State & Local Legislatures

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Ark. House passes bill that increases penalty for making meth

Location: 
Little Rock, AR
United States
Publication/Source: 
Pine Bluff Commercial (AR)
URL: 
http://www.pbcommercial.com/articles/2007/01/13/ap-state-ar/d8mjt5i80.txt

Medical Marijuana bill aims to change conditions

Location: 
Manchester, VT
United States
Publication/Source: 
Manchester Journal (VT)
URL: 
http://www.manchesterjournal.com/headlines/ci_5000693

Needle exchange bill again introduced in legislature

Location: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Bay Area Reporter (CA)
URL: 
http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=1476

Illegal drugs add to tax yield

Location: 
TN
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Tennessean
URL: 
http://tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070103/NEWS01/701030430/1006/NEWS

Maine bill seeks regulation of legal hallucinogenic drug

Location: 
ME
United States
Publication/Source: 
Bangor Daily News (ME)
URL: 
http://bangordailynews.com/news/t/news.aspx?articleid=144637&zoneid=500

Pot law in peril

Location: 
Providence, RI
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Pawtucket Times (RI)
URL: 
http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=17636596&BRD=1713&PAG=461&dept_id=24491&rfi=6

It Was the Worst of Times: Drug Reform Defeats, Downers, and Disappointments in 2006

As Drug War Chronicle publishes its last issue of the year -- we will be on vacation next week -- it is time to look back at 2006. In a companion piece, we looked at the highlights for drug reform this year; here, we look at the lowlights, from failures at the polls to bad court rulings to negative trends. Below -- in no particular order -- is our necessarily somewhat arbitrary list of the ten most significant defeats and disappointments for the cause of drug law reform. (We also publish a "best of 2006" list in this issue, above.)

The drug war continues unabated on the streets of America. Despite two decades of drug reform efforts, the war on drugs continues to make America a country that eats its young. In May, we reported that the US prisoner count topped 2.1 million -- a new high -- and included more than 500,000 drug war prisoners. In September, the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report, showing nearly 800,000 marijuana arrests and 1.8 million drug arrests in 2005 -- another new high. And just two weeks ago, we reported that more than seven million people are in jail or prison or on probation or parole -- yet another new high.

Methamphetamine hysteria continues unabated and becomes an excuse for old-school, repressive drug laws and bad, newfangled ones, too. The drug war always needs a demon drug du jour to scare the public, and this year, like the past few years, meth is it. Never mind that the stuff has been around for decades and that there is less to the "meth epidemic" than meets the eye. The "dangers of meth" have been cited as a reason for everything from targeting South Asian convenience store clerks to restricting access to cold medications containing pseudoephedrine to harsh new penalties for meth offenses to more than 20 states defining meth use or production as child abuse. Michigan even went so far as to pass legislation banning meth recipes on the Internet, while Arizona voters felt impelled to roll back a decade-old sentencing reform. Under that reform, first- and second-time drug possession offenders couldn't be sentenced to jail or prison, but now Arizona has created an exception for meth offenders. The drug warriors like to say meth is the new crack, and in the way meth is used as an excuse for "tough" approaches to drug policy, that is certainly true.

The US Supreme Court upholds unannounced police searches. In a June decision, the court upheld a Michigan drug raid where police called out their presence at the door, but then immediately rushed in before the homeowner could respond. Previously, the courts had allowed such surprise entries only in the case of "no-knock" warrants, but this ruling, which goes against hundreds of years of common law and precedent, effectively eviscerates that distinction. "No-knock" raids are dangerous, as we reported that same month, and as Atlanta senior citizen Kathryn Johnston would tell you if she could. But she can't -- Johnston was killed in a "no-knock" raid last month.

Marijuana legalization initiatives lose in Colorado and Nevada. After four years of effort, the Marijuana Policy Project still couldn't get over the top with its "tax and regulate" initiative in Nevada, although it increased its share of the vote from 39% to 44%. In Colorado, SAFER Colorado took its "marijuana is safer than alcohol" message statewide after successes at state universities and in Denver last year, but failed to convince voters, winning only 41% of the vote.

South Dakota becomes the first state where voters defeat an initiative to legalize medical marijuana. In every state where it had gone to the voters as a ballot measure, medical marijuana had emerged victorious. But voters in the socially conservative, lightly populated Upper Midwest state narrowly rejected it in November. The measure lost 48% to 52%.

California's medical marijuana movement is under sustained attack by the feds and recalcitrant state and local officials and law enforcement. This year, it seems like barely a week goes by without a new raid by the DEA or unreconstructed drug warriors in one county or another. San Diego has been particularly hard-hit, but we also reported on a spate of raids in October, and there have been more since. The feds have also started their first medical marijuana prosecution since the 2003 Ed Rosenthal fiasco, with Merced County medical marijuana patient and provider Dustin Costa going on trial last month.

Hundreds die from overdoses of heroin cut with fentanyl, but the official response is almost nonexistent -- except for increased law enforcement pressure. With injection drug users falling over dead from Boston to Baltimore, Philadelphia to Detroit and Chicago, an estimated 700 people have been killed by the deadly cocktail. We reported on it in June, but the wave of deaths continues to the present. Just last week, more than 120 medical experts, public health departments, and drug user advocates sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt urging him to take aggressive action. Ho-hum, who cares about dead junkies? Not the federal government, at least so far.

Plan Colombia continues to roll along, adding fuel to the flames of Colombia's civil war while achieving little in the realm of actually reducing the supply of cocaine. The US Congress continues to fund Plan Colombia to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, even though despite six years of military assistance and widespread aerial eradication using herbicides, it now appears that production is higher than anyone ever thought. Perhaps a Democratic Congress will put an end to this fiasco next year, but Democrats certainly can count influential Plan Colombia supporters among their ranks -- incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and presidential hopeful Joe Biden (DE), to name just one.

Afghanistan is well on its way to becoming a true narco-state. The US war on terror and the US war on drugs are on a collision course in Afghanistan, which now, five years after the US invaded, produces more than 90% of the world's illicit opium. This year, Afghanistan's opium crop hit a new record high of 6,100 metric tons, and now, US drug czar John Walters is pressuring the Afghans to embrace eradication with herbicides. But each move the US and the Afghans make to suppress the opium trade just drives more Afghans into the waiting arms of the Taliban, which is also making enough money off the trade to finance its reborn insurgency. Meanwhile, the Afghan government is also full of people getting rich off opium. Everyone is ignoring the sensible proposals that have put on the table for dealing with the problem, which range from an economic development and anti-corruption approach put forward by the UN and World Bank as an alternative to eradication, and the Senlis Council proposal to license production and divert it to the legitimate medicinal market.

Australia is in the grips of Reefer Madness. While some Australian states enacted reforms to soften their marijuana laws in years past, the government of Prime Minister John Howard would like to roll back those reforms. The Australians seem particularly susceptible to hysterical pronouncements about the links between marijuana and mental illness, and they also hold the unfathomable notion that marijuana grown hydroponically is somehow more dangerous than marijuana grown in soil. Over the weekend, the national health secretary announced he wants to ban bongs. That's not so surprising coming from a man who in May announced that marijuana is more dangerous than heroin. Hopefully, saner heads will prevail Down Under, but it isn't happening just yet.

It Was the Best of Times: Drug Reform Victories and Advances in 2006

As Drug War Chronicle publishes its last issue of the year -- we will be on vacation next week -- it is time to look back at 2006. Both here at home and abroad, the year saw significant progress on various fronts, from marijuana law reform to harm reduction advances to the rollback of repressive drug laws in Europe and Latin America. Below -- in no particular order -- is our necessarily somewhat arbitrary list of the ten most significant victories and advances for the cause of drug law reform. (We also publish a top ten most significant defeats for drug law reform in 2006 below.)

Marijuana possession stays legal in Alaska. A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court case gave Alaskans the right to possess up to a quarter-pound of marijuana in the privacy of their homes, but in 1991, voters recriminalized possession. A series of court cases this decade reestablished the right to possess marijuana, provoking Gov. Frank Murkowski to spend two years in an ultimately successful battle to get the legislature to re-recriminalize it. But in July, an Alaska Superior Court threw out the new law's provision banning pot possession at home. The court did reduce the amount to one ounce, and the state Supreme Court has yet to weigh in, but given its past rulings, there is little reason to think it will reverse itself.

Local initiatives making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority win across the board. In the November elections, lowest priority initiatives swept to victory in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica, California, as well as Missoula County, Montana, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Earlier this year, West Hollywood adopted a similar ordinance, and last month, San Francisco did the same thing. Look for more initiatives like these next year and in 2008.

Rhode Island becomes the 11th state to approve medical marijuana and the third to do so via the legislative process. In January, legislators overrode a veto by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) to make the bill law. The bill had passed both houses in 2005, only to be vetoed by Carcieri. The state Senate voted to override in June of 2005, but the House did not act until January.

The Higher Education Act (HEA) drug provision is partially rolled back. In the face of rising opposition to the provision, which bars students with drug convictions -- no matter how trivial -- from receiving federal financial assistance for specified periods, its author, leading congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder, staged a tactical retreat. To blunt the movement for full repeal, led by the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, Souder amended his own provision so that it now applies only to students who are enrolled and receiving federal financial aid at the time they commit their offenses. Passage of the amended drug provision in February marks one of the only major rollbacks of drug war legislation in years.

New Jersey passes a needle exchange bill. After a 13-year struggle and a rising toll from injection-related HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C infections, the New Jersey legislature last week passed legislation that would establish pilot needle exchange programs in up to six municipalities. Gov. Jon Corzine (D) signed it into law this week. With Delaware and Massachusetts also passing needle access bills this year, every state in the union now either has at least some needle exchange programs operating or allows injection drug users to obtain clean needles without a prescription.

The US Supreme Court upholds the right of American adherents of the Brazil-based church the Union of the Vegetable (UDV) to use a psychedelic tea (ayahuasca) containing a controlled substance in religious ceremonies. Using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a unanimous court held that the government must show a "compelling government interest" in restricting religious freedom and use "the least restrictive means" of furthering that interest. The February ruling may pave the way for marijuana spiritualists to seek similar redress.

The Vancouver safe injection site, Insite wins a new, if limited, lease on life. The pilot project site, the only one of its kind in North America, was up for renewal after its initial three-year run, and the Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper was ideologically opposed to continuing it, but thanks to a well-orchestrated campaign to show community and global support, the Harper government granted a one-year extension of the program. Some observers have suggested the limited extension should make the "worst of" list instead of the "best of," but keeping the site long enough to survive the demise of the Conservative government (probably this year) has to rank as a victory. So does the publication of research results demonstrating that the site saves lives, reduces overdoses and illness, and gets people into treatment without leading to increased crime or drug use.

The election of Evo Morales brings coca peace to Bolivia. When coca-growers union leader Morales was elected president in the fall of 2004, the country's coca farmers finally had a friend in high office. While previous years had seen tension and violence between cocaleros and the government's repressive apparatus, Morales has worked with the growers to seek voluntary limits on production and, with financial assistance from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, begun a program of research on the uses of coca and the construction of factories to turn it into tea or flour. All is not quiet -- there have been deadly clashes with growers in Las Yungas in recent months -- but the situation is greatly improved from previous years.

Brazil stops imprisoning drug users. Under a new drug law signed by President Luis Inacio "Lula" Da Silva in August, drug users and possessors will not be arrested and jailed, but cited and offered rehabilitation and community service. While the new "treatment not jail" law keeps drug users under the therapeutic thumb of the state, it also keeps them out of prison.

Italy reverses tough marijuana laws. Before its defeat this spring, the government of then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi toughened up Italy's previously relatively sensible drug laws, making people possessing more than five grams of marijuana subject to punishment as drug dealers. The new, left-leaning government of Premier Romano Prodi took and last month raised the limit for marijuana possession without penalty from five grams to an ounce. The Prodi government has also approved the use of marijuana derivatives for pain relief.

Feature: New Jersey Legislature Approves Needle Exchange Bill, Governor Will Sign

The New Jersey legislature last Friday passed a bill permitting the creation of needle exchange programs (NEPs) to block the spread of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne illnesses in up to six Garden State municipalities. Now, health officials in cities including Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark and Paterson are preparing to lay the bureaucratic groundwork for getting programs up and running. Atlantic City and and Camden have already passed ordinances allowing for such programs, while officials in the latter three cities are considering similar action.

In a statement released after the vote, Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine said he would sign the bill into law. "The science is clear: Needle exchange programs reduce sharing of contaminated needles, reduce transmission of HIV and hepatitis C and serve as gateways to treatment," Corzine said. "The bottom line is that this program will save lives. I applaud the legislature for getting it to my desk, and I look forward to signing the bill and seeing the program implemented rapidly."

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/niagill.jpg
Sen. Nia Gill, sponsor of Senate needle exchange bill
New Jersey has the nation's fifth-largest number of HIV and AIDS cases. The state ranks first in women with the virus and third in infected children. It is also the only state in the nation with neither needle exchange nor non-prescription access to syringes. (A syringe access bill passed the Assembly, but was not acted on in the Senate this year. Advocates hope for a vote early next year.) In numerous studies, NEPs have been shown to decrease the rate of infection among injection drug users, a leading vector for the disease.

The public health victory came 13 years after the notion was first proposed in New Jersey and nearly five years after the Drug Policy Alliance made it a key legislative priority in the state. "This is one of the happiest days of my life, the culmination of 4 ½ years of incredibly hard work," said Roseanne Scotti, who, as head of DPA's New Jersey office, has become the most prominent public advocate of needle exchange in the Garden State. "Now we are at the beginning of really being able to prevent injection-related HIV and Hep C infections."

Victory last week didn't come without a fight, complete with accusations of racism and genocide by some of its most vocal opponents. Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) led the opposition, and during final debate on the bill he called it "an experiment" on minorities and compared it to the federal government's Tuskegee experiment in the 1930s, where hundreds of black men were intentionally infected with syphilis without being told or treated. "The end result is the same -- death for a class of minorities and women," Rice said.

But Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex), a sponsor of the bill, accused Rice of using stale arguments and standing in the way of cities that want to enact NEPs. "If Newark doesn't want it, Newark doesn't have to have it," Gill said. "We've crafted the bill so it's permissive -- it would let Camden try to save the lives of its people. Why not let them have a chance to save lives?"

Also opposing the bill was Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington), who said she couldn't vote for it after speaking to the parents of a child who died of a drug overdose. "We're using taxpayer dollars to send people deeper into the abyss," she said.

In the end, public health arguments prevailed, with the Senate approving the bill 23-16, and, moments later, the Assembly approving it 49-27. Supporters had been unsure of the bill's prospects in the Senate before the vote.

"The action we are taking today will save lives," said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) after the votes were counted.

"I'm very pleased," said Atlantic City health officer Ron Cash. "This is an opportunity for the city to use the tools we need to fight HIV/AIDS here."

Atlantic City is ready to go and waiting for the state, Cash told Drug War Chronicle. "The state health department has to produce an application form, and then we will submit a proposal. We could have a program running as early as March, but more likely it will be the middle of next year."

The victory was the result of hard work and a favorable political conjuncture, said Scotti. "This was partly the cumulative result of all the years of work, but we're also in a very good place politically," she said. "We have a governor, a Senate president, and an Assembly speaker who are all behind it, and that's critical. But part of arriving at this point was doing all the work to bring them along."

Scotti's work is not done, she said. "We'll be working on implementation and helping the cities get their programs going. Atlantic City and Camden already have ordinances in place, Newark Mayor Booker has spoken publicly about the need for NEPs, the Paterson health department is very interested, and so is Jersey City."

If the latter three cities join Atlantic City and Camden, that will make five, leaving room for only one more municipality under the new law. If there is interest from more cities, advocates could go back to the legislature, said Scotti. "The more the merrier," she said. "If we get more interest, we will push the legislature to amend the law."

County to appeal medical-marijuana ruling

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
The San Diego Union-Tribune
URL: 
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20061214-9999-7m14potsuit.html

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