Drug War Briefs: Drug Czar Unofficially Insane

This week, activists at the International AIDS Conference say that injection drug use is fuelling the global AIDS crisis; a long-term Florida methamphetamine investigation results in the arrest of 81 people and 16 pounds of meth; and White House Drug "Czar" John Walters argues that marijuana is more dangerous than heroin or cocaine and hopes to shift research and enforcement efforts away from "hard" drugs and onto marijuana.

July 16- The Ottawa Citizen reports: Injection drug use, ignored and swept under the carpet when it's not the object of heavy-handed repression, is fuelling the HIV/AIDS epidemic in many parts of the world.

And governments are paying no attention, setting themselves up for a dramatic increase in HIV infections, AIDS activists said yesterday at the 15th International AIDS Conference.

July 16- The Florida Ledger reports: An 11-month investigation into methamphetamine production has resulted in the arrest of 81 people and the seizure of $700,000 in drugs, 21 firearms and a house in Plant City.

The investigation, called "Operation Rush," was a combined effort by sheriff's officials in Hillsborough and Polk counties, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Tampa Police Department. According to Hillsborough County sheriff's Col. Jose Docobo, authorities targeted the trafficking, manufacturing and possession of meth, also known as "crank" or "ice."

Investigators seized 16 pounds of meth, 3,000 pills of MDMA (a related drug) and almost $300,000 in cash. They recovered 21 weapons and homemade silencers. Several vehicles and a three-bedroom home that was used in the manufacture of drugs were also seized, Docobo said Thursday.

Authorities launched the investigation after seeing a rise in the meth trade, he said.

"Because methamphetamine is unfortunately a fairly easy drug to produce using readily available chemicals, we felt that one of the reasons for the increase that we were seeing in the availability of the drug was the possibility that it was being manufactured locally," Docobo said. The investigation resulted in the closure of about five labs, he said, which addressed a problem often overlooked: the handling and disposing of dangerous chemicals.

The manufacture of methamphetamine requires hazardous materials, Docobo said. Often, the drug producers mishandle the toxic chemicals and dump them in the trash, into the drains and the soil.

While Operation Rush has made a dent in the local meth trade, "We're certainly not naive enough to think that it eliminated the problem," Docobo said.

July 19- Reuters reports: Alarmed by reports that marijuana is becoming more potent than ever and that children are trying it at younger and younger ages, U.S. officials are changing their drug policies.

Pot is no longer the gentle weed of the 1960s and may pose a greater threat than cocaine or even heroin because so many more people use it. So officials at the National Institutes of Health and at the White House are hoping to shift some of the focus in research and enforcement from "hard" drugs such as cocaine and heroin to marijuana.

While drug use overall is falling among children and teens, the officials worry that the children who are trying pot are doing so at ever-younger ages, when their brains and bodies are vulnerable to dangerous side effects.

"Most people have been led to believe that marijuana is a soft drug, not a drug that causes serious problems," John Walters, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in an interview.

"(But) marijuana today is a much more serious problem than the vast majority of Americans understand. If you told people that one in five of 12- to 17-year-olds who ever used marijuana in their lives need treatment, I don't think people would remotely understand it."

According to the University of Mississippi's Marijuana Potency Project, average levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, rose steadily from 3.5 percent in 1988 to more than 7 percent in 2003.

While Walters stresses that drug abusers are patients and not criminals, he hopes to crack down more on producers. And he says, there is a way to go in getting cooperation from local law enforcement officials. "For many in enforcement, marijuana is still 'kiddie dope'," Walters said.

Walters is quick to stress he does not want to overreact.

"We shouldn't be victims of reefer madness," he said, referring to the 1930s propaganda film "Reefer Madness" that became a 1970s cult classic for its over-the-top scenes of marijuana turning teens into homicidal maniacs.


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