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Medical Marijuana: Five Arrested, 13 Dispensaries Raided by DEA in San Diego

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Feds Hit San Diego Medical Marijuana Co-ops Again
Just a week after the US House of Representatives voted to continue funding Justice Department raids on medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal, the feds struck again. Five people have been arrested in a series of DEA and local police raids Thursday hitting 13 medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego County. Some people are being charged under state marijuana distribution laws in the cooperative federal-local effort. More arrests are expected, local law enforcement officials said.

The raids and arrests came as federal officials unsealed two indictments, one charging the Purple Bud Room and Tender Holistics Care dispensaries with illegally distributing marijuana, the other laying similar charges against five people who owned and operated Co-op San Diego.

The feds also went after four doctors on suspicion of providing medical marijuana recommendations for people the officials claimed did not legitimately need marijuana. State and federal officials have filed complaints with the state Medical Board against the doctors.

The San Diego District Attorney's Office announced it was filing marijuana distribution charges against five dispensaries: Ocean Beach Dispensary and Utopia, both on Voltaire Street in Ocean Beach; Native Sun Dispensary on Rosecrans Street, in the Midway District; THC Dispensary, no longer in business, in Pacific Beach; and the California Medical Center, on La Jolla Boulevard in La Jolla.

In a statement announcing the busts, the DA's Office said it was not aiming at medical marijuana patients, but at retail pot outlets disguised as dispensaries. "Our office has no intention of stopping those who are chronically ill with AIDS, glaucoma and cancer from obtaining any legally prescribed drug, including medical marijuana, to help them ease their pain," said DA Bonnie Dumanis said. But the state's medical marijuana law is "being severely abused and it has led to the neighborhood pot dealer opening up storefronts from La Jolla to Ocean Beach to North Park," she said.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana defense group, announced in an e-mail Thursday afternoon it was holding an emergency meeting in San Diego that evening to craft a response.

Africa: Nigerian Narcs in Losing Battle with Marijuana Farmers

Nigeria's booming marijuana trade is more than the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) can handle, the agency's commander in Edo state, a center of the trade, told a major newspaper last week. An undermanned, under-equipped, and under-budgeted anti-drug agency can't compete with rising domestic and international demand and few other economic options for northern farmers, he said.

But the narc is making the best of it by claiming that Nigerian bud is now "the best in the world." That claim is open to heated debate, but "Indian hemp," as the locals call it, is now showing up in European markets, where it competes with the best the rest of the world has to offer.

In its 2006 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the US State Department noted that "marijuana/cannabis is grown all over Nigeria, but mainly in central and northern states. Cultivation is generally on small fields in remote areas. Its market is concentrated in West Africa and Europe; none is known to have found its way to the United States. However, domestic use is becoming more widespread. The NDLEA has destroyed marijuana fields, but has no regular, organized eradication program in place. There are no reliable figures to determine crop size and yields."

"The drug war in this part of the country is higher than any other place because, essentially, Edo state is a home for the cultivation of cannabis," state NDLEA commander Okey Ihebom told the Abuja Daily Trust. "They plant Indian hemp in large quantity in this state. The cannabis being produced in Edo and Ondo states is the best in the world. So, there is a ready market for it anywhere in the world. We also understand that the cannabis from those two states is more expensive. The producers and the peddlers are therefore willing to take any type of risk to produce and export the drugs."

The state only has one vehicle for marijuana law enforcement and no good jail, Ihebom complained, and farmers have been known to fight back. "You cannot get a vehicle that can carry you to such farms. The farms are not accessible by any form of vehicle. You will drive into the forest and stop about 20 kilometers away from the farm and trek to the place," he explained. "At the farms, the farmers are mostly armed. They know the area better than us. After an exchange of fire, when we overpower them, we make arrest and commence the destruction of the farms. It will take us days to destroy a large farm. At times, they will regroup and fight us back with sophisticated weapons. That was how the command lost two of its men recently."

It also lacks an effective prevention campaign. "People smoke cannabis out of ignorance," Ihebom said. "When we enlighten the public on the adverse effecting of smoking the drug, I am sure a good number of people will stop the habit and those that are not in the habit of smoking will report to us those they see smoking."

Smoking pot was a bad idea, Iheobom told the Daily Trust. "The ordinary smoker is also very dangerous to the society," he claimed. "The moment one smokes and starts thinking he is what he is not, you know there is trouble ahead. So we are out for both the smokers, those trading it, the dealers, the exporters, the producers and the distributors as well," he said.

While Ihebom emphasized violence linked to the marijuana trade, he conceded that wasn't always the case, but he worried that the inflow of money to the impoverished region would be harmful. "The perception that cannabis producing or consuming communities are violent, may not be entirely true. Look at Ondo, a leading cannabis producing state in the country and yet it is a peaceful state," he said. "But when you consider the inflow of cash from both within and abroad into cannabis producing communities, you realize that the cash flow encourages crime. That is exactly the case in Edo state. You know because of drug peddling and this international prostitution, there is also a lot of money here and so crime rate is also way high."

Ihebom implicity recognized he was fighting a losing battle, but the tide could surely be turned with some more resources, darn it! "You see, drug war is not a war that should be left for the NDLEA alone to fight," he said. "America, with all its sophistication, cannot be able to stop drug peddling. If you look at the volume of drug that enters America daily, you will be surprised. It is true that with better funding and equipping, we will do more in our struggle with these people."

Europe: Scottish Drug Czar Says Drug War Is Lost, Causes Big To-Do

Scotland's drug czar (or "tsar," as the Scots like it) has unleashed a week of furious debate by declaring that the war on drugs is lost and can never be won. The remarks by Tom Wood, chairman of the Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams, are only the latest in a series of similar declarations coming from Scottish politicians and law enforcement figures as the nation attempts to confront its intractable affair with illicit drugs. Despite decades of drug war, Scotland has some of the highest drug use rates in Europe and more than 50,000 heroin addicts.

"I spent much of my police career fighting the drugs war and there was no one keener than me to fight it," Woods said in an interview with Scotland on Sunday. "But latterly I have become more and more convinced that it was never a war we could win. We can never as a nation be drug-free. No nation can, so we must accept that. So the message has to be more sophisticated than 'just say no,' because that simple message doesn't work," said the man charged with advising the Scottish Executive on future drug policy. "For young people who have already said 'yes,' who live in families and communities where everybody says 'yes,' we have to recognize that the battle is long lost."

Wood said he was not advocating decriminalization or legalization of drugs, but a fundamental shift of priorities. "Throughout the last three decades, enforcement has been given top priority, followed by treatment and rehabilitation, with education and deterrence a distant third. In order to make a difference in the long term, education and deterrence have to go to the top of the pile. We have to have the courage and commitment to admit that we have not tackled the problem successfully in the past. It's about our priorities and our thinking," said Wood. "Clearly, at some stage, there could be resource implications, but the first thing we have to do is realize we can't win any battles by continuing to put enforcement first."

Scotland's main drug fighters, the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), unsurprisingly differed with Wood's analysis. "I strongly disagree when he says that the war on drugs in Scotland is lost," said SCDEA head Graeme Pearson. "The Scottish Executive Drug Action Plan acknowledged that tackling drug misuse is a complex problem, demanding many responses. It is explicit within the strategy that to effectively tackle drug misuse, the various pillars of the plan cannot operate in isolation."

While Pearson defended current policies, anti-drug crusader Alistair Ramsey, former director of Scotland Against Drugs, was fulminating against too much emphasis on treatment. "We must never lose sight of the fact that enforcement of drug law is a very powerful prevention for many people and, if anything, drug law should be made more robust," he told the newspaper. "The current fixation with treatment and rehabilitation on behalf of the Executive has really got to stop."

Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell joined the attack: "I accept Wood's sincerity, but this is a very dangerous message to go out. I would never say that we have lost the war on drugs. Things are dire, but we should never throw up the white flag," she said.

On Monday, Scottish Health Minister joined the fray, comparing eliminating drug use to providing healthy school lunches. "If you'd said Scotland's kids would be eating more healthily in school, they would have said it couldn't be done, so I'm very positive about these matters. We need to be positive and there's different ways of doing this. We're working hard to make sure we're successful and I do believe we can win that war, but it's going to need a lot of hard effort," he insisted.

Wood's view did gain backing from groups like the Scottish Drugs Forum and the drug prevention and advice group Crew 2000. "I think Tom Wood is right. This is something our organization has been arguing for for a long time and it is good to see this is now coming into the mainstream," said Crew 2000 manager John Arthur.

Wood was unbowed Monday as he took pains to praise Scottish police. "The Scottish drugs enforcement agency is one of the best in Europe" he said. "However, we have to accept that police activity has not reduced supply. It has not made a difference to the price or the purity."

Canada: In Harm Reduction Bid, Vancouver Police to Stay Away From Overdose Calls

In a bid to reduce drug overdose deaths, police in Vancouver will no longer show up along with paramedics at drug overdose calls. That has already been unofficial practice for the past two years, but at a June 14 meeting, the Vancouver Police board voted to make it part of the department's official policy.

Citing Australian research that showed a police presence actually increased the likelihood of overdose deaths, Vancouver police suggested that if drug users do not fear arrest, they will be less reluctant to contact authorities in the event of an overdose, and in December 2003 began staying away from ODs. After a series of consultation with community groups, including the drug user group Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), the practice became established, if informal, policy by the end of the following year.

"Research presented at a Heroin Overdose Prevention Conference in Seattle in 2000 revealed that despite the fact that half of overdose cases are witnessed by another person, the greatest barrier in obtaining emergency medical help was the fear that police would attend and lay charges for drug use," wrote Vancouver Police Inspector Ken Frail at the time. "Rather than face police intervention, many witnesses to a drug overdose would respond in an inappropriate way. Sometimes a victim would be dropped in a public place hoping they would be found, sometimes an incomplete phone call would be made and the caller would leave before medical help arrived. Sometimes the overdose victim would be abandoned," he noted.

"Vancouver Police recognize that drug overdose cases are primarily medical emergencies requiring rapid response," Frail explained. "The new policy tends to restrict police attendance at overdose calls except in cases where public safety requires police attendance. The police role at a drug overdose call is clarified as 'assisting with life saving measures and public safety.'"

It worked for Vancouver in 2004 and 2005, and now the Police Board has made it official policy. It is a harm reduction measure American cities would do well to consider emulating.

Marijuana: West Hollywood Passes "Lowest Priority" Resolution

The West Hollywood, CA, City Council voted Monday night to approve a resolution calling on Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies to not "target adult marijuana users who consume this drug in private and pose no danger to the community." Although it is nonbinding, the resolution sends a strong message to LA County Sheriff Joe Baca about how the city of 35,000 wants its laws enforced.

West Hollywood now becomes the first Southern California city to adopt a "lowest law enforcement priority" measure toward marijuana similar to Oakland's successful 2004 Proposition Z initiative. But it may not be the last this year. Similar "lowest priority" measures are slated to go to the voters in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Santa Monica in November.

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medical marijuana poster from WAMM, Santa Cruz
The resolution was introduced by Councilman John Duran, and passed on a 4-0 vote. Duran and the council acted after local activists organized in the West Hollywood Civil Liberties Alliance filed a petition to put a lowest priority initiative to the popular vote. Given that city officials viewed LA County Sheriff Joe Baca as already not making marijuana law enforcement a high priority, and fearful of costs and "inflexibilities" associated with a ballot initiative, the council agreed to address the issue via a resolution after consulting with the Alliance.

The resolution says "be it resolved that the City Council of the City of West Hollywood hereby declares that it is not the policy of the City or its law enforcement agency to target possession of small amounts of marijuana and the consumption of marijuana in private by adults."

"Marijuana, you know, a joint or two is just so far down on the scale it doesn't seem worthwhile to allocate any sources to the enforcement of the marijuana laws," said Duran. "We've seen that marijuana use is certainly no more dangerous and destructive than alcohol use," Duran said. "The whole 'reefer madness' hysteria has worn thin."

While Sheriff Baca and his deputies may not be prowling West Hollywood for pot smokers, the agency is unsurprisingly not happy to be told how to do its job. Some Sheriff's Office officials were among the few public opponents of the resolution, and City Councilman Joe Prang, who is a high Baca advisor, abstained on the vote.

But Baca was being politic Monday afternoon. "We certainly in my office understand what pressure is," he told the Los Angeles Times, suggesting city officials were besieged by pot legalizers. "My belief is that the city needs to have its voice heard on the matter, and the question will remain to what extent is this resolution binding. We will look at it for all of our pluses and minuses and advise the City Council as to our position."

If the department decides it will not comply with the resolution, the city could terminate its $10 million annual contract to provide law enforcement services and seek another department to replace the Sheriff's Department. But that is unlikely, Duran told the Times. "That would put us in an awkward situation," he said."

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A federal prison contraband-for-sex scandal exploded into lethal violence Wednesday. And then there's the run of the mill: A one-time Wisconsin deputy goes down in a major marijuana bust, a former Mississippi deputy goes down for meth, a San Francisco prosecutor goes to prison for taking Ecstasy bribes, and a former Alabama deputy gets ready to go to prison for providing a gun and some crack rocks to an ex-con. Let's get to it:

In Tallahassee, Florida, a federal prison guard and a Department of Justice officer are dead, a second officer was wounded, and five more prison guards were arrested Wednesday when federal agents showed up to arrest the six guards on charges they smuggled contraband -- alcohol, marijuana, cash, and messages -- into the prison in exchange for sexual favors from inmates at the 1,400-woman facility. Federal Bureau of Prisons guard Ralph Hill opened fire when the feds arrived inside the prison, killing Justice Department Office of the Inspector General agent William Sentner and wounding an unnamed, uninvolved prison guard before being killed by other federal agents. Guards Alfred Barnes, Gregory Dixon, Ralph Hill, Vincent Johnson, Alan Moore and E. Lavon Spence face charges of engaging in a conspiracy to commit acts of bribery, witness tampering, and mail fraud; and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering. They could face up to 20 years in prison.

In Dunn, Wisconsin, a former Dane County sheriff's deputy was arrested June 14 on federal marijuana distribution conspiracy charges. Robert Lowery, 57, is accused in federal affidavits of employing a young Genesee, Wisconsin, couple to bring hundreds of pounds of pot to Wisconsin from Arizona. During a raid on his home by state Department of Criminal Investigation and Dane County deputies, the cops seized 15 pounds of pot, 25 ounces of cocaine, five guns, and $47,000 cash. They also seized 52 dogs, including 50 pit bulls, and arrested Lowery's wife on weapons and cocaine possession charges. Lowery was fired as Dane County deputy in 1981 after being accused of seeking information to provide to drug dealing associates, and charging documents allege he has been in the business ever since. The young couple has also been charged.

In Hancock County, Mississippi, a former constable and Hancock County deputy sheriff was arrested June 14 on methamphetamine possession and sales charges. Danny Hamby, 38, was one of three men arrested in a drug raid that netted a half-ounce of speed following an eight-month investigation by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, Coastal Narcotics Enforcement Team, the DEA, and the Hancock County Sheriff's Department. Hamby was elected constable in 1999, but resigned two years later as part of a plea agreement in a domestic violence case. He then went to work briefly as a Hancock County deputy. He is being held without bond in a neighboring county jail.

In San Francisco, a former city assistant district attorney is going to prison for six months after pleading guilty to accepting drugs in exchange for leniency for two defendants he was prosecuting. Robert Roland, 35 was sentenced June 14 after a pleading guilty in February to three counts of Ecstasy possession and one count of using a telephone in a felony drug transaction. In one case, Roland dropped a felony drug count to a misdemeanor for a high school buddy, who repaid him with Ecstasy the next day. In a second case, another acquaintance supplied him with Ecstasy after he discussed diverting that case into treatment. Both of those cases occurred in 2002. Roland reports to prison August 1.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a former Houston County deputy pleaded guilty Monday to selling a gun to a convicted felon and supplying him with cocaine to sell. Michael Shawn Campbell, 27, who was working for the Houston County narcotics unit at the time, admitted selling the gun to Joshua Whigan, who he knew to be a felon, and to supplying him with crack. Whigan ratted him out. Both men await sentencing, and Campbell faces up to 40 years on the drug charge and another 10 for the gun charge.

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