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Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It was judgment day for two cops and a jail guard this week, and another jail guard just found out his judgment day is coming. Meanwhile, new corrupt cop cases showed up at a rate of one a day this week. Let's get to it:

In El Paso, a US Customs and Border Protection officer was arrested Monday on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Officer Daniel Ledezma, 33, is accused of knowingly allowing trucks filled with marijuana to pass through the Bridge of the Americas. He was in the El Paso County Jail pending a hearing this morning.

In Los Angeles, an LAPD officer was charged Tuesday on federal methamphetamine distribution charges. Officer Yoshio Romero, 28, a five-year veteran, is accused of arranging to sell 111 grams of meth last December for $42,000. He allegedly placed the drugs in a box in a pick-up truck, then told the buyer where the truck could be found.

In Providence, Rhode Island, a fourth Providence police officer has been arrested in a massive drug sting that in March resulted in the arrest of three more Providence police officers. The fourth officer, whose name was not revealed, turned himself in Wednesday. Twenty people have been indicted so far in "Operation Deception," with two still being sought on warrants.

In McAllen, Texas, the Sullivan City police chief was indicted Thursday on federal drug and conspiracy charges as part of the massive "Project Deliverance" sweep that netted more than 2,200 people nationwide. Police Chief Hernan Guerra had been arrested by FBI agents the day before the indictment was unsealed. He is accused of being part of a conspiracy that moved at least two tons of marijuana through the Rio Grande Valley in the last year. The chief is now on administrative leave.

In Franklin, Indiana, two Franklin police officers have been hit with a sexual harassment lawsuit from a former informant. The lawsuit claims Franklin Detective Bryan Burton made a deal with the victim to help with her DUI and child custody problems in exchange for her help busting drug dealers. She wore a wire and a concealed camera, but Burton began behaving inappropriately, the lawsuit alleges. It says he entered her home, photographed a sex toy, put it in her car when she didn't know it was there so she would sit on it. The lawsuit also claims Burton exposed himself to her and that his partner, Officer Ryan Mears, went along with it. Burton was already in trouble this year, having been demoted in March for drinking on duty, providing alcohol to minors, and making suggestive remarks to female informants.

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DRUGS INSIDE: Baltimore City Detention Center
In Craig, Colorado, a former Craig Police detective was sentenced Tuesday in Moffat County District Court to serve 60 days in jail for his corrupt relationship with a Craig woman with past convictions for drug distribution and possession. Former detective Ken Johnson was arrested last September for providing the woman information about ongoing police investigations and helping her break probation. He also gave her a laptop belonging to the department. He was originally charged with embezzlement of public property, and accessory to a crime -- both felonies -- as well as attempting to influence a public servant, a lesser felony. He copped to the latter in return for a plea agreement where prosecutors stipulated no more than 60 days in jail. Johnson will do all but a week on work release. He must also do 150 hours community service, pay $1700 in fines and costs, undergo psychotherapy and DNA testing, and write letters of apology to the department, the Moffat County Drug Court and the All Crimes Enforcement Team of which he was a member. He starts his sentence today.

In Baltimore, a former Baltimore City Detention Center guard was sentenced Monday to two years in prison after pleading guilty to smuggling drugs and a cell phone to a prisoner there. Lynae Chapman, 21, went down last October after prison officials found her DNA on drugs and a cell phone discovered during the search of a prisoner's cell. She was convicted of six charges, including conspiracy to distribute marijuana and professional misconduct in office.

In Platte City, Missouri, a former Weston police officer was sentenced June 3 to four years in prison for stealing drugs from the department's evidence room. Kyle Zumbrunn, 27, had pleaded guilty to stealing a controlled substance. He had already pleaded guilty in Atchinson County, Kansas, to selling the dope he stole and was sentenced to 16 months there. The four-year Missouri sentence will run concurrently with the Kansas sentence. He had been looking at up to seven years in prison.

In Paterson, New Jersey, a former Passaic County Jail guard was convicted last Friday on charges he smuggled heroin and homemade weapons into the jail. Former guard Marvin Thompson was acquitted of bringing escape implements into a jail, but convicted of heroin possession and filing false police reports. Thompson went down in a bizarre effort at self-aggrandizement: He smuggled the contraband into the jail with plans to then "discover" it and blame it on a gang leader in a bid to earn a permanent position, but an inmate snitched him out, and instead of a permanent job at the Passaic County Jail, he is now a temporary resident of a nearby county jail awaiting a probable transfer to the state pen. He faces five to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced July 9.

Africa: Rwanda Moves to Legalize Medical Marijuana

The Rwandan Ministry of Health has sent to Parliament a bill that would legalize the use of marijuana and other drugs for medical purposes, the Rwandan newspaper New Times reported Wednesday. Health Minister Dr. Richard Sezibera, who presented the draft law governing drugs, psychotropic substances, and precursors, said the bill would protect the population.

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Richard Sezibera
"The objective of this bill is to contribute to the protection of the population while ensuring that drugs and psychotropic substances are exclusively available for scientific and medical purposes," Sezibera told the Parliament.

The bill complies with United Nations conventions on drugs and responds to the UN's call for every country to have laws against illegal drugs and to control dangerous medications, said Sezibera. At the same time, it achieves the Health Ministry's mandate to ensure that citizens have adequate access to medications, he said.

"Medically, usage of such substances help in relieving the pain and problems related to psychic troubles," said Sezibera. "The medicine will thus be available and correctly utilized."

Members of Parliament endorsed the bill without objection, New Times reported.

Law Enforcement: Dog-Killing SWAT Raid Continues to Reverberate in Missouri College Town

The February SWAT team raid on Columbia, Missouri, resident Jonathan Whitworth and his family didn't start causing political tremors until video of the raid, in which one of the family's dogs was killed and another wounded, went viral on YouTube last month. But now, even after the Columbia Police Department has reined in SWAT with new policies, outrage and concern over the raid and the way the SWAT team has been used continues to reverberate.

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That was evident at a city council meeting Monday night, where a citizens' group whose formation was inspired by the SWAT raid, CoMoCitizens, urged the council to go a step further and act to make permanent the reforms announced by Police Chief Ken Burton. According to its web site, the group opposes the use of SWAT and the use of search warrants in nonviolent cases, including drug possession and distribution.

"It goes without saying that it is policy that needs to be changed," Warren said in remarks reported by the University of Missouri newspaper The Maneater and the Columbia Missourian. "Chief Burton has made significant policy changes and I've come here to ask you to make these policy changes permanent. I would also like to request that you consider enacting a policy that prohibits execution of search warrants which are inherently violent for nonviolent offenses," said Warren. "This would ensure the public that there is at least less of a risk of an incident such as the February 11 SWAT raid occurring in our community."

Making the restrictions on SWAT and the execution of search warrants binding would reassure the public and keep law enforcement officers safer, Warren said. "The raid itself is what escalates the situation to out-of-control mode," he told the council before reading from Radley Balko's Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Policing in America. "These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors," Warren quoted Balko.

The council did not act on CoMoCitizens' requests, but the emergence of the group is yet another indicator that the February SWAT raid has roused Columbia's citizenry. And that is precisely what it will take to make police law enforcement rein in its aggressive tactics against the citizenry. Maybe something good is coming out of that misbegotten raid after all.

Feature: Medical Marijuana Madness in Montana

With the number of medical marijuana patients expanding dramatically in the Big Sky State, with storefront operations springing up around the state, and with at least one group of medical marijuana advocates/entrepreneurs touring the state in a medical marijuana caravan complete with pot smoke-filled vans and doctors issuing instant recommendations via web cam, opposition to the way Montana's medical marijuana law is playing out is on the increase.

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sign of the times
In 2004, 62% of Montana voters approved a medical marijuana ballot initiative. The number of registered patients and caregivers remained relatively low until last year, when the Obama administration announced that it would not prosecute medical marijuana users and providers in states where it is legal. At the beginning of last year, the number of registered medical marijuana cardholders was about 3,000. Now it is closing in on 15,000. And alongside the increase in registered patients has been a boom in "dispensaries," or caregiver storefront operations.

While growing concern is evident across the state, it has burned red hot in Billings, a city of about 100,000 people on I-90 in southeastern Montana, where Western conservatism is strong. There, things have turned ugly, with fire bomb attacks on two medical marijuana businesses a month ago as the city council approved a moratorium on new medical marijuana business licenses. Accompanying those attacks was graffiti painted across windows: "Not in our town," it said.

"That fire bombing was just terrorism," said Mike Meno, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which bankrolled the 2004 initiative. "There is no other word for it. Local activists are telling us that people opposed to medical marijuana think it is something you can still dispute, that it's not even legal. This kind of thing is leading both sides to sort of step back and try to pass some strong regulations so people understand these are law-abiding operations."

And just last week, a group calling itself Safe Communities, Safe Kids emerged in a controversial fashion as children coming home from the last day of school in some Billings schools carried with them flyers containing its anti-medical marijuana message -- although not its name. The school board said it shouldn't have happened.

Now, Safe Communities, Safe Kids is engaged in a quixotic quest to place an initiative to repeal the Montana Medical Marijuana Act on the November ballot. Success is extremely unlikely -- the group now has one week to collect 24,000 signatures -- but the effort highlights the deep antipathy developing toward medical marijuana in various quarters of the state.

The legislature is one of those quarters, and lawmakers are busily drafting a variety of measures aimed at reining in what they view as a medical marijuana program out of control. Yesterday, Gov. Bryan Schweitzer (D) told reporters he agreed that the program needed "a legislative fix" and that he was open to working with legislators in the new session later this year.

Mark Higgins operates Montannabis Inc. and Billings Medical Marijuana, which he is careful to point out is not a dispensary, although it serves more than 200 patients, making it likely the largest caregiver in Billings. "Dispensaries are illegal under Montana law, so we are more of a private club or storefront," he explained. "We can only sell to people who designate us as their caregivers and have our name on the back of their registration card."

"It's gotten pretty insane," Higgins said of the fire bombings, but he didn't attribute them to especially nefarious forces. "I saw video of it; it was young kids with long, black hair. Kids don't think; they push it to extremes and don't think about the consequences."

Higgins is the only caregiver sitting on the city council's ad hoc committee on medical marijuana, and he ran for city council last year after the council ignored his efforts to get zoning requirements for medical marijuana storefronts. Things were getting out of hand, he said.

"The reason for the fire bombings and the parents and the initiative is that some people put marijuana storefronts close to schools, I mean really close," he said. "Who are these people trying to attract? Why would they go to locations like that? That upset a lot of people."

While the location and brazenness of some Billings operations may have inflamed what Higgins called "the West side Christian women," pushing the limits of what the law allows has caused concern and anger statewide. The above-mentioned "caravan" in particular has gotten under people's skin.

"The biggest thing is that for about a year now, a group that calls itself the Montana Caregivers Network has been going around the state holding clinics in different towns in which they have gotten physicians' recommendations for as many as a thousand patients in a single day," said Tom Daubert, who has the point man for the successful 2004 medical marijuana initiative. "They're doing it with physicians on web cams in other states, advertising no medical records necessary. They are very visible, and the guy running the group smokes pot openly. They had dozens of caregivers with big buckets of weed, and they sometimes sell to people who aren't registered. It's hellacious, it's irresponsible, and it's ridiculously stupid politically. It has incited a lot of the backlash."

Drug War Chronicle attempted to contact the Montana Caregivers Network, but the phone number listed on its web site is not a working number and the group has yet to respond to email inquiries.

"There are also a handful of folks who have created dispensaries that are similarly ridiculous in image," Daubert continued. "There are people with no business experience, sometimes with non-drug felony records opening dispensaries near schools, putting flowering plants on the porch, and just generally pushing the margins. And just as pseudo-activist ganja-preneurial craziness has taken on a life of its own, so has the backlash."

"The law needs to be fixed," said Daubert. "Even the folks who advocated for it and helped write it, we're in agreement with law enforcement on what needs to be done."

While Daubert agreed with the governor, law enforcement, and members of the legislature on the need for a legislative fix, Higgins didn't. While there is a need to suitably regulate medical marijuana storefronts, that should be a municipal issue, said Higgins, arguing that the Montana Medical Marijuana Act is working. "I think our system is fine," he said. "It's not broken and doesn't need to be fixed. All you have to do is follow the letter of the law. That's what I do."

But not everyone follows his example, he said. "There are people more willing to operate in grey areas, and there are a lot of caregiver to caregiver transfers and people who grow as wholesalers. That's not legal unless all those storefronts are their patients," Higgins explained. "The only people we can buy from are our patients. If I have a patient growing his own six plants, he can only possess one ounce of dried usable medicine, so as soon as he harvests, he's over the limit. As his caregiver, I can buy an ounce back from him. That's what we do."

A legislative interim committee is in the process of discovering how much consensus there is for legislation on the issue, Daubert said. A full Health Committee meeting is set for June 28 to discuss various proposals, and if there is consensus, committee staff could spend the summer drafting a bill for the committee to review in the fall.

For Daubert, Colorado is a model for how to regulate medical marijuana. "Why not do what Colorado has just done?" he asked. "At a minimum, I see two main thrusts: One would be tightening up the doctor recommendations to require a physical exam and diagnosis and/or a review of medical records. The doctor will have to be physically present in Montana. And it's likely there will be language prohibiting any kind of financial connection between doctors and caregivers," he said.

"The other thrust will be toward much more oversight and record-keeping and auditing and inspection of licensed products," Daubert said. "I'm advocating for recordkeeping that documents a closed-loop system, so we can document there is no diversion rather than arguing about it. Thanks to people being crazy and doing things like smoking openly, there is this mythology that there is a lot of diversion going on. This would address that."

If the legislature is going to act, said Higgins, there are some issues of patient-friendliness it should address. "If I wanted to expand my business and service the whole state, there is no way I could physically do that, so I would have to hire couriers," explained. "But there is nothing in Montana law that says that's legal. Also, they need to clarify on edibles. I don't provide them to my patients because it's a grey area," he said. "But we do give them recipes."

But from the look of it, helping the medical marijuana business thrive doesn't look to be high on lawmakers' agenda. The medical marijuana community is going to have to organize and fight to protect its interests, and if it can't find a way to police itself, lawmakers are going to be only too happy to take on the task.

"It's a shame," said Daubert. "We've been working on a careful strategy to use medical to get toward legalization. It was working until medical blew up in our faces."

Death Penalty: Iran Goes On Drug Offender Execution Binge

Just three weeks ago, we did a feature article on the International Harm Reduction Association report, The Death Penalty for Death Offenses: Global Overview 2010 and the associated international campaign against the death penalty through the Harm Reduction and Human Rights campaign known as HR2. Since then, Iran has been on an execution binge, proving the report's contention that it is one of the world's most egregious offenders and highlighting the need for the anti-death penalty campaign to continue and intensify.

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International Anti-Drugs Day drug burn, Tehran, Iran
According to the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain, which compiles information about death sentences and executions from local sources, Iranian hangmen have been very busy with drug offenders indeed lately.

On May 23, two days after our article came out, a man identified only as "SR" was hanged in Khuzestan's Karoun Prison for carrying 675 grams of heroin. Two days later, four people identified only by their initials were hanged in Yazd Prison, three for trafficking crack, marijuana, opium, and heroin, and one for trafficking 125 kilos of opium. On May 31, Afghans in Afghanistan's western Herat province reported that seven of their relatives had been executed in Taibad prison and asked the government's help in retrieving their bodies. That same day, another Afghan citizen, Nour Jamal S., was hanged at Isfahan prison for smuggling 1,385 kilos of crack cocaine, and two more people were hanged in Shirvan Prison in Khorasan province for drug trafficking.

There was no let-up so far this month. Last Friday, Jalil B. was hanged in Mianeh Prison in East Azerbaijan for drug trafficking. On Monday, 13 people were reported hanged for drug trafficking in Ghezel Hesar Prison in Teheran. On Tuesday, a man identified only as Masoud, 33, was reported hanged in Teheran for drug trafficking.

That's 30 people executed for drug offenses in the Islamic Republic in the last three weeks. But Iran isn't the only offender, even if it's the only one that actually put someone to death for a drug offense in that time period. Death sentences for drug offenses were handed out to a methamphetamine trafficker in Malaysia, five drug offense death sentences were handed down to foreigners in the United Arab Emirates, and five Chinese nationals were sentenced to death for drug trafficking in Vietnam.

And the beat goes on...

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debussman, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling 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 an estimated 23,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 4,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of 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:

Sunday, May 29

In Morelos, the body of a prison warden was found dismembered and scattered across several locations. Suspected cartel gunmen kidnapped Luis Navarro the previous day as he arrived to work. Morelos State has seen a significant increase in violence in 2010 as rival factions battle for leadership positions in the Beltran-Leyva Organization, which was left leaderless after the December killing of boss Arturo Beltan-Leyva.

Tuesday, June 1

In the city of Chihuahua, two men were shot dead in front of dozens of panicked children outside a primary school. The incident began after heavily armed men exited a truck and began shooting at two men who were walking on the sidewalk. Teachers immediately had the students, all between the ages of six and twelve, lay prone on the floor. Several dozen bullets struck the schoolyard, and several struck the walls of a classroom. Classes were immediately canceled and parents were instructed to pick up their children.

In Guerrero, six people were killed during a running gun battle between groups of rival gunmen along an eleven-mile stretch of highway. In other violence, seven people were killed in Baja California, three each in Sinaloa, Sonora, Michoacan, and the State of Mexico, two in Veracruz, and one each in Nuevo Leon and Durango.

Wednesday, June 2

In Vicente Guerrero, Durango, a high-ranking police official was killed as he was in the hospital for physical therapy. The incident occurred after two gunmen snuck past his bodyguards and shot him six times, and wounding two other individuals, one of whom was a minor.

In Ciudad Juarez, a three year old girl was killed alongside her father after their car was sprayed with gunfire. In the notorious drug-trafficking town of Guanecevi, Durango, a 21-year old male who had been missing for 10 days was found dead. In Monterrey, a couple was killed in a bar by men wielding automatic weapons. In Tijuana, four people were killed in various incidents.

Saturday, June 5

In Guerrero, at least 37 bodies have so far been recovered from a mass grave discovered at an abandoned mine shaft on May 30. Due to the large number of bodies recovered so far, some have had to be sent to Acapulco due to a lack of local facilities in which to store the bodies. Although the identities of the bodies have yet to be determined, authorities believe they were all killed in drug-related violence over an unspecified amount of time. The number of bodies was later changed to 55.

In Durango, four police officers were wounded in an attack on Durango State Public Safety Secretary General Valentin Romano. The attack occurred when heavily armed gunmen used automatic weapons and grenades to attack the general's convoy as it made it's way to a country club where was planning to play tennis. The attack was well planned, with gunmen opening fire in at least three other locations across the city to draw security forces away from the area where it took place.

Sunday, June 6

In Guerrero, three people were killed when gunmen raided a girl's 15th birthday party. One of those who died was an attacker who was killed after an exchange of gunfire with armed men who were in attendance at the party.

Monday, June 7

In Ciudad Juarez, 15 people were killed across the city. In one incident, four people were shot dead in an auto shop. In another, two people were gunned down in a shopping center. Two people were found out the Seven and Seven bar in the Cuernavaca neighborhood. The Seven and Seven was the scene of another multiple homicide several months agoi. These killings bring the number of murders in Ciudad Juarez to 50 for the month of June, and 1,130 for 2010.

Tuesday, June 8

In Culiacan, Sinaloa, six prison inmates were killed after having their throats cut. Culiacan has long been a central location in the Mexican drug trade. Additionally, another prison fight in Ciudad Juarez left three inmates dead and a federal police officer severely beaten.

Wednesday, June 9

In Mexico City, 45 pounds of explosive were seized by Mexico's Navy after a raid in the Roma neighborhood of the city. Federal authorities have recently stated that they believe drug cartels are in search of explosive materials for attacks on buildings are for use in roadside bombs. The hostel were the raid took place is just blocks away from a 2008 bomb incident, in which a would-be bomber was killed in an attempt to attack a local police station. The plot was later traced to Sinaloa-based drug traffickers.

In Manzanillo, Colima, eight gunmen were killed and five Marines were wounded after a Marine patrol was ambushed just outside the city. At least one of those killed was a woman, and another was found to be a Colombian national. Preliminary reports the attackers were affiliated with the Beltran-Leyva organization.

Total Body Count for the last two weeks: 437

Total Body Count for the Year: 4,794

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Drugged Driving: Michigan Supreme Overturns Itself—Driving With Pot Metabolites Not a Crime

The Michigan Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that it is not illegal to drive while having marijuana metabolites in the body, reversing a 2006 decision by a more conservative version of the court. Marijuana metabolites are not a controlled substance under state law, and their mere presence thus cannot be the basis of a conviction under the state's drugged driving law, the court held. The ruling came in People v. Feezel, in which the court overturned the conviction of a driver in the death of a severely drunk pedestrian walking in the middle of a five-lane road at night. The driver, George Feezel, was himself borderline intoxicated on alcohol, blowing a 0.009, and also tested positive for marijuana metabolites, which can linger in the system for days or weeks after the pot high is gone. Feezle was not convicted of drunk driving causing a death, but was found guilty of second-offense drunk driving, leaving the scene of a fatal accident, and driving under the influence of marijuana, although there was no testimony to the effect that he had used marijuana that evening and there was testimony to the contrary. The court ruled that a Washtenaw County jury should have been allowed to hear evidence the victim was drunk, remanding the case back to circuit court. But in ruling that marijuana metabolites are not a controlled substance, the court invalidated what was in effect a per se zero tolerance drugged driving law that allowed for people to be convicted of driving while impaired when they were not actually shown to be impaired. "We hold that 11-carboxy-THC is not a schedule 1 controlled substance under MCL 333.7212 [controlled substances act] and, therefore, a person cannot be prosecuted under MCL 257.625(8) [drugged driving act] for operating a motor vehicle with any amount of 11-carboxy-THC in his or her system," read the opinion. The opinion, largely a demolition of the previous Supreme Court's 2006 ruling in People v. Derror that marijuana metabolites are a controlled substance, thus allowing for drugged driving convictions based solely on their presence, noted that Michigan is now a medical marijuana state and that allowing Derror to stand would unfairly impact medical marijuana patients. Under Derror, Justice Corrigan wrote for the majority, "individuals who use marijuana for medicinal purposes will be prohibited from driving long after the person is no longer impaired. Indeed, in this case, experts testified that, on average, the metabolite could remain in a person’s blood for 18 hours and in a person’s urine for up to 4 weeks." It's not just about medical marijuana patients, the opinion suggested: "Thus, under Derror, an individual who only has 11-carboxy-THC in his or her system is prohibited from driving and, at the whim of police and prosecutors, can be criminally responsible for choosing to do so even if the person has a minuscule amount of the substance in his or her system. Therefore, the Derror majority’s interpretation of the statute defies practicable workability given its tremendous potential for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement." It is neither fair nor just nor in the interest of public safety to charge people with drugged driving who aren’t impaired. Finally, there is a Michigan Supreme Court that recognizes that.
Location: 
Lansing, MI
United States

Marc Emery in Solitary Confinement in American Federal Gulag; Podcast of Prison Phone Call Broke BOP Rules

Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery hasn't even been formally sentenced yet, but he's already being punished for what he does best: opening his mouth for the cause of marijuana legalization. Emery's wife, Jodie, told Canada's CNews Saturday that Emery is now in solitary confinement for violating prison rules. According to Jodie Emery, she recorded his calls from prison and played them as a podcast on the couple's Cannabis Culture magazine web site. That violated a prison rule that phone calls can only be made between a prisoner and the intended recipient and cannot be directed to a third party. Jodie Emery said Marc had read the prison rules and did not think the podcast would be a violation. Now he will spend at least a week in solitary pending a hearing to determine the full extent of his punishment. Emery, Canada's most famous legalization activist, pleaded guilty May 24 to one count of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, the culmination of a five-year battle between Emery and Canadian and US authorities to extradite and prosecute him for selling pot seeds over the Internet. Two of Emery's employees arrested along with him, Greg Williams and Michelle Rainey, earlier copped pleas and received probationary sentences to be served in Canada. Emery plowed the profits from his business back into the legalization movement, earning the wrath of drug prohibition establishment in both countries. When Emery was busted in 2005, then DEA administrator Karen Tandy gloated in a press release that it was "a significant blow not only to the marijuana trafficking trade in the US and Canada, but also to the marijuana legalization movement." Under federal prison rules, Emery is allowed 300 minutes of phone calls a month and he can communicate via email through a closed computer system called CorrLinks, under which he can log onto a computer and compose a message that is read by prison officials before they send it over the Internet. Emery had used CorrLinks to post numerous dispatches from the gulag, but now, he is denied those privileges and could lose them for up to two months. Emery will remain in the Seattle-area federal detention facility until his formal sentencing September 10. Then he will be transferred to the federal prison at El Reno, Oklahoma, where prison officials will decide where he will be sent to serve his time. Emery's campaign to avoid extradition has now shifted to a campaign to persuade Canadian authorities to allow him to serve his sentence there, as has typically been the case with Canadians convicted of offenses in the US. But the Conservative government has in recent years begun to refuse to accept Canadians imprisoned on drug charges in the US.
Location: 
Seattle, WA
United States

Opiate Maintenance: Prescribing Heroin to Hard-Core Addicts Keeps Them Off Street Smack, British Study Finds

In research findings reported in The Lancet, scientists monitoring the Randomized Injectable Opiate Treatment Trial (RIOTT) reported that allowing addicts who have failed to get off heroin to use injectable "medical grade" heroin resulted in lower levels of street heroin use than in addicts given either oral or injectable methadone. The research was done by Professor John Strang and colleagues from the National Addiction Center's Institute of Psychiatry at King's College in London.

Up to 10% of heroin addicts fail to respond to conventional treatments, for reasons that are unclear. In recent years, scientific evidence suggesting that providing medicinal heroin, known as diamorphine in the United Kingdom, under supervision is an effective treatment for chronic heroin addiction, has only increased. This study adds to the mounting evidence.

The RIOTT study chose as subjects chronic addicts who were receiving oral maintenance doses, typically of methadone, but were continuing to regularly inject street heroin. Subjects were provided with oral methadone, injectable methadone, or injectable heroin over a half-year period. At the end of the study, 80% of the subjects remained in treatment, with the highest figure for those using heroin (88%), followed by injectable methadone (81%) and oral methadone (69%). Among subjects who had 50% or more negative samples for street heroin -- the authors' measure of measurable improvement -- 66% of medicinal heroin users avoided street smack, while only 30% of injectable methadone users did and only 19% of oral methadone users did.

"We have shown that treatment with supervised injectable heroin leads to significantly lower use of street heroin than does supervised injectable methadone or optimised oral methadone," the authors said in a press release announcing the findings. "Furthermore, this difference was evident within the first six weeks of treatment."

Noting that the UK government's 2008 Drug Strategy had called for rolling out prescription heroin and methadone to clients who don't respond to other forms of treatment, contingent on the results of the RIOTT study, the authors said the results were in and it was time to act. "In the past 15 years, six randomized trials have all reported benefits from treatment with injectable heroin compared with oral methadone. Supervised injectable heroin should now be provided, with close monitoring, for carefully selected chronic heroin addicts in the UK," they concluded.

"Our scientific understanding about how to treat people with severe heroin addiction has taken an important step forward," said Professor Strang. "The RIOTT study shows that previously unresponsive patients can achieve major reductions in their use of street heroin and, impressively, these outcomes were seen within six weeks. Our work offers government robust evidence to support the expansion of this treatment, so that more patients can benefit."

You can watch Professor Strang discuss the findings here.

Marijuana: Study Finds Minimal Changes in Driving Performance After Smoking

The head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, is pushing a campaign targeting drugged driving and has singled out marijuana as a main problem. But if the latest research findings on stoned driving are any indication, the drug czar may want to shift his emphasis if he wants to (as he claims) let policy be driven by evidence.

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According to clinical trial data published in the March issue of the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, subjects tested both before and after smoking marijuana exhibited virtually identical driving skills in a battery of driving simulator tests. Researchers in the double-blind, placebo-controlled trial tested 85 subjects -- 50 men and 35 women -- on simulated driving performance. The subjects had to respond to simulations of various events associated with vehicle crash risk, such as deciding whether to stop or go through a changing traffic light, avoiding a driver entering an intersection illegally, and responding to the presence of emergency vehicles. Subjects were tested sober and again a half hour after having smoked a single medium-potency (2.9% THC) joint or a placebo.

The investigators found that the subjects' performance before and after getting stoned was virtually identical. "No differences were found during the baseline driving segment (and the) collision avoidance scenarios," the authors reported. Nor were there any differences between the way men and women responded.

Researchers did note one difference. "Participants receiving active marijuana decreased their speed more so than those receiving placebo cigarettes during (the) distracted section of the drive," they wrote. The authors speculated that the subjects may have slowed down to compensate for perceived impairment. "[N]o other changes in driving performance were found," researchers concluded.

Past research on marijuana use and driving has yielded similar results as well, including a 2008 driving simulator clinical trial conducted in Israel and published in Accident, Analysis, and Prevention. That trial compared the performance of drivers after they had ingested either alcohol or marijuana. "Average speed was the most sensitive driving performance variable affected by both THC and alcohol but with an opposite effect," the investigators reported. "Smoking THC cigarettes caused drivers to drive slower in a dose-dependent manner, while alcohol caused drivers to drive significantly faster than in 'control' conditions."

Something to keep in mind when lawmakers in your state start pushing for zero-tolerance "per se" Driving Under the Influence of Drugs laws that want to label people impaired drivers because of the presence of a few metabolites left over from last week.

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