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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #370 -- 1/14/05

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"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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Table of Contents

    Major Supreme Court Ruling Ends
    Mandatory Guideline Sentencing
    It is a rare day when an establishment institution such as the US Supreme Court does something radical. Yet the Court has intervened in federal sentencing, and by extension probably in many states' sentencing, in a dramatic fashion. Make no mistake, the fight will start soon.
    For nearly 20 years, sentencing guidelines scheme have caused the federal prison population to swell dramatically, with a majority of those prisoners being drug offenders. A Wednesday ruling by the Supreme Court has brought that system to a sudden halt.
    After five years of tough new laws aimed at reducing drug use in Poland, the Polish government appears headed for a change of course.
    Bad apples just keep popping up in this dirty little war on drugs. This week we have examples from Passaic, New Jersey and from the Mexican border, plus justice finally coming around for an infamous cop from Tulia.
    This week "Prohibition and the Media" predicts futility for a massive inter-agency cocaine bust in Mississippi, and highlights a commentary on BBC by one of DRCNet's allies.
    Prodded by the United States, Afghan president Hamid Karzai has begun his promised "jihad" against the nation's mainstay opium crop. Early indications are that there is lots of rough road ahead.
    With the state's prison system eating into the budget, the South Dakota legislature convened a Criminal Code Revision Commission to examine changes in the laws. That commission has recommended that the student drug law be revised downward, so that students face only a 60 day suspension -- if they complete drug counseling or treatment.
    A Scottish hospital famed for its drug and alcohol treatment of patients from the British National Health Service is now treating US service men and women traumatized by their deployments in Iraq.
    US Marines who fought in the November assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah have reported finding numerous stockpiles of stimulant drugs such as amphetamines and adrenaline. Bizarrely, they also claimed to have found crack pipes, which would presumably be quite rare in a country never known for having a cocaine-using population.
    Amidst horrendous and high profile violence, the number of major drug trafficking organizations in Mexico has shrunk from seven down to two.
    Authorities in the eastern Indian state of Orissa are complaining that "huge tracts" of marijuana are being grown to finance the activities of Maoist rebels in the state and neighboring territories. Police have reported discoveries of "massive cultivation" in at least eight villages.
    It was a less than happy beginning to the New Year for patrons of the Techno Discotheque in Bandar Sri Damansara, Malaysia, last week as police enforcing a crackdown on the popular club drug Ecstasy arrested 261 of them.
    Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.
    Showing up at an event can be the best way to get involved! Check out this week's listings for events from today through next year, across the US and around the world!

(Chronicle archives)

1. Editorial: Make No Mistake

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

David Borden
It is a rare day when an establishment institution such as the US Supreme Court does something radical. Yet the Court has intervened in federal sentencing, and by extension probably in many states' sentencing, in a dramatic fashion. The harsh sentencing guidelines are now advisory, no longer mandatory. The rest of the story is complex. Though even conservative justices on the Court tend to oppose mandatory minimum sentencing, especially the harsh sentences common in today's drug war, the ruling does not strike down the mandatory minimum statutes themselves, which are distinct from the guidelines regime.

But it was a dramatic week nonetheless. One law professor/blogger was playfully chided by a reader for staying up too late -- 2:00am -- writing posts about the Booker and Fan Fan rulings and their implications. The prof replied that even after he got to bed his mind continued to spin with Booker thoughts. It is one of those times when concerned parties in numerous quarters read, write, and talk close to nonstop to ponder how the world has changed. Make no mistake, this one is big.

At the same time, it's important not to leap to conclusions. Unquestionably, it is good that the guidelines are no longer mandatory -- no, good doesn't do justice to what has happened (no pun intended), it's awesome. But the direct implications, and the indirect political implications, are harder to gauge:

  • Advocates fear that Congress will rush to enact a new federal sentencing statute that satisfies the constitutional problems to which the Court objected.
  • Many drug offenders will still be subject to mandatory minimum sentencing, which doesn't seem to have been impacted by the ruling.
  • Judges will still have the power to sentence harshly if that's how they are inclined. Defense attorneys can appeal such sentences if they consider them to be "unreasonable," a concept created by the second, unexpected ruling in the case brokered by Justice Breyer, who played a key role in the Guidelines' original drafting. Conversely, however, prosecutors will have the power to appeal sentences they don't like as well.
  • Retroactivity appears to be limited to those who have not yet exhausted their procedural avenues for remedy -- which I don't understand, because it seems to me that unconstitutional is unconstitutional regardless of when it happened -- but that's what they did.
And there is much more. Despite the foregoing cautions, though, I suggest that celebrations this weekend are in order. The Booker and Fan Fan rulings will undoubtedly help many who are now ensnared in a system that Congress long ago compelled to act unjustly and stripped of its options for showing mercy. The drug warriors who led that travesty, and the prosecutors who used and abused the opportunities it provided, have been dealt a major blow and disappointment, and that is "a good thing," as home living guru turned federal prisoner/justice reformer Martha Stewart might put it.

So allow yourselves a little joy, and get ready for the fight over this that is ensuing. And make no mistake, it will start soon.

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2. Supreme Court Ends Current Federal Sentencing System

For nearly 20 years, federal judges have been sentencing defendants to sentences beyond the statutory maximum based on findings of fact never considered by a jury. Under sentencing laws adopted as "reforms" in the 1980s, judges could use a lower standard of proof than required to convict defendants to find that they had, for example, trafficked in a certain quantity of drugs or embezzled a certain amount of money, and use those findings to add years to their sentences. In part because of the federal sentencing guidelines scheme, in the intervening period federal prison populations have swollen dramatically, with a majority of those prisoners being drug offenders.

The United States Supreme Court
But a Wednesday ruling by the Supreme Court has brought that system to a sudden halt. In a pair of cases decided this week, a closely divided court declared the guidelines system unconstitutional because it violated defendant's rights to trial by jury by allowing judges instead of jurors to make factual findings that could increase sentences. And in an unusual move, the court issued a second opinion on how to remedy the situation. In that opinion, the court held that the guidelines could remain, but they should be viewed as advisory instead of mandatory.

It is important to note, however, that while the court's decision is groundbreaking, it neither eliminates that other nefarious aspect of the federal sentencing system, mandatory minimum sentences, nor will it apply to those prisoners who pled guilty in plea bargains to avoid even longer sentences.

That the Supreme Court would deem the current sentencing system unconstitutional came as little surprise to legal scholars and other interested observers. In a case last year, Blakely, it found similar schemes in the states unconstitutional. Since then, the federal sentencing system has been in a chaotic limbo, as judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys alike sought to adjust to what appeared inevitable and what has now occurred. The Justice Department urged federal prosecutors to seek to get defendants to waive their rights to appeal sentences based on last year's decision, while federal judges responded with a variety of steps, from ignoring the guidelines in sentencing to issuing two sentences -- one based on the guidelines, one not -- to refusing to sentence defendants until the issue was clarified.

What was not widely anticipated was the second part of Wednesday's ruling. In that opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that judges "must consult" the guidelines and "take them into account" in sentencing. But the critical point is that the guidelines are now merely advisory and judges' sentences can now be appealed on the grounds of "unreasonableness." In other words, the decision restores a measure of discretion in sentencing to federal judges, a step for which they have been clamoring increasingly loudly for years.

The impact of Wednesday's ruling will be immediate for the thousands of federal defendants whose sentencing has been in limbo since last year's ruling. The ruling will also allow already sentenced prisoners whose appeals have not been exhausted to seek redress in the form of lesser sentences. But for those tens of thousands of federal prisoners who have already exhausted their appeals, there is no recourse, according to legal scholars.

Drug reform and sentencing advocates greeted the ruling with a mixture of elation and apprehension over how Congress might react. "Today's Booker decision restores the original aim of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, which was to ensure that the guilty are uniformly punished only for their wrongful conduct, without wild and unpredictable results. For twenty years, federal courts have been forced to impose unjust, irrational sentences based on unproven allegations, speculative calculations, and the worst kinds of hearsay," said Barry Scheck, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "Congress should welcome this opportunity to create a fair and just federal sentencing system, not a quick fix."

"This is an historic day for federal sentencing," said Mary Price, general counsel for the sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "Essentially, this decision will permit judges, who have decried the harshness of the guidelines, more room to do justice by weighing role in the offense, the severity of the offense, and other factors, such as drug addiction, age or the impact of incarceration on families. However, it provides little protection for defendants facing harsh sentencing judges. They must face them without the Sixth Amendment protections many had hoped for," said Price.

"We are ecstatic!" exclaimed Nora Callahan, director of the drug reform organization The November Coalition, which concentrates on ending the mass incarceration of federal drug war victims. "There has been no justice in the war on drugs, but now judges have their discretion back and the prison law libraries will be bustling," she told DRCNet, adding that the federal Bureau of Prisons had anticipated the ruling and set up "town hall" meetings at all federal prisons late last year to discuss a perceived need for increased access to prison law libraries once the ruling was issued.

But Callahan's elation was tempered with concern about what Congress might do in response. "Congress is going to revisit drug sentencing this year, and I keep wondering if we are going to get good changes, bad ones, or a mixture of both," she said. "Is there a broad movement strategy cooking to ensure our voice is mighty and cannot be ignored? We are leaning toward a massive letter-writing campaign and a sign-on statement to influence Congress. And it is time to demand a return to earned early release in the federal system as well."

The Justice Department was not as pleased. "We are disappointed that the decision made the guidelines advisory in nature," Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray said in a statement. "District courts are still required to consult the federal sentencing guidelines, and any sentence may be appealed by either defense counsel or prosecutors on the grounds that it is unreasonable. To the extent that the guidelines are now advisory, however, the risk increases that sentences across the country will become wildly inconsistent."

In interviews with the New York Times Wednesday, congressional supporters of tough sentencing and foes of judicial discretion warned they will examine the decision and its implications closely and act accordingly. "As the court recognized, the ball is now in Congress's court," said Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT), who said he was disappointed but not surprised. "We will need to examine our options carefully."

But with Hatch's old post as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee now held by moderate Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), it is likely to be the House Judiciary Committee where the reaction is most severe. It was House Republicans, lead by Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL), who last year wrote a provision blocking federal judges from engaging in "downward departures," or setting sentences at less than those required by law. "The Supreme Court's decision to place this extraordinary power to sentence a person solely in the hands of a single federal judge -- who is accountable to no one -- flies in the face of the clear will of Congress," Feeney said in a statement. The decision was an "egregious overreach," he added.

Congressional Democrats, on the other hand, urged patience and restraint. "Congress should resist the urge to rush in with quick fixes that would only generate more uncertainty and litigation and do nothing to protect public safety," Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said.

But Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a former prosecutor who sits on the House panel, doubted that would be the case. "The professional judiciary haters in the Congress are going to have a lot of grist for the mill," said Schiff, who added that the decision was an opportunity for Congress to examine the guidelines "and see if we can come up with something better, not because we want to, but because we have to."

"The Justice Department is livid," said Jack King, communications director for NACDL. "They have lost all their power to grant downward departures solely at their discretion for people who provide 'substantial assistance' by implicating others," he told DRCNet. "This is less important for drug offenders, who often face mandatory minimums, but it is a real blow to their efforts to prosecute white collar criminals, whom they can threaten with a million years in jail 'but if you testify you can walk,'" he said. "They will claim they have lost their power to make plea bargains," he added, "but that's not true in those mandatory minimum drug cases. They can still cut a rat some slack."

Speaking of plea bargains, King also noted that the impact of Wednesday's decision will be limited because of the wide use of plea bargains. "Almost 92 percent of cases are resolved through a negotiated plea, and this decision is not likely to affect cases like those that have already been disposed of."

Still, the Supreme Court has upended the sentencing scheme that has packed the federal prisons. Now Congress is threatening to act. One is reminded of the old saying about the Chinese ideogram for "crisis." It supposedly consists of two characters: opportunity and danger.

Click here to read the Supreme Court decisions in the two cases, Booker v. US and US v. Fan Fan.

Visit Professor Douglas Berman's Sentencing Law and Policy blog for extensive ongoing discussion of the ruling.

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3. Course Reversal: Poland Moving From "Zero Tolerance" Toward Eased Drug Laws

After five years of tough new laws aimed at reducing drug use in Poland, the Polish government appears headed for a change of course. In the first formal steps toward revising its drug laws, the Polish Ministry of Health last week published a series of proposed revisions to them. Most dramatically, the proposed drug law revisions would decriminalize the possession of drugs for personal use -- a stark contrast with current harsh policies that punish drug possessors with up to a year in prison and user-dealers with up to eight years. The revisions would also lift some restrictions on who can provide methadone maintenance therapy to heroin users and may open the way to the medical use of substances currently considered to have none, such as marijuana.

Million Marijuana March Warsaw
(courtesy Kanaba.Info)
The proposed revisions are not all progressive, however. One article in the proposed revisions, Article 69, forbids "promotion of drug use," and could be used to persecute people who wear or sell articles that could somehow be linked to drug use, such as images of cannabis leaves. A similar law in Russia has led to anti-drug authorities there seizing t-shirts, products with "drug-related" advertising, and even raiding bookstores to censor books they find insufficiently anti-drug.

As is the case everywhere, the most popular illicit drug in Poland is cannabis, according to the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). The country also has significant amphetamine and injection heroin using populations and is the home of "kompot," a weak opiate derived from opium straw. In recent years, Ecstasy has also made an appearance.

While the proposed changes would mark a sea change in the Polish government's approach to drug policy, they are by no means a done deal. The health ministry proposal is now being reviewed by civil society organizations, after which the ministry will again revise its proposal. No major changes are expected at this point, however, since the groups that are now reviewing the proposal are for the most part groups that have lobbied for revisions in the drug law. Then the proposal will move to the Polish parliament for approval.

"It is hard to say if we can get this through," said Kasis Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Open Society Institute's International Harm Reduction Development Program (IHRD), who was been working with the Poles to move drug reform forward. "The government will possibly change in May, but we hope there will be at least a discussion of this in this session of parliament," she told DRCNet. Given the current parliamentary line-up, Malinowska-Sempruch put the odds of passage at fifty-fifty. "We have a good shot at this," she said.

But the fast-moving process leaves little time for educating parliamentarians, and maybe that is something of a good thing, she noted. "This means there is little time for the opposition to organize."

Artur Radosz of the drug users' group Kanaba.Info also hopes to see quick action -- before new elections may return a less friendly parliament. "It is possible the government will collapse before May and the new parliament and government will be dominated by parties that support zero tolerance," he said. "It would be much better for us if the government held together and we had parliamentary elections at the same time as the presidential election in November," he told DRCNet. "In either case, our battle has just begun, and we will have to fight hard to make this proposal a reality."

For Kanaba.Info, the proposals are welcome indeed, although the group has problems with some particular provisions. "We believe that this proposition, and especially decriminalization of drug possession for personal use, is the first step on the road to developing truly effective and rational policy that is not concentrated on repressive strategy, but on reducing harms done to society and individuals by, actually, illegal drugs," said Radosz. "This proposition in its current form is not perfect, but we hope that together with other Polish organizations working on drug field, we will be able to influence and improve it, so it will be even more based on recommendations made by European Parliament. We hope that the final version of these new drug laws will make it possible to distribute through pharmacies not only expensive synthetic THC drugs, but will allow at least medical patients to grow their own plants."

But while the battle to win parliamentary approval has just begun, the fact that this new proposal has been floated by the Ministry of Health reveals that drug reformers and human rights advocates have been waging a quiet campaign to reform the laws for several years. Conferences on harm reduction and Polish drug policy last summer and fall organized by OSI and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights saw nearly unanimous denunciations of the current zero tolerance approach by activists, drug reformers, drug treatment professionals, and politicians alike. OSI's Malinowska-Sempruch also intervened in the debate with a letter in the Polish magazine Politics a year ago this month.

"Poland is a country with some of the most retrictive anti-drug laws in the world," she wrote. "Repressive regulations to not cause a decline in drug use and addiction, however; on the contrary, such laws have played a role in the explosion in drug use in countries like the Ukraine and Russia." Malinowska-Sempruch also specifically criticized laws punishing simple drug possession. "Punishing a drug dependent person is a questionable means of rehabilitation," she noted with remarkable understatement.

"There was a total lack of discussion on the effects of the new drug policy on users and society as a whole," she explained. "A year ago we organized small meetings, strategized on how to move forward, then began engaging with the non-governmental organizations, and held meetings under the auspices of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. The theme was the impact of present drug policy on both users and society. The presentations were very clear -- things as they currently stand are not favorable. The Ministry of Health was present at those meetings."

By last summer and fall, all the pieces were in place. According to Kanaba.Info's Radosz, by mid-summer, the National Bureau for Drug Prevention had prepared reform legislation whose centerpiece was improving the law's language on providing drug treatment for users. The bureau also called for education instead of punishment for persons caught with soft drugs.

But while the bureau had not called for decriminalization of drug possession, by the time the health ministry unveiled its proposal last week, it had added that provision as well. "Representatives of the health ministry attended those fall meetings and officially informed us they were working on drug policy," said a pleasantly surprised Radosz, "and what do you know but they included the decriminalization measure in their proposal last week."

Minister of Health Marek Baliciki deserves praise for the moves, said both Radosz and Malinowska-Sempruch. "When this process began, we were basically focused on making methadone maintenance more available. The major change will be that not only formal medical institutions but also other groups that meet certain criteria could run such programs," said Malinowska-Sempruch. "But in the meantime, the ministry added an additional amendment, the one saying personal possession is not a criminal offense."

While the proposed revisions are a step forward, there is still a ways to go, said Radosz. "The authorities still use the phrase 'drug addict' instead of 'drug user,' and the new policy is designed to provide treatment for drug addicts. They still don't recognize that drug use in most cases does not mean drug abuse, let alone addiction."

Kanaba.Info is also disturbed by the proposed article barring "promotion of drug use." "We do not welcome this provision, and if it becomes part of the law, we will go to court because it violates our constitution, which explicitly guarantees freedom of speech and expression."

Poland may be a staunch ally of the United States, but when it comes to repressive drug policies, even Eastern European friends of the US are falling away from the fold. We will monitor the progress of the Polish reforms.

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4. This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Bad apples just keep popping up in this dirty little war on drugs. This week, we have two examples from two different faces of the drug war. From gritty Passaic, New Jersey, comes a story of urban corruption, while from down on the Mexican border, there is yet another case of a Border Patrol officer gone bad. Meanwhile, down in Texas, infamous Tulia narc Tom Coleman whose actions embodied the moral corruption at the heart of the drug war -- is finally getting his day in court.

In New Jersey, corruption in Passaic County law enforcement circles made the news this week as a Superior Court judge gave an after-the-fact okay for the County Prosecutor's Office to drug test 10 officers from three different jurisdictions. Prosecutor James Aviliagno tested the cops after someone on the inside tipped off drug dealers before a countywide raid in August, reported. The raid was a success, netting 19 North Jersey residents who were part of a steroid and cocaine trafficking ring, but Aviliagno still wanted to know who was dirty. Police unions fought him in court for four months. "We had a serious problem -- that I know was let out by someone in law enforcement -- and a great number of people were put in risk," Avigliano said at a Tuesday press briefing. "I had to get to the bottom of it... I wouldn't hesitate to do it again if I had to."

No one has yet tested dirty, but prosecutors had more up their sleeves. Two weeks ago, Sheriff's Officer Gerald Ward, a 22-year veteran, was arrested and charged with tipping off the ring. Another cop, Pompton Lakes Officer Dennis DePrima, has also been charged. He faces counts of official misconduct and conspiracy to distribute drugs.

On the Mexican border, Border Patrol agent Luis Francisco Higareda of Holtsville, California, is sitting in jail because of his extracurricular activities. He and a Mexican man were arrested last week after a late-night, 20-mile chase through the desert. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general's division, which handles internal Border Patrol investigations, received information that a multi-hundred pound load of marijuana was about to be moved across the border, where a Border Patrol agent would transport it to nearby Calexico.

While investigators watched, Higareda drove up to the border at about 10:00pm and met another vehicle coming from Mexico. After what appeared to be a transfer of goods, they began tailing Higareda's official Border Patrol vehicle, prompting him to lead them on the chase that ended in Holtsville. When Higareda finally stopped, investigators found 750 pounds of pot and the Mexican man, Verdugo Cota. Both are charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and their cases will be transferred to federal court in San Diego. In the meantime, they sit in the Imperial County Jail.

And then there's Tom Coleman, the itinerant Texas cop whose career blew up in his face after he single-handedly decimated the black population of small town Tulia, Texas, by going undercover and reporting -- without any backup evidence -- that some 40 of them were drug dealers. Coleman's victims were swept into the merciless Texas criminal justice system, with some being sentenced to decades in prison for crimes they did not commit, based on his word. Only after years of struggle by Tulia residents and concerned outsiders alike did the truth about the baselessness of Coleman's charges come out. Now, Texas justice comes for Coleman.

For in-depth coverage of Coleman's trial, check out Scott Henson's Texas criminal justice blog, Grits for Breakfast.

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5. Blogging: Jackson, Mississippi Cocaine Ring Taken Down, Our Side Comments on Legalization for BBC

In yesterday's "Prohibition and the Media" blog entry, DRCNet executive director David Borden urged the Jackson, Mississippi paper "The Clarion-Ledger" to follow-up in two weeks, a month, and again in two or three months, on the impact of a major set of cocaine trafficking busts. Borden likened the seizure of drugs before they hit the streets to the spoiling of produce before it reaches the supermarket shelves -- in both cases the producers and distributors anticipate the losses and compensate in order to have enough left for their customers.

Earlier in the week "Prohibition and the Media" linked to commentary by our friend Danny Kushlick of Britain's Transform Drug Policy Foundation, who delivered a commentary for the BBC on Wednesday as one side of a legalization debate. Danny predicted that drugs would be legal and regulated by the year 2020.

"Prohibition and the Media" is located at -- click here to check it out, and click here to subscribe to our blog updates list or manage your other subscriptions.

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6. Newsbrief: Clashes and Conflict as Afghan "Jihad" Against Opium Gets Under Way

Prodded by the United States, Afghanistan's major international donor which has 18,000 troops in the country, Afghan President Hamid Karzai only a month ago promised a "jihad" or holy war against the mainstay of his country's economy: opium. According to the United Nations, opium accounts for two-thirds of the Afghan economy and directly or indirectly supports a large segment of the population, but it is the bane of the West as it morphs into heroin dripping into the veins of junkies from Teheran to Moscow to London.

incised papaver specimens (opium poppies)
With Karzai's crusade just beginning to get underway, early indications are that there is lots of rough road ahead. He and his US backers must tread carefully to avoid pushing poppy farmers and warlords alike into the waiting arms of the Taliban, which seeks to return to power and has called its own jihad until all foreign troops leave the country. Some critics of US and Afghan anti-opium policies have warned that "you can fight the war on terror or you can fight the war on drugs, but you can't fight both at the same time and win."

The fledgling campaign is already stoking conflict and chaos, according to recent reports. As noted here last month, someone reportedly was experimenting with aerial eradication -- although Karzai has said he opposes it and the US denies doing it.

Last week, Taliban fighters attacked and killed two soldiers and wounded two more as some 600 soldiers from the Afghan National Army raided newly planted poppy fields in the Deh Rawud district of Uruzgan province, Reuters reported. Governor Jan Mohammed Khan told the news agency a later counter-attack killed two Taliban fighters. Uruzgan has long been a Taliban hotbed, with two US soldiers killed there in an October bomb blast and two more killed in a similar blast in November.

In southeastern Afghanistan, tribal leaders this week threatened to burn the homes of people growing poppies -- a tactic the Karzai government quickly disavowed. In a radio broadcast from Khost this week monitored by Reuters, the tribal council there announced that anyone arrested for robbery, setting off explosives, or growing poppies would have their homes torched and be fined the equivalent of $2,000.

"All the tribes agreed to obey this agreement and all tribes signed it, so ordinary people in each tribe will obey and respect it," Sultan Mohammad Babrakzai, assistant Head of Tribes Affairs Department in Khost, told the news agency. Babrakzai also offered to burn down the houses of anyone who supports the Taliban or its Al Qaeda allies in the region.

The Khost tribal elders are apparently a fiery bunch. Before last October's presidential election, they also offered to burn down the houses of anyone not voting for Karzai, another offer he was eager to refuse.

And Karzai was quick to back away from the latest offer as well. "While welcoming the determination of many Afghans to rid the country of the curse of poppies and drug cultivation, the government asks all Afghans to abide by the constitution and laws. The Afghan government is opposed to threats of violence against any Afghan citizen," Karzai's spokesman Khaleeq Ahmad told the news agency.

The Afghan government may say pretty words, but it is weak and its influence barely extends beyond the capital, Kabul. Across wide areas of the country, tribal law holds sway. In others, it is effectively ruled by local warlords who are deeply involved in the opium trade, and the Karzai government was sending mixed signals to those powerful players this week, too.

According to Agence France Presse, the Karzai government is considering an amnesty for local drug lords as part of its fight against opium. One of the ideas being bruited about is to offer protection from prosecution for traffickers who invest their lucre in the country's reconstruction, said Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development Haneef Atmar.

"If you have the luxury of state institutions, you don't have to do this. But in Afghanistan you have to be pragmatic and consider different solutions given the precarious security situation," he explained. Atmar valued opium proceeds inside Afghanistan at more than $2 billion last year, adding that the drug trade "was so intertwined with the provincial power structures as to be indistinguishable." With such access to wealth, the warlords could cause serious trouble for the Karzai government, he warned.

And so it goes in the early days of "Plan Afghanistan."

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7. Newsbrief: South Dakota Legislators Ready to Reduce Administrative Penalties Against Students Caught With Drugs

At the request of former Republican Gov. Bill Janklow, in 1999 the South Dakota legislature passed a law barring any student caught with drugs from participating in sports or other extracurricular activities for one year. The law does not apply to students caught with alcohol, who face much lesser penalties, typically suspensions of a few days to a few months. Since then, more than 500 South Dakota high school students caught with drugs have been handed the year-long suspension. A second violation brings a permanent ban. But all that could change soon.

With the state's prison system eating into the budget, the legislature convened a Criminal Code Revision Commission to examine changes in the laws. That commission has recommended that the student drug law be revised downward, so that students face only a 60 day suspension -- if they complete drug counseling or treatment.

The Associated Press reported this week that it had polled South Dakota legislators and found majority support for amending the law as suggested by the commission. According to the AP, 56 percent of the legislators would vote to change the law.

This is a marked contrast to past years, when lawmakers repeatedly rebuffed efforts to soften the law. Influenced by Janklow, the long-time powerhouse in state politics, legislators were content to let the law stand, despite complaints about its harshness and the uneven way in which it was applied. Janklow viewed the law as a valuable deterrent that treated all students equally. "The worst thing in the world would be to allow me as superintendent, or all 176 superintendents, to treat people different," he told high school students in 2002. "If you're a star on the basketball courts, it's a lot harder for us to penalize you than if you are on the bench. Pressures are immense."

So the law-and-order Janklow determined to punish all equally harshly, and South Dakota solons went along. But now, after killing a motorcyclist while speeding down a farm road last year, Janklow is not only an ex-governor but an ex-con (he actually did 30 days), and his tough influence has waned. South Dakota legislators will have a chance to show just how much things have changed as they consider the proposed reform later this year.

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8. Newsbrief: US Troops Go from Iraq Combat to Scottish Drug Treatment

A Scottish hospital famed for its drug and alcohol treatment of patients from the British National Health Service is now treating US service men and women traumatized by their deployments in Iraq, the London Sunday Herald reported this week. The US Department of Defense has granted a treatment contract to the Castle Craig rehabilitation center in West Linton, Peebleshire. According to the Sunday Herald, Castle Craig is treating four US troops at a time, up to a maximum of 40 of the hardest cases each year. It is best known for the treatment of alcoholics and heroin addicts, including artist Peter Howson, who enrolled in 2000 to kick booze, but, according to the British newspaper, it is now seen as a "preferred provider" by US military leaders "who are flying in addicts from American bases across Europe."

"We have been getting US troops in dribs and drabs," said Castle Craig chairman Peter McCann, "but there have been more coming over recently. I think they are being sent to all corners of Iraq and falling to pieces when they get back to base." Troops were coming from US bases in England, Germany, and Turkey to undergo four weeks of intensive, Alcoholics Anonymous-style drug treatment, he told the Sunday Herald.

Castle Craig bills the US military's Tricare Insurance $2,625 a week for the soldiers' standard four-week stay, or slightly more than $10,000 per soldier. For British citizens, the program typically lasts six weeks, so, McCann said, US troops don't make it all the way through the AA 12-step program. Instead, they only complete the first five steps, which include "admitting their wrongs" in confidence to another.

"We can have up to about four [US soldiers] at any one time, but there's a continuous stream coming in. There has been a step up in the numbers since Iraq."

The US military's resort to the tender ministrations of Castle Craig may be a harbinger of more to come. According to an Army study released last month, military doctors expect up to 100,000 US Iraq veterans to return home suffering from mental or emotional disturbances. About 17 percent of Iraq veterans will suffer major depression, serious anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, and will be especially susceptible to drug and/or alcohol abuse, the study predicted.

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9. Newsbrief: Marines Claim Fallujah Foes Were Hopped Up on Dope

On the same day that the Bush administration finally conceded that its search for weapons of mass destruction, the key rationale for the US invasion of Iraq, had been fruitless, US military officials in Iraq were eager to change the topic -- to Islamic fundamentalists on drugs. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Marines who fought in the November assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah said they found numerous stockpiles of stimulant drugs such as amphetamines and adrenaline. Bizarrely, they also claimed to have found crack pipes, which would presumably be quite rare in a country never known for having a cocaine-using population.

US troops pronounced themselves befuddled by insurgent fighters who kept on fighting even while wounded. They must have been on drugs, the Marines concluded. "One guy described it as like watching the 'Night of the Living Dead,'" corpsman Peter Melady said. "People who should have been dead were still alive."

Knowing that their foes were dope fiends prompted the Marines to change their strategy, the Times reported. "On the second day of the fight, word came down to focus on head shots, that body shots were not good enough," said 1st Lt. Tim Strabbing, a platoon leader with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Strabbing said his platoon found five locations with stockpiles of needles and adrenaline. "My guys put five [machine gun] rounds into a guy who just stood there and took it and then took off running," he said.

Medical corpsman Quinton Brown also reported wounded fighters continuing to fight. "We actually shot four or five guys multiple times and they got up and moved across the room," said corpsman Quinton Brown, who had accompanied a front-line platoon to treat wounded Marines. "It reminded me of the stories you hear about people on PCP who just keep going." [Editor's Note: It also reminded the editor of those century-old tales about Southern lawmen having to pack heavier pistols because "those damned buck niggers high on cocaine were raping our white women and couldn't be stopped by a normal weapon."]

But it's not just about demonizing the foe as drug-crazed fanatics; it's also about conveniently labeling them as narco-terrorists. The discovery of stashes in Fallujah, along with similar discoveries during the Shiite uprising in Najaf last April, suggests that the rebels may be financing their insurgency through drug smuggling. "They are just as likely to be indications of drug smuggling as insurgents being doped up to provide stamina or have the courage to fight and die," a senior military official in Baghdad said.

As noted in another newsbrief this issue, US soldiers from the Iraq war who get too strung out on drugs are being treated at great expense in Scotland. No word yet on where insurgents facing similar problems are going.

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10. Newsbrief: Violent Consolidation Underway Among Mexican Drug Trafficking Groups

The Mexico City daily La Jornada has been reporting on the consolidation of Mexican drug trafficking organizations, whose annual revenues are estimated to be in the low tens of billions of dollars annually. According to the head of the country's Prosecutors' Office for Specialized Investigations Against Organized Crime (SIEDO), Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, the number of major trafficking organizations has shrunk from seven to two.

The death toll as competing trafficking organizations engage in "ajuste de cuentas" or "settling accounts" over turf has been horrendous, with hundreds killed last year, and this year's toll already set at 33, mostly along the US border and in the long-time traffickers' capital of Culiacan, Sinaloa. But what has sparked official concern and shaken the government of President Vicente Fox was the murder late last month of Arturo Guzman, younger brother of trafficking leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who mysteriously escaped from another maximum security prison almost four years ago and who has reportedly been spotted on both sides of the US-Mexico border. What made his killing so newsworthy was the fact that it took place inside the maximum security penitentiary at La Palma outside Mexico City, under circumstances strongly suggesting that the killer had help from prison guards.

The Fox government, on the defensive over the murder and the apparent corruption it exposed, has responded by sending hundreds of Mexican Army troops into the prison to regain control.

According to Santiago Vasconcelos, another prisoner, Osiel Cardenas Guillen, heads the so-called "Gulf cartel" from another Mexican prison cell. He and his organization are aligned against Guzman and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, who have inherited the organization formerly run by Amado Carillos Fuentes, known as the "Lord of the Skies" for his use of large planes to fly loads of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, before he died undergoing plastic surgery seven years ago.

"Before, Mexico was considered only a place where drugs transited on their way to the United States," and Colombian cartels hired Mexican organizations to transport their loads to the border, Santiago Vasconcelos said. "But with the fall of the big Colombian cartels, the Mexican organizations began producing as well as transporting drugs. The routes are three: The drugs enter through the costs of Quintana Roo, Yucatan, and Chiapas, and then they are transported by air, land, and sea to the US border."

But they need -- and get -- official help to do so, he said. "The participation of authorities is important, because they are paid to watch over the merchandise as it heads for its final destination."

As they say in Mexico, drug traffickers are wont to offer drug law enforcers a dire choice: Plata o plomo, silver or lead, the bribe or the bullet. What is certain is that as long as prohibition remains the law of the land, Mexican drug traffickers will have the money to corrupt local and national authorities and the weapons to protect their turf from lawmen and competitors alike.

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11. Newsbrief: Black Market Marijuana Finances Maoist Rebellion, Indian Officials Say

Authorities in the eastern Indian state of Orissa are complaining that "huge tracts" of marijuana are being grown to finance the activities of Maoist rebels in the state and neighboring territories, the India News reported Monday. Police reported discoveries of "massive cultivation" in at least eight villages in the Chitrakonda and Kalimela blocks in the Malkangiri district, the agency reported.

Chitrakonda and Kalimela are considered strongholds of well-established Maoist rebels who have been operating in the area for years and who have considered the forested areas of Orissa and neighboring Andhra Pradesh a "liberated zone." From their forest bases, the Maoists have been attacking police and landlords for years.

And local authorities are not having much luck persuading farmers to stop growing pot or even cooperate in their efforts. "We are unable to arrest many of them because we do not get enough information. People do not come to us, fearing that the Maoists would kill them. We have arrested 41 persons and seized 27 quintals of ganja over past weeks," district police chief Jani Koil told the news agency." Even if we conduct raid and arrest people, the cultivation and business that are offences punishable under the country's anti-narcotics laws never stop," Koil said.

Another anonymous Indian official complained that peasant farmers are working with the rebels. "The tribals cultivate them and share a major chunk of the revenue with the Maoists. This becomes a headache for us," the official said, on the condition of anonymity. "We are upset because the illegal activities are not only growing rapidly, it is also contributing in increasing the financial strength of Maoists operating in those areas," he said.

The peasant farmers number at least 500 families in the area, officials said.

According to the official, about 500 families of the Gunthawada and Nalagunthi panchayats (village councils) alone depend on marijuana cultivation. The crops are financed by smugglers from Orissa, Andrha Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Madyha Pradesh who provide farmers with seeds,equipment, and cash advances, the official said.

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12. Crackdown on Ecstasy in Malaysia

It was a less than happy beginning to the new year for patrons of the Techno Discotheque in Bandar Sri Damansara, Malaysia, last week as police enforcing a crackdown on the popular club drug Ecstasy arrested 261 of them, including two policemen and two soldiers, for using the happy pills. The official charge is "consumption of Ecstasy." The raid came late in the night on New Year's Day, the New Straits Times reported.

Along with 239 Malaysians, the raid scooped up 22 foreigners from China, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh. The unfortunates were held in jail until January 6, when they were hauled in four police trucks to the court compound and ordered to sit in the courtyard under armed guard during the daylong proceedings. Some were able to make bail that day, while others returned to jail to await trial or sentencing. Of the 261, 121 used last week's court date to plead guilty. None of the accused were represented by attorneys.

The New Year's Day bust is only the latest in a series of raids against clubs and discos designed to root out Ecstasy use in the Southeast Asian nation, where, as elsewhere, it is popular with youthful middle-class Malaysians and foreign tourists.

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13. This Week in History

January 15, 1997: Milahhr Kemnah, an AIDS patient, becomes the first person to buy medical marijuana under the protection of Proposition 215, at the Cannabis Cultivators Club in San Francisco, California.

January 16, 1919: The 18th Amendment is declared ratified and is scheduled to take effect in one year.

January 16, 1920: At midnight, the 18th Amendment becomes law, making alcohol illegal.

January 18, 1990: Mayor Marion Barry of Washington, DC, is arrested after hidden cameras record him smoking crack cocaine with ex-girlfriend Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore in her room at the Vista Hotel.

January 19, 1999: Twenty heavily armed officers from the Placer County sheriff's department in northern California raid the home of Steve and Michele Kubby. The officers find a number of marijuana plants under cultivation in a room where copies of Proposition 215, California's medical marijuana law which made such activity legal, had been prominently posted.

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14. The Reformer's Calendar

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

January 13-18, Monroeville, PA, "Stop the Madness" workshop by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition board member Howard Wooldridge speaks on Martin Luther King's message and the impact of America's drug prohibition policy on the African American community. At Bethel AME Church and other venues, visit or contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] or (315) 243-5844 for further information.

January 19, 6:00-8:00pm, "Criminal Justice Reform in the 21st Century: Rockefeller Drug Law Reform and the Community," forum in the "Urban Dialogues" series, featuring Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder. At Metropolitan College of New York, 75 Varick Street (at Canal Street), Student Lounge, 12th floor, contact (212) 343-7025 or [email protected] for info.

January 22, 4:00pm-3:00am, Brickell, FL, 7th Annual Medical Marijuana Benefit Concert, supporting Florida NORML's medical marijuana campaign. Hosted by Ploppy Palace Productions, at Tobacco Road, 626 South Miami Ave., 21 Years or over admission $10. For further information contact [email protected].

January 24-April 30, eastern Pennsylvania, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition cofounder Peter Christ visits civic groups, church congregations and colleges in Lancaster, Scranton, Allentown, Philadelphia and many other locations. For further information, visit or contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] or (315) 243-5844.

January 25-30, Park City, UT, Freedom Cinema Festival, concurrent with the Sundance Film Festival, line-up including two films about the drug war among many others. Call (800) 503-5923 or visit for further information.

January 29, Birmingham, AL, Statewide Prison and Drug Policy Reform Conference, with family members of inmates and others. At the University of Alabama, TASC Center, 401 Beacon Parkway West, registration $25 for individuals or $50 for organizations. Visit or call (334) 220-4670 for further information.

January 31-February 12, central and southwestern Ohio, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker Judge Eleanor Schockett visits civic groups, churches and colleges explaining drug policy and offering alternatives. For further information, visit or contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] or (315) 243-5844.

February 10, 6:00pm, New York, NY, book talk Anthony Papa, author of "15 To Life: How I Painted My Way To Freedom," guests including Andrew Cuomo and others. At Hue-Man Bookstore and Cafe, 2319 Frederick Douglass Blvd., between 124th and 125th Sts. Call (212) 665 7400 or visit for info.

February 12, 1:30-4:20pm, Laguna, Rally Against the Drug War, organized by OC NORML, SO Cal NORML, and the November Coalition. At Main Beach, for further information visit or contact (714) 210-6446 or [email protected].

February 15-17, New England, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker Judge James P. Gray speaks at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts on Feb. 16, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut on Feb. 17 during the day, and Brown University on Feb. 17 in the evening. For further information, visit or contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] or (315) 243-5844.

February 17, 8:00pm-midnight, Los Angeles, CA, "Stop the Insanity," celebrity benefit hosted by Lawrence Goldfarb, with Anthony Papa, author of "15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom." At the Playboy Mansion, Great Hall, by invitation only. E-mail [email protected] for further information.

February 19, Norwich, United Kingdom, Legalise Cannabis Conference 2005. Visit for information.

February 19, 10:00am-5:00pm, Oakland, CA, "Measure Z and Beyond: The Agenda for Marijuana Reform in California," California Activists' Conference sponsored by California NORML, Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance, Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project. At the Oakland YWCA, 1515 Webster St. (near City Center BART), $20 registration, includes box lunch and evening reception. Contact [email protected] for further information.

March 12-17, New York, NY, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker Judge James P. Gray addresses civic groups and audiences at Columbia University and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. For further information, visit or contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] or (315) 243-5844.

March 20-24, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 16th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm. Sponsored by the International Harm Reduction Association, visit or contact Dawn Orchard at +44 (0) 28 9756 1993 or [email protected] for further information.

March 31-April 2, San Francisco, CA, 2005 National NORML Conference. At Cathedral Hill Hotel, visit for further information.

April 21-23, Tacoma, WA, 15th North American Syringe Exchange Convention. Sponsored by the North American Syringe Exchange Network, visit for further information or contact NASEN at (253) 272-4857 or [email protected].

April 30 (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.

August 19-20, Salt Lake City, UT, "Science and Response in 2005," First National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV and Hepatitis C. Sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition and the Harm Reduction Project, visit after January 15 or contact Amanda Whipple at (801) 355-0234 ext. 3 for further information.

April 5-8, 2006, Santa Barbara, CA, Fourth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. Sponsored by Patients Out of Time, details to be announced, visit for updates.

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