Equal Injustice Under the Law

This week, New York Governor George Pataki offers another attempt at reforming the harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws; a Canadian Senator expresses a complete reversal in attitude about marijuana, now supporting legalization after two years of studying the issue on a Senate committee; UK drug law reformers demand an explanation for the brutal prosecution of MS sufferer/medical marijuana distributor, Biz Ivol; and a California man remains in custody in Mexico after a car he recently purchased at a drug-seizure auction turned out to have marijuana secreted away.

July 16 -- The New York Daily News reports: Gov. Pataki's reform fix for New York's ultratough drug laws won over rap mogul Russell Simmons, but Democrat lawmakers and some drug treatment advocates weren't too high on it.

Pataki's revamped plan to remake the so-called Rockefeller drug laws would dramatically cut prison time for all nonviolent drug felons, making about 10,000 inmates eligible for sentence reductions. At the same time, Pataki called for beefing up penalties for predators who use children to sell drugs or serve as kingpins in narcotics gangs.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) signaled that the lower house would not pass Pataki's measure, saying it didn't give judges enough leeway in sentencing drug offenders. "We are most disappointed by the complete lack of judicial discretion and the absence of any drug treatment diversion provision ..." Silver said in a joint statement with Assemblyman Jeff Aubry (D-Queens), who chairs the Assembly Correction Committee.

Silver's rejection puzzled aides to the GOP governor, who had hoped the Democrats would have declared victory and helped end the 30-year era in which New York has had some of the toughest drug laws in the nation.

July 16 -- Canada's Edmonton Sun reports: When Tommy Banks was a new senator a few years ago, someone asked him whether marijuana should be more available in Canada and he didn't like the idea.

What a difference two years and 600-plus pages of research can make. Banks, who sat on a Senate committee that investigated the pot question, thinks the government move to supply pot to those with medical exemptions is a step in the right direction.

A "baby step," mind you. The senator, who once suggested liberal pot laws would lead to interminable border problems with the U.S., is quite clear why research changed his mind and why he believes people should either be allowed to grow their own or buy it from a licensed distributor.

"There has never, in history, been a good reason presented for marijuana being illegal," said Banks. "It's fundamentally important for people to understand that it's never been based on the facts. It's non-toxic, it's not addictive and has no provable, long-term irreversible effects.

"Sure, if you smoke it all the time you've got the risk of cancer, but who sits around and smokes a whole pack of joints?"

July 16 -- The UK Scotsman reports: Cannabis campaigners from across the UK are planning a protest at Westminster today to highlight the plight of Orkney multiple sclerosis sufferer Biz Ivol who uses the drug to ease her pain. The event follows a small demonstration held in Parliament Square, London, last week to oppose prosecutions of people who use cannabis for medical reasons. Campaigners unveiled a banner proclaiming "Biz Ivol -- Herbal Suffragette".

Last month Mrs Ivol, 55, from Herston, South Ronaldsay, went on trial facing charges of cultivating, possessing and supplying cannabis. She admitted sending out cannabis-laced chocolates to fellow MS sufferers but pleaded not guilty to supplying the drug on the grounds that she believed she was doing nothing wrong. The case was dropped because of her deteriorating medical condition.

Mrs Ivol subsequently attempted suicide by taking an overdose but has since been released from hospital. The Legalise Cannabis Alliance ( LCA ) said today's protest will call for an explanation for Mrs Ivol's prosecution and why medical cannabis users are taken to court. Don Barnard, a spokesman for the LCA. said: "I fully support the protest. I am fed up with politicians failing to address these issues, reclassification will do nothing to help these unfortunate sick people."

An ongoing petition on the LCA website calling for the Scottish ministers to justify the prosecution of Mrs Ivol has been signed by 1,232 people, including five MPs, one lord and one MEP.

July 17 -- The San Diego Union Tribune reports: Mexican federal investigators are expected to decide today whether to file charges against a Chula Vista man who claims he didn't know a car he purchased from a U.S. auction contained drugs.

Adrian Rodriguez, 25, said he took the 1991 Volkswagen Passat to a Tijuana auto shop because it was making noises. Mechanics found a secret compartment with about 15 kilos of marijuana packed in plastic, and Rodriguez said he and the mechanics decided to call the police.

Police then turned him over to the Mexican Attorney General's Office, where he remains in custody.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

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