The New War on Drugs

Officials Continue to Subvert the Public Will on Medical Marijuana

Posted In: Politics, National, State,   From Issue 700   By: David Light

11th March, 2010     0

After years of hard work and perseverance legal access to marijuana for medicinal use has become a reality in Michigan. To date, implementation of the new law has been a surprisingly unproblematic task, thanks to the continuing efforts of committed activists, intent on ensuring that the transition from a policy of “zero tolerance” to one of compassion and acceptance is as seamless as can realistically be expected.

Excepting their definite lack of timeliness, the Michigan Department of Community Health has so far done a semi-adequate job with their part, except for Director Janet Ozlewski, who during the Proposal 1 campaign and in unison with Governor Granholm, harshly criticized and expressed her displeasure with the proposal.

Many believe that Director Ozlewski is intentionally sabotaging the process, given her overt hostility.

In what can only be described as a coordinated and devious effort, an array of state and local police agencies, prosecutors, municipal leaders, zoning boards, neighborhood groups and assorted individuals have taken steps in their attempt to thwart the will of the people. They are utilizing every tool at their disposal, regardless of the futility and cost of their efforts. Indeed, a representative from the DEA has also been working behind the scenes with municipal leaders, in trying to pass zoning ordinances designed to impede or restrict the rights of individuals afforded under the new law.

Welcome to the War on Drugs.

In a blatant disregard for the people they work for and represent, some of our leaders across the state are “going rogue,” determined to let their personal displeasure get in the way of good sense. Others have recognized the potential to reap tax revenue, but their ideas so far have been in conflict with the current state law, and show little regard for the patient.
The claim has often been made that Michigan’s law is poorly written (it isn’t). This statement is an easy out for those clearly opposed to the prospect of marijuana being a tolerable element in our society and therefore being unwilling to accept it, or for those who are simply incapable of understanding it and/or too lazy to take the initiative.

Letting “no crisis go to waste”

Prompted by spineless, career politicians fearing the appearance of being “soft on crime,” and lacking the integrity or insight to instead be smart on crime, prison industry and law enforcement leaders, enabled by very powerful and entrenched lobbyists, saw opportunities and seized on them. As a result, they developed an incredible dexterity for fabricating the necessary “crisis” situations relating to drugs in order to justify their means. They hastily and artfully lobbied for and received abundant funding, along with the very best tools and technology available. More importantly, they identified numerous potential sources of funding and developed useful methods of wringing out those reserves. They have ever since reveled in their treasure trove – one that they not only have come to expect but to depend on for their security.

A war declared against our own citizens

With the help of the federal government, law enforcement has in effect “militarized” their forces, rendering them barely recognizable as public servants, if at all so. Clear Constitutional violations have become acceptable practice, such as “no-knock raids,” perpetrated by masked, unidentifiable subjects, and in a most dramatic fashion. Their actions have been further legitimized by allies on the court who have essentially re-defined the role of the courts as one of legislating from the bench rather than standing for a strict adherence to the rule of Constitutional law.

It has always been said that we are a nation of laws, but I would expand on that by saying that we are also a nation of too many laws. If there was ever a term to illustrate the results of a great deal of our lawmakers’ efforts, it would have to be “unintended consequences.”
Imagine a country where representatives from law enforcement can secretly enter one’s home just for the sake of looking around for evidence of wrongdoing. Items of interest could be seized, while leaving no indication of having done so or any timely (if at all) documented inventory of the items taken. Envision a country where such searches have become customary, and take place completely absent the knowledge or permission of the homeowner. You would think Singapore, or China; anywhere else in the world, but you might be surprised to learn that it’s happening right here in the United States – another of those pesky “drug war exceptions” we’ve come to realize.

In Michigan, our state Supreme Court ruled that police officers may legally bring drug-sniffing dogs onto one’s property and allow them to sniff under the exterior doors of a residence. Making claim that a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy on the exterior of the home, and even though the “search” takes place well within the boundaries of a person’s so-called “private” property, the area in question was considered to be outside the sanctity of the home and thereby accessible to anyone. That property you make payments for, maintain and pay taxes on isn’t really private in the eyes of the court; at least, not according to our current Michigan Supreme Court it isn’t. Remember that come election time.

Only a few short years ago did the conservative-leaning Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court rule, in Kyllo v. U.S., on what had previously become yet another customary invasion of privacy. The case revolved around a police officer who while on a stake-out, did what was commonplace, using a thermal imaging camera to randomly “scan” the neighborhood surrounding the home under watch. He discovered that another home in the area showed evidence of “hot spots.” Using that information exclusively, a search warrant was obtained. In conducting the search, a very small, insignificant marijuana grow operation was uncovered, which was claimed by the defendant to have been strictly for personal use.

The lower court ruling against Kyllo was overturned, citing privacy concerns and the lack of evidence or suspicion prior to the infrared “search.” The random use of thermal imaging cameras was determined to constitute, in itself, a warrantless search of a residence, and was banned for use without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause. Not only was the reasonable expectation of privacy violated in this man’s case, but in the case of every home in the vicinity. Imagine the possibilities of what else they may have observed by peering through the walls of these private residences.

I find the most appalling aspect of the Kyllo case was the attitude reflected in the minority slip opinion, where that minority group of supposed “liberal” Justices implied that they saw nothing wrong with the assumption of guilt prior to having hard evidence in support of that notion. As indicated by their opinion, it appeared that hardly any method of gathering evidence against an individual would be considered off limits to these folks. The mere prospect of such an idea is bone-chilling.

It’s for the kids

Lobbyists for the drug war learned early on that they could play on an unsuspecting public through the use of key hot-button topics and buzz words, one of the most played upon and successful being “the kids.” For most drug warriors, it never really was about “the kids” and the prospect of right vs. wrong didn’t enter the equation. Rather, it was an exercise in empire building. These poor, defenseless kids in need of protecting from the scourge of marijuana are the same ones who when polled, readily admit that marijuana is easier to get than alcohol or tobacco, both which are controlled in a legal, regulated market. They also would include the high percentage of those who are willing to respond honestly to the affirmative when asked about at least trying marijuana at some point during their adolescent or even pre-adolescent years.

It is assumed by far too many that our youths don’t comprehend that they have been continuously lied to about the dire effects of marijuana. Where honest, fact-based discourse would prove the optimum method of discouraging drug abuse among our young, our leaders have instead chosen to destroy their own credibility, in turn losing the respect of those they attempt to “save,” by feeding them a steady diet of propaganda and falsifications depicted as fact. The kids aren’t the fools in this scenario. Many of them have observed at least one generation prior to their own – their parents, family members, role models and even grandparents - whose marijuana usage was routine and absent the incredibly severe and irrational penalties of today – who mostly succeeded in being good parents, mentors, responsible and respectable citizens, contributing positively to society. Proportionally they are no different than their counterparts who didn’t use marijuana.

One of the most familiar and identifiable extracurricular school programs, DARE, is also famous for something else rather unexpected. Many of the younger drug users I have had the opportunity to converse with have told me that they had no interest in drugs whatsoever until they completed the program. Most have said that their curiosity about drugs came only after they learned all about them from the DARE officer presenting the information. Whether due to the typical inquisitive nature of young people or the “forbidden fruit” factor, the end result was certainly an unintended consequence of a less-than-well thought out plan.

Who’s in charge here?

We can thank Congress for leading the charge on this perversion of the truth. A little-known requirement among the general population is placed upon the heads of the ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy) – better known as “Drug Czars” – that doesn’t afford them any discretion toward or allowance to engage in honest dialogue on the issue of drugs, effectively eliminating any possibility of reasoned discourse on the part of this federal agency.
Congress mandates that the ONDCP oppose any efforts to weaken drug laws, and requires that they use the weight of the federal government to counter any attempt by the states to enact or revise drug laws running contrary to federal law. In reality, it is they who can’t come to grips with the prospect of truth, and their trepidation knows no political boundaries with respect to our controlling two-party system of government.

The Law Doesn’t Apply To Me

The anti-Proposal 1 campaign in Michigan brought out all the usual players, from ONDCP staff, to Police Chiefs, Prosecutors and other members of the legal chain of command. Not many activists were surprised at their lame attempt to turn the issue of compassion for the sick into the theatrical charade that they orchestrated.

However, what was surprising is that in the process, they would act so unprofessionally – and in fact, illegally – in their fervor. Their campaign was filled with blatant lies and deceptive ads.
Led by the now-retired Michigan Court of Appeals judge, former Congressman and candidate for State Attorney General, Bill Schuette, who surrounded himself at the podium with legions of public officials from the legal hierarchy, they paraded through city after city throughout the state, masquerading under the banner of “Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Kids.”

One problem is that they were far from being mere “citizens.” In reality, they were government stooges, with documented funding directly from Washington, DC. However, the larger, more significant problem is that their actions were a clear violation of the Michigan Campaign Finance law, which forbids any public official from using his or her office or any public resources to promote or oppose a ballot initiative.

This too may have been rationalized as one of the “drug war exceptions” we’ve grown accustomed to hearing about, but more precisely, it points to the fact that some of those tasked with upholding and enforcing the laws here in Michigan simply believe that they are above the law. In spite of their shameless actions and their hollow, dishonest rhetoric, the voters recognized it for what it was and responded with a 63% majority.

By leading the opposition, Mr. Schuette (who hadn’t yet announced publicly his future political plan to seek the Republican nomination for state Attorney General in 2010) utilized this opportunity as an all-expenses-paid, pre-campaign tour, providing him with the statewide name recognition he so desired, and turning the anti-Proposal 1 campaign into an avenue for self-promotion.

While our roads, bridges and other infrastructure deteriorate and crumble to the point of being hazardous, I have received information from a friend in Lansing showing that the Michigan State Police were awarded close to one half million dollars this past year, to be added to the nearly $80,000 left over from the previous year, to be used for flying around looking for marijuana plants, and eradicating them.

They professed that they would spend it all last year, but verification is difficult. So the question begs to be asked: is it wiser to look for pot plants, or educate our kids? Perhaps this is a tough call for some, but I know where I’d put my money if given the choice. Add to that the expense of a new $10 Million State Police headquarters that is nearing completion. Was this really something so desperately needed, to warrant putting it ahead of school funding and other essential programs, when the current headquarters appears to be functioning effectively?

Governor Granholm was quick to point out that the process began under the former Engler administration; a hollow assertion since it has been constructed almost entirely under her watch.

Violent tendencies

Hash Bash is a renowned annual event that has taken place on the campus of the University of Michigan, the first Saturday in April, for nearly 40 years running. This couple hour long event amounts to nothing more than a peaceful assembly, where like-minded folks come together to rail against the injustices perpetrated on marijuana users, and to protest against the drug war in general.

Since it began, Hash Bash has been absent one thing for sure, which is violence. Sometimes sparse while at other times massive, these crowds are made up of generally friendly folks of all ages, from college-age students to the gray, balding and wrinkled. They come together in support of a common interest, to bond, and to enjoy the fellowship of others who share in their conviction. The crowds are dotted with local Ann Arbor City police officers that are typically smiling and indifferent, who observe and listen to the array of speakers and points of view, and occasionally chat with the attendees. Their general concern is with crowd control, but rarely have their services been needed other than to tend to a medical issue.

Again, never has there been a recorded violent episode at this event – that is until a few years ago. On that particular occasion, Jennifer Granholm, then as state Attorney General and no friend to marijuana users, felt it necessary to surround the area, lining the rooftops of adjacent buildings with MSP snipers outfitted in the typical “ninja” garb, assuming an aggressive stance with their rifles trained on the crowds below - my daughter and I both included in their sights.
Law enforcement would have you believe that it is the “pot people” who are the violent and dangerous ones, when it is they who have a tendency to introduce violence in most situations. Ask the young, unarmed, Grand Valley S.U. student who unnecessarily took a bullet to the chest from a policeman all too eager to shoot, as they forced their way into his residence in the dark of night.

For what would have been considered in most cases, at minimum, attempted manslaughter, this policeman essentially received a slap on the hands. There’s no way to justify what happened to this young man, guilty of nothing more than possessing a mere handful of pot, and the allegation that he sold a joint or two to undercover officers. If anyone believes that this is a crime worth killing a kid for, then you have some serious issues that need addressing.

Splitting hairs

The claim has been made that some of the medical marijuana patients and caregivers being prosecuted here in Michigan were in violation of the parameters of the medical marijuana law, and this is certainly a matter of debate. The issue of quantities has in some cases been a point of contention. In the grander scheme, the people made it abundantly clear that they wanted to have marijuana available to those in need. More notably, they indicated that they no longer view this issue as worthy of using scant resources in what undoubtedly amounts to a vain attempt to prevent it. This decision by the voters came by no slim margin, given the overall 63% support for Proposal 1, and the almost unheard of majority in every single county.
Based on events across Michigan, I’m led to believe that the issue isn’t at all about the quantity of marijuana that some individuals have possessed as a patient, caregiver or both. For example, take the 64-year-old, card-carrying woman from the lower Northeast section of Michigan, who was arrested and is being charged for possessing one joint (the law allows her 2-1/2 ounces of dried, prepared mixture) and two small seedlings in pots (the law allows her 12 mature plants). Then there’s the 92-year-old retired Judge, along with his 59-year-old son from the Northeast quadrant of Michigan – both state-certified patients – who were arrested and charged. By all appearances, we need to keep a closer eye on those 90-something-year-old retired members of the judiciary, who are seemingly a very dangerous bunch.

A case from central Michigan is notable as well, where a licensed patient was charged for the method in which he grew his plants. Were they in a facility that was “enclosed and locked,” as required? The answer is yes, but local law enforcement didn’t like the fact that the plants were visible to the public – a detail not specifically forbidden by the law.
This ever-growing list goes on and on.

Another noteworthy event – one that involved a friend and colleague in the reform movement from Southwest Michigan – highlights the extent that some agencies will go to in their eagerness to proliferate this insanity. Being an outspoken, enthusiastic advocate of drug law reform, combined with his position as teacher and licensed school counselor, was the stimulus behind his local police agency’s zeal. They wanted to silence him, as well as make an example of him. Aside from the jail and court expense, his case tied up an entire team of police officers, so determined to find anything at all to prosecute him with that they resorted to the use of a high-efficiency vacuum on his vehicle (a previously-owned one that he had recently purchased) looking for the evidence that they so far had failed to uncover.
Their time and effort yielded only a very small piece of stem and a tiny piece of charred paper, but there it was; they had their “evidence,” (of what is still unclear) and they had their man. In order to maximize the impact of their wrath, they put off until late in the day the following Friday, arresting and incarcerating him, knowing that he would have to wait in jail until the following Monday for his arraignment. After sending off their “evidence” to the State Police lab for testing, and also after a great deal of legal wrangling, he was released from jail and was subsequently cleared of all charges. Although, he was fired by his employer.
Why would the police go to such great lengths for something so irrelevant to public safety and security? The answer is simple; a local prosecuting attorney, aspiring to make a run for state-level elected office, a police agency having too little of substance to do, and a general reckless attitude by bureaucrats toward fiscal responsibility. The costs of this fiasco were great, not only for the taxpayers but also in terms of the lives of those affected. It’s beyond reprehensible, and unfortunately, all too common these days.

The end times

How do we change the paradigm, moving toward more sensible policies and responsible government, and an end to the war on drugs as we know it? It starts with “We, the people.” We have reached the turning point, where a steadily increasing number of people are taking notice of the results of our years of apathy, and are standing up for true justice and responsibility. The information age, namely through the internet, although somewhat weighted with useless fodder and disinformation, has provided an unparalleled medium for like-minded individuals to share information, organize, and educate. Such networking has emboldened otherwise disconcerted individuals who previously felt alone and powerless in their discontent. They are being encouraged, now realizing that they aren’t alone, and that their voice can and will make a difference.

Technology has also made access to public information a cinch. Our elected officials and bureaucrats have essentially had the curtain raised on their activities, which can now be scrutinized in a method much closer to real-time than ever before. Under newly-experienced pressure, our officials will either have to comply with our wishes or will soon be caught up in their unethical or illegal attempts to evade the truth, and to avoid our scorn.

The people are increasingly fed up and no longer seem afraid to say so. They are awakening from the dream that our leaders always have our best interests in mind and that they will always act fairly and justly on our behalf. A representative of mine once said to me, “You need to just trust me, and give me the gavel for a change.” I’m not willing to a place blind trust in anyone - particularly one who hasn’t earned it - nor will I ever do so.

We need to heed the words of Thomas Jefferson, who long ago mused, “Those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not;” granted, a different issue but the message rings true just the same. Our continued complacency in maintaining control of those we ask to do our bidding will surely be to our detriment. Together we can be a force in identifying the transgressions of those charged with protecting and serving, and we can demand change.

It’s up to each and every one of us to do our part by engaging in – not avoiding - the process. Collectively, we can put our leaders at every level of government on notice that their jobs depend on complying with our wishes, and we can restore the ideal of a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Such a notion might sound idealistic and unattainable, but anything less is unacceptable for those who revere freedom.

David Light



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