Hanging People and the Rights

This week, a senior Bush administration lawyer claimed that states currently defying the federal government with their medical marijuana laws are no better than Southern states that defied national civil rights laws; a 57 year old Malaysian man was hanged for "trafficking" one pound of marijuana; the 10th Circuit court of appeals rules that Colorado police can use fake checkpoints and camouflaged spies at festivals to catch people with illegal drugs; and the 12th annual Seattle Hempfest, the nation's largest festival promoting liberalization of marijuana laws, draws over 175,000 people, one week before the arrival of President Bush.

August 10 -- The Associated Press reports: California and other states that want to make marijuana available to sick or dying patients are flouting federal drug laws in much the same way that Southern states defied national civil rights laws, a senior Bush administration lawyer said.

August 10 -- The Malaysia Star reports: A 57-year-old fisherman was sent to the gallows after he was found guilty of trafficking in more than 500 grams of cannabis two years ago.

In passing the sentence against Mijan Mohd Deros yesterday, High Court Justice Sulaiman Daud said the prosecution had proven beyond reasonable doubt that Mijan had the intention to sell the cannabis and he had exclusive control and knowledge of the drug.

He added that the court could not accept Mijan's testimony that he was a drug addict and the cannabis was for his own consumption.

"On the balance of probability, it is difficult for the court to believe that the 84 packets of cannabis were for his own use. "On his testimony that he was a drug addict, it was not corroborated by his family members as the defence failed to put them on the stand," he said.

August 16 -- The Oklahoman reports: Colorado authorities may set up fake checkpoints in hopes of sniffing out illegal drugs, a state appeals court ruled in a case where camouflage-clad officers spied on fans during the 2000 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The ruling was based on a federal appeals court decision last year in a similar case in Oklahoma.

In that case, the court said in essence that fake checkpoints are legal because they are not the real thing. In the Oklahoma case, Mack Flynn saw checkpoint warning signs in Muskogee County, quickly got off the interstate and dropped a large sack along the road.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with his attorneys that checkpoints are illegal, but ultimately ruled against him because there really weren't any checkpoints. "The posting of signs to create a ruse does not constitute illegal police activity," that ruling said.

Flynn pleaded guilty in 2001 and was sentenced to federal prison.

August 18 -- The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports: Hempfest, the nation's largest annual festival promoting liberalization of marijuana laws, drew tens of thousands to the waterfront yesterday and Saturday -- reaffirming Seattle's reputation as a pot-friendly place.

"It's a welcoming city," Mikki Norris of the California-based Cannabis Consumers Campaign said yesterday, addressing the ultimate laid-back crowd -- men and women lying comfortably on Asian rugs and pillows under a giant tent made of hemp.

For two days, the politics of pot pervaded Myrtle Edwards Park, demonstrating a momentum that most politicians can only dream of.

For example, Hempfest director Dominic Holden estimated that a record 175,000 to 200,000 showed up for the weekend event advocating the legalization of "responsible" marijuana use. Even Bill Clinton at the height of his popularity drew only 15,000 people to a Seattle rally in 1992.

But will Hempfest's faithful hordes prove their potency at the ballot box? Seattle will find out Sept. 18, when city voters decide Initiative 75. The measure would direct police officers and prosecutors to treat the personal use of marijuana by adults as the city's "lowest law enforcement priority."

Much of the city's liberal establishment is backing the initiative, touted as a way of protecting scarce tax money to fight serious crimes and to provide such basic services as parks, libraries and homeless shelters.

Democratic Party organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, the League of Women Voters of Seattle, the King County Bar Association and City Council members Nick Licata, Judy Nicastro and Heidi Wills are among those endorsing the measure.

Yesterday, activist Meril Draper was one of the speakers urging the crowd to support Initiative 75. Praising Seattle police for cooperating with Hempfest, Draper said: "They are here to help us, not to bust us ... They have a job to do. We are here to change that job."

Send comments to Kevin Nelson.

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