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George Bush and Cocaine: How the President Might Save His Approval Rating

[Editor's Note: Jimi Devine is an intern at StoptheDrugWar.org. His bio is in our "staff" section.]

As the eyes of the political spectrum make their way through Scott McClellan's expose on his Bush administration experiences, which includes information involving GW’s cocaine use, the president will continue to deny his actions. But Bush shouldn’t be so quick to repeat that he was too wasted to remember whether he powdered his nose -- look at this honest group of politicians who have come out on the record about their past drug use and the lack of negative effects on their political careers.

Obviously the current flagship of an open door policy to past drug use has to be Barrack Obama. In 1995's "Dreams From My Father" the Democratic frontrunner acknowledged his drug use before even becoming a member of the Illinois state legislature. Over primary season this did open Obama up to attack, most famously Mitt Romney noting: "I think that was a huge error by Barack Obama… it is just the wrong way for people who want to be the leader of the free world."

As we look at Obama and a few of the politicians who admit to being in the "once or twice" club, the underlying similarity between many is their political prominence. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg famously responded to the marijuana question with, "You bet I did, and I enjoyed it." Nevertheless, a dash of irony is added by New York being the marijuana arrest capital of the world.

While Bloomberg's approach wasn't for everyone, others did come out of the smokey closet. Past presidential contenders John Edwards, John Kerry, and Howard Dean admitted together at 2003 presidential debate they had all tried the drug in the past. Few went into detail like Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer who cooked up his marijuana in some baked beans with a friend while at Columbia University.

Finally we come to Al Gore. As a senator in the 1980s he took part in the hearings to approve Supreme Court nominees. When Douglas H. Ginsburg came under fire for his past marijuana use, Gore stepped up and admitted he had also tried the drug in the past. Of course, it was later found at that “tried” meant a lot more than occasional consumption.

So here now we sit with allegations from a former press secretary that the President of the United States can't remember if he ever tried cocaine. I think it's pretty obvious how the president needs to use this as a boost to his credibility. Look at Dean and Gore, one is the Chairman of the DNC and the other convinced us that the ice caps are melting. If Bush decides to come out from his closet or from under his marble desk, at the very least he would be saying something the American people could believe.

Latin America: Rising Death Toll in Mexico's Drug War Signals Imminent Victory, Attorney General Claims

As of last Friday, the death toll in the prohibition-related violence wracking Mexico this year had climbed to 1,378, up sharply from the 940 dead at this time last year, Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora reported. Since then, that number has gone even higher, with killing continuing on a daily basis. Among the dead this week, seven police officers were killed in Culiacán when they raided a house belonging to the Sinaloa Cartel.

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Shrine to San Malverde, patron saint of the narcos (and others), Culiacán -- plaque thanking God, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and San Malverde for keeping the roads cleans -- from ''the indigenous people from Angostura to Arizona'' (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith)
More than 4,150 people, including at least 450 police and soldiers, have been killed in Mexico's drug wars since President Felipe Calderón unleashed the army against drug traffickers at the beginning of 2007, Medina Mora said. Currently, some 30,000 troops are deployed in border cities, Culiacán and Acapulco, and other drug war hot spots.

This month, at least six high-ranking police officials, including the police chief in Ciudad Juárez and the acting commander of the Federal Preventive Police have been assassinated, presumably at the hands of cartel gunmen. Others have fled to the US.

But for Medina Mora, the rising tide of blood is a sign the government's offensive is working. Recent arrests and seizures have created a power vacuum, and different cartel factions are vying for turf, he argued. "Evidently when they are cornered and weakened, they have to respond with violence," Medina Mora said.

The US government apparently doesn't agree. The Congress is currently considering a three-year, $1.4 billion anti-drug assistance program for Mexico aimed at defeating the cartels. And neither, apparently, does Medina Mora's own government. It announced this week that it will deploy the military against the cartels for at least another two years.

Bill to Protect Prop. 215 Passes Assembly Appropriations Committee

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MAY 22, 2008

Bill to Protect Prop. 215 Passes Assembly Appropriations Committee
AB 2743 Would End the Use of California Resources in Federal Medical Marijuana Raids, Now Heads to Assembly Floor

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-668-6403 or 202-215-4205

SACRAMENTO -- In what advocates hailed as an important step toward protecting California law, the Assembly Appropriations Committee passed AB 2743 by a vote of 9-7 today. The measure, authored by Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña (D-San Diego), would protect the integrity of California's medical marijuana law by making it the policy of state and local law enforcement agencies not to cooperate with the Drug Enforcement Administration or other federal agencies in raids on state-legal medical marijuana patients and caregivers.

DEA raids on medical marijuana patients and providers who are allowed to cultivate and possess marijuana under California law have been assisted - and in some cases requested - by local law enforcement agencies in communities around the state, including Los Angeles, Bakersfield, San Mateo, San Diego and many others.

Jon Palmer, who uses medical marijuana to ease the agony caused by a rare blood disorder, lost his safe source of medicine when Kern County sheriff's deputies assisted the DEA in arresting the operators of Nature's Medicinal in Bakersfield. "Faced with the prospect of having to immediately double my morphine dosage and take to the streets to find my medicine, I was devastated," Palmer said. "The most outrageous part of the ordeal is that local officials used state and local tax dollars to arrest these individuals who were in full compliance with state and local laws."

"This bill is about maintaining the integrity of California law," said Aaron Smith, California state organizer for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Our medical marijuana law enjoys the support of three out of four Californians, yet in too many cases federal officials have intruded into our state affairs and raided patients and caregivers. Due to these federal prosecutions, sick, elderly and disabled Californians who almost certainly would have been found innocent in a state court are in federal prison right now. At a time when state and local governments are in fiscal crisis, California tax dollars shouldn't be used to undermine our own laws."

With more than 23,000 members and 180,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

####
Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States

Pain Medicine: Kansas Doctor Fights Back, Attacks Federal Prosecution and Controlled Substances Act as Unconstitutional

Lawyers for a Haysville, Kansas, physician facing a 34-count federal indictment alleging he acted as a drug dealer in prescribing pain medications fought back last Friday, filing in federal court a motion to dismiss both the indictment and federal Controlled Substances act (CSA) as unconstitutional. Attorneys for Dr. Steven Schneider argued that federal prosecutors in Wichita improperly claimed authority over the regulation of medicine.

Schneider and his wife, a nurse at his Haysville clinic, were arrested in December amidst great fanfare from prosecutors, who referred to the general care, ambulatory, and pain relief clinic as a "pill mill" and asserted Schneider was "linked" to 56 deaths. They remained in jail held without bond until last month, when they were finally released pending trial.

Schneider is only the latest of dozens of physicians arrested and tried by federal prosecutors over their pain medication prescribing practices in recent years. With the DEA and Justice Department prosecutors asserting that they know best medical practices and willing to arrest doctors whose practices they disagree with, the field of pain relief medicine has been plagued by the tension between the imperatives of pain relief and those of drug control.

Schneider and his lawyers want the government out of the doctor's office. "This case is an effort by the federal government to define and regulate the practice of medicine masquerading as a criminal prosecution," wrote Schneider's legal team, which includes nationally known specialists. "This case should not be about whether Dr. Schneider fell short of the standard of care for certain patients, but whether he engaged in the legitimate practice of medicine."

Schneider's medical conduct should be a matter for the state medical board, not the federal criminal apparatus, the lawyers wrote. "All of the accusations against Dr. Schneider and Ms. Atterbury [Mrs. Schneider] revolve around matters of medical science, professional judgment, and evolving standards of practice. However, by seizing on widespread ignorance and hysteria surrounding the use of opioid analgesics in the treatment of chronic pain, the government has endeavored to shoehorn these matters, which bear no relevance to criminal culpability, into the rubric of drug dealing and health care fraud. With regard to the charges related to the Controlled Substance Act ('CSA'), the sole question should be whether Dr. Schneider was a drug dealer 'as conventionally understood.' Instead, the government confounds this question with irrelevant facts and improper standards."

The CSA is unconstitutional on its face as "impermissibly vague" when it comes to providing guidance for physicians and as applied in this particular indictment, the lawyers argued. "As applied in the Indictment, the CSA fails to adequately and meaningfully inform physicians of what conduct is proscribed, largely because such conduct is arbitrarily and unilaterally determined by enforcement authorities lacking knowledge and expertise with respect to issues of medical science and ethics."

No word yet on when a ruling on the motion is expected. But the direct attack by the federal government's drug war apparatchiks on pain doctors and the patients they serve has now provoked a counterattack aimed right at the drug war's jugular vein.

Law Enforcement: Missouri Residents Sue Over Fake DEA Agent Busts

Seventeen residents of Gerald, Missouri, located in Franklin County, have filed federal lawsuits alleging that their arrests on drug charges were illegal because a fake DEA agent helped make them, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday. The lawsuits, filed last week, came in the wake of a man now accused of duping Gerald officials into believing he was a bona fide federal agent on loan from the DEA.

Authorities admitted last week that the fake DEA agent, William Jakob, of Washington, Missouri, conducted drug raids and made arrests without legal authority. The police chief and two officers involved have already been fired. Jakob has yet to be charged with any crime.

The plaintiffs in the civil rights lawsuits allege that Jakob and Gerald police officers burst into their homes in April and May, pointed guns at their heads, damaged property, took money, and made arrests. The suits name city officials, police, and Jakob as defendants and say police should have verified Jakob's identity.

One suit filed by 11 people seeks $11 million for each plaintiff. Another suit filed by six people did not specify damages sought.

Act Now to Protect Medical Cannabis Patients

[Courtesy of Americans for Safe Access] Dear ASA Supporter,

Last month, Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) and a small bi-partisan coalition of Members of Congress introduced H.R. 5842, the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act. The legislation will help protect individuals who use or provide medical cannabis in accordance with their state law.

Visit www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/PatientProtectionAct to take action now!

If passed, this important legislation would, among other things, reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug according the Controlled Substances Act and provide clearer protections for qualified patients, their caregivers, and safe-access sites authorized by state or local law. Take action now to protect patients and their caregivers!

Visit www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/PatientProtectionAct to write Congress now! Urge your U.S. Representative to support the Patient Protection Act!

Thanks you for supporting ASA and our efforts to secure safe access for medical cannabis patients. Please forward this message to friends, co-workers, and family members to encourage them to join you in this statewide movement to protect safe access!

Sincerely,

Sonnet Seeborg Gabbard
Field Coordinator
Americans for Safe Access

P.S. The only way we can continue to work on legislation like the Patient Protection Act is with your continued support. Become a member of ASA today!

HRC Alert: Getting Congress Hip to Hep in May

[Courtesy of Harm Reduction Coalition] 

Dear Supporter,

Take Action to Repeal the Federal Ban on Syringe Exchange, Increase Hepatitis Prevention

Momentum is building to end the 20 year ban on the use of federal funds for syringe exchange programs, but now we need heat. HRC has initiated a campaign designed to build the pressure in Washington DC and provide an opportunity for syringe exchange advocates to work for what we believe in. Keep in mind Franklin D. Roosevelt's response to a reform delegation, "Okay, you've convinced me.  Now go on out and bring pressure on me!"  Action comes from keeping the heat on.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

1. Organize a district-level meeting - Call up your US Representative's local office and arrange a meeting in May to talk to them about syringe exchange and the need to lift the federal ban. Download talking points, materials to leave behind, and ask them to take a stand and co-sign a 'Dear Colleague' letter from members of Congress to House leadership.

2. Send a Letter to the Editor - May 19 is World Hepatitis Awareness Day! Submit an op-ed or a letter to the editor this week to bring attention to the end for syringe exchange expansion through ending the federal ban. For addesses , please click here. Be sure to also send it to your Congressional representatives.

3. Demystify! Impress! Hold accountable! If you work at a syringe exchange program, consider inviting your US Congressperson &/or their staff to your site. Show 'em how much you do on how little funding.  Tell them what you would do with sufficient funding.

4. Let us know what you hear back - Email hrcwest@harmreduction.org and keep us in touch.

Feature: Battling Military Impunity in Mexico's Drug War

Lawmakers in the United States this week took the first steps toward approving a $1.6 billion dollar, three-year anti-drug assistance package for Mexico that is heavily weighted toward aid for the Mexican military. The Mexican army needs all the help it can get as, with 30,000 troops deployed against violent drug traffickers by President Felipe Calderón, it wages war against the so-called cartels, say supporters of the package.

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poster of assassinated human rights advocate Ricardo Murillo
But even as the aid package, known as Plan Mérida after the Mexican city where US and Mexican officials hammered out details, was being crafted, the Mexican military was once again demonstrating the risks of using soldiers for law enforcement. On the evening of March 26, near the town of Santiago de los Caballeros in the municipality of Badiraguato in the mountains of the state of Sinaloa, a five-man military patrol opened fire on a white Hummer driven by a local man back from the US. When the smoke cleared, four people in the vehicle were dead, two were wounded -- and there was no sign of any weapons.

It was the second time in less than a year that soldiers in Badiraguato had opened fire, killing multiple innocent civilians. Last June, three school teachers and two of their young children were killed when soldiers at a checkpoint perforated their vehicle with bullets. That case went away after the military paid their families $1,600 each.

Seeing yet another unjustified killing by the military was enough for Mercedes Murillo, head of the independent human rights organization the Frente Cívico Sinaloense (Sinaloa Civic Front). The veteran activist saw her brother assassinated in September after discussing the June killings on his radio program, but that didn't stop her from filing a lawsuit designed to end what is in effect impunity for soldiers who commit human rights offenses against civilians.

Under Mexican law -- the result of a post-revolutionary political settlement designed to keep the military out of politics -- members of the military do not face trial in the civilian courts, but in special military courts. This martial fuero -- a privileged judicial instance whenever the military are on trial -- results in soldiers charged with human rights abuses being judged by members of their own institution, and all too frequently, being absolved of any wrongdoing no matter what the facts are.

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Mercedes Murillo with legal assistant
Now, Murillo and her legal team, acting on behalf of the widow of the Hummer driver, have filed suit in Sinaloa district court in Mazatlán, challenging the fuero system. She doesn't expect immediate success, she said.

"This is the first case presented in Mexico against the actions the army has taken," said Murillo. "We know that when we present this in Mazatlán, the judges will give us nothing. Then we must take it to the Supreme Court of Mexico, and there might be people there who will study what we are presenting."

But Murillo isn't counting on the Mexican courts; her vision goes beyond that. "I don't think we can win here, but even if the Supreme Court says the military can do what it wants, that will lay the groundwork for going to the Inter-American Court. Military impunity violates international treaties that Mexico has signed," she argued.

The Organization of American States' Inter-American Court of Human Rights and Inter-American Commission of Human Rights are autonomous institutions charged by the hemispheric organization with interpreting and applying the American Treaty on Human Rights and ensuring governments' compliance with it. Mexico is a signatory to that treaty.

"Using the military for drug enforcement in Mexico is a serious problem," agreed Ana Paula Hernández of the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountains in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero. In addition to being one of the most impoverished areas of the country, the mountains of Guerrero have long been home to poppy and marijuana farmers, as well as the occasional leftist guerrilla band over the decades. The military has been deployed there for years.

But while most attention these days is focused on the military's deployment to fight the cartels in major cities, Hernández cited the military's more traditional drug war role: manual illicit crop eradication. "It's an almost impossible and useless task since illicit crop cultivation is an issue of survival in the mountain region, as in other parts of the country," she said. "In these regions, farmers have two options -- either they grow illicit crops or they migrate, so of course they will continue to find ways to grow illicit crops. It will never end unless the social and structural reasons for it are addressed."

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Frente Cívico Sinaloense (Sinaloa Civic Front) office, hippie shop next-door
But instead, successive Mexican governments have sent in the military to root out the poppy and pot fields. At least, that is their stated purpose, but Hernández isn't sure they're serious. "This is the excuse for deploying the military in many rural and indigenous regions, but in many cases it's more about a counterinsurgency strategy than a crop eradication strategy," she said.

The military presence in such regions is "an intimidating and threatening" one, said Hernández. "They set up camp wherever they like, often destroying licit crops and harvests in the process, stealing the water from the community, entering people's homes to take their food, stopping people on the roads to interrogate them, and so on. Worse yet, the military has become one of the main perpetrators of human rights abuses in the region, committing violations as serious as sexual rape for example," Hernández said. "This is something that is very common but that is rarely denounced."

Tlachinollan has documented some 80 cases of human rights violations carried out by members of the military in the region in recent years, including the rape of two women, Valentina Rosendo Cantú and Inés Fernández, by soldiers in 2002, said Hernández. But because of the military court system, nobody has been punished.

"Justice has not been carried out in a single case," she said. "It is very difficult, almost impossible, to obtain justice in cases where the military is involved. They remain untouchable to a certain degree and without a doubt, absolutely unaccountable to society for their actions."

As for Cantú and Fernández, they have given up on Mexican justice and are now seeking redress before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Their case is pending after a hearing last October.

While Mexican citizens and activists struggle to rein in the military, some US experts wonder whether involving soldiers in drug law enforcement does any good anyway.
"We don't think it's a problem that can be solved militarily," said Joy Olson, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "The use of the military in the drug war is not a new thing -- they continually bring in the military because the police are either too weak or too corrupt to deal with the traffickers -- but the question is whether it can deal with the challenge at hand, and we don't think so," she said.

But even if the military is unable to stop drug production and trafficking, it will continue to be the backstop for hard-pressed Mexican politicians unless real reforms take place, Olson said. "We need to be talking about significant police reform. Until that happens, the military will be used over and over again without solving the problem."

Murillo agreed that police reforms were necessary, and vowed never to give up the fight for justice. "They killed my brother because he criticized the army," she said, "but we are so used to the soldiers now that we are not scared. I have nothing to lose. My sons and daughters are married, my husband is 82. If they kill me, I don't care. That's the only way to work. You can't be afraid."

Medical Marijuana: GOP Attacks Obama for Suggesting He Would End Raids

With Sen. Barack Obama now the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, the Republican Party is looking for potential weaknesses and thinks it has found one in his relatively progressive stance on medical marijuana. On Wednesday, the Republican National Committee issued a press release saying Obama's position on medical marijuana and the DEA raids on patients and providers "raises serious doubts" about an Obama candidacy.

The attack came after the San Francisco Chronicle published an article Monday detailing Obama's position on medical marijuana, from comments he made in November to a response he more recently provided to the paper's candidate questionnaire. In responding to the Chronicle's medical marijuana question, the Obama campaign said he endorsed a hands-off federal policy:

"Voters and legislators in the states -- from California to Nevada to Maine -- have decided to provide their residents suffering from chronic diseases and serious illnesses like AIDS and cancer with medical marijuana to relieve their pain and suffering," said campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. "Obama supports the rights of states and local governments to make this choice -- though he believes medical marijuana should be subject to (US Food and Drug Administration) regulation like other drugs," LaBolt said. He added that Obama would end DEA raids on medical marijuana providers.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has also suggested she would end the raids, according to Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana, a New Hampshire-based activist group that specializes in trying to get candidates on the record on medical marijuana. Republican nominee Sen. John McCain has waffled on the issue, according to Granite Staters, which has him saying he would end the raids at one point, but saying he would not end them a few weeks later.

But in was Obama who was in the GOP bull's-eye over medical marijuana this week. "Barack Obama's pledge to stop Executive agencies from implementing laws passed by Congress raises serious doubts about his understanding of what the job of the President of the United States actually is," said RNC communications director Danny Diaz in the press release. "His refusal to enforce the law reveals that Barack Obama doesn't have the experience necessary to do the job of president, or that he fundamentally lacks the judgment to carry out the most basic functions of the executive Branch. What other laws would Barack Obama direct federal agents not to enforce?" Diaz asked.

Obama's refusal to countenance continued DEA raids would mean he would violate his oath of office by not protecting and defending the Constitution, the RNC charged. The Supreme Court has upheld the authority of Congress to regulate the use of marijuana, it noted.

Whether the Republican Party can gain advantage by attacking Obama on the medical marijuana issue remains to be seen. In poll after poll, American voters have said they support access to medical marijuana for sick people. It is currently legal in 12 states and under serious consideration in several more this year.

Latin America: Prohibition-Related Violence Surges in Mexico

More than 100 people, including at least 20 police officers, died in prohibition-related violence in Mexico in the past week as drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- shot it out with police, soldiers, and each other in cities across the country. Among those killed were Federal Preventive Police (PFP) Commander Édgar Millán, assassinated on his doorstep in Mexico City, and Ciudad Juárez Municipal Police Chief Juan Antonio Román, gunned down in front of his home Saturday in a hail of bullets.

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At least three other high-ranking PFP commanders have been gunned down in Mexico City in the past few days, presumably by gunmen of the Sinaloa Cartel, headed by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán. Another PFP commander, Arturo Cabrera, narrowly escaped the assassin's bullet Tuesday in Monterrey. He was attacked by gunmen as he left the state police academy, but managed to retreat back to the base, where he managed to hold off his attackers with his own gun until being rescued by a police SWAT team.

Guzmán's own son, Édgar Guzmán, was himself gunned down in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa, on Saturday, presumably by gunmen of the rival Juárez Cartel, which has been battling Guzman's group for control over the drug traffic there. That was only the latest flare-up in two weeks of violence there that have seen bloody attacks on PFP and local police, massive multi-vehicle convoys of armed narcos marauding through the streets, and an infusion of 3,000 more soldiers into the state.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón deployed the Mexican military a year and half ago in a bid to break the power of the cartels. But with some 30,000 soldiers now deployed in the fight, the violence not only continues, but seems to be escalating. Around 3,000 people have been killed since Calderón's offensive began, more than 1,100 of them so far this year, according to Mexican media reports.

The US Congress is now debating approval of a $1.6 billion, three-year anti-drug aid package for Mexico, heavily tilted toward military assistance. While the violence would appear to strengthen the case for such an aid program, it is unclear whether an infusion of military training and technology will have a positive impact on Mexico's drug war.

[Ed: In February 2003, a Mexican congressman from Sinaloa, Gregorio Urías Germán, after calling for drug legalization, attended our Latin America conference, "Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century" ("Saliendo de las sombras: Terminando con la prohibición de las drogas en el Siglo XXI" en español). Urías argued that "If we can't even discuss the alternatives, if we can't even admit the drug war is a failure, then we will never solve the problem." He said that existing forums, such as the UN and the Organization of American States, are not fruitful places for discussion, "because only the repressive policies of the United States are discussed at these forums." Sinaloa continues to suffer from the violence caused by drug prohibition, as discussed in this newsbrief five years later. In different but similar ways, inner-city neighborhoods throughout the US suffer from violence and disorder caused by prohibition as well.]

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