(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #385 -- 5/6/05
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
David Borden, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
One of my fellow passengers was a woman whose life was filled with pain; I shared a bus with her several times. She was able to bear sitting in her seat while riding from point A to point B, at least somewhat. But walking was too much for her to bear quietly. She would cry out and cry out, again and again. She experienced great agony with every step -- up the stairs, from the door to her seat, back to the door, climbing down again to get out. To call it disturbing would be an understatement. Was nothing to be done for her? Was she receiving medical care? Could her pain be relieved? I'm sure I wasn't the only passenger asking those questions.
I never got those answers for certain. But I did, much later, gain insights as to what the problem might have been. The first one came in fall 1994, when I attended a Drug Policy Foundation conference for the first time. There was a panel of doctors and other experts talking about a drug war problem I hadn't previously heard of, under-treatment of pain due to physicians' hesitance to prescribe narcotics. I sort of understood that. I understood it better half a year later, when I got an e-mail from a pain patient named Skip Baker who was living the problem. (Skip went on to found the American Society for Action on Pain, a group that is no longer running but whose history is a memorable one.)
So while I don't absolutely know for sure, I believe that the mystery was solved for me. This woman, in all likelihood, tried to get pain treatment. But her doctor, whether from ignorance of how pain treatment works (a common malady), unreasonable fear of causing addiction or contributing to drug diversion, or fear of license revocation or criminal prosecution, was unwilling to provide it to her in adequate doses if at all. I am speculating, of course, I don't know her story for sure, and there are some conditions that defy even the balm of heavy opiate doses. But if I'm wrong in this case, it is still the truth for many others.
I don't know how well my fellow Mass. Ave. Bus passenger has survived the 10+ years since then, or if she has survived it. But the pain situation has gone downhill during that time, particularly during the past four years in the face of escalating prosecutions of physicians under the Bush administration and increasing law enforcement propaganda and careless reporting on prescription abuse issues involving opiate drugs, particularly Oxycontin. A committee in the Massachusetts legislature is even examining a proposal to ban Oxycontin prescribing in the Bay State entirely, 10+ years since I witnessed those painful bus rides.
Let's hope that more prudent voices on the committee prevail. Banning a drug that is helping patients with their pain is not a policy reflective of civilized governance in a free society, even if there are some who harm themselves by abusing the drug. Helping people who suffer from or are at risk of addiction is a noble purpose in and of itself, but not one to be pursued to such an extreme degree that patients who need those drugs for pain are subjected to torture by denial of them. Ultimately those who use drugs in ways not recommended bear the responsibility for the consequences of their own choices -- we should not impose additional consequences on drug users as we now do through prohibition laws and punishments, but we should also recognize the individual's primary responsibility in making those choices. Prescription diversion has a minimal impact on drug abuse compared with other types of diversion, with the widespread availability of black market heroin, and with human nature itself most of all. And make no mistake, torture IS what is going on in this issue in this country. I think I saw it on the bus in Boston, I know I've seen it since then, and the research backs this up.
Waiting another 10 years to address this problem would mean 10 more years of lost happiness and ruined or lost lives. No one will be truly safe until Congress and our legislatures, agencies and doctors start dealing properly with the delicate intersecting issues at stake in the drug war. Ten more years would be 10 more years too many.
A study of FBI arrest and conviction data by a Washington think-tank has underscored a dramatic shift in US drug policy in the decade of the 1990s. "The War on Marijuana: The Transformation of the War on Drugs,", released Tuesday by the Sentencing Project, reports that from 1992 to 2002, the proportion of drug arrests involving marijuana increased from 28% to 45% of all drug arrests, while arrests for the much more dangerous cocaine and heroin decreased from more than half of all drug arrests to less than 30%.
The massive attention to marijuana should be cause for a reevaluation of the nation's drug policy, said Sentencing Project research associate and study coauthor Ryan King. "In reality, the war on drugs as pursued in the 1990s was to a large degree a war on marijuana," he told the Washington Post. "Marijuana is the most widely used illegal substance, but that doesn't explain this level of growth over time... The question is, is this really where we want to be spending all our money?"
For King and coauthor Marc Mauer, the answer is clear. Although marijuana law enforcement costs were pegged at $4 billion annually, "What is empirically evident is that the growth in marijuana arrests over the 1990s has not led to a decrease in use or availability, nor an increase in cost," they wrote in the report's conclusion. "Meanwhile, billions are being spent nationally on the apprehension and processing of marijuana arrestees with no demonstrable impact on the use of marijuana itself, or any general reduction in other criminal behavior. Our analysis of criminal justice processing of marijuana use over the 1990s suggests that the contemporary approach is apportioning resources inefficiently at each stage of the system."
While all the marijuana arrests had no noticeable impact on price, availability, or use levels, they had a disproportionate impact on the African-American community. Although blacks constitute only 14% of marijuana users, they made up 30% of all marijuana arrests, the report noted. In part, that is because police know if they want to make an easy drug arrest, they go to densely populated minority neighborhoods where drug dealing and use take place in known locations in the open.
Where current drug policies do excel is in creating a legion of people with criminal records that will make the rest of their lives more difficult. So far this decade, people have been picked up (or added to) arrest records for marijuana possession at a rate of more than 600,000 a year.
Although only 6% of marijuana arrestees were charged with felonies, some 27,000 pot criminals were serving prison sentences in 2002, giving the lie to the oft-repeated claim by law-and-order types that "nobody goes to prison for marijuana." In fact, the study found, more than 6,600 people, or nearly one-quarter of imprisoned marijuana offenders, were doing prison time simply for possession, and apparently doing prison time simply for possession. (The Sentencing Project tables are ambiguous here; the 6,600 number includes those imprisoned for marijuana whose charges included "No weapon, No importation, No manufacturing, No laundering, No distribution.") More than 11,000 of those imprisoned were first-time offenders.
Even though violent crime was declining throughout the period under study, the report found, marijuana arrests were going through the roof. Since no similar spike in marijuana use has been reported, "this growth is probably better understood as the result of selective law enforcement," the report noted. But rather than blame a grand conspiracy to "get" marijuana smokers, the Sentencing Project pointed to a trend toward more aggressive policing, where marijuana arrests often result from a traffic stop or a street frisk. The authors also pointed to institutionalized incentives for police departments to pursue drug crime, such as reaping the rewards of seizing assets.
Police and society may be paying an opportunity cost for the aggressive enforcement of marijuana law, the study suggested. Law enforcement priorities are a zero-sum game, the authors wrote; more money for marijuana law enforcement means less money for other law enforcement.
"The War on Marijuana" ends with some specific recommendations:
Two marijuana-related offenses can get you expelled from school at SUNY New Paltz, as Kate Cozik found out the hard way. The 18-year-old art education student's first brush with trouble came when a dorm RA smelled incense and called the campus cops. While he didn't find any pot, he did manage to get Cozik to admit to having smoked off-campus, which ended up being strike number one.
"My case is on appeal, so I get to finish this semester," Cozik told DRCNet. "But next year, I guess I'll be going to school elsewhere."
University administrators were unavailable to discuss "No Second Chance," but according to the school's disciplinary code, the penalty for first offense marijuana possession is "Disciplinary Probation and educational and/or clinical intervention, not more than Expulsion" and the penalty for a second offense is "not less than Expulsion." For other drugs, the policy is even more draconian. The punishment for a first drug possession offense other than marijuana is "not less than Expulsion." By contrast, alcohol offenders face "not less than Warning Probation; not more than Suspension," no matter how many times they have been busted.
It was cases like Cozik's that led New Paltz students to first pass a student senate resolution in November asking the administration to put a moratorium on the expulsions, and, when the administration refused to budge, to gather for the school's first protest of the semester last Friday. A loosely-knit coalition of student groups came together along with local elected officials to urge the school to change its ways. According to organizers, more than 200 students showed up to protest the harsh and inequitable policies, and more than 700 signed petitions asking the university to change that policy.
"What we need to do is make a distinction between use and abuse, and most of the drug use around here is not abuse," student senate President Justin Holmes, a veteran activist for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, told a cheering crowd. "It's pretty simple and that seems to go right over the head of folks we need to influence here."
"Other SUNY schools treat this as a health issue," said Cozik. "Here, they just expel us. We're the only SUNY school that still has this policy of expelling students for drug use. This is ridiculous. We pay to be here, and our grades should be the deciding factor, not what we choose to do with our own bodies in our own time. If you don't want me to smoke in the dorm rooms, kick me off-campus, not out of school."
"Despite the administration's position that this is not a village issue and we should not be here speaking today... my constituency is facing eviction without due process or appeal," said New Paltz Mayor Jason West, a SUNY New Paltz alumnus. "Drug use should be treated as a public health issue and not a criminal justice issue," he told the rallying students.
Also addressing the crowd was Ulster County legislator Hector Rodriguez, who told DRCNet he supported the call for an end to expulsions. "The students are my constituents," said Rodriguez. "I think the position taken by the student senate was reasonable, and it highlighted the fact that SUNY New Paltz has one of the tougher policies in the whole SUNY system," he told DRCNet. "If you know what kind of town New Paltz is, this tough policy seems odd; it just doesn't fit."
The university is as unresponsive to him as it is to the students, Rodriguez said. "I have asked the administration for information about who has been punished under these policies, but they have told me they can't provide it under federal guidelines. I've been talking to a Freedom of Information Act expert about that," he said.
According to university officials, only four students were expelled for drug possession during the fall semester. But Holmes told DRCNet he personally knew of five and he suspected the number could be higher.
Even though student disciplinary policy is the responsibility of the university -- not the county or the village of New Paltz -- Rodriguez said, as a local official he felt obligated to speak. "People like Justin Holmes and SSDP advisor Robbie Robinson are old friends and constituents, and I largely agree with what they're doing," he said. "I felt obliged to raise my voice."
But despite last semester's student senate resolution and last week's protest, university administrators remain unmoved. In a statement issued the day of the protest, SUNY New Paltz spokesman Eric Gullickson said the school was satisfied with its policy. "The college believes its current policy is consistent with our educational mission and state and federal law. We believe the policy is fair and has worked well for New Paltz for many years," Gullickson said. "What we want is a drug-free environment, not a free-drug environment," he said.
The university's resolve in its quixotic quest for a drug-free campus may be crumbling, Holmes reported late Thursday. "The media coverage has been growing all week; we're on the front page of the New Paltz Times today and we have a two-page spread in the student newspaper, the Oracle, and now the university is willing to meet and negotiate," he said. "I've been in negotiations with them all day about the terms for a meeting. This is a significant step, but it is only a step. Ultimately, if they don't stop the expulsions, it will come down to civil disobedience, either sleeping in the president's office or holding classes there to symbolize our solidarity with the students who have no place to sleep or attend class because they've been expelled."
Last month, students at two Colorado universities voted overwhelmingly in support of referenda urging their schools to equalize school penalties for marijuana and alcohol infractions. That campaign was led by a group that argues frankly that marijuana is safer than alcohol, Safe Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation, or SAFER. Earlier that same month, students at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, passed a similar resolution, and while the argument that marijuana is safer than alcohol was not their main one, it was a prominent one. This weekend, people in cities around the country and the world will participate in the global marijuana marches, and this year, organizers of that event's signature march in New York City are also playing the "marijuana is safer" card.
It appears that a drug reform movement that has traditionally been uncomfortable with actually recommending that people use marijuana instead of other, more harmful substances is taking a tiny step closer to embracing that position. And while one might expect a cautious response to such an approach, only a few yellow lights are blinking among reformers who spoke with DRCNet.
Ironically, the new tactic comes as drug czar John Walters' campaign to demonize marijuana is taking on a shrill new intensity. This week, in the latest installment of the long-running, taxpayer-funded national media campaign against the weed, Walters charged that marijuana use makes one more likely to suffer from mental illness. (See story this issue.)
But while Walters charges that marijuana is a dangerous, dangerous drug, leading experts on the plant say it is far less harmful than alcohol. "Is marijuana safer? The short answer is 'yes,'" said Dr. Mitch Earleywine, a University of Southern California psychologist who is the author of "Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence" and the just published "Mind-Altering Drugs: The Science of Subjective Experience." The evidence is clear, he told DRCNet. "Cannabis has no lethal dose, so you can't die from it. The impact on the brain structure for cannabis is nil, but there can be very serious brain function changes with alcohol abuse. Also, more dramatic liver functions are impaired with alcohol. Malnutrition, B-vitamin deficiency, and Korsakoff's Disorder are all linked to alcohol, but not cannabis."
The "marijuana is safer" argument went over big at the University of Colorado in Boulder and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where student referenda based on it won by 86% and 65% respectively, said Mason Tvert, director of SAFER. "It was very effective," he said. "There is a large population of people who are dramatically affected by both substances. Alcohol is harmful to them in itself, while marijuana is harmful because of the penalties, and this was a situation where it was clear that alcohol was doing harm," he said, referring to various alcohol-related scandals including the deaths of five Colorado college students in the fall semester. "And in the university setting, people were open to it because they are far more worried about a student who is drunk than one who is using marijuana."
At Appalachian State University, while the "marijuana is safer" argument was not the central one in a student senate resolution calling for the equalization of university alcohol and marijuana penalties, activists made ample use it. "We did play it up, and I think it was a useful tactic, particularly because our school has had a lot of alcohol-related tragedies in the past few years," said Ian Mance, ASU ACLU co-president and a former Students for Sensible Drug Policy national board of directors member.
At Appalachian, the code of student conduct calls for a minimum penalty of probation, drug treatment, and drug testing for a first marijuana offense, while first offense alcohol violators face only a less severe form of probation. One other difference in penalties was particularly grievous to students: For marijuana violations, the school would notify students' parents -- even if the students were legal adults -- while for alcohol violations, it would not until a second offense.
That was the main motivation for the resolution, said Mance. "We were picked as an experimental school in a statewide study of reducing student alcohol use because we've had a lot of alcohol-related deaths, yet we have the most extreme school policy in the state when it comes to marijuana," he said. "This is the Deep South. People get emotional about drug use here, and when parents are called and told their college-age children are using marijuana, they tend to lose it. This has caused some real problems for some students. For us, it is fundamentally a privacy issue. They do this even if you're an adult."
While student organizers have been making the comparison between marijuana and alcohol, Dana Beal, chief organizer of the annual May global marijuana marches now in their fourth decade, and his New York City march Saturday are emphasizing the comparison between pot and tobacco. (The march is also emphasizing the use of ibogaine as an addiction treatment and the use of hemp, Beal was quick to point out.) "Look, pot is less toxic than aspirin," Beal said. "The drug czar and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America have this big lie that a single joint contains 20 times more carcinogens than a cigarette; that smoking a joint is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes," he said. But according to Beal, nicotine, too, is a carcinogen, while cannabinoids block cancer. "People get cancer from chewing tobacco, but nobody ever got cancer from eating pot brownies," he argued.
"This is harm reduction," said Beal. "Harm reduction isn't just about clean needles; it's about what you put in those needles. People like to party; that's just part of human nature. The question is which substance is safer, and the answer is clear. We will say that marijuana is safer -- we don't care how unpopular that may make us," he told DRCNet.
Maybe less unpopular than he thinks, at least among marijuana reform activists. "Yes, we make the argument that marijuana is safer," said Kris Krane, associate director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "If you look at the scientific research, marijuana is clearly safer than alcohol and there are far fewer negative health effects, particular with a vaporizer. If we recognize the harms and dangers associated with alcohol, but are still willing to tax and regulate it, we should do the same thing with marijuana," he told DRCNet. "We are not pro-marijuana, but anti-prohibition. With alcohol Prohibition, we saw how policy only exacerbated the harms of alcohol and the alcohol trade. Clearly, we see the same thing going on with marijuana prohibition."
"We have certainly been discussing this internally," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, "and we are being a little bit more forthcoming about talking about this. We've all had a certain unease about seeming to be 'pro-pot' and our position has always been that we are not advocating that people use anything, only that we have laws that make more sense. But we have been grappling with this huge effort to demonize marijuana, and a lot of us have come to feel there is a need to counter that propaganda. Not to be pro-pot, but to be pro-truth," he told DRCNet.
"The fact is, all drugs have risks," Mirken said, "but in any number of measurable ways, marijuana is clearly less dangerous than a lot of other substances, including tobacco and alcohol. It doesn't make you an advocate of pot-smoking to say that in the grand scheme of things, marijuana ranks pretty low on the danger scale. We're not saying 12-year-olds should go out and get stoned, but do you want your teens convinced that pot use is bad but it's okay to go out and pop some Vicodin?"
"I can understand how people could be nervous that we are seen as advocating or promoting the use of substances -- we don't want to do that," Mirken said. "But we have to be pro-truth, pro-science, pro-facts, and we have to be accurate. We have the government taking out ads telling parents explicitly that they should be more worried about a young person taking a few puffs of marijuana than getting addicted to tobacco. That's just crazy!"
"The 'marijuana is safer' message seems to resonate in places like Boulder, where it appears that alcohol abuse is rampant," said Tom Angell, communications director for SSDP. "It seems like it's something people on the ground can identify with, and those SAFER people have great organizing skills and know how to motivate students. But the question we have to ask ourselves as drug reformers is will this message work elsewhere?" he told DRCNet.
"Will it work on other campuses? Will it work with parents, administrators, legislators?" Angell asked. "We don't have an answer for that, and that is an important discussion we as a reform movement need to have."
It hasn't worked so far with administrators in Colorado or North Carolina. But the efforts at both schools are young and may yet bear fruit. "I just met with the vice chancellor of student affairs at Boulder," reported SAFER's Tvert. "He is going to look some more at the facts about arrests and suspensions, and we are trying to encourage the university to hold public hearings next school year. We're not going away."
And then there is the third rail of drug reform: actually slipping over the line into promoting or encouraging drug use. "Does the 'marijuana is safer' message encourage marijuana use?" asked Angell. "Does it condemn alcohol use? We at SSDP don't encourage or condemn drug use, and we don't encourage or discourage one drug over another. We're not scientists or pharmacologists; we look at policies."
"We do get accused of encouraging drug use," Tvert conceded, "but we don't encourage the use of marijuana -- just policies that make sense. Still, if kids are smoking pot instead of drinking, they're causing themselves far less harm."
Congressman Jim McDermott has agreed to deliver the keynote address for this event, which will take place on the evening of June 1st in downtown Seattle. We hope that you'll join DRCNet, KCBA, Rep. McDermott and others for this exciting occasion.
Emceeing the event will be KCBA's Roger Goodman, and additional speakers will include Andy Ko, American Civil Liberties Union of Washington; Dan Merkle, Center for Social Justice; Lisa Cipollone, Sen. Maria Cantwell's Office; Cindy Beavon, Students for Sensible Drug Policy; David Borden, DRCNet; others to be announced.
All proceeds will benefit the John W. Perry Fund, providing scholarships for students who have lost financial aid because of drug convictions while memorializing a hero of 9/11 and champion of drug policy reform and civil liberties. The Perry Fund is a project of DRCNet Foundation.
The Details: The event will take place on Wednesday, June 1, 2005, from 6:00-8:00pm, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel-Seattle, Third Floor Garden Pavilion, 1113 6th Ave., Seattle, WA. Please RSVP to email@example.com or (202) 362-0030. Light refreshments will be served, donations requested.
HOST COMMITTEE: Sunil Aggarwal, Sherelyn Anderson, Lisa Daugaard, Nancy Eitreim, Alison Holcomb, Councilmember Nick Licata, David Lovell, Jeff Mero, Karen Murray, Azalee Turner, others TBA.
Jim McDermott is United States Representative for Washington's 7th Congressional District. Born in Chicago, IL on December 28, 1936, he was the first member of his family to attend college, and went on to finish medical school. After completing his medical residency and military service, he made his first run for public office in 1970 and served in the State Legislature from the 43rd district in Washington State. In 1974, he ran for the State Senate, and held the office for three terms. In 1987, after 15 years of legislative service, Rep. McDermott decided to leave politics and continue in public service as a Foreign Service medical officer based in Zaire, providing psychiatric services to Foreign Service, AID, and Peace Corps personnel in sub-Saharan Africa. When the 7th district Congressional seat later became open, he returned from Africa to run for the US House of Representatives. He began serving in 1989 to the 101st Congress and is currently serving his 9th term.
Please join us on June 1st in Seattle to thank Rep. McDermott for his support of this issue while raising money to help students stay in school! If you can't make it, you can also help by making a generous contribution to the DRCNet Foundation for the John W. Perry Fund. Checks should be made payable to DRCNet Foundation, with "scholarship fund" or "John W. Perry Fund" written in the memo or accompanying letter, and sent to: DRCNet Foundation, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. DRCNet Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, and your contribution will be tax-deductible as provided by law. Please let us know if we may include your name in the list of contributors accompanying future publicity efforts.
About John Perry: John William Perry was a New York City police officer and Libertarian Party and ACLU activist who spoke out against the "war on drugs." He was also a lawyer, athlete, actor, linguist and humanitarian. On the morning of September 11, 2001, John Perry was at One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan filing retirement papers when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Without hesitation he went to help, losing his life rescuing others. We decided to dedicate this scholarship program, which addresses a drug war injustice, to his memory. John Perry's academic achievements are an inspiring example for students: He was fluent in several languages, graduated from NYU Law School and prosecuted NYPD misconduct cases for the department. His web site is http://www.johnwperry.com.
Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org for further information on DRCNet. Visit http://www.kcba.org/druglaw/ for further information on the King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project. Contact the Perry Fund at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 362-0030 to request a scholarship application, get involved in the HEA Campaign or with other inquiries, or visit http://www.raiseyourvoice.com and http://www.ssdp.org online.
Congressmen, celebrities, medical marijuana patients and activists gathered for a press conference in Washington Wednesday to mark the reintroduction of measures designed to ease the federal government's war on medical marijuana users and providers. Later that night, the Marijuana Policy Project, which organized the event, hosted hundreds of supporters at a gala benefit in downtown Washington as the group celebrated its 10th anniversary. A West Coast sister benefit is set for Los Angeles next Thursday, May 9.
Reps. Frank, Rohrabacher, Farr and Hinchey were joined at the press conference by television talk show host and Multiple Sclerosis sufferer Montel Williams, federally-approved medical marijuana patient Irv Rosenfeld, and Supreme Court medical marijuana case plaintiff Angel Raich.
"I'm hurting right now," Williams continued, "because I had to come to Washington, DC. I couldn't carry anything with me because I'd get busted." Then Williams turned to Rosenfeld and held up the aluminum can containing his monthly stash of government weed from NIDA's Mississippi marijuana farm. "This is medicine. They've proven it works. They know it works. They've been giving it to Irv every single month for the past 24 years. He is one of seven in the country, and now it's down to five because two died. How can the government claim that he is in worse pain than me?" Williams asked. "This is so simple it's ignorant. We need to back these two bills to make sure the federal government stops going after people like Angel Raich and all the others."
Most Americans don't realize that the federal ban on the medical use of marijuana was not put in place by the Food and Drug Administration or any medical or public health agency," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "The ban was enacted by Congress, and Congress can change it."
"When doctors recommend the use of marijuana for their patients and states are willing to permit it," Rep. Frank said, "I think it's wrong for the federal government to subject either the doctors or the patients to criminal prosecution. Nothing in this proposal makes marijuana more available for the general population. Conservatives often profess their support for states' rights, and if they truly believe in states' rights, they should support this bill. So, I am delighted that some of my conservative colleagues, including Congressmen Ron Paul and Dana Rohrabacher, have joined in this effort."
Rohrabacher seconded that sentiment. "It is especially important for conservatives to support this bill to allow the people of various states to determine their own policies with regard to medical use of marijuana," said Rep. Rohrabacher. "Local control of local issues is a key element of the conservative Republican philosophy."
"I'm in this battle literally for my life," said Raich, who suffers from an inoperable brain tumor, life-threatening wasting syndrome, seizures, and severe chronic pain. "Now is the time for Congress to step in to help us sick, disabled and dying patients. However my case turns out, something will be done if it takes every last breath in my body."
"When marijuana, under controlled circumstances, provides medical relief no other drug can, allowing its use is the compassionate thing to do," said Rep. Farr. "What's more, when states pass laws to protect medical marijuana users, the federal government needs to recognize that authority, and focus their attention on illegal users rather than attacking patients who are debilitated and dying."
That night, Reps. Farr, Frank, and Linda Sanchez (D-CA) joined Williams, comedian Rick Overton and more than 250 guests at the first of MPP's two fundraisers. Among them were participants in a two-day activist workshop and lobby day for MPP grantee organizations. (Attendees were treated that morning to a front page Washington Post article on the Sentencing Project "drug war becomes marijuana war" report.)
It's another full plate this week, with cops ripping off drug buyers, getting kinky on stolen cocaine, and trying to frame citizens. Let's get to it:
In Lumberton, Alabama, former police officer Leon Oxendine, 51, was sentenced to more than four years in prison Monday for planting evidence designed to implicate a man he suspected was selling cocaine and ecstasy. He pled guilty in September 2004 to witness tampering, making false statements to the FBI, and five counts of lying to a federal grand jury. According to testimony, Oxendine had an informant plant a computer disk containing the image of a $100 bill inside a Lumberton home in a crooked effort to nail the alleged offender.
In Dedham, Massachusetts, former state police Sgt. Timothy White is on trial on charges of stealing 27 pounds of cocaine, as well as marijuana and ecstasy. According to the Boston Herald, the proceedings promise prurience galore. White was supposed to destroy seized drugs for the state, but instead he is alleged to have stolen them, sold them, and partied so hardy with them that he ended up threatening to kill himself and/or his wife during a final, disastrous coke binge. Before that, prosecutors alleged that White, his wife, and fellow partiers engaged in coke-fueled kinky sex, partner-swapping, and bisexuality. His trial continues this week.
In Buffalo, New York, police officer Russell Funderburk, 39, is accused of participating in a $14,000 drug rip-off while on-duty, in uniform, and driving his marked police vehicle. Prosecutors allege that Funderburk and his brother-in-law, an accused cocaine trafficker, engineered a fake traffic stop bust. Funderburk's in-law, Frederick Nolley, arranged to meet with a customer for a drug buy, only to have Funderburk pull the customer over and "seize" the money, prosecutors said. Funderburk has been on suspension since he and Nolley were arrested along with 40 others in a DEA bust. He was originally charged with helping Nolley sell drugs by giving him tips to avoid detection. He was indicted April 28 on new felony drug conspiracy charges for the drug money rip-off.
A City of Albuquerque audit of the city police department's use of federal drug forfeiture money has found that the department violated state law and federal guidelines by using seized drug money to pay more than $32,000 in rent for a private armored car company. Under the state constitution, municipalities are barred from making donations to private corporations.
Last year, the department received $730,000 as its share of federal drug seizure funds under a law passed in 1984. The department typically uses the money for training, drug buy cash, cars, and computers. But when it used some of the money to pay rent for LL&D, Inc., an armored car company, the department not only violated state law but federal regulations, auditors said.
The unusual arrangement was just the department trying to make amends for some Keystone Cops behavior. LL&D was made homeless after police virtually destroyed its facility during a 19-hour SWAT team standoff with a burglary suspect in September. Police unleashed so much tear gas and explosives in their effort to snare the suspect that the business could no longer operate, so the police allowed LL&D to move into a building the department had leased using the federal forfeiture money.
This is just the latest blow to a department already reeling from an evidence room scandal in which drugs, weapons, and cash have been reported missing in dozens of cases. The state of the evidence room was so bad, local prosecutors said, they couldn't figure out whom to charge. That affair led to the resignation of the police chief last month.
New Police Chief Ray Schultz does not want to lose that federal drug money, a spokesman said. "Chief Schultz will be very diligent that all practices, policies and procedures follow the guidelines set forth by the federal, state and local government. He is going to be examining this audit in detail and he is going to ensure each and every concern has been addressed for complete compliance."
At its annual meeting in the mountain resort town of Sunriver, the Oregon Medical Association last weekend turned aside a resolution proposing a state law that would require doctors to report methamphetamine-using patients to public health authorities, the Oregonian newspaper reported. Instead, after "intense debate," delegates asked an OMA committee to craft improved guidelines for dealing with users of the popular, widely-available stimulant.
With Oregon claiming the dubious distinction of having the nation's highest per capita meth use rate, Salem orthopedist and trauma surgeon Dr. Harold Boyd pushed the resolution, arguing that it would lead to a more effective public health policy related to the drug. "If you registered these people with public health officials, you'd be bringing them out of the shadows," he told the Oregonian. "It would be saying, 'We know your diagnosis, we know who you are, we're here to say you're an OK person but your behavior isn't.'"
The proposal, sponsored by the Marion-Polk County Medical Society, asked the OMA to back legislation that would declare using or manufacturing meth "a public health issue with all the reporting and tracking procedures associated with other public health issues."
Federal privacy laws and state ethics codes typically bar reporting patients' confidential medical data, with few exceptions, Boyd said. But the law he was backing would be similar to existing laws that require doctors to report child abuse or people with infectious disease, he argued. Mandatory notification would mean public health officials could gather more information on meth users and use it to figure out better ways of coping with its consequences, he said.
But several doctors challenged Boyd's approach during debate, said OMA spokesman Jim Kronenberg said. Some health officers said they did not know what they would do with such information, he said, while many doctors said meth-using patients would not seek help if they thought their doctors would report them. "People who deal with addictive behaviors really didn't think this was a good idea," he said.
Controversy is afoot in Grays Harbor County, Washington, over a deputy sheriff's demonstration of how to cook methamphetamine for a high school class as part of an anti-drug presentation, Seattle's KOMO TV reported Monday. Parents who heard about the do-it-yourself demo told the station they went "through the roof" when they heard about it. But the sheriff's office said it was standard operating procedure.
"I was really upset when my daughter had come home and said 'mom we learned how to make meth today in school,' " parent Teresa McCutcheon told KOMO. "My jaw just kind of dropped and I said, 'what?'"
McCutcheon's daughter Christene, who saw the deputy's demonstration, said it's one thing to learn about the dangers of meth and how to spot a meth lab, but showing kids how to make it is a different story. "I think it's a good thing to be educated about it, but it's bad if they're teaching you how to do it," said the high school freshman.
Grays County Undersheriff Rick Scott defended the demonstration, although he did say the department would review it given the complaints. "We talk about how methamphetamine is manufactured," he told KOMO. I think there's a big difference between 'how' it is manufactured and 'how to' manufacture it," he said. The department has used the same demonstration for years, he said. "We'll look at this, but we stand pretty firm in that this is an educational tool. The schools have been very receptive to it in years passed."
Not exactly the sort of chemistry class students and parents were expecting, though.
Legislators in Massachusetts are considering an outright ban on the popular narcotic pain reliever Oxycontin. While the prescription drug manufactured by Purdue Pharma has proven effective in the relief of chronic severe pain, it has also become a favorite of drug users and has been linked to numerous overdose deaths, drug store robberies, and prescription drug diversion.
"The committee is definitely reviewing a proposal to ban Oxycontin because of the devastating effects it is having on our society," Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee co-chair Sen. Steven Tolman (D-Brighton) told the Boston Herald.
"If I had my way, I would ban it tomorrow," added Rep. Brian Wallace (D-South Boston), "and maybe we can. We're certainly going to look at it."
In addition to problems of overdoses and addiction, part of the reason for the legislative uproar is a drug prevention campaign produced by Purdue Pharma. Targeting middle-schoolers, the company's "Painfully Obvious" campaign featured a bizarre poster that had solons scratching their heads. "Scalding hot bacon fat should not be used as aftershave," read the poster, "and explosive diarrhea caused by prescription drug abuse ruins pants."
"This is the worst rubbish I've seen in my life," Tolman told Purdue Pharma representative Allan Must at a Tuesday hearing.
"Why don't you have a mother and father standing over a grave?" asked Wallace. "Say this is what's going to happen if you take Oxycontin."
But Purdue Pharma's Must understandably declined to trash his company's product that way. Instead, he argued, if taken properly, Oxycontin provides a clear service for patients with AIDS, cancer, and other diseases. "In bills dealing with the illegal abuse of this medication, we have to make sure that we don't do things that are not going to allow legitimate chronic pain patients not to get their medication," Must said.
Must got some support from committee members, including House substance abuse committee chair Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton). "We have to maintain access for people who have legitimate medical reasons," she said.
Proponents of the Oxycontin ban did not address what would happen to patients who are legitimately using the drug. A legislative task force on Oxycontin is set to hold further hearings May 23 at Framingham State College.
Led by San Francisco architect Raphael Sperry, a movement has emerged among architects to boycott bids to design new jails and prisons, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday. Inspired by his arrest during anti-war protests in 2003, Sperry has joined with an organization, Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, which is spearheading the Prison Design Boycott Campaign.
"Many architects, designers, and planners already refuse to do prison work as an informal policy," the group notes on its web site. "ADPSR hopes that by marshalling the collective voice of the design professionals who feel this way, we can raise awareness of the problems with the prison system. We also hope that other design professionals who don't yet know about prisons will learn about the issue and take our pledge."
"Prisons are so often associated with their buildings, so I thought this would be a way for architects to connect the issue with their work, with something they could do about it," said Sperry, who has been giving presentations to his colleagues where he cites all-too-familiar statistics about nonviolent offenders and racial disparities in sentencing.
The campaign is just getting underway and currently only 274 architects have signed the pledge to avoid prison jobs. But it is already creating a stir in the architectural community and has aroused the concern of the American Institute of Architects, the country's leading professional organization for home- and building-designers. The Institute's committee on justice building design is crafting a statement opposing the boycott. "To refuse to design and build new correctional facilities to replace outmoded, inhumane, inefficient, costly-to-operate existing facilities," reads a draft of the statement, "is to force those confined to endure their sentences without opportunity to benefit from them."
San Francisco architect Beverly Prior, who sits on the committee acknowledged Sperry's goals, but rejected his proposal. "What they're trying to do is change the conversation," said Prior, who has designed jails. "I haven't had the same sort of moral issues. For me, personally, it's about making a facility better for the people inside." Instead of trying to set social policy, "architects should concentrate on designing better prisons," she said.
Other local architects are similarly less than enthused. "I'm a bit confused by the call for a boycott," said Glenn Friedman, an architect with Taylor Engineering in Alameda. "Are we supposed to turn our backs when there's a call to design new prisons?"
The campaign's answer is yes: "As architects, we are responsible for one of the most expensive parts of the prison system, the construction of new prison buildings," said the organization. "Almost all of us would rather be using our professional skills to design positive social institutions such as universities or playgrounds, but these institutions lack funding because of spending on prisons. If we would rather design schools and community centers, we must stop building prisons."
Barring successful legal challenges, New Jersey appears set to see its first legal needle exchange programs (NEPs) soon. While the passage of legislation enabling NEPs has been stalled for more than a decade despite an impressive push this year, outgoing Gov. Jim McGreevey last November signed an executive order allowing municipalities to establish NEPs.
At the time he issued the order, McGreevey said it was necessary to address the "public health emergency" of AIDS transmission via injection drug use. According to state data, 51% of the state's AIDS cases are attributable to needle sharing. Along with neighboring Delaware, New Jersey is one of only two states that has no law okaying either NEPs or non-prescription syringe sales.
Under the order, cities had to have already passed NEP ordinances, and two cities, Atlantic City and Camden, had already done so. The deadline for cities to apply to start an NEP was last week, and those two cities have met that deadline, the state health department reported on April 29. Approval by the state should come today, if matters move on schedule. According to Roseanne Scotti of the Drug Policy Alliance, who has been working the issue, the cities expect approval and are gearing up for operations. The first New Jersey NEPs could come into operation as soon as early summer.
Potential roadblocks remain, however, in the form of two lawsuits. In one case, four legislators filed suit after McGreevey signed the executive order challenging his lawful ability to do so. In the second case, the Atlantic City prosecutor has filed a challenge to the city's NEP ordinance and its legal authority to establish such a program. Both cases are still working their way through the courts.
Meanwhile, reform advocates will continue to push for two bills, one on NEPs and one on pharmacy sales of needles, which passed in the Assembly this session but remain bottled up in the Senate Health Committee. Efforts in the legislature have been hamstrung by politicians who view NEPs as condoning drug use or, in some cases, helping perpetuate a "genocide" on the state's African American community. Other African American leaders, however, such as state Sen. Nia Gill, have led pro-needle exchange legislative efforts.
Like the frightened, angry peasants who marched on Frankenstein's castle with their pitchforks and torches held aloft, the good citizens of Westport, Massachusetts, marched on their city leaders last week in a successful effort to fend off the menace of a needle exchange program (NEP). On April 25, the Westport Board of Selectmen unanimously approved an NEP to slow the spread of AIDS and Hepatitis C among injection drug users. But the board's quick action without public debate sparked a quick reaction among Westporters, and by April 27, the board reversed itself in the face of the angry citizenry.
It was an ugly display, according to coverage in the Westport Standard-Times. Hundreds of enraged residents crammed into city hall, yelling and screaming at selectmen, whose efforts to explain their votes in favor of the program were met by boos and shouts of "Step down, step down!" The spittle-flecked crowd was in no mood to be reasoned with. "How dare you take this action on your own," yelled one man, apparently incensed that the people he had elected to make decisions had made a decision he didn't like. "We're the voters. We're the taxpayers. You act for us, not yourselves," screamed another.
Gathered under an array of signs carrying messages such as "No Needle Exchange. No! No!" and "Selectmen Resign!" the crowd was even less inclined to listen to public health experts such as Dr. Josiah Rich of Miriam Hospital in neighboring Rhode Island, who helped convince the board Monday to approve the NEP. "I am an infectious disease specialist and..."
"Where you from?" a man asked.
"Providence, Rhode Island."
"Go back to Rhode Island. We don't need you in Westport," the man said.
Dr. Rich attempted to portray the rising anger at the meeting as misdirected anger about drug abuse. "I hate it when someone comes in to me and they are addicted to drugs," he said. "I hate it when someone dies from drug use..."
A woman several feet away from him shouted, "Yeah, and I hate when they break into my house."
When Dr. Rich attempted to keep speaking, one crowd member, Mark Brisk, got in his face. "You're done. You said what you had to say, now go back to Rhode Island. Believe me, we're all set here in Westport. Go back to Providence," Brisk said.
Westport would have been the fifth Massachusetts municipality to enact an NEP, and it could have used it. Some 43% of all AIDS cases there are injection drug use-related.
As part of what one leading drug reformer called "a barrage of bullshit," but which drug czar John Walters and his Office of National Drug Control Policy prefer to call a national media campaign to educate youth about the "serious consequences" of marijuana use, Walters and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) co-hosted a Tuesday press conference to warn that kids who smoke pot are more likely to develop mental health problems.
Based on a handful of controversial research reports, Walters trumpeted the claim that marijuana use increases the likelihood that anyone -- not just kids -- is more likely to go crazy. "A growing body of evidence now demonstrates that smoking marijuana can increase the risk of serious mental health problems," he told the press conference. Teenagers who expose themselves to marijuana, the drug czar said, have an "increased risk of depression, suicidal thoughts, and schizophrenia."
Among the studies cited by Walters was one done by SAMSHA that found adult marijuana users who began before the age of 12 (!) were twice as likely to have suffered from mental illness in the past year as those who began smoking after 18. That same study also found that teens who smoked three times a week or more were more likely to have suicidal thoughts. Other studies linked marijuana use with schizophrenia.
But while the studies appear to show a correlation -- or in Walters' words, "a clear link" -- between teen marijuana use and mental health problems, the question of cause and effect is still unanswered. Similarly, while the studies linking marijuana and schizophrenia would suggest a massive increase in the incidence of schizophrenia since the explosion in marijuana use in the 1960s, no such massive increase exists.
Still, the studies were good enough for Walters to enlist them in his crusade. "This is one more very, very serious and important reason for kids not to use drugs," he said. "Society is telling them marijuana is not a serious risk. That's deadly."
May 6, 2001: Sydney, Australia, opens its first legal heroin injection room in the Kings Cross Neighborhood, operated by the Uniting Church. The effort is an attempt to prevent drug overdoses and the reuse of infected syringes.
May 6, 2004: The Marijuana Policy Project scores a first, but temporary, victory in its "War on Drug Czar" campaign, when the Nevada Supreme Court issues an order declaring MPP had "set forth issues of arguable merit" in its writ of mandamus filed two weeks earlier. The writ appealed an April 2003 opinion from Nevada Attorney General, and charged that John Walters had violated state campaign finance laws by not reporting his expenditures opposing the state's marijuana regulation ballot initiative.
May 6, 2004: Media including the Houston Chronicle report that Montel Williams has thrown his support behind legalizing medical marijuana in New York, saying it helps him cope with multiple sclerosis. "I'm breaking the law every day, and I will continue to break the law," said Williams, host of the syndicated Montel Williams Show.
May 8, 2002: The Black Ministers Council of New Jersey announce a campaign to inform minority drivers that they have a right to refuse to submit to so-called automobile consent searches, which have been the focus of the fight over racial profiling. The ministers said at a State House news conference that they would begin their "Just Say No" campaign the following week, in the form of messages to minority churches and the news media.
May 9, 2001: The Bush Administration announces its intent to nominate Rep. Asa Hutchinson, Republican of Arkansas, to the position of Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, replacing Acting Administrator Donnie Marshall.
May 9, 2001: Attorney General John Ashcroft testifies at a hearing that the Justice Department had no higher priority than preventing terrorism. But a day later the department issues guidance for developing the fiscal year 2003 budget that makes reducing the incidence of gun violence and reducing the trafficking of illegal drugs the priority objectives.
May 10, 2001: President Bush nominates John P. Walters as America's new Drug "Czar."
May 11, 2000: The Arellano-Felix brothers are charged with 10 counts of drug trafficking, conspiracy, money laundering and aiding and abetting violent crimes. The US State Department offers a $2 million reward for information leading to their arrest and conviction.
May 12, 1998: A short op-ed/advertisement by ACLU executive director Ira Glasser appears in the New York Times, titled "Marijuana or Martinis?"
The Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR), coordinated by DRCNet, is a major effort to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act (HEA), a law that has delayed or denied federal financial aid to more than 160,500 students since taking effect in fall 2000. HEA is one of the hottest campaigns going on in the issue, making waves on Capitol Hill and in the media and involving a diverse set of more than 200 organizations nationwide that have called for repeal of this law. Visit http://www.raiseyourvoice.com for further information about CHEAR and the HEA campaign.
The Outreach Coordinator position will be at least a half-time position, with a probability of full-time availability. Starting pay is $10/hour with advancement possible; starting date is the last week of June. Duties will include communicating with current and potential coalition partners; reaching out to potential campaign supporters; writing and/or editing advocacy materials; writing and placing letters to the editor and soliciting media coverage for the issue; lobbying and communicating with Congressional offices; and assisting the Campaign Director with both strategy development and administrative tasks.
The ideal candidate will have a BA in political science, journalism, criminal justice, or related field; one to two years experience in lobbying, outreach, organizing, journalism and/or public relations; knowledge of and/or interest in drug policy, education policy, economic justice or civil rights issues; excellent writing and editing skills; and excellent communications skills. However, candidates who don't fit all these criteria but are excellent overall will be considered. Other desirable attributes are comfort discussing controversial issues; political knowledge and understanding of the legislative process; and web site skills such as HTML and Dreamweaver.
To apply, please send a cover letter, resume and short writing sample to email@example.com, or fax to (202) 293-8344. (E-mail to let us know if you've applied by fax.)
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 4-6, Columbus, OH, " COPE Corrections: Opportunity for Professional Excellence," 4th annual conference of the Ohio Community Corrections Association. At the Marriott Renaissance Hotel, 50 N. 3rd St., visit http://www.occaonline.org/event_conference2005.asp for further information.
May 6, 8:30pm, Hollywood, CA, "Howard Has High Hopes," medical marijuana benefit comedy show supporting the Eddy Lepp defense fund, local compassion clubs, and Inglewood's Let's Rap Brothers locally and their Operation Africa, a quality of life activity for Black men afflicted with HIV/AIDS. At the Comedy Store, 8433 Sunset Blvd., admission $20 or $10 for patients with ID, cash only at the door. Visit http://www.greentherapy.com for information.
May 7, numerous locations worldwide, "Million Marijuana March," visit http://www.cures-not-wars.org for further information.
May 9, Santa Monica, CA, Marijuana Policy Project 10th Anniversary Gala. Featuring Montel Williams and Tommy Chong, at the Sheraton Delfina Hotel, contact Francis DellaVecchia at (310) 452-1879 or email@example.com or visit http://www.mpp.org/galas/ for further information.
May 14, 1:30-4:20pm, Laguna Beach, CA, "Rally Against the Failing War on Drugs," with OC NORML, November Coalition and So. Cal NORML. At Laguna Main Beach, call (714) 210-6446 or visit http://www.ocnorml.org for further information.
May 25, 7:00pm, Colorado Springs, CO, forum with Howard Wooldridge of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. At Centennial Hall, 200 South Cascade, visit http://www.leap.cc or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
May 26-27, 9:00am-5:00pm, Brooklyn, NY, "Drug Using Communities and Hepatitis C: Practice, Research and Policy," conference of the Hepatitis C Harm Reduction Project. At the Marriott Hotel, space limited, visit http://www.harmreduction.org or contact Heliana Ramirez at email@example.com or (212) 213-6376 ext. 46 for further information.
June 1, Seattle, WA, John W. Perry Fund fundraiser, featuring US Rep. Jim McDermott. Details to be announced, contact DRCNet Foundation at (202) 362-0030 or firstname.lastname@example.org for updates or visit http://www.raiseyourvoice.com/perryfund/ online.
June 4, Columbus, OH, 18th Annual Ohio Hempfest. On the OSU campus, contact Tara Stevens at (614) 299-9675 or Arlette Roeper at email@example.com, or visit http://www.ohiohempfest.org for further information.
June 4, Jacksonville Beach, FL, 8th Annual Hempfest. At Seawalk Pavilion, sponsored by N/E Florida Cannabis Action Network. Visit http://www.jaxhempfest.com for further information.
June 28, New York, NY, An Opiate Overdose Prevention Conference, sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Admission free, space limited, please RSVP to secure your space. At the Holiday Inn Conference Center, W. 32nd St. & Broadway, contact Paula Santiago at (212) 213-6376 ext. 155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
August 13, Washington, DC, "Million Family Members and Friends of Inmates March," sponsored by Family Members of Inmates. Contact Roberta Franklin at (334) 220-4670 or email@example.com for further information.
August 19-20, Salt Lake City, UT, "Science and Response in 2005," First National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV and Hepatitis C. Sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition and the Harm Reduction Project, visit http://www.harmredux.org/conference2005.htm after January 15 or contact Amanda Whipple at (801) 355-0234 ext. 3 for further information.
August 20-21, 10:00am-8:00pm, Seattle, WA, Seattle Hempfest 2005. At Myrtle Edwards Park, Pier 70, admission free, visit http://www.hempfest.org or (206) 781-5734 or firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
August 28, 11:00am-9:00pm, Olympia, WA, Third Annual Olympia Hempfest. At Heritage Park, visit http://www.olyhempfest.com for further information.
November 9-12, Long Beach, CA, "Building a Movement for Reason, Compassion and Justice," the 2005 International Drug Policy Reform Conference. Sponsored by Drug Policy Alliance, at the Westin Hotel, details to be announced. Visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/events/dpa2005/ for updates.
November 13-16, Markham, Ontario, "Issues of Substance," Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse National Conference 2005. At Hilton Suites Toronto/Markham Conference Centre & Spa, visit http://www.ccsa.ca/pdf/ccsa-annconf-abstract-2005-e.pdf for info.
February 9-11, 2006, Tasmania, Australia, The Eleventh International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA), coordinated by Justice Action. For further information visit http://www.justiceaction.org.au/ICOPA/ndx_icopa.html or contact +612-9660 9111 or email@example.com.
April 5-8, 2006, Santa Barbara, CA, Fourth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. Sponsored by Patients Out of Time, details to be announced, visit http://www.medicalcannabis.com for updates.
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