Drug War Chronicle #712 - December 8, 2011

1. US House Set to Pass Bad Drug Bills [FEATURE]

The House of Representatives is poised to pass two drug war bills, one banning synthetic marijuana and stimulants, the other criminalizing planning to do something abroad that would violate US drug laws if done here.

2. New Canadian Drug Reform Coalition Emerges [FEATURE]

Even as the Canadian federal government presses ahead with its draconian crime and drugs bill, a new coalition for Canadian drug reform has emerged.

3. New Offer for Donating Members: PBS "Prohibition" on DVD and Blu-ray

Beginning next week, StoptheDrugWar.org will offer DVD and Blu-ray copies of the PBS documentary "Prohibition" to donating members.

4. Medical Marijuana Update

This week's medical marijuana news from around the country.

5. NY Times: DEA Launders Mexico Drug Cartel Profits

The New York Times reports that the DEA has laundered millions in drug profits for Mexican drug cartels as part of its investigations into them.

6. Mexico Drug War Update

Some congressional Republicans want to know why the DEA is laundering money for drug cartels. Meanwhile, the killings continue.

7. New Jersey Pharmacy Needle Sales Bill Passes

A bill that would allow for the purchase of up to 10 syringes without a prescription at pharmacies has passed the New Jersey legislature and awaits the governor's signature.

8. NY Marijuana Smoker Dies in Confrontation with Cop

A New York man is dead after struggling with a cop who caught him smoking pot in a campus bathroom stall.

9. Dallas Narc Kills Armed Man on Amtrak Train

An undercover operation on an Amtrak train in Dallas left one man dead, this year's 47th domestic US drug war fatality.

10. Drug Crop-Killing Fungi Too Risky, Scientists Say

No "Frankenfungi" for the drug warriors just yet -- we don't know enough about the dangers of using mycoherbicides to eradicate drug crops to be doing that, a panel of scientists from the National Research Council says.

11. Czechs Decriminalize Peyote, Magic Mushroom Growing

Czechs will be able to grow peyote and magic mushrooms under reforms in the drug laws approved by the Cabinet this week.

12. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Busy, busy, busy! Quite a crew of miscreants this week, including a former national Sheriff of the Year.

13. This Week in History

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

1. US House Set to Pass Bad Drug Bills [FEATURE]

Going in the face of an ever-increasing clamor to reform decades of failed drug policies, the US House of Representatives is poised to pass two bills that promise more of the same. The House is set to vote any day now -- the vote was originally set until Wednesday night, but was pushed back -- on HR 1254, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011, which would criminalize not only synthetic stimulants ("bath salts"), but also synthetic cannabinoids ("fake pot") marketed under names such as "K2" and "Spice."

"This is almost certain to pass," said Grant Smith, federal affairs coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has been lobbying to try to stop it. "We're doing our best to try to block it, but it's unlikely we will succeed," he said.

The bill foresees prison sentences of up to 20 years for the distribution of small quantities of synthetic drugs. But despite an intense debate in the House Judiciary Committee last month over the bill's implications, it is moving ahead.

At least 40 states have passed bans on the new synthetic drugs, and the DEA has placed both fake weed and bath salts under emergency bans. The bill would make both sets of substances Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, which would make them difficult to research. Scientists have warned Congress that placing synthetic drugs under Schedule I will have a chilling effect on research intended to explore treatments for a range of diseases and disorders.

The bath salts drugs -- primarily methcathinones like mephedrone derived from the khat plant -- have been associated with spectacular bad reactions, including increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia and delusions, and some reports of violent behavior. Fake pot has been associated with less dangerous bad reactions, including confusion, nausea and panic attacks.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers warned in May that it had seen a nine-fold increase in bath salts-related calls over the previous year, and that was with less than half the year gone. Last year, centers reported 302 calls; as of May of this year, they had received more than 2,200 calls.

That would clearly seem to suggest that use of bath salts is on the rise, but what it means beyond that is not so clear. Without a handle on actual use levels, it is difficult to determine how frequent such adverse reactions are, or how they compare to reported adverse events with other drugs.

Still, Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, said the substances are the worst he has seen in 20 years at the poison center. "These products create a very severe paranoia that we believe could cause users to harm themselves or others," he said.

Horrible drugs or not, evidence from Britain suggests that some people like them quite a bit. According to an August report in the Guardian, which cited recently released scientific research, "Mephedrone is more popular among UK clubbers than ecstasy despite being banned."

"The legal status wasn't considered important," said Fiona Measham, a criminology lecturer who led the research. "Among the people we spoke to, I was surprised how much they liked it, how much they enjoyed it. They wanted to take more and were prepared to seek it out and buy it on the illegal market."

But Congress was on a different wavelength. In a statement typical of congressional discourse on the issue, in a September hearing, Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA), the sponsor of HB 1254, first listed a number of anecdotal scare stories, then proceeded to warn his colleagues that the drugs were not innocent. "These substances are marketed with innocent sounding names," he said, "but these labels are total misnomers designed to facilitate their legal sale. These drugs have no legitimate medicinal or industrial purposes."

"We are in a new era of drugs," said Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) at the same time, as she prepared to deal with them with the same approach Congress has taken with other drugs -- by banning them.

The second bill, HR 313, the Drug Trafficker Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2011, introduced by veteran drug warrior Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) would make it a criminal offense to plan to engage in an activity in another country if that activity would violate US drug laws if committed in the US -- even if that activity is legal in the country where it takes place.

While Smith and other bill supporters say the legislation is aimed at drug traffickers who conspire in the US, opponents point out that it could just as easily be applied to someone who makes plans to attend and partake at the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, work at a safe injection site in Vancouver or any of the other 64 cities that have them, or work in a medical marijuana program in Israel. All of those activities are illegal under federal drug laws and thus subject to the purview of the bill.

"Since the war on drugs was declared 40 years ago, the US has spent more than one trillion dollars and arrested tens of millions of Americans for drug law violations, yet drugs are readily available in every community and the problems associated with them continue to mount," said Bill Piper, DPA director of national affairs. "When you're in a hole, you shouldn't just keep digging," he added.

"Facing massive budget deficits, policymakers from both parties should be searching for alternatives to prison for nonviolent drug law offenders, because locking them up is only making us poorer, not safer," said Piper. "The US can't incarcerate its way out of its drug problems and should stop trying. The only way out of the drug war mess is to start treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue."

"By rushing to criminalize synthetic drugs, Congress is condemning more Americans to years in prison and ignoring warnings from the scientific community that this bill will hurt medical research," said Smith. "Outright criminalization compromises both public health and safety by shifting demand for synthetic drugs into the criminal market. It would be more effective for Congress to pursue comprehensive drug education and create a regulatory framework to reduce youth access to synthetic drugs. This approach is working for tobacco, which has contributed to more deaths than alcohol and illicit drugs combined."

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2. New Canadian Drug Reform Coalition Emerges [FEATURE]

Even as Canada's Conservative federal government attempts to drag the country back into the last century with its drug and crime policies, a new drug reform umbrella group has emerged to fight for smart, sensible, evidence-based alternatives. The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC) unveiled itself and its new web site late last month.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/cdpc-logo.jpg
Enlisting many of Canada's leading experts in drug policy, the coalition is headed by Donald Macpherson, the former head of Vancouver's ground-breaking Four Pillars approach to the drug problem. It also includes researchers, public health officials, front-line harm reduction and treatment providers, people who use drugs, HIV/AIDS service organizations, youth organizations, parents, and community members, all of whom are concerned with the health and safety outcomes of Canadian drug strategies. Its emergence couldn't be more timely. (See a complete list of member organizations here.)

Tuesday, the House of Commons approved a draconian omnibus anti-crime bill, C-10, that would, among other things, create mandatory minimum sentences for growing as few as six marijuana plants and for manufacturing small amounts of hashish or hash oil. The Tories were able to shove the bill through despite broad opposition from across Canada after winning an outright parliamentary majority in the last elections.

Reformers say they will be unable to stop the bill's passage, although they will likely challenge it in the courts, which have proven friendlier to innovative drug policy reforms. The Supreme Court of Canada earlier this year blocked the federal government from shutting down Insite, Vancouver's safe injection site. It is in this contested terrain of federal drug policy, as well at the provincial level, that the coalition seeks to intervene.

"We're letting the world know we're here and we're a coalition that wants to grow," said Macpherson. "We’re working toward trying to change the paradigm and the direction of the federal government and introducing a public health and human rights perspective on drug policy in Canada."

The coalition went public last week, marking its coming out with a press conference in Vancouver, a Macpherson op-ed in the Vancouver Sun, and joining with the British Columbia Health Officers' Council (HOC) in releasing an HOC report, Public Health Perspectives for Regulating Psychoactive Substances, which describes how public health oriented regulation of alcohol, tobacco, prescription and illegal substances can better reduce the harms that result both from substance use and substance regulation than current approaches.

"This paper highlights the large number of needless and preventable deaths, hospitalizations and human suffering consequent to our current approaches," said Dr. Richard Mathias of the HOC. "The Health Officers’ Council is inviting feedback on its ideas and requesting that organizations and individuals join with us in a call for immediate changes to put the public’s health first."

"The story about the emperor's new clothes is replayed time and again by governments unwilling to own up to realities," said Robert Holmes, head of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, as he saluted the report. "Public health professionals in B.C. are right to point out that our current chaotic and contradictory drug laws and policies need to be reviewed against scientific evidence of what works to reduce consumption, social harms, and costs," he said.

"People routinely get put in jail for conduct related to active drug addictions, but the criminal justice system is hardly a surrogate for medical care. It is plain that we have inadequate treatment and detox available for people with addictions to help them cope, recover or quit," noted Holmes. "By making cannabis taboo, our society both prohibits and makes more alluring its use. It is, of course, widely used. But instead of recognizing that and taxing it like tobacco and liquor products, with the tax revenue going to the cost of education and care, we leave the massive profits of this industry to organized crime and leave taxpayers with the bill for police efforts to contain it."

"This report is important because it's not about which drugs are legal and which are not," Macpherson said. "We need to look at all drugs through a public health lens. We're trying to get beyond 'good drug, bad drug' and move toward finding a regulatory system that minimizes the harm and maximizes the benefits of these substances."

The provincial health officers' report is also noteworthy because it actually addresses the benefits of drug use, Macpherson said.

"It takes courageous public health doctors to dare to talk about the benefits of drug use," he said. "We all know that drugs can be beneficial from our use of alcohol to relax or become more social or our use of pharmaceuticals to kill pain, but you're not allowed to talk about that in the drug policy arena. It's all about reducing harm, but we need to acknowledge that drug use has its benefits."

More broadly, the CDPC is working toward:

  • A health, social and human rights approach to substance use;
  • The important role harm reduction approaches play;
  • Removing the stigma of criminalization for people who use drugs;
  • Moving beyond the current approach to drug prohibition;
  • A national dialogue on drug policy for Canada.

"We'll advocate for a comprehensive public health and human rights approach," said Macpherson. "It's not just about health, but also looks at social and human rights issues. And it's not just about ending the drug war, but to start talking about alternatives to the failed war on drugs."

The CDPC sees itself as facilitating the dialog, Macpherson said. "A lot of change in drug policy requires political leadership, but politicians also need support in taking those courageous steps, so that when you bring people together to talk reasonably in an informed way and bring the evidence to bear, you can then move forward. They can see that despite their fears about safe injection sites or cannabis regulation, those are actually sound ways to go that make their communities safer in the long run than the way we're going now," he said. "We're trying to position ourselves as the organization than can help find the answers through our expertise and by looking at what's worked and what hasn't in other jurisdictions, and by convening people who care about these issues to look for solutions that actually work instead of the same old same old."

And despite Conservative domination at the federal level, there is still plenty that can be done, both in Ottawa and in the provinces, Macpherson said. "There is a lot that can be done around health and harm reduction because most of the health approaches emanate from provincial health ministries," he said. "Harm reduction can also be done locally by municipalities, for example, by making the criminalization of drug users a low priority for police."

While any decision to end Canada's drug war will have to come from Ottawa, Macpherson said, the provinces can still move forward themselves. "We can expand the number of safe injection sites and other harm reduction programs, and we can move toward a more comprehensive public health approach. They're doing that in some provinces," he said.

Given the obstinacy and recalcitrance of the government of Prime Minister Steven Harper, the CDPC certainly has its work cut out for it, but there couldn't be a group more suited for the task.

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3. New Offer for Donating Members: PBS "Prohibition" on DVD and Blu-ray

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Dear Drug War Chronicle reader:

Next week we will be announcing on our email list a new premium for donating members, "Prohibition," the recent documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick made for PBS. Read Phil Smith's film review of "Prohibition" in Drug War Chronicle here.

Copies of "Prohibition," on DVD or Blu-ray, will be available through StoptheDrugWar.org at no additional charge to members donating $50 or more. To make a donation to StoptheDrugWar.org, visit our online donation form -- if you do so before next week when we update the donation form, you can request a copy of "Prohibition" by writing us a note in the comment box. Also, if you have donated recently and think you would have liked to receive "Prohibition" with your donation, please let us know -- we'll be glad to send you a copy if you've donated $50 or more in the last few months, or to combine a smaller donation you've made with a new donation for the difference to qualify you for the offer.

Please note that even with the nonprofit, bulk discount, we are spending nearly $25 per copy to purchase these and send them to you -- if you can afford to donate more than $50, or to supplement your $50 donation with a small, continuing monthly donation, I hope you'll consider doing so. If gift items are not important to you, I hope you'll consider sending a donation that's entirely for our work.

Dozens of StoptheDrugWar.org supporters who have contributed to our organization in recent months to help us secure and prepare our programs for the new year. Copies of the email messages they responded to are online: click here to read our appeal for support for our blog and our online legislative center; click here for more information on what the legislative center does for our efforts, and click here for some reasons to support the Drug War Chronicle newsletter.

Donations to our organization can be made online at http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate, or they can be mailed to: DRCNet Foundation (tax-deductible), P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036; or Drug Reform Coordination Network (non-deductible for lobbying), same address. (Contact us for information if you wish to make a donation of stock.)

Thank you for standing with us to stop the drug war's cruelties and meet the opportunity this time offers to make a brighter future. And don't get discouraged by the challenges our movement and the cause are currently facing: Time, and the truth, are on our side!

Sincerely,



David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

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4. Medical Marijuana Update

So much is going on in the world of medical marijuana that we cannot adequately cover it all through news briefs and the occasional feature article. The news briefs and feature articles will, of course, continue, but beginning now, we will also include a weekly medical marijuana update at least noting all those stories we are unable to cover more comprehensively. This first update was updated daily through today for release with this week's Drug War Chronicle issue. Subsequent updates will appear as a regular weekly feature. Here we go:

National

On November 30, the governors of two medical marijuana states, Christine Gregoire (D) of Washington and Lincoln Chafee (I) of Rhode Island, called on the Obama administration to reschedule marijuana. The next day, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) said he would join them, but that same day, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) said he would not.

California

As of the end of November, the US Attorney's Office in San Diego reported that more than 60% of the 222 dispensaries in the region have closed their doors since it began sending threat letters in October to the outlets and their landlords. That's 139 dispensaries gone in far Southern California, and the feds said they expected another 20 or so to close in the next two weeks.

On November 28, a federal judge in San Francisco declined to issue a temporary injunction blocking a federal crackdown on dispensaries in the Bay Area. US Attorney Melinda Haag had ordered those clubs to close, because they were too close to schools on parks. Two of the targeted dispensaries, San Francisco's Divinity Tree and Medithrive, have already shut down to avoid criminal prosecution or seizure of their properties. A third, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Fairfax, may be about to follow (see below).

Also on November 28, the last dispensary in the Stockton area shut down after receiving one of those October threat letters from federal prosecutors. County officials had banned dispensaries. One other dispensary shut down in October, and two more are on hold as city officials await clarification from state and federal authorities.

That same day, the city of Novato voted to renew its expiring moratorium on dispensaries for another year and said city staffers would move to shut down two dispensaries operating in violation of city zoning ordinances. The moratorium does not apply to the two dispensaries because they were grandfathered in, but staffers said they are prohibited under city zoning rules, which do not name marijuana sales as an allowed use.

Also on that same day, the Amador County Board of Supervisors temporarily banned outdoor medical marijuana grows in the wake of a September killing during the attempted robbery of a medical marijuana grow. A task force drafting regulations for outdoor grows will meet later this month. Amador County Counsel Gregory Gillott said Fresno, El Dorado, Glenn and Lassen counties all have similar bans on outdoor growing.

On Novmber 30, a Marin County judge declined to quash an eviction order aimed at closing the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana dispensary in Fairfax. The Marin Alliance is the longest operating dispensary in the state, but it could be doomed after being targeted by federal prosecutors in October. Founder and operator Lynette Shaw has until December 9 to answer the ruling and request a trial, but said this week she wasn't sure she will stay open.

That same day, the Orange County Sheriff's Department said that any sales of medical marijuana are illegal. After raids last month that targeted a half-dozen dispensaries and more than a dozen other locations and persons, the department said Proposition 19 and laws passed to regulate medical marijuana in the state "do not authorize sales of marijuana."

Also on November 30, Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich announced that his office is targeting nine dispensaries to be shut down because they're within 600 feet of a school. He said he would seek $2,500 a day penalties if they stay open while being sued. Meanwhile the city reports that 372 marijuana businesses had filed to begin paying a city business tax by the October 31 deadline. An unknown number had not filed, but city officials said there could be as many as 500 dispensaries in the city, down from a peak of 850.

On December 1, prosecutors in Oroville dropped the charges against three members of a Chico-area medical marijuana collective because, they said, one of their codefendants was seriously ill. The three had been charged with marijuana cultivation and possession with intent to distribute after their Mountainside Patient Collective in west Chico was raided in a June 30, 2010, sweep of seven dispensaries and 11 residences raided that day.

Also on December 1, disgruntled residents of Northern California's Lake County filed a notice of intention to circulate a petition for "Lake County Act to Adopt Federal Marijuana Laws." The petition's statement of reasons explains, "Voters of Lake County, California, need an alternative to the aggressive pro-pot agenda being pushed by entities within and outside of the county." If the petition receives enough signatures, it would qualify as an initiative on the June 2012 ballot.

On Monday, the city of Oakland advanced in its plan to double the number of dispensaries from four to eight. It posted on its web site the 10 finalists for the four club permits. They are: Oakland Community Collective; G8 Medical Alliance, Inc.; Tidewater Patients Group; AMCD, Inc.; Agramed; East Bay Conscious Collective; South Bay Apothecary Collective; Magnolia Wellness Inc.; Abatin Wellness Center of Oakland; and Green Light District. Public hearings begin in January.

On Tuesday, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors passed an amendment to the zoning code that will effectively bar medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. "Notwithstanding any provision of the zoning code, any land use activity or establishment that contravenes state or federal law or both is prohibited," the amendment reads. There are seven or eight dispensaries left in the unincorporated area of the county.

Also on Tuesday, the Redding City Council voted to seek a court order to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. At least seven dispensaries remained open this week despite a city ban that went into effect last week. The vote came after a Shasta County Superior Court judge last week denied a request for a temporary restraining order against the city's ban. A hearing for a preliminary injunction against the ban is set for January 17.


Massachusetts

The Committee for Compassionate Medicine, which is seeking to put a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot next year, announced December 1that it had had handed in more than 74,000 signatures and planned on handing in another 10,000 by next week's deadline. They need 68,911 valid voter signatures to make the ballot, so even if they get that additional 10,000, it's still going to be a very close call, given that some sizeable fraction of signatures gathered will be found to be invalid.

Michigan

An Oakland County circuit court judge November 28 threw out a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and two medical marijuana patients against the cities of Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills, which had passed ordinances saying it is unlawful for anyone to engage in an activity contrary to state, local, or federal law. The judge dismissed the suit, saying the plaintiffs had not been charged with any crimes. The ACLU and the plaintiffs had hoped to force a ruling on whether state and local law enforcement had to obey the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, but they didn't get it.

On November 29, two Oakland County dispensaries were raided by the Oakland County Narcotics Enforcement Team. Police arrested three people at one dispensary and four at the other and seized a combined five pounds of medical marijuana and three pounds of edibles. No charges have been filed yet.

New Jersey

A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released November 30 found overwhelming Garden State support for medical marijuana and high levels of support for marijuana law reform as well. A whopping 86% of respondents supported the availability of medical marijuana, while 60% thought penalties for pot use should be relaxed, just over half didn't think pot possession should be a crime, and one-third would completely legalize its sale and use.

The poll was released just a day after Gov. Chris Christie (R) announced that he had appointed a law enforcement figure, retired State Police Lt. John O'Brien to oversee the program, which has yet to actually serve a single patient nearly three years after it was passed into law. The first strictly-regulated compassion centers are set to open next year.

The state Department of Health and Human Services last month finally published rules and regulations for the program, which were roundly denounced by the Coalition for Medical Marijuna-New Jersey, the state's leading patient advocacy group.
 

Washington

On Monday, the Issaquah City Council set rules governing medical marijuana collective gardens to limit such operations near schools, parks and other collective gardens. The measure sets a 1,000-foot buffer between a collective garden and a community center, school or another collective garden. The ordinance also sets a 500-foot buffer between a collective garden and park, preschool or daycare center. Its passage was greeted with applause by medical marijuana advocates present at the meeting.

Wisconsin

At a November 28 news conference at the state capitol in Madison, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) announced that he is introducing  LRB-2466, the Jackie Rickert Medical Marijuana Act (JRMMA), named after the wheelchair-bound patient, activist, and member of Is My Medicine Legal Yet, the state's most prominent medical marijuana activist group.

Pocan and state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Waunakee) will be the lead sponsors of the bill, which died without a committee vote last session. Activists in Wisconsin have been working for a decade to pass medical marijuana legislation. Whether it will happen this session, given the bitter political atmosphere and Republican nomination at the state house remains to be seen.

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5. NY Times: DEA Launders Mexico Drug Cartel Profits

American undercover agents, primarily with the DEA, have laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in drug proceeds from Mexican drug trafficking organizations as part of their investigations into how the cartels operate, The New York Times reported Sunday. The newspaper cited "current and former federal law enforcement officials."

The DEA seized this money, but it has laundered millions for the Mexican drug cartels. (Image: DEA)
While the DEA conducts similar operations in other countries, it had not done so in Mexico since 1998, when, after a cross-border drug sting offended Mexican sensibilities, permission for such operations there was rescinded. But that changed after Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared his bloody war against the cartels.

The agents took shipments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash across borders and deposited them in traffickers' accounts or shell accounts set up to launder the funds. Their activities allowed the cartels to launder funds for months or even years while investigations proceeded.

As the Times noted, "The high-risk activities raise delicate questions about the agency's effectiveness in bringing down drug kingpins, underscore diplomatic concerns about Mexican sovereignty, and blur the line between surveillance and facilitating crime."

"Building up the evidence to connect the cash to drugs, and connect the first cash pickup to a cartel's command and control, is a very time consuming process," explained one anonymous former DEA official. "These people aren't running a drugstore in downtown LA that we can go and lock the doors and place a seizure sticker on the window. These are sophisticated, international operations that practice very tight security. And as far as the Mexican cartels go, they operate in a corrupt country, from cities that the cops can't even go into."

But as the Times noted, "It is not clear whether such operations are worth the risks. So far there are few signs that following the money has disrupted the cartels' operations, and little evidence that Mexican drug traffickers are feeling any serious financial pain. Last year, the DEA seized about $1 billion in cash and drug assets, while Mexico seized an estimated $26 million in money laundering investigations, a tiny fraction of the estimated $18 billion to $39 billion in drug money that flows between the countries each year."

The DEA money laundering operations raise concerns similar to those raised by members of Congress about a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) effort, Operation Fast and Furious, in which ATF allowed low-level smugglers to buy guns in the US and transport them to Mexico in a bid to find higher-ranking cartel operatives. ATF lost track of hundreds of those guns. Some turned up at Mexican crimes scenes and two were found on the US side of the border where a Border Patrol agent had been shot to death.

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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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

Thursday, December 1

In Mexico City, the Army announced that troops had dismantled a cartel telecommunications system that spanned four northern states. SEDENA said that troops confiscated 167 antennas, 166 power supplies, 1,400 radios and 2,600 cell phones in the operation, which took place in Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least nine people were murdered in several incidents.  Among the dead was a man who was chopped into pieces and scattered around a neighborhood. In another incident, three members of a musical group were gunned down as they rode in a car. In another part of the city, a group of armed men shot a woman dead outside a school.

In Ciudad Juarez, an American imprisoned on drug charges was released after American authorities determined that he had been tortured while in Mexican custody. John Huckabee, 24, had been arrested 26 months ago after Mexican authorities discovered marijuana in his car, a charge he denies. He had originally been sentenced to five years.

Friday, December 2

In Tabasco, 22 municipal and ministerial policemen were arrested on suspicion of involvement with the Zetas. The arrests, which took place across four municipalities, came after statements made by Santos Ramirez Morales, "Santo Sapo," a Zetas commander who was captured on November 24th in Chiapas.

In Ciudad Juarez, an anti-violence activist was wounded by a gunman. Norma Andrade, 51, was shot twice outside her home in what authorities are calling an attempted robbery. Her daughter, however, told the AP that suspicious men had been asking about her Friday morning. The attack happened later in the afternoon.

Sunday, December 4

In Veracruz, seven bound and gagged bodies were discovered. All appear to have been tortured. Military and police forces searched the area after the discovery, but no arrests were made.

Monday, December 5

In Acapulco, six members of the Independent Cartel of Acapulco (CIDA) were captured in a Federal police operation. Among those captured was Gilberto Castrejon Morales "Comandante Gil," the reputed leader of the organization. CIDA has been heavily involved in the violence over drug trafficking in Acapulco this year.

In Washington, Congressional Republicans said they would open an investigation into recent reports that DEA agents have laundered and smuggled millions of dollars in narcotics proceeds in an effort to help identify ways in which cartels launder money, as well as the location of assets and cartel leadership targets.Critics of the operation have said that the DEA tactic comes dangerously close to facilitating criminal activity. The DEA, for its part, said the operations were conducted with the full knowledge and support of the Mexican government.

In Monterrey, authorities announced the capture of ten Gulf Cartel gunmen linked to two attacks on local bars which killed a total of 23 died. Ten assault rifles, five vehicles and three grenades were also seized.

In Ciudad Juarez, seven people were killed in several incidents. In one incident, a 21-year old man was shot and killed after being chased down by gunmen. In another, a man was shot and killed by gunmen who came to his front door. No witnesses were present, due to the snow and cold weather.

Editor's Note: We have been conservatively estimating Mexican drug war deaths this year after El Universal quit publishing a box score. As of mid-November, we had estimated 8,100 deaths so far this year, but in light of new figures have revised that figure upward by about 3,000 deaths. Even that figure is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011 (approx.): 11,400

TOTAL: > 45,000

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7. New Jersey Pharmacy Needle Sales Bill Passes

A bill that would allow for the sale of syringes in pharmacies without a prescription has cleared the New Jersey legislature with bipartisan support and awaits the governor's signature. The bill, Assembly Bill 1088, passed the Assembly Monday on a 54-24 vote; a companion measure passed the state Senate in February on a 28-12 vote.

The bill would allow for the purchase of 10 syringes without a prescription. (image via wikimedia.org)
An ever-growing body of evidence supports increased access to sterile syringes to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. While New Jersey passed a law allowing for needle exchanges in 2006, the law capped their number at six.

The bill would allow for the purchase of up to 10 syringes without a prescription. It also decriminalizes the possession of needles bought from a pharmacy without a prescription.

New Jersey is one of only two states that still bans over-the-counter syringe sales. The other is neighboring Delaware.

The bill was sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex), Assemblywoman Joan Voss (D-Bergen), Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-Essex), Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (D-Bergen and Hudson) and Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-Essex and Passaic).

"This is a historic moment," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.  "This is the first time the New Jersey legislature has voted to join the overwhelming majority of other states in allowing limited sales of syringes without a prescription. This legislation has overwhelming support from the medical and public health community. Governor Christie now has the opportunity to sign this legislation that will help end AIDS and save lives."

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8. NY Marijuana Smoker Dies in Confrontation with Cop

[Editor's Note: Drug War Chronicle is trying to track every death directly attributable to domestic drug law enforcement during the year. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing or death related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

A College of Staten Island employee died November 29 in a confrontation with an NYPD officer after he was caught smoking marijuana in a campus bathroom. Cory Holmes, 39, becomes the 46th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Police sources told the New York Daily News that the police officer confronted Holmes after smelling pot smoke coming from a bathroom stall occupied by the off-duty member of the college's auxiliary service. Holmes attempted to flee, but was wrestled to the ground in a school parking lot.

Police said Holmes attempted to grab the officer's gun during the struggle, but no shots were fired. Two civilians who witnessed the confrontation came to the officer's aid and helped as he handcuffed Holmes, who then went into cardiac arrest.

Holmes was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. The unnamed officer was treated for minor injuries and released.

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9. Dallas Narc Kills Armed Man on Amtrak Train

An undercover Dallas narcotics officer shot and killed a man who allegedly pulled a gun on him as he and other officers swept an idling Amtrak train for drugs. Stephen Ray Malone Jr., 32, of Waterford, Michigan, becomes the 47th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/dallaspolice.gif
Police sources told the Associated Press three plainclothes officers were inspecting the Amtrak Texas Eagle as it prepared for departure to Chicago Monday afternoon when they confronted a suspicious man. The man produced a hand gun and opened fire.Police returned fire killing the man. One officer and one train passenger were also wounded in the melee, but neither was seriously injured.

But the original police assertion that the man first fired on the officers was quickly proven incorrect. A later AP story reported that investigators believe Malone never fired a shot.

Police Chief David Brown told reporters the narcs doing "routine surveillance" of the train station approached Malone and a female companion and asked to search their bags. The woman consented, but Malone refused.

"As he expressed that he would not, he reached for a gun that was in his waistband, stepped across his companion's seat and into the aisle, and pointed a weapon at one of the officers. That was within several inches of the officer's face," Brown said. Another officer then yelled 'Gun!' and drew his weapon, then fired at the suspect. The other two officers also fired, Brown said.

Oddly enough, there has been no mention of what has been found in Malone's bags.

A passenger seated five rows behind the dead man said there was little warning before shooting broke out. "I was looking down at my phone and all of the sudden I heard, 'Get off me; get off me,' and then 'pop, pop, pop, pop,'" Jonathan Beaubien told WFAA-TV of Dallas and Fort Worth. "I hit the ground and then ran off the train."

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10. Drug Crop-Killing Fungi Too Risky, Scientists Say

Using pathogenic fungi to eradicate coca, opium, or other illicit drug crops is too risky because there is not enough data about how to control them and what effect they could have on people and the environment, according to a panel of scientists commissioned to study the subject by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office).

fusarium oxysprorum (wikimedia.org)
The finding came in a report, Feasibility of Using Mycoherbicides for Controlling Illicit Drug Crops, which was released November 30 by a panel of scientists convened by the National Research Council (NRC). ONDCP requested the report after it was required do to so by Congress in its 2006 budget authorization bill.

Mycoherbicides are killer fungi that can be targeted at specific plants and reproduce themselves, staying in the soil for years. Hard-line drug control advocates have urged their use against coca in Colombia and opium in Afghanistan, seeing them as a potential "magic bullet" that could eliminate drug problems at the source. But Colombia rejected the use of mycoherbicides in 2002 and the Afghan government has strongly signaled that it is not interested in using them there.

The NRC scientists found that the evidence base to support using mycoherbicides was scanty. "Questions about the degree of control that could be achieved with such mycoherbicides, as well as uncertainties about their potential effects on non-target plants, microorganisms, animals, humans, and the environment must be addressed before considering deployment," they said.

The panel did not reject outright the use of mycoherbicides; instead, it recommended "research to study several candidate strains of each fungus in order to identify the most efficacious under a broad array of environmental conditions." But it warned that "conducting the research does not guarantee that a feasible mycoherbicide product will result, countermeasures can be developed against mycoherbicides, and there are unavoidable risks from releasing substantial numbers of living organisms into an ecosystem."

The use of mycoherbicides would require meeting multiple domestic regulatory requirements, as well as possible additional regulations and agreements before being used on drug crops in foreign countries, the report noted. That might also prove problematic because "approval to conduct tests in countries where mycoherbicides might be used has been difficult or impossible to obtain in the past."

Congressional and bureaucratic drug warriors are going to have to look elsewhere for their "magic bullet" to win the war on drugs -- unless they're in the mood to appropriate more funds for more research that may or may not come up with a workable mycoherbicide. Then all they would have to do is sell the idea to the government of the country they want to spray it on.

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11. Czechs Decriminalize Peyote, Magic Mushroom Growing

Under changes in Czech drug policy approved November 28 by the Cabinet, growers of psychedelic cacti and fungi will no longer face criminal punishment. The hallucinogenic plants will be removed from the government's drug "black list," meaning that cultivation of more than "small" amounts will no longer be a crime.

Psilocybe cubensis, the magic mushroom. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Peyote and magic mushrooms were originally included on the list when the Czech's reformed their drug laws in 2009, making the Czech Republic one of the most liberal in Europe on drug policy. But amateur cactus growers who said they had no intention of consuming their plants complained that the drug reforms effectively criminalized them for pursuing their hobbies.

The 2009 reforms decriminalized the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, as well as the possession of small amounts of other drugs.

Last week's adjustment of the reforms actually tightened up a bit on the issue of marijuana cultivation. They include a change in the way marijuana's potency is calculated. Previously, authorities measures the amount of THC in pot plants by measuring the content of the whole plant; now, they will only measure the content of the flowers, where the THC is most concentrated. That means some pot cultivators who are growing low-potency marijuana will not be able to escape drug law enforcers.

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12. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Busy, busy, busy! Quite a crew of miscreants this week, including a former national Sheriff of the Year. Let's get to it:

In Littleton, Colorado, a former Arapahoe County sheriff was arrested late last month for trading methamphetamine for sexual favors from young men and hit with additional charges last Friday. Retired Arapahoe County Sheriff Patrick Sullivan, 68, a one-time national "Sheriff of the Year," was first charged with possession and distribution of meth and now faces additional counts of soliciting a prostitute and attempting to influence a public official. Two informants told investigators they had sex with Sullivan in exchange for drugs, and one of them agreed to set up a meeting with Sullivan for another tryst. The meeting was videotaped, and Sullivan was arrested after handing drugs over to the snitch. The influencing a public servant charge came from a September incident when a caller reported that "an old guy," later identified as Sullivan, was trying to get his roommates to use drugs and wouldn't leave the house. When police arrived, Sullivan falsely told them he was part of a state task force trying to help drug users. At last report, Sullivan was being held on $500,000 bail. Ironically, he is being detained at a jail that bears his name. Police are investigating whether Sullivan was engaged in illegal activity while still sheriff and whether underage boys were involved.

In Marksville, Louisiana, an Avoyelles Parish Detention Center officer was arrested Saturday for bringing drugs into the jail. Guard Jaworski Toussaint, 34, was caught bringing synthetic marijuana and other contraband into the jail. He is charged with introduction of contraband into a penal institution and malfeasance in office.

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a Fort Lauderdale police officer was arrested Saturday for allegedly procuring prescription pain pills for a woman who turned out to be a confidential informant. Officer Kevin Pisano, 50, was on duty and uniform at the time of the drug deal. He is charged with armed delivery of oxycodone (Percocet) and armed delivery of hydrocodone (Vicodin). He is also facing one count of possession of hydrocodone (Vicodin), which was found during a search of his patrol vehicle.

In Rochester, New York, an Orleans County sheriff's correction officer was arrested Sunday for smuggling contraband into the county jail. Guard Shawn Nicholson, 35, was arrested after a weeks-long investigation and went down after a sting operation. He is charged with two counts each of promoting prison contraband, criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal sale of a controlled substance, conspiracy, and one count official misconduct. Bail was set at $10,000; there is no word on whether he has paid it.

In Bakersfield, California, a Bakersfield police officer was arrested Monday for stealing methamphetamine he should have seized as evidence. Police received a tip that Officer Ofelio Lopez was using meth, set up a ruse to snare him, and he took the bait. They got a court order to remove some meth from the evidence room, put the drugs in a purse, then had someone call the department claiming to have found the handbag. They sent Lopez to investigate, and he put the purse in his patrol car, but didn't turn it in at the station. When detectives confronted Lopez the next day, the purse was still in the trunk, but some of the meth was missing. Police found it in Lopez' uniform pocket, and they said he was tweaking at the time of his arrest. He is charged with transportation of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance while armed with a firearm, being under the influence of a controlled substance while armed, and, after brass knuckles turned up during a search of his home, possession of a dangerous weapon. There is no word on bail arrangements.

In Denville, New Jersey, a former Denville police officer pleaded guilty November 30 to stealing drugs from the departmental evidence room. Eugene Blood, 38, admitted pilfering small amounts of heroin and oxycodone during 2010 and 2011. His attorney said he became addicted to pain pills. He was originally charged with seven counts, including burglary and theft of a controlled substance, but ended up copping a plea to a single count of official misconduct. Under the plea agreement, he will get a three-year prison sentence.

In Poughkeepsie, New York, a former Poughkeepsie police officer was sentenced December 1 to 3 ½ to 10 ½ years in prison for taking bribes from a cocaine dealer. David Palazzolo admitted revealing the name of a female undercover officer and identifying a vehicle used for undercover work by the Dutchess County Drug Task Force in exchange for bribes. He earlier pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, receiving a bribe, and computer trespass.

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13. This Week in History

December 8, 1929: Col. Levi G. Nutt, Head of the Narcotics Division of the US Treasury Dept., declares, "I'd rather see my children up against a wall and see them shot down before my eyes than to know that any one of them was going to be a drug slave."

December 11, 1942: The Opium Poppy Control Act is enacted, making possession of the opium poppy plant or seeds illegal.

December 12, 1981: The report of the Task Force on Cannabis Regulation to the Center for the Study of Drug Policy -- Regulation and Taxation of Cannabis Commerce is issued, reading, "It has been observed that marijuana is one of the largest tax-exempt industries in the country today and regulation would end that exemption."

December 12, 1995: Director Lee P. Brown announces his resignation as head of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy.

December 13, 1995: In response to a December 1 rally held outside the offices of Boston radio station WBCN to protest the airplay of the NORML benefit CD Hempilation, the National Writers Union and the Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression issue statements condemning the actions of rally organizers, the Governor's Alliance Against Drugs (GAAD). Both groups are highly critical of the overall nature of the protest and specifically of the alleged use of state power and finances to help institute the rally. Reports note that protesters arrived in state vehicles, attendees were encouraged to "bring their squad cars," and an individual identified as a Boston liaison to the DEA accompanied Georgette Wilson, Executive Director of the GAAD, as she entered the station. "These sort of actions, when performed [and sponsored] by government agents, are specifically [prohibited] by law," charges Bill Downing, president of NORML's Massachusetts chapter.

December 14, 2001: While signing a new anti-drug bill that expands the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, President George W. Bush makes his first official mention that the Administration would begin leveraging its political successes with the War on Terrorism back into the War on Drugs when he says, "If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terrorism... It's so important for Americans to know that the traffic in drugs finances the work of terror, sustaining terrorists, that terrorists use drug profits to fund their cells to commit acts of murder."

December 9, 2002: The Canadian House of Commons Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs releases reports that call for safe injection sites, pilot heroin maintenance programs, decriminalization of cannabis, among other reforms.

December 13, 2002: A disabled, deaf, wheelchair-bound British charity worker returns home after spending two years in a primitive Indian prison after being found guilty of trafficking drugs even though it was a physical impossibility. Stephen Jakobi, director of Fair Trials Abroad, described the case against him as absurd. "There are things that just scream out to you," he said. "I have never actually been presented with a case where the guy is physically incapable of acting in the manner suggested by police."

December 9, 2004: Rep. Barney Frank keynotes DRCNet Foundation's John W. Perry Fund reception in Boston, MA, delivering a humorous yet passionate address. He says repeal of the Higher Education Act's "drug provision" could be achieved, even in a Republican-controlled Congress, if his bill to do just that could actually get to the floor. He mentions, "This issue is ripe... My colleagues in Congress are ready to move on this and other issues." Also addressing larger national drug policy, Frank notes, "The damage done by this mindless assault on drug users is a terrible, terrible problem."

December 13, 2004: Hungary's Constitutional Court restricts the use of diversion to drug treatment for some drug offenders, narrowing the scope of reform legislation enacted in 2003. In so doing, it also explicitly rejects an argument that the laws against drug possession are unconstitutional.

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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.

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