Kevin Nelson

Texas In a League of Its Own

This week, a Texas high school bans sack lunches and baked goods after a student brings marijuana brownies to school; nearly a third of Canadian medical marijuana patients return their government-grown marijuana due to inferior quality; and a new study maps the boom in U.S. prison building in the past 30 years.

April 28- Texas' Brownsville Herald reports: Sack lunches and baked goods have been added to the list of illicit materials not allowed into Sharyland High School.

The decision was made after a 17-year-old student at the school allegedly took a batch of brownies laced with marijuana to give to his friends last week. Mission police officials said the student had given some of the brownies to five of his classmates, one of who fell ill and was then treated by the school nurse. The boy was arrested and charged with a felony count of delivery of marijuana.

"I think they may be overreacting a little bit," said Casey Leys, a senior at Sharyland High School. "In a sense, it is right to check, but to ban all types of baked goods, it's not fair."

"A girl brought cupcakes to celebrate something going on in class and because of the rule that was put in place and she didn't know about it, the cupcakes got confiscated," Leys said.

April 30- Canada's National Post reports: Nearly a third of the patients who acquired marijuana through Health Canada's medical access program have returned the product, says an activist who sees that as proof that federal pot is not worth smoking. "High school students in a cupboard could grow a product that is better and safer than what we're getting," said Philippe Lucas, who obtained the figures through the federal access to information law.

Mr. Lucas, director of Canadians for Safe Access, said tests commissioned by his pro-pot lobby group have found the federal product contains only 5.1 percent THC rather than the 10.2 percent reported by Health Canada. As well, "It's ground far too fine to actually roll, so you're forced to use it in a pipe and when you do, it burns very black with dark, acrid ash." Health Canada spokeswoman Catherine Saunders said 29 out of 92 approved users either returned their pot or cancelled their orders.

April 30- The New York Times reports: A study mapping the prisons built in the boom of the last two decades has found that some counties in the United States now have more than 30 percent of their residents behind bars. The study, by the Urban Institute, also found that nearly a third of counties have at least one prison.

"This study shows that the prison network is now deeply intertwined with American life, deeply integrated into the physical and economic infrastructure of a large number of American counties," said Jeremy Travis, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and an author of the study.

"This network has become a separate reality, apart from the criminal justice system," Mr. Travis said. "It provides jobs for construction workers and guards, and because the inmates are counted as residents of the counties where they are incarcerated, it means more federal and state funding and greater political representation for these counties."

In addition, Mr. Travis said, because the study found that prisons were increasingly being built far from the cities where most inmates come from, "we are making it harder and harder for their families to remain in contact with them." As a result, he said, "we have made it harder for these inmates to successfully re-enter society when they are released."

The study, "The New Landscape of Imprisonment: Mapping America's Prison Expansion," was released yesterday. The number of federal and state prisons grew from 592 in 1974 to 1,023 in 2000, and this study is the first effort to show where all the building has taken place. In 1923, the United States had 61 prisons.

The report focuses on the 10 states that had the largest increases in the number of prisons between 1980 and 2000, when the number of state and federal inmates soared to 1.3 million from 315,974.

Texas led the way, building 120 prisons in those two decades, or an average of nearly six a year. Texas also has the most prisons in operation, 137, and the largest percentage increase in the number of prisons, 706 percent.

"Texas is in a league of its own," the report concluded.

Florida has been the second-busiest prison builder since 1980, with 84, while California is third with 83. New York, with 65, is fourth.

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Kicking Against the Pricks

This week, a Colombian peasant representative speaks out against America's "War on Coca"; Berkeley, CA's mayor supports increasing medical marijuana patients' personal plant grow limit from 10 to 72 plants; and a Canadian magazine mocks US drug Czar John Walters for giving their pot trade free advertising.

April 22- Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports: Spraying tons of chemical herbicides over Colombia has failed to make a dent in the cocaine supply to the United States, and it's ruining the lives of ordinary farmers, says a peasant organizer from the war-wracked country.

Miguel Cifuentes, 30, executive secretary of the Cimitarra River Valley Peasant Association, criticized the $2 billion U.S. war on drugs in Colombia on Tuesday at the Christus Collegium in Bozeman.

Twenty-five times more Americans die from smoking tobacco each year than die from drugs, Cifuentes argued. "Why don't they decide to fumigate the tobacco fields?" Cifuentes asked. His remarks were translated from Spanish by Scott Nicholson of Missoula, a Montana Human Rights Network organizer.

America has supported indiscriminate spraying of the Monsanto herbicide Round-Up, which destroys far more corn and food crops than drugs, Cifuentes charged. It sickens many peasants, particularly children and the elderly, hurting their eyes, breathing, stomachs and skin.

To survive economically, peasants have little choice but to grow poppies and coca plants, he said. When one drug crop is sprayed, the peasants simply cut down forests and plant more drugs.

Cifuentes argued the peasants are caught in the middle, victims of free trade agreements that hurt the local farm economy, victims of drug traffickers, victims of spraying and victims of right-wing paramilitary groups. He blamed the paramilitaries for the gruesome deaths and disappearance of hundreds of people, and blamed the government for creating the paramilitaries.

Cifuentes argued that the U.S. war on drugs is in reality an excuse to intervene in Colombia and help U.S. corporations gain control of his country's oil, gas, coal and gold.

Don Hargrove, a retired Air Force officer and former Republican state senator, disagreed strongly with the notions that the war on drugs is a sham, or that Colombia's government supports the paramilitaries. Hargrove said he had worked in Colombia for five years as a civil contractor assisting in the war on drugs.

"It's vicious, it's evil, it hurts people," Hargrove said of drug trafficking, adding that he personally knew hundreds of honest police officers who had been killed for fighting drugs.

April 22- The Alameda Times-Star reports: Medical cannabis users and advocates are lobbying city leaders to increase Berkeley's indoor marijuana plant limit from 10 to 72, which is the amount allowed in Oakland.

Advocates say residents with cancer, AIDS, chronic pain, anorexia, glaucoma, migraine headaches and other severe illnesses need more than 10 indoor plants to cultivate marijuana for medical treatment.

Berkeley allows 10 indoor and outdoor plants under a March 2001 ordinance that was brokered under political compromise. The Berkeley City Council will consider an increase proposal Tuesday.

"It's not unreasonable to have 72 ( plants )," said Mayor Tom Bates. "What people have told me is that this is what is needed and necessary, and it's worked out well for Oakland. I am supportive of 72 plants even though it sounds like a ton. I think the people in Berkeley overwhelmingly support ( medical cannabis )."

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration takes a difference stance. "I find it incredible that a person would need 72 plants to grow marijuana for himself or herself, said DEA Special Agent Richard Meyer. "There is something wrong there. Under federal law, marijuana is an illegal substance."

April 22- Canada's NOW Magazine reports: White House drug czar John Walters is whining that Americans can't handle Canadian hydro. Claiming Canada is exporting "the crack of marijuana," Walters maintains that annual weed-related emergency room visits have doubled from 60,000 to 120,000 in the States in the last few years. Does he really think announcing that our pot is tops will cause weed-loving Yanks to stop using it? Just keep the lights a little lower, try listening to Floyd or Air, breath a little deeper, and everything will be fine.

A Tale of Two Unarmed Black Men Shot in Kentucky

This week, a Kentucky grand jury declined to indict a police officer in the shooting of an unarmed black man; elsewhere in Kentucky an officer is fired for the same charge; and an Australian government pamphlet "tells the truth" about marijuana and schizophrenia.

April 15- The Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader reports: Although it expressed sympathy to the victim's family, a Letcher County grand jury yesterday declined to indict a Kentucky State Police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man during a January drug deal in Jenkins.

James E. Alexander, 62, of Roanoke, Va., was shot twice with an automatic rifle Jan. 14 by state police Sgt. Bobby Day during a drug investigation using undercover officers at a Jenkins house. There were reports afterward that Alexander was shot when he reached under his jacket for a cell phone, said Sgt. Phil Crumpton, a state police spokesman in Frankfort.

"You're looking at a high-stress situation when someone is given a specific order and he makes an aggressive move that we feel is a threat to us," Crumpton said. "That's what these things narrow down to."

Alexander's family members and friends appeared upset yesterday.

"If they didn't find any drugs on him or guns on him, how can they do that?" asked Alexander's uncle, James L. Alexander, 78, of Lebanon, Va.

The Virginia Department of Corrections had no record of Alexander being imprisoned. But his uncle said Alexander served several years in federal prison on a drug charge about 15 years ago.

Beverly Hunt, 38, of Roanoke, was outraged.

"Even if he was a drug dealer, how can they justify shooting James twice when he wasn't armed?" she asked, sobbing. "I was with James for two and a half years. He never carried a gun.

"They're just covering up. They've done it again. They've done it again. I've talked to the police and the way they were talking, I could tell they were thinking: We just got another black man off the street."

April 16- The Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader reports: A Louisville police officer who fatally shot a black man in the back was fired yesterday after the department ruled he violated policy on using deadly force.

"Your conduct is alarming and has damaged the bond which we have established with our community," Chief Robert White wrote in a termination letter to McKenzie Mattingly.

Mattingly has pleaded not guilty to murder in the Jan. 3 death of Michael Newby, 19, who was shot three times in the back. Mattingly is free on bond and has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting.

"Specifically, I felt that Michael Newby was not an immediate threat to the officer's life or his physical well being," White said at a news conference. "Nor was any other person in the area clearly in immediate danger because of Newby's actions."

Mattingly, 31, was indicted March 5 on charges of murder and wanton endangerment. Civil rights activists and many black residents held protests and called on White to fire Mattingly, who is white.

Newby was the seventh black man to be fatally shot by Louisville police in the past five years. In the previous shootings, no officers were charged criminally or fired.

Police said the shooting occurred during an attempted under-cover drug buy. Mattingly told investigators he was robbed during the drug transaction. He tried to arrest Newby but the two became involved in a struggle, according to court records filed by prosecutors after Mattingly was indicted.

April 16- The Age (Australia) reports: The Howard Government's drug taskforce is launching a new offensive against marijuana, with a booklet that the taskforce's head says will "tell the truth" and combat the "trivialization" of the drug's dangers.

Australian National Council on Drugs chairman Brian Watters yesterday said a "pro-marijuana lobby" had successfully promoted the idea that cannabis was no more dangerous than alcohol and should be legalized. "I think there has been a really concerted effort in some quarters to trivialize its effects," he said. "The pro-marijuana lobby have done very well. They are very, very active."

Major Watters, a Salvation Army officer with extensive experience in drug management, said he was "very opposed" to marijuana, because he had seen the damage it did. Marijuana has been linked with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, but opinion differs on whether it causes psychosis or simply triggers latent mental illness.

Major Watters dismissed the distinction. "I've always said, 'Who cares?' If my son suddenly develops schizophrenia, I don't care whether the marijuana caused it or triggered it," he said. "The result is he has a great deal of turmoil in his mind."

Who Really Supports Cocaine Traffickers?

This week, despite having no clear evidence, US prosecutors announce an investigation of Jean Bertrand Aristide's alleged ties to cocaine traffickers; meanwhile, a Peruvian court tries Vladimir Montesinos -- a 30-year CIA asset -- for supplying Colombian drug traffickers with weapons.


April 3- AFP reports: Prosecutors are investigating whether Haitian former president Jean Bertrand Aristide took millions of dollars from drug traffickers who moved cocaine through his impoverished nation, it was reported.



"It's in the early stages," one law enforcement source told The Miami Herald. "It's a bit premature to say we've got anything yet. But you're not wrong if you say that's where we're going."



The report quoted officials in Florida and Washington as saying investigators had been briefed on reports that relatives of Aristide and his wife, Mildred, hold nearly 250 million dollars in European banks. The officials added, however, that there is no indication yet whether the funds actually exist.



Haiti's Justice Minister Bernard Gousse meanwhile said that Friday he planned to set up a commission next week to investigate allegations against Aristide "from misuse of government funds to human-rights abuses."



Aristide's Miami lawyer Ira Kurzban attributed the investigation to politics: "After kidnapping President Aristide, the Bush administration is not content to simply end democracy in Haiti -- they need to politically assassinate Aristide."


April 4- The Scotsman reports: Vladimiro Montesinos is a legendary figure in Latin America and is now at the centre of the most explosive trial in Peruvian history, watched with the kind of devotion usually only reserved for soap operas.

But the 58-year-old's latest trial, in which he is accused of smuggling 10,000 rifles to Colombian terrorists, has also seen the US intelligence services become embroiled in an embarrassing row about whether the CIA not only knew what Montesinos was up to and turned a blind eye, but have actively undermined Washington's multibillion-dollar war on drugs by doing so.

The plot is something out of a John le Carre novel. In 1999 a shadowy spymaster brokers an arms deal to send 10,000 AK-47 rifles to guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

A Lebanese arms dealer, Sarkis Soghanalian, known as 'The Merchant of Death', gets the rifles from Jordan and puts them on a Ukrainian plane that parachutes them into the Colombian jungles controlled by the rebels.

The payment for the consignment comes from Brazil's most feared drug lord, Luiz Fernando da Costa, better known as 'Freddy Seashore' after the slum from which he rose to power. He gets his payment in drugs from the FARC, allegedly 20 tonnes of cocaine.

The story is spectacular enough, but there is another complicating and compelling element: if not the involvement, then the knowledge of the deal on the part of the CIA. Peruvian prosecutor, Ronald Gamarra, after two years of investigation of the case and hundreds of interviews, is convinced the CIA knew of the plot.

"In the trafficking of the arms to the FARC, Montesinos could have had the support of the CIA," said Gamarra. "I don't have hard evidence of it, but various leads indicate that it is probable."

That there have been links between the CIA and Montesinos for the best part of 30 years is no secret. In 1976, Montesinos was expelled from the army and put in prison for selling secrets to the CIA, when George Bush senior held the top post at Langley.

Montesinos then put himself through law school and became the defender of drug traffickers. But once he became former president Alberto Fujimori's right-hand man in 1990 the relationship with the CIA became still closer and Montesinos became known by the American agency as 'Mr. Fix'.

Gamarra believes the CIA have something to hide, saying that the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have been very co-operative in his investigations, while the CIA has stonewalled him on everything.

His fears are supported by arms dealer Soghanalian, currently in US custody. Soghanalian said he would not have had anything to do with the deal had not the CIA been aware of it.

In his declaration to US authorities he said: "When I went to get the license from the Jordanian authorities I went to [US] military intelligence and foreign intelligence [the CIA]. I said that this was an area very sensitive to the Americans on a political level."

His testimony is backed by the Jordanians. The AK-47s, made in East Germany, were destined, so the Jordanians thought, for the Peruvian army.

According to Atef Halasa, the head of protocol at the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, his country would not have released the weapons without informing US authorities. Halasa was reported as saying that the American government not only knew of the deal, but that it was authorized by the CIA.

The severity of the accusations against the CIA has sent US authorities into panic. The FARC have long been on Washington's terrorist list and the Colombian government is one of the largest recipients of US military aid in the world after Israel and Egypt. Over the years, several Americans have been killed by the Colombian rebels, who have threatened to target US personnel in their bloody war to seize power and establish a Marxist regime.

Indeed the FARC have three US intelligence operatives in their power, captured after their spy plane crash landed in guerrilla territory in February last year.

The CIA has refused to comment, except to say, "it's a matter before the courts".


The former CIA Head of Station in Peru, Robert Gorelick, believed to have been the linkman for the agency with Montesinos, has also refused to testify in a Peruvian court.

Montesinos during interrogation in May 2002 said he "met an average of two or three times a week with Mr. Gorelick".

State Department spokesman Phil Chicola, responsible for the Andean nations, called the accusations against the CIA "the greatest foolishness... irresponsible, black propaganda made by people that do not know what they are talking about".



Many find it unbelievable that the CIA would have turned a blind eye to, or actually helped with, such an order, actively undermining the work of the US in Colombia, arming the guerrillas that Washington describes as "narco-terrorists".

But a senior judicial source in Peru said the CIA appears to be instigating a process to get Montesinos extradited to the US to face some charges there, most likely in an attempt to halt the damaging proceedings in Peru and prevent more explosive revelations.

"How can people doubt that the CIA is capable of something like this," said a senior Peruvian judicial source on condition of anonymity. "Did the Iran Contra scandal teach you nothing?"

A Tale of Two Marijuanas

It seems governments maintain two standards for marijuana. The "good" kind is synthetically derived from the raw plant by pharmaceutical corporations, to be sold at top dollar to those fortunate souls with health insurance. The "bad" kind is the inexpensive, unpatentable raw plant variety that can land a person in jail for life for daring to smoke it.

This month, the Wall Street Journal reports about yet another invaluable drug derived from the marijuana plant; Canada moves to distribute marijuana at pharmacies; and a one-legged Vietnam vet is serving life in prison in Alabama for purchasing a pound of pot from a police informant in a sting operation.

March 10- The Wall Street Journal reports: It sounds too good to be true. A drug developed from research into how marijuana affects the brain shows remarkable promise as a potential magic bullet against many of the major risks for heart disease.

Researchers at the annual science meeting of the American College of Cardiology here presented two large studies of an experimental drug called rimonabant, being developed by France's Sanofi-Synthelabo SA, demonstrating its ability to help people to both lose weight and quit smoking.

The drug generated the meeting's principal buzz: "It's exercise in a pill," one cardiologist quipped. The findings showed that study patients who lost weight also had significant improvement in such measures as HDL ("good cholesterol"), blood sugar and other factors that at abnormal levels are precursors to both diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The drug's primary benefit may result from its ability to reduce abdominal fat.

March 21- AP reports: Canada plans to make government-certified marijuana available in local pharmacies, a move that would make it only the second country in the world to allow the direct sale of medical marijuana.

Officials are organizing a pilot project in the British Columbia province modeled on a year-old program in the Netherlands.

Currently, there are 78 medical users in Canada permitted to buy government marijuana, which is grown in Flin Flon, Manitoba. An ounce sells for about $113, and the marijuana is sent by courier to patients or their doctors.

But the department is changing the regulations to allow participating pharmacies to stock marijuana for sale to approved patients without a doctor's prescription, similar to regulations governing so-called morning-after pills. Those emergency contraceptives can be obtained directly from a pharmacist without the need for a doctor's signature.

The Canadian government also has suggested it may decriminalize marijuana, a move criticized by U.S. drug and border agencies, which threaten more intrusive searches of cross-border travelers.

March 28- Birmingham (AL) News reports: Vietnam Veteran Douglas Lamar Gray had a roofing business in Moulton, a wife and a son. In 1989, he bought $900 worth of marijuana in a motel room and lost everything to prison.

Until then, the longest Gray had been locked up was a few months for a burglary in his teens, then two more burglaries in his early 20s. After the marijuana conviction, a Morgan County judge, working from Alabama's Habitual Felony Offender Law, sentenced Gray to life without parole for drug trafficking.

A police informant with a criminal record had lured Gray to the motel. Gray bought the marijuana, and drove away into a swarm of police cars. He ditched the pot before they arrested him. He thought he wouldn't be found guilty if the evidence was elsewhere, so he refused a plea bargain.

That no one was injured during his crimes doesn't matter. Gray, 49, will die behind bars.

Before the drug bust, he had not been arrested in 14 years.

"Made real good money, owned my own house, my own land," he said. "Watched my little boy grow up, then they set me up and sold me a pound of pot."

Morgan County District Attorney Bob Burrell, who was a prosecutor at the time, declined comment, and the judge who sentenced Gray is dead.

The case is so old no one from the DA's office or the clerk's office could find out how much marijuana was involved. Gray says it was a pound. The indictment indicates it had to be at least 2.2 pounds to qualify for a "trafficking" charge, which does not mean he sold any but that he had more than what is considered "personal use" by Alabama's marijuana laws, some of the country's strictest.

The state has spent $150,000 to keep Gray locked up. So far.

Gray lives in St. Clair prison's medical dorm because a train accident took his right leg years ago. He relies on wooden crutches to get around.

Drugs Fought the Law

March 15- The Stamford (CT) Advocate reports: A bill that will allow sick people to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes cleared its first legislative hurdle Monday, despite opposition from lawmakers who described the measure as a backdoor attempt to legalize the drug.

The Legislature's Judiciary Committee voted 24-15 to approve the bill, which is nearly identical to a measure that made it out of committee last year before failing on the House floor. This year's bill decreases the number of plants that can be grown from six plants to five and would require the plants be grown in a secure, indoor area, said bill sponsor state Rep. Jim Abrams.

The bill is not an attempt to legalize or decriminalize marijuana for recreational use, Abrams said. "It's used to treat sick people to keep them out of jail," said Abrams, D-Meriden.

The bill would allow doctors to provide a written certification that qualifies their patient to use marijuana only for medical purposes. The patient or a caregiver would then be allowed to grow up to five plants for personal use and present the doctor's certificate as a legal defense for having the illegal substance.

March 16- The Worcester (MA) Telegram & Gazette reports: Citing estimates that 11 million people sometimes drive under the influence of illegal drugs, a growing chorus in Congress wants the government to do something about it.

The states are wary.

Eight states now have specific laws on "drugged driving," but their statutes are vague. None specifies an equivalent level to the 0.08 percent blood content that Congress established as the legal level for alcohol impairment.

That's partly because there's no roadside test to detect the presence of drugs in the body -- no handy "breathalyzer" as there is for alcohol. And even if blood or urine samples taken at a hospital test positive for drugs, there's no standard for how high is too high to drive.

"Zero tolerance" is the level some lawmakers want Congress to establish. A motorist found to have any controlled substance in his or her system would be considered unlawfully impaired.

"Everyone who drives is affected by this," said Rep. Robert J. Portman, R-Ohio, citing a report last September by the Department of Health and Human Services estimating that during the previous year nearly 11 million people drove at one time or another under the influence of drugs. The same survey said three times as many people - 33.5 million - drove under the influence of alcohol in 2002.

The Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety agencies, advises its members not to adopt drug-impaired driving laws at all for the time being.

"There has been little to no evaluation as to their effectiveness," said spokesman Jonathan Adkins. "Most drivers who are drug impaired are also alcohol-impaired."

March 17- Boston Globe reports: Federal courts are swamped, partly because of Bush administration get-tough-on-crime policies that lead to more trials, the head of a federal judges' group said yesterday.

Judge Carolyn Dineen King of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit singled out drug and immigration prosecutions along the US-Mexican border and Attorney General John Ashcroft's order last year that federal prosecutors should seek the severest charges and penalties.

Federal spending has not come close to keeping pace with the increase in caseloads prompted by decisions like those, she said following a meeting of the policy-setting Judicial Conference of the United States, which she chairs. "More trials take place because of that, more prosecutions ensue because of their policies," King said. "Our criminal caseload keeps going up, but our resources go down every year."

March 17- The San Francisco Chronicle reports: The Oakland Police Department too often fails to take seriously investigations into allegations of corruption and abuse, allowing accused officers to go unpunished, according to a report prepared by experts overseeing the agency under a $10.5 million settlement in the Riders scandal.

The report, released Tuesday, criticizes department brass for failing to make internal investigations a top priority and for fostering a lax culture within a department that sits on such inquiries until they die quietly.

Send comments to Kevin Nelson at drugwarbriefs@yahoo.com.

Justice for Victims of Drug War Racism

This week, a $5 million settlement is awarded to the 46 black residents of Tulia, TX, who were arrested and jailed on fabricated drug charges by a crooked, racist cop; and drug "czar" John Walters speaks out against marijuana chewers in Nevada, where a pending initiative may legalize adult possession and use of the plant.

March 11- The New York Times reports: Five years after 46 people, almost all of them black, were arrested on fabricated drug charges in Tulia, Tex., their ordeal will draw to a close today with the announcement of a $5 million settlement in their civil suit and the disbandment of a federally financed 26-county narcotics task force responsible for the arrests.

The case attracted national attention because the number of people charged literally decimated the small town's black population. It also gained notice because the arrests were entirely based on the work of an undercover narcotics agent who has been accused of racism and perjury. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas pardoned the Tulia defendants in August, after a court hearing last March exonerated them.

"This is undoubtedly that last major chapter in the Tulia story, and this will conclude the efforts of people in Tulia to get some compensation and justice," said Jeff Blackburn, a lawyer in Amarillo who represented the people arrested five years ago in the civil suit. "With the abolition of the task force, it completely closes the circle on what was done."

Mr. Blackburn added that the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force failed adequately to supervise the agent, Tom Coleman, in its eagerness to win battles in the war on drugs.

Mr. Coleman, who was named Texas Lawman of the Year in 1999 for his work in Tulia, will go on trial on perjury charges in May. He has pleaded not guilty. Jon Mark Hogg, a lawyer for Mr. Coleman, declined to comment on the civil settlement.

At a hearing last year in Tulia, Mr. Coleman testified that although most of the drug transactions he swore to were in public places, he did not wear a recording device, arrange for video surveillance, ask anyone to observe the deals or fingerprint the plastic bags containing the drugs.

Instead, he said, he jotted down information on his leg. No drugs, weapons or large sums of cash were found in the mass arrest in 1999.

Mr. Coleman conceded that he frequently used a racial epithet, but he denied that he was a racist.

Vanita Gupta, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which also represents the plaintiffs along with the Washington firm of Hogan & Hartson, said it was a mistake to focus only on Mr. Coleman's actions.

"The task force is ultimately culpable for what happened in Tulia," Ms. Gupta said. "They hired, supervised and sponsored Tom Coleman's activity in the 18 months he was operating there."

"It's not that Tom Coleman was simply a rogue officer," Ms. Gupta added. "The problem is that federally funded narcotics task forces operate nationwide as rogue task forces because they are utterly unaccountable to any oversight mechanism."

March 12- The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports: The nation's drug czar described as foolhardy Thursday the latest Nevada initiative to legalize marijuana. John Walters, in Las Vegas to push for a crackdown on the abuse of prescription drugs, said legalizing marijuana is "not an area for legitimate debate."

Walters, who oversees all federal anti-drug programs and spending, said studies have shown that 60 percent of the 7 million Americans who need treatment for addiction are dependent on marijuana. Walters also said people are killing each other by driving under the influence of the drug, which is smoked or chewed (ed. note: chewed???) for its euphoric effect.

"Legalizing any marijuana possession for consumption is fundamentally detrimental," he said. The Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana, established in Nevada this year by the national Marijuana Policy Project, will try to make Nevada the first state in the nation to legalize possession of marijuana.

Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, contended people seeking treatment for marijuana addiction were forced into it.

"They were arrested for possession and offered treatment or jail," he said. "It's Orwellian to the point of being creepy, and it's misleading to the public."

Candice Kidd, director of the WestCare women's campus, said a greater problem in Nevada is methamphetamine, a stimulant that increases energy and decreases appetite.

"Methamphetamine seems to be the drug of choice for a lot of women," she said, adding 90 percent of the women in her programs are addicted to the drug.


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Superbowl Propaganda III

January 19- Advertising Age reports: A study commissioned by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has concluded that the advertising program of the White House anti-drug office has had little impact on its primary target: America's teenagers.

Conducted jointly by the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Westat, a 30-year-old research firm in Rockville, Md., the analysis concluded that "there is little evidence of direct favorable [advertising] campaign effects on youth."

The drug office spends $150 million a year on advertising, and those expenditures have been the subject of ongoing controversy in Congress.

The NIDA report covers the advertising campaign's start in September 1999 through June 2003. Entitled "Evaluation of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: 2003 Report of Findings," the report issued by NIDA notes that the advertising campaigns have had a "favorable effect" on parents but not on the children, whose illicit drug use is the focus of the ads.

The White House ad campaign, though aimed at all illicit drug use, intensified its focus on marijuana in the fall of 2002. However, the report said that investigators found that "youth who were more exposed to [the anti-drug advertising campaign] messages are no more likely to hold favorable beliefs or intentions about marijuana than are youth less exposed to those messages."

NIDA, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has been the agency charged with officially evaluating the White House's anti-drug ad campaigns for years. WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, handles the drug office advertising account, but most ads come from the Partnership. A Partnership spokesman did not return calls.

While the drug office has enjoyed some strong congressional support, it also has strong critics on Capitol Hill who have questioned both the ads' effectiveness and the use of Ogilvy, which earlier settled for $1.8 million civil charges that it over billed the government for its ad work on the anti-drug account. Two former Ogilvy officials were recently indicted on charges related to those disputed billings.

January 23- The LA Weekly reports: Following what it calls a long-standing policy of refusing Super Bowl airtime to all ads that take a stand on issues of public importance, CBS has refused airtime during next Sunday's game to two advocacy groups, MoveOn org and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA and MoveOn, however, have openly wondered whether CBS's policy has been selectively applied. MoveOn's ad, the winner of its "Bush in 30 Seconds" contest, depicts children working menial jobs behind the caption: "Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1 trillion deficit?" PETA's equates meat eating with impotence. Neither ad, contend CBS's critics, is more controversial than the campaign launched during Super Bowl 2002 by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) equating illegal-drug buys with terrorism.

January 24- Kamloops Daily News reports: A disabled woman caught growing 10 marijuana plants in the basement of her Merritt house was handed a nine month conditional sentence and fined $1,500 Friday.

Deborah Collins, 44, pleaded guilty of production of marijuana in provincial court in Kamloops. the plants and some growing equipment were seized during a raid on Dec. 20, 2002. Defense lawyer Fred Kaatz told the court Collins suffers a number of health ailments and hasn't worked for more than ten years. She lives on a disability pension payment that pays her rent and gives her a disposable income of $340 a month.

January 30- Olympia, WA- Washington state medical marijuana patient, Monica Ginn, is due to be sentenced for growing 20-25 marijuana plants, following her arrest after having proactively invited the police to register her growing operation.

During the trial, Judge Thomas McPhee denied Ginn the right to a medical marijuana defense after questioning her doctor on the technicalities of his diagnosis of her condition, and despite a state voter- approved law protecting such patients. Ginn faces up to 7 years in prison.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson: drugwarbriefs@yahoo.com

Policing the Police

January 14- The Concord (NH) Monitor reports: A Deerfield police officer known for working with kids is being held at the Rockingham County jail on a pair of domestic violence-related charges. Paul C. Tower, the town's juvenile officer and the DARE instructor in the local school, was arrested by the state police Thursday on felony charges of threatening to commit a crime and tampering with a witness.

On the evening of Nov. 21, Tower, 34, allegedly threatened to grab the steering wheel of his wife's 1997 Volvo sedan while she was driving, telling her, "How's it feel to die today?" according to a complaint filed by state police Trooper Jill Rockey. He then grabbed the wheel, saying, "I could just veer the car," Rockey wrote.

Later that night, Tower allegedly warned his wife not to report the incident, telling her that he would have her arrested. When she replied that she had done nothing wrong, Tower apparently told her "they're not gonna know that" and "I'm gonna tell them you stole my phone," causing his wife to avoid calling the police, according to the complaint.

Tower is being held in Brentwood on $100,000 bail.

Tower has received a couple of commendations for his police work, including a "Looking Beyond the Traffic Ticket" award given last spring by the state Police Standards and Training Council. The award recognized Tower for investigating and arresting a couple that had been growing marijuana at home after the couple first called to report a burglary.

January 16- The San Jose Mercury News reports: Citing evidence of a massive cover-up within the highest levels of California's corrections department, a court-appointed investigator has found that the state's prison system has "lost control'' of its ability to investigate and discipline guards for abusing inmates and is in dire need of major reforms.

The 80-page report, prepared for a San Francisco federal judge and released Thursday, is a scathing denunciation of the California Department of Corrections. The report suggests that top officials, including recently resigned CDC Director Edward Alameida Jr., could be prosecuted for defying court orders to clean up Pelican Bay State Prison and for lying during a probe into how the CDC handled ongoing misdeeds by prison guards at the state's toughest maximum-security prison, located near the Oregon border.

The report describes a CDC administration under the control of the state's powerful prison guard union and willing to abdicate its internal discipline procedures to maintain a dangerous "code of silence'' about inmate abuses such as beatings and staging fights among prisoners.

Among other things, the report accuses Alameida and his top lieutenants of killing an internal probe into whether Pelican Bay guards lied during a 2002 federal criminal trial of two guards ultimately convicted of civil rights violations.

The report was prepared by John Hagar, who monitors conditions at Pelican Bay for U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson. Hagar said the "code of silence'' hinders the ability of investigators to pursue claims of prison guard misconduct, a problem not just at Pelican Bay but at prisons throughout the state.

Hagar's report found that the code of silence is carried out, unchecked, by the state's politically influential prison guards' union, a strong supporter of former Govs. Gray Davis and Pete Wilson.

The CDC's top brass backed the code of silence to the point of bowing to union pressure and squelching an internal probe into allegations of perjury, according to the report.

The perjury allegations arose during the 2002 trial of two former Pelican Bay guards, Edward Michael Powers and Jose Garcia, who were convicted and sentenced to federal prison for violating inmates' rights by attacking them or letting other inmates attack them. After the trial, CDC officials met with federal prosecutors to review concerns that some Pelican Bay guards lied during the proceedings to cover up for Powers and Garcia.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson (drugwarbriefs@yahoo.com.

Top Ten Drug War Stories of 2003

With the American public's attention firmly directed toward the daily events of the Bush Administration's "War on Terror," the US-led and exported "War on Drugs" continues to exact crippling costs to taxpayers, minority groups, the environment, civil liberties and struggling democracies around the world.

While terror alerts rise and fall and states struggle to fund their law enforcement budgets, the total number of marijuana arrests far exceed the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

As the Drug War enters its 90th year, it continues to be characterized by contradictory laws, arbitrary enforcement, massive wealth and racial disparities, questionable covert operations and general media timidity.

Here are 10 of the top stories from Drug War 2003:

1) Afghanistan is now the world's leading supplier of opium for the heroin trade. Under the Taliban regime, which banned opium, annual production bottomed out at 77 tons in 2001, produced only in areas controlled by the Northern Alliance. American military, as part of its "War on Terror," allied with Northern Alliance warlords to overthrow the Taliban regime and keep Al Qaeda at bay. Afghan opium production has since skyrocketed to about 3,600 tons of opium this year, or 75 percent of global production.

Early in December 2003, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld traveled to Afghanistan and publicly embraced warlords Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ustad Attas Mohammed, for calling off armed struggle with the fragile government in Kabul headed by Hamid Karzai. Abdul Rashid Dostum was rewarded by being named Deputy Secretary of Defense for the Karzai government.

Dostum has been described as a "war criminal" by groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, for killing thousands of civilians in the Afghan civil wars of the 1990s and for his merciless treatment of prisoners and, occasionally, his own soldiers.

2) While the United States declared war on Iraq for supposedly harboring biological weapons, the US-funded War on Drugs in Colombia plans to use an untested pathogenic fungus -- fusarium oxysporum -- to wipe out coca. Critics say the plan proposes illegal acts of biological warfare, poses major ecological risks to Colombia -- one of the world's most bio-diverse countries -- and will increase suffering, by wreaking havoc with human health, water quality and food crops.

3) On February 12, a federal jury in Philadelphia awarded $1.5 million in compensation to two narcotics agents -- John McLaughlin and Charles Micewski -- who claimed their boss -- the Pennsylvania attorney general -- retaliated against them because they uncovered a drug-trafficking ring that diverted profits to a CIA-backed Dominican presidential candidate.

Pittsburgh's Tribune Review reports: McLaughlin and Micewski said they had uncovered a Dominican drug-trafficking ring operating in Philadelphia, New York and other Eastern cities that funneled drug profits to the Dominican Revolutionary Party, which they claimed was supported by the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department.

4) Switzerland's Addiction Research Institute calls tobacco the number one killer addiction, responsible for 71 percent, or 4.9 million of the world's 7 million annual drug-related deaths. About 1.8 million deaths, or 26 percent, were attributed to the use of alcohol, while illicit drugs caused about 223,000, or 3 percent, of all worldwide drug-related deaths.


5) The FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report reveals that police arrested an estimated 697,082 persons for marijuana violations in 2002, or nearly half of all drug arrests in the United States. This amounts to one marijuana-related arrest every 45 seconds.

The total number of marijuana arrests far exceeded the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Of those charged with marijuana violations, 88 percent were charged with possession only. The remaining 12 percent were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes cultivation for personal and medical use.

6) With America incarcerating the highest percentage of its own citizens of any nation in history, Former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese suggests tapping prison labor as a way to slow the exodus of jobs overseas.

September's issue of Fortune Magazine reports: Prominent conservatives have been encouraging prisons to put inmates to work for years. The benefits are difficult to ignore: Businesses get cheap, reliable workers; inmates receive valuable job training and earn more than they would in traditional prison jobs; and the government offsets the cost of incarceration and keeps jobs and tax dollars in the US.

7) Two of America's leading conservative moralist pundits, William Bennett and Rush Limbaugh, are chastened by the exposure of their secret habits. Former chain-smoking Drug "Czar" and puritanical author of The Book of Virtues, Bennett was exposed for gambling away millions of dollars of his family's fortune in Las Vegas casinos in the past decade.

Limbaugh, America's Number One conservative radio talk show host, has rarely missed an opportunity to vilify drug addicts, even calling for an increase in the incarceration of white drug users to offset the nation's massive racial disparity in prison. He is currently under investigation for illegally obtaining up to 30,000 narcotic painkillers from his housekeeper and from doctor shopping. In his defense, (Ultra-Conservative) Limbaugh has retained the services of (Ultra-Liberal) defense attorney Roy Black.

8) Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, Washington's most stalwart ally in South America, is living in exile in the United States after being toppled in mid-October by a popular uprising, a potentially crippling blow to US anti-drug policy in the Andean region.

Last year, Lozada asked President Bush for more money to ease the impact on displaced coca farmers. Otherwise, Lozada explained, "I may be back here in a year, this time seeking political asylum."

The coca problem is intimately tied to issues of poverty and disenfranchisement. In Bolivia the backlash has strengthened the hand of the political figure regarded by Washington as its main enemy: Evo Morales, head of the coca growers' federation, who finished second in the presidential election last year.

9) Attorney General John Ashcroft limits judicial sentencing discretion and the freedom of prosecutors to strike plea bargains in criminal cases. He insists that US attorneys must seek the toughest punishment possible in nearly all cases, using plea bargains only in special situations.

10) RAID! On May 16, New York City police tossed a stun grenade into the home of 57-year-old Alberta Spruill, city worker and church volunteer, who died from a heart attack during the mistaken drug raid. On May 23, NYC police accidentally raid the home of teacher Joe Celcis. Police smashed open the door, handcuffed several people, pointed a gun in the face of a 12-year old girl and ransacked the house for 90 minutes before realizing they had the wrong address. On Nov. 5, cops in a Charleston, SC, suburb burst into the mostly white Stratford High School at 6:45 a.m. with guns drawn and ordered mostly black students to get down on the floor while cops searched lockers and book bags for marijuana; students who didn't move fast enough were handcuffed. No drugs were found in the 45-minute raid. Seventeen of the students are suing the school district.

Kevin Nelson is the editor of AlterNet's weekly column Drug War Briefs.

Routine Humiliation

November 1 -- Louisiana's The Town Talk reports: In the wee hours of the morning on Oct. 24, Ethel and Joseph Welch were awakened by the sound of banging on their door.

"I heard a boom, boom, boom, boom at my door," Ethel Welch said.

The couple peeked out of their Wise Street home to see their yard full of armed police officers.

"We didn't know what to do or what they wanted," Ethel Welch said. "We were scared and confused."

The Welches say state, local and federal officers participating in "Alexandria Narcotics Winter Sweep" served an arrest warrant at their house, although the suspect being sought didn't live there. The Police Department issued a public apology Thursday to the Welch family for the mistake.

But the Welches said Friday that the whole incident could have been avoided if the Police Department had listened to them two and a half months ago.

The couple said they went to the department and told an officer that nobody lived at the house except the two of them and offered for police to come see for themselves. In addition, they talked to another officer on the phone about the situation, they said.

"They (police) had plenty of time to check out our story and make sure where the guy lived before coming" during the drug sweep, Joseph Welch said.

Assistant Police Chief Jimmy Hay confirmed the couple came to the department and that the department made a mistake.

The couple, who have lived in their home for 35 years, told officers no one lived with them. A suspect had provided police with their address. They asked for their address to be removed from the suspect's record.

They had hoped everything would be taken care of, but then came the morning of Oct. 24.

The Welches were awakened by pounding at their door about 4:30 a.m. To their surprise, officers were in their yard and almost surrounding the house. A K-9 dog also was there.

They were not fully dressed when they answered the door, they said, and one of the officers pushed the door completely open, placing them in the spotlight.

They were told the officers had a warrant and asked if the suspect lived there.

Ethel Welch said she and her husband were confused and did not know what the officers were talking about. She said they insisted they were the only two people living there, and the officers left. Ethel Welch said she and her husband were rudely told to go back to bed as the officers left.

"It was humiliating," Ethel Welch said.

November 7 -- The (Vancouver, BC) Province reports: The way in which a strip search was done on a Surrey woman in the Vancouver jail amounted to a "serious breach" of her civil rights, a judge has ruled.

Cara Simone Douglas, 33, was driving along Kingsway one afternoon in June 2002, coming from the hairdresser, when she was pulled over for speeding. She protested against police demanding to search her vehicle and, after a tussle with two cops, was put in handcuffs and taken to jail.

After being strip-searched, Douglas was held overnight in jail. She was released the next day after a bail hearing on a charge that she had assaulted a police officer.

Douglas's lawyer, Richard Brooks, argued that the arrest and subsequent strip search, part of the jail's policy of routine strip searches, violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He applied for a stay of proceedings. In a 38-page ruling released yesterday, Vancouver Provincial Court Judge Cathy Bruce found shortcomings in the jail's strip-search policy but rejected the stay application.

Bruce found Douglas guilty of assault but granted her an absolute discharge, noting she had "suffered enough" at the hands of authorities and that she had no prior criminal record.

"On the one hand, a strip search is a humiliating, embarrassing and degrading experience and the humiliation experienced by the prisoner is compounded when the search is conducted in an unreasonable manner, as occurred in this case," said the judge.

The judge noted that the search was not carried out in private because a window in the door facing into the hall was open and anyone passing by could have seen into the strip-search cell.

Secondly, Douglas was ordered to disrobe entirely when a "proper search" could have been conducted by having her remove her clothes in stages, said the judge. Finally, when she initially refused to strip down, a corrections officer took out her handcuffs, an "implicit threat of force," Bruce said.

Douglas called the entire episode a "nightmare" - -- a small incident that got blown way out of hand. "There was no reason to strip search me," she said. "I had nothing to hide. They were just humiliating me." An absolute discharge means Douglas will face no consequences and have no criminal record.

Solicitor-General Rich Coleman said that despite the ruling, he would go ahead with plans to introduce legislation next spring to entrench strip searches as a corrections policy.

November 8 -- The South Carolina Times and Democrat reports: An effort to stem a growing drug problem at a Lowcountry high school netted no illegal narcotics but did get some complaints.

Fourteen officers cordoned off the main hallway of Stratford High School at 6:40 a.m. Wednesday to search for marijuana. No drugs were found.

"Several officers did unholster their weapons in a tactical law enforcement approach," Lt. Dave Aarons of the Goose Creek Police Department said. "There was no force whatsoever. Everyone was very compliant."

During Wednesday's raid, officers and school employees sealed off the main hallway. There were 107 students who happened to be in the hallway at the time. Police told the students to sit on the floor and put their hands out, McCrackin said. Officers searched only book bags that the police dog responded to, not students, he said.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson drugwarbriefs@yahoo.com.

Bungled Police Raids

This week, UK police apologize to the family of an unarmed man shot dead in a bungled police raid; NORML reports the 2002 US marijuana arrest statistics; the city of New York pays $1.6 million to the family of a woman killed in yet another bungled drug raid; and the Winnipeg press reports that Canadian youth are more likely to smoke marijuana than tobacco.

October 26 -- The UK Observer reports: The family of an unarmed man shot dead by police at point-blank range in a bungled drugs raid will receive a formal apology this week, more than five years after the killing. The Chief Constable of Sussex, Ken Jones, will travel to Liverpool on Thursday to apologize to relatives of James Ashley, who was killed by a police marksman at his flat in St Leonards, near Hastings, in January 1998.

Ashley was naked in bed with his girlfriend when a four-man armed response team stormed his flat at 4:00 a.m. on Jan. 15, 1998, after a tip-off about a haul of drugs. Police intelligence suggested that Ashley was a potentially armed and dangerous drug dealer. Only a small amount of cannabis and an air pistol were found.

October 28 -- The National Organization for Marijuana Laws (NORML) reports: Police arrested an estimated 697,082 persons for marijuana violations in 2002, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual Uniform Crime Report, released yesterday afternoon. The total is among the highest ever recorded by the FBI, and comprised nearly half of all drug arrests in the United States.

"These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor marijuana offenders," said Keith Stroup, Executive Director of NORML, who noted that at current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 45 seconds in America. "This effort is a tremendous waste of criminal justice resources that should be dedicated toward combating serious and violent crime, including the war on terrorism."

Of those charged with marijuana violations, 88 percent -- some 613,986 Americans -- were charged with possession only. The remaining 83,095 individuals were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes all cultivation offenses -- even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use.

The total number of marijuana arrests far exceeded the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

October 29 -- The Detroit Free Press reports: The City of New York agreed to pay $1.6 million Tuesday in the case of a Harlem woman who died of a heart attack after police threw a stun grenade into her apartment during a bungled drug raid last May, officials said.

During the raid, police handcuffed Alberta Spruill, 57, to a chair, when she had a heart attack. She died within an hour; her death was ruled a homicide.

A wanted drug dealer lived in the same building but had been arrested by a different police unit four days earlier.

October 30 -- The Winnipeg Free Press reports: Canadian teens are more likely to smoke marijuana than tobacco, a national survey says.

A poll of 1,250 12-to-19-year-olds suggests that getting high is once again "mainstream," says a Health Canada representative. The results suggest that is the greatest cannabis use among young people in the last 25 years.

Health Canada gave a preliminary report of its findings last week to a House of Commons committee holding hearings on a bill that would decriminalize marijuana, but stiffen penalties against grow operations.

"Research we have conducted on 12-to 19-year-olds shows us that marijuana has gone mainstream and is well integrated into teen lifestyle," reported Linda Dabros, a special adviser to Health Canada's director general of drug strategy.

Fifty-four per cent of 15-to 19-year-olds said they had smoked marijuana more than once. When 12-to 14-year-olds were added to the mix, however, the overall numbers dropped to 34 per cent. Cigarette smoking, on the other hand, continues to decline among young people, with the latest national figures showing that 22 per cent of teens light up regularly.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson drugwarbriefs@yahoo.com.

Should Rush Move to Canada?

This week, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, having blocked marijuana law reform for 30 years, jokes that he may try marijuana once it becomes decriminalized (and he retires); and the former housekeeper of right-wing talk show host, (and staunch drug war advocate) Rush Limbaugh, alleges that she was coerced into supplying him with 11,900 powerful painkillers over a four-year period, to maintain his addiction.

October 4 -- The Toronto Star reports: It's an unlikely retirement scenario for Prime Minister Jean Chretien: he's at his lakeside cottage, sipping tea with his wife Aline -- and smoking a big fat joint. The 69-year-old Prime Minister has never smoked marijuana, he says, but he joked in an interview this week he might be willing to give it a try once it's decriminalized.

Chretien made the joke in an Ottawa interview with the Winnipeg Free Press published yesterday. Chretien was asked how it felt to have bills for decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing same-sex marriages as the exclamation points to his lengthy political career.

"I don't know what is marijuana," Chretien replied.

"Perhaps I will try it when it will no longer be criminal. I will have my money for my fine and a joint in the other hand."

On a more serious note, he defended his government's marijuana bill, which he is trying to pass this fall in what is expected to be his last parliamentary session. He said replacing criminal sentences with simple fines is a more realistic way of punishing marijuana users.

"The decriminalization of marijuana is making normal what is the practice," Chretien said. "It is still illegal, but do you think Canadians want their kids, 18 years old or 17, who smoke marijuana once and get caught by the police, to have a criminal record for the rest of their life? "What has happened is so illogical that they are not prosecuted any more. So let's make the law adjust to the realities. It is still illegal, but they will pay a fine. It is in synch with the times."

October 5 -- The UK Observer reports: For once Rush Limbaugh, the US's most popular radio talkshow host and the voice of America's neo-conservative political movement, had nothing to say on the story captivating the political salons of Washington DC: allegations that he is addicted to prescription drugs and bought thousands of pills on the black market.

"I haven't got to the bottom of this yet," he told his 20 million listeners after the claims of his drug abuse emerged last week. "I don't want to deal with hypotheticals or respond to what's in the press."

But if Limbaugh uncharacteristically restrained himself, others haven't been so reticent, among them the radio host's long-time friend and political soulmate, President George W. Bush, who reportedly told aides yesterday, "Rush is a great American. I am confident he can overcome any obstacles he faces right now."

The President's support came as police in Florida, where the multimillionaire talkshow host lives, confirmed he was being investigated over claims he illegally procured the prescription drugs hydro-codone and OxyContin through his former housemaid, Wilma Cline. She has told police she supplied the drugs to Limbaugh over a four-year period from 1998.

OxyContin is derived from opium and is one of the most powerful pain-killers available. It is known on the streets in America as Hillbilly Heroin because of its popularity among drug addicts in the poorer areas of the American south.

Cline gave detectives a ledger detailing her alleged drug purchases on behalf of Limbaugh -- including 4,350 pills in one six-week period -- and a thick sheaf of emails allegedly sent to her by her former employer in which he asks her to supply him with the drugs. She claims to have bought a total of 11,900 pills for him: "There were times when I was worried... all these pills are enough to kill an elephant, never mind a man."

Her story first emerged in the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer but quickly spread to the mainstream media, where it was seized on by Limbaugh's liberal critics, not just as evidence of his rank hypocrisy but also as a harbinger of his eventual demise.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson drugwarbriefs@yahoo.com

UK Decriminalizes Possession

This week, the UK gears up for relaxing marijuana possession laws starting in January; Canadian medical marijuana patients call the new government provided marijuana "disgusting" and ineffective; and the Patriot Act is criticized for being used in a wide range of non-terror related crimes.

September 13 -- The UK Mirror reports: Smoking cannabis will no longer be against the law under new Government plans. From January, recreational users of the drug will be free from prosecution, unless they are pushers, it emerged yesterday. Cannabis will be downgraded to a Class C drug -- although people smoking near schools and playgrounds will face arrest and have the cannabis confiscated.

Home Secretary David Blunkett's plans follow a campaign by recreational users who argue the drug is less harmful than alcohol,
and many doctors claim the use of cannabis helps relieve the suffering or those with diseases like multiple sclerosis.

September 15 -- Canadian Press reports: Some of the first patients to smoke Health Canada's government-approved marijuana say it's "disgusting" and want their money back.

"It's totally unsuitable for human consumption," said Jim Wakeford, 58, an AIDS patient in Gibsons, B.C. "It gave me a slight buzziness for about three to five minutes, and that was it. I got no other effect from it." Barrie Dalley, a 52-year-old Toronto man who uses marijuana to combat the nausea associated with AIDS, said the Health Canada dope actually made him sick to his stomach. "I threw up," Dalley said Monday. "It made me nauseous because I had to use so much of it. It was so weak in potency that I really threw up."

Both men are returning their 30-gram bags, and Dalley is demanding his money back -- $150 plus taxes. Wakeford is returning his unpaid bill for two of the bags with a letter of complaint. A third AIDS patient says he's also unhappy with the product, which is supposed to contain 10.2 per cent THC, the main active ingredient. "I'm still smoking it -- I would prefer better, but it's all I've got," said Jari Dvorak, 62, in Toronto. "I think Health Canada certainly should do better with the quality."

All three are among 10 patients who have registered with Health Canada to buy dope directly from the government to alleviate their medical symptoms. Another 39 applications are pending. No patients have complained directly to Health Canada so far, said Krista Apse, a spokeswoman for Health Canada, and the department will not accept returns or provide refunds.

The department was compelled to begin direct distribution in July, following an Ontario court order this year that said needy patients should not be forced to get their cannabis on the streets or from authorized growers, who themselves obtain seeds or cuttings illegally. Health Minister Anne McLellan has said she opposes the direct distribution of government cannabis to patients and that the program will end if the department wins its appeal of the Ontario court decision.

September 15 -- Kentucky's Lexington Herald-Leader reports: In the two years since law enforcement agencies gained fresh powers to help them track down and punish terrorists, police and prosecutors have increasingly turned the force of the new laws not on al-Qaida cells but on people charged with common crimes.

The Justice Department said it has used authority given to it by the USA Patriot Act to crack down on currency smugglers and seize money hidden overseas by alleged bookies, con artists and drug dealers.

Federal prosecutors used the act in June to file a charge of "terrorism using a weapon of mass destruction" against a California man after a pipe bomb exploded in his lap, wounding him as he sat in his car.

A North Carolina county prosecutor charged a man accused of running a methamphetamine lab with breaking a new state law barring the manufacture of chemical weapons. If convicted, the man could get 12 years to life in prison for a crime that usually brings about six months.

Prosecutor Jerry Wilson says he isn't abusing the law, which defines chemical weapons of mass destruction as "any substance that is designed or has the capability to cause death or serious injury" and contains toxic chemicals.

Civil liberties and legal defense groups are bothered by the string of cases and say the government soon will be routinely using harsh anti-terrorism laws against run-of-the-mill lawbreakers.

"Within six months of passing the Patriot Act, the Justice Department was conducting seminars on how to stretch the new wiretapping provisions to extend them beyond terror cases," said Dan Dodson, a spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.

More than 150 local governments have passed resolutions opposing the law as an overly broad threat to constitutional rights.

Send comments to Kevin Nelson.

Medical Marijuana in the News

This week, Canadian medical marijuana patients begin receiving government-grown cannabis; the Alaskan Court of Appeals rules in favor of allowing personal possession of live marijuana plants; a federal judge in California dismisses efforts by local government to halt federal raids on medical marijuana co-ops; and the Dutch begin selling medical marijuana in pharmacies.

August 27 -- The Associated Press reports: Jari Dvorak scored two ounces of pot Tuesday and lit up, but -- unlike in the past -- the deal involved no back alley exchange or hiding from police.

This time, the 62-year-old Dvorak went to a doctor to pick up his supply, making him one of the first patients to receive government-grown marijuana. He paid $245, tax included.

"I just smoked some and it's doing the trick," said the HIV-positive Dvorak, one of several hundred Canadians authorized to use medical marijuana for pain, nausea and other symptoms of catastrophic or chronic illness.

The program announced last month by the federal health department provides marijuana grown by the government in a former copper mine turned underground greenhouse in northern Manitoba.

August 29 -- The Associated Press reports: A law banning Alaskans from possessing any amount of marijuana in their homes has been ruled unconstitutional by a state appeals court Friday.

Friday's decision by the Alaska Court of Appeals reversed the 2001 drug conviction of a North Pole man and ordered a new trial.

The ruling affirms a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision that found it legal to possess less than four ounces of marijuana in one's home. That ruling found that the state constitution's strong privacy law superseded legislative attempts to ban marijuana.

Alaska voters approved a law in 1990 that criminalized the possession of any amount of drug in any location. That law had gone unchallenged until David Noy appealed his conviction on a count of sixth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance. A search of Noy's home had turned up five live pot plants, growing equipment and other paraphernalia.

Attorney General Gregg Renkes has said he will petition the state Supreme Court for a review. Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski called the court's ruling "regrettable."

August 31 -- The Oakland Tribune reports: A federal judge has dismissed an effort by the city and county of Santa Cruz and a medical marijuana cooperative to get a court order halting federal raids against California's pot clubs.

U.S. Judge Jeremy Fogel of San Jose wrote he's "acutely mindful of the suffering" patients have demonstrated, "and of the evidence that medicinal marijuana has helped to alleviate that suffering. As it commented at oral argument, the Court finds the declarations of the Patient-Plaintiffs deeply moving."

But while California voters have approved medical use of marijuana, "the legislative and executive branches of the federal government have a different view, and in a federal system that view is controlling unless the federal government is acting in excess of its constitutional powers."

Such a showing hasn't been made, Fogel said in dismissing the case but leaving the plaintiffs an opportunity to amend and re-file it.

The city and county, along with the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) in Davenport, had sued in response to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's Sept. 5, 2002 raid upon WAMM. DEA agents seized and destroyed WAMM's plants, but never filed any charges against operators Valerie and Michael Corral.

This lawsuit marked the first time local governments had joined a lawsuit seeking to stop federal interference with California's 1996 medical marijuana law.

September 1 -- The Associated Press reports: Marijuana went on sale Monday at Dutch pharmacies to help bring relief to thousands of patients suffering from cancer, AIDS or multiple sclerosis.

About 7,000 patients will be eligible for prescription marijuana, sold in containers of five grams at most pharmacies. Labelled "Cannabis Flos" and tested by the Ministry of Health, the drug will be covered by health insurance for the first time under a new law that went into effect in March. Canada, Germany and Australia already allow restricted use of medicinal marijuana or its active chemical to a limited extent.

In the United States, 14 states allow medicinal use despite a federal ban on the drug. Dutch patients will be recommended not to smoke the plant, but to use vaporizers or make marijuana tea. It will be prescribed to those suffering from nausea or pain associated with cancer, Tourette's syndrome, AIDS or multiple sclerosis.

Recent studies show a small increase in the number of people in the Netherlands who say they have tried marijuana, but overall use levels remain well below those in the United States despite the drug's widespread availability there.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

Prison-Go-Round

This week, a new report shows one in every 37 adults is or has been imprisoned; Florida�s recent prison population upsurges due to dramatic drug treatment budget cuts; Seattle Hempfest receives praise for its diversity, success; John Ashcroft is chastised for keeping lists of judges using their own discretion; and Texas governor Rick Perry pardons the Tulia drug war victims.

August 18 -- The Associated Press reports: About one in every 37 U.S. adults was either imprisoned at the end of 2001 or had been incarcerated at one time, the government reported Sunday.

The 5.6 million people with "prison experience" represented about 2.7 percent of the adult population of 210 million as of Dec. 31, 2001, the report found. The study by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics looks at people who served a sentence for a crime in state or federal prison, not those temporarily held in jail.

The number of people sent to prison for the first time tripled from 1974 to 2001 as sentences got tougher, especially for drug offenses.

August 18 -- The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports: Florida's sudden upsurge in inmates imprisoned on drug -- related charges comes after two years of state budget cuts that have dramatically reduced treatment dollars for drug offenders behind bars.

Experts say that may have contributed to the need for state lawmakers to dip into reserve funds last week and approve $66 million in emergency funding to build about 4,000 new prison beds.

With Florida's serious-crime rate at its lowest point in 30 years, this summer's sharp increase in prison admissions caught state leaders by surprise.

"I think it's probably going to wind up being a combination of several things," said Gov. Jeb Bush, who has steered tougher sentencing laws through a willing Republican Legislature since taking office in 1999.

"It's a significant investment," Bush said of the additional prison funding. "But if we need to build prisons in order to make sure public safety is first and foremost, we'll do that."

August 20 -- The Seattle Weekly reports: The 12th annual Seattle Hempfest came and went this past weekend at Myrtle Edwards Park, with approximately 200,000 people attending the marijuana-policy-reform-rally-cum-smoke-out.

There was a polyglot of ethnicities in attendance--African Americans, whites, Asian Americans, Latinos, etc., hanging out with one another in ways they rarely do in the Northwest, and suburban youth, with their Abercrombie & Fitch-inspired bodies, swarmed the event.

It also was the best example we've seen anywhere of activist-police cooperation. Seattle cops largely stayed out, permitting Hempfest organizers to police the event themselves. There were no arrests, not even a hint of a fight.

Seattle media gave the festival obligatory coverage and treated it as an annual oddity instead of the diverse and strongly supported gathering that Hempfest has become. Might be time for some reporters and editors in town to inhale.

August 22 -- The Salt-Lake Tribune editorializes: If John Ashcroft is going to act like judge, jury and executioner, then it might be time for William Rehnquist and Anthony Kennedy to act a little more like politicians.

Attorney General Ashcroft, who has milked post-9-11 security fears for all they are worth, is on the lookout for federal judges who are squishy when it comes to handing down the sentences the Justice Department wants. He has instructed U.S. attorneys across the country to keep a watch list of judges who depart from federal sentencing guidelines.

That directive, combined with the attorney general's previous actions to take away from local prosecutors their traditional authority to decide when to plea bargain and when to seek the death penalty, is a disturbing centralization of power by a supposedly conservative, small-government administration.

Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, said at the recent American Bar Association convention, "A people confident in its laws and institutions should not be afraid of mercy."

But the United States, Kennedy notes, has the world's highest percentage of citizens behind bars, has forgotten about the redemptive power of the executive pardon and has a system that puts the need to punish ahead of any real search for justice.

Kennedy and Rehnquist are believers in judicial restraint. They have to be pushed a long way before they will speak out in public as they have. Ashcroft has pushed them that far. They are right to push back.

August 23 -- The Oklahoman reports: Gov. Rick Perry on Friday pardoned 35 people who were arrested in the 1999 Tulia drug busts and convicted based on the testimony of a lone undercover agent later charged with perjury. "I believe my decision to grant pardons in these cases is both appropriate and just," Perry said in a statement.

The governor said he was influenced by questions about the testimony of Tom Coleman, the only undercover agent involved in the busts. In June, Perry signed a bill allowing the release of the 12 Tulia defendants who were still in prison.

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Hanging People and the Rights

This week, a senior Bush administration lawyer claimed that states currently defying the federal government with their medical marijuana laws are no better than Southern states that defied national civil rights laws; a 57 year old Malaysian man was hanged for "trafficking" one pound of marijuana; the 10th Circuit court of appeals rules that Colorado police can use fake checkpoints and camouflaged spies at festivals to catch people with illegal drugs; and the 12th annual Seattle Hempfest, the nation's largest festival promoting liberalization of marijuana laws, draws over 175,000 people, one week before the arrival of President Bush.

August 10 -- The Associated Press reports: California and other states that want to make marijuana available to sick or dying patients are flouting federal drug laws in much the same way that Southern states defied national civil rights laws, a senior Bush administration lawyer said.

August 10 -- The Malaysia Star reports: A 57-year-old fisherman was sent to the gallows after he was found guilty of trafficking in more than 500 grams of cannabis two years ago.

In passing the sentence against Mijan Mohd Deros yesterday, High Court Justice Sulaiman Daud said the prosecution had proven beyond reasonable doubt that Mijan had the intention to sell the cannabis and he had exclusive control and knowledge of the drug.

He added that the court could not accept Mijan's testimony that he was a drug addict and the cannabis was for his own consumption.

"On the balance of probability, it is difficult for the court to believe that the 84 packets of cannabis were for his own use. "On his testimony that he was a drug addict, it was not corroborated by his family members as the defence failed to put them on the stand," he said.

August 16 -- The Oklahoman reports: Colorado authorities may set up fake checkpoints in hopes of sniffing out illegal drugs, a state appeals court ruled in a case where camouflage-clad officers spied on fans during the 2000 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The ruling was based on a federal appeals court decision last year in a similar case in Oklahoma.

In that case, the court said in essence that fake checkpoints are legal because they are not the real thing. In the Oklahoma case, Mack Flynn saw checkpoint warning signs in Muskogee County, quickly got off the interstate and dropped a large sack along the road.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with his attorneys that checkpoints are illegal, but ultimately ruled against him because there really weren't any checkpoints. "The posting of signs to create a ruse does not constitute illegal police activity," that ruling said.

Flynn pleaded guilty in 2001 and was sentenced to federal prison.

August 18 -- The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports: Hempfest, the nation's largest annual festival promoting liberalization of marijuana laws, drew tens of thousands to the waterfront yesterday and Saturday -- reaffirming Seattle's reputation as a pot-friendly place.

"It's a welcoming city," Mikki Norris of the California-based Cannabis Consumers Campaign said yesterday, addressing the ultimate laid-back crowd -- men and women lying comfortably on Asian rugs and pillows under a giant tent made of hemp.

For two days, the politics of pot pervaded Myrtle Edwards Park, demonstrating a momentum that most politicians can only dream of.

For example, Hempfest director Dominic Holden estimated that a record 175,000 to 200,000 showed up for the weekend event advocating the legalization of "responsible" marijuana use. Even Bill Clinton at the height of his popularity drew only 15,000 people to a Seattle rally in 1992.

But will Hempfest's faithful hordes prove their potency at the ballot box? Seattle will find out Sept. 18, when city voters decide Initiative 75. The measure would direct police officers and prosecutors to treat the personal use of marijuana by adults as the city's "lowest law enforcement priority."

Much of the city's liberal establishment is backing the initiative, touted as a way of protecting scarce tax money to fight serious crimes and to provide such basic services as parks, libraries and homeless shelters.

Democratic Party organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, the League of Women Voters of Seattle, the King County Bar Association and City Council members Nick Licata, Judy Nicastro and Heidi Wills are among those endorsing the measure.

Yesterday, activist Meril Draper was one of the speakers urging the crowd to support Initiative 75. Praising Seattle police for cooperating with Hempfest, Draper said: "They are here to help us, not to bust us ... They have a job to do. We are here to change that job."

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Treatment Not Jails

This week, California's treatment-not-jails law (Prop. 36) reportedly saves the state over $250 million in its first year; a Hawaiian medical marijuana patient receives a $2000 insurance check for her stolen marijuana plants; a high ranking NY DEA agent is charged with embezzling $150, 000; and America's prison population grows by 2.6 percent despite a falling crime rate.

July 22 -- California's The Argus reports: California's treatment-not-jails law for nonviolent drug offenders placed 30,469 people in treatment programs during its first year, according to its first official audit.

University of California, Los Angeles researchers - -- chosen by the state to track results of Proposition 36 of 2000, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act - -- reported last week that:

About half those offenders were getting treatment for the first time;

86 percent went into outpatient drug-free programs, 10 percent into long-term residential programs and the rest into other treatment;

About half cited methamphetamine as their main problem, about 15 percent cited cocaine or crack and about 11 percent cited heroin;

About half were white, about 31 percent were Latino and about 14 percent were African-American, while 72 percent were men.

"The UCLA study proves that Proposition 36 works," said Daniel Abrahamson, the law's co-author and the Drug Policy Alliance's legal affairs director. "Tens of thousands of people who were previously denied treatment are getting it; hundreds of millions of dollars are being saved. And as a result, individuals, their families and their communities continue to get healthier."

July 26 -- The Honolulu Advertiser reports: A Hilo woman who smokes marijuana to treat her glaucoma received a check for $2,000 from her homeowners insurance company for the loss of four plants stolen from her yard.

Tammy VanBuskirk, 57, who has a state permit to grow a limited amount of marijuana and to use it with a doctor's approval, said the plants were stolen from her yard May 5.

Under a state law passed in 2000, patients with permits who are under a doctor's care may possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana and grow up to seven plants at a time for medical purposes.

July 27 -- The New York Post reports: A top official in the Drug Enforcement Administration's New York office is under investigation over allegations that he stole $150,000 from the agency, The Post has learned.

Kevin Tamez, 49, the No. 3 DEA man in the city, is a former internal-affairs investigator who allegedly used his rank and knowledge of the system to pull his scam, sources said.

He was suspended in March.

Internal investigators and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan have spent months trying to unravel Tamez's trail.

"It's a paper case," said one DEA source. "There's so much evidence."

While investigators expect to wrap up their case within a month, other agents are growing impatient waiting since March for an arrest, especially given Tamez's reputation as a hard-nosed boss.

"What makes this so crazy is that Tamez was an inspector in the Office of Professional Responsibility [in Newark]. He went out of his way to jam people up," said a second DEA source, who called Tamez's approach to supervision as "rule by terror."

The first source said Tamez was a "very aggressive" internal investigator who "came on too strong."

July 28 -- The Oklahoman reports: America's prison population grew again in 2002 despite a declining crime rate, costing the federal government and states an estimated $40 billion a year at a time of rampant budget shortfalls. The inmate population in 2002 of more than 2.1 million represented a 2.6 percent increase over 2001, according to a report released Sunday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Preliminary FBI statistics showed a 0.2 percent drop in crime during the same span.

Experts say mandatory sentences, especially for nonviolent drug offenders, are a major reason inmate populations have risen for 30 years. About one of every 143 U.S. residents was in the federal, state or local custody at year's end.

"The nation needs to break the chains of our addiction to prison and find less costly and more effective policies like treatment," said Will Harrell, executive director of the Texas American Civil Liberties Union. Others say tough sentencing laws, such as the "three strikes" laws that can put repeat offenders behind bars for life, are a chief reason for the drop in crime.

The cost of housing, feeding and caring for a prison inmate is roughly $20,000 per year, or about $40 billion nationwide using 2002 figures, according to The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes alternatives to prison.

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Equal Injustice Under the Law

This week, New York Governor George Pataki offers another attempt at reforming the harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws; a Canadian Senator expresses a complete reversal in attitude about marijuana, now supporting legalization after two years of studying the issue on a Senate committee; UK drug law reformers demand an explanation for the brutal prosecution of MS sufferer/medical marijuana distributor, Biz Ivol; and a California man remains in custody in Mexico after a car he recently purchased at a drug-seizure auction turned out to have marijuana secreted away.

July 16 -- The New York Daily News reports: Gov. Pataki's reform fix for New York's ultratough drug laws won over rap mogul Russell Simmons, but Democrat lawmakers and some drug treatment advocates weren't too high on it.

Pataki's revamped plan to remake the so-called Rockefeller drug laws would dramatically cut prison time for all nonviolent drug felons, making about 10,000 inmates eligible for sentence reductions. At the same time, Pataki called for beefing up penalties for predators who use children to sell drugs or serve as kingpins in narcotics gangs.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) signaled that the lower house would not pass Pataki's measure, saying it didn't give judges enough leeway in sentencing drug offenders. "We are most disappointed by the complete lack of judicial discretion and the absence of any drug treatment diversion provision ..." Silver said in a joint statement with Assemblyman Jeff Aubry (D-Queens), who chairs the Assembly Correction Committee.

Silver's rejection puzzled aides to the GOP governor, who had hoped the Democrats would have declared victory and helped end the 30-year era in which New York has had some of the toughest drug laws in the nation.

July 16 -- Canada's Edmonton Sun reports: When Tommy Banks was a new senator a few years ago, someone asked him whether marijuana should be more available in Canada and he didn't like the idea.

What a difference two years and 600-plus pages of research can make. Banks, who sat on a Senate committee that investigated the pot question, thinks the government move to supply pot to those with medical exemptions is a step in the right direction.

A "baby step," mind you. The senator, who once suggested liberal pot laws would lead to interminable border problems with the U.S., is quite clear why research changed his mind and why he believes people should either be allowed to grow their own or buy it from a licensed distributor.

"There has never, in history, been a good reason presented for marijuana being illegal," said Banks. "It's fundamentally important for people to understand that it's never been based on the facts. It's non-toxic, it's not addictive and has no provable, long-term irreversible effects.

"Sure, if you smoke it all the time you've got the risk of cancer, but who sits around and smokes a whole pack of joints?"

July 16 -- The UK Scotsman reports: Cannabis campaigners from across the UK are planning a protest at Westminster today to highlight the plight of Orkney multiple sclerosis sufferer Biz Ivol who uses the drug to ease her pain. The event follows a small demonstration held in Parliament Square, London, last week to oppose prosecutions of people who use cannabis for medical reasons. Campaigners unveiled a banner proclaiming "Biz Ivol -- Herbal Suffragette".

Last month Mrs Ivol, 55, from Herston, South Ronaldsay, went on trial facing charges of cultivating, possessing and supplying cannabis. She admitted sending out cannabis-laced chocolates to fellow MS sufferers but pleaded not guilty to supplying the drug on the grounds that she believed she was doing nothing wrong. The case was dropped because of her deteriorating medical condition.

Mrs Ivol subsequently attempted suicide by taking an overdose but has since been released from hospital. The Legalise Cannabis Alliance ( LCA ) said today's protest will call for an explanation for Mrs Ivol's prosecution and why medical cannabis users are taken to court. Don Barnard, a spokesman for the LCA. said: "I fully support the protest. I am fed up with politicians failing to address these issues, reclassification will do nothing to help these unfortunate sick people."

An ongoing petition on the LCA website calling for the Scottish ministers to justify the prosecution of Mrs Ivol has been signed by 1,232 people, including five MPs, one lord and one MEP.

July 17 -- The San Diego Union Tribune reports: Mexican federal investigators are expected to decide today whether to file charges against a Chula Vista man who claims he didn't know a car he purchased from a U.S. auction contained drugs.

Adrian Rodriguez, 25, said he took the 1991 Volkswagen Passat to a Tijuana auto shop because it was making noises. Mechanics found a secret compartment with about 15 kilos of marijuana packed in plastic, and Rodriguez said he and the mechanics decided to call the police.

Police then turned him over to the Mexican Attorney General's Office, where he remains in custody.

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Who Would Jesus Jail?

This week, Colin Powell gives his blessing for over $30 million in aid to the Colombian armed forces, despite allegations of widespread human rights abuses; the Bush Administration increases its efforts to enlist religious organizations in anti-drug programs; while Bush & Co. press the Supreme Court to strip doctors' licenses for recommending marijuana to patients; and DEA head nominee Karen Tandy promises to continue raids on medical marijuana co-ops.

July 9 -- The Miami Herald reports: Citing Colombia's efforts to sever its ties with paramilitary forces and curtail human rights abuses, Secretary of State Colin Powell Tuesday paved the way for Colombia's armed forces to receive $31.6 million in aid for its ongoing battle against drug trafficking.

Powell's certification that Colombia has met standards set by Congress - -- part of an annual process required by law to release funds to the massive U.S. assistance program, Plan Colombia - -- drew immediate criticism from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Although the amount certified Tuesday represents only a small portion of overall U.S. assistance to that nation, the implicit endorsement of Colombia's human rights efforts sparked a barrage of criticism from the rights groups, which have long complained of blatant abuses in a country where thousands die each year as a result of politically motivated attacks.

Much of the violence is blamed on armed rebel forces. But some of the deaths and other human rights violations have involved paramilitary organizations that have allegedly worked with the Colombian military.

''When the U.S. perceives that the human rights of U.S. military personnel is at stake, they will cut off funds, but not when the human rights of Colombians are at stake,'' said Eric Olson of Amnesty International.

July 11 -- Utah's Daily Herald reports: The Bush administration's latest effort to expand the role of religious organizations in government services enlists church-based youth groups in anti-drug programs.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy is offering guides, brochures and a Web site to provide information for leaders of religious youth groups to use in teaching -- or preaching -- a message against using marijuana and other drugs.

"Religious institutions are an enormously powerful influence on young people," said John P. Walters, director of the office, in announcing the program Thursday.

A priority of the Bush administration is to break long-standing barriers to federal funds for religious groups. But it has been unsuccessful in urging Congress to pass sweeping legislation to open government programs to such organizations.

Bush issued an executive order in December allowing religious groups that receive federal grants, contracts or other funds to hire and fire workers based on religion.

July 11 -- The Boston Globe reports: The Bush administration wants the Supreme Court's permission to strip prescription licenses from doctors who recommend marijuana to sick patients.

The administration, which has taken a hard stand against state medical marijuana laws, asked the high court to strike down an appeals court ruling that blocked the punishment or investigation of physicians who tell patients they may be helped by the drug.

July 11 -- The Fort Worth Star Telegram reports: Texan Karen Tandy was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday to head the Drug Enforcement Administration but ran into some last-minute opposition from two Democratic senators who complained about her hard line on medicinal marijuana.

Tandy, 49, a Justice Department lawyer, is still expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate but may encounter some vocal criticism of her position supporting enforcement of marijuana laws.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who had submitted written questions to Tandy after her confirmation hearing June 25, complained about her answers and questioned whether the DEA should "continue to focus its limited resources on the question of medical marijuana."

Tandy "didn't back off an inch" in supporting the continued DEA raids that have caused controversy in nine states that do not press charges against medical-marijuana patients and providers, Durbin said.

Tandy, a native of Hurst, said in her written answers that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana, has medicinal value when processed into Marinol. "Marijuana itself, however, has not been shown to have medical benefits," she wrote.

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Railroaded By Lies

This week, the Austin American Statesman calls upon the Texas governor to give immediate and absolute pardons to 38 black Tulia residents sent to prison on the lies of one racist cop; Maryland's governor signs a "controversial" bill to reduce penalties for sick and dying medical marijuana patients, despite fierce opposition from the White House; and New York City police make their second mistaken address drug raid in two weeks.

May 21 -- The Austin American Statesman opines: Thirty-eight residents of Tulia were railroaded on a train of lies.

No fewer than two dozen instances of "perjured and misleading testimony" are detailed in the "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law" filed this month with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

The findings represent facts and recommendations by special prosecutors, defense lawyers and a district judge regarding the 38 Tulia residents who were convicted of drug trafficking in 1999 and 2000. The findings -- and their stark revelations -- stem from court-ordered evidentiary hearings in March. Even special prosecutors are convinced that Tulia residents were wrongly convicted. All agree that convictions of the 38 should be thrown out.

That towering conclusion was built on former undercover police officer Tom Coleman's deceit. Coleman provided testimony that resulted in the arrests of 46 Tulia residents on drug trafficking charges in 1999. Thirty-nine of those are African American, about 10 percent of Tulia's black population. After the arrests, 38 people were convicted, and many were sentenced to prison from 20 years to 90 years.

All the convictions hinged on Coleman's word. There was no corroborating evidence or witnesses to back up Coleman's allegations. Coleman, who was indicted last month on felony perjury charges in connection with the case, is free while awaiting trial. Meanwhile, 13 Tulia defendants have suffered in prison since their arrests.

We again urge the Legislature to quickly approve Sen. John Whitmire's bill, Senate Bill 1948, which would authorize bail for the Tulia 13. Their continued imprisonment is a cruel insult to justice. The 12 men and one woman have suffered enough in the 4 1/2 years they've been unjustly severed from the lives that Coleman's lies destroyed. It is simply incredible that the government that was so quick to lock them up is so slow to set them free.

May 22 -- The Washington Post reports: Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. today signed a bill to dramatically reduce penalties for cancer patients and others who smoke marijuana to relieve suffering, despite fierce lobbying from the White House and many of his conservative supporters.

The measure would set a fine of $100 for using marijuana out of "medical necessity." Possession otherwise carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Supporters of the legislation say marijuana offers relief from pain and nausea to people sickened by cancer, AIDS and other illnesses or by medical treatments such as chemotherapy.

May 23 -- The New York Post reports of a second police drug raid on a wrong address in two weeks: Residents of a Bronx building are outraged after getting an unexpected morning "greeting" yesterday from a police drug squad, which burst into their homes, waved guns at children and then left after finding nothing. "At 7:50 a.m., they burst down the door to the building," said Joe Celcis, a teacher whose mother and sister live in the home.

"After an hour and a half, they said, 'Sorry wrong house,' and left." The cops were armed with a warrant that allowed them to search all the units at 3629 Olinville Ave., a four-family apartment building.

They smashed open a door, handcuffed several people and put a gun in the face of 12-year-old Jennifer Espady before going though everyone's belongings, witnesses said.

"They came in with guns drawn and pushed me," Jennifer said. The cops were looking for two handguns, a pile of marijuana and evidence of a pot-selling operation. They found nothing.

An NYPD spokesperson said that cops stand by their decision to raid the building, and noted that two simultaneous raids in the same neighborhood both uncovered drug dealing and led to seven arrests.

The spokesperson said the information that led them to 3629 Olinville Ave. was "accurate," unlike a May 16 raid in which a bogus tip led cops to the home of 57-year-old church volunteer Alberta Spruill, who died of a heart attack after a stun grenade was tossed into her home.

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Two Windbags Deflated

This week, The Economist warns of Attorney-General John Ashcroft�s power grabs; and Bill Bennett, former Drug Czar and moral crusader, is exposed as a gambling addict, losing $8 million in the past ten years.

May 3 -- The Economist editorializes: Conservatives Beware - -- An Out-Of-Control Attorney-General Is Trampling On Your Principles.

So far, the debate about John Ashcroft has focused mainly on the war against terrorism. Libertarians moan that the hyperactive attorney-general has hugely expanded the government's power to monitor citizens (by wiretapping their telephones and so on); that he has made it much easier to detain and deport immigrants and foreign visitors, particularly Arabs; and that he has ruthlessly accumulated power over the country's sprawling judicial system in his own hands.

Conservatives wearily retort that wars force everybody to rethink the balance between freedom and security. Surely the Attorney General is duty-bound to err on the side of vigilance to thwart another September 11th. Well, yes.

But what if you examine Mr Ashcroft's record in other areas, such as medical marijuana, assisted suicide and the death penalty? You find precisely the same pattern of Johnknows-best centralisation.

The country's terror-fighter has also become the country's self-appointed moraliser-in-chief. And he is trampling all over two conservative principles he used to espouse: limited government and localism.

Begin with an idea precious to most Republicans: states' rights. Mr Ashcroft has prosecuted "medical marijuana" users in California despite a state initiative legalising the practice.

Mr Ashcroft's conversion into a centraliser is both hypocritical and short-sighted. It is hypocritical because Mr Ashcroft was once a leading critic of big government. As attorney-general and then senator for Missouri, he resisted a federal injunction to desegregate St Louis's schools so vigorously that the Southern Partisan, a neo-Confederate magazine, singled him out for praise.

It is short-sighted because, as an evangelical who refrains from smoking, drinking, dancing and looking at nude statues, Mr Ashcroft represents a minority in his own party, let alone the country.

He has no chance of winning the culture wars: the forces arrayed against him, from the media to the universities, are too vast. The best he can hope for is a live-and-let-live attitude that gives minority views like his own room to flourish. Mr Ashcroft will come to rue his Faustian bargain with the federal government the next time a Democrat sits in his office.

May 7 -- The Sydney Morning Herald reports: When a famous figure in America finds him or herself involved in a personal scandal, few commentators make it to the microphone faster than William Bennett, the country's leading public moralist.

Previously an education secretary and drug tsar under Republican presidents, Mr Bennett -- now head of a conservative think tank -- has inveighed for years against everything from drunkenness to promiscuity, the moral failings of Bill Clinton, the moral failings of liberals, and the permissiveness of contemporary culture.

His consistently bestselling books bear titles such as The Book of Virtues, The Death of Outrage, Our Sacred Honour, The Children's Treasury of Virtues, and Moral Compass: Stories For a Life's Journey.

Now there is a fresh outbreak of vice for him to campaign against: the epidemic of Schadenfreude that has greeted the revelation that he is an inveterate gambler who has lost millions of dollars in casinos in the past 10 years, playing poker machines into the small hours.

Documents obtained by the magazines Newsweek and Washington Monthly show that he is a regular at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, is a "preferred customer" at several of them, and has lost more than $US8million ( $12.5million ) in the process.

Mr Bennett maintained that his forceful condemnation of the sins of society was not incompatible with his gambling.

"It's never been a moral issue with me," he said."I liked church bingo growing up. I've been a poker player . I view it as drinking. If you can't handle it, don't do it."

There is, indeed, no record of him speaking out against gambling. But that, the commentator Michael Kinsley argued in Slate magazine, "doesn't show that Bennett is not a hypocrite".

"It just shows that he's not a complete idiot. Working his way down the list of other people's pleasures, weaknesses, and uses of American freedom, he just happened to skip over his own. How convenient."

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Decrim Around the World

This week, President Bush nominates the first woman to head the DEA; the Maryland Senate, against the wishes of the Drug Czar, votes to reduce medical marijuana use to a fine of $100; the Belgian government legalizes personal possession of marijuana; and the Jamaican Attorney General predicts marijuana decriminalization soon.

March 22 -- The Washington Times reports: President Bush yesterday announced his intention to nominate Karen P. Tandy, head of the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, as the new chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

If confirmed by the Senate, she would be the first woman ever to head the anti-drug agency. A veteran prosecutor, she would replace acting administrator John B. Brown III, a longtime drug agent who was named in January to succeed former Rep. Asa Hutchinson. The Arkansas Republican had left the agency to become undersecretary for border and transportation security at the new Department of Homeland Security.

March 27 -- The Baltimore Sun reports: After a gripping debate in which senators described watching friends and family members die in pain, the Maryland Senate voted yesterday to reduce punishment for the very ill who use marijuana as medicine.

The House of Delegates approved an identical bill two weeks ago, meaning the matter appears headed for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s desk .

Ehrlich said yesterday that he is leaning toward signing the bill, which would make Maryland the ninth state to offer some form of legal shelter to medical marijuana patients.

The 29-17 vote yesterday followed an intense discussion between those who believe marijuana can be a dying patient's last hope and others who see it as the first step toward legalizing drugs.

Some lawmakers said the debate ranked as one of the greatest in recent Senate history. One by one senators rose from their seats to tell their stories.

"If you haven't been there, you can't say what it is like," said Sen. Nathaniel Exum, a Prince George's County Democrat who lost his 25-year-old daughter to cancer in 1993. "I was there. I saw here moaning and groaning and she said, 'Daddy, can you do something to help me?' I couldn't help her.

"If we could have gotten her marijuana, we would have done that for her."

The legislation would establish a maximum $100 fine for those who can prove to a judge they used marijuana as a medical necessity, such as people with cancer or AIDS in the last stages of life.

Those who cannot prove medical necessity would remain subject to current penalties of up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

A person who claims medical need could also be prosecuted under federal law, which makes no distinction for medicinal use.

March 29 -- The Guardian reports: The Belgian parliament has voted to legalise the personal use of cannabis, within certain guidelines, for anyone over the age of 18.

The move, which has been the subject of fierce debate in Belgium for the last two years, will allow users to smoke small quantities of the drug in private, provided they do not disturb public order.

Its sale will, however, remain illegal and Belgium will not tolerate Dutch-style coffee shops selling cannabis over the counter. Hard drugs will continue to be outlawed.

The possession of up to 5g of cannabis for personal use will no longer be punishable and police officers who find such quantities in routine searches will take no action.

March 30 -- The Jamaica Observer reports: Attorney General A J Nicholson said yesterday that legislation is now being prepared to give effect to the recommendation of a commission, which sat two years ago, for the decriminalisation of marijuana when in private use here.

Nicholson did not say when a Bill will reach Parliament and neither did he give details of the drafting instructions, but stressed that decriminalising marijuana - -- called ganja here - -- will be within a limited scope.

"Yes, it will, for private use only," he told the Sunday Observer yesterday.

Marijuana is widely used in Jamaica, and is said by Rastafarians to be holy sacrament. But the use of the drug is illegal, for which a person can be fined and/or jailed.

Additionally, the island is one of the hemisphere's leading exporters of marijuana to the United States, and the Americans have promoted eradication and interdiction efforts in the island.

Nearly two years ago, a National Ganja Commission, appointed by Prime Minister P J Patterson, recommended the decriminalisation of the drug, which has deep cultural roots here.

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Netherlands Legalizes Medical Marijuana

This week, the Netherlands legalizes medical marijuana for distribution in pharmacies; Maryland legislature votes to fine medical marijuana users rather than jailing them; Afghanistan warns it may slip back into the heroin producing capital of the world; and Peruvian coca farming increases with cutbacks in Colombian coca production.

March 17 -- Associated Press reports: Pharmacies may fill prescriptions for marijuana and patients can get the cost covered by insurance, according to a law that went into effect Monday.

Doctors in the famously liberal Netherlands have long recommended marijuana to cancer patients as an appetite enhancer and to combat pain and nausea. But it is usually bought at one of the country's 800 "coffee shops," where the plant is sold openly while police look the other way.

"The health minister said, look, doctors are prescribing marijuana to their patients anyway, and there are many medicinal users, so we may as well regulate it," said Bas Kuik, a spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Health.

The Dutch government's stance is in stark contrast to U.S. federal law, which says growers of marijuana for medicinal purposes face the same prison terms that recreational growers do.

Recent studies show a fractional increase in the number of people in the Netherlands who say they have tried marijuana, while overall use levels remain well below those in the United States, despite its widespread availability here.

March 19 -- The Baltimore Sun reports: The Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill yesterday that would lessen the penalty for sick people found with marijuana if they can prove they possessed it for medical reasons.

In a 73-62 vote, the House passed what is called a "defense bill." The measure doesn't make marijuana legal for those who say they need it, but it allows a judge to impose just a $100 fine if it is shown the drug is a medical necessity.

March 19 -- BBC News reports: Afghanistan will slip back into its role as the world's premier heroin producer unless the international community hands over promised aid, the ravaged country has warned.

On Friday in Kabul, the Afghan capital, Finance Minister Ghani Ahmadzai unveiled a $2.25bn budget, of which $1.7bn was set aside to rebuild infrastructure flattened by 15 years of conflict.

But more than $1bn still has to be pledged by the countries which previously promised to support the country's rebuilding after the US-led invasion in 2001 to drive out the former Taleban government. Without that, and money to fill the $234m gap in the $550m cost of normal government business, donors will not only cripple the country's recovery but face a resurgent drug trade at home as well, Mr. Ahmadzai warned.

The Taleban government which took power in most of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s stamped down hard on the country's long-established heroin trade. But with precious few other ways for Afghan farmers to make money, many of them are returning to poppy cultivation.

Much of the country remains in the hands of warlords who pay lip service to their alliance with the US and the government in Kabul, while running their territory, effectively, as feudal fiefdoms.

March 22 -- The Washington Post reports: The mountain slopes that rise around this town in Peru's high eastern jungle were the site of a rare success story in the U.S. war on drugs. But the resilient Andean drug industry is flowing back into the Apurimac River Valley, testing a model partnership in Washington's increasingly aggressive counter-drug campaign.

Once one of the world's largest sources of coca leaf, the valley was the focus of a U.S.-backed effort to intercept planes shuttling the key raw material in cocaine to processing laboratories in neighboring Colombia.

Now U.S. eradication efforts in Colombia are squeezing the trade back toward Peru, causing deep social unrest, the threat of armed resistance to U.S. drug policy and political risks for a fragile Peruvian government responsible for implementing the most controversial elements of Washington's strategy.

Peru's coca farmers in this riverside town and in the Upper Huallaga to the north have staged demonstrations since last August against impending eradication programs. The marches and blockades are the stirrings of a grass-roots peasant movement in favor of legalized coca production that resembles one underway in neighboring Bolivia.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson drugwarbriefs@yahoo.com.

Shooting Down Aircraft

This week, Oklahoma looks at decriminalizing marijuana possession; two Mexican anti-narcotics helicopters are shot down, killing 5 agents on board; Peruvian Prime Minister pleads for a resumption of American program of shooting down suspected drug cargo planes; an Iowa college president is caught smoking and growing marijuana; and a Canadian court throws out a marijuana possession charge, stating that it is currently legal to possess less than 30 grams of marijuana in Canada.

March 9 -- The Oklahoman reports: From resurrecting the prison cap law to making marijuana possession punishable by the equivalent of a traffic ticket, Oklahoma lawmakers are looking for ways to cut the state's prison population and its skyrocketing costs.

Faced with a $677 million budget shortfall next year, the 2003 Legislature is considering sentencing reforms and other proposals to reduce the state's incarceration rate, one of the nation's highest, without jeopardizing public safety.

Statistics compiled by the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Resource Center found that drug and alcohol offenses are the leading causes of prison sentences in the state, accounting for 44 percent of all receptions in 2001.

The center found that marijuana possession accounted for 12 percent of all felony drug possessors convicted in 2001. Drummond said Oklahoma has more minor, nonviolent drug offenders in prison per capita than any state in the region.

March 11 -- The Detroit Free Press reports: Two helicopters from Mexico's Attorney General's Office were shot down during an anti-narcotics operation, killing all five drug agents on board.

The copters had just lifted off to fumigate poppy plants Monday when they were hit by high-powered weapons fired by unidentified gunmen, the Attorney General's Office said.

The aircraft crashed in the western state of Guerrero near the town of Tlapa, about 60 miles east of the state capital, Chilpancingo.

March 14 -- The Washington Times reports: Peruvian Prime Minister Luis Solari said yesterday that he expects the U.S. drug-interdiction flights over Peru, which were stopped in 2001, to resume shortly.

"We need, as soon as possible, the resumption of the flights," Mr. Solari told editors and reporters in a luncheon interview at The Washington Times yesterday. "When the flights stop, the price [of cocaine] rises."

In Washington to discuss trade, U.S. investment and drug interdiction, Mr. Solari said that he had met with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, several congressmen and President Bush's Latin America envoy, Otto Reich. (Ed. note: Otto Reich served under Oliver North during the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan/Bush I administrations. Reich was director of the Office of Public diplomacy. Staffed with military "psychological warfare" specialists, the office worked intensively to spread false propaganda and to malign and discredit journalists whose reporting the administration did not approve. Reich also lobbied for, and won, American residency for Cuban-exile terrorist, Orlando Bosch, who blew up a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing 73 people. George Bush I granted Bosch a pardon and U.S. residency n 1992.)

March 14 -- The Houston Chronicle reports: An Iowa college president caught smoking marijuana with six-dozen plants growing in his basement and packages of the leafy drug spread around his home faced drug charges Thursday.

David England, 50, president of Des Moines Area Community College, and his wife and teenage son and daughter were all accused of crimes ranging from manufacturing and delivering a narcotic to possession of drug paraphernalia, police said.

Acting on witness accounts of suspicious activity at England's upscale home, police raided the house Wednesday where he was found alone with a lighted marijuana cigarette.


March 16 -- Canada's Calgary Sun reports: A Prince Edward Island judge stayed a teen's marijuana possession charge, ruling it would be unfair to prosecute him when other Canadians have immunity from the same charge.

Provincial Court Judge Ralph C. Thompson stayed proceedings against the 19-year-old on Friday after considering cases in Ontario.

The teen was charged with possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana in the fall.

Defence lawyer Clifford McCabe argued in a previous hearing the charge should be quashed because it's not a valid offence based on the Ontario cases.

In his 11-page decision, the judge explained an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling, known as the Parker decision, effectively struck down the law that prohibits simple possession.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

Quality of Life

This week, a quality of life survey of world cities finds cannabis-friendly cities crowding the top of the list while more intolerant cities bloat the bottom; the Swiss vote to extend their heroin maintenance program; and Thailand responds to international criticism that its recently announced Drug War offensive has so far killed over 1000 citizens.

March 3 -- Reuters reports: The Swiss city of Zurich edged out Vancouver, Canada, and the Austrian capital of Vienna to top a quality of life survey published on Monday, with impoverished, war-torn African cities dominating the bottom ranks.

The study handed the crown to Zurich based on 39 criteria ranging from political, social and economic factors that also included the quality of health, education and transport services.

Zurich, which is surrounded by picturesque scenery, also claimed top spot in last year's survey of cities, commissioned by Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

Vancouver, nestled between mountains and ocean on Canada's Pacific coast, and historic Vienna ranked a joint second, followed by Geneva and Sydney, Australia.

The top-rated city in the United States was San Francisco, which placed 20th, down from 18th last year.

Other notable cities included Amsterdam at the 10th spot, Tokyo at 26, London at 39, Los Angeles at 53 and Rome at 66th.

Milan, Athens and Rome were judged the least safe cities in Western Europe while Washington got the worst safety ranking in the United States.

(Ed. note: The world's most cannabis tolerant cities -- Amsterdam, Vancouver, San Francisco -- scored highest on the list while America's capital, Washington, D.C., ranked lowest of all US cities.)

March 5 -- The New Zealand Herald reports: Lawmakers have voted to extend Switzerland's pioneering programme to provide heroin to severely addicted people.

The National Council voted 110-42 to extend the programme until the end of 2009, rejecting an attempt by right-of-centre parties to end it.

The Swiss Government maintains the heroin programme brings health gains and reduces crime and death associated with the drug scene.

Some 1300 drug addicts, averaging about 33 years in age, benefit from the legal prescription of heroin under medical control.

Switzerland's experiment with drug distribution began in 1994 with the first government-authorised distribution of heroin, morphine and methadone in the world.

March 9 -- The Washington Post reports: When Thailand's prime minister launched a campaign Feb. 1 to eradicate drugs from his country within three months, skeptics predicted the effort would prove no more successful than his earlier pledges to eliminate pollution and untangle Bangkok's notorious traffic jams.

But within days, the seriousness of the initiative became brutally clear. Police reported at least 300 drug-related slayings over the first two weeks, and by March 1, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced that 1,100 people had been killed during the offensive.

Government officials say most of the killings have been the result of violence among rival drug gangs panicked by the crackdown. Police acknowledge responsibility for only about 30 of the deaths, saying these were largely self-defense shootings.

Human rights activists, however, suspect that many of the killings have been carried out by Thai security forces and allied gunmen as they try to meet Thaksin's quota for reducing the number of drug producers and dealers on a government list of suspects.

"According to our research, most of them are killed by the police, because they want to meet the target," said Somchai Homlaor, secretary general of Forum Asia, a human rights group. "They think if the drug dealers are brought to court, they will be released again. A better way to solve the drug problem is to kill them."

His group reported it has uncovered at least three cases in which drugs were planted on victims before their bodies were turned over to the coroner.

Interior Minister Wan Muhamad Nor Matha, speaking to reporters on the eve of the crackdown, set the tone for police operations against suspected drug traffickers. "They will be put behind bars or even vanish without a trace. Who cares? They are destroying our country," he said.

Based on public opinion polls, most Thais agree. A survey conducted in the third week of February by the Suan Dusit Institute showed that more than 90 percent of respondents backed Thaksin's campaign. It remains unclear, however, whether this resounding support will weather continuing disclosures about excessive violence.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

Apocalypse Soon

This week, with America's terror alert on the second highest level, John Ashcroft commits 1200 agents to arrest makers of marijuana paraphernalia; a new report shows tobacco and alcohol account for 97 percent of drug deaths worldwide, while illegal drugs claim the remaining 3 percent; the US is on the brink of introducing biological warfare into the bio-diverse Colombian rainforest in an effort to destroy coca crops; and Afghanistan regains its title as the world's leading opium producer.

February 24 -- Associated Press reports: Federal authorities charged 55 people Monday with trafficking in illegal drug paraphernalia from coast to coast, using both traditional stores and the Internet.

A federal grand jury in western Pennsylvania handed up indictments against 27 people as part of "Operation Pipe Dreams," an investigation stretching from Pittsburgh to Phoenix to southern California, Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

Federal law makes it a crime to sell products mainly intended for the use of illegal drugs, including such things as bongs, marijuana pipes, "roach" clips, miniature spoons and scales. Those charged with selling and conspiring to sell such items face up to three years on prison and maximum fines of $250,000.

February 25 -- Tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs prematurely kill about 7 million people worldwide each year and the number is rising, according to a study released in Australia on Tuesday.

Professor Juergen Rehm, director of Switzerland's Addiction Research Institute, said tobacco was the number one killer addiction in 2000, responsible for 4.9 million deaths or 71 percent of the total drug-related deaths -- a jump of more than one million since 1990.

About 1.8 million deaths were attributable to the use of alcohol, about 26 percent of all drug-related deaths, with the proportion greatest in the Americas and Europe. Russia's alcohol problem was particularly pronounced.

Illicit drugs caused about 223,000 deaths, or three percent of all drug-related deaths.

March 1 -- UK's The Ecologist reports: As the US threatens to attack Iraq for supposedly harbouring biological weapons, news emerges of a US plan to conduct a biological war of its own.

A plan to use an untested pathogenic fungus -- Fusarium oxysporum -- in Colombia's US-funded 'war on drugs' resurfaced in the US House of Representatives in December 2002. Critics say the plan proposes illegal acts of biological warfare, poses major ecological risks to one of the world's most bio-diverse countries, and will increase the human damage of a failed eradication policy.

Fusarium oxysporum is a well-known plant pathogen that causes damage and large losses in food and industrial crops worldwide. There are many associated health risks. Human Fusarium infection (fusariosis) is an emerging, life-threatening disease with a mortality rate as high as 70 per cent. Concentrated aerosols of fungal spores are known to cause dermal and respiratory difficulties in humans.

The global outrage at the spraying of Agent Orange and other environmentally malign potions across South-east Asia during the Vietnam war led to ENMOD -- the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques. Adopted by the UN in 1976 and ratified by the US, ENMOD prohibits any signatory nation from using the environment as a weapon of war -- which the spraying of Colombia constitutes by definition.

March 2 -- The Australian reports: Afghanistan has toppled Burma as the world's top source of illicit opium.

In a major drugs strategy report, Washington backed up figures released by the United Nations last week showing an increase in poppy cultivation since the ouster of Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers.

"The size of the opium harvest in 2002 makes Afghanistan the world's leading opium producer, the report said. "Trafficking of Afghan opium and heroin refined in numerous laboratories inside Afghanistan creates serious problems for Afghanistan and its neighbours."

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, collated by the State Department from US posts abroad, said the area under opium cultivation in the country last year reached 30,750 hectares.

The figure rose from a low of 1,685 hectares in 2001 after the fundamentalist Taliban, later ousted by a US-led war, banned opium production.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

Rulings Favor Freedom

April 9 -- The San Francisco Chronicle reports: A federal appeals court was openly skeptical yesterday about the federal government's attempt to punish California doctors who recommend marijuana to their patients.

"Why is the federal government getting into this?" asked Judge Alex Kozinski, historically the most conservative of the three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals panel. "Why on earth does an administration that's committed to the concept of federalism ... want to go to this length to put doctors in jail for doing something that's perfectly legal under state law?"

April 9 -- USA Today reports: In a First Amendment case that could have national implications, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a Denver bookstore does not have to give sales records to police seeking information in a drug investigation.

The 6 --0 decision Monday overturns a lower court ruling that the Tattered Cover Book Store had to comply with a warrant seeking records on the sale of books about making illicit drugs.

The court said the authorities' need for the information was not "sufficiently compelling to outweigh" the likely harm to state and federal constitutional protections.

April 9 -- The Ithaca Journal reports: Facing 60 days in jail, a former county sheriff decided Tuesday to withdraw his guilty plea and face a jury trial on charges he stole $4,000 from a drug task force fund. If convicted by a jury, former Cayuga County Sheriff Peter Pinckney could face up to seven years in state prison.

Pinckney pleaded guilty Jan. 17 to third-degree grand larceny, defrauding the government and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing. But defense attorney James McGraw warned that Pinckney would renege on the plea deal if it appeared he would have to serve even one day behind bars.

According to state prosecutors, Pinckney
misappropriated money from a task force drug fund on four occasions during a nearly three-year period, ordered subordinates to assist him in the process and then took steps to cover up his wrongdoing.

April 10 -- Buffalo News reports: Yale University will become the fourth college in the country to reimburse students who lose federal financial aid because of convictions for drug possession.

Yale joins Hampshire College and Swarthmore College in adopting such a policy in response to the federal "Drug-Free Student Aid" law. Western Washington University gives a scholarship of $750 to those who lose aid.

Yale will not reimburse students convicted of drug offenses other than possession, the Hartford Courant reported Tuesday.

April 11 -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports: Wisconsin led the nation in the rate of incarceration for black offenders, according to a federal report released Wednesday.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report also found that the incarceration rate for blacks in Wisconsin is more than 10 times what is it for whites.


Wisconsin paced the 50 states with 4,058 black prison and jail inmates per 100,000 black residents as of mid-2001, the report says. Iowa was second, with 3,302 for every 100,000 black residents, and in Texas there were 3,287 black inmates for every 100,000 black residents.

Nationally, the study found that black incarceration rates were six times higher than those for whites.

April 12 -- The Toronto Sun reports: A recent report has Ontario's indoor marijuana industry as the third largest agricultural sector in the province, a $1 billion industry surpassed ( barely ) by dairy's $1.3 billion and beef cattle's $1.2 billion. Add to that the multi-millions being harvested from outdoor crops and marijuana cultivation in this province moves into No. 1 spot on the hit list.

The difference, of course, is that marijuana is an illegal product and the government, in turn, cannot reap any taxes from what is being sowed.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson
kcnelson@premier1.net

Drug War Briefs The Mayor Lights Up

April 9- Associated Press reports: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be featured in an advertising campaign by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the group said Monday.

The $500,000 campaign will feature bus shelter signs and telephone booth posters carrying a quote from Bloomberg, when asked if he had ever smoked marijuana, declaring: "You bet I did. And I enjoyed it."

Bloomberg made the remark to a New York magazine reporter last year before he was elected mayor. The Washington-based group is using Bloomberg as the centerpiece of its campaign to urge the city to stop arresting and jailing people for smoking marijuana.
Bloomberg said Monday that the city would continue making such arrests, no matter what he may have said in the past.

"I'm not thrilled they're using my name," he said. "I suppose there's that First Amendment that gets in the way of me stopping it."

Reuters adds: The text of the ad said NORML applauds Bloomberg's candor, and lumped him in with former President Bill Clinton, New York Gov. George Pataki and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as another public official who it says has admitted he smoked pot.

"Millions of people smoke marijuana today," said NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup, a lawyer who says he has been smoking pot for 30 years, at a midtown news conference on Tuesday. "They come from all walks of life, and that includes your own mayor."

"We are not here today to bury Caesar, we are here to praise him," NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said at Tuesday's news conference, adding that Bloomberg's remarks were atypical for a political figure.

"We're not trying to hurt the mayor in anyway," Stroup added. "We did not out the mayor. All of these people we have mentioned (in the ad) outed themselves."

In response to a question of whether it was ethical to use Bloomberg's picture in the ads, Stroup said, "I would turn that question around to say 'Is it ethical to talk in a friendly way about your own marijuana smoking while at the same time arresting 50,000 other New Yorkers?"'

UK's The Scotsman, adds: Mr Bloomberg, who last weekend attended New York's Tartan Day celebrations alongside Sir Sean Connery, was a pupil at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore from 1960 to 1964.

There he joined a fraternity that he once described in his autobiography Bloomberg by Bloomberg as "not much different from those in the classic John Belushi movie Animal House."

He wrote: "Though Hopkins was a serious place, and very competitive scholastically, we did drink and party a lot together. Maybe all that enjoyable wasted time had long-term benefits after all."

April 9- Colorado's Daily Camera reports: A large majority of legislators in the Dutch Parliament's lower chamber said Monday that they will support a government-backed bill to legalize marijuana prescriptions for severely ill patients.

Health Ministry spokesman Bas Kuik said marijuana for medicinal purposes will probably be available in drugstores within a year or so.

April 9- West Virginia's Charleston Daily Mail reports: Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass used to oversee the state workers who slashed and burned wild marijuana in an effort to eradicate it from the hills of the Potomac Valley. But that was more than two decades ago. Now Douglass is the man in charge of growing hemp in West Virginia.

"I sit here and whatever the laws demand, we in the Department of Agriculture will attempt to move in that direction," Douglass said this week.

Gov. Bob Wise recently signed the Industrial Hemp Act, kicking into motion a plan for West Virginians to cultivate the marijuana-like plant for use in clothing, bath products, car dashboards and other products.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson kcnelson@premier1.net

Kicking Dick Nixon

March 19- The Denver Post reports: Cash, cars, boats, firearms - even a hot tub - are being confiscated from citizens before they're ever charged with a crime. And few people know where the money or property is going because most law enforcement agencies aren't reporting it. Police have used the cash to pay for everything from pizzas to Christmas parties and use the cars for undercover work.

Democratic Sen. Bill Thiebaut and Republican Rep. Shawn Mitchell are introducing legislation this week after years of complaints of police abuse in Colorado and two years after Congress passed a law limiting the federal government's forfeiture power.

"It's inappropriate for law enforcement to seize and liquidate people's property before they are convicted of a crime ," said Thiebaut, the Senate majority leader from Pueblo. "If you're an innocent person, you shouldn't have your property taken away, and if it is taken away, you should have due process, even if you're guilty."

March 20- Wisconsins Capital Times reports: Dane County's war on drugs was fought primarily against African-Americans in the last decade, a UW-Madison professor said.

"The data is overwhelming," said Pam Oliver, a sociology professor who analyzes drug, crime and imprisonment statistics.

Dane County is above the state average for black imprisonment and below the state average for white imprisonment, she said. Fifty-eight percent of those sent to prison from Dane County are black.

The disparity is even more stark considering that blacks make up only 6 percent of the county's population, Oliver said during a forum on racial profiling and community policing Tuesday evening. In 1999, the black imprisonment rate in Dane County was 39 times what it was for whites. That's down from a high of 48 in 1997, she said.

For 175 years in the United States imprisonment rates were relatively stable, she said. Then, in the mid-1970s the country began incarcerating more and more of its population, with blacks imprisoned at a higher rate than whites.

March 20- Reuters in Britain reports: Motorists who smoke a cannabis joint retain more control behind the wheel than those who drink a glass of wine, British scientists have found.

Research from Britain's Transport Research Laboratory showed drivers found it harder to maintain constant speed and road position after drinking the equivalent of a glass of wine than after smoking a spliff, the magazine New Scientist said on Wednesday.

March 20- The Baltimore Sun reports: Several Supreme Court justices embraced the idea of random drug tests for students involved in after-school activities ranging from band to chess club, a major step toward allowing drug testing for all students.

March 21- Gene Weingarten in The Washington Post, reports: Now that the latest tapes from the Nixon White House have been released, the press is all over them with characteristic glee, eager as always to remind us that not long ago the leader of the free world was buggier than a flophouse blanket. Don't you get tired of this?

Me neither. So when researcher Doug McVay from Common Sense for Drug Policy sent me tapes he culled from Nixon's Oval Office rants about drugs, I pounced on them. I figured it would be a welcome respite from Nixon's recent rants about Jews.

From the Weed Screed, May 26, 1971:

"You know, it's a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists."

The excerpts begin with the Nixon doctrine on why marijuana is much worse than alcohol: It is because people drink "to have fun" but they smoke marijuana "to get high." This distinction was evidently enormously significant to Nixon, because he repeats it twice.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson kcnelson@premier1.net.

Vietnam Death Sentence

January 3- The Denver Rocky Mountain News reports: Vietnamese courts sentenced 55 people to death last year on drug-related charges, state-controlled media reported Friday.

Fifty-nine other people were given life sentences for drug offenses and 2,241 others received jail terms ranging from seven to 20 years, the official Vietnam News Agency said.

In 1997, Vietnam toughened penalties for drug-related crimes.  Possessing, trading or trafficking more than 3.5 ounces of heroin or 11 pounds of opium are punishable by death.  However, drug crimes show no sign of decline, and Vietnam has 130,000 drug addicts with police records.

January 4- The UK Guardian reports: Three changes to the administration of our drugs laws are promised this year.  Together, they will help move Britain to a more rational approach.  For too long the country has suffered under the most stringent - but the least effective - laws in Europe.  Waging wars on drug users only produce wars on our children, as increasing numbers of parents have become aware.  Up to half of all children have experimented with drugs before leaving school.

All three changes move our laws to a more sensible goal: harm reduction.  David Blunkett deserves credit for authorising the changes that are in the pipeline: downgrading cannabis from a class B to a class C drug, thus making it a non-arrestable offence; wider use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, once current studies have been completed; and encouraging a return to prescribing heroin, moving the addiction from criminal offence to medical need.

There was even more encouraging news this week when the Metropolitan police revealed that a pilot project in Brixton was proving successful.  Under the scheme, people caught with small amounts of cannabis are given an on the spot warning, rather than prosecuted or given a formal caution.  A warning is a lesser penalty than a caution.  It is recorded by the police but does not have to be declared by someone applying for a job.

Arresting someone for possessing pot requires five hours of extra work and can cost UKP 500 in court time.  The pilot has saved 2,000 hours of police time, allowing police officers to get back on the streets to pursue serious offenders, such as crack cocaine dealers.  The aim is to roll out the scheme across London and hopefully beyond the capital, too.

January 4- The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports: The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a case about police power to search passengers on public transportation, a case the Bush administration says applies to the war on terrorism.

The court said it will decide if police who want to look for drugs or evidence of other crimes must first must inform public transportation passengers of their legal rights.  The ruling could clarify what police may and may not do as they approach and search a passenger.

"Programs that rely on consensual interactions between police officers and citizens on means of public transportation are an important part of the national effort to combat the flow of illegal narcotics and weapons," Solicitor General Theodore Olson wrote.

January 6- The Calgary Sun reports: The city's health authority is drafting procedural plans that will allow patients to smoke marijuana while in their care, officials have told the Sun.

As the Canadian government readies its first batch of medicinal marijuana for transport, officials at the Calgary Health Region are devising strategy to deal with requests by patients wanting to use marijuana while on hospital property, by providing "a safe and private place" for users to smoke.

"It would be appropriate to recognize ... that we have to look at all options for the use of marijuana in our hospitals," CHR communications adviser Brenda Barootes told the Sun.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson kcnelson@premier1.net
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