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Feature: Justice Department Issues Medical Marijuana Policy Memo -- No Prosecutions If Complying With State Law

In a new federal medical marijuana policy memo issued Monday to the DEA, FBI, and US Attorneys around the country, the Justice Department told prosecutors that medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal should not be targeted for federal prosecution unless they are violating state law. The memo formalizes statements made by Attorney General Eric Holder in February and March that going after pot-smoking patients and their suppliers would not be a high Justice Department priority .

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/wisconsin-medmj-demo-2009.jpg
Madison, WI medical marijuana march, this month, by 'Is My Medicine Legal Yet?'
The memo marks a sharp break with federal policy under the Clinton and Bush administrations, both of which aggressively targeted medical marijuana operations, especially in California, the state that has the broadest law and the highest number of medical marijuana patients.

The announcement of the policy shift won kudos from the marijuana and broader drug reform movement. But some reformers questioned what the shift would actually mean on the ground, pointing to DEA raids and federal prosecutions that have occurred since Holder's signal this spring that the feds were to back off, as well as continuing controversies, especially in California, over what exactly is legal under state law. Others noted that for real protection to be in place, federal law -- not just prosecutorial policy -- needs to change.

Not everyone was pleased with the move. Comments critical of the move have come down from some conservative politicians and a handful of newspaper editorial boards. But they appear to be a distinct minority.

In the memo, federal prosecutors were told that going after people who use or provide medical marijuana in accordance with state law was not the best use of their time or resources. According to the memo, while the Justice Department continues to make enforcing federal drug laws a key mission:

"As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana. For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources."

But the memo also said that federal prosecutors should continue to target marijuana production or sales operations that are illicit but hiding behind state medical marijuana laws. It explicitly singled out cases which involve violence, the illegal use of firearms, selling pot to minors, money laundering or involvement in other crimes.

"It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal," said Attorney General Holder.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dojmemo.jpg
DOJ memo
Head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske was quick to point out that the memo didn't legalize marijuana or medical marijuana, and that prosecutions could continue. "It is important to recognize that these guidelines provide clarity for federal prosecutors regarding the appropriate use of federal resources," he said in a statement Monday. "They do not declare marijuana, whether 'medical' or not, as legal under federal law; nor do they preclude the appropriate prosecution, under federal law, of marijuana dispensaries in those states that allow them. The Department of Justice's guidelines strike a balance between efficient use of limited law enforcement resources, and a tough stance against those whose violations of state law jeopardize public health and safety. Enforcing the law against those who unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit will continue to be an enforcement priority for the US government," the drug czar warned.

The DEA was also quick to point out that while it "welcomes" the new guidelines, it will continue to go after "criminals." "These guidelines do not legalize marijuana," the agency said in a Thursday statement. "It is not the practice or policy of DEA to target individuals with serious medical conditions who comply with state laws authorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Consistent with the DOJ guidelines, we will continue to identify and investigate any criminal organization or individual who unlawfully grows, markets or distributes marijuana or other dangerous drugs. Those who unlawfully possess firearms, commit acts of violence, provide drugs to minors, or have ties to other criminal organizations may also be subject to arrest."

Despite the disclaimers and demurrals, patient advocates hailed the move. "This is a huge victory for medical marijuana patients," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, the nationwide medical marijuana advocacy organization, which had been in negotiations with the Justice Department to get written guidelines issued. "This indicates that President Obama intends to keep his promise not to undermine state medical marijuana laws and represents a significant departure from the policies of the Bush Administration," continued Sherer. "We will continue to work with President Obama, the Justice Department, and the US Congress to establish a comprehensive national policy, but it's good to know that in the meantime states can implement medical marijuana laws without interference from the federal government."

"This is the most significant, positive policy development on the federal level for medical marijuana since 1978," said the Marijuana Policy Project in a message to its list members Monday.

"It's great to see the Obama administration making good on the promises that candidate Obama made last year. These new guidelines effectively open the door to sensible collaboration between state governments and medical marijuana providers in ensuring that patients have safe and reliable access to their medicine," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "What remains unclear is how the Justice Department will respond to rogue state attorneys, such as San Diego's Bonnie Dumanis, who persist in undermining state medical marijuana laws in their local jurisdictions. Now is the right time for the Obama administration to move forward with federal legislation to end the irrational prohibition of medical marijuana under federal law."

While the policy memo was "encouraging," the "proof will be in the pudding," said California NORML head Dale Gieringer, who also cited the recent raids in San Diego, as well as the August federal indictment of two Lake County medical marijuana providers. "Note that the new Obama policy has a glaring loophole, emphasizing that 'prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, and... it is not a good use of federal manpower to prosecute those who are without a doubt in compliance with state law,'" Gieringer said. "The salient question is, who decides what is 'without a doubt' in compliance with state law? As shown by the recent statements of LA's DA and City Attorney, there exist significant doubts about the legality of most dispensaries in California. It remains to be seen how far the administration's new policy guidelines will go to prevent further abuses, when what is really needed is fundamental reform of federal laws and regulations."

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley was not concerned about the subtleties of the policy shift as much as he was about turning a blind eye to a violation of federal law. "I think that marijuana is a gateway to harder drug use," Grassley said in a Wednesday statement. "Medical marijuana brings a certain amount of legitimacy to an illegal drug, even though it attempts to do it in a legal way. We have a federal law that is intended to outlaw its use. That federal law ought to be enforced. It was enforced in the previous administration and I think having a national program against drug use is very, very important."

Demonstrating a lack of information about who is supplying California medical marijuana dispensaries, Grassley attempted to link them to Mexican drug cartels. While some medical marijuana providers may be acting legally under state law, he said, "most of the marijuana that flows into the United States comes from the drug lords."

But Grassley appeared to be fighting a lonely rear-guard action. In what may be a sign that even politicians in Washington understand the popularity of medical marijuana, the Obama administration move has generated little other critical comment from the right or from the mainstream media. While numerous newspaper editorial boards have come out in favor of the move, the Christian Science Monitor was nearly alone among major newspapers in condemning it.

And so opens the next chapter in America's long, twisted path to the acceptance of medical marijuana.

Justice Department Issues Medical Marijuana Policy Memo; Says No Prosecutions If In Compliance With State Law

Editor's Note: We wanted to get this important story posted today, but we will develop it further for the Drug War Chronicle on Friday. In a new federal medical marijuana policy memo issued this morning to the DEA, FBI, and US Attorneys around the country, the Justice Department told prosecutors that medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal should not be targeted for federal prosecution. The memo formalizes statements made by Attorney General Eric Holder in February and March that going after pot-smoking patients and their suppliers would not be a high Justice Department priority. The memo marks a sharp break with federal policy under the Clinton and Bush administrations, both of which aggressively targeted medical marijuana operations, especially in California, the state that has the broadest law and the highest number of medical marijuana patients. The announcement of the policy shift won kudos from the marijuana and broader drug reform movement. But some reformers questioned what the shift would actually mean on the ground, pointing to DEA raids and federal prosecutions that have occurred since Holder's signal this spring that the feds were to back off, as well as continuing controversies, especially in California, over what exactly is legal under state law. Others noted that for real protection to be in place, federal law—not just prosecutorial policy—needs to change. In the memo, federal prosecutors were told that going after people who use or provide medical marijuana in accordance with state law was not the best use of their time or resources. According to the memo, while the Justice Department continues to make enforcing federal drug laws a key mission:
"As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana. For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources."
But the memo also said that federal prosecutors should continue to target marijuana production or sales operations that are illicit but hiding behind state medical marijuana laws. It explicitly singled out cases involving which involve violence, the illegal use of firearms, selling pot to minors, money laundering or involvement in other crimes. "It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal," said Attorney General Holder. "This is a huge victory for medical marijuana patients," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, the nationwide medical marijuana advocacy organization, which had been in negotiations with the Justice Department to get written guidelines issued. "This indicates that President Obama intends to keep his promise not to undermine state medical marijuana laws and represents a significant departure from the policies of the Bush Administration," continued Sherer. "We will continue to work with President Obama, the Justice Department, and the US Congress to establish a comprehensive national policy, but it's good to know that in the meantime states can implement medical marijuana laws without interference from the federal government." "This is the most significant, positive policy development on the federal level for medical marijuana since 1978," said the Marijuana Policy Project in a message to its list members today. "It's great to see the Obama administration making good on the promises that candidate Obama made last year. These new guidelines effectively open the door to sensible collaboration between state governments and medical marijuana providers in ensuring that patients have safe and reliable access to their medicine," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "What remains unclear is how the Justice Department will respond to rogue state attorneys, such as San Diego's Bonnie Dumanis, who persist in undermining state medical marijuana laws in their local jurisdictions. Now is the right time for the Obama administration to move forward with federal legislation to end the irrational prohibition of medical marijuana under federal law." While the policy memo was "encouraging," the "proof will be in the pudding," said California NORML head Dale Gieringer, who also cited the recent raids in San Diego, as well as the August federal indictment of two Lake County medical marijuana providers. "Note that the new Obama policy has a glaring loophole, emphasizing that 'prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, and ... it is not a good use of federal manpower to prosecute those who are without a doubt in compliance with state law,'" Gieringer said. "The salient question is, who decides what is 'without a doubt' in compliance with state law? As shown by the recent statements of LA's DA and City Attorney, there exist significant doubts about the legality of most dispensaries in California. It remains to be seen how far the administration's new policy guidelines will go to prevent further abuses, when what is really needed is fundamental reform of federal laws and regulations." And so opens the next chapter in America's long, twisted path to the acceptance of medical marijuana.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Feature: In Act of Civil Disobedience, Hemp Farmers Plant Hemp Seeds at DEA Headquarters

Fresh from the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) annual convention last weekend in Washington, DC, a pair of real life farmers who want to be hemp farmers joined with hemp industry figures and spokesmen to travel across the Potomac River to DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, where, in an act of civil disobedience, they took shovels to the lawn and planted hemp seeds. Within a few minutes, they were arrested and charged with trespassing.

Hoping to focus the attention of the Obama administration on halting DEA interference, North Dakota farmer Wayne Hauge, Vermont farmer Will Allen, HIA President Steve Levine, hemp-based soap producer and Vote Hemp director David Bronner, Vote Hemp communications director Adam Eidinger, and hemp clothing company owner Isaac Nichelson were arrested in the action as another dozen or so supporters and puzzled DEA employees looked on.

"Who has a permit?" demanded a DEA security official. "A permit -- that's what we want from the DEA," Bronner responded.

After being held a few hours, the Hemp Six were released late Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, two pleaded guilty to trespassing and were fined $240. The others are expecting to face similar treatment.

Although products made with hemp -- everything from foods to fabrics to paper to auto body panels -- are legal in the US, under the DEA's strained interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act, hemp is considered indistinguishable from marijuana and cannot be planted in the US. According to the hemp industry, it is currently importing about $360 million worth of hemp products each year from countries where hemp production is legal, including Canada, China, and several European nations.

The DEA refused to comment on the action or the issue, referring queries instead to the Department of Justice, which also refused to comment beside pointing reporters to its filings in the ongoing hemp lawsuit.

Currently, eight states -- Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia -- have programs allowing for industrial hemp research or production, but their implementation has been blocked by DEA bureaucratic intransigence. This spring, however, President Obama instructed federal agencies to respect state laws in a presidential directive on federal preemption:

"Executive departments and agencies should be mindful that in our federal system, the citizens of the several States have distinctive circumstances and values, and that in many instances it is appropriate for them to apply to themselves rules and principles that reflect these circumstances and values," said Obama. "As Justice Brandeis explained more than 70 years ago, 'it is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.'"

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/hempatdea.jpg
police move in (courtesy votehemp.com)
The hemp industry and hemp supporters see several paths forward. Farmer Hauge is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challengingly the DEA's interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act. That case is now before the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. US Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA) are sponsoring a bill that would allow farmers to plant hemp in states where it is permitted, and the industry is urging President Obama and the Justice Department to follow their own example on medical marijuana and leave hemp farmers alone as long as they are legal under state law.

But despite all their efforts, nothing is happening. Tuesday's civil disobedience was designed to begin breaking up the logjam.

"We're getting frustrated," said Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, which has been used hemp oil in its soaps since 1999. "This is supposed to be change with Obama, and things aren't changing. We just had the DEA and local DA go nuts on the dispensaries in San Diego where I live. We spent money on a lobbying firm to get a statement from the Justice Department along the lines of Holder's statement on medical marijuana, but nothing is happening. This would be easy to do, but it's not happening. We understand that Obama has a lot going on, but we're getting increasingly disappointed and frustrated. We hope this will help catalyze something in this administration."

"We're like the fired-up hempsters, we're keeping Jack Herer's ideas alive," said Eidinger, still fired up a day after his arrest Tuesday. "We're beginning a new chapter of hemp activism, and there needs to be a lot more of this stuff. Civil disobedience has to be part of a comprehensive campaign in the courts, in Congress, and out on the streets, in front of DEA offices all over the country."

"We've passed a law in Vermont that you can grow industrial hemp," said Allen, the white-haired, pony-tailed proprietor of the certified organic Cedar Circle Farm. "The only barrier now is the DEA, so we're trying to convince them to back off on this like they backed off on enforcing the medical marijuana law in California. Here, we have a crop that isn't going to get anybody high. We grow organic sunflower and canola, and we'd like to have another oil crop in rotation at our location. It just makes economic sense, and it's a states' rights thing. The DEA shouldn't be involved in this; this isn't a drug."

"We want to get some attention for the cause and show the distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana," said North Dakota farmer Hauge, who is licensed by the state to grow hemp and who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the DEA now before the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals. "It's not a drug; it's just another crop that can be grown in rotation. If it wasn't for the DEA, I would be harvesting my crop right now."

Getting himself arrested for hemp activism in Washington, DC, was a totally new experience for Hauge, who is usually hunkered down on a few hundred acres of North Dakota prairie just south of the Canadian border and just east of the Montana state line. "It was definitely a first for me," said Hauge. "I've never even been stopped for anything."

"We need industrial hemp here in the US, we need to bring jobs to this country," said Nichelson, founder, owner, and CEO of Livity Outernational, a California-based fashion and accessory company that mixes art and activism. "I'm sick of making all our stuff in China cause that's the only place I can get the raw materials. We sent the message that there is a clear distinction between marijuana and industrial hemp," Nicholson said. "We need the support of our president and our law enforcement branches. They need to understand that the US is missing out on a giant opportunity. The myth that hemp causes any problems in society has been completely dispelled."

Even DEA underlings -- if not their higher ups -- get it, said Nicholson, recounting his exchange with one agency employee on Monday. "One DEA official came out and said, 'What's the connection between weed and hemp?' and we said, 'Exactly.'"

The action brought some much-needed media attention to the issue, said Eidinger. "We got a really good article in the Washington Post, the Washington Times wrote about it, too, CNN used our video, NPR talked about the action, the Associated Press picked it up, we had a number of TV stations do reports, so we definitely reached a national audience," he recounted. "And North Dakota media has covered this closely; I've been on the phone with all the media in Bismarck."

It wasn't just civil disobedience in front of the cameras. After the HIA convention ended, hempsters headed for Capitol Hill, where dozens of people attended over 20 scheduled meetings with representatives of their staffs to lobby for the Frank-Paul hemp bill. Some unannounced, unscheduled meetings also took place, Eidinger said.

If the hemp movement indeed adopts further civil disobedience actions, it will have added another prong to its multi-prong strategy of pressing for the end of the prohibition on industrial hemp planting in the US. It might be time for other segments of the drug reform movement to start thinking about civil disobedience, too.

In Act of Civil Disobedience, Hemp Farmers Plant Hemp Seeds at DEA Headquarters

Fresh from the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) annual convention last weekend in Washington, DC, a pair of real life farmers who want to plant hemp farmers joined with hemp industry figures and spokesmen to travel across the Potomac River to DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, where, in an act of civil disobedience, they took shovels to the lawn and planted hemp seeds. Within a few minutes, they were arrested and charged with trespassing. Hoping to focus the attention of the Obama administration on halting DEA interference, North Dakota farmer Wayne Hauge, Vermont farmer Will Allen, HIA President Steve Levine; hemp-based soap producer and Vote Hemp director David Bronner, Vote Hemp communications director Adam Eidinger, and hemp clothing company owner Isaac Nichelson were arrested in the action as another dozen or so supporters and puzzled DEA employees looked on. "Who has a permit?" demanded a DEA security official. "A permit--that's what we want from the DEA," Bronner responded. After being held a few hours, the Hemp Six were released late Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, two pleaded guilty to trespassing and were fined $240. The others are expected to face similar treatment. Although products made with hemp—everything from foods to fabrics to paper to auto body panels—are legal in the US, under the DEA's strained interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act, hemp is considered indistinguishable from marijuana and cannot be planted in the US. According to the hemp industry, it is currently importing about $360 million worth of hemp products each year from countries where hemp production is legal, including Canada, China, and several European nations. The DEA refused to comment on the action or the issue, referring queries instead to the Department of Justice, which also refused to comment beside pointing reporters to its filings in the ongoing hemp lawsuit. Currently, eight states-- Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia--have programs allowing for industrial hemp research or production, but their implementation has been blocked by DEA bureaucratic intransigence. This spring, however, President Obama instructed federal agencies to respect state laws in a presidential directive on federal pre-emption: "Executive departments and agencies should be mindful that in our federal system, the citizens of the several States have distinctive circumstances and values, and that in many instances it is appropriate for them to apply to themselves rules and principles that reflect these circumstances and values," said Obama. "As Justice Brandeis explained more than 70 years ago, 'it is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.'" The hemp industry and hemp supporters see several paths forward. Farmer Hauge is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challengingly the DEA's interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act. That lawsuit is now before the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. US Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA) are sponsoring a bill that would allow farmers to plant hemp in states where it is permitted, and the industry is urging President Obama and the Justice Department to follow their own example on medical marijuana and leave hemp farmers alone as long as they are legal under state law. But despite all their efforts, nothing is happening. Tuesday's civil disobedience was designed to begin breaking up the logjam. "We're getting frustrated," said Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, which has been used hemp oil in its soaps since 1999. "This is supposed to be change with Obama, and things aren't changing. We just had the DEA and local DA go nuts on the dispensaries in San Diego where I live. We spent money on a lobbying firm to get a statement from the Justice Department along the lines of Holder's statement on medical marijuana, but nothing is happening. This would be easy to do, but it's not happening. We understand that Obama has a lot going on, but we're getting increasingly disappointed and frustrated. We hope this will help catalyze something in this administration." "We're like the fired-up hempsters, we're keeping Jack Herer's ideas alive," said Eidinger still fired up a day after his arrest Tuesday. "We're beginning a new chapter of hemp activism, and there needs to be a lot more of this stuff. Civil disobedience has to be part of a comprehensive campaign in the courts, in Congress, and out on the streets, in front of DEA offices all over the country." "We've passed a law in Vermont that you can grow industrial hemp," said Allen, the white-haired, pony-tailed proprietor of Cedar Circle Farm. "The only barrier now is the DEA, so we're trying to convince them to back off on this like they backed off on enforcing the medical marijuana law in California. Here, we have a crop that isn't going to get anybody high. We grow organic sunflower and canola, and we'd like to have another oil crop in rotation at our location. It just makes economic sense, and it's a states' rights thing. The DEA shouldn’t be involved in this; this isn't a drug." "We want to get some attention for the cause and show the distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana," said North Dakota farmer Hauge, who is licensed by the state to grow hemp and who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the DEA now before the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals. "It's not a drug; it's just another crop that can be grown in rotation. If it wasn't for the DEA, I would be harvesting my crop right now." Getting himself arrested for hemp activism in Washington, DC, was a totally new experience for Hauge, who is usually hunkered down on a few hundred acres of North Dakota prairie just south of the Canadian border and just east of the Montana state line. "It was definitely a first for me," said Hauge. "I've never even been stopped for anything." "We need industrial hemp here in the US, we need to bring jobs to this country," said Nichelsen, founder, owner, and CEO of Livity Outernational, a California-based fashion and accessory company that mixes art and activism. "I'm sick of making all our stuff in China cause that’s the only place I can get the raw materials. We sent the message that there is a clear distinction between marijuana and industrial hemp," Nicholson said. "We need the support of our president and our law enforcement branches. They need to understand that the US is missing out on a giant opportunity. The myth that hemp causes any problems in society has been completely dispelled." Even DEA underlings—if not their higher ups—get it, said Nicholson, recounting his exchange with one agency employee on Monday. "One DEA official came out and said, 'What's the connection between weed and hemp?' and we said, 'Exactly.'" The action brought some much-needed media attention to the issue, said Eidinger. "We got a really good article in the Washington Post, the Washington Times wrote about it, too, CNN used our video, NPR talked about the action, the Associated Press picked it up, we had a number of TV stations do reports, so we definitely reached a national audience," he recounted. "And North Dakota media has covered this closely; I've been on the phone with all the media in Bismarck. It wasn't just civil disobedience in front of the cameras. After the HIA convention ended, hempsters headed for Capitol Hill, where dozens of people attended over 20 scheduled meetings with representatives of their staffs to lobby for the Frank-Paul hemp bill. Some unannounced, unscheduled meetings also took place, Eidinger said. If the hemp movement indeed adopts further civil disobedience actions, it will have added another prong to its multi-prong strategy of pressing for the end of the prohibition on industrial hemp planting in the US. It might be time for other segments of the drug reform movement to start thinking about civil disobedience, too.
Location: 
Arlington, VA
United States

Press Release: Farmers, Hemp Industry Leaders Arrested for Planting Industrial Hemp at DEA Headquarters


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
October 13, 2009

CONTACT:    Ryan Fletcher 202-641-0277 ryan@mintwood.com
                  Adam Eidinger 202-744-2671 adam@mintwood.com


Farmers, Hemp Industry Leaders Arrested for Planting Industrial Hemp at DEA Headquarters in Act of Civil Disobedience to Protest 'Reefer Madness'



Fed Up Captains of Hemp Industry Plant Hemp Seed on DEA's Lawn with Ceremonial Shovels

DEA's Continued Blockade of State Industrial Hemp Programs Violates Common Sense as well as Obama's Presidential Directive to Federal Agencies to Respect States' Rights


WASHINGTON, DC - At approximately 10am this morning, North Dakota farmer Wayne Hauge, Vermont farmer Will Allen, and fed up American entrepreneurs, who have dedicated their livelihoods to developing and marketing healthy, environmentally-friendly hemp products, for the first time turned to public civil disobedience with the planting of industrial hemp seed at DEA headquarters (700 Army Navy Dr Arlington, VA 22202) to protest the ban on hemp farming in the United States. Even though the U.S. is the largest market for hemp products in the world, and industrial hemp is farmed throughout Europe, Asia and Canada, not a single American farmer has the right to grow the versatile crop which is used for food, clothing, body care, paper, building materials, auto paneling and more.


Hoping to focus the attention of the Obama Administration on halting DEA interference, North Dakota Farmer Wayne Hauge; Founder of Cedar Circle Organic Farm in Vermont Will Allen; Hemp Industries Association (HIA) President Steve Levine; Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps President David Bronner; Vote Hemp Communications Director Adam Eidinger and Founder of Livity Outernational Hemp Clothing, Issac Nichelson were arrested while digging up the DEA's lawn to plant industrial hemp seed imported from Canada. At this time, they are currently being held in Arlington County jail and are awaiting charges. They are expected to be released later this afternoon and will be available for interviews upon release. The six protesters planted hemp seeds with ceremonial chrome shovels engraved with:



Hemp Planting Oct. 2009 ~ DEA Headquarters ~ American Farmers Shall Grow Hemp Again ~ Reefer Madness Will Be Buried


Mr. Hauge is licensed by North Dakota to cultivate and process non-drug industrial hemp, just as Canadian farmers across the border have done profitably for over ten years supplying the booming U.S. market. However, the DEA refuses to distinguish non-drug industrial hemp cultivars grown for millennia for seed and fiber and has unconstitutionally blocked all state hemp programs such as North Dakota's. Mr. Hauge, along with North Dakota State Rep. David Monson, sued the DEA in the U.S. District Court of North Dakota in 2007, and the case is currently before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.  "In recent years there has been strong growth in demand for hemp in the U.S., but the American farmer is being left out while Canadian, European and Chinese farmers fill the void created by outdated federal policy," said fourth-generation farmer Hauge. "When hemp is legalized, land grant universities across the nation will develop cultivars suitable to different growing regions to enhance yield and explore innovative uses such as cellulosic ethanol." 

Pictures and video of the action for free and unrestricted use, along with hemp farming footage and background information are available upon request in hardcopy and online. An HIA produced video of the action will also be posted, after 6pm on 10/13 at: www.votehemp.com/DEAhempplanting.html

In the back drop of the spectacle at DEA headquarters, dozens of hemp business owners in town attending the HIA convention over the weekend fanned out across Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers in support of hemp legislation introduced by Representatives Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA) that would permit states to cultivate non-drug industrial hemp under state industrial hemp programs.  Nine states have such programs, but their implementation has been blocked by DEA bureaucratic intransigence.  This spring, however, President Obama instructed federal agencies to respect state laws in a presidential directive on federal pre-emption:

"Executive departments and agencies should be mindful that in our federal system, the citizens of the several States have distinctive circumstances and values, and that in many instances it is appropriate for them to apply to themselves rules and principles that reflect these circumstances and values.  As Justice Brandeis explained more than 70 years ago, 'it is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.'"
- Source: www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Presidential-Memorandum-Regarding-Preemption/

Vote Hemp and the HIA are dedicated to a free market for low-THC industrial hemp and to changes in current policy to allow U.S. farmers to once again grow this agricultural crop.  Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps President and Vote Hemp Director David Bronner stated: "Dr. Bronner's has grown into the leading natural soap brand in the U.S. since incorporating hemp oil in 1999, due in significant part to the unsurpassed smoothness it gives our soaps. As an American business, we want to give our money to American farmers and save on import and freight costs. In this difficult economy, we can no longer indulge the DEA's self-serving hemp hysteria."


#  #  #

 

Location: 
Arlington, VA
United States

Feature: What About the Clinton and Bush Era Medical Marijuana Prisoners and Defendants?

When Attorney General Eric Holder announced back in March that he would not use Justice Department resources to go after medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal unless they were violating both state and federal laws, he ushered in a new era in the battle over medical marijuana. Since then, the number of DEA raids on providers has dwindled -- if not quite down to zero, still a dramatic improvement over the last years of the Bush administration.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/naullsfamily.jpg
Naulls family (courtesy green-aid.com)
Still, while the pace of raids and prosecutions has declined, the raids continue. There have been at least a dozen raids where federal law enforcement was present since the Obama administration took power.

But even in this arguably new era, there is left-over business to take care of from the Bush days, and some from the Clinton days. Medical marijuana providers convicted under federal drug laws remain imprisoned. Medical marijuana providers raided, but not yet charged, have the specter of federal prosecution hanging over them. Medical marijuana providers arrested on federal drug charges remain subject to prosecution. And hold-over US Attorneys from the Bush era continue to prosecute them. Another Bush administration hold-over, Michelle Leonhart, remains in charge at DEA.

According to the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access (ASA), at least 130 medical marijuana patients and providers are being prosecuted, or have been prosecuted or convicted under federal drug laws. ASA also lists 10 medical marijuana providers currently in federal prison. That list does not include an 11th person, Eddy Lepp, who is now serving a mandatory minimum 10-year prison term, because Lepp defended himself with a religious freedom defense, even though he was growing for medicinal reasons.

Some of the victims of the federal campaign are well known, such as "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal, who was prosecuted over a permitted grow in Oakland; Dr. Mollie Fry and her partner, Dale Shafer, who were sentenced to serve time in federal prison; Eddy Lepp; and Bryan Epis, the first medical marijuana provider prosecuted by the feds, who served two years of a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence before being released on appeal. (Epis has created petitions seeking justice for himself and other medical marijuana martyrs; you can view them here.)

Others are lesser known, but equally deserving of justice -- Ronnie Naulls, for example. Naulls operated a permitted dispensary in Corona, California and paid his taxes, but still got raided and arrested under federal law. Authorities turned his three children over to California Child Protection Services, and his wife was forced to plead guilty to a felony child endangerment count or face federal charges because the couple had marijuana in their home. The couple got their kids back, but Naulls faces a preliminary hearing next week.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/eddylepp3.jpg
Eddy Lepp, at sandiegomarijuana.com event (myspace.com/williamwwest
Or Dustin Costa. A medical marijuana patient and provider and head of the Merced Patients Groups, Costa was arrested on state charges by Merced County sheriff's deputies in March 2004. After a year and a half of state court proceedings, the Merced District Attorney turned his case over to the feds. Costa was convicted of federal charges of cultivation, possession with intent to distribute, and possession of a firearm. He's now three years into a 13-year sentence, which he is serving at the federal prison in Big Springs, Texas.

Or the multiple people arrested in the San Francisco Sunset dispensary raids in 2005 and the San Diego dispensary raids in 2006. The former netted 33 people, the latter six. All still face federal prosecution.

"We have seen a continuation of the prosecutions that began under Bush," said ASA spokesman Kris Hermes. "This is unfortunate given that they've signaled a change in federal policy. Nor is there any evidence they will pardon or commute sentences or stop prosecuting those people indicted under Bush but who have not yet completed the prosecutorial process."

"What needs to be done is that the Justice Department should review all those cases in light of current policy and rethink the pending prosecutions of those people who would have been left alone based on the policy now being enforced," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "I am sure there are at least some whose actions appear legal under state law. It would be nice to see those folks left alone and no further tax dollars wasted persecuting them. It would also be nice to see the use of presidential pardon power in those cases who would not be prosecuted now have already been sentenced and are sitting in federal prison."

But Mirken isn't holding his breath. "I wish I thought that was going to happen immediately, but Obama's saving his political capital for other stuff," he said.

One key to seeing real change from the federal government is getting real change in the federal government. With Bush appointees still in place at DEA and in the US Attorney positions, the Bush era prosecutions continue, and so do the raids.

"Obama is really behind on that," said Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML. "As I recall, Bush appointed Asa Hutchinson DEA director in August 2001, and here we are in October of Obama's first year and there's still a Bush appointee there. I recall very specifically that we saw the first raids orchestrated by US Attorneys within a couple of weeks of 9/11. That's when they went after Dr. Molly Fry and the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center. It only took until September of his first year for Bush to have an aggressive new team in place, but so far under Obama, we have nobody new at DEA and no new US Attorneys. In Northern California, the US Attorney is still the same guy who was appointed by Reagan. The rate of change is disappointing," Gieringer said.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/mcwilliams2-reduced.jpg
July 2005 protest in Washington after suicide of Steve McWilliams, San Diego medical marijuana provider who was facing federal prosecution
"The fact that a new head of DEA and new US Attorneys have not been appointed may present a problem in establishing a new policy on medical marijuana," said Hermes. "In at least a half dozen cases currently being prosecuted, the federal judges have asked for clarification on the administration's new policy before they proceed. That federal judges are balking at these continuing prosecutions in light of the supposed new policy from the Obama administration ought to be a concern to the administration. But what they're getting in response from the administration is not hopeful. The Department of Justice is saying it sees no reason to discontinue these cases or move them to state court."

State court is where these medical marijuana cases belong, said the ASA spokesman. "Our position is that the federal government doesn't need to prosecute any medical marijuana cases in federal court," said Hermes. "If they think there is a violation of state law, they should leave it up to the state courts to adjudicate that. As long as they're in federal court, the government won't be debating whether the defendants were in compliance with state law -- they don't even have to address that, and they won't, because it would hinder their chances of obtaining convictions. There is no role for the Justice Department in prosecuting state law violation medical marijuana cases in federal court," Hermes argued.

For those already convicted, it's too late for state court. The only relief they are even remotely likely to see is a presidential pardon or commutation.

"I have this goal of getting Eddy Lepp out before his sentence expires," said Gieringer. "But to get out prison, you have to apply for a pardon. My understanding is it's sort of up to the prisoners and their attorneys to get that together. I don't know that anyone has started on that project yet."

Not yet, but it looks like one is in the works. "We're looking at mounting a campaign to win pardons for those people currently serving federal sentences," said Hermes, noting that some of them are doing as many as 20 years.

But don't count on the Obama administration to take the initiative, said Gieringer. "We're in a period of benign neglect," he said. "Obama is weaker now and less interested in these issues. He's not inclined to do anything, unlike Bush, who was forceful and assertive in the wrong directions. Now, there's a different dynamic going on. We're going to have to push as hard as we can, and hopefully we can get Obama's attention."

In the meantime, some nonviolent medical marijuana patients and providers rot in federal prison, others are having to continue to fight their federal prosecutions, and even more -- those raided but never (not yet) charged -- possibly face the same fate. We won't be to a new era until we take care of this old business.

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.

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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

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.

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