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.

Email Kevin Nelson.

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

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.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

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:

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 (

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.


Happy Holidays!