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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #372 -- 1/28/05

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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

    Military and DEA cooperation has placed US agencies
    uncomfortably close to Philippine death squad activity.
    Thanks to your enthusiasm, Drug War Chronicle has completed 7 ½ years of publishing. 2005 is going to be an exciting and important year in drug reporting, but we need your support to be able to do it right.
    Extreme and more drug war tactics in the US and abroad violate human rights and are cause for outrage.
    The Philippines has embarked on a loudly proclaimed war on drugs and drug users, but unlike nearby Thailand has delegated its extrajudicial killings to shadowy death squads. Now, the US military and DEA and working hand in glove with their Filipino counterparts in the very city most closely tied to the rampage.
    One of the final chapters in the Tulia scandal was written two weeks ago when undercover police officer Tom Coleman was convicted of perjury after a sting that sent more than three dozen black residents of the small Texas panhandle town to prison. While the usual suspects were quick to crow that Coleman's conviction showed that "the system works," members of the defense bar, judges, former prosecutors, and academics argue persuasively that Coleman's lying was not an aberration.
    From Tennessee to New Mexico to California to Massachusetts, drug prohibition generates an endless stream of individual law enforcers who succumb to the allure of easy profits.
    Overdoses in Austin and a "drug house" slaying were only two of prohibition's tragedies this week. DRCNet's "Prohibition in the Media" blog explains the unspoken truths within mainstream media drug coverage on an ongoing basis.
    Police in Niagara Falls, NY, are under fire after a flash bang grenade thrown into an apartment during a marijuana raid last week left a local woman hospitalized with serious burns. Neighbors and critics have decried the tactic as reckless.
    The Supreme Court has once again expanded the ability of police to conduct warrantless searches, this time okaying the use of drug-sniffing dogs to check motorists detained for traffic violations even when police have no reason to suspect they have committed a crime. Dissenters see the opinion potentially leading to widespread drug dog sweeps of sidewalks and parking lots.
    The Supreme Court Monday instructed federal courts to review the sentences of nearly 400 prisoners who contended they were wrongly punished under federal sentencing guidelines that the Supreme Court declared invalid on January 12.
    The United States will not resort to the aerial spraying of herbicides as part of its effort to suppress the Afghan opium crop -- at least for now.
    Last November the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime sent a letter to a high-level US anti-drug official promising to stop talking about "harm reduction." A European NGO coalition released the letter this week.
    The Justice Department gave up this week on efforts to keep alive a congressionally-imposed ban on marijuana advocacy ads on mass transit systems.
    In the latest effort to override the state constitution, Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski has asked the state legislature to ignore two Alaska Supreme Court rulings and re-criminalize home marijuana possession. While he's at it, Murkowski wants to increase some current marijuana misdemeanors to felonies.
    Last week DRCNet reported on ongoing efforts in the states to restrict the sales of popular over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine, chemicals used by home meth lab cooks as part of popular speed-cooking recipes. Now, ten US senators, led by Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, are leading an effort to make such restrictions nationwide under federal law. American cold sufferers, beware!
    Reformers last year prevented a methamphetamine bill that included an "anti-rave" provision from making it to a vote. This year the provision is absent from the legislation.
    Kansas Sheriff Matt Samuels was shot and killed January 19 as he attempted to arrest a parole violator who was cooking methamphetamine at a home lab in the northeast part of his county. His shooter was arrested after a seven hour standoff, and prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty.
    A year ago this month the British government downgraded the criminal status of marijuana, causing arrests to drop by a third and thousands of police man hours to be saved. But some London officials are grumbling that the relaxation in the cannabis law has led some to think the stuff is now legal -- it is not -- and to the pervasive stench of pot fumes on London streets.
    A little more than two years ago, the Japanese government slammed shut a loophole in the law that allowed for the sale and consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms, citing public health concerns. Now the government has set its sights on designer drugs, too.
    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. Drug War Chronicle Needs Your Support in 2005

Dear Drug War Chronicle devotee:

Thanks to your enthusiasm, Drug War Chronicle has completed 7 ½ years of publishing -- 372 issues, nearly 4,800 articles -- and we now move into 2005 and another year of hopeful, distressing, interesting, ridiculous and dangerous developments in drug policy and its impact on our communities and world. From mandatory minimum sentencing, to pain doctor prosecutions, police ignoring state medical marijuana laws, Afghanistan's drug war, major court rulings, ongoing chronicling of the consequences of prohibition, the latest hair-brained drug warrior idea, David Borden's editorials, This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories, coverage of the drug policy reform movement, to leading drug warriors like drug czar John Walters and congressman Mark Souder and the usually bad things they say and do, Drug War Chronicle will be there to provide you with the detailed story behind the story.

Drug War Chronicle is more than a good read, but a tool used by individuals and organizations to inform and empower their own work. Following are some of our testimonials:


  • "…[Drug War Chronicle] is absolutely the best way to keep abreast of the issue. It's just a phenomenal resource – full of interesting stories and links." – a reporter at the Los Angeles Times
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  • "I thought you'd like to know that I follow your bulletins religiously for the simple reason that the Canadian press says little about drugs. So when you have drug news, it has very often not been reported here. I flag items for my editor – we've had a number of stories that started that way. In fact, Pastrana's call for a world conference was a recent example of just that. So, your work, based on my experience, is helping making waves even when you don't realize it." – a prominent reporter in Canada.
  • "I use [Drug War Chronicle] as a source for information I disseminate to the… chapter… local members use the information in conversations and more formal talks about drug policy, as well as in letters to the editor." – the coordinator of a local chapter of a national organization
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  • After we ran a story in June 2003 about the cancellation of a NORML/SSDP fundraiser in Billings, MT, following a threat by DEA agents to prosecute club owners under the controversial "RAVE Act," our story was forwarded by a constituent of a member of Congress to one of her staffers, who then contacted us for information. The staffer is working on monitoring the Act to prevent abuses, and subscribed to our list.
  • A prominent agency head in South America wrote: "Our work is well known in Brazil and I serve on government committees as well as present at most of the conferences here. [Drug War Chronicle] has been a major source of information and has helped shape our treatment programs as well as influenced many policies and conferences, where the only other sources have been the official USG and UN policies."

This year's Chronicle coverage owes much thanks to a generous $40,000 grant provided late last year by the Educational Foundation of America. However, the Chronicle's total expenses last year came to approximately $67,000, and we're anticipating a similar budget for it this year. With a sixth of the grant having gone to 2004, that leaves us needing to generate roughly half of that amount, or $33,500, from other sources. We had hoped to be able to raise and set this money aside last year. But frankly, the presidential election campaigns, which were the most expensive in history, hit our fundraising like a ton of bricks. The numbers tell the story: During the first half of 2004, donations under $500 in size to DRCNet totaled $40,374. During the second half of 2004, they came to only $21,095, slightly over half as much. Additional member donations for the Chronicle so far have come to about $1,500, which brings the need down to $32,000, and other donations have come in to support our lobbying work, an excellent start in 2005, but only a start.

If we don't raise that $32,000 from members like you... to be honest, we'll squeak by, but the money will then have to come out of our other programs. And since DRCNet is not just a reporting organization, but an activist one as well, that will mean less work done for drug policy reform on Capitol Hill and out in the grassroots trenches. To make 2005 an activist year fostering change, we are asking you to donate to support Drug War Chronicle or to make a pledge to donate at some specified time this year. Please click here to make a one-time donation to Drug War Chronicle, or click here to donate monthly. Or, send us an e-mail to let us know how much you are pledging and for when.

As a special encouragement, we are offering a special new incentive: Donate $40 or more once, or $10 or more per month, and receive a complimentary copy of "Under The Influence: The Disinformation Guide to Drugs," edited by Preston Peet, an engaging collection of 49 essays about the drug war, including two by Drug War Chronicle's own Phil Smith. Click here to read the Drug War Chronicle review of "Under The Influence."

When Ecuadoran former army colonel Lucio Gutierrez gave an interview to Chronicle editor Phil Smith at an anti-Plan Colombia conference, he didn't expect it to come back to haunt him when three years later as President of Ecuador he tried to deny attending that conference and opposing Plan Colombia. But El Universo, one of Ecuador's largest daily papers, found the interview online. The article ran on the front page – click here to read it online (in Spanish).

Contributions to DRCNet Foundation to support Drug War Chronicle are tax-deductible. (If you select a gift item, the portion of your donation that you can deduct is reduced by the item's retail price.) Contributions to the Drug Reform Coordination Network supporting our lobbying work are not-deductible. If you want to make a donation in this category, please visit our main donation page instead. The address for checks or money orders is P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036; contact us for information if you wish to make a donation of stock.

Again, please click here to support Drug War Chronicle, and thank you. As the book title suggests, the drug war is sustained in part by a torrent of disinformation. And disinformation can only be countered by... valid information... hence Drug War Chronicle. Please feel free to write or call if you have any questions, and stay tuned for a challenging but hopefully successful year in drug policy reform!

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2. Extreme and More Extreme

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

David Borden
Last week, members of a drug task force in Niagara Falls in upstate New York caused severe injury to an innocent bystander in the process of conducting a drug raid. Someone had the bright idea of using a "flash bang grenade" to distract possibly armed suspects and reduce the risk of injury to the police officers. It caught fire, and a woman living in the house, who was not a suspect, was hospitalized with second and third degree burns. Members of the community are troubled by the extremity of the task force's tactics, and the police are deservedly on the hot seat.

Peter Christ, a retired police captain from nearby Tonawanda and a leader of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, told the Buffalo News, "[T]hese are like military devices. When you use it, you're putting people in danger." Without judging the specific situation absent all the facts, Christ offered an analysis of why extreme tactics such as use dangerous pyrotechnic devices like the flash grenades have become so routine. "The reason people accept the use of devices like this is our society's lack of respect for the people who are being arrested. They're just 'drug dealers' or 'drug addicts.'" And the innocent get caught in the crossfire, too.

At least Niagara's police didn't intend to hurt anyone, or so one presumes. On the other side of the world, death squads are massacring supposed drug offenders in a wave of extrajudicial vigilante killings, with the outward approval of the nation's president and likely collusion by a popular mayor. Doubtless the same kind of attitude is at work, though in a much more extreme way -- they're just "drug dealers" or "drug addicts," they're criminals, not good enough to even take to trial, just kill them off and clean up the streets.

That is troubling enough. What is doubly troubling is the US government's recent decision to enter into collaboration with Filipino anti-drug police and military agencies in the very same region. Will US drug agents and military serviceman, employed with US taxpayer dollars, indirectly participate and subsidize one of the worst manifestations of human barbarism, death squads? Is our government truly willing to not merely overlook mass government-sanctioned and sponsored murder, but to closely work with the very people in the very places who work with and support the murderers?

Evidently yes. And that is abhorrent. How best to engage foreign governments and leverage our relations to promote human rights is a complex issue, an issue on which reasonable people can reasonably come to different conclusions as to what they feel is the best course to take. But there is no possible benefit to human rights from linking our own drug enforcement bureaucracies so closely to known death squad activity. If our government won't stand up to that evil, at least it should not reward it with cooperation -- certainly not in drug enforcement, which decades of experience proves does not work. This is not an issue where it can be argued that one evil should be tolerated for a greater good.

Unfortunately, there will be more outrages before they stop. Let outraged voices ring loud and clear around the globe.

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3. US Training Philippine Soldiers, Cops in Hotbed of Anti-Drug Death Squad Activity

Thailand earned a well-deserved measure of international opprobrium last year when it noisily embarked on a bloody war against Thai drug users and traders). Thailand's fellow Southeast Asian republic, the Philippines, is trying a different tack. While it, too, has embarked on a loudly proclaimed war on drugs and drug users, its own publicly recognizable police agents have not engaged in their mass murder. Instead, the Philippines government is leaving the killing to shadowy death squads, providing the government with a patina of deniability even as the death toll rises. According to local press tallies, vigilante killers in Davao murdered 97 people last year, and the pace has picked up this year, with more than 30 killed so far.

Balikatan 2004 US-Philippine joint exercises
Now, the US military and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are working hand in glove with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine DEA (PDEA), and the Philippine National Police (PNP) precisely in the epicenter of anti-drug death squad activity, Davao City in the southern island of Mindanao. To complicate matters, Mindanao is also the home of ongoing counterinsurgency operations against Muslim insurgents where US military personnel have been on the ground, albeit supposedly only in an advisory and support capacity.

Beginning on January 17, US Special Forces began a joint counter-narcotics training exercise with the AFP, PDEA, and PNP called Baker-Piston 05-1, according to press releases from US and Philippine military commands. And this week, according to the Manila Bulletin, the PDEA announced that Davao City is about to receive "high technology drug detection devices" courtesy of the DEA as part of that agency's ongoing cooperation with its Filipino counterparts in the region.

The joint training operation is being conducted by the US Joint Interagency Task Force West (JIATF-West), and according to a Filipino military press release, "will deliver land-oriented counter-drug training in such topics as: counter-drug patrolling techniques, building entry techniques, clandestine lab safety procedures, Philippines legal issues, human rights awareness training, rifle and pistol marksmanship and combat lifesaving."

"The common goal is to wage war on drugs and make communities safer," Lt. Col. Agane Adriatico, Filipino army's chief of the 5th Civil Relations Group for Southern Mindanao, said in a statement announcing the exercise.

The US is keeping a decidedly low profile on both the DEA and the military actions. A DEA spokesman in Washington contacted by DRCNet deferred any comment to the US Embassy in Manila, but despite repeated calls to the Embassy Wednesday and Thursday, press officers were either "out at lunch" or "unavailable" to take the calls, according to an embassy receptionist. The embassy has not returned the calls despite most likely being done with lunch by now. Similarly, DRCNet attempts to get US military comment on the human rights implications of the joint training exercises were themselves an exercise in futility, as we were bounced from the Pentagon to the South Pacific Command in Hawaii to Camp Aguinaldo in the Philippines to a mysterious and unresponsive "Commander Betti" somewhere in cyberspace. (He has a State Department email address.)

A Camp Aguinaldo "Public Affairs Guidance" inadvertently released to DRCNet helps explain why. "The public affairs posture for Baker Piston 05-1 counter-narcotics training is active" for Philippine agencies, but "the US public affairs posture will be passive, directing all inquiries" to the corresponding Philippine agencies, the guidance said. "It is important to preempt opposition media and opposition groups by adopting the following strategy: provide full disclosure of accurate information in advance of the training. Additionally, liberal use of local key communicators to advocate US/RP communications goals is encouraged."

The Public Affairs Guidance also thoughtfully provided a series of talking points for spokespersons to help them stay on message:

This is joint exchange training with a common goal to wage war on drugs and bring peace and stability to Philippine communities.

Eradicating illegal drugs from communities is a common goal among civic and military leaders, parents and educators.

The war on drugs is a fight for everyone. It is common knowledge that drugs cause harm to communities. Their eradication can only bring peace and stability to the lives of the Filipino people.

Local government officials support the exchange training and the local communities see it as beneficial.

And it included warnings about "Message/Misperceptions to Avoid:"
The appearance that coordination with the local government did not occur or was not a concern.

The perception that secret meetings are being conducted at the training facilities.

And last but not least, it included a handy series of questions and answers, including:
Q: What type of exchange training is Baker Piston 05-1?

A: Counter-narcotics training. The training teaches participants how to identify and preserve evidence, evacuate casualties, gather intelligence and instruct others how to combat narcotics.

Q: There was a Baker Piston several months ago, why another one so close in time?

A: The GRP requested the training. The war on drugs is a fight for everyone, and a better trained police officer, soldier and agent only makes our communities safer against the intimidation and fears brought on by drugs.

Q: Will this disrupt the lives of the people in the local communities?

A: This training can only benefit the people in the local communities.

Q: Does this training event have the support of the local community, local government?

A: Yes. Coordination was conducted with the local government.

Despite the US taxpayer-funded PR effort, the deployment of US troops to Davao has caused concern and suspicion among sectors of the Philippine population already leery of a US troop presence there linked to the "war on terror." But such concerns have carried little weight with the strongly pro-American government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The joint anti-drug exercises and gifts of anti-drug equipment to Davao drug fighters comes as the city is suffering from a bout of death squad killings ostensibly aimed at drug users and the drug trade. (There is some indication that some of the killings may have been directed at political foes or personal enemies of local authorities, who can both eliminate their foes and sully their names as presumed druggies at the same time.) Last Saturday, five people were killed by the death squads, bringing the total for the month so far to 32, according to Philippine press reports. In each case, unknown gunmen attacked and executed the victims on city streets.

As usual, no one has been arrested in the latest killings. As DRCNet has previously reported, the death squads are widely linked to hard-line Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who barely bothers to deny the connection. But while Duterte plays the role of anti-drug strong man, he has not been condemned for condoning, if not initiating, the death squad killings. Instead, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo praised Duterte's anti-drug stance as recently as early this month.

On January 3, President Arroyo hailed Duterte for his "all-out war against drugs" and cited the killing "with extreme prejudice" of six suspects allegedly killed in a New Year's Eve shootout with police. Arroyo singled out Duterte for taking the lead among local government officials to boost the national campaign against illegal drugs in the country. The bloody-handed Duterte had already won favor from Arroyo for his "tough on crime" program, and last month she named him to head the Anti-Terror Watch against Muslim insurgents in the south after a bombing attack in General Santos City on December 12.

While by its very nature, Duterte's exact connection with the death squads remains unclear, he has been criticized repeatedly by Filipino and international human rights organizations and activists for the killings. As the Philippine Human Rights Commission pointed out in a harsh critique of vigilante killings in 2002, Duterte publicly told a crime summit at the Manila Hotel in July of that year: "Summary execution of criminals remains the most effective way to crush kidnapping and illegal drugs."

"The practice of summary or extra-judicial executions which also results in disappearance is violative of human rights," the Human Rights Commission noted in a policy paper issued shortly thereafter. "Summary execution, disappearance or 'salvaging,' a term coined by the military for liquidating or disposing of an individual who is considered a threat to national security or public order, is condemned by the domestic and international human rights community as a grave violation of human rights and that the systematic practice thereof is of the nature of a crime against humanity. Summary execution or 'salvaging' is arbitrary in the sense that it is done without fair, solid and substantive cause, that is, without cause based on law."

Last August, Amnesty International mentioned Duterte by name in a letter to President Arroyo criticizing the death squad killings. Duterte bitterly attacked the respected human rights organization in a diatribe whose scandalousness was rivaled only by its lack of geographical knowledge. Saying that Amnesty was a Scandinavian-based organization -- its headquarters are in London -- he then added, "Denmark, Belgium and other countries in the Scandinavian region are known to be the hub of pedophile activity. They should first check on that before checking on us." Duterte failed to mention that the Philippines are also a hub of "pedophile activity." Amnesty had no right to meddle in the city's affairs, he added, especially in dealing with criminal behavior. "This is our problem, and we will solve it my way," he said.

But local progressive activists in Davao City have first-hand information and plenty to say about the murders. In a statement issued last week, the Bayan (People's) movement lashed out against the killings, saying the murders were a means of conditioning people to the idea that just gunning down suspected drug users or petty criminals was acceptable. "Such mechanism was reportedly used to solve the drug-and-crime problems in the society by sowing fear in local communities and nearby provinces," the statement added.

That authorities have been unable (or unwilling) to make a single arrest signals that the killing have official sanction, Bayan said. "While the number of summary execution victims continue to rise, the defense arm of both the national and local governments like the PNP, the TFD (Task Force Davao) and the AFP remain useless as they capture not even one of the perpetrators. Their inutility and tolerance only adds proof that summary killings in the region are state-sponsored," the statement said. The group added that summary executions have become a way to eliminate progressive leaders and movement members.

The movement's concern was echoed by its allied political party, Bayan Muna (People First), which party members described to DRCNet as a "progressive, multi-sectoral political party," some of whose national elected officials are former members of the Communist New People's Army. In a statement from Rep. Joel Virador, the party attacked on principle the holding of joint exercises with the US. "Bayan Muna expresses our party's firm opposition to the conduct of joint RP military exercises not only in Davao City where I reside, but in any part of the country. The holding of such exercises, as our party representatives on many occasions have stood on this floor to point out, is an infringement on national sovereignty. The holding of such exercises flagrantly violates the explicit constitutional ban on the entry of troops in the country," said Virador.

"More importantly -- and I raise this especially as a Mindanaoan -- the exercises place the lives of ordinary citizens in grave peril as some of these are held in communities, as was the case of civilian Arsid Baharon who was 'accidentally shot' by a US soldier last June 21 in Zamboanga City," Virador continued. "These exercises in the island also invite armed confrontations from Muslim separatist groups which, again, will endanger residents' lives. Again, Bayan Muna strongly says no to RP-US joint military exercises in the country. These joint exercises only demonstrate continued foreign intervention especially on crucial issues of national defense and security, and lays claim to the country as America's 'second front' on the war against terror. The Philippines is a sovereign country that must place national interest above all. Much remains to be seen how this can ever be realized under the present administration."

The Special Forces do have a human rights component in the exercise, but even before Abu Ghraib observers might have been forgiven if that fact was not sufficiently reassuring. Meanwhile, the killings continue, the Philippine media treats them as facts of life, and the Philippine government turns a blind eye to the criminality in its midst.

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4. Tip of the Iceberg: Police Perjury Goes Far Beyond Tom Coleman

One of the final chapters in the Tulia scandal was written two weeks ago when undercover police officer Tom Coleman was convicted of perjury after a sting that sent more than three dozen black residents of the small Texas panhandle town to prison. In a case that became a national example of police misconduct, 46 people, most of them black, were arrested on drug sales charges solely on the basis of Coleman's uncorroborated testimony. Of Coleman's victims, 38 were either convicted or pled guilty and were sentenced to prison.

The 35 Tulia convicts who remained in prison by the time the state of Texas launched an investigation of Coleman's work were pardoned by Gov. Rick Perry, and now it is Coleman, a troubled, itinerant police officer, who faces 10 years under the tender mercies of Texas probation officers, with a prison sentence awaiting if he messes up... Meanwhile, the counties and cities that participated in the Panhandle Drug Task Force, Coleman's employer, have been ordered to pony up $6 million to his victims.

While the usual suspects were quick to crow that Coleman's conviction showed that "the system works," members of the defense bar, judges, former prosecutors, and academics argue persuasively that Coleman's lying was not an aberration. Instead, they say, it is but one particularly egregious example of perjury by police, a practice so widespread it has even developed a cutesy nickname, "testilying." But the reality is anything but cute, with an unknown number of innocent people sent to prison because the police lied under oath.

By the very nature of the offense, numbers on the extent of police perjury are impossible to come by. The topic itself rarely makes the media spotlight; in fact, the primary research resources available on police perjury date from either the OJ Simpson murder case, where Detective Mark Fuhrman was accused of lying on the stand, or the unsuccessful effort to impeach President Clinton, when the broader topic of perjury was at hand.

But according to conservative US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski, police perjury and prosecutorial misconduct to gain convictions is "an open secret long shared by prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges." Kozinski's remarks, published in the Los Angeles Times, came during a discussion of another highly-publicized police perjury scandal, the Los Angeles Police Department's Ramparts debacle. In that case, police at the Ramparts precinct drug squad planted drugs on suspects, stole drugs, and even shot one man, then threw down a gun and testified he had attacked them. The man, who was paralyzed in the wanton attack, was sentenced to 23 years in prison based on the false testimony of LAPD officers.

In the wake of the OJ Simpson case, University of Florida law professor Christopher Slobogin conducted an exhaustive survey of the literature on police perjury. His findings were shocking: "Whether it is conjecture by individual observers, a survey of criminal attorneys, or a more sophisticated study, the existing literature demonstrates a widespread belief that testilying is a frequent occurrence," Slobogin found. In one survey cited by Slobogin, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges estimated that police perjury occurs in between 20% and 50% of Fourth Amendment suppression hearings, which result when defense attorneys attempt to argue that police had no probable cause to stop or search a suspect.

Veteran police observer Jerome Skolnick called police perjury of this sort "systematic." Even prosecutors -- or at least former prosecutors -- Slobogin noted, use terms like "routine," "commonplace," and "prevalent" to describe the scope of the practice. "Few knowledgeable persons are willing to say that police perjury about investigative matters is sporadic or rare, except perhaps the police," Slobogin concluded, "and even many of them believe it is common enough to merit a label all its own."

The Mollen Commission, established in New York City in the early 1990s in the wake of police scandals there, reached a similar conclusion. "Officers reported a litany of manufactured tales," its report noted. "For example, when officers unlawfully stop and search a vehicle because they believe it contains drugs or guns, officers will falsely claim in police reports and under oath that the car ran a red light (or committed some other traffic violation) and that they subsequently saw contraband in the car in plain view. To conceal an unlawful search of an individual who officers believe is carrying drugs or a gun, they will falsely assert that they saw a bulge in the person's pocket or saw drugs and money changing hands. To justify unlawfully entering an apartment where officers believe narcotics or cash can be found, they pretend to have information from an unidentified civilian informant or claim they saw the drugs in plain view after responding to the premises on a radio run. To arrest people they suspect are guilty of dealing drugs, they falsely assert that the defendants had drugs in their possession when, in fact, the drugs were found elsewhere where the officers had no lawful right to be."

In yet another study cited by Slobogin, one conducted in Chicago by criminologist Myron Orfield and notable because it relied on the views of prosecutors and judges as well as defense attorneys, Orfield found that 52% believed that "the prosecutor knows or has reason to know" that police lied at evidence suppression hearings "at least half of the time." Among prosecutors alone, 89% said prosecutors had knowledge of such perjury "at least some of the time."

Slobogin found such figures "stunning," but they hardly raised an eyebrow among former police officers, former prosecutors, and defense attorneys consulted by DRCNet. "The practice is not uncommon," said Jack King, spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "Nobody knows how widespread it really is because prosecutors fight at all costs to defend convictions."

"It happens, and it happens at all stages in the process," said former Cook County, IL, prosecutor Jim Gierach. "To give just one example, when police would come to get a warrant on a drug case, assistant DAs would review those warrants to ensure no necessary facts were missing, particularly about the reliability of informants and what cops had seen with their own eyes. If the warrant application was lacking, they would tell the officer what information was needed, but it was all boilerplate, it was pulled out of the thin air," he told DRCNet.

Gierach has since become a defense attorney and, driven by disgust with the war on drugs, a member of Law Enforcment Against Prohibition (). "As a defense lawyer, I would see it all the time. In one case, I had a client who went inside a drug house and bought drugs while police were surveilling its exterior. My guy left, but was pulled over and searched, and they found the drugs. But when the police wrote up their report, they wrote that my guy bought the drugs outside in plain view in full daylight. They had to do that because otherwise they would have had no probable cause to stop my guy. These coppers lie in order to try to get the guys they 'know' are guilty."

Police enforcing the drug laws are more apt to engage in perjury or other fabrications because of the very nature of the crime: Because drug sales are free transactions between consenting individuals, there is no aggrieved party who will go to the police to seek justice for a wrongdoing against him. Thus, police need to come up with the evidence of a crime themselves or through informers, who are either paid to tell the police what they want to hear or scared into doing so.

"The officer himself becomes the complainant," said NACDL's King. "Often there are no other witnesses other than the accused and the undercover officer." And the lies can happen for the most mundane of reasons, he suggested. "Take the Tulia case. It's reasonable to conclude that Tom Coleman, the undercover officer, lied because he was incompetent and needed to lie if he wanted to continue to draw a paycheck. The same thing has happened in other cases. In Oklahoma, there was a state lab technician who repeatedly testified that she had tested drugs and they were indeed the drugs police said they were. But she was never trained to run a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry test, so she just lied on the stand. And once she had perjured herself, she could never go back. She kept on perjuring herself, and people kept on being convicted based at least in part of her testimony," King related. That lab examiner was not caught out by judges or prosecutors, but by dedicated defense attorneys.

"Police lying is most common in drug units," said Virginia defense attorney Marvin Miller, co-chair of NACDL's Committee on Police and Government Misconduct. "I once had a court of appeals judge tell me in an en banc oral argument that police and judges have to bend the rules or they won't get the drug dealers off the street. I'll give that judge credit -- at least he was honest. But then the presiding judge told him to be quiet," Miller laughed morosely. "I think it is more widespread among departments that have long-term drug unit assignments than in departments where officers get periodically rotated out. But when you're a drug cop for year after year, you get jaded and cynical. There are a lot of great cops out there, but there is a real problem with these specialized units. It's easy for them to get away with perjuring themselves, and the public likes to get convictions. Also, neither prosecutors nor judges look at those cases with a skeptical eye."

Not everyone consulted by DRCNet agreed that the practice was widespread. Another LEAP member, former St. Augustine, FL, County Sheriff Jerry Cameron said testilying was "rare" in his experience. "A guy that perjures himself in the circles I was in is generally looked down upon," he said. But looking the other way at shaky informant testimony was more common, he said. "Sometimes when you get the testimony of a confidential informant, you may suspicious of how accurate it is, but you end up presenting it as the justification for a search warrant," Cameron explained. "But that's not perjury."

Still, Cameron conceded, his reputation as tough-nosed on such issues may have led to things going on behind his back. "I constantly told people that our integrity is our most important asset. Consequently, there may have been things that I wasn't told because people knew where I stood."

While somewhere out there must be prosecutors or police officers who deny that police perjury exists, the consensus, not only of defense attorneys and anti-prohibitionist ex-cops, but also, as noted above, of prosecutors, judges, and legal scholars, is that the practice is so widespread that Drug War Chronicle was unable to find any by press time. Observers also find the practice reprehensible, corrosive of the criminal justice system, and probably unstoppable in the current political climate.

"Every single time a police officer witness lies under oath, it is a blow to the criminal justice system," said King. "The process is supposed to be a search for the truth -- not a shortcut to a conviction -- and the burden of proof is on the state. You can't have a search for the truth when the state puts on witnesses who lie for the state. And what makes it even worse is that prosecutors always allow police caught in the act to plead to a lesser offense, like making a false statement to an investigator. When it's one of their own, prosecutors suddenly grow softhearted. But they have no problem sending plenty of questionably guilty people to prison."

"Prosecutors very rarely castigate a police officer for testimony that has apparent falsehoods in it," agreed Miller. "These days, we have less judicial scrutiny of prosecutors and police than at any time for decades. We have gone back to the bad old days. And it will be difficult to change, he said. "It is a culture of lying. That was the case with the Ramparts scandal in Los Angeles; they sent innocent people to prison for years until that broke open. It was the same thing with the El Rukn scandal in Chicago. The cops there got caught, but it wasn't because of judicial or prosecutorial scrutiny," he said.

"It's basically your word against the cops," Miller continued. "We are supposed to have a system of checks and balances, but the system is out of balance. We do not have the type of criminal justice system we pretend to. It is neither impartial nor balanced. And the biggest problem is the war on drugs. Harsh sentences don't work. Mandatory minimums don't work. We need to take a fresh look at what we're doing and try to find out what really works and what doesn't. What is the best way to deal with drugs? We have never tried that. If you say anything but harsher sentences and more enforcement, you're accused of being soft on crime."

"It is the money of prohibition that corrupts these police officers and prosecutors and judges and people at every level of the system," said Gierach. "The penalties are so severe. We have kids who get arrested and the cops tell them they'll go away forever unless they rat on someone. They're telling these kids to forget about the Golden Rule, to sacrifice their neighbor to save themselves, to forget what we think about as morality. And then they wonder why these kids have no values, no human decency. Whether it's a scared kid or a drug cop or judge or prosecutor, this drug war strips them all of values and morality. It's the biggest corrupting influence in this country, and I'm just talking about the moral corruption -- we don't even need to get into the financial corruption here."

Part of the problem is a judiciary either disinterested in the truth or cowed by conservative politicians, said Miller. But there are also institutional interests involved. "Police and prosecutors have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Look at the long struggle over racial profiling in New Jersey. They fought tooth and nail to deny it was occurring for years. And it wasn't just police, but prosecutors, politicians, the entire system. It's the same thing with prosecutors who don't want to do a DNA test to prove or disprove somebody's innocence. They are more interesting in maintaining their turf than in justice."

Perhaps "the system worked" with the conviction of Tom Coleman. But it didn't work until dozens of innocent people had been arrested, jailed, and sent to prison for years and a major national campaign had aired the issue in every major media outlet in the country. And it didn't work because of judicial, prosecutorial, or political oversight over cops run amok. And, the available evidence suggests, it is not working across the land, where people who vow to uphold their oath of office routinely violate it, primarily in the name of prosecuting the drug war. How many innocents are behind bars because of lying cops? And why does nobody care?

Click here to read Slobogin's landmark article on testilying. Click here to read the Mollen Commission report.

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5. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Drug prohibition generates an endless stream of individual law enforcers who succumb to the allure of easy profits. But we should remember that each example of individual turpitude indicts as well a system seemingly designed to breed corruption. Be that as it may, this week we present another quartet of law enforcers gone bad:

  • In Tennessee, former Morgan County Sheriff's Deputy William "Ron" Hawn and his wife Gina were indicted January 18 on drug distribution charges. Hawn, a long time narcotics officer, had left the department in April, and three months later found himself the arrestee instead of the arrester after selling hydrocone, the opioid in Oxycontin, to his former drug war colleagues, undercover agents from the Ninth Judicial District Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force. According to a sheriff's department press release, Hawn sold the stuff on June 9 and Gina Hawn made a sale to narcs on June 15. The Hawns face possible sentences of three to 15 years in prison and were still on the loose as of early this week.
  • In New Mexico, the Associated Press reported Monday that an unnamed state police narcotics agent has resigned in the midst of an FBI investigation into allegations that he was involved in drug dealing. State officials were notified of the probe last week, after the FBI executed search warrants. The agent has not yet been charged.
  • In California, a prison guard at Centinela State Prison in Imperial County was arrested January 15 on suspicion of conspiring drugs and cell phones to inmates, the Los Angeles Times reported. Daniel Jones Jr. and his girlfriend, Leslie Saldana, were both charged after a six-month investigation into prison contraband. They are accused of being involved in a conspiracy to smuggle marijuana, cocaine, and cell phones into the prison. The couple is out on bail awaiting a February 18 arraignment.
  • And in Massachusetts, another prison guard has been sentenced to prison. Mark O'Brien, a guard at the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica, got eight months in the Big House after admitting trying to smuggle heroin to inmates in exchange for Oxycontin tablets. O'Brien conspired with inmate Russell Chiary to swap smuggled smack for Oxycontin, but the person he thought was a heroin supplier was actually a civilian snitch working for the DEA. O'Brien was arrested in March 2003 after meeting with an undercover officer posing as the dealer and accepting heroin from him. While former prison guard O'Brien got eight months, inmate Chiary got eight years for his role in the scheme.

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6. Blogging: News Stream Continues to Illustrate Futility of Prohibition and the Urgent Need for Some Form of Legalization

Dozens of people including a public school official have been indicted in a major Virginia trafficking bust. A flash bang grenade lobbed into a Niagara Falls home by an anti-drug squad caught fire and caused third degree burns to an innocent bystander. But drugs will continue to be widely available despite these and other law enforcement efforts.

The city of Austin, Texas, is suffering with a more than doubled heroin overdose rate relative to 2003. That and a slaying in a Harlem "drug apartment" illustrate the urgent need for some form of drug legalization.

Visit DRCNet's Prohibition in the Media blog to check out these stories and for letter to the editor information. Click here to subscribe to our blog updates list or update your DRCNet subscription information..

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7. Newsbrief: Police Use Flash Bang Grenade in Marijuana Raid, Injure Innocent Woman -- DRCNet Mentioned

Police in Niagara Falls, NY, are under fire after a flash bang grenade thrown into an apartment during a marijuana raid last week left a local woman hospitalized with serious burns. Rhiannon Kephart, 18, was in bed at the Niagara Falls residence when the Niagara Falls Police Quick Entry Team tossed the incendiary device into the apartment, where it exploded, burning her. Police conceded that Kephart was neither a target of the raid nor trying to impede their heroic endeavors, the Buffalo News reported.

Niagara Falls police used the gung-ho tactics while assisting Homeland Security Department agents in a raid on a cross-border marijuana operation. They arrested one man, a 24-year-old, and recovered one weapon, a 9mm handgun. While Niagara Falls police professed chagrin at the injury to Kephart, they defended the use of the grenade.

"We feel terrible about this. It's very unfortunate," Niagara Falls Police Superintendent John R. Chella said. "The intended use of a device like this is to stun people or to divert their attention -- not to hurt anyone. Officers used the flash-bang because they were concerned that loaded assault weapons would be kept inside the residence," Chella said. "As it turned out, there was a loaded gun recovered."

Neighbors were not as sanguine as Chief Chella. "That seems kind of reckless," said one woman, who asked not to be identified. "We have families with children living here."

"We heard glass breaking and what sounded like a gunshot," said Kevin Lunt, who lives across the street with his girlfriend, Dawn, and their three young children. "The kids were so scared they jumped into bed with us," he told the News. Lunt and other neighbors were shocked to learn police had caused the explosion by throwing a grenade into a residence. "We thought the neighborhood was fine when we moved here," said Lunt. "But I think it's time to look for another place."

The Buffalo News contacted DRCNet and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition to comment on such police tactics. Former Tonawanda, NY, police captain and LEAP cofounder Peter Christ told the News the use of such devices was part of a dangerous militarization of policing. "I'm not making any judgments about this Niagara Falls incident, because I wasn't there and I don't know their reasons for using it," Christ said. "But these are like military devices. When you use it, you're putting people in danger. The reason people accept the use of devices like this is our society's lack of respect for the people who are being arrested. They're just 'drug dealers' or 'drug addicts.' You'll never see one of these thrown into the house of a bank president who's being arrested for fraud."

And DRCNet executive director Dave Borden got his two cents worth in as well. "I think the recklessness of using a device like this is self-evident," he told the News. "These tactics should be limited to very exceptional situations, such as a hostage situation. Not in a routine drug case."

[Borden further elaborated on some of the incident's implications in DRCNet's Prohibition in the Media blog, writing, " [t]he use of such tactics by police is not hard to understand, given that the dangers that the drug trade and drug war often present to them. There is an arms race going on between the drug fighters and the drug suppliers, and amongst drug suppliers, with prohibition is at the root of both."]

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8. Newsbrief: Supreme Court Allows Drug Dog Vehicle Searches Without Cause

The Supreme Court has once again expanded the ability of police to conduct warrantless searches, this time okaying the use of drug-sniffing dogs to check motorists detained for traffic violations even when police have no reason to suspect they have committed a crime. The decision provides constitutional protection for what has become an increasingly common practice on the nation's highways in the war on drugs. It also, according to an impassioned dissenting opinion, could lead to widespread drug dog sweeps of sidewalks and parking lots.

Rockland County, Missouri,
drug dog demonstration
The Monday ruling came in the case of Roy Caballes, who was stopped by Illinois police for speeding on Interstate 80 in 1998. While Caballes complied with the request to produce his driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance, troopers brought a drug dog to sniff his car because he "seemed nervous." The dog alerted, providing police with probable cause to search Caballes' vehicle, where they found pounds of marijuana. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but his conviction was overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court, which held that police "impermissibly broadened the scope of the traffic stop" by using the drug-sniffing dog without suspicion that Caballes possessed drugs.

At the Supreme Court Cabelles' attorney argued that the Fourth Amendment protects motorists from searches such as dog sniffs, which he said could be humiliating and intimidating and should not be allowed without particularized suspicion. But the state of Illinois, backed by the Bush administration Department of Justice -- and precedent in the federal courts -- argued that walking a drug-sniffing dog around a vehicle to see if it could detect illicit drugs was not a "search."

In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court found for the state. "The dog sniff was performed on the exterior of respondent's car while he was lawfully seized for a traffic violation," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens for the majority. "Any intrusion on respondent's privacy expectations does not rise to the level of a constitutionally cognizable infringement." But Stevens wasn't done yet. "A dog sniff conducted during a concededly lawful traffic stop that reveals no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment," he added.

Still, at least for two justices, providing a constitutional imprimatur for suspicionless drug dog sniffing of vehicles was too much. In a dissent joined in part by Justice David Souter, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned that the majority opinion could make traffic stops more "adversarial" and lead to widespread drug dog searches. "Injecting such animals into a routine traffic stop changes the character of the encounter between the police and the motorist. The stop becomes broader, more adversarial and (in at least some cases) longer," she wrote. "Under today's decision, every traffic stop could become an occasion to call in the dogs, to the distress and embarrassment of the law-abiding population," she wrote. The decision "clears the way for suspicionless, dog-accompanied drug sweeps of parked cars along sidewalks and in parking lots."

While Monday's ruling allows police to use the occasion of a traffic stop to let drug-sniffing dogs check out a vehicle, it does not allow for the indefinite detention of drivers to give the dogs time to arrive to do the non-search search. Lower federal courts have varied in determining what period of time constitutes a constitutionally permissible detention, with some allowing waits of up to 90 minutes.

Steven Silverman, executive director of the Flex Your Rights Foundation, counsels drivers confronted with threats of calling in the drug dogs to exercise their rights and simply ask to be on their way. "Basically, if police can't bring a dog to the scene in the time it takes to run your tags and write a ticket, the use of the dog becomes constitutionally suspect," said Silverman. "In our video, 'BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters,' we warn viewers that police will often threaten to bring dogs to the scene. Since police cannot detain you for the purpose of investigating an additional crime -- unless they have evidence you've committed one -- our advice is still to ask if you are free to go."

Click here to read the case, Illinois v. Caballes, 03-923, online -- scroll down to reach the opinion.

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9. Newsbrief: In Sentencing Ruling Fallout, Supreme Court Orders Review of Federal Sentences for Hundreds of Prisoners

The Supreme Court Monday instructed federal courts to review the sentences of nearly 400 prisoners who contended they were wrongly punished under federal sentencing guidelines that the Supreme Court declared invalid on January 12. The prisoners in question had appealed their sentences, arguing that they were improperly sentenced by trial judges who increased their sentences based on factors never proven before a jury, which is precisely the problem the high court had with the federal sentencing guideline scheme.

The United States Supreme Court
In its January 12 ruling, the court first declared the guidelines unconstitutional, then offered a remedy by suggesting they could be on an advisory -- not a mandatory -- basis to help judges set sentences. Judges are no longer bound by the guidelines, but their sentences are subject to reversal if they are found "unreasonable" on appeal.

While thousands of cases are expected to be reviewed by lower courts to see if defendants were too harshly punished, the Supreme Court specifically ordered the lower courts to review 390 cases that had been on hold pending the court's Booker-Fan Fan ruling January 12. The instruction to lower courts came in 87 pages of orders.

While some of the cases ordered back to the lower courts are high-profile white-collar crime cases, such as that of Kansas City pharmacist Robert Courtney, sentenced to 30 years for diluting cancer drugs, many will be of those sentenced for federal drug law violations. Drug offenders make up more than half of all federal prisoners.

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10. Newsbrief: US Backs Off from Afghan Aerial Spraying as Anti-Opium "Jihad" Gets Underway

The United States will not resort to the aerial spraying of herbicides as part of its effort to suppress the Afghan opium crop -- at least for now. The State Department had asked Congress for $780 million in anti-drug assistance for Afghanistan, the world's leading opium producer, this year, with $152 million allocated for aerial eradication. Instead, administration officials and congressional insiders told the Los Angeles Times, the US approach will concentrate on manual eradication, alternative development programs and increasing the size of Afghan anti-drug police forces.

incised papaver specimens (opium poppies)
"Aerial spraying is postponed," said Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who visited with Afghan President Hamid Karzai last month. Karzai has repeatedly expressed concerns that beginning spraying without putting other elements of the program in place first would alienate Afghan voters, whom he is desperately courting for spring parliamentary elections. "Karzai has not ruled it out. He said he will revisit the issue if the current efforts fail," he told the Times.

Secretary of State designate Condaleeza Rice confirmed as much in her Senate confirmation hearings last week. "At this point, manual eradication is all we can do, but we'll see whether aerial is needed," she said.

While drug war hawks in the State Department and Rice's old fiefdom, the National Security Council, argued for the spraying, policymakers ended up heeding both Karzai and in-house critics. "Everybody supports an aggressive program on drugs including manual eradication, interdiction and alternative livelihoods," a congressional source who asked to remain anonymous told the Times. "But the idea of US military helicopters swooping down on villagers... stirred up memories of what the Russians did in the '80s," when Soviet helicopter gunships strafed villages.

That still leaves plenty of ways to burn $780 million. According to the Times, the scramble is now on as advocates of more funding for seed crops square off against advocates of more spending on manual eradication -- and the expensive guns and soldiers required to carry out the unpopular task. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) suggested public outreach and going after more heroin-producing labs.

"More money needs to be spent on public outreach and on going after drug labs and caches," Tom Lantos said in a statement. "We must also realize that this is a long-term commitment, and not just a simple one-time expenditure. But this terrible trade is funding the Al Qaeda and Taliban forces that are shooting at our troops and trying to undermine the Karzai government. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose."

Ironically, Afghan opium expert Barnett Rubin of New York University told the Times, opium prices had dropped after last year's bumper crop, but have now quadrupled on the expectation eradication would result in a smaller crop this year. Because opium is durable and can be hoarded until the price is right, drug traffickers "are big supporters of crop eradication right now," said Rubin. "The net result of crop eradication will be a net transfer of income from opium growers to drug traffickers," he said.

Meanwhile, Afghan opium growers have won an endorsement of a different sort: The Pakistan Daily News reported that Mufti Munir Shakir, "a reknowned religious scholar," has declared the opium trade "halal," or legitimate within Islamic teaching. Shakir, who lives in Pakistan's tribal Kyber Agency area adjacent to the Afghan border, broadcast his remarks on a local FM radio station widely listened to in the area. According to Shakir, the cultivation and trade in opium is legitimate because it is mostly used for medicinal purposes. Anything that could have a positive benefit on human beings could not be declared illegitimate or prohibited under Islamic law, he said.

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11. Newsbrief: US Pressures UN Drug Office to Oppose Harm Reduction Language, UN Says Okay

The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies this week released a November letter from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime executive director Antonio Maria Costa to a high-level US anti-drug official in which Costa attacked the notion of harm reduction and promised to remove all references to the term from UNODC documents.

The November 11 letter came one day after Costa met with Robert Charles, Undersecretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. According to ENCOD, Charles' purpose for the meeting was to express official US concern that the term "harm reduction" had been used and to "encourage" the UNODC to not to it again.

Harm reduction, broadly defined, is the principle that while people may do things that can be dangerous for them, the way to approach such behavior is by attempting to minimize the risks involved. Thus, harm reduction encompasses such activities as providing condoms to populations at risk of sexually transmitted diseases. In the field of drug policy, harm reduction activities may range from providing clean needles to injection drug users to advocates for changes in the law to decrease harm to drug users and the community alike.

Costa apparently got Charles' message loud and clear. Within a day, he wrote to Charles abjectly upholding the official US line. "Under the guise of harm reduction, people are disingenuously working to alter the world's opposition to drugs," he wrote. "These people can misuse our well-intentioned statement for their own agenda, and this we cannot allow." Costa also promised to quit using the term, and assured Charles that "we are reviewing all our statements, both printed and electronic, and will even be more vigilant in the future."

Costa also emphasized UNODC's opposition to key harm reduction activities: "Let me be clear," he wrote. "First and foremost, UNODC maintains a strong opposition to heroin maintenance, as well as drug consumption and injection rooms." And while Costa sadly conceded that needle exchange programs had a role to play in reducing HIV/AIDS infections, he insisted such measures take place only within an overall scheme to reduce demand. The proven utility of needle exchanges puts UNODC "in a difficult position," he complained.

As ENCOD noted, it seems that UNODC supports not harm reduction but "harm production."

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12. Newsbrief: Justice Department Ends Appeal of Ruling Throwing Out Ban on Transit Ads for Marijuana Law Reform

The Justice Department gave up this week on efforts to keep alive a congressionally-imposed ban on marijuana advocacy ads on mass transit systems. Originating with Oklahoma Republican Senator Ernest Istook, who ramrodded the law through Congress in response to a campaign by Change the Climate that placed ads calling for marijuana law reform on Washington, DC, buses and subway stops, the law was thrown out as an unconstitutional abridgement of free speech rights by US District Court Judge Paul Friedman in June ().

Change The Climate's
controversial subway ad
This week, Acting Solicitor General Paul Clement sent letters to lawyers for the House and Senate saying Friedman's decision would not be appealed because "the government does not have a viable argument to advance in the statute's defense."

The Istook bill sought to effectively censor pro-drug reform ads by taking away federal funds from any transit system that displayed them. As a result, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority refused to run the ads. Change the Climate, aided and abetted by the ACLU Drug Policy Project, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and the Marijuana Policy Project, filed the suit resulting in the favorable June ruling.

And now the feds have given up the ghost on this issue.

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13. Newsbrief: Alaska Governor Seeks to Overturn Legal Home Marijuana Possession

Alaska is the only state in the nation where possession of personal amounts of marijuana for one's own use in one's own home is legal under state law, and the state's law enforcement and political establishments can't stand it. In the latest effort to override the state constitution, on January 21 Republican Governor Frank Murkowski asked the state legislature to ignore two Alaska Supreme Court rulings and re-criminalize home marijuana possession. And while he's at it, Gov. Murkowski wants to increase some current marijuana misdemeanors to felonies.

In September, the Alaska Supreme Court upheld an earlier lower court ruling allowing adults to have up to four ounces of pot at home for their personal use. That lower court ruling was based on a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling in Ravin v. State, where the state's highest court held that the state constitution's strong privacy protections outweighed any harm caused by at-home marijuana use. That remained the law until 1990, when voters passed an initiative outlawing any amount of marijuana. But in the recent rulings, the courts held that a constitutionally-protected right -- in this case, the right to use marijuana at home -- cannot be erased by a majority vote.

Murkowski has introduced a bill that would once again seek to trample on the state constitution, this time by hyping the alleged dangers of today's marijuana. "The Legislature finds that marijuana poses a threat to the public health that justifies prohibiting its use in this state, even by adults in private," the bill asserts.

Although it sounds like Murkowski has already made up his mind about the health risks of pot, he touted the bill as an opportunity to explore those risks. "The bill would provide a forum for the Legislature to hear expert testimony on the effects of marijuana and to make findings that the courts can rely on," the governor said in a letter to lawmakers.

Murkowski's hope is that the Alaska courts can be swayed to reconsider their decisions if he can persuade them the health risks of marijuana are significantly greater today than in years past. While that is open to debate, what is certain is that any legislation attempting to override current law will be challenged. "Unconstitutional still remains unconstitutional no matter what the Legislature thinks," said William Satterberg, the Fairbanks attorney who successfully argued the appeals court case that reinstated legal home weed in Alaska.

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14. Newsbrief: Meth I -- New Senate Methamphetamine Bill Would Limit Cold Pill Sales Nationwide

American cold sufferers, beware! Last week, DRCNet reported on ongoing efforts in the states to restrict the sales of popular over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine, chemicals used by home meth lab cooks as part of popular speed-cooking recipes. Now, ten US senators, led by Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, are leading an effort to make such restrictions nationwide under federal law.

"This critical legislation will help provide law enforcement officers with the tools they need to fight meth across the state and keep Iowans drug-free," Sen. Harkin said Monday in a prepared statement.

The Combat Meth Act would budget an additional $30 million to combat the popular stimulant, but its most controversial provision is one that would make pseudoephedrine a controlled substances. While the bill had not been officially filed as of Thursday, according to a press release from Sen. Harkin, it will:

Restrict the sale of necessary ingredient to make meth -- Amends the Controlled Substances Act to appropriately limit and record the sale of medicines containing pseudoephedrine by placing them behind the pharmacy counter. If a community meets a hardship provision established by the Drug Enforcement Agency, a convenience store will be allowed to sell ephedrine.

Increase awareness and involvement of businesses that legally sell pseudoephedrine -- Provides $5 million for states and businesses that legally sell ingredients used to cook meth with resources to monitor purchases of methamphetamine precursors (pseudoephedrine) and provides training expenses and technical assistance to law enforcement personnel and employees of businesses which lawfully sell substances which may be used to make meth.

Provide critical resources to local law enforcement and prosecutors -- Provides an additional $15 million under the COPS program to train state and local law enforcement to investigate and lock-up methamphetamine offenders and expands the methamphetamine 'hot spots program to include personnel and equipment for enforcement, prosecution and environmental clean-up.

Expand the ability of local prosecutors to bring methamphetamine distributors to justice -- Provides $5 million to hire additional federal prosecutors and train local prosecutors in state and federal meth laws and cross-designates them as Special Assistant US Attorneys, allowing them to bring legal action against cooks and traffickers in federal courts under tougher guidelines.

Provide services for children affected by the spread of meth -- Provides $5 million in grant funding for Drug Endangered Children rapid response teams to promote collaboration among federal, state, and local agencies to assist and educate children that have been affected by the production of methamphetamine.

Enhance treatment options -- Authorizes the creation of a Methamphetamine Research, Training and Technical Assistance Center which will research effective treatments for meth abuse and disseminate information and technical assistance to states and private entities on how to improve current treatment methods."

In announcing the bill, Harkin could not resist the temptation to engage in some drug hysteria hyperbole, pronouncing meth as "the most deadly, fiercely addictive and rapidly spreading drug the United States has known," leading one to ask: Whatever happened to crack and Oxycontin?

Other key sponsors of the bill include Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA), Jim Talent (R-MO), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

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15. Newsbrief: Meth II -- Federal CLEAN-UP Act Cleaned Up -- Provision Designed to Punish Music Venues Dropped

Last year, thanks to quiet skullduggery by Rep. Doug Ose (R-CA), who is no longer in Congress as of this year, the CLEAN-UP Act, a bill designed to attack the meth lab phenomenon, included an "anti-rave" provision that would have made venue owners both criminally and civilly liable for drug use by patrons. Thanks in part to a broad coalition of drug reformers, civil libertarians, and music lovers led by the Drug Policy Alliance who coalesced around the issue, the bill never made it to a floor vote.

Members of the Protect Live Music campaign pestered lawmakers, worked to shape public opinion, and held demonstrations with live music to draw attention to the bill's flaws. It must have worked. The act became "controversial" in the eyes of mainstream media, and died quietly when Congress adjourned in December.

Now, DPA's director of national affairs, Bill Piper, reports that while the bill has been reintroduced, this year's version does not contain the language aimed at club owners and promoters. "This is an enormous victory for the Alliance and our supporters; live music fans across the country; musicians, club owners and activists; and the Protect Live Music campaign. It's also a great way to start to 2005," said Piper. "We are grateful to the thousands of Alliance supporters like you who took action against the CLEAN-UP Act through our website and in protests last year."

But that doesn't mean the provision has necessarily gone away forever, Piper warned. "Of course, it's possible that this provision or something like it will surface again in other legislation. We're on the lookout for it and will keep you informed."

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16. Newsbrief: Meth III -- Kansas Sheriff Killed in Confrontation at Methamphetamine Lab

Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels was shot and killed January 19 as he attempted to arrest a parole violator who was cooking methamphetamine at a home lab near Virgil, in the northeast part of the county, according to Associated Press and local news reports. Sheriff Samuels went to the home to serve a parole violation warrant on 23-year-old Scott Cheever, who had been previously imprisoned for aggravated robbery in 2000 and bringing controlled substances into a correctional institution in 2003.

While Sheriff Samuels reportedly knew of Cheever's history, he was not aware that Cheever's home was the site of an active meth lab. When the sheriff and two deputies arrived to serve the warrant that morning, Cheever allegedly shot and killed Samuels, but deputies managed to arrest three other people in the house and charge them with meth offenses. Cheever, however, held off police for another seven hours, occasionally shooting at them, until he was subdued with pepper spray and arrested.

Now Kansas and federal prosecutors are moving to ensure that Cheever faces the death penalty. The Kansas Supreme Court last month struck down the state's death penalty law, so federal prosecutors have moved to charge Cheever in an effort to ensure he fries. US Attorney for Kansas Eric Melgren announced in a statement Monday that he will seek a federal indictment of Cheever and ask the Justice Department to grant permission to seek the death penalty. "We believe that we owe that to Sheriff Samuels, that we owe that to his family, that we owe that to all law enforcement officials in the state of Kansas," Melgren said of seeking a death sentence.

In addition to providing fodder for death penalty advocates in the Kansas legislature, the killing is also certain to add pressure for legislators to move forward with legislation that would restrict the sales of over-the-counter medicines such as Sudafed, which contain precursor chemicals used by home meth cooks. Kansas authorities have complained that since neighboring Oklahoma passed a similar law last year, meth heads have flooded north seeking their cold pills.

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17. Newsbrief: London Authorities Grumble One Year Into Cannabis Reclassification

It was a year ago this month that the British government adopted the reclassification of cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug, meaning that in most cases, persons caught with a joint or a small bag would no longer be arrested but would instead be given informal warnings. According to Metropolitan Police statistics, arrests have dropped by a third and thousands of police man hours have been saved, but some London officials are grumbling that the relaxation in the cannabis law has led some to think the stuff is now legal -- it is not -- and to the pervasive stench of pot fumes on London streets.

Mayor Ken Livingston's police advisor, Lee Jasper, an early and prominent proponent of decriminalizing cannabis possession, was singing a slightly different tune at a City Hall press conference Monday, according to an account carried in the London Evening Standard. "If you see the extent to which cannabis is smoked outside schools, on London Transport, it's unacceptable," he said. "I think public use of cannabis, particularly in certain areas, should be subject to some sort of enforcement other than that which is currently used."

London police have complained of confrontations with young people who believe they now have the right to smoke the weed openly. A Metropolitan Police report on the relaxing of the cannabis law echoed that theme, noting: "The reclassification has sent out a mixed and confusing message to police officers and members of the public."

Community leaders in Brixton, which began experimenting with relaxation a year before the rest of the country, also complained about the confusion over the law. "The police have focused on crack, which is good," said Pastor Frank Brookes of Raleigh Park Baptist Church. "But Brixton has deteriorated. I have two children and we are constantly in the slipstream of people smoking cannabis. Most people now think it's legal. Even the police are not sure."

Under the reclassification, which went into effect January 29, 2004, while cannabis possession remains an arrestable offense punishable by up to two years in jail, most users are given warnings unless there are "aggravating factors" such as smoking in public view or possessing the drug near a a school. There are also indications of what some reformers call "post code policing," or variations in the likelihood of being arrested depending on the attitude of police in any given jurisdiction.

That police can continue to arrest people for cannabis possession is a flaw in the law, said Dame Edith Runciman, who chaired a 2000 report calling for relaxing the drug laws. "The decision to retain powers of arrest was a great pity -- it was giving with one hand and taking away with the other. I think [the reclassification of cannabis] created quite a lot of unnecessary confusion which has not been wholly dispelled. I'm hearing that there's a huge disparity between different areas, commanders and forces as to whether cannabis users are arrested and cautioned, or just receive an informal warning."

According to Metropolitan Police figures, in 2003 -- before reclassification -- there were 24,535 marijuana charges laid; last year, that number declined only slightly to 22,315. But the number of arrests decreased by a third, and according to the British Home Office, that will result in the saving of 180,000 hours of police time this year.

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18. Newsbrief: Japan to Move to Outlaw Designer Drugs

A little more than two years ago, the Japanese government slammed shut a loophole in the law that allowed for the sale and consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms, citing public health concerns. Now the government has set its sights on designer drugs (or "dappo drugs" in local usage), synthetic compounds similar in effect to some banned substances but sufficiently chemically distinct as to fall outside the purview of the Narcotics and Psychotropic Drug Control Law.

The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported Tuesday that Health Ministry sources said the ministry will set up a group of more than a dozen experts including those from the fields of medicine, pharmacology, criminal law and juvenile delinquency, to come up with plans by October for controlling the substances. The experts will decide how to classify the drugs under current drug laws. Based on the findings of the experts, the ministry plans to submit a bill to the Diet in 2006 to expand the range of banned substances, using existing laws to outlaw the trade in and possession of such drugs.

Under current law, designer drugs are not within the purview of the drug laws, nor, because they contain no medicinal substances, are they subject to the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law. Thus, they are totally unregulated and can be sold as aromatics or even video cleaners, the newspaper reported. Again, public officials are citing a threat to the public health. In one widely publicized case linked to the synthetics, a man was arrested in July 2004 in Tokyo for allegedly killing the woman he was living with after he took three different "unregulated drugs."

Among the substances in question, the newspaper reported, is AMT, or alpha-methyltyptamine. Known in Japan as "Day Tripper," the drug has been linked to a total of three overdose deaths in the US and was placed on the US controlled substance list on an emergency basis in April 2003. That ban was made permanent in October 2004.

For more on AMT, visit the Vaults of Erowid.

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19. This Week in History

January 28, 1972: The Nixon administration creates the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement. ODALE establishes joint federal/local task forces to fight the drug trade at the street level. Myles Ambrose is appointed director.

January 28, 1982: The Reagan administration creates the South Florida Drug Task Force, headed by vice president George Herbert Walker Bush and combining agents from DEA, Customs, ATF, IRS, Army and Navy to mobilize against drug traffickers. Reagan later creates several other regional task forces throughout the US.

January 29, 1998: Judge Nancy Gertner, a district judge in Boston, criticizes the drug war for spending too much federal funds while depriving Americans of liberty, at a forum presented by the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers.

January 30, 1997: CNN reports that The New England Journal of Medicine has come out in favor of doctors being allowed to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes and has called the threat of government sanctions "misguided, heavy-handed and inhumane."

February 1, 1909: The International Opium Commission convenes in Shanghai, the US delegation headed by Dr. Hamilton Wright and Episcopal Bishop Henry Brent, both of whom try to convince the international delegation of the immoral and evil effects of opium.

February 2, 2004: A congressional budget rider known as the "Istook Amendment," after its sponsor, US Rep. James Istook (R-OK), takes, penalizing any transit system that accepts advertising "promot[ing] the legalization or medical use" of illegal drugs such as marijuana by cutting off all federal financial assistance, which often amounts to millions of dollars. The amendment is subsequently blocked as unconstitutional by the courts (newsbrief this issue).

February 3, 1987: Carlos Lehder is captured by the Colombian National Police at a safe house owned by Pablo Escobar in the mountains outside of Medellin. He is extradited to the US the next day. On May 19, 1988 Lehder is convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to life in prison without parole, plus an additional 135 years.

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20. The Reformer's Calendar

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

January 21-22, New York, NY, " Sentencing: What's at Stake for the States?," symposium hosted by the Columbia Law Review. At Columbia Law School, Jerome Green Hall, Room 104, 435 W. 116th St., contact [email protected] or visit for information or to register.

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 27, 9:00am-1:00pm, New York, NY, "Ties That Bind: In Search of Community -- A Forum for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals living with HIV/AIDS/HCV." At Mt. Sinai, 1468 Madison Ave at 100th St., Guggenheim Pavilion, Hatch Auditorium, 2nd floor, refreshments served. Contact (212) 633-2500, ext. 248 or [email protected] to register or 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 1, Philadelphia, PA, "Dynamics of American Drug Culture," lecture by Sheldon Norberg at Temple University. Visit or call (215) 204-7131 for further information.

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, Omaha, NE, "Dynamics of American Drug Culture," lecture by Sheldon Norberg at the University of Nebraska. Visit or call (402) 554-2623 for further information.

February 18-20, Champaign, IL, "Forgiveness Weekend: Double Jeopardy or a New Beginning," sponsored by CU Citizens for Peace and Justice and Salem Baptist Church. At 500 E. Park Ave., contact Danielle Schumacher at (815) 375-0790 for information, brochures or to reserve a space.

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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