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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #347: Let Public Health Officials Save Lives

On Monday, the editorial board of the New York Times sternly denounced the U.S. Congress because of a law that does not allow Washington, D.C. to use city funds to support needle exchange programs. The objections raised are the same tired and indefensible hooey that runs counter to esteemed medical and public health advice worldwide. Please consider writing and sending a Letter to the Editor to the New York Times commending them for their stand. You may personalize your letter to share testimony about yourself, someone you know or perhaps the community where you live and why you endorse increased public health and safety. Perhaps a fact from this webpage could be the core of your letter http://www.drugwarfacts.org/syringee.htm Letters to the New York Times must be 150 words or less for publication. They must also be exclusive to the Times. So please don't send a copy of a letter which has been printed elsewhere. Please also contact your members of Congress about this issue. To find out how to contact them go to http://congress.org/stickers/?dir=congressorg&officials=1 Thanks for your effort and support. It's not what others do it's what YOU do. ********************************************************************** Additional suggestions for writing LTEs are at our Media Activism Center: http://www.mapinc.org/resource/#guides Or contact MAP Media Activism Facilitator Steve Heath for personal tips on how to write LTEs that get printed. heath@mapinc.org ********************************************************************** Contact: letters@nytimes.com Pubdate: Mon, 04 Jun 2007 Source: New York Times (NY) Copyright: 2007 The New York Times Company CONGRESS HOBBLES THE AIDS FIGHT Washington, D.C., is one of America's AIDS hot spots. A significant proportion of infections can be traced back to intravenous drug users who shared contaminated needles and then passed on the infection to spouses, lovers or unborn children. This public health disaster is partly the fault of Congress. It has wrongly and disastrously used its power over the District of Columbia's budget to bar the city from spending even locally raised tax dollars on programs that have slowed the spread of disease by giving drug addicts access to clean needles. Every state in the union allows some system for providing addicts with clean needles. But nearly a decade ago, ideologues in Congress who were unable to derail needle programs in their own states chose to grandstand on the issue when it came time to pass the District's appropriation bill. Barred from spending local tax dollars on these medically necessary programs, the city has limped along with a privately financed operation that turns away more people than it serves. Critics offer the same know-nothing arguments. They say that handing out needles legitimizes drug use -- even though studies here and abroad showed long ago that the programs cut the infection rate without increasing addiction. They say that addicts should be offered treatment instead of clean needles -- even though addicts who want treatment must sometimes wait for months or even years to get in. While they wait, they continue to use drugs and become infected. Congress's ban on even locally financed needle exchange programs in the District of Columbia is an insult to the city's voters and a clear hazard to public health. Ideologues, in the House in particular, need to get out of the way and let public health officials save lives. ********************************************************************** PLEASE SEND US A COPY OF YOUR LETTER Please post a copy of your letter or report your action to the sent letter list (sentlte@mapinc.org) if you are subscribed, or by e-mailing a copy directly to heath@mapinc.org if you are not subscribed. Your letter will then be forwarded to the list so others can learn from your efforts. Subscribing to the Sent LTE list ( sentlte@mapinc.org ) will help you to review other sent LTEs and perhaps come up with new ideas or approaches as well as keeping others aware of your important writing efforts. To subscribe to the Sent LTE mailing list see http://www.mapinc.org/lists/index.htm#form.
Washington, DC
United States

House Dems push for big shift in Colombia aid

Washington, DC
United States
San Francisco Chronicle

ONDCP: We Don't Care What You Dorks on YouTube Think

A Seattle Post-Intelligencer story about political messages on YouTube.com contains this delightful quote from ONDCP:
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said it expects its YouTube messages to be ridiculed, laughed at, remade and spoofed. And they are.

The irony here is that, predictable as it may have been, ONDCP had no clue that this was going to happen. They deliberately generated media coverage of their YouTube page, only to find their videos marred by harsh comments and dismal viewer ratings. ONDCP quickly disabled these options, but the damage was done.

If they had genuinely anticipated this level of hostility from viewers, they would have optimized their page before sending out press releases about it. Because they did not, most ONDCP videos are now permanently stamped with the lowest-possible rating of one star.

This is to say nothing of the countless parodies that are now drowning out ONDCP’s unpopular propaganda. Since YouTube automatically recommends similar videos anytime you watch something, viewers of ONDCP’s materials are unavoidably connected to these abundant counter-messages. It is almost certainly for this reason that ONDCP has not uploaded a single new video since the page was first launched back in September 2006.

In a case like this, the mature decision would be to ignore them. But I find it amusing that even something as perfectly logical as expecting ridicule on YouTube turns out to be a lie when it comes from ONDCP.

United States

More Border Blues--Canadian Mom Searching for Missing Daughter Denied Entry

Just two weeks ago, in an article titled Border Blues, we wrote about how both the Canadian and the US governments can and do deny entry to people who admit to past drug use or have a drug conviction. Last week, a particularly egregious example of the abuse of this provision occurred. In a sad tale first picked up by the Vancouver daily the Province, "Mother's Hunt for Missing Daughter Blocked at Border", Kamloops, BC, mother Glendene Grant related how she was turned away from the US as she headed for Las Vegas to search for her young adult daughter, Jessie Foster, who went missing a little more than a year ago. Although Grant had made several previous trips to Las Vegas in an effort to find her daughter and even though she was scheduled to meet local law enforcement and appear at a Crimestoppers event about Jessie's disappearance, she was turned away a week ago today. Why? The 49-year-old mother was arrested in 1986 on marijuana and cocaine possession charges. We are looking into this. Right now, I have emailed Ms. Grant to set up an interview, and I have calls in to US Customs and Border Protection and an anti-human trafficking unit in the Las Vegas Police Department. There is apparently some suspicion that Jessie Foster was the victim of sex slavers. But who cares about that, right? Customs and Border Protection appears more interested in protecting us from a harmless woman who got busted on penny ante drug possession charges more than two decades ago than helping her spur an investigation with possible international implications. My understanding that the decision to deny entry to people with old drug convictions is not mandatory (I'll be checking with CBP on this) but discretionary. In the case of Glendene Grant, the denial of entry looks to be an abuse of discretion, not to mention just downright mean, inhumane, and cold-hearted. Is there more to the story? Stay tuned.
United States

Needle Funding Ban May Soon End

Washington, DC
United States
The Washington Post

Congress Should Let DC Fund Needle Exchange

Back during our jury civil disobedience in 2004, David Guard and I did our community service time at the needle exchange program here in Washington and got to know the people there. They've been doing a lot for the community, all of it with privately-raised funds, but more is needed to be able to reach all the people who are at risk from contracting diseases like AIDS or Hepatitis C through needle sharing. The District of Columbia government would almost certainly fund needle exchange work, but Congress gets to control what our budget looks like if they want to, and in their infinite wisdom (sarcasm) they decided to forbid DC from spending even its own taxpayer dollars on needle exchange. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), who chairs the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, which has jurisdiction over this area of the US Code, has said he wants to undo the restriction. Today the New York Times ran a strongly supportive editorial:
Washington, D.C., is one of America’s AIDS hot spots. A significant proportion of infections can be traced back to intravenous drug users who shared contaminated needles and then passed on the infection to spouses, lovers or unborn children. This public health disaster is partly the fault of Congress. It has wrongly and disastrously used its power over the District of Columbia’s budget to bar the city from spending even locally raised tax dollars on programs that have slowed the spread of disease by giving drug addicts access to clean needles.
The Times titled the editorial "Congress Hobbles the AIDS Fight." The activist paraphrase of that, which is how the editorial was first presented to me, would be "Congress has blood on its hands." Last week the Times also ran a news feature about DC's needle exchange, and an online "slide show" featuring the program's Ron Daniels. The larger legislation in which the DC funding ban could get repealed is expected to move quickly, with markups scheduled for Serrano's subcommittee tomorrow and the Appropriations Committee of which it is a part next week -- you never know how quickly something will really move in Congress, but that's how it looks right now. Stay tuned.
United States

Mom of missing daughter denied U.S. entry

Kamloops, BC
The Edmonton Journal (Canada)

David in the Liar's Den

Ever wonder what it's like to watch a drug warrior squirm? I've had the pleasure a few times now, but the discussion I witnessed this afternoon at the Cato Institute was particularly intense.

Today, Matthew B. Robinson and Renee G. Sherlen presented the findings of their new book Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Impressively, ONDCP's brave "Chief Scientist" David Murray was on hand to address this particularly comprehensive attack on the credibility of his office.

The authors delivered a tight synopsis of their findings, bashing ONDCP propaganda with charts, graphs, and effects. Dr. Murray made a show of feigned surprise and eye-rolling, but the breadth and substance of the criticism leveled against his work was too substantial to shrug off. It almost felt like a set-up; the dignified Cato equivalent of strapping a mob snitch to a chair and beating him with a blackjack.

In turn, Dr. Murray spat blood on his tormentors, dismissing their analysis as biased and incompetent. Unlike his disciplined performance at last year's medical marijuana debate, Murray was irreverent and visibly angry. From my second row seat I could see his face turn crimson, but his voice never shook. Murray's composure and efficiency is the reason he makes these appearances instead of his boss.

The question of the day among my colleagues was why ONDCP would even respond to such a categorical refutation of its right to exist. As a young reformer, I learned from Eric Sterling that drug warriors typically avoid debate because doing so inherently legitimizes opposing viewpoints. Moreover, the discussion of statistics paints ONDCP into a particularly dark corner by rendering irrelevant the emotional appeals and factually-vacant soundbites that generally dominate their rhetoric.

This level of engagement between ONDCP and its critics is rare if not unprecedented. Hostile as it may have been, today's conversation demonstrates that the federal government no longer perceives itself as impervious to criticism. Murray praised the Cato Institute's work in other areas and was clearly exasperated to find himself in its crosshairs. ONDCP's crumbling monopoly on serious drug policy discussion becomes increasingly vivid when calls for accountability emerge from prestigious think-tanks, Congress, and the GAO.

As the old cliche goes, "First they laugh at you. Then they ignore you. Then they fight you. Then you win." They're fighting back now.

United States

Feature: Ed Rosenthal Convicted Again in Pyrrhic Victory for Feds

A federal jury Wednesday found "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal guilty for a second time of growing hundreds of marijuana plants in what is no more than a symbolic victory for federal prosecutors. Because Rosenthal has already served a lenient one-day sentence after he was first convicted of the same charges in 2003, US District Court Judge Charles Breyer, the presiding judge in the case, has already ruled that he cannot be resentenced.

Ed Rosenthal at courthouse, with supporters, September 2006 (courtesy indybay.org)
Rosenthal's original conviction was overturned on appeal. Vengeful federal prosecutors angered by his public criticism of their methods retried him knowing they could not further punish him. They even filed additional charges that Judge Breyer threw out as vindictive.

The trial itself was noteworthy for the mass refusal of medical marijuana movement people subpoenaed to testify for the government to do so. Equally noteworthy was their escaping without contempt citations -- at least so far.

Rosenthal grew the plants to produce medical marijuana for use in California, where it is legal, but his defense was unable to explain that to the jury because it was blocked from doing so by Judge Breyer. Federal law and the federal courts do not recognize "medical" marijuana. Neither was Breyer willing to let defense attorneys go too far in urging the jury to vote its conscience.

"There are places that we can't go... There are answers too realistic, reasonable questions you may have that I can't give you," defense attorney Robert Ampranan told the jurors during final arguments. "I fear my government because it does not always tell us the truth. The federal government has had almost six years to complete this recipe... and yet their recipe, ladies and gentlemen, contains tainted, soiled, spoiled ingredients," he said. "If it smells like something that's going to make you sick, you have the right to reject it."

Shortly later, as Amparan compared Rosenthal's prosecution to past injustices done under color of law, such as slavery and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, Breyer sent the jury from the courtroom and accused Amparan of trying to lead the jury into questioning the federal law itself. When Amparan replied that he wasn't, but that he intended to cite the false pretenses for the war in Iraq and the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina as other examples of government mistakes, the packed courtroom burst into cheers. Breyer warned that he would clear the courtroom if any more outbursts occurred, then ordered Amparan not to make that argument to the jury.

After deliberating for two days, the jury convicted Rosenthal of growing more than 100 marijuana plants, conspiring to cultivate the drug and maintaining a growing operation in a warehouse. He was acquitted of a fourth charge, and Breyer sternly ordered prosecutors to drop the fifth charge when the jury said it was deadlocked.

"It's a shame that the federal government continues to put California citizens in the position of having to set aside their own votes at the ballot box and pretend they don't know anything about the state law or medical science," said William Dolphin, a spokesman for the Rosenthal defense fund Green Aid. "After 60% of the jury pool just refused to be involved in a case like this, we ended up with a jury that felt like it had to follow the instructions of the court."

"The government has shown it can in fact win a conviction in a medical marijuana case in the most pot-sympathetic district in the country," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "Of course, when we have to play by their rules and can't even mention the main element of the defense, it's an open and shut case. Ed was clearly growing pot, as was shown by the government."

If the verdict was somewhat anticlimactic, there was high drama and civil disobedience in court last Friday. That's when six medical marijuana movement witnesses subpoenaed by the government to testify against Rosenthal simply refused. Five others who were prepared to join them were dismissed on technical grounds.

One by one, recalcitrant witnesses Debbie Goldsberry, James Blair, Etienne Fontan, Evan Schwartz, Brian Lundeen, and Cory Okie told the court they would not participate in an immoral prosecution. (Read the transcript here.) "I told them I could not participate and go against the wishes of the community," said Goldsberry.

Judge Breyer praised the six for their dignified conduct and asked them if being sent to jail for the weekend would make them change their minds about testifying. When they replied in the negative, he sent them home for the weekend. They reappeared on Tuesday, reiterated their refusal to testify, and Breyer simply excused them.

The successful act of civil disobedience merits attention, said California NORML's Gieringer. "It's important that this gets some attention because it is one of the few actions where people have had the courage to risk going to jail for refusing to testify for the government," said Gieringer. "The prosecutor can file contempt charges if he wants, but I think the judge would be pretty unhappy. Rosenthal isn't going to jail in any case, so to have someone go to jail would be a real travesty."

"The community is getting fed up," said Green Aid's Dolphin. "The jury pool was not happy, the judge was not happy, and a dozen people subpoenaed to testify just said 'I'm not going to do it, and you can't make me.'"

The federal government prevailed by winning several convictions against Rosenthal, but the victory may be a pyrrhic one. The Justice Department and local federal prosecutors have managed to irritate just about everybody in Northern California, from the presiding judge on down. And the continuing persecution of Rosenthal and other medical marijuana providers has only strengthened the community and emboldened it to try new, provocative tactics.

Search and Seizure: California Federal Court Throws Out Warrantless Cell Phone Searches

A federal district court judge in Northern California ruled May 23 that police need a search warrant to peruse the contents of cell phones seized from people being arrested. While police may typically search people at the time of arrest and at booking, the judge held that searching a cell phone requires a search warrant.

The case arose from a December 2004 medical marijuana dispensary raid by the San Francisco Police Department in which five people were arrested. Three of them--Edward Park, Brian Ly and David Lee -- were taken to a local police station, where SFPD Police Inspector David Martinovich admitted searching one man's phone and ordering another police inspector to search the other two men's phones.

"I believed that a search of the cellular telephones at the police station during the booking process was permissible as a booking search," Martinovich said in court documents. He admitted perusing the cell phone and writing down the contents of its address book.

The three men filed a motion to suppress the evidence, saying the warrantless cell phone search violated the Fourth Amendment. US District Judge Susan Illston agreed.

"This court finds... that for purposes of Fourth Amendment analysis, cellular phones should be considered 'possessions within an arrestee's immediate control' and not part of 'the person,'" wrote Illston in her opinion. "This is so because modern cellular phones have the capacity for storing immense amounts of private information."

Illston expressed concern at violations of people's right to privacy. "Unlike pagers or address books, modern cell phones record incoming and outgoing calls, and can also contain address books, calendars, voice and text messages, e-mail, video and pictures. Individuals can store highly personal information on their cell phones, and can record their most private thoughts and conversations on their cell phones through e-mail and text, voice and instant messages," she noted.

"Any contrary holding could have far-ranging consequences," Illston continued. "At the hearing, the government asserted that, although the officers here limited their searches to the phones' address books, the officers could have searched any information -- such as e-mails or messages -- stored in the cell phones."

The government failed to show any purpose other than furthering criminal investigations, Illston concluded. "The court finds that the government has not met its burden to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it is standard police practice to search the contents of a cellular phone as part of the booking process," she wrote. "Indeed, the government has not articulated any reason why it is necessary to search the contents of a cell phone in order to fulfill any of the legitimate governmental interests served by a booking search: namely, to deter theft of arrestees' property and false claims of theft by arrestees, and to identify contraband and other items."

As Illston noted in her opinion, there is no controlling opinion on these issues in either the 9th US Court of Appeals or the US Supreme Court. In one similar federal case, the presiding judge found for the government. These issues are likely to be further adjudicated in the federal appeals courts.

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