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UMD: Senators poised to wage pot fight

College Park, MD
United States
The Diamondback (MD)

Sentencing: Tyrone Brown is a Free Man!

Tyrone Brown, the Dallas man sentenced to life in prison in 1990 for smoking a joint while on probation for an armed robbery in which no one was injured, walked out of prison in Huntsville Thursday after receiving a conditional pardon from Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R). The pardon came after ABC News' 20-20 featured his story twice, helping to create a nationwide grass roots effort to win his freedom, Save Mr. Brown.

Brown was met by relatives and journalists, according to an Associated Press report filed from Huntsville. He broke into a broad smile as he embraced his mother, Nora Brown. "I didn't believe this day was going to come," he said.

Under the terms of the pardon, Brown will have to live with his mother, find a job, go to a therapist, and report to a parole officer. If he violates any of those conditions, the pardon could be revoked.

Brown was 17 when he was convicted of armed robbery. After he tested positive for marijuana once, Judge Keith Dean re-sentenced him to life in prison. The harshness of Judge Dean's sentence for Brown, which he has never explained, stands in sharp contrast to his treatment of well-connected, white John Alexander Wood. Wood was convicted of murder, but Dean sentenced him to probation, where he repeatedly tested positive for cocaine. But instead of sending him to prison, Dean gave him permission to quit reporting to his probation officer and quit taking drug tests.

With the glare of the national spotlight on the case, Judge Dean (by now ex-Judge Dean) joined a long list of local law enforcement officials calling on the governor to free Brown. Thanks to their efforts, as well as the efforts of muckraking media outlets and an aroused populace, one drug war prisoner has gone home. That leaves about 499,999 to go.

Medical Marijuana: Federal Appeals Court Rules Angel Raich Can Be Prosecuted, Even If Only Marijuana Keeps Her Alive

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday ruled that Angel Raich, an Oakland woman whose doctor says marijuana is keeping her alive, can still be prosecuted on federal drug charges. Raich and her attorneys had argued that the desperately ill have the right to use marijuana to keep themselves alive when all other drugs fail.
Angel Raich, May 2005
Raich is the woman who went all the way to the Supreme Court seeking protection for medical marijuana patients in states where it is legal. But she lost in a 2005 decision when the court held that patients and their providers could indeed be prosecuted under federal law even if their states had legalized it.

Raich suffers from a brain tumor, scoliosis, chronic nausea, and a number of other medical conditions. She uses marijuana every couple of hours to gain appetite and suppress pain on her doctor's recommendation.

The ruling does not mean Raich will be prosecuted. She filed the lawsuit preemptively, in an effort to avoid any possible future arrest. Because Raich's doctors believe medical marijuana is essential to her survival, she argued that for the government to deprive her of her medicine would violate the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, which states that no person may be "deprived of life... without due process of law."

But in its opinion this week the three-judge appeals court panel ruled that the United States is not yet at the point where "the right to use medical marijuana is 'fundamental' and 'implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.'" The court did suggest, however, that if Raich were ever arrested, she could seek to mount a "medical necessity" defense.

"The court has just sentenced me to death," Angel Raich said in a written statement. "My doctors agree that medical cannabis is essential to my very survival, and the government did not even contest the medical evidence. Every American should be frightened by this ruling. If we don't have a right to live, what do we have left?"

"Today's decision marks a disappointing setback for rational medical policy as well as fundamental constitutional rights in America," said Robert Raich, attorney for the plaintiff. "We may ask the Supreme Court to review the case, and may ask the district court to review issues that the Ninth Circuit left unresolved."

"Today's ruling is shocking, but it's not the end of the struggle," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Last June, legislation to end the federal government's war on medical marijuana in the 11 states where medical marijuana is legal received a record number of votes in the US House of Representatives, and support has grown this year. This is literally a matter of life and death for Angel and thousands of other patients, and we will keep fighting on both the legal and political fronts until every patient is safe."

Medical Marijuana: Federal Judge Dismisses Charges Against Ed Rosenthal

A federal district court judge dismissed money-laundering and tax evasion charges against Ed Rosenthal Wednesday, saying federal prosecutors had vindictively re-indicted the "Guru of Ganja" after he publicly criticized them in the wake of his successful appeal of his 2003 marijuana cultivation conviction. In that case, Rosenthal was convicted after not being allowed to present evidence he was growing for medicinal purposes, but was sentenced to only one day in jail after the jury protested upon hearing the rest of the story.
Ed Rosenthal at courthouse, with supporters, September 2006 (courtesy
The same judge who presided over Rosenthal's first trial, US District Court Judge Charles Breyer, ruled that prosecutors illegally retaliated against Rosenthal by re-indicting him for the acts that were the basis of his original conviction, which was overturned last year, and piling on with the tax evasion and money-laundering charges over a sum that amounted to less than $1,900.

Federal prosecutors tried "to make Rosenthal look like a common criminal and thus dissipate the criticism heaped on the government after the first trial," Breyer said in his opinion. That perception, he said, "will discourage defendants from exercising their First Amendment right to criticize their prosecutions and their statutory right to appeal their convictions."

While he dismissed the two financial counts, Judge Breyer let stand Rosenthal's indictment for growing marijuana for medical patients. But that doesn't give prosecutors much to work with because Breyer also noted that even if he were convicted in a new trial, they could not seek to sentence him to more than the one day that he has already served. That leaves them with the equally unpalatable options of appealing the decision to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals -- the same court that overturned the original conviction -- or pursuing a conviction where they cannot punish Rosenthal even if they win.

Assistant US Attorney George Bevan, the chief prosecutor on the case, helped Judge Breyer prove the case for a revenge prosecution. While Bevan told Breyer he would not seek additional prison time on the marijuana counts, he said he was "committed to doing the retrial and seeing the case to a conclusion." That remark came after Bevan told the court in October that Rosenthal had complained about not getting a fair trial because he could not mention medical marijuana. "So, I'm saying, this time around, he wants the financial side reflected, fine, let's air this thing out," Bevan said. "Let's have the whole conduct before the jury: tax, money-laundering, marijuana."

In Wednesday's ruling, Breyer noted Bevan's candor but said his comments only "confirm the appearance of vindictiveness."

"The government was clearly out of line to bring this case forward against me," said Rosenthal in a statement released by his attorneys. "The court's ruling is reassuring, but my continued prosecution on the marijuana charges is still malicious. To make me and my family go through a second prosecution to obtain, at most, a one-day time served jail sentence seems personally motivated."

"We are gratified that the court has recognized the vindictive nature of this prosecution and has reigned in the prosecutor," said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access, and author of the successful vindictive prosecution motion. "The additional charges brought against Rosenthal were clearly in retaliation for his criticism of the government. Taxpayer dollars should not be wasted on a vendetta carried out by a prosecutor against a defendant."

9th Circuit: Avoiding Certain Death No Excuse for Medical Marijuana Use

In what has otherwise been an exciting week of drug policy news, we're sad to report that the 9th circuit has rejected Angel Raich's "right to life" challenge against federal medical marijuana laws.

Basically, the court ruled that it would be legal for the government to cause her death by withholding her medicine. From The New York Times:
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that while they sympathized with Ms. Raich’s plight and had seen “uncontroverted evidence” that she needed marijuana to survive, she lacked the legal grounds to exempt herself from federal law.

The court “recognizes the use of marijuana for medical purposes is gaining traction,” the decision read. “But that legal recognition has not yet reached the point where a conclusion can be drawn that the right to use medical marijuana is ‘fundamental.’ ”
I would argue that the right to not die for stupid political reasons is fundamental enough.

Really there are only like six people in Washington D.C. who are entirely responsible for the illegality of medical marijuana. Their continuing lies are instrumental in maintaining the broader but shrinking population of medical marijuana opponents. If no one falsely accused people like Angel Raich of lying about their medical needs, this perverse debate would be long dead and several nice people would still be alive.

So why is the 9th Circuit so afraid of this handful of sniveling, malicious bureaucrats? If they're trying to avoid being tagged as left-leaning judicial activists, someone should tell them it's already too late.

United States

Feature: Medical Marijuana Bill Passes New Mexico Legislature, Awaits Governor's Signature

Less than a week after the state House voted to kill medical marijuana legislation in the Land of Enchantment, it reversed itself, opening the door to New Mexico's becoming the 12th state to legalize the medicinal use of the plant. With minor changes approved by the state Senate this week, the only thing lacking is the signature of Gov. Bill Richardson (D). That appears to be only a formality, given Richardson's strong push to get bill to his desk.

This was the third effort to get medical marijuana through the state legislature. In two previous sessions, legislation passed the Senate, but never got to a floor vote in the House, for reasons having as much to do with legislative politics as with the virtues or liabilities of medical marijuana.

At the end of last week, it appeared that medical marijuana was again doomed in New Mexico after a House floor vote resulted in a 36-33 vote to kill it. But thanks to deft maneuvering by medical marijuana supporters and to Gov. Richardson leaning on the legislature, the bill came back from the dead this week.
Gov. Bill Richardson signing a bill into law
Supporters of the legislation led by Reena Szczepanski, head of the Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico office, managed to get the sponsor of a similar bill in the Senate to fold the language of the house bill, the Lynne and Erin Compassionate Use Act, into his bill, SB 523. The Senate, which had already approved the Compassionate Use Act, then handily approved SB 523 late last week, and the House voted 36-31 to approve it on Tuesday.

"There was actually another bill introduced in the Senate, and it was on the Senate floor two days after the first bill failed, so we worked with Sen. Robinson, the bill's sponsor, to adjust the content of his bill so it was similar to the first bill, which had already passed the Senate," explained Szczepanski. "The governor also worked really hard to swing some votes in the House, a lot of representatives got a lot of calls from the public, and enough of them changed their votes to pass this," she told Drug War Chronicle.

"This bill will provide much-needed relief for New Mexicans suffering from debilitating diseases while including the proper safeguards to prevent abuse," Richardson said in a written statement. "I am pleased that the legislature did the right thing, reconsidered this important bill and supported a humane option for New Mexicans who endure some of the most painful diseases imaginable."

The bill will allow patients to use marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, certain spinal-cord injuries, epilepsy, HIV, AIDS, hospice care and other uses approved by the state Department of Health. Unlike other medical marijuana states, patients will not be able to grow their own medicine. Instead, the state Department of Health will be required to set up a system to license providers and will distribute the marijuana to qualified patients itself. According to the bill, that system must be in place by October 1.

"When Gov. Richardson signs the bill, he will be sending a strong message that states can and should exercise their right to do what is in the best interest of their citizens free from intrusion from the federal government," said DPA's Szczepanski. "Governor Richardson's unwavering support for the medical marijuana bill is a courageous step in ensuring that the will of the people of New Mexico has been validated and for that we are grateful."

"We're just thrilled; it's been a long, hard battle," said cancer patient Erin Armstrong, one of two patients for whom the bill is named. "I always knew it would happen; it just took a huge amount of work and patience. We're thrilled to have the support of the governor and the majority of the legislature and for New Mexico to become the 12th medical marijuana state. This is a huge victory," she told Drug War Chronicle.

Not everyone was thrilled. Rep. John Heaton (D-Carlsbad), a pharmacist who had railed against medical marijuana last week, was at it again this week, arguing that marijuana weakened the immune system. "To move in this direction just makes no sense at all," he spluttered.

Rep. James Strickler (R-Farmington) dragged out the old "what about the kids?" routine. "You can't make a bill ironclad enough when it comes to our children," he protested.

And Rep. Manuel Herrera (D-Bayard), a cancer survivor, would apparently rather die than smoke pot. "I've survived this cancer five times, and I intend to fight it with whatever is available except marijuana," he vowed.

The state Republican Party also got into the fray with a Tuesday statement made available to the Chronicle that accused Richardson of supporting the bill because he got donations from George Soros and the Drug Policy Alliance Network. "Gov. Richardson has two very big reasons why he is eager for passage of this legislation -- though it was previously rejected last week by the House," the statement reads. "The first reason is a $25,000 donation by political activist George Soros to Richardson's reelection campaign on July 24, 2006. The second reason is a $25,000 donation made to Richardson's reelection campaign on July 20, 2006 by the Drug Policy Alliance Network, a subsidiary of the Drug Policy Alliance. These organizations are heavily funded by radical political activist George Soros. Is $50,000 enough to buy drug policy in New Mexico?" the Republicans asked. "After all, illegal drug use in New Mexico is already destroying thousands of lives a year. Methamphetamine use has reached epidemic proportions across New Mexico, and the governor is advocating for 'medicalized' recreational marijuana use."

But despite the GOP jab, Richardson, who will shortly become the first presidential candidate to sign a medical marijuana bill into law, has been a supporter of the issue for at least five years -- as was the previous governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, a Republican. And the bill passed has nothing to do with "medicalized" recreational use, but sets up a strict program with many safeguards for patients and the public.

Now, it will be up to the Department of Health to get a program up and running by October. It is not yet clear what that program will look like, said DPA's Szczepanski.

"There have been lots of possibilities discussed, and now everyone will be sitting down to examine what the best options are," she said. "We'll be leaning on the experience of other states -- what's worked and what hasn't. The law will go into effect July 1, and between then and October 1, patients will be able to get temporary registration cards, but getting the program up and running will take some time."

Still, said Szczepanski, there is plenty to celebrate now. "For the past three years, we've been so close, just a hair's breadth away, and it's been a real heartbreaker. It was a matter of persevering, helping patients and family members come to the capitol and talking to legislators one on one," she said. "I think that the truth finally prevailed; legislators couldn't continue to deny the patients after talking to them. But Gov. Richardson was also such a champion of this issue. He really worked this bill, and we owe the turnaround this week to him."

Provided Richardson signs the bill -- and there is no reason to suppose he will not -- New Mexico will join Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington as a state that has approved the medicinal use of marijuana. With medical marijuana bills moving in their respective state capitols, chances are increasingly good that at least two more states, Illinois and Minnesota, will join the club this year.

Class action sought in pot suit

San Diego, CA
United States
San Diego Union-Tribune

Under bill, medical-marijuana users could be fired

United States
Statesman Journal (OR)

New Mexico Set To Become 12th Medical Marijuana State

First it passed the Senate and died in the House. Then, at the urging of Gov. Bill Richardson, New Mexico's Senate folded medical marijuana into a related bill to permit topical use. Yesterday evening the bill passed the House 36-31. It must return to the Senate for consideration of a minor change that occured in the House, but given strong support there and the assurance of the Governor's signature, I believe it's safe to say we're looking at our 12th medical marijuana state.

Congratulations to our friends at the Drug Policy Alliance who've worked extremely hard to make this possible. Also worthy of recognition is New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson himself, who pulled out the stops to protect patients in his state.

Of course, every step towards protecting medical marijuana patients is an important victory, but it is particularly notable that Richardson championed this bill while exploring a bid for the presidency. Richardson is a calculating politician who's not known for taking risky positions. Suffice to say, he ain't exactly Dennis Kucinich.

Richardson's willingness to stand up for patients at this time speaks volumes to the growing political viability of medical marijuana policy reform.

Update: Boston Globe looks at the political implications of Richardson's stance on medical marijuana and concludes that it's not a big deal.

"I don't see it as being a big issue," he said. "This is for medicinal purpose, for ... people that are suffering. My God, let's be reasonable," he said.

It shouldn't be a big deal, but it is. With so many problems here and abroad, our government still finds resources to generate controversy over this. It's obscene.

United States

Marijuana: Grassroots Protest in Small Town Wisconsin After Drug Bust

When police in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, wrapped up a 16-month investigation into the drug trade there, they patted themselves on the back for rolling up 62 people, mostly in their twenties, mostly for small-time sales of marijuana and prescription pills. But while police got some expressions of community support, not everyone was happy.

On Monday, for the second time in as many weeks, a handful of teenaged protestors gathered near the courthouse downtown to protest the busts and call for the legalization of marijuana. According to the Stevens Point Journal, the young demonstrators held up signs reading "Be Wise, Legalize," and "Hemp Can Save the World" as passing motorists honked in support.

"People should be able to choose what goes in their body," said Ben Eisner, 18. "Caffeine has more deaths per year than marijuana," he told the newspaper. Legalization would promote healthier user habits, he said. "With legalization comes responsibility," Eisner said.

"I think it should be used the same way alcohol is used," said Eryn Edelbeck, 17, adding that abuse of alcohol is more damaging to long-term health than marijuana.

And support is broad -- one of the demonstrators, Eleni Schuler, 16, said she has never even used marijuana herself. "I just support the idea," she said.

With their friends and colleagues facing possible long years in prison, the group is vowing to return every week to draw local support, "possibly with the goal of starting a chapter of NORML…" Add another handful to the ranks of the reformers. And with every small town bust, another handful.

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