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ONDCP: Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske Named New Drug Czar

President Obama has named Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), colloquially known as the drug czar's office, a White House official confirmed Thursday. It is not clear when the official announcement will be made.

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Gil Kerlikowske
It is also not clear whether ONDCP will retain its position as a cabinet-level entity, which it has been under recent administrations. That, too, will be cleared up when the official announcement is made, the official said. The drug czar possibly being demoted could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on his proclivities.

How Kerlikowske will behave as drug czar is unclear. His has not been a loud voice on drug policy, but he has been police chief in a city, Seattle, that has embraced lowest-priority policing for adult marijuana offenses and needle exchange programs, and he has gone with the flow in regards to those issues. For a keen local look at Kerlikowske, Seattle activist turned journalist Dominic Holden's musings on Kerlikowske are well worth checking out.

Prior to being named Seattle police chief in 2000, Kerlikowske served as deputy director in the Justice Department, where he oversaw the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program. He also spent four years as Buffalo's police commissioner. The military veteran has a total of 36 years in law enforcement, where he has earned a reputation as a progressive.

While Kerlikowske has a national profile in law enforcement circles, it is not because of drug policy. His interests have been around gun policy, immigration, and electronic data mining of private records, which he has criticized as highly intrusive and not very useful.

Drug reformers had advocated for someone with a public health -- not a law enforcement -- background to head ONDCP. But a progressive law enforcement official who has a record of tolerating drug reform and harm reduction efforts may make for a decent drug czar from the reform perspective.

"While we're disappointed that President Obama seems poised to nominate 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," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "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," he said.

Editorial: Obama's Other War

guest editorial by Matthew Robinson

As commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama must now oversee our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As President, he is also responsible for another war, one that has gone on much longer and been more costly in terms of dollars spent and lives lost.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is an executive agency in the White House. According to its web site, ONDCP is charged with establishing the policies, priorities, and objectives for all US drug control policy. And Obama is now in charge of ONDCP.

ONDCP's goals include reducing illicit drug use, manufacturing and trafficking of drugs, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences. Research has shown that ONDCP has failed to consistently meet these goals since it was created in November 1988.

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propaganda for too long -- ONDCP's National Drug Control Strategy report
Illicit drug use is not down during ONDCP's tenure, drugs are still widely available, and illicit drugs are actually more dangerous now than even during the peak of drug use in 1979. Crime and violence have significantly declined but criminological research shows this is mostly attributable to non-criminal justice factors such as an improved economy and an aging population.

In spite of this, each year when it releases its National Drug Control Strategy, ONDCP continues to "sell" the drug war by saying it is effective, compassionate and balanced, even though it is none of these things. My research has shown that ONDCP has consistently misled Congress and taxpayers about the fact that the drug war has largely failed.

For example, ONDCP focuses almost exclusively on short-term declines in reported use by young people, ignoring increases in some drugs by youth as well as long-term trends and drug use by adults. Further, it claims our nation's drug control policy is balanced even though the budget is clearly tilted in favor of reactive and supply side tactics such as domestic law enforcement and military spending rather than proactive and demand side methods such as prevention and treatment.

Critics of the drug war have pointed out, correctly, that the most effective as well as cost-effective measures are carefully designed and honest prevention messages and well-staffed drug abuse treatment programs. Yet, 65 percent of the FY 2009 drug control budget is intended for the less effective measures of domestic law enforcement, interdiction and international spending, versus only 35 percent for prevention and treatment. And these figures actually underestimate the amount going to reactive drug control strategies for they do not count the tens of billions of dollars spent each year arresting, processing, and punishing drug offenders.

On the night Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for President, he said he would "go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less, because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy." ONDCP is a failing agency, one that needs to be completely revamped.

In the 2009 National Drug Control Strategy, ONDCP reports that the Office of Management and Budget's Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) scores have been released for more than 20 drug control programs. PART rates a program's purpose, planning, management, and results to determine its effectiveness on a scale from 0 to 100. What ONDCP fails to report are its scores. The scores for results are: 42 (Drug-Free Communities Support Program); 33 (High Intensity Drug trafficking Areas); 11 (Counterdrug Technology transfer Program); 7 (Counterdrug Research & Development); and 6 (Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign). Yes, that is out of 100.

According to ONDCP's stated budget, we spend more than $14 billion each year on national drug control policy; in fact, the true cost is much higher. But one thing is clear -- much of this spending is wasted on ineffective programs. Further, more than $420 million is spent on ONDCP itself, a nontransparent, dishonest executive agency.

Obama claims his administration will be transparent and honest, and that the policies he will pursue will be evidence-based. So here is an exciting possibility for Obama to live up to his word. To do this, he must welcome drug abuse experts to the White House, listen to them, and read their work.

The vast majority of drug abuse experts will tell Obama that the drug war has been a massive failure. We've wasted hundreds of billions of dollars under ONDCP's direction pursuing policies and programs that not only fail to meaningfully reduce the availability and use of illicit drugs but also cost us thousands of lives every year. Continuing to spend money on these policies and programs is like pouring money down a hole. Given the state of the economy, we simply cannot justify staying on this path.

The good news is that even conservatives in Congress should welcome a new path. After all, they probably hate big government more than Obama. And the drug war is big government, running amok and out of control.

Even better news is that more effective alternatives are available, including policies aimed at preventing experimentation with drug use among young people, reducing harms associated with illicit drug use among adults, and reducing drug abuse through public health approaches such as treatment.

The time for change is now. Based on Obama's choice for Director of ONDCP -- Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske -- there is hope for a change in direction. Though Kerlikowske has been in law enforcement for 36 years -- a medical or public health professional might make a better pick -- he is an advocate for community-oriented policing and investing in crime prevention. Kerlikowske opposed a ballot measure in Seattle to make marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority, but he also said it was already a low priority, and marijuana possession arrests by his department have dropped substantially since the measure's enactment. Medical marijuana is legal in Seattle, and the city runs needle exchanges and other programs based on the philosophy of harm reduction. Kerlikowske has not been an outspoken advocate for those programs, but neither has he stood in their way.

For there to be real change in the drug war, Kerlikowske must immediately learn that he has inherited an agency that has consistently failed to achieve its goals and to tell the truth to the American people. If Obama believes in a transparent, honest, evidence-based drug control policy, it will be up to Kerlikowske, once confirmed, to make that a reality.

Matthew Robinson is Professor of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University. He is the author of nine books including Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics (SUNY Press, 2009).

Has Obama Made a Good Choice for Drug Czar?

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is reporting that Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske will likely be Obama’s nominee for director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, commonly referred to as the drug czar. It appears that we may soon be faced with the most promising drug czar ever to occupy the position.

To be clear, Kerlikowske is not a friend of drug policy reform to any extent I’m aware of. What matters here is that I see no evidence that he is a vicious drug warrior of the sort commonly associated with the drug czar post. Given that ONDCP is mandated to oppose reform efforts and has typically embraced that role, a less confrontational and reefer madness-driven drug czar is really the best case scenario from a drug policy reform perspective.

Under Kerlikowske, Seattle has been a model for sensible marijuana policy, including the famous Seattle Hempfest at which the Seattle Police Department performs a public safety role while declining to make marijuana arrests. Following the passage of a 2004 lowest priority initiative, the city’s already-low rate of marijuana prosecutions fell even further, suggesting that Kerlikowske was responsive to the will of voters.

In that sense, he offers a dramatic departure from ONDCP’s shameful history of undermining state medical marijuana laws and inserting itself into state politics for the purpose of thwarting reform efforts. In an office typically run by military officials and political hacks, Kerlikowske would bring expertise in community policing and public relations.

As drug czar, I have no doubt that Gil Kerlikowske would oppose drug legalization and serve as our primary opponent on many issues. Nevertheless, at first glance, my gut instinct is that after several drug czars from hell, a guy from Seattle doesn’t sound so bad.

Update: I'd be remiss not to mention that Kerlikowske's immediate predecessor was Norm Stamper.

Pain Relief: FDA Panel Urges Ban on Darvon, Related Drugs

Acting on a petition from the public interest group Public Citizen, a Food & Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel last Friday voted narrowly to recommend that a widely used opioid pain medication be removed from the market. The drug is prophoxyphene, which has been in the pharmacopeia for more than a half century, and is most widely prescribed under the brand names Darvon and Darvocet.

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65 mg Darvon pills (usdoj.gov)
Prescribed for the relief of mild to moderate pain, prophoxyphene is used in dozens of generic pain medications, too. According to a briefing paper prepared by Xanodyne Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of Darvon and Darvocet, some 26 million prescriptions for the pain-fighting pair were written in 2005.

The FDA approved new Darvon formulations as recently as 2003 and a generic phophoxyphen pain medication in 2005. The drug has also passed a number of FDA reviews in the past half-century, including one occasioned by another Public Citizen petition in 1978. The FDA can ban a drug if it is proven unsafe or ineffective when taken as directed.

The agency collected reports of more than 1,400 deaths in people who had taken the drug since 1957, though experts stressed the figure does not prove the drug was the cause of death in all cases. Nor does it seem an exceptionally large figure for an opioid drug prescribed millions of times a year for more than 50 years.

The panel also relied on a Florida Medical Examiner Commission report on 2007 drug-related deaths that showed 87 deaths linked to prophoxyphene.

"If that's not a risk, I don't know what is," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, head doctor for Public Citizen.

There may be a risk, but it's relative. That same report listed 476 deaths caused by alcohol poisoning, 743 from tranquilizer overdoses, and 843 from cocaine. Among opiate-caused deaths, methadone led with 785, then Oxycontin with 705, hydrocodone with 264, morphine with 255, Fentanyl with 117, and heroin with 93 -- all greater than the number of deaths attributed to Darvon and its generic equivalents. Even the tranquilizer Meprobamate killed more people with 88 deaths listed. (Cannabis was listed as the cause of death in zero deaths.)

Still, despite weak evidence to justify removing Darvon and its brothers from the pharmacopeia, the FDA advisory panel voted to recommend that 14-12 last Friday. A final decision will come in a few weeks.

"It's not a very clear-cut picture," Sharon Hertz, MD, deputy director of the agency's analgesia drugs division, said at a press briefing after the decision. "It's not straightforward that it should or shouldn't come off the market."

Some panel members saw little benefit in keeping Darvon on the market. "I would say, little 'b', big 'r' for this drug. That's little benefit and lots of risk. And that's unsettling," said Ruth Day, PhD, who voted to remove the drug.

It "looks like it offers placebo benefits with opioid risks," saids Sean Hennessey, PhD, a panel member and epidemiologist from the University of Pennsylvania.

But other panel members warned that banning prophoxyphene could leave pain patients in the lurch. It could also drive them to other pain, more potent pain medications, like Oxycontin, they warned.

"Every drug you're talking about that's going to deal with pain has difficulty," said Mary Tinetti, MD, a professor of medicine at Yale University. "There is the possibility that the drugs that would take its place would cause at least as much harm in some people."

Xanodyne hopes it can keep the drug on the market. "I'm hoping to do everything we can to keep this product available to the 22 million people who need it," the company's vice president for clinical development and medical affairs, James Jones, told WebMD.

Feature: DEA Raids More California Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, Prompting Obama Administration to Reiterate Pledge to Stop Them

(Please participate in our action alert and our Facebook petition.)

DEA agents raided four medical marijuana dispensaries in the Los Angeles area Tuesday, hitting two in Venice, one in Marina Del Rey, and one in Playa del Rey. The raids come nearly two weeks after President Obama took office and on the same day that Eric Holder was confirmed as head of the Justice Department, the agency that oversees DEA operations. They mark the second such incident taking place under the Obama administration, the first being a January 22nd raid of a medical marijuana dispensary in South Lake Tahoe.

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DEA and SFPD dispensary raid, May 2008 (courtesy Bay Area Indymedia)
President Obama made repeated campaign pledges to halt the raids on dispensaries operating within California's medical marijuana laws, and by Wednesday night, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro was telling the Washington Times that the raids would end once new DOJ officials are appointed.

"The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws, and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind," Shapiro said.

The raids came a day before the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) announced it had commissioned a poll by Zogby International that found overwhelming support for ending the DEA raids. The poll asked the question: "During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he would stop federal raids against medical marijuana providers in the 13 states where medical marijuana has become legal. Should President Obama keep his word to end such raids?"

More than two-to-one in all geographic, demographic, and political groups answered "yes." Overall, 72% of respondents said stop the raids.

No one was arrested in Tuesday's raids, but as is typically the case, DEA agents broke down doors and seized marijuana destined for patients as well as cash and computers. Several dispensary operators told California activist organizations that agents acted even more aggressively than usual.

"Those raids were little more than piracy," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "The conduct of the agents was unprofessional and vindictive. They call them 'investigations,' but they just go in there and steal medicine and money and smash things."

Gieringer cited reports he had received that DEA agents destroyed surveillance cameras at at least one location, possibly destroyed a computer hard drive at another, and took bags of cash without counting it or providing a receipt from another.

"Whose interest does that serve?" asked Gieringer. "And not counting the cash, that's a real no-no. This whole thing needs to be investigated; it's not serving any legitimate purpose. And they picked on places that were modest, well-controlled, legal under state law, and no trouble to anybody. That's pretty scummy."

Drug War Chronicle contacted all four dispensaries hit by the DEA Tuesday, but in each case, either no one was available or no one was willing to talk about the raids. Nor did Los Angeles DEA spokesperson Sarah Pullen, who usually talks to the Chronicle, respond to repeated requests for comment.

Pullen did talk to the Los Angeles Times, but she didn't have much to say. "I can't get into details as to the probable cause behind the warrants except for the fact that they're dealing with marijuana, which is illegal under federal law," she said.

But Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), said allegations of DEA misconduct during raids are nothing new. "We have received repeated reports of DEA agents not counting cash or providing receipts, as well as instances of agents damaging surveillance cameras placed in facilities to record what is going on inside and outside," he said. "A few months ago in Long Beach, while the federal agents were smashing video cameras, other cameras were recording them doing so and sending the images to an off-site server, so, in this case, at least, we have video evidence of them doing just what they are again accused of."

Hermes also noted that even without the extracurricular activities, the DEA raids on dispensaries are heavy-handed and thuggish. "If you look at them smashing doors and windows and leveling any property in a facilty, that's pretty routine, and has been happening for the past couple of years," he said. "They go in with paramilitary gear, with flak jackets, automatic weapons, sometimes even wearing ski masks, destroy what's inside, and take medicine, money, computers, and patient records, and trash the place."

"This is upsetting," said Bruce Mirken, San Francisco-based communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "It's impossible to know at this point how high up this was authorized or whether it was Bush holdovers still doing what they've been doing, but candidate Obama made a promise on this, and it's time for him to keep it," he declared Wednesday, prior to the White House response appearing in the media.

"That should mean it's time for a major housecleaning at DEA, and that's the right thing to do, not only morally, but also politically," Mirken said. "California voted for Obama, as did 11 of the 13 medical marijuana states, including traditionally Republican states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico that flipped into the Obama column in the November elections. And medical marijuana outpolled Obama in Michigan. There is no downside for Obama in doing the right thing."

Mirken was singing a significantly happier tune by Thursday morning. "The White House comments last night are very significant," he said. "This is a historic break with 13 years of federal policy since Proposition 215 passed in 1996. The simple decision that federal resources should not be used to undermine state medical marijuana laws is a fundamental change from the policies pursued not only by Bush, but also by Clinton," he said.

"A lot will depend, of course, on the follow-through," Mirken continued, "but this is a clear signal to the folks at DEA that the game has changed. Now, we will have to see what happens next, both with ensuring that the raids actually stop, and more broadly, that the Obama administration adopts the general theme about respecting science and basing policy on facts rather than ideology. This, I think, marks the beginning of the end of a tragic and stupid federal policy, and all I can say is thank god."

During the long-lived presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama stated in August 2007 that he "would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users... It's not a good use of our resources." In March 2008, he reiterated that: "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue."

Two months after that, an Obama spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle: "Voters and legislators in the states -- from California to Nevada to Maine -- have decided to provide their residents suffering from chronic diseases and serious illnesses like AIDS and cancer with medical marijuana to relieve their pain and suffering. Obama supports the rights of states and local governments to make this choice."

Not surprisingly, ASA, the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group, jumped in with calls for President Obama and Attorney General Holder to turn promises into policy. "As the new Attorney General, one of Eric Holder's top priorities should be to end these harmful raids on state-sanctioned medical marijuana providers," said ASA director of government affairs Caren Woodson. "And, until a new head of the DEA is confirmed, Holder has a responsibility to cease the existing policy being carried out by Bush Administration officials. Attorney General Holder has the ability to halt this harmful and outdated policy," said Woodson. "And he should do so immediately."

Other drug policy groups joined the chorus as well. "When President Bush was on the campaign trail in 2000 he promised not to interfere in state medical marijuana laws, but that turned out to be a lie as the DEA proceeded to terrorize medical marijuana patients and providers by raiding dozens of dispensaries across California," said Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "President Obama said on the campaign trail that these raids would end under his administration and millions believed him. We hope these recent raids don't represent official administration policy and that Obama will order federal agencies in no uncertain terms to stop harassing medical marijuana patients and providers in California."

"President Obama needs to show federal agencies who is boss," said DPA national affairs director Bill Piper. "If he doesn't put a halt to these raids, the DEA will continue to undermine his campaign promises."

By Thursday morning, ASA was tentatively congratulating the White House for its reiteration of those campaign pledges. "More than 72 million people live in a state that has enacted laws that authorize the limited use and distribution of cannabis for therapeutic use," Woodson said. "The White House's comments have provided patients and their loved ones a sense of relief, and we hope the President and our Attorney General will keep this pledge in mind when considering appointments to the DEA and Office of National Drug Control Policy."

Perhaps, finally, a new day is dawning when it comes to the federal government's stance on medical marijuana. But the weeks and month to come are what will tell.

Southwest Asia: US NATO Commander in Afghanistan Backs Down on Order to Kill Any Drug Traffickers

As we reported last week, NATO top commander US Gen. John Craddock created a severe split inside the Western alliance by issuing a "guidance" -- the first step before issuing orders -- telling NATO commanders on the ground in Afghanistan he wanted their troops "to attack directly drug producers and facilities throughout Afghanistan." Now, NATO says, Craddock has retreated, and the original agreement that NATO troops would only attack drug traffickers linked to the Taliban and related insurgents has been restored.

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incised papaver specimens (opium poppies)
"The discussion within the chain of command has now been completed," NATO spokesman James Apparthurai announced at a Wednesday press briefing in Brussels. "ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] forces will be able to engage against narcotics facilities and facilitators where they provide material support to the insurgency."

Craddock's original "guidance" had caused heads to explode among the NATO command in Afghanistan, with ISAF commander David McKiernan claiming that Craddock was trying to create "a new category" within the rules of engagement and treading perilously close to violating the international law of war. McKiernan's boss, Egon Ramms, the German leader of the NATO Command in the Netherlands, which is currently in charge of the ISAF forces, shared that critique.

"The guidance provided up the chain from General Ramms and General McKiernan was accepted by General Craddock," Apparthurai said. "Everything that will be done at ISAF will be done fully in compliance with international law, with the laws of armed conflict, as well as national laws."

Combined NATO and US forces in Afghanistan number about 50,000, with President Obama pledging to increase that number by 20,000 to 30,000. They are caught on the horns of a dilemma when it comes to the opium traffic: Attempt to suppress it and risk driving farmers into the waiting arms of the Taliban, or instead ignore it, and allow the Taliban to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in opium profits, which it can use to buy shiny new weapons to shoot at NATO and US troops.

The Drug Czar’s Blog Should be Used for Good Instead of Evil

I noted last week that the drug czar’s blog deleted all of its old posts, essentially destroying the single best record of former drug czar John Walters’s "achievements" during the Bush Administration. Only three items have been posted since, none of which are particularly noteworthy.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is pushing a handful of notable criminal justice and drug policy reforms, including racial profiling legislation, sentencing reform, needle exchange and an end to medical marijuana raids. We don’t know yet who Obama will select to fill John Walters’s stinky boots, but wouldn’t it be nice if that person used the blog to keep us updated on efforts we can actually support? I’d cherish any opportunity to link approvingly to that site.

Having already been bombarded by drug policy reform’s vast web-based army, it’s only logical for the new administration to now reach out to us through a familiar medium and spark positive discussion of the changes we all agree are needed.

Yes you did - Obama vows to end raids

Dear friends:

More than 10,000 of you have written President Obama and Congress to ask that the president send a clear signal to Bush holdovers at the DEA about their continuing raids against medical marijuana dispensaries in California.

It worked:

On the front page of the Washington Times today, a White House spokesman said:

“The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws, and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind."

Your letters paid off. Would you take one minute to use MPP's easy online system to e-mail the president and thank him for his commitment to protecting medical marijuana patients?

Change is happening, and you're a part of it.

Sincerely,
Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $2.35 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2009. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

White House Says Medical Marijuana Raids Will End

Friends, this is a moment we’ve been anticipating for a long time:

The White House said it expects those kinds of raids to end once Mr. Obama nominates someone to take charge of DEA, which is still run by Bush administration holdovers.

"The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws, and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said. [Washington Times]

It looks like we’re on the verge of a major victory for state medical marijuana laws. For over a decade, this battle has raged from the hills of California to the Nation’s Capital. It has been a defining cause, not only for the medical marijuana community, but for drug policy reform as a whole.

There is no question that a great many challenges remain in our path, but let’s all take a moment to reflect on the fact that our president is poised to order the DEA to stand down. That is not something that happens easily or often. Today’s news suggests the pending culmination of a substantial effort by a broad coalition that is frequently perceived to lack meaningful political leverage. The political landscape is changing before our eyes and I believe we have much to look forward to.

(Please participate in our online action alert and our Facebook petition on this issue.)

Protest Rally Against DEA Raids

While the DEA continues to stage medical marijuana raids in California, nearly three-quarters (72%) of voters think President Obama should honor his campaign pledge to end the raids, according to a poll of 1,053 likely voters by Zogby International. Please join us for this rally/protest! For more information, contact Dale Gieringer at dale@canorml.org or (415) 563- 5858.
Date: 
Thu, 02/05/2009 - 12:00pm
Location: 
255 E. Temple St.
Los Angeles, CA
United States

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