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The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News & Updates - 4/26/07

Maryland: Governor Signs Legislation Restoring Right to Vote On Tuesday, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed legislation restoring the right to vote to all formerly incarcerated individuals, ending the state's draconian lifetime voting ban. Coverage featuring the news included an "above-the-fold" front-page article in the Baltimore Sun. As a result of the legislation, which takes effect July 1, more than 50,000 Marylanders will be eligible to vote. Currently, those individuals convicted of two felonies can petition for vote restoration after their sentences and a three-year waiting period are completed. If both convictions are for violent offenses, the voting ban is permanent. "I went to prison, but it's not who I am," said Kimberly Haven, executive director of Justice Maryland. "We still have some work to do in terms of people's perception of what a former felon is and what he looks like, but that scarlet 'F' that felons wear across their chests is greatly diminished by the signing of this legislation today." Colorado: House Committee Strikes Down Parolee Voting The House Committee on State, Veteran, & Military Affairs voted to strike SB 83, an amendment to a measure which would have given individuals on parole the right to vote, the Channel 7 News in Denver reported. Secretary of State Mike Coffman said the move to restore rights would have been unconstitutional as state law defines "full term of imprisonment" to include parole. The amendment was introduced by Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver, at the request of the American Civil Liberties Union. International: Voting - and Not Voting - While Incarcerated The federal government last week allowed about 150 people incarcerated at the Birnin Kebbi prison in northwest Nigeria to vote in its presidential election, according to the News Agency of Nigeria. The individuals were taken to the polls via police vehicles in groups of 50. Two Shotts prison inmates in Scotland challenged legislation barring people in prison from voting in the Scottish elections claiming their human rights were breached, the BBC News reported. Their legal challenge was rejected at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, declaring the upcoming election lawful. The men may appeal.
United States

R.I. lawmakers delay vote on medical marijuana

Providence, RI
United States

Vote Hemp Press Release: Eleven Farming States Introduce Hemp Legislation in 2007

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, April 25, 2007 CONTACT: Adam Eidinger T: 202-744-2671, E: [email protected] or Tom Murphy T: 207-542-4998, E: [email protected] Eleven Farming States Introduce Hemp Legislation in 2007 Bills Change State Law to Allow Hemp Farming, Allow for Studies, and/or Resolutions Urging Action from DEA and Congress WASHINGTON, DC – Vote Hemp, the nation’s leading grassroots organization working to give farmers the right to grow non-psychoactive industrial hemp to be made into everything from food, clothing, paper, body care, bio-fuel and even auto parts, is pleased by the progress of hemp bills on the state level so far in 2007. The states that have introduced industrial hemp bills this legislative season are: California, Hawaii, Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont, and Wisconsin. North Dakota leads the pack with five bills introduced in 2007, with two of the five, SB 2099 and HB 1490, having been signed by Gov. John Hoeven. Two of the bills were resolutions urging Congress to recognize the multiple benefits of industrial hemp and to direct DEA to differentiate between industrial hemp and marijuana. The fifth bill, HB 1020, has passed both the House and Senate and is on its way to the Governor’s desk. California’s hemp farming bill, AB 684 has passed through two Assembly committees on its course to a floor vote. HB 1535, the hemp farming bill in Hawaii is in three committees and will be carried over to the next legislative session. Idaho’s resolution asking the U.S. Congress to legalize hemp farming was killed in the House Agricultural Affairs Committee earlier this year without gaining a bill number. New Hampshire hemp farming bill, HB 424, passed the House on a 190-76 vote earlier this month and had a hearing in the Senate Commerce, Labor and Consumer Protection Committee this week. New Mexico passed a hemp study memorial and Congressional resolution, HM 49, with an overwhelming 59-2 vote in the House. Minnesota had a hemp farming bill, HF 2168, introduced late last month and has been referred to the House Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs committee. South Carolina study bill, H 3305, was introduced in January and is stalled in the House Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs. In Oregon there is SB 348 which would allow farmers to grow hemp under state rules. Vermont’s hemp farming bill, H 267, is in the House Agriculture Committee and hearings will take place this week. Wisconsin’s hemp study bill, AB 146, just had a successful hearing last week in the Assembly Rural Economic Development committee. All state hemp bills and resolutions introduced since 1995 are listed in the chart at H.R. 1009, the "Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007," was introduced in Congress in January. The bill excludes industrial hemp from the definition of "marihuana" in the Controlled Substances Act and gives states the exclusive authority to regulate the growing and processing of industrial hemp under state law. The full text of H.R. 1009, Rep. Paul's House floor comments, and the CRS Report "Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity" can all be read at “Under the current national drug control policy, industrial hemp can be imported, but it can’t be grown by American farmers,” says Eric Steenstra, President of Vote Hemp. “The DEA has taken the Controlled Substances Act’s antiquated definition of marijuana out of context and used it as an excuse to block industrial hemp farming. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007 will bring us back to more rational times when the government regulated marijuana, but told farmers they could go ahead and continue raising hemp just as they always had,” says Mr. Steenstra. # # #
United States

Backers stress compassion of medical marijuana

United States
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Maine medicinal marijuana bill debated

Augusta, ME
United States
Bangor Daily News (ME)

Some clergy support medical marijuana bill

Decatur, IL
United States
The Herald & Review (IL)

Sentencing: Maryland Passes Reform Measure for Drug Offenders

Some Maryland drug offenders will be serving less time under a bill that passed the state legislature before the session ended earlier this week. The measure, HB 992, would allow second-time nonviolent drug offenders sentenced under mandatory minimum sentences to seek parole. With just under 5,000 drug offenders in prison in Maryland, the result will be an unanticipated opportunity for early release for some.

Under current state law, second-time drug sales offenders face a mandatory minimum 10 years in prison. HB 992 will allow all but those also convicted of crimes of violence to seek parole.

According to a Justice Policy Institute (JPI) report on Maryland's mandatory minimums released in February as part of an effort to prod legislators to pass such a measure, more than 1,200 people have entered the Maryland prison system sentenced under mandatory minimum drug laws in the past 11 years. That same report found that in the last five years, 89% of the 500 sentenced under those laws were black.

The bill was backed by the Partnership for Treatment Not Incarceration, an alliance of organizations headed by JPI and the Drug Policy Alliance. DRCNet is a member, as are the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, Americans for Safe Access, Sensible Drug Policy Maryland, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Power Inside, Students for Sensible Drug Policy University of Maryland Chapter, Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, and the Marijuana Policy Project.

Clergy back medical marijuana in Illinois

Chicago, IL
United States
Los Angeles Times

Feature: The War on Salvia Divinorum Heats Up

Middlebury, Vermont, this week declared a public health emergency to prevent a local business from selling it. It's already illegal in five states -- Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Delaware -- and a number of towns and cities across the country, and now politicians in at least seven other states have filed bills to make it illegal there. For the DEA, it is a "drug of concern."
salvia leaves (photo courtesy Erowid)
It is salvia divinorum, a member of the mint family from Mexico, where it has been used by Masatec curanderos (medicine men) for centuries. Within the past decade, awareness of its powerful hallucinogenic properties has begun to seep into the popular consciousness. Now, it is widely available at head shops and via the Internet, where it can be purchased in a smokeable form that produces almost instantaneous intoxication and a freight train of a trip lasting a handful of minutes.

As law enforcement and politicians stumble across it and the phenomenon of its recreational use, they are reacting in the classic fashion with moves to outlaw it. In Delaware, grieving parents of a teenager who committed suicide after using salvia managed to push a bill through the legislature. In Ohio, police who stumbled across it while investigating counterfeit goods raised the alarm, even though they had never had any problem with it. The cops responded predictably. "It's something we feel should be outlawed," Lorain County Drug Task Force Capt. Dennis Cavanaugh told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

But researchers say the while salvia's effects on consciousness may be disquieting, the plant has not been shown to be toxic to humans, that its effects are so potent is unlikely to be used repeatedly, and its active property, salvinorin A, could assist in the development of medicines for mood disorders. While action at the state level would unlikely affect research, a move by the DEA to put it on the controlled substances list could.

Salvia is a popular item at the Urban Shaman Ethnobotanicals in downtown Vancouver, and media attention only spurs sales, according to proprietor Chris Bennett. "We're selling about 50 grams of the 10x every couple of weeks," he told Drug War Chronicle. "It's mainly young people -- although we don't sell to anyone under 18 -- but it's not limited to them. Whenever I get quoted in the media about salvia, I get a slew of new middle-aged customers who want to try it."

Once or twice is usually enough, said Bennett. "It's very powerful -- you can forget you even smoked it -- very intense, and the onset is very rapid," he explained. "There is also a lot of variation from person to person. Four people can be sitting in a room taking it, and one would be laughing, one would be afraid the world was ending, one would feel like he was two-dimensional, and one would say that everything seems to be made out of Legos. I hear a lot of people say that one."

Like many other purveyors of salvia, Urban Shaman provides an information sheet with each purchase. "We tell people they should have a sitter. If you're on salvia and end up on the balcony, you might think you can get downstairs by jumping," said Bennett. "You want to have someone there with you; it's irresponsible to use it by yourself," he said. "We also recommend a quiet environment. The experience can be influenced by background noise, which can be distorted or misinterpreted. Setting is important."

There are hazards to messing with hallucinogens, one expert was quick to point out. "It's an hallucinogen and while its hallucinogenic actions are different from those induced by LSD and other hallucinogens, it has the liabilities that hallucinogens do," said Bryan Roth, a professor of pharmacology at University of North Carolina's School of Medicine, the man who isolated salvinorin A. "When people take it, they are disoriented. If you don't know where you are and you're driving a car, that would be a bad experience."

Still, said Roth, while it may make you freak out, it isn't going to kill you. "There is no evidence of any overt toxicity, there are no reports in the medical literature that anyone has died from it. The caveat is that there have been no formal studies done on humans, but the animal data suggests that it doesn't kill animals given massive doses, and that's usually -- but not always -- predictive for human pharmacology."

"I'm unaware of any studies suggesting that salvia is toxic," said Thomas Prisinzano, assistant professor of medicinal and natural products chemistry at the University of Iowa. "Unlike other hallucinogens, it acts by stimulating opioid receptors, and basically produces an hallucinogenic experience that peaks in less than 15 minutes. It produces a subpopulation that finds it very unpleasant and never wants to do it again."

Nor, because of its intense effects, are you likely to get strung out on it. "There doesn't appear to be much potential for dependence or addiction, although no one has investigated this in any detail," Roth said. "The typical person I talked to didn't like the experience; it is too intense for someone looking for a mini-LSD-like experience. It's very rapid in onset and very intense, so it's not normally considered a party drug."

Even Bennett, whose clientele could be expected to contain some serious psychedelic adventurers, confirmed that it is not a drug that most people come back to again and again. "Even those who are interested in it don't use it very often, maybe once a week to explore head space, but those salvianauts are few and far between," he reported. "Most people try it once or twice and have no desire to try it again. It is the ones who use it with a purpose or for a spiritual quest or vision that seem to find it most useful," he said.

"There is a subpopulation using it for spiritual rather than recreational purposes," agreed Roth. "That seems to be the cohort that is using it more than once or twice."

While the DEA did not return Chronicle calls for comment on the current status of salvia, it has moved slowly. It has classified the plant as a "drug of concern" for several years now, but has yet to act to place it under the Controlled Substances Act. The plant's limited potential dependence could be one reason. Another could be that it is still relatively rare and unlikely to ever develop into a drug with a mass following.

That's fine with the scientists, who could see regulating salvia, but not prohibiting it. "The distribution of salvia should be regulated," Roth said. "We regulate nicotine and alcohol, and the effects of those compounds on human consciousness and perception is quite modest compared with salvia. That this is available over the Internet to young children is a bit irresponsible. They could engage in some dangerous behavior while taking it. We don't sell alcohol over the Internet."

But while Roth called for salvia to be regulated, he didn't want to see it added to the list of drugs proscribed by the Controlled Substances Act. "I'm against making it a Schedule I compound," he said. "Once you schedule something, it makes scientific research more difficult, and there is considerable potential for derivatives of the active ingredient to have great medical utility. Scheduling it makes it more difficult for those of us trying to relieve human suffering."

If salvia were prohibited, his work would suffer, said Prisinzano. "This would hurt clinical researchers more than me, and there is an effort underway to do clinical trials on humans before a review board now," he said. "But it would make it more difficult for me to get leaves. Right now we get them from head shops on the Internet."

Perhaps legislators in states like Iowa, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, and Texas, where prohibition bills are on the table, should calmly reassess the scope of the salvia menace and place such legislation on the back burner where it belongs. Or replace them with reasonable regulatory measures. But that's probably asking too much.

Feature: Oregon's Messy Medical Marijuana Statehouse Politics

With some 14,000 patients register\ed with the state under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA), Oregon's is one of the most successful programs in the country. But thanks to a well-organized, if fractious, activist community, as well as legislative foes of medical marijuana, OMMA itself (the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program) and the patients are the objects of a frenzy of activity in the legislature this year.

While some of the legislation has been inspired by the medical marijuana community, much is hostile. Oregon NORML, one of the leading activist organizations on the issue, identifies 19 separate pieces of legislation affecting medical marijuana patients, with only five winning the group's approval.

Among the bills are 12 measures calling for drug testing of everyone from police officers to elected officials to welfare recipients, including one that has already passed the Senate, SB 0465, which would shield employers from lawsuits from patients fired for testing positive for drug tests. There are also two bills that would amend OMMA, one in the House, HB 3299, and one in the Senate, SB 0161, as well as bills that would give prosecutors the option of charging cultivation as a misdemeanor instead of a felony and set up a state-operated dispensary system.

The main battles have been fought over the employee drug testing bill and the bills that would amend OMMA. While the session is unlikely to end until June, so far, it's been a bruising one for medical marijuana advocates. While they have a handful of strong advocates in the statehouse, including Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) and Sen. Frank Morse (R-Albany), those allies have been isolated in early votes -- the drug testing bill passed the Senate 25-5 -- or irritated with some measures put forth by activists.

The drug testing bill drew the opposition of the ACLU of Oregon, as well as medical marijuana supporters. "We believe that bill would undermine the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, which was approved by the voters, permitting Oregonians suffering from serious medical conditions to be able to use marijuana to ease their suffering," said Andrea Meyer, legislative director for the group, who testified against the measure. "There are many patients whose ailments can be relieved so they become productive employees, just as is the case with the thousands of Oregonians who use prescribed substances."

"Employers rely on urinalysis for testing impairment, but that kind of testing does not indicate impairment," said Meyer. "There is no connection between the presence of THC metabolites and impairment. As we all know, THC can remain in the body for up to 30 days. This bill presumes that the medical marijuana user is impaired on the job, but that's not the case, and this does not address the underlying issue of safety, which is what it's all supposed to be about. If they are really concerned with safety, they would do impairment testing of all employees. What is important is that they can perform. The fact that someone used medical marijuana the night before coming in for work does not mean he is impaired."

But while the drug testing bill sailed through the Senate, which rejected a measure offered by Prozanski that would have explicitly protected patients, it may be dead in the water in the House. "It's been assigned to the House Ethics Committee, where the prevailing wisdom is that it's dead," said Leland Berger of Voter Power, who is intimately involved with medical marijuana legislation in Oregon. "It could rise again, but for now it's dead," he said.

So is SB 0676, which would have created a state garden and dispensary system as a pilot program for testing different strains. Championed by Oregon NORML, the bill would have addressed the chronic supply problems some patients face, but its chances withered in the face of fears it could provoke the DEA.

"It's pretty bad in the legislature this year," said Madeline Martinez, director of Oregon NORML. "Prozanski was upset about the dispensary bill. He has always been a friend of hemp and medical marijuana, but he is afraid this one will bring the feds down on us," said Martinez. "Sen. Morse says he doesn't think he can get it out of committee because the attorney general advised that that if it were to happen, everyone would start getting arrested," she explained.

"We need to do something, and I'm not really fond of the California dispensary model," said Martinez. "A lot of my patients are on SSI, so I don't want to see them paying $15 a gram. Gee, you can choose between your medical marijuana, your pharmaceutical drugs, and eating cat food. I'm really upset with and against the California model."

Martinez, a 56-year-old law enforcement retiree, runs a garden for patients, whom she provides with limited amounts of medical marijuana at no cost. "I'm blessed to have a wonderful garden. We are able to fill our donation buckets, and now other growers are donating five or six ounces at a time. It's amazing how seeing it happen has the power of creating a cycle of giving and giving," she said.

But while Martinez and her patients are able to get their medicine, that's not the case for many patients, who either lack the health, the skill, or the talent for growing, and that's the biggest failure of OMMA, she said. "That's the worst feature: no access," she said. "You pay for a right, and then you can't use it, especially if you're unable to grow for yourself. OMMA didn't address that."

Now the main battle remaining is over the bills that would modify the OMMA. HB 3299, pushed by Voter Power, contains several provisions protecting patients or providers, including reciprocity with other states, allowing people under court supervision to use medical marijuana, and imposing penalties on police for willful violation of the law. But it also contains a provision that would subject program members who transported medical marijuana without their registry card to 30 days in jail.

Martinez and Oregon NORML are not supporting HB 3229 in its current form. "There are many good things in HB 3299," said Martinez, "but 30 days in jail for patients caught transporting without their card? Some of the patients I take care of couldn't do one day in jail. That needs to come out."

It just might, said Berger. While HB 3299 appears dormant -- it has been referred to the graveyard known as the House Elections Rules and Ethics Committee -- some of its provisions may end up wrapped into SB 161. "SB 161, which includes some things we've been after for years, passed to the Senate floor on a unanimous vote last Thursday," he said. "We may be able to get stuff from 3299 into 161. Sen. Morse said he would see what he could do."

But for all the sturm and drang at the statehouse, the session may end with little actually happening on the medical marijuana front. That could change if the community were better organized, said Berger. "There is more cooperation and more positive feeling among activists than at times in the past," he said. "But at the same time, there is a sort of lobbying by mob, with different groups pushing different bills. What we really need to do is have a conversation the year before the next session, raise some funds, and hire a lobbyist. It's tough to get legislation passed in Oregon. You have to have a consensus among all the affected groups. Law enforcement, the program itself, and advocates all have to be on the same page, or it's not going to move. That means advocates have to be on the same page, too."

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