Drug War Chronicle #650 - September 23, 2010


1. Alabama Patient Facing 10 Years for a Gram of Medical Marijuana [FEATURE]

Michael Lapihuska went back home to Alabama for a holiday visit in December. He's still there, caught in a nightmare because of his doctor-recommended medical marijuana. Heart of Dixie? More like Heart of Darkness.

2. New Jersey Patients Fume Over Medical Marijuana Law Delays [FEATURE]

New Jersey's medical marijuana bill was signed into law in January, but maneuvering by the Republican governor is holding up implementation, and patients and advocates are growing frustrated.

3. Drug Arrests Top 1.6 Million Last Year Despite Small Drop

Despite more than a decade of reformist pressures, the drug war juggernaut continues to roll along, as the FBI's most recent arrest numbers show.

4. Family Sues in Missouri Dog-Shooting SWAT Raid

The Columbia, Missouri, family traumatized by a dog-shooting SWAT team on a pot raid made famous via a viral video on the Internet has filed a federal civil lawsuit against the city and the cops involved.

5. California Marijuana Legalization Measure Has Nine-Point Lead in Latest Poll

There's good, but not great, news on the polling front for Prop 19. It has a nine-point lead, but the lead is shrinking and it's still under 50%.

6. Mexico Drug War Update

This year's death toll has surpassed 8,000, and a Ciudad Juarez newspaper asks the cartels to tell them what they can safely print.

7. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More law enforcement pervs this week, as well as your run of the mill greedy narcs. But prison and jail guards must have been on good behavior.

8. Rockefeller Repeal Leader Wins NY Democratic AG Nomination

A state senator with progressive drug policy stances has won the Democratic nomination for attorney general in New York.

9. Montana Meth Project Didn't Reduce Use, Study Finds

The Montana Meth Project's images of gaunt, scarred speed freaks have been widely credited with cutting meth use in the state. Not so fast, says some new research.

10. More Marijuana Law Reform Talk in Britain

As Britain's controvery over cannabis continues, a top police official and a key Liberal Democrat join the ranks of those seeking reform.

11. Cambodia Opens First Methadone Clinic

Cambodia has been criticized for its inhumane drug treatment centers, but is winning praise for opening its first methadone clinic.

12. This Week in History

Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.

1. Alabama Patient Facing 10 Years for a Gram of Medical Marijuana [FEATURE]

Activists in Alabama have been trying for years to get a medical marijuana bill passed there. Last year, for the first time, a bill made it out of committee. Next year, they will try again, but even if they succeed, it will be too late for Michael Lapihuska.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/michael-lapihuska.jpg
Michael Lapihuska, facing camera, wearing Alabamans for Compassionate Care t-shirt
Lapihuska, cursed with depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), grew up in Alabama, but left the state after serving 13 months for possessing five grams of marijuana in 2003. The now card-carrying medical marijuana patient from California was arrested on marijuana possession charges again on December 15 in Anniston, Alabama, as he visited his family for the holidays.

Lapihuska was stopped by a police officer and accused of hitch hiking as he walked down a road. The officer demanded he be allowed to search Lapihuska, and he complied. The search came up with a prescription bottle containing one gram of marijuana. Lapihuska explained that he was a registered California medical marijuana patient and produced a patient ID card.

But Alabama justice doesn't recognize medical marijuana, and Lapihuska was charged with his third marijuana possession offense, this one worth between two and 10 years in state prison. Under Alabama law, a first marijuana offense is a misdemeanor, but a second possession offense is a felony punishable by a year in prison. A third possession offense is a felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison.

"Alabama is a terrible, terrible place when it comes to drug laws," noted Loretta Nall, a long-time Alabama drug reform activist and leader of Alabamians for Compassionate Care, a medical marijuana activist group that has taken up Lapihuska's cause.

Lapihuska's public defender is urging him to cop a plea in which he would be sentenced to one year, with the sentence suspended and two years probation. But that deal also includes drug testing, and that's a deal-breaker for him. "Everyone says just take the probation, but if I did that, I'd end up in prison anyway for failing the drug test," he said.

"This is Anniston, Alabama," said Laiphuska. "There is no way I'm going to win this case. But my doctor told me this was my recommended medicine. If I was prescribed Oxycontin, or morphine, or Xanax and was walking down the road, they would have had to give my medicine back. I broke the law, but I think the law is wrong. I'm looking at two to 10 years for a gram of marijuana prescribed by my doctor?"

Lapihuska has been stuck in Alabama since December while awaiting trial. It hasn't exactly been fun, he said. "I've been miserable and anxious. I just want to go someplace where my medicine is safe and legal and I'm not at risk for using the medicine that works best for me."

In addition to repeated stints behind bars for using marijuana, Lapihuska has been hospitalized for mental health reasons 20 to 30 times, he said. "I've been on all sorts of medication. Most of my life has been eaten up with anxiety. They've tried Xanax, Thorazine, all kinds of things. They even gave me an anti-Parkinson's disease medicine and told me I would have to take it the rest of my life. I would sleep 16 hours a day on those meds, I'd be shaking," he recalled.

"But now, I feel better than I've ever felt," he said. "I ride my bicycle 50 to 150 miles a day. And now they're arresting me for the thing that cures me."

Unless he or state prosecutors relent, Lapihuska goes to trial October 28. If it comes to that, the Alabama medical marijuana community will do what it can, just as it has been beating the bushes to publicize the case already.

"Here in Alabama, our only hope of helping Michael out if this goes to trial is to do some jury nullification work," said Nall. "When he goes to trial, myself and other members of ACC will do some handouts at the courthouse to inform people about the true nature of the situation, that he was not just some guy smoking weed. We hope to find one person on the jury to vote to nullify."

Nall and ACC, for whom Lapihuska has been volunteering while he awaits trial, have been laying the groundwork for that by getting the story out. "We got a great article in the Anniston Star," she said. "That generated nothing but wonderful comments on the web site and three letters to the editor, all positive. We've been getting a lot of positive feedback on Facebook, too."

Lapihuska's plight may help the cause of advancing medical marijuana at the statehouse. Rep. Patricia Todd, sponsor of last year's medical marijuana bill, said she would reintroduce it for the session that begins in March. She would try to make it more palatable to law enforcement, she said.

"I'll pre-file the bill after the first of the year," Todd said. "We plan to sit down with law enforcement and health people, and may make some changes to appease law enforcement. I think the bill will start out with three dispensaries around the state, to be regulated by the health department. I think patients being able to grow will be part of it. The main heartburn the health department has is how to regulate it, how to know who's growing what."

While movement on medical marijuana in the legislature has been painfully slow, Todd expressed guarded optimism that her bill would move next year. Last year, for the first time, it got out of a House committee. But much depends on the outcome of the November elections.

"If the Republicans take over the legislature, the bill is going nowhere," she said. "If the Democrats keep control, it'll still be an uphill battle. We got it out of committee last year; this year, I hope we can get it to a floor vote."

"It should be coming up very early in the session," Todd said. "Attitudes are changing. Legislators watch the news, and we have a pretty good grassroots effort going. The main fear last year was that we don't want to be like California, with a dispensary on every corner, and I think we will have addressed that.

Todd said that had her bill passed last year, Lapihuska wouldn’t be facing the problems he is. "Our bill has the reciprocity clause in, and that would protect Michael and people like him," she said.

"It's totally ridiculous," said Todd. "He had a card that identified him as being able to use medical marijuana. I'm trying to change this, but this is the Deep South," she sighed.

If Lapihuska is sent to prison, it will be a tight squeeze. Alabama's prisons are at 180% of capacity, Todd noted.

"Our corrections commissioner makes the point to the legislature each year that he wishes we would quit passing laws to incarcerate more people," she said. "But I'm the only one who ever votes against them. Most of our elected officials are afraid they will be perceived as soft on crime, but the war on drugs isn't working, we have more people addicted than ever before. I think marijuana should be legal, and I'll keep on fighting."

So, it appears, will Michael Lapihuska -- unless he can persuade prosecutors to offer a sweeter deal. "I would accept two years of unsupervised probation in California, but for me to have to stay here and do drug rehab for my doctor approved medication, that's ridiculous. And with drug testing, if I use my medicine, I violate probation."

back to top

2. New Jersey Patients Fume Over Medical Marijuana Law Delays [FEATURE]

One of outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine's last acts before leaving office in January was to sign New Jersey's Compassionate Use Act Medical Marijuana Act, allowing qualified patients in the Garden State to use medical marijuana. The law was supposed to go into effect on July 1, and if Corzine had remained governor, most everyone involved in the process agrees that would have happened.

NJ patients share victory hug after medical marijuana bill passes, January 2010 (courtesy cmmnj.org)
But New Jersey voters chose to replace the Democrat Corzine with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who has been dragging his feet. This summer, Christie asked for a six to 12-month delay in implementing the bill. The legislature gave him three months, until October 1.

That means only that the state Department of Health will then begin drafting regulations. It will have another 90 days after that to do so, pushing the law's effective date to January 1. But even that date is a chimera; given that registered patients will have to get their medicine from a state-licensed dispensary, or alternative treatment center, and given that marijuana takes a minimum of roughly three months to grow, even if potential dispensary operators are ready to go on January 1, it will be sometime in the spring of 2011 at the earliest before New Jersey patients are able to take advantage of the law.

Christie has also been floating proposals to change various aspects of the law. Last month, he proposed making Rutgers University the monopoly supplier. That proposal disturbed patients and advocates, but ultimately went nowhere when Rutgers declined the invitation, citing concerns about federal law. Christie has also raised concerns about New Jersey suffering the same allegedly dire experience California has gone through with its Wild West medical marijuana experience.

But the New Jersey law is already one of the strictest in the nation. It limits access to medical marijuana to people with a specified list of diseases, it limits the amount of marijuana patients can possess to two ounces per month, and it does not allow patients or their caregivers to grow their own medicine. Instead, at least six state-licensed alternative treatment centers, two in each region of the state, will grow and distribute medical marijuana.

Patients and advocates are watching uneasily as the state moves at a leisurely pace toward implementation. They are not happy with the tightness of the law, they are not happy with the delays, and they are casting a suspicious eye on Christie.

"Even in a best case scenario, patients won't be getting medical marijuana in New Jersey until maybe March or April of 2011 from these alternative treatment centers," said Ken Wolski of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, the primary patient advocacy group in the state.

"Christie has been dragging his feet," said Wolski. "He had to appoint a new health commissioner, so he asked for a six to 12-month delay. He said he doesn't want New Jersey to turn into California, but we don't see how that could happen because the New Jersey law is so tight and the alternative treatment centers will be so strictly regulated by the Department of Health. A majority of the legislature accepted his reasons, but only gave him three months."

"The governor asked for an extension of six months to a year, and we fought that off," said Roseanne Scotti of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office, which also lobbied for passage of the bill. "There was talk then of other changes; Christie was saying he needed changes in the law to be able to let Rutgers do it, and we've heard rumors of other changes. But our sponsor, Sen. Scutari, has been very adamant. The law doesn't need any more changes. It is the law, and they need to implement it," she said.

"We did not support the idea of a monopoly at Rutgers or anywhere else, and that continues to be our position," said Scotti. "When we talked to the health department, they seemed to be leaning toward trying to limit it in some way, which we are fighting against. You can't just decide on your own you're going to limit the people who do this."

The Teaching Hospitals of New Jersey floated a proposal in which they would become the sole dispensers of medical marijuana. The Drug Policy Alliance also opposed that.

"We met with them and asked them how they think they could legally do that, since they would be violating federal law," said Scotti. "They didn't have any answer for that. If they want to be a dispensary, even if they want to open several, we are not opposed to that, but we are not in favor of any kind of monopoly."

While the Christie administration talks about opening six dispensaries across the state, there is no limit on the number of dispensaries potentially allowed. The bill specifies only at least six.

"We're advocating that competition is good, that anyone who is capable of producing a good product and meeting the understandable security needs of the state should be able to provide services to patients in need," said Scotti. "The Christie administration seems to be latching onto the six, but that isn’t the law."

Marta Portuguez of Roselle Park is one of the law's potential beneficiaries. The 49-year-old woman suffers from 10 different illnesses, including gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Her symptoms include muscle spasms, attacks of nausea, and severe pain.

"The diseases are my constant companions," she said. "I'm on pain medications, and the doctors don't allow me to work. Not that I could -- I find it impossible to sit for more than half an hour."

Portuguez turned to medical marijuana on the advice of a family member who knew someone very ill whose doctor had recommending trying it. "I didn't really know anything about it, but the more research I did, the more clear it became that it would be a great help. My stomach is dead, and I needed medication I don't have to take orally," she explained.

"They brought some to me and it was like a miracle," Portuguez exclaimed. "I went from horrific pain 24-7 even with morphine, to almost no pain, almost immediately. I could be rolled up in a ball shaking and puking my guts out, and when I use it, that immediately starts dissipating. It's quite remarkable. I can sit down with my husband and children and enjoy a movie. I have a little bit better quality of life; I'm not always so sick."

But because marijuana is illegal, Portuguez is unable to get regular access to it. "I don't have it all the time," she said. "It's sporadic. I'm not comfortable with the fact that it's illegal, that's why it's so important for it to be legalized. It's about compassion and helping your fellow human beings."

Portuguez has been waiting for the law to be implemented, and when informed that it would be next spring at the earliest before medical marijuana would be available in New Jersey, she didn't take the news well.

"I think that's outrageous," she said, her voice quivering. "I get very upset. The governor is not doing the right thing. I understand that there are things that need to be followed, but how can somebody get up there and say he's going to try to stop the law we passed? How can they keep delaying and not consider the suffering they are making people go through? I think he's doing it because he doesn't have anyone ill in his family. Then, and only then, will he really understand. It's the Compassionate Use Act, but they're not acting very compassionate."

While the delay in implementing the law is painful, it is not a surprise, said Scotti. Nor is it a surprise that patients and advocates are keeping the heat on.

"I've seen lots of regulations in New Jersey and other states take this long," she said. "It's not unusual, but we are constantly checking in with the health department and with legislators and talking to Sen. Scutari about keeping the pressure on. Our patients are very vocal and active."

Although patients and advocates are pushing hard to get the Compassionate Use Act up and running, they are also quick to point out its flaws. "While we're happy that marijuana is officially recognized as medicine in the Garden State, the law has a lot of shortcomings," said Wolski. "The legislature was very wary of allowing medical marijuana in New Jersey and went with the most restrictive law in the nation."

"The main problem is that home cultivation was taken out, which means that patients are unable to grow their own like they are in the 13 other states," said Wolski. "We see that as an important part of health care reform. Home cultivation would take the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries out of the equation and empower patients to help themselves."

Wolski also cited the quantity limits as inadequate for some patients. "The two ounce a month limit will be adequate for maybe half the patients," he said. "Hospice patients have tremendous needs for the constant medical care marijuana can bring to them, and limiting chronic pain patients to two ounces a month is not enough."

The number of conditions qualifying for medical marijuana use has shrunk, too, Wolski explained. While the final version of the bill includes seizure sufferers, cancer patients, glaucoma patients, HIV/AIDS sufferers, and people with multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gerhrig's Disease), it does not include other neurological disorders, nor does it cover mental or emotional conditions.

"The Assembly Health Committee limited the law to three neurological conditions, but if medical marijuana is neuroprotective, it should be neuroprotective for all neurological conditions," said Wolski, a registered nurse. "And bipolar disease, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety disorders, they don't qualify, and that's a real shame. I think the Department of Health will address the issue of qualifying conditions, but we have our work cut out for us."

"Our fondest hope is that the law will be implemented the way it was written, and that the Department of Health's regulations will reflect the wording of the law to establish at least six nonprofit alternative treatment centers," said Wolski. "Our expectation is that this is what's going to happen, but there are fears the governor is trying to take over the medical marijuana industry," he said, alluding to Gov. Christie's abortive plan to have Rutgers University monopolize production.

New Jersey has a medical marijuana law. It may not be the best medical marijuana law, but it is a medical marijuana law and it will provide protection to at least some patients. Warts and all, New Jersey patients and advocates are working as hard as they can to get it up and running as soon as they can.

back to top

3. Drug Arrests Top 1.6 Million Last Year Despite Small Drop

US law enforcement agencies arrested 1,663,582 on drug charges last year, according to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report. That represents a slight decrease from the previous year.

Of those 1.6 million arrests, 858,408 were for marijuana offenses. Marijuana arrests thus accounted for 51.6% of all drug arrests, making 2009 the first year pot busts accounted for more than half of all drug arrests.

Of the marijuana arrests, 758,593 were for pot possession, while 99,815 were for sales or manufacturing. Thus, more than 88% of all marijuana arrests were for possession and more than 45% of all drug arrests were for pot possession.

Overall, drug possession arrests accounted for more than 81% of all drug arrests. Fewer than one in five drug arrests were for drug trafficking or manufacture.

While marijuana possession accounted for 45% of all drug arrests, possession of heroin or cocaine accounted for only 17.7% of all drug arrests, "other dangerous non-narcotic drugs" 14.6%, and "synthetic or manufactured drugs" 3.7%.

The more than 1.6 million people arrested on drug charges last year was nearly three times the number arrested for violent offenses (581,765). More people were arrested on drug charges than any other single offense, including drunk driving (1.44 million), larceny (1.33 million), or non-aggravated assaults (1.31 million).

back to top

4. Family Sues in Missouri Dog-Shooting SWAT Raid

The Columbia, Missouri, family whose dogs were shot during a Columbia Police SWAT raid in February, video of which went viral on the Internet, filed a federal civil lawsuit Monday against the City of Columbia and 13 other defendants in US Western District Court in Jefferson City.

(click link above to view)
The raid, in which police expected to find a large quantity of marijuana and other evidence of drug dealing, turned up a miniscule amount of marijuana and a pot pipe. Jonathan Whitworth was originally charged with possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and second-degree child endangerment, but in a plea agreement, pleaded guilty to the paraphernalia count, and the other charges were dropped.

The suit was filed by Columbia attorneys Milt Harper and Jeff Hilbrenner on behalf Jonathan and Brittany Whitworth and her seven-year-old son. It alleges that SWAT team members broke down the door, discharged weapons as they entered and again as they shot and killed one dog and wounded the other. It also alleges than Jonathan Whitworth was kicked by an officer as he lay on the floor at gunpoint, and that Brittany Whitworth and her child were held at gunpoint sitting on the floor in view of the child's dead dog.

"Defendants had no reason to use deadly force or any other force upon entering the Whitworth home," the complaint charges. "Defendants were all armed with assault weapons and side arms and other weapons. Jonathan Whitworth, Brittany Whitworth, and P. M. [the child] were not armed, were not violent, were not resisting and were no threat to Defendants or anyone else. The two pet dogs were no threat to anyone and there was no reason to use assault weapons on those two animals. Defendants, under color of law, deprived each Plaintiff of rights secured under the Constitution and laws of the United States. Defendants conspired to deprive each Plaintiff of rights secured under the Constitution and laws of the United States. Defendants refused or failed to prevent the deprivation of Plaintiffs' rights secured under the Constitution and laws of the United States."

The lawsuit seeks restitution for bullet hole and door damage to the Whitworth home, as well as medical and veterinary expenses for the dead and wounded dogs. It is filed against the officers who were on the scene.

"This is all about demanding professionalism from our law enforcement agencies," Harper said Monday. "I think when they considered the 7-year-old and the fact that he had to have counseling, pay vet bills for an injured dog and the loss of another, along with repairs to the home and the trauma of that night, they made the decision that this needed to be done," Harper said.

"Our department will discuss the matter with our risk management office and legal office and be able to comment further once we've had a chance to do that," Columbia police spokeswoman Officer Jessie Haden told the Columbia Tribune Monday afternoon. "Whatever we're able to discuss publicly and legally, we will. This incident has received an enormous amount of attention locally, and it is our intention to make the public as informed, with accurate information, as we can, without compromising the legal process."

The raid and heated public response to it has led to repeated public hearings in Columbia, and the department moved quickly to review and revamp its policy regarding the use of the SWAT team on search warrants. But it will likely have to pay for its errors in the Whitworth raid.

back to top

5. California Marijuana Legalization Measure Has Nine-Point Lead in Latest Poll

Proposition 19 pot legalization initiative leads 47%-38% in the latest Public Policy Polling survey of likely voters. That's good, but not great, news for the campaign.

Good because nine points is a nice cushion six weeks out from election day. But not great because Prop 19 is still polling under 50% when it needs 50% plus one vote to win and because the race is closer than in the previous Public Policy Polling survey in July, when it led 52%-36%.

The poll is an automated phone survey of 630 likely voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.9%. It took place last week.

victory in November? (chart from polltracker.talkingpointsmemo.com)
Most, but not all recent polls, have shown Prop 19 leading. The Talking Points Memo Poll Average on Prop 19, which combines all the recent polls, has the measure leading 47.8% to 38.8%.

Telephone robo-polls have generated higher numbers than face to face interview polls, leading some observers to suggest some people may be more willing to embrace a controversial position like marijuana legalization in the facelessness of the robo-polls.

Prop 19 was supported by 74% of liberals, 47% of moderates, and only 27% of conservatives. 53% of men supported it, compared to only 42% of women, suggesting the campaign has not been able to overcome lackluster support in what it considers a key swing constituency.

Whites showed the strongest support at 49%, followed by blacks at 46%, Asians at 44%, and the large Hispanic electorate at 42%.

Six weeks out, victory appears tantalizingly within reach, but defeat cannot be ruled out. This sucker is going down to the wire.

back to top

6. Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 28,000 people, the government reported in August. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Wednesday, September 15

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/el-diario-juarez.jpg
In Tamaulipas, 22 gunmen were killed during a two-hour gun battle with the army. The incident began when soldiers investigating suspicious activity came under fire. Twenty-five rifles and several grenades were seized during the incident.

In a separate incident, 19 gunmen were killed in a clash with the army in Nuevo Leon.

Thursday, September 16

In Ciudad Juarez, a young photojournalist was shot and killed in a parking lot. Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, worked for the Juarez daily El Diario. He became the second reporter from the paper to have been killed in two years. In 2008, the newspaper's lead crime reporter was shot and killed outside his home. A prosecutor assigned to his killing was also assassinated. A second photojournalist was critically wounded.

On Sunday, El Diario published a front-page editorial directed at the cities drug cartels, asking "What do you want from us?" and said that the cartels had become the de-facto authorities in the city. That prompted strong criticism from the Calderon administration, which said you cannot negotiate with criminals.

Friday, September 17

In Ciudad Juarez, eight people were killed when gunmen opened fire inside a crowded bar just after 4:00am. The seven men and one woman were aged between 20 and 35. The former owner of the bar, Wilfred Moya, was shot and killed at the same location about two years ago.

Sunday, September 19

In Guerrero, the bodies of six police officers were recovered from a ravine. This brings the total death toll from a mass abduction of nine police officers who were taken captive by gunmen in the community of El Revelado to eight. Of the bodies that were recovered Sunday, four were dismembered. A note threatening authorities was left alongside the bodies. No motive or suspects have been announced in the attack.

Monday, September 20

In Ciudad Juarez, authorities released four men who had previously been accused of 55 murders, due to a lack of evidence. The men had been in custody in Mexico City for two months before being returned to Juarez, and are mandated to come to another hearing on Thursday, although they are no longer incarcerated. All four are suspected of belong to the Artist Assassins, a local drug gang which is allied to the Sinaloa Cartel.

Tuesday, September 21

Near Ciudad Juarez, a mob beat to death two alleged kidnappers. Federal police intervened, but the crowd blocked their squad cars and the two men died of their wounds. The town of Ascension, where the incident occurred, has been particularly hard hit by drug-related kidnappings and killings.

Wednesday, September 22

A Ciudad Juarez newspaper editor has been given asylum because of threats against his life in Mexico. Jorge Luis Aguirre is the editor of the online newspaper La Polaka. Last year, he testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about his experiences as a journalist in Mexico. More than 30 journalists have been killed or have vanished since 2006.

Total Body Count for the Week: 187

Total Body Count for the Year: 8,049

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update

back to top

7. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More law enforcement pervs this week, as well as your run of the mill greedy narcs. But prison and jail guards must have been on good behavior. Let's get to it:

Where did the cash go?
In Miami, a Hialeah Gardens police detective was arraigned Monday on charges he conspired with a local drug dealer to rip-off a rival dealer's warehouse full of marijuana and cash. Detective Lawrence Perez planned to arrive at the warehouse and "tie up" or "scare off" the occupants so his co-conspirators could safely enter and make off with the goodies. But federal authorities were wiretapping Perez's phone calls and raided the warehouse themselves days before the planned robbery. Perez and the drug dealer are charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute more than 100 plants, which could earn them up to 40 years in prison upon conviction. Two other men were also arrested in the bust.  Perez is free on a $50,000 bond.

In Memphis, Tennessee, a former Millington police officer was sentenced last Thursday to a year and a day in federal prison for scheming to sell 40 pounds of marijuana and one kilo of cocaine. Troy Hale, 43, was arrested in 2007 and charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana, but in a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to the marijuana count in return for dismissal of the cocaine count. He resigned from the force in 2009, citing "personal reasons."

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a Fort Lauderdale Police narcotics officer was fired last week for having a long-running sexual affair with a cocaine dealer turned snitch. Officer Jason Maldonado was fired after an internal affairs investigation concluded that he began having sex with the woman shortly after he arrested her in 2006 and continued to do so as she helped police set up other drug deals and was under house arrest. The woman told investigators they had sex at a police substation and near the main police station while Maldonado was on duty and that he would visit her for more sex while she was on house arrest. He would arrive in a police vehicle in uniform and leave his police radio on, the woman said, adding that Maldonado said her electronic-monitoring ankle bracelet was a turn-on. An eight-year veteran, Maldonado was a member of the department's "Raiders" dope squad. He had previously been disciplined on separate occasions for breaking into an apartment without a warrant, conducting a sloppy investigation, and crashing his cruiser. He was fired for violating departmental policies by regularly  associating with a criminal, using his position for personal gain, lying to investigators, and engaging in conduct unbecoming an officer. Irony of ironies, Maldonado went down after being snitched out by his own snitch.

In Danville, Virginia, a Danville parole officer was arrested September 15 on charges he forced a pre-trial defendant to have sex with him in order to get a clean drug test. Sean Gunn faces four counts of having a carnal relationship with someone under his supervision. He goes back to court on October 18.

In San Antonio, Texas, the Bexar County Sheriff's Office wants one of its own officers prosecuted for misconduct while working on the agency's dope squad. Deputy Anthony Alvarado, a 10-year veteran, should be charged with tampering with a government record and abuse of official capacity, the department concluded after an internal investigation. The case is now before Bexar County prosecutors. The department said the Alvarado case was about discrepancies in payments to snitches and whether money from a drug-buy fund was missing. Alvarado is also the focus of separate investigations by the sheriff's office and the FBI into whether dope squad deputies were stealing money or drugs. Both investigations are ongoing.

back to top

8. Rockefeller Repeal Leader Wins NY Democratic AG Nomination

New York state Sen. Eric Schneiderman, author of last year's Rockefeller drug law reform legislation, won the Democratic Party nomination for state attorney general in last week's primary election. Scheiderman won 34% of the vote in a five-person race, besting Nassau County prosecutor Kathleen Rice, who came in second with 32%.

Eric Schneiderman
He will face Republican nominee Staten Island prosecutor Dan Donovan in the November 2 general election. In his victory speech, Scheiderman vowed to follow "the same aggressive, progressive approach" as current Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is favored to win the governor's race.

While all five Democratic attorney general candidates vowed to take a hard line on public corruption, help prevent another Wall Street crisis, and protect New Yorkers from terrorism, Schneiderman also played up his drug reform credentials.

On his issues page, Schneiderman touts his authorship of Rockefeller reform legislation, adding that the laws "were not only unfair and unsustainable, but an economic and moral threat to every New Yorker," and advertisements running during the campaign cited it as well. The New York Times also cited Schneiderman's championing of Rockefeller reform among its key reasons for endorsing him in the primary.

Scheiderman goes into greater detail in his Agenda for the Office of New York Attorney General. In addition to touting his role in Rockefeller law reform and in cosponsoring the law that forbids law enforcement agencies from keeping files on innocent people who have been stopped and frisked, Schneiderman vows to monitor and report on stop and frisk searches and to examine the criminal justice system for system-wide biases. He also promises to ease rehabilitation and reentry for ex-convicts and to promote a color-blind criminal justice system.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

back to top

9. Montana Meth Project Didn't Reduce Use, Study Finds

In 2005, Montana had one of the highest rates of methamphetamine use in the country, and businessman Thomas Siebel responded with the Montana Meth Project, an anti-meth campaign relying on graphic advertisements feature users' bodies decaying, teen girls prostituting themselves for meth, teens committing violent crimes to support their habits, and groups of young meth users allowing their friends to die.

The project has been widely touted as reducing meth use rates in Montana, and the Montana Meth Project makes similar claims on its results page. Based on claimed results in Montana, similar programs have gotten underway in Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Wyoming, Colorado, Hawaii and, this past March, Georgia.

But a new study from the University of Washington published in this month's issue of the Journal of Health Economics casts doubt on the project's claim to have influenced meth use rates. The rate of meth use in Montana was already declining by the time the Montana Meth Project got underway, the study found.

"Methamphetamine use was trending downward already, and the research shows that the project has had no discernable impact on meth use," said study author D. Mark Anderson, a UW doctoral student in economics.

Anderson said the project had not been empirically and rigorously scrutinized until his study. Using data from Youth Risk Behavior Surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Anderson compared meth use rates to rates nationwide and in nearby states. Using demographically similar Wyoming and North Dakota, which undertook no anti-meth project programs, as control cases, Anderson showed that in all three states, meth use declined gradually between 1999 and 2009.

Anderson also scrutinized drug treatment admission reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and found that the Montana Meth Project had no measurable effect on meth use among young Montanans. His findings suggested that other factors, such as law enforcement crackdowns prior to 2005 or increasing knowledge of the ill-effects of meth use, were more likely to have led to declining levels of meth use.

"Perhaps word got around on the street, long before the campaign was adopted, that meth is devastating," Anderson said. "Future research, perhaps of meth projects in the other states, should determine whether factors that preceded the campaigns contributed to decreases in usage."

back to top

10. More Marijuana Law Reform Talk in Britain

Marijuana law reform is back in the news in the British Isles, as both a high-ranking police officer and a leading Liberal Democratic politician made comments over the weekend suggesting that pot should be decriminalized or regulated and sold legally.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/tim-hollis.jpg
Tim Hollis
Marijuana is currently a Class B drug with possession punishable by up to five years in prison. It was down-scheduled to Class C under the Labor government in 2004, but then returned to Class B by Labor in 2008. The current Conservative/Liberal Democratic government supports keeping marijuana as a Class B drug.

But on Saturday, Tim Hollis, chief constable of the Humberside police and chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' drug committee, told the Guardian marijuana possession should be decriminalized to allow police to devote more resources to dealing with more serious crime. The criminal justice system can offer only a "limited" solution to Britain's drug problem, he said.

"We would rather invest our time in getting high-level criminals before the courts, taking money off them and removing their illicit gains rather than targeting young people," said Hollis. "We don't want to criminalize young people because, put bluntly, if we arrest young kids for possession of cannabis and put them before the courts we know what the outcome's going to be, so actually it's perfectly reasonable to give them words of advice or take it off them."

Hollis also backed increasing calls for the current drug classification system to be reexamined. He said concerns that placing drugs such as heroin and ecstasy in the same classification were justified. He also said whether to include tobacco and alcohol in the country's drug strategy should be open to debate.

"My personal belief in terms of sheer scale of harm is that one of the most dangerous drugs in this country is alcohol," he said. "Alcohol is a lawful drug. Likewise, nicotine is a lawful drug, but cigarettes can kill," he said. "There is a wider debate on the impacts to our community about all aspects of drugs, of which illicit drugs are one modest part."

Hollis's comments came as a row between scientists and politicians over marijuana policy continues. Just last week, Professor Roger Pertwee, arguably Britain's top marijuana researcher, called for decriminalization. But last month, the Home Office rejected marijuana decriminalization, calling it "the wrong approach."

And on Sunday, the junior partner in the government, the Liberal Democrats, were scolded by one of their leaders for staying "silent" on drug policy since the issued was last discussed at a party conference in 2002. Then, the party voted to legalize marijuana and end jail sentences for simple possession of any drugs.

At the party's national conference, Ewan Hoyle, founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform, called for a "rational debate" on drug policy, saying the party had been left "vulnerable" because it was seen as "soft on drugs." What is needed, he said, is detailed discussion of regulating drugs, the sale of drugs in pharmacies, and the diversion of profits from those sales to drug treatment programs.

"The last time we talked about this was in 2002 and we certainly haven't heard our candidates and representatives talking about it very much since," Hoyle told delegates. "I put it to you that we have been silent on this issue because we got our policy wrong. Our policy, especially on cannabis, was a soft on drugs policy which has left us vulnerable," he said.

"We have to start discussing policy features like pharmacy sales, the provision of detailed information on harm before individuals are permitted to purchase the drug, and bans on branding and marketing," Hoyle proposed. "We have to find a policy that can best protect our citizens from harm, especially our children, and that can end the massive profits from the criminal gains that control the illegal trade."

Will the Liberal Democrats listen and perhaps nudge their Tory partners toward a more reformist stance? Time will tell, but the pressure is mounting.

back to top

11. Cambodia Opens First Methadone Clinic

The Cambodian Ministry of Health has opened a clinic where people addicted to opiates, primarily heroin, can be administered methadone. The move is a significant departure in a country in which "drug treatment" has typically meant imprisonment, forced labor, and unproven herbal treatments.

Royal Palace, Cambodia (wikimedia.org)
The opening of the clinic is the culmination of years of quiet effort by harm reduction organizations, the BBC reported. Two of those groups, which run outreach programs for drug users, will identify candidates for treatment.

The program is strictly voluntary. Participants will be taken to the clinic for a needs assessment in line with international standards. The clinic is inside a public hospital and run by the Ministry of Health with support from the UN's World Health Organization.

While harm reductionists and public health workers are pleased with the government's new approach, they said more steps need to be taken to shut down the existing, punitive drug treatment centers. But the government says it has no plans to do so.

Read an expose of existing Cambodian drug treatment centers here.

back to top

12. This Week in History

September 29, 1969: At the beginning of the second week of Operation Intercept, the Nixon Administration's failed, unilateral attempt to halt the flow of drugs from Mexico into the United States, the Bureau of the Budget (predecessor to the Office of Management and Budget) sends a scathing critique to the White House of the June report that served as the catalyst for the plan, calling it a "grossly inadequate basis for Presidential decision" and warning that its recommendations were based on faulty or unproven assertions.

September 29, 1989: The domestic cocaine seizure record is set (still in effect today): 47,554 pounds in Sylmar, California.

September 25, 1996: Mere days before Congress adjourns for the year, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) introduces H.R. 4170, the "Drug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1996." Within a few days, the bill attracts a coalition of 26 Republican cosponsors. The legislation demands either a life sentence or the death penalty for anyone caught bringing more than two ounces of marijuana into the United States. The bill ultimately dies a well-deserved death.

September 24, 1997: A federal grand jury in San Diego indicts Mexican cartel leader Ramón Arellano Félix on charges of drug smuggling. The same day he is added to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.

September 28, 2001: Drug Enforcement Administration agents seize files containing legal and medical records of more than 5,000 medical marijuana patients associated with the California Medical Research Center in El Dorado County when they raid the home and office of Dr. Mollie Fry, a physician, and her husband, Dale Schafer, a lawyer who had earlier announced his bid for El Dorado County district attorney. Both Fry and Schafer were eventually convicted of marijuana offenses in federal court and sentenced to prison.

September 23, 2002: Mike and Valerie Corral's medical marijuana hospice near Santa Cruz, California, is raided just before dawn by federal agents. The Corrals are held at gunpoint while their co-op garden is destroyed.

September 26, 2002: In a move that eventually leads to a lawsuit alleging unlawful interference in an election, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awards a $3,000,000 grant to the governor's office in Nevada during the time when US Drug Czar John Walters is attempting to build opposition to Nevada's ballot initiative, Question 9, which proposes amending the state constitution by making the possession of three ounces or less of marijuana legal for adults. (Only two other states are awarded large SAMHSA grants at that time -- Michigan and Ohio, also facing drug reform initiatives.)

September 27, 2004: Struck by a drunk driver at four years old and paralyzed from the neck down, quadriplegic Jonathan Magbie dies from inadequate medical care while serving a ten day sentence for marijuana possession in a Washington, DC jail.

back to top
Permission to Reprint: This issue of Drug War Chronicle is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School