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Editorial: Ending the marijuana monopoly

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-ed-marijuana31may31,0,987800.story?coll=la-opinion-leftrail

Ed Rosenthal Convicted of Following State Law, Helping Sick People

After five years and enough drama and incompetence to appall even seasoned drug war observers like us, the ridiculous show trial of Ed Rosenthal is finally over.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The self-proclaimed "guru of ganja" was convicted again Wednesday in federal court of illegally growing hundreds of marijuana plants that he said were meant to treat sick people, which state law allows.

Ed Rosenthal was convicted after U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer prohibited the marijuana activist's lawyers from telling the jury he was working for a pot club sanctioned by Oakland government officials. [Star-Telegram]
Rosenthal will now serve one day in jail (time served), for the crime of helping the City of Oakland provide legal medicine to registered patients. Forgive me, but I've already said everything there is to say about this:
That's right, American taxpayers. Behold the glorious retribution of the principled and incorruptible federal prosecutors who've exhausted untold sums and incalculable man-hours to protect you from a safe and effective medicine. Amidst Iraq, Katrina, Medicare, etc. the federal government was trying to save you from Ed Rosenthal by putting him in jail for one goddamn day. And they're still working on it, knowing as they have all along, that this is the best they can hope for.
Today, a new group of jurors is learning that the federal government tricked them into convicting Ed Rosenthal of something that's legal in their state. Like the previous Rosenthal jury before them, they will be robbed of the pride that comes from serving the cause of justice and they may soon stand with him in solidarity as did their predecessors.

Even in victory, our government's campaign against medical marijuana stands naked before us, utterly fraudulent and disgraceful as ever before.

Location: 
United States

Ganja Guru case rests in the hands of a federal jury, again

Location: 
San Francisco, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Oroville Mercury-Register (CA)
URL: 
http://www.orovillemr.com/news/bayarea/ci_6019330

Why Does DEA Teach Meth-Cooking to the Public?

This is just bizarre. I swear, every time I think I'm on the verge of understanding what motivates these people, they find increasingly strange ways to waste our money:

Cooking methamphetamine takes only a few hours and requires simple household ingredients, like striker plates from matchbooks, the guts of lithium batteries, drain cleaner.

"It's pretty gross," said Matt Leland, who works in career services at the University of Northern Colorado and who recently helped cook the drug in a lab. "If someone was truly interested in manufacturing meth, it would not be that hard."

The Drug Enforcement Administration invited Leland and other citizens - such as software engineers, a teacher, a pastor and a school principal - to make methamphetamine last week in a lab at Metropolitan State College of Denver. [Denver Post]

Ok. We understand that DEA is teaching private citizens how to manufacture meth, but why? Why the hell would they do that?

The class was held as part of the DEA's first Citizens Academy in order to give the public a close-up view of what the agency does to keep drugs off the street.

That's interesting, and I'm eager to attend, but it doesn't answer the question because cooking meth isn’t part of DEA's job at all. Their job is, of course, to stop people from cooking meth, which has now become the precise opposite of what they're doing.

The whole thing is mindlessly indulgent when you consider that no one really needs a chemistry lesson to infer that the constant explosions at their crazy neighbor's house might explain why he has so many strange visitors.

If you're gonna teach meth-cooking, teach it to immigrant store clerks before you arrest them for naively selling household items to undercover narcs.

Location: 
United States

Ponder This Graph for a Moment, Please

graph from WOLA and AIN (graph from WOLA/AIN memo, link below) This graph shows what about $10 billion in US taxpayer dollars has accomplished. Note that while coca production has shifted within the region, the 1992 levels and the 2005 levels are essentially identical. Why is our coca eradication policy not subjected to cost-benefit analysis? Is there anyone who will argue that it is working? If so, I'd like to hear it. To be fair, that $10 billion has accomplished some things. It has engendered massive social conflict in all three countries, it has led to tens of thousands of peasant farmers being arrested as drug traffickers, it has led to thousands of deaths (especially in Colombia, where the eradication policy is part of the US's broader military intervention in that country's festering civil war). Your tax dollars at work. $10 billion is a lot of money. Heck, we could finance the Iraq war for a few weeks with it! Or we could give $100,000 college scholarships to 10,000 students. Or build $100,000 homes for 10,000 families. Or numerous other programs that, unlike the coca eradication program, might actually accomplish something. By the way, I came across the graph above in a memo from the Andean Information Network and the Washington Office on Latin America. That memo was occasioned by the US government's release of coca cultivation estimates for Bolivia. The US government has for months been complaining that Bolivian President Evo Morales' pro-coca policies were going to lead to a boom in production there. Surprise! It didn't. Read the memo for some juicy analysis.
Location: 
United States

Alone in a City’s AIDS Battle, Hoping for Backup

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
The New York Times
URL: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/29/washington/29district.html

Why the US is Losing Its War on Cocaine

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Independent (UK)
URL: 
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article2586645.ece

Why the US is losing its war on cocaine

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Independent (UK)
URL: 
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article2586645.ece

Feature: Border Blues -- Canada, US Both Bar People Who Used Drugs -- Ever

Nearly one of out six Canadians could be turned away from the United States because they used drugs at some point in their lives, and nearly 100 million Americans face the same prospect at the Canadian border. Under the immigration laws of both countries, persons who admit to past drug use or have a drug conviction can be excluded by the decision of the border guard they encounter and his immediate supervisors.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/I-5.jpg
I-5 at Peace Arch Park, US-Canada border between Seattle and Vancouver
Fortunately for millions of North Americans, the laws are not enforceable if they have kept their past drug use to themselves and not left a record of it in print or online. But for the at least 17 million US citizens who have drug convictions and a smaller but still sizeable number of Canadians with drug convictions, such laws could lead to a rude awakening when arriving at the border.

How many people are actually turned back at the border for past drug use is unknown. US Customs and Border Protection Service officials could not provide a detailed breakdown of the 574 aliens deemed inadmissible on the average day. Nor were Canadian figures obtainable from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

While such policies have been in place for years, they have been little known -- except for people who have found out the hard way. One of those people is Dr. Andrew Feldmar, a Vancouver, BC, psychiatrist, who had crossed the border on numerous occasions, only to be turned back last summer by a US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent who googled his name and turned up an academic article in which he discussed taking LSD on two occasions nearly forty years ago.

An independent Canadian newspaper, The Tyee, picked up on the story last month, and since then it has been recounted in numerous publications, including a May 14 piece in the New York Times that was widely syndicated and appeared on numerous blogs. The Feldmar fiasco has led to renewed attention to the persecution of admitted drug users at the border under a policy that, if strictly enforced, would make hundreds of millions of people ineligible to enter the US.

The relevant section of US immigration law says that the US can exclude "aliens who have been convicted of, or who admit to having committed, or who admit to committing acts which constitute the essential elements of a violation or conspiracy to violate any law or regulation of a State, the United States or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance as defined in s. 102 of the Controlled Substances Act. An attempt or conspiracy to commit such a crime is included in this ground of exclusion."

"Drug violations or admissions of drug use fall under the controlled substances statutes and make people inadmissible under certain circumstances," said Mike Milne, a US Customs and Border Protection spokesman in Seattle. "It depends on the totality of the circumstances," he told Drug War Chronicle. "We don't treat marijuana differently from any other illicit drug," Milne added. "It's considered a prohibited substance."

But as the case of Dr. Feldmar shows, the "totality of the circumstances" is very open to interpretation. In Feldmar's case, two instances of ancient LSD use for research purposes outweighed his decades of solid citizenship and professional activity and the fact that he had previously entered the US without problem on multiple previous occasions.

"Denying a respected researcher like Dr. Feldmar entry into the county is just absurd," said Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann, whose organization has begun a campaign to undo the policy. "We have grave concerns about the impact this can have on researchers on drugs writing openly. And what about people coming here for a conference on methadone or on injection drug use and HIV? Many of these people are likely to have been drug users," he told the Chronicle. "Are we to exclude them now? We are also deeply concerned that these increasingly powerful databases make it possible to go back and dredge up anything you ever wrote or blogged or posted on a web page."

DPA is looking into what, if any, action could be taken in Congress to ameliorate the problem, but it is unlikely anything would happen this year. "100 million Americans have used an illegal drug at some point in their lives, and it's hard to find a presidential candidate who hasn't smoked pot; yet we're prohibiting people from other countries who have used drugs from visiting our country. It just doesn't make sense," said Bill Piper, DPA's director of national affairs. "Imagine if other countries adopted similar policies. Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Brad Pitt, Sam Donaldson and millions of other Americans wouldn't be able to travel."

Work in Congress is just getting underway, Piper told the Chronicle. "We just started our first round of lobbying congressional offices, talking to the staff of people on the judiciary and homeland security committees," he said. "People didn't know about this and were shocked at the policy; it just seemed unfair to them to punish people for things they'd written or things they had done in the past."

After educating key congressional staffers, said Piper, it will be on to phase two. "Right now, we trying to gauge how widespread is the interest in this, and then we'll probably go back for a second round of lobbying."

For people thinking about traveling to the US, CBP's Milne outlined what could happen in the event they are excluded. If a person is denied admission because of past drug use or convictions, said Milne, three possibilities present themselves. "In most cases, you can just withdraw your application for admission and turn around and walk away," he said. "Or you can choose to go before an immigration judge to adjudicate the issue. In that case, you would most likely remain in custody until the hearing," he said. "But if you make false statements during the course of your application [if you get caught denying past use or a conviction], you can be subject to extradited removal. In that case, we will document that something illegal took place on this attempt to enter, remove you from the country, and bar you from readmission for up to five years."

Milne could provide no statistics on the number of people turned away because of admitted drug use or drug convictions, but did say that of the 680,000 aliens who attempt to enter the country through ports of entry on any given day, about 575 are denied entry and 63 are arrested.

Famed Dutch drug researcher Peter Cohen isn't taking the chance. "I will not try to enter the US anymore," said Cohen, who has done ground-breaking work on the (lack of) links between drug policies and drug use levels. "Imagine if they read my research!" he told the Chronicle. "I am dead serious. I will not risk being treated like a piece of dirt by US law enforcement people who are known the world over as brutes and idiots," he vowed.

"Just a few weeks ago, we had a story here of a young Dutch man who was in the US one day past his permit," Cohen continued. "They kept him imprisoned for weeks, and his stories about his treatment and his inaccessibility to lawyers and the Dutch embassy were just horrible. No, that is not for me."

A Canadian substance use and drug policy researcher who asked not to be identified told Drug War Chronicle that "border enforcement that focuses on either research into or past personal use of illicit substances directly impacts our ability to study our current approach towards drugs, and will likely stifle dialogue that might move us towards more evidence-based policies and practices." Not only are such policies "a violation of free speech and personal liberty rights on both sides of the border," he added, "stopping the flow of information on effective harm reduction practices in both Canada and the US could have a negative impact on the public health of both our nations."

The very fact that this prominent researcher requested anonymity proves the point that the policy has a silencing impact. "I'd rather not be quoted in this article although I believe that it's an important story," he said while noting that he has not run into problems at the US border, "because if the US has reduced its homeland security infrastructure to a simple Google search, I worry that it's just a matter of time before they start to hassle me as well, and being quoted in a story pointing out that I haven't yet been harassed or denied entry sounds like the best way to raise a red flag the next time I cross the border."

But the door at the US-Canadian border can be slammed shut by either side, and despite its reputation as a cannabis-friendly nation, border guards at Canadian points of entry are just as quick to turn you back as are the Americans. In fact, Canadian border guards may be even tougher than the Americans, especially for offenses like driving under the influence.

The Citizenship and Immigration Canada web site explains:

"Whether you are planning to visit, work, study or immigrate, if you have committed or been convicted of a criminal offence, you may be prohibited from entering Canada. Criminal offences include both minor and serious offences such as theft, assault, dangerous driving, driving while intoxicated and manslaughter, among others. For a complete list of criminal offences in Canada, please consult the Canadian Criminal Code. If you have juvenile convictions (convictions for crimes committed while under the age of 18), you are most likely not prohibited from entering Canada."

The one bit of good news is that a simple marijuana possession conviction probably won't keep an American out of Canada. Under Canadian law, possession of less than an ounce is a summary offense and does not constitute inadmissibility, said Vancouver immigration attorney Gordon Maynard.

Don't try to deny any criminal history, Maynard warned. "It is not a good idea to lie. The Ports of Entry have access to the NCIC database and can readily see any history of arrests, charges, court proceedings, convictions and incarceration in the database," he said. "Officers have this information even before they ask the questions. Failure to truthfully answer questions on any relevant matter, including criminality, constitutes misrepresentation and is a separate bar against entry and can include a two-year penalty against any further entry."

Still, Maynard told the Chronicle, you could be excluded even with a clean record. "You don't need a conviction to be inadmissible to Canada on criminal grounds," he said. "Pending charges, or an admission of prior criminal behavior, can be enough if the Canadian officer has reasonable grounds to believe that you have committed a criminal offense."

"I think this is one of the worst manifestations yet in the war on some drugs," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law (NORML). "Keeping people out of the US because they once used a drug is absurd, but Canada does the same thing. Although Canada has historically hewed toward a more open and tolerant marijuana policy, has functionally decriminalized marijuana to some degree, allows medical marijuana, and lets farmers legally grow hemp, an American can be turned away if he has a marijuana or other drug conviction or has even publicly acknowledged his drug use."

Publicity over the Feldmar fiasco has the phones ringing off the wall at NORML, St. Pierre said. "We're getting lots of calls now from people with past convictions or people who have blogged or spoken publicly or appeared on TV or radio about their marijuana use," he noted. "This includes people who are NORML lawyers, as well as Dr. Lester Grinspoon. It's his birthday next month, and his family wanted to take him to Vancouver. Although he's never been convicted of any crime, he has admitted to using cannabis, so now the family is worried about whether he can even cross the border. This is a great concern," St. Pierre said.

It's also a personal concern for St. Pierre, who was born in Maine and has family on the Canadian side of the border. "I've acknowledged using cannabis on many, many occasions, so I don't know if they'll let me in," he said. "I'd like to go up there to see family, to go fishing, to go on educational junkets, but now I don't know."

Of course, not everyone has to worry about these laws. Admitted former drug users, such as David Cameron (head of the British Tory party), former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, the current Premieres of Quebec and Ontario, actors Colin Farrell and Pierce Brosnan, British billionaire Richard Branson (Virgin Air) and numerous musicians like Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and George Michael all seem to be able to get into either country at will. Similarly, Canada doesn't seem to have any problem with admitted former drug users like Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

Perhaps, as CBP spokesman Milne mused when asked about apparent differential enforcement, "Maybe they all got waivers." Perhaps not.

Feature: With UMass Researcher One Decision Away From Approval to Grow Marijuana, Supporters Turn Up the Heat on the DEA

Six years after he first filed a petition with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seeking to grow marijuana to supply researchers, University of Massachusetts agronomy professor Lyle Craker is now one decision away from winning DEA approval of his project. Last week, a DEA administrative law judge issued a final recommendation that the project be allowed to move forward.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/lylecraker.jpg
Lyle Craker (courtesy aclu.org/drugpolicy/)
Currently, the only marijuana available for scientific and medical research is grown at a US government facility at the University of Mississippi and distributed through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). But NIDA has proven extremely reluctant to approve scientists' requests for access to marijuana when the research they are planning to conduct is on its medical uses.

"Respondent's registration to cultivate marijuana would be in the public interest," wrote Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner in her decision. "There is currently an inadequate supply of marijuana available for research purposes," she concluded, noting also that the risk of diversion was minimal and that Craker had complied with all applicable laws.

But the judge's decision is not binding. The final decision on Craker's petition will be made by the DEA's deputy administrator, and it is by no means certain that the functionary will heed the judge's recommendations. The agency has historically opposed any efforts to end the government monopoly on growing marijuana for research purposes and it has already stated that it disagrees with the judge's conclusions.

Backed by the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which will finance the research, and represented by the American Civil Liberties Union's Drug Law Reform Project, Craker has persevered for more than half a decade as his request languished in the bowels of the DEA. Now, only one obstacle remains.

In an effort to press the DEA to respond favorably to the petition, Dr. Craker and his backers and supporters held a press conference Wednesday at the agency's Northern Virginia headquarters to turn up the heat. "Working with medical marijuana seems so similar to the work we're doing with other medicinal plants that I've never understood the DEA's big problem with it," said Craker.

"The DEA has an opportunity here to live up to its rhetoric, which has been that marijuana advocates should work on conducting research rather than filing lawsuits," said MAPS president Dr. Rick Doblin "It's become more and more obvious that the DEA has been obstructing potentially beneficial medical research, and now is the time for them to change," he said.

"For almost 20 years, MAPS has been trying to conduct the research," Doblin noted. "We've had two protocols approved by the FDA, one to look at AIDS wasting and the other looking at medical marijuana for migraines. Both were blocked by NIDA, which refused to provide the marijuana we needed to do the studies. We've been struggling for four years to purchase 10 grams for vaporizer research for a non-smoking delivery system. Currently, the government has a monopoly, and our ability to do research is fundamentally compromised," he noted.

"We've won the latest round in the perennial litigation, with the DEA judge recommending that Dr. Craker get the license," said Doblin. "Unfortunately, we have to unleash a major lobbying campaign to get the DEA to live up to its rhetoric. The government is too trapped into the drug war to be comfortable funding studies that might contradict the propaganda and 'send the wrong message.' We have a situation where the government is focused on suppressing research, not facilitating it."

Also at the press conference was medical marijuana patient Angel Raich, whose challenge to federal marijuana laws went all the way to the US Supreme Court before being denied in 2005. "It is extremely frustrating that the federal government has made a really large effort to block research that could help patients like me," said the California woman, who uses marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of seizure disorders, wasting syndrome, and an inoperable brain tumor, among other conditions. "It is time for the government and the DEA to stop playing games with patients' lives," she said.

"The ACLU is involved because we believe patients like Angel should be able to get their medicine from a pharmacy, like everyone else," said the ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project's Allen Hopper. "Judge Bittner reached the only decision she could under the law," he argued, noting that Bittner acknowledged that NIDA had a stockpile of research marijuana, but that researchers were routinely denied access to it.

"We are here today," Hopper continued, "because we are now one step away from entering the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. We are confident the administration will do the right thing, but we are also prepared to go to the federal court of appeals to force the DEA to do the right thing if necessary."

An impressive array of politicians and groups is prepared to push the DEA in the right direction. Massachusetts Sens. John Kerry (D) and Edward Kennedy (D) and 38 members of the House of Representatives have joined a broad range of scientific, medical and public health organizations in challenging the federal government's policy of blocking administrative channels and obstructing research that could lead to the development of marijuana as a prescription medicine. These organizations include the Lymphoma Foundation of America, the National Association for Public Health Policy, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, as well as several state medical and nurses' associations.

Now it is up to the DEA to render a final decision. The DEA administrator who will make the call is not bound by Judge Bittner's recommendation, nor is she required to make her decision within any timeline. It will be up to public pressure to produce the desired results. Wednesday's press conference was only the beginning.

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