(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #388 -- 5/27/05
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
One need not believe that "all cops are liars" or anything like that to take this view, and I don't believe that. There is no serious question, however, that a good number of police officers do perjure themselves from time to time but are rarely punished. Joseph McNamara, a former police chief in San Jose and Kansas City, has been speaking and writing on that topic for at least 10 years. At a conference in Santa Monica in 1995, McNamara wrapped up a speech saying "all kinds of police misconduct has occurred, the most serious which is the cops who think of themselves as being innocent good guys are routinely violating the Fourth Amendment, routinely committing perjury." McNamara reasoned based on the data that it must happen literally hundreds of thousands of times a year in drug cases alone.
The Tulia incarcerations -- or "lynchings" as I've likened them in previous editorials -- show that perjury is not limited to mere admissibility issues like search legality, but actually at times is used to frame innocent people. Even if the perjury were only known to have occurred with respect to the circumstances of a search, though, this would still fundamentally place an officer's credibility in question overall. And McNamara is by no means the only law enforcement observer to claim that police perjury happens frequently. Indeed, the practice is seen as so routine that it even has been given its own name -- "testi-lying" -- as reports such as that of New York City's Mollen Commission have revealed.
Again, this does not imply that all police officers commit felony perjury. (Yes, it's a felony.) But if it happens routinely, then absent corroborating evidence of officers' testimony, in my opinion there must be reasonable doubt -- it's an inescapable statistical conclusion. And since jurors faced with a situation of reasonable doubt have an obligation to acquit, what then is the purpose of the trial itself? How can the expense and trauma to a defendant of being criminally prosecuted be justified, when the evidence supplied by the government to a judge cannot even in theory suffice to meet the legal standard needed for a jury to properly convict? How can the risk that a jury will vote to convict despite there being reasonable doubt be ethically abided -- if a judge based on statistics and the nature of the evidence knows in advance that acquittal due to reasonable doubt is the correct and legally proper outcome?
Were I to sit on a jury, and were the only evidence against a defendant to consist of police officer's testimony, I would consider myself obligated to vote to acquit. Even if based on my instinct I believed that the officer was being truthful, that obligation would not change. Because there is a standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt before a jury should convict, and instinct by itself does not meet that standard. Proof means proof, and doubt is about facts, not feelings. (All of which means I am not likely to ever sit on a jury, of course -- when the DA reads about where I work the questions tend to get asked.)
If Rep. Jackson Lee's bill becomes law, it will be one step toward restoring ethics and morality to the system. Perhaps through fostering debate it will help the situation even if not. Though some in the meantime will doubtless attempt to smear Rep. Jackson Lee and her cosponsors as "anti-cop" or "pro-criminal," it's important to remember that many police officers are themselves aware of and concerned about these problems. Rep. Jackson Lee deserves congratulations for her realism about the problem and its logical ramifications.
Law or no law, the truth about drug war perjury will come out and will influence more and more juries throughout the nation. They will make it law -- even if Congress won't.
Five years after 15% of the black population of small-town Tulia, Texas, was rolled-up in a cocaine bust conducted by a rogue lawman working for Texas drug task force, the reverberations from those arrests have arrived on Capitol Hill. After years of a harsh national spotlight focused on the strange workings of justice in the Texas panhandle town, where now disgraced narc Tom Coleman made cases based on nothing but his own word, Tulia became a national symbol of drug war law enforcement run amok and brought into stark relief the workings of the more than 700 federally-funded regional anti-drug task forces. Now, revulsion with the excesses of the task forces has manifested itself with a bill introduced Wednesday that could cut off hundreds of millions of dollars annually in federal funding for the task forces.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. A 2002 report from the ACLU of Texas found at least 17 scandals involving the Byrne-funded task forces, including cases of falsifying government records, witness tampering, fabricating evidence, stealing drugs from evidence lockers, selling drugs to children, large-scale racial profiling, sexual harassment, and other abuses of official capacity. Scandals elsewhere include the misuse of millions of dollars in federal grant money in Kentucky and Massachusetts, false convictions based on police perjury in Missouri, and making deals with drug offenders to drop or lower their charges in exchange for money or vehicles in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
Sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), with cosponsors John Conyers (D-MI), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Donald Payne (D-NJ), and Edolphus Towns (D-NY), the "No More Tulias: Drug Law Enforcement Evidentiary Standards Improvement Act of 2005" is designed to force states to tighten controls over the task forces or lose the Byrne funds for them. In particular, the bill would bar states from spending money on the regional task forces unless the state passes a law preventing people from being convicted of drug offenses when the only evidence against them is the uncorroborated testimony of a law enforcement officer or informant. Byrne grant money would still be available for other, non-law enforcement activities, such as drug treatment and domestic violence prevention.
"Until now, these drug task forces around the country haven't had to answer to anyone," said Jesselyn McCurdy, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. "As a result of this lack of state and federal oversight, they've been at the center of the some of the country's most egregious law enforcement abuse scandals. This legislation would put checks and balances on their unfettered power and make sure citizens aren't rounded up based on uncorroborated testimony, or their race. The law enforcement agents involved in these scandals weren't just a few bad apples," McCurdy said. "The lack of checks and balances, and corroboration of testimony, set the stage for abuse. This legislation is an important step in eliminating the racial profiling, corruption and lack of oversight that lets scandals like Tulia exist."
"This is something we've needed for a long time: a law enforcement reform bill," said Nora Callahan, executive director of the November Coalition, an anti-prohibitionist group working to free prisoners of the war on drugs. "We have a police problem in this country, and with the introduction of this bill we are beginning to address it," she told DRCNet. "We are beginning the long overdue discussion of the way police investigate drug crimes, or is it the way police create drug crimes? With these task forces and their stings, handing out cash and drugs, they take an entrepreneurial person in a capitalist society and set him up, and then when he gets big enough, they bust him as kingpin," she said.
"There is a lot of talk about sentencing reform, but that is the back end," Callahan continued. "What people don't realize is that sentencing begins at the time of investigation, when the police find a guy selling drugs and then let him continue until he reaches the sentencing level they want. We need reform on the front end, we need reforms in the way the police operate, and this bill begins to do that."
"Congress needs to pass Representative Jackson Lee's bill in order to prevent more innocent people from going to jail," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Liberals and conservatives agree, the federal Byrne grant program is doing more harm than good."
Both the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance are among the dozens of civil rights, civil liberties, religious, and drug and legal reform groups that have endorsed the bill, and while the sponsors of the new federal legislation are all Democrats, the campaign to rein in the task forces has won support from Christian conservatives, especially in Texas, where right-leaning state legislators allied themselves with the Texas ACLU and the NAACP to successfully win passage of a bill outlawing drug convictions based solely on the testimony of an informant.
Nationally, five leading conservative groups -- American Conservative Union, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens against Government Waste, and National Taxpayers Union -- have issued a sign-on letter calling on Congress to urge the Bush administration to completely de-fund the Byrne grant program because it "has proved to be an ineffective and inefficient use of resources."
But while law enforcement and congressional drug warriors such as Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) are squealing like stuck pigs over the budget proposal and will probably be able to get the funding restored, the Tulia bill opens a new line of attack of funding of the roving task forces.
Now, bill supporters are attempting to put pressure on Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) to hold hearings on the bill this year.
Two years ago, in the face of withering columns on Tulia by New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, Sensenbrenner pledged to hold hearings on the issue of task force abuses. That hasn't happened yet, and the coalition of groups supporting the bill is calling Sensenbrenner on it. "Two years ago, you pledged to hold a formal Judiciary Committee hearing on the causes of the abuses in Tulia," the groups wrote in a letter to the congressman. "Your spokesperson at the time pledged that you would initiate "active and aggressive oversight of the federal task force" responsible for hiring the rogue cop in Tulia. The introduction of this bill represents the perfect opportunity for the expeditious scheduling of the promised Judiciary Committee hearing."
That would be nice, said Bean. "When I got into this fight, the issue of corroboration was key. If my kid were accused of selling drugs, I would want more evidence than some guy's word," said Bean. "It's fundamentally unfair to prosecute people based on evidence so shoddy. Seeing people convicted on such flimsy evidence provided my first insight into what's wrong with the drug war. It was just such a fundamental injustice. And it's not just Tulia," said Bean. "The only unusual thing about Tulia is we had a spectacularly sleazy cop and so many black people arrested. A big bust in a small town. But what went on there is pretty much business as usual all across the country."
For nearly three decades, the Dutch approach to marijuana -- with its retail sale through "coffee shops" -- has made The Netherlands a beacon for drug reformers and pot connoisseurs alike. But with Holland surrounded by countries whose marijuana laws are more stringent, coffee shops in some Dutch border cities are doing a huge business with Belgians, Germans, and French who stream across the border in search of 5-gram bags of the Dutch home-grown known as "nederviet" (Netherlands weed).
This state of affairs has historically caused grumbling not only among other European governments, most notably France, Germany and Sweden, but even among some Dutch. The massive foreign patronage of the coffee shops in Maastricht has resulted in problems ranging from chronic traffic jams to illicit hard drug sales, unlicensed "one kilo" houses where buyers seeking more than a personal stash can score, and a raft of unregulated small-scale home grown operations, with all their attendant dangers.
Now, the Dutch government appears to be at odds with itself on border coffee shop policy. Justice Minister Piet Donner, of the Christian Democratic party that dominates the government, entered office two years ago vowing to close down coffee shops throughout Holland. But that has not gone over well, and Donner has been reduced to now attempting to implement a threat to bar foreigners from the coffee shops.
"We are developing a system whereby people not registered in the Netherlands will not be allowed into coffee shops," said Justice Ministry spokesman Ivo Hommes, according to Reuters. A pilot project will start in Maastricht, he added. "We want to do this to combat drugs tourism and should be able to start the project this summer," he said.
But just a month ago, in the immediate wake of a public spat between Donner and Minister for Democratic Reform Alexander Pechtold over Pechtold's call for legalization of the Dutch cannabis industry, the Dutch parliament heard four hours of debate on the topic. Parliament ended by passing two resolutions, one calling on the Dutch government to approach other European governments about supporting its liberal cannabis policy and the other calling on the government to allow and develop local and "euregional" (cross-border) attempts at regulating the cannabis supply for certified coffee shops.
The latter move is a direct outgrowth of a call by Maastricht Mayor Leers a month ago at the European Parliament for just such experimental approaches. That call marks an evolution for the former Christian Democratic parliamentarian, who was once a staunch prohibitionist but whose three-year tenure as mayor has caused him to change his views.
"This debate illustrated an emerging majority in parliament, if not in the governing coalition, in favor of regulating the cannabis trade," said Jan van der Tas, a former Dutch ambassador to Germany and member of the Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation, who viewed the call for experiments in regulated cannabis supply as much more significant than the announced pilot ban on foreigners. "Justice Minister Donner would like to shut down the coffee shops, but I don't think even a majority of his colleagues in the government want to try that," he told DRCNet. "Donner also knows that society at large and even the majority of local governments, including some from his own political current, will not allow this. So he makes these noises mainly to keep the American drug czar and some of his European colleagues off his back."
Even as Donner and the Justice Ministry were announcing the proposed pilot ban on foreigners, Mayor Leers was singing a different tune. "As a member of parliament in The Hague, I thought it was possible to get rid of cannabis by taking hard measures," he told the Maastricht conference, which also included mayors from neighboring Belgian and German towns. "But after having been mayor of Maastricht for three years I see that it does not work," Leers said. "It's a 'water bed effect' if you push down on one part the problems pop up somewhere else," he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Marc Josemans, head of the Association of Official Maastricht Coffee Shops, representing the 15 licensed cannabis sellers in the city. "If coffee shops have to carry out controls at the door, people who don't want to register will turn to the illegal circuit. We think nuisance will only increase," he told the conference. He had a better idea, he said. "Legalize it," was his suggestion.
That's not likely to happen anytime soon, but proposals for cross-border local regulation of the cannabis trade may sprout this year. "Knowing the Hague will not give him the hundreds of extra personnel needed for a vain effort at repression, Mayor Leers has now asked his colleagues in the euregio to study with him the possibilities for closer regional cooperation in not only more effective law enforcement, but also for an experiment in certified cannabis growing," said van der Tas. "This could serve as an example to other European regions," he said.
And in a sign of cross-border solidarity that should begin to weaken the Dutch government's claim that it must heed anti-cannabis pressure from other governments, Maastricht Mayor Leers was joined in calling for regulated cannabis production by the mayors of nearby Aachen (Germany) and Hasselt and Luik (Belgium). Dutch mayors as a group are already ready to go further: A poll last month by the newspaper Trouw found that two-thirds of them were ready to legalize the trade.
And it is big business in Holland. According to a report in the Dutch newspaper De Limburger last week, the Dutch marijuana crop is valued at around $5 billion annually, with close to one-quarter of that value being realized in the southern Limburger region. All that money doesn't mean the cannabis industry is a political power, though, said van der Tas. "Although the cannabis market may be worth $5 or $6 billion US, this does not translate into political power, but certainly vested interests emerge."
While van der Tas expressed concern about the involvement of the Dutch, Belgian, and German justice ministries in the creation of pilot cannabis regulation projects in Limburger, he remains confident that the essential contours of Dutch cannabis policy -- tolerance and regulation -- will remain unchanged. "You do not really need to despair about the Dutch," he said. "Just yesterday, our foreign minister publicly affirmed that our liberal drug policies would not be endangered by the new European Union constitution, which is soon to be put to a referendum. When he was asked whether his conservative colleague and fellow Christian Democrat might not be tempted to let himself be outvoted in Brussels, he flatly said that such a policy would not find a majority in the cabinet, let alone in parliament."
This year started off with efforts to pass medical marijuana legislation in some 20-odd states. Now, with the legislative clock ticking down in statehouses around the country, no state has passed a bill so far, and the best prospects for a successful outcome are now narrowing down to three states in the Northeast: Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island. In all three states, despite the progress that has been made, legislative hurdles remain and passage of a bill in any of them is by no means assured.
Given the very nature of state legislative sessions, with hundreds of bills offered and increasingly frantic wheeling and dealing as sessions wind down, and given the inertia with which state legislators as a class confront the medical marijuana issue, this is not much of a surprise. Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told DRCNet in a January interview that he would consider it a good year if one or two states managed to pass a bill.
"If more states had the initiative process, we would have 15 or 20 states with medical marijuana laws today instead of 10," MPP communications director Bruce Mirken elaborated Wednesday, "but in most states, the legislature is the only system we have. And there is a huge disconnect between public opinion as expressed in polls and the legislators on this issue. They're nervous, they're afraid voting for this will hurt them, even though there is absolutely no evidence that is true."
And the problem isn't just legislators, said Mirken, it's the legislative process. "People talk about legislation moving down the pipeline," he said, "but it's not a nice, clear, open pipeline. There are twists and turns and valves that can be open and shut. If you have a hostile committee chair at any point, you can be blocked, even if it is something that would pass if it ever got to a straight up-and-down vote. And you can get a committee chair who is not necessarily hostile to your bill, but to its sponsor, so bills can get killed that way."
Which is precisely what happened earlier this year in New Mexico. There, a medical marijuana bill that appeared well on its way to passage was unexpectedly derailed by legislators who hoped to pressure its sponsor on completely unrelated real estate development legislation.
Hopes are high that that kind of unforeseen end won't happen in Connecticut, where SB 124 continues to pass hurdle after legislative hurdle, thanks to a strong cadre of supporters, including the Alliance Connecticut, United Methodist Church of Connecticut, Connecticut Nurses Association, Dr. Andrew Salner, Director of the Helen & Harry Gray Cancer Center at Hartford Hospital, A Better Way Foundation, and the Drug Policy Alliance. Championed by state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi (R-Somers), the bill removes the threat of arrest or prosecution from patients with "debilitating diseases" who have a written recommendation from a doctor. It sets limits of five plants and one ounce of usable marijuana. Patients must register with the Department of Consumer Affairs.
"The Connecticut medical marijuana bill has been through five committees in an attempt to kill it," said Robert Rooks, executive director of the A Better Way Foundation, a Connecticut-based drug and sentencing reform group working with the Drug Policy Alliance on the effort in the Constitution state. "With the favorable vote in the Appropriations Committee today [Thursday], which we thought would be the most difficult to pass, I think we have a very good shot."
But even if the bill makes its way successfully through a full Senate vote next week, time is tight. Still, said Rooks, it can still happen. "We have two full weeks, and that is enough time in the House. Once the bill gets out of committee there, we have commitments from the leadership to bring it to a vote. In any event, we are going to just keep plugging along."
"The legislature needs to enact a medicinal marijuana law that allows the drug to be used in tightly controlled instances with a doctor's supervision and that is compassionate toward patients who are desperate to ease their pain," Bruno, who has had a bout with prostate cancer, said as he appeared with Williams. "As a cancer survivor, I understand how difficult it is to live day to day with a painful, life-threatening illness."
Bruno pronounced himself "confident" that agreement could be reached with the Assembly on a bill. Companion legislation there is moving, passing the Assembly Health Committee last week on a 17-5 vote.
"This is something of a breakthrough for New York," said MPP's Mirken. "It's clear that Montel's active involvement has helped call a lot of attention to it and helped to educate some people on the more conservative side of the spectrum. We still need to get this moving in the senate, but at least now there is grounds for cautious optimism."
While some conservatives may have been getting educated, the Conservative Party wasn't among them. In a statement it issued in response to Bruno's move, the party called marijuana a gateway drug, and, apparently reading from the drug czar's playbook, added:
"Smoking crude marijuana is known to trigger attacks of manic depression, schizophrenia and memory loss. Moreover, an increase in teen suicides has been linked to marijuana, while persons under the influence of marijuana are 10 times more likely to be involved in fatal traffic collisions than persons driving under the influence of alcohol."
While Republican Gov. George Pataki isn't resorting to Reefer Madness-style rhetoric, his office has also signaled strong opposition to medical marijuana, and the threat of a possible veto looms over any bill that makes it to his desk. People should try Marinol instead, one state official suggested. "Our experts indicate there are FDA-approved legal alternatives that would provide the same medical benefit, if not better," said state Health Department Spokesman Bill VanSlyke. "We are no less sensitive to the pain and suffering people endure, but we have to make sure the decisions we make are the right ones for the patient."
In Rhode Island, S 710, the Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Act, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and is headed for a floor vote, while a companion measure, H 6052, was the subject of hearings in the House Health Education and Welfare Committee at the same time. Both bills would allow Rhode Islanders suffering from AIDS, cancer, and other serious illnesses to use marijuana without fear of penalty if they have a written doctor's recommendation and have registered with the state.
"It is time that this bill is passed so that we can alleviate the pain, the nausea and the disorientation that occurs when many of these very ill people are on a variety of other painkillers," said Sen. Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), the Senate sponsor.
The House companion bill has 50 cosponsors and a broad list of endorsements from medical associations and more than one hundred Rhode Island physicians. "We clearly have very strong support in Rhode Island," said MPP's Mirken, "both within the legislature and among all of the established medical organizations, including both the state medical society and the state nurses' association." Still, he said, the state health department had come out against the bills. "That's a concern, but there is still some time before it gets to the governor's desk. Then perhaps the voters of Rhode Island can help educate him like they've educated the lawmakers."
"Of all the states we're working, the ones with momentum are Rhode Island and New York," said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "Those are the best shots the way things look right now," he told DRCNet. And with forward movement in Connecticut as well, here's hoping for the Northeastern trifecta.
Congressman Jim McDermott has agreed to deliver the keynote address for this event, which will take place on the evening of June 1st in downtown Seattle. We hope that you'll join DRCNet, KCBA, Rep. McDermott and others for this exciting occasion.
Emceeing the event will be KCBA's Roger Goodman, and additional speakers will include Andy Ko, American Civil Liberties Union of Washington; Dan Merkle, Center for Social Justice; Lisa Cipollone, Sen. Maria Cantwell's Office; Cindy Beavon, Students for Sensible Drug Policy; David Borden, DRCNet; others to be announced.
All proceeds will benefit the John W. Perry Fund, providing scholarships for students who have lost financial aid because of drug convictions while memorializing a hero of 9/11 and champion of drug policy reform and civil liberties. The Perry Fund is a project of DRCNet Foundation.
The Details: The event will take place on Wednesday, June 1, 2005, from 6:00-8:00pm, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel-Seattle, Third Floor Garden Pavilion, 1113 6th Ave., Seattle, WA. Please RSVP to [email protected] or (202) 362-0030. Light refreshments will be served, donations requested.
HOST COMMITTEE: Sunil Aggarwal, Sherelyn Anderson, D'Adre Cunningham, Lisa Daugaard, Nancy Eitreim, Christie Hedman, Alison Holcomb, Charley Huffine, Councilmember Nick Licata, David Lovell, Jeff Mero, Dick Monroe, Karen Murray, KL Shannon, Azalee Turner, others TBA.
Jim McDermott is United States Representative for Washington's 7th Congressional District. Born in Chicago, IL on December 28, 1936, he was the first member of his family to attend college, and went on to finish medical school. After completing his medical residency and military service, he made his first run for public office in 1970 and served in the State Legislature from the 43rd district in Washington State. In 1974, he ran for the State Senate, and held the office for three terms. In 1987, after 15 years of legislative service, Rep. McDermott decided to leave politics and continue in public service as a Foreign Service medical officer based in Zaire, providing psychiatric services to Foreign Service, AID, and Peace Corps personnel in sub-Saharan Africa. When the 7th district Congressional seat later became open, he returned from Africa to run for the US House of Representatives. He began serving in 1989 to the 101st Congress and is currently serving his 9th term.
Please join us on June 1st in Seattle to thank Rep. McDermott for his support of this issue while raising money to help students stay in school! If you can't make it, you can also help by making a generous contribution to the DRCNet Foundation for the John W. Perry Fund. Checks should be made payable to DRCNet Foundation, with "scholarship fund" or "John W. Perry Fund" written in the memo or accompanying letter, and sent to: DRCNet Foundation, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. DRCNet Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, and your contribution will be tax-deductible as provided by law. Please let us know if we may include your name in the list of contributors accompanying future publicity efforts.
About John Perry: John William Perry was a New York City police officer and Libertarian Party and ACLU activist who spoke out against the "war on drugs." He was also a lawyer, athlete, actor, linguist and humanitarian. On the morning of September 11, 2001, John Perry was at One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan filing retirement papers when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Without hesitation he went to help, losing his life rescuing others. We decided to dedicate this scholarship program, which addresses a drug war injustice, to his memory. John Perry's academic achievements are an inspiring example for students: He was fluent in several languages, graduated from NYU Law School and prosecuted NYPD misconduct cases for the department. His web site is http://www.johnwperry.com.
Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org for further information on DRCNet. Visit http://www.kcba.org/druglaw/ for further information on the King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project. Contact the Perry Fund at [email protected] or (202) 362-0030 to request a scholarship application, get involved in the HEA Campaign or with other inquiries, or visit http://www.raiseyourvoice.com and http://www.ssdp.org online.
Missing evidence, missing money, a DA failing to act, a jury failing to convict, and a cop failing to keep his bad habits under control all make their way into this week's rogue's gallery. Without further ado, let's get to it:
In Detroit, former Detroit Police Department civilian employee John Earl Cole, 53, was sentenced to 15 years in prison May 18 after admitting to stealing at least 220 pounds of cocaine from the department evidence room. Cole pled guilty to one count each of conspiracy to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine and conspiracy to commit money-laundering. Cole used his proceeds to invest in Detroit area real estate and disguised his purchases by putting the titles in the names of friends and relatives. He faced 30 years, but got that cut in half by agreeing to testify against one of his co-conspirators, Donald Hynes, 43, who pled guilty in March and faces between 10 and 25 years in prison himself.
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, a two-and-a-half year battle between the Department of Public Safety and three suspended police officers grinds on. The three officers were accused of various offenses, but only one of them drug-related: Officer Stephen Montoya is accused of taking $1,900 from a man he arrested in June 2003 on drug charges. After the substance in question turned out not to be illicit drugs, Montoya allegedly returned the man's wallet minus the missing cash. The long-running case was in the news last week when the department filed new documents against the trio of wayward officers, who are seeking a court order to halt disciplinary proceedings against them.
In Durango, Colorado, the repercussions over a police officer sleeping with an informant are spreading and now threaten to entangle La Plata County District Attorney Craig Westberg in the affair. The police officer, Tom Fritzell, was fired last week, and the methamphetamine charges hanging over the informant were dismissed. But now Westberg appears to have been caught in a lie about when he became aware of the relationship. Although Westberg denied May 19 that he knew anything about it until two months ago, the Durango Herald printed excerpts from an August 2003 Westberg e-mail to a local defense attorney in which he acknowledged that Fritzell was involved in an improper relationship with an informant whose freedom depended on his good will. Westberg told the Herald the date stamp on the e-mail must be a mistake. "I don't know how you got that date on there," he said, "but that is certainly a screwy date." But the attorney who received the e-mail told the Herald the 2003 date was correct, that he had told Westberg Fritzell was sleeping with the informant, and that Westberg failed to act on the information.
In Oakland, the four fired police officers who dubbed themselves the Riders as they terrorized northwest Oakland in the summer of 2000, assaulting and framing drug suspects and conspiring among themselves to hide the evidence, have once again escaped punishment. In a second Riders trial, jurors acquitted the cops on several charges and deadlocked on 13 others in a May 19 decision. In the first Riders trial in 2003, jurors deadlocked on all counts. Last week, Matthew Hornung, 33, was cleared of all charges, including one count each of conspiracy and issuing a false police report. Defendants Clarence Mabanag, 39, and Jude Siapno, 36, still face a possible third trial on remaining charges. Prosecutors will announce June 2 whether they will pursue another trial. Riders ring-leader Frank "Choker" Vazques, 48, has fled and is believed to be in Mexico. While criminal verdicts have been hard to come by in the case, 119 plaintiffs in a civil suit against the Oakland Police Department have had better luck, winning $10.9 million in damages and forcing reforms in the department's procedures.
In North Tonawanda, New York, police officer Patrick Daly, 43, was arrested May 17 and charged with possession of cocaine and using a phone to commit a drug felony after FBI agents watched him score two eight-balls (3.5 grams, an eighth of an ounce) of cocaine from a Main Street drug dealer. According to the Tonawanda News, Daly was popped after the FBI raided the drug dealer and the dealer gave up his name in return for "consideration" on potential charges he may face. The dealer then worked with the FBI to set up a sting, and Daly fell into the trap. In post-arrest interviews, Daly admitted buying coke hundreds of times in the past two years, and Police Chief Randy Szukala said Daly had been using on the job. Daley is on paid suspension for one month, after which further action could follow. In the meantime, he continues to collect his $66,676.51 annual salary.
Maine Gov. John Baldacci (D) wants marijuana-smokers to pay more for their own persecution. In response to much ballyhooed (but yet to occur) cuts in federal funding for state and local drug law enforcement efforts, Baldacci moved last week to increase the civil fines for marijuana possession violations. The fines would also become mandatory. The money raised by the increased fines would go directly to state law enforcement's drug-fighting budgets, Baldacci's representatives told legislators May 19.
While the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in Maine, those cited for civil violations are currently hit with a minimum $200 fine. Under Baldacci's proposal, that minimum fine would double to $400 and the maximum fine would jump from $400 to $600. For a second offense within a six-year period, the fine would increase from $400 to $600. And just for good measure, Baldacci's proposal would also increase the fines for drug paraphernalia violations, from $200 to $300, and make them mandatory, too.
The changes would result in $2.3 million in revenues for state drug law enforcement in the next two-year budget cycle, said Baldacci's representatives. "Funding that was available for drug enforcement agents was rather severely cut back," Rebecca Wyke of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services told legislators. "In order to make up for that, we looked at a proposal to increase drug-related fines."
"Without these fines we would be looking at abolishing the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency in fiscal year 2007," said Ryan Lowe, from the same department. "It's somewhat of a balancing act. We're not raising money to put into the general fund for an unrelated expense, these are directly related to funding the drug enforcement agency."
Actually, we couldn't think of a better state agency to be sunsetted.
A bill in the US House of Representatives sponsored by Reps. Tom Latham (R-IA), Randy Kuhl (R-NY), Frank Wolf (R-VA), Mark Kennedy (R-MN), Ed Case (D-HI), and Michael McCaul (R-TX) would allow people who were somehow harmed by illegal drug use to sue the people who made or sold the drugs in question -- but only if they reveal to authorities all of their drug sources. Introduced May 13, the Drug Dealer Liability Act of 2005 (HR2348) would:
Latham is a member of House Speaker Dennis Hastert's Task Force for a Drug-Free America and touts his drug warrior credentials. His bill would make drug dealers pay some of the costs of drug use, he said. "This bill will allow us to shift the cost of our nation's drug problem back to the very people who fuel it. I hope that by imposing the real threat of losing everything that they own will make some drug dealers have second thoughts about their activities," said Latham.
The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce and Judiciary committees.
Building upon a January 2003 agreement to cooperate on drug law enforcement issues, the governments of the United States and Azerbaijan signed an agreement Monday in which the US will provide nearly $1.5 million a year for "technical assistance and training" of Azerbaijani anti-drug police and additional $500,000 for unspecified purposes. According to the quaintly named official government news service, the Azerbaijan State Telegraph Agency, the yearly half-million will be "for the benefit of the government of Azerbaijan."
Located in the strife-ridden Caucasus on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, the predominantly Muslim country of eight million people sits squarely astride major transshipment routes for Afghan opium and heroin headed for Western European markets. The country is especially vulnerable to penetration by drug smugglers because of its loss of the conflictive Nagorno-Karabakh region to neighboring Armenia in fighting after the fall of the Soviet Union. That region, home to an ethnic Armenian majority that rejected Azerbaijani control, remains relatively unpoliced and its borders uncontrolled.
The US State Department's 2004 report on human rights reported that Azerbaijan's judiciary was "corrupt, inefficient, and did not function independently." The report went on to detail a raft of human rights abuses, some of them involving the nation's criminal justice system: "There were four deaths that occurred in custody allegedly due to beatings. Police tortured and beat persons in custody, and used excessive force to extract confessions. In most cases, the Government took no action to punish abusers. Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening, and some prisoners died as a result of these conditions."
The report did note that local and international humanitarian groups had been allowed to conduct independent monitoring of prison conditions, but continued to charge that "Arbitrary arrest and detention and lengthy pretrial detention continued to be problems" and "After the October 2003 presidential elections, authorities conducted a wave of politically motivated arrests of more than 700 persons, including, opposition members, journalists and election officials."
Despite this, the newly allocated funds will go to support five programs, including a resident legal advisor project, a project to develop law enforcement, criminal law reform, a project to deal with trafficking in persons, and a forensics lab project.
The agreement was signed Monday in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Reno Harnish and Azerbaijani foreign minister Elmar Mammadyarov inked the document. The signing marked "yet another step in the steadily developing strategic alliance between the government of the Azerbaijan Republic and the government of the United States," said Mammadyarov.
A federal commission on drugs has recommended that Switzerland adopt a drug policy that includes alcohol and tobacco as well as illegal drugs. It also called for the application of the "four pillar" -- prevention, treatment, harm reduction, law enforcement -- policy to all drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. Only by doing so, said the commission, could Switzerland adopt a credible and coherent drug policy "that takes into account all psychoactive substances."
"We need to get away from making moral judgments on drugs and behavior and opt for more pragmatism," said commission president Francois van der Linde in remarks reported by the Swiss news agency Swissinfo.
Existing drug and public health legislation needs to be "harmonized," first of all to define which substances should be banned and which should be available to the public. Such a move would ensure that substances with similar health impacts are not treated differently under the law, as is currently the case, the commission said.
The commission's findings were welcomed by Michel Graf, director of the Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Addiction, which last month warned that nearly a million Swiss drank too much alcohol at least twice a month. "This is very good news. It is an approach that has been adopted for some time in the field of prevention," he told Swissinfo. "This is politically very courageous and dares to break a taboo. It recognizes that alcohol and tobacco are psychoactive substances like cannabis and other drugs."
The commission's report and recommendations also won praise from Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin, who praised "the innovative approach taken by the authors of the report, who believe that it is better to combat addiction on a broad front rather than focus solely on the fight against drugs, whether they be illegal drugs, tobacco, alcohol or medication."
Last year, the Swiss parliament failed to approve a government proposal to decriminalize cannabis, even though Switzerland has the highest cannabis use rates in Europe, with an estimated one-third of all adults using the drug. An earlier effort to decriminalize cannabis also failed. Switzerland's current drug law was passed in 1975, and, especially when it comes to cannabis, does not reflect Swiss social reality.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra took his never-ending and murderous war on drugs in Thailand in a new direction over the weekend, announcing Saturday that his quixotic crusade to make Thailand "drug free" is now targeting cocaine. Now in its third phase, the first phase of Thaksin's crusade killed some 2500 drug users and dealers in 2003, according to local and international human rights groups. While the second phase, beginning late last year, was less bloody, Thaksin's crusade continues to persecute drug users and sellers.
While he originally vowed to make Thailand "drug free" by the end of 2003, Thaksin has since scaled back his goals. Now, with this third phase of the Thai war on drugs, Thaksin told the Thai News Agency he hopes to "eliminate as many drugs as possible" by June 10.
But at prices of around $75 per gram in Bangkok, cocaine is not a mass market drug in Thailand, where methamphetamine pills go for pennies and smokeable opium remains cheap. Instead, according to the US Drug Enforcement Agency, cocaine is the preserve of wealthy Thais and foreigners. Indeed, the extent of cocaine use is unknown in Thailand, but the DEA notes that there had not even been a domestic cocaine arrest there before 1994.
Still, said Thaksin, cocaine remains "readily available" among the wealthy. For regular users, buying cocaine is as easy to do as buying a pizza, he complained.
As press time approached this week, we learned that Australian citizen Schapelle Corby, a cause celèbre for her trial in Indonesia on marijuana charges, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Read our previous article, Nightmare in Bali: Young Australian Woman Faces Possible Death Sentence for Marijuana Smuggling in Case Stirring Passions for extensive background and click here for an Australian news update.
May 27, 1963: President Nathan M. Pusey of Harvard University announces that an assistant professor of clinical psychology and education has been fired. The man dismissed is Dr. Richard Alpert, later to become "Ram Dass."
June 1, 1996: Actor and hemp activist Woody Harrelson is arrested and charged with cultivation of less than five marijuana plants after he plants four industrial hemp seeds in full view of Lee County Sheriff William Kilburn in Lexington, Kentucky.
The Outreach Coordinator position will be at least a half-time position, with a probability of full-time availability. Starting pay is $10/hour with advancement possible; starting date is the last week of June. Duties will include communicating with current and potential coalition partners; reaching out to potential campaign supporters; writing and/or editing advocacy materials; writing and placing letters to the editor and soliciting media coverage for the issue; lobbying and communicating with Congressional offices; and assisting the Campaign Director with both strategy development and administrative tasks.
The ideal candidate will have a BA in political science, journalism, criminal justice, or related field; one to two years experience in lobbying, outreach, organizing, journalism and/or public relations; knowledge of and/or interest in drug policy, education policy, economic justice or civil rights issues; excellent writing and editing skills; and excellent communications skills. However, candidates who don't fit all these criteria but are excellent overall will be considered. Other desirable attributes are comfort discussing controversial issues; political knowledge and understanding of the legislative process; and web site skills such as HTML and Dreamweaver.
To apply, please send a cover letter, resume and short writing sample by May 30 to [email protected], or fax to (202) 293-8344. (E-mail to let us know if you have sent a fax.)
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
May 26-27, 9:00am-5:00pm, Brooklyn, NY, "Drug Using Communities and Hepatitis C: Practice, Research and Policy," conference of the Hepatitis C Harm Reduction Project. At the Marriott Hotel, space limited, visit http://www.harmreduction.org or contact Heliana Ramirez at [email protected] or (212) 213-6376 ext. 46 for further information.
May 27, 8:00am, Bethesda, MD, "The Business Person's Guide to the Drug Problem," presentation to the North Bethesda Rotary Club by Eric Sterling. Call (301) 589-6020 or visit http://www.cjpf.org for further information.
May 27-29, San Francisco, CA, "Mind States VI: Technology & Transcendence," visit http://www.mindstates.org for information.
June 1, Seattle, WA, John W. Perry Fund fundraiser, featuring US Rep. Jim McDermott. Details to be announced, contact DRCNet Foundation at (202) 362-0030 or [email protected] for updates or visit http://www.raiseyourvoice.com/perryfund/ online.
June 4, Columbus, OH, 18th Annual Ohio Hempfest. On the OSU campus, contact Tara Stevens at (614) 299-9675 or Arlette Roeper at [email protected], or visit http://www.ohiohempfest.org for further information.
June 4, Jacksonville Beach, FL, 8th Annual Hempfest. At Seawalk Pavilion, sponsored by N/E Florida Cannabis Action Network. Visit http://www.jaxhempfest.com for further information.
June 9, 6:30pm, Potomac, MD, "The Business Person's Guide to the Drug Problem," presentation to the Rotary Club of Potomac-Bethesda by Eric Sterling. Call (301) 589-6020 or visit http://www.cjpf.org for further information.
June 11, 11:00am-5:00pm, Ottawa, ON, Canada, "Truth, Hope and Compassion (THC) Rally," sponsored by Crosstown Traffic (http://www.crosstowntraffic.ca). Contact Tim Meehan at (613) 230-1937 or [email protected] or Russell Barth at (613) 761-6504 or [email protected] for further information.
June 28, New York, NY, An Opiate Overdose Prevention Conference, sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Admission free, space limited, please RSVP to secure your space. At the Holiday Inn Conference Center, W. 32nd St. & Broadway, contact Paula Santiago at (212) 213-6376 ext. 155 or [email protected].
July 8-9, 7:00pm, New Brunswick, NJ, "Waiting to Inhale," screenings of new medical marijuana documentary, at the New Jersey International Film Festival. At Rutgers University, Scott Hall #123, 43 College Ave., visit http://www.njfilmfest.com for info.
August 12-13, Washington, DC, "Over 2 Million Imprisoned – Too Many!", March on DC, sponsored by Family and Friends of People Incarcerated (FMI). Reception Friday evening, march Saturday morning from 9:00am to noon. Contact Roberta Franklin at (334) 220-4670 or firstladytms©aol.com, or visit http://www.journeyforjustice.org for further information.
August 13, Washington, DC, "Million Family Members and Friends of Inmates March," sponsored by Family Members of Inmates. Contact Roberta Franklin at (334) 220-4670 or [email protected] 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 http://www.harmredux.org/conference2005.htm after January 15 or contact Amanda Whipple at (801) 355-0234 ext. 3 for further information.
August 20-21, 10:00am-8:00pm, Seattle, WA, Seattle Hempfest 2005. At Myrtle Edwards Park, Pier 70, admission free, visit http://www.hempfest.org or (206) 781-5734 or [email protected] for further information.
August 28, 11:00am-9:00pm, Olympia, WA, Third Annual Olympia Hempfest. At Heritage Park, visit http://www.olyhempfest.com for further information.
September 23-25, New Paltz, NY, Students for Sensible Drug Policy Northeast Conference. At SUNY New Paltz, contact Jenny Loeb at [email protected] for further information.
September 25-29, Kabul, Afghanistan, "The 2005 Kabul International Symposium – Drug Policy: Challenges and Responses." Sponsored by the Senlis Council, at Kabul University, visit http://www.senliscouncil.net/modules/events/kabul/ or e-mail [email protected] for further information.
October 2, noon, Madison WI, "Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival." At the UW Campus Library Mall, visit http://www.weedstock.com for further information.
November 9-12, Long Beach, CA, "Building a Movement for Reason, Compassion and Justice," the 2005 International Drug Policy Reform Conference. Sponsored by Drug Policy Alliance, at the Westin Hotel, details to be announced. Visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/events/dpa2005/ for updates.
November 13-16, Markham, Ontario, "Issues of Substance," Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse National Conference 2005. At Hilton Suites Toronto/Markham Conference Centre & Spa, visit http://www.ccsa.ca/pdf/ccsa-annconf-abstract-2005-e.pdf for info.
February 9-11, 2006, Tasmania, Australia, The Eleventh International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA), coordinated by Justice Action. For further information visit http://www.justiceaction.org.au/ICOPA/ndx_icopa.html or contact +612-9660 9111 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 http://www.medicalcannabis.com for updates.
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