Weed Watch

An overview of the latest developments on drug policy across the nation

Weed Watch

The latest salvos in California's ongoing battle over the legality of medical marijuana have pitted California Attorney General Bill Lockyer against federal Drug Enforcement Administration head Asa Hutchinson. Over the past year the DEA has engaged in numerous raids and seizures of medical marijuana dispensaries operating legally under California law.

The situation reached a fever pitch after the DEA last month raided the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana dispensary in Santa Cruz, reportedly a well known and well operated dispensary aiding numerous sickly and terminally ill patients in the area. A day later, Lockyer penned a letter to Hutchinson and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft asking for a face-to-face meeting with the two G-men and requesting that the DEA leave California's legal marijuana cooperatives alone.

"I must ... question the ethical basis for the DEA's policy when these raids are being executed without apparent regard for the likelihood of successful prosecution," Lockyer wrote. "Conversations with DEA representatives in California have made it clear that the DEA's strategic policy is to conduct these raids as punitive expeditions whether or not a crime can be successfully prosecuted." Further, he noted that Santa Cruz's WAMM was working closely with local law enforcement to ensure marijuana distribution met the state's legal requirements, and is hardly the kind of operation that endangers the public.

Yet Lockyer's arguments -- and request for a meeting -- have apparently fallen on deaf fed ears. In a letter penned by Hutchinson on Sept. 30, the DEA administrator told the California AG: "As long as marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, [the DEA] will continue its enforcement efforts targeting groups and individuals involved in its distribution." Further, Hutchinson reiterated the federal government's attack on the idea that marijuana could ever be considered medicine. "Your repeated references to 'medical' or 'medicinal' marijuana illustrate a common misperception that marijuana is safe and effective medicine," he wrote. "The scientific community has never determined this to be the case." According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, Lockyer spokeswoman Hallye Jordan said that her boss is happy the feds took the time to write back. "At least we're talking," she said.

Meanwhile, the embattled Nevada marijuana initiative, which seemed poised for disaster just weeks ago, appears to be back on course. The initiative, known as Ballot Question 9, would turn Nevada's drug laws from some of the most restrictive in the country to the most relaxed. It would decriminalize marijuana possession of up to three ounces and provide for the legal, regulated sale of the drug, akin to the regulation of alcohol and tobacco. The state's largest law enforcement group initially endorsed the measure before flip-flopping and recanting its support under internal and political pressure. The initiative's poll numbers fluctuated with these travails, but now, even without law enforcement approval, Ballot Question 9 seems in favor again, with 56% of registered voters polled Sept. 26 saying they planned to vote yes, the Drug Reform Coordination Network reports.

Up in Columbia, Mo., home of the University of Missouri, student activists with the local chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy are seeking to decriminalize possession of up to 35 grams of pot and legalize the use of medical marijuana in that fair city. With help from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the students have drafted a petition currently circulating that would make possession punishable only by a $25 fine for a first offense. Repeat-offense fines would increase up to $500 for a fourth offense. SSDP organizer Amy Fritz said the group has until mid-December to gather 1,191 signatures needed to present the measure to the Columbia City Council. Fritz said the organizers currently have nearly 500 signatures. If the council refuses to act on the measure, she said, it would automatically go to the voters in April 2003.

From the Dept. of Downright Scary, DRCNet reports that the Pentagon has been exploring the possibility of using sedative drugs to knock out unruly crowds. Documents related to this federal research were obtained by the chemical and biological weapons arm of the watchdog group Sunshine Project, after a Freedom of Information Act request. According to the group, the Pentagon has been researching the use of "calmatives" to control rioters and other unruly protestor types for at least two years. As part of their information request, the Sunshiners received a 50-page report from Penn State University noting that the calmatives are both "achievable and desirable," and that drugs such as Valium should be researched further.

According to the DRCNet, Edward Hammond of the Sunshine Project told the Associated Press that the drugging plan violates federal laws against using chemical weapons. "Beyond being a horrible idea, it's illegal," he said. "If the U.S. is going to denounce countries around the world for violating chemical and biological arms control treaties, it better make sure its own house is in order first." For more info, go to www.sunshine-project.org.

The proposed draconian anti-raver legislation, SB 2633 -- the Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act, has lost two key sponsors. The RAVE Act had appeared on the legislative fast track earlier this month, but wide protest from the ACLU and various student and drug policy reform groups has slowed the bill's course. Last week Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, withdrew his support, closely following by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The RAVE Act, sponsored by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, seeks to extend the purview of the infamous "crack house" laws (also shepherded by Biden) and would potentially hold concert promoters and venue property owners liable for any drug use that occurs on their property. With the recent defections, only one Senate Democrat, Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, remains in steady support of the measure, while the Act's GOP supporters -- Utah's Orrin Hatch, Iowa's Charles Grassley, and South Carolina's Strom Thurmond - continue to stand firm.

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