Drug War Chronicle #771 - February 14, 2013

1. Legalization Foes Come Out Swinging Against Marijuana [FEATURE]

Opponents of marijuana legalization are organizing and fighting back, most recently with a letter to Attorney General Holder and a position statement from the drug court people. They are self-interested, but potentially dangerous.

2. New Gift Items Available with Donations of $15 or Greater

We are pleased to launch a new gift offer -- and continue several older but good ones -- for StoptheDrugWar.org supporters donating $15 or more.

3. Medical Marijuana Update

What? Nothing happened in California? It's a rare week, but the quiet in the Golden State is being made up for by action in state legislatures around the land. And more.

4. "Marinol v. Medical Marijuana," on ProCon.org

MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org, part of the ProCon.org family, is an in-depth web site presenting information and views from a variety of perspectives on the medical marijuana issue. The Chronicle is running a six-part series of info items from ProCon.org, of which this week's is the final.

5. Iran Drug Execution Frenzy Continues This Year

Iran continues to execute drug offenders at a torrid pace. Around 500 went to the gallows in 2011, hundreds more last year, and 24 more so far this year.

6. Michigan Supreme Court Rules Against Medical Marijuana Shops

Medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal in Michigan, the state's Supreme Court ruled Friday.

7. New Jersey Supreme Court Protects Rights in Pregnancy Case

A positive drug screen during pregnancy does not in itself constitute evidence of child neglect, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a victory for maternal rights.

8. Vermont Marijuana Decriminalization Bills Filed

The Vermont legislature will take up marijuana decriminalization bills again this year. The governor supports them, and a major obstacle has been removed, so things are promising.

9. Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming Soon to Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania state senator announced Monday that he will be introducing a marijuana legalization bill in the near future. Bills have already been filed in Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, and are also expected soon in Maine and Vermont.

10. Hawaii Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies

A marijuana legalization bill has died in Hawaii after a head count found it would come up short in the House.

11. South Dakota Bill to Reduce Marijuana Penalties Killed

South Dakota lawmakers once again refuse the opportunity to reform the state's marijuana laws.

12. Indiana Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Defeated

Marijuana decriminalization is dead in Indiana this year after a Republican committee chair blocked it. But it will be back.

13. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A major police corruption bust in the Atlanta metro area, an Alabama deputy keeps the goodies he got doing drug buys, and an Ohio officer cops to helping launder money for a marijuana ring.

1. Legalization Foes Come Out Swinging Against Marijuana [FEATURE]

Two states have already legalized marijuana, bills to do the same have been or will be filed in a half-dozen more this year, a federal bill to repeal pot prohibition has also been introduced, legalization initiatives aimed at 2014 or 2016 are already being plotted, and public opinion polls are showing support for marijuana legalization edging into majority territory. The opposition is started to get worried.

Anti-prohibitionists aren't the only ones targeting Congress.
And it is moving to blunt the legalization trend. While official Washington has so far remained largely silent in the face of the fact of legalization in two states and the threat of it in more in the near future, special interests threatened by the end of marijuana prohibition and self-appointed anti-pot crusaders are starting to stage a pushback. While it is tempting to dismiss the crusaders as being on the wrong side of history, reform advocates are wary of their advocacy and say the good guys need to step up their game.

Project SAM (Smart About Marijuana), the recently formed brainchild of former Congressman-with-addiction-issues Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and former Office of National Drug Control Policy staffer Kevin Sabet, last week authored a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder calling on him to stand firm against marijuana legalization.

Its co-signers include a veritable cavalcade of beneficiaries of government drug spending, among them the federally-funded Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, the National Narcotics Officers Association Coalition, and the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP). Other signers are a Colorado pediatric physicians' group and Smart Colorado, "a broad-based alliance of concerned public health officials," which is funded almost entirely by Mel and Betty Sembler, long-time drug warriors notorious for having operated abusive treatment programs for teens in the 1990s.

"We are writing to you to enforce the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in Colorado and Washington with respect to recent ballot measures legalizing marijuana," wrote Kennedy and the gang. "These state laws would severely threaten public health and safety goals, expressly contradict the President’s National Drug Control Strategy, make it impossible to comply with federal regulations, and present an obstacle to the achievement of Congress' discernible objectives to prohibit the use, sale, manufacture, and distribution of marijuana. We urge you to restate marijuana is illegal."

The marijuana legalization laws in Washington and Colorado "violate both the intent of Congress in enacting the CSA and the letter of the law," the letter continued. "The Department of Justice and Congress have determined through the CSA that marijuana is a Schedule I drug and as such growing, distributing, and possessing marijuana in any capacity, save a federal research program, is in 'violation of federal law regardless of state laws permitting such activities.'"

Project SAM advocates prevention and drug treatment for marijuana users and wants to avoid stigmatizing them, but still wants marijuana to be illegal.

"There is an arrest and prosecution industry in this country that depends on marijuana remaining illegal to maintain their budgets and stay in business," retorted Mason Tvert, one of the key organizers of the Colorado initiative and now a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "As Project SAM has said, we need to be focusing our attention on providing treatment to those who need it, but unfortunately their stance on marijuana would waste treatment resources on people who don’t. These groups talk about teens using marijuana, and if their true goal was preventing teen marijuana use, we would gladly join them, but their real goal is to keep marijuana illegal, and that doesn't benefit teens or anyone else… but themselves."

For one of the Project SAM signatories, signing on to somebody else's letter wasn't enough. The NADCP Monday released its own position statement against legalizing marijuana, saying "every dangerous and addictive drug was once believed to be safe and medicinal."

NADCP "unequivocally stands against the legalization of marijuana and the use of smoked marijuana as medicine," the group said. Society need not fall for the "false choice" of legalization or incarceration when it can find a third way through the "curative effects of drug courts and dozens of other treatment programs."

"Drug court is the equivalent of purgatory in the Catholic theology," commented Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "If you comport with their demands and accept your moral turpitude, they may let you ascend. But if you fail the drug test or don't show proper deference to the system, you will not only be stuck in purgatory, but may pushed down into the bowels of hell," the veteran activist said.

"We get calls all the time from people facing this Hobbesian choice of drug courts or traditional courts, and we have to warn them that, unlike the early 1990s, when they looked like a good alternative to incarceration, we have seen so many cases where individuals face far worse penalties, fines, and incarceration in drug court than if they took the worst plea bargain in regular court. Drug court pleaders belong in the category of special interests who clearly benefit -- if not exist wholly -- because of this government prohibition."

Reformers should not take this new opposition lightly, some reformers say.

"While these groups are completely dependent on federal government anti-drug money and can be discounted as fighting to protect their own rice bowls, it would be a naïve and arrogant mistake to ignore them," said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "Kevin Sabet is an energetic guy, and these groups have lots of taxpayer money to spend on this. They will mobilize in other states, and they have the ability to get the ear of the attorney general and others."

Similarly, said Sterling, "to a lay person, the NADCP statement is an impressive statement," even though policy and other experts may see their claims as overstated.

"People in reform should be concerned about a reaction," he said. "It is certain that these documents represent products being developed by a concerted movement to turn back the tide. The opposition is first out of the box on this," Sterling warned as he wondered aloud what the reform movement is doing to counter the counter-revolution.

"I was told in November that folks at Justice were completely blindsided by the victories in Colorado and Washington," he said. "What written correspondence to Holder can we point to about what they should do? I know there have been some informal conversations between state officials and the attorney general, but there is nothing in writing that both lays out a plea and a case for accommodating state laws."

That reflects a broader problem of lack of aggressiveness within the reform movement, he said.

"On one level, the reform movement is not being proactive," Sterling argued. "It's one thing to get an initiative passed, and we've demonstrated a high degree of competence at that, but we haven't seen that same sort of competence when it comes to Washington. It's a much more complex and tricky problem to mobilize a majority of the House or Senate, and there has not been a well-organized effort on a sustained basis to get Congress to weigh in. It's amazing to me that so far after 1996, no senator has ever introduced a bill to allow their state to have a medical marijuana program free from federal interference. There are now 36 senators from 18 medical marijuana states, and not one of them has ever introduced a bill. That's an amazing failure to organize by our movement."

The movement -- especially that part of it with deep pockets -- needs to step up, Sterling said.

"I'm not aware that any of our movement organizations have a strategy for getting the American Bar Association or other high-profile groups to take a position on marijuana enforcement after the passage of the initiatives," he said. "Those kinds of campaigns need to be thought about and have people assigned to do them. I haven't done that either, but I'm not a leader of any of the 'angel organizations' that do this work."

While the reform movement builds itself, it can still attack the foe, St. Pierre said.

The opposition is actively pushing back now. Reformers are working quietly with state officials on implementation of regulation, but they can't forget that Washington is where some crucial decisions get made. Project SAM and its allies certainly haven't.

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2. New Gift Items Available with Donations of $15 or Greater

Dear friend of StoptheDrugWar.org:

We are pleased to launch a new membership offer -- and continue several older but good ones -- for supporters making donations of $15 or greater to our organization.

The new item is a pair of reports that highlight the US and international legal landscapes as legalization becomes a mainstream issue. Though the text of each report can be found online, for $15 or more you can hold the nice printed copies -- the history in the making -- in your hands. We will send you one each of both of these reports, for just one $15 or greater donation:

  • "On the Limits of Federal Supremacy: When States Relax (or Abandon) Marijuana Bans," a Cato Institute Policy Analysis by Vanderbilt law professor Robert Mikos, explores the limits in federal law and resources for enforcing marijuana prohibition in states that have legalized.
     
  • "Governing The Global Drug Wars," a special report by London School of Economics IDEAS, details the history of the global prohibition regime; the obstacles it poses to nations seeking to explore legalization and other reforms, and efforts by nations and agencies to transform the system into one respecting public health and human rights.

We are also pleased to continue offering the following items (while supplies last), now also with donations of $15 or more:

  • Emperor of Hemp DVD, about the life and work of Jack Herer (memorial tribute edition)
  • Cannabis Yields and Dosage, by Chris Conrad
  • StoptheDrugWar.org strobe light
  • StoptheDrugWar.org stamp and ink pad
  • StoptheDrugWar.org mouse pad

Though we offer these items for $15, I hope you will consider making a larger donation if you can, or supplementing your initial gift with a monthly one. If the gifts are not important to you, I hope you'll consider sending a donation that's just for our work.

Donations can be tax-deductible, supporting our educational work, or non-deductible, supporting our lobbying work. (Note that selecting any gift items reduces the amount of your donation that is deductible -- which with a smaller gift amount can be most of it.) They can be made online on our web site by credit card or PayPal, or sent by mail to P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. If you are donating by check, please make it payable to DRCNet Foundation (if tax-deductible) or Drug Reform Coordination Network (if not deductible).

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Thank you for standing with us to stop the drug war's cruelties and meet the opportunity this time offers to make a brighter future. As recent events show: Time, and the truth, are on our side!

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http://stopthedrugwar.org

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3. Medical Marijuana Update

What? Nothing happened in California? It's a rare week, but the quiet in the Golden State is being made up for by action in state legislatures around the land. And more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

On Monday, a Senate panel voted to let police destroy seized medical marijuana. The Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 1414 on a 5-3 party-line vote. Under the law as interpreted by the Court of Appeals, police are required to give it back, but Sen. Kimberly Yee (R-Phoenix) said she believes that puts police in the position of violating the federal Controlled Substances Act, which continues to make marijuana illegal. Her legislation would let officers destroy the drugs once any investigation was completed, even if the person was entitled to have them in the first place. The vote came after the American Civil Liberties Union warned lawmakers they were courting legal action. The 2010 initiative specifically says that marijuana held by those who are entitled either to sell it as dispensary operators or possess it as patients "is not subject to seizure or forfeiture.'' The bill now goes to the full Senate.

Colorado

On Tuesday, the House passed House Bill 1061, the "Responsible Medical Marijuana Vendors" bill, which would create a training program of sorts for medical-marijuana workers. Companies that want to run training schools for employees would apply to the state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division for certification. If all of a dispensary’s employees complete a training course with a certified school, the state would then grant that dispensary a "responsible vendor designation." The bill now goes to the Senate, which passed a nearly identical measure last year before it died in the House.

Maine

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana patient sued a staffing firm she said refused to hire her because she is a medical marijuana patient. Brittany Thomas filed the suit against Adecco Group North America, where she had been employed before being laid off. When more work became available, she told Adecco she would fail the drug test because she was a medical marijuana patient. She tested positive and was told she could no longer work for the company. She is seeking reinstatement and payment of back wages. She is being represented by the ACLU of Maine and a local law firm.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Lowell city council delayed a vote on a zoning ordinance aimed at restricting where dispensaries can operate. Instead, the council Tuesday night sent the proposed ordinance back to the zoning subcommittee for further discussion. One reason mentioned for the delay was because the state's Department of Public Health is yet to promulgate regulations for the operation of the dispensaries. The proposed ordinance would allow dispensaries only in light industrial and high-rise commercial zoned districts and would mandate that they be at least 1,000 feet from a school or public library.

On Wednesday, the Department of Public Health held a "listening session" in Worcester about regulations for the state's new medical marijuana law. The sessions are designed to provide public input into the regulatory process. We have no information at press time on how the hearing went. Another is set for Thursday in Roxbury.

Montana

On Wednesday, the Human Services Committee heard testimony on four bills aimed at restoring the state's gutted medical marijuana program. The bills, House Bills 340 through 343, would eliminate board of examiners' review requirements, allow caregivers to be compensated, remove limits on the number of patients caregivers can serve, and eliminate some record-keeping and unannounced inspections. No word yet on how the hearing went.

New Hampshire

On Tuesday, a poll found that 80% of adults in the state support medical marijuana. The Granite State Poll was conducted at the end of January and the first days of February, and comes as the legislature prepares to deliberate on House Bill 573, a medical marijuana bill. The bill will have a hearing in the House Committee on Health, Human Services, and Elderly Appairs on Thursday, February 21.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, a bill to ensure that medical marijuana patients get access to organ transplants was introduced. The bill, AB 576, is sponsored by Majority Whip Peter Barnes, who said he introduced it after a medical marijuana patient was denied a liver transplant and died the following year.

North Carolina

On Tuesday, more than 200 people rallied in Raleigh in support of medical marijuana bills. Addressing the group in support of the Enact Medical Cannabis Act was Democratic Party chair Randy Voller. Past bills have been killed by Republican committee chairs, but GOP House speaker Thom Tillis said he wouldn't rule out a well-crafted bill that allowed cancer patients and others with serious illnesses from having access to marijuana as long as strong safeguards were in place to prevent widespread use.

Oregon

Last Thursday, a bill to make PTSD a syndrome treatable by medical marijuana had a hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The bill, Senate Bill 281, would add PTSD, to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use in Oregon. The committee heard doctors testify that marijuana has been shown to soothe anxiety, help with sleep, and calm suicidal urges. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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4. "Marinol v. Medical Marijuana," on ProCon.org

Did you know that Marinol and medical marijuana are different? Read what different experts have to say, at "Marinol v. Medical Marijuana," on MedicalMarijuanaProCon.org, part of the ProCon.org family.

This is the final installment of a six-part series of ProCon.org highlights published in Drug War Chronicle. You can follow ProCon.org through their email list or RSS feed or on Twitter. Read last week's Chronicle ProCon.org highlight piece here.

ProCon.org is a web site promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan primarily pro-con format.

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5. Iran Drug Execution Frenzy Continues This Year

Last Wednesday, three men convicted of drug related charges were hanged in the prison in the Iranian city of Isfahan, state media reported. The prisoners died unnamed; only the charges and the fact of their execution were mentioned.

That's par for the course for the Islamic Republic, which in recent years has emerged as one of the world's most prolific executioners of drug offenders. Hundreds were sent to the gallows for drug offenses last year (a final tally isn't in yet) and nearly 500 the year before that, according to Iranian human rights sources and state media reports compiled by the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain. 21 more were executed in January alone, bringing the total so far this year to 24.

It's a grim litany:

  • Five prisoners executed January 30 at the prison in Kerman for "armed trafficking of 53 kilograms and 250 grams of opium."
  • One man hanged January 28 at the prison in Mianeh for selling 890 grams of crack. In addition to being executed, this unnamed man was fined $3 million rials for being a drug addict.
  • Six prisoners, including two women and one Afghan, hanged January 27 in Esfahan after being convicted of drug trafficking.
  • One man identified only as "Ch.P." hanged January 24 at Sharoos Prison for trafficking 1.94 kilograms of morphine.
  • Three prisoners identified only by their initials fined, lashed, and hanged January 23 at Qazvin Prison for "possession and trafficking of narcotic drugs."
  • Two prisoners, "M. Sh." and M. F.," hanged January 16 at Semnan Prison for trafficking 6.732 grams of crack and 1,739 grams of crack and 30.8 grams of crystal meth, respectively.
  • Two prisoners hanged January 6 in Khomarabad for "possession and trafficking of drugs."
  • One unnamed prisoner hanged January 2 in the prison at Yasouj for trafficking 20,050 ampules of heroin and 74,917 "psychotropic pills."

The practice of imposing the death penalty for drug offenses is frowned upon by the United Nations, a stance embraced by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

"UNODC advocates the abolition of the death penalty and calls upon Member States to follow international standards concerning prohibition of the death penalty for offenses of a drug-related or purely economic nature," the international agency said in 2010 report (see page eight).

The Iranian resort to the death penalty for drug offenses has attracted international condemnation from the likes of Amnesty International and the Norway-based human rights group Iran Human Rights, which in 2011 helped launch the International Campaign Against the Death Penalty in Iran.

More broadly, Harm Reduction International has an ongoing Death Penalty Project aimed at the 32 countries that have laws on the books allowing the death penalty for drug offenses. Opponents of the death penalty for drug offenses argue that such statutes violate UN human rights laws, which say the death penalty can be applied only for "the most serious crimes."

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6. Michigan Supreme Court Rules Against Medical Marijuana Shops

In a ruling issued Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court held that it is illegal to sell medical marijuana through dispensaries. That means Michigan patients will either have to grow their own or rely on a designated caregiver, who is limited to providing for no more than five patients.

no dispensaries for Michigan (wikimedia.org)
The 4-1 decision in Michigan v. Compassionate Apothecary (scroll down past the syllabus) upheld an earlier appellate court finding that the state's voter-approved 2008 medical marijuana law does not allow people to sell medical marijuana to each other, even if they are registered patients.

The medical marijuana law says registered patients can possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants in an enclosed space, but it does not mention dispensaries or otherwise say how patients might obtain their medicine.

"The Court of Appeals reached the correct conclusion that defendants are not entitled to operate a business that facilitates patient-to-patient sales of marijuana," wrote Chief Justice Robert Young for the majority.

The owners of Compassionate Apothecary had argued that their business wasn't illegal because the law allowed for the "delivery" and "transfer" of marijuana, but the high court wasn't buying. The shop could be shut down as a "public nuisance," the court affirmed.

Detroit attorney Matthew Abel, a specialist in the state's medical marijuana law, told the Associated Press the decision had settled the issue in the courts and it was now up to elected representatives to act.

"This is the end of the road. This is it," said Abel. "It will be a mess until the legislature clarifies what kinds of business entities are allowed to exist."

Ardent medical marijuana foe Attorney General Bill Schuette has yet to comment on Friday's decision, but when the appeals court ruled the same way last year, he called it "a huge victory for public safety."

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7. New Jersey Supreme Court Protects Rights in Pregnancy Case

The New Jersey Supreme Court Wednesday ruled unanimously that the state's child protection laws do not give child protective services jurisdiction over pregnant women and that drug use during pregnancy does not by itself establish abuse or neglect. In the ruling, the court also acknowledged concerns articulated by leading medical and public health organizations that applying child protection laws to pregnant women can be detrimental to the health of the mother and the fetus.

The ruling came in New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services v. A.L. In that case, the mother -- "A.L." -- gave birth to a healthy baby in September 2007, but a drug screening of A.L. and her baby came back positive for cocaine. The state Division of Child Protection and Permanency argued that those positive drug screens were sufficient evidence of harm or potential harm to declare that A.L. had neglected her fetus.

A.L. challenged that finding, but lost in district court. She also lost in appellate court, where the judges not only found neglect, but also declared that the state's child neglect law could be applied to fetuses in utero. In its ruling Wednesday, the state's highest court disagreed.

"On its own, the one entry [a medical notation of a positive drug test] does not tell us whether the mother is an addict or used an illegal substance on a single occasion," the court held. "The notation does not reveal the severity or extent of the mother’s substance abuse or, most important in light of the statute, the degree of future harm posed to the child. In other words, a [positive drug test], without more, does not establish proof of imminent danger or substantial risk of harm."

The Supreme Court also chided the lower courts for reaching conclusions not based on facts. Noting "the fact-sensitive nature of abuse and neglect cases," it said the Division -- not a judge -- must prove its case using qualified scientific and medical evidence. "Judges at the trial and appellate level cannot fill in missing information on their own or take judicial notice of harm," it said.

The maternal rights group National Advocates for Pregnant Women and attorney Lawrence Lustberg took up the case during the appeal to the Supreme Court, representing a group of 50 national and international medical, public health, and child welfare organizations, experts, and advocates including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Addiction Science Research and Education Center, and the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

In briefs to the court in the case, those groups argued that the lower courts relied on popular misconceptions about drugs, pregnant women, and child welfare that lack any foundation in evidence-based, peer-reviewed research.

"We are so pleased that the New Jersey Supreme Court, consistent with its long tradition, carefully considered the expert amicus brief and rejected the State's reliance on scientifically discredited, factually incorrect statements about drug use in pregnancy," said Lustberg. "The court recognized, in effect, that drug tests cannot predict parenting ability and acknowledged amici's concerns that expansion of the state's child welfare law to the context of pregnancy would be likely to disproportionately harm low income and minority communities."

"It is extremely important that the New Jersey Supreme court today recognized that pregnant women, children and families should not be deprived of their fundamental rights -- including the right to family relationships -- based on presumptions that are medically baseless," said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "The court’s decision protects the rights of all pregnant women and in so doing actually protects maternal, fetal, and child health."

State officials have declined to comment on the ruling.

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8. Vermont Marijuana Decriminalization Bills Filed

Bills that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana have been introduced in both houses of the Vermont legislature. A Senate bill, Senate Bill 48, was introduced late last month, and its House counterpart, House Bill 200, was introduced Tuesday.

The bills are not identical. The Senate bill would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot by those 21 and over, while the more far-reaching House bill would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces and the cultivation of to two mature and seven immature marijuana plants. Under both bills, people under 21 who are caught with pot would be treated like minors caught possessing alcohol.

The bills have tri-partisan support (Democrats, Republicans, and Progressives), with 39 cosponsors in the House and eight in the Senate. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has also repeatedly indicated strong support for a decriminalization bill.

In previous years, House Speaker Shap Smith has blocked decriminalization bills from moving to the House floor, but last month, he said he wouldn't block a bill if it made it out of the Judiciary Committee.

Fourteen states have decriminalized marijuana possession
, including Colorado, which along with Washington, legalized possession in the November elections. Other states in the Northeast that have decriminalized are Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York.

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9. Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming Soon to Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania will likely be the next state to see a marijuana legalization bill introduced this year, as state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-King of Prussia) announced at a Monday press conference that he would be filing one shortly.

After voters in Colorado and Washington approved marijuana legalization last November, the push is now on at the statehouse. Legalization bills have already been filed in Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, and bills are also expected shortly in Maine and Vermont.

The bill will propose a system of taxation and regulation of marijuana commerce.

"This past November, the people of Washington State and Colorado voted to fully legalize marijuana," said Leach. "It is time for Pennsylvania to be a leader in jettisoning this modern-day prohibition, and ending a policy that has been destructive, costly and anti-scientific."

Supporting the bill were drug reform groups and public health professionals.

"Our nation can acknowledge the dangers of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana while still permitting their use," said Dr. David Nathan, MD, clinical associate professor at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. "The only logically and morally consistent argument for marijuana prohibition necessitates the criminalization of all harmful recreational drugs, including alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. We can agree that such an infringement on personal freedoms is as impractical as it is un-American. The time has come to accept that our nation's attitude toward marijuana has been misguided for generations and that the only rational approach to cannabis is to legalize, regulate and tax it."

"Cops see the ineffectiveness and harms of marijuana prohibition up close, every day," said Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore narcotics cop and the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "Keeping marijuana illegal doesn't significantly reduce use, but it does give tax-free profits to violent gangs and cartels that control the black market. Now, thanks to Sen. Leach's proposal, Pennsylvania has a chance to join Colorado and Washington in letting police focus on the job we signed up to do -- keeping the public safe -- instead of being distracted by chasing down marijuana users."

"NORML applauds Sen. Leach for taking this important step forward to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition in his state. Pennsylvania has long been considered a bellwether state that sets the precedent for politics across the country, as such it is both exciting and encouraging to see the Keystone State take up this crucial dialogue," said Erik Altieri, Communications Director for NORML, "Marijuana prohibition costs the state of Pennsylvania over $300 million a year in enforcement costs and tens of millions a year in lost potential tax revenue, while doing little to keep the substance out of the hands of children or lower use rates. It is time for a new policy that works for the state and its people. We encourage all of Sen. Leach’s colleagues in Harrisburg to join him in this call for rational marijuana laws."

It could be an uphill battle. Leach spent the last two sessions trying to get medical marijuana bills passed, to no avail, and that was with strong public support for medical marijuana. A recent Franklin and Marshall College poll had support for medical marijuana at 82%, but support for legalization at only 36%. That's up 14 points from 2006, but still well below majority support.

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10. Hawaii Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies

A bill that would have legalized marijuana died in the state legislature Tuesday. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Karl Rhoads told the Associated Press he decided to kill it after a head count found the bill would come up short in the House.

The measure, House Bill 669, would have allowed people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and grow an unspecified number of plants in a secure location. It would also have created a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. It was sponsored by House Speaker Joseph Souki (D-8), leading proponents to hope his support could help push it through the House, but that was not to be.

A public hearing last week saw now familiar arguments reprised. County police departments, the state attorney general and the Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii told legislators marijuana was a dangerous drug and that the social costs of legalizing it would be too high, while supporters of the bill, including the ACLU of Hawaii said legalization would save the state money and respect Hawaiians' freedom of choice. They also argued that pot prohibition disproportionately impacts the state's minorities.

Pam Lichty of the Hawaii Drug Policy Action Group told the AP the group is disappointed but will continue to fight for marijuana reform, including improving the state's medical marijuana program.

Colorado and Washington freed the weed in November, and marijuana legalization bills have been or will be introduced this year in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

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11. South Dakota Bill to Reduce Marijuana Penalties Killed

A bill that would have lowered the maximum penalty for possession of two ounces of marijuana or less was killed Tuesday in a Senate committee. It died on a 5-2 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee after law enforcement representatives testified against it.

In the language customarily used in Pierre, it was "deferred to the 41st legislative day." The South Dakota session has only 40 days.

The bill, Senate Bill 221, would have moved marijuana possession from a Class 1 to a Class 2 misdemeanor. That would have lowered the maximum penalty from a year in jail to 30 days in jail.

Both proponents and opponents of the measure agreed that the vast majority of people charged with pot possession serve little or no jail time, with most receiving only fines. Those fines can be significant, though. In east-central Beadle County, for instance, pot possession offenders are typically hit with a fine of $435, with some jail time thrown in for repeat offenders.

Attorney General Marty Jackley (R), the State's Attorney's Association's Paul Bachand, and lobbyists for sheriffs and police chiefs all opposed the bill, saying it would "send the wrong message" about a substance they consider a "gateway drug."

Earlier in the session, legislators defeated a medical marijuana bill (again). The state also criminalizes having gotten high, even if having done so elsewhere. Its "internal possession" law is unique in the country. South Dakota remains one of the most pot-unfriendly places in the country, something that summer vacationers and fans of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally would do well to keep in mind.

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12. Indiana Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Defeated

A bill that would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana is dead in the Indiana legislature after a key Senate committee chairman refused to allow a public hearing on it. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Karen Tallian (D-La Porte), says she will be back next year.

The bill, Senate Bill 580, would have decriminalized the possession of up to two ounces of pot, but it was not just a decriminalization bill. It would also have provided protection against per se drugged driving charges, legalized industrial hemp, reduced criminal penalties for other marijuana offenses, required courts to impose suspended and deferred sentences for marijuana possession misdemeanors, and provided a defense for people who delivered up to 10 pounds of pot without consideration.

It was referred to the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law, chaired by Sen. Mike Young (R-Madison County), who said he wasn't ready to take it up.

"It's dead for this year," Young told WISH-TV before adding that he would continue to talk to Sen. Tallian about the bill "so I can work with her over the summer and learn a little bit more about this issue before we hear it."

Tallian said she was getting support for the bill and vowed to keep pushing until she gets a hearing.

"I have a lot of professional people sending me e-mails saying where are you, what can we do to help?" she said. "We will get a hearing on this bill."

But not until next year at the earliest, and that's too bad for Indiana voters. They've indicated they are ready for decriminalization. A recent WISH-TV/Ball State University Hoosier Survey had support for decriminalization at 53%, with only 41% opposed.

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13. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A major police drug corruption bust in the Atlanta metro area, an Alabama deputy keeps the goodies he got doing drug buys, and an Ohio officer cops to helping launder money for a pot ring. Let's get to it:

In Atlanta, 10 current and former metro area police officers were arrested Tuesday in a federal sting operation targeting cops who would run interference for presumed drug traffickers. Those arrested include one Atlanta police officer, two current and two former DeKalb County police officers, two Forest Park police sergeants, a MARTA police officer, a Stone Mountain police officer, and a contract Federal Protective Services officer. The officers charged are alleged to have taken thousands of dollars in pay-offs. They have been charged with crimes including assisting with drug trafficking, receiving illegal payments and using firearms during the commission of a crime.

In Greensboro, Alabama, a former Hale County deputy was indicted last Friday on charges he kept drugs recovered during investigations. Darrell McGuire, 37, faces 16 counts of second-degree theft of property. McGuire went down after his boss, the sheriff, realized that he had given McGuire money for drug buys, but the purchases hadn't shown up in the evidence room. The missing drugs include marijuana, cocaine, and crack cocaine. McGuire has posted $80,000 bond. He's looking at up to 10 years in state prison.

In Cincinnati, a North College Hill police officer pleaded guilty last Thursday to helping a marijuana-smuggling operation launder money. Bryan Roos, 43, had been charged with money laundering, illegally structuring financial transactions, and conspiring to bring hundreds of pounds of pot from Texas to Ohio, but copped to a single count of illegal structuring. The pot operation began in 2006, when another of the 11 people indicted in the scheme, began receiving shipments hidden in the gas tanks of vehicles at a local auto business. He and Roos, 43, would operate used-car businesses to launder illegal drug proceeds. No date for sentencing has been set yet.

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