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The Week Online with DRCNet
(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)

Issue #272, 1/17/03

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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Come to "Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century," Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, February 12-15, 2003 -- visit (English) or (Español) for info or to register.

Join the HEA campaign to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act -- visit for info and an activist packet.


  1. The Road to Mérida: Interviews with Participants in the "Out from the Shadows" Campaign
  2. The Road to Mérida: Interview with Dr. Francisco Fernandez, Anthropologist and Former Rector of Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán
  3. The Road to Mérida: Interview with Al Giordano, publisher of Narco News
  4. Bolivian Government Represses Coca Protests, Four Dead... So Far
  5. Ed Rosenthal Medical Marijuana Trial Underway -- Judge Blocks Mention of Prop. 215, Has Trouble Seating Jury
  6. Canadian Prime Minister Promises Motion on Decriminalization as Courts Continue to Chip Away at Marijuana Laws
  7. Latin American Anti-Prohibition Conference, Feb. 12-15, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico
  8. Cumbre Internacional Sobre Legalización, 12-15 Febrero, Mérida, México
  9. Newsbrief: Souder Pushes Partial HEA Reform, Frank to Reintroduce Drug Provision Repeal Bill
  10. Newsbrief: Racine Caves Before the Ravers
  11. Newsbrief: MPP "War on Drug Czar" Continues -- State Reacts to Allegations
  12. Newsbrief: 12 Dead in Brazil as Drug Police Raid Shantytowns
  13. Newsbrief: Mexican Soldiers Bust Narcs
  14. Newsbrief: Colombian President Seeks Iraq-Like Mobilization Against Traffickers
  15. Newsbrief: Some Colombian Terrorists May Be More Equal Than Others
  16. Newsbrief: Alaska Lieutenant Governor Disqualifies Marijuana Legalization Petition Signatures, Proponents Vow Fight
  17. Newsbrief: Return of the RAVE Act
  18. Newsbrief: Ecstasy Rarely Kills, British Study Finds
  19. Alan Shoemaker Ayahuasca Legal Defense Fund Needs Support
  20. Media Scan: Washington on Forchion, Cockburn on Rosenthal, Forbes on Walters, Szasz on Drug Medicalization, Bruce McKinney, GAO on DARE
  21. DC Job Opportunity at DRCNet -- Campus Coordinator
  22. The Reformer's Calendar
(read last week's issue)

(visit the Week Online archives)

1. The Road to Mérida: Interviews with Participants in the "Out from the Shadows" Campaign

This week DRCNet continues our series of interviews with prominent participants in the "Out from the Shadows" Latin America summit and campaign. We interview Dr. Francisco Fernandez, Chairman of the Anthropology Dept. and recent former Rector of the Autonomous University of the Yucatán (Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, or UADY), our host in Mérida, and Al Giordano, founder of Narco News, our key partner organizing the Mérida conference.

Visit and for last week's Out from the Shadows interviews. And keep checking the Week Online and the Out from the Shadows conference web pages --
(English) and (Español) for more interviews between now and the conference and thereafter.

2. The Road to Mérida: Interview with Dr. Francisco Fernandez, Anthropologist and Former Rector of Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán

Dr. Francisco Fernandez has been on the anthropology faculty at the Autonomous University of Yucatán for nearly 20 years, and was appointed chair of the department in 1997. Fernandez was until recently the Rector of the university, and approved the university's co-sponsorship and hosting of the Out from the Shadows conference. DRCNet spoke with Dr. Fernandez on Thursday.

Week Online: First, can you tell our North American readers what an "autonomous university" is?

Dr. Francisco Fernandez: The movement toward autonomous universities began as an effort to keep higher education free of untoward political influence and extends throughout Latin America. It means that all the rules and norms that govern university life are decided within the university itself -- not by the government. Even if our budget comes from the government, university life is organized from within and is not influenced by the government. The principle of autonomy is also generally viewed as one that keeps the police or military from invading college campuses to put down political or social movements.

WOL: Can you tell us about the Autonomous University of the Yucatán?

Fernandez: The university is a full-fledged liberal arts university, with 25 different Bachelor of Arts programs, as well as advanced programs. We offer degrees in the social sciences, the liberal arts, as well as mathematics, engineering, architecture, the sciences, and medicine and dentistry. We have 35 full-time professors in the liberal arts. We have an enrollment of 15,000 students, the vast majority of them from the Yucatán, but only 8,000 are what you would call college students in the US. Within the university, we also have two high schools, with nearly 7,000 students.

WOL: Are you surprised to see an event like this coming to Mérida?

Fernandez: No, the university and the faculty are very open to hearing what people have to say about such serious topics. It is important to open a space where people from both inside and outside the university community can hear different viewpoints on problems of concern to us all. On a sensitive topic such as the drug traffic, it is also very important that a social institution, such as the university, provide the forum for such discussions. We need to have discourse and hear alternative views about this huge problem of drugs that has an impact all over the world. Our students will be very interested in attending; this is very important and will have a good impact on the students. The students here should take advantage of this conference.

WOL: The Yucatán is a fairly conservative region. Do you anticipate political problems for the university?

Fernandez: No, the university is well-respected in Yucatecan society. People know we treat things seriously. They understand that we are not trying to promote a particular agenda, but are attempting to open a space to discuss this issue from various points of view. If the university cannot be open to different ideas, it is useless.

WOL: What is your sense of Mexican attitudes toward ending the drug war?

Fernandez: People want to fight against drug consumption. As in the United States, many people consider drug use to be morally wrong. It has to do with the values we uphold as a society, with respect for the family. Drug consumption is seen as linked to family disintegration, as well as all those other famous social ills. We want to keep the family strong, we want to keep our young people healthy, and so we attempt to suppress drug use. But this is based more on moral reason than scientific reason. Science can and has been subverted to support moral values, but that doesn't always work.

If we want to address drug consumption, I don't think we are using the right weapons. Why do people consume drugs? We need to understand that and then do education and prevention based on that understanding. I don't think using the weight of the legal system to fight drugs works. It is very difficult to fight against the cartels with all their money and power. We have to deal with them in non-traditional ways, as opposed to power fighting power. Society should not fight the lords of drugs using the same weapons they use. One weapon could be legalization. It is an alternative that could reduce the violence. But it must be paired with more creative means of reducing drug consumption. Legalization? Yes, perhaps, but with education and prevention.

WOL: How much of an impact does the drug economy have in Mexico?

Fernandez: It is hard for me to say; I have not formally studied such things. One hears the huge numbers -- $30 billion a year -- but it is, of course, difficult to know for sure. I sometimes think the people who are involved inflate the numbers to make the problem appear larger than it actually is. But this is clearly a big business.

WOL: The US government seems to have largely forgotten Latin America these days as it focuses on Iraq, on North Korea, and on domestic problems. But things are bubbling up all over the hemisphere, with new left-leaning governments in Brazil and Ecuador, the battle for control of Venezuela, new strife in Bolivia, and the continuing, escalating war in Columbia. Any comment?

Fernandez: Yes, with Lula in Brazil and Gutierrez in Ecuador we are seeing changes. Perhaps it is a good thing that the US is not paying attention.

Visit the UADY at online.

3. The Road to Mérida: Interview with Al Giordano, publisher of Narco News

A few years ago, veteran US journalist and Abbie Hoffman protege Al Giordano pulled up stakes and disappeared south of the border "somewhere in a land called América." After a couple of years learning the language and the culture, Giordano reemerged as founder and publisher of Narco News (, an online newspaper reporting on the drug war and democracy from Latin America. Giordano and Narco News quickly made a name for themselves as a hard-hitting, scoop-generating investigative organ.

Narco News is probably best known for its victory against Banamex and its owner, Roberto Hernandez, who unsuccessfully sued Giordano and Mérida newspaper publisher Mario Menéndez for libel over their publication of stories linking him to the cocaine traffic. But Narco News has also specialized in scrutinizing the reporting of the mainstream media on Latin American issues and has played a key role in the removal or resignation of mainstream journalists in Mexico, Bolivia and Venezuela for conflicts of interest that shaded their reporting. Giordano and Narco News are cosponsors of the Out from the Shadows conference. DRCNet conducted the following interview by e-mail on Thursday:

Week Online: Why are you devoting your time and resources to the Out from the Shadows conference in Mérida? What do you see coming from it?

Al Giordano: As a journalist covering the drug war and democracy from Latin America, I've had to do a lot of traveling and go up a lot of mountain and jungle roads to get the news. It's been wonderful, its the life I chose after all, but it takes a lot of time and all my resources to do the job. As soon as DRCNet began working toward this first-ever drug legalization summit in our América, I got very excited. You know what I thought first? Oh boy! Now all these eyewitnesses, leaders and critics of the drug war are going to be coming down those country roads and assembling in one place. It's a journalist's dream event!

It would take me years to travel to all the places the participants are coming from: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, just to name some of the places where real news is happening on my beat, are all big countries with many powerful voices and eyewitnesses to the disaster of the US-imposed war on drugs. The thought of having them together, in Mérida -- a warm and sunny city I love on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico -- for four days in February fills me with joy. To be able to witness the historic days when the coca growers of the Andes meet indigenous leaders from Mexico, and all the other kinds of people who are coming -- legislators, law enforcers, union and religious leaders, and an army of Authentic Journalists! Plus, many old friends from the United States, Europe, Canada and the countries I've already reported from are coming. It is going to be fascinating to see them all cross-pollinate and launch strategies and collaborations together in many cases.

Big things happen when good people meet in February in Mérida. It was in February 1999 that I met Mario Menéndez there, when I was covering the Clinton-Zedillo drug summit. From that was born a continuing collaboration that made, among other things, Narco News, an Authentic Journalism renaissance, and a landmark Free Speech decision in the United States possible. The land of the ancient Maya is conducive to that sort of encounter. Now, multiply that two into twenty or two hundred of the hemisphere's most courageous truth-tellers, social fighters, drug war critics and journalists, all together, and it's kind of like: Nitrogen, meet Glycerine; I place my bets on these people to move the hemisphere and the world. And other colleagues and I will be there to report it.

There's no doubt in my mind that what is about to take place will be historic, a turning point, where we the people -- and the people includes journalists -- place the US-imposed drug prohibition policy into check, if not checkmate. It is time for the United States government to walk its talk on democracy. Civil Society in Latin America already fights daily for authentic democracy: including the right of each nation and people to determine their own policies regarding drugs and all other matters that meet their distinct human needs in each region. Well, if we're for democracy, we have to get out of the way. And if we're gringos, we have a responsibility to make our government live up to its slogans of democracy and freedom.

I am coming to Mérida mainly to listen, and to help other journalists, particularly young journalists, to understand the tremendous significance of what is happening here. If you come, and you listen to the Latin American voices, you will not just hear the standard complaining that plagues so many conferences on so many issues. You will hear solutions, from the ground-up, from lands where real progress is being made. You will also hear some very distinct ways of thought about how political change is made in the face of powerful and violent vested interests than the limited political discourse in the United States. There are strategies and movements occurring in places like Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela, among others, that if applied within the US, you could collapse the drug war and the illusory set of myths that prop up this obsolete policy.

Now, it's true, I've gotten very involved with this, contacting the people we've interviewed on Narco News from these corners of América, inviting them. This is, frankly, the first organizational effort I've done in a long, long time. I don't belong to any organizations. I don't attend meetings of groups except as a reporter. This being an event sponsored by the Autonomous University of Yucatán, it's an academic conference. I don't mind participating in education, particularly for a gathering in which so many younger people are involved.

WOL: You are holding the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism in conjunction with the conference. What is that all about?

Giordano: Well, this is how I first got involved with the summit. After DRCNet announced the event, and I thought about the number of stories that will come out of this gathering, I thought, "oh my, I can't eat every gourmet dish at this banquet. I'm going to need some help!" That's where the School of Authentic Journalism was born. We're going to be in veteran journalist Mario Menéndez's city, where his staff and family and friends, of course, have a lot to teach, and I already knew some very outstanding journalists and educators coming or already nearby, so the base corps of professors was already going to be there.

And I am frankly desperate for help at Narco News. It's no longer just a guy with a laptop. We've also got Luis Gómez, our Andean Bureau Chief, who is in Bolivia covering the coca growers' blockades this week. And now we've got Dan Feder, our Associate Publisher and Webmaster. And Narco News is lookin' good. But the story and the readership are already too large even for three of us. We don't even sleep anymore. Imagine having to cover two October elections in Brazil, a November election in Ecuador, a new coup attempt in Venezuela in December, a new coca crisis in Bolivia in January and the Mérida Summit in February... and at the same time organize a School of Journalism! But it's the latter project that, I hope, will vastly expand our network of collaborators on the news reporting end of immediate history.

Vale la pena, as we say South of the Border.

I get a lot of mail from young journalists. They are of course horrified at the corporate media industry's behavior and they ask smart questions and have plenty of fresh ideas about how to bypass this borg and go directly to the people. And so I contacted all of them, and put out a call far and wide announcing six scholarships for a ten day workshop in Authentic Journalism. The thing then just kind of took off. 125 journalists filled out extensive applications, and after reading them and seeing so much talent, I kept finding ways to include more than six students. Doing a lot with a little is our credo anyway. Our student body is now 26 scholarship winners. A grant from the Tides Foundation made that possible. There were frankly other extremely talented and qualified applicants who we just don't have room or resources to include.

So now we have the reporting corps for all the aspects of the Mérida conference. These students are going to work hard during the Summit. Each will have assignments to cover certain panels, or interview certain voices, or write about certain angles.

Here's an example: When one of our scholarship students, Noah Friedman-Rudovsky, he's coming from Brooklyn, saw The Week Online's interview with Dr. Jaime Malamud-Goti, the former Argentina Attorney General last week, he mentioned how much he admired Jaime's book, "Smoke and Mirrors," about the drug war in Bolivia.

Noah's one of our more experienced students. He's 26, has lived in Bolivia, speaks good Spanish, has covered the coca wars in the Chapare, the mine workers in Potosí. He's also a very talented photographer. One review of a show he did in New York compared his black and white work with that of the Brazilian legend Sebastian Salgado, and I'm inclined to agree. And since he's read Jaime's book already, he now has the assignment to interview him in depth for our Merida coverage on Narco News. Now, that's going to be an interesting story. In your interview with Jaime he said he might surprise himself by what he has to say. Well, Noah's coming in knowing his work and his heroic history in Argentina already. He's the right reporter for the job.

I'm sure Noah will do other reports as well. Multiply that by 26, and then send these reports global over the Internet, in English and in Spanish, and suddenly a lot more people than the summit attendees are going to learn a lot. I'm going to learn a lot reading that interview, all those interviews.

We had a particularly large and talented bunch of applications from Brazil. I think that reflects the hope of the younger generation in the giant country to the South. They know the drug war and they know media. They've got the raw talent and they're developing their craft of journalism. That's convenient, because Brazil, with its new and popular government headed by a drug war critic, is going to need a lot of authentic reporting starting this year as its drug policies evolve. My professors are as eager to work with these youngsters from all the lands as I am. I think this is the only J-School that charges zero tuition, pays students to come, and where the professors work for free and pay our own way for the privilege of ushering in Authentic Journalism's next generation. Everybody seems happy with that model. Oh, and did I mention: no grades and no report cards. Fear and profit are not the operating principles of this J-School: we've banned both.

WOL: What is your position on legalization?

Giordano: I favor the legalization of all drugs, including those I have never wanted to use. The drug war infantilizes society, it treats sovereign human beings as children in need of supervision. It causes a lot of damage to people and the environment. It makes authentic democracy impossible. The toll on human rights, peace and the Amazon must be stopped. It's urgent. We document those abuses non-stop on Narco News. But this is a newspaper that was born to die. If the real kingpins of the narco-trade -- the governments, the banks, the money launderers, corrupt officials and corporate interests -- are getting more and more troubled by our reporting, I have a very simple solution for them: Legalize drugs, match your rhetoric on democracy and freedom with deeds, and there will be no need for Narco News anymore. And I'll go back to being a guitar-player. Do we have a deal?

WOL: Under a legal, regulated drug market, many people currently earning a living in the trade -- from drug-farming peasants in Latin America and Asia to inner city street dealers in the US -- would presumably see their opportunities decrease. Have you given any thought to that? Has anyone?

Giordano: The real money isn't at the level of the farmers -- who are paid very poorly for their product, abused, arrested, eradicated, shot at -- or the street dealers -- also paid very poorly for their product, abused, arrested, imprisoned and shot at. The real money is in the laundering. That's who will get hit: the big bankers and financiers, and the politicians they prop up.

The end of drug prohibition would free up society's resources so that we could have more schools and less jails, so farmers could grow food instead of poppy, and democratic participation would rise vastly for the simple fact that soldiers and police will no longer be able to take change agents out of action by planting drugs on them: a long tradition South of the Border, and something that happens North of the Border, too. With the pretext to stamp out social movements gone, the priorities of governments would have to change.

I think the goal goes far beyond causing governments to change. I think -- and this is where the indigenous autonomy movement and the economic libertarians have a lot to talk about with each other -- that Latin America's current movements are showing us a way to make the State -- governmental, economic or mediatic -- irrelevant to vast sectors of daily life and get it out of the business of repression, simulation and wars, including drug wars.

Once the poor and the workers are empowered to participate without repression, their needs become better addressed. Then your peasant farmer and inner city youth will, in fact, have their lives improved with more opportunities, not less. But the super-wealthy white collar narcos, they're going to take the hit. And that's only fair: they collaborated in bringing us this problem. They're not entitled to make the rest of us pay for their greedy and inhuman disaster.

WOL: Narco News is well known to DRCNet members for your coverage of the drug war in Latin America and your victory in the Banamex libel case, but you've been up to more than that. Recently, for example, you have devoted significant coverage to the effort to unseat Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Why is Venezuela important to Narco News readers and have you expanded your mission, or is the attention to Venezuela an extension of that mission?

Giordano: Almost from the moment that we launched, in April 2000, our method of drug war reporting, it became clear that we were not just covering a "single issue." A drug legalization movement was whispered but not yet shouted in Latin America back then. And it only becomes voiced under democratic conditions, free of fear. And it only becomes heard outside our own readers and networks when the audience of Authentic Media expands or when the large commercial media outlets cease ignoring. Efforts to cause both are necessary. We found, in terms of English-language coverage of Latin America, a Bosnia of bad journalism. (Perhaps that's unfair to Bosnia, but you know what I mean.)

So we had to do various things simultaneously: Report on the drug war, protect and defend the democratic conditions that make its debate possible, and expose the misdeeds of the media, which has been like shooting fish in barrel. These correspondents for commercial media down here never had any scrutiny in English before on the scale that we've given them. And we've noticed that the mere act of scrutiny and exposure causes much media to have to do a better job themselves.

The attempted coup last April, and again in December, in Venezuela, had it succeeded, would have set back the clock in Latin America 30 years, and brought back the fear factor that haunted the hemisphere for the late 20th century. Few were covering the story as it truly occurred. It was a compelling moral responsibility not to sit back and do nothing while the democratic conditions were being erased. And so we jumped in. I didn't sleep last April either. Then something happened: Narco News readership doubled almost overnight, and has doubled again, largely because people who wanted more accurate news out of Venezuela began tuning in, and the drug war reports then, coincidentally, have a wider readership.

Now, I do get two kinds of letters very commonly. The first is typically from North Americans who, like us, favor legalization. Some consider themselves libertarians. And they want to know "what does Venezuela have to do with the drug war." I mean, coca doesn't even grow in Venezuela, right? And an educational process has been underway. And I think by now many of those good people now see that the fate of the Latin American legalization movement's chances is absolutely affected by whether Venezuela's democratically elected government survives or is removed by military, economic or media coup.

And then I get another kind of letter: From the pro-democracy reader, who came in mainly to read the news from Venezuela, who says: "How can you call for legalizing drugs?" And an educational process has ensued there. And as these two kinds of people begin to dialogue and read of each other's positions, a very politically aware kind of citizen is being born. The two issues -- democracy and drugs -- are not separate. You can't pull them apart. And now the opponents of prohibition and the opponents of imposition -- as we can see most concretely in Bolivia right now -- are forging a whole new social movement that is rocking this hemisphere. This is where the energy comes from that is going to be like a supernova a month from now in Mérida.

WOL: Given your experience in Latin America, are there areas where you think North American drug reformers are naive or not getting the big picture?

Giordano: Let's not say naive or phrase it negatively. Let's just say that all of us from the developed world have a tendency for some very rigid ways of viewing and doing things that are socialized into us from birth. We're all naive about some things and masters of others.

Let me instead phrase it this way: The North Americans have a common interest with the South Americans. I'm speaking of people here, not governments. The governments are in the way and we have to move them out of the way. The corporate media is in the way, too, because it has served to prevent dialogue or understanding between different cultures. It has merely inflamed ignorance and fear. And as we've seen in the US, it took an educational process for the economic libertarians to finally build alliances with the civil libertarians and give the US drug policy reform movement two wings -- right and left -- to fly. And that's when we started winning referenda and making clear progress.

Now this process is underway on a larger hemispheric level, where there are even wider differences in approaches and opinions on economic issues, on how we define democracy (top down? or bottom up?), on what precise drug policies different communities want, there has to be a respect for coalition. But what happens is wonderful to watch: a grudging respect soon blooms into an excitement, an education, and new ideas and effective strategies that come when diverse people work together. It gets everyone "thinking outside the box," as they say. And just as you have gringos like me in Latin America who feel truly at home, and Latin Americans who have migrated to the North and appreciate things about the United States that most of its citizens take for granted, you begin to fall in love with what you once feared. And the world is born anew.

My work is no more or less complicated then that of any other Yenta: I've fixed you all up on a date, and it's going to happen in Mérida, and I'm also trying to stay out of the way enough to give it the space to happen. I'll have something to say at the conference, but people have heard enough from me already. Other voices are coming "out from the shadows" now. So I'll be somewhat cloistered at the J-School, working with our students, getting this story reported.

A couple of favors I'd like to ask from the attendees:

May my readers forgive me in these weeks for not being as responsive as you're accustomed to via e-mail with all your queries and questions. My e-mail box is overflowing to capacity a lot and sometimes mail is bouncing. That's probably going to get worse for the next four weeks as we finalize the plans for these events. It's involving a lot more work than meets the eye. Prior to the conference, the amount of news on Narco News may temporarily decrease. But once the summit gets going it will exponentially increase.

May my journalist colleagues seeking interviews with Narco News in Mérida talk to Luis Gómez. He is our spokesman at the Mérida Summit. He's a Mexican journalist who lives in the Andes and you already know him by his stellar reports from Bolivia, Brazil and Ecuador this year. Now you're going to meet him in person. Luis, in addition to being a top shelf journalist, is a very articulate, fun and knowledgeable guy. He has better people skills than I do. He will be the voice of Narco News. He knows many of the leaders attending this event from South America that you're going to want to interview. He's going to be the voice and face of Narco News at this event. I won't be giving the interviews.

And finally, may the conference attendees, particularly so many of my old friends, excuse the reality that makes it necessary for the School of Authentic Journalism to be a closed shop. We have no more room for students. And we have an enormous reporting job to pull off over those four days. Only students, professors and staff will have the laminates to enter our closed campus facilities, near the conference. It's an autonomous operation. There's not physical room for additional people to "monitor" the courses. If you haven't been asked by me to be a student or a faculty member prior to coming to Mérida, we're not taking new ones there. I'm sorry about that: we are going to do part of our program publicly with a journalists' panel at the Mérida Summit, and there will be a party at some point hosted by Narco News, the J-School, and our friends at Salón Chingón, to which our readers and friends will be invited and where we can kick back and celebrate together. Of course, some of our faculty members will be giving presentations at the conference, too. I'll be introducing Mario Menendez at a plenary session. But mainly we have a lot of reporting to do for all the readers back home who can't be physically present.

You folks who are attending and participating in the conference are going to be the stars of this show. We're just the reporters. Help us, and especially our 26 students, do our jobs. Whatever message you bring to Mérida, say it well, and we'll make sure you're heard all over the world. And see you at the Narco News party. I'll be introducing another member of our news team, briefly, there: that old Dobro guitar that the narco-bankers failed to win in the "Drug War on Trial" case. Because it looks like the drug war may be over before many people think, and that there will soon be a new generation of Authentic Journalists doing my job better than I do, and so I have to start practicing for my next career.

4. Bolivian Government Represses Coca Protests, Four Dead... So Far

Six months after Bolivian coca growers' leader Evo Morales came within a whisker of winning the Bolivian presidency and embarked on a path of negotiation with the pro-US government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, talks have broken down and the cocaleros this week returned to their old tactics of road blockades and mass protests. But this time, the cocaleros are being joined by thousands of other Bolivians with a broad range of grievances against the government. And the Sanchez de Lozada government, which has vowed to take a harder line against such protests, has responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. As of Wednesday, four people had been killed by government forces, according to reports compiled by the in-country Andean Information Network.

The blockades began on Monday, after Morales, the coca growers, and the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party spent fruitless months seeking to implement a legislative program and negotiate relief from the government's US-supported "zero option" coca eradication program, which allowed for no coca production at all in the Chapare region, home of Morales' Six Federations coca grower unions. But while the coca issue remains at the core of Morales' and MAS' agenda, the party has broadened its demands in the National Mobilization it has called with other social sectors.

Those demands place the demands of coca growers within a broader cry for social justice in Bolivia -- and even more directly on a confrontation course with the Sanchez de Lozada government. They include nationalization of oil, the return of privatized mines, land reform (the issue the set off the Bolivian Revolution of 1952), rejection of the Free Trade Areas of the Americas pushed by the Bush administration, as well as a temporary halt to forced eradication in the Chapare and the expulsion of US troops from the national territory.

With December negotiations stalemated, the cocaleros and their allies took to the nation's highways and plazas on Monday. Romulo Gonzalez, 19, was shot dead by government troops the next day at a roadblock near Kayarani. Ironically, he had just finished his compulsory military service. Later Tuesday, security forces clearing a roadblock near Shinahota shot and killed farmer Willy Hinojosa, 22. That same night, security forces clearing another roadblock, this time near Parotani in the Cochabamba Valley, shot and killed cocalero Victor Hinojosa. Also killed near Shinahota was 45-year-old Felix Colque, who died of respiratory distress after a tear gas attack.

According to reports from the Andean Information Network and Narco News, at least 11 others have suffered serious bullet wounds. Coca grower union leaders and members of parliament, who have immunity from arrest, have been beaten and detained, including cocalero leader Luis Cuitipa, an alternate member of the Bolivian Chamber of Deputies and MAS Senator Filemon Escobar, who was badly beaten during a police attack on demonstrating senior citizens in Cochabamba on Monday.

By Wednesday, the nation's largest highway, between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz, remained shut down, with thousands of protesters throwing sticks and boulders onto the roads. As the crisis unfolded, President Sanchez de Lozada flew off to Quito for the inauguration of incoming Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez, but not before staking out a hard-line position on the protests. "Under no circumstances will there be any type of discussion and negotiations until the blockades are lifted," he told Los Tiempos (La Paz). After all, he added, "there is stability in the country."

Neither do Morales, the coca growers and the growing opposition -- including retirees, landless peasants, miners, Indians and opponents of the free trade agreement -- seem much inclined to talk for the time being. On Tuesday, Morales told the Associated Press said the government had lost its chance to dialogue and the protests would continue until the government deals with widespread poverty in Bolivia.

The government's hard line, which turned noticeably tougher after Sanchez de Lozada traveled to Washington in October, is rebounding on it, not only with the protestors, but with human rights observers as well. "With these latest events, the government is jeopardizing the possibility of reaching a peaceful solution to the conflict, and they will be committing crimes against humanity," Sacha Llorenti, a Bolivian human rights leader told the AP. But the problem resides not only in La Paz, but in Washington. "We lack imagination to deal with the conflict in the Chapare because we are so conditioned by the US Embassy," Human Rights Ombudsman Ana Maria Romero told Radio Fides Tuesday. "If they would leave us to decide for ourselves, we could solve this problem."

The US embassy has not yet commented publicly on the violence, but has long been the primary proponent and sponsor of Bolivian coca eradication programs. The new ambassador, David Greenlee, arrived in La Paz Wednesday. Welcome to Bolivia, Mr. Ambassador.

Visit for updates on the situation in Bolivia.

5. Ed Rosenthal Medical Marijuana Trial Underway -- Judge Blocks Mention of Prop. 215, Has Trouble Seating Jury

The federal trial of pot grow expert Ed Rosenthal on marijuana cultivation and conspiracy charges got underway in San Francisco this week. Rosenthal was among those arrested in a series of DEA raids on San Francisco's 6th St. Harm Reduction Center and associated locations in February as part of the federal government's attempt to suppress state-sanctioned medical marijuana in California. He faces a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence on the conspiracy charges, a mandatory five years on the cultivation count, and up to 20 years on a count of operating a place to grow marijuana.

The prosecution will begin presenting its case next week. This week was taken up with motions and an unusually lengthy jury selection process that revealed a strong and broad hostility to federal intervention in the state's widely popular medical marijuana laws. One defense attorney told Rosenthal supporters he had never seen so many jurors excused by the judge, even in emotional small-town murder trials.

Federal Judge Charles Breyer began the week with a blow for the defense, ruling in favor of a prosecutors' motion to exclude all discussion of medical issues, the City of Oakland's medical marijuana ordinance, or California's Compassionate Use Act legalizing medical marijuana (Prop. 215). Rosenthal's defense had hoped to offer evidence that he believed he was acting within federal law, including testimony from the Oakland City Attorney's office concerning a legal opinion given to the City Council that a federal statute provided immunity from federal prosecution for city officials participating in their medical marijuana program. Rosenthal had been deputized by the City of Oakland expressly to shield him from federal prosecution.

But Breyer ruled that without evidence of federal officials actively doing or saying something to convey that immunity, such testimony would not be allowed. Breyer did leave one ray of hope for the defense. He said he would consider allowing Rosenthal to testify as to his state of mind and the basis for his decisions, adding that it was reasonable for Rosenthal to take city officials at their word when they said he could not be prosecuted for helping medical marijuana patients.

"This shuts the door on the defense strategy without quite locking it," Rosenthal attorney Bill Simpich told supporters. But Thursday night a Rosenthal spokesperson told DRCNet there were new indications Judge Breyer may crack open that door. There are signs Breyer will allow Oakland officials to testify as to what they told Rosenthal, she said.

When it came to jury selection, Breyer took great pains to ensure that potential jurors either agreed with federal marijuana law enforcement or could care less. Breyer asked each juror if he or she had strong feelings on the legalization of marijuana, the legality of medical marijuana, or the conflict between federal law and California's medical marijuana law, and whether they could set those views aside to convict Rosenthal under federal law. According to accounts from courtroom witnesses, potential jurors repeatedly regaled the court with anecdotes about medical marijuana, mini-speeches about the need to legalize marijuana, and expressions of disgust for the people behind the federal raids and prosecutions of medical marijuana operations in the state.

By the end of Tuesday, Breyer had exhausted the first jury pool of 52 citizens, excusing more than half of them because of their beliefs about marijuana or their refusal to convict. "With 80% of Americans supporting medical marijuana, it's no surprise that there would be such a day in court," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director for Americans for Safe Access, an umbrella group devoted to an active defense of medical marijuana patients and providers. "This simply reflects that people have made up their minds about medical marijuana. That passion and certainty was felt today in the courtroom."

After calling a second pool of 50 potential jurors on Wednesday, Breyer managed to find 14 who convinced him they could set aside California's medical marijuana laws as they deliberated Rosenthal's fate. But the barrage of comments from the jury pool -- one potential juror Wednesday denounced federal marijuana laws as "grotesque" -- must have gotten to the judge: At one point, Breyer said growing medical marijuana for patients might be "noble" and "humane." Still, he continued to remind potential jurors that he would be instructing them that marijuana cultivation under any circumstances was a crime under federal law and they must be able to set aside any contrary beliefs.

Trial gets underway next Tuesday. For updates and further information on this key case in California's medical marijuana wars, visit or online.

6. Canadian Prime Minister Promises Motion on Decriminalization as Courts Continue to Chip Away at Marijuana Laws

The unraveling of Canada's marijuana laws continued apace last week, with an Ontario court throwing out the government's medical marijuana regulations and Prime Minister Jean Chretien reversing his earlier demurral on marijuana decriminalization. Within the two weeks prior, Canadian judges had overturned the law barring possession of small amounts of marijuana ( and thrown out a case alleging marijuana-impaired driving (

In the medical marijuana case, the Ontario Court of Appeals had in 2000 ruled Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act unconstitutional on the grounds that it did not provide an exemption for the medical use of marijuana and gave the federal government one year to replace the law or it would become invalid. Instead, the government developed a set of Marijuana Medicinal Access Regulations, but held up the promised distribution of medical marijuana and wrapped the entire application process in cumbersome red tape. Medical marijuana users and the Toronto Compassion Center, which had supplied medical marijuana to 1,500 patients until it was raided last year, challenged the legality of the regulatory scheme -- and won.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Sidney Lederman ruled on January 9 that a law that allows sick people to smoke marijuana, but forces them to buy it on the street, is no law worth having. "Laws which put seriously ill, vulnerable people in a position where they have to deal with the criminal underworld to obtain medicine they have been authorized to take violate the constitutional right to security of the person," Lederman wrote in a 40-page ruling. "I have grave reservations about a regime which... grants legal access by relying on drug dealers to supply and distribute the required medicine."

The federal government has six months to fix the regulations, ruled Lederman, after which time they will be "of no force and effect."

For Alan Young, one of the attorneys on the case, the ruling could mark the end of the marijuana law. "It's another nail in the coffin, and this is a big nail," Young told reporters after hearing the decision. "We feel it will be appealed, but it's the light at the end of the tunnel... I can't really see the law maintaining any operation after this year. It's sitting on a really precarious foundation."

"We're very gratified by the decision," said Joseph Neuberger, another attorney on the case. "It addresses the concerns that we highlighted and puts real pressure on the government to now put into place a regime that does provide them with access to [a] safe supply of medicinal marijuana. If they don't comply, then possession is lawful and they're no longer subject to criminal law."

"This is the strongest decision we have to date about the climate of the day with regard to decriminalization," said attorney Leora Shemesh. "Lederman is saying the Marijuana Medicinal Access Regulations are ineffective, and that's probably the best signal we've received so far from a higher court about possibly decriminalizing the entire regime."

Even Prime Minister Jean Chretien may finally be ready for that. While at Christmas time, Chretien threw cold water on comments by Justice Minister Martin Cauchon that the government was ready to move on decriminalization, by last weekend Chretien had changed his tune -- although his spokesman insisted it really was the same tune. "The PM is strong on this," said a spokesman on January 10, referring to decriminalization legislation. "The government is determined to address this issue."

Although Chretien had said on Christmas that the government had made no decision, and took pains to note that he had never smoked marijuana and didn't even know what it smelled like, he hadn't changed course now, the spokesman insisted. "I don't think he has ever had a change of heart," said the spokesman. "I just think that he really wanted to make sure that before legislation is introduced, that caucus and Cabinet and everybody who is involved in this have their opinions expressed before moving ahead."

But Chretien probably wasn't counting on the opinion of Ontario Court Justice John Moore, who a day earlier became the second Ontario judge in a week to declare the laws against possession of small amounts of marijuana invalid. He threw out pot possession charges against Toronto resident Martin Barnes, who had been busted with one joint in his pocket. "Mr. Barnes was charged with an offence not known to law," Moore said as he quashed the charges.

"The marijuana laws as they pertain to possession have completely fallen apart," Barnes's lawyer, Aaron Harnett told the National Post. "Anyone charged with simple possession of marijuana should be on the phone to their lawyer immediately to launch a similar application," he added.

Meanwhile, federal lawyers are pondering whether to appeal the medical marijuana ruling. But at the speed things are moving in the Canadian courts, and soon, in parliament, those lawyers may opt to just hold for dear life until their world stops spinning around.

7. Latin American Anti-Prohibition Conference, Feb. 12-15, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico

Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century

an international conference series uniting reform forces in a call for global sanity

Please join activists, academics, politicians, journalists and others in Mérida for the first Latin America-wide summit opposing drug prohibition. Be a part of this historic gathering! Meet, listen, talk, collaborate and show your solidarity with our allies in the growing Latin American drug reform movement.

February 12-15, 2003, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Mérida, Mexico (Español)

Register by credit card online (, or print out a registration form to submit by mail ( Registration is free to Latin Americans (, and sliding scale is available to others who need it. Scholarships to assist with travel costs may be available. Please make a donation if you can afford to, so we can offer more scholarships to bring more Latin American attendees to the conference! Your registration fee will support scholarships too, so please register today!

Steering Committee:

Gustavo de Greiff, former attorney general, Colombia, Chairman Jaime Malamud, former attorney general, Argentina
Mario Menéndez, publisher, Por Esto!, Mexico
Marco Cappato, Member of European Parliament, Lista Bonino, Italy
John Gilmore, United States
Conference Staff Director: David Borden, DRCNet, United States
Volunteer Media Advisor: Al Giordano,

Details on program to be posted shortly. Visit for hotel and discount travel options. Other dates and locations to be announced for Europe, Canada and the United States. E-mail [email protected] to sign up for an official event notication by mail or e-mail. Visit or to read or subscribe to our weekly online newsletter.

Contact the Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet) at: P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, voice: (202) 362-0030, fax: (202) 362-0032, [email protected]

8. Cumbre Internacional Sobre Legalización, 12-15 Febrero, Mérida, México

Saliendo de las sombras: Terminando con la prohibición de las drogas en el siglo XXI

Una serie de conferencias internacionales que unirá a las fuerzas de reforma en un llamado a la sensatez mundial

Participa en "Saliendo de las sombras", la Primera Cumbre Internacional sobre Legalización, reuniendo Norte, Centro y Sudamérica, y a aliados de todo el mundo.

Del 12 al 15 de febrero de 2003, en la Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Mérida, México (English)

Por favor, ven a reunirte con activistas, académicos, políticos, periodistas y otros en Mérida, en la primera cumbre latinoamericana contra la prohibición a las drogas. Forma parte de este encuentro histórico. Encuentra, oye, habla, colabora y demuestra tu solidaridad con nuestros aliados en el creciente movimiento para la reforma en América Latina.

Inscríbete en línea usando tu tarjeta de crédito (, o imprime un formulario de inscripción y envíalo por correo ( La inscripción es para latinoamericanos gratuita, y hay precios reducidos para quienes en verdad lo necesiten ( También podríamos tener becas disponibles para costear algunos viajes. Por favor, inscríbete ahora y dinos cuánto costaría tu traslado, trataremos de hallar financiamiento para ti. Por favor, haz una donación si es posible, para que podamos ofrecer más becas y traer a más latinoamericanos a esta conferencia ( Tu pago de inscripción va a financiar igualmente esas becas -- por favor, inscríbete hoy mismo.

Comité organizador:

Gustavo de Greiff, ex fiscal general de la nación, Colombia, Presidente Jaime Malamud, ex fiscal general de la nación, Argentina
Mario Menéndez, director del diario Por Esto!, México
Marco Cappato, miembro del Parlamento Europeo, Lista Bonino, Italia
John Gilmore, Estados Unidos
Director del equipo de la conferencia: David Borden, DRCNet, Estados Unidos
Asesor voluntario en medios: Al Giordano,

En breve anunciaremos aquí detalles sobre el programa, los conferenciantes y las opciones para viajar. Hay información sobre hoteles un poco más abajo. Otras fechas y sedes serán anunciadas para Europa, Canadá y los Estados Unidos. Envía un correo electrónico a [email protected]. Para recibir más noticias sobre las conferencias. Visita nuestra página web y lee/suscríbete a nuestro correo semanal de noticias o

Contacta the Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet) en: P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, voz: (202) 362-0030, fax: (202) 362-0032, [email protected]

9. Newsbrief: Souder Pushes Partial HEA Reform, Frank to Reintroduce Drug Provision Repeal Bill

With a new Congress heading to work this month, the Higher Education Act's (HEA) anti-drug provision, under which students who have drug convictions lose federal financial aid for specified periods, is once again on the agenda. Two bills have been or will be introduced this session, one that seeks to tweak the measure and one that seeks to kill it outright.

Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), author of the 1998 HEA anti-drug provision, along with 13 cosponsors, has introduced a bill incorporating many of the education reforms listed in the House Education Committee's FED UP package crafted by a bipartisan subcommittee last year. Among them is a provision that would limit financial aid ineligibility to students who are convicted of drug offenses "that occurred during a period of enrollment for which the student was receiving any grant, loan, or work assistance under this title..."

Souder, who has suffered political attacks as a result of the anti-drug provision, has claimed repeatedly that he only intended for the provision to apply to students currently receiving financial aid. Under the bill as written, however, any drug conviction -- no matter when it occurred -- makes students ineligible for federal financial aid. Some 91,000 students have lost financial aid under the provision so far, according to the US Department of Education.

But while Souder and his allies attempt to deflect some of the heat by limiting the exclusion, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) will soon reintroduce his bill to repeal the provision outright, Frank staffers told the Students for Sensible Drug Policy ( Washington office. The Frank bill, H.R. 786 last session (it will be renumbered when re-filed), seeks simply "to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to repeal the provisions prohibiting persons convicted of drug offenses from receiving student financial assistance." H.R. 786 reached 67 cosponsors last year, 61 of whom remain in office.

The Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (, an umbrella group of students, student governments, university administrations, student financial aid officers, and education and civil rights groups fighting the anti-drug provision, will be engaging in discussions soon to craft a common response to the two bills. Ten members of Congress addressed a press conference organized by the coalition at the US Capitol last May, calling for the provision's full repeal (

To read the bills, go to the Library of Congress web site at and search for H.R. 12 (108th Congress) and H.R. 786 (107th Congress).

10. Newsbrief: Racine Caves Before the Ravers

The city of Racine, WI, has dropped all charges against more than 400 people slapped with $968 tickets for "inhabiting a disorderly house" at an electronic music benefit concert there in November ( City prosecutors admitted they couldn't prove their case and agreed to dismiss all of the citations. Persons who earlier pleaded guilty or no contest to receive a reduced fine will also get their money back.

The agreement, reached between the city and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, promises the city only that the ACLU will now not sue. The city also agreed to change its policies on policing raves and to erase all records indicating that the citations had ever been written. The news came late Thursday night, too late for DRCNet to seek comment.

Police had also arrested three people on drug charges at the concert held to benefit a local community theater group, but also outraged ravers and civil libertarians across the country by ticketing the hundreds of other attendees.

Faced with a strong and largely unified resistance from those ticketed, Racine prosecutors offered early on to drop the fines to $100 in return for guilty pleas. That didn't work. Neither did the offer to remove any mention of drugs from the charges. Most of the ticketed ravers pleaded not guilty and demanded trials, a move that would cost the city untold dollars in legal expenses and untold hours of police time as officers would be called to testify.

Last week, the city blinked for a third time. During a status conference before the court, Racine prosecutors and attorneys representing the electronic music fans agreed to cancel court appearances set for the following today and enter into negotiations to resolve the matter. According to Racine attorney Erik Guenther, who is volunteering with the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, he and Racine officials were seeking an "amicable resolution" of the matter. Negotiations were ongoing, Guenther told DRCNet, but he declined to provide details. In the meantime, "individual pretrials set for January 10 have been cancelled, as have all other appearances," Guenther said. "We are now able to also instruct those people who have pled guilty or no contest, but have not paid their fines, not to do so for the time being."

Or ever, now that Racine has backed down.

11. Newsbrief: MPP "War on Drug Czar" Continues -- State Reacts to Allegations

The Las Vegas Review Journal reported yesterday that Nevada's Secretary of State has given US drug czar John Walters two weeks to respond to a December 4th complaint by the Marijuana Policy Project, alleging that Walters violated state law by failing to file campaign finance reports for his taxpayer-funded efforts against the Question 9 marijuana initiative.

Visit for further information on this and other stages of MPP's "War on Drug Czar" campaign. Further reporting on this issue will appear in subsequent issues of the Week Online.

12. Newsbrief: 12 Dead in Brazil as Drug Police Raid Shantytowns

A January 10 anti-drug operation by police in two of Rio de Janeiro's shantytowns resulted in the deaths of 12 persons -- 11 alleged traffickers and one policeman -- before the bullets stopped flying, according to BBC and local press reports. There was, however, no mention of wounded persons, who usually appear as casualties along with the dead in actual gun battles or combat. Nor was it clear whether any arrests had been made or drugs seized.

Police sources told reporters a police raiding force of 250 men searching for four alleged traffickers came under gunfire from residents when it attempted to enter the shantytowns of Corea and Rebu. According to numerous press reports, many of Rio's shantytowns -- the home to millions of people -- have been ignored by the state and are effectively governed by drug trafficking organizations known as "commands." The commands organize and provide basic services for residents, as well as openly selling their wares (

The commands organized armed strikes in Rio just before last fall's elections, a move some observers said was a warning to the Workers' Party, whose candidate, Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva, won the presidential election. A Workers' party governor in Rio de Janeiro province had weeks earlier organized sharp attacks on the commands.

13. Newsbrief: Mexican Soldiers Bust Narcs

Mexican soldiers arrested seven members of that country's equivalent of the DEA in Tijuana on January 10 after finding them with five tons of unreported marijuana in their building. In addition to the stash of contraband, the Mexican narcs were holding two civilians, presumably the owners of the marijuana, who had been seized three days earlier. According to a press release from the Mexican Attorney General's office, the agents never reported the drug seizure as required, raising speculation that they were in the pay of drug traffickers.

The agents were members of FEADS, the Special Prosecutor's Office for Attention to Crimes Against Health, an agency formed in 1997 after a predecessor agency was disbanded when its agents were found to be in the pay of Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Mexican trafficking organization, the so-called cartels, have historically bought protection from the various law enforcement agencies created to suppress them. The offer typically comes in the form of "plata o plomo," silver or lead, the bribe or the bullet. A Mexican law enforcement source told the San Diego Tribune that among the seven FEADS agents arrested in the 15-man Tijuana office was the post's commander, Miguel Angel Uribe.

There has been other evidence that FEADS has followed the corrupt path of the many agencies before it. American journalist Charles Bowden, in his new book, "Down By the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family," quotes one DEA agent as complaining soon after FEADS' inception that DEA agents had to bribe FEADS agents to obtain information on drug trafficking investigations. And just days before the arrests in Tijuana, the Mexican Attorney General's Office had pointedly issued a memo reminding FEADS agents that they must report their activities to the attorney general's representatives in each state.

The FEADS agents are being investigated by two rival Mexican law enforcement agencies, the Federal Preventive Police, an intelligence-gathering agency, and the API, Federal Agency of Investigation, the rough equivalent of the US FBI. "I don't know why they keep on creating more groups rather than create one that has less corruption," Victor Clark, a Tijuana-based human-rights activist, told the Tribune. "They haven't been able to eradicate drug trafficking, and now the police are divided into many groups and that gives the drug traffickers more options to work with."

14. Newsbrief: Colombian President Seeks Iraq-Like Mobilization Against Traffickers

Never one to miss an opportunity to rachet up war and talk of war, hardline Colombian President Álvaro Uribe asked the US government Wednesday to deploy a military force in Caribbean and Pacific waters around Colombia similar to the build-up the US is now undertaking near Iraq. Speaking in Quito, Ecuador, at the nomination of incoming Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez, Uribe continued his campaign to confound armed opposition to his regime with the global "war on terrorism" -- a campaign that has resonated with the Bush administration, which has labeled all parties to the ongoing Colombian civil war except the Colombian state as "terrorists."

"I see that the conflict of the drug trade and terrorism in Colombia is more dangerous to the democratic stability of the continent in the medium- and long-term than the conflict with Iraq itself," Uribe said in remarks reprinted in El Tiempo (Bogota). "If you [the US] are sending to the Persian Gulf thousands and thousands of men and all that technology, then what you must do is continue with the same force and make the same decision about all the routes where the drug business is, where the money-laundering is, where the arms traffic is," he added.

While the US and the democratic world are preoccupied with Iraq, said Uribe, "a greater problem of terrorism is growing, against Colombian democracy, against the continent, against the world, financed by drugs," Uribe warned. "This is a more serious menace than Iraq. Why do they not think of a similar operation to remove the drug traffic from the seas and skies? They need a real operation," he said, obliquely criticizing his US allies and financiers. "There is much talk, but little action."

15. Newsbrief: Some Colombian Terrorists May Be More Equal Than Others

The Colombian Defender of the People, a functionary of the Colombian government, warned this week that negotiations between the government and right-wing paramilitaries -- officially deemed terrorists by the US government, but who work hand in glove with elements of the Colombian military -- must not lead to "total impunity." The Defender, Eduardo Cifuentes, spoke out this week in response to comments from Justice and Interior Minister Fernando Londono, who told the newspaper El Tiempo (Bogota) days earlier that he could not guarantee that the negotiations with the paramilitaries would lead not lead to an amnesty.

The paramilitaries are widely held responsible for the vast majority of massacres of civilians and other atrocities that have occurred in the Colombian civil war in recent years. They are also deeply implicated in the drug trade, with the US Justice Department handing down indictments of key paramilitary leaders last year. Pressure from the US on the drug link has led to fissures among the paramilitary commands and helped push leaders such as Carlos Castano to seek a way in from the cold.

"Impunity cannot be the price for peace in Colombia," Cifuentes told El Tiempo Tuesday. Londono should be chastised for making declarations that are not in conformity with the duty of the state to investigate and punish crimes, he said. "There can be no amnesty, no impunity, for crimes against humanity," Cifuentes added.

Negotiations between the state and the paramilitaries must be transparent, said Cifuentes, adding that the nation has the right to complete and truthful information on such an important issue for the future of the country. "These matters are so vital to the country that they cannot be managed clandestinely, because there are crucial decisions for everyone and, principally, the victims," he said. "Every Colombian has the right to know what is going to happen with the crimes committed by the paramilitaries," he added.

The Colombian government is not currently negotiating with the two leftist guerrilla armies, the FARC and the ELN, also deemed terrorist organizations by both Bogota and Washington.

16. Newsbrief: Alaska Lieutenant Governor Disqualifies Marijuana Legalization Petition Signatures, Proponents Vow Fight

Alaska Lt. Governor Loren Leman (R) Tuesday disqualified a marijuana decriminalization initiative, saying that the petitions handed in lacked enough qualified signatures. Sponsors of the "Act to decriminalize and regulate cannabis (hemp including marijuana)" needed 28,782 signatures. They handed in more than 40,000 signatures, spokesman Al Anders told DRCNet, but Leman disqualified 194 of the 484 petition books handed in, leaving only 21,737 valid signatures.

Leman is a long time marijuana foe, most notorious for leading a successful effort to amend the state's medical marijuana statutes in 1998 to avoid the appearance of California-style compassion clubs in Alaska. Now, as lieutenant governor, he is the state's top election official. "We always got along fine with election officials before," said Anders. "We believe, but cannot yet prove, that Leman told his workers 'find some way to kill this.'"

Leman misinterpreted state election law, Anders said. "The dispute is over sponsor accountability forms on the back of each book indicating who had which signature book. Even though they are not required by statute, we have copies of all the forms for all the books except for last month, when we turned them in."

Anders and Free Hemp in Alaska (, the sponsors of the petition, vowed to fight the ruling. "The first step is to contact the lieutenant governor's office and Division of Elections and give them a chance to do the right thing," he said. "If not, we sue."

They only other option, said Anders, was to restart the signature-gathering process. "They would like us to have to go out and spend another $40,000 or $50,000 gathering signatures, and we could do that. It would be an opportunity to broaden our support, but we'd rather be registering our supporters and building for the 2004 election that way," Anders said. "I think they're scared. We got almost 41% last time with an initiative that called for legalization, amnesty, and a study of reparations. With those clauses gone, Alaskans will probably say maybe police have more important things to be doing than arresting marijuana people, maybe prosecutors have more important cases to prosecute, maybe the jails have more important tenants."

Free Hemp's initiative would have broad implications. Its wording states that adult Alaskans would not "be subject to criminal or civil penalties for the possession, cultivation, distribution or consumption of" hemp, which is clearly defined to include smokable marijuana.

17. Newsbrief: Return of the RAVE Act

The RAVE Act, the bill introduced last session by Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) which would expand the so-called "crack house statutes" to make owners of music or other venues culpable for drug use among their clienteles, has been reintroduced, this time buried deep in Sen. Tom Daschle's domestic security bill (S. 22). Drug Policy Alliance, one of the leaders of the effort to kill or amend the bill last year, notes that the Daschle bill probably will not pass in the Republican-controlled Congress, but warns that Republicans may well place RAVE Act provisions in one of their bills.

Last year, a broad coalition of electronic music lovers, civil libertarians, and property owners mobilized against the bill, which while aimed directly at the rave culture would actually have an impact on music halls, bars, sports facilities, or almost any other place where people gather to have fun. Now, RAVE Act supporters such as Sen. Daschle have dropped the "RAVE Act" moniker, hiding behind a "crack house statutes amendments" heading.

See for further information on the RAVE Act and the S. 22 "crack house" provisions. Visit and search for "S. 22" to read the legislation and its status.

18. Newsbrief: Ecstasy Rarely Kills, British Study Finds

A study published this week in the British Medical Journal found that 81 people died from using MDMA (ecstasy) in Britain between 1997 and 2000. But nearly two-thirds (62%) of those deaths also involved other drugs, usually opiates, and only 7% were attributed to ecstasy poisoning (overdose) alone. A little less than one-third (31%) of the deaths were attributed to "other causes," such as heat stroke or heart attack.

The research, conducted by Dr. Fabrizio Schifano and colleagues at St. George's Hospital Medical School in London reviewed national records on substance abuse deaths. Many of those who died ecstasy-related deaths were "known to health services as drug addicts, and died at home," the researchers noted.

According to the British drug policy research group Drugscope (, half a million people take ecstasy every weekend in Britain. Extrapolating from those figures, Brits gobbled down approximately 100 million ecstasy tablets during the period examined by Schifano and his colleagues. With only 31 deaths attributable to ecstasy overdose, high body temperature, water intoxication, or heart attack, it appears that the odds of dying after ingesting ecstasy alone were a little less than one in three million.

Published responses to the report suggested a significant role for opiates and possibly alcohol in many deaths included in Schifano's data. Neil Hunt, lecturer in Addictive Behavior at the University of Kent, wrote: "From the data presented, it is hard to see how the detection of ecstasy in many opiate-associated deaths enables the conclusion that ecstasy had 'at least a facilitating role in causing death,' when opiates themselves could provide a sufficient explanation for the 59% of the sample who had used them. Is there unpublished data on the mechanism by which ecstasy operated as a potentiator of other drugs in these cases? This may be an unwarranted leap from association to causation. In fact, we cannot rule out the possibility that the use of a stimulant may even confer some protective effect for some people who have overdosed on depressants. This seems unlikely to me, but interactions within combinations of street drugs remain poorly understood. It is also regrettable that data on alcohol consumption was either unavailable or omitted. It seems highly unlikely that none of the 81 cases had consumed alcohol."

A second respondent, Alexander RW Forrest, Professor of Forensic Toxicology, at the University of Sheffield, had some information on that score. He reported that of 45 ecstasy-related deaths he investigated during the same time period, 60% had "significant concentrations of ethanol in either their blood or their urine" and 36% had opiates in their systems.

Visit to read the report and responses in the British Medical Journal.

19. Alan Shoemaker Ayahuasca Legal Defense Fund Needs Support

reprinted from the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics

A case which pits the US government against the vine and leaves used to make ayahuasca, the South American visionary tea used for physical, emotional and spiritual healing, is nearing the trial phase and funds are urgently needed for the defense.

The case has potential ramifications not only on other ayahuasca cases, but on the rights of all individuals to worship in the privacy of their homes as they see fit.

At issue is the prosecution of Alan Shoemaker, an US ex-pat who, until last April 1, has been living in the jungle city of Iquitos, Peru since 1993. During the past 10 years Shoemaker has been a student of the sacred medicine, ayahuasca, and during the past five he's been working with a plant-based diabetes II medicine as well. He is married to a Peruvian woman, and is the father of two children with her.

In 1998, Shoemaker's wife, Mariella Noriega, started Chinchilejo (Dragonfly) a plant material export business. Among the plants she exported were Banisteriopsis caapi (ayahuasca vine) and Diplopterys cabrerana (huambisa leaves), the vine and one of the typical leaves used to make ayahuasca.

Mariella was not the first nor only Peruvian export firm to deal with these plants, but on January 29, 2001, her company, Chinchilejo, became the only Peruvian export company to ever have a shipment of these plants seized.

The DEA followed the shipment from its point of entry to its delivery to Shoemaker's adult son, Jesse Brock, who was starting a plant material wholesale business in the states. The plants, 200 kilos of ayahuasca vine and 250 kilos of huambisa leaves -- 450 kilos altogether -- were seized on the grounds that the leaves contained traces of DMT.

The seizure was extremely unusual as the plants were legal to export from Peru and had never been declared illegal here in the US. The shipment had been exported with all the necessary Peruvian and international paperwork completed.

No arrests were made at the time, but on April 1, when Shoemaker flew from Iquitos to Miami to see his dying mother, he was picked up at Miami International Airport and told a sealed indictment had been handed down on January 24, 2002, charging him with possession with intent to distribute a Schedule 1 substance, DMT.

The charge carries 20 years in federal prison. His son Jesse immediately turned himself into authorities in Atlanta.

Alan Shoemaker was held in prison for 59 days and released on a $50,000 cash bond with the stipulation that he wear an ankle bracelet and remain at his late mother's home in Tennessee until the case is concluded. He cannot bring his wife and children to the states for fear that she will be arrested as well.

Legal motions seeking a dismissal of the charges are being filed by Shoemaker's attorney Mark Sallee in January. Failing a dismissal, Sallee, from Atlanta, suggests that a trial may begin as early as April. Though Sallee has donated his services, he anticipates a number of sizeable expenses, from filing the motions to bringing in expert witnesses for the defense should they be needed. Alan Shoemaker used all of his resources to pay his bond. Mark Sallee cannot be asked to contribute any more than he is already contributing.

It is vital that the community contribute to this defense. If the government is permitted to selectively prosecute Shoemaker for legal plants shipped into the US, it will send a signal to Attorney General John Ashcroft that he will be given a green light by the public in other similarly indefensible cases.

Donations to the Alan Shoemaker Ayahuasca Defense Fund are tax-deductible and all proceeds will go to his defense. To send funds, please send a check or money order to: Alan Shoemaker (Ayahuasca) Defense Fund, Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics, P.O. Box 73481, Davis, CA 95617-3481.

Visit for further information.

20. Media Scan: Washington on Forchion, Cockburn on Rosenthal, Forbes on Walters, Szasz on Drug Medicalization, Bruce McKinney, GAO on DARE

Linn Washington Jr. condemns the imprisonment of Ed Forchion for political advocacy in the Philadelphia Tribune:

Alexander Cockburn comments on the federal government's targeting of Ed Rosenthal in the California medical marijuana showdown in "The Right to Not Be in Pain," online in Working for Change at:

Dan Forbes reports on Nevada's secretary of state's inquiry into John Walters' illegal campaigning against Question 9 in "Pot Flashback," published by Reason magazine:

Famous psychiatrist and libertarian Thomas S. Szasz, MD opines in "Taking Drug Laws Seriously":

Strategy thoughts by Bruce McKinney, first of a series of posts archived by DrugSense:

GAO report on Youth Illicit Drug Use Prevention -- DARE doesn't work -- GAO-03-172R, 1/15/03:

21. DC Job Opportunity at DRCNet -- Campus Coordinator

DRCNet is accepting resumes from applicants for the position of Campus Coordinator, a full-time job working on the campaign to repeal the HEA drug provision ( The ideal candidate will be a recently graduated college drug reform activist, but others will be considered. This position will involve non-stop high energy work contacting student organizations and student government leaders around the country, as well as basic maintenance of the campaign web site and database, speaking with campus media, tracking drug provision impact data and other tasks.

Please send resumes via e-mail to [email protected] or fax to (202) 293-8344, attn: David Guard.

22. The Reformer's Calendar

(Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].)

January 19, Winston-Salem, NC, conference on the effects of drug prohibition. At the Winston-Salem Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, Robinhood Rd., contact [email protected] for info.

January 20, 7:00-9:00pm, Oakland, CA, "Speak Out: Oakland and the Drug War," community discussion on police violence, harassment of parolees, one-strike evictions and drug war prisoners. At the downtown Oakland YWCA, 515 Webster St., childcare provided. For information, contact Dorsey Nunn at (415) 255-7036 ext. 312.

January 20-30, Brazil, healing retreat with Silvia Polivoy. Visit for information, or e-mail [email protected].

January 25-26, Kingston, RI free medical marijuana activist training, sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Americans for Safe Access, at University of Rhode Island. Contact [email protected] or [email protected] for information.

February 3-4, Las Vegas, NV, free medical marijuana activist training, sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Americans for Safe Access, at University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Contact [email protected] or [email protected] for information.

February 10-11, Berkeley, CA, free medical marijuana activist training, sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Americans for Safe Access, at Ohio State University. Contact [email protected] or [email protected]">[email protected] for information.

February 11, Bradford, PA, Eric Sterling speaks on "Origination of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws and What We Can Do Instead." At the University of Pitt at Bradford, organized by Reconsider: Forum on Drug Policy. Visit for information or contact Mike Smithson at (315) 488-3630 or [email protected].

February 12, 7:00pm, Charleston, SC, "The Policies of the War on Drugs," featuring the video "War on Drugs, A War on Ourselves" and presentations by Judge Jack Guedalia, Summary Court, Central Bond Court Magistrate, Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg, and Special Agent John Ozaluk, in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Offices for South Carolina. At the College of Charleston, Education Center, Room 118, 25 St. Philip St., contact [email protected] for further information.

February 12-15, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, "Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century," sponsored by the DRCNet Foundation in partnership with organizations around the world. Visit or e-mail [email protected] for further information.

February 18, noon, nationwide, "Evict the DEA" national medical marijuana protest. Call (510) 486-8083, e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

February 19, 7:00pm, Charleston, SC, "Prisoners in the War on Drugs," featuring the video "The War on Drugs" and presentations by Nora Callahan of The November Coalition and Wyndi Anderson of South Carolina Advocates for Pregnant Women. At the College of Charleston, Education Center, Room 118, 25 St. Philip St., contact [email protected] for further information.

February 26, 7:00pm, Charleston, SC, "Foreign Policy and the War on Drugs," featuring Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies. At the College of Charleston, Education Center, Room 118, 25 St. Philip St., contact [email protected] for info.

March 1-2, Kingston, RI, 2003 Students for Sensible Drug Policy Northeast Regional Meeting. At the University of Rhode Island, featuring speakers, training sessions, break-out discussions, entertainment, e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

March 4, Brussels, Belgium, public hearing on Europe's role in international drug policy reform. At the European Parliament, Room PHS 4B 01, sponsored by the International Coalition of NGOs for Just and Effective Drug Policies. For further information, visit or contact 00 32 (0)3 237 7436 or [email protected].

March 5, Antwerp, Belgium, meeting of European drug policy activists, sponsored by the International Coalition of NGOs for Just and Effective Drug Policies. For further information, visit or contact 00 32 (0)3 237 7436 or [email protected].

March 12, 7:00pm, Charleston, SC, "Alternatives to Prison in the War on Drugs," featuring Dr. Gene Tinelli, Addiction Psychiatrist, Syracuse, NY, Probate Judge Irv Condon, Charleston Drug Court, and Mark Cowell, Director, Charleston County Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Services. At the College of Charleston, Education Center, Room 118, 25 St. Philip St., contact [email protected] for further information.

April 4-6, Providence, RI, Medical Marijuana Symposium, organized by Brown University Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Contact [email protected] for further information.

April 6-10, Chiangmai, Thailand, "Strengthening Partnerships for a Safer Future," 14th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug-Related Harm, sponsored by the International Harm Reduction Coalition in partnership with the Asian Harm Reduction Network. For further information, visit or contact [email protected] or (6653) 223624, 894112 x102.

April 17-19, San Francisco, CA, 2003 NORML Conference. Details to follow, visit for information.

April 23-26, Manchester, NJ, 13th North American Syringe Exchange Convention. Visit for further information.

June 7-11, Denver, CO, 23rd National Convocation of Jail and Prison Ministry. Visit or contact Sr. Carleen Reck at [email protected] for information.

November 5-8, East Rutherford, NJ, biennial conference of Drug Policy Alliance. At the Sheraton Meadowlands Hotel and Conference Center, 2 Meadowlands Plaza, visit for further information.

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PERMISSION to reprint or redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle is hereby granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and, where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we request notification for our records, including physical copies where material has appeared in print. Contact: the Drug Reform Coordination Network, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202) 293-8344 (fax), e-mail [email protected]. Thank you.

Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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