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Law Enforcement: PATRIOT Act "Sneak and Peek" Searches Targeted Drug Offenders, Not Terrorists

The Bush administration sold the PATRIOT Act's expansion of law enforcement powers, including "sneak and peek" searches in which the target of the search is not notified that his home has been searched, as necessary to defend the citizens of the US from terrorist attacks, but that's not how federal law enforcement has used its sweeping new powers.

According to a July report from the Administrative Office of the US Courts (thanks to Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post), of 763 sneak and peek search warrants issued last year, only three were issued in relation to alleged terrorist offenses, or less than one-half of 1% of all such black-bag clandestine searches. Nearly two-thirds (62%) were issued to investigate drug trafficking offenses.

The report also includes figures on existing warrants that were extended last year. When new and extended warrant figures are combined, the total number of warrants was 1,291, with 843, or 65%, for drug investigations. Only five of all new or extended sneak and peek warrants were for terrorism investigations. Of 21 criminal offense categories for which warrants were issued or extended, terrorism ranked 19th, exceeding only conspiracy and bribery.

As Grim noted, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), a leading critic of the PATRIOT Act, challenged Assistant Attorney General David Kris about why powers supposedly needed to fight terrorism were instead being used for common criminal cases.

"This authority here on the sneak-and-peek side, on the criminal side, is not meant for intelligence," said Kris. "It's for criminal cases. So I guess it's not surprising to me that it applies in drug cases."

"As I recall it was in something called the USA PATRIOT Act," Feingold retorted, "which was passed in a rush after an attack on 9/11 that had to do with terrorism. It didn't have to do with regular, run-of-the-mill criminal cases. Let me tell you why I'm concerned about these numbers: That's not how this was sold to the American people. It was sold as stated on DoJ's website in 2005 as being necessary -- quote -- to conduct investigations without tipping off terrorists," he said.

"I think it's quite extraordinary to grant government agents the statutory authority to secretly breaks into Americans' homes in criminal cases, and I think some Americans might be concerned it's been used hundreds of times in just a single year in non-terrorism cases," the Wisconsin progressive continued. "That's why I'm proposing additional safeguards to make sure that this authority is available where necessary, but not in virtually every criminal case."

Harm Reduction: Drug-Related Deaths Rose Dramatically in Recent Years, CDC Says

In a report released Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found that drug-related deaths -- the vast majority of them overdoses -- increased dramatically between 1999 and 2006, and that drug-related deaths now outpace deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 16 states. That's up from 12 states the previous year and double the eight states in 2003.

More people died from drug-related causes than traffic accidents in the following states: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

The news comes even as harm reductionists and public health advocates seek to gain support on Capitol Hill for passage of H.R. 2855, the Drug Overdose Reduction Act, sponsored by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD). The bill would create a federal grant program to support both existing and new overdose prevention programs across the country.

"Patients and their families could receive written instructions on how to recognize and respond to an overdose. In addition, college campuses could utilize overdose prevention money to educate students on how to recognize and respond to an alcohol overdose," advocates for H.R. 2855 wrote in a letter to Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the committee's Health subcommittee, respectively.

Something like H.R. 2855 is desperately needed. According to CDC researchers, who examined death certificate data from around the country, some 45,000 died in traffic accidents in 2006, while 39,000 people suffered drug-related deaths. About 90% of the drug deaths were classified as overdoses, but researchers also included in that figure people who died of organ damage from long-term drug use.

Researchers reported a sharp increase in deaths tied to cocaine and to the opioid analgesics, a class of powerful drugs, used medically for pain treatment (as well as for non-prescription drug-taking via the black market), that includes fentanyl, methadone, morphine, and popular pain relievers like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Cocaine-related deaths jumped from about 4,000 in 1999 to more than 7,000 in 2006, but methadone-related deaths increased seven-fold to about 5,000, and other opioid deaths more than doubled from less than 3,000 to more than 6,000. Interestingly, heroin-related deaths actually declined slightly, hovering just below 2,000 a year throughout the period in question.

And despite all the alarms about young people dying of drug overdoses, the 15-24 age group had the lowest drug-related death rate of any group except those over 65. Only about three per 100,000 young people died of drug-related causes in 2006, compared to six per 100,000 among the 25-34 age group, eight per 100,000 in the 35-44 age group, and 10 per 100,000 in the 45-54 age group.

CDC researchers did not discuss causes for the increase in overall drug-related deaths or the rate of drug-related deaths.

Feature: Marc Emery Jailed in Canada Pending Extradition to US

Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery turned himself in to Canadian authorities Monday and is in custody in Vancouver pending extradition to the United States. The Canadian Justice Minister is expected to sign extradition papers within a matter of weeks, and then Emery will be driven to the border, handed over to US authorities, shackled, and sent to a federal detention center in the Seattle area. Shortly after that, Emery is set to plead guilty to a single count of marijuana distribution, with an expected sentence of five years in a US federal prison.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/marcandjodieemery.jpg
Marc and Jodie Emery (courtesy Cannabis Culture)
Emery and two employees of his cannabis seed selling business, Greg Rainey and Michelle Williams, were arrested in July 2005 by Canadian police honoring a US arrest warrant charging the trio with marijuana distribution and conspiracy for selling seeds to customers in the US. They faced decades or even life in prison under draconian US federal marijuana laws. Earlier this year, Rainey and Williams accepted a plea bargain in which they pleaded guilty to a single count and were sentenced to probation in Canada.

With his employees' legal situation resolved, Emery then cut his own deal. But that doesn't mean he's changed his ways. At a press conference outside the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver Monday just before he turned himself in, Emery was in typical "Prince of Pot" form.

"I'm disappointed in my government, but very proud of my 'Overgrow the Government' revolution," Emery told supporters. "This terrible, insidious prohibition has been propped up by Liberal and Conservative governments for 45 years. It's a public policy with no public benefit, and it has caused so much misery, heartbreak, and torment for so many Canadians."

Emery urged supporters to lobby the Canadian Justice Ministry to not sign his extradition order -- something that is admittedly unlikely -- or, barring that, to make the government pay at the polls in the next election. "And if they do sign they must be punished in the next election," he said.

In the event that he is imprisoned in the US, Emery is urging supporters to demand that he be returned to Canada to serve his sentence. "I would be out on the streets in a year from now if I am transferred back to Canada as a first-time nonviolent offender in the Canadian system," he told the crowd.

Emery showed no remorse -- in fact, quite the opposite. "I'm proud of everything I've done; I only regret that I wasn't able to do more," Emery continued. "I did sell those seeds so people would overgrow the government, and I gave away $4 million that kick-started a worldwide movement. I'm the 'Prince of Pot' for a good reason. And there is no victim here; there are no dead people in my revolution."

"Plant the seeds of freedom. Overgrow the government, everyone," Emery yelled as he was led away by sheriffs.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Emery carved out a niche for himself as a cannabis entrepreneur and legalization advocate in Vancouver, but his activism extends back to his native Ontario, where, as a libertarian bookseller, he brought cases against Canadian censorship laws that then blocked magazines such as High Times from being sold in the country. After moving to Vancouver, Emery set up the Cannabis Culture shop, Cannabis Culture magazine, and the Marc Emery Seed Company.

A constant gadfly to law enforcement and drug warrior politicians on both sides of the border, Emery's mouth, his money, and his commitment to the cause enabled him to become one of the most well-known voices worldwide for ending pot prohibition. Emery founded the BC Marijuana Party and crisscrossed Canada to spread the word about "Overgrowing the Government," and profits from his seed sales help fund drug reform groups and activists in both Canada and the US.

That didn't win him any friends with the DEA or US federal prosecutors, who indicted him on marijuana distribution charges after busting some American growers who had obtained their seeds from him. Then DEA head Karen Tandy crowed over his arrest, describing it as a blow to the legalization movement, but then quickly backtracked in the face of accusations that his arrest was politically motivated.

While Emery is behind bars awaiting extradition to the US, his friends and supporters are mobilizing. Their immediate objectives are three-fold: to urge the Justice Minister to refuse to sign the extradition papers, to urge the US sentencing judge to give him a short or non-custodial sentence, and, in the event he is sentenced to prison time in the US, to urge the Canadian Public Safety Minister to approve his transfer to a Canadian prison.

To that end, supporters have set up a web site, No Extradition, with instructions on how to contact the relevant authorities. They are also planning vigils at Emery's current BC jail digs and a demonstration in Seattle when he arrives there for sentencing.

"We're planning it right this second," Seattle Hempfest executive director Vivian McPeak said Thursday. "It's kind of difficult without having a date certain, but we're trying to get it so we're ready to go when it happens. There will probably be a rally at the federal courthouse," he added, noting that protest information would be posted on the Hempfest web site after tomorrow.

"This is terrible," said Jeremiah Vandemeer, an editor at Emery's Cannabis Culture magazine, which recently switched from print to an all online format. "It is an affront to Canadian sovereignty that Marc will be handed over to the US government and its prison system. If he committed any crime, he should have been prosecuted here in Canada."

In fact, Emery has been prosecuted in Canada for his seed sales, back in 1998. In that case, he was fined $2,000, with not a day of jail time. Since then, the Canadian government had been happy to ignore his seed sales and accept his tax payments from his seed business.

"It's terrible to see my friend and boss put behind bars for something in which there are no victims," said Vandemeer. "It's difficult, but we're getting through it, and we all have that extra resolve to work that much harder to get him back home."

Emery's young wife, Jodie, will be playing a key role, both in keeping Cannabis Culture and the Cannabis Culture Shop going and in waging the campaign to win his release. "Our campaign is about Free Marc Emery, but this is really about freeing everybody in prison for cannabis," she said Wednesday.

"There is a lot of pressure up here, and different political actors are starting to voice their support," she said. "There is all sorts of activism, and it's just starting. We will start holding vigils outside his prison beginning Saturday and going on every day after that. We're having postcards made today that people can send to flood the ministers with mail. I'm hearing that the Minister of Justice's office is being flooded with phone calls, and people are pledging that they will call every day."

But while Jodie Emery the cannabis activist is planning the campaign, Jodie Emery the figuratively widowed wife is feeling the pain. "It's horribly rough," she said. "During the day, I can keep busy. It's only when I get home and I'm alone and I realize that he's gone that it really hits me. I cry a lot," she confessed. "Even if you think Marc is a loudmouth or got what was coming to him, think of what it does to the people who love him."

Sensitized by her experiences, Jodie Emery is broadening her activism. "This has motivated me to start speaking up for the families of prisoners," she said. "There are hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders in prison right now, nameless and faceless except to their loved ones. I want to speak up for all the drug war widows. We want to put faces and names to the people suffering endlessly year after year."

The historical record will show that Marc and Jodie Emery know how to wage a campaign of agitation. Now, the question is whether they can use those skills to raise awareness not just of the injustice done to Emery, but to all the rest of the drug war incarcerated.

Public Health: Feds Finally Issue Warning on Tainted Cocaine

Three weeks ago, Drug War Chronicle reported on cocaine cut with the veterinary agent levamisole and asked what the federal government was doing about it. Ten days later, the feds responded to the situation, with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) issuing a public health alert on September 21.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/taintedcocainegraph.jpg
The alert, sent out to medical professionals, substance abuse treatment centers, and other public health authorities, warned of the "life-threatening risk" that much of the US cocaine supply may be adulterated with the veterinary anti-parasitic drug. It has been linked to a serious, sometimes fatal, blood disorder called agranulocytosis, with SAMHSA saying there are at least 20 confirmed or suspected cases and two deaths in the US associated with the tainted cocaine.

Despite being first noticed by forensic scientists at least three years ago and by the DEA late last year, there has been little public awareness of the public health threat. SAMHSA expects the number of cases to rise as public and professional awareness spreads.

"SAMHSA and other public health authorities are working together to inform everyone of this serious potential public health risk and what measures are being taken to address it," said SAMHSA Acting Administrator Eric Broderick, DDS, MPH.

The addition of levamisole to cocaine is believed to be done by Colombian drug traffickers. Ingesting the tainted drug can seriously reduce a person's white blood cells, suppressing immune function and the body's ability to fight off even minor infections. People who snort, smoke, or inject crack or powder cocaine contaminated by levamisole can experience overwhelming, rapidly-developing, life threatening infections, SAMHSA warned. Other serious side effects can also occur.

The DEA is reporting that levamisole is showed up in over 70% of cocaine analyzed in July, and authorities in Seattle are reporting that 80% of persons testing positive for cocaine are also testing positive for levamisole.

In its alert, SAMHSA warned that:

THIS IS A VERY SERIOUS ILLNESS THAT NEEDS TO BE TREATED AT A HOSPITAL. If you use cocaine, watch out for:

  • high fever, chills, or weakness
  • swollen glands
  • painful sores (mouth, anal)
  • any infection that won't go away or gets worse very fast, including sore throat or mouth sores; skin infections, abscesses; thrush (white coating of the mouth, tongue, or throat); pneumonia (fever, cough, shortness of breath).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also getting in on the act. CDC will shortly publish a case report analysis in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and will be working with state public health authorities to collect information on the phenomenon. That information will be "used to guide treatment and prevention initiatives to address this public health concern."

One thing the feds are not doing is coming up with a test kit that would allow users to detect the presence of levamisole in cocaine. That's too bad, said Dr. Michael Clark, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of Washington Harborview Medical Center. "I thought to myself, why isn't there a test kit? It is easy to test for," he said. "It would be like testing your hot tub for its chemistry. Take a sample, mix some chemicals together, add a reagant, and see what turns what color."

Clark is working on developing just such a test kit. "It could be used at street level, and it could be used by a lot of public health and harm reduction groups. You want to identify levasimole before people ingest, very much like the Ecstasy testing. You could do the same thing with cocaine and levasimole," he said.

He was in a wheelchair!

You Can Make a Difference

 

Dear friends,

Don't let San Diego's district attorney get away with hurting medical marijuana patients!

Take Action
Sign the petition

You won’t believe what’s happening on your dime!

San Diego law enforcement called in the DEA this month to assist with SWAT-style raids of 14 medical marijuana dispensaries.  Local and federal authorities arrested dozens of people and physically accosted at least one patient.  We have to stop the district attorney behind this persecution campaign!

News footage even shows local police pulling a handcuffed patient out of his wheelchair. 

Sign the petition calling for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown to rein in the district attorney who orchestrated the raids.

San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has long defied California's medical marijuana law.  Now she's using federal resources to crack down on dispensaries and aid her re-election campaign.

Don’t let a rogue prosecutor and the DEA use any more of your tax dollars to hurt patients and harass the people who provide their medicine.  Join me in urging the governor and attorney general to hold Dumanis accountable.

Sincerely,

Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance Network

 

Location: 
San Diego, CA
United States

Overdose and Other Drug-Related Deaths Now Closing In on Car Wrecks as Leading Accidental Killer in US

In a report released Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found that drug-related deaths—the vast majority of them overdoses—increased dramatically between 1999 and 2006, and that drug-related deaths now outpace deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 16 states. That's up from 12 states the previous year and double the eight states in 2003. More people died from drug-related causes than traffic accidents in the following states: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. According to CDC researchers, who examined death certificate data from around the country, some 45,000 died in traffic accidents in 2006, while 39,000 people suffered drug-related deaths. About 90% of the drug deaths were from overdoses, but researchers also included in that figure people who died of organ damage from long-term drug use. Researchers reported a sharp increase in deaths tied to cocaine and to the opioid analgesics, a class of powerful drug that includes fentanyl, methadone, morphine, and popular pain relievers like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Cocaine-related deaths jumped from about 4,000 in 1999 to more than 7,000 in 2006, but methadone-related deaths increased seven-fold to about 5,000, and other opioid deaths more than doubled from less than 3,000 to more than 6,000. Oddly enough, heroin-related deaths actually declined slightly, hovering just below 2,000 a year throughout the period in question. And despite all the alarums about young people dying of drug overdoses, the 15-24 age group had the lowest drug-related death rate of any group except those over 65. Only about three per 100,000 young people died of drug-related causes in 2006, compared to six per 100,000 among the 25-34 age group, eight per 100,000 in the 35-44 age group, and 10 per 100,000 in the 45-54 age group. CDC researchers did not discuss causes for the increase in overall drug-related deaths or the rate of drug-related deaths, but several plausible (and complementary) explanations come to mind: the introduction and widespread use of Oxycontin, the fentanyl-tainted heroin epidemic that appeared in 2006, the increasing non-medical use of prescription pain relievers, and the increasing use of methadone as a pain reliever.
Location: 
Atlanta, GA
United States

Free Marc Emery!! Canada's Prince of Pot Has Begun His Journey Into America's Gulag

Marc Emery is no longer a free man. Canada's Prince of Pot was taken into custody today. He turned himself in at the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver, and is now jailed in Vancouver awaiting imminent extradition to the US, where he is set to plead guilty to one count of marijuana distribution for selling pot seeds over the Internet. Emery is expected to be sentenced to five years in federal prison in the US for his seed sales. He sold millions of seeds in the decade prior to his 2005 arrest and became a leading hemispheric advocate for marijuana legalization, using the profits from his seed sales to fund reformers across the continent. He also called out then drug czar John Walters for lying about marijuana and interfering in Canadian domestic politics, leading then DEA head Karen Tandy to issue this press release lauding his arrest as a blow to the legalization movement:
Today's DEA arrest of Marc Scott Emery, publisher of Cannabis Culture Magazine, and the founder of a marijuana legalization group -- is a signficant blow not only to the marijuana trafficking trade in the U.S. and Canada, but also to the marijuana legalization movement. His marijuana trade and propagandist marijuana magazine have generated nearly $5 million a year in profits that bolstered his trafficking efforts, but those have gone up in smoke today. Emery and his organization had been designated as one of the Attorney General's most wanted international drug trafficking organizational targets -- one of only 46 in the world and the only one from Canada. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of Emery's illicit profits are known to have been channeled to marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canda. Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on.
Can you say politically motivated? I knew you could. One American attorney familiar with his case told me this weekend that Emery could have fought the prosecution and sought to have shown that it was unlawfully politically motivated, but that Emery and his Canadian legal team didn't want to take that risk. That's understandable, given that Emery was looking at decades or even life in prison if he lost. Now, America's legions of unknown marijuana martyrs are being joined by one very big name. Let's hope that Emery's unjust imprisonment turns a spotlight on the hideousness of a US federal legal system that turns a blind eye to torture but cages a man for selling pot seeds. The Vancouver Sun's Ian Mulgrew sums it up nicely in an op-ed piece entitled Marc Emery's Sentence Reeks of Injustice and Mocks Our Sovreignty:
After two decades as Canada's Prince of Pot, Marc Emery will surrender himself today in B.C. Supreme Court and become the country's first Marijuana Martyr. Emery will begin serving what could be as long as five years behind bars as Uncle Sam's prisoner for a crime that in Canada would have earned him at most a month in the local hoosegow. It is a legal tragedy that in my opinion marks the capitulation of our sovereignty and underscores the hypocrisy around cannabis. Emery hasn't even visited America but he was arrested in July 2005 at the request of a Republican administration that abhorred his politics. He is being handed over to a foreign government for an activity we are loath to prosecute because we don't think selling seeds is a major problem. There are at least a score of seed-sellers downtown and many, many more such retail outlets across the country. In the days ahead, once the federal justice minister signs the extradition papers, Emery will be frog-marched south to Seattle where his plea bargain will be rubber-stamped and he will be sent to a U.S. penitentiary. For comparison, consider that the B.C. Court of Appeal last year said a one-month jail sentence plus probation was appropriate punishment for drug and money-laundering offences of this ilk. The last time Emery was convicted in Canada of selling pot seeds, back in 1998, he was given a $2,000 fine.
There's more at the link above, but you get the gist. Mulgrew, of course, is right on the money. The Canadian government has shamefully failed to protect one of its citizens from the crazed drug war machine south of the border, and the US government is shamelessly imprisoning yet another non-violent pot person--this time mainly to shut him up. We should demand that Marc Emery and all other marijuana prisoners be immediately released. Short of that, we should, as Emery requests, demand that he be allowed to serve his time at home in a Canadian prison.

Foreign Policy: In Annual Certification Report, State Department Says Bolivia, Burma, Venezuela Not Cooperating in Anti-Drug Fight

In an annual report mandated by Congress under the Foreign Assistance Authorization Act, the State Department and President Obama Tuesday singled out three countries -- Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela -- as failing to meet US anti-drug goals. The three nations had "failed demonstrably" to meet their anti-drug obligations, the report found.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/coca-leaves-drying-by-highway.jpg
coca leaves drying by highway, Chapare region of Bolivia
All three countries have chilly relations with Washington. Burma's military junta is the object of international opprobrium, and Venezuela and Bolivia are allies in a leftist Latin American axis generally opposed to Washington's domination of the region.
Bolivia is the world's third largest coca and cocaine producer -- behind Colombia and Peru -- and has been criticized by the US for allowing coca production to increase, albeit slightly. Venezuela is not a drug producing nation, but is accused by the US of being a significant transit nation responsible for about one-quarter of cocaine exports from South America.

Both Bolivia and Venezuela say they are fighting against drug trafficking, and both can point to significant drug busts to back up that contention. In previous years, both countries have responded tartly to being placed on Washington's anti-drug black list, and this year, the reaction was similar.

In a Wednesday press conference in La Paz, Bolivian President Evo Morales told reporters the US "doesn't have the authority or moral standing to question" his country’s battle against drug trafficking and challenged Washington to account for its own anti-drug efforts. Bolivia is fighting an "all-out battle" with the drug trade, Morales said, noting that Bolivian authorities had seized more than 19 tons of cocaine and coca paste so far this year, compared to 11 tons in 2005, the year he took office.

Morales made a point of noting that those seizures came without any help from the DEA, which he expelled from the country last year. He also pointedly asked why there is no certification of whether the US is reducing its drug demand. "As long as there is a market for cocaine, however much we reduce coca leaf, part will always be diverted (to cocaine production): that is our reality," the Bolivian president said.

Under the US law, failure to be certified as complying with US drug war objectives leads to a loss of foreign aid, but the measure also includes a provision for the president to waive the aid cut-off. President Obama chose to exercise that waiver power in the cases of Bolivia and Venezuela.

"In the cases of Bolivia and Venezuela," the State Department said, "the President has issued a national interest waiver so that the United States may continue to support specific programs to benefit the Bolivian and Venezuelan people. In Venezuela, funds will continue to support civil society programs and small community development programs. In Bolivia, the waiver will permit continued support for agricultural development, exchange programs, small enterprise development, and police training programs among others."

Presidents Evo Morales in Bolivia and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela have both expressed suspicion that the waivers are instead being issued to support groups and programs that might seek to subvert their governments.

The politicization of the US certification process can be seen in the fact that major drug producing or trafficking countries with significant government involvement in the trade, but who are US allies, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, were not decertified.

The following countries made the list of major drug producing or transit countries: Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

Press Release: Revelations of DEA Participation in San Diego Medical Marijuana Raids Raises Questions about White House Policy toward State Law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 10, 2009 Contact: Margaret Dooley-Sammuli at (213) 291-4190 or Tommy McDonald at (510) 229 5215 Revelations of DEA Participation in San Diego Medical Marijuana Raids Raises Questions about White House Policy toward State Law Advocates Criticize Feds for Supporting Local Political Agenda, Not the Law SAN DIEGO – At a press conference today, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis described how a number of San Diego medical marijuana dispensaries were raided by local and federal agents yesterday. Advocates condemned the raids and arrests of patients, and criticized federal involvement in a local political effort to restrict legal access to medical marijuana. “We’re extremely disappointed that the feds participated in this attack on patients. The priority of the White House should be protecting patients, not helping local officials enforce oppressive restrictions,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Any concerns that the District Attorney may have will not be resolved through SWAT-style tactics like pulling people from their wheelchairs, as we saw yesterday.” Medical marijuana was legalized in California in 1996, when voters approved Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act. San Diego County filed suit to try to overturn the state law in 2004; that effort came to an end in May when the US Supreme Court refused to hear the county’s final appeal. In August, the county enacted a 45-day moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas to so the county could develop land-use regulations. On Tuesday, the San Diego City Council voted 6-1 to establish a citizen’s taskforce to create regulations governing the supply of medical marijuana. According to San Diego’s Channel 10, the taskforce will devise “guidelines for medical marijuana patients and caregivers, the operation of dispensaries and growing cooperatives and the ground rules for police enforcement.” “The federal government has no business enforcing state and local medical marijuana laws. It’s our local governments’ job to regulate medical marijuana and enforce those rules – not with armed raids, but with civil actions,” said Ms. Dooley-Sammuli. “The Obama administration has allowed Ms. Dumanis to use federal resources to further obstruct implementation of Prop 215 as she prepares to run for re-election in 2010. The people of San Diego deserve better.” The involvement of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in yesterday’s raids came as a surprise to some, because of statements by both President Obama and US Attorney General Eric Holder that suggested that the federal government would reduce its involvement in such enforcement actions in states where medical marijuana is legal. ###
Location: 
CA
United States

Feature: Tainted Cocaine Sickening, Killing People, But Feds Slow to Act

On the last day of August, media outlets around the country ran an Associated Press story reporting that nearly one-third of the cocaine in the country is tainted with a veterinary medicine, a de-worming agent called levamisole. According to the AP, the tainted cocaine is responsible for at least three deaths in the US and Canada, as well as sickening more than a hundred other people.

According to health authorities, the cocaine tainted with levamisole is linked to an unusual incidence of agranulocytosis, a condition of a suppressed immune system, whose symptoms include persistent sore throat, persistent or recurrent fever, swollen glands, painful sores, skin infections with painful swelling, thrush, and other unusual infections.

The DEA suspects that levamisole is being added as a cutting agent by Colombian drug traffickers. Researchers speculate that it may boost the cocaine high by acting as a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, but there is of yet little research to support that.

While the cumulative death toll and illness count was news, the fact that cocaine is being laced with levamisole shouldn't have been. Delaware public health officials issued a health advisory on levamisole-tainted cocaine in 2005, and British researchers reported in 2006 on 14 deaths in a one-year period from the tainted cocaine.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/taintedcocainegraph.jpg
Last fall, the DEA quietly reported in its obscure Microgram Journal that levamisole-contaminated cocaine had been encountered beginning in April 2005 and that the percentage of contaminated cocaine had generally increased since then to reach 30% of all samples by October 2008 (page 83). But it didn't publicize those findings.

Soon after, local public health alerts about levasimole-tainted cocaine deaths or illnesses began trickling in, including Alberta, Canada, in November 2008, Los Angeles County in December 2008, New Mexico in January, Erie County, Pennsylvania, in March, and King County, Washington, in June.

Also early this year, researchers reported on cases of agranulocytosis after consumption of levamisole-laced cocaine in January in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and Criminal Justice Policy Foundation head Eric Sterling blogged about it in March.

Given the large number of cocaine users in the US, tainted product poses a significant public health risk. According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health released yesterday, there are 1.9 million "current cocaine users."

"If it really 30% of the cocaine, that would be a huge public health problem," said Dr. Sharon Stancliff, medical director for the Harm Reduction Network. "Medical people need to be aware of this."

They aren't, said Dr. Eric Lavonas, assistant director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver, where nearly half of the cocaine is thought to be cut with levasimole. "I would think it would be fair to say the vast majority of doctors in the United States have no idea this is going on," he said. "You can't diagnose a disease you've never heard of."

But despite the mounting pile of reports and alerts and the potential public health risks, federal officials have remained silent. That may be about to change.

"The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) is going to put out a 'dear colleague' alert," said Stancliff. "It should happen relatively soon."

The Centers for Disease Control is also expected to issue an alert, sources told the Chronicle, though a media specialist at CDC denied that. "We don't do drugs," she said -- unaware of the CDC's involvement in a national alert about fentanyl-tainted heroin in 2006 and 2007 and pointing the Chronicle toward CSAT. CSAT had not responded to Chronicle inquiries by press time.

The 2006-2007 wave of fentanyl-tainted heroin overdoses -- hundreds of people died from them -- provides a model for how CSAT and the CDC might respond to the ongoing levasimole-tainted cocaine problem. As the Chronicle reported at the time, people began overdosing on the tainted heroin in the fall of 2006.

While the initial response by federal agencies was slow, by the summer of 2007, CSAT had issued a nationwide alert to outreach workers, treatment providers, and hospitals warning of the deadly problem. The CDC also got involved, although to a lesser degree. That summer, a team of CDC epidemiologists went to Detroit in response to a request from the Michigan Department of Community Health. The team assisted state and local officials with autopsy reports and analysis to help understand the overdose wave and formulate prevention guidelines for clinicians and educators.

The current wave of deaths and illnesses related to levasimole-tainted cocaine is not as severe as the fentanyl overdoses -- so far at least -- but as indicated above CSAT is set to act soon. Whether the CDC will actually get involved this time around remains to be seen.

While waiting for the feds to act, harm reductionists and public health workers are struggling with how to best act on the tainted cocaine. "Medical people need to be aware of this," said Stancliff, "but can we make warnings about smoking versus shooting versus snorting? I have no idea. There may be differences in terms of biomedical availability, but we don't know that yet," she said.

Nor was Stancliff certain about whether it was time to alert needle exchange clients about the problem. "When New York state sent out an advisory, we made sure the Injection Drug Users Health Alliance was aware of it, but I'm never sure when we should be alerting the people going to the needle exchanges. We want to save our alerts for times when people are thinking about changing their behavior."

For Doctor of Public Health David Duncan, a Kentucky-based expert on substance abuse and epidemiology, contaminated drugs are an expected consequence of prohibitionist regimes. "This is one of the things you inevitably have with black market drugs," he said. "You don’t know what you’re dealing with and the makers don’t necessarily know what they’re making. It seems to be an iron law of prohibition--outlaw something and whatever it is, it gets stronger and more dangerous."

"The appropriate public health response is to tell people there is a contaminant, and we’re not sure how dangerous it is," said Duncan. "But all black market cocaine contains contaminants. As long as it is illegal, there is risk of contamination. The only way to make it safe is to make it legal."

Stancliff added that testing for levasimole in cocaine is relatively simple. That leads to the obvious question of whether a drug testing program like those that evolved around Ecstasy and the rave scene may be appropriate. At least one specialist thinks so.

"I thought to myself, why isn't there a test kit? It is easy to test for," said Dr. Michael Clark, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of Washington's Harborview Medical Center. "It would be like testing your hot tub for its chemistry. Take a sample, mix some chemicals together, add a reagant, and see what turns what color."

Clark is working on developing just such a test kit. "It could be used at street level, and it could be used by a lot of public health and harm reduction groups. You want to identify levasimole before people ingest, very much like the Ecstasy testing. You could do the same thing with cocaine and levasimole," he said.

But that's addressing the problem on the back end. The solution is an untainted cocaine supply. "Someone needs to talk to those folks in Colombia," Stancliff said. And, as Duncan suggested, someone needs to talk to those folks in Washington--the ones who continue to assist on a prohibitionist regime despite all its negative collateral consequences, of which a tainted drug supply is only one.

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