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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #353, 9/10/04

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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  1. They're Back! Two DEA Raids on California Medical Marijuana Operations in Two Weeks
  2. Push for Medical Marijuana Legislation Underway in New Jersey
  3. CRCM Makes Final Court Bid to Get Marijuana Regulation Initiative on Nevada Ballot
  4. DRCNet Book Review: "My Cocaine Museum," by Michael Taussig (2004, University of Chicago Press, 360 pp., $22.50 HB)
  5. Action Alert: Judiciary Committee Taking Up HEA Drug Provision
  6. Newsbrief: Pittsburgh Gives Preliminary Okay to Continuing Needle Exchange Program
  7. Newsbrief: German Drug Deaths Down, Government Cites Harm Reduction Policies
  8. Newsbrief: Initiative Fails to Make Ballot in Arkansas, Another Gets Kicked Off Ballot in Tallahassee
  9. Newsbrief: MPP Sues Minneapolis over Medical Marijuana Ballot Access
  10. Newsbrief: Denver Post Says Legalize It
  11. Newsbrief: Canada's National Post Says Legalize It
  12. Newsbrief: US and Philippines in Joint "Narcoterrorism" Exercises
  13. This Week in History
  14. The Reformer's Calendar
(last week's issue)

(Chronicle archives)

1. They're Back! Two DEA Raids on California Medical Marijuana Operations in Two Weeks

After a lengthy period of relative quiescence, federal raids on California medical marijuana operations have started up again. With an August 18 raid on medical marijuana law envelope-pusher Eddy Lepp and his Eddy's Medicinal Gardens and Multi-Denominational Church of Cannabis and Rastafari ( and a September 3 raid on the Capitol Compassionate Care dispensary in Roseville, a Sacramento suburb, the John Ashcroft Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have clearly signaled that they remain determined to wage their crusade against medical marijuana in the state. And in a new and ominous wrinkle, the Justice Department moved Wednesday to seize the assets of the Roseville operation.

California voters in 1996 approved Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in the state. Last year, the legislature strengthened the law. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled that the federal government has no right to interfere in non-commercial medical marijuana operations in the state. The Justice Department is appealing that decision to the Supreme Court. Both dispensaries raided by the DEA recently did take money for medical marijuana, either through donations or above-board sales, though DEA may be stretching the law to define them as anything other than nonprofits.

In the raid on Eddy Lepp, DEA agents accompanied by members of the California Highway Patrol, the California National Guard, and the Lake County sheriff's office, seized some 30,000 plants, calling the operation "the largest, most sophisticated marijuana garden in the world," Lepp told DRCNet with more thBan a trace of pride in his voice. Lepp, who provided medical marijuana for hundreds of patients, faces two life sentences after being charged with federal marijuana manufacture crimes. He is now out on personal recognizance.

In the Capitol Compassionate Care raids, DEA agents invaded and shut down the Roseville dispensary at gunpoint, served search warrants at owner Richard Marino's home and business, and raided his rural Newcastle farm, where some 500 marijuana plants were being grown for patients. No criminal charges have been filed yet.

When queried by DRCNet, the DEA defended the raids and attacked the whole notion of medical marijuana. "There is no such thing as medical marijuana -- that's a label invented by the marijuana lobby to further their agenda," said DEA San Francisco special agent Richard Meyer. "They want to legalize it for all purposes, but since they know there is no support for that, they came up with the idea of so-called compassionate use. The DEA supports legitimate scientific research on marijuana, but so far the American Medical Association and the Food and Drug Administration recommend that marijuana remain illegal because it is a dangerous drug. When these so-called medical marijuana dispensaries are distributing marijuana, they are violating federal law."

When asked if the DEA didn't have anything better to do than go after dispensaries legal under state law, Meyer replied, "Our number one priority in California is methamphetamines, but that doesn't mean we give a break to cocaine dealers or marijuana dealers. We still have a responsibility to protect the community."

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, whose job it is to enforce California's laws, has been quiet over the latest raids. Lockyer spokesperson Hallie Jordon told DRCNet Wednesday that while he protested the Wo/Man's Alliance for Medical Marijuana ( raids in 2002 because he was "concerned that federal drug authorities would trample on a business that was working with local law enforcement, prosecutors, and health officials," other raids are a different story. "If local law enforcement believes someone is dispensing marijuana illegally while pretending to be a medical marijuana provider, then the Attorney General thinks it is local law enforcement's prerogative to protect the community," said Jordan. "His concern is when the feds come in without consulting the locals and in contradiction to what the local authorities want."

DRCNet could not make contact with Marino, but he told the Sacramento Bee he was surprised by the raid and that he had complied with state law. "I thought I was doing everything above board," Marino said. "I still think I'm doing everything above board." Capitol Compassionate Care had recently gone through a permitting process with the City of Roseville that resulted in a license for the center to dispense medical marijuana to qualified patients. On Wednesday, Marino's woes deepened when the US Attorney's office filed a civil complaint seeking to seize his home and business. "I'm in a state of shock right now," he told the Bee. "I had no idea this was coming."

Lepp, too, claimed to be following state law. "We were completely in compliance with Proposition 215 and Senate Bill 420," Lepp said. Under his reading of the law, he said, SB 420 says patients are guaranteed the right to grow at least six plants. I obey the law. Every year, I send a letter to the local sheriff, the prosecutor, the county supervisors, and this year to Attorney General Lockyer, saying 'I'm Eddy Lepp, I'm located at these precise lots, and I will be growing for myself and my patients at these locations.'"

While Lepp's interpretation of the law may be open to question, it is something of a moot point. Although state and local law enforcement officers cooperated with the DEA in the raid, no state charges have been filed.

"That Eddy Lepp got busted comes as no surprise," said Dale Gieringer, head of the California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws ( "He had 30,000 plants -- big plants -- and they weren't hidden. How could any law enforcement agency just ignore that? But the question is, if they thought Eddy was breaking state law, why didn't Lake County officials go in and bust him themselves?" he told DRCNet. "It would have been a state case, and they would have had to contend with a Prop. 215 defense and a lot of angry patients, that's why," he ventured.

Capitol Compassionate Care was also high-profile, with lots of local media coverage and a controversy with neighbors over his rural garden, said Gieringer. The problem is not publicity, however, he argued, but the unsettled state of the law. "This is above all an indication of a basic lack of a legal framework for marijuana at this moment," he said. "We are in a state of anarchy because the federal government refuses to treat this as a legal enterprise and goes out on raids on a whim."

"The people they've recently targeted have been in the spotlight a lot because of their involvement in medical marijuana distribution," agreed Stacey Swimme, field director for Americans for Safe Access (, the California-based medical marijuana emergency response network. "They're making an example of these people, and that's what the DEA is all about: intimidation and fear," she told DRCNet. "They wanted to flex their muscles again, but they're definitely not doing it in Oakland or San Francisco."

"It's certainly disturbing that the DEA has again decided to come charging into California instead of letting the state handle its own affairs under state law," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project ( "I think they are consciously sending a signal that they are still around, but it is no accident that they have raided people in out of the way places instead of, say, Oakland or San Francisco, where there are a large number of dispensaries operating openly," he told DRCNet. "If the DEA came in there, there would be riots. They want to avoid places where it will stir angry public opposition."

The raid on Eddy's Medicinal Gardens was all too typical, Lepp said, with the DEA and local law enforcement trashing and stealing property. "They seized two brand new pairs of clippers, which were obviously instrumental in my being a drug kingpin," Lepp snorted. "They took my hairbrush, they stole pictures off my wall, they even stole some of my Viagra. It is stupefying. They also took a chainsaw and used it to tear up my water lines, so now I can't plant anything. That was a $35,000 system, and they destroyed it. This was a vicious, malicious attempt to destroy me, a surgical strike designed to wipe me out. They took all the computers, all the financial records, all the bank books. They canceled business orders, they deleted my business email accounts. This was horrendous."

The DEA's Meyer said he had heard of no such thing, and invited Lepp to file complaints with the courts and the DEA's internal affairs division. "We take this seriously," he said.

Lepp is no stranger to run-ins with the law over medical marijuana. In 1997, he became the first person arrested, tried, and acquitted under Prop. 215. He was also the first to be raided in the series of raids centered on the WAMM raids in 2002. No charges were filed in that raid, and Lepp has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the DEA and the Justice Department over the raid. "I am pursuing a civil action against the DEA over a raid two years ago, and I had a court date five days after the raid. But I couldn't prosecute my case because the DEA came and took all my files, all my evidence, just before my court date."

While his operation was huge, it was nonprofit, Lepp maintained. "Patients make free will donations to the ministry to cover the cost of maintenance, fertilizer, and above all, security," Lepp said. When asked if he was making a profit, Lepp replied, "Oh, God, no! I've lost money the last four years. Each year we helped more and more patients, and we hope we can break even some day. The main thing is to help the patients. It's been eight years and the state has done nothing. It still allows the federal government to come in here and arrest citizens obeying state law."

ASA has been leading the way in fighting back, said Swimme. "For both raids, we organized emergency response. We are set up to show up at the federal buildings, either across the state, or in the nearest affected communities, and we did that at the federal buildings in San Francisco and Sacramento." Those demonstrations will continue on a weekly basis, she said. "We want to make sure people know that the federal government is going against state law and taking away people's access to their medicine. It is the patients who are really the victims here. Richard Meyer and the DEA are intentionally targeting people they know are providing medicine to critically ill people who are in their final days or living lives filled with pain. We are asking the citizens of California to rise up and say we are compassionate, we care about our sick and dying, and we won't allow this federal brutalizing of our patients and providers."

As for Eddy Lepp, he is basking in support from the medical marijuana community. "We're getting real good support from everyone. We are planning a fundraiser, and in the meantime, people are coming up from as far away as San Diego and Los Angeles bringing us seeds and plants and money." Lepp's patients are upset that our crops were taken, he said. "But they're not mad at us. They understand they lost their money and their medicine because of the DEA."

Faced with two life sentences, Lepp remains intransigent. "I ain't taking no fucking deal," he said. "They can either put me in prison for life or I can make them leave me alone."

Lepp is seeking donations for his legal defense fund. They may be sent to: Eddy Lepp Legal Defense Fund, P.O. Box 382, Upper Lake, CA 95485.

2. Push for Medical Marijuana Legislation Underway in New Jersey

Young musician Sean McGrath was a "straight edge," meaning he didn't smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs. But when he developed biliary cancer (cancer of the bile duct) and couldn't keep his medicine down because of nausea induced by chemotherapy, one of his doctors suggested he use marijuana. It helped immensely in reducing the pain and nausea, and improved McGrath's quality of life.

But while pot eased his last days, it couldn't save him from the cancer. McGrath died in June, and now his family has taken up the cause of legalizing medical marijuana in his home state of New Jersey. On August 28, the McGraths hosted what they hope is the opening salvo in a push that will lead to the passage of a medical marijuana bill in the Garden State this year.

In a meeting that garnered local press attention and provoked a favorable editorial from the Trenton Times, more than 70 people gathered at the McGrath home in Robbinsville to hear patients, family members, activists, civil libertarians and legislators speak in support of the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. While still only in draft form, the bill has picked up two cosponsors who will introduce it in the state legislative assembly later this month.

Jim Miller, alongside CMMNJ banner and photos of Sean McGrath
(courtesy CMMNJ)
The push for the bill is being led by a group formed a year ago, the Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey ( Led by long-time medical marijuana activist Jim Miller, whose wife Cheryl ( used medical marijuana until her death in June 2003, and registered nurse Ken Wolski, who authored a pro-medical marijuana resolution adopted by the New Jersey State Nurses Association in 2002, the coalition has won a $40,000 grant from the Marijuana Policy Project ( to help propel the bill forward.

"We're working with the Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey, the local group that has led the way on this," confirmed MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "We're trying to be as helpful as we can, and we are very encouraged by the progress they're making and the good press they're generating," he told DRCNet.

The act would set up a registry of qualifying patients -- those whose doctors have issued written recommendations that marijuana would be useful for a medical condition and that the benefits of its use would outweigh the harms. Under the draft language, patients and providers "shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, including, but not limited to, civil penalty or disciplinary action by a professional licensing board, for the medical use of marijuana, provided that the patient possesses a registry identification card and no more than six marijuana plants and one ounce of usable marijuana."

Ken Wolski addresses the assemblage
(courtesy CMMNJ)
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton Borough) and Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris Township), arguably the most liberal and the most conservative members of the Assembly, have transcended ideological differences to introduce the bill together. "I am not one of the most conservative members of the Assembly," protested Carroll. "I am the most conservative, and I'm cosponsoring this bill because it's a good idea. It's that simple," he told DRCNet. "The fact is, there is no such thing as an evil plant. Marijuana is no different from any other drug, and if a doctor says it can help you, why should we as a society stand in the way? It's not right. Is that libertarian enough for you?"

Gusciora was unavailable for comment to DRCNet, but he told the Trenton News last week he was acting in response to constituent requests and because marijuana can be helpful. "I had a constituent whose son passed away from cancer," Gusciora said. "And another constituent whose wife passed away from cancer." Medical marijuana could have helped in both cases, he said. "I don't think we should make criminals out of our terminally ill," Gusciora added.

"I've been working on Gusciora for the last four or five years," said Miller, who might fairly be called the grandfather of medical marijuana activism in the state with a record going back to 1993. "He had met Cheryl and drafted a bill, but then he pulled it back. He thinks it will be easier to get it through now, and I think it can get out of committee and get passed."

There are two chokepoints in the process, said Miller, Health Committee chair Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) and Speaker of the House Albio Sires (D-West New York). "When Albio asks for something to be brought up, it gets out of committee," explained Miller. "Loretta Weinberg and Albio need to understand there is strong public support for this, as well as bipartisan sponsorship. I don't care if you're for it or against it, but we will not let this die in committee. Let people speak against it on the floor and vote it down if they want, but let's have a debate. People like Sean and Cheryl are suffering and dying right now."

Miller may be able to take credit for bringing conservative Republican Assemblyman Carroll on board. "Six months ago, I went to Trenton and suggested to Gusciora's people that they talk to Carroll, who's so far right that he's a libertarian. Gusciora is about the most liberal member of the Assembly, so his people bristled and said 'no way will we work with that guy.' But as of three weeks ago, Carroll is a cosponsor. That could only have happened because Gusciora brought him on board."

Don McGath, father of Sean McGrath
(courtesy CMMNJ)
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey is also supporting the bill. "It's a matter of compassion," explained state ACLU legal director Edward Barokas. "There are a number of our citizens who are adversely affected by their inability to obtain medical marijuana, and they are affected in a very real way," he told DRCNet. "Also, there is the right to privacy, to be left alone. Individuals have a right to make important decisions about what they wish to do with their own bodies, and the issue is all the more important when we are talking about one's health and medical treatment. The government should be held to a very high standard when it seeks to deny someone the ability to engage in a medical treatment recommended by his doctor."

The New Jersey ACLU will work to see the bill succeed, said Barokas. "We will lobby for its passage, and we are optimistic. There are people on both sides of the aisle who want to reign in the government's ability to legislate what we can do with our own bodies. With medical marijuana, we hold the high moral ground. That lies with those who seek to instill a sense of compassion in our laws, and I believe that once voters and legislators hear the stories of Sean and Cheryl, they will see and understand the real life benefits that will flow from such a compassionate piece of legislation."

For Don McGrath, it's about doing something his son wanted to do, but ran out of time. "Up until Sean was ill, he didn't drink at all, he was against smoking, and he didn't take any drugs," said his father, Don. "He was a vegan. But with the chemo, his whole gastrointestinal system was compromised and he had a hard time eating," he told DRCNet. "When one of his doctors recommended he try marijuana for the pain and the nausea, he was initially resistant, but he realized he had to do something. It was a bad situation; he was down to 97 pounds. He didn't know where to get any, but some of his friends did. It worked. It made the other drugs effective because he could actually keep them down long enough for them to work," he said.

"On June 11, we got him ready for another chemo session, but his fever spiked, and by 2:00pm, he couldn't even talk. We asked him would he like some pot, he nodded his head yes, we put some in his pipe, he took one drag, and an hour later he died," said McGrath. "And what bugs the hell out of me is that everyone in that room, including Sean, could have been arrested. At the end, Sean wanted to do something for medical marijuana, but he didn't make it, so here I am," McGrath explained.

"Sean McGrath's family rallied around him, got him what he needed, and helped him grow it," said long-time medical marijuana activist Jim Miller, "And now they're left asking why they had to go through all that. That stirs people up," Miller told DRCNet.

Now, let's see if the New Jersey legislature can bestir itself to deal with the matter.

3. CRCM Makes Final Court Bid to Get Marijuana Regulation Initiative on Nevada Ballot

When the Marijuana Policy Project ( and its Nevada affiliate, the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana ( saw the state government reject their bid to qualify an initiative to remove criminal penalties for marijuana possession and create a legal, regulated market for marijuana in Nevada, they sued the state and won, forcing it to throw out part of its initiative laws and do a recount of the groups' signatures. When state officials finished their recount and still found the initiative some 2,000 signatures short, MPP and CRCM sued again. In a Tuesday ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, they lost. Now, in a last-ditch effort to make the November ballot, MPP told DRCNet Thursday it will attempt to appeal that ruling to the full 9th Circuit.

"It's not over yet," vowed MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "We have decided after conferring with our lawyers that we will ask the 9th Circuit for an en banc hearing. If 13 of the justices agree that the ruling seems in error, we get a hearing before a panel of 11. We will file within the next day or so. We don't really know how fast we will be heard, but at this point it is in everybody's interest to have a decision as soon as possible. We are waiting to hear from the court," he told DRCNet.

This is the last chance for the initiative this year. According to Steve George, public information officer for Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller, who oversees elections in the state, ballots will be printed next week, probably Tuesday or Wednesday. "They should have been printed this week, but they haven't been because of the court actions and attendant delays," George told DRCNet. "The time frame is very short because we have early voting and absentee voting and we have to get those ballots sent out."

When asked what would happen if the 9th Circuit came back with a ruling favorable to MPP and CRCM, George was uncertain. "I'm not sure," he said. "It hasn't happened before. That is something we will be arguing with the courts -- that any delay would interfere with our ability to get the information and ballots out before early and absentee voting takes place."

But MPP's Mirken said MPP would cross that bridge when it came to it. "The state may well go ahead and print up the ballots without the initiative," he said. "We will deal with it as necessary if the court rules in our favor."

According to the CRCM web site, the Nevada initiative would:

  • eliminate the threat of arrest and jail for adults aged 21 and older who responsibly use and possess up to one ounce of marijuana (which is the equivalent of one-and-a-half packs of cigarettes);
  • direct the state legislature to regulate the manufacture, taxation, and sale of marijuana, whereby establishments that are licensed to sell tobacco will also be permitted to sell marijuana, provided that they neither sell alcohol nor are within 500 yards of a school or place of worship;
  • earmark marijuana-related tax revenues to alcohol and drug treatment and education;
  • maintain penalties for underage marijuana use, smoking marijuana in public, using or possessing marijuana on school grounds or in prisons, and transporting marijuana across state lines;
  • increase penalties for providing marijuana to minors, as well as for motorists who kill someone while under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or any other substance; and
  • take effect on December 5, 2006, if a majority of Nevada voters pass the initiative in November 2004 and again in November 2006. (December 5, 1933, is the date that the US repealed alcohol prohibition nationally.)
With the exception of an initiative already on the November ballot in Alaska that would allow for the use, possession, and commerce in marijuana for adults, MPP's and CRCM's Nevada initiative is the only initiative effort this year to really push the envelope on marijuana law reform. While other initiatives have made or are still struggling to make state and local ballots this year, they deal either with medical marijuana, lowering penalties for marijuana possession, or directing police to make marijuana law enforcement their lowest priority.

4. DRCNet Book Review: "My Cocaine Museum," by Michael Taussig (2004, University of Chicago Press, 360 pp., $22.50 HB)

In a dispatch from the Associated Press last week came the report that the Colombian government wants to turn the home of Pablo Escobar, leader of the Medellin cartel until he was gunned down by Colombian troops with US assistance in 1991, into a museum highlighting the evils of drug trafficking. The museum would show "all the barbarities that occurred in Colombia in the 1980s due to narcotrafficking," said an anti-drug functionary.

Colombia already has museums, of course, and while Columbia University anthropologist Michael Taussig thinks it lacks at least one, this is not what he has in mind with his latest book, a strange and wondrous blend of anthropology, ethnography, critical studies, travelogue, and fabulous storytelling. "My Cocaine Museum" is Taussig's passionate response to the famous Gold Museum in Colombia's Central Bank, the Banco de la Republica in Bogota.

Taussig has spent years visiting and living among the Afro-Colombian gold miners of the country's Pacific Coast, one of the most isolated and wretched pieces of land in the hemisphere. It was the slave ancestors of these people who mined the gold that enriched the West, first colonial Spain, then the pale Colombian elites and the various foreign entrepreneurs -- from France, from Russia, from England and America. Like official Colombian history, the Gold Museum fails to acknowledge their role, writes Taussig. In "My Cocaine Museum," Taussig attempts to right that wrong.

For Taussig, speaking the language of high lit-crit, cocaine, like gold, is a fetish, an object that "transgresses" society, one to which wealth and luster but also violence and death accrue. And while the Afro-Colombians of the Pacific Coast, with their hundreds of miles of miasmic mangrove swamps broken only by the occasional river roaring down out of the towering Andes that separate the coast from the rest of the country, still mine for gold -- making a dollar a day if they are lucky, dying if they are not -- cocaine now has made its way over the mountains and into their lives.

And it is his writing about the concrete reality of life in these remote corners among these neglected people, that Taussig really shines. With a handful of words and phrases, he can illuminate more of coca's role than a stack of statistics. Talking with a woman miner in Santa Maria, who might go years without finding gold, about why people keep doing it, she explains. There is no market for agricultural goods, she says, because everyone grows the same thing, there is no capital to start new businesses, and mining continues because it "is customary, it is traditional," she says. "...But of course there is one thing that can crash through all this," writes Taussig, "and that's cocaine: like gold, immensely valuable, and also chance-prone in being illegal and having its value dependent on the wrath of the US government, it is a commodity subject to fluctuations not in price -- that is assured by the policies of the United States -- but in violence. As soon as the guerrillas encourage it or as soon as a paisa [white entrepreneurs originally from Antioquia] turns up with coca seed and a promise to buy pasta." That was in the early 1990s.

Coca and cocaine have since made it over the mountains, being borne by leftist FARC guerrillas and rightist paramilitaries alike, both competing to set up new plantations along the remote rivers, where the perpetually cloudy and foggy conditions hamper fumigation and aerial surveillance.

Taussig displays a remarkable ability to cut through the chaff and get to the point: "What do peasants want? Right now?" he asks. "Justice and cocaine is what they want right now. Hence, the success of the guerrilla. The guerrilla brings justice, big-time, and cocaine, meaning income, also big-time," he writes. "On the other hand, the state brings no justice, prohibits cocaine, and is seen as totally corrupt." The guerrillas bring law and order where the state has never ventured, except to kill peasants and destroy crops.

But despite Taussig's ability to turn a phrase, "My Cocaine Museum" will be a difficult and inaccessible read for anyone who is not a grad student in what have become the very esoteric disciplines of literary criticism and cultural studies. With as many references to early 20th Century French progenitors such as Georges Bataille and Walter Benjamin, whose work is both obscure and obfuscatory to most of us, as there are to the cocaine economy, "My Cocaine Museum" ultimately has a very limited audience.

These people write the damnedest things. To take just one phrase: "Time strains to be free even while it sleeps in petrified meaning." To be honest, I have no idea what that means. And there is an awful lot of that sort of musing in this book. Some of his far-ranging excursions are exhilarating, as when he cites mysterious novelist B. Traven on prisons. "As everywhere on earth," Traven wrote, "the building of a prison is the first step in the creation of a civilized state." Indeed. But all the dwelling on Walter Benjamin's obsession with stones in Marseilles in 1929 will not thrill most readers of this publication.

And that is a shame, for, if you can get past the lit-crit high theory and the po-mo mumbo-jumbo, Taussig provides an important and illuminating look at coca, cocaine, violence, and daily life among the impoverished and marginalized. You know, those people who are supposed to be our enemies in the war on drugs.

By the way, that drug trafficking museum? The government functionary quoted by AP noted that eight poor families currently occupy the former Escobar estate where the museum would be located. They would have to go, he said.

5. Action Alert: Judiciary Committee Taking Up HEA Drug Provision

As you may know, earlier this week DRCNet sent an action alert to subscribers living states which have Senators who sit on the Judiciary Committee. The alert concerned the Higher Education Act drug provision, a law that delays or denies federal financial aid to students because of drug convictions, and which DRCNet has worked since 1998 to repeal. The Committee had scheduled a vote on this past Thursday.

As often happens in Congress, the vote has been delayed -- which means there is still time to write, fax, call or visit your Senator's office if you haven't already. The vote will take place -- soon -- on a bill, S. 1860, whose main purpose is to reauthorize the Office of National Drug Control Police. The bill is certain to pass, and includes as part of it a change to the Higher Education Act to scale back the financial aid penalty to only apply to people who were in school and receiving aid at the time of their offenses.

This is good, but not good enough. Please scan the following list to see if you have a Senator on the Judiciary Committee, and to get his or her contact information if so. Then please call and/or fax your Senator today to urge that the Higher Education Act's drug provision instead be repealed in full.

Alabama: Jeff Sessions (R-AL), (202) 224-4124, (202) 224-3149
Arizona: Jon Kyl (R), (202) 224-4521, fax (202) 224-2207
California: Dianne Feinstein (D), (202) 224-3841, fax: (202) 228-3954
Delaware: Joseph Biden (D), (202) 224-5042, fax: (202) 224-0139
Georgia: Saxby Chambliss (R), (202) 224-3521, fax: (202) 224-0103
Idaho: Larry Craig (R), (202) 224-2752, fax: (202) 228-1067
Illinois: Richard Durbin (D), (202) 224-2152, fax: (202) 228-0400
Iowa: Charles Grassley (R), (202) 224-3744; fax: (202) 224-6020
Massachusetts: Edward Kennedy (D), (202) 224-4543, fax: (202) 224-2417
New York: Charles Schumer (D-NY), (202) 224-6542, fax: (202) 228-3027
North Carolina: John Edwards (D), (202) 224-3154, fax: (202) 228-1374
Ohio: Mike DeWine (R), (202) 224-2315, fax: (202) 224-6519
Pennsylvania: Arlen Specter (R), (202) 224-4254; fax: (202) 228-1229
South Carolina: Lindsey Graham (R) (202) 224-5972, fax: (202) 224-1189
Texas: John Cornyn (R), (202) 224-2934, fax: (202) 228-2856
Utah: Orrin Hatch (R), (202) 224-5251, fax: (202) 224-5251
Vermont: Patrick Leahy (D), (202) 224-4242
Wisconsin: Herbert Kohl (D), (202) 224-5653, fax: (202) 224-9787
Wisconsin: Russell Feingold (D), (202) 224-5323, fax: (202) 224-2725
You can also contact your Senator online, using a web site we've set up for this purpose, -- there is a prewritten letter there, which we encourage you to edit. Our online grassroots lobbying system will direct your letter to your Senator, if you live in one of the states listed above. Also, please write us at [email protected] to let us know that you've taken action and to report back to us on any potentially important information about this vote that you learned. Thanks for your help on this important issue.

Last but not least, please visit for further information on this issue and the ongoing campaign to repeal this bad law. Some talking points for your phone calls:

  • Over 150,000 people have been affected by this law, all of whom had already been punished by the criminal justice system.
  • The vast majority of Americans convicted of drug offenses are convicted of nonviolent, low-level possession.
  • The HEA drug provision represents a penalty levied only on the poor and the working class; wealthier students will not have the doors of college closed to them for want to financial aid.
  • The HEA drug provision has a disparate impact on different races. African Americans, for example, comprise 13% of the population and 13% of all drug users, but account for more than 55% of those convicted of drug possession charges.
  • Access to a college education is the surest route to the mainstream economy and a crime-free life.
Again, visit to write to Congress and get involved in the campaign! Students, visit to learn about Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization playing a leading role in this effort.

6. Newsbrief: Pittsburgh Gives Preliminary Okay to Continuing Needle Exchange Program

A Pittsburgh needle exchange program (NEP) that operated underground for seven years before the county health board declared a health emergency in 2002, allowing it to operate above-ground as a pilot project, has won preliminary approval to continue providing syringes to injection drug users, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. In a September 1 meeting, the Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) Board of Health agreed to draft regulations under which the NEP would operate on a permanent basis.

The move came after three public hearings on the issue last month. According to Tim Curges, the health department's acting chief for the county's sexually transmitted disease program, 64 of 67 public comments were positive.

The NEP, operated by Prevention Point Pittsburgh (, has an annual budget of $180,000 and provides clean needles, HIV and Hepatitis C testing, case management, and treatment referrals to some 2000 clients. About 200 participate in any given week, Prevention Point Pittsburgh executive director Renee Cox told the Post-Gazette.

It is not quite a done deal. The regulations, which have yet to be drafted, will have to go through another public comment period and then win approval from the County Council and Chief Executive Officer Dan Onorato. Cox said she is "optimistic" it will be approved.

7. Newsbrief: German Drug Deaths Down, Government Cites Harm Reduction Policies

The German Ministry of Health and Social Security reported September 2 that drug-related deaths had decreased by 11.6% in the first half of 2004. Some 555 died in Germany from the use of illegal drugs during that period, down from more than 600 during the same period a year earlier.

"The decrease of the drug related deaths is a stable trend going back several years," said the German state secretary for drug issues, Marion Caspers-Merk, in a statement announcing the figures. "This is a confirmation of the drug policy of the federal government, which has persevered in a number of measures to improve the treatment of opiate addicts and to improve their chances to survive," he said.

Germany has been a pioneer in the use of safe injection rooms, opiate substitute treatments, and heroin maintenance therapies.

"The quality of substitution treatment has improved and the legal possibility to open consumption rooms was created," Caspers-Merk added. "Furthermore, the model project for heroin subscription contributes to the positive developments. Nevertheless every death is one death too any. Therefore we need to give more support to harm reduction and treatment of addiction."

(Thanks to Eberhard Schatz for the translation.)

8. Newsbrief: Initiative Fails to Make Ballot in Arkansas, Another Gets Kicked Off Ballot in Tallahassee

Two more marijuana measures that proponents hoped would be on the November ballot have gone down in defeat. In Arkansas, an initiative that sought to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes fell short of qualified signatures despite a last ditch effort by local activists. Meanwhile, in Tallahassee, Florida, a federal judge threw an initiative making marijuana possession enforcement the lowest law enforcement priority off the ballot despite its having been certified by local election officials.

In the Razorback State, the Arkansas Alliance for Medical Marijuana ( fell some 12,000 signatures short, garnering only 52,364 valid signatures when it needed 64,456 to qualify, according to state election officials.

Early on, the Arkansans had benefited from funding and staff bestowed upon them by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), but MPP pulled up stakes earlier this summer in order to focus resources on other efforts. But the Arkansas Alliance, led by Denele Campbell, attempted to gather the needed signatures on their own.

Despite the failure to make the ballot this year, Campbell told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette she was encouraged by her group's "overall progress" this year. "We've made huge gains in building our base statewide," Campbell said in a statement. "Clearly we are on the right track. When fear and rhetoric are set aside, our work boils down to a simple question: Do we in Arkansas want to arrest our sick and dying neighbors?"

In Tallahassee, a municipal initiative that would have made minor pot crimes the city's lowest law enforcement priority had been approved for the ballot by local election officials, but was thrown out by a federal judge.

According to NORML News of the Week, the unnamed federal judge threw out the initiative because it "seeks to establish a different priority or strategy with respect to a particular controlled substance" than that of the state legislature, which "has clearly set forth a comprehensive and uniform law enforcement and drug control program for the state."

The judge also held that the initiative process may not be used to enact a municipal ordinance, and that it would be "unlawful" for a city ordinance to "restrict the authority" of city police officers.

But despite the federal judge's ruling in Florida, several cities, including Seattle have successful passed and implemented such ordinances without clashing with state law. Other cities, such as Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin, have passed local ordinances decriminalizing marijuana possession without conflicting with state law.

9. Newsbrief: MPP Sues Minneapolis over Medical Marijuana Ballot Access

The Marijuana Policy Project ( filed suit against the city of Minneapolis September 3 to try to force the city to allow a vote on a medical marijuana charter amendment. MPP is suing on behalf of local initiative organizers Citizens Organized for Harm Reduction (, whose efforts to get the issue on the November ballot were rebuffed by the city council two weeks ago despite having turned in over 12,000 signatures from Minneapolis voters (

According to COHR, the proposed charter amendment would: "Require that the City Council shall authorize, license, and regulate a reasonable number of medicinal marijuana distribution centers in the city of Minneapolis as is necessary to provide services to patients who have been recommended medicinal marijuana by a medical or osteopathic doctor licensed to practice in the state of Minnesota to the extent permitted by state and federal law."

But the city's Charter Commission recommended against putting the measure on the ballot, saying it conflicted with state and federal law. The city council followed the recommendation of the commission.

The lead plaintiff in the suit is Don Haumant, a Minneapolis voter who was a legally registered medical marijuana patient during the time he lived in California and who is being deprived of his right to vote on the amendment by the city's action. The suit argues that the proposed charter amendment "meets all the statutory requirements" and Minneapolis Director of Elections Susanne Griffin is thus "totally without legal authority to refuse to place the proposed charter amendment submitted by Petitioner and others on the November 2, 2004 general election ballot in the City of Minneapolis."

"The City Council's action was grossly undemocratic, disenfranchising the more than 12,000 Minneapolis voters who signed the petitions in good faith," said Neal Levine, a former Minneapolis resident who now serves as director of state policies for MPP. "The reasons given for keeping the charter amendment off the ballot simply do not jibe with either the law or the plain language of the proposed amendment. We are happy to put our resources behind COHR and Mr. Haumant in order to make sure that the voters' rights are respected."

10. Newsbrief: Denver Post Says Legalize It

In an editorial last Sunday, Colorado's largest and most influential newspaper has called for the legalization of marijuana, a radical review of the nation's drug laws, and an end to mandatory minimum sentences. The Denver Post cited the dissent of prominent conservatives such as William Buckley from the war on drugs, but was apparently heavily influenced by a recent compilation of essays about the futility of prohibition, "The New Prohibition," edited by Colorado's San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters, with a heavy representation from other Coloradans as well. (The book also includes an essay from DRCNet executive director Dave Borden. Visit to read our book review.)

"The first step toward a rational drug policy," the editorial said, "is to legalize, regulate and heavily tax the sale of marijuana -- with the taxes earmarked to fund treatment programs for victims of truly dangerous drugs." But, the Post noted, the state of Colorado has already moved about as far as it can on its own, with possession of less than an ounce considered a petty offense with a maximum $100 fine. Colorado voters have also approved of medical marijuana, the newspaper continued, "with state law being followed about as well as a surly federal government will permit."

Thus, opined the Post, "because of the federal government's preemptive authority, Colorado cannot take the final step of legalizing and regulating marijuana on its own. It is time for Congress and the president to call a cease-fire in what has become not a war on drugs but a war on people who use drugs."

The war on drugs is "long and fruitless," and the costs, human and economic, are too high, the editorial continued. While noting that progressives, libertarians, and others oppose drug prohibition, the Post was downright enthralled at the notion of conservatives such as Buckley joining the chorus. In fact, it cited Buckley's June 29 National Review article supporting the proposition that "the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and make it illegal only for children."

We should adjust the way we deal with other drugs as well, the Post argued. "A reassessment of the drug war should include an evaluation of the effects of each drug on users and adjusting the legal status of that drug accordingly," the paper suggested. "Drug policy should then be placed on a continuum ranging from continued prohibition to outright legalization." Methamphetamine should remain a proscribed substance in the Post's view.

As for federal mandatory minimum drug sentences, the Post calls them simply "a wellspring of injustice" and urges "that such laws be changed to restore reasonable discretion to federal judges in meting out sentences in drug cases."

Read the editorial, "It's Time to Rethink and Reform Drug Laws," in full at,1413,36~417~2376803,00.html online.

11. Newsbrief: Canada's National Post Says Legalize It

Canada's National Post, whose position as Canada's national newspaper of record is challenged only by the Toronto Globe & Mail, called Tuesday in an editorial for the legalization of marijuana. The newspaper cited two contemporary cases and the contradictory way in which they are being handled as providing the latest compelling reason to not fool around with the halfway measure of decriminalization, which the government of Prime Minister Paul Martin is prepared to move on this year.

The Post noted the case of Vancouver's Da Kine Café, which has been selling marijuana in an Amsterdam-style coffee house setting for four months. Café owner Carol Gwilt hoped to advance the cause by forcing a crackdown on her open pot sales, but it didn't happen. So she turned to the media to expose what she was up to in what the Post referred to as "a slightly ridiculous play for attention."

Even with the publicity, Vancouver police and political figures had not gotten around to bothering her by the time the Post wrote its editorial. Gwilt finally got her wish, though, on Thursday evening. According to Canada's CTV, more than 30 police cars surrounded the café and arrested six people as an angry neighborhood crowd jeered and smoked joints defiantly. The large number of police was there to protect the police, Vancouver
Police spokeswoman Sarah Bloor told CTV.

Still, it took two weeks of intense media scrutiny to force Vancouver's police to finally make arrests at Da Kine. Contrast that reluctance to enforce marijuana laws with the harsh 90-day sentence meted out to marijuana seed entrepreneur and leading Canadian pot activist, who currently sits in the Saskatoon Jail. Vindictive authorities there charged him with drug trafficking after he shared a joint with bystanders at the end of a pro-pot rally there. The Post did, and it didn't like what it found.

"Even on its own, the indifference to the activities of the Da Kine Café would speak to the absurdity of a criminal law that few people -- including, it seems, some police forces -- have any interest in enforcing," noted the Post. "But it is all the more telling when contrasted with the case of Marc Emery, the marijuana activist recently sentenced in Saskatchewan to three months in prison on a trafficking conviction for passing a joint at a rally. When our drug laws are enforced so arbitrarily that one individual is imprisoned for trafficking when he did nothing of the sort, even as another feels compelled to contact the media in order to draw attention to the fact that her establishment has sold the same drug over the counter for months without any consequences, the need for reform is obvious."

Decriminalization would not go far enough, said the Post. "The only sensible course of action is to end the pointless prohibition of a substance that is neither more dangerous nor more addictive than alcohol or tobacco, and one that has reportedly been smoked by more than 10 million Canadians at some point in their lives," the editorial concluded. "It's time to make official what Vancouver's authorities have evidently already accepted, and legalize marijuana."

The editorial, "Pointless Prohibition," is available online to National Post subscribers only at DrugSense's Media Awareness Project has an archived copy posted at online.

12. Newsbrief: US and Philippines in Joint "Narcoterrorism" Exercises

Beginning August 30, US and Filipino soldiers and drug enforcement agents embarked on a month-long training exercise designed to combat "narcoterrorism," the Philippine military reported in a press release. Training is taking place at Camp Bado Dangwa in La Trinidad, Benguet, the Philippine Military Academy, and the Public Safety College Regional Training School in Davao City.

About 100 members of the Philippine armed forces, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Philippine National Police will receive indoctrination from ten US "narcotics experts," the military said in its press release. It is unclear if the "experts" are members of the US DEA, but that agency has identified "narcoterrorism" as a threat in the Philippines.

In its "World Drug Report 2004," the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ranks the Philippines as the third largest methamphetamine producer in Asia, after China and Burma, and the third largest marijuana producer, behind Thailand and Cambodia. The Filipino government is in the midst of a sustained drug war frenzy, complete with death squads, massive media coverage, and politicians outdoing themselves to be seen as "tough on drugs." (See our earlier coverage at, and and

"The war on drugs is a fight for everyone and a better-trained police officer and agent only makes our communities safer against the intimidation and fears brought on by drugs," said the press statement. "Operation Baker Piston 04-2 is designed to enhance the inter-operability between the military, federal and civil agencies. It will improve their abilities to identify and preserve evidence, evacuate casualties, gather intelligence and instruct others to fight narcotics."

But it is unclear whether the lessons learned will be applied to the drug war or to the longstanding insurgencies against the Philippine government by the communist New People's Army, the Moro National Liberation Front, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Testimony by DEA assistant administrator for intelligence Steven Casteel before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year suggested the latter. While he could cite no hard intelligence to prove his contention, he told the committee that the New People's Army is "potentially involved" in growing and selling marijuana and that it has "greater potential" for making money in the trade because of its national reach. Casteel was only slightly more certain about the Moro fronts, saying that DEA intelligence "suggests" they could be involved in drug trafficking.

13. This Week in History

September 13, 1984: US State Department officials conclude, after more than a decade of crop substitution programs for Third World growers of marijuana, coca or opium poppies, that the tactic cannot work without eradication of the plants and criminal enforcement. Poor results are reported from eradication programs in Burma, Pakistan, Mexico, and Peru.

September 14, 1995: The Reagan-appointed, conservative libertarian described by American Lawyer magazine as "the most brilliant judge in the country," Richard Posner, Chief Judge of the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, is quoted in USA Today:

"I am skeptical that a society that is so tolerant of alcohol and cigarettes should come down so hard on marijuana use and send people to prison for life without parole... We should not repeal all the drug laws overnight, but we should begin with marijuana and see whether the sky falls."

September 15, 1994: The Boston Globe printed the results of a reader call-in survey that asked, "Do you favor legalizing marijuana for medical use?" An astonishing 97 percent of the callers said "yes."

September 16, 1934: The New York Times reported (if you can call it that), "users of marijuana become stimulated as they inhale the drug and are likely to do anything. Most crimes of violence in this section, especially in country districts are laid to users of that drug."

September 17, 1998: Ninety-three members of Congress vote for medical marijuana.

14. The Reformer's Calendar

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

September 13, 6:00pm, New York, NY, Housing Works Annual Meeting & Dance Party. At Ruby Falls, 609 W. 29th St., admission to meeting free, $5 donation requested for party. For further information visit or contact [email protected] or (212) 967-1500 x141.

September 14, 5:30pm, San Francisco, CA, Young Professionals International Forum: "The Drug War in a Post 9/11 Environment," featuring David Abruzzino of the CIA and State Dept. and Judith Appel of Drug Policy Alliance. At the World Affairs Council, 312 Sutter St., 2nd Floor Conference Room, $12 for nonmembers, $7 for cosponsors, $5 for students, free to Council Members. Contact (415) 293-4600 or [email protected] to register or visit for further information.

September 17, 11:00am-12:30pm, Washington, DC, " The Politics of Pain: Drug Policy & Patient Access to Effective Pain Treatments," Congressional briefing organized by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. At 121 Cannon House Office Building, admission free, RSVP by noon, 9/15 to [email protected] or (800) 635-1196.

September 18, noon-6:00pm, Boston, MA, 15th Annual Freedom Rally, visit for further information.

September 20, Shrewsbury, MA, "Help or Hurt: Responding to the Criminalization of Mental Illness and Addiction," forum sponsored by the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts. At Hoagland Pincus Center, registration opens June 15, visit for further information.

September 21, 6:00pm, New York, NY, "Narcoterrorism: Is the War on Drugs a War on Terror?" Panel discussion at Fordham University, sponsored by the Fordham Law Drug Policy Reform Project. At McNally Amphitheatre, contact Meredith Kapushion at [email protected] for further information.

September 23, Kalamazoo, MI, Drug Policy Symposium, featuring representatives of Sheriff Bill Masters of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Rev. Edwin Sanders of Religious Leaders for a More Just and Compassionate Drug Policy, Nora Callahan of The November Coalition and many others. At Western Michigan University, contact Ben Lando at (269) 760-5107 or [email protected] for further information.

September 25, 8:00am, Asheville, NC, "The Adverse Effects of Drug War Prohibition: Our Families, Our Children and Our Communities." Saturday morning conference sponsored by the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform and cosponsored by the UNC-Asheville Women's Studies Dept. At UNC-Asheville, visit for further information.

October 1, 5:00-8:00pm, Madison, WI, Medical Marijuana Benefit. At Cardinal Bar, 418 E. Wilson, $10 requested donation. Hosted by IMMLY and Wisconsin NORML, contact [email protected] or [email protected] for further information.

October 1, 6:30pm, New York, NY, "The Body Electric," benefit for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, at Alex Grey's Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, 520 W. 27th St. 4th Floor. Full admission to dinner and dance party $100 requested donation, join MAPS at any membership level for admission to dance party only. Visit or e-mail [email protected] for further information, visit to RSVP.

October 1-3, London, England, London Hemp Fair, visit for further information.

October 2, New York, NY, "LOCKED UP: Drugs, Prisons & Privilege LOCKED UP: Drugs, Prisons & Privilege," Students for Sensible Drug Policy Northeast Regional Conference. At Columbia University, 116th & Broadway, contact Daniel Blau at [email protected] for information or to RSVP.

October 2, noon, Madison, WI, "33rd Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival," Library Mall at 700 State St., 3:40pm parade to rally at State Capitol. Contact [email protected] for further information.

October 4-5, Washington, DC, two days of medical marijuana events sponsored by Americans for Safe Access, including a Rally for Rescheduling Marijuana as Medicine at the Dept. of Health & Human Services at 10:00am on October 5. For further information visit or contact (510) 486-8083 or [email protected].

October 19, 6:30-9:30pm, Washington, DC, PreventionWorks! 6th Anniversary Celebration/Fundraiser supporting harm reduction in the capital. At HR57, 1610 14th St. NW, contact (202) 588-5580 or [email protected] or visit for further information.

October 23, 2:00-10:00pm, Atlanta, GA, "The 11th Annual Great Atlanta Pot Festival", cannabis reform event sponsored by the Coalition for the Abolition of Marijuana Prohibition. At Piedmont Park, for further information visit or contact (404) 522-2267 or [email protected].

October 26, 7:00pm, Burlington, VT, Forum with the Vermont Cannabis Coalition, with Peter Christ of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. At the Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, 162 Pearl St., visit or call (802) 496-2387 for further information.

November 11-14, New Orleans, LA, "Working Under Fire: Drug User Health and Justice 2004," 5th National Harm Reduction Conference. Sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition, at the New Orleans Astor Crowne Plaza, contact Paula Santiago at (212) 213-6376 x15 or visit for further information.

November 18-21, College Park, MD, Students for Sensible Drug Policy national conference. Details to be announced, visit to check for updates.

November 27, Portland, OR, "Oregon Medical Cannabis Awards 2004," Seminar & Trade Show 10:00am-4:00pm, Awards Banquet & Entertainment 6:30-10:00pm. At the Red Lion Hotel, Portland Convention Center, sponsored by Oregon NORML, visit or contact (503) 239-6110 or [email protected] for further information.

April 30, 2005 (date tentative), 11:00am-3:00pm, Washington, DC, "America's in Pain!" 2nd Annual National Pain Rally. At the US Capitol Reflecting Pool, visit for further information.

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