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Archive for Thursday, April 22, 2004

Briefly

April 22, 2004

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California

Judge bars raids on marijuana group

A judge on Wednesday ordered the federal government not to raid or prosecute a California group that grows and distributes marijuana for its sick members.

The decision from U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose was the first interpretation of an appeals court's December ruling that federal prosecutions of medical marijuana users are unconstitutional if the pot isn't sold, transported across state lines or used for nonmedicinal purposes. Nine states, including California, allow medical marijuana use, but the Justice Department contends that federal drug laws take precedence.

Fogel ruled that the federal government could not raid or prosecute the 250 members of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which sued the government after the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2002 raided its Santa Cruz County growing operation and seized 167 marijuana plants.

Virginia

Scholarship fund addresses past racism

Virginia's governor pledged $2 million Wednesday to fund scholarships for students denied an education when public schools across the state closed rather than integrate in the late 1950s.

Gov. Mark R. Warner signed a bill creating the program, then told nearly 200 black residents from Prince Edward County gathered on the steps of the Capitol that "Virginia got it wrong, we got it incredibly wrong."

The county in south central Virginia was the site of the longest school shutdown in the country to avoid racial integration, from 1959-1964.

Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said about 250 to 350 former students, now middle-aged, could receive several thousand dollars each. The money could be used toward a high school diploma, a GED certificate, career or technical training, or an undergraduate degree from a Virginia college.

Miami

Six Cubans sentenced for hijacking plane

Six Cubans were sentenced Wednesday to at least 20 years in prison for hijacking an airliner from Cuba to Florida.

The hijacking in March 2003 was the first in a series of air and sea hijackings that raised tensions between the United States and Cuba.

The six men were accused of using five knives and a cockpit ax to commandeer the Cuban airliner during a domestic flight. The DC-3 with 37 people aboard landed in Key West with a U.S. fighter escort.

The men insisted it was a flight to freedom, with secret inside help from the co-pilot. But the jury rejected the claim in December.

The plot's leader and his brother were sentenced to 24 years in prison by a judge who accused them of blatant perjury at their trial. The four other hijackers received 20-year terms.

Washington, D.C.

Foreign tourism down sharply since 9-11

Top Bush administration officials said Wednesday that restrictions on the entry of foreigners have prompted many to shun travel to the United States since 2001. They recommended that the constraints be reviewed.

"This hurts us," Secretary of State Colin Powell said, citing a 30 percent decline in overseas visits to the United States over 2 1/2 years. "It's is not serving our interests. And so we really do have to work on it."

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the security benefits derived from the post-Sept. 11 restrictions have had unwanted economic side effects.

Ridge said the increased scrutiny of foreigners wishing to visit the United States was understandable in the post-Sept. 11 climate. But, he said, "two years have elapsed. We've seen the consequences of some of these changes. We have to be serious about reviewing them."

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