grew marijuana, he did not do so for profit and was only trying to help sick Californians in compliance with state law.

Epis, 35, now faces a mandatory minimum ten-year prison sentence.

The trial could be a harbinger of things to come as California medical marijuana advocates find themselves in an increasingly tense and heated conflict with the federal government. It was marked by accusations of obstruction of justice against Epis and Oakland Cannabis Co-op head Jeff Jones; Jones attempted to familiarize jurors with the concept of jury nullification, and Epis was accused by US District Judge Frank Damrell of doing so. Damrell dismissed one batch of potential jurors before the trial could get underway because of the pamphleteering, and had Jones briefly arrested. Epis returns to Damrell's court on August 1 for a hearing on the obstruction of justice charge.

Police also barred Epis supporters from demonstrating at their usual spot outside the courthouse.

If hang 'em high federal judges in California want to continue to preside over medical marijuana cases, they better get used to unruly demonstrators. The medical marijuana movement is becoming increasingly militant and proactive as the Justice Department and the DEA continue to turn up the pressure.

8. Newsbrief: New Jersey Weedman Strikes Again

New Jersey's lone ranger marijuana activist, Ed "New Jersey Weedman" Forchion is at it again. Forchion, a self-described Rastafarian, gained a certain notoriety for sparking up a joint in the New Jersey Senate chambers some years ago and again made the news in 2000 when he made an abortive attempt to apply for political asylum in Canada in the face of state marijuana charges. Forchion eventually came home and served 18 months in prison on the marijuana charges, but when he got out in April, he came out swinging. Now he has filed a $5 million lawsuit against several Burlington County Superior Court judges and an ex-girlfriend, charging that the judges and the ex-girlfriend, who is the mother of a child with Forchion, have denied him freedom of speech and freedom of religion in a child visitation case.

Forchion was arrested and briefly jailed in June for, as he told the Burlington Community News, "legally protesting outside the Burlington County Courthouse and giving interviews" to various newspapers about his pending case. He accused ex-girlfriend Linda Holden and Burlington County judges of using his religion against him as Forchion and Holden fought over visitation rights to six-year-old Ajanea Forchion.

"They won't let me see my daughter because I advocated legalizing marijuana," Forchion told the Trentonian as he leafleted outside the courthouse in late May.

Now Forchion has filed a $5 million lawsuit, arguing that as a Rastafarian he has a legal right to use marijuana and that his religious beliefs should not be held against him in the ongoing child visitation battle. At a time when courts routinely interpret parental drug use as evidence of parental unfitness, Forchion's battle could have far reaching consequences.

9. Newsbrief: Kid Turned in Dad's Pot Grow, Did "Right Thing" -- or Did He?

Two months ago, Covington, WA, computer programmer Aaron Palmer came home to find King County sheriff's deputies waiting to arrest him after his teenage son turned him in for growing 12 marijuana plants in a hidden room in the family garage. Palmer's 17-year-old son Trever, a Junior ROTC student, called 911 to report his father because he was "sick and tired of being around drugs and sick and tired of his dad doing drugs," Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Dymerski told the Associated Press on May 9.

While Palmer, a single father who was also raising a 15-year-old and a 7-year-old, went to jail, his three children were farmed out to family friends. According to Dymerski, young Trever was "pretty upset" about snitching on his own father, "but the bottom line is, he did the right thing."

While Trever Palmer initially told police his call was motivated by his father's growing interest in marijuana, in an interview this week he admitted that he was unhappy with his father for other reasons. Dad paid more attention to his sister's achievements than his, Trever said, and Dad and Trever were in conflict over Trever's Marine-based Junior ROTC training. Dad had served in the Army, Trever said.

Law enforcement agencies may laud people who inform on their own family members -- an event that happens all too often as the children of DARE seek to fight evil in their own homes -- but young Palmer has found out that not everyone thinks he is a hero.

On Monday, Trever Palmer told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that "half of his relatives are mad at him" and that he is trying to avoid many Kentwood High School classmates, who have called him "weasel" and other names unfit to print in a family newspaper. His 15-year-old sister, he said, "just kind of avoids me" since he ratted off their father.

"It sucks," young Palmer told the Post-Intelligencer. "I was really hoping my family would understand. It's kind of like a hole in me that needs to be filled."

Maybe Trever's new friends in law enforcement can explain to him and other family members how sending dad away for five years is really a good thing. In the meantime, one of the newest members of Snitch Nation is getting a crash course in the real-world fallout of informing.

10. Newsbrief: Canada Just Says No to Workplace Drug Testing

Random workplace drug and alcohol testing and pre-employment drug screens are a violation of human rights, the Canadian Human Rights Commission ruled Wednesday. According to the commission's newly articulated policy on workplace drug testing, drug and alcohol dependence are disabilities, and workers suffering from those problems must be helped, not fired, by their employers.

"Employers, with very, very few exceptions, should not be testing employees, or candidates for employment, for drugs," the commission's Catherine Barratt told the London (Ontario) Free Press. If employers want to know what drugs workers are using on their off hours, that means they "perceive the use of those substances is going to disable them from doing their job on Monday, and that's forbidden -- that's against the law," Barratt explained.

There are exceptions to the general rule, said Barratt. Employers can test for impairment for workers in safety-sensitive jobs, but only with "strong reasonable cause," such as the occurrence of an accident, she said. Even then, if a test comes back positive, the employer must "accommodate the needs" of the worker, including providing counseling, medical testing or even reassignment to a less safety-sensitive position.

"There needs to be support and rehabilitation and treatment that goes along with... reassigning them temporarily to a position that is not safety-sensitive," Barratt said.

The new rules apply to workers in all of Canada's federally regulated industries and could also serve as guidelines for small companies not covered by federal regulations. The rules come in the wake of a series of Canadian Supreme Court and provincial court decisions limiting drug testing in the late 1990s. The Canadian position stands in stark contrast to US practice, under which private employers often test employees or prospective employees on a whim and fire them if they test positive.

11. The Reformer's Calendar

(Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].)

July 11-14, noon-7:00pm, State College, PA, "5th Annual 30-hour Anti-Drug War Demonstration." Led by professor emeritus of chemistry Dr. Julian Heicklen, at Penn State University Main Gates, coinciding with the Arts Festival. For further information, e-mail [email protected] or call (814) 238-8054.

July 12, 7:00pm, Boulder, CO, "Collateral Damage: Just Say Know, Music Remembering the Injustices of Tulia, Texas," musical tour by Brad Carter, sponsored by Friends of Justice and the November Coalition. At the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, suggested donation $10, call (303) 444-6981 for directions or call (509) 684-1550 for further information.

July 13, 5:00-7:00pm, Denver, CO, "Collateral Damage: Just Say Know, Music Remembering the Injustices of Tulia, Texas," musical tour by Brad Carter, sponsored by Friends of Justice and the November Coalition. At Mercury Cafe, 22nd & California, call (303) 444-6981 for directions or call (509) 684-1550 for further information.

August 24-29, Lagos, Nigeria, "Tenth International Conference on Penal Abolition." Contact Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) at 234-(0)1-4971356-8 or [email protected], Rittenhouse: A New Vision of Transformative Justice at (416) 972-9992 or [email protected], or visit for further information.

September 4-6, Missoula, MT, First Annual Montana Drug Policy Summit. At the University of Montana, speakers to include Dr. Ethan Russo of the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, Cliff Thornton of Efficacy, Scott Crichton of the Montana ACLU, Ron Mann director of the movie "Grass," Missoula attorney John Smith and others. For further info, contact [email protected].

September 26-28, Los Angeles, CA, "Breaking the Chains: People of Color and the War on Drugs." Conference by the Drug Policy Alliance, e-mail [email protected] to be placed on mailing list for when details become available.

September 30-October 1, Washington, DC, "National Symposium on Felony Disenfranchisement," conference sponsored by The Sentencing Project. Admission free, advance registration required, visit or call (202) 628-0871 for further information.

October 7-9, San Diego, CA, "Inside-Out: Fostering Healthy Outcomes for the Incarcerated and Their Families." Contact Stacey Shank of Centerforce at (559) 241-6162 for information.

November 6-8, 2002, St. Louis, MO, "2nd North American Conference on Fathers Behind Bars and on the Street." Call (434) 589-3036, e-mail [email protected] or visit http:/ for information.

November 8-10, Anaheim, CA, combined national conference of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Marijuana Policy Project. Early bird registration $150, $45 for students with financial need, visit for further information.

November 9, Anaheim, CA, Bill Maher benefit show for Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Marijuana Policy Project. Admission $50, or $1,000 VIP package including front-row seat and private reception with Bill Maher. Visit for further information.

December 1-4, Seattle, WA, "Taking Drug Users Seriously," Fourth National Harm Reduction Conference. Sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition, featuring keynote speaker Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former US Surgeon General. For information, e-mail [email protected], visit or call (212) 213-6376.

April 6-10, 2003, Chiangmai, Thailand, 14th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug-Related Harm. Details to follow, e-mail [email protected] to request a full announcement by mail.

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