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Federal Budget: Safe and Drug-Free Schools Funds Still Targeted for Zeroing Out

House and Senate appropriators have agreed to ax only 11 of 48 non-military discretionary spending programs targeted for elimination by the Obama administration, but funding for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools community grants program is one of them. That's what Congress Daily determined following an analysis of fiscal year 2010 budget documents and appropriations bills.

In May, the Obama administration compiled a budgetary hit list of 121 programs, military and non-military, that it recommended be cut or eliminated completely. The $295 million for Safe and Drug-Free Schools community grants was among those programs recommended for total elimination. The administration will continue funding the Safe and Drug-Free Schools National Program.

In recommending termination of the community grants program, the Obama administration argued that "while reducing violence and drug use in and around schools is a compelling goal, reviews by an independent evaluator and by a statutory advisory committee have demonstrated that this program is poorly matched to achieving that goal." It cited a 2001 RAND Drug Policy Research Center study that described the program as "profoundly flawed" and a 2007 Safe and Drug-Free Schools advisory committee study that affirmed the RAND findings.

"The program does not focus on the schools most in need and the thin distribution of funding prevents many local administrators from designing and implementing meaningful interventions," the White House said in its budget.

Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees agreed with the White House and zeroed out the program. The House education appropriations bill has already passed, but the Senate bill is still in process. Proponents of the program may still try to reinstate it in the Senate or during the conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate appropriations bills.

Southeast Asia: Malaysia Court Sentences Woman to Death for Two Pounds of Marijuana

A Malaysian court has sentenced a Thai woman to death for trafficking 1.04 kilograms of marijuana. Under the country's draconian Dangerous Drugs Act of 1952, any drug trafficking offense garners a mandatory death sentence.

The ruling came Wednesday at the High Court in Kota Baru. Judge Datuk Muhamad Ideres Muhamad Rapee ordered the sentence after the prosecution managed to prove a prima facie against Roseedah Cheubong, 41, who was crying as the sentence was issued.

The court ignored the pleas of Roseedah's attorney, Zamri Mat Nawang, who told it she was a single mother trying to fend for herself and her teenage child and that she was sorry for what she had done. Instead, it listened to deputy prosecutors Wan Abad Razak Wan Hussin, who called for the mandated penalty because of the "gravity" of the offense.

Roseedah has been jailed since she was arrested in February 2004 for selling a kilogram of weed outside a gas station. No word yet on possible appeals.

The provincial High Court sentence came little more than a week after the Malaysian Federal Court upheld the death sentence of a taxi driver for trafficking less than two kilos of marijuana. According to the anti-death penalty organization Hands Off Cain, so far this year, Malaysian courts have imposed the death sentence 12 times. Only two death sentences were for murder. The other 10 were for drug trafficking, and eight of those were for trafficking marijuana.

Human rights and harm reduction groups have organized an international campaign to end the death penalty for drug offenses. Read about it here. Since Malaysia does not make a habit of publicly announcing executions, it is unclear how many of the marijuana traffickers sentenced to death have actually been executed.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A quiet week on the corrupt cops front, but the two stories we do have share a common theme: problems with snitches. Let's get to it:

In Gaffney, South Carolina, a Cherokee County sheriff's officer was arrested Tuesday and fired Wednesday for exchanging drugs for sex with a female confidential informant. Now former Officer Troy Cooper, 56, is accused of providing marijuana, money, and other contraband to the informant in return for sexual favors between March 2008 and last week. Investigators from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) were called in by Sheriff Bill Blanton. A search warrant in the case indicates that SLED has recorded telephone conversations between Blanton and the informant.

In St. Louis, police commanders are at odds with the police union over departmental demands that up to 20 officers reveal details about their confidential informants. The department has acknowledged in court filings that "one or more" officers "have included false information in affidavits" for warrants, and says the investigation is aimed at stopping "the concerns of police abuse and violation of civil rights." At least two officers, Shell Sharp and William Noonan, have already resigned, and prosecutors have dropped 39 cases in which one or the other officer was involved. But the police union has won a temporary restraining order to block the revealing of informant information, saying it would endanger snitches and officers. Whether they can win a permanent injunction will be decided next week.

East Asia: Japanese Marijuana Arrests at Record Levels

Japan's National Police Agency reported Thursday that marijuana arrests were at an all-time high during the first six months of this year. Police said 1,446 were arrested for possessing, using or trafficking in marijuana, up 21.3% from a year earlier. Of those arrested for pot offenses, 63.2% were under the age of 30, suggesting that marijuana use is spreading among young people.

One hundred four people were arrested for marijuana cultivation, up 40.5% over the same period last year. Home cultivation of marijuana is assisted by the availability of seeds and grow supplies over the Internet and by consumers' fears of venturing into illicit drug markets.

The 40.5% increase in grow busts in the first half of this year comes after a 50% increase in grow busts during the first half of last year.

The record arrest figures come as Japan comes to grip with a growing marijuana culture. In the past couple of years, the country has seen repeated "scandals" around marijuana use, including the expulsion of three Russian wrestlers from sumo competition for smoking pot, the arrests of various celebrities, and a national freak-out over students at prestigious universities smoking pot.

The apparent increase in marijuana use in Japan comes despite mass media denunciations of it and despite harsh drug laws. Under the 1948 marijuana control law, any pot offense can earn a prison term of up to 10 years.

Latin America: Mexican Decriminalization Bill Now Law of the Land

A bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use in Mexico is now the law of the land, although it will not go into effect for one year to give states time to adjust their laws. It was published Thursday in the Official Daily of the Federation, the Mexican equivalent of the Federal Register. (To read the complete text of the bill in Spanish, go to page 83 of the Official Daily.

According to the new law, the amounts of various drugs decriminalized for personal use are:

  • opium -- 2 grams
  • cocaine -- 1/2 gram
  • heroin -- 1/10 gram
  • marijuana -- 5 grams
  • LSD -- 150 micrograms
  • methamphetamine -- 1/5 gram
  • ecstasy -- 1/5 gram

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''Global Marijuana Day'' demonstration in Mexico City, May 2008
The decriminalization measure is part of a broader bill aimed at reducing "narcomenudeo," or retail drug sales. The bill would allow states and localities to prosecute small-time drug dealing offenses, a power that currently resides only with the federal government. It also allows police to make drug buys to build cases, a break with precedent in Mexico.

Whether the overall bill is a step forward or a step back is open to debate. Read our earlier discussion of the bill here.

Marijuana: Hawaii Insurer Denies Woman Transplant Because of Pot Use

Waimea, Hawaii, resident Kimberly Reyes died July 27 at Hilo Medical Center, 10 days after her insurance provider denied the liver transplant she needed because she had tested positive for marijuana in a series of toxicology tests. Reyes was not a registered medical marijuana user, but her family told the Honolulu Advertiser she had used it to deal with nausea, pain, and disorientation caused by the hepatitis that killed her.

Reyes' attorney, Ted Herhold of San Francisco, told the Observer that the diagnostic test results were the sole basis for Hawaii Medical Service Association's (HMSA) denial of transplant coverage. Reyes' husband Robin, and her mother, Noni Kuhns, said the decision was based on failure to comply with HMSA's policy forbidding drug use, but that neither HMSA nor her doctors had told her just what that policy was.

"Just because someone takes a hit off of a joint doesn't mean that it should be the end of their life -- this is not a reason to deny life," said Kuhns.

HMSA has refused to comment or provide its policies on drug use and transplant approval.

Denial of transplants to marijuana users has happened before. Last year, Seattle-area musician Timothy Garon died after being refused a transplant because of doctor-recommended medical marijuana use. In 2003, Oregon resident Dave Myers was removed from a transplant list merely for Marinol, a prescription medicine related to marijuana.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The Chronicle may have taken a week off, but corrupted law enforcers didn't take time off from their illicit enterprises, and there was no letup in corrupt cops stories. Here's this week's motley crew.

In Verona, Virginia, an Augusta County Correctional Center guard was arrested August 1 for smuggling in marijuana for inmates. Guard April Hogsett, 26, faces a Class 5 felony charge and is looking at up to 10 years in prison. A Virginia Department of Corrections Office of the Inspector General agent executed a search warrant on Hogsett's vehicle the previous day and seized a phone, plastic baggies, and letters -- but no marijuana. That search came after an informant told authorities Hogsett was to supply marijuana to an inmate known to be dealing in the jail. Authorities said cell phone and inmate money order records backed that story.

In Clatskanie, Oregon, a Clatskanie police officer was arrested August 5 for burglarizing a home to steal prescription drugs. Officer Joseph Lee Harrison, 35, was charged with burglary, theft, and official misconduct for the late July burglary. He was accused of stealing prescription painkillers, and the victims told deputies they believed he was addicted to the drugs. Harrison is out on bail.

In Crossett, Arkansas, a Crossett police officer was arrested Sunday for selling drug investigation information and other files to the target of that investigation and conspiring with him to invest in the crack cocaine trade. Officer Darrell Webb is now a former officer, having been fired immediately after being charged with second degree forgery, theft of property, conspiracy to deliver cocaine and laundering criminal proceeds. Last July, Webb stopped a vehicle driven by the drug suspect, set up a meeting at a remote location, showed him a case file on him, and offered to sell it to him for $800. The suspect gave Webb $600 and agreed to meet later to pay the balance. The next day, the suspect called Webb at work and asked him if he wanted the rest of the money. The suspect recorded that call. The pair met, the suspect paid, and again recorded the conversation, with Webb saying he had deleted the damaging information. Webb then asked if he could make a profit investing in drugs for retail sale. The drug suspect then went to the department's top brass with his information, and Webb went down. He's now in jail trying to raise $50,000 bond.

In Zanesville, Ohio, a former Zanesville police officer was sentenced July 30 to 20 years in prison for teaming up with two other former local cops to rip off drug dealers. Former officer Sean Beck and his co-conspirators Trevor Fusner and Chad Mills had all originally been charged with six felony counts after being arrested in October 2007 in the act of ripping off a drug dealer at gunpoint in a local cemetery. All three eventually pleaded to one count each of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and one count each of having a weapon while committing a drug trafficking offense. The trio went down after a local drug dealer went to the Muskingum County Sheriff's Office to complain they were shaking him down, making him sell drugs for them, and splitting the proceeds. He then became a confidential informant, recording various conversations, and informing authorities so that deputies and FBI agents were waiting when Beck and buddies tried their cemetery heist.

In San Diego, a former San Diego police officer was sentenced Tuesday to 30 months in federal prison for giving inside information to drug traffickers. Former officer Juan Hurtado Tapia, 39, had admitted informing drug traffickers about an ongoing investigation and lying to federal officials about it. He pleaded guilty to obstructing an official investigation, making false statements, and a misdemeanor count of misusing a computer. Hurtado provided traffickers with background check information about a person they suspected of being an informer.

(Read last issue's corrupt cops compilation here.)

Middle East: Dubai Court Sentences Woman to Life for Selling a Joint

A court in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, has sentenced a young woman to life in prison for selling a joint to an undercover officer and possessing 16 more weighing a total of 19 grams. According to the UAE news site 7 Days, the unnamed Tanzanian citizen in her 20s was caught after police received a tip she was running a "drug den" in the Diera area of Dubai.

An Emirati police officer told the Dubai Court of First Instance that they had been tipped in December that the woman was selling drugs from her apartment. "Our sources informed us that she used her flat in Deira area of Dubai as a drugs den and she was trading with customers there," the Emirati officer said. "We sent an undercover policeman to her flat and he bought a cigarette for dhs30. She was possessing many cigarettes full with marijuana and she confessed to us that she used to sell them for dhs30 each."

That converts to about $8.10. At the same per joint rate, the young woman's entire stash would be worth less than $130.

The woman also tested positive for unspecified drugs. That alone is enough to get you imprisoned in the UAE, which has snared not only its own citizens but also unwary travelers passing through Dubai International Airport, who with depressing regularity receive four-year prison sentences for a positive drug test or possession of even the tiniest detectable traces of drugs.

The young woman had denied all charges. Her lawyer has vowed to appeal, but barring a successful appeal or pardon, she would not be eligible to be released and deported for at least 25 years.

Dubai court officials were fine with that. "The law orders us to sentence anyone trading with any amount of drugs to life in jail. Even if the amount is a few grams, it's still trading," one told 7 News. "This verdict is sending out a clear message to anyone trading with drugs that this business can ruin your life."

Or, more accurately, the Dubai courts can.

Latin America: Mexican Drug War Week in Review

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 4,000 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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poster of assassinated human rights advocate Ricardo Murillo
Wednesday, July 29

- In Veracruz, gunmen set fire to the home of a police commander, killing him, his wife, and his four children ranging in ages from 6 to 15. Jesus Antonio Romero, 39, was deputy operations coordinator for the Veracruz-Boca del Rio area. Initial reports indicate that the fire began after the gunmen hurled grenades at the house.

- In Acapulco, the body of Juan Daniel Martinez, 48, a newscaster for W radio, was found beaten, gagged and partially buried. Martinez covered a wide range of topics, including crime. Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least 10 were killed in 2008. In a separate incident Wednesday, a federal agent who had been investigating the November killing of Armando Rodriguez -- another journalist -- was killed at his home in Ciudad Juarez.

Friday, July 31

- Six people were killed in Ciudad Juarez when six heavily armed gunmen burst into a pool-hall and opened fire. Five men and a woman were killed, while two others were seriously wounded.

- In total, at least 26 people were killed in drug-related violence in a 24-hour period. Among them were a police commander in Aguascalientes, two municipal police officers in Michoacan, and a city official in Mexico City. In Ciudad Juarez, the body of a suspected kidnapper was found with his head, hands, and feet cut off.

Monday, August 3

- In Chihuahua, three members of a Mennonite community were killed after being involved in a car accident with gunmen fleeing police. The four gunmen were killed instantly, and police at the scene recovered automatic weapons and grenades. Elsewhere across Mexico, four drug-related killings were reported in Guanajuato, Sinaloa and Guerrero. In Zacatecas, a firefight ensued after a botched kidnapping of three brothers.

Thursday, August 6

- Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has delayed the release of a report needed to free some $100 million in military aid to the Mexican government. Leahy cited human rights and accountability concerns. "The Congress provides 85% of the aid without conditions, but there needs to be evidence that the military is accountable to the rule of law. Those requirements have not been met, so it is premature to send the report to Congress," he said. Leahy went on to say that "as long as the demand for drugs in the United States and the flow of guns to Mexico continue at these levels, it will be difficult to neutralize the cartels."

Friday, August 7

- At least 25 people were killed in drug-related violence across the Mexican states of Hidalgo and Chihuahua, In Hidalgo, at least twelve people were killed in a gun battle between cartel gunmen and police, three of them police. The firefight began when police encountered three trucks with heavily armed men transporting three kilos of cocaine and $99,000. At least 13 people were killed in Chihuahua, with eight of those deaths occurring in Ciudad Juarez.

Saturday, August 8

- In Tijuana, Mexican police arrested a top Tijuana cartel official, nicknamed "El Jimmy." Manuel Ivanovich Zambrano is the third most wanted man on the DEA's Tijuana cartel list, and is thought to be part of a new generation of drug traffickers operating in the area under the command of Fernando Sanchez Arellano, also known as "El Ingeniero" (The Engineer).

Sunday, August 9

- In Monterrey, a Mexican lawyer who represented drug traffickers and had suffered at least four previous attempts on her life, was shot dead. Silvia Raquenel Villanueva, 55,was reportedly shot dead by three gunmen as she shopped on a city street in broad daylight.

Monday, August 10

- Federal police arrested a drug cartel member suspected of plotting to kill President Calderon, according to Ramon Pequeno, the head of Mexico's federal anti-drug unit. Dimas Diaz-the alleged chief financial operator of the Pacific cartel- was arrested on Sunday (August 9) in Culiacan, Sinaloa. The assassination plot is thought to be in retaliation to a 2007 drug bust in which 26 tons of cocaine arriving from Colombia were seized in the port city of Manzanillo.

- According to the AP, US oil refineries have bought millions of dollars worth of oil illegally siphoned from Mexican pipelines and smuggled into the United States, sometimes by drug trafficking organizations. At least one American oil executive has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a case that involved some $2 million in smuggled oil. In at least one instance, the Zetas organization is known to have used false import documents to smuggle loads of oil to American refineries. Earlier in the year, 149 bank accounts related to the Zetas side-business in oil were frozen.

- In another exclusive report, an AP investigation concluded that US law enforcement officers who are working along the US-Mexican border are being charged with criminal corruption in record numbers. The investigation found that over 80 US law enforcement personnel have been convicted on corruption-related charges since 2007.

- During his visit to Mexico, President Obama applauded Mexico's anti-drug efforts. "I have great confidence in President Calderon's administration," he said. For his part, President Calderon expressed concerns about the delay in US financial aid to the Mexican government and security forces.

Total reported body count for the last two weeks: 266

Total reported body count for the year: 4,213

Read last issue's Mexico drug war report here.)

Hemp: Oregon Governor Signs Farming Bill Into Law

Oregon became the 17th state to pass legislation favorable to hemp farming and the ninth state to remove legal barriers to farming the potentially lucrative crop as Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) last week signed into law SB 676, an industrial hemp act sponsored by state Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D). The bill removes all state legal obstacles to growing hemp for food, fiber, and other industrial purposes. Industrial hemp production remains prohibited under federal law.

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hemp plants (Luke Zigovitz for votehemp.com)
The bill passed the House by a vote of 46-11 and the Senate by an overwhelming margin of 27-2. It sets up a state-regulated program for farmers to grow hemp.

"I am glad that Oregon has joined the other states that have agreed that American farmers should have the right to reintroduce industrial hemp as an agricultural crop," said Prozanski. "By signing SB 676 into law, which passed the Oregon Legislature with strong bi-partisan support, Governor Kulongoski has taken a proactive position allowing our farmers the right to grow industrial hemp, to provide American manufacturers with domestically-grown hemp, and to profit from that effort."

"Oregon's federal delegation can now take this law to the US Congress and call for a fix to this problem, so American companies will no longer need to import hemp and American farmers will no longer be denied a profitable new crop," said Patrick Goggin, director of the industry lobbying group Vote Hemp. "Under current federal policy, industrial hemp can be imported, but it cannot be grown by American farmers. Hemp is an environmentally-friendly crop that has not been grown commercially in the US for over fifty years because of a politicized and misguided interpretation of the nation's drug laws by the DEA."

Hemp is a member of the cannabis family, but is distinguished from smokeable marijuana by its low THC content and its lanky, fibrous appearance. The Oregon law specifies that industrial hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC. So does pending federal legislation, HR 1866, sponsored by Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), which would remove low-THC hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and thus the DEA's domain.

According to the industry trade group the Hemp Industries Association, annual retail sales for hemp products in the last year were approximately $360 million. Because of the DEA ban on domestic hemp production, every ounce of hemp used in those products had to be imported.

The eight other states that have removed barriers to hemp production or research are Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia. Oregon joins North Dakota as the only states that do not require farmers to obtain federal permits from the DEA to grow hemp.

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