Violence in Mexico escalates

Drug cartels in Mexico are becoming increasingly violent. Murder rates linked with the drug trade have spiked, especially near the U.S. border.

It seems that drug-related murders are at an all-time high south of the border. The number of people killed last year by drug traffickers was more than 6,500, which triples the numbers for 2007. So far this year the number killed has reached 2,000 and it’s on pace to set a rather gruesome record. So how does our government view these increases in violent and malicious killings? Sadly, they see it as good news. I’m not even kidding. Last year, DEA administrator Michele Leonhart told the citizens of the United States the following:

“Our view is that the violence we have been seeing is a signpost of the success our very courageous Mexican counterparts are having. The cartels are acting out like caged animals, because they are caged animals.”

Let me run that by you again, because I know your brain is wrestling with the stupidity of that statement. She said that the violence in Mexico is a signpost of success! So according to this logic, I suppose that this year will be the most successful year ever.

Let me tell you why the violence is escalating. It sure as hell is not from super-tough drug enforcement agents cracking down on dealers and traffickers. No sir. They have been doing that for the better part of the last century. The cartel violence is growing because they are being threatened by legalization efforts. Isn’t it obvious? Who are they killing? Rival traffickers: check. American ambassadors: check. Journalists who might report their activities or present evidence in favor of legalization: check. The cartels are directly funded by Americans who buy their pot because it’s illegal in this country. So what’s happened as of late that has made these traffickers such “caged animals”? Well, with the dispensaries booming in medical states like California and Colorado, people don’t have to buy mystery-weed anymore. They can go to a place that can tell them the exact strain of bud and guarantee its freshness, purity and species (indica vs sativa). When you can get much better cannabis at a fair price, of course you’re not going to be buying any Mexican schwag.

Then of course there’s the decriminalization legislation that Mexico passed last year. And to top it all off, by the end of the year California might allow folks to grow it themselves, as long as it’s in a 5’x5′ plot in their yard. Americans growing their own cannabis would be very bad for the cartel “businesses.” And of course if they can’t sell drugs, they can’t buy guns and grenades and rocket launchers, and they won’t be able to kill people anymore. Am I the only one seeing this connection? Surely you can at least agree that it’s pretty disgusting for the DEA to be celebrating the spike in the murder rate. Where are these people’s souls?

Medical Marijuana story in the spotlight

A screenshot of CNN's homepage last night. Marijuana stories have been coming steadily closer to center stage as of late.

Hello all. I just was on cnn.com and I saw that the front-and-center feature story was about medical marijuana users at risk of termination by employers, and I just wanted to share the screenshot with you . We have an awful lot of momentum right now in the national media, and I’m very excited about what this year could bring for the movement. Here’s a link to the CNN story. Keep talking about legalization!

Happy Spring Break!

I’ve just arrived in Southlake, TX for spring break. I’m wearing shorts, so I’m very excited. Probably not going to have a whole lot of action on the blog this week, save for one excellent post. That’s because sometime this week I’m going to go meet Larry Talley, member of LEAP and cowriter of the winning change.org idea! Look for more on that later in the week (and hopefully we’ll have some video!).

Since it’s spring break, I thought I’d give you a little something to listen to while you relax. I crafted this in my high school journalism class with Garage Band (we had a lot of free time). I call it “High Five”… enjoy 🙂

If you like it, you can download it by right-clicking here and choosing “Save file as…”

An exciting election year for cannabis

If you haven’t yet heard, there are a couple of exciting news items in the cannabis world this week.

First off, South Dakotans will decide whether to become the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana. They were the only state to ever have a medical marijuana bill measure not pass when it made the ballot in 2006. This time around, the South Dakota Coalition for Compassion collected more than twice the necessary number of signatures to qualify their proposal for a spot on the ballot, a sign that voters in South Dakota are much more open to the idea of medical marijuana than they were four years ago. If passed, the measure would create a system where qualifying patients would be issued ID cards and be allowed to have up to one ounce of dried “useable” marijuana and either a designated caregiver to grow the plants for them or up to six plants they grow themselves. Caregivers would only be allowed to help a maximum of 5 medical marijuana patients, which will probably mean no-go on dispensaries. The measure would require a written recommendation by a doctor who you see for other things besides getting a written recommendation for medical marijuana. It also provides access to minors, so long as they have parental consent, they are thoroughly educated on the risks and benefits of medical marijuana and the parent or guardian agrees to be their designated caretaker. While much more restrictive than California’s medical marijuana regulations, it is similar to many other states’ proposals. Read the full text of the proposed measure here.

The more exciting news that’s absolutely flooding my twitter feed: A group of Californian proponents of legalization have collected far more than the necessary signatures to put a state-wide legalization measure on the ballot in November. This legislation would legalize up to an ounce of dried marijuana for personal use by adults under 21. It would place heavy penalties for sale to minors, and possession on school grounds would remain illegal. It would, however, allow for the personal growth of marijuana in a 25 square foot area of one’s yard. Awesome. View a pdf of the proposed legislation here.

Sadly, it seems some cannabis users are actually opposed to the measure. One of the most revered names in the cannabis culture (he even has a high quality strain named after him), Jack Herer, is trying to convince people to vote against the measure. Herer doesn’t agree with the proposed taxes put in place on marijuana, one of the bill’s main selling points. Herer had a different proposal in mind, but couldn’t find enough support for his version to get it on the ballot. Other concerns include the section in the bill that would make smoking in the presence of minors illegal. Opponents of the measure argue that this unfairly discriminates against parents, and point out that there are no laws preventing parents from drinking alcohol in the presence of minors.

Marijuana growers in the “green triangle” of Humboldt County are also not too keen on the measure, saying that a legal market will raise supply and drop the price of their crop, endangering their local economy. I have to say that this seems very selfish to me. To oppose this legislation is to send more responsible adults through the criminal justice system for possession of a small amount of weed. And why? So you can keep selling your pot for huge prices on the black market? To the growers in Humboldt County, I say you need to see the bigger picture here. It’s the first step to real drug reform change, and you want to knock it down for selfish reasons? You all grow some of the finest marijuana in the world, so you have no excuse to not get creative with this new legal environment. Give yourselves a brand, advertise your high standards, showcase your world-class product and sell in smaller quantities to individuals. You could market so many edibles, like dispensaries are already doing. And since paraphernalia will be legal, more people will be willing to buy huge conspicuous pipes and bongs. You people could have the ultimate marijuana tourist destination in the world; you could outdo Amsterdam with some honest effort. So please, my west-coast brothers, don’t shoot down a good start. We need to take this one step at a time, and we need every inch that we can get.

If you’re a Californian, you can pledge your vote for legalization on Facebook. Come November, the nation’s eyes will be on California. Please don’t let this opportunity lie around for another four years. The time for change is now!

How to deal with police encounters

Today at our weekly NORML chapter meeting, we watched a video called “Flex Your Rights”. It is brand new; it came out this past Monday in fact. It outlined exactly how to deal with police, and included 10 rules to always remember during a police encounter. This is very important stuff, and I wish I’d seen this video a year ago… but that’s another story. Make sure you know your rights because these tips may save you a lot of money, time and legal trouble. Now I know that many cops are out there to try and keep us safe, and many are very nice people. I happen to know a few personally. But it’s no secret that there are also bad cops out there, and even the nicest cop on the force will use your mistakes against you. Don’t give them a chance. Read on for the rules.

Rule #1: Always be calm and cool

Nothing surprising there. Always keep a polite tone with an officer. Even if you’re having the worst day of your life, you can’t let your frustration show. Never talk back, raise your voice, or make any sudden or aggressive motions. Many cops carry tasers now, and there’s nothing better than having an excuse to play with a brand new toy. Keep careful control of your words and your tone. A bad attitude can be the difference between a warning and a beating.

Rule #2: You have the right to remain silent, so use it

The fifth amendment states that no one shall be made to witness against himself. This means that if a policeman asks you questions, to have the right to leave them unanswered. Cops are not obligated to tell you the truth. A common phrase you’ll hear from law enforcement is, “You can make this easy on yourself, or very difficult.” They usually will give you two options: Rat yourself out, or be charged with a much bigger crime. DO NOT LISTEN. There’s no deal that a cop will make with you. They will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law in any case, as that is their job. They want you to make it easy on them. So politely say, “I’m going to remain silent, I’d like to see a lawyer.” Be firm verbally, but do not physically resist. When you repeatedly ask for a lawyer to be present, cops usually will be more careful concerning your rights.

Rule #3: DON’T EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER CONSENT TO SEARCHES, EVER.

Just don’t ever do it. If there’s only one rule you take away from this whole post, please let it be this one. The 4th amendment to our constitution states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” This means that cops need either probable cause or a warrant to search you. Yes, that includes your car. Yes, that includes your pockets. Yes, THAT INCLUDES YOUR DORM ROOM. When in doubt, ask for a warrant. If they insist, ask for a lawyer. You should say, clearly and calmly, “I’m sorry, but I don’t consent to searches.” This may not actually stop a search, since you are unarmed and there is most likely more than one cop trying to search you. But if you are searched without consent, your lawyer will have a much easier time getting your charges dropped in court.

Rule #4: Don’t get tricked!

As I stated earlier, it’s not illegal for a cop to lie to you. They will offer you all sorts of deals to turn yourself or others in. Do not listen. Use your fifth amendment right to remain silent. Ask for a lawyer. Give them a clear impression that you know your rights and will use them to your full advantage. Also keep in mind that you can’t be questioned or searched unless you’re being detained or arrested, which brings us to the fifth rule:

Rule #5: Ask to leave

When you are stopped by the police, they need a legitimate reason in order to keep you. If a policeman ever asks you to sit down, to identify yourself, or to search you or your belongings, it’s a good idea to ask, “Am I being detained, or am I free to go?” You may want to ask this a couple times, because a cop will try to dodge this question. If there’s no pressing reason to detain you, then a cop must allow you to leave.

Rule #6: Don’t expose yourself

If you have bumper stickers of weed leaves or guns, or if you keep your piece out in plain sight, you’re obviously asking for trouble. Don’t broadcast yourself in any way. Blend in. A cop who pulls you over and sees pot leaf stickers all over your bumper isn’t going to give you any room for error. At all. Police encounters are dangerous enough without you flaunting yourself.

Rule #7: Don’t run away and don’t hide or throw anything

I know how easy it is to panic when you see a cop. Personally, I get this sensation that my stomach is falling whenever I see a cop come near. It’s hard to keep your nerve when approached by a cop on the street, but if you try to run or hide something quickly, that’s probable cause to tackle and cuff you. Always remain calm and remember your rights. Don’t consent to searches, and don’t give the police a reason to use force against you. Resisting arrest is a citation that is almost always tacked on to others, which will cost you more. It also makes your lawyer’s job much harder in court, because judges and juries are never sympathetic to people who resist arrest.

Rule #8: Never touch a cop

Cops are trained to react without thinking. They have a very dangerous job, and they are always on their guard. Never for any reason should you make physical contact with a cop. Things will most likely get violent, and they can easily claim that you were attacking them. Simple, but important.

Rule #9: Report misconduct and be a good witness

If a cop violates your rights, don’t get angry and don’t physically resist. Instead, state that you haven’t consented to any searches and that you wish to speak to a lawyer. After that, shut your mouth and listen. Try to remember everything that is said and every move the police make. Remember what the cops look like, their names (they always wear name tags) and their license plate number if possible. Never ask for a cop’s badge number. If a cop knows that you’re going to file a complaint, they have much less incentive to treat you nicely. After the incident is over, look around. Talk to any witnesses who may have seen what happened so you can verbally go over the entire incident. Write it down if possible. If you were injured, have someone take a picture of the injury at its worst, as soon as possible. Report misconduct as soon as you are able. Remember, cops are fired when there are too many complaints filed against them. It’s also not good for a police department if  the press gets wind of the misconduct.

Rule #10: YOU DON’T HAVE TO LET THEM IN!

This is just as important as rule number three. If the police knock on your door, you should never invite them inside. If you really feel you must talk to them, step outside and close the door behind you. You can also talk to them through the closed door, or better yet, totally ignore them until they go away. If they don’t have a warrant, there is no reason to invite them into your house unless you are in danger. They can’t force their way in without a warrant, and if they do it’ll be a cinch for your lawyer to get your charges dropped in court.

I don’t need to give you any personal anecdotes for you to realize how important it is to know your rights. No warrant, no search. Remain silent. Ask to leave. Ask for a lawyer. Don’t answer any questions without a lawyer present. It might save you big time one day, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.

To order the video or see more about these rules and the Flex Your Rights program, visit http://www.flexyourrights.org. Be safe!

Busy busy day…

Sorry about the lack of a post today, but I’ve been running around campus like a crazy man most of the week. Today I had the pleasure of getting the heck outside on a gorgeous day. I was interviewed by two journalism students about the change.org contest and about legalization efforts on a national level and local level. Look for the video to be posted in a few weeks. I also had a lovely 7+ mile bike ride. Lovely except for the part where I accidentally panicked and pulled hard on my brakes… even though only the front one works. Totally dove over the handlebars and banged up my knee. I’ll be limping around tomorrow but I’ll try to throw up something both decent and relevant. Until then, you should take this survey regarding medical marijuana by the New York Daily News. Peace to all.