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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #417 -- 1/6/06

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"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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Stand Up for Medical Marijuana Patients -- Protest DEA's December Outrage!

Table of Contents

    Congress' Budget Ax Finally
    Hits the Drug Warriors
    The best arguments against medical marijuana were aired in Rhode Island this week -- and failed.
    Gov. Donald Carcieri thought a veto would stop medical marijuana in Rhode Island. But first the Senate and then the House turned his veto back, and medical marijuana is the law of the state.
    One of America's best known medical marijuana refugees may be coming home next week -- against his will and to face what could effectively be a death sentence.
    For decades, it has been almost anything goes when it comes to fulfilling budget requests for federal drug war funding. But several drug warrior favorites took big hits last month, and the impact is likely to be significant.
    In no state have voters or legislators legalized marijuana for recreational use, but if drug reformers have their way, this could be the year.
    This week, the long-running Dallas "sheetrock scandal" grows even sleazier, a San Francisco cop is accused of being a serial horndog, and in Honolulu, a cop faces prison for selling meth and a prison guard may find himself on the other side of the bars for similar reasons.
    With the new year, meth offenders join sex offenders as social pariahs deserving of a permanent electronic registry in Tennessee.
    GW Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the sublingual, cannabis-based spray medication Sativex, announced Wednesday that it won US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to proceed with Phase III clinical trials of the drug's efficacy in patients suffering from pain from advanced cancers.
    Legal in Britain up until last week, "Special K," as the club drug Ketamine is popularly known, now carries penalties of up to two years in prison for possession or 14 years for sales.
    The US Drug Enforcement Administration is preparing to set up shop in Guyana, the agency's first venture in the small, non-Spanish-speaking countries of South America's north coast.
    Organizers of the May marijuana marches around the planet announced this week that they had at least 150 cities signed up for the annual event.
    DRCNet's latest member premium is a book by the Texas Observer's Nate Blakeslee that paints an in-depth picture of the drug war's most notorious scandal and the rural and political landscape in which it unfolded.
  13. WEB SCAN
    New England Journal of Medicine on the DEA vs. Oregon's Right to Die Law
    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. Editorial: Arguments Best Set to Rest

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 1/6/06

David Borden
Rhode Island's medical marijuana action in the legislature this week prompted the public airing of viewpoints that one would expect -- doctors, politicos, patients, activists, all giving the media their pros and cons about why they do or don't think medical marijuana should be legal under state law. Out-of-state drug warriors weighed in with their usual poisonous barbs and misstatements. Interestingly, though, among Rhode Islanders the discussion seemed to be less shrill, and some of the arguments on the con side merit discussion.

For example, Sen. Dennis Algiere (R-Westerly), who had initially supported the bill but switched after the governor (of the same party) vetoed it, asked rhetorically in The Westerly Sun, "Where do people go to fill these prescriptions?" To illegal drug dealers, he pointed out. Dr. Robert Crausman of Rhode Island's medical board said he probably wouldn't recommend marijuana to patients because he wouldn't know where the supply came from and "I don't tell my patients on digoxin to take foxglove tea... Aspirin comes from bark. When was the last time you took bark for a headache?"

Neither of these arguments is so disreputable as could be said of groups like the Drug Free America Foundation, which ran TV ads opposing the veto override charging that medical marijuana is a "fraud" -- but committing intellectual fraud themselves in claiming so. Algiere's and Crausman's words are not the words of ideologues or political charlatans, at least not on their face. Nevertheless, for different reasons I hope that both of these arguments get settled and set to rest soon, because for different reasons they ultimately don't work.

I hope that Algiere's argument is settled by the ending of federal prohibition and the establishment of a non-black-market framework in which patients can access a quality-controlled supply of marijuana for medical use. (Also for non-medical marijuana use, I hope, but we'll probably have to wait a little longer for that.) In the meantime, Rhode Island can tolerate or even regulate compassion clubs of which the marijuana providers are known and respected individuals. Such clubs would be illegal under federal law and subject to some risk, but they would nevertheless provide a reasonably workable solution in the meanwhile.

I hope that Crausman's argument is settled by an elevation of public consciousness. It's fine for an individual doctor to hold his negative opinion of non-pharmaceuticalized marijuana and to tell patients that he isn't comfortable prescribing it -- patients who still want to go the marijuana route after hearing that advice are free to go to a different doctor who sees things differently. What's not okay is for the government to forcibly intervene, to subject patients and their caregivers or providers to possible arrest, criminalization and all that goes with it.

Let doctors say what they truly think about medical marijuana, to their patients and each other, that is all to the good. But get the law out of it; let those who feel they benefit from using marijuana medically do so in peace. Legitimate differences in opinion about medicine should not be a basis for criminal prohibitions that send people to prison. Police should not get in between me and my doctor and my medicine -- and neither should other doctors.

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2. Feature: Rhode Island Overrides Governor's Veto to Become 11th State Okaying Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island has become the 11th state to legalize medical marijuana after the House voted by a wide margin to override a veto by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R). The legislature had passed the bill last year, only to see it vetoed by Carcieri. The state Senate voted to override the veto in June, but the House did not act until Tuesday.

Rhode Island becomes the first state to enact a medical marijuana law since the Supreme Court decided in Gonzalez v. Raich in June that federal officials may arrest and prosecute medical marijuana users and providers even where state law permits it. It is also the first state to overcome a gubernatorial veto to pass a medical marijuana law. It is only the third state -- after Hawaii and Vermont -- to approve medical marijuana through the legislative process. In the eight other states where it is permitted, it was legalized through popular initiatives.

Tuesday's vote came just before the start of the 2006 legislative session, allowing the law to go into effect immediately. But that does not mean medical marijuana is legal just yet. The law gives the state 90 days to draft and enact regulations. That clock began ticking Tuesday.

Under the new law, patients with qualifying medical conditions will be able to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of prepared marijuana or grow up to 12 plants or have designated care-givers do so. Once patients have a doctor's approval to use the plant, they will be required to register with the state and obtain a photo ID card.

Although of opponents of medical marijuana mobilized to thwart the veto override, in the end the vote was a lopsided 59-13. That was a margin similar to that of the Senate override vote, 28-6, signaling strong support for the bill despite Gov. Carcieri's opposition.

The bill was shepherded through the legislature by Rep. Thomas Slater (D-Providence) and Sen. Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), and is known as the Edward O. Hawkins Medical Marijuana Act, named for a nephew of Perry's who died of AIDS two years ago. "I am very grateful on behalf of my family and my nephew," Perry told reporters after the override vote Tuesday.

"It's been a long wait and a lot of work, but this law will grant mercy and relief to the sick and suffering. Finally Rhode Island will stop denying sick people a proven means of relief from their pain," Rep. Slater, D-Providence, who suffers from cancer.

Groups like the Brown and University of Rhode Island Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapters and AIDS project Rhode Island joined forces with patients and professional groups such as the Rhode Island Nurses Association and the Rhode Island Medical Society under the umbrella of the Rhode Island Patients Advocacy Coalition to educate lawmakers like Slater and Perry. Joined by the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, which brought in major funding and more, proponents were able to win success this week.

"Brown SSDP student Nathaniel Lepp and I applied for a grant from MPP to build a grassroots coalition in the fall of 2003," said URI graduate and current SSDP communications director Tom Angell. "Students at Brown had organized a medical marijuana symposium earlier that spring, and we brought in legislators who had previously introduced legislation that hadn't gone anywhere. We introduced them to medical professionals, drug policy advocates, as well as students and patients who wanted to see a medical marijuana bill become law," he told DRCNet.

"My mom has Multiple Sclerosis," Angell continued. "Her doctor recommended she try marijuana, but until now she has been absolutely terrified of the legal ramifications. Obviously, the passage of this bill is a great relief for my entire family."

Angell wasn't the only one enjoying the fruits of his efforts. "We're excited about this," said Chris Butler of AIDS Project Rhode Island. "We think it will bring some relief to some of our clients. We've been working on the bill for about 2 ½ years now with other folks in the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, so we're also relieved," he told DRCNet.

"Today's vote proves yet again that the movement to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest is unstoppable," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. "Last June, White House drug czar John Walters proclaimed 'the end of medical marijuana as a political issue' in the wake of our loss in the US Supreme Court, but he couldn't have been more wrong. The public, the medical community, and Rhode Island legislators agree that patients with cancer, AIDS or multiple sclerosis should not be arrested for using medical marijuana on the advice of their physicians. We will continue to roll back the government's war on the sick and dying, and the White House drug czar can't stop us any more than he can make water flow uphill."

Final passage means more than just that Rhode Islanders seeking relief will be able to use marijuana, said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "This is hugely significant because it is the first state to pass medical marijuana since Raich and it was the first ever to override a veto -- and it wasn't even close," he told DRCNet. "I notice that the drug czar's office didn't even put out a statement after the vote."

In fact, the only Office of National Drug Control Policy comment came from one of Walters' underlings, Tom Riley, who responded to a request for reaction from the Providence Journal. Rhode Island legislators were "misguided and out of touch" on the dangers of marijuana, Riley said, adding that federal law barring marijuana made the vote "largely symbolic."

But federal officials had earlier conceded they were unlikely to be arresting many medical marijuana patients, a point Mirken alluded to Wednesday. "State medical marijuana laws are not symbolic," he said, "but this vote does have a huge symbolic value. This shows that medical marijuana is a train that will not be stopped. The public gets it, and legislators across the country are beginning to get it, too."

Gov. Carcieri still hasn't gotten it, even after being slapped down at the statehouse. In a statement issued after the vote, he reiterated his opposition to the new law, saying it would leave users open to federal prosecution and that it provided no mechanism for patients to obtain marijuana. "Users will be forced to purchase marijuana in the illegal street market, putting them at risk and complicating the difficult jobs that our law enforcement personnel must do every day," Carcieri complained.

Carcieri and other opponents of medical marijuana will have an opportunity to try to derail the program next year because the law contains a sunset provision causing it to expire on June 30, 2007 if not re-approved. Not to worry, said MPP's Mirken. "We anticipate that the law will be renewed before then," he said. "You have to make compromises like the sunset provision sometimes to keep people happy, and it is another hurdle we will have to go over, but given that in every state that has a medical marijuana law the law is more popular now than when enacted, that's not a big worry."

Butler, too, is looking ahead. "The Health Department has 90 days to implement regulations, and we are looking forward to that happening sooner rather than later. We also want to make sure the law is implemented effectively and not abused, so there is no reason for the legislature to come back and decide not to continue it."

While Rhode Islanders are now turning their attention to ensuring that the state Health Department gets its rules and regulations up and running, MPP and the broader medical marijuana movement are setting their sights elsewhere. "The hope is that this will cause a lot of legislators around the country who were spooked by the Raich decision to see that states can still act to protect patients," Mirken said. "This vote should help dispel that misunderstanding and allow us to move forward."

MPP will be eyeing New York state, where the Raich decision caused key backers to waver last year, Mirken said. The group will also be active in Wisconsin and Michigan, while the Drug Policy Alliance is working with local activists to advance bills in Alabama and New Jersey. In Massachusetts, a medical marijuana bill is also moving.

A movement for patients rights that originated in the Pacific West and extends to Montana and Colorado in the Rockies has now gained new ground in the New England states. With states in the Midwest and South now in the sights, the pincers are closing.

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3. Feature: Medical Marijuana Refugee Running Out of Time, Options

One of America's best known medical marijuana refugees may be coming home next week -- against his will and to face what could effectively be a death sentence. Steve Kubby, his wife, Michelle, and their two young children have been waging a four-year legal battle to remain in Canada after fleeing a jail sentence for Kubby in California, but so far, Canadian authorities have been deaf to their appeals, and they have now been ordered to leave the country by next Thursday.

Kubby and his wife are attempting a last minute appeal once the Canadian courts return from their two-week Christmas holiday break next week -- a final hearing is set for Monday -- but things look grim. The Kubbys are asking supporters to send emergency messages to the Canadian immigration minister asking for them to be allowed to stay in the country. (See contact information at bottom of article.)

Kubby, founder of the American Medical Marijuana Association and a 1998 Libertarian Party California gubernatorial candidate, was arrested after Placer County authorities raided his home marijuana garden. Kubby suffers from a rare form of terminal adrenal cancer that has proven resistant to conventional treatments but whose symptoms are alleviated by marijuana. Kubby says that marijuana stops his adrenaline levels from spiking, an event that brings on high blood pressure and an increased probability of suffering a stroke or aneurysm.

"Unfortunately, the adrenaline in my system magnifies any little bit of stress, and I am under stress now," Kubby told DRCNet Thursday. "I soak my sheets with sweat at night, I have nausea, I have trouble sleeping. To help explain this, I tell people to remember when they passed a car and cut it a little too close. Afterwards, the danger has passed, but your hands are shaking and your heart is thumping. That's the adrenaline. Now, multiply that by hundreds or thousands, and that's what happens to me. It takes a lot out of me."

Local courts eventually figured out that medical marijuana is legal in California, and vindictive prosecutors were left with charging him with possession of a peyote bud and the dried stem of a psychedelic mushroom found in a guest bedroom. Kubby was convicted and sentenced to 120 days in jail. When local authorities confirmed they would deny Kubby the right to use medical marijuana while in jail, Kubby fled, saying a jail sentence without marijuana amounted to a death sentence for him.

Kubby and his family headed to what they thought were the friendlier climes of Canada, quietly entering the country as tourists in 2001. Canadian marijuana activists and humanitarians greeted them with open arms, but the Canadian government was not as understanding. Shortly after Kubby appeared on a nationally televised documentary about medical marijuana refugees, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police raided his Sechelt, British Columbia, home and arrested on charges related to a 160-plant home marijuana grow.

While Kubby was able to eventually get the marijuana charges dropped -- in fact, he was granted a medical marijuana exemption by Health Canada -- Canadian authorities continued to pursue him as a "fugitive" after a California appeals court ruled that's what he was. The Canadian government has fought the Kubbys' request for asylum at every step of the way, ignoring both allegations of wrongdoing in the Placer County courts and charges that it is misreading Canadian law.

Canada rejected Kubby's asylum request last year. In July, a federal court judge upheld that Immigration and Refugee Appeal Board decision. And in November, the Canadian Border Services Agency turned down their last-minute request for protection from the tender mercies of California justice. "It has been determined that you would not be subject to 'risk to life' if returned to your country," the agency found.

That determination came despite the submission of a letter from Dr. Joseph Connors of the BC Cancer Agency, who was chosen by Immigration Canada to examine Kubby. Connors confirmed that Kubby suffers from a rare form of cancer that is controlled only by marijuana. But Canadian authorities ignored that evidence.

"We are continuing to fight," said Michelle Kubby Thursday. "We are arguing that removing Steve from the country violates his charter rights. Health Canada has granted Steve an exemption to use cannabis because of his need, and no minister should be able to take that right away from him," she told DRCNet. "It shocks the conscience."

Michelle Kubby was choosing her words deliberately. Under Canadian law, throwing people out of the country can be blocked if to do so would result in events that would "shock the conscience" of normal Canadians. Canada, for instance, routinely refuses to extradite people facing a possible death penalty in the US because for Canadians, who do not accept the death penalty, imposing death on anyone "shocks the conscience."

"This is very serious and frightening," said Michelle Kubby, "but we will find a way. We have to find a way. Now we need to ask for extended protection, and while I don't think the court will be able to deny me, nothing is guaranteed. That's why it's so critical that the immigration minister be inundated with letters and phone calls. The minister has the ability to just say, 'Stop, this is over now, let the Kubbys stay.'"

To avoid being deported to the US is more critical than ever now, said Michelle Kubby, because Kubby now faces three years in state prison as a fugitive felon. "If all else fails, Canadian border services would arrest us and take us to the border and Steve would be handed over to federal marshals, who would incarcerate him in a federal facility before extraditing him to California," she said.

Given the recent experience of fellow medical marijuana refugee Steve Tuck, who was dragged from a Vancouver hospital bed by Canadian authorities, driven in an ambulance to the border, and turned over to American jailers who refused to treat his ongoing medical conditions until he was ordered released by a federal judge, this is not something the Kubbys look forward to. But because Canadian authorities have seized their passports, they may have no other option.

"Going back to California and going to prison would effectively be a death sentence for Steve," said Michelle Kubby. "They will not allow him to have medical marijuana, and the drugs they would offer him won't control the adrenaline spikes and his blood pressure will shoot out of control and he would probably suffer an aneurysm. The body can only take so much. Pharmaceuticals, chemotherapy, experimental radiation -- none of that does anything for Steve."

To contact Canadian Immigration Minister Joe Volpe and let him know that sending Steve Kubby to most likely die in a California prison cell "shocks the conscience," contact: The Honourable Joe Volpe, Minister -- Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 365 Laurier Ave. West, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 1L1, phone (613) 954-1064, e-mail [email protected]

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4. Feature: Congressional Budget-Cutting Extends Even to Drug War Sacred Cows

For decades, it has been almost anything goes when it comes to fulfilling budget requests for federal drug war funding, but the congressional session that ended last month suggested that even sacred cows aren't exempt from the budget ax. Several drug warrior favorites took big hits last month, and drug fighters and drug reformers alike agree that the impact is likely to be significant.

Emboldened by the Bush administration's Office of Management and Budget, which called for cuts in federal funding for multi-jurisdictional drug task forces and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, as well as by conservative watchdog groups such as Citizens Against Government Waste, which criticized spending inside the drug czar's office, Congress made significant dents in funding for a number of drug war programs:

  • Byrne/Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) block grants to the states: Cut from $725 million in 2004 and $625 million last year to $416 million this year.
  • ONDCP media campaign: Cut by $20 million.
  • President's student drug testing fund: Cut by $1 million.
  • Safe and Drug-Free Schools program: Cut by $100 million.
  • Drug Court Discretionary Grant program: Cut from $40 million to $10 million.
US Capitol, Senate side
One program lined up for the budget ax that survived intact is HIDTA. The Bush administration wanted to slash its funding in half and move it out of the drug czar's office and into the Justice Department, but after a strong campaign by law enforcement lobbyists, that didn't happen. HIDTA instead got a $1 million budget increase, but that is effectively a small cut because it doesn't keep up with inflation over last year. Another program, Byrne/Justice discretionary grants to localities, went from $159 million in 2004 and $168 million last year to $191 million this year. But that increase is small compared with the cuts in the Byrne block grants.

"The Byrne grant and the media campaign cuts are the most significant," said Drug Policy Alliance national affairs director and Capitol Hill denizen Bill Piper. "Those Byrne block grants go directly to the states and keep the task forces alive. If that money were to disappear, the states wouldn't be able to afford a lot of their drug war. The more we cut into the federal subsidies for the drug war, the more likely we are to get reform in the states. We've already seen some of that in the last couple years, where Byrne cuts combined with economic recession forced the states to make some tough choices, and some of them reformed their drug laws as a result," he said.

"The cut in the drug czar's media campaign is significant because it is merely a propaganda tool," said Piper. "It's all about influencing voters to reject marijuana law reform and has little to do with reducing youth drug use."

"These are very substantial cuts," said Eric Sterling, head of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "These are cuts in discretionary funding, where the government is cutting in many areas, and the fact that they are going after drug enforcement programs signals just how serious the federal funding crisis is. These are programs that are popular in the Republican heartland, but they're still being cut," he told DRCNet.

"It is clear that drug policy reform has built effective alliances with conservative groups that recognize the wastefulness of drug war spending," said Sterling. "There may also be a lesson to our movement there: Sometimes other groups can be more effective advancing our cause than we can on our own letterheads," he said.

"Congress gets to play with other peoples' money, and when you're in Congress you get to play Santa Claus 365 days a year, so why are they being Grinches in the drug area in 2005?" Sterling asked. "One reason is that the funds were identified as wasteful by groups who make it their business to highlight wasteful programs. A second reason is it enables Congress to say it is spreading the pain as it cuts student aid, Medicare, and the like."

While Sterling and Piper were cheered by the budget cuts, Northern California HIDTA Director and National Narcotics Officers' Associations' Coalition head Ronald Brooks had a different, gloomier take. "We think there will be significant closures of these multi-jurisdictional drug task forces," said Brooks. "In Missouri, they are telling me that if they had lost all the Byrne funding they would have had to close down 22 of 26 task forces. In Texas, Gov. Perry has announced that he will use the remaining money for border enforcement, no more on the drug task forces. Three years ago, the Byrne and local law enforcement block grants were at $1.1 billion and now they're down to $416 million. That is a significant cut at a time when state and local law enforcement is already suffering the effects of a rugged economy and working with less locally budgeted money than before."

Piper wasn't so sure Byrne grant cuts would sound the death knell for the drug task forces. "They've been screaming that they will have to shut down, but that remains to be seen. They could survive on state money or asset forfeiture, or the states could eliminate other programs," he mused. "But I suspect the states will be more likely to consider reform and consider eliminating the task forces, which exist almost solely because of federal money and which are wreaking havoc around the country."

If the drug task forces vanish or are significantly reduced, that will have an impact on federal law enforcement and prosecutions as well, Brooks said. "As the task forces dry up and blow away, there are going to be far fewer state and local resources to develop cases for referral to US Attorneys and federal agencies, primarily DEA, but also AFT, FBI, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement," he said. "In this country, 97% of all drug prosecutions and arrests are state and local. Of the 3% that are federal cases, the vast majority are referred out of these state and local task forces."

The federal budget cuts come on top of cuts at the state and local level, Brooks said. "We've already seen dramatic cuts in drug enforcement resources. In California, for example, the San Francisco PD, the LAPD, the LA sheriffs -- all have reduced the number of narcotics investigators. The Oakland police chief told me 90% of their murders are drug- or gang-related, and they don't have the money for a single narcotics officer on the street," Brooks related. "As a result, we will see an increase in the ability of drug distribution organizations to operate with impunity."

"The cuts in the Byrne grants will hurt police departments and prosecutors' offices that have been getting those funds," said Sterling. "Either the states and localities will redirect money to those programs, or those agencies will have to cut back those programs. This is an opportunity for reformers to meet with local and state government officials to talk about what kinds of smarter, more efficient policing strategies should be adopted in the face of these cutbacks."

But it ain't over until it's over, Sterling warned, raising the specter of renewed funding for the task forces. "They are facing cutbacks and it is certainly conceivable that they will mobilize to get a supplemental appropriation increase. I can see police unions trying to mobilize groups like the National Association of County Officials and the League of Cities to get the funds restored," he said. "And there is an election in November. If Congress is voting on a supplemental appropriation late in the summer, that will be a consideration. And if it were an up and down vote on restoring the spending, that would be a much tougher vote for individual representatives to consider."

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5. Feature: Reformers Focus on Colorado, Nevada to Free the Weed in 2006

In no state have voters or legislators legalized marijuana for recreational use, but if drug reformers have their way, this could be the year. (In Alaska, the courts have interpreted the state constitution as allowing the legal possession of up to four ounces in the privacy of one's home.) Efforts in two Western states, Colorado and Nevada, should give voters there the opportunity to break new ground when the November elections roll around.

In Nevada, the Marijuana Policy Project and its local affiliate, the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana are in the fourth year of their effort to legalize marijuana possession and create a system of taxation and regulation for its sale. With MPP having already completed signature-gathering last year, the Nevada initiative is already on the ballot and eleven months of campaigning are about to get underway.

Mason Tvert on Denver's Fox station
In Colorado, the organizers of November's surprisingly successful Denver legalization initiative have now turned their eyes on the whole state. Late last month, Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) joined forces with Sensible Colorado to formally announce they were beginning a signature-gathering campaign statewide to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot.

The Nevada initiative, tweaked to reflect reformers' increasing knowledge of what works and what doesn't with Nevada voters, would allow people 21 and older to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana (down from three ounces in 2002) and direct the state to license, tax, and regulate establishments for selling marijuana. The measure also sets aside half of marijuana tax revenues for alcohol and drug prevention and treatment, maintains penalties for public use, underage use, and use in schools or prisons, and increases current maximum penalties for people who give pot to minors and drivers who kill someone while under the influence of any substance.

"We've been working in Nevada for years, and we get feedback from people about their concerns," said Neal Levine, head of the CRCM. "This is a huge step, creating a system of legal manufacture and retail sale of marijuana, and we have tried to address those concerns. What we are proposing is something sensible with appropriate safeguards. For example," he told DRCNet, "we have regulations about where retail shops can be located because people were worried about folks buying pot at the 7-11."

"We're laying the groundwork for a very aggressive campaign in Nevada," said Bruce Mirken, MPP communications director. "For obvious reasons, we can't reveal exact details on the tactics, but it will be a very serious and energetic campaign to educate the voters," he told DRCNet.

MPP has publicly posted job listings for a number of paying positions in the Nevada effort and is gearing up for an 11-month push. "We are in the process of staffing the Nevada campaign," said Mirken. "We have filled some positions, and we're doing interviews and hiring for those positions yet to be filled."

"We are just getting all hands on deck for this year's run," said Levine. "We're just settling in to new office space, we'll open the doors to volunteers this weekend, we're pulling our database together, and voter and community leader outreach is just getting underway. We're staffing up right now."

The proposed Colorado initiative is less ambitious. Unlike the Nevada effort, SAFER's statewide measure would only legalize marijuana possession and would not establish a means of legal, regulated access. This initiative would simply amend the state statute barring marijuana possession by adding the words "under the age of 21" to it. If it passes, adult Coloradans would be free to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.

While the Nevada effort is well-established and well-funded, the Colorado organizers are going to try to pull off signature gathering and campaigning on a small budget, they told DRCNet. "We will be relying on volunteers for signature gathering," said SAFER campaign director Mason Tvert. "We're currently trying to raise money and we're getting donations from people around the state and the country, but we haven't landed any large donations yet."

"We have thought carefully about how best to gather the signatures on a shoe-string budget," said Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente. "Between us and SAFER, we have connections all across the state, and I think we can get the volunteers out and pull it off."

While SAFER's Denver initiative managed to fly somewhat under the radar and shocked state officials with its unforeseen victory, that won't be the case this time around. Colorado Attorney general John Suthers responded almost immediately to the initiative's announcement, and he came out swinging. "On this statewide ballot initiative, law enforcement will weigh in significantly to say what a bad policy legalization is," Suthers said in a statement last month. "If you want to have a debate for legalization of marijuana, then let's have a full-out debate, which I think this initiative will engender," he said.

With little money, no polling completed, and facing a state population considerably more conservative than traditionally Democratic Denver, the Colorado initiative organizers face an uphill battle, but it's one they are willing to undertake. "We're working very closely with Sensible Colorado," said SAFER's Tvert. "They will concentrate on the legislature and we will concentrate on the initiative, but we are allies. The idea is to move this issue front and center, get some action in the legislature, get the initiative moving on a parallel track, and don't forget we have the court case where we are challenging the refusal of Denver authorities to heed the will of the voters."

The question is whether the initiative is in tune with voters outside Denver. "Outside of Denver, Colorado is certainly more conservative," said Vicente, "but the state also has an independent, almost libertarian streak, and I think our message will resonate with those sorts of voters as well. Also, some parts of western Colorado that are not traditionally Democratic have very high use rates, both medicinally and recreationally," he told DRCNet. "We should also do well in the college towns of Boulder and Fort Collins, and I think people will be surprised how well we do in Colorado Springs. People think of it as very conservative, but it has the largest number of medical marijuana patients in the state, and they are very organized."

Sensible Colorado and SAFER will have a division of labor with SAFER aiming at the grassroots and Sensible Colorado aiming at the grasstops, Vicente said. "A lot of what we have done and will continue to do is work with legislators and other officials. In the wake of the Denver results, we are seeing higher levels of support from legislators. Some of them are deciding this is a safer issue -- no pun intended -- than they thought."

A victory at the polls this year would set the stage for a full-blown, Nevada-style initiative, said Vicente. "Simply legalizing the possession of an ounce, while a step in the right direction, is only a step," he said. "Assuming we can win this year, our ultimate goal is a statewide 2008 tax and regulate initiative. The simplicity of this year's initiative may appeal to Colorado voters, but in the end it will be more beneficial to allow regulated access to marijuana, build the tax base, and take the black market out of it. Once we win this year, people will wake up and say, 'Okay, so how do we get access to marijuana?' We will be ready to answer that question."

While recent Gallup polls show support for marijuana legalization nearing 50% in the West, no one has yet gotten over the hump. This year, we will see strong pushes in Nevada and Colorado. Legalization, while remaining elusive, draws ever nearer.

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6. Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Police corruption in the drug war knows no holidays. This week, the long-running Dallas "sheetrock scandal" grows even sleazier, a San Francisco cop is accused of being a serial horndog, and in Honolulu, a cop faces prison for selling meth and a prison guard may find himself on the other side of the bars for similar reasons. Let's get to it:

In Dallas, the long-running "sheetrock scandal" has grown even sleazier -- if that is possible. In the scandal, which has already resulted in a prison sentence for former Dallas Police Officer Mark Delapaz, confidential informants working with Delapaz and his partner, Officer Eddie Herrera, set up some 30 innocent Mexican immigrants for multi-year sentences based on seized "drugs" that later turned out to be gypsum, the stuff used to make sheetrock and pool cue chalk. The Houston Chronicle reported December 19. Now Herrera is singing like a bird, and is corroborating stories told by the informants that they should have been paid $1,000 per kilo of seized drugs, but were instead "taxed" by Delapaz, who took part of the rewards as kickbacks. Herrera has told Texas Department of Public Safety investigators that he and Delapaz often forged the informants' signatures on payment receipt forms. Delapaz was convicted last year of perjury and sentenced to five years in prison, but remains free on bail. He now faces up to 20 years in prison for felony theft, organized crime, and aggravated perjury charges. Herrera still faces trial on state perjury charges.

In San Francisco, San Francisco Police officer Michael Turkington was arrested December 22 on drug, sex, and false imprisonment charges for forcing himself on an 18-year-old woman while on duty. Prosecutors said Turkington, 35, befriended a San Francisco State University student, forced her to perform oral sex on him in his patrol car, then gave her marijuana in an apparent effort to placate her. Turkington is charged with false imprisonment, oral copulation, distribution of marijuana, and committing those crimes while on duty. Turkington last week faced trial on similar charges. In that case, he is accused of taking three 16- and 17-year-old girls to Sunset Park and giving them a bottle of vodka.

In Honolulu, Honolulu Police Officer Robert Sylva, 50, pleaded guilty last week to distributing methamphetamine. He now faces a prison sentence of 10 years to life. Sylva, who has been in custody since his arrest in March, admitted to selling meth on at least three occasions, and prosecutors said he was in uniform on at least one of them. Sylva was busted after a girlfriend whom he supplied turned out to be a confidential informant. His defense attorney, Alvin Nishimura, told the Honolulu Advertiser Sylva was despondent after the deaths of his parents and young child in 2004 and sought out women with drug problems. Sylva was not a drug user or dealers, Nishimura said, merely a middleman.

In Honolulu, prison guard Akoni Sandoval Kapihe was charged December 16 with providing contraband drugs to inmates at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center. In a still-evolving case, Kapihe is accused of smuggling marijuana and methamphetamine to prisoners in protein supplement containers. Indicted a week later were several prisoners and their relatives, who are accused of conspiring with Kapihe to get drugs into the prison. In one indictment, an inmate and his wife were charged; in another, an inmate and his mother. They all face charges of conspiracy with intent to distribute marijuana and meth, according to the Maui News.

In Hammond, Indiana, East Chicago police officer Eligah Johnson, 45, pleaded guilty December 23 to distribution of cocaine and carrying a firearm while engaged in a drug crime, the Northwest Indiana Times reported. The plea in federal court leaves Johnson facing up to 25 years in prison for his role in a cocaine trafficking operation headed by an East Chicago building inspector, Veta Tyner, who also pleaded guilty the same day. Johnson was a 16-year veteran patrol officer.

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7. Methamphetamine: Tennessee Creates Meth Offender Registry

With the new year, meth offenders join sex offenders as social pariahs deserving of a permanent electronic registry in Tennessee. Just before year's end, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) got a new, online Meth Offender Registry up and running that will enable anyone anywhere to quickly and easily look for persons convicted of methamphetamine offenses in Tennessee.

The database searches for meth offenders either by last name and first initial or by county. The TBI describes the registry as "another tool to help fight the war on meth." The registry is part of a larger public-private partnership to fight methamphetamine use and production in Tennessee headed by the TBI and known as MethWatch.

As the popular stimulant has made its way east across North America, states have enacted a variety of measures to combat the drug ranging from increased sentences to restricting sales of precursor chemicals, but no state has yet gone the registry route that has proven so popular in identifying sex offenders. But the Meth-Free Tennessee Act of 2005 requires that such a registry be created for meth offenders.

At present, the TBI said, not all meth offenders will be listed, only those with a "substantive violation." According to TBI, that means people convicted only of conspiracy, attempt, or facilitation of meth offenses will not be registered. But while proponents of the registry tout it as a tool for finding neighborhood meth cooks, even people convicted only of simple possession will make the roll.

What's next? Ordinances or state laws saying that meth offenders can be excluded from living within 1000 yard of a school or park or arcade? Permanent monitoring? A scarlet "M"?

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8. Medical Marijuana: Sativex Wins FDA Approval for Trials in US

GW Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the sublingual, cannabis-based spray medication Sativex, announced Wednesday that it won US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to proceed with Phase III clinical trials of the drug's efficacy in patients suffering from pain from advanced cancers. The FDA has accepted GW's bid to study the drug under its Investigational New Drug (IND) program.

Sativex is already on the market in Canada and has been approved for use in Spain, but its bid to win acceptance in Britain stumbled recently when an elderly women participating in Sativex trials died. The FDA based its approval in part on data generated by GW on Sativex in Europe.

The planned 250-patient study will evaluate the effects of Sativex in relieving average daily, reducing the use of opioid pain medications, and improving the quality of sleep and other quality of life indicators among patients.

"A previous Phase III clinical study showed that Sativex achieved a statistically significant improvement in pain relief in terminally ill cancer patients," said researcher, Dr. Russell K. Portenoy, Chairman of the Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative \Care at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "Although opioids are highly effective analgesics, studies suggest that as many as one-third of patients with pain due to advanced cancer do not obtain adequate relief and new treatments are needed. Cannabinoid formulations may represent an important option in the future and the information obtained from clinical trials of Sativex will be critical in defining their role."

"Sativex seems to be a very promising treatment option for patients whose pain does not respond to current analgesics," said Dr. Nathaniel Katz, Assistant Professor of Anesthesia, Tufts University School of Medicine. "The clinical data thus far suggest that many patients who have been suffering with intractable pain may gain significant benefit from the use of Sativex. I welcome GW expanding its research program into the US."

GW stockholders and chronic pain patients may indeed welcome the FDA's approval of Sativex trials as one more step in bringing the drug to market in the US. But advocates of raw, smoked medical marijuana also worry whether approval of a cannabis-based medicine could cut the legs out from under the medical marijuana movement.

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9. Europe: Ketamine Now Illegal in England

Effective January 1, the hallucinogenic anesthetic ketamine is a prohibited Class C drug in the United Kingdom. Legal up until last week, possession of "Special K," as the club drug is popularly known, now carries a penalty of up to two years in prison, while sales can result in sentences of up to 14 years.

Home Office minister Paul Goggins announced the ban December 28. "Although ketamine use is relatively low in the UK, there has been an increase by clubbers in recent years," he said. "Ketamine poses serious health risks and must be subject to strict controls to provide a considerable deterrent to those seeking to import and supply the drug."

Goggins acted on a November recommendation by the government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The council's recommendation was spurred by awareness of the increasing popularity of the drug, as noted in a survey by the British drug policy organization Drugscope. In a report released in September, Drugscope found that ketamine was now "a significant player in the UK drugs market," moving from the gay club scene into larger partying circles. In eight of 15 UK cities surveyed, ketamine was on the list of major drugs. It had not made the list in any city the year before.

"Ketamine has now established its place alongside the usual dance scene drugs like ecstasy," said one Nottingham drug worker cited by Drugscope.

"Ecstasy pills contain less MDMA than they used to and so it is more of just a stimulant than something that alters your state of mind. People aged 18-25 are taking ketamine for a more trippy night out" commented a drug worker in Birmingham.

Ketamine was used in US field hospitals during the Vietnam war and is used today as a veterinary anesthetic. In humans, the drug causes dissociative effects and in large doses can lead to hallucinations and alternate realities.

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10. Latin America: DEA to Expand into Guyana

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is preparing to set up shop in Guyana, according to reports in the Guyana Chronicle. While the agency already has country offices in Mexico, all the Central American countries, and all the major Latin American countries, and additional resident offices in major cities in Mexico, Colombia, and Bolivia, an agreement to establish a presence in Guyana would mark the agency's first venture in the small, non-Spanish-speaking countries of South America's north coast. In addition to English-speaking Guyana, those countries are Surinam (Dutch) and French Guiana (French).

DEA South America outposts
Like every other country between the coca-producing regions of the Andes and the world's largest cocaine market in the US, Guyana is viewed by American drug fighters as a platform for smuggling into the US. The US State Department, in its annual survey of the war on drugs describes Guyana as a major transshipment point for Andean cocaine headed for the US. The country also produces marijuana, although apparently mostly for domestic consumption.

While Guyana and the US government have been haggling over a DEA presence since at least 1999, the Guyanese government is now prepared to reach an agreement, according to Roger Luncheon, head of the Presidential Secretariat. "We are in discussions with the Americans and the American Administration and some small details need to be addressed for us to see that the plans come to fruition," he told reporters. "I don't believe it is a great concession that the facilities and skills available in third world and developing countries to deal with the transnational money laundering and narco-trafficking are obviously inadequate and one can then concede some merit in the US Government acting as a sort of international or hemispheric policeman to keep on top of narco-trafficking and money laundering in the Americas," Luncheon said.

The DEA is needed because national level efforts have been insufficient to stem the flow of drugs, Luncheon said. "I don't have a problem in recognizing that we need a DEA in Guyana; in fact we need two DEAs because it probably would have been even better," Luncheon said. "I think if one were to factor in the desire, if one were to put in the need, then they would have probably been here two years ago but we still have to deal with the details and often times the delay lies in the details. We still have to iron out some issues and hopefully that could be done soon," Luncheon added.

Luncheon may want to consult with some of his hemispheric neighbors. Neighboring Venezuela briefly threw the DEA out of the country last year, while newly-elected Bolivian President Evo Morales is vowing to keep the gringo drug agents on a tight leash as he attempts to craft a home-grown Bolivian drug policy that recognizes the traditional and cultural uses of coca.

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11. World-Wide: This Year's Global Marijuana March is Coming to a City Near You May 6

Organizers of the May marijuana marches around the planet announced this week that they had at least 150 cities signed up for the annual event, known colloquially as the Million Marijuana March. For the past three decades, beginning in New York City, pot activists have marched and chanted, huffed and puffed, and been clubbed and jailed in their effort to achieve marijuana legalization.

This year, long-time lead organizer Dana Beal is sharing the organizing duties with other activists around the globe, especially an active group of "guys from Norway," who have created a central web site for would-be organizers to sign up their cities. People interested in signing up should do so within the next two weeks so their city can be added to the march poster, Beal told DRCNet on Wednesday.

As in past years, Europe and North America are most heavily represented, but this year's list already includes Capetown, South Africa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, three Japanese cities, and at least a dozen cities in South America. Russian organizers have said they would hold events in 23 cities, but Beal is awaiting confirmation of that, he said. Other confirmed locations range from Auckland, Albuquerque and Amsterdam to Washington, Wellington, and Zurich. The date is May 6.

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12. New DRCNet Book Offer: "Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town"

One of the most cutting scandals in the drug war in recent years was Tulia, where a rogue cop framed 40 people -- 10% of the African American population in the small Texas town -- on drug charges, sending many of them to prison, only to be released years later after nationwide media scrutiny forced authorities to review the cases. Though Officer Tom Coleman was known to have broken the law himself, his credibility was somehow considered sufficient by judge and jury. The sordid episode led to legislation by Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee to rein in federally funded drug task forces and try to prevent such abuses from happening again.

Three weeks ago Drug War Chronicle reviewed "Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town," a devastating volume by the Texas Observer's Nate Blakeslee, whose groundbreaking reporting at the Austin Chronicle helped bring the Tulia story to national attention. Chronicle editor Phil Smith calls Blakeslee's book "a page-turner" and "a virtually seamless narrative that brings the characters to vivid life, from the mostly young, mostly black men who were the real victims in Tulia to the staunch, church-going sheriff who ordered their arrests and the shiftless drifter with a badge and a racist attitude whose lies sent many of them to prison." Blakeslee introduces us to the villains, to the victims, and to the crusaders; and he shows us the town, the enforcers who allowed Coleman to run amok, and the larger politics in the drug war that helped to set it all in motion.

We are pleased to offer "Tulia" as our newest membership premium -- donate $35 or more to DRCNet, and we will send you a complimentary copy at your request. We also continue to offer Arnold Trebach's "The Great Drug War: And Rational Proposals to Turn the Tide," also free with a donation of $35 or more -- donate $65 to order both! Other offers are still available as well.

Click here to contribute online and order your copies of Tulia or the Great Drug War. We can also accept donations by check or money order; send them 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 -- the portion of your gift that is deductible will be reduced by the retail cost of the gifts you select.) Lastly, please contact us for instructions if you wish to make a donation of stock.

Thank you for supporting DRCNet -- click here to read David Borden's update on our work and reasons why DRCNet is important to the cause.

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13. Web Scan: New England Journal of Medicine on the DEA vs. Oregon's Right to Die Law

"The Big Chill -- Inserting the DEA into End-of-Life Care," editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine on Gonzales v. Oregon

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14. Weekly: This Week in History

January 6, 1999: A lawsuit is filed in Paris accusing Fidel Castro of international drug trafficking.

January 6, 2001: General Barry McCaffrey steps down from his post as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

January 7, 1997: The US House of Representatives votes 226-202 in favor of 25 changes to internal House rules, including requiring House members and their staffs to be tested for illegal drug use.

January 8, 1990: General Manuel Noriega is convicted on eight counts of drug trafficking, money laundering, and racketeering, and sentenced to 40 years in Federal prison.

January 8, 1998: Rep. Bobby Moak's (R-Lincoln County) Mississippi House Bill 196 proposes "The removal of a body part in lieu of other sentences imposed by the court for violations of the Controlled Substances Law."

January 9, 1923: US Labor Secretary Davis endorses the idea of a national campaign against the peril of habit-forming drugs.

January 9, 1996: Agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Miami arrest Jorge Luis Cabrera, a $20,000 donor to the Democratic Party who had attended a White House Christmas Party the year before but was busted with thousands of pounds of cocaine by the DEA.

January 11, 1906: LSD inventor Dr. Albert Hofmann is born.

January 12, 1929: The Porter Narcotic Farm Act is enacted, establishing the first two narcotics hospitals for addicts in federal prisons in response to addicts' crowding.

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15. Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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

January 10, Salt Lake City, UT, open forums on overdose response and prevention. Sponsored by the Harm Reduction Project, 6:00-8:00pm for youth 20 and under in the Olpin Student Union Saltair Room, 7:00-9:00pm for adults in the Dumke Fine Arts Auditorium. Dinner provided, childcare available for adult meeting, free UTA tokens provided to youth, RSVP to (801) 355-0234.

January 13-15, 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.

January 21, 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 or e-mail [email protected] for further information.

February 3, Oakland, CA, NORML Winter Benefit Party, at the Oakland Sailboat House, Late Merritt. Admission $60, advance reservations required, visit for information.

February 9-11, 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].

February 16, 8:00pm, New Paltz, NY, "Know Your Rights" forum, screening of "Busted: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters," Q&A with attorney Russell Schindler and a speaker on racial profiling. Sponsored by New Paltz NORML/SSDP, Student Union Building, Room 100, admission free, refreshments served. For further information, visit or contact [email protected], (845) 257-2687 or (646) 246-8504.

March 29, 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.

March 30, 8:00pm, Los Angeles, CA, MPP Party at the Playboy Mansion, tickets $500, visit for further information.

April 5-8, Santa Barbara, CA, Fourth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. Sponsored by Patients Out of Time, details to be announced, visit for updates.

April 9, 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 or contact Peter Keyes at (916) 456-7933 for info.

April 20-22, San Francisco, CA, National NORML Conference, visit for further information.

April 30-May 4, 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.

June 3, 1:00-11:00pm, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 10th Legalize! Street Rave Against the War on Drugs. Visit or contact Jonas Daniel Meyerplein at +31(0)20-4275626 or [email protected]

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