Monday, March 31, 2008


Even Legal Users Could Be Tangled in Criminal World of Drug Sales

KALAMAZOO -- Even if Michigan voters this fall approve the use of
marijuana for medical purposes, sick people will have to get friendly
with their neighborhood dope dealers to buy it.

There's no provision in the ballot proposal to provide access to the
drug through the state or pharmacies, and sale of the drug would
remain a felony, even to legal users.

Supporters hope users would grow their own plants, but in the interim
until harvest, the marijuana would have to be bought off the street.

"We've got people who will be legally able to possess marijuana, but
then they're going to be buying it from someone who is committing a
felony," said Joseph Taylor, commander of the Kalamazoo Valley
Enforcement Team, which targets illegal drug use in Kalamazoo County.
"I don't support that. That's a loophole that needs to be changed."

But Taylor does support the initiative's goal of providing relief to
those seriously ill as long as it's regulated and "there are proper
checks and balances in place."

And he believes there would be if the ballot measure passes.

Five Michigan cities currently have medical-marijuana ordinances.
Law-enforcement officials in two of those communities, Flint and Ann
Arbor -- similar in size to Kalamazoo -- said they have not had
complaints about medical marijuana since their laws went into effect.

No Problems

In 2007, voters in Flint approved a medical-marijuana ordinance.

But opponents said the ordinance was essentially symbolic because
state and federal laws outlaw marijuana use in any form.

"It was a totally meaningless vote," said Genesee County Prosecutor
David Leyton, who opposed the ballot measure. "And the statewide vote
this fall will be meaningless, too, because marijuana would still be
illegal in the eyes of the federal government."

Still, Leyton said his office has not seen an increase in marijuana
cases since the 2007 vote. Those who are using medical marijuana in
Flint don't appear to be abusing it, he said.

Ann Arbor voters overwhelmingly approved a medical-marijuana ordinance in 2004.

"There's been no change whatsoever in (the number of cases) we've
seen here in the city," Ann Arbor Deputy Police Chief Greg Bazick
said. "It's been a nonissue."

Ann Arbor does have some of the most lenient marijuana laws of any
city in the country, even while the city charter states it is illegal
to use, possess, give away or sell marijuana.

Violations of the charter are considered civil infractions, with a
fine of $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second offense and third
and subsequent offenses capped at a $100 fine. For people using
marijuana for medical reasons as recommended by their physicians,
fines and other costs are reimbursed by the city.

No Need to Fear

Like his counterpart in Genesee County, Kalamazoo County Prosecutor
Jeff Fink opposes legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

But he also doesn't believe the amount of marijuana on the street
would increase if the initiative passed.

Fink said about 99 percent of the marijuana cases his office handles
deal with people who were being charged for illicit use or possession
of the drug.

"We're not concerned about overflow of marijuana or a possible
negative impact on the community if marijuana is made legal for sick
people," KVET's Taylor said.

Where KVET is seeing a problem, Taylor said, is in the number of
people addicted to legal drugs, such as OxyContin and Valium,
prescribed for pain and other discomforts.

"We're seeing a lot of abuse of these kinds of drugs," he said.

The International Narcotics Control Board has said the abuse of
prescription drugs is about to exceed the use of "practically all
illicit drugs with the exception of cannabis."

The board reported the number of Americans abusing prescription drugs
nearly doubled between 1992 and 2003, from 7.8 million people to 15.1
million people.

How Would It Work?

Fast forward to early 2009.

You are seriously ill and voters have approved the ballot initiative
allowing the use of medical marijuana.

Your primary-care physician recommends you use marijuana and you
receive your state-issued photo ID card indicating you are a registered user.

Now what?

Expecting a shipment of marijuana from Lansing in your mailbox?
Heading to your local pharmacy to buy some marijuana? Think again.

It's your job to find your own marijuana. But what if you've never
used the drug and don't know anyone who does? And when you do acquire
some marijuana, how do you know what you're getting is what you need?

"They're doing it right now anyway. People are getting marijuana and
using it for medical reasons," said Dianne Byrum, spokeswoman for the
Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care, the group pushing for
passage of the ballot initiative. "We assume they will go through the
rigor to ensure they're getting what they need. People will consult
with their doctors."

Byrum said word-of-mouth will be a primary way medical users will
find out where to buy marijuana, but that the ultimate goal is to
have patients grow their own.

A mature marijuana plant grown inside a home can yield between
one-quarter to one-half pound of marijuana, Taylor said.

The ballot proposal does not protect those selling marijuana.

"The law is silent on that issue," Byrum said. "If the federal
government were to lift its restrictions and re-classify marijuana,
things would be different in terms of how a patient could acquire
their marijuana."

Medical use of marijuana would still carry many restrictions.

Patients can't use the marijuana in public and cannot operate a car
or machinery while under the drug's influence, the initiative states.

They also could face stiff fines and possible jail time if they sell
or furnish marijuana to those who are not registered to possess the
drug. Failure to follow the initiative's guidelines would ban a
patient from the state's medical-marijuana registry.

"This can be implemented," Byrum said of medical marijuana. "The sky
is not going to fall."

The Future

Michigan would become the 15th state -- and the first in the Midwest
-- to have some kind of medical-marijuana law if voters pass the initiative.

It also would become the second most populous of the
medical-marijuana states, behind California.

Since 1996, when California became the first state to pass a
medical-marijuana law, other states have followed with voter-approved
initiatives or lawmaker-crafted legislation.

If that trend continues, does that mean the country is starting to
see a change in the way marijuana is viewed?

"This initiative is about carving out a space of legality for
something that is now criminalized," said Ronald Kramer, director of
the criminal-justice program at Western Michigan University.

"If we are seeing these proposals passing, then the conclusion is
that people are seeing marijuana as something that's not that
dangerous, something that's valuable."

Marijuana was legal until the 1930s, Kramer said, when
law-enforcement agencies and films like "Reefer Madness" convinced
the public that marijuana was a dangerous drug that would denigrate society.

That opinion has continued for the most part, Kramer said, but it
needs to change.

"We need to have a fundamental reassessment of all marijuana laws,"
he said. "A careful analysis would probably show they are doing more
harm than good. They are placing impossible demands on the
criminal-justice system to enforce these laws on overwhelmingly
nonviolent offenders.

"Medical marijuana could be the catalyst. It might cause us to have a
rational reassessment of our marijuana drug laws.

Newshawk: Michiganders Support Access
Pubdate: Sun, 30 Mar 2008
Source: Kalamazoo Gazette (MI)
Copyright: 2008 Kalamazoo Gazette
Author: Chris Killian, Special to the Gazette
Cited: Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ottawa rejected plea deal with U.S., Emery says

VANCOUVER - British Columbia's self-proclaimed "prince of pot" says Canada has rejected a plea bargain with U.S. authorities that would have meant five years in prison. Marc Emery is charged in the United States with selling seeds over the Internet.

He said yesterday he was willing to accept a five-year deal but Ottawa wasn't.

"I was willing to accept the deal that would put me in jail for five years on a 10-year sentence, mostly served in Canada," he said at a news conference in the Vapour Lounge, above the Vancouver headquarters where he sells marijuana paraphernalia.

Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams, his associates and co-accused, are also wanted in the U.S. Reports say they have been offered sentences in the three-to five-month range in exchange for guilty pleas.

"The Americans were receptive and all that was required was for this deal to go down was for the Conservative government to rubber stamp it . and they refused," Mr. Emery said.

Spokespersons for the U.S. and Canadian governments were not available for comment.

The U.S. government has been trying to extradite Mr. Emery on charges that he sold marijuana seeds over the Internet and sent them through the mail.

He says U.S. officials offered him a deal last fall that would involve him pleading guilty on both sides of the border while receiving a 10-year sentence that would have required him to serve five years behind bars.

Mr. Emery said Canadian authorities have known for years about his business. "The government is far from innocent in this situation."

He said he paid more than $500,000 in taxes between 1999 to 2005 "and I put on my income-tax declarations that I was a marijuana seed vendor.

He said he did not keep much of the "millions of dollars" he made selling seeds.

"The whole purpose of raising millions of dollars through the sale of seeds was to provide the cannabis legalization movement with the funding it needed and we contributed to politicians at all levels."

The extradition case against Mr. Emery was put over this month to April 9 at the request of his lawyer and a federal prosecutor representing the U.S. Justice Department.

Mr. Emery has been highly visible to Canadian authorities for years, holding publicized pot "smoke-ins" in a drive to get the drug legalized.

He once conducted a cross-Canada tour during which he smoked cartoon-sized joints in front of city police departments.

Newshawk: CMAP
Rate this article Votes: 0
Pubdate: Sat, 29 Mar 2008
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2008, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Greg Joyce, Canadian Press
Bookmark: (Emery, Marc)


After 28 years on the Vancouver police force, Tony Smith believes the "war on drugs" is creating far more problems than it's solving.

During a 45-minute speech at the Alberta Harm Reduction Conference on Thursday, Smith argued legalizing all drugs would lower crime, and take control of the drug industry out of the hands of dangerous criminals.

The retired officer is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition ( LEAP ), a non-profit organization of former judges, prosecutors, federal agents and police officers from around the world that argues that drugs should be legalized and taxed similar to alcohol.

A former member of the force's pawn shop squad, he told the crowd of about 350 people about a man who arrived at a Vancouver pawn shop still tearing the tags off stolen goods with his teeth.

"Dealers are right outside the pawnshops taking the money for drugs," he said. "If you're needing $200 for drugs, then you're going to need to steal around $2,000 worth of goods."

Smith estimated that Canada spends $2.5 billion a year enforcing drug laws, including the costs to the court system, the jail system and the police.

"Think of all the good that saving that money could do," he said. "It could be put towards the education system or the health care system."

Smith said if government controlled the drugs as opposed to criminals, it would be easier for addicts to get help quitting.

"Dealers have no interest in their clients quitting, if anything they try to push more drugs," he said.

The response to Smith's message was mixed.

"I agree with a lot of what he said," said Lianne Hazell, director of housing with Central Alberta Safe Harbour Society. "We believe that if we have more police to look after policing the drugs and alcohol problem, then that's going to solve it . . . we don't have to work harder, we have to work differently."

Hazell said legalization of drugs might be a solution.

She said she hoped that if drugs were legalized the government would also work on helping addicts get well.

Dr. Laura McLeod deputy medical officer of health for the David Thompson Health Region, said she was concerned about Smith's claims that marijuana did not have any lasting harmful health effects.

"A lot of the health studies on marijuana have been done on the baby boomer generation smoking marijuana in the '70s," she said. "We know the dose of THC ( the main chemical in the drug ) in current street marijuana is much higher . . . we don't know what the effects of that will be." McLeod said she did not have enough expertise to comment on the legalization of drugs.

Newshawk: Herb
Rate this article Votes: 0
Pubdate: Fri, 28 Mar 2008
Source: Red Deer Advocate (CN AB)
Copyright: 2008 Red Deer Advocate
Author: Ashley Joannou
Cited: Alberta Harm Reduction Conference
Cited: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

How do Drug Enforcement Administration special agents lose their guns?

Is That a Gun in Your Wastebasket, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?
DEA Agents Lose Their Weapons Faster Than Ever, According to a New DOJ

How do Drug Enforcement Administration special agents lose their guns?

Faster than ever, according to a new report from the Department of Justice
inspector general. From 2002 to 2007, DEA lost 91 weapons, the audit found.
The DEA isn't always reporting the losses of weapons or laptop computers to
the proper authorities, and when it does, it often comes weeks -- even
years -- after the fact.

But just how do the guns disappear? Let us count the ways.

"Special agent left weapon on roof of car and drove off," reads one incident
description. In his report released today, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine
included descriptions of how each weapon was said to have been lost.

"May have fallen into trash basket at work," read another. "Left weapon in
supermarket." "Left weapon on airplane." One report sounded like it was
filed by an agent on Larry Craig patrol, "Left weapon in airport restroom."

The thieves were often brazen. "Stolen from hotel room -- Special Agent out
on balcony," one report stated. "Weapon stolen [from] purse while at social
function at bar in Jamaica." "It was believed a carpet installer stole it."
At least once, the alleged culprit was a family member, "Weapon stolen by
Special Agent's son."

But the most common incident, by far, were guns stolen from agents' official
or personal vehicles while they were otherwise engaged -- despite DEA
regulations which prohibit leaving weapons unattended in autos.

"Stolen from an official government vehicle parked at restaurant while
Special Agent had lunch." "Stolen from official government vehicle while
agent was exercising." Stolen "while agent was shopping," from a car parked
"at a summer rental house," "from official government vehicle parked at
convenience store while Special Agent was buying coffee." One was even
reportedly stolen from an agent's car while he was at a middle school
football game.

Asked about the reported losses, DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said the
investigations would have been handled by DEA itself. "Any of those
instances would be referred to our internal investigating arm," Courtney
said. "We would take the appropriate actions to make sure the agents are
educated on how to handle their weapons appropriately."

The inspector general rapped the DEA for losing guns at more than twice the
rate his office found in 2002 and for failing to report many of the losses
quickly or to the right authorities, just as auditors noted in their 2002

The DEA also loses laptop computers, Fine's auditors found, though they had
cut the rate of lost laptops in half since 2002.

In its response to the audit, DEA said it has promulgated new theft and loss
reporting policies.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


WASHINGTON -- When an unsuspecting drug dealer opens the door to a police informant masquerading as a customer, is he also opening the door for the police to come in and conduct a search of his home without a warrant?

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to answer that question, which has divided the lower federal courts.

Several federal circuits have adopted what has come to be called a consent-once-removed exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. The theory is that a suspect who consents to the entry of someone who is really an agent of the police is also, albeit unknowingly, agreeing to let the police enter as well. The police do not need a warrant to enter and search a home if they have the permission of a person authorized to give it.

The new Supreme Court case is an appeal filed by five Utah police officers, members of the Central Utah Narcotics Task Force, who face paying damages to a man in whose home they conducted a search later found to be unconstitutional. The federal appeals court in Denver rejected their claim of immunity. The case presents complex questions of constitutional law, official immunity and the relationship between the two.

Events in 2002 form the background to the case. A confidential informant working with the officers bought $100 worth of methamphetamine from Afton D. Callahan, inside Mr. Callahan's trailer home in Fillmore, Utah. By prearrangement, the officers entered the trailer as soon as they received a signal from the informant, who was wearing a wire, that the sale had been completed.

At Mr. Callahan's trial in state court for possession and distribution of methamphetamine, the judge rejected the defense argument that the evidence should be suppressed because the search without a warrant was unconstitutional. Mr. Callahan then agreed to a conditional guilty plea while appealing the constitutional issue. A Utah appeals court agreed with him, declared the search unconstitutional, and overturned the conviction.

Free of criminal liability, Mr. Callahan then sued the officers for violating his rights under the Fourth Amendment. In response, the officers argued that they were immune from suit under the doctrine of "qualified immunity," which provides that government officials cannot be held liable for violating a law or constitutional principle that was not clear at the time.

A federal district judge, Paul G. Cassell, who later left the bench, ruled in 2006 that even assuming the search was unconstitutional, the police were entitled to immunity because they could reasonably have believed at the time that the law was on their side. He noted that three federal appellate circuits, although not the one that includes Utah, had accepted the "consent-once-removed" notion.

The United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, disagreed and reinstated Mr. Callahan's lawsuit. The appeals court, declining to adopt the consent-once-removed exception, held that the search violated Mr. Callahan's "clearly established" right "to be free in one's home from unreasonable searches and arrests." The Constitution was so clear on this point, the appeals court said, that a reasonable police officer would have known not to proceed without a warrant.

In accepting the officers' appeal for argument next November, the justices added an issue of their own that substantially increases the prospective importance of the case, Pearson v. Callahan, No. 07-751. The question is how courts are to evaluate officials' claims of immunity from suit for constitutional violations.

The Supreme Court last considered this issue in a 2001 decision, Saucier v. Katz, which required courts to consider the issue in a precise order, first deciding what the constitutional rule should be and whether the Constitution was violated, and only then deciding whether the issue had been sufficiently unclear at the time so as to make the defendant entitled to immunity.

The rule of Saucier v. Katz has been severely criticized, both inside the court and outside, for making judges do the hard work of deciding disputed constitutional issues that need not have been decided if, at the end of the day, the lawsuit was going to be dismissed on the ground of official immunity.

The court's purpose in deciding the Saucier case the way it did was to avoid a situation in which the law is never clarified because its very lack of clarity entitles defendant after defendant to official immunity. Only by deciding whether a constitutional right was violated in the first place would "the process for the law's elaboration from case to case" be preserved, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the Saucier majority opinion.

But in the view of the decision's many critics, it has not turned out that way.

Judge Pierre N. Leval of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, said in a lecture at New York University in 2005 that the Saucier decision was "a puzzling misadventure," imposing on judges "a new and mischievous rule." It was "a blueprint for the creation of bad constitutional law," he said, because often the constitutional holding would not actually matter to the parties in a case that could be resolved more simply through a decision on immunity.

In an opinion last year, Justice Stephen G. Breyer called for the Saucier decision to be overruled as a "failed experiment." His opinion came in the "Bong Hits for Jesus" case, in which the court struggled to decide whether a high school principal had violated a student's First Amendment right to free speech by suspending him for displaying a 14-foot banner bearing those words.

The court ruled by a bare majority that the answer was no. Justice Breyer said the entire exercise could have been avoided if the court, acknowledging that the question was close, had simply granted the principal immunity from suit.

Although Justice Breyer spoke only for himself in that case, Morse v. Frederick, he evidently captured his colleagues' attention. In its order on Monday granting the appeal in the Utah case, the justices instructed the lawyers for both sides to brief and argue a question that neither side had raised: "Whether the court's decision in Saucier v. Katz should be overruled?"

In other action on Monday, the court rejected an appeal concerning an Arizona county jail's policy on abortions for pregnant prisoners. The unwritten policy requiring an inmate to obtain a court order before jail officials would transport her for an abortion was found by an Arizona appeals court to place an undue burden on the right to abortion. The justices, without comment, turned down the Maricopa County sheriff's appeal, Arpaio v. Doe, No. 07-839.

Newshawk: Empowering People
Votes: 0
Pubdate: Tue, 25 Mar 2008
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: 17, Section A
Copyright: 2008 The New York Times Company
Author: Linda Greenhouse

Monday, March 24, 2008

Torture in Our Own Backyards: The Fight Against Supermax Prisons

Torture in Our Own Backyards: The Fight Against Supermax Prisons

By Jessica Pupovac, AlterNet. Posted March 24, 2008.

Imagine living in an 8-by-12 prison cell, in solitary confinement, for eight years straight. Your entire world consists of a dank, cinder block room with a narrow window only three inches high, opening up to an outdoor cement cage, cynically dubbed, "the yard." If you're lucky, you spend one hour, five days a week in that outdoor cage, where you gaze up through a wire mesh roof and hope for a glimpse of the sun. If you talk back to the guards or act out in any way, you might only venture outside one precious hour per week.

You go eight years without shaking a hand or experiencing any physical human contact. The prison guards bark orders and touch you only while wearing leather gloves, and then it's only to put you in full cuffs and shackles before escorting you to the cold showers, where they watch your every move.

You cannot make phone calls to your friends or family and must "earn" two visits per month, which inevitably take place through a Plexiglass wall. You are kept in full shackles the entire time you visit with your wife and children, and have to strain to hear their voices through speakers that record your every word. With no religious or educational programs to break up the time or elevate your thoughts, it's a daily struggle to keep your mind from unraveling.

This is how Reginald Akeem Berry describes his time in Tamms Correctional Facility, a "Supermax" state prison in southern Illinois, where he was held from March 1998 until July 2006. He now works to draw attention to conditions inside Tamms, where 261 inmates continue to be held in extreme isolation.

Once exclusively employed as a short-term punishment for particularly violent jailhouse infractions, today, 44 states hold "supermax" facilities, or "control units," designed specifically to hold large numbers of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. A concept that spread like wildfire in the 1990s, today an estimated 20,000 prisoners live in these modern-day dungeons, judged to be "unmanageable" by prison officials and moved from other penitentiaries to the nearest supermax.

Life in supermax institutions is grueling. Inmates stay in their cells for at least 23 hours per day, and never so much as lay eyes on another prisoner. While many live under these conditions for five years, others continue, uncertain of how to earn their way out, for ten, 15, or even 20 years.

The effects of such extended periods of isolation on prisoners' physical and mental health, their chances of meaningful rehabilitation, and, ultimately, on the communities to which they will eventually return are coming under increasing fire, from lawyers, human rights advocates and the medical professionals who have treated them. Bolstered by growing concern over the U.S.' sanctioning of torture, and the effect that has on the country's international standing, their calls to action are gaining ground. In 2000, and again in 2006, the United Nations Committee Against Torture condemned the kind of isolation imposed by the U.S. government in federal, state and county-run supermax prisons, calling it "extremely harsh." "The Committee is concerned about the prolonged isolation periods detainees are subjected to," they stated, "the effect such treatment has on their mental health, and that its purpose may be retribution, in which case it would constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


"Sending someone to a supermax is punishment"

Defense attorney Jean Maclean Snyder, who has represented several Tamms prisoners, says the U.N. declaration is dead-on. "It is suspected that many [Tamms] prisoners have been sent there in retaliation for filing lawsuits about prison policies; because serious mental illnesses cause them to be disruptive; or simply because wardens at other prisons do not like them," she wrote in 2000, shortly after the original declaration was issued. Allan Mills of the Uptown People's Law Office in Chicago, IL thinks that the ambiguity surrounding how and why inmates are sent to supermax facilities constitutes a violation of due process. "Sending someone to a supermax is punishment," Mills told AlterNet, "and before someone gets punished, they have a right to a fair hearing." "Just like if you were to get a traffic ticket, you have a right to say 'I didn't do it' and bring witnesses, and the police would have to come and testify against you," he said. "The same should go for prisoners who are being subjected to this horrendous long-term confinement." Mills claims he has "tracked a pattern of prisoners being sent to Tamms because of them filing grievances or lawsuits and being jailhouse lawyers.


Assistant Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) Director Sergio Molina told AlterNet that, "Their behavior is their input," and although he claims the decision to transfer an inmate to Tamms is made on a "case-by-case basis," he wasn't able to expand further on the process.

Reginald Berry says he believes he was sent there for being "influential," among the general prison population. A former five-star leader of Chicago's infamous Vice Lords gang, he says he had the opportunity to turn in the "pistol" in a murder case, in return for a five-year sentence. However, he says, cooperating with the police against a fellow Vice Lord would have been "against the code," -- so instead he fought a first-degree murder charge in court and wound up with a 33-year jail sentence.

At first, life in Illinois state penitentiaries -- he was transferred to several over the years -- was manageable, since, in his words, "the animals were running the zoo." Through what he describes as a vast web of corruption and incompetence, "the guys who was the beast of the place were being rewarded by the warden," and were granted preferential job placements and access to coveted programs. "Might made right.


Following a series of prison riots and attacks on staff in the early 1990s (neither of which Berry had ever witnessed or been involved in) the Illinois General Assembly decided to construct the Tamms Closed Maximum Security Facility, or "CMAX." With a price tag of $72 million, Tamms CMAX opened its doors on March 10, 1998. The prison is capable of housing up to 500 of the department's "most disruptive, violent and problematic inmates," according to an IDOC brochure. IDOC also claims it costs approximately $60,000 per inmate per year to keep the facility running, a figure over three times higher than the per-inmate annual cost at other IDOC facilities.

Berry says that although he heard supermax rumors swirling throughout the jailhouse, he never imagined that he would end up in one. As he tells it, he hadn't been involved in a violent altercation for years. Nonetheless, "they came back and punished all the guys they had given fringe benefits to, and I had been one of those brothers." Days after the Tamms facility opened, ten police officers in full riot gear came to his cell and escorted him out. One of those guards offered him what would be his last cigarette for the next eight years, before putting him on an IDOC van and sending him off to Tamms.

"Many of these inmates have become psychotic"

The moment he arrived at Tamms, Berry says, he knew "it was a different world." All his belongings were immediately confiscated, right down to his underwear. He was then cavity searched before being escorted, in full shackles and leg irons, to his cell. "Imagine if you've been smoking 20 years," he says. "Overnight you can't smoke no more, overnight you can't talk to your kids no more." The coffee was gone. Work and educational programs were gone. Human interaction was out of reach. Guards barked orders and harassed him.

After about a month of sitting in his cell, he began to hear other inmates' mental health slipping. "You get these guys and they don't know how to acclimate so they start cutting themselves up," he recalled, adding that some would go so far as "taking a pen and sticking it all the way up into their penis," or even worse, attempting suicide.

One expert on the effects of solitary confinement, Dr. Terry Kupers, who consults prison agencies on mental health services, says it is not uncommon for "psychiatric symptoms [to] emerge in previously healthy prisoners … in this context of near-total isolation and idleness." Psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Stuart Grassian concurs. In 2005 he told the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons that he had evaluated of "scores of inmates" who "psychiatrically deteriorated during the course of their confinement in solitary." "Many of these inmates," he said. "have become psychotic, and many have engaged in self-injurious and self-mutilatory behavior.


Annibal Santiago, who has been incarcerated at Tamms since 1998, describes how it feels from the inside: "The mentally ill prisoners drive the normal prisoners crazy by screaming, crying, yelling into the pod at all hours of the day and night for days non-stop, by banging on toilets, doors, walls, and/or by shaking or kicking the doors so hard that it sounds like rumbling thunder, flooding the wing with toilet water, and by throwing feces at other prisoners or inserting feces into the air vents so that the whole wing receives a dose of the smell for months." "The constant bombardment of unrelenting stress takes its toll like a flurry of well-placed punches on a tired boxer's head," he wrote in a survey compiled by Tamms Year Ten Campaign, and activist group working to shut down the facility.

The Innocent Victims

Berry says that when he was first sentenced, he told his wife, Denise, that he would understand if he had to let her go. "I told her, you didn't commit this crime, you had no part of it and I love you enough not to punish you with the hardships that's to come," he recounted. But she didn't. When he was transferred to Tamms, six hours south of Chicago, she moved the family to nearby Springfield so that they could visit as often as possible. Since the Illinois General Assembly approved funding for Tamms with IDOC's claim that it would serve as nothing more than a temporary, one-year-long "shock treatment" for problem inmates, Mrs. Berry thought it would be temporary move. However, two years later, when it became clear that IDOC had no intention of transferring Berry in the foreseeable future, the family moved back to Chicago. Denise says she wasn't prepared for how difficult it would be to see her husband deteriorate so rapidly at Tamms, after having spent ten years in the general prison population. It was particularly hard for his teenage son, who watched as his father grew emaciated from a meager diet and lack of exercise and saw dark circles form under his eyes from lack of sunlight. "What I had a problem with, being an inmate's wife," Denise says, "was how they degraded the inmates." She described her husband being shackled and forced to sit on a small cement stool for the duration of their visits. When officers would deny him a trip to the restroom, encouraging him to instead prematurely end their visit, she says it made her feel like an accomplice to his suffering.

Berry says one thing that kept him going was keeping his family at the forefront of his mind. It bothered him that Tamms prisoners were only allowed to keep 15 pictures in their cells. "Every time my wife sent me pictures, she'd send me sets of 24, and I'd say, 'ok, I got to decide right here which ones I want,' because if you get caught with more than that they can give you a ticket and send you back down to seg [disciplinary segregation, a unit in which inmates have only one shower and one yard visit per week]." Inmates remain in 'seg' for a minimum of 90 days and are not allowed visits for the duration. Once, says Berry, in what would be a devastating error, he tried to mail a picture to his son rather than throw it away. Because in the photo his son's hat was tilted to one side, the officers gave Berry a disciplinary ticket, allegedly for participating in gang-related activity.

"My heart dropped to my knees," he says, "I told them, 'ya'll let this picture in here!'"

The violation earned him a ticket to "seg" for six months -- months that were tacked onto his sentence, which had been reduced for "good time." The decision meant that Berry's sentence would effectively be extended, forcing him to miss his youngest son's college graduation. "I was thinking, 'You missed the eighth grade graduation, you missed the high school graduation, you've got to make this college graduation," Berry recalls. According to Denise, prison officials told her that if she could get proof that the people in the picture -- Berry's brother, Michael, his oldest son, Reggie Jr, and Willie Ware Jr., his nephew -- were not affiliated with gangs, they would reconsider his punishment. "I had to obtain their birth certificates," she says. Denise went to 28th Ward Representative Anazette Collins's office, as did the three men, with their IDs. Their efforts proved futile. In the end, she says, "all this was compiled and sent to Tamms and they did nothing.


Berry's son, Joe, graduated in May of 2006. Berry got home four months later. "I missed my son's graduation," he said, "and it crushed me.


Long-Term Effects

A 2007 Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP) report lists family ties as integral to rehabilitation and successful re-entry into the general community. However, for many Tamms inmates, the lack of phone access, a prohibitive visitation process, and the distance from Chicago, where two-thirds of Tamms inmates are from, makes it nearly impossible to maintain those ties. The scheduling and approval process at Tamms requires weeks of planning and multiple rounds of paperwork. If a visitor arrives late for their appointment, they are forced to begin the process all over again. With no public transportation near the site, the process become more than some people can handle -- or realistically afford.

The BoP also cites access to educational and vocational programs -- especially for minority populations -- as another key element in prisoner rehabilitation. Yet no such opportunities exist in supermax prisons, other than upper-level, self-guided study for the few inmates who have "earned" it.

According to a March 2008 study published in Prisons Journal, "the rapid expansion of the supermax has occurred despite no empirical evidence substantiating its effectiveness or value." Yet Tamms is just one portion of the billions of dollars that have been invested in supermax prisons. IDOC officials confirmed that they do not collect separate recidivism [or return] statistics for Tamms prisoners -- an alarming admission for prisoners, their families, and the broader community that many critics say points to a massive cover-up surrounding the human cost of supermax facilities.

As Paul Beachamp, a Tamms prisoner since 2002, puts it, "What happens when you lock up a dog in a cage for years at a time and constantly harass the dog and treat it bad while it's in the cage? Do you actually think that dog will act right once you let it out?" Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Corrections and Rehabilitation, issued a similar warning before a Senate hearing in 2006. "The experiences inmates have in prison -- whether violent or redemptive -- do not stay within prison walls, but spill over into the rest of society," he said. "Federal, state, and local governments must address the problems faced by their respective institutions and develop tangible and attainable solutions.


Meanwhile, a range of alternative responses have yet to be explored. A 2006 national survey of 601 prison wardens, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and administered by the Urban League, showed 62.5% of wardens agreeing or strongly agreeing that "staff training" would be an "effective alternative to supermax prisons." It was the number one choice selected in the survey. Other popular alternatives, in order of preference, were to "use segregation cells in each prison facility," "provide targeted rehabilitative services," and "provide opportunities for spiritual development.


Prison activists across the country are working to shed light on this. Enlisting the support of lawmakers and lawyers who share their concern over the treatment of supermax prisoners -- and the rationale behind it -- they are fighting for legal precedents that would bring more services to supermax prisons, grant prisoners more mobility and opportunity and, ultimately, shut the facilities down. The Tamms Year Ten Campaign is one such coalition; it recently persuaded the Illinois House of Representatives to hold a hearing, scheduled for April 28th, to consider arguments for and against the effectiveness and legality of Tamms.

Reginald Berry is part of that movement in Chicago, organized under the banner of the Tamms Ten Year campaign, which works to draw attention to the 88 prisoners who have been at Tamms since the day it opened its doors. Today, in addition to raising awareness of conditions inside supermax prisons, he's also working to cut off the "school-to-prisons pipeline" in his community by sharing his experiences in Tamms with Chicago teenagers, through an organization he founded, "Saving Our Sons.


Berry's work is one of the reasons he counts himself among the lucky ones. After spending eight years in a facility where he was told he would have to "relinquish everything, even your personality," Berry has done more than survive; he has thrived, and he is fighting back. Within the current debate over state-sanctioned torture abroad, his voice is an important reminder of the cruel, unusual, and too-often ignored contradictions of our own criminal justice system.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


BOSTON -- Representative Barney Frank says he's going to file a bill
when Congress is back in session to legalize "small amounts" of marijuana.

Frank made the announcement late Friday on the HBO show "Real Time,"
hosted by Bill Maher.

He told Maher his bill would remove all federal penalties for the
possession or use of small amounts of marijuana, but he didn't define
"small amounts."

Frank said it's time for politicians to catch up with the public. He
said locking people up for smoking marijuana is "pretty silly."

Frank said he'd filed a similar bill in the Massachusetts state
legislature in the 1970s. He said he'd call the federal legislation
the "Make Room for Serious Criminals" bill.

Newshawk: news as printed - the no spin zone
Pubdate: Sun, 23 Mar 2008
Source: Times Argus (Barre, VT)
Copyright: 2008 Times Argus
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)

Friday, March 21, 2008


> AS HE TROOPS about Europe, with notebook and camera crew, guidebook
> author Rick Steves witnesses what the late historian Barbara Tuchman
> called "The March of Folly," the sites of wars and witch hunts waged
> by feckless rulers.
> Steves has come home with a mind to take on our leaders' folly, the
> federal government's enduring, woefully unsuccessful War on Drugs,
> and the battle front against marijuana.
> He would replace a strategy of locking people up with a policy
> designed to lessen harm. It's a lot like the "Four Pillars" approach
> to drug use adopted by Vancouver, B.C.: treatment, harm reduction,
> prevention and -- for profiteers of the business -- enforcement.
> "I'm just tired of watching people embrace lies because they think it
> is dangerous to do otherwise," Steves explained.
> The futility of the drug war, started by the Nixon administration,
> can be seen in sweeping statistics as well as individual cases of human hurt.
> The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that 97.8 million
> Americans, age 12 and older, have used marijuana at least once. The
> ranks of semi-regular smokers total more than 25 million.
> If 39.8 percent of those over 12 have taken a toke, the number of
> young people getting high is higher. The DEA says that totals 41.8
> percent of 12th-graders -- 31.7 percent have smoked in the past year
> -- 46.9 percent of college students and 56.7 percent of young adults.
> Can our drug warriors claim success given these figures?
> Steves says officials abroad shake their head at the ham-handed
> tactics of America's drug bureaucracy. "Europe has had a 15-year
> track record dealing with drugs as a health problem, not a crime
> problem," he said.
> Or drive 144 miles north and talk with Canadian Sen. Larry Campbell,
> a former police officer, coroner and Vancouver mayor. "They're still
> in 'Reefer Madness,' " Campbell said in an interview, referring to a
> laughable anti-drug movie of the 1930s.
> The drug warriors' tactics, of late, have been to attack civil
> liberties and stomp on privacy.
> An example is requiring random drug tests for those involved in high
> school athletics. In a case from tiny Wahkiakum County, the state
> Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week against the school
> district's policy of pee-to-participate.
> Bill Clinton quibbled, waffled and evaded the
> have-you-ever-smoked-pot question far into the 1992 campaign. He
> finally put the country in stitches with his "I didn't inhale" line.
> But our first baby-boomer president signed a punitive law passed in
> 1995 by the Republican-controlled Congress. The law denies federal
> student loan assistance to convicted marijuana "offenders."
> What's the effect? In 2006, 696,074 Americans were arrested for
> marijuana "offenses." Of this number, 88 percent were charged only
> with possession. The number charged with sale and/or manufacture
> totaled just over 90,000.
> Hence, thousands of college students have been denied aid, and
> thousands of other worthy citizens endure petty penalties.
> A friend of mine works summers for the National Park Service, and
> wants to make a career with the agency. He is a) an Eagle Scout, b)
> an Olympic Peninsula native, c) a trained climbing guide and rescue
> technician who d) has earned two master's degrees, and e) presents
> research at scholarly gatherings on how to minimize human effects on
> fragile natural systems.
> One step remains: He must take a law enforcement course. Because he
> took a toke on a joint two years ago -- and answered the question
> honestly -- the guy must wait an additional year to learn how to
> shoot straight.
> The have-you-ever question has not intruded into the 2008
> presidential campaign. A Hillary Clinton enforcer tried to gin up
> attention into Barack Obama's confession of youthful marijuana use,
> but was forced to leave the campaign.
> Still, as Hendrik Hertzberg wrote recently in The New Yorker, neither
> Obama, Clinton nor John McCain seems willing to rescue the country
> "from the larger disgrace of the drug war -- the billions wasted, the
> millions harmed, the utter futility of it."
> As usual, the initiative must come from the bottom up. As with global
> warming, Seattle is a test market for change.
> It's appropriate. In 2003, Seattle voters adopted Initiative 75,
> making pot possession our city's lowest law enforcement priority.
> Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske cites, with a hint of pride, the low
> number of stand-alone marijuana smoking arrests.
> The American Civil Liberties Union has put together a multimedia
> public education campaign, "Marijuana: It's Time for a Conversation,"
> which includes a Web site (, a booklet and
> a 30-minute video. Steves is host.
> Comcast is offering the video free to subscribers through its On
> Demand service. Comcast subscribers can watch the program by entering
> 888 on their cable remote, going to Community, and looking for the program.
> It's a modest beginning. Steves jokes about hosting because a
> politician would run the risk of being "Swift-boated."
> One hopes, however, that the ACLU will get bolder.
> The marijuana front consumes $8 billion in taxpayer dollars each
> year. To what end? What does society gain from all those possession arrests?
> Sensible Americans look out today and see a country that needs to be
> extracted from its failing wars.

> Newshawk: Please Write a LTE
> Pubdate: Fri, 21 Mar 2008
> Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
> Webpage:
> Copyright: 2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
> Contact:
> Website:
> Details:
> Author: Joel Connelly, P-I Columnist

DEA Raiding Los Angeles Right Now!

Medical marijuana access under attack: The DEA is raiding in Los Angeles now

Armed federal agents are raiding medical marijuana dispensing collectives in your area as I write this. This is the latest assault on seriously ill patients' access to their medicine, and Californians' right to determine their own medical marijuana policies. If you are able to, please head down to the site of the raid to denounce it.

Protest the raids of Los Angeles dispensing collectives at the following locations:

441 1/2 E. 16th St.

4427 1/2 Crenshaw Blvd.

1321 E. Compton Blvd.

14102 S. Vermont Ave.

As details become available, MPP will send out a more detailed alert. If you are able to join the protest against the raid now, please do so immediately. (This e-mail was sent at approximately 12:30 p.m. PST on March 20, 2008.) Also, please read our follow-up alert to learn the details of this latest federal assault on California's medical marijuana law and how you can help stop future raids.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


CA Supreme Court Affirms ASA Win!
Appellate ruling that local police must uphold state law
is now binding statewide

Dear ASA supporter,

On Wednesday, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) quietly scored one of the most important legal victories since voters approved Proposition 215, when the California Supreme Court decided not to review or de-publish last year’s landmark return of property decision in Garden Grove v. Superior Court. By affirming the appellate court’s decision, the Supreme Court has made protection against wrongful seizure of medical marijuana legally binding throughout the state of California.

ASA needs your help right now to make the most of this victory and to keep fighting for patients’ rights. Please take a moment right now to join ASA or make a special contribution?

Last year, the California Court of Appeal ruled that state law enforcement could not use federal law as an excuse for not upholding California’s medical cannabis laws – therefore police must return medicine wrongfully seized from legal patients. ASA filed the successful appeal on behalf of Garden Grove patient Felix Kha in hopes of stemming the tide of hundreds of wrongful confiscations of medicine all over California. Our November victory should have ended the debate about “enforcing federal law,” but the decision was quickly appealed to the State Supreme Court.

As a result of literally hundreds of cases of wrongful medical marijuana confiscation, and careful legal planning and research, ASA’s legal team strongly defended the rights of Felix Kha and others like him. The whole process took more than two years! Think for a moment how lucky we are to have a dedicated legal team at ASA working full time to defend patients’ rights.

This victory would not have been possible without the ongoing and generous support of people like you – people who believe in the right to legally use medical cannabis in California. But now what? We need to make sure that the more than 250,000 legal patients, and thousands of attorneys and public defenders are sufficiently educated about patients’ rights and protection from medicine confiscation to which patients are now entitled. We also need to educate police officers, prosecutors, and judges. We need to tell this story in the media to end patient harassment and to ensure that police no longer hide behind the excuse that marijuana is illegal under federal law.

We can do all of this and press on to new victories for patients if we have your continued support! Please take a moment to join ASA or make a new pledge of monthly support right now. Your gift of $20, $50, or more per month will help us make the most of this case and finally succeed in defending patients’ rights to medicine. Please do it today, so we can keep fighting!

Thank you in advance for your generosity,

Don Duncan
California Director
Americans for Safe Access

P.S. For more information, please see ASA's page about the Garden Grove case.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Patients out of Time/ Jacqueline Patterson


CONCORD - In a stunning development, the House of Representatives
voted Tuesday to decriminalize possession of up to a quarter-ounce of

Currently, possession of this small amount equal to about seven or
eight joints can result in up to a year in jail or $2,000 fine. The
typical punishment is a large fine.

The amended bill makes it a violation rather than a criminal
misdemeanor with a fine of up to $200.

The 193-141 vote came over the strong opposition of a House policy
committee and law enforcement officials. Rep. Jeffrey Fontas,
D-Nashua, said it's unfair young students lose their federally
financed aid for college after any drug conviction.

"How can we expect young people to get back on the right path if we
take away every opportunity to do so?" Fontas said.

Rep. John Tholl, R-Whitefield, said the measure was fraught with
unintended consequences.

For example, someone who possessed the small amount of marijuana and
decided to share it with a friend could be charged with a felony.

Anyone caught transporting this small amount of marijuana could still
be subject to a jail term, said Tholl, who is the part-time police
chief in the North County town of Dalton.

"If you send a message to the young people of our state that a
quarter ounce of marijuana is no big deal, like a traffic ticket,
what you are doing is you are telling them we are not going to be
looking at this very hard," Tholl said.

Gov. John Lynch is opposed to the measure and will urge the state
Senate to reject it, according to press secretary Colin Manning.

"This sends absolutely the wrong message to New Hampshire's young
people about the very real dangers of drug use. That is why the
governor joins with the House Criminal Justice Committee and law
enforcement in opposing this bill," Manning said.

"If the bill were to reach the governor's desk, which seems very
unlikely, the governor would veto it."

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Foster, D-Nashua, said the measure is
dead on arrival.

"I know of no interest in the Senate on either side of the aisle to
entertain this," Foster told reporters. "The governor has expressed
his view, but I don't think he will see it coming to him."

Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston, a strong, law enforcement advocate,
said this form of criminalization was modest compared to past bills.

"I have to admit I never thought I would be up here speaking for the
amendment," Welch said.

If adopted, New Hampshire would become the 12th state to repeal
crimes for marijuana possession, starting with Oregon in 1973, and
most recently Nevada, which passed its law in 2001.

Other states to have made possession of small amounts a violation
include Maine, New York, California and Minnesota.

Though this bill is unlikely to become state law, the House vote
marks a major victory for a grass roots group who has worked on
decriminalizing or legalization of marijuana for the past three years.

"Our representatives in the House did the right thing for New
Hampshire and especially for New Hampshire's young people," said Matt
Simon of the NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy.

"It's time for the Senate to finish the work we've started here and
bring some sanity to our marijuana sentencing policies."

The original bill would have decriminalized five times as much as
this approved bill did. Supporters sought to sharply reduce the
amount after it received a lot of early opposition to it.

Rep. Jason Bedrick, R-Windham, said he became an advocate for it
because it still makes possession of any amount illegal.

It does not change motor vehicle laws that consider driving while
under the influence of any illegal drug a misdemeanor crime with
license suspension for at least 60 days.

"The question today is not whether marijuana should be illegal, but
whether a teenager making a student decision should face up to a year
in prison and loss of all federal funding for college," Bedrick said.

Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, opposed the measure, but was not surprised
40 GOP members supported it.

"I heard several Republicans say they were for it because they
thought it could lead to less overcrowding and less spending for our
jails," Hunt said.

The GOP breakdown was 94-40 against it.

House Democrats broke for it by a count of 153-46 with the House's
lone independent member against it.



Bill No. HB 1623

SPONSORS: Reps. Jeffrey Fontas and Andrew Edwards, D- Nashua.

DESCRIPTION: Decriminalizes the possession of up to one quarter of
one ounce of marijuana to a violation that carries a $200 fine.
Currently, possession is a criminal misdemeanor that can result in up
to a year in county jail and/or fines up to $2,000.

STATUS: The House of Representatives approved the amended bill, 193-141.

Newshawk: news as printed - the no spin zone
Pubdate: Wed, 19 Mar 2008
Source: Telegraph, The (Nashua, NH)
Copyright: 2008 Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Kevin Landrigan, Telegraph Staff
Cited: NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Marijuana and Driving)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Americans for Safe Access*
*For Immediate Release:* March 18, 2008

*Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Testify Today at Taxpayers' Hearing in
*/Patients and their providers pay more than $100 million in sales tax
/*Sacramento, CA *-- More than a half-dozen medical marijuana dispensary
operators from across the state will testify today at 1:30pm before the
State Board of Equalization (BOE) at its Taxpayers' Bill of Rights
Hearing. Dispensary operators from southern and northern California,
joined by medical marijuana advocates, will be in Sacramento to discuss
their significant contribution of $100 million in annual sales tax
revenue to an ailing state budget. While sales tax on medical marijuana
clearly benefits the fiscal health of the state, that funding is
threatened by increased interference from the federal government.

*What:* Medical marijuana dispensary operators and advocates testify
at the Board of Equalization's Taxpayers' Bill of Rights Hearing
*When:* Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 1:30pm
*Where:* Hearing Room 121 at the BOE, 450 N Street in Sacramento
*Why:* Medical marijuana annual sales tax revenue of $100 million is
threatened by continued federal interference
*Who:* Testimony will be heard from dispensary operators in Los
Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, Berkeley, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz

"Medical marijuana dispensaries are doing their best to comply with
state law," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access
(ASA), one of the advocacy groups testifying today. "One hundred million
dollars annually in sales tax revenue is not small change," continued
Hermes. "However, by continuing to shut these facilities down, the
federal government deprives the state of this money at a time of fiscal

According to recent estimations by multiple advocacy groups,
California's hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries contribute to
the state budget at least $100 million annually in sales tax revenue.
The State of California began collecting sales tax revenue from medical
marijuana dispensaries in October 2005, after a policy decision that
year by the BOE. However, the same facilities that are expected to
comply with this policy are currently under attack by the federal

Enforcement tactics by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
have had a devastating impact on dispensaries in California. In 2007
alone, the DEA raided more than 50 medical marijuana dispensaries in at
least 10 different counties across the state. Also, in 2007, the DEA
launched a new tactic in its attempts to undermine state law by
disseminating more than 300 letters to landlords of dispensaries,
threatening the property owners with criminal prosecution and asset
seizure if they continued to lease to dispensaries.

"The sales tax collected by medical marijuana dispensaries in one year
could fund the construction of two large schools or 2,000 elementary and
high school teachers," said ASA Chief of Staff Rebecca Saltzman. "By
robbing California of this much needed revenue, the federal government
is not only harming thousands of patients that rely on this medicine, it
is also impeding the state's ability to fund critical aspects of its

The federal government's efforts to undermine California's medical
marijuana law have not gone unnoticed by local and state lawmakers.
Letters from concerned local officials in 2007 prompted U.S. House
Judiciary Chair John Conyers to issue a statement in December expressing
his deep concern and calling for DEA oversight hearings. Since then,
Mayors from Oakland and Santa Cruz, as well as the Berkeley City Council
and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, have all registered their
opposition to federal enforcement against medical marijuana. In
addition, State Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) introduced SJR
20 earlier this year, calling for an end to federal interference and
urging Congress and the President to establish policy consistent with
the compassionate use laws of California. Most recently, in February,
former BOE Chair Betty Yee co-authored an opinion piece with Senator
Migden harshly criticizing DEA tactics in California, emphasizing the
harm to both patients and the state.

Further information:
ASA Fact Sheet on Sales Tax:
Copy of State Senate Joint Resolution 20, calling for an end to DEA
BOE notice sent to dispensaries in 2007 alerting them to the new sales
tax policy:
Opinion piece by Betty Yee & Carole Migden:

# # #

With over 30,000 active members in more than 40 states, Americans for
Safe Access (ASA) is the largest national member-based organization of
patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens
promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and
research. ASA works to overcome political and legal barriers by creating
policies that improve access to medical cannabis for patients and
researchers through legislation, education, litigation, grassroots
actions, advocacy and services for patients and the caregivers. *

Let's talk about marijuana

THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION of Washington is launching a multimedia
public-education campaign on the country's marijuana laws and their impact
on taxpayers, communities and those arrested. As part of that effort,
"Marijuana: It's Time for a Conversation," hosted by travel writer Rick
Steves, airs this month on local stations and is available free to Comcast
On Demand subscribers in Western Washington. For more information:

A College student loses his financial aid because of a youthful
indiscretion. A woman coping with the ravages of ovarian cancer lives in
fear of being arrested for using what best eases her suffering. Across town,
a front door bursts open and police rush in to handcuff a man relaxing in
his living room.

These events have one thing in common: marijuana. Whether it is being kicked
out of college for a youthful mistake, being denied relief from pain as a
cancer patient, or getting arrested for personal use in one's home,
marijuana laws have far-reaching consequences.

And these consequences are often totally disproportionate to whatever
societal risk or danger marijuana use may pose.

So, can we talk?

I think we should. As a nation, we spend at least $7.5 billion annually
enforcing our marijuana laws. In 2006, the latest year for which we have
numbers, a record 830,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana — 89 percent
of them simply for possessing it.

Our criminal-justice system wastes time and resources with these low-level
marijuana-possession cases while half our violent crimes go unsolved. And
those facing the judge are disproportionately African American and Latino.

A recent report to the Seattle City Council on Initiative 75 — which made
the adult personal use of marijuana the city's lowest law-enforcement
priority — showed people of color are still far more likely to be arrested
than whites, despite similar rates of marijuana use.

Unjust and uneven enforcement is just one of the ramifications of treating
marijuana use as a criminal matter. Noted physician and pharmacologist John
Morgan has said, "The most dangerous thing about marijuana is to be arrested
for its possession or use."

Indeed, the consequences of an arrest for even a small amount of marijuana
can haunt someone for the rest of his or her life. We have met and heard
from people who lost or were denied jobs, had their homes raided and their
property seized, lost child-visitation rights, and had their medical
marijuana confiscated.

Ironically, we've been down this path before. Prohibition didn't stop people
from drinking. Instead, it created gang warfare between bootleggers over the
profits to be made. Sound familiar?

We realized Prohibition was creating a lot of new problems and solving few,
if any, of the old ones. States now control alcohol sales and consumption.
And our tax dollars are more effectively directed at regulation, public
education and treatment for those whose use becomes problematic.

As parents, we want to shield our children from harm and reserve certain
choices for when they are old enough to understand the risks and
repercussions. Certainly, this is as true of marijuana as it is of alcohol
and tobacco. But just as certainly, and as most teenagers will tell you, it
is easier for them to buy marijuana than beer or cigarettes. Our marijuana
laws don't work. I know it. You know it. Scores of our neighbors know it.

But no one is talking. Most of us have our own ideas about what should be
done, but this has to be a decision that we make as a community. Too much is
riding on this issue not to have an honest, candid discussion. Please join
us in the conversation.

By Kathleen Taylor

Special to The Times

Kathleen Taylor is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties
Union of Washington.

Copyright (c) 2008 The Seattle Times Company

Friday, March 14, 2008

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey

Premiere airing on The History Channel April 20, 2008

Plant Explorer Richard Evans Schultes was a real life
Indiana Jones whose
discoveries of hallucinogenic plants laid the
foundation for the psychedelic

Now in this two hour History Channel TV Special, his
former student Wade Davis,
follows in his footsteps to experience the discoveries
that Schultes brought to
the western world.

Shot around the planet, from Canada to the Amazon, we
experience rarely seen
native hallucinogenic ceremonies and find out the true
events leading up to the
Psychedelic Sixties.

Featuring author/adventurer Wade Davis ("Serpent and
the Rainbow"), Dr. Andrew
Weil, the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir and many others,
this program tells the story
of the discovery of pey ote, magic mushrooms and
beyond: one man's little known
quest to classify the Plants of the Gods.

Richard Evans Schultes revolutionized science and
spawned another revolution he never


Peter von Puttkamer


Wade Davis (writer)
Peter von Puttkamer (writer)

Court ruling limits employment drug testing

Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, March 14, 2008
(03-13) 17:47 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- A city can't
require all job applicants to be tested for narcotics
and must instead show why drug use in a particular job
would be dangerous, a federal appeals court ruled

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San
Francisco ruled against the city of Woodburn, Ore.,
which argued it was entitled to maintain a drug-free
workplace by requiring job candidates to be screened
for drugs and alcohol.

The city was sued by Janet Lanier, whose job offer as
a part-time page at the city library was withdrawn in
2004 when she refused a drug and alcohol test. A
federal judge ruled the policy unconstitutional and
awarded Lanier $12,400 in damages and $44,000 in legal
fees, her lawyer said.

The appeals court said Thursday that the judge's
ruling went too far, because the city may be able to
justify drug-testing of applicants for some jobs. But
the court found no basis to test applicants for
library positions.

Federal courts have upheld mandatory drug screening
for jobs in which performance "may pose a great danger
to the public," the appeals judges said. They cited
Supreme Court rulings allowing drug testing of
railroad crews after accidents and of customs agents
who search others for illegal drugs.

Another appeals court has upheld drug testing of
applicants to teach school in Tennessee, noting
teachers' duty to look after students' well-being.

But the Ninth Circuit court said Woodburn's rationale
for universal screening - that drug use is a serious
social problem affecting the performance of any job -
was rejected by the Supreme Court in 1997 when it
struck down Georgia's requirement that all candidates
for public office undergo narcotics testing to show
their commitment to the war on drugs.

The Supreme Court said the state was requiring testing
for purely symbolic reasons, which was not enough to
avoid the constitutional requirement that a search
warrant be based on evidence of wrongdoing.

The same reasoning applies to a city's drug testing of
applicants for everyday jobs with no connection to
safety or security, Judge Pamela Rymer said in the 3-0

nline resource

To read the ruling, go to

E-mail Bob Egelko at

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dear Fellow Reformer,

I am excited to announce that the Drug Policy Alliance Network (DPA’s lobbying arm) is sponsoring a ballot measure in California that represents the biggest sentencing and prison reform in United States history.

The Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act (NORA) is unprecedented in scope and magnitude. It will transform California's dysfunctional, $10-billion-a-year prison system, reversing its rampant and costly expansion. NORA will, within just a few years, reduce by tens of thousands the number of people unjustly and unnecessarily incarcerated, while maintaining public safety. At the same time, it will provide a comprehensive model for a public health approach to substance use.

Success in California will transform the drug policy reform landscape nationwide!

At a time when one in 100 adult Americans is in prison, California faces a prison overcrowding crisis that may be the worst in the nation. The system is at 175% of capacity. This is due in large part to excessive incarceration of nonviolent offenders, many of whom are drug law violators. Overcrowding has been exacerbated by the state's failure to provide meaningful recidivism-reduction programs, including addiction treatment and other rehabilitation services.

NORA will change that. First, the measure builds on California's successful treatment-instead-of-incarceration program, Proposition 36. That law, which DPA Network helped to write and pass in November 2000, generated more than $1.5 billion in net savings in just seven years, reduced the number of nonviolent drug law offenders behind bars, and was not associated with any increase in crime. Tens of thousands of additional nonviolent offenders would qualify for similar diversion programs under NORA, dramatically reducing the number of people unnecessarily locked up while decreasing the likelihood of recidivism.

The measure would also make low-level marijuana possession an infraction--equivalent to a traffic ticket--rather than a misdemeanor, a sentencing change that could affect 40,000 people a year and conserve millions of dollars in court resources for other, more serious cases. To further help young people struggling with substance abuse, NORA provides dedicated funding of about $65 million per year to build a system of care that would offer treatment to at-risk youth.

Besides helping youth and people who have been arrested for nonviolent drug offenses, NORA would dramatically expand rehabilitation services for people in prison and on parole, and prohibit the return to prison of nonviolent offenders who commit minor violations of parole. Spending on these programs, which are proven to reduce crime and recidivism, will be more than paid for by reductions in prison and parole costs. NORA is projected to save at least $2.5 billion on future prison construction costs, too, by rendering new prisons unnecessary.

This comprehensive and cost-effective reform package, with a focus on a public health approach to substance use problems, would do more than benefit California--it would serve as a model for states across the country.

Years of research, experience and insight went into the drafting of the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act. Daniel Abrahamson, DPA Network’s director of legal affairs and co-author of the initiative, led the collaborative effort. DPA Network thanks the many individuals and agencies who worked with us on its creation, particularly the Campaign for New Drug Policies, co-sponsor of the measure with DPA Network.

We encourage all reformers to learn about and support the measure by visiting DPA Network's website or by contacting Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, DPA Network’s Southern California regional director.


Ethan Nadelmann
Executive Director
Drug Policy Alliance Network


If you're called for jury duty, let the lawyers and judges know up
front that you're not going to send non-violent drug offenders to jail.

That provocative piece of advice comes from the creators of my
all-time favorite television show, "The Wire," which ended its
five-year run on HBO Sunday.

"If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or
federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence
presented," the writers of the show declare in a recent Time magazine essay.

The essay is signed by David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun reporter
who created the series; Ed Burns, a Baltimore cop-turned-teacher who
became Simon's co-creator; William F. Zorzi Jr., another former Sun
reporter (who also plays a Sun reporter named Bill Zorzi on the
show), and best-selling crime novelists Dennis Lehane, George
Pelecanos and Richard Price.

"Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended
violence are alleged, we will ... no longer tinker with the machinery
of the drug war," they write. "No longer can we collaborate with a
government that uses non-violent drug offenses to fill prisons with
its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens."

Although I have some reservations, I've learned enough as an
urban-affairs journalist to know that they make a powerful and
persuasive argument. The war on drugs too often has become a war
against poor people.

That theme is being driven home with bracing clarity and authenticity
on "The Wire," which is more than a cop show. It's really about the
two Americas left behind to coexist uneasily in the social rubble
that departing factory jobs left behind.

Simon and Co. say they were moved to write by the show's fans who
became invested in the lives of characters like Bubbles, the junkie
struggling to get straight, and Dukie, the dropout outcast who slides
into junkiedom. We few, say the writers, we captivated few who made
up the series' loyal audience, flooded the writers with one question:
What can we do?

Having talked in recent months with almost all of the essay's
authors, I know how frustrating they have found that question to be.
Kids get killed, addicted or jailed. Politicians get elected. Lawyers
get rich. Jails get filled. The drug war goes on. Drug arrests soar
without a noticeable decline in drugs.

In Baltimore, Simon and Co. note, arrests for drugs have soared
during the last three decades while arrest rates for murders have
dropped by half. In other words, serious crimes against lives and
property are going unsolved in a system that encourages police to
spend time snatching minor drug arrests off the nearest corner.

Even former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, a former federal
prosecutor, suggested that decriminalization would cause fewer
problems than the drug war was causing. In that spirit, "The Wire"
writers advocate what Simon has called a "paper bag" approach to
minor offenders. In the real world of the streets, putting your beer
can in a paper bag frees the cops to look the other way and go after
more serious crooks instead of arresting you for illegally drinking in public.

With lawmakers unwilling or unable to repair the drug war's damage,
Simon and Co. invite juries to look the other way by exercising their
right to nullify a law they see as unjust or unwise.

Jury nullification dates back in English law to the Magna Carta. It
refers to a rendering of a verdict by a trial jury that refutes the
judge's instructions as to the law or its application in a particular
case. In a historic 1735 trial in the colony of New York, journalist
John Peter Zenger was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor.

If enough members of the public signal their disapproval of a law by
refusing to enforce it, they might bring about its repeal. That's a
happy thought, as long as it is not taken too far. As a rule, it
still is better to pass laws in legislatures than in courtrooms.

It is also a good idea, before releasing people for non-violent
offenses, to check to see whether they have histories as violent
offenders and tendencies to do it again. Many do.

Yet, there is much that we should do to help today's at-risk youth
and small-time criminals avoid becoming big-time criminals. For
example, we can support neighborhood programs, many of which are
church-based, that do a good job of putting kids on the right road.
After all, the one thing that is so unsettling about the wasted lives
portrayed on "The Wire" is our knowledge that they're not all fiction.

Newshawk: Kirk
Pubdate: Wed, 12 Mar 2008
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2008 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Clarence Page

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

As A People/Rip Suzuki

Music video for As A People


Mark Morford
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Do you have any sympathy for the police? Or the feds?
I mean, just a little? I do.

I figure you gotta muster at least a little compassion
for how rough and dispiriting it must be knowing
you've done your job well and worked your butt off and
maybe even risked your life, spending every single day
for two years straight following leads and compiling
evidence and coordinating a large drug investigation
across multiple enforcement agencies, all of which
finally culminated in a successful bust of some very
large meth operations.

And maybe you even made headlines by nailing a
notorious drug-making family that was capable of
cranking out upward of 20 pounds of meth a month, and
you were maybe lauded by the media and applauded by
your boss and glad-handed by the local mayor and
perhaps, even for a moment, felt as if something truly
good had been accomplished.

And then, well, then you turn around and realize it's
all pretty much a big, nasty joke. Pointless,
senseless, quite nearly useless, that what you've done
really makes no difference whatsoever. And what's
more, it never really has.

Is it not brutally true? Is this not pretty much the
norm now, the common wisdom, going on nearly 40 years
of the modern and abysmal war on drugs, hundreds of
billions spent, countless thousands of lives ruined,
prisons overflowing and yet we're still a nation
that's more illegal-drug happy than ever?

ain: yes. gain: no.

Sometimes you just have to ask. Because, truly, this
grand and insidious war must be one of our greatest
national embarrassments, an enormous, unspoken
failure, far worse in its way than the lost and
disgusting war in Iraq, given how it's caused more
misery and more pain and more destruction across
multiple decades and nations and governments and
continues to cost countless billions and yet has, as
all stats and studies reveal, almost zero effect on
the overall drug culture of the nation.

This was the example just recently, a little news
story that blipped across the wires saying how
investigators had finally busted a big meth ring from
San Francisco to San Jose, and though there wasn't
much detail, it was still enough to make you say,
"Wait a minute: Two years of investigating? Hundreds
of officers involved in the raids? One family alone
capable of producing 20 pounds of meth a month? That's
amazing. Yay, team. Yay, justice."

And it leads to the obvious question: Did it make any
difference? Is a baggie of meth any more difficult to
obtain right now than it was a month ago? Or is it all
merely the equivalent of trying to stop a raging river
with a fork? You already know the answer.

idiculous illogic

Maybe what's most confounding is the ridiculous
illogic of it all, how study after study proves that
the threat of arrest and punishment, no matter how
severe or lethal, has never been the slightest
deterrent to drug production, dealing or usage - save,
of course, for your average easily petrified assistant
manager who won't go near the pot pipe at the office
Christmas party because, oh my gosh, that stuff's
illegal and what if the cops come and take away my

It's all as amusing as it is tragic and pathetic. How
much we hate those swarthy terrorists! How much we
decry corrupt dictators and cruel governments! Yet the
U.S. government conspires and funds and works with
brutal warlords and terrorists and enormously corrupt
governments all over the world every single day
"fighting" the flow of illegal drugs (even as we're
often complicit in that flow), the vast majority of
which are less dangerous and violence-inducing than
good ol' all-American alcohol. Hypocrisy, thou art

Let me be clear. I am no pro-drug, legalize-everything
advocate (well, not completely). I enjoy illicit
substances on occasion, but I'm also aware of why they
call meth the devil's drug, the most insidious and
destructive of all soul killers, given its lethal
combo of chemical toxins and addictiveness and
white-trash bargain-basement affordability.

Nor do I doubt that drug-dealer culture, as a direct
result of the war, gets incredibly violent and
dangerous and makes for some mean streets indeed. I
live mere blocks from notoriously drug-dealeriffic
housing projects, where crime and gunfire and death
are pretty much weekly occurrences.

But something is deeply wrong with the overall
equation. There's something rotten and rather pitiable
about how we still consider punishment and
imprisonment the supreme solution, and it's evidenced
by every stupid comment I read from otherwise
well-meaning adults who respond to drug-bust stories
by sneering, "Yes! Lock them up for life! Kill all
drug dealers! They are ruining neighborhoods!
Destroying families! Scum must die!," all in a
typical, low-grade, George Bush, eye-for-an-eye,
pseudo-cowboy mentality, with not the slightest wisp
of a thought as to why drugs are so appealing, what
forces are at play in the human heart and mind, how
all those billions would go so much better for
prevention and treatment - and, oh yes, the idea that
those very dealers are the ones supplying their
friends and neighbors with coke for the next backyard

It is, you can say with a heavy sigh and a heavy heart
and a madly tangled mind, just one of those things.
One of those enormously uncomfortable and
disheartening situations in American society that
keeps eating at our national soul, simply because no
one, particularly not the politicians we hire to speak
up and put a stop to such idiotic hypocrisy, has the
nerve to speak up and put a stop to such idiotic

It is like farm subsidies. Like oil monopolies. Like
waterboarding. Like Homeland Security and big tobacco
and Dick Cheney. Everyone with the slightest
intelligence knows it's a huge failure. Everyone knows
it's a scam, a brutal lie, that it destroys far more
than it helps. And yet on it goes. It can make you
want to tear out your hair and wail at the moon. Or,
you know, start doing drugs.

-- Mark Morford columns with inset links to related
material can be found at

Mark Morford's column appears Wednesdays and Fridays
in Datebook and on E-mail him at

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


The 1936 anti-drug movie "Tell Your Children" - more commonly known as "Reefer Madness" - fol-lows the destructive paths of several young people who become "addict-ed" to marijuana through wild par-ties thrown by pushers.

Looking back on the movie with the knowledge we have today of the effects of marijuana, "Tell Your Children" is more of a joke than a cautionary tale about the dangers of drug use. We have a feeling lat-er generations will think the same thing about some of the ways gov-ernments are attempting to fight the so-called "war on drugs" today.

A cold sufferer can no longer stop by the corner drug store and pick up the most effective decongestant. Many popular brands contain a key ingredient that can be used in cooking methamphetamine so the feds have restricted the amount a person can buy at one time. Stores now must keep it behind the phar-macy counter and make people ask for it.

In place for a few years now, the restrictions haven't lowered the amount of meth on the streets. As an effective tool in reducing U.S. drug use, it has been a failure.Another government attempt to cut down on drug use has been laws that ban the sale of "drug par-aphernalia." Of course, pot smok-ing hasn't gone away. Users simply found other common objects that could be used. Banning things doesn't keep them from people who want them. But governments never seem to learn this lesson.

Now Chicago's City Council is considering a ban on the use sale and possession of tiny self-sealing plastic bags often used to package small quantities of drugs. Accord-ing to a news report in the Chicago Sun-Times, Alderman Robert Fio-retti got the idea for the ban after he picked up a dozen or so bags off the ground in a stroll through a city park. He wrote the ordinance and is guiding it through the City Coun-cil.

Language in the proposal would outlaw "self-sealing plastic bags un-der two inches in either height or width." Setting aside the previously men-tioned fact that bans don't work, the next problem is that the law would be easy to circumvent. A blogger dis-cussing the issue on one site wrote that now he'd have to start buying his drugs in larger quantities.One council member expressed concern that innocent people could be caught up in the ban. He told the members that similar bags are used to hold extra buttons and jewelry. Crafters and other hobbyists use them to store small items they use.

Not to worry, he was told, lan-guage in the bill says '"one reason-ably should know that such items will be or are being used' to pack-age, transfer, deliver or store a con-trolled substance," the Sun-Times story said. Store clerks will appar-ently be asked to be mind readers and discern the future uses of the bags they sell, and if they're wrong, they face $1,500 fines.

In a stunning display that those running the drug war don't have a clue, Lt. Kevin Navarro, who heads up the Chicago Police Department's Narcotics and Gang Unit, called the proposal an '"important tool' to go after grocery stores, health food stores and other businesses." That's a relief; grocery stores are such an important link in the drug trade. Another council member backed the ban, saying it's a desperate mea-sure to address what he called "the most destructive force" in the city's neighborhoods.

He almost has it right. "The most destructive force" in his city and others isn't drugs; it's the drug war that drives up the price of drugs and makes dealing them so attractive to criminal elements.The drug war isn't working. It's time for officials to stop worrying about being tagged with the soft-on-crime label and take courageous steps to re-evaluate a failed policy.

Newshawk: chip
Votes: 0
Pubdate: Tue, 11 Mar 2008
Source: Jacksonville Daily News (NC)
Copyright: 2008 Jacksonville Daily News

Monday, March 10, 2008

Outrageous Anti-Pot Lies: Media Uses Disgraceful Cancer Scare Tactics

By Paul Armentano, AlterNet
Posted on March 10, 2008, Printed on March 10, 2008

On Tuesday, January 29 -- three days prior to the
publication of a forthcoming study assessing marijuana
use and cancer -- Reuters News Wire published a story
under the headline: "Cannabis Bigger Cancer Risk Than
Tobacco." Mainstream media outlets across the globe
immediately followed suit. "Smoking One Joint is
Equivalent to 20 Cigarettes, Study Says," Fox News
declared, while Australia's ABC broadcast network
pronounced, "Experts Warn of Cannabis Cancer

If those headlines weren't attention-grabbing enough,
one only had to scan the stories' inflammatory copy --
much of which was lifted directly from press
statements provided by the study's lead author in
advance of its publication.

"While our study covers a relatively small group, it
shows clearly that long-term cannabis smoking
increases lung-cancer risk," chief investigator
Richard Beasley declared. Beasley went on to speculate
that pot "could already be responsible for one in 20
lung cancers diagnosed in New Zealand" before warning:
"In the near future we may see an 'epidemic' of lung
cancers connected with this new carcinogen."

The mainstream press, always on the look out for a
good pot scare story, ran blindly with Beasley's
remarks. Apparently not a scribe among them felt any
need to confirm whether Beasley's study -- which
remained embargoed at the same time it was making
worldwide headlines -- actually said what was claimed.

It didn't.

For those who actually bothered to read the study's
full text, which appeared in the European Respiratory
Journal days after the global feeding frenzy had
ended, they would have learned the following. Among
the 79 lung cancer subjects who participated in the
trial, 70 of them smoked tobacco. These individuals,
not surprisingly, experienced a seven-times greater
risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer compared to
tobacco-free controls. As for the subjects in the
study who reported having used cannabis, they -- on
average -- experienced no statistically significant
increased cancer risk compared to non-using controls.

So how'd the press get the story so wrong? There are
several reasons. First, beat writers based their
stories on a press release rather than the study
itself. Unfortunately, this is a common practice used
by the mainstream media when writing about
cannabis-related science. More often than not, media
outlets strive to publish their reports prior to a
study's publication -- a desire that all but forces
reporters to write about data they have never seen.
(Likewise, as a marijuana law reform advocate I'm also
frequently asked by the press to comment on studies
that are not yet public, though I typically choose not

Second, the media chose to selectively highlight data
implicating cannabis's dangers while ignoring data
implicating its relative safety. In this case, the
study's authors (and, by default, the worldwide press)
chose only to emphasize one small subgroup of
marijuana smokers (those who reported smoking at least
one joint per day for more than ten years). These
subjects did in fact, experience an elevated risk of
lung cancer compared to non-using controls. (Although
contrary to what the press reported, even the study's
heaviest pot smokers never experienced an elevated
comparable to those subjects who reported having "ever
used" tobacco.) By contrast, cannabis consumers in the
study who reported light or moderate pot use actually
experienced a decreased cancer risk compared to
non-using controls. (Bottom line, the sample size in
all three subgroups is far too small to draw any sound

Finally, the mainstream media failed to employ its own
institutional memory. For example, some 18 months
earlier The Washington Post and other newspapers
around the world reported, "The largest study of its
kind has unexpectedly concluded that smoking
marijuana, even regularly and heavily, does not lead
to lung cancer." That study, performed by researchers
at UCLA, assessed the potential association between
marijuana smoking and cancer in over 2,200 subjects
(versus only 324 in the New Zealand study), and
determined that pot smoking was not positively
associated with cancers of the lung or upper
aerodigestive tract -- even among individuals who
reported smoking more than 22,000 joints during their

Prior large-scale population studies have reached
similar conclusions. For instance, a NIDA (US National
Institute on Drug Abuse) sponsored study of 164 oral
cancer patients and 526 controls determined, "The
balance of the evidence does not favor the idea that
marijuana as commonly used in the community is a
causal factor for head, neck or lung cancer in adults"
and a 1997 Kaiser Permanente retrospective cohort
study of 65,171 men and women in California found that
cannabis use was not associated with increased risks
of developing tobacco-use related cancers -- including
lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer,
colorectal cancer, or melanoma. In fact, even the
prestigious National Academy of Sciences, Institute of
Medicine says definitively, "There is no conclusive
evidence that marijuana causes cancer in humans,
including cancers usually related to tobacco use."
(Tellingly, when I referred various reporters to these
prior studies, I was consistently told that this
information was irrelevant because they were assigned
to write "only about this study.")

In short, had the mainstream media even taken the time
to consult their own prior marijuana coverage, they
would have immediately begun asking the sort of
probing questions that the public normally expects
them to. Of course, such hard and steadfast rules
governing professional journalism seldom apply to the
media' coverage of pot -- where political ideology
typically trumps accuracy and where slipshod reporting
hardly ever even warrants a public retraction. Writing
in the journal Science nearly 40 years ago, New York
state university sociologist Erich Goode aptly
observed: "[T]ests and experiments purporting to
demonstrate the ravages of marijuana consumption
receive enormous attention from the media, and their
findings become accepted as fact by the public. But
when careful refutations of such research are
published, or when latter findings contradict the
original pathological findings, they tend to be
ignored or dismissed."

How little has changed.

Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director of NORML and the
NORML Foundation.