Media Racial Profiling
Out from the Shadows HEA Drug Provision Drug War Chronicle Perry Fund DRCNet en Español Speakeasy Blogs About Us Home
Why Legalization? NJ Racial Profiling Archive Subscribe Donate DRCNet em Português Latest News Drug Library Search

Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #395 -- 7/15/05

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items


recent blog posts "In the Trenches" activist feed


"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

subscribe for FREE now! ---- make a donation ---- search



Table of Contents

    Everyone wants to live in a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
    Former California medical marijuana provider Bryan Epis is awaiting resentencing this month in the wake of a web of recent Supreme Court rulings. His original sentence was ten years.
    Advocates and opponents of California's Proposition 36, passed with overwhelming voter approval in 2002, are in a war of words over a Senate bill that would effectively roll it back.
    The Bush administration appears set to lose one of their few drug policy proposals with which drug reformers agreed.
    With politicians moving to get two marijuana-flavored candies taken off the market, hemp food advocates are scrambling to keep their products from getting mistakenly caught in the crossfire.
    This week we have a Coast Guardsman who switched sides, a Minnesota top cop with a nasty cocaine habit, Florida deputy with the same problem, a Louisiana drug task force commander hanging out with the wrong relative, and a New Mexico jail guard using his position to gain goodies.
    Long-time San Diego medical marijuana patient, provider, and activist Steven McWilliams killed himself Monday night. Supporters are holding vigils Tuesday night to protest the government's driving him to his death.
    California authorities announced last week they were suspending a pilot medical marijuana ID program over fears of subjecting state officials and cardholders to federal prosecution. Now two organizations are suing the Schwarzenegger administration to get the program reopened.
    Ardent drug warriors in the US House of Representatives have forced a provision on anti-drug fungi into the ONDCP bill -- against the wishes of federal agencies who think it's too dangerous.
    Under Pennsylvania law, possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana -- slightly more than an ounce -- is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Some western Pennsylvania police chiefs would like to change that.
    Rep. James Sensenbrenner has drawn criticism for privately demanding last month that a US appeals court alter its decision in a drug case.
    Police in Utah have been using a machine that lets them search people's go to people's exterior home doorknobs for the presence of illicit drugs. Utah judges have split on the legality.
    Hair-trigger police officers in separate drug raids in Utah and Florida shot and killed unarmed men early this month.
    Two decades of hard-line US anti-drug policy in Bolivia is about to bear fruit, but it will be bitter fruit indeed for America's drug warriors.
    Are you an activist who wants to go to the national drug reform conferences but can never afford it? There may be a scholarship for you.
  15. WEB SCAN
    Prison Smoking Ban, Patrick Crusade, Licensing Poppies, BlogCritics Book Review
    Apply to work for our friend Tony Newman in New York!
    Get paid to help MPP transition its web site to a new layout and server.
    Correction to last week's Brazil harm reduction 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. DRCNet Interview: California Medical Marijuana Provider Bryan Epis

Northern California resident Bryan Epis is one person directly affected by the Supreme Court's adverse ruling in the Raich case, where it held that the federal government can arrest and prosecute people using or providing medical marijuana even in states where it is legal. In a case that drew national attention, Epis, who was growing for himself with four other patients, with the leftover going to a local dispensary, was one of the first California medical marijuana providers to be convicted of drug offenses under federal law. After serving nearly a quarter of a 10-year federal prison sentence, Epis was released from prison last year by a federal appeals court pending the outcome of Raich. Now, as the federal prosecution machine reawakens in the wake of that decision, Epis is awaiting resentencing and faces the possibility of going back to prison to finish out his sentence. Drug War Chronicle spoke with him Thursday to check in on where he's been, what he's been through, and what's going to happen next.

Drug War Chronicle: How did you become involved in the medical marijuana movement?

Bryan Epis: I suffered chronic pain from a car accident long ago. I was seeing orthopedic specialists for compound fractures of the vertebrae, and they would prescribe things like codeine, Vicodin, but that stuff put me into a state of lethargy and incoherence. I complained to my doctors that I couldn't function as well as I liked on their pain medications, and they said all conventional pain killers would do the same thing. This was back in the 1980s, before Proposition 215 and all that. One of my doctors recommended I try marijuana. He said he couldn't prescribe it, but that it worked a little differently and wouldn't make me drowsy all the time. He was right. It worked well with the pain, and I wasn't as drowsy or lethargic or incoherent. I continued using it, and when the California medical marijuana law came into effect in 1996, I thought, "Oh, this is nice," and went out and got a recommendation from a physician.

Bryan Epis reunited with daughter Ashley
But one thing I noticed when I visited a few dispensaries was that they were charging the same price as on the street -- $50, $60, up to $80 for an eighth! I didn't see why patients should have to pay that much anymore. After all, the law had changed, right? I got the wild idea to lower the price. I thought I would open a dispensary and charge $10 an eighth. I was living up in Chico and I saw in the paper that someone was going to open a dispensary there. At the same time, I saw that San Jose -- my mom was living nearby in Silicon Valley -- had created some rules and regulations for dispensaries. I wrote to San Jose about that, but never started a dispensary there. Instead, I met the guy from Chico and we decided to start one there together.

I was pretty busy. I was also in my third year of law school, and at the same time, I was starting to really get intrigued with the Internet and was learning programming languages to get ready to set up a hotel reservation web site. [He has now done that -- is the site.]

Chronicle: What happened in Chico?

Epis: It wasn't like San Jose. San Jose would say "Yes, send us a proposal, we'll work with you." They were complying with the spirit of the law. I thought Chico would be the same way, but they were hostile to the idea of a dispensary opening. They threatened us and said they might call the DEA. I was arrogant. I thought I was safe because I was complying with state law. I was reasonably relying on a San Francisco judge's holding that the California law permitted nonprofit dispensaries to operate. That didn't matter to the DEA, and they ended up raiding me.

Chronicle: You were charged with conspiracy to manufacture more than 1,000 plants and faced a mandatory ten year federal prison sentence if convicted as a drug dealer in federal court as a drug dealer in federal court. What happened at trial?

Epis: All of my defenses were denied. The judge ruled we couldn't use a medical necessity defense. We were denied an entrapment defense. We tried to argue that the federal courts didn't have jurisdiction under the commerce clause. That didn't work.

The only way the words "medical marijuana" got in the trial was because the prosecutor, Sacramento Assistant US Attorney Samuel Wong took one page out of my proposal to the San Jose authorities and used it to portray me as a greedy drug dealer. As I said, I was thinking about charging $10 an eighth for five star quality cannabis buds. As part of my proposal for a San Jose dispensary, while I was doodling one day, I made a spreadsheet with an overly ambitious preliminary calculation, with the dispensary going from 20 members to 100,000 nine months later. The rest of the 17-page proposal talked about how it was nonprofit, about how half of everything would go to charities and good causes, but we weren't allowed to bring in the other 16 pages because the judge didn't want the jury to hear about the cannabis clubs in San Jose.

I was charged with growing plants at my house, not distribution, but the government commingled everything. Chico Medical Marijuana Caregivers was totally separate from the San Jose dispensary, which didn't even exist except as a proposal. Using the one page spreadsheet, they claimed we were growing enough marijuana in my basement for 100,000 people! I was actually growing with four other people there, and I allowed them to grow there just because I was a nice guy. They didn't have anywhere else to go, and they were sick. Two of them are dead now. The prosecutor knew what his witnesses were saying was a lie, and they were allowed to lie to the jury. The judge let them get up there and lie, but he wouldn't let us mention cannabis clubs. The jury convicted me of conspiracy to grow more than a thousand plants, even though we never did, and I was sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiracy to follow California's medical marijuana law. I served 25 months and 26 days before I was released pending appeal. The county jails were the worst; they were horrendous. I spent almost ten months in county jails in between going to Lompoc and then Terminal Island Federal Prison.

Chronicle: It must have been great to be a free man again.

Epis: It was so nice. Mike Gray from Common Sense for Drug Policy and Don Duncan and Stacey Swimme of Americans for Safe Access picked me up. We went over to Mike's place, had some beer and wine and nuts and cheese, and then went out for sushi. I hadn't had any of that stuff for two years.

Chronicle: You have gained a lot of support over the years. There have been demonstrations on your behalf, people have gotten themselves arrested doing civil disobedience over your case, there was the billboard campaign. Why do you think your case has resonated so deeply?

Epis: I was one of the first to go to trial rather than taking a plea deal. Before Wong, there was a different prosecutor, and he offered a deal for six months of house arrest. I could have taken that, but then he left and Wong came along and suddenly instead of six months house arrest it was four years in prison. I figured why should I plead guilty for that, especially when I didn't think I was guilty of anything? Then, when I was sentenced to ten years for growing marijuana for patients, people were really sickened. That's when the billboard campaign with my daughter came about, with her holding a sign saying "My Dad is Not a Criminal." It was pretty nice to know you have that kind of support.

Chronicle: Now you face the prospect of doing more time. When do you have to go back to court?

David Borden & Bryan Epis at the April 2005 NORML conference
Epis: August 1. The US 9th Circuit remanded my case back to federal district court in Sacramento pending the Raich decision. We were really hoping for a victory in Raich; they could have applied it to my case. Now that Raich has been decided and we lost, the prosecutor says it is time to resentence. It is possible it will be postponed, because we are arguing that the 9th Circuit first said I should be resentenced under the Blakely and Booker sentencing decisions, though they later changed that to "extant law applicable to sentencing." If they apply Blakely and Booker, that would nullify my mandatory minimum sentence and I could be resentenced under the guidelines. We're also arguing that the judge should not have found I was a "manager" or "supervisor" in sentencing me. We are asking for time served. I think that is way more than enough. The prosecutor wants the same ten year sentence.

Chronicle: What can people do to help at this point?

Epis: They can write to the judge. If they are patients, they can talk about how marijuana helps them with their ailments. If they are caregivers, they can talk about how they help a patient. If they know me, they can tell him what I nice guy I am [laughs]. If not, they can tell him they have heard about my case and think the sentence is excessive and I should be sentenced to time served. The more letters, the better. It's going to take a lot of letters.

But it's not just about me. People need to get everyone they can involved in doing things like writing Congress -- it's up to them to change this situation.


Many DRCNet readers know the case of Bryan Epis, a medical marijuana patient and provider who was sentenced to ten years after being convicted in federal court in 2002. Bryan was released last year, pending re-sentencing, following the US Supreme Court's Blakely ruling. DRCNet participated in a major demonstration in Sacramento on the day of his sentencing, and we have also gotten to know Bryan personally after he was released, two years later, pending re-sentencing after the Supreme Court's rulings in Blakely and Booker began to change the way federal sentencing works.

A victory in the recent Raich medical marijuana case would have given Bryan a new trial, during which he presumably would have been allowed to present evidence that he was providing medical marijuana to patients in compliance with California law. Unfortunately that didn't happen. But the Supreme Court rulings now give Judge Frank Damrell the power to give Bryan a shorter sentence this time, toward which the two years Bryan has already spent behind bars would count. Judge Damrell will pronounce his new sentence on August 1, 9:30am. Prosecutor Samuel Wong has asked that the same ten year sentence be imposed again.

We are writing you today to ask that you send letters to Judge Damrell in support of Bryan -- especially those of you who have conditions for which medical marijuana is an effective treatment, those of you who have seen loved ones with painful medical conditions gain some relief from medical marijuana, and those of you who know Bryan personally and can attest with concrete examples as to what a good and kind person he is. Bryan's attorney thinks that Judge Damrell probably does not believe that marijuana is a legitimate medicine, and your personal testimonials could help to persuade him otherwise.

Regardless of what you have to say, please be sure that your letters are respectful. Judge Damrell has the power to sentence Bryan to as much as ten years or as little as time served. This is not a moment when righteous anger will help our cause -- save it for the next time when it will. The same request applies to any of you who attend the hearing to show support in person, as well as to dress conservatively. Letters should be addressed to:

The Honorable Frank C. Damrell, Jr.
US District Court
501 I Street, Suite 4-200
Sacramento, CA 95814
They should write on the envelope and at the top of the letter: "Re: Sentencing of Bryan Epis, #97-381." Please send copies of your letter to us at [email protected] or by fax to (202) 293-8344, and to Bryan's attorney, Brenda Grantland, at (415) 381-6105 or [email protected]. Also, if you are interested you can read Bryan's Sentencing Memorandum at online.

Thanks for considering this request to help a fellow activist who took a great risk and has paid a great price.

return to table of contents

2. Feature: California's "Treatment Not Jail" Law Faces New Attack from Old Foes

California's Proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, passed with overwhelming voter approval in 2002. Since then, the state has allocated $120 million a year to provide treatment instead of jail or prison time to nonviolent first- or second-time drug offenders. Advocates of the program hail it as a success, but the same groups that opposed the measure in the first place, namely law enforcement and drug court organizations, are now backing a bill that would remold the program to more resemble traditional drug courts, where judges, not medical professionals, ultimately make the treatment decisions.

Under Prop. 36, thousands of drug users have been able to get off dope and taxpayers are saving roughly $250 million a year in incarceration costs, advocates said. According to an UCLA study of Prop. 36 last year, 34% of program participants successfully completed the program. But while supporters hail that figure as a sign of success, critics point out that the success rate is higher in the more tightly structured drug courts and that 31% of Prop. 36 participants were re-arrested.

With funding for Prop. 36 set to expire in 2006, those critics see an opportunity to alter the program now. Senate Bill 803, sponsored by state Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego), which has already passed the Senate on a 36-2 vote, would allow judges to throw Prop. 36 clients in jail for short periods if they fail to comply with treatment programs.

The bill would increase compliance rates, Ducheny told the Oakland Tribune. "We're not saying in any way that folks should be incarcerated for the drug conviction," Ducheny said. "What we're saying is there needs to be a way to put you back in the program if you fall out."

"We, along with the drug court judges, opposed this from the beginning," said Ronald Brooks, head of San Francisco High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area office and president of the National Narcotics Officer Associations Coalition. "We felt it was not structured so there were enough sanctions to force people into treatment. We have long advocated a three-pillar strategy of prevention, treatment, and drug enforcement, but Prop. 36 does not have the teeth it needs to be effective. If you really study the statistics, it's clear it isn't working," Brooks told DRCNet.

But it worked for Paul Colbert, a Sacramento resident with a 22-year methamphetamine habit and multiple unsuccessful prison and treatment stints under his belt. In a Monday teleconference organized by supporters of Prop. 36, Colbert said the program was what he needed. "I see people I used to do drugs with and they say they can't believe I got clean," Colbert said, adding that he'd been drug free for 3 1/2 years.

"Prop. 36 did not promise a silver bullet," but it is achieving results, said Glenn Backes, director of health policy for the Drug Policy Alliance. More than 10,000 people completed treatment in the program's first year and 12,000 in the second year, he said, citing the UCLA study.

The program is achieving results for California taxpayers, as well, Backes said. "The legislative analysts' office estimated $150 million a year in savings from not sending people to prison and a half a billion dollars in savings from not opening two prisons. Our rough estimate is that we will have saved a billion dollars in the first four years of Prop. 36," said Backes.

Don't mess with success, he warned. "We want the governor and the legislature to step up and fund Prop. 36 for providing adequate treatment instead of incarceration," he told the teleconference. "The Ducheny bill tries to make Prop. 36 run according to the wishes of those who lost in 2002."

Support for the current incarnation of Prop. 36 extends beyond drug reformers to include medical organizations and civic and religious groups. "Chemical dependency is a medical and public health problem that demands an appropriate solution," said Lisa Folberg of the California Medical Association during the teleconference. "Under [the Ducheny] bill, judges would be making decisions about appropriate addiction treatment. We think they need to be made by people who understand treatment."

"It's rare in public life to enact something that makes a great deal of common sense and moral sense. That's what this program does," said the Rev. Peter Laarman of the Los Angeles-based Progressive Christians Uniting during the teleconference. "We are just heartbroken to see this pushback against Prop. 36 by people who never understood or accepted it and who don't want to leave the carceral model. We do not want to see Prop. 36 undermined," he said.

The Ducheny bill is a "sleight of hand" effort to undo Prop. 36, said Dr. Peter Banys, a University of California, San Francisco psychiatry professor, director of substance abuse programs at San Francisco's Veterans Administration Medical Center, and representative for the California Society of Addiction Medicine. "Our organization is very concerned about this bill. We oppose it in the strongest possible terms as an effort to overturn the will of the people," he said. "It is being advertised as an improvement to Prop. 36 by creating a so-called drug court model, but it reverses and erases the defining elements of Prop. 36."

While "flash incarceration" may be appealing to law enforcement types, it doesn't work, Banys said. "As an evidence-based organization, we have looked into this concept and there is virtually no evidence to support that. But when your only tool is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. The voters of California are ahead of law enforcement and even the politicians on this. They realize people who are addicted need medical help, and that's what we're trying to provide."

While Prop. 36 opponents were able to sail the Ducheny bill through the Senate, it has had a rougher go in the Assembly. Opposition in the Assembly Health Committee held it up for most of June, but it passed out of that panel last week and is now pending before the Public Safety Committee. But the effort to defend Prop. 36 is now up and running, and defenders are ready to do battle in the Assembly.

Even if the bill were to pass, there is a good chance it will be found unconstitutional under state law. According to an opinion authored by the Legislative Council's office on June 30, the bill would "directly alter the scope and effect" of Prop. 36, which became law via a voter-approved initiative. Under California law, only the voters can alter such a law, that opinion strongly suggests.

return to table of contents

3. Feature: Bush Drug Budget Cuts for HIDTA, Task Force Grants Look to Be Restored

In a limited stab at addressing the huge federal budget deficit, the Bush administration this spring announced it was slashing spending for two high-profile but questionably effective federal drug enforcement programs, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program and the Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) program, formerly known as the Byrne law enforcement grant program. But the proposals have run into a buzz saw of well-orchestrated opposition from law enforcement and a bipartisan coalition in Congress, and it now appears both programs will survive.

HIDTA map, from ONDCP
The HIDTA program was introduced in 1990 to target major drug trafficking on the nation's coasts and borders, with the five original HIDTAs set up in the "gateways" of Los Angeles, Houston, New York and New Jersey, South Florida, and the Mexican border. The Baltimore-Washington area became the sixth HIDTA in 1994, and since then, the program has metastized into 28 HIDTAs covering a quarter of the population and including such drug trafficking hot-spots as rural South Dakota and Appalachian West Virginia.

The JAG program, formerly named after Edward Byrne, a New York City police officer killed in the line of duty in 1988, the year it began, funds federal anti-drug task forces around the country with hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Last year, the program was budgeted at $646 million. Under the program, localities kick in one dollar for each three the feds contribute.

With Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) head John Walters as point man, the Bush administration 2006 budget sought to eliminate JAG funding outright and to reduce HIDTA funding by more than half, from $226 million this year to $100 next year. It also sought to move the program out of ONDCP and into the Justice Department's Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Both programs have come under fire from critics, including some inside the Bush administration. Anti-drug task forces funded by the JAG program have run amok repeatedly, most infamously in Tulia, Texas, but also across the land. Last year alone, there were investigations of task force abuses or misdoings in nine states.

The HIDTA program was cited by the Office of Management and Budget in a study two years ago that found it could not prove that it accomplished anything; the OMB Permformance and Assessment Tool (PART) rated HIDTA as "results not demonstrated." Two months ago, in the midst of the congressional fight over restoring funding for the program, the taxpayer watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste echoed that opinion as it issued a scathing report on waste within the drug czar's office, singling out HIDTA for special mention.

"Designed chiefly to curb drug trafficking across America's borders, the program has become a drug prevention funding free-for-all for power-hungry politicians to bring home the bacon to their districts at the taxpayers' expense, and has decreased drug enforcement in areas where it is critically needed," the group found.

The ONDCP agreed, at least initially. "HIDTA has not been able to demonstrate results," drug czar John Walters told Congress in February.

But under withering political fire from law enforcement and its allies on Capitol Hill, the agency was backing down somewhat by the end of last month. "The whole point here is that people don't doubt the effectiveness of the program," said Jennifer DeVallance, an ONDCP spokeswoman. But while the office had changed its tune on HIDTA's effectiveness, it was still sticking to the Bush budget proposal. "We believe that the program should return to its original mission, and the budget will be sufficient to accomplish its original goals," she told the Baltimore Sun in an article featuring law enforcement complaints about the cuts.

DeVallance and her colleagues at the ONDCP press office failed to return seven Drug War Chronicle calls for comment on the issue in the past three weeks.

"If you are used to receiving something, you don't like to give it up," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens for Government Waste. "The administration was trying to do something reasonable in terms of reducing funding in terms of trying to turn HIDTA back into what it was originally intended to be. But once a federal program expands, it is very difficult to reduce the size of a program. There are more votes in favor of it because more states are getting the money. It doesn't matter what the issue is," he told DRCNet.

Congress is as much to blame as anyone, said Schatz. "There is nothing easier than spending other people's money, and it's members of Congress who have expanded this program's scope and coverage. There is nothing restraining them right now, but even if Congress fails to understand, fiscal conservatives see this makes sense."

"The other question, of course, is the overall effectiveness of the war on drugs. What have you achieved? ONDCP has not even done what it was supposed to do," Schatz added.

But one highly-placed drug law enforcer offered a strong defense of HIDTA, even while conceding that it has suffered from mission creep. "HIDTA probably has migrated from its original purpose, but with the drug problem, especially the proliferation of meth and meth manufacturing across the country, there needs to be a way to assist state and local law enforcement," said Ronald Brooks, president of the National Narcotics Officers Associations Coalition, which represents 43 state narcotics officer associations and some 60,000 narcotics officers. Brooks is also director of the Northern California HIDTA. "There is a feeling sometimes that this is an entitlement, but when we look at the return on investment, state and local partner agencies spend about $40 for every dollar of federal HIDTA money. That's a pretty good leverage of federal dollars," he told DRCNet.

For Brooks, much of HIDTA's value derives from its role in establishing cooperation between the DEA and state and local law enforcement. "HIDTA is just a way to help state, local, and federal law enforcement come together. Anytime you can get law enforcement to participate together like that, it's a heck of a deal," he said. "When I started operating as a narcotics officer, we operated alone, agencies protected their turf and their busts, but with these HIDTAs and multi-jurisdictional task forces bringing law enforcement executives together, we just don't have much of that anymore."

He also tied the HIDTA program to the terrorist threat. "When you look at the 911 Commission report, the biggest complaint was that federal law enforcement, the intelligence community, and the Department of Defense didn't communicate," Brooks said. "That doesn't happen in drug enforcement. Between the task forces and the HIDTAs, we haven't had that problem for 20 years. The Byrne grants and the HIDTA funding incentive collocated commingled task forces -- that's the beauty of it, and that's a tough thing to put a price tag on."

Brooks was confident HIDTA funding will be restored. "We have a letter signed by 57 senators supporting full funding and retaining HIDTA in ONDCP," he said. "Our group sponsored a press conference in the capitol where Sens. Burns (R-MT) and Baucus (D-MT) and House members Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) stood there and said HIDTA will be fully funded and it will stay at ONDCP."

One drug reformer keeping a close eye on Capitol Hill agreed. "Bush was trying to move HIDTA into Justice with less funding, but I don't think that will happen," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "It has proven too popular, with Republicans and Democrats alike. It has already been funded by the House, and while the drug czar's office reauthorization bill was just introduced, it has a provision keeping HIDTA within ONDCP. The Senate hasn't dealt with it yet, but they consistently give more money, so I doubt they will cut the program," he told DRCNet.

Brooks voiced concern, however, about the fate of the JAG program. "Byrne has me worried," he said, referring to the program's original name. "It is critically important and affects the entire nation. Byrne and HIDTA are complementary, and our belief, based on a review of our membership around the country, is that the loss of both HIDTA and Byrne funds could wipe out 80% of state and local task forces," he said.

And Byrne had to be not only saved but funded near last year's level of $634 million, Brooks insisted. The Senate has voted to fund it at $625 million, but the House voted a much smaller amount. "The House marked it up at $348 million, but at $348 million we ought to just euthanize it," he said. "We have 179 representatives who are going to sign a letter to Senate-House conference committee conferees urging them to a least meet the Senate side mark."

While it looks like the drug war juggernaut will continue to roll over fiscal restraint and sensible policy moves for another year, Piper, a veteran of Capitol Hill battles, sounded a note of cautious optimism. "The effort to de-fund and move HIDTA doesn't look like it will succeed this year, but this is the first year Bush has tried this. They will probably be back next year and the year after that. If you look at his goal of eliminating the Byrne grants, he's been slowly cutting them back for four years." Indeed, just a few years ago, the Byrne grant program was funded at $1.5 billion.

return to table of contents

4. Feature: Much Ado About Lollipops -- Marijuana-Flavored Candy, Hemp, Politicians, and the Media

In recent months, at least two companies, Chronic Candies and ICUP, have introduced candies and lollipops with marijuana flavoring. While manufacturers reasonably claim they are aimed at an adult, marijuana-friendly market, politicians across the country have risen up to denounce them as a demonic ploy designed to seduce children into the dark world of drug addiction. Moves are afoot in various localities from Atlanta to New York City and Connecticut to Michigan to Missouri to Texas to ban the products. Chicago has already done so, passing an ordinance June 30 to prohibit the confections.

The uproar over the candies has naturally attracted the attention of the press, but in many cases, media outlets have gotten crucial facts wrong -- and the hemp industry could be the victim of the press's unwitting errors, according to industry spokesmen.

The pot-flavored candies are made with cannabis flower essential oil, which imparts the fragrant aroma of fresh buds and which contains trace elements of THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, but not enough to get anyone high. The cannabis flower essential oil comes from growers in Switzerland and other European countries.

Cannabis flower essential oil is entirely different from hemp seed oil, which is protected under the Controlled Substances Act and which forms the basis of many hemp food products. That is a distinction too fine for some members of the press. In its story on the Chicago ordinance, the Associated Press wrote that "the candies are legal because they are made with hemp oil." Reuters came up with a similar formulation. The Chicago Tribune referred to them as "hemp-flavored candies." Even Jordan Smith, the Austin Chronicle's drug reporter, referred to the "hemp candy craze."

The same phenomenon occurred when the furor first broke earlier this year in England. The British press may be somewhat forgiven for errantly referring to the candies as "containing hemp extract and not cannabis," as the Evening Star put it, because some of the European manufacturers of the candies labeled them as being made with hemp.

But whatever the reason for the inaccurate press reports, they need to be corrected, said Tom Murphy, national outreach director for Vote Hemp, an industry lobbying group. "There are bills to ban these candies in Michigan and New Jersey that explicitly mention hemp or hemp oil. We don't want to see states trying to ban hemp oil because of this. It is not that we oppose the candies so much as we don't want to have the candies identified as hemp or hemp-flavored. Say pot or marijuana or cannabis, and we're happy," he told DRCNet. "We just don't want the hemp industries foods tarred with this broad brush."

It's not that the hemp people are overly sensitive, said Murphy; this is about business. "When you have all this legislation put into play, we have to have people monitoring, writing letters, getting amendments to protect hemp oil. It can get rather expensive. Instead of focusing on the new hemp bill in Congress, we're putting out fires."

The rush to legislate against the candies by lawmakers leaping to save the kiddies from pot-flavored doom is not only silly, but probably unnecessary, said hemp industry spokesmen. That's because they are illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.

"Cannabis flavored lollipops and candy should not be considered a hemp food under the exemption in the Controlled Substances Act," said Joe Sandler, the Hemp Industries Association attorney who guided it to victory in its lawsuit over DEA efforts to exercise control over hemp and hemp products. "Although cannabis flavored candies likely will not cause a psychoactive effect and contain insignificant trace amounts of THC, they will be considered illegal insofar as they include fragrance or flavorings derived from the non-exempt trace resin of hemp stalks or other parts of the cannabis plant."

But not everyone thinks the issue is so cut and dried. "This is an adult product. I don't intend and I don't want kids to eat it," said Tony Van Pelt, president of one manufacturer, Chronic Candy. "There are 78 million pot smokers out there (in the United States)... That's who I'm going after," he told the AP. "I think this is crazy. There is nothing illegal about it. Freedom of choice is being attacked," he said.

Van Pelt told the Austin Chronicle the candies contain no THC, as did Matthew Huijgen, owner of Cannabis Candies, another company selling cannabis flower extract candies. Van Pelt said the Food and Drug Administration had confirmed his candies contained no THC and that he got "de facto" approval of his foreign shipments from the FBI, which investigated because of the strong odor coming from boxes of lollipops.

Not so, said Vote Hemp's Murphy. If federal law enforcement authorities have allowed such products to enter the United States it's because they haven't been paying attention, he said. "These lollipops are, in the eyes of the law, pot-on-a-stick, and should not in any way be associated with nutritious hemp foods, no more than controlled opium essential oil fragrance should be confused with exempt poppy seeds consumed on bagels every day." All of the smoke and noise about passing laws to criminalize the candies is little more than posturing, he said. "All this hoo-hoo is nothing but show. If you really wanted to do something about it, call your local DEA or police and have them confiscate it."

Chronic Candy, which claims it ships 100,000 pieces a month, continues to sell the products. Another vendor, ICUP, which sold Pot Suckers brand lollipops, has announced it is no longer doing so. It was a simple business decision for a multi-layered company, ICUP's attorney said in a statement.

And so the great debate stands. The candies definitely aren't hemp, but they're not really marijuana either, and freedom of choice is definitely being denied, for no solid reason even on the drug war's terms. Are the candies illegal under federal law, or do Mrs. Lovejoys everywhere need to take to the streets yelling "What about the children?"

return to table of contents

5. Weekly: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Like the Energizer Bunny, the line of corrupt cops just keeps on coming. This week we have a Coast Guardsman who switched sides, a Minnesota top cop with a nasty cocaine habit, Florida deputy with the same problem, a Louisiana drug task force commander hanging out with the wrong relative, and a New Mexico jail guard using his position to gain goodies.

Before we get to it, however, it is worth pointing out the purpose of this feature. It is not to laugh at dumb, greedy cops. Drug War Chronicle does not glory in anyone being sent to prison on drug charges -- even police. Nor is our purpose to encourage law enforcement to try harder to dig out corruption among its ranks. Law enforcement needs no such encouragement; its ravenous drug war appetite can be fed by its own as well as by civilians. Nor do we suggest that someone who uses drugs recreationally is somehow unqualified to be a police officer, although we do find the notion that a police officer might arrest you for doing something he's doing at home in his spare time somewhat troubling.

This feature instead attempts to demonstrate the continuing corrosive effect of drug prohibition on law enforcement. Each police officer who falls prey to the blandishments of easy money through drug war-related corruption is both a victim and a symptom of prohibition's amoral consequences. Like the Chinese water torture, the drip drip drip of enless incidents of law enforcement corruption only serves to further lower the standing of police and illustrate the endless corruption that that drug war produces. To paraphrase an old saying, the drug war is bad enough; the drug war prosecuted by corrupt police is worse.

Now, let's get to it:

In Baltimore, a Coast Guardsman trained to intercept drug smugglers was sentenced July 9 to 17 ½ years in federal prison for orchestrating a cocaine shipment through Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the Maryland US Attorney's Office announced. Petty Officer Wendy Bens, 27, was convicted on charges of cocaine distribution, conspiracy, and related drug and weapons charges after he and another Coast Guardsman, Jonathan Louis DeCarlo, set up a drug deal. According to court records, in January 2004 Bens paid a former Coast Guardsman from Grenada to travel to Curacao and return with a suitcase packed with 5.4 pounds of cocaine. The courier was arrested by customs officers at BWI. Bens and DeCarlo, meanwhile, traveled from Boston armed and wearing Coast Guard-issue bullet-proof vests and intending to meet their courier. Instead, they met Immigration and Customs Enforcment (ICE) agents, Coast Guard personnel, and Baltimore police, who arrested them in their hotel room with the suitcase -- now filled with a fake substance designed to look like cocaine. DeCarlo was earlier sentenced to four years in prison. The courier has pleaded guilty, but has not yet been sentenced.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, former Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension supervisor David Petersen, 46, will serve a few months in prison after being convicted of stealing two pounds of cocaine from a supply locker and inserting it up his nose over a period of months. Judge Salvador Rosas sentenced him to one year in jail on July 9, but told Petersen he could get out in three to six months if he behaved himself. Rosas also handed Peterson a seven-year prison sentence, but stayed that sentence pending Petersen's completion of 30 years of probation. Minnesota sentencing guidelines called for Petersen to serve seven years, and prosecutors asked for that, but didn't get it, the Associated Press reported. Petersen got a pretty soft ride from the beginning, when prosecutors let him plead to a single count of simple drug possession.

In Plaquemine, Louisiana, the commander of the Law Enforcement Against Drugs Narcotics Task Force was arrested Tuesday on charges he was involved in a burglary at task force headquarters and then tried to set the building on fire, the Associated Press reported. Lt. Gerald Jenkins, task force commander and 20-year law enforcement veteran was charged with malfeasance in office, obstruction of justice, burglary, theft, attempted arson, attempted arson with intent to defraud, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and placing combustible material in a structure. The charges came after an early Monday morning break-in in which cash, drugs, and a gun were stolen, office items were vandalized, and gasoline was poured throughout the offices. Investigators responding to the call saw two vehicles nearby and arrested Jenkins' cousin, Joseph Jenkins in one of them, along with items linked to the burglary. They quickly linked Lt. Jenkins to his cousin and now both are in jail.

In Albuquerque, prison guard Scott Richter, 50, was arrested July 9 on charges he took illegal kickbacks to change the result of drug tests, the Albuquerque Tribune reported. He is also accused of providing an "artificial device" to pass drug tests. And he is accused of fondling the girlfriend of one jail inmate; the charge is criminal sexual contact. Richter, an employee of the Albuquerque Metropolitan Detention Center, didn't work at the jail but in the community corrections program, where he monitored drug test results. Tipped off by someone associated with a jail inmate, the Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) Sheriff's Office investigated Richter for nine months before arresting him and charging him with five counts of soliciting or receiving bribes in exchange for clean drug test results, one count of extortion related to the complaints he solicited bribes, and the criminal sexual contact count. He was jailed on $100,000 bond and is being held in a "modified" area of the jail because of "high risk concerns about his safety," a sheriff's office spokesman said.

In Naples, Florida, Lee County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Muldoon, 27, was fired at the end of June after admitting to having a cocaine habit, the Naples News reported. Called in for a drug test after supervisors received anonymous complaints about his drug use, Muldoon 'fessed up to having used the drug, telling his superiors he would fail the drug test. He was fired the same day. Muldoon said he had been snorting for the past three years and that his intake had recently increased. A spokesman for the sheriff's office said Muldoon faces no criminal charges. Cases in which Muldoon was involved are now being reviewed by the local State Attorney's office to see if his testimony is critical. If so, some cases could be dropped.

return to table of contents

6. Medical Marijuana: California Activist Facing Federal Prison Time Commits Suicide, Commemorative Vigils Set for Tuesday

Long-time San Diego medical marijuana patient, provider, and activist Steven McWilliams killed himself Monday night. McWilliams had been fighting federal charges for growing 25 plants in his yard for the Shelter from the Storm Collective and faced a looming six-month federal prison sentence. Since that arrest in 2002, McWilliams, who suffers chronic pain from a series of auto accidents, was unable to use his preferred pain reliever, medical marijuana, for fear of being jailed.

Steve McWilliams
(courtesy San
Diego IndyMedia
"Steve had been depressed and in terrible pain, and been hospitalized last week," said his friend David Bronner of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. "Steve's depression was apparently a combination of dread of going to jail in light of Raich [the recent Supreme Court decision allowing federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal] and his deteriorating health." "He had postponed our last couple of dinner dates because of the pain, and was going up to LA to see a specialist to change his pharmaceutical regime," Bronner told DRCNet.

"Steve was a courageous fighter for the cause and will be sorely missed. Our deepest sympathies to his partner, Barbara MacKenzie," said California NORML head Dale Gieringer in a brief statement.

McWilliams was a highly committed activist. In addition to operating the patients' collective, which was recognized as legitimate and in compliance with state law by the city of San Diego, he was a vital member of the task force whose recommendations led to San Diego becoming the largest city in the country to establish medical marijuana guidelines.

"Steve was a real hero in struggle, putting his body and soul into opposing the machine, trying to open up space and freedom for everyone," said Bronner. "He was profoundly conscious and kind, and was courageous and raging in his activism against apologists for societal status quo crap. By a longshot, he more than anyone made the guidelines happen in San Diego, conservative and big as it is, right on the border with all kinds of federal opposition. He was constantly and literally in city council's and the police department’s faces, demanding they uphold the will of the people and implement 215. He was involved in progressive struggles across the board."

His last bust, in September 2002, reeked of retribution for his activism. That month, McWilliams led a public handout of medical marijuana to patients at city hall. Shortly thereafter, the US Attorney's Office in San Diego warned him to destroy the collective's garden or face prosecution. That same week, he was raided by the DEA. The next month, he was arrested and faced up to 40 years of federal time on marijuana cultivation and distribution charges. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to six months, but had been free pending an appeal -- one that had been held up as the courts waited for the Raich decision.

His work in San Diego also won him the respect of city officials. "Steve was a really compassionate guy who worked hard for people who were very sick. I never doubted his sincerity," said City Councilwoman Toni Atkins, who once described him as "a hero" for his efforts. "I think it's really, really sad," she told the San Diego Union Tribune.

The medical marijuana defense organization Americans for Safe Access, or ASA is calling on local activists across the nation to organize vigils to commemorate McWilliams' life and honor his work this coming Tuesday, June 19. If you are interested, e-mail ASA's Rebecca Saltzman at [email protected] or call (510) 251-1856.

The organization is also asking supporters to write letters to McWilliams' partner, Barbara MacKenzie, at: 4763 Wilson Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116.

return to table of contents

7. Medical Marijuana: ACLU, DPA Threaten to Sue Schwarzenegger Over Suspending California Medical Marijuana Program

A week ago today, California health officials announced they were immediately suspending a pilot state-issued photo ID card program, citing fears that state officials and card-holders could be subject to federal prosecution in the wake of the Supreme Court's Raich decision. In that case, the court held that the federal government can prosecute patients and providers even in states where medical marijuana is legal. But medical marijuana supporters objected immediately, and this week the objections turned to threats, with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy Alliance warning that they will sue if the suspension is not ended.

"I am concerned about unintended potential consequences of issuing medical marijuana ID cards that could affect medical marijuana users, their families and staff of the California Department of Health Services," California health services head Sandra Shewry said in a statement last Friday announcing the suspension.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office said it would respond as quickly as it can to a Department of Health Services request to determine whether the ID card program could make state employees and patients liable for federal prosecution because it identifies them as obtaining marijuana or helping to facilitate its use. But the Health Department said even after it receives the legal review, it will make its own decision on whether to continue the program.

The fledgling program began in three rural northern California counties in May and so far has only 123 patients, state officials said. It was scheduled to expand statewide next month, but those plans are now on hold. The card program is designed to protect patients and caregivers from arrest by providing an ID recognized statewide. Some cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, and Santa Cruz, have their own ID card programs. They are not affected by the Health Department decision.

"The decision would seem to be a tragedy, and I hope they'll reverse it as soon as possible," DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann told the Los Angeles Times last Friday.

By Tuesday, his organization and the ACLU had stopped hoping and starting insisting. In a letter to Health Services director Shewry and her boss, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the two groups explained that Attorney General Lockyer had already clarified that state officials "...may not refuse to abide by the provisions of the Compassionate Use Act on the basis that this Act conflicts with federal law." The letter further explained that the state constitution and the state's highest court explicitly prohibit the executive branch from ignoring state law, even if it believes it conflicts with federal law.

"There is still much uncertainty among the public regarding the impact of the Raich decision. Emotions are running high, and sick and dying patients and their physicians are understandably concerned about their legal status. Under these circumstances, California government officials have the duty to ameliorate, not exacerbate, the public's fear and confusion. Instead, the CDHS's improper actions have unduly frighten and confused California's medical marijuana patients," wrote DPA and the ACLU. "We demand that you immediately lift the suspension of the medical marijuana program and the issuance of identification cards."

Stay tuned.

return to table of contents

8. Mad Science: House Committee Approves Mycoherbicide Testing in Bid to Wipe Out Drug Crops

The State Department doesn't want to touch it. The CIA backs away from it. The DEA has washed its hand of it. The drug czar scoffs at it. Nobody in the federal government wants to get involved with mycoherbicides, the pathogenic fungi that could theoretically be applied to coca crops in the Andes, opium crops in Afghanistan, or any other crop, for that matter. But ardent drug warriors in the House of Representatives have forced a provision mandating renewed research into the use of mycoherbicides into the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) appropriations bill, and they have won their first battle with the bill passing out of the House International Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on June 16.

An earlier round of drug warrior enthusiasm for victory through biological warfare came crashing to the ground as the potential costs of relying on mycoherbicides, such as fusarium, became known. President Clinton abandoned the idea of using it against Colombian coca because of the possible public relations disaster mycoherbicides represent.

In response to a proposal by anti-drug officials in Florida to use mycoherbicides there, the head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, David Struhs, addressed the dangers of mycoherbicides like fusarium in a letter to then state drug czar Jim McDonough: "Fusarium species are capable of evolving rapidly. Mutagenicity is by far the most disturbing factor in attempting to use a Fusarium species as a bioherbicide. It is difficult, if not impossible to control the spread of Fusarium species. The mutated fungi can cause disease in large numbers of crops, including tomatoes, peppers, flowers, corn and vines and are normally considered a threat to farmers as a pest, rather than as a pesticide... Fusarium species are more active in warm soils and can stay resident in the soil for years. Their longevity and enhanced activity under Florida conditions are of concern, as this could lead to an increased risk of mutagenicity."

None of that concerned committee head Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), who authored the mycoherbicide amendment to the appropriations bill, or his drug war henchman, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), who championed the move. "We spend millions of dollars every year on counter-narcotic efforts, including drug crop eradication and interdiction, especially in our joint efforts in Colombia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, yet the flow of illegal and lethal narcotics continues to be a major problem in our country," said Burton in a news release crowing about the measure. "The advent of mycoherbicides and other counter-narcotic alternatives offers us the possibility to cut off the source of these drugs literally at their roots."

"If proven to be successful, mycoherbicide could revolutionize our drug eradication efforts," said Souder. "Mycoherbicide research needs to be investigated, and we need to begin testing it in the field. The potential benefit of these fungi is tremendous. My Hoosier colleague should be commended for advancing this initiative, and I'm pleased that his amendment was adopted into the bill."

If the amendment remains intact during the rest of the appropriations process, the Burton provision would require the drug czar to present to Congress within 90 days a plan of action for a review of the science of mycoherbicides as a means of destroying drug crops. It also calls for controlled scientific testing of mycoherbicides in a major drug producing nation.

"I am very hopeful that with the proper scientific research and testing, mycoherbicides can be utilized as an effective tool to help eradicate poppy and coca fields around the world and ultimately reduce the flow of drugs coming into our country," concluded Chairman Burton.

"Essentially the entire US government has closed ranks against using mycoherbicides," said Jeremy Bigwood, a mycoherbicides researcher and co-author of the MacArthur Foundation-funded study "Mycoherbicides: Biocontrol or Biowarfare?" "All of the research suggests it would be extremely dangerous to use them. They are toxic, and they are non-specific, and they mutate. They are little chemical factories that produce toxic chemicals, and they can attack humans."

The politicians involved in pushing for the use of such substances are "the mycoherbicide cheering section" and are blind to the dangers -- both scientific and political -- of resorting to them," said Bigwood. "This is essentially biowarfare, and Burton and his friends are trying to force the executive branch to do this against its will. The US government doesn't want to go with this. Just think about how the FARC in Colombia could use this as a propaganda coup; the blowback would be instant and dramatic. Likewise, if they threaten to use this in Afghanistan, that would be really bad news. The Taliban doesn't have much sympathy in the Western world, but start spraying with that stuff and that will quickly change."

Meanwhile, the drug czar appropriations bill moves forward. Calling Rep. Strangelove, calling Rep. Frankenstein...

return to table of contents

9. Marijuana: Western Pennsylvania Police Chiefs Say Decriminalize It

Under Pennsylvania law, possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana -- slightly more than an ounce -- is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Possession of more than 30 grams is also a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. If some western Pennsylvania police chiefs had their way, that would change. Decriminalize it, they told the Allegheny Times late last week -- at least the smaller amounts.

The small town top cops interviewed by the Times cited the toll in police resources and the relative innocuousness of marijuana compared to other drugs. "To prosecute takes a lot of police time and creates overtime expenses," said Ambridge Police Chief Dave Sabol, a 37-year veteran officer. A typical marijuana arrest costs his department $60 to $100 in courtroom overtime expenses, Sabol said, and consumes a lot of officers' time in report writing and court appearances.

It would be better to decriminalize possession of "personal use" amounts, he said. Simple marijuana possession should be treated as a summary offense, such as disorderly conduct or traffic violations, said Sabol. With summary offenses, there is no arrest and no criminal record. Instead a citation is issued.

New Sewickley Township Police Chief John Daley told the Times he agreed with Sabol. "To just issue them a summary citation with an appropriate fine set by the legislature, that would serve a purpose. It could work, just not for greater amounts," Daley said.

Acting Rochester Township Police Chief Joe DeLuca said in many cases that is already happening de facto. Many first-time offenders are charged only with disorderly conduct, he said.

"I can say that a lot of officers when they catch someone with a just a joint, it will be reduced to disorderly, a summary violation, because it's such an insignificant amount, rather than proceed with a misdemeanor possession," DeLuca said.

To be clear, the chiefs are not advocating an Amsterdam-style loosening in the rugged hills of Pennsylvania. "Now, the guy that has a couple of pounds on him, that needs to stay where it is, as a criminal offense," Sabol said, noting that people found with large amounts are usually dealers, and might be dealing other drugs. "Every officer wants to get to the dealer," Sabol added.

Pot smokers don't cause him too much worry, said Sabol. "Most people you catch with personal-use marijuana aren't causing a lot of other problems," Sabol said. "People who use crack or other opiates have to steal to support that habit."

But some local police worried that decriminalizing marijuana would be "risky," even though neighboring Ohio has long decriminalized the possession of up to nearly four ounces (100 grams) with no apparent outbreaks of Reefer Madness. "Marijuana may not be all that dangerous, but it's a gateway drug, and they lead to more dangerous drugs such as heroin or cocaine," Center Township Police Chief Barry Kramer said. "By decriminalizing even a small amount, you would be sort of condoning it."

return to table of contents

10. Sentencing: House Judiciary Committee Head Interferes in Drug Case, Demands Longer Sentence

In a highly unusual move, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), head of the House Judiciary Committee, privately demanded last month that a US appeals court alter its decision in a drug case because he thought the defendant did not receive a harsh enough prison sentence. According to the Chicago Tribune, Sensenbrenner sent a five-page letter to Chief Judge Joel Flaum of the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago asserting that the court had erred and demanding "a prompt response" as to what actions Flaum would take "to rectify the panel's actions."

more senselessness from Rep. Sensenbrenner
Sensenbrenner is a big fan of harsh sentencing. Less than two months ago, he used his post as House Judiciary Committee chair to introduce horrendous new legislation that would increase mandatory minimum sentences and create new drug crimes, including a provision that would criminalize parents who fail to turn in their children for using drugs.

His interest apparently extends to the micro level, as evidenced by his intervention in the case of drug courier sentenced to only 97 months instead of the 120 months required by the drug conspiracy law. While prosecutors were satisfied by that sentence for a bit player in a drug ring, Sensenbrenner was not. In his letter to Judge Flaum, Sensenbrenner complained that the panel's sentencing decision was "illegal," citing a 1992 ruling as precedent for arguing the prison term should have been longer.

Judge Flaum responded to Sensenbrenner, but refused to tell the Tribune what he said, saying he did not publicly discuss matters before the court. The 7th Circuit, however, did amend its opinion to expressly cite a Supreme Court case showing Sensenbrenner was wrong.

Not only was Sensenbrenner wrong, he was way over the line, said legal experts consulted by the Tribune. The judiciary committee chair's action violates House ethics rules, which prohibit communicating privately with judges on pending legal matters, as well as court rules that bar such contact with judges without informing all parties to the case, they said.

"I think it's completely inappropriate for a congressman to send a letter to a court telling them to change a ruling," said David Zlotnick, a law professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island and an expert on federal sentencing law. "To try to influence a court ruling is entirely inappropriate, particularly in an ex parte [without notifying all parties] proceeding. They are trying to intimidate the judiciary."

"I don't think it's appropriate, but I don't know if it rises to the level of an ethical violation. It's unseemly. It's not something members ought to do, but they do it... The context is troubling," said Stanley Brand, a Washington, DC, attorney and former House counsel.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Sensenbrenner letter was only the latest in a series of threatening actions aimed at the federal judiciary by Republican House leaders. "This is part of a broader and very disturbing pattern that goes to the heart of the separation of powers," Durbin spokesman Jim Shoemaker told the Tribune.

To give credit where credit is due, Jay Apperson, chief counsel of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, is the intellectual author of the letter. He insisted the letter was "appropriate... This is the committee with oversight of the judiciary -- that's exactly what we are supposed to do."

Charles Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University and expert on separation of powers, disagreed. "This is contrary to the judicial system. Proceedings are initiated by parties," he said. "The federal judiciary has a lot less clout and a lot less power when it comes to control of its budget, and when you have someone like Mr. Sensenbrenner -- this is a thinly veiled attempt to exercise control over judges and their decisions. The way to resolve matters in the courts is that the losing party appeals. This hybrid... of in the middle of litigation having someone rattle a saber -- this is potentially dangerous to the process."

Sensenbrenner is now keeping mum. A spokesman told the Tribune he would not comment on the letter. "The letter speaks for itself," said Thomas Schreibel, Sensenbrenner's chief of staff.

return to table of contents

11. Search and Seizure: Utah Federal Court Judges Split on Warrantless Doorknob Drug Tests

The Ionscan 400B is a machine that analyzes microscopic particles picked up by wiping a sterile cloth across a surface. Police in Utah have been using the machine to go to people's homes, wipe their exterior doorknobs, and then, if illicit drugs show up, use the evidence found to obtain a search warrant.

In three federal court rulings, Utah judges have split on the legality of the doorknob drug tests, with two judges ruling against them and one okaying them. The most recent ruling came June 30, when US District Court Judge Dale Kimball threw out the test, saying it violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Any drugs on
this doorknob?
In that case, South Salt Lake resident Troy Levi Miller was arrested on methamphetamine charges after a detective swabbed his doorknob and used the results to obtain a search warrant. Police argued that a positive result for controlled substances on a doorknob is evidence that people in contact with drugs touched it and is evidence that drug dealing is going on inside the residence. They did not need a search warrant because the exterior doorknob did not have the same expectation of privacy as the house's interior, they argued.

But Judge Kimball held that an exterior doorknob is part of the private area of a residence and a warrant is required to test it. "A visitor could not turn the doorknob without invading the privacy of the home's occupants -- the only purpose for turning the doorknob is to gain access to the privacy of the home," the judge wrote in a June 30 decision. "A doorknob is not something that is transitory that could be borrowed, taken, or moved to another location... It is a component part of the home."

Late last year, Salt Lake City US District Judge Tena Campbell ruled in the opposite direction, holding that the test reveals nothing about a home's interior, but leaving unanswered the question of how a test that reveals nothing about what is going on inside a house can be the basis for a search warrant of that house. She also compared the Ionscan test to having a drug dog sniff for drugs. The Supreme Court ruled last year that a drug dog search was not a search.

But Campbell is the only one of four judges who have considered Ionscan doorknob cases to uphold them. Judge Kimball was joined in throwing them out by Salt Lake City US District Court Judge Ted Stewart last August. In the only other appeals court case on the subject, from the Virgin Islands in 1999, a judge there threw out the drug screen saying it violated the Fourth Amendment.

But with judges in the same courthouse in the same city coming down with differing opinions, this is an issue that appears headed for the US appeals courts and possibly the Supreme Court.

return to table of contents

12. Drug Raids: Two Unarmed Men Killed in Separate Drug Raids

Hair-trigger police officers in separate drug raids in Utah and Florida shot and killed unarmed men early this month. In one case, the dead man was a suspicious, argumentative neighbor; in the other, an apparent fleeing suspect. In both cases, police conduct is causing questions to be asked.

West Valley City, Utah, resident Bounmy Ousa, 60, died after being shot three times in the stomach by undercover narcotics officers in an unmarked police car parked in front of his home as they prepared to raid a house down the street the night of July 8. According to an account from West Valley City police Captain Steve Sandquist, Ousa walked up to their car, and they identified themselves as police officers and ordered him to go back inside. Instead, Ousa continued to argue with the detectives, walking around to the driver's side of the car as he did so.

According to Sandquist, Ousa reached behind his back and produced an object, prompting the detective on the driver's side to fire. "The officer feared for his safety. That's obviously why he took the shot," Sandquist said. "It was more than just reaching behind [his back]. He [the detective] wasn't guessing. He made an observation of what he believed" to be a weapon, Sandquist said.

Except that the detective apparently was guessing, and guessing wrong. Police would not say whether Ousa actually had a weapon -- a pretty good sign that he did not. But they were quick to release Ousa's criminal record, which included three counts of driving under the influence of alcohol in the early 1990s and one domestic violence charge. Sandquist also volunteered to reporters that Ousa's son, Steve, was a "documented member of an Asian gang."

Ousa's family members said he didn't even own a gun. "They can say what they want, but he was not armed," daughter Chandhda Ousa told the Associated Press. Her father was merely investigating suspicious men parked in front of his house and trying to protect his family she, said. "And he got killed for it."

Steve Ousa told KSL TV5 that police initially tried to suggest Ousa had been the victim of a drive-by shooting. "Me and my mom were looking out the blinds the whole time he went out, approached the driver's side door, and not even two or three seconds later they shot him three times. Then after they shot him, they turned on their light, and when we came out said, 'Oh, lucky we came in time, what happened?' And I was like, 'What do you mean, what happened?' and my dad was lying on the floor."

Steve Ousa, who said his gang status was ancient history, told the Salt Lake City station the police acted as if a rival gang member had done the shooting. "I don't have nothing against the police, but they're asking if it was a rival gang member, they asked me like three times, 'Are you sure no one drove by and shot your dad?' when I seen it with my own eyes like 10 feet from my window to the driveway."

As for his father allegedly reaching behind his back, Steve Ousa said his father had health problems that caused him to stand with his hand behind his hip sometimes. "If a 60-year-old man with gray hair approaches you, his shirt is tight because his belly is sticking out, do you think he's going to hurt anybody? My dad never hurt anyone in his whole life. He's a nice man, goes to work, takes care of our family."

The West Valley City Police Department has declined any further comment on the killing. Both the department and the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office are conducting investigations.

About 12 hours later and 2000 miles away, a bizarre mid-day drug raid in Sarasota, Florida, ended with a handful of penny ante arrests, a bunch of traumatized children, and 44-year-old Michael Meluzzi dead, shot by police as he fled the scene unarmed. According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, the Sarasota SWAT team, undercover narcotics agents, and uniformed officers roared up to a Newtown home, jumped out of a van, and threw multiple flash grenades into a yard where children were playing as they executed their bust.

Meluzzi was in the yard when the SWAT team exploded into action, witnesses told the Herald Tribune. Meluzzi had put his hands up and was about to get down on the ground when the explosions went off. "The next thing you know, 'Boom!' They blew the fence in, and he started running," said Tyran Young, 18.

Sarasota police reported that they twice fired Tasers at Meluzzi, with one missing and the other having no apparent impact. Then Sarasota Police Officer Alan Devaney, who was patrolling the raid perimeter with a police dog, ordered Meluzzi to stop. According to police, Meluzzi "reached into his waistband" and brought his right arm up in a quick motion. Delaney feared for his life and shot Meluzzi once, penetrating his right arm and chest. Meluzzi died soon after in the hospital. "He (Devaney) believed he was armed," said Sarasota police spokesman Jay Frank.

No weapon was found.

Police were equally quick this time too to release Meluzzi's criminal record, which included convictions on burglary, aggravated assault, and cocaine possession. He had spent five of the last seven years in prison, state records show -- which could explain why he was fleeing yet another unhappy encounter with police. Neighbors told the Herald Tribune Meluzzi worked as a mechanic and frequently stopped by the raided home to fix the cars there.

In addition to a dead Meluzzi, the raid netted three people on charges of failure to appear in court and one person on cocaine possession charges. A small amount of cash and two weapons were seized.

As for throwing flashbang grenades into yards full of children, not to worry -- that's just business as usual, said Frank. "They were thrown outside the house as a diversionary tactic," he said. "It's standard operating procedure. They're not used to hurt anybody. They just make noise." Besides, there was a nice, friendly narcotics officer who "immediately went over to take care of [the children]." Presumably not one of those ones who look like Imperial Storm Troopers in their SWAT get-up. Or the ones trying to Taser people. Or the ones with snarling drug dogs. Or the ones who shoot a fleeing man before their eyes.

return to table of contents

13. Latin America: Coca Leader Poised to Become Bolivia's Next President

Two decades of hard-line US anti-drug policy in Bolivia is about to bear fruit, but it will be bitter fruit indeed for America's drug warriors. Peasant coca grower leader Evo Morales has announced that he is seeking the presidency, and as arguably the most popular politician in the country, he is well-positioned to win. If he does so, the United States will be faced with a Bolivian leader whose policy positions on coca and cocaine, not to mention the free-market and unfettered capitalism, are in direct opposition to those of Washington.

Evo Morales
Although elections were not set to be held until 2007, the Bolivian congress voted earlier this month to move them to this December 4 after popular protests forced President Carlos Mesa from office. While those protests were not centered on coca-related issues, coca grower unions participated, and the political party led by Morales, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS, in its Spanish acronym), helped spearhead those protests.

Mesa had replaced previous President Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada, who had himself been forced out of office by bloody street protests in October 2003. That violence between security forces and civilian protesters left at least 60 people dead. Sanchez de Losada had barely defeated Morales in the 2002 presidential election, in which Morales came within slightly more than one percentage point of winning the presidency.

In that election, the rising coca grower leader and political figure gained even more prominence thanks to ham-handed threats from the US Embassy that it would cut off nearly $125 million in economic and counter-drug assistance if Morales won. His stature has only grown since then, as he as become the leading opposition voice to the Bolivian political establishment.

As a coca grower leader, Morales has only benefited from broad hostility to US-backed and –financed coca eradication programs, which cost Bolivian farmers $500 million a year in revenue losses, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Now, he is poised to ride to the presidency on a platform of indigenism, anti-Americanism, coca, and rejection of economic liberalism. If he wins, he will join a growing caucus of left-leaning leaders in Latin America who are skeptical, at best, of US plans for the area.

"Now we can say I'm a candidate for the presidency," Morales told reporters last week after winning approval for his candidacy from two coca grower organizations. The coca leaders had reached "a consensus in order to go to the elections to win and change the neoliberal model, and not to lose," he said.

"Morales' election to the presidency would mark a dramatic shift in Bolivian state politics away from American cooperation, and likely pose serious challenges to Washington's future diplomatic and anti-drug endeavors, particularly when the capacity of the Western Hemispheric Affairs Bureau of the State Department is at an all-time low in its ability to creatively direct US policymaking," noted the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in a Wednesday .

return to table of contents

14. Announcement: Scholarships Available to Drug Policy Reform Conference in Long Beach This November

Many of you know from our newsletter that this November, a major gathering of drug policy reformers will take place in Long Beach, California -- the 2005 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, sponsored by Drug Policy Alliance. Common Sense for Drug Policy, in hopes of making this the largest drug reform conference to date, has made a substantial commitment to provide scholarships to help interested attendees afford to go. DRCNet has been asked to help find some of those people.

The scholarships are intended for individuals who have some demonstrated record of activism, ideally including drug policy reform or harm reduction, but whose opportunities to interact with reformers on a national scale has been limited due to financial constraints. In particular, the scholarships are intended for people who have not attended any of the last three NORML conferences or the last two DPA conferences. They will include the conference registration fee (a savings of at least $250), and up to $750 toward travel and lodging, depending on the individual's financial situation and travel costs.

If you fit this description and want to attend the conference, please e-mail us at [email protected]. Include information on your past and current activism, as well as how much you can afford to spend (if anything) out of your own pocket to get there, and what conferences if any you've attended in the past. (If you don't fit the above criteria, or aren't sure, feel free to contact us anyway, but understand that your chances of scholarship may be less. We are only making recommendations for scholarships, not the final decisions.)

Needless to say, DRCNet will be there, and we hope to see you there too. We are looking forward to hearing from you.

return to table of contents

15. Web Scan: Prison Smoking Ban, Patrick Crusade, Licensing Poppies, BlogCritics Book Review

Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman predicts that California's ban on all smoking in prisons will increase prison violence, in Prison Smokescreen, for Alternet, 7/12

The Patrick Crusade is hosting an online forum: Why Am I Going To The March On DC?

Maia Szalavitz writes on Let a Thousand Licensed Poppies Bloom, a proposal to let Afghan farmers grow opium legally for the pharmaceutical market, 7/13 in the New York Times

Tom Donelson reviews Marijuana Should Be Legal on, 7/4

return to table of contents

16. Job Opportunity: Deputy Director of Communications, Drug Policy Alliance, NYC

The Drug Policy Alliance headquarters in New York City is seeking to fill the position of Deputy Director of Communications. The position is available immediately. The Deputy Director assists the Communications Director in developing and executing strategic media campaigns on a variety of issues related to drug policy reform, and assists the Publications Director in writing and editing newsletters, brochures and other organizational materials.

Duties will include recognizing "newsworthy" components of organization's work and develop media messages; writing and editing press releases, fact sheets and other press materials; writing and editing newsletters, brochures and other organizational materials; identifying and training media spokespeople; write, editing and placing op-eds and letters to the editor; developing innovative media campaigns including flash animations, PSAs, etc.; working with staff and organizational allies to develop media components to their public policy and advocacy campaigns; developing coordinated campaigns with the web team based in DC; developing final reports on successful communications campaigns; supervising the communications associate and interns; and taking the lead on special projects as they arise.

Qualifications include a minimum of three to five years of public relations or journalism experience; proven experience coordinating and executing media campaigns, including developing strategy, pitching reporters and writing press releases and background materials; and strong interest in and commitment to drug policy reform, including marijuana law reform, alternatives to incarceration, needle exchange and other harm reduction, etc. Outstanding written and oral communication skills a must, salary based on experience.

To apply, e-mail a cover letter, resume and writing sample to Melissa Milam, communications associate at [email protected] by Monday July 25. No phone calls. Visit to learn more about Drug Policy Alliance.

return to table of contents

17. Short Term Job Opportunity: Marijuana Policy Project Web Site Transition Specialist

The Marijuana Policy Project is hiring a short-term (one to two months) web site transition specialist, who will be responsible for transitioning MPP's main web site -- -- from its existing layout and architecture to a new layout and server environment.

The employee will work under the supervision of MPP's Director of Information Technology and will work closely with other MPP staff and MPP's web service provider. The employee will work primarily in MPP's office, but some telecommuting is possible.

The position requires the ability to perform exceptionally in a fast-paced campaign environment and is an excellent opportunity for a meticulous and hard-working candidate to gain experience working with a complex web site. The position pays $17 per hour and is expected to last one to two months. College credit is also available.

For more details about the position or to apply, visit and follow the application guidelines listed on that page. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled (at which time the listing will be removed from the site). If you have any questions about this position, e-mail [email protected].

return to table of contents

18. Errata: Brazil Harm Reduction

In our story last week, Latin America: Brazil Recognizes Harm Reduction, we wrote that pioneer Brazilian harm reductionist Fabio Mesquita "is currently head of AIDS/HIV prevention for the city of Sao Paulo." Mesquita wrote to inform us that he left that position last December and is currently working in Jakarta as a harm reduction advisor to the Indonesian HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Project.

return to table of contents

19. Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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

July 16, noon, Santa Cruz, CA, WAMM March for Medical Marijuana, sponsored by the WoMen's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, beginning at the Pacific Garden Mall in downtown. For further information call (831) 425-0580 or visit online.

July 16, 6:30pm, Glebe, New South Wales, Australia, "The Key," 21st birthday party for Justice Action, benefiting the International Conference on Penal Abolition XI. At 65 Bellevue St., $10 donation suggested, visit for information or contact 612-9660 9111 or [email protected].

July 20, 10:00am-noon, London, England, "The Opium Production Challenge in Afghanistan: Current Responses and New Strategies," seminar hosted by the Senlis Council. At the House of Commons, Committee Room 6, visit or call +44 207 2222 901 for information or to register.

July 21, 7:00pm, Madison, WI, presentation by Howard Wooldridge of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), part of a national tour with his horse Misty to promote drug policy reform. At the Madison Senior Center, 330 W. Mifflin, sponsored by Progressive Dane Drug Policy Task Force and Madison NORML. Contact (608) 241-8922 or visit for further information.

July 23, 2:00pm, Traverse City, MI, "Compassionate Care" medical marijuana conference, sponsored by the Coalition for Compassionate Care. Admission $15, no one will be turned away, for further information contact Melody at (231) 885-2993 or Laura at (231) 218-0204, or e-mail [email protected].

July 25, 4:00-8:00pm, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Event to Celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of Psicotropicus. At General Justo Ave. 275, Room 316-B, Castelo, downtown Rio, contact Carla Mourão at +55 21 2240-4293 or visit for further information.

July 26, 5:30-7:30pm, San Francisco, CA, "Is San Francisco Going to Pot?," forum featuring Mayor Gavin Newsom and Drug Policy Alliance director Ethan Nadelmann. At the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California Street, contact Sue Eldredge at (415) 921-4987 or [email protected] for information and reservations.

August 10-11, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Third National Conference on Drug Policy, Auditorium, Chamber of Deputies Annex Building, Rivadavia 1853, 8:30am-6:00pm. For further information, contact Intercambios, the Civil Association for the Study of Drug-Related Problems at (011) 4954 7272, [email protected] or online.

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©, or visit for further information.

August 12-28, New York, NY, "Confessions of a Dope Dealer," solo performance by Sheldon Norberg. At the International Fringer Festival, visit 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 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 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 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].

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 or e-mail [email protected] for further information.

October 1-2, Madison WI, "35th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival." At the UW Campus Library Mall, visit 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 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 for info.

January 13-15, 2006, Basel, Switzerland, "Problem Child and Wonder Drug: International Symposium on the occasion of the 100th Birthday of Albert Hofmann." Sponsored by the Gaia Media Foundation, visit for further information.

February 9-11, 2006, Tasmania, Australia, The Eleventh International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA), coordinated by Justice Action. For further information visit 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 for updates.

April 30-May 4, 2006, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "17th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm," annual conference of the International Harm Reduction Association. Visit for further information.

return to table of contents

If you like what you see here and want to get these bulletins by e-mail, please fill out our quick signup form at

PERMISSION to reprint or redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle is hereby granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and, where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we request notification for our records, including physical copies where material has appeared in print. Contact: the Drug Reform Coordination Network, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202) 293-8344 (fax), e-mail [email protected]. Thank you.

Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

Out from the Shadows HEA Drug Provision Drug War Chronicle Perry Fund DRCNet en Español Speakeasy Blogs About Us Home
Why Legalization? NJ Racial Profiling Archive Subscribe Donate DRCNet em Português Latest News Drug Library Search
special friends links: SSDP - Flex Your Rights - IAL - Drug War Facts the Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet)
1623 Connecticut Ave., NW, 3rd Floor, Washington DC 20009 Phone (202) 293-8340 Fax (202) 293-8344 [email protected]