Weed Watch

Apperson's disappearing act

It appears at least one hard-line drug warrior – Jay Apperson, a former U.S. attorney turned counsel for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee's Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security subcommittee – has been canned as a result of U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner's memogate dustup last month. On July 10, the Chicago Tribune reported that Sensenbrenner's office sent a letter to the Department of Justice and to 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Joel Flaum, demanding that the court resentence a convicted drug defendant to a harsher term in prison. According to Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the court incorrectly sentenced a defendant to 97 months in the federal pen as opposed to the 120 months that Sensenbrenner says would've been the appropriate mandatory term for the convicted drug courier. "I ask that all necessary and appropriate measures be taken … to ensure that the [legal] precedent … is followed," Sensenbrenner wrote on June 23.

Unfortunately, Sensenbrenner's communication with the judge and the prosecutors, and lack thereof with defense lawyers, violated not only court rules, but also House ethics rules that prohibit private communications with judges on pending legal matters (not to mention possibly breaching the federal separation of powers). Sensenbrenner was also deadass wrong about the law. After receiving the nasty letter, the court amended its opinion in the matter to include the relevant legal precedent that guides sentencing decisions. (As it turns out, federal prosecutors didn't seem to mind the 97-month sentence, since they never appealed the case after the original sentencing.) "That Sensenbrenner sent that letter was truly jaw-dropping," Harvard Law professor Carol Steiker told the Drug Reform Coordination Network. "It was completely out of line. It violated House rules and it violated legal rules."

At the time the memo was made public, Apperson, who initially alerted Sensenbrenner to the "lenient" sentence and who actually wrote the letter to which Sensenbrenner signed his name, told the Tribune that the letter was perfectly fine: "We can't have judges violating the law," he said. Sensenbrenner spokesman Jeff Lundgren backed up his colleague, explaining that the failure to send the letter to defense counsel was merely an "oversight," reports the DRCNet. Nonetheless, the DRCNet reports that Apperson has now left the building – a circumstance that no one in Sensenbrenner's office apparently feels compelled to comment upon. (As of July 29, the office had yet to respond to DRCNet's numerous requests for comment – including whether Sensenbrenner still thinks the letter was a great idea.) Apperson's departure is good news for drug reformers; among his notable moments in drug war history was his attack on a federal judge who dared to question the lack of judicial discretion in federal sentencing. Through the House Judiciary Committee, of which Sensenbrenner is chair, Apperson subpoenaed the Reagan-appointed judge, threatening legal action if he failed to answer for his apparent thought crime. But though Apperson may be out of the picture, Sensenbrenner is still around – tossing his weight in favor of über-draconian drug war legislation such as the spring's HR 1528, the niftily titled Defending America's Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act. HR 1528 would create a whole host of stricter mandatory minimums for drug crimes – including a man-min sentence of 10 years for any adult, 21 and up, who sells more than 5 grams of marijuana to anyone under 18, and a three-year man-min sentence for parents who are aware of drug trafficking activities near their children but do not report the alleged activity to police within 24 hours. (Fortunately, the hideous measure has been stalled in the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health since late April.)

In other drug- and incarceration-related news:

Two former Ogilvy & Mather ad executives have been sentenced to prison and fined for defrauding the White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy. As "Weed Watch" reported last year, O&M finance director Thomas Early and former senior partner Shona Seifert were indicted for overcharging the government for work on the ONDCP's impotent $1.2 billion anti-drug ad campaign. In part, the two were found to have altered time sheets, which resulted in the feds paying for 3,100 hours of work that had never taken place, reports the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Seifert was sentenced to 18 months in the pen and fined $125,000; Early was sentenced to 14 months and fined a cool $10K.

It's been about a month since the sudden flare up of political indignation over the consumer sale of lollipots – cannabis-flavored lollipops, sour candies, and other confections made with an extract from marijuana flowers. The candies are not a new product, do not contain any THC – or any other psychoactive ingredient for that matter, unless you consider sugar a mind-altering substance – and they are not illegal. That, however, hasn't stopped a handful of politicians from decrying the confections as nothing more than a way to entice children into a druggie lifestyle – including Texas Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, who authored legislation during the last special session that would ban the sale of any confection containing any marijuana derivative. (Alas, the pot candy crisis didn't make the list of special session topics.) Also on the grandstanding politicians list is the Illinois Attorney General's Office, which subpoenaed records from Tony Van Pelt, proprietor of California-based Chronic Candy, which has sold the lollipots under the tag line "every lick is like taking a hit" for six years. Although no one from the AG's office had called Van Pelt to talk about the apparently offensive marketing, Van Pelt flew to Chicago to hand-deliver the records himself. Since then, he said this week, he hasn't heard another peep out of the Illinois officials. "I gave them everything they asked for," he said, "and I haven't heard anything from them in a couple of weeks." He's taken the "taking a hit" tag off the company Web site (www.chroniccandy.com), after being told in Chicago that the official righteousness had something to do with the tagline being (somehow) deceptive consumer marketing. "Hey, Red Bull doesn't give you wings," Van Pelt says, "but I [still] drink plenty of it."

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