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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #361, 11/5/04

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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    Mitch Daniels, a Republican who ousted a Democratic incumbent Tuesday to become governor-elect of Indiana, has a drug conviction from his college days at Princeton. Under a law written by another Indiana Republican, he could have lost his financial aid and been forced to drop out if it had happened today.
    Montana Tuesday became the tenth state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.
    With Alaska courts having ruled possession of up to four ounces of marijuana is legal in one's home, the state already has the most progressive pot laws in the country. But voters there Tuesday turned down an opportunity to advance even further.
    Oregon voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 1998, but balked Tuesday at a second measure aimed at improving it.
    An initiative that would have amended California's notorious three-strikes law to apply only to offenders whose third strike was a violent crime was derailed by a last-minute scare campaign led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
    Tuesday was a good day for local marijuana initiatives and questions, with victories in Ann Arbor, Columbia, Missouri, Oakland, California, and a number of communities in Massachusetts.
    Running on a platform calling for repeal of the New York's draconian Rockefeller drug law, Democratic insurgent David Soares overcame Republican and conservative Democratic opposition to win the race for District Attorney in Albany, New York, on Tuesday.
    A mid-October drug bust that netted 72 alleged crack dealers -- all black -- in the East Texas town of Palestine is raising eyebrows at at least one widely-respected Texas publication.
    A South Carolina prosecutor was ready to send a Laotian opium smoker to prison for 25 years as a drug trafficker, but that was too much for jurors to swallow.
    Northern Virginia pain management specialist Dr. William Hurwitz went on trial in Alexandria Thursday in a prosecution that could be a landmark in the DEA's war on pain doctors and patients.
    A group representing Vancouver's hard drug users has opened a new front in the effort to reduce drug-related harms.
    Drug war-related law enforcement corruption is by no means limited to the United States, and this week we break with tradition to include a particularly egregious case from Great Britain -- along with some of the usual from home.
    Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.
    Students and activists from across the country will convene at the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Sixth Annual National Conference in College Park, Maryland, outside Washington, DC, next month.
    Make a difference next semester! DRCNet and the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform are seeking motivated and hardworking interns for the Spring 2005 Semester.
  16. DRUGWARMARKET.COM SEEKING INFORMATION, AFFILIATIONS, LINK EXCHANGES, a web site that follows the economy of the drug war, is seeking affiliations, link exchanges, information.
    Showing up at an event can be the best way to get involved! Check out this week's calendar for events from today through next year, across the US and around the world!
(last week's issue)

(Chronicle archives)

1. Editorial: Ironic Hypocrisy

David Borden
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 11/5/04

One of the winners last Tuesday was Mitch Daniels, a Republican and former director of the Office of Management and Budget for President George W. Bush, who ousted a Democratic incumbent, Joe Kernan, to become the governor-elect of the state of Indiana. Daniels, it came out during the campaign, was arrested for marijuana possession while a student at Princeton University in 1970. The young future governor spent a couple of days in jail, was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct, paid a fine, and it was done. The press, appropriately, also queried Gov. Kernan's office on the subject. Kernan's spokesperson acknowledged that he had also used marijuana -- "a few times" in his twenties, she said -- but didn't provide further details.

It's ironic that Daniels' drug bust happened when he was in college, because it is another Indiana Republican, Rep. Mark Souder, who is responsible for the controversial Higher Education Act drug provision, a law that takes financial aid away from students for any drug conviction, for time periods ranging from a year to indefinitely. The law has been criticized by many of the nation's leading civil rights, higher education, and religious organizations, among others. And the campaign revelations about Daniels and Kernan prompted an Indianapolis Star columnist, Dan Carpenter, to weigh in with a call for repeal of the law as well.

Opposition to the current form of the law, interestingly, comes from Mark Souder himself, who claims he never intended it to apply to people who committed their drug offenses before they entered college -- unconvincingly, in my opinion, as there is nothing in the language of his legislation to suggest this interpretation -- but significantly, because the law will probably soon be changed in this way.

The thing is, Mitch Daniels was in school when he was busted for marijuana. Under Souder's law, even with Souder's fix enacted, he could have potentially run afoul of it and suffered far greater troubles as a result. Should Mitch Daniels have been forced out of Princeton, possibly had his career derailed, and not become governor, because he smoked marijuana during college? Should Joe Kernan have avoided such troubles only because he didn't get caught? I don't feel that way, and that's one of the reasons I oppose the HEA drug provision. But does Mark Souder think his colleague and fellow party leader should have been held back from succeeding? I hope not, but that is the effect his law is having on others just like Daniels, so I'm not sure.

I also don't know if Mitch Daniels would have qualified for or needed financial aid to go to school, but that is not so important. Consistent application of the idea behind the law -- application independent of a student's economic standing -- would require that any student incurring a drug conviction be kicked out of school, or forced to undergo some other form of hardship related to continuing in school beyond the punishment exacted by the criminal justice system.

For that matter, consistency would require that anyone caught drinking underage while in college would also get kicked out for it; alcohol after all, is a drug, and an illegal one for people under 21. And it would require a very serious effort to find all the underage drinkers and illegal drug users who abound in such numbers on our nation's campuses. But doing so would financially decimate our institutions of higher learning and disrupt the training and economic output of a large segment of our society.

To avoid hypocrisy, therefore, Souder, and Daniels (and Kernan) should clearly stake out one of the following positions:

1) Mitch Daniels should have been kicked out of Princeton, and not allowed to attend a different school, for a year, because he possessed marijuana. He should probably also not have been able to go on to become federal budget director or Indiana governor; or

2) Daniels (and Kernan) should not have suffered that fate, therefore neither should today's students, so the law should be repealed in full.

I vote for option #2. I'm not expecting this to happen, obviously; hypocrisy and double standards are defining characteristics of the drug war. Daniels' comments on the issue so far have been negative. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be asked about it, again and again. Because if they wouldn't have wanted it for themselves, if they don't want it for their children, they should do unto others as they would have others do unto them.

2. Big Win in Big Sky Country: Montana Approves Medical Marijuana

Montana Tuesday became the tenth state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, as voters there approved the Montana Medical Marijuana Act, known as I-148 on the ballot, by a margin of 62% to 38%, according to unofficial figures from the Montana Secretary of State's office Wednesday. The vote came in a conservative state that voted for President Bush and against gay marriage by nearly the same margin.

activists demonstrate at the
Montana drug czar's anti-medical
marijuana press conference
(courtesy Montana Cares)
The Montana initiative creates a registry system for patients with specified diseases and medical conditions. Upon recommendation by their doctors, patients can apply with the state Department of Health and Human Services for ID cards, with which they will not be subject to arrest if in compliance with the quantity limitations in the initiative. While this portion of the new law will not go into effect until the Department of Health and Human Services drafts applications and administrative rules, the law also creates an affirmative defense to prosecution for medical marijuana patients which goes into effect immediately.

As with the marijuana-related statewide initiatives in Alaska and Oregon, the Montana initiative drew opposition not only from local drug warriors but also from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Deputy drug czar Scott Burns flitted in and out of the state in early October, stopping just long enough to lobby disingenuously against the measure.

"I cannot tell anyone how to vote," Burns said, before trying to do just that. "This is a con by people who want people to legalize marijuana in this state," Burns said. "They always start with the medical marijuana issue."

But Montanans were apparently more swayed by arguments that the government should not intervene if a doctor recommends marijuana to a patient. "It was just common sense on the part of the voters," said Paul Befumo, a spokesman for the Medical Marijuana Policy Project of Montana (, the Marijuana Policy Project-affiliated group that organized the campaign. "They knew it doesn't really make sense to put sick people in jail for using marijuana on a doctor's recommendation."

While Montana voters went heavily for Bush and the hot button social issue of opposing gay marriage, that did not translate into opposition to the initiative, said Befumo. "This is an issue that transcends the liberal-conservative divide," he told DRCNet. "But for me, and, I suspect, for a lot of Montanans, it is fundamentally a conservative issue: Who gets to make decisions about your health care?"

"Montana has shown once again that support for medical marijuana is bipartisan and overwhelming," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia in a statement hailing the victory. "That a state President Bush is carrying by a double-digit margin voted so overwhelmingly for medical marijuana is a signal to officeholders of both parties that it's time to protect patients and stop this cruel and pointless war on the sick."

While regulations to administer the program must be crafted, Befumo said he anticipated few problems. "Effective immediately, patients can use the affirmative defense portion of the law, and I do not see opponents attempting to sabotage this because the voters spoke so clearly in support of medical marijuana," he said. "I'm going back to my regular job now, but I suspect that a group of people will now come together to start working on implementation and another group will start working on how to help people produce their own supplies."

"This is a huge win," exulted Bruce Mirken, director of communications for MPP, which contributed significant funding for advertising for the measure and to pay Befumo's salary. "This is the highest percentage of the vote any state medical marijuana initiative has gotten on the first go round. The only time it went higher was on the second approval in Nevada in 2000," he told DRCNet. "Considering that this is a Republican state that went heavily for Bush, the results here as well as in cities across the country that approved medical marijuana measures this week are a real clear signal that support for medical marijuana has overwhelming bipartisan support. It's time for elected officials to notice."

Montana becomes the second state to approve medical marijuana this year. Vermont approved it through the legislative route in January. Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington have workable medical marijuana laws, while Arizona voters approved a similar measure in 1996 that has proved unworkable because it calls for doctors to prescribe (as opposed to recommend) marijuana, making them liable to DEA sanctions.

3. Alaska Marijuana Initiative Defeated

With Alaska courts having ruled possession of up to four ounces of marijuana is legal in one's home, the state already has the most progressive pot laws in the country. But voters there Tuesday turned down an opportunity to advance even further, rejecting an initiative that would have removed all criminal penalties for marijuana use, possession, and distribution. While the initiative never led in pre-election polls and faced opposition from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Alaska drug warriors, it was a horrific crime right out of a Harry Anslinger "Reefer Madness" nightmare that may have sealed its defeat.

According to the Alaska Secretary of State's office, with 98.4% of the vote counted, Ballot Measure Two trailed by a margin of 43% to 57%. While not enough for victory, the percentage exceeded the 41% gained by a similar, slightly more ambitious, initiative in 2000 and represents the highest percentage ever recorded in favor of replacing prohibition with the regulated use, production, and sale of marijuana in the United States.

Based on that 2000 defeat, organizers this year knew they had an uphill battle, and with $850,000 in the campaign war chest, they had a battle plan, with TV and radio advertising as well as get-out-the-vote efforts and a trio of very presentable spokesmen. They had also managed to bring together long-time local activists organized in Alaskans for Rights and Responsibilities ( and a Marijuana Policy Project-sponsored group, Alaskans for Marijuana Regulation and Control (, creating a third entity, Yes on 2 (, to run the campaign.

But even as initiative proponents worked toward victory, by October organized opposition was beginning to appear. Deputy drug czar Scott Burns visited the state to badmouth the measure on October 14. On that occasion he was joined by a number of state law enforcement and political figures. The Alaska Peace Officers Association and the Alaska Medical Association, which supported medical marijuana when it passed in 1998, joined the opposition, running their own radio and newspaper ads urging a no vote.

Whatever chance the initiative had, however, was lost with the arrest of a 16-year-old Anchorage youth last month on charges of raping and killing (or killing and raping) his stepmother. According to sensationalized and widely-repeated press accounts, the youth confessed to fighting with his stepmother over his marijuana use and "maybe" hitting her with a baseball bat, but being "too stoned" to remember for sure. He denied sexually assaulting her, either before or after her death, but was charged with murder and sexual assault in Anchorage on Monday.

"We were about 20 points behind in the summer, but then our campaign got going with advertising and going door-to-door," said David Finkelstein, treasurer for Yes on 2 ( "We were down eight or nine points in mid-October, so we thought we had the momentum swinging our way, but then we had that horrible event with the kid killing his stepmother. They indicted him Monday and it was all over the Tuesday morning newspapers. That extremely unfortunate coincidence really knocked the campaign for a loop and stopped the momentum," he told DRCNet Wednesday.

For MPP communications director Bruce Mirken, the fact that the initiative did so well even in the face of the teenage marijuana maniac story was a victory of sorts. "Despite that story and the fact that it unquestionably damaged us, playing into all the fears that opponents were trying to generate, the measure still got the highest percentage ever on a statewide vote to end marijuana prohibition," he told DRCNet. "I think this result has to be seen as an indication that this is doable. Regulating marijuana is no longer a wild, outlandish idea and discussion about whether marijuana prohibition makes sense is now in the mainstream."

While Mirken was looking at symbolic victories, opponents of the measure, such as former US Attorney Wev Shea, were touting its defeat. "It just shows that Alaskans are independent... and the state of Alaska should not be an experiment for outside interests," he told the Associated Press Wednesday.

Matthew Fagnani, who chaired the sole opposition group to the measure and who is also president of the drug-testing firm WorkSafe, Inc., told the AP he was "very happy" with the results. "Today is a good day for the sake of the future of Alaska's children," he said.

And current US Attorney Tim Burgess also signaled relief at the outcome. "Substance abuse and drug addiction are a tremendous problem in Alaska," he said. "It is something that the law enforcement community realizes because they have to deal with it every day."

But while the prohibitionist victors were basking in the warm afterglow, they shouldn't relax too much, said Finkelstein. "I don't think this is the end of it," he said. "We will have to see what comes next." Marijuana has been an issue in Alaska since the 1970s, he said, and it isn't going away. A significant minority of Alaskans have signaled they are ready for change, he said. "They are ready for it, but we may have to take a smaller step to get there," he predicted.

And next time, the movement will be even stronger. "The great thing that came out of this," Finkelstein said, "is that we demonstrated the ability to work together. Previously there were separate campaigns. Now, we have a unified approach to marijuana initiatives in Alaska."

4. Oregon Measure to Expand Medical Marijuana Access Defeated

Oregon voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 1998, but balked Tuesday at a second initiative that would have increased access to medical marijuana by increasing the amounts patients and caregivers could possess and by creating a system of state-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries where patients could purchase marijuana. It would also have directed counties to make free medical marijuana available to indigent patients. The Oregon Medical Marijuana Act II (OMMA2), known as Measure 33 on the ballot, fell short by a margin of 58% to 42%, according to the Oregon Secretary of State's office.

While OMMA2 proponents ( and argued that deepening and broadening the state's existing medical marijuana program was necessary to ensure that patients were able to obtain adequate supplies of their medicine, opponents charged it was a charade aimed at legalizing the weed, it would draw unwanted federal attention, and it would allow criminal activity -- i.e. non-medicinal marijuana sales -- to flourish.

The measure attracted the typical array of opponents from the law enforcement and medical establishments, including the Oregon District Attorneys Association and the Oregon Medical Association, as well as a lightning visit by drug czar John Walters, who warned that the measure would turn Oregon into "a safe haven for drug trafficking." But in a divisive turn of events, it was also loudly opposed by original Oregon medical marijuana poster child Stormy Ray (, who went so far as to purchase space in the official election pamphlet denouncing OMMA2 as "turning our program over to the black market."

While OMMA2 backers were stung by Ray's attack, it was not key to the measure's failure, said John Sajo, a moving force behind both OMMA and OMMA2, and, incidentally, a former caregiver (grower) for Ray. "It was the money," Sajo said. "We tried to take a big step with a small budget. Our opponents tried to paint it as a legalization issue because it went so far, but to the degree we got our message out, I think we swayed the voters," he told DRCNet Wednesday. "We spend nearly $500,000 on TV ads, and that sounds like a lot, but at least three other initiatives on the ballot spent 10 times as much. $500,000 just wasn't enough to do it."

Even with the October infusion of advertising money courtesy of the Marijuana Policy Project (, OMMA2 was not able to gain traction. In a September poll, the measure came in at 41%. Despite the late ad blitz, the measure gained only one percentage point by Election Day.

"Had we had more spending, I think this was very much in play," maintained Sajo. "We were hampered all along by being a low-budget operation. I think the bigger lesson for the drug reform movement from Oregon is that if we want to do anything more than take baby steps, we have to figure out how to find a lot more money. If we're just going to stand around waiting for Peter Lewis to hand out checks, we're in trouble."

The Oregon result represented "a yellow light" for the marijuana movement, said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "Voters have shown they are very willing to protect patients and take what they regard as moderate and reasonable steps," he told DRCNet. "They are a little more cautious when they see things that feel more daring or more likely to cause a fight with the feds. Oregon was a flashing yellow light, but it was an understandable hesitation about how far a state can go, not a repudiation of medical marijuana."

OMMA2 pushed the envelope in several directions, all of which apparently worried what should have been natural allies. The alternative paper Willamette Weekly ended up opposing the measure because of its provision requiring counties to set up dispensaries, while the Oregon Libertarian Party opposed it because it continued to require patients to register with the state. Other critics attacked OMMA2 provisions to allow health practitioners other than doctors to recommend medical marijuana, raising the specter of witch doctors okaying medicinal pot-smoking.

But for many opponents, and apparently many voters, OMMA2 was a stalking horse for legalization. "The failure of Measure 33 simply confirms my belief in the ability of Oregon's voters to spot a wolf in sheep's clothing," Benton County District Attorney Scott Heiser, a spokesman against the measure, told the Associated Press. "Measure 33 was nothing more than an attempt to legalize recreational drug use under the guise of helping the suffering," he said. "Obviously, the DAs of Oregon are very pleased to see the voters soundly rejecting this disingenuous measure."

The arguments of opponents like Heiser were no surprise, said Sajo, but the campaign also faced opposition, or equally damaging, complacency, from within the ranks of medical marijuana patients. "Stormy Ray hurt us," he said. "Her arguments were basically incomprehensible, but the fact that a former chief petitioner for OMMA was against it provided a peg for anyone with doubts to hang his hat on. Any time we got a minute or two to explain what she was saying to people, we could undo the damage. But we couldn't get to everybody."

Some of that opposition from within the ranks didn't make sense, Sajo complained. "Some argued that no one should make money selling medical marijuana -- somehow the stuff would fall from heaven, and money would ruin our wonderful system. But that's just silly; no other service in our society is divorced from money." Similarly, the Willamette Weekly's complaints that counties could lose money providing marijuana for sale to patients also struck Sajo as ludicrous. "Those clubs down in California are doing a million dollars a day in sales. You could lose money selling marijuana, I suppose," Sajo laughed, "but you would have to work real hard at it."

While OMMA2 was aimed at ensuring that even the state's sickest and poorest patients could gain access to medical marijuana, it seemed as if other patients, whose needs were being met under the current system, didn't care, Sajo complained. "The current law is very popular and moderately successful," he said, "and there is a tremendous amount of complacency. What we found is that trying to provide a system that actually took care of all the patients didn't really gain us anything. We were concerned about the ones too sick or disabled to grow their own medicine, but they are the sickest, and they couldn't help us much politically."

5. More Than a Thousand Drug Offenders Continue Life Sentences Following Defeat of California Three-Strikes Reform Initiative

An initiative that would have amended California's notorious three-strikes law to make it apply only to offenders whose third strike was a violent crime that appeared headed for victory was derailed by a last-minute scare campaign led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. According to the office of the Secretary of State, the measure, which would also have allowed some 7,000 nonviolent third-strikers to apply to have their 25-years-to-life sentences reduced, was defeated by a margin of 53% to 47%.

Orange County FACTS Quilt,
courtesy FACTS
Under California's three-strikes law, which has been emulated around the country, persons with two prior convictions for violent or "serious" felonies can face life sentences with no chance of parole for 25 years. While ostensibly aimed at violent predatory criminals, the measure has also swept up some 4,000 people whose third strikes were as trivial as stealing pizza or videotapes, including more than 1,000 who are now doing 25-to-life for a third strike that was a drug offense.

Although sending someone to prison for life on a drug possession charge or for what would normally be considered misdemeanor theft would normally be considered cruel and unusual punishment, the US Supreme Court last year disagreed, upholding the law ( While California voters appeared poised to strike down the law's most onerous provisions, thanks in part to a well-funded campaign publicly fronted by well-known crime victim relative Joe Klaas (, the last-minute effort led by Gov. Schwarzenegger resulted in the most dramatic reversal of fortune for an initiative in California history.

While support for the reform measure was running at 65% going into the last weeks of the campaign, by the week before the election support had dropped to 55% as Gov. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, former governors Pete Wilson (R), Gray Davis (D), and Jerry Brown (D), along with the California prison guards union embarked on a furious push to defeat it. Schwarzenegger aired factually-challenged television ads warning that thousands of violent criminals would be freed, while telecommunications billionaire Henry Nicholas, founder of Broadcom, pumped more than a million dollars into the late ad blitz, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"I've seen declines before, but I've never seen it this abrupt," Field Poll spokesman Peter DiCamillo told the Times late last week. "The linkage of Arnold himself with the 'no' side in a very visible way sunk into voters this week."

By Tuesday, momentum had swung against the initiative. Still, three-strikes reformers vowed to try again. "Nothing ends today," said campaign leader Joe Klaas, who has battled for 10 years to enact common sense reforms. Former Gov. Wilson had used the story of Klaas' daughter, Polly, victim of a vicious murder, to rally support for the original three-strikes initiative. Joe Klaas and his father campaigned against it after learning it would also apply to nonviolent offenders. "Opponents of Proposition 66 pointed to specific things they opposed in this initiative, but always acknowledged the flaws in the three strikes law that still need to be fixed. Those flaws remain and this fight goes on," he added in the post-defeat statement.

Proposition 66 supporters pledged to redouble and broaden their efforts, reaching out to opponents -- legislators, district attorneys, editorialists -- who acknowledged the serious flaws in the three strikes law, to find solutions that can and will be enacted. "It's still as absurd as ever to give shoplifters and petty drug offenders the same sentences as rapists and armed robbers," said Klaas. "We now ask Prop. 66 opponents to work with us to preserve three-strikes and fix these unjust flaws."

6. Local Marijuana Initiatives and Questions Win in Ann Arbor, Columbia, Oakland and Massachusetts

Tuesday was a good day for local marijuana initiatives, with victories at the polls in Ann Arbor, Columbia, MO, and Oakland. Only an initiative in Berkeley that would have increased allowable quantities for medical marijuana patients appears to have lost, although organizers there were slow to concede defeat. Meanwhile, a Massachusetts effort to pass non-binding marijuana reform questions in legislative districts continued to maintain its perfect record of success in the third election of that campaign.

In the Bay State, the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts ( and the Massachusetts Cannabis Coalition ( went 12 for 12 on marijuana decriminalization and medical marijuana questions in legislative districts, bringing the record for the overall campaign to let representatives know voters support marijuana law reform to 36 wins and no losses.

In five districts, voters supported a question on medical marijuana, while in six others voters supported decriminalizing marijuana possession and in one district voters gave the thumbs up to a question calling for the legalized and regulated sale of marijuana. Margins of victory ranged from 58% to a high of 80%.

Although the questions are non-binding, they allow voters to clearly signal support for marijuana law reform to their representatives. And that should allow marijuana reform legislation to get some traction at the statehouse next year, said Whitney Taylor, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts, which ran nine of this year's question campaigns.

"We have never lost a single one of these questions, and now over half the state has had a chance to take a stand on this," Taylor told DRCNet. "While in 2002 we focused on the Boston area, this time we targeted specific districts, for example, the medical marijuana questions where representatives or senators sit on the health committee and the decrim questions where representatives or senators are on the criminal justice or judiciary committees," she said.

One exception was the 24th Middlesex representative district, where Rep. Anne Paulsen already supports decrim. "That is Gov. Romney's home district," Taylor explained. "His wife has Multiple Sclerosis, and we wanted him to see the question on the ballot when he voted."

The victories this year will only strengthen the push to get marijuana reform through the legislature in the next session, said Taylor. "This is a new world for us. The old speaker, who was a real obstacle for us, is gone, and the new speaker, Sal DiMasi, is supportive. We will have many more opportunities to get things done," she said.

While Massachusetts voters were approving pro-reform questions, voters in the college towns of Ann Arbor and Columbia gave overwhelming approval to medical marijuana measures, and Columbia also passed an initiative that will make small-time pot possession a municipal instead of a state offense, thus protecting students from losing financial aid under the Higher Education Act's anti-drug provision if they get caught with a joint or two.

In Ann Arbor, which decriminalized marijuana possession back in the days when hippies walked the earth, residents okayed a measure that will waive fines for medical marijuana patients and caregivers who have the recommendation of a health care professional. The measure also lowers the maximum fine for third-offense and subsequent pot busts to $100.

Supporters of the measure told the Michigan Daily they expected the measure's impact to be limited at first. "Initially, the proposal will help only a small number of people, and then it will grow to be quite a large amount once people realize how many ailments cannabis helps," said Scio Township Trustee Charles Ream, who promoted the measure.

In Columbia, a measure approving medical marijuana won with 69% of the vote, while the decrim measure won 61%. "We are especially cheered by these results," said Students for Sensible Drug Policy ( chapter head Amanda Broz, who also heads the Columbia Alliance for Patient Education (CAPE), the umbrella group that led the initiative fight.

A similar decrim measure was defeated two years ago, but this time, voters came around, said Broz. "I think educating people was critical to our success," she told DRCNet. "Once Columbians understood the issues, they were willing to stand up for the rights of patients and their fellow citizens." Proponents of the measures concentrated not only on marijuana's medicinal uses, but also on the deleterious impacts of marijuana busts. "People can lose financial aid, they can lose job opportunities, not to mention arresting people for small amounts of marijuana is a waste of police resources," said Broz. "People could understand that."

That sentiment was echoed by the national leadership of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. "Forcing at-risk students away from education and into cycles of crime and failure is not a smart tactic in the effort to reduce our nation's drug problems," said SSDP executive director Scarlett Swerdlow. "While this misguided law remains on the books, citizens are taking action to prevent students from losing their financial aid and having their lives unnecessarily ruined."

The education campaign was helped by $50,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project, Broz said, and the victories in Columbia could help pave the way for action on a medical marijuana bill in the state legislature. "We had a bill in the House last year, but it went nowhere. This year, we think we can do better."

In Oakland, an initiative directing local law enforcement to make marijuana the lowest priority and directing city officials to tax and regulate marijuana sales as soon as is permitted by state and federal law ( cruised to victory with 64% of the vote. Oakland had been the home of Oaksterdam, a cluster of medical marijuana clubs near downtown, until the city council earlier this year moved against it by restricting the number of clubs permitted to operate.

"The citizens of Oakland voted to legalize marijuana," said Dale Gieringer, head of the California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws ( and one of the members of the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance, the group behind the initiative. "The L-word was on the ballot, and that didn't scare Oakland voters. Oakland has become the first political entity anywhere to declare itself in favor of the tax and regulate model."

The vote's immediate practical impact will be limited, Gieringer predicted. "The Oakland police have said they will obey the will of the voters, but they have also said marijuana is already a low priority with them, and I think that's probably true," he told DRCNet Thursday. And the city will not move to tax and regulate the trade until it is legal under state and federal law.

But voter support for the initiative will strengthen reformers as they seek to revisit the question of Oaksterdam, said Gieringer. "Oaksterdam was shut down because of spurious and hysterical claims," he said, "but now the decrease in economic activity is noticeable and the business has moved south into unincorporated areas of Alameda County. We need to reexamine the Oaksterdam situation. We will go to the city council and say that the voters have said they support taxed and regulated marijuana, we can do medical marijuana under state law, and the city needs to remove these unwise, unwarranted restrictions on the cannabis clubs."

But while voters in Oakland were giving the okay to legalization, next door in Berkeley it appears that an initiative to raise quantity limits on medical marijuana has gone down to defeat. While organizers there are holding onto an ever slimmer hope that a count of absentee and provisional ballots there will take them over the top, the measure continues to trail. Sponsored by the Berkeley Patients Group, the measure would have increased the 2.5 pound per patient limit, but city officials argued it would remove the city's ability to regulate cannabis dispensaries.

7. Newsbrief: Victory for Rockefeller Law Foe in Albany DA Race

Running on a platform calling for repeal of the New York's draconian Rockefeller drug law, Democratic insurgent David Soares overcame Republican and conservative Democratic opposition to win the race for District Attorney in Albany, New York, on Tuesday. Soares, 35, stunned the local Democratic Party establishment in September by defeating his boss, incumbent DA Paul Clyne, a strong proponent of the Rockefeller laws, in the party primary. Now he has swept to victory in the general election, pulling 54% of the popular vote.

It wasn't without a fight. Refusing to accept defeat, Clyne ran on the Independence Party ticket until dropping out last week to endorse the Republican candidate, while GOP challenger Roger Cusick joined Clyne in attacking Soares' position on Rockefeller reform as too soft to win support from prosecutors and a cover for "legalization." Clyne even went so far as to say Soares would allow drug dealers to roam the streets and prey on children.

But backed by the Working Families Party and sizeable contributions from George Soros and other donors, Soares fended off his old school opponents and announced a new day in New York politics had begun. "The voters have demanded that the Rockefeller drug laws be reformed," Soares said at a victory celebration Tuesday night. "Every district attorney in the state clinging to these archaic laws will hear today's results. The legislature must act and the recalcitrant DA's must get out of the way -- or else go the way of the Albany County incumbent."

The victory was welcomed by drug reformers. "Soares' victory -- first in the primary and now in the general election -- proves that a political candidate can run and win on a platform that emphasizes sensible drug law reform," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "The drug war bandwagon has run out of gas in New York. Political momentum now clearly favors reform."

8. Newsbrief: Another Tulia in East Texas?

A mid-October drug bust that netted 72 alleged crack cocaine dealers -- all black -- in the East Texas town of Palestine (pop. 17,000) is raising eyebrows at at least one widely-respected Texas publication. In a web-only special report, the Texas Observer is questioning whether modestly-sized Palestine really supported 72 crack dealers, why all those arrested where black, the nature of the state's ubiquitous drug task forces, and whether the state has another Tulia on its hands (

As the magazine noted, "residents of Palestine must have been surprised to learn that their small town apparently had more crack dealers than restaurants." But in two days of arrests beginning October 13, teams from the Anderson County Sheriff's Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the US Marshall's Service, and the DEA arrested a total of 72 people on various state and federal drug dealing charges. While the Observer found, unsurprisingly, that there were a handful of dealers in town, it also found that most suspects were charged with a single count of delivering crack to a confidential informant. None of those deliveries involved more than four grams, with some involving less than a gram. As the Observer noted, "Many of the suspects appear to be poor crack addicts swept up in the drug sting. Charged as dealers, they now face sentences of 20 years to life in state prison."

In "The Usual Suspects," the Observer wrote: "Yet again, a regional drug task force targeted an African-American population in a small Texas town, charging apparent crack addicts as dealers. All of this brings to mind the now-infamous Panhandle town that has become synonymous with all that's wrong with the war on drugs -- Tulia."

While the feds gobbled up the best cases, Anderson County prosecutors charged 56 people with distribution of crack. But in a numerical analysis of crack use patterns in rural areas, the Observer found that probably only about 70 people residing in Palestine smoke crack. The Observer strongly suggests that the vast majority of those arrested were no more than crack smokers. But prosecutors are determined to send them to prison for decades.

The story will continue. "The number of suspects charged as dealers in Anderson County has attracted the attention of the ACLU, which has uncovered task force wrongdoing all over the state and is investigating the Palestine bust," the Observer concluded. "Meanwhile, prosecutors and the Dogwood Trails task force will soon get the chance to prove that Palestine was so awash in crack that all 72 defendants really were legitimate dealers. The first trials are scheduled to begin in early December."

9. Newsbrief: South Carolina Jury Refuses to Send Opium Smoker to Prison for Decades, Acquits Him of Trafficking Instead

A South Carolina prosecutor was ready to send a Laotian opium smoker to prison for 25 years as a drug trafficker, but that was too much for jurors to swallow. Instead, they found him not guilty and sent him home to his family, the York Herald reported last Friday.

Yer Vang had survived slave labor camps and being hunted by Southeast Asian communists, but he nearly fell prey to a prosecutor long on vindictiveness and short on proportionality. Vang, a 44-year-old Hmong refugee, was arrested as he smoked opium in his living room after police came to the house in October 2003 looking for his son, who was suspected of selling Ecstasy. Police arrested Vang and seized nearly a pound of opium.

Although Vang freely admitted being an opium addict and there was no evidence he had ever sold any of his stash, York County prosecutor E.B. Springs charged him with drug trafficking based on the weight of the seized opium. "It doesn't matter that he's an addict," Springs told the court. "Most crack dealers are addicts."

Springs conceded there was no evidence Vang was an opium dealer, but told jurors he did not have to prove the Vang actually sold any opium because South Carolina law allowed a trafficking charge based on weight alone. But after defense counsel Chris Wellborn described Vang's life story to the jurors, they grew queasy at the notion of imprisoning him for decades. Vang was drafted into the Laotian military as a teenager, imprisoned for two years in a North Vietnamese POW camp, acquired his opium habit after a grueling trek back to Laos in 1975, then escaped to Thailand in 1978 and eventually made his way to the US, where he joined an estimated 300,000 Hmong refugees.

As it deliberated, the jury sent a note to the judge asking whether it had to obey the spirit of the law or the letter of the law. But without waiting for the judge's response, a few minutes later the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and the construction worker returned home to his wife and 11 children.

Prosecutor Springs had turned down a Vang offer to plead guilty to simple possession, instead offering to send him to prison for only nine years if he copped a plea to the trafficking charge. Now, Springs ends up with nothing, and he still doesn't get it. "The victim here is the community," Springs said. "They felt sorrier for the defendant than they did for the community. He admitted he had the drugs," Springs said. "The law says you can't possess the drugs."

"This is a victory for common sense and what's just," said Vang's attorney, Chris Wellborn. "I don't see that it benefits the people of South Carolina or this community to put an addict in jail for 25 years." Neither, apparently, did the jury, despite Springs' fulminations.

10. Newsbrief: Dr. Hurwitz Trial Underway, Key Pain Doctor Prosecution

Northern Virginia pain management specialist Dr. William Hurwitz went on trial in Alexandria Wednesday in a prosecution that could be a landmark in the DEA's war on pain doctors and patients. He is charged in a 62-count indictment with leading a conspiracy to traffic in pain medications and resulting in the deaths of at least three patients.

The formal charges include drug trafficking resulting in death and serious bodily injury, conspiracy to traffic in controlled substances and health care fraud. Prosecutors, who have publicly likened the nationally-known pain specialist to "a street-corner crack dealer," say he prescribed excessive quantities of narcotic pain relievers to patients who then sold them on the black market. The excessive doses were also responsible for patient deaths and injuries, prosecutors alleged.

But in a case that has become a focal point in the struggle by pain patients and their advocates, Hurwitz supporters say prosecutors and the DEA are intruding on the legitimate practice of medicine, with patients left out in the cold. "This is a trophy case. They wanted a doctor," Hurwitz attorney Marvin D. Miller told the Washington Post. "Doctors should decide what is appropriate medical practice, not people in law enforcement."

"Because the DEA managed to arrest some of his patients and compel them to testify against him, Dr. Hurwitz is facing a life sentence," wrote Siobhan Reynolds, president of the pain patients' advocacy group the Pain Relief Network ( "The US Department of Justice is fully aware that Dr. Hurwitz did not intend to deal drugs. But that doesn't matter. They are trying to sell their 'drug diversion' story to Congress as a way to continue funding for their failed drug war," she told supporters.

In recent years, state and federal prosecutors and state medical boards have prosecuted dozens of doctors and administratively punished hundreds more for alleged violations of pain prescription protocols, but those doctors generally appear to have been operating within the bounds of legitimate medical practice.

With a high-powered legal team ready to rebut prosecution attempts to impose its version of acceptable medical practices on the profession and with supporters gathering and ready to make noise in Northern Virginia, the Hurwitz trial could -- and should -- force the national media to finally confront the issues of pain treatment and harassment of pain doctors head on.

The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks. Hurwitz, who is free on a $2 million bond, faces life in prison.

DRCNet will report in greater depth in the coming weeks on the Hurwitz trial, including discussion of both the defense's and prosecution's cases.

11. Newsbrief: Group Hands Out Free Crack Pipes in Vancouver Harm Reduction Action

A group representing Vancouver's hard drug users has opened a new front in the effort to reduce drug-related harms. VANDU, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users ( began distributing hundreds of free crack pipes to smokers in the city's Downtown Eastside over the weekend in a move the group said would slow the spread of disease among rock aficionados.

The group handed out over 500 "crack kits" Friday night alone, VANDU president Rob Morgan told the Vancouver Sun. Each kit contains a glass pipe, mouth pieces, condoms, alcohol swabs, matches, and an instruction pamphlet. The action is a project of VANDU's crack-smoking affiliate, the Rock Users' Group. "In the same way as handing out needles, these kits advance harm reduction and prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C," said Morgan, who told the Sun he is himself strung out on crack. Morgan said money for the kits came from private organizations and street donations, but the group will ask the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority for additional funding.

But while the Authority supports needle exchange programs and the Downtown Eastside safe injection site, it has so far refused to either support the crack kits or allow the creation of a safe smoking area for crack users. The kits are not proven effective in harm reduction, the Authority maintained, and there is no legal provision for establishing a safe smoking room.

12. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Election or no, the dirty business of corruptly profiting from prohibition goes on. Of course, drug war-related law enforcement corruption is by no means limited to the United States, and this week we break with tradition to include a particularly egregious case from Great Britain. But first, the home boys:

In Alabama, the former head of the Lauderdale County Drug Task Force has pleaded guilty to extortion, misappropriating funds, and lying to the FBI about his misdeeds. David Lynn Scogin, 44, of Florence, plea bargained his way down from a 10-count indictment issued in July, the Birmingham News reported. According to charging documents, Scogin used his position to extort $5,000 from one person in April 2002 by threatening him with arrest if he didn't give the money to the task force. And while Scogin didn't personally pocket the money, he was using task force funds as a personal bank account, the indictment charged. He faces sentencing December 16.

In Dallas, the infamous sheetrock scandal, where police and prosecutors sent dozens of men to prison for possession of methamphetamine and cocaine that turned out to be sheetrock, Senior Corporal David Larsen, a 26-year veteran of the force, was charged Monday with two counts of felony evidence tampering. He is accused of signing informant payment forms he knew were false. Informants had claimed they had not received payments recorded for their help in bringing drug cases, and an investigation has uncovered anomalies and apparent forgeries on the documents. Larsen is accused of falsely attesting that he witnessed two payments made to informant Robert Santos. Santos was an informant for officer Mark Delapaz, the Dallas cop at the center of the scandal. Delapaz also signed forms indicating he made those payments.

And now to England, where one officer's hypocrisy and corruption have risen to a level worthy of note on this side of the pond. Greater Manchester Police Constable Andrew Jackson was in court twice in October on charges of offering to supply marijuana, warning a suspect that police were planning to raid him, trafficking in amphetamines, and aiding and abetting another in amphetamine trafficking, according to reports in the Scotsman newspaper and on BBC News.

There is nothing spectacular about Jackson's charges, but what makes his case noteworthy is that he was the Manchester police officer who took it upon himself to raid the Dutch Experience, the first "coffee house"-style marijuana dispensary in the United Kingdom (

According to Hugh Robertson of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance (, Jackson "personally made sure the Experience was hassled enough that it was closed down." It was Jackson's personal crusade, wrote Robertson. "No one else in the Manchester police was interested. The local beat cop and the drug squad left the café alone, as they had better things to do -- but it is now obvious Jackson wanted to get rid of the competition."

13. This Week in History

November 5, 1996: Prop. 215 (The Compassionate Use Act) in California legalizes medical use of marijuana, passes with 56% of the voting public in favor. Prop. 200 (The Drug Medicalization, Prevention, and Control Act) enacts sentencing reform and other measures, passing in Arizona with 65% of the vote.

November 5, 2002: Reuters reports that researchers say alcohol and violence pose more of an immediate health hazard than drugs for young adults who enjoy clubbing. They said that drugs such as ecstasy, speed, cocaine and heroin are a serious problem in clubs, but assaults fueled by alcohol are the main reason clubbers seek hospital treatment.

November 6, 1984: "Bust of the Century" in Mexico -- DEA and Mexican officials raid a cultivation and processing complex in the Chihuahua desert, owned by kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero and employing 7,000 campesinos. They find and destroy between 5,000-10,000 tons of high-grade marijuana, valued at $2.5 billion.

November 6, 1985: Upping the ante in the battle against extradition, guerillas linked to the Medellin cartel attack the Colombian Palace of Justice. At least 95 people are killed when the Colombian military attacks the palace with tanks to end the 26-hour siege, including 11 Supreme Court justices. Many court documents, including all pending requests, are destroyed by fire.

November 6, 1989: George P. Shultz, former secretary of state in the Reagan administration, is quoted by the Associated Press: "We need at least to consider and examine forms of controlled legalization of drugs."

November 7, 2000: In California, citizens vote 61-39 to pass Prop. 36, diverting nonviolent drug offenders into treatment rather than prison for first and second offenses. In Mendocino County voters approve a measure decriminalizing personal use and growth of up to 25 marijuana plants.

November 7, 2002: Ruling in favor of NORML Foundation and Media Access Project complaints, the Federal Communications Commission says public service announcements broadcast under the auspices of the White House drug office advertising program must identify themselves as being part of that program. As a result of ruling, broadcasters are forced to insert taglines proclaiming "sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy."

November 8, 1984: DEA sets an international marijuana seizure record still holding today -- 4,260,000 lbs in Mexico.

November 8, 1987: The New York Times reports that Al Gore said he last used marijuana when he was 24.

November 9, 2001: The US Senate Judiciary Committee approves the nomination of John Walters as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

November 9, 2001: The FDA approves a study of the use of Ecstasy in for treating victims of post-traumatic stress disorder.

November 11, 1988: The Anti-Drug Abuse Act establishes the creation of a drug-free America as a policy goal. A key provision of the act was the founding of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to set priorities, implement a national strategy, and certify federal drug-control budgets.

14. The DARE Generation Returns to DC: Students for Sensible Drug Policy 2004 National Conference Next Month

Save the date! Students and activists from across the country will convene at the SSDP Sixth Annual National Conference. The conference runs from the 18th to 21st of November at the University of Maryland, College Park, outside Washington, DC.

In January, SSDP conquered New Hampshire when Democrats such as Howard Dean, John Edwards, and Dennis Kucinich joined calls to repeal the Higher Education Act Drug Provision. Now, SSDP returns to Washington to lobby Congress, network with students and activists, and learn from drug policy reform experts. Hundreds of SSDPers will be there!

Find conference details and registration at online.

15. Apply Now to Intern at DRCNet!

Make a difference next semester! DRCNet and the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR) are seeking motivated and hardworking interns for the Spring 2005 Semester. We are especially looking for people interested in the Higher Education Act Reform Campaign, an active, vigorous, visible effort to repeal a federal law that takes college aid away from students because of drug convictions.

Preference will be given to those able to work 20 hours per week or more, though others will be considered. DRCNet needs interns with good people skills, web design skills, superb writing skills, and a desire to end the war on drugs. Office and/or political experience are a plus. Spring internships begin in the second or third week of January and ideally last through April, but the dates are flexible. Internships are unpaid, but travel stipends are available for those who need them.

Apply today by sending a short cover letter and resume to: [email protected].

16. Seeking Information, Affiliations, Link Exchanges, a web site that follows the economy of the drug war, is seeking web sites for affiliations and link exchanges. The site will launch in December. is also seeking information on local drug economies -- if you have information on local law enforcement spending in relationship to the drug war, would like to know about it! Additionally, is also interested in information on the cost of drugs, including product, weight and price -- be sure to include the location you are writing about in your e-mail.

Contact at [email protected].

17. The Reformer's Calendar

November 5, 9:00am-1:00pm, Chicago, IL, Safer Injection, presented by the Chicago Harm Reduction Training Collaborative. Registration $30, discounts available for multiple event signups. At the Bridgeview Bank Building, 4753 N. Broadway, contact Shira Hassan at (773) 728-0127 or visit for further information.

November 5, 2:00-6:00pm, Chicago, IL, Legal Rights, presented by the Chicago Harm Reduction Training Collaborative. Registration $30, discounts available for multiple event signups. At the Bridgeview Bank Building, 4753 N. Broadway, contact Shira Hassan at (773) 728-0127 or visit for further information.

November 10, 3:00-6:30pm, Washington, DC, "Federalism under the Influence: Dope, Booze, and the Commerce Clause," forum at the American Enterprise Institute discussing Ashcroft vs. Raich and other cases. At Wohlstetter Conference Center, 1150 17th St., NW, 12th Floor, register at or contact Kate Rick at (202) 862-5848 or [email protected] 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 13, 10:00am-3:00pm, Phoenix, AZ, Sentencing Reform Mobilization Conference, preparing for efforts to pass sentencing reform bills in the upcoming legislative session. Sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the Arizona Coalition for Effective Government (AzCEG). At Arizona State University Downtown Center, 502 E. Monroe St., Building A, rooms A225-228, $10 per person donation requested. RSVP ASAP to (520) 623-9141 or [email protected], or contact AzCEG at (602) 234-9004 or [email protected] or visit for information.

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

November 21-25, Barcelona, Spain, "Psychoactive Botanical Exposition: Magic Plants." At the K.O.L.P. "La Fera," C/ Santa Agata num. 28, contact [email protected] for further information.

November 22-28, Barcelona, Spain, various events celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Lliure Antiprohibitionist Association. At "Casal Antiprohibicionista," c/ dels Salvador num. 20-bajos, contact [email protected] for further information.

November 27, Barcelona, Spain, "Demonstration for the Legalization of All Drugs," sponsored by Lliure Antiprohibitionist Association. Contact [email protected]">[email protected] for further information.

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.

December 3, full day, Chicago, IL, Opiate Overdose Intervention, presented by the Chicago Harm Reduction Training Collaborative. Registration $30, discounts available for multiple event signups. At the Bridgeview Bank Building, 4753 N. Broadway, contact Shira Hassan at (773) 728-0127 or visit for further information.

March 10-12, 2005, Silver Spring, MD, Families Against Mandatory Minimums National Conference. Details to be announced, visit or contact (202) 822-6700 or [email protected] for updates.

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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