Reefer Madness: Top 10 Joints
1) No Help for Hemp Our favorite North Dakota farmers were back in federal court, again trying to get the Drug Enforcement Administration to butt out of plans to cultivate non-narcotic industrial hemp on family farms. Farmers Dave Monson (a veteran Republican state lawmaker) and Wayne Hauge (a seed dealer and certified public accountant) argue that the feds have no jurisdiction over intrastate cultivation of the non-narcotic cousin of the evil weed marijuana. The DEA argues that although portions of the cannabis plant are exempted from federal regulation, hemp is still cannabis, and under its purview, hemp is dope, and dope is illegal. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule on the matter early this year.
2) APD Finally Cites and Releases More than a year after state lawmakers affirmed a police officer's right to allow certain low-level misdemeanants to be cited instead of jailed, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo finally announced that the Austin Police Department too would implement the "cite-and-release" law. The law does not change the possible penalties for a list of minor offenses – including possession of up to 4 ounces of pot, driving under a suspended license, and minor graffiti and theft – but does allow police to issue only a citation. The Travis Co. Sheriff's Office helped craft the law and implemented it in September 2007 – it took APD a year to get with the program.
3) U.S. Elects Admitted Pot Smoker Yes, it's true: Barack Obama actually inhaled. And snorted some coke too, back in the day. Now he's president.
4) Weed Wins Big In both Michigan and Massachusetts, where marijuana reform issues had prominent places on the ballot, reform scored bigger on Election Day than did the former toking president-elect. Voters made Michigan the first Midwestern state (13th in all) to legalize medi-pot for ill patients with 63% of the vote, 6 points more than went to Obama. In Massachusetts, 65% of voters approved a measure to decriminalize adult possession of up to an ounce of pot; 62% went for Obama. Reformers say the big wins mean that pot reform is no longer a fringe issue.
5) Pot Arrests Peak ... Again The War on Drugs hit another low in September with the FBI's annual crime stats: In 2007, law enforcement agencies arrested 775,137 pot smokers for possession. In contrast, police last year made a total of 597,447 arrests for all violent crimes – including murder, rape, and robbery.
6) And Walters Chases Unicorns The FBI stats didn't impress drug czar John Walters (head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy). Last September, he declared: "The fact is today, people don't go to jail for possession of marijuana." Finding someone in jail for first-time possession is like "finding a unicorn," he said, and offered a steak dinner to anyone who proved him wrong. Walters' pronouncement unleashed a flood of online responses, including lists of folks who had, indeed, been to the pokey for first-time possession. Steak still awaited.
7) Bogart Holder Although Obama has said he favors eliminating mandatory-minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug offenses, he disappointed many by tapping former Clinton-era Department of Justice No. 2 Eric Holder to become attorney general. While U.S. attorney for D.C., Holder advocated increased penalties for pot possession and sought to make pot-selling a felony. Under Holder's (defeated) 1996 plan, a first-time pot offender would've received an 18-month sentence, while possession with intent to distribute would've netted five years. What position he'll take as attorney general on drug prosecutions – and on pot-law enforcement in medi-pot states – remains to be seen.
8) Supremes Leave Medi-Pot Alone The U.S. Supreme Court in December refused to hear the appeal of a California court ruling concluding that federal pot prohibition does not pre-empt the state's medi-pot law. The 2007 ruling came for a Garden Grove man who was charged with pot possession even though he was a registered medi-pot patient. The charge was dismissed, but the police refused to return his seized pot – the court ordered the police to return the stash under state law. The Supremes allowed that interpretation to stand – which should help strengthen enforcement of the medi-mari laws in 13 states where it is legal.
9) U.S. Ranks First in Drug Use We're No. 1! Even before the Summer Olympics, the U.S. was already taking home the gold – for drug use. When it comes to tobacco, pot, and cocaine, the U.S. far outpaces the rest of the world, the World Health Organization reported in June in the first cross-national drug-use study. According to the report, 42% of Americans said they'd smoked pot – far outpacing even the Netherlands, at 19.8%. The U.S. also took the gold for coke use, with 16.2% of respondents having tried the drug – New Zealand came in a distant second at 4.3%.
10) John Forté Granted Clemency In November, President George W. Bush granted clemency for hip-hop artist John Forté, sentenced in 2001 under mandatory-minimum sentencing to 14 years for cocaine possession. Forté was tapped for possession with intent to distribute about $1.4 million in liquid cocaine, of which he insisted he was unaware. With the help of Carly Simon (with whom Forté has performed) and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah (a prolific songwriter), Bush agreed to release him.