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March 27, 2007

Lankford felony case preliminary hearing April 24

Posted by Gary Storck
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Our friend Chris Lankford, the 2006 Harvest Fest attendee caught passing an alleged joint now facing felony distribution charges, has a preliminary hearing scheduled for April 24, 2007, at 10:30 a.m. in Room 1A of the Dane County Courthouse at 215 S. Hamilton St. in downtown Madison click here.

There is a lot of space in the courtroom for supporters, and those who do show up will be treated to some interesting courtroom drama. Being a preliminary hearing, UW Police Officer Michael Mansavage will likely be called to the stand by Attorney Peter Steinberg to recount how he came to make his flawed arrest of Chris Lankford last October 8. Officer Mansavage, as many may recall, is the same UW police officer who pepper-sprayed U.S. Senate candidate Ben Masel for circulating nomination papers on the Union Terrace last June. The lack of probable cause in arresting someone for passing a round cylindrical object will no doubt come up.

So plan on taking an early lunch April 24 and head downtown and take a stand against cannabis prohibition, and against government waste. This case should be, at most, an ordinance violation, as the DA’s new policy calls for, if not an outright dismissal due to its flawed status. Instead, they’ll be firing up a prosecutor and a fully staffed courtroom at who knows what cost to taxpayers. Meanwhile, what other cases are being put on the back burner as this case eats up scarce resources?

Also, If you can’t make it, or even if you can, please make a donation to help bring this case to trial.

Donations should be sent to Steinberg Law Office, P.O. Box 2614, Madison, WI 53701, payable to Peter Steinberg, with the notation "Chris Lankford Defense Fund."

See you in court on April 24th!

Posted by Gary at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2007

Letter: Marijuana stance a plus for Richardson

Posted by Gary Storck
Monday, March 26, 2007

The Capital Times published a letter I submitted about New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s strong support for medical cannabis. When medical marijuana legislation was again faltering in the state’s short legislative session, Richardson stood up for sick and dying patients everywhere who need medical cannabis, and got lawmakers to reconsider and pass legislation. His courageous act reverberated all the way to Washington, D.C.

Richardson is also a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his rescue of New Mexico patient’s chances of legal access to cannabis sent a strong statement in a field of compassion-impaired candidates from both parties. Outside of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH0 and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), few, if any other candidates appear to care about patients who need medical cannabis to live or have a quality of life.

So, while I appreciate the Cap Times publishing the first 66 words of my letter, I’m a tad disappointed they didn’t choose to publish the remaining two paragraphs as submitted.

Source: Capital Times
Pubdate: March 26, 2007
Author: Gary Storck


Dear Editor: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's plans to sign a state medical marijuana bill put him head and shoulders above the front-running candidates for U.S. president in 2008.

While most other candidates refuse to show any support for suffering patients who need medical cannabis today, Richardson has aligned himself with the overwhelming majority of Americans who believe the sick should have legal access if their doctors concur.

Gary Storck
co-founder, Is My Medicine Legal YET?

Below is the rest of the letter I submitted:

For far too long, many candidates and elected officials have erroneously believed that supporting the health needs of sick and dying Americans who could benefit from medical cannabis would jeopardize their chances of election. But polling in New Jersey by the Drug Policy Alliance has found the opposite. Voters were nearly five times as likely to vote for a candidate based on their support for medical marijuana alone, according to the DPA’s results click here.

Gov. Richardson’s display of compassion and medical marijuana courage is not only a breath of fresh air, but a sign that candidates are finally tuning in to the issues Americans care about. One can only hope his courage is contagious, and whoever is elected in 2008 will finally stop this senseless, cruel and wasteful war on our sick and dying fellow citizens once and for all.

Posted by Gary at 02:16 PM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2007

Zogby Poll: Americans Back Decriminalization of MJ for Adult Use

Posted by Gary Storck
Friday, March 23, 2007

Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the release of the report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse (The Shafer Commission). The commission, its chair hand-picked by Richard Nixon, recommended that Congress decriminalize the possession and distribution of small amounts of cannabis.

NORML has set up an easy way to write Congress and tell them that the Marihuana Commission¹s recommendation to cease arresting minor marijuana offenders was the right thing to do then and is the right thing to do now. A prewritten letter you can e-mail directly to your elected officials : click here.

In conjunction with the anniversary, NORML released the findings of a new Zogby poll on marijuana decriminaliztion. A slight majority of Americans support amending federal law to remove "criminal penalties for the personal use of marijuana by adults,"49%-48%.


National Commission On Marihuana Celebrates 35th Anniversary

Congressional commission determined "the criminal law is too harsh a tool" to apply to pot possession

Decrim message is even more applicable today than it was then

Zogby Poll: Majority Of Americans Back Removing Criminal Penalties For Adult Pot Use

35 Years Later, Half Of All Americans Support

Shafer Commission’s Recommendations

Washington, DC: A slight majority of Americans support amending federal law to remove "criminal penalties for the personal use of marijuana by adults," according to a click here national poll of 1,078 likely voters by Zogby International click here and commissioned by the NORML Foundation.

Forty-nine percent of respondents – including 57 percent of men – said they would support "a law in Congress that would eliminate federal penalties for the personal use of marijuana by adults and allow states to adopt their own policies on marijuana." This proposal, commonly known as ‘decriminalization,’ click here was first recommended to Congress by the US National Commission on Marihuana (sic) and Drug Abuse (aka The Shafer Commission) 35 years ago today, on March 22, 1972 click here.

Forty-eight percent of those polled by Zogby said they would oppose such a law. Three percent were undecided.

The poll has a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.

Respondents' support for marijuana law reform was strongly influenced by age and political affiliation. More than half of Americans (52 percent) between the ages of 30 and 64 supported decriminalizing pot, while only 45 percent of those under age 30 and 43 percent of seniors endorsed it.

Among those who identified themselves as political Independents, 62 percent supported federal decriminalization legislation, as did 51 percent of Democrats. Only 37 percent of Republicans supported eliminating federal penalties for minor marijuana offenses.

Respondents’ opinions were also influenced by educational level and ethnicity. Fifty-three percent of those polled who had obtained college degrees said they backed decriminalization versus only 44 percent of those without college diplomas.

A majority of whites (51 percent) and nearly half of African Americans (49 percent) said that they supported decriminalization, while support among Hispanics was only 26 percent.

The poll found little difference in attitudes among parents (48 percent support) and non-parents (50 percent support) on the issue. Americans’ views did not vary significantly by region.

Gender and holding a belief in God significantly influenced respondents’ opinions. Among those polled, 57 percent of men said they supported removing criminal pot penalties versus only 41 percent of women. Of those who reported having no religious affiliation, 63 percent supported decriminalization legislation.

NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre noted that the poll was one of several recent surveys indicating growing support for ending cannabis prohibition. "This latest poll confirms an 80 percent upward swing in public opinion since 1990 in favor of ending the war on cannabis consumers," he said.

A previous Zogby poll of 1,004 likely voters commissioned last year by the NORML Foundation click here reported that 46 percent of Americans support allowing states to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of the NORML Foundation, or Paul Armentano, NORML Senior Policy Analyst, at (202) 483-5500.

Posted by Gary at 04:57 PM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2007

Madison NORML to throw Ordinance 23.20 a Birthday Party on April 5th!

Posted by Gary Storck
Monday, March 19, 2007

Thirty years ago this April 5, Madison voters passed Madison General Ordinance 23.20, click here the nation’s second oldest municipal cannabis decriminalization law. It also legalized medical use with a doctor’s note, making it the oldest medical marijuana law still in the books in the world.

23.20 factoid

On April 5, 1977, Madison voters passed Question 6, "Regulations concerning marijuana and cannabis," which became Madison General Ordinance 23.20, dealing with personal and medical use of cannabis, with over 60% of the vote.

FOR: 40,681 -- 60.6%
AGAINST: 26, 432 -- 39.4%
TOTAL: 67,113 -- 100 %

To both commemorate and celebrate this historic event, Madison NORML is planning an event that promises to be unique, educational and fun. A commemoration of the effort that went into passing Ord. 23.20 in April 1977 and its two sister advisory referendums in Nov. 1976 ballot. A celebration that it remains on the books today, a tribute to an era that while simpler, was much wiser when it came to cannabis. So, on Thursday, April 5, 2007, we’ll be throwing a party at the Escape Java Joint & Gallery at 916 Williamson St. on Madison’s near East side!

Hosted by Lee Rayburn, ex of the Mic 92, now with WillyStreetMedia.Com click here, the event will kick off at 7pm. We’ll start things off with a quick overview of how 23.20 and its companions got on the ballot and were passed, followed by a short community discussion. Then, we’ll celebrate with some cake and the music of the Special Dank Midnights, playing some acoustic cannabis tunes. SDM, composed of members of the late band, Groovulous Glove, will be making their debut. This is a free event, and we hope you’ll enjoy some of Escape’s fine beverages and snacks while you are enjoying the event.

Some of the major players from that time are unavailable, such as the late County Supervisor Dean Kaufler, who led the signature drives along with former Madison alder Roney Sorensen, who we have been unable to reach. Others, were invited but unable to attend, including former Police Chief David Couper, now an Episcopal priest, former State Rep. David Clarenbach, both who said they would attend "in spirit", and former Mayor Paul Soglin. We are hoping that other members of the community who lived in Madison during the 1970’s will attend and share their recollections of this historic time.

Here’s a link to the event flier Download file! See you at Escape on April 5th.


Posted by Gary at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2007

Watchdog Column: A dangerous criminal, take two

Posted by Gary Storck
Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Isthmus' Bill Lueders filed the following item about the ongoing Lankford case in his weekly Watchdog column in the Isthmus.

It's amazing that Blanchard has now gone on record as supporting this incredibly flawed prosecution of an arrest that arose out of an illegal search. If this case were dismissed, as it should be, then at least the continued hemmoraging of tax dollars would cease. Instead, the meter is still running, and scarce resources needed to protect the citizens of Dane County from violent crimes are instead being wasted on a case that should never have been filed in the first place.

Source: Isthmus
Pubdate: 15 March 2007
Author: Bill Lueders
[Note: Item from "Watchdog" column titled "DMV prepares to hit road running" click here.]



Speaking of crime and punishment, why is the DA's office, which laments that it no longer has resources to criminally prosecute low-level marijuana and drug paraphernalia cases, still pursuing felony charges against Madison resident Chris Lankford, 31, for (gasp!) passing a joint to another man at a pro-marijuana rally last year?

"That's his choice," says Blanchard, referring to Lankford. He says his office still prosecutes distribution, which includes passing a joint, but usually handles minor cases as misdemeanors. But when Lankford refused to accept this, the office refiled the charges as a felony.

"We offered to treat it as a misdemeanor offense," says Blanchard, "so it's he who has opted to have a trial on a felony level."

Lankford's attorney, Peter Steinberg, intends to contest the legality of the search, as he tried to do when it was a misdemeanor charge. He says the case shows the DA's office is still waging a nonsensical war on pot.

"How many years have DAs been claiming we don't prosecute minor marijuana cases?" Steinberg asks. "They do. I haven't seen any change. They are pursuing an objectively stupid policy."

Posted by Gary at 05:09 PM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2007

NORML.ORG: Industrial Hemp Bill Introduced in Wisconsin

Posted by Gary Storck
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The National office of NORML just put out the following alert on Wisconsin's latest hemp bill, AB 146, with a link to send your state lawmakers a pre-written message asking for their support. Please take a moment to let state legislators know that it's time to let state farmers reap the economic benefits of cannabis hemp.


Industrial Hemp Bill Introduced in Wisconsin!

Dear NORML Supporters:

NORML is pleased to announce that Assembly Bill 146, an act to create a legislative committee to study the uses of industrial hemp in Wisconsin, has been introduced in the legislature and referred to the Assembly Committee on Rural Economic Development. If passed, the proposed committee would conduct a review of the published literature on industrial hemp, evaluate the economic benefits of industrial hemp, and report its findings to the legislature. (Read the full text of the bill: click here.

According to a 2005 Congressional Resource Service (CRS) report, the United States is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop. Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa that contains only minute (less than 1%) amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Farmers worldwide grow hemp commercially for fiber, seed, and oil for use in a variety of industrial and consumer products, including food and clothing.
Please take two minutes of your time to write your Representative, as well as members of the Assembly Committee on Rural Economic Development, and tell them how important it is that they support Assembly Bill 146. For your convenience, Committee member contact information, along with a pre-written letter, can be found by following this link: click here.

Erin Dame
NORML Outreach Coordinator

Posted by Gary at 12:36 PM | Comments (1)

March 12, 2007

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram Editorial: Small marijuana cases shouldn't be prosecutors' priority

Posted by Gary Storck
Monday, March 12, 2007

The editor of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, Don Huebscher, weighed in with this editorial supporting decriminalization policies at both the Dane and Eau Claire County DA's offices. It's good to see that the futility of cannabis prohibition is as evident to observers outside of Madison as to those here.

Source: Eau Claire Leader-Telegram
Pubdate: March 8, 2007
Author: Don Huebscher


It takes discipline to balance a family budget on a middle-class income.

Costly temptations - from high-definition TVs to the weekly "sale of the year" - make it more important than ever to know where to draw the line. The proliferation of quickie-loan businesses is proof of the number of people who find themselves caught short at bill-paying time.

It's the same with government. We want the best public services, a seemingly endless list including roads, jails, courts, schools, police and fire protection. But in the end, taxpayers collectively are no different from the young couple paying bills at the end of the month.

That's why it was refreshingly honest to hear Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard point out recently that his office has stopped filing criminal charges against those found with small amounts of marijuana. Such people still face fines of up to several hundred dollars, but Blanchard said his office doesn't have the manpower or budget to deal with the volume of such cases as criminal court matters.

Eau Claire County District Attorney Rich White echoed Blanchard's philosophy. It's not a personal judgment by either prosecutor about their approval of people smoking marijuana. Rather, it's a question of priorities.

"Prosecutors ... are increasingly swamped with criminal cases, and we have to make decisions like that," White said.

There are 29 lawyers in Blanchard's office, the same number as in 1988. Meanwhile, Dane County's population has boomed during that period. That means something has to give, and his decision to devote less time to marijuana possession cases is pretty much a no-brainer.

"I don't think we have a marijuana problem in Dane County," Blanchard said. "I think we have a heroin problem. I think we have a crack problem. I think we have a much larger alcohol problem than we have a marijuana problem."

Statistics in most counties support Blanchard's argument. Unless we want to pay even higher taxes to build more jails and courtrooms, and hire more police, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, clerks, bailiffs, and jailers, then we have to be realistic in what we can expect "the system" to manage.

Eau Claire County Judge Eric Wahl acknowledged marijuana possession cases pale in comparison to other criminal matters he has to deal with, but he also pointed out it may not be wise to send a signal to pot smokers that their activity is not considered a problem or is somehow condoned.

Marijuana long has been called a "gateway drug" to more serious addictions. It's also no secret those involved in selling large amounts of marijuana often aren't exactly model citizens. So it is in society's best interest not to adopt a "who cares" attitude toward marijuana use, which, like alcohol, sometimes is a component in more serious crimes that occur when people's brains get addled.

But the degree to which we want to wage the "war on drugs" is dependent on how much we want to spend. And maybe after decades of trying to eliminate marijuana use, it's time to acknowledge there are other priorities for our resources, particularly punishing those who inflict bodily harm on others.

- Don Huebscher, editor

Posted by Gary at 11:49 AM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2007

Text of Dane County DA memo on new pot policy

Posted by Gary Storck
Friday, March 09, 2007

For those who have not yet seen it, here is the memo from DA Blanchard that announced the change in policy. This originally appeared on the WTDY website.

February 7, 2007

To: Chiefs of police


RE: Drug Investigations And Prosecutions

Please allow me to use a memo to briefly summarize several policy positions of this office in the area of drug enforcement. The occasion for this memo is the continuing reduction in attorney staffing in this office due to the loss of federal grants. I will be happy to address any questions about the following at the next Chief's meeting scheduled for February 15, 2007.

Marijuana Possession and Paraphernalia Cases

We are adjusting our prosecution policy in the area of THC possession, so that we will not charge criminally possession of fewer than 25 grams of THC, regardless of the defendant's prior criminal history. For jurisdictions that have a municipal court and an ordinance, we encourage you to issue ordinance citations. Those agencies that lack a municipal court or ordinance will not have such an option. You may continue to submit THC possession cases to this office. We will be issuing them as County Ordinance violations.

Similarly, we will be declining cases of possession of drug paraphernalia related to use of marijuana. If your municipality has an ordinance, please do not submit those cases to this office. Otherwise, you may continue to do so. We are working with the county to create an paraphernalia ordinance. Until we do, we will either decline or issue as a related ordinance.

Drug Prosecutions Generally

Shrinking resources also require that we raise the bar on the quantum of evidence in all cases. We will not issue charges unless evidence is presented at the time of referral of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that when controlled substances are not found on a person, but rather in a car or dwelling, there must be strong evidence of a link to a particular person or persons. Also, evidence from confidential informants will not be relied on unless corroborated by credible evidence. In short, cases with marginal proof will be declined.

We do not make these choices lightly. We appreciate that today's marijuana is extremely potent, and that its excessive use can and does damage lives. We also know the difficulties you face in gathering evidence of crime, especially chronic drug use and trafficking, and the harms that this conduct creates for individuals, families and communities. We are, however, constrained by our resources to scrutinize more closely the kind and quality of the cases we issue.

Thank you for your continuing cooperation with this office in our shared missions of law enforcement and public protection. As always, I invite any concerns, questions, or suggestions you might have in any of these areas.


District Attorney


Deputy District Attorney

Posted by Gary at 11:22 PM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2007

Bipartisan hemp bill introduced in Wisconsin

Posted by Gary Storck
Thursday, March 8, 2007

I was up at the Capitol today and stopped by Rep. Gene Hahn's office to find out if his hemp bill had been posted yet, and it was.

Assembly Bill 146's sponsors include an impressive array of Wisconsin lawmakers from across the political spectrum, from liberal Democrats like Reps. Mark Pocan and Frank Boyle to conservative Republicans including Sen. Dale Schultz and Rep. Scott Gunderson. Schultz, who has cosponsored prior hemp bills, was the Senate majority leader last session, before it changed hands.

It’s heartening to see this level of bipartisanship in a legislature frequently splintered by politics. It’s even better to see some cosponsors, not before known for exhibiting any willingness to question the ridiculous federal position on hemp, sticking up for state farmers who want to reap hemp's economic benefits. For the sake of state patients who can benefit from the medical use of cannabis, one can only hope this newfound readiness to question marijuana prohibition will also mean more lawmakers sticking up for patients.

<br /> History of Assembly Bill 146

History of Assembly Bill 146

Download PDF of ASSEMBLY BILL 146 Here
An Act relating to: creating a committee to study the uses of
industrial hemp.
03-05. A. Introduced by Representatives Hahn, M. Williams, Boyle,
Albers, Ballweg, Berceau, Bies, Gronemus, Gunderson,
Molepske, Mursau, Owens, Pocan, Townsend and Wood;
cosponsored by Senator Schultz.
03-05. A. Read first time and referred to committee on Rural
Economic Development .................................... 83

Committee on Rural Economic Development:
Representatives Mursau, chair, A. Ott, vice-chair
Representatives Williams, Wood, Murtha, Travis, Nelson, Garthwaite, Hilgenberg

Posted by Gary at 06:18 PM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2007

Medical Cannabis Hearing in Wisconsin State Senate Health Committee this fall

Posted by Gary Storck
Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tuesday evening I headed out to the Village Green Bar & Grill in Middleton for a fundraiser for State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton). I've known the Senator for years from medical cannabis lobbying efforts on Wisconsin's Capitol Hill.

In January, I'd stopped by his Capitol office to talk about the coming session, and while discussing some ideas, he suddenly raised the possibility of holding a hearing on medical cannabis in the Senate Health Committee he chairs.

Tonight, addressing supporters at the fundraiser, Sen. Erpenbach pointed me out in the crowd and publicly announced his plans to hold a hearing this fall. This would be the first state senate hearing on medical cannabis in over 25 years.

This is great news. The retirement of Rep. Gregg Underheim (R-Oshkosh), the sponsor of last session's bill in the Assembly, left the Assembly Health Committee in the hands of two anti-medical marijuana zealots, GOP Reps. Leah Vukmir (Wauwatosa) and Terry Moulton (Chippewa Falls). Apparently they haven't gotten the word from their Minnesota GOP colleagues that legal access to medical marijuana upholds conservative values, "Medical Marijuana May Soon Be Reality", click here. Anyways, with the road to medical cannabis progress seemingly blocked in the Assembly, Senator Erpenbach's announcement means the issue is alive and well this session.

There are several medical cannabis anniversaries this year that add impetus to this quest. Five years ago this March, IMMLY's poll found 80.3% support statewide for legalizing medicinal pot click here. Twenty-five years ago this April 19, in 1982, Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus signed Wisconsin's first medical marijuana bill, which was rendered symbolic by federal refusal to supply the medicine. And September 11-18 marks the tenth anniversary of Jacki Rickert's Journey for Justice. Jacki is already planning to commemorate that milestone this September. Reps. Frank Boyle (D-Superior) and Mark Pocan (D-Madison), intend to introduce a medical marijuana bill in the Assembly in solidarity, as Boyle and then State Rep. Tammy Baldwin did when Jacki and her crew reached the Capitol ten years ago Sept. 18.

So, Wisconsin patients and their supporters will see medical cannabis action at the Capitol this session. While the likelihood of legislation reaching the governor's desk currently seems remote, due to split control of the legislature, the issue will be before state lawmakers in some form. What the issue needs most is public support, and the support of medical professionals. The 80.3% must do something to demonstrate that support. Only then will a majority of lawmakers find the courage to act.

Posted by Gary at 09:35 PM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2007

Spirit of 23.20 reborn in new pot policy? 30th anniversary commemoration on April 5th

Posted by Gary Storck
Monday, March 05, 2007

The announcement by DA Brian Blanchard that pot cases under a 25-gram threshold will no longer be prosecuted criminally continues to reverberate around local, state, and regional media. The State Journal's article from Saturday, No Prosecution for a Little Marijuana, click here, was picked up by the Associated Press, spreading this news far and wide. The new policy should hopefully curtail a situation where there seemingly were no clear guidelines, leading to wide variance in the way some cases were charged. One of the most notable involved an arrest for alleged joint passing at Harvest Fest 2006 being charged as felony distribution, and still unresolved click here.

But while there was a wide outcry in the community from people of all ages and backgrounds when the details of that case were publicized, the move to decriminalize cannabis in Dane County was already in the works. According to news reports the plan was spelled out in a Feb. 7 memo to Dane County police chiefs from Blanchard, notifying them of the change in policy due to staff shortages.

However, the intersection of the Lankford case with the new policy was timely. It also puts the continuing cannabis controversy back in the headlines just as the 30th anniversary of the passage of what became Madison Ordinance 23.20 is approaching. If anything, with the spirit of 23.20 being reborn in the form of this new policy, this means that Madison NORML's upcoming commemoration of that anniversary - April 5, 1977 - being held on April 5, 2007 at Escape Coffee should be a little bit more of a celebration.

This will be a free community event, with a discussion of how 23.20 happened in the first place, and where are today, live acoustic cannabis tunes, multimedia, and cake. Attendees are encouraged to patronize Escape's delicious assortment of beverages and snacks. We encourage members of the community who remember the early days to share their recollections of Madison three decades ago. Please join us at Escape Coffee's Art Gallery on Thursday, April 5, 2007 from 7 to 11 pm.

Posted by Gary at 07:24 PM | Comments (0)

March 03, 2007

WI State Journal: No prosecution for a little marijuana

Posted by Gary Storck
Saturday, March 3, 2007

The State Journal's Sandy Cullen covers the new policy in this new article. It's good to see DA Brian Blanchard admit that Dane County does not have a marijuana problem. He notes the county does have alcohol, heroin and crack problems. He also notes that this new policy is not a radical departure. Some observers though, feel that too many minor cases were ending up beung charged criminally instead of using local ordinance. Hopefully, this change signals a focus on violent offenses and threats to property and the public safety.

Newshawk: Madison NORML http://madisonnorml.org/
Source: Wisconsin State Journal
Pubdate: March 3, 2007
Author: Sandy Cullen scullen@madison.com


People who are busted in Dane County for having less than 25 grams of marijuana - a little less than an ounce of pot, or the equivalent of about 20 to 25 joints - will no longer face criminal prosecution, but they could still pay some hefty fines.

Citing a lack of resources and continuing staff reductions, District Attorney Brian Blanchard has told police chiefs his office will no longer file charges of criminal possession against individuals for having less than 25 grams of marijuana - an amount many law enforcement agencies consider to be for personal use rather than for distribution to others.

Blanchard's office also will not file charges for possession of drug paraphernalia related to marijuana use.

"This is not a radical departure from current practice," Blanchard said, adding that one of the major changes is that a person's criminal history will no longer be considered.

Municipalities with ordinances prohibiting possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia can still issue citations. In Madison, where possessing up to 28 grams of cannabis in a private place is not a crime, the fine for publicly possessing that amount is $109. In neighboring Fitchburg, the fine is $1,300 for possessing less than 25 grams of marijuana. Both require court appearances for juveniles.

Communities without ordinances can submit cases to the district attorney's office for issuance of a county ordinance violation, which carries a $310 fine for possessiion of less than 25 grams of marijuana, said Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney.

But individuals will no longer risk having a criminal conviction on record for possessing less than 25 grams of marijuana, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum fine of $1,000, plus court costs, and up to six months in jail - though jail time is rare and fines are usually $100-$200, Blanchard said.

Mahoney and Fitchburg Deputy Police Chief Don Bates said they did not expect the change to have much of an impact because citations are usually now issued in such cases.

Criminal charges will still be filed for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, Blanchard said. And criminal charges could be filed for possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana in conjunction with other offenses.

Gary Storck, co-founder of the Madison chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and a medical marijuana activist and patient, welcomed the move saying, "I feel it's overdue."

But Storck criticized linking it to a lack of resources, with the implication that given additional staffing, criminal charges would be filed.

"This community has a history very much intermingled with cannabis, like it or not . . . It's a tradition," Storck said. "I think most people understand a little bit of pot is no big deal."

But Blanchard said marijuana "can be very harmful," particularly to young people who smoke a lot of it.

He said state funding for the district attorney's office has not kept pace with the county's population growth and new laws, and federal grants that had helped offset some of the funding shortage in the past have been reduced. After upcoming retirements, his office will have 29 attorneys - the same number as in 1988, Blanchard said, making it necessary to prioritize what cases will be prosecuted.

"Marijuana possession is one of the least significant cases we get in our office," he said. Cases with victims - such as sexual and physical assaults and thefts - take priority, he said. Among drug enforcement cases, homicides caused by distribution of heroin, crack cocaine or methadone are much more serious, Blanchard said.

"I don't think we have a marijuana problem in Dane County," he said. "I think we have a heroin problem. I think we have a crack problem . . . I think we have a much larger alcohol problem than we have a marijuana problem."

Posted by Gary at 12:53 AM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2007

Madison Channel 3000: DA Says Office Will No Longer Charge Some Drug Cases

Posted by Gary Storck
Friday, March 2, 2007

WISC, Madison Channel 3000, weighed in with this report on the change in policy at the Dane County DA's office. It's good to see an acknowledgement that small-time cannabis possession cases are a luxury taxpayers can't afford.

http://www.channel3000.com/news/11159391/detail.html# CHANNEL 3000: DA Says Office Will No Longer Charge Some Drug Cases DA Says Office Will No Longer Charge Some Drug Cases DA Says Resources Are Lacking

POSTED: 7:04 pm CST March 2, 2007
UPDATED: 8:48 pm CST March 2, 2007

MADISON, Wis. -- Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard said that due to shrinking resources, his office can no longer prosecute some lower-level drug cases.

He said that his office will no longer criminally prosecute cases for possession of small amounts of marijuana or drug paraphernalia. Blanchard said that those caught with just less than an ounce of marijuana will face a ticket instead of criminal prosecution.

"This is really more cases in which there isn't any other criminal conduct. If someone's possessing marijuana up to 25 grams, we're typically not going to charge that regardless of their criminal history," Blanchard said.

That applies even if that criminal history is serious, WISC-TV reported.

Over roughly the last 20 years, the county has grown, the jail population has soared and the number of law enforcement officers, but the district attorney's office has the same number of prosecutors.

The state said the local district attorney's office needs right more prosecutors, but the governor's budget includes no money for them. And the office is already down two attorneys due to retirements and a loss of federal money, WISC-TV reported.

Blanchard said that means something has got to give, including drug possession prosecution. He said he is encouraging municipal courts to issue citations.

Don Bates, deputy chief at the Fitchburg Police Department, said drug possession carries a $1,300 fine in Fitchburg.

"There are still prosecution arms there and individuals are still going to be held accountable for their actions albeit perhaps not in the circuit court arena. It's going to be in municipal court," Bates said.

The district attorney also said that drug dealing cases might need more investigation. In a memo, Blanchard said: "We will not issue charges unless the evidence of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt."

"I'm not saying let's prosecute less. I'm saying police need to perhaps do more," Blanchard said.

Gordy Disch, a Dane County Narcotics and Gangs Task Force member, said the changes "send a bad message but we'll have to deal with it."

But Disch added that it "won't change how we do business."

"A few more investigative techniques will have to be employed to get a successful prosecution, and we're capable of doing that," he said.

Detectives might not like the changes, but they acknowledge that the district attorney needs to address more serious crimes under budget constraints.

Blanchard said that if the staffing shortage continues, he will reduce prosecutions of crimes like some obstruction of officers and smaller property crimes like shoplifting and stealing property where there's no danger of harm.

Posted by Gary at 09:08 PM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2007

WMTV Channel 15: Dane Co. District Attorney Won't Prosecute Some Marijuana Cases

Posted by Gary Storck
Thursday, March 1, 2007

When I heard a tease about reduced penalties for drug possesion for Channel 15's 6:00 pm news, I planted myself in front of my tv. Suddenly there was DA Brian Blanchard saying his office would no longer prosecute pot cases under 25 grams as criminal offenses!

This is good news if it actually is adhered to. But decriminalization options have been available for decades. The next question is, will this apply to the Lankford case? 6.5 alleged joints is certainly much less than 25 grams. It's too bad that his underlying message seems to be that if he had the funds to hire 8 more prosecutors, he'd use them to crack down on pot. Why not do it because of the obvious reason -- that cannabis prohibition is not just stupid and wasteful, but a counterproductive fraud?

Dane Co. District Attorney Won't Prosecute Some Marijuana Cases
5:27 PM Mar 1, 2007
Reporter: Zac Schultz
Email Address: zschultz@nbc15.com

Dane County: "There's been some adjustment in our policies." Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard knows the state defines possession of marijuana as a crime. But from now on his office won't be treating it like one. "We're simply going more wholesale to saying 25 grams or less of possession of marijuana-not a crime."

Blanchard isn't trying to decriminalize marijuana. He simply doesn't have the staff to prosecute minor possession cases. "We're about to have the same number of prosecutors in this office that we had in 1988."

A recent analysis by the state says Dane County needs eight more prosecutors to keep up with a growing caseload.

Blanchard says he has to prioritize. "We struggle to staff child abuse cases, when it comes to something like marijuana possession we are not going to be handling it as aggressively as we could."

This doesn't mean marijuana possession is legal in Dane County. But instead of facing 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine, criminals are looking at a citation.

"I don't like it. I'll be honest, I don't like it," says Town of Madison Police Chief Scott Gregory. He says he won't have his officers change anything. "Our job as a law enforcement agency is to make those arrests when we have probable cause and let the District Attorney's Office do what they believe is best."

If the D.A.'s office rejects the case, the Town of Madison could write a municipal citation.

The Sheriff's Department won't even bother referring the cases to the D.A. "We'll be abiding by the request of District Attorney Brian Blanchard and issuing a county ordinance citation," says Sheriff Dave Mahoney.

Both Chief Gregory and Sheriff Mahoney say they understand the staffing problems in the D.A.'s office. "It's frustrating, but it's budgets," says Gregory.

Posted by Gary at 06:17 PM | Comments (0)