A plane crash in Colorado took the lives of one current and one former law enforcement officer on Friday. Pueblo County Sheriff’s Captain Leide DeFusco and retired Pueblo police captain John Barger were both in the plane when it crashed in the San Isabel National Forest. Barger, who was flying the plane, has been described as an experienced pilot and a flying enthusiast. Contact with the plane was lost at about 9:30 a.m., while the wreck was found around 7:00 p.m., and the precise cause of the crash is still under investigation. The crash site, in Custer County, was in rough terrain and difficult for rescue crews to access.
Whatever the immediate cause of the crash, however, our failed marijuana policies certainly played a part. The sheriff’s office reports that the two were searching for marijuana plants that day. Marijuana grow sites in the Wet Mountains had been raided just weeks earlier, and the two men were looking for suspected additional sites nearby. Flying low over unfamiliar terrain to look for hidden cannabis plants is one of many drug war tactics that put officers in unnecessary danger. This includes not only the hazards of low-altitude flying, but the threat of violence from marijuana growers.
Planes on anti-drug missions have certainly been shot down in the past, presumably by those involved in the illicit drug trade in attempts to defend their investments, and illicit marijuana growers on public land are “typically armed” and connected with organized crime, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.
Perhaps the police should focus on more serious crimes, so that instead of trying to find plants hidden in the mountains, they could simply interview victims and witnesses to track down perpetrators, without resorting to such adventurous spy tactics. If private, peaceful activity like growing marijuana were outside the definition of crime, unfortunate incidents like this would not occur, nor would there be an incentive for dangerous criminals to operate on public lands far from prying eyes.
Once again, Obama’s DOJ shows no sympathy for medical marijuana patients.
Last April, 12 HIV/AIDS activists were arrested outside of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office as they protested funding cuts to HIV/AIDS and needle exchange programs in D.C. The protesters were offered the standard “Deferred Prosecution Agreement,” requiring them to stay away from the Cannon House Office Building for six months, perform 32 hours of community service, and test negative in three drug tests. If they were able to meet these requirements, the charges against them would be dropped.
Within three months, all of the protestors had completed their community service hours, and 10 of the 12 successfully produced negative drug tests. And this is where the story gets complicated …
Two of the protestors, Antonio Davis and David Goode, used medical marijuana, recommended by their physicians, to deal with pain and other side effects caused by their HIV/AIDS treatment regimens. And though both men submitted letters from their doctors verifying their need for medical marijuana and, moreover, were assured by a judge that marijuana would not be screened for, the U.S. attorney for the District refused to honor the original deal spelled out in the Deferred Prosecution Agreement.
Now, the case has been transferred from one prosecutor to another and yet another, with each new prosecutor setting new conditions and requiring more community service time from the protestors. All of the protestors are now being required to complete a third 32-hour stretch of community service … or go to trial.
But because of failed drug screenings, medical marijuana patients Davis and Goode don’t have this option. They must go to trial and could face up to six months in jail. Meanwhile, Davis has stopped using his doctor-recommended marijuana and is suffering both mentally (worrying about possible consequences of a conviction) and physically (losing 20 pounds) because of it.
It’s insane that federal prosecutors are treating these medical marijuana patients so harshly. Marijuana has continually been shown to reduce the nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite caused by HIV/AIDS and by the various medications used to treat HIV/AIDS. Observational research has found that by relieving these side effects, medical marijuana improves the likelihood that patients will adhere to life-prolonging treatments. Furthermore, clinical trials have shown that marijuana can significantly reduce a specific type of pain that often afflicts patients with HIV/AIDS — neuropathy, a painful nerve condition for which there are currently no FDA-approved treatments. (Visit the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research website to view more studies on marijuana’s therapeutic value.)
The story here is just another piece to add to the very puzzling pattern of the Obama administration burying its head in the sand. In the past several months, the administration has cracked down on patients and providers, refused to let a clinical study proceed, and continued to ignore medical evidence … evidence that medical marijuana actually helps sick people! The story here is but one glimpse into the suffering caused by federal obstinance in regard to medical marijuana, and as the old saying goes, “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
No family should have to deal with the consequences of the events that occurred in Ogden, Utah on January 3, 2012. So it is with great respect to the families of both Jared Francom and Matthew David Stewart, who no doubt are both dealing with incredible grief of contrasting nature, that I’m offering up these comments.
Whenever a member of law enforcement is killed in the line of duty, like Officer Jared Francom recently was, it’s a tragedy. When the “target” of the military tactical style operation that led to the shootout leaving the officer dead appears to have been a personal marijuana grow, it’s also infuriating.
At 8:40 p.m. on Wednesday, January 3, 2012, members of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force in Ogden, Utah conducted a “knock and enter” warrant on the home of 37 year-old army veteran Matthew David Stewart. According to reports, they knocked and no one answered. When they forcefully entered his home in paramilitary style gear, with guns drawn, they encountered gunfire. When it was all said and done, one member of the task force was fatally injured, five members were wounded, Stewart was injured and faces likely charges of aggravated murder (which carries the death penalty) and multiple counts of attempted aggravated murder.
According to DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Smith, the victims and other agents involved in this operation are heroes, and they were “protecting the public.” I tend to agree with Agent Smith, members of the task force are heroes, but in this instance, they certainly were not protecting the public.
The only public reports about why Stewart was raided indicate that Stewart had a personal, indoor marijuana grow for medical reasons. It’s been reported that Stewart suffers from PTSD and grew a small amount of marijuana to self-medicate. In addition, it has been speculated that the reason why Stewart failed to answer the knock is because he was asleep at the time. He worked the midnight shift and would typically be asleep at the time the raid was conducted.
So, it seems an army veteran who suffers from PTSD was suddenly awoken to armor-clad armed men in his home and he allegedly opened fire. The army vet now likely faces the death penalty. One officer is dead. Five wounded. Countless lives have been ruined.
I’d like Agent Smith to explain to Stewart exactly why he was a threat to the public. There has been no allegation that Steward sold marijuana, or gave it away to kids, or that he was a danger to anyone before the paramilitary-style raid on his house. In fact, his neighbors were shocked to learn that there was any drug activity in the area, dispelling the notion that Stewart was an immediate threat to anyone. Without making a fuss and without causing problems in his neighborhood, Stewart simply grew marijuana for personal medical reasons.
I’d also like Agent Smith to explain to Officer Francom’s family why Stewart’s personal medical grow warranted the over-the-top means of enforcement that has been linked to so many needless deaths and injuries.
Finally, I’d like Agent Smith to explain to everyone why — as he stated to Fox 13 News — this situation isn’t a legalization issue? Clearly, the officers involved were just doing their job. They were enforcing enacted laws that their superiors wanted enforced. However, if marijuana were legal, this and numerous other prohibition-related deaths, including the death of another Utah man at the hands of this very same task force, would never have happened.
So long as marijuana remains a law enforcement issue as opposed to a public health issue, we’ll keep seeing tragic stories like these. Officers and civilians shot, and often times killed, over a naturally occurring plant that is safer than alcohol. It’s sad and it’s sickening, and it’s about time that we finally rethink our nation’s devastating marijuana prohibition.
I got a call last week about this absolutely tragic story in Florida, which is as good an example of the senseless nature of our nation’s marijuana laws as any I have ever seen.
John Haring, 45, is a quadriplegic who suffers daily from chronic pain, arthritis, spasm attacks, and depression. He uses marijuana to treat his condition, and after two marijuana arrests in two years, he’s now heading to jail for 90 days, after which he’ll be forced to undergo three years of probation and drug testing. If he tests positive for marijuana in just one of those tests, he could face up to five years in jail.
Haring and his relatives say legal prescription painkillers left him “drugged, depressed and in an angry stupor.” Using marijuana, on the other hand, “allowed him to live his life,” according to the St. Petersburg Times. “He could drive his pickup and earn extra money hauling boats and classic cars. He had relationships again. Five years ago, he had children of his own.”
As this compelling article goes on to point out, “Prescription drugs kill six Floridians a day … and the number of deaths is increasing at five times the rate of illegal drugs.”
I’d try to boil down the idiocy of laws that punish Haring for using marijuana, a safe drug with proven medical efficacy, and instead push him toward more harmful prescription drugs, but Haring’s lawyer has already done a pretty good job: “They take away from him the one thing that has worked and force him to take something more toxic,” John Trevena told the Times. “There's no logic to it.”
From time to time drug warriors tell us that no one goes to jail for marijuana possession. Tell that to Cynthia Prude, whose daughter Theresa died in a Houston, Texas jail over the weekend while serving a two and one-half week jail sentence for marijuana possession.
Thus far, officials aren't revealing the circumstances or the cause of death, but this isn't the first time someone has died serving a short jail sentence for marijuana possession. In September 2004, quadriplegic Jonathan Magbie -- who used marijuana to relieve the chronic pain lingering from the childhood accident that left him paralyzed -- died in the Washington, D.C., jail while serving a 10-day sentence for marijuana possession.
One year after a SWAT team shot and killed two Labrador retrievers in a marijuana raid on an innocent small-town mayor's family, the Prince George's County, Md., sheriff responsible has announced his department did nothing wrong.
Here's The Washington Post's summary of the incident that occurred last July:
Members of the SWAT team killed [Cheye] Calvo's black Labrador retrievers after deputies broke down his door and raided his home in search of a drug-filled package that had been addressed to Calvo's wife.
Law enforcement officials have since acknowledged that Calvo and his wife, Trinity Tomsic, were victims of a smuggling scheme that used a FedEx driver to ship drugs. They said the couple knew nothing about the box. County police, who were leading the drug investigation, have said they were unaware it was the mayor's house.
Some drug investigation. PG County cops failed to even Google Calvo to determine whom they might be dealing with. They also neglected to coordinate with the sheriff in Berwyn Heights, the small D.C. suburb where Calvo served as mayor, who said he could have cleared this up with a simple visit to Calvo's home.
Yet PG County Sheriff Michael Jackson insists his investigation proves "what I've felt all along: My deputies did their job to the fullest extent of their abilities."
Actually, maybe Jackson's right. I've made this point before, but if his deputies did their jobs the best they could, then maybe it's time to change the policies that shape their jobs.
I've recently been corresponding with a medical marijuana patient and Navy veteran, Eugene Davidovich, who was recently arrested in a particularly slimy undercover sting operation. Eugene, a member of a San Diego medical marijuana collective, was contacted by an undercover cop posing as a registered, licensed medical marijuana patient who asked for his help obtaining his medicine.
You can probably guess the rest, but here's a link to a good comprehensive story on his arrest.
Prosecutors argue that Eugene violated the law in providing medical marijuana to the undercover cop – even though the cop presented him with documentation verifying his status as a licensed medical marijuana patient. They even insinuate that Eugene's motive was profit and not compassion.
It appears that what's really happening is that prosecutors are taking advantage of vagaries in California's medical marijuana law to persecute patients and caregivers who are doing their best to take care of themselves and stay within the law.
Here's how Eugene put it:
Every attempt made to date by collectives and coops to follow the law in San Diego has resulted in prosecutions or collectives having to operate so deeply underground and under such intense daily fear and pressure, that the potential public benefit they could be bringing to the community and to patients is stifled by this environment of fear.
Eugene has a fight on his hands now. Please visit his Web site and help him out if you can.
After MPP passed the medical marijuana ballot initiative in Michigan and the marijuana decriminalization ballot initiative in Massachusetts -- both on November 4 -- I thought the MPP staff might get a little downtime to regroup for the 2009-2010 election cycle. Not so.
In the last four months, the MPP staff and our allies have been working almost nonstop to respond to -- and take advantage of -- the many opportunities that have been presenting themselves across the country. I've never seen so much evidence of positive change in such a short amount of time ...
1. MARIJUANA THE BIGGEST ISSUE: Two huge surveys of citizen activists across the country -- one on Change.gov on December 12 and one on Change.org on January 15 -- showed that the number-one issue on people's minds is ending the government's war on marijuana users.
2. BONG HIT SEEN AROUND THE WORLD: On February 1, the world learned that Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps had used marijuana a few months before, demonstrating yet again that using marijuana is compatible with being wildly successful in our society. When Kellogg's dropped its endorsement contract with Phelps -- and MPP and other organizations responded by calling for a boycott of Kellogg's -- the public's perception of Kellogg's took a nose dive.
3. EL PASO RESPONDS TO MEXICAN VIOLENCE: Responding to the prohibition-caused violence just over the border in Mexico, on January 6 the El Paso City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for "an honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition of narcotics," which drew the ire of some Texas politicians but also sparked a great deal of positive media coverage nationwide.
4. NATIONAL POLLING HIGHEST EVER: Between January 11 and February 14, three different national polls indicated that either 40%, 41%, or 44% of the American people now support ending marijuana prohibition. This is the highest level of support since marijuana was first prohibited in 1937, with support having risen by 1% a year since 1995.
5. REVOLT IN LATIN AMERICA: On February 12, a commission led by three former presidents from Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico released a long-awaited report that blasted the U.S. drug war and called for the decriminalization of marijuana.
6. ENDING THE DEA's RAIDS IN CALIFORNIA: On February 25, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DEA would no longer be raiding medical marijuana clinics in California and the 12 other states where medical marijuana is legal.
7. MEDICAL MARIJUANA BILLS MOVING: MPP's medical marijuana bills are moving through the Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York legislatures, and the Drug Policy Alliance's similar legislation is moving in New Jersey. We have a real chance of making medical marijuana legal in four of these six states this year and -- in the meantime -- it's very possible that Montana and Rhode Island will expand their existing medical marijuana laws, too.
8. BROADER MARIJUANA BILLS MOVING: California shook the nation when a bill to tax and regulate marijuana was introduced on February 23. And even before that happened, the Hawaii, Montana, Vermont, and Washington legislatures had already begun considering bills to decriminalize marijuana.
9. MPP DOMINATING ON YOUTUBE: As of today, MPP's channel on YouTube.com is the 10th most subscribed of all nonprofit channels, and MPP's videos are consistently in the top 10 most-viewed of all nonprofit videos in any given week. (And our 65,000 friends on MySpace.com place MPP among the top 10 most popular nonprofit organizations there, too.)
10. ONGOING MEDIA EXPLOSION: According to the weekly reports we get from Google, MPP has been getting its message into the news in the last month at 10 times the volume of previous months. And four different national TV specials are tentatively scheduled to look at marijuana over just a two-month span: CNBC looked at the marijuana industry in northern California on January 22, NBC's "Dateline" covered the Rachel Hoffman tragedy in Florida on January 23, ABC's "20/20" with John Stossel will be looking at medical marijuana on March 13, and MSNBC with Al Roker will be looking at the multi-billion-dollar marijuana industry on March 15.
Thank you for anything and everything you've done to help bring all this attention and success to our movement. If you'd like to help even more, please make a donation today so that we may continue with the onslaught of work that continues to pile up on our plates.
Breakfast cereal giant Kellogg's has announced it won't renew Michael Phelps' endorsement contract because he's been photographed apparently smoking marijuana. Some are already arguing for a boycott of Kellogg's in response. Others are urging people to contact the company and politely complain. Given that Kellogg's apparently thought a prior drunk driving arrest was not a problem, endorsement-wise, there certainly seems to be a hypocrisy issue here.
Boycotts are notoriously difficult to pull off, and many more such efforts flop than produce meaningful results. But personally, I think I can live without Rice Krispies for a while. What do you think?