Marijuana laws taking a hit in some quarters
BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporter November 6, 2011 4:14PM
The pipe — known as a “one-hitter” — was disguised to look like a cigarette.
Kate held a Bic lighter. She fired up the pungent green wad of pot packed into the far end of the pipe and pulled in a lungful of smoke.
She waited: One second. Two seconds. Three.
Finally, she exhaled a thin blue ribbon and smiled.
“I’m a lifer,” Kate said as she sat in her living room. “I’ve been smoking pot for 30 years.”
Kate and Tom live in an upscale neighborhood in DuPage County.
Like an estimated 17 million other Americans, they’re regular marijuana users.
They’re also among a growing number of Americans who support legalization of the drug. But they’re careful about who they let know about their habit. That’s why they asked that their full names not be used.
Kate, 48, smokes about five times a week after work and on the weekends. Tom, 52, smokes almost as frequently.
They both have high-paying jobs in the financial industry. And they see themselves as connoisseurs.
“It’s like a fine glass of wine where you twirl it, swish it in your mouth. You savor it,” Kate said. “Some kinds are evergreen-smelling. Some are orangey, sticky. We like to try different strains and compare.”
Taking a dare
Kate’s long relationship with marijuana began when she was in high school. Someone at a party dared her to smoke a joint. So she did.
“It was like the scene in the movie ‘Walk Hard,’” she laughed. “We were in a bathroom and someone said ‘You don’t want to do this!’ and I said, ‘Yes I do!’”
Kate continued smoking pot through college.
Tom, on the other hand, didn’t start smoking pot regularly until he was almost 30 and working in Chicago’s Financial District. The first two times he tried pot in college, he suffered from splitting headaches. He tried it again as an adult and enjoyed the relaxing feeling he got.
“Very mellow and mild,” he said. “Not like any other drug.”
Kate said she’s never bought marijuana from a drug dealer. There have always been friends of hers who had it and shared it with her.
“I never had to make that inner-city purchase. If I had to go somewhere scary to get it, I probably wouldn’t use it,” she said.
Kate briefly grew pot in her backyard vegetable garden. Her children were young and thought she was drying herbs in her basement. But the quality wasn’t stellar.
“I started to grow it because the one thing that bothered me about pot was that I understood the violence associated with it all,” she said.
Tom has always bought pot from people in the financial world who sell it on the side.
“I have used the same guy for the last four or five years,” he said. “I’ll send him a text message: ‘Can we get together tomorrow?’ He’ll say: ‘The usual?’ ‘Yes,’ I’ll say. ‘Meet you downstairs for a cigarette.’”
Hidden from kids
When Kate and Tom started smoking pot, it was much less potent than it is now.
“In the past, one ounce might be gone in a month,” Tom said. “Now one ounce might last four or five months. You only need to do one or two puffs these days.”
But the “good stuff” isn’t cheap, Tom said.
He and Kate smoke hydroponically grown sinsemilla — usually from Colorado or California where it’s legally sold for medical purposes. Tom usually spends more than $350 for an ounce.
Kate and Tom have teenage children and they don’t discuss their marijuana habit with them.
“They know I wish it was legal,” Kate said. “They know I’m not against it. But they’re minors and I don’t want to cross that line. It is illegal, after all.”
While Kate and Tom keep to themselves about smoking pot, Dan Linn is very open about it.
That’s because he’s the head of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — NORML.
Linn, 29, said he started smoking pot in his early teens like Kate.
He was an aggressive kid who got into a lot of fights before he started using pot before school every day. He continued to play travel hockey and worked a night job during high school.
“Once I started using cannabis, I started to calm down and focus on activities, whether it was academics, sports or outside hobbies,” he said.
Linn, who now works at a grocery, lobbies the Illinois General Assembly on a variety of marijuana-related bills. He’s pushing for the taxation and legalization of marijuana in Illinois. He supports medical-marijuana legislation, which came eight votes short of passing in May.
Push for tickets
Linn said he also backs making petty possession of marijuana a violation that results in a ticket but no criminal charges. Police, prosecutors and Cook County officials have been studying the idea recently. Several area towns also have switched to the ticket policy. Some Chicago aldermen introduced an ordinance to allow cops to write $200 tickets for possession of up to 10 grams of pot.
“I think it would be a step in the right direction,” Linn said.
Linn said he doesn’t always pay for marijuana. Growers give him pot as a “tribute” for his lobbying work. He said he knows medical marijuana growers in Colorado and California who illegally sell some of their weed in Illinois. He also is friends with some indoor growers who live in Chicago and rural Illinois.
“Downstate, you can find counties where the sheriff tells people, ‘This is not on my radar. I am not looking to arrest people for this.’ And those growers are expanding their operations,” Linn said. “But I know of stockbrokers, lawyers, people who work on the Board of Trade who grow it, too.”
Kate, Tom and Linn all consider marijuana to be medicine.
They know cancer patients who have used marijuana to treat the side effects of their ailments.
And Tom said marijuana alleviates the pain in his knees from playing competitive sports all the way through college.
Experts warn that marijuana smoking has been linked to psychosis in a small but growing number of users. But Kate, Tom and Linn insist marijuana is less dangerous than other drugs or alcohol.
They strongly support the legalization of pot, which they equate with lifting the prohibition on alcohol in the 1933 with the 21st Amendment.
“As far as I know, nobody has ever died from an overdose of cannabis,” Linn said. “People die all the time from alcohol poisoning.”
Tom and Kate sometimes have a cocktail or glass of wine while they are smoking. But Tom said he tells his kids that between alcohol and pot, alcohol is the bigger evil.
“I don’t see how anybody who has sense can say alcohol should be legal but marijuana should be illegal,” Tom said.
And with that, Kate handed Tom the one-hitter — and he took a puff.
Aldermen weigh decriminalizing small amounts of pot
Under a proposal Ald. Daniel Solis, 25th, will introduce at next week's City Council meeting, people caught in Chicago with 10 grams or less of marijuana would get a $200 ticket, and up to 10 hours of community service.
Appearing at a news conference with Solis and other aldermen, Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey said several states have already decriminalized small amounts of cannabis.
Chicago police make about 23,000 arrests each year for marijuana possession, which is currently a class b misdemeanor in the city punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,500 fine, Fritchey said. Police and court personnel get tied up dealing with those arrestees, he said. "It is not time to act tough on crime, it is (time) to be smart on crime. We need our resources spent somewhere else," Fritchey said.
Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th, pointed out people arrested for marijuana possession are disproportionately minorities, who now end up with arrests on their criminal records even though the vast majority of the cases are thrown out of Cook County court.
"I had the opportunity to go to Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, and I think I got contact high being at all those events," Burnett said. "Police there, everything. It wasn't predominantly African American, and guess what? No one got arrested at those events. If that was an African American event, the jails would probably be filled up. I think it's almost a discrimination issue."
Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has mentioned the possibility of issuing tickets for marijuana possession as a way to keep his officers on the streets rather than tying them up processing people.
Solis said he believes members of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration "think it makes sense."
"They haven't given us any indication, strong indication, they would support it, but I think enough is enough," Solis said.
Marijuana possession is already a ticketable offense in several suburbs and in areas of Cook County patrolled by the Cook County Sheriff's Department.
One man killed, one busted for drugs after car drives through Illinois home
BY Nina Mandell
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
He should have thought on his feet better.....its pretty noble to take the wrap, but whose to say the garden didn't belong to the dead guy....-UA
Zachary Isenberg, 28, died after the car went crashing through his house and killed him, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
The cause of the accident was due to mechanical problems in the 1995 Mercury Grand, according to the newspaper. But for Isenberg's roommate, Thomas J. Micucci, 27, his problems were just beginning.
As he was grieving the sudden loss of his friend and roommate, cops went through the house to see if there were more victims – and instead found a large stash of drugs.
Fire crews broke down a locked door and found about 30 marijuana plants, the Chicago Tribune reported. They were being raised with grow lights and a watering system, cops said.
When Micucci returned from the hospital, where Isenberg had been pronounced dead, he was cuffed by cops and charged with production of cannabis and unauthorized possession of a firearm, according to the report.
The car, meanwhile, is still in the house until authorities can figure out how to extract it without causing the home to collapse. The driver of the car and her passenger did not suffer serious injuries.
Micucci, meanwhile, was booked in the county jail.
Busts of marijuana grow houses are growing in Chicago area
Throughout the Chicago area, police are raiding more of the sophisticated indoor operations — with twice as many reported to a federal program in 2010 as in 2005
Maybe Jr. Obama could mention legalization to his big brother.....-UA
August 16, 2011
The young female tenant walked her dog before leaving each morning for her job at a beauty salon. She kept the lawn tidy, chatted occasionally with neighbors and dropped off her rent check, always on time, at Mary Swanson's real estate office.
Only later did Swanson figure out why the utility bill was so high, after police swarmed the Elgin house on a September afternoon.
Her tenant was sheltering a marijuana-growing operation, with hundreds of plants sitting beneath high-power, commercial-grade lamps. Workers had torn out a laundry room, installed custom ventilation and water purification systems and set up insulated "staging areas," where plants were nurtured from seed to harvest, police said.
"I have been a landlord for a long time, and these people pulled the wool over my eyes," said Swanson, 47, whose tenant had blamed her $350 energy bill — three times that of her neighbors — on the air conditioning.
"I hadn't had any issues whatsoever," said Swanson, adding that her tenant's credit and background check came back clean. "I would drive by, and she would be out with her dog."
Elgin police ranked the drug bust as one of their largest, arresting five people after linking three more houses to the operation, all within the same west side neighborhood. Swanson owned two of them, which she said cost $18,000 to restore to their original condition.
Throughout the Chicago area, police have been aware of so-called grow houses and outdoor crops of less potent "ditch weed" for decades. But they are raiding more of the sophisticated indoor operations — with twice as many reported to a federal program in 2010 as in 2005.
Authorities say they believe the number of grow houses is on the rise, though much of their evidence is anecdotal, as there is no uniform method of reporting statistics. They have improved their ability to spot such houses, which manufacture highly potent marijuana that can fetch up to $5,000 per pound, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. That compares to 800 to $1,500 per pound for the more common product transported from Mexico, officials said.
"There is a definite demand for that type of marijuana," said DEA Special Agent Will Taylor, of Chicago. "It is a niche area. … The typical outdoor marijuana will have a low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content in comparison to the indoor."
Some blame the bad economy for enticing a new breed of entrepreneurs into the pot-production field. Websites provide instructions on hydroponic planting techniques, equipment and nutrients to ensure the best grow. Meanwhile, marijuana for medical use has been legalized in 16 states, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Illinois legislators narrowly rejected a bill calling for the legalization of medical marijuana in May.
Those arrested for harvesting pot do not fit simple stereotypes. In Schaumburg, an exercise physiologist was arrested for growing more than 50 marijuana plants in his crawl space. His case was dismissed on July 28 when a judge ruled that there was insufficient probable cause for the search warrant, his lawyer said.
"This isn't your average street-level drug dealer because it takes such a large initial investment," said Daniel Linn, 28, executive director of NORML's Illinois chapter. "It takes a skill set, as far as the gardening goes. It isn't as simple as planting tomatoes in the backyard and letting rain fall on it."
Cannabis is one of the only drugs whose value has increased over the years, officials said, as buyers seek specific types of marijuana, such as seedless sinsemilla.
In one case, a group operating out of Wisconsin "were cloning their plants," said Sgt. Andrew Douvris with the Cook County Sheriff's Department. "Some of these guys had been doing this for 20 years, and they had a following."
Pot growers often rent homes in moderate to upscale neighborhoods. Most prefer to rent, rather than buy, a home to avoid losing their assets if they are caught, Linn said.
Such growers usually try to avoid scrutiny, keeping the house and lawn maintained and traffic activity minimal, he said. Although they might seem harmless, police say, the grow houses pose hazards to neighbors. Often police find other drugs and weapons during their raids. Offenders, too, will divert or steal electricity, which can be dangerous, according to ComEd.
"A lot of times, the neighbors will call and say, 'Hey this doesn't look right,'" said Sgt. John Koziol, with the McHenry County Sheriff's Department. "A lot of houses we have hit have a lot of visible mold outside the house. Some were $400,000 to $500,000 houses."
Police have started to seek help from code enforcement officers, who might notice tipoffs like strong odors, extra exhaust fans, heavy condensation on the windows or electric meters that appear to have been tampered with. With a search warrant, police can also use a thermal imaging device that, when pointed at a house, can detect heat outdoors that is radiated from the intense lights inside.
Top Cop: Tickets for pot possession possible
One of my favorite cities to medicate in.......-UA
After an anti-violence march in the Austin neighborhood, McCarthy said he discussed the issue with both Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who supports diverting low-level drug offenders from jail, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“When you cast the net you’re going to get tuna and you’re going to get dolphin,” McCarthy said. “You don’t want to get the wrong people and put them in the system.”
Those with small amounts of marijuana shouldn’t expect less heat from Chicago Police if such a policy is implemented, McCarthy said.
“We’re looking at different arrest processing, not not making the arrests,” he said.
McCarthy added that those with outstanding warrants or involved in more serious crimes would still be processed through the Cook County Jail.
Earlier this week, Preckwinkle said she had asked McCarthy to consider halting low-level marijuana arrests. She said judges often drop the cases, but not before the county pays to incarcerate those arrested at $142 a day.
McCarthy said Saturday that while he is open to the idea of ticketing some people for possessing small amounts of marijuana, the idea was still in development and not a done deal.
McCarthy’s comments came after he, Emanuel and Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) led about 100 people Saturday in a West Side march that ended in the 200 block of South Lotus with hot dogs for the participants.
“I love stuff like this,” McCarthy said. “You get the feel, the sense of the community.”
Also at the rally was Ronald Holt, director of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy program, whose 16-year-old son, Blair, was shot to death on a CTA bus on his way home from school in 2007.
Holt said he has been to hundreds of rallies, and he thinks they do have an impact.
“It sends a collective message to the community,” he said.
Kudos to Illinois for breaking the conservative mold of the Midwest. - UA
Medical marijuana could become legal in Illinois
By Todd Wilson, Tribune reporter
April 27, 2011 latimes.com
Some lawmakers are looking to make cannabis available for people seeking relief from symptoms of maladies that includemultiple sclerosis, cancer and HIV/AIDS.
To pick up support, they must allay fears by opponents concerned that the measure is the first step toward decriminalizing marijuana and worried that Illinois will end up like California, where pot is easily available to anyone with a doctor's note and complaints about headaches or anxiety.
In Illinois, doses would be dispensed from a limited number of highly regulated not-for-profits, rather than drugstores. Penalties including potential prison time would discourage attempts to turn a medical prescription into dime bags on the street.
In January, the issue fell four votes shy during a lame-duck session where lawmakers approved such controversial measures as a major income-tax increase, civil unions for same-sex couples and a death penalty abolition.
This time, House Republican Leader Tom Cross has dropped his opposition. He came on board after being approached by several constituents who pressed him to allow marijuana use for "the worst-of-the-worst medical conditions," a spokeswoman said.
Sponsoring Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, who has championed the issue for three years, said he thinks he can finally pass a medical marijuana bill out of the House. The Senate approved a less restrictive version last year.
Whatever the final form, an Illinois law can't come too soon for residents who now use medical marijuana illegally. Julie Falco said she's been using cannabis since 2004 to manage symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Falco said she felt she had no other choice because prescription drugs left her feeling lethargic and depressed and came with side effects such as hearing loss.
"I was contemplating taking my own life," said Falco, who lives on the Far North Side. "I didn't have any hope."
Scientists and physicians say medical research has shown scant evidence that marijuana is a safe and effective treatment for many of the afflictions the Illinois bill would cover.
A handful of uses in the bill — like pain suffered by people with AIDS and cancer — are supported by some solid scientific evidence. But none meets the standards, such as large, well-designed clinical trials, required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in approving new drugs.
Fifteen states, including Michigan, have legalized medical marijuana. The sponsors of Illinois' bill are trying to make it the most restrictive in the nation.
Those with a prescription would not be allowed to grow their own marijuana but would have to buy it from a state-licensed dispensary. The bill would limit the number of outlets to 59 — one per Senate district.
The latest version would legalize medical marijuana for three years, then lawmakers would review how it went. Democratic Sen. Bill Haine, a former state's attorney in Madison County, said the new safeguards should help the legislation gain support.
"Many people just flat don't accept that marijuana can do any good, but it's a natural substance that can be good, just as many prescription drugs are good for some uses and not for others," Haine said.
For Cross, the House GOP leader from Oswego, supporting the measure represents a change from January, when he voted against the idea.
Cross, who has a child with diabetes, sponsored a law that ensures researchers could work with embryonic stem cells in Illinois.
"I've seen him evolve on this thing," said Rep. Angelo "Skip" Saviano, R-Elmwood Park. "It fits his philosophy on not limiting tools to the medical community to treat these diseases."
Saviano has long supported legalizing marijuana for medical use. He watched his father die of cancer in 2001 after suffering side effects of chemotherapy. Saviano said he believed that marijuana could have helped reduce his father's nausea and increase his appetite at a time when he lost a lot of weight.
Supporters can't exhale yet. The lame-duck lawmakers are no longer in office and the measure needs to pass the House, Senate and be signed by Gov. Pat Quinn if it's to become law.
Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said this is not an issue Cross or Republican leadership will "twist arms" on to get support. Durkin, a former prosecutor, voted "no" in January but said he is keeping an open mind on the new version.
A law has been on the books since the late 1970s allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana in pill or plant form to treat glaucoma, the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer patients or other procedures deemed medical necessities. But the physician must get authorization from the Department of Human Services and written approval from the state police.
A state human services spokeswoman and a state medical society representative say they're not aware that any doctor has ever asked permission to prescribe marijuana in Illinois.
Lang, the House sponsor, said he's aware of the existing law but argues his proposal is a tighter and more workable measure.
"What we have done is take the best ideas on the topic from America and in Illinois during debate to gauge the tolerance of colleagues and make the best and tightest bill in the country," Lang said.