(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #415 -- 12/16/05
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
Dear DRCNet reader:
I am writing today to request your financial support for DRCNet's work in 2006. Would you be willing to visit our web site right now or before the end of the year to donate online? (Mail-in info appears below as well.)
My case – in addition to the details of our work, which I describe below – has two parts to it. First is that groups like ours can do more work, and more powerfully, when supporters like you contribute, and do so on a regular basis. Otherwise, we are left, not only with smaller resources on which to draw, but also with financial uncertainty, which in turn makes it harder to plan long-term efforts.
The second part of my case is that I believe DRCNet is playing certain unique roles in the drug policy reform movement that would be hard to replace and which are essential to the overall effort. First, we are the only organization with a large list (multiple tens of thousands) that uses its list to literally build new organizations, and to systematically support the work of all the other organizations in the movement. At least three other drug reform groups have grown out from DRCNet, and more such work in 2006 is on the way. Our newsletter, Drug War Chronicle, is a major movement-building, movement-empowering force every week. It is also the only truly journalistic level of publication that our movement offers to the public.
Secondly, DRCNet is the only full-purpose national membership group that formally calls for an end to prohibition outright, and as such we have a crucial role to play if our issue is to eventually progress beyond marijuana legalization and sentencing reform or harm reduction for other drugs to get to the core of the issues that plague our inner cities, degrade the lives of addicts and dilute our freedoms and constitutional rights. One of the programs I describe below takes a step toward addressing that level of the drug policy debate in a more ambitious way than has ever been done before.
For all these reasons, I hope we can count on you to become or remain a supporter of our organization. Would you be willing to make a donation right now, or before the end of the year? Please contact us if you would like specific information on your past donations. Our web site for credit card donations is http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate/ – mail-in information appears below as well.
First, some 2005 highlights:
On the lobbying side: As you probably know, the bulk of our legislative advocacy at DRCNet has been the spearheading of the campaign to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act, a law that has stripped over 175,000 would-be students of the college aid eligibility since going into effect 5 1/2 years ago. We have devoted as much of our resources to this campaign as we have because it is the only drug law that the US Congress in the current political climate is willing to scale back, because it is the drug law that has the singular most amount of support in Congress for repealing, and because it is a phenomenal issue for purposes of reaching out to mainstream organizations and beginning the process of getting them involved in drug policy reform. The Senate and the House of Representatives are currently considering different versions of partial reforms to the law, and soon a “conference committee” consisting of members of both chambers will pick one or the other or some combination of both. While the outcome this year will not be all that we want – we want the law repealed – it is still a victory, and an historic event – rollbacks of drug laws by Congress are few and far between.
Though we are eager to see our advocacy branch out into more drug war issues, we also believe it is important to continue what we’ve started and that the financial aid issue has much more potential for building bridges and helping people now. Through this route, DRCNet will also expand in a significant way into the arena of state legislation and policy reform. It came to our attention over the last year that while most state legislatures have never voted to deny financial aid benefits to people with drug convictions, most such people are losing their state aid as well due to the intertwined nature of how federal and state financial aid systems work. DRCNet will shortly release (again under the auspices of CHEAR) our first report, detailing the impact of this issue at the state financial aid level. State legislators have told us this will be the most important thing for enabling them to fix this problem. If we can’t repeal the drug provision in Congress this year, maybe next year we can gut or reduce its impact by getting people aid back at the state level. And in doing so, we will forge relationships with state politicians and organizers, some of whom will be willing to do more to stop the drug war in the future; and we will build the expertise needed to help them do it.
And a program that blends education with advocacy: our National Perry Fund Campaign, a series of events in different cities that raise funds for our scholarship program assisting students who have lost their financial aid because of drug convictions. In addition to being a charity, the Perry Fund is also an awareness campaign – it has been covered by BET, the Associated Press and the Boston Globe, among other outlets – and it is a way of establishing contact with a class of people who have been hurt by the drug war – hundreds of people who've lost their financial aid because of a drug conviction have registered with the Perry Fund through our "pre-application" form. The ACLU recently announced that it is seeking people affected by the drug provision for a pending national class action lawsuit – the Perry Fund database is the “big list” for finding such people, and we are calling it to find them plaintiffs. Also, because a scholarship fund is “respectable,” we have been able to bring political officials out in ways they had not done before. For example, our Seattle Perry Fund reception last June featured US Rep. Jim McDermott in his first public showing of support for ending the drug war. The Perry Fund campaign will continue at some level in 2006.
On a budget of a few hundred thousand dollars a year to get all this done, DRCNet is a bargain. But unless you step up to the plate it won’t happen – we can’t do this with grants alone. So please consider making a generous donation today, or by the end of the year. Again, our web site for credit card donations is http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate/ – consider signing up to donate monthly – or donate by check or money order to: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. (Note that contributions to Drug Reform Coordination Network, which support our lobbying work, are not tax-deductible. Deductible contributions can be made to DRCNet Foundation, same address.) Lastly, please contact us for instructions if you wish to make a donation of stock.
Thank you for your support. I hope to hear from you soon – please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments, and take care.
P.S. The sooner we receive your donation, the sooner we can move forward on all these plans. Please donate today if you can!
In a coordinated sweep, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and state and local police raided 13 San Diego-area medical marijuana dispensaries Monday. The multi-agency raiders seized marijuana and medical records, but made no arrests except for three people seized on outstanding warrants. The search warrants were not issued by the feds, but by California authorities, meaning if any criminal charges are filed, defendants would be tried under California law.
The cops acted as if they were raiding Al-Qaeda headquarters, said Tony Amirine, who runs an Ocean Beach dispensary called Utopia. "Guns to my forehead, handcuffed, down on the ground," he told San Diego CityBeat. After a group of eight to 10 heavily-armed officers secured the premises, they searched the place for three or four hours, Amirine said. "All I do is sell weed to sick people."
That is legal under California's Compassionate Use Act, passed by popular vote in 1996, and supporting legislation passed last year. At last count, the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the state hovered around 160. But California dispensaries and even medical marijuana patients can be prosecuted under federal drug laws, which do not recognize medical marijuana.
What is not legal under California law is providing marijuana to people who cannot prove they have a doctor's recommendation to use it for medicinal purposes. The raids came after a months-long investigation that included sending undercover agents into the dispensaries in an effort to obtain medical marijuana without the proper paperwork. Law enforcement spokesmen claim they were able to do just that.
"These were nothing more than a front for distributing marijuana," DEA San Diego Special Agent in Charge John Fernandes said at a post-raids news conference. "You have a high percentage of healthy 18-to 25-year-olds walking into locations, smoking joints around the community. We received complaints and we took action," he said.
The response from medical marijuana supporters was immediate and energetic, with San Diego activists meeting Monday night and demonstrating downtown Tuesday, and the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) organizing protests at federal buildings in cities around the country Wednesday. But movement veterans also warned other dispensaries to shield themselves from such raids by being extremely careful to operate within state law. In other words: Don't sell marijuana to people who cannot prove they have a doctor's recommendation to use it for medicinal purposes.
"These actions fly in the face of voters," said Laurie Kallonakis, president of San Diego NORML. "Politicians and law enforcement officers are not doctors," she said. "Patients' records have been taken in violation of privacy rights."
Led by San Diego city council member and medical marijuana supporter Toni Atkins, the city began a program to issue medical marijuana ID cards in 2003. Monday's raids were a disappointment, a spokesman for Atkins said. "Councilmember Atkins led to fight to get the city to issue ID cards, and we thought we had gotten to a point where the police would be laying off, so this is disheartening," said her press secretary, George Biagi. "We have tried to do as much as we can, but it is becoming increasingly difficult," he told DRCNet.
"What did these dispensaries do to get raided?" asked California NORML director Dale Gieringer. "As far as I can tell, at least some of those facilities were very conscientious and trying their best to comply with the law, but people do make mistakes, and these undercover agents use all their wiles to try to wrangle pot out of the clubs. Apparently some clubs did it without proper documentation, or maybe not. We will see."
While expressing concern over the raids, Gieringer noted that any charges filed would be state and not federal. "This is really quite important," he told DRCNet. "Notice that even the DEA kept insisting these people had sold to undocumented patients. They implicitly acknowledged that dispensing marijuana is okay if it's for legally documented patients."
"That it was state warrants is good news," said ASA spokesperson Hilary McQuie. "If any charges are brought, they will be in state court – not federal court, where they would have no opportunity to defend themselves."
Still, said Gieringer, there is no need for heavy-handed policing. "This is a very rude way for them to proceed," he said. "Local authorities could have worked this out through a political process. There has been talk of an ordinance in San Diego to regulate the clubs, but right now we are in a state of anarchy, and that is a problem. You have around 20 clubs operating there, and even under the best of circumstances, not all of them will be up to the highest standards."
There is a better way, agreed McQuie. "We are talking about regulation," she told DRCNet. "If you look at how we treat alcohol and tobacco, outlets that are not properly carding people typically get a fine, and if they keep it up, they may lose their license. If officials find a dispensary is not complying with state law, the appropriate response would be a system of fines and license revocations."
That depends on local political will. And while the city of San Diego has been relatively friendly to medical marijuana, San Diego County notoriously has not. In fact, just last week the county board of supervisors voted to file a lawsuit to challenge California's medical marijuana law in federal court, and the San Diego County Sheriff's Office was involved in the investigation that led to Monday's raids.
"The County Board of Supervisors has decided to use taxpayer money to sue the taxpayers. They are out of touch and out of control," said Margaret Dooley of the Drug Policy Alliance in San Diego in a statement attacking Monday's raids. "The raids are just the next step in a systematic effort to deprive patients of their right to medical marijuana in San Diego County. While neighboring Riverside County and other parts of the state are working to implement the necessary regulations on medical marijuana dispensaries," Dooley continued, "County authorities are colluding with federal agents to act against San Diego constituents and their expressed wishes."
But the San Diego Police Department was also involved, even though Chief William Landsdowne pulled his officers from a similar joint task force with the feds after the DEA raided the Wo/Men's Access to Medical Marijuana (WAMM) dispensary outside Santa Cruz. On Monday, Assistant Chief Cheryl Meyers told the San Diego Union-Tribune Landsdowne decided to participate in this investigation because it targeted dispensaries within county lines.
The chief was wasting valuable resources in a misguided effort, said ASA's McQuie. "This seems like a case of misplaced priorities," she said. "They spend tons of money and eight months going after a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries to try to catch any impropriety. What a waste. There may be a few bad apples, but the system is serving patients and working well," she said.
Both McQuie and Gieringer had words of warning for dispensary operators across the state. "You and your employees should being going strictly by the book," McQuie said. "Stay within California law and the regulations that apply where you are. If we want to move forward and continue to create safe access for patients, we need to be spotless."
Gieringer was equally direct. "Clean up your act," he advised operators. "Be careful who you sell to. Stay within the law. That's the message."
That would be easier to do if San Diego County would implement an ID card system, Gieringer added. "We don't have the state ID cards going yet, and the county is one that has been rejecting the ID card system. Nothing would be better for clearing up this problem than implementing it now," he said.
The legal fallout from Monday's raids is yet to come, perhaps in the form of indictments down the road, perhaps in further raids. The political fallout has already begun. But if the DEA and local law enforcement hoped to crush San Diego's dispensaries, they have not yet succeeded. Most were open for business again the following day.
A San Jose jury Tuesday acquitted a California state narcotics officer of manslaughter in the February 2003 shooting death of Rudy Cardenas. While on a stake-out aimed at bringing in a parole violator, Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement officer Mike Walker mistook Cardenas for his target when the 43-year-old Oakland resident drove by in his van and took off in hot pursuit. The chase ended on foot in a downtown San Jose alley, where Walker shot the fleeing, unarmed man in the back.
While Walker and the jurors quickly left by a back door, an angry crowd confronted Walker attorney Craig Brown as he attempted to address reporters on the court house's front steps afterwards. About two dozen angry people scuffled with deputies and shouted "no justice, no peace" and "murderer" as Brown attempted to address reporters. He was shortly led by a bodyguard of deputies.
The verdict was "completely unfair and unjust," said Regina Cardenas, 27, the victim's daughter outside the courthouse. "The evidence was overwhelming. That's why we're so surprised. I don't know how this could happen. Given the evidence, we didn't think that a not guilty verdict was a possibility at all."
"He shot a man who was running away. A man who didn't have a gun. He was unarmed," was how Deputy District Attorney Lane Liroff put it during closing arguments in the eight-week trial. Walker had shown "reckless misconduct" that day, Liroff said, telling jurors "this isn't even a close call."
But after two days of deliberations, the jurors reached a different conclusion. Afterward, jurors told reporters they were sure of their verdict. "We have a lot of doubts about the whole incident, but we have no doubts about our decision," said juror Mike Krey. "We are not saying that Mike Walker is innocent -- we are just saying that the prosecution did not hurdle the burden of proof that the shooting was unjustified and that Mike Walker did not think he was in imminent danger."
From the beginning, Walker claimed to have thought he saw a gun in Cardenas' hand. No gun was found. Cardenas was carrying a folded pocketknife, which was found in his pants pocket. "Mike Walker's testimony was very consistent from day one – not perfectly, but more than less," Krey said. "Right at the time of the shooting, he's saying 'gun, gun, gun...' We couldn't say he did not see a gun, that the threat wasn't imminent and that (the shooting) was not justified."
Deputy DA Liroff said afterward that juries just don't want to convict police officers. "It is an unfortunate reality that jurors give a greater benefit and are more indulgent of a police officer." But still, the police had been put on notice, he said. "Law enforcement has to know they don't have free rein."
Liroff wasn't the only one thinking Walker got a free ride from the jury. "Some of those jurors have strong ties to law enforcement," Regina Cardenas told DRCNet. "During jury selection, at least four of them said they would have a hard time convicting an officer. They said they didn't believe an officer would lie under oath. But this case was so blatantly obvious – my father was unarmed and shot in the back while running away. If a cop can get away with something like this, they can get away with anything."
"I'm still scratching my head over the verdict," said attorney Richard Konda of the Coalition for Justice and Accountability, a community group formed after the police killing of a San Jose woman in her kitchen a year earlier. "It seemed to me there was a compelling case that should have led to a guilty verdict," he told DRCNet. "I guess if you are a police officer, you are judged by a different standard. C'mon – he was running away and he shot him in the back!"
Konda didn't fault the prosecution for lack of effort. "They put one of their most experienced prosecutors on this case during both the grand jury and the trial," he said. "The DA put on a very strong case. I think it just comes down to the jury is biased; it's just hard for people to convict a police officer and even harder for them to admit they're basically just letting him off."
If prosecutor Liroff and the Cardenas family and its supporters were unhappy with the verdict, the state's top law enforcement officer was not. While California Attorney General Bill Lockyer extended sympathy to the family, he defended Walker and the verdict in a written statement. "The death of Rodolfo Cardenas was a tragedy, and my sympathies go to his family. But the jury reached the correct verdict in acquitting Special Agent Mike Walker," Lockyer said. "Under the circumstances, Agent Walker acted in accordance with his training and his best judgment of a perceived threat. That is why he was appropriately acquitted."
The Cardenas family found no justice Tuesday, but the battle isn't over. They have already filed two civil lawsuits against Walker and the agencies involved. And they will continue to demand justice, not only for Rudy Cardenas, but for all the victims of unjustified police violence.
It's not about the money, said Regina Cardenas. "I would trade all the money we might win to see Walker behind bars. We would rather have justice served than knowing we have a system that does not work."
While Cardenas said she was pleasantly surprised by the support of groups like the Coalition as well as members of the community, she also told DRCNet she had been receiving hate-filled emails from pro-police elements. "A cop got away with murder again, and I've been getting e-mails saying my father got what he deserves and he should rot in hell. I've traced some of them back to law enforcement agencies. That's just sick."
There is no return to normal life for Cardenas and the rest of her family now, she said. "I had never been involved with this kind of community action before. The people who did support us were very compassionate and got involved and we've become friends. And we will continue to fight for justice. Once you've gone through this, you can't ever go back to your life as it was."
Voters in Bolivia head to the ballot box Sunday to elect a new president, and by all accounts, coca grower leader and Movement to Socialism (MAS) party head Evo Morales will win the popular vote. While a tight race could see the election ultimately decided by the Bolivian Congress, most observers see Morales as likely winning even in that event.
Morales, who still has coca fields of his own, became a coca grower leader in the Chapare in 1993, founded the MAS in 1995, and won a seat in the Bolivian Congress. In 2002, Morales barely lost the presidential election to Washington favorite Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada, and a year later, Morales and the MAS were instrumental in popular protests that drove him from power.
The specter of a Morales victory is causing hand-wringing in Washington, whose imposition of harsh coca eradication policies under successive Bolivian governments helped create the peasant mobilizations that led to Morales' rise to prominence. But unlike the last Bolivian presidential elections, where loud US threats warning the country against Morales backfired, leaving him a mere handful of votes from the presidency, this time the US Embassy is keeping a low profile as voting day approaches.
US Ambassador David Greenleaf has limited himself to urging the country to not change its current coca policies, a legacy of US intervention a decade ago. "I hope there aren't going to be any changes, because if there are changes for the worse, the country that's going to suffer is Bolivia," he told an anti-drug rally near La Paz two weeks ago in remarks widely interpreted as anti-Evo.
"Something historic is happening in Bolivia," Morales said in a recent Associated Press interview. "The most scorned, hated, humiliated sector now has the capacity to organize."
At campaign stops, Morales pulled no punches. His party "represents not only hope for the Bolivian people, but also a nightmare for the government of the United States," Morales told the supporters. "I have no fear in saying – and saying loudly – that we're not just anti-neo-liberal, we're anti-imperialist in our blood."
While Bolivia has been rocked by coups and political instability throughout its history and subjected to the mandates of Washington by compliant governments for the past 20 years, the country's indigenous majority – Aymara and Quechua Indians constitute two-thirds of the population – has been energized by the struggles around coca, natural gas, and the sorry state of the national economy many blame on free market policies adopted by previous governments.
While the coca issue has not played a key role in this year's campaign, it has been a defining issue, said Kathryn Ledebur of the Cochabamba-based Andean Information Network. "There is not much debate about the coca issue because it's a given," she told DRCNet. "Both Evo and his main opponent, conservative Jorge Quiroga, have made their names on the coca issue. When he was president for one year, Quiroga brought in a US-funded mercenary eradication team to go after the crops. Evo's position is clear. While voters felt the issue didn't really need to be explored further, it is the elephant in the living room."
For many Bolivians, coca is a part of traditional culture and is used as a food and medicine as well as a cash crop. And even under the Washington-friendly government last year, much of that coca made its way into the drug trade, with the country producing an estimated 107 tons of the stuff, an increase of 35% over the previous year. Once the world's leading cocaine producer, Bolivia now holds third-place behind Colombia and Peru.
What Morales will do about coca if elected is the key question. He has called for decrim in the Chapare, an end to forced eradication, and, in a move sure to warm the hearts of global drug reformers desperate for a national government to take a stand, has vowed to challenge the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs – the legal backbone of the global prohibition regime -- on its listing of coca as a drug.
"Evo is talking about decriminalizing coca growing in the Chapare, but hasn't specified quantities or precisely how it would be enacted," said Ledebur. "US policymakers are already concerned because we now have an agreement where a small amount of legal production is allowed there and growers are allowing eradication of the rest. This is an example of permitted production, and there hasn't been a big surge in production or a free-for-all for the traffickers. What the agreement has done is generate about $60 to $80 a month for each grower family, and it has ended the protests, the blockades, the attacks on security forces, and the human rights violations. For these people, coca is about putting food on the table, not trafficking."
"Evo has many attractive qualities, but he has shown himself willing to separate himself from his platform when there is good reason to do so," argued Larry Birns of the Center on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington, DC, liberal policy think tank. "What is worrying is the possibility he could turn out to be another Lucio Gutierrez," he said, referring to the deposed Ecuadorian president who campaigned as a left-leaning nationalist but shifted rightward once in office. "Morales will have to choose between the continentalism of Hugo Chavez and the imperatives of the Washington consensus."
A second key question is how the US will respond. "The US response to what's happening around coca and how a Morales administration deals with it will be a central issue," said Ledebur. "Economic assistance is tied to certification, so that's a weapon the US could use. But if the US decertifies Bolivia and withdraws counterdrug assistance, then who is going to carry out those programs? This punitive mechanism for compliance doesn't seem to work anymore."
Morales' leftism and his stance on coca "will make him replace Hugo Chavez as public enemy number one for the US in Latin America," predicted Ted Galen Carpenter, a US drug policy analyst at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "While I would like to see a Latin American leader challenge US drug policy, the fact that its going to be an outspoken socialist will make it all the easier for Washington to demonize him," he told DRCNet.
Still, said Carpenter, US policymakers are reaping what they sowed. "We have antagonized the Bolivian peasantry on this very important issue by pressuring a succession of Bolivian governments to adopt our harsh policies. The election of Morales will be at least in part blowback over the drug issue," Carpenter said.
"If Morales is not careful, Washington will use the drug issue to make him a pariah, and more dangerously, it will start dealing with the military and possibly encouraging separatism in Santa Cruz province," home of the country's natural gas reserves, said Birns.
On the other hand, Venezuela's Chavez looms ever larger on the hemispheric stage. "If Chavez makes a serious commitment to Evo in terms of helping the economy or if Evo nationalizes the natural gas reserves, Bolivia could be invited to join Petrosur, the Argentine-Brazilian-Venezuelan energy combine. That could be a real option," said Birns. "Morales is going to have to decide whether he will survive in a non-traditional manner by throwing his lot in with Chavez or try to work with the US-dominated international lending agencies and the US Treasury Department."
Perhaps the US will learn a lesson in Bolivia, said Carpenter. Instead of shoving drug prohibition down Latin America's throat, the US should back off. "Our policy should be benign neglect," he said. "Our drug policy has helped weaken our position in Latin America. In the case of Bolivia, it is possible that Morales would win without the drug issue, but it would be much more difficult."
Bolivian politics has always been interesting. If, as expected, the US is faced with President Morales next year, it could become very, very interesting.
Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor, [email protected], 12/16/05
Vancouver Sun justice columnist Ian Mulgrew has been covering the marijuana beat in British Columbia for a decade, and his interest in the psychoactive herb goes back much further than that – in fact, Mulgrew easily admits having sold a baggie or two as a teen himself. If there is anyone who could write the book on Canada's cannabis economy, it is Mulgrew, and with "Bud, Inc." he provides a fascinating look at Canada's largest cash crop and where it could be headed.
From there, Mulgrew sketches the contours of Canada's pot economy, visiting Reeferman, the new king of the hill among Canadian seed producers. Reeferman has emerged from a checkered past (once a neo-Nazi skinhead, then an informant for the RCMP against the neo-Nazi skinheads) to win world renown for his massive seed-breeding operation. Mulgrew portrays him on his remote farm, tending to his genetics, counting up his fortune in seed sales – mostly to the US – and dreaming of legalization. For Reeferman, that means corporatization of the weed and seed business, and he thinks he can outperform the competition.
Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising in a book called "Bud, Inc.," but many of the people Mulgrew profiles are basically businessmen eying a huge potential profit from the pot business, whether it's in seeds, lights, specialized nutrients, medicines, or even baked goods. Sure, most of them live life with a joint in hand -- marijuana use is so pervasive among Mulgrew's subjects that you can almost smell the smoke coming off the pages – but this is about business. While some of the business is the romantic criminality of pot smuggling to the US, and Mulgrew tells us about that, too, many of Canada's cannabis entrepreneurs have their eyes fixed on profits from a legal market.
But it's not all about the money. In his discussion of medical marijuana, Mulgrew talks to such walking saints as Philippe Lucas of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society and Hilary Black of Vancouver's Compassion Club, whose stalwart endeavors have brought solace to countless more sick and suffering Canadians than Health Canada's flaccid medical marijuana program.
And even when it's about the money, it's not all about the money. Mulgrew tells the story of the rise and fall of Da Kine Café, which for a glorious few months last year sold marijuana openly and without medical pretense on Vancouver's Commercial Drive. While the owners and operators were indeed raking in the cash, they were just as concerned with pushing the envelope for legal cannabis. Unwisely, Mulgrew reports, they pushed too far too fast, and Vancouver's pro-legalization Mayor Larry Campbell was forced to shut them down. Pot-selling establishments remain in Vancouver, of course, but now they're more low-key.
One of the most striking aspects of "Bud, Inc." is the casualness with which the players mention that they are smuggling huge quantities of pot or growing huge fields or otherwise violating Canada's drug laws. That's because Canada does not enforce marijuana prohibition with anything near the medieval rigor of the United States. Although Mulgrew doesn't mention it, this relative leniency has played a key role in the emergence of Canadian marijuana activism. Unlike the US, where many of Mulgrew's principals would be looking at literally decades in prison, Canada's relatively low-key approach gives those true believer entrepreneurs like Emery and Reeferman and all the rest the political space in which to mix drugs and activism.
And we in the United States should be very, very grateful for that. That activism, combined with a Canadian political sensibility much more reasoned and thoughtful than that of the US, has already largely succeeded in breaking down social opposition to fundamental marijuana law reform. And with marijuana growers all across Canada creating economic facts on the ground, there is probably no going back now – only forward.
Decriminalization, as proposed by the ruling Liberal government, is a non-starter, Mulgrew writes, because it leaves a criminalized market, and we all know who benefits from that: "Marijuana is the anchor tenant in organized crime's shopping mall of vice," he argues, citing the involvement of the Hell's Angels and various ethnic crime groups in the marijuana trade. "With legalization, the criminals won't disappear, but their wealth, their scope, and their reach will be greatly diminished. I believe legalization is needed, even though it will bring its own set of problems."
Canada hasn't embraced legalization yet. With "Bud, Inc.," however, Mulgrew makes a strong case that it is inevitable.
Earlier this week, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) took the cruel and reckless step of raiding 13 medical marijuana dispensaries that patients in the San Diego area rely on for needed relief for serious medical conditions. Unfortunately, the DEA was aided and abetted by the area's local law enforcement agencies, who have politically opposed medical marijuana since the beginning, but who have now stepped over the line and violated the will of California voters directly by participating in this action. Meanwhile, on the east coast, DEA continues to block the establishment of a legal medical marijuana research program at the University of Massachusetts that would resolve the scientific questions and allow marijuana to ultimately go through the regular governmental process for approval as a medically-recognized treatment.
Please call and write Congress today to condemn the DEA's raids and continued blocking of medical marijuana research, and to urge them to pass legislation to protect medical marijuana patients and their providers. There are currently two federal medical marijuana bills that would help the situation: H.R. 2087, the States Rights to Medical Marijuana Act; and H.R. 4272, the Steve McWilliams Truth in Trials Act, named after a San Diego medical marijuana provider who took his own life earlier this year while facing federal prosecution. Click here for a pre-written web site letter to Congress – you are encouraged to edit and customize it or even write your own.
But please don't stop there -- this is a time to do more than fill Congressional e-mail and fax boxes, but also to make their phones ring off the hook. Please call your US Rep. to express your outrage at the DEA's San Diego raids, and to call for passage of medical marijuana legislation like H.R. 2087 and H.R. 4272 and for Congress to pressure DEA to allow legitimate research into medical marijuana at UMass to proceed. Last but not least, please forward this alert to your friends, or use the "tell-a-friend" option on our web site when you send your e-mail.
Thank you for taking action today to help patients and their helpers across the land. The following web pages have further information of relevance to this issue:
ASA Medical Marijuana Demonstrations Info
This week, a crooked Border Patrol agent gets sent to prison, so does a crooked border town sheriff, three more soldiers plead guilty in a massive Arizona sting, and a Chicago cop gets caught playing weed dealer. Let's get to it:
In San Diego, a former El Centro Border Patrol agent was sentenced Monday to five years in federal prison for trying to smuggle 750 pounds of marijuana across the border in his patrol vehicle. Luis Francisco Higareda, 30, was nailed the night of January 4 after someone tipped off federal agents that he was set to pick up pot near the border. As waiting agents watched, another vehicle arrived and one of its occupants transferred 10 duffel bags full of Mexican weed into Higareda's marked Border Patrol vehicle. Agents pulled him over without incident a few minutes later. Higareda pled guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
In Chicago, a city police officer was arrested December 9 on federal charges he conspired to sell 50 pounds of marijuana. Near North District Police Officer Joseph Pecora, 27, had scored the weed from a suburban Bolingbrook man named George Zito in April, but Zito's supplier later turned informant, put on a wire and recorded incriminating conversations with Pecora. With the weed long gone, Pecora could only be charged with conspiracy, not possession. He has been relieved of his police powers, but walked out of jail Monday on a $150,000 recognizance bond.
In Brownsville, Texas, former Cameron County Sheriff Conrado Cantu was sentenced Tuesday to more than 24 years in federal prison for ripping off some drug dealers and tipping off others of impending investigations. Cantu pleaded guilty in July to heading a criminal conspiracy that engaged in extortion, drug smuggling, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering and bribery. Also sentenced this week in the case were former deputy Rumaldo Rodgriguez, who got 14 months, and former deputy Geronimo Garcia, who ran the county jail commissary. Garcia was sentenced to 9 ½ years.
In Tucson, three US soldiers have copped pleas in the federal undercover operation known as Operation Lively Green, where federal agents posing as drug dealers bribed soldiers and law enforcement officers in Arizona to aid in the transport of cocaine by moving it through border-area checkpoints. Thirty-seven other current or former soldiers or law enforcement officers have already pleaded guilty in the case. This week, former Arizona Army National Guard Pvt. Anthony Fimbres, 39; former US Army Sgt. Steven Lawler, 26; and Arizona Army National Guard Sgt. Ray Segala, 52, all pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to enrich themselves by taking bribes from people they believed were drug traffickers. The three defendants admitted using their official uniforms, IDs, and vehicles to get through border checkpoints with loads of cocaine and to transporting more than 100 pounds of cocaine from a desert airstrip to a Phoenix hotel, where they were paid $9,000 by an undercover FBI agent.
According to a report by New York's Legal Aid Society released Wednesday, last year's partial Rockefeller drug law reforms lowered some sentences and allowed some people serving the most serious time, the "A-1" cases, to be resentenced, but did not address sentence reductions for the much larger class of less serious "B" offenders. The report, "One Year Later: New York's Experience with Drug Law Reform," called on New York legislators to come back and finish what they started.
While last year's partial reform expanded treatment options for prisoners, it failed to grant more power to judges to order treatment instead of prison and it failed to fund community drug treatment programs, the report found. Nor did the partial reforms significantly reduce the state's prison population.
There is plenty more for the legislature to do, the report said. State leaders have promised to revisit the Rockefeller laws, and in doing so, they should work to let judges, not just prosecutors, determine who gets into treatment and increase drug treatment spending. As for reducing the prison load, the report recommends dropping low-level street sales from the "B" felony category and allowing those currently doing time as "B" offenders to apply for sentence reductions.
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation resident Alex White Plume and his family were in federal appeals court Tuesday in a bid to force a lower court to consider whether hemp is in fact an illegal crop. In 2000 and 2001, White Plume and his family sowed hemp crops, only to have them destroyed by federal raiders. The following year, the federal government sought and won an injunction to bar White Plume from planting again.
The judges of the US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis heard White Plume attorney Bruce Ellison argue that both tribal ordinance and the Fort Laramie treaty of 1868 gave the family the legal right to grow the industrial crop. "Our contention is we're not growing a drug, and since we're not growing a drug, we don't need to apply to the government for permission," said Ellison.
The Congress distinguished between hemp and marijuana in 1937, Ellison argued. "As a non-drug crop, it's the same thing as squash or potatoes," he said. "We don't need to get permission from anyone because we're not growing a drug."
US Attorney Mark Salter unsurprisingly disagreed. "Until and unless someone changes the definition of marijuana, it's marijuana," he said. Nor does White Plume or the tribe have any treaty right to determine what they grow. "Nowhere in there does it say signatory tribes have the right to grow whatever they want on that land," Salter said.
While the appeals court judges wondered why the White Plumes had not applied for a permit to grow, Frankl explained that the DEA simply failed to ever issue commercial industrial hemp permits. "While there is a process technically, in this case, it's to no avail," he said.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals did not set a date for their ruling, which could come down in weeks or months.
Being a medical marijuana user does not make you unfit to possess a concealed pistol permit, an Oregon circuit court judge held Tuesday. The ruling came in a case that began when Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon revoked Steven Schwerdt's permit after Schwerdt revealed that he uses medical marijuana. Sheriff Gordon had also jerked the permits of at least four other medical marijuana patients, County Counsel Elmer Dickens told the court.
Oregon voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 1998 with passage of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. Some 11,000 Oregonians, including Schwerdt, hold state-issued medical marijuana cards.
But Sheriff Gordon and County counsel Dickens argued the sheriff was adhering to the terms of federal gun control statutes, which forbid people who use illicit controlled substances in a "consistent and prolonged" fashion from possessing firearms. Congress "intended to keep firearms out of the hands of presumptively risky people," Dickens argued as he asked the court for "a good-faith extension" of federal law to Oregon state law.
No can do, ruled Washington County Circuit Court Judge Marco Hernandez. Oregon law did not give county sheriffs the right to deny or revoke permits based specifically on violations of the federal law, he held. Nor did the county convince him that Schwerdt was violating the law, he added.
Schwedt's case was argued by activist attorney Leland Berger, who hailed the ruling afterward in remarks reported by the Portland Oregonian. "The idea is that Congress did not want people who are under the influence to be buying or possessing guns," he said. "Here, the use is medicinal. I think the sheriff unfairly singles out medical marijuana users."
Sheriff Gordon denied that charge. Federal law bars illegal drug users from possessing firearms, he told the Oregonian. "I can't license someone to carry a weapon that the federal government says they can't have in the first place," Gordon said. "The legislators have to get together and get some clarity on that."
In the meantime, and unless and until the county appeals, Sheriff Gordon must give Schwerdt his permit back and no longer use medical marijuana as an excuse to deny or revoke permits for others.
Republican Governor Frank Murkowski plans to try to do away with legal marijuana in Alaska again this year, after seeing last year's effort die in the state legislature. Alaska Department of Law spokesman Mark Morones told the Juneau Empire the administration would "hit the ground running" to push its pot re-criminalization bill when the legislature reconvenes next year.
In a landmark 1975 decision, Ravin v. Alaska, the state Supreme Court found that the state constitution's right to privacy protected Alaskans who used marijuana in the privacy of their own homes. Although legal pot in Alaska was overturned by a voter initiative in 1991, it was reaffirmed by the state Supreme Court in 2004, which found the ban unconstitutional and Ravin still in effect.
Under current state law, Alaskans can possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow their own for personal use. The bill pushed by Gov. Murkowski, SB 74, would make possession of more than an ounce a felony and would increase penalties for other marijuana offenses. Possession of less than one ounce would be a misdemeanor.
The bill excited stiff opposition last year from the Marijuana Policy Project and its local affiliate, Alaskans for Marijuana Regulation and Control, and won little enthusiasm in the legislature. Still, it remains alive in the state's two-year legislative session, which recommences January 9. It awaits action in the Senate Finance Committee before heading to the Senate floor. It has not been acted on in the House.
The state's law enforcement establishment has been up in arms in part because another Alaska Supreme Court ruling held that since possession of up to four ounces is legal, police must show probable cause a home contains more than four ounces in order to obtain a warrant to raid suspected grow ops. Alaska Assistant Attorney General Dean Guaneli was hitting that theme again with the Times. "The police are not getting effective search warrants for marijuana growing operations," Guaneli said.
Michael Macleod-Ball, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, told the paper the bill was not aimed at commercial growers but at small-time users and growers. "Criminalizing those with small amounts of marijuana does not solve the problem," he said. "All it does is give the police the ability to go into someone's home if they believe they have marijuana," he said.
Look for this battle to heat up shortly.
Medical marijuana continues to be a hot issue in statehouses around the country. While 10 states have legalized the medicinal use of the herb, only two – Hawaii and Vermont -- have done so through the legislative process, while in eight states voters approved medical marijuana by direct popular votes through the initiative process.
Here's a brief round-up of current activity in the states:
In Massachusetts, H. 2742, sponsored by Rep. Frank Smizik, was the subject of a hearing in the Joint Committee on Public Health Wednesday. The bill would allow patients suffering from a specified list of medical conditions and ailments to obtain a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana for relief. The bill also allows patients to grow their own or designate a caregiver to grow or obtain it for them and creates an ID card system through the state Department of Public Health. Groups including the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition are lobbying to pass the bill.
In Rhode Island, legislators last year passed a medical marijuana bill, but it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri. While the state Senate voted to override the veto in June, the House has yet to vote on an override. This week, the Marijuana Policy Project moved to step up the pressure, unveiling a billboard in downtown Providence urging the lower chamber to act. "Protect medical marijuana patients... Don't leave us out in the cold... Override the governor's veto," the billboard pleads. While the bill's sponsor, Rep. Thomas Slater (D-Providence), told the Providence Journal he was confident the override would occur before the session starts, House Speaker William Murphy (D-West Warwick) was not quite so definite, with a spokesman telling the Journal only that "the leadership is committed to making all efforts to pass Rep. Slater's legislation."
In Wisconsin, a measure sponsored by Rep. Greg Underheim is pending after hearings last month at the capitol in Madison. According to Gary Storck of the medical marijuana advocacy group Is My Medicine Legal Yet?, Underheim is currently polling Health Committee members in preparation for a possible committee vote. For updates on the bill, visit the Madison NORML blog.
A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report is challenging the Bush administration's claims of progress in reducing the flow of cocaine to the United States. The report, commissioned by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), raises doubts about the accuracy of US government data on cocaine trafficking, price, and purity levels.
About 90% of cocaine consumed in the US comes from Colombia. Six years and $6 billion dollars into Plan Colombia, cocaine remains cheap and plentiful here. Administration officials have used a variety of statistics to attempt to show progress in fighting the traffic. Last month, US drug czar John Walters announced that the price of cocaine in the US had risen 19% this year after massive fumigation of crops and record cocaine seizures last year.
But the GAO said the data used to arrive at such figures is "problematic," the numbers on US drug use tend to be stale, and they are difficult to obtain. While the report does not say Walters' claims of success are wrong, it casts doubt on the numbers used to make those claims. "Production and consumption estimates could be widely off the mark," the report found. The GAO also found US government estimates that between 325 and 675 metric tons of cocaine entered the US last year were so broad as to be useless.
The report also warned that aging equipment and competing priorities is causing the US military to cut back on resources devoted to combating the cocaine traffic. The Navy's P-3 maritime patrol aircraft, for instance, flew less than half the hours monitoring drug smuggling routes this year than last year, and ships and planes used in the effort are aged and wearing out, the report found.
"Having to question whether the data used by ONDCP is reliable or not makes it very difficult to assess and ensure that our efforts to combat drug production and transportation are effective," Sen. Grassley, the chairman of the Senate International Narcotics Control caucus, told the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain after reviewing the report.
December 16, 1991: The US Supreme Court allows an appeals court ruling to stand that opened the door to across-the-board drug testing of federal employees.
December 17, 1914: Congress passes the Harrison Narcotics Act, initiating federal prohibition of cocaine and opiates.
December 17, 1986: Guillermo Cano Isaza, editor-in-chief of El Espectador (Colombia) is assassinated while driving home from work. Cano frequently wrote in favor of stiffer penalties for drug traffickers. His murder leads to a national outrage comparable to the assassination of Lara Bonilla, and a subsequent government crackdown on traffickers.
December 18, 2002: 108 members of the European Parliament endorse a letter calling on the United Nations and its member states to establish a "system for the legal control and regulation of the production, sale and consumption of substances which are currently illegal.
December 19, 2003: Albert A. Gore III, 21, is arrested for marijuana possession after being stopped for driving a vehicle without its headlights on.
December 20, 1989: The US invades Panama with 24,000 soldiers in Operation Just Cause in order to overthrow dictator Manuel Noriega for drug trafficking, money laundering, and selling information to Cuba.
The Marijuana Policy Project currently has permanent job openings at its offices in Washington, DC, Montpelier, Vermont and Las Vegas, Nevada, and temporary positions in locations around the country.
Visit http://www.mpp.org/jobs/ for further information about these opportunities.
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
December 15, 7:00-9:00pm, Lawrence Township, NJ, public meeting of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey. At the Lawrence Township Library, room #3, Darrah Lane at Business Rt. 1, light refreshments available. For further information visit http://www.cmmnj.org or contact Ken Wolski at (609) 394-2137 or [email protected].
December 15-30, San Francisco, "Confessions of a Dope Dealer," solo performance by Sheldon Norberg. Thursday, Friday & Saturday evening performances except Christmas and New Years, at Climate Theater, 285 9th St., visit http://www.adopedealer.com for further information.
December 29, 7:00pm, Salem, OR, MERCY public meeting for the local medical cannabis community. At 1675 Fairgrounds Rd., admission free, $20 day use fee for facilities, visit http://www.mercycenters.org/events/Meet_PUB.htm for info.
January 4, 2006, 6:00pm, Eugene, OR, Cannabis Liberation Front meeting and Eugene Cannabis TV show filiming. At Community Television of Lane County (behind Sheldon High School), visit http://www.mercycenters.org/events/Meet_CLF.htm or http://eugenecannabistv.home.comcast.net for info.
January 4, 2006, 7:00pm, St. Paul, MN, screening of the ABC/Johhn Stossel report "The War on Drugs: A War on Ourselves," sponsored by the Freedom Movie of the Month Club. At The Liberty Center, 799 Raymond Ave., admission free, RSVP at http://movies.meetup.com/203/events/4358983/ online.
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 http://www.lsd.info for further information.
January 21, 2006, 4:00pm-3:00am, Brickell, FL, "8th Annual Medical Marijuana Benefit Concert," benefit for Florida NORML hosted by Ploppy Palace Productions and Tobacco Road. At Tobacco Road, 626 South Miami Ave., admission $10, 21 years or over with ID, visit http://www.ploppypalace.com or e-mail [email protected] for further information.
February 3, 2006, Oakland, CA, NORML Winter Benefit Party, at the Oakland Sailboat House, Late Merritt. Admission $60, advance reservations required, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.canorml.org for info.
February 9-11, 2006, Tasmania, Australia, The Eleventh International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA), coordinated by Justice Action. For further information visit http://www.justiceaction.org.au/ICOPA/ndx_icopa.html or contact +612-9660 9111 or [email protected].
March 29, 2006, 6:00pm, New York, NY, "Drug Policy for the Union Man," forum for members of the Local 375 District Council 37, presented by LEAP, DPA, CJPF and ReconsiDer. At 125 Barkley St., two blocks north of Old World Trade Center, contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
April 5-8, 2006, Santa Barbara, CA, Fourth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. Sponsored by Patients Out of Time, details to be announced, visit http://www.medicalcannabis.com for updates.
April 9, 2006, noon-6:00pm, Sacramento, CA, "Cannabis at the Capitol," medical marijuana rally sponsored by the Compassionate Coalition. At the California State Capitol, west steps, visit http://www.compassionatecoalition.org or contact Peter Keyes at (916) 456-7933 for info.
April 20-22, 2006, San Francisco, CA, National NORML Conference, visit http://www.norml.org for further information.
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 http://www.harmreduction2006.ca for further information.
June 3, 2006, 1:00-11:00pm, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 10th Legalize! Street Rave Against the War on Drugs. Visit http://www.legalize.net or contact Jonas Daniel Meyerplein at +31(0)20-4275626 or [email protected] for info.
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