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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #373 -- 2/4/05

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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

    HEA press conference with ten
    members of Congress, May 2002
    Drug War Chronicle needs your support to do things right in 2005 -- donate and get a complimentary copy of the book "Under The Influence," including two chapters by Chronicle editor Phil Smith!
    A letter from the National Association of Attorneys General to DEA chief Karen Tandy took the agency to task for their withdrawal of its pain treatment FAQ. When a majority of state attorneys general want to meet with the DEA chief in person to tell her she's wrong, DEA has clearly "stepped in it."
    The refrain is familiar: The marijuana of today is worthy of increased concern because it is so much more potent than the pot smoked by the hippies of yore. But this particular myth has again been essentially debunked -- this time by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
    The turbulent efforts to bring marijuana within the control of law in Nevada have taken an upturn, with a favorable court ruling sending the campaign's language to the legislature and voters.
    In a groundbreaking resolution adopted January 19, Washington state's King County Bar Association effectively declared war on drug prohibition. Drug War Chronicle spoke with the head of KCBA's drug policy project this week.
    This week DRCNet's "Prohibition in the Media" blog highlighted rising violence in a southern city and a State Department travel advisory over violence on the US-Mexico border.
    There must be a bad moon rising out in cop country: There has been a serious outbreak of corruption cases, drug-smuggling prison guards, and cops gone to pot across the country.
    Controversy over the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) mysterious vanishing guidance to physicians and law enforcers about what constituted permissible opioid prescribing practices for the treatment of pain -- the pain FAQ -- continues, this time with criticism of the agency coming from a most unexpected quarter: the nation's state attorneys general.
    The broad-based effort to repeal the Higher Education Act drug provision has gained new support in recent weeks, with a congressionally-appointed committee calling for effective repeal of the provision and a bipartisan group of Arizona legislators introducing a resolution to the same effect.
    A court has found that the US Drug Enforcement Administration's position attempting to ban foods containing non-psychoactive hemp was not "substantially justified." That means that DEA must reimburse Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps more than $20,000 in legal bills the company accrued as it financed the Hemp Industry Association's defense of their industry.
    The president of Indiana's Lake County Board of Commissioners has called for a form of drug maintenance therapy for hard-core addicts in an open letter to his local newspaper and state and federal officials.
    During his term as the nation's top law man, US Attorney General John Ashcroft was a relentless advocate of "tough on crime" policies. In a Tuesday speech that may well be his swan song, Ashcroft was still talking that old time religion.
    Across the land, lawmakers are scurrying to pass laws to fight the "scourge" of methamphetamine. But in Arkansas this week, legislators headed in a different direction.
    London's new top police official, Sir Ian Blair, took over as Metropolitan Police Commissioner Tuesday and wasted no time in announcing a war on casual cocaine users in the city.
    Belgium passed a law decriminalizing the personal possession of marijuana under most circumstances in January 2003, but parts of that law have been in limbo since October. This week the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutor's Office moved to clarify the situation.
    Some 60 pharmacies in Spain's Catalonia region are set to begin dispensing medical marijuana, under a pilot program set to get underway before the end of April
    Even in staunchly prohibitionist Scandinavia, harm reduction measures are hard to resist: After years of indecision by Norwegian and city of Oslo authorities, a safe injection site in Norway's capital city is now open.
    Two weeks of festivities in Ethiopia will mark the 60th anniversary of reggae superstar Bob Marley's birth. The US State Department is giving a heads up to travelers who may be thinking about emulating his spliff-puffing ways while they are there.
    Raids on pharmaceutical wholesalers and retailers by India's Narcotics Control Bureau have prompted the industry to stop accepting shipments of a wide variety of prescription drugs regulated under the nation's Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. Will the Indian government blink?
    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's Phil Smith Featured in New Book -- "Under The Influence" Available as DRCNet Premium

Dear Drug War Chronicle devotee:

In case you were not already aware, I wanted to let you know that Drug War Chronicle's own Phillip S. Smith was featured in the new book Under The Influence: The Disinformation Guide to Drugs -- Phil wrote two of the book's nearly 50 fascinating articles and essays, including an especially provocative one, "Imagining a Post-Prohibition World."

As part of our campaign to complete Drug War Chronicle's budget for 2005, DRCNet is pleased to offer Under The Influence as our latest membership premium. Make a tax-deductible donation of $40 or more to support Drug War Chronicle -- or a non-deductible donation to support DRCNet's lobbying programs like the Higher Education Act Reform Campaign -- and we will send you a complimentary copy of Under The Influence as our special thanks.

Thanks to support by readers like yourself, and a generous grant received late last year from the Educational Foundation of America, DRCNet Foundation has now raised $36,000 toward Drug War Chronicle's expenses in 2005. However, we are expecting the Chronicle's total costs to reach about $67,000 as they have for each of the past two years. That means we have $31,000 to go. If you are one of the many who have helped us with this campaign so far, thank you. If you have yet to donate or pledge for 2005... please understand that we need your help to do this right. We need your support or we will have to downscale the newsletter and cut back our activist programs. Please click here to make a one-time donation to Drug War Chronicle, or click here to sign up to donate monthly. Or, send us an e-mail at [email protected] to let us know how much you are pledging and for when.

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).

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. You can help get the word out about the injustice of the drug war and catalyze change this year by donating to Drug War Chronicle -- we can't do it without you! Again, click here to make a one-time donation to Drug War Chronicle, or click here to donate monthly.

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 click here to go to 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.

Because of the enthusiasm of our readers, Drug War Chronicle has completed 7 ½ years of publishing – 373 issues, nearly 5,000 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.

Thank you for your support of Drug War Chronicle. 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!

P.S. Click here to read the Drug War Chronicle review of Under The Influence.

P.P.S. Following are a few of the many testimonials we've received about Drug War Chronicle's impact and influence:


... "[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

"I've covered the drug story for years, in many places and on many levels. Your coverage of the drug scene has been a vital resource for us. You provide a continuous flow of information that isn't available from any other media source."
- a producer of documentaries for HBO

"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's 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

"Your newsletter has been an invaluable source of information to us as far as keeping up to date on all of the latest issues surrounding addiction and drug policy. I read every issue as thoroughly as I can, and reprint and pass along many articles to my colleagues and associates. I also have used [Drug War Chronicle] in my monthly meetings and also in Patient run support groups."
- head of a state chapter of a national addiction-related advocacy organization


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."

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2. Editorial: DEA Has Stepped In It This Time

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 2/4/05

David Borden
The DEA has "stepped in it," this time, as they say. We've noted previously how the abrupt withdrawal by the agency of its Frequently Asked Questions document on pain control -- crafted over a two-year period by DEA and a wide range of pain treatment authorities and medical organizations -- has prompted unprecedented criticisms by their former partners. Organized medicine is waking, if still groggy, to the reality that drug enforcement in the US is an unreliable partner whose actions have worked to the detriment of pain control, not the benefit.

Criticism has now come from within law enforcement as well. Late last month, a letter from the National Association of Attorneys General, a group representing the states' top law enforcement officials -- signed by 30 of them, more than half -- took the DEA to task. Addressed to DEA chief Karen Tandy, the 30 state attorneys general on the letter expressed "surprise" at DEA's withdrawal of the FAQ, and concern that this action would have a chilling effect on the treatment of pain. And they asked Tandy for a meeting next month when they will all be in town for the annual state attorneys general conference.

When a majority of state attorneys general want to meet the head of the DEA in person to tell her she's wrong, it's big. If Tandy didn't already realize she'd screwed up, she probably does now. I have long considered the DEA a rogue agency that should be abolished and not mourned, but frankly even I was shocked they would do something like this. Even worse, some observers believe DEA pulled the FAQ to gain an advantage in their successful attempt to convict Virginia pain doctor William Hurwitz.

I shouldn't have been shocked -- I knew better. The unfortunate reality is that morality and ethics in the criminal justice have been terribly degraded -- in significant part by the war on drugs, as police leaders like former San Jose police chief Joseph McNamara have discussed -- so inappropriate prosecutorial interventions and "out of control" agency actions like the FAQ's abrupt withdrawal are not surprising but should be expected. One of the unethical aspects of the pain wars is that civil matters such as accusations of substandard doctoring are now being treated as criminal matters and hence game for criminal prosecutors. That is not what the law says should happen.

But no one has stepped up to the plate to stop them -- not even the AGs who signed this letter. California's Bill Lockyer, for example, allowed prosecutors working under his authority to continue their persecution of Frank Fisher, another pain doctor, even though the charges against him were as spurious as could be -- even the malpractice claims against Fisher have now been withdrawn. Perhaps this letter will be a first step toward more responsible oversight of their minions on the AGs' part. Time will tell.

I hope the FAQ is restored and that doctors will then be more willing to prescribe pain medication in adequate quantities to the patients who need it. I fear that nothing short of the removal of law enforcement from regulation of medicine, excepting perhaps only the most serious and unambiguous circumstances, will suffice to a sufficient degree to serve patients' needs. And I fear that even medical boards comprised of doctors will themselves be a troubled mechanism with regard to pain treatment, as they have tended in the past continuing to the present. At least the medical boards can only strip a doctor's license, and that is less brutal than sending the doctor to prison; and the boards seem more likely to lend weight to what their fellow doctors in pain control have to say. But it may be that only an end to prohibition itself will enable pain control to advance to the level that it can and must attain. Time will tell on these counts as well.

In the meantime, it's good, if unfamiliar, to see state attorneys general take a step like this -- late as it may be and notwithstanding how many more steps are urgently needed. I don't know who made it happen, but if you happen to be reading this editorial, good work, keep it coming. Time will tell where it leads.

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3. "Not Your Father's Marijuana" Canard Again Exposed -- This Time by DEA

The refrain is familiar: The marijuana of today is worthy of increased concern because it is so much more potent than the pot smoked by the hippies of yore, who are the parents and grandparents of today. Today's marijuana is eight, 16, 25, or even 50 times as potent as in the good old days, warn public health web sites and "experts." All of these "experts," as well as a whole army of anti-drug crusaders who continue to promote the "not your father's marijuana" line, took their cue from Office of National Drug Control Policy head John Walters, who a little more than two years ago warned that "the potency of available marijuana has not merely 'doubled,' but increased as much as 30 times."

Drug czar Walters and the ONDCP have since backed away from that wildly exaggerated claim. According to the ONDCP web site now, "the average potency of samples of all cannabis types increased from 3% in 1991 to 5.2% in 2001... The concentration of THC in sinsemilla was about 6% in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and averaged more than 9% in 2001."

But such lies, distortions, and half-truths have a long shelf life, so it is worth noting that this particular myth has again been essentially debunked, this time by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In its annual Drugs of Abuse report released last month, the DEA reported on the potency of marijuana seized between 1998 and 2002. While the anti-drug agency attempted to use the findings to make the case that domestically grown marijuana is becoming stronger, the real news is the overall potency findings:

"Although marijuana grown in the United States was once considered inferior because of a low concentration of THC, advancements in plant selection and cultivation have resulted in higher THC-containing domestic marijuana," the report argued. "In 1974, the average THC content of illicit marijuana was less than one percent. Today most commercial grade marijuana from Mexico/Columbia and domestic outdoor cultivated marijuana has an average THC content of about four to six percent. Between 1998 and 2002, NIDA-sponsored Marijuana Potency Monitoring System (MPMP) analyzed 4,603 domestic samples. Of those samples, 379 tested over 15 percent THC, 69 samples tested between 20 and 25 percent THC and four samples tested over 25 percent THC."

Leaving aside the astounding claim that the pot that stoned the hippies was less than one percent THC, what the MPMP figures cited by the DEA show is that less than 10 percent of the seized samples came in above 15 percent -- a somewhat arbitrary dividing line between commercial and high-grade, high-dollar boutique marijuana. This is not to say that high-THC marijuana doesn't exist -- it certainly does -- but it is not the stuff smoked by the vast majority of marijuana consumers in the US, and is even less likely to be the weed of choice for penny-pinching teenage pot-smokers.

Chris Conrad in Holland, 2002
"This is not at all surprising," said Chris Conrad, an internationally known cannabis consultant who has testified as an expert witness in dozens of California marijuana cases. "It is consistent with the reports from NIDA that show most marijuana seized as average potency, with a small percentage that is fairly strong. These government claims of wildly increased potency being widely consumed just don't have much credibility."

Still, Conrad suggested, government marijuana testers are skewing the results vis a vis older samples to hype the "stronger marijuana" threat. "They manipulate the numbers to get the higher THC percentages," he told DRCNet. "They originally included stems, seeds, and leaf in the samples they tested, but now they're just testing the buds, so the percentage is naturally increasing."

Be that as it may, another expert marijuana cultivator, Philippe Lucas of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, told DRCNet the DEA figures were similar to those reported by the Canadian Royal Mounted Police. "These stats are a little bit older than the DEA figures," he said, "but out of more than the 3,000 samples, only eight came in at more than 20 percent THC. It is simply ridiculous to assume a tripling of potency in mass market marijuana since then."

What the figures mean, said Lucas, is that "sadly, around 90% of Americans are still smoking schwag."

Conrad concurred. "I still talk to a lot of people who are consuming the Mexican brick weed," he said. Conrad lives and works in the San Francisco Bay area, a hotbed of high-grade marijuana production, but even there, Mexican still reigns supreme.

According to the US government, and despite the hype about the threat of the dreaded (or much vaunted, depending on one's perspective) "BC Bud," only about two percent of US marijuana imports are coming from Canada. Mexico is the dominant marijuana exporter to the US, with annual seizures in the hundreds of tons, compared with much smaller numbers from Canada.

But while experts like Conrad and Lucas argue convincingly that most marijuana consumed in the US is commercial grade Mexican or American outdoor with similar potency levels, by no means do they deny the existence of superior strains. Quite the contrary. "At the Vancouver Island Compassion Society," said Lucas, "we have had over 100 tests done on about 35 different genetics we are currently producing, and only one of our strains (a Blueberry) has consistently tested below 15 percent THC. Our strongest strains (Sweet Skunk, Romulan, God, and varied crosses) have all tested over 20 percent, although we have yet to break the 25 percent barrier."

That marijuana is destined for medical users, and for them, high-potency marijuana is a good thing, said Lucas. "When it comes to medical use, stronger cannabis is better cannabis. People self-titrate to achieve the desired dose. With stronger cannabis, they get the amount of THC they need by using less cannabis. Similarly, I have seen studies that show stronger cannabis has a lower tar to weight ratio than weaker cannabis," he said. "An increase in cannabis potency may be viewed as a threat by the US government, but it is a boon for medical users." That's right, said Conrad. "You want to get the THC compounds while minimizing the amount of smoke and exposure to potentially carcinogenic matter. It is an odd thing to argue that medicines should be weaker."

Still, the "not your father's marijuana" argument remains an oft-used arrow in the prohibitionist quiver -- one that must be blunted as long as it continues to be made, and not merely by denying that high-potency pot exists. "This argument is one that just keeps circulating and coming back. As with other debunked theories like the stepping stone theory, it just keeps popping up every few years," said Lucas. "It's amazing that we are still rehashing this. In terms of scientific research, there is absolutely no suggestion that we should be concerned about greater potential for dependency, no indication it is more addictive, no suggestions that a higher level of cannabinoids are more harmful. This stronger cannabis is somehow more dangerous is a straw man argument."

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4. Never Say Die: Nevada Marijuana Regulation Initiative is Back After Favorable Federal Court Ruling

The Marijuana Policy Project and its local affiliates, Nevadans for Sensible Law Enforcement in 2002 and the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana have been struggling for three years to pass an initiative that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. It has not been easy. The 2002 initiative was defeated at the polls, garnering 39% of the vote, and the effort to get a modified 2004 initiative on the ballot faltered in the face of adverse rulings from state officials and an error by subcontractors that resulted in thousands of Clark County signatures not being delivered to state officials on time.

Thwarted in their efforts to bring the issue before voters in the November 2004 elections, MPP and CRCM immediately embarked on another signature gathering effort, this time to bring a marijuana regulation initiative before the state legislature. But Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller, acting on the advice of Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval, ruled that their petitions had insufficient signatures and refused to certify them. The marijuana initiative petition was one of three that were rejected by Heller after his office seemed to have changed the rules in midstream.

Previously, Nevada officials had based the number of signatures required to certify a petition on the number of voters in the last general election. Thus, the signature gathering campaigns that took place during the summer and fall of 2004 aimed at a goal derived from the 2002 voter turnout (51,000 signatures). But Secretary of State Heller ruled that the marijuana petition, which was turned in early in December, must achieve a number of signatures (83,000) based not on the 2002 elections but on the 2004 elections, which had occurred in the midst of the signature-gathering process.

But the initiative is now back on track. In a January 28 decision, US District Court Judge James Mahan ruled that Heller's moving the goal posts for the initiatives was an unconstitutional violation of petitioners' First Amendment and due process rights and that the petitions must be certified on the basis of the 2002 numbers, which is what Heller had guaranteed in a guidebook provided to initiative organizers.

"It's like you changed the rules in midstream," Mahan told Nevada officials as he granted the injunction sought by MPP and CRCM.

"The judge ruled they can't change the rules in the middle of the game," said Allen Lichtenstein, an attorney for American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which backed MPP's appeal of Heller's ruling.

"We are of course extremely pleased that the judge understood the situation and saw how completely preposterous the state's position was," said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "State officials were trying to set up an impossible situation for us -- and in so doing they were contradicted their own previous rulings. We are glad that this is over and we can now move forward to get to the real point: a discussion about marijuana prohibition," he told DRCNet.

Steve George, a spokesman for Secretary of State Heller, told the Las Vegas Review Journal after the ruling that Heller's office will move the marijuana regulation petition, along with two anti-smoking initiatives also affected by Mahan's ruling, to the legislature, which convenes on February 7. Under Nevada law for statutory initiatives, the legislature has 40 days to approve the measure. If the legislature fails to act, the initiative automatically goes before the voters in the next general election in November 2006.

MPP's earlier initiative efforts took the path of amending the state constitution. Under Nevada law, such measures must be passed by voters in two consecutive general elections.

"Since this is a statutory change and not a constitutional amendment, it only has to be approved by the voters once," explained Mirken. "The way the state constitution is set up, though, the legislature gets the first crack at it. We are not under any illusions that the politicians will suddenly find the courage previously lacking on drug issues, but the legislature cannot stop this. If the lawmakers fail to act, it goes directly before the voters next year. The legislature could make that unnecessary by actually passing the measure, but we are not holding our breath waiting for that to happen," he said.

Still, said Mirken, MPP and CRCM have not written off the legislature. "We will try to accomplish as much as we can. We have one member of the assembly, Rep. Chris Giunchigliani (D-Las Vegas), who is very supportive and who is interested in having hearings. At the very least, we see this as an opportunity to have a useful discussion and educate the politicians and the public, but we are expecting this to go to the voters next year."

The MPP/CRCM initiative would allow adults to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and would increase penalties for providing pot to minors or causing a fatal accident while driving under the influence. Marijuana sales would be taxed, with revenues earmarked for drug and alcohol treatment and education programs.

In no state have legislators or the electorate voted to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Alaska has come closest, with voters there rejecting such a measure in November by a margin of 57% to 43%. The Alaska courts, however, have ruled that possession of up to four ounces of pot in one's home is protected under the state constitution's privacy provisions, making it the only state to recognize the legality of simple marijuana possession.

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5. DRCNet Interview: Roger Goodman, King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project

In a groundbreaking resolution adopted January 19, Washington state's King County (Seattle) Bar Association (KCBA) effectively declared war on drug prohibition, calling for "a new framework of state-level regulatory control over psychoactive substances, intended to render the illegal markets for such substances unprofitable, to restrict access to psychoactive substances by young persons and to provide prompt health care and essential services to persons suffering from chemical dependency and addiction." KCBA predicted that such a system "will better serve the objectives of reducing crime, improving public order, enhancing public health, protecting children and wisely using scarce public resources, than current drug policies."

While officially endorsed only by the KCBA, the resolution is the result of years of work at the state and local level in Washington by the KCBA's Drug Policy Project headed by Roger Goodman. The effort has brought together an amazing number of state and local professional organizations -- doctors, pharmacists, the League of Women Voters -- to push for a reexamination of the state's approach to drug policy. KCBA's drug policy grouping is a powerful coalition not of outsiders seeking a voice at the table but of insiders demanding change.

With the KCBA and its allies now working with the state legislature to urge it to consider adopting a new, regulatory approach to currently illicit drugs, the Seattle approach appears to be on the cutting edge of drug law reform. Drug War Chronicle spoke with KCBA drug policy head Roger Goodman this week to find out more.

Drug War Chronicle: What does this resolution say, and what does it ask the legislature to do?

Roger Goodman: The resolution of the King County Bar Association calls on the Washington state legislature to set up a body of experts -- in pharmacology, medicine, education, the law, and so on -- to gather around the table and figure out how a state-level regulatory system for psychoactive substances may be feasibly established. We are talking about psychoactive substances produced entirely in illegal markets. We are not talking about "grey market" pharmaceuticals -- prescription drugs that have been diverted -- that's an important distinction. The black market is much harder to control, but by getting rid of the black market and its associated crime problems, we would go a long way toward addressing what is commonly thought of as the "drug problem."

We understand that we are not going to get there right away, so we are supporting drug courts as an interim measure that can be fully implemented consistent with the existing federal prohibitionist legal framework. We are talking about abstinence achieved through the use of criminal sanctions, holding a hammer over people's heads, and we realize that a significant part of the drug reform community has problems with that, but we have to live in the real world. Drug courts keep people out of prison, they save money, and they improve the health and lives of the participants. What drug courts also do is change the culture of the courts, and we can only move as fast as the culture will allow. This can be frustrating for drug reformers, but now, at least, we are finally talking about the elephant sitting in the middle of the room.

When we are talking about bar associations, who are we talking about but lawyers and judges? Most of these lawyers would love to see the courts unclogged of these drug cases, they would love to see the money redirected to indigent defense, to family courts, and things like that. Within the legal profession, everyone is receptive to this reform because it frees up resources. And neither can sheriffs and police chiefs just reject drug courts out of hand anymore. They are no longer a radical idea, but an important interim step.

One of our guiding principles is that the degree of state regulation and control of a particular substance should be commensurate with the harm associated with that substance. Now, harm is a loaded word, but you can reduce it down to something measurable. And what we are talking about is primary harm -- direct negative consequences for the user or others -- not secondary harm, and not the fact that someone may be offended by drug use. Other than reasonable regulations, such as on places of consumption or hours of sales, we are basically following the liberal tradition of the state not interfering in the affairs of its citizens. We even quote John Stuart Mill.

Chronicle: How important is this resolution, and how relevant is it as a model for other localities?

Goodman: This could be the beginning of the next big thing. What we are doing with this resolution is trying to plant the seed that will finally end the war on drugs, however long that takes. You know, I was just thinking to myself: How could anyone argue to preserve the black market in drugs? Why does it keep continuing? I think it is simply because we have not been talking about it. But with this resolution, these ideas are finally on the table. And we are not pulling punches. We are talking about the need for a continuum of therapeutic approaches. What is embodied in the resolution is a long-term vision, and we are looking at all those areas of the law that really haven't been considered as part of this. It's boring stuff, really -- manufacturing regulations, product safety, that sort of thing -- but it is incredible that potentially hazardous psychoactive substances are left in the hands of criminal gangs who prey on children. And just by using that sort of language, people find they have to sit down and talk about this. So, yes, we think this is very important. A couple of days ago, I literally had to prop myself up against the wall as the enormity of what we are doing sank in.

And it can easily be a model for any local or state bar association in the land. In fact, this is being discussed right now in bar associations across the country. Last week I was in New York; the state bar there wants to start its own drug law committee and work on this. There is also interest in other states, from Oregon to Alabama and Mississippi.

Chronicle: As impressive as the passage of this resolution is, equally impressive is the array of professional organizations you have marshaled behind it. What were the dynamics behind that, and where to you go from here in terms of gathering even more support?

Goodman: What we did was basically create a bandwagon effect. How it all started was through the leadership of the KCBA and the King County Medical Society presidents, who got the state bar and the state medical association interested back in 2001. We formed a steering committee, and then the KCBA targeted and invited other professional organizations in the state to send a representative to the steering committee. We made presentations to the boards of each of these organizations, and now each of those boards is engaged in the issue and gets updated. The organization presidents are now making decisions about, say, whether to sign onto a letter demanding reform of the Higher Education Act or in support of funding for treatment.

And the process continues to expand, even here. While most of the organizations already involved are medical, I think by the end of this month we will also have the Society of Addiction Medicine and the Association of Addiction Programs. These are abstinence-based groups for the most part, but they will likely come on board, and that leaves law enforcement all alone by itself.

I feel somewhat left out of the drug reform movement, because what we are doing here is not grassroots organizing, but grasstops organizing. I go to all these professional conferences and sit there quietly, but now the model is working nationwide. One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises is to see these busy professionals attend early morning meetings where they are sitting around a table talking strategy. They're not talking about whether their groups will support drug reform, but how to work together to convince public opinion leaders and public officials.

Chronicle: You have this resolution in hand. Where do you go from here?

Goodman: While the resolution passed last month, we are waiting until March 3 to officially release it. Now, we are talking to people like you and Dean Becker of Cultural Baggage and Dan Forbes, but we're not going big time until then. It is time to get real. We are sitting on the progressive edge here and we are going to push. We'll do a big news conference then, we will have faxed news releases to every outlet on the planet. We will have all those association heads lined up to speak then. And we do have a plan in place. We will try to place some op-eds the week after the news conference, and then we'll try to do some radio shows to follow-up in the weeks after that. We are hoping both that this gets the state legislature here listening and that we will start to generate some national coverage. In the meantime, I've been visiting with legislators down in Olympia, and so far the early signs are good. There are promises to move on this if there is bipartisan support.

Chronicle: Okay, so the KCBA passes this resolution urging the state legislature to act, and you've got a public awareness campaign in place. What do you realistically expect the legislature to do?

Goodman: Legislators are buying into this. No one I've spoken to so far has said we should not be talking about alternatives. The chairs of the House criminal justice and judiciary committees are colleagues of mine, and they say they are willing to take this on. The Senate judiciary committee chair has showed similar interest. While both chambers are controlled by the Democrats, I think they would really like this to be bipartisan. This represents a major shift in policy, and no one wants to get too far out front. Changing drug policy is like reversing course on a battleship; it will take some time to turn it around. Well, now we have boarded that battleship, but we're not on the bridge yet.

What I would really like to see this year is hearings. Whether we could get beyond hearings this year, whether key legislators are ready to act and vote a proposal to the next level, the rules committees, may or may not happen this year, but we are seeing an understanding of the issue and a commitment to look at new ideas from key leaders. What we are asking for is low maintenance and low budget, and that should make it easier. We are not asking for an expensive blue ribbon commission because we've already done the leg work. We are not asking the legislature to make the $1.6 billion deficit any deeper. If we can get hearings this year, we can spend the next year educating people. We have an active speakers' bureau, and we will be out there talking to the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, those sorts of groups, informing people one on one over the same period. This is really an exercise in cultural change, and with the change in the culture, change in the law will follow. We have to be a bit patient.

Chronicle: Speaking of elephants in the room, how does a single state, or even a number of states, get around the federal prohibition on illicit drugs?

Goodman: While the weight of the Controlled Substances Act and its broad interpretation under the commerce clause seems so daunting that no state would even try to diverge from federal prohibition, we have come up with a number of arguments we think can successfully confront the CSA. Under a state's police powers, for instance, the state has the right to regulate medical practice. As you know, right now we are seeing a lot of persecution of doctors by the federal government -- and, of course, the medical groups are very, very sensitive to this. There is case law that strongly supports the state's authority to regulate medical practice, so perhaps we could see prohibited drugs administered medically under state -- not federal -- regulation.

Another conceptual argument is that if a state were to engage in purveying substances as a business -- think of state-run liquor stores -- this would be considered commerce under the law and thus could be regulated. The power to regulate commerce is not solely the domain of the federal government; it is concurrent with the states. If a state, through its political process, whether by legislative action or initiative, opted to get in the business, it could then argue that it has the power to regulate such a business. I suppose the US Attorney General could seek an injunction, but it would be a test of how a state can exercise its police and regulatory powers to protect the health of its people. I don't think the Supreme Court would intervene. That would be the ultimate test.

Cannabis is probably the only example of using the commerce model. It could be grown on state land under state license and distributed by the state. The law could also allow for home production and consumption. And there could be a third category: medical use. You need to keep the medicine affordable, so perhaps there could be licensed co-ops providing low cost cannabis to those who need it medically or certification of patients to receive discounts. In general, though, you do want to keep the price high, although lower than the black market, because it deters youth consumption and overall consumption.

Chronicle: I notice that the resolution takes the time to emphasize that it is about "regulation and control," not "legalization." Why not say the L-word?

Goodman: Legalization is such a charged political term that although we are not afraid to use it, it almost immediately requires definition. What exactly do you mean by legalization? Regulation and control is much easier to understand. Also, we are not inventing a new regime here; we are simply incorporating potentially hazardous psychoactive substances into a regime that currently exists. The states already regulate some psychoactive substances. To regulate others that are currently illicit does not require a regime change, but maybe some new requirements, some new agency to handle it. Cannabis especially is a substance just crying out for regulation. Currently it is controlled by the black market and is more available to young people than adults. I think the public is at a point where it understands that regulation is a more attractive alternative.

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6. Blogging: Mobile, Alabama Police Chief Stuck "Inside the Box" Over City's Rising Drug Trade Violence, and More

Mobile, Alabama, may have an upturn in its homicide rate. The city's police chief blames drugs among other things, but his thinking appears to be stuck "inside the box."

Meanwhile, border violence attributed by authorities to fighting amongst Mexican drug gangs has prompted the US State Department to issue a travel advisory. Mexican officials are not pleased -- at all.

Visit our Prohibition and the Media blog online to check out these stories and for letter to the editor information. Click here to subscribe to our blog updates list or manage your DRCNet subscription options.

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7. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

There must be a bad moon rising out in cop country. There has been a serious outbreak of corruption cases, drug-smuggling prison guards, and cops gone to pot across the country, but it's been particularly bad in Illinois, with three separate Chicago-area cases of classic drug war corruption. Let's get right to it:

  • In Chicago, four police officers at the Englewood District were arrested January 26 on charges they were shaking down drug dealers, the Chicago Tribune reported. The four veteran cops conspired with other drug dealers to steal money, drugs, and guns from their competitors, federal authorities said as they announced a total of nine arrests. There may be more to come. The Tribune Saturday reported that according to police sources, the FBI has widened its investigation to include as many as six more Chicago police officers.
  • In suburban Maywood, Illinois, meanwhile, police officer Arian Wade was one of six men arrested in a scheme to bribe police to ignore drug trafficking operations there, the Associated Press reported. The arrests came in an investigation dubbed Operation Pocket Change, which began last August when a man approached Maywood police about taking bribes to safeguard corners where drugs were sold. Three police officers posed as crooked cops accepted $1,200 a week payments to supposedly ignore drug activity at those locations. It looks like Arian Wade was not posing.
  • And in North Riverside, Illinois, a former Illinois State Police sergeant was sentenced to more than five years in prison for trading guns to gang members to feed a burgeoning crack cocaine habit. Dennis Kalinoski pled guilty a year ago to "possessing firearms while addicted to crack cocaine," the Chicago Tribune reported. Kalinoski went down after selling three semi-automatic pistols to a Black P Stones gang member who happened to be a federal informant. Despite tape-recorded evidence of his transactions, Kalinoski took the stand during sentencing to deny he ever swapped guns for crack. Instead, he contended that he was doing deals to try to find out who had stolen 100 guns from his home. He didn't report the alleged theft, he said, because a female "smokehouse" friend slipped crack into an alcoholic drink she gave, leaving him "totally incapacitated" -- a scarcely believable claim, given the pharmacological properties of cocaine.
  • In Orlando, two Orange County deputies were fired January 27 in what the Orlando Sentinel called "the worst corruption at the Orange County Sheriff's Office in recent years." Deputies Kevin Gomez and Armando Perez were fired almost a year after they were suspended when they were recorded on a wiretap passing on drug enforcement information to their mutual friend and fellow martial artist, Eric Simmons. Simmons was a major dealer in GHB, and the two deputies are accused of providing him warnings about wiretaps, informants' identities, and ongoing drug investigations. Simmons testified about the deputies as part of a plea bargain after he was arrested on drug-trafficking charges in March by the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation. Gomez was fired for abuse of authority, lying, unsatisfactory performance, and failure to cooperate with an internal affairs investigation, while Perez was cut loose for abuse of authority, lying, and associating with a known or suspected criminal. Gomez faces one criminal count of disclosing confidential criminal justice information, while the Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office did not charge Perez with any criminal count, despite a recommendation from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that it do so. This may not be the end of it. The report of the investigation that resulted in the firing of Gomez and Perez suggested that there may be more corrupt cops in the department, the Sentinel noted.
Prison guards gone bad:
  • In Wakulla, Florida, prison guard Timothy James Ford was arrested January 28 and charged with attempting to smuggle drugs into a state prison, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. Ford, an eight-year Department of Corrections employee, went down after a prisoner informed on him and authorities set up a sting. After listening in on a phone call between the prisoner, his girlfriend and his mother where the trio discussed sending a package to Ford, Florida corrections inspectors followed Ford to the post office and arrested him after he signed for the package. It contained about a half-pound of marijuana in a large Ziplock bag and smaller amounts of powder and crack cocaine in smaller baggies. In an odd note, the Democrat reported that unlike normal sheriff's department procedure, Ford's mug shot and address were not made available "because under Florida law, photos and other personal information about active or former law-enforcement personnel are exempt from release."
Not exactly corrupt, but still worth noting -- Cops gone to pot:
  • In Detroit, city police officer Paul Carmona was arrested January 12 in suburban Allen Park for marijuana possession after he was pulled over for speeding late that night. The five-year veteran has told differing versions of how a brown bag containing an ounce of weed came to be sitting on his pick-up truck's back seat, the Detroit Free Press reported. When arrested he identified himself as a police officer, although he carried no police ID and no drivers' license, and said the pot had been seized as evidence. But last week, Carmona's attorney, S. Allen Early, announced that, no, that wasn't it. Instead, said Carmona, another person has come forward to claim the marijuana. That person has provided Early with a sworn affidavit saying he had borrowed the pick-up and left the bag behind. Carmona is suspended without pay pending resolution of the case. Carmona has a bit of a disciplinary history as well. He was previously suspended for shooting off his police weapon while riding in a van on Interstate 96 in 2003. Another officer in the van was found with a semiautomatic gun reported stolen four years earlier in suburban Sterling Heights.
  • In Barker, New York, a Broome County Sheriff's Department detective pled guilty January 27 to marijuana possession after state police found pot plants growing outside his home in July. The police were there to investigate a domestic dispute, the Associated Press reported. Christopher Smith, 35, received a conditional discharge and a $1,000 fine in town court. Smith had been suspended from the department since his arrest, but continued to receive his $52,000 annual salary. Word came this week that Smith has resigned his post.

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8. Newsbrief: DEA Pain FAQ Retract Flap Fallout Continues -- Criticism Comes from Unexpected Direction as Agency Seeks Comments

Controversy over the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) mysterious vanishing guidance to physicians and law enforcers about what constituted permissible opioid prescribing practices for the treatment of pain -- the pain FAQ -- continues, this time with criticism of the agency coming from a most unexpected quarter: the nation's state attorneys general.

After years of consultations with academic pain specialists over the increasingly contentious issue of proper pain management with opioids versus the DEA's concerns about prescription drug abuse and diversion, the agency last summer posted the pain FAQ. While criticized by some pain patients' advocates and physicians with experience with unfounded prosecutions, the pain FAQ at a minimum represented an acknowledgment by the drug-fighting agency that prescribing even large amounts of opioids for pain management falls within the scope of legitimate medical practice.

But weeks later, the pain FAQ vanished, pulled from the DEA's web site without explanation. The agency also requested, without forewarning or explanation, that academic medical organizations that had participated in creation of the pain FAQ also pull down their copies of the Guidelines. Only after a rising storm of criticism from pain treatment advocates and the offended academics alike did the agency deign to explain that it felt the pain FAQ positions were too constraining on the government's power to investigate and prosecute physicians.

Now, the embattled agency has formally requested comments on the question of the proper prescribing of opioid pain medications. Leading pain physicians were quick to respond to news of the request, as would be expected, but so was the National Association of Attorneys General, representing the top law enforcement officers in each state. They were not pleased with the agency.

In a January 19 letter signed by 30 attorneys general -- more than half -- the organization pronounced itself "concerned" about the DEA's recent actions regarding pain medication policy and "surprised" that the agency had suddenly shifted its views, especially without consulting them. That concern included fears that "state and federal policies are diverging with respect to the relative emphasis on ensuring the availability of prescription pain medications to those who need them."

Noting its own adoption of a 2003 resolution seeking balance in promoting pain relief and preventing prescription drug abuse, the NAAG called the pain FAQ reflective of "a consensus among law enforcement agencies, health care practitioners, and patient advocates that the prevention of drug abuse is an important societal goal that can and should be pursued without hindering proper patient care." Its replacement with a tougher DEA interim policy statement in November "emphasizes enforcement, and seems likely to have a chilling effect on physicians engaged in the legitimate practice of medicine," they group wrote.

The unexpected display of thoughtfulness from the attorneys general is worth quoting at length: "As Attorneys General have worked to remove barriers to quality care for citizens of our states at the end of life, we have learned that adequate pain management is often difficult to obtain because many physicians fear investigations and enforcement actions if they prescribe adequate levels of opioids or have many patients with prescriptions for pain medications. We are working to address these concerns while ensuring that individuals who do divert or abuse drugs are prosecuted. There are many nuances of the interactions of medical practice, end of life concerns, definitions of abuse and addiction, and enforcement considerations that make balance difficult in practice. But we believe this balance is very important to our citizens, who deserve the best pain relief available to alleviate suffering, particularly at the end of life."

The attorneys general concluded by noting the DEA's solicitation for comments and pointedly asking DEA administrator Karen Tandy for an early March meeting -- the AGs will be in Washington for their annual conference -- to discuss their concerns.

If the DEA is catching flak from its friends, it is also hearing from some former friends. Dr. Russell Portenoy, chair of the Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care at New York's Beth Israel Medical Center and the lead expert in the joint collaboration between academic pain specialists and the DEA that led to the pain FAQ, told the American Medical News this week that he had "little enthusiasm" for any further involvement with the agency.

Dr. David Joranson of the University of Wisconsin's Pain and Policy Studies Group was a little bit more forgiving. He told the American Medical News that it appeared the DEA had new people working on prescription drug diversion and they needed to be educated. "I think everyone in the pain field -- clinicians, administrators and patients -- should take the DEA request very seriously," he said.

And maybe the DEA should take seriously the rising chorus of objections to its hard-line stance on the issues of pain management and prescription drug diversion.

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9. Newsbrief: HEA Repeal Picking Up Steam -- Congressional Advisory Committee, Arizona Legislators Urge Rescinding of Souder's Law

The broad-based effort to repeal the Higher Education Act (HEA) provision barring students with drug convictions from receiving student financial aid has gained new support in recent weeks, with a congressionally-appointed committee calling for effective repeal of the provision and a bipartisan group of Arizona legislators introducing a resolution to the same effect.

CHEAR press conference with ten
members of Congress, May 2002
Through the efforts of the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR), an umbrella group coordinated by DRCNet, more than 180 student, academic, professional, educational, and civil liberties organizations have now called for the drug provision's repeal. The brainchild of arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), the provision has, according to the US Department of Education, led to some 157,000 students being denied financial aid since it went into effect in 2000, many of them for simple marijuana possession.

The HEA drug provision and Souder's effort to defend a proposed partial reform to the law that would make it apply only to those arrested while enrolled in college -- advocates want full repeal instead -- took a direct hit late last month when the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance called for the removal of the question about drug convictions from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The committee, an independent body created by Congress to advise it on education and student aid policy, simply called the drug question "irrelevant." The provision "can deter some students from applying for financial aid," the committee declared.

"We are pleased with the recommendation coming from the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance's report," said Chris Mulligan, CHEAR outreach director. "Mistakes young people made in the past should have no bearing on their ability to succeed in the future. Hopefully, Congress will heed the advice of its own appointees and work to repeal the drug provision during this session."

Congress may get another nudge from the state of Arizona. On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 14 state legislators, acting at CHEAR's behest, introduced a resolution calling on Congress to repeal the HEA drug provision. If the measure passes, Arizona would become the second state to call for repeal. A similar resolution passed the Delaware General Assembly last year.

"I sponsored this legislation because of what I've learned in my professional experiences working the last 25 years in child welfare," said sponsor Rep. David Bradley (D-28). "The antidote to poverty, violence, and substance abuse problems is education. It is ludicrous to penalize a one-time drug offender by making it more difficult to escape the ravages of substance abuse and poverty by not facilitating their educational opportunities."

CHEAR hopes that Republican moderate US Sen. John McCain is listening. Last year, a bill to repeal the provision gained 70 cosponsors in the House, but lacked a companion bill in the Senate. McCain could take the hint from his home state General Assembly and introduce such a bill in the Senate, CHEAR suggested.

Visit for further information.

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10. Newsbrief: DEA Must Pay Hemp Industry Plaintiff's Legal Bills, Court Rules

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) must reimburse Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps more than $20,000 in legal bills the company accrued as it financed the Hemp Industry Association's (HIA) effort to overturn DEA attempts to ban the sale of foods containing hemp products. Citing the Equal Access to Justice Act, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the DEA to pay $21,265.

"The EAJA allows an award of attorneys fees in this situation only where the court finds the Government's position was not 'substantially justified,'" said Joe Sandler, HIA's counsel in the case. "By making this award, the Court has basically decided that DEA's attempt to outlaw hemp foods never had any real legal merit."

Lack of merit did not stop the DEA from reflexively attempting to bar hemp foods. In a three-year legal struggle that ended last September, the agency willfully misconstrued the language of the Controlled Substances Act, which clearly leaves non-psychoactive hemp outside the purview of DEA regulation, leaving the country's nascent hemp foods industry stalled at a time it should have been taking off. The DEA also argued that hemp foods must be banned because they could cause false positive readings on drug tests, a position the industry has effectively debunked.

"We are very pleased to recoup a portion of the costs associated in fighting off the DEA's illegal attempt to ban nutritious hemp seed," said Dr. Bronner's president David Bronner. "We plan to use the money to fund industrial hemp studies in Canada as well as legislative efforts to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp in the United States. Hemp seed for foods on account of its omega-3 content is the immediate market driver building economies of scale; we're also supporting hemp fiber research and applications as a substitute for timber in paper and fiberglass in composites."

"The recently revived global hemp market is a thriving commercial success," noted the Hemp Industry Association in a press release greeting the ruling. "Unfortunately, due to drug war paranoia, the DEA confuses non-psychoactive industrial hemp varieties of cannabis with psychoactive varieties, and thus the US is the only major industrialized nation to prohibit the growing of industrial hemp."

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11. Newsbrief: Indiana Official Calls for National Agency to Provide Drugs to Addicts

The president of Indiana's Lake County Board of Commissioners has called for a form of drug maintenance therapy for hard-core addicts in an open letter to his local newspaper and state and federal officials. Embracing the measure as a means of eliminating the black market drug trade, Commissioner Gerry Scheub argued that it would shrink the social cost of illicit drug use.

While mentions of Indiana may conjure up images of cornfields, which may be found in Lake County, the county, which abuts neighboring Chicago, is the home of gritty cities like East Chicago and Gary, and is no stranger to either drug use, drug trafficking, or drug prohibition-related violence. In fact, Lake County has its very own High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) designation. Former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher once similarly called for drug maintenance programs as a possible solution to urban problems in the 1970s.

"I am concerned about the abominable curse of illegal drugs," wrote Scheub, warning of "sub-humans among us" who prey upon the young and the addicted. But as much as he loathes drug dealers, he recognized the futility of current policies. "No matter how diligently we pursue drug dealers and incarcerate them, there are always other criminals that fill their shoes and continue their pursuit of the despicable deleterious illegal trade. Drugs do and will continue to destroy lives unless and until a final and effective solution is devised."

The ominous overtones of "final solutions" to any social problem notwithstanding, it appears Scheub's heart is in the right place. "I often wonder why our national leaders do not subscribe to the idea of creating a national agency that would administer a program for addicts," he suggested. "Addicted persons would be examined by qualified medical personnel to determine if they are indeed addicted and then be administered the drug at a minimal cost. If and when such a program is instituted, the illegal drug trade will effectively be eliminated." The Northwest Indiana News reported that Scheub said that no one incident prompted the letter, although he has long been concerned about the costs of jailing nonviolent minor drug offenders. Neither is he going soft on the drug trade, Scheub said.

But Scheub's ideas didn't wash with a DEA spokesman contacted by the News. Addiction is a curable disease, said Rafael Lemaitre. "We know that we can make people better," Lemaitre said. "We know that we can heal them from their addictions. So this notion that we would like to maintain their disease and prolong their misery and keep them slaves to addiction would not be considered good public health policy."

But it has already worked in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Germany, and a similar heroin maintenance program is pending final approval in Canada. And now a county commissioner in Indiana thinks it's a good idea in this country. And that's a good thing, Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann told the News. "It's incredibly valuable when an elected official puts forward a provocative idea that does offer to help deal with at least a part of America's drug problem," Nadelmann said.

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12. Newsbrief: In Swan Song, Ashcroft Calls for Harsher Sentences, Chastizes Foes

Let it at least be said of outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft that he is consistent. During his term as the nation's top law man, the self-avowed Christian conservative was a relentless advocate of "tough on crime" policies. In a Tuesday speech that may well be his swan song -- his successor, Alberto Gonzalez, won Senate approval Thursday -- Ashcroft was still talking that old time religion.

good riddance
While most of his remarks consisted of a self-laudatory defense of the PATRIOT Act and his record of prosecuting the war on terrorism, Ashcroft spared a couple of minutes to viciously attack last month's Supreme Court decision invalidating the mandatory federal sentencing guideline system and rending it merely advisory. The court held that the 18-year-old practice of allowing judges to increase sentences based on factors -- such as the quantity of drugs involved -- never heard by a jury violated defendants' right to a jury trial.

The decision, in a pair of cases known as Booker and Fan Fan, threatens public security, Ashcroft darkly warned. "Last month's Supreme Court ruling that federal judges are not bound by sentencing guidelines is a retreat from justice that may put the public's safety in jeopardy," Ashcroft declared. "Which of our daughters, wives and husbands are we willing to sacrifice to return to revolving door justice?" He demanded that Congress "reinstitute tough sentences and certain justice for criminals."

But tough federal sentences, especially for drug offenders have not gone away. Under federal mandatory minimum sentence laws, which were not affected by the Booker and Fan Fan decision, sales of retail amounts of drugs such as crack cocaine continue to garner lengthy prison sentences. Drug war prisoners now make up more than half of all federal prisoners, a trend that Bureau of Justice Statistics figure show only accelerated during Ashcroft's reign.

Ashcroft also used the occasion to lambaste critics of his "stuff the prisons" policy, calling his foes "cynics and defeatists" and calling out the nation's leading newspaper by name. "The New York Times annually sums up this resistance to reality when it runs a story wondering with violent crime at an all-time low why so many people are in prison," he said.

The speech drew loud applause from the audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, where he spoke Tuesday night.

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13. Newsbrief: Man Bites Dog! Arkansas Bill to Lower Meth Sentences Moves Forward

Across the land, lawmakers are scurrying to pass laws to fight the "scourge" of methamphetamine, whether by restricting the availability of legal over-the-counter medicines, creating new offenses, or enacting harsher penalties for existing meth offenses. In Arkansas, this week, legislators headed in a different direction. A bill that would get some speed cooks out of prison faster passed the General Assembly's Senate Judiciary committee Tuesday.

Under current Arkansas law, people convicted of one of a specified list of especially heinous offenses -- murder, rape, kidnapping, "causing a catastrophe," meth manufacture, and possession of
paraphernalia with the intent to manufacture meth -- are not eligible for parole until serving 70% of their prison sentences. In reaction to the appearance of methamphetamine labs in the state, legislators added manufacture of methamphetamine with intent to distribute to that list. But SB 120, the bill that made it through committee this week, would remove the 70% requirement for first- or second-offense meth lab cooks if they were found in possession of less than five grams of the stimulant.

Bill sponsor Senator Jack Critcher (D-Grubbs) told the Associated Press he introduced the bill because he did not want to add to the state's prison overcrowding problem and because he wanted to separate the addicts from the dealers. People possessing less than five grams of meth should be presumed to be in possession of the drug for personal use, he said.

Click here to read the bill online.

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14. Newsbrief: London Top Cop Warns He Will Target Casual Cocaine Users

London's new top police official, Sir Ian Blair, took over as Metropolitan Police Commissioner Tuesday and wasted no time in announcing a war on casual cocaine users in the city. In recent years, as prices have declined, cocaine use has been on the rise in England and encompasses all social strata, from poor, minority crack smokers to upper class weekend powder-sniffers. As far as Blair is concerned, the situation is out of hand and he is ready to make examples, the newspaper the Scotsman reported.

There are people in London who think it is "socially acceptable" to enjoy "a wrap of Charlie" at dinner parties or during a night out clubbing, Blair complained. But while they may believe they are indulging in a "harm-free" pleasure, he said, their habit is wreaking havoc from the streets of London to the coca fields of the Andes.

"I think there are a group of people in the capital who believe that they are in some way taking harm-free cocaine," said Sir Ian. "I'm not interested in what harm it is doing to them personally, but the price of that cocaine is misery on the streets of London's estates and blood on the roads to Colombia and Afghanistan."

While much attention has been paid in England to crime and violence associated with the crack cocaine use of the poor and the wrong-colored, Blair appeared to be sending a warning that British high society will not be immune from the law. "There are no areas of the capital which are exempt from the law on drugs," he said. "I am clear that there are some who think their weekend's wrap of charlie is entirely harm-free, but it may not be entirely harm-free for much longer. The tests on cocaine on the toilet seats of various clubs will tell you an awful lot of cocaine is going on in the centre of London that people think is exempt from policing," he said.

"People think it is OK but I do not think it is OK to use cocaine. We will have to do something about it by making a few examples of people so that they understand," Blair ominously pronounced. "I am concerned that it is becoming socially acceptable. People are having dinner parties where they drink less wine and snort more cocaine."

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15. Newsbrief: Belgian Cannabis Clarification Now in Effect

Belgium passed a law decriminalizing the personal possession of marijuana under most circumstances in January 2003, but parts of that law have been in limbo since October, when the Belgian Court of Arbitration, which reviews new legislation, declared it unconstitutional because of vagueness and ambiguity in the wording of the law.

For instance, while the law made clear that most people should not be arrested for simple marijuana possession, it said they could get busted if their use was "problematic." The court found that description unclear. As a consequence, Belgian prosecutors decided they could not apply that section of the law.

This week, the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutor's Office moved to clarify the situation, the online news service Expatica reported. Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx and the prosecutor's office issued a joint directive specifying that anyone caught with less than three grams of the weed or growing one plant to supply himself should receive the lowest form of sanction, a verbal warning. Under the directive, police cannot confiscate the weed if it is less than three grams. The clarification went into effect immediately.

People can still be punished more severely if they are smoking pot near a school or youth center, in a public place, or in prison.

The Belgian law makes no provision for marijuana sales. At the time of the law's passage in 2003, Health Ministry spokesman Paul Geerts recommended that pot-hungry Belgians could "grow it for yourselves or buy it in the Netherlands." Now, would be growers can rest assured that they can grow at least one plant without fear of police reprisal.

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16. Newsbrief: Spanish Pharmacies to Begin Selling Medical Marijuana

Some 60 pharmacies in Spain's Catalonia region are set to begin dispensing medical marijuana, Europa Press reported Tuesday. According to the regional director of health resources, Rafael Manzanera, the pilot program will be up and running before the end of April. Spain will thus join the Netherlands as a country where medical marijuana is available through pharmacies.

Eleven months ago, the Catalan regional government approved the idea in principle and, egged on by the Catalan pharmacists' association, which demanded it match its words with actions, it is now prepared to get the pilot project underway.

According to Manzanera, the project will enlist four Catalan hospitals and their pharmacies, and will eventually be expanded to include 60 pharmacy branches. The expansion will come once the benefits of the original program have been analyzed, said a spokesman for the Catalan health ministry.

The dispensing of medical marijuana will be limited to "combating the vomiting provoked by chemotherapy and the effects of anorexia in persons suffering from AIDS," said Manzanera. "It will also try to alleviate muscular problems related to Muscular Dystrophy, as well as chronic pain that does not respond to other kinds of therapies."

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17. Newsbrief: Safe Injection Site Opens in Oslo

Even in staunchly prohibitionist Scandinavia, harm reduction measures are hard to resist. According to a message from Sindre Ringvik, the leader of an Oslo drug users' outreach project that manages the new Oslo "Syringeroom" ("sproyterommet"), to a Danish drug users' group, the Danish Drug Users Union (BrugerFoerningen), the safe injection site is now open after years of indecision by Norwegian and city of Oslo authorities.

The city of Oslo had decided to open a safe injection site for hard drug users in October 2001, and the site had been ready to go since March 2003. But it has taken until now to win final approval for the trial project.

According to a city of Oslo web site, the safe injection site has five full-time employees and is open a relatively limited six hours per day, from 10:00am to 4:00pm. A health worker is always on duty to supervise -- but not to assist in injections. If users have problems shooting up, they can turn to other users for help. The only drug that can be injected at the site is heroin. Users will also be offered access to drug treatment, either drug substitution or abstinence-based.

Users must register and receive a special user-number. They must also be over the age of 18 and must report how much they intend to inject. The locale is familiar to Norwegian drug users, since it has housed a drug users' health care project and needle exchange project for the past several years.

For Norse readers, more information is available here.

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18. Newsbrief: Rastas, Watch Out At Ethiopian Marley Fest, State Department Warns

The life and goals of late reggae superstar, world's most famous Rastafarian, global culture hero, and iconic pot-smoker Bob Marley will be celebrated with two weeks of festivities in Ethiopia to mark the 60th anniversary of his birth, and the US State Department is giving a heads up to travelers who may be thinking about emulating his spliff-puffing ways while they are there.

Although the celebration sponsored by the Bob Marley Foundation centers on Marley's birthday, February 6, events stretching across the first two weeks of the month are expected to draw as many as half a million people -- many of them Rastas -- to the capital, Addis Ababa, Ethiopian officials said. While the air above the city is bound to be clouded with smoke from Jah herb, a sacrament for Rastafarians, the State Department is warning that Ethiopian authorities will be on a high state of alert and that marijuana is against the law there.

In a public announcement issued January 28 to "to alert US citizens to enhanced security measures" during the celebration, the Department warned: "Ethiopian authorities plan to enhance security measures for the celebration. The security enhancements will include increased checks for illegal weapons and drugs at ports of entry and border crossings. Possession of marijuana is punishable by up to six months in prison."

It remains to be seen whether police in the homeland of Rastafari's spiritual fount, the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie (Ras Tafari) will devote themselves to harassing the multitudes of his dreadlocked followers as they partake. It would hardly seem to be in the spirit of an event called "Africa Unite" and celebrating the life of Marley.

As Bob Marley Foundation managing director Dr. Desta Meghoo-Peddie noted in an announcement last month, "The Marley family is committed to progressing Bob's legacy as a champion for human rights. The AFRICA UNITE event will honor the patriarch and strengthen all those who work so hard to fulfill the same vision. We invite the world to celebrate with us in refueling the spirit that will unify Africa, her sons and daughters in the Diaspora and work towards ending violence, poverty, injustice and discrimination."

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19. Newsbrief: India Narcs Set Off Prescription Drug Panic

Beginning Tuesday pharmaceutical drug wholesalers and retailers in India have stopped taking shipments of a wide variety of prescription drugs regulated under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), according to reports in Hindu Business and the India Times. Retailers organized in the All India Organization of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) say they will quit selling the drugs to patients starting February 10. The move is, as Hindu Business put it, the result of "the fear-psychosis spreading among chemists and medicine retailers across the country" in the wake of raids on pharmacists by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).

A reinvigorated NCB is making life miserable for drug wholesalers and retailers, complained AIOCD secretary general JS Shinde. NCB narcs are raiding and arresting chemists and pharmacists for minor record-keeping violations, and the Indian government has failed to respond to repeated requests to discuss the matter, he said. While the AIOCD recognizes the danger of abuse of the drugs in question, Shinde said the government must find a better way than jailing pharmacists and wholesalers.

Drugs affected include anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and anti-epileptics, as well as sedatives such as Valium and narcotic pain relievers and total more than 400 formulations. The AIOCD would like regulation of the drugs shifted from the illicit drug-oriented NDPS to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, which regulates prescription and non-prescription medicines.

The loudly announced imminent freeze on supplying prescriptions for the drugs in question may well be a maneuver by the industry to pressure the government, but the threat of no drugs is causing great anxiety both among those who use them and those who manufacture them (thus the stories in the Indian business press). Shortages are already developing, and people who are used to their Valium are feeling anxious.

Will the Indian government blink? Tune in next week.

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20. This Week in History

February 4, 1994: An unpublished US Department of Justice report indicates that over one-third of the drug felons in federal prisons are low-level nonviolent offenders.

February 4, 2003: Jurors in the Ed Rosenthal trial hold a news conference at the federal courthouse in San Francisco to call for a retrial, saying they felt "used" and "railroaded" and that they would have acquitted Rosenthal if they had been allowed to know that it was a medical marijuana case.

February 5, 1988: Manuel Noriega is indicted in US on drug trafficking charges.

February 6, 2004: The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejects the DEA's ban on hemp foods.

February 7, 1968: In a move likely spurred on by the Nixon campaign's "law and order" rhetoric, President Lyndon Johnson creates the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) by combining the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) with the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control (a sub-agency of the Food and Drug Administration).

February 7, 1985: Enrique Camarena, a DEA agent stationed in Mexico who discovered that drug traffickers there were operating under the protection of Mexican police officials, is kidnapped outside of his office in Guadalajara. His body is found several weeks later bearing marks of brutal torture.

February 7, 2001: After a contentious confirmation process, new Attorney General John Ashcroft declares, "I want to escalate the war on drugs. I want to renew it. I want to refresh it, re-launch it, if you will." Ashcroft fails to note that under President Clinton's two terms in office the number of jail sentences nationwide for marijuana offenders was 800% higher than under the Reagan and Bush administrations combined.

February 8, 1914: The New York Times publishes an opinion piece titled "Negro Cocaine 'Fiends' New Southern Menace."

February 9, 2000: Deborah Lynn Quinn, born with no arms or legs, is sentenced to one year in an Arizona prison for marijuana possession and violating probation on a previous drug offense, the attempted sale of four grams of marijuana to a police informant for $20. Quinn requires around the clock care for feeding, bathing, and hygiene.

February 10, 1998: The United Kingdom House of Lords announces an investigation into the recreational and medical use of marijuana, including "the scientific case for and against relaxing the prohibition on the medical and recreational use of cannabis."

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21. The Reformer's Calendar

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

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 8, 8:00-9:30pm, Philadelphia, PA, NPR's "Justice Talking" debate show covers medical marijuana, recording live with studio audience from the University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication, 3502 Watt Way room 204. Visit or call Laura Sider at (215) 573-8919 to reserve seats or 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 10, 8:00pm, West Hollywood, CA, "Medical Marijuana Extravaganja," benefit performance organized by Howard Dover and Green Therapy. Admission $20 or $10 for patients, at The Comedy Store, 8433 Sunset Blvd., visit or contact [email protected] for further information.

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 5, Los Angeles, CA, beginning of cross country ride by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition member Howard Wooldridge and his horse. Visit 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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