psmith's blog

South Dakota Legislature Will Take Up a Medical Marijuana Bill This Session

South Dakota's one-man marijuana reform movement, Bob Newland, has informed the Chronicle that he has found a legislative sponsor for a medical marijuana bill and there will be a hearing soon, most likely before the end of the month. The text of the proposed bill can be read here. It would be a very pleasant surprise if this bill were to pass, and a sweet vindication for activists like Newland in the only state to fail to pass a medical marijuana legalization initiative at the polls. In the 2006 initiative, medical marijuana gained 48% of the popular vote. Earlier efforts to pass a bill in the legislature went nowhere, and the opposition to this bill will be led by Attorney General Larry Long (R), who was also point man for initiative opponents in 2006. (Who knew the AG was an MD? Oh, he isn't.) Newland sought meetings with Long in an effort to address "law enforcement concerns," but Long made it clear that he is unalterably opposed to medical marijuana. Period. Newland also has a fall-back bill prepared if, as he predicts, Republicans will be aghast at allowing patients to grow their own medicine and try to kill the bill. The fall-back bill simply allows an affirmative defense in a patients is arrested and prosecuted for his medicine.
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The Chronicle will be back next year, er, next week.

Your ink-stained wretch of a Chronicle editor spent this past week relocating from the frigid steppes of the Dakotas to the friendlier clime of Northern California's Sonoma County, the land of milk and honey. Once I made it over Donner Pass on I-80 with the help of tire chains, it was all downhill from there... Next week, in honor of the coming of the new year, I will put on my best Janus face(s), and the Chronicle will look back at the big news of '08, as well as looking forward at what should be/could be the big news of '09, so stay tuned for that pair of features a week from today. I've also got a pile of drug policy-related books that are begging to be read and reviewed. I'll be working on that in the next few days as well, so you can expect to see some reviews dribbling out in the coming weeks. Now, it's the day after Christmas, and I have to venture out to the shopping malls in search of a router for my new Internet set up. See you next year, and next week.
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Hey, Dirtbags, Ya Wanna Know What Cops Think About Frank's Decrim Bill (and You)?

Pot smokers and drug reformers weren't the only people interested in Barney Frank's news conference yesterday about his decriminalization bill. The law enforcement web site Police 1 noted it as well and posted a short piece asking its readership what they thought. The piece, Are Small Pot Busts Taking Cops Away From Important Work? What Do You Think?, was a calm, unbiased look at the decrim bill and what it would (and wouldn't) do. I wish I could say the same about the responses. Now, before I get into the meat of the matter, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the responses are not necessarily reflective of police officers' views in general, but are only the responses of a self-selected set of anonymous posters who have registered with Police 1 and who Police 1 says are verifiably law enforcement personnel. That caveat notwithstanding, the posters offer a pretty depressing look into the mind-set of at least some cops. Here are some of them:
Raymundo: I think we all know that pot heads just want to be able to do what they want. Marijuana kills brain cells and they don't come back, hello we need those. Marijuana should stay illegal and I hope congress continues to see that it should be illegal.
SPD853: I think we waste time on plenty of crimes. It is our job. Those cops who think it is a waste of time just "wind test" it anyway (if they do anything at all).
I hadn't heard the phrase "wind test" before. I think that means when they just steal your property, open up the baggie and let the goodies blow away in the wind. That's pretty rude, but preferable to getting arrested, I guess.
Chr1s11: How many of those "small" pot busts have been turned over for info leading to a much larger bust for a much worse controlled substance. The pot heads tend to give up the crack dealer to save the misdemeanor record. Besides, it's still an illegal substance that causes serious dificulty for someone to be a productive individual. Pot heads are the loosers that turn into coke/crack/meth heads. Then comes the violent crime they have to commit to support the habbit.
Well, of course. We all know that pot smokers are crack heads who inevitably turn to violent crime to support their habits. The only other comment I have on this poster is that anyone who can't spell loser correctly probably shouldn't be calling other people losers. He would be better off going back to school and actually passing eighth grade this time.
Baltoblue: I'd rather lock people up for Marijuana all day long then taking 6 reports a day because people can't resolve small problems on their own. The fact is that people can't resolve small problems on their own. The fact is that Marijuana is great PC for searching vehicles (on smell), and also leads to larger cases. I for one, have never locked up a nuerosurgeon for pot, and most that I lock up for pot are involved in larger crimes.
A couple of things on this one: I know I shouldn't pick on people for misspellings, but when you're trying to call pot smokers dumb, you should probably spell "neurosurgeon" correctly. Secondly, Baltoblue's point that pot is great for providing PC (probable cause) for searching cars is a common theme on this board.
Mac25: It is already hard enough to get a conviction when they wont emit it is their property but now they will say it is for personal use and I am not selling. When you compare the drugs (marijuana/alcohol) they both have their down falls but seem to be the lesser evil of all the drugs out there. With that said, the battle on drugs including marijuana has gone on too long to turn around and try to make it legal. I would say most, at least 75, of the people that use marijuana are dirt bags and are involved in other crimes or some how connected to those that commit the crimes. The marijuana arrests are and can be used to assist us (police) in catching those criminals. If it is legalized it will be thrown in our faces day in and day out by these criminals.
This guy's reasoning skills are right up there with his spelling and composition skills. So, 75 (percent, I assume, unless he's personally counting up the dirt bags) of pot smokers are "dirt bags" and are involved in other crimes or know somebody involved in other crimes or live in the same country as people committing other crimes or something. But at least there was one poster who was sympathetic:
In 14 years of active road service as a cop, I have never responded to a call involving anyone who had smoked a joint and was ready to fight with their wife or anyone else for that matter. Yes, I think to much time is spent on arrests involving small amounts of pot. Alcohol, on the other hand, has cost our country Billions of dollars and a tremendous loss of life. While I don't think pot should be legal, I think we need to re-think this issue.
There are more comments on the web site. Check 'em out if you have the stomach for seeing what those people who are supposed to serve and protect you think about you. As for me, I always try to treat police officers with the same respect they show me.
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Dia Mundial de la Marijuana (Global Marijuana Day), Mexico City

Here in Mexico's capital, several thousand people gathered at the Alameda Central, a large park in the historic center of the city, to celebrate Global Marijuana Day. Punks, Goths, hippies, and members of all the other "urban tribes" that constitute the youth counterculture of one of the world's premier cities came together for a day of respect, tolerance, music, and above all, to call for the legalization of the sacred herb. Of course, it's not just the youth cultures of Mexico City that we're talking about here; it's the global cannabis culture. Cannabis Nation knows no boundaries. In many respects, I could have been standing in Memphis or Malmo or Madrid or Mombasa or Minsk--the t-shirts and slogan are the same, the concerns roughly identical. I'll say this for the global prohibition of marijuana: It has created a global culture of resistance that supercedes national identities or barriers. The music and musicians were spot-on, but lyrically and rhythmically. Some of the songs were pure celebration:
We're going to the beach and I wanna smoke We're going to dance and toke
Some of the songs were highly politicized and, naturally, critical of the US. One rapper compared Bush ("creating hell on earth") with Hitler and Hernan Cortes, placing him squarely in a particularly Mexican pantheon of villains. Speaking of politics, one of the great battles going on in Mexico right now is over the government's efforts to privatize Pemex, the state oil monopoly. For many Mexicans, Pemex is a symbol of the Revolution a century ago that overthrew foreign domination. After the Revolution, the Mexicans expropriated the foreign oil companies; now they fear the government is going to give the national oil industry back to the foreigners. One sign at the march tied that struggle to the struggle for marijuana legalization:
Mariguana y petroleo Eso es nuestro patrimonio Marijuana and Oil That's our patrimony
The police presence was minimal, and as far as I could see, there were no problems and no arrests, although pot-smoking was open and frequent throughout the day. I took lots of photos, as you can see. (Sixteen more below the fold.)Sadly, my memory stick got full, and I missed some of the potentially most impressive shots, when the multitude was marching down Avenida Juarez, past the Bellas Artes palace and in front of some of the old colonial buildings in the city center. Still, Global Marijuana Day in Mexico City was a trip. Enjoy the photos, and look for a full report on the action in the Chronicle later this week.
Location: 
Mexico City
Mexico
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Bloody Culiacan

As we reported on Friday, Culiacan, the capital of the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, was the scene of a two-day forum last week, the International Forum on Illicit Drugs, where there was much criticism of the Mexican drug war and the planned escalation of it envisaged by Plan Merida, the $1.4 anti-drug aid package cooked up by the Bush and Calderon administrations. The so-called "narco-violence," which might more accurately be called "prohibition-related violence," was, unsurprisingly, a central concern of presenters at the forum. In the year and a half since President Calderon took office and unleashed the Mexican military on the narcos, some 4,000 people have been killed. As if to punctuate that concern, just as the conference was wrapping up Wednesday, a series of armed confrontations broke out in central Culiacan. Sparked by a joint military-federal police sweep that was attacked by AK-47-wielding narcos in a Chevy Tahoe, gun battles broke out across the city as narcos swooped in to lend aid to their colleagues being harassed and captured by the law and other, rival narcos intervened. In one shoot-out between rival narco factions, two men were killed. In another shoot-out, between narcos and state police, two cops were killed. The military and police arrested 13 presumed cartel gun-men and seized a huge arsenal of heavy weapons, cash, and drugs. Thursday morning, military pick-ups and Hummers were cruising the streets of Culiacan, soldiers at their posts in back with heavy machine guns. Military helicopters buzzed over the city, although it was unclear whether they were supporting urban ground operations or were on their way to search for marijuana and poppy fields in the nearby mountains. (I apologize for not having any photos of this stuff. My camera battery went dead Tuesday morning, and having brought with me the wrong bag of electronic stuff, I couldn't recharge it. I went to five different camera stores in Culiacan looking for either a new battery or a charger, to no avail. I finally found a store in Mexico City Friday that charged it for me, so I have lots of photos of Saturday's Global Marijuana March in Mexico City. They will show up in a blog post later today.) The heavy military and law enforcement presence didn’t do much good. Friday night, the narcos struck back, ambushing a federal police patrol in the heart of Culican, killing four officers and leaving three other seriously wounded. But it wasn't just narcos vs. cops and soldiers Friday night. As reported by the Mexican news agency Notimex, a little after 11 Friday night, at least 60 armed men broke into three houses in a city neighborhood and seized five men, then took off in a 15-vehicle convoy, which was in turn attacked, leaving one man dead at that scene. At the same time, two other shoot-outs erupted in different neighborhoods of the city, while simultaneously, on the outskirts of town, presumed narcos shot and killed two Culiacan city police. It's not always easy to figure out who is killing whom. There are local, state, and federal police, any one of whom could be working for the cartels. There's the army. Then there are the competing cartels themselves. In Culiacan, long controlled by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and his Sinaloa cartel, Guzman and his group are being challenged by the Arrellano Felix Juarez cartel, which wants to take over "la plaza," or the franchise, as the local drug connection is known. Just to complicate things further, the Juarez cartel is allegedly being aided by the Zetas, the former elite anti-drug soldiers turned cartel hit-men, who usually work for the Gulf cartel. And this is just in Culiacan. There are other prohibition-related killings every day, soldiers and police being assassinated every day. On Saturday, the Mexican secretary of public security held a ceremony to honor the nine federal police killed by the narcos in the last few days. Another was gunned down in the Mexico City suburb of Coyoacan Friday night, too. All of this pathology, of course, is a direct result of prohibitionist drug polices aggressively pursued by Washington and Mexico City. And what is their response? Let's have more of the same, only more so.
Location: 
Culiacan, SIN
Mexico
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At the Shrine to San Malverde, Mexico's Narco-Saint

You don't find Culiacan, the capital city of Sinaloa, in the tourist guide books for some reason. But it is a thriving city of more than a million, and it is the home of one of the stranger manifestations of the drug wars of the last few decades: The shrine to San Malverde, (unofficial) patron saint of bandits, and now, drug traffickers. shrine to San Malverde, patron saint of the narcos (and others), Culiacan, Sinaloa -- plaque thanking God, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and San Malverde for keeping the roads cleans -- from "the indigenous people from Angostura to Arizona" (more pictures below the fold) I visited the shine in the heat of the afternoon sun today. During the half hour or so I was there, a few dozen people came to light candles to the santo, pay their respects, or otherwise recognize his alleged powers of protection. A handful of musicians for hire hung around, waiting for someone to pay them to play a tune to the saint, and about a dozen vendors sold San Malverde memorabilia--candles, plaques, good luck amulets, prayer cards, and the like. (Hmmm, do I feel an idea for a StoptheDrugWar.org premium gestating?) The vendors told me that dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people arrive each day, some to pray, some to light candles, some to make donations, some to put up plaques:
"Thanks to God and San Malverde for favors received." "Thanks to God, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and San Malverde for helping us move forward." "O miraculous Malverde, O, Malverde my Lord, Concede me this favor, And fill my heart with happiness."
Given the way Mexico's drug war is raging these days, I would imagine the good saint is getting a real work-out. Mexicans are so inured to the daily drug war death toll that the newspapers generally relegate it to box score-type accounts, but when you or a friend or a family member is working in the trade, you probably figure some supernatural help can't hurt. I'll spend the next few days here in Culiacan. I had wanted to go up to the drug-producing areas in the mountains nearby, but so far, everyone is demurring--it's too dangerous, they say. Nonetheless, I'll keep working that and see what happens. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I'll be attending and "International Forum on Illicit Drugs: The Merida Initiative and the Experiences of Decriminalization," organized by the brave journalists of the Culiacan news weekly Riodoce. While the other Sinaloa papers have largely gone silent in the face of threats and killings, Riodoce keeps plugging away. I'll be meeting with some of the Riodoce staff tomorrow, right after I meet with Mercedes Murillo, head of the local human rights organization the Sinaloa Civic Front, which just a couple of days ago filed what could be a historic court motion to have military personnel accused of crimes against civilians tried in civilian--not military--court. There have been several nasty incidents of soldiers killing civilians here since Calderon sent in the troops, and under current Mexican law, they seem to get away with it. Stay tuned. It should be an interesting week. And then it's back to Mexico City to visit Saint Death and attend the Global Marijuana Day demonstration at the Alameda. (more pictures below the fold)
Location: 
Culiacan, SIN
Mexico
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Mexico City: Goths and Rockeros and Jipis, Oh My!

I spent my first weekend here in Mexico City exploring some of the counterculture of the massive metropolis. One of the places I went was the old Buenavista railroad station. The station is closed now, but right next door is a nearly three-decade old Mexico City phenomenon: the tianguis (market) del chopo, where every Friday and Saturday, the city's various youth culture tribes come out to see and be seen, listen to the latest sounds, and buy music, posters, clothing, pins, and all sorts of other goods. (For a nice introduction to the city's tribes, check out veteran Mexico-watcher John Ross's piece in Counterpunch.) Man, what a show it is! Punkis (punks), skatos (ska fans), metaleros (you guessed it), darketos (Goths) mix with dread-locked followers of Bob Marley, emerging from the Buenavista metro station like a legion of the undead. There's not a lot of directly drug policy-related stuff to be cleaned from the chopo, but I did talk with some of the more jipi (hippie)- type vendors and their clientele. You know, the guys selling the marijuana leaves and extolling the virtues of the herb. But I didn't really hear anything new from them. Sadly, my trip to the rockers' market was a bit spur of the moment, so I didn’t have my camera with me. Suffice it to say, there were some pretty impressive mohawks and some pretty glam Goths. While in that neighborhood, north of the historic center of the city, I walked over to the Guerrero metro station in search of a church I heard of where there is supposedly a chapel dedicated to San Jesus Malverde, the (unofficial) patron saint of drug traffickers. I couldn't find it, but the search continues, and so does my quest to find adherents of the church of Saint Death. Supposedly some of these folks are hard-core hard cases, dead-end dopers. I want to see what that's all about. Stay tuned for more on this front. I did get some pics from my visit to the plaza in Coyoacan, an upscale southern suburb. The plaza has been a gathering place for jipis and artists for decades, and the plaza has recently been crowded with the stalls of the vendors, many of them embracing the jipi lifestyle and selling that kind of stuff. But now there's a battle going on between the local government and some businesses on one side and the vendors and their allies on the other. For the last three weeks, the plaza has been torn up for "reconstruction," putting a real damper on the scene there, and there are no plans to make room for the vendors when the project is completed. Part of the authorities problem with the plaza scene is the ongoing drug dealing. It's been known for that for years. But the disruption, not to mention the heavy police presence, has quieted things down for now. I start meeting with people tomorrow, although a big meeting that was set for then has now been pushed back to Thursday. That may pose problems for getting a feature story on Mexico out this week, but the upside is it gives me more time to dig around before that. Meanwhile, the drug war continues. I've been reading La Jornada, a left-leaning Mexico City newspaper, and it has a daily rundown on the killings. There seem to be five or six or ten a day every day, and every day, some of them are cops or soldiers. Friday was a particularly tough day for the military--11 soldiers died when the chopper they were riding in on their way to raid drug fields in Michoacan fell out of the sky.
Location: 
Mexico City
Mexico
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Headed Down Mexico Way (Again)

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Having rested up from my abortive February trip to Mexico, where I was unable to get my pick-up truck past the frontier zone and into Mexico proper for obscure bureaucratic reasons, I am now about to return to Mexico for a couple of weeks of on-the-scene drug war reporting. I'll be in South Dakota Thursday morning and Mexico City in time for dinner Thursday evening. I will spend a week in Mexico City. Among other things, I will be meeting with a member of Congress who has introduced a marijuana decriminalization bill, along with a select group of Mexico City marijuana activists involved in the campaign. I think I will also be spending some time with folks working with hard drug users and drug-using street youth in the city, and I will be interviewing as many academic and other experts as I can about Mexico's vicious drug prohibition-related violence (the death toll this year must be at 900 by now), the Mexican government's resort to the military to try to suppress the drug trade, and the looming multi-billion US drug war aid package. After that, it gets a bit hazy. I have been making efforts to get out into the countryside in some of the conflictive zones, in particular, the mountains of Guerrero (between Mexico City and Acapulco) and the state of Sinaloa, a traditional drug trafficking hotbed, and home of one of the violently competitive so-called drug cartels. But in both places, I've been receiving strong signals that people don't want to talk; that they are scared. I don't know at this point how this will play out, but I strongly suspect I will be heading to Sinaloa at the end of the month, where on April 29 and 30 a local newsweekly is holding a conference on "Drug trafficking, the Merida Initiative and the experiences on depenalization," which will feature a number of high-powered speakers, including a former Mexican attorney general and the Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann. This should be interesting. Look for some blog posts starting this weekend and some feature articles in the Chronicle for the next couple of weeks (and perhaps beyond). I'm taking the DRCNet camera, too, so maybe I'll get some good pics. If I do, you'll see 'em here. Speaking of photos, check out the one accompanying this Associated Press story from Tuesday. That's right: It's a "help wanted" banner for the Zetas, the former military elite anti-drug unit members who switched sides, calling on current and former soldiers to call them if they're looking for more remunerative work. That's the country I'm headed to! Hasta la vista, baby.
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Skunk Weed Causing Outbreaks of Mad Brit Disease

With British Prime Minister Gordon Brown poised to reclassify marijuana as a more serious drug subject to stiffer penalties, the United Kingdom appears to be in the grip of an outbreak of Reefer Madness that would make Harry Anslinger blush. Bizarrely, much of the British concern about marijuana is centered on the dreaded "skunk." The Daily Mail, which makes the New York Post look like the New York Times, has been a leading proponent of skunk mania. In an article headlined Cannabis: A deadly habit as easy for children to pick up as a bag of crisps, after blaming marijuana for the problems of British youth culture and prohibition-related violence, the Mail breathlessly reports that skunk isn't your father's marijuana. (Haven't we heard this one before?)
The other problem for the Government and others who urged the then Home Secretary David Blunkett to downgrade cannabis in the run-up to 2004, is that the drug on sale to young people on the streets today is very different from the one ministers thought they were downgrading. Doctors believe that this new strain has the potential to induce paranoia and even psychosis. Some of those we met who work with young criminals link the advent of the new drug with the growth and intensity of street violence. Uanu Seshmi runs a small charity in Peckham, where gun crime is rife, which aims to help boys excluded from school escape becoming involved in criminal gangs. He has seen boys come through his doors who are "unreachable" and he blames the new higher strength cannabis sold on the streets as "skunk" or "super skunk" for warping young minds. "It isn't the cannabis of our youth, 20 or 30 years ago," he told me. "This stuff damages the brain, its effects are irreversible and once the damage is done there is nothing you can do.
This new strain of marijuana? Skunk? Odd, since it's been around since the 1970s (read the description of Skunk #1) and is just another of the countless indica-sativa hybrids. Thankfully, we have "drug experts" like Mr. Seshmi to raise the alarm about its irreversible effects. There's more from the Mail, which apparently has made reclassifying cannabis its moral crusade of the day. In another article, How my perfect son became crazed after smoking cannabis, the Mail consults an unhappy mum whose child ran into problems smoking weed. Last fall, the Mail was warning of--I kid you not--"deadly skunk". Here are some more skunk headlines from the Mail in recent months: "Son twisted by skunk knifed father 23 times," "How cannabis made me a monster," "Escaped prisoner killed man while high on skunk cannabis," "Boys on skunk butchered a grandmother," and "Teen who butchered two friends was addicted to skunk cannabis." While one expects such yellow journalism from the likes of the tabloid press, even the venerable Times of London is feeling the effects of skunk fever. Under the headline Cannabis: 'just three drags on a skunk joint will induce paranoia', the Times managed to find and highlight some guy named Gerard who doesn't like that particularly variety of pot:
I smoke around six joints of regular cannabis every week, mostly at the weekends. What I like about smoking hash or weed is that it keeps me calm and gives me a more amusing outlook on life. With skunk, it’s a completely different story. Just three drags on a skunk joint will induce paranoia on a massive scale. I’m not talking about the difference between a beer and a vodka shot. I’m talking about being unable to get out of bed in the morning because you feel paralyzed, about being incapable of holding a conversation. I would like to think I’m a pretty lucid guy, but after smoking skunk I find myself struggling to string a sentence together. In the skunk haze of my student days, I would sometimes find myself unable to leave the house at all. It’s like a mild form of dementia. Once, a friend passed me a skunk joint before going to a birthday party. After just a few drags, I went into a room full of people, barely able to talk. I headed straight for the bar and drank as much alcohol as possible to counteract the effects. It helped, but using one vice to neutralize another is not exactly ideal.
My advice to Gerard (and it's something he apparently still has the brain cells left to figure out by himself despite smoking the evil skunk): If you don't like it, don't smoke it. But more broadly, what does the Times piece tell us? Nothing except this guy doesn't like skunk. Honestly, I don't understand this British mania over skunk. Something similar is going on in Australia, only down under, it's not skunk but the dreaded "hydro" that is causing murder, mayhem, and madness. Blaming a particular cultivation technique is about as stupid as blaming one variety of cannabis. I think this is something I'm going to have to write about in a feature article this week. I'll consult cannabis cultivation experts, media critics, and the latest science to try to get a handle on this.
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Is Your Vagina Drug-Free? Albany's Narcs Want to Know

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Here's an especially sordid and sickening example of abusive policing in the name of the drug war. A young woman driving in the wrong part of Albany gets pulled over by a special, aggressive drug enforcement squad, the Street Drug Unit. As the Albany Times-Union explains:
ALBANY-- The cops in the marked patrol car had circled through West Hill a couple times keeping an eye on their female target. They were part of the Street Drug Unit, an aggressive squad assigned to help rid Albany's neighborhoods of drug dealers and addicts blamed for much of the city's problems. It was early evening and already dark when the patrol car's emergency lights flashed in the rearview mirror of Lisa Shutter's Mitsubishi sedan on Quail Street, just off Central Avenue. Police records show the officers called out a "Signal 38" to alert a dispatcher they were onto something suspicious and about to pull someone over. They would later write in a report that they had pulled her over for "failure to signal," although no ticket was issued, according to police records shared with the Times Union. The actions of police in the minutes that followed would end in controversy rather than with an arrest. They would also leave Shutter, a 28-year-old single mother from Ravena, shaken and angry after one of the officers allegedly inserted his finger into Shutter's vagina on a public street during an apparent search for drugs. When it was over, "I pulled off down the road and I just cried for probably a half hour," Shutter said. "I called my dad. ... I felt like I had been basically raped."
Sounds pretty horrendous, but then, so is the response from the Albany police when Shutter filed a complaint:
The incident has triggered an ongoing internal affairs investigation by the Albany Police Department. But the handling of that investigation has raised questions about whether the department has sought to cover up the incident. Shutter claims Burris Beattie, a commander in internal affairs, dissuaded her from reporting the incident to a civilian police oversight board. The board, which was formed in 2001 in response to community concerns about the handling of internal police investigations, is empowered to monitor cases involving claims of brutality and civil rights violations against any officer. "He said they (internal affairs) would do a better job," Shutter said, recounting her conversation with Beattie. "He said they would like to keep it 'internal' ... that that's how they like to handle things."
Good thing they kept it aware from the civilian police review board, because it would have gotten to the bottom of things, right? Well, maybe not. It seems that the Albany board is as toothless and feckless as the rest of those organizations that are supposed to provide oversight to law enforcement:
Jason S. Allen, acting chairman of Albany's Citizens' Police Review Board, did not respond to a request for comment about whether all civilian complaints against officers are forwarded to the board. Instead, someone from the review board, which maintains an office at Albany Law School, contacted the department two weeks ago and alerted them that a Times Union reporter was asking questions about their policies, according to a police department source.
Let me get this straight: The civilian police review board, which is supposed to keep an eye on police misconduct, but when the board is contacted by reporters about an alleged incident, it doesn't investigate, but instead alerts the department? With review boards like this…But wait, there's more:
A member of the Citizens' Police Review Board, who spoke on condition of anonymity because only the chairman is authorized to make public statements, said some members of the board have privately suspected that the department may be hiding cases of police misconduct. In other instances, the internal affairs reports are so poorly organized and investigated the board has had trouble reaching decisions and often sends them back for more investigation. The board is supposed to appoint a monitor for complaints involving civil rights violations or allegations of excessive force. "Whether the letter of the law says that this should be the process, the intent and spirit of the law mandates that, especially in cases of civil rights violations, they be submitted to us for review," the board member said. "If not this, what do we review? ... The fact they would dissuade someone from reporting an incident and say they would do the investigation better completely defeats the purpose of why we were created."
One of the two officers involved, Matthew Fargione, is the son of a former Albany narc who is a long-time buddy of the chief, James Tuffey. Fargione Sr. used to be Tuffey's boss on the narc squad. The other officer was Nick Abrams. While Shutter said police internal affairs told her one of the officers had been suspended, apparently that is untrue. Here's how it went down, according to the Times-Union account:
The incident unfolded just after 7 p.m. on Dec. 22. Shutter said she'd just finished some last-minute holiday shopping and became confused as she drove through West Hill looking for a friend she'd agreed to pick up that night. Shutter was behind the wheel of a friend's rented car, and said she saw the police car drive past her twice before the stop. The officer at her window grilled her about drug use and hidden crack pipes, she said. "You fit the profile," the officer said, according to Shutter. "You're a white girl in a rental car." She told the officer she had no drugs and offered to take a Breathalyzer test, but he declined to give one, she said. The officer then allegedly reached through her window and plucked Shutter's cellphone from her lap. He scrolled through the personal information in her phone, she said, asking questions about "private calls" and someone named "Mandie," whose name appeared on her contacts' list. Mandie Buxton, 28, who is Shutter's friend since childhood, was at home when her cellphone rang that night. The man calling identified himself as an Albany police officer and asked whether Shutter was supposed to be picking Buxton up that night. "I said: 'What are you talking about?' " Buxton said. "He said: 'You don't know what I'm talking about?' and then he hung up. I called right back and no one answered." Ordinarily, police need a search warrant to seize or access someone's telephone. Before it was over, Shutter was ordered to stand outside her vehicle with her hands on the trunk. One officer searched her body while a second scoured the inside of the car. They also dumped the contents of her purse and asked whether she'd spent her money on crack because her wallet was empty. Shutter said she never consented to a search of her vehicle, her telephone or her body. She said she pleaded with the officer who allegedly slid his hand down the back of her jeans, and inside her underwear, to stop. "I kept saying over and over ... 'If you have to search me, can you bring me to the precinct?' " Shutter said. A female officer was called to the scene and informed Shutter she was there to search her body, Shutter said. The female officer patted her down, lifted Shutter's sweater and felt along her bra strap, and made Shutter open her mouth and lift her tongue. No reason was given. The police found no drugs or other evidence of criminal wrongdoing before allowing Shutter back in her car. "He said 'you're lucky' ... and that I better not drive around there again," Shutter said. Shutter called Buxton and her father minutes later, crying hysterically, they said. Shutter's mother, Sherry, characterized her daughter's encounter with police as a "life-changing nightmare at the hands of an Albany police officer." "Our daughter did not deserve to be so grossly violated and I want the officers to comprehend and be held accountable for violating our child," she said. "I just keep telling her that 'you did not deserve this.'"
One question: How many other women have been sexually assaulted by these criminals in blue? Another question: Is it okay for women to be digitally raped by cops if there are drugs in their vaginas? This story isn't going over too well in Albany, either. Check out the responses by Albanyites (Albanians?) at the Time-Union's blog page.
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On Barry Cooper's latest avoid-getting-busted video release

Former Texas police officer Barry Cooper is at it again. Granted instant media notoriety when he switched sides and released a 2006 video, "Never Get Busted Again," Cooper provided tips and advice to people about how to travel with marijuana and avoid getting nailed. (Our colleagues at Flex Your Rights have criticized some of Cooper's advice, but that's not what this post is about.) Today, Cooper begins shipping his latest effort, "Never Get Raided," a primer on how to possess, grow, and sell pot without getting busted. Cooper is not well liked in the drug reform community. He got off on the wrong foot by falsely affiliating himself with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, as noted above, his advice has been criticized, and his personal behavior has been called into question as well. He has also been accused of being a mercenary (for not giving away his videos). I'm sure a lot of those criticisms are well-founded, but that's not what this post is about, either. I haven't seen Cooper's latest effort. I don't know if it delivers the goods, and I'm not here to say you should go out and buy it. But I certainly support any effort to blunt the ability of the cops to bust people for pot offenses. What roused me from my dogmatic slumber on this was LEAP executive director Jack Cole's quote in a Dallas Morning News article about Cooper and the new video. What Cooper is doing is wrong, Cole said: "We don't agree philosophically at all on these issues," said Cole. "He thinks he should be able to school people on how to break the law, we believe in changing the law." Sorry, Jack, I'm with Barry Cooper on this one. There is no moral, ethical, or philosophical justification whatsoever for terrorizing, arresting, prosecuting, and jailing people for marijuana offenses. Anyone who can teach the nation's millions of pot smokers have to avoid the cops deserves kudos, not criticism. It's not like he's teaching people how to be better killers or robbers. We are talking about a non-violent activity that does no harm to anyone except, arguably, the pot smoker himself. As old-school American dissident Henry David Thoreau once noted, ""Unjust laws exist. Shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them and obey them until we succeed, or shall we transgress them at once?" Or shall we, like Mr. Cooper, tell people how to successfully transgress them? Hell, yeah. I understand where Jack Cole is coming from. LEAP needs to be viewed as responsible law enforcement opposition to the drug war, not as a bunch of drug crime facilitators. But I don't carry that particular burden, so I say good on Barry Cooper (provided, of course, that his advice is good). Yes, of course, we need to change the drugs laws. But in the meantime, as 800,000 people get arrested each year on pot charges, we need to reduce the harm, and helping people avoid arrest and prosecution for marijuana offenses is doing precisely that. The pot laws need to be subverted, and if Barry Cooper's videos help do that, more power to him.
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Mexico Mission Aborted--For Right Now

I could not get my truck into Mexico, so I have turned back. I'm currently sitting in Ponca City, Oklahoma, on my way back to the Great White North. I will then book a flight to Mexico City, but that will probably be three weeks or a month from now to take advantage of lower fares. Gotta run--there's an icy storm blowing in--but I'll be back tomorrow, and I'll have a few things to say about bureaucracy and corruption on the border, "Fourth Amendment-free zones" along the border, and all those Texas highway patrol cars lurking on US 281 coming out of the Rio Grande Valley.
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A Big Bump on the Road to the Mexico

I should have been well on my way to the interior of Mexico today, but it didn't happen. Although I had assiduously prepared all the necessary documentation--multiple copies of the vehicle registration, the title, the permission letter from the lender, the Mexico auto insurance--I got a rude surprise when I went today to Mexican customs to get my auto permit. According to the Mexican records, when I brought a vehicle here in 2004, I left without it. (The Mexicans are concerned that people are taking vehicles into the country and selling them.) That, of course, is not true. I handed in the proper papers to some soldiers and customs agents at a lonely highway checkpoint on the Mexican side of Douglas, Arizona, as I made my way north back then, and drove that pickup for another two years until I traded it in in Spokane, Washington, in the fall of 2006. But that's not what the Mexicans' records show. I was first told that I would have to send proof of all this to Mexico City, and then, after a few weeks or months, it would all be straightened out. That prompted a heated exchange with the poor young woman who was trying to tell me this. Eventually, she relented and said if I could come up with proof that that vehicle had indeed left Mexico, she could let me in for two or three weeks. So, after wandering around in a shocked daze for a few minutes, I parked my pick-up in a secure lot in Reynosa and headed back across the border to try to find the proper documents and arrange for them to be faxed to me in McAllen, Texas. Sadly for me, the dealer in Spokane who took the old pick-up in trade and sold me my current one, went out of business in December. Eventually, after burning through about $30 worth of pay-by-the-minute cell phone time, I was able to contact another Ford dealer in Spokane who was willing to send me documentation showing that the vehicle had indeed been traded in up there. Then it was a $50 round trip cab ride from the border bridge to downtown McAllen to pick up the faxed documents, then back over the bridge to Reynosa, then back to Mexican customs. But by the time I got back there Thursday evening, the woman who had made the agreement with me had left (earlier than she said she would), and the man who took her place was implacable, immovable. So, here I sit in Reynosa on a Thursday night, waiting to try again in the morning. From many years of dealing with government officials all over the world, I have learned to expect the worst and hope to be pleasantly surprised, so I am know harboring serious doubts that things are going to work out in the morning. Is the Mexico trip dead? I see three possibilities right now: 1) I get the necessary permit tomorrow, and all this becomes just another headache I can laugh about later. 2) I do not get the necessary permit, and I turn around and drive 1200 miles back to the Great White North, aborting this expedition for the time being. 3) I do not get the necessary permit, and subsequently turn the trip into the Mexican interior into an extended journey along the US-Mexican border. I can pop into the Mexican border cities without having to have the permit for the interior, and I could survey the border from here to Tijuana. God, I fricking hate borders. Stay tuned. As soon as I know where this trip is going, I'll let you know.
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On the Border in the Lower Rio Grande Valley

I'm now down in the Lower Rio Grande Valley on the border between the US and Mexico. I've been staying in a hotel on the US side in McAllen, Texas, because, somewhat surprisingly, a hotel with an internet connection in the room is cheaper on this side. But I've been crossing the river every day to scout out Reynosa, the city of about half a million, on the other side, and to talk to informed observers, as well as common folks, there, about the recent wave of drug prohibtion-related violence and what can or should be done to reduce the toll. One thing I'm finding is that people are very nervous, whether its the man in the street, human rights observers, businessmen, or even the US enforcers on the north side of the river. The human rights advocate I spoke with didn't want his picture taken ("there are several narco families on my block"), the Reynosa businessmen absolutely refuse to say anything on the record (although they complain bitterly of local corruption), people on the street look around nervously when I ask about the drug trade and the violence, and when I tried to take photos of the border crossing here, ICE agents ran up and demanded I stop. While the violence here has subsided from the violent spasms of a few weeks ago, it continues, with my human rights observer reporting that another narco killing had occurred in the city Sunday night. That makes 14 so far this year in Reynosa, out of 23 total homicides. I'll be getting into some more of the numbers in a feature article on the situation here that will appear on Friday. The poverty in Reynosa is striking. There are guys trying to sell calendars on the streets, there are guys quite eager to show me the way to "Boys Town," and there are other guys quite eager to peddle whatever drug I desire. I haven't taken them up on that, though. Meanwhile, my schedule in Mexico City next week appears to be filling nicely. I'm set to meet with Congresswoman Elsa Conde, the author of the marijuana decriminalization bill, early in the week, as well as with a bunch of Mexican reform activists. I'll also be talking to various Mexican academic experts and people working with drug users in the city. And I take advantage of being in Mexico. Yesterday, I stuck my head in the door of one of the numerous dental clinics just across from the bridge in Reynosa that cater mainly to American visitors. Before I knew it, I was in the chair and getting that crown I had long needed but could never afford. It cost $125, no appointment necessary, in and out quickly, and now I can drink cold drinks again. I'll be trying to talk to as many people as possible here between now and Friday, so stay tuned.
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Heading Down Mexico Way

On Friday, once this week's Chronicle has been put to bed, I hop in the pick-up and head for Mexico for a month or so of on-the-scene reporting on the drug war south of the border. If all goes according to plan, I'll be spending a week in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Matamoros, the major Rio Grande Valley border towns on the Mexican side, where the Mexican government sent in the army a couple of weeks ago. After that, it's a week in Mexico City to talk to politicians, marijuana activists, academics, drug treatment workers, and others in the Mexican capital. Then, I'll head to the beaches of Oaxaca for a weekend, then up the Pacific Coast, stopping in the mountains above Acapulco to talk to poppy farmers, human rights observers, and whoever else I can find. A few hundred miles further north, in Sinaloa, I'll be trying to make contact with pot farmers, as well as seeing what the impact of the Sinaloa Cartel is on the ground in its home state. I will also, of course, be making a pilgrimage to the shrine of San Juan Malverde, patron saint of drug traffickers, on the outskirts of Culicacan. And then it's back toward Gringolandia, with a few days on the Tijuana side of the border, provided I have any money left by then. In the meantime, I'd like to share with you something that appeared last week but that got little attention. It's an analysis of drug situation in Mexico from Austin-based Strategic Forecasting, Inc, and it's pretty grim. Titled The Geopolitics of Dope, the analysis is a steadfastly realistic look at what drug warrior can hope to accomplish fighting the cartels. You should read the whole thing--it's very, very chewy--but here are the last few paragraphs:
The cartel’s supply chain is embedded in the huge legal bilateral trade between the United States and Mexico. Remember that Mexico exports $198 billion to the United States and — according to the Mexican Economy Ministry — $1.6 billion to Japan and $1.7 billion to China, its next biggest markets. Mexico is just behind Canada as a U.S. trading partner and is a huge market running both ways. Disrupting the drug trade cannot be done without disrupting this other trade. With that much trade going on, you are not going to find the drugs. It isn’t going to happen. Police action, or action within each country’s legal procedures and protections, will not succeed. The cartels’ ability to evade, corrupt and absorb the losses is simply too great. Another solution is to allow easy access to the drug market for other producers, flooding the market, reducing the cost and eliminating the economic incentive and technical advantage of the cartel. That would mean legalizing drugs. That is simply not going to happen in the United States. It is a political impossibility. This leaves the option of treating the issue as a military rather than police action. That would mean attacking the cartels as if they were a military force rather than a criminal group. It would mean that procedural rules would not be in place, and that the cartels would be treated as an enemy army. Leaving aside the complexities of U.S.-Mexican relations, cartels flourish by being hard to distinguish from the general population. This strategy not only would turn the cartels into a guerrilla force, it would treat northern Mexico as hostile occupied territory. Don’t even think of that possibility, absent a draft under which college-age Americans from upper-middle-class families would be sent to patrol Mexico — and be killed and wounded. The United States does not need a Gaza Strip on its southern border, so this won’t happen. The current efforts by the Mexican government might impede the various gangs, but they won’t break the cartel system. The supply chain along the border is simply too diffuse and too plastic. It shifts too easily under pressure. The border can’t be sealed, and the level of economic activity shields smuggling too well. Farmers in Mexico can’t be persuaded to stop growing illegal drugs for the same reason that Bolivians and Afghans can’t. Market demand is too high and alternatives too bleak. The Mexican supply chain is too robust — and too profitable — to break easily. The likely course is a multigenerational pattern of instability along the border. More important, there will be a substantial transfer of wealth from the United States to Mexico in return for an intrinsically low-cost consumable product — drugs. This will be one of the sources of capital that will build the Mexican economy, which today is 14th largest in the world. The accumulation of drug money is and will continue finding its way into the Mexican economy, creating a pool of investment capital. The children and grandchildren of the Zetas will be running banks, running for president, building art museums and telling amusing anecdotes about how grandpa made his money running blow into Nuevo Laredo. It will also destabilize the U.S. Southwest while grandpa makes his pile. As is frequently the case, it is a problem for which there are no good solutions, or for which the solution is one without real support.
This is the situation the Bush administration wants to throw $1.4 billion at in the next couple of years. Maybe it and Congress should be reading Strategic Forecasting analyses, too.
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Eric Sage Fights Back

As part of a new Drug War Chronicle occasional series on victims of the war on drugs, we told the story of Eric Sage back in November. Now, there are new developments. On his way home to Nebraska after attending the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota last summer, Sage's motorcycle was pulled over by a highway patrolman. A pick-up truck accompanying also stopped, and when the patrolmen searched that vehicle, he found one of the passengers in possession of a pipe and a small amount of marijuana. Bizarrely, the patrolman charged not only the pick-up truck passengers but also Sage with possession of paraphernalia. Unlike most people arrested on drug charges--even bogus ones--Sage refused to roll over. That prompted local prosecutors to threaten to charge him with "internal possession," a crime (so far) only in South Dakota, and a charge even less supported by the evidence (there was none) than the original paraphernalia charge. After repeated multi-hundred mile trips back to South Dakota for scheduled court hearings, Sage's charges mysteriously evaporated, with prosecutors in Pennington County lamely explaining that they had decided the charge should have been filed in another county. Sage was a free man, but his freedom wasn’t free. Sage says his encounter with South Dakota justice cost him thousands of dollars, lost work days, and considerable stress. Now, he is seeking redress. On Monday, Sage and South Dakota NORML announced that he had filed complaints with several South Dakota agencies and professional standards groups regarding the actions of the prosecutors, Pennington County (Rapid City) District Attorney Glenn Brenner and Assistant DA Gina Nelson, and the highway patrolman, Trooper Dave Trautman. Sage accuses Trautman of improperly charging everyone present at the incident with possession of paraphernalia. He also accuses Trautman of concocting an arrest report long after the fact to support the new charge of internal possession. Sage accuses Assistant DA Nelson and her boss of prosecuting a case they knew was bogus and of threatening to convict him of an offense where they knew he was not guilty because he refused to plead to the original paraphernalia charge. "They mugged me," Sage said. "They cost me $4000. I had to travel to Rapid City several times, I had to hire a lawyer, I missed work. It cost me three times as much to get them to drop a bogus charge as it would have cost me to say I was guilty of something I didn't do and pay their fines. They only quit when they ran out of clubs to hit me with." Prosecutors didn't even have the courtesy to let him or his local attorney know they had finally dropped the charges, Sage said. "My lawyer called Gina Nelson several times to see if I needed to drive up on Nov. 21," he said. "She wouldn't return the calls. So when I got there, I found the charges had been dropped on the 16th. Gina had purposefully made me drive one more 500 mile round trip, for nothing." Now, we'll see if the powers that be in South Dakota will bring the same dogged determination to seeing justice done in this case as they do to going after anybody who even looks like a small-time drug offender. You can read Sage's complaints to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, the South Dakota Bar Association Disciplinary Committee, and the Pennington County Commission here.
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A Grand Total of Five Cops Died Fighting the Drug War Last Year

As the calendar flips over to a new year, law enforcement and the mass media have been trumpeting an increase in law enforcement line of duty deaths, which will doubtless be used to seek more funding for more, better-armed cops. Last year, 187 law enforcement personnel died in the line of duty, up from 145 the year before. Of those, nearly half (82) died in traffic accidents, while another 61 were shot and killed (including at least two accidentally shot by fellow officers). Another seven armed forces law enforcement personnel died in bomb attacks in Iraq, two law enforcement personnel fell to their deaths, at least two died of heart attacks during training exercises, and one died of a wasp sting. The police repeatedly warn that they face grave danger from drug dealers, necessitating the resort to SWAT-style policing on routine drug raids. But according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, the most comprehensive listing of police fatalities we know of, a grand total of five police officers died enforcing the drug laws last year: a Tennessee highway patrolman killed when he pulled over some Texas teens with a carload of marijuana; a Toledo, Ohio, detective killed when he attempted to break up a street drug deal; a Dallas cop killed in a confrontation with a suspect in a murder at a drug house; a Puerto Rico cop killed trying to make a drug arrest; and a Rialto, California, cop killed while executing a drug search warrant. Given an estimated 1.8 million drug arrests last year (that figure is actually from 2006; expect it to go slightly for 2007 as it does every year), that comes out to one police officer killed in every 360,000 drug arrests. I'll be writing a feature article this week on the dangers of drug law enforcement. Look for more details on these deaths, as well as an examination of the need for SWAT-style policing on routine drug raids.
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As We Mark the Anniversary of the Killing of Kathryn Johnston, Poll Commissioned by DRCNet (StoptheDrugWar.org) Finds Little Support for SWAT-Style Drug Raids in Most Cases

(Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/policeraids for further information on our poll and positions on this issue as well as links to further information.) A year ago this week, 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston was gunned down by Atlanta narcotics officers when she opened fire on them as they kicked down her door in a "no-knock" drug raid. The killing has had immense reverberations in the Atlanta area, especially since it opened a window on corrupt and questionable police practices in the drug squad. The officers involved told a judge they had an informant who had bought crack cocaine at Johnston's home. That was a lie. They shot at the elderly woman protecting her home 39 times after she managed to squeeze off one shot from an old pistol. They handcuffed her as she lay dying. They planted marijuana in her basement after the fact. They tried, also after the fact, to get one of their informants to say he had supplied the information, but that informant instead went to the FBI. Two of the officers involved in the killing were ordered to prison this week on involuntary manslaughter and civil rights violations. A third has an April trial date. The Johnston killing has also rocked the Atlanta Police Department. The police chief disbanded the entire drug squad for months, tightened up the rules for seeking search warrants, especially "no-knock" warrants, and instituted new policies forcing narcotics officers to rotate out on a regular basis. A year-long FBI investigation into the department continues. While the Johnston killing rocked the Atlanta area, it also brought the issue of aggressive drug war police tactics to the forefront. Each year, SWAT teams across the country conduct some 40,000 raids, many of them directed at drug offenders. The tactic, where heavily armed police in military-style attire break down doors, toss flash-bang grenades, and generally behave as if they are searching for insurgents in Baghdad, has become routine, and is the stuff of various TV reality shows. But, somewhat surprisingly, it isn't popular. According to a poll question of 1,028 likely voters commissioned by StoptheDrugWar.org (DRCNet), and conducted by Zogby International in October, a solid majority of respondents said such tactics were not justified for routine drug raids. Here is the exact question asked: "Last year 92-year old Kathryn Johnston was killed by Atlanta police serving a drug search warrant at an incorrect address supplied by an informant. Reports show that police use SWAT teams to conduct raids as often as 40,000 times per year, often for low-level drug enforcement. Do you agree or disagree that police doing routine drug investigations in non-emergency situations should make use of aggressive entry tactics such as battering down doors, setting off flash-bang grenades, or conducting searches in the middle of the night?" Nearly two-thirds -- 65.8% -- said police should not routinely use such tactics. With minor variations, that sentiment held across all geographic, demographic, religious, ideological, and partisan lines. Opposition to the routine use of SWAT tactics for drug law enforcement ranged from 70.7% in the West to 60.5% in the East. Residents of large cities (60.7%), small cities (71.2%), the suburbs (66.7%), and rural areas (65.0%), all opposed the routine use of SWAT tactics. Among Democrats, 75.1% opposed the raids; among independents the figure was 65.5%. Even in the Republican ranks, a majority -- 56% -- opposed the raids. Across ideological lines, 85.3% of self-identified progressives opposed the raids, as did 80.8% of liberals, 62.9% of moderates, and 68.9% of libertarians. Even people describing themselves as conservative or very conservative narrowly opposed the routine use of SWAT tactics, with 51.5% of the former and 52.5% of the latter saying no. This polling data will be the basis for a Drug War Chronicle article on Friday. We will dig a little deeper into the data, as well as the larger issue of SWAT raids for the Chronicle article. In the meantime, we have some very interesting numbers to chew on, and some public policy consequences to ponder. Our poll also received coverage on FoxNews.com this morning.
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Goodbye To a Drug Warrior; Australian Prime Minister John Howard Set to Lose Power in Saturday's Elections

The Australian Labor Party and its leader, Kevin Rudd, appear poised to drive drug warrior Prime Minister John Howard and his Liberal/National Party coalition from office in elections coming this Saturday. Labor needs to pick up 16 seeks to take over, and according to recent polls, it should do so. Those same polls show Rudd and Labor defeating Howard and the coalitionby a margin of 54% to 46% in the popular vote. Howard could even lose his own district, something that hasn’t happened to a sitting Australian prime minister since 1929. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Howard is a rigid foe of drug reform who in this most recent campaign has debased the discourse by reducing it to the level of "drugs are evil" and who over the weekend vowed to have the federal government take control of welfare payments for people who are drug offenders (look for a news brief on that on Friday). Although Howard was forced to accept the existence of the safe injection site at Kings Cross in Sydney, he is a fervent anti-harm reductionist. Here's just a short, and doubtless incomplete, catalog of his sins: He tried to narrow the drug policy debate by purging the federal drug advisory panel of harm reduction advocates, he opposed heroin prescription trials in Western Australia, the following year, he threatened to prosecute under federal law anyone using a safe injection site if any other states tried to open one, he tried to pressure states to roll back marijuana decriminalization laws, and last year, his government announced plans to ban bongs. Drug policy is not playing a major role in the campaign, although Howard has tried to make it one in recent days. If, as appears increasingly certain, he actually goes down to defeat on Saturday, it will be because of his support of the Iraq war, his disdain for environmental concerns, and, last but not least, because, after 11 years of Howard rule, Australians are ready for a new face. An added bonus in the election could be the rise of the Green Party to role of power broker in the Senate. Under Australia's system of proportional representation, the Greens could end up holding the balance of power in the Senate. While the Greens have retreated somewhat in their drug policy platform in the last couple of years, it is still light years ahead of either Labor or Howard's coalition.
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Hemp On the Menu in Bismarck, North Dakota

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Bismarck's Bistro restaurant is known for its fine, grass-fed North Dakota beef and fine wines, but the menu last night included a tasty garden salad with hemp oil dressing. Hemp isn't usually on the menu--at least so far--but the folks at the Bistro added it in honor of the plaintiffs in a case that is being heard at the federal courthouse here this morning. In a little less than an hour, North Dakota farmers Wayne Hauge and Roger Munson, who is also a state senator, and their attorneys, will be in federal court to argue motions in their case against the DEA for refusing to act on their applications to grow hemp. The farmers have the support of the state government, which, in the face of DEA intransigence, has acted to get the DEA out of the way, as well as the hemp industry, some of whose representatives were at the dinner table at the Bistro last night. The attorneys told me last night the most likely outcome of today's hearings is that the judge will not rule immediately, but take the motions under consideration with a ruling to come shortly. The government will ask for a dismissal, but the hemp attorneys think that's unlikely. The hearing will last until about noon, then there will be a post-hearing press availability, which I will attend before heading back to central South Dakota. Yesterday, on the way up here, my gas mileage sucked as I fought bitter winds out of the northwest. Local TV news reported gusts of 74 mph yesterday. The wind is still blowing, but at least this afternoon it'll be at my back as I scoot across the lonely prairies. Look for a feature article on the hemp hearing on Friday.
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Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School