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Press Release: House Committee to Renew Controversial Drug Enforcement Grant Program

[Courtesy of Drug Policy Alliance] For Immediate Release: June 17, 2008 Contact: Tony Newman, tel: (646) 335-5384 or Bill Piper, tel: (202) 669-6430 Wednesday, June 18th: House Judiciary Committee to Renew Controversial Drug Enforcement Grant Program Linked to Racial Disparities, Police Corruption and Civil Rights Abuses Twenty Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Reform Groups Urge Congress Not to Renew Byrne Grant Program without Reforming It Renewal of Program without Reform a Slap in the Face to Victims of Tulia and Hearne, TX Scandals—the Basis of Two Forthcoming Feature Films Last week the U.S. House Crime Subcommittee voted to renew the controversial but politically popular Byrne Justice Assistance grant program without debate or amendment. The House Judiciary Committee is set to take up the issue tomorrow, Wednesday June 18th. The Senate has already passed legislation renewing the program, which has been linked to racial disparities, police corruption and civil rights abuses. Twenty civil rights and criminal justice reform groups released a letter today urging the House Judiciary Committee not to renew the program without first reforming it. The groups include included the ACLU, the Brennan Center, National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, National Black Police Association, the National Council of La Raza and the Drug Policy Alliance. “There are clear steps Congress can take to reform this program, from providing better oversight to requiring law enforcement agencies receiving federal money to document their traffic stops, arrests and searches by race and ethnicity,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “If Judiciary Committee Members renew this program without fixing it, they will be responsible for the racial disparities and civil rights abuses it breeds.” In a deeply troubling example of the consequences of the Byrne grant program, a magistrate judge found that a regional narcotics task force in Hearne, Texas routinely targeted African Americans as part of an effort to drive blacks out of the majority white town. For the past 15 years, the Byrne-funded task force annually raided the homes of African Americans and arrested and prosecuted innocent citizens. The county governments involved in the Hearne task force scandal eventually settled a civil suit, agreeing to pay financial damages to some of the victims of discrimination. The most notorious Bryne-funded scandal occurred in 1999 in Tulia, Texas where dozens of African-American residents (representing 15% of the black population) were arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to decades in prison, even though the only evidence against them was the uncorroborated testimony of one white undercover officer with a history of lying and racism. The undercover officer worked alone, and had no audiotapes, video surveillance, or eyewitnesses to corroborate his allegations. Suspicions arose after two of the defendants accused were able to produce firm evidence showing they were out of state or at work at the time of the alleged drug buys. Texas Governor Rick Perry eventually pardoned the Tulia defendants (after four years of imprisonment), but these kinds of scandals continue to plague the Byrne grant program. The program has been linked to numerous scandals and civil rights abuses across the country. “Every dollar Congress spends on the Byrne grant program is a dollar used to perpetuate racial disparities, police corruption and civil rights abuses,” said Piper. “Unless this program is reformed this year, members of Congress should consider cutting funding to it.” What: Markup of H.R. 3546, a bill to reauthorize the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, and other bills. When: Wednesday 06/18/2008 - 10:15 a.m. Where: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building Key Points of Interest: - Oscar-nominated actors Alfre Woodard and Michael O'Keefe star in the recently completed feature film American Violet. Based loosely on the Hearne scandal, the film follows the harrowing journey of a young mother fighting the devastating consequences of America's drug task force programs. The film is scheduled to begin festival screenings worldwide early this fall. - Lionsgate films is currently producing a feature film based on the Tulia, Texas scandal starring Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry. - Twenty civil rights and criminal justice reform groups have released a letter today urging the House Judiciary Committee to not renew the program without first reforming it. The groups included the ACLU, the Brennan Center, National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, National Black Police Association, the National Council of La Raza and the Drug Policy Alliance. - Four leading conservative groups have urged Congress to completely eliminate the Byrne grant program, because the program “has proved to be an ineffective and inefficient use of resources.” (American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens against Government Waste and National Taxpayers Union). - A 2002 report by the ACLU of Texas identified 17 scandals involving Byrne-funded narcotics task forces in Texas, including cases of falsifying government records, witness tampering, fabricating evidence, false imprisonment, stealing drugs from evidence lockers, selling drugs to children, large-scale racial profiling, sexual harassment and other abuses of official capacity. Recent scandals in other states include the misuse of millions of dollars in federal grant money in Kentucky and Massachusetts, false convictions based on police perjury in Missouri, and making deals with drug offenders to drop or lower their charges in exchange for money or vehicles in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin. - A 2001 study by the General Accounting Office found that the federal government fails to adequately monitor the grant program or hold grantees accountable.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Go Directly to (Federal) Prison: The Criminalization of Almost Everything

Ten years ago, the American Bar Association Task Force on the Federalization of Crime published its final report documenting the enormous size and scope of federal criminal law. During congressional hearings, former Attorney General Edwin Meese, the chairman of the Task Force, testified to the numerous damaging consequences that “flow from the inappropriate federalization of crime.” Leading members of Congress are increasingly concerned about the ramifications of this over-federalization. Professor John Baker, a member of the original Task Force, has updated the Task Force’s work and concludes that there are now at least 4,450 federal crimes. In addition, his data indicate that Congress enacts more criminal offenses in election years than in non-election years. The purpose of this program is to analyze how Congress can renew its commitment to constitutional and prudential limits on the federal criminal power. Speakers include: The Honorable Louie Gohmert (R-TX) Ranking Member U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security John S. Baker, Jr. Dale E. Bennett Professor Law, Louisiana State University Law School, Original Member, ABA Task Force on the Federalization of Crime Host: Edwin Meese III Chairman, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation For more information contact Jason Murphy at 202-675-1752. To RSVP, see www.heritage.org/Press/Events/ev061708b.cfm.
Date: 
Tue, 06/17/2008 - 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Location: 
214 Massachusetts Ave., NE
Washington, DC 20002-4999
United States

Congress to vote on medical marijuana - take action now

Dear friends:

If you take only one action to help reform our nation's marijuana laws this year, it should be this one.

Please take one minute to ask your U.S. House member to vote for the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would stop the federal government from arresting patients who are using medical marijuana legally under state law.

The full U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the amendment in just a few weeks — and there will probably be earlier committee action on medical marijuana legislation any day now — so it's crucial that your U.S. representative hear from constituents like you.

MPP's online action system makes it easy. Just fill in your name and address and we'll do the rest.

Take action here.

Twelve states have passed laws protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest and jail. However, the federal government continues to ignore those state laws. For instance, just last month, DEA agents conducted a series of raids on California medical marijuana dispensaries that were operating legally under state law.

It's outrageous that the federal government is overturning the will of the people in these 12 states.

It's outrageous that the federal government is kicking in the doors and breaking the windows of medical marijuana dispensaries, stealing cash and marijuana from the proprietors of these establishments, and racing off in their black SUVs before TV news cameras arrive to document these governmental assaults.

I know you feel strongly that this is wrong. Would you please use your voice to deliver that message to Congress?

If we stand together, we will persuade Congress to change federal law.

Sincerely,
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 $3.0 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2008. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Latin America: US House Approves Mexico Anti-Drug Aid Bill, But Mexico Balks at Senate Human Rights Conditions

The US House of Representatives Tuesday approved a $1.6 billion, three-year anti-drug assistance plan aimed at helping Mexico and Central American countries fight the region's powerful drug trafficking organizations, but the package is now in doubt after the Mexican government voiced strong objections to provisions in the Senate version of the bill that tie the aid to human rights measures. The version of the bill in the Senate has yet to be approved.

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poster of assassinated human rights advocate Ricardo Murillo (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith)
The vote came amidst rising levels of prohibition-related violence in Mexico. Some 4,000 people -- including more than 450 police and soldiers -- have been killed in the drug war since President Felipe Calderón escalated it at the beginning of last year by sending some 25,000 troops and federal police into drug trafficker strongholds. The traffickers have taken time off from fighting among themselves to strike back at government forces, recently assassinating several top federal and municipal police commanders. Last week, traffickers in Culiacán ambushed and killed eight police in one day.

The bill, passed by the House 311-106, would begin to implement the Mérida Initiative, named after the Mexican city where US and Mexican officials sat down last year to hammer out an assistance package. Under that plan, the US funds would go for equipping and training security forces in Mexico and Central America and for improving justice systems in the region. Mexico would get $1.1 billion, while Central American and Caribbean countries would get roughly $400 million. Another $74 million would go to trying to slow the flow of illicit weapons from the US to Mexico.

But while Mexico had been eager to win the aid package, it is balking at the conditions in the Senate bill, which include human rights reviews, judicial reforms, and other issues. The conditions mark a return to "certification," where the US unilaterally determined whether nations where complying with US drug objectives, complained Mexican assistant attorney general for international affairs José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos.

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Ríodoce (newspaper) cover -- Sinaloa keeps bleeding. Why more (soldiers)?
"Why don't we tell the Americans to use those [funds] for their own interdiction forces or interception forces... and stop the flow of weapons," Santiago Vasconcelos said in a radio interview cited by the Dallas Morning News. "Rather than giving them to Mexico, they can be used by the Americans to reinforce their Customs service, their Border Patrol, and stop the arms trafficking to our country."

Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said last week that President Calderón is waiting to see the final version of the bill before making a decision. "The president will very carefully consider what is finally approved, and defending the best interests of Mexico, will make the correct decision, of that we can be sure," he said.

"I think one way or another, it's dead," political commentator Ricardo Alemán told the Morning News. "Mr. Vasconcelos is a very high-ranking police official and has support from the government," Alemán said, adding that Mexican pride is at stake. "Mexicans are very unyielding on this," he said. "First you reduce the amount, and then you put on conditions, so why don't you just keep your money."

A delegation of US senators flew last weekend to Monterrey, Mexico, to meet with Mexican officials in an effort to assuage their concerns, and there are signs they will seek to remove the offensive language from the Senate bill.

"We heard from everyone here the common message that this language has got to be changed," said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), one of 11 US legislators attending the two-day meeting. "Our friends in Mexico needed to vent and explain how this issue was not handled well," the senator added. "Anything that smacks of certification is a nonstarter."

Now it's time to see if the US Senate will sacrifice Mexican human rights on the altar of the drug war.

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!

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