Drug War Chronicle #612 - December 11, 2009

1. Feature: With Passage of Medical Marijuana Bill Pending, New Jersey Patient Faces 20 Years for Growing His Medicine

If advocates for medical marijuana in New Jersey needed a poster boy, they've found him in John Ray Wilson. The broke, unemployed, MS patient goes on trial next week for growing his own medicine. He's looking at 20 years in prison for something that might not even be a crime next month.

2. At the Statehouse: Sentencing, Drug Testing, Good Samaritan, Hemp, and SWAT Bills

In the final installment in our series on drug reform legislative activity, we look at sentencing, Good Samaritan laws, drug testing, and a couple of odds and ends.

3. Congress: Budget Deal Includes Series of Drug Reform Victories

Congressional budget negotiators have approved a conference committee bill that ends the ban on federal funding of needle exchange programs, ends the ban on the District of Columbia funding of needle exchange programs, and ends the ban on the District enacting a medical marijuana law approved by voters a decade ago. Oh, and it also slashes funding for the drug czar's ineffective youth anti-drug media campaign.

4. Appeal: Did You Know That We Are WINNING?

Unprecedented developments have us more optimistic than ever before at the prospects for significant change in drug policy.

5. Alert: Tell Congress to Repeal Unjust Crack Cocaine Sentences

A rare window of opportunity has opened for addressing one of the drug war's most glaring injustices.

6. Medical Marijuana: Los Angeles City Council Approves Measure to Cap Dispensaries at 70

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to slash the number of medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the city by nearly 90%. Under the measure approved, the number of dispensaries would be limited to 70.

7. Public Opinion: Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, Poll Finds

Woo-hoo! The end times are upon us. For the second time this year, a national public opinion poll reports majority support for legalizing marijuana.

8. Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

Amnesty International accuses the Mexican military of human rights violations in the drug war -- a problem for US funding. Meanwhile, this year's south of the border prohibition-related death toll passed 7,000 this week.

9. Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More problems in the NYPD, "Starsky and Hutch" are being investigated in Camden, and a Florida cop heads to prison for tipping off drug traffickers.

10. Prosecution: No More Crack Pipe Felonies for Houston

Finally, some sanity in Houston! The Harris County District Attorney has announced that beginning January 1, people caught with trace amounts of drugs or drug paraphernalia with drug traces will no longer be charged with felonies.

11. Latin America: Top Honduran Anti-Drug Official Assassinated

Honduras' top anti-drug official Monday held a press conference urging the public to join the fight against drug traffickers. A day later, he was dead--gunned down in an ambush by assailants who escaped.

12. Europe: Czech Government Decriminalizes Up To Five Marijuana Plants, 15 Grams

Last year, the Czech parliament voted to decriminalize the possession of "small amounts" of drugs. Now, as the clock ticks toward January 1, when the new penal code takes effect, the cabinet is finally determining just what "small amounts" are.

13. Europe: Mayor of Amsterdam Says Cities Need Different Coffee Shop Policy From Border Towns

The Dutch government is pondering a further tightening of the screws on Holland's famous cannabis coffee shops, but Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen doesn't want a one-size-fits-all policy based on problems with border town "drug tourism."

14. Weekly: This Week in History

Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.

15. Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle?

Do you read Drug War Chronicle? If so, we need your feedback to evaluate our work and make the case for Drug War Chronicle to funders. We need donations too.

16. Students: Intern at StoptheDrugWar.org (DRCNet) and Help Stop the Drug War!

Apply for an internship at DRCNet and you could spend a semester fighting the good fight!

17. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

"Good Stuff to Read," "Washington Post Writer Gets Tricked by the Drug Czar, Refuses to Accept Responsibility," "10 Rules for Dealing With Police (Film Preview)," "Deputy Drug Czar: I hate This job'," "No Marijuana Smoking at the Dog-Sled Races," "A Magical Day in Mexico," "No Drug Bust is Worth the Life of a Good Cop."

1. Feature: With Passage of Medical Marijuana Bill Pending, New Jersey Patient Faces 20 Years for Growing His Medicine

Update: Wilson was convicted of some charges Thursday, but not the most serious one.

Just weeks before the New Jersey Assembly votes on pending medical marijuana legislation, a trial is set to take place that demonstrates precisely why such a law is needed. A sick Somerset County resident, John Ray Wilson, is looking at up to 20 years in prison for growing his own medicine.

courthouse demo supporting John Ray Wilson, 2009
In the summer of 2008, Wilson, a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferer, was broke, had no health insurance, and was desperate for relief from the debilitating symptoms of his disease. Unable to afford pharmaceutical medications and having already resorted to alternative healing practices, when Wilson saw fellow MS victim Montel Williams talk on TV about how medical marijuana had helped him, he decided to try it for himself.

Wilson had even resorted to bee-sting therapy in a bid to relieve his symptoms, but it was marijuana that worked best, he said. "I was diagnosed with MS in 2002," he said. "I suffer from blurred vision, pain in my joints, and muscle spasms. I didn't have any medical benefits, so I tried to get some financial assistance to actually get some MS medicine, but that didn't succeed. I even tried getting stung by bees. Then I saw Montel Williams on TV saying he had MS and smoked marijuana and it helped. So I tried it, too, and it definitely helped, especially in relieving the pain and the muscle spasms."

Lacking access to medical marijuana, Wilson decided to try his hand at growing his own in the backyard of his Franklin Township home, and that's when his life took a real turn for the worse. A National Guard helicopter on a training flight spotted Wilson's garden and reported him to state authorities, who promptly seized his 17 plants, arrested him, and charged him with a number of drug possession and drug manufacturing offenses that could get him 20 years in prison. If convicted on the most serious charge -- maintaining a drug production facility -- Wilson would be ineligible for pre-trial diversion and would have to go to prison.

Wilson and his attorney explored plea bargain negotiations with prosecutors, to no avail. "We were prepared to settle for a reasonable deal, but the best they offered was five years in prison," he said.

Now, Wilson is going on trial. Jury selection is set to begin Monday.

It will be tough for Wilson to prevail. In October, Superior Court Judge Robert Reed ruled that his medical condition, and the fact that he had been taking marijuana to treat his condition, could not be revealed to the jury during the course of the trial.

"By striking my medical history from the trial, they've pretty much tied my hands behind my back," said Wilson. "Hopefully, we can get a jury that can see through what they're doing to me, but it's more than a little scary. The consequences of what they're doing would be horrendous for me. My health would definitely deteriorate in prison. Stress makes all the symptoms worse, and going to prison would definitely be stressful."

Wilson with Jim Miller and Ken Wolski
"Wilson tried marijuana and found it does in fact help," said Ken Wolski, head of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, which has lobbied hard to pass a medical marijuana bill in the Garden State to protect patients. "Interestingly enough, a National MS Society expert opinion paper recently acknowledged that conventional therapies don't adequately control MS symptoms and marijuana does. But he will not be able to tell the jury he has MS, and that's the only reason he was using marijuana in the first place," said Wolski. "He's got no job, no health insurance, no access to medicine that might bring him some relief. He tries to eke out a living on eBay."

"This is exactly why New Jersey needs a medical marijuana law," said Roseanne Scotti, head of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office, who has been walking the statehouse corridors in Trenton for years trying to get medical marijuana passed. "John Ray Wilson's case is every medical marijuana patient's worst nightmare," she added.

"He was using for medical purposes, but is precluded by the courts from introducing evidence as to why, and the court is correct -- this is the law in New Jersey," Scotti continued. "But that's exactly why we need to change the law -- so people like Mr. Wilson can get safe and legal access to medical marijuana, and we don't go around arresting and prosecuting someone patients seeking some relief."

"John Ray Wilson is a poster child for the legalization of medical marijuana," said Wolski. "So many people are outraged that he is facing 20 years for trying to treat himself and will not even be able to tell the truth during the course of his trial."

In a cruel twist of fate, Wilson is being prosecuted just weeks before New Jersey is likely to adopt a medical marijuana law. The state Senate has already passed it, and the Assembly will vote on it early next month. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has indicated he will sign it. Two of the bill's sponsors, Sens. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), have highlighted Wilson's plight as indicative of why New Jersey needs a medical marijuana law.

"It seems cruel and unusual to treat New Jersey's sick and dying as if they were drug cartel kingpins. Moreover, it is a complete waste of taxpayer money having to house and treat an MS patient in a jail at the public's expense," said Scutari. "Specifically, in the case of John Ray Wilson, the state is taking a fiscally irresponsible hard-line approach against a man who's simply seeking what little relief could be found from the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis. Governor Corzine should step in immediately and end this perversion of criminal drug statutes in the Garden State."

But Corzine hasn't stepped in or stepped up. Instead, his office said it would wait until Wilson was convicted to consider a pardon.

"The attorney general and the governor didn't want to take any action, but they could make this case go away by exercising prosecutorial discretion," said Wolski. "They chose to let it move forward, and now its getting a lot of regional and national attention, and rightfully so, because it shocks the conscience of the community."

"The only way we're going see fewer of these cases come before the court is if the 'New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act' becomes the law of the land," said Lesniak. "This has been an issue that has taken years to resolve in New Jersey, and legislative approval and enactment into law are long past overdue. It's time that the Assembly posts this bill for a vote, so we can focus our attention on putting real criminals behind bars, and not piling on the suffering for terminal patients simply seeking a little relief from the symptoms of their diseases."

But while an Assembly vote is now set for next month, John Ray Wilson's trial will be over by then. Barring a miracle of jury nullification, Wilson will be drug felon. And in the meantime, he's going without his medicine. "I'm not going to buy marijuana on the street," he said. "That would get me thrown back in jail."

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2. At the Statehouse: Sentencing, Drug Testing, Good Samaritan, Hemp, and SWAT Bills

As 2009 winds up, we present the last installment in our series of articles on drug reform in state legislatures. This week, we look at Good Samaritan bills, sentencing bills, drug testing bills, and a hemp bill and a SWAT bill.

Rhode Island Senate chamber
Although we have tried to be comprehensive, we might have missed something. If we have, please write to us here.

Good Samaritan Bills

Connecticut: A bill that would protect overdose victims and the people seeking help for them from prosecution, HB 5445, was introduced in January and referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, where it got a hearing in March. It has not moved since.

Hawaii: A bill providing limited immunity from prosecution for overdose victims and those seeking to help them, HB 532, was introduced in January, passed the Health Committee on an 8-0 vote in February, and was assigned to the Judiciary Committee. It has now been held over for the 2010 session.

Maryland: A bill that would protect overdose victims and the people seeking help for them from prosecution, HB 1273, passed the House on a 135-0 vote in March, passed the Senate on a 47-0 vote in April, and was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley in May.

Nebraska: A bill protecting drug overdose victims and those seeking to assist them from prosecution, LB 383, was introduced in January and got a hearing before the Judiciary Committee in March, but has not moved since.

New York: A bill that would provide protection to drug overdose victims and those seeking to help them, A 8147, was introduced in May and referred to the Assembly Rules Committee in June, where it has sat ever since. A companion measure, S 5191, was introduced in April and has sat before the Senate Codes Committee ever since.

Rhode Island: A bill that would provide limited immunity from prosecution for drug overdose victims and those trying to help them, S 194, was introduced in February and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it has been stalled ever since.

Washington: A bill that would protect overdose victims and those trying to help them from prosecution, HB 1796, was introduced in January and approved by the Committee on Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness in February. It was then referred to the House Rules Committee, where it died for lack of action.

Drug Testing

Kansas: A bill that would have required people who seek public assistance to undergo drug testing, HB 2275, passed the House on a 99-26 vote in March. It was referred to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee at that time, but has not moved since.

Louisiana: A bill that would have required welfare recipients to undergo drug testing, HB 137, died in June on an 11-5 vote in the House Appropriations Committee.

Missouri: A bill that would have made it a crime to falsify a drug test or to sell or transport drug test adulterants, HB 446, was introduced in May and promptly went nowhere. It is currently "not on the calendar." A bill that would require drug testing of welfare recipients upon "reasonable suspicion," SB 73, won a hearing before the Senate Progress and Development Committee in February, but has been dormant ever since.

West Virginia: A bill that would have mandated random drug tests for people who receive food stamps or unemployment benefits, HB 3007, was blocked in committee. A last ditch effort to revive it via a House floor vote was defeated 70-30 on a straight party line vote. Republicans voted for it.


Louisiana: A bill, HB 630, which would grant parole eligibility to people sentenced to life without parole for heroin offenses, passed the House and Senate in the spring and became law without the governor's signature in July. It became effective August 15.

Massachusetts: The state Senate last month approved SB 2210, which grants parole eligibility to nonviolent drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences. But the House recessed without taking action on the measure.

New Jersey: A bill that would give judges discretion to waive mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, SB 1866, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 23 and passed Senate yesterday. Its companion measure, A2762, passed the Assembly last year, and Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he will sign the bill.

New York: The legislature and Gov. David Paterson (D) came to an agreement in March on a second round of reforms to the state's draconian Rockefeller drug laws. The reforms, which went into effect in October, included returning judicial discretion in low-level drug cases, expanding treatment and reentry services, expanding drug courts, and allowing some 1,500 people imprisoned for low-level drug offenses to apply for resentencing.


Oregon: Oregon became the 17th state to pass legislation favorable to hemp farming and the ninth state to remove legal barriers to farming the potentially lucrative crop as Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) in August signed into law SB 676, an industrial hemp act sponsored by state Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D). The bill removes all state legal obstacles to growing hemp for food, fiber, and other industrial purposes. It passed the House 46-11 and the Senate 27-2. Industrial hemp production remains prohibited under federal law.


Maryland: Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law a bill that will require law enforcement SWAT teams to regularly report on their activities. The bill was largely a response to a misbegotten drug raid last July in Prince Georges County in which Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo and his family were doubly victimized -- first by drug traffickers who used their address for a marijuana delivery, then by Prince Georges County police, who killed the family's two pet dogs and mistreated Calvo and his mother-in-law for several hours. The bill, the SWAT Team Activation and Reporting Act (HB 1267), requires all law enforcement agencies that operate SWAT teams to submit monthly reports on their activities, including when and where they are used, and whether the operations result in arrests, seizures or injuries.

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3. Congress: Budget Deal Includes Series of Drug Reform Victories

US House and Senate negotiators in conference committee approved the finishing touches on the Fiscal Year 2010 budget Tuesday night, and they included a number of early Christmas presents for different drug reform constituencies. It isn't quite a done deal yet -- this negotiated version of the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act must now win final approval on both the House and Senate floors. But they are up-or-down, no-amendments-allowed votes -- if the bill passes, it will include the drug reforms.

US Capitol, Senate side
What the conference committee approved:

  • Ending the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs -- without previous language that would have banned them from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, and similar facilities. (Instead it seems to give local authorities the ability to overrule state or other officials on location choices.)
  • Ending the ban on the use of federal funds for needle exchanges in the District of Columbia.
  • Allowing the District of Columbia to implement the medical marijuana initiative passed by voters in 1998 but blocked by congressional diktat ever since.
  • Cutting funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign from $70 million this year to $45 million next year.

In a news release after agreement was reached, this is how the committee described the language on needle exchange:

Modifies a prohibition on the use of funds in the Act for needle exchange programs; the revised provision prohibits the use of funds in this Act for needle exchange programs in any location that local public health or law enforcement agencies determine to be inappropriate.

Its description of the DC appropriations language:

Removing Special Restrictions on the District of Columbia: ...Also allows the District to implement a referendum on use of marijuana for medical purposes as has been done in other states, allows use of Federal funds for needle exchange programs except in locations considered inappropriate by District authorities.

And its language on the youth media campaign:

National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: $45 million, $25 million below 2009 and the budget request, for a national ad campaign providing anti-drug messages directed at youth. Reductions were made in this program because of evaluations questioning its effectiveness. Part of the savings was redirected to other ONDCP drug-abuse-reduction programs.

Citing both reforms in the states -- from medical marijuana to sentencing reform -- as well as the conference committee's actions, Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann stopped just short of declaring victory Wednesday. "It's too soon to say that America's long national nightmare -- the war on drugs --is really over," Nadelmann. "But yesterday's action on Capitol Hill provides unprecedented evidence that Congress is at last coming to its senses when it comes to national drug control policy."

As noted above, there are still two votes to go, and reformers are applying the pressure until it is a done deal. "Hundreds of thousands of Americans will get HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C if Congress does not repeal the federal syringe funding ban," said Bill Piper, DPA national affairs director. "The science is overwhelming that syringe exchange programs reduce the spread of infectious diseases without increasing drug use. We will make sure the American people know which members of Congress stand in the way of repealing the ban and saving lives."

Washington, DC, residents got a two-fer from the committee when it approved ending the ban on the District funding needle exchanges and undoing the Barr Amendment, the work of erstwhile drug warrior turned reformer former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA). Barr's amendment forbade the District from implementing the 1998 medical marijuana initiative, which won with 69% of the vote.

"Congress is close to making good on President Obama's promise to stop the federal government from undermining local efforts to provide relief to cancer, HIV/AIDS and other patients who need medical marijuana," said Naomi Long, the DC Metro director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "DC voters overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana for medical use and Congress should have never stood in the way of implementing the will of the people."

"The end of the Barr amendment is now in sight," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This represents a huge victory not just for medical marijuana patients, but for all city residents who have every right to set their own policies in their own District without congressional meddling. DC residents overwhelmingly made the sensible, compassionate decision to pass a medical marijuana law, and now, more than 10 years later, suffering Washingtonians may finally be allowed to focus on treating their pain without fearing arrest."

Medical marijuana in the shadow of the Capitol? Federal dollars being spent on proven harm reduction techniques? Congress not micromanaging DC affairs? What is the world, or at least Washington, coming to?

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4. Appeal: Did You Know That We Are WINNING?

Dear drug policy reformer,

Did you know that we are WINNING?

No, I'm not joking. Yes, there's a long, hard road still ahead. Many lives will be damaged -- some ruined -- by repressive, prohibitionist drug policies in the meantime. Nevertheless, things are moving in our direction:

  • Medical marijuana dispensaries are now expanding to more states than just California -- east coast, Rockies, even Midwest.
  • Congress is moving on a range of important reforms -- three this very week -- that had previously been stuck for years.
  • Major media outlets are contacting us asking who the famous and important people are calling for legalization of drugs.

This is a critically important moment, and so I'm writing today to ask you to step up to the plate for drug policy reform with a contribution of $36, $60 or $100 to our 2009 "Changing Minds, Laws & Lives" campaign. Please join us and be a part of changing drug laws today!

Donate $36 or more and
you can choose any of
premium items --
books, videos, t-shirts
about the failure of
prohibition, more.

With nearly two million unique visitors to our web site every year, many of them journalists, policymakers and advocates themselves, StoptheDrugWar.org (DRCNet) is playing a unique and important role in forwarding the drug war and legalization debates, building the drug policy reform movement, and advancing long-term legislative goals.

Your participation at this point in history is very important, and I'd like to send you some free gifts to show our appreciation.

For a contribution of $36, you can choose any of our many current membership premiums -- books, videos, t-shirts about the failure of drug prohibition, more. For a gift of $60 or more, you can pick any two items. For a contribution of $100 or more, pick any three.

By joining today, you will make an immediate impact by helping StoptheDrugWar.org:

  • Continue to reach major media figures like John Stossel and Andrew Sullivan with important information about drug war injustices and policies.
  • Build up our recently-launched News Demonstration Project.
  • Complete our Online Legislative Center.
  • Mobilize the campaign to roll back aggressive drug war policing, starting with the overuse of SWAT teams.
  • Finish our web site expansion making StoptheDrugWar.org a true one-stop shop for all things drug policy.
  • Do all the things we've been doing for years to build the drug policy reform movement, reach hundreds of thousands of people online each month with the anti-prohibitionist message and more.

What you and I and our friends are doing together is working. We can't back off now. By taking advantage of the opportunity we have during this pro-reform climate, we can change minds, change laws and, most importantly, change good people's lives for the better.

Thank you very much,

David Borden
Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org (DRCNet)

P.S. Thank you for your interest in the cause of ending prohibition and the drug war. Now is the perfect time to galvanize support across the country and prove that prohibition does not work. Please send in your gift today! Thank you!

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5. Alert: Tell Congress to Repeal Unjust Crack Cocaine Sentences

One of the most glaring injustices in US drug policy is the infamous crack/powder sentencing disparity, in which possession of a mere five grams of crack cocaine draws a five-year mandatory minimum sentence under federal law. It takes 100 times as much powder cocaine, 500 grams, to get the same sentence. The law has been applied in a racially disparate fashion since it was enacted 23 years ago, but reform efforts have mostly stalled.

Until this year, that is. Last July the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives approved H.R. 3245, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009. In October, a similar bill was introduced in the Senate, S. 1789.

Please call your US Representative and your two US Senators to urge their strongest possible support for the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act. The number for the Capitol Switchboard and your legislators is (202) 224-3121, or click here to look them up online. Whether you call today or not, please use our online form at this web page to email your Rep. and Senators too.

Visit the Crack the Disparity Coalition for further information about this issue and campaign. Following are some talking points from the Coalition to help with your call or to learn more:

Please support and cosponsor H.R. 3245, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009. This legislation will:

  • Restore federal law enforcement priorities. When Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and 1988, the intended targets of mandatory minimums were "serious" and "major" traffickers. In practice, the law failed to live up to its promise. Mandatory penalties for crack cocaine offenses have been applied most often to individuals who are low-level participants in the drug trade, who comprise more than 60% of federal crack defendants.
  • Save federal tax dollars and ease prison overcrowding. The Federal Bureau of Prisons estimates it costs $25,895 a year to house each prisoner. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, eliminating the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine would reduce the prison population by over 13,000 in 10 years.
  • Counter the perception of unfairness in the criminal justice system. African Americans account for 81.8% of defendants sentenced to federal prison for crack cocaine offenses. Crack cocaine sentences average 37 months longer than sentences for powder cocaine. This disparity has contributed to a damaging perception of race-based unfairness in our criminal justice system.
  • Treat two forms of the same drug the same. Crack cocaine is pharmacologically the same as powder cocaine. Myths about crack cocaine, that have been dispelled since the sentencing law was passed 23 years ago, contributed to these out of proportion penalties.

Click here for our archive of reporting and announcements on this issue.

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6. Medical Marijuana: Los Angeles City Council Approves Measure to Cap Dispensaries at 70

Under a measure passed Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council, the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city will shrink by more than 90%. The council voted to cap the number of dispensaries at 70, while recent estimates put the number of actually operating medical marijuana outlets in the city at between 800 and 1,000.

medical marijuana dispensary, Ventura Blvd., LA (courtesy wikimedia.org)
The vote is only the latest in the council's tortuous and twisted four-year effort to regulate the city's booming medical marijuana retail industry. There were four dispensaries in the city when the council first tackled the issue in 2005. By the time the council issued a moratorium on new dispensaries in 2007, there were 186. In the past two years, their numbers have increased four-fold from there.

Of the dispensaries that legally registered with the city prior to the moratorium, officials believe 137 are still open. Those establishments will be allowed to stay open, but may have to move to comply with restrictions on where they may locate.

"I think we should hold true to those that followed the rules," said Councilman Dennis Zine, explaining why he voted to reward dispensaries that were legally registered.

If Los Angeles actually does cap dispensaries at 70, that will mean roughly one dispensary for every 50,000 residents. In Oakland, the only other large city in the state to impose a cap, four dispensaries serve 100,000 residents each. Other, smaller, California cities with caps include Berkeley (one dispensary for each 34,000 residents), Palm Springs (one for each 24,000 residents), West Hollywood (one for every 9,000 residents), and Sebastopol (one for every 3,500 residents).

The council will return to try to actually pass its medical marijuana ordinance next week. There are signs it is going to revisit its decision of two weeks ago to impose a 1,000-ft. restriction on dispensaries near schools, parks, and similar facilities after advocates argument the restriction would effectively ban dispensaries from broad swathes of the city.

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7. Public Opinion: Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, Poll Finds

For the first time, a national public opinion poll has reported majority support for marijuana legalization. According to the poll by Angus-Reid Public Opinion, support for marijuana legalization now stands at 53% nationwide. The poll did not provide a regional breakdown.

In May, a Zogby poll reported support for legalization, taxation, and regulation of marijuana at 52% nationwide. The Angus-Reid poll asked only if respondents supported marijuana legalization.

In the Angus-Reid poll, among Democrats marijuana legalization garnered 61% support, with 55% of independents agreeing, and even 43% of Republicans.

Marijuana legalization bills have been introduced this year in California, Massachusetts, and Washington. California will also almost certainly have a legalization initiative on the ballot next November.

The poll also asked about legalizing other drugs. Fewer than one out of 10 respondents supported legalizing heroin, cocaine, meth, or Ecstasy. (More work to be done on that front.)

Finally, the poll asked whether the "war on drugs" has been a success or a failure. More than two-thirds (68%) said it has been a failure, with support for that position constant across geographic regions.

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8. 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 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,000 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 4

Near Monterrey, a group of more than 20 gunmen attacked a police detention center and freed 23 inmates. Two federal officers were killed during the attack. Witnesses reported that the inmates were driven away in at least five vehicles. Earlier on Friday in Monterrey, clashes between the army and dozens of gunmen left 13 people dead -- 12 suspected cartel members and one civilian.

The clashes began when soldiers came under fire as they raided a ranch where hostages were thought to be kept. A firefight ensued between the soldiers and an estimated 50 gunmen, seven of whom were killed and nine captured before the rest managed to escape. The gunmen that escaped later ran into another unit of soldiers, and five of them were killed in the gun battle that followed. A civilian was also killed in the crossfire. Several of the dead gunmen were ex-cops suspected in the death of a municipal police chief who was murdered in November.

Saturday, December 5

Thirty-six people were killed in drug-related violence across Mexico, including five federal agents. Additionally, a public security official in Chihuahua was kidnapped by gunmen as he drove on a highway, and remains to be found. Of the dead, 14 were murdered in Chihuahua, eight of them in Ciudad Juarez. Near Culiacan, Sinaloa, a state police official was found dead (along with an unidentified woman) in a bullet-riddled car. A three-year old who was in the backseat survived. In Guerrero, three policemen and two gunmen were killed in a firefight.

Tuesday, December 8

With the late night killings of four youths in Ciudad Juarez, the total body count this year from Mexico's drug war passed the 7,000 mark. In a 24 hour period, 13 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez, three in Sonora, seven in Guerrero, four in Sinaloa, and four in Mexico City and the surrounding area, bringing the yearly total to 7,026. Of these, 2,991 took place in Chihuahua, mostly in Ciudad Juarez.

Wednesday, December 9

In a report released Tuesday, Amnesty International blasted the conduct of Mexican government forces as they fight against drug traffickers. The report cited five cases involving 35 people that the organization thought were representative of the rampant human rights violations in Mexico, and accused the army of torturing civilians, capturing suspects illegally, and killing prisoners. The report was especially critical of Mexico's civilian authorities, who have refused or failed to investigate allegations of abuse on the part of the army. Complaints against the army are handled entirely by the Mexican military justice system, and out of the thousands of complaints, only a few have been investigated.

In Hermosillo, several locations were attacked in coordinated grenade attacks, leaving four people wounded. In Nogales, near the border with Arizona, five people were executed by gunfire in what appears to be an attempt to take over the local drug trafficking corridor. In Chihuahua, ten people were found murdered, eight of them in Ciudad Juarez.

Total Body Count for the Week: 174

Total Body Count for the Year: 7,056

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

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9. Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More problems in the NYPD, "Starsky and Hutch" are being investigated in Camden, and a Florida cop heads to prison for tipping off drug traffickers. Let's get to it:

In New York City, an NYPD officer from the Bronx was arrested last Friday for robbing a drug dealer of hundreds of thousands of dollars and acting as a courier for a long-time friend's cocaine distribution network. Officer Juan Acosta, 34, allegedly took $15,000 in payment for his courier work as recently as two months ago. Acosta and his buddy had been working together for at least four years. Both are charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and face up to life in prison if convicted. Acosta was being held without bail at last report.

In Camden, New Jersey, a pair of hot dog Camden police officers -- Patrolmen Kevin Parry and Jason Stetser -- have been suspended without pay as the FBI investigates allegations that they stole from drug dealers and made false arrests. Some suspects jailed after being arrested by the pair have been released on order of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, while at least one person already convicted and serving a sentence after being arrested by them accuses them of roughing him up and planting drugs in his residence.

In Lake Wales, Florida, a former Lake Wales police officer was sentenced December 3 to two years in state prison for tipping off a drug operation member about the identity of an undercover narc working for the Polk County Sheriff's Office. Keenan Colson ran license plate numbers and screened names for outstanding warrants, then passed that information on to a "known drug ring leader." One of the license plates belonged to the undercover sheriff's deputy. Colson was arrested in February and pleaded no contest in September to two counts misuse of confidential information, one count disclosure of confidential criminal justice information, and three unlawful uses of a two way communication device.

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10. Prosecution: No More Crack Pipe Felonies for Houston

Beginning January 1, prosecutors in Harris County, Texas, will no longer file felony drug charges against people found with less than one one-hundredth of a gram of illegal drugs. Currently in Houston, people caught with trace amounts of drug or holding crack pipes with drug traces are routinely charged with felonies.

crack pipe
But under a new policy promulgated by Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos, police are instructed to instead issue Class C misdemeanor tickets to people caught in possession of crack pipes or trace amounts of drugs. That means arrestees will face only a $500 fine, not the up to two years in state jail mandated by the felony charge.

The cops are not happy. "It ties the hands of the officers who are making crack pipe cases against burglars and thieves," said Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union. "A crack pipe is not used for anything but smoking crack by a crack head. Crack heads, by and large, are also thieves and burglars. They're out there committing crimes," he told the Houston Chronicle.

But Lykos told the Chronicle there were good reasons to change the policy. Less than one-hundredth of a gram of a drug is not enough for more than one drug test, and defense attorneys often want to run their own tests, she said.

The policy change also "gives us more of an ability to focus on the violent offenses and the complex offenses," she added. "When you have finite resources, you have to make decisions, and this decision is a plus all around."

Last year, Harris County prosecutors filed 46,000 felony cases, with 13,713, or nearly 30%, for possession of less than a gram of controlled substances. It is difficult to say how many of those would not have been charged as felonies under the new policy because most were charged only as possession of less than a gram.

While police are grumbling, defense attorneys are beaming. "It's a smart move and it's an efficient move and it lets us get down to the business of handling criminal cases of a more serious magnitude," Nicole Deborde, president-elect of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, told the Chronicle.

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11. Latin America: Top Honduran Anti-Drug Official Assassinated

The top Honduran anti-drug official was ambushed and killed Tuesday by hit men on motorcycles as he drove alone through the capital, Tegucigalpa. Former army Gen. Julián Arístides González, 57, director of the Office for Combating Drug Trafficking, died after being hit by multiple shots from the gunmen, who escaped.

González had complained of receiving death threats from drug traffickers in the past. He was set to retire in two months and move to Canada.

"We regret the death of this man who offered his life for the welfare of Hondurans," national police spokesman Orlin Cerrato said. "By the decency of his actions, he unleashed a real battle against the main vice that besets humanity."

Along with the other Central American republics, Honduras is a key transit country for cocaine smuggled out of South America and destined for the insatiable markets of the north. González's office this year has seized five tons of cocaine out of an estimated 100 tons that transit the country each year.

Trafficking through Honduras is believed to have intensified since the June coup that overthrew President Mel Zelaya. After the coup, the US suspended anti-drug cooperation and development aid to the rump government of interim President Roberto Micheletti. Honduran police complain that they have detected more aircraft smuggling drugs from South America since the coup, but have had less ability to stop them without US helicopters and radar.

Citing worries about the increase in drug trafficking, González held a press conference yesterday to urge the public to help the fight by reporting suspicious activity. He was dead 24 hours later.

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12. Europe: Czech Government Decriminalizes Up To Five Marijuana Plants, 15 Grams

Beginning January 1, possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana or up to five marijuana plants will not be a punishable offense in the Czech Republic. Likewise, people will be able to possess up to 40 hallucinogenic mushrooms. The limits were announced Tuesday after they were decided on by the cabinet.

Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic
Late last year, the Czech parliament approved a new penal code that specified no punishment for the possession of "small amounts" of drugs. But the code did not specify just what constituted a "small amount," with the result that police sometimes charged people, especially home pot growers, with more serious offenses. The task of formalizing those limits has been taken up by the Justice Ministry, which submits its proposals to the cabinet.

The ministry has also proposed setting the "small amount" limits for ecstasy at four tablets and for hashish at five grams. Similarly, people could possess up to two grams of methamphetamine without fear of punishment. The cabinet will consider those proposals in two weeks.

Possession of amounts greater than "small amounts," but less than those assumed to indicate drug trafficking, will result of prison sentences of up to one year for marijuana and up to two years for other drugs.

According to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction's latest annual report, Czechs are among Europe's leading pot smokers. Among young Czechs (age 16 to 34), 22% toke up at least once a year. The European average was 16%.

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13. Europe: Mayor of Amsterdam Says Cities Need Different Coffee Shop Policy From Border Towns

As the Dutch federal government ponders its next moves in its campaign against the country's famous cannabis coffee shops, the mayor of Amsterdam is advising against a one-size-fits-all policy. The needs of major cities are different from those of border towns, and policy needs to reflect those differences, Mayor Job Cohen said.

Job Cohen
Cohen's remarks came in a letter sent Friday to Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst. In it, Cohen argued that Amsterdam differs markedly from border towns, which are tightening up on coffee shops in the face of an influx of drug tourists from more repressive neighboring countries. Tourists in Amsterdam behave differently than the border town shoppers, he said.

"Tourists in Amsterdam usually visit the capital for several days and, in addition to many other activities, sometimes also go to a coffee shop," Cohen wrote.

Cohen also staked out a position against requiring membership to be able to buy marijuana at a coffee shop. That has been a proposal floated by the national government and some local authorities.

And Cohen rejected as ineffective a ban on coffee shops with 250 yards of schools. Underage age youth are already barred from entering coffee shops, he noted, adding that most teens usually have third parties procure their drugs for them.

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14. Weekly: This Week in History

December 17, 1914: Congress passes the Harrison Narcotics Act, initiating federal prohibition of cocaine and opiates.

December 11, 1942: The Opium Poppy Control Act is enacted, making possession of the opium poppy plant or seeds illegal.

December 12, 1981: The report of the Task Force on Cannabis Regulation to the Center for the Study of Drug Policy -- Regulation and Taxation of Cannabis Commerce is issued, reading, "It has been observed that marijuana is one of the largest tax-exempt industries in the country today and regulation would end that exemption."

December 17, 1986: Guillermo Cano Isaza, editor-in-chief of El Espectador (Colombia), is assassinated while driving home from work. Cano frequently wrote in favor of stiffer penalties for drug traffickers. His murder leads to a national outrage comparable to the assassination of Attorney General Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, and a subsequent government crackdown on traffickers.

December 15, 1989: Medellin cartel leader Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha is killed by Colombian police in a raid on his Tolu ranch.

December 16, 1991: The US Supreme Court allows a US Court of Appeals ruling to stand which found that the government's interest in screening out possible drug users outweighed the applicant's constitutional right to privacy. Prior to this decision, only federal employees in occupations related to public safety (e.g. truck and bus drivers) could be tested without cause. The ruling opens the door to across-the-board drug testing for millions of businesses and was a boon to the drug testing industry.

December 12, 1995: Director Lee P. Brown announces his resignation as head of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy.

December 13, 1995: In response to a December 1 rally held outside the offices of Boston radio station WBCN to protest the airplay of the NORML benefit CD Hempilation, the National Writers Union and the Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression issue statements condemning the actions of rally organizers, the Governor's Alliance Against Drugs (GAAD). Both groups are highly critical of the overall nature of the protest and specifically of the alleged use of state power and finances to help institute the rally. Reports note that protesters arrived in state vehicles, attendees were encouraged to "bring their squad cars," and an individual identified as a Boston liaison to the DEA accompanied Georgette Wilson, Executive Director of the GAAD, as she entered the station. "These sort of actions, when performed [and sponsored] by government agents, are specifically [prohibited] by law," charges Bill Downing, president of NORML's Massachusetts chapter.

December 14, 2001: While signing a new anti-drug bill that expands the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, President George W. Bush makes his first official mention that the Administration would begin leveraging its political successes with the War on Terrorism back into the War on Drugs when he says, "If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terrorism... It's so important for Americans to know that the traffic in drugs finances the work of terror, sustaining terrorists, that terrorists use drug profits to fund their cells to commit acts of murder."

December 13, 2002: A disabled, deaf, wheelchair-bound British charity worker returns home after spending two years in a primitive Indian prison after being found guilty of trafficking drugs even though it was a physical impossibility. Stephen Jakobi, director of Fair Trials Abroad, described the case against him as absurd. "There are things that just scream out to you," he said. "I have never actually been presented with a case where the guy is physically incapable of acting in the manner suggested by police."

December 13, 2004: Hungary's Constitutional Court restricts the use of diversion to drug treatment for some drug offenders, narrowing the scope of reform legislation enacted in 2003. In so doing, it also explicitly rejects an argument that the laws against drug possession are unconstitutional.

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15. Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle?

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16. Students: Intern at StoptheDrugWar.org (DRCNet) and Help Stop the Drug War!

Want to help end the "war on drugs," while earning college credit too? Apply for a StoptheDrugWar.org (DRCNet) internship and you could come join the team and help us fight the fight!

StoptheDrugWar has a strong record of providing substantive work experience to our interns -- you won't spend the summer doing filing or running errands, you will play an integral role in one or more of our exciting programs. Options for work you can do with us include coalition outreach as part of the campaign to rein in the use of SWAT teams, to expand our work to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act to encompass other bad drug laws like the similar provisions in welfare and public housing law; blogosphere/web outreach; media research and outreach; web site work (research, writing, technical); possibly other areas. If you are chosen for an internship, we will strive to match your interests and abilities to whichever area is the best fit for you.

While our internships are unpaid, we will reimburse you for metro fare, and DRCNet is a fun and rewarding place to work. To apply, please send your resume to David Guard at [email protected], and feel free to contact us at (202) 293-8340. We hope to hear from you! Check out our web site at http://stopthedrugwar.org to learn more about our organization.

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17. Weekly: Blogging @ the Speakeasy

Along with our weekly in-depth Chronicle reporting, DRCNet also provides daily content in the way of blogging in the Stop the Drug War Speakeasy -- huge numbers of people have been reading it recently -- as well as Latest News links (upper right-hand corner of most web pages), event listings (lower right-hand corner) and other info. Check out DRCNet every day to stay on top of the drug reform game! Check out the Speakeasy main page at http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy.

prohibition-era beer raid, Washington, DC (Library of Congress)

Since last issue:

Scott Morgan writes: "Good Stuff to Read," "Washington Post Writer Gets Tricked by the Drug Czar, Refuses to Accept Responsibility," "10 Rules for Dealing With Police (Film Preview)," "Deputy Drug Czar: I Hate This Job'," "No Marijuana Smoking at the Dog-Sled Races," "A Magical Day in Mexico," "No Drug Bust is Worth the Life of a Good Cop."

Phil Smith posts early copies of many Drug War Chronicle articles.

David Guard posts numerous press releases, action alerts and other organizational announcements in the In the Trenches blog.

Again, http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy is the online place to stay in the loop for the fight to stop the war on drugs. Thanks for reading, and please join us on the comment boards.

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Permission to Reprint: This issue of Drug War Chronicle is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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