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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #374 -- 2/11/05

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items


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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

    Vancouver's Downtown East Side will soon host the
    first heroin maintenance program in the Americas.
    The northern North Americans in Canada are taking another cautious step for drug policy reform. The stakes -- saving a generation of heroin addicts.
    Hard-core heroin users began lining up this week in Vancouver to participate in a pioneering study where researchers will provide them with free heroin.
    Rob Kampia and Chuck Thomas split with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws to form the Marijuana Policy Project in 1995. DRCNet spoke Tuesday with Kampia, the organization's executive director, to look back at where the group and the movement has been and forward at what comes next.
    This beautifully illustrated children's story about marijuana provides a sober, thoughtful, and non-propagandistic treatment of the issue for curious children and nervous parents.
    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!
    This week we revisit a pair of stories on which we previously reported, examine a pair of marginally corrupt cases, one involving a police narc and one involving a prosecutor, and look at one absolutely hideous example of corrupt and thuggish policing of the foulest sort.
    The good burghers of Memphis are about to make a big pay-out for the behavior of their police in a 2002 drug raid gone bad.
    In a 2006 federal budget proposal marked by hefty increases for the Pentagon and the State Department and belt-tightening for almost everyone else, even spending for police is on the chopping block. But not for the DEA.
    About 1.2 million people reported using methamphetamine or prescription stimulants for non-medical reasons in 2003, according to the government's annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health -- a number virtually unchanged from the 2002. With meth use seemingly leveled off, one might ask, what meth epidemic?
    The human rights component of a joint training exercise between US and Philippine agencies has yet to sink in, with summary executions in Davao spiking upward at 45 last week. Calls for an investigation are growing.
    India's pharmaceutical industry, trade associations, and retail pharmacists have given consumers three more weeks of access to prescription drugs ranging from Valium to morphine and beyond, as the government promises to look into a campaign of arrests and harassment by the country's zealous Narcotics Control Board.
    As elections loom in Western Australia, the Labor government of Premier Geoff Gallop is under broad attack for its liberalization of marijuana laws in the state.
    Despite warnings last week from the US State Department that Ethiopia has strict drug laws and would be practicing heavy security during the annual Bob Marley Foundation festival in Addis Ababa, Sunday's concert went off without a hitch for the hundreds of thousands in attendance.
    Incoming London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair continued his campaign of verbal promises to go after recreational cocaine users for a second week.
    Drug reform to check out in mainstream and alternative media and on the web.
    Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.
    Correction to January 28th methamphetamine "CLEAN UP Act" story.
    Showing up at an event can be the best way to get involved! Check out this week's listings for events from today through next year, across the US and around the world!

(Chronicle archives)

1. Editorial: A Cautious First Step

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 2/11/05

David Borden
The northern North Americans in Canada are taking another cautious step for drug policy reform. NAOMI, the North American Opiate Maintenance Project, will shortly begin providing maintenance doses of heroin to addicts in Vancouver, moving later in the year to Toronto and Montreal as well. Drug warriors in the US and Canada alike are likely to characterize the project as reckless or wrongheaded. In reality it is a cautious first step only, but an urgently needed one.

In Vancouver's Downtown East Side, where many of the city's hard drug users congregate, the addicted each day face unnecessary levels of risk from overdose, spread of infectious diseases such as Hepatitis or HIV, marginalization from society and the health system, a wearing and time consuming search for money to pay for expensive street drugs, general destabilization of their lives, and all the obstacles to survival, recovery or prosperity these conditions present.

Prescription heroin is not a panacea capable of instantly transforming every addict into a happy, productive, model citizen. But the experience of countries such as Switzerland, The Netherlands, Great Britain, even the early 20th century United States, show that legal access to the drug of choice enables many such people to accomplish that for themselves. The consequences of prohibition are defining and harsh. Counterintuitive though it may seem to some, without prohibition, heroin and even heroin addiction would be markedly less destructive than they are today.

One famous advocate of prescription heroin was Danny Sugerman, long-time manager for the music group The Doors and coauthor of the famous Jim Morrison biography, "No One Here Gets Out Alive." Danny, who sadly passed away last month from cancer, also wrote an amazing book, "Wonderland Avenue: Tales of Glamour and Excess," telling the story of his descent into serious heroin addiction while living the fast life in West Hollywood. It's the kind of book that you don't want to put down until you've finished it.

Wonderland Avenue made crystal clear that Danny held no illusions about heroin. He keenly understood its dangers -- he almost died from them, many close to him did -- but he also comprehended the impact of prohibition on addicted drug users. In an interview four years ago with The Week Online (Drug War Chronicle's former name), Danny told us, "If you prescribed heroin to current addicts, you'd save an entire generation." Those words were spoken from hard experience and deep thought combined. Later this month Drug War Chronicle will publish a tribute to Danny, a friend of reform who died too young.

In the context of that idea, saving generations of addicts, the NAOMI trial seems much too little -- a few or several hundred participants, people who have already tried other therapies unsuccessfully, followed by a weaning off with the potential for a return to the street once the study's done, absent changes in drug policy to permit continuation. Canada has tens of thousands of active heroin users. Doubtless it has to start this way; even in Canada -- even in Vancouver -- heroin maintenance is a radical step forward, in political terms. But we know heroin maintenance works, if carried out in a sound fashion, and the record from other places and times, the people from those places, are there to offer insight and aid. So amid my satisfaction at this historic step, yet I cannot forget the uncertainty the future and present alike hold for many, many people who could be saved now.

Still, Canada deserves congratulations -- a lot of them -- for this cautious but major first step. With favorable results, unceasing pressure, and maybe a little luck, more and larger steps can follow.

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2. First North American Heroin Maintenance Study Now Underway in Vancouver

Hard-core heroin users began lining up this week in Vancouver to participate in a pioneering study where researchers will provide them with free heroin. The study, known as the North American Opiate Maintenance Project (NAOMI), won final approval Monday from Health Canada. Moving quickly, researchers this week began the process of selecting 158 participants, 88 who will receive free heroin and 70 -- the control group -- who will get methadone.

Hastings Street, on Vancouver's East Side (courtesy VANDU)
The NAOMI project is slated to expand to Toronto and Montreal later this year. In all, some 450 heroin users will participate in the one-year pilot project. At the end of the study period, the doses of heroin will tail off. The study is designed to see whether heroin is more effective than methadone in getting users who have proven resistant to other therapies to quit using. It will also examine whether providing free heroin will lead to decreases in criminality and homelessness among participants.

While similar projects have taken place in Switzerland and the Netherlands, the NAOMI project marks the first attempt to provide heroin maintenance therapy to drug users in North America. Led by Dr. Martin Schechter, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia, study planners have spent years carefully building political support and wending their way through a typically Canadian maze of governmental approvals. The study moves ahead with the support of Vancouver police and elected officials, and now, the full support of the Canadian federal government.

The study site is at 404 Abbot Street (at the corner of Hastings) in Vancouver's Downtown East Side, the center of one of the largest hard drug scenes in North America. Already home to a safe injection site and some of the continent's best organized hard drug users, the community is behind the study, said Dr. Schechter. "People in the Downtown Eastside understand the terrible toll -- human, social and fiscal -- of chronic heroin addiction," he noted. "They also understand the need to test new treatments and innovative methods of reducing drug-related harm."

"This study has support right across the political spectrum in Canada," said NAOMI spokesman Jim Boothroyd. "In our community consultations, opposition to the study was not so much ideological as NIMBY-oriented," he told DRCNet. "People are afraid of bringing heroin addicts into their neighborhoods, but by working with the Downtown Eastside community, we have addressed those concerns."

"The city of Vancouver definitely supports the NAOMI study," said Theresa Beer of the city's drug policy office. "We were involved in gaining neighborhood approval and securing the site," she told DRCNet. "The Vancouver police are also fully aware of and support the study," she said.

A very cautious Boothroyd refused for months to speak on the record about the pending project, hoping a low profile would keep opposition from mounting. That approach caused some concern among advocates of the project, said Anne Livingston of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, a group that has fought hard for such programs. "We were beginning to think they were taking the wrong approach, especially as this dragged on over the years," she told DRCNet, "but now, here we are with the final go-ahead. It's about time," she added.

With final approval granted by Health Canada, the project is moving fast, she said. "Approval came Monday, posters seeking applicants went up Tuesday, and the selection process began Thursday," she reported.

According to a NAOMI background paper, Canada has some 60,000 to 90,000 opiate addicts. While many hard drug users respond to methadone maintenance therapy, "some long-term, higher risk patients do not respond to or benefit from this standard treatment." Participants in the study will come from that group. According to program guidelines, candidates must be over 25, have been a heroin addict for more than five years, and previously have tried methadone maintenance. Persons on probation, facing criminal charges, or with severe mental illness will not be able to participate.

During the study, those selected to receive heroin will visit the clinic up to three times a day, seven days a week, where they will receive prescribed doses on heroin under a physician's supervision. Participants will be asked to remain at the clinic for a half hour after each injection. Available at the clinic will be social workers, drug and addiction counselors, and other social support staff, who will work with participants to achieve a more stable life-style and, ultimately, wean them from opiate addiction. At the study's end, participants will have a three-month transition period to wean them off heroin. They will then have the option of going into detox, going into methadone maintenance, or going back to the streets to feed their habits.

"Results from the European studies suggest that medically prescribed heroin could greatly help our most troubled heroin addicts -- those for whom we have no effective treatments," said Dr. Schechter. "But we won't know whether the same results hold true in the Canadian setting until we complete this carefully designed scientific study."

"Heroin addiction afflicts an estimated 60 to 90,000 Canadians and the costs associated with it -- in terms of human misery, public health, social problems and crime -- are staggering," said Dr. Alan Bernstein, President of Canadian Institute for Health Research. "Canada, and many other countries, therefore, need studies such as NAOMI to investigate new approaches to reducing the harm caused by heroin addiction."

And now it begins.

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3. DRCNet Interview: Marijuana Policy Project Director Rob Kampia

Rob Kampia and Chuck Thomas split with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in 1994 and formed the Marijuana Policy Project in early 1995. Since then, MPP has grown from a pair of relocated Pennsylvania activists operating out of a home office to a drug reform powerhouse operating out of offices on Capitol Hill offices in Washington, DC. With its fingers in many political pies over the years and some significant victories under its belt, MPP is definitely a player in marijuana and related drug reform issues across the country.

Chuck Thomas has since left MPP to found Unitarians Universalists for Drug Policy Reform and the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative -- he now goes by "Charles" -- but Rob Kampia has stayed on as the group's executive director. DRCNet spoke Tuesday with Kampia to look back at where the group and the movement has been and look forward at what comes next.

Drug War Chronicle: Let's begin by looking back. MPP just celebrated its ten-year anniversary a couple of weeks ago. How have things changed in the past decade?

Rob Kampia: That's right, our ten-year anniversary was January 25th, and we'll celebrate it with two galas in Los Angeles and Washington, DC, in May. Looking back, it's been a very good decade for marijuana policy reform, and MPP can take some of the credit for that. Things really started changing soon after we started MPP, with changes in the federal sentencing guidelines that released hundreds of federal marijuana prisoners early. Families Against Mandatory Minimums was the primary engine behind that, but MPP helped out. Then, for the first time in a decade, Congress started looking at medical marijuana legislation again in 1995, and support for that has been increasing steadily on the Hill for the last 10 years, and we can take a lot of credit for that. We have the only full-time marijuana lobbyist in Congress; Steve Fox is working everyday on this.

In the states, back in 1995, medical marijuana was not legal anywhere; now it's legal in 10 states, and we can take credit for getting it through in Montana and Vermont. We also assisted in Hawaii, and we were instrumental in passing the Maryland law. We don't include Maryland in the 10 states because it isn't legal there, but we did get a medical marijuana defense bill passed. With marijuana regulation, our Nevada initiative made the cover of Time magazine in 2002, but it failed with 39% of the vote. Last year, we were back in Nevada, and also invested in the Oregon and Alaska campaigns. Nevada will be our flagship project; it will be the mother of all initiative campaigns. Now that we're qualified again, we have 18 months to build a majority. We're currently leading with 49% to 47%, with 4% undecided, and our numbers will go upward.

But probably the biggest development in the last decade has been the degree to which state legislatures have begun debating medical marijuana legislation. When we were first working with Pam Lichty and others in Hawaii in 1999 and 2000, people said a state legislature would never pass the same kind of laws as we could get with the initiatives. But we, Pam and MPP and others, succeeded in enacting that law, and that opened up the floodgates. We got Vermont last year, and there are five states -- Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Minnesota, and Illinois -- where we think we have a reasonably high chance of success this year. I would not be surprised if we got at least two of them this year.

I am also encouraged by the trajectory of public opinion regarding regulating marijuana. In national public opinion polls in 1995, we had 27% for legalization; by 2002, that figure had climbed to 34%. It seems like it goes up a point or so a year. We are about to do a new national poll next month, and we hope to see a figure in the 38% range.

Chronicle: Still looking back, 2004 seems to have been something of a mixed bag. There were a number of victories -- medical marijuana in Montana and the votes in the Massachusetts districts -- but there were also significant defeats, such as the loss on the regulation vote in Alaska, the voting down of OMMA2 in Oregon, and the failures to get on the ballot in with medical marijuana in Arkansas and marijuana regulation in Nevada. It's easy for critics to say that you should have done this or that, but let me ask you instead if, looking back, there is anything you would have done differently?

Kampia: Yes. But I want to say first that with the local initiatives, those were an unequivocally resounding victory. Of 18 local initiatives on the ballot -- 17 on the November 2nd ballot and the Detroit initiative in August -- we saw 17 pass. Local activists in those places deserve heaps of credit, and the MPP grants program helped fund almost all of them. Everyone should be very excited about the possibilities for local initiatives passed on the track record so far. As for the state initiatives, Montana in November scored the all-time record vote for medical marijuana, 62%. I think we have perfected how to run a medical marijuana campaign. Of all the states we have been in, Montana should have gotten the lowest vote, based on the nature of the electorate and the polling we did, yet it came in with the highest ever because the campaign was focused and well-run.

In Nevada, where we got knocked off the ballot, I don't think there is anything we could have done differently. It is impossible to prevent the error that occurred -- an employee losing a box of signatures for five days -- unless I was literally there looking over his shoulder the whole time. We did, however, learn a lesson, and that is that we should run our own signature drives from now on. Most recently, in September and October we ran the signature drive ourselves; we took Larry Sandel out of DC and moved him to Vegas, we hired our own people and micromanaged the campaign, and we got signatures at the rate of 3,000 a day and came in under budget.

In Arkansas, we could have done things differently. We could have prevented a problem there by doing a site visit and checking out the system we had in place. We had an outside firm collecting signatures, and the process was a shambles. If we ever use outside firms again, we will be doing site visits.

In Oregon and Alaska, where the initiatives were defeated, people can complain, but we didn't draft those initiatives, we didn't do the signature drives, we came in at the end. We had a commitment to both states. In Oregon, we said if they got on the ballot, we would run TV ads. We thought it was morally incumbent on us to do so. In Alaska, we had no deal cut at the beginning, but when we saw it was under-funded, we could either watch them fail or try to help them succeed. I have no regrets about trying to help the activists in those two states.

Chronicle: Can you tell us about MPP's strategic plan for 2005? What's in store for this year?

Kampia: Our plan is really a two-year plan. Obviously, on medical marijuana, we are pushing hard in those five states and we're also coordinating with activists in other states to see how far they can get running their own shows and trying to support them through our grants program. We'll see medical marijuana bills introduced in about 20 states this year. We're working with groups like Texans for Medical Marijuana down in Austin to see how far they can push this year, and similar people in a bunch of other states. If some of those efforts begin to look promising, we would invest more heavily in future legislative sessions. As I said, we're already pushing hard in five states and working with activists in others, and in those states, the ones that look like the best prospects will become target states in a year or two.

As for local medical marijuana initiatives, our grant program is interested in supporting them to engender statewide debates. If there are cities that have an initiative process, activists there should apply. Those local initiatives should generate media coverage, and they should pass, if history is any indicator. We are also willing to support local initiatives on regulation or decriminalization or making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority, given the successes last year in places like Oakland and Columbia, Missouri.

We are also trying to get marijuana regulation bills introduced in a few states this year. Maybe there will be states debating this year whether to regulate it like alcohol. None will pass it this year, but just getting the theme introduced and heard in committee would be a record. No state legislature has ever considered regulating marijuana. But this year, the Nevada initiative will be our flagship effort on marijuana regulation.

At the federal level, Congress will be looking at Hinchey-Rohrabacher (a bill which would bar the DEA from raiding seriously ill patients) for the third time this summer. And we're already lobbying to get a record number of sponsors on Barney Frank's states' rights medical marijuana bill.

Also part of our strategic plan is our continuing "war on the drug czar" campaign. We are filing campaign finance law complaints in Alaska, Oregon, and Montana because Walters campaigned in those states and didn't file any campaign statements. We will try our best to get him in trouble for that. We are also suing the drug czar on constitutional grounds; we're trying to push a couple of new legal theories on why it should be unconstitutional to spend taxpayer money to convince taxpayers to believe certain things or vote a certain way. I'm not sure if we'll go after his so-called educational ads, but we think we have a strong argument for getting a court to rein him in.

Chronicle: Let's talk about the federal level. What can be accomplished, given this overwhelmingly conservative Congress we face? Or are we butting our heads against a brick wall on Capitol Hill?

Kampia: I think we can make progress. If you look at the 150 members of Congress who have solidly supported medical marijuana, all of them won reelection. There are also some members who have voted for us once and against us once, and there are some good freshmen, too. When the vote on Hinchey-Rohrabacher comes down this summer, we will hit a new record in the number of representatives who will vote to prohibit the DEA from harassing medical marijuana patients. Will it pass? Probably not, but marijuana is not an issue that people are being attacked on. It was not raised once in any race; there is not one instance of a vote for medical marijuana being used against someone.

There are also two new factors that could make an impact. One is Montel Williams. We have never had a high-profile, highly-respected, outspoken celebrity patient before. He has agreed to lobby with MPP and he will make an impression between now and the vote. Also, the Raich case decision is likely to come down a month or two before the House votes. If the court rules our way, then the federal war on medical marijuana is essentially over and the whole world has changed. If the court rules against us, as many think will be the case, then Congress has to provide a solution to the problem. The news stories should be that the court has ruled against medical marijuana and the ball is now in Congress' court. That will increase the pressure on Congress. It's a public relations challenge to make sure those stories come out right and Congress gets the point, but if we do our job properly, it could provide a boost to the legislation in Congress.

Chronicle: MPP has, of course, supported both regulation efforts and medical marijuana. But even if medical marijuana were available across the land, we would still have millions of marijuana consumers criminalized. Why, aside from human kindness, should recreational pot smokers get behind the medical marijuana push? How is that going to lead to some respite for recreational users?

Kampia: Why should recreational smokers get behind medical marijuana? For the same reasons non-pot smokers get behind medical marijuana. Some 75% of the population doesn't believe patients should be put in jail, and I would hope that recreational users would actually work on this issue. But I don't really view the medical marijuana issue through the lens of the recreational smoker, I look at it through the lens of how many people can we keep out of prison in the short run and let's not hurt our chances in the long run. Medical marijuana is a worthwhile issue on its face, the lobbying is relatively inexpensive, there is no downside.

It is also possible that through educating legislators on medical marijuana, you get people who are finally convinced they shouldn't put a seriously ill person in prison and who will suddenly realize they shouldn't discriminate against healthy people who use marijuana. Our foes have claimed that medical marijuana will lead to all-around legalization, but that hasn't happened. I'm not sure what the nexus is, but we are working on medical marijuana because it's the right thing to do and because we can win. When you're trying to build a social movement, you need to have occasional victories.

Chronicle: How are your relations with activists on the ground in the various states?

Kampia: I think the story is that we generally work well with local activists. We hear complaints sometimes, but it might be interesting to actually talk to the activists that we do work with. In Minnesota, we've been working with Billie Young and her team; in Rhode Island, we're working closely with the SSDP crowd in pushing medical marijuana; in Illinois, we're working with Matt Atwood and his group Ideal Reform not only on passing a medical marijuana bill, but also on thwarting Andrea Barthwell.

Recently, the only black eye has been in Arkansas. In Arkansas, the reason we pulled out was because of local activists, or, actually, one local activist. It only took one bad egg to ruin the statewide campaign. We were two-thirds of the way through the signature gathering process, and we could have finished if we so chose. It could have gotten on the ballot; in fact, local activists very nearly did it on their own. One Arkansas activist was impossible to work with, and she gets the blame for the failure of the initiative. She actually wanted us there, and we worked with her on campaign strategy and what the initiative should say. We wouldn't have gone in if they had said don't come. After we pulled out, she was so indiscreet as to even say nasty things about MPP and the consulting firm to local newspapers. All the fight was coming from her. In an initiative campaign like that, it only takes one to tango. By late summer, we had to give up on one state campaign because, like other drug reform groups in that presidential election year, our fundraising wasn't going so well. We had a choice of giving up Arkansas, where we were experiencing those problems with our local partner, or Montana, where things were going smoothly, or Alaska, where they wanted us there. We chose to pull out of Arkansas.

Chronicle: You're sitting on a pot of money thanks to Peter Lewis. What do you do with it besides running campaigns? What sorts of activities is MPP interested in funding? And how much money each year?

Kampia: Peter Lewis gives his money on two tracks. In the past it came in four ways: through the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project, MPP's core work, and the MPP grants program, but Peter hasn't made any final decision about any of this for this year. In the past, Lewis paid for about 60% of the MPP budget, and our 17,000 members paid for the rest. This year we expect Lewis's share to be closer to 50%. For the grants program, he started with a million dollars a year. I was able to get him to increase it to $2 million last year, but what it will be this year, I don't know yet. I think it is just as important to fund the grants program as it is to fund MPP, because we can't do it all. We're lobbying in five states, we're working the Nevada initiative, we're pushing in Vermont, and we're helping to defend legal marijuana in one's home in Alaska, so we're involved in eight states. From a management perspective, there is no way we could run campaigns for initiatives or bills in 15 or 20 states. That requires the ingenuity, energy, and autonomy of activists on the ground; we just act as a conduit from Peter to the best activists. The Lewis money does not go 90% to MPP; it's actually more like 50-50 between the MPP core budget and the grants program.

Chronicle: Does DRCNet get any money from the MPP grants program?

Kampia: We gave money to DRCNet that was earmarked for the HEA anti-drug provision repeal campaign. It was 501(c)(4) money (not tax-deductible), and that is hard to find. The HEA grant helps demonstrate that while grantees have to show that their work is going to somehow help end marijuana prohibition, there is not just one path to that end. We believe that changing the law so that hundreds of thousands of students aren't getting shafted will keep marijuana users in school and keep them productive citizens, and that will help build the movement in the long term.

Chronicle: In the Washington Post's farewell piece on NORML's Keith Stroup, you were quoted as saying some pretty harsh things. Would you care to throw sand on the flames, fuel on the flames, or just stand by the article?

Kampia: Hah. Thanks for asking. The total number of quotes I had in that piece was two sentences -- that's what they took out of a 45 minute interview with me for the story. In the context of a much larger conversation, I was asked to explain my view of what NORML did right and what it did wrong. The reporter asked me if NORML is doing anything useful, and I explained that they are playing a role. I explained about the 1970s, about what Keith had done right, and I talked about what NORML does now, which is providing information on drug testing and helping people in trouble find the right lawyers and giving them advice and information on how the marijuana laws work. Those are two things no one else is doing. I didn't say those were the only things they were doing. In fact, the only part of the article that explained what they were doing now came from me.

For me, when I'm being interviewed, the number one rule is not to lie. I gave a pretty balanced view of NORML, but it would have been ridiculous to say that everything was peachy keen. I was slightly misquoted -- I said some people view NORML as a small and shrinking dinosaur, but the Post had me saying I thought that -- but I won't complain about that because the point was still on the mark. In that sense, it was an accurate quote, but it was one quote from a 45-minute interview.

There is a lesson to be learned, though. Some folks at NORML, including Keith, have actually bad-mouthed MPP repeatedly and gratuitously, specifically regarding the 2002 initiatives. The lesson is if you are indiscreet and say bad things about us in the newspapers, maybe we'll say something back sometime.

Chronicle: Does this mean we won't see you at the annual NORML conference in San Francisco in April?

Kampia: No, I'll be there. I go every year.

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4. DRCNet Book Review: "It's Just a Plant," by Ricardo Cortes (2005, Magic Propaganda Mill, $17.95 HB)

At a time when DARE officers encourage children to snitch on parents or family members who use drugs and increasingly shrill professional drug fighters such as former deputy drug czar Andrea Barthwell advise parents to tell their children that their own drug use was a "mistake," "It's Just a Plant" is just the sort of antidote for the not-so-magic propaganda mill horror stories that pass for "drug education" in the United States. A beautifully illustrated children's story about marijuana, "It's Just a Plant" addresses some of the complexities of pot in a sober, thoughtful, and non-propagandistic manner -- and as important, in a manner that will make those issues understandable for curious children and approachable for nervous parents.

In 48 pages, Cortes takes readers on a guided tour of current marijuana issues from medicinal use to recreational use to the plant's illegal status. The language is simple enough for young children, yet clear enough to actually address these complex issues. The story begins with eight-year-old Jackie discovering her parents enjoying a joint in their bedroom one night. Faced with a child's inquisitiveness, Jackie's mom promises to explain about marijuana the following day.

And the next morning, off they go on their bicycles to meet first Farmer Bob, where mom buys the family vegetables. But Farmer Bob also grows marijuana, and Jackie gets to see and smell the skunky plant as Bob explains it has been grown by human for thousands of years and used for numerous purposes, including getting high. "What do you do with the flowers?" asks young Jackie. "People eat them and smoke them. Can you believe that?" Bob answers. "Some people say marijuana makes them feel happy. Others say it's 'dreamy.' Actually, the flower has different effects on different people who try it: artists, doctors, teachers, writers, scientists, even presidents," he explains. "Why do you use it, Farmer Bob?" Jackie asks. "I don't," he said. "It just puts me to sleep."

As young Jackie ponders what Farmer Bob has told her, it's off to the doctor's office to learn about marijuana as medicine. "Marijuana," kindly Dr. Eden explains, "is used for different reasons. Like many plants, it can be a medicine, and it is sometimes called a drug. It can heal the eyes of some people, help other people relax, and it calms the stomach and helps people eat when they need to."

But when Jackie asks if marijuana would help her, Dr. Eden is quick to explain that it is not for kids. "Marijuana is for adults who can use it responsibly," she says. "I do not recommend it for everyone. It can be a very strong medicine -- too strong for you now." Here Cortes may be open for criticism that he is conflating recreational and medical use, and for suggesting that some medicines are not appropriate for children -- would he say that morphine should not be given to a child in pain because it is "for adults who can use it responsibly"? -- but perhaps such conundrums are too much to resolve in a book aimed at children and their parents.

Next, Jackie and her mother encounter four black men smoking marijuana on the street, only to see the police arrive and order them against the wall. "Mister, why are you arresting people?" the perplexed child asks. "Young lady, these men were smoking what I call grass, and that is against the law," the policeman explains. "Marijuana is against the law?" the confused child asks uncertainly.

Officer Friendly explains, mentioning that marijuana was not always illegal, but "then one day, a small but powerful group decided to make a law against marijuana." Despite the protests of doctors, politicians and lawmakers made the plant illegal and "our government started War around the world to stop people from growing it."

Cortes deserves special credit here for introducing the "radical" notion that the law can indeed be an ass and that "the law is the law" is only the beginning, not the end, of the debate. He presents a mini-civics lesson as Jackie's mother explains that "the government can make a mistake," but that "we live in a country where we have the right to change the law if it doesn't work." The police office chimes in as well, saying that not all police officers believe marijuana should be illegal, and "If you think the law is mistake, maybe you should work to change it." (In case you're wondering about such reasonable police officers, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is one of the groups who helped the book see the light of day.)

Here, one wishes to leap beyond civic-minded platitudes and introduce young Jackie to cultural currents that sneer at unjust laws. "Unjust laws exist," 19th century American Transcendentalist proto-hippie Henry David Thoreau once famously noted. "Shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them and obey them until we succeed, or shall we transgress them at once?" But perhaps that is a lesson that can wait for the junior high years.

Radical nit-picking aside, "It's Just a Plant" is a refreshing alternative to the stale and frankly unbelievable propaganda that passes for drug education aimed at children these days. For parents confronted with curious children, the book provides a comforting beginning point for dealing with the issues surrounding drug use in our society and a healthy antidote to the fear-mongering of the drug warriors. Just make sure your kid gets to read it with you before she goes to DARE. Gee, maybe she could even share her copy with the DARE officer.

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5. 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."

6. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

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6. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

This week we revisit a pair of stories on which we previously reported, examine a pair of marginally corrupt cases, one involving a police narc and one involving a prosecutor, and look at one absolutely hideous example of corrupt and thuggish policing of the foulest sort.

First, the updates:

Three weeks ago, we reported on West Texas District Attorney Rick Roach, who was arrested at the Gray County courthouse in Pampa on January 11 and charged with possession of methamphetamine, possession of cocaine with intent to deliver, possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, and possession of weapon by a drug addict. Roach had two guns in his briefcase and more than 30 other weapons -- semiautomatic handguns, rifles, and shotguns -- at home. Now the prosecutor has copped a plea. Roach agreed Tuesday to plead guilty on the illegal weapons charge in return for the dropping of the drug charges. He has also resigned his post as prosecutor. He faces up to 10 years in prison; many years less than the 40 he was looking at if convicted on all charges.

Although federal prosecutors had Roach dead to rights on the drug charges, "I felt this was the best count for him to plead to federally," prosecutor Christy Drake told the Associated Press. Ah, those soft-hearted federal prosecutors.

Back in September, we noted the arrest of US Customs and Border Protection Officer Corey Whitfield as he tried crossing the US-Canada border with 535 pounds of "BC Bud" headed for the US. The eight-year Customs veteran attempted to use a diplomatic passport when challenged at the border, saying "I'm one of us," but when the weed was found, he at first denied knowing it was there, then changed his story, saying he had been blackmailed by a man he met at a party on the Canadian side of the border while moonlighting as a security guard. Whitfield told agents he was forced into the smuggling scheme when the man showed him photos of himself in "compromising situations involving illegal drugs and a sexual encounter with a female at the party" and threatened to send them to his wife.

Whitfield pled guilty in November to one count marijuana smuggling. On February 4, a federal judge sentenced the wayward border guard to five years in prison followed by five years of probation. Whitfield had an otherwise clean criminal record.

In new cases, a former Putnam County, NY, drug investigator got off easy after pleading guilty to falsifying records in the Putnam County Sheriff's Department's narcotics unit, according to the Empire Report. The newspaper asked in its subhead: "Are police officers charged with breaking the law treated differently than citizens in court?"

The falsifying records charge came after former Senior Investigator Alfred Villani, 52, came to Sheriff Donald Smith's attention for "questionable actions occurring within the unit." Those actions would be altering the records to cover up the disappearance of a $2,000 night vision scope. Instead of jail time, Villani got 150 hours of community service. Villani, who retired while on suspension during the investigation, also gets to keep his sheriff's department pension.

And in a case that demonstrates the inherent corruption of a system built upon informants, as well as the hypocrisy of at least one prosecutor, former Charleston County, South Carolina, Assistant Solicitor Damon Cook is facing charges of cocaine possession and conspiracy to distribute. The story unfolded as two of his co-defendants pled guilty February 4th on similar charges. Charles Edward Deese and Rebecca McCollum were portrayed by prosecutors as drug buyers and suppliers who helped build the case against Cook and two local defense attorneys, the Charleston Post & Courier reported.

After State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agents received information against McCollum in March 2003, she agreed to cooperate and led agents to Deese. Deese in turn agreed to cooperate, arranging the sale of a half-pound of cocaine to popular local trumpeter Joseph Ambrosia, but Ambrosia fled the state and is now suspected to be in Europe. Meanwhile, the highly cooperative McCollum also led police to a defense attorney who shared office space with Solicitor Cook. She bought 17 grams of cocaine from the defense attorney, Rodney Strich. When confronted, Strich in turn turned state's evidence, telling agents that he, Cook, and another local lawyer frequently pooled their money to buy cocaine for personal use and to sell to others. Cook in turn agreed to turn state's evidence. Now he is before the dock.

Last but certainly not least, the quick action of a drug suspect's wife has lifted the lid on some truly nasty and brutal police work in Campbell County, Tennessee, just outside of Knoxville. While the cops in this case were apparently not after filthy lucre -- it is unclear at this point whether their little adventure was official or unofficial -- their behavior displays a level of corruption and viciousness that should make good cops blanch. Five former Campbell County Sheriff's Department officers are currently on trial in federal court on charges they violated the civil rights of Eugene Siler by torturing him for hours -- all because Siler's wife turned on a tape recorder when they burst in looking for her husband. Otherwise, it would have been a case of an accused doper's word against that of five law enforcers, and we all know the cops don't lie, right?

While Siler's ordeal lasted for more than two hours, the tape ran out after 45 minutes, but that was more than enough to make clear what was going on as the deputies brutalized Siler. The five deputies, including the lead narc for the department, David Webber, and the department's DARE officer (!), Samuel Franklin, handcuffed Siler to a chair, announced "It's all fucking over, son," and proceeded to beat him bloody, threaten to kill him, and otherwise torment him unless he agreed to sign a statement saying he had given them permission to search his home for drugs. In documents presented in court last week, prosecutors allege the rampaging narcs not only physically assaulted Siler, but threatened to electrocute him, drown him, and break his fingers if he didn't cooperate.

But it was the 59-page FBI transcript of Siler's wife's tape recording that really told the story. "We're going to take every dime you have today and if we don't walk out of here with every piece of dope you got and every dime you got, you're fucking ass is not going to make it to the jail," Webber warned in the transcript. Webber is on the tape threatening to beat Siler and concocting a resisting arrest scenario. "Eugene, let me tell you how this is gonna work, OK?" Webber said. "We got here and guess what you did? You ran out the back door. We chased you, OK? You fought with us, OK? We end up fighting with you. You 'bout whupped all our asses, so we had to fight back, OK?"

The transcripts go on to portray a time of horror for the accused drug dealer, as Webber and his companions repeatedly beat Siler, threaten him, and beat him some more. "You're not fucking listening," Webber said at one point. "You hear what I told you? I told you not to be talking. This asshole right here, he loves seeing blood. He loves it. He loves seeing blood. You're talking too much. He loves fucking seeing blood. He'll beat your ass and lick it off of you."

There is more, much more of the transcript available, courtesy of the Knoxville News-Sentinel. Interested readers can check it out, but your reporter here is already seeing red and will feed you no more. As a final word, however, it is worth noting that Campbell County Sheriff Ron McLellan is an ardent drug warrior, sending out almost weekly news releases bragging about the latest exploits of his troops in their war on drugs. By any means necessary, eh, Sheriff? You might want to rein in your mad dogs.

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7. Newsbrief: Memphis Taxpayers to Pay Big Time for Police Drug Raid Killing

The good burghers of Memphis are about to make a big pay-out for the behavior of their police, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported. In a 2002 drug raid gone bad, Memphis police fatally wounded gravedigger Jeffrey Robinson in his own bedroom, then planted evidence to suggest he was attacking them, a federal jury found in awarding $2.85 million in damages to Robinson's family. Robinson's son Jarvis was not part of that lawsuit, and he is now suing the city of Memphis for another $1 million.

According to testimony from the first lawsuit, which named three Memphis police officers, police received information from an informant that someone named "Carl" or "Snag" was selling either marijuana or cocaine out of Robinson's quarters at the cemetery where he worked. Within an hour, Memphis cops kicked down Robinson's door and shot him. Police testified that Robinson attacked Officer Mark Lucas with a box cutter and that Lucas fired in self-defense, but paramedics testified they saw no box cutter near the body. Police never fingerprinted the box cutter, and Robinson's family claimed police planted it after the fact, a claim accepted by the jury in the first case.

A trial in the second case was set for February 18th, but was postponed as the city and Jarvis Robinson negotiated a settlement figure. The city has an incentive to settle; a trial would have led to attacks on Memphis police training and procedures, the Commercial Appeal reported.

Officers Mark Lucas, Albert Bonner and Jeffrey Simcox were never disciplined in the killing, even though the federal civil jury found Lucas used excessive force and falsified evidence, that Simcox falsified evidence, and that Officer Albert Bonner falsified evidence and falsely arrested Robinson. The trigger-happy trio found a small amount of marijuana in Robinson's quarters after the raid and charged him with marijuana possession and aggravated assault. Robinson never went to trial on the charges; instead, he died a few weeks later after being paralyzed by Lucas' bullets.

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8. Newsbrief: Bush Budget Slashes Funds for Local Police, Increases DEA Funding

In a 2006 federal budget proposal marked by hefty increases for the Pentagon and the State Department and belt-tightening for just about everyone else, even spending for police is on the chopping block. The Bush administration has said the federal budget reflects its priorities, and the document makes clear that those priorities are foreign war and its domestic component, homeland security. Non-defense spending will be held to less than next year's expected increase in the inflation rate, meaning most federal programs will see their spending shrink in real terms.

Not even including new spending to pay for Bush's foreign wars -- the administration says it will ask for a supplemental appropriation of around $80 billion to pay for its occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq -- the Pentagon's already mammoth budget will increase from $400 billion to $419 billion, contributing to a whopping 41% increase in war spending since 2001.

One of the biggest losers in the Bush budget is the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. Initiated by then President Clinton as part of his vow to "make America safer" by putting 100,000 additional police officers on the street, the program was funded last year at $499 million dollars, but the Bush 2006 budget slashes COPS by a whopping 95% to only $22 million. Overall, Bush administration grants to state and local law enforcement will drop by nearly 50%, from $2.8 billion in 2005 to $1.5 billion in 2006.

Other Justice Department line items fare better. The FBI budget jumps by 11% to $5.7 billion, including increases in counterterrorism and counterintelligence ($294 million) and the agency's intelligence program ($117 million). And the federal government's lead anti-drug agency, the DEA, will see its budget increase 4% to $1.7 billion, with a charge to disrupt three dozen major drug trafficking organizations.

With a budget deficit estimated to hit a record $427 billion this year, Bush's economic policies effectively carry on the tradition begun by President Reagan, whose combination of tax cuts and increased military spending made cuts in social programs inevitable. With money available primarily for the Bush administration's war aims, more than 150 programs will be killed or radically cut back, including almost 50 education programs and funding for Medicaid. Included in those cuts are $440 million in grants under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act.

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9. Newsbrief: What Meth Epidemic? National Survey Shows Amphetamine Use Unchanged from Year Earlier

About 1.2 million people reported using methamphetamine or prescription stimulants for non-medical reasons in 2003, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMSA) annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the agency reported on February 4th. In a special report on stimulant use, SAMSHA found that over 20 million Americans have used either methamphetamine, prescription amphetamine diet pills, or attention deficit disorder amphetamines such as Dexedrine and Ritalin for non-medical purposes during their lifetimes.

While the SAMSHA report did not compare 2003 usage with previous years, earlier annual reports from the agency show that the number of speed users that year was virtually unchanged from 2002. A close reading of the SAMSHA numbers over the past few years appears to indicate that the increase in stimulant use plateaued early in the millennium after escalating through the late 1990s.

According to the survey, formerly known as the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, some 12 million people reported using methamphetamine at least once in their lifetimes, while an additional 8.7 million reported lifetime use of prescription stimulants for non-medical reasons. SAMSHA placed the number of people dependent on abusing stimulants in 2003 at around 378,000.

The SAMSHA data suggests that some of the rhetoric surrounding the "epidemic" of methamphetamine use is overblown. An epidemic where the numbers affected do not increase from year to year is not much of an epidemic. Nor does the much-vaunted addictiveness of methamphetamine seem to stand up to the numbers. With 12 million lifetime users and 1.2 million users in the last year, only about 25% of last year users meet the SAMSHA's criteria for dependency or abuse and only 2.5% of lifetime users meet that criteria.

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10. Newsbrief: Death Squad Killings Spike Upward in Davao

As DRCNet reported two weeks ago, the US military is on a training exercise with Philippine military and police in the violence-ridden southern city of Davao. While the US military reports that the training includes a human rights component, that part of the program apparently has not yet sunk in for anti-drug and anti-crime death squad killers widely linked to the city's flamboyant mayor, Rodrigo Duterte.

Balikatan 2004 US-Philippine joint exercises
The Mindanao Times reported last week that the number of summary executions in the city had reached an all-time monthly high last month, with 45 people being shot dead by motorcycle-riding gunmen in plain clothes. Not a single arrest was made in the killings, the Times noted. At least three more people were killed by the shadowy "Davao Death Squad" in the first week of February, the Times reported.

Davao police officials attempted to pin the blame for the killings on intramural fighting among drug traffickers, a tactic also used by Thai authorities last year as they sought a "final solution" to that nation's drug problem by killing an estimated 2,500 people. Regional police director Simeon Dizon issued a statement in mid-January saying the murders were the result of a "drug war" and telling the public to expect more killings. At least Dizon was correct on the latter score.

Davao City Mayor Duterte remains unabashed and barely bothers to deny his involvement in the killings. At a press conference Monday, Duterte, reacting to accusations that the killings are government-sponsored, responded "so be it." If he had to kill 200 criminals to protect the city of 1.4 million from harm, he would do so, he said. "I don't give a shit on what they would say about me, I don't give a shit about my image. If I stand alone in this belief, so be it; if I rise and fall because of this image, it's okay," he said.

Duterte blamed public concern about the vigilante killings on media hype, adding that the Davao Death Squad "does not exist as far as city hall is concerned." Nor, said Duterte, did he care that the Integrated Bar of the Philippines had asked President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to intercede in the murderous rampage.

Duterte also suggested that press critics should investigate the killings, but bar association Davao City president Carlos Zarate retorted that that was supposed to be the job of the police. "If the heads of our law enforcement offices cannot do it [find the killers], then decency demands they resign and let someone else do the job," he said in a statement last week.

The deputy ombudsman for Mindanao is adding to the pressure. According to the newspaper Sunstar Davao, the ombudsman has asked the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation to look into the murders. That request received a positive response from NBI chief Reynaldo Wycoco, who agreed to investigate. Now, the question is whether the NBI will be any more efficient than local police in finding the executioners.

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11. Newsbrief: Indian Government Blinks in Face of Threatened Drug Shortage

As DRCNet reported last week, medicinal drug wholesalers and retailers in India had threatened a total halt to sales of psychoactive drugs -- ranging from Valium to morphine and beyond -- beginning Thursday because of campaign of harassment and arrests by the country's newly zealous Narcotics Control Board (NCB). But according to a report Friday in the Hindu Business Line, anxious patients and drug manufacturers now have a three-week reprieve after the pharmaceutical industry, trade associations, and retail pharmacists won an assurance from the NCB that the agency would forward their concerns to the Finance Ministry and that appropriate changes would be made in the country's drug laws.

"Top officials of the NCB have assured us that they would recommend to the Finance Ministry to amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and definite action on this would be taken in the next 10 days," said JS Shinde of the All-India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists.

The temporary reprieve came as shortages of medicines were being reported across the country. Beginning two weeks ago, pharmacists and drug retailers began moving to shut down sales of psychoactive medicines in an effort to pressure the Indian government to get the narcs to back off. Wholesalers had begun refusing to purchase the drugs from pharmaceutical companies in protest of NCB harassment, and existing stocks were running low. But pharmacists and drug retailers have set February 25th for a new drug strike if the Indian government fails to move on their complaints. Stay tuned.

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12. Newsbrief: Marijuana Reform Under Attack in Western Australia

The Western Australia Labor government of Premier Geoff Gallop is under broad attack for its liberalization of the marijuana laws in the state. The state opposition coalition, the state medical association, various advocacy groups, and the federal government are all aiming arrows at the law and the state Labor Party as elections loom.

In March 2004, the huge but sparsely populated state became the second in Australia to decriminalize marijuana. Under the law adopted then, people caught in possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana are ticketed and fined -- not charged with a criminal offense, but instead cited for a "Cannabis Infringement Notice." Fines range up to $100 Australian for quantities under 15 grams and $150 Australian for quantities over 15 grams but less than 30 grams. People ticketed can avoid paying the fines by instead attending a "Cannabis Education Session," where they will be warned of the dangers of the weed. Possession of drug paraphernalia is also downgraded from a "simple offense" (the equivalent of a misdemeanor) to a ticketable offense.

The law also makes growing of up to two plants a ticketable offense, but lowers the threshold for the "serious offense" (felony) of marijuana cultivation from 25 plants to 10 plants. And in a reflection of the uniquely Australian obsession with hydroponic marijuana cultivation, any number of hydroponically grown marijuana plants remains a criminal offense. The new law also created the new offense of selling hydroponic equipment for the purpose of growing marijuana.

But in the run-up to elections, the state opposition is calling for the law to be throw out and the return of zero tolerance. "Not only is the possession of cannabis no longer a criminal offence, Dr. Gallop has actually allowed people to grow cannabis in their backyard," said opposition leader Colin Barnett. The state government has been too soft on marijuana, ignoring its alleged links to mental health problems, organized crime, and hard drug use, he added. "There is increasing evidence that cannabis is often associated with mental health problems," he said. "There's evidence of cannabis associated with road trauma. It is a mind-altering substance and Dr Gallop has put the youth of Western Australia at risk by his approach of decriminalizing cannabis, allowing the cultivation of cannabis in suburban backyards."

The opposition has unveiled a plan to repeal decriminalization, but provide that people caught with less than 10 grams would be punished only by a warning. Even that retrenchment is not enough for the Western Australia branch of the Australian Medical Association. Association state president Paul Skerritt told the Western Australian newspaper last week that even first-time users should be sentenced to drug treatment. "We want a sentencing policy which corrects the problem, and that's not necessarily jail time but could be through strict court-imposed treatment regimes," Skerritt said. "Now, you get a little bit of a slap on the hand, an on-the-spot fine and therefore the Government is endorsing the totally incorrect idea that these drugs are soft," he said.

The Western Australia AMA is in conflict with the national association. AMA federal president Bill Glasson told the newspaper he supported decriminalization for personal use and did not think criminal sanctions were the correct approach.

Ironically, Western Australia cabinet ministers have attacked the opposition plan as "too soft." Letting people off with a warning is unacceptable, charged Health Minister Jim McGinty. "That's not good enough. We need to bring home to people the consequences of their cannabis use," he said. "If the Liberals are going to go back to the regime they had in place when they were in government, it is softer," he said.

Meanwhile, the conservative federal government has jumped into the fray, with Justice Minister Chris Ellison accusing the Western Australia government of fostering organized crime. "One plant harvested four times a year can produce up to eight kilograms of cannabis a year," he said. "That has a street value of around about $84,000. You can see that the potential for the development of organized crime is extremely dangerous."

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13. Newsbrief: Bob Marley Birthday Bash in Addis Ababa Comes Off Without a Hitch

Hundreds of thousands of people streamed into the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of reggae superstar and iconic pot-smoker Bob Marley. The dreadlocked singer who popularized both reggae and Rastafarianism, the religion based on the belief that former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie (Ras Tafari) is God and marijuana is a holy sacrament, would have turned 60 on February 6, but he died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36.

Despite warnings last week from the US State Department that Ethiopia has strict drug laws and would be practicing heavy security, Sunday's concert featuring Rita Marley, Ziggy Marley, and African performers Youssou D'Nour and Baaba Maal, among others, went off without a hitch, although some Ethiopians pronounced themselves bemused both by Rastafarianism and its use of Jah herb as a sacrament.

While the city's Meskel Square was packed with humanity and the Rasta colors -- green, yellow, and red -- were prominent, as were posters of Marley and Selassie, the sweet scent of the weed provoked no police response. "No problem has been witnessed and reported so far in the city. We are doing our best for the security of this big gathering," a police officer at the square told All Africa News. Addis Ababa residents were more inclined to take a mellow attitude toward the visitors and their strange customs than the State Department was. "I don't have much affection for them, but I am not against them," said Zenbe Biru, a 22-year-old student at Addis Ababa University. "I have a problem understanding their philosophy," he told the Khaleej Times.

"I have my own reservations about the Rastafarians," added 18-year-old high school pupil Alem Desta. "I hate the way they dress and mostly I hate what they smoke. I have never dreamed of considering them as one of us. They have their own home, we have our own," he said. "But I like their music."

The Ethiopian government was also disinclined to chastise the Rastas, thousands of whom have resettled in Ethiopia, which they consider the promised land. "The government is not interested in contesting religious claims," said Information Minister Simon Bedekat, responding to complaints from Christian conservatives that the celebrations were blasphemous. "This is a secular government that acknowledges the right to believe in what you believe," he said. "Basically the Rastafarians have the right to believe in what they believe and the evangelicals also have that right."

Still, Bedekat expressed dismay at the Rastas' marijuana use. "We're worried about it," he said. "We believe that an emerging society must guard itself from any scourge, be it drugs or other types of negative influences." But not too much, especially on Bob Marley's birthday.

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14. Newsbrief: London Police Chief Ramps Up Rhetorical War on Middle-Class Cocaine Use

Last week, incoming London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair took office vowing to go after upscale cocaine use in Britain's capital. He was back at it again this week, suggesting in an interview with the Sunday London Times that he may order "reverse stings" against recreational cocaine users. It could be buyer beware, indeed, if Sir Blair sends out undercover police officers posing as cocaine dealers.

When it comes to cocaine, it is almost as if it were the 1980s in London. The drug is widely used, with an estimated 250,000 people snorting recreationally each weekend, and is part of the city's thriving nightlife. But unlike the US in the 1980s, the stuff is cheap. According to government figures, cocaine has flooded into Britain, with a four-fold increase in seizures in the last two years. But the seizures have failed to keep prices high, with the cost of a gram of cocaine falling from 60 pounds ($112) a decade ago to as little as 40 pounds ($75) now. As the British tabloids are fond of noting, a line of cocaine now costs less than a cappuccino.

In his interview with the Sunday Times, Blair said he wanted dinner-party cocaine users to fear arrest. "We are not going to burst through doors to raid Islington dinner parties, but I do want to make people concerned that they might be buying their drugs from a police officer: that would be an interesting idea, wouldn't it?"

Blind to the role of drug prohibition in generating violence related to the cocaine trade, Blair chastised British consumers for abetting that violence. "People seem to think the price of a wrap of cocaine is 50 quid, but the cost is misery on estates here and a trail of blood back to Colombia," he said. "Someone has died to bring it to a dinner party. People who wouldn't dream of having a non-organic vegetable don't seem to notice the blood on their fingers."

Peeved by middle- and upper-class attitudes of impunity, Blair last week threatened to make "a few examples of some people" to reinforce the point that no one is above the law, a theme to which he returned Sunday. "There is a sense that people think that in certain fashionable clubs, restaurants and dinner parties it is okay to do drugs," he said. "All I can say is that people may find out that it is not."

According to a senior Scotland Yard official consulted by the Times, police narcs would pose as local cocaine dealers in an effort to entrap upscale users. They would operate in areas such as Chelsea, Kensington, and Islington. The official also warned that nightclubs and pubs in the city's West End, where customers snort lines in the bathrooms, could expect to be raided in coming months.

Better for drug users to switch to marijuana under the Blair regime, the London top cop suggested. He told the Times he is "relaxed" about pot and does not consider arresting cannabis users to be the best use of police resources.

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15. Web Scan: Debra Saunders, Drug War Carol, DPA Web Chat, Drug Truth Radio

"Drug War Follies," column by Debra Saunders in the San Francisco Chronicle about the drug provision of the Higher Education Act -- Students for Sensible Drug Policy and DRCNet Foundation's John W. Perry Fund cited!

"A Drug War Carol" comic now available in Spanish and French -- visit to check them out!

Web chat with Sasha and Ann Shulgin, hosted by Ethan Nadelmann and Drug Policy Alliance. Tuesday, February 22nd, 6:00pm EST, visit to participate.

Drug Truth radio program interview with Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy: or

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16. This Week in History

February 11, 1982: Attorney General William French Smith grants an exemption sparing the CIA from a legal requirement to report on drug smuggling by agency assets. This occurs only two months after President Reagan authorizes covert CIA support for the Nicaraguan contra army and some eight months before the first known documentary evidence reveals that the contras had started collaborating with drug traffickers.

February 11, 1988: An international heroin seizure record is set, still in effect today, 2,816 pounds in Bangkok, Thailand.

February 11, 1999: Researchers in Boston, Massachusetts find no link between marijuana use by pregnant mothers and miscarriages.

February 11, 2001: President Jorge Battle of Uruguay becomes the first head of state in Latin America to call for legalization of drugs.

February 12, 2002: DEA agents raid the Harm Reduction Center, a medical marijuana club in San Francisco. President George W. Bush issues his National Drug Control Strategy on the same day.

February 14, 1929: Mobsters commit the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which becomes a symbol of the mob violence engendered by Alcohol Prohibition.

February 14, 1995: The US House of Representatives approves several drug-related bills, including one which replaces the police, prevention and drug court provisions of the 1994 Crime Act with a $10 billion block grant program.

February 14, 1996: Fairfax police chief Jim Anderson speaks out in favor of California's medical marijuana initiative.

February 16, 1982: During a speech in Miami, Florida, vice president George Herbert Walker Bush promises to use sophisticated military aircraft to track the airplanes used by drug smugglers. Several days later, Bush orders the US Navy to send in its E2C surveillance aircraft for this purpose. In October the General Accounting Office issues an opinion finding that "it is doubtful whether the [south Florida] task force can have any substantial long-term impact on drug availability."

February 17, 1997: Legislation to repeal an 18 year-old state law permitting physicians to prescribe marijuana for patients suffering from cancer or glaucoma is voted down by a Virginia Senate committee in a 9-6 vote.

February 18, 1999: Dr. Frank Fisher, a pain doctor from Northern California, is arrested and charged with five counts of murder. Over the following six years, all charges and legal proceedings against Fisher fizzle.

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17. Errata: Meth Bill Sponsor

Two weeks ago, DRCNet incorrectly attributed an "anti-rave" provision appearing in an anti-methamphetamine bill last session of Congress to Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE). The provision, which was not included in this year's version of the bill, was actually the work of Rep. Doug Ose (R-CA), who is no longer a member of Congress.

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18. The Reformer's Calendar

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

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 12-19, San Francisco area, CA, Medical Marijuana Week, numerous events. Visit for information.

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 16, 7:00pm, San Francisco, CA, screening of "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters," during the Alternative Views Film Series. At The Kitchen, 225 Potrero Ave. at 15th St., sponsored by the War Resisters League, $5 donation requested, no one turned away. E-mail [email protected] for further information.

February 16, 7:00pm, Benzonia, MI, screening of "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters." Sponsored by Benzie County NORML, at Benzie Central High School's Business Office (building in front of high school), 9222 Homestead Rd. E-mail [email protected] for further information.

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.

February 23, 6:30pm, Washington, DC "The Chilling Effect: Pain Patients in the War on Drugs," film featuring Richard and Linda Paey, by Siobhan Reynolds of the Pain Relief Network. On Capitol Hill, Longworth House Office Building, Room 1539, pizza and beer at 6:00pm. Call (212) 873-5848 or e-mail [email protected] for further information.

February 23, 7:00pm, Flagstaff, AZ, screening of "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters." Sponsored by Northern Arizona University SSDP, at NAU's Cline Library Auditorium. E-mail [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 17-18, New York, NY, "Caught in the Net: The Impact of Drug Policies on Women and Families," conference sponsored by the ACLU, Break the Chains and the Brennan Center for Justice. At New York University School of Law, e-mail [email protected] for info.

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.

September 17, Boston, MA, "Sixteenth Annual Fall Freedom Rally," sponsored by MASSCANN. On Boston Common, visit for updates, or contact (781) 944-2266 or [email protected].

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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