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Montana Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative Petition

The state of Montana Tuesday officially approved the petitions medical marijuana advocates want to circulate in an attempt to suspend or overturn a highly restrictive medical marijuana law approved by the legislature this year. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch notified the initiative's sponsor, the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, that Attorney General Steve Bullock had found the petition's language legally sufficient.

The changes in the law, which would wipe out the state's heretofore thriving dispensaries, are set to take effect Friday. But that might not happen. The association filed suit in district court seeking to temporarily block the new law. District Judge James Reynolds of Helena is expected to issue an order Thursday blocking parts or all of the law from taking effect.

Signature gathering will begin after the association trains the hundreds of volunteers who will be collecting signatures, association spokeswoman Kate Cholewa told The Missoulian Tuesday.

"We want to get everyone trained and trained well," Cholewa said. "There will be some petitions out on the street over the Fourth of July weekend. Everyone wants to do something to contribute, and this is certainly an opportunity."

To suspend the new law, organizers must obtain the signatures of 15% of the voters in 51 of the 100 House districts. That will mean somewhere between 31,238 and 43,247 valid signatures, depending on which House districts are used.

Signatures must be turned in by September 30. If enough voters reject the new law, the 2004 medical marijuana initiative that became law with 62% of the vote would be back in effect.

Montana's medical marijuana melee is far from over.

Helena, MT
United States

Dakta Green Jailed for New Zealand Cannabis Club

One of New Zealand's most prominent and aggressive marijuana legalization advocates will spend the next eight months in prison. Dakta Green was sentenced Tuesday after being found guilty on three marijuana charges earlier this year.

Dakta Green jailed in New Zealand for the herb. (daktagrower.blogspot.com)
For two and half years, Green had operated The Daktory, a west Auckland club where marijuana could be freely bought and sold. He was charged following police raids on the club in January 2010, after he went public with plans to expand operations and open pot clubs nationwide.

The protests of dozens of Daktory supporters outside the courthouse could be heard inside the courtroom as Green objected to the sentence. But Judge Phil Gittos said the sentence was more lenient that than sought by the Crown and that the "law must be upheld."

It's not the first time Green has been jailed for the herb. He spent a year in the Chester County (Pennsylvania) Jail in 1999 and nearly three years in prison in New Zealand beginning in 2002. But those experiences only strengthened his activism. He legally changed his name from Ken Morgan to Dakta Green in 2008, was a candidate in a regional election for the Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party in 2009, and is a regional director of New Zealand NORML.

Green shut down The Daktory to its 2,000-plus members after he was convicted. Its motto was "Live like it was legal."

Auckland
New Zealand

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Ah, the crooked prison guards are back. We missed them last week, but we knew they wouldn't stay away long. Let's get to it:

In Tallahassee, Florida, a Florida Department of Corrections guard was arrested last Thursday on charges he tried to traffic cocaine to prisoners where he worked. Guard Eric James, 34, was arrested in a sting operation in a local Walmart parking lot as he attempted to buy cocaine to smuggle into the prison. The guy he was getting the cocaine from was actually an undercover officer with the Lake County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Unit. He is charged with bribery and cocaine trafficking. James is being held in the Leon County Jail on $10,000 bond.

In Boston, a Massachusetts prison guard pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to trying to smuggle heroin to sell to inmates at a medium-security prison near Boston. Ronald McGinn Jr. went down after the state Department of Corrections told the FBI someone was smuggling drugs into the prison, and the FBI sent in an undercover officer. McGinn sent text messages and discussed with the officer the amounts he would smuggle and the fees he would charge. He was arrested in possession of 29 grams of heroin in April. He pleaded guilty to possession of heroin with intent to distribute and faces up to 20 years in prison when sentenced in September.

In Greenbelt, Maryland, a former Prince George's County police officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to selling cocaine and other charges. Sinisa Simic went down in a sweeping federal investigation of corruption in the county. He admitted that he and another man had sold more than 600 grams of cocaine in return for $24,000, as well as protecting shipments of contraband cigarettes. He pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking, extortion, and two firearms offenses, and faces a mandatory minimum 10-year federal prison sentence when he returns to court for sentencing in September.

More States Go After Synthetic Drugs

Although new synthetics are coming to market faster than governments can ban them, a number of states have moved in recent weeks to criminalize their possession and distribution. In Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, state governments have enacted bans on synthetic cannabinoids ("fake pot") or synthetic stimulants ("bath salts"), or both. In South Dakota, they took a slightly different path to arrive at the same end.

Fake pot goes under many brand names. Spice is one. (image via wikimedia.org)
Synthetic cannabinoids are marketed as "incense" under a variety of names, including Spice and K-2. They are currently the subject of a one-year emergency ban by the DEA, which is set to expire at the end of February. "Bath salts" are made from methcathinone analogues, typically mephedrone and MDPV, and produce a high likened to cocaine, methamphetamines, and ecstasy. The DEA lists them as a "drug of concern," but has yet to act against them.  They are sold under names like Bliss, Ivory Wave, and the less mellow-sounding Charley Sheene and Drone.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law House Bill 1039 on May 31. It criminalizes the possession of "bath salts" by making them a Schedule I controlled substance. The new law makes permanent an emergency ban on the drugs that went into effect in January.

In Louisiana, the legislature has passed House Bill 12, which bans both synthetic marijuana and "bath salts." Gov. Bobby Jindal, who in January issued an executive emergency ban on the synthetic stimulants and who made this bill part of his legislative agenda, is expected to sign it shortly. Under the bill, both fake pot and "bath salts" will be classified as Schedule I drugs and their possession or distribution will be punished accordingly. This bill is set to go into effect July 15.

In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton (D) has signed into law HF0057, which criminalizes bath salts, fake pot, and 2-CE, as well as any substances that are "substantially similar" in chemical structure and pharmacological effects to illegal drugs. That law goes into effect Friday. Although all of the substances are placed on Schedule I of the controlled substances list, possession of fake pot is a misdemeanor and sale of fake pot is a gross misdemeanor. Possession or sale of bath salts or 2-CE is a felony.

"Please do not use as SNUFF," a web site that peddles "bath salts" helpfully advises (ivory-wave.com)
In Minnesota, at least, retailers are fighting back. Three of them filed suit in Hennepin County (Minneapolis) District Court Monday charging that the law is too vague and broad and is not backed by scientific proof. They also argue that the law provides no criteria for determining if a substance is "substantially similar" to an illegal drug and that the ban infringes on individuals' right to privacy and pursuit of happiness.

Consumers and retailers won't know "if they're committing a crime or not," said attorney Marc Kurzman, who is representing the stores. "You shouldn’t have to get the answer by being charged and going through criminal trials," he said. 

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) last week signed into law Senate Bill 1006, which bans the possession, sale, and use of fake pot, "bath salts," and, for good measure, the psychedelic designer drug 2-CE and salvia divinorum. Possession of the proscribed substances can earn you a year in prison, while sales or possession with intent can get you five years. The law will go into effect in late August, 60 days after it was signed into law.

"If left unchecked, synthetic drugs could have developed into the most dangerous drug crisis since methamphetamine labs found their way into our state,'' Corbett said in a press release announcing his signature. "This ban on synthetic drugs sends a strong message that Pennsylvania will not tolerate the use of these chemicals."

In South Dakota, Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) back in March signed into law Senate Bill 34, which will go into effect Friday. In deals with the fake pot and "bath salts" "threat" not by criminalizing them, but by making it a crime to use, possess, manufacture, or distribute them -- or any other substance -- to get high. In South Dakota, it is already a crime to have ingested an illegal drug; now, it will be a crime to ingest legal substances if it is for the purpose of intoxication.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) last week signed into law Senate Bill 54 criminalizing the sale, manufacture, and possession of synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic stimulants. Possession of synthetic cannabinoids is now punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and three years in prison for a second offense, while manufacture or distribution garners up to six years in prison. Possession of synthetic stimulants now garners up to a year in jail for a first offense, while distribution of manufacture earns a number of years in prison, depending on the quantity involved.

"By classifying dangerous synthetic narcotics as illegal in the state of Wisconsin we are giving law enforcement the ability to take these destructive substances off of our streets and out of our neighborhoods," Gov. Walker said in a signing statement.

For a master list of states that have banned or are considering banning or otherwise controlling mephedrone and MDPV ("bath salts"), go here. For a master list of states that have banned or are considering banning or otherwise controlling fake pot, go here.

Lebanese Police Destroying Marijuana Fields Attacked

Lebanese anti-drug police on missions to destroy marijuana fields in the Bekaa Valley came under attack at least twice on Monday, the first day of annual eradication efforts aimed at the valley's deeply-embedded trade in hashish.

marijuana fields just before they are burned (image via wikimedia.org)
"Internal security forces in the Office of Drug Control cooperated with the Lebanese army to raze hashish fields in the northern Bekaa," NowLebanon.com reported early in the day before things started heating up. By day's end, Lebanese media would have reason to produce new reports as the clashes broke out.

The Lebanon Daily Star reported an early morning shoot-out on the Boudai Plain on the outskirts of the city of Baalbek. Later in the day, NowLebanon.com reported on a second clash near the town of Ollaq. No injuries were reported in either incident.

In the Boudai Plain incident, unknown assailants fired at least five rocket propelled grenades toward police razing the fields. The attackers fled after exchanging gunfire with security forces.

Later in the day, security forces again came under attack as they destroyed a marijuana field in the town of Ollaq. Armed men shot at the eradicators, as well as again launching missiles. The rockets damaged two cars, one belonging to the head of the anti-drug police, Col. Adel Mashmoushi, and one belonging to a Lebanese television network.

"The perpetrators fled the scene in four cars after then 10-minute fire fight," the Lebanese National News Agency reported.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's 2011 World Drug Report, Lebanon is the world's third largest hashish producer, accounting for 6% of global production. Morocco leads with about 19% of global production, followed by Afghanistan with about 10%, and then Lebanon.

After day one of this year's eradication effort, it appears Bekaa Valley hash producers aren't giving up without a fight.

Bekaa Valley
Lebanon

Bolivia to Quit United Nations Drug Convention Over Coca

lime powder container (used traditionally in coca chewing), 1st-7th-century, Colombia (Quimbaya), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Bolivia is preparing to withdraw from the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to protest its classification of coca leaves as an illegal drug. A law that would do just that has already passed the lower chamber of Congress and is likely to pass in the Senate, where the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party of President Evo Morales has a two-thirds majority.

The Congress is acting at the request of Morales, a coca union leader. His government sought late last year to amend the convention to reclassify coca leaf, but that effort failed in January, so now Bolivia will withdraw from the convention altogether.

Coca leaf has been used for thousands of years in the Andes, and Bolivia has long argued that coca in its natural state is not an illegal drug, just a plant with traditional, therapeutic, and industrial uses. The Bolivian constitution obligates the government to preserve and protect the chewing of coca leaves as a cultural heritage and ancestral practice.

Under the draft law, which has already passed the lower chamber of Congress and is likely to pass in the Senate, where Morales's party has a two-thirds majority, Bolivia would keep its international obligations in the fight against drug trafficking. Foreign minister David Choquehuanca said the country could rejoin the convention next year, but with a reservation: that it be allowed to consume coca legally.

lime spoons, coastal Inka, Peru, mid-15th to 16th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art
"This is an attempt to keep the cultural and inoffensive practice of coca chewing and to respect human rights, but not just of indigenous people, because this is an ancient practice of all Bolivian people," Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told the British newspaper The Guardian Thursday.

Bolivia is the world's third largest coca producer behind Colombia and Peru. Much of the production is diverted into cocaine destined primarily for Brazilian and European markets. Bolivia has intensified its fight against drug trafficking, but says it is fighting a losing battle as long as demand for cocaine remains high in the West.

La Paz
Bolivia

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, 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 more than 38,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

The profits of prohibition fuel the violence in Mexico. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Wednesday, June 15

In Nuevo Leon, a record 33 people were murdered in one day.  Among the dead were two bodyguards of State Governor Rodrigo Medina who were kidnapped, murdered, and mutilated. The previous daily high in the state was 18, which included 14 inmates killed in a jailhouse fire that had been deliberately set.

Friday, June 17

In Nuevo Leon, 26 police officers were detained for their involvement in the murder of the two bodyguards of Gov. Medina on Wednesday.

In Matamoros, the leader of Los Zetas, Heriberto Lazcano "Z-3" was reported killed after a series of ferocious gun battles in the city with the rival Gulf Cartel. Mexican and American authorities have both denied that Lazcano is dead, and question why he would personally be leading attacks on the Gulf Cartel stronghold of Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas.

Sunday, June 19

In Michoacan, at least 23 people were executed over the weekend by the Knights Templar drug trafficking organization. President Calderon was in the state capital of Morelia at the time attending a U-17 soccer game between Mexico and North Korea. The Knights Templar had announced the coming murders via banner on Friday. On Saturday, nine people were found dead in three different locations, each containing three bodies.

The Knights Templar is an off-shoot of La Familia Michoacana, and has vowed to wage war on the opposing faction of LFM led by El Chango Mendez (captured Tuesday -- see below) and his allies in Los Zetas.

Monday, June 20

In Veracruz, a journalist was gunned down along with his wife and 21-year old son. Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco, 55, was an editor, crime reporter and columnist for the local Notiver newspaper. At around 5:30am on Monday, heavily armed gunmen kicked down the door to his home and gunned down everyone inside.

Also in Veracruz, seven municipal police officers were arrested in connection with the death of a Mexican Marine who was found dead on June 11 near the Tuxpan River. He was one of three Marines who were recently kidnapped and murdered in Mexico. The Marines have been on the forefront of Mexico's war on drug cartels and have conducted missions against high-profile targets such as Arturo Beltran Leyva, who was killed in December 2009.

Tuesday, June 21

In Cosio, Aguascalientes, the leader of La Familia Michoacana was captured by police at a highway checkpoint. Jose de Jesus Mendez Varga, 50, also known as "El Chango" -- the Monkey -- had been in command of the LFM organization since it broke up into rival factions after its previous leader, Nazario Moreno, was killed in fierce clashes with federal forces in December 2010. On Wednesday Mexican authorities said that US law enforcement played a key role in his capture.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least seven people were murdered. In one incident, a bag containing the head and dismembered body parts of a man was left outside a church. In a different part of the city, three men were gunned down inside a home in the southeast part of the city.

In the town of Cuahtemoc in the nearly lawless Chihuahuan sierra, authorities announced that eight people were found murdered there on June 18.

In Mexico City, Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes said after a meeting with President Calderon that the Zetas have been sending scouting missions to El Salvador to see whether they can purchase weapons from corrupt police and military officials.

Editor's Note: We cannot accurately tally the drug prohibition-related killings in Mexico at this time. El Universal, the only Mexican newspaper that was doing so on a regular basis, has stopped. We will have to rely on official pronouncements on the death toll, and will report them when they happen. Below are the numbers through the end of last year. With more than 1,400 reported dead in April alone, this year's toll could well exceed last year's. As of this month, we believe the total death toll has surpassed 38,000.]

Total Body Count for 2010: 15,273

Total Body Count for 2009: (approx.) 9,600

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx): 4,300

Total Body Count for Calderon's drug war through 2010: 34,883

Mexico

CHA Drops Plan to Drug Test Public Housing Residents

The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has dropped its proposal to require all adults living in its properties to undergo random drug tests. Tenants who tested positive under the plan would have been evicted.

There will be no drug testing of residents at Lake Parc Place or any other CHA properties. (Image courtesy CHA)
The CHA also said Tuesday it would keep the "innocent tenant defense" that the proposal had also targeted. That allows tenants who face eviction because a household member or relative committed a drug offense or other crime to appeal against eviction on the grounds they were not aware of the offense.

The reversal comes after weeks of criticism from residents, activists, and the ACLU of Illinois. The man who sought to implement the proposal, CHA CEO Lewis Jordan, has resigned as well.

"The CHA received a tremendous amount of feedback during the public comment period, and simply, the result of that is that CHA will not move forward," CHA spokeswoman Kellie O'Connell-Miller told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The decision was "welcome news," said ACLU of Illinois senior staff counsel Adam Schwartz. "There is no evidence that individuals who rent CHA apartments are more likely to use drugs than residents in other rental properties throughout the City of Chicago. Singling out these individuals simply is unnecessary and a diversion of precious resources," Schwartz said. "We applaud the Board for listening to the voices of the residents and dropping this harmful proposal."

The CHA Central Advisory Council, consisting of CHA tenant leaders, also applauded the agency's change of course. "CHA made a wise decision. There were just too many issues associated with drug testing," said Robert Whitfield, Central Advisory Council attorney.

Chicago, IL
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It never ends, does it? Another week, another set of crooked cops. At least this week, the jail and prison guards managed to stay out of the news. Let's get to it:

In New York City, an NYPD narcotics detective was arrested on June 9 on charges he lied about witnessing drug transactions that resulted in the arrest of one man for selling crack and three others who were his customers. Detective Francisco Payano's fictive report began to fall apart last year when a defense attorney brought forward surveillance video footage of the location in question that showed no drug dealing going on at the time in question and that Payano wasn't even present. The case against the alleged dealer has been dropped, but one customer already pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. The cases against the other two have been sealed. Payano faces 64 counts of perjury and other charges. He has been released pending trial.

In Nashville, a Metropolitan Nashville police officer was indicted Friday on federal bribery and drug trafficking charges. Officer Richard Wilson, 31, went down in a sting after accepting $24,500 to transport what he thought was cocaine for who he thought were drug traffickers. He is charged with soliciting a bribe, attempted cocaine distribution, and money laundering.

In Philadelphia, two former Philadelphia police officers were sentenced June 15 to 10 to 20 years in prison each after being caught in an undercover sting helping drug dealers rob a man they thought was a drug courier. Christopher Luciano, 23, and Sean Alivera, 31, were arrested last October and pleaded guilty in April to charges of robbery, conspiracy, kidnapping, official oppression and possession of a drug with intent to deliver.

In Jacksonville, Florida, a former Jacksonville Sheriff's officer was sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison for agreeing to transport cocaine from Daytona to Jacksonville in return for payment. Former officer Carl Kohn went down after he starting plotting a deal with a "cooperating individual" to transport five kilos of cocaine in return for $2,500. He pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to distribute five or more kilos of cocaine.

In Mesquite, Texas, the former head of the Mesquite Police narcotics unit was sentenced Monday to 15 months in federal prison for stealing cash during an undercover drug operation. John David McAllister, 42, went down after authorities received a tip that an officer was stealing drug money and FBI agents set up an undercover sting in March. FBI agents left $100,000 in cash in 52 bundles in a car they directed McAllister to search. They videotaped him removing one of the bundles and stuffing it in his pants before returning to the Mesquite Police Department. Still under surveillance, McAllister then drove to a nearby shopping mall and bought a $480 watch. FBI agents matched the cash used in that transaction to photocopies of the cash they used in the sting. McAllister was charged with theft of government property.

Virginia Police Kill Old Man in Pill Raid

[Editor's Note: This year, Drug War Chronicle is trying to track every death directly attributable to drug law enforcement during the year. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

Police in Hampton, Virginia, executing a search warrant for prescription pain pills shot and killed a 69-year-old homeowner after he fired on them inside the house. William Cooper becomes the 30th person killed in US domestic law enforcement operations so far this year.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/hampton-police-badge.jpg
According to the Daily Press Hampton News, police sought a search warrant after a confidential informant told them Cooper had sold methadone, Percocet, and "several other unknown prescription pills" from his home. Police executed the warrant just after 10:00am Saturday, forcing his front door open and entering the residence.

Hampton Police spokesman Jason Price said police identified themselves when they arrived at the house. "We did knock and announce our presence," he said. "It was not a no-knock search warrant."

A common police practice in executing warrants is to announce their presence with loud knocks on the doors and shouts of "Police!" or similar phrases, then wait a matter of seconds before breaking down the door, effectively making them knock and announce raids in technical legal terms only. Neighbors reported the police had forced their way in, and the door was visibly broken.

Price said there was an exchange of gunfire, with Cooper shooting first and the officers firing back. Cooper was pronounced dead at a local hospital an hour later.

Police announced Tuesday
they had seized four prescription pain pill bottles -- three of them empty -- and a number of weapons in the retiree's home. They consisted of one empty bottle of Oxycontin and three bottles of Oxycodone-acetaminophen (Percocet), with one containing pills. They also seized 16 other pill bottles, including ones containing drugs used for treating the symptoms of arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. Police also seized Cooper's wallet, $903 in cash, and his 2000 Lexus, as well as a vehicle title and "financial documents." They alleged the 11-year-old car was connected to the drug sales.

"We did locate evidence that supports the charge of distribution of illegal narcotics," police spokesman Jason Price said Tuesday. Police did not say whether Cooper had prescriptions for the pain pills.

But friends of Cooper said he used a cane, suffered from knee and back pain, and took lots of pain medications. Cooper complained that the drugs he was taking "weren't enough" for the pain, said Richard Zacharias, 58, a retired NASA employee who was renting a trailer home from Cooper. He also said that Cooper had poor eyesight because of cataracts and often slept late. Those factors might have caused him not to realize it was police in his home at 10:00am, Zacharias said.

But Price said police would continue to identify themselves as they moved through the home. "It's very obvious that we're the police," he said.

"It doesn’t smell right," Zacharias protested. "He wasn't real big, he wasn't real threatening." The police killed Cooper "in his own house, and that doesn't sit right with me," he said. "People around here sleep with a gun beside their bed because of all the home invasions we've had. The guy was a nice guy. The guy was a good guy."

The two so far unnamed police shooters are now on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation. But Hampton Police Chief Charles Jordan Jr. didn't see any need to wait for that. "The investigation thus far supports the actions of the officers," Jordan said Saturday. "They were met with deadly force and had no alternative other than to return fire."

Hampton, VA
United States

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