The States vs the People on America’s West Coast
The people have declared the Drug War over, but state governments just keep onfighting.
Arizona’s government just says “No” to the will of thepeople
Even though the people of Arizona solidly passed comprehensive drug law reforms in a referendum last November, Governor Fife Symington and the state legislature have been doing everything they can to thwart the will of the people.
No Legal Prescription
On April 21, Governor Symington signed a bill which essentially overturns Proposition 200, by limiting the prescription of Schedule 1 drugs to those that have been approved by the DEA. Of course if the DEA approved them then they wouldn’t be on Schedule 1 any more, which is the whole point.
No Tax Stamps
One week later Governor Symington passed a bill striking down Arizona’s tax stamp law, which required anyone selling marijuana to obtain a dealer’s license and tax stamps from the State Department of Revenue.
The law was originally passed in 1983, to enrich state coffers by making it easy to charge marijuana sellers with tax evasion. However, in 1995 a judge dismissed charges of trafficking against NORML activist Peter Wilson, because he had paid the taxes and was therefore immune from further prosecution.
A great many marijuana tax stamps were sold in the months following Wilson’s trial, and a number of other Arizona activists had trafficking charges dismissed after presenting their tax stamps.
No Release of Prisoners
A few months earlier, Governor Symington signed an “emergency bill” which stopped the release of about 1000 prisoners incarcerated for the possession of a controlled substance, another aspect of Proposition 200. Symington openly dared voters to sue him for refusing to comply with the referendum.
Yes for Democracy
Phoenix surgeon Jeffrey Singer, who campaigned for Proposition 200, has taken the Governor up on his offer. His organization has changed its name to “The People Have Spoken” and is filing a lawsuit which challenges the legislature’s authority to overturn voter-approved propositions.
Besides the lawsuit, the group is also collecting signatures to get another three referendums on the ballot in November 1998. One would reverse the recent state bill, the second would force the state to release all people convicted of possession of any controlled substance, and the third would prohibit the state government from altering initiatives until two years after they have been passed.
Sam Vagenas, former campaign coordinator for Proposition 200 and currently working with The People Have Spoken, said “the politicians have repeatedly said that the people of Arizona are stupid. We’re going to prove that the people are not so dumb after all.”
Washington to vote on Medicalization of drug policy
In Washington, state activists have submitted well over the 180,000 signatures necessary to have their initiative placed on the November ballot.
Washington’s “Drug Medicalization and Prevention Act” is modeled on Arizona’s Proposition 200. It will permit doctors to recommend Schedule 1 substances to seriously ill patients, allows judges to parole or mandate drug treatment for anyone convicted of simple possession, and it requires that anyone who commits a violent crime while under the influence of drugs must serve all of their sentence without parole. This last point is apparently there to placate the prohibitionists.
Although the measure is not as progressive as either the California or Arizona propositions, it ought to directly benefit anyone charged with simple possession, and also provide a legal defence of “medical necessity” for anyone with a valid doctor’s recommendation. Local activists claimed to be “absolutely confident” that the initiative will qualify for the November ballot, and that “the citizens of Washington will agree that drug abuse is first and foremost a public health crisis and should be dealt with as such.”
Although the idea of mandatory drug treatment has many worrisome overtones, the whole thing still seems like a step in the right direction. One wonders however, how long it’ll be until someone gets an initiative on the ballot confirming that some drug use can actually provide positive and enlightening experiences, and that imprisoning anyone for consuming anything is just plain wrong.
Oregon Abandons Decrim for greater Search &Seizure
Oregon could once boast that it had some of the most liberal marijuana laws in the US, and that it had led the nation when it was the first American state to decriminalize the possession of marijuana in 1973.
Those halcyon days are gone for now however, for on July 2 Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber signed a bill to recriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.
The Governor admitted that he wasn’t keen on the prospect of locking up the state’s pot smokers, and offered the less than comforting explanation that “this measure has less to do with the possession of marijuana than it does with expanding the powers of search and seizure.” Thanks John, we’re sure that Oregon’s pot smokers will be sleeping easier.
Oregon activists have until October 4 to collect 48,000 signatures from state voters. This would stop the new law and force the issue to a statewide referendum.
In addition, activist Paul Stanford of the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp continues to promote the “Oregon Cannabis Tax Act” a state initiative effort to allow the sale of marijuana in state liquor stores. The Act would also permit prescription of medical marijuana and allow farmers to grow industrial hemp.
The remaining nine decriminalized states, where possession of marijuana only nets a ticket and a fine, are California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio.
California cops bust first medical growhouse
The biggest news from enlightened California is the bust of medical marijuana activist Todd McCormick, who was arrested on July 29 for being in a “multi-million dollar Bel-Air mansion” with about 5000 pot plants in various stages of growth.
The top five vertebrae of Todd’s neck are fused. He has one hip the size of the 25-year-old man he is, another hip the size of a ten-year-old ? the age he was when bone-cancer radiation treatment stopped that hip from growing. Even if his cancer never returns, the fused vertebrae cut his life expectancy in half.
Todd was held in jail, without access to his prescribed medical marijuana, until August 12. The astounding $500,000 bail demanded by the judge was paid by the hemp-friendly Woody Harrelson.
Todd’s friend and co-author Peter McWilliams suffers from both aids and cancer, and is now also suffering from police harassment. He reports that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s helicopter has taken to circling his house at low altitude. McWilliams is working on a book with Todd, and is also the author of the excellent book “Ain’t Nobody’s Business if you Do” which you should purchase and read if you haven’t already.
Todd’s arrest is the first reported medical marijuana patient arrested at either the state or federal level since the passage of California’s Proposition 215.
Although Jay Leno’s made a few jokes about it, this story hasn’t hit the media in a big way yet. Rest assured that it’s going to.
To find out more about developments in US state drug laws, contact the US National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws: NORML, 1001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 1010, Washington DC 20036;
tel (202) 483-5500; fax (202) 483-0057;