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Kiwi Banker Reveals His Part in Mexico's Drug Prohibition War

Location: 
Mexico
A Kiwi-born banker has revealed chilling details of his undercover life working for vicious, prohibition-created South American drug trafficking organizations, including watching a hit squad execute and dismember a group of people in front of him. He claims he was approached by the US Drug Enforcement Agency after striking up friendships with Mexican cartel bankers while in jail for conspiring to defraud.
Publication/Source: 
TVNZ (New Zealand)
URL: 
http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/kiwi-banker-reveals-his-part-in-mexico-s-drug-war-4000611

Providers to Help Form DEA Policy on Long-Term Care Facilities' Disposal of Unwanted Controlled Substances

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is looking to modify its policies regarding the disposal of powerful medications that long-term care facilities need to discard. Providers, including the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, have submitted comments for the DEA's public meeting, which will be held next Wednesday and Thursday in Washington. Among the hottest topics will be the DEA's concern that abusers might devise new and unwanted pathways to re-route controlled substances from intended destruction.
Publication/Source: 
McKnight's Long-Term Care News (NY)
URL: 
http://www.mcknights.com/providers-to-help-form-dea-policy-on-long-term-care-facilities-disposal-of-unwanted-controlled-substances/article/194289/

DEA Emergency Ban on Synthetic Marijuana NOT in Effect

Contrary to previous reports that a DEA emergency ban on synthetic cannabinoids had gone into effect on December 24, that emergency ban has been delayed. The DEA published a notice in the federal register dated January 7 that its November 24 notice of intent to institute an emergency ban had to be revised due to "administrative errors."

Still legal under federal law -- at least for now. (image via Wikimedia)
Sold under a variety of names, including Spice and K2, the synthetic cannabinoid products have been criminalized in about a dozen states, with more states on track to join the list.

DEA spokesperson Barbara Carreno confirmed to the Chronicle January 13 that the ban was not yet in effect. "We're still writing the regulations," she said, explaining that, "While we must give the public 30 days notice, that doesn't mean it automatically becomes illegal. We're working diligently on it and hoping to get it done quickly."

The delay was forced by legal challenges from the Retail Compliance Association, a newly-formed retailers' organization created to block the DEA ban. "They need to stop hurting the small businesses that sell these products, and at least have a grip on the basics of the laws that govern their actions" said Dan Francis, the group's executive director, in a press release. "These rule do apply to them, they can't just declare that they don't and have it that way, we are a country of laws, passed by congress, not dictated by the DEA."
 

Washington, DC
United States

Meet Mephedrone, the Latest "Drug Menace" [FEATURE]

Poison control centers, hospital emergency rooms, and law enforcement are all raising the alarm about a new, uncontrolled stimulant drug, and the first moves to ban the drug at the state level have already taken place. But the DEA has yet to act, and drug policy analysts say that a reflexive move to ban the drug may not be the answer.

Going, going, gone in Louisiana. Who's next?
The drug is 4-methylmethcathinone, also known as mephedrone, a synthetic derivative of cathinone, the psychoactive stimulant found in the khat plant. (To be completely accurate, there are actually a number of methcathinone analogues involved, but for brevity's sake we will refer simply to mephedrone.) It produces a stimulant effect that users have likened to that of cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamines, or Ritalin.

The drug is being sold as bath salts, plant food, or plant fertilizer and typically marketed with the words "not for human consumption" under product names including Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky, Pure Ivory, and Sextacy. Marketers also use names with a local charge, such as Hurricane Charlie in Louisiana and White Lightning in Kentucky.

After hysterical press coverage of unproven mephedrone overdose deaths in England early last year, the drug was banned in the United Kingdom, and in November, the European Union banned mephedrone in member countries, citing a risk assessment from the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA).

But while that risk assessment found that mephedrone can cause acute health problems and lead to dependence, it found only tenuous links between mephedrone and any alleged fatalities. The risk assessment also cautioned that banning the drug could create its own problems. "Control measures could create an illegal market in mephedrone with the associated risk of criminal activity," EMCDDA warned.

But the European Union didn't listen, and now, politicians in the US states where mephedrone is most prevalent, are jumping on the ban bandwagon. Last week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) issued an emergency rule making the possession, distribution, or manufacture of mephedrone illegal and placing it in Schedule 1 of the state's controlled substances act. That means violators could face up to 30 years in prison.

"These drugs have crept into our communities and they are hurting our kids," said Jindal as he announced the rule. "We have to do everything in our power to protect our children and to make sure our streets are safe for our families. The reality is that the chemicals used to make these dangerous substances have no legitimate use other than to provide a high for the user. Today’s announcement gives our law enforcement officials the tools they need to crack down on the people pushing these dangerous drugs. Indeed, our law enforcement officials can immediately take these drugs off the shelf -- and at the same time, it's now illegal to possess and use these dangerous chemicals."

This week, neighboring Mississippi is moving against the substance. At least two bills to ban mephedrone have been introduced and are moving through committees. The bills are likely to be combined. As in Louisiana, the bills envision harsh penalties, with offenders facing up to 20 years in prison.

News media reports warning of the new "menace" and urging authorities to act have also appeared in Georgia and Texas. Such news reports are often a precursor to legislative or administrative action.

That these first moves to ban mephedrone are taking place on the Gulf Coast makes sense because that is where the drug has made the deepest inroads. Louisiana Poison Control Center director Dr. Mark Ryan went public with news of mounting calls about mephedrone just before Christmas, and on Monday, the American Association of Poison Control Centers issued a nationwide alert about mephedrone.

The alert shows that, at this point, mephedrone is very much a regional phenomenon. Poison control centers around the country have taken more than 300 calls about mephedrone, 69 of them in just the first days of 2011. While poison centers representing 25 states have received calls, 165 of them were in Louisiana. Kentucky was second with 23 calls. In the Upper Midwest, however, there have been no calls about mephedrone.

"We got notice a few weeks ago about reports from other poison centers, but we're not aware of any coming to our regional center," said Rachel Brandt of the Sanford Poison Control Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which covers Minnesota and the Dakotas.

It's a much different story in Louisiana. "We got our first case on September 29 and shortly thereafter we began getting calls just about every day," said the Louisiana Poison Control Center's Dr. Ryan. "We reported to the state health department that this was coming up on our radar, that we were getting people with bizarre, off-the-wall symptoms, with some of them staying in the hospital for five to seven days and the symptoms not resolving very well. The state became very concerned, and so did we as the number of calls continued to increase."

According to Dr. Ryan, adverse responses to mephedrone can be extreme. "We are seeing people describing intense cravings even though they don't like the high," he said. "We're seeing guys discharged from the hospital showing up again a few days later. We're seeing people who are very anxious or suffering from extreme paranoia, we're seeing people with suicidal thoughts, we're seeing people with delusions and hallucinations. A common thread is that they describe monsters, aliens, or demons."

But while the adverse reactions can be disturbing, and while three deaths have been "linked" to mephedrone, there have been no verified mephedrone overdose fatalities. In one case, a 21-year-old man named Dickie Sanders committed suicide three days after ingesting mephedrone. Louisiana media also referred to two other deaths "linked" to the substance, but the connection to mephedrone use remains unproven.

"They're saying the other two are related, but there is no toxicology to back that up," said Dr. Ryan.

Dealing with new designer drugs is difficult and frustrating, Dr. Ryan said. "We banned six different substances after looking at the ones abused in European countries," he said. "But you can't ban everything, and you could make a different designer cathinone every day. It's like a cat chasing its tail."

The DEA is also taking a look at mephedrone. But unlike state legislators, which can act without the least bit of evidence, the DEA is charged with actually finding good reasons to add a new drug to the list of proscribed or controlled substances. While more than a dozen states have criminalized the psychedelic salvia divinorum based on little more than the fear someone somewhere might get high on something legally, the DEA has had salvia on its radar as a drug of concern for nearly a decade, but has yet to find the evidence it needs to schedule it. On the other hand, the DEA is susceptible to political pressure, as indicated by its quick action last November to ban synthetic cannabinoids after being asked to do so by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Mephedrone has been on the DEA's radar since at least September 2009, when an analysis of drug samples containing mephedrone was published in the agency's Microgram Bulletin. But a DEA spokesman told the Chronicle this week the agency has yet to act.

"This is a drug of concern," said DEA public information officer Michael Sanders. "We're looking into it right now. We see those drugs out there, but there is a lot of research that goes into actually scheduling something."

The DEA may be well served by not rushing to judgment, said drug policy analyst Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. Prohibiting drugs has not worked in the past and there is no reason to assume it will now, he argued.

"Regulation is pretty much always better than prohibition because it means you can actually control the drug," he said. "You can regulate potency, quality, and all that stuff, but prohibiting it just drives it further into an unregulated market. Prohibition certainly has not controlled cocaine, ecstasy, or meth," Piper pointed out.

"It seems really strange that the political position around drugs in this country is that the only drugs people can legally use from now until the end of time are apparently alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine," Piper said. "And at least two of those substances are more dangerous than most of the other drugs. Every new substance is either banned immediately or eventually. This should be something for policymakers and voters to discuss and debate instead of just having knee-jerk responses."

That unfortunately has yet to happen, for mephedrone or for most drugs, and the drive to prohibit mephedrone is gaining steam.

Hearing Delayed on Medical Marijuana Case After Compassion Clubs Objects to DEA Obtaining Confidential State Records

Location: 
MI
United States
The Michigan Association of Compassion Clubs filed an emergency motion to halt the federal government's efforts to gain access to confidential medical marijuana records compiled by the state.
Publication/Source: 
The Grand Rapids Press (MI)
URL: 
http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/01/hearing_delayed_on_medical-mar.html

Tell Obama to End Federal Interference with State Medical Marijuana Laws (Action Alert)

 

Patients, Activists, and Concerned Citizens

The Federal Government has shown increased activity in medical marijuana communities across the country by raiding cultivators and dispensaries, subpoenaing patient medical records, and jeopardizing patient rights.  These actions are inconsistent with the spirit of Attorney General Holder's memo suggesting patients and other community members in compliance with state laws are safe from federal interference.  When will it end?

Tell the DEA to Step Away!  Call the White House today by calling 202-456-1414 and tell President Obama to end the hypocrisy by ending federal raids and interference today!

Script:

Violations of state and local laws are not in the purview of the federal government. The DEA and Federal Government need to let the state and local governments do their job!  Medical marijuana states are capable and equipped to enforce medical marijuana laws and address any violations.  The recent increase in federal raids and interference is not only aggressive and harmful towards our community; it also detracts from the state's ability to implement state law.  Please, tell the DEA to GO AWAY!

Thank you.


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Americans for Safe Access

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Use of National Guard in Legal Michigan Medical Marijuana Grow Raid Raises Questions

Location: 
MI
United States
The ACLU of Michigan says it is too early to tell if the use of National Guard assets was legal, or if the DEA was right to conduct the raid. "This situation seems to raise more questions than answers. The federal government has a policy of not enforcing federal marijuana laws where state medical marijuana laws are being followed," said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. "However, if a grow operation is being conducted outside of the confines of the MMMA, federal law enforcement may have reason to investigate and act." Gov. Rick Snyder’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this situation.
Publication/Source: 
The Michigan Messenger (DC)
URL: 
http://michiganmessenger.com/45414/use-of-national-guard-in-federal-raid-raises-questions

Did CVS Buy Its Way Out of a Meth Indictment? [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by Clarence Walker

[Editor's Note: Clarence Walker is a veteran Houston-based journalist who writes on criminal justice issues and who dearly wishes this piece was called "CVS in the Hood." He wishes all readers a Happy New Year! Walker can be reached at cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com.]

Drug agents across the land pursue their endless war against methamphetamine with relentless vigor, busting tweakers daily and breathlessly trumpeting the seizure of yet another "meth lab," which these days often consists of no more than a couple of soda pop bottles and a few chemicals available from your general store. Yet in the relentless campaign against meth and its manufacturers, it seems some are more equal than others.

CVS, the largest operator of pharmacies in the United States, confessed back in October that it knowingly allowed crystal meth manufacturers to illegally buy large amounts of pseudoephedrine (PSE), an active ingredient used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. To avoid criminal prosecution, CVS officials agreed to pay the federal government a $75 million fine for narcotics violations, the largest cash money penalty in the 40-year history of the Controlled Substances Act.

Although pseudoephedrine is a common ingredient in over the counter cold medications and is legal to purchase from drug stores in Canada and the US, because it can also be used to make methamphetamine, it is illegal for pharmacies to sell a person more than 3 1/2 grams of PSE per day. But DEA and state narcotic officers eventually learned that meth cooks were able to get around the law by employing "smurfs" -- people working with meth cooks who make repeated legal purchases of PSE at numerous different pharmacies.

As early as 2007, dealers targeted CVS, and according to the DEA, the top CVS officials were warned by employees of the illegal violations. DEA reported that the pharmacy's head honchos ignored the warnings and demanded the workers continue selling the large amounts of PSE in California and Nevada.

Authorities say CVS in effect assisted meth cookers by failing to provide adequate safeguards to monitor the legal amount of PSE that customers could buy. DEA said the violations occurred not only in California and Nevada, but in Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina and 23 other states currently under investigation. Between September 2007 and November 2008, CVS's illegal practice of overselling PSE products caused the DEA to tag them as the largest suppliers of pseudoephedrine to meth traffickers in Southern California.

US Assistant Attorney Shana Mintz said, "Rather than choosing to over-comply with the law like their competitors did, they knowingly under-complied with the law."

Federal agents began investigating CVS in 2008 after pseudoephedrine seized at Southern California meth labs was traced back to the pharmacy chain. News media stories reported that CVS installed an automated system called Meth Tracker to track individual sales but that the mechanism didn't stop multiple same-day purchases.

Around Los Angeles, smurfs would hit CVS locations and raid the shelves of PSE products and cough and cold medicine tablets. Prosecutors said that in LA County alone over a 10-month period in 2008, sales of pseudoephedrine products such as Contac, Sudafed, Dimetapp and Chlor-Trimeton increased more than 150% over the same period in 2007.

"CVS knew it had a duty to prevent methamphetamine trafficking, but failed to take steps to control the sale of a regulated drug used by meth traffickers as an essential ingredient for their poisonous stew," said US Attorney Andre Birotte in a statement after the settlement. "This case shows what happens when companies fail to follow their ethical and legal responsibilities," he added.

"This historic settlement underscores DEA's commitment to protect the public's health and safety against the scourge of methamphetamine," said Michele Leonhart, the acting administrator of the DEA, in a statement.  "CVS's flagrant violation of the law resulted in the company becoming a direct link in the meth suppy chain."

While the feds were busy patting themselves on the back, CVS was busy absolving itself. In a statement, CVS Chairman and CEO Thomas Ryan said, "We have resolved this issue which resulted from a breakdown in CVS/pharmacy's normally high management and oversight standards."  The lapse, Ryan said, "was an unacceptable breach of the company's policies and was totally inconsistent with our values."

Small-time meth cooks are routinely sent to prison for years for "drug manufacturing," and people who help them out by buying small amounts of PSE go up the river for conspiracy, but not corporate criminals like CVS. Did the millions CVS paid the government keep company leaders from being indicted on drug charges?

During the DEA investigation of the CVS pharmacies, over 50 people were charged with possession with intent to manufacture methamphetamine for purchasing the PSE products they bought illegally from CVS stores. Each defendant faces prison time, while CVS officials who knowingly allowed the illegal purchase of the drugs get off scot free by paying millions that eventually will be recouped.

The arrest of the CVS smurfs sparked a heated debate about equal justice and disparities in the treatment of small-time smurfs and big-time corporate entities. "It doesn't seem fair to let those like CVS that ignored the law and sold massive amounts of an ingredient to make that poison get away with just a fine. Yes, it's a hefty one, but they'll probably just raise prices to offset it," said Dean Becker, the Houston-based host of KPFT radio.

"As always, the powers that be are utilizing fear and loathing to continue their eternal war. CVS and all the corporations that are subject to the oversight of the DEA are pawns in the game of fear," said Becker. "Why are people using CVS to make speed?"

Attorney Diane Bass says her client has been punished disproportionately while corporate decision-makers go free.
No one is more infuriated with the disparity in treatments of drug offenders, particularly in the CVS case, than California attorney Diane Bass.  Based in Laguna Beach, California, Bass represents one of the female defendants charged in federal court with possession with intent to manufacture the PSE drugs purchased from CVS.

"If this was any other drug case, CVS would be the 'source' of the drugs the government would be most interested in prosecuting, and CVS would receive the longest sentence," she told the Chronicle. "Here, CVS paid a fine of $75 million and walked away without facing criminal prosecution while the small players like my client who are meth addicts trying to earn a few bucks to buy their drugs are facing excessively long prison sentences. This isn't fair. It's outrageous!" Bass said.

"In my client's case, she needed the money to buy her medication for her illness. She's on SSI and had no money to pay for her medicine," the defense attorney explained. "These are certainly not the people that Congress intended to punish when it promulgated the PSE sentencing guidelines. I believe they intended to punish those who actually manufactured methamphetamine -- those whom my client sold the PSE cold medicine to."

Bass complained the disparity in treatment in this case is so unfair she will fight tooth-and-nail for her client to show how corporations break the law an only pay a fine, while the small fry goes to prison.

While corporate behemoths like CVS can buy their way out of trouble, that's not necessarily the case for Ma-and-Pa operations, like that of Oklahoma pharmacist Haskell Lee Evans Jr., 68, a member of the State Board of Health, who was recently indicted for "recklessly" selling pseudoephedrine to make crystal meth -- the same act committed by CVS.

Evans, the owner of Haskell's Prescription Shop in Lawton, Oklahoma, allegedly sold pseudoephedrine to undercover agents with valid licenses who had not exceeded the limit of purchase. The PSE sales were considered "reckless" on one count because the agents arrived in the same vehicle to do a purchase. Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmonson is aiming to convict Evans on all accounts and ask a judge to dump him in prison for up to 43 years. Supporters of Haskell Evans are urging pharmacists to join a Facebook page called Pharmacists and Citizens in support of Haskell Evans.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the year-end holiday season, attorney Diane Bass reflected on the year ahead as she prepared to battle the federal government. She intends to ask the court to lessen her client's penalty due to the improper dispensing of the PSE drugs by CVS to the defendant.

"The federal sentencing guidelines in my client's case calls for a sentence around 188 months due to the fact she and her co-defendants purchased several thousand milligrams of pseudoephedrine from CVS," she said. "I have requested that the US attorney recommend a variance or departure based on the fact except for CVS' illegal sales to customers of more than 3.6 grams per day or 9 grams per month, my client never would have been able to purchase the amount she purchased. I believe she should only be sentenced as if she had purchased 9 grams per month which would result in a 60 month variance. Hopefully, since my client suffers from serious medical conditions and has had a tragic life, the court will grant a further down departure in sentencing."

A poor, sick, drug addicted woman's lawyer fights to get her sentence reduced to only 10 years for buying too much of a legal, over-the-counter medicinal product, while CVS gets off the hook by paying millions and has the opportunity to make millions more by staying in business. Disparate justice isn't just about race in America, it's also about class.

Feds Taking Michigan to Court to Get Access to Some Medical Marijuana Records

Location: 
MI
United States
Michigan's Department of Community Health is refusing to voluntarily turn over the records of seven medical marijuana patients to the federal government. The federal government is now taking the state to court to get them.
Publication/Source: 
Michigan Radio (MI)
URL: 
http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/michigan/news.newsmain/article/1/0/1745280/Michigan.News/Feds.taking.Michigan.to.court.to.get.access.to.some.medical.marijuana.records

Federal Fake Marijuana Ban Challenged

Location: 
Duluth, MN
United States
A Duluth man is now part of the first lawsuit challenging a federal ban on several ingredients found in synthetic marijuana products. Jim Carlson owns Last Place on Earth in downtown Duluth. He was already challenging the city's ban on fake pot ingredients.
Publication/Source: 
WDIO (MN)
URL: 
http://www.wdio.com/article/stories/S1901571.shtml?cat=10335

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