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Medical Marijuana: California Dispensary Operator Faces Decades in Federal Prison at Sentencing Monday

The Obama administration may have put an end to the DEA raids on medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal (see story here), but the legacy of the Bush administration's crusade against medical marijuana continues. Morro Bay, California, dispensary operator Charles Lynch is a case in point. After having been convicted of federal marijuana law violations, he goes to court for sentencing Monday, where he faces a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence and the possibility of up to 100 years behind bars.

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Charlie Lynch (from friendsofccl.com)
Lynch did everything by the book. Before opening his business in April 2006, he first contacted the DEA, which eventually told him it was "up to cities and counties" to decide about dispensaries. He also sought and received all necessary business permits from the city of Morro Bay.

But that didn't stop a local law enforcement official bent on shutting down his Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers from going after him. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Pat Hedges unleashed an 11-month investigation into Lynch and the dispensary. He and his deputies surveilled the premises, took down license plate numbers and stopped the vehicles of dispensary workers and clients, and even resorted to using criminal undercover informants in a failed bid to get Lynch to violate state law.

Sheriff Pat Hedges couldn't find enough evidence against Lynch to even get a search warrant from state courts, so he turned to the DEA. On March 29, 2007, the feds hit full-force, raiding the dispensary and Lynch's home in full paramilitary attire. Lynch was not arrested at the time, and reopened the dispensary on April 7, 2007. The DEA then threatened the dispensary's landlord with seizure of his property if he didn't evict the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers. On May 16, 2007, the dispensary shut down for good.

The DEA wasn't done with Lynch. Two months later, in yet another paramilitary-style raid, they arrested Lynch at his home and charged him with five counts of violating the federal marijuana laws.

After a trial in which -- as is always the case in federal court -- neither California's medical marijuana law nor the fact that Lynch was operating under it could be admitted as evidence, a jury convicted him of all counts in August 2008.

Lynch has received strong support from his local community, as well as sympathizers across the state and country. Demonstrations have been (and will be) held to demand justice in his case. Whether community support for Lynch or the Obama administration's commitment to not prosecute cases that do not involve violations of state medical marijuana laws will have any impact will only be found out Monday.

With the Obama administration's pronouncements so far on medical marijuana, it may be that the era of federal raids on medical marijuana providers is over. But as long as people like Charles Lynch are facing years in federal prison and others are serving sentences there, there is still some unfinished business if justice is to be served.

Medical Marijuana: Attorney General Holder Sends Another Signal -- No DEA Busts Unless You Violate State Law

Three weeks after Attorney General Eric Holder first signaled an end to DEA raids against medical marijuana providers, he has reiterated those remarks. Again in response to a question posed at his weekly Wednesday press conference, Holder said federal agents would only target medical marijuana distributors who violate both state and federal law.

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Eric Holder
Thirteen states have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana even though federal law considers all marijuana possession, production, and distribution illegal. The conflict has been most intense in states with the broadest medical marijuana laws, California in particular. The DEA has raided dozens of dispensaries operating in the state in recent years, and US Attorneys have occasionally prosecuted their operators, exposing them to harsh federal mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws.

"The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law," Holder said Wednesday at the Justice Department. But he was quick to add that the feds will go after anyone who tries to "use medical marijuana as a shield" for dope dealing.

"Given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that's inconsistent with federal and state law."

During his election campaign, President Obama promised repeatedly to end the raids on California dispensaries, but raids continued after his election and even shortly after he took office, prompting Holder's original statement three weeks ago. No raids have occurred since then.

Americans for Safe Access spokesman Kris Hermes told the Associated Press he welcomed Holder's remarks. "It signals a new direction and a more reasonable and sensible direction on medical marijuana policy," he said.

But, he added, there is still unfinished business left over from the Bush administration's crusade against the dispensaries. More than 20 California medical marijuana providers are currently being prosecuted in federal court, including San Luis Obispo County dispensary operator Charles Lynch (see story here), who could face decades in prison when sentenced on Monday.

"There remains a big question as to what the federal government's position is on those cases," Hermes said.

Another question is just how aggressive the DEA and the US Attorneys will be in determining that a given operation is violating state law. Perhaps in recognition of medical marijuana's broad support in California, the feds have tended to portray dispensary busts as targeting "drug dealers," not legitimate medical marijuana providers.

And yet another question will be the degree to which hostile local law enforcement entities attempt to sic the feds on dispensary operators, as was the case with Lynch.

Latin America: Mexico Prohibition Violence Catches Washington's Eye, New Initiatives Pending

When lawmakers in Washington managed to tear themselves away from the AIG bonus scandal, much of their attention this week was focused on Mexico. With prohibition-related violence there showing no sign of a let-up -- more than a thousand people have been killed already this year -- legislators held a number of hearings this week to assess the threat and see what the Obama administration plans to do about it.

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DEA Spanish-language poster targeting Mexican trafficking organization (2007)
At a joint hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) warned that Mexican drug trafficking organizations posed a direct threat to the US. Citing a recent Justice Department report, he said they have a presence in at least 230 US cities.

But Durbin also said some of the blame resides north of the border. "The insatiable demand for illegal drugs in the United States keeps the Mexican drug cartels in business every day," he said.

"The facts about what is going on in Mexico are staggering, imposing an enormous threat to the United States," concurred Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

In the face of increasingly shrill congressional demands to "do something," Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, who oversees the border as head of the Northern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee the administration is working on an integrated plan to address the seemingly unending violence, much of it taking place in the border towns of Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, and the Mexican cities on the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

He said likely measures would include efforts to clamp down on the flow of guns into Mexico, tightening border security, and increased support for the Mexican military. "I think we'll have good plans come out of this work this week," he said.

Renuart also hinted that the new plan could involve more boots on the ground in the border region. "Certainly, there may be a need for additional manpower," he said. "Whether that is best suited or best provided by National Guard or additional law enforcement agencies, I think, this planning team will really lead us to," he told the committee.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón has deployed some 50,000 troops in his war against the cartels, including some 8,500 who occupied Juárez and took over policing duties there last week. But Calderón's two-year-old offensive has only led to increasing levels of brutal and exemplary violence. More than 2,000 people died in the cartel wars in 2007, more than 5,000 last year, and the pace of killings this year should yield similar numbers.

But DEA chief of intelligence Anthony Plácido told the joint committee that the escalating violence was a "desperate attempt" by traffickers to fight off the government offensive. "DEA assesses that the current surge in violence is driven in large measure by the government of Mexico's offensive against these traffickers who, in turn, perceive themselves as fighting for a larger share of a shrinking market," he said.

With passage of last year's Mérida Initiative, the US has pledged some $1.4 billion in anti-drug aid to Mexico over the next three years. The first tranche of that aid has already been delivered, providing Mexico with helicopters and sophisticated surveillance equipment.

On Wednesday, in the week's first concrete action to crack down on the border, the Department of Homeland Security announced it was sending 50 Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents to the border to try to cut down the flow of weapons headed south.

Feature: Meeting in Vienna, UN Commission on Narcotics Drugs Prepares to Head Further Down Same Prohibitionist Path, But Dissenting Voices Grow Louder

The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) met this week in Vienna to draft a political statement and plan of action to guide international drug policy for the next decade. The statement largely affirms existing prohibitionist policies and ignores harm reduction, as the CND has done it the past. [Editor's note: The draft statement had not been formally approved as of press time, but is likely to be approved as is.]

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Vienna International Center, home of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime
The political statement is supposed to evaluate the implementation of the previous political declaration and action plan approved by the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) in 1998. At the 1998 session, UNGASS adopted the slogan "A Drug-Free World -- We Can Do It" and launched a "campaign" to wipe out all drug crops -- from marijuana to opium to coca -- by 2008.

But while the international community continues to slide down its century-old prohibitionist path regarding non-medicinal drug use and sales, it is encountering an increasing amount of friction. The United States, as leader of the hard-liners, continues to dominate the debates and set the agenda, but an emerging bloc of mainly Latin American and European countries is expressing deep reservations about continuing the same policies for another decade.

The atmosphere in Vienna this week was circus like, complete with street protests, as national delegations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other interested parties heatedly debated what an increasingly vociferous minority called a "failed" approach to the issue. Debate was particularly intense about the inclusion of harm reduction in the political statement -- a position rejected by the US delegation, led by outgoing acting drug czar Edward Jurith.

The drug summit came as the UN, the CND, and the countries pushing the prohibitionist hard-line have come under repeated attack for essentially maintaining the status quo. On Tuesday, the European Commission issued a report that found while in the past decade policies to help drug users and go after drug traffickers have matured, there was little evidence to suggest that the global drug situation had improved.

"Broadly speaking the situation has improved a little in some of the richer countries, while for others it worsened, and for some of those it worsened sharply and substantially, among which are a few large developing or transitional countries," an EC media statement on the report said. "In other words, the world drugs problem seems to be more or less in the same state as in 1998: if anything, the situation has become more complex: prices for drugs in most Western countries have fallen since 1998 by as much as 10% to 30%, despite tougher sentencing of the sellers of e.g. cocaine and heroin in some of these markets."

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SSDP's Kris Krane, caged as part of HCLU demonstration at UN (drogriporter.hu/en/demonstration)
Current anti-drug policies also came under attack from a growing coalition of NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, the International Harm Reduction Association, the European NGO Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), and the International Drug Policy Consortium, as well as various NGOs from the US, Brazil, Canada, and England, among others, all of whom were in Vienna for the meeting. Human Rights Watch urged the CND to undo a decade of neglect, while the English group Transform Drug Policy Foundation called for a moratorium on global strategic drug policy setting, a review of the consequences of prohibitionist policies, and a commission to explore alternatives to the failed war on drugs.

"Every state that signs up to the political declaration at this commission recommits the UN to complicity in fighting a catastrophic war on drugs," said Danny Kushlick, policy director for Transform. "It is a tragic irony that the UN, so often renowned for peacekeeping, is being used to fight a war that brings untold misery to some of the most marginalized people on earth. 8,000 deaths in Mexico in recent years, the destabilization of Colombia and Afghanistan, continued corruption and instability in the Caribbean and West Africa are testament to the catastrophic impact of a drug control system based upon global prohibition. It is no surprise that the declaration is unlikely even to mention harm reduction, as it runs counter to the primary impact of the prevailing drug control system which, as the past ten years demonstrate, increases harm."

Not all the action took place in the conference hall. Wednesday saw a lively demonstration by NGO groups including Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the drug user group INPUD, ENCOD, and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, among others. Protestors spoke to reporters from jail-like cages, waved signs and passed out pamphlets to delegates forced to run their gauntlet, and decried the harms of drug prohibition. One particularly effective protestor was dressed as a sun-glass wearing, cigar-puffing Mafioso, celebrating that business was good thanks to prohibition.

Even UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) head Antonio Maria Costa, while whistling past the graveyard to insist that progress had been made in the past decade, acknowledged that current global policies have backfired in some ways. Giving the opening address Wednesday, Costa said "the world drug problem has been contained, but not solved" thanks to international anti-drug efforts.

But global drug control efforts have had "a dramatic unintended consequence," he added, "a criminal black market of staggering proportions." The international drug trade is "undermining security and development and causing some to make a dangerous wager in favor of legalization. Drugs are not harmful because they are controlled; they are controlled because they are harmful." Drug legalization would be "a historic mistake," he said.

Even so, Costa painted a dire picture of what prohibition had wrought: "When mafias can buy elections, candidates, political parties, in a word, power, the consequences can only be highly destabilizing" he said. "While ghettoes burn, West Africa is under attack, drug cartels threaten Central America and drug money penetrates bankrupt financial institutions".

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activists from International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD) at demo (drogriporter.hu/en/demonstration)
Not everybody was buying into the UNODC-CND-US position of more of the same. Bolivian President Evo Morales brandished a coca leaf, then chewed it during his address to the delegates to underline his demand that coca be removed from the list of proscribed substances.

"This is coca leaf, this is not cocaine; this is part and parcel of a culture," Morales said. The ban on coca was a "major historical mistake," he added. "It has no harmful impact, no harmful impact at all in its natural state. It causes no mental disturbances, it does not make people run mad, as some would have us believe, and it does not cause addiction."

Neighboring Brazil was also critical. "We ought to recognize the important progress achieved over the last decade," said Brazilian delegate Jorge Armando Felix. "But the achievements have not been accomplished. The aim of a world free of drugs has proven to be unobtainable and in fact has led to unintended consequences such as the increase of the prison population, increase in violence related to an illegal drug market, increase in homicide and violence among the young population with a dramatic impact on mortality and life expectancy -- social exclusion due to drug use and the emergence of synthetic drugs."

Felix also had some prescriptions for UNGASS and the CND. "At this historic moment with the opportunity to reassess the past 10 years and more importantly to think about the challenges to come, Brazil enforces the need for recognition of and moving towards: harm reduction strategies; assessing drug dependence, and HIV AIDS populations; securing the human rights of drug users; correcting the imbalance between investments in supply and demand reduction areas; increasing actions and programs of prevention based on scientific evidence with an emphasis towards vulnerable populations and towards increase of access to and care for problematic or vulnerable drug users; and to the acknowledgment of different models of treatment for the need for increased funding of these efforts."

Brazilian Luiz Paulo Guanabara, head of the NGO Psicotropicus, observed it all with mixed feelings. "Early on, I thought the NGO strategy for harm reduction would not result in anything and that we should aim for drug regulation instead," he said. "And in the end, the term harm reduction is not in the political declaration, but the Beyond 2008 document is very strong and has not gone unnoticed."

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Mafioso-looking activist distributing ''United Nations of Prohibition'' 1,000 note bills with UNODC chief Costa's face on one side, and a thank you from the In Memoriam Al Capone Trust on the other (drogriporter.hu/en/demonstration)
Guanabara had harsh words for both the Americans and the UN. "It seems like the American delegates believe harm reduction is a sin -- or they favor harm increase, so they can lock up more people and have more HIV patients, increase crime, sell more weapons and make money out of the disgrace of others and families' destruction. Their prohibitionist stance is obscene," he declared. "And these guys at the CND understand nothing of drugs and drug use, they are just bureaucrats. To put drugs in the hands of bureaucrats is as dangerous as putting them in the hands of criminals."

But despite the lack of results this time around, Guanabara was thrilled by the participation of civil society. "The civil society mobilization is enormous and intense," he said. "The NGO events around the meeting were the real high-level meetings, not the low-level ones with the bureaucrats at the CND."

While the sentiments from Brazil and Bolivia were echoed by various national delegations, mainly European, and while even the UNODC and the US are willing to give nods to an increased emphasis on treatment and prevention, with the US delegation even going so far as to approve of needle exchanges, at the end of the day, the CND political declaration and action plan represents a stubborn adherence to the prohibitionist status quo.

"Government delegations could have used this process to take stock of what has failed in the last decade in drug-control efforts, and to craft a new international drug policy that reflects current realities and challenges," said Prof. Gerry Stimson, executive director of the International Harm Reduction Association. "Instead, they produced a declaration that is not only weak -- it actually undermines fundamental health and human rights obligations."

American attendee and long-time drug reform activist Michael Krawitz also had mixed feelings. "The slow train wreck that Harry Anslinger started with the 1961 Single Convention is finally grinding to a halt," he said. "The argument here has been a semantic one over harm reduction, but the subtext is much more important, and the subtext is that the treaties were set up to protect public health and are currently being interpreted in such a way as to do the opposite. The declaration wound up being watered down and piled high with reservations. The next five years should prove interesting."

The IHRA and other NGOs called on governments with reservations about the political declaration to refuse to endorse it. That probably will not happen, but some governments have indicated they will add reservations to their approval of the declaration. After a century of prohibition, the first formal cracks are beginning to appear at the center of the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. Given that the dissent has largely appeared only since the last UNGASS in 1998, perhaps this isn't such a bad start.

New Drug Czar Appointed, Makes Ridiculous Remark

At his nomination announcement yesterday, drug czar appointee Gil Kerlikowske got his first chance to practice saying stuff that makes no sense:


For too long, we have operated, as the Vice President said, in silence when it comes to making our country drug free and reducing the demand for drugs. [NYT]


Oh, crap. He said "drug free." He's one of those people. I mean, honestly, since when is there a shortage of proud prohibitionists proclaiming important progress at every opportunity? If there was ever a moment when no one was yelling about making the country drug free, somebody should have told me so I could bask in it.

Other things worth noting about the drug czar appointment:

*The position has been downgraded from cabinet status. Interesting, but that’s the way it was before Bush, so not a huge deal.

*The nomination announcement was made by Joe Biden, who carried on about his work on drug policy. Not encouraging.

*Joe Biden says the drug czar’s office "hasn't gotten the attention that it should have,” which I think means he wants the new drug czar to be more visible than in the past. Sounds potentially annoying.

All of this serves to remind us that the drug war doctrine still rules in D.C., but I don’t think our cautious optimism about the new drug czar is misplaced. New opponents have taken the stage and we will challenge them as we did their predecessors. The reform argument is gaining a lot of momentum this year and the new administration will face unprecedented pressure to acknowledge fundamental flaws in our drug policy. Stay tuned.

Press Release: Obama Names Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske As New 'Drug Czar'

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 11, 2009 CONTACT: Tom Angell at 202-557-4979 or media@leap.cc Obama Names Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske As New 'Drug Czar' Statement From Drug-Legalizing Retired Seattle Chief Norm Stamper WASHINGTON, March 11 -- Vice President Joe Biden announced the Obama administration's nomination of Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske today as the nation's next "drug czar," formally known as director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Kerlikowske's immediate predecessor as Seattle's top cop, Norm Stamper, who is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a large and growing group of cops, judges and prosecutors who want to legalize all drugs, released the following statement: "There's hope. Gil Kerlikowske is a professional cop. While he didn't favor certain drug policy reforms as Seattle's police chief (marijuana as lowest enforcement priority, for example), he didn't fight them. I know some law enforcement officials who've thumbed their noses at similar voter initiatives. Gil's a strong supporter of drug treatment." "These are promising signs." "Also worth noting are the personal struggles Kerlikowske has undergone with substance abuse in his own family. Hopefully his stepson's drug arrests have helped him to realize that making drugs illegal does nothing to solve substance abuse problems, and usually only makes them worse." "The open question is whether he'll entertain fundamental reform. It starts at the top. If the president and vice president signal a commitment to science, and to an honest conversation about the prohibition/drug war model, I think Gil will step up and lead the effort. Right now, that's a big if." Stamper recently posted commentary on the Kerlikowske nomination on the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/norm-stamper/obamas-new-drug-czar-coul_b_1... Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is a 10,000-member organization representing police, prosecutors, judges, FBI/DEA agents and others from around the world who fought on the front lines of the "war on drugs" and who learned firsthand that making drugs illegal only serves to make drug addiction and drug market violence problems worse. LEAP's website is at http://www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com NOTE TO EDITORS: Norm Stamper is available for interviews. Please contact Tom Angell at media@leap.cc or 202-557-4979 for more information. # # #

Press Release: Obama to Nominate Seattle Police Chief as Drug Czar

For Immediate Release: March 11, 2009 Contact: Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Ethan Nadelmann at (646) 335-2240 Obama to Nominate Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as Drug Czar Today Statement from Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance President Obama is set to nominate Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) today, according to the Washington Post. The director of ONDCP is more commonly referred to as Drug Czar. The Post is also reporting that the Obama administration will remove the position’s Cabinet-level status – overturning an elevation of the office under President George W. Bush. The Seattle Times, ABC News and other sources reported a month ago that President Obama was considering Kerlikowske for the post. The Washington Post reports that appointing him was delayed as information of drug arrests involving his stepson emerged. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a leading advocate of alternatives to the war on drugs, said: “While we’re disappointed that President Obama has nominated a police chief instead of a major public health advocate as drug czar, we’re cautiously optimistic that Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske will support Obama’s drug policy reform agenda. What gives us hope is the fact that Seattle has been at the cutting edge of harm reduction and other drug policy reform developments in the United States over the last decade. The city’s needle exchange programs are well established and harm reduction is well integrated in Seattle’s approach to local drug problems. Marijuana has been legal for medical purposes for a decade. In 2003, Seattle voters passed a ballot initiative making marijuana arrests the lowest law enforcement priority. And the King County Bar Association has demonstrated national leadership in exploring alternatives to current prohibitionist policies. While Gil Kerlikowske has not spoken out in favor of any of these reforms, he is clearly familiar with them and has not been a forceful opponent. Given the high regard in which he is held by other police chiefs around the country, Mr. Kerlikowske has the potential to provide much needed national leadership in implementing the commitments that Barack Obama made during the campaign. He also surely recognizes that substance abuse or run-ins with the law can touch anyone, including his own family. He will hopefully advocate for treatment instead of incarceration for nonviolent drug law offenders. Incarcerating someone because they have a drug problem is cruel and counterproductive, whether that person is a member of your own family or someone else. As a presidential candidate, Senator Obama said the ‘war on drugs is an utter failure’ and that he believes in ‘shifting the paradigm, shifting the model, so that we focus more on a public health approach.’ He also called for eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, repealing the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs to reduce HIV/AIDS, and stopping the U.S. Justice Department from undermining state medical marijuana laws. Within 24 hours of taking office, President Obama had the White House webpage changed to reflect his support for eliminating the crack/powder disparity and repealing the syringe ban. Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference on February 25th that Obama’s position on ending medical raids is “now American policy.” The Drug Policy Alliance will do everything in its power to ensure that the nominee for drug czar is thoroughly vetted at the confirmation hearings, and held accountable to the commitments and standards that President Obama has declared.”

Feature: Citing Startling Research on False Positive Drug Tests, Researchers Call for Moratorium on Field Drug Test Kit Testing

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from left: Ron Obadia, Nadine Artemis, John Kelly, Adam Eidinger, Rob Kampia, Omar Bagasra
The National Press Club in Washington, DC took on the aspect of a chemistry lab for a short while Tuesday afternoon as scientists and researchers sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project gave a startling demonstration of false positive drug test results obtained using some of the most widely used field testing kits employed by law enforcement to detect the presence of marijuana and other drugs.

As a lab-coated and rubber glove wearing researcher from the South Carolina Center for Biotechnology dumped a sample of oregano into a field test kit, Mintwood Media's Adam Eidinger produced a positive test result for cocaine with another kit simply by exposing it to the atmosphere. "This is just air," Eidinger said, opening up a test and waving it as the reagent turned orange, indicating a positive result. (See the YouTube video here.)

The testing done at the press conference replicated that done earlier by the researchers, who found that a surprisingly large number of common substances generated false positive results for the presence of drugs. "While testing the specificity of the KN Reagent test kits with 42 non-marijuana substances, I observed that 70% of these tests rendered a false positive," said Dr. Omar Bagasra, director of the Center for Biotechnology, who conducted the experiments.

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field test generating false positive from mere air
""That's just outrageous," exclaimed Eidinger.

That research came as part of new report, False Positives Equal False Justice, by forensics expert John Kelly in collaboration with former FBI chief scientist and narcotics officer Dr. Frederick Whitehurst. In the report, the pair uncovered "a drug testing regime of fraudulent forensics used by police, prosecutors, and judges which abrogates every American's constitutional rights," as Kelly wrote in the executive summary.

"Law enforcement officials, forensic drug analysts, and prosecutors knowingly employ the flawed Duquenois-Levine and KN Reagent tests as well as mere conclusory police reports to wrongfully prosecute and convict millions of individuals for anti-marijuana law violations," Kelly wrote. "These wrongful prosecutions and convictions violate Supreme Court rulings which prohibit the use of inaccurate, nonspecific tests and/or conclusory reports because they do not prove the presence of marijuana in a seized substance. In other words, millions of people have been, and continue to be, prosecuted and convicted of marijuana charges without proof that they possessed marijuana."

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Dr. Bagasra testing the field test on chocolate
Both Kelly and MPP executive director Rob Kampia used the report's findings to call for a moratorium on the use of field drug testing kits. "It is imperative that law enforcement agencies take notice and voluntarily end the use of these flawed drug tests. The essential need of protecting the innocent must outweigh the convenience of a field drug test that only gives accurate information some of the time," wrote Kelly.

"In terms of policy recommendations, it's real simple, no one should be using these faulty field tests, they should be thrown out and the company that's making them should probably be put out of business," Kampia told the press conference. "Natural soap, chocolate and newspaper, among other household items, all will test positive for marijuana and other drugs such as GHB, yet these kits continue to be used in both arrests and prosecutions nationwide. In our society we have the principle that you are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. These tests turn that on its head."

ODV, a subsidiary of Forensic Source, manufactures the NIK Narco Pouch 908 and 909 tested by the researchers. The company did not respond to requests for comment by day's end on Thursday. The tests' packaging warns that they can produce false positives, but does not mention that most of their positives are false.

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common items that generate false positives (Katie Schuler, bellvisuals.com)
False positive field drug tests can ruin your day. Ask Don Bolles, drummer for the punk band The Germs. He was arrested and jailed for three days in April 2007 because a field test said the Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap he had with him tested positive for GHB. That field test was done with the NarcoPouch 928, another in the ODV line. Later testing revealed the 928 would generate false positives with a wide variety of natural soaps, as well as soy milk.

Bryn Mawr honor student Janet Lee was another victim of inaccurate field drug test kits. As she prepared to fly home for Christmas break in 2003, she was arrested at the Philadelphia airport after three condoms filled with flour (she said she squeezed them for stress relief) came up as cocaine on a cobalt thiocyanate (C-T) field test. She spent three weeks in jail facing charges that could net her 20 years in prison before an attorney demanded the drug be retested. Lee collected $180,000 from the city two years later to settle a lawsuit, but still suffered the Kafkaesque nightmare of being jailed.

Lee was lucky. A jail guard recognized her as a volunteer and beat the bushes for a good attorney. It is unknown how many others like her there are who, lacking such resources, either were found guilty or plea bargained to crimes of which they were innocent because of deceptive field drug tests.

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the fraudulent field test packets
Another widely publicized incident of bad field drug tests occurred in August, when Ron Obadia and Nadine Artemis were arrested, handcuffed to a chair, and interrogated for hours at the Toronto Airport after their raw chocolate tested positive for hashish with the Duquenois-Levine color chemical test. They were placed in separate rooms and were told that they faced "life in prison" unless they confessed. Each of them was also told that the other already had confessed.

Later lab testing proved it was indeed chocolate, not hash, and the pair were sent on their way. They also accumulated a $20,000 legal bill. To add insult to injury, when the couple tried again to fly to the US three weeks later with their raw chocolate, it again tested positive on the field test kit. This time, Obadia was arrested and charged with hash possession.

Latin America: Mexican Troops Occupy Ciudad Juárez, US Officials Urge Greater Cooperation in Fight Against Cartels

As of Wednesday, some 1,500 Mexican soldiers had been deployed to Ciudad Juárez, the epicenter of the prohibition-related violence wracking the country. An additional 5,000 troops should join them by the weekend.

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Mexican military anti-drug patrol
Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, was the scene of more than 1,600 drug war killings last year, and another 400 have been killed in fighting among competing drug trafficking organizations and between the cartels and the Mexican military and law enforcement so far this year.

The security situation in Ciudad Juárez has grown so grave that the mayor and his family have relocated across the border to El Paso after being threatened with decapitation. The city's police chief resigned last week after traffickers threatened to kill a policeman every 48 hours until he did. At first, the police chief stood firm, but resigned after traffickers killed a policeman and a prison guard. At mid-week this week, a bloody riot broke out between rival drug gang factions in a prison on the south edge of the city, leaving some 20 dead.

"Ciudad Juárez worries us deeply," Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said in an interview with Reuters. "It is the reason why there is a response by the federal government to support the request of local authorities. Public safety is a shared responsibility among the federal, state governments and municipalities. In areas where drug traffickers have a lot of influence, sadly there is a risk that they will have an interest in influencing the formation of public power, particularly the local authority. This is something that concerns us."

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderón called out the armed forces to go after the country's wealthy, powerful, and violent cartels in December 2006, around 9,000 people have been killed in prohibition-related violence. Thousands have been arrested and tons of drugs seized, but both the illicit drug trade and the violence show no signs of letting up.

That is making US officials increasingly nervous. Congress last year passed a three-year $1.4 billion anti-drug assistance package for Mexico and Central America, and Admiral Mike Mullen, head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff was headed for Mexico late this week to offer further assistance to Calderón.

"Clearly one of the things he expects to talk to his counterparts in Mexico and other officials about is the growing violence and growing threat with regard to narco-trafficking and the drug cartels," Captain John Kirby, spokesman for Mullen, told Agence France-Presse. "We would welcome the opportunity to increase and enhance our military-to-military cooperation," Kirby said. "There's clearly room to do more."

Mullen wasn't the only high US official to express concern about the situation in Mexico this week. "The cartels are retaliating," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told NBC on Sunday. "It clearly is a serious problem."

But Gates added that the crisis has caused Mexico to drop its traditional arm's-length approach to the US military. "I think we are beginning to be in a position to help the Mexicans more than we have in the past," Gates said. "Some of the old biases against cooperation between our militaries and so on, I think, are being satisfied."

If Obama Supports Medical Marijuana, What About Hemp?

On the heels of Obama's hugely popular decision to end the DEA's raids on medical marijuana providers, it's worth looking into some of the other absurd federal drug policies that interfere with states rights and common sense.

Hemp cultivation isn’t technically illegal in the U.S., but you need a special permit from the DEA, and if you ask for one they'll call you a hippie and tell you to go f@#k yourself.  Seriously, try it. I applied last year and this is the response I got:

Dear Mr. Morgan,

We have finished processing your application to "grow hemp so I can make cool snacks and rope and stuff." We regret to inform you that you are a hippie and you can go screw yourself.

Yours cruelly,

Michele Leonhart,
Acting Administrator
Drug Enforcement Administration

P.S. Your blog sucks and if you put this letter in your blog, we'll burn down the Chipotle next to your office.

That about sums it up. Honestly, I don’t even get why this is an issue. Hemp isn’t drugs. Why DEA gives a damn if people want to cultivate hemp is completely beyond me. Near as I can tell, they're relying exclusively on the argument that people will surreptitiously grow marijuana in their hemp fields, which is preposterous because you can't do that. Hemp will cross-pollinate and destroy any commercial marijuana in its vicinity. It's the anti-pot.

Thus, I tend to assume that DEA's animosity towards hemp is merely a symptom of the broader culture war surrounding marijuana in general. They'll concede nothing to the reform community, even when their intransigence requires them to obstruct legitimate economic activity based on flimsy reasoning.

Of course, now that we have a president with the guts to tell DEA when they're out of line, there's simply no reason this issue can’t move forward. Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia have all passed laws authorizing hemp cultivation and eagerly await the federal go-ahead. Efforts to legalize hemp are also underway in Minnesota and in California, where a hemp bill died on the governor's desk (Schwarzenegger cited conflict with federal law as his reason for rejecting the legislation).

Hemp won't save our economy, but it can provide income for many good, hardworking people. We lead the industrialized world in the importation of hemp and it would make a great deal of sense to start producing it ourselves.

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