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Europe: Czech Government Announces Decriminalization Quantities; Law Goes Into Effect on New Year’s Day

The Czech cabinet Monday approved a Justice Ministry proposal that sets personal use quantity limits for illicit drugs under a penal code revision that decriminalizes drug possession in the Czech Republic. The law and its quantity limits will take effect on January 1. The Czech government had approved the decriminalization law late last year, but failed to set precise quantities covered by it, instead leaving it to police and prosecutors to determine what constituted a “larger than small” amount of drugs. The resulting confusion--and the prosecution of some small-scale marijuana growers as drug traffickers--led the government to adopt more precise criteria. Under the new law, possession of less than the following amounts of illicit drugs will not be a criminal offense: Marijuana 15 grams (or five plants) Hashish 5 grams Magic mushrooms 40 pieces Peyote 5 plants LSD 5 tablets Ecstasy 4 tablets Amphetamine 2 grams Methamphetamine 2 grams Heroin 1.5 grams Coca 5 plants Cocaine 1 gram Possession of “larger than a small amount” of marijuana can result in a jail sentence of up to one year. For other illicit drugs, the sentence is two years. Trafficking offenses carry stiffer sentences. Justice Minister Daniela Kovarova said that the ministry had originally proposed decriminalizing the possession of up to two grams of hard drugs, but decided that limits being imposed by courts this year were appropriate. "The government finally decided that it would stick to the current court practice and drafted a table based on these limits," Kovarova said. The Czech Republic now joins Portugal as a European country that has decriminalized drug possession.
Location: 
Prague
Czech Republic
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Congressional Budget Deal Allows Federal Funding for Needle Exchange and Medical Marijuana in the Nation's Capital

US House and Senate negotiators in conference committee approved the finishing touches on the Fiscal Year 2010 budget Tuesday night, and they included a number of early Christmas presents for different drug reform constituencies. But it isn’t quite a done deal yet--this negotiated version of the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act must now win final approved in up-or-down, no-amendments-allowed floor votes in the House and the Senate. What the conference committee approved: * Ending the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs--without previous language that would have banned them from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, and similar facilities. * Ending the ban on the use of federal funds for needle exchanges in the District of Columbia. * Allowing the District of Columbia to implement the medical marijuana initiative passed by voters in 1998 and blocked by congressional diktat ever since. * Cutting funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign from $70 million this year to $45 million next year. In a news release after agreement was reached, this is how the committee described the language on needle exchange:
Modifies a prohibition on the use of funds in the Act for needle exchange programs; the revised provision prohibits the use of funds in this Act for needle exchange programs in any location that local public health or law enforcement agencies determine to be inappropriate
Its description of the DC appropriations language:
Removing Special Restrictions on the District of Columbia:...Also allows the District to implement a referendum on use of marijuana for medical purposes as has been done in other states, allows use of Federal funds for needle exchange programs except in locations considered inappropriate by District authorities.
And its language on the youth media campaign:
National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: $45 million, $25 million below 2009 and the budget request, for a national ad campaign providing anti-drug messages directed at youth. Reductions were made in this program because of evaluations questioning its effectiveness. Part of the savings was redirected to other ONDCP drug-abuse-reduction programs.
Citing both reforms in the states--from medical marijuana to sentencing reform--as well as the conference committee’s actions, Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann stopped just short of declaring victory Wednesday. “It’s too soon to say that America’s long national nightmare – the war on drugs – is really over,” said Nadelmann. “But yesterday’s action on Capitol Hill provides unprecedented evidence that Congress is at last coming to its senses when it comes to national drug control policy.” But, as noted above, there are still two votes to go, and DPA is applying the pressure until it is a done deal. “Hundreds of thousands of Americans will get HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C if Congress does not repeal the federal syringe funding ban,” said Bill Piper, DPA national affairs director. “The science is overwhelming that syringe exchange programs reduce the spread of infectious diseases without increasing drug use. We will make sure the American people know which members of Congress stand in the way of repealing the ban and saving lives.” Washington, DC, residents got a two-fer from the committee when it approved ending the ban on the District funding needle exchanges and undoing the Barr Amendment, the work of erstwhile drug warrior turned reformer former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), which forbade the District from implementing the 1998 medical marijuana initiative, which won with 69% of the vote. “Congress is close to making good on President Obama’s promise to stop the federal government from undermining local efforts to provide relief to cancer, HIV/AIDS and other patients who need medical marijuana,” said Naomi Long, the DC Metro director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “DC voters overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana for medical use and Congress should have never stood in the way of implementing the will of the people.” "The end of the Barr amendment is now in sight,” said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This represents a huge victory not just for medical marijuana patients, but for all city residents who have every right to set their own policies in their own District without congressional meddling. DC residents overwhelmingly made the sensible, compassionate decision to pass a medical marijuana law, and now, more than 10 years later, suffering Washingtonians may finally be allowed to focus on treating their pain without fearing arrest." Medical marijuana in the shadow of the Capitol? Federal dollars being spent on proven harm reduction techniques? Congress not micromanaging DC affairs? What is the world, or at least Washington, coming to?
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
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Prosecution: No More Crack Pipe Felonies for Houston

Prosecution: No More Crack Pipe Felonies for Houston Beginning January 1, prosecutors in Harris County, Texas, will no longer file felony drug charges against people found with less than one one-hundreth of a gram of illegal drugs. Currently in Houston, people caught with trace amounts of drug or holding crack pipes with drug traces are routinely charged with felonies. But under a new policy promulgated by Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos, police are instructed to instead issue Class C misdemeanor tickets to people caught in possession of crack pipes or trace amounts of drugs. That means arrestees will face only a $500 fine, not the up to two years in state jail mandated by the felony charge. The cops are not happy. “It ties the hands of the officers who are making crack pipe cases against burglars and thieves,” said Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union. “A crack pipe is not used for anything but smoking crack by a crack head. Crack heads, by and large, are also thieves and burglars. They're out there committing crimes,” he told the Houston Chronicle. But Lykos told the Chronicle there were good reasons to change the policy. Less than one-hundreth of a gram of a drug is not enough for more than one drug test, and defense attorneys often want to run their own tests, she said.
Location: 
Houston, TX
United States
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Medical Marijuana: LA City Council Votes to Cap Medical Marijuana Dispensaries at 70

Under a measure passed Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council, the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city will shrink by more than 90%. The council voted to cap the number of dispensaries at 70, while recent estimates put the number of actually operating medical marijuana outlets in the city at between 800 and 1000. The vote is only the latest in the council’s torturous and twisted four-year effort to regulate the city’s booming medical marijuana retail industry. There were four dispensaries in the city when the council first tackled the issue in 2005. By the time the council issued a moratorium on new dispensaries in 2007, there were 186. In the past two years, their numbers have increased four-fold from there. Of the dispensaries that legally registered with the city prior to the moratorium, officials believe 137 are still open. Those establishments will be allowed to stay open, but may have to move to comply with restrictions on where they may locate. "I think we should hold true to those that followed the rules," said Councilman Dennis Zine, explaining why he voted to reward dispensaries that were legally registered. If Los Angeles actually does cap dispensaries at 70, that will mean roughly one dispensary for every 50,000 residents. In Oakland, the only other large city in the state to impose a cap, four dispensaries serve 100,000 residents each. Other, smaller, California cities with caps include Berkeley (one dispensary for each 34,000 residents), Palm Springs (one for each 24,000 residents), West Hollywood (one for every 9,000 residents), and Sebastopol (one for every 3,500 residents). The council will continue working on its medical marijuana dispensary regulation ordinance tomorrow (Wednesday), and could even see a final vote then.
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States
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Europe: Czech Government Decriminalizes Up To Five Pot Plants, 15 Grams

Beginning January 1, possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana or up to five marijuana plants will not be a punishable offense in the Czech Republic. Likewise, people will be able to possess up to 40 hallucinogenic mushrooms. The limits were announced Tuesday after they were decided on by the cabinet. Late last year, the Czech parliament approved a new penal code that specified no punishment for the possession of “small amounts” of drugs. But the code did not specify just what constituted a “small amount,” with the result that police sometimes charged people, especially home pot growers with more serious offenses. The task of formalizing those limits has been taken up by the Justice Ministry, which submits its proposals to the cabinet. The ministry has also proposed setting the “small amount” limits for ecstasy at four tablets and for hashish at five grams. Similarly, people could possess up to two grams of methamphetamine without fear of punishment. The cabinet will consider those proposals in two weeks. Possession of amounts greater than “small amounts,” but less than those assumed to indicate drug trafficking, will result of prison sentences of up to one year for marijuana and up to two years for other drugs. According to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction‘s latest annual report, Czechs are among Europe’s leading pot smokers. Among young Czechs (age 16 to 34), 22% toke up at least once a year. The European average was 16%.
Location: 
Prague
Czech Republic
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Latin America: Top Honduran Anti-Drug Official Assassinated

The top Honduran anti-drug official was ambushed and killed today by hit men on motorcycles as he drove alone through the capital, Tegucigalpa. Former army Gen. Julian Aristides Gonzales, 57, director of the Office for Combating Drug Trafficking, died after being hit by multiple shots from the gunmen, who escaped. Gonzalez had complained of receiving death threats from drug traffickers in the past. He was set to retire in two months and move to Canada. "We regret the death of this man who offered his life for the welfare of Hondurans," national police spokesman Orlin Cerrato said. "By the decency of his actions, he unleashed a real battle against the main vice that besets humanity." Along with the other Central American republics, Honduras is a key transit country for cocaine smuggled out of South America and destined for the insatiable markets of the north. Gonzalez’s office this year has seized five tons of cocaine out of an estimated 100 tons that transit’s the country each year. Trafficking through Honduras is believed to have intensified since the June coup that overthrew President Mel Zelaya. After the coup, the US suspended anti-drug cooperation and development aid to the rump government of interim President Roberto Micheletti. Honduran police complain that they have detected more aircraft smuggling drugs from South America since the coup, but have had less ability to stop them without US helicopters and radar. Citing worries about the increase in drug trafficking, Gonzalez held a press conference yesterday to urge the public to help the fight by reporting suspicious activity. He was dead 24 hours later.
Location: 
Tegucigalpa
Honduras
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Europe: Mayor of Amsterdam Says Cities Need Different Coffee Shop Policy From Border Towns

As the Dutch federal government ponders its next moves in its campaign against the country’s famous cannabis coffee shops, the mayor of Amsterdam is advising against a one-size-fits-all policy. The needs of major cities are different from those of border towns, and policy needs to reflect those differences, Mayor Job Cohen said. Cohen’s remarks came in a letter sent Friday to Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst. In it, Cohen argued that Amsterdam differs markedly from border towns, which are tightening up on coffee shops in the face of an influx of drug tourists from more repressive neighboring countries. Tourists in Amsterdam behave differently than the border town shoppers, he said. "Tourists in Amsterdam usually visit the capital for several days and, in addition to many other activities, sometimes also go to a coffee shop," Cohen wrote. Cohen also staked out a position against requiring membership to be able to buy marijuana at a coffee shop. That has been a proposal floated by the national government. And Cohen rejected as ineffective a ban on coffee shops with 250 yards of schools. Underage age youth are already barred from entering coffee shops, he noted, adding that most teens usually have third parties procure their drugs for them.
Location: 
Amsterdam
Netherlands
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California Tax and Regulate Cannabis Initiative Suspends Signature Gathering--Because They Have Enough Already!

The Tax and Regulate Cannabis 2010 initiative, sponsored by Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, has laid off its paid signature gatherers, saying they already have sufficient signatures to qualify for the November 2010 ballot. Lee told the Chronicle this afternoon that more than 650,000 signatures have been turned in, and that he expects an additional 50,000 or so to dribble in in the coming weeks. Precisely 433,971 valid signatures of registered California voters are required for an initiative to be approved for the ballot. That leaves Lee and the initiative a substantial cushion of about a quarter-million signatures to make up for any invalid signatures. The campaign will wait to turn in signatures until January 15. If they were turned in this month, the initiative would appear on the June ballot, not the November ballot. Lee wants the initiative on the latter. Lee's initiative, which would allow individuals up to 25 square feet to grow their own and would allow counties and municipalities to opt to tax and regulate marijuana sales on a local basis, is controversial. Some national figures believe it is premature and risks going down in flames at the polls, thus setting the movement back, while some California activists believe it does not go far enough and does not entice voters with potential revenues for the crisis-ridden state budget. But it will be on the November 2010 ballot, provided the signatures are certified by election officials in February. It may not be the only legalization initiative on the ballot. At least two other signature-gathering campaigns for competing initiatives are under way.
Location: 
Oakland, CA
United States
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Feature: Medical Marijuana Gets Historic First House Hearing in Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania House committee in Harrisburg held the first hearing ever on medical marijuana in the Keystone State today. The hearing, which featured a raft of supportive witnesses, sparked interest and questioning from legislators and left medical marijuana advocates optimistic. The hearing before the House Health and Human Services Committee was on HB 1393, introduced by Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia). The bill would provide immunity from arrest for patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other illnesses who have a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana and a registration ID card. Patients could possess an ounce of marijuana and up to six plants. The bill also provides for state-licensed compassion centers which could sell marijuana to patients. Such sales would be subject to state and local sales taxes. Witnesses included patients, medical marijuana advocates, physicians, attorneys, and a rabbi. It wasn't completely one-sided—there to testify against the bill were the Pennsylvania Elks and a woman who lost a daughter to a drug overdose. Some witness testimony tugged heart strings. In one such moment, Charles Rocha, who had travelled from Pittsburgh, told legislators how, at age 24, he obtained medical marijuana for cancer-ridden mother and how it helped her get through end of life hospice care. But Sharon Smith gave an equally emotion-laden presentation. Smith, who started a drug-treatment advocacy group after her daughter's death from a heroin overdose in 1998, worried that allowing medicinal use of marijuana would lead to drug abuse and addiction, citing supposed "abuses" that have occurred in other medical marijuana states. Smith also said legislators shouldn't be the ones deciding whether any given substance is a medicine. "Let the medical experts decide, not the legislators," she told the committee. Smith's concern about abuse potential was addressed head-on by Edward Pane, CEO of Serento Gardens Alcoholism and Drug Services, Inc. in Hazleton. He told the committee that the gateway theory had been discredited and that patients given small amounts of marijuana were unlikely to develop a physical dependency. "Concerns that the medical use of marijuana will spur individuals into the world of chemical addiction are baseless," said Pane, a part-time instructor on addictions studies at the University of Scranton. HIV sufferer Brad Walter of Larksville told the committee he smoked marijuana four or five times a day to alleviate gastrointestinal distress from the 14 pills he takes each day for his diseases. Walter said he obtained marijuana on the black market because nothing else, including Marinol, worked as well. While the committee Democrats were generally supportive, that wasn't the case with Republican committee co-chair Rep. Matt Baker (R-Wellsboro), who said that federal health officials had found little evidence of marijuana's medical benefits and that marijuana remains illegal under federal law. "I can't support the legalizing of medical marijuana," he said. Similarly, Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett, who is running for his party's gubernatorial nomination, objected. In a letter to the committee, Corbett said the measure would weaken existing drug laws and make a dangerous substance more available. With Republicans in control of the state Senate, the bill's immediate prospects are cloudy. Spokesmen for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Lawrence) have said Senate Republicans have no intention of moving on the bill even if were to pass the Democratically-controlled House. But even a House vote is a ways off. Committee Chairman Frank Oliver (D-Philadelphia) said he plans to hold hearings across the state before taking a committee vote. Still, after the session, supporters were stoked. "It was a great hearing," said Rep. Cohen, the bill's sponsor. "We moved the bill forward dramatically. There was a lot of thoughtful testimony." "I feel very positive," said Chris Goldstein of Pennsylvanians for Medical Marijuana, which has led the campaign in the Keystone Stone. "This was the first medical marijuana hearing ever in Pennsylvania, and the legislators asked a lot of good questions. This was a non-voting hearing, and we still had 18 of 26 committee members show up, and they extended the hearing an hour past when it was supposed to end." That the bill managed to get a hearing at all was a good sign, Goldstein said. "The legislature has been wrapped up dealing with the budget crisis, and there is a lot of stuff that isn’t even going to get heard. That there were hearings at all says a lot. And, frankly, we look forward to having hearings all across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." "Getting a hearing is always important, particularly in a state without a lot of progress before," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), whose Bob Ceppecchio testified at the hearing. "It has generated a lot of press interest, and even if a bill isn't going to pass immediately, the educational process takes a huge leap when you start airing the issue in this kind of official forum." "This will inevitably succeed," said addiction specialist Pane. "On one side, we have overwhelming support and the scientific evidence, and on the other side, hyperbole." Pane said he thought he had gotten through the hostility of Republican co-chair *** when he reminded legislators about how they struggled to get drug treatment resources. "People are not endangered by marijuana being in the hands of doctors, but they don't give you the resources to "I think this has a realistic chance of passing in 2010," said Goldstein. "Progress has been lightning-fast so far. We just started talking about a bill in March, it got introduced in April, it was supposed to have a hearing in September, but the budget crisis happened. A lot of important issues are getting dealt with, but medical marijuana got a hearing today."
Location: 
Harrisburg, PA
United States
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Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update--December 2

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: Friday, November 27 Twenty-three people were killed in drug-related violence in the state of Chihuahua. Eight of these killings occurred in the capital city of Chihuahua, and 12 occurred in Ciudad Juarez. In Chihuahua, four men and a teenager were killed when the vehicle in which they were traveling was ambushed by a group of gunmen. In another part of the city, an eight-year old boy was killed after being hit by a stray bullet. Among the dead in Ciudad Juarez was a woman who was badly burned after an explosive device went off in the brothel in which she was thought to work. Saturday, November 28 An army officer and six gunmen were killed in two separate gun battles in Zacatecas and Michoacan. In Zacatecas, the army repelled an attack by gunmen, killing five and capturing eight. They also seized five vehicles, weapons, clothing and food. In Michoacan, an army officer was killed after a military convoy was ambushed by gunmen in a hillside community. Two other people were killed in drug-related violence in Michoacan, six in Ciudad Juarez, and one in the greater Mexico City area. Sunday, November 29 At the Calexico, CA border crossing, authorities seized more than 6,000 pounds of marijuana hidden in a shipment of door knobs. Dogs alerted officers to the truck in which more than 458 wrapped packages of marijuana were found. A 30-year old Mexican national was taken into custody. In Tijuana, three men were shot and killed by suspected cartel gunmen wielding AK-47s. The killings came just hours after a firefight between soldiers and drug traffickers at a gas station left one soldier wounded in the foot. In another part of Baja California, six men were arrested on suspicion of being tied to a known drug trafficker, Raydel Lopez Uriarte, aka “El Muletas” (“crutches”). Seven people were killed in Chihuahua , six of whom were killed in Ciudad Juarez. One of the murders occurred just feet from soldiers that were guarding the city’s main plaza, where national security officials were meeting to analyze drug-related violence. In Chiapas, an anti-mining organizer was killed by a gunman on a motorcycle. Mariano Abarca was head of the Mexican Network of Communities Affected by Mining. In Reynosa, police rescued a US citizen that had been kidnapped a week earlier in McAllen, Texas. Raul Alvarado, 36, was forced into a vehicle at gunpoint and taken to a safehouse in Reynosa, where he was bound and beaten. His abductors demanded a ransom of $30,000 and two luxury cars. It is unclear is any ransom was paid. There has been an increase in kidnappings on the US side of the border, most of them linked to illegal activity. Tuesday, December 1 In Mexico City, a protected state witness was gunned down in a Starbucks. Edgar Enrique Bayardo, a former federal policeman, was killed by two gunmen wearing dark suits. His bodyguard was seriously injured in the attack, and a customer at a nearby table was also wounded. Bayardo was arrested last year on suspicion of being employed by the Sinaloa Cartel. Bayardo, whose lavish lifestyle raised suspicion, was made a state witness under the protection of the attorney general’s office. He had apparently been followed by gunmen for several days, and it is unclear why he was not better protected or out in public. Wednesday, December 2 In the Ciudad Juarez area, nine suspected assassins were arrested in an operation carried out by the army. The men are all suspected of working for El Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel and it’s enforcement arm, La Linea. Total Body Count for the Week: 144 Total Body Count for the Year: 6,882
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Medical Marijuana: San Diego Dispensary Operator Found Not Guilty

In a blow to hard-line San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who has yet to find a medical marijuana dispensary she considers legal and who has coordinated a series of raids on dispensaries in recent years, a jury in San Diego Tuesday acquitted the manager of a local dispensary of marijuana possession and distribution charges. Jovan Jackson, 31, a Navy veteran, cried as the not guilty verdicts were read. He was, however, convicted on possession of Ecstasy and Xanax, small quantities of which were found in his home during an August 2008 raid. Still, Jackson expressed relief outside the courthouse. "I was very thankful," Jackson said. "This has been a long road. It hasn't been easy. I felt like a lot of weight was on my shoulders." Jackson's was the first medical marijuana case to go to trial since a series of Dumanis-orchestrated raids on dispensaries in September that resulted in 31 arrests and the closing of 14 San Diego-area dispensaries. Dumanis led other mass raids in 2006 and in February of this year. Jackson operated the Answerdam Alternative Care Collective, which was twice approached by undercover officers who had fraudulently obtained medical marijuana recommendations. Since the narcs had proper documentation under California law, and once they joined the collective by paying a $20 fee, Jackson let them purchase medical marijuana. Prosecutors presented evidence of $150,000 in credit card receipts and five pounds of marijuana seized during raids at the dispensary as evidence that, "This case is about making money, plain and simple," as Deputy District Attorney Chris Lindberg put it to the jury. But a large-scale operation is not out of line for a collective that boasted 1,649 members, as defense attorney K. Lance Rogers told the jury. He also reminded jurors that the narcs had signed up for the collective under false pretenses and that state law allows medical marijuana patients to legally buy marijuana from a collective that grows it. Jurors agreed, acquitting Jackson on the marijuana charges. Jurors told reporters after the trial that they found Jackson innocent because the state laws regarding medical marijuana sales from collectives were vague. "On a personal level, if you're going to hold somebody to a law, you have to define that law," said juror Perry Wright. It's not the end for Jackson. He faces up to three years in prison on the Ecstasty and Xanax possession charges, although he will most likely receive probation. And he faces another round of marijuana distribution charges from a similar undercover buy made this year. Given the verdict in this case, DA Dumanis might want to consider whether a re-run trial is worth the taxpayers' money and whether any of her pending dispensary prosecutions should go forward. But she probably won't.
Location: 
San Diego, CA
United States
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Middle East: Hamas Adopts Tough New Drug Laws, Includes Death Penalty for Dealers

The Hamas government running the Gaza Strip has adopted a law that allows for the death penalty for drug dealing. The move came Monday with a Hamas decision to cancel Israeli military laws on drugs and replace them with Egyptian drug laws. "The government has approved a decision to cancel the Zionist (Israeli) military law with regard to drugs and enact Egyptian law 19 of 1962," Gaza Attorney General Mohammed Abed said in a statement. "The latter law is more comprehensive in terms of crime and criminals and the penalties more advanced, including life sentences and execution. The Zionist law included light punishments that encouraged rather than deterred those who take and trade in drugs, and there is no objective, national or moral justification for continuing to apply it," Abed said. The Egyptian drug law will remain in effect until the Palestinian parliament passes a new drug law. But the parliament has only met rarely since elections in 2006. The Gaza Strip was administered by Egypt from 1948 to 1967, when Israel seized the territory, along with several others, during the Six-Day War. Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from the territory in 2005, when it was under the control of the secular Fatah Party of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. But Hamas unexpectedly defeated Fatah in Gaza elections in the 2006 elections and consolidated its power in a bloody factional struggle with Fatah the following year. Because of an ongoing Israeli blockade, most goods, including illicit ones, imported into Gaza are smuggled in, primarily through a network of tunnels on the Egyptian border. But Hamas has cracked down on drug trafficking and drug traffickers, claiming more than 100 arrests, and the seizure of dozens of kilograms of drugs, mostly marijuana.
Location: 
Palestinian Territory
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Law Enforcement: Man Trying to Snuff Joint at Checkpoint Ends Up Dead; Attorney Accuses Police

A Worcester, Massachusetts, man who died after being taken into at a sobriety checkpoint near Andover last Wednesday as he tried to snuff out a marijuana joint was beaten by as many as 20 police officers, an attorney for his family said today. Kenneth Howe, 45, died at the Andover State Police Barracks when police noticed he "became unresponsive" during booking. The official version of the story, promulgated to the local media by Essex County District Attorney's Office spokesman Steven O'Connell is that Howe, a passenger in a vehicle stopped at the checkpoint, made "furtive movement," then "jumped out of the vehicle, struck the trooper, and fled." After a brief chase on foot and an "ensuing struggle," Howe was handcuffed and charged with assault and battery on a police officer. O'Connell said that Howe was taken to the Andover barracks, and, while being booked "slumped over and became unresponsive." He was taken to Lawrence General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:45 a.m. last Thursday. But today, attorney Francis King, hired by Howe's widow to represent her and her three young children, painted a starkly different picture of the events leading to Howe's death. Citing the testimony of the driver of the vehicle Howe was a passenger in, King said Howe was pulled out of the truck, beaten by police, and dragged before he collapsed next to a police cruiser. The driver has made a taped statement about what he saw that night, King said. The "furtive movements" were Howe attempting to snuff out a marijuana joint and put on his seat belt, King said. A female state trooper approached the truck, and Howe held up his hands and tried to explain that all he had in his hand was the joint. The trooper then reached into the truck, pulled Howe out, and screamed that he had assaulted her, King continued. "Our position is that he never assaulted her, "King said. Quite the contrary, se maintained: "It appears there were at least 10 to 20 officers all over the deceased, hands flailing." Howe was also "seen handcuffing and slumping to the ground, dragged over to the cruiser," she said. The sobriety checkpoint was staffed by Massachusetts State Police, North Andover police and the Essex County Sheriff's Department. It was stopping every vehicle for a "threshold observation" to check for impaired drivers, a practice upheld by the US Supreme Court. The Essex County District Attorney's Office is investigating, said O'Connell. An initial autopsy has been performed, but the cause of death has not been determined. Toxicology results are also pending. Police said they found one oxycodone tablet on Howe, for which he had a prescription. “At this point, we’re confident the Essex County DA’s office is conducting a thorough investigation and that they are taking the case very seriously,” King said. “I think it’s only fair to allow the DA to conduct an investigation.” You don't need a crystal ball to see the lawsuit waiting to be filed here. But that won't come until after the Essex County District Attorney's Office investigates and exonerates the officers involved.
Location: 
Andover, MA
United States
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Will Foster is Free! He Walked Out of Prison in Oklahoma Today

Medical marijuana patient Will Foster is a free man. According to a phone call I just received from his partner, Susan Mueller, Foster was released on parole and walked out of prison in Oklahoma today. As you who have followed the Will Foster saga know, he became a poster boy for drug war injustice when he was sentenced to a mind-blowing 93 years in prison in Oklahoma back in the 1990s for growing a closet-full of medical marijuana. Thanks in part to the efforts of Stopthedrugwar.org (then known as DRCNet), Foster eventually got his sentence cut to a mere 20 years--for growing plants!--and was eventually paroled to the care of Guru of Ganja Ed Rosenthal in California, who had taken up his case. Last year, Foster was raided and charged with an illegal marijuana grow in California, although his grow was perfectly legal under the state's medical marijuana law. He spent a year in jail in Sonoma County before prosecutors dropped all charges, but by then, Oklahoma parole authorities demanded he return to the state to finish his sentence. Foster dropped his fight against extradition and returned in September. A good sign occurred a few weeks ago, when the parole board decided he had not violated his parole and should be released. This week, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry must have agreed--he had the final say in the matter. Right now, Foster is making his way to parole offices in Oklahoma City to sign the paperwork. He should be back with his loved ones in California in a matter of days. Thanks to everyone who agitated for his release. Every once in awhile, we win one.
Location: 
Oklahoma City, OK
United States
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Canada: Montreal Heroin Maintenance Study in Doubt after Quebec Refuses to Pay

Fresh on the success of NAOMI, the North American Opiate Maintenance Initiative, in which hard-core heroin addicts in Vancouver were given either methadone, heroin, or Dilaudid in maintenance doses, Canadian researchers announced earlier this year plans to broaden and deeper their research with SALOME, the Study to Assess Long-term Opiate Maintenance Effectiveness. SALOME was supposed to begin this fall in Vancouver and Montreal, but Quebec provincial authorities have thrown a wrench in the works. The Toronto Star reported this week that Quebec has balked on paying its share of the project, stopping the Montreal portion of SALOME in its tracks. The Vancouver portion, supported by the British Columbia provincial government, is set to move forth. Quebec's refusal to pay its share—the Canadian Institutes of Health Research are kicking in $1 million for the three-year project—led Montreal's SALOME head researcher to charge the government with discrimination. The decision will have "disastrous consequences for people addicted to heroin and (who) don't respond to standard treatment," said Dr. Suzanne Brissette, chief of addiction medicine at Saint-Luc hospital. "There is no other treatment for these people." NAOMI showed that heroin maintenance worked for people for whom methadone and other forms of treatment had not, she said. Had researchers found a treatment for cancer or diabetes, Quebec would not hesitate to help fund it, she added. "It's a clear case of discrimination," she said. "We have a treatment that works and they're saying, `Sorry folks, you won't get it.'" NAOMI researchers estimate that Canada has between 60,000 and 90,000 heroin addicts. The NAOMI trials found that addicts on maintenance heroin used less illicit heroin, committed fewer crimes, and adapted healthier life-styles.
Location: 
Montreal, QC
Canada
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LA City Council Okays Sales of Medical Marijuana; Ordinance Deliberations to Continue Next Month

The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday voted to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to continue to sell their products, but failed to reach a final vote on a medical marijuana ordinance that has been years in the works. The council will return to the ordinance at its December 2 meeting. Observers had hoped the council might pass the ordinance Tuesday, but progress was derailed by contentious debate over the sales issue. LA City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley had called for an outright ban on medical marijuana sales, saying that under their reading of the state's medical marijuana laws and court decisions, sales are not allowed. Cooley has threatened to prosecute dispensaries no matter what the city council does. Council members, caught between fear of legal problems and the expressed desire of constituents for safe access to medical marijuana, had some harsh words for prosecutors. Councilmen Ed Reyes, who has been the principal in trying to write the ordinance, protested that the City Attorney's Office was trying to impose "a political view that has nothing to do with objective advice." He wasn't the only one. "I think we're getting advice from one direction," said Councilman Paul Koretz. "I would like to see the City Attorney work with us to help us get to where we want to be." In the end, the council rejected the advice of the prosecutors, instead adopting an amendment that would allow for "cash contributions, reimbursements and payments for actual expenses of growth, cultivation, and provision […] in accordance with state law." "We have some very elegant and flexible language that will adjust as state law is defined," said Council President Eric Garcetti. While the council did not succeed in passing the ordinance, it did make substantial progress. In the seven-hour-long session, it dealt with more than 50 proposed changes to the ordinance. Among other amendments considered was one by council members Koretz and Reyes that would have required police to get a court order to review dispensary records. After Councilman Jose Huizar and other members objected, saying the amendment would hamper efforts to weed out "bad" dispensaries, the amendment failed. Reyes introduced an amendment eliminating the ordinance's requirement that dispensaries have no more than five pounds of marijuana on hand and grow it on-site, but Huizar objected, saying it would encourage a black market and was "a dangerous path." "I'm not advocating for the black market, gangs, cartels to take advantage of this," Reyes retorted, "but we can't choke it to the point where it does not function." Then, Reyes withdrew his amendment, asking Huizar to draft an alternative. The council also approved an amendment limiting patients and caregivers to membership in one collective, but with a provision allowing for emergency purchases. That didn't go over well with medical marijuana advocates, who complained that it would limit access for patients. The council also adopted a series of amendments from Councilman Koretz, based on West Hollywood's ordinance regulating dispensaries. Those amendments require dispensaries to have unarmed security guards patrolling a two-block area, to deposit cash daily, and to provide contact information to police and neighbors within 500 feet. The council squabbled over a number of amendments that sought to micro-manage the dispensaries, ranging from a $100,000 salary cap to restrictions on doctors writing recommendations. "This industry is rife with people ripping off money from people who are seriously ill," said Councilman Ricardo Alarcon, who offered the salary cap amendment. "We ought to cap compensation because I believe it will be abused, people will be making millions. Those amendments excited the wrath of Councilwoman Janice Hahn."We're going too far from what we need to be doing," Hahn said with some exasperation. "Now you're going after compensation, you're going after the doctors writing these notes. If you take the logic that people in compassionate professions shouldn't be making more than $100,000, we could go after every doctor in this city. This is not what we're here for, which is to regulate these dispensaries to make sure people have safe access," she said to loud cheers from the audience. "Let's stay focused." In the end, Alarcon withdrew his amendment. City staff will instead review compensation standards for non-profit organizations and return to the issue later. After heated debate, the council also deferred action on two contentious issues: a cap on the number of dispensaries to be allowed, and location restrictions that would bar dispensaries from operating within either 500 or 1000 feet of schools, parks, and other child-friendly locations. The council asked city officials to return next week with studies on caps and maps that would demarcate what areas within the city would be okay for dispensaries. Councilmember Reyes displayed one such map at the hearing, arguing that the location limits would dramatically restrict the areas where dispensaries could operate. While the ordinance anticipates setting a cap on the number of dispensaries at 70, or one for every 57,000 residents, there were indications during the debate that members could go for a cap as high as 200, but even that would reduce the number of dispensaries in the city by 80%. There are currently an estimated one thousand dispensaries in Los Angeles. There were four when the council began working on an ordinance way back in 2005. There were 186 when the council voted to institute a moratorium two years later. The City Council will return to the medical marijuana ordinance at its December 2 meeting.
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States
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Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update--November 25

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr. [Editor's Note: We publish the Mexico Update early this week because Bernd is on his way home for Thanksgving.] 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: Thursday, November 19 In Ciudad Juarez, four policemen were killed and two were wounded in two separate incidents. According to a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Safety, unknown gunmen killed two undercover officers after opening fire on their care. Several hours later, gunmen attacked a police patrol, killing two and wounding two. A gas station attendant caught in the crossfire was also killed. Friday, November 20 In Chicago, 15 alleged members of a “command and control” group of La Familia were indicted by federal authorities. These arrests come a month 300 alleged members of the cartel’s US distribution network in the US were arrested in a nationwide sweep. The group in Chicago had, since at least 2007, been taking orders from unidentified cartel bosses in Mexico collected approximately $20 million. 550 pounds of cocaine and $8 million in cash were seized when the arrests were made. Monday, November 23 The mayor of a wealthy suburb of Monterrey has sent his family outside the country for their protection as he campaigns against organized crime. Mayor Mauricio Fernandez of San Pedro Garza Garcia made headlines last week when he publicly announced the death of a kidnapper hours before his body was found by police. He has also suggested using groups that operate outside of the law to combat crime, and is planning to form his own intelligence network of civilians and police. In Tijuana five men were killed in different incidents. One of the men was found inside a residence with a gunshot wound to the head. In another incident, a man with his hands and feet tied with extension cords was found inside a burning truck. No arrests were made in any of the murders. In Guerrero, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/73762.html " target=_blank_> at least six people were killed in drug related violence throughout the state. During the same 24 hour period, at least 12 people were killed in Sinaloa, 8 in Ciudad Juarez, and 2 in Chihuahua city. Tuesday, November 24 In the state of Sinaloa, five bodies were found by the side of the Culiacan-Mazatlan highway. Among them was a relative of Jose Carillo Fuentes, who was head of the Juarez Cartel until dying in a botched plastic surgery in 1997. 11 people were killed in Chihuahua, of which 9 were killed in Ciudad Juarez. At least six people were killed in other incidents throughout Mexico. In Matamoros, an an American citizen, Lizbeth Marin died after being wounded by gunfire. Initial reports indicate that she may have been shot when the weapon of a Mexican soldier was accidently discharged as he climbed into a vehicle. Another unidentified American woman of 54 years of age was found dead in a home in Tijuana Monday, bearing signs of blunt injuries and contusions to her neck, head and face. In Colombia, an alleged member of the Sinaloa Cartel was arrested by Colombian intelligence agents in the city of Cali. Carlos Adolfo Garcia Yepes, aka El Chino, was apparently in charge of logistics and coordinating the seaborne traffic of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, from which it was then smuggled into the United States. Body Count for the Week: 158 Body Count for the Year: 6, 738
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Middle East: In Israel, Medical Marijuana Advances in the Knesset and at Sheba Hospital

Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer has become the first hospital in Israel to administer medical marijuana to patients, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Tuesday. Some 20 patients have been treated with medical marijuana in a pilot program over the last six months, the newspaper reported. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that the Knesset's Labor, Social Affairs, and Health Committee had instructed the Health Ministry to finish its proposals for regulating medical marijuana use within four months. Such regulations should address the production, quality, and marketing of medical marijuana, as well as prevent diversion into non-medical markets. In Israel, people with cancer, multiple sclerosis or certain other conditions can apply for a license to receive a free supply of medical marijuana. It is provided by a charitable organization, Tikun Olam, which supplies it to some 700 patients. At Sheba Hospital, Ora Shamai, head nurse in the pain management program, has recently finished drafting a formal protocol for providing medical marijuana, another first for an Israel hospital. That draft has already been approved by the Health Ministry official in charge of approving medical marijuana treatments, Dr. Yehuda Baruch. The hospital is expected to soon approve the protocol. Under the protocol, if doctors determine a patient needs marijuana, the doctor in charge of his treatment will apply for the necessary permit from the ministry. Patients who can walk will be limited to smoking in the hospital's smoking room, while bedridden patients will only be allowed to smoke in private rooms with an open window. "We make it clear to the staff that smoking medical marijuana doesn't endanger the medical staff on the wards," Shamai said. "It does not harm those in the area via passive smoking." Doctors at Sheba downplayed any possible harms to patients from smoking marijuana on a limited basis. "It's certainly a dilemma, but it's the lesser of two evils," said Dr. Itay Gur-Arie, the head of Sheba's pain management unit. "When you're talking about smoking a joint or two a day, we don't think this causes short-term harm to the patients." Sheba is also making use of vaporizers, machines that heat marijuana but don't ignite it, allowing patients to inhale vapors instead of smoke. The Israel Association for the Advancement of Medical Cannabis, which has been involved in the pilot program from the onset, is now raising money to buy more. The hospital currently operates five. Along with Canada, Germany, Holland, and some American states, Israel has been a pioneer in accepting medical marijuana. With the Knesset action this week, Israel moves closer to setting up a regulated and expanded system. The Sheba hospital protocol is likewise on the cutting edge of medical marijuana acceptance by hospitals.
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Will Foster is Almost Free. You Can Help Open That Prison Door By Acting Now

The Drug War Chronicle has written several times about the trials and tribulations of medical marijuana patient Will Foster, who is currently sitting in once again in an Oklahoma prison, jerked back from the new life he had made in California by a vindictive and corner-cutting Oklahoma parole bureaucracy. But while Foster certainly appears to have been the victim of vengeful parole department employees, who charged him with ficticious parole violations--causing him to be locked up in a California jail for 16 months before being extradited back to Oklahoma--the parole board itself has done the right thing. In a hearing last week, the board rejected the charges against Foster and recommended he be released. But there's one more step. Under Oklahoma law, the governor signs off on all parole board decisions. This is where you can help. There is still time to write or call the governor to encourage him to follow the parole system's recommendation and FREE WILL FOSTER. Please ask that Will be given time served and set free to return to his family in California. Please call Gov. Brad Henry's office at 405-521-2342 Or fax a letter to 405-521-3353. Make sure you identify Will as Will Foster, #25271. The argument is simple: Will Foster is a non-violent offender who has served enough time and plans to leave the state to settle in California. Keeping him in prison or on parole in Oklahoma serves neither justice nor public safety and is not worth Oklahoma taxpayers' money. Read the link above to get informed before you call or write if you need to. Be polite and to the point. Will Foster, who never did anything to anybody, has been in the clutches of Oklahoma justice for 15 years for growing some plants to ease his pains. He's almost free. You can help open that prison door. Do it.
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Maine Votes to Okay Medical Marijuana Dispensaries; Measure Passing With 60% of the Vote

Voters in Maine Tuesday approved Question 5, which will allow the state to license nonprofit organizations to operate medical marijuana dispensaries for qualified patients. In early returns with nearly half the vote tallied, the measure was winning easily, with 60% of the vote. Maine thus becomes the third state to create a system of state-licensed dispensaries, and the first one to do so by a direct vote. Only Rhode Island and New Mexico have similar dispensary provisions. "This is a dramatic step forward, the first time that any state’s voters have authorized the state government to license medical marijuana dispensaries," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, DC, which drafted the initiative and provided start-up funding for the campaign. "Coming a decade after passage of Maine’s original marijuana law, this is a huge sign that voters are comfortable with these laws, and also a sign that the recent change of policy from the Obama administration is having a major impact." MPP local affiliate Maine Citizens for Patients' Rights led the fight on the ground. Question 5 also expands the list of medical conditions qualifying for protection under Maine’s law to include several conditions that are included in most other medical marijuana states, including intractable pain, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ("Lou Gehrig’s disease"). Look for a feature article on the Maine victory and the push for state-licensed dispensaries in the Chronicle on Friday.
Location: 
ME
United States
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