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Marijuana: Four Initiatives Make November Ballot In Idaho Town

A central Idaho marijuana legalization advocate's three-year struggle to get marijuana initiatives on the ballot in the town of Hailey will come to fruition in November. City officials announced last Friday that a package of marijuana initiatives proposed by Ryan Davidson will be on the November 6 ballot.

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Selkirk mountains, northern Idaho
Davidson sought in 2004 to file initiative petitions seeking the legalization of marijuana with the communities of Sun Valley, Hailey, and Ketchum, but local officials in all three locales balked. Sun Valley officials refused to process the initiatives, claiming they were unconstitutional. Davidson and his group, the Liberty Lobby of Idaho, took the municipality all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court, which issued a decision in Davidson's favor last year.

Davidson won a second court victory last month, when a US District Court issued a preliminary injunction barring the city of Hailey from requiring that initiative initiators be residents of the city.

Now, Davidson has four different marijuana initiatives on the November ballot. The first would mandate the city to revise its ordinances to regulate and tax marijuana sales and require it to advocate for the reform of marijuana laws at the state and national level. If approved by voters, city officials would have up to a year to implement the new ordinance. A second initiative would legalize the medical use of marijuana. The third initiative would make enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest law enforcement priority, while the fourth initiative would allow for the use of industrial hemp.

Local officials are resigned to letting the voters decide. "The only way this is going to go away is to let the people vote on it," said Hailey City Council President Rick Davis at a Monday council meeting.

"The voters have to vote on this; the Supreme Court was very clear," said Hailey city attorney Ned Williamson.

Voters in Hailey will get their chance in November. But Ketchum and Sun Valley could be next. Davidson told the Idaho Mountain Express he hoped to have initiatives on the ballot in those two cities for next May's local elections.

Marijuana: Decriminalization Initiative Effort Gets Underway in Joplin, Missouri

Last Friday saw the kick-off of a campaign to put a marijuana decriminalization initiative on the ballot in the southwest Missouri city of Joplin. Local, regional, and national activists gathered in front of city hall to officially launch the initiative, which would make simple possession of marijuana an administrative offense punishable by no more than a $250 fine under city ordinances.

"We are here today to introduce an opportunity for the citizens of Joplin to enact a more sensible marijuana policy," said Kelly Maddy, president of the Joplin chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "Over 200 people were arrested in 2005 for marijuana possession in Joplin," he continued. "This is a waste of police resources that could otherwise be allocated to more serious crime. Our cities marijuana laws are not only a waste of taxpayer money and police resources, they are by definition a failed policy."

Maddy was joined at the press conference and last weekend's Joplin Cannabis Revival by Ryan Denham, head of the Alliance for Drug Reform Policy in Arkansas, and Kris Krane, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. They came to lend their support to what will be known as the Sensible Sentencing Initiative.

Under current Joplin law, misdemeanor marijuana possession can be punished by up to a $500 fine and 100 days in jail. Joplin police do not refer possession cases to county courts unless the amount in question is 35 grams or more -- a felony under state law.

While the Ozarks and surrounding region may not, at first glance, appear to be especially receptive to marijuana law reform efforts, victories have been achieved in the area. In 2003, Columbia, Missouri, passed a lowest law enforcement priority initiative, and tiny Eureka Springs, Arkansas, did the same thing last year.

In some cases where marijuana law reforms have been passed, police and prosecutors have ignored them, as in Denver, where authorities continue to prosecute people under state law even though Denver voters voted to legalize marijuana possession in 2005. That prospect seems unlikely in Joplin if the measure passes.

In an interview with the Joplin Globe under the headline "Chief Says His Job Is to Support Public Mandates," Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts said he would do just that. His job, he said, is to enforce the laws established by voters and elected lawmakers. "Somebody is going to say, 'you're the chief... you ought to oppose this thing,'" he said. "Somebody else will say 'you are the chief of police and supposed to be protecting our constitutional rights.' My argument is, 'yep ... you are right.'"

To qualify for the November 2008 ballot, initiative organizers need to collect 5,000 signatures, or 15% of the number of registered voters in the city. They have one year to do so.

Australia: South Australia Wants to Ban Marijuana Grow Recipes, Equipment

South Australia Attorney General Michael Atkinson Tuesday introduced legislation to the state parliament that would ban drug-making recipes and the possession of equipment that could be used to produce drugs without a reasonable excuse. The measure is aimed primarily at marijuana growers.

In remarks reported by The Age, Atkinson said people would have to prove why they have equipment used in the hydroponic cultivation of marijuana or face up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

"We want to make it very hard for drug cultivators and manufacturers in South Australia," he told reporters. "We think they're a pest, they're a nuisance, they're noxious and that we ought to make their lives so unbearable they might even go to another jurisdiction."

Atkinson said he isn't sure yet which items will be proscribed, but he would work with police to identify items used in hydroponic marijuana cultivation and other illicit drug laboratories. Atkinson did not say how the proposed law would be implemented.

Feature: Marijuana, Drug Arrests Hit All-Time High -- Again

The number of people arrested for marijuana offenses in the US last year was a record 829,625, according to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report. The figure marks the fourth consecutive year and 11th time in the last 15 years that marijuana arrests hit an all-time high. More than five million people have been arrested for marijuana since 2000 alone.

Overall, some 1,889,810 people were arrested on drug charges last year -- another all-time high. More than eight out of ten of all drug arrests were for possession alone, and 89% of all marijuana arrests for possession.

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The continuing increases in drug arrests came as violent crime increased 1.9%, the second straight year of increases after a decade of declining violent crime rates. Property crime declined by 1.9%, mirroring the 10-year declining trend.

The total number of marijuana arrests in the US for 2006 far exceeded the total number of arrests in the US for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. The number of total drug arrests was greater than that for any other offense.

No law enforcement organizations contacted by the Chronicle responded to requests for comment on the link (or lack of) between continuing high levels of drug arrests and violent crime, but representatives of groups that would like to see fewer drug arrests were quick to respond to the numbers.

"These numbers are sadly not too surprising because we put a lot of money into arresting drug users," said Doug McVay, policy analyst for Common Sense for Drug Policy. "That's what we're paying police to do. Law enforcement has to produce body counts to justify increased funding, and the way to do it is with drug users. There's an endless supply."

"These numbers refute the common myth that police will look the other way when it comes to personal marijuana possession," said Scott Morgan of Flex Your Rights, a group that instructs citizens on how to effectively exert their right to be free of unwarranted searches and seizures. "Liberal attitudes about pot have created a false sense of security for many, but the truth is that you can get in big trouble for it. In any police encounter, the best strategy is to refuse searches and not answer incriminating questions," he advised.

"The steady escalation of marijuana arrests is happening in direct defiance of public opinion," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Voters in communities all over the country, from Denver to Seattle to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and Missoula County, Montana, have passed measures saying they don't want marijuana arrests to be a priority, yet marijuana arrests have set an all-time record for four years running. It appears that police are taking their cue from White House drug czar John Walters, who is obsessed with marijuana, rather than the public who pays their salaries," he said.

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DEA post-raid publicity photo
"These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor marijuana offenders," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), who noted that at current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 38 seconds in America. "This effort is a tremendous waste of criminal justice resources that diverts law enforcement personnel away from focusing on serious and violent crime, including the war on terrorism," he said.

McVay pointed to the low criminal offense clearance rates also contained in the Uniform Crime Report. For property crimes overall, the clearance rate is only 16%, while even for murder, it was only 60%. "Those numbers are criminal," said McVay. "There's only one chance out of six that the cops will find out who broke into your home or stole your car. If the police weren't busy arresting drug users, maybe we wouldn't be seeing such low clearance rates and this increase in violent crime."

"Two other major points standout from today's record marijuana arrests," St. Pierre continued. "Overall, there has been a dramatic 188% increase in marijuana arrests in the last 15 years -- yet the public's access to pot remains largely unfettered and the self-reported use of cannabis remains largely unchanged. Second, America's Midwest is decidedly the hotbed for marijuana-related arrests with 57% of all marijuana-related arrests. The region of America with the least amount of marijuana-related arrests is the West with 30%. This latter result is arguably a testament to the passage of various state and local decriminalization efforts over the past several years."

"The bottom line is that we are wasting billions of dollars each year on a failed policy," Kampia said. "Despite record arrests, marijuana use remains higher than it was 15 years ago, when arrests were less than half the present level, and marijuana is the number one cash crop in the US. Marijuana is scientifically proven to be far safer than alcohol, and it's time to start regulating marijuana the same way we regulate wine, beer and liquor."

Why Do Police Really Oppose Marijuana Legalization? Part II

Yesterday's post failed to address the prevalence of police officers who privately oppose the drug war, but silently uphold it even though they know it's wrong. My argument is quite incomplete without addressing this important phenomenon.

LEAP director Jack Cole has told me that police constantly admit to him in confidence that they agree with LEAP's arguments. Former Seattle Police Chief and LEAP speaker Norm Stamper has also stated that several high-ranking police officials have privately commended his efforts to end the drug war.

How then do we explain the behavior of police who carry out a war they don't believe in? Are they just following orders and collecting their paychecks? Are they fearful that speaking out will compromise their status within a profession they otherwise enjoy? Do they believe the laws are here to stay, so someone has to enforce them? Are some just waiting for their pension to kick in before joining LEAP?

I'm sure all of these factors contribute here, but I suspect that many officers have a more nuanced view of drug enforcement. I once asked a highly-regarded police sergeant what he thought of a controversial teenage curfew law aimed at curbing crime in D.C. "It's a useful tool," he replied, meaning that it gave him the authority to take action against suspicious youths in the absence of other evidence. If he can't prove they're out tagging cars, he can at least stop them and send them home.

Drug laws, particularly marijuana, perform a similar function by granting police the discretion to forgive or destroy individual suspects based solely on their demeanor and the contents of their pockets. Police can ignore the smell of marijuana when dealing with a polite citizen, or fabricate it entirely when they believe someone's hiding something. A law that criminalizes vast portions of the population, justifying detentions, searches and arrests, is a "useful tool" indeed. Officers needn't believe they're winning the war on drugs to find value in the vast authority it bestows upon them.

Wielding inflated drug war powers with the best of intentions may help some officers justify their participation in something they otherwise find distasteful. Of course, none of this justifies the massive collateral damage that occurs in the process, but it might help explain how conscientious people could engage in behavior that shocks the conscience.

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A Marijuana User Gets Arrested Every 38 Seconds in America

Marijuana arrests have once again reached an all-time high, NORML reports:
Washington, DC: Police arrested a record 829,625 persons for marijuana violations in 2006, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual Uniform Crime Report, released today. This is the largest total number of annual arrests for pot ever recorded by the FBI. Marijuana arrests now comprise nearly 44 percent of all drug arrests in the United States.

"These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor marijuana offenders," said NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre, who noted that at current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 38 seconds in America.


Of those charged with marijuana violations, approximately 89 percent some 738,915 Americans were charged with possession only.
Possession of marijuana has got to be one of the stupidest, most trivial things you could ever get arrested for, and yet it happens with remarkable and increasing frequency. I reject, but at least understand the notion that marijuana should not be openly sold in convenience stores. But it amazes me that anyone still thinks we should be handcuffing people, hauling them to the station, ruining careers, collecting fines, administering drugs tests, and otherwise tormenting and humiliating people for having marijuana.

I honestly feel badly for people whose view of the world is so twisted that they can’t think of something better to do with our police and our tax dollars than this. At the same time, I'm convinced that most Americans don’t support a marijuana war of this magnitude.

I believe the right politician, at the right time, could make tremendous headway by simply coming out and saying it: "In America, we have better things to do than arrest each other for trivial reasons. We're sending the wrong message to our kids when we threaten to arrest them. Let's help people who need it and leave everyone else alone." If anyone wants to use this, please, be my guest. Hillary? Fred? Hello?
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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."

Chris Dodd Advocates Marijuana Decriminalization

Nothing to see here. Just another presidential candidate appealing to voters by observing the absurdity of the way marijuana users are treated in America.

Dodd also pledges to protect medical marijuana and reform the crack/powder sentencing disparity. Notice how he lumps these issues together. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the democratic drug policy platform.

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United States

Marijuana Charge From 25 Years Ago Prevents Man From Coaching Little League

There is just no limit to how stupid our society can become thanks to drug prohibition:
A Bourne, Mass., man with a decades-old marijuana-possession charge on his record was recently banned from coaching youth sports after the town started conducting criminal-background checks, the Cape Cod Times reported Sept. 4.

Gary Hapenny, 46, pled guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession in 1982 and paid a $62 fine. But the town of Bourne bars anyone with a narcotics-related offense from using town facilities, lumping people like Hapenny in with murders, rapists, kidnappers, and child molesters. [Join Together]
Maybe this is Gary Hapenny's fault for trying to live a normal life in a town run by idiots. Unsurprisingly, it appears that his marijuana use 25 years ago hasn’t affected his coaching ability today:
David Rondeau, the head coach of Hapenny's football team, said, "Gary's been coaching football with me for the last two years, and the parents and kids love him…"

That's the drug war for you: shielding children from people they love based on arbitrary criteria born from irrational prejudices. Why take the time to judge someone based on their character when you can just run their name through a database?

The lesson here is that we must always use our brains when making policy. If you try to protect children without thinking, you'll end up hurting them. Rules must bear some relationship to their intended purpose, lest they should become an obstacle to the healthy functioning of our society.

This may seem a small matter when stacked against the drug war's daily transgressions. But it serves to illustrate how drug prohibition is so much worse than the sum of its parts. It consists of a million injustices, both large and small, that destroy vital relationships and collectively rot our culture. It is hard to imagine something more mindless and insane than banning a Little League coach over a misdemeanor pot arrest from 1982, but we needn't use our imaginations here. If nothing else, the drug war can be counted upon to deliver new calamities of escalating stupidity with each passing day.

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United States

Europe: Czech Marijuana Users to Get Lesser Penalties

Czech deputies responsible for writing an amendment to the penal code are proposing much lesser sentences for pot smokers, mushroom eaters, and possibly, marijuana growers, the Czech daily Pravo reported August 27. There is a possibility the amendment will include no penalty for growing small amounts of marijuana for personal use, the paper said.

Current Czech drug laws make no distinction between marijuana and so-called hard drugs. Under that law, anyone producing illicit drugs is subject to five years in prison. But while the law makes no distinction, judicial practice does. In most cases, the possession of "quantities lesser than great" (in the case of marijuana, up to 20 cigarettes) is handled as an administrative offense, not a criminal one.

The proposed amendment would completely remove the possibility of a five-year sentence for simple marijuana possession, making the maximum sentence one year. The maximum sentence for small-time growing would most probably be six months.

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