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Medical Marijuana: "Truth in Trials" Bill Reintroduced, Would Allow Medical Testimony in Federal Prosecutions

US Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) and more than 20 congressional cosponsors Tuesday introduced a bill that would allow defendants in federal medical marijuana prosecutions to use medical evidence in their defense -- a right they do not have under current federal law. The Truth in Trials Act, H.R. 3939, would create a level playing field for such defendants.

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Sam Farr
"This is a common sense bill that will help stop the waste of law enforcement and judicial resources that have been spent prosecuting individuals who are following state law," Rep. Farr said on Tuesday. "We need strict drug laws, but we also need to apply a little common sense to how they're enforced. This legislation is about treating defendants in cases involving medical marijuana fairly, plain and simple."

More than a hundred medical marijuana providers have been prosecuted for violating federal marijuana laws, and more cases are coming down the pike. More than two dozen cases are currently pending. While the Justice Department last week issued guidelines to federal prosecutors discouraging them from prosecuting providers who comply with state medical marijuana laws, that guidance does not require that courts or prosecutors allow testimony about medical marijuana, nor does it suggest that prosecutors drop those cases.

"The Truth in Trials Act will restore the balance of justice and bring fundamental fairness to federal medical marijuana trials," said Caren Woodson, government affairs director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "This legislation complements the recent Justice Department guidelines for federal prosecutors and is now more necessary than ever."

While Farr has introduced the Truth in Trials bill in earlier sessions, supporters hope this time the bill will gain some traction. It has already been endorsed by more than three dozen advocacy, health, and legal groups, including ASA, the ACLU, the National Association of People With AIDS, the National Minority AIDS Council, and the AIDS Action Council.

Latin America: Marijuana Legalization Fares Poorly in Chile Poll

Only 14.6% of Chileans support marijuana legalization, down from 19% five months ago, according to a newly released Ipsos poll. Some 56% of Chileans reject legalizing marijuana for any reason, the poll found.

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Marco Enríquez-Ominami
The news is slightly better on the medical marijuana front. There, support has risen to 28.5%, up from 21.7% in June.

Chile is one of the most socially conservative countries in Latin America. Abortion is illegal there, and divorce became legal only five years ago. Homosexuality became legal a decade ago, but the country does not have an anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation.

Marijuana has become something of an issue in the country's presidential elections. Former Socialist Party leader Marco Enriquez-Ominami, who is running as an independent has said that he "is a supporter of looking into the matter of legalizing marijuana."

But Eduardo Frei, candidate of the ruling left-leaning Concordance of Parties for Democracy (CPD) responded in a recent debate that he opposes pot legalization. "All drugs are addictive and they lead to harder drugs," he said.

The first round of the Chilean presidential election is set for December 11.

Medical Marijuana: Colorado Court of Appeals Rules Caregivers Must Do More Than Just Grow Pot

In an opinion released Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled that persons designated as "caregivers" under the state's medical marijuana law must do more than merely supply marijuana to patients. In so doing, the court upheld the conviction of a Longmont woman, Stacy Clendenin, who argued that marijuana she grew in her home was distributed to authorized patients in dispensaries.

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Colorado state medical marijuana application
That wasn't good enough for the appeals court. Caregivers authorized to grow marijuana for patients must actually know the patients they are growing for, the court said.

"We conclude that to qualify as a 'primary care-giver' a person must do more than merely supply a patient who has a debilitating medical condition with marijuana," the court ruled.

The ruling, if upheld on appeal, threatens to put a crimp in Colorado's burgeoning medical marijuana industry. Dozens of dispensaries have sprung up in the state this year, and growers have been supplying some of them.

That has sparked calls for reining in the dispensaries, a call that was echoed in a concurring opinion to the ruling. In his concurrence, Judge Alan Loeb wrote that Colorado's constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana "cries out for legislative action."

Attorney General John Suthers told the Denver Post he applauded the decision. "I am pleased to see the Court of Appeals has provided legal support for our case that a caregiver, under Amendment 20, must do more than simply provide marijuana to a patient," Suthers said. "I also was pleased to see the assertion in the special concurrence that Amendment 20 'cries out for legislative action.' I could not agree more. I hope the legislature will act and create a regulatory framework that gives substance to the Court of Appeals' findings."

But Clendinin's attorney, Robert Corry, said the ruling was limited and that he would appeal it. "This decision is quite limited and only applies to Stacy Clendenin and only applies to those who went to trial before July when the state board agreed that caregivers could simply provide marijuana," Corry said. "I am concerned that the court superimposed California law on Colorado and I don't think California (medical marijuana) law is a shining star of success."

Latin America: Mexico Ex-President Fox Lashes Out at President Calderon Over Drug War

For years, former Mexican President Vicente Fox has suggested that drug legalization needs to be on the agenda when discussing how to resolve prohibition-related problems like the wave of violence plaguing Mexico. Now, he's getting personal and political, as he attacks sitting President Felipe Calderon for what Fox is describing as a "failed" effort to send the military after the so-called drug cartels.

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Vicente Fox
Fox and Calderon are both members of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), and Calderon replaced Fox in the Mexican presidency in December 2006. With Mexico already stricken by violent conflict among the cartels and between the cartels and Mexican law enforcement, Calderon called out the military to join the fray, but matters have only gotten worse. An estimated 14,000 people have been killed in the conflicts since Calderon sent in the soldiers, with 2,000 being killed in one city -- Ciudad Juarez -- this year alone.

Addressing reporters at the annual conference of the conservative European Popular Party in Vienna last weekend, Fox said Calderon's efforts against the cartels had gone astray and the military should return to the barracks. "The use of the army in the fight against drug mafia and organized crime, the use of force against force gave no positive results. On the contrary, the number of crimes only grows," Fox told journalists on Saturday. "It's time to think of alternative ways to fight the crime," Fox said, adding that police and governments of Mexican states should be charged with anti-drug efforts on their territory, instead of federal forces.

Not that Fox himself had much better luck against the cartels, nor was he averse to using the military. While Fox was president between 2000 and 2006, he deployed troops to Sonora, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, and other states, especially after 2003, when violence began escalating. By 2005, nearly 1,400 were reported killed in the drug wars, and 2,000 more in 2006.

But those levels of violence, which once seemed extraordinary, would now be a welcome relief after nearly three years of Calderon's campaign and the harsh response from the cartels. This year's toll in Ciudad Juarez alone matches the toll nationwide for the last year of the Fox era.

Fox was also critical of the United States, saying it needed to do more to control arms trafficking, money laundering, and drug use. But he again questioned whether drug prohibition is the best way to attain those ends. "Drug consumption is a personal responsibility, not one of government, Fox said."Perhaps it is impossible to ask government to halt the supply of drugs to our children."

Public Opinion: In Gallup Poll, Support for Legalizing Marijuana Reaches All-Time High, Majority in West

According to the most recent Gallup poll, 44% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, while 54% oppose it. The 44% figure is the highest since Gallup began polling on the issue nearly 40 years ago.

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In 1970, only 12% of respondents favored legalization. That figure climbed to 28% in 1977, then declined slightly and reached a plateau with support holding at around 25% for the next two decades. But in the past decade, public opinion has begun to shift, with support hitting 34% in 2002, 36% in 2006, and now, 44%.

Conversely, opposition to legalization is now at an all-time low. It was 84% in 1970, 66% in 1977, and around 73% for most of the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton eras. But beginning in about 1996, opposition began to decline, dropping to 62% in 2002, 60% in 2006, and now, 54%.

A related question -- whether marijuana should be legalized and taxed to raise revenues for state governments -- won similar support levels in the Gallup poll. Some 42% of respondents said they would favor such a move in their state, while 56% were opposed. In the West, however, support for tax and legalize has gone over the top; 53% favor such an approach.

Looking at various demographic groups, support for marijuana legalization is highest among self-described liberals, at 78%. Only 26% of conservatives and 46% of moderates supported legalization. Similarly, 54% of Democrats, 49% of independents, and 28% of Republicans supported legalization.

There is also a clear generational divide. Half of those under age 50 support legalization, compared to 45% aged 50 to 64, and only 28% of seniors.

Support for legalization has swollen among certain demographic groups since the last Gallup poll on the issue in 2005. The number in favor of legalization jumped more than 10 points among women (+12), young people (+11), Democrats (+13), liberals (+15), moderates (+11), and residents of the West (+13).

If these rates of increase in support for legalization continue over the medium term, the world as we know may indeed end in 2012.

Medical Marijuana: California Judge Issues Injunction Blocking LA Dispensary Moratorium

A California Superior Court judge ruled Monday that the City of Los Angeles' moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries is invalid and granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the ban. The Green Oasis dispensary and a number of other collectives sued the city last month seeking to overturn the moratorium.

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medical marijuana dispensary, Ventura Blvd., LA (courtesy wikimedia.org)
They argued that the City Council violated state law when it extended its original moratorium in March. They also argued the measure was unconstitutionally vague.

Superior Court Judge James Chalfant concluded that the city did not follow state law when it moved to extend the moratorium, but had instead relied on an out-of-date local ordinance. "The city cannot rely on an expired ordinance," he said as he issued the injunction.

The injunction applies only to Green Oasis, but the ruling appears to challenge the city's ability to enforce the moratorium against the hundreds of dispensaries that have opened in the city in the last two years. According to some estimates, the city could have as many as a thousand dispensaries operating right now. With the Green Oasis ruling, other dispensaries will be inspired to join the lawsuit or file lawsuits of their own.

The ruling only adds to the confusion around the legality of dispensaries in California in general and Los Angeles in particular. Also on Monday, the Obama administration issued a memo saying that prosecuting medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal should not occur unless the providers are violating state law. But last week, LA District Attorney Steve Cooley argued that under his interpretation of state law, "100%" of LA dispensaries are illegal, and he was going to move against them.

In the meantime, more dispensaries continue to open in Los Angeles. And now, in the wake of this week's ruling, the LA city council is moving in an expedited manner to get a handle on them. It expects to have plans in place next week to begin to shut down hundreds. This is a battle that is far from over.

Southwest Asia: Afghan Opium Trade Wreaking Global Havoc, UNODC Warns

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned Wednesday that the traffic in Afghan opiates is spreading drug use and addiction along smuggling routes, spreading diseases, and funding insurgencies. The warning came in a new report, Addiction, Crime, and Insurgency: The Threat of Afghan Opium. "The Afghan opiate trade fuels consumption and addiction in countries along drug trafficking routes before reaching the main consumer markets in Europe (estimated at 3.1 million heroin users), contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne diseases," the report said.

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Afghan opium
Neighboring countries, especially Iran, Pakistan, and the Central Asian republics, are among the hardest hit, said UNODC. According to the report, Iran now has the highest opiate addiction rates in the world. "Iran faces the world's most serious opiate addiction problem, while injecting drug use in Central Asia is causing an HIV epidemic," UNODC said.

But the impact of the multi-billion flow of Afghan opiates could have an especially deleterious impact on Central Asia, UNODC chief Antonio Maria Costa warned in remarks accompanying the report. "The Silk Route, turned into a heroin route, is carving out a path of death and violence through one of the world's most strategic yet volatile regions," Costa said. "The perfect storm of drugs, crime and insurgency that has swirled around the Afghanistan/Pakistan border for years is heading for Central Asia."

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the opium trade is funding violent radicals. "The funds generated from the drugs trade can pay for soldiers, weapons and protection, and are an important source of patronage," the report said. In Afghanistan, the Taliban generated between $90 million and $160 million annually in recent years, the UNODC estimated. In Pakistan, the UNODC estimated the trade at $1 billion annually, with "undetermined amounts going to insurgents."

Although Afghan opium production declined slightly last year, the country is producing -- and has produced -- more opium than is needed to meet global demand. As a result, the UNODC estimates that there is an unaccounted for stockpile of 12,000 tons of opium -- enough to satisfy every junkie on the planet for the next three to four years. "Thus, even if opiate production in Afghanistan were to cease immediately, there would still be ample supply," the report said.

Unsurprisingly, the UNODC report did not address the role that global drug prohibition plays in exacerbating problems related to opiate use and the opiate trade. Prohibitionist attitudes restrict the availability of harm reduction programs, such as needle exchanges, that could reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases. And it is global drug prohibition itself that creates the lucrative black market the UNODC says is financing insurgencies and spreading political instability.

Asia: Drug Users Form Regional Organization

In a meeting in Bangkok last weekend, more than two dozen drug users from nine different countries came together to put the finishing touches on the creation of a new drug user advocacy organization, the Asian Network of People who Use Drugs (ANPUD). The Bangkok meeting was the culmination of a two-year process began at a meeting of the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 2007, and resulted in the creation of a constitution and the selection of a steering committee for the new group.

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ANPUD group photo
ANPUD adopts the principles of MIPUD (Meaningful Involvement of People who Use Drugs), and in doing so, aligns itself with other drug user advocacy groups, including the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD), of which ANPUD is an independent affiliate, the Australian Injection and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL),the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, and the Nothing About Us Without Us movement.

ANPUD currently has more than 150 members and sees its mission to advocate for the rights of drug users and communities before national governments and the international community. There is plenty to do. Asia has the largest number of drug users in the world, but is, for the most part, woefully retrograde on drug policy issues. Not only do drug users face harsh criminal sanctions -- up to and including the death penalty -- but Asian countries have the lowest coverage of harm reduction services in the world. Access to harm reduction programs, such as needle exchanges and opioid maintenance therapy, is extremely limited.

"People who use drugs are stigmatized, criminalized and abused in every country in Asia," said Jimmy Dorabjee, a key figure in the formation of ANPUD. "Our human rights are violated and we have little in the way of health services to stay alive. If governments do not see people who use drugs, hear us and talk to us, they will continue to ignore us."

The Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team, Dr. Prasada Rao, spoke of the urgent need to engage with drug user networks and offered his support to ANPUD, saying that "For UNAIDS, HIV prevention among drug users is a key priority at the global level." Rao continued, "I am very pleased today to be here to see ANPUD being shaped into an organization that will play a key role in Asia's HIV response. It is critical that we are able to more effectively involve the voices of Asian people who use drugs in the scaling up of HIV prevention services across Asia."

"When I go back home, I am now responsible for sharing the experiences with the 250 or so drug users who are actively advocating for better services at the national level," said Nepalese drug user and newly elected steering committee member Ekta Thapa Mahat. "It will be a great way for us to work together and help build the capacity of people who use drugs in Asia."

"The results of the meeting exceeded my expectations," said Ele Morrison, program manager for AVIL's Regional Partnership Project. "The participants set ambitious goals for themselves and they have achieved a lot in just two days to set up this new organization. The building blocks for genuine ownership by people who use drugs is definitely there."

While the meetings leading to the formation were organized and managed by drug users, the process received financial support from the World Health Organization, the UNAIDS Regional Task Force, and AIVL.

Europe: In Opinion Poll, Romanians Reject Marijuana Legalization

Last month, a Romanian presidential committee recommended decriminalizing the possession of "soft" drugs, implementing needle exchange programs, and legalizing prostitution. A poll this month suggests the committee and President Traian Băsescu have some work to do in winning over the Romanian public -- at least on the drugs issue.

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Traian Băsescu
According to a poll conducted by eResearch Corporation, an Angus-Reid affiliate, only 34% of Romanians agree with decriminalization, while 59% oppose it.

Băsescu came to power in 2004 as head of the Alliance for Truth and Justice, a coalition consisting of the Democratic and National Liberal parties, and vowed to institute reforms in the former communist satrapy. His Presidential Committee for the Analysis of Social and Demographic Risk was part of that pledge.

"Drug abuse needs to be discouraged, but with the adequate difference made between soft drugs and hard drugs, especially the ones injected such as heroin, which have devastating negative effects," the report said. But the report also called for "disincrimination (sic) of drug consumption -- but not of trafficking -- to bring consumers to the surface."

According to another eResearch poll, Romanians are going for bringing sex work in from the cold. That poll found that 56% supported legalizing prostitution, while only 37% opposed it.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debussman Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 12,000 people -- the body count passing 6,000 for 2009 so far this week. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

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Ciuded Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Friday , October 16

In Michoacan, three bodies were found, all with messages attached. The messages were directed at the Zetas organization, and appear to have been from La Familia. La Familia was once part of the Zetas organization, but the two groups have been fierce rivals since the group split from the Gulf Cartel (and the Zetas) in 2006. In other parts of Mexico, two men were assassinated in Tijuana, and a boy who was jogging was killed after being caught in a firefight between gunmen and the army in Tamaulipas. Five people were murdered in Culiacan, Sinaloa, three in Hermosillo, Sonora, one in Durango, and six in the Ciudad Juárez area.

Saturday , October 17

In Tijuana, the nude, mutilated body of a man was found hanging from an expressway overpass. It is the second such discovery found in the last two weeks. Local news outlets reported that the man's tongue had been cut out, which suggests that drug traffickers suspected he was an informant. Additionally, a gun battle between police and drug traffickers left one police officer dead and two wounded. A suspected cartel member was also killed in the incident. Police recovered five assault rifles and vests with federal insignia from several vehicles used by the gunmen. The day before, the the decapitated body of a woman whose hands and feet had been bound were found in a different part of the city.

Monday , October 19

Two people were killed after being ambushed by a group of heavily armed gunmen in Guerrero. One of the dead was a policeman, and the other was a civilian who was riding a bus that was caught in the crossfire. Additionally, five bodies showing signs of torture were recovered from various parts of Acapulco. Attached to each of them were notes threatening "kidnappers, thieves and traitors" and signed by Arturo Beltran-Leyva, the boss of the Beltran-Leyva cartel. 18 people were killed in drug-related killings in Ciudad Juárez. At least 21 other drug-related homicides were reported in Mexico, including nine beheaded bodies found in Tierra Caliente.

Tuesday , October 20

In Guerrero, at least three banners were found which threatened police and Genaro Garcia Luna, the Secretary of Public Safety. The signs were signed by what appears to be a new, Guerrero branch of the "La Familia" cartel which is based in Michoacan. The signs also accused Garcia Luna of protecting the Beltran-Leyva cartel and the allied Zetas organization. In another part of Guerrero, the body of a bus driver was found by the side of the road, and showed signs of torture. A second body was found near Acapulco.

Near the city of Ciudad Mante, police arrested a man who had 107 kilos of marijuana in a hidden compartment of his pick-up truck.

Wednesday , October 21

A suspected member of the Juárez Cartel was added to the FBI's ten most wanted list. Eduardo "Tablas" Ravelo, 41, is allegedly a high-ranking member of the Barrio Azteca gang. In exchange for a steady supply of narcotics, Barrio Azteca performs enforcement tasks for the cartel on both sides of the border, and can effectively be considered part of the Jurez cartel which operates on American soil. Ravelo is suspected of ordering the killing of another high-ranking gang member, David "Chicho" Meraz, during an internal power struggle. Meraz was killed in Ciudad Jurez last year. Ravelo is reportedly hiding in Juárez under the protection of the cartel.

Earlier in the week, another man with suspected cartel connections was also added to the FBI's ten most wanted list. Jose Luis Saenz, of Los Angeles, is suspected of killing at least four people (including his girlfriend) and is allegedly an enforcer for an unnamed Mexican drug trafficking organization. In October 2008 he shot and killed another gang member in LA County who apparently owed $620,000 to the cartel.

Across Mexico, 40 drug-related homicides were reported in a 24-hour period, bringing the 2009 total to over 6,000. Thirteen of these were in Chihuahua, and of these, nine were in Ciudad Juárez. According to a running tally by El Universal, 1,000 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico in the last 40 days. The previous 1,000 had been killed over 41 days, and the 1,000 before that in 44 days. Since August 1st, an average of 24 homicides were reported daily, approximately one every hour. One out of every three drug-related homicides was in Ciudad Juárez. Much of the violence is due to the conflict being fought by the Sinaloa Federation and the Juárez cartel over control of the Ciudad Juárez-El Paso drug trafficking corridor.

Thursday, October 22

In the United States, over 300 people were arrested, in what is being called the largest single-blow against Mexican drug cartels operating in the country. The arrests targeted the US operations of the La Familia cartel, which is based in the Mexican state of Michoacan. Law enforcement officials said arrests were made or charges were files in multiple states, including California, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennesee, Texas, and Washington State. Many of the charges filed were directed against those involved with the cartels methamphetamine smuggling network in the US, with other charges being directed at those involved in cocaine and marijuana trafficking for the organization. Additionally, a New York grand jury has indicted Servando Gomez-Martinez, who is linked to the July murder of twelve federal police officers who were found dead by the side of a roadway.

Total body count for the week: 203
Total body count for the year: 6,018

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

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