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U.S. Efforts Fail to Stem Flow of Mexican Drug Money

Stashing cash in spare tires, engine transmissions and truckloads of baby diapers, couriers for Mexican drug traffickers are moving tens of billions of dollars in drug prohibition profits south across the border each year, a river of dirty money that has overwhelmed U.S. and Mexican customs agents.
Publication/Source: 
The Washington Post (DC)
URL: 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2010/08/25/ST2010082506297.html?sid=ST2010082506297

Texas Now Prosecuting TWO Medical Marijuana Patients [FEATURE]

Asthmatic medical marijuana patient Chris Diaz sits in jail in Brownwood, Texas, facing up to life in prison for a half ounce of marijuana and three grams of hash. Quadraplegic medical marijuana patient Chris Cain may be joining Diaz behind bars in Beaumont, Texas, after he goes to trial next week. When it comes to medical marijuana, Texas isn't California (or even Rhode Island), and don't you forget it, boy!

seat of injustice
Chris Diaz is learning that the hard way. He was supposedly pulled over for an expired license tag (his defenders say the tag was not expired) while en route from Amarillo to Austin, and according to the DPS trooper's report, would not produce a drivers' license or proof of insurance. He was then arrested for failure to identify, and during a subsequent search, police found a small amount of hashish on his person. A search of the vehicle then turned up additional hash and marijuana in a pill bottle from a California medical marijuana provider. Now, Diaz is facing up to life in prison after being indicted by a Brown County grand jury. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, a first-degree felony in the Lone Star State.

Under Texas law, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, while possession of hashish is either a state jail felony punishable by up to two years for less than a gram, or a second-class felony punishable by up to 20 years if less than four grams, although probation is also possible.

But because police allegedly read a text message on Diaz's seized cell phone advising a friend that he had some great hash and asking if he wanted any, he was instead indicted on the trafficking charge, punishable by up to life in prison. He remains behind bars -- without his medicine -- on a $40,000 cash bond.

Diaz was diagnosed with asthma just before he turned three, his mother, Rhonda Martin said. "He was on medications ever since. He used a nebulizer, all kinds of inhalers, Albuteral, Advair. He stopped taking them when he was 14 because he didn't like the effects," she recalled. "He said the steroids made him feel agitated and wouldn't take those chemical medications anymore."

While the family was aware of medical marijuana, it was only when Diaz fell ill during a family vacation in California and was hospitalized in intensive care that they first learned about medical marijuana for the treatment of asthma. "We were put in touch with a doctor there, and he recommended it. It was his recommendation Chris was carrying," said Martin.

Neither Brown County prosecutors nor Diaz's court-appointed public defender had responded to Chronicle requests for comment by press time.

Diaz and some of his strongest supporters, including his mother, consider themselves "sovereign citizens," and have a web site, I Am Sovereign, in which they argue their case and attempt to win support for Diaz. But that set of beliefs, which precludes carrying government-issued identification, is also complicating things for Diaz. "Failure to identify" was the first charge he faced, and he was searched and the cannabis was found subsequent to being charged with that. Similarly, the authorities' lack of any records or ID for Diaz played a role in the setting of the high bail.

He's not having an easy time of it in jail, said Martin. "He is not receiving any medical attention. He eats only organic food, but he's not getting that. He was assaulted last Sunday by a jailer when he asked for medication. The jailer got in his face and started screaming and pushing him. Chris didn't react. He is a peaceful man."

"The reality is that this kid is in jail for having medical marijuana and is looking at life in prison," said Stephen Betzen, director of the Texas Coalition for Compassionate Care, which is lobbying for a medical marijuana bill next year in the state legislature. "You've got to be kidding me. You don't give drug addicts life in prison, so why would you do that to a patient with a legitimate recommendation from another state?"

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/chris-cain.jpg
Chris Cain
Betzen also had real issues with Diaz being stopped in the first place. "The fact of the matter is that Chris was driving home to Austin with legal plates," he said. "The cops lied and said they were expired. Not only did they lie to pull him over, they took a kid with no record and charged him with a life sentence offense for three grams of hash. The people who are perpetrating this need to be brought to justice and their victims need to be released from jail," said Betzen. "You can't just pull people over because they're brown or from California and begin to search them. There's a whole amendment about that."

"I'm surprised somebody is facing a life sentence for basically half an ounce," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana support group Americans for Safe Access. "But in states that don't have medical marijuana laws, authorities are free to arrest and prosecute regardless of whether it is being used medicinally."

Meanwhile, over in Hardin County in East Texas, Chris Cain, 39, will be rolling his wheelchair to court next week, where the quadriplegic faces a jail sentence for possessing less than two ounces of medical marijuana. Cain, who was paralyzed in a diving accident as a teenager, has been an outspoken medical marijuana advocate for a decade.

He was arrested in 2005 when the Hardin County Sheriff's Office raided his home with the assistance of two helicopters, seized three joints, and threw him in jail. He wound up on probation, but could not use his medicine.

"Within six weeks, the spasticity was so bad he was developing bed sores," said Betzen, so he started using again. "The cops would come by every two weeks to see if he was healthy enough to go to jail."

Now, he faces trial again for possession. "They actually want to put him in jail," exclaimed Betzen. "The sheriff there really has a vendetta against him."

While Texas certainly needs to enter the 21st Century when it comes to medical marijuana, the problem is larger than the Lone Star State, said Hermes. "It's critical that we develop a federal medical marijuana law so that people are not treated differently in Texas than in California, and patients who need this medicine in Texas should be allowed to use it with fear of arrest and prosecution. Americans for Safe Access is committed not only to encouraging states to pass medical marijuana laws irrespective of federal policy, but also to push the federal government to develop a policy that will treat patients equitably no matter where in the US they live."

TX
United States

Atlanta Pays $4.9 Million for Kathryn Johnston Botched Drug Raid Killing

The city of Atlanta will pay $4.9 million to the estate of Kathryn Johnston, the 92-year-old African American woman killed by Atlanta narcotics officers in a drug raid nearly four years ago. Mayor Kasim Reed announced the settlement Monday morning. The city council approved it that same afternoon.

never forget
On November 21, 2006, Johnston was alone in her home when three Atlanta undercover narcs with a no-knock search warrant based on false information attempted a dynamic entry raid. The elderly woman fired one shot from an old pistol as the intruders tried to break down her door. They responded by firing at least 39 shots at the woman, who died at the scene -- in handcuffs.

No drugs were found. The officers involved attempted to cover their tracks by planting marijuana they had seized in a separate raid. They also tried to get an informer to say that he had provided them with the information in the warrant when he hadn't. The narcs' cover-up unraveled when the informant went to the FBI.

After an investigation by the FBI, five officers pleaded guilty for their roles in the shooting and cover-up. The three officers directly involved in the botched raid are serving sentences of five, six and ten years. Another six were reprimanded for not following departmental policy.

Reed said the settlement was an important step for the city and the police department, which came under intense, withering criticism in the raid's aftermath. "As a result of the incident, several police officers were indicted in federal and state court on charges and were later convicted and sentenced for their actions," said Reed, adding that the narcotics unit has been totally reorganized.

There is more the department needs to do, said Christina Beamud, executive director of the Atlanta Citizens Review Board. "This goes a long way to encourage the community to begin to heal and to address whatever issues they have with the police department," she told WABE FM Monday afternoon. But, she added, reforms in the department are still needed. One group of rogue officers may be gone, she said, "But where you have a group of officers continuing to do the same kind of improper procedures, then you have to look at your systems." She said the department should scrap quotas for drug arrests and end the policy of allowing officers to moonlight when not on duty.

Johnston's heirs will receive $2.9 million this year and $2 million in 2012 under the terms of the settlement.

Atlanta, GA
United States

DOT to Publish Final Rule on Drug and Alcohol Testing

The Department of Transportation today gave notice of a Final Rule for transportation workplace drug and alcohol testing programs which includes testing for the drug Ecstasy, lowering cut-off levels for cocaine and amphetamines and conducting mandatory initial testing for heroin. DOT notes that it is required by the Omnibus Transportation Employees Testing Act (Omnibus Act) to follow the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requirements for the testing procedures and protocols.
Publication/Source: 
The Trucker (AL)
URL: 
http://www.thetrucker.com/News/Stories/2010/8/13/DOTtopublishfinalruleondrugandalcoholtesting.aspx

California Medical Marijuana Patients Harassed By US Border Patrol [FEATURE]

Medical marijuana is legal in California, and the US Department of Justice has made it policy to not go after patients and providers in compliance with state law, but California medical marijuana patients who live or travel within 75 miles of the Mexican border are encountering another problem with the feds: the Border Patrol. Under US law, the Border Patrol is allowed to set up what amounts to a "Fourth Amendment-free zone" within that 75-mile perimeter, subjecting any and all comers to warrantless searches in its bid to stop illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

Border Patrol checkpoint with drug dog
Patients and advocacy groups are complaining that the border area checkpoints operated by the Border Patrol, part of the Department of Homeland Security, are sweeping up patients, detaining them, seizing their medicine, and sometimes arresting them on federal drug possession charges.

Retired Fresno fire-fighter Charles Berg is a case in point. Forced to quit working after being injured in a chemical fire, Berg relocated to the border town of Calexico on his physician's advice in order to take advantage of the dry, warm desert climate.

"Because of my remote location, I need to travel to see the medical specialists that treat me, so that I can live in a healthier climate," he wrote in a letter to California NORML seeking assistance. As a border resident, Berg became accustomed to going through Border Patrol checkpoints, but in August 2007 he had the misfortune of encountering one where drug-sniffing dogs were being employed.

"The K-9 was searching vehicles four to five back from the front of the line, but when it got to me the dog and agent stayed with my vehicle and upon reaching the front I was stopped," Berg related. "The agent directing traffic told me to pull over to the side, I started to inquire as to what was going on but was interrupted with a sharp command to, 'PULL OVER NOW!!' I complied immediately and was followed by the K-9 and handler. I was told to get out of the vehicle and to present my ID, all of which I did immediately.  Every time I asked what was wrong I would be interrupted with shouts of 'shut up' or commands to 'sit down.' When agents began to search the vehicle and the dog jumped into my car, I stood up and said, 'Wait a minute, do you have a warrant to do that?' I was immediately restrained and handcuffed. Agents explained to me that I was under arrest because the K-9 had alerted to my vehicle and they were searching for what it alerted to. I was taken inside and bodily searched; my clothing was checked and I was patted down. I was left inside, handcuffed to a chair while my vehicle was searched for over an hour. I was finally released without charges after several hours, having been in custody, searched and arrested, and was then sent on my way with no explanation as to what they were looking for or what they had done. Every time I attempted to ask a question I was told to leave or they would arrest me for trespassing."

While Berg was not prosecuted, he did have his medical marijuana seized, and, to add insult to injury, the Border Patrol also seized his prescription pain medications. But that was not the end of Berg's adventures with the Border Patrol.

In December 2007, while traveling on Interstate 8 on his way to visit a cancer specialist in Phoenix, Berg encountered another Border Patrol checkpoint with a drug-sniffing dog. Again, he was arrested and his medications seized. This time he was stuck in jail for three days. Determined to take a stand, Berg refused his public defender's entreaties to cop a plea. His trial is still pending.

militarized US-Mexico border
"In the last few months since my trial was postponed the situation has gotten worse," Berg wrote. "I still live in Calexico, and have medical needs that require me to travel. I still need to travel to Palm Springs and San Diego at least twice a month. Because I know that my medication will be taken by the Border Patrol, I can no longer go on extended stays. It is an extreme burden to drive the 300-mile round trip, but if I don't do it this way I end up going days without any of my prescriptions and the Border Patrol takes them. My doctor says that pain meds are often excreted through sweat, and that the dogs will alert on that. Unfortunately, I can do nothing about the scents that are left behind. Despite the fact that I have been forced to travel without my meds, I am still stopped and searched by the Border Patrol."

Berg enlisted the help of the Fresno Firefighters union, but they also got nowhere with the Border Patrol. In fact, investigators for the union reported to Berg that they had spoken with an Agent V. Vega, regional Southern California Border Patrol supervisor, who told them: "It would be best if Mr. Berg moved out of the area. The Border Patrol's mission in California is to stop illegal immigration and enforce federal marijuana laws despite California legislation."

Earlier this week, the Chronicle contacted a Border Patrol public information officer for that region, who instead of answering questions asked that they be emailed to him. He has yet to reply to the emails. Calls to Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington have not been returned.

Berg is not alone. "Over the past year, we've received multiple reports of people being stopped by the Border Patrol," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access. "We've had two or three incidents where people were stopped for compliance checks in San Diego County to see if everyone had proper documentation. In those cases, the Border Patrol found medical marijuana, seized the medication, then cited them federally for possession."

San Diego County resident Jim Lacy, 60, didn't get arrested, but he has repeatedly had his medical marijuana seized by the Border Patrol. "I got my card in 2003," said Lacy, who was disabled after being hit by a train. "I almost died, I lost my spleen, I had ribs going through my lung, it left me crippled for life," he said. "The Border Patrol was smaller back then and not so uptight," Lacy said. "They didn't know anything about the California law, they were all fascinated. I showed them my paperwork, and they said just make sure you have the legal amount."

But it didn't quite work out that way, Lacy continued. "I tried it with a joint, I had the paperwork and everything. They found it and took it, and after about 40 minutes of being paraded around they let me go. The next time I tried it with a gram," he added. "They took it and tested it and said it wasn't pot, but they kept it. It was pot! I grew it myself. One agent said he would take it every time," Lacy recalled bitterly.

"The Border Patrol told me they would change their policy if Obama would write a letter like the Department of Justice," Lacy said. [Editor's Note: It was not President Obama, but Attorney General Holder who wrote the memorandum last year instructing the department to not go after patients and providers acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. But the Border Patrol is a division of the Dept. of Homeland Security, not DOJ.] "The Department of Justice doesn't control Homeland Security. I've written to all the political leaders, but nothing happens," he said.

"If you're going to have a zero tolerance policy, don't trick people," said Lacy. "People think they're safe in California, but if someone comes from some other county and comes down here, they'll never leave here with their medicine."

The problem has worsened as the Bush and Obama administrations have beefed up staffing for the Border Patrol in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, and, more recently, in response to the uproar over illegal immigration and prohibition-related violence just across the border. The number of agents nearly doubled, from 11,000 in 2000 to 20,000 now, and just this week, Congress passed and President Obama signed a bill that will add another 1,250 agents. (See related story here.)

"I wish they'd stop it," bemoaned Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML. "It just shows what a hydra-headed beast we have to deal with. It's not just DEA and the Department of Justice, but also Homeland Security on the border and Treasury with regard to the ability of dispensaries to get bank accounts, also with the Veterans Administration, which appears to be at least partially cleared up, also HUD with the public housing, also about Department of Transportation drug testing rules, there's just an enormous amount of work to be done at the federal level. We're not going to be out of a job anytime soon."

"Our view is that the federal government should have a clear, uniform policy on medical marijuana," said Hermes. "It's not acceptable that this issue be divided into different policies among the different federal agencies. It is incumbent on the Obama administration to get to work on a comprehensive federal policy on medical marijuana," he said. "The Justice Department has made its position clear with its memorandum last October, and the VA has more recently issued a policy that recognizes medical use," Hermes noted. "Instead of this piecemeal process and selective enforcement, we should be dealing with this uniformly."

ASA wants to hear from patients being hassled by the Border Patrol, Hermes said. "We have a legal hotline where patients can report these incidents. We have not yet taken legal action to address the behavior of the Border Patrol, but we may consider that in the future."

CA
United States

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Warrantless GPS Tracking

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has rejected the federal government's contention that agents can conduct continuous GPS tracking of suspects without a warrant. In its ruling last Friday, the court held that such warrantless surveillance violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unwarranted searches and seizures.

GPS satellite (from noaa.gov)
The ruling came in US v. Maynard, in which two Washington, DC men, Antoine Jones and Lawrence Maynard, were convicted in a joint trial in 2008 of possessing and conspiring to distribute more than 50 pounds of cocaine. The men appealed their convictions, arguing that the government's evidence against them had come from a GPS device unlawfully attached to Jones' Jeep that tracked his movement continually, day and night, for a full month. The use of the device without a warrant violated their rights against unreasonable search and seizure, the pair successfully argued.

"It is one thing for a passerby to observe or even to follow someone during a single journey as he goes to the market or returns home from work," Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel that reviewed the case. "It is another thing entirely for that stranger to pick up the scent again the next day and the day after that, week in and week out, dogging his prey until he has identified all the places, people, amusements, and chores that make up that person's hitherto private routine."

Federal prosecutors argued that several other appellate courts had allowed the use of GPS devices without a warrant, but the DC appeals court held that those cases had not involved extended continuous surveillance. That sort of unfettered use of GPS can reveal personal information and threaten one's reasonable expectation of privacy, the court held.

"Prolonged GPS monitoring reveals an intimate picture of the subject's life that he expects no one to have short perhaps of his spouse," Judge Ginsburg wrote. "The intrusion such monitoring makes into the subject's private affairs stands in stark contrast to the relatively brief intrusion at issue," in the other cases.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) both filed amicus briefs urging the court to strike down the practice. The two groups welcomed the court's decision.

"The court correctly recognized the important differences between limited surveillance of public activities possible through visual surveillance or traditional 'bumper beepers,' and the sort of extended, invasive, pervasive, always-on tracking that GPS devices allow," said EFF civil liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "This same logic applies in cases of cell phone tracking, and we hope that this decision will be followed by courts that are currently grappling with the question of whether the government must obtain a warrant before using your cell phone as a tracking device."

"GPS tracking enables the police to know when you visit your doctor, your lawyer, your church, or your lover," said Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU-National Capital Area. "And if many people are tracked, GPS data will show when and where they cross paths. Judicial supervision of this powerful technology is essential if we are to preserve individual liberty. Today's decision helps brings the Fourth Amendment into the 21st Century."

Washington, DC
United States

Awesome Police Chief Works to Educate Citizens About Their Rights

Here's Columbia, MO Police Chief Ken Burton talking about how he uses the new Flex Your Rights video, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police, to teach people about their rights during police encounters:


When we last saw Chief Burton's name in the press, he was taking tough questions after his officers performed a brutal botched SWAT raid in which two dogs where shot in front of a small child, and only a small amount of marijuana was found. He's since made favorable statements about marijuana reform and made it a priority to educate the public about constitutional rights.

I know I've praised him previously, but this interview really helped me appreciate Chief Burton's unique willingness to spread important knowledge that many police departments would never actively promote. This blog is frequently very critical of modern police practices, and I think it's really important to acknowledge committed public servants who set a strong example like this.

As many of you know, I am the co-creator of 10 Rules for Dealing with Police, so seeing it embraced by police departments and activists alike is quite exciting for me. If you're interested in screening the film in your community, it's pretty easy to do.

How to Get Arrested for Marijuana in One Easy Step

do not consent to searches
If you'd like to get arrested for marijuana, just tell a police officer that you have some in your car:


The officer pulled Vento over at entrance 13 to Interstate 95. While talking to Vento, he appeared nervous, according to police. When asked why, Vento said he had been arrested in the past on drug charges, police said. The officer then asked if there was anything illegal in the car. Vento said he had a marijuana blunt.

Upon searching the car, police found two more blunts. All three tested positive for marijuana. Police also found a bag with a small amount of marijuana.

Vento posted a $250 bond and was released with a Monday, July 26, court date. [Darien Times]

As you can see, the police don't "go easier on you" just because you made things easier for them. If you admit to a crime, you'll be arrested for it. The constitution protects you against self-incrimination and unreasonable searches, so don't confess and never give police permission to search you or your belongings.

If you need more info on your rights during police encounters, watch 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. Then watch it again.

School Drug Testing Has Little Impact, Dept. of Education Finds

A US Department of Education research report released Wednesday suggests that mandatory random drug testing of high school students has a small positive impact in reducing past-month drug use, but has little effect on teens' intentions to use drugs in the future. Nor, the study found, is there any indication that drug testing of athletes and students involved in extracurricular activities has any spillover effect on students not involved in such programs.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/drugtestinglab.jpg
drug testing lab
The Department of Education study surveyed students at 36 high schools that received federal grants to implement drug testing programs. Half the schools had already implemented drug testing, while the other half held off on it until after the study period.

Under a pair of US Supreme Court decisions, school districts were given the okay first to subject student athletes to mandatory random drug tests and later to expand the testable population to include students who engaged in extracurricular activities. Under a federal grant program in place since 2003, the number of school districts subjecting students to the privacy-invading drug tests has increased from about 5% at the beginning of the decade to 14% now.

But the Department of Education study suggests student drug testing has little lasting positive impact. The brightest news for drug testing advocates is that among students in extracurricular activities in schools with such programs, only 16.5% reported past month drug use, compared to 21.9% in schools without drug testing regimes. Also, drug testing programs did not appear to inhibit students from participating in extracurricular activities.

While the presence of drug testing slightly reduced self-reported drug use among students engaged in extracurricular activities, the study found no impact on students not involved in extracurricular activities. In both drug testing and non-drug testing schools, 36% of those students reported using a drug within the past month.

Nor did the presence of drug testing programs have any impact on teens' plans to use drugs in the future. According to the study, 34% of students covered by drug testing reported they "probably will" or "definitely will" use drugs in the next year, compared to 33% of comparable students in schools without drug testing.

The obvious conclusion seems to be that if schools want an effective means of reducing student drug use, mandatory random drug testing isn't it -- it's achieved only modest and temporary reductions in teen drug use, and limited to those achieving teens who least need the help.

Medical Marijuana: ACLU Sues Wal-Mart for Firing Patient

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against retail giant Wal-Mart for firing an employee who used medical marijuana. The lawsuit argues that firing an employee for lawfully using medical marijuana violates the provisions of the 2009 Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/walmart.jpg
Joseph Casias, 30, is a cancer patient who began using medical marijuana on his oncologist's recommendation. Although he had been named Associate of the Year at the Battle Creek Wal-Mart in 2008 and had an exemplary employment record with the store, Casias was fired after taking a company-required drug test when he injured his knee at work.

"Wal-Mart made him pay a stiff and unfair price for his medicine," said Scott Michelman, staff attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. It isn't fair that any "patient should have to choose between adequate pain relief and gainful employment," he said. "And no employer should be allowed to intrude upon private medical choices made by employees in consultation with their doctors."

Wal-Mart officials said it defers to federal standards in cases where the law is unclear. Michigan is an at-will employment state, meaning employers can fire an employee for any reason except those barred by federal law, such as discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, or religion. The ACLU will argue that Casias' firing amounts to medical discrimination.

More than 20,000 Michigan residents are registered medical marijuana patients. The case could have broad implications, not only in Michigan, but in other medical marijuana states that are grappling with the issue.

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