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Public Forum: Should drugs be decriminalized?

Mark Forsythe of CBC radio will be host/moderator for this special event featuring retired provincial court judge Jerry Paradis and Tony Smith, a retired police officer. Both men are members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Educators for Sensible Drug Policy will be there to participate in this community dialogue and will hand out Safety1st brochures, Beyond Zero Tolerance booklets and an EFSDP information kit. "The idea for the LEAP forum, like all our courses, is ours," said Eldercollege chair Anne Carr.
Sat, 11/03/2007 - 4:00pm
5904 Cowrie Street
Sechelt, BC

Marijuana: Democratic Candidates Forgo Opportunity to Support Decriminalization During Tuesday Night Debate

Drug policy made an ever-so-brief appearance at the tail end of Tuesday night's televised debate among Democratic presidential candidates, and the results were disappointing for drug reformers. When NBC's Tim Russert asked candidates for a show of hands to indicate if they disagreed with Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd's support for marijuana decriminalization, all except Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich raised their hands.

Senators Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama, former Sen. John Edwards, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson all declined the opportunity to take a progressive stand on marijuana policy. Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, who has called for the legalization of drugs, was not invited to the debate.

Here is the transcript of the relevant portion of the debate:

Russert: Senator Dodd, you went on the Bill Maher show last month and said that you were for decriminalizing marijuana. Is there anyone here who disagrees with Senator Dodd in decriminalizing marijuana?

Senator Biden, Senator...


Senator Edwards, why?

Edwards: Because I think it sends the wrong signal to young people. And I think the president of the United States has a responsibility to ensure that we're sending the right signals to young people.

Dodd: Can I respond just why I think it ought to be? We're locking up too many people in our system here today. We've got mandatory minimum sentences, they are filling our jails with people that don't belong there. My idea is to decriminalize this, reduce that problem here. We've gone from 800,000 to 2 million people, in our penal institutions in this country. We've got to get a lot smarter about this issue than we are. And as president, I'd try and achieve that.

And then it was on to a question about Chinese toys and a question about what candidates would wear for Halloween, and then the debate was over.

Look for detailed coverage of the various Democratic candidates' positions on a number of drug policy issues here next week, with a report on the Republicans' positions the following week. But if the Democratic contenders aren't interested in even giving decrim an approving nod, prepare to be disappointed in their other drug policy positions, too, and expect even worse from the Republicans.

Marijuana: Pot Politics On Display in Local Races in Cincinnati and New York State

Local races across the country will be decided in next month's elections, and marijuana policy is popping up in some of them. In Cincinnati, pot policy is part of a mayoral campaign, while in Utica County, New York, which includes the towns of Woodstock and New Paltz, a candidate for district attorney is taking flak over an apparent pro-marijuana legalization stance.

In the Utica County DA race, Democratic contender and assistant Ulster County public defender Jonathan Sennett is taking flak for reportedly twice saying marijuana should be legalized and once saying it should be decriminalized during campaign events.

"The scientific evidence is pretty solid that marijuana is not more harmful than alcohol or tobacco," he said in an interview with the Daily Freeman. "I don't believe that a substance should be determined to be legal or illegal in inverse proportion to its lobbying effort. We don't prosecute people as felons for selling alcohol to kids," Sennett said.

While Sennett didn't use the L-word in that interview, his opponents, Republican Holley Carnright of Saugerties and Conservative/Independent Vincent Bradley Jr. of Kingston, say they heard Sennett call for legalization twice -- once in a public access interview program in Woodstock and once at a joint appearance earlier this month before the Ulster County Police Chiefs Association at the Ulster County Law Enforcement Center.

The pair of self-confessed drug warriors were quick to pounce. "I don't understand what (Sennett) means by 'decriminalization.' You can't get less than a violation. It's equivalent to an appearance ticket for jaywalking," said Bradley, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney.

"He can dance all around it and blow smoke, but I think his message is clear, intended or not, that he doesn't think marijuana is any worse than tobacco. It is totally inappropriate for a DA to say that," said Carnright, a former chief assistant district attorney for Ulster County. "I think it's a bad idea. You can't be the DA and send out that kind of message. The message, especially to kids, is (marijuana) is bad for you. Any other message is inappropriate."

Meanwhile, in the Cincinnati mayor's race, the council's passage last year of an ordinance criminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana is on voters' minds. In Ohio, possession of up to four ounces is decriminalized under state law, but Cincinnati council members approved the local ordinance as an anti-crime measure. The candidates were quick to stake out their ground.

"In March of this year I, along with Vice Mayor Tarbell, cast the two lone votes against an ordinance that criminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana... The reality is that many of them are let out of prison early because of a shortage of jail space. Given this problem it makes little sense to me to pass a law... which inevitably will crowd our jails with nonviolent offenders," said Democratic contender David Crowley.

Crowley was joined by one Republican candidate and independent candidate Justin Jeffre in vowing to overturn the measure, but another Republican candidate thought it had worked just fine. "The Marijuana Ordinance has been highly successful over the past 15 months. During this time, the police, using the ordinance, have been able to confiscate over 100 illegal guns and millions of dollars of illegal drugs such as cocaine, crack, heroin and methamphetamine," said Leslie Ghiz.

"Someone asked if (we) would have the 'spine' to repeal the ordinance," retorted Jeffre. "I have vowed to work in conjunction with Vice Mayor Crowley and Councilmember Qualls to do exactly that... Ghiz quotes a bunch of numbers out of context to scare voters into thinking this law does anyone any good... Ghiz says the law targets not recreational smokers, but dealers. Can we really believe that all these thousands upon thousands of people were dealers?"

"Whether you believe in smoking marijuana or not, this is just simply bad legislation which will have the foreseeable consequences of bogging down the court system and using up jail space that should be reserved for violent criminals," agreed Republican candidate Charlie Winburn. "I am not yet certain this is going to make our city safer, but I do know that council has no leadership agenda for reducing violent crime in Cincinnati."

It will be November before we know if candidates with progressive positions on marijuana policy have been helped or hindered by their stands. In Utica County, drug warriors are doubling up on the reformer, but we'll have to see if voters agree. In Cincinnati, three out of four council candidates want to undo the marijuana ordinance, and again, we'll have to see. But at least these days, the campaign discussions about marijuana policy are no longer one-sided.

Cannabis country

Edmonton Sun (Canada)

It's the great marijuana debate

Timmins Daily Press (Canada)

Home State Blues, or What's an Itinerant Activist To Do?

Your itinerant Drug War Chronicle has been bouncing around North America for the last few years, spending significant amounts of time in Washington state, British Columbia, Mexico, Northern California, and my home state, South Dakota. The traveling is nice, but I’ve felt politically homeless, as if my presence anywhere were too fleeting for me to be able to do local or state-level politics, and that’s a frustration. So, as much as I would rather be elsewhere, I’m thinking I need to hunker down here in Dakotaland and try to get something done. It is not friendly territory. South Dakota is the only state where voters rejected an initiative to allow the medicinal use of marijuana. Although it was a close vote, 52% to 48%, it was still a loss. Medical marijuana bills (introduced by an acquaintance of mine) early in the decade went nowhere. The state has one of the fastest growing prison populations right now, thanks largely to its approach to methamphetamine use. Marijuana possession is routinely punished by $500 fines, and there is a good chance of jail time, too. (In fact, you may be better off being convicted of drunk driving, if my local court records are any indication.) And, most hideously of all, South Dakota is the only state I know of that has an “internal possession” law. That means when the police arrest you with a joint, they make you submit to a urine test, then charge you with an additional offense if you test positive. South Dakota judges also routinely sign drug search warrants that include forced drug tests. I know one gentleman currently serving a five-year prison sentence for “internal possession” of methamphetamine metabolites, and no, it wasn’t a plea bargain. That was the only charge they had. South Dakota’s drug reform community (which can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand) seems beaten down, but I think I’m going to reach out and see if I can’t get anyone interested in a four-pronged drug reform legislative package: Hemp. Our neighbors in North Dakota have passed a bill allowing farmers to grow hemp and are currently suing the DEA to force it out of the way. South Dakota farmers would like to make profits, too. Medical marijuana. Yeah, we lost a close one last year, and it’s never been able to get any traction in the legislature. But I think we should make them deal with it again. Our neighbors in Montana seem to be surviving medical marijuana. Marijuana decriminalization. Does South Dakota really think pot possession is more serious than drunk driving? Does the legislature understand the lifelong impact of pot conviction on its constituents? Our neighbors in Nebraska decriminalized pot back in the 1970s, and the cornfields are still standing. Repeal of the internal possession laws. Criminalizing someone for the content of his blood or urine is just wrong. Winning any of these will be an uphill battle, and perhaps even linking hemp to broader drug reform issues would spell its doom here. But I think it’s every good activist’s responsibility to do what he can to slow down the drug war juggernaut, so I’m going to give it a shot. What are you doing in your state?
United States

South Pacific: Northern Mariana Islands in Tizzy Over Marijuana Decriminalization Proposal

A proposal by the highest law enforcement official in the Confederation of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to consider decriminalizing marijuana has met with a barrage of public criticism, according to the Saipan Tribune. The proposal saw the light of day when the newspaper obtained a copy of a letter from Health Secretary Joseph Villagomez to Attorney General Matthew Gregory addressing a May meeting between the two.

According to the letter, Gregory and Villagomez met to discuss Gregory's proposal to convene a meeting of experts to discuss marijuana's "benefits and lack of harm." In the letter, Villagomez said the Gregory hoped the health secretary would ask the legislature to remove marijuana from the archipelago's list of controlled substances.

That got to Senate Vice President Pete Reyes. "Just the idea that the highest law enforcement of the land is even thinking about it is very disheartening, frightening. It gives the impression that we're so desperate to generate some money that we would sell our souls," Reyes said.

In the wake of the blast from Reyes, a Gregory spokesman denied that he wants to legalize marijuana, but said that he is in touch with people who want to hold such a conference. He also said the administration has not take a position on making marijuana legal in the CNMI, but it approves of an open debate on the issue.

"No definite commitment has been made with regard to this proposal. The AGO will not do anything without the consent of the governor. We support an open discussion. We should let the people decide what they think is right," the spokesman said.

Health Secretary Villagomez, a 15-year substance abuse professional, declined to ask the legislature to decriminalize marijuana, saying he could not ignore the physical and psychological damage that he had seen drugs, including marijuana, cause to people. He also expressed concern that legalizing marijuana would result in more broken families, traffic accidents, and teen addiction, among other things. He noted that DPH would have to deal with these likely consequences. If Attorney General Gregory wants to decriminalize the weed, he should ask the governor to convene a meeting, he said.

"If the governor is onboard with this plan then I respectfully ask the governor to call for such a meeting. Since the Legislature will be the ultimate body that will remove marijuana from the listing, maybe they should be the one to call for such a meeting," Villagomez said.

Europe: One-fifth of MEPs support decriminalisation of cannabis

[Courtesy of EURODRUG] A wide-ranging survey of Members of the European Parliament - including Britain's representatives - has revealed strong support for the decriminalisation of cannabis across Europe. The team from The Universities of Manchester, Aberystwyth and the London School of Economics also revealed controversial attitudes to abortion, crime, defence and immigration among members. Professors David Farrell from The University of Manchester, Simon Hix from the London school of Economics and Roger Scully from the University of Aberystwyth, contacted all 732 MEPs of whom 272 responded. The study - carried out in summer 2006 - found that one-fifth of the MEPs felt marijuana should be decriminalised. One-third of British MEPs -- much higher than the average -- supported decriminalisation, though Dutch MEPs were the most liberal at 83 per cent. Other results included: * Half of the MEPs (51%) think there should be more harmonisation of national immigration policies. The British figure, however, is less than one-third at 32%. * Just short of three-quarters of MEPs (70%) think that women should be free to decide on abortion, though only 20% of Irish MEPs agree. * Three-quarters (73%) of MEPs think there should be EU-wide arrest warrants for serious crimes. 54%of British MEPs agree. * 40% of MEPs think that the EU rather than NATO should be responsible for European defence, though only 29 % of British MEPs agree. * 40% of MEPs think that EU foreign policy should be a counterweight to the US. In the case of French MEPs, the figure rises to 64%. * 68% of MEPs think the EU should no longer meet in Strasbourg, though only 7 per cent of French MEPs agree. Professor Farrell, Head of the School of Social Sciences at The University of Manchester, said: "For much of its life, the European Parliament could have been justly labelled a 'multi-lingual talking shop'. "But this is no longer the case: the EP is now one of the most powerful legislatures in the world both in terms of its legislative and executive oversight powers. "The views of MEPs as shown in this survey may very well have a direct impact on policy and therefore on all citizens in the EU. "So the public should sit up and take notice of what their representatives are saying." Professor Simon Hix from the London school of Economics added: "Our work also shows that politics in the European Parliament is becoming increasingly based around party and ideology. "Voting is increasingly split along left-right lines, and the cohesion of the party groups has risen dramatically, particularly in the fourth and fifth parliaments. "So there are likely to be policy implications here too." NOTES FOR EDITORS The survey will be officially launched at the Brussels European Parliament headquarters of the European Parliament on June 13, 2007. A more comprehensive data sheet is available. UK National Centre for Social Research designed the web-site on which the survey was hosted. Each MEP was contacted personally by letter (translated into their mother tongue), and invited to participate in the survey online. Professors Farrell and Hix are available for comment For more details contact: Mike Addelman Media Relations Officer Faculty of Humanities The University of Manchester 0161 275 0790 07717 991 567 [email protected]

Marijuana: Wisconsin Towns Join Decriminalization Trend

Small town Washburn, Wisconsin, may cling to the shores of Lake Superior at the northernmost tip of the state, but it's not clinging to tough marijuana law enforcement. Last week, the Washburn City Council passed an ordinance allowing city police to issue tickets to people caught with small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting and booking them.

That made Washburn only the latest Cheesehead State locality to pass a decrim ordinance -- and that distinction was short-lived. On Monday, the Two Rivers City Council passed an ordinance making possession of less than eight grams of marijuana a municipal offense.

The move to municipal decrim began in the 1970s, when 15 cities, mostly college towns, adopted ordinances, according to veteran Wisconsin marijuana and civil liberties activist Ben Masel. Milwaukee moved to the scheme in the early 1990s. Also in the early 1990s, counties were given similar authority, and Walworth County, home of the Alpine Valley Music Theater, which hosted Grateful Dead tours, notoriously turned a nice profit on $454 marijuana possession citations.

This year, Dane County (Madison) and Eau County prosecutors announced they would charge offenders exclusively under county ordinances rather than state law. But in other locales, that decision is left to local prosecutors. Being prosecuted under local ordinances has the benefit of leaving no criminal conviction and no loss of student aid or other benefits. But there can still be hefty penalties, and, Masel noted, a lower burden of proof for a civil infraction and no right to a jury trial.

It's all good with Washburn Assistant Police Chief Jeremy Clapero, who told a local radio station the ordinance would give police flexibility in dealing with pot users. Under Wisconsin law, simple marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Previously lacking a municipal ordinance, police had to put marijuana possessors in jail.

"They were arrested on the spot and brought to jail -- they were booked into the jail and then they would be at some point released and appear in court on that charge," said Clapero. "Now there's a situation where they can get a ticket with the fine amount and released. It's not on their criminal record at that point."

While Clapero said people could still be arrested under the state law, the ordinance will save police time and resources. "A situation where a person has a small or a very small amount of marijuana in their possession or in their car, this may be used instead of bringing that person to criminal court and having a criminal offense on their record for something would he be issued a city ordinance citation which is a forfeiture offense -- similar to like a speeding ticket."

But don't think this means Washburn police have seen the light regarding the war on drugs. "It's not intended to say that we're not tough on drugs. We're still tough on drugs it's just gives us another avenue. We're behind just what every other agency has done, so we just kind of stepped up and did what they did." Clapero said.

Chafee questions effectiveness of global drug laws

Providence, RI
United States
The Pawtucket Times (RI)

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