Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Debate harkens to "medical use" of liquor - The Denver Post

Debate harkens to "medical use" of liquor - The Denver Post
There were 8,000 packages on hand when the American Railway Express Company opened its offices Monday. Long lines of permit holders formed on Stout street, fearful that their consignments might be denied to them."

So heralded the Western Newspaper Union News Service. Indeed, the most recent session of the Colorado General Assembly had adopted the Horton permit system, which allowed for the importation of "four ounces, procurable only through a physician's prescription."

Marijuana? No, Colorado first prohibited marijuana in 1927.

The date was Dec. 17, 1917, and the substance was liquor. Led by the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), Coloradans had voted three years earlier to make the state "bone dry," but the law did not take effect until Jan. 1, 1916. Prohibition was not in effect until Jan. 17, 1920, but liquor and beer sales were at that time illegal in Colorado. However, another federal law was in effect, often called the Reed Amendment, and provided that liquor should not be transported — except for scientific, sacramental or medical purposes — into any state that was "Bone Dry." The Colorado legislature responded with a new law that allowed many pharmacies in Colorado to be licensed to sell liquor for religious and medical reasons if the patient had a physician's prescription. The patient could have 4 ounces of liquor or 24 quarts of beer.

There was considerable controversy regarding this new law, and in May 1917, before it became effective, the WCTU asked the Colorado attorney general to rule that hospitals could not have liquor as it had no medicinal value and no reputable hospital or physician would ever prescribe liquor for patients. Attorney General Leslie Hubbard responded, "Inasmuch as a considerable volume of educated medical opinion holds that limited amounts of liquor are valuable in the treatment of certain ailments, we see no substantial objection to allow a reputable bona fide hospital to obtain . . . reasonable quantities of such liquor for use under prescription."

The legislature had provided for a "payment of one dollar [to] the Secretary of State [who] shall issue a permit, valid for one year, to any person designated by any regularly organized church or religious society."

But those engaged in the "drug business" were required to have a $100 annual fee, and the pharmacist $5 annually.

In 1918, Denver issued more than 59,000 liquor prescriptions, and it became quite apparent that many people did not need a prescription or permit to obtain alcohol and beer as bootlegging was pervasive throughout the state. Widely held views were that this prescription liquor would open the door to soda fountains being turned into dispensaries for liquor and beer. Although soda fountains did not dispense alcohol, it was so readily available that Colorado Prohibition ended on July 1, 1933, six months before the repeal of national prohibition.

After nearly 100 years, we still are discussing the availability, licensing, distribution and sale of beer and liquor. It would also appear that this well-established pattern will exist for marijuana — at least for the next 100 years — regardless of what the current General Assembly decides regarding the availability, licensing, distribution and sale of marijuana.

In DC A Promise Kept In Juvenile Justice

Washington Post
As I look back on five years as director of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, I see a road marked by both controversy and promises kept.
In May, city leaders fulfilled an oft-repeated vow to shutter the Oak Hill Youth Correctional Facility, one of the nation's most infamous youth-detention institutions. But concerns have since been raised about whether the 60-bed New Beginnings Youth Development Center, Oak Hill's successor, is too small, jeopardizing public safety.
The change in the District, it's important to note, has been part of a broad national shift. In turning away from the prison-like Oak Hill in favor of a smaller facility and rigorous coalitions of community-service providers, the District is squarely in the mainstream of modern juvenile justice practice and research. From 2000 to 2008, the number of youths in custody nationwide dropped by 27 percent, declining in two-thirds of all states. Texas reduced its incarcerated population by more than 2,000 youths, New York by 900 and California by a whopping 8,500, with no untoward effect on public safety. In California, in fact, juvenile arrests fell at twice the rate of adult arrests despite the fact that the state increased its adult prison population by 21 percent and decreased its juvenile prison population by 84 percent.

Prescription misuse found at CU dental school - The Denver Post

Prescription misuse found at CU dental school - The Denver Post

The University of Colorado's dental school has for years allowed a dentist without an active state license to treat patients alongside students — a situation that may have led to violations of federal law governing sedation drugs and prescriptions for narcotics, a Denver Post investigation found.

An exception to state law permitted dentists without an active Colorado license to practice at the University of Colorado Denver until August. After being confronted by The Post, the university ordered five dentists whose licensure status was in question to stop seeing patients.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Windsor residents to be polled on medical-marijuana shops - The Denver Post

Windsor residents to be polled on medical-marijuana shops - The Denver Post

Windsor residents will be polled in April to find out if they want any more medical-marijuana dispensaries in the community.

The vote will be on the town's municipal ballot and is nonbinding. The Town Board, which voted for the question earlier this week, just wants to get a clear idea of the sentiment of residents, said Mayor John Vazquez.

"We're hoping the secrecy of the ballot will help us get a true gauge of how people really feel," Vazquez said.

The ballot question asks: "Unless and until there is a final judicial determination that such a prohibition would violate the Colorado Constitution, should the town board for the town of Windsor pass an ordinance prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries within the

town's corporate limits?"

Friday, January 29, 2010

Denver councilman suggests rethinking plans for new jail annex - The Denver Post

Denver councilman suggests rethinking plans for new jail annex - The Denver Post

Jail populations in Denver have declined so much that the city should rethink plans to build a $25 million jail annex in conjunction with the new downtown jail and justice center, Councilman Doug Linkhart said this week.

Linkhart said the city's success in unclogging its jails may make part of the justice-center project unnecessary. Voters approved $378 million in 2005 to build a new courthouse, downtown jail and to build a new facility at what is known as the county jail on Smith Road.

Linkhart thinks building a new 256-bed facility at Smith Road to replace 500 of the 1,634 beds there now may no longer be necessary, and he isn't sure the city should spend the $25 million in bonds voters approved for construction at that facility.

Instead, he thinks voters might want to redirect the bonds to building a new recreation center. He said the city also could partner with the state of Colorado to build a new re-entry center for convicts leaving prison or simply not spend the money.

His plan has prompted a pushback from the city's corrections officials, though.

"Let me tell you, the councilman doesn't have to work in this jail. The sheriff's deputies do," said Jail Division Chief Elias Diggins. "Those deputies who are on the front line and those civilians who are on the front line have to work in these deplorable conditions. And for anyone to say we don't need a better working environment or better conditions for inmates is absurd."

Five years ago, Denver's jails were so crowded that officials had to erect a tent to house prisoners. Now, thanks to reductions in the time it takes to get inmates before judges and the creation of a drug court and early-release programs, the average daily number of inmates at the jails has declined by about 300. On Wednesday, Denver housed 2,008 inmates.

The city will open a new downtown, 1,500-bed jail later this year. Another 1,634 beds exist at the Smith Road facility, and the city plans in June to start spending $25 million in bond money to build another 256-bed facility at Smith Road and tear down antiquated buildings there that house 500 of the inmates.

There will be so much jail space after the construction is completed that the city plans this year to start renting out about 184 jail beds to the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the state of Colorado.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Carol Chambers Loses Latest Round

Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney Carol Chambers has had her ups and downs in her efforts to obtain the death penalty for two Limon inmates accused of killing a prison snitch.
Almost two years ago, Lincoln County District Judge Stanley Brinkley removed her office from the prosecution of one of the two capital defendants, Alejandro Prerez, citing misconduct by prosecutors, including failures to disclose conflicts of interest and misleading court filings.
Chambers protested that decision, and the Colorado Supreme Court put her back on the case. But now Judge Brinkley has tossed her from the Perez prosecution once more , this time singling out her office's unusual approach to financing its death-penalty efforts.
As first reported here in 2008, Chambers has used an obscure 130-year-old statute that requires the state to reimburse counties for prosecuting crimes committed inside prisons. That's given her a special war chest for the capital cases against Perez and co-defendant David Bueno (who was convicted but spared death and now is appealing, based on evidence that Chambers' office failed to disclose key information to the defense) as well as that of Edward Montour Jr., convicted of killing a guard at Limon.
Brinkley thinks the financing scheme circumvents state law and questions whether Chambers is bent on getting convictions at any cost -- as long as it's somebody else's. Chambers has long complained of being outspent and outgunned by the death-penalty defense bar and has argued that prosecutors should "use the tools we can" to even the playing field and punish prisoners who commit serious crimes while inside the system.

Controversy dogs DA as judge's ruling rips funding in prison-murder case

The Denver Post
Carol Chambers has overstepped again — this time by illegally funding her prosecution of a high-profile murder case, a judge has ruled.
"A district attorney's obligation is greater than obtaining convictions," reads an order Tuesday by District Judge Stanley Brinkley.
"A conviction, if it is to be obtained, must be accomplished by obedience to the law. Otherwise, the prosecution is no different than those the prosecutor is required to prosecute."
The ruling not only slams Chambers for playing dirty in The People vs. Alejandro Perez, it also kicks her and her entire staff off the case and calls for a special prosecutor.
The latest controversy involving the 18th Judicial District's prosecutor stems from the 2004 stabbing death of Jeffrey Heird, a white supremacist who was labeled as a rat by fellow inmates at the Limon Correctional Facility. The prison is in Chambers' four-county district.
Perez, then an inmate there, is facing a first-degree-murder charge and has yet to be tried.
His co-defendant, inmate David Bueno, has been convicted of Heird's murder but is asking for a new trial now that lawyers claim Chambers hid key evidence in the killing.
Chambers' office had been kicked off Perez's case earlier after the revelation that her special deputy district attorney had represented Perez — whom he effectively was trying to kill by seeking the death penalty — in a prior job as a defense lawyer. The state

Supreme Court reversed that decision and reinstated the district attorney's staff. At issue this time is Chambers' spending.
In prosecuting Perez and Bueno, she billed the Department of Corrections for all expenses and reimbursed her own office for at least $91,648 in staffing and office costs in 2007 that should have been reimbursed to Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties, where by law she gets her funding. One of the extra paralegals she assigned to the case was "a unique employee paid in a unique way," she testified.
The judge has a different word for Chambers' concept of unique — illegal. He found that she broke state law by creating a new funding source and sidestepping counties' budget approval.
A pact he described as a "side deal" with DOC "increased the manpower available to her office, thereby increasing the likelihood of a conviction" against Perez and Bueno, Judge Brinkley ruled.
Chambers will appeal.
The presence of a prison is a "significant financial drain on any DA's office in the counties that have those facilities," she said.
"Should we use the tools we can to deter murders there?" she asked. Prosecuting prison killings has become so expensive that, she said, "I am not sure we can do much with these very serious cases anymore and that is a shame, especially for those we must force to be residents there."
She has a point.
Still, shouldn't Chambers have to play by the rules just like the people her office prosecutes for crimes involving far less than $91,648?
For now, the answer is yes, as Judge Brinkley expressed loud and clear:
"Citizens will see no reason to comply with the laws that keep all of us safe from anarchy if district attorneys are allowed to violate the law in obtaining convictions."

CCA Officially Loses Arizona Prison Contract


Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (NYSE: CXW), the nation’s largest private prison operator, has officially lost a contract with the state of Arizona for its 752-bed Huerfano County Correctional Center in Colorado.
The contract expires in March, at which point the prison will be idled, according to a Corrections Corp. news release. Last week, the company announced that proposed state budget cuts in Arizona could threaten the contract and another for a 2,160-bed prison in Watonga, Okla. Together the contracts total $56.5 million in revenue for the company. Corrections Corp. has not received any updates on the Watonga facility.
In New York Stock Exchange Composite trading today, Corrections Corp. shares fell 24 cents to $19.39.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

9NEWS.com | Denver | Colorado's Online News Leader | Medical marijuana proposal passes at Capitol

9NEWS.com | Denver | Colorado's Online News Leader | Medical marijuana proposal passes at Capito

DENVER - The first statewide attempt to try to regulate Colorado's medical marijuana industry has passed at the State Capitol.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee held a hearing on the bill aimed at preventing doctors from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to recreational users. It passed around 1:30 p.m. in a 6-1 vote and may go to the Senate floor by Friday.

Under the proposal, doctors have to give medical marijuana patients a physical exam and provide follow up care. Those under 21 need to get the approval of two doctors.

Medical marijuana advocates were divided on Sen. Chris Romer's proposal. Many dispensary owners say they are on board with regulations if they give them uniform guidelines and avert a more severe crackdown like one approved this week in Los Angeles. Hundreds of Los Angeles pot shops face closure after the City Council voted Tuesday to cap the number of dispensaries in the city at 70.

But others feared that requiring follow up visits could cost patients hundreds of extra dollars a year on top of the $90 annual fee they pay to register as a medical marijuana user.

William Chengelis said he can't get his regular Veterans Administration doctors to sign off on medical marijuana and said buying pot illegally and paying the $100 fine would be cheaper than paying a private doctor for follow-up visits.

"I cannot afford this bill," Chengelis told lawmakers.

Patients, doctors and advocates against the measure gathered Wednesday morning to voice their opposition. About 50 people with the Sensible Patient and Provider Coalition lined the steps of the State Capitol urging legislatures to think of the patients first.

They said this issue is not about the legalization of medical marijuana but instead about patients' rights. Aside from the increase in costs, they say the proposal would infringe on their constitutional rights

"Well, it's going to have a severe impact on patients. Patients should be no more restricted in obtaining their medical marijuana than filling a prescription at the pharmacy of their choosing," Dan Pope, who has Muscular Dystrophy, said at the rally. "And inside right now they are going to be talking about placing restrictions on doctors, making it more difficult for them to provide recommendations to patients like myself that really need it."

Analysis: Denver pot shops' robbery rate lower than banks' - The Denver Post

Analysis: Denver pot shops' robbery rate lower than banks' - The Denver Post

A Denver Police Department analysis estimates that medical- marijuana dispensaries in the city were robbed or burglarized at a lower rate last year than either banks or liquor stores.

The analysis — contained in a memo authored by Division Chief Tracie Keesee for Denver City Council members — finds that the projected robbery and burglary rate for storefront dispensaries in 2009 was on par with that of pharmacies.

The analysis is the first time Denver police have sought to compare crime at dispensaries with that at other businesses, and it represents a best-guess at a crime rate for the city's rapidly evolving dispensary industry. Denver police spokesman John White said he didn't want to speculate on the bigger meaning of the numbers until the department can do a more thorough analysis.

But the memo comes as welcome news to medical-marijuana advocates, who have sought to convince state and local officials that dispensaries are not crime magnets.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

California Launches Plan To Reduce Prison Population

LA Times
Reporting from Sacramento - State prison authorities Monday began reducing the number of parole violators sent back behind bars and offering inmates more opportunity to shorten their sentences, as part of a plan to decrease the prison population by 6,500 inmates over the next year.

Low-risk offenders, including those convicted of nonviolent crimes, will not have regular supervision by a parole agent. And they will no longer be returned to prison for technical violations such as alcohol use, missed drug tests or failure to notify the state of an address change.

Parole agents will reduce the number of inmates they supervise to focus on those the state deems to be at highest risk of committing more crimes, such as people who have committed sexual crimes and other violent offenses. Each agent's caseload will fall from 70 parolees to 48.

In addition, prisoners can shave time off their sentences by working on firefighting crews or by obtaining a high school diploma or trade-school certificate or by completing drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs.

Over time, prisons chief Matthew Cate said, the rules will lower the rate at which parolees are returned to state lockups, reduce crime overall and "save, over the course of a full year, a half a billion dollars for California taxpayers."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Medical-marijuana users on uncertain ground in workplaces - The Denver Post

Medical-marijuana users on uncertain ground in workplaces - The Denver Post

Last year, Dorian Beth Wenzel, a Manitou Springs writer and arthritis sufferer, penned a letter to a local newspaper that disclosed her status as a medical-marijuana patient.

The paper printed the letter, and soon afterward Wenzel found herself face-to-face with the human-resources director of the nonprofit organization she works for. Wenzel's office, her HR director told her, is a drug-free workplace.

"It is kind of scary when your HR department is telling you that you could be fired," Wenzel said. "And it's like, 'Why?' "

To Colorado's already-vexing cannabis conundrum, add yet another riddle: Are medical-marijuana patients protected from discipline under their employers' anti-drug policies?

In the past week, two other stories that pose such a question have emerged:

• In the first, an Idaho Springs high school teacher and football coach resigned from the school after being charged with smoking marijuana on school grounds, even though he said he was a legal patient.

• The second involves a Denver city employee who failed a routine drug test taken after an on-duty car accident. The employee said medical-marijuana use accounted for the positive test.

Can an employer punish someone for doing something that is constitutionally protected?

"This issue is up in the air right now," said Vance Knapp, a Denver lawyer with Sherman & Howard who deals in employment law. "It hasn't been litigated through the courts."

In other words, nobody really knows yet.

Senate bill aims to clarify doctor-patient relationship concerning medical marijuana - The Denver Post

Senate bill aims to clarify doctor-patient relationship concerning medical marijuana - The Denver Post

A medical-marijuana bill months in the making could see more changes Wednesday when state lawmakers for the first time take up the complicated task of regulating the quickly growing industry, according to the bill sponsor.

The bill focuses on more closely linking doctors and their pot-seeking patients by breaking ties between doctors and dispensaries, requiring doctors who recommend marijuana to have licenses in good standing and requiring a bona fide doctor-patient relationship.

State health department data from mid-August showed that three quarters of the recommendations for marijuana were written by 15 doctors, half of whom were banned from writing prescriptions for other drugs such as Percocet and Vicodin.

"Doctor fraud is the core of the problem," said Sen. Chris Romer, the bill's sponsor. "Solve that and you solve 90 percent of the Wild West problem."

Romer, a Denver Democrat, said there are already four amendments ready for debate. They would:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Prison Operators Fall On Concerns Over State Budget Cuts

Wall Street Journal
NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Shares of private-prison operators fell Thursday after one of the leading companies, Corrections Corp. of America (CXW), said it may lose revenue and two prisons should the proposed Arizona state budget pass, eliminating the state's out-of-state-prisoner system.
Corrections Corp. said the proposed budget could lead to the loss of two contracts it has in Arizona, valued at about $56.5 million last year, and lead it to close the facilities in Colorado and Oklahoma that house the Arizona inmates. The company is expected to have $1.67 billion in revenue for 2009, according to Thomson Reuters.
Its shares recently tumbled 11% to $20.17 in recent trading on nearly three times the average trading volume amid a broad market downturn. The stock has now lost 18% so far this year, after the company was also notified earlier this month it had lost out on a large part of a federal contract.
Meanwhile, competitor Cornell Cos. (CRN) also dropped, sliding 7% to $22.71 in recent trading.
Macquarie Securities analyst Cooley May said Cornell would also lose about 1,750 inmates from the proposed budget cuts in Arizona.
And Geo Group Inc. (GEO), a third prison operator, also fell 4% to $20.25.
Representatives from the companies weren't immediately available for comment.
The housing of prisoners out-of-state can save state governments money, but also can look like low-hanging fruit for strained budgets this year, making Arizona's decision a concern for the whole industry, even as analysts downplayed its effect.
SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst Tobey Sommer said some states may follow Arizona, as political pressure builds to create prison jobs in-state, but that eventually this could lead to increased private demand down the line, because state prisons will become overcrowded.
"This behavior is exactly what creates the positions going forward," Sommer said. "There was a lot of demand after the last recession and public companies ended up taking a lot of market share.
Corrections Corp. said in its release that its contracts for Arizona prisoners are for two facilities, the Huerfano prison in Colorado and the Diamondback prison in Oklahoma. The contracts for those are set to expire Mar. 8 and May 1, respectively, and if not renewed, the prisons would likely be shuttered.

Wrong Folks Still Jailed? Go Figure

The Denver Post
How many mistaken-identity arrests does it take to make you angry?
For me, one was enough — a mom snatched from her home in Sterling and jailed in Denver because the city figured she was someone she isn't.
Then came another case, and another and another. Victim after victim has told how they were arrested and thrown behind bars because of sloppy police work.
A former city worker was mistaken for a man who was long dead. A student was held for a week without a court appearance and forced to answer to another man's name. And a 21-year-old was jailed more than four months on a warrant for a suspect with a discernibly different physical description.
In the two years since Christina FourHorn, the Sterling mom, went public about her ordeal, the city has tried to shrug off its screw-ups as anomalies. Officials estimate only a few ID errors have been made among thousands of inmates.
"Handling so many people as we do, a couple mistakes are bound to happen," the undersheriff once told me.
But Denver's little problem may be far bigger than the city admits. Since 2002, 219 more people seem to have been wrongly held, court documents and sheriffs' records indicate.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bondsman Lobby Targets Pretrial Release Programs

In Broward County, Fla., it's generally Judge John Hurley's job to look through arrest reports and make sure he keeps the dangerous people in jail and let the people who are not dangerous out.
To do that, he has basically three choices. He can release defendants on their own recognizance, which he does for small crimes like driving with a suspended license. Or he can grant them bail. Many won't be able to afford the bail Hurley sets, so they will pay a bail bondsman a nonrefundable fee — usually about 10 percent — to do it for them.
And then there's the third option: pretrial release, a county-funded program that gets people out of jail and keeps tabs on them using things like ankle bracelets, phone calls or drug testing. It used to be one of Hurley's favorite options. But these days, he doesn't get to use it very often.
The program can't handle many defendants anymore.
"The bondsmen think pretrial is stealing their business," Hurley says. "But I don't want to get into the mix. I don't want to get into the political aspect of all this."
Just how bail bonding became political in Broward has sent shock waves through pretrial programs across the country. Here in Broward, bondsmen pushed hard for a new county ordinance that now limits the pretrial program.
Now industry experts say powerful bail lobbying groups have begun using Broward as a road map of how to squash similar programs elsewhere, even though public records show the programs have saved taxpayers millions of dollars.

Inmates Who Can't Make Bail Face Stark Options

NPR Part 2 of 3
On the East River just across from Rikers Island sits a barge officially called the Vernon C. Bain Center. But every judge, layer and inmate in New York knows it as The Boat — a giant, floating jail docked in the Bronx.
Sometimes when the wind blows, you can feel it list just a little.
It is here that I first meet Shadu Green in June 2009. He is locked in a day room, still wearing the T-shirt and jeans he had on when he was arrested three weeks earlier.
In here, "every day is horrible," he says, leaning against one of the green walls. "I mean, I try not to show emotion because in here, you show emotions and they eat you alive."
Green, 25, is charged with a series of misdemeanors after getting pulled over in his car. But he doesn't have to be here. He has been granted bail. A judge has decided he is likely to show up for court when he's supposed to — if he can post a $1,000 cash deposit. A bondsman has offered to post the money for him, for a $400 nonrefundable fee.
Green doesn't have $1,000. He doesn't have $400. He doesn't have 44 cents to mail a letter to his mother asking for bail money.

Man arrested at Arapahoe County marjuana dispensary - The Denver Post

Man arrested at Arapahoe County marjuana dispensary - The Denver Post

A 50-year-old man has been arrested and charged with burglarizing a marijuana dispensary early this morning in Arapahoe County, authorities say.

Robert Cordova, 50, of Lakewood, was arrested around 2:30 a.m. after barricading himself briefly inside marijuana dispensary Herbal Options on the 3400 block of South Federal Boulevard.

He is being held for investigation of felony burglary of a controlled substance and misdemeanor criminal mischief.

A witness called the sheriff's office after spotting two or more people inside the store around 2:25 a.m., according to Sheriff Grayson Robinson.

Someone had broken into an adjacent vacant office space and punched a hole through the wall to enter the dispensary.

"It was fairly easy for him to break through," Robinson said.

Deputies set up a perimeter around the shop and closed off South Federal Boulevard in both directions at West Floyd Avenue and West Hampden Avenue, Robinson said.

No Plans To Close Another State Prison

Pueblo Chieftain
CANON CITY — Although the inmate population at the state's 20 prisons is declining, state officials have no plans to close another prison after closing the Colorado Women's prison here last year.

  "The population is still declining every month. We are getting less court commitment and this is happening across the nation, not just in Colorado," said Katherine Sanguinetti, Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

  Not counting private prisons or community corrections beds, the state has the capacity to house 14,832 inmates and the total population by the end of December was 14,426. That leaves the state with 406 open prison beds.

  "Clearly, with the budget crisis in the state, the administration and the legislators have tough decisions to make and all options are on the table. But at this point, there are not plans to decommission another state facility," Sanguinetti said.

  State prisons officials had considered closing the 192-bed Rifle Correctional Center prison last year but later decided that would not be in the best interest of the state, Sanguinetti said.   According to the Colorado Department of Corrections fiscal year 2008 report, adult prisoner admissions rose 3.9 percent but releases increased 4.5 percent.

  "The difference between admissions and releases has decreased in recent years, contributing to a slower expansion rate than in years past. The compounded admissions growth rate from fiscal year 2002 to fiscal year 2008 was 6.1 percent per year, while the release rate averaged 8.3 percent per year," according to the report.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mason at SAFER Calls For Boycott On Starbucks

Hardly a day goes by without Mason Tvert, head of SAFER (Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation), going after some individual or institution standing in the way of legalizing marijuana use for adults in Colorado and beyond. Still, his latest target is a surprise: Starbucks, the ubiquitous peddler of a highly addictive substance -- coffee.
Why? According to a manifesto on SAFER's website, "The Colorado Drug Investigators Association (CDIA), the group spearheading anti-marijuana lobbying efforts, is sponsored by several local and national businesses including Starbucks Coffee, Glock handguns, and -- you guessed it -- members of the alcohol industry!"
With this in mind, Tvert is staging a news conference at a Denver Starbucks at noon today, calling for a boycott of the chain until it disassociates itself from the CDIA. But don't rest easy, gun-packers and booze manufacturers. He may be coming after you next. Get details about the press conference below:
Marijuana reform backers to boycott Starbucks Coffee nationwide until it withdraws sponsorship of law enforcement group lobbying to keep marijuana illegal and protect the "Arrest and Prosecution Industry"
WHAT: News conference to announce the marijuana reform movement's nationwide boycott of Starbucks and other businesses until they withdraw their sponsorships of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, a group of law enforcement officials lobbying against the establishment of a regulated system of medical marijuana dispensaries so they can continue arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana

Marijuana magazine has fruitful debut in Denver - The Denver Post

Marijuana magazine has fruitful debut in Denver - The Denver Post

The woman gracing Kush Colorado's centerfold is long-limbed and lovely, but the new magazine's real star is the marijuana plant she clutches to her breast.

Billed as the "premier cannabis lifestyle magazine," the slick glossy debuted in Colorado last month, one more sign of galloping growth in the state's medical-marijuana business.

The city of Denver has more than 300 medical-marijuana dispensaries, the highest number in the nation outside California.

The pace of growth in the industry prompted the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws to recently name Denver "America's cannabis capital." While Los Angeles has more than 1,000 dispensaries, Denver outstrips the City of Angels on a per-capita basis, with more storefronts selling pot than Starbucks shops peddling coffee.

Colorado debut

Kush Colorado was already on the free-magazine racks at local 7-Eleven stores, King Soopers and other retailers when the national organization bestowed the title.

In the first four days it was available, shoppers snapped up 20,000 copies from stands at retail stores and dispensaries around the metro area, Kush publisher Michael Lerner said. Racks are reloaded twice a week.

"It is flying off the shelves," Lerner said.

Articles in Kush Colorado's first issue include an interview with comic Tommy Chong — "It's a magical plant, man. We should see it as the gift that it is" — a guide to shopping while stoned and a description of lighting options for those who want to grow marijuana indoors.

Bail Burden Keeps US Jails Stuffed With Inmates

Leslie Chew spent his childhood working long days next to his father on the oil rigs of southern Texas. No school meant he never learned to read or write. Now in his early 40s, he's a handyman, often finding a place to sleep in the back of his old station wagon.

But he got by — until one night in December 2008 when the station wagon got cold, and he changed the course of his life.
"Well, I stole some blankets to try to stay warm," he says quietly. "I walked in and got them and turned around and walked right back out of the store. [The security guard] said, 'Excuse me, sir, come here. Are you planning to pay for these?' I said, 'No, sir. I don't have no money.' That's when he arrested me right then."
When I first spoke to Chew last summer, he'd been inside the Lubbock County jail since the night he was arrested: 185 days, more than six months.
Chew is like one of more than a half-million inmates sitting in America's jails — not because they're dangerous or a threat to society or because a judge thinks they will run. It's not even because they are guilty; they haven't been tried yet.

Webb's Sentencing Commission Act Passes Out of Committee

The Sentencing Project
January 21, 2010

Senate Committee Passes National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009

The bi-partisan National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 (S. 714) was passed out of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary today by voice vote. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) would create a commission to conduct a thorough evaluation of the nation's justice system and offer recommendations for reform at every stage of the criminal justice system.
The establishment of such a commission could not come at a more critical time. With 2.3 million people in prisons and jails, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Federal and state governments spend more than $50 billion each year on corrections, and the population behind bars continues to grow.
A new approach to crime prevention is necessary and the time for reform is upon us. The commission created by this legislation would establish an organized and proactive approach to studying and advancing programs and policies that promote public safety, while overhauling those practices that are found to be fundamentally flawed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

FBI reviewing thousands of court cases where flawed agency evidence has been used - latimes.com

FBI reviewing thousands of court cases where flawed agency evidence has been used - latimes.com
DENVER (AP) — Three people convicted of murder have been released from prison because their cases were tainted by a now discredited theory that bullets found at a crime scene could be linked to bullets found in possession of suspects.

Nearly five years after the FBI abandoned its so-called comparative bullet lead analysis, the FBI has yet to complete its review of nearly 2,500 cases where law enforcement used such evidence to investigate a case.

So far, the agency has found 187 cases where so-called comparative bullet lead analysis evidence was not only used in the investigation, but came into play at trial where FBI experts provided testimony. It has notified prosecutors in those cases where testimony from its experts "exceeds the limits of the science and cannot be supported by the FBI," one agency letter says.

At least three convictions — that of a Colorado man who served 12 years in prison for a double slaying, a Florida man who served 10 years after being convicted of killing his wife, and an Oregon man convicted of a triple slaying — have recently been overturned.

All three men are now free.

Comparative bullet lead analysis was based on the theory that lead bullets pick up trace elements such as copper, antimony, arsenic, bismuth and silver during manufacturing. When the soft metal is shaped into bullets and packaged, bullets in the same box would contain similar amounts of the trace elements, the theory went.

FBI lab technicians compared bullet fragments from a crime scene with bullets possessed by suspects. If the trace elements closely matched, prosecutors — backed by FBI testimony — would argue the suspects' guilt.

Defense attorneys say the analysis appeared to be a miracle of science: It required a small nuclear reactor, once housed at an FBI lab at the Hoover Building in Washington, D.C., and relied on the expertise of only a handful of qualified FBI agents.

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Cash Scratch Fever

Colorado Springs Independent
Mike Morrissey's liquor store sits at the corner of Spruce and Bijou streets, just west of Interstate 25, adjacent to a neighborhood some would call shabby. He's been there 18 years, so he knows his clientele backward and forward — "better than I should know them," he says.
Ask who buys lottery tickets from beneath his countertop cases, and he doesn't hesitate.
"People who live paycheck to paycheck are the ones buying tickets," he says.
Lower-income folks spend three times more on lottery tickets — mostly scratch — from Morrissey than middle-income customers. One elderly customer living in downtown subsidized housing bought rolls of tickets at $300 to $600 each, shelling out about $4,000 over the course of six months.
"He didn't win anything," Morrissey says.
Those are the kinds of folks the state of Colorado is counting on, the ones who don't care that the odds are stacked against them. Playing games in which chances to win range from 1 in 4 (scratch tickets) to 1 in 195 million (Powerball), they've rescued 718,171 acres of Colorado land from development, improved 1,000 community parks, built 700 miles of hiking and biking trails, and completed capital construction projects — all at a cost of more than $2.2 billion since the Colorado Lottery began in 1983.

Arizona Pulling Away From CCA

CNN Money
CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) (NYSE: CXW), the nation's largest partnership corrections provider to government agencies, announced today that the proposed budgets by the Arizona Governor and Legislature, released on January 15, 2010, would phase out the utilization of private out-of-state beds. CCA currently has management contracts with Arizona at its 752-bed Huerfano County Correctional Center in Walsenburg, Colorado and at its 2,160-bed Diamondback Correctional Facility in Watonga, Oklahoma.
The proposed phase-out of utilizing out-of-state beds is based on Arizona's budget crisis and its desire to utilize additional in-state capacity that will come on-line in 2010.
As a result of the budget proposals, there is a significant risk that CCA will lose the opportunity to house offenders from Arizona at its Huerfano and Diamondback facilities during 2010. Our contract with Arizona at Huerfano expires on March 8, 2010, and our contract at Diamondback expires on May 1, 2010. In the event that Arizona should not renew one or both of these contracts, CCA will work with Arizona officials related to the timing of any phase-out of Arizona inmate populations. We would anticipate that such populations would be transferred out within 30 to 60 days following expiration of each management contract. If Arizona removes its offender populations housed at these facilities, CCA will likely close both facilities. During 2009, CCA generated approximately $56.5 million in revenues from both of these contracts.
"Although we are disappointed with the proposed budgets' initiative to eliminate utilization of out-of-state prison capacity, we understand our partner's fiscal concerns in a very difficult budgetary environment," said Damon Hininger, president and CEO. "We are hopeful that Arizona will move forward with a Request for Proposal for the construction and management of 5,000 partnership prison beds in the state of Arizona and remain committed to continuing our partnership with the state of Arizona. Although we do not currently manage any inmate populations from the state of Arizona at any of the six facilities we own in the state of Arizona, we are one of the state's top 50 employers and pay millions of dollars in taxes every year, making us a compelling partner for Arizona as it considers the addition of in-state partnership capacity."

Quillen: Colorado fighting the wrong plant - The Denver Post

Quillen: Colorado fighting the wrong plant - The Denver Post

Much as I hate to disagree with my state representative, Tom Massey of Poncha Springs, it is time for our legislature to take "free-market" principles seriously, and take our state totally out of the marijuana-enforcement business.

Cannabis ought to be like any other plant grown in Colorado. You and I are free to cultivate, buy and sell alfalfa, potatoes or chili peppers. Why should marijuana be any different?

The benefits of flat-out legalization are numerous. Local and state government budgets are tight these days, and there have to be better uses for our tax dollars than the millions we spend on enforcement, prosecution and incarceration.

The current "medical marijuana" controversy just adds to the complication — as well as the cost, since "licensed growers" aren't going to welcome unbridled competition that would lower prices. But that's their problem; why should it be anyone else's?

As for the violence and corruption that accompany prohibition, that's a result of the big profits to be made by dealing in substances made artificially scarce. To put it another way, when was the last time you heard of a gunfight over a bale of hay, or a bribe to transfer a bushel of potatoes?

Granted, there are objections, but they don't stand up well.

The law-enforcement community wants tighter regulation, or even a return to outright prohibition. Of course. But this isn't because they're concerned about public safety. It's because they're concerned about keeping their jobs and expanding their bureaucracies. The more things that are illegal, the more work there is for them.

In other words, we are naturally skeptical when educators tell us they need smaller classrooms and longer school days and terms, which means more teachers and higher pay. So why aren't we just as dubious about sheriffs and police chiefs who crave bigger budgets? I don't blame them for wanting more money and power — we're all tempted along that line — but let's drop the pretense that it has anything to do with improving the public welfare.

Legalization would send the wrong message to children. The main message from the current system — the futile and expensive War Against a Plant — is that America is run by hypocritical morons. How could legalization present a worse message?

It would make our highways more dangerous, and we already have trouble enough with alcohol. For one thing, that's really an argument for better public transportation and improved pedestrian facilities, so that people feel less of a need to drive under various influences.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Prison violence requires answers - The Denver Post

Prison violence requires answers - The Denver Post

Colorado's budget crisis is exacting a grim and vicious toll on some state prisoners.

An uncomfortable number of high-risk inmates are now being housed with less dangerous offenders, creating a volatile mix that has led to three inmate murders and a surge of assaults.

The problem could be solved if Colorado had the money to staff a new, $208 million maximum-security prison that workers will finish building in Cañon City this summer.

But where, in these times of budgetary woes, to get the $20.5 million to run the facility that will sit empty?

The problem is indicative of the difficult fiscal dilemmas the new governor of Colorado will face. We think the candidates for Colorado governor should address the problem on the campaign stump and tell us how it might be solved.

Given the strictures on the state budget, merely saying they'd make cuts elsewhere won't work. Do you cut K-12 education further — and how, given the constraints of Amendment 23? Or do you whack higher education again? Would you raise revenues, and how?

Gov. Bill Ritter tried to save money by letting certain prisoners within six months of mandatory release out of prison early. But the savings have been less than projected because the parole board struggled with difficult decisions about which inmates could be trusted to move into early release.

Lawmakers now must cut $1.4 billion from the state budget, which already has been assiduously trimmed.

Colorado State Penitentiary II, the new 948-bed maximum-security prison, was intended to house some of the state's more dangerous prisoners, keeping them in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. A year ago, Ritter pitched the idea of delaying its opening to save money as the state contemplated cutting spending on education, mental health services and furloughing state workers.

These difficult choices now will fall to the next governor. We'd like to hear how Republicans Scott McInnis and Dan Maes and Democrat John Hickenlooper would handle it.

A Denver Post story by staff writer Kirk Mitchell, published Sunday, said instances of inmates assaulting one another have grown by 16 and 17 percent annually during the past couple of years. At the Buena Vista Correctional Facility, 45 percent of the inmates at the medium-security prison are too dangerous to be there, according to the story.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Medical marijuana system must be fixed - The Denver Post

Medical marijuana system must be fixed - The Denver Post

Editor's note: Colorado legislators soon will turn their attention to the debate over regulating medical marijuana, its caregivers and its dispensaries. But first, the haze has to clear concerning three questions The Denver Post put to two people from opposite sides of the issue.

1. Is the current medical marijuana model working?

It is clear that the current medical marijuana procedures are not working.

In 2000, the voters of Colorado passed a constitutional amendment to allow "medical use of marijuana for persons suffering from debilitating medical conditions."

The amendment set forth a specific medical marijuana system involving a patient, a physician, and a primary care-giver. (A primary caregiver was defined as "a person who has significant responsibility" for the well being of a patient.)

The amendment allowed patients and/or caregivers to have two ounces of marijuana and six plants per patient. In the beginning, the system worked much as the people envisioned, and from 2000 to 2007, there was very little abuse. In early 2008, there were less than 2,000 people on the registry.

Then things changed.

From Jan. 2, 2009, through Oct. 31, 2009, 20,728 people applied for a medical marijuana card. Suspiciously, just 15 doctors (out of 17,221 licensed doctors in Colorado) recommended medical marijuana cards for 75 percent of those patients. Those doctors were well compensated and marijuana dispensaries then sprung up statewide.

A right to do business in medical marijuana - The Denver Post

A right to do business in medical marijuana - The Denver Post

Editor's note: Colorado legislators soon will turn their attention to the debate over regulating medical marijuana, its caregivers and its dispensaries. But first, the haze has to clear concerning three questions The Denver Post put to two people from opposite sides of the issue.

1. Is the current medical marijuana model working?

This past year, Colorado has witnessed intense media coverage of the medical marijuana issue, with much of it focusing on the so-called "chaos" that has stemmed from the emergence of medical marijuana wellness centers or "dispensaries."

Yet what is so chaotic about licensed, tax-paying businesses providing this medicine to qualified individuals in accordance with the law adopted by voters? Just what is so scary about a cancer or AIDS patient having access to medical marijuana at a safe, community-based location? For that matter, what is so scary about someone simply suffering from debilitating back pain having such safe access, as well?

It falls within the scope of the law, their physician recommended it, and it is far safer and potentially more effective than using highly addictive and potentially deadly prescription pain-killers.

Dispensaries have emerged as a compassionate, community-based solution to fulfill the growing demand for medical marijuana. They serve as a centralized location which provides safe and legal access to this doctor-recommended medicine and function as a positive alternative to the illicit drug market. These facilities provide consistent access to quality medication from state-licensed caregivers who possess a keen understanding of marijuana's medical properties, dosage, and usage. Patients from across the state rely on these facilities due to the fact that medical-grade marijuana can often be difficult — if not impossible — for patients to obtain.

Carroll: The pot dispensary wars - The Denver Post

Carroll: The pot dispensary wars - The Denver Post

Medical marijuana backers just won't take yes for an answer. The Denver City Council this week took the extraordinary step of passing regulations that will allow 200 to 300 marijuana dispensaries in a town where none existed just months ago. Not a single council member voted no.

So were dispensary backers grateful? Not on your life. The hearing was rife with complaints that the restrictions trampled on patient and caregiver rights. A lawsuit was threatened. From the alarmed reaction, you'd have thought the council had been supplanted by a cabal of pot prohibitionists from the attorney general's office.

The irony is that the dispensaries — in Denver and elsewhere — face a genuine threat: The legislature is considering shutting them down by limiting each "caregiver" to five patients, making such disputes as occurred in Denver irrelevant. "If you believe in the dispensary model — and I believe in the dispensary model — you better start working now to save it," Councilman Charlie Brown advised the critics, after counseling flexibility on their part.

Brown is right. The self-righteous carping only confirms the worst suspicions of dispensary opponents: that the medical marijuana lobby is actually interested mainly in the backdoor legalization of cannabis itself — a status that Colorado voters rejected in 2006, six years after they legalized medical marijuana with Amendment 20.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Greene: No one's told drug-war soldier about peace breaking out - The Denver Post

Greene: No one's told drug-war soldier about peace breaking out - The Denver Post

The Obama administration has pledged to end federal interference in states that have legalized medical marijuana. But in Colorado, it has failed to call off one of its dogs.

A Coloradan who works for the president's drug-policy office is leading efforts to undermine the state's constitutional amendment allowing cannabis for medical use. On the federal dime, Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, is lobbying state lawmakers to gut the Colorado law.

Either Gorman didn't get the memo about changes in federal drug policy, or he's going rogue. Whichever the case, no one in D.C. seems to mind.

"I'm not about to stand back and let federal drug laws in this country continue to be violated," Gorman says.

Since President Barack Obama took office a year ago, the Justice Department has taken the stance that pot-smoking patients and sanctioned suppliers shouldn't be targeted for federal prosecution in states that allow medical marijuana.

Gorman has spent years lobbying against Amendment 20, which Coloradans approved in 2000. If Obama has shifted direction on medical marijuana, the 66-year-old veteran of three administrations' drug wars obviously hasn't followed. Pot smokers are gaming the system, he complains, and addiction, chaos and moral decay no doubt will ensue. He's trying to convince lawmakers that they'd be sanctioning drug trafficking by passing a bill that would set specific rules on growing and selling pot, even for medicinal use.

"If Colorado state leaders elect to legitimize and try to regulate dispensaries, that action would be in violation of Federal Law . . .," he threatened in a memo that's being passed around the state Capitol.

"Dispensaries aren't what Coloradans had in mind when they approved the amendment," adds Gorman, who, in addition to his expertise on drugs, apparently has his finger on the pulse of the electorate.

Funding crisis keeps some violent inmates in medium security - The Denver Post

Funding crisis keeps some violent inmates in medium security - The Denver Post
Three Colorado inmates who should have been housed in higher-security prisons that had no room for them are suspected of killing fellow prisoners recently in separate incidents, spotlighting a systemwide logjam of violent offenders.
More than 1,300 Colorado inmates are being held in less-secure conditions than they warrant, but the state's higher-security prisons are full, forcing a mixture of violent and lesser offenders in some facilities, said Katherine Sanguinetti, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections.
The violent offenders, housed throughout the prison system, are largely responsible for double-digit increases in the rates of assaults on other inmates and staffers in 2008, Sanguinetti said.
Meantime, a possible solution for freeing the logjam has stalled.
Construction will be completed this summer on a $208 million maximum-security prison in Cañon City with 948 beds, but the state's budget crisis will keep it closed because there is no money to hire a staff. It would cost $20.5 million to open and occupy the prison, including hiring 581 full-time staff members. The prison has no target opening date.
The assaults and murders call for immediate action, state legislators said, but given the recession and lingering budget deficit, there are no speedy solutions.
"I don't have any magic bullets here," said Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee. "It's a very serious problem when we start talking about assaults on guards."
She said she knew about the prisoner placement problems but not about the assaults and murders.
"We can talk about being frugal and tightening our belts, but what's happening at the Department of Corrections shows us a real-world example of what happens when we aren't able to provide services," Levy said.
DOC officials considered emptying a medium-security prison and sending the staff over to open the new high-security prison, called CSP II. But there were myriad logistical issues, including that it takes more officers to run a higher-security prison, Levy said.
Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that in the long term, Colorado needs to move nonviolent inmates out of prisons if they could be managed safely in the community.
"We have to make space for high- risk offenders," she said.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Take Partisanship Out of Politics

Aurora Sentinel
For all the good it will do, Colorado residents must insist that state lawmakers temper partisan politics as the state’s disastrous budget shortfall come steaming into the legislative session that began this week.

While the state has cut deeply the last two years, this is the year almost everyone will feel the pain. State lawmakers and Gov. Bill Ritter must somehow find more than $1 billion just to keep Colorado at the reduced spending level it’s at right now or cut nearly that amount from the budget. Extracting a billion dollars this year won’t go unnoticed by anyone.

Republicans are already sniping at the controlling Democrats, saying they didn’t cut deep enough last year, and now the pain will be intolerable.

That’s nonsense. When Republicans were behind the wheel, they, too, used every budget trick they could in bad times to keep the wheels on state government. Aurora and every city like it goes through the same motions: not replacing vacant positions, paring down reserves, looking at ways to increase tax revenues without increasing taxes.

The state is now out of relatively easy options.

Ritter has proposed that the state reduce public schools funding by a whopping $260 million. While the state can still keep per-student funding levels at last year’s mark, money for many other programs will be cut. There really is no good alternative.

Ritter is imposing another 2.5-percent pay cut on many of the state’s employees and ending a host of tax cuts and exemptions that appear to be questionable to begin with, such as tax perks for the direct-mail and fast-food industries, two business concerns that don’t appear to be ailing at this point.

But the big-ticket items must be pared back to make any real progress at meeting the $1 billion goal.

Legislators await first bill to regulate medical marijuana - The Denver Post

Legislators await first bill to regulate medical marijuana - The Denver Post

The first official bill to regulate medical marijuana in Colorado will come before the legislature today, its sponsor said, as cannabis advocates on Thursday took different tacks in fighting for their cause.

The bill, from state Sen. Chris Romer, would create stricter requirements for the relationship between patients seeking marijuana and the doctors recommending it to them.

The bill would bar marijuana providers from paying doctors who recommend pot to patients, would require marijuana-recommending doctors to be in good standing with no restrictions on their medical licenses and would require the doctor and patient to have a "bona fide" relationship in which the doctor provides the patient a full examination and follow-up

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Marijuana advocates blast lawmakers at Denver rally - The Denver Post

Marijuana advocates blast lawmakers at Denver rally - The Denver Post

Marijuana advocates who rallied across the street from the state Capitol today had sharp words for lawmakers considering regulations for Colorado's booming medical-marijuana industry.

"Keep your grubby hands off of medical marijuana!" activist Robert Chase shouted toward the Capitol.

About 200 advocates attended the rally — which was timed to begin once Gov. Bill Ritter finished giving his State of the State speech. Many of the speakers at the rally blasted legislative proposals to strongly regulate or effectively outlaw the state's growing number of retail medical-marijuana dispensaries. A number of speakers urged cannabis advocates to contact elected officials to lobby for their cause — though they often cast the relationship between advocate and lawmaker as an adversarial one.

"We deserve a seat at that table," prominent medical-marijuana attorney Robert Corry said. "And if they don't give us a seat at that table, well, I've got a flame-thrower we can use to deal with that table."

Corry said he would soon be unveiling a "patient-centered" proposal for lawmakers to consider. But Corry said he wasn't eager to see any new regulations adopted, arguing that Colorado's current medical-marijuana policy — which leaves dispensaries largely unregulated — is already protected under the state constitution.

Laura Kriho, a cannabis advocate, echoed that.

"We have a 100 percent constitutional right to use medical cannabis," she said. "And we don't see any reasons to give up any of these rights just because some suburban households were offended by Dr. Reefer's 4-foot-high marijuana leaf sign on South Broadway."

A number of prominent medical-marijuana advocacy groups were conspicuously not represented at the rally, and the speakers largely reflected the views of a segment of advocates who have grown frustrated with efforts to work with policymakers on regulations they feel will not restrict the medical-marijuana industry.

How Anti-marijuana Romer Can Stil Lead America's Most Pro-pot City

Huffington post
For years, Denver voters have been told to envision a green city. They've responded with overwhelming support. Just perhaps not the type of green some politicians may have hoped for. Now, as one state senator is said to be vying for the city's top post, the big question remains: has he doomed his candidacy by angering marijuana activists who once considered him a friend?
"Green Rush." That's how a recent CNN report explained the explosion in medical marijuana dispensaries popping up around Denver.
Other reports have proclaimed Denver as America's "Pot Capitol," highlighting the fact that the city is now home to more dispensaries than Starbucks or schools. To newcomers, it's all so very interesting and new.
In reality, however, the city's pro-marijuana vibe has been a staple for at least the last decade. Since 2000, Denver voters have consistently voted to support various incremental ballot measures all devoted to ending to the government's war against marijuana.
They've done so not once, not even twice or three times, but rather, four times. And in the aftermath of a major positive shift in federal anti-marijuana policy earlier this year, the city's landlords have welcomed nearly 300 medical marijuana dispensaries into their vacant strip malls and high end commercial spaces, with more than 200 additional shops set to open shortly.
The dispensary boom has meant that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been paid in rent, dozens of residents have gone from collecting unemployment to holding their heads high by collecting a legitimate paycheck, and most remarkably, the city's thousands of registered medical marijuana patients have been provided a marketplace of options providing safe, well-lit alternatives to the black market drug dealers they often previously turned to for their medicine.
But not everyone saw the "green rush" as a good thing.
A handful of affluent neighborhood coalitions turned to legislators to shut down dispensaries before they even opened their doors. In December, reporters gave copious coverage to a single failed robbery attempt of one dispensary located in the city's crime-prone west side. The 14 bank robberies hitting the city that same week got second billing.
Opponents found a good listener in Chris Romer, a Democrat representing Denver in the state Senate. The son of a former Colorado governor, Romer is also floating his name to run for mayor after current office holder John Hickenlooper announced this week that he'll seek to replace Gov. Bill Ritter, after Ritter shocked many with his own announcement that he won't seek re-election.
While the game of musical chairs is not one for wimps, it also involves basic rules of decency and voter trust: Don't alienate key constituencies, especially grassroots coalitions that have previously praised you in the media.
Coming from a political family, and having beat out a crowded primary field to land his current post, Romer should know the importance of ground troops well. So who could blame him in late 2009 when he jumped onto the medical marijuana media craze, announcing that he would introduce legislation designed to reasonably protect the interests of all involved? We even offered up our own ideas for workable regulations.
But then he introduced his bill.
The 60-plus page measure landed with a thud. Designed to create a complicated, contradictory maze of new regulations, the bill raised seemingly endless questions about constitutional violations and enforceability. Medical marijuana supporters were shocked and outraged. This was not the type of proposal they'd been promised. And they weren't alone in their disdain. A Denver Post editorial condemned it. Law enforcement officials lobbied behind the scenes against it.
But give credit where credit is due. Romer responded by slashing nearly half of the bill's length, introducing a 39-page version he marketed not only for its quicker read, but also as more workable for all involved. Still, this second draft failed to garner even mild support from a single key interest group on either side of the debate.
That's when things got a little emotional.
After a Friday afternoon closed-door meeting with Ritter and law enforcement officials, Romer chose Saturday night to announce that he would pull his bill. He did so not by picking up the phone to call key point people. Instead, he took to the Huffington Post on Saturday night just before 8 p.m., proclaiming not only that he would drop the bill, but also that he'd support an alternative seeking to shut down dispensaries altogether. He then blamed the development on irrational medical marijuana activists.
On Monday morning, we responded to the allegations, making our case on the Huffington Post that we have never wavered in our willingness to support a reasonable bill, and also highlighting weaknesses within the non-dead version. Just minutes after our response was posted, however, it became clear that Romer had no intent to compromise, evidenced by a flurry of media calls we received by reporters repeating fresh accusations made by Romer.
"Unsophisticated," "childish," "unwilling to compromise." The list went on and on. As Romer told it, he had no choice but to the kill the bill after medical marijuana activists refused to jump on board with provisions that could have destroyed patient access and confidentiality.
Romer's attacks are a slap in the face to our side's repeated, tireless, and public efforts to put forth recommendations for compromise. While both camps have become emotional at times (we are talking about constitutional rights here, so it's understandable) we have never wavered in our desire to work with Romer to develop a quality regulatory framework. Even in the midst of his most recent behavior, we maintain this commitment today.
Others may be more hesitant. At least for the time being, Romer has isolated a mobilized grassroots community that includes thousands of Denver voters who see his recent actions not just as political posturing, but also as a threat to rights they utilize to live their daily lives. While politicians in some Colorado cities may still be able to ignore, mock, or attack medical marijuana patients and caregivers, Romer cannot escape the viable threat of splitting primary votes with any pro-marijuana Democrat who should arise to challenge him.

The hypocrisy of John Suthers - The Denver Post

The hypocrisy of John Suthers - The Denver Post
"I would rather have legalization than have that widespread government-sanctioned hypocrisy," Attorney General John Suthers said this week, regarding action the legislature might or might not take on medical marijuana. But when did it become the attorney general's job to police "hypocrisy," rather than criminality? If that's his job, he could charge himself with a violation, based on that statement alone.

Suthers opposes legalization of any kind, even if it would end the alleged "hypocrisy." He has for as long as I've been paying attention. He's simply having trouble adapting to new realities, so he wants to roll the clock back as far and as fast as he can. He has plenty of colleagues in law enforcement (and a good number of politicians) willing to join him in that effort. But there's a bit of "hypocrisy" on that side as well.

Americans can dose themselves and their children with massive quantities of any pharmacy-bought drug — drugs that are widely abused and aren't always safe, even with FDA approval. They can sop their brains with alcohol, as long as they don't get behind the wheel while under the influence. But if some of them find answers to their physical or psychological maladies in the "evil weed," Suthers raises red flags.

Does that constitute "hypocrisy"? It's "inconsistency," or a case of "cognitive dissonance," at the very least.

Medical marijuana use has been legal in Colorado for nearly a decade, like it or not. Yet providers and patients have had to operate in the shadows, fearing that abiding by the state constitution would invite a federal drug bust. And Suthers, who is sworn to uphold the state constitution, was content with that arrangement, in which a legal, constitutionally sanctioned activity was treated as an illegal one. He was content to have law-abiding Coloradans slink around like common criminals. Instead of siding with Coloradans, and the Colorado Constitution, Suthers and his predecessors sided with the George W. Bush Justice Department, which was also stuck in the "just say no" era.

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_14182960#ixzz0cb2H9gaM

Romer to Colleagues: Quit Huffing and Get Puffing

Chris Romer aims to educate his colleagues about a key issue they'll be voting on this session.
"There are lots of complexities to medical marijuana," he says. "Maybe the only way to really understand them is to have 100 legislators and the attorney general try it for a day."
There are as many reasons as legislative districts why Romer's may be a dumb idea.
One is that the Drug Enforcement Administration isn't likely, as he hopes, to grant the legislature amnesty from federal drug laws. Another is that passing a bong at the statehouse sends the wrong signal to kids.
A leading pot advocate disses Romer's scheme on the grounds that it trivializes the need for medical users. Most lawmakers don't suffer the chronic conditions that marijuana was legalized to treat in Colorado.
"Voters put this law into effect to help sick people. You could argue that lawmakers aren't sick," Sensible Colorado director Brian Vicente says.
"We struggle for legitimacy as is," he adds. "This is only going to be viewed as wacky."
Romer is willing to capitalize on his name (he's former Gov. Roy's son) and the safety of his Democratic Senate seat to give what he calls "street cred" to the cause of gingerly regulating the industry. He realizes that calling for a statehouse smoke may hurt his increasingly likely bid to replace John Hickenlooper as Denver mayor. Still, he says, he's on the right side of history.
"Even though there's some levity about all this, I'm serious as a heart attack," he says. "We need to get marijuana patients and legislators together in this building, open up this conversation and figure out how to work this out."
Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/greene#ixzz0cao19IKs

Marijuana advocates differ on how best to cultivate policy - The Denver Post

Marijuana advocates differ on how best to cultivate policy - The Denver Post

Three months ago, Laura Kriho stood before a roomful of fellow medical-marijuana advocates and urged them to get involved with the political process to create regulations for the state's legal-marijuana industry.

"I know our standards are way higher than the government's standards," she said then.

Now, as the medical-marijuana community prepares for a rally today that it hopes will grab the attention of state lawmakers, Kriho is among a number of cannabis advocates who have soured on what the community can accomplish by working with politicians.

Frustrated by what she says are overly harsh regulatory proposals from state and local governments and believing the marijuana community's input has largely been ignored, Kriho said she is increasingly inclined to bypass policymakers altogether and instead use ballot initiatives and the courts to bring legal clarity to the state's medical-marijuana policy.

"There's only a few ways you can control your government," Kriho, of the Cannabis Therapy Institute, said Wednesday. "One of them is through the ballot box. One of them is through the jury box."

To be sure, not everyone in the medical-marijuana community has given up on politicians.

Brian Vicente, executive director of the group Sensible Colorado, said his group is still talking with lawmakers about fighting back a proposal that would effectively outlaw retail marijuana dispensaries and instead introducing a bill the cannabis community could support.

"I think there is political will to push sensible regulation," he said.

Matt Brown — executive director of Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation, which has hired a team of lobbyists to represent it at the Capitol this session — said he has found lawmakers surprisingly willing to listen to proposals from the cannabis community.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Website Shines Light On The Dark Corners Of Prison


Get in serious trouble, go to prison. Get into some bad shit inside prison -- attacking staff, running heroin, or maybe somebody doesn't like your gang tattoo -- and you go to the hole, also known as solitary confinement or (in prison speak) administrative segregation.
Reporting what goes on inside solitary confinement units or entire supermax prisons can be difficult for journalists -- especially when the prison system (like the Colorado Department of Corrections) doesn't allow meddling outsiders to actually visit the bad boys of adseg. But Solitary Watch, a new website spearheaded by muckraking journalist James Ridgeway and developed by law faculty and students at Virginia's Washington and Lee University, hopes to provide citizens with a better view of the 100,000 or so prisoners now in some form of lockdown in this country.
Solitary Watch features blogs and links to other prison-related sites, research and academic resources dealing with the growing use of supermax prisons in many states -- and a feisty tone that promises some gritty firsthand reporting ahead.
Colorado, of course, is triply blessed with two state supermax prisons -- onebrand-new and empty because of lack of funds, as well as the federal high-security complex at Florence that includes ADX, the highest-security prison in the land.
For more on what goes on inside such places, see our Crime and Punishment archive, which includes a profile of Thomas Silverstein , quite possibly the most isolated man in America; a report on suicides in the state supermax; and a top-secret snitch unit that operated inside ADX.

Legislators will have hands full - The Denver Post

Legislators will have hands full - The Denver Post

The state's fiscal woes will undoubtedly dominate the 2010 legislative session, which begins today as state lawmakers gather under the Capitol dome.

With a shortfall of some $1 billion, legislators must figure out how to balance expenses with declining revenues. But it shouldn't be the only focus, as other important policy issues deserve attention as well.

They include fixes to the state's retirement fund, known as PERA, medical marijuana regulation, increasing Colorado's renewable energy standard, sentencing reform, and education legislation that supports Colorado's bid for federal Race to the Top money.

It shouldn't be a one-topic session.

While some in leadership have brushed aside medical marijuana regulation as a sideshow, it is not. The hundreds of dispensaries that have popped up overnight have caused concern in towns around the state. We hope legislators come up with targeted changes that preserve access to medical marijuana for seriously ill people, but cull out the frauds who just want to smoke dope.

Careful definition of a caregiver-patient relationship could go a long way toward solving the problems the state is experiencing.

Another hot topic will be PERA, the financially struggling retirement fund for public servants. It is in need of changes that would ensure its long-term solvency.

We're glad to see a bipartisan group of lawmakers crafting what are generally reasonable fixes that include trimming cost-of-living increases and raising contributions to the fund. We hope the employee contributions are structured to be payroll deductions and not taken out of possible future raises. That would ensure the sacrifice is truly shared.

Another issue that deserves attention is the proposal to increase the state's renewable energy standard from 20 to 30 percent by 2020. House Speaker Terrance Carroll told us he expects such a change would drive more green-job creation.

It's also a big jump in a relatively short time, and we'd like to hear what power producers have to say about the proposal.

Education reform ought to get careful consideration as well, as Colorado tries to position itself to receive millions in federal grant money. Reshaping teacher tenure laws and tying evaluations to professional development could significantly change K-12 education in Colorado.

The changes must be meaningful, though, and not merely legislative lip service.

Gov. Bill Ritter's decision not to run for re-election also adds a wild-card factor to the 2010 session as some constituencies try to get certain bills pushed through while they still have an ally in the governor's mansion.

Overall, the state's financial situation will set the tone for the session, but it should not be the only story line to emerge from the Capitol.

Read more:http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_14174333#ixzz0cV3c2nGR

Needy can bank on Denver Inner City Parish - The Denver Post

Needy can bank on Denver Inner City Parish - The Denver Post

Lorena Santa Cruz was busy on a recent day, filling boxes with peanut butter, bread, cereal, canned goods and other nonperishable items at Denver Inner City Parish.

Taking a break only to wipe the sweat from her brow and fan her face, Santa Cruz made sure everyone who came to the parish's food bank in central Denver went away with what they needed.

"I like to help people when they need it the most," said Santa Cruz, who also uses the food bank to help feed her family.

In addition to the food bank, Denver Inner City Parish, approaching its 50th year of service, operates a private school, summer and after-school programs, and several other programs that serve low-income families. It is seeking funding through The Denver Post Season to Share program.

Chandrika Prem, development director for the parish, said the number of people seeking food has tripled in the past year and a half — to about 1,110 different families a year and about 350 families monthly. It gets its food from the Food Bank of the Rockies and local churches.

More and more, its clientele is changing.

"We don't serve just the homeless or people who aren't working," Prem said. "We're also serving the working poor, people who have a choice between paying rent and eating, and they pay their rent so we give them food."

Those who come to the food bank can receive three days' worth of food for their family once every three weeks, she said. The food bank has a walk-in cooler where it stores pineapples, meats and, for the holidays, turkeys.

Lalo Delatorre lost his job as a marble and granite installer about three months ago, and on this day he made his first trip to the food bank, even though he didn't want to.

"The situation is now there is no work and no money for food," he said.

Maria Flores said the food bank is a blessing.

Read more:http://www.denverpost.com/seasontoshare/ci_14175744#ixzz0cV2btIJM