Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Legislators aim to snuff out penalties for pot use

(CNN) -- The U.S. should stop arresting responsible marijuana users, Rep. Barney Frank said Wednesday, announcing a proposal to end federal penalties for Americans carrying fewer than 100 grams, almost a quarter-pound, of the substance.

Current laws targeting marijuana users place undue burdens on law enforcement resources, punish ill Americans whose doctors have prescribed the substance and unfairly affect African-Americans, said Frank, flanked by legislators and representatives from advocacy groups.

"The vast amount of human activity ought to be none of the government's business," Frank said on Capitol Hill. "I don't think it is the government's business to tell you how to spend your leisure time."

The Massachusetts Democrat and his supporters emphasized that only the use -- and not the abuse -- of marijuana would be decriminalized if the resolution resulted in legislation. Watch Frank lay out the proposal »

The Drug Enforcement Administration says people charged with simple possession are rarely incarcerated. The agency and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy have long opposed marijuana legalization, for medical purposes or otherwise.

Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, according to the drug control office.

"Smoked marijuana has not withstood the rigors of science -- it is not medicine and it is not safe," the DEA states on its Web site. "Legalization of marijuana, no matter how it begins, will come at the expense of our children and public safety. It will create dependency and treatment issues, and open the door to use of other drugs, impaired health, delinquent behavior, and drugged drivers."

Allen St. Pierre, spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, likened Frank's proposal -- co-sponsored by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas -- to current laws dealing with alcohol consumption. Alcohol use is permitted, and the government focuses its law enforcement efforts on those who abuse alcohol or drive under its influence, he said.

"We do not arrest and jail responsible alcohol drinkers," he said.

St. Pierre said there are tens of millions of marijuana smokers in the United States, including himself, and hundreds of thousands are arrested each year for medical or personal use. Is it time to legalize pot?

There have been 20 million marijuana-related arrests since 1965, he said, and 11 million since 1990, and "every 38 seconds, a marijuana smoker is arrested."

Rob Kampia, director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said marijuana arrests outnumber arrests for "all violent crimes combined," meaning police are spending inordinate amounts of time chasing nonviolent criminals.

"Ending arrests is the key to marijuana policy reform," he said.

Reps. William Lacy Clay, D-Missouri, and Barbara Lee, D-California, said that in addition to targeting nonviolent offenders, U.S. marijuana laws unfairly target African-Americans.

Clay said he did not condone drug use but opposes using tax dollars to pursue what he feels is an arcane holdover from "a phony war on drugs that is filling up our prisons, especially with people of color."

Too many drug enforcement resources are being dedicated to incarcerating nonviolent drugs users, and not enough is being done to stop the trafficking of narcotics into the United States, he said.

Being arrested is not the American marijuana smoker's only concern, said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance Network. Those found guilty of marijuana use can lose their jobs, financial aid for college, their food stamp and welfare benefits, or their low-cost housing.

The U.S. stance on marijuana, Piper said, "is one of the most destructive criminal justice policies in America today."

Calling the U.S. policy "inhumane" and "immoral," Lee said she has many constituents who are harassed or arrested for using or cultivating marijuana for medical purposes. California allows medical marijuana use, but the federal government does not, she explained.

House Resolution 5843, titled the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008, would express support for "a very small number of individuals" suffering from chronic pain or illness to smoke marijuana with impunity.

According to NORML, marijuana can be used to treat a range of illnesses, including glaucoma, asthma, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and seizures.

Frank, who is chairman of the Financial Services Committee, said that about a dozen states have approved some degree of medical marijuana use and that the federal government should stop devoting resources to arresting people who are complying with their states' laws.

In a shot at Republicans, Frank said it was strange that those who support limited government want to criminalize marijuana.

Asked whether the resolution's passage would change his personal behavior, Frank quipped, "I do obey every law I vote for" but quickly said he did not use marijuana, nor does he encourage it.

"I smoke cigars. I don't think other people should do that. If young people ask me, I would advise them not to do it," he said.

If HR 5843 were passed, the House would support marijuana smokers possessing up to 100 grams -- about 3½ ounces -- of cannabis without being arrested. It would also give its blessing to the "nonprofit transfer" of up to an ounce of marijuana.

The resolution would not address laws forbidding growing, importing or exporting marijuana, or selling it for profit. The resolution also would not speak to state laws regarding marijuana use.


Cass County man kills himself as police investigate marijuana plants at his home

CASSOPOLIS -- A Cass County man apparently shot himself as police came to his door during a drug investigation Monday, authorities said.

Nels Wilson, 51, was found dead inside his mobile home at 25560 Jefferson Court Road after Michigan State Police approached his home to question him about marijuana plants found growing outside, according to a news release. Police had flown over Wilson's property as part of Operation Hemp, a joint venture of the Southwest Enforcement Team and State Police, and spotted more than 130 marijuana plants, including some 8 feet tall, near his trailer and garage, Prosecutor Victor Fitz said.

An officer heard a gunshot from inside the Jefferson Township residence, south of Cassopolis, as they approached, the news release said. They went inside to find Wilson was found dead with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, it said.


suspects sought

OSHTEMO TOWNSHIP -- Four suspects are being sought in connection with a home invasion this morning at Nottingham Place Apartments, police said.

Kalamazoo County sheriff's deputies were called around 1 a.m. to an apartment at 760 Drake Road, where a resident reported that he had been punched in the face by one of four men who came to his door. The men forced their way inside and stole wallets, cell phones and video games, a news release said.

Police ask that anyone who may have information call 383-8821.

Three arrested

in armed robbery

STURGIS -- Three men were arrested Tuesday night in Kalamazoo following an armed robbery in Sturgis.

A woman told police she was sitting outside her home in the 1200 block of Laura Drive around 11 p.m. when two men came onto her porch and one pointed a gun at her, a news release from the Sturgis Police Department said.

She was ordered to go inside, where one of the men pointed a gun at her head as they took an undisclosed amount of cash, it said. The suspects, who left in a car driven by a third man, were tracked to a nearby location, where police were able to identify them and get information that they were headed to a residence on Stadium Drive in Kalamazoo.

Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety officers were notified and arrested the three men a short time later. They were being held at the St. Joseph County Jail on armed-robbery and home-invasion charges.

Meth lab busted

KALAMAZOO -- Two people were arrested after police discovered a methamphetamine lab at a home Thursday on Random Road.

Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team officers found several one-pot meth containers inside the home in the 3300 block of Random and in an adjacent garage, a press release from KVET said.

A 20-year-old man was arrested on outstanding warrants and faces methamphetamine possession and manufacturing charges, police said. Another 20-year-old was arrested on an outstanding warrant.

Bomb threat

closes store

COMSTOCK TOWNSHIP -- The Wal-Mart store on Gull Road was closed for more than two hours Tuesday after someone reported a bomb was inside.

Employees and customers were evacuated from the store at 6065 Gull Road around 4 p.m. while a Michigan State Police K-9 unit and Kalamazoo County sheriff's deputies searched it.

Nothing suspicious was found inside the store, and employees returned to work, a press release from the Sheriff's Office said.

Tip leads to

drug arrests

DECATUR-- A citizen tip led police Tuesday to a home on 39th Street where they found marijuana and items to make methamphetamine.

The Van Buren County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Unit responded to the tip at 10:45 p.m. after a resident reported a chemical odor coming from a home at in the 81000 block of 39th Street.

A 34-year-old woman admitted there was drug paraphernalia inside, but she refused to let police in, a news release from the Van Buren County Sheriff's Office said. When she was told a search warrant would be served, she tried to run back inside, it said.

Deputies entered the home and found a makeshift anhydrous ammonia tank and other items for making meth, they said. Outside the home, 17 marijuana plants were found.

The woman faces charges of operating and maintaining a meth lab, manufacturing marijuana and resisting and obstructing an officer.

A 36-year-old man, who arrived while deputies waited for a warrant, was arrested on charges of manufacturing marijuana and operating and maintaining a meth lab, the sheriff's office said. A 15-year-old boy who was home at the time was taken into custody by Child Protective Services workers.