DRUG WAR BRIEFS: Hope For a Change

This week, marijuana possession cases are stayed in Ontario and Prince Edward Island, as Canadian laws against marijuana possession appear to be on the verge of collapse; the White House Drug Control Office reports an abrupt end to their controversial "drugs support terrorism" ad campaign; and hope arrives for 38 black defendants in Tulia, Texas, originally sentenced for drug sales solely on the word of a now-exposed corrupt, racist undercover cop.

March 30 -- The Canadian Press reports: Criminal charges for possessing small amounts of pot could be put on hold in provinces across the country following court rulings in Ontario and Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), says a prominent legal expert.

A provincial court judge in P.E.I. ruled this month that an Ontario court decision which prompted the adjournment of all simple possession charges in Ontario should be binding in other provinces as well. He was referring to the Parker case in Windsor, Ont. -- now under appeal -- which saw charges thrown out against a 16-year-old boy on the argument that the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act no longer effectively prohibits possession under 30 grams. It led the federal Justice Department to ask its Crown attorneys to seek an adjournment or stay of all simple possession charges in Ontario.

Justice officials last week similarly stayed all pot possession charges in P.E.I. as a result of the ruling there.

Alan Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall law school in Toronto, said judges in other provinces may also follow suit out of sheer frustration with Ottawa's sluggishness in dealing with marijuana possession laws.

"Really, I think people are fed up and I would think that pretty much across the country, with the exception of possibly Alberta, most courts would be more than happy to start staying marijuana prosecution."

"I can't imagine many courts wanting to proceed with these minor cases knowing that they may be imposing criminal records on people who effectively have done nothing criminal."

April 1 -- AdAge.com reports: The White House anti-drug office will end its controversial drugs-and-terror advertising campaign and, in a reversal, shift more of its $150 million budget toward children's media as it fights for Congress to extend the program another five years.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy will also cease a polarizing $8 million annual study that found the ads aimed at youth were not working and that pitted the drug office against the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

The drugs-and-terror campaign first broke five months after the Sept. 11 attacks, with two Super Bowl ads that cost the drug office more than $3 million to run. The spots centered on the idea that people who purchase drugs help fund terrorism. One ad showed a shopping list that includes an AK-47 rifle. "Where do terrorists get their money?" said the voice-over. "If you buy drugs, some of it might come from you." Later ads replaced "terrorism" with "terror," suggesting drug buys supported drug-cartel attacks on innocent civilians.

April 2 -- Associated Press reports from Tulia, Texas: Prosecutors said 38 defendants arrested in a controversial 1999 drug sting won't be retried after a judge ruled their convictions were based on questionable testimony from a single undercover agent accused of racial prejudice.

Hours after retired state district Judge Ron Chapman urged the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to grant new trials for the defendants, a special prosecutor vowed Tuesday to dismiss the cases if they were sent back.

"We'll dismiss them," said Rod Hobson, a special prosecutor assigned to the case that has spurred probes by the Justice Department and the Texas attorney general. "It would be foolish for us to go forward."

The cases involved an 18-month undercover investigation by former sheriff's officer Tom Coleman. Most of the defendants he arrested in this predominantly white Texas Panhandle town were black.

Their arrests on charges of possessing and selling cocaine hinged on Coleman's testimony. He worked alone and used no audio or video surveillance.

But no drugs were ever found during the arrests and little or no corroborating evidence was introduced at trial.

In all, 46 people were arrested, 39 of them black, during Coleman's undercover sting. Thirteen are still in prison and others served time or were sentenced to probation.

On July 23, 1999, the suspects Coleman identified were pulled from their beds and paraded, still in their nightclothes, across the courthouse lawn in front of television cameras. The Texas Narcotic Control Program later named Coleman "Outstanding Lawman of the Year."

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

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