Top 10 2007 Joints
1) Down With Crack On Nov. 1, the first step toward eliminating the draconian 100-to-1 crack-to-powder-cocaine federal sentencing ratio took effect, cutting crack-related federal sentences by an average of 16 months for most defendants. On Dec. 11, officials made the downgraded sentences retroactive for all federal prisoners – nearly 20,000 inmates, almost 10% of the entire federal population. Beginning March 3, more than 2,500 will be eligible to apply for early release. If Congress would eliminate the same disparity from the mandatory-minimum sentencing scheme, there would really be something to celebrate.
2) Hold Those Handcuffs To ease county jail overcrowding, HB 2391 – authored by Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, and carried by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo – downgraded a host of minor crimes, including minor marijuana possession, to ticket-only offenses, offering police the option to write citations for possession of up to 4 ounces of pot. The Travis Co. Sheriff's Office is on board, estimating that last year some 7,000 people were booked for the offenses listed under the new law – along with pot possession, criminal mischief, graffiti, and misdemeanor theft. APD is officially still pending.
3) Ron "Hemp" Paul for President Surfside Republitarian Rep. Ron Paul is unique, and consistent – especially on most issues of personal liberty (excepting, alas, women's reproductive rights). He's the only member of Congress with the guts to call the drug war a failure, and to support industrial hemp farming. For the second time, he filed the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, which would return the environmentally friendly rotation crop to the nation's agricultural landscape. "This could be something to help the economy," he told us last spring. "Any kind of problem that we deal with, if there's no violence and no harm done, then it should be left to the people to decide." Amen!
4) NoDak Hemp Lands in Federal Court The quest of North Dakota farmers to cultivate non-narcotic industrial cannabis on their family farms ramped up this year, with farmers Wayne Hauge and Dave Monson (a veteran Republican state lawmaker) filing a federal suit to get the DEA to butt out of their agriculture: NoDak has enacted strict hemp-farming regulations, and that should be enough. In November a federal district judge ruled that although he had little faith the DEA would really consider the farmers' bid to grow the crop, federal law does indeed give the agency oversight over hemp operations – it would be up to Congress, he ruled, to change that. Monson and Hauge appealed in December.
5) Drug War Censorship According to a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court majority led by Chief Justice John Roberts, speech that invokes the bogeyman – drugs! – is not protected, at least at a "school-sanctioned" event. An Alaska teen, Joseph Frederick, was handed a 10-day suspension for unfurling a banner that read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" during the 2002 Olympic torch relay. School officials claimed the right to censor any speech that "advocates" drug use – though Frederick insisted his banner was simply a political message. The Supremes, like good vice principals everywhere, brought the hammer down.
6) Raich Fights On After five years of legal wrangling, famed California medi-pot patient/advocate Angel Raich announced in May that she would drop her appeals. Raich, plagued by illnesses including an inoperable brain tumor and wasting disease, wanted only to secure her right to use medi-mari in compliance with state law. After a string of defeats affirmed the feds' right to prosecute her for toking up to alleviate her pain, Raich decided she'd had enough. She insists she will battle on elsewhere, lobbying Congress to extend compassion to millions of seriously ill patients.
7) Barr vs. Barr In March, the Marijuana Policy Project announced its newest Capitol Hill lobbying heavyweight: former Georgia GOP Rep. Bob Barr. Sweet smokin' Jesus! Barr, of the eponymous Barr Amendment, which threatened Washington, D.C., residents with losing all federal funding should they be so bold as to enable an approved citywide medi-pot law, suppressing the will of 70% of district voters. Last year Barr joined the Libertarians, and will now be lobbying to repeal his own amendment. Welcome to the bright side, Bob.
8) Judge Says Grow More Pot In an exhaustive February legal opinion, DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner agreed that University of Massachusetts professor Lyle Craker should be allowed to grow research-grade pot inside his secured lab. Craker initially filed an application to grow dope back in 2001, but his bid was stalled by DEA bureaucracy. Bittner ruled there's only a minimal risk that Craker's dope would move into the black market and that medical researchers need another source for consistent-quality weed. (The University of Mississippi currently grows all fed-approved research pot.) But Bittner's ruling is nonbinding, and the DEA has made no move to approve Craker's application.
9) Needle Exchange Gets Stuck She's not a doctor – nor, thankfully, will she be a state rep much longer – but in May, Rep. Dianne Delisi's quackery derailed the Legislature's proposal to create an anonymous needle exchange program, supported by doctor and Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville. San Antonio Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon revived a version that would create a pilot program, which has stalled thanks to Bexar District Attorney Susan Reed, who is also afraid of needles. Whether the program would violate state law regarding possession of drug paraphernalia is a question for Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office is expected to release its opinion early this year.
10) NORML Goes Corporate Early last year the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws put on its blue suit and partnered with software designer Jian to offer a model corporate human-resources policy to cover off-the-clock marijuana use – aka an "enlightened" employee marijuana policy. In February, the granddaddy of pot policy organizations teamed up with former D.C. politico Webster Hubbell to get into the risk racket, writing life insurance policies for casual pot smokers. If they "make the market," says NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre, NORML may also forge onward into the health and disability insurance markets.