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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

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.

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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.

Medical Marijuana: First California DEA Arrests Under Obama Took Place Last Week

A massive DEA operation featuring dozens of heavily armed agents and at least four helicopters ended with the arrests of five people in California's Lake County last week. According to California NORML, the arrests are believed to be the first since the Obama administration announced it would not target medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal unless they violated both state and federal law.

The DEA seized 154 marijuana plants from Upper Lake resident Tom Carter, and arrested him, former UMCC dispensary operator Scott Feil and his wife, Steven Swanson, and Brett Bassignani. Carter is a registered medical marijuana patient and provider, and his wife, Jamie Ceridono, told the Lake County News he was growing for several patients and his grow was legal under state law.

The genesis of the bust appears to lie with an alleged May deal between a DEA informant and Bassignani to purchase marijuana. According to documents filed by Carter's federal defenders late last week, the informant claimed to have arranged to buy marijuana from Carter and to have left a voicemail message for Carter to set up the deal. That same informant allegedly made a deal to buy marijuana from Bassignani.

In the document, the federal defenders said prosecutors made no claim that Carter ever heard the phone message the informant allegedly left, and they set out no evidence linking Carter and the informant.

"All the complaint says is that another individual, Mr. Bassignani, called the informant, claimed he worked for 'Carter Construction,' and arranged a marijuana deal," Carter's defense attorneys wrote. "The deal later took place, and the only other reference to Mr. Carter is the conclusory claim that the informant 'had agreed on the price with Carter.' No context, no specifics, and no other information is provided in the complaint which indicates that Mr. Carter in fact talked to the informant, arranged a marijuana deal, and indicated that he (Carter) was knowingly involved in a marijuana transaction."

Moving that the two felony counts of marijuana trafficking against Carter be dismissed, the attorneys added: "This complaint is sadly deficient with regard to whether Mr. Carter has done anything to indicate that he conspired to break the law. It should be dismissed accordingly."

It is unclear why Feil and his wife were arrested. They are neighbors of Carter and his wife.

Carter and Feil are being held in Oakland, where they are set to have initial detention hearings this week. Federal prosecutors have asked that Carter be held pending trial "on the basis of flight risk and danger to the community."

Carter is a long-time resident of Upper Lake, prominent construction contractor, and community benefactor.

"California already has enough federal marijuana criminals," said CANORML coordinator Dale Gieringer, "It's time for concrete changes in federal law."

While the Obama administration has announced it would not go after law-abiding medical marijuana providers, the DEA has conducted at least two raids against providers in San Francisco and Los Angeles, although there have been no arrests in those cases. The administration has not announced any changes in federal laws or regulations around medical marijuana, and Bush appointees continue to serve in the DEA and the US Attorney's Office of Northern California, which is prosecuting the case.

Feature: Prince of Pot Marc Emery on Farewell Tour As US Prison Term Looms

Canada's Prince of Pot, Marc Emery, has less than a month of freedom remaining before he heads to the US border to be handcuffed and escorted to federal court in Seattle, where he will accept a plea bargain and probable five-year prison sentence for selling marijuana seeds over the Internet. But while he is resigned to years of imprisonment for his actions and beliefs, he is by no means giving up the fight and vows to reemerge stronger and more motivated than ever.

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Marc Emery, on the Farewell Tour
Emery rose to prominence in the marijuana legalization movement more than a decade ago, after moving from Ontario to Vancouver, where he set up shop as a marijuana entrepreneur, operating cannabis cafes, establishing Cannabis Culture magazine, and operating the Marc Emery Seed Company. Always a thorn in the side of repressive authorities, Emery tussled repeatedly with Canadian bureaucrats, spoke out frequently and loudly (and at length) about the injustice of pot prohibition, founded the British Columbia Marijuana Party (BCMP), ran for office repeatedly, and, using the profits from his enterprises, donated generously to the reform movements in both Canada and the US.

His outspoken activism brought him to the attention of US authorities, and in July 2005, he and two employees, Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams, were arrested in Vancouver at the behest of the DEA on a US warrant charging them with marijuana trafficking for their seed sales. DEA administrator Karen Tandy crowed loudly at the time about shutting down a leading funding source for legalization eforts, but quickly backtracked when accused of undertaking a politically motivated prosecution.

After four years of legal tussles, Rainey and Williams accepted plea bargains that allowed them to serve probationary sentences in Canada. Now, Emery, too, has accepted a plea deal.

The agreement comes after Canada's Conservative government rejected a plea deal last year that would have allowed Emery to plead to a Canadian offense and serve his time in a Canadian prison. It was also clear that the Canadian government would not block his extradition to the US.

Faced with a possible life sentence if convicted on all counts, Emery agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to traffic marijuana, and will appear for sentencing in federal court in Seattle on Monday, September 21. But if he is to vanish into the American drug war gulag, it is going to be with a bang, not a whimper.

This summer, Emery and his young wife, Jodie, have been on a farewell tour, crisscrossing Canada to bid a temporary adieu to his legions of supporters. Emery is consistently drawing crowds in the hundreds and generating media coverage wherever he goes as he renews his longstanding call for marijuana legalization and urges supporters to agitate around getting him transferred to a Canadian prison to do his time.

And Emery is calling on his supporters to organize demonstrations on his behalf on Saturday, September 19, two days before his sentencing. Local demos are already set up in several dozen towns and cities, and more are welcome.

"There will be worldwide rallies for Marc," said Cannabis Culture editor Jeremiah Vandermeer. "There are already 50 cities on the list, and more signing up every day. We basically just want to show support for Marc and his cause and demand his freedom. We're also asking people to send respectful letters to the judge." (For more information on holding a rally or writing a letter, click here.)

"Marc is probably the most noted marijuana activist within the Americas," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "Much of that is due to his tremendous ego and publicity stunts, but that does not diminish the work he has done. He's always tried to use the political system to advance change, and he has certainly used his entrepreneurial talents as well, in publishing, seed sales, the hemp business, and his downtown Vancouver shop."

St. Pierre pointed out that Emery's activism was not limited to marijuana law reform. "If you are a Canadian, you have to respect the man because for all intents and purposes, Canadians have the equivalent of First Amendment rights only because of the cases he brought as a bookseller in the early 1990s," he said. "His contribution to free speech and knowledge really marks his life, and his cannabis activism is sort of a metaphor for that. He provided unsanctioned information about how to grow marijuana, its therapeutic value, the religious component, all that. Before his challenges to Canadian censorship laws, the government would have said you don't have the right to know that."

Before his incarnation as Prince of Pot, Emery was a libertarian bookseller in Ontario, and it was there that he brought repeated successful court challenges to Canadian censorship laws, including a battle to win the right to sell High Times magazine in the country.

Emery's activism also included pumping money into the drug reform movement, both in Canada and the US. While he was raking in the dollars with his seed company, much of the profits were being plowed right back into the fight.

"I've witnessed him giving money to virtually every drug reform group in the US, which puts him in the top 1% in the Americas," said St. Pierre. "He is in the elite in that respect, and unlike George Soros and Peter Lewis, who picked people to choose where their money would go, Marc's philosophy seemed to be let all the flowers bloom. It wasn't huge money, like Soros and Lewis, but it was a lot of money, and that's pretty remarkable."

Among the beneficiaries of Emery's munificence was the Seattle Hempfest, which could count on him to come up with a couple of thousand dollars for last minute expenses, the Drug Truth Network, and the US Marijuana Party, among others. Loretta Nall was head of the US Marijuana Party.

"Marc alone funded my activities from September 2002 until his arrest in 2005," she said. "The total amount was something on the order of $150,000. Even after he was arrested he continued to try and send money when he could despite his own major need for cash to pay his lawyers."

Nall became an activist after her home was raided by police in helicopters. When she wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper to protest the raid, she was arrested shortly later.

"Marc stepped in and hired an attorney for me, gave me a job a Pot TV News anchor and roving activist in the US. He funded my trip to Goose Creek South Carolina, Colombia, South America, the first DPA conference I ever attended and everything in between," Nall recalled. "While working for him he also paid for my daughter to have ear surgery which cost over $6,000 and he provided me with whatever I requested. Marc taught me practically everything I know about drug policy reform. He was my rock when I wanted to run away from Alabama and not fight because I was scared. He was and is my mentor. I owe him a great deal," she said.

"Marc Emery has been as important to the movement as Martin Luther King Jr. was to the civil rights movement here in Alabama in the 1960's," Nall continued. "No one individual has done more to promote outright rebellion -- peaceful of course -- of the unjust marijuana laws than Marc. No one has put their ass on the line for this cause more than Marc."

"We gave away $4.5 million for the movement," said Emery Wednesday from a hotel in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where he and Jodie continued his farewell tour. "We paid for the defense of early compassion clubs, like Philippe Lucas's, we've been paying their lawyer for years to litigate for them, we were the chief funder of the 1998 Washington, DC, medical marijuana initiative, we helped Dean Becker's Cultural Baggage/Drug Truth Network stay afloat, and now he's on hundreds of stations."

"The farewell tour is going great," Emery said. "It feels good. I love talking to and meeting people all across the country and inspiring them to do a lot of activism. And Jodie and I are having a wonderful time in our last month together. I'm blessed to be with such an intelligent, lucid, and lovely wife."

Emery, of course, is agitating to the bitter end. "I tell my Canadian audiences that I fully expect them to have legalized it by the time I get back. With all that's going on in Latin America, we're starting to see a huge group of countries not in sync with prohibitionist drug policies, and I will be disappointed if Canada hasn't joined that group."

He is also urging supporters to act on his behalf. "I'm urging Americans to lobby the Bureau of Prisons and Canadians to lobby the Ministry of Public Safety to get me transferred back to Canada," he said. "I'm also urging people to vote out the Conservative government here. The US and Canada have a treaty allowing nationals to serve their time in their home country, but the Conservatives are not taking back weed prisoners. We need people to vote this government out. In the meantime, we'll be hitting them with phone calls and emails. We have the people to swamp them."

But Emery is also preparing for his time behind bars. "I'll be writing a book based on my life, and I'll be holding myself to finishing a chapter every two weeks," he said. "I also plan on learning French and Spanish, French because I intend to become a Member of Parliament and want to be able to speak with all my constituents, and Spanish because it is the most widely spoken language in the hemisphere."

"There were several dozen seed sellers the US could have gone after, but they focused almost exclusively on Marc and now they are making him a martyr," said NORML's St. Pierre. "Unfortunately for the US government, they chose to martyr someone who is keen on martydom, and all those years he will have to spend in prison is just going to further personify him, certainly in Canada but also in the US, as someone who is being treated incredibly unfairly."

For a sense of how unfairly, one need only recall the last time Emery was convicted of seed-selling in Canada. In that 1998 case, he was fined $2,000. BC appeals courts more recently have suggested a proper sentence for seed-selling was a couple of months in jail and a year or two on probation.

Between that 1998 conviction and his 2005 arrest on US charges, Emery paid in more than $600,000 in Canadian income taxes. Canadian authorities did not bother him again, nor did they have any qualms about accepting his tax monies.

Now, Emery is preparing to become America's best known marijuana prisoner. "When they're out to get you, they're out to get you. It doesn't matter that they can't point to a single victim of my 'crimes,'" he said. "After 20 years of work, I can be the one person everyone will be aware of who is in prison for marijuana."

And he remains adamant about ending prohibition. "What is the public benefit in prohibition? There is none. We get more drugs, more drug use, more gangs, the treasuries are empty, the jails are full, but they don't care about that. The only thing important to a prohibitionist is suffering. They think we must suffer because we have a moral failing. They have a puritanical hatred for what we represent."

The forces of prohibition may have won a temporary victory in their battle to shut up the Prince of Pot. But it may well be a pyrrhic one.

Medical Marijuana: First California DEA Arrests Under Obama Took Place Last Week

A massive DEA operation featuring dozens of heavily armed agents and at least four helicopters ended with the arrests of five people in California's Lake County last week. According to California NORML, the arrests are believed to be the first since the Obama administration announced it would not persecute medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal unless they violated both state and federal law. The DEA seized 154 marijuana plants from Upper Lake resident Tom Carter, and arrested him, former UMCC dispensary operator Scott Feil and his wife, Steven Swanson, and Brett Bassignani. Carter is a registered medical marijuana patient and provider, and his wife, Jamie Ceridono, told the Lake County News he was growing for several patients and his grow was legal under state law. The genesis of the bust appears to lie with an alleged May deal between a DEA informant and Bassignani to purchase marijuana. According to documents filed by Carter's federal defenders late last week, the informant claimed to have arranged to buy marijuana from Carter and to have left a voicemail message for Carter to set up the deal. That same informant allegedly made a deal to buy marijuana from Bassignani. In the document, the federal defenders said prosecutors made no claim that Carter ever heard the phone message the informant allegedly called and that they set out no evidence linking Carter and the informant. "All the complaint says is that another individual, Mr. Bassignani, called the informant, claimed he worked for 'Carter Construction,' and arranged a marijuana deal," Carter's defense attorneys wrote. "The deal later took place, and the only other reference to Mr. Carter is the conclusory claim that the informant 'had agreed on the price with Carter.' No context, no specifics, and no other information is provided in the complaint which indicates that Mr. Carter in fact talked to the informant, arranged a marijuana deal, and indicated that he (Carter) was knowingly involved in a marijuana transaction." Moving that the two felony counts of marijuana trafficking against Carter be dismissed, the attorneys added: "This complaint is sadly deficient with regard to whether Mr. Carter has done anything to indicate that he conspired to break the law. It should be dismissed accordingly." It is unclear why Feil and his wife were arrested. They are neighbors of Carter and his wife. Carter and Feil are being held in Oakland, where they are set to have initial detention hearings today and tomorrow. Federal prosecutors have asked that Carter be held pending trial "on the basis of flight risk and danger to the community." Carter is a long-time resident of Upper Lake, prominent construction contractor, and community benefactor. "California already has enough federal marijuana criminals," said CANORML coordinator Dale Gieringer, "It's time for concrete changes in federal law." While the Obama administration has announced it would no go after law-abiding medical marijuana providers, the DEA has conducted at least two raids against providers in San Francisco and Los Angeles, although there have been no arrests in those cases. The administration has not announced any changes in federal laws or regulations around medical marijuana, and Bush appointees continue to serve in the DEA and the US Attorney's Office of Northern California, which is prosecuting the case.

WHAT ARE WE DOING PEOPLE?

Just Chiming in, I Thought Prohibition was supposed to save us from ourselves? To protect us in some way? I have to scratch my head......and not from dandruff. I think of my young Niece sitting in prison 19 years old. She went and got a friend some cocaine and in return she got to do a few lines. Well this friend wasn't such a good friend, she did this three times. She was charged and convicted for distribution of cocaine three counts, she was given 15 years in prison. She only has to do a year now..but she has to go through a year of active supervised probation and then be of good behavior for 20 years. My GOD man what the hell is wrong with our "FREE" society? I am so Damn furious about all the lives that our Government is ruining. People these are OUR children that are being persecuted for use of a substance that OUR government allows to be brought into OUR country. We have more people in jail for drugs than even China I think I mean come on enough is enough! It is nothing but a Money racket the damn local justice systems are cleaning up on all the entire system from confiscating houses and bank accounts fine you with heavy fine so they can hire someone to babysit you. Back to my Niece mind you I know her very well She lived with our family for awhile She is young and she was experimenting and out on her own for the first time in her life. All in all she was a very sweet, nice, naive, slightly rebellious but generally a good kid. Now she is a convicted FELON her life is ruined after spending the year in prison she has turned into a hardened person just to survive she is in with murderers and every other violent crimes. HOW is this helping us. Come on people HELP ME UNDERSTAND WHY WE ARE ALLOWING THIS KIND OF STUFF TO BE HAPPENING. ENUFF, I have vented Thank you

Trick Question on the DEA Job Application?

Anyone applying for a job at the Drug Enforcement Administration must answer this question:



That's funny, I thought there was no such thing as "legally prescribed" marijuana under federal law. Either this is an idiot test for prospective applicants, or we've come so far that the DEA is beginning to lose track of its own ideology.

Afghanistan: The DEA Is on the Way

The Obama administration has shifted gears in Afghanistan, rejecting the Bush administration's emphasis on opium poppy eradication in favor of attacking Taliban-linked drug trafficking networks as it increases the number of US military personnel in the country to nearly 70,000. Along with that increase in American servicemen and women in Afghanistan, the administration is also ramping up the DEA presence in the country.

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opium poppies (incised papaver specimens)
The number of DEA agents in the country will increase five-fold this year, according to a report in the Baltimore Sun. The agency currently has 13 agents in Afghanistan; that number will jump to 68 by September and 81 by 2010. An unspecified number of additional agents are also being sent to Pakistan, through which a large portion of the Afghan drug trade flows.

Afghanistan produces more than 90% of the world's opium poppy supply, from which heroin is derived. One province now in the sights of a 4,000 strong US Marine expeditionary force, Helmand province, by itself produces more than half of all Afghan opium and if it were its own country, would be the world's largest opium supplier.

While all factions in Afghanistan have their fingers in the poppy pie, including numerous officials and warlords linked to the Karzai government, the US and NATO are especially interested in disrupting those portions of the drug trade that help finance the Taliban insurgency. The Taliban is estimated to make hundreds of millions of dollars a year from taxing poppy crops, acting as armed escorts for drug caravans, and running international drug trafficking operations.

In the past, the Taliban has benefitted from eradication campaigns in at least two ways. First, to the extent such campaigns are successful, they drive up the price of opium, which the Taliban has abundantly stockpiled. Second, the eradication campaigns have proven a fertile recruiting tool for the Taliban as farmers angry at seeing their livelihoods destroyed look to join those who ostensibly oppose eradication.

Industrial Hemp: Bill Passes Oregon Legislature, Heads for Governor's Desk

The Oregon House Monday passed SB 676 by a veto-proof margin of 46-11. The measure would allow for the production, possession, and commercialization of industrial hemp and its products. The measure passed the state Senate on June 19 an equally veto-proof 27-2 margin.

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hemp plants
During the House debate, hemp supporter Rep. Jules Bailey (D-Portland) used visual aids to demonstrate the diversity of hemp products, waving around bags of hemp tortilla chips and non-dairy hemp milk. He also held up a t-shirt emblazoned with the words "Senate Bill 676 is about rope, not dope."

"I am glad that Oregon has joined the list of states that have agreed that American farmers should have the right to reintroduce industrial hemp as an agricultural crop," said bill sponsor Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-South Lane and North Douglas Counties). "By passing SB 676 with strong bipartisan support, the Oregon legislature has taken a proactive position to allow its farmers the right to grow industrial hemp, to provide American manufacturers with domestically-grown hemp, and to profit from that effort."

The industry association Vote Hemp said it was confident Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) would sign the bill. If he does, or if a veto is overridden, Oregon will become the ninth state to authorize industrial hemp production under state law. It remains forbidden by federal law.

"The time has come for the federal government to act and allow farmers to once again grow hemp, so American companies will no longer need to import it and American farmers will no longer be denied a profitable new crop," said Vote Hemp president Eric Steenstra. "Under current federal policy, industrial hemp can be imported, but it cannot be grown by American farmers. Hemp is a versatile, environmentally-friendly crop that has not been grown in the US for over fifty years because of a misguided and politicized interpretation of the nation's drug laws by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). While a new bill in Congress, H.R. 1866, is a welcome step, the hemp industry is hopeful that President Obama's administration will recognize hemp's myriad benefits to farmers, businesses and the environment," he added.

"We are looking forward to the opportunity to invest in hemp processing and production locally," says Hans Fastre, chief executive officer of Living Harvest, one of the numerous hemp product companies based in Oregon. "This bill represents another step towards heightening the hemp industry's profile within mainstream America and making hemp products more accessible to businesses and consumers."

If the bill becomes law, Oregon will become the second state to approve industrial hemp this year. Maine did so last month. Four other states, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and North Dakota passed resolutions or memorials urging Congress to allow states to regulate hemp farming this year.

The states that have okayed hemp production are Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia. North Dakota has even issued licenses to would-be hemp farmers for the past two years, but the federal prohibition has prevented any hemp planting.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda," by Gretchen Peters (2009, Thomas Dunne Press, 300 pp., $25.95 HB)

Gretchen Peters certainly has a sense of timing. She spent the last decade covering Afghanistan and Pakistan, first for the Associated Press and later for ABC News, and managed to bring "Seeds of Terror" to press just as the US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan begin lurching toward a new approach to drug policy there. Just this past weekend, the US announced it was giving up on trying to eradicate its way to victory over the poppy crop, and for the past few weeks, news accounts of US and NATO attacks on traffickers, opium stockpiles, and heroin labs have been coming at a steady, if not escalating, pace.

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Afghan opium
Peters' thesis -- that the immensely lucrative opium and heroin trade is funding the Taliban and Al Qaeda to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, which they use to wage their insurgency against the West and allies in Afghanistan -- while portrayed as stunning and shocking, is nothing new to readers of the Chronicle, or anyone else who has been following events in Afghanistan since before the 2001 US invasion.

But where "Seeds of Terror" shines is in its unparalleled detail and depth of knowledge of the drug trade, the Taliban/Al Qaeda insurgency, the Pakistan connection, and the intricate and complicated linkages between the actors. With access to government and security officials from the US, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, and through interviews with everyone from simple famers to fighters to opium traders and even some amazingly high-up people in the international heroin trade, Peters is able to navigate and share with readers the murky, ever shifting nature of the beast.

She is especially useful in unraveling the various groupings that are simplistically referred to as "the Taliban." There is no single Taliban, Peters explains; there are rival warlords (Hekmatyar, Haqqani, Mullah Omar) running their drug empires and fighting to drive out the Westerners, their jihadist convictions clouded more each year in a haze of opium smoke and illicit profits. And then there are what are in essence criminal drug trafficking organizations. They, too, will identify themselves as Taliban for pragmatic reasons -- the intimidation factor, mainly -- but have little interest in holy war, except as it provides the chaotic cover for their underground trade.

Actually, as Peters details, the story goes back a generation further, to the last great American intervention into this Fourth World country on the other side of the planet. Then, during the Reagan-era sponsorship of the Afghan mujahedeen fighting to drive out the Soviet Red Army, millions of Afghans fled into refugee camps in Pakistan, and would-be warlords and foreign jihadis (including a young Osama bin Laden), tussled for the billions of dollars coming from Washington and doled out by Pakistani intelligence, or, alternately, from funding sources in Saudi Arabia.

Those warlords turned Pakistan, particularly the refugee-ridden Northwest Frontier territories into a leading opium producer during the 1980s, to ensure sources of funding for their armies, and secondarily, to turn as many Russian soldiers into junkies as they could. The Pakistani drug trafficking networks, including some very highly placed army and other officials, set up then are still the main conduits for the opium and heroin leaving Afghanistan today. Man, talk about your blowback.

Peters has a keen grasp of local affairs, knows how to write, and has constructed a gripping and informative narrative. But, faced with a counterinsurgency effort that has floundered, in good part because of profits from the illicit drug trade keeping the Taliban well-supplied with shiny new weapons, she cannot resist the temptation to try her own hand at recommending more effective policies. Here, unfortunately, she is decidedly conventional and unquestioning of the prohibitionist paradigm.

For example, the proposal floated by The Senlis Council in 2005 to simply buy up the poppy crop and divert it into the legitimate medical market gets remarkably short shrift. Peters devotes a mere paragraph to the plan, dismissing it as not pragmatic -- a position not universally held by experts.

Similarly, her policy prescriptions, while including such progressive developmentalist planks as alternative livelihood programs, strengthening institutions, and opening new markets for new crops, also include a call to "arrest or kill" drug kingpins, heroin lab chemists, and even mid-level traffickers. She also advocates air strikes against smuggling convoys, "smarter" counterinsurgency, and beefed up law enforcement against the "bad guys."

Peters' thinking on drug policy may be decidedly inside the box, but her contribution to our understanding of the complex nexus between the illicit drug trade in Afghanistan, local insurgencies, and global jihadi ambitions is important and chilling. This is the best layperson's guide to that nexus out there.

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