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Naked City

Drug Money, PATRIOT Games

August 13, 2004, News

The U.S. attorney in Seattle has charged 15 people with "bulk-cash smuggling" under the USA PATRIOT Act for moving more than $3 million to Canada as part of a cross-border marijuana operation. Moving more than $10,000 from the country without reporting the transfer is illegal, reports The Seattle Times. But the cash-smuggling provision of the PATRIOT Act has strengthened that law – taking it "out of being just a reporting violation to be a ... trafficking-type offense," Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg told the newspaper.

Before PATRIOT, the offense was punishable by a fine; now it's a felony that carries up to five years in the federal pen and possible forfeiture of the money. The feds are not alleging the pot smugglers had any terrorist connection, the Drug Reform Coordination Network reports. But Greenberg said that use of the PATRIOT Act was still appropriate: "They're trying to get money from here to support crime somewhere else, so it's a way to crack down on that," he said.

In other marijuana-related news, a Nevada district judge has blocked state officials from taking any further action that might bounce from the ballot a citizen initiative that would regulate the legal sale of marijuana to adults. The ballot initiative failed to be certified for the November ballot after supporters first misplaced 6,000 signatures, followed by Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller's decision to throw out thousands of voter signatures for various technicalities. The Marijuana Policy Project and the Campaign to Regulate and Control Marijuana – the groups sponsoring the initiative – and the ACLU of Nevada sued in federal court, in an attempt to overturn Heller's decision.

The groups argue that Heller used "a raft of unreasonable, purposeless and unconstitutional restrictions" to prevent certification of the measure – including a provision that requires petitioners to secure signatures from 10% of the voters in 13 of the Silver State's 17 counties. This rule has already been struck down by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the DRCNet reports. In effect, the organizers' attorneys argue, the scheme violates the one-person, one-vote rule – it's "primarily an equal protection argument," attorney Sarah Netburn told the DRCNet. "We are arguing that the one-person, one-vote rule bars state laws that give different weights to different voters." Heller also tossed the otherwise valid signatures of people who'd registered to vote on the same day that they'd signed the petitions.

On Aug. 2, U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan issued a temporary restraining order until a final decision can be made. The two sides are set to meet in court Friday (Aug. 13). Initiative supporters note that the struggle is primarily about constitutional rights and not simply about marijuana. "Many thousands of voters have been effectively disenfranchised," said MPP spokesman Bruce Mirken. "However you feel about marijuana, that should not happen." – Jordan Smith

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