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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #399 -- 8/12/05

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"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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New DRCNet Book Offer and Appeal -- YOUR HELP IS NEEDED

March on Washington, DC, TOMORROW (8/13)

Oregon and Seattle activists -- DRCNet needs your help next week! E-mail us to get involved.

Table of Contents

    Minnesota has taken a tiny step forward, but the state is still burning.
    As Drug War Chronicle approaches a milestone -- issue #400 -- your support is needed more than ever. A new donations incentive -- complimentary copies of the new book "Breaking Rank" -- is available for you too.
    A new book by former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper provides a thoughtful, passionate, and careful analysis of the myriad issues confronting American law enforcement. The nation's chiefs and politicos would do well to read it -- and so would you!
    In a move that may have more to do with diplomatic tensions than anything else, President Hugo Chavez has annulled a bilateral agreement that had allowed the US DEA to operate in Venezuela.
    New criminal justice legislation in Minnesota is mostly about putting more people in prison for longer. But a tiny start at drug sentencing reform is in there too.
    Tom Angell of Students for Sensible Drug Policy explains some of what DRCNet's long-term movement-building strategy has meant for him and his work.
    DRCNet's "Prohibition in the Media" blog resumes publishing today after a hiatus. We comment on reporting by Reuters AlertNet, Reuters Foundation publication for international humanitarian nonprofits, on an outbreak of drug trade violence in the Mexican Pacific resort town of Acapulco.
    The Dallas sheetrock scandal continue to reverberate, drug cops in Florida and Ohio sample the wares, so does a crime lab tech in Missouri, and two more entrepreneurial jailers go down for their efforts.
    Two members of a Sunset, Florida, SWAT team shot and killed a 23-year-old bartender early last Friday morning. The take -- two lousy ounces of marijuana.
    Spurred by new anti-meth laws which restricting the sales of cold remedies such as Sudafed, police and prosecutors across the country have been arresting convenience store clerks -- often immigrants -- sometimes on charges that carry substantial prison sentences.
    A group of cannabis spiritualists are seeking to use an ayahuasca case going before the Supreme Court to urge the court to extend a religious freedom ruling to include marijuana.
    Four years after Rhode Island police began tracking the race of motorists they stop, a report by the state ACLU affiliate has found the problem may even be getting worse.
    In a stark contrast to current Colombian policy, ordinarily hard-line President Alvaro Uribe has proposed the government buy peasant farmers' coca crops in a bid to cut off funding to the FARC.
    The Canadian federal government announced Thursday it had moved methamphetamine to Schedule I of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act -- signaling a significantly tougher stance against the stimulant and putting it on the same level as heroin and cocaine when it comes to sentencing.
  14. WEB SCAN
    Marc Emery, Arianna Huffington, NORML on Marijuana vs. Marinol, Popular Science on Cannabis Medicines
    Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.
    The Marijuana Policy Project currently has three full-time job openings -- one in Las Vegas and two in Washington, DC.
    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. Appeal: New DRCNet Book Offer and Request for Your Support

Dear Drug War Chronicle reader:

Did you know that small- and mid-sized donations from many of our e-mail subscribers make up as much as a third of our budget each year? Your financial support for DRCNet, large or small, is vital to the cause -- without it, our important work for reform of the drug laws will slow down or even stop. As we approach a milestone -- issue #400, next week -- we write you to ask you to help Drug War Chronicle to continue.

As an incentive to both new and continuing members, DRCNet is pleased to announce a new book offer: "Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing," by former Seattle top cop Norm Stamper. In a book review published in this newsletter last month, DRCNet writer/editor Phil Smith called "Breaking Rank" an "engaging, direct, and sometimes brutally frank mixture of memoir, social commentary, and police theory." And Stamper himself spoke with Drug War Chronicle this week in an interview that follows below.

"Breaking Rank" is available now from DRCNet as our gift to members donating $35 or more to our organization. Please click here to donate online today!

A little bit about our work that your donation will support:

  • Your donation will support our acclaimed newsletter, Drug War Chronicle, the leading intellectual publication on the drug war, an in-depth weekly online newsletter covering the full range of drug policy issues and the reform movement. Drug War Chronicle is read by reporters and is used by advocates to empower their speeches and editorials, and is a force for bringing new people in and getting them involved in all the good work being done by organizations in the movement.
  • Your donation will support the Higher Education Act (HEA) Reform Campaign, our effort to repeal a law that delays or denies college aid eligibility to students because of drug convictions, our movement's best chance to repeal a federal drug law in more than 30 years. We are currently organizing coalitions in states around the country to influence the forthcoming bipartisan Senate HEA reauthorization bill to include repeal.
  • Your donation will support legislative action on alerts on sentencing, medical marijuana, needle exchange, Plan Colombia, more.
  • Your donation will support educational work in conjunction with the John W. Perry Fund, our scholarship program and media/ organizing campaign involving students who have lost financial aid under the HEA drug provision.
  • Your donation will support our work making the case for an end not only to the drug war but to prohibition itself.
DRCNet also continues to offer other books as well as the hit video "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters" and a range of gift items like t-shirts, travel mugs, mousepads, strobe lights and more. Feel free to select any or all with a donation of an appropriate size -- click here to check them out.

Donations made to our 501(c)(3) organization, DRCNet Foundation, are tax-deductible (though the amount of your donation that is deductible will be reduced by the retail value of your gift, $26 in the case of the Stamper book, according to IRS regulations). Donations to the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which support our lobbying work, are not deductible. You can also donate by mail, at P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036; please contact us for information if you wish to donate stocks. Also feel free to call your credit card donation in by phone or send it by fax if you are more comfortable with that.

Thank you for your support, and please free to write us with any questions or comments.


David Borden
Executive Director

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2. DRCNet Interview: Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper

Donate $35 or more to DRCNet and receive a complimentary copy of "Breaking Rank" -- click here to contribute online or for further information.

It is ironic that a man who spent decades building a career as a progressive law enforcement executive will probably be most remembered as the police chief who presided over debacle that was the 2000 "battle in Seattle." Norm Stamper is doing his best to change that with the recent publication of his book "Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing." The man viewed by some as Seattle's head storm-trooper turns out to be a thoughtful, passionate, and careful analyst of the myriad issues confronting American law enforcement. Ranging from racism and sexism in the ranks to training smart cops to the backroom politics of big city policing and on to the hot-button issues of capital punishment, the rights of criminal defendants, and, of course, the war on drugs, "Breaking Rank" showcases a first-rate law enforcement intellect. In our review of the book two weeks ago, we strongly recommended it to our readers for the insights it brings into policing issues that go far beyond the drug war. This week, though, we talked to Stamper about drugs and drug policy.

Drug War Chronicle: What are you calling for in terms of drug policy?

Chief Norm Stamper: I believe it is time for a radical overhaul of the nation's drug laws. It's time to get out of the business of drug enforcement as we know it. The drug war has been an abysmal failure, causing more damage than it has prevented. In the book's chapter on drug policy, I wrote that I favored "decriminalization," but if we go to another printing, it's one of two or three things I will revise. What I really meant was legalization and regulation. I don't think the government should get completely out of the business -- it should set standards for purity and regulate the business the same way it regulates alcohol and tobacco. Some people say you can't legalize heroin or meth or PCP, and in the book I took the position that PCP should stay illegal. But upon reflection, even though there are real problems with using some of these drugs, I think everything an adult wants to ingest, inhale, or inject should in fact be available to him or her. Adults who decide to drive around under the influence of drugs or batter a spouse or furnish substances to children or commit any other criminal acts should be held accountable, but the current crime of drug use should just not exist.

Chronicle: How widespread are your views on drug reform among law enforcement executives?

Stamper: There are a minority of chiefs and sheriffs who favor decriminalization or legalization, but you are not likely to get too many incumbents speaking freely about this sort of view on a problem they've been confronting for decades. Last week, I spoke with a chief who said he agreed with me in my drug chapter and I said "Can I quote you?" and he said "No," so I won't. It's a sad commentary that we can't at least have that conversation. It would bring to the table some of the people who are almost as affected by this as drug users and their families, and that's law enforcement. Society decides to use the criminal justice model to address what is essentially a public health issue, and that's as shortsighted as anything I can imagine.

I got serious talking about these issues back in the early 1990s. I gave a series of speeches to corporate executives where I spoke about the folly of the drug war and my objections to it, and I found that those business folks got it. They understand supply and demand and the cost of government, and some of them may have moral doubts about legalization, but very few objected to what I was saying. In the late 1990s, I spoke to the Cascadia Mayors' Conference -- cities like Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. I spoke to the mayors and their staffs and laid out exactly this position, and all around the room heads were nodding. There wasn't a single objection. There was much agreement in that room about the failure of the drug war.

While I don't focus exclusively on drug issues, I intend to do everything I can to help advance this cause, help the people who are out there doing this work. I think we have demonized drug use from the beginning, back in the days of the Harrison Act [1914], when it was mainly about revenue. We had to demonize the behavior, and over the decades since, instead of talking about public health or medical problems we talk about drug scenes. The notion that drug users or drug scenes are criminal by definition allows us to behave toward them any way we see fit. And with the war on drugs metaphor, they become the enemy -- with little appreciation of the fact that the enemy is my neighbor, my brother, my child. That makes it all the easier to reject the notion that there is any constituency working on behalf of these criminals. But when we are investing billions and billions of dollars year in and year out to wage war against this class of people among us, our moral and financial investment has backfired. It hasn't paid off, but it's very hard for people like politicians and law enforcement, who are invested in the drug war. Those on the supply reduction side are not about to fold up their tents and go home.

It's a cash cow. I know from personal experience that asset forfeiture produces substantial sums of money for local police. There are few chiefs who would fraudulently use that money, but it creates a hell of an incentive for any character-challenged beat cop or chief to misuse those funds. The real question is what would happen if police were taken out of the drug enforcement picture. I think we'd see a substantial reduction in property crime, for one thing. We would be able to provide drugs to those who want them instead of having them rip off your car stereo. What we are doing is just folly. We need to be spending money on prevention, education, and treatment for those who want it, but we don't get it because we're spending too much on law enforcement. Those invested in the drug war continue to use their own propaganda to advance the cause of drug enforcement.

Chronicle: Those chiefs and sheriffs who disagree with you on drug policy must have seen the same sort of eye-opening things that caused you to rethink drug prohibition. Are they true believers, or do they know better and are just keeping their mouths shut?

Stamper: Most are true believers, but a sizeable and influential minority is just being hypocritical, and that's unconscionable. They know this war on drugs is unwinnable, it's just throwing good money after bad, yet they continue to pursue ever more funding for drug enforcement. That's almost pathological. If you really believe you're making a huge public policy mistake and yet you talk publicly an entirely different game, you're the worst kind of hypocrite. But as I said, most chiefs are true believers. They really believe the only way to keep drugs out of junior's arm is to clamp down on drug use and spend tons of money to enforce the drug laws.

Chronicle: How do you bring the issue in from the cold?

Stamper: I think it comes down to the physics and politics of the tipping point. I believe that with people of influence and integrity -- like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Drug Policy Alliance, and DRCNet coming together -- we are drawing near to the tipping point. It is time to have this conversation about drug reform. Chiefs who are emphatic and articulate on the issue have been reluctant to speak up, but we are seeing more and more people muster their courage and connect their hearts with their mouths.

One thing we need to do is make sure those people in law enforcement who do speak out are wrapped in support. People who are afraid of endangering their careers need to know they will be supported. Each one who comes out brings us closer to critical mass, to the tipping point. We don't need 51% of police chiefs; it might be only 8% if you get the right people speaking out at the right time in the right circumstances. I've found through experience, for example, with the way we deal with domestic violence, that you don't need a majority of your cops supporting reform in that, just a few percent. Then you start to see policing that is more dignified and more respectful of the citizen. There is a real contagion effect when people of good will who have done their homework speak out.

Chronicle: You spoke of chiefs worrying about endangering their careers if they speak out for drug reform. How so?

Stamper: If he's a sheriff, he might not get reelected. If he's a chief, he's sitting on top of a sizeable narcotics budget, and that money could evaporate. You don't get too many chiefs saying please take this pot of money away from me. It depends on the political makeup of the community. I spoke out some in conservative San Diego, but then I moved to progressive Seattle to be chief, where I could say things like this. But if I were chief in, say, Orange County, California, I might be committing political suicide by advocating for significant drug reform.

There are chiefs whose private view is that the drug war is silly or stupid, but they still make public statements pushing drug enforcement aggressively. They handle their integrity conflict by reducing the amount of resources they commit to narcotics even while they're talking tough. They're basically assigning it a lower enforcement priority. The problem is, as long as you've got the laws on the books, you better be able to show you are enforcing them. Many of our vice laws are ridiculous and counterproductive, but the last message I want to send to the community is that I'm not going to enforce them. When you avert your glance from gambling or prostitution, the first thing people ask is whether your agency is protecting that activity. Imagine what they would say about a hands-off policy for drug dealers. As long as the laws are on the books in a democratic society, the last thing you want is police not enforcing them. Somebody once told me that if I believed drug law enforcement was misguided, I should get out of the business. No, I shouldn't. The lawmakers need to get me out of this business. To do that, it is critical that police executives who have thought this through work with them to get those laws changed.

Chronicle: How does enforcing drug prohibition pose problems for law enforcement? Does it reinforce negative elements of what we might call cop culture?

Stamper: You hear police chiefs talking about the necessity to build trust and respect between the community and the police. But when our narcotics officers are working drug dealers and turning sellers into snitches and cultivating stables of informants it fosters an environment where public confidence gets compromised. Look, there will always be a need for informants for some crimes -- that will never go away, and it shouldn't. But when you're dealing with drug dealers and trying to develop snitches, it can get real ugly. A lot of cops go bad. They may have been vulnerable in terms of personal ethics, and put them in narcotics or vice and watch out! And then there are cops who take it to a whole other level, like the ones in the LA Ramparts scandal. They stole drugs. And they set people up. There is a special place in hell for cops who do that. What those Ramparts officers were was a criminal syndicate.

Chronicle: This week I'm writing yet another story about one of those hyper-militarized, SWAT team raids gone bad, this time with a 23-year-old kid killed over a couple of ounces of pot. Isn't there a better way of doing this kind of policing? And even if such assaults are necessary, what's with the trashing of people's houses and possessions? That seems to happen with great regularity.

Stamper: The rationale for "high risk warrant service," such as drug raids, is to take the suspect down in his own home, usually at o'dark thirty, and to hit the house with sudden, unexpected, overwhelming force, both decisions designed to catch the suspect unawares, reduce the chances that he can/will get to a gun or dump the dope, and minimize risks to officers, neighbors, innocent passersby who might be caught in the line of fire if there's any shooting. In other words, the cops are trying to control every aspect, every variable of the operation. Of course, this doesn't explain or excuse the "wrong house" mistakes, or shots fired unnecessarily. For that, I think you look to judgment and discipline compromised by fear, adrenalin, machismo -- and drug war zealotry.

As for the trashing, as a reformed cop, I can tell you in my rookie year I used to really enjoy kicking in a door and rifling through drawers in search of a seed. It was insane, a reflection of some very twisted priorities and a badge-heavy hunger for power. I think it is part of an adventuring mentality. Look, if you're in search of notes from a terrorist plot, rip the shit out of everything, but there is no justification for tearing up somebody's home or business on a drug raid. The lack of civility that too often accompanies these raids is very counterproductive. It does nothing but further the mistrust, suspicion, and objections so many citizens have to police practices.

Donate $35 or more to DRCNet and receive a complimentary copy of "Breaking Rank" -- click here to contribute online or for further information.

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3. Feature: Venezuela Throws Out DEA, Washington Threatens Decertification

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told reporters in Caracas Sunday he was annulling a bilateral agreement between his government and the DEA that allows the US anti-drug agency to operate in Venezuela. Those comments were but the latest and most definitive statement of an emerging Venezuelan government position that has been hardening over the past few weeks. The US government has responded with not-so-veiled threats to "decertify" Venezuela as not cooperating in US drug war goals when the State Department undertakes its annual certification review next month.

Hugo Chavez
"The DEA was using the fight against drug trafficking as a mask, to support drug trafficking and to carry out intelligence in Venezuela against the government," Chavez said, according to an Associated Press account. "We have detected intelligence infiltration that threatened national security and defense. Under those circumstances we decided to make a clean break with those accords, and we are reviewing them," Chavez said. The DEA "is not necessary" for Venezuela to fight drug trafficking, he continued, adding that Venezuela would continue to cooperate internationally in efforts to repress the drug trade. "We will continue working with international organizations against drug trafficking," he said.

Neither the US Embassy in Caracas nor the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington responded to Drug War Chronicle requests for comment except to point to statements issued by the respective embassies this week. The US Embassy in Caracas did not address the DEA spying charges, limiting its comments to saying the rupture was "unfortunate" and served only drug traffickers and warning of the impact the move could have on certification. The embassy statement noted that President Bush must notify Congress of certification decisions on September 15. "The state of cooperation between US and Venezuelan law enforcement agencies will certainly be factored into that decision," the statement said. "As we have repeatedly stated in the past, the only people who win from a lack of cooperation between our governments on this issue are the drug traffickers and their allies."

Situated next door to Colombia, which is responsible for nearly 90% of the world's cocaine, Venezuela is an obvious and tempting target for drug traffickers seeking to export their products to North America and Europe. Some estimates say up to 30% of Colombian cocaine is now being transshipped through Venezuela. Venezuelan anti-drug authorities have cooperated in the past with their US counterparts despite increasingly tense relations with the US, and said they will continue to cooperate with other foreign anti-drug fighters, including the British, Dutch, and Spanish.

Relations between the Bush administration and the left-leaning Venezuelan leader have grown increasingly strained, particularly since the failed 2002 coup against Chavez, where at the very least, and in violation of its hemispheric obligations, the Bush administration failed to support a democratically-elected leader -- Hugo Chavez -- against anti-democratic plotters. Chavez and his supporters accuse the US of direct involvement in the coup attempt.

Bush administration policymakers view Chavez as a threat to US interests on a number of fronts. As head of a major oil-producing country and OPEC member, Chavez has made overtures to a number of other oil-producing states that make the Bush administration nervous, including Iran and Libya. He is also in negotiations with the Chinese government over energy purchases, something administration hawks with long-term vision find very disturbing. And Chavez is spearheading an effort to weaken US economic influence in South America by championing Mercosur, the continental free trade zone, over the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas favored by Washington.

The Bush administration also loathes Chavez for his warm embrace of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and his increasingly bold pronouncements on the desirability of socialism. With left-leaning leaders already governing Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, and well-positioned to win upcoming presidential elections in Bolivia and Mexico, Washington views Chavez as the potential head of a counter-hegemonic leftist bloc in the hemisphere. In the Bush administration's view, that makes Chavez a "destabilizing" force in the region, as Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice put it last week.

Indeed, Washington has repeatedly accused Chavez of aiding Colombia's left-wing guerrillas the FARC, either by allowing them sanctuary in Venezuelan territory or by providing them with weapons. More recently, the Bush administration has accused Chavez of supplying funds to "anti-democratic forces" in Bolivia, presumably referring to coca grower leader and Movement Toward Socialism party head Evo Morales, a democratically-elected Bolivian congressman who appears poised to take the presidency in elections set for December.

The inflammatory rhetoric is not just coming from Washington. Chavez, for his part, rails repeatedly against the US and its policies. He was at it again Monday as he addressed a global youth conference in Caracas. In a speech perfectly designed to drive American conservatives crazy, he told the students "socialism is the only path" and their collective goal must be "to save a world threatened by the voracity of US imperialism." Chavez also warned the US against attempting to invade Venezuela, something the Bush administration says it has no intention of doing. "If someday they get the crazy idea of coming to invade us, we'll make them bite the dust defending the freedom of our land," he said.

In is within this context of increasing hostility between Washington and Caracas that the confrontation over the DEA has occurred. It began with grumbling earlier this year from DEA agents that they were not receiving the same levels of cooperation from the Venezuelan National Guard and Police Detective Branch (CICPC) Anti-Drugs Division, that country's two leading anti-drug agencies. At the same time, leaks about corruption in the Venezuelan anti-drug effort began appearing in the local and Miami press.

In May, Venezuela moved against a key DEA ally, dismissing Judge Mildred Camero from her post as president of the National Commission Against the Illegal Use of Drugs (CONCACUID) and replacing her with a State Political and Security (DISIP) police officer, Luis Correa, the Venezuelan news and analysis site reported. According to that source, while there are sufficient grounds to complain about DEA overstepping in Venezuela, the primary motive for the crackdown is suspicions that the DEA is acting not to stop drug trafficking but as part of a US foreign policy establishment out to overthrow Chavez.

Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon told the DEA was operating illegally from the CONACUID offices, which was out of bounds to Venezuelan drug agents. "The war on narco-trafficking will be conducted from Venezuelan territory under parameters defined by the Venezuelan government, and that means no international organ is above the law." As for going behind the back of Venezuelan authorities, "That's over. If the DEA wants to work with the Venezuelan government, it should do so under defined parameters or at least on the basis of a bilateral agreement that respects the principle of reciprocity."

"Clearly, this is more about tensions in the US-Venezuela relationship than about specifics on drugs or the DEA" said John Walsh, senior drug policy and Andean affairs analyst for the progressive Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "There has been a perceptible deterioration in relations and lots of verbal sparring, especially since Bush won reelection. On Chavez' part, since he survived the referendum last year, he feels like he is in a very strong position right now as spokesman for the hemispheric left and thorn in Bush's side. He has strong domestic support, and oil prices are high," he told DRCNet.

"You can't discuss the drug issue between the two countries without discussing the larger question of US policy toward Venezuela," agreed Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, another progressive Washington think-tank. "It is openly hostile," Birns told DRCNet, pointing to concerns over China, Mercosur, and the development of alternatives to Washington's policy in the region. "Under Chavez, Venezuela has become a major voice for South America, particularly though the de facto South Atlantic alliance of Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, and Uruguay, with an assist from Cuba. This sort of 'third way' movement is spreading through the hemisphere, and Washington sees this as increasingly antithetical to US national interests."

Chavez is deeply concerned the US is out to get him, said Walsh. "Ever since the coup attempt, Chavez has had a not unjustifiable paranoia that the US is scheming and plotting to bring him down. He talks about this regularly, he alleges the US is plotting to assassinate him or invade the country, and in the present case, he is alleging that the DEA was basically spying on his government. This is part of the continuing reverberations from the coup attempt and the US failure to promptly denounce it." But Chavez is a player, too, Walsh noted. "I think Chavez is being deliberately provocative," said Walsh. "He is the one defying the US in a drug war a lot of Latin Americans think is overly punitive and unsuccessful in its basic goals of stopping supply and demand. For Chavez, this is one more area of fertile ground for pointing out the shortcomings of the US. There are a lot of people in Latin America who are already lukewarm toward the US at best, and they will say Chavez has a point," Walsh said.

For Birns, the certification issue is more about politics than drugs. "The drug issue has always been terrible policy for the US in Latin America, and Washington has used decertification not as a neutral measure but as an archly political weapon. When Mexico was decertified, the penalties were waived because of NAFTA, even though Mexico's performance was far worse then than Colombia's. But we condemned Colombia because we didn't like President Samper," he said. "When Washington has to choose between ideology and actually taking effective action to stop the drug trade, ideology comes first. I see this talk of decertification as not so much at the behest of the DEA, but as a politicized decision by the Bush administration to turn the screws on Chavez."

"The DEA claimed until very recently that it had a good working relationship with Venezuela, and Venezuelan officials agreed," said Walsh. "But for Chavez to accuse the DEA of acting as a spy outfit doesn't exactly come out of the blue. This is not the first time there has been an escalation to the point of saying US agents should be removed. There have been similar spats over the US military group in the embassy."

COHA's Birns doubted the DEA really was spying on Venezuela. "Venezuela is riddled with CIA operatives, it is a country where the opposition is totally alienated and willing to deal with anyone to get rid of Chavez. There is no shortage of opportunities for the US to introduce intelligence agents in Venezuela, so why would it use the DEA? There is no question that Washington is up to skullduggery there, but I do question whether the DEA is involved."

"The impact of decertification is clearly political, and if it happens, it would have to be seen as part of the broader case the Bush administration is trying to make that Chavez is not a good neighbor, that he is a threat to stability in the region. They have tried to do it on human rights, and decertifying or even using strong language against Venezuela would serve the same goal," said WOLA's Walsh. "The Bush administration's basic political inclinations are to go after Chavez, and there will be nothing holding them back from decertification if they can point to a gigantic rupture in cooperation in a critical cocaine transit county."

And so it goes in the dance macabre between Caracas and Washington. Look for this battle to heat up next month as the State Department wrestles with a decision on whether to decertify Venezuela or not.

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4. Feature: In Midst of Meth Mania and Sex Offender Scares, Minnesota Takes Tiny, Tiny Step Toward Drug Sentencing Reform

The Omnibus Public Safety Act passed by the Minnesota legislature and signed into law last month by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty was mainly about creating new methamphetamine offenses and tough new meth penalties, as well as cracking down on sex offenders, and that's what most of the noise was about during the legislative session and even at the signing ceremony. But the measure also includes a time-limited provision allowing the early release of a limited number of drug offenders once they have completed drug treatment behind bars, and that provision marks the first time since Minnesota revamped its sentencing laws in 1988 that the state's trend toward harsher sentencing and ever-increasing prison populations has seen a hint of being reversed.

Minnesota marijuana burn by Sheriffs
The drug sentencing reform provision is a tiny first step. Under the provision, which will sunset after two years and must be reauthorized by the legislature to continue or expand, Minnesotans doing time on drug charges will be eligible for early release if they are first-time, nonviolent drug possession offenders and have spent at least three years (or half their sentence) in prison and have completed a behind-the-walls drug treatment program lasting at least six months. Drug sellers or people serving time for addiction-related crimes such as theft or burglary need not apply.

Persons granted conditional early release under the provision will be subject to strict supervision and a pre-release screening to ensure they pose no threat to public safety. The provision mandates electronic ankle-bracelets, frequent drug tests, aftercare, and employment and residence requirements.

The provision sounds like a small step in the right direction, said Ryan King, an analyst for The Sentencing Project, a Washington, DC-based group calling for more humane sentencing policies. "The ultimate goal is to keep people in the community and connected to family, jobs, and social networks whenever possible," said King. "Ideally, we would never have the person leave the community. Treatment in the community is ideal, and the quicker people can get back in the community, the better. The longer people have to serve in prison, the more difficult it is for them to successfully reenter society," he told DRCNet.

"This new law ensures a smart reallocation of our resources for sentencing drug offenders," said state Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen), who along with Sen. Tom Neuville (R-Northridge) championed the bill. "It empowers law enforcement, corrections and chemical health professionals to identify individuals who want to take responsibility for their addictions and earn the chance at an early release and a fresh start -- a reform initiative that 70% of Minnesotans support," Ortman said in a statement greeting the bill's signing into law. "This is a cautious step forward at a new focus for treating drug offenders. Drug possession will still be a felony in Minnesota, and the presumptive sentence for a first degree drug possession crime will still be 86 months -- which is significantly higher than our neighbors in nearby states," Ortman continued.

But for a state prison system that is among the nation's growth leaders in recent years, with the inmate population climbing by 45% in the last five years, driven largely by meth and sex offenders, the number of prisoners affected will be minimal. Last year alone, the prison population jumped more than 13% to more than 8,600, with some 1,100 of those prisoners doing time for meth, up from 139 only two years earlier. Minnesota Department of Corrections spokeswoman Liz McClung said the exact number of offenders eligible was not yet known because criteria were still being drafted, but "it will be a very select group of offenders," she told DRCNet. "It won't be a large number, it won't be in the hundreds," she said.

"There are about 150 who might be eligible," Ortman told DRCNet. "That doesn't mean all of them will meet the necessary conditions. This is an experimental program, and we will be studying this as we go, watching recidivism, watching what happens when they leave prison. We are hopeful it will lead to a better understanding of how to help these people become responsible members of society. If we can do that, we will have succeeded," she told DRCNet.

The restrictions limiting broad application of the reform was intentional, said Ortman. "We did want to limit its application at least for now until we see if it will be successful." Ortman took a similarly cautious tack on whether the program would be expanded in two years. "The question now is not whether we expand it after two years, but whether we continue it and whether we make this part of our sentencing policy and practice in Minnesota."

Meanwhile, the Gopher State is headed for even more prisoners with the sex offender and meth provisions signed into law in the omnibus bill. The meth provisions include restrictions on the sales of cold medicines containing meth precursors (they must be kept behind the counter), making the theft of anhydrous ammonia, another precursor, a felony offense, and making meth use or production around children a crime. The bill also increases penalties for meth offenses, now treating them the same way the state treats heroin and cocaine.

Ortman saw no inconsistency in voting for both harsh new methamphetamine penalties and calling for a drug treatment-related early release for some prisoners. "In Minnesota, we are tougher than many states. Possession of any drug in any amount is a felony, and we don't want to see that change, but we do want to have a safety valve. Our presumptive sentences for drug crimes here are among the longest in the region, and our prison population is growing very fast. If we can get some nonviolent drug offenders treated and out of prison, we will be using our resources more efficiently by making those beds available for violent offenders."

"We supported the meth bill because its provisions will help allay some of the meth manufacturing in our state," said Harlan Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. "We did not have a position on the provision about shorter sentences for some drug offenders. Our job is to enforce the law, and it's up to the courts and corrections to deal with people from there," he told DRCNet.

And it is up to the politicians to rewrite the sentencing laws. After 15 years of harsh sentencing, Minnesota politicians have begun that process, although it clearly a process that remains fraught with contradiction.

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5. Testimonial: What DRCNet Does for Medical Marijuana -- and the Movement

Last week Tom Angell of Students for Sensible Drug Policy allowed us to send a letter of support to our e-mail list explaining some of what DRCNet and Drug War Chronicle has meant to him and his work. With issue #400 coming up next week, we want our readers to understand a little more about our long term strategy, so we print Tom's letter here again:

Dear friend,

If you're a regular DRCNet reader, then you might know about me from DRCNet's Drug War Chronicle newsletter -- first as the founder of the University of Rhode Island chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and now as the campaigns director in the SSDP national office. Earlier this summer, Rhode Islanders scored a big hit: Our state Senate overwhelmingly passed a pro-medical marijuana bill, a mere one day after the US Supreme Court rejected states' rights to medical marijuana in the Raich case, and in the face of a veto threat by Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri. The bill was then passed overwhelmingly by the state House of Representatives as well -- and the governor did veto it. But the Senate overrode his veto the very next day. If things go as well in the House, it will be a great victory for medical marijuana that will help patients throughout the state and send a necessary message to Congress that they should act too.

While DRCNet played no direct role in the Rhode Island medical marijuana campaign [which after a certain point was principally funded by MPP], it very well may not have happened without them. The reason is that DRCNet's long-term movement-building, movement-empowering work laid a crucial portion of the groundwork for it. The Rhode Island medical marijuana campaign was founded by myself and an activist at the Brown University SSDP chapter. But SSDP might not have existed were it not for DRCNet's starting the Higher Education Act Reform Campaign in 1998 -- rallying students nationwide against a law that takes financial aid away from students with drug convictions -- and using its list and its funding to get SSDP off the ground as an independent national organization, which now has thousands of activists on more than 100 college and high school campuses nationwide. That's one of the reasons. The other reason is that I became an activist because of Drug War Chronicle. Reading the Chronicle week after week taught me just how serious and just how important an issue this is, inspired me to get involved, pointed me to opportunities for doing so, and then kept me informed and prepared to do the best job that I could. And I am just one of many people around the country who say the same thing.

I hope you will take a few moments today to make the most generous donation to DRCNet that you can. With everything that DRCNet does to support, build and get the word out about all the other organizations in the movement, there are many deserving places to send a check that come to your attention in Drug War Chronicle every week. But even if the issue that you care most about -- be it medical marijuana, sentencing, drug testing, etc. -- is not one that DRCNet is leading, it would be shortsighted to not support DRCNet as well. Because without DRCNet, we would have a smaller movement less capable of taking all those things on; and who knows how much DRCNet will be able to do for the movement moving forward in the same way -- subtle, long-term, but powerful? In my opinion, a lot -- but only with your help.

DRCNet is so important, for the movement's present and for its future -- thank you for making the most generous donation that you can.

Tom Angell, Campaigns Director
Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Washington, DC

In addition to general movement building, DRCNet helps the medical marijuana cause in other ways too:
  • Our write-to-Congress web site delivered nearly 2,800 letters supporting the Hinchey/Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment to members of the US House of Representatives this June.
  • Our action alert in support of former medical marijuana provider Bryan Epis has generated dozens of letters from our members asking Judge Damrell to sentence Epis to time served.
  • We have published hundreds and hundreds of articles about medical marijuana in Drug War Chronicle, informing, empowering and inspiring thousands of people around the world.
Thank you for making our work possible!

Click here for more reasons to financially support DRCNet, for info on our new book offer -- "Breaking Rank" by former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper -- and instructions and other information on how to donate. We really need your help as issue #400 approaches -- thank you in advance!

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6. Blogging: DRCNet "Prohibition in the Media" Blog Resumes Publishing as Drug Trade Violence Hits Acapulco, Mexico

DRCNet's "Prohibition in the Media" blog resumes publishing today after a hiatus. We comment on reporting by Reuters AlertNet, Reuters Foundation publication for international humanitarian nonprofits, on an outbreak of drug trade violence in the Mexican Pacific resort town of Acapulco.

According to Reuters, "A fierce fight between Mexican drug cartels that has killed more than 600 people this year has now hit the Pacific beach resort of Acapulco with gangland executions and grenade attacks on sun-kissed streets." Police say that it is a fight between the Gulf Cartel and traffickers from the state of Sinaloa for control of border routes into the United States and over production of marijuana and heroin in the western states of Michoacan, Jalisco and Guerrero, a poor mountainous area where Acapulco is located. Acapulco's mayor, Alberto Lopez Rosas, told Reuters, "This is completely new for us" and "It is an upsetting situation which has surprised all of us in Acapulco." Political leaders at all levels of government have called for "staying the course" in the fight against drug traffickers.

In February 2003, a Mexican congressman from Sinaloa, Gregorio Urias German, attended the DRCNet-organized Latin America conference, "Out from the Shadows, Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century" ("Saliendo de las Sombras: Terminando de le Prohibición de las Drogas en el Siglo XXI" en Español). Urias argued that "If we can't even discuss the alternatives, if we can't even admit the drug war is a failure, then we will never solve the problem." He said that existing forums, such as the UN and the Organization of American States, are not fruitful places for discussion, "because only the repressive policies of the United States are discussed at these forums." The alternatives Urias were referring to included drug legalization. He is one of many leaders in Mexico who believe that drug prohibition is the root cause of drug trade violence as is now being experienced in Acapulco.

While it is not the job of media outlets like Reuters to take a position favoring legalization in their news reporting, they will be doing a better job when they start to include leaders like Urias in their articles who hold that point of view.

Click here to read the Reuters article.

Click here for video footage of Congressman Urias and other Latin American leaders speaking at our conference.

Send feedback to Reuters AlertNet via the web or by e-mail to [email protected]. Keep it polite and positive, at least for now -- there's no reason to assume at this point that they will not be receptive to hearing our ideas.

Last but not least -- check out Prohibition in the Media as it comes out -- subscribe to the Prohibition in the Media e-mail alerts list too!

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7. Weekly: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The Dallas sheetrock scandal continue to reverberate, drug cops in Florida and Ohio sample the wares, so does a crime lab tech in Missouri, and two more entrepreneurial jailers go down for their efforts.

Although several of this week's stories feature law enforcement personnel using illegal drugs, it is not their drug use that qualifies them for this feature, but acts of illegality or corruption associated with it. We're not going to write about the cop who gets caught smoking a joint or even a crack pipe -- unless he's stealing it from somebody or otherwise behaving corruptly. That said, let's get to it:

In Dallas, the sheetrock scandal, in which paid police informants planted fake drugs on innocent people, continues to reverberate. A draft audit of procedural reforms of the department's undercover operations obtained last week by the Dallas Morning News said that the department sill suffers from lax oversight of its undercover agents and informers. Safeguards for money-handling in undercover operations continue to be inadequate as well, the draft said. Meanwhile, former Dallas narcs Mark De La Paz and Eddie Herrera, the undercover team at the center of the scandal that sent dozens of innocent men, mostly Mexican immigrants, to prison on bogus charges, were indicted August 5 on perjury charges. De La Paz is already facing five years in prison for lying to a judge in the scandal and still faces more than a dozen other charges. Herrara is charged with lying to a grand jury. He told the panel he witnessed a drug deal that never occurred.

In Daytona Beach, Florida, city police narcotics Detective Jude David Otero resigned Monday as he was being investigating for buying crack while off duty, the Orlando Sun-Sentinel reported. According to documents from the ongoing investigation by the state Office of Professional Standards, not only did Otero buy crack, he also had a woman procure it for him repeatedly. One man interviewed by investigators said Otero repeatedly searched his house and seized drugs, but never made any arrests. The eight-year veteran narc had earlier been the subject of complaints of excessive force during an arrest, stealing money during a drug arrest, and planting drug paraphernalia on a suspect, but those complaints were "unfounded," the department previously determined.

In Batavia, Ohio, Warren County Sheriff's Deputy Michael Moore, 35, pled guilty to probation violation August 4 after being caught in possession of a crack pipe, the Dayton Daily News reported. Moore, who had worked as a school resource officer and had special training in street drugs, pled guilty to drug possession and theft in office charges last year. Those charges came after Hamilton County police found evidence of a meth lab in a vehicle driven by a Kentucky man, Frederick Purcell. He told police Moore gave him a meth mask and a handcuff key, and that he had just left Moore after selling him some speed. He also informed authorities that Moore gave him access to a locked facility where he and Moore could cook and use meth. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Purcell ended up with a five-year probationary sentence in return for his testimony against Moore and for agreeing to help make a police training video about meth labs. Moore served 88 days in jail the first time around; this time he got 180 days, but has already served 110.

In Springfield, Missouri, former Missouri State Highway Patrol crime lab technician Matthew Barb, 31, pleaded guilty August 5 to stealing confiscated drugs, the Associated Press reported. As the person responsible for testing about one-third of suspected drugs seized from southwest Missouri, Barb's thefts forced prosecutors in two counties to dismiss some 380 drug cases. While Barb faces up to seven years in prison, under the plea agreement prosecutors will recommend a five-year sentence. Barb was apparently stealing the dope for his own use, and his defense attorney, Dee Wampler, told the AP he had already undergone drug treatment and counseling and has submitted monthly urine tests. Wampler will ask for probation for her client, she said.

In Brooksville, Florida, Hernando County Jail employee Shanetra Lata McCollom, 31, was arrested August 6 on charges she sold crack cocaine to undercover agents on July 29, July 31, and the day of her arrest, the St. Petersburg Times reported. After the third buy, a search warrant was issued and police found more drugs, drug paraphernalia, and cash at her home. There is no indication McCollom was selling drugs inside the jail, which is operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

In Albuquerque, Metropolitan Detention Center corrections officer Michael Pino was arrested Monday on charges he was trafficking drugs into the jail, the Associated Press reported. Pino was the subject of a sting; he was recorded on audiotape accepting $3,000 to smuggle up to 10 grams of heroin into the jail. Pino, a prison guard for two years, was jailed on $40,000 bail Monday night, and he's been placed on administrative leave.

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8. Drug Raids: Florida SWAT Team Kills Bartender in His Bedroom in Predawn Drug Raid -- Two Ounces of Marijuana Seized

Two members of a Sunset, Florida, SWAT team shot and killed a 23-year-old bartender after he fled to his bedroom and picked up a pistol as his door came crashing in and masked, armed men flooded into his home during a 6:00am raid last Friday morning. Armed with a search warrant alleging drug activity at the home of Anthony Diotaiuto, police announced their take this week: two ounces of pot, some plastic baggies, and a set of scales.

Police told reporters the day of the shooting they knew Diotaiuto has a license to possess a weapon, so they sent in the SWAT team to lessen the possibility of violence. They did not explain why they thought a surprise attack on the home of an unsuspecting but presumably armed man would produce a nonviolent result -- and it didn't.

According to Sunset Police Lt. Robert Voss as reported in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, the SWAT team knocked on Diotaiuto's door and "announced their presence" before smashing down his door. Voss said police found the victim in his living room and ordered him to "freeze," but he instead fled to his bedroom and "armed himself" with a handgun, whereupon Officers Sean Visners and Andre Bruna unloaded on him. The Broward County medical examiner reported 10 bullet wounds in his head, chest, torso, and limbs.

But next-door neighbor Rudy Strauss told the Sun-Sentinel he and his wife were awake when the raid occurred and heard the crash of Diotauito's door being smashed in, but heard no yelling announcing the presence of police. There were no words spoken outside, he said, adding that he and his wife watched the raid unfold from their window. "I heard this loud bang, and I saw a flash," Strauss said Tuesday. "I never heard them say 'Police.' If somebody were pounding on the door, I would definitely hear that, or if they yelled, 'Police, police!'"

Friends, family members, neighbors and supporters of Diotaiuto reacted angrily and bitterly. ""Nothing adds up," Brian Kickbush, boyfriend of Diotaiuto's mother, Marlene Whittier, said during the visitation at Fred Hunter Funeral Home in nearby Davies. "If they announced themselves, I guess all the neighbors are all liars."

"My son was so frightened by black masks busting his door down in the darkness after he was asleep for one hour," said a distraught Whittier, during a wake held for her only son Tuesday night. "Now what human being in their right mind would not run?"

The anger spilled over into a Sunset city council meeting Tuesday night as at least 15 people wearing black armbands demanded answers and actions. "Sunset Beach police are murderers, cowards, trigger-happy, and more," one friend of Diotaiuto's yelled at stone-faced council members in footage captured by WB39-TV. When one council responded that the council too was upset, he retorted, "If you're that upset, do something about it!"

"Do two ounces of marijuana constitute a death warrant?" Sunrise resident William de Larm, a friend of Diotaiuto's, demanded of the city officials. Police were too aggressive and showed poor judgment, he said, adding that the killing made him "ashamed" to live in Sunset.

Mayor Steve Feren and council members declined to address the charges and complaints about police conduct directly, saying the matter was under investigation. Two investigations are underway, by the department and by the Broward County District Attorney's office.

Friends and family members described Diotaiuto as a hard-working young man who held down two jobs, attended church regularly, and had recently bought the home he was killed in. "They killed an innocent person," said Charlie Steeves, who said he was Diotaiuto's best friend. "He didn't sell drugs. He worked two jobs to buy that house."

Diotaiuto's boss at the Carolina Ale House in Weston, David Arker, said his friend and employee only smoked marijuana "casually," did not sell drugs and was a hard worker.

Diotaiuto's girlfriend, Leslie Kellner, 21, told the Miami Herald he worked a second job as a DJ and had sold his prized sports car to pay for the home he shared with his mother. "If he was a drug dealer, he could have bought his mom a new car, but he couldn't even afford to fix it," said Kellner, 21.

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9. Methamphetamines: Immigrant Store Clerks Becoming Collateral Damage in War on Meth

Spurred by new laws restricting the sales of cold remedies such as Sudafed, which contain pseudoephedrine, a necessary component of popular meth-cooking recipes, police and prosecutors across the country have been arresting convenience store clerks -- sometimes on charges that carry substantial prison sentences. In one Georgia case, authorities made mass arrests of immigrant store clerks and owners, but it's starting to look less like a criminal conspiracy and more like culturally naive foreign-born merchants simply trying to sell their merchandise.

It's all a big waste of money, says the Drug Policy Alliance, which issued a press release this week calling for money spent prosecuting and imprisoning store clerks to instead be spent on treatment for meth addicts. "Convenience store clerks have become the latest casualities in the war on drugs," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Selling lighter fluid, cold medicine and other legal items shouldn't get someone decades in prison."

But that's what 49 rural northwest Georgia store clerks and owners, 44 of them Indian immigrants, are facing in the wake of a federal sting called Operation Meth Merchant, the brainchild of US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia David Nahmias. Nahmias sent various undercover informants into the stores seeking items that could be used to make meth, then indicted the clerks on charges that could net them 20 years in prison. Nahmias told the New York Times he was convinced the clerks were guilty.

But as preliminary motions in the cases are filed, defense attorneys have been able to argue convincingly that the clerks and store owners often didn't understand that the informants were trying to tell them they wanted products for cooking meth. "They're not really paying attention to what they're being told," said Steve Sadow, one of the lawyers. "Their business is: I ring it up, you leave, I've done my job. Call it language or idiom or culture, I'm not sure you're able to show they know there's anything wrong with what they're doing," he told the Times.

"This is the first time I heard this -- I don't know how to pronounce -- this meta-meta something," said Hajira Ahmed. Her husband is one of the 49 arrested. He sits in jail awaiting trial on charges he sold cold medicine and antifreeze.

The Indian store clerks simply didn't understand the drug slang used by the undercover informants, defense lawyers said. When one told clerks he needed cold medicine, matches, and camping fuel to "finish a cook," the clerks thought that he was talking about a barbecue. Defense attorneys were able to point out that government documents defined the phrase in a footnote, suggesting that if it had to be explained to attorneys familiar with enforcing methamphetamine laws, it was hard to expect socially isolated store clerks to know its significance.

"This is not even slang language like 'gonna,' 'wanna,'" said Malvika Patel, who spent three days in jail after being arrested in a case of mistaken identity. "'Cook' is very clear; it means food." And in this context, she told the Times, some of the items the government wants stores to monitor would not set off any alarms. "When I do barbecue, I have four families. I never have enough aluminum foil."

The experience has soured some of the immigrants on their newly adopted homeland. Patel's husband, Chris, who Americanized his name on arrival, told the Times his wife's arrest made him think of selling his three stores and going back to India. "We are from so much cleaner society where we are from in India," he said. "We didn't even know what drugs were."

It's not only Indians in Georgia, but also Middle Easterners in Arizona, more than 30 of whom were arrested in a similar sting recently. And just plain white folks in Oklahoma. And with some 40 states having enacted or about to enact legislation restricting the sale of cold medicines as part of the war on meth, there will be more to come.

There has to be a better way, says the Drug Policy Alliance. "Putting store clerks in jail and breaking up families does nothing to deal with the problems associated with methamphetamine abuse," said Piper. "The hundreds of thousands of dollars it will cost to imprison these clerks would be better spent on drug treatment."

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10. Religious Freedom: Cannabis Churches Seek to Intervene in UDV Ayahuasca Case With Amicus Brief Arguing Broad Interpretation

A group of cannabis spiritualists are seeking to use the case of a religious group arguing before the Supreme Court that its use of ayahuasca, an Amazonian entheogen, is protected religious practice, to urge the court to extend a religious freedom ruling to include marijuana. In the case before the court, the Santa Fe-based American branch of the Brazilian Union of the Vegetable (UDV), has so far prevailed in the federal courts on its claim that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects its sacramental use of the substance.

Led by Eddy Lepp, the California resident who is facing two life sentences for his efforts to grow marijuana at Eddy's Medicinal Gardens and Multi-Denominational Church of Cannabis and Rastafari, the cannabis spiritualists are advancing the argument that although the courts have, since a case brought by Timothy Leary, refused to rule that religious use of cannabis is protected, the courts in the UDV case have used the Leary precedent to find that its use of the psychedelic sacrament is protected.

The problem is that the rulings in the UDV case have been so narrow that a victory in that case would benefit hardly anyone but the UDV. "If the Supreme Court looks at this issue we're raising now," said Lepp, "it would be easy for them to apply it to all these substances. For them to deny that marijuana is a sacrament just isn't right," Lepp told DRCNet. "I don't see what's so hard to understand. If they're going to let people in the Deep South French kiss rattlesnakes and drink cyanide in the name of religion, you'd think they could accept marijuana's religious uses."

Lepp and his allies have contacted Southern California constitutional authority Prof. Gerald Uehlman to draft an amicus brief in the pending Supreme Court case, and they are appealing to their fellow cannabis churches, of which they estimate there are roughly one hundred in the US, to kick in money to pay his $20,000 fee. They are also accepting donations for the battle from the public at large -- the filing deadline is September 9.

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11. Racial Profiling: Rhode Island Police Still Picking on Minority Motorists

Four years after Rhode Island police began tracking the race of motorists they stop, racial profiling continues to be a problem and may even be getting worse, according to a report released Monday by the ACLU of Rhode Island. The report, covering the second quarter of a one-year study of racial profiling mandated by state law, found that minority drivers remained twice as likely to be searched after being stopped by police, even though police were more likely to find contraband on white drivers they searched.

Monday's report echoes a Rhode Island ACLU report in May covering the first quarter of the one-year study, but the group said the numbers suggested tendencies to profile by race remained strong. In some cases, the numbers were worse than the first quarter. The percentage of minorities searched, both in absolute numbers and in comparison with white drivers, was up in the second quarter. Even so, white drivers searched in the second quarter were even more likely to be carrying dope than in the first quarter.

The study looked at police departments that undertook at least 60 motor vehicle searches during a six-month period, or 21 out of the state's 39 departments. Of those, more than 90% (19 out of 21) searched minorities at higher rates than whites. More than half (11 out of 21) showed higher racial disparities during this study than they did during the state's first racial profiling study in 2001-2002.

Although the number of vehicle searches had increased during the second quarter, the results were less than impressive. Only 22% of discretionary searches resulted in the discovery of contraband, compared to 27% the previous quarter.

"The statistics for this latest quarter are very discouraging," said Rhode Island ACLU executive director Steven Brown. "While, individually, some police departments are showing improvement in their practices, the data as a whole show that racial disparities across the state have increased since the first three months of this latest study. It is more critical than ever that police departments take concrete steps to address the issue."

Col. Stephen McCartney, the Warwick police chief and the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association's spokesman on the issue, told the Providence Journal the racial disparities remained troubling. "The study shows there's an issue here, and there's a problem," McCartney said. As for the study's conclusion that the situation is worsening, McCartney could only say, "I hope not." Still, McCartney complained, one should not assume that "everything is race-related." The study "does not prove racial profiling," he added.

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12. Latin America: Colombian President Says Government Might Start Buying Coca Crop

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has proposed that the government buy peasant farmers' coca crops in a bid to cut off funding to armed rebels, the Christian Science Monitor reported Wednesday. Uribe first mentioned the idea at a town hall meeting in the central province of Meta last month, the newspaper said.

"This has to be serious. Hand over the coca and take the money," Uribe said, comparing the idea to other agricultural transactions. "As at the country fair, hand over the pig, take the money," he said.

Such a move would be a stark contrast with current Colombian government policy, which, backed by US pressure and dollars, relies on aerial fumigation of coca crops, some manual eradication, and limited alternative development funding. The US has pumped at least $3 billion into its "Plan Colombia," now known as the Andean regional initiative, spraying more than 130,000 hectares of coca plants each year since 2002. But while Colombian coca production has dropped from record levels of the late 1990s, for all the spraying, the crop dropped only 7% last year as peasant farmers re-planted after spraying or moved onto new lands to grow coca.

Some critics have suggested the Colombian government could not afford to buy the coca, arguing that to buy up the crop could cost as much as $64 million. But that is a drop in the bucket compared to annual US anti-drug and counterinsurgency aid that runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

A more serious criticism is that a government offer to buy will simply drive up prices, causing more farmers to grow more coca. "It's absurd from the economic point of view," Congressman Gustavo Petro told the Monitor. Armed groups such as the leftist FARC and rightist paramilitaries, who buy the crops from farmers, would simply raise their bidding price above the government's, he said. "It won't solve the issue of narco-trafficking. The farmer will sell to the highest bidder," Petro said.

But the Uribe government says the move could help win peasants away from the FARC at a time when the 15,000-strong guerilla army is on the run. "The advance of military operations has made [the coca trade] more difficult and has created a favorable environment for the farmer to get out of this illegal activity," said a presidential statement.

Meanwhile, the FARC is definitely not on the run in southern Putumayo province. Instead, it has virtually shut down the province through transit stoppages enforced by armed fighters. "No gasoline. No electricity. No running water. Rebels declared the state of Putumayo in southern Colombia a no-drive zone and began blowing up bridges, electrical towers and oil production facilities. Putumayo is paralyzed. Motorists are afraid to drive on rural roads. Most gasoline stations are dry. The United Nations said Friday it was 'extremely concerned' by the state's shortages of food and other essentials," the Associated Press reported over the weekend.

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13. Canada: Methamphetamine Now Schedule I, Cooks Now Face Up to Life in Prison

The Canadian government announced Thursday that it had moved methamphetamine to Schedule I of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, signaling a significantly tougher stance against the stimulant making its way east from British Columbia and the prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. The change puts meth on the same level as heroin and cocaine when it comes to sentencing.

"The maximum penalty for production and distribution of methamphetamine has increased from 10 years to life in prison," said three federal ministers in a news release announcing the change. They cited the "significant health, social and economic harms" caused by abuse of the drug.

The move met with a positive response from Western province premiers. Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert welcomed the news as he waved a copy of last week's Newsweek cover story on "America's Most Dangerous Drug." "I don't ever want to see that kind of headline on the cover of Macleans," he told the CBC, referring to the popular Canadian newsweekly.

BC Premier Gordon Campbell called the drug "a scourge" and congratulated the federal government for acting. Meth is "going to touch everyone in Canada if we don't act together on it."

At least one BC addiction expert wasn't so sure the move was a good idea. "What we know about human beings is that they've always used psychoactive drugs in one form or another," Sherrie Mumford told the CBC. "They attempted to take down huge quantities of heroin in the past, for example, and they thought that this would decrease the drug use. Well, it has put a dent in the heroin use, but we saw huge increases in drug use like cocaine."

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14. Web Scan: Marc Emery, Arianna Huffington, NORML on Marijuana vs. Marinol, Popular Science on Cannabis Medicines

Marc Emery publishes My Message to You on Cannabis Culture magazine's web site

Arianna Huffington suggests Support Our Troops: Call a Truce in America's Drug War

Marinol Versus Natural Cannabis: Pros, Cons and Options for Patients, report by Paul Armentano for NORML

The Straight Dope on Cannabis-Inspired Meds, Popular Science magazine, August 2005 issue, page 44, also online

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15. Weekly: This Week in History

August 12, 1997: The US Justice Department announces that there will be no indictments issued in the killing of Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., an 18-year-old American citizen killed by US Marines on an anti-drug patrol while he was herding goats near the border town of Redford, Texas. Lt. General Carlton W. Fulford, who conducted an internal military review of the incident, said the killing might not have happened at all had civilian law enforcement agencies been patrolling the border.

August 14, 2002: Twelve hundred medical marijuana patients, many suffering from life-threatening illnesses, lose their supply of medicine when Ontario police raid the Toronto Compassion Centre.

August 15, 1988: In his acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention, George Herbert Walker Bush states, "I want a drug-free America. Tonight, I challenge the young people of our country to shut down the drug dealers around the world... My Administration will be telling the dealers, 'Whatever we have to do, we'll do, but your day is over. You're history.'"

August 16, 1996: While visiting San Francisco, US drug czar Barry McCaffrey claims to media, "There is not a shred of scientific evidence that shows that smoked marijuana is useful or needed. This is not science. This is not medicine. This is a cruel hoax and sounds more like something out of a Cheech and Chong show." Advocates later point out that there is scientific evidence supporting medical marijuana.

August 18, 1989: Luis Carlos Galan, a Colombian presidential candidate who spoke in favor of extradition, is assassinated at a campaign rally near Bogota. That evening, President Virgilio Barco Vargas issues an emergency decree reestablishing the policy of extradition. In response, the "Extraditables" declare all-out war against the Colombian government and begin a bombing/murder campaign that lasts until January 1991.

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16. Job Openings: Three at MPP

The Marijuana Policy Project currently has three full-time job openings -- one in Las Vegas and two in Washington, DC.

The positions in Washington, DC, are Legislative Analyst and Graphic Designer. The Las Vegas position is Webmaster.

Visit for detailed descriptions of these positions. MPP is not taking phone calls about these positions; rather, all interested candidates should apply by using the process described at the link above.

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17. Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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

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 [email protected], 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 13, 7:00-9:00pm, Missoula, MT, fundraiser to help low-income medical marijuana patients obtain state registry cards. Sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project, featuring MPP executive director Rob Kampia. At 240 East Spruce, suggested $50 contribution (contributions of any size accepted), RSVP to Michael Sanderson at (202) 462-5747 ext. 127 or [email protected] by August 12.

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 7-9, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Latin American Drug Policy Reform Meeting (in preparation for the Latin American Anti-Prohibitionist Conference, Brazil 2006), and First Regional Symposium of Legislators and Judges on Drug Policy. Sponsored by REFORMA, in the Salón Manuel Belgrano, Honorable Camara De Senadores de la Nacion (Senate Chambers), e-mail [email protected] for further information.

September 14-17, Scottsdale, AZ, "Speaking Truth to Power: Vision, Voice & Justice," conference on racial and economic justice, sponsored by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and the Project for the Future of Equal Justice. Contact Charles Wynder at [email protected] or (202) 452-0620 ext. 221 or 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.

September 30, 5:00-8:00pm, Madison, WI, Third Annual IMMLY/Madison NORML Benefit. At the Cardinal Bar, 418 E. Wilson, contact Gary Storck at (608) 241-8922 or visit for information.

October 1-2, Madison WI, "35th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival." At the UW Campus Library Mall, e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

October 3-4, Washington, DC, "Rally for Rescheduling: Demand HHS Reschedule Marijuana Now!" Demonstration for medical marijuana at the US Dept. of Health & Human Services -- training 10/3 from 10:30am-6:30pm, rally 10/4 at 10:00am. Visit for further information.

October 18-19, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Escaping the Chaos: A Public Health Alternative to Black Market Drug Distribution," conference and evening multi-faith session sponsored by the "Keeping the Door Open: Dialogues on Drug Use" coalition. At the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 W. Hastings St., visit for further information.

October 21-22, Hartford, CT, "Hartford's Drug Burden -- Where to Put Our Resources," sponsored by the City of Hartford and Aetna Insurance. For further information visit or contact (860) 657-8438, (860) 522-4888 ext. 6112, or [email protected].

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.

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