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Marijuana: Daily 4:20 Protests Spark Saturday Arrest in Keene, New Hampshire

Daily marijuana legalization protests in the Central Square in Keene, New Hampshire, led to one arrest Saturday for marijuana possession and one Sunday -- but the victim in that arrest was later found to be smoking chocolate mint in his glass pipe and released without charges. The demonstrations began last Tuesday with a couple of dozen people gathering at 4:20pm to toke up as an act of civil disobedience and call for marijuana law reform. After Saturday's arrest, the protests continued, with about 100 people showing up Monday.

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(YouTube and freekeene.com)
The protests are being led by Free Keene, a local affiliate of the libertarian New Hampshire Free State Project. The project's stated goal is to persuade 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire in a bid to shift the politics of the low-population Granite State.

Arrested Saturday was Richard Paul, 40, one of the protest organizers. Paul was arrested after police patrolling the square saw him smoking a joint. Protestors shouted at police, yelling "Leave him alone!" and "This is how they did it in Nazi Germany!"

After the arrest, about 50 protestors followed Paul and police officers to the police station, where they shouted through the door and sat in a circle smoking marijuana. No more arrests were forthcoming, though.

To confuse police at the protests at the square, some smokers smoked things other than marijuana. That was the case Sunday, when police arrested a protester identified only as "Earl" for puffing on a glass pipe. Embarrassingly for police, that substance turned out to be not marijuana but chocolate mint, and Earl was quickly released.

Protests continued this week in Keene and have now spread to Manchester. In the latter town, protestors sparked up in the presence of police, but failed to provoke any arrests.

Perhaps the cops have better things to do. And that's precisely the point.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, 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, with a death toll of over 5,000 so far in 2009. 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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Mexican army anti-drug patrol
Wednesday, September 23

Nine people were killed in a nine hour span in Ciudad Juarez. The dead included a beheaded man, and bullet-riddled bodies of three men and a woman found in a car. Additionally, another gunshot victim was found by the side of a road, and two bodies -- one beheaded -- were found wrapped in a blanket. The ninth victim was found dead inside a car.

Four people were killed after a gun battle in La Crucita, Durango. The four dead, all men, were killed during a firefight between two groups of rival drug traffickers in a hillside community. Three bullet-riddled SUVs were left at the scene.

Thursday, September 24

At least three US citizens were killed when gunmen attacked a motel in Ciudad Juarez, along with a Mexican man, whom police believe was the intended target. The two women who were killed were sisters.

A high-ranking police official was ambushed in Sinaloa. The official, Jesús Adolfo Fierro Bojórquez, had called his wife to pick him up after his car broke down. She arrived to find him dead with a gunshot wound to the chest. Additionally, a police radio operatior was shot and killed in Ecatepec, near Mexico City, and 18 people were killed across Ciudad Juarez in a 24 hour period. Two men were killed in Tijuana, and three in Guerrero.

Friday, September 25

Five suspected Sinaloa cartel assassins were arrested by the Mexican army in Ciudad Juarez. The men are thought to be involved in at least 45 murders, including the two recent attacks on drug rehabilitation centers in which 28 people were lined up against a wall and executed.

Monday, September 28

In the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, two Canadian men were shot and killed in execution-style slayings. Gunmen attacked Gordon Douglas Kendall and Jeffrey Ronald Ivans outside an apartment building, chasing them to the pool area before finally killing them. Canadian law enforcement officials were apparently aware of the two men, and believed they were deeply involved in the British Columbia cocaine trade.

A former Juarez police officer was arrested over the weekend, and is suspected of taking part in at least 18 killings in the city. He was one of several arrests made by Mexican military and police forces in Juarez over the weekend. The ex-officer, Miguel Angel Delgado Carmona, 39, was captured with an accomplice following a vehicle chase after an aborted extortion attempt at a Juarez funeral home. He is also suspected of taking part in locating another 80 homicide victims, and was captured with two AK-47s.

Mexico's foreign minister, Patricia Espinosa, said that the high death toll of the Mexican government's war on drug traffickers is a sign of its success. "This is a very ugly statistic," she said, "but a good percentage of those killed never have their bodies claimed, their families never go and get them... that is a very clear indicator that these people were involved in drug trafficking." She added that some 60,000 drug traffickers have been arrested since president Calderon took office, and 50,000 weapons have been seized.

Tuesday, September 29

In Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexican army elements took over police stations and surrounded a stadium where municipal vehicles are kept. They also interrogated local police officers about an incident that occurred on the 3rd of September, in which it is suspected that local police leaked information to drug traffickers who killed at two police officers and a fireman who were travelling unarmed.

Wednesday, September 30

Army troops seized $7.3 million in cash from a house in Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas state. The raid came after soldiers received a tip from local residents who said they had seen several armed men at the house. Four handguns and four vehicles were also seized in the raid on the home, which is thought to have been a Gulf Cartel safe house.

Three civilians were wounded when soldiers at a military checkpoint shot at the car in which they were travelling. The incident took place in Morelia, Michoacan. The three men in the car were apparently drunk, and security in the area was high because of a visit to the city by President Calderon. This is the latest in a series of shootings at road blocks set up by the military to stem the flow of drugs and arms moving along Mexico's roads.

Body count for the last two weeks: 275
Body count for the year: 5,411

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Law Enforcement: PATRIOT Act "Sneak and Peek" Searches Targeted Drug Offenders, Not Terrorists

The Bush administration sold the PATRIOT Act's expansion of law enforcement powers, including "sneak and peek" searches in which the target of the search is not notified that his home has been searched, as necessary to defend the citizens of the US from terrorist attacks, but that's not how federal law enforcement has used its sweeping new powers.

According to a July report from the Administrative Office of the US Courts (thanks to Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post), of 763 sneak and peek search warrants issued last year, only three were issued in relation to alleged terrorist offenses, or less than one-half of 1% of all such black-bag clandestine searches. Nearly two-thirds (62%) were issued to investigate drug trafficking offenses.

The report also includes figures on existing warrants that were extended last year. When new and extended warrant figures are combined, the total number of warrants was 1,291, with 843, or 65%, for drug investigations. Only five of all new or extended sneak and peek warrants were for terrorism investigations. Of 21 criminal offense categories for which warrants were issued or extended, terrorism ranked 19th, exceeding only conspiracy and bribery.

As Grim noted, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), a leading critic of the PATRIOT Act, challenged Assistant Attorney General David Kris about why powers supposedly needed to fight terrorism were instead being used for common criminal cases.

"This authority here on the sneak-and-peek side, on the criminal side, is not meant for intelligence," said Kris. "It's for criminal cases. So I guess it's not surprising to me that it applies in drug cases."

"As I recall it was in something called the USA PATRIOT Act," Feingold retorted, "which was passed in a rush after an attack on 9/11 that had to do with terrorism. It didn't have to do with regular, run-of-the-mill criminal cases. Let me tell you why I'm concerned about these numbers: That's not how this was sold to the American people. It was sold as stated on DoJ's website in 2005 as being necessary -- quote -- to conduct investigations without tipping off terrorists," he said.

"I think it's quite extraordinary to grant government agents the statutory authority to secretly breaks into Americans' homes in criminal cases, and I think some Americans might be concerned it's been used hundreds of times in just a single year in non-terrorism cases," the Wisconsin progressive continued. "That's why I'm proposing additional safeguards to make sure that this authority is available where necessary, but not in virtually every criminal case."

Harm Reduction: Drug-Related Deaths Rose Dramatically in Recent Years, CDC Says

In a report released Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found that drug-related deaths -- the vast majority of them overdoses -- increased dramatically between 1999 and 2006, and that drug-related deaths now outpace deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 16 states. That's up from 12 states the previous year and double the eight states in 2003.

More people died from drug-related causes than traffic accidents in the following states: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

The news comes even as harm reductionists and public health advocates seek to gain support on Capitol Hill for passage of H.R. 2855, the Drug Overdose Reduction Act, sponsored by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD). The bill would create a federal grant program to support both existing and new overdose prevention programs across the country.

"Patients and their families could receive written instructions on how to recognize and respond to an overdose. In addition, college campuses could utilize overdose prevention money to educate students on how to recognize and respond to an alcohol overdose," advocates for H.R. 2855 wrote in a letter to Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the committee's Health subcommittee, respectively.

Something like H.R. 2855 is desperately needed. According to CDC researchers, who examined death certificate data from around the country, some 45,000 died in traffic accidents in 2006, while 39,000 people suffered drug-related deaths. About 90% of the drug deaths were classified as overdoses, but researchers also included in that figure people who died of organ damage from long-term drug use.

Researchers reported a sharp increase in deaths tied to cocaine and to the opioid analgesics, a class of powerful drugs, used medically for pain treatment (as well as for non-prescription drug-taking via the black market), that includes fentanyl, methadone, morphine, and popular pain relievers like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Cocaine-related deaths jumped from about 4,000 in 1999 to more than 7,000 in 2006, but methadone-related deaths increased seven-fold to about 5,000, and other opioid deaths more than doubled from less than 3,000 to more than 6,000. Interestingly, heroin-related deaths actually declined slightly, hovering just below 2,000 a year throughout the period in question.

And despite all the alarms about young people dying of drug overdoses, the 15-24 age group had the lowest drug-related death rate of any group except those over 65. Only about three per 100,000 young people died of drug-related causes in 2006, compared to six per 100,000 among the 25-34 age group, eight per 100,000 in the 35-44 age group, and 10 per 100,000 in the 45-54 age group.

CDC researchers did not discuss causes for the increase in overall drug-related deaths or the rate of drug-related deaths.

Marijuana: Boston Freedom Rally Draws 30,000 -- No Arrests, Some Tickets, in Wake of State Decrim Vote

The 20th annual Boston Freedom Rally brought an estimated 30,000 people to Boston Common on Saturday, September 19, to support the reform of marijuana laws. That would make the Freedom Rally the second largest marijuana reform event in the country, behind only the Seattle Hempfest.

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2009 Boston Freedom Rally (Scott Gacek on bostonfreedomrally.com)
All afternoon, tens of thousands of people sat in the sun, listening to speakers extolling the virtues of cannabis and calling for its legalization and bands rocking out for the cause. At 4:20pm, a massive cloud of marijuana smoke rose from the Commons as the crowd celebrated the stoner holiday (or time of day).

Sponsored by MassCann, the Bay State affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the Freedom Rally had in some past years been marred by arrests for pot-smoking. In a previous article, Drug War Chronicle predicted that the rally would see "numerous arrests -- if police behavior in the past is any indicator." That was an overstatement -- our apologies to MASSCANN for it. 2007 did see 53 arrests at the Freedom Rally, according to Boston Police -- one of them of NORML founder Keith Stroup. But even that number, while significant, was a fraction of a percent of the attendees. Last year, the number of possession busts was down to just six.

And this year there were none. Massachusetts residents voted to decriminalize marijuana possession last November, and so all the police could do this year was issue tickets with a maximum fine of $100, which they did to 136 people. Three others were arrested for marijuana distribution, and another three on unspecified charges.

Still, participants and organizers of the festival alike lauded the relative freedom of living in a decrim state, while decrying the presence of undercover officers who, apparently randomly, would select members of the crowd to be searched and hassled. On its web site, Freedom Rally organizers have asked that people who were ticketed or searched by police contact them.

Stay tuned for Chronicle coverage of the Massachusetts decriminalization law and of the movement in Massachusetts.

Law Enforcement: Drug Court Program Needs Serious Reforms, Defense Attorneys Say

Drug courts have spread all across the country since the first one was instituted in Miami 20 years ago by then local prosecutor Janet Reno, but now, the nation's largest group of criminal defense attorneys says they have become an obstacle to cost-effective drug treatment and a burden on the criminal justice system. In a report released Tuesday, America's Problem-Solving Courts: The Criminal Costs of Treatment and the Case for Reform, the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL) argued that drug addiction should be considered a public health problem, outside the criminal justice arena.

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drug court
More than 2,100 drug courts are now in operation in the US, the group noted, but they have had no noticeable impact on drug use rates or arrests. Furthermore, the courts, which empower judges and prosecutors at the expense of defendants and their attorneys, too often limit treatment to "easy" offenders while forcing "hard cases" into the jails or prisons.

Minorities, immigrants, and poor people are often underrepresented in drug court programs, leaving them to rot behind bars at taxpayer expense. Drug courts also mean that access to drug treatment comes at the cost of a guilty plea, the group said.

"Today's drug courts have been operating for over 20 years yet have not stymied the rise in both drug abuse or exponentially increasing prison costs to taxpayers," said NACDL president Cynthia Orr. "It is time for both an extensive review of these courts and for the average American to ask themselves: Is our national drug policy working, and perhaps it is a public health concern rather than a criminal justice one?"

In the report, NACDL recommended the following reforms:

  • Treating substance abuse as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice one;
  • Opening admission criteria to all those who need, want and request treatment;
  • Enforcing greater transparency in admission practices and relying on expert assessments, not merely the judgment of prosecutors;
  • Prohibiting the requirement of guilty pleas as the price of admission;
  • Urging greater involvement of the defense bar to create programs that preserve the rights of the accused;
  • Considering the ethical obligations of defense lawyers to their client even if they choose court-directed treatment; and
  • Opening a serious national discussion on decriminalizing low-level drug use.

Public Health: Feds Finally Issue Warning on Tainted Cocaine

Three weeks ago, Drug War Chronicle reported on cocaine cut with the veterinary agent levamisole and asked what the federal government was doing about it. Ten days later, the feds responded to the situation, with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) issuing a public health alert on September 21.

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The alert, sent out to medical professionals, substance abuse treatment centers, and other public health authorities, warned of the "life-threatening risk" that much of the US cocaine supply may be adulterated with the veterinary anti-parasitic drug. It has been linked to a serious, sometimes fatal, blood disorder called agranulocytosis, with SAMHSA saying there are at least 20 confirmed or suspected cases and two deaths in the US associated with the tainted cocaine.

Despite being first noticed by forensic scientists at least three years ago and by the DEA late last year, there has been little public awareness of the public health threat. SAMHSA expects the number of cases to rise as public and professional awareness spreads.

"SAMHSA and other public health authorities are working together to inform everyone of this serious potential public health risk and what measures are being taken to address it," said SAMHSA Acting Administrator Eric Broderick, DDS, MPH.

The addition of levamisole to cocaine is believed to be done by Colombian drug traffickers. Ingesting the tainted drug can seriously reduce a person's white blood cells, suppressing immune function and the body's ability to fight off even minor infections. People who snort, smoke, or inject crack or powder cocaine contaminated by levamisole can experience overwhelming, rapidly-developing, life threatening infections, SAMHSA warned. Other serious side effects can also occur.

The DEA is reporting that levamisole is showed up in over 70% of cocaine analyzed in July, and authorities in Seattle are reporting that 80% of persons testing positive for cocaine are also testing positive for levamisole.

In its alert, SAMHSA warned that:

THIS IS A VERY SERIOUS ILLNESS THAT NEEDS TO BE TREATED AT A HOSPITAL. If you use cocaine, watch out for:

  • high fever, chills, or weakness
  • swollen glands
  • painful sores (mouth, anal)
  • any infection that won't go away or gets worse very fast, including sore throat or mouth sores; skin infections, abscesses; thrush (white coating of the mouth, tongue, or throat); pneumonia (fever, cough, shortness of breath).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also getting in on the act. CDC will shortly publish a case report analysis in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and will be working with state public health authorities to collect information on the phenomenon. That information will be "used to guide treatment and prevention initiatives to address this public health concern."

One thing the feds are not doing is coming up with a test kit that would allow users to detect the presence of levamisole in cocaine. That's too bad, said Dr. Michael Clark, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of Washington Harborview Medical Center. "I thought to myself, why isn't there a test kit? It is easy to test for," he said. "It would be like testing your hot tub for its chemistry. Take a sample, mix some chemicals together, add a reagant, and see what turns what color."

Clark is working on developing just such a test kit. "It could be used at street level, and it could be used by a lot of public health and harm reduction groups. You want to identify levasimole before people ingest, very much like the Ecstasy testing. You could do the same thing with cocaine and levasimole," he said.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Cops busted for testilying, a deputy arrested for demanding a bribe from a pot grower, a jail guard arrested for smuggling pot into the prison, and a Michigan town still doesn't know who stole drug buy money from the police department. Let's get to it:

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If we can't keep drugs out of the prisons, how can we keep them out of the country?
In Los Angeles, three LAPD officers were charged Wednesday with lying under oath in a drug possession case that was dismissed last year after a videotape contradicted their testimony. Officers Richard Amio and Even Samuel testified that they chased a man into an apartment building and saw him throw away a black object. They testified that Samuel picked it up and found $260 worth of powder and crack cocaine in it. But videotape from the apartment building showed the officers searching for more than 20 minutes before producing their "evidence." A third officer, Manuel Ortiz, also testified about the case at a preliminary hearing. The judge in the drug possession case dropped the charges against the defendant at prosecutors' request. The three officers all face perjury and conspiracy charges.

In Lebanon, Ohio, a Lebanon Correctional Institution guard was arrested last Friday on charges he was trying to bring drugs into the prison. Guard Dennis O'Rourke, 25, was arrested by state troopers as he met his contact to pick up marijuana. He is charged with attempting to convey drugs onto the grounds of a detention facility, a third-degree felony, and child endangerment, a first-degree misdemeanor, because he had his two-year-old daughter with him during the drug transaction.

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a Broward County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday for accepting money from a marijuana grower not to arrest him. Deputy Manuel Silva, a nine-year department veteran, allegedly showed up at the grow house last week in plain clothes, but carrying a badge and a gun. He was arrested after picking up an unspecified amount of cash. Silva went down after the grower told someone else about the incident, who in turn went to the authorities. He is now charged with burglary, armed extortion, and drug possession -- he happened to be carrying some oxycodone not prescribed to him when he was arrested. No word on what happened to the grower.

In Troy, Michigan, Troy police still can't find $40,000 that went missing from a police safe in January. The money was earmarked for narcotics investigations. The Oakland County Sheriff's Department has not closed its investigation, but admits it is at a standstill. The Troy police say they have changed policies and procedures regarding funds and restricted the amount of cash on hand for special investigations.

Law Enforcement: Facing Budget Woes, Minneapolis Axes Dope Squad

Facing a $5 million budget deficit, the Minneapolis Police Department responded Monday by disbanding its narcotics squad. That makes Minneapolis the only major city in the US without one.

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Minneapolis skyline
Last year, the 14-member narcotics squad investigated nearly 4,000 cases resulting in 519 federal and state charges. Officers seized about $300,000 in drug money, as well as 24 guns and 26 vehicles.

Police Chief Tim Dolan said the department still has sufficient resources to handle drug cases. He said community resource teams in the department's five precincts will handle street-level and mid-level dealing, while the Violent Offender Task Force will work on high-level cases. The department also has officers seconded to an anti-drug task force with state, local, and DEA members, and it has just started a gang unit, he said.

"Are we going to be as good as we were before in dealing with drug cases? I don't know," he said. "Their stats speak for themselves."

The former head narc, Lt. Marie Przynski, was not happy. "This unit has been highly productive, if not the most productive unit in the Minneapolis Police Department," Przynski said. "I'm disappointed, and so are my officers, about this decision."

The 14 former narcs will be reassigned, with three of them joining the Financial Crimes unit, including an asset forfeiture specialist and a specialist in pharmaceutical investigations ranging from forged prescriptions to insurance fraud. Other members of the defunct dope squad will be assigned at least temporarily to street patrols.

The department still needs to cut 50 positions to get under budget. It may also reduce the number of deputy chiefs from three to two. Still, Dolan said neither street patrols nor key units, such as homicide, robbery, sex crimes, juvenile, and domestic abuse would be reduced.

One city council member, Ralph Remington, suggested that the department could have more money if its members quit misbehaving. Just three weeks ago, the city paid out $495,000 to a man slugged by a Minneapolis police officer during a drug raid last year. That was only the most recent high-profile settlement paid by the city for departmental misbehavior.

"The department could save a lot of money if they corrected the bad behavior of a few bad cops," said Remington.

Southeast Asia: New Indonesian Drug Law Draws Human Rights Criticisms

After four years of debate, Indonesia's parliament passed a new drug law Monday. It was immediately criticized by reformers on numerous counts.

The new law maintains the death penalty for some drug offenses, criminalizes drug addiction, and makes it a crime for parents to fail to report their addicted children to authorities. The law also transfers responsibility for fighting drug trafficking from the government to civil society.

"The drugs law will save our children and young generation. It will be essential in the fight against drug trafficking," said Minister for Law and Human Rights Andi Mattalatta after the bill was passed. "Currently, drug dealing is not only conducted by individuals but by drugs syndicates that operate neatly," he said.

But the Indonesian Coalition for Drug Policy Reform (ICDPR) begged to differ. "This law classifies drug addicts as criminals and therefore subjects them to criminal charges, while doctors have said that drug addiction is a curable disease," Asmin Francisca, the group's coordinator told reporters outside parliament's plenary session hall. "The law should have recognized that a proper solution to drug addiction is to empower drug addicts, not to punish them as criminals."

Asmin warned that the article in the law transferring responsibility for fighting trafficking from the government to civil society could lead to vigilante justice. "The article, however, does not clearly elaborate on what kind of civil participation is needed to fight the war against drug trafficking," she said. "Without clear regulations, the law is open to many forms of exploitation by civil groups, including acts of vigilantism."

Asmin also condemned the retention of the death penalty for some drug offenses.
"Death penalties are not in line with the purpose of modern criminal charges that aim to rehabilitate a person rather than punish them for their actions," she said. "Basically, I believe this law is not in line with the basic principles of human rights."

According to the Indonesian National Narcotics Agency's extremely precise figures, there are 27,000 drug users in the country, including 12,689 aged 30 or older, 6,790 between 25 and 29, 5,720 between 20 and 24, 1,747 between 16 and 19, and 109 users under the age of 16.

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