The Austin Chronicle

Marijuana Coast to Coast

By Jordan Smith, July 8, 2009, 4:52pm, Newsdesk

So far it's been a hot summer for marijuana-law reformers across the country. The action has been particularly hoppin' in California where the quest to have the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis 2010 initiative placed on next year's ballot has brought out the reasoned and the loony alike.

Here's a quick review of what's happened in recent weeks:

Backers of the RCTC2010 measure have been hard at work, crafting the proposed language for the initiative. The goal is to legalize (under state law only, mind you) possession of up to one ounce by adults over 21, and to allow for taxation, regulating the drug much like alcohol. Cities would retain local control, allowing them to opt out of the tax-and-regulate measure – maintaining a prohibition on growing, buying and selling – but would not have the option of making illegal use and possession.

The Drug Law Blog has an interesting interview with initiative proponent Richard Lee here.

In support of the measure, the Marijuana Policy Project rolled out this national ad, which notes that California's budget woes could be helped (significantly) by taxing the millions of marijuana consumers living there – indeed, the ad claims, revenues from pot could pay for the salaries of 20,000 teachers.

The ad started running today – but didn't hit the airwaves without a fit of controversy: Apparently the ad was rejected by several NBC and ABC affiliates – including in San Francisco. San Francisco! Seriously! Why? According to the San Francisco Chronicle the broadcasters are worried that the spot advocates drug use. Please. (Regardless, the ad began running today across the state on CNN, Headline News, MSNBC and CNBC, the Chronicle reports.)

Moving to the East Coast, it looks like voters in Washington, D.C., might finally be moving toward getting what they've wanted for more than 10 years: Implementation of a medi-pot law voters overwhelmingly passed in 1998. That's right, members of the House appropriations subcommittee in charge of handling D.C. funding issues voted yesterday to remove the so-called Barr Amendment, which would strip the District of funding if residents try to implement any of a series of social programs – including needle exchange and medi-mari laws.

The amendment was named for then-Republican Georgia Rep. Bob Barr who was so irritated by the 70% approval of the medi-pot measure by District voters that he wrote an amendment to punish the city, which relies on Congress for its budget, by stripping it of all its cash if officials tried to implement voter will. So far the amendment has worked – even though Barr himself has changed his tune, disavowed the measure, and in 2007 signed on as a lobbyist for MPP.

While campaigning, President Barack Obama pledged support for needle exchange and said he'd lift barriers to it under federal law, but when the question of the Barr Amendment came up earlier this year, he backed away. That apparently isn't stopping Congress from acting -- even though medi-pot foes tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to put the Amendment back in the District's funding bill. Whether the funding bill will make it to Obama's desk sans Barr restrictions – and whether he'll sign it – remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, back in California, on July 1, a panel of the state's 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled that a legal medi-pot patient and grower may sue police and seek monetary damages for illegally raiding property and destroying dope.

In the case at issue, David Williams, a member of a growing collective in Butte County, had his home raided by police without a warrant and, although his paperwork was in order, was ordered by a deputy to destroy 29 of the 41 plants he was growing – or face arrest. He destroyed the plants, avoided jail, and then sued. He won. The county appealed, however, arguing that Williams could only use his status as a legal medi-pot patient under California law as a defense in a criminal case, not as the basis of a civil suit. In other words, "if [he] believed he was lawfully cultivating all 41 marijuana plants, his only option under the law was to refuse to remove the plants and to prove the legality of the patient collective in criminal court," the court wrote.

Not so, the appeals court opined: "Williams posits causes of action based on his constitutional right to due process, a right growing out of the administration of criminal law, the very subject of the Act," the court wrote. "Nor do we see the floodgates opening and lawsuits flooding our burdened court system as a result of Williams' suit. Instead, we see an opportunity for an individual to request the same constitutional guarantee of due process available to all individuals, no mater what their status, under the state Constitution," the court continued. "The fact that this case involves medical marijuana and a qualified medical marijuana patient does not change these fundamental constitutional rights or an individual's right to assert them."

Take that Butte County.

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