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Marijuana: A Week After Initiative Vote, Denver Bites the Bullet -- Sort Of

A week after voters in Denver for the third time in as many years sent a strong signal that they don't want adult marijuana smokers arrested, the city of Denver is moving to comply with the will of the voters. In response to the 57% passage of an initiative making adult marijuana possession offenses the city's lowest law enforcement priority, Mayor John Hickenlooper announced this week that he will create an 11-member panel to oversee and implement the initiative.

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Denver skyline (from denvergov.org)
The panel, whose composition was mandated in the text of Initiative 100, the lowest priority measure, will include one representative each of the Denver City Council, the Denver Police Department, Denver County District Attorney's office, the Denver City Attorney's office, as well as three criminal defense attorneys (one of who shall be a public defender), two Denver residents selected by SAFER Denver, the group that organized the drive, one drug abuse prevention counselor, and one member of the Denver Metro Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee who is not also a member of law enforcement.

While Denver officials are taking steps to comply with the will of the voters, they still sound a bit grumpy about it all. "Given that adult possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is already one of the police department's lowest priorities, it is unclear what substantive impact, if any, the initiative's passage will take," Hickenlooper said in a statement.

Denver voted to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults in 2005, but city officials have refused to recognize that act, instead ticketing people on the basis of the state marijuana law. They could still do that, Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman said in a statement.

"When an individual is cited for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana -- as Colorado state law requires -- it is generally because the marijuana was uncovered by police during the course of investigating another crime," said Whitman.

"We are glad to see our mayor and city officials will be respecting the will of the voters, and we look forward to working with them toward a more sensible marijuana policy in the city of Denver," responded SAFER leader Mason Tvert.

Denver had nearly 1,400 marijuana possession cases last year. Seattle, a similarly-sized city which passed a lowest priority initiative in 2003, and whose municipal officials have cooperated with it, had just 125.

Feature: Can Medical Marijuana Cost You Your Kid? In California, It Can

Ronnie Naulls never saw it coming. The church-going businessman, husband, and father of three young girls knew he was taking a risk when he opened a medical marijuana dispensary in Corona, a suburban community in the high desert of Riverside County east of Los Angeles.

Although he had played by the rules, obeyed all state laws, and successfully battled the city in court to stay open, Naulls knew there was a chance of trouble with law enforcement. He knew there was a chance of the federal DEA coming down on him, as it has done with at least 40 other dispensaries this year alone.

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Naulls family (courtesy green-aid.com)
But when they did come down on him, it was far worse than he ever imagined. At 6:00am on July 17, the quiet of Naulls' suburban neighborhood was disrupted by the whir of hovering helicopters as heavily armed DEA agents stormed his home and collective. They seized cash and marijuana, they seized his property, they seized his personal and business bank accounts. They arrested him on federal marijuana charges.

But that wasn't enough for the DEA. The raiders also called Child Protective Services (CPS). With Naulls already hustled off to jail, his wife sitting handcuffed in a police car, and his home in a shambles after being tossed by the DEA, CPS social workers said his three children were endangered and seized them. Naulls and his wife were also charged with felony child endangerment.

The three girls -- ages 1, 3, and 5 -- were held in protective foster care, with Naulls and his wife only able to see them during a one-hour supervised visit a week. "My oldest girl thought she was being punished for doing something wrong," he said. "When we went to visit her, she said, 'Daddy, we're ready to come home now, we promise to be good.'"

But the Naulls couldn't tell their children the only thing that would comfort them -- that they would be coming home soon. That would violate CPS regulations because it might not be true. In fact, it took five weeks of hearings and heartache before a family court judge decided the children would indeed be safe with their parents. But the child endangerment charges still stand.

"I was numb, totally flabbergasted, outraged, and left speechless," said Naulls. "They told my wife we were endangering the kids because of the medicine we had in the house, but we only had some in a refrigerator in the garage that has an alarmed door and my own medicine in a locked container in my office -- the DEA broke that lock. Would they treat us that way if it had been prescription Xanax?"

The DEA was not apologetic about its handiwork. A DEA spokesman confirmed that its people had called CPS. "Any time we do an operation where children are present, we have a responsibility to call CPS," said Special Agent Jose Martinez. "But we don't make the decision about whether the children are endangered."

While it would not discuss particulars of the Naulls case, the Children's Services Division of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, of which CPS is a part, denies that medical marijuana use or presence is a reason for removal of children on the filing of endangerment charges.

"Drugs alone does not constitute a reason for removal," said Susan Lowe, director of the division. "More relevantly, the issue of medical marijuana does not constitute a reason for us to remove children. There have to be other issues present that indicate neglect or abuse."

That claim brought a sharp response from Oakland-based attorney James Anthony, who represented Naulls on land use issues related to his dispensary. While he supported Lowe's statement of the Riverside County CPS policy, he said it didn’t reflect reality in the county.

"As a medical cannabis activist attorney and friend of the Naulls family, I would say that is very good news and seems to reflect a change of position -- or a position held at the top that has not filtered down yet to the working staff of CPS," said Anthony. "Riverside County CPS has an alarming reputation as quick to take children out of medical cannabis households and to press endangerment charges," he said. "The position the director laid out is exactly as it should be: medical cannabis is no more relevant to the best interests of children than any prescription drug -- the California Supreme Court said as much when it said that medical cannabis is as legal as any prescription drug," Anthony pointed out.

"In the Naulls case," Anthony continued, "what does the agency allege is the 'neglect or abuse'? Two loving parents? A nice middle-class home? Parents who care enough to avail themselves of legal, harmless, medicine to keep themselves well? The only abuse I'm aware of at the Naulls home was the abuse done by federal law enforcement when they invaded that home without warning and heavily armed -- terrorizing those poor children for no reason at all. The DEA could have called me and I would have advised my client to turn himself in -- it's not like he was hiding. If CPS wants to charge someone with child abuse, they should start with the DEA. Under their own standards as described here, there is no basis to prosecute Anisha Naulls for anything."

If there is any child abuse involved, it is coming from the state, agreed Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, a group concerned with abuses of the child protection system.

"What has been done to these children is government-sanctioned child abuse," Wexler said. "Whether one believes what Mr. Naulls did is legal or not, there is not a shred of evidence that running a medical marijuana co-op harms children -- and overwhelming evidence that foster care does children enormous harm," he said.

"The act of removal from everyone loving and familiar can traumatize a child for life, and the younger the child, the greater the likelihood for such harm," Wexler continued. "For a young enough child it's an experience akin to a kidnapping. Children often believe that they have done something terribly wrong and now they are being punished. That's reflected in one child telling her father 'Daddy, we're ready to come home now; we promise to be good.' All that harm occurs even when the foster home is a good one. The majority are. But several studies suggest that at least one in three foster children is abused in foster care. So these children have gone from a situation where they clearly were not abused, into foster care, where the odds are at least one in three that they will be abused," Wexler said.

"I warn all my dispensary clients that the federal government will try to capture and imprison you, but it hadn't occurred to me that the government will also kidnap your children," said Anthony. "It's just unbelievable, barbaric."

Anthony also works with Green Aid, a group originally set up to support Ed Rosenthal's legal battles with the feds in Northern California. Green Aid has set up a Naulls Family Defense Fund to aid the now impoverished family in its effort to stay together and out of prison.

Sadly, the Naulls are not alone. Veteran activists say child removals by CPS or the loss of custody battles in California family courts because of medical marijuana are not uncommon and becoming more frequent.

"Medical cannabis patients and providers getting their kids taken away is, unfortunately not new," said Angel McLary Raich, who won the first medical cannabis custody case in California in the wake of Proposition 215. Despite a variety of debilitating and life-threatening conditions, Raich and her patient outreach group Angel Wings, have since become a resource for other medical cannabis community members facing either the child protection bureaucracy or the vicissitudes of family court in child custody cases.

Raich, who is probably best known as the plaintiff in the Supreme Court's medical marijuana case, Raich v. Ashcroft, said involvement with medical cannabis as a factor in either child custody or abuse or endangerment cases is a recurring problem. "I know of many cases where the kids have been taken away permanently, others where they have to have supervised visitation."

"We think this kind of thing is horrible," said Noah Mamber, legal coordinator for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana defense group. "Even as we are making progress on the criminal front, with the cops becoming better educated, as well as other areas like employment and housing, as the legal intake person for ASA I find myself taking many, many calls where medical cannabis is an issue for CPS or in family court. I've probably had 30 or 40 in the last couple of years, and those are just the people who call us."

That means there is work to do, activists said. Some are undertaking an educational process with the family courts and CPS, while others are looking to the legislature for relief.

"No one seems to understand medical marijuana in this context," said Mamber. "There seems to be an unfortunate bias in CPS workers and family court judges. There are cases where there are no other issues except medical marijuana, and they will force them to quit taking their medicine if they want their kids. It is absolutely true that there are cases where patient parents are being treated unfairly by CPS and the family court system."

"An educational process for the courts and agencies is definitely needed," said Anthony. "They can act with the best of intentions, yet wield an incredibly devastating impact on families because of their lack of knowledge."

Raich pioneered such educational work in Alameda County. The work continues, she said. "I'm working on training law enforcement and dealing with CPS and family court," she said. "That's my real passion. I cannot tolerate watching other people lose their kids over this stuff. It is just so wrong."

If anyone is having problems with CPS or family court over medical marijuana issues, call her, Raich said. Her number is in the Oakland phone book and contact information is on her web site.

ASA is working to even the playing field for patients through legislative action, Mamber said. "As it is now, family courts and CPS don't seem to be aware of Prop. 215 and Senate Bill 420, so we need legislation to guide them. We have drafted a bill that would amend the child protection law so that the medical marijuana status of a parent cannot be the sole basis for removal of a child," he explained. "They need to quit forcing patients to stop taking their medicine. This measure won't stop CPS from doing its job, but it will stop it from persecuting medical marijuana patients."

All that is going to take time. In the meantime, said Raich, medical marijuana patients or providers with children need to play it extremely safe. "Make sure you're being a good parent," she said. "Make sure your cannabis is out of reach of the children, make sure your house is clean, there are no hazards, always plenty of milk and formula on hand. Don't grow in the house, don't dry in the house, don't have more pot than food in the refrigerator. Take a parenting class. Know what you need to do. And if the cops come to the door, don't let them in without a warrant."

As for Ronald Naulls, he's still a bit shell-shocked. "I'm a businessman and a network engineer. I don't have a criminal record and I don't want to go to jail. I don't want to have to fight the state to keep my daughters. I'm praying for God's love, and I ask everyone to pray for me. But this is more than just about me, this is a fight for the patients and for my family."

Marijuana: Florida Bill Would Toughen Penalties for Growing

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum (R), an inveterate drug warrior dating back to his days in the US Congress, and two hard-line state legislators have unveiled a bill for the 2008 state session that attempts to crack down on the Sunshine State's flourishing indoor marijuana growing industry. The bill, which is not yet available on the Florida legislature's web site, would dramatically decrease the number of growing plants needed to prosecute someone as a drug trafficker, a first-degree felony with a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence.

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McCollum press conference
Under current Florida law, growers can be charged as traffickers only if they grow more than 300 plants. Federal marijuana laws require 100 plants to trigger the equivalent offense. But under the "Marijuana Grow House Eradication Act," it would take only 25 plants to trigger a trafficking charge.

But there is more nastiness embedded in the measure. It would also create new penalties for those who own a house for the purpose of growing marijuana and those who live in the house or take care of the grow op. It would also ratchet up penalties for people who have both kids and a grow op, and ratchet them up even higher if the kids are three or under.

The bill is a response to an apparent explosion in marijuana grows in Florida. According to McCollum's press release announcing the measure, indoor grow ops were detected in 41 of Florida's 67 counties. The number of indoor grows busted in Florida ranks it second only to California, the release said.

The bill will not be heard until next spring's legislative session, but that didn't stop McCollum and his legislative and law enforcement allies from getting the ball rolling earlier this month. "As Florida's Attorney General, my priority is protecting our children and our communities from the devastation of illegal drugs," said McCollum. "This legislation targets those who grow marijuana for profit."

"Every time law enforcement can detect a grow house and arrest those involved with it, less crime will be on our streets," said cosponsor Senator Steve Oelrich (R-Gainesville), adding that the main purpose of this legislation is eliminating the spread of illegal drugs in Florida. "This legislation will provide law enforcement with critical tools to get these narcotics out of our kids' hands and put drug traffickers behind bars."

"In Florida, those who use grow houses to traffic drugs belong in prison," added Representative Nick Thompson (R-Fort Myers). "Under this legislation we are clearly telling drug dealers, 'if you grow, you go!'"

"Whether grown outdoors or in a garage, marijuana today is extremely potent and dangerous and the cultivation of this illicit drug will not be tolerated by DEA," chimed in Mark Trouville, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Miami Field Division.

With some months until the bill is actually considered, saner heads will have time to craft a response. It remains to be seen if they will emerge to do so.

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.

Law Enforcement: With Violent Crime on the Rise, New Orleans Police Are Arresting Thousands of Drug Offenders, Traffic Violators

A watchdog group has criticized the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) for wasting man-hours and resources by arresting thousands of traffic violators, drug users, and other low-level offenders even as the city faces a wave of violent crime. NOPD brass are defending their focus.

In a report released early this month, the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a private watchdog group, found that police made some 29,000 arrests during the first half of 2007, but more than half of them were for traffic offenses or failure to pay municipal fines or traffic tickets. Only 2% of arrests were for violent crimes. That percentage stayed roughly the same even as violent crime rose by 17% between the first and second quarters of the year.

The commission noted that of the 15,000 arrests for traffic violations or unpaid fines, only 6,000 were for offenses that required the offender be arrested. The remaining 9,000 petty arrests could and should have been handled by citations, freeing up officers to deal with more serious offenses, the commission recommended.

Meanwhile, figures from the New Orleans Parish District Attorneys Office compiled by the commission show that drug cases accounted for 62% of all felony convictions in the second quarter, up from 55% in the first quarter. This as the number of convictions for violent felonies declined by 17% in the second quarter.

Such policies are just wrong-headed, the commission said. "Although we do not advocate that the NOPD disregard their obligation to enforce traffic and municipal laws, the MCC respectfully recommends that the NOPD focus upon violent and repeat offenders rather than perpetuating their high-volume arrest practices," the commission said in its report, which was presented this week to committees in the state legislature.

But New Orleans Police Superintendant Warren Riley defended his department, warning that if it stopped arresting minor offenders, the city would descend into anarchy. "It is a recipe for chaos. It is not a recipe for reducing crime," Riley told members of the House Judiciary and Senate Judiciary committees at the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Orleans Parish DA Eddie Jordan, whose office is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases, also rejected the report's conclusions. Arrests of minor offenders were often justified because of their lengthy criminal records, he said. And, ignoring the role of prohibition in creating violence in drug markets, he defended drug arrests by saying drug trafficking was often linked to violence.

Paey Starts Afresh with Call from Crist

Location: 
FL
United States
Publication/Source: 
St. Petersburg Times
URL: 
http://www.sptimes.com/2007/09/22/Pasco/Paey_starts_afresh_wi.shtml

Drug Testing: ACLU Will Sue to Block Hawaii Teacher Testing

In a press release last Friday, the ACLU of Hawaii announced it is preparing to challenge an Aloha State plan to randomly test teachers, librarians, and other public school system employees. The policy, the first in the nation to randomly drug test teachers, was agreed to by a bargaining unit of the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) during the 2006-2007 school year.

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Volcano National Park, Hawaii Island
Some Hawaii public officials seized on the drug-related arrests of six teachers in the run-up to the contract negotiations to demand that teachers be drug tested. With the HSTA bargaining unit deep in hard-fought negotiations to secure better wages, educators were faced with a deeply troubling offer: accept random drug testing in exchange for wage increases. After heated discussion within the bargaining unit, a slight majority okayed the deal.

But that didn't sit well with some school teachers, who complained that the union was strong-armed by the state. HSTA head Joan Husted told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, "There are teachers who believe they were blackmailed," she said, "but we also heard from teachers who believe they have an obligation to ensure their schools are drug-free."

Nor did it sit well with the Hawaii ACLU, which announced a series of public events to publicize its challenge to the agreement. The publicity is also designed to let Hawaii teachers and other bargaining unit employees know the ACLU is looking for plaintiffs for the lawsuit.

"The Constitution does not allow us to put a price tag on our right to privacy, and we look forward to representing Hawaii educators who are willing to stand up for their constitutional rights, " said Lois Perrin, legal director of the ACLU of Hawaii. "Our education system is failing students by resorting to dragnet searches that do little to protect anyone while violating the rights of everyone."

"Hawaii now has the dubious distinction of being the first state ever to subject its teachers to a blanket policy of random drug testing," said Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, a division of the national ACLU. Boyd is an expert on the constitutional implications of random drug testing policies and has litigated a number of cases nationwide against such policies, including a 2004 US Supreme Court case challenging the random drug testing of students participating in competitive extracurricular activities. "I look forward to joining the ACLU of Hawaii and local teachers who agree that this policy conveys the wrong civics lesson to our students and to the nation."

The Hawaii ACLU will be in for a fight. State Attorney General Mark Barnett told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin the program "violates neither state nor federal law" and he would defend it against any challenge. "We will vigorously defend it," he said. "We believe that the state and the teachers union have an absolute right to sign this type of a contract."

Feature: CAMP Makes Little Headway Against California Marijuana Growers

Fall has arrived, and with it the annual effort by law enforcement across the country to eradicate the outdoor marijuana crop. Nowhere is the effort more elaborate or impressive than California, where the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) has been heading out into the countryside to rip up pot crops since 1983. CAMP, an amalgam of 110 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, racks up big numbers every year, but there is little indication that the program has any impact whatsoever on the price or availability of marijuana in California.

Last year, CAMP raiders seized more than 1.6 million marijuana plants, the majority of them from large gardens nestled within the state's national parks and forests. This year, the total will be significantly higher, according to CAMP.

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CAMP photo (calguard.ca.gov)
"Our plant count is definitely higher this year, and we still have a few more weeks to go," said CAMP spokeswoman Bureau of Narcotics Affairs Special Agent Holly Swartz to Drug War Chronicle. "This year so far, we're at 2.49 million."

The numbers sound impressive at first glance, but not so much when compared to estimates of outdoor marijuana production in the state. According to researcher and policy analyst John Gettman's Marijuana Production in the United States (2006), which relied on official government statistics to arrive at its estimates, the 1.6 million plants CAMP eradicated made up less than 10% of the 17.4 million plants planted.

Similarly, while CAMP proudly boasts that over its near quarter-century history it has eradicated $27.6 billion worth of pot plants, Getttman puts the value of last year's outdoor crop alone at $12.3 billion. (Never mind for now that CAMP apparently values each plant at about $4,000, while Gettman assesses them at under $1,000).

While CAMP cannot claim to make a significant dent in California marijuana production, neither can it offer evidence that its efforts have increased prices or decreased availability. "We don't evaluate prices or availability," CAMP spokeswoman Swartz conceded, while insisting that the program was having an impact. "The majority of the gardens are run by Mexican trafficking organizations, and taking them out must have an impact," she said.

"Nobody has seen anything on price or availability from these folks for a long time, and as far as I can tell, prices here have been steady for a decade," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML.

"What they achieve is virtually nothing," said Bruce Mirken, the San Francisco-based communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The number of plants they manage to eradicate has risen twelve-fold over a decade, yet marijuana is by far the number one cash crop in the state. If the idea is to get marijuana off the streets, this is as crashing a failure as any program you've ever seen."

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CAMP photo (calguard.ca.gov)
But CAMP is also protecting the public safety, said Swartz. "It's a huge threat to public safety," she said. "You have people out enjoying public lands and they come across drug trafficking organizations and people with guns."

CAMP has seized a total of 34 weapons so far this year, up slightly from the 29 seized in 2006.

The threat is not just to the public, said Swartz. "Every year since the mid-1990s, there have been shots fired during at least one garden raid."

CAMP has brought it on itself, said Mirken. "CAMP has literally driven the growers into the hills," said Mirken. "There's a good case to be made that all this stuff they're moaning about being so terrible -- growing in the forests, the wilderness areas -- is the direct result of their efforts. All they do is aggravate the problems associated with marijuana production, all of which could be resolved if we treated it the same way we treat California's wine industry."

"This thing with the huge plantations in the national forest has really taken off since 2001, and I suspect it has to do with the border crackdown since then," said Gieringer. "I think some Mexican groups may find it easier to just grow it here. There has been really striking growth in the number of plants they are eradicating, and it will be even higher this year."

But the resort to the use of public lands by marijuana growers predates this decade and was driven by tough war on drugs tactics a generation ago, Gieringer noted. "This whole problem started during the Reagan administration, with the asset forfeiture laws they passed. Before that, people grew on their own land," he said. "Growing in the forests is one of the fruits of that aggressive enforcement strategy."

But despite the seeming ineffectiveness and unforeseen consequences of CAMP, the program is not facing any threat to its existence. Part of the reason is that it is relatively inexpensive. According to Swartz, the California general fund paid only $638,000 to fund CAMP last year, while the DEA and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program kicked in another $1.4 million and the Forest Service $20,000.

"It's not a huge amount of state money, but it would pay for a bunch of students who are getting their fees increased every year to go to the University of California," said Mirken. The figure also does not include the resources and staff time local law enforcement entities are putting into the program, he noted.

"It's just not that expensive," said Gieringer, "especially because they don't generally bother to chase down, arrest, and prosecute people."

In its more than 475 raids last year, CAMP arrested a grand total of 27 people. Swartz did not have arrest figures for this year.

There is another reason CAMP seems almost irrelevant, said Mendocino County Supervisor John Pinches. Mendocino is part of the state's famed Emerald Triangle, where marijuana-growing has been a local industry for decades now.

CAMP doesn't engender the hostility among his constituents that it once did, Pinches said, in part because it doesn't seem to have any effect on the county's number one industry. "Marijuana growing is out of control here," he said. "We hired economic consultants to analyze our economy, and they found that two-thirds of our economy is the marijuana business. With the medical marijuana and the cards and the caregivers, it's just blooming like crazy. Legal businesses can't hire help; they can't compete with growers paying $25 or $30 an hour to trimmers," he said.

But Pinches, who earlier this year authored a successful resolution at the Board of Supervisors calling for marijuana to be legalized, taxed, and regulated, said he now voted to participate in CAMP. "I had always voted against CAMP; I called it the best government price support system for any farm crop in the country," said Pinches. "But now it's so out of hand with gardens of tens of thousands of plants that we're almost forced to do something," he said. "Still, CAMP gets such a small percentage of the crop that I bet deer and wild hogs get more of it than CAMP, and they do it for free," he snorted.

For Pinches, a situation where his county's largest cash crop and economic mainstay is also the subject of continuing, though largely ineffective, law enforcement efforts is mind-boggling. "This is what inspired me to write that resolution we sent to all our congressmen and the president," said Pinches. "Didn't we learn anything from Prohibition days? Whether you love it or hate it, it's time to legalize marijuana."

That looks like the only way CAMP will be stopped. As Swartz noted: "We're law enforcement. We enforce the law. If they change the law, we will change our activities, but until then, we will enforce the law."

Pain Patients: Florida Prisoner Richard Paey is Pardoned

Richard Paey, the wheelchair-bound Florida pain patient sentenced to 25 years in prison as a drug dealer for seeking desperately-needed medications, may be a free man by the time you read this. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) granted Paey a full pardon on Thursday after a brief hearing in Tallahassee. Paey and his family had only sought clemency.

Paey was severely injured in a 1985 auto accident. A New Jersey physician provided him with prescriptions for necessary pain relievers, but when Paey moved to Florida he took pre-signed prescription forms with him. He was arrested in 1997 and charged with illegally possessing and trafficking in about 700 pain pills obtained with those prescriptions.

Under Florida's draconian drug laws, persons in possession of that amount of pain medication are treated as drug traffickers. Standing on principle, Paey refused plea offers from the state and was ultimately convicted and sentenced to the mandatory minimum 25-year sentence.

Paey's case became a cause celebre for the country's growing pain patient and doctor movement. In August, the governor's office announced that it would grant a waiver allowing Paey to seek clemency. In most cases, inmates cannot seek clemency until they have serve 1/3 of their time.

Thursday, Gov. Crist and three members of the Florida cabinet heard Paey's appeal for clemency. Though the state's parole commission had recommended against granting time-served, Crist went further, granting him a full pardon and ordering he be released immediately. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Crist allowed Paey's attorney, John Flannery to speak for nearly 30 minutes -- the usual time limit is five minutes, then allowed Paey's wife, three children and a family friend to speak as well.

Crist then commented, "I want to move that we grant a full pardon," continuing, "We aim to right a wrong and exercise compassion and to do it with grace," the governor said. "Congratulations... and I state he should be released today."

For further information on the Paey case, click here.

Good News: Pain Patient Richard Paey Pardoned by Florida's Governor

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
St. Petersburg Times
URL: 
http://www.painreliefnetwork.org/prn/paey-given-full-pardon-crist-orders-him-freed-today.php

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