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

Issue #279, 3/21/03

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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  1. New York City Mayor Bloomberg Backs Needle Exchange, But Where's the Money?
  2. Medical Marijuana Update: Bills Killed in Arkansas, Wyoming But Moving Forward in Maryland, Vermont, Bad Bill Introduced in Oregon
  3. UN Says Colombian Coca Cultivation Down 30 Percent, Overall Production Down, Too -- Experts Say Not Really
  4. Newsbrief: Marco Cappato in Jail for British Marijuana Civil Disobedience
  5. Newsbrief: Mexican Governor Candidate Says Legalize Drugs
  6. Newsbrief: Guardian Newspaper Calls on Britons to "Promote" Home Grows, Not Prosecute Them
  7. Newsbrief: Vancouver Ponders "Safe Smoking Materials" for Crack Users
  8. Newsbrief: Medical Marijuana Hits the Shelves in Dutch Pharmacies
  9. Newsbrief: New Jersey Bans Racial Profiling
  10. Newsbrief: NJ Weedman Sues Comcast, Asks $420,000
  11. Newsbrief: House Republicans Hold Off on Subpoena of Federal Judge
  12. Newsbrief: Informant Nailed for Fake Ecstasy Scam
  13. The Reformer's Calendar
(read last week's issue)

(visit the Week Online archives)

1. New York City Mayor Bloomberg Backs Needle Exchange, But Where's the Money?

In a move that caught health workers and harm reduction advocates by surprise, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) announced on March 13 that he supports needle exchange programs (NEPs) in the city to help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. But with both the city and the state of New York in deep financial crisis, it remains unclear whether Bloomberg's comments will result in any expansion of the city's existing NEPs. Even as Bloomberg embraced needle exchanges, his Health Commissioner, Dr. Thomas Frieden, was wrangling with city council members over proposed cuts in funding for groups that operate those and other AIDS prevention-related programs.

Bloomberg's comments came as he addressed a national HIV/AIDS conference at the midtown Manhattan Sheraton Hotel and Towers. During his speech, Bloomberg announced that the city will reorganize its programs to deliver HIV/AIDS services and that the city will support needle exchange programs. Bloomberg's commitment marks a sharp contrast with his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, who ignored NEPs despite their proven record of effectiveness.

Noting that more than 100,000 New York City residents are HIV positive, with half of them diagnosed with AIDS, Bloomberg called the situation "unacceptable" and vowed "to do better." Bloomberg said his administration will try to make the city a national model for meeting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's goal of reducing US HIV infections by 50% by 2005, and that NEPs will be part of that push.

"These programs have been operating in New York City for over 10 years," said Bloomberg. "The sky has not fallen. Drug use and drug-related crime have not gone up. In fact, they've gone down."

Harm reductionists and AIDS workers welcomed Bloomberg's remarks, but wondered aloud whether his words would be backed up with hard cash. "After years of struggling to have needle exchange recognized in the city, one of the centers of HIV and intravenous drug use in the US, it is very gratifying to have the mayor acknowledge that it works," said Allan Clear, executive director of the New York-based Harm Reduction Coalition ( "We have been working on the mayor with a coalition of NEPs, and that is partially why this happened," Clear told DRCNet. "We've been showing people what we are able to do in New York City, and this is one of the fruits of our work."

But lack of government funding raises serious questions, said Clear. "The budget crises in the state and here in the city make the future unclear. We are pushing for a meeting with the mayor so we can discuss this further."

Dr. Don Des Jarlais of Beth Israel Medical Center has tracked HIV among injection drug users since the 1980s. "We have tested injectors for HIV all over the city over time, and the rates of infection have dropped by at least half since these programs became legal, so the mayor's comments are a very positive sign," he told DRCNet. "At a time when NEPs are under some political and financial pressure, this is an important source of public support."

Des Jarlais was also worried about the future of NEPs given the city's and the state's perilous financial situation. "The financial crisis certainly isn't going to help," said Des Jarlais. "We will have to see how that plays out. But having the mayor take this stand at this time is very reassuring."

Nine NEPs currently operate in New York City, and they have played a critical role in stemming HIV/AIDS infections, said Des Jarlais. "NEPs have been absolutely critical," he said. "The mayor cited data we provided showing that NEPs cut the rate of new infections by more than half, and that is very impressive. There would be tens of thousands more people with HIV/AIDS in New York City if not for syringe exchanges."

Daliah Heller is the executive director of Citiwide Harm Reduction, a needle exchange operating in the Bronx and Manhattan. Heller's program is part of a coalition of HIV organizations that have been working with the city on needle exchange since Mayor Bloomberg came into office. "Needle exchange is the most successful prevention strategy in the history of the epidemic. When injectors use these programs, they don't just protect themselves. They protect their families and their communities."

"These programs don't just fight HIV. They are a crucial bridge to drug treatment and health care," added Amu Ptah, the Harm Reduction Coalition's national policy director. "For eleven years these programs have been working with the people that everyone else has shut out or forgotten about. They've gotten thousands of people into drug treatment, housing, family services and AIDS care. The majority of drug related HIV and hepatitis is happening in communities of color, and it's hitting women worst of all. These infections are preventable, and they always were preventable. Allowing deadly viruses to spread is an attack on our communities."

But even as Bloomberg praised NEPs and harm reductionists praised the mayor, Health Commissioner Frieden was warning of layoffs and health clinic closings, leaving in doubt whether NEPs could expect any new support and even raising questions about whether they could expect support at current levels. Between state cutbacks and Bloomberg's demands that city agencies retrench to help close a looming budget gap in the city, the situation is grim, Frieden told the city council in a Tuesday session.

"Proposals currently being considered in Albany to reduce the state's matching funds for public health activities, coming on top of the cuts we have already sustained, would have a devastating effect on the department's ability to protect the public health," he said. Frieden warned that many programs could be eliminated, including HIV testing, and that dozens of HIV/AIDS prevention groups would be forced to seek funding from other sources.

Of particular concern to council members was $5 million in HIV/AIDS assistance from the state, a sum that Frieden said would now not be available. At least one member, Councilwoman Christine Quinn of Manhattan, chair of the Health Committee, accused the Bloomberg administration of cutting the funds.

But Frieden insisted that he had few options. "I would respectfully ask the Council to tell me where you'd like me to cut," he said. "If you want me to put back $12, $13 million in programs. Should I stop issuing birth and death certificates? Should I not investigate severe acute respiratory syndrome? Should I close a TB clinic somewhere? Should I stop treating STDs? Should I stop doing HIV prevention? I'm all ears."

So, New York's mayor now supports NEPs, but there's no money. "I guess that means we have some moral support," said HRC's Clear.

2. Medical Marijuana Update: Bills Killed in Arkansas, Wyoming But Moving Forward in Maryland, Vermont, Bad Bill Introduced in Oregon

As the spring legislative season at state capitols around the country begins to wind down, the record on medical marijuana at the statehouse this year is decidedly mixed. In the latest voting, legislators in Arkansas and Wyoming killed medical marijuana bills, but solons in Maryland and Vermont, where the issue has been in play for several sessions, have kept legislation alive and moving forward. Meanwhile, in Oregon, where voters passed a medical marijuana initiative in 1998, activists are mobilizing to defeat a bill that would place new restrictions on the existing program.

In Arkansas, a medical marijuana bill (HB 1321) sponsored by Rep. Jim Lendall (D-Mabelvale) died in committee March 12. The bill would have allowed registered patients to grow and possess small amounts of medical marijuana upon consultation with a doctor, but was restricted to pain relief for cancer, AIDS, and other "debilitating medical conditions."

Although the bill was supported with testimony by several patients and former US Surgeon General Dr. Jocelyn Elders and pushed by the Alliance for Drug Reform in Arkansas (, members of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee voted it down, citing concerns about making marijuana legal in some circumstances and questioning why prescription Marinol would not suffice.

Perhaps lawmakers were influenced by drug prohibitionist Ken Fithen, associate director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, who told the committee: "This bill would open the door to major problems with dangerous and toxic drugs. It's the gateway drug. We're sending a very wrong message to our young people."

In Wyoming, a medical marijuana bill sponsored by state Sen. Keith Goodenough (D-District 28) died Monday when the Senate leadership refused to act on it, instead placing it on the dead letter "general file." The defeat was at least the sixth for Goodenough's long-standing campaign to pass such a bill in Wyoming. Goodenough's bill would have allowed seriously ill people to use marijuana with their doctors' approval.

Goodenough had succeeded in guiding this year's bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee, where several of his previous efforts had met their doom, on a 3-2 vote last month. "It's a fairness issue," Goodenough said at the time of that vote. "If you're gonna die in two months, you should be able to do whatever you want. It really bothers me that the government steps between the doctor and patient."

As in Arkansas, opponents of the Wyoming medical marijuana bill cited concerns about federal intervention and concerns about handling a non-pharmaceutical medicine, as well as reciting drug war bugaboos. One lobbyist for the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police warned the committee that marijuana use leads to violence.

But if this year's efforts have now failed in Arkansas and Wyoming, bills continued to move in recent days in Vermont and Maryland. On March 13, the Vermont Senate passed a medical marijuana bill by a margin of 22-7. The bill now moves on to the House, which passed an almost identical bill last year. The Marijuana Policy Project (, which has spent nearly $150,000 on lobbying and other efforts to advance medical marijuana in Vermont in the last two years, reports that it expects this year's bill to pass the House.

But MPP is keeping a careful watch on Gov. Jim Douglas (R), who has been talking out of both sides of his mouth about medical marijuana in recent weeks. Last year, pressure from then Gov. Howard Dean (D), now a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, derailed a similar bill that seemed set to pass. MPP has announced a $20,000 TV advertising campaign to pressure Douglas to sign the bill if and when it passes the House.

"Last year, the Vermont House passed a nearly identical bill by a vote of 82-59, becoming the first Republican-controlled state legislative chamber ever to pass a medical marijuana bill," said Billy Rogers, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, DC. "We have every reason to expect a similar vote this year. Then, the question will be whether or not Governor Jim Douglas follows the will of Vermont's citizens and their elected representatives."

According to MPP, the House should vote on the bill next month.

And in Maryland, medical marijuana proponents won what MPP called a "partial victory" Tuesday when the state House of Delegates passed an amended version of HB 702 in a see-saw session that saw the bill first defeated, then passed on a second vote. The amended version of the bill, which reduces penalties for medical marijuana users but still leaves them facing arrest, lost in the first vote because some key supporters were not present and others voted "no" to protest its dilution.

"We support the amended version of this bill, but with reservations," MPP's Billy Rogers. MPP has supported medical marijuana legislation in Maryland for the past four legislative sessions. "While this bill is a step forward in our struggle to protect seriously ill Marylanders, it does not go far enough. Patients with cancer, AIDS and other serious illnesses will still be handcuffed, possibly spend a night in jail, prosecuted, and forced to hire lawyers to defend themselves. Under this bill, even if the court agrees that a patient was using medical marijuana legitimately, the patient will still be punished with a fine," said Rogers. "While we support this bill as a small step forward, we will certainly be back next year to advocate for legislation that removes the threat of arrest entirely."

Observers expect action in the state Senate soon. The bill was bottled up in a Senate committee awaiting action by the House, but now should be taken up again.

Finally, medical marijuana supporters are mobilizing to stop an Oregon bill that would force participants in that state's ongoing medical marijuana program to complete an education course and would bar anyone with a prior drug conviction from participating in the program. Introduced by Rep. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg), HB 2939 is set for a hearing at the Health and Human Services Committee today (March 21).

Oregon's medical marijuana program, despite some problems, has been a model for efforts across the nation. It has expanded from 594 card holders in April 2000 to 4,639 card holders in February.

To read the Vermont bill online, go to:

To read the Maryland bill online, go to:

To read the Oregon bill online, go to:

3. UN Says Colombian Coca Cultivation Down 30 Percent, Overall Production Down, Too -- Experts Say Not Really

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported Monday that 102,000 hectares of coca were being grown in Colombia at the end of 2002, a 30% reduction compared to the 145,000 grown a year earlier. The reported reduction in Colombia has contributed to the first overall decline in coca production in the Andean region for more than a decade, the UN report added.

Drug warriors and the Colombian government hailed the figures as a victory, but some experts question the numbers, while others point out that the reported reduction in Colombia has come at a great cost in terms of displacement of civilian populations and environmental destruction caused by widespread and increasing aerial fumigation.

"This is a major achievement in the international fight against illicit drugs and related crime," Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said at a celebratory press conference in Brussels. "The world production of coca has been persistently above 200,000 hectares: this decline will subtract over 100 tons of cocaine from world markets."

The Colombian government greeted the announcement as "a major victory." At a joint UN-Colombian government press conference in Bogota, Colombian Interior Minister Fernando Londono vowed to wipe out coca in Colombia. "President Uribe's pledge to permanently eradicate coca from our territory is irrevocable," he said. "It isn't about dealing with a problem, but ending a nightmare for the Colombian people."

However, a March 6 editorial in the widely read news magazine The Economist pointed out that hectares under coca production in neighboring Bolivia and Peru have increased, and that more productive varieties of coca are in use in both countries -- fundamental factors ignored by the UN's measuring stick of choice. The editorial, titled "The Balloon Goes Up," notes a "hollow quality" to the so-called victory, stating that "the 'drug war' has imposed its own costs." The pro-market magazine explains the functioning of supply and demand in the drug trade by pointing out that "one [of those costs] is known as the 'balloon effect': local squeezes simply move the industry elsewhere, spreading violence and corruption with it."

And although the UN Office on Drugs and Crime was coy about how the Colombian reduction was achieved, referring to "government-sponsored eradication," in key Colombian coca-producing provinces, it is the Uribe government's wholehearted embrace of aerial fumigation that has killed the coca crop -- along with food crops and farm animals.

Last September, numerous scientists and policy experts attacked fumigation as dangerous to plant and human life alike and a disastrous policy approach in practice. "Aerial spraying, whether through drift, accident or intention, is destroying the food crops of farmers who have agreed to eradicate drug crops and, even worse, of farmers and indigenous communities who are innocent of drug production," said Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the Latin America Working Group (, attacking US government compliance with its own reporting and compensation requirements. "The compensation system required by Congress exists on paper, but not in practice. Of 1,000 claims filed by Colombian farmers for damages, 800 were dismissed sight unseen, and the only claim determined to be valid has not yet been paid."

In the same joint statement questioning the fumigation program, Janet Chernela, chair of the Committee for Human Rights of the American Anthropological Association, condemned the practice as detrimental to some 58 indigenous groups living in areas affected by the spraying. "These nations have lived in their territories for hundreds, and in some cases, thousands, of years. Displacement caused by herbicidal spraying and violence seriously threatens the rights of aboriginal peoples to inhabit lands belonging to them; it also brings about social and economic disruption affecting every aspect of life."

"The problem of illicit cultivation can't be solved by a military response," said Dr. Miguel Angel Rubio, a technical advisor to Putumayo Congressman Guillermo Rivera Flores at a congressional hearing in Bogota last month. "They can fumigate what they fumigate, and they can say there is no coca in Putumayo, but we know it is there, and the plots are also migrating to Amazonas as they are pressured," he said.

Even the UN's Drug Control Program Colombia head, Klaus Nyholm, said that fumigation cannot stop illicit cultivation as long as the black market keeps prices high and farmers face few alternatives. "It has to be backed up with alternative or rural development programs and it hasn't been so far. I don't think you can fumigate yourself out of the problem," he said.

And in a joint statement greeting the report, Member of the European Parliament and coordinator of Parliamentarians for Antiprohibitionist Action Marco Cappato (see newsbrief below for more on Cappato) and Marco Perduca, executive director of the International Antiprohibitionist League ( questioned both the substance and the recommendations of the report. "While we commend the UN and the government of Colombia for having attempted such a survey, we would have welcomed a clarification that it was carried out on the basis of all the available estimates, and not real figures, as the Country is facing civil war and substantial parts of its territory are not necessarily under the full control of the Government. At the same time, it needs to be emphasized that if the number of hectares dedicated to the illicit production of coca leaf might have been diminished, coca growers have been developing more potent qualities of the substance as well as fast growing plants," said the anti-prohibitionists.

Rather than continue to generate huge social and economic costs attempting to suppress the drug trade, policymakers should find alternatives, they added. "The main challenge that needs to be met by those who are working to control illicit drugs are an effective scientific, economic and political evaluation of current policies that have not been able to reduce the production, consumption and sale of illicit substances, all over the world, and the initiation of a process of review of the UN Conventions on Drugs. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime should be instrumental in opening this type of debate at the upcoming Vienna 'review' conference."

In the meantime, as the spraying continues apace in Colombia, coca follows the path of least resistance. To adjacent provinces, to adjacent countries, and back to old homes in Peru and Bolivia, coca is once again on the move.

Visit and for the UN's report and press release.

4. Newsbrief: Marco Cappato in Jail for British Marijuana Civil Disobedience

Marco Cappato, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and coordinator of Parliamentarians for Antiprohibitionist Action, begins serving a seven-day sentence in Manchester, England, today after refusing to pay a $150 fine for possession of cannabis he presented to police officials in Manchester during a civil disobedience action in December 2001. That action came in support of fellow MEP Chris Davies, who had earlier been arrested on similar charges. Davies was in turn protesting the arrest of Stockport (suburban Manchester) cannabis coffee shop owner Colin Davies (no relation) by Manchester police after his flourishing business garnered a little too much media attention.

Cappato -- who coordinates a global pro-legalization resolution that has been endorsed by over 200 legislators worldwide ( -- has already paid approximately $3,000 in court costs so as "not to use the British judicial system at the expense of the taxpayer," but refuses to pay any fine, instead preferring to serve his time as a continuation of his protest. In a statement scheduled to be read in court today, Cappato's attorneys explained his motives: "On 15 December 2001, Mr. Cappato voluntarily decided to violate the 'Misuse of Drugs Act', denouncing himself to the Stockport police station for possession of a very small quantity of cannabis, spending one night in a police station," they said. "Mr. Cappato has been active on drug-related issues for the past ten years, in Italy as well as in other regions of the world, both as an anti-prohibitionist activist and as an elected official. On 13 December 2002, Mr. Cappato introduced a formal recommendation to the European Council of Ministers with the support of other 109 MEPs -- that is some 20% of the European Parliament -- that calls for a comprehensive reform of the UN Conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988.

"Mr. Cappato firmly believes that the criminalization of cannabis possession is in fact creating tremendous harm to society, with penalties that go beyond basic human rights principles. For this reason, he decided to support the action undertaken by his British colleague Mr. Chris Davies, MEP, on 15 December 2001, and to face a criminal charge. With his nonviolent action of civil disobedience, Mr. Cappato violated a law not in order to disrespect it, or this Court or the legal tradition of the United Kingdom, but in order to affirm the urgent need for anti-prohibitionist reforms and the adoption of new laws that could free this as well as other Courts from thousand of criminal cases, mostly involving very young people.

"Mr. Cappato wishes also to state that recently a debate on the rescheduling of cannabis derivatives began in the United Kingdom, a change that will legalise marihuana and other substances that today are illicit. Mr. Cappato hopes that the news of his arrest will help that debate urging decision-makers that are in charge of drug laws as well as those that will represent the United Kingdom at the UN Conference in Vienna next 16 and 17 April. EU Member States, as well as the international community as a whole, cannot afford to perpetrate the implementation of failing prohibitionist policies that have not been able to reduce the production, consumption or sale of the substances kept illegal by the three UN Conventions."

Will there be a Letter from the Manchester Jail?

5. Newsbrief: Mexican Governor Candidate Says Legalize Drugs

Mauricio Fernandez Garza, scion of Monterrey's immensely powerful and wealthy Garza Sada family, has called for the legalization of drug use and the drug trade. Fernandez Garza, a former senator for the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and currently fighting to win the PAN nomination for governor of Nuevo Leon, told the Mexico City newspaper El Universal Wednesday that legalizing drugs would not only combat the corrosive social effects of the black market drug traffic, but would also allow the government to tax drug sales in the same way it taxes alcohol and tobacco.

Fernandez Garza is something of a maverick within the ranks of the PAN, a party whose politics are rooted in Catholic conservatism and support of free enterprise. Although a panista, Fernandez Garza has political ties not only with the PRI, the party that ruled Mexico for 70 years until sitting President Vicente Fox was elected in 2000, but also with the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and its former presidential candidate, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, as well a longstanding friendship with Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Although President Fox once made noises about drug legalization and his Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda had famously advocated the same thing, Castaneda has now resigned and Fox has publicly embraced US-style prohibitionist policies.

Fernandez Garza told El Universal that he had smoked marijuana when he was young, just as "I wet the bed when I was little." But while Fernandez Garza's self-admitted use was in his youth, he told El Universal that adults should be able to make the decision to use drugs for themselves. "If you're grown up and have a mustache, well, then, you should be able to smoke a joint and even pay taxes to help care for the children," he said.

Visit -- the home page of our conference series Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century, which convened in Mexico last month -- for more about support for legalization in Mexico and Latin America.

6. Newsbrief: Guardian Newspaper Calls on Britons to "Promote" Home Grows, Not Prosecute Them

In a Tuesday editorial, England's prestigious newspaper the Guardian called on Home Secretary David Blunkett to amend a pending criminal justice bill to ensure that people growing marijuana for their own use or to share with friends not be prosecuted as drug dealers.

Blunkett moved last year to downgrade marijuana from a Class B to a Class C drug, but, as the Guardian put it, "to keep right-wingers happy," Blunkett also increased the sentence for trafficking Class C drugs from a maximum of seven years to a maximum of 14 years. Under current British law, people who grow small amounts of marijuana can be charged either as "traffickers" or on the lesser charge of "cultivation," which carries far lighter penalties.

"There are sound pragmatic reasons for ensuring users who cultivate their own cannabis are not treated as dealers," opined the Guardian. "Their activities reduce the role of criminal gangs and destabilize the criminalized cannabis market. Private cultivators need promoting, not curbing. It is not too late to protect them. The current criminal justice bill should be amended so that grow-your-own, like possession, is treated as a minor offense. It could even win the Home Secretary some support. Polls suggest 60% of people believe cannabis should no longer be an offense."

7. Newsbrief: Vancouver Ponders "Safe Smoking Materials" for Crack Users

Vancouver, BC, health officials are evaluating a plan to make crack smoking safer by providing equipment to users that would reduce infections and burns, the National Post reported Monday. The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority is seeking advice on whether to provide free rubber tubing that would cover the mouthpieces of glass crack pipes. The tubing would be distributed in the city's Downtown Eastside, site of the hemisphere's largest ongoing open-air hard drug market.

"The reality is that people are still going to smoke drugs and inject drugs whether we're there with safe equipment or not," health authority spokeswoman Viviana Zanocco told the Post, "so our aim is to allow that to happen in as safe a situation as possible." The plan fits within the harm reduction goals announced as part of the city's "Four Pillars" (prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement) strategy, said Zanocco, explaining that the crack pipe plan "minimizes the risk of compound health problems that are related to addictions. It is incumbent on us as a health authority to ensure that harm reduction measures are introduced to make sure people are as safe as possible while using drugs."

The rubber tubing would reduce lip burns and infections caused by the heated glass pipes used by crack smokers. The burns and infections, if left untreated, can lead to more serious problems. "People don't get them looked at right away," said Zanocco. "They get worse and worse."

The health authority already sponsors one of the largest needle exchange programs in the hemisphere, having distributed 2.7 million clean needles last year, and is in the middle of setting up a supervised safe injection room for heroin and cocaine users in the Downtown Eastside.

In a refreshing change from US law enforcement practice, Vancouver police said they had no opinion on the idea. "It's not an enforcement issue, it's a health issue," spokeswoman Constable Sarah Bloor told the Post.

8. Newsbrief: Medical Marijuana Hits the Shelves in Dutch Pharmacies

As of Monday, medical marijuana in the Netherlands began moving from the coffee shop to the pharmacist's shelves, as a new law allowing druggists to fill medical marijuana prescriptions and patients to have the cost covered by insurance went into effect.

"The health minister said, look, doctors are prescribing marijuana to their patients anyway, and there are many medicinal users, so we may as well regulate it," Bas Kuik, a spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Health, told the Associated Press. Kuik added that the Dutch government will license several official growers later this year, but meanwhile, pharmacies will have to act on their own to get marijuana.

That does not present a large problem, however, since, there already exists at least one company, Maripharm (, that reports supplying at least 600 Dutch pharmacies with "Medical Grade Marijuana." According to Maripharm, its product comes "standardized, vacuum-packed and bearing patient information and dose advice." Maripharm mediweed goes for about $225 an ounce at the Dam Pharmacy in central Amsterdam, the AP reported.

Although Maripharm has not received a waiver from the Dutch government to grow its medical marijuana, the Dutch authorities have, in their inimitable fashion, turned a blind eye to the company's activities, much as they allow the technically illegal sale of cannabis in the country's famous coffee shops.

The law bringing medical marijuana into the drug stores was actually passed by the Dutch parliament in 2001, but didn't go into effect until this week. While the Netherlands follows Canada in formally sanctioning medical marijuana, it is the first nation to incorporate the herb into its standard prescription drug regulation system.

Meanwhile, in the US, Attorney General Ashcroft sends armed paramilitary SWAT teams after patients and providers.

9. Newsbrief: New Jersey Bans Racial Profiling

Almost five years after New Jersey state troopers wounded three minority men during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, the state legislature has passed and Gov. Scott McGreevey has signed a bill banning racial profiling by police officers. Under the new law, officers who engage in racial profiling -- the act of subjecting people to stops, searches, or other scrutiny based solely on their race -- will face up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Although New Jersey officials acknowledged nearly three years ago that state troopers indeed singled out certain travelers for harassment because of their race, bitter lobbying by law enforcement interests had blocked legislation to bar the practice until now. Among other objections, desperate cops claimed this year's bill would prevent them from broadcasting the race of criminal suspects, a claim debunked last week by acting state Attorney General Peter Harvey.

Supporters of efforts to outlaw racial profiling pronounced themselves satisfied. "It's been a long road to get here," said the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman William Payne (D- Newark) at a March 12 news conference celebrating the bill's passage, "but we are finally at the threshold of having a law that will stop heinous, humiliating, degrading acts by police officers."

Still, while the bill passed by a large margin, 21 members of the General Assembly and six senators voted against it. While opponents claimed they did not support racial profiling and were merely troubled by language in the bill, Reginald Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey and a leading proponent of the bill, wasn't so sure. "It is encouraging that the gap between the minority community and the troopers was bridged so both could support the bill," he said. "That makes it all the more unfortunate that 27 members of the Legislative Assembly did not vote to outlaw something that is so obviously immoral and should be illegal."

Even if the recalcitrant 27 couldn't bring themselves to vote for the bill, the New Jersey State Troopers Association has finally seen the light. Despite years of fighting any restrictions on the practice, association president Ken McClelland told the Associated Press the union was satisfied with the bill. "No police officer should pull over a person because of what they look like," he said. "These actions diminish all the good work we do every day, and this bill sends a strong message that such activity will be punished."

Visit to view the New Jersey Racial Profiling Archive released by the state attorney general's office in 2000.

10. Newsbrief: NJ Weedman Sues Comcast, Asks $420,000

Ed Forchion, the marijuana legalization advocate freed from jail in January after a federal judge found that New Jersey officials had unlawfully violated his parole for speaking out on a public policy issue -- legalizing marijuana -- has filed a $420,000 lawsuit against the state's largest cable TV provider. The suit charges that Comcast Communications censored pro-legalization ads he planned to run and libeled him in the mass media.

Forchion entered into a contract with Comcast last summer to broadcast political issue ads, but Comcast dumped the ads and told the media Forchion was advocating the illegal use of drugs. In an interview with Preston Peet's Drug War news web site (, at time of Forchion's arrest for parole violation last August, Comcast vice-president of corporate communications told Peet the cable giant did run commercials by drug prohibition outfits, such as the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Partnerships for a Drug-Free America, but that it would not run Forchion's ads because they "promote the use of habit forming drugs or drug paraphernalia."

But Forchion's advertisements are available online ( and clearly show that he is advocating a public policy position, not the use of marijuana.

Comcast had no comment on the suit. The lawsuit is assigned for trial to US District Judge Joseph Irenas. No trial date has yet been set.

Visit Forchion's web site at to learn more about the New Jersey Weedman.

11. Newsbrief: House Republicans Hold Off on Subpoena of Federal Judge

DRCNet reported last week that Republicans on the House Judiciary Committtee were about to subpoena Minnesota federal court Chief Judge James Rosenbaum in an effort to punish him for speaking out against harsh federal drug sentences and for allegedly sentencing at least two drug defendants to less time than the law required. But the Wall Street Journal, the only major media outlet to cover the story, reported on March 13 that committee Republicans have agreed to hold off on the subpoena after Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking Democrat on the committee, offered to mediate the dispute.

The tussle between Rosenbaum and the committee Republicans had simmered for months before being brought to a head two weeks ago, when Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC) said in a letter seeking the subpoena that Judge Rosenbaum had "imposed illegal sentences in at least two cases" and that he was seeking a subpoena to "reveal further illegality on his part in sentencing additional criminal defendants."

The judge's attorney, former US Attorney Victoria Toensing, argued that he neither misled the committee in his testimony last year -- in which he argued that federal law required him to impose harsh and unfair sentences on defendants with minor roles in drug cases -- nor violated sentencing laws. Rosenbaum had indeed sentenced some defendants to less time that required by federal sentencing guidelines, Toensing told the Journal, but those were lawful "downward departures." Toensing also said that the committee's move to subpoena Judge Rosenbaum's sealed transcripts and other court records overstepped congressional authority.

Federal judges are watching with interest and concern. "The judiciary takes very seriously any potential threat to judicial independence," a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the US Courts told the Journal.

Rosenbaum is a former US Attorney appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan in 1987.

12. Newsbrief: Informant Nailed for Fake Ecstasy Scam

Sometimes you just have to feel bad for the DEA. Even their paid snitches do 'em wrong. It happened last July to the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) narcs, and now the snitch in question will be spending a few months in federal prison.

"Confidential informant" A 19-year old from Michigan was found guilty of conspiring to defraud the government of $6,000 in an undercover drug buy and was sentenced last week to three months in federal prison, two years of probation, and a $2,500 fine. While working with HIDTA, he joined with an older friend in a scheme to peddle Primatene pills as ecstasy tablets to undercover narcs in a drug buy they assumed was a preliminary, or "walk up," to the deal that would lead to a bust. Oops. The HIDTA narcs actually tested their dope, and the two went to jail.

At sentencing last week, He apologized to the judge, saying he "got caught up in the moment of making money." Local newspaper accounts did not reveal why he was working for the local HIDTA, but people typically become informants after being arrested themselves and threatened with decades in prison if they don't cough up others. Maybe his heart wasn't really in his work.

13. The Reformer's Calendar

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

March 21, 10:00pm-5:00am, South Miami Beach, FL, "No to S. 226," party against the RAVE Act. At The Laundry Bar, 721 Lincoln Lane, admission free. Visit 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 for info.

March 28, 7:00-10:00pm, Minneapolis, MN, "Shattered Lives: Portraits from America's Drug War," exhibit and speaking engagement at the University of Minnesota. At Willey Hall, 225 19th Avenue S., exhibit from March 24-28, sponsored by NORML at the University of Minnesota, e-mail [email protected] or call Jason Samuels at (651) 247-8327 for further information.

March 28-29, Mestre (Venice), Italy, "Un'Alternative Realistica ed Efficace Alla 'War on Drugs' in Nomi Dei Diritti Umani," seminar preparing for the Vienna UN drug summit, in campaign to reform the international drug conventions. Sponsored by Forum Droghe, at Centro Culturale Santa Maria delle Grazie, on Via Poerio, visit for info.

March 30, 9:00am-5:00pm, Washington, DC, "The Washington Conference on Imprisonment in America." Sponsored by the Peace and Justice Foundation, with the Community Action and Social Justice Office (CASJ) of American University. At the AU School of Public Affairs, Ward Circle Building, e- mail [email protected] for directions and call (202) 246-0092 or e-mail [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 4-6, New Orleans, LA, "Critical Resistance South Regional Conference and Strategy Session." Call Critical Resistance South at (504) 837-5348 or (866) 579-0885, e-mail [email protected] or visit 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 10-13, Vienna, Austria, "Alternative Summit on Drugs," coinciding with the UN drug summit, visit for further information.

April 12-13, Chicago, IL, Students for Sensible Drug Policy Midwestern Conference. At Loyola University, contact Matt Atwood at [email protected] or visit for info.

April 15, 9:00am-6:00pm, New York, NY, "Current Trends in Drug Policy Reform," symposium by NYU School of Law Student Drug Policy Forum. Panels on collateral consequences of the drug war, alternatives to incarceration and enforcement, and impact of federal law, featuring law professors, prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys and other criminal justice experts. At Greenberg Lounge, Vanderbilt Hall, 40 Washington Square South, contact Adam Bier at adam.bier at 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 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 for further information.

May 3-5, many cities worldwide, "Million Marijuana March." Visit for local contact info.

June 1-13, Witness For Peace Drug Policy Delegation to Colombia. Contact Alex Volberding at [email protected] or visit for info.

June 7-11, Denver, CO, 23rd National Convocation of Jail and Prison Ministry. Visit 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 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 for further information.

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