DRUG WAR BRIEFS: Politically Incorrect

June 19-Rocky Mountain News reports: Lee Otis Johnson, a black student leader in the 1960s who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for passing a marijuana cigarette to an undercover officer, has died. He was 62.

His 1968 sentence sparked the rallying cry "Free Lee Otis!" It became the chant of students and liberals across Texas.

The saying, also featured on bumper stickers, was shorthand for their arguments that state drug laws were overly harsh, that civil rights needed a boost and that Johnson was framed because of his activities that displeased the city's conservative powers.

Johnson was freed four years into his prison term, and the Texas marijuana laws eventually were relaxed.

June 20- Rolling Stone magazine reports: At the end of May, the Senior Judge of England's highest court, Lord Bingham, publicly declared his country's marijuana prohibition "stupid" and said he "absolutely" supported legalization. This sent a shock wave through the nation's political establishment. While many leaders have recently called for relaxing England's pot laws, including the chief prison inspector and several prominent police chiefs, Bingham, known as a modernizer of England's tradition-bound judiciary, is one of the country's most influential judges. With so many officials calling for reform, England's politicians are scrambling to respond. Prime Minister Tony Blair has refused to take a stand, except to say that the War on Drugs is not working. But Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced plans to reclassify marijuana so that casual users will not face prison.

"There has been a revolution in the laws throughout Europe because there is a widespread recognition that drug prohibition is not working," says British Parliament member Paul Flynn. "The most dangerous way to treat marijuana is to prohibit it and leave its marketing to a dangerous criminal. There has been a stream of misinformaton from America about this."

One of the first officials to call for decriminalization was north Wales Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom, who says, "Recent research shows that cannabis is much less harmful than nicotine, so it's impossible to defend banning cannabis and allowing tobacco -- the law becomes, in British parlance, an ass."

June 20- Californias Desert Post Weekly reports on Bill Mahers speech at the NORML conference in San Francisco in April: The hotel's cavernous ballroom was filled with a capacity exceeding standing room only crowd anxious to hear Bill Maher, host of ABC's controversial program Politically Incorrect. A long-time advocate for ending marijuana prohibition, Maher called for "the vast silent majority" of pot smokers to awaken the public and insisting on a new attitude when he noted that "pot people are tolerant and open minded. We should be intolerant." Alluding to the on-going scandal of sex abuse in the Catholic Church, Maher protested that hundreds of thousands of pot smokers are in jail, but "no cop ever kicked in a rectory door."

Not holding back, Maher exclaimed that he "can't forgive Bush and Gore for their hypocrisy." Embarrassed by his colleagues who toke but don't help, he deadpanned that "I don't want to mention any names, like Harrison Ford and Ted Turner," as he lashed out at the rich and famous for their refusal to stand up and end their own personal hypocrisy. Racing up to a thundering finish, the audience rose to its feet cheering as Maher declared "unless people start dying, it won't become legal, so I volunteer to be the first victim. Somebody kill me with pot tonight."

June 21- The Los Angeles Times reports: The city of Modesto announced Wednesday that it would pay $2.55 million to settle a suit brought by the parents of a boy killed in a drug raid two years ago.

Alberto Sepulveda, 11, was accidentally shot and killed by a member of the Modesto Police Department's SWAT team in September 2000.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson at kcnelson@premier1.net.

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