Supreme Court Arguments Expose Plight of Immigrants Deported Over Minor Marijuana Convictions

March 31st, 2010 6 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases that questioned a harsh federal law requiring the deportation of non-citizens who are convicted of certain crimes, including minor drug violations.

Media reports on those whose lives hang in the balance over these decisions have included one horror story after another about people who in many cases were legal residents of the United States for decades, but were forced to endure brutal treatment and threats of deportation, simply for minor marijuana convictions.

Among the most egregious:

  • Jerry Lemaine, a legal permanent resident of New York who was instructed by a lawyer to plead guilty after a police officer found a marijuana cigarette in his pocket one night in 2007. That guilty plea led to a terrible chain reaction, as reported by The New York Times: “Immigration authorities flew him in shackles to Texas, where he spent three years behind bars, including 10 months in solitary confinement, as he fought deportation to Haiti, the country he had left at age 3,” The Times reported yesterday.
  • Jose Padilla, a native of Honduras who followed his lawyer’s advice to plead guilty to transporting marijuana. Federal agents told Padilla, a Vietnam veteran who has lived in Kentucky for many years, that he faced automatic deportation as soon as he pled guilty.

In the case of Padilla, the court ruled 7-2 today that lawyers must inform their clients about the consequences any case would have on their immigration status.

No opinion was given on the justness of punishing someone for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol.

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Aaron Houston Argues for Marijuana Reform on Fox News

March 30th, 2010 2 Comments Kate Zawidzki

MPP spokesperson Aaron Houston debates Heritage Foundation’s Ernest Istook on the benefits of ending marijuana prohibition and how it would adversely affect the profits of Mexican drug cartels. 03/29/2010

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Prohibition, Tax and Regulate

Officials Being Coy About Extent of Drug Cartels’ Influence

March 29th, 2010 23 Comments Kate Zawidzki

In 2009, the National Drug Intelligence Center’s annual drug threat assessment report stated that Mexican drug cartels operated distribution networks in at least 230 American cities.

This year, the annual report describes how the cartels have since expanded their influence, how they operate in nearly every region of the continental United States, and how they are “active in more cities throughout the country that any other [drug trafficking organizations].”

But, intriguingly, something is missing: the updated number of how many cities in which the cartels now operate. Why wouldn’t the NDIC, which is part of the Department of Justice, make the new number public? Read the rest of this entry »

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Steve Fox on MSNBC News

March 27th, 2010 2 Comments Kate Zawidzki

MPP director of state campaigns Steve Fox debates Brian Darling of the Heritage Foundation on the benefits of ending marijuana prohibition. 03/26/2010

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Aaron Smith Debates Calvina Fay About TaxCannabis2010

March 26th, 2010 No Comments Kate Zawidzki

MPP’s Aaron Smith appears on CNBC debating prohibitionist spokeswoman Calvina Fay about the merits of TaxCannabis 2010, the initiative to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. 03/25/2010

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Sarah Lovering Discusses TaxCannabis 2010 on Fox News

March 26th, 2010 2 Comments Kate Zawidzki

MPP’s Sarah Lovering appears on KTTV Fox in LA to discuss the reasons to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. Today a ballot initiative, TaxCannabis 2010, was approved that will give California voters the chance to allow adult possession and cultivation of marijuana for recreational purposes. 03/24/2010

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Prohibition, Tax and Regulate

Marijuana Reform Will Appear on California’s November Ballot!

March 24th, 2010 78 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Today, the California Secretary officially certified the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 for the state’s November ballot. This means that on November 2, Californians will be able to vote to send marijuana prohibition to the ash heap of history!

The groundbreaking initiative would make personal possession and cultivation of marijuana legal for adults over 21 in California. It would also allow cash-strapped cities and counties to tax and regulate marijuana sales in order to reap millions in new tax revenues. The proposition will also call on the legislature to enact a statewide system to tax and regulate marijuana.

Will the nation’s largest state finally create a legal market – complete with tens of thousands of new jobs – for what’s already its top cash crop?

We sure hope so!

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Breaking NFL News! Some College Students Use Marijuana!

March 24th, 2010 14 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Today, Sports Illustrated (on breathlessly reported an “epidemic” of marijuana use among student-athletes eligible for the 2010 National Football League draft. Apparently, despite the fact that approximately 40 to 50 percent of high school students in the U.S. use marijuana by the time they graduate, it is somehow shocking that 20-33 percent of college-aged athletes have tried the substance.

Here is how one NFL team personnel executive described the “problem”:

“Marijuana use is almost epidemic, with more guys having tested positive for marijuana at some point in their college background than I can ever remember. It’s almost as if we are having to figure out a new way to evaluate it as part of the character and background report, because it’s so prevalent.”

The real question here is whether the simple use of marijuana by a student-athlete should be considered a “character flaw.” Sure it is illegal. But so is the underage use of alcohol. As is driving over the speed limit. Scouts do not consider someone a “character” risk for these actions.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a column on Alternet related to the Ben Roethlisberger situation. I made the point that the NFL’s existing policies steer players toward alcohol instead of marijuana. I believe what I wrote at the end of that column is relevant here:

Sure, players who use marijuana might still get in trouble with local law enforcement. And if they do, they will have to deal with the consequences. But the NFL has no reason to blindly and ignorantly mimic the government’s irrational marijuana policies. At some point even the government will stop the insanity and will allow adults to use marijuana instead of alcohol, if that is what they prefer. For now, the NFL needs to adopt that policy itself.

We are neither encouraging nor condoning the use of marijuana by students. But let’s get real about this. If people at some point in their life choose to make the rational choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol, why should any entity punish them for doing so or consider it some kind of Scarlet “M” on their record?

And to all you professional draft experts out there, maybe you should think twice this year before not drafting someone like Percy Harvin because of something you consider a character flaw.

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Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Included in New York State Senate’s Budget Proposal

March 23rd, 2010 28 Comments Kate Zawidzki

After years of lobbying by MPP, patients, physicians, and other allies, New York State may finally be on the verge of passing a medical marijuana law.

A Senate budget resolution that passed last night includes a provision that supports including the legal sale of medical marijuana in the state budget. We hope that as the budget process continues, this language will also be included in the final legislation and will be passed as part of the budget process.

Senate Democrats estimate that licensing fees from dispensaries could generate up to $15 million that could go toward closing the state’s $9 billion budget gap.

This is a huge development. Stay tuned to MPP’s blog for updates.

Meanwhile, today, a medical marijuana bill, S. 4041-B cleared the Senate Codes Committee in a bipartisan 11-5 vote. This was the first time the bill passed the committee.

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Medical Marijuana

MS Patient Sentenced to Five Years in Prison For Growing Marijuana

March 22nd, 2010 33 Comments Kate Zawidzki

New Jersey resident John Wilson, 37, may spend the next five years in prison because he grew marijuana, which he used to treat his multiple sclerosis. A judge handed down the five-year sentence on Friday, months after a jury found Wilson guilty of growing 17 marijuana plants—which he used only to treat the effects of his debilitating illness.

Throughout most of his trial, Wilson was prevented from mentioning his disease to the jury. Then in January, New Jersey became the 14th state in the nation to pass a medical marijuana law, but Wilson was still not allowed to argue a medical defense, because the law did not exist at the time of his arrest. New Jersey’s law does not allow patients to grow their own marijuana (as Wilson had done) but it will provide them with safe access to their medicine through dispensaries—which would have eliminated the need for Wilson to grow his own plants, if only the law had been passed two years earlier.

There is a chance that Wilson might receive parole and be out of prison in about a year, if he is accepted into the state’s Intensive Supervision Program, but that has not yet been decided.

In the meantime, his attorney, James Wronko, is promising to appeal.

“I continue to be amazed that in our system of justice, an individual who is growing marijuana to treat his personal multiple sclerosis ends up in state prison,” Wronko told a local news outlet. “I find it extremely ironic that an individual who could not afford medicine and had to resort to growing marijuana is now going to state prison where he will be given access to all the drugs available to treat multiple sclerosis.”

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