Drug War Chronicle #694 - July 28, 2011

1. Medical Marijuana on the Move in Ohio [FEATURE]

Ohio medical marijuana patients are growing increasingly tired of waiting for the legislature to act, so they are now planning two different initiative campaigns aimed at November 2012.

2. Chronicle Book Review: At The Devil's Table

With "At the Devil's Table," investigative journalist William Rempel takes the reader on a ride to the dark heart of the Cali cartel. And what a ride it is!

3. NAACP Calls for End to War on Drugs

In a historic step, the nation's largest and oldest black advocacy group has formally come out against the war on drugs.

4. Medical Marijuana Group Appeals DEA Rescheduling Decision

Americans for Safe Access is appealing in the federal courts the DEA's decision to keep marijuana Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act.

5. Mexico Drug War Update

The violence rages unabated in Mexico...

6. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A sheriff whose alleged theft from the evidence room might be excused, a prison guard who also heads a violent biker gang, another prison guard with dope and an eye for the ladies, a pill peddling suburban cop, and a bribe-taking small town cop all make the rogues' gallery this week.

7. Cuomo Signs NY Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Bill

Faced with rising drug overdose deaths, New York is the latest -- and largest -- state to pass a 911 Good Samaritan law allowing people to seek help without fear of prosecution.

8. California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Approved for Petitioning

The first horse is out of the gate in the California 2012 marijuana legalization initiative sweepstakes.

9. National Poll Finds Support for Welfare Drug Testing

Americans feel pretty strongly that welfare applicants and recipients should be subject to drug testing, according to a new poll, but the findings could be skewed.

10. Canada Marijuana Arrests Jump Dramatically

Marijuana arrests jumped in Canada last year, and activists want to know why.

11. This Week in History

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

1. Medical Marijuana on the Move in Ohio [FEATURE]

Ohio could be a major medical marijuana battleground next year, as two different initiative efforts aimed at the November 2012 ballot are getting underway and a bill is pending in the state legislature. If Ohio climbs on the medical marijuana bandwagon, it would be the second Midwest state to do so, after Michigan, which approved it via the initiative route in 2008.

Two different initiative efforts are underway in Ohio, and there's pending legislation, too. (image via Wikimedia)
A medical marijuana bill, House Bill 214, was introduced in April and has been assigned to the Committee on Health and Aging, but given that a decade's worth of efforts to get a medical marijuana bill out of the legislature have yet to bear fruit, patients and advocates are moving forward with efforts to put the matter directly before the voters.

One initiative, the Ohio Alternative Treatment Amendment (OATA), was submitted to state officials Wednesday with more than twice the 1,000 signatures needed for the Attorney General to take the next step, approving the measure's summary language. That will take place in 10 days.

Organizers are already setting their sights on gathering the 385,000 thousand valid voter signatures needed to qualify for the 2012 ballot. They have until May to turn them in.

The OATA would modify the state constitution to allow doctors in a bona fide relationship with patients to recommend medical marijuana and offers protections to patients, caregivers, and physicians alike. Patients or caregivers could grow up to 12 plants and possess up to 3.5 ounces (or just under 100 grams) of processed marijuana. [Editor's Note: The original version of this article incorrectly put that amount at 200 grams.] Multiple caregivers could store their product in a "safe access center," and growers would be allowed to receive some compensation.

The second initiative getting underway, the Ohio Medical Cannabis Act of 2012 (OMCA) would modify the state constitution to establish government agencies to regulate medical marijuana "in a manner similar to the system that has successfully overseen vineyards and adult beverages," according to an OMCA press release. The campaign has yet to turn in the initial 1,000 signatures and win approval of its summary language, but has delayed because although it has already gathered more than 2,500 signatures, it is making final changes in the initiative's language, said campaign spokesperson Theresa Daniello.

"Over the past few days, we've spent hours and hours Skype conferencing and going over the language," said Daniello. "There were things like if the police came in with a warrant, we want to make sure they check with the medical marijuana enforcement division to make sure no one in that house is a patient."

Getting it right was worth the delay, the Cleveland patient and mother of five said. "We're not in a huge rush." Organizers would probably hand in the signatures in a week or two, she added.

The OMCA would apply already familiar regulations, such as licensing, local option laws, and HIPAA patient privacy rules to medical marijuana.  It would create an Ohio Commission of Medical Cannabis Control, which, like its counterparts in liquor control, would be charged with enforcing regulations and preventing diversion.

"The state of Ohio has a 77-year-old proven regulatory system under our liquor control laws that is one of the most effectively run in the country," said Daniello. "There are only 470 liquor stores in the state, one per county, and one more for each additional 30,000 residents, and counties can opt out, like dry counties do for alcohol. It would be like that. It's our goal that no patients be arrested," she added. "We want it out of the hands of the police and handed over to the division. We don't need guns, we need people who are educated."

Under the OMCA, patients with qualifying medical conditions who get a physician's recommendation would be able to possess up to 200 grams of medical marijuana and up to 12 mature and 12 immature plants. Patients would be registered with the state and provided with ID cards. Patients would be able to designate caregivers to grow for them.

"Both models are good," said medical marijuana patient and activist Tonya Davis. "Ohio patients want a safer alternative. The models are different, but we figure that between the bill at the legislature, and the two initiatives submitting language, we can come up with something that serves patients."

"We're trying to work together to keep the energy going the right way," said Daniello.

That would be great for patients like Chad Holmes, who underwent chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery for colon cancer, resulting in the removal of much of his digestive tract. He used medical marijuana to counter the side effects of nausea and severe pain, and found it to be the only medicine that allowed him to eat, maintain his strength, and function.

"Medical marijuana didn't cure me, but it allowed me to survive the cure long enough for it to work," he said. He has now been cancer free for over six years.

"Ohioans like Mr. Holmes face a terrible choice," said Daniello. "They can choose to suffer with the horrible, debilitating effects of their illness, or risk arrest and years in prison for using medical marijuana to relieve their pain and suffering."

But if either the legislature or the voters act, that dilemma for medical marijuana patients will be resolved. Look for a lot of action on medical marijuana in the Buckeye State in the next few months.

Money will be key. Peter Lewis, founder of Cleveland-based Progressive Insurance and a significant drug reform funder, issued a request for proposals for action on medical marijuana in May, but neither group appears to have offered one. Davis said she thought Lewis had turned his attention elsewhere, while Daniello said her campaign would likely contact him later.

"We're accepting support," Daniello said. "We had less than a week to respond to Peter Lewis's call for a request for proposals, and we decided that wasn't enough time. We need to show that we can act in a professional manner before we go back."

National presidential election year politics could help stir major funder interest, Daniello suggested. "2012 is a presidential year, and, as they say, as goes Ohio, so goes the nation," she said. "If the proper people realize that, the funding will come in."

It will have to for either of these initiatives to have a serious chance of making it to the ballot.

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2. Chronicle Book Review: At The Devil's Table

At The Devil's Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel, by William Rempel (2011, Random House, 346 pp., $27.00 HB)

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/at-the-devils-table-200px.jpg
For six years in the 1990s, a Colombian engineer named Jorge Salcedo worked for the Cali cartel, gradually making his way up to chief of security for the $7 billion a year cocaine exporting and distribution operation, up to that time the wealthiest and most powerful drug operation in history. Then he flipped, going to work for the DEA to help bring down his erstwhile employers, and vanished into the US federal witness protection program, along with his family.

For more than a decade, veteran Los Angeles Times investigative reporter William Rempel conducted exclusive interviews with Salcedo, never knowing where he lived or even the name he was living under. At The Devil's Table is the result, and what a riveting and relentless, ever more suspenseful, story it is. The book reads like the finest fictional thriller, fast-paced, full of unexpected twists, and increasingly tense and terrifying. I sucked it down in two days.

Through Salcedo's inside access to Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, capo of capos of what was largely a family operation, Rempel's readers are given a never before seen view of the Cali cartel, its inner workings, and its principal players. Salcedo got hired on to help protect the cartel heads and their families from the murderous predations of rival, and much more flamboyantly violent, Medellin cartel head Pablo Escobar.

But his purely defensive function gradually morphed, and Salcedo was charged with hiring British mercenaries to attack an Escobar estate via helicopter, and later, with buying bombs in Central America for an aerial attack on Escobar's luxurious hillside prison. Both efforts failed, but through them Salcedo reveals the depth of the cartel's penetration into Colombia's police, armed forces, and political class.

Probably the ultimate example of that penetration was the cartel's $6 million dollar contribution to the campaign of Ernesto Samper, which helped him become president of the country in 1994, and was supposed to ensure smooth sailing and a "soft reentry" into legitimate society for the Cali capos in return for their giving up the dope business. It didn't work out that way. The Clinton administration, infuriated when word leaked out, put the screws on Samper, who in turn was forced to put the screws on his benefactors.

As the pressure mounted, Salcedo got deeper and deeper into a world he increasingly wanted no part of. He witnessed mass killings and feared for his own life in an atmosphere of increasing paranoia, and when cartel bosses ordered him to put a hit on a fellow worker, an accountant who meticulously recorded the cartel's business endeavors, he made his move. It was kill the man as ordered or face death himself. There had to be another way out.

In one of the book's darkly comic moments, Salcedo cold calls CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and spends futile moments telling a bewildered operator he knew how to bring down the Cali cartel. That initial contact didn't pan out, but Salcedo knew a cartel-employed US lawyer in Miami who was staring at his own federal indictment, and before long the DEA came a-knocking. At the Table's final scenes are white-knuckled nail-biters, as the DEA and the Colombians attempt to bring down Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and get Salcedo, his family, and the accountant out of the country alive.

This is fine drama of the highest order, excellently crafted by a real pro, and makes an exciting and informative summer read. But it's not an indictment of drug prohibition or an impassioned call for reform -- unless one reads that between the lines. For Rempel the crime reporter, the drug war is little more than the palette on which he can paint his true crime masterpiece, not something to be probed and called into question.

But who can read about the wholesale corruption of the security forces and the political system by prohibition's filthy lucre, who can read about the assassinations and murders with impunity, who can read about the billions of American tax dollars spent chasing cocaine cowboys across continents in a never-ending game and not call drug prohibition into question?

Rempel the journalist doesn't have to tell us about the effects of drug prohibition; he shows us, and in a most compelling fashion.

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3. NAACP Calls for End to War on Drugs

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has now officially broken with the war on drugs. At its 102nd annual convention in Los Angeles Tuesday, the nation's oldest and largest black advocacy group passed an historic resolution calling for an end to the drug war.

screening of "10 Rules for Dealing with Police," NAACP national conference, July 2010
The title of the resolution pretty much says it all: "A Call to End the War on Drugs, Allocate Funding to Investigate Substance Abuse Treatment, Education, and Opportunities in Communities of Color for A Better Tomorrow."

"Today the NAACP has taken a major step towards equity, justice and effective law enforcement," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP.  "These flawed drug policies that have been mostly enforced in African American communities must be stopped and replaced with evidenced-based practices that address the root causes of drug use and abuse in America."

The resolution noted that the US spends over $40 billion a year to battle against drugs and locks up hundreds of thousands of low-level drug offenders, mostly from communities of color. Blacks are 13 times as likely to be imprisoned for low-level drug offenses as whites, despite using drugs at roughly the same rate as whites, the group noted.

"Studies show that all racial groups abuse drugs at similar rates, but the numbers also show that African Americans, Hispanics and other people of color are stopped, searched, arrested, charged, convicted, and sent to prison for drug-related charges at a much higher rate," said Alice Huffman, President of the California State Conference of the NAACP, which last year endorsed California's Prop 19 marijuana legalization initiative. "This dual system of drug law enforcement that serves to keep African-Americans and other minorities under lock and key and in prison must be exposed and eradicated."

Instead of choking the US criminal justice system with drug offenders, the resolution called for an investment in treatment and prevention programs, including methadone clinics and treatment programs proven effective.

"We know that the war on drugs has been a complete failure because in the forty years that we’ve been waging this war, drug use and abuse has not gone down," said Robert Rooks, director of the NAACP Criminal Justice Program. "The only thing we've accomplished is becoming the world's largest incarcerator, sending people with mental health and addiction issues to prison, and creating a system of racial disparities that rivals Jim Crow policies of the 1960's."

Neill Franklin, an African American former narcotics cop from Baltimore and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, made a presentation about ending the war on drugs to the conference Monday, and had more to say Tuesday.   

"The NAACP has been on the forefront of the struggle for civil rights and social justice in this country for over a century. The fact that these leaders are joining others like the National Black Police Association in calling for an end to the 'war on drugs' should be a wake up call to those politicians - including and especially President Obama - who still have not come to terms with the devastation that the 'drug war' causes in our society and especially in communities of color."

Although passed by delegates to the convention, the resolution must be ratified by the NAACP board of directors in October. Once that happens, the NAACP's 1,200 active units across the country will mobilize to conduct campaigns advocating for the end of the war on drugs.

The African-American community has long suffered the brunt of drug law enforcement in this country, but has proven remarkably resistant to calls to reform our drug policies, in part because it has also suffered the effects of drug abuse. That the nation's leading African-American organization has taken a stand against the drug war is a big deal.

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4. Medical Marijuana Group Appeals DEA Rescheduling Decision

Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group, last Thursday filed an appeal challenging the Obama administration's recent decision to keep marijuana classified as a dangerous drug with no medicinal value. The appeal comes just two weeks after the DEA belatedly denied a 2002 petition seeking to have marijuana removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Schedule I is reserved for drugs that have "a high potential for abuse," "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States" and "a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision."

In refusing to down-schedule marijuana, the DEA ignored the 1988 ruling of its own Administrative Law Judge Francis Young, who found, "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man." Since then, medical marijuana has been approved in 16 states and the District of Columbia, and the scientific literature on the medical efficacy of marijuana has become enormous.

ASA said it will argue in a forthcoming appeal brief that the federal government decision was not supported by the evidence and that it erred in refusing to down-schedule marijuana.

"By ignoring the wealth of scientific evidence that clearly shows the therapeutic value of marijuana, the Obama Administration is playing politics at the expense of sick and dying Americans," said ASA chief counsel Joe Elford. "For the first time in more than 15 years we will be able to present evidence in court to challenge the government's flawed position on medical marijuana."

ASA and other medical marijuana advocates viewed the DEA refusal to reschedule marijuana less as a defeat than as an opportunity to get the matter before the courts. The last time, the federal bench dealt with the medical efficacy of marijuana was in 1994, and the case for therapeutic cannabis has only grown stronger since then.

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5. Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

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

Black market drug money buys lots of guns in Mexico. (image via wikimedia.org)
Tuesday, July 12

In Ciudad Juarez, at least 18 or 19 people were murdered in the city. Among the dead were four men who were shot dead at a field that had been the scene of a previous homicide, and a 12-year old boy who was working in a tire shop and chased into a restaurant where he was shot dead.

In Nuevo Laredo, at least 11 people were killed in and around Monterrey. In one incident, five men were gunned down in a public park by men armed with assault rifles. In another incident, four men were gunned down as they walked down a street, and armed men dragged a woman from her home in Escobedo and executed her outside.

Thursday, July 14

In Baja California, the Mexican army discovered the largest marijuana plantation on record, four times the size of previous record-holder, which was found in Chihuahua in 1984. The sophisticated plantation, which was discovered in the desert about 150 miles from Tijuana, could potentially have harvest 120 tons of marijuana each harvest.

Friday, July 15

In Sinaloa, 12 members of an elite police unit and a bystander were killed after being ambushed on the highway between Los Mochis and Guasave. Earlier in the day, two police officers were wounded during a shootout in Los Mochis. Signs later strung up in several parts of Sinaloa by members of the Beltran-Leyva Organization accusing the police of backing the Sinaloa Cartel, with whom the BLO split violently in 2008. Sinaloa, especially the area around the towns of Los Mochis and Guasave, has long been considered one the areas of the country under the most influence of drug cartels.

In Nuevo Laredo, 149 prisoners escaped during a large-scale jailbreak. At least 35 of the escapees are federal prisoners, which often means that they are cartel-affiliated. Five guards abandoned their posts during the incident.

Wednesday, July 20

In Queretaro, the Mexican Army seized the largest amount of meth precursor chemicals ever recorded in the country. The Army declined to comment on whether any arrests were made in the raids, which confiscated approximately 840 tons of chemicals which could have been used to process billions of dollars worth of meth.

In Chihuahua, prosecutors announced that a US District Court employee had been kidnapped and murdered in Ciudad Juarez recently. Jorge Dieppa, 57, a court interpreter, had apparently been kidnapped and held for a $10,000 ransom but was executed after allegedly recognizing a former girlfriend of his among the kidnappers. Three suspects, including the woman, are in custody, and another is on the run.

Friday, July 22

In Monterrey, two police officers assigned to the US consulate in the city were shot dead. The two men, who had been assigned to guard US diplomats, were riding on a motorcycle in the violence-plagued suburb of Guadalupe when they were shot by gunmen in a vehicle.

In Zacatecas, six gunmen were killed in a firefight with the army after troops on patrol came under fire after receiving a tip that suspected cartel members were setting up an illegal roadblock.

Monday, July 25

In Ciudad Juarez, 24 people were killed, including 17 killed inside the municipal jail. It is still unclear exactly what happened, but it is known that members of either the Mexicles, allied to the Sinaloa Cartel, and the Aztecas, allied to the Juarez cartel, overpowered guards and took their weapons. While the incident was initially considered an escape attempt, other reports indicate that at the time of the shooting, guards and prisoners were involved in an orgy which included drugs and underage women. Twenty people were also wounded in the incident, which was finally ended after an hour of shooting.

Also in Ciudad Juarez, the mayor announced that federal police would begin withdrawing from the area in early September. Mayor Hector Murguia said that municipal police are now capable of controlling the city themselves. Federal police took charge of law enforcement in Ciudad Juarez in April 2010, after an influx of soldiers were withdrawn after accusations that they were abusing their power.

Tuesday, July 26

In Veracruz, a crime reporter was found decapitated. Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz had been missing since Saturday, when she was kidnapped by heavily armed men. Ordaz, who worked for the local newspaper Notiver, is the fourth Veracruz reporter to be murdered this year so far. A note left with the body seems to suggest that her killing is connected to the July 20 murder of a local columnist and his family in their home.

In Ciudad Juarez, police chief Julian Leyzoala said that a group of 20 federal police officers shot at his armored car on Monday as he was driving to the municipal jail to deal with the riot. Leyzoala said he is preparing criminal charges of attempted murder for the federal officers, who he says are well aware of the type of car he drives. "Fortunately the car is armored, or I wouldn't be here," he said.

Editor's Note: We cannot accurately tally the drug prohibition-related killings in Mexico at this time. El Universal, the only Mexican newspaper that was doing so on a regular basis, has stopped. We will have to rely on official pronouncements on the death toll, and will report them when they happen. Below are the numbers through the end of last year. With more than 1,400 reported dead in April alone, this year's toll could well exceed last year's. As of this month, we believe the total death toll in Calderon's drug war has surpassed 40,000.]

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

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

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

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

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 6,500

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6. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A sheriff whose alleged theft from the evidence room might be excused, a prison guard who also heads a violent biker gang, another prison guard with dope and an eye for the ladies, a pill peddling suburban cop, and a bribe-taking small town cop all make the rogues' gallery this week. Let's get to it:

In Ashford, Georgia, the Turner County sheriff is under a criminal investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation over allegations he removed a large amount of marijuana from his department evidence room and gave it to a friend who is a cancer patient. Sheriff Roy Wiley has been keeping a low profile since the investigation began July 8. Wiley allegedly instructed one of his officers to take the pot so he could give it to the friend with cancer. The GBI won't confirm that, but they did acknowledge they are investigating Wiley.

In Louisville, Kentucky, a state prison guard was arrested was arrested July 12 on federal murder and racketeering charges, and he allegedly heads the Louisville chapter of a violent, drug-funded motorcycle gang, too. Carlos Wesley "Pit Bull" Rose, 48, was arrested on evidence that he conspired in gang activities and acquired materials for a pipe bomb to kill members of a rival motorcycle club in Chicago. His arrest was one of 18 arrests of Wheels of Soul members in a two-year investigation charging them with various acts of violence, robbery, drug trafficking and extortion in four cities across the Midwest. The Wheels are a biker gang operating in at least 20 states. Rose worked as a guard at the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange beginning in 2006.

In Hempstead, New York, a Hempstead police officer was arrested July 20 on charges he was peddling pain pills. Brian Jones, 38, a nine-year veteran of the force, allegedly sold oxycodone and oxymorphone tablets to a confidential informant on two separate occasions in May, and had more than a half-ounce of oxycodone tablets in his vehicle when he was arrested. He is charged with second degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, four counts of third degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, fifth degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and third degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. He has been suspended without pay and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

In Frankfort, Kentucky, a guard at a women's prison was arrested last Friday on dozens of charges he sexually abused prisoners and supplied drugs to them. Sgt. James Johnson, serving at the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women in Peewee Valley, went down after a brief investigation occasioned by a complaint filed against him. He was arrested at the Frankfort state police quarters, and faces 25 counts of second-degree sexual abuse, 50 counts of official misconduct, one count of second-degree trafficking in a controlled substance and one count of first-degree promoting contraband. At last report, he was being held at the Shelby County Detention Center Friday night.

In St. Louis, a former Bridgeton police officer was sentenced July 21 to two years in prison for taking a $5,000 bribe and obstructing a federal law enforcement investigation. Scott Haenel went down in an FBI sting in which he agreed to cooperate in a money laundering scheme involving drug money, and was paid for his help. That money came from the FBI. He also used his official position to tell his co-conspirators that DEA agents and local police were going to search his residence and tell them to get the cash out of there before the officers arrived. He pleaded guilty in April to one felony count each of accepting a bribe and obstruction of justice.
 

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7. Cuomo Signs NY Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Bill

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo June signed into law July 20 legislation aimed at reducing the number of preventable drug overdose deaths in the Empire State. The new law gives protection from prosecution for drug possession offenses to overdose victims seeking medical help or to people seeking medical help for them.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has signed a bill designed to reduce drug overdose fatalities. (image via wikimedia.org)
The new law also provides protection from underage drinking and drug paraphernalia prosecutions for overdose sufferers or others seeking to help them. The law does not provide protection from drug distribution charges.

New York now becomes the most populous state to enact what are commonly referred to as 911 Good Samaritan laws. They are designed to reduce overdose deaths by removing the fear of prosecution for victims or their acquaintances seeking help.

New York is one of the states where drug overdose -- from both legal and illegal drugs -- is the leading cause of accidental death. In the absence of protections like those just enacted, people suffering overdoses or their friends have often been reluctant to seek medical attention for fear of being arrested.

"No one should go to jail for trying to save a life," said Hiawatha Collins, a leader and Board member of VOCAL-NY, one of the many groups that supported the reforms. "This law will help make sure that calling 911 is the first thing someone does if they witness an overdose -- not worry about what the cops will do. New York is making clear that saving lives needs to be our priority, not locking people up."

"It is uplifting to see our elected officials come together to pass a law that will save thousands of lives in New York," said Evan Goldstein, policy coordinator of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Our elected officials should be applauded for passing this law that is grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights."

New York is the fourth state to enact a 911 Good Samaritan law, following the lead of New Mexico in 2007, Washington state in 2010, and Connecticut earlier this year. The law will go into effect in 60 days.

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8. California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Approved for Petitioning

A California marijuana legalization initiative was approved Monday to start seeking signatures to place it on the 2012 ballot. The Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Act of 2012 campaign is being led by former Judge Jim Gray, Libertarian Party and pot legalization figure Steve Kubby, and activist William McPike.

You could grow 25 of these tax-free under a new California initiative. (image courtesy the author)
According to the state attorney general's official summary, the act would "decriminalize marijuana, sales, distribution, possession, use, cultivation, processing, and transportation by persons 21 or older." The initiative would also halt pending pot prosecutions for actions that would be legal if it were in effect, prohibit advertising (except for medical marijuana), and prohibit zoning restrictions on pot cultivation and processing.

Existing agricultural taxes and regulations would be applied to commercial marijuana cultivation. Individuals could produce up to 25 plants or 12 pounds of marijuana a year under a non-commercial exemption.

An accompanying fiscal impact statement said passage of the initiative could bring "savings of potentially several tens of millions of dollars annually" in not prosecuting and jailing pot people and "potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in net additional tax revenues."

Proponents have until December 19 to collect the signatures of at least 504,760 registered voters. That kind of massive effort is almost impossible to do without a large campaign treasure chest, but it's hard to know what kind of resources the campaign has because proponents have not yet filed any campaign finance activity reports with the secretary of state.

The Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative is only the first out of the gate. Backers of last year's Proposition 19, which fell short at the ballot box, are working on a new initiative for 2012, and there are likely to be other efforts as well. Which one or ones actually make it past the signature-gathering stage will depend on who finds the funding.

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9. National Poll Finds Support for Welfare Drug Testing

A Rasmussen poll released this week found majority support for automatic drug testing of new welfare applicants and lesser, but still high, levels of support for drug testing people already receiving welfare benefits.

The poll comes as a new law Florida law mandating the suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants and recipients is about to be implemented. Missouri has also passed a law requiring the drug testing of welfare recipients if there is "reasonable suspicion" to suspect drug use.

Bills to drug test welfare recipients have become increasingly popular as states face tough economic times and seek ways to tighten their belts, even though it is not clear that the costs of drug testing tens or hundreds of thousands of people would be offset by the savings generated by throwing drug users off the dole.

Such bills are also constitutionally dubious. A 1999 Michigan law subjecting welfare recipients to suspicionless drug testing was thrown out by the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003 when the court found that it amounted to an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

But that doesn't stop politicians, and this Rasmussen poll suggests why legislators find supporting drug testing such an enticing position.

The national telephone survey of likely voters found that 53% believe all welfare applicants should be drug tested before receiving benefits.  Another 13% only supported random drug testing, while 29% said welfare applicants should only be tested if there was a reasonable suspicion they were using drugs.

That is a whopping 95% who said they thought welfare applicants should be drug tested either routinely, randomly, or upon suspicion. That high number may be an artifact of the poll design; the poll questions only gave those three options when respondents were asked about whether welfare applicants should be drug tested. Rasmussen polling is also reputed to tilt in the conservative direction, which could also skew the findings. But with such a high number, the the general meaning of the results seems clear.

Respondents were more divided when it comes to testing people who are already receiving benefits. Some 35% said recipients should be tested only where there is reasonable suspicion, 31% supported random drug tests, and 29% said all recipients should be regularly tested.

If welfare recipients are found to be using illegal drugs, 70% of respondents said they should lose their benefits. Only 15% said they opposed taking away benefits, while another 15% were undecided. Of those who said benefits should be ended, 58% said it should happen for a first offense, while 40% said there should be one or more warnings before cutting benefits.  [Ed: Much depends on how a question is asked. A poll question commissioned by this organization in 2007 which mentioned "recovery" and "families" found nearly 67% of likely voters opposed to revoking benefits.]

It looks like advocates of welfare rights and civil liberties will have to fight a massive public education battle to turn public opinion around on this issue affecting the lives of some of society's most vulnerable and least able to speak up for their own rights.

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10. Canada Marijuana Arrests Jump Dramatically

New numbers from Statistics Canada show marijuana arrests jumped dramatically last year. According to its annual crime report, pot possession arrests increased 14% last year, and accounted for more than half (54%) of all drug arrests in Canada. That has advocates crying foul.

Some 58,000 Canadians were arrested for marijuana possession in 2010, and another 18,000 were arrested for marijuana trafficking, also up significantly with a 10% increase over 2009.

Cocaine possession and trafficking arrests actually declined, down 6% and 4%, respectively, but arrests for all other drugs also increased. Arrests for drug possession were up 10% and for drug trafficking up 5%.

The increase in drug arrests comes amidst a decline in arrests for most other criminal offenses. Almost every category of violent crime dropped, with overall violent crime down 3%, while a similar portrait emerged with property crime. Every category of property crimes decreased, with overall property crime down 6%.

The marijuana arrest figures got under the skin of the Vancouver-based Beyond Prohibition Foundation, which laid into the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper over the uptick, as well as over its medical marijuana policies and its efforts to impose mandatory minimum sentences for cultivating as few as six pot plants.

"What we are seeing is a coordinated effort led by the Conservative government to crack down on simple marijuana possession as part of a multi-billion dollar increase in the war on drugs. At a time when almost every country in the world is recognizing the total and abject failure of the war on drugs, this Conservative government is increasing spending by billions of dollars" said Kirk Tousaw, executive director of the Beyond Prohibition Foundation.

"Mr. Harper continues to talk about how government spending needs to be reduced, and how we can't afford social programs, yet he is pouring billions into the failed drug war," Tousaw continued. "Why? Why did 58,000 Canadians need to be arrested over a plant that more Canadians want legalized than voted for Conservative candidates? Why is Mr. Harper spending billions to arrest Canadians for simple marijuana possession?"

"It's become clear what this government's priorities are," said Jacob Hunter, the foundation's policy director. "A crackdown on simple marijuana possession, mandatory minimum sentences for growing even one marijuana plant, and a dismantling of the medical marijuana program. This is nothing less than a total war on marijuana" said Jacob Hunter, the foundation's policy director.

Canadian marijuana activists, who seemed so close to freeing the weed just a few years ago, have their work cut out for them.

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11. This Week in History

August 2, 1937: The Marijuana Tax Act is passed by Congress, enacting marijuana prohibition at the federal level for the first time. Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger tells the Congressmen at the hearings, "Marihuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death."

August 2, 1977: In a speech to Congress, Jimmy Carter addresses the harm done by prohibition, saying, "Penalties against a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana for personal use. The National Commission on Marijuana... concluded years ago that marijuana should be decriminalized, and I believe it is time to implement those basic recommendations."

July 29, 1995: In an interview with the editors of the Charlotte Observer, Pat Buchanan says he favors measures that would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for relief from certain conditions. "If a doctor indicated to his patient that this was the only way to alleviate certain painful symptoms, I would defer to the doctor's judgment," he says.

July 29, 1997: A large number of Los Angeles sheriff's deputies swarm into the home of author and medical marijuana patient Peter McWilliams and well-known medical marijuana activist Todd McCormick, a medical marijuana user and grower who had cancer ten times as a child and suffers from chronic pain as the result of having the vertebrae in his neck fused in childhood surgery. McCormick ultimately serves a five-year sentence, while McWilliams chokes to death on his own vomit in 2000 after being denied medical marijuana by a federal judge.

July 31, 2000: In Canada, Ontario's top court rules unanimously (3-0) that Canada's law making marijuana possession a crime is unconstitutional because it does not take into account the needs of Canadian medical marijuana patients. The judges allow the current law to remain in effect for another 12 months, to permit Parliament to rewrite it, but says that if the Canadian federal government fails to set up a medical marijuana distribution program by July 31, 2001, all marijuana laws in Canada will be struck down. The Canadian government did set up a medical marijuana program, and the law remains intact.

August 1, 2000: The first Shadow Convention convenes in Philadelphia, PA, with the drug war being one of the gathering's three main themes.

August 3, 2001: The Miami Herald reports that the CIA paid the Peruvian intelligence organization run by fallen spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos $1 million a year for 10 years to fight drug trafficking, despite evidence that Montesinos was also in business with Colombian narcotraffickers.

July 30, 2002: ABC airs John Stossel's special report, "War on Drugs, A War on Ourselves," which critically points out the futility of the government's current approach to drug control policy.

July 28, 2003: James Geddes, originally sentenced to 150 years for possession of a small amount of marijuana and paraphernalia and for growing five marijuana plants, is released. Geddes had said, "How can it be that the President, his wife, the Vice President and his wife, the mayor of Washington DC, even the Speaker of the House can do these things, but I must pay dearly?"

July 31, 2003: Karen P. Tandy is confirmed by unanimous consent in the US Senate as Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Tandy was serving in the Department of Justice (DOJ) as Associate Deputy Attorney General and Director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. She previously served in DOJ as Chief of Litigation in the Asset Forfeiture Office and Deputy Chief for Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and she prosecuted drug, money laundering, and forfeiture cases as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia and in the Western District of Washington.

August 1, 2004: The Observer (UK) reports that the US blames Britain's "lack of urgency" for its failure to arrest the booming opium trade in Afghanistan, exposing a schism between the allies as the country trembles on the brink of anarchy.

August 3, 2004: Sixty percent of Detroit's residents vote in favor of Proposition M ("The Detroit Medical Marijuana Act") which amends the Detroit city criminal code so that local criminal penalties no longer apply to any individual "possessing or using marijuana under the direction... of a physician or other licensed health professional."

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