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Federal Budget: House 2009 Appropriations Bill Contains Even More Drug War Funding Increases... And a Slight Cut to Plan Colombia

Just two weeks ago, the Congress passed the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, which included $3.8 billion for law enforcement, much of it destined for continuing the war on drugs. On Monday, the free-spending House Democratic leadership was at it again as it unveiled its fiscal year 2009 omnibus appropriations bill, and again there is more money for drug law enforcement.

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coca eradication in Plan Colombia (courtesy SF Bay Area IndyMedia)
To the undoubted dismay of drug reformers, taxpayer groups, fiscal conservatives, and good governance advocates alike, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program looks to once again get increased funding. The appropriations bill contemplates $2 billion for the Office of Justice Programs, a 16% increase over 2008's $1.679 appropriation. The biggest chunk of that will go to the Byrne JAG grant program.

While the Byrne JAG grants can be used to fund drug courts and drug prevention programs, they are most commonly used to fund multi-jurisdictional anti-drug law enforcement task forces, such as the ones that ran amok in Texas in recent years. Arguing that the spending had not proven effective, the Bush administration attempted to substantially reduce or even zero out Byrne JAG grant funding, but faced constant opposition from "tough on crime" representatives from both parties.

Besides funding the Byrne JAG grant program at higher levels than last year, the appropriations bill includes $550 million for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which got $1 billion just two weeks ago in the economic stimulus bill. It also includes another $3.2 billion for state and local law enforcement crime prevention grants -- another area where the Bush administration sought and got funding reductions. This grant program was cut from $4.7 billion to $2.7 billion during the Bush years.

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anti-Plan Colombia poster (courtesy Colombia IndyMedia)
The Drug Enforcement Administration is also a winner, garnering an $84 million increase over 2008 and pushing its annual budget to $1.9 billion. That includes $73 million earmarked "to fight meth including targeted areas in 'hot spots.'"

And so is the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The congressional response to a federal prison system straining under the results of harsh federal drug law enforcement and sentencing laws is to simply increase the prison budget. Under the bill, the BOP budget would jump nearly 10% to $6.2 billion.

There are also drug war spending increases -- and one notable decrease -- in the State Department and foreign operations section of the appropriations bill. The Merida Initiative to assist the Mexican state in its battle against violent drug trafficking organizations would get $405 million. That's on top of a $465 million emergency appropriation already passed. And the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement -- known colloquially as "drugs and thugs" -- is in line for a whopping 35% budget increase, from $557 million in 2008 to $875 million this year.

The one drug war loser in the appropriations bill is Plan Colombia, known as the Andean Counterdrug Program under the Bush administration. With the US having poured more than $5 billion into the program since 1999, only to see coca production increase, House Democrats are moving to shave just a few dollars from that failed program. Instead of the $405 million the Bush administration requested for 2009 or the $320 million that Plan Colombia received in 2008, the new appropriations bill has only $315 million for the Andean drug war.

Law Enforcement: Belated Justice for Kathryn Johnston as Judge Sentences Atlanta Narcs Who Killed Her to Prison

A federal judge in Atlanta Tuesday sent three former Atlanta narcotics officers to prison for their roles in a misbegotten drug raid that ended in the death of a 92-year-old woman and shone a disturbing light on police practices in the Atlanta police drug squad. The victim, Kathryn Johnston, was killed when the three officers fired 39 rounds at her after she fired one shot at them as they were breaking down her door on a bogus drug raid.

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Kathryn Johnston
US District Court Judge Julie Carnes sentenced former officer Arthur Tesler to five years in prison, Gregg Junnier to six years, and Jason Smith to 10 years. All three sentences were less than those called for by federal sentencing guidelines.

Johnston was killed about 7 p.m. on November 21, 2006. Three hours earlier, Tesler arrested and roughed-up a small-time drug dealer named Fabian Sheats and threatened to send him to prison unless he gave up another drug dealer. Sheats eventually pointed out Johnston's home, apparently at random, telling Tesler and his partners he saw a dealer named "Sam" with a kilo of cocaine there.

The three officers wanted to make a buy, but didn't consider Sheats reliable, so they called an informant named Alex White to come make the buy. But White was unavailable, so the trio simply wrote a false affidavit saying they had watched White make a cocaine buy at Johnston's home. Shortly before 6:00 p.m., they had their no-knock search warrant. An hour later, Johnston was dead after firing upon the intruders she apparently thought were robbers.

Then the cover-up kicked in, with the trio creating more false documents to hide the truth. But their cover-up fell apart when their informant, Alex White, grew frightened and went to the FBI.

In her sentencing statement, Judge Carnes criticized the Atlanta Police Department for its performance quotas for search warrants and arrests, saying the "pressures brought to bear did have an impact on these and other officers on the force." If anything good came from Johnston's death, it will be "a renewed effort by the Atlanta Police Department to prevent something like this from ever happening again," Carnes said. "It is my fervent hope the APD will take to heart what has happened here," the judge said.

Feature: End of an Era? No More DEA Raids on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, US Attorney General Says

In response to a question at a Wednesday news conference, US Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they are legal under state law. The announcement marks the fulfillment of a President Obama campaign promise, and it marks the end of 13 years of stubborn federal resistance to state medical marijuana programs.

   

DEA raids of medical marijuana facilities in California continued after Obama's election in November and even after his inauguration last month. Holder was asked if those raids represented Justice Department policy under the new administration.

"Shortly after the inauguration there were raids on California medical marijuana dispensaries. Do you expect these to continue?" the reporter asked, noting that the president had promised to end the raids in the campaign.

"No," Holder responded. "What the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign. He is formally and technically and by law my boss now. What he said during the campaign is now American policy." (Watch the video here.)

Nearly 75 million Americans live in the 13 states where medical marijuana is legal. But because of the federal government's refusal to recognize state medical marijuana laws, dozens of dispensaries in California have been raided by the DEA, typically in over-the-top paramilitary-style operations. More than a hundred people are facing prosecution, sentencing, or are already imprisoned under draconian federal marijuana laws because of their roles in operating dispensaries.

"There has been a lot of collateral damage in the federal campaign against medical marijuana patients," said Steph Sherer, medical marijuana patient and executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation's largest medical cannabis advocacy organization. "We need to stop the prosecutions, bring the prisoners home, and begin working to eliminate the conflict between state and federal medical marijuana laws."

At an ASA press conference hastily called for Thursday afternoon, Sherer elaborated. "I'm overjoyed to finally hold a press conference with some great news," she said. "Today is a victory and a huge step forward in what has been at times a cruel and tragic period. My outrage over the raids was shared by millions of Americans, and now our collective voice has been heard in Washington. We look forward to working with the Obama administration to harmonize the conflicts with state laws once and for all."

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Charlie Lynch (from friendsofccl.com)
But for some patients and dispensary operators, the damage has already been done. Larry Epstein operates a legal medical cannabis dispensing collective in Marina Del Rey, California, that was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on February 4, despite President Obama's statements on the campaign trail indicating a change in federal policy.

"We had been operating as a legitimate cooperative dispensary per California law for a number of years," said Epstein. "But the DEA came in here as if we were operating an illegal drug cartel. They stole all our property, all our product, and froze our bank accounts. Now, we can't pay our taxes; that's part of what they stole. It's devastating when they do those types of actions, never mind the hundreds of patients who rely on our facility to get their medicine."

Heather Poet operates a medical cannabis dispensing collective in Santa Barbara, California. The Justice Department has pressured her landlord to evict the collective using threats of prosecution and civil asset forfeiture. Her case prompted US Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) to ask Attorney General Holder to stop any and all prosecutions of property owners in a February 16 letter.

"Our landlord has twice been threatened by the US Attorney for the Central District of California, most recently just last month," Poet said. "If he did not initiate the termination of our lease for the 'illegal use' of his property -- we were operating legally under California law -- they would begin forfeiture proceedings against his property. That's when I contacted Rep. Capps. Within a week, she had contacted ASA and begun working on that letter. We are so grateful and proud of her for working so quickly to protect our rights and those of our patients. This has been a real travesty for so many sick people in California who have had to worry. Now, thousands of people will be able to breathe easier."

One person who isn't breathing easier just yet is Charles C. Lynch, a Morro Bay dispensary operator arrested and convicted on federal marijuana distribution charges. Lynch faces the dubious distinction of being perhaps the last person sent to prison under the federal war against medical marijuana; he faces at least a five-year mandatory minimum sentence when he is sentenced March 23.

"I became a medical marijuana patient in 2005 and decided we needed a dispensary here in the San Luis Obispo area so patients didn't have to drive 90 miles to Santa Barbara," Lynch explained. "Before I opened the dispensary, I called the DEA and asked them their policy. They told me it was up to the cities and towns, so I got a business license from the city of Morro Bay, and opened up on April 1, 2006. The mayor, the city attorney, and council members all came by to visit the facility. We even joined the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce. I did everything I thought was necessary to run a legitimate business."

But thanks to a recalcitrant local sheriff who, lacking any basis under state law to go after the dispensary, sicced the DEA on it, Lynch's dispensary was raided. "In March 2007, they raided me, took all my money and froze my bank account. They made it sound like I was selling drugs to children in the schoolyard. The city of Morro Bay reissued my business license -- the DEA had stolen it, too -- and I reopened for business. Two weeks later, the DEA threatened my landlord with forfeiture unless he evicted us for good, so on March 16, 2007, the dispensary closed for good."

That has been sufficient to slake the fed's thirst for vengeance in many dispensary raids: Trash the premises, steal the money and property, and drive the business out of existence. But in other cases, federal prosecutors wanted an extra pound of flesh and actually prosecuted dispensary operators. Charles Lynch falls into that unfortunate latter category.

"On July 17, 2007, I woke up to federal agents banging down my door with an arrest warrant for federal marijuana distribution charges," Lynch related. "I had a spotless record, but I had to post a $400,000 bond to get out of federal detention. The DEA and the sheriff did everything in their power to defame me, destroy me, and destroy my life. Now, I have been found guilty on five counts of distribution and await sentencing. I'm filing for bankruptcy, my friends are scared to talk to me because the feds are breathing down my neck. They've destroyed my life."

Clearly, Attorney General Holder's announcement Wednesday is a major breakthrough for the medical marijuana movement. Just as clearly, there are still messes to clean up and injustices to be righted. It is only when there is no one remaining in or threatened with federal prison for helping sick patients that the medical marijuana movement will have achieved real justice.

Prohibition: Salvia Mania Sweeps State Legislatures as Bans Spread Across County

After more than five years of examination, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has yet to find that salvia divinorum is dangerous or addictive enough to merit placement as a scheduled drug under the Controlled Substances Act, but that isn't stopping legislators across the land from moving to criminalize it or restrict its sales despite the lack of any real evidence that it does anything more than take its users on a psychedelic journey of a no more than a few minutes duration.

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salvia leaves (photo courtesy Erowid.org)
Since the plant was first banned in Delaware in 2004, a handful of states each year have made efforts to prohibit the increasingly popular psychedelic. This year, the trickle is turning into a tide despite a rising chorus of opposition from scientists, researchers, public health experts, and people who believe they should be able to control their own consciousness.

The Nebraska legislature voted 44-0 last Friday to add salvia and its active ingredient, Salvinorin A, to Schedule I of its controlled substance list, the same as LSD and psychedelic mushrooms. The state of Nebraska is going to save its youth from themselves by sending them to prison for up to five years for having some leaf or extract, and up to 20 years for selling it.

The man behind the campaign to ban the plant, Attorney General Jon Bruning, pronounced himself satisfied. "I'm pleased with the legislature's vote today to ban salvia," Bruning said. "I think it is important that salvia not be allowed to be used by members of the public."

Nebraska's northern neighbor, South Dakota, is on the verge of doing the same. A bill pronouncing the salvia "threat" an emergency easily passed the House two weeks ago and a Senate committee this week. Under the emergency legislation, a ban would go into effect immediately upon the governor's signature of the bill.

And the Kentucky House Tuesday voted 99-0 to make it illegal to possess, buy, sell, or cultivate salvia. The sponsor of that bill, Rep. Will Coursey (R-Benton) told his colleagues the plant was a safety risk.

Meanwhile, similar bills have been filed or proposed in Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas.

Thirteen states -- Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Virginia -- have classified salvia as Schedule I under state drug laws. Three more -- Louisiana, Maine, and Tennessee -- restrict the sale of the plant. Maine and California ban it only for minors.

US Attorney General Says Ending DEA Raids “Now American Policy”

Beginning of the End:
US Attorney General Says Ending DEA Raids “Now American Policy”

Dear ASA Supporter,

Speaking at a press conference on Feb. 25 with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that ending federal medical marijuana raids "is now American policy." The Attorney General’s comments are the latest sign of a sea change in federal policy prompted by a groundswell of grassroots pressure by Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and our allies. They came as a response to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raids carried out by Bush Administration holdovers in California in January and February.

ASA needs your support to keep grassroots pressure on the Attorney General. Please support ASA today.

President Obama indicated he would end the DEA raids during his presidential campaign, a position reiterated by the White House following DEA raids in raids which took placeon February 4. In response to a question last night about DEA raids at medical marijuana facilities in California, Holder said, "What the President said during the campaign...is consistent with what we will be doing here in law enforcement. He was my boss in the campaign....He is my boss now. What he said in the campaign is now American policy."

Medical marijuana patients and advocates, who have mounted a massive grassroots campaign to influence the new Administration’s policy, cheered the Attorney General’s comments. 72 million Americans live in states where medical cannabis is legal, but federal law prohibits its use under any circumstances. More than 100 Americans are currently facing prosecution, sentencing, or serving time in prison for medical cannabis offense right now. ASA needs your help to ensure that the emerging change in federal policy signals an end to prosecutions and brings those already serving time for medical cannabis offenses home to their families.

ASA has provided recommendations for a new national medical cannabis policy to President Obama and the 111th Congress earlier this year. We are working overtime now to be sure those recommendations are heard in this new era of compassionate federal policy. Please support ASA in this effort.

Sincerely,


Don Duncan
California Director
Americans for Safe Access

Media Advisory: Medical Marijuana Patients React to New "American Policy"

For Immediate Release: February 26, 2009 Contact: ASA Communications Specialist Kris Hermes at (510) 325-9574 Medical Marijuana Patients React to New "American Policy" - Media conference call Thursday, February 26, 12:00 PM to feature medical marijuana dispensary operators targeted by DEA raids Washington, D.C. - Speaking at a press conference on Feb 25 with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, and reiterating a position made by the White House following DEA raids in California on February 4, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that ending federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries "is now American policy." The Attorney General's comments are the latest sign of a sea change in federal policy that prohibits the use of medical cannabis in the thirteen states that have enacted such laws. What: Media conference call in response to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder statements on ending DEA raids on medical marijuana dispensaries "now American policy" When: Thursday, February 26, 2009 @ 12:00 PM Pacific (PST) Where: Conference Call # (800) 762-6558 Who: Medical marijuana patients and dispensary operators who were targeted in DEA raids, and ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. In response to a reporter's questions about DEA raids at medical marijuana facilities in California, Holder said, "What the President said during the campaign... is now American policy." 72 million Americans live in states where medical cannabis is legal, but federal law prohibits its use under any circumstances. More than 100 Americans are currently facing prosecution, sentencing, or serving time in prison for medical cannabis offense right now. ASA hopes the emerging change in federal policy will signal an end to prosecutions and bring those already serving time for medical cannabis offenses home to their families. "There has been a lot of collateral damage in the federal campaign against medical cannabis patients," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, the nation's largest medical cannabis advocacy organization. "We need to stop the prosecutions, bring the prisoners home, and begin working to eliminate the conflict between state and federal medical marijuana laws." ASA has provided recommendations for a new national medical cannabis policy to President Obama and the 111th Congress earlier this year. Participant Bios: Steph Sherer is a medical cannabis patient who founded Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research in 2002. Larry Epstein operates a legal medical cannabis dispensing collective in Marina del Rey, CA, that was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on February 4, despite President Obama's statements on the campaign trail indicating a change in federal policy. Heather Poet operates a medical cannabis dispensing collective in Santa Barbara, CA. The DEA has pressured her landlord to evict the collective using threats of prosecution and civil asset forfeiture. Her case prompted US Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) to ask Attorney General Eric Holder to stop any and all prosecutions of property owners on February 16. Charles C. Lynch was convicted in August 2008 of operating a medical cannabis dispensing collective in Morro Bay, CA. Like all federal medical cannabis defendants, he was not allowed to present evidence about medical cannabis or the fact that he was obeying state law at his trial. He faces decades in prison at his sentencing on March 23. For more information: Policy Recommendations to President Obama: www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/PresidentialRecommendations Congresswoman Lois Capps Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder: www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/CappsLetter

Tell Congress to stop thwarting D.C.'s medical marijuana law

Dear friends:

Although Washington, D.C., passed a ballot initiative to allow medical marijuana use in 1998, with an overwhelming 69% of the vote, Congress has thwarted the will of D.C. voters and prevented the law from taking effect.

In fact, originally — until a court intervened — Congress even tried to stop the vote from being counted! 

Would you please take a minute to ask Congress to stop overriding the will of D.C. voters, and let D.C.'s medical marijuana law go into effect? MPP's online action center makes it easy.

Even the sponsor of the original federal law, former Congressman Bob Barr (R-Ga.), has called for the repeal of the very law he authored a decade ago, saying, “Continuing to have the federal government run roughshod over the states, even if the citizens of a state decide they wish to legalize medicinal marijuana, for example, is wrong.”

In 2007, MPP worked with Congressman Barr to try to remove this provision so D.C.'s medical marijuana law could go into effect. But at the time, Democrats in Congress didn't want to force the issue with then-President Bush, who they knew would use such an opportunity to stoke the flames of the culture war. However, now that we have a president in the White House who has already signaled support for medical marijuana access, this is the best opportunity we've ever had to repeal this terrible provision.

Please take a minute right now to tell Congress to stop thwarting the will of D.C. voters.

Thank you,
Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $2.35 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2009. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Drug Sense FOCUS ALERT: #396 Obama's Take on the Drug War

DrugSense FOCUS Alert #396 - Sunday, 22 February 2009 Today the Denver Post printed the column below Hopefully the syndicated column will be printed in many more newspapers. Please contact your local newspapers to request that they print the column. Newspaper editors should know how to obtain columns from the Washington Post Writers Group. Among the important issues addressed in the column is United Nations drug policy summit in Vienna next month. We also reflected our concern in this FOCUS Alert http://www.mapinc.org/alert/0392.html News clippings which mention our President may be found here http://www.mapinc.org/people/Obama Please let the Obama administration know your views. You may send a short message to the White House by using the webform on this page http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/. You may call the White House about the issue at 202-456-1111 or send a fax to 202-456-2461. Reports indicate that it may be necessary to call repeatedly to reach the phone number, but that your efforts are carefully noted when you do reach the number. ********************************************************************** Pubdate: Sun, 22 Feb 2009 Source: Denver Post (CO) Copyright: 2009 The Washington Post Writers Group Contact: openforum@denverpost.com Author: Neal Peirce OBAMA'S TAKE ON THE DRUG WAR Fissures are suddenly forming along the edges of the giant iceberg of America's multibillion-dollar "war" on drug use, first formally proclaimed by President Richard Nixon in 1971. But so much depends on what President Barack Obama decides to do with the issue. This month a Latin American commission headed by former Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia condemned harsh U.S. drug prohibition policies that are based, in Gaviria's words, "on prejudices and fears and not on results." Fueled by Americans' drug appetite and dollars, drug-gang violence is engulfing Mexico, threatening the very stability of the state with massive corruption and close to 6,000 killings last year. Brazil is afflicted with daily gun battles between police and gangs in urban slums. And despite years of intensive U.S.-backed efforts to eradicate Colombia's cocaine exports, official reports show they've risen 15 percent in this decade. A high proportion are smuggled into the U.S. The drug war, the former presidents charge, is imperiling Latin America's democratic institutions and corrupting "judicial systems, governments, the political system and especially the police forces." As both the world's largest drug consumer market and the lead voice in setting global drug policy, the United States, the Latin leaders argue, has huge responsibility now to "break the taboo" that's suffocated open debate about the wisdom of a clearly failed 38-year "war." The leaders are placing hopes in Obama, who as a candidate said the "war on drugs is an utter failure" and talked favorably about more public health-based approaches. Given that history, and given this president's openness to hearing diverse points of view, it's hard to believe he'll maintain the stony wall of indifference to drug policy reform that all his predecessors since Nixon have maintained. Still, there are crucial issues of politics and timing. One can just imagine White House advisers telling Obama to steer clear of the drug issue, that it could be as perilous and distracting as gays in the military were for President Bill Clinton in his first year in office. Against that background, the Latin leaders' statement itself may help move the compass. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, calls their manifesto (www.drugsanddemocracy.org) "a major leap forward in the global drug policy debate." One reason: these are conservative, highly respected leaders. Gaviria, as president of Colombia in the early '90s, for example, worked with U.S. anti-narcotics agents to hunt down and kill Pablo Escobar, the cocaine kingpin. But Gaviria and his fellow former presidents, along with Latin mayors, writers and other respected leaders joining in their declaration, say it's time to recognize that force and prohibition have failed to stop dangerous narco-trafficking. It's high time, they propose, to focus on harm reduction and prevention efforts -- following European models to change the status of addicts from drug buyers in an illegal system to that of patients cared for in a public health system. They also suggest considering decriminalizing possession of marijuana for personal use -- a step Obama recently indicated he's not ready to take. And they say they'll be watching how the U.S. handles the meeting of a key United Nations-sponsored Commission on Narcotic Drugs which convenes in Vienna next month. The commission is to review the prevailing, harsh, U.S.-molded drug policies the U.N. General Assembly set in 1998. But there's the question: Will Obama (and Hillary Clinton's State Department) send reformers, or just bureaucrats who've soldiered in our blind-alley war on drugs? Drug reformers were disappointed when Obama recently passed over public health advocates to appoint a police chief -- Gil Kerlikowske of Seattle -- as the country's new drug czar (director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy). But Kerlikowske does appear to have worked harmoniously with Seattle's cutting edge of drug reforms -- well-established needle exchange programs, marijuana arrests declared the lowest law enforcement priority through public initiative, and a local bar association that's a national model in finding alternatives to drug prohibition laws. So there are gleams of hope at the end of a long tunnel. And what better time than this wrenching recession to shift law enforcement to legitimately serious crimes, starting to discharge the hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders held in our bulging, cost-heavy jails and prisons? Predictably, any shift will be tough. Many law enforcement agencies count on the jobs -- and seizures of cash -- that the drug "war" delivers. Our "prison-industrial complex," guard unions included, remains potent. And federal law actually prohibits the drug czar from recommending legalization of any proscribed drug, no matter what his personal judgment may be. We have dug ourselves a deep hole. Only forthright and courageous leadership is likely to start us on a saner path. Can this be "the time?" Please, Mr. President.

Federal Budget: Economic Stimulus Bill Stimulates Drug War, Too

Law enforcement was among the winners in the massive economic stimulus bill passed last week by Congress and signed this week by President Obama. The package includes nearly $3.8 billion for state and local law enforcement, much of it destined for enforcing the country's draconian drug laws.

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may be coming to a police force near you soon
The biggest single chunk of police money in the bill, $2 billion, goes to fund the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program. While Byrne JAG grant funds may be used for a variety of state and local criminal justice programs, including drug courts and drug treatment programs, the bulk of Byrne JAG spending has gone to fund multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces.

The Byrne JAG program has been criticized by fiscal conservatives and progressive reformers alike as ineffective and a waste of money. The Bush administration tried repeatedly to zero out funding for the program, but it was always reinstated -- albeit sometimes at lower levels -- by the Congress.

The second largest chunk of police spending in the bill, $1 billion, is for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. It will pay to put thousands more police officers on the street.

The bill also includes $225 million in state and local law enforcement grants "to improve the functioning of the criminal justice system" and another $225 million for law enforcement assistance to Indian tribes. There is another $40 million in grants "to provide assistance and equipment" to police agencies along the Mexican border, with $10 million of that allocated for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for its Project Gunrunner aimed at reducing gun smuggling into Mexico. Another $125 million is destined for rural states and rural areas to prevent and combat crime, "especially drug-related crime."

Cops and elected officials are already salivating and have created huge wish lists. The public safety wish list from the US Conference of Mayors totaled $5.5 billion and includes items such as $1.6 million for SWAT equipment, $56,000 for military grade rifles, $625,000 for unmanned aerial surveillance drones, and $130,000 for "covert operations" in Arlington, Texas; $600,000 for a "live fire" SWAT team practice house and $420,000 for a SWAT armored vehicle in Sparks, Nevada; $3.5 million for "Air Tactical Unit Support and Equipment" (read: cool new helicopter) for Hampton, Virginia; and $60,000 for five "tactical entry rifles" and other equipment in Ottawa, Iowa. (See more wish list examples at Radley Balko's The Agitator.)

Law Enforcement: DEA Spent $123,000 on Administrator's Flight to Colombia

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has a fleet of 106 airplanes, but instead of using one of them, the agency spent $123,000 to fly Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart to Colombia last fall, the McLatchy Newspapers reported Monday. Oh, and it paid another $5,830 to a contractor to arrange the flight with an outside company.

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Big Spender: DEA acting administrator Michele Leonhart
The trip came as the nation was sliding into its worst economic crisis in recent memory and the federal budget deficit was approaching heretofore unknown territory. It came just weeks before Detroit auto executives were royally reamed by Congress for flying to Washington in their corporate jets to beg for bailouts.

"Was it excessive? I guess you could look at it that way, but I don't think so," said William Brown, the special agent in charge of the agency's aviation division. He explained that the plane that would normally carry Leonhart was undergoing scheduled maintenance. "I understand the concern about costs for these things. But we do our best to keep costs under control. I think the DEA is very conservative compared to other agencies."

Typically, if a DEA plane is not available for official trips, the agency can borrow one from another federal agency. Although Brown had a week to prepare for the trip, he said he did not even consider that. "It would definitely be more cost effective for us to borrow somebody else's resource," he said. "But they're going to have to pay for it, as well."

Another option would have been a commercial airliner, but Brown said Leonhart and other officials were under "specific threat" in Colombia. But he refused to be more specific, and an unnamed US Embassy official in Bogota said he was unaware of any specific threats.

While the $123,000 flight was only a drop in the DEA's budget, it raised a red flag, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "It looks bad," Ellis said. "Clearly, the DEA or any federal agency should be watching their budgets more closely in these difficult times."

Drug War Issues

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