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Marijuana: Barney Frank to Introduce Federal Decriminalization Bill

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) used a Friday night appearance on the HBO program "Real Time," hosted by Bill Maher, to announce that he planned to file a federal bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana this week. Frank, who has long been a supporter of marijuana law reform, said that federal law unfairly targets medical marijuana patients in states where it is legal. He also argued that decisions about whether to make marijuana illegal should be left up to the states.

Barney Frank
Asked by Maher as to why he would push a pot decriminalization bill now, Frank said the American public has already decided that personal use of marijuana is not a problem. "I now think it's time for the politicians to catch up to the public," Frank said. "The notion that you lock people up for smoking marijuana is pretty silly. I'm going to call it the 'Make Room for Serious Criminals' bill."

Elaborating on his TV remarks in a Sunday interview with the Associated Press, the Massachusetts congressman said elected officials are lagging behind public opinion on the issue. "Do you really think people should be prosecuted for smoking marijuana? I don't think most people agree with that. It's one area where the public is ahead of the elected officials," Frank said. "It does not appear to me to be a law that society is serious about."

He seemed particularly irked by DEA raids and federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers in California. "I don't think smoking marijuana should be a federal case," he said. "There's no federal law against mugging."

A dozen states have already decriminalized marijuana possession, with the New Hampshire House voting to approve such a measure last week. But the Granite State bill is opposed by state Senate leaders and the governor.

Rep. Frank's bill had not appeared on the Congressional web site as of Thursday afternoon.

Latin America: First Coca Plantations, Cocaine Lab Found in Brazil

In an ominous sign for US coca eradication efforts in South America, the Brazilian military said Sunday it had for the first time discovered coca plantations and a cocaine laboratory on its national territory. Coca has been grown by indigenous people in the Andes for thousands of years, and in recent years, three countries -- Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia -- have accounted for all the world's coca leaf.

coca seedlings
The Brazilian army used helicopters and small boats to reach the coca fields and lab in a remote area near the northwestern city of Tabatinga, close to the borders with Peru and Colombia. The fields were discovered when satellite photos showed large clearings hacked out of the jungle.

Lt. Col. Antônio Elcio Franco Filho told reporters Sunday finding coca plants was a surprise. "It is the first time these plantations have been found in Brazil," he said, adding that the find had prompted authorities to look for more fields in the region.

"This is new in Brazil and it's a concern," Walter Maierovitch, an organized crime expert who once headed Brazil's anti-drug efforts, told the government's Agência Brasil news service. "It could mean a change in the geo-strategy of some Colombian cartels."

While coca grows well in the Andean-Amazon highlands, the climate in the Amazon basin is not believed to be favorable to coca cultivation. But according to Franco Filho, the leaf growing in Brazil could be adapted to that climate.

"We believe they are using a transgenic or an adaptation of the leaf used in the Andean region," Franco Filho said. "They are probably trying to find new locations to grow this, so we need to stay alert. Authorities need to crack down on them immediately. If we don't do anything it might even become a source of deforestation."

By Monday, US anti-drug officials were raising alarms. "Brazilian law enforcement is going to have to be vigilant on this front, so it doesn't become a major producer," DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney told the Associated Press. If coca can be successful grown there, said Courtney, "the Amazon would be a perfect area, with all the brush and uninhabited areas. It almost creates a perfect opportunity. Drug traffickers and organizations are always moving to new areas."

No one was arrested in the raid. Brazil, whose status as the world's number two cocaine consumer nation may be threatened by the rising popularity of the drug in Europe, may now be about to join the elite ranks of the coca producing nations.

Law Enforcement: Senate Votes to Restore Byrne Drug Task Force Funding Program

The US Senate voted last Friday to restore funding to the federal grant program that pays for the multi-jurisdictional state and local anti-drug task forces that roam the land enforcing the drug laws. The Bush administration's Fiscal Year 2009 budget had zeroed out appropriations for the program, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program.

Funded at $520 million in Fiscal Year 2007, the two-decade old program that allows states to supplement their anti-drug spending with federal tax dollars was already down substantially from previous funding levels. For the past three years, as a cost-cutting move, the Bush administration has tried to zero it out completely, but that has proven extremely unpopular with Congress. In December, as it sought to pass the FY 2008 budget, the House voted to fund the block grant portion of the program at $600 million and the Senate at $660 million, but in last-minute budget negotiations, the White House insisted the funding be cut.

For FY 2009, the Bush administration again zeroed out appropriations for the JAG program, instead allocating $200 million for a combined federal grants program. But it is up against a powerful law enforcement lobby that has mobilized to restore funding. Democrat politicians eager to appear "tough on crime" have been especially vulnerable to such appeals.

It was two Democrats, Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Diane Feinstein of California, along with Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who cosponsored an amendment to the 2009 budget that would fund the Byrne JAG program at $906 million, far above the levels of recent years.

"Day in and day out, communities depend on our law enforcement professionals to keep them safe and be fully prepared to respond in emergencies," Feingold said. "The dedicated service they provide cannot happen without support from the federal government. We must provide adequate funding for successful programs like the COPS program and the Byrne program in order to provide the tools, technology, and training our law enforcement professionals need to protect our communities," he said.

"Unfortunately, the president's proposal to cut funding for these successful crime-fighting programs is nothing new," Feingold said. "Congress has rightly rejected the President's cuts to these programs in the past, and I'm working with my colleagues to include this critical funding in the 2009 budget."

Despite the demagoguery and the Senate vote, a reinvigorated Byrne JAG grant program is not yet a done deal. The House must also vote to approve funding, and if the White House follows the direction it has taken in recent years, it will once again oppose any expansive new funding -- as it successfully did in December.

States Shifting to "Four Pillars" Approach, Instead of Mass Arrests and Scare Tactics, for Confronting Methamphetamine

Although the use of methamphetamine has remained fairly flat throughout this decade -- contrary to popular belief -- and its half-million semi-regular users are far fewer than regular users or heroin or cocaine, meth has been the demon drug du jour for the new millenium. The "meth epidemic" has aroused concerted law enforcement and propaganda efforts at the state and local levels, and belatedly aroused the attention of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which turned away from its obsession with marijuana long enough to include a few anti-meth segments in its National Youth Anti-Drug Campaign.

But while the states and federal government fill their prisons with tens of thousands of meth offenders and crank out ever more draconian laws to try to suppress the popular stimulant, public health officials, harm reductionists, and drug reform activists say there is a better way. Instead of relying on punitive laws, scare tactics, and failed federal leadership in confronting methamphetamine abuse, states and the federal government would be better off adopting more enlightened alternative approaches.

Current, law enforcement-heavy approaches to meth are ineffective and counterproductive, said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance as he introduced a new report he authored, "A Four-Pillars Approach to Methamphetamine: Policies for Effective Drug Prevention, Treatment, Policing and Harm Reduction." "Meth is not a new drug," Piper told the Tuesday teleconference. "Its use has fluctuated for the past 40 years and has been relatively stable since 1999. But it has become more available, more potent, and more addictive over time, and federal policies have failed to reduce most of the problems associated with meth use."

Even when law enforcement can legitimately claim successes, as in the massive reduction in the number of home meth labs, it only breeds new problems, said Piper. "The law of unintended consequences brought us the increasing power of the Mexican meth cartels."

There is a better way, and that is to adopt the Four Pillars approach, Piper argued in the report. That approach, already in use in places like Geneva, Zurich, Frankfurt, Sydney, and most famously, Vancouver, "has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of users consuming drugs on the street, a significant drop in overdose deaths, and a reduction in the infection rates for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis," he said.

A Four Pillars approach to meth should include the following steps, the report said:

  • Eliminate barriers to successful meth treatment, such as the shortage of treatment programs for pregnant and parenting women;
  • Divert nonviolent methamphetamine offenders to treatment instead of jail;
  • Invest in research to develop the equivalent of methadone and buprenorphine for the treatment of methamphetamine abuse, and allow doctors to prescribe dextroamphetmaine, modafinil, Ritalin and other medications to treat stimulant addiction as part of counseling and drug treatment;
  • Eliminate failed, scare-based prevention programs like DARE and the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, and increase funding for after-school programs instead;
  • Re-prioritize local and federal law enforcement agencies to focus on violent criminals instead of nonviolent drug offenders, and set clear statutory goals and reporting requirements for the disruption of major methamphetamine operations; and
  • Make sterile syringes widely available to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.

While New Mexico is the only state that has formally embraced a Four Pillars strategy including harm reduction as part of its approach to meth -- a program in which DPA played a key and continuing role -- promising developments are afoot in other places as well, including California and Utah.

In California, Proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, in effect since 2001, is making a significant contribution in drying up the flow of new drug prisoners into the state's swollen and budget-devouring prisons. Under Prop. 36, about 35,000 people a year have been diverted from prison to drug treatment through the criminal justice system, with slightly more than half of them reporting meth as their primary drug of abuse. With nearly 19,000 meth users a year entering treatment under Prop 36, the program is the largest meth treatment and prevention program in the nation.

"We are not only reducing the number of people locked up, but we have saved about $1.5 billion in the past seven years, with recidivism dropping and no negative impact on crime rates," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, Proposition 36 coordinator for DPA. "We can get treatment to people who need it with cost savings and a positive outcome."

Lou Martinez was one of those people. A chronic California meth user for a decade, he was arrested numerous times for possession of drugs or paraphernalia. "I was constantly getting picked up throughout the '90s, I could never comply with the probation conditions, I was in and out of jail all the time," he said.

Things changed after Prop. 36, Martinez said. "I got picked up again in 2002, but this time I was referred to Prop. 36 and was able to detox and get health and psych screenings. I spent 90 days in a transitional house, and when I graduated in 2004, for the first time in my adult life I wasn't under the control of the courts. Without Prop. 36, there is no way I could have broken that cycle of arrests and trying unsuccessfully to quit."

Martinez returned to college, got a bachelor's degree, and now works directly with Prop. 36 clients. "It saved my life," he said of the program.

In Utah, the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Act (DORA), which provides substance abuse screening for anyone convicted of a felony is now taking an innovative Salt Lake County program statewide, while across the Four Corners in New Mexico, policymakers, state agencies and other stakeholders have developed a comprehensive meth strategy bringing together all four of the Four Pillars.

Harm reduction is a key element, said Reena Szczepanski, director of DPA New Mexico, and a key player in developing the New Mexico strategy. "What are we going to do for people before they are ready to go into treatment?" she said. "What other problems and conditions do they have? Since 1997, we've had a statewide system of needle exchanges, where drug users can get health education, access to testing, information on how to respond to overdoses. This is harm reduction. Before someone is ready to go into treatment, they are already engaging a system of services that will be there when they are ready," she said.

Methamphetamine may be over-hyped as a national drug problem, but it is a locus of concern among policymakers, health care professionals, law enforcement, and society at large. With meth such a high profile drug policy issue, the battles over how to approach it may set the tone for drug policy discussions for years to come. With its report calling for a Four Pillars approach, the Drug Policy Alliance is taking up the challenge.

Drug Overdose Deaths Are Going Through the Roof -- Is Anybody Watching?

According to a little noticed January report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), drug overdoses killed more than 33,000 people in 2005, the last year for which firm data are available. That makes drug overdose the second leading cause of accidental death, behind only motor vehicle accidents (43,667) and ahead of firearms deaths (30,694).

What's more disturbing is that the 2005 figures are only the latest in such a seemingly inexorable increase in overdose deaths that the eras of the 1970s heroin epidemic and the 1980s crack wave pale in comparison. According to the CDC, some 10,000 died of overdoses in 1990; by 1999, that number had hit 20,000; and in the six years between then and 2005, it increased by more than 60%.

naloxone, the opiate overdose antidote
"The death toll is equivalent to a hundred 757s crashing and killing everybody on board every year, but this doesn't make the news," said Dan Bigg of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, a harm reduction organization providing needle exchange and other services to drug users. "So many people have died, and we just don't care."

Fortunately, some people care. Harm reductionists like Bigg, some public health officials, and a handful of epidemiologists, including those at the CDC, have been watching the up-trend with increasing concern, and some drug policy reform organizations are devoting some energy to measures that could bring those numbers down.

But as youth sociologist and long-time critic of the drug policy establishment's overweening fascination with teen drug use Mike Males noted back in February, the official and press response to the CDC report has been "utter silence." That's because the wrong people are dying, Males argued: "Erupting drug abuse centered in middle-aged America is killing tens of thousands and hospitalizing hundreds of thousands every year, destroying families and communities, subjecting hundreds of thousands of children to abuse and neglect and packing foster care systems to unmanageable peaks, fostering gun violence among inner-city drug dealers, inciting an epidemic of middle-aged crime and imprisonment costing Americans tens of billions of dollars annually, and now creating a spin-off drug abuse epidemic among teens and young adults. Yet, because today's drug epidemic is mainly white middle-aged adults -- a powerful population that is "not supposed to abuse drugs" -- the media and officials can't talk about it. The rigid media and official rule: Drugs can ONLY be discussed as crises of youth and minorities."

The numbers are there to back up Males' point. Not only are Americans dying of drug overdoses in numbers never seen before, it is the middle-aged -- not the young -- who are doing most of the dying. And they are not, for the most part, overdosing on heroin or cocaine, but on Oxycontin, Lorcet, and other opioids created for pain control but often diverted into the lucrative black market created by prohibition.

Back in October, CDC epidemiologist Leonard Paulozzi gave Congress a foretaste of what the January report held. Drug death "rates are currently more than twice what they were during the peak years of crack cocaine mortality in the early 1990s, and four to five times higher than the rates during the year of heroin mortality peak in 1975," he said in testimony before the House Oversight and Investigations Committee.

"Mortality statistics suggest that these deaths are largely due to the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs," Paulozzi continued. "Such statistics are backed up by studies of the records of state medical examiners. Such studies consistently report that a high percentage of people who die of prescription drug overdoses have a history of substance abuse."

But there is more to it than a mere correlation between increases in the prescribing and abuse of opioid pain relievers and a rising death rate, said Dr. Alex Kral, director of the Urban Health Program for RTI International, a large nonprofit health organization. Kral, who has been doing epidemiological research on opioid overdoses for 15 years, said there are a variety of factors at work.

"There hasn't been a big increase in heroin use," he said. "What's changed has been prescription opiate drug use. Oxycontin is probably a big part of the answer. The pharmaceutical companies have come up with good and highly useful versions of opioids, but they have also been diverted and used in illicit ways in epidemic fashion for the past 15 years."

But Kral also pointed the finger at the resort to mass imprisonment and forced treatment of drug offenders as a contributing factor. "What happens is that people who are opiate users go into prison or jail and they get off the drug, but when they come out and start using again, they use at the same levels as before, and they don't have the same kind of tolerance. We know that recent release from jail or prison is a big risk factor for overdose," he said.

"The last piece of the puzzle is drug treatment," Kral said. "Besides the tolerance problems for people who have been abstaining in treatment, there has been an increase in the use of methadone and buprenorphine, which is a good thing, but people are managing to overdose on those as well."

There are means of reducing the death toll, said a variety of harm reductionists, and the opioid antagonist naloxone (Narcan) was mentioned by all of them. Naloxone is a big part of the answer, said the Chicago Recovery Alliance's Bigg. "It's been around for 40 years, it's a pure antidote, and it has no side effects. It consistently reverses overdoses via intramuscular injection; it's very simple to administer. If people have naloxone, it becomes much, much easier to avoid overdose deaths."

"Naloxone should be made available over the counter without a prescription," said Bigg. "In the meantime, every time a physician prescribes opioids, he should also prescribe naloxone."

"For a couple of years now, we've been talking about trying to get naloxone reclassified so it's available over the counter or maybe prescribed by a pharmacist," said Hilary McQuie, Western director for the Harm Reduction Coalition. "The problem is that you don't just need congressional activity, you also need to deal with the FDA process, and it's hard to find anyone in the activist community who understands that process."

Harm reductionists also have to grapple with the changing face of drug overdoses. "We're used to dealing with injection drug users," McQuie admitted, "and nobody really has a good initiative for dealing with prescription drug users. In our lobbying meetings about the federal needle exchange funding ban, we've started to talk about this, specifically about getting naloxone out there."

But while the overdose epidemic weighs heavily on the movement, no one wants to spend money to bring the numbers down. "This is a very big issue, it's very present for harm reduction workers," said McQuie. "But we haven't done a lot of press on it because there is no funding for overdose prevention. We have a very good program in San Francisco to train residential hotel managers and drug users at needle exchanges. It's very cheap; it only cost $70,000, including naloxone. But we can't get funders interested in this. We write grants to do this sort of work around the state, and we never get any money."

Perversely, the Office of National Drug Control Policy also opposes making naloxone widely available -- on the grounds that it is a moral hazard. "First of all, I don't agree with giving an opioid antidote to non-medical professionals. That's No. 1," ONDCP's Deputy Director of Demand Reduction Bertha Madras said in January. "I just don't think that's good public health policy."

But even worse, Madras argued that availability of naloxone could encourage drug users to keep using because they would be less afraid of overdoses. And besides, Madras, continued, overdosing may be just what the doctor ordered for drug users. "Sometimes having an overdose, being in an emergency room, having that contact with a health care professional is enough to make a person snap into the reality of the situation and snap into having someone give them services," Madras said.

"The drug czar's office argues that if you take away the potential consequences, in this case, a fatal overdose, you facilitate the use, but betting someone's life on that is just cruel and bizarre," snorted Bigg.

RTI's Kral noted that there are now 44 naloxone programs run by community groups across the country. "It would be wonderful if there were more of them, because they are staving off a lot of deaths, but they are controversial. The ONDCP says they condone drug use, but you can't rehabilitate a dead drug user."

While battles over naloxone access continue, said Bigg, there are other things that can be done. "We need to engage people, and that means overcoming shame," said Bigg. "Every couple of months, I get a call from a family that has lost a member to drugs and I ask them if they're willing to come forward and talk to reporters to stop it from happening again, and they say 'let me think about it,' and I never hear from them again.

Another means of reducing the death toll would be to start local organizations of people whose friends or family members have died or are still using and at risk. "We could call them 'First Things First,' as in first, let's keep our folks alive," he suggested.

"When people found out naloxone is out there, that it's this medicine that has no ill effects -- it has no effect at all unless you're using opioids -- and that it can't be abused, and that their family member could have had it and still be alive, that's a hard thing to realize," said Bigg. "Everyone who has lost a loved one wants him back, and to think he could still be alive today if there were naloxone is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow."

Despite the apparent low profile of drug policy reform groups, they, too, have been fighting on the overdose front. "We worked to pass groundbreaking overdose prevention bills in California and New Mexico," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We're working to advance overdose prevention bills in Maryland and New Jersey. We had a bill in 2006 in Congress that would have created a federal grant program for overdose prevention," he said, pointedly adding that not a single federal dollar goes to overdose prevention. "We've tried to introduce that in the new Congress but can't find someone to take a lead. To be frank, few politicians care about this issue. Their staff care even less."

A massive public education campaign is needed, said Piper, adding that DPA is working on a report on this very topic that should appear in a few weeks.

In the meantime, while politicians and drug war bureaucrats avert their gaze and deep-pocketed potential donors keep their purses tightly closed, while the nation worries about baseball players on steroids and teenagers smoking pot, the bodies pile up like cordwood.

Fry & Schafer Released on Bail Pending Appeal

[Courtesy of California NORML] SACRAMENTO, Mar. 19th - Dr. Mollie Fry and Dale Schafer walked out of US Court free on bail pending appeal after being sentenced to a five-year mandatory minimum by a US District Judge Frank Damrell, who deplored the sentence as a "tragedy" that should "never have happened." Supporters were elated by Damrell's decision to grant release on bail, which capped a tense and dramatic day that began with a succession of adverse rulings for the defense. Defense attorney Tony Serra called it "one of the saddest days I've confronted in a long career" after Damrell turned down all the defense's motions to avoid the mandatory minimums. Mollie Fry stirred the courtroom to tears as she related the story of her cancer and subsequent desire to help people with medical marijuana. "We caused no harm to anyone," she said, "There were no victims." Judge Damrell acknowledged the legitimacy of Fry's medical use of marijuana, but said that the couple had "spiraled out of control.' He concluded that he had "no choice" but to impose the mandatory minimum of 5 years, a sentence dictated by the jury's finding that the couple had grown a total of slightly more than 100 plants over a period of three years. On the final and crucial issue of the day, however, Damrell agreed that the couple had "substantial" grounds for appeal so as to justify their release on bail. Following expert testimony by attorneys J David Nick and Ephraim Margolin, Damrell found substantial appeals issues relating to entrapment, the defendants' state of mind, and the conflict between state and federal laws. He added that the couple's precarious state of health was further extraordinary grounds for keeping them out of prison. He reprimanded Dr.Fry for her loose standards in recommending marijuana, and stipulated as a strict condition for her release that she desist from further recommendations, to which she assented. To this observer, today's events felt like a momentous step forward towards the inevitable changing of federal marijuana laws. Judge Damrell effectively declared the bankruptcy of US laws regarding mandatory sentencing and medical marijuana, and rightly referred the matter to higher authorities to decide. There are good grounds to hope that Dale and Mollie will be vindicated by the Ninth Circuit and/or a change in administration. More later.... Dale Gieringer, Cal NORML -- California NORML, 2215-R Market St. #278, San Francisco CA 94114 -(415) 563- 5858 - www.canorml.org
Sacramento, CA
United States

DEA Opens Drug War Fantasy Camp

Last year, the DEA was teaching people how to cook meth. Now they're teaching people how to shoot other people with guns.

Just watch this news report about the DEA's exciting public outreach program, which shows almost nothing except a bunch of people shooting guns and seemingly having an exhilarating experience. There sure is a lot of shooting involved in saving us from drugs.

Of particular interest is the instructor's reaction when the participating FOX reporter accidentally shoots an unarmed suspect. He laments the inevitable newspaper headlines, as though bad press is the real tragedy when someone is accidentally shot in the drug war. To be fair, we don't get to hear everything he may have said, but the clip is creepy either way when one glances over at the pile of innocent bodies our drug war has accumulated.

As an undergrad criminal justice major, I had the opportunity to take on a million dollar "shoot/don't shoot" simulator at a sophisticated police training facility. It was a unique opportunity to appreciate the difficult positions police officers can find themselves in. The weapon was a real glock, outfitted to shoot invisible lasers instead of live ammo. When you pulled the trigger, an amplified boom shook the floor and a simulated kickback threatened to rip the weapon from your grasp.

More than a few of my classmates panicked quickly, emptying their clips at the slightest provocation, and earning admonishment from the instructor. I performed well, taking down a disgruntled employee on a shooting rampage in an office building, then managing not to shoot an angry motorist who reached for his wallet in an aggressive manner. I've spoken ever since of my newfound appreciation for the awesome responsibility law enforcement officers bear when making life and death decision within a fraction of a second.

I've also never been more convinced that police must not be asked to make such decisions in the name of preventing drug transactions between consenting adults. The risk is too great and the reward far too small.

                                                                                                                                                                        [Thanks, Paul]

United States

March 19, 2008: Dr. Mollie Fry to be Sentenced for Medical Marijuana

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 17, 2008 CONTACT: Bobby Eisenberg, FRY/SCHAFER Defense Committee at Bobby@docfry.com or 530-823-9963 California Dr. Mollie Fry to be Sentenced for Medical Marijuana Sentencing scheduled for Wednesday, March 19th at 2pm in Sacramento Federal Court. The federal sentencing of medical marijuana defendants Dr. Mollie Fry and her husband, Attorney Dale Schafer will take place on Wednesday, March 19th at the US courthouse in Sacramento (5th and I St.). The sentencing is at 2 PM. There will be a press conference before the hearing at 1PM in front of the Court House. The couple was denied the right to defend their actions that were protected under the Laws of the State of California. WHO: Sentencing in Federal Court of Dr. Mollie Fry and her husband, Attorney Dale Schafer for cultivation and dispensing medical marijuana under the Laws of California. WHAT: Press Conference prior to sentencing at 1 PM WHEN: Sentencing is Wednesday, March 19th, 2008 at 2 PM WHERE: Federal Court House, 501 "I " St., Sacramento, CA "We never would have grown marijuana had it not been sanctioned by the Laws of the State of California, the Attorney General of California and the District Attorney and Sheriffs’ of El Dorado County. Why aren’t they being charged with conspiracy to violate Federal Law?" asks Dr. Fry. Dr. Fry and her husband face a likely 5-year mandatory minimum sentence for conspiracy to cultivate and dispense medical marijuana for a small number of Dr. Fry’s patients. They ran (and continue to run) a popular medical marijuana clinic in El Dorado County that provides recommendations for many needy patients in the Sierra Foothills: http://www.docfry.com. Go to articles link for background. Like other federal defendants, they were denied the right to mention medical marijuana or Prop 215 in their trial. Both are in fragile health - Dale has hemophilia and suffers from chronic back pain, and Mollie is a breast cancer survivor. They are currently caring for three beautiful children and two grandchildren in their home. They were among the first medical marijuana providers raided by the Bush Administration, just a couple of weeks after 9/11 (9/28/01), but were not successfully indicted until June 22nd, 2005 after the Raich decision was overturned by the Supreme Court. Dale Schafer had also run for District Attorney in 2001. The sentence they face is particularly egregious compared to other defendants who have grown far more marijuana. They are liable to a five-year mandatory minimum because they were convicted of growing 100 plants over a period of three years, a number far smaller than is usually prosecuted by federal authorities. The jury was forced to add three different years worth of gardens to come up with the 100-plant count. They were not allowed to mention at their trial that local law enforcement had (deliberately) entrapped them by telling them it was OK to grow their relatively modest garden or that they had received advice of counsel supporting their right to grow and care for others under the Law in California. The Attorney General, Bill Lockyer, the District Attorney and the Sheriff in El Dorado County were all aware of and supportive of Dr. Fry and Schafer’s activities, but the jury was also denied these truths. Fry and Schafer’s case aptly exemplifies the kind of DEA enforcement abuses bill SJR 20 condemns. Patients and medical marijuana rights supporters are welcome to attend.
Sacramento, CA
United States

Internet Users Take a Swing at Anti-drug PSAs

EDITOR'S NOTE: Amanda Brooke Shaffer is an intern at StoptheDrugWar.org. Her bio is in our "staff" section at http://stopthedrugwar.org/about/staff Is the American public getting tired of government lies and exaggerations about drugs? If the ballooning number of anti-drug parodies on the Internet is any measure, it sure seems so. The emergence of YouTube.com and other popular video websites has enabled and emboldened Internet users to express their opinions about the often criticized, government-sponsored anti-drug PSAs through video clips and commentary. The public is busy at work making innovative and bold statements. I attempted to view as many anti-drug parody ads as possible; however, I didn’t expect the search engine on YouTube.com to turn up such a high volume of videos. It soon became quite obvious that the trend of the parody ads is to expose the ridiculousness of the claims made in the anti-drug PSAs. The clip that follows is an anti-drug PSA sponsored by the government. The second is the parody of it produced by an Internet user. http://youtube.com/watch?v=jgJdVEoVbgg, http://youtube.com/watch?v=m6FL0pmJeaE&feature=related Clearly the second clip flat out mocks the first one by completely contradicting the message the government is portraying. Below each video clip is space for viewers to comment. One of the numerous remarks about these two ads resembled something like this, “If I smoke then my dog will talk to me??? Puff, Puff, Pass!” This was just the tip of the iceberg of what users had to say. A study was done on a variety of ads including the above mentioned “dog” ad to determine the effects on the youth of America. Guess what? The results showed an increase of marijuana use in girls aged 12-13 through making drug use by peers appear to be more familiar and acceptable. See: http://newrecovery.blogspot.com/2007/02/12-billion-later-national-youth-... and http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06818.pdf and http://www.nida.nih.gov/DESPR/Westat/Westat502/ExecSummary502.html Why are we spending our dwindling tax resources on commercials that send the wrong message to their target audience? The anti-drug media campaign creates artistic and abstract ads that are unrealistic, when all Americans really need, and want to see, are commercials that tell them the truth. Another approach the campaign employs is using upbeat and positive messages to attempt to deter youths from using drugs. It is known as “What’s Your Anti-Drug?” This parody clip (http://youtube.com/watch?v=eDXxA0hMo1I) twists the government’s message to expose the fallacy of the marijuana as a “gateway” to harder drugs myth through the line, “Weed is my anti-drug.” It seems that no matter how hard the government works to embed the gateway myth into the public consciousness, those pesky studies that disprove a causal link to using harder drugs keep informing the public of the truth. Many clips I viewed expressed the notion that weed prevented them from using other drugs by satisfying their desires and curiosities. I felt one parody rose above the rest. Not only was it the most viewed parody anti-drug ad I came across, but it had me and all my friends rolling on the floor with laughter. It is an ad featuring our Commander in Chief, President Bush. Bush, known for his binge drinking and cocaine use by a large majority of Americans, is an ideal person to exemplify the long-term consequences of drug abuse. This ad has the right stuff -- a notable figure and a realistic message that is powerful and clear to the viewer. Check it out: http://youtube.com/watch?v=eGgTLMC9GXg. I think it is quite obvious why Americans are taking precious time out of their daily lives to speak out. Simply put, the extremely expensive anti-drug media campaign employed by the government over the last two decades is laughable, and government-funded research continues to conclude that these ads are ineffective at preventing and reducing drug use among youths. Yet, despite the increasing mounds of evidence proving the campaign’s ineffectiveness, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) disputes the critical conclusions of these studies and has the audacity to ask the government for even more money. The good thing is that the ease of accessing these reports, thanks to the Internet, is making it progressively harder for ONDCP to ignore the facts and hide them from the American people. You see, the D.A.R.E. generation has had enough of the lies and distortions, and it’s fighting back with truth and sense.

Prisoner Re-Entry: Congress Passes Second Chance Act, Bill Goes to President Bush

Three years after it was first introduced, the Senate Tuesday evening passed the Second Chance Act, a measure aimed at reducing prison populations and corrections costs by reducing the recidivism rate among people released from prison. The bill would provide federal funding to develop programs dealing with job training, substance abuse, family stability, and for employers who hire former prisoners.

overcrowded prison dorm, California
Nearly 700,000 people a year are released from state and federal prisons, according to Justice Department statistics. If drug offenders, who make up about one-quarter of the prison population, are released in roughly the same proportion, that means about 175,000 drug offenders will benefit from the program each year.

Currently, an estimated two-thirds of released prisoners will find themselves in trouble with the law at some point in the future. The bill is designed to reduce that percentage.

Although the bill had passed the House in November, it had been stalled ever since by a legislative "hold" put on it by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who had expressed a number of concerns about it, including some on the cost and effectiveness of the program. He lifted his "hold" Monday night. On Tuesday, it passed both the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Senate floor vote by unanimous consent.

President Bush is expected to sign the bill shortly.

The bill will provide about $360 million for re-entry services in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. In addition to services already mentioned, the bill provides for assistance to newly released prisoners in obtaining proper identification and mandates that the federal Bureau of Prisons provide prisoners with adequate supplies of their medications upon their release.

Passage of the bill should stimulate a broader discussion of sentencing and alternatives to incarceration, said Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), one of the bill's main architects. "We add this up and the impact will be far greater than just the amount of money that gets appropriated. We know it's not a panacea," he said. "It's not close to any kind of panacea but our hope is this becomes a sort of trigger for a great deal of additional action."

There was bipartisan support for the bill, with conservative Republicans like Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback joining with Democrats to win passage. "I am very pleased that my Senate colleagues were able to pass legislation that will help combat the high rates of prisoner recidivism in America," said Brownback, who co-sponsored the bill in the Senate. "Everybody -- the ex-offender, the ex-offender's family, and society at large -- benefits from programs that equip prisoners with the proper tools to successfully reintegrate into life outside of the prison walls. I am hopeful that with this legislation we will begin to see tangible results as governments and nonprofit organizations work together to help ex-offenders."

"It is vitally important that we do everything we can to ensure that, when people get out of prison, they enter our communities as productive members of society, so we can start to reverse the dangerous cycles of recidivism and violence," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), another co-sponsor. "I hope that the Second Chance Act will help us begin to break that cycle."

"The Second Chance Act will provide an opportunity for realistic rehabilitation for the more than 650,000 inmates who return to their communities each year," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), another co-sponsor. "The bill's focus on education, job training, and substance abuse treatment is essential to decreasing the nationwide recidivism rate of 66%."

Now, if Congress would only do something about keeping drug offenders out of prison in the first place.

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