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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #403 -- 9/16/05

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items


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"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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Table of Contents

    Latin American and Caribbean drug reformers ORGANIZE!
    Attendees at last week's Buenos Aires saw something rare in North America: the active participation of judges, senators and congressman from across the continent calling for radical reform of the drug laws.
    In parallel with the 1st Latin American Conference on Drug Policy Reform and the 1st Regional Symposium of Legislators and Judges on Drug Policy, the umbrella regional anti-prohibitionist coalition REFORMA held a series of meetings to chart strategy for both the national and international levels.
    Marijuana was by no means the primary focus of last week's Latin American drug policy reform conference. But in host city Buenos Aires as everywhere, its users and supporters make up a good chunk of the movement.
    A week after a leading British Conservative suggested drug legalization, former judge of the Scottish High Court Lord McCluskey has added his voice as well.
    We go from the small-time to the big time (and the big house) this week, as a Colorado deputy gets caught smuggling drugs to prisoners and a New Jersey State Police veteran is indicted as part of a massive drug conspiracy.
    The Liberal government's much unloved marijuana decriminalization bill is dead -- at least until after the next elections.
    Health Canada may resurrect a proposal to make government grown medicinal cannabis available in licensed pharmacies, according to Canadian press reports and NORML.
    The Bush-Chavez feud took another turn for the worse Thursday as the State Department added Venezuela to its annual list of countries it says are not adequately waging the war on drugs.
    Cato Pain Forum, Slate on Rehnquist and Placidyl, Alternet on the Marijuana War, NORML Video Blog
    Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.
    Showing up at an event can be the best way to get involved! Check out this week's listings for events from today through next year, across the US and around the world!

(Chronicle archives)

1. Feature: Judges and Legislators from Across Latin America Call for Radical Drug Law Reform

Attendees at last week's 1st Latin American Conference on Drug Policy Reform in Buenos Aires saw something rarely seen in North America: the active participation of judges, senators and congressman from across the continent calling for radical reform of the drug laws. While it not unexpected to hear from harm reductionists, cannabis advocates, and peasant producers at such an event, the participation of elected officials and judicial officers demonstrates that drug policy reform ideas, including legalization, have gained significant traction in Latin America -- more rapidly than that in the US, where the public official who will publicly identify himself with drug legalization or even drug reform is hard to find.

Bolivian Deputy Dionisio Nunez
Granted there are local elected officials in the US who are strong public advocates of reform -- Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson comes to mind -- but allies of the drug reform movement are in a distinct minority in the federal Congress, and very few of those are brave enough to call for an end to prohibition, even just of marijuana. Similarly, American judges have been known to complain vociferously about drug sentencing practices, but the number publicly embracing fundamental drug law reform is also more limited in public than one might hear from them when behind closed doors.

Not that the judiciary and the politicians south of the border have risen up in mass either. But in Buenos Aires last week an embryonic continental legislative and judicial movement for reform began to articulate itself. That's the way conference hosts the Argentine Harm Reduction Association and the anti-prohibitionist umbrella sponsoring the conference, REFORMA, planned it, creating within the larger conference the 1st Regional Symposium of Legislators and Judges on Drug Policy. The symposium brought in, among others, national legislators Deputy Raul Garcia and Senator Diana Conti from Argentina, Deputy Dionisio Nuñez Tancara from Bolivia, Deputy Pedro Arenas Garcia from Colombia, as well as judges Maria Luisa Karam from Brazil and her Argentine counterparts Martin Vazquez Acuña, Luis Niño, and Eduardo Freiler, and former Colombian attorney general Gustavo de Greiff, who gave the conference's opening address.

The conference and symposium are a continuation of a recent organizing process that kicked with the DRCNet-sponsored Out from the Shadows conference in Mérida, Mexico in 2003, where many of the key players in REFORMA first met. Since then, Latin American drug reformers who came face to face in Mérida and others have congregated at the Global Social Forum meeting in Cartagena, Colombia, also in 2003, and a year ago this month at the Andean Amazon Forum in Popayan, Colombia, where REFORMA was officially born.

"REFORMA wants to create a regional movement aimed at the UN conventions," said Marco Perduca of the International Antiprohibitionist League, also a leading sponsor of the Mérida gathering. While Mérida too had a substantial number of legislators on hand, the Buenos Aires conference marks the first time judges and legislators were made an explicit part of the continental reform effort.

"The drug laws exist without justification," said de Greiff, who is now the honorary head of REFORMA. "In 40 years of drug war, they have not fixed the problem. To the contrary, they have created more evils. They are responsible for the corruption, the crimes of the drug traffickers, the deaths of innocents. And drug use has not diminished. In fact, it is easier to get prohibited drugs now than in the time of Richard Nixon, who began this war and imposed it on the world."

While the legislators and judges reflected the varying concerns of their home countries, their encounter helped make clear that the problems they face -- whether with the repression of coca growing in the Andes, the drug-selling gangs who virtually control the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the thousands of drug users crowding the jails of Argentina, the terrible war in Colombia, or the border violence as traffickers settle accounts in Mexico -- are all linked to the global drug prohibition regime.

"Coca is the identity of the indigenous people of the Andes," said Bolivian congressman Dionisio Nunez Tancara. "The production and consumption of coca has been going on for three or four thousand years here, and we defend coca. These anti-drug policies have affected our Aymara and Quechua populations, as well as those in neighboring countries like Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. We are very critical of these policies and of the UN conventions that support them," he told the audience.

Nunez linked the Bolivian government's attitude to coca production to class. "When the production of coca was in the hands of the great landowners, the Bolivian state defended the production and consumption of coca, but after the land reform of 1952, when the great estates were broken up, the state abandoned its defense of the leaf. Now, the Bolivian government says the coca is destined for the drug trade."

And Nunez linked current policy to the US government. "The Law 1008, which allows only for limited legal production in one area, was approved after only one debate, and it had to be translated from English into Spanish because it originated in Washington," he said. "It was imposed from outside. Now, in a coca growing village of a thousand people, we have four forts full of soldiers and police."

But Bolivian coca growers organized and are about to see one of their own as president, said Nunez. "We created a campesino movement and we organized unions to defend our cultivation, and now the coca movement has found its own political instrument, which is the MAS (Movement Toward Socialism), and now we are close to gaining the presidency."

Coca grower leader and MAS head Evo Morales will win the December presidential election, Nunez told DRCNet later that evening. "Yes, that will happen," he predicted. If it does, it will be a signal event in the history of the Andean coca movement and a real poke in the eye for the US government, whose efforts to derail Morales' candidacy in the last election backfired dramatically, bringing Morales within a whisker of the presidential palace.

For retired Brazilian judge Maria Luisa Karam, the war on drugs violates fundamental tenets of criminal justice. Criminalizing the behavior of consenting adults violates the rule that the criminal law should act only when harm is being caused, and then it should act with proportionality and legality. Criminal law in the field of drug law fails on every count, she said, placing blame largely on the global legal framework of the United Nations anti-drug conventions.

"The functioning prohibitionist and criminalizing discourse found globally in the 'war on drugs' -- a war that is not waged against drugs, but, as in any war, against people, and in this case against the producers, distributors, and users of prohibited substances -- is a fundamental support of the tendency toward the expansion of punitive power," said Karam. "After the attacks of September 11, 2001, terrorism was converted into a new and easier source of legitimation for this increase in punitive power, but the use of the war on drugs for this end has not been abandoned," she noted, in a speech that rang with echoes of French philosopher Michel Foucault, who wrote of the increasing power of the all-seeing "incarceral state."

"Thus legitimated," Karam continued, "social control exercised through the penal system every day incorporates more and more strategies and tactics that identify the announced confrontation with criminal conduct with preventive war or the war against political dissidents in the remaining totalitarian states. The figure of the 'enemy' or of one who behaves in an 'abnormal' or strange way in the view of the dominant morality is confused with the figure of the 'criminal,' the 'terrorist,' or the 'dissident,'" she argued.

Foucault was also on the mind of Argentine Judge Martin Vazquez Acuña, who told the conference we have to look at the paradigm underpinning the penal system. "We are treating not of drugs but of discipline, as per Foucault," said Vazquez Acuña. "We need international norms like those against torture to apply to drugs," he added, linking the freedom to use drugs with the freedom from unwanted psychological treatment. "Drug users have the same rights as any other human being, especially the right to live their lives as they choose."

Coming down from the heights of criminological philosophy to the mean streets of Argentina, where some 230,000 people have been arrested for drug crimes since 1990, the vast majority for possession, and the vast majority of those for the possession of small amounts of marijuana, Vazquez had some blunt words to say about the current Argentine law criminalizing drug possession. "Our drug possession law is unquestionably unconstitutional," he pronounced.

His view was widely shared by Argentine judges, lawmakers, and legal experts at the conference. Argentine Deputy Eduardo Garcia, who has a bill to decriminalize drug possession pending in the congress, reviewed the zig-zag history of drug possession laws in Argentina, noting that the first law criminalizing drug possession came under the military dictatorship in 1978. The vagaries of the law-making process notwithstanding, criminalizing possession is unconstitutional, he averred. "If acts don't create harm, they are protected by the law."

It is not drugs but the drug laws that have done "enormous damage," Garcia said. "They were supposed to protect the public health, but instead we have an AIDS epidemic. They were supposed to reduce drug use, but we have seen an enormous increase in drug use." And an enormous increase in people jailed for drug use. "This enormous repression didn't hurt the drug traffickers; the jails of Argentina aren't full of traffickers, but of users," Garcia said. "Congress must replace the law. Our current law hurts drug users and helps drug traffickers."

For the first time, judges and legislators from across South America came together to make reforming the drug laws an agenda item for the various national political and legal systems. And not only did they dispense a good measure of wisdom about the war on drugs, they got to hear about it first-hand from the front-lines from the likes of Peruvian coca grower leader Nancy Obregon and Brazilian activist and researcher Celia Szterenfeld, who works with the urban gangs of Rio de Janeiro, as well as from Andean legislators like Bolivia's Nunez and Colombian Deputy Pedro Arenas Garcia, who also serves as president of the Communal and Communitarian Movement of Colombia and who is desperately seeking ways to end the drug prohibition-fueled conflict in his country. (In an unusual move, Arenas and his video camera interviewed DRCNet's Phil Smith on his take on Colombia. It should have been the other way around.)

Grand old man of the Latin American drug reform movement Gustavo De Greiff summed up the divergent experiences of the drug war in different countries as well as talking about what tied them together. "It will be different for countries like Argentina and the European countries compared to those countries like Bolivia and Mexico, where they encounter plants that are called drugs," he said. "Taking these different realities into account, we have to ask ourselves what is legalization?"

In Buenos Aires last week, politicians and peasants, judges and junkies, cannabis users and criminologists alike began to ponder exactly that question. And they began to ponder another, equally pressing question: How do we get there from here?

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2. Feature: REFORMA Issues the Buenos Aires Declaration, Eyes 2008 Vienna UN Session

In parallel with the two series of panels that comprised the 1st Latin American Conference on Drug Policy Reform -- the general discussions on drug reform in Latin America and the meetings of legislators and judges on the topic -- the umbrella grouping of Latin American anti-prohibitionist organizations, REFORMA, held a series of meetings during the conference to plot strategy at both the national and international levels. (With Jamaica NORML's Paul Chang joining the REFORMA executive committee, the group will henceforth refer to itself as a Latin American and Caribbean anti-prohibitionist organization.)

Luiz Paulo Guanabara and Gustavo de Greiff
Representing Latin America and the Caribbean were, among others, conference hosts the Argentine Harm Reduction Association, the Brazilian harm reduction group Aborda, the Brazilian organization Psicotropicus, honorary head former Colombian attorney general Gustavo de Greiff, the Colombia-centered group Mama Coca, Jamaica NORML, and the Uruguayan harm reduction group El Abrojo. The working group also included Marco Perduca representing the International Antiprohibitionist League, Joep Oomen representing the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policie, and Phillip Smith of the US-based Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet), also a frankly anti-prohibitionist organization.

In the REFORMA meetings, which occurred before, after, and in between the conference's official sessions, participants hammered out a strategy and plan of action for attacking the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, the series of three United Nations conventions, or treaties, that establish drug prohibition as global policy and which constrain individual nations from deviating from the prohibitionist norms. Those treaties and their effectiveness will be up for review at the special meeting of the UN General Assembly in Vienna in 2008.

Under the conventions, any given country cannot, for example, legalize marijuana without being in breach of the conventions. The necessity of adhering to the conventions is why Holland never officially ended marijuana prohibition even though it is now observed mostly in the breach, at least when it comes to the country's famous cannabis coffee shops.

The REFORMA meetings elaborated a list of actors to target ranging from national governments -- it is only they who have votes at the UN -- to parliamentarians at the national and regional levels, local authorities, scientific experts, the press, and celebrities. Religious leaders were also mentioned, although their significance appeared to escape representatives from secular Europe.

These people and institutions will be targeted by REFORMA and its constituent groups in their respective countries in an effort to demand that countries undertake an evaluation of the impact of current prohibitionist drug policies at the national level. With these comprehensive studies completed, critics of the conventions will be able to present them in Vienna in a challenge to drug war orthodoxy.

REFORMA "must activate and animate" local authorities, such as friendly mayors or health department heads, said ARDA's Silvia Inchaurraga.

"We have two and half years before Vienna, and we need to get busy now," said the IAL's Marco Perduca.

Phil Smith, Luiz Paulo Guanabara, Silvia Inchaurraga, Paul Chang
With plans underway to hold another Latin American drug reform meeting next year in Brazil, the REFORMA agenda and timelines will continue to evolve, with changing the UN conventions being the primary, but not sole, concern of the hemispheric umbrella group.

But REFORMA still has work to do in creating a hemispheric movement. Several major Latin American countries were not represented, notably Cuba and Venezuela, while Mexico's presence was limited to de Greiff, who has made his home in Mexico City for a number of years since serving as Colombia's ambassador. While other countries, including Ecuador, Paraguay, the Central American states and the Guyanas were not present either, REFORMA will concentrate its efforts on the first three.

As the last official act of the 1st Latin American Conference on Drug Reform, REFORMA members agreed to and presented "The Buenos Aires Declaration" formally rejecting the UN conventions and war on drugs-style drug policies, and demanding that national governments embark on rigorous studies of the effect of prohibitionist policies at the national level in time for Vienna in 2008.

"The Buenos Aires Declaration on Drug Policy Reform shows the core of the REFORMA platform and action plan from 2005 to 2008," said Inchaurraga, who sits on the group's executive committee. "Since the creation of the Latin American network in Popayan, Colombia, one year ago, we in the executive we have been discussing ideas to strengthen the anti-prohibitionist movement in Latin America by bringing together different problems related to the war on drugs, including those of drug users, producers, peasants and institutions."

Below is the Buenos Aires Declaration in its entirety:

The Buenos Aires Declaration on Drug Policy Reform

The REFORMA network, meeting on September 7-9, 2005, in Buenos Aires has agreed to issue this document.


  • Prohibitionist policies have failed worldwide, with this failure signifying grave problems for citizens, organizations, producers, peasants, and drug users;
  • Prohibitionist policies have also failed in their effort to control and reduce the supply and demand for drugs
  • Latin America shows significant signs of political, institutional, police, and judicial corruption, the criminalization of users, the demonization of plants, etc.;
  • Alternative approaches have had to and must confront significant obstacles and are in many cases neutralized, as is reflected in the reality that countries that have made progress with harm reduction strategies in the region have usually been associated with the prevention of HIV/AIDS and anti-prohibitionist organizations have not received official support;
  • It is urgent that the agendas of harm reduction not be reduced to the prevention of the transmission of HIV/AIDS but that they include the social, political, and institutional harms associated with phenomenon like police and judicial corruption, urban and institutional violence, and the weakening of individual rights as well as environmental and cultural harms;
  • It is necessary to involve health and legal experts, governments, the means of communications, economists, and leaders in general to demand the reform of drug policies in Latin America;
  • The war on drugs has diverted 80% of the billions of dollars appropriated for the issue toward warlike, repressive, and overwhelmingly police-military ends when this immense amount of resources should have been made available for prevention, aid, and health promotion for the affected populations and the preservation of ecosystems;
  • It is absolutely necessary that actions are coordinated so that human rights includes access to health and information and guarantees of social justice and preservation of the environment.
We resolve:
  • To denounce the harms created by Latin American governments aligning themselves with the policy of a war against drugs, which has been transformed into a war against the ecosystem, plants, indigenous people, peasants, drug users and even anti-prohibitionist thinkers, maximizing social exclusion and the harms derived from the criminalization of poverty;
  • To demand from our governments a rigorous study of the effects and impact of the drug policies that have implemented to this time and a study of the costs of executing these policies to reject the international treaties on drugs;
  • To convoke a group of specialists from the region to form a committee of advisors to REFORMA that will accompany us in creating a document for the United Nations Commission on Drugs in 2008;
  • To call on local and national authorities, professionals, the mass media, and drug user and peasant producer networks to join in the 2nd Latin American Conference on Drug Policy Reform to be held in 2006 in Brazil;
  • To contribute to preserving the human rights of peasants, indigenous people, and drug users beginning with the need to reduce the harms of mistaken policies that have overwhelmingly failed in Latin America, and to support the development and strengthtening of harm reduction in Latin America and campaigns and initiatives for the necessary legislative reforms in the region;
  • To reject public policies that are not in accord with Latin American cultures and traditions, en particular those of indigenous peoples;
  • To reaffirm the ritual, traditional, and medicinal uses of substances like coca leaf and marijuana, and to contribute to the diffusion of scientific evidence in the matter;
  • To conceive drug users as citizens and defend their role as protagonists as health agents in harm reduction programs;
  • To defend the rights of individuals over their own lives and bodies as well as the right of free expression and the right to information about drugs;
  • To push for the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use, home growing for personal use, and the legalization of marijuana for therapeutic use as perfectly viable proposals for the medium term in Latin America;
  • To open the debate over the alternatives of open and controlled legalization through forums with international specialists and the establishment of working links with other anti-prohibitionist organizations around the world;
  • To reject the current UN conventions on drugs and the proposals for alternative development as violations of the sovereignty of signatory states, and to appeal for the defense of the sovereignty of peoples over their legal systems;
  • The demilitarization of the anti-drug agencies and the redistribution of those resources in the field of drug control from the police-court ambit to the areas of health and education.

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3. Feature: Cannabis Culture in Buenos Aires -- Alive and Smokin', But With One Eye Peeled for the Police

Marijuana was by no means the primary focus of last week's 1st Latin American Conference on Drug Policy Reform in Buenos Aires, but as everywhere in the world, its users and supporters make up a good chunk of the drug reform movement. And although when it comes to drug policy reform in Latin America, people are typically talking about coca and cocaine, in Buenos Aires as elsewhere, most drug users are marijuana consumers.

The Buenos Aires cannabis crowd is arguably the most organized in all Latin America, thanks to folks like the Argentine Harm Reduction Association, MariaLibre Coffee House producer Daniel Sam, and Ezequiel Delpra, who along with Leo Diaz and Juana Maria Faselli operates Pulpot, the city's first head shop. Two years ago, ARDA and the city's cannabis culture brought out thousands of people for the first Million Marijuana March in a city famed for the tango but also the birthplace of Argentina's rock nacional and center of the Southern Cone's thriving rave culture.

The city's rave culture also embraces pot, if last Saturday's mega-event featuring South American superstar DJs Martin Garcia and Hernan Cattaneo at the cavernous Costa Salguero was any indication. Some 15,000 or 20,000 bonarenses (residents of Buenos Aires) danced and tranced the night away, many of them obviously using Ecstasy, but many more of them smoking porros, as the stink of crappy Paraguayan pot (the South American equivalent of Mexican brick weed) filled the air. But there were also the occasional whiffs of the kind bud.

The ubiquity of Paraguayan pot at the Saturday night show reflects the situation in the rest of the country. Argentine police make bust after bust of the Paraguayan bricks -- they seized a tanker truck stuffed with 6,600 pounds this week -- but the high-dollar hybrid weed beloved of connoisseurs, while not unknown, is rare, perhaps because growing one's own is simply too scary given crowded conditions and the attitudes of local police, as local activists reported.

"We would like to open a grow store," said Delpra, whose Pulpot head shop limits itself to paraphernalia and pro-cannabis items such as bumper stickers, patches, and posters. "But the time is not yet right." Reflecting the official attitude toward such enterprises, Pulpot has no sign announcing its presence, and it is further hidden by a steel front window shutter drawn down to chest level, obscuring the merchandise within.

Delpra's enterprise is as much about legalizing marijuana as it is about making money, he said, adding that the business barely survives. "We are pushing the law, we are spreading the seed. It is a passion," he said inside his store Tuesday afternoon. "With each sale, we include material about legalization. The police consider this illegal promotion of marijuana. Thus, for example, it is dangerous for us to have a table at festivals."

Delpra and his crew have been creative. One of their projects was the stenciling of marijuana leaves on the green light on city traffic lights. "We do many things," said Faselli. "We also put cannabis leaf stamps on money. People see those and have to think about cannabis," she said.

In another creative action set for this Sunday to mark the spring equinox (Argentina is south of the equator), the Pulpot crew and associated activists will plant a living pot plant in a prominent location, then call the mass media and the police. "You can pull up a plant, but you can't stop spring," said Delpra. The plant will be accompanied by a sign proclaiming "I am giving my life for peace," he added. It's all part of activist campaigns to keep the marijuana issue in the limelight, Delpra said.

The Pulpot people aren't the only ones active in the scene in Buenos Aires. Daniel Sam, a bearded, long-haired, live wire, has operated the MariaLibre Coffeeshop Cultural at various locations in the city since 2000. "We conceived this as a space where we, the pot smokers of Buenos Aires, can develop our cannabis culture, which has almost the same demands all over the world, such as stopping the arrests for smoking marijuana and home-growing as a tool against the true mafia formed by drug traffickers and corrupt police and politicians," Sam explained.

While the coffee shop operated without serious problems in the city center until 2002 and in the Abasto neighborhood until 2004 and as a floating coffee house -- a sort of temporary autonomous zone -- this year, earlier this month police in the Flores neighborhood raided MariaLibre, charging Sam and others with "apology," or promoting marijuana use, and facilitating the sale of marijuana. "We never did that," Sam said. "People only smoked what they brought with them." Sam could also face federal marijuana cultivation charges because police seized and carried off a marijuana plant "which was our host," Sam explained.

But it's not just about marijuana for Sam, who along with his wife provided all sorts of assistance for the Buenos Aires conference. "We will continue with our activities despite this, and we will continue with all of the projects for harm reduction, legalization, and human rights," he said. "Because of what has happened to us and much more, we need the support of the human rights and anti-prohibitionist movements and we need to unite with them."

And that's part of what the Buenos Aires conference was all about. Buenos Aires pot smokers rubbed shoulders with Andean coca growers, Brazilian harm reductionists, and European activists, not to mention Latin American judges and legislators. "It's like the world wide weed," laughed Pulpot's Delpra.

MariaLibre will be back, said Sam, but it will probably continue to have a divided existence. "Yeah, we smoke in the coffee house, as well as in the street and everywhere else, but not always. At the 'daylight' coffee house, people drink beer and coffee and we invite them to sign the petition to modify existing law, and people read and exchange ideas. It's not like a coffee house as much as a center for movement activism," he explained. "But the 'nighttime' coffee house is less public and the activities take on a more spiritual tone where the music and the ambience are ideal for the customary use of cannabis; that is, to smoke it, and to exchange knowledge about home growing and to plan our next interventions."

Last year, the Buenos Aires Million Marijuana March was shut down by police (one that came off without a hassle in the provincial city of Rosario drew 12,000 people), but according to Sam and others, it will be back with a vengeance next year. "The Buenos Aires marches are a grand event," Sam said. "Everybody comes, and we are calling everyone out for the next one in May 2006."

Despite -- or because of -- the repression it faces on a daily basis, the cannabis movement is alive and vibrant in Buenos Aires. And it is learning a lesson Cannabis Nation everywhere needs to learn: It's not just about marijuana. Of course, the movement showed up at the conference, said Sam. "Strength through unity."

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4. Europe: Former Scottish High Court Judge Says Legalize It

Lord McCluskey, a former judge of the Scottish High Court, has become the latest high-profile figure in the United Kingdom to advocate the legalization of heroin and is one of the most senior legal figures in Scotland to have done so. McCluskey's comments come only a week after British Conservative Party leadership contender David Cameron said the United Nations should consider legalizing drugs and less than a month after another senior Scottish legal figure, former procurator fiscal David Hingston called on the government to make drugs "a legalized field."

In an interview with the newspaper The Scotsman published Tuesday, Lord McCluskey qualified current drug policy as a "massive failure" and called for the legal availability of heroin, citing an increasing number of heroin overdose deaths in Scotland. "That is a massive failure of the current way of doing things. Yet we prescribe more of the same. If you want a simple measure of the failure of the present drugs policy, count the number of deaths, year by year. It has gone from zero in the 1970s to one a day," he said.

"If people are addicted to heroin, give them heroin. I'm not suggesting you sell it at newsagents, but if you were to offer it to addicts in a medically controlled setting, there would be no criminal market," Lord McCluskey continued. "We've created a huge market for criminals to operate in. I think the drug element in all criminal behavior is massively greater than we are led to believe. In other countries, drug addiction is treated as a health problem. Here it is treated as a legal problem."

Lord McCluskey's comments won favor from Scottish drug reformers. "What Lord McLuskey is saying is that, if people are addicted to heroin, let's provide it to them in a safe environment. We've called for the same thing in an attempt to get people in touch with services more quickly. You can do it, and they do it in other countries," said Graeme McArthur of the Scottish Drugs Forum. "It's actually quite sensible."

Scotland is currently seeing rising death rates from heroin overdoses and other drug-related causes. According to the Scottish Executive, there were 356 drug deaths last year, up 12% over the previous year, and about 225 of them were heroin or morphine overdoses. But Scottish drug policy is reserved to the British government, and the Labor Party government in London shows no signs of moving in that direction.

In response to a query from The Scotsman, a Home Office spokesman made that clear. "The government has no intention of legalizing the recreational use of any currently controlled drug. Those who advocate legalization take no account of the consequences of the significant increase in use that would follow legalization. Individuals are not the only ones affected by drug misuse; their families and communities are damaged as well."

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5. Weekly: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

With only a pair of stories this week, we go from the small-time to the big-time (and the big house) as a Colorado deputy gets caught smuggling drugs to prisoners and a New Jersey State Police veteran is indicted as part of a massive drug conspiracy. Let's get to it:

In Denver, Denver Sheriff's Department Deputy Solomon Mikael, 34, was arraigned Monday on charges of smuggling pot and cigarettes to Denver County Jail inmates. The seven-year veteran officer was arrested last week and remains in jail with a $100,000 bond. Mikael was arrested after a four-month investigation involving six agencies after allegations that a deputy was smuggling in contraband for inmates. Hmmm, four months, six agencies, and they net one deputy smuggling joints?

In Elizabeth, New Jersey, veteran state trooper Detective Sgt. Moises Hernandez has now been indicted by Union County authorities on charges he used his access to confidential motor vehicle information to identify an undercover surveillance car to an alleged drug dealer. Hernandez first graced these pages when he was suspended from the force without pay in June, but now he is in jail on $150,000 bond, formally charged with second-degree conspiracy, official misconduct, and fourth-degree falsification of documents in a scheme to assist a drug trafficking operation that allegedly went through six pounds of heroin a day. In April, 20 other defendants were arrested in raids in northeastern New Jersey in a four-year-old investigation involving as many as 220 law enforcement officers. They were indicted on racketeering and conspiracy charges this week.

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6. Canada: Liberals Give Up on Marijuana Decriminalization Bill for Now

Canada's CTV News reported Sunday that the much unloved Liberal government bill to decriminalize marijuana is dead at least until after the next elections. First introduced in 2004, the bill would make possession of less than 15 grams a ticketable offense without a criminal record, but it would also increase penalties for any cultivation of more than three pot plants.

Prime Minister Paul Martin's effort to slightly modify Canada's marijuana laws turned out to be the red-headed stepchild of Canadian politics. Pushed only limply by the Liberal Party leadership, the bill was reflexively opposed by the Conservative Party, and won only limited support from the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party, both of whom demanded substantial changes in the bill.

Neither did it garner support from Canada's pot people, who saw it as a measly half-step that could end up making matters worse not only for growers, but also for users, who currently are often left alone by police who don't want to waste time in court on small-time busts but who may feel differently about writing a ticket. In other words, Canadian reformers feared the bill could actually increase enforcement of the marijuana possession laws.

"This bill, I'm just as happy to see it die," Mike Foster of Canada NORML told CTV. "It just doesn't please anybody."

But the bill isn't dead yet, just comatose. Prime Minister Martin has said he will call the next election in mid-December, which could mean an election as early as mid-winter. But unnamed "officials" told CTV that given the lack of support and controversy surrounding the bill, it could be years before another attempt to reform the marijuana laws is made.

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7. Health Canada Revisits Proposal to Distribute Medical Cannabis in Licensed Pharmacies

courtesy NORML News,

Health Canada may resurrect a proposal to make government grown medicinal cannabis available in licensed pharmacies, according to Canadian press reports.

The proposal, first announced by the agency in February of last year, allows for select pharmacies to distribute medical cannabis to authorized patients. Plans now call for the pilot program to begin in British Columbia early next year.

If Health Canada implements the plan, they will become the second nation to allow for the distribution of federally grown cannabis in licensed pharmacies. The Netherlands instituted a similar plan in 2003, though a recent study published in the journal Pharmacoepidemiology Drug Safety notes that more than 80 percent of Dutch patients continue to obtain medical cannabis from the black market and/or coffee shops.

Under Canadian law, patients may apply with Health Canada for a federal exemption to possess and cultivate cannabis for medical purposes. Approximately 950 medical marijuana patients are registered with the agency, although less than 250 currently elect to receive government grown cannabis.

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8. Latin America: In Continuing Spat, US Decertifies Venezuela for Lack of Anti-Drug Cooperation

The Bush administration's long-standing feud with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took another turn for the worse Thursday as the State Department added the South American country to its annual list of countries not waging the war on drugs to Washington's liking. Venezuela halted cooperation in US anti-drug efforts last month, and although Venezuelan officials this week made noises about signing a new anti-drug agreement with Washington, the State Department was having none of it.

The move by Washington is only the latest in an increasingly bitter battle between Chavez, whom the US accuses of being anti-democratic and dictatorial, and the Bush administration, which Chavez accuses of supporting the failed coup attempt in 2003 and of wanting to assassinate him. It is certain to increase tensions between the two countries. The only other country decertified this year is another of Washington's political pariahs, Myanmar, formerly Burma.

In a White House news release, Bush reported to Congress his determination that Venezuela had "failed demonstrably" in the past year to adhere to its obligations under international drug treaties and -- probably more seriously -- failed to follow anti-drug measures ordained by the US government

The annual Washington decertification ritual has long been accused of being a way to spank unfriendly governments while ignoring similar behavior in friendly ones. This year's rite follows that convention, with Washington foes Venezuela and Myanmar being decertified, while China, with whom the US seeks closer relations, was rewarded from being removed from the list of drug-producing or transit countries despite major flows of heroin in and out of the country.

The administration nevertheless waived the decertification provisions requiring the government to cut financial assistance to Caracas, citing -- sincerely or otherwise -- the goal of "strengthening Venezuela's democracy and... political party system."

The annual decertification report listed 21 major drug-producing or drug-transit countries: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. Somehow, the United States, home to massive marijuana production, meth lab mania, and the end destination for a big hunk of the world's illicit drug supply, did not make the list.

The certification determinations required the President to consider each country's performance in areas such as reducing illicit cultivation, interdiction, law enforcement cooperation, extraditing drug traffickers, and taking legal steps and law enforcement measures to prevent and punish public corruption that facilitates drug trafficking or impedes prosecution of drug-related crimes. The President also considered efforts taken by these countries to stop production and export of, and reduce the domestic demand for, illegal drugs.

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9. Web Scan: Cato Pain Forum, Slate on Rehnquist and Placidyl, Alternet on the Marijuana War, NORML Video Blog

Cato Institute forum, video footage, Drug Cops and Doctors: Is the DEA Hampering the Treatment of Chronic Pain?

Jack Shafer discusses the late justice's reliance on the sedative Placidyl for Slate online magazine in Chief Justice Rehnquist's Drug Habit.

Silja Talvi on the government's marijuana war for Alternet in Smoked Out.

New video blog by NORML.

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10. Weekly: This Week in History

September 16, 2003: Seattle voters approve Initiative 75 by 57.8% to 42.2%. I-75 instructs local police and prosecutors to make adult marijuana possession their lowest priority.

September 17, 1998: 93 members of Congress vote yes in the first vote on medical marijuana to take place on the floor of the House.

September 17, 2002: Santa Cruz, California, officials allow a medical marijuana giveaway at City Hall to protest federal raids.

September 20, 1999: The public is finally informed of the results of Washington, DC's Initiative 59, the Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1998, after Judge Richard Roberts orders the release of the tally previously suppressed by Congress. Voters had supported medical marijuana by 69-21%

September 21, 1969: In an attempt to reduce marijuana smuggling from Mexico, the Customs Department, under Commissioner Myles Ambrose, launches Operation Intercept, subjecting every vehicle crossing the Mexican border to a three-minute inspection and to many observers marking the beginning of the modern was on drugs. The operation lasts two weeks and wreaks economic havoc on both sides of the border, but fails to seriously impact the flow of marijuana into the US.

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11. Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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

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 21, 9:30-11:00am, Boston, MA, Forum on Student Drug Testing with representatives of organizations taking a range of viewpoints. Sponsored by Avitar, a workplace drug testing company, at the Copley Sheraton, 39 Dalton St., contact Maura Landry at (617) 681-1229 or [email protected] to RSVP.

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 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].

October 21-23, Chicago, IL, "Partnering for Peace: Colombian and North American Communities in Solidarity," and "Encounter of Communities," sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and others. Visit or contact Natalie Cardona at (215) 241-7162 or [email protected] for further information.

October 26, Washington, DC, "Rally for Rescheduling: Demand HHS Reschedule Marijuana Now!" Demonstration for medical marijuana at the US Dept. of Health & Human Services, 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.

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