DRUG WAR BRIEFS: Retired Cops Agree: Drug War a Failure

This week, a new study says that smoking marijuana does not lead to oral cancer; a Canadian political leader promotes marijuana decriminalization; a federal judge allows drug reform ads on mass transit; a former NJ narcotics officer calls the drug war a "dismal failure"; California voters may have an opportunity to reorganize aspects of the 3-Strikes Law.

June 2- The Seattle Times reports: Recreational marijuana smokers are no more likely to develop oral cancer than non-users, a new study led by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center says.

The latest findings contradict a 1999 California study that implicated regular pot smoking as having markedly higher risks for head and neck cancers.

While not conclusive, the findings by "The Hutch," located in Seattle, suggest that cancers of the mouth should rank low among the known health hazards of marijuana use.

Oral cancer "probably shouldn't be one of the things people should worry about when they decide whether to smoke marijuana," said Stephen Schwartz, a member of Fred Hutchinson's public-health sciences division and the study's senior author. "Our study found no relationship between marijuana and cancer."

June 2- Canada's Surrey Now reports: Federal NDP leader Jack Layton says decriminalization is the answer to Surrey's burgeoning marijuana grow-operations problem.

The Surrey RCMP suspects there are as many as 4,500 grow-ops in the city.

"The best way to deal with marijuana grow-ops, in our view, is decriminalization," Layton said yesterday during a press conference at the Scott Road campaign office of Nancy Clegg, NDP MP candidate for Newton-North Delta.

"Right now you've got these huge grow-ops, it's entirely in a criminal context so you have violence, you have illegal activity of all kinds," Layton said. "Our approach has been to come up with a rules-based system that would prevent these kinds of big grow-ops."

June 3- The San Francisco Chronicle reports: A federal law cutting off funds to any public transit agency that runs ads calling for legalization or medical use of an illegal drug was declared unconstitutional Wednesday by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman of Washington, D.C., said the amendment attached to a $3.1 billion transportation measure, signed in January by President Bush, violated freedom of speech by banning messages based on their viewpoint.

"The government has articulated no legitimate state interest in the suppression of this particular speech other than the fact that it disapproves of the message, an illegitimate and constitutionally impermissible reason,'' Friedman said. He prohibited the government from enforcing the funding restriction.

June 6- Nova Scotia's Chronicle Herald reports: A retired drug cop found an attentive crowd gathered on Parliament Hill on Saturday to protest marijuana prohibition and advocate regulation.

Jack Cole isn't the type of person you would expect to see at a rally to legalize pot. During his 26-year career with the New Jersey state police, Cole spent 12 years as an undercover narcotics officer. His investigations ran the gamut from street drug dealers to international trafficking organizations. Now retired, Cole has taken a decidedly different stance on the role of illegal drugs in society. He is a founder and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an international organization of current and former members of law enforcement.

"I believe in legalizing all drugs," Cole said, explaining that legalization would allow the government to regulate and control the distribution, consumption and production of drugs -- therefore forcing criminals out of the equation.

"When I speak to police officers on a one-to-one basis, they almost always agree with me that the war on drugs is a dismal failure," he said.

June 7- The San Jose Mercury News reports: California voters will have a chance this fall to decide whether the "third strike'' in the state's "three strikes, you're out" law takes punishment too far by locking up thousands of prisoners for decades for non-violent crimes such as shoplifting and petty theft.

In an attempt to do what the U.S. Supreme Court would not, backers of reforming the nation's toughest sentencing scheme this week succeeded in getting enough signatures to put a measure on the November ballot that would soften the "three strikes" law.

The initiative, known as the Three Strikes and Child Protection Act of 2004, would primarily require that a defendant be convicted of a violent or serious felony to qualify for a "third strike" sentence of 25 years to life.

Right now, repeat offenders can be sent away for the long prison terms for non-violent third offenses that have included crimes such as stealing videos, pizzas and bicycles. A divided U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled in a 5-4 decision that the law does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment, prompting the push for a ballot initiative.

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