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

Issue #277, 3/7/03

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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Video and audio footage from the Mérida conference, as well as photographs, interviews, reports and other information, are now online at http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/shadows/ -- visit now to get a glimpse of this historic event and to subscribe to the Out from the Shadows announcements e-mail list.

ACTION ALERT: Visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com to support H.R. 685, the newly re-filed bill to repeal a law that delays or denies federal financial aid to students because of drug convictions.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. 50 Years for Stealing Videotapes? No Problem, Say Justices -- Supreme Court Upholds California Three-Strikes Law
  2. Medical Marijuana Update: Bill Killed in New Mexico, New Ones Introduced in New York and Rhode Island
  3. Australia: NSW Green Party Drug Platform in Tabloid "Exposé" Furor as Election Looms
  4. "Seeds of Peace" Released in Brussels as Prelude to Vienna UN Conference
  5. Medical Marijuana Supporters Demonstrate at Fundraiser for Presidential Candidate Howard Dean
  6. Alert: HEA Reform Legislation Re-filed, Needs Your Support
  7. Newsbrief: Swiss Lawmakers Give Okay to Continued Prescription Heroin
  8. Newsbrief: Sweden's Drug Head Calls for Needle Exchange Programs Across Country
  9. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story
  10. Newsbrief: Oxycontin Not So Deadly, Researchers Find
  11. Newsbrief: California Highway Patrol Settles Racial Profiling Lawsuit
  12. Kansas Legislators Consider "Treatment Not Jail" Bill
  13. Newsbrief: In Surprise Move, Judge Changes Mind, Declines to Jail Oakland Cannabis Co-op Head
  14. Newsbrief: Two Suicides Enough for One Pot Bust, Says Wisconsin Judge, Orders Probation for Son of Dead Couple
  15. Media Scan: New York Times, The Economist, The Independent, Washington Times, Change the Climate Ads, HRC Newsletter
  16. Drug War Vigil Film Festival Seeking Submissions
  17. The Reformer's Calendar
(read last week's issue)

(visit the Week Online archives)


1. 50 Years for Stealing Videotapes? No Problem, Say Justices -- Supreme Court Upholds California Three-Strikes Law

A closely divided Supreme Court Wednesday upheld California's draconian three-strikes law, letting stand a 25-year sentence without parole for a man who stole golf clubs and a 50-year sentence without parole for a man convicting of stealing videotapes from a Kmart. In a 5-4 vote, the high court held that the sentences did not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" or run afoul of its notion of "disproportionality."

Under the law, passed by voters in a 1994 referendum, persons with two previous felony convictions may be charged as recidivists and given lengthy prison sentences. According to the California Department of Corrections, as of last June 30, some 7,291 persons were serving three-strikes sentences. Of those cases, fewer than half involved crimes against persons as the third strike. Some 44% of three-strikes prisoners were sentenced for crimes against persons, 30% for property crimes, and almost 17% for drug crimes. In other words, more than 1,200 prisoners in California are doing decades-long sentences for drug offenses, including 34 people serving those sentences for marijuana convictions. Sentencing enhancements for recidivist offenders have spread across the country, but California's three-strikes law is among the harshest.

That didn't matter to the Supreme Court's majority. In an opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the court held that in neither of the two cases it heard were the sentences so grossly disproportionate as to conflict with the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. In a concurring opinion, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas went even further, rejecting the idea that the Eighth Amendment requires sentence length to be proportionate to the crime committed. The amendment's proscription of cruel and unusual punishment does not apply to length of sentence, they argued, only to types of punishment.

In her opinion, O'Connor also wrote that the court should be hesitant to overturn decisions made by the states. "Though three-strikes laws may be relatively new, our tradition of deferring to state legislatures in making and implementing such important policy decisions is longstanding," she wrote. "California's three-strikes law has sparked controversy," she noted, but it was the legislature's place to make "the difficult policy choices that underlie any criminal sentencing scheme. We do not sit as a 'superlegislature' to second-guess these policy choices."

But four of the court's nine members were quite ready to second-guess decades-long sentences for minor crimes. In the case of Leandro Andrade, whose theft of nine videotapes worth $150 dollars netted him a 50-year sentence, Justice David Souter wrote: "If Andrade's sentence is not grossly disproportionate, the principle has no meaning."

And referring to the case of Gary Ewing, who got 25 years for stealing golf clubs, Justice Steven Breyer called his sentence "virtually unique in its harshness for his offense of conviction," adding that Ewing's was the "rare" case that met the test of gross disproportionality. Breyer noted that, outside California, the only similar case he knew of was a Nevada man with a prior armed robbery conviction sentenced to life for stealing a woman's purse. That was one sentence "out of a prison population now approaching two million individuals," he observed.

As part of his dissenting opinion, Breyer included an appendix analyzing how Ewing would have fared in other states. He would have received less than 10 years in at least 33 states, and 12 to 18 months in the federal system. Breyer added that most of those states offered an earlier possibility of parole. In nine states, Breyer conceded, Ewing could have received sentences of 25 years or more, but those states also had parole.

"This is really depressing," said attorney Kevin Zeese, director of Common Sense for Drug Policy (http://www.csdp.org). "It's like Les Miserables, throwing people in the dungeon for stealing bread. To say that it is not unusual or cruel to imprison someone for 25 or 50 years for these minor crimes, well, the words have then lost their common-sense meaning," he told DRCNet.

Depressing, but not surprising, said Zeese. "The Supreme Court has been weakening protections against cruel and unusual punishment for many years, and this is consistent with the security state in which we are now living. It's getting harder and harder to say that we live in the freest country on earth."

Neither, given the direction of the Rehnquist Supreme Court, did the decision surprise Families to Amend California's Three-Strikes (http://www.facts1.com), a statewide organization committed to amending the law. "We weren't surprised, but we couldn't help but be disappointed," said FACTS executive director Geri Silva. "This court has a strangely selective attitude toward states' rights," Silva told DRCNet. "After Californians voted to let seriously ill patients use marijuana, this court slapped us in the face by siding with federal drug agencies. But now, the court says that if California wants to imprison petty thieves for life, it can go right ahead. The court's priorities are deeply disturbing to many Californians."

That's right, said Zeese. "This court defers to the states, but only when it suits its needs. Just as the court has carved out the 'drug exception' to our constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure, so it appears the court has created a 'drug exception' to its embrace of states' rights. This court could have created a federal medical necessity defense for Californians, but it chose not to. Where is the deferring to states' rights there?"

Still, said FACTS' Silva, a battle may have been lost, but the fight is not over. The group is raising funds and planning to bring a three-strikes reform initiative to the ballot in November 2004, she said. "It's clear today that the federal government will not come to our rescue. We must take this fight into our own hands here in California. This ruling reenergizes our campaign to bring three strikes reform to the ballot in 2004. A new ballot measure is our best hope for reform."

California voters didn't understand what they were getting into when they approved three-strikes nearly a decade ago, said Silva. "Almost 10 years ago, Californians were sold a bill of goods with the original three-strikes law. It is far broader than most voters understood it to be. Thousands of people who never committed an act of violence are now serving long prison terms under this unfair law. It is increasingly obvious that three-strikes is unjust and wasteful, and that will help us to change it at the ballot box."

According to recent polling down for FACTS, two-thirds of the California electorate supports reform of the three-strikes law. "We urge all Californians who are offended by today's decision to join this fight and help us put reform on the ballot next year."

An editorial in today's New York Times (Friday, 3/7), titled "Fairness Strikes Out," criticized the ruling. The editorial charged that "[s]uch wildly disproportionate sentencing clearly violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment," and intoned, "[t]hat the punishment must fit the crime is an elemental rule of justice and a core principle of the Constitution," lamenting, [with] its decision this week, the court turned its back on this principle, and on two men whose sentences are a clear miscarriage of justice."

Visit http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/02pdf/01-1127.pdf to read the Supreme Court decision in Lockyer v. Andrade. Visit http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/02pdf/01-6978.pdf to read the decision in California v. Ewing. Read the New York Times piece at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/07/opinion/07FRI2.html -- requires free registration.


2. Medical Marijuana Update: Bill Killed in New Mexico, New Ones Introduced in New York and Rhode Island

Last week, DRCNet reported on the status of marijuana-related legislation at the state houses this year (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/276.html#statehouse2003). In the days since then, one medical marijuana bill has been defeated in New Mexico, while two more have been introduced, in New York and Rhode Island.

In New Mexico, HB242, the Lynn Pierson Compassionate Use Act, failed in the House by a vote of 20-46, according to the New Mexico legislature's web site. The Thursday vote against the bill came just three days after the House Judiciary Committee passed it with a strong 9-1 vote. The bill had already passed the House Business and Industry Committee and the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee with "no recommendation."

The bill would have allowed seriously ill people suffering from cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and certain spinal injuries to legally possess marijuana with a physician's recommendation. It would have also provided registry ID cards to patients who have their doctors' recommendations and to those patients' caregivers.

Despite testimony from patients who had seen their lives improved by medical marijuana, the New Mexico House seem more attuned to the position articulated by Rep. Ron Godbey (R-Cedar Crest), once the nemesis of drug reforming Gov. Gary Johnson, and still fighting the fight. "If smoking raw marijuana is a medicine, Dr. Kevorkian wrote the prescription," said Godbey, referring to euthanasia advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

But while medical marijuana is dead this year in Montana (defeated last week) and New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island have now joined the roster of states where the issue is in play in the legislature. In New York, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D) and five other Democratic assembly members held a press conference Wednesday in Albany to announce the reintroduction of Gottfried's medical marijuana bill, A5796.

Under A5796, qualified medical marijuana patients would be able to receive a month's supply of marijuana from organizations authorized by the state Health Department to grow and distribute it. To qualify, patients would have to be certified by a physician as having a serious medical condition that could benefit from the use of marijuana. The certification would be good for one year, and the legislation implies a monthly limit of under eight ounces.

"This ought to be a medical issue between a patient and a patient's health care professional," said Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee, where the bill is pending. "It should not be the business of the legislature or the police department."

Although 28 Assembly members have signed onto the bill, its prospects remain cloudy. It has no sponsor in the Republican-controlled Senate, and a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) told the Schenectady Gazette he saw no indication the chamber would soon tackle the issue. Similarly, a spokesman for Gov. George Pataki (R) said Wednesday that the governor believed other alternatives could provide the benefits claimed by medical marijuana.

New York Republicans have turned a deaf ear to medical marijuana despite strong public support for it, as indicated most recently in a Zogby Poll conducted for New Yorkers for Compassionate Care, a group pushing the legislation. According to the poll, conducted January 23-26, 66% of voters support medical marijuana legislation similar to Gottfried's, while only 37% believed legalizing medical marijuana "sends the wrong message" about drug abuse.

Gottfried or others have introduced similar bills each year since 1997.

A week before Gottfried stood on the steps at Albany, five Rhode Island state senators cosponsored medical marijuana legislation in that state. SB0725, the Medical Use of Marijuana Act, would allow persons suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, Crohn's Disease, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, intractable pain, or "any other medical condition duly approved by the Rhode Island board of medical licensure" to legally use and possess medical marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. The bill also provides explicit protections for physicians who make such recommendations.

Under SB07225, patients would be limited to an unspecified 60-day supply of medical marijuana and would be protected from asset forfeiture or seizure of their medicine upon showing proof that they have complied with the bill's provisions. The bill has no provisions regarding the source of patients' medical marijuana supplies.

The Medical Use of Marijuana Act was introduced by a bipartisan group, including Senators Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), Elizabeth Roberts (D-Cranston, Warwick), June Gibbs (R-Middletown, Little Compton, Tiverton, Newport), Juan Pichardo (D-Providence) and Frank Ciccone (D-Providence).

Visit http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?bn=A05796 to view the New York bill online.

Visit http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/billtext/billtext03/senatetext03/s0725.pdf to view the Rhode Island bill online.


3. Australia: NSW Green Party Drug Platform in Tabloid "Exposé" Furor as Election Looms

Drug policy has become a hot issue in elections two weeks away in Australia's New South Wales (NSW), thanks to a tabloid "exposé" of the NSW Green Party's platform on drugs and harm reduction. Never mind that the platform, official NSW Greens policy since last September, is posted on the Internet (http://www.nsw.greens.org.au/images/pdf/drugsharmmin03.pdf) or that the NSW Greens sent out a press release saying "Greens launch drugs policy" on January 29. Last Sunday the Murdochian tabloidesque Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) suddenly discovered the Green drug menace, blasting the story into the media spotlight under the headline "Hidden Policy on Drugs," accompanied by a poison pen editorial titled "Greens Go Soft on Hard Drugs." The Sunday Telegraph story was run virtually intact by newspapers including the Queensland Sunday Mail, the Courier-Mail, and the Herald Sun, generating a bevy of additional stories in the Australian press as politicos of all persuasions took the opportunity to weigh in on the topic.

The NSW Greens currently hold one seat in the NSW Legislative Council, or upper house, and are seeking two more, as well as their first seat in the state's Legislative Assembly. Described by one observer as a "major minor" party in the state, the Greens are NSW's fastest growing party, but trail far behind the governing Australian Labor Party and its primary foes, the Liberal-National "coalition." The Greens were expected to gain support because of strong sentiment against war in Iraq -- the national government of Prime Minister John Howard has committed to back any US invasion -- and it remains unclear how the tempest over their drug policy will affect their chances.

"I doubt that the drugs issue will cost them many votes as I think there is evidence that many community members are ahead of most politicians on this issue," said Dr. Alex Wodak, director of St. Vincent's Hospital Alcohol and Drug Service. "In my opinion, some of the drug policies advocated by the Greens are not so much wrong, as poorly expressed. The Greens have been unequivocally opposed to the imminent war in Iraq, and I suspect they will gain a lot of support for that, making it hard to work out the impact of the drug policy controversy," he told DRCNet.

What is the platform that is garnering all the attention? According to the Greens web site, the "policy is based on harm minimization and an understanding that drug use should not be treated as a crime, but as a health and social problem." Specific planks include:

  • Removal of all criminal sanctions for personal drug use, and an end to the use of sniffer dogs.
  • Education programs for schools and the community
  • Health and social programs aimed at drug users to minimize the adverse impacts of the user and the spread of disease.
  • Voluntary detoxification and rehabilitation for users wishing to control or end their drug use.
  • Provision of needle and syringe exchange programs, including wide bore needles.
  • Controlled availability of heroin and safe injecting rooms.
  • Programs leading to the controlled availability of other drugs, such as ecstasy and speed, under the supervision of medically qualified personnel.
  • Removal of all criminal sanctions for the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use.
  • Introduction of mechanisms for testing the quality, purity and potency of drugs.
  • Banning of advertising that promotes tobacco smoking and excessive consequences of alcohol.
"The Greens want the major parties to make harm minimization the central philosophy of drug policy, not just the justification for a few small diversionary programs," said Green Member of Parliament Ian Cohen in the January 29 press release.

"The Greens want voters to demand that this election sees a mature debate about the failings of prohibition policing and new approaches that treat drug use as a health and social issue," added NSW Green MP Lee Rhiannon.

Perhaps a mature debate is too much to ask for, but debate there has been. Prime Minister Howard's chief drug war lieutenant, Australian National Council on Drugs chair and Salvation Army Major Brian Watters, quickly weighed in against, claiming in an interview with The Age newspaper that making illegal drugs available in a controlled manner would send the wrong message. He also ridiculed the notion that providing a controlled supply of drugs could wean users away from them. "That is the equivalent of saying if we provide alcoholics with alcohol they're somehow going to stop drinking," he said.

As for the recreational use of drugs, Watters was equally dismissive. "Anyone who talks about ecstasy and cannabis in terms of recreation is trying to equate them with tennis or golf," he said. "These substances destroy people."

But Watters sounded positively reasonable compared to NSW Premier Bob Carr and Opposition leader John Brogden, who both used the Sunday Telegraph "exposé" to attack the Green drug platform. "I am deeply opposed to the greater ongoing use by Australians of amphetamines and ecstasy," Carr told the Sydney Morning Herald. "I don't want us to be a pill-popping society with youngsters boiling their brains on amphetamines and marijuana."

Brogden, for his part, described the Greens policy as "dangerously irresponsible," adding: "We say no to free heroin to heroin addicts and we say no to a ludicrous, crazy and dangerously irresponsible plan from the Greens to sell ecstasy over the counter in drug shops in NSW. It's a plan I find personally dangerous and abhorrent. It sends a frightening message to young people in NSW. Every parent in this state should be alarmed."

The Green platform, as noted above, does not call for selling "ecstasy over the counter in drug shops in NSW," but for looking into its "controlled availability -- under the supervision of qualified medical personnel."

But the platform has also gathered cautious public support, and the Greens have also taken the opportunity to support and amplify their position. The Australian Medical Association is backing the Greens' proposal for controlled heroin availability for addicts. "Difficult as this is for society to look at and see, solutions may involve limited trials of prescribing heroin to addicts," AMA national vice-president Dr. Trevor Mudge told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Sunday. "I think that as long as it is on a trial basis and we evaluate whether it works, we do need to get out of the current thinking about the heroin problem."

Addiction specialist and former director of the Illawarra Drug and Alcohol Service Dr. Alexander Leach also got behind much of the Green platform. "In many ways, the Greens are at least trying to address the reality," he told the Illawarra Mercury. "Prohibition is not working, the sanctimonious line put forward by governments isn't working, and there is some merit in the view that the personal use of drugs should be decriminalized, and most of the treatment field would agree with that. I have worked in a medically regulated and controlled environment that deals with narcotics, and it is a field that resists control and regulation," he added.

St. Vincent's Dr. Wodak, while telling DRCNet it was not his role to endorse the platforms of political parties, said, "The Greens have expressed grave reservation about a drug policy heavily reliant on supply reduction, and I certainly share that view. Taxation and regulation of cannabis seems to me to be the least worst option for cannabis and is in my view politically and legally feasible. But that's a different story from amphetamine."

More research is required on the controlled prescription of amphetamines, said Wodak. "Until I am convinced the research shows that prescription control of dexamphetamine is safe and effective (and maybe also cost effective), then I will assume that it is unsafe and ineffective." Some research had been done, said Wodak, but it was not conclusive. "My approach may seem conservative to some, but that does not trouble me at all. Medical research should be conservative. Terrible errors have been made by medical research which was not conservative."

While the doctors were cautious, national Greens leader Bob Brown stuck by the NSW platform. "The direction of harm minimization must be brought onto the agenda. I think it's a very courageous but proper way to go," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "The alternative is prohibition, and we're seeing up to 1,000 Australians dying because of that. It's not meeting the problem in the way more enlightened countries overseas like Switzerland are."

State parliamentary elections are set March 22.


4. "Seeds of Peace" Released in Brussels as Prelude to Vienna UN Conference

With the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) Vienna midterm review of international drug strategy now just six weeks away, the International Coalition of NGOs for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ICN) has stepped up its efforts to wrest changes in the UN's current prohibitionist consensus. The coalition's "Another Drug Policy is Possible" campaign took off Monday in Brussels, as demonstrators at the Place de la Monnaie launched hundreds of balloons filled with cannabis seeds to "spread seeds of peace" instead of drug war violence.

The following day, the coalition organized a public hearing on reform of the UN drug conventions at the Brussels headquarters of the European Parliament. Approximately 120 politicians, experts, and drug policy reform activists participated, reported Joep Oomen of the European NGO Council for Drugs and Development (ENCOD), which was named the European chapter of the international coalition in a meeting in Antwerp on Wednesday.

While speaker after speaker detailed the harms of prohibitionist policies on drug users and the broader community alike, Andria Mordaunt of England's John Mordaunt Trust, succinctly summed up the central theme of the conference. "There is ample evidence across the entire planet, (and in greater degrees within countries that are resourced well enough to carry out the research), that non-criminalizing drug policies -- for the most part -- work better for the individual drug user, their significant others and their wider community," said Mordaunt, adding "what I mean by 'work' is reducing the deaths, disease and crime that are so often associated with addictive drug use."

The answer, said Mordaunt, is obvious: end drug prohibition. "Global drug prohibition seems to be a failure," she said. "In our lives and in our communities it is and has been an abject disaster and a war on all of us."

This week's Belgian events are part of the run-up to Vienna that also includes an ongoing campaign by the Transnational Radical Party (http://www.radicalparty.org) and Parliamentarians for Antiprohibitionist Action (PAA) to encourage national governments to call for review of the UN drug conventions, the legal backbone of the global prohibition regime. The TRP announced Monday that efforts are now underway in three national legislative bodies -- Canada, Colombia, and Greece -- as well as the European Parliament in Brussels.

In Brussels, Kathalijne Buitenweg, MEP from the Netherlands, presented a resolution calling for "a detailed evaluation of the effectiveness of the implementation of the UN Conventions." That resolution, which calls for a possible "procedure for the amending of the 1961 and 1971 Conventions and for the repeal of the 1988 Convention," should be considered within two weeks, according to ENCOD's Oomen.

And while the parliamentary track unfolds, the International Coalition of NGOs has announced plans for a demonstration in Vienna on April 12, where "thousands of people, while crossing the bridge over the Danube, will again spread the seeds for drug policy reform" before marching on the UN conference. Similarly, an alternative conference is scheduled to take place in Vienna April 10-13. Oomen reports that among participants will be the Italian MDMA network, which will lead chants of "no war, no war on drugs."

The road to Vienna is starting to get crowded.

Visit http://www.antiprohibitionist.org to read the text of the International Appeal for the Reform the UN Conventions on Drugs and view the list of signatories.

Visit http://www.vienna2003.org for further information about the NGO coalition campaign.

And for German speakers, http://www.u-n-o.org provides information about the alternative conference set for Vienna.


5. Medical Marijuana Supporters Demonstrate at Fundraiser for Presidential Candidate Howard Dean

Jessica Wray for DRCNet

The Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org) organized a protest in Washington DC on Tuesday, March 4, outside a fundraiser being held by 2004 Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean. Dean, a physician and former governor of Vermont, stifled state legislation that would have allowed patients to benefit from the relief marijuana provides without facing criminal sanctions. Protesters pointed that because of Dean, medical marijuana patients in Vermont have to risk up to six months of jail time if they are prosecuted for marijuana possession, or not use marijuana and live with increased suffering from their various illnesses.

Protesters held signs for those attending Dean's fundraising event with statements such as "Stop Arresting Patients for Medical Marijuana," "80% of Americans Support Medical Marijuana," and "Another Democrat for Medical Marijuana." Protestors received quite a receptive response from passersby. One woman who seemed to be attending the fundraising event remarked to her companion that she doesn't feel like so much of a liberal now. One man asked for more information about Dean and vowed that he would not support Dean because of his stance on medical marijuana. Many others passing the protest asked how they can support the cause or if there was an informative flyer available, which of course there was. Another man asked for a button that read "Stop Arresting Patients for Medical Marijuana" and stood with the protestors.

Howard Dean's web site (http://www.deanforamerica.com) states, "You can always compromise when you are fighting over money, but there can never be a compromise when it comes to basic human rights. I never had the discussion with myself about whether or not this was a good idea for my political career... I knew I could be politically expedient, or I could do what was right." But medical marijuana advocates are unsatisfied with Dean's human rights record.

Ironically, while Dean's fundraiser took place and medical marijuana supporters protested, 30 miles to the east in Annapolis, medical marijuana patients testified before the Maryland House Judiciary Committee in support of a bill introduced in the state's legislature.


6. Alert: HEA Reform Legislation Re-filed, Needs Your Support

With the 108th Congress upon us and Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act being worked on now, we at the Drug Reform Coordination Network are writing to ask you to help turn up the heat on the student-led campaign to repeal the Higher Education Act's drug provision (http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com).

During the 2001-2002 school year, more than 47,700 students were denied access to federal college aid because of drug convictions, loans, grants, even work-study programs. This number doesn't account for people who didn't bother applying because they assumed they would be ineligible. The current academic year, the third in which the drug provision is in force and the second in which it is being fully enforced, is expected to see just as many young people forced out of school or they or their families plunged into financial hardship because of the HEA drug provision.

In February of 2003, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) reintroduced his legislation to repeal the drug provision in full. Last year, the bill had garnered 67 cosponsors, and 10 members of Congress spoke at a press conference at the US Capitol organized by the DRCNet-sponsored Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform. Already, the new Frank bill, H.R. 685, has picked up 40 cosponsors, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy now stretches across more than 200 campuses, with hundreds more in the works, a formidable force organized to repeal the measure. Your help is needed to meet and exceed the support the bill had last year and to go on to get the drug provision repealed. The most likely opportunity for that is the Higher Education Act reauthorization process.

Please visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com to write Congress, learn about the issue and download our newly-updated activist packet. (Hit reload or refresh on your browser if you get a "campaign expired" message.) When you're done, please call your Representative on the phone to make an even stronger impact -- you can use the Congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or visit http://www.house.gov to look up their direct numbers.

Students, visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com/students.html to find out how to get involved with the campaign on your campus -- more than 100 student governments so far have endorsed our resolution calling for repeal of the drug provision. If you're already at work on this, please write us at [email protected] and let us know what's happening. Also, visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com/download.html for an online copy of the newly-updated activist packet. Please leave us your e-mail address so we can send you occasional updates on the HEA campaign.

Please forward this alert to your friends or use the tell-a-friend form on RaiseYourVoice.com, and please consider making a donation -- large or small to keep this and other DRCNet efforts moving forward at full speed. Visit http://www.drcnet.org/donate/ to help, or mail your check or money order to DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. (Contact us for instructions if you wish to donate stock.)

Again, visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com to write to Congress and get involved in the campaign! Here are some reasons why the HEA drug provision is wrong:

  • The vast majority of Americans convicted of drug offenses are convicted of nonviolent, low-level possession.
  • The HEA drug provision represents a penalty levied only on the poor and the working class; wealthier students will not have the doors of college closed to them for want to financial aid.
  • The HEA drug provision has a disparate impact on different races. African Americans, for example, comprise 13% of the population and 13% of all drug users, but account for more than 55% of those convicted of drug possession charges.
  • Access to a college education is the surest route to the mainstream economy and a crime-free life.

7. Newsbrief: Swiss Lawmakers Give Okay to Continued Prescription Heroin

The Swiss government's pioneering heroin by prescription program will continue for at least another six years. The Swiss National Council voted 110-42 this week to continue the program until at least 2009. The favorable vote came despite attempts by rightist parties to kill the program, according to a report in the New Zealand Herald.

Under the program, in place since 1994, some 1300 severely addicted individuals are legally prescribed heroin under medical supervision. Swiss authorities have found that prescription availability of heroin reduces the crime and death associated with heroin use and brings public health gains. The program is the world's oldest government approved scheme to provide legal heroin to intractable users.


8. Newsbrief: Sweden's Drug Head Calls for Needle Exchange Programs Across Country

For nearly 20 years, intravenous drug users in two Swedish cities -- Lund and Malmo -- have been offered free, clean needles in exchange for used ones, as well as HIV/AIDS tests, hepatitis vaccinations and counseling. Now the man who presides over one of Europe's most repressive national drug control regimes has called for that program to be extended nationwide.

After reviewing the decades-old pilot programs, Swedish drug head Bjrn Fries recommended Tuesday that the national health care system begin offering free syringes to IV drug users as part of the effort to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. "The syringe exchange program has been controversial ever since it started," Fries acknowledged in a press conference, but added that needle exchanges' potential for reducing infection and the need to keep health contact with the drug-using population meant the programs should be made available to all IV drug users. Fries also said the programs should operate only under certain conditions. Drug users should be offered detoxification and drug treatment, as well as HIV/AIDS testing and counseling. The long-term goal, said Fries, was to move IV drug users toward a life without drugs.

The Swedish government will now consider Fries' recommendation, Reuters reported. Among the issues it will consider is how to finance national implementation of needle exchange programs.


9. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story

This feature has already mentioned the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart scandal (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/266.html#copcorruption), but Rampart is a police corruption story that keeps on giving. The long-running scandal involved out-of-control cops in LAPD's Rampart division near downtown Los Angeles who stole and resold drug evidence from police lockers, beat suspects, stole drugs from dealers, and even shot and paralyzed one unarmed man, planted a gun, and provided sworn testimony sending their victim to prison for 23 years. The scandal has already cost the city of Los Angeles more than $40 million in civil rights claims and more than 100 cases that had to be dropped or overturned. Seventy officers have been investigated and nine have been convicted and sent to prison.

Last November, District Attorney Steve Cooley announced he would not prosecute an additional 82 cases, citing a lack of evidence. But now new LAPD Chief William Bratton has called for an independent investigation into the extent of the abuses, one that looks up the chain of command. Bratton rejected an internal LAPD investigation of Rampart as so flawed he would not use it, and also demanded a thorough investigation of allegations by Rampart villain former LAPD police officer Nino Durden that corruption and official misbehavior were widespread at the division. Durden made those allegations during 2001 interviews with state and federal investigators while he was in prison, but they remained hidden until the Los Angeles Times obtained a copy last week.

"I've been to too many community meetings where Rampart keeps coming up again and again and again," Bratton told the Times, as he called for an external investigation of the scandal. A new investigating body will be appointed within two weeks, he added.

It's about time, said Ramona Ripston, director of the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union. "This issue is too important to be swept under the rug. At stake is nothing more than the department's credibility and prospects for regaining the community's trust," she told the Times.


10. Newsbrief: Oxycontin Not So Deadly, Researchers Find

During last year's hysteria over Oxycontin, a powerful opioid painkiller linked by various public officials to a rising death toll, the prescription drug was blamed for hundreds of deaths, and fears over its abuse led to police raids and repressive legislation, particularly in Appalachia, where media-savvy law enforcement officials quickly named it "hillbilly heroin." Oxycontin mania has also led pain management physicians to pull back from aggressive Oxycontin treatments for fear of being targeted by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

But research reported this week in the Los Angeles Times found that Oxycontin taken alone rarely kills. Instead, according to researchers headed by forensic toxicologist Edward J. Cone, "We found that the oxycodone deaths were primarily related to mixing many different kinds of drugs with these opiates. These drugs often have a synergistic effect on each other, and in combination can be a deadly brew."

In an article published in the Journal of Analytic Toxicology (not available online), Cone and associates reviewed the records of 1,243 oxycodone-related cases from medical examiners in 23 states from August 1999 through January 2002. Oxycodone, the primary ingredient in Oxycontin, is also found in other prescription opiates, such as Percodan. Of those cases, only 12 were caused by Oxycontin alone, and 18 were linked to other oxycodone formulations. In almost all cases -- 96.7% -- the victims had at least three other drugs in their systems, most commonly benzodiazepines (tranquilizers such as Valium), alcohol, antidepressants, other narcotics and cocaine.

The findings contrast with those compiled by the DEA last year. In its report, the drug-fighting agency listed Oxycontin as the cause of 146 deaths and suspected in 318 more.

The study was funded by Purdue Pharma, maker of Oxycontin, and appeared in the March issue of the Journal of Analytic Toxicology.


11. Newsbrief: California Highway Patrol Settles Racial Profiling Lawsuit

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) announced a series of reforms on February 27 to settle a racial profiling lawsuit brought against it by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California. The ACLU filed a federal class-action lawsuit in 1999 after a San Jose-area drug interdiction operation searched a car driven by a Latino lawyer, part of what the ACLU called a pattern of law enforcement activity where "race and racial stereotyping had become a proxy for criminal activity."

According to ACLU researchers who studied the more than one million traffic stops made by CHP in the state's central and coastal divisions in 2000 and 2001, Latinos were pulled over three times as often, and blacks 1.5 times as often, as white drivers. ACLU attorney Jon Streeter told a post-settlement news conference that law enforcement often contends that minorities are pulled over more often because they are more likely to be involved in criminal activity, but that his research found differently. "We felt that looking at the actual evidence, minorities are no more likely to be carrying drugs than any ethnic group in the country. This is the heart of the problem, the difference between stereotype and the actual fact," Streeter said.

To settle the lawsuit, the CHP agreed to:

  • Pay a total of $875,000 in damages and legal fees to the three named plaintiffs.
  • Extend for another three years the moratorium on "consent searches," those made when officers have no evidence of criminal activity, but ask drivers to consent to a warrantless, suspicionless search. CHP implemented the no-consent search policy in 2001 in an effort to dampen concerns about racial profiling.
  • Clarify its policy that CHP officers not make "pretext stops," that is, not use minor traffic infractions as a pretext to stop vehicles to search for drugs when there is no indication of drug trafficking.
  • Create the position of CHP auditor, who will review traffic violation data to look for patterns suggestive of racial profiling.
  • Provide training for CHP officers on the settlement's mandates.
"This is a landmark decision," said Northern California ACLU director Alan Schlosser at the press conference. "The fact that CHP is endorsing and joining with us to institute these changes gives us confidence that they are going to make a difference on the highways and not just in the policy manuals.

Now, if only other California law enforcement agencies would follow CHP's lead. Traffic stop data from California cities including Sacramento and San Francisco have shown broad differences in the way white and minority drivers are treated.


12. Kansas Legislators Consider "Treatment Not Jail" Bill

With no room at the jailhouse and no money in the treasury, Kansas is the latest state to consider alternatives to prison sentences for some drug offenders. SB123, introduced on February 26, calls for the mandatory treatment of first-time drug possessors in lieu of prison sentences. The bill has already passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is headed soon for debate on the Senate floor.

The bill has a chance, Senate President Dave Kerr (R-Hutchinson) told the Kansas City Star. "If people really look at the facts, we're facing either more prisons or dealing with groups differently," Kerr said.

Indeed, Kansas prisons are currently at 98% of capacity, and the number of drug offenders imprisoned for possession last year (472) slightly exceeds the number of new beds (432) the state estimates would be required to house them next year. The following year, barring changes, the Kansas Department of Corrections estimates that it will need an additional 508 beds for drug possession offenders.

Passage of SB123 would relieve some of the pressure. Under its provisions, first-time drug possession offenders now sent to prison would instead go to certified drug treatment programs, including outpatient, community-based programs. Also, those currently doing time for drug possession would be released from prison into treatment programs, provided they met Corrections Department security criteria. Persons with more than one drug possession charge or those imprisoned for selling or manufacturing drugs would not be eligible, nor would those with violent felonies.

The bill was crafted by the Kansas Sentencing Commission. "I think people are looking at ways to deal with limited resources and declining treatment programs," said Barbara Tombs, executive director of the commission.

But despite fiscal crisis, law-and-order politics runs deep in Kansas. Senator David Adkins (D-Leawood), who was attacked as "soft on crime" for earlier votes when he ran for Attorney General last year, told the Star voting for the bill could be the kiss of death. "I would recommend anyone who wants to run for attorney general any time in their lifetime not vote for that bill, because it would be used in nefarious ways to bludgeon them to death politically."

And the prohibitionists are already raising the hue and cry. "This is going to make us the most attractive state for drug possession," warned Kansas Bureau of Investigation attorney Kyle Smith. "We'll be the new Amsterdam."

If that remark seems a bit over the top, consider what Smith told the Judiciary Committee when he addressed the bill as representative of the Kansas Peace Officers Association: "It merely dumps hundreds of drug abusers and traffickers out of the prisons and into our local communities... It does this by simply decriminalizing all kinds of drug possession and makes it retroactive."

As noted above, the bill does not apply to persons convicted of drug sales, nor does it decriminalize drug possession in Kansas. Still, given the tenor of the debate, Kansas could have a ways to go before it joins the at least 12 other states that have moved since 2001 to reduce drug prison sentences.

Visit http://www.kslegislature.org/bills/2004/123.pdf to view the bill online.


13. Newsbrief: In Surprise Move, Judge Changes Mind, Declines to Jail Oakland Cannabis Co-op Head

US Magistrate Judge Peter A. Nowinski last week sentenced Oakland Cannabis Coop founder Jeff Jones to three months in prison for jury tampering, but in a surprise move reversed himself on Monday, instead fining Jones nearly $4,000 and sentencing him to three years of unsupervised probation. Jones had been charged for attempting to give literature to jurors in the federal marijuana prosecution of medical marijuana provider Bryan Epis. The verboten material explained that Epis was operating within California law, a defense federal judges have consistently refused to let juries hear. Epis is currently serving a 10-year sentence as a marijuana trafficker in federal prison.

Nowinski, who told the court last week he had been angered by Jones' activities, had a chance to calm down and reflect since then. "I have given this matter a great deal of thought over the weekend," Nowinski said Monday. "I had a heavy criminal calendar last month and saw nearly one thousand defendants; Mr. Jones is not a candidate to share a bunk with any one of them."

Noting that he had encountered medical marijuana protesters with flyers on his way to court that morning, Nowinski added that, "Passions are very high on this issue -- frankly, way too high." He then revealed that both he and US District Judge Frank Damrell had that morning received threatening letters containing an unidentified white powder. Although the powder later turned out to be harmless, the announcement rattled nerves among those present.

"We are incredibly impressed with Magistrate Judge Nowinski for his ability to reverse himself, especially in light of the threat he received today. What a principled act," said Drug Policy Alliance (http://www.drugpolicy.org) health policy director Glenn Backes. "We're shocked [at the threatening letters], and we hope our friends in law enforcement find whoever did this and find them fast. This is a terrible reminder to all of us -- no matter what side of the medical marijuana issue we're on -- that police should be allowed to focus on real threats to our safety."

"I am relieved by today's ruling, but not surprised. The sentence was extreme and unjust," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (http://www.safeaccessnow.org), an umbrella group organized to defend medical marijuana patients and providers through protests and direct actions. "I don't think this will be the last we hear on this topic. By preventing medical marijuana patients and caregivers from defending themselves, the federal government is creating a new crime, a crime of necessity. The voters of California are being faced with an unbelievable injustice in their courts."

As for Jones, he pronounced himself, "utterly speechless when the judge started talking. I think the judge realized that he had let his anger get the best of him. He saw the error in his decision."

See http://www.drcnet.org/wol/276.html#jeffjones for last week's story on the original sentence.


14. Newsbrief: Two Suicides Enough for One Pot Bust, Says Wisconsin Judge, Orders Probation for Son of Dead Couple

Last fall, DRCNet reported on the case of Dennis and Denise Schilling of Waukesha, WI, who hung themselves in a Madison motel room after being threatened with prison sentences and the seizure of their home for growing marijuana (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/258.html#theschillings). They, along with their 20-year-old son Joshua, had been arrested after a snitch and a narc bought a total of $120 worth of marijuana at the house. On September 25, five days after federal officials filed asset forfeiture papers against their home -- why the feds were involved with a penny-ante grow-up bust is yet to be explained -- the Schillings ended their misery.

In a suicide note, Denise Schilling wrote that she used marijuana to cope with a mental condition and for back pain. "I had tried every politically correct route, from religion to psychotropic drugs, and none of those avenues helped in any way. I cannot go back to the life of insanity which I had before. Perhaps someday, people like me will not be persecuted."

Someday, perhaps, but not yet. On February 28, the Schillings' son, Joshua, was sentenced for his role in the operation. While Waukesha County Circuit Judge James Kieffer spared Schilling a trip to prison, he did sentence him to three years probation, $2,000 in fines, a contribution to DARE, and the loss of his driving privileges for 18 months. Schilling would have to live forever with the deaths of his parents, said Kieffer.

No word on how local law enforcement and prosecutors are coping with the weight of the double suicide.


15. Media Scan: New York Times, The Economist, The Independent, Washington Times, Change the Climate Ads, HRC Newsletter

"Fairness Strikes Out" -- 3/7 editorial in the New York Times criticizing the Supreme Court Ruling upholding California's Three-Strikes Law:
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/07/opinion/07FRI2.html

"The Balloon Goes Up" -- 3/6 editorial in The Economist criticizing drug eradication efforts in the Andes:
http://www.economist.com/world/la/displayStory.cfm?story_id=1622585

"This Fantasy World of Prohibition" -- 2/27 editorial in Britain's The Independent:
http://argument.independent.co.uk/regular_columnists/johann_hari/story.jsp?story=382021

"CASA's Alcohol Abuse" -- 2/26 editorial in the Washington Times criticizing distortion of statistics by Joe Califano's pseudo-think tank:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/op-ed/20030226-990567.htm

New ads by Change the Climate in California:
http://www.changetheclimate.org/campaigns/03_03_ca/

Latest issue of Harm Reduction Communication, newsletter of the Harm Reduction Coalition:
http://www.harmreduction.org/news/winter03/winter03toc.html


16. Drug War Vigil Film Festival Seeking Submissions

The 2nd Annual Drug War Vigil Film Festival is seeking entries for a contest and screening to take place this May. The festival is sponsored by the Drug War Vigil Memorial Group, a collective of five medical marijuana patients dedicated to ending the war on drugs.

Entries must be registered by March 14, and are due by April 14. They should be 30 minutes or less, on any topic related to cannabis, drugs and the drug war, submitted only on VHS tape, Hi-8 or digital 8. The films will be screened and judged by participants at the Cannabis Culture Toker's Bowl, May 1-4, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The first place Grand Prize is $2,000 US, and cash prizes totaling $2,700 US will be awarded for the top four runner-up films. Other runners-up shown on pot-tv.net will receive honorariums of up to $250 US.

Entries should be sent to: D.W.V. c/o BCMP Bookshop, 307 W. Hastings, Vancouver, BC V6B 1H6, Canada. E-mail [email protected] for further information.


17. The Reformer's Calendar

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

March 10, 7:30pm, Philadelphia, PA, "Medical Marijuana Storytelling," dinner forum featuring Jim Miller, husband of multiple sclerosis patient Cheryl Miller and Ken Wolski, RN, MPA. At the White Dog Cafe, 3420 Sansom St., preferential seating given to those purchasing dinner at 6:00pm. Reservations recommended, call (215) 386-9224 or visit http://www.whitedog.com/03102003.html for further information.

March 12, 5:00pm, Baltimore, MD, "Effects of the War on Drugs and our Current Drug Policies - It's Time to Begin a Discussion," hearing on Resolution #03-1024. At the Council Chambers, City Hall, Room 408, 100 N. Holliday Street, will be televised on City Cable, channel TV 21. Contact the Baltimore CityWide Coalition at (410) 728-8611 or [email protected] for further information.

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.

March 14, 1:00pm, Philadelphia, PA, "Drug War Reality Tour: The Philadelphia - Plan Colombia Connection." Meeting in front of the KWRU office, 2825 N. 5th St., seating limited. Registration $25-$50 or $10 for low income, register by fax to (215) 203-1950 or by e-mail to [email protected] and bring your check to the event or mail it to Drug War Reality Tour, c/o Kensington Welfare Rights Union, P.O. Box 50678, Philadelphia, PA 19132. Visit http://www.kwru.org/updates/10-18-01.htm or contact Arun Prabhakaran at (215) 564-6388 ext. 16 or [email protected] for info.

March 15, 4:00pm-3:00am, Brickell, FL, "5th Annual Medical Marijuana Benefit Concert Part II," fundraiser supporting Florida NORML and Florida Cannabis Action Network's medical marijuana campaign. Sponsored by Ploppy Palace Productions, at Tobacco Road, 626 South Miami Ave., admission $10, e-mail [email protected] for further information.

March 19, 7:00-9:00pm, Astoria, NY, John Perry Fund Tribute, fundraiser by the Libertarian Party of Queens County, supporting scholarships for students who've lost financial aid because of drug convictions. Featuring David Borden of DRCNet and speakers from the Libertarian Party of New York, at Bohemian Hall, 29-19 24th Ave., call (718) 707-1421, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://members.tripod.com/lpqc/ for further information.

March 22, 10:00am-3:00pm, New York, NY, Organizers' Training for anti-Rockefeller Drug Laws campaign. Sponsored by JusticeWorks Community, limited to individuals living, working or volunteering in East Harlem. Contact Jessica Dias at (212) 348-8142 or [email protected] for info.

March 23-24, Los Angeles, CA, St. Louis, MO, Atlanta, GA and Hartford, CT, Colombia Mobilization. Teach-ins and actions in each location, visit http://www.colombiamobilization.org for info.

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 http://www.ihrc2003.net or contact [email protected] or (6653) 223624, 894112 x102.

April 12-13, Chicago, IL, Students for Sensible Drug Policy Midwestern Conference. At Loyola University, contact Matt Atwood at [email protected] or visit http://www.ssdp.org for information.

April 15, 9:00am-6:00pm, New York, NY, Symposium by the NYU School of Law Drug Policy Forum. At Greenberg Lounge, Vanderbilt Hall, 40 Washington Square South, contact Adam Bier at adam.bier at nyu.edu for further information.

April 17-19, San Francisco, CA, "Back to Basics: Stop Arresting Marijuana Smokers," 2003 NORML Conference. At the Hyatt Regency, 5 Embarcadero Center, registration $150 or $100 for students. Call 888-67-NORML, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=5524 for information.

April 22, 6:30-8:30pm, Berkeley, CA, "What D.A.R.E. Didn't Teach You: from Absolut to Zima," evening of education on alcohol. At the Drug Resource Center, UC Berkeley, cosponsored by University Health Services and the US Department of Education, contact Scarlett Swerdlow at [email protected] for information.

April 23-26, Manchester, NJ, 13th North American Syringe Exchange Convention. Visit http://www.nasen.org for further information.

May 3-5, many cities worldwide, "Million Marijuana March." Visit http://www.cures-not-wars.org/cities.htm for local contact info.

June 1-13, Witness For Peace Drug Policy Delegation to Colombia. Contact Alex Volberding at [email protected] or visit http://www.witnessforpeace.org/pdf/drugdelflyer.pdf for info.

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

August 16-17, 10:00am-8:00pm, Seattle, WA, "12th Annual Seattle Hempfest." At Myrtle Edwards Park, call (206) 781-5734 or visit http://www.hempfest.org for further 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 http://www.drugpolicy.org for further information.


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