Marijuana -- Personal Use

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Barack Obama Comes Out in Favor of Marijuana Decriminalization [Updated]

For the first time since his presidential bid began, the Obama Campaign has clarified the Senator's position on marijuana: stop arresting people for it.

The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise after Obama recently raised his hand in opposition to marijuana decrim at a recent democratic debate. Seeking to paint him as a flip-flopper, The Washington Times dug up footage of a 2004 appearance in which Obama said this:
"I think we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws," Mr. Obama told an audience during a debate at Northwestern University in 2004.

Obama's campaign is now standing by this earlier statement, claiming that the Senator has "always" supported marijuana decriminalization. This actually makes sense, because Obama's apparent opposition to decrim during the debate was triggered by a badly worded question from Tim Russert. As I said at the time, this all goes to show how a cheap soundbite approach to the marijuana discussion trivializes the issue and obscures any real difference of opinion.

Fortunately, now that Obama's position has been made perfectly clear, we face the possibility of a full-on marijuana debate between front-running presidential candidates. It could begin as soon as this evening during Obama's long-anticipated one-on-one face off with Hillary Clinton. Absent that, an Obama nomination would guarantee republican attacks on the marijuana issue, inevitably sucking this discussion into the political mainstream where it belongs.

Jacob Sullum argues correctly that decrim is a remarkably soft position by drug reform standards, but that fact will surely be lost on the blood-thirsty political attack machine that will be directed at Obama if he receives the democratic nomination. And I for one welcome every last nasty morsel of it, lest the debate over recreational marijuana use in America should be excluded entirely from presidential politics yet again.

Weak as it may be, Obama's is the best position on the marijuana issue taken by a viable presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter.

Update: Tragically, the Obama campaign has now reversed its position on decrim. Most of the above can be disregarded entirely.

Location: 
United States

Eric Sage Fights Back

As part of a new Drug War Chronicle occasional series on victims of the war on drugs, we told the story of Eric Sage back in November. Now, there are new developments. On his way home to Nebraska after attending the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota last summer, Sage's motorcycle was pulled over by a highway patrolman. A pick-up truck accompanying also stopped, and when the patrolmen searched that vehicle, he found one of the passengers in possession of a pipe and a small amount of marijuana. Bizarrely, the patrolman charged not only the pick-up truck passengers but also Sage with possession of paraphernalia. Unlike most people arrested on drug charges--even bogus ones--Sage refused to roll over. That prompted local prosecutors to threaten to charge him with "internal possession," a crime (so far) only in South Dakota, and a charge even less supported by the evidence (there was none) than the original paraphernalia charge. After repeated multi-hundred mile trips back to South Dakota for scheduled court hearings, Sage's charges mysteriously evaporated, with prosecutors in Pennington County lamely explaining that they had decided the charge should have been filed in another county. Sage was a free man, but his freedom wasn’t free. Sage says his encounter with South Dakota justice cost him thousands of dollars, lost work days, and considerable stress. Now, he is seeking redress. On Monday, Sage and South Dakota NORML announced that he had filed complaints with several South Dakota agencies and professional standards groups regarding the actions of the prosecutors, Pennington County (Rapid City) District Attorney Glenn Brenner and Assistant DA Gina Nelson, and the highway patrolman, Trooper Dave Trautman. Sage accuses Trautman of improperly charging everyone present at the incident with possession of paraphernalia. He also accuses Trautman of concocting an arrest report long after the fact to support the new charge of internal possession. Sage accuses Assistant DA Nelson and her boss of prosecuting a case they knew was bogus and of threatening to convict him of an offense where they knew he was not guilty because he refused to plead to the original paraphernalia charge. "They mugged me," Sage said. "They cost me $4000. I had to travel to Rapid City several times, I had to hire a lawyer, I missed work. It cost me three times as much to get them to drop a bogus charge as it would have cost me to say I was guilty of something I didn't do and pay their fines. They only quit when they ran out of clubs to hit me with." Prosecutors didn't even have the courtesy to let him or his local attorney know they had finally dropped the charges, Sage said. "My lawyer called Gina Nelson several times to see if I needed to drive up on Nov. 21," he said. "She wouldn't return the calls. So when I got there, I found the charges had been dropped on the 16th. Gina had purposefully made me drive one more 500 mile round trip, for nothing." Now, we'll see if the powers that be in South Dakota will bring the same dogged determination to seeing justice done in this case as they do to going after anybody who even looks like a small-time drug offender. You can read Sage's complaints to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, the South Dakota Bar Association Disciplinary Committee, and the Pennington County Commission here.
Location: 
Rapid City, SD
United States

Marijuana: Burlington, Vermont City Council Rejects Decriminalization Measure

The Burlington, Vermont, City Council Tuesday narrowly defeated a watered-down ballot question on marijuana decriminalization. The measure would have asked the governor and state legislature "to explore an alternative to the criminal system for dealing with small quantities of marijuana." It failed 7-6.

If the measure had passed, it would have gone before voters at the next annual Town Meeting.

The council did pass an even more watered-down resolution. It voted 11-2 to assign the council's Public Safety Committee the task of exploring "creating another option of handling small quantities of marijuana."

Councilman Ed Adrian, who introduced the original decriminalization measure and who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the committee will listen to "perspectives from all sides" in the marijuana debate. "I was disappointed that it wasn't put on the ballot so the people could weigh in on this, but that's the way the democratic process works," he said in remarks reported by the Burlington Free Press.

The decrim move in Burlington comes in the context of an emerging debate over drug policy in Vermont. The legislature this session will contend with decriminalization and industrial hemp, as well as bills seeking to crack down on hard drug trafficking, and the level of debate has been rising.

Marijuana: New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Wins Support at Hearing

A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 1.25 ounces of marijuana won broad support at a New Hampshire House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee hearing Tuesday. Only representatives of the state attorney general's office and the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police spoke against the measure, while both a police officer and a corrections official were among those speaking in favor of it.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/marijuanaplant.jpg
marijuana plant (usdoj.gov)
The bill, HB 1623, would make possession of less than 1.25 ounces a violation, punishable by a maximum $200 fine. Simple possession is currently a Class A misdemeanor. The bill would also eliminate "penalties for the manufacture or sale of less than 1.25 ounces of marijuana." It was sponsored by Reps. Jeffrey Fontas (D-Nashua), Andrew Edwards (D-Nashua), and the ironically named Charles Weed (D-Keene).

Decriminalization offers a more sensible way of handling small-time marijuana offenses, New Hampshire police officer Bradley Jardis told the committee. "I have been kicked, I have been punched, I have been choked, I have been dropped to the ground, I've had two people jump on top of me punching me while I was on duty -- by people who had been drinking alcohol," he said. "I have never been to a domestic violence call or a fight call where someone smokes marijuana."

The bill also gained support from Richard Van Wickler, superintendent of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections, who told the committee decriminalization has worked in other places. "Jurisdictions globally and nationally that have passed laws such as the one that's before you today have had success with it," he said. "It has served the purpose of justice; it has moved closer to crime policies based on fact rather than fiction."

Speaking in opposition to the bill, Berlin Police Chief Peter Morency, head of the police chiefs' association, was asked by Rep. Timothy Robertson (D-Keene) if he would also be in favor of reinstating Alcohol Prohibition. After a pause, Morency said it was something he would consider.

That sparked a reaction from the New Hampshire Coalition for Commonsense Marijuana Policy, which issued a press release the same day as the hearing criticizing Morency's views. "Alcohol Prohibition is widely considered an enormous disaster that increased crime and violence," said the group's Matt Simon. "We all want safer communities, but Chief Morency's ideas for how to achieve that are as misguided regarding alcohol as they are regarding marijuana."

According to Rep. Fontas, HB1623 is more about preserving the opportunities of young people rather than anything to do with marijuana. He told the Laconia Citizen a marijuana possession conviction could bar young people from receiving federal financial aid for college or see them excluded from certain jobs. "If we are concerned enough about young people going down the wrong track then we should not prevent them from opportunities that get them on the right one," said Fontas.

The hearing concluded with the committee deciding to form a four-member subcommittee to study the bill further and come back with a recommendation before taking the bill to a full committee vote. If it passes that hurdle, it's on to a full vote in the House, and then off to the Senate.

Law Enforcement: Virginia Narcotics Officer Killed Busting Down Door in Marijuana Grow Raid

Chesapeake, Virginia, Police Detective Jarrod Shivers was killed by a bullet fired through a door as he attempted to break it down during a raid on a suspected marijuana grow operation on January 17. Shivers was a veteran narcotic detective and SWAT team member whose specialty was "breaching" doors during drug raids. The home's resident, Ryan Frederick, was arrested in the shooting.

As Drug War Chronicle noted in a recent review of drug war-related law enforcement deaths last year, making drug arrests is not an extraordinarily risky endeavor -- only one officer died doing a drug raid last year, and the total number killed doing any drug enforcement was five. But there are risks, especially when police rely on dynamic forced entries, as appears to have been the case in Chesapeake.

While police said they did a "knock and announce" before entering the home, one local press account said Shivers "died doing his specialty -- breaking down doors" -- when he was shot.

Police had obtained a search warrant based on information from a confidential informant that "the marijuana was growing in portable shelters with a hydroponic system," according to local press reports. This week, police announced they had indeed seized marijuana and growing equipment, though without explaining why they waited five days to say so.

Shivers was buried on Tuesday. The alleged shooter, Frederick, remains in jail. He is now charged with first degree murder.

All this over some pot plants.

Idiot Steals Two Crocodiles and a Monkey, Blames Marijuana

I'm so sick of people blaming marijuana for the stupid things they do. Lest we should all be further stigmatized by his mischief, someone needs to stop hooking this guy up:
DARWIN, Australia (AP) — An Australian teenager[*] blamed the influence of marijuana for his decision to steal two crocodiles and a monkey, local media reported Wednesday.


Watts said he planned to sell the stolen baby crocodiles and the marmoset but had been unable to find buyers, ABC reported.


Watts' lawyer told the court his client admitted it was a "dumb stoner" thing to do and had written to Crocodylus Park to apologize. [AP]

Marijuana isn't for everyone, to be sure, but most people are more than a few tokes away from busting into the zoo and stealing crocodiles. I think he's just embarrassed to admit that these are the sorts of things he generally feels inclined to do.

But there's also a revealing subplot here that's worth exploring. Consider that this young man snuck into the zoo high on marijuana, successfully captured two crocodiles and a monkey, and escaped undetected. It's a rather impressive outcome compared to the carnage that ensues when drunken zoo-goers attempt to interact with the animals.

A victim of the recent San Francisco tiger attack was at twice the legal limit when he taunted the tiger until it leapt over the wall and attacked him. A drunken Lithuanian was hospitalized in May after climbing into a Giraffe exhibit and getting trampled. Then there's the intoxicated Chinese man who entered the Panda cage at the Beijing Zoo to "hug" the Panda and ended up biting the bear when it attacked him. Not to mention the drunken Ukrainian who tried to show off for friends by taking on a caged grizzly and was nearly killed, or the corpse found in the grizzly den at the Belgrade Zoo during an annual beer festival.

Clearly, from a harm reduction standpoint, marijuana is the safer choice for zoo-going trouble-makers.

*Since his name was omitted, I've been unable to verify whether the culprit was Corey Delaney.

Location: 
United States

Marijuana: After 30 Years, Nebraska Legislator Wants to Recriminalize

For three decades, marijuana possession has been decriminalized in Nebraska, but now a state legislator has filed a bill, LB844, that would make it a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. Currently, the maximum penalty for possession of less than one ounce is a $100 fine.

Nebraska is one of 12 states where marijuana possession has been decriminalized. Most of of them decriminalized in the 1970s, but Nevada joined the select group in 2001. A decriminalization initiative will go before Massachusetts voters this fall, and it appears the Vermont legislature may consider a move this year as well (See story here this issue).

But if state Sen. Russ Karpisek has his way, Nebraska will be heading in the other direction. He told the Omaha World-Herald he wants pot smokers to suffer at least the same penalty as underage drinkers.

"Alcohol is legal for adults, while marijuana is an illegal substance," the Wilber lawmaker said. "It's one of those things us rednecks really get mad about."

The proposed bill is winning the support of anti-drug activists and some prosecutors. The "parent resource group" PRIDE-Omaha Inc. thinks it's a good idea.

"Current law is too lenient. It's kind of viewed as a slap on the wrist. Society in general ties the seriousness to the punishment. Our kids are growing up in a culture that really normalizes the use of marijuana," said the group's co-executive director Margaret Grove, adding that passing the measure would challenge social acceptance of marijuana use.

"I think certainly we would be inclined to make the argument that we've de-emphasized it too much," Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said. "We're not sending a very good message." People don't want to go to the county's marijuana diversion program because they see the $100 fine as a "cost of doing business," Polikov complained.

But former state Sen. John DeCamp, then of Neligh, who led the decriminalization effort in the 1970s, said there was a sound basis for it. "I had very solid reasons for it," DeCamp said, adding that he convinced conservative legislators it would save tax dollars by incarcerating fewer people. Also, DeCamp said, soldiers were returning home from Vietnam "accustomed to a toke of marijuana" and didn't deserve to have their lives ruined.

Similarly, Omaha defense attorney Don Fiedler, who lobbied to support the 1978 decrim effort, said the move kept many Nebraskans from getting drug-related criminal records that would hinder their future prospects.

Last year, there were 7,416 citations and arrests for possession, sale, and manufacture of marijuana in the state, according to the Nebraska Crime Commission.

Marijuana: Sight of Someone Smoking a Joint Not Grounds for Home Search, California Appeals Court Rules

The California Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled last Friday that police cannot enter a home without a search warrant just because they see someone smoking marijuana inside. Police may enter a home to preserve evidence of a crime, the court held, but only if the crime is punishable by jail or prison. The ruling came in People v. Hua.

Under California law, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana has been decriminalized with a maximum $100 fine and no jail time. Because simple possession has been decriminalized, even if police see someone smoking a joint inside a house, they have not witnessed a jailable offense, hence the only way they may enter without a search warrant is if they seek and receive the permission of a resident.

The case came about in March 2005, when officers in Pacifica came to an apartment on a noise complaint, smelled marijuana as they approached, then looked through a window to see what appeared to be someone smoking pot in a group of people. Police then entered and searched the apartment over the objections of resident John Hua. They found two joints in the living room, 46 plants in a bedroom, and an illegal cane-sword on a bookshelf.

After a San Mateo County judge upheld the police search, Hua pleaded no contest to cultivating marijuana and possession of the sword and served a 60-day jail sentence. But he retained his right to appeal the search ruling.

On appeal, prosecutors offered a two-pronged argument: that they had reason to believe there was more than an ounce of marijuana in the apartment, and that Hua or others might be committing a felony by handing the joint back and forth. But the court wasn't buying; it said the first argument was "mere conjecture" and the second was a misinterpretation of the law, which prescribes the same fine for giving a joint to someone as it does for smoking it.

Prosecutors aren't happy. California Deputy Attorney General Ronald Niver said he would recommend appealing the ruling to the state Supreme Court. "It's difficult to accept the proposition that if you see marijuana in one room, you cannot draw the inference that there's marijuana in another room," he said. "It's like saying that if you see the streets are wet, you can't infer that it's raining."

Ironically, Niver's boss, California Attorney General Jerry Brown, was the governor who signed the decriminalization bill in 1978.

Africa: Marijuana "Tries to Destroy Our Society," Nigerian Head Narc Says

Ahmadu Giade, head of Nigeria's National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), used a ceremony where seized marijuana was burned last weekend to declare war on pot as part of his agency's effort to "provide a drug-free society for all." His comments came as 100,000 pounds of what Nigerians commonly refer to as Indian hemp went up in smoke. The ceremonial burning would "spite drug barons" and demonstrate the superiority of law enforcement over drug dealers, he said.

While the Lagos newspaper The Day, which reported on the event, described the drugs as "narcotics" and "hard drugs," it appears that it was really describing Nigerian-grown marijuana.

Head narc Giade suffered from the same terminological confusion. "The threat of narcotic drugs is palpable," he said. "It is difficult to ignore this peril staring at us in the face. Cannabis control constitutes the biggest drug challenge in Nigeria and Africa. This is because it grows effortlessly in the country. This drug has the propensity to destroy our society but we equally have the capacity to subdue it."

Well, not so far, anyway. According to the US State Department's 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, "Sale and local consumption of marijuana is on the increase. The rise in marijuana use domestically in Nigeria is evinced by the increased quantities seized, the number and size of illicit plots discovered and destroyed, and numbers of arrests made."

Marijuana: Vermont to Consider Decriminalization, But Wants to Crack Down on Hard Drugs

The Vermont legislature will this year take up a bill to decriminalize the personal possession, growing of two plants, and small-scale sales of marijuana. At the same time, the legislature will consider a proposal to lower the threshold for what constitutes "trafficking amounts" for hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Both proposals will be discussed at public hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 23.

The legislative moves come after months of discussion about the cost and efficacy of Vermont drug policy and sometimes heated debate over marijuana decriminalization. The decrim debate really heated up last fall when Republican Gov. James Douglas ordered that marijuana cases be taken away from the office of Windsor County prosecutor Robert Sand, who approved court diversion for a local attorney caught growing 30 pot plants. Douglas accused Sand of having a blanket diversion policy, but backed off the state control over prosecutions after Sand made it clear he had no such blanket policy, and after it was found that an Orange County prosecutor had done a similar deal for a man arrested with more than 100 plants.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham) said last month that drug law reform, including marijuana decriminalization, was one of his top priorities for the current session. That moved Gov. Douglas to say that he was open to decrim discussions, although he has not endorsed the idea.

The marijuana decrim bill, S-238, was introduced last year and reintroduced this year by Sen. Jeannette White (D-Windham). Under the bill, possession of up to four ounces or two plants and sale of less than four ounces would be a civil violation with a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine. Possession of more than four ounces or more than five plants would still be a crime punishable by up to five years in prison under the bill.

While White's decrim bill is a step in the right direction, the hard drug bill, S-250, to be offered by Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is not. That bill would lower the threshold for criminal trafficking charges from 300 grams of cocaine to 150 and from seven grams of heroin to 3.5. People convicted of possessing drugs in such amounts would face up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to one million dollars.

Sears has also signaled that he thinks the four ounce decrim limit is too high. "Four ounces of marijuana is a felony," he told the Barre-Montepelier Times Argus. "I don't think we want to go there."

But Sears is open to discussion, he said. "I thought it was important to let the public weigh in before we started taking a close look at the proposals," he said. "This is a change in state law regarding drugs, and the public probably has some thoughts about this."

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