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Colorado Ski Town of Breckenridge Votes to Legalize It; Measure Passes With 72%

Residents of the Colorado ski town of Breckenridge overwhelmingly voted to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana Tuesday. Early returns had the local measure passing with 72% of the vote. That means as of January 1, people in Breckenridge can legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana under local ordinance. The measure also legalizes the possession of marijuana paraphernalia. "This votes demonstrates that Breckenridge citizens overwhelmingly believe that adults should not be punished for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol," said Sean McAllister, Breckenridge attorney and chair of Sensible Breckenridge, a local project of the statewide marijuana law reform group Sensible Colorado. "As state and national focus grows on this important issue, the popular ski town of Breckenridge has taken center stage on marijuana reform-- and not just for medical purposes," said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado. "With this historic vote, Breckenridge has emerged as a national leader in sensible drug policy" The campaign, which had no formal opposition, received a chorus of local support including endorsements from Breckenridge Town Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron, former. Colorado State Representative and Breckenridge resident, Gary Lindstrom, and the Summit Daily News. Measure 2F was placed on the ballot when over 1400 local supporters signed a petition supporting the reform measure. Under Colorado state law, possession of up to an ounce is decriminalized and punishable by a $100 fine. But Breckenridge police will "still have the ability to exercise discretion," said Chief Rick Holman. “It's never been something that we've spent a lot of time on, so I don't expect this to be a big change in how we really do business,” he told the Summit Daily News. Breckenridge residents had voted for Amendment 44, a statewide legalization initiative, by the same percentage in 2006. That initiative won only 41% of the vote statewide. Denver became the first city to vote to legalize marijuana possession under municipal ordinance in 2005.
Location: 
Breckenridge, CO
United States
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British Science vs. Politics Battle Explodes As Top Drug Advisor Fired for Heresy

The British Labor government has created a firestorm of controversy with its firing of Professor David Nutt, head of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) last Friday. Nutt was canned by Home Secretary Alan Johnson after the psychopharmacologist again went public with his criticism of the government for refusing to follow a science- and evidence-based drug policy. As of today, after a weekend of furious back and forth in dozens of newspaper articles, two more members of the ACMD have resigned in protest over the firing, and a mass resignation of the 31-member body may come after a meeting next Monday. Johnson told parliament Monday that he had agreed to a request from the ACMD for an urgent meeting, but he also told parliament he had ordered a review of the ACMD to satisfy ministers that the panel is "discharging its functions" and that it still represents a value to the public. The ACMD's charge is to "make recommendations to government on the control of dangerous or otherwise harmful drugs, including classification and scheduling under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and its regulations," its web page explains. "It considers any substance which is being or appears to be misused and of which is having or appears to be capable of having harmful effects sufficient to cause a social problem. It also carries out in-depth inquiries into aspects of drug use that are causing particular concern in the UK, with the aim of producing considered reports that will be helpful to policy makers and practitioners." Tensions between the ACMD and the Labor government began rising after the government up-scheduled marijuana from a Class C drug (least harmful) back to Class B, where it had been prior to being down-scheduled in 2004. The Labor government ignored the ACMD's recommendation that marijuana remain Class C. Things only got worse when the ACMD recommended that Ecstasy be down-scheduled from Class A (most harmful) to Class B, and the government promptly ignored that advice. At that point, Nutt went public with his criticisms of then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. He also famously compared the dangers of Ecstasy to those of horse-riding, deeply offending both the horsey set and the Labor government. Smith told Nutt to shut up, and he managed to do so until last week. Last week, in a lecture and briefing paper at the Center for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London, Nutt accused Smith of "distorting and devaluing" scientific evidence when she decided to reclassify marijuana. He also said that Ecstasy and LSD are less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco. "We have to accept young people like to experiment – with drugs and other potentially harmful activities – and what we should be doing in all of this is to protect them from harm at this stage of their lives," he said. "We therefore have to provide more accurate and credible information. If you think that scaring kids will stop them using, you are probably wrong.” Nutt's briefing paper included a ranking of various licit and illicit drugs by comparative harm. Heroin and cocaine were ranked the most harmful in Nutt's scheme, with alcohol fifth, marijuana ninth, LSD fourteenth, and Ecstasy eighteenth. "We need a full and open discussion of the evidence and a mature debate about what the drug laws are for — and whether they are doing their job," Nutt said. That was too much for Home Minister Alan Johnson. He told parliament Monday that Smith had warned Nutt not to publicly disagree with ministry decisions again. "Well, it has happened again," said Johnson. "On Thursday October 29 Professor Nutt chose, without prior notification to my department, to initiate a debate on drug policy in the national media, returning to the February decisions, and accusing my predecessor or distorting and devaluing scientific research. As a result, I have lost confidence in Professor Nutt's ability to be my principal adviser on drugs." Prime Minister Gordon Brown is standing behind Johnson. An official spokesman said the firing was based on the "important principle" that advisers should present advice to ministers but not speak out against their policy decisions. "It would be regrettable if there were other resignations, but this is an important point of principle," the spokesman added. "The government is absolutely committed to the importance of having independent advice and evidence presented by advisory bodies." Nutt defended himself and attacked the government in a London Sunday times opinion piece. "My sacking has cast a huge shadow over the relationship of science to policy," he wrote. "Several of the science experts from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) have resigned in protest and it seems likely that many others will follow suit. This means the Home Office no longer has a functioning advisory group, which is very unfortunate given the ever-increasing problems of drugs and the emergence of new ones. Also it seems unlikely that any 'true' scientist — one who can only speak the truth — will be able to work for this, or future, Home Secretaries. One of the ACMD members who resigned, chemist Les King, said ministers were putting inappropriate pressure on scientists to make drug policy decisions based on political—not scientific—reasons. "It's being asked to rubber stamp a predetermined position," he said, warning that others could leave the council over the brouhaha. "If sufficient members do resign, the committee will no longer be able to operate," King said. Scientist and Labor MP Robert Winston said Nutt had a "very reasonable" point about the relative dangers of legal and illegal drugs, and that he was disappointed by the firing. "I think that if governments appoint expert advice they shouldn't dismiss it so lightly," he said. "I think it shows a rather poor understanding of the value of science." Reuters reported Saturday that the firing is causing consternation in scientific circles. Scientists told the news agency the decision could undermine the integrity of science in policy-making, including critical areas like health, the environment, education, and defense. "Scientific data and their independent interpretation underpin evidence-based policy making -- and nobody rational could possibly want a government based on any other type of policy making," said Chris Higgins, chair of an advisory committee on spongiform encephalopathy, or "mad cow" disease. Maurice Elphick, a professor of animal physiology and neuroscience at Queen Mary, University of London, said politicians should look elsewhere if they wanted data to back social policies and allow science to maintain objectivity. "If, however, politicians really do want to have an objective assessment of the relative risks to health of different recreational drugs, then they should listen to what the medical scientist has to say, not sack him." he said. The Labor government has picked a fight with science. It's unclear how this will all play out, but Labor doesn't seem to be doing itself any favors so far.
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A Historic Hearing on Marijuana Legalization in Sacramento Today

Wednesday was a historic day at the California state capitol. For the first time since the state banned marijuana in 1913, marijuana legalization was the topic of a hearing in the state legislature. The hearing was organized by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), head of the Assembly's Public Safety Committee, to discuss his marijuana legalization bill, AB 390. For three hours, proponents and opponents of reform clashed before an overflowing hearing room--the hearing was so popular capitol employees had to add a monitor in the hallway for those who couldn't get into the session. Both supporters and foes of legalization were well represented, and they mostly followed their predictable scripts. To this observer, law enforcement's dire warnings and objections sounded increasingly threadbare and shopworn and the arguments of legalizers especially compelling, but then, I agree with the legalizers. I think what is important about Wednesday's hearing is not so much what was said--we've heard it all before, on both sides--as where it was said and in what context. Just a few days ago, they were talking legalization at the statehouse in Boston; now, they're doing it at the statehouse in Sacramento. Nobody expects the California bill to pass this year, but the fact that legalization is finally getting a serious hearing is a sign of progress. I'll be reporting on the hearing and the preceding press conference in more detail later this week for the Drug War Chronicle. Check out the article on Friday.
Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States
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Latin America: Mexican Drug War Update--October 22

by Bernd Debussman 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 5,800 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 , October 16 In Michoacan, three bodies were found , all with messages attached. The messages were directed at the Zetas organization, and appear to have been from La Familia. La Familia was once part of the Zetas organization, but the two groups have been fierce rivals since the group split from the Gulf Cartel (and the Zetas) in 2006. In other parts of Mexico, two men were assassinated in Tijuana, and a boy who was jogging was killed after being caught in a firefight between gunmen and the army in Tamaulipas. Five people were murdered in Culiacan, Sinaloa, three in Hermosillo, Sonora, one in Durango, and six in the Ciudad Juarez area. Saturday , October 17 In Tijuana, the nude, mutilated body of a man was found hanging from an expressway overpass. It is the second such discovery found in the last two weeks. Local news outlets reported that the man’s tongue had been cut out, which suggests that drug traffickers suspected he was an informant. Additionally, a gun battle between police and drug traffickers left one police officer dead and two wounded. A suspected cartel member was also killed in the incident. Police recovered five assault rifles and vests with federal insignia from several vehicles used by the gunmen. The day before, the the decapitated body of a woman whose hands and feet had been bound were found in a different part of the city. Monday , October 19 Two people were killed after being ambushed by a group of heavily armed gunmen in Guerrero. One of the dead was a policeman, and the other was a civilian who was riding a bus that was caught in the crossfire. Additionally, five bodies showing signs of torture were recovered from various parts of Acapulco. Attached to each of them were notes threatening “kidnappers, thieves and traitors” and signed by Arturo Beltran-Leyva, the boss of the Beltran-Leyva cartel. 18 people were killed in drug-related killings in Ciudad Juarez. At least 21 other drug-related homicides were reported in Mexico, including nine beheaded bodies found in Tierra Caliente. Tuesday , October 20 In Guerrero, at least three banners were found which threatened police and Genaro Garcia Luna, the Secretary of Public Safety. The signs were signed by what appears to be a new, Guerrero branch of the “La Familia” cartel which is based in Michoacan. The signs also accused Garcia Luna of protecting the Beltran-Leyva cartel and the allied Zetas organization. In another part of Guerrero, the body of a bus driver was found by the side of the road, and showed signs of torture. A second body was found near Acapulco. Near the city of Ciudad Mante, police arrested a man who had 107 kilos of marijuana in a hidden compartment of his pick-up truck. Wednesday , October 21 A suspected member of the Juarez Cartel was added to the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Eduardo "Tablas" Ravelo, 41, is allegedly a high-ranking member of the Barrio Azteca gang. In exchange for a steady supply of narcotics, Barrio Azteca performs enforcement tasks for the cartel on both sides of the border, and can effectively be considered part of the Juarez cartel which operates on American soil. Ravelo is suspected of ordering the killing of another high-ranking gang member, David "Chicho" Meraz, during an internal power struggle. Meraz was killed in Ciudad Juarez last year. Ravelo is reportedly hiding in Juarez under the protection of the cartel. Earlier in the week, another man with suspected cartel connections was also added to the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Jose Luis Saenz, of Los Angeles, is suspected of killing at least four people (including his girlfriend) and is allegedly an enforcer for an unnamed Mexican drug trafficking organization. In October 2008 he shot and killed another gang member in LA County who apparently owed $620,000 to the cartel. Across Mexico, 40 drug-related homicides were reported in a 24-hour period, bringing the 2009 total to over 6,000. Thirteen of these were in Chihuahua, and of these, nine were in Ciudad Juarez. According to a running tally by El Universal, 1,000 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico in the last 40 days. The previous 1,000 had been killed over 41 days, and the 1,000 before that in 44 days. Since August 1st, an average of 24 homicides were reported daily, approximately one every hour. One out of every three drug-related homicides was in Ciudad Juarez. Much of the violence is due to the conflict being fought by the Sinaloa Federation and the Juarez cartel over control of the Ciudad Juarez-El Paso drug trafficking corridor. Total body count for the week: 113 Total body count for the year: 5,928 Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.
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Asia: Drug Users Form Regional Drug User Organization

In a meeting in Bangkok last weekend, more than two dozen drug users from nine different countries came together to put the finishing touches on the creation of a new drug user advocacy organization, the Asian Network of People who Use Drugs (ANPUD). The Bangkok meeting was the culmination of a two-year process began at a meeting of the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 2007, and resulted in creating a constitution and selecting a steering committee for the new group. ANPUD adopts the principles of MIPUD (Meaningful Involvement of People who Use Drugs), and in doing so, aligns itself with other drug user advocacy groups, including the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD), of which ANPUD is an independent affiliate, the Australian Injection and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL),the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, and the Nothing About Us Without Us movement. ANPUD currently has more than 150 members and sees its mission to advocate for the rights of drug users and communities before national governments and the international community. There is plenty to do. Asia has the largest number of drug users in the world, but is, for the most part, woefully retrograde on drug policy issues. Not only do drug users face harsh criminal sanctions—up to and including the death penalty—but Asian has the lowest coverage of harm reduction services in the world. Access to harm reduction programs, such as needle exchanges and opioid maintenance therapy, is extremely limited. "People who use drugs are stigmatized, criminalized and abused in every country in Asia," said Jimmy Dorabjee, a key figure in the formation of ANPUD. "Our human rights are violated and we have little in the way of health services to stay alive. If governments do not see people who use drugs, hear us and talk to us, they will continue to ignore us." The Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team, Dr. Prasada Rao, spoke of the urgent need to engage with drug user networks and offered his support to ANPUD, saying that "For UNAIDS, HIV prevention among drug users is a key priority at the global level," said Dr. Prasada Rao, director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team. "I am very pleased today to be here to see ANPUD being shaped into an organization that will play a key role in Asia's HIV response. It is critical that we are able to more effectively involve the voices of Asian people who use drugs in the scaling up of HIV prevention services across Asia." "When I go back home, I am now responsible for sharing the experiences with the 250 or so drug users who are actively advocating for better services at the national level," said Nepalese drug user and newly elected steering committee member Ekta Thapa Mahat. "It will be a great way for us to work together and help build the capacity of people who use drugs in Asia." "The results of the meeting exceeded my expectations," said Ele Morrison, program manager for AVIL's Regional Partnership Project. "The participants set ambitious goals for themselves and they have achieved a lot in just two days to set up this new organization. The building blocks for genuine ownership by people who use drugs is definitely there." While the meetings leading to the formation were organized and managed by drug users, the process received financial support from the World Health Organization, the UNAIDS Regional Task Force, and AIVL.
Location: 
Bangkok
Thailand
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Southwest Asia: Afghan Opium Trade Wreaking Global Havoc, UNODC Warns

Southwest Asia: Afghan Opium Trade Wreaking Global Havoc, UNODC Warns The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned Wednesday that the traffic in Afghan opiates is spreading drug use and addiction along smuggling routes, spreading diseases, and funding insurgencies. The warning came in a new report, Addiction, Crime, and Insurgency: The Threat of Afghan Opium. "The Afghan opiate trade fuels consumption and addiction in countries along drug trafficking routes before reaching the main consumer markets in Europe (estimated at 3.1 million heroin users), contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne diseases," the report said. Neighboring countries, especially Iran, Pakistan, and the Central Asian republics, are among the hardest hit, said UNODC. According to the report, Iran now has the highest opiate addiction rates in the world. "Iran faces the world's most serious opiate addiction problem, while injecting drug use in Central Asia is causing an HIV epidemic," UNODC said. But the impact of the multi-billion flow of Afghan opiates could have an especially deleterious impact on Central Asia, UNODC chief Antonio Maria Costa warned in remarks accompanying the report. "The Silk Route, turned into a heroin route, is carving out a path of death and violence through one of the world's most strategic yet volatile regions," Costa said. "The perfect storm of drugs, crime and insurgency that has swirled around the Afghanistan/Pakistan border for years is heading for Central Asia." In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the opium trade is funding violent radicals. "The funds generated from the drugs trade can pay for soldiers, weapons and protection, and are an important source of patronage," the report said. In Afghanistan, the Taliban generated between $90 million and $160 million annually in recent years, the UNODC estimated. In Pakistan, the UNODC estimated the trade at $1 billion annually, with "undetermined amounts going to insurgents." Although Afghan opium production declined slightly last year, the country is producing—and has produced—more opium needed than to meet global supply. As a result, the UNODC estimates that there is an unaccounted for stockpile of 12,000 tons of opium—enough to satisfy every junkie on the planet for the next three to four years. "Thus, even if opiate production in Afghanistan were to cease immediately, there would still be ample supply," the report said. Unsurprisingly, the UNODC report did not address the role that global drug prohibition plays in exacerbating problems related to opiate use and the opiate trade. Prohibitionist attitudes restrict the availability of harm reduction programs, such as needle exchanges, that could reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases. And it is global drug prohibition itself that creates the lucrative black market the UNODC says is financing insurgencies and spreading political instability.
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Public Opinion: In Gallup Poll, Support for Legalizing Marijuana Reaches All-Time High; A Majority in the West Say Free the Weed

Public Opinion: In Gallup Poll, Support for Legalizing Reaches All-Time High; Over 50% in the West Are in Favor According to the most recent Gallup poll, 44% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, while 54% oppose it. The 44% figure is the highest since Gallup began polling on the issue nearly 40 years ago. In 1970, only 12% of respondents favored legalization. That figure climbed to 28% in 1977, then declined slightly and reached a plateau with support holding at around 25% for the next two decades. But in the past decade, public opinion has begun to shift, with support hitting 34% in 2002, 36% in 2006, and now, 44%. Conversely, opposition to legalization is now at an all-time low. It was 84% in 1970, 66% in 1977, and around 73% for most of the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton eras. But beginning in about 1996, opposition began to decline, dropping to 62% in 2002, 60% in 2006, and now, 54%. A related question—whether marijuana should be legalized and taxed to raise revenues for state governments—won similar support levels in the Gallup poll. Some 42% of respondents said they would favor such a move in their state, while 56% were opposed. In the West, however, support for tax and legalize has gone over the top; 53% favor such an approach. Looking at various demographic groups, support for marijuana legalization is highest among self-described liberals, at 78%. Only 26% of conservatives and 46% of moderates supported legalization. Similarly, 54% of Democrats, 49% of independents, and 28% of Republicans supported legalization. There is also a clear generational divide. Half of those under age 50 support legalization, compared to 45% aged 50 to 64, and only 28% of seniors. Support for legalization has swollen among certain demographic groups since the last Gallup poll on the issue in 2005. The number in favor of legalization jumped more than 10 points among women (+12), young people (+11), Democrats (+13), liberals (+15), moderates (+11), and residents of the West (+13). If these rates of increase in support for legalization continue over the medium term, the world as we know may indeed end in 2012.
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Latin America: Mexico Ex-President Fox Lashes Out at President Calderon Over Drug War

Latin America: Mexico Ex-President Fox Lashes Out at President Calderon Over Drug War For years, former Mexican President Vicente Fox has suggested that drug legalization needs to be on the agenda when discussing how to resolve prohibition-related problems like the wave of violence plaguing Mexico. Now, he's getting personal and political, as he attacks sitting President Felipe Calderon for what Fox is describing as a "failed" effort to send the military after the so-called drug cartels. Fox and Calderon are both members of the conservate National Action Party (PAN), and Calderon replaced Fox in the Mexican presidency in December 2006. With Mexico already stricken by violent conflict among the cartels and between the cartels and Mexican law enforcement, Calderon called out the military to join the fray, but matters have only gotten worse. An estimated 14,000 people have been killed in the conflicts since Calderon sent in the soldiers, with 2,000 being killed in one city—Ciudad Juarez—this year alone. Addressing reporters at the annual conference of the conservative European Popular Party in Vienna last weekend, Fox said Calderon's efforts against the cartels had gone astray and the military should return to the barracks. "The use of army in the fight against drug mafia and organized crime, the use of force against force gave no positive results. On the contrary, the number of crimes only grows," Fox told journalists on Saturday. "It's time to think of alternative ways to fight the crime," Fox said, adding that police and governments of Mexican states should be charged with anti-drug efforts on their territory, instead of federal forces. Not that Fox himself had much better luck against the cartels, nor was he averse to using the military. While Fox was president between 2000 and 2006, he deployed troops to Sonora, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, and other states, especially after 2003, when violence began escalating. By 2005, nearly 1,400 were reported killed in the drug wars, and 2,000 more in 2006. But those levels of violence, which once seemed extraordinary, would now be a welcome relief after nearly three years of Calderon's campaign and the harsh response from the cartels. This year's toll in Ciudad Juarez alone matches the toll nationwide for the last year of the Fox era. Fox was also critical of the United States, saying it needed to do more to control arms trafficking, money laundering, and drug use. But he again questioned whether drug prohibition is the best way to attain those ends. "Drug consumption is a personal responsibility, not one of government, Fox said."Perhaps it is impossible to ask government to halt the supply of drugs to our children."
Location: 
Vienna
Austria
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Justice Department Issues Medical Marijuana Policy Memo; Says No Prosecutions If In Compliance With State Law

Editor's Note: We wanted to get this important story posted today, but we will develop it further for the Drug War Chronicle on Friday. In a new federal medical marijuana policy memo issued this morning to the DEA, FBI, and US Attorneys around the country, the Justice Department told prosecutors that medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal should not be targeted for federal prosecution. The memo formalizes statements made by Attorney General Eric Holder in February and March that going after pot-smoking patients and their suppliers would not be a high Justice Department priority. The memo marks a sharp break with federal policy under the Clinton and Bush administrations, both of which aggressively targeted medical marijuana operations, especially in California, the state that has the broadest law and the highest number of medical marijuana patients. The announcement of the policy shift won kudos from the marijuana and broader drug reform movement. But some reformers questioned what the shift would actually mean on the ground, pointing to DEA raids and federal prosecutions that have occurred since Holder's signal this spring that the feds were to back off, as well as continuing controversies, especially in California, over what exactly is legal under state law. Others noted that for real protection to be in place, federal law—not just prosecutorial policy—needs to change. In the memo, federal prosecutors were told that going after people who use or provide medical marijuana in accordance with state law was not the best use of their time or resources. According to the memo, while the Justice Department continues to make enforcing federal drug laws a key mission:
"As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana. For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources."
But the memo also said that federal prosecutors should continue to target marijuana production or sales operations that are illicit but hiding behind state medical marijuana laws. It explicitly singled out cases involving which involve violence, the illegal use of firearms, selling pot to minors, money laundering or involvement in other crimes. "It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal," said Attorney General Holder. "This is a huge victory for medical marijuana patients," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, the nationwide medical marijuana advocacy organization, which had been in negotiations with the Justice Department to get written guidelines issued. "This indicates that President Obama intends to keep his promise not to undermine state medical marijuana laws and represents a significant departure from the policies of the Bush Administration," continued Sherer. "We will continue to work with President Obama, the Justice Department, and the US Congress to establish a comprehensive national policy, but it's good to know that in the meantime states can implement medical marijuana laws without interference from the federal government." "This is the most significant, positive policy development on the federal level for medical marijuana since 1978," said the Marijuana Policy Project in a message to its list members today. "It's great to see the Obama administration making good on the promises that candidate Obama made last year. These new guidelines effectively open the door to sensible collaboration between state governments and medical marijuana providers in ensuring that patients have safe and reliable access to their medicine," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "What remains unclear is how the Justice Department will respond to rogue state attorneys, such as San Diego's Bonnie Dumanis, who persist in undermining state medical marijuana laws in their local jurisdictions. Now is the right time for the Obama administration to move forward with federal legislation to end the irrational prohibition of medical marijuana under federal law." While the policy memo was "encouraging," the "proof will be in the pudding," said California NORML head Dale Gieringer, who also cited the recent raids in San Diego, as well as the August federal indictment of two Lake County medical marijuana providers. "Note that the new Obama policy has a glaring loophole, emphasizing that 'prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, and ... it is not a good use of federal manpower to prosecute those who are without a doubt in compliance with state law,'" Gieringer said. "The salient question is, who decides what is 'without a doubt' in compliance with state law? As shown by the recent statements of LA's DA and City Attorney, there exist significant doubts about the legality of most dispensaries in California. It remains to be seen how far the administration's new policy guidelines will go to prevent further abuses, when what is really needed is fundamental reform of federal laws and regulations." And so opens the next chapter in America's long, twisted path to the acceptance of medical marijuana.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
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Where NOT to Hide Your Stash

You can't make this stuff up:
Lebanon man had bag of marijuana stuck to his forehead, police say By MONICA VON DOBENECK, The Patriot-News October 15, 2009, 10:55AM Cesar Lopez, a 29-year-old Lebanon, Pa., man, was busted Saturday when he walked up to a police officer with a small bag of marijuana stuck to his forehead, according to Lebanon police. Police said the officer went into a Turkey Hill convenience store on Lehman Street at 3:25 a.m. Saturday and saw Lopez holding a baseball cap and peering inside it. When Lopez approached the officer, he looked up, and the officer said he saw a small plastic bag stuck to Lopez's forehead. The bag appeared to contain marijuana, police said. The officer retrieved the bag from Lopez’s forehead and said, “Is this what you are looking for?,” according to the police report. Lopez was charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. It is not uncommon for people to hide drugs in the inside lip of a cap, police said.
As we say in the Upper Midwest: Oof-dah.
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See you in Juarez? This Week's Mexico Drug War Update

So...the Stopthedrugwar crew will be attending the Drug Policy Alliance conference in Albuquerque a few short weeks from now. We've been discussing the possibility of taking a couple of days before or after the conference and shooting down to Ciudad Juarez. It's only a few hours down I-25, and the city across the Rio Grande from El Paso seems to be the hot spot for prohibition-related violence. Hmmm, maybe a little too hot, as this week's update suggests. Stay tuned. And now, Bernd's weekly gift to us all: Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update by Bernd Debusmann, Jr. Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,000 over 5,800 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: Wednesday, October 7 Three men were killed in the state of Guerrero in different parts of the city of Tecpan de Galeana. Police believe that armed men travelling in two vehicles were involved in all three incidents, which occurred the same night. Thursday, October 8 A pregnant Guatemalan woman was killed along with her mother in Chiapas. The two Guatemalan women were found dead on a farm outside the city of Tuxla Chico. Additionally, five people were killed in Guerrero, three in Durango, and three decapitated bodies were found in Sinaloa. In the northern city of Monterrey, two people were killed and a third was wounded after a firefight took place inside a restaurant. Fifteen people were reported killed in Ciudad Juarez during the same 24 hour period. Friday, October 9 In Tijuana, the mutilated body of a state official was found hanging from a bridge. The official, Rogelio Sanchez, was kidnapped Wednesday, and was suspected by police of giving fake drivers licenses to drug traffickers. Tijuana is currently the scene of a violent turf war between the Arellano-Felix Cartel and a breakaway faction led by Teodoro Garcia Simental. In Guerrero, ten people were found executed, all bearing signs that read “This is what is going to happen to thieves and extortionists. Respectfully, the Boss of Bosses”. Local authorities offered no explanation for the notes. Authorities were alerted to the bodies--many of whose heads were found bound in masking tape--by a series of anonymous phone calls. In recent months many low-level criminals have been killed by vigilante groups thought to be working with the support of drug traffickers or members of the police. In the state of Jalisco, four suspected cartel gunmen were killed in an hours-long gun battle with the Mexican army. During the battle, a police helicopter which had been called to the scene was struck by gunfire. A helicopter gunship was also called in. In the state of Chihuahua, a soldier was killed and several wounded after being ambushed near the small hamlet of Colonia LeBaron. The area has been heavily patrolled following the July killing of an anti-crime activist and his neighbor. Monday, October 12 In the waters of the port city of Mazatlan, four men were arrested after the ship in which they were travelling was found to be carrying approximately 500 kilos of cocaine. After catching sight of an American naval vessel in the area, the men were seen began throwing the drugs overboard, set fire to their ship, and jumped into the water. American naval personnel rescued the men and turned them over to Mexican military authorities. Tuesday, October 13 In Ciudad Juarez, eight people were killed in drug-related violence. Among them was a woman who was found beheaded. The woman was in her late twenties and had a tattoo of Santa Muerte, or “Saint Death”, a symbol popular among Mexican criminals. In a separate incident, four men were killed when gunmen attacked a mechanics workshop, and three others were killed in other shootings. In Navolato, Sinaloa, a group of armed men kidnapped and killed the brother-in-law of a brother of Vicente Carillo Fuentes, the reputed head of the Juarez Cartel. The man, Jacobo Retamoza, 34, was the lawyer who represented the La Guajira farm, where in November 2008 a group of armed men dressed in military uniforms kidnapped 27 people. He was driving on a highway when he was intercepted by a group of heavily armed gunmen who spirited him away in a truck. Several hours later he was found dead with multiple gunshot wounds. In Chiapas, a vast arsenal was discovered after the arrest of four men, who ranged in ages from 21 to 41. The men had in their possession 21 AR-15 rifles, 18 AK-47’s, and five pistols, one of which was jewel encrusted. Additionally, law enforcement officers found 17, 212 rounds of ammunition, over 300 grenades, several blocks of TNT, a sniper rifle, nine vehicles, and confiscated two race horses found on the property. Total body count for the week: 178 Total body count for the year: 5,815 Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.
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In Act of Civil Disobedience, Hemp Farmers Plant Hemp Seeds at DEA Headquarters

Fresh from the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) annual convention last weekend in Washington, DC, a pair of real life farmers who want to plant hemp farmers joined with hemp industry figures and spokesmen to travel across the Potomac River to DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, where, in an act of civil disobedience, they took shovels to the lawn and planted hemp seeds. Within a few minutes, they were arrested and charged with trespassing. Hoping to focus the attention of the Obama administration on halting DEA interference, North Dakota farmer Wayne Hauge, Vermont farmer Will Allen, HIA President Steve Levine; hemp-based soap producer and Vote Hemp director David Bronner, Vote Hemp communications director Adam Eidinger, and hemp clothing company owner Isaac Nichelson were arrested in the action as another dozen or so supporters and puzzled DEA employees looked on. "Who has a permit?" demanded a DEA security official. "A permit--that's what we want from the DEA," Bronner responded. After being held a few hours, the Hemp Six were released late Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, two pleaded guilty to trespassing and were fined $240. The others are expected to face similar treatment. Although products made with hemp—everything from foods to fabrics to paper to auto body panels—are legal in the US, under the DEA's strained interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act, hemp is considered indistinguishable from marijuana and cannot be planted in the US. According to the hemp industry, it is currently importing about $360 million worth of hemp products each year from countries where hemp production is legal, including Canada, China, and several European nations. The DEA refused to comment on the action or the issue, referring queries instead to the Department of Justice, which also refused to comment beside pointing reporters to its filings in the ongoing hemp lawsuit. Currently, eight states-- Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia--have programs allowing for industrial hemp research or production, but their implementation has been blocked by DEA bureaucratic intransigence. This spring, however, President Obama instructed federal agencies to respect state laws in a presidential directive on federal pre-emption: "Executive departments and agencies should be mindful that in our federal system, the citizens of the several States have distinctive circumstances and values, and that in many instances it is appropriate for them to apply to themselves rules and principles that reflect these circumstances and values," said Obama. "As Justice Brandeis explained more than 70 years ago, 'it is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.'" The hemp industry and hemp supporters see several paths forward. Farmer Hauge is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challengingly the DEA's interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act. That lawsuit is now before the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. US Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA) are sponsoring a bill that would allow farmers to plant hemp in states where it is permitted, and the industry is urging President Obama and the Justice Department to follow their own example on medical marijuana and leave hemp farmers alone as long as they are legal under state law. But despite all their efforts, nothing is happening. Tuesday's civil disobedience was designed to begin breaking up the logjam. "We're getting frustrated," said Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, which has been used hemp oil in its soaps since 1999. "This is supposed to be change with Obama, and things aren't changing. We just had the DEA and local DA go nuts on the dispensaries in San Diego where I live. We spent money on a lobbying firm to get a statement from the Justice Department along the lines of Holder's statement on medical marijuana, but nothing is happening. This would be easy to do, but it's not happening. We understand that Obama has a lot going on, but we're getting increasingly disappointed and frustrated. We hope this will help catalyze something in this administration." "We're like the fired-up hempsters, we're keeping Jack Herer's ideas alive," said Eidinger still fired up a day after his arrest Tuesday. "We're beginning a new chapter of hemp activism, and there needs to be a lot more of this stuff. Civil disobedience has to be part of a comprehensive campaign in the courts, in Congress, and out on the streets, in front of DEA offices all over the country." "We've passed a law in Vermont that you can grow industrial hemp," said Allen, the white-haired, pony-tailed proprietor of Cedar Circle Farm. "The only barrier now is the DEA, so we're trying to convince them to back off on this like they backed off on enforcing the medical marijuana law in California. Here, we have a crop that isn't going to get anybody high. We grow organic sunflower and canola, and we'd like to have another oil crop in rotation at our location. It just makes economic sense, and it's a states' rights thing. The DEA shouldn’t be involved in this; this isn't a drug." "We want to get some attention for the cause and show the distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana," said North Dakota farmer Hauge, who is licensed by the state to grow hemp and who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the DEA now before the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals. "It's not a drug; it's just another crop that can be grown in rotation. If it wasn't for the DEA, I would be harvesting my crop right now." Getting himself arrested for hemp activism in Washington, DC, was a totally new experience for Hauge, who is usually hunkered down on a few hundred acres of North Dakota prairie just south of the Canadian border and just east of the Montana state line. "It was definitely a first for me," said Hauge. "I've never even been stopped for anything." "We need industrial hemp here in the US, we need to bring jobs to this country," said Nichelsen, founder, owner, and CEO of Livity Outernational, a California-based fashion and accessory company that mixes art and activism. "I'm sick of making all our stuff in China cause that’s the only place I can get the raw materials. We sent the message that there is a clear distinction between marijuana and industrial hemp," Nicholson said. "We need the support of our president and our law enforcement branches. They need to understand that the US is missing out on a giant opportunity. The myth that hemp causes any problems in society has been completely dispelled." Even DEA underlings—if not their higher ups—get it, said Nicholson, recounting his exchange with one agency employee on Monday. "One DEA official came out and said, 'What's the connection between weed and hemp?' and we said, 'Exactly.'" The action brought some much-needed media attention to the issue, said Eidinger. "We got a really good article in the Washington Post, the Washington Times wrote about it, too, CNN used our video, NPR talked about the action, the Associated Press picked it up, we had a number of TV stations do reports, so we definitely reached a national audience," he recounted. "And North Dakota media has covered this closely; I've been on the phone with all the media in Bismarck. It wasn't just civil disobedience in front of the cameras. After the HIA convention ended, hempsters headed for Capitol Hill, where dozens of people attended over 20 scheduled meetings with representatives of their staffs to lobby for the Frank-Paul hemp bill. Some unannounced, unscheduled meetings also took place, Eidinger said. If the hemp movement indeed adopts further civil disobedience actions, it will have added another prong to its multi-prong strategy of pressing for the end of the prohibition on industrial hemp planting in the US. It might be time for other segments of the drug reform movement to start thinking about civil disobedience, too.
Location: 
Arlington, VA
United States
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Australia: West Australia Premier Vows to Roll Back Marijuana Reforms, Reenergize Drug War

Leading a Liberal-National Party coalition government, West Australia Premier Colin Barnett is introducing legislation this week to roll back reforms to the state's marijuana laws. Passed by an earlier Labor government in 2003, the changes decriminalized the possession of up to 30 grams of pot and allowed for the growing of up to two plants without fear of arrest and prosecution. In a media statement Sunday and another one Monday, the "tough on crime" premier gave clear notice he was cracking down on pot and other drug offenders, and was willing to extend police powers to do so. He said he would introduce legislation to repeal the state's Cannabis Control Act of 2003 and to amend the 1981 Misuse of Drugs and Youthful Offender Act. "The Liberal-National Government is committed to tackling both the demand and supply sides of the illicit drug problem through strong law enforcement policies, education and rehabilitation," Barnett said. "Cannabis is not a harmless or soft drug. Research continues to show that cannabis can lead to a host of health and mental health problems including schizophrenia, and can be a gateway to harder drugs," he maintained, treating highly controversial and discredited claims as if they were fact. According to Premier Barnett, his legislation will: • Prosecute those in possession of more than 10g of cannabis • See subsequent offences for possession being prosecuted as criminal offences. • Prosecute people for cultivating even one or two cannabis plants. • Extend the ban the sale of pot-smoking implements to minors to include everyone. • Increase the fine for selling smoking implements to $5,000 for sale to adults and $10,000 for sale to minors. Corporate entities could be fined up to five times those amounts. Barnett also wants to "reform" the Cannabis Infringement Notice Scheme (CIN), or ticketing and fines for decriminalized amounts by replacing it with a Cannabis Intervention Requirement Scheme (CIRS) that would require anyone ticketed to attend "drug education" classes. It would also mandate that anyone who failed to pay his fine would be prosecuted, something that has not been the case under the current law. Barnett's scheme would also allow for the criminal prosecution for marijuana possession of juveniles after two decrim tickets and adults after one. The current law has no such measures. There's more to come, Barnett promised. "The next steps will be to amend legislation to enable courts to impose a harsher sentence on dealers who sell or supply illicit drugs to children, irrespective of the location of the sale or supply," he said. "Further amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981 will provide offences for exposing children to harm or to the danger of serious harm from the manufacture of illegal drugs, such as amphetamines, or the unlawful cultivation of illegal hydroponically-grown plants. The Government will also move to ban the sale of drug paraphernalia, including cocaine kits." But, he said Monday, he's going to start by soon introducing legislation to allow police to stop and search anyone without probable cause. The police commissioner would designate certain "stop and search" zones with advance public notice, especially in entertainment areas. "Police will have the right to go up to anyone they wish to and introduce a stop and search power," Barnett said. "It will not be an invasive search; it will be comparable to the sort of search and screening that takes place for any citizen getting on an aeroplane."
Location: 
Perth, WA
Australia
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New Zealand: New Anti-Meth Measures Set to Go Into Effect; Tough Luck, Flu Sufferers

Under an anti-methamphetamine package announced last week by the government of New Zealand, popular cold and flu remedies containing pseudoephedrine will soon be available only by prescription after a visit to the doctor's office. The drug is a precursor chemical for manufacturing meth. "We're asking New Zealanders to band together and to accept using alternatives to treat their colds and flus to ensure New Zealand no longer becomes one of the countries most heavily affected by P [as the Kiwis refer to meth]," said Prime Minister John Key as he announced the a series of moves to combat meth use and production. In addition to restricting access to precursor chemicals, the government will spend more money on drug treatment programs, create a 40-man police anti-meth task force, and charge police with drafting a new anti-meth law enforcement strategy by next month. The government said it would pay for the programs with asset forfeiture funds. The pseudoephedrine announcement in particular brought a mixed reaction from the public. Some, especially those who had friends or family members who had had problems with meth, were supportive. Both others were "annoyed," asking why law-abiding people had to suffer for the actions of drug users and some "voiced concern that it was a bit over the top." Unsurprisingly, New Zealand police were happy with the new meth package. In a statement greeting the package's announcement, Assistant Commissioner Viv Rickard praised the "whole of government approach" as "more effective" in the battle against meth, but, as always, the police wanted more. "Police support the control of pseudoephedrine as it would allow us to concentrate resources and work with Customs on preventing the importation of precursors from overseas," Rickard said. "Precursor control is a vital part of disrupting the supply of methamphetamine, but no one action on its own will solve the methamphetamine problem. Stronger legislation around gangs, the ability to seize assets and profits of organized criminals and enhanced treatment programs will all contribute reducing the supply of methamphetamine and making our communities safer."
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Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories--October 13

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A sheriff shaking down motorists under the guise of asset forfeiture gets a slap on the wrist, and so does a narc who stole the cash from a drug raid. A drug investigation nets two Jersey cops--among others--and another Florida deputy goes down for extorting a pot grower. And sometimes, a cop may not be as corrupt as she first seems. Let's get to it: In Rochester, Minnesota, two of five charges against a Rochester police officer charged with drug corruption were dismissed on October 8. Officer Vanessa Mason was accused in April of tipping off drug dealers and taking money to deliver drugs, and was put on administrative leave then. The two charges were dismissed after a jailed Rochester man said he lied when he told investigators he helped Mason transport drugs last year—he said he felt pressured by investigators. She still faces one felony count of warning a subject of a surveillance operation and two misdemeanor counts of misconduct by a police officer. In Jersey City, New Jersey, a Hoboken police officer and a Jersey City police officer were among 17 arrested over the past month in a year-and-a-half long joint operation by the DEA and Jersey City police against a local cocaine trafficking organization. Jersey City Police Officer Mark Medal, 52, who was already suspended for problems with a drug test, was charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine, as was a ranking Hoboken Fire Department official, Battalion Chief Henry Setkiewicz, 59. Both were described as regular customers of the network, although it is not clear if it was for personal use or to resell. Hoboken Police Officer Ralph Gallo, 25, was charged with computer theft—criminal computer activity—and official misconduct for allegedly checking a license plate against a law enforcement database for one of the network members. A Hoboken Parking Utility employee, Monica Thorpe, 42, faces similar charges for doing the same thing. In Miami, another Broward County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday in a drug extortion scheme against a marijuana grower that saw Deputy Manuel Silva arrested Oct 2. This week, it was Deputy Fausto "TJ" Tejero's turn. He is accused of acting as Silva's accomplice in offering to ignore the grow in return for cash payments. Tejero was at the scene with Silva when Silva searched the grower's home, found the pot, and offered silence for cash. He is charged with extortion, attempted bribery, burglary and unlawful compensation and is being held without bail. In St. Louis, a former St. Louis police detective was sentenced last Friday to one year and one day in prison for stealing money seized during a June 2008 drug raid along with two other officers. Vincent Carr, 47, also has to pay back $28,000. He pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy, wire fraud, making false statements, and obstruction of justice. The two other police detectives involved in the theft have also pleaded guilty. Leo Listen was sentenced in September; Bobby Lee Garrett will be sentenced next month. In Muskogee, Oklahoma, the former McIntosh County sheriff and undersheriff were sentenced September 23 to 27 months in federal prison for stealing money from motorists under the guise of asset forfeiture and keeping it for themselves. Former Sheriff Terry Jones, 36, and Undersheriff Mykol Brookshire, 38, pleaded guilty to "conspiracy under color of law to interfere with interstate commerce" for repeatedly seizing money from drivers under threat of arrest and then keeping either all or part of it for themselves. They went down in May of this year when the driver they pulled over and shook down turned out to be a federal agent in a sting directed at them. They found six bundles of cash, but when they called in the "bust," they only reported five.
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Law Enforcement: Veteran Activist Dana Beal Busted for 150 Pounds of Pot in Nebraska

Long-time marijuana legalization activist Dana Beal was one of three men arrested October 1 in Ashland, Nebraska, after they were pulled over in a traffic stop and police seized 150 pounds of marijuana. He and the other two men, Christopher Ryan of Ohio and James Statzer of Michigan, are being held in the Saunders County Jail, with bail set at $500,000 for Beal and $100,000 for Ryan and Statzer. Beal, an erstwhile Yippie activist from the 1970s and permanent fixture on the counterculture scene, heads the New York City-based organization Cures Not Wars, which advocates for the use of ibogaine as a treatment for drug dependence. But he is more widely known for acting as an information clearing house for the annual legalization rallies held each May in more than 200 cities around the planet known as the Global Marijuana March or Million Marijuana March. The men were traveling from California, where they had attended the annual conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) the previous week. According to local media reports, police stopped the van in which they were riding for "driving erratically," and when the police officer approached the vehicle, he saw "several bags of marijuana in plain view." He then called for assistance, and police then found multiple duffel bags of marijuana, totaling 150 pounds, throughout the vehicle. Last year, Beal was arrested in Illinois on money-laundering charges after police there seized $150,000 in cash and a small amount of marijuana from his vehicle. The money-laundering charges were later dropped, and Beal pleaded guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession. The state of Illinois kept the money. Beal's supporters have begun a fund-raising drive to raise the $50,000 cash bail needed to free him and to pay his legal expenses. See the Free Dana Beal Facebook page, web page, or blog for information on how you can help.
Location: 
Ashland, NE
United States
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Asset Forfeiture: Texas DA Seeks to Use Seized Funds to Defend Herself in Lawsuit Over Unlawful Seizure of Same Funds; ACLU Objects

The Texas district attorney accused of participating in an egregious asset forfeiture scheme in the East Texas town of Tenaha now wants to use the very cash seized to pay for her legal defense in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by victims of the practice. The ACLU of Texas, which, along with the national ACLU, is representing the plaintiffs in the case, filed a brief last Friday with the Texas Attorney General's office seeking to block her from doing so. Lynda Russell is the district attorney in Shelby County, where Tenaha is located. She is accused of participating in a scheme where Tenaha police pulled over mostly African-American motorists without cause, asked them if they were carrying cash, and if they were, threaten them with being immediately jailed for money laundering or other serious crimes unless they signed over their money to authorities. Representing a number of victims, attorneys from the ACLU of Texas and the ACLU Racial Justice Project filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in June 2008. According to the suit, more than 140 people, almost all of whom were African-American, turned over their assets to police without cause and under duress between June 2006 and June 2008. If a federal judge agrees that assets were in fact illegally seized, they should be returned to their rightful owners, whose civil rights were violated. In one case, a mixed race couple, Jennifer Boatwright and Ronald Henderson, were stopped by a Tenaha police officer in April 2007. According to the lawsuit, they were stopped without cause, detained for some time without cause, and asked if they were carrying any cash. When they admitted they had slightly more than $6,000, a district attorney's investigator then seized it, threatening them with arrest for money laundering and the loss of their children if they refused to sign off. There was never any evidence they had committed a crime, and they were never charged with a crime. The town mayor, the DA, the DA's investigator, the town marshal, and a town constable are all named in the lawsuit. While they claim to have acted legally under Texas asset forfeiture law, the lawsuit argues that "although they were taken under color of state law, their actions constitute abuse of authority." The suit argues that the racially discriminatory pattern of stops and searches violated both the Fourth Amendment proscription of warrantless searches and the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause. While either the county or the state would normally be expected to pony up for the DA's legal expenses for a lawsuit filed as a result of her performance of her duties, neither has done so. That's why Russell—with a tin ear for irony—requested that she be allowed to use the allegedly illegally seized money stolen from motorists. She has asked the state attorney general's office for an opinion on whether using the funds for her defense violates the state's asset forfeiture law. "It would be completely inappropriate for the district attorney to use assets which are the very subject of litigation charging her with participating in allegedly illegal activity to defend herself against these charges," said Lisa Graybill, legal director at the ACLU of Texas. "Texas has a long history of having its law enforcement officials unconstitutionally target racial minorities in the flawed and failed war on drugs and it is of paramount importance that those officials be held accountable." "The government must account for the misconduct of officials who operate in its name," said Vanita Gupta, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program, who represented African-American residents of Tulia, TX in high-profile litigation challenging their wrongful convictions on drug charges. "The state of Texas has seen egregious examples of racial profiling that result from poor oversight of criminal justice officials." The ACLU of Texas is using the Tenaha case to push for asset forfeiture reform in the Lone Star State. One such bill stalled in the state legislature this year. "The misuse of asset forfeiture laws by local officials is exacerbated by inadequate oversight," said Matt Simpson, policy strategist for the group. "The legislature must squarely address these reported civil rights violations via reform of forfeiture laws that strengthen protection against unconstitutional conduct and racial profiling."
Location: 
Tenaha, TX
United States
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PATRIOT Act "Sneak and Peek" Searches Targeted Drug Offenders, Not Terrorists

The Bush administration sold the PATRIOT Act's expansion of law enforcement powers, including "sneak and peek" searches in which the target of the search is never notified that his home has been searched, as necessary to defend the citizens of the US from terrorist attacks, but that's not how federal law enforcement has used its sweeping new powers. According to a July report from the Administrative Office of the US Courts (thanks to Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post), of 763 sneak and peek search warrants issued last year, only three were issued in relation to alleged terrorist offenses, or less than one-half of 1% of all such black-bag clandestine searches. Nearly two-thirds (62%) were issued to investigate drug trafficking offenses. The report also includes figures on existing warrants that were extended last year. When new and extended warrant figures are combined, the total number of warrants was 1,291, with 843, or 65%, for drug investigations. Only five of all new or extended sneak and peek warrants were for terrorism investigations. Of 21 criminal offense categories for which warrants were issued or extended, terrorism ranked 19th, exceeding only conspiracy and bribery. As Grim noted, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), a leading critic of the PATRIOT Act, challenged Assistant Attorney General David Kris about why powers supposedly needed to fight terrorism were instead being used for common criminal cases. "This authority here on the sneak-and-peek side, on the criminal side, is not meant for intelligence," said Kris. "It's for criminal cases. So I guess it's not surprising to me that it applies in drug cases. "As I recall it was in something called the USA PATRIOT Act," Feingold retorted, "which was passed in a rush after an attack on 9/11 that had to do with terrorism it didn't have to do with regular, run-of-the-mill criminal cases. Let me tell you why I'm concerned about these numbers: That's not how this was sold to the American people. It was sold as stated on DoJ's website in 2005 as being necessary - quote - to conduct investigations without tipping off terrorists," he said. "I think it's quite extraordinary to grant government agents the statutory authority to secretly breaks into Americans' homes in criminal cases, and I think some Americans might be concerned it's been used hundreds of times in just a single year in non-terrorism cases," the Wisconsin progressive continued. "That's why I'm proposing additional safeguards to make sure that this authority is available where necessary, but not in virtually every criminal case."
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
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Overdose and Other Drug-Related Deaths Now Closing In on Car Wrecks as Leading Accidental Killer in US

In a report released Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found that drug-related deaths—the vast majority of them overdoses—increased dramatically between 1999 and 2006, and that drug-related deaths now outpace deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 16 states. That's up from 12 states the previous year and double the eight states in 2003. More people died from drug-related causes than traffic accidents in the following states: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. According to CDC researchers, who examined death certificate data from around the country, some 45,000 died in traffic accidents in 2006, while 39,000 people suffered drug-related deaths. About 90% of the drug deaths were from overdoses, but researchers also included in that figure people who died of organ damage from long-term drug use. Researchers reported a sharp increase in deaths tied to cocaine and to the opioid analgesics, a class of powerful drug that includes fentanyl, methadone, morphine, and popular pain relievers like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Cocaine-related deaths jumped from about 4,000 in 1999 to more than 7,000 in 2006, but methadone-related deaths increased seven-fold to about 5,000, and other opioid deaths more than doubled from less than 3,000 to more than 6,000. Oddly enough, heroin-related deaths actually declined slightly, hovering just below 2,000 a year throughout the period in question. And despite all the alarums about young people dying of drug overdoses, the 15-24 age group had the lowest drug-related death rate of any group except those over 65. Only about three per 100,000 young people died of drug-related causes in 2006, compared to six per 100,000 among the 25-34 age group, eight per 100,000 in the 35-44 age group, and 10 per 100,000 in the 45-54 age group. CDC researchers did not discuss causes for the increase in overall drug-related deaths or the rate of drug-related deaths, but several plausible (and complementary) explanations come to mind: the introduction and widespread use of Oxycontin, the fentanyl-tainted heroin epidemic that appeared in 2006, the increasing non-medical use of prescription pain relievers, and the increasing use of methadone as a pain reliever.
Location: 
Atlanta, GA
United States
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Latin America: Mexican Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr. Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war: Wednesday, September 23 Nine people were killed in a nine hour span in Ciudad Juarez. The dead included a beheaded man, and bullet-riddled bodies of three men and a woman found in a car. Additionally, another gunshot victim was found by the side of a road, and two bodies-one beheaded-were found wrapped in a blanket. The ninth victim was found dead inside a car. Four people were killed after a gun battle in La Crucita, Durango. The four dead, all men, were killed during a firefight between two groups of rival drug traffickers in a hillside community. Three bullet-riddled SUV's were left at the scene. Thursday, September 24 At least three US citizens were killed when gunmen attacked a motel in Ciudad Juarez, along with a Mexican man, whom police believe was the intended target. The two women who were killed were sisters. A high-ranking police official was ambushed in Sinaloa. The official, Jesús Adolfo Fierro Bojórquez, had called his wife to pick him up after his car broke down. She arrived to find him dead with a gunshot wound to the chest. Additionally, a police radio operatior was shot and killed in Ecatepec, near Mexico City, and 18 people were killed across Ciudad Juarez in a 24 hour period. Two men were killed in Tijuana, and three in Guerrero. Friday, September 25 Five suspected Sinaloa cartel assassins were arrested by the Mexican army in Ciudad Juarez. The men are thought to be involved in at least 45 murders, including the two recent attacks on drug rehabilitation centers in which 28 people were lined up against a wall and executed. Monday, September 28 In the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, two Canadian men were shot and killed in execution-style slayings. Gunmen attacked Gordon Douglas Kendall and Jeffrey Ronald Ivan’s outside an apartment building, chasing them to the pool area before finally killing them. Canadian law enforcement officials were apparently aware of the two men, and believed they were deeply involved in the British Columbia cocaine trade. A former Juarez police officer was arrested over the weekend, and is suspected of taking part in at least 18 killings in the city. He was one of several arrests made by Mexican military and police forces in Juarez over the weekend. The ex-officer, Miguel Angel Delgado Carmona, 39, was captured with an accomplice following a vehicle chase after an aborted extortion attempt at a Juarez funeral home. He is also suspected of taking part in locating another 80 homicide victims, and was captured with two AK-47’s. Tuesday, September 29 In Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexican army elements took over police stations and surrounded a stadium where municipal vehicles are kept. They also interrogated local police officers about an incident that occurred on the 3rd of September, in which it is suspected that local police leaked information to drug traffickers who killed at two police officers and a fireman who were travelling unarmed. Wednesday, September 30 Army troops seized $7.3 million in cash from a house in Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas state. The raid came after soldiers received a tip from local residents who said they had seen several armed men at the house. Four handguns and four vehicles were also seized in the raid on the home, which is thought to have been a Gulf Cartel safe house. Three civilians were wounded when soldiers at a military checkpoint shot at the car in which they were travelling. The incident took place in Morelia, Michoacan. The three men in the car were apparently drunk, and security in the area was high because of a visit to the city by President Calderon. This is the latest in a series of shootings at road blocks set up by the military to stem the flow of drugs and arms moving along Mexico's roads. Body count for the last two weeks: 275 Body count for the year: 5,411
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