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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #408 -- 10/21/05

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items


recent blog posts "In the Trenches" activist feed


"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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Celebrity Perry Fund event in Los Angeles, Monday, November 7 -- you're invited!

You're also invited to the 2005 International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Long Beach -- hope to see you at both events!

Table of Contents

    outside MOMA's comfort zone, apparently
    America's war on drugs continued full steam ahead last year, and nearly 800,000 marijuana law violators were among those paying the price.
    After an 18-month review, Toronto's Drug Strategy Advisory Committee has called for changes including decriminalization of marijuana possession and consideration of a safe injection site for hard drug users.
    Leaders of a rave culture harm reduction organization were eagerly awaiting seeing their work on exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art last week. But when they got there the result was disappointing.
    Join DRCNet and friends at a celebrity fundraiser for the John W. Perry Fund, our scholarship program helping students who have lost government financial aid for college because of drug convictions.
    No beating around the bush for this top cop...
    The corrupt cop beat is lonely this week -- only one case worth mentioning, and in that one a Pennsylvania detective apparently got away with the goods.
    A California State Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement agent went on trial this week for the February 2004 killing of Rodolfo "Rudy" Cardenas.
    In the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the New Orleans Police Department's Vice and Narcotics Squad is eager to get back to busting nonviolent drug offenders.
    Certain anti-drug programs are apparently on the chopping block as Congress seeks ways to pay for Gulf Coast rebuilding amidst a sea of red ink.
    Stop the presses! Legal drugs are a "greater menace" to public health than the illegal ones, an addiction expert in India says.
    In a position paper released during an international symposium on drug policy this week, the Health Officers Council of British Columbia called the war on drugs an "abysmal failure."
    It's always a question whether candidates will hold to their views stated during campaigns once elected. But if these two mean it, medical marijuana will have a friend in the governor's office in New Jersey next year.
  13. WEB SCAN
    Stamper, Hartford, Emery, Prosecutorial Zealotry, LEAP
    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: Marijuana Arrests at All-Time High Again

America's war on drugs continued full steam ahead last year, with the FBI reporting in its annual Uniform Crime Report Monday that an estimated 771,608 persons were arrested on marijuana charges in 2004, nearly nine out of ten of them charged with simple possession. The figure is an all-time high, breaking last year's record of 755,000, and gives the lie to oft-repeated law enforcement claims that marijuana enforcement is not a high priority. While marijuana use levels have been near stagnant in the past decade, the number of pot arrests has more than doubled since 1993.

marijuana bust reenactment, from BUSTED
The number of people arrested on marijuana charges in the US last year is greater than the population of the entire state of South Dakota (755,000), or for those urban dwellers, nearly as many as the population of San Francisco (777,000) and more than all of Jacksonville (736,000), Columbus, Ohio (711,000), or Austin (657,000).

Marijuana arrests accounted for 44.2% of all drug arrests, but it's not just pot arrests that were sky-high. The total number of drug arrests topped 1.74 million last year, and again, the vast majority -- 81% -- were for simple drug possession. Although drug use levels have remained relatively flat over the past decade, the number of drug arrests has increased by more than 9% since 2000 and nearly 23% since 1994.

Drug arrests were the single highest arrest category, edging out drunk driving (1.43 million arrests), simple assault (1.28 million), and petty larceny (1.19 million). There were more drug arrests than arrests for all property crimes combined (1.65 million) and more than three times more drug arrests than arrests for all violent crimes combined (590,000). (Simple assaults are not included in the serious violent crime category, which tallies aggravated assault, murder and intentional manslaughter, rape, and robbery.)

But it was the high number of marijuana arrests that brought out the critics. "These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor marijuana offenders," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "This effort is a tremendous waste of criminal justice resources that diverts law enforcement personnel away from focusing on serious and violent crime, including the war on terrorism."

"If we look at the government surveys, marijuana use has been stable or trending a bit downward in recent years, and yet we keep setting new records for the number of arrests," said Marijuana Policy Project communications director Bruce Mirken. "This strongly suggests that the arrest rates are driven by law enforcement priorities, what cases the cops choose to investigate, which arrests they decide to make. It is local police priorities that are causing this to happen. Reasonable people have to ask if this makes any sense," he told DRCNet. "Maybe there is a better use for these law enforcement resources, such as going after actual criminal or terrorists or other dangerous folks."

There are regional variations, noted Mirken. "While marijuana arrests as a percentage of all drug arrests increased from 39.9% in 1995 to 44.2% last year, the percentage of pot arrests was lowest in the West. Where things really went through the roof is in the Northeast, where marijuana arrests went from 36.3% of all drug arrests to 48.5%. Why that is happening in the Northeast I don't know, but somebody up there is putting more emphasis on marijuana smokers."

A marijuana arrest has human costs, ranging from a criminal record to loss of student financial aid and potential career difficulties. Sometimes the consequences of a simple pot bust are even more serious.

"It's important to remember that each of these statistics represents a human being, and in many cases, a preventable tragedy," said Aaron Houston, MPP director of government relations. "One of those marijuana arrests in 2004 was Jonathan Magbie, a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient who died in the Washington, DC, city jail while serving a 10-day sentence for marijuana possession. Had Congress not blocked the district's medical marijuana law from taking effect, Jonathan Magbie would almost certainly be alive today."

"Arresting adults who smoke marijuana responsibly needlessly destroys the lives of tens of thousands of otherwise law abiding citizens each year," NORML's St. Pierre said. "With nearly 17 million citizens arrested on marijuana-related charges since 1965, is now not the time for the state and federal governments to finally consider legally controlling marijuana via taxation? Is not such a public policy preferable to the current one where government arrests an extraordinary amount of citizens for an adult behavior that is not deviant, or, for that matter, dissimilar than consuming products that contain alcohol?"

Of the 17 million marijuana arrests mentioned by St. Pierre, nearly half have occurred in the last 10 years. Almost eight million people have been busted for pot since 1995.

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2. Feature: Toronto Moves Toward Four Pillars-Style Drug Policy

After a comprehensive 18-month review of drug policy in Canada's largest city, Toronto's Drug Strategy Advisory Committee has issued a report calling on the city to adopt a comprehensive approach to drugs similar to the Four Pillars strategy (prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and law enforcement) adopted across the continent in Vancouver earlier this decade. Containing 66 specific recommendations, the Toronto Drug Strategy calls for increased emphasis on prevention, the decriminalization of cannabis possession, and a larger role for harm reduction programs, including consideration of a safe injection site for hard drug users similar to the one already in operation in Vancouver.

downtown Toronto
The advisory committee included five city councilors, including committee chair Councillor Kyle Rae, as well as representatives of the city's public health, police, housing, and social development departments and representatives from Health Canada and the Canadian Department of Justice. It also included 26 community members representing drug prevention, treatment, mental health, and harm reduction organizations. Notably, and in stark contrast with similar panels in the United States, the committee also explicitly included drug user representatives as stakeholders in drug strategy issues.

"It is important that we had drug users on the committee," said Councillor Rae. "They tend to be isolated and stigmatized, and many people forget they are our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. If we need programs to assist the people who are addicted, who better to consult? I'm not interested in moralizing; this is about their experiences and their needs. We could pretend the American model works, but all it has done is create a need for more jails. Making drug users stakeholders in this process was useful in helping all of us manage the drug problem," he told DRCNet.

The key recommendation, said Councillor Rae, was the one calling for an implementation committee to plot the next steps in the city's drug strategy. "This report balances the interests of public health and public order. I am proud of what we have accomplished together and we now need to build on the excellent work behind these recommendations."

"We need to step up our efforts, especially in prevention and harm reduction," said Dr. David McKeown, Toronto Medical Officer of Health. "The report sets a direction that will contribute to improving community safety and building stronger neighborhoods."
While numerous drug strategy recommendations are unsurprising, such as those calling for better targeting and delivery of treatment and prevention services, the committee's call for improved housing, income, and job opportunities for at risk populations is something beyond the ken of similar plans to the South. Likewise, the strategy's explicit acknowledgement that alcohol is the most widely used substance and its recommendations that liquor laws be tightened and liquor licenses restricted are unlikely to ever appear in an American city's drug strategy.

The strategy is also remarkably brief when it comes to the law enforcement component, limiting its enforcement calls to supporting "increased enforcement efforts... targeting high-level drug traffickers, importers, and producers of illegal substances" and "ensuring resources are available... to effectively respond to illegal drug production operations such as marijuana grow operations." Other than that, the strategy largely calls on law enforcement to ramp down. Other policing recommendations include urging increased use of drug court instead of incarceration, exploring "alternative enforcement strategies" such as merely ticketing drug users, and exploring alternative community justice approaches.

On the harm reduction front, the strategy calls for Toronto to expand already existing needle exchange and other harm reduction programs, "including the provision of equipment to support safer use of substances... to reach marginalized users, in particular people who use crack cocaine." Other harm reduction recommendations include funding a 24-hour drug crisis center, more harm reduction programs in shelters, and more harm reduction programs in jails and prisons, including needle exchange.

For Toronto Police Chief William Blair, who supports the overall drug strategy, both handing out crack kits and the marijuana decriminalization proposal were problematic. "Certain of these recommendations have the potential to do more harm than good," he said after the strategy's release. "The chief believes there needs to be an overall drug strategy," said Councillor Rae, "even if he has problems with a couple of specific recommendations, one of which is decriminalization, and that's because existing law says it's illegal and he's not going to say it should be changed. But that recommendation merely reflects what the federal government has said it wants to do, and once that becomes the law, the chief will just have to live with it," Rae told DRCNet.

The chief wasn't the only one with at least initial reservations about harm reduction. "I wasn't sold on harm reduction at first," said Councillor Michael Thompson, who sat on the advisory committee. "But Dr. Sheila Bursar, the chief medical officer for Ontario, convinced me that we needed to look at our drug strategy from a harm reduction perspective. While some drug sellers create havoc in society, for the most part drug use is a medical issue and it didn't appear that we had enough of a structure in place to help people," he told DRCNet.

Thompson and others toured Vancouver and talked to officials there about their experiences, he said. "You have the safe injection site there. It's not something we were necessarily enamored with, but we had a chance to see how that particular program is helping people in Vancouver," he said. "Mayor Campbell seems to think it's working, and so do senior police officers there. We were pleasantly surprised, and the community here is quite interested."

While Thompson originally approached Toronto's drug milieu from a position of tackling drug-related violence, the reliance on the criminal justice system to control drug problems now seems less attractive. "The police are there to enforce the laws, but we are working to help them recognize that we don't necessarily want to criminalize people, such as those in possession of small amounts of marijuana."

Thompson was referring to the strategy's recommendation that Toronto urge the federal government to pass its much unloved decriminalization bill, which satisfies neither the pot people nor the law and order types. Under that bill, which died again this year, possession of up to 15 grams would be punishable by a fine, but penalties for all but the smallest grows would be increased. The Toronto drug strategy recommendation does not go far enough, said marijuana activists.

"It's good to see they are still calling for the government to continue down the path of regulating cannabis, but that federal decriminalization bill is not really decrim at all, just alternative penalties," said Tim Meehan of Ontario Consumers for Safe Access to Recreational Cannabis. And even true decriminalization will not solve the problem of bad marijuana getting into the market and will not resolve issues around supply, such as the grow ops. Grow ops are not inherently dangerous, so we have to fight the myths around that, but there is the prohibition factor, so you see large-scale grows run by Asian gangs, as well as problems from illegal wiring and theft of power to avoid detection," he told DRCNet. "Legalizing marijuana was never raised seriously by the people on the strategy committee," said Rae. "There were some people at the public meetings who jumped up and said we should legalize it, but it was not seriously considered."

Perhaps the drug strategy needs to catch up with Toronto reality when it comes to marijuana, said Meehan. "The cannabis culture here is quiet but thriving. You can walk around the streets of Toronto smoking and nobody will call the police," he said. "We also have three Vancouver-style cannabis cafes, where you bring your own. While legalization is a federal issue, I would like to see Toronto open a compassion club for recreational users, or at least have the council cut off police funding for marijuana enforcement and redirect into other, more critical programs."

Despite the criticism of the relatively weak position on marijuana, the Toronto Drug Strategy stands as a model of a progressive approach to drug policy, but it is not a done deal yet. On Monday, the strategy will go to the Board of Health, where the city's chief medical officer is a strong supporter. From there, it's on to the police service board and the council's policy and finance committee. In December, it will go before the full council for final approval.

"This is obviously a work in progress," said Councillor Thompson. "We have 66 recommendations and we are going to start working on the ones that are doable now. There are still areas that need more work, but the bottom line is that we've been trying things for years now that don't work, and it's time to think outside the box."

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3. Feature: MOMA Exhibit Mutes DanceSafe's Drug Harm Reduction Message

Last week, Marc Brandl, executive director of the rave culture harm reduction organization DanceSafe was feeling pretty pleased. After months of back and forth with one of America's most prestigious art institutions, some of DanceSafe's harm reduction materials were slated to appear in an exhibit at New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

DanceSafe drug information card
"DanceSafe is proud to announce that our drug information cards, Adulterant Screening Kits, and poster will be going on display at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. The harm reduction- based tools we have used for years to educate and empower people around the world will be included in a special exhibit called 'SAFE -- Design Takes on Risk,'" Brandl announced last week.

According to MOMA, the SAFE exhibit "features a carefully selected array of more than 300 contemporary design objects and prototypes from all over the world designed for a variety of reasons: to protect body and mind from dangerous or stressful circumstances; respond to emergency situations; ensure clarity of information; and provide a sense of comfort and security. The objects displayed in the exhibition address the spectrum of human fears and worries, from the most exceptional to the most mundane, from the dread of earthquakes and terrorist attacks to fear of darkness and loneliness."

This week, after seeing the exhibit, Brandl and DanceSafe were singing a different tune. Most of the DanceSafe materials were not in the exhibition. Of all the materials DanceSafe provided to the museum, the only item to make it into the show was a postcard on the dangers of hearing loss. To add insult to injury, the exhibit also distorted DanceSafe's drug education and harm reduction mission statement, making the group appear as if it were devoted to sonic harm reduction, not reducing the harms of drug use under prohibition.

"We had been in contact with them since March, when the approached us asking if they could use our cards for an exhibit, and we signed an agreement to that effect," Brandl told DRCNet. "I even made a last minute phone call last week, and they assured us everything was all set. We didn't have any indication that our materials had been cut; all they said was that everything was ready to go," he said.

"But when we got to the opening, all they had on display was our card about hearing protection and they described us as an organization that works at parties to help people with their hearing and to get home safely -- there was no mention at all of drugs," Brandl said. "Now, hearing safety and getting people home safely is in our mission statement, but 95% of our mission is drug-related harm reduction, as in drug education and pill testing at concerts."

At the MOMA exhibit, DanceSafe was described as "a not-for-profit organization targeting the rave and nightclub community encouraging protecting hearing loss and getting home safely."

That's not quite how DanceSafe sees itself. According to the group's mission statement, available on its web site, "DanceSafe is a nonprofit, harm reduction organization promoting health and safety within the rave and nightclub community... We train our volunteers to be health educators and drug abuse prevention counselors within their own communities, utilizing the principles and methods of harm reduction and popular education. Our volunteers staff harm reduction booths at raves, nightclubs and other dance events where they provide information on drugs, safer sex, and other health and safety issues concerning the electronic dance community (like driving home safely and protecting one's hearing). We also provide adulterant screening or pill testing services for ecstasy users... Our information and services are directed primarily towards non-addicted, recreational drug users. Non-addicted drug users are an under-served population within the harm reduction movement, despite the fact that they comprise the vast majority of drug users in our society. While many organizations exist that provide services to drug-dependent individuals, few groups address the needs of the majority of non-addicted, recreational users. We hope to fill this gap..."

Brandl and other DanceSafe members suspect that MOMA pulled the drug information cards and adulterant testing kit because the museum did not want to step into the controversial territory of making drug use safer, but that suspicion remains unconfirmed.

"The first thing that popped into my mind when I saw the exhibit was the drug war strikes again," said Brandl. "I am sorry to see drug war politics creep into a modern art museum that is cutting edge and supposedly above such things."

Paola Antonelli, MOMA curator of architecture and design and the person in charge of the exhibit, didn't provide any confirmation of Brandl's thesis in her relatively non-responsive response to a DRCNet query about the matter. "DanceSafe was selected for SAFE is because we are in awe of their approach to safety by means of harm reduction," she said in an e-mail. "We feel that the strategy and the way it is realized with design are admirable and valuable. We are proud to have them in the exhibition."

As for the missing drug-related materials, all Antonelli would say was, "Very often, when the installation happens, the original checklist gets revised and works might be dropped. Other works in the exhibition were similarly sacrificed. I am sorry that they have felt misrepresented. Our intention was quite the opposite, giving wide visibility to a company that is doing a lot of good."

Antonelli has not responded to a second DRCNet query requesting clarification about whether concern about promoting safer drug use was a factor in the decision to not use the drug information cards or testing kit.

DanceSafe is not just complaining; the group's New York City chapter met Wednesday night to plot strategy. "We have not made a final decision about what to do about this, but it's possible we may distribute some of our information cards that were not included outside of the MOMA or to people going in," said Allison McKim, who along with Sarah Hill is co-director of DanceSafe NYC. "I was talking to national director Marc Brandl about some strategies to get some media attention. I suspect in the next few days we will probably distribute in or near the MOMA itself," she told DRCNet. "We will also encourage our members and friends to complain to MOMA about this."

For McKim, too, MOMA's decisions on the DanceSafe materials were mystifying. "I'm very surprised in part because when they are doing an exhibit about design approaches to dealing with risk, it seems like it would be very appropriate for tackling issues like drug use," she observed.

For whatever reasons, MOMA chose differently.

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4. Event: Celebrity Perry Fund Reception in Los Angeles, Monday, November 7 -- You're Invited

DRCNet (Drug Reform Coordination Network) Foundation invites you to a special event supporting:

Scholarships for Students Denied Federal Financial Aid Because of Drug Convictions, Memorializing a Hero of 9/11 and Champion of Civil Liberties

featuring celebrity keynote speaker RICK OVERTON and celebrity emcee DEAN CAMERON.

Monday, November 7, 2005, 6:00-8:00pm, home of Richard Wolfe, 7171 Chelan Way, Los Angeles. RSVP to [email protected], (202) 362-0030. Light refreshments will be served, cash bar, $50 minimum requested donation (sliding scale available upon request).

Supporting speakers to include: Marisa Garcia, SSDP activist & student affected by the HEA drug provision; Pat Hurley, California Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators; David Borden, DRCNet; others to be announced.


RICK OVERTON is a prominent comic/actor/writer in Hollywood. His film credits include roles in Fat Albert, Cloud Nine, Mrs. Doubtfire, Groundhog Day, Blind Fury, Beverly Hills Cop, Airplane II: The Sequel and many others. On television he had a starring role in the series Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures; Joan of Arcadia, Seinfeld, JAG, The Tonight Show, The Late Show With David Letterman and NYPD Blue are only a few of his guest TV appearances. He appears as himself in the recent movie The Aristocrats, as well as on the television specials Comic Remix and The Sunday Comics. Overton won an Emmy for his writing during the 1995-1996 season of Dennis Miller Live. His web site can be found at online.

DEAN CAMERON has the dubious distinction of being known as "that guy" from "those movies" -- Summer School, Bad Dreams, Rockula, Men At Work, Ski School, Sleep With Me, Kicking and Screaming, to name a few. On television his work includes a recurring role on Mr. Sterling, guest appearances on Will & Grace, ER, Mad About You, Felicity, Any Day Now, and regular roles on Fast Times, Spencer and They Came From Outer Space. Cameron is a writer, stage actor and producer -- his two person comedy "The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam" was a sell-out hit at the Edinburgh Fringe festival and will open off-Broadway next spring. Cameron also plays bass with the band The Thornbirds. Visit to learn more about him.


In 1998, Congress enacted an amendment to the Higher Education Act that denies loans, grants, even work-study jobs to tens of thousands of would-be students every year who have drug convictions. All these young people, who were already punished once for their offenses, are being forced to spend more time working to pay for school, reducing their course loads, or dropping out entirely. Since that time, a campaign to overturn the law has spread to hundreds of campuses around the nation, aided by civil rights, education, religious, substance abuse recovery and drug policy reform organizations. A bill to repeal the HEA drug provision, H.R. 1184 (the RISE Act), was reintroduced on March 9 by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and has so far garnered 69 cosponsors. A resolution opposing the drug provision has been adopted by more than 115 student governments at the time of this writing (October 2005), and more than 250 national and state organizations have called for the law's repeal.

DRCNet (Drug Reform Coordination Network) Foundation, in partnership with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and other friends of civil liberties, has created the John W. Perry Fund to help students affected by the law stay in school. Though we can directly assist only a fraction of the 34,000 would-be students who've lost aid this year alone, we hope through this program to make a powerful statement that will build opposition to the law among the public and in Congress, and to let thousands of young people around the country know about the campaign to repeal it and the movement against the drug war as a whole.

Please join DRCNet on November 7 in Los Angeles to help make a statement while raising money to help students affected by the law stay in school! If you can't make it, you can also help by making a generous contribution to the DRCNet Foundation for the John W. Perry Fund. Checks should be made payable to DRCNet Foundation, with "scholarship fund" or "John W. Perry Fund" written in the memo or accompanying letter, and sent to: DRCNet Foundation, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. DRCNet Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, and your contribution will be tax-deductible as provided by law. Please let us know if we may include your name in the list of contributors accompanying future publicity efforts.


John William Perry was a New York City police officer and Libertarian Party and ACLU activist who spoke out against the "war on drugs." He was also a lawyer, athlete, actor, linguist and humanitarian. On the morning of September 11, 2001, John Perry was at One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan filing retirement papers when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Without hesitation he went to help, losing his life rescuing others. We decided to dedicate this scholarship program, which addresses a drug war injustice, to his memory. John Perry's academic achievements are an inspiring example for students: He was fluent in several languages, graduated from NYU Law School and prosecuted NYPD misconduct cases for the department. His web site is

Visit for further information on DRCNet. Contact the Perry Fund at [email protected] or (202) 362-0030 to request a scholarship application, get involved in the HEA Campaign or with other inquiries, or visit and online.

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5. Quote of the Week: Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper on Legalization of All Drugs

Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper in Sunday's LA Times:

"...I don't favor decriminalization. I favor legalization, and not just of pot but of all drugs, including heroin, cocaine, meth, psychotropics, mushrooms and LSD."
Read DRCNet's interview with Stamper, where he explains how his views have evolved since publication of his book to embrace outright legalization. Make a donation to DRCNet and order your copy of Stamper's book, Breaking Rank, today!

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6. Weekly: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The corrupt cop beat is lonely this week. Only one case worth mentioning, and in that one a Pennsylvania detective apparently got away with the goods. Without further ado:

In Whitpain, Pennsylvania, an investigation into drugs missing from the township police department's evidence room has concluded without any charges being filed, the Philadelphia Reporter noted last week. According to Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, former police Detective Sgt. William Bunting was named by other law enforcement officers as the probable culprit, but Castor couldn't make the case.

"We were asked by the Chief (Joseph Stemple) to investigate narcotics that went missing from the evidence room‚" Castor said. "We were unable to determine how the drugs became missing." That was because department policy allowed too many people access to the evidence room, he said. "We couldn't determine with sufficient particularity who we thought was stealing the drugs‚" Castor said. He added that he had written a letter to the department urging it to "drastically tighten up" its policies. Chief Stemple said he has now done that.

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7. Newsbrief: Trial for California Narc Who Killed Rudy Cardenas Gets Underway

A California State Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement agent went on trial this week for the February 2004 killing of Rodolfo "Rudy" Cardenas. Agent Michael Walker faces voluntary manslaughter charges in the shooting death of the 44-year-old Cardenas, who was gunned down in a downtown San Jose alley -- shot in the back -- as he fled police. The police mistook Cardenas for a parole violator they were attempting to arrest.

protest of Cardenas killing
(photo from Santa Cruz IndyMedia)
As police gathered at the home of Gonzales to arrest him, Cardenas drove up in a van, then sped away. He ditched the van in downtown San Jose and fled on foot, when he was shot and killed by Walker.

Walker and his attorneys are claiming self-defense. Walker claims he thought Cardenas had a gun, but he did not. He was carrying a pocket knife, which was found in his pants pocket. Walker also claimed he though he was pursuing parole violator David Gonzales, who was wanted on a drug violation and whom police considered dangerous. "I fired just as soon as I perceived an imminent threat," Walker told an unusual public grand jury proceeding last summer.

The killing of Cardenas, a father of five, came in a joint operation by state narcotics police, parole officers, and San Jose City police. San Jose police criticized the state narcs during the grand jury proceeding and are expected to give similar testimony in the trial.

Based on his grand jury statements and arguments on motions filed in the case, Deputy District Attorney Lane Liroff will argue that the drug agents recklessly pursued Cardenas after only glimpsing a photograph of the man they were supposed to be chasing, and that Walker shot Cardenas as he pleaded for his life. "Every step demanding sober caution... was missed," Liroff said during the grand jury hearing.

Attorneys for Walker filed a pre-trial motion seeking to present evidence that Cardenas had a "suicide by cop" death wish, but that motion was denied. A pre-trial motion seeking to implicate other agencies in the case was also denied. But a motion seeking to present evidence that Cardenas had a history of low-level drug offenses and was using methamphetamine when he was killed was granted.

Prosecutor Liroff didn't think much of the defense motions. "This is all about making the victim worthwhile to kill," he said during heated hearings on the motions.

Cardenas' killing outraged elements of the Bay Area Hispanic community, which has led marches and demonstrations demanding justice for him. Cardenas' family, led by daughter Regina Cardenas, 27, has been steadfast in demanding that the police shooter be held accountable. "It affects our entire community. What happened didn't just happen to my dad," she told the San Jose Mercury News this week.

The Walker prosecution marks the first time a California state narc has ever been tried for an on-duty killing and the first time in three decades that a police officer in Santa Clara County has been tried for such an offense. Walker faces up to 10 years in prison, plus a possible enhancement for the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

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8. Post-Hurricane: New Orleans Narcs Itching to Make More Busts

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans doesn't have the money to prosecute its current prisoners, prisoners whose sentences have been completed are being held weeks beyond their release date, the city still can't find 169 prisoners missing since the storm, and doesn't have a prison to keep them in (the Amtrak station is serving as a makeshift jail) if it does find them. The police department has seen 250 officers desert their posts during the flood, four officers charged with brutality, and others accused of looting. Oh, and the chief of police resigned.

But none of that is stopping the New Orleans Police Department's Vice and Narcotics Squad. In an interview this week with the Kansas City Star, head narc Capt. Tim Bayard said his 48-officer unit stayed intact throughout the crisis. The spirit of police camaraderie within the unit was so high that the entire squad, including women, shaved their heads in a statement of solidarity. "Even the women shaved their heads, ya know?" Bayard explained. "We have a dedicated bunch here."

This week, after weeks of dealing with the hurricane and its aftermath, the drug squad is itching to get back in business. Using storm-damaged Wagner's Meat Market on Claiborne Street as their station, the narcs gathered to get their orders from Bayard.

It was time to get out and bust some dopers, Bayard told his eager squad. "Stay together. Hunt in packs. And I want to drive this point home: Get in touch with your snitches. Let's get something going... If you got bad guys you can deal with, set it up. I'd like to get back to doing real police work again."

"Alright!" came the chorus of replies.

New Orleans may be recovering from the terrible damage of Hurricane Katrina, but some of its residents will soon suffer new damage inflicted by prohibition's war without end.

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9. Post-Hurricane: Congressional Conservatives Eye Cuts in Anti-Drug Spending to Pay for Katrina Relief -- Reformers Clamor for More

With the US federal budget drowning in a sea of red ink and buffeted by demands for more spending to rebuild the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast, Congress this week is eying budget cuts to partially make up the difference, and some Republican conservatives are putting previously untouchable drug war programs on the cutting block. Drug reformers are applauding the idea, but calling for more, deeper cuts in the anti-drug budget.

Late last month, a group of small government congressional conservatives known as the Republican Study Committee proposed budget cuts or "offsets," to make up for massive federal spending increases necessitated by Hurricane Katrina. Led by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), the 86-member committee largely aimed its belt-tightening proposal, known as Operation Offset, at traditional conservative targets such as Medicare, federal funding for energy conservation and research, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Humanities, school lunch programs, community health centers, and pension and health benefits for retired federal workers.

But this time the conservatives are also calling for the elimination of the Office of National Drug Control Policy's much criticized media program aimed at preventing teen drug use, the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program (the Bush administration axed it and the Byrne law enforcement assistance program from this year's federal budget, although a battle is brewing to keep those line items intact), and capping funding for Plan Colombia, or the Andean Regional Initiative, as it is currently known, at current levels.

The drug budget cuts called for by the Republican Study Committee would save $8.4 billion over the next 10 years, a move welcomed by the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that has been cultivating fiscal conservatives as part of its overall effort to rein in the drug war. "We've finally seen a push by the GOP to return to their fiscally conservative roots and eliminate wasteful drug war programs that are neither working nor effective," said Ken Collins, DPA deputy director of national affairs (and former communications director for Rep. Pence). "While there are a number of suggested cuts where we don't see eye-to-eye, we are in total agreement when it comes to cutting the wasteful and ineffective anti-drug programs," added Collins.

But the conservatives should go even further, DPA argues. The group is calling on the Congress to approve the drug budget cuts and then some. Congress should approve the Bush administration's bush to cut the Byrne grant program, which goes to fund local anti-drug task forces across the country, DPA said. Doing so would save the taxpayers $8 billion over the next 10 years. And while the congressional conservatives called for capping or "leveling" spending on the Andean initiative, DPA is calling for its elimination. That's another $7 billion saved over the next decade. Under the DPA proposal, savings would nearly triple from the conservatives' $8.4 billion to $22 billion over the next 10 years.

Citing an Office of Management and Budget review that found the federal drug control programs ineffectual, DPA said now is the time to get serious about cutting the drug budget. "If ever there were a time to cut the drug war budget, this is it. We agree with OMB. It's just about impossible to find a drug war program that's worth a dime. Yet Congress insists on flushing billions down the drug war drain," said Bill Piper, DPA director of national affairs. "Our elected officials have an obligation to find the money to fund relief for Americans affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and especially to assist those most in need. One clear way to do this is to eliminate ineffective drug war programs."

Let's see if Congress is listening.

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10. Asia: Calm Words from an Indian Drug Expert

Stop the presses! From India comes a drug expert who is not convinced that "party drugs" like heroin, cocaine, and marijuana are his country's gravest substance abuse problem. Dr. Vivek Benegal, associate professor of psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, told the Press Trust of India Tuesday that legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco, non-prescription sedatives, and inhalants are "a greater menace" to the public health than illegal drugs.

Illegal drugs account for less than 5% of India's substance abuse problems, Benegal said, although he cautioned that recent data point toward an increase in heroin and cannabis use. Known locally as ganja, bhang, or charas, cannabis has a long history of religious and social use in the subcontinent.

Marijuana is popular among college students who use it as a "stress buster," Benegal said. The weed has "mildly hallucinogenic properties, which plays with their perceptions and makes them feel more creative," he explained. While Benegal expressed concern over youthful use of marijuana, he called for prevention over prohibition. "Our effort therefore is to delay the first use of the drug among the young by educating them because prohibition has never worked," he said.

Benegal advocated a harm reduction approach to both drugs and sex. Such measures should not be limited to institutional settings such as schools and colleges, but should be made available to the general public and especially to marginalized populations, he said.

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11. Canada: British Columbia Health Officials Call for Discussion on Regulation of Illicit Drugs

In a position paper released during an international symposium on drug policy in Vancouver this week, the Health Officers Council of British Columbia qualified the war on drugs as "an abysmal failure" and called for public discussion on regulating currently illicit drugs in place of the current prohibition regime. The document, "A Public Health Approach to Drug Control in Canada", advocates a health-based alternative approach instead of one heavily reliant on law enforcement.

The time is right for Canada to move beyond prohibitionist approaches, said the provincial health officers. "Current conditions are right to enter into serious public discussions regarding the creation of a regulatory system for currently illegal drugs in Canada, with better control and reduced harms to be achieved by management in a tightly controlled system," they wrote in the document. "The removal of criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use, and placement of these currently illegal substances in a tight regulatory framework, could both aid implementation of programs to assist those engaged in harmful drug use, and reduce secondary unintended drug-related harms to society that spring from a failed criminal-prohibition approach. This would move individual harmful illegal drug use from being primarily a criminal issue to being primarily a health issue."

The health officers recommended a number of steps, including the reform of provincial, federal, and international drug laws; the establishment of comprehensive prevention, treatment, and harm reduction services for drug users; improved information sharing on the health and social impacts of drug use; and the development of Canada-wide public health strategies to manage the use of psychoactive substances.

While suggesting that non-prohibitionist approaches to illicit drugs would be more workable, the health officers also called for tighter regulation of widely used legal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco.

The document was released as part of a two-day conference, "Beyond Drug Prohibition: A Public Health Approach," sponsored by Keeping the Door Open, "a multi-stakeholder coalition comprised of individuals and organizations representing a diverse range of stakeholder groups, institutional and community-based service providers, health authorities, research centres, charitable foundations, public policy makers, drug consumers, consumer advocates, government, and business."

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12. Medical Marijuana: Both New Jersey Governor Candidates Support It

Medical marijuana will have a friend in the New Jersey statehouse next year, no matter who wins next month's gubernatorial election, at least according to what the candidates say now. In a debate carried on radio last week, both Democratic candidate US Sen. Jon Corzine and Republican candidate Doug Forrester said they would support the medicinal use of marijuana.

"Under the proper circumstances, I think we need to provide all medical resources, and that includes what is emerging now with regard to this particular application," Forrester said. "I'm very much open to that."

"If a doctor prescribes it, we need to do what is in the best interests of the patient," said Corzine.

The candidates addressed the issue in response to a listener's question broadcast on New Jersey 101.5 FM radio and other New Jersey stations owned by the Millennium chain.

A bill that would provide for medical marijuana in the Garden State was introduced last year with support from numerous groups, including the influential New Jersey Nurses Association, but it has yet to pass.

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13. Web Scan: Stamper, Hartford, Emery, Prosecutorial Zealotry, LEAP

LA Times editorial by former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper on legalization
Hartford papers on the city's drug conference, convening today, here and here

Marc Emery on Canada's Shaw TV

DC Examiner on pain and overzealous prosecutions

Capitol Hill Blue article about LEAP's Robert Owens

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14. Weekly: This Week in History

October 22, 1982: The first publicly known case of contra cocaine shipments appears in government files in a cable from the CIA's Directorate of Operations. The cable passes on word that US law enforcement agencies are aware of "links between (a US religious organization) and two Nicaraguan counter-revolutionary groups [which] involve an exchange in (the United States) of narcotics for arms." [The material in parentheses was inserted by the CIA as part of its declassification of the cable. The name of the religious group remains secret.]

October 23, 2001: Britain's Home Secretary, David Blunkett, proposes the re-classification of cannabis from Class B to Class C. Cannabis is soon decriminalized in Great Britain.

October 24, 1968: Possession of psilocybin & psilocin becomes illegal in the US.

October 26, 1993: Reuters reports that the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) joined scores of Boy Scout troops, Elks Clubs, and other community groups in a program in which participants clean up sections of Ohio's highway system. The Ohio Department of Transportation denied NORML's application twice previously, arguing it would be helping to advertise a "controversial activist" group. The American Civil Liberties Union stepped in, and Ohio's attorney general forced transportation officials to relent.

October 26, 2001: On the very afternoon that Congress approves new restrictions on civil liberties, scores of DEA agents descend on the LA Cannabis Resource Center, seizing all of the center's computers, files, bank account, plants, and medicine. The DEA cites a recent Supreme Court decision as justification for their action. The patient cannabis garden at the West Hollywood site is seized by DEA agents despite the loud protestations of the West Hollywood Mayor and many local officials and residents.

October 27, 1969: Anthropologist Margaret Mead provides testimony to Congress: "It is my considered opinion at present that marihuana is not harmful unless it is taken in enormous and excessive amounts. I believe that we are damaging this country, damaging our law enforcement situation, damaging the trust between older people and younger people by its prohibition, and this is far more serious than any damage that might be done to a few over-users."

October 27, 1970: Congress passes the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. It strengthens law enforcement by allowing police to conduct "no-knock" searches and includes the Controlled Substances Act, which establishes five categories ("schedules") for regulating drugs based on their medicinal value and potential for addiction.

October 27, 1986: President Reagan signs The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, an enormous omnibus drug bill which appropriates $1.7 billion to fight the drug crisis. The bill's most consequential action is the creation of mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses.

October 27, 1997: After a four-year investigation and a five-month trial, a federal jury returns a not guilty verdict on one racketeering charge against two former US prosecutors who became lawyers for the cartel, but fails to reach verdicts on drug trafficking and other charges against the two lawyers.

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15. Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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

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 25, 6:00-9:00pm, New York, NY, Housing Works West Village Thrift Shop Grand Opening Event. At 245 W. 10th St., visit 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 5, 10:00am-6:00pm, Ithaca, NY, "The Latest Developments in the War on Drugs," hosted by the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, discussing Supreme Court decisions on medical marijuana and sentencing guidelines and the intersection of the war on terror and the war on drugs. At Cornell Law School, Room G90, Myron Taylor Hall, contact Ellis M. Oster at [email protected] or 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.

November 19-20, London, United Kingdom, "Liberty 2005: The Annual London Conference of the Libertarian Alliance and the Libertarian International. At the National Liberal Club, Whitehall Place, visit http// for further information.

December 1-2, Seattle, WA, "Exit Strategy for the War on Drugs: Toward a New Legal Framework," KCBA Drug Policy Project 2005 conference. At the Red Lion Hotel, 1415 5th Ave., registration opening 11/1. For further information visit or contact KCBA at (206) 267-7001 or [email protected].

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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