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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #302, 9/12/03

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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Drug War Chronicle now uses a new format in which we send the table of contents, with web links and announcements, but not the full text of the articles. The old format of full text e-mails is still available -- visit to switch back!

Mark your calendars -- September 23 is the Cheryl Miller Memorial Congressional Phone Slam for Medical Marijuana! Visit for information, and visit to e-mail your US Representative and your two Senators -- we'll send you an e-mail on the morning of the 23rd if you do, with their names and phone numbers, making it as easy as possible to join the phone slam!

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  1. Oops! -- "Killer Ecstasy" Study Retracted, NIDA Credibility on the Line, RAVE Act Still Law
  2. Marijuana as Budget Saver? Study Looks at Implications of Legalization in Massachusetts
  3. Current Action Alerts: Medical Marijuana, Plan Colombia, HEA, Ashcroft's Attack on Judicial Discretion
  4. Perry Fund Accepting Applications for 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 School Years, Providing Scholarships for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions
  5. Newsbrief: Human Rights Watch Calls California's Anti-Syringe Laws a Violation of Human Rights, Details Police Harassment of Exchanges
  6. Arianna Huffington Speaks at UC Berkeley SSDP-Volunteer-Organized Event
  7. Newsbrief: Tommy Chong Sentenced to Nine Months on Bong Charges
  8. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story
  9. Newsbrief: West Africa Drug War -- Business As Usual, Except for the Lizards
  10. Newsbrief: Canadian Cities Federation Stays Firm in Support of Cannabis Decrim
  11. Newsbrief: New Mexico Church Wins Ruling in Ayahuasca Case
  12. Newsbrief: Pakistani Prison Officials Call for Different Treatment of Drug Offenders
  13. Newsbrief: Dutch Government Seeks to Ban Cops from Enjoying Coffee Shops
  14. Newsbrief: Connecticut Democrats to Propose Sentencing Reforms
  15. The Reformer's Calendar
(last week's issue)

(Chronicle archives)

1. Oops! -- "Killer Ecstasy" Study Retracted, NIDA Credibility on the Line, RAVE Act Still Law

Last September, a team of Johns Hopkins University researchers led by Dr. George Ricaurte announced dramatic, frightening findings about the effects of the popular dance culture drug ecstasy (MDMA) on the human brain: "One Night's Ecstasy Use Can Cause Brain Damage," read a typical newspaper headline based on his study. The research results, which suggested that a single recreational dose of ecstasy could lead to brain damage and Parkinson's disease, were widely trumpeted by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and helped create the panicked atmosphere in which the repressive RAVE Act became law.

Now, a year later and with much less fanfare, the team has quietly asked the journal Science, in which the research was published, to retract the findings. It turns out, the researchers reported, that the drug they were using was not MDMA at all, but methamphetamine mistakenly labeled as ecstasy. The error was discovered, Ricaurte said in a letter to Science, when his team sought to replicate the results of the "ecstasy" injections with oral doses and got wildly different results. Ricaurte and team are blaming the drugs' supplier, North Carolina's Research Triangle Institute, for the error, but Research Triangle has yet to confirm or deny that it mislabeled the drugs.

The research results were hotly questioned at the time by other researchers in the field, but those questions were largely ignored in media reports warning of a new danger from ecstasy use. The results should have been more sharply scrutinized. While Ricaurte wrote that his experiments showed that modest doses of ecstasy could cause damage to neurons that use dopamine, it should have been evident that something was wrong. Of 10 monkeys and baboons dosed with the drug, two died quickly and two became so ill they could not take a third dose. Such high mortality and morbidity rates, which have never been associated with recreational ecstasy use, should have been a warning signal that something was seriously flawed with the research project. Instead, Ricaurte and associates used the findings to suggest that ecstasy users were playing Russian Roulette with their brains.

It is possible that Ricaurte's flawed findings were the result of honest error, but Ricaurte's record as a leading propagandist for the dangers of ecstasy -- he is also responsible for the now discredited "plain brain/ecstasy brain" NIDA campaign -- leaves his critics unwilling to give him the benefit of the doubt.

"This is not just a lab or labeling error," said Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a Sarasota, Florida-based group that funds studies of the therapeutic uses of psychedelic drugs and is seeking government permission to do human MDMA tests. "The lab hasn't accepted responsibility for making a mistake. But the real error is in how Ricaurte presented his data," Doblin told DRCNet. "In order to make his study reach the conclusions he wanted, he had to ignore three previous published studies that showed that MDMA had no effect on dopamine in humans. He should never have said that MDMA users were at risk of Parkinson's. He should never have made such bold claims. And clearly, what Ricaurte was giving those animals was not a common recreational dose, because those animals were dropping dead."

Dr. Charles Grob of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, another leading researcher on ecstasy, was equally critical. "I was shocked but not surprised" at the retraction revelation, he told DRCNet. "In 2000, I published a long review article in the Journal of Addiction Research where I reviewed many of the serious flaws in Ricaurte's research program going back to the 1980s. There is a pattern there of serious methodological flaws, questionable data analysis, misleading and hyped conclusions, and presenting sensationalized results to the media in particular," Grob said.

That's not how Johns Hopkins University, where Ricaurte is a professor of neurology, sees it. In a press release announcing the retraction, Johns Hopkins argued that the blunder "in no way undermines the results of numerous previous studies performed in multiple laboratories worldwide demonstrating the serotonin neurotoxic potential of recreational doses of MDMA in various animal species, including several primate species." Furthermore, the university asserted, "The study results replicate what was previously published regarding the neurotoxic effects of methamphetamine use, and the researchers' efforts to investigate conflicting data in the laboratory are an excellent example of how science is self-correcting."

All well and true, if a bit self-congratulatory given the circumstances, but it is worth noting that Ricaurte trumpeted the danger of ecstasy -- not methamphetamine -- to humans, not "various animal species."

As for Ricaurte's professional standing, Johns Hopkins had no reservations. When asked by DRCNet what consequences Ricaurte and his team faced, John Hopkins spokesman Trent Stockton replied, "None from Johns Hopkins. He remains a faculty member in good standing."

A NIDA spokeswoman told DRCNet the anti-drug agency was just beginning to look into the matter. "We're not sure how much money in NIDA grants Ricaurte has received," said NIDA's Beverly Jackson, "but many people are asking. He's been a grantee for many, many years. We're trying to put that together right now." As for consequences for Ricaurte and team, Jackson said NIDA was at this point unsure where errors occurred. "There is a normal scientific investigation going on," she said. "Everyone is looking into this."

Ricaurte did not return a DRCNet call for comment by press time.

For Doblin and Grob, many questions remain. "There is the question of a cover-up," Doblin pointed out. "Ricaurte attempted to replicate his results with oral administrations, but could not do so. That was last year, but in June of this year he was still defending his paper in the pages of Science. He knew he couldn't replicate those results, but he was still trying to promote the idea that MDMA hurts dopamine in humans. Even as he retracts his findings, he is still trying to throw mud at MDMA." According to Doblin, Ricaurte's knowing lies helped shut down a research project on ecstasy and post-traumatic stress disorder in Spain this summer. "He was in Madrid telling people about dopamine problems and promoting the theory that ecstasy causes Parkinson's when he already knew better," Doblin said. "He contributed to the pressure to shut down the research. His whole career seems to be one where he takes extreme positions about the risk of MDMA and then has to juggle his risk estimates to justify his claims."

Ricaurte and his team were also a baleful influence working against MAPS efforts to win FDA approval for human ecstasy studies, Doblin said. "In 2001, we got FDA approval for MDMA studies and subsequent approval from the Internal Review Board, but someone on the board didn't like it and called [Ricaurte researcher] Una McCann, and suddenly our approval was revoked," he said. "We tried again last year, but their study came out last September, and after that the review board said our research was too political. Ricaurte and his team have had a deleterious effect on our ability to do therapeutic research," Doblin continued. "The review boards are scared because of [former NIDA head Alan] Leshner, Ricaurte and McCann fanning the flames and shouting 'danger, danger, danger.'"

Both Grob and Doblin would also like to know what happened to the other mislabeled drugs used by Ricaurte's team. In his retraction letter to Science, Ricaurte wrote that the drugs came in a 10-gram vial, but the research in question only used up 1.5 grams of the methamphetamine. "What's the story with the other 8.5 grams of material?" Grob asked. "The Washington Post says at least one other paper needs to be retracted, but who knows what else Ricaurte did? What else needs to be retracted? It's probably more than one paper, and they must have already known this when they announced the retraction."

While the need to clarify Ricaurte's other research is clear, his work has had as much impact in the field of public policy as in the field of scientific research. "His work helped lay the groundwork for the RAVE Act," said Doblin. "You had all these senators thinking they had to save a generation of kids, so now we have the RAVE Act and these other borderline unconstitutional, draconian laws because of fears generated about the dangers of MDMA use. Those senators were misled by heartless advocates of the position that MDMA will give them Parkinson's disease, and now even Ricaurte has to admit there was no basis for that."

"Ricaurte's work has been pivotal in getting politicians to enact draconian, ineffectual and even counterproductive legislation," Grob concurred.

One member of Ricaurte's team, Una McCann, did express regret for misleading scientists, politicians, and the public alike, but Ricaurte has so far declined to do so. "I feel personally terrible," she told the Washington Post. "You spend a lot of time trying to get things right, not only for the congressional record but for other scientists around the country who are basing new hypotheses on your work and are writing grant proposals to study this."

What should be done? "The people who have to do something are Ricaurte's funders and employers," said Doblin. "They need to be asking lots of questions, especially about when his attempts to replicate his results orally took place. When did he know his results were bad and how long did he continue to defend his study knowing this?"

There needs to be a broader investigation, said Grob. "We need a thorough review of his research, his published articles, and his published comments going back 15 years or so. Many of his studies are seriously problematic. I've spent a lot of time going through his work, and there is a solid case for questioning his credibility," he said. "And the journals that have published his work have some serious remedial work to do."

But Grob isn't holding his breath. "NIDA will try to sweep this under the rug, there will be a lot of resistance to going beyond the excuse given, but the flaws and problems with Ricaurte's work are too compelling to be ignored. The cat is out of the bag. He says the lab made a mistake -- yeah, and the dog ate my homework."

For Doblin, there is a lesson in the Ricaurte scandal. "There is a tendency for people to say that those of us who have taken MDMA are biased," he said. "Alan Leshner often said we claim MDMA is harmless. We have never claimed that MDMA is harmless and we have a great interest in knowing what the risks are. It is the people who wage the drug war who need to distort and demonize these drugs to justify the infringements on personal freedom. I hope this help makes it clear to people where the real incentive for bias lies."

To read Ricaurte's retraction letter to Science, go to and search for "Ricaurte" and "retraction."

For more information about Ricaurte's retraction of his Science article, see a collection of media articles at online.

For correspondence between MAPS, Science and Ricaurte about other misleading statements made in Ricaurte's original Sept. 27 paper and in a June 6, 2003 exchange of letters in Science between MAPS' MDMA/PTSD protocol development team and Ricaurte et al., see online.

2. Marijuana as Budget Saver? Study Looks at Implications of Legalization in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has a $3 billion state budget deficit, Gov. Mitt Romney and the legislature are battling over multi-million cuts in education funding, and heroin users are dying at a record pace while tight times shrink the number of treatment beds by half. The Bay State budget, like those of about 40 other states, has been hit hard by tough economic times and could use some help. Boston University economist Dr. Jeffrey Miron has a simple, if only partial, solution: Legalize marijuana.

In a study commissioned by the Massachusetts-based marijuana reform advocacy group Change the Climate ( and released September 5, Miron reported that legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts would save the state as much as $138 million per year. That translates to the salary equivalent of about 2,300 Massachusetts police, firefighters, or teachers. The report, "The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Legalization in Massachusetts," estimates that the state could save $120.6 million in criminal justice costs by regularizing the herb and generate an additional $16.9 million in tax revenues on the legalized pot commerce.

Miron does not delve into the pros or cons of marijuana prohibition -- only the budgetary impact. In the study's executive summary, he writes, "The report is not an overall evaluation of marijuana prohibition; the magnitude of any budgetary impacts does not by itself determine the wisdom of prohibition. But the costs required to enforce prohibition, and the transfers that occur because income generated in the marijuana sector is not taxed, are relevant to rational discussion of this policy."

And Miron parses those costs and transfers carefully, albeit with a relatively simple and conservative set of assumptions. For instance, to determine police costs in enforcing marijuana prohibition, Miron calculated the number of marijuana arrests, their percentage of all arrests, and the cost per arrest for police agencies. He discounted two-thirds of all marijuana arrests as not "stand alone," or being arrests where other criminal behavior was the cause of arrest. Still, the study found that Massachusetts law enforcement agencies spend $40.3 million just to arrest pot smokers and dealers.

"We looked at the reduction in expenditures in criminal justice activities that would result from legalizing marijuana," Miron told DRCNet. "We also estimated the tax revenues Massachusetts would earn if marijuana sales were legalized and taxed, providing that the federal government would ever allow it. "We could save about $120 million in criminal justice spending and gain those tax revenues. That's a lot of money."

The state could also save $13.6 million spent by the Dept. of Corrections on the 10 people housed in state prison and 575 sentenced to County Corrections on marijuana charges. That money could go a long way toward restoring $23 million in cuts to Massachusetts school districts affected by charter school enrollments. State Sen. David Magnani (D-Framingham), following a parallel path, has offered a budget amendment that would get that money back to the school districts by giving judges the ability to release nonviolent offenders who have served half their sentences.

Or the $68.5 million that the Massachusetts judiciary and prosecutorial systems spend enforcing marijuana prohibition could take care of it, and then some. And that, according to Miron, is only counting felony marijuana convictions, not the misdemeanors that clog the system.

For all the exciting budgetary implications of his report, Miron has not gotten much attention so far, nor, he said, were legislators ready to repeal prohibition. "There is not a lot of interest yet," he said, "a small story in the Boston Herald and the local NPR affiliate, WBUR, but it is starting to percolate," he said. "As for the legislature, well, there's not a lot of movement. I've talked to these guys lots of times, and I have the feeling that they think it would be perfectly okay to legalize it, but they fear their voters wouldn't go for it."

In recent elections, Massachusetts voters in districts across the state have endorsed decriminalization or legalization proposals, but legislators still weren't sure, Miron said. "The ballot questions were non-binding and it was an off-year election, so it is hard for them to tell how representative those votes were. Still, you would think this would be a relatively receptive state."

Change the Climate, the group which commissioned Miron's study, is working to make the state even more receptive. The group, which has done innovative marijuana legalization ad campaigns in Boston and Washington, DC, is gearing up a new round of ads aimed at Bay State voters. Unfortunately, the campaign got off to a rocky (if subsequently well-publicized) start this week when its first billboard included a photo of a real life Massachusetts State Trooper. The trooper and his troop objected, and the billboard company, which inadvertently used the wrong photo, replaced the ad. But more are coming.

And given Miron's results, could this weekend's pro-pot Freedom Rally on Boston Commons hear the rallying cry of fiscal conservatism?

Visit to read the study in its entirety online, and visit to view their ads and other information. Visit for information about the Freedom Rally.

3. Current Action Alerts: Medical Marijuana, Plan Colombia, HEA, Ashcroft's Attack on Judicial Discretion

Tell Congress to Pass Medical Marijuana Now! Send letters supporting the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act and the Truth in Trials Act:

Stop the Andean Drug War! Tell the Senate to strip Colombia military and other drug war funding from the 2004 Foreign Aid Appropriations bill:

Repeal the Drug Provision of the Higher Education Act to restore financial aid to students with drug convictions:

Stop John Ashcroft's Attack on Judicial Discretion! Repeal the terrible Feeney amendment which discourages judges from granting downward departures from the draconian federal sentencing guidelines:

More coming soon!

4. Perry Fund Accepting Applications for 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 School Years, Providing Scholarships for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions

The John W. Perry Fund, a project of the DRCNet Foundation in association with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, provides college scholarships to students losing federal financial aid because of drug convictions. The Fund has monies remaining for fall 2003 as well as future semesters, and eligible students are urged to apply as soon as possible.

Please visit to fill out a pre-application, print out an application form or brochure, or for further information. Students, financial aid officers, friends and family members and supporters of students, as well as media, activists, potential donors and other interested parties, are all welcome to contact us!

Supportive parties are urged to take copies around to financial aid offices, social services agencies whose clientele are likely to include drug ex-offenders, high school guidance offices, and to forward information about the Perry Fund to appropriate e-mail lists. Community and state colleges are of particular interest to the Perry Fund, because the low tuition rates enable us to fully finance a student's education in many cases, and because their student bodies include a high proportion of low income with especially great financial need.

Any applicant losing federal financial aid due to a drug conviction, however, attempting to attend any school, is welcome and encouraged to apply. We continue to raise money for the Perry Fund, and the more applications we have received, the more money we will likely be able to raise for them. Please urge potential applicants to visit for information and to apply, or to contact DRCNet at (202) 362-0030. Thank you for spreading the word.

5. Newsbrief: Human Rights Watch Calls California's Anti-Syringe Laws a Violation of Human Rights, Details Police Harassment of Exchanges

The internationally respected human rights organization Human Rights Watch turned its attention to California paraphernalia laws and policing this week with a report calling for repeal of laws banning syringe possession -- which encourage sharing among injection drug users and increase the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and detailing repeated incidents of police harassment or arrest of people using legal, locally-approved needle exchange programs (NEPs) throughout the state.

The 61-page report, "Injecting Reason: Human Rights and HIV Prevention for Injection Drug Users," documents police stopping, arresting, and harassing participants in needle exchange programs established by some California counties under state law. Even where needle exchange programs are legal, police remain authorized to arrest program participants under laws prohibiting the possession of drug paraphernalia.

"Restricting these sterile syringe programs amounts to a death sentence for injection drug users," said Jonathan Cohen, researcher with Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "This is a high price to pay for the disease of addiction."

While John Lovell, a Sacramento lobbyist who represents the California Narcotics Officers Association, the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Peace Officers Association, sneeringly told the Los Angeles Times Human Rights Watch was "lying," people who work with NEPs disagreed. Shoshanna Scholar, program director of Clean Needles Now ( in Hollywood, said that while the group generally has a good rapport with the Los Angeles Police Department, some program participants have complained of officers taking needles or ripping up NEP ID cards.

Jerry Davila, the assistant AIDS coordinator for the city of Los Angeles, told the Times the same thing. "We have received some complaints that there have been some isolated cases of police harassment but I don't think it's a major problem right now."

Visit to read the report online.

6. Arianna Huffington Speaks at UC Berkeley SSDP-Volunteer-Organized Event

Arianna Huffington (, the independent progressive candidate for the California governorship in next month's recall election and darling of drug reformers for her series of columns and public pronouncements challenging the war on drugs, hit the University of California at Berkeley Thursday. Part of Huffington's "Independent Streak" campaign to enlist support at college campuses across the state, Thursday's event was organized and staffed by volunteers from the membership of the Berkeley chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (

"SSDP contributed the bulk of the on-campus volunteers," said the group's Scarlett Swerdlow, "but it was in many ways a collection of students who wanted to be involved. Still, Arianna was very enthusiastic upon hearing about the SSDP involvement -- she knew about the organization -- and very interested in working with SSDP and other reform groups to get the message out," Swerdlow told DRCNet.

In an afternoon rally at Sproul Plaza as well as an evening question and answer session, Huffington honed her message on medical marijuana and vowed to stand up to the Bush administration, not only on drug policy but also on a myriad of other issues. The crowd was in the hundreds or low thousands, according to SSDP's Swerdlow, a key organizer for the event. "The rally was really kinetic, really enthusiastic," she said. "I spoke for SSDP, someone else spoke about defeating Proposition 54, which would bar the state from collecting data on the race of Californians, and we also had a student speak from the peace and justice perspective, which was really sensitive, especially on the anniversary of September 11."

Huffington supports medical marijuana, but that is hardly a controversial stance in a state where voters legalized it in 1996. But she has set herself apart from the pack with attacks on the powerful prison guards' union for its repressive influence in state politics and her contention that the war on drugs in racist in its implementation if not its intent. She is running only 3% in the latest polls, but her supporters are highly motivated, and she is likely to gain the voters who supported Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, with whom she has a pact to share votes.

For Swerdlow, the effort was worth it. "This was a great event, with a lot of students there," she said. "There were a lot of sophisticated questions about drug reform, but also a sense of her strong charisma. Arianna is a great speaker, and while many who attended won't vote for her, she is still bringing issues to the floor," she said.

7. Newsbrief: Tommy Chong Sentenced to Nine Months on Bong Charges

Back in February, Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department took a break from its ongoing "war on terror" to crack down on that other insidious threat facing the nation: bong makers. DEA agents swooped down on head shops and bong makers across the country, arresting 55 people, including comedian Tommy Chong. Best known as half of the 1970s pot comedy team Cheech & Chong, in recent years Chong had turned his interest to his pipe manufacturing company, Nice Dreams.

Chong pleaded guilty in May to selling bongs over the Internet -- the first guilty plea resulting from "Operation Pipedream" -- and on Thursday he was sentenced to nine months in federal prison and fined $20,000. Federal officials also seized about $100,000 from him. His company awaited sentencing later Thursday. Under federal law, it can be put on probation or face other sanctions.

While a federal judge deemed Chong a serious enough threat to send him to prison, the 65-year-old is allowed to remain free until federal prison officials tell him when and where to report. Chong's acting career recently revived with a recurring role in the pot-filled "That '70s Show." Bet he wishes he was still back in that happy-go-lucky decade.

8. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story

What is it about Texas? DRCNet's recurring feature on corrupt cops has visited Texas more than any other state, and here we are again, although this time the corruption is more personal than financial. A pair of Texas cases made the news recently, both having to do with cops who took time out from arresting drug users to take drugs themselves.

Small town Elsa, Texas, deep in the Rio Grande Valley, is short five officers this week after they all failed random drug tests last week, the Valley Morning Star reported. The officers all resigned September 4 after being confronted with dirty mandatory drug tests. According to city manager Anabel Guerra, all city employees are subject to such random, mandatory drug tests.

Elsa Police Chief Primitivo Rodriguez told the paper that while the incident was unfortunate, it does not mean his department condones drug use by officers. "We test because we are not going to allow it to continue," Rodriguez said. "We still have a good department and its image will be something that the city of Elsa can be proud of because we are not going to tolerate this."

Meanwhile, in the East Texas town of Athens, a Henderson County Sheriff's deputy who specialized in narcotics investigations was ordered jailed by a county judge after failing repeated drug tests since being indicted for obtaining drugs through prescription fraud and retaliation against a police officer investigating him. Bryan Ray Nutt, of Murchison, was ordered jailed immediately pending trial on the charges he faces.

Calling Nutt "a sophisticated drug user," 3rd District Court Judge Jim Parsons raked him over the coals for taking drugs. "You've become that which you swore to abhor," Parsons told Nutt in court. "You've become that which you despised." Parsons added that Nutt, a long time narc whose father is an investigator for Henderson County prosecutors, had benefited from his law enforcement connections. "I think the law has cut him some additional slack because of who he was before he went on this downward spiral," Parsons said.

The judge is probably right. While official figures from Henderson County are unavailable, it is unlikely that normal defendants awaiting trial could get away with the eight positive tests for cocaine and the 19 positive tests for methamphetamine that Nutt produced while out on bond.

Nutt went down in June, after threatening a police officer investigating his supposed drug use. Out on bond, he got in a fight with his girlfriend in August, which, according to the Tyler Daily News, caused probation officials concern that he would become violent.

Nutt was a 12-year veteran of the sheriff's department until his resignation in December and had received many awards. He is now charged with two felony counts and faces up to 10 years in prison on each.

9. Newsbrief: West Africa Drug War -- Business As Usual, Except for the Lizards

In Africa, drug war orthodoxy reigns almost unchallenged. Recent press reports from Gambia and Nigeria indicate the war grinds mindlessly on, chewing up victims and spitting out bureaucracies as it goes. According to the Independent (Gambia), police anti-drug squads have lately been busy harassing pot smokers on the beach, while in Nigeria, the Vanguard (Lagos) reported that the national anti-drug enforcement agency is undergoing a bureaucratic reorganization to increase its effectiveness.

In Gambia, the Independent breathlessly reported the police's "good luck" in apprehending a dangerous bunch of teenage tokers on Palma Rima and Senegambia beaches last week. According to the newspaper, "Palma Rima beach was swarmed with smokers of marijuana who were rounded up despite putting up some stubborn resistance." Some were tipped off by a companion who raised the alarm and put up "stout resistance" before being overpowered by police. "He was seriously beaten and led away with the others," the paper nonchalantly noted.

It's all for the public good, the police told the Independent. "Whether we accept it or not the beach is being turned into a cartel for drugs. We are prepared to be ever vigilant in the beaches, in towns and villages and the borders. Our aim is clear, that is to hound, catch and punish those peddling drugs and those using them," the commander who led the raid said.

In Nigeria, meanwhile, Alhaji Bello Lafiaji, chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), announced that the agency would undergo a bureaucratic restructuring into 37 state commands in an effort to rationalize operations. "We cannot remain in one state and launch an offensive to the other states and the hinterlands and expect to have the desired result. Besides, we need to expand the scope of coverage in view of the fact that the problem of drug abuse and illicit trafficking is becoming more extensive and intensive, especially the locally produced drugs like Cannabis and other additive substances such as rubber solution and lizard feces," he told the Vanguard (Lagos), which took the news of reptile turd-smoking in stride. "It is not enough for us to be arresting Cocaine and Heroin whereas our children are getting hooked to these locally produced drugs and additives."

Ah, lizard shit as the gateway drug.

10. Newsbrief: Canadian Cities Federation Stays Firm in Support of Cannabis Decrim

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (, which for more than a century has been the national voice for Canada's town and city governments, last week reaffirmed its position in favor of cannabis decriminalization. The move came as the FCM rejected efforts by drug war hardliners to pass a resolution condemning the lessening of penalties for marijuana possession. The Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien has proposed legislation that would result in the decriminalization of simple marijuana possession, and the failed resolution is part of the political reaction to that move.

Ed Renaud, the mayor of Tecumseh, Ontario, introduced the hardline resolution, telling an FCM conference in Windsor that the federation's position sent a message to traffickers and drug users that Canada was "wide open." Allowing marijuana smokers to indulge in peace would facilitate drug use, he told the Windsor Star. "You can't just target sellers and producers, you also have to target users if you want to discourage drug use," he said.

But the FCM's crime and public safety committee squelched the resolution, choosing not to send it on to the FCM board for further debate. In the committee, members took pains to make clear that they support a strong stand against grow operators and traffickers, but wanted an end to criminal penalties against small-time offenders. "I believe we need to focus police resources and budgets towards producers and sellers and away from those who possess small amounts for their own use," said Richmond Hill deputy mayor Brenda Hogg.

One proponent of the anti-pot resolution, Windsor Councillor Bill Marra, warned that decriminalization could lead to a Yankee invasion. "It could become a huge problem in this city as many Americans will undoubtedly take advantage of relaxed legislation in this area," said Marra. Yes, increasing American tourism to Canada would be bad.

The FCM voted in 1997 to oppose the legalization of cannabis, but in reaffirming that stand earlier this year, it also urged the Canadian government to pursue "alternative judicial measures for the possession of cannabis for first time offenders not associated with another criminal act" -- in other words, decriminalization.

11. Newsbrief: New Mexico Church Wins Ruling in Ayahuasca Case

A New Mexico-based branch of the Brazilian Uniao do Vegetal (Union of the Vegetable, UDV) church has won a second victory in its legal battle with the US government over the church's sacramental use of hallucinogenic ayahuasca tea. On September 5, a three-judge panel of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that the church's use of ayahuasca is likely to be protected under US religious freedom laws. Earlier, a US District Court in New Mexico had granted a preliminary injunction against the US Attorney General, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and other government agencies that seek to bar ayahuasca use for religious purposes. In granting the preliminary injunction, the New Mexico court found that the UDV "demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success" of winning an exemption to the Controlled Substances Act for sacramental ayahuasca use.

Ayahuasca, a concoction brewed from two plants found only in the Amazon basin, contains DMT, a hallucinogen listed in the Controlled Substances Act. (In another case, federal courts in Georgia have ruled that the CSA listing of ayahuasca is correct -- see for info). The current case originated in 1999, when US Customs agents raided the UDV's offices in Sante Fe, New Mexico, and seized some 30 gallons of the tea. Unluckily for the feds, the president of the US UDV is Jeffrey Bronfman, heir to the Seagram's whiskey fortune, who promptly sued for relief, claiming violations of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The UDV, with tens of thousands of members in Brazil, is recognized as a church there. In the US, where membership is in the low hundreds, the church, and its sacrament in particular, have yet to gain official approval.

Visit for further information on this issue.

12. Newsbrief: Pakistani Prison Officials Call for Different Treatment of Drug Offenders

Corrections officials in Pakistan's populous Sindh province (capital: Karachi) are calling on the government of ex-dictator, now president Musharraf to treat drug addicts as sick people, not criminals, the Karachi newspaper Dawn reported. Drug offenders should be "excluded from the purview of criminal law" or released on parole, Sindh corrections officials concluded in a report issued last week.

According to the report from the Sindh Inspectorate of Prisons, nearly 2,000 drug users are behind bars in the province. Under a 1979 law, the Hudood Ordinance, drug use is a crime punishable by imprisonment. Some addicts are serving time for other criminal offenses, the report noted.

Treating drug addicts as criminals violates international charters, the report's authors argued. And imprisoning drug users creates problems for prison administration as well, they wrote. Drug addicts seeking drugs corrupt prison guards and imprisoned addicts strain limited prison medical facilities. Prison administrations also take the blame when addicts die in prison, the report lamented.

The Sindh corrections report recommended the provincial government set up detention and rehabilitation centers specifically for drug users, complete with social welfare workers, physicians, addiction specialists, and the necessary medicines. In the meantime, the report suggested, imprisoned drug addicts should be released on some form of parole.

13. Newsbrief: Dutch Government Seeks to Ban Cops from Enjoying Coffee Shops

The conservative Dutch government's interior minister, Johan Remkes, is leading an effort to bar Dutch police officers from enjoying the fare offered in the country's world famous marijuana "coffee shops." The effort comes as Amsterdam police are reeling over a highly publicized drug use scandal, but the police union remains steadfast in opposing any move to keep the cops out of the shops.

In an interview with De Telegraaf (Amsterdam), Remkes said the spectacle of pot-smoking police damaged the force's respectable image and would lead to charges of hypocrisy when police attempted to enforce other drug laws. "A police officer has an exemplary role to fulfill and has to show some authority," Remkes said. "They could be in a difficult position if they have to stop and search people for drugs." Police officers would be banned from the coffee shops whether on or off duty, Remkes added.

Remkes' effort comes in the wake of a widely aired television documentary by investigative journalist Peter de Vries. De Vries found police commanders popping ecstasy, allegations of small-scale dealing among police officers, and stories of doped up cops trashing vacation homes. De Vries' documentary led to the firing of 12 Amsterdam police officers, two of whom claimed that a quarter of the central Amsterdam police use hard drugs.

Remke and his VVD party want to extend the coffee shop ban to other officials, including mayors and government ministers, but first they have to get past the police. And the Dutch police union is standing firm on the coffee shop issue. "Visits to coffee shops are not forbidden, so it is strange that police officers would be barred from going in their free time," a police union spokesman told the Guardian (London).

14. Newsbrief: Connecticut Democrats to Propose Sentencing Reforms

The Hartford Courant reported Tuesday that Democratic state legislators will propose major sentencing reforms during a special session next month in order to reduce the number of prisoners and the size of the state's $577 million prison budget. Earlier this year, Democratic legislative leaders failed to pass a similar measure, instead caving in to Republicans, who did not want to bring the issue to a vote.

A draft proposal of the legislation made available to the Courant calls for:

  • Mandatory parole for most offenses and early parole for others.
  • Elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and certain other nonviolent crimes.
  • Reduction in the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
  • The judicial branch and parole board to submit plans to reduce by 25% the number of parolees sent back to prison for technical violations, such as failing a drug test or missing a meeting with the parole officer.
According to the most recent statistics from the CT Dept. of Correction (, nearly 3,000 of the state's 19,000 prisoners are drug offenders. Another 2,293 were serving time for parole violations. Connecticut taxpayers shell out $72.73 per prisoner per day to keep them there.

15. The Reformer's Calendar

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

September 14, 10:00am-5:00pm, Santa Cruz, CA, 1st Annual WAMMfest, benefit for the Wo/Men's Alliance For Medical Marijuana. At San Lorenzo Park, featuring music, food, games, hemp and related products vendors, medical marijuana information, white elephant sale and raffle. Admission free, dogs and alcohol not allowed in park. Visit or call WAMM at (831) 425-0580 for further information.

September 15, 10:15-11:45am, Washington, DC, "Truth and Consequences: The Final Report of Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission" featuring commission executive secretary Javier Ciurlizza followed by a panel. Sponsored by the George Washington University (GWU) Seminar on Andean Culture and Politics and the Washington Office on Latin America, at GWU's Elliott School Bldg., 1957 E St., NW, 6th floor, contact Jamie Foster at [email protected] for information or to RSVP.

September 18, Tallahassee, FL, "Innovations in European Drug Policy," the Richard L. Rachin Conference. Sponsored by the Florida State University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, in conjunction with the Journal of Drug Issues, at the Center for Professional Development, contact (850) 644-7569 or [email protected] to register or (850) 644-7368 or [email protected] for further information.

September 20, 11:00am-3:00pm, Dallas, TX, Protest of the DEA's Drugs-Terrorism Exhibit. At The Science Place Fair Park, contact Suzanne Wills at (214) 324-1594 or Craig Johnson at [email protected] for further information.

September 20, 3:00pm, Surprise, AZ, "The Failed War on Drugs," public forum with Nora Callahan of The November Coalition and Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. At the Unitarian Universalist Church, 17540 N. Ave. of the Arts, sponsored by the UU Church Social Justice Committee. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for other Jack Cole appearances in Arizona during 9/20-27.

September 20-26, AZ, Journey for Justice events throughout state, speakers from The November Coalition and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Visit for further information.

September 21-28, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, "2nd Darwin International Syringe Festival and 1st International Conference on Using Direct Action to End the War on Drugs." Sponsored by the Network Against Prohibition, visit or for further information or contact [email protected] or +61 (0) 8 8942 0570.

September 22, 8:00pm, Los Angeles, CA, "High Hopes, A Medical Marijuana Comedy Show Extravaganja," Joe Rogan performs live to benefit WAMM, the Inglewood Wellness Club and Green Aid. At The Comedy Store, 8433 Sunset Blvd., $20 admission ($10 with a current compassion club or NORML membership card), cash only, two drink minimum, 21 and over. For further information visit or contact (323) 253-3472 or [email protected].

September 22-23, Washington, DC, "Cheryl Miller DC Memorial Project," vigil, exhibit, press conference and lobby day honoring MS patients and medical marijuana activist Cheryl Miller. Visit for further information.

September 22-23, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, "First National Seminar on Drug Users' Rights." Sponsored by ABORDA, visit for further information.

September 23, Chicago, IL, Amnesty International hearing on racial profiling, chaired by Hon. Timothy K. Lewis, former Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. Visit or call (202) 544-0200 for further information.

September 25, 9:30am, Sun City West, AZ, "The Failed War on Drugs," public forum with Nora Callahan of The November Coalition and Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. At the Desert Palm Presbyterian Church, 13459 W. Stardust Blvd., sponsored by Desert Palm Christian Education Committee. Contact Roma Thomas at [email protected] for further information. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for other Jack Cole appearances in Arizona during 9/20-27.

September 25, 6:30-8:30pm, New York, NY, "Rockefeller Drug Laws' Effect on Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners," panel sponsored by the Seven Neighborhood Action Partnership/JusticeWorks Community. At Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church, 1975 Madison Ave., call (212) 348-8142 or (718) 499-6704 ext. 208, visit or e-mail [email protected] for info.

September 26, 6:30pm, Phoenix, AZ, "The Failed War on Drugs," public forum with Nora Callahan of The November Coalition and Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. At Christ the Redeemer Lutheran Church, 8801 N. 43rd Ave., sponsored by Arizona Coalition for Effective Government. Contact Roma Thomas at [email protected] for further information. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for other Jack Cole appearances in Arizona during 9/20-27.

September 30, Tulsa, OK, Amnesty International hearing on racial profiling, chaired by Hon. Timothy K. Lewis, former Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. Visit or call (202) 544-0200 for further information.

October 2, New York, NY, Amnesty International hearing on racial profiling, chaired by Hon. Timothy K. Lewis, former Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. Visit or call (202) 544-0200 for further information.

October 3-4, Detroit, MI, "And Justice for All? Communities of Color and the War on Drugs," conference of Drug Policy Forum of Michigan with Wayne State University SSDP and other organizations. Visit or contact Debra Wright at (734) 368-8328 or [email protected] or Michael Segesta at (586) 873-5086 or [email protected] for further information.

October 5-17, Deming, Silver City, Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces, NM, "Continuing Drug Policy Reform in New Mexico," speaking tour by Jack Cole and Peter Christ of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for details of individual engagements.

October 22, 7:00pm, Syracuse, NY, "Against All Odds: Cops Fighting the War on Drugs," forum with Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Sponsored by Reconsider: Forum on Drug Policy and Syracuse University Students for Sensible Drug Policy. At Syracuse University, for further information contact Gerrit Cain at [email protected] or Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected].

October 23-26, Lisbon, Portugal, Lisbon International Symposium on Drug Policy. Sponsored by the Senlis Council, visit for info or contact [email protected].

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.

November 7-9, Paris, "Fourth Hemp and Eco-Technologies Exhibition." At the Cité de Sciences et de L'Industrie, call +33(0) 1 48 58 31 37, e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

November 22, 11:00am-10:00pm, Portland, OR, "Second Annual Oregon Medical Cannabis Awards 2003." At the Double Tree Inn Lloyd Center, e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information!

January 28-February 7, 2004, Hannibal, Columbia, Jefferson City, St. Louis and Kansas City, MO, "Special Delivery for John Ashcroft," speaking tour by Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Roger Hudlin. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for details of individual engagements.

April 20-24, Melbourne, Australia, "15th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm." Visit or e-mail [email protected] for information.

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