Roundtable: Use Medical Pot, Lose Your Kids; Somalis Appeal Conviction; Pope Francis Simply Appeals
December 20, 2013 1:20 p.m.
Joshua Emerson Smith, San Diego CityBeat
Amita Sharma, KPBS News
Angela Carone, KPBS News
Related Story: Roundtable: Use Medical Pot, Lose Your Kids; Somalis Appeal Conviction; Pope Francis Simply Appeals
MARK SAUER: I am Mark Sauer, and KPBS Roundtable starts now. Joining me on the Roundtable today are Joshua Emerson Smith, Amita Sharma, and Angela Carone. Medicinal use of marijuana was passed by voters in California in 1996, and implementing that law has been a problem ever since. Problems regarding cultivation, possession, distribution and sales still plagued the use of cannabis for additional purposes. A new issue has emerged, Joshua tell us how child social workers and welfare workers are involved in this issue now.
JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH: This was a very emotional issue around one specific case. A mother came home from about business trip to find her apartment ransacked and her husband and her six-year-old child, gone missing. She called 911, frantic because it it looked like it had been burglarized, and then she noticed a social worker's card on her table, and found out that her child had removed by welfare services, and no additional information would be given. Later, she found out local law enforcement had raided the apartment and taken medical marijuana, and called child welfare services. When I originally got the story we called around to find out what people in the community had to say, but we found out with disturbingly was that everyone we called had a story like this or knew someone who had a story like this, and of course we could not verify every single-story, these are juvenile dependency courts and these records are sealed, but we could verify five cases and had anecdotal stories and more than thirty stories over the last couple of months.
MARK SAUER: And that was a three-year period that they had taken children in this situation?
JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH: Well, they say that removing a child from marijuana use is the same with alcohol abuse or prescription drug abuse, the question is how do you establish that. I spent a long time on the phone with child welfare services and they were vague in saying that the case is built over time by talking to relatives and other people in the community, but specifically how that is determined, we do not know exactly.
MARK SAUER: The system as you say is closed, it's difficult to get information? They are saying that marijuana presence or use is not enough, they're saying that you need abuse and neglect and other factors.
JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH: And actually that is kind of recent. An appeals court in Los Angeles ruled that the presence of marijuana is not enough to have to establish abuse. Since then, places like San Diego have adopted explicit policies saying as much, with those policies and how those policies affect the actual protocol the ground, a lot of people question that.
AMITA SHARMA: So how unusual is this, to happen in various jurisdictions in California?
JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH: We're able to find a number of cases like this happening all over the state. We talked to the executive director of NORMAL, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and she said that they share about this on the regular basis, it is our number one concern that medical marijuana patients bring to them.
MARK SAUER: I will get more on that in a moment. I want to talk about a specifically the six-year-old and father, that fellow did have 10 pounds of marijuana and you wrote an interesting sidebar, tell us about that.
JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH: There was a lot of reaction when the article was first published. ìClearly this individual was a dealer,î that's what some people said, I wrote a article in response that raising the question that what does it mean to necessarily be a dealer? He could be growing for a medical marijuana collective, say in Los Angeles. Many parts of the state that is seen as a legitimate business transaction
MARK SAUER: The collective could have many numbers. The two that is correct. Here in San Diego the elected Attorney General position on this is any exchange of money for local cannabis is illegal.
AMITA SHARMA: Is there a lack of uniformity in California?
JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH: There's a tremendous lack of uniformity, it goes County by County, and in fact people who are in this business want to get their child back as soon as possible. If you give up your rights to the trial, and you agree to monitoring and drug monitoring and in home visits, then we will quickly reunite you with your child.
MARK SAUER: That is great leverage, they haven't even charged them with the crime, they simply have leverage over the parents.
JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH: That is correct and most of these attorneys that we spoke with who specialize in this kind of case say that's what parents do nine times out of ten.
MARK SAUER: In the past we have done the stories and county welfare social workers have been heavily criticized for pulling kids too quickly away from families and at other times they left kids too long or families are in the system and fatalities result, they have a long history here and you think they should be more open and accountable and talking to the press and accountable in juvenile and dependency courts?
JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH: I think that this particular situation with medical cannabis as a cultural issue - we as a society and as a government here locally need to decide how we will address this. If there is medical cannabis lying on a table where there are minors present, is that grounds for removing a minor?
MARK SAUER: If it's legitimately medical marijuana.
JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH: There are basic guidelines to be clarified.
MARK SAUER: We will leave it there. The San Diego cases at the center of national debate over spying by the National Security Agency, there may not be a lot of sympathy for Somali men convicted here, but their attorneys say a larger issue is at stake: the right that we all have the this country to a fair trial. Amita, bring us up to speed on the trial.
AMITA SHARMA: About three years ago, three local Somali men and the men from the Orange County were arrested for fundraising for a Terrell terror group in Somalia. It was a trial earlier this year they were convicted of sending $8500 to a terrorist group. They were sentenced last month and that was in February, the convictions happened and they were sentenced last month. Rewind to June, right after NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked information about surveillance, there's a house intelligence meeting where NSA officials are called to speak about the program. During the course of the meeting, the deputy director of the FBI addresses this panel and talks about the case that got started as a result of an essay surveillance. Several years ago, there was a telephone number in San Diego that was flagged as part of this domestic database of phone call logs, that San Diego number was passed on to the FBI, and they conducted surveillance. This case emerged from it.
MARK SAUER: Was that authorized under the NSA surveillance rules?
AMITA SHARMA: It was all authorized but that was news to the defense. The defense was furious because that was their case. Had they got their information before the trial started, they would've argued the case differently. That could change the outcome of the trial.
MARK SAUER: Just to finish housekeeping on that, they were all found guilty and what were the sentences?
AMITA SHARMA: Eighteen years for one, the sort of ringleader of the fundraiser, fourteen years for another, and ten years for another and the fourth man from Orange County will be sentenced next month.
MARK SAUER: Again the argument that the NSA said is that they are fighting terrorists and terrorism.
AMITA SHARMA: The director of the NSA said last week that he does not know any other way to foil domestic terrorism other than keeping this massive database of call logs, and this is a case that these folks at the NSA are using to say that it worked in this case.
MARK SAUER: Specifically you alerted to us the defense attorneys said that they would handle the case differently, what are the actually arguing their interpersonal and new trial?
AMITA SHARMA: They said that the constitutional rights of their clients were violated, that the fourth amendment requires police to get important before they conduct of search. In this case, these call logs were taken without a warrant, and therefore it the fourth amendment rights were violated, and the government has come back and said that what we provided work call logs, telephone numbers which are owned by the telephone company, not the individual who is the phone number, we did not turn over the contact of these conversations, so there was no fourth amendment violation, nonetheless the defense is asking for a new trial, federal district judge in San Diego denied the motion and take the government's position on this back in November, however this week there has been a interesting development another federal district judge in D.C. said that he believes that the collection and the maintenance of these call logs probably does violate the constitutional rights of American citizens. And so, that does not mean that data collection will stop, he has issued a stay on his ruling to allow the government more time to appeal the case.
MARK SAUER: Let's talk about the appeal in the city of San Diego case, what is the status of that?
AMITA SHARMA: It's likely to go to the ninth Circuit Court of appeals in Northern California. And when that happens we do not know.
MARK SAUER: How likely is the ninth circuit ñ probably the most liberal circuit of appeals in the country.
AMITA SHARMA: It depends on which panel you get, there are several judges.
MARK SAUER: Typically we get a three-judge panel. They can go to the full court if they wish.
AMITA SHARMA: It is interesting to wonder what effect the D.C. judge's rulings is going to be. He is the first judge in the country to say that this does violate constitutional rights. No one judge has gone against the government process.
JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH: The defense attorneys are saying that NSA spying should be on trial for this. It was purposefully left out of the court case.
AMITA SHARMA: And the other issue that needs to be cut is whether the Justice Department is obligated to tell people and defendants in criminal trials at the start of the trial, in this case these guys were not told, that is an area of the body needs to be clarified and the toughest department has since switched gears.
MARK SAUER: Let me ask you, if this were overturned on this issue, and they had this information and retry the case, is the evidence such that the conviction would be likely?
AMITA SHARMA: There would be more than likely a conviction because the crux of the cases FBI wiretaps. There is incriminating evidence whether talking about raising money to send to the terrorist groups because a lot of evidence that was received through that wiretap.
JOSHUA EMERSON SMITH: What will the precedence say if the defense were to prevail?
MARK SAUER: You think the evidence would result in a retrial? How much money are we talking about?
AMITA SHARMA: It depends on who you talk to, it's generally considered a terrorist group in some only of that is trying to put out a week chaotic government. It's an Islamic group with ties to Al Qaeda. It's pretty bad.
MARK SAUER: In response to your story here, probably and not a lot of sympathies for these defendants, but the overriding issue -
AMITA SHARMA: Not a lot of sympathy for defendants but there are issues legally that need to be decided and resolved and even a panel cane up this week in DC saying that it believes the database should come to an end. That the federal government has overreached the issue.
MARK SAUER: There's been news of the last few days on NSA spying in there been many issues to scale it back. I don't know if the case like this place in that.
ANGELA CARONE: You would think they would hold it up as a success story.
AMITA SHARMA: It's hard to argue that this is not a success story. Especially given the evidence but it is also hard to argue that this is not a search and does not require a warrant.
MARK SAUER: We will leave it there. The media love him and even gays consider him their new best friends, we're talking about Pope Francis, the popular pontiff who is stirred things up in a short time at the Vatican, what makes Francis so different from his predecessors and so popular? Angela tell us about that.
ANGELA CARONE: I think he is so popular because he is really up into the idea of what we think of as a pope, from the moment that he started and the second step is that he uttered to thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square, ìplease pray for me.î That kind of humility has been a thread throughout his papacy, he is made working for the poor and marginalized a quarter storm cornerstone in his papacy. He's very inclusive. There is a famous incident over the summer when asked how he felt about gay priests, he said who am I to judge.
MARK SAUER: Yet you're the guy that should be judging.
ANGELA CARONE: Must Catholics think that that is your job. He is quite different from Benedict was in terms of personal choices in style, he does not wear any of that papal vestments, a simple metal cross. He does not wear the slip on shoes, he wears dingy black shoes, he does not live in the papal apartments. In a recent exhortation he said he wants a poor church for the poor. That is different from what we had seen for a while. He has been outspoken against capitalism and what that means for the working poor world, it's been charged a Marxist for that by the likes of Rush Limbaugh he has been outspoken on a number of issues. There will progressives see him as a champion, whether that means there will be any real doctrinal or policy change, that is a different question.
MARK SAUER: Yet the wonder if the Cardinals who put him in place are realized this or if this is a surprise.
ANGELA CARONE: There is always a surprise. His record in Argentina is always very touch with the poor and walk the slums and take the subway and live in humble with living quarters, is also more conservative on certain issues, he spoke up against gay marriage. I don't know what the Cardinals knew, who knows. I can tell you that San Diego's for this story are very excited, it's hard to find anybody who would speak poorly of the span. They are very excited about the amount of axis that he seems to offer, that is quite different. He touches ordinary people's lives in a way that a lot of them of talk about that, they also talked about him bringing more people into the church, don't forget he presides over us church that is in crisis and has been in crisis for a decade in half, over the clergy sex abuse scandals, there was a study in 2011 by an economist to try to gauge how the people left the church because of the scandals, and the number was 2 million in the US alone.
MARK SAUER: A lot of loss for the collection plate.
ANGELA CARONE: Exactly, and the crisis goes on and Pope Benedict to resigns, that has not happened in 600 years of the church, I think I've heard a lot of people say he is a breath of fresh air and he is good press.
MARK SAUER: You talk to someone a radio show host in Poway, what did he have to say?
ANGELA CARONE: He admires the Pope but he does not think the Pope is going to make real changes. There is a lot of speculation right now about what might happen under his leadership, but he does not think he will make any change, he thinks that people misunderstand the role of the Pope, he is not the CEO of the church to make doctrinal changes, he is the apostle in whose job is to spread the gospel and not be rewriting history.
MARK SAUER: But he is a leader, right?
AMITA SHARMA: Is this an indication that the Pope is not sticking to that role? Responses such that people don't want him to stick to that role. They do want that kind of leadership.
ANGELA CARONE: I think that they want leadership, I think that people are very excited about what he represents, the kinds of ideas that he represents, think when you get into some of the moral doctrine issues, there is some room to for change, I think a lot of people support that and I think conservative Catholics can say they cannot change anything that is not based in the gospel, the church is the way it is and it has been around as long as it has because it has that changed the core values, their others in progressives and socially minded, that's a threat to social justice, people who think there are areas for change, contraception for example, that is based in moral doctrine and not necessarily in gospel.
AMITA SHARMA: What about women in priesthood?
ANGELA CARONE: I've spoken to a number of people up back, women and nuns that I've spoken do not think that will happen. They see his inclusive nature as evidence that he could make some other choices, for example it does not require ordination. They are logical advisor, he may appoint a woman to do that, that would be, just because they are even thinking about that, I cannot believe that I can even think that only would be in a leadership role in the Vatican that way, but he is thirty come out and said that is a close book on women priests.
MARK SAUER: Has heaped backtracked some through the backlash that he is seen?
ANGELA CARONE:That I have seen, not significantly. I do not think and nobody thinks that he will make any real big changes and if he does, one person said to me yesterday that he will do anything without the buying of the bishops, it's very clear that that is important to have, at this point is all speculation about what kind of change you will make and one of the things that he is doing that is quite interesting, he has issued a survey to be conducted throughout dioceses throughout the world. It's a survey that looks at how local parishes feel about families in the chat issues facing families in the Catholic church. There are issues about same-sex custom couples and contraception and divorcing and remarried, input at a grassroots level of local parishes and that is unheard of.
MARK SAUER: Talk about refreshing, why do you think he is so popular here in San Diego because he is from South America?
ANGELA CARONE: I think so, I think that helps. I think the first place that he left for when he left Rome for the first table was an island in Sicily as a safe harbor for African immigrants, he brought attention to refugees.
MARK SAUER: I have to wrap up there, I would like to thank my guests. A reminder, all of our stories discussed are on our website KPBS.org. Thank you for joining us today on the Roundtable.