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Marijuana: California Superior Court Upholds Santa Barbara's "Lowest Enforcement Priority" Law

A California Superior Court judge Tuesday rebuffed an effort by the city of Santa Barbara to undo the city's voter-mandated policy of making the enforcement of the laws against marijuana use the city's lowest law enforcement priority. Voters approved the law, known as Measure P, last November with more than 65% of the vote, but recalcitrant city officials sued local activist Heather Poet, the initiative's proponent of record, in a bid to get the measure overturned.

The city argued that the law should be overturned because it interfered with state and federal marijuana law enforcement, but Judge Thomas Anderle disagreed, dismissing the case. "Nothing in [Measure P] prohibits enforcement of state law... Police officers can still arrest those who violate drug possession laws in their presence. The voters have simply instructed them that they have higher priority work to do," he said in his ruling. "Santa Barbara is free to decline to enforce federal criminal statutes," he added. "Indeed, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government from impressing 'into its service - and at no cost to itself - the police officers of the 50 states.'"

Judge Anderle also cited California's ban on SLAPP suits, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, which bars officials from suing individuals for their political activities. Although the city claimed in court filings that it sued Poet only because it needed someone to sue to challenge the law, Anderle found that the lawsuit arose from "her constitutional right to participate in the process of formulating laws" and thus violated the SLAPP suit law.

"Today's ruling is a major victory for the democratic process and a resounding affirmation of voters' right to de-prioritize marijuana enforcement," said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, which represented Poet in the proceedings and which filed the successful motion to dismiss. "The people of Santa Barbara would rather local law enforcement focus on combating serious crime than policing marijuana use. Today's ruling confirms that the voters can make this fundamentally local decision about their community's safety."

"It was terrifying to be sued by my own government, and for a fleeting moment it made me feel maybe I shouldn't have gotten involved in the democratic process," said Poet. "But this decision proves we do have a voice and we should never be afraid to use it. It also affirms that people in Santa Barbara, and throughout America, can protect their communities by having police focus on serious crime, rather than marijuana offenses."

Measure P makes "investigations, citations, arrests, property seizures, and prosecutions for adult marijuana offenses, where the marijuana was intended for adult personal use, the city of Santa Barbara's lowest law enforcement priority." At least six other California jurisdictions have enacted lowest law enforcement priority initiatives as part of a broader effort to end marijuana prohibition in the state.

The Drug Debate: American Mayors Urge "A New Bottom Line" and a Public Health Approach for Drug Policy

Meeting at its annual convention in Los Angeles late last month, the US Conference of Mayors passed an historic resolution putting America's chief elected municipal officials on record urging a fundamental rethinking of the country's drug policies. The mayors called for a public health approach to drug use and abuse and "a new bottom line" in assessing how and whether drug policies reduce harms associated with drugs and society's effort to deal with them.

The US Conference of Mayors represents more than 1,100 mayors of cities with a population over 30,000. The non-partisan group plays a significant role in advocating for and setting national urban policies. Resolutions passed at its conventions become official policy.

The drug policy resolution, "A New Bottom Line in Reducing the Harms of Substance Abuse," was introduced by long-time drug reform advocate Mayor Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City. It was adopted after debate at the convention.

After a long series of "whereases" in which the resolution recites a now-familiar litany of drug war failures and excesses -- the huge number of drug war prisoners, the lack of spending on drug treatment, the failure of expensive law enforcement programs to affect drug price and availability, differential racial impacts, the ineffectiveness of the drug czar's office, massive marijuana arrests in the face of rising violent crime -- the resolution gets down to business:

"The United States Conference of Mayors believes the war on drugs has failed and calls for a New Bottom Line in US drug policy, a public health approach that concentrates more fully on reducing the negative consequences associated with drug abuse, while ensuring that our policies do not exacerbate these problems or create new social problems of their own; establishes quantifiable, short- and long-term objectives for drug policy; saves taxpayer money; and holds state and federal agencies accountable," the mayors resolved. "US policy should not be measured solely on drug use levels or number of people imprisoned, but rather on the amount of drug-related harm reduced."

The mayors identified a number of specific policy objectives they supported, including:

  • Provide greater access to drug abuse treatment on demand, such as methadone and other maintenance therapies;
  • Eliminate the federal ban on funding sterile syringe access programs;
  • Establish local overdose prevention policies; and
  • Direct a greater percentage of drug-war funding toward evaluating the efficacy and accountability of current programs.

While the mayors did not explicitly call for an end to the drug prohibition regime or even for an end to imprisoning drug users, the resolution identified the large number of drug law offenders behind bars and the racial disparities created by drug law enforcement as examples of "drug-related harm."

"The mayors are clearly signaling the serious need for drug policy reform, an issue that ranks in importance among the most serious issues of the day," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

The drug prohibition regime appears increasingly hollow and rotted from within. The resolution adopted last month by the US Conference of Mayors is one more indication that what once was fringe thought is now going mainstream.

Feature: Medical Marijuana -- A Progress Report

A little more than a decade after California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, making it the first state to approve the use of medical marijuana, the movement continues its slow spread across the country. Now, medical marijuana is legal in 12 states (with varying degrees of protection), and roughly 50 million people -- or about one out of six Americans -- live in those states.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/montel.jpg
federally-approved patient Irv Rosenfeld hands his empty federal medical marijuana canister to Montel Williams, while Reps. Sam Farr, Maurice Hinchey and Ron Paul observe
On the Pacific Coast, medical marijuana is legal from the Canadian border to the Mexican border (Washington, Oregon, California), as well as in Alaska and Hawaii. In the intermountain West, Colorado, Montana, and Nevada were joined this year by New Mexico as states where medical marijuana is legal. The other regional medical marijuana hotbed is the Northeast, where Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont allow its use, and only a veto from Republican Gov. Jodi Rell kept Connecticut from joining those ranks this year.

While it may be a bit of an exaggeration to speak of a pincer movement aimed at the heartland, medical marijuana is on the move. In addition to the 12 states where it is legal, a number of other states, including Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, and New York have seen progress in state legislatures and are inching closer to approving medical marijuana. Meanwhile, a medical marijuana initiative is getting underway in Michigan, and activists are eyeing similar initiative campaigns in a handful of other states.

But at the same time, the federal government remains staunchly opposed to medical marijuana. The Justice Department and the DEA continue to harass patients and providers, especially in California, where a loosely-written Prop. 215 has led to the most wide-open medical marijuana scene in the country. While the DEA, sometimes working with recalcitrant state and local law enforcement officials, has been raiding dispensaries for years, this week the agency unveiled a new tactic against them: It sent letters to dozens of Los Angeles area landlords who rent to dispensaries, threatening them with civil forfeiture and possible criminal action if they continue to rent to what the DEA considers criminal drug trafficking organizations.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/asademo.jpg
Americans for Safe Access demonstration
Similarly, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) regularly sends out its shock troops to attempt to defeat medical marijuana legislation and initiatives at the state level. The DEA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) all attempt to block independent research on the therapeutic uses of cannabis and throw whatever obstacles they can imagine in the path of medical marijuana.

But the federal government is under attack by medical marijuana advocates coming from several different angles. In Congress, the most significant piece of medical marijuana-related legislation is the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would bar the use of federal funds to persecute patients and providers in states where it is legal. Hearings and a vote in the House on Hinchey-Rohrabacher are expected in the next week or two. While approval appears unlikely this year, supporters, including the group spearheading the effort, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), expect to pick up votes and edge ever closer to the needed majority.

In the meantime, there are three legal challenges to the federal hard line on medical marijuana:

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Dr. Ethan Russo addresses Patients Out of Time medical marijuana conference
Clearly, the medical marijuana movement is trying to advance on many fronts, and while the disparate groups that make up the movement may be on the same page, they aren't always reading the same paragraphs. With a movement that includes groups like MPP, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which seek an end to marijuana prohibition outright, and groups like the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which seeks broader drug policy reform, as well as organizations like ASA and Patients Out of Time (POT), which focus exclusively on medical marijuana, it is little surprise that while there is broad strategic agreement, there are tactical differences.

Groups differ on the utility of acting at the state versus the federal level, over whether initiatives or legislative action is preferable, and over who should be the public face of the movement, among other issues. For some, even winning more victories at the state level is not as important as changing the parameters of the debate.

For MPP, which is hard at work in the states as well as on Capitol Hill, meaningful change will result from continuing to hammer away at the federal level, said Dan Bernath, MPP assistant director of communications. "There will probably be a vote on Hinchey-Rohrabacher within a week or two, and we think we will pick up at least 20 votes," he said.

But with the amendment having garnered 163 votes last year, an additional couple of dozen votes would still leave it well short of the 218 votes needed to ensure passage in the House. "It is not likely to happen this year," Bernath conceded, "but it is important that we continue to build momentum for the future. The safer it looks for politicians, the easier it is for them to vote for it."

While passage of Hinchey-Rohrabacher would not change the federal marijuana laws, it would effectively protect patients, Bernath said. "If the Department of Justice loses funding to go after medical marijuana in the states, that would be 100% protection for patients."

ASA, while supporting Hinchey-Rohrabacher, was quick to point out that the protection provided by Hinchey-Rohrabacher would only apply to patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. "Hinchey has been something for certain drug reform organizations and proponents to rally around to help turn the tide on medical marijuana," said ASA spokesman Kris Hermes, "but it is certainly not the be all and end all. It would unfortunately only protect patients and providers in those 12 states, but does little to address the concerns of doctors, patients, and caregivers in the rest of the country."

More promising for ASA, Hermes said, are the federal lawsuits. "The ruling by the DEA judge in the Craker case certainly adds to the growing chorus in support of doing further research on the subject," he argued. "And if we can win our case against HHS and the FDA, that would only build pressure on the government's position that marijuana has no medicinal value."

Some patient-oriented groups would rather concentrate on medium-term movement-building than short-term political victories. "While we accept the strategy of most people working within the movement, which is to change the law and get the patients their medicine, we don't always agree with the tactics," said Al Byrne, spokesman for Patients Out of Time, which has concentrated on educating the public and especially the medical profession about medical marijuana. "We need to let educators lead the movement into the future, not lobbyists, lawyers, and legislators," he argued. "Picking up the states one by one is worthwhile, but after a while it's sort of redundant. We don't think we will see real meaningful change until the medical community accepts marijuana as medicine."

Patients Out of Time has for the past several years worked to bring the medical community on board through its series of conferences on cannabis therapeutics, which bring together scientists, researchers, and medical professionals from around the country and the world to discuss the latest advances. POT's Fifth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics is set for next April in California.

Winning more medical marijuana victories at the state level is not redundant for MPP. To get change at the federal level will require more states getting aboard the medical marijuana bandwagon, said Bernath. "The way change will happen is that when enough states adopt their own medical marijuana laws, the federal government will no longer be able to ignore this."

To that end, MPP will continue to push for passage of state medical marijuana laws, sometimes through the initiative and referendum process and sometimes through the legislative process. In Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York, medical marijuana legislation got some traction this year. "We can pick up next year where we left off," said Bernath.

DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann, whose organization is working on medical marijuana bills legislation in Connecticut and New Jersey, was quick to add those states to the list. DPA sees more bang for the buck in legislative efforts than initiatives, he said. "Legislative campaigns cost money, but not as much as ballot initiatives, and they have the advantage of generating enormous amounts of free media," he said. "Since a major part of the medical marijuana effort is about public education, the more hearings you have and the more media they generate, the better."

Bernath also pointed to MPP involvement in a Michigan medical marijuana initiative campaign that is just getting underway and suggested there may be more initiatives in other states. "The polls are looking pretty good in Arizona, Idaho, and Ohio," he said.

"This is where MPP and DPA have a slightly different philosophy," said Nadelmann. "I hope the Michigan initiative wins, and it would be helpful if it did, but as a matter of resource allocation, I'm skeptical about the value added of spending all that money to win one more state. But that's a judgment call," he added.

NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre drew a distinction between states that accepted medical marijuana through the initiative process and those that accepted it through the legislative process. "The initiatives covered a greater number of stakeholders and are more functional than the ensuing laws, which are very narrow in scope, serve fewer stakeholders, and haven't changed the federal dynamic of those states' representation in Washington," he argued. "If you look at who is supporting Hinchey-Rohrabacher, it is the delegations from the Western and Rocky Mountain states where support is strongest -- the states where medical marijuana came about through the initiative process."

On the other hand, St. Pierre acknowledged, states that have legalized medical marijuana through the legislative process have fewer problems with recalcitrant law enforcement. "In large parts of initiative states like California, Washington, and Oregon, the police simply ignore the law," he pointed out. "But when a medical marijuana bill goes through the legislature, law enforcement is part of the process. The police got to have their say. They lost, but at least they were sitting at the table."

Eleven years ago, no patients were protected by state medical marijuana laws. Now, some 50 million Americans live in states where they could be, and that's progress. But it also means that some 250 million Americans continue without the protection of state medical marijuana laws, and despite tentative advances in the South and the Midwest, today those areas remain without any such laws. In the last few years, progress has been made, but at a painfully slow pace. Perhaps that will change next year, with a number of states well into legislative consideration of medical marijuana bills.

And perhaps things will change at the federal level the year after that, especially if the Democrats extend and deepen their control of Congress. But at this juncture, the only likely federal changes will come if one of the lawsuits turns out victorious, and that means going back to the states and whittling away at medical marijuana prohibition one statehouse or one popular vote at a time.

Judge rejects lawsuit over pot

Location: 
Santa Barbara, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/california/la-me-marijuana11jul11,1,3107008.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california

Exploring the other side of marijuana

Location: 
East Bay, RI
United States
Publication/Source: 
East Bay Newspapers (RI)
URL: 
http://www.eastbayri.com/story/289328332504948.php

Positive Drug Tests Don't Prove Impairment

Maybe you've heard the story: Worker gets injured on the job. Employer, anticipating hefty workers compensation claims, administers drug test. Wouldn't you know it, injured employee tests positive for marijuana and is denied compensation due to presumed impairment.

Of course, since marijuana remains detectable for weeks after use, it is just wrong to presume that a positive result indicates impairment at the time of the accident. Still, many companies continue to fire injured employees for marijuana, rather than compensating them for on-the-job injuries that had nothing at all to do with their off-the-job marijuana consumption. It is a morally-reprehensible and scientifically-fraudulent practice, but one which serves the financial interests of its practitioners and thus continues.

Finally, for the first time that I know of, this sickening practice has been challenged successfully in court:
The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a worker whose hand was crushed by machinery at his workplace was not to blame for the accident despite his admitted marijuana use off the job.



The state law establishing the drug-free workplace program presumes that any injuries to an employee found to have been using drugs or alcohol were caused by the drug use. But the court noted that the law also allows employees to enter evidence to rebut that presumption.


The co-worker and the shop foreman both testified that McIntosh didn't appear to be impaired by marijuana use before the accident.

McIntosh, who had worked at Interstate for five years, contended the injury was caused by the actions of an inexperienced employee. [Forbes]
So often in drug policy reform, we must celebrate victories of common sense that could be taken for granted if anti-drug hysteria had not permeated every aspect of our lives. How absurd is it that McIntosh even had to prove his lack of impairment? After all, it is perfectly clear and undeniable that a positive test for marijuana doesn’t prove impairment at all. There was never any evidence of impairment at any point throughout all of this, yet it had to be decided by the state's highest court.

While the Tennessee Supreme Court has certainly made the right decision here, one shudders to think how many marijuana users have been thrown to the dogs under identical circumstances. The premise that marijuana ruins lives – almost universally false though it is – somehow becomes a justification for profiteers seeking to validate the most despicable treatment of people who've used marijuana.

These events serve to remind us that prohibition is more than police, prisons and politics. It an idea – corrupt to its core – which infects everything, entering our schools and workplaces to spread false prejudice and obscure even the most obvious truths.

Location: 
United States

Home State Blues, or What's an Itinerant Activist To Do?

Your itinerant Drug War Chronicle has been bouncing around North America for the last few years, spending significant amounts of time in Washington state, British Columbia, Mexico, Northern California, and my home state, South Dakota. The traveling is nice, but I’ve felt politically homeless, as if my presence anywhere were too fleeting for me to be able to do local or state-level politics, and that’s a frustration. So, as much as I would rather be elsewhere, I’m thinking I need to hunker down here in Dakotaland and try to get something done. It is not friendly territory. South Dakota is the only state where voters rejected an initiative to allow the medicinal use of marijuana. Although it was a close vote, 52% to 48%, it was still a loss. Medical marijuana bills (introduced by an acquaintance of mine) early in the decade went nowhere. The state has one of the fastest growing prison populations right now, thanks largely to its approach to methamphetamine use. Marijuana possession is routinely punished by $500 fines, and there is a good chance of jail time, too. (In fact, you may be better off being convicted of drunk driving, if my local court records are any indication.) And, most hideously of all, South Dakota is the only state I know of that has an “internal possession” law. That means when the police arrest you with a joint, they make you submit to a urine test, then charge you with an additional offense if you test positive. South Dakota judges also routinely sign drug search warrants that include forced drug tests. I know one gentleman currently serving a five-year prison sentence for “internal possession” of methamphetamine metabolites, and no, it wasn’t a plea bargain. That was the only charge they had. South Dakota’s drug reform community (which can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand) seems beaten down, but I think I’m going to reach out and see if I can’t get anyone interested in a four-pronged drug reform legislative package: Hemp. Our neighbors in North Dakota have passed a bill allowing farmers to grow hemp and are currently suing the DEA to force it out of the way. South Dakota farmers would like to make profits, too. Medical marijuana. Yeah, we lost a close one last year, and it’s never been able to get any traction in the legislature. But I think we should make them deal with it again. Our neighbors in Montana seem to be surviving medical marijuana. Marijuana decriminalization. Does South Dakota really think pot possession is more serious than drunk driving? Does the legislature understand the lifelong impact of pot conviction on its constituents? Our neighbors in Nebraska decriminalized pot back in the 1970s, and the cornfields are still standing. Repeal of the internal possession laws. Criminalizing someone for the content of his blood or urine is just wrong. Winning any of these will be an uphill battle, and perhaps even linking hemp to broader drug reform issues would spell its doom here. But I think it’s every good activist’s responsibility to do what he can to slow down the drug war juggernaut, so I’m going to give it a shot. What are you doing in your state?
Location: 
United States

Give protection to patients who need medical marijuana

Location: 
HI
United States
Publication/Source: 
Honolulu Star-Bulletin (HI)
URL: 
http://starbulletin.com/2007/07/07/editorial/editorial01.html

Random student drug tests put in doubt

Location: 
TN
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Tennessean (TN)
URL: 
http://www.ashlandcitytimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070706/NEWS04/707060414/1291/MTCN01

Wash. to Set Medical Marijuana Limits

Location: 
Seattle, WA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Washington Post
URL: 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/05/AR2007070500284.html

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