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. . . a weekly service for the media on news items related to marijuana prohibition.

June 12, 1997

House Judiciary Members Voice Support For Forfeiture Reform Bill

          June 12, 1997, Washington, D.C.:  Several members of the House Judiciary Committee voiced their support on Wednesday for a civil forfeiture reform bill (H.R. 1835) introduced by Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.)
          "Some of our civil asset seizure laws are being used in terribly unjust ways and depriving innocent citizens of their property with nothing that can be called due process," said Hyde, who announced that he will move quickly for Congressional passage of his bill.  Hyde received bi-partisan support from many committee members, including Ranking Democrat John Conyers (D-Mich.), Barney Frank of Massachusetts (D), and Bob Barr of Georgia (R), all of whom have signed on as co-sponsors.
          Under civil forfeiture laws, federal and state governments have seized billions of dollars worth of assets over the past decade.  The law permits law enforcement to confiscate an individual's assets, including both property and cash, if their exists probable cause that the assets may be derived from criminal activity or facilitated in the commission of certain crimes.  The owner does not have to be found guilty or even formally charged with any crime for the seizure to occur.  In 1993, Hyde reported that 80 percent of the individuals whose assets are seized by the federal government under drug-forfeiture laws are never charged with a crime.
          "We cannot continue to unjustly take assets from property owners unlucky enough to be caught up in civil forfeiture proceedings," Hyde argued.  "Nothing less than the sanctity of private property is at stake here."
          Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) agreed.  "In the name of the War on Drugs, we have been surrendering our Constitutional rights wholesale," he said.  "The Gestapo should ask for [the] powers [permitted under current forfeiture laws,] not the United States Justice Department."
          The "Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act," introduced by Hyde on June 10, proposes seven major changes in current asset seizure laws:
          * It shifts the burden of proof to the government, rather than the property owner.
          * It mandates that property owners who take reasonable steps to prevent others from using their property for illegal purposes can get their property back.
          * It provides for the appointment of legal counsel for indigent owners.
          * It eliminates the 10 percent cash bond requirement for those seeking to appeal government seizure actions.
          * It grants property owners 30 days from the time of the seizure to contest a forfeiture -- not the current 10-20 days allowed by law.
          * It allows for the release of property pending final disposition of a case.
          * It allows property owners to sue the federal government for negligence in its handling or storage of property.
          NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup said that he supported Hyde's forfeiture reform provisions.  "The property and cash of individuals suspected of marijuana-related violations are often unfairly targeted for forfeiture by law enforcement officials," Stroup noted.  "Hyde's bill puts some common sense limits on this abusive and runaway practice."
          For more information, please contact R. Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (FEAR) @ (305) 952-0799.  Copies of the "Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act" are available from NORML upon request.

Oregon Bill To Recriminalize Marijuana Moves One Step Closer To Becoming Law

          June 12, 1997, Salem, OR:  A Republican-sponsored bill that would recriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana passed a Joint Ways and Means subcommittee on Tuesday by a 5-3 vote.  The measure passed the Oregon House of Representatives in April.
          "This bill is not about health or a message to kids; it is about partisan politics and control," testified long-time drug-law reform activist Sandee Burbank of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse (MAMA).  Burbank said that recriminalizing marijuana would unfairly and unnecessarily burden taxpayers.  She added that individuals convicted under the new law could lose their driving privileges for six months.
          Under the provisions of House Bill 3643, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana would be increased from a "violation" to a class C misdemeanor crime.
          Oregon was the first state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1973.  Presently, marijuana decriminalization laws remain in effect in ten states: California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon.
          For more information, please contact either Sandee Burbank of MAMA @ (541) 298-1031 or Paul Stanford of the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp @ (503) 235-4606.

Site Of Marijuana Festival Could Be Subject Of Forfeiture

          June 12, 1997, Ferryville, WI:  Property that was home to this year's annual "Weedstock" music festival could be seized by law enforcement, according to statements made by a Wisconsin prosecutor.
          Mark Peterson, Crawford County corporation counsel, said he warned festival organizers before the event that forfeiture laws permit authorities to seize property that has been a site for illegal drug use.  Peterson is citing the 42 drug-related arrests made by police during the three-day event as evidence that illegal drugs were used on the premises.  The site of the event was leased to festival organizers by a Ferryville farmer.
          Rally organizer Ben Masel said that he and others would defend the farmer's property if authorities tried to confiscate the land.  "A First Amendment protected activity is not a basis for forfeiture," Masel said.  Organizers estimated that 3,500 people attended the weekend festival.
          Although local sheriff William Fillbach told reporters that this years festival went "very smoothly," Peterson said that he is still considering filing a petition in either state or federal court to initiate forfeiture proceedings.
          For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

Weld's Support For Medical Marijuana May Jeopardize Nomination

          June 12, 1997, Washington, D.C.:  Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) is objecting to President Clinton's choice for U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, because he supports legal access to medical marijuana.
          Helms, whose committee must approve all ambassadorial nominees, said that he did not feel Weld was "ambassador quality" and criticized his support for the use of marijuana as a medicine.  Tolerance toward the use of medical marijuana could make Weld unsuitable to be an ambassador of a major drug producing and trafficking nation like Mexico, Helms stated.
          Weld signed legislation last year reinvigorating a statewide program that would distribute marijuana to certified patients who suffer from serious illnesses like glaucoma and cancer.  The bill also creates an "affirmative defense" of medical necessity for some patients who use medical marijuana.  Earlier this year, Weld publicly stated that he has "no problem" with the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
          Clinton said that he plans to nominate Weld for the position despite Helms objections.
          For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751 or NORML Mass/Cann @ (617) 944-2266.