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Schwarzenegger vs. the Watchdog

This week, a new poll shows 75 percent of Californians support medical access to marijuana; a Washington state medical marijuana patient is sentenced to 3 years in prison for growing 23 plants at home; and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger moves to eliminate an independent prison watchdog agency despite a multitude of scandals in the CA corrections system.
 
 
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January 30- The Sacramento Bee reports: Californians' views about the use of medical marijuana have relaxed dramatically since voters agreed to legalize the drug for ill patients in this state eight years ago, a new statewide survey found.

Now three in four voters, cutting across political, religious and generational spectrums, believe that 1996's largely stalled medical marijuana proposition should be enforced, according to a Field Poll released today.

January 31- The (WA) Olympian reports: A woman convicted of growing marijuana- despite claims that she did so for medical reasons -- was sentenced Friday to three years in prison, although the judge permitted her to stay out on bond while she files an appeal.

Judge Thomas McPhee, who quashed Monica Ginn's "medical defense" earlier this month in a Thurston County Superior Court trial, also ruled she could continue to use the drug for her medical condition as long as she didn't grow it.

A jury convicted Ginn, 53, of Olympia of growing and possessing marijuana with intent to deliver after narcotics detectives arrested her in April 2002. Her attorney, Kevin Johnson, said he thinks jurors might have sided differently if they'd been allowed to hear about his client's medical condition and a recommendation from her doctor.

Ginn claims she suffers from chronic back pain and grew pot for her own treatment and to supply a King County man with multiple sclerosis who has since died. But the judge disqualified the evidence, ruling that she didn't have proper documentation from her doctor, who hadn't done the medical testing required by state law.

McPhee thinks he applied the law correctly at her trial but said he realizes "there is a significant appellate issue," he said Friday.

He extended some leeway to Ginn during the appeals process after requests from her attorneys.

Thurston County prosecutors portray Ginn as someone who tried to take advantage of a law meant to help truly sick people. They point to her first conviction for the same offense and how she never cited her medical condition during that case.

There was tension in the courtroom during the trial. But there also were moments of levity. The crowd laughed when McPhee accidentally referred to Ginn as the "patient"- a term at the center of debate in her case. Even the judge laughed.

February 1- The San Jose Mercury News reports: The state's independent prison watchdog agency, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to eliminate because it's a "waste," has uncovered tens of millions in potential savings and exposed dangerous conditions in the state's prisons.

In hundreds of pages of confidential reports and summaries obtained by the Mercury News, investigators from the Office of the Inspector General provide a grim indictment of a system unable to root out corruption or curb skyrocketing costs.

Schwarzenegger wants to put the office, which now reports to the governor, under the direct supervision of the corrections agency it is supposed to keep tabs on. The office became independent in 1998 in the wake of a prison scandal so it could take on a more aggressive watchdog role.

The governor also wants to cut the office's budget from $2.8 million to $630,000, continuing a whittling-down that Gov. Gray Davis and the Legislature began two years ago. At its peak in 2002, the office had a budget of $11 million and 116 employees. Now, it has about 16 auditors and investigators monitoring more than 54,000 employees in dozens of facilities.

In the past two weeks, a federal court monitor declared the Department of Corrections had "lost control" of its ability to discipline guards for abusing inmates, and lawmakers held hearings on an inspector general's report that raised questions about a possible cover-up after a 2002 riot at Folsom State Prison. A week ago, court-appointed experts reported that juveniles are regularly locked in cages, over-medicated and denied essential psychiatric treatment.

In his first interview since Schwarzenegger replaced him as acting inspector general, John Chen disputed Schwarzenegger's characterization of his office as a waste.

"The governor obviously has been misinformed," said Chen, a veteran state auditor. "He said he wants to identify government waste through audits. If he is sincere, he should start by looking at some of the audit reports produced by this office."

Chen estimated that the office identified from $40 million to $50 million in possible savings in reports in the past several years.

Schwarzenegger replaced Chen on the eve of legislative hearings at which he was expected to be quizzed about his office's report on the Folsom cover-up. Administration officials said the governor wanted his own appointee to run the office and the timing was a coincidence.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.