Medical Marijuana

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New Jersey Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, Set to Become 14th Medical Marijuana State (Plus DC)

New Jersey is set to become the 14th state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana after the state Assembly Monday approved the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act" by a vote of 46-14. Later Monday evening, the state Senate, which had already approved its version of the measure, voted final approval by a margin of 25-13. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he will sign the bill. The Assembly debated the bill for half an hour Monday afternoon before approving it. The debate took place before galleries backed with bill supporters and opponents. It was a similar scene in the Senate a few hours later. "It does not make sense for many of New Jersey's residents to suffer when there is a viable way to ease their pain," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), one of the sponsors of the bill. "Medical marijuana can alleviate a lot of suffering, and there is no evidence that legalizing it for medical use increases overall drug use." The bill will be one of the most restrictive in the nation. Patients diagnosed by their primary care physician as having a qualifying medical condition would be allowed to obtain—but not grow—medical marijuana through one of at least six "alternative treatment centers," or dispensaries. But patients would be able to register with only one dispensary at a time and would have to use the written recommendation within a month of when it was written. Qualifying medical conditions include severe or chronic pain, severe nausea or vomiting or cachexia brought on by HIV/AIDS or cancer ("or the treatment thereof"), muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel diseases, and terminal illnesses where the patient has less than a year to live. Chronic pain was removed from the original bill in an Assembly committee vote last summer, but reinserted last week when the Assembly approved an amendment by Assemblyman Gusciora. Patients could possess up to two ounces and be prescribed up to two ounces per month. That is an increase from the one ounce possession limit in earlier versions of the bill. Patients would be able to name a caregiver, courier, or delivery option to pick up medicine at the dispensary and deliver it to them. "This will be the strictest medical marijuana law in the nation," Gusciora said at a statehouse press conference Monday. "We have a good bill that will be very strict and will not decriminalize marijuana, but will allow doctors to prescribe the best treatment for their patients." Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office, who has lobbied tirelessly for passage of a medical marijuana bill, agreed that the final Garden State bill is very tight, but said it was a start. "There will be some patients who will be able to get some relief," she said. "We think once the program's up and running and people see that there aren't problems, we'll be able to go back and get in some more of our patients." Also at the press conference were patients Diane Riportella and Mike Oliveri. Riportella was diagnosed with Lu Gerhrig's Disease in 2007 and given no more than five years to live. Oliveri suffers from muscular dystrophy. "I'm so excited to be able to be alive and to be here for this moment," said Riportella, 53, of Egg Harbor Township. "Within a few seconds, I'm relaxed and I'm smiling and I go to Disneyland just for a few minutes and say 'It's not so bad, I can live another day,'" Riportella said. Oliveri, 25, said he moved from his New Jersey home to California in order to be able to legally access medical marijuana. He said he vaporizes about an ounce a week to ease the pain in his legs and back and calm his digestive tract and that he had used it illegally before leaving for the West Coast. "I took every medication known to man before I took weed," said Oliveri, 25. "I knew it was a risk …but it was a life or death matter." The bill was supported by organizations including the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the New Jersey League for Nursing, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the New Jersey chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Special credit goes to the Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, the patients' and advocates' group that has fought for years to get the bill over the top. New Jersey will now join Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington in the list of medical marijuana states. That list also includes the District of Columbia.
Location: 
Trenton, NJ
United States

New Jersey Assembly Approves Medical Marijuana Bill, One More Vote in the Senate This Afternoon

On the last day of the legislative session, the New Jersey Assembly has approved the state's medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Use Act, on a vote of 48-14. The state Senate will vote on it later today. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he will sign it. Look for a feature post on this once the Senate votes.
Location: 
Trenton, NJ
United States

It's Time to Legalize Medical Marijuana in Professional Sports

Andrew Sullivan points to this ESPN comment regarding NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin:

Harvin was a controversial draft pick after he tested positive for marijuana use at the February scouting combine. But as it turned out, the biggest problem he encountered was an intensification of migraine headaches that has plagued him for much of his life.

Oh, I think I know what's going on here. First, Harvin gets in trouble for testing positive for marijuana. Now he's passing drug tests, but suffering from constant debilitating migraines. Sounds like the NFL has simply prohibited him from using the one medicine that effectively treats his condition.

The thing about marijuana and migraines is that it doesn't just relieve symptoms, it often stops the headaches from ever happening in the first place. I've spoken with many migraine sufferers who've found that even modest use of marijuana simply makes the problem go away. I discovered this for myself in my late teens and it changed my life. I used to wake up everyday wondering if by mid-afternoon, I'd be huddled in a dark room, half-blind, violently nauseous and knowing I'd be unable to function again for 12 hours. It was horrible, but it ended quite abruptly one summer, and it was only later that I came to understand why.

So I can't even begin to describe my frustration at watching a world-class athlete's career jeopardized by the NFL's ridiculous prohibition against marijuana. Banning recreational use is silly, but this is an outrage. If you don't want publicity surrounding marijuana use in professional sports, then stop testing the athletes for marijuana. If that's too much to ask, then at least create an exemption for cases in which a doctor recommends medical use. Believe me, this would generate next to no controversy, although substantial coverage ranging from neutral to positive would be almost guaranteed.

If the President of the United States can embrace a more reasonable medical marijuana policy, there's no reason the NFL can’t do the same.

Medical Marijuana: Colorado Judge Rules Users Have Right to Buy It

Colorado medical marijuana patients have a constitutional right to buy it, not just use it, a district judge ruled December 29. The ruling came in a lawsuit by the CannaMart dispensary, which sued the city of Centennial after it banned dispensaries, forcing the dispensary to move to a neighboring community.

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Colorado state medical marijuana application
In banning dispensaries, Centennial had argued that it could ban them because they violated federal drug laws. Using the same argument, other towns in Colorado have banned or are considering banning dispensaries, which have mushroomed in the past year in the wake of state health department administrative rulings and the Obama administration's vow to not harass medical marijuana providers acting within state laws.

But in granting CannaMart's request for an injunction blocking the city from keeping the dispensary closed while it challenges the city's federal argument, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Christopher Cross had some harsh words for cities making that argument. Centennial violated the rights of three medical marijuana patients who joined the lawsuit, he said. "These are people who have a right to medical marijuana, the right to the caregiver of their choice. That has been taken away from them," Cross said.

CannaMart attorney Lauren Davis echoed Judge Cross's words, telling the Associated Press the ruling "should be a warning to towns across this state" that are considering whether to ban dispensaries. "They are violating the rights of sick patients and caregivers," Davis said.

The CannaMart lawsuit against the city of Centennial will continue later this year. But Judge Cross warned that cities trying to ban dispensaries could find themselves in violation of the state constitution. "The voters have spoken. It is not a criminal act in the state of Colorado."

Sentencing: California Appeals Court Upholds Ban on Probationer's Medical Marijuana Use

A California appeals court has ruled that a judge who forbade a defendant from using medical marijuana as a condition of probation acted within his powers. The 2-1 decision was harshly criticized by the dissenting justice, who said it undermines California's voter-approved medical marijuana law.

The ruling by the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco came in People v. Moret, in which Fairfield resident Daryl Moret, then 19, was arrested in 2008 for carrying a loaded handgun he said he had found in the bushes. Moret pleaded no contest to illegal gun possession, and in an interview with a court probation officer indicated he had obtained a medical marijuana card to treat migraine headaches he had suffered since childhood.

At Moret's December 2008 sentencing hearing, Superior Court Judge Peter Foor said he didn't believe Moret's statements about how he obtained the gun or about medical marijuana. "Smoking dope isn't going to help any of this," the judge said, ordering Moret to surrender his medical marijuana ID card and abstain from marijuana if he wanted to be granted probation. Moret agreed to those terms, but appealed, saying the probation condition violated the medical marijuana law.

In rejecting Moret's appeal, the majority held since a defendant can choose to reject probation conditions and accept a prison sentence, California medical marijuana laws did not limit a judge's ability to forbid drug use as a condition of probation. Justice Paul Haerle wrot that Moret accepted probation voluntarily and offered no evidence to support his need for medical marijuana.

But in a lengthy and harsh dissent, Justice J. Anthony Kline said that a judge's demand that Moret forego medical marijuana or face prison for a non-drug-related offense violated the law's ban on criminal punishments for medical marijuana users. A judge "may disagree with the aims and directives of [the medical marijuana law], but... cannot defy them," Kline said.

A medical marijuana ID card is all the proof a patient needs under state law, said Kline. The sentencing judge could have held a hearing if he questioned the medical marijuana card's legitimacy. Merely because the defendant agreed under coercion to the restriction does not make the restriction legal, Kline added.

Moret and his attorney are considering whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

States Don't Need Federal Permission to Legalize Medical Marijuana

We've been over this before, but apparently it still hasn’t sunk in. This time, we have the Attorney General of Arkansas trying to claim that federal law prevents his state from protecting medical marijuana patients:
LITTLE ROCK — The state attorney general today rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana for medical use.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel cited numerous problems with the proposal submitted by Little Rock attorney John Wesley Hall, Jr., including that federal law would supersede a state drug amendment.

"I note as an initial matter that this description fails to acknowledge that your proposed measure cannot completely legalize marijuana in Arkansas for medical purposes because the drug remains illegal under federal law," the opinion said. [Arkansas News]
Really? Then what's all this I keep hearing about 13 states having these laws and the President telling DOJ not to raid the dispensaries? I'm pretty sure everyone knows how this works by now.

What a waste of breath it is to continue insisting that there's some sort of impregnable federal barrier that makes medical marijuana impossible. It's plainly wrong, and not even worthy of being debated. Anyone who says that is just a stubborn and desperate obstructionist who can't even come up with a single real reason to continue criminalizing patients.

I wonder how long it will take to bury this nonsense once and for all. What if Arkansas was the last state in the country with no legal protection for patients? Would their top prosecutor still insist that it can't be done? Come on. At some point you're gonna have to learn to live with medical marijuana, and fighting back against it is both cruel and pointless.

Medical Marijuana: Rhode Island Releases Draft of Proposed Dispensary Rules

Last spring, the Rhode Island legislature approved a bill to allow for the creation of dispensaries for medical marijuana patients. Last week, in response to that legislation, the state Department of Health issued its proposed dispensary rules. A public hearing on the draft is set for February.

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Rhode Island patient activist Rhonda O'Donnell, at DC protest
Rhode Island approved the use of medical marijuana in 2007, but that law had no provision for dispensaries for patients unable to grow their own or find caregivers to grow it for them. This year's law allows for up to three nonprofit dispensaries to operate in the state. There are currently about 900 registered patients in the state and about 775 registered caregivers.

State health officials told the Providence Journal that if, after the public hearing, no revisions in the draft were necessary, the new rules could be enacted within 45 days. Then, the licensing process allows for up to 60 days to approve the applications. That brings the timeline to mid-2010, and that's if there are no additional public hearings and no major revisions demanded.

Even after dispensary operators are approved, it will take time to find financing and suitable locations. Once the facility is set up, it will take at least an additional three months before the first medicinal crop can be harvested. It could well be a year before Rhode Island sees a dispensary.

Under the proposed rules, a dispensary is defined as nonprofit entity that "acquires, possesses, cultivates, manufactures, delivers, transfers, transports, supplies, or dispenses marijuana... to registered qualifying patients and their registered primary caregivers."

Patients are limited to 12 plants and 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana. Dispensaries would be able to provide for multiple patients and would be allowed to keep on hand only 12 plants and 2.5 ounces per patient. The dispensaries could not provide a patient with more than 2.5 ounces in any 15-day period.

The proposed regulations do not address what prices dispensaries could charge. Instead, they say only that as licensed caregivers, they would be allowed to be reimbursed for the costs associated with helping a patient.

People complying with the Rhode Island medical marijuana law would be protected from arrest or prosecution, and they could not be penalized by schools, employers, and landlords. Dispensaries could not operate within 500 feet of a school and must have an alarm system.

The proposed rules bar people with drug felonies -- but not other felonies! -- from operating or working for a dispensary, unless their offenses would not be offenses under the Rhode Island medical marijuana law. It also allows the Department of Health to waive that requirement if it wishes.

The Year on Drugs 2009: The Top Ten US Domestic Drug Policy Stories

As 2009 prepares to become history, we look back at the past year's domestic drug policy developments. With the arrival of a highly popular (at least at first) new president, Barack Obama, and Democratic Party control of the levers of power in Congress, the drug reform gridlock that characterized the Bush years is giving way to real change in Washington, albeit not nearly quickly enough. A number of this year's Top 10 domestic drug stories have to do with the new atmospherics in Washington, where they have led, and where they might lead.

But not all of them. Drug reform isn't made just in Washington. Under our federal system, the 50 states and the District of Columbia have at least some ability to set their own courses on drug policy reforms. In some areas, actions in the state legislatures have reflected trends -- for better or worse -- broad enough to earn Top 10 status.

And Washington and the various statehouses notwithstanding, movement on drug reform is not limited to the political class. Legions of activists now in at least their second decade of serious reform work, a mass media that seems to have awakened from its dogmatic slumber about marijuana, a crumbling economy, and a bloody drug war within earshot of the southwestern border have all impacted the national conversation about drug reform and are all pushing politicians from city councilmen to state legislators to US senators to rethink drug prohibition.

For drug reformers, these are interesting times, indeed. Herewith, the Top 10 domestic drug policy stories of 2009:

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marijuana plants (photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia)
Marijuana Goes Mainstream

Wow. This year has seen the US enter the beginnings of a sea change on policies and attitudes toward the recreational use of marijuana. The first hint that something had changed was the Michael Phelps bong photo non-scandal. When the multiple Olympic gold medal winner got outed for partying like a college student, only one corporate sponsor, fuddy-duddy Kellogg, dumped him, and was hit by a consumer boycott -- and arguably by falling stock prices -- in return. Otherwise, except for a deranged local sheriff who tried fruitlessly to concoct a criminal case against somebody -- anybody! -- over the bong photo, America's collective response basically amounted to "So what?"

Post-Phelps it was as if the flood gates had opened. Where once Drug War Chronicle and a handful of other publications pretty much had the field to ourselves, early this year, the mass media began paying attention. Countless commentaries, editorials and op-eds have graced the pages of newspaper and those short-attention-span segments on the cable news networks, an increasing number of them calling for legalization. The conversation about freeing the weed has gone mainstream.

The sea change is also reflected in poll numbers that, for the first time, this year showed national majorities in favor of legalization. In February, a Zogby poll showed 44% support nationwide -- and 58% in California. By late spring, the figures were generally creeping ever higher. An April Rasmussen poll had support for "taxation and regulation" at 41%, while an ABC News/Washington Post poll found 46% supported "legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use." Also in April, for the first time, a national poll showed majority support for legalization when Zogby showed 52% saying marijuana should be "legal, taxed, and regulated." In July, a CBS News poll had support for legalization at 41%.

In October, a Gallup poll had support for legalization at 44%, the highest ever in a Gallup survey. And a few weeks ago an Angus-Reid poll reported 53% nationwide supported legalization. Legalizing pot may not have clear majority support just yet, but it is on the cusp.

Marijuana law reform was also a topic at statehouses around the country this year, although successes were few and far between. At least six states saw decriminalization bills, but only one passed -- in Maine, which had already decriminalized possession of up to 1.25 ounces. This year's legislation doubled that amount. And then there were legalization bills. Two were introduced in the 2009 session, in California and Massachusetts, and two more have been pre-filed for next year, in New Hampshire and Washington. Both the California and Massachusetts bills got hearings this year, and the California bill is set for another hearing and a first committee vote in the Assembly in two weeks. In Rhode Island, meanwhile, the legislature voted this year to create a commission to study marijuana law reform; it will report at the end of January.

And then, finally, there is the excitement and discussion being generated by at least three separate marijuana legalization initiative campaigns underway in California. Oaksterdam medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee's Tax Cannabis 2010 initiative has already announced it has sufficient signatures to make the ballot. Time will tell if the others make it, but at this point it is almost certain that voters in California will have a chance to say "legalize it" in November.

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medical marijuana dispensary, Ventura Blvd., LA (courtesy wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana: The Feds Butt Out and the Floodgates Begin to Swing Open

During his election campaign, President Obama promised to quit siccing the DEA on medical marijuana patients and providers. In February, new Attorney General Eric Holder announced there would be no more federal raids if providers were in compliance with state law, and pretty much held to that promise since then. In October, the Justice Department made it official policy when it issued a policy memo reiterating the administration's stance.

The new "hands off" policy from Washington has not been universally adhered to, nor has it addressed the issue of people currently serving sentences or facing prosecution under Bush administration anti-medical marijuana initiatives, but it has removed a huge looming threat to growers and dispensary operators and it has disarmed a favored (if intensely hypocritical) argument of medical marijuana foes that such laws should not be passed out of fear of what the feds would do.

Meanwhile, California rolls right along as medical marijuana's Wild West. Like countless other localities in the Golden State, the city of Los Angeles is grappling with what to do with its nearly one thousand dispensaries. The issue is being fought city by city and county by county, in the state courts and in the federal courts. And while the politicians argue, dispensary operators are creating political facts on the ground as their tax revenues go into hungry state and local coffers.

This year also marked the emergence of a medical marijuana industry infrastructure -- growers, grow shops, dispensaries, educational facilities, pot docs -- beyond California's borders, most notably in Colorado, where the dispensary scene exploded in the wake of the removal of the federal threat, and in Michigan, where last year's passage of a medical marijuana law has seen the creation of the Midwest's first medical marijuana industry.

While medical marijuana is legal in 13 states (and now, the District of Columbia), it remains difficult to win victories in state legislatures. There were medical marijuana bills in at least 18 states, but only two -- Minnesota and New Hampshire -- were approved by legislatures, and they were vetoed by prohibitionist governors. Bills are, however, still alive in six states -- Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin -- with New Jersey and Wisconsin apparently best positioned to become the next medical marijuana state. In Rhode Island, which already approved a medical marijuana law in 2007, the legislature this year amended it to include a dispensary system.

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salvia leaves (photo courtesy Erowid.org)
The Reflexive Prohibitionist Impulse Remains Alive -- Just Ask Sally D

Despite evident progress on some drug reform fronts, a substantial number of Americans continue to hold to prohibitionist values, including a number of state legislators. The legislative response to the popularity of the fast-acting, short-lived hallucinogen salvia divinorum is the best indicator of that.

The DEA has been reviewing salvia for five years, and has yet to determine that it needs to become a controlled substance, but that hasn't stopped some legislators from trying to ban it. Appalled by YouTube videos that show young people getting very high, legislators in 13 states have banned or limited sales of the herb.

This year, four more states joined the list. The good news is that legislators in seven other states where salvia ban bills were introduced had better things to do with their time than worry about passing them.

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drug testing lab
"We Must Drug Test Welfare and Unemployment Recipients!"

In another indication that the drug warrior impulse is still alive and well -- as are its class war elements -- legislators in various states this year continued to introduce bills that would mandate suspicionless drug testing of people seeking unemployment, public assistance, or other public benefits. Never mind that Michigan, the only state to pass such a law, saw its efforts thrown out as an unconstitutional search by a federal appeals court several years back.

Such efforts exposed not only public resentment of benefits recipients, but also a certain level of ignorance about the way our society works. A common refrain from supporters was along the lines of "I have to get drug tested for my job, so why shouldn't they have to get drug tested?" Such questioners fail to understand that our system protects us from our government, but not from private employers.

But if welfare drug testing excited some popular support, it also excited opposition, not only on constitutional grounds, but on grounds of cost and elemental fairness. In the four states where drug testing bills were introduced -- Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and West Virginia -- none of them went anywhere. But even in an era when drug reform is in the air, such bills are a clear sign that there will be many rear-guard battles to fight.

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unjust, but also unaffordable
Rockefeller Drug Law and Other State Sentencing Reforms

Reeling under the impact of economic downtowns and budget crises, more and more states this year took a second look at drug-related sentencing policies. Most notable of the reforms enacted at the state level this year were reforms in New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws, which went into effect in October. Under this newest round of Rockefeller drug law reforms, some 1,500 low-level drug offenders will be able to seek sentence reductions, while judges gain some sentencing power from prosecutors, and treatment resources are being beefed up. But still, more than 12,000 will remain in Empire State prisons on Rockefeller drug charges.

New York wasn't the only state to enact sentencing reforms this year. This month, New Jersey legislators passed a bill giving judges the discretion to waive mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. Last month, Rhode Island mandatory minimum reforms went into effect. Earlier this year, Louisiana finally acted to redress the cruel plight of the "heroin lifers," people who had been sentenced to life without parole for heroin possession under an old state law. A new state law cut heroin sentences, but did not address the lifers. As a result, some lifers remained in prison with no hope of parole while more recent heroin offenders came, did their time, and went. Now, under this year's law, the lifers are eligible for parole.

Sentencing reforms are also in the works in a number of other states, from Alabama to California and from Colorado to Michigan. In some cases, reform legislation is in progress; in others, legislators are waiting for commissions to report their findings. In nearly every case, it is bottom-line budget concerns rather than bleeding heart compassion for the incarcerated that is driving the reforms.

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PolitickerMD cartoon about the Berwyn Heights raid
Swatting SWAT

It was only one bill in one state, and all it required was reporting by SWAT teams of their activities, but the Maryland SWAT bill passed this year marked the first time a state legislature has moved to rein in aggressive paramilitary-style policing. More precisely, the bill requires all law enforcement agencies that operate SWAT teams to submit monthly reports on their activities, including when and where they are used, and whether the operations result in arrests, seizures or injuries.

In took an ugly incident involving the mayor of a Washington, DC, suburb to make it happen. Marijuana traffickers sent a load of pot to the mayor's address to avoid having police show up on their doorstep in the event something went wrong, but something did go wrong, and police tracked the package. When the mayor innocently carried the package inside on returning home, the SWAT team swooped, manhandling the mayor and his mother-in-law and killing the family's pet dogs. The cops were unapologetic, the mayor was apoplectic, and now Maryland has a SWAT law. A new bill just filed in Maryland would take it further, requiring police to secure a judge's warrant before deploying a SWAT team.

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shrine to San Malverde, Mexico's ''narco-saint,'' Culiacan, Sinaloa
America Finally Notices the Drug War Across the River

While Congress and the Bush administration got serious about Mexico's bloody drug wars in 2008, passing a three-year, $1.4 billion anti-drug aid package for Mexico and Central America, it was not until this year that the prohibition-related violence in Mexico really made the radar north of the border.

It only took about 11,000 deaths (now up to over 16,000) among Mexican drug traffickers, police, soldiers, and innocent bystanders to get the US to pay attention to the havoc being wreaked on the other side of the Rio Grande. But by the spring, Washington was paying attention, and for the first time, one could hear mea culpas coming from the American side. Mexico's drug violence is driven by demand in the US, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano echoed.

But just because Washington admitted some fault didn't mean it was prepared to try anything different. And while the Mexican drug wars brought talk of legalization -- especially of marijuana -- what they brought in terms of policy was the Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, which is basically mo' better drug war.

Mexico's drug wars show no signs of abating, and the pace of killing has accelerated each year since President Felipe Calderon sent in the army three years ago this month. The success -- or failure -- of his drug war policies may determine Calderon's political future, but it has for the first time concentrated the minds of US policymakers on the consequences of prohibition south of the border.

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syringes -- better at the exchange than on the street
Congress Ends Ban on Needle Exchange Funding, Butts Out of DC Affairs

After a decade-long struggle, the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs ended this month with President Obama's signature on an omnibus appropriations bill that included ending the federal ban, as well as a similar ban that applied to the District of Columbia. The bill also removed a ban on the District implementing a medical marijuana law passed by voters in 1998.

Removing the funding ban has been a major goal of harm reduction and public health coalitions, but they had gotten nowhere in the Republican-controlled Congresses of the past decade. What a difference a change of parties makes.

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Jim Webb at 2007 incarceration hearing (photo from sentencingproject.org)
Questioning the Drug War: Two Congressional Bills

The US Congress has been a solid redoubt of prohibitionist sentiment for decades, but this year saw the beginning of cracks in the wall. Two legislators, Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) and Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced and have had hearings on bills that could potentially challenge drug war orthodoxy.

Engel's bill, the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act, which has already passed the House, would set up a commission to examine US eradication, interdiction, and other policies in the Western Hemisphere. While Engel is no anti-prohibitionist, any honest commission assessing US drug policy in the Americas is likely to come up with findings that subvert drug war orthodoxy.

Meanwhile, Sen. Webb's National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 comes at the issue from a much more critical perspective. It calls for a top-to-bottom review of a broad range of criminal justice issues, ranging from sentencing to drug laws to gangs and beyond, with an emphasis and costs and efficacy. Webb's bill remains in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but has 35 cosponsors. Webb has already held hearings on the costs of mass incarceration and the economic costs of drug policy, and even more than Engel's bill, the Webb bill has the potential to get at the roots of our flawed national drug policy.

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Sen. Durbin at May hearing on crack sentencing
The Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

The 100:1 disparity in the quantities of crack needed to earn a mandatory minimum federal prison sentence versus the quantities of powder cocaine needed to earn the same sentence has been egregiously racist in its application, with roughly 90% of all federal crack offenders being non-white, and pressure has been mounting for years to undo it. It hasn't happened yet, but 2009 finally saw some serious progress on the issue.

The move to reform the sentencing disparity got a boost in June, when Attorney General Holder said it had to go. The next month, a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee passed the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009. The bill is now before the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce Committees.

On the Senate side, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a companion bill in October, the Fairness in Sentencing Act. It hasn't moved yet, but thanks to a decade-long effort by a broad range of advocates, all the pieces are now in place for something to happen in this Congress. By the time we get around to the Top 10 of 2010, the end of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity better be one of the big stories.

Medical Marijuana Cable Show "It's the Law"

Two local lawyers will take a closer look at medical marijuana in Maine -- Roger Katz and Walter McKee will host "It's the Law" on Time Warner Cable channel 9. The episode will focus on legal issues surrounding medical marijuana and the law recently passed by Mainers to allow pot dispensaries. The show first airs January 12th and January 14th, and will run various days throughout the month. Check your cable listings for times and other air dates.
Date: 
Tue, 01/12/2010 - 12:01am - 11:59pm
Location: 
ME
United States

Medical Marijuana Comment Approved on the Fresno Bee Opinion Talk Blog

http://fresnobeehive.com/opinion/2009/12/what_are_your_dumbest_trends_o.... My local newspaper, The Fresno Bee, posted an entry in their Opinion Talk Blog asking, "What are your dumbest trends of the decade?" and continues: As this decade stumbles to a conclusion, media outlets have begun putting together their best and worst lists. So I'll join in with my picks of the dumbest trends of the decade, and I hope you'll add yours in the comments section. There are plenty of possibilities in this bizarre decade. I submitted the following comment about medical marijuana, and they included it: One of the dumbest trends of the decade has to be that city and county governments waste so much time and resources that could be better used to better their communities on trying to circumvent California State Medical Marijuana Laws. Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, was a California ballot proposition on the November 5, 1996 ballot regarding the medical use of marijuana. It passed with 5,382,915 (55.6%) votes in favor and 4,301,960 (44.4%) against. Here we are 13 years after the voters made it perfectly clear that sick and disabled people have the right to use marijuana as medicine so long as their doctor approves, and we might as well be back in the Nixon or Regan eras. Because California's medical marijuana laws are so clear on the rights that qualified patients have to grow, possess, transport and use marijuana medically, local government officials are resorting to such underhanded measures as twisting the wording of their zoning ordinances to exclude any business that has anything to do with medical marijuana. The will of the voters was made clear years ago! We have had S.B. 420 and the State Attorney General's Guidelines issued since then to clarify that medical marijuana patients have those rights! Wake up, local government officials! You were elected to represent the will of the people, now Do Your Job! That's just my I hope it helps.

 

 

Drug War Issues

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