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ONDCP: Addiction Specialist Nominated as Assistant Drug Czar

The Obama administration announced last Friday it was naming a prominent addiction specialist to the number two post at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), widely known as the drug czar's office. If confirmed by the Senate, University of Pennsylvania psychologist A. Thomas McLellan would be deputy director of ONDCP.

McLellan would serve under former Seattle police chief and yet-to-be-confirmed director of ONDCP, Gil Kerlikowske. The nominations of Kerlikowske, a progressive police executive not overtly hostile to drug law reform, and McLellan, a well-respected scientist and researcher, suggest that the Obama administration is moving away from the politicized and ideologically-driven ONDCP of the Bush years.

McLellan is considered a leading researcher on a broad range of issues related to addiction. Working at the Veterans Administration in the 1980s, he developed the addiction severity index and the treatment services review, two measures that characterized multiple dimensions of substance use. He later worked with the state of Delaware to tie payment for treatment at state-funded centers to predetermined measures of success.

In 1992, McLellan co-founded the Treatment Research Institute to study how to transform promising research findings into clinical practice. He is editor in chief of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, and has published some 400 articles on various facets of addiction and treatment.

One of those was a groundbreaking 2000 article comparing drug addiction to other chronic medical conditions. In it, he urged consistent application of the disease model, noting that if diabetes patients relapsed after treatment, doctors would conclude that intervention had worked and more treatment was needed.

Drug addiction should be treated no differently, he suggested: "In contrast, relapse to drug or alcohol use following discharge from addiction treatment has been considered evidence of treatment failure," he wrote.

For those who view the disease model of addiction, humanely applied, as an improvement over arresting and imprisoning drug users, the McLellan nomination signals real potential progress. But for those who view the disease model as less an analog than a fuzzy metaphor, the nomination could signal the expansion of the therapeutic state in the name of our own good.

Latin America: Colombia's Uribe Seeks to Recriminalize Drug Possession

Since a 1994 Colombian Supreme Court ruling that held criminalizing drug users violated their privacy and autonomy, drug possession has not been a crime in Colombia. But President Álvaro Uribe -- personal abstainer, ally of the US, and recipient of billions in US anti-drug assistance -- tried to recriminalize drug possession during the 2006 presidential election campaign, and now, the Global Post reported earlier this month, he's trying it again.

Under that 1994 ruling, adults may possess up to 20 grams of marijuana, two grams of Ecstasy, and one gram of heroin or cocaine in the privacy of their own homes. It is not, however, a get out of jail free card. In practice, Colombian police are known to charge simple drug possessors with intending to distribute drugs.

Still, the law provides some protections to drug users, and users are mobilizing to defeat the rollback effort. At a recent demonstration outside the presidential palace, pot smoke wafted through the air as protestors made their opposition clear.

"Taking drugs is a private matter," said Daniel Pacheco, 27, a Colombian journalist who helped organize the march. "There are a lot more important things that the government should be concerned about."

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Álvaro Uribe Vélez
Not for Uribe, whose plan for recriminalization envisions drug users arrested and fined or sent to drug treatment -- or jail if they persist in their bad habits. Not only does the politics of recriminalization appeal to Uribe's conservative base in a country where the Roman Catholic Church remains powerful, it is also consistent with Colombia's hard-line fight with the drug trade.

"It's not right for the country to have this ethical contradiction of being severe when it comes to drug production and smuggling, but totally lax and permissive when it comes to consumption," Uribe said in a speech in February.

Still, it is unclear whether even his own administration supports the move. Attorney General Mario Igaurán said recently that the government should focus on high-level drug traffickers rather than worrying about what people do in the privacy of their own homes. And health experts question whether the measure will be effective in getting people into treatment or having success with coerced treatment.

Uribe and his hard-line stance on drugs are increasingly isolated in Latin America. With Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil relaxing some drug laws in recent years, with Argentina threatening to decriminalize drug possession, and with the Mexican Congress this week hosting a debate on legalization, Uribe seems the committed contrarian, marching boldly backward into the dark days of the 20th Century.

Sentencing: Number of African Americans in Prison for Drugs Falling, Whites Increasing

The number of African Americans behind bars for drug offenses dropped dramatically from 1999 to 2005, while the number of white drug war prisoners has increased, according to a report released Tuesday. That is a "potentially significant change" in the outcomes of drug policies, said the report's author.

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still too many people in prison notwithstanding
The report, The Changing Racial Dynamics of the War on Drugs, was written by Sentencing Project executive director Marc Mauer. It relied on official numbers from the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.

According to the report, in 1999, 145,000 blacks were doing time in state prisons for drug offenses; by 2005, that number had declined by 22% to 113,500. At the same time, the number of white drug war prisoners jumped 43%, from 50,000 in 1999 to more than 72,000 in 2005. The number of Hispanics doing time for drugs in state prisons remained constant at about 51,000.

The decline in the number and percentage of black drug war prisoners is the first since the crackdown on crack during the lock-'em-up Reagan years of the mid-1980s. But while the decline is significant, blacks remain imprisoned on drug charges at a disproportionate rate. They made up 45% of state drug prisoners in 2005, down from 58% in 1999, but still far in excess of their percentage of the overall and drug-using populations, about 12%.

The report examined the reasons behind the decrease in black drug prisoners and the increase in white drug prisoners and arrived at some tentative conclusions. It found that blacks made up a declining percentage of all non-marijuana drug arrests and accounted for a declining number of drug convictions during the period in question.

The reasons for the declines in black drug arrests, convictions, and imprisonment lie in the rise and fall of crack cocaine and the increasing resort to drug courts and other diversionary programs, the report suggested. With crack use falling off after its harms became apparent, and with crack sellers shifting from open air markets to indoor sales, the number of African-Americans arrested for crack offenses is declining. Similarly, the report suggests that the increase in whites imprisoned on drug charges may be partially attributable to the rise of methamphetamine in the past decade.

Free Speech: Grand Jury Subpoenas Prominent Pain Relief Advocate Who Has Criticized the Prosecution of a Kansas Physician

Siobhan Reynolds, head of the pain patient and doctor advocacy group the Pain Relief Network, has been targeted for a grand jury investigation of obstruction of justice for her role in supporting a Kansas physician and his wife in their legal battle against federal prosecutors who accuse them of unlawfully prescribing pain relief medications at their clinic.

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Siobhan Reynolds at 2004 Congressional briefing
Reynolds, a tireless activist for the cause of adequately treating chronic pain, publicly questioned the government's case against Steve and Linda Schneider and worked to support their defense. That must have aroused the ire of Assistant US Attorney Tanya Treadway, who is prosecuting the case, because this isn't the first time Treadway has tried to shut Reynolds up.

Last July, Treadway sought a gag order barring Reynolds and the Schneiders from talking to the press and another order barring Reynolds from talking to "victims" and witnesses in the case. The judge hearing the case, US District Court Judge Monti Belot, denied that motion to stifle dissent.

At the time, Treadway said in court documents that Reynolds had a "sycophantic or parasitic relationship" with the Schneiders and alleged that she was using the case to further the Pain Relief Network's political agenda and her own personal interests. Reynolds and the Pain Relief Network advocate against federal prosecutions of pain relief doctors, whom they see as victims of overzealous federal prosecutors and DEA agents who know little about proper medical care standards.

Now, Treadway is at it again. In a subpoena made available to the Associated Press, she demands that Reynolds turn over all correspondence with attorneys, patients, Schneider family members, doctors, and others related to the Schneider case. She also demands that Reynolds turn over bank and credit card statements showing payments to or from clinic employees, patients, potential witnesses and others.

The feisty Reynolds has no intention of complying. Instead, she has filed a motion seeking to throw out the grand jury subpoena. In that motion, she argues that forcing her to turn over such information would destroy her work as a political activist and violate her First Amendment rights to free speech and association.

She told the AP she would go to jail before turning over any documents. "This is an attempt to silence and intimidate me. I am going to fight it as far as I need to," she said. "If I were to give in here, lawful advocacy against the United States in court will effectively be brought to an end. So... a lot is at stake here."

Salvia Divinorum: Ohio's First Bust Came Day Before Law Went Into Effect

An Ohio law criminalizing the possession of salvia divinorum went into effect Tuesday, but that didn't stop an over-eager Butler County sheriff's deputy from arresting a man for it Monday or Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones crowing about being the first to bust someone under the new law. Jones sent out a press release touting his coup at 11:00am Monday, but had to retract it before the day was over.

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Google ads for salvia on web page reporting salvia arrest, North Dakota, April 2008
Salvia divinorum is a fast-acting, short-lived psychedelic member of the mint family traditionally used by Mazatec shamans in southern Mexico. It is not a federally controlled substance, but has been an object of concern among prohibitionist-leaning legislators across the country. Ohio is the latest of about a dozen states to pass laws criminalizing its possession or sale.

The bust came when Deputy Tim Andrews pulled over a Virginia man in a traffic stop Monday morning. After spotting a bag of marijuana in the vehicle, Deputy Andrews searched the car and found another bag marked "salvia divinorum." The Virginia man was charged with felony drug possession for the salvia, misdemeanor drug trafficking for a small amount of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia for having a scale. (Under Ohio law, possession of up to a quarter pound of marijuana is decriminalized.)

But shortly after the press release went out, a sheriff's detective questioned whether the charges were premature. The detective was correct, and the felony salvia charge was dismissed. The man's marijuana and paraphernalia charges remain.

"I don't have a whole lot (of sympathy) for this guy," Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "He was coming from one place to another. He admitted selling a bunch of dope in Michigan. It's not like salvia was the only thing he got arrested for."

Yes, but it wasn't a crime when he got arrested for it.

Europe: Britain Could Save $20 Billion a Year by Legalizing Drugs, Study Finds

A regime where currently illicit drugs are regulated and legalized would provide numerous benefits to Britain, not the least of which would be up to $20 billion a year in savings to government, crime victims, and drug users, according to a comprehensive comparison of the costs of drug prohibition and drug legalization.

The figure comes from A Comparison of the Cost-effectiveness of Prohibition and Regulation, a report released Wednesday by the British drug reform group the Transform Drug Policy Foundation. The group says it is the first time anyone in Britain has attempted an across-the-board comparison of the differing approaches to drug use and sales.

According to official British policy, policies or programs should be assessed by a cost-benefit analysis or impact assessment, but that has never been done with drug prohibition. Instead of evidence-based policies, the British government has relied on mere assertion to justify maintaining prohibition and to argue that the harms of legalization would outweigh its benefits.

Now, Transform is calling the government's bluff. According to its analysis, which examined criminal justice, drug treatment, crime, and other social costs, a regime of regulated legalization would accrue large savings over the current prohibitionist policy.

Transform postulated four different legalization scenarios based on drug use levels declining by half, staying the same, increasing by half, and doubling. Even under the worst case scenario, with drug use doubling under legalization, Britain would still see annual savings of $6.7 billion. Under the best case scenario, the savings would approach $20 billion annually.

"The conclusion is that regulating the drugs market is a dramatically more cost-effective policy than prohibition and that moving from prohibition to regulated drugs markets in England and Wales would provide a net saving to taxpayers, victims of crime, communities, the criminal justice system and drug users," Transform found.

Medical Marijuana: Florida Petition Drive Under Way

In a true grassroots effort, a group of Floridians organized as People United for Medical Marijuana (PUFMM) has begun an effort to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November 2010 ballot. The group needs some 687,000 valid signatures of registered voters in the next nine months to qualify.

The group is not affiliated with any national organization and says it needs $5 million for the signature gathering drive and the election campaign. Unlike more traditional initiative campaigns, PUFMM is relying heavily on Internet-based activism. The group's Facebook page already has 4,800 members, and PUFMM is counting on cascading new memberships to gather what it hopes is 1.2 million signatures, providing a very comfortable cushion at validation time. PUFMM is also hoping for each signatory to kick in $5. That way, the group could meet its self-imposed budget goal.

"Patients need a safe, affordable and effective medication. We hope Florida will lead the nation in marijuana research to further its uses as a medicine," PUFMM head Kim Russell, whose father suffers from Parkinson's Disease, told the Cape Coral Daily Breeze."There is absolute support, we just have to get everyone organized," she said, citing favorable national polling data.

If approved, the petition would create a constitutional amendment that reads as follows:

"(a) No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property or otherwise penalized for the cultivation, purchase, use or possession of marijuana in connection with the treatment of Alzheimer's, cachexia, cancer, chronic pain, chronic nervous system disorders, Crohn's disease, epilepsy and other seizure disorders, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, diseases causing muscle spasticity, or other diseases and conditions when recommended by a physician.

"(b) This section shall be self-executing. The legislature, however, may provide by general law for the voluntary registration of persons intending to exercise their rights hereunder and for the regulation of the distribution and sale of marijuana to persons intending to exercise their rights hereunder.

"(c) Nothing herein, however, shall be construed so as to prevent the legislature from enacting laws penalizing the operation of motor vehicles, boats, watercraft or aircraft while under the influence of marijuana or regulating the use of marijuana by minors. Similarly, all laws in effect at the time of adoption of this section penalizing the operation of motor vehicles, boats, watercraft or aircraft while under the influence of marijuana or regulating the use of marijuana by minors shall remain in force."

The proposed amendment does not create limits on the number of plants or the amount of usable marijuana patients may possess. It appears to leave that up to the legislature. In fact, PUFMM would prefer that the legislature just went ahead and passed a medical marijuana bill and is asking people to write to their representatives in the hope of achieving just that. "We are hoping they will submit a bill rather than a ballot initiative," Russell said. "The Internet is a huge resource for us."

While the effort is just a week old, it has already been denounced by the Florida Sheriff's Association and by Bill Janes, director of Florida's Office of Drug Control. "When we increase the availability of marijuana we increase the availability for young people," Janes said. "What this petition doesn't address is how the marijuana will be controlled. Will we just allow random growing of marijuana?"

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Another crooked judge, another dirty border guard, more problems for Philly's narcs, and a guilty plea in Detroit. Let's get to it:

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drug prohibition money causes border corruption
In El Paso, Texas, a Texas district court judge was indicted last week on charges he took cash bribes and asked for sex from defendants in exchange for his help making felony cases go away. State District Court Judge Manuel Barraza was indicted on four counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud, and lying to a federal agent. Local prosecutors are now reviewing about 100 drug cases he dismissed. Barraza is out on bail pending trial, but has been suspended from his $140,000 a year job.

In Brownsville, Texas, a US Customs and Border Protection officer was arrested April 2 on charges he took bribes to allow vehicles carrying drugs and illegal immigrants to pass through his border checkpoint. Officer Raul Montano Jr., 34, faces charges of bribery, conspiracy and smuggling illegal immigrants and conspiracy to import and possession of cocaine. According to a criminal complaint filed the same day, Montano would tell another person when he would be inspecting a certain lane on the Brownsville Gateway bridge and that person would relay the information to waiting smugglers on the Mexican side, who would pass through with people and cocaine.

In Philadelphia, two Philadelphia police narcotics squads are being reorganized as part of an effort to better supervise the officers involved. The move comes as one of those squads, Squad 9, is the subject of ongoing federal and local investigations after the Philadelphia Daily News ran a series of articles exposing numerous allegations of illegal acts by Narcotics Officer Jeffrey Cujdik and his cronies. Squad 9 is being dissolved, with its members being dispersed among the 10 remaining dope squads. Cujdik was first accused of lying on search warrant applications to gain access to suspected drug houses and of becoming too close to his snitches. Then, last month, the Daily News ran articles from 14 immigrant convenience store owners alleging Cujdik's squad ransacked their stores, ate food, stole goods and cash, then arrested them for selling small plastic bags that could be used to hold drugs. The Cujdik gang would typically cut the wires to surveillance cameras at the beginning of those raids.

In Detroit, a Detroit police officer pleaded guilty April 2 to tax evasion in the theft of more than $2 million worth of cocaine from a police evidence room. Officer Vincent Crockett, 50, had faced more serious charges of cocaine possession and embezzlement, but a police chemist who would have been a key witness in the case died last year, leaving federal prosecutors with a weak case. In his plea bargain, Crockett admitted to evading 2007 income taxes on $72,000 he received as the result of "an illegal act."

Marijuana Legalization: For First Time, Poll Finds Majority Support in California

An EMC Research poll commissioned by Oaksterdam University and conducted between March 16 and 21 has found that California voters are ready to offer majority support for taxing and regulating marijuana possession and sales and production. That's a first.

Some 54% of those polled believed marijuana should be legal for adults, while 39% disagreed. When asked if they would support an initiative to allow for the consumption of cannabis by adults with taxed and regulated sales by local option, 53% said yes, while 41% said no. When the hypothetical initiative was divided into its two parts, taxed and regulated sales by local option garnered 55% approval, while allowing adult consumption got 50%.

When asked to consider the hypothetical that such an initiative had passed and their county or city was voting whether to tax and regulate marijuana sales and production, 59% said yes, while only 36% said no. Some 58% of respondents said that marijuana should be treated the same as (50%) or less seriously (8%) than alcohol.

The poll also queried voters about which arguments for marijuana legalization and regulation resonated most strongly. The following arguments were most persuasive: It would ease access to medical marijuana for people who need it (57% said more likely to approve), it would keep pot from kids (54%), it would allow police to focus on violent crime (51%), and it would take business from street dealers (50%).

Somewhat surprisingly, economic arguments were not as persuasive. Arguing that legalization would provide funding for social services would make only 45% more likely to approve, that it would provide billions in tax revenues, 40%; that it would create thousands of jobs, 37%.

Finally, after going through the questions, the poll asked again whether they would support cannabis legalization for adults with taxed and regulated sales and production by local option. This time 62% approved and 39% disapproved. That's a 9% improvement over the answers given at the beginning of the poll and suggests that a little concentrated thought about the matter raises approval rates.

The poll comes less than a month after Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced a AB 390, which would legalize marijuana in the state, but only once the feds clear the way. It looks like California lawmakers need to start catching up with the people who elect them.

Sentencing: US Jail, Prison Population Hits Another Record High, Well Over Half a Million Drug Offenders Behind Bars

In its latest survey of US jails and prisons, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported at the end of March that the number of people behind bars in the US had set yet another all-time record. According to the BJS, there were nearly 2.4 million people imprisoned in the US on June 30 of last year, or one out of every 131 US residents.

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prison dorm
More than 1.4 million people were locked up in state prisons and another 200,000 in the federal prison system. Additionally, almost 800,000 found themselves in jail at the end of last June.

This BJS report does not break down the numbers by offense categories. In state prison systems, drug offenders typically account for between 20% and 25% of all prisoners, and they account for well over half of all federal prisoners. Assuming the lowball figure of 20% and applying it to jail populations as well, the number of drug war POWs was somewhere in the neighborhood of 550,000.

While the prison population continued to increase, the rate of increase is slowing. During the first six months of 2008, it increased by 0.8%, compared to an increase of 1.6% during the same period the previous year. The rate of growth in jail populations was 0.7%, the lowest rate of increase since Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in 1981.

Some 16 states, led by the sentencing reform states of California and Kentucky, actually saw decreases in prison populations. In 18 of the states reporting prison population growth, the average rate of growth (1.6%) was nearly half as low as the rate the previous year (3.1%) But in the 16 remaining states it was full-steam ahead, led by Minnesota (up 5.2%), Maine (up 4.6%), and Rhode Island and South Carolina (up 4.3%).

And even though the federal prison population passed the 200,000 mark, that may be running out of steam too. The growth rate of 0.8% was the lowest for any six-period since BJS began collecting the data in 1993, the year Bill Clinton assumed the presidency.

Still, since 2000, when US imprisonment levels were already at historic highs, the US prison and jail population has increased by a whopping 19%, or more than 373,000 prisoners. That is the equivalent of an entire medium-sized city, such as Wichita (pop. 360,000), Honolulu (pop. 375,000), or Raleigh (pop. 376,000) vanishing behind bars in less than a decade.

Of the 800,000 people in jails last June 30, 52% were housed in the nation's 180 largest jails, all with average daily populations exceeding 1,000 inmates. Nearly two-thirds (63%) were jailed awaiting court action or had not been convicted. More than a million people were jailed every month in the year ending last June 30, for a total of 13.6 million.

African-Americans continue to figure prominently and disproportionately in the inmate population. Black male prisoners accounted for 37% of the male prison population, and while that figure was down from 41% the previous year, it still shows black males being incarcerated at a rate 6.6 times that of white males.

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