Will U.S. Soldiers Patrol the Borders?

This week, U.S. soldiers may join Border Patrol agents in guarding the borders with Mexico and Canada; Vermont will become the ninth state to allow medical marijuana use; UK prison officers are deliberately skewing prison drug testing to record a falsely lower incidence of drug use, and thus ensure steady funding and job protection; and the chief health officer of Atlantic City, NJ, engages in civil disobedience by distributing clean needles to drug addicts.

May 21- El Paso Times reports: U.S. soldiers may be asked to keep undocumented immigrants and potential terrorists out of the country.

The House on Thursday passed a defense authorization bill, which includes a provision that would let U.S. troops join with U.S. Border Patrol agents in guarding the nation's borders with Canada and Mexico.

The bill authorizes Defense Department programs for the coming fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1. The border troop amendment, championed by Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., passed the House late Wednesday by a 40-vote margin, 231-191.

May 21- New York's Watertown Daily-Times reports: Vermont will become the ninth state to let very sick patients use marijuana to alleviate pain, nausea and other systems without fear of state prosecution. Gov. James Douglas said the bill covers "symptom relief for a small percentage of individuals with only the most debilitating conditions," like cancer and AIDS.

May 23- UK's Sunday Telegraph reports: Prison officers are deliberately failing to test inmates who are taking drugs in an attempt to conceal the extent of substance abuse in Britain's jails.

An investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has uncovered evidence that a secret policy is being operated by staff in which prisoners who are not using drugs are tested repeatedly, while others who are thought to be using drugs are selected for tests far less frequently.

The aim is to increase the proportion of negative results recorded for a prison, which in turn means that official government figures record a lower incidence of drug abuse in jails than is the case. The covert practice was disclosed to this newspaper in tape-recorded interviews by senior officials, including a former prison governor and a former head of prison security.

Both reported that there was widespread collusion to give a false impression of the level of drug use in jails and to help the Prison Service meet government targets for reducing abuse.

Since 1996, drug testing has been mandatory in prisons. Test results form one of the Prison Service's performance targets, which are used to determine how well each jail is performing. Failure to achieve these targets can result in a governor losing his job.

Last year, official government figures showed that just 11.7 per cent of prisoners tested positive. Many former prisoners and staff believe, however, that up to 70 per cent of the prison population take drugs. A former senior prison officer, who was the head of security at his jail and implemented its drugs testing regime, said that "massaging" of drug-test figures was widespread.

May 23- New Jersey's Star-Ledger reports: The chief health officer in Atlantic City is fed up. He has watched too many drug addicts contract AIDS from using dirty syringes, and he has seen too many of them die slow and horrifying deaths.

So, he has decided to break the law by passing out clean needles. His name is Ron Cash, and he says he will probably begin in a few months, even if the state backs up its threats to put him in jail. The mayor of Atlantic City, Lorenzo Langford, is solidly behind him, as is the city council.

Our hope is that this civil disobedience in Atlantic City causes a crisis that forces the leaders of this state to re-examine their medieval attitude toward needle exchange programs. If Cash goes through with this, count him as a modern hero.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

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